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Clandestine Boys (Have Nothing to Hide)

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"So," Mr. Wentz says, digging through the haphazard layer of papers that covers his desk. Patrick isn't even sure where is application is anymore, and he'd only handed it to Mr. Wentz a few minutes ago. He stays silent and watches as Mr. Wentz digs through the pile, tossing papers on top of an old computer monitor and muttering.

(It's weird thinking of the dude in front of him as a Mister. He can't be that much older than Patrick and he's covered in tattoos and his shirt says something about gay rights that simultaneously makes a fisting joke.

At least, Patrick thinks it makes a fisting joke. He's not really up on the lingo. The fisting lingo.)

"Fuck, okay," Mr. Wentz says. "Here. This is it. Because I'm assuming you're not Anjelica Rupert." He picks up another application, squinting and looking around for a moment before filing it on top of a Transformers lunchbox.

"I thought you only did male shoots," Patrick says, and he's entirely proud of the way that his voice comes out nice and even and solid. Perhaps even a little sharp, but he's starting to get the feeling that Mr. Wentz either doesn't notice or doesn't care.

"We do," Mr. Wentz says. "Clandestine Boys is one hundred percent dick, all the time. Major selling point. But Switchblades and Lace is our sister company, and Ashlee's studio is just down the street."

"Right," Patrick says. "I'm not Anjelica Rupert."

"Just checking," Mr. Wentz says, with a shrug. "You could be. This is a queer-friendly establishment." He points to the little rainbow triangle sign on the door.

"Right," Patrick says, after blinking at Mr. Wentz for a moment. "Uh. Well. Cool." Apparently Joe hadn't been kidding about this place being a little different from—well, every other porn studio on the planet. Which is actually kind of awesome, because it means Patrick might have a shot at making this whole stupid idea work.

"Anyway," Mr. Wentz says, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "So you're not Anjelica. You're Patrick Stump, and my good friend Joe sent you here, and you're willing to do combo shoots but you would prefer to start out solo, and—" He pauses, scanning down the sheet filled with Patrick's vitals and measurements and blood type. "Nine inc—Wow, okay, that'll work," Mr. Wentz says. "Yeah. You ever jerked off on camera before?"

"Keep reading," Patrick says, and wills his cheeks not to blush. This whole idea is so
stupid, but Joe had seemed to think it was perfect, and if Patrick doesn't come up with a lot of cash, soon, he's going to lose the studio. His dignity is a small price to pay for the one thing that Patrick's ever built out of nothing with his own two hands.

"Huh," Mr. Wentz says, when he gets to the "Religious/Personal/Medical Restrictions" line. "You don't want to get naked?"

"That's a thing, right?" Patrick says. "Like. Being all half-clothed and shit. Or mostly clothed. That's a sexy thing, right? People go for that. They do. People totally go for that."

"Sometimes," Mr. Wentz says, kicking back in his chair and giving Patrick a long, thoughtful once-over. "It's not what we usually sell, but we do hire the character, not the script."

"The what?" Patrick says.

"We hire characters," Mr. Wentz says, leaning forward again. "You come on board, you get a persona, a new name, a backstory. We write the script around the characters, so it's always something that works for everyone involved."

"Thats..." Patrick stares at him. "Extremely enlightened for the porn industry," is what he comes up with.

"Well, it also encourages repeat viewing," Mr. Wentz points out. "Some of our guys have a pretty hard-core internet following. It's all about selling the image. We sell cute, adorable, sexy gay porn idols who will do filthy, filthy things on camera. I'm just trying to think about how we can work a never-nude into that."

"I'm not a never-nude," Patrick says. "You know that's fake, right? Like Arrested Development made that up."

"Says you," Mr. Wentz says. "How do you feel about debauching?"

"What?" Patrick says.

"We need to play up your virginal looks," Mr. Wentz says, squinting at him. His voice has dropped a little, something low and husky, and Patrick shifts uncomfortably under his gaze. "Yeah. Shy virgin, light hair, great mouth, secret jerk-off sessions in the bathroom? Yeah. And maybe you're biting your fist to keep the sounds in because you don't want your parents to hear, and you've got your dick pulled out of your shorts, and you're sliding your fingers just over the tip, and bucking your hips up—"

"Uh," Patrick says, because wow, that was detailed. He's a little hard. "Fuck."

"It's hot, right?" Mr. Wentz says, and grins wide and delighted at him. "I'm going to write that one down. Definitely something we can work with for your first shoot. But if we take you on, I think we're going to have to agree that you need to do some non-solo shoots. It's the only way your storyline can really come to fruition."

"Do I get to pick who it is?" Patrick says, frowning.

"It won't be for at least a month or two," Mr. Wentz says, waving his hand. "But yeah, meet the other guys, decide which ones you'd be okay with shooting some scenes with and get back to me. That's fine."

"So—that's it?" Patrick says, not sure he's parsing this whole conversation correctly. "I'm in, and I can keep most of my clothes on?"

"Yep," Mr. Wentz says, turning back to his desk littered with papers. He fumbles around under a stack of take-out menus, and comes up with a bright-pink file folder. He shoves Patrick's application into it and says, "I like you, and you're hot, and you apparently have a huge dick, and Joe likes you, and it's something we haven't tried before. Why not? Variety is the spice of life."

"Great," Patrick says, and tries not to let his flood of relief show through to his expression. Thank fuck for Joe and his weirdo hardcore queer porn-shooting friends. "Thanks, Mr. Wentz. Thank you."

Mr. Wentz rolls his eyes. "Just call me Pete," he says, rising up out of his chair to shake Patrick's hand with a firm, almost painfully tight grip. "I don't even bother with the Mr. Wentz shit anymore. It's really hard to enforce that kind of authority structure when your crew is just sitting around watching you get fisted all day."

"You—" Patrick pauses. "You shoot your own videos?"

"Go home and take a closer look at the site," Pete says, giving him a smirk. He leans over Patrick's shoulder and plucks a business card out of a fishbowl that's resting precariously on top of a file cabinet and then tucks it in the front pocket of Patrick's jacket. "Your membership code is on the card. I'll call you in a few days when the paperwork is ready and you can come back in and sign everything. I'll get Gabe to give you a tour. He's my right-hand guy."

"Great," Patrick says. He follows Pete out of the studio and shakes his hand again, and then he steps out of the studio into the late-morning Chicago light and dials Joe on his cell.

"I got it," Patrick says, as soon as he picks up. He can hear the repeating loop of a drum track in the background, which means Darren hasn't quite nailed down the drums on that Weeping Willow song yet. "I'm in."

"Sweet," Joe says easily. He sounds stoned. If he's been smoking joints in the studio with Bob again, Patrick is going to kill him. He doesn't need his soundboards to smell like weed. "What'd you do, promise him studio time?"

"Oh," Patrick says, and blinks. Joe did say that he knew Pete from way back in the Chicago screamo scene; maybe that would have made more sense then pitching Pete his never-nude proposal. "No, uh, I just told I him I didn't want to get really naked and he thought about it and came up with a scenario," Patrick says. He tries and fails to ignore a memory of Pete's voice detailing how Patrick—Patrick's character—was going to jerk off. Maybe this is something he's just going to have to get used to now that he's making professional queermo porn.

"Was it hot?" Joe says. "Did he hit on you? Pete hits on everyone. He hit on me a few times. It's like his own special version of a handshake. It just means he thinks you're neat."

"I don't know," Patrick says fumbling in his wallet for his bus pass. "It's kind of hard to tell. We were talking about how I'm going to jerk off on camera, like, it's sort of his job to say sexy shit."

"Word," Joe agrees. "You coming back? We're about to lay down the percussion tracks and then I think Greta has some stuff she wanted to talk to you about."

"Yeah, I'm already on my way," Patrick says, hurrying across the street to the nearest bus stop because he can see the 157 heading down the road towards him. "Don't lay down the marimba stuff until I'm there, okay?"

"Will do," Joe says solemnly. "We will save the marimba for your gentle loving fingers alone."

"Shut the fuck up," Patrick says. "I'll be there in twenty, okay?"

"Affirmative," Joe says. "And hey, dude? Congrats."

"Thanks," Patricks says. "I think."

Patrick spends the next few days deep in the studio with The Hush Sound, emerging only to eat and make some necessary phone calls and shift money around so the studio can stay afloat until he gets his first advance. He sticks Joe on office duty, which means that Joe gets to watch Kevin Smith's entire oeuvre on Patrick's shitty old laptop in Patrick's tiny windowless office and order everyone food when they get hungry and wait for the phone to ring. It doesn't, not with anything important, until Thursday morning when Joe sticks his head out of the office and tells Patrick that he has to take the call.

"Be right back," Patrick mouths through the glass at Bob, who nods and continues laying down the backing guitar parts.

"Who is it?" Patrick says, turning to Joe and taking the cordless phone out of his hand.

"Pete," Joe says, winking at him. "He wants you to come in to tour the studios. And then he wants to take pictures of your dick."

"He does not," Patrick says flatly, his heart suddenly racing in his chest. The phone squawks in his hand, and Patrick sighs and raises it to his ear.

"Pete, hi," he says, and hopes he sounds like a professional, competent studio owner and not someone who just nearly swallowed his own tongue at the thought of showing Pete Wentz his dick. "What can I do for you?"

"Paperwork's all set," Pete says. "You want to come down and get the tour? Or are you guys busy in the studio?"

"Uh," Patrick says, considering. He slants his eyes over at Bob, who is lost in his own world behind the studio glass. "Not too busy, I guess. Joe can take it from here."

"Great," Pete says. "Great. We're shooting a couple of different scenes today for Hot Asses 3, so you'll get a feel for what we offer. You checked out the website, right?"

"Sure," Patrick lies. He's been practically sleeping at the studio all week, and Pete's card is still sitting untouched in his front jacket pocket. Hot Asses 3 sounds terrifying. Patrick doesn't have a hot ass. "Yeah. Good stuff. Very, uh. Sexy."

"We like to think so," Pete says easily. "So hey, can you make it here by around two?"

"Will do," Patrick promises. "I'll see you then." He hangs up, and then hands the phone back to Joe.

"Sexy porno times?" Joe says, wiggling his eyebrows at him. "Can I come?"

"You're not invited," Patrick says. "You get to watch the studio while I'm gone."

"Just promise you'll tell me everything when you meet the girls from Switchblades and Lace," Joe says, giving Patrick a rueful look. "Tell me, and take lots of pictures. On-set pictures. Close-up ones."

"I am not fueling your jerk-off fantasies even a little bit," Patrick says, and privately resolves to ask Pete if he can snag Joe one of those free memberships at some point in the future.

Gabe Saporta is very tall, very thin, very handsome, and he likes to fist people.

These are the first facts that Patrick learns about him once he steps through the door of Clandestine Studios as an official employee-to-be, although as Gabe points out, they certainly won't be the last.

"If you wanted to shoot a scene together, I'd be down," Gabe says, giving Patrick a winning smile and a long once-over as they walk side-by-side down the hall to business office. "How big's the package? Pete said it's pretty big. Think we could go for a jerk-off contest? Those always get lots of hits. The internet loves that shit."

"Wow," Patrick manages. "Uh."

"Two big dicks, lots of come," Gabe says, flashing him another saucy smile. "My favorite thing. Pete's favorite thing, too. Okay, it's this door, right here," Gabe says, steering Patrick into a room to his left. He thinks Gabe might be teasing him, but he's not entirely sure. It's slightly worrying.

In contrast to Pete's office, the business office is well-organized and mostly spotless. There is a small and very tattooed man sitting behind the desk in a baseball cap, watching the game on his laptop.

"Paperwork's on the desk," he says, without looking away from the screen. "I put those little sticky arrow things where you have to sign. Just drop it off in my inbox when you're done." He pauses for a moment, and then continues with a thoughtful, "Welcome to the company. Don't fuck it up."

"Thanks?" Patrick says, picking up the stack of papers carefully and edging away. Gabe nods at him when they're back outside, continuing to walk down the center hallway. "That's Brian," Gabe says. "He's really serious about baseball sometimes. You just kind of have to roll with it."

"Right," Patrick says. "No, that's cool. Understandable."

"If you're into that sort of thing," Gabe says, shrugging as he leads Patrick into what seems to be a green room. There's only one person in there, a little guy with big glasses and a guitar resting on his lap, and Patrick stares openly as he connects the familiar face with a name.

"Brendon?" Patrick says, and Brendon Urie grins and jumps up from his seat on the couch, tripping across the room to give Patrick a one-armed hug, guitar still in hand.

"Dude," Brendon says, beaming at him. He looks different than he did at seventeen; he's filled out, grown into his features, and Patrick realizes with a weird sort of shock that Brendon is no longer tiny and adorable. He's hot, and it's throwing Patrick for a loop.

"Holy shit, I didn't even make the connection," Brendon says, rocking up on his toes a little. "Everyone was talking about how we'd hired some guy named Patrick but I didn't think it was you."

"Hah, yeah," Patrick says awkwardly, looking down at his feet. He's pretty sure that no one who has ever met him would suspect him of being the type of person to willingly whip his dick out on camera, which is partially why this whole gig makes so much sense. If anyone ever recognizes him, Patrick is pretty sure they'll just convince themselves it's a disturbingly close doppelganger. "We, ah. The studio could use some extra cash."

"Word," Brendon says solemnly. "This is how I pay for my studio time in LA. Shit, I haven't seen you in forever. Did you get the copy of Mona Lisa I sent you?"

"Oh yeah," Patrick says, starting to grin. "Yeah, of course. I actually - Track Five is loaded onto the third soundboard, you know, the one with all the samples? Because that shit you did with with the layering was awesome, and sometimes I can't figure out how to explain what I want from a vocalist and then I just have to press the button and they can hear it," Patrick says. Brendon grins at him, bright and wide. Patrick has always wondered if maybe he shouldn't have encouraged Brendon to move out to LA after high school, because even at sixteen Brendon was stupidly talented, a bona-fide musical genius just waiting to break free. He'd come into Patrick's studio off the street with $500 and a guitar and a plea for just two minutes of Patrick's time to show Patrick he was worth it, and the minute he'd opened his mouth Patrick had known he was going to let this kid record a demo whether he could pay for it or not. It sucks that Brendon's amazing talent isn't associated with Soul Punk Studios except by word of mouth, but Patrick can live with that. There was never any question in his mind that Brendon had been worth taking a chance on.

"That's amazing," Brendon says. "Coming from you, I mean—such an honor, you know? Dude, I have so much to tell you, I've been working with this amazing guy in LA—" but before he can finish his story Gabe's wrapping his large palm around Brendon's shoulder.

"B, your scene starts shooting in an hour, and Patrick needs to fill out his new hire paperwork," Gabe says. "Talk while you suit up, okay?"

"Oh, totally," Brendon says, nodding at Gabe. "Sorry, I just—Patrick took a chance on me when I was like sixteen and broke. He's awesome. He's got his own studio downtown and he's seriously like the best producer in Chicago."

"Did he now," Gabe says, and Patrick doesn't think he's imagining the new-found respect in Gabe's eyes. He can definitely see why Pete put him in charge.

"It was just—you know," Patrick fumbles. "I mean. It's Brendon."

"It is," Gabe agrees. "Truer words, my friend. But listen, I need to head out and check on the scenes that are already filming," Gabe says. "Lots of cock that needs my attention. I'll be back for you, Stump. Just hang around here and fill that stuff out. Or hang out with Brendon in the dressing room or something."

"Okay," Patrick says, and follows Brendon's excited voice through a door in the back of the room, into to a well-lit closet stuffed with lingerie.

"Just put the guitar down in the corner," Brendon says, tugging his shirt off and starting in on his pants. Patrick blinks at him, and then he sets Brendon's guitar down in the corner. He knows that people generally have to get naked to do porn, and that the fact that Brendon needs to get ready for his shoot means that Brendon needs to be naked. He just hadn't connected those facts with the fact that Brendon is suddenly completely fucking naked in front of him until right now.

"So what's your specialty going to be?" Brendon says, pulling what looks like a large alcohol wipe out of a tub and carefully rubbing himself down. He's already entirely shaved—legs, balls, armpits, everything—and Patrick wonders if he's going to have to do that. Maybe he'll just have to shave his dick, since it's only part anyone's going to see. But if he's supposed to be some blushing virgin why would he shave his dick? That's stupid. Maybe he should talk to Pete about that.

"Uh," Patrick says, and tries not to stare at Brendon's dick as it waves around. Brendon has one of those model-perfect bodies, and the whole package is rather distracting. "It's going to be a semi-clothed thing. Like, really playing up the innocent virgin, doesn't want to get naked, that kind of thing."

"Oh nice," Brendon says, nodding approvingly. "Maybe we could do a scene together once you've done some solo vids. Maybe your innocent persona wants to explore the dark side." He's tugging on a pair of tiny black satin panties, and Patrick's having a lot of trouble looking away.

"What's your specialty?" Patrick says, even though he thinks he might know the answer. Brendon's leaning over now, gathering up a pair of black seamed stockings up into a circle before pointing his toe and sliding his left leg into them.

"Three guesses," Brendon says, grinning at him. "Nah, I mean, I don't always do the crossdressing thing? But I have a great ass, and I do a lot of spanking scenes. It looks awesome on camera with the thigh-highs."

"Right," Patrick says. "Of course."

"I need you to help me get into the corset, though," Brendon says, sliding his other leg into the stockings and then clipping a garter belt around his waist. It hangs low on his hips and frames his crotch and wow, Patrick seriously cannot look anywhere but Brendon's dick right now, which he supposes means the outfit is working. "It's really hard to lace it up without help."

"There's a corset?" Patrick says dumbly, and then rolls his eyes at himself because duh, of course there's a corset. Brendon is standing next to a rack full of corsets in thigh-high stockings and a garter belt. A corset is the next obvious step.

"It's the one at the front," Brendon says, doing a little shimmy-step in the mirror to make sure his garter belt will stay on. "Can you grab it for me? I'm just going to put the plug in."

"Oh my god," Patrick says incredulously, because okay, fuck it, he's played this really cool so far but Brendon is lubing up a fairly large buttplug with a completely unconcerned expression and jesus christ, maybe Patrick isn't cut out for this.

Brendon smirks at him in the mirror, giving him a little wink. "It's okay," Brendon says. "I went and threw up in the bathroom on my first day here. And then I went home and jerked off for like two hours. You get used to it."

"Yeah," Patrick says. "I do. I just. Is it rude? If I watch you do it? Because I don't think I can not watch you do that right in front of me. Except that's weird, right? Because I'm not all blase about it? Fuck, maybe I shouldn't watch—oh fuck," Patrick says, because Brendon is tugging his panties down and just sliding the plug in, no big deal, and Patrick can see everything, can see how his body just takes it, all snug and perfect, and his ass is framed by the garter belt and now Patrick is hard and this is awkward.

"Nah," Brendon says, pulling his panties back up. His voice sounds a little breathier than it was a moment ago. "You can watch my scene, if you want. I got rid of all my shame a long time ago. Hand me the corset?"

"I have lots of shame," Patrick says, handing the corset to Brendon. It's black and silky, with lace all over and cream ribbons down the back. "Lots and lots of it."

"Nobody's perfect," Brendon says. He wiggles himself into the circle of the corset with his hands above his head, and then one he's got it settled around his hips he looks over his shoulder at Patrick. "It's like lacing up a shoe," Brendon says. "Just go slow, I kind of like my ribcage the way it is."

"It's a very nice ribcage," Patrick says, and then resolves to never speak again. He concentrates on figuring out the laces instead, poking here and pulling there until it's nice and tight against Brendon's skin. He tells himself that Brendon isn't wearing a plug right now, so there's no point in looking down to see if he can see the shape of it through the panties. It's just a figment of his imagination, that's all. He totally dreamed it up. Totally.

"Great," Brendon says, when he's all done. "Thanks. I just need to do my makeup and stuff, and I'll be all set. You should sign your paperwork, Gabe will be back soon."

"Shit," Patrick says, and fumbles through his pockets for a pen. He signs hurriedly at all the arrows and tells himself he'll read the fine print later. He trusts Pete, even though he's only met him once, and most of the forms he glances at deal with things like privacy notices and making sure Patrick gets a battery of medical tests and bloodwork before he's allowed to shoot a scene. He doesn't think Clandestine Industries is out to screw him.

Figuratively, anyway.

"Okay," Brendon says, turning around once he's finished his primping. As far as Patrick can tell Brendon's just added some smudgy eye-makeup-stuff and made his mouth all pink and shiny. It's subtle, but noticeable, and it makes Patrick kind of want to give him a thumbs-up for being really good at this crossdressing thing but maybe that's rude or something.

"I need my heels, and we can go," Brendon says. "I need to run over to the set real quick and see if Spence needs me for scene blocking for before we start." He gives Patrick an expectant look, eyes flickering over his head, and Patrick stares cluelessly at Brendon for a moment before he thinks to turn around and oh, duh, he's standing in front of a small shelf full of shoe boxes. He picks the one labeled BDEN :)! in thick sharpie off the shelf and hands it over to Brendon, who tugs out the stilettos inside and slips them on. Patrick turns to grab Brendon's guitar, but Brendon shakes his head, smiling at Patrick as he stands up and crosses the tiny room, his gait noticeably different now that he's wearing heels.

"Don't worry about it, no one will touch it," Brendon says. "Pete stole half his staff from Chicago's indie music scene when he first opened up. No one at Clandestine would willingly damage my guitar."

"That's good," Patrick agrees, setting the guitar more carefully in the corner so it won't fall over while they're gone. "I like this company's priorities."

"Me too," Brendon says. "It's pretty much why I work here." He opens the door that leads out to the green room, and Patrick follows him out, a little taken aback at the change in atmosphere. When he'd left to help Brendon get ready, it had been a quiet, cozy room full of threadbare couches, strewn haphazardly with backpacks and personal belongings. Now there are at least twelve people crammed into the tiny room, perched on couch arms and sitting on laps, laughing and eating and drinking.

"Everyone, this is Patrick," Brendon says, to the room at large, giving a little wave and a nod in Patrick's direction. He doesn't raise his voice, but Patrick notices that almost everyone stops to at least listen to what Brendon has to say, giving Patrick a friendly nod or a smile. He wonders how long Brendon's been working here, to have that kind of seniority over the rest of staff—and then he remembers Brendon was sixteen when he first met him, and attempts to erase that train of thought all together. He thinks he's probably better off not knowing when Brendon started working for Pete's porn company.

"Just hang out, okay?" Brendon says, giving Patrick's shoulder a squeeze. "Find an empty chair and introduce yourself to people. Everyone's pretty nice. I need to run and find Spencer."

"Sure," Patrick says, and goes to find an empty seat. He's not the best at meeting new people, but there's an empty folding chair in the corner next to a large, muscular guy and Patrick decides that at the very least, Muscular Guy looks pretty engrossed in his copy of Musician's Friend. It's less intimidating than trying to squeeze himself on to one of the couches with lots of people he doesn't know yet.

Muscles Guy nods at Patrick when he sits down, giving him a friendly smile, but stays silent, wrapped up in his reading. Patrick has enough time to look over and discern that yeah, this guy is really big compared to Patrick, and yeah, that's definitely like, body oil that he's covered in and yeah, that's definitely an erection that's poking up from under his modesty towel. Muscles Guy seems unconcerned by all of this, occasionally shaking his brown curls out of his eyes when he needs to turn a page, but otherwise remaining still and silent.

"So," Patrick says, when he can't take it any longer. He wants to say something like dude, you have a boner, how can you concentrate on that magazine? but he doesn't, because that would be a weird and creepy thing to say to someone he's barely met, even on the set of a porn studio. "What's your, um, specialty?"

"Huh?" the guy says, looking up and focusing on Patrick as if he's just noticed that Patrick is there. "Oh, my, um. Yeah. I—mostly I fuck people," the guy says, looking amused. He has a high, surprisingly squeaky voice for such a big guy. He looks down at his lap, and then back up at Patrick. "Yeah," the guy says unnecessarily. "I didn't really—Pete said I didn't really need a specialty."

"I can see that," Patrick says.

"I'm Ray," the guy says, reaching out to shake Patrick's hand. His palm is greasy. "Ray Toro. Nice to meet you."

"That's a great name," Patrick says approvingly, once he's flashed back to 9th grade Spanish class. "How do you guys come up with the names, anyway? Do the writers give them to us, or do we get to pick?"

"Oh—no, that's my actual name," the guy says, flashing Patrick a big smile. "Ironic, right? No, my character's name is Steven Jones."

"Oh," Patrick says.

"Yeah," Ray says. "Anyway, you can come up with something on your own, and if you don't the writers can come up with something for you. Find out who's in charge of your character in the writing department and then you can go from there."

"I am," a girl says, leaning over the back of the couch to give Patrick a smile. She has short blond hair, and she's wearing a lot of eye makeup. "I told Ryan he couldn't have you. What do you think about Jameson Smith? Too prep school? Actually, hey—" she cuts off, setting her sandwich aside on someone's lap and fumbling in her bag for a pen. "Prep school," she mutters, writing the words on the back of her hand. "Prep school. I like it. How do you feel about school uniforms? Ties?"

"Great," Patrick says, nodding emphatically. The more clothing he gets to wear, the better.

"Are you going to eat this?" the guy next to her says, raising his eyebrow. He's tall and handsome and covered in tattoos, and Patrick feels his face heat just a little at the idea that he could conceivably shoot a scene with this guy. It doesn't help that he's only wearing a towel, his skin shiny and glistening just like Ray's. "Because seriously, if you don't take it back, I'm going to eat it."

"Go for it," the girl says, still writing on her hand. "I'm Z, by the way," Z says, nodding at Patrick. "And this is Travis—" she points to the guy next to her, digging into the other half of her sandwich—"and Mikey, Shane, Ian, Ryan, Tom, Frank and Bob." She goes around the room as she points, and Patrick nods along, trying desperately to match names to faces so he'll remember.

"We have two full crews," the guy named Shane tells Patrick, chasing the last pasta noodle out of his tupperware container with a fork. "Spencer and I each head up a team, and we can both split our teams down even further so we can run up to four scenes at once if we need to. You'll get a small team at first, I think - Pete said something about you only wanting to do solo shoots for a while?" Shane looks expectantly at Patrick, so Patrick nods, feeling the weight of the room's eyes on him. Their gaze isn't unfriendly, but Patrick still kind of sucks at being the center of attention. He can feel himself starting to blush.

"Yeah, for solo shoots Spence and I will probably just set everything up and then pop in and out and make sure everything's running okay," Shane says. "You'll have either Dallon or Bob here behind the camera—" he points to the blond guy with the beard, who stays expressionless—"and you'll have either Jon or Tom shooting stills, and that's it. As long as you memorize the script, you'll be fine."

"And don't come all over everything before you're supposed to," the tiny guy with the curly hair adds, to a general round of laughter. Shane rolls his eyes. "This is my cousin Ian," he says, jerking a finger at the tiny guy. "He managed to hit Jon's camera lens once by accident, and he's still way too damn proud of that fact."

"Hazards of the job," Ian says, grinning at Patrick. Patrick can't help by smile back—Ian's whole face just lights up when he smiles, and it's infectious. "I would have tried to hit Shane, but he was too far away."

"Isn't that weird for you guys?" Patrick says, before he realizes that maybe that's not a tactful thing to ask in case it is weird. But Shane had mentioned that they were cousins right away, so maybe Patrick's okay.

"Nah" Shane says, grinning. "I just spend a lot of time staring very firmly at Ray's ass." Patrick whips his head around, looking back and forth between Ian and Ray because like—wow. That's one hell of a size difference there. A sexy, sexy size difference. Ray hides behind his magazine and pretends not to notice them, but when he turns the pages Patrick can see that he's blushing. He wonders if the blush is for Shane or for Ian, and then he's interrupted by the arrival of Gabe, bursting into the room while clapping his hands to a syncopated beat like he's about to start beatboxing.

"No more Micheal Jackson," the blond guy with the faux-hawk tells him witheringly. Patrick thinks his name might be Mikey.

"Victoria lets me sing Michael Jackson to her when she's getting ready to film," Gabe croons, leaning on the back of the couch so he's even closer to Mikey.

"Victoria loves you more than I do," Mikey tells him, not cracking a smile. "And you didn't prank Victoria's set this morning by switching all of her prerecorded soundboard moans to Micheal Jackson."

"That's what you think," Gabe says, flashing him a smile. "Anyway. People! Lunch ends in ten, vamanos, let's go," Gabe calls out, still clapping along to his own beat. Patrick's starting to recognize it—it's either the bridge from A-B-C, or I Want You Back. Or both. His toe is starting to tap along to the beat.

Everyone groans and begins to stand up, dumping Tupperware back into messenger bags and shoving paper plates and empty soda cans into the trash. "Hey," Ian says, suddenly closer, and Patrick looks up only to see he's talking to Ray, standing in front of Ray's chair and shifting his weight from foot to foot.

"Hey," Ray says, blinking up at Ian and then smiling awkwardly, lowering his magazine. Patrick stays right where he is, unwilling to interrupt.

"How'd this morning go?" Ian says, rubbing the back of his neck and not making eye contact with Ray. "With the solo shoot? Everything work out okay?" He's blushing.

"Yeah, no, it was great," Ray says. "I mean, uh, no money shot, because Spencer said we're going to swap in an old one, so, you know." He coughs. "Ready to go, and all that." Ray is definitely blushing.

"Good," Ian says, almost too quick. "Great. That's great. I'm going to uh—run and shower? I didn't get a chance this morning. But I'll be in a sec, okay? And then we can run through the positions and the framing?"

"Sure, sure," Ray says, bobbing his head, and Patrick thinks, oh my god, they're totally gone for each other.

"How often do you and Ian shoot together?" Patrick asks casually, after Ian's hurried out. Ray's standing up and stretching his back, placing his catalogue carefully on the folding chair for later.

"We, uh, it's a new thing," Ray says, hiding behind his hair a little. "He used to shoot mostly with Travis, but now Travis is being worked into Gabe and Pete's storyline? As a second top for Pete? So that left Ian free, and my old shooting partner just retired from the business, so," Ray says. "He, uh—Ryan's in charge of our script, and he came up with this whole story about Ian being this aspiring musician and me being his guitar teacher."

"Wow," Patrick says. "That's. Innovative." And weirdly close to my day job, Patrick thinks, but he keeps his mouth shut.

"It's a good plot," Ray says, nodding earnestly. "And Ian's great to work with. He's super talented, seriously, you should come and watch. He's really flexible."

"I'm sure he is," Patrick says, just as he feels a hand on his shoulder. "But I think my schedule this afternoon is up to Gabe."

"Damn straight it is," Gabe purrs, and Patrick fights not to shrug Gabe's hand off his shoulder. It's not that he doesn't like Gabe, but there's a thread of steel beneath the tone that immediately sets Patrick on guard. He thinks back to Ray mentioning how Gabe was a top for Pete, and Pete's offhand remarks about fisting, and feels suddenly grateful that Pete and Gabe aren't shooting a scene. He likes Gabe well enough, but he's not sure he could handle watching that today. The thought of it makes him feel weird inside.

"Right," Patrick says, attempting a smile and letting himself be led out of the green room behind Ray and Gabe. "All yours."

Patrick doesn't run into Pete again until he's huddled by the coffee maker in the green room, pouring himself a cup while trying futilely to make sense of the past few hours. There's been an unprecedented amount of dick in his day so far, and it's throwing his whole worldview out of whack. It's not that Patrick doesn't enjoy dick, he's just not sure he's even seen quite so much of it before.

"So?" Pete's voice says calmly, from way too close behind Patrick. Patrick startles, but he manages not to burn himself on the coffee.

"It's good," Patrick says, taking a deep breath and then turning around to give Pete an encouraging, if weak smile. "The company seems great, I love it."

"You hate it," Pete says, his face falling. He's wearing a thin black t-shirt that says "Straight Above the Waist" and his arms are crossed in front of him, showing off his tattoos. "You hate it and you totally don't want to do this, do you?"

"No, it's not—no," Patrick says, scrubbing a hand across his eyes. Fuck. Pete's looking at him like Patrick killed his puppy, and even though Patrick has invested a lot of time and energy over the years into not giving a fuck what people think, he's suddenly struck by the urge to somehow make Pete happy. It's an unfamiliar feeling. "It's really good, and everyone is awesome, and the working environment is great and the porn is hot," Patrick says honestly, because all of that is true.

"So what's wrong?" Pete says. "Why aren't you smiling? Porn should make people happy. You should be smiling. You're so cute when you smile."

"I'm just—adjusting," Patrick says, and very carefully does not say, I am so scared to get up in front of those cameras, and also every single person I saw filming today is twenty times hotter than me. "I mean, it's just. It's a little weird. I've actually known Brendon since he was a teenager," Patrick says, trying not to blush at the memory of Brendon's scene. Even the director, Spencer, had had trouble looking away. Patrick really didn't know you could make yourself come that hard with just a plug. It had been enlightening. Patrick's starting to think he should have taken notes.

"Oh, Brendon," Pete says, smiling fondly. The expression comes out a little demented, but Patrick supposes it's the thought that counts. "Isn't he fantastic? God, you should have seen him when he first tried out, he was so shy. And I mean, just between you and me, I probably shouldn't have hired him because of the age thing, but—"

"Oh god don't tell me," Patrick says quickly, wincing. "Fuck. Sorry. I just. He's like my kid brother. Please don't tell me he was illegally shooting gay porn when I was helping him record demos."

"Oh," Pete says. "Well, in that case, he definitely wasn't illegally shooting gay porn when you were helping him record demos."

"Good," Patrick says. "I appreciate that. Thank you for reaffirming my faith in humanity."

"You're welcome," Pete says. "And don't worry, that's not standard operating procedure anymore." He flashes Patrick another grin. "It never really was. It was back when we were trying to find a distributor, and it was just me, Brendon, and Ryan. Those were the days," Pete says wistfully, and Patrick tries not to think about how many times Pete has probably had sex with Brendon. On camera.

Oh god.

"Right," Patrick says. "So, I. Anyway. It's just weird. I'll get over it. When did you want to start filming?"

"Z said she'll have your first script in a day or two," Pete says. "What's your schedule look like next week?"

"It's pretty open," Patrick lies. "Whenever you need me." It's not open at all—he's got the Hush Sound with him for a month, and they're paying good money for his experience and his equipment, and Patrick feels fucking terrible for skipping out on them in the studio even for a few days. But he also knows that Joe's talked to both Bob and Greta about the situation, and while Joe doesn't have quite the range of experience that Patrick has, it's pretty close. Besides, it's not like he has another option. Patrick has to make up his back-rent payments, and soon, or there won't be any Soul Punk Studios to record at.

"Great," Pete says. "Come in on Monday, and we'll take it from there. Go see Brian first thing and he'll tell you where you need to be and when for the rest of the week."

"Sure," Patrick says. He sets down his coffee cup and holds out his hand, feeling like he should probably thank Pete again for this whole deal—for hiring him, for checking up on him, the works. Pete looks down at Patrick's hand in confusion, and then pulls him into a quick hug.

"This is a hugging kind of workplace," Pete tells him seriously. He smells really good.

"Right," Patrick says weakly. He stands there and lets himself be hugged by Pete for a moment, and then Pete pulls back. "And if you're not cool with that, Brian has these neat little sexual harassment forms all made up for you that say NO HUGGING and you've just got to sign at the bottom," Pete says. "And then you get stickers for your locker and everything. 'No Hugging' stickers. We like to keep everyone comfortable around here."

"I might sign one of those," Patrick says. He has no idea if Pete is kidding or not. "I'm not really the hugging type."

"Well then," Pete says, flashing him a grin. "I'm glad I got to you first."

"Right," Patrick says, choosing to politely ignore any and all of the implications of that sentence. He's starting to see what Joe meant about Pete and innuendo. "Well. I'll, um. See you next week, then."

"Looking forward to it," Pete says, giving him a once-over that tries and fails at subtle. Patrick leaves before things can get any more awkward.

The first thing Patrick does when he gets home is take out his trash, which is starting to smell pretty funky. Then he cleans out the fridge, tossing anything that's starting to look sentient. He piles all of his dirty dishes into the sink to soak, moves his laundry from his floor to the bed in the vague hope that he'll remember to start a load before tomorrow morning, and then he takes a shower and jerks off twice thinking about Pete teaching seventeen-year-old Brendon how to fuck him on camera.

He feels kind of weird about it afterwards, slumped against the wall of the shower, his hand still sticky. It's not like he'd been harboring some creepy crush on Brendon when he was actually seventeen, but the fantasy of it is hot. He thinks about Pete lying back against the pillows on some grungy mattress and spreading his legs and guiding Brendon in and then he squeezes the base of his dick firmly and reminds himself that he doesn't have time for round three.

"Okay," Patrick says to himself, once he's clean and showered and sitting next to an uncomfortably large pile of his own unwashed laundry on his unmade bad. He's got his ancient laptop out, and Pete's card in his hand. He's seen a lot of porn today, and he figures the best way to desensitize himself is to just overload his brain until he doesn't think it's hot anymore. No one else at Clandestine seems to be unduly concerned about it, which is where Patrick needs to be.

Seriously, he's a grown man.

He can do this.

"If you ever breathe a word of this to anyone, you will die," Patrick says, very calmly, into his phone. A quick glance at his digital clock on the bedside table tells him it's past 3am. "But seriously dude, how many times are you supposed to be able to jerk off without it being weird and abnormal? Because I think I just hit that point."

"Hnnngh?" Joe says, which Patrick supposes is probably fair.

"Joe," Patrick says. "Just wake up and answer the question, and you can go back to bed." He would apologize for waking Joe up like this, but it's not like Patrick has all that many friends. And out of those aforementioned friends, he knows exactly one person that he can reliably wake up in the middle of the night with questions about jerking off, so Joe is shit out of luck right now.

"It's 3am," Joe mumbles. "Why are you still awake? I just went to bed, fuck."

"Because I can't stop watching this fucking porn," Patrick says, scrubbing his face with his hand. "It's stupid, right? Like I know what dick looks like. This fucking company shouldn't be allowed to make porn this hot. What the fuck have I gotten myself into?"

"I thought you saw them filming already," Joe says. "How is it hotter on the screen than in person? Has porn been lying to me all these years?"

"It's hot in person," Patrick says. "But there's a lot of like. Stopping and adjusting and camera angles and stuff."

"This is why I'm never going into porn," Joe says sagely, yawning through the phone. "I don't want all the magic to be gone."

"I will give you all of my fucking magic," Patrick says desperately. "I don't want any of the magic. I want it all to be gone. Why can't I stop jerking off?"

"Because it's hot," Joe says. "I've seen Pete's videos. They're fucking hot. And I don't even like dick, dude."

"That..." Patrick pauses for a moment. "Actually, that kind of makes me feel better," Patrick admits.

"I mean, I didn't jerk off like sixteen times when I watched it," Joe says. "But, you know. It was an enjoyable twenty minutes of my life."

"What the fuck, no one can jerk off sixteen times," Patrick says. "Fuck. Can you really jerk off sixteen times? I don't want to do this sixteen times. I have to sleep."

"So turn the porn off," Joe says. "Seriously though, how many times did you spank it? You don't usually call me at 3am just to share."

"Doesn't matter," Patrick says, wincing into the phone.

"Seven," Joe guesses confidently.

"Fuck," Patrick sighs, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. What the hell. He should probably get used to talking about this stuff, seeing as how he's expected to whip his dick out on camera in a week.

"Four," Patrick admits. "Shut up, don't laugh."

"I'm not laughing," Joe says. "That's a respectable number. You should tell Pete, he'll take it as a compliment."

"Oh my fucking god," Patrick says. "No. No. I am not telling Pete about this."

"Suit yourself," Joe says. He yawns again. "Anyway, as enlightening as this conversation has been," Joe says. "I'm going back to bed now. And I'm not coming in tomorrow until noon, either. I need my beauty sleep."

"Fuck off," Patrick grumbles, but he lets Joe hang up the phone. He stares at the screen in front of him, frozen with an image of Pete's mouth falling open in obvious pleasure. Patrick bites his lip. It sucks that he'd freaked out and called Joe halfway into the middle of this video, because it's really hot. It's the one where Pete's getting spanked for "misbehaving," and his stupid skinny jeans are all bunched up under his ass and his arms are above his head and every time Gabe hits him Pete makes this little breathy whining noise, like it hurts and he can't wait for more.

"Dammit," Patrick says, under his breath, and then presses play.

When Monday morning finally dawns, bright and early and terrifying, Patrick is still no closer to figuring out what the hell he's going to do about the Pete situation. He's also fairly invested in lying to himself and telling himself that there IS no Pete situation, because it seems like an easier way to get through the day.

"Nervous, huh," Joe says, as he makes his way into the studio, yawning long and loud. Patrick glances up at the tiny digital clock in the corner of the studio, which reads 9am.

"No," Patrick says. He's been here since 6am. "Totally not nervous."

"Don't be freaked," Joe says. "Just whip it out and think sexy thoughts and you'll be golden. Close your eyes and pretend like no one's there. Or pretend Pete's there, and he's doing that tongue thing like he did in that one vide—"

"Stop talking," Patrick tells Joe. "Just. We're going to pretend that never happened, okay? That whole conversation. It never happened."

"Oh," Joe says. "Oh, okay."

"We have never had a conversation about Pete Wentz and his tongue last Wednesday," Patrick says. "Just remember that. For the future."

"Got it," Joe says, tossing him a salute. "It's pretty hot, though, right?"

"No," Patrick says, and rewinds Greta's vocal track for another listen. "It's hideous. No one should ever do that on camera."

"Oh, it's a code," Joe says, looking delighted. "Oh. Oh I get you. Yeah. Yeah Pete's tongue thing is awful. Fucking terrible. Not sexy at all."

"Oh, for the love of fucking Christ," Patrick says, closing his eyes for a brief, calming moment. It doesn't work. His heart is still beating double-time in his chest. "Yeah," Patrick says, eventually. "Sure. It's a code. Whatever helps you sleep at night."

"I think it's whatever helps YOU sleep at night, bro," Joe says, looking far too solemn for the hour of the morning. "Anyway, aren't you supposed to be there right now?"

"Studio doesn't open until 10am," Patrick says, jamming his finger down on the 'pause' button. Greta aspirated the "k" sound on that last repetition of the chorus a little too much, and Patrick thinks that might be what's bothering him about this vocal track. He makes a note of it in the computer. "I just wanted to catch up on all the work I'm going to miss today."

"Absolutely," Joe says, nodding sagely. "Work before dick, bro. Work before dick."

Header and Part One

"Z needed to see you in editing ten minutes ago," Brian says, as soon as Patrick steps into Clandestine's front office. He doesn't sound particularly upset about that fact, although there's a hint of steel in his voice that suggests that if Patrick does not get his ass over to editing the minute he steps out of Brian's door, there will be hell to pay. "Go there first, then you need to see Gee or Lindsey in Wardrobe for your fitting and Spencer for a run-through, in that order. You start shooting at 3 if everything works out right."

Brian flips through a stack of papers on his desk, frowning. There's a red post-it note with the words STUMP!!!!!! on the top sheet in black sharpie. Patrick doesn't think he's ever seen a red post-it note before. He wonders if Brian dyes them in the blood of his enemies before going to work in the morning.

"Sure," Patrick says, and edges out of Brian's office before anything else can go wrong.

"Here," Z says, thumping several pieces of paper against Patrick's chest as soon as he walks into her office. Ryan's sitting at a desk with his back to the door, flipping through a series of close-ups of Gabe's dick and frowning in concentration. Patrick decides immediately not to ask. "Memorize that, okay? I didn't give you a lot of lines, we need to see how you are on camera before I try and make you interact with your fake mom or something."

"Fake mom?" Patrick says. He grimaces.

"Schoolboy porn," Z says. "Fake mom's part of the deal. We'll get Gee's mom to do it. She loves being on camera."

"What," Patrick says weakly.

"You'll be clothed when she's around," Z says, pushing him out the door. "Just read that, okay? And go see Gerard and Linds. They need you real fast in case they have to tailor your costume."

"That's a baby," Patrick says weakly, once he walks into what the helpful hallway signs have told him is THE ART DEPARTMENT! with a smiling death's head placed next to the jagged letters. His morning just keeps getting weirder and weirder. "Should there be a baby in a porn studio?"

"She's still little," a blond-haired woman says to him, winking. "We've got a few more years before we'll have to pay for a daycare." She's pretty and she's wearing extremely red lipstick and she's holding a lot of very long and very large sewing pins in one hand as she mocks up what looks like a ruffled corset on to a tiny mannequin. Patrick immediately decides to do whatever she says. Those things hurt like a bitch when you get stuck with them.

"Right," Patrick says. "Absolutely. Um. So this is Art and Wardrobe, right? Because I had a lot of people yelling at me this morning telling me to go here."

"Damn straight," the woman says, still smiling sunnily at him. "You're Patrick, right? I'm Lindsey. Gee's my co-director; he's out running errands right now. And this is Bandit," Lindsey says, gesturing to the baby, who is munching happily on a pile of cheerios in her high-chair.

"Yeah," Patrick says. "Uh. Hi baby." He holds his finger out gently, and the baby takes it, looking solemn. She has very large eyes.

"So I need you to strip for me," Lindsey says pleasantly. "We need to measure everything real fast and get you sized up for this afternoon. I think you'll fit into what we have, I just need to tailor it a bit."

"Strip," Patrick says weakly. "You mean. Strip as in everything?"

"You can leave your underwear on," Lindsey says, shrugging. "If you want to. I don't need to measure the package. Unless it's huge." She pauses. "Is it huge? Am I going to have to tailor your inseam like I have to do for Ray and Travis?"

"Oh god," Patrick says. "Uh. No. You don't need to do that. My dick usually fits in normal pants just fine."

"Good," Lindsey says. "I hate inseams. Pain in my fucking ass. Can you—what are you waiting for?" She gives Patrick a quizzical look, one perfect eyebrow raised high. "Come on, we don't have all day."

"Right," Patrick says, and ignores the twist in his stomach and the way his face flames when he starts tugging his clothing off. He wonders if he can ask her to lock the door. That would be weird, right? Because this is a porn company. Except the thought of someone walking in kind of makes Patrick want to throw up, which doesn't bode well for the rest of Patrick's afternoon.

"Oh, yeah," Lindsey says, watching him undress. "This is workable. We can work with this. Actually, you know what, leave the T-shirt on? I'll just give you a white undershirt. I think Z said you're leaving that on anyway." Patrick tries not to sigh in obvious relief. He doesn't like standing around in his socks and boxers and t-shirt in front of a stranger, but he can handle it. Lindsey's rummaging around on a nearby rack full of men's clothing, suits and coats and pants of every imaginable occupation and measurement all shoved together. She's pulling out jacket after jacket, tossing them on to the wide table in the middle of the room that's littered with empty paint cups, open markers and half-full coffee mugs.

"Start with those," she calls over her shoulder, pointing to a pile of dark-blue suit jackets with red piping. Patrick grits his teeth and does as he's told.

Patrick doesn't escape from Wardrobe until almost 2pm, after Lindsey had pulled and tucked and nipped everything into place with a speed and artistry that felt slightly unnerving. His stomach rumbles as he's slipping out the door, and he thinks sadly of Joe, sitting at the studio and probably ordering take-out with the Hush Sound right now as Patrick starves to death on his first day on the job. Maybe he can ask someone if there's a sandwich shop nearby.

"Hey," someone calls out, as Patrick pushes his way into the tiny "Studio 4" that Brian had indicated was where he should meet Spencer. "Hurry up, dude. Lo mein's almost gone."

"Oh thank fuck," Patrick says, walking over to the card table that's been set up in a corner of the studio. There's an empty folding chair for him, and a paper plate with a plastic napkin, and Patrick is so hungry and grateful he kind of wants to cry.

"Welcome to Clandestine," Spencer says, chasing a tiny shrimp across his paper plate with a fork. Patrick's seen him before, but now that he's gotten a good look at him he thinks that Spencer really is very lanky and very beardy and looks nothing like a porn director. His socks have mustaches on them. Patrick can see them from where Spencer's got one ankle kicked up on his opposite thigh. "Food's on us. Shooting your first video sucks."

"Oh," Patrick says, his heart jumping back up to lodge in his windpipe again.

"But this lo mein is fucking ace," Spencer continues. "So eat some."

"Thanks," Patrick says. "Yeah. Thank you, seriously. I forgot lunch today. I'm starving."

"Yeah," Spencer says. He looks over at Patrick. "So. You excited about this? Or you freaked out and want some advice?"

"Uh," Patrick lies. "Little of column A, little of column B?"

"Okay," Spencer says. "That's about where you should be, in my opinion." He gives Patrick a considering look. "Take your pants off," Spencer says, after a moment. "You'll feel better."

"What?" Patrick says, his fork frozen above his plate.

"Well," Spencer says. "In a few hours you're going to get naked in front of us, right? Like that's part of your job. You're going to get naked and jerk off on camera, and we're going to film it. And the guys and I—" Spencer gestures to the crew that's milling around, adjusting lights and fixing the fake curtains on Patrick's fake bedroom window and checking to make sure that the cardboard that's propping Patrick's pillows up doesn't show—"we don't give a shit. We've seen it all before. But me telling you that isn't going to make much of a difference, is it."

"Uh," Patrick says.

"Right," Spencer says. "So try it. Just whip your dick out. Right here. And then I will continue to not give a shit, and you'll feel better about your life choices."

"You do this a lot, don't you," Patrick says. Spencer shrugs. "Shane's more touchy feely," Spencer says, taking a long slug of his soda. "He likes to reassure people. I just point out that I don't care, and then everyone's day is a lot easier in the long run."

Patrick lets his fork finally connect with his plate. He's not sure he's actually ready to sit here and eat lunch with Spencer with his dick hanging out, but he has to admit that Spencer's attitude is kind of refreshing.

"So why did you go into directing gay porn if you're straight?" Patrick asks, honestly curious about the answer. "Does it pay better?"

Spencer blinks at him. "What?" Spencer says, frowning.

"You said—" Patrick falters slightly. "You. Oh. I thought."

"Oh," Spencer says. "Uh. Yeah. Sure. That works." He looks away, dropping eye contact for the first time, and Patrick wonders if there's another level to this conversation that he's not picking up on.

"Okay," Patrick says.

"Anyway, the point is, I don't care about your dick," Spencer says helpfully, burping a little. "I mean, I'm sure it's great! I'm sure it's great." He pats Patrick on the shoulder. "I'll make it look great on film. But straight or not, you don't need to worry about me."

"Right," Patrick says. "I appreciate that."

"Glad to help," Spencer says, standing up and burping again. "I'm gonna go talk to the guys. Hit me up when you're ready to run through the scene, okay? We need to wait for Wardrobe and then I'll introduce you to everyone, but we should also block the scene out real quick before we start."

"Got it," Patrick says again, and concentrates on wolfing down the free Chinese food before someone else does.

"Go stand over there," Spencer says, looking at Patrick through the camera. He's drinking a beer as he works, setting it down precariously on various items of very expensive equipment as he wanders around the room moving things and tugging on things and telling Patrick who to look at for each little scene. Patrick wants a beer. Patrick also wants this to not be his life right now.

"Great," Spencer says, nodding at him when Patrick shuffles over to the window. "Do me a favor, take it out, okay? Like we talked about. You're a little tense. You need to relax."

"Fuck," Patrick says.

"Just do it," Spencer says. "Like ripping a band-aid off. You want a beer? You can have a beer if you want." He looks over at his assistant, who also has a beard and is also drinking a beer. Patrick feels like he's stumbled into a twilight zone of trendy gay lumberjacks with cameras.

"Get him a beer," Spencer says, to Beardy Guy No. 2, and he nods sagely and wanders off to grab Patrick a Miller Lite.

"I'm not—fuck," Patrick says. "I can't. You do realize I'm not like. Excited, right? Not even a little bit. There isn't going to be anything impressive about this. I'm just going to look stupid."

"You'll get a dressing room before we start," Second Beardy Guy assures him, handing him a cold one. Patrick takes it with slightly shaking fingers. "Lots of porn in there. Privacy. And Frank, too, if you want him." He points over his shoulder at a tiny tattooed guy standing in the corner, holding a pair of studio headphones and gesturing wildly at Mikey. There's a cigarette tucked in between two of his tattooed knuckles, and Mikey ducks easily every time the lit cherry waves a little too close to his face. Patrick has a feeling they've known each other for a while.

"What do you mean, I 'get Frank,' " Patrick says, making air quotes with one hand as he pops open his beer with the other.

"He technically works in the sound studio," Beardy Guy says. "But Pete needed a fluffer who was already married to avoid the sexual harassment stuff and Frank volunteered. So if you can't keep it up, just call him in. He's used to it. Says it's the best part of his day."

"I didn't think that actually happened in real life," Patrick says, staring at Frank. "People actually do that? You can actually be a fluffer. As a job."

"It's only part-time," Beardy Guy says solemnly. "Sometimes you just need a helping hand." He wanders off again, and Patrick swallows and decides to do everything in his power to avoid Frank the Jerk Off Guy. It's not that he isn't cute—everyone who works for this damn company is hot, apparently—but Patrick doesn't think he can handle a strange guy touching his dick today. It's just. There's an upper limit of weird shit that is allowed to happen to him in any given 24-hour period, and Patrick is almost at that line.

"Patrick," Spencer says, giving him a significant look from behind the camera rig. "You got your beer. Come on. Let's do this. Five minutes, and then you've passed my test and I'll believe you're really cut out for this line of work."

"Jesus fucking Christ," Patrick says. His stomach is rolling over and over, twisting itself up in knots. He thinks his cheeks might be on fire. But no one's looking at him except Spencer, and maybe he's right—maybe this is the way to get over it. Patrick thinks very firmly about every single person who works here that he's already seen naked, and then he unzips his fly and lets everything hang out.

"Well done," Spencer mouths, giving him a thumbs-up from behind the camera. "Good job, bro."

Patrick tries to smile. He also tries not to throw up.

"A little to the left," Spencer says. "Patrick, can you turn to the left? Lights—" Spencer mutters, frowning and looking the room. "Who's doing lights for me today? Is it—where the fuck is Tom? Someone find Tom and tell him to get his ass in here and fix the the third spot," Spencer says.

"I need to go," Patrick says, to everyone and no one in particular. His heart feels like it's beating double-time in his chest. There's a wave of sick, rolling nausea in his stomach.

"Tom's on lunch," someone else says, the tall blond guy from earlier. "What's wrong with the spot?" He walks over to stand behind the camera, peering through the viewfinder as Spencer gestures and points.

"You see what I mean?" Spencer says, and the blond guy nods.

"No, seriously, I need to not be here," Patrick says. He reaches down and tucks himself back in with shaking fingers. Fuck. He's going to throw up. Fuck.

He can't do this.

"Wardrobe just called," someone says, to Patrick's left. "Suit's in dressing room C. Patrick, can you head over there and get dressed?"

"Yes," Patrick says, desperately. "Yes, yes I can."

He doesn't run out of Studio 4, but it's close.

"Okay," Brendon says. "Okay. So maybe this is a bad time?"

"It's fine," Patrick mumbles, into the circle of his own arms. He's face down on the dressing room table, trying to get his breathing under control. Patrick can do this. He can. Lots of people do this every day for a living. People like Brendon.

"Doesn't look that fine to me," Brendon says. There's the sound of metal chair legs scraping across the floor, and then a hand on Patrick's shoulder. Patrick looks up, blinking. Brendon's face is very close, and very concerned.

"Stage fright?" Brendon says, and Patrick grimaces and nods.

"It's stupid," Patrick says. "This is stupid, right? Everyone who works here does this every day. I should be able to do this."

"Most of us are exhibitionists," Brendon points out.

"Right," Patrick says. "Yeah. I'm not."

"I know," Brendon says.

"Yeah," Patrick says. "So. I'm fucked." He takes a deep breath. "This was such a dumb idea."

Brendon gives him a sympathetic look. "When I was first getting into this, Pete gave me some advice one time," Brendon says. "I was freaking out about being on camera, and I couldn't relax, even though I thought the whole idea of it was super hot. And he told me to try and think back to a really good sexual experience, like someone you used to hook up with where everything just worked." Brendon grins. "Of course, I was like seventeen at the time, so it's not like I had any of those to fall back on."

"In the future," Patrick says, resting his chin on his arm. "Can you edit those stories and lie to me and say you were eighteen? Because that would be nice."

"Sure," Brendon says. "As long as you know it's a lie. But anyway, I don't know. It stuck with me. And so when I'm having an off day I just think about that, and I imagine that that person is the only person in the room. "

"But I don't want anyone to watch me," Patrick says. "If I'm having sex with someone, preferably they're not watching me. Because we're having sex."

"So think about that," Brendon says. "Close your eyes and jerk off and think about whatever makes you feel good. It doesn't matter. You just have to get through the scene, and then you'll know you can do it."

"Yeah," Patrick says. He lets his head fall back down onto the table, cradled in the circle of his arms. "Okay."

"You'll be great," Brendon says, patting Patrick's shoulder again. "And Spencer's awesome. Shane's great too, but Spencer's more fun. See if you can get him to blush. That's my favorite thing to do when I'm shooting a scene with him. The louder and more shameless you are, the more he blushes. It's awesome."

"Is he straight?" Patrick says, raising his head again. "Like, not that it's any of my business, but he was weird about it when I asked."

"Spencer's complicated," Brendon says. He looks wistful for a moment, and Patrick spares a few seconds to wonder just how many employee assignations are going on behind the scenes at Clandestine Boys.

"Okay," Patrick says. "That's cool, I just wondered."

"It's kind of a long story, " Brendon says. "Anyway. The point is. You can do this. You'll be awesome."

"Yeah," Patrick whispers, his heart sinking even further. He pushes his face back into his arms, and tries to breathe deep and even. It's just—he can't do this. He can't. And maybe he's known that all along, but he wanted so badly to believe that he was capable of doing the one thing that's going to save his studio.

Patrick needed himself to be capable of this—and he isn't.

The flimsy walls dividing up Clandestine's warehouse-like interior seem to loom over Patrick as he walks down to Pete's office. It's not quite as bad as that time Patrick spilled ketchup all over his crotch in the 7th grade and then had to walk past the entire lunchroom to clean himself up, but it's close. His stomach feels roughly the same.

He knocks on Pete's closed office door, and a few seconds later he hears a mumbled "Yup!" Patrick pushes open the door to see Pete frowning at the screen of his MacBook as he scribbles something down on a pad of paper. The logo at the top of his pad of paper reads, Clandestine Boys Never Say Never, in a scrawly font with a complex logo that incorporates, among other things, bats and hearts into the design. The whole image manages to convey concepts like sex and dangerosity and nerddom and lots of other made-up words, and Patrick thinks it's really too bad he's not going to be working here anymore. Clandestine industries is kind of awesome.

"Pete, I can't do this," Patrick says firmly, without waiting for pleasantries. Pete looks up, greeting dying on his lips. "I just—I'm sorry. I can't. I thought I could, and I can't. There's no way I can just—I can't do this."

Pete is silent for a long moment, and then he sighs. "You know, I was going to come find you," Pete says eventually, leaning forward and crumpling the mess of papers on his desk in the process. He steeples his fingers, pressing them into his lower lip for a moment before pulling them away. "Patrick, can you - can you sit for a moment? Because we need to talk. I ran into Joe this weekend and we caught up for a while."

"Huh," Patrick says, his heart sinking even further as he sits down on the leather drumstool that doubles as Pete's office chair for guests. "How about that."

Pete gives him a level look. "How far under is Soul Punk Studios?" Pete asks, and Patrick tries not to grimace. This whole thing had to come out some time, and fuck, it might as well be now, when Patrick's already grovelling.

"Pretty far," Patrick says. "Uh. Yeah. You know, the music business—" he waves his hand around. He doesn't know what to say. Yeah, we're about to tank. Or maybe, we've got three months left before I have to shut the doors for good. Both would be honest answers, and neither of them are anything Patrick wants to say out loud.

"See, from what I hear, it's not the music business," Pete says slowly. "Joe seems to think it's because you keep taking chances on talented kids who can't afford to record their albums anywhere else."

"Listen, it's not charity," Patrick snaps, because he doesn't need Pete's pity and neither do any of his clients. "I'm not going around picking up strays. I'm not that stupid."

"I didn't say you were," Pete says carefully. His expression is unreadable. "I think what you're doing is awesome, and I want to figure out a way to help you keep doing it, that's all. Joe seems to think really highly of you. Says your one of the most talented producers he's ever worked for."

"It's—I appreciate that," Patrick says, with difficulty. He stands up, brushing himself off, because if Pete's about to offer him money than this conversation is officially over. "Thank you. But if I need to break my contract, I need to break the contract. My other career doesn't really come into play. I'll pay whatever penalties I need to—"

"Patrick, sit down," Pete says calmly. He rests his chin on his folded arms, looking disarmingly innocent for someone in charge of a very successful porn company. "We're not done. I don't think you need to break your contract with Clandestine Industries."

"No, I told you," Patrick says brokenly, trying to keep his voice level. Fuck. This was his last chance, literally, and all he wants is to leave Pete's office and go feel like shit about himself in peace. "Like, I wish I was cut out for this stuff? But I'm not. I can't do it."

"And that's okay," Pete says, flashing him a smile. He's wearing eyeliner today. The whole effect is distracting. "What, do you think you're the first person that's ever signed up to make a video and then realized they couldn't go through with it?"

Patrick pauses. "...yes?" He says hesitantly.

"Not by a long shot," Pete says. "And if you'd read your contract, there's a no-fee no penalty clause if either of us decides to back out before shooting starts. But your situation is a little...unusual. Because if I understand this right—you stop working for me, and you lose the studio."

"Yeah," Patrick says, with difficulty. "That's—yeah. That's about the long and short of it."

"But on the other hand, you have your own recording studio," Pete says. "A recording studio that you personally run, maintain, and operate, and that Joe tells me is better than the one we've managed to cobble together here."

Pete gives him a level look, chin still tucked into the crook of his folded arms on the tabletop. Patrick is struck by the sudden and absurd thought that if Pete wore glasses, he'd be peering over the tops of them right now.

"So?" Patrick says.

"So Clandestine Industries would like to express it's interest in hiring Soul Punk Studios on as a contracting firm," Pete says, sitting back and stretching out in the process, long and lean. "As an alternate recording studio for our stars and staff."

"I don't need your charity," Patrick says, standing up again and shaking his head. It hurts to say it, it really does, but as hot as Pete is, and as kind as he obviously is, Patrick's never taken anything from anyone and that's not going to start today. If he's going to go down, it's going to be on his own terms. "I appreciate that, but no thanks. I'm not taking your hand-outs."

"It's not a hand-out," Pete says, smile fading. "Because the thing is, Frank's wife is having twins sometime in the next two weeks, and then he's on paternity leave for six months. I'm going to be down a sound engineer and a part-time fluffer, but I'm also going to need someone to record Ray's voice-overs for his internal monologue stuff, and we need someone to help Gabe and Travis track all of their shoots, since they don't make much noise when they're working. And," Pete says, holding up a hand when Patrick tries to interrupt. "And, Ashlee keeps sending me pissed-off emails about our stars and her stars getting double-booked into the same recording slots, so having another studio would mean a lot less headaches for both of us," Pete says. "Trust me, this isn't a hand-out. I'm going to need your studio almost full-time some weeks, and you're going to be working just as much as you normally do. But if your bands are willing to work with some schedule changes, the studio is going to end up making double. Is that enough to put you back in the black?"

"I—yeah," Patrick says, skimming through numbers in his head. It's just enough, actually, and if he can count on that kind of income from Pete's sources he could move some things around until they're technically free and clear again. The studio could be out of debt in six, maybe eight months. Patrick doesn't know whether to laugh or to cry. "Yeah. Yeah, that would—that would work."

"No one should do this job if they don't love it," Pete says, shaking his head at Patrick. "Yeah, the money's good, but there's no point if you're going to be throwing up from nerves every day. Who wants to live like that?"

"Not me," Patrick agrees awkwardly, looking away.

"Right," Pete says, very earnestly. "You need to be someone like me or Brendon or Travie. Or Gabe. Someone who gets hard just thinking about having sex in front of all those cameras," Pete says. "In front of all those people. You have to love it."

"I really don't love it like that," Patrick says.

"I know," Pete says. "But that's okay, because you have exactly what I need right now."

Patrick tries not to blush. "A studio?" He hazards, keeping his voice as level as possible.

"A studio," Pete agrees. "And someone I can trust to run it. Someone who isn't going to freak out when I sent people in there to moan by themselves all day. Someone who's going to do a good job with the tracks and keep everything professional."

"They will be," Patrick promises, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's true. "Trust me. If there's one thing I can do, it's record."

"So everyone keeps telling me," Pete says, with a ghost of a smile. "So—today's cancelled then. Don't worry about it. The crew guys will be pissed, but what can you do? Maybe we'll get someone else to fill in and use your set," Pete says. "But you should go home and have a beer or something. Relax. Breathe a little. And then when you've done that for oh, I don't know, say maybe six hours or so, then you can meet me downtown at the Salvation Cafe for some awesome nachos," Pete says, and Patrick blinks.

"What?" Patrick says, in case he didn't parse that correctly.

"Nachos," Pete says. "I usually finish up late, but if we're not shooting your scene today I should be out by 9pm. And then we're going to go eat nachos."

"You and me and—" Patrick trails off. Pete smiles—a new smile, one that Patrick hasn't seen before. Patrick doesn't like to think about how he's been cataloging and memorizing Pete's smiles, but this one is definitely new.

"You and me and no one," Pete says. "If that's cool with you."

"Uh," Patrick says. "Okay. For—work stuff, right?"

"For nachos," Pete says. "And work stuff. If you want. I guess. Like, I guess we could talk about work."

"Right," Patrick says. "Okay."

"Awesome," Pete says.

The Salvation Cafe is small and vaguely vegan and vaguely hipstery, which would normally entail Patrick avoiding it like the plague. Andy's an old friend from way back, though, and Patrick makes exceptions for his homies.

"Bro," Patrick says solemnly, fist-bumping Andy as he leans, elbows down, on the polished stone countertop at the end of the busy juice bar. "Bro," Andy says, just as solemnly, and then the joke stretches on a moment too long and Andy laughs, leaning over the counter to give Patrick a hug.

"Sup," Andy says, squeezing tight. "You never come to see me anymore. What, you suddenly decide you hate wheat grass?"

"I always hated wheat grass," Patrick says, taking a seat at the counter. Pete's not here yet, so there's no sense in getting a table. "There was never a point in my life where I didn't hate wheat grass. You have a selective memory."

"I just always hope for the best," Andy says. "Your body is a temple, bro."

"Your face is a temple," Patrick says. "Can I get one of those pear-mango-peach things? Those are awesome."

"It's called a Skinny Villain," Andy says pedantically, and Patrick rolls his eyes. "Forgive me for not memorizing your stupid names for fruit juice drinks," Patrick says.

"Forgive me for not serving you my stupid fruit drinks until you can remember what they're called," Andy says, but he waves at one of his waiters and calls out Patrick's order. Patrick watches as the kid nods, and then gets to work on the juicer. He can't be older than sixteen. Patrick suddenly feels disturbingly old.

"So, you just missed my juice and my handsome face?" Andy says, flicking at Patrick's hands. "What's the occasion."

"Oh," Patrick says. "Um. I—-ah. I'm meeting someone."

"Heyyyy," Andy says, his face breaking out into a wide smile. "Heyyy, look at you! Rickster, all grown up and going on dates. At the vegan cafe." His voice is sing-song, gently teasing. Patrick punches him in the arm. "Shut up," Patrick says. "It's like—you wouldn't believe you if I told you, honestly. It's this whole ridiculous story."

"Oh yeah?" Andy says, bending down to take a sip of the frothy juice concoction resting at his elbow. "I like ridiculous."

"I'm meeting Pete Wentz," Patrick says, and Andy almost chokes on his recycled-plastic straw. He looks up at Patrick.

"No way," Andy says. "No way. You're making gay porn? No way."

"I am not making gay porn," Patrick says severely, and doesn't mention recent events. "Pete's company needs an extra studio for tracking his vocals and things."

"And what, you couldn't meet on company time?" Andy says, raising an eyebrow. He looks like someone's calculating, matchmaking aunt. "He had to ask you out to dinner to pitch the offer?"

"I—I don't know," Patrick admits. "Maybe. Pete's weird. Have you ever met him? He's kind of weird."

"Yeah, I know Pete," Andy says, tilting his head to peer over Patrick's shoulder, towards the door. "And Trick, I'll be honest with you, you might want to reevaluate your idea of the evening's activities, because to me, that looks like our Mr. Wentz dressed up for a date," Andy says. Patrick tells himself to turn around slowly and casually, and then ruins it by whipping his head around anyway.

Pete looks—

—okay, Patrick's not an impartial party or anything, but Pete looks pretty nice. He's wearing a sweater with something weird and complicated going on around the neck, and tight jeans, and he's got the sleeves pushed up to show off his tattoos and—yeah. It's a good look for Pete.

"Andy! Patrick!" Pete crows, and heads over. He repeats the fistbump/hugging ritual with Andy, and then he leans in and kisses Patrick on the cheek and Patrick feels his heart stop entirely for a single brief second.

"Uhm," Patrick manages. Andy is giving him a shit-eating grin, even as he makes friendly small talk with Pete about their respective businesses and the people they both know. Patrick thinks he might be blushing. His face feels hot.

"So," Andy says, after their initial conversation has ambled to a halt. "Would you two lovebirds like a table on the patio?"

"You don't have a patio," Patrick says, before his brain can catch up with his mouth.

"Sometimes I do," Andy says, winking at Patrick. He leans in and whispers. "It's where I take chicks when I want to impress them. Trust me, bro."

"Uh," Patrick says, and Pete grins. "Sure," Pete says. "That would be awesome, thanks dude."

"No problem," Andy says, patting Patrick on the shoulder. "Patrick here's an old friend. Woo him gently, okay? He has a delicate soul."

"You're going to have a delicate face when I'm done with you," Patrick grumbles under his breath."

"You always say the sweetest things," Andy says, before turning to another teenage waiter and speaking to him in a quick, low voice, gesturing all the while. Patrick wonders what he's getting himself into.

"Too forward?" Pete says, into Patrick's ear. Patrick jumps.

"I thought this was—" Patrick says lamely. "I didn't. You surprised me."

"I do that," Pete says thoughtfully.

"Yes," Patrick says. "You do. That's kind of the entire story of our working relationship up until now. Surprises."

"That's like, the best compliment you could have possibly given me," Pete says, smiling widely at Patrick and showing all of his teeth.

"Gentlemen, right this way," Andy says, interrupting Patrick's half-formed response. He leads them through the saloon-style swinging doors and the kitchen, and then all of a sudden they're in the back of Andy's thin city lot, on a tiny brick patio. The fall air is crisp but warm enough, and Patrick thinks they'll be fine sitting at the round wooden table that's been set for them near Andy's garden.

"Whoa," Patrick says, because he's been to the Salvation Cafe lots of times over the years, but he didn't know about Andy's private garden seduction den. There's even Christmas lights strung up between all the trellises.

"Enjoy," Andy says, gesturing to their tiny, tattooed server. Patrick suppresses a snort, and Pete just keeps grinning. "Jamie here will be taking care of you."

"I'm sure we will," Pete says, taking his seat across from Patrick and giving the kid a once-over. Patrick tries not to roll his eyes, because hitting on the teenage waiter is the oldest trick in the book. Granted, the waiter is hot, but Patrick has self control. He is a grown man. He has morals.

"Too young," Pete says sadly, after they've ordered some appetizers and some waters and a juice for Pete to go along with Patrick's as-yet-unseen peach-mango concoction. He eyes the waiter's retreating backside. "Way too young. Couple of years, maybe."

"Why am I not surprised," Patricks says lightly, ignoring the tense feeling in his stomach. You got your hopes up, he thinks. Stupid, stupid. He's Pete Wentz. You know what Joe said. Kissing is his idea of a handshake.

"Oh—for the site," Pete says, shaking his head and grinning. Pete smiles a lot. Patrick's never met anyone who smiles as much. "Oh, not for me, dude. I'm going to be thirty next year. I don't want to fuck around with teenagers. I'm too old for that shit."

"That's—-good?" Patrick says hesitantly. "Good for you. Gold star?"

"Hey," Pete says. "I'm a porn director. For my line of work, that does get a gold star."

"Fair enough," Patrick says, after he thinks about it. "Are other studios really that bad?"

"Some of them are," Pete says, with a dark look that fades away almost as soon as it arrives. "But that's not get-to-know-you conversation," Pete says, leaning in. "And now we're here, and I can spend the next two hours making you tell me everything about you. It's going to be awesome, Patrick Stump. I hear you're a pretty interesting guy."

"Well, now you just sound like a stalker," Patrick points out, but he can feel a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"Sometimes that happens," Pete says, shrugging. "It's a thing."

"Stalking people?"

"Little bit."

"You're kidding, right?" Patrick says. Just to make sure.

"Little bit," Pete says, with an impish grin, and Patrick laughs.

Pete, as it turns out, is a surprisingly good listener. He's also a lot weirder than Patrick was expecting from their previous interactions in the office. Pete's awkward; he laughs too loud at Patrick's muttered asides, and he bounces from topic to topic at breakneck speeds. He wants to know everything about Patrick, absolutely everything, but the minute Patrick says something that reminds Pete of something else, he's off again, barking out his loud braying laugh and interrupting to tell Patrick about about how no, he's sorry, really, Patrick just has to hear this one story and then Pete will let him continue. It's frustrating and charming in equal measure, made worse by the fact that Pete is a horrible flirt who keeps brushing his foot up the side of Patrick's leg.

"So," Patrick says, as they're splitting the check at the end. "Anyway, that's how Soul Punk got started. And then like six months later Brendon showed up, and—but you know that part."

"I do," Pete says, giving Patrick an appreciative look. "Although I didn't realized until after I'd hired you that you were Brendon's mysterious musical saviour."

"I didn't—" Patrick says. "It wasn't like that," Patrick says, for what seems like the hundredth time this week. He needs to go find Brendon and tell him to start keeping his mouth shut. Patrick doesn't have any interest in being canonized. "He was a talented kid who needed a break," Patrick says, and waves off Pete's attempts to take the subject further.

"Anyway," Patrick says again. He takes a deep breath. "So we were so busy talking and all that we didn't get to...talk much about business," Patrick says, just in case this wasn't a date after all. He's maybe fishing just a little. "Did you still want to....?"

"Business happens in the daytime," Pete says, shaking his head and standing up as he finishes signing his check. "Nighttime is for queers and infidels. Isn't that how the line goes?"

"What line?" Patrick says. "I don't think I know that one."

"Maybe I made that one up," Pete says thoughtfully. "Whatever. But no, Mr. Patrick Martin Vaughn Stump. I didn't bring you here to discuss business."

"Oh," Patrick says. His stomach feels warm. He ducks his head, signing his check without looking at the numbers and leaving a generous tip. Andy always undercharges him and then tries to play the innocent when Patrick points it out. Patrick wonders if he does the same for Pete.

"So, uh. You want to walk me to my stop?" Pete says, shoving his hands in the front pockets of his jeans. His body language screams it's cool if you don't!!!! no big deal!! i'll just be devastated but whatever!! and Patrick is charmed even further. He resolves not to let Pete know how charmed he is, even if they did just go on a date. Patrick is almost 99% certain this was a date. Patrick is also 99% certain there's some sort of conflict-of-interest thing here and that he probably shouldn't be on a date like this but right now, he can't really be bothered. Besides, if he's contracting as Soul Punk Studios, then he and Pete are equals; it's not illegal to date Pete, just ill-advised.

Patrick can live with that.

"Sure," Patrick says. "Um. Did you—maybe want to do this again sometime?"

Dating Pete Wentz turns out to include a lot of 4am phone calls, a lot of misspelled emails, and a lot of handholding and cheek-kissing. It's nice. Pete's fun and he's funny and sometimes they go out and sometimes they stay in but Pete's always weird and entertaining either way. Patrick is weirdly enamoured with Pete when he's curled up on the couch in his pajamas with the ducks on them, and Pete seems to be weirdly enamoured with Patrick in general, and honestly Patrick is okay with Pete's glacially slow relationship speed, no matter how much Joe makes fun of them and tells Patrick he's going to die a virgin.

"I'm not going to die a virgin," Patrick points out, listening to Gabe moaning away in the studio with one ear pressed to his headphones. It's weirdly hypnotizing. Patrick doesn't have a video feed running, so he has no idea what Gabe's actually tracking, just that it involves orgasms. Lots of them. "I can't die a virgin, because I'm not a virgin," Patrick says, when the silence after his statement becomes deafening. He looks around to see Joe studiously typing something into his cell phone.

"What are you doing," Patrick says witheringly. Joe ignores him for a moment, and then holds his iPhone up so Patrick can see the screen.

"See?" Joe says, trying to keep a straight face. "You can't get an STD from kissing with tongue. The internet never lies. You guys should try it sometime."

"Oh fuck you," Patrick says, and goes back to listening to Gabe moan. Then he throws the headphones down, because Joe has been insulting his boyfriend's sexual prowess all morning and Patrick needs to defend Pete's honor. "Pete and I are totally going to kiss with tongue," Patrick says. "We will. When we want to. And it will be awesome. It will be—fuck, did I really just say that? Fuck you. We're going to French kiss. Does that sound better? Fuck, that doesn't sound any better," Patrick says, frowning. "Why do I always sound like I'm in fifth grade when we talk about this shit?"

"Because you're dating a porn star who only wants to hold hands," Joe says. He crosses his arms behind his head, kicking his legs up on the corner of the soundboard. Through the glass in front of them, Gabe looks rather bored. He's scrolling through something on his phone as he moans away. "It's like the highlight of my life, seriously."

"Some people like holding hands," Patrick says. "It's nice. You can do it in public and not get arrested. There are lots of reasons to hold hands."

"There are lots of reasons to get your dick sucked, too," Joe says, and then ducks the empty coffee cup that Patrick chucks in his direction.

Three days of tracking later, Gabe Saporta is about to shove his fist through Patrick's glass studio dividers. He doesn't, which Patrick appreciates, but it's a close thing.

"I'm just so sick of this shit," Gabe moans, letting his head dangle backwards over the back of his chair. His Subway sandwich rests untouched on his lap. "I don't want to fucking moan into a microphone anymore. I don't want to call out for my Mami and I don't want to track about how Pete's tight little ass can't take my fist, I just want to sit around watch fucking re-runs in my goddamn pajamas," Gabe says. He directs his last sentence to the ceiling. "Pete, can you hear me motherfucker? Because this is all your fault."

"Yeah, God forbid he give you a job with responsibility and shit," Patrick deadpans, and Gabe snorts at the ceiling. Sometimes Patrick thinks it should be weirder, working with the guy who has sex with his boyfriend on camera, but the more time he spends with both Pete and Gabe the more it becomes clear that their affection for each other is primarily that of brothers, not lovers. They've got great chemistry on camera, but as soon as the shot breaks it's back to dick jokes and bro-hugs.

"I don't care about the responsibility," Gabe says, after a moment. "The responsibility is fine. I just don't want to spend another five minutes moaning in that goddamn studio room."

"You want to track something else?" Patrick says, flicking a couple of switches and then tapping at keyboard of the master computer. "We've got time. Ian's not coming by until 5. I'm just as bored of listening to you moan as you are of moaning. We could make some terrible covers."

"Yes," Gabe says, sitting up so fast his lettuce goes everywhere. "Yes, I do want to make some fucking covers. There is nothing in this world that I want more. Michael Jackson?"

"Sure," Patrick says. "Jackson Five? Greatest hits of the 70's? I can bang out most of them."

"Done," Gabe says, racing towards the sound room, sandwich forgotten. Patrick slaps the switch to turn on the intercom system in case Joe needs to yell for him, and then he follows, already humming.

"—No, it's here and here—just use this sample and then you won't have to use both registers," Patrick says, reprogramming the keyboard so Gabe can bang out the back-beat to The Way You Make Me Feel. He thinks Ian's probably going to be here soon, and he definitely just wasted about three hours of studio time with Gabe, but Patrick can't remember the last time he'd had so much fun just dicking around in the studio. They'd started from the beginning, going through most of his back catalog, trading off vocals every few songs.

"Got it," Gabe says, pressing a few more button. "Okay, the effects are set on this. You want to take this one? I'll do the back-ups."

"Yeah, sure," Patrick says distractedly, fiddling with his mic. He looks at Joe through the glass, and Joe gives him a thumbs up as he sips his coffee. He'd wandered in halfway through "I Want You Back," and decided to stay and enjoy the free music and press helpful buttons instead of sitting in Patrick's office waiting for the phone to ring.

"One, two," Patrick counts down, and nods to Joe to start recording. They move through the intro, and Patrick can't help but shimmy a little, cracking a smile as he sees Gabe shaking his hips to the same beat.

"Hey pretty baby, with the high heels on," Patrick sings, not caring too much about his technique. It's been so long since he's sang for someone besides Joe or one of his clients, but as soon as Gabe had gotten over his surprise at Patrick's vocal range, he'd been ecstatic that Patrick was good enough that they could trade off. He sees Gabe nodding at him out of the corner of his eye, and Patrick's feeling sassy enough to give the song some extra swagger.

He pulls the mic off the stand, sashaying to the front of the room and keeping his eyes on the floor so he doesn't trip over any of the chords. He waits a few beats and then tosses his head up to belt out "the way you make me feeeeeel!", expecting to see Joe laughing at antics and instead coming face to face through the glass with...

...Pete?

Patrick blinks, his cheeks reddening as he fumbles the next line. Behind him, he can hear Gabe laughing, but Patrick's world has narrowed down to the very simple task of not dying of shame in front of his new boyfriend. Pete's expression is wide and amazed, and he's making little 'go on' motions with his hands, nodding at Patrick to continue. Patrick swallows, trying to get his mojo back and find the beat.

"You really turn me onnnn," Patrick sings, unable to make eye contact with Pete but rapidly regaining his confidence. Patrick doesn't sing in front of people often, but he's always felt less self-conscious than usual when he's got a mic in his hand. He thinks once he's over the shock, he might not mind singing in front of Pete, whose expression is currently something akin to awe.

Patrick finishes up the song, waiting for the final note to die away before placing the microphone back on the stand. Pete's through the doorway almost before Joe smacks the "RECORDING!" light off and unlocks the studio door from the outside.

"You didn't tell me about that," Pete says accusingly, pointing a finger at him and poking Patrick in the chest. "You didn't. You. Patrick Martin Vaughn Stump, sixteenth in the line of all adorable, pocket-sized Stumps, you should be ashamed—"

"Oh, shut up," Patrick says, laughing, batting away Pete's hand. "I'm the first Patrick Stump and you know it, ass."

"You didn't tell me," Pete says mulishly. "You didn't tell me you had a voice made of sex and sin and debauchery. Me, of all people! I sell sex and debauchery! I'm an expert!"

"That's because I don't," Patrick says. "I have a voice that sometimes can pull off an okay Michael Jackson cover at karaoke night."

"You're tracking all of my videos from now on," Pete says, crossing his arms and leaning up against the wall so he can narrow his eyes at Patrick. "I'm writing it into our contract. Patrick Stump will moan for Pete Wentz on camera." He makes air quotes for emphasis.

"Oh, will he now," Patrick says, winding up an extra cable and stowing it out of the way. He looks around for Gabe, and finds that he's suddenly gone missing, no doubt because he can feel the sexual tension that's pricking the back of Patrick's neck like static electricity. Usually that might be cause for Gabe for stick around, but Patrick's noticed there are a lot of exceptions where Pete is concerned.

"Yep," Pete says, and then abruptly changes track. "Anyway. Speaking of moaning. Is Ian here yet? I need to talk to him about next week's shoot and I was hoping I could catch him on my way back to the studio."

"Not yet," Patrick says, glancing up the at clock. "Maybe he's running late. You want me to give him a message?"

"Nah," Pete says. "I'll call his cell and harass him. It's fine."

"So it was important enough for you to come down here, but not important enough for you to wait for him," Patrick muses. "Interesting."

"There may have been extenuating circumstances," Pete says lightly. "Like seeing your pretty little face. That may have factored into my decision to swing by."

"Pretty little face, my ass," Patrick says, trying not to blush.

"A gentleman never lies," Pete says seriously. "And I am always a gentleman. I mean, except when I'm not. But most of the time."

"I'll keep that in mind," Patrick says seriously, ducking his head again as Pete leans in to brush his lips against Patrick's cheek. His stomach does a swoop-and-dip, a fluttery little pirouette that leaves Patrick slightly breathless at the end. Pete's lips are soft.

"We still on for tonight?" Pete says softly, into Patrick's ear. Patrick nods. His cheeks feel flushed. It's stupid, how much he blushes around Pete fucking Wentz. Patrick has never blushed so much around anyone in his life, and they haven't even graduated to eighth grade-style makeout sessions yet.

"Yeah," Patrick says. "Midnight, right?"

"Right," Pete breathes out, and then kisses him again. "Be there or be square, Patty," Pete says, throwing the words over his shoulder as he walks away.

Patrick frowns.

"Call me Patty again and I'll cut your balls off!" Patrick calls after him. Pete gives a little wave of acknowledgement over his shoulder as he heads out through the studio door, one hand holding his phone up to his ear.

"Dick sucking," Joe says sagely, from his perch near the soundboard where he's been watching the whole scene. "Gonna happen tonight. Awwwwwwwwwww yeah." He mimes a rimshot, and Patrick flicks him off.

The text that Patrick receives at nine o'clock reads:

less is more, pattycakes. dont dress up and don't be late. bring your sweet self to the studio and leave your expectations at the door xoxo peter

"The fuck does that mean?" Patrick says aloud, staring down at his phone.

"Pete?" Ian guesses, wandering by with a fresh bottle of water.

"Pete," Patrick confirms, staring down at his phone. "Pete being....very Pete."

"As always," Ian agrees, shrugging and heading back into the studio.

"Please tell me this has nothing to do with cameras," Patrick says as Pete opens the door to Clandestine at twenty 'til midnight. "Actually no, scratch that. Promise me this has nothing to do with cameras before I walk through this door."

Pete laughs, loud and braying. "No cameras," Pete says, holding the door wide open. "Cross my heart and hope to die."

"If you're lying, this relationship is over," Patrick says as he walks through the door, but it feels like an empty threat.

"I only lie on Thursdays," Pete says. "Thursdays are okay for lying."

"It's going to be Thursday in fifteen minutes," Patrick says.

"Then chop chop, let's go," Pete says, heading off down the corridor. "I don't want to lie to you by accident."

"What, is this some kind of Pavlovian thing?" Patrick says, trailing behind. "The clock strikes twelve, you turn into a pathological liar?"

"You never know," Pete says, making a left and then a quick right. Patrick frowns; he's been to the studio a fair few times in the last month, but he's never been in this part of the building.

"Dude, where are we going?" Patrick says, and he's rewarded with nothing but silence and a flash of a grin over Pete's shoulder. Patrick sighs to himself and keeps walking. Then he stops, because Pete's climbing up an ancient rickety metal staircase and pulling open an emergency exit door to the roof.

"Okay, no," Patricks says. "No. Not until you prop that fucking door behind you. Have you ever been stuck on a roof? Because I have."

"Variety is the spice of life, dude," Pete says, but he pulls a set of keys off his hip, flicking through them until he reaches the a thick metal one. "Here," Pete says, shoving the push-bar and turning the key in the lock until it clicks. "Now it's really, really, locked open. As in, even if we forget to prop the door, it's not going to lock."

"Good," Patrick says. "I appreciate that."

"Now come on," Pete says, and disappears through the doorway. Patrick climbs up behind him, taking the stairs slowly as they make increasingly terrifying noises under his feet. He wonders if he's going to be on the front page of the news tomorrow—Local Studio Owner Dies in Tragic Staircase Accident at Porn Studio!—and then all of a sudden he's through the door and looking at the entire Chicago skyline.

"Wow," Patrick breathes, because it's been a while since he's seen his city from this angle. His studio is ground floor, and his apartment isn't that much higher; it's rare that he's up high enough to see everything. Patrick's chest fills with that strange, sad sort of longing he always gets when he looks at the city like this, a mixture of feelings like warmth and home and maybe even a little bit of regret that he's still here after all these years.

"I thought, you know, another Chicago boy, born and raised," Pete says quietly, from behind him. "I thought you'd get what it means."

"I do," Patrick says, and it's been a long time since he's meant something as much as he means those two words. "It's—thank you." He breathes in, the crisp fall air rushing through his lungs. The air up here is clear and cold against his skin.

They're silent for a few long minutes, just taking in the view. Patrick watches the play of lights across the great arteries of the city, the rushing of traffic towards the next destination.

"This was supposed to be a grand gesture," Pete says eventually. He's standing next to Patrick, hands tucked in his pockets. "I was going to take you up here and we were going to make out under the stars. Super romantic."

"And...we're not?" Patrick says, trying and failing to hide the disappointment in his voice. It's not that he wants to rush Pete, but he's not going to say no to a few kisses, either.

"Mostly I just want to hear you sing again," Pete admits. "It's kind of hard to do that when you're making out with someone. But I just—fuck, Patrick. Your voice." He turns to look at Patrick, something clear and soft in his gaze. It makes Patrick's breath catch in his throat, and he looks away. "I bet we can split the difference," Patrick says awkwardly. "Um. You know. If you wanted to."

"A kiss for a song?" Pete says, starting to smile.

"We could—yeah," Patrick says lamely. "Um. Yes. Yes, we should do that. Did you—what did you want to hear?" He wonders if he's going to feel stupid standing up here in the middle of the night singing to the stars and Pete, and then Patrick realizes he doesn't care. It's been a crazy past few months, full of ups and downs. The least he can do is sing a song for Pete. It won't be the end of the world if he feels silly.

"Anything," Pete says. "Something for the city. Sing me a song for Chicago, Patrick."

"A song for Chicago," Patrick muses. "You sound like you're asking for a requiem, not a lullaby."

Pete laughs, sharp and sudden, showing all of his teeth. "Not a requiem," Pete says. "We're not dead yet, Patrick. At least I'm not, and I hope you aren't either."

"Not just yet," Patrick agrees. He thinks about the studio almost tanking and then being pulled back from the abyss, about Pete's generosity and then Pete's surprising and wonderful...Pete-ness. He thinks about how Pete's hands are always cold, and how even though they're bigger than Patrick's he likes it when Patrick holds them between his own and rubs them to keep them warm. Patrick thinks about how being around Pete makes him feel warm deep down inside, even if he wants to strangle him sometimes. He thinks about how Pete is stupidly hot, way out of Patrick's league and yet somehow he's still hanging out with Patrick every day and doesn't seem to be getting bored yet.

"You sure you even want a lullaby, then?" Patrick says, starting to grin as he hits on the perfect song. He starts to tap his palm against the concrete lip of the roof, and Pete laughs as soon as he hears the fast, syncopated beat. He watches Patrick's hands for a moment and then he takes over, throwing in a few expertly-timed stamps against the floor once he gets tempo down. Patrick watches the traffic move in rhythm below them, perfectly timed to the beat, and then opens his mouth to sing:

Everyday it's a-gettin' closer
Goin' faster than a roller coaster

He's interrupted by Pete's mouth half-way through the second line, grinning as he kisses Patrick wide and messy. It's only a few seconds, the soft slide of lips against lips, before Pete's pulling back. Patrick tries to remember how to breathe.

"Keep going," Pete whispers, and Patrick nods, tangling his fingers with Pete's as they stare out at the Chicago skyline.

Love like yours will surely come my way.