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With Smaller Steps

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"I wanted to follow in your tracks a little,
I thought you'd walk away with smaller steps."
- Tirza Atar

Patrick is snoring peacefully next to him when Pete wakes up. He sits up carefully, not wanting to disturb him, and freezes when he catches sight of the cage.

An inanimate object should not make Pete feel like he's leered at. It would be better if he couldn't remember the feel of the straps across his skin, the constriction of the clear plastic cup around his cock.

Pete puts a little more force into getting up than strictly necessary. By the time he's out of the shower, Patrick has packed away most of his things and is bitching because he can't find his hat. The cock cage has been put away, out of sight, and Pete isn't sure if he's sorry or relieved.

Then Patrick comes to him and says, "You better not have jerked off in there," hand cupping Pete's dick like he's making a claim.

Shit, he is. Pete grows instinctively hard under Patrick's touch. "What, me? Never. You know I save myself for marriage."

Patrick's laughter should ruin the atmosphere, but it's kind of ridiculously perfect instead. Especially since he tacks, "I don't know about marriage. Can you wait till tonight?" on to the end of it.

Pete considers being offended for a minute but it doesn't stick. He might still be post-coital from last night. "Going soft on me?"

Instead of answering, Patrick takes Pete's hand and demonstrates how not-soft he is. Pete's mouth waters. His legs want to give in, let him sink to his knees on the plush hotel carpet and let Patrick use him.

Patrick, apparently, has other plans. "Tonight," he tells Pete again.

Then Joe yells about bus call from the other side of the door, and everything else is lost in the rush of packing.

~~

If Pete spends five more minutes looking at his notebook, he will set it on fire with his brain.

He doesn't want to be writing. He can still feel the impressions the cock cage's straps left on his skin last night when he concentrates, and he wants that again.

Patrick's sitting huddled in his own bunk, listening to music, a familiar roundish shape. Pete knows every single way he can fit next to him, or over him, or beside him. Most of those mean moving the laptop away, but who knows. Maybe a bonded Patrick is one who's less attached to his electronics.

A minute later, Pete is back in his own bunk, cradling his hand and glaring. Patrick didn't even look up before slapping him away.

"What," Patrick says. He doesn't take the headphones off or look away from the computer screen.

"Nothing." Pete slinks away in search of greener pastures, or at least somebody who'll scritch him behind the ears.

~~

By the next bus stop, Pete is convinced that his band doesn't like him anymore, and the sentiment is mutual. None of them want to pet him, and all of them hit him when he tries to convince them they do want to. Pete's life is a miserable wasteland.

He tells Mikey that when he boards his bus. "My life is a wasteland."

"Poor you," Mikey says. His expression doesn't give away much, but he at least shifts and shares his earbuds with Pete.

"I really am." He lays his head on Mikey's shoulder. "Why won't Patrick give me an earbud?"

"Patrick doesn't have earbuds," Mikey points out, "he has gigantic studio noise-blocking things. He can't give you one without breaking them." Which is rational, but unwanted, explanation.

Pete pouts and burrows closer. "He'd share if he really liked me."

"He hasn't killed you yet," Mikey says by way of consolation. The shitty part is that it works.

~~

By mid-afternoon, Pete's starting to believe that maybe there isn't a world-wide conspiracy to ignore him until he withers away. It's probably his meds starting to kick in. Unfortunately, the reason he knows it is that his bond's starting to fade out, the background hum of Patrick’s thoughts going quieter at random intervals like somebody’s playing with the volume dial.

Mikey bumps him gently with a bony shoulder. "Why're you so jumpy?"

Pete hesitates. This thing with Patrick is so brand new that it feels fragile. Like if he tells anyone, even Mikey, he'll jinx it. "Nothing. I forgot to take my meds for a couple days, it's kinda hard getting back on."

Mikey accepts this with equanimity. Pete's just grateful Mikey hasn't nudged him towards anything he'd have to stop. He's pretty sure he can still cuddle his friends. Like, ninety-five percent sure. Patrick never minded before.

Of course, Patrick never knew they were bonded before. So there's that. On the other hand, Patrick was never the kind of Dom to do the shitty possessive thing where he wouldn't let his emfriends talk to eir Dom friends.

Although, damn. Now that Pete's thinking of it, that's kind of hot.

He sits up in the bunk. Their next stop isn't far off: they should reach the venue in about thirty minutes. "Hey, Mikey," he says. "Want to prank Patrick?"

~~

"I don't see how this is a prank," Mikey says, dubious. He's watching Pete where he's sprawled over Mikey's bony lap like he has no idea how they wound up like this.

"No, give it a minute, it'll be hilarious." Pete shifts. Fuck, Mikey really is bony. He can't have gotten used to how pleasantly padded Patrick is already.

Alright, Pete has been stealing Patrick-cuddles for about five years now. That's admittedly plenty of time to get used to his nice and comfy frame. It's just that Pete used to have to choose between Patrick-cuddles and sexy time up till now, and he finds it's not a choice he's eager to go back to.

Hopefully once Patrick sees them, after some fun angry sex, they can get to the cuddles. Pete would like that.

The door creaks and Patrick walks inside, preoccupied. He barely even glances at Pete and Mikey at first. Then he does a double take, and a mild frown appears on his face. "Uh, hi?"

Pete smiles sweetly at him, draping himself over Mikey, who gives Patrick an awkward wave. "Hey."

Patrick's expression is doing something odd, the corner of his mouth sort of drooping. The already-intermittent bond, infuriatingly, has gone fuzzy and inscrutable, like radio stations when passing state lines. "I guess you had a nice afternoon."

"Oh, we did," Pete says, keeping the saccharine tone of voice. "Haven't we, Mikeyway?" He glances up at Mikey through his eyelashes, practically doing a parody of a coy sub.

Patrick's shoulders tense.

Pete's mouth opens a little in expectation. Yes, now Patrick will be pissed, he'll demand to ask what the hell Pete thinks he's doing, oh, maybe bodily drag him off Mikey--

Patrick doesn't do any of that. Instead, he deflates, seeming to go physically smaller. "Okay," he says, and leaves. He closes the door behind him with a sad little click.

"I'm guessing that wasn't what you intended," Mikey says as Pete stares at the door.

~~

Ten minutes after, the bond decides to fizzle back to life. By then the crackly whispers coming across are a relief, even if they're definitely hostile in tone. It's no more than Pete deserves.

But then he can make out the words again, and Patrick's not pissed at him, even though he should be. He's not even pissed at Mikey.

Should've known I'm second choice, the bond says, and Pete breaks land speed records running to Patrick's bunk.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" He demands when he gets there.

Patrick's curled up again. Not like before, though, when he just seemed comfortable and kind of compact, now he's actively hunched. "Me? I'm not the one who went to make out with other guys."

Pete wants to shake him. "It was a joke, alright? Come on, 'Trick. You know I wouldn't do that. Not to anyone, but especially not to you."

Patrick looks up at him. His eyes are dark and his mouth is a tight thin line. "Yeah, really fucking funny."

Falling to his knees is instinct. "I'll make it up to you." Patrick's feet are right there: Pete could kiss them, that would be a good start.

When he tries to, Patrick yanks them away like Pete was coming at him with lit matches. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Trying to apologize," Pete says through gritted teeth. Why does Patrick have to make everything difficult?

"Then how about you just say sorry like a normal person!" Patrick shuffles to the edge of the bunk, struggling to put on his shoes. "Or, hey, here's another idea: how about you don't do shit like this to begin with."

"What shit?" Pete spreads his arms. "Come on, you're gonna start telling me who to hang out with now?"

Oh, that gets him angry. The bond is silent, but not for lack of connection or because Patrick is ignoring him. Patrick has every bit of his attention trained on Pete right now, and he is furious. "Don't even try," Patrick says, low and dangerous, "to pretend you didn't know exactly what you were doing."

Pete leans back a bit. His shirt is riding up, exposing his stomach. Patrick could start by slapping him, maybe scratching his nails down Pete's stomach, yeah--

"Fuck this." Patrick jams his hat on his head. "I'll see you at sound check." He storms off.

~~

It would've been better if Patrick had skipped sound check, or if he had yelled at Pete publicly, humiliated him. Instead he's perfectly professional and polite all through sound check, all the while refusing to look Pete in the eye.

During the show, Pete thinks briefly of doing their usual shtick. Kissing Patrick's neck, all that. He takes on look at Patrick's posture and decides he doesn't want to get punched in the stomach right now.

~~

He doesn't go back to the bus after the show. He doesn't go partying, either. Instead, he takes his notebook and wanders off.

They're in one of the smaller towns on the tour, the in-between places where venues are small and packed tight with kids eager for a taste of something outside of what they know. It seems like fair trade, then, that Pete gets to walk around through streets he's never seen before, looking for something he probably won't recognize even if he finds it.

This is something he did a lot as a kid, roamed the streets of his quiet little suburb until he knew them by heart. There's just something about residential streets, especially after sundown. Pete likes to look at lit windows and wonder about the people who live on the other side. If maybe Pete just landed in the wrong place, in the wrong body or personality, and one day he'll find the right life that'll fit him like a glove.

It's not just the heat that makes Pete feel like his blood is boiling, although that isn't helping any. He walks by a low concrete fence and sits on it, taking his notebook out. It's time to either write or kill myself, and I'm all out of words, he scribbles. Then he rips the paper out, balls it up and throws it in the garbage can.

He's considering fishing it back out just so he can burn it when the bond crackles to life again.

"Here," Pete says, going to his feet before the bond even finishes its first panicked iteration of Where are you, are you okay, "I'm here, I'll be right back."

Running back is pure pleasure, pure relief: the burn in his muscles, the jolt of adrenaline. Above it all the knowledge that he's doing what Patrick wants, and what Patrick wants is for Pete to come back.

~~

"You are the biggest asshole I know," Patrick says tightly. His voice is slightly muffled in Pete's shoulder.

Pete is clinging without even the pretense of shame. He doesn't bother to deny the accusation: he knows it's true, even if Patrick doesn't mean it that way. "What freaked you out that bad? I just took a walk, jeez."

"You didn't hear yourself when you opened up," Patrick says grimly. "I did."

There's enough distance between them now that Pete can lay his head on Patrick's shoulder. Patrick's hand steals up to stroke the back of Pete's neck. He shivers happily. There are still matters to be addressed, though. "Fair warning, I get like that about twice a week."

Under his hands, he feels Patrick calming. It comes through the bond, too, in bits and pieces. "You fucking disappeared," Patrick says. "After pulling that stupid trick on me - did you think how I'd feel, if you died while I was still pissed at you? That's a shitty thing to do."

Pete rolls his eyes, secretly hoarding up Patrick's worry like a dragon with gold: he'd run his fingers through it and cackle if he could. "What did you think was gonna happen, I'd get run over by a soccer mom?"

"Eaten by rabid fans," Patrick mutters darkly, and now Pete is cackling for real. Then Patrick lets out a breath, and just like that, he's not mad anymore: the anger has just sort of drifted away.

There's still something behind it, a background murmur that makes the hairs on the back of Pete's neck rise up. He can't quite make out what it is, though.

Patrick takes his hat off and rakes a hand through his hair. "So I get you weren't serious about Mikey," he says. "Or. I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you still like him--"

There's no way that sentence can end well. "No," Pete says, with finality. "I mean, he's my friend and I don't want to cut him out of my life, but I'm not going to do anything with him. You don't have to worry about that." He winces. Yeah, he really gave Patrick a reason to believe him there.

"I don't think you're going to cheat on me." Patrick sounds tired. "But, I don't know. If I get the choice between you doing - whatever, stuff, with somebody else, or being miserable because you can't, I know what I'm picking."

Christ. Pete wishes Patrick had punched him after all. That would have been less painful.

As lease this time, when he sinks to his knees, Patrick doesn't stop him. He doesn't do anything else, either, just sort of stands there, sad and confused. "Patrick." Pete's voice has gone weirdly thick. "Patrick, look at me."

Not only does Patrick do that, his hands come rest on the top of Pete's back, oddly gentle.

There's no way Pete deserves this, but now that he has this, the least he could do is not fuck it up. "I don't want Mikey." Pete enunciates this clearly, so nothing gets lost in transition. "He's my friend, I like him, we used to have fun. But I have you now, so I'm not doing that anymore. You hearing me? Mikey might be a shiny-ass fish, but you're the fucking ocean."

Patrick cracks up at that, weakly. Pete's not sure whether to feel proud or insulted. As Patrick's petting him, however, he's inclined to be positive.

"I believe you," Patrick says. Pete slumps a little bit, letting out an exhale. "But what the hell, Pete?"

Pete half-shrugs. "You'd be hot doing the possessive thing."

"I'd be miserable doing the possessive thing," Patrick counters. Now that he’s really considering that scenario, Pete agrees. He concedes it with the second half of the shrug. "Which you'd have realized if you thought for half a second. So I'm asking again, Pete. What the hell.."

It's on the tip of Pete's tongue to get all defensive, to say he doesn't know. He closes his eyes and rubs his cheek against Patrick's thigh instead, inhaling Patrick's smell as though he'll find secrets encoded in it.

Patrick taps two fingers under Pete's chin, raising his face. "Tell me." He has the smoothest voice, just enough of a catch in it to drag Pete up by the soul.

At first, he can't even make his voice come out. He has to clear his throat, and when he does speak, his voice is tiny. "You didn't want me."

The look in Patrick's eyes sharpens. "That's not true."

"You told me to go away. And," he doesn't want to say the rest of it, but he has no choice now. "You said you can love me with the bond, but you don't want me off my meds and I don't blame you," he says it fast, before Patrick can. "I wouldn't want me off my meds, either."

Patrick pinches the bridge of his nose. "This was easier when we had telepathy," he mumbles, and then he's on the floor in front of Pete, sitting cross-legged. He takes Pete's hand in his. "Look, I was doing something earlier. I'm sorry I didn't pay attention to you, okay?"

"You shouldn't be." The words make Pete's hackles rise, even though he's the one saying them. "You're not my babysitter."

"Yeah. And I'm not your therapist, either, and I can't be." Patrick makes an awkward little gesture, and Pete is reminded abruptly of how young Patrick is. Fuck, how does he have all his shit together already? Can't be a Dom thing. God knows Mikey's an even bigger mess than Pete.

"I love you," Patrick's saying, words like a blunt weapon. "I want to be your, your boyfriend, and your Dom. If you want to go off meds, that's your choice. Not mine. That's what I was trying to say, I guess. I'm not taking charge of your sanity."

A laughter bubbles to Pete's lips. "Too late." He pokes Patrick in the chest. "Tag. You're it."

Even though Pete expects him to, Patrick doesn't bat his finger away. Instead, he lifts it to his mouth and kisses it. "You know what I mean, asshole."

Pete snuggles up to him. "I love you too, dickface."

They sit a little bit in silence. Then Patrick says, "So what are you going to do? About the med thing."

Pete considers it for half a second before realizing he has the answer already. "I'm gonna go get a different prescription. Something that lets me feel you." He elbows Patrick gently, giving up the opportunity for innuendo with heroic effort. "Get used to the Pete Wentz freak-out show."

"Too fucking late," Patrick says, and there's a hint of satisfaction in his voice, right there.

Pete shuffles and leans back against Patrick. He closes his eyes. His heart is thudding in his chest, like he'd just won a death match. "I can't write," he tells Patrick plaintively.

Patrick makes an affirming noise. God, his hands feel good on Pete's skin, firm even pressure on his chest and belly.

"I try, but everything that comes out is shit." The last word comes out venomous, and Pete cringes belatedly, wondering how it'd feel to Patrick with the bond open.

If Patrick feels it, though, he's not showing any signs. He keeps touching Pete, holding him like he doesn't want Pete to go away again. "It's probably not," Patrick offers. Pete barely suppresses the answering snarl that wants to come out at that. "And if it is, so what? We have a while until the next album's due."

Pete just shakes his head at that. Patrick's wrong. He can't even explain why. Patrick just is.

Patrick's hands slow down. Pete wants to protest when they move away, when Patrick gets up, but then Patrick's pulling him up. "Come on."

He directs Pete to his bunk, putting pressure on his shoulders to make him sit down. "Where's your notepad? Good," he says when Pete produces it. He fishes in his pockets for a pen and gives it to Pete, and comes to sit behind him, close enough that Pete feels Patrick's heart beating against his back. "Now," his hands curve around Pete's throat loosely, "write."

Pete scribbles out two words before he makes a rough noise and starts tearing the page.

Patrick's hands tighten briefly around his neck: a warning. "Don't edit. Write."

It's not just mechanical pressure that has Pete's breath catching. He doesn't answer, or not out loud, anyway. Instead, he writes, words coming out half-nonsense and probably misspelled. It doesn't matter. Once the first sentence is out, the others flow, like somebody pulled a cork out.

"It's still terrible," Pete says. He doesn't care. He'll sift through the shit later, maybe he'll find a golden nugget. The drainage of words just feels good.

"So we'll have terrible lyrics," Patrick says. Pete can hear the shrug in his voice. "They only like us because you're hot, anyway."

Normally Pete would then announce a duel to defend his lead singer's honor - well, duel, tickle fight, same difference - but he just found a metaphor that works with his rhyming scheme, so he settles for grunting instead. He'll explain to Patrick why he's wrong later.