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what we talk about when we don't talk about it

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The text reads come out here this weekend i need you.

Gabe doesn't panic when he gets messages like that from Pete, like he did for a while there. They make his dick twitch, instead. My good looks, my charming personality, or my spanking hand?

He has time to grab his laptop and pull up Orbitz to search for flights before Pete answers. all of the above dickhead + yr cred to get me into the good parties.

Gabe rolls his eyes and buys a business-class ticket into LAX. Getting me confused with Rob again, he got all the cred in the breakup.

thanks. now im thinking about being spanked by rob hitt and i will never have an erection again.

Gabe snorts and forwards his itinerary so Pete's assistant can book him a car service. That's never the part you have trouble with.

let's do something special this time.

That gets Gabe's attention. He studies the little bubble on his iPhone screen for a long moment before sending a cautious reply. Special...?

surprise me.

Gabe narrows his eyes and stares at that for a minute. All right, then. Challenge accepted.

**

A year or two back, Pete would've met him at the door weaving back and forth, too restless and raw to stand solid on his feet. Things are different now; he's changed his meds, he's made a commitment to his therapy, he's living more for himself and less for an image of himself that belongs to the world at large. Gabe's proud of him.

He still catches Pete's chin in his hand when he steps into the foyer. "Where are we at?" he asks softly, studying the smaller, subtler cues that are still there. The shadows in Pete's eyes, the lines under them, the tension at the corners of his mouth.

Pete shrugs, leaning into Gabe's hand. "Six? Maybe seven."

"Not too bad." Gabe tilts Pete's chin up and kisses him, slow and soft. Now isn't the time to push or take. Now is just for letting Pete center himself on Gabe, use him as the pin to pull himself back together.

"How was your flight?" Pete asks, his eyes closed and his chin digging into Gabe's fingers. Gabe rubs his thumb over the hinge of Pete's jaw, testing his response. There isn't one, which gives him an idea of how much work they need to do. By the end of the visit a touch like that will have Pete opening his mouth easily, trusting whatever Gabe might do. There are some walls of tension to take down first. Gabe can go slow.

"It was fine." He lets Pete's chin go and takes his hand instead, leading him along to the living room. "I read about serial killers."

"Why? That doesn't go with your whole thing about putting good energy into the universe."

"I'm taking bad energy in, purifying it in my liver, and digesting it."

Pete stares at him for a minute, face going perfectly blank. "I can no longer tell if you're bullshitting me or not."

"Half and half." Gabe grins and sits down on the couch, tugging Pete down with him. "A six-point-five, huh?"

Pete shrugs and leans into him, closing his eyes. "Maybe. I don't know."

"That's okay." They sit in silence for a while, Gabe proving all over again--it has to be done, every time, Pete can't believe it through a cycle of Gabe going away and coming back again--that he will wait Pete out, wait until he's ready. He's never been big on patience, but he can wait for this.

Finally Pete sighs softly and moves, throwing his leg over Gabe's lap and straddling him, face to face. He leans in and brushes his lips against Gabe's softly, not quite kissing. Just touching.

"Hi," Gabe says, settling his hands on Pete's hips.

"Hi." Pete kisses him for real, eyes closed, lips parted, letting Gabe in. It's sweet and warm and kind of perfect, like it always is. Kissing was never Gabe's favorite part of fooling around--sue him, he likes having his dick sucked, it's just the way it is--but Pete's doing a pretty good job of changing that. Gabe made fun of Bill back in the day for his stories about Pete Wentz, Makeout King of Chicago, but Pete is...

Pete is things Gabe can't put into words and probably never will.

They kiss on the couch for a long time, Pete shifting closer and Gabe rubbing his thumbs over the soft flesh at Pete's hips. "You want to go upstairs?" he asks softly, turning his head to nuzzle at Pete's throat. "Or hang out down here?"

"Dude." Pete laughs and shakes his head. "I'm not messed up enough to turn you down."

"That came out less awesome that I think you meant it."

Pete slips off his lap and offers his hand. "Upstairs."

Pete's bedroom is dark and cool, heavy blinds pulled over the windows and extra blankets on the bed. Gabe tugs his t-shirt off and steps out of his shoes, concentrating on his belt and jeans so he won't stare at Pete getting undressed. He likes it this way, when he turns around from folding his clothes in a neat pile on the dresser and sees Pete's in a trail across the floor, leading to the bed where he's naked and waiting.

Pete's already on his hands and knees on the mattress when Gabe turns around this time, which answers the question on his lips about what Pete wants to do. He crosses over to the bed and rubs his hand up and down Pete's spine slowly, coaxing him to relax and open his legs a bit more. "You don't want to fool around a little more first?"

"No." Pete's voice is muffled, his forehead against the mattress. "Want you."

"Okay." Gabe pinches his ass lightly, just enough to make Pete hiss and squirm, then goes back to the dresser to dig out Pete's supplies. He keeps them buried in his sock drawer, muffled in layers of cotton like they're something mysterious or precious instead of Trojans and Astroglide.

Pete doesn't like sex face-to-face. If they're doing anything that doesn't involve Gabe kissing him so they both close their eyes, and he can't turn away, he'll throw his arm over his face to hide it the whole time. Gabe isn't sure if it's something he should be pushing Pete on, or something he should let go because it lets Pete feel safe. He prefers to err on the side of being gentle. Pushing Pete sometimes leads to explosions. When they're together, Gabe doesn't really want explosions so much as he wants...well. This. Pete waiting for him with his ass in the air and his face going all flushed, his dick just visible as a shadowed curve against his belly.

"What?" Pete asks, pushing himself up a little more on his hands. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Gabe comes back to the bed and settles one hand on the swell of Pete's ass, popping the Astroglide open with the other. "Just got distracted."

"Ouch. My ego."

"Quiet." Gabe kisses the center of his back and presses two fingers into him, working them slowly. "Relax."

"You can be rough. It's okay."

"I'll be rough tomorrow, don't worry. I have a surprise for you just like you asked." Gabe kisses him again, tracing his tongue against the vertebrae. "But right now, relax for me."

Pete takes a shaky breath and lets it go, his back arching slightly. Gabe loves these moments, when Pete obeys and gives in, going pliant under his hands.

"Good boy," Gabe murmurs, and eases his fingers away, silently cursing himself for not opening the condom first. Every time, he ends up with slippery fingers trying to tear the fucking foil. Every time.

He gets there, though, and gets inside Pete, fucking him slow and careful. Pete makes helpless little noises, muffled against the bed, gasps and moans and sharp little cries when Gabe starts to move faster. They're not sounds of real pain--Gabe can tell those by now, thanks very much, he wouldn't be doing half the things they do if he couldn't--so Gabe keeps going, hard and steady until he presses into Pete as deep as he can go and comes.

"Fuck," Pete whispers, pushing back against him even though there's nothing more to give. "Fuck. 'm...'m close. Fuck."

Gabe scrapes his teeth against the sharp bone of Pete's shoulder blade and wraps his hand around him, squeezing tightly and then stroking fast and sharp. "Sorry."

"Don't be." Pete shudders, his muscles tightening, his back arching under Gabe again "God, don't...don't be. Fuck. Yes. Don't stop."

Gabe wants to say something stupid, something too-much, like he'll never stop, like he loves him, but instead he just jerks Pete off and cleans them both up and crawls back into the bed, pulling Pete toward him and under the blankets. It'll be too warm inside of five minutes, but for just that long Pete loves being wrapped up tight, cocooned together and pressed close, skin sticking to sweaty skin.

"Thanks for coming," he mumbles, his breath warm and wet against Gabe's chest. "Thanks."

"Whenever you need me, Wentzlet. You know that."

"I know I'm too demanding."

"If you're trying to get me to sing 'When Doves Cry,' you're out of luck."

Pete rolls his eyes, lifting his head to look Gabe in the eye. "I just--"

"Pete." Gabe shakes his head and pushes Pete's head down again, holding him close. "Apologies and self-flagellation and shit comes tomorrow. Tonight we're just going to sleep."

Pete's quiet then, and Gabe counts off the beats of his heart, rapid thuds that slow and even out eventually.

"Too hot," Pete says finally, and Gabe lets him go so he can throw the covers back and move over to his side of the bed. "Night, Gabe."

"Night, Pete." Gabe turns on his side, facing Pete across the stretch of purple sheets. He lets his hand settle in the no-man's-land between them, so Pete can find it in the dark, if he wants.

**

Gabe wakes up so tangled up in stupid extraneous blankets that he can't move. Pete's lying on his side of the bed, naked, tapping away at his phone.

"Time is it?" Gabe mumbles, trying to sit up and finding that his left arm is completely numb. Fuck.

"Nine. Ish."

"Early."

"It's noon to you." Pete turns his phone to show him a picture of a tiger eating something small and furry. "Look at this."

"That's gross, Pete." He finally manages to kick his legs free and get out of the bed. "When I come back you'd better be looking at puppies."

He stays in the bathroom long enough for his arm to get through the pins-and-needles phase; there is nothing sexy or dignified about hopping up and down with teeth clenched, willing it to end. He pees, brushes his teeth, splashes cold water on his face, checks the corners of his eyes for crow's feet. He needs to do Botox or some shit. Quietly, or Nate will never stop laughing at him, but his face is his moneymaker, and fuck, if his teenage self could see him right now he would probably actually shank him in the face.

He stomps back out to the bedroom and stands at the foot of the bed, studying Pete. "Do you want to get breakfast first or do you want to do it right now?"

Pete eyes him over the phone. "And by 'it,' you mean..."

"Your surprise kink-o-rama something-special fest."

"I should probably eat first." Pete turns the phone and shows him a basket full of puppies. "So should you."

"Dude, I'm going to be sitting on the deck eating bon-bons while you crawl around the back yard cutting the grass with your teeth."

Pete's brow furrows. "For real?"

"No." He's right, Gabe definitely needs breakfast. With coffee. "C'mon, up. Clothes. We'll go find a swank breakfast place."

"I'm not really feeling swank." Pete climbs out of bed and goes over to his closet, which isn't arranged by any scheme known to mortal man. It makes Gabe's teeth clench. "Can we have gross instead?"

"The things I do for you, Wentz."

"I'll let you sniff my bacon." Gabe stands in silence for a long time at that one, until Pete glances back over his shoulder at him. "Nothing? No comeback?"

"Too obvious. And insulting to me as a Jew."

"Whatever." Pete goes back to poking at his wardrobe, and Gabe gives himself a mental high-five, because that response means he's bumped Pete up from a six-point-five to probably a four-point-five already. He does good work.

**

Breakfast is appropriately gross and filling. Gabe gets his coffee and Pete gets his bacon, eating away steadily through a large side order. "'m off carbs right now," he mumbles around a mouthful, poking at his plateful of eggs. "It sucks."

Gabe just nods and drinks more of his coffee, watching the parking lot through the window over Pete's shoulder. It's kind of a gloomy day for Los Angeles. And he can never get used to how there aren't enough people on the sidewalks. He might be a stubborn holdout loser for staying in New York, but he's sticking with it for now. "Anything else you need to get done today?"

Pete shakes his head, crunching at another piece of bacon. "Blocked the whole day off for you."

"Good."

"What are you going to do to me?"

It's a matter-of-fact question, not breathless or eager, not even particularly interested if Gabe couldn't see how Pete's foot is jittering under the table, and that he's running his thumb over and over the edge of his fork.

"It's a surprise," he says, draining the last of his coffee. "Finish up and I'll show you."

Pete grabs his hand on the ride back to the house, which is surprising--he gets touch-hungry, yeah, but usually not like this. Usually he signals and signals and waits for Gabe to reach for him. Pete holding his hand so tight the knuckles ache is something different.

"You okay, Wentzy?" Gabe asks softly, watching Pete steer one-handed, his eyes fixed on the road and his chin lifted to compensate for the fact that he's a Troll doll-sized human being driving an SUV that could invade a poorly-defended country.

"Fine."

"You sure?"

"Yes."

Gabe doesn't want to make him let go if he doesn't want to, so he holds back the obvious because you are crushing my hand and that would seem to indicate 'not okay' retort. He leans back in his seat instead, wiggling the fingers of his free hand like the effect will transfer and thinking about what they're going to do, the details, the outcome. Well. The hoped-for outcome. Cracking Pete open and letting all this tension go, letting him drain out empty and clean and quiet. Like Gabe's head when he left the jungle, only with less rice and meditation and more handcuffs.

"I trust you," Pete says abruptly. "You know that, right?"

The fucking fuck. "Of course I know that, Pete. We wouldn't do this if I didn't know that."

"I just wasn't sure if I ever actually said it out loud."

Gabe starts to think back and gives it up as pointless. "I'm not sure if you did, but I knew. I know. Don't worry."

"Good. Okay." Pete hits the turn signal and reaches for his iPod, skipping to a playlist called set fire to the bldg do it now. "Cool."

"Is there something we should talk about?"

Pete makes a face. "You sound like my mom."

"Answer the fucking question."

"Less like my mom." Pete taps his fingers on the wheel and shrugs. "No. It's fine. Everything's fine."

I know you're lying, Gabe thinks, your lips are moving, but okay. They can talk later, after he breaks Pete in half and cleans all the garbage out.

**

When they get back from breakfast, he grabs Pete by the back of the neck and hauls him to the guest bathroom doubletime, so fast that Pete stumbles over a few steps, his feet just skimming the floor.

"Ow," Pete gasps, "ow, fuck, what are you--"

"Surprise," Gabe says, and throws him through the bathroom door. Pete falls to his knees on the bathmat, curling protectively over himself as Gabe steps in behind him, closing the door and twisting the thermostat control hard to the right.

"What--" Pete looks up at the vent as the air conditioner whirs to life. The temperature in the little room is going to drop in a hurry. "Oh."

"You still want this?" Gabe asks, leaning back against the door. His head is buzzing a little, adrenaline jumping under his skin. He's got control, though. He's riding this. If Pete wants to stop, they'll stop, they'll watch TV and cuddle and talk about existentialism. He's cool with that. He can work off the adrenaline on the treadmill or by aggressively eating tortilla chips or something.

Pete isn't backing out, though. He licks his lips and shakes his head, still on his knees on the floor, rubbing his hands on his thighs. "Yeah. Yeah. Do you need to throw me in here again since I screwed up the dramatic effect?"

"Tempting. But it's cool." Gabe looks down at him and jerks his head sharply. "Strip."

He can see Pete getting excited, too, as he pulls off his hoodie and his t-shirt and squirms out of his jeans. It's a different transition for him, finding the headspace where he'll let Gabe take over. Gabe loves watching it happen. It's okay if Pete doesn't get all the way there just yet, though. That might restore some of the dramatic effect.

"No," he says when Pete reaches for the waistband of his boxer-briefs. "No, keep those on." Pete freezes obediently, hands going to his sides, and Gabe steps in close. He catches Pete's chin and yanks it upward, staring into his eyes.

Pete's lips part, either to take a breath or because he's expecting a kiss, but instead Gabe slaps him across the face. Not too hard--not hard enough to damage--but enough to get his attention.

"You're in trouble," Gabe says, dropping his voice down to his lower register, down to rough and growly and not the way he normally likes to be. "So much fucking trouble."

Pete takes an unsteady breath, his eyes half-closed, his tongue darting between his teeth. "Sorry?"

"Oh, you don't know what sorry is yet." Gabe lets go, shoving him back a pace, and turns to the shower. He twists the handle all the way to cold, then turns the spray on as high as it goes. When he turns back, Pete's gaze is flickering from the shower to Gabe's face, back and forth so fast he must be making himself dizzy. It's hot as fuck, his confusion, and Gabe thinks this is really going to work, he's going to break Pete down the middle and be able to get right up into his insides.

He grabs Pete's arm and yanks him close, then switches his grip to the back of Pete's neck again and shoves him into the shower. Pete yelps when the cold water hits him, hands jerking up to protect his face. "Holy fuck, that's--"

Gabe slams the shower door closed and waits, staring up at the vent and counting to five hundred while Pete hollers and slams against the tile and the glass. When he opens the door again, Pete's stopped fighting in favor of shivering, pressed back against the opposite wall and staring at Gabe with wide eyes.

"Out." Gabe turns the water off, then catches Pete under the arms and pulls him out of the shower, wet and dripping, his skin clammy and cold under Gabe's hands. Gabe makes himself keep moving, not lingering, not touching too much. He's got to keep his head in the scene or he won't finish it, and he hates leaving things messy and unfinished.

He snags the handcuffs out from under the sink and snaps one around Pete's left wrist. Thread through the towel rack--so--snap on the other wrist--done--and push Pete down onto the floor, huddled shivering against the wall under the towel rack.

The other item under the sink is a little bell, the old-fashioned kind where you smack the button on top and it dings loud and obnoxious. Gabe sets that next to Pete's foot and walks to the door. The a/c is still blasting. It's going to get really fucking cold in here. "Ding when you can't take any more," he says, trying to catch Pete's eyes to make sure he heard him. Pete's head is down now, though, his hair dripping water down over his face, and he doesn't react to Gabe's words.

Gabe hesitates for a minute in the doorway, watching him. The water running down his cheeks looks a little too much like tears.

But he wanted intense. He wanted different. Special. This will be so special, if he'll just break open for Gabe, if he'll crack down the middle and let him reach inside.

Gabe steps out into the hallway and shuts the door behind him. He ducks into the bedroom long enough to grab his Kindle out of his bag, straining his hearing for the bell, then sits on the carpet just outside the bathroom door. He turns the Kindle on and stares at the beginning of chapter six of the murder mystery he started on the plane. He can't focus enough to remember what happened in chapters one through five. He can't focus on anything but Pete--his face and his startled voice and the sound of him hitting the glass in the shower. The sound of his ragged breathing in the bathroom, just audible under the whir of the fan.

He sets his jaw and forces himself to read every word of chapter six closely enough that they have to sink in. Until the bell rings, or an hour. Whichever comes first.

**

He makes it to forty-five minutes, which is longer than he would've thought he could go without absorbing a single word of the fucking chapter. The fucking bell still hasn't rung. He throws the Kindle down and goes into the bathroom, biting down on his tongue hard to keep from saying...anything. Anything he might say would be stupid.

Pete's huddled up as small as he can get, his hands clenched at the bars of the towel rack. His knees are pulled tight to his chest and he's hiding his face against them, breathing shakily. His skin is gross-looking and he's still shivering frantically. Probably that's better than if he had stopped shivering. Probably. Fuck.

Gabe is the worst dom in the world and should probably throw himself into traffic immediately. No. Not immediately. He has to fix this first.

He turns the shower on again, this time twisting the dial over to 50-50 hot and cold. Can't throw Pete into hot water right away. Need to warm him up gradually. Fucking fuck, what was he thinking?

He strips out of his own clothes and goes over to unlock the cuffs, wrapping one arm around Pete's waist and boosting him up to rest against his chest to get his weight off his wrists. "Okay," he says in Pete's ear, keeping his voice low. Comforting and soothing is the thing right now. Fixing. "Okay. All done. You did really good, honey. You did perfect."

Pete doesn't answer, just shivers, but he presses his face against Gabe's shoulder like he wants to hold on instead of like he wants to get away.

Gabe kicks the handcuffs back behind the toilet and guides Pete into the shower, holding him against his chest with his back to the spray and rubbing slow patterns over his skin while he whimpers and tries to get away from the water. Probably still too warm. Probably giving him pins and needles everywhere. Fucking fuck, he can't even do this right. But he needs to get Pete warm again, and this is the best way he can think of to do it. Next steps after this are...vague. He'll figure that out when he gets there.

He kisses Pete's forehead and his hair, letting Pete hide his face against him. He won't make Pete look at him until he wants to. "You're okay," he croons over and over again. "You did good. You're perfect, honey, you're so good. I'm so proud. It's okay. It's going to be okay. Warm you up like a Hot Pocket and put you to bed."

Maybe a steamed dumpling would be a better comparison, but accuracy isn't as important as keeping Pete calm right now. They stand there in the shower for a long time, Gabe gradually bumping the hot water higher every so often until Pete's stopped shivering, his skin is warm, and he's leaning on Gabe heavy and boneless.

Gabe turns the water off and scoops Pete up, carrying him back down the hall to the bedroom. He lays him out on the bed and peels the wet boxer-briefs off, then pulls the blankets up and over him, tucking him in warm and tight before lying down next to him on top of the bedding. He's soaking wet, too, dripping all over the fucking place, but all that matters right now is Pete.

Pete turns his head toward him and moves as close as he can, clumsy through the layers of blankets. Gabe puts one arm around him and lets him hide his face again, breathing hot and sticky against Gabe's skin. "It's okay."

Falling asleep is the last thing he expects to do, but fuck, adrenaline crash is a bitch and Pete passes out first. Gabe pulls just the top blanket over himself, in case he gets chilly as his skin dries, and lets himself fall.

**

When he wakes up, Pete is still pressed up close to him, watching him with half-closed eyes.

"Hey," Gabe says softly. "Hey. How you feeling?"

Pete blinks at him, then shakes his head, a tiny motion that Gabe can't quite translate.

"You want some coffee? Or I could run you a hot bath, if you're still cold? Fuck, Pete. I'm so sorry. I thought it would be...cathartic, not, like. Not like that. You know?"

Pete closes his eyes tightly and shakes his head again, harder.

"I won't do it again. I swear." Taking even thirty seconds to really think about it and he knows he never should've done it in the first place. Yeah, Saporta. Genius. Pressing the "abandoned, cold, and alone" button on Pete. No way that could possibly go wrong. For your next trick, you should balance a nuclear reactor on the head of a fucking pin.

"You're pissed at me, and I get that," he says, but before he can get any farther Pete makes a sound and wiggles his hand free from the blankets to plant flatly over Gabe's lips. The sound isn't verbal, just a raw noise from the throat, unhappy and pained. Gabe forces himself to take a breath, not jerk away from Pete's hand, and think.

All right. Pete doesn't want him to talk. Pete doesn't want to talk to him. He's not pushing him away or trying to get out of the bed, though. He just wants to be quiet. Quiet and together. He stopped Gabe when Gabe assumed that he was pissed, but that might've been just the timing rather than the specific words. No way to know.

It's some information, but not enough.

He reaches out carefully and pets Pete's hair, lightly, gently. Pete sighs and presses into the contact, arching up like a happy cat--

Oh. Oh.

He turns his nails into the petting, making it a gentle scritch over the crown of Pete's head. Pete turns into that contact, too, eyes closed tight in bliss instead of tension. Yeah. That's a good response.

He remembers Pete saying once, in an outburst of frustration on the Believers Never Die tour, Sometimes I just don't want to have to be a person. I can't be a person. It's too much.

Not a person, then. Gabe can do that.

Pete's fingers relax against Gabe's mouth, and Gabe clears his throat. "Will you be okay here by yourself for an hour while I run to the store?"

Pete eyes him warily, looks around the room, and finally nods, easing away and burrowing farther under the blankets. Gabe gets dressed and takes the keys to Pete's SUV, which he can't drive very well and usually dings up when he tries.

Thirty minutes and three scrapes to the fender later, he parks outside a pet-supply megastore. He has at best a vague list in mind, but this is more to demonstrate his dedication to the concept than because any specific supplies are required. At least, he's telling himself that. He hopes it's true.

Aisle four: collars and leashes. He grabs a neon-green nylon collar with a safety release, sized for a Rottweiler, and a leash from the same line in hot pink. Chew toys, aisle seven; he gets a rubber guitar and a stuffed squirrel. He hesitates over the cages along the back wall before finally turning and walking away. That would either be an awesome idea or the worst possible one and he'd rather err on the side of caution today.

He drives through Taco Bell on the way back, because he knows that shit is Pete's comfort food and he still has a soft spot for their bean burritos himself. He gets a giant bag of disgusting food and floors it all the way to Pete's house, curbing the SUV around one corner and dinging it on the edge of the garage door when he goes to pull in. Partly that's all probably his fault, but also people weren't meant to drive cars of this size. It's a goddamn crime against nature.

Pete's still curled up under three layers of blankets when he gets back upstairs. Gabe tears the tags off the collar and leash and toys and sets them on the bedside table, then folds himself into the armchair next to the bed and waits for Pete to wake up. Or, more accurately, waits for him to look out. Pete might very well be wide awake in his blanket-cave and just opting not to engage with the rest of the universe. Gabe can dig that. It's not in line with his own particular manifestations of fucked-up-brain-funtime, but he gets where it's coming from.

He sips his Diet Pepsi, eats a bean burrito, and stares at the mound of blankets until it shifts and Pete's eyes peer out.

"Hey, you." Gabe is pretty sure he sounds like a fucking idiot. "Hey, buddy. C'mon out and say hi."

Pete stares at him, eyes wide and not...suspicious, exactly, so much as uncertain. Gabe gets that, too. Pete was not privy to the frantic thought processes in the pet store and the SUV. He doesn't know if Gabe has come to comfort or to mock. Gabe can't press his case without making the whole thing tumble down; all he can do is wait.

He sips his drink with a loud, annoying screech of straw against lid. Pete winces and sits up, rubbing his eye with the curve of his wrist. Pawing at it, Gabe thinks distantly; no use of the knuckles or the fingers, like Gabe thinks he would do himself, if he thought about it while he was doing it. That's the trick, of course; thinking about it, versus overthinking it, versus thinking about not thinking about it.

There are layers upon layers here, and he's just hacking through them with a machete, hoping he gets something right.

Gabe takes another drink and holds out a taco. "C'mere."

Pete stares at him for another moment, then slowly slips out of the bed and onto the floor. He crawls over--it's an awkward, broken movement, not at all easy or sleek, and somehow that makes it better, for Gabe, lets something ease in his chest, because they're both fucking fumbling blind through this, he's not behind on the curve--and waits at Gabe's feet, looking up at him through the scrubby screen of his bangs. Gabe unwraps the taco carefully and lays it out on its wrapper on the floor. Pete blinks at it, shoots Gabe a look that for the life of him he can't fucking read--

--and lowers his head to eat the taco off the paper.

Gabe exhales so sharply it hurts. He guessed right, or in the neighborhood of right, anyway.

When Pete finishes that taco, Gabe lays another one out for him, then takes the stuffed squirrel and plays with it against his knees. Up, squirrel, down, squirrel, hop hop hop, squirrel, run along the edge of the chair. He's just about to send the squirrel on a ride on its own fighter jet when Pete's chin settles against his thigh and he looks down to meet wide, staring eyes, still a little uncertain but getting there.

"You want a toy?" Gabe asks, bopping the squirrel against Pete's nose. "You want to play?"

Pete shifts his weight back and forth, his eyes darting down and up again. He reaches up after a minute and takes the squirrel in his hand, clutching it against his chest and crawling three-legged over to the foot of the bed. Okay. So the puppy act isn't 100%; it's still a metaphor. Gabe can definitely roll with that.

Pete curls up with the toy against his chest and closes his eyes. This time Gabe can tell he's not really sleeping; the tension in Pete's body is unmistakable. Gabe puts his feet up on the dresser and waits, scrolling aimlessly through his phone. He can and will sit all goddamn night. He will win this standoff.

After a while he reaches over and takes the collar from the bedside table, running the nylon between his fingers and playing with the safety release. He practically hears Pete's eyes snap open and start to track the motion, watching Gabe's hands. Gabe hums to himself, smiling a little as he winds the collar tightly around his fingers, holds it until they turn dark, and lets it go again. Easy.

Pete crawls over, clutching the squirrel to his chest again and settling it carefully between his knees when he settles at Gabe's feet. He butts his forehead against Gabe's thigh and waits, staring up through his bangs, face set expectantly.

The collar fits him, thank fuck. Gabe really doesn't want to have to do that drive again. He adjusts it so it's snug, not tight, then clips the leash to the ring and wraps the free end loosely around his hand. Pete sits there for a moment, then picks up his squirrel and crawls back to the limit of the leash, curling up and closing his eyes.

When Gabe looks up from his phone again, Pete's fallen asleep, his muscles loose and his squirrel tucked up under his chin. That's it. No fuss, no tension, just that.

Gabe isn't sure if this is weird or beautiful.

**

Pete stays a puppy the rest of the day. When Gabe finally goes to the kitchen and then the living room, Pete follows along, clutching the squirrel to his chest along with the trailing end of the leash. Gabe sits down on the couch with his snack without picking the leash up again; Pete stands there flicking the end of the leash against Gabe's knee until he takes it and holds on. Pete shoots him a look of smug satisfaction, crawls to the end of it, and lies down again.

A working hypothesis of what Pete needs from not being a person: a hint of control, room to lie down, and a stuffed animal. And tacos. Gabe jots all of that down in a note to himself on his phone, saves it as "chord progressions Ry won't like," and watches an iCarly marathon until Pete bites him on the ankle.

"Ow! Don't fucking bite me." Pete smacks him with the squirrel. "What do you need?"

And yeah, that was a dumb question, but someone who's pretending to be a puppy shouldn't be able to pull off that much of a bitchface.

"Food, water, or toilet?" Gabe asks, and Pete sits there for a minute, squirrel dangling loosely from his hand. Gabe can see the wheels turning in his head. "All three?" That gets a desperate, grateful look and the smallest hint of a nod. Great. They're learning.

He walks Pete to the bathroom, goes inside with him, and puts up the lid and the seat on the toilet. That's pretty much where he draws his personal line; he would not hold an actual dog's dick for it while it peed, and he wouldn't hold Pete's on a normal day, either. Maybe if Pete was really sick or had broken both of his arms or something. But not just in general. He has boundaries.

He lets go of Pete's leash and steps back, turning to look at himself in the mirror. He can see Pete's reflection as he stands up, takes care of his business, tucks himself back away in his boxers, and kneels again, cueing Gabe to turn around just in time for Pete to smack him with the squirrel and drop the end of the leash on his foot.

"Hungry?" Gabe asks, and Pete wiggles. It's a full-body spasm, but there's no doubt in Gabe's mind that it's supposed to evoke wagging a tail. Pete has very expressive body language and some fairly subtle interpretive skills at imitating animals. Furry jokes are too cheap and easy for Gabe's taste, but if they weren't, he'd be armed and loaded right now.

Instead, he scritches the top of Pete's head and smiles at him. "Come on. I'll get you some puppy chow."

He makes Pete a bowl of oatmeal and sets it on the floor, mostly just to see what Pete will do. Pete shoves his face in it and eats like that, ending up with oatmeal all the way to his eyebrows but a happy, relaxed look on his face that makes something in Gabe's chest twist in a good way. Love is so fucking weird. Somebody ought to write a song about that.

He puts a glass of water on the floor and turns away to wash out the bowl and wipe down the counters, so Pete can drink it like a person without being seen. Giving him a bowl of water and seeing if he could lap it up was tempting, but Gabe's pretty sure human tongues don't work that way and if Pete drowns himself on his own kitchen floor trying to drink like a dog, Gabe cannot be without an alibi when the cops start asking questions. His dad would never forgive him.

They watch TV the rest of the night, Gabe sprawled on the couch and Pete curled up beside him with his head in Gabe's lap. It's nice. It's quiet. Gabe doesn't have to think about anything at all. They both fall asleep out there on the couch, because they're lazy, juvenile idiots and the bedroom is a whole hallway away.

**

He figures, if he figures anything, that when they wake up in the morning Pete will be a person again, because a night to a day is a good, sensible breaking point. He needs to explain that whole concept from Jewish thought to Pete at some point, apparently, because he wakes up with Pete pressing down hard on his bladder, end of the leash in his mouth and squirrel clenched in one hand.

"For real?" he mumbles, wiping the night's accumulation of drool from the corners of his mouth. "Are you sure?" Pete wiggles all over, less like he's wagging his tail this time and more like he's kind of desperate to piss. Gabe from two years ago would knock him off the couch onto his ass. Fortunately Gabe from now is a wiser, more generous, highly enlightened person. And Pete's hand is way too close to Gabe's dick to risk him grabbing for support as he falls.

"You have to be a person again eventually," he says while he shaves and Pete pees. "I think your son would be confused if he came over and you licked his face instead of saying hello." Maybe not, actually, but it sounds good. "I mean, I'm not going to rush you, dude, take as much time as you need, I'm the one who fucked you up, but--ow, motherfucker, don't bite."

Pete's looking up at him with a sullen glare that pretty clearly means he doesn't want to hear about Gabe fucking up yet. Or possibly ever. Fine.

Gabe makes him eat a bowl of yogurt for breakfast, which can't possibly be fun to have in his eyelashes and up his nose. Petty vengeance is the best kind.

"Since apparently I'm the cruise director of this whole trip to weirdoville," Gabe says as he holds a wet washcloth so Pete can shove his face into it and wipe himself clean, "I decree we're going to spend the day out by the pool. I am going to read terrible novels and skinny-dip. I don't care what you do as long as you don't drown or get sunstroke. Cool?"

Pete wipes his wet face on Gabe's thigh. Gabe smacks him lightly on top of the head and goes to get his Kindle and a stack of towels.

**

There's no obvious, overwhelming flaw in the plan, and Gabe wants to help Pete, he really, truly does, but the fact of the matter is that by about two in the afternoon, Gabe is starting to lose his shit.

It's the quiet that's killing him. Pete is dozing happily on one of the deck chairs, curled up in the shade of an umbrella, squirrel tucked under his chin getting all sweaty and leash hooked to the leg of Gabe's chair so Gabe has both hands free to operate Kindle and poolside cocktail. Gabe has finished one and a half serial-killer books, swum ten laps, and taken an hour nap. If he doesn't have a conversation with another human being soon, one that acknowledges his thoughts and feelings and engages them in some way other than wide-eyed staring and abuse via squirrel, he is going to completely freak the fuck out.

"Okay," he says finally, sitting up and draining his drink. "Okay. I call uncle. I would say I'm safewording out of this, but it's not that I don't feel safe, or whatever, and we don't even have safewords because, like, we're adults, we can just use the word no, it's fine, but seriously, Pete, I need you to snap out of it and talk to me here. In the very near future. If you could. Please."

Pete sighs and turns onto his back, stretching his legs and arms out to their full length and arching up off the chair. "Fuck," he mumbles, rocking back and forth like he's trying to crack his back. "I was really enjoying that."

"I know you were. Sorry."

"You weren't into it?" Pete mostly sounds sleepy and grouchy, but there's a hint of wariness there, like he's trying to brace himself for Gabe's answer but his bones have all turned to jelly.

"I was totally into it. It's fine. It's great. We can do it again." He stops for a minute, forcing himself to take a breath. He pictures Pete's face, all easy and relaxed. He pictures Pete wiggling in joy and shoving oatmeal up his nose and cuddling with a squirrel. "I like seeing you that happy."

"But you're freaking out." Pete makes a face and sets the squirrel down on the deck beside his chair. His fingers go to the catch on the collar, but he doesn't release it. "I don't like that part so much."

"I just need it not to last quite so long, I guess. I need conversation."

Pete smiles, a tiny curve of his mouth that doesn't show any teeth. "You're a narcissist."

"You're one to fucking talk."

"Dude, I am not a narcissist. I'm a sociopath."

Gabe rolls his eyes. "You are not, fuck you, I've read like six million books about sociopaths and you're anything but. You're all up in other people's feelings, not indifferent to them."

"Whatever." Pete releases the collar and winds it loosely around his hand. "I don't want to talk about yesterday, okay?"

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah." Pete shrugs, still looking down at the ugly green nylon against his hand. "It's over, it's done with, I feel better, let's just forget it."

"Next time you say you want a surprise I won't push those particular buttons."

"Maybe I won't ask for surprises."

That place in Gabe's chest that was all twisty with love yesterday feels cold now. "Will you still ask me for things at all?"

"Duh." Pete wiggles his toes and sets the collar down next to the squirrel. "Chad was a nice touch."

"Chad?"

"The squirrel. I named him."

"You named the squirrel Chad?"

"He looks a lot like my pool guy. Same teeth." Pete shrugs and walks over to the pool's edge at the deep end, dips his toe in, then jumps. Gabe watches the spray and waits for Pete's head to pop up again above the surface before he speaks.

"You want to go out tonight? Find somewhere just past its prime, like us?"

"I want to watch more Game of Thrones. Fuck you for getting me hooked, dude. Just fuck you."

Gabe sticks his tongue out at him. "It's art."

"It's media about the triumph of the short man." Pete ducks under the water again and Gabe gets up, unhooking the leash from his chair and winding it and the collar carefully around Chad, forming a little bundle he places on top of his towel.

"You want me to hold on to these for you?" he asks when Pete surfaces.

Pete looks at him for a long moment, then brushes his hair back off his face and smiles. It's a wide, goofy, stupid grin, and Gabe has to return it, because love is weird but it's also just...really fucking great.

"Yeah," Pete says. "And come swim with me."

"I'm not coming to swim, Wentz." Gabe steps up to the end of the diving board, shaking out his arms and setting himself up to cannonball. "I'm coming to own your ass at Marco Polo."

Pete turns onto his back and glides away. "You know I'll let you catch me."

"Counting on it," Gabe says, and jumps in.