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Celebrity Skin

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"If I never hear the word 'celebrity' or 'skin' again in my life it'll be too soon," Andy complains, flopping down on the couch beside Joe.

"I hear you," Joe chimes in. "I can't believe Travie caved. We're so fucking screwed. He'll never let up now."

"Shit," Andy says, "We're fucked."

Patrick doesn't need to ask what they're talking about. Pete has staged quite the campaign to snag himself another "celebrity skin" for Best Ink, and he's like a fucking dog with a bone. Patrick's pretty sure they're a step away from PowerPoint presentations on the skills of the tattoo artist contestants and graphs about how much money they'd save with their free tattoo.

Of course, Pete's aimed his tireless campaign solely at Joe and Andy. And Butch. And the Panic kids. And pretty much everyone at FBR and Clandestine. Patrick's pretty sure he's put a call in to Mikey and the MCR boys too.

In fact, Pete's been trying to convince everyone he's come into contact with who could be conceived as a celebrity.

Everyone, that is, except Patrick.

Not that Patrick cares. Not that he feels left out. Not that he, just recently, had a thought that maybe he might have finally figured out what kind of tattoo he might want for his first.

Pete wanders back into the room, still on the phone. "C'mon Gabe, Travie's in. It's a free tattoo! You gotta do me a solid here, or we're gonna end up with some boyband guy from the fucking network."

Patrick glares at his computer screen. He can hear the muffled sound of Gabe's voice on the other end of the line, placating.

"Okay, okay, okay. I'm sorry. I'm just getting desperate here." Pete sighs, rubbing a hand through his hair as he listens to whatever Gabe is saying. Patrick almost feels sorry for him. Almost. "Okay bro, talk soon. Let me know if you have any luck with Nate, yeah?"

Patrick keeps his eyes schooled on the waveforms on his screen, though he's long since forgotten what he was working on. Pete slumps down on the floor in front of Joe and leans his head on Joe's knee, peering up at him through his lashes. "Please," he whines, drawing out the word. "I swear it'll only take a day and bit. And it's free." He pokes Joe in the leg. Joe shifts down the couch until Pete can't reach him anymore.

Pete slides along the carpet to sit in front of Andy instead, and tugs on the cuff of his jeans. "C'mon Andy baby, you gotta have a clean spot somewhere I can have-"

"For Christ's sake he said no!' The words have burst from Patrick's mouth before he's even aware of it. Pete turns to stare at him and Patrick becomes very aware of how hot his face feels and how hard he's gripping his computer. "Just leave it alone, Wentz. You're flogging a dead horse." He scrambles to his feet and storms off, even though he doesn't really have anywhere he can go, they've already taken over the break room and Butch is still setting up in the studio.

He tucks his laptop under his arm and heads for the studio foyer. It's pretty busy, must be crossover time for a couple of the other recording rooms. He tucks himself into a corner and watches the musicians come and go, pushing road cases, carrying instruments.

Eventually, he gives in to an unvoiced urge and opens his laptop, pulling up a image file. It's not a terribly interesting image, just familiar horizontal lines, music notes lying across them. When he runs his eyes over them he can hear the notes in his head. It's not a sketch, it's barely an idea. Just a thought he'd had.

It was a stupid idea anyway. He closes his laptop again.

"Hey," Pete says softly, sliding in to sit beside Patrick, close enough their thighs press together even though the couch has plenty of room. "You okay?"

Patrick sighs, taking his hat off to run a hand through his hair. "I'm fine," he says tightly, "I'm just." He glances at Pete, then away again quickly, focusing on another musician passing through the foyer, his inked arms flexing with the weight of a speaker he's carrying. Patrick's got to be one of the only guys in the building with no ink on him. It's never bothered him before. "Maybe I'm just sick of hearing about it. You begging Joe and Andy, Travie and Gabe, Brendon and Dallon and fucking Singer." Patrick shakes his head. This is so stupid. It's such a stupid thing to be jealous about.

He hears Pete take a breath, but refuses to look at him, instead staring at the floor between his swinging feet, scuffed and dirty.

"You know how important this is to me," Pete starts.

"I know-" Patrick interrupts, "If it's so fucking important then why didn't you-" he cuts the words off before they can leave his lips. It's too late though, Pete already heard the rest.

Pete is silent for a long time. Patrick holds on for as long as he can, as long as he can bear it, but in the end he has to look up and gauge the expression on Pete's face. He's staring at Patrick in shock. "Why didn't I ask you?" he says, a kind of wondering amazement in his tone.

Patrick's torn between wanting to hug him and slap him around the head for being so fucking dense.

"Oh my god, would you?" Pete says excitedly, a smile already tugging at his mouth, "I didn't even dream that you'd consider it. Holy shit, Patrick," he grabs Patrick's hands, wiggling impossibly closer as he asks, his eyes shining, "Patrick, will you be my Celebrity Skin?"

*

Patrick regrets saying yes pretty much every single day that follows. Pete is suddenly way too attentive, talking Patrick through what it's like to be tattooed in far too much detail for Patrick's comfort. He asks him endless questions about what kind of tattoo he wants, what styles he likes and spends far too long assuring Patrick that he'll personally make sure Patrick gets the absolute best artist on the show.

"Pete," Patrick interrupts another of Pete's far-too-detailed speeches about the reaction of the body to the pain of inked needles, "I really don't need to hear this."

"But Pattycakes," Pete says, easing closer and resting his head on Patrick's shoulder, "It's your first tattoo, I want this to be a positive experience for you. I want you to love it, and I want you to get more and more." Pete's smile is a little unnerving.

Patrick hadn't even noticed Joe was in the room until he interrupts. "Pete, for the last time, just because Patrick has decided he wants to stain his virgin skin, does not mean we're all getting matching FOB tattoos."

"Seconded!" Andy adds.

The wounded puppy face Pete makes is kind of hilarious.

*

When the day of the first taping rolls around Patrick's surprised to find he's a little nervous. He's not even getting inked today - it's just the consultation (which will be filmed, his brain tactlessly reminds him). Patrick has the image file from his computer printed out, the notes neatly arranged on their lines. He hasn't shown the picture to anyone, not even Pete, despite Pete's increasingly insistent campaign to know what tattoo Patrick's planning to get. Patrick folds the paper carefully and tucks it into his wallet. It's for him and his artist to discuss, whoever that may be.

They wind up doing the consultation at Pete's place, because doing it at the studio would be too much of a giveaway, a hotel room seems weird and Patrick's not ready to let a film crew into his home. It's weird to sit on Pete's couch and pretend to not notice the crew until they're filming. He's introduced to his artist, Teresa. Pete's mentioned her numerous times, assuring Patrick she'll likely win the entire competition, she's just that good. She looks the part - stretched ears, her skin covered in ink. Patrick's eyes wander across the wing design on her collarbone and for the first time he starts to think about how permanent this all is. He pushes down a wave of apprehension and shakes her hand.

They film Pete making the introductions, and Patrick tries to act as unaware of the cameras as possible as Teresa pulls out her sketch book and starts talking to him about his tattoo. His tattoo. The design he's going to put into his skin. Permanently.

He pulls out his wallet and hands her the image, catching Pete's movement in his peripheral vision as she unfolds the page. Pete's unashamedly leaning in, staring at the design.

"Music notes," Patrick says, "Sorry, I know it's not very original, but I am a musician."

She nods, her fingers gripping the page lightly, "This is a really good starting point, do you mind if we do something more visual with it?"

"Oh yes, please, whatever you can come up with. Just make sure we get the notes in. They're important."

She looks up at him, a small smile on her face, "This is a pretty special piece of music isn't it?" she asks, and yeah, she gets it.

"It's very close to my heart," Patrick admits. It takes a lot of effort to keep his eyes on Teresa, and not look at Pete, but somehow he manages it.

Pete starts to pester him before they've even finished packing the equipment. "You have to tell me," he grabs Patrick by the shoulders, steering him away from the busy crew, "what song is it?"

Patrick just shakes his head.

"No, no, no, you know I don't read sheet music, dude, come on. Is it Prince? Bowie? Oh man, is it something from Soul Punk?"

"Pete," Patrick places a hand on the back of Pete's neck and locks eyes with him, "I'm going to say this once, and once only."

Pete nodes, bubbling with energy beneath Patrick's hand.

"I'm not going to tell you." Patrick says. "End of story."

Pete's look of shock is totally worth it.

*

His appointment at the tattoo shop is the very next day, giving him no opportunity to chicken out. He gives Travie a hug when they get there, not arguing when Travie whistles and says, "Shoulda known it'd be you. You never can say no to him."

Patrick just grins up at him and says, "He just needed to figure out he had to ask."

He's not sure what to expect when Teresa passes him the semi-transparent paper with the design on it. "It's not coloured yet," she explains, because of course she talked him into doing a colour piece. The drawing is, in a word, amazing. She's taken his little black and white music notes and his boring horizontal lines and breathed movement into them. The lines flow upward, the notes dancing along them, creating shapes reminiscent of guitars and soundwaves. It's beautiful. His eyes bounce from one note to another, hearing the melody in his head, and he's embarrassed to discover he's actually feeling a little emotional.

He hopes the camera doesn't capture the way he looks up at Pete, or the way Pete's looking back at him, his fingers gripping the back of the couch like it's a physical effort to keep himself from elbowing into the shot and grabbing the paper from his hands.

The first touch of the tattoo gun doens't hurt as much as he expects. After a while the dull sting grows to a singing pain. Patrick closes his eyes and breathes through it, runs scales in his head, tries to distract himself. He knows the cameras are capturing every red-tinged, agonised expression on his sweaty face. He just hopes they don't use too many of them in the edit. He tries not to look at the clock that often, but the time still ticks down too slowly. What on earth possessed him to say yes to something so fucking painful?

Of course the question is answered with the presence of Pete, hovering around behind Teresa, peering at his shoulder. "How's it going, Lunchbox?" Pete asks, and Patrick tries to contain the urge to punch him with the arm not currently being tattooed.

Pete gives Teresa a sideways glance. Patrick already knows he'll get zero reaction from her, she's been incredibly focused so far, only communicating with Patrick when she needs him to move.

Pete eases closer, kneeling on Patrick's not-getting-tattooed side. Patrick can see the producer-type person shooting eyes at the other producer-type person, but no one asks Pete to get out of the way.

"So are you gonna tell me what it is now?" Pete asks in a whisper.

"You're asking me this, now?"

"Well, it's not like you can run away," Pete grins maniacally. "So, Prince? Bowie? The Wedding Present?"

Patrick gives Pete a sideways glance, gritting his teeth against another wave of pain. "You haven't asked if it's one of ours yet."

"I'm not going to. I can't ask. It's too…" Pete trails off, but Patrick already knows the rest. It's too soon. They're still so fragile. Only freshly re-formed. Pete wouldn't want to push, wouldn't want to make expectations.

Pete's stupid like that. Like Patrick would think ten years of his life wasn't enough to want to mark it on his skin. Like Patrick doesn't already know he's in this for life.

Pete fumbles a piece of paper out of his pocket. It's Patrick's original picture with the music notes on it, Pete must have snatched if from Teresa. Patrick can see Pete's scribbles in ball point pen next to each note like a crib sheet, he must have looked up the notes and translated them. B, A, C#m in Pete's familiar scrawl. Pete looks at the paper and starts to hum. The notes are halting, and he doesn't get it right the first time, but he tries again, and again, until he gets the whole lot out. Pete's look of concentration and the furrow of his brow are almost enough to distract Patrick from the burn in his shoulder.

The second time Pete hums it all the way through, Patrick joins in, a smile tugging at his mouth as he watches Pete's expression shift as the tune sinks in, as he recognises it. Pete looks up from the paper, his grin huge and awestruck.

"You are what you love, not who loves you." Patrick sings, low and husky, just for Pete, though he's sure the mics on the cameras will pick it up too. He doesn't care.

Pete's hand grips his so hard it nearly hurts and the expression of pure joy on his face makes Patrick's heart seize. All of a sudden Patrick's eyes are tearing up and it's not from the pain of the tattoo.

"You're the words, I'm the music," he whispers, his thumb brushing over the back of Pete's hand.

He can tell from the look on Pete's face that there's a million things he wants to say, but none of them leave his lips. He just palms his eyes and smiles, nodding at Patrick as if to say later.

He doesn't let go of Patrick's hand until he absolutely has to.

*

The next day they're back at the tattoo shop. Teresa's first tattoo as winner of Best Ink is on the host of the show. Pete's in the chair, Patrick's hand in his as he gets a matching tattoo on his own arm, with words in the place of Patrick's music notes.

Patrick watches the ink go into Pete's skin and holds on tight.

Afterwards, as they stand side by side, comparing the tattoos, Patrick can't help thinking this was somehow inevitable.

The thought makes him smile.