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(So We Could Start It) All Over Again

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Patrick doesn't have a second thought about hiring an escort until the doorbell's rung and he can't make himself open the front door.

It all made sense at first. Patrick's in LA for a while instead of Chicago, and he just can't date right now with the way his time goes. And it isn't like he rushed into it. He's been in California a week, and he's has a couple hours before bed where his place is too quiet and his head's too loud to sleep. If he tried to fill that time with more work, his mom and his manager would probably take turns firmly scolding him.

(Patrick doesn't need more firm scoldings. Patrick's in the studio to finish up a holiday EP with one of his biggest artists; his days are pretty much nothing but firm scoldings from the label.)

But now there's a strange man on the one side of his door - a strange man that Patrick is paying to give Patrick orgasms - and Patrick's got his forehead on the other side, and he's never wanted to hide under his bed so much in his life.

"Come on," Patrick tells himself quietly. "Just open the door. It isn't that hard."

A voice comes in brightly from the other side. "I can open it myself if you unlock it."

Patrick sucks in a breath and feels his face go painful and red at the same time. His head spins. It probably wouldn't be good if he passed out, but at least the guy is supposed to have his manager's number.

"Sorry," Patrick says after a few deep breaths, speaking loud enough for the guy to hear. He clicks the lock and backs away enough for the door to open.

It does.

"You must be Patrick." The man holds out a hand. Patrick takes it and shakes it. That's the thing about being in the industry; he learned long ago how to shake hands even if he's sick or hungover or...well, in weird situations like this. "I'm Pete. And I can go if you want me to."

"Oh, no," Patrick says automatically. He stops. Blinks. Does he want this guy - Pete - to go?

Pete's...well, stunning in the first word to come to mind. His hair's bleached blond and cropped short, which is simultaneously just visible enough out of the corner of Patrick's eye to bring out the brown tones in Pete's skin and is also a shock of color that almost hurts when Patrick stares directly at it for too long. Pete's keeping his distance from Patrick, but Patrick knows just from looking at Pete that he'll take over the room the second he gets the go-ahead. That he's waiting says a lot of good things.

"All you'll pay is the initial deposit, if I leave now," Pete says. "Gotta cover gas in my car somehow."

Somehow, that's the thing that makes Patrick take a breath and relax. "I'd like you to stay. If you want to."

Pete's smile gets bigger, and sure enough, he moves in closer to Patrick and hovers a hand over his arm. "Got a drink in this place for a thirsty dude?"

-

At the time, it seems zero-to-sixty between their meeting and Pete jerking Patrick off, but there's other things, when Patrick looks back. They both have a drink. They talk after the drinks are over: Pete's very professional about negotiating boundaries, both sharing what he's comfortable with and finding out what Patrick likes. Or he tries to find out what Patrick likes, but Patrick blushes like he's sixteen years old again and loses the ability to talk completely.

Pete's been close enough to touch since they sat next to each other on Patrick's couch, which Patrick knows because Pete's touches his knee when he laughs and, once, he claps Patrick on the back when he chokes on his water. (Pete uses words like "come" and "rimming" more freely than anyone Patrick's ever met. But he'd have to, wouldn't he?) When Patrick clams up entirely, Pete slides close and says, "We'll start simple. And you can tell me if there's something you don't like."

He waits for Patrick's nod, and when he gets it, he strokes Patrick's thighs through his jeans. That's enough to get Patrick half-hard, but it isn't until his dick's out of his jeans and underwear that Patrick really gets into it. Or, most importantly, it isn't until Pete's taken Patrick's dick out, lubed it up, and started stroking that Patrick's moaning and doing all the sex things that he generally does when he's enjoying himself.

Pete knows what he's doing, obviously; he plays around with Patrick's dick, finding out what he likes. (Playing with the slit, no. Playing under the head of his dick, yes. Going tight on the shaft without a death grip, definitely.) It's everything Patrick hoped for when he first hired someone, really.

Or almost everything. He can't get to the edge, much less actually have an orgasm, no matter what Pete does. Patrick's so frustrated with himself that tears prick behind his eyes, and he's two seconds from giving up entirely when Pete, mostly quiet once he figured out dirty talk didn't make Patrick do anything but giggle, speaks up.

"Hey," he says, and Patrick looks up at him. "Relax. I've got you."

It might be the way Pete says it, kind and non-judgmental. The eye contact doesn't hurt. But there's a sense of...relief, maybe? Patrick doesn't examine it too closely because he's too busy thrusting his hips up and squeezing his eyes shut and coming, and that's probably the best part of all. That he doesn't think.

When Patrick opens his eyes again, Pete's giving a shit-eating grin and wiping his hands on a baby wipe. Patrick can see more detail now that the anxiety's receded: Pete's wearing a t-shirt with cropped-off sleeves, giving off a general clean-punk aesthetic, and he has a backpack, presumably where the lube and the wipes came from. It's somehow casual without being too try-hard adult, and somehow professional without being intimidating. He must have done a shitload of work to get that balance.

"Are you free next week?" Patrick asks, and Pete laughs with delight as he pulls his cell phone out of his pocket, a loud dorky sound that somehow completes the entire package.

-

Six months later

Pete's waiting on the sofa when Patrick gets home. He's still fully dressed, which isn't his usual thing; he's often down to boxer briefs or less by the time Patrick meets up with him because Pete likes to see Patrick laugh and blush like he hasn't seen Pete naked before.

He's also watching late-season Bulls action while going over lyrics in his journal. Patrick has a decent sound system, so Pete feels almost like he's there, and he needs the distance as he looks at his scribbles. Most of what he manages is to doodle Michael Jordan's jersey in the margins and to wonder what it feels like on the court during the game. He's been in the seats, perched over it all, but what would it be like to see them, almost close enough to touch?

(Patrick had wigged out when he'd found out that Pete was also from a Chicago suburb. Pete had explained that yes, his agency did some intricate matching, but the location was pure coincidence. Pete hadn't added that he didn't really believe in coincidence, which was probably good considering how hard he had to work to get Patrick to relax sometimes.)

"How was your day, honey?" Pete asks, batting his eyelashes and turning as Patrick shuts the front door. Patrick snorts and pats Pete on the head on his way to the bathroom.

Of course, Pete being Pete, he doesn't give up. "I don't know what you were thinking tonight," Pete says, closing his journal and jumping to his feet. He speaks loudly enough for Patrick to hear both through the bathroom door and over the sound of him peeing. "Chinese sounds good, but we had that last week. Maybe pizza? I can never have too much pizza."

"You don't have to cook just for me," Patrick says sweetly back, and Pete laughs as the toilet flushes and the sink goes off.

"Or," Pete calls, "we could skip dinner and just get to dessert!"

Patrick groans and opens the door. "Does that really work on anyone?"

"I save my best lines for you, baby."

Patrick snorts, but Pete doesn't miss the way Patrick's eyes roam over him. Sexual chemistry has never been their problem; Patrick wouldn't be Pete's main client if it was.

Or only client.

"Hey."

Pete snaps back at the sound of Patrick's voice. Fuck. Patrick looks worried about him. That was so not on the agenda. "Hey yourself."

"You want to talk about it?" Patrick asks.

"Talk about what?"

Patrick raises an eyebrow, and Pete sighs.

"You don't pay me to have heart-to-hearts," Pete says. "Well. We can. Just seems like a waste of your hard-earned paycheck for me to run off my mouth about my life troubles."

Patrick studies him, and Pete worries briefly that Patrick's going to force the issue. He probably won't - Pete can read guys pretty well with several years of experience escorting under his belt, and Patrick seems to save most of his frustrations for his job - but some clients feel like every piece of their escort's life is for sale.

Luckily, Patrick says, "You're right" and backs Pete against the wall. Pete sighs and relaxes when Patrick kisses him. Sex with Patrick's not like the sex Pete has when there's no money changing hands - not like Pete's had that kind of sex in years - but right now, he'd just like to focus on what Patrick wants and forget about his own shit.

That's exactly what happens when Patrick pulls back just enough to ask, "Are you okay with me holding you a little bit?"

"Uh." Pete tries to remember the relevant portion of his limits monologue. "No holding me onto your cock if I'm blowing you, no restraints beyond hands. So as long as you don't have cuffs or something, yeah, go for it."

Patrick nods seriously and then drops to his knees. Pete's eyes just about bug out of his head. It's not like Patrick's never blown Pete before; he's been firm on reciprocating since they first worked things out. But he's never done Pete first.

"Don't move," Patrick says firmly, but not like an asshole, as he undoes Pete's belt and takes a condom from Pete's pocket. Latex takes like shit, but Pete insists on it for oral on both sides. "I'm going to hold your hips. Okay?"

It's all Pete can do to nod, and then Patrick has Pete's cock out and...well, he just goes for it with his mouth, holding Pete's hips just like he said, digging his fingers in a little. Pete scrambles uselessly with his hands; he's never asked Patrick how he feels about grabbing because it's not something Pete will ever do if he's working. But not being in a bed or on a couch means there's nothing to hold onto.

"Fuck," he breathes out loud as Patrick takes him down. Patrick's got amazing suction - not immediately because he's not a professional, but soon enough that Pete sees stars - and he does a swirling thing with his tongue that Pete taught him. It's a good thing Pete has a lot of practice fucking because his stamina would be shitty if he didn't.

He risks a look at Patrick. Patrick's lips are red and wet around his cock, and he's watching Pete, probably a little nervously. He's also got a hand on himself through his jeans, which he only does when he's really into what he's doing.

Pete taps Patrick on the shoulder urgently, and Patrick obediently pulls off, finishing Pete by hand. Pete closes his eyes when he climaxes and loses a little time. He hasn't had...fuck, any orgasms since his appointment last week, now that he thinks about it. No wonder it's a little much.

When he's opened his eyes again, Patrick's cheeks are flushed and he's got his cock out, and...

"Did you come?" Pete asks, surprised.

Patrick nods as he takes the condom off Pete and ties it off.

"But that's my job."

Patrick grins. "Take a shower. I'll order pizza, and then maybe we can think about me for a little while after we eat. Okay?"

Pete gapes. It's the routine he's developed with Patrick: get Patrick off quick, let him clean off and eat, go longer the second time. Except Patrick's just flipped it.

"You can't turn the tables," he says as Patrick gently pushes him toward the master bedroom, probably so Pete can use the nicer in-suite bathroom.

"I'm the one paying, and it's what I want. Now scoot." Patrick swats Pete gently on the butt - it's awkward in the way where Pete can tell that Patrick almost never does it - and goes back toward the kitchen.

What else can Pete do, really?

-

They're post-coital for the second time that night, lying close in bed and facing each other. Patrick's paid for the night like he often does, and Pete knows Patrick's bed almost as well as his own at this point, so he's about as likely to fall asleep here as he is at home.

"You feel better?" Patrick asks quietly.

Pete nods.

"You want to talk?"

Not that he has to talk. He could shake his head right now, and that would probably be the end of it.

"I have a band," Pete says.

Patrick's eyebrows raise, but he nods without saying anything.

"Or had. Past tense." Pete rambles for a minute about his band without going into the specifics, but he figures Patrick can read between the lines. It's not hard to pick up that Pete moved west for music, didn't make enough money to support himself, and picked up an escorting job for a flexible schedule. It would be funny if it wasn't so fucking cliché. "I don't have more clients this month, and the agency probably won't book me for enough since..."

It's only when Pete's been quiet for a little while that Patrick says, "Since?"

"Since I just have one and haven't asked for new ones in a while."

Patrick looks thoughtful. Pete doesn't dare ask him for his opinion, but after a minute, Patrick says, "Was that journal out front songs?"

"Lyrics."

"Would you mind if I read it?"

Pete's not completely oblivious. He's seen the framed records on the wall, some gold, some platinum. He knows what that means. When he raises an eyebrow, Patrick says, "What?"

Pete sighs. "I don't mind."

Patrick smiles and slips out of bed. Pete ogles him as he goes; Patrick doesn't have what people would consider a sculpted body, but Pete sure likes looking at it. Pete likes naked bodies in general. Yeah, maybe he works on his arms and abs because he's a vain motherfucker like half the people in this town, but that doesn't mean he doesn't like the natural form. Patrick's a great example.

Patrick pads in again with the journal in his hands, thumbing through the pages. He flops back on the bed and reads, and with his glasses on and nothing else, he looks like a nerd from a porno or something.

Pete props his head on his hands. "So."

"So?" Patrick asks without looking away from the pages.

"You going to leave me in suspense?"

Patrick reads for a couple more minutes - probably to let Pete squirm - and then he sets the journal on his lap. "How would you feel if I hired you for something different?"

"You mean that doesn't involve fucking?"

Patrick blushes a little. Still. After months of this. "I mean, I have a band that just lost half their members, lyricist included, and their label's giving me the evil eye like it's my fault. You'd get paid the industry rates for co-producing and co-writing, which is probably more than this."

"With all that money you put down, you think that's true?"

"Your agency has to take a huge cut." Patrick's look goes thoughtful. "And if they didn't nickel and dime you, I'd be extremely surprised."

Pete feels a grin spreading on his face. "Looks and business sense. Who knew."

"Think about it?"

Pete leans forward and kisses Patrick on the mouth. "Thought about it. Let's finish up your time here, and then I can fill out whatever paperwork you need me to fill out."

Patrick laughs, but it's cut off by a moan when Pete lets his hands go roaming again.

-

One week later

Coming into the studio again feels good. It felt good to go back to Chicago for a few days, too - Patrick had been stuck doing work in LA for so long he almost forgot what the Midwest looked like - but he'd been checking his phone every two seconds for updates from Pete. Which he didn't get because Pete had been adamant that he get time holed up with Brendon and Spencer with all contact to the outside world cut off.

Patrick had only had lunch with his mom once in that time because he'd spent so much time worrying over his quiet phone that she'd nearly chucked it out the window. But at least his Chicago place had gotten lived in for a few minutes.

"Patrick!" Brendon dashes up to Patrick and wraps his arms around him. Patrick hugs him back. He likes Brendon most of the time.

"Tell me you have something for me to work with," Patrick says when he pulls away. As much as he'd like to take time to catch up, studio time is money, and they've already squirreled a lot away.

"A whole album's worth," another voice says, and sure enough, Pete's leaning in a doorway. He looks exactly the same except for his hair; it's black instead of bleached, and Pete smirks at Patrick's double take. "Mostly resurrected stuff, so you won't have to throw out what you already had."

It isn't until Brendon says, "Yeah, someone locked us up and kept us awake until we had something" that Patrick tears his gaze away. Brendon does look a little tired, but he likes weed enough that the red eyes could be for a lot of reasons.

Pete scoffs quietly, supporting that theory. "Do I look like a taskmaster to you?"

"Well, let's hear what you have," Patrick says, and Brendon says, "Okay, let me just get Spencer and Dallon together. Think they were investigating the snack machines."

Brendon disappears, and Patrick goes inside the control room to drop on the couch. Pete follows him in and closes the door for a second.

"Hey, can I talk to you?" Pete asks.

Patrick's in the middle of pulling out his phone. He's got another producer at another studio working with another one of his bands; Travie's holding down the fort while Patrick finishes up with the Panic! guys. The last thing Patrick needs is to get even further behind and get labels even more pissed at him.

But he tucks it away and says "Sure" and tries to ignore the little thrill that goes through him. Pete's talking to him. Alone. That's meant very specific things in the past.

"So I'm really grateful for this job," Pete begins.

Patrick waves him off before he can get further. "You're doing me the biggest favor, dude. Just that you have anything and it might be enough to fulfill their commitment? The possibility? Saving me. I might not have to go back to Chicago with my tail between my legs."

"Like that's a problem." Pete smiles in that knowing, satisfied way of his, and Patrick has to shift on his chair. He can't get hard at work. That's not professional. "No, I was wondering. My other job?"

"You didn't quit, right?" Patrick's pretty sure Pete said he was keeping it. It's none of Patrick's business; he's worked with lots of guys who have multiple gigs before, and as long as they work it out with the studio time, it's not a big deal.

Pete frowns a little. "Uh. No. I didn't. But you didn't book me this week. Do you want to?"

"Oh!" Book him. For sex. "Oh. Um. No?"

Pete still looks troubled, but he laughs like he can't help it. "That a question or a statement?"

"No," Patrick says more firmly. "I didn't call to set anything up."

"Okay, good. So my phone isn't broken."

Patrick nods in agreement. "Always good to check."

"So are you going to..."

"Going to...?"

Pete throws up his hands. "Do I have to spell every fucking thing out, Stump? Do you want me to come over and fuck your brains out or not?"

Patrick, predictably, turns bright purple. Or he assumes he does - his cheeks hurt in that way. "Um. You don't have to spell it all out."

"Thanks."

Pete goes over to a coffee mug that's probably his, and somehow, that's what settles the new reality of their situation into their head. Pete works for Patrick. Not like he did before. Patrick would never think of Brendon the way he thinks of Pete.

The other guys piling in the room saves Patrick from answering, and it shouldn't be a relief. But it is.

Instead, he exchanges claps on the back with Spencer and Dallon, and he says, "Show me what you've got," knowing that's going to take them through the day and probably into the rest of the week.

-

Patrick's place is quiet and dark when he gets home. He doesn't bother with dinner or a shower. He gets into bed and tries to ignore how empty it feels. How empty it's going to feel in the future.

He doesn't get to sleep for a long time.

-

A week and a half later

Spencer's taking a break on drum tracking, pressing a towel to his face, when he makes his way toward Pete. Pete notices even over his laptop, so he smiles up at Spencer when he comes over.

"Does Patrick have a mustache that fell off or something?" Spencer asks.

"The fuck?" Pete frowns. "You've seen him just as much as I have."

"I don't know." Spencer looks out the window to where Patrick's visible in the hall on the phone. "It's just you stare at him every second you're not working, so I figured it was a missing mustache or waiting for a werewolf transformation. Something like that."

And Pete thought he was the one who had the occasional fur fixation. "You're watching me watch him. What's your excuse?"

Spencer shrugs and grabs for a bottle of water. "You're more entertaining than the wall."

Pete snorts without meaning to, but actually, now that he thinks about it... "How much do you know about Patrick's personal life?"

"Probably as much as you do."

"So you don't know who he's on the phone with right now?"

Spencer shrugs. "Hot date? There's a guy who calls him a lot. Named Travie or something? That's what his phone says. He runs out in the hall every time, too."

Pete's stomach drops into his feet, but he makes himself say, "You really need something else to stare at. I should tape Han Solo to the wall by your drums or something."

Spencer laughs and fucks off after that, but Pete stares at Patrick in the hallway. They were never the talking on the phone type, but Patrick's...Patrick's smiling occasionally. And laughing occasionally, too. He looks serious and intense and everything Pete could possibly...

No. That's not what he's thinking here. Pete's just squirrelly because every time he's tried mentioning hooking up with Patrick, Patrick dodges the subject like he's doing verbal parkour or some shit. It would be impressive if Pete wasn't so antsy about his other job. He has nothing to report to his agency. They're going to drop him if this keeps up.

...and would that be so bad?

Pete freezes, fingers hovering over his keyboard. This doesn't have to be just a temporary job, does it? He can hunt around after this is over, use it to springboard to more production work. It isn't the stage role he hoped for, but it's a start. Foot in the door.

He looks at the typed up notes and lyrics he's sending to the label and something warm tingles in his gut. God, it's been a long time since he's felt that fire.

Except he looks at Patrick and feels the same thing. Or close to it.

-

Patrick gets back in from his phone call with Travie. It looks like Patrick won't have much to do there, which is better than he could have hoped; Travie's been saying he'll finally get out that album of his own that he's been talking about, so he might be Patrick's next job instead.

Dallon's getting ready to track some bass while Spencer takes time to recover. Dallon's tuning up on the couch next to Pete, who's scowling at his laptop like it's wronged him in some way. Patrick's about to ask what's up when Dallon directs an "Everything okay?" at Patrick.

"Great," Patrick says honestly. "Everything's fantastic."

Maybe it's his imagination, but it looks as if Pete's scowl deepens.

When Dallon goes to hook up his bass, Patrick drops next to Pete. "Your laptop freeze or something?"

Pete...grunts. He's never a dude that's lacking for words, but he says nothing to go with it.

"Uh. Let me know if I can help?"

Pete nods without looking over at Patrick, and Patrick's stomach drops to his feet. He had been thinking...no, he couldn't ask Pete out to a bar for drinks because that's edging too close to other things. He can't give Pete the wrong idea.

Somehow, that doesn't ease the tightness in Patrick's stomach as he goes to the sound tech to check the levels on the board.

-

Three days later

Patrick's the one to snap first, which Pete's a little surprised about. Well, maybe he isn't surprised that Patrick's first; Pete's really just surprised Patrick snaps at all. He'd asked Pete to follow him out into the hall. And then he'd led him into an empty soundproof room, darker than the rest of the studio. And then he'd let Pete have it.

"I told you we weren't going with that song before we left last night," Patrick says in an increasingly high volume. "And you and Brendon put down vocals behind my back?"

"It's better when you hear it played!"

"It doesn't matter what the fuck it sounds like!" Pete jerks. Patrick never says fuck. He says darn and heck and maybe the occasional shit, but fuck has never been in his vocabulary. "I told you it wasn't happening, and I'm in charge!"

"So why don't you fire me? It's not like you haven't done it before!"

Patrick's purple, but it's his turn to look surprised. "I haven't fired you. I gave you a new job!"

"And you filled that position really fucking fast, didn't you? Is he good, by the way? The new guy?"

"I...what new guy? For what?"

Pete throws up his hands. "Fine. I don't care. But the song's good, which you would know if you'd get your head out of your ass."

"My head wouldn't be anywhere if you would actually fucking talk to me." Patrick's voice is a lot calmer, but he's gritting his teeth a little.

Pete doesn't have anything to say to that because Patrick's not wrong. Pete did stop talking to Patrick. He stopped coming up with new ideas and stopped helping much at all until he heard the new song Brendon wrote and insisted they record it even after the basic tracklist was in place.

But he can't say any of that. He can't say...he can't say he misses Patrick with actual words. So he just makes a wordless frustrated noise and storms out of the studio. It's pretty much the only concession he can give.

-

Pete's checking his email when Patrick gets back in the room.

He's been waiting for a message for days, and...it looks like he's finally got it. It's not the end of Pete's new career if it doesn't say what he wants it to say, he knows that, but god, if it's a no right now, when he's obviously burned some kind of bridge with Patrick...

Speaking of, Patrick's not looking anywhere near Pete's direction, but he's talking to a sound tech and Brendon about the song that Pete had been championing. Pete can't listen to that, either. He clicks open the email because it's the easier of the two things.

Anxiety rushes through Pete when he reads it the first time. He doesn't even take in the words, so he has to read it again. And...

"Good news?" Brendon bounces on the sofa next to Pete.

Pete laughs once, shaky. "Kind of, yeah." It hadn't seemed likely that Pete would get anywhere with an artist as big and as mainstream as Taylor Swift. But he'd made contacts in the label and asked people to pass around the work he'd been doing with Panic!, and apparently, it had gone to the right places.

Fucking hell. Maybe he can actually do this.

"Glad to hear it, dude." Brendon looks a little sad. "Look, Patrick totally went to bat for you on the song, but I decided to go with the setlist we all put together. No hard feelings, right?"

Pete sneaks a look up, and Patrick's across the room not looking at Pete. They're only going to be working in the same place for another couple days, and then Pete's going away. He won't have any excuse to see Patrick anymore.

"No," Pete says, voice shaking for a completely different reason. He tries to regain his composure. "Just remember b-sides. Or deluxe reissues. Or fuck, maybe your next album."

Brendon smirks. "That's why I like you, Pete. Confidence to spare."

Pete can't help but laugh. If only Brendon knew.

-

Four days later

Patrick's managed to be a professional for the rest of the recording time. So has Pete. The way it's played out has meant that they barely talk and never go near each other.

There's a party that last night. Low-key, since the flashier ones go with album releases for publicity reasons, but they get some food and booze (for the ones who are drinking - Spencer bows out early, citing exhaustion when Patrick tells him he's willing to enforce a clean party). Patrick drinks enough that he pulls out his karaoke version of Little Red Corvette in the booth, but he can still walk around and piss in the bathroom without difficulty.

People get cabs and significant others to drive them home before sunrise, but Patrick lingers. Pete does, too. They've circled each other all night, carefully not meeting each other's gazes one minute and carefully sharing a glance the next. Patrick spent half the time wishing he'd never offered Pete the job without putting Travie in Patrick's place and half the time tense because he has no clue what Pete's up to next. He'd offered to make some calls a couple days before, but Pete had said he was fine, and...maybe he is. Hopefully he is.

Patrick helps Brendon to the car where his wife Sarah's waiting and goes back in the studio for his own things. Pete's in the control room, not on his laptop for the first time in days and not doing anything in the half-dark room but play with the hoodie he's got balled up in his hands. He looks kind of sad in the shadows. Maybe he's tired, but Patrick doesn't think so.

"So," Patrick says, grabbing his wallet and keys from the top of the sofa.

"So," Pete agrees, not looking away from the floor.

They stand in silence for a moment. Then they both talk at once, Patrick not even entirely sure what he's saying until he breaks off into laughter. Pete's laughing, too.

"I suck at this," Patrick says to himself. He braces himself and asks, "So what are you up to after this?"

"Just helping an artist with her album. You might have heard of her." Pete smirks. "Or not. Taylor Swift's not a name that really sticks out."

Patrick sucks in a breath. "Are you kidding?"

"Not in the least."

Patrick smacks Pete lightly on the arm. "I was worried you were...I don't know, getting evicted or something! You could have told me!"

"You didn't exactly ask." Pete shrugs. "But then, neither did I. Who replaced me?"

Patrick blinks.

"For fuck's sake, Stump. At the agency. Who have you been seeing?"

"Uh. No one?"

It's Pete's turn to blink. "But you stopped booking me."

"Because you're my employee. Not because..." Patrick bites his lip. "Not because I don't want you. It was never that."

"Yeah?" Pete's face brightens, and he starts stepping closer.

"I've missed you a lot," Patrick says, swallowing.

Pete stops close enough that Patrick can feel the heat of his body even though they're not touching. "I'm not going to be your employee anymore," Pete murmurs, pointedly looking Patrick up and down.

Patrick shudders, but he flinches and steps away. He can't look at Pete.

Of course, he doesn't need to be looking at Pete to hear the hurt tone in his voice. "I thought you wanted me."

"I did. I do." Patrick takes his hat off his head so he can roll it in his hands for a second. It's a good thing he's got a disposable income; he's burned through a few hats like this. "But I can't...the escort thing was a shitty idea. I don't do things casually."

Pete taps gently on the bottom of Patrick's chin, and Patrick looks up into his eyes. Patrick's seen them this close a lot, and his body interprets that a very specific way, but now, Patrick can only feel how much he doesn't want Pete to leave.

"I quit the agency officially a few days ago," Pete says. "I'm done fucking for money."

"Oh."

"So that's not what I'm asking you for."

"Oh." Patrick scrunches his fingers even while he's leaning toward Pete. He doesn't know the etiquette here. Should he initiate and show Pete that he really does want him? Or does he let Pete take the lead so he can show that this is more than money to him?

They end up surging for each other at the same time, bumping noses painfully. Patrick groans and grabs his face, and Pete laughs, leaning his forehead against Pete's.

"So much for romance," Pete says with a little wince of his own.

They try again with a couple false starts and balks. Kissing doesn't happen because they end up with Pete leaning on Patrick's shoulder, eyes streaming as he laughs, and Patrick's too busy trying to stay upright to really do anything else.

"Maybe we should take this elsewhere," Patrick says. "It's been a mess here."

Pete leans up, eyes bright. "You could come to my place for a change. See the dump I've been living in before I give it up entirely."

"I'm sure it's not that bad."

"It is," Pete says, grabbing his keys. "But it's mostly my roommate's fault. The roommate who won't be there, for the record."

Either way, Patrick's in.

-

They don't see much of the apartment. There isn't much to see anyway. Both Pete and Andy are moving - Andy's using Pete getting a better apartment as an excuse to go back to the Midwest - so there's boxes everywhere.

The real feature of Pete's place is the bed that takes up his entire bedroom. It's not because the bed's large; queens just take up small rooms. Whatever, the thing's fucking comfortable, and he can tell when Patrick sits down and melts a little that Patrick's feeling it.

"Take off your...oof." Pete nearly falls over in his haste to pull off his boots. "Shit. I'm going to get a concussion before this is all over."

"Let's not do that," Patrick says warmly, hands folded in his lap.

Pete shakes his head. "No fucking way, dude. If anyone's going to sit and watch, it's going to be me."

"Is it?" Patrick bites his lip. For someone who comes off like a monk sometimes, he looks positively debauched before they've so much as kissed.

"Take off your damn clothes."

Patrick snickers. "Well, since you asked nicely."

Patrick strips, and it's a little awkward in the way that Patrick is. True to his word, Pete crosses his arm and watches. Patrick flushes pink on more than just his face when he's embarrassed and/or turned out, and now's no different; as he reveals pale skin, a bit of a flush seems to follow. And yes, that includes his cock, which is standing up and red.

"It's hot in here," Patrick says when he figures out where Pete's gaze is going, but he's smiling.

"So take off all your clothes," Pete says, vaguely singsongy as he throws off his shirt. He's not hesitant like Patrick, and not just because he has a couple years of practice having sex professionally under his belt. He's naked almost at the same time Patrick is, since Patrick lingers a little pulling off his underwear.

He sits on the bed next to Patrick, and Patrick climbs into his lap, kissing him. It's already different like this. When Patrick was paying, either Pete asked what Patrick wanted, and then they worked toward that, or Patrick asked for something in particular straight off. Patrick never just jumped into it, using his knowledge of Pete's body to get him hard.

Patrick's actually nibbling on Pete's ear, which is definitely a good way to get Pete ready, when Pete realizes that Patrick was hard before Pete was. Maybe Pete's nervous after all.

"Want you inside me," Pete says.

Yeah, definitely nervous, if the way his voice quavers on the last couple words gives him away.

Patrick kisses him on the cheek once. Whether it's an acknowledgment or soothing or just something sweet, Pete likes it. "You want to get ready, or do you want my help?"

It's something they've done before on both ends. Obviously, Pete's done it plenty with plenty of people, but the rush of Patrick asking him what he wants - and knowing he'll get it - is plenty. "Well, you're here."

"I am," Patrick says with a shy little smile. He bounces over to the other side of the bed to Pete's nightstand; it's pretty obvious that Pete sleeps on that side and doesn't have anyone else over much. Maybe that can change now.

Patrick's not as experienced with fingering as Pete is, but Pete likes it that way. Patrick's hesitant, careful. It's not a steamy fuckfest; it's Pete taking deep breaths and knowing that Patrick's watching out for him because he wants to, not because he feels an obligation or because there's money involved. There's nothing wrong with being an escort - it helped Pete out for years. But he didn't realize he was so done with the concept before.

It's when Patrick's fucking two fingers in and out of Pete and Pete's cock is starting to leak precome that Pete says, "Okay, let's do this thing."

Patrick chokes like he's trying to hold back a laugh and slides his fingers out. He does laugh a little more once he's clear, holding his lubed fingers out awkwardly. "Should we put some jock jams on? Or you can give me a pep talk."

It's Pete's turn to snicker. He's about ready to summon his inner Phil Jackson, but Patrick's fumbling with the condom, so he sits up and helps Patrick get it on. It's not that Patrick doesn't know how to do it - Patrick's proven many times that he's quite capable - but maybe he's just as nervous.

Pete gives Patrick a customary couple of strokes to make sure the condom's on well, and Patrick puts his clean hand on Pete's. Not to stop him, Pete thinks. Just to hold on.

"Yeah," Pete says, squeezing back. "Come on. Fuck me."

Patrick doesn't needle him further. He helps Pete lower down again and kisses him before spreading Pete open and lining up. "You okay on your back?"

Like Pete's going to turn down seeing Patrick's face. He nods.

Patrick proceeds to slide in slowly. This is why Pete wanted to do it this way; Patrick has the stamina of a motherfucker when he tops, and Pete wants to feel him. It would go too fast the other way. Not because Pete can't have stamina - he could go all night if he had to - but because he knows he doesn't have to this time. Just the idea combined with Patrick's girth stretching him open makes his cock twitch.

"Yeah," Pete says again. "Patrick."

"Pete," Patrick says, bracing himself over him. "God, Pete."

It's pretty straightforward after that. Pete doesn't touch his cock, but he's getting closer and closer as Patrick keeps up his slow and steady rhythm. It's so much more interesting now that Pete's seen Patrick in his writing element, knowing that the way he fucks is just like the way he works: measured and expert, steady until the exact moment he isn't. Pete pushes back against Patrick the more they go on. He wants to feel the moment Patrick loses control.

And he does. Patrick slumps forward a little and pounds unevenly, making these hot as fuck moans as he gets closer. He grabs one of Pete's hands again, and Pete grabs back, squeezing.

"Do it," Pete says. There might be pleading along with it. Pete will never admit to it, but either way, Patrick comes, pressing his hips flush against Pete's ass and filling the condom. Pete grabs his cock and gives himself a couple strokes, and then he comes messy against his stomach.

They slump together, breathing hard. Pete stares at Patrick's flushed face, grinning ridiculously, and Patrick's grinning back.

This can work. Pete can feel it. And Pete can tell Patrick feels it, too.