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The Difference Between Real Love and the Love On TV

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Patrick is sweating.

He’s been sweating ever since the text message came. Twenty-four minutes, to be exact. Twenty-four sweaty minutes. When they talk about the scent of fear, this is the precise smell they’re talking about. Patrick’s regular sweat doesn’t smell like this. This smell is sour, preoccupied with its own mortality. He doesn’t love it.

It’s innocuous enough, the text. Just one word:

Coffee?

But that’s how it starts. That’s always how it starts.

Patrick has this problem with break-ups.

Patrick has been in three relationships in his 23 years of life. (Four, technically, if you count Sarai Beckett. In fourth grade he went to a movie with Sarai Beckett and asked her, around the wheeze of sudden-onset stress-related asthma, to be his girlfriend. Patrick spent his allowance at Walgreens so he could give her a stuffed animal and candy, because this is what Hollywood suggested was appropriate. They spoke on the phone a total of two times before Sarai’s friends told him they were broken up. Actually that was probably Patrick’s most successful break-up. That relationship only had to end once before it was over.)

This is Patrick’s problem with break-ups. Whether he’s dumped (twice if you count Sarai), does the dumping (once), or just straight up gets cheated on until the relationship dissolves into Gawker photos and internet gossip (once only, thank god), he always gets back together with the girl. On one occasion he did so twice. It starts with something like coffee, or casually bumping into each other at the grocery store, or non-casually bumping into each other in the dressing room before a show. Then there’s talking. Then there’s laughter, reminiscence; it feels nice, Patrick’s innate sense of loneliness and low self-esteem recedes. Then comes a lingering look, a shoulder squeeze, a hesitation in the doorway; and from there it’s pretty much a freefall into awkward make-outs and regret.

The worst part of this cycle—if you were to pick just one—is that breaking up with someone once is widely agreed upon to be painful enough. The second time is way less fun. Don’t even get Patrick started on the third.

Some have commented that Patrick lacks assertiveness skills. He doesn’t want to hear it. He only wants to hear helpful suggestions.

Which, in retrospect, makes Pete a weird choice from him to go to with this text message. But he’s very sweaty, his best friend in the world ended up being Pete Wentz, and Patrick is working with what he’s got right now.

“Anna wants to get coffee!” Patrick announces at top volume, thrusting his phone into Pete’s hands as soon as Pete opens his bedroom door.

“Call the National Guard,” Pete says, stone-faced and rumple-haired. It is 2008 and, predictably, Pete Wentz has ridiculous hair, all straightened and falling jagged into his eyes. Patrick gets distracted by its floppiness, wants to tuck it behind Pete’s ears so he can see his eyes. I haven’t seen your eyes since 2004, Patrick likes to grouse when he’s in a mood. The truth is he sees Pete’s eyes all the time, whether Pete’s there or not. But this is a problem for another time, another Patrick. Right now there’s CoffeeGate to deal with.

Pete rubs at the smeary undereye remnants of last night’s make-up. He shows every sign of having just woken up, including the telltale long, bare torso and low-slung sweatpants. Patrick is not scandalized by the nakedness: he spent the last few months living on a bus with Pete. There is nothing left that will shock him. Living in a house with Pete is a welcome improvement.

In a weird turn of events, Patrick is a homeowner and Pete is a vagabond. Pete’s relationship has sort of imploded, and no one thinks it is a good idea for him to be alone in California right now. Anyway, they’ll be touring again so soon and everything’s still up in the air with Pete and Ashlee; it’s easier to fill up one of Patrick’s spare bedrooms than try to figure out his love life or his future or his purpose on earth. Patrick assumes. All he knows for sure is that Pete appeared with suitcases two weeks ago (“temporarily,” he said) and shows no indication of leaving anytime soon. Patrick has neither the language nor inclination to express how this makes him feel.

Pete reads the single word on Patrick’s phone intently. “So will I need to rent a tux for the wedding, or…?”

“Isn’t it too soon for you to be making marriage jokes?” Patrick swipes his phone back from Pete. “I don’t know what to do. I kind of want the closure. Things ended pretty ugly.” This is an understatement. Anna is the cheated-really-publicly-while-Patrick-was-touring ex. Anna is the first girl Patrick’s dated who really mattered. Anna is the first ex he might actually, seriously want to do things over with.

That makes him especially vulnerable to situations like coffee. Because you can’t do over a thing like this.

“You’re gonna get back together with her if you go,” Pete says sagely. He leans on the doorframe, crossing his arms over his chest. “Do you want to get back together with her?”

“No.” On this point, Patrick is perfectly sure. “Come with me,” he blurts out. “It won’t happen if you’re there. You’re assertive.”

Pete grins, a slow and lazy smile like he’s still emerging from sleep, the last of it running off him like water as he steps onto the shore. “I believe in you, Rickster. Imagine she’s me taking your last clean pair of socks and you’ll have no trouble telling her exactly what you think of her.”

Patrick nods. He can do that. That sounds reasonable. He can channel annoyance. He can grip his hurt and anger about how things ended and use it as—as a shield. Absolutely under no circumstances will he allow himself to be sucked back into a relationship. He will drink his coffee, hear her side of things, Experience Healing ™, and go home.

“Okay,” he says. “Okay. I can handle that.”

“And if that doesn’t work,” Pete laughs, “you can always tell her you have a boyfriend.”

*

So anyway, that’s how Patrick ends up getting coffee with Anna, totally panicking, and crying out, “I HAVE A BOYFRIEND!”

Here’s what happens. Anna is looking beautiful and contrite, softly luminescent in a pastel sundress. She keeps twirling a long piece of hair around her finger, a fidget Patrick recognizes as a sign of discomfort. He feels unbearably fond of her in that moment, in that shared space of all the intimate things they used to know about each other. They only split up a month or so ago, and didn’t get the chance to do it in person. It should be Patrick’s hurt feelings that are raw, but instead it’s the lovers’ proximity they can remember but cannot inhabit that scrapes against him.

Patrick doesn’t want to get back together with her. He doesn’t. He is doing totally okay on his own. Pete Wentz is living in his house and going around muzzy with sleep, tan and tattooed and shirtless, and that is not a problem. Patrick is handing it. (Patrick is handling it several times a day. But this is a potentially disastrous reunion with a girl he used to love. It’s not a circle of salt that Pete can’t cross, a sigil that wards off confusing feelings about his best friend. It’s just a potential disaster.)

“Being cheated on sucked, Anna. Getting phone calls from my mom and sister before I even saw the photos online—it all sucked. But you know what part sucked the most? Breaking up with you. The feeling of reckless, breakneck loss, one of the most important people getting scraped out of my life all at once. I’m not doing that again,” Patrick says. He’s proud of how clear he’s being, how definite, how assertive. He may or may not have rehearsed this conversation with Joe over the phone while he walked here.

One of the most important people. See, that’s crap,” Anna interjects. She wears an apologetic smile, uses a kind and humble tone, but calls out bullshit as she sees it nonetheless. Patrick really does like Anna. “How am I supposed to compete with your friends when they get to live with you and play with you and see you every day, all over the country—all over the world—and I’m sitting at home next to the phone, wringing my fucking petticoats, hoping my long-lost darlin’ will think of me? Like, if you can’t physically be with me, I at least wanted to—be more than an afterthought. What sucked was feeling like you had everything you ever wanted or needed whether or not I was even there. Any girl you date is going to learn quick, Patrick, that if it’s down to her or Pete Wentz, she’s gonna lose. And not everybody is going to be able to live with that.”

This was not in the rehearsal. Patrick feels gutted. Fuck. At least this tells him why she did it. At least this is a type of closure. Even if it feels more like being ripped open.

“Ouch,” Patrick croaks. “Could you possibly have communicated this to me in some other way than hooking up someone else.”

“I don’t know, that way seemed pretty direct.” Anna keeps smiling, bottom corner of her mouth tugged into a self-effacing smirk, so Patrick doesn’t mistake this for an argument.

For one wild, fond moment, Patrick thinks, I wish we could just take it all back and start again, and that’s when he knows he’s in trouble.

“It should probably be you, acting out because the fame’s gotten to you. I know that. But maybe it was me instead. When we met, you sold out basements. Now it’s stadiums. I lost my head a little.” Anna’s teeth are showing now, tiny vulnerable pearls. “I’m sorry, Patrick. I’ve spent the last month thinking about nothing but how sorry I am. I—I really miss you. Can we give it another try?”

Panic. Panic in the streets. Patrick can’t stop looking at her mouth and thinking about his own loneliness. It’s been a long time since he had human contact that wasn’t, like, Joe giving him a noogie or Pete getting so excited he started slapping Patrick’s thigh.

God save his stupid heart, it’s tempting.

“Normally I would say yes,” Patrick stumbles out.

“So say yes,” Anna says, all red mouth and dark lashes.

Instead, Patrick says the word, “Boyfriend.” His heart’s currently, actively exploding. It is highly uncomfortable. Either he’s having a panic attack or literally dying, or maybe both. He’s shouting the words to the entire Starbucks before he can stop or think or bite out his own tongue. “I HAVE A BOYFRIEND.”

It’s like saying the word the first time emboldened him—the second time, it bursts out wild and terribly loud.  Everyone is staring.

Anna’s mouth is considerably less distracting when it’s flopped open in disbelief. With visible effort, she marshals herself, draws her jaws together with a tiny click. It is audible only because the formerly bustling Starbucks has fallen into total silence.

The next words out of Anna’s mouth are more damning than anything Patrick could panic-blurt in a coffee shop. Anna says, “Of course. I should have known. Pete.”

*

Somehow, Patrick extracts himself from that situation—he’d draw comparisons to Sisyphus or Prometheus or other tortured heroes of legend but actually, none of those cases seem sufficient—and makes it home without further ridiculous fucking disaster. He does consider flinging himself into the path of the oncoming El, but he really doesn’t want his last act on earth to be the traumatization of a train conductor. Also, someone has to survive to yell at Pete.

Pete is playing Xbox games in Patrick’s living room, evidently with perfect serenity. He’s still in his pajamas, smells like he opted for body spray instead of a shower, and is chattering happily to Brendon on his headset. This kind of slovenly Halo-playing behavior has never bothered Patrick before, but today it makes him furious. He stomps into the room and jabs the power button on the TV with unnecessary force.

“Bren, be my eyes! I lost visual!” yells Pete. Unbelievably, he does not put down his controller, does not stop bobbing and weaving on the couch as if he’s dodging actual crossfire, does not respond to Patrick in any way.

Patrick turns off the Xbox next.

Finally, Pete looks at him. “Dude,” he says, shaking his head in disappointment. He tugs his headphones down around his neck. “How was coffee? I see you’re still an asshole.”

“Well, you’re taking me to Ed’s wedding next weekend.”

“What? I’m not friends with Ed. I literally don’t even know him.”

“You’re my plus one. You’re my date, Peter.”

“Are you—are you trying to ask me out right now? Because in my experience, successful wooing is like, an order of magnitude less crabby. You are kinda terrible at wooing. Is this why you keep getting back with—”

Patrick interrupts the teasing to spit, “I’m not asking you out. I told Anna I had a boyfriend because you gave me terrible advice, and now you’re taking me to Ed’s wedding. As my boyfriend.

This, at last, jolts Pete off the couch. He tosses his controller aside, the better to make histrionic hand gestures. “But—wait—why do I have to do it? When you’re not yelling at people and ordering them to escort you to weddings, you’re actually pretty charming. We can totally find you a real boyfriend by this weekend.”

“Why do you—? Because you got me into this fucking mess, and you’re gonna get me out of it! I don’t want a fucking boyfriend, Pete! I’m not even into dudes!”

“I mean. It kind of sounds like you got you into this mess,” Pete says.

All at once, the absurdity of the situation clarifies. Patrick’s anger cannot sustain itself. He looks at Pete, shirtless and offended with his hair sticking up in the back, and thinks about the look on Anna’s and everyone’s faces when he shows up at a wedding on this impossible creature’s arm.

Patrick can’t help it. He bursts out laughing. The laugh builds crazy momentum, rising from his gut and wracking up his ribs so he can’t breathe. It’s all the tension, panic, and heartsick of the last few hours pouring out of him at once. He doubles up in hysterics, tears streaming from his eyes.

Pete’s affront is eroded by Patrick’s laughter. He starts laughing too. He drops to the floor beside Patrick, pats him on the quaking back. “Okay. I’ll be your fake boyfriend for the weekend. But I’m dumping you as soon as you’ve made your point to Anna. If the media gets hold of this, it’s going to be a fiery shitshow. I’m already getting scandalized calls from my grandmother about my love life as it is.”

“Your love life is very scandalous,” says Patrick, wiping his eyes, riding out a few last wheezing laughs. “Don’t worry. We’ll be discreet.”

How does that saying go, about famous last words?

*

Patrick is eating lunch in his studio, messing around with remixed Infinity tracks, the day before the great, ill-advised debut of his fake relationship.

Patrick is having some doubts.

Pete’s been calling him ‘sweetie’ and ‘honeybun’ and worse, all in this sugary-sick voice that makes Patrick want to punch him. The plan is unwise. He’s trying to think his way out of it. So I guess I’ll see you guys at Ed’s wedding this weekend? Anna had said. Patrick, an idiot, had not even hesitated. Oh, we love weddings. Me and Pete. Who is my boyfriend. Yes. Count on it, he’d said. His mouth at that point was a derailing train, having jumped the tracks at such a high speed that it just kept plowing helplessly onwards to certain destruction.

Patrick is very stupid.

He’s coming up with a plan to break his own leg when Pete lets himself into the studio. As usual, he does not knock. This is how Pete occupies Patrick’s life, Patrick’s heart: without asking. Without ever realizing it might be appropriate to ask.

“It’s not going to work,” Pete says.

“Oh, thank god—” Patrick starts.

“—unless we practice.”

“Practice what?” Patrick’s voice comes out screechier than intended. It would be totally in character for Pete Wentz to sexually proposition him as a joke. It would be totally in character for Pete Wentz to have no fucking idea of the effect he has on Patrick.

Pete gives Patrick the side-eye. “Being a couple,” he says, voice indicating he knows what Patrick was thinking and does not approve of the low estimation of his character. “For example, your constant shrill suspicion of me is going to fool exactly no one.”

Patrick opens his mouth to object but actually, can’t come up with any objections. This was his stupid idea, wasn’t it? Patrick must hate himself. Patrick must want himself to suffer.

Out loud, Patrick says, “Tell me more.”

It is in this manner that Pete invites himself along to see Patrick’s tailor and pick up Patrick’s suit. Patrick feels worse and worse about the idea on the whole drive over, until when they arrive, Pete grabs his arm and stops him from exiting the car.

“Wait,” says Pete. “Remember. You have to act like you like me in there. Like I’m someone you’d want to date.”

Patrick’s stomach squirms. Pete’s eyes are enormous, bottomless, too fucking sad. It is possible that Patrick’s been too mean to Pete, the last few days. Yeah, they’re both navigating break-ups of variable permanence right now, and yeah, Pete likes to make a nuisance of himself all over the house that is supposed to be, like, Patrick’s sanctum sanctorum, and yeah, touring left them both ragged and Patrick’s a little crabby. But—

“Oh my god, Pete, of course I like you.” Patrick can’t stand the sound of his best friend and creative soulmate putting himself down. Pete knows this, uses it to his full advantage.

Pete shoots him a disbelieving look. “You don’t like like me,” he insists. “I annoy you. I know for a fact I annoy you. I try very hard.”

“And your efforts are noted, I assure you. But, um.” How close to the truth does Patrick want to cut, here? He bites his lip, hoping the pain will be sobering. “Under completely different circumstances. I would totally date you.”

The thing is, when Patrick said—all the times Patrick has said—I’m not into dudes, that was true. That’s always been true. He’s not into dudes in general. He’s not attracted to dudes as a group. It’s just. He’s got this one weakness, okay? This one dude.

This one fucking dude.

Pete’s face brightens, his insufferable fangy smile springing to spread smooth lips. His canines are pointed like that deliberately to be unfairly sexy, Patrick is certain of it. Trust Pete Wentz to give him a goddamn vampire kink. Like he doesn’t have enough problems.

“Oh Patrick, that’s all I ever wanted to hear,” Pete faux-swoons, clasping his hands to his breast and doing his Southern Belle accent. Patrick hates the Southern Belle accent. It exists purely for mocking him.

Pete does release his arm, though. Which is the main thing. Patrick gets out of the car, heads inside to convince his tailor that Pete’s his boyfriend.

*

It’s not like a fantasy coming true or anything like that, dating Pete. It’s like an old Polish man with a mouthful of pins kneeling by Patrick’s ass while Pete stands back, clearly visible in the tri-fold mirror, and uses his hands to frame the image of said ass. “You’re an artist, Aleksy,” effuses Pete. “What a view.”

Aleksy pins through Patrick’s waistband, marking the placement of a dart. The really awkward part was while Aleksy was pinning the inner thigh. Now, with pins so perilously placed, he doesn’t really have the Pete-punching range he might desire. He can’t even scowl at Pete in the mirror; Aleksy is uncomfortable enough without subjecting the man to a fake lover’s quarrel.

“I’ve been a tailor for a very long time,” Aleksy says, accent made thicker by his mouthful of pins. “Patrick has good, strong thighs, a shapely rear, eh? You have fine taste.”

“Patrick has a fine tailor,” Pete schmoozes. Patrick wonders whether there are enough stick-pins in this shop for him to commit suicide. Like, does Aleksy have a fatal amount of pins? And where is the optimally fatal stabbing location? He would prefer not to die in pain, but let’s be honest, he’s clearly gonna be in pain either way.

The worst part is that Patrick almost likes it. Almost likes Pete talking about him that way. This is beyond disturbing.

It was years ago, his crush, or whatever it was, on Pete. It was high school shit. He outgrew it. He got to know Pete better. He figured out that Pete kisses everyone on the neck sometimes, uses all his bandmates for pillows in the car, creeps indiscriminately into beds that are not his if his dreams get bad enough. Patrick realized it’s all just—a show. A personality style. Whatever you want to call it.

Patrick hasn’t thought about Pete like that in a long time, thank every god. It was an anomaly. It was nothing. It’s dead, buried, forgotten, gone.

Really.

So why the hell does Patrick feel a thrill in his gut, when Pete and his tailor chitchat about his goddamn ass? When Pete offers his arm to help Patrick down from the great 8” tailor’s block, why does Patrick take it? Why does he have to bite back a grin when Aleksy’s eyes twinkle and he says, “It is good to see Mr. Stump smile”?

Why does he lean in and brush a kiss to Pete’s cheek, as they step into the parking lot? What on earth is he thinking, when Aleksy is already convinced—when they’ve successfully practiced—when the tailor is probably not even watching?

Why does he like it?

*

So they go to the wedding.

(There’s this moment in the town car that glitters like very thin ice, where Pete grins wolfishly at him from the rear-facing seats and says, “The ruse will be even more convincing if you let me debauch you on the way and we show up all flushed and rumpled.”

Instead of choking on his own tongue, a superhuman feat for which he would be happy to accept an award, Patrick straightens his collar primly and says, “I’ve never tied a tie this well in my life, so you can fuck right off. I’m not jeopardizing this. It’s a work of art.” Of all three hundred and one possible responses that arrive in Patrick’s brain a few seconds later, not one is smoother and more casual a deferral than what his mouth produced without his oversight. Patrick decides to trust his tongue more often, considers getting rid of the brain entirely. What, exactly, has the brain done for him, but get him in this car with Pete Wentz in the first place? Bad idea. Suicidally bad idea.)

(Pete always makes things so fucking complicated.)

They get out of the car like a moment of truth. Patrick slides out first and, heart hammering, turns back to help Pete out. There are a few people milling outside the church, people Patrick knows but hasn’t spoken to since high school. He actually feels less awkward, having Pete with him. Pete is an excellent social shield. Patrick loves bringing him to parties.

Then Pete emerges from the car but doesn’t let go of Patrick’s hand, and Patrick gets a better sense of how today’s going to go. His heart is swollen in his throat, cutting off his breath. He’s going to have to loosen the world’s most perfect tie knot anyway. His pulse throbs in his sweaty palms, his shaky wrist, his unhelpful groin. People are looking. People are definitely looking. God, it doesn’t help that they’re famous right now, it really does not.

Having Pete here might defuse some awkwardness, but pretending to be Pete’s gay lover in a church full of distant high school friends, acquaintances, and his buddy Ed’s family members? Yeah. Why exactly don’t churches typically have open bars? Patrick could definitely fucking use one.

Pete squeezes Patrick’s hand like he knows exactly what Patrick’s thinking. He leans close, turning his mouth to Patrick’s ear. He looks so good in a suit. Patrick’s really in trouble.

“C’mon, Trick,” Pete murmurs into Patrick’s ear. “Let’s go break hearts, take names, make them all so fucking jealous.”

Pete’s words make him stronger and more sure, just like they always do. This is the entire premise of their working relationship: Patrick can do anything, with Pete’s words in his ear, on his lips.

Hand in hand, then, and not caring who watches, into the church they go.

*

The reception is better, because at the reception there is champagne. So much champagne. Endless fountains of champagne. Patrick assumes it’s endless, anyway, by the way his glass keeps refilling itself when his back is turned. The waiters move so fast he barely even sees them; it’s just a blur in a tuxedo that leaves behind a fizzing golden glass.

After the first flute of champagne, downed in the distance between the guest book and Table 7, Patrick stops sweating and starts having fun with it. After all, Pete is handsome: black suit, shirt, and tie, shining silk lapels. His lips look as soft. His eyes glitter with the grand joke of it all, his straightened hair falling in front of them so that he must look up through them, all eyelashes and allure. His cheeks dimple with his rogue’s grin. His expression is one of a laugh barely held in, like he’s swallowed the most delicious secret. Patrick stumbles on his own dress shoes two separate times, looking at Pete. Drowning in the sight.

They sit side by side at Table 7 as other guests filter in and find seats. People’s eyes are drawn to Pete like he’s magnetic, like he’s the centerpiece of this whole party. Patrick is not an exception. Pete holds Patrick’s hand on the tabletop, makes small tender circles on Patrick’s palm. His callouses catch and scrape on the sensitive skin. It feels—thrilling, the way people’s eyes keep snagging on their linked hands, the quickly covered looks of scandal and surprise rippling through the room. Whispers tickle Patrick’s ears. It feels like being touched by Pete always feels, times a thousand.

Already, Patrick’s cheeks ache from smiling. Everything else about this may be fake, but his smile is real.

“We’re the best looking couple here,” Pete says into his ear. “What will it take to get you wearing suits on stage? I want to see you like this every night. Bond, Patrick Bond. You are so fucking suave I’ll die of it.”

Patrick’s creeping blush isn’t fake, either. He doesn’t know how to field play-flirting if he can’t just call Pete an asshole. (That’s been his coping mechanism for years.) He takes a large sip from his magically refilled champagne flute and wonders what would happen, if he tried flirting back. His instincts tell him this is dangerous, will escalate. Pete has a pathological inability to back down. But then, this is all a performance, isn’t it? A meaningless game. The usual warning signs (TURN BACK, NO OUTLET, WRONG WAY, NOT A THROUGH STREET) do not apply.

Patrick is saved from coming up with any other response than his firetruck blush by the arrival of his ex-girlfriend in a ball gown. Anna plunks herself down at their table in a manner that can only be described as aggressive, mixed drink in one hand, high heels in the other. She drops her perilous shoes to the table without ceremony and takes her placecard out from between her teeth.

“I asked Ed to put me at your table before I knew you and Pete were hooking up,” she announces. Her voice is quite loud. If people weren’t watching Table 7 before, they sure are now. “So this is gonna be awkward.”

“Hello, Anna,” Pete says coldly. “I see you found the bar without difficulty.” Even in this startling situation, Patrick is startled all over again by Pete’s departure from his playful tone. He turns in his seat to squint at Pete, trying to put the pieces together.

“Hi, Pete,” Anna snaps back. “I see you found the courage to fuck my boyfriend publicly instead of just behind my back.”

Patrick swivels to gawp at Anna instead. The animosity at this table has skyrocketed in the last 10 seconds. Upon closer inspection, he doesn’t think Anna’s beverage is a mixed drink after all. It looks, and smells, very like a full six ounces of bourbon, no ice.

Patrick comes to two terrible realizations at once: 1. Pete is pissed at Anna; 2. Anna is already drunk.

Patrick goes ahead and finishes his champagne. He gets the feeling he’s going to need it. Hell, maybe he should find the unscrupulous bartender who served Anna the glass of bourbon. Dionysus forgive his abuse of anesthetic.

“You’re the expert on that, aren’t you?” Pete sneers. “Pretty sure I read a Gawker article about your special fucking-behind-somebody’s-back skillset.”

“Oh, so you want to talk about shit we’ve read on Gawker—” Anna leans around Patrick, sloshing some of her bourbon into his lap.

“Guys!” Patrick interrupts sharply, in what is possibly the most assertive move of his life to date. “The reception hasn’t even started yet. Let’s at least save the sloppy brawl for the Cha-Cha Slide, okay? Pete—I will defend my own honor. Thank you. And you—” Patrick takes Anna by the shoulders and gently shifts her center of gravity back into her own chair—“you don’t get to talk to him like that. Ever. Are we clear?”

Anna opens her mouth like she’s going to argue. She and Pete never really got along, are probably not going to become best friends now, but for the love of Elvis Costello, Patrick thinks he was very clear about his needs just then. Before she can speak Patrick reminds her, “You literally cheated on me. In public. So maybe don’t.”

It is at that moment the rest of their table arrives. It breaks the tension beautifully. Patrick gets up, exchanges hugs with a long-lost high school buddy and his wife, introduces himself to a few stray cousins of the groom. The palpable sense of murder in the air begins to ease; the evening unsticks, starts flowing forward again. Against all odds, the fun returns. Patrick feels close to Pete—like they’re pulling a heist together, the only people in on a secret, a joke. He feels bright, as full of shine as Pete’s smile.

He decides not to look any closer than that. He likes sitting here next to Pete. So what. They’re best friends, aren’t they? No further investigation required.

There’s a tense moment over the salad course, where James-from-high-school casually drops the microaggression, “So I never knew you were gay, Patrick,” and Patrick responds automatically with, “I’m not.”

James makes a face, Anna embarks on a snark, and Pete saves the day, draping an arm over Patrick’s shoulders and oozing with charm.

“I’m an ambassador of bisexuality,” Pete tells the table. “Like Prometheus, I bring divine light and heavenly fire to the masses. I teach straight boys how to burn.” Pete waggles his eyebrows so outrageously that his preposterous dialogue actually lands.

“Don’t erase my bisexual identity, James,” Patrick says with a totally straight face. (Or a totally bi face.) It is the first time Patrick’s ever called himself bisexual. He said it as a line, as part of the show, not because he thought it was especially accurate. But it feels better than he thought, hearing it out loud.

Champagne flows and ornate plates of food materialize. Whenever the conversation circles around to their alleged relationship, Pete and Patrick compete to come up with the most preposterous answers, each trying to make the other break character. When Pete describes declaring his love for Patrick off-mic while fireworks and flamethrowers lit up the stage around them, Patrick snorts champagne trying to disguise his incredulous guffaw as a cough. Patrick gets his revenge when he insists on feeding Pete cake off his own plate, saying in a cloying voice, “A mini cheesecake for my mini cheesecake.” Anna makes a gagging sound and, if he’s not mistaken, Pete Wentz actually blushes.

By the time they reach the dance floor, Patrick is happy drunk and giddy with silliness, the unexpected rush of the charade. He thought this would be awkward, embarrassing; but it feels natural. Pete is his best friend. They’re good at being together. They—fit.

“I like being with you like this!” Patrick calls over the pulsing chorus of Rihanna’s Umbrella. He grinds on Pete brazenly, just drunk enough to let himself enjoy Pete’s hands on his hips, Pete’s nipping kiss on his neck. Just for tonight, just for this moment, under the shield of this flimsy pretense, Patrick lets himself melt into Pete. Just for a breath, he pretends that it’s—

Real.

The music changes to a slow song. Pete’s touch turns so delicate Patrick feels himself tremble. Patrick turns in Pete’s arms, to face his best friend, to look into the eyes of the person he’s done his greatest work with, the person he’s made his fame and fortune with, the person he’s turned over his most precious, hoarded melodies to with complete trust. Patrick is stilled to his center. Has he ever really looked at Pete’s eyes before?

Has he ever bothered to see how Pete’s been looking back?

“Dance with me,” Pete implores. His voice is quiet. Real. All the showiness, performance is gone. Patrick’s breath snags in his lungs. He doesn’t make a joke. He raises his hands to clasp behind Pete’s neck. They are close, so close: from ribs to knees, their bodies press flush.

Pete has touched Patrick one hundred thousand times. Bear hugs, piggyback rides, spooning in tiny hotel rooms, poor couch boundaries, invasive sprawling and unexcused snuggling, slobbery neck kisses, surprise wrestling matches, more than one fake kidnapping—casual manhandling is a prerequisite for friendship with this golden retriever puppy of a human.

But Patrick doesn’t think they’ve ever touched like this before.

This is touching with intent.

Patrick trusts his body to follow and respond. Pete spins and sways them across the dance floor. They pass in and out of other configurations of couples; they might as well not exist. The dance floor holds a galaxy but Patrick is blinded by one star. Patrick is not doing this for anyone else’s eyes, anymore. He’s not making anyone jealous or constructing an elaborate fake relationship to compensate for poor assertiveness, not on this dance floor. Patrick is just—trusting his body. Following Pete. Wherever he should care to lead.

Real, real, real.

Patrick tips his face up towards Pete; Pete looks reverently back. They are nearly of a height. Their mouths are already very close. They needn’t travel far at all to meet.

The kiss feels like a natural extension of this dance, of these entwined bodies. It’s not a decision but a reflex. It doesn’t feel like a first kiss and Patrick doesn’t experience it as one; it feels like one in a long, jumbled sequence, every time Pete’s lips have pressed his cheek or throat or shoulder. It feels as remarkable as every stolen, casual kiss has been for Patrick, earth-shattering in its own right but not because it’s novel. It feels like—part of the myth. Part of the story. Part of tonight.

Patrick kisses back, deeply, deeper. He kisses like a sleep-drowned princess in a tower, squeezing her eyes shut tight against the encroaching dawn of a curse’s ending. He kisses like he longs for slumber, for the fairy tale to go on and on for all of time. He chases oblivion. There is no Patrick, is no Pete—just this. Just them. Just a dance. Just what bodies do.

Real.

The song ends; the kiss doesn’t. The tempo of the dancers around them changes; the DJ puts on something absurd by The Chemical Brothers, its punchy electronic melody picking up the dizzying rhythm of Patrick’s heartbeat. Caught up in the moment, the romance, their own perfect symmetry, Pete and Patrick let themselves get lost. Just this once, just for tonight—they kiss.

They kiss until the kiss is done.

*

In the car on the way home, Pete sits beside him. Pete holds his hand. With no one there to watch, Pete runs his fingers over Patrick’s knuckles, traces the lines of his palm in silent wonder. Patrick holds his heartbeat in his mouth, thick with salt. The moment feels too fragile to support the weight of words, and so they do not speak.

*

Silence carries them to Patrick’s front door, into the foyer, up the stairs. There is a moment in the hall, a certain hesitation about doorways. About bedrooms. Patrick’s lips are still pulsing with the kiss, as if it was a wound he’ll never heal from. He touches his own mouth lightly, the touch sending tight chills through his clenched guts. His eyes lock into Pete’s like they’re both black holes. It is a limitless moment. Patrick aches with potential.

Then he ruins it. “So how long do we have to wait til you can dump me?”

The words just spring out, ugly and destructive. Patrick can’t even tell if he meant them as self-sabotage or as a joke. Pete blinks rapidly as the words strike him. Patrick feels a tiny cave-in in his heart, the feeling of something fragile, lost.

Pete steps away from Patrick once, twice, a third time. He stops with his hand on his doorknob, his toes nudging the threshold of a room where he won’t have to look at Patrick.

“I didn’t—” says Patrick. The words dry up in his throat.

“It’s okay,” Pete says quickly. It obviously is not. Pete flashes a tight smile. “It was—a very convincing performance.”

Patrick takes one halting step towards Pete and stops. What is he doing? He doesn’t know. He does not know. He wants to move closer. He wants to kiss Pete again. He wants to press Pete back against the door and renew the promise of the dance floor. He wants Pete to take his hand and guide him to Pete’s bed. He wants a slight nod, a wink, anything he can interpret as an invitation. Anything he can interpret as real. Then he wants to help Pete out of his suit, stripped-off silk puddling on the floor, and—

This is fucking madness. Patrick doesn’t know what he wants. He’s had too much champagne. Way, way too much. Like, an order of magnitude too much. Whatever amount of champagne makes sexual advances on your best friend who is also staying in your house seem like a good idea, just because a tight pleasurable cord of muscle at the base of your body tells you so—that amount of champagne, that is too much.

“Thank you,” Patrick says at last. His voice is husky, strained with frustration and desire, hardly recognizable. “You did me a huge favor tonight.”

Pete’s smile spreads, melting sexy and loose; one damnable, exposed canine sparkles in the low light. His eyelids are heavy, lashes shading his eyes. His voice is low and full, tugging at a knot of nerves in Patrick’s belly. “I like doing favors for you, Patrick,” says Pete in that ridiculously hot voice. “All you have to do is ask.”

Then Pete slips into his darkened bedroom, pulling the door shut behind him. It sounds like an invitation and looks like a goodbye. God, Patrick wants to follow. Patrick has gone totally fucking insane.

It was all fake. Patrick asked for it—orchestrated the whole sordid sham—so why does it feel real? Why does it feel like hearts held and kisses kept? Why did Pete take his hand in the car, where no one was watching, and keep it pressed in his own for the entire drive? Why does Patrick have an erection just thinking of what may lie on the other side of Pete’s door?

Patrick crosses the hall, away from his bed and towards Pete’s. He raises his fist to knock.

He can’t quite do it. Blood surges in his groin, urging him on; but he hits a wall. His brain keeps freezing. His fist won’t move.

*

Patrick wakes up alone. Nothing beside him but the memory of a sweet moment, turned functional and unromantic by his own clumsy tongue, and Pete’s shaded eyes and sexy smile offering anyway, All you have to do is ask.

Patrick never managed to knock. He stood there long enough, eventually resting his forehead on Pete’s door, neither quite listening nor dozing, just—radiating every confusing, conflicting desire through that plank of wood, waiting for Pete to feel it too, for the door to open by magic or telepathy or airborne arousal. The door did not do this. All you have to do is ask. Patrick does not know whether his knock would have opened the door, what would have happened if he had crossed that line into Pete’s bedroom.

Patrick doesn’t even know if he feels disappointed or relieved. He thanks god they didn’t at the same time he maybe, sort of, possibly, stupidly wishes they did. It is a confusing time for Patrick Stump.

He doesn’t have long to be confused about it, either, before the sound that woke him sounds again.

It’s the sound of a timid knock at his bedroom door. A knock.

Patrick’s half-hard morning wood twinges in his boxers, suggesting that perhaps it’s Pete, Pete with tousled hair and no shirt, Pete having found his bed cold and wanting in the sober light of morning. Perhaps it’s Pete having woken with regret that their night ended without a knock, so he’s here knocking now, wishing to rectify the situation.

Patrick’s brain is less enthusiastic about this prospect than his penis, but both organs jolt with adrenalin when Pete’s voice comes through the door. “Uh, Rick? You’d better see this.”

It’s not a sexy voice, not a ‘check out this boner, it’s a whopper, guess what I’m gonna do to you with it’ type voice. It’s a wobbly voice. A possibly hungover voice. A 3000% worried voice.

Patrick’s dick, having zero sense, doesn’t shrink; but his half-hopeful half-panicked brain does. He opens the door enough to stick his head out and shield the embarrassing rest of his body,  a piece of discretion he’s glad for when he takes in the tableaux: for there is Pete. Pete in a Metallica shirt soft with long wear, his low baggy sweatpants, a band of coppery belly and bartskull showing between. His hair is in fact tousled. His face is joyless and drawn. His phone is white-knuckled in his hand. Its screen shows a grainy photo of two men in black suits, kissing.

“Your phone vibrated off the counter. The screen’s a little cracked. It’s just—it’s blowing up with calls,” Pete says. His voice is morose, effacing. Patrick becomes aware of a sick lump of dread solidifying in his gut, wonders how long it’s been there. At least his boner’s gone. Pete offers the cell phone but Patrick doesn’t want to touch it; irrationally, he thinks of it as a toxic thing, contagious.

“The PR team texted this to me. Them and twenty other people. It seems—it seems someone took a picture of us last night and sort of… put it on the internet.”

Patrick first instinct is a flush of anger—at himself for causing this situation, at whatever asshole took the picture, at the world at large for exploding this whole thing before he had the chance to figure any of it out.

His second instinct is to pull Pete into his bedroom, barricade the door, and hide in here til they make each other forget the rest of the universe even exists. (He is maybe less over Pete than he thought.)

Third instinct’s the charm, it seems. Patrick opens his mouth and says, “Pete, I am so sorry. I never should have made you—this is all my fault.” The words hit the air and become true. Reality squeezes its cold fist and roots around in Patrick’s insides. “You’re already in the middle of a break-up scandal, your penis has already debuted on the goddamn internet and you’re still not okay about that, how could you be? And now I’ve caused—this.”

And the thing is, he doesn’t even know why anymore. Whatever flimsy reason he had seems woefully inadequate, now that it must account for kissing his bassist in front of the fucking nation and trashing Pete’s whole life.

What is his mother going to say? What is Pete’s mother going to say?

And oh, god. The band. Patrick’s stomach rolls over. Gorge lurches in his throat. Forget their friendship, forget for a minute Pete’s personal life—what has he done to the band?

“The band is over, isn’t it. Our lives and careers and—”

“Patrick, stop!” Pete, in spite of everything, is laughing. Patrick gets the sense he’s said it more than once.

“This is not a humorous situation,” Patrick points out. He’s at least halfway to a good old-fashioned panic attack. Due to aversive conditioning, he’ll probably never have a boner again.

“I mean, it sort of is.” Pete shows that grin, pushing Patrick’s door the rest of the way open and grabbing Patrick by the arm. “Obviously this isn’t ideal, but—they want us on The Tonight Show, Patrick. Like, for a joint interview. This is better exposure than when I—you know. Was exposed exposing myself. The way things have been going lately, this might even make people like us better. Like, rehabilitate my image or whatever.” 

Patrick tries to protest but Pete just talks louder. “The band will be fine. They’re in your living room, actually. If you want to come out.” Pete pulls an exaggerated, Bluth family blink, just in case Patrick missed the pun.

Which is how Patrick ends up flustered and overwhelmed in his living room, standing like a chubby idiot in Cubs boxers and a t-shirt with morning breath and tangled ginger hair, in front of his entire band and two sexy, androgynous youths from the record label’s PR team. He and Pete are the only ones in pajamas, which seems to contribute to certain—implications. Patrick feels like a fucking idiot. Pete keeps trying to take his hand.

Stop it,” Patrick hisses, wrenching his hand away with more force than might be considered necessary. Joe is staring at them levelly with a self-satisfied expression that Patrick can tell will only grow more annoying with time. Andy has a goofy smile on his face as he looks back and forth between them. One of the PR people, a stylish woman called Fatima, has her Blackberry in front of her scowling face, thumb-typing like she’s the only person who can disarm the nukes in time and the fate of the world rests on the speed of those thumbs. Her usual rose-brown cheeks are grey and drawn. Patrick has never had a kiss with the same impact factor as the fucking Cuban Missile Crisis before. He can’t decide if he feels more nauseous or impressed. The other svelte PR rep, a guy with some obnoxious, non-credible name like Fitz, is talking very quickly into his own phone, pacing grooves into Patrick’s restored wood floors.

The scale tips towards nauseous.

“I just want to apologize to everyone,” Patrick starts, because no one else seems to know where to begin. “I was selfish and irresponsible and just—so beyond stupid, and if the band suffers as a result of that, I—I don’t know what I’ll—”

But Andy interrupts his penitence before he even really gets started. He hasn’t even broached sackcloth and ashes, let alone self-flagellation or bloody expatiation or the life of his firstborn. How he is going to adequately express his mortification and guilt if they won’t let him finish a sentence?

Andy’s smiling, though. Ear to fucking ear. He says, “When were you going to tell us? I’m so happy for you guys!”

Andy’s acting like this is a fucking party. This does not compute. Happy? Because of Patrick’s dick-brained scheme to get out of an awkward situation, which has gone so colossally wrong as to create a Sunday morning living room press disaster that is, itself, so awkward it rates a 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale? Happy?

“It all happened so fast,” Pete’s saying while Patrick buffers. He’s using the storytelling, couple-y, gooey-center voice from last night.

“Bullshit!” interjects Joe, which, finally. It’s about time someone said it. “This was premeditated. You went to a wedding together. In effect, you told Ed Mahoney before you told us. Let the fucked-upped-ness of that sink in a minute.”

Patrick says, “What the fuck is going on?” at the same moment that Pete tugs his hand and mutters out the side of his mouth, “Can I talk to you for a second?”

So that’s when Patrick realizes Pete hasn’t told them it was all a big, stupid, disastrous fucking sham.

Pete drags him into the hallway before he can explode. The words “You didn’t tell them?” burst out at top volume, or at least start to, before Pete’s hand is slapped over Patrick’s mouth.

“Shut up a second and hear me out, okay?” Pete whispers urgently.

Patrick thinks about biting Pete’s hand off. He really considers it.

“You have one second,” he says unintelligibly into the muffle of Pete’s hand.

Evidently assured that his hostage isn’t going to start screaming, Pete removes the hand, uses it instead to punctuate and embellish his crazy fucking scheme as he gesticulates grandly. “I was going to tell them it was all a big misunderstanding. There’s no way to do that without making a certain Cubs-boxers-wearing someone sound fucking ridiculous, by the way, so maybe keep that in mind before you start yelling again. I was fully prepared to break up with you, despite your pleasant temperament and general charms. But then I thought of the kids.”

“We don’t have kids,” Patrick hisses.

“Of course we do. They buy our albums, wear our shirts, scream their hearts out at our shows, know your songs better than the sound of their own breathing, get my words laid forever in their skin, help remind you of the lyrics when you forget them on stage. They wait for hours to line up on the barrier at our shows, wait for hours more for the chance to tell us we saved their lives. Those kids, Patrick. Those are our kids.”

Pete’s face has that lit-from-within glow it gets whenever he talks about the fans, the ones who dreamed their band to life and rewrote possibility. He’s so beatific and bright, so infernally fucking gorgeous, Patrick doesn’t have the heart to whisper something rude. He keeps listening.

“I just thought—some of them are queer. Some of them are tiny lesbians or bisexuals or ace or questioning or trans or—or not ordinary, and they’re looking for themselves anywhere, everywhere, only everyone tells them they’re sick or strange or wrong, and if they see themselves at all in the media it’s always as the punchline, and—I don’t want to make a joke of those kids. Our kids. I want to give them someplace to belong.”

What Pete’s saying is terribly sweet, infuriatingly true to form. Patrick is trying not to get frustrated with him for it. But—

“These are our lives, Pete. Like, that’s a beautiful sentiment and I’m all for it, but we can’t just—indefinitely pretend to be in a gay relationship just to help out some hypothetical teen who’s struggling with their sexuality!”

Pete blinks at him. “Remind me again why we pretended to be in a gay relationship the last time? Just so I can get a sense of what qualifies as a good enough reason.”

Patrick feels himself turn bright red. His hands clench into fists compulsively. He exhales sloooowly.

“Can’t we just be gay heroes for one day?” Pete pleads. It is a blatant affront to Bowie. Pete is clearly not very interested in giving Patrick time and space to manage his temper. Pete might actually be the entire reason Patrick has problems managing his temper in the first place.

“I’m pretty sure you have to actually be gay to qualify for that job?”

Pete gives him a look that indicates that comment doesn’t warrant a response. “You know gay rights matter to me, Patrick. The suicide rate for LGBT adolescents—”

Patrick can recognize when he’s beaten. “Fine. Fine!” he hisses. He’s not happy about it.

They go back in.

Patrick rips his hand out of Pete’s grasp and everyone looks at him oddly, like they’re supposed to 24/7 lovebirds in case there’s a hypothetical sad gay kid out there, somewhere, watching.

To quote Joe: bullshit.

Patrick crosses his arms over his chest, knowing he’s sulking and not caring to stop. “I’m sorry you guys weren’t the first to know,” Patrick mutters towards Andy and Joe. He can’t meet their eyes, lying. At least the apologetic sentiment is real.

Fatima has joined the-guy-probably-named-Brax in pacing. She looks up from her phone for the first time to push her wispy bangs back and announce, “We were just contacted by Ellen Degeneres’ people. She wants to do a bit about it on the show. Out magazine has sent—yes—three emails. It’s still early, but based on what’s buzzing on livejournal and the social media sites so far, this might not destroy us.”

“Destroy us?” interrupts the-guy-who-looks-like-his-given-name-is-Kale. “This is going to be great for us. Fatima’s a pessimist, don’t listen to her. This publicity stunt was a fucking masterstroke. The new generation really lacks for a solid gay icon, and Pete’s activism places him in prime pos—”

“It’s not a STUNT,” Pete says loudly. Patrick literally cannot believe this is the hill Pete’s choosing to die on. Like, sure, it wasn’t for publicity—that would be petty—it was to make Patrick’s ex jealous. Real fucking noble.

Fatima stops pacing, locks her near-black eyes on Pete. Her face is deadly serious. “What would you call it, then? Risking the reputation of your band and success of your other business endeavors? Further straining the already very stretched decency clause of your record contract? Jeopardizing your dreams and livelihood and those of your friends as well for a spot of public groping? Barely a year after the Great Penis Crisis and not even a full month after your latest, much-publicized, ethically questionable lover’s spat with a starlet? Is that what you’d call it?”

Patrick enjoys watching Pete deflate like an impaled Macy’s Day balloon, he really does. This is a character flaw he decides he can live with.

Pete is decidedly meeker as he says, “I have loved Patrick for—”

It’s Patrick’s turn to seize Pete by the wrist. “Just one sec,” he says to Fatima and fucking Enoch, and he drags Pete back into the hall.

“What the fuck are you doing in there?” he demands as quietly as he possibly can.

Pete’s back to expressive gestures. Patrick has to back up, just to stay out of the splash zone. “I just—a stunt? That’s very unflattering, Patrick, it’s not how I want to—to—”

“That doesn’t mean you have to, like, confess true love! God! Is there no middle ground with you?” Patrick is aware for the need to keep his voice down, really he is. But Pete keeps inventing new ways to be exasperating. “I don’t want to tell my best friends in the world that I’m in love with you, okay? Isn’t it going to bother you, selling Andy and Joe some totally made-up bullshit about how we’re, like, soulmates?” Patrick shudders. Lying about something so big—lying to his friends about something so big—it makes his guts shrivel up. It makes his mouth taste of ashes. It makes him feel like he’s standing on a precipice, all clenched up and about to fall.

And god help him if he ever forgot. God help him if he ever—if he ever started to believe it.

“What should we tell them, then? If it’s not that we love each other.” Patrick takes great care to read nothing at all into the tone of Pete’s voice. Neither of them looks at the other.

“Can’t we just tell them—the truth? Ish? We went at a wedding on a, you know, funny kind of whim, we got very drunk, there was some sexual tension followed by an unplanned make-out that didn’t mean anything?”

“Is that what happened?”

A moment of stillness; Patrick stands in the eye of the Pete Wentz storm, the ground treacherous all around him. There are no safe answers, but he cannot say nothing.

“Isn’t it?”

This is a wrong answer. Patrick knows as much when he says it. Usually they communicate so well. Usually they’re cryptophasic. Now he has no idea what Pete wants him to say. Every word and pause is fraught, contentious. It reminds him of writing their first album. If he felt even one simple, straightforward emotion right now, Patrick would laugh in sheer relief.

“Fine.” It’s Pete who says it this time. “Just—do me this favor, okay? Yesterday playing queer in public didn’t bother you at all. Give me a few days, then we’ll ‘break up’ quietly. Just—don’t make me say it was nothing, a joke, a mistake.”

“Because of—the kids,” Patrick clarifies. Pete’s staring into his eyes with the terrible intensity of molten fucking lava.

“Because of the kids,” Pete agrees.

They go back in.

*

The PR team takes a picture before they go. Patrick is mortified to be photographed in his pajamas, but before he can, like, chew off his own arm or anything, he’s been posed on the couch with Pete’s bedhead tickling his chin. Pete leans on his chest, smiling across Patrick’s body at Andy, holding Patrick’s hand loosely against his thigh. Joe and Andy bookend them casually and everyone pretends to have a friendly, happy conversation, exactly like everything is totally normal, totally chill. Patrick feels neither normal nor chill. He doesn’t understand how they’re all doing it. He fixes his face in a rictus smile and just focuses on not screaming out loud.

The PR team plans to release this picture, confirm the rumor, take control of the spin. It’s meant to show they’re happy, supportive, accepted, the band unthreatened and unchanged. Fatima and Fritzel bandy headlines about as they leave. Fall In Love Boys, Kissing Under the Cork Tree, Chicago Hardcore King Meets His Prince Charming. They want to frame it as a natural evolution of the creative relationship, the happily ever after Pete and Patrick have been headed for all along, fated and preordained. They want to use it to rehabilitate Pete’s image, explain all the scandal away—the misunderstood and angsty bad boy coming to terms with his sexuality under the glare of flashbulbs, the gloss of gossip mags.

Patrick is concerned by how unconcerned the PR team is about his image and reputation. As usual, it’s all eyes on Pete. Patrick is—set dressing. Patrick is also concerned by how believable it all is, how much the PR spin echoes his own understanding of this narrative, the secret story he’s been telling to his heart. They make it garish, obvious. False.

No one asks them if it’s true. They all just let themselves be photographed and posed, agree to whatever press appearances show up on the schedule. “Try and write a gay single for the new album,” the PR guy suggests, unctuous with sincerity. “That would really help.”

Patrick nods and nods like a marionette. If last night was a glittery, erotic dream, this morning is its fucking funeral. He keeps waiting to be shaken awake from this entire sordid nightmare.

At last the PR team leaves and it’s just the band again, Patrick’s best friends in the universe eating bagels in his living room while the whole world scrutinizes Patrick’s indiscretions just on the other side of these walls. If this is what it feels like, being Pete Wentz, Patrick understands him a lot better today than he did yesterday.

Patrick feels—tawdry. Invaded. Violated. Overexposed. He wants to stand in the shower til the hot water is gone, til the top layer of his grimy skin is scoured off, til he’s raw and lobster-pink and feels something approaching clean. Patrick feels all this over an action that was fundamentally insincere. Imagine if it had been a photo of something—real.

(Patrick tries very hard to ignore the sting of this thought. Maybe if he ignores it hard enough, it will more than go away; maybe it will never have existed at all.)

Andy fills his face with vegan cream cheese and carbohydrates, a tender smear of cream sticking in the corner of his mouth, and asks, “So is this it? Is this for real?”

Patrick commences heart attack protocols. He can’t believe he’s been caught in this lie just five seconds after uttering it out loud. Is he relieved? He should feel relieved, right? Why does he feel like his heart’s ballooning up in his chest, threatening to choke off his windpipe, threatening to explode his fucking chest cavity?

Pete squeezes Patrick’s bare knee, the heat and pressure anchoring Patrick to the couch, smoothing out his pinball nerves. Somehow Pete sees through Patrick entirely, can sense the sudden shutdown of his lungs, knows just where to touch to force Patrick’s exhale.

“Oh my god don’t jinx it!” cries Joe. “I can’t stand another seven years of will-they-won’t-they.”

Patrick is taken aback—is that how it looks from the outside? Like they’ve been circling each other, flirting and posturing and daring each other to take the next step? Is that what Pete thinks? Fuck, is that what Patrick thinks? The context surrounding their fake date, fake relationship, and fake life-ruining kiss swims and whirls around him so fast, Patrick gets vertigo.

Pete’s hand, though. It is steady on his knee. Patrick focuses on that. In the periphery of his queasy awareness, Pete says, “If you’re asking whether I’m serious about Patrick, I’m offended. Everyone knows I’d take a bullet for him. He’s my true blue.”

They all hear it, the way Pete doesn’t really answer the question. Andy narrows his eyes at his bagel and lets it go. Pete’s hand stays in place, holding Patrick down. They all let the moment slide past them, slip away.

*

On the third day after the photo leak—Patrick’s third day as a gay icon—Pete intervenes. He stomps into Patrick’s twilit bedroom, throws open the room-darkening shades, and tears the slightly funky sheets off of Patrick’s prone body.

Patrick has been sheltering in his room ever since Joe and Andy left on Sunday morning. It’s Wednesday now, time of day indeterminate. He doesn’t think cowardice is anything to be ashamed of. Patrick may or may not have showered since Saturday. He certainly hasn’t opened the shades or turned on his cracked cellphone or dared open an internet browser.

Becoming a celebrity rock star before he was old enough to legally drink was hard enough for Patrick. A goddamn fake sex scandal with his best friend—a friend for whom he may or may not be nursing nascent, long-suppressed feelings that may or may not have begun to feel alarmingly real—goes so far beyond ‘too much’ that the words don’t exist.

Patrick doesn’t even want to guess how many voicemails he’s got from his mother right now, let alone the rest of his relations and acquaintanceship. He doesn’t know how many interview requests the label has gotten, how many articles and exposés have been published in the last few days, how many pictures of Pete hanging off him at shows are circulating with even more fervor and in even wider internet circles than usual. He’s just been watching Smallville DVDs and quietly minding his own business, thank you very much, and it’s working out just fine.

Pete appears to disagree. He drops Patrick’s sheets of suboptimal cleanliness to the floor like they’re plague rags, wrestles open one of Patrick’s windows to let in a blast of late-summer air.

“Dude, you smell,” Pete informs him, inviting himself to sit on Patrick’s bed.

“So go somewhere it smells better,” Patrick suggests. He focuses on Tom Welling’s face, currently dramatically strained by proximity to kryptonite. Patrick can fucking relate.

“No one knows better than me how hard this shit is. This is your first media scandal, and I get how that pretty much just sucks. But you gotta get out of this room, Pattycakes. You have to own this. If you disappear now, this will be the only thing people remember about you. The narrative will be theirs. They’ll control you.”

Patrick flicks his eyes over to Pete without turning his head. For all his complaints about the atmospheric odor, he appears to be quite comfortable in Patrick’s bed.

“I don’t recall asking for your advice,” Patrick says coolly. “I’m handling this fine. Expertly, even.”

“Leaving aside the whole part where this was your idea—”

That turns Patrick’s head. “My idea?” It’s the loudest sound he’s made in days. He’s cried a few times, to tell the truth, but that tends to be quiet. “I wanted to tell the truth, not lie to all my friends and family! On Sunday Perez Hilton called me a homewrecker. He implied I was the reason things are rocky with you and Ashlee, posted this picture of you getting out of a cab with suitcases in front of my house—” Patrick is getting worked up, so he takes a steadying breath, continues more calmly. “My lips have never been referred to as ‘homosensual’ before, Pete, and I don’t care for it. So I’m never going on the internet again, and I’m certainly not leaving this room. And that’s final.”

Pete worms closer to him on the bed, stopping an inch or two shy of their hips touching. Patrick steels himself against shrinking away. He hates himself for how much he wants to feel that touch. He has been cosmically fucking punished for one brief evening of pretending this was, could ever be, real. The depth of his own response to this tragicomedy is hard for him to understand.

“Even if I steal your Smallville DVDs?”

“You wouldn’t.”

“For your own good, Patrick. You are becoming disgusting.”

“Wow, all this flattery is really changing my heart and mind,” Patrick says dryly.

Pete squirms closer. Their shoulders touch. “C’mon, is being my boyfriend really so traumatic?”

Pete darts his hand out and tries to snag the Season 6 case. Patrick slaps his hand away, faster. “I’ll just switch to Gargoyles. I have the box set,” warns Patrick. “I’m not fucking turning on the cable. Ever. I live off the grid now.”

Pete gives up on DVD theft, throws his arm around Patrick’s shoulders instead. Patrick stiffens, overcorrecting for the temptation to melt into the touch. Into the fantasy. The path of his recoil is paved by his own raw longing.

“Yes,” Patrick says abruptly, deciding to answer the question after all. “Yes, it is hard for me. Appearing in global media as your—latest strumpet. Oh my god, don’t make the pun, don’t you dare call me Stumpet. Pretend I said any other word. Just—remember how I didn’t even want to be the singer in our band? I don’t like being looked at.”

Pete has gone so still against him, Patrick thinks he’s stopped breathing. “And is that—why? I mean, is that the only reason? Because you’re shy. Not because—it’s me?”

Patrick bites his tongue hard. A long, difficult moment passes. For the nth time today, he watches Clark Kent fumble through a supremely contrived conflict with Lana Lang and thinks about how their entire television show’s worth of angst could have been resolved with a single frank conversation.

And so, this once, he tells Pete the truth. “It doesn’t make it easier. It being you. You’re a—polarizing figure. I’m just a piece of drama flotsam caught up in your wake. And—I feel complicated about you. I feel complicated about Saturday night.”

Pete’s going to faint pretty soon if he doesn’t start breathing. If it’s a ploy to get Patrick to administer CPR, it’s a bad one; he hasn’t brushed his teeth any more recently than he’s showered.

“Complicated how?” Pete’s voice is so careful, so delicate. It inspires in Patrick a paradoxical urge to smash, to shatter this precarious moment into sharp but harmless shards.

He leaps out of his bed in a more energetic display of movement than he’s demonstrated in days. He goes temporarily blind from the headrush. “You’re right!” he declares with manic brightness. “I’ll feel better if I shower.”

Pete regards Patrick with rank suspicion. “You aren’t off the hook, my little Stumpet,” he says. “Destinkify yourself and find a pair of pants. We’re going on a date.”

“N—”

“Yes. It will be a terrible hardship, I know. I will buy you wine and Italian food, we will smile and smarm for the paps, and when we get home, we will romantically plan our break-up. Deal?”

“Are you coercing me right now? Are you literally coercing me into going on a date with you?”

“For your own good, darling,” Pete says. He’s all wide brown eyes and innocence, which is a crock of shit so large as to be visible from space.

Patrick wants to kiss and punch him at once. At last—a feeling he’s used to.

*

Patrick’s not sure how to dress for a news scandal, so after about six costume changes, he settles on a polo shirt, his favorite hoodie, and his black infantry cap. This doesn’t seem dressy enough, so he chooses one of his large collection of blazers at random, even though it’s far too warm tonight for three different shirts. By the time he’s pulled on jeans and laced up his sneakers, he feels fully ridiculous, so self-conscious he could spontaneously combust. Unless that’s just heatstroke from all the shirts setting in. Hard to say until there’s flames.

Pete lets himself into Patrick’s room without knocking, not two minutes after Patrick was sans-pants in front of his armoire frowning at his belly in unsurprised disappointment.

“Dude! I could’ve been naked,” Patrick protests.

“Well, that was the hope.” Pete grins widely, playing the lecher despite the noted absence of cameras. Patrick considers crawling right back into his bed. He’s changed his mind. He’s not ready to face the world. He’s a hermit, now. He will never feel the sun on his skin again. “Just be glad I didn’t barge into your shower. I am your boyfriend—pretty sure I’m allowed to see you nude.”

“How long have we spent living out of vans together? How many fucking months did I live with your peephole chiseled into my bedroom door? You’ve seen me plenty nude,” Patrick snips before he can think better of it. If he blushed any harder, he would actually be on fire.

Worse, Pete looks—like Pete. Amazing, beautiful, quixotic, sorrowful, shining, eminently fuckable. He’s straightened his long side-swooped bangs, left off his signature eyeliner to the result of looking soft and sharp at once. His mouth is wide, pliant, prone to smiling; his teeth are white and straight and dear. His eyes glow honey-brown and guileless under eyelashes that have no business occurring in nature. To make matters worse, he’s wearing spraypaint-tight black jeans, chunky purple high-tops, and has the fur-lined hood of his sweatshirt perched on his head, casting his face in mellow shadow. He looks so vulnerable, unguarded. Patrick feels a powerful, hard-to-describe urge to protect him. From the world, himself, everything.

Pete unzips his hoodie slowly, holding Patrick’s gaze in a manner Patrick refuses to interpret. He reveals a stripe of red. He’s wearing—of fucking course. He’s wearing his homemade Stump Club t-shirt. He waggles his eyebrows at Patrick, gauging his reaction. Quick as a thought, he darts forward and kisses Patrick’s cheek. He’s out of reach again faster than Patrick can swat him away.

“In case there’s any doubt we belong to each other,” Pete says. He’s still got that look in his eye.

They haven’t even left the house yet and Patrick already knows this date is a huge mistake.

*

“I don’t care how fucking ‘classic’ The Lady and The Tramp is, I am not sharing a spaghetti noodle with you. Get that the hell away from me.”

“Are you allergic to all fun or just mine specifically?”

Laughing almost too hard to refuse, Patrick pushes Pete’s pasta-loaded fork away from his mouth. He hasn’t laughed like this since before they got home from the tour. This date—it’s a much better idea than it seemed from the dim, fetid cave of his hermitude.

Did paparazzi trail them from Patrick’s front door to the lobby of Piccolo Sagno, shouting questions that made Patrick blush to the tips of his ears the whole way? Are they lying in wait outside the restaurant to pick up where they left off at earliest opportunity? Are they bribing actual diners to snap cell phone photos inside? Is his mother going to lecture him into the afterlife over this whole debacle? Is he going to have to be the one to explain to his grandmother about gay sex?

Yes, probably, on all counts. But for now, this moment, he’s here. Eating delicious food with the one person who can always make him laugh, the only person he’s ever met who can read his mind and uses that power specifically to annoy him, a better friend than he ever thought he’d have, and—

All the rest of it doesn’t seem so hard to manage. It almost starts to feel—worth it.

God, Pete makes him happier than anyone.

Patrick won’t do The Lady and The Tramp thing, but he’s not too good to steal meatballs off Pete’s plate or sneak sips of his wine or fight him over the last chunk of bread. Pete’s supposed to be his boyfriend, after all. Patrick feels entitled to certain benefits.

The night takes on the feel of an adventure around the time a pap invades the restaurant, pretending to be a diner with his camera disguised as a weird protuberant growth under his jacket. The camera bursts Alien-style out of his chest and Patrick sees stars in the aftershock of the flashbulb.

It feels crazy, being stalked like this in his personal life. It feels unreal. Patrick isn’t Pete. He’s always been able to leave his house in anonymity before, indistinguishable from any other guy with sideburns and a hat. He’s used to flashbulbs in the context of touring, of shows, in expectable situations. He gets why Pete talks about being an animal in a circus, in a zoo. He gets—well, almost—the urge to put on an animal suit, a costume, perform what they all think of him anyway, and move through crowds with some self-effacing level of teddy bear anonymity.

Caught up in the moment, in a rush of anger and unreality and surprise, Patrick seizes Pete by the chin and kisses him long and hard on the mouth. The flashbulb fills the restaurant with frantic light. Pete kisses back like they’re alone in the room, his only concession to the global audience his raised middle finger. Patrick opens Pete’s mouth with his tongue and fucking hopes they make headlines.

They leave the restaurant through the kitchen, emerge into the bricked back alley under a hazy summer sky swollen with stars. For the first time all night, it really is just the two of them. Now that he’s out here—owning it—Patrick understands what Pete was saying, before. When he was hiding in his bedroom, he wasn’t alone. The whole world was in there with him, speculating and jeering, writing whatever they damn well pleased on their websites, on Page Six. By appearing when he chooses to, measuring out his own actions in front of the cameras, Patrick has at least this much control over the story. Because they’re gonna write the story either way.

Alone, at least for a starry moment or two, Patrick aims a grin at Pete. His heart is high and shining in his chest. He feels—happy. In spite of all of it, he’s having fun. “I can’t wait to see that picture in print,” he says. He feels a little out of breath. Standing this close to Pete, feeling the heat of his whiskey eyes, remembering the taste of his mouth—it’s basically cardio. Patrick’s been in his target heart rate zone all night. And he means it—he is excited to see that picture. For, um, a variety of reasons.

Pete tips his head, his bangs falling to hide one of his eyes. His lips are parted, his maddening canine points catching the light. Patrick is having trouble looking anywhere but the softness of his mouth. The air swirls with sounds of the city, the drone of late-summer locusts, escaped Italian kitchen smells, Patrick’s own heady longing. There’s a hook tugging behind his navel, pulling him to lean closer and closer to the edge, to Pete. Time trembles silver and starlit. Patrick cannot guess which way this moment will fall. The look in Pete’s one visible eye is thick, smoky with unlanguaged promise. Is Pete going to kiss him? He wants—Patrick wants—

Pete looks away. He casts his eyes to his sneakers. When he looks back up at Patrick, something has changed. The sorrow Pete always wears just under the skin has risen to the surface, maybe. Even the smell of the air seems different. The breeze picks up the glitter of the night, blows it away.

“Patrick von Stumpet,” Pete says with an unconvincing smirk, “will you do me the honor of breaking up with me?”

Patrick looses a shaky laugh. If there are words for what he’s feeling right now, he refuses to use them. “It would make me the happiest man in the world,” Patrick says, because he feels it’s expected. He can’t say it, can barely even think it, but knows anyway: it’s not true.

Now he knows which part’s the lie.

*

They sit cross-legged and facing each other on Patrick’s couch. They plan the end of their affair.

Patrick has opened a bottle of wine, not because it makes him feel adult and cosmopolitan about the cold practicality of this conversation, but because it stops him from feeling much of anything. It’s like the more wine he drinks, the fewer emotions he has. They should really advertise this property of alcohol. Patrick would be happy to provide a celebrity endorsement.

“How about The Tonight Show?” Pete asks. He is very graciously not commenting on the rapidly emptying wine bottle. Pete has their press schedule for the next several weeks pulled up on his cell phone. He wants to announce their break-up on live television. Patrick is lobbying hard to do it in print.

“You should know from my big-screen debut as fucking Bad Twin that acting is not my strong point,” Patrick reminds Pete. “I don’t think I can pull off a—a heartfelt, sincere conversation about the trials and tribulations of fame and romance and the experience of fucking my best friend and our amicable break-up on live TV.”

There are so many possible explanations for the way Pete’s frowning right now, Patrick finds it safer not to speculate.

“Okay, but look at the timing, here. Would you prefer to have a heartfelt, sincere conversation about fucking me while we hold hands and pretend to be in love on live TV? Because if we save it for the Kerrang interview, we’re still gonna be pretending to be dating for the benefit of Jay fucking Leno.”

“How about when we announce our single on TRL, then?”

“Patrick, that’s in two days.”

“Right. Which ends this charade considerably faster.”

“We can’t flip around and break up that fast! Don’t make me do another speech! Owning this means—owning it. Letting the fucking dust settle before we kick it all up again.”

“I agreed to a few days. For the sad gay teens.”

“Weeks are made of days.”

Patrick opens his mouth, in all likelihood to start yelling, but Pete leans forward suddenly and kisses him hard on the mouth. Pete breaks the kiss, crossing arms over his chest and frowning powerfully. Patrick is knocked speechless by the high-speed lip contact. This was probably Pete’s intention. No cameras in Patrick’s living room, not that he knows of. Making sense of a kiss in this context—it takes a lot of processing power. Yes, it does shut him up.

Pete says, “I won’t have the world think you’re just a fling to me, Patrick.”

Patrick feels like he’s pleading, now. What a preposterous situation to have gotten himself into. “We need an exit strategy, Pete. At some point you’re going to have to—deal with the world saying whatever they’ll say about us, when we break up. Either that, or pretend to date me for the rest of our lives. It’s your call, I guess.”

Patrick doesn’t really think about what he’s saying until the satisfied grin spreads across Pete’s face. “You’d date me for the rest of our lives?”

“I meant—”

It’s your call, you said. Pete, you decide. I just love you so much, I want never to be parted—

“Okay, Romeo, could we focus on the issue at hand here?” Empowered by crabbiness, Patrick ignores his own thrumming discomfort and leans closer. He is acutely aware of the shrinking distance between their mouths. He peers into Pete’s clear amber-brown eyes. They look more like something you’d see in the Gems room at the Field Museum than set just so in someone’s skull. It is usually not so hard for Patrick to read what’s held within them.

“Why is this so important to you, Pete? Really?”

Pete looks anywhere but Patrick’s eyes. “You know how I feel about you,” he says to the couch cushion.

No, he does not. Patrick does not know how Pete feels about him. Or—he’s always assumed that they’re a type of soulmate. No one’s ever gotten him quite like Pete. It’s never been as comfortable, as easy, as true. (Not that Pete is fucking easy.) Best friend—my golden ticket—would take a bullet for you—an iPod full of my favorite songs—basically married. So close they might as well be cut from the same skin. The same platonic skin. Gay above the waist, as Pete likes to say, which means a heart overflowing with queer love; sloppy lips that kiss indiscriminate; and hands that burrow and hold without ever really touching either of them. Yes, Patrick knows all that.

This is perilous fucking situation. His heart quails. He dare not know more.

To shut up his own thinking, to step back from the edge by hurling himself off a different one, Patrick steals Pete’s trick from earlier. He moves forward like a headbutt, being unpracticed at this; Pete recoils by reflex. Patrick catches just the edge of his mouth in a silencing kiss, leans too far into it, falls forward against Pete’s chest. There’s a moment where no one moves; then Pete starts kissing back.

Patrick forgets the second part of this maneuver: the part where you pull back, leaving your opponent stunned, and temporarily gain the conversational upper hand. Patrick forgets why you’d even want it, when you could have—this. They both end up dazzled.

Pete starts to ease back onto the couch. It is the easiest thing to tumble down on top of him. But Patrick extends his arms, catches himself instead—their mouths part as easily as meeting. Patrick looks down at Pete, breathing hard for reasons he’d rather not say. Pete’s lips are wet, open, inviting. His eyes are heavy and full.

“You do know, Patrick, don’t you?” Pete whispers.

Fuck. FUCK. Patrick knows this: he’s fucked something up. There’s a balance here that cannot be upset—a line their friendship cannot survive the crossing of—something in Patrick that would break irreparably if he were to hear Pete say aloud whether any part of this years-long act has been—

Real.

Patrick scrabbles off of Pete, off the couch. His heart hammers in his ears. His lungs heave but there is no air. Patrick doesn’t know what to say or do. He blurts the first stupid thing he thinks of, the bad habit that got him into this mess in the first place.

He says, “The Tonight Show. We’ll just break up there.”

Pete lying on his back, blinking up at Patrick like he’s been blinded by the moon. It’s too much. Patrick stumbles backwards out of the room, springs wildly up the stairs, heads to his bedroom to hide.

It’s not til Pete follows (at a more reasonable pace) and Patrick is trapped with Pete filling the only exit that he realizes his folly. Just like a horror movie: never go up the stairs. Never go into anyplace with only one exit. Always barricade the door.

“Should we maybe talk about this?” Pete asks from the doorway of Patrick’s room. Just like the other night, the invisible threshold holds him back. Patrick can’t even tell which of them is Dracula in this situation, but he’s surely not going to invite Pete in.

He has the sense that if he did, anything might happen.

“Definitely not,” says Patrick. Panic is making his chest hurt. Panic and no other emotion.

“Look—I—can I come in?” Pete sounds desperate. Patrick would prefer not to hear it.

The silence goes on so long that Patrick is startled by the sound of his own voice breaking it. “Two weeks,” he says. The words make him cringe. He says them anyway. “Then we’re extricating ourselves from this life-ruining situation. Deal?”

Pete’s expression is unreadable. His voice is stone.

“Deal.”

*

They get in the habit of falling asleep on the couch. It’s safer.

For Patrick, at least, it is the sharp and terrible memory of unbound possibility and unwanted sexual desire turning paralytic in the hallway—not once, but two fucking times. He doesn’t ever want to be caught in the question of bedrooms with Pete Wentz again. He wouldn’t survive it. Earlier in the week, he was headed towards the stairs—a man wants for cereal—when Pete emerged from the hall bathroom shining and wet with actual water droplets on his chest, wearing only a towel. Patrick did a triple take, experienced what can only be described as a penis ambush, and pretended he’d left a life-threatening situation back in his bedroom just to avoid walking past his best friend in the hall.

Listen: he used to be able to cope with these things. A few staged smooches and one preposterous national lie and he’s fucking fucked.

So Patrick’s been staying awake as long as possible in the living room, trying to wait for Pete to go to sleep so he can traverse the hallway safely. He wishes Pete felt slightly less comfortable in common areas, spent slightly more time in his own room. Instead Patrick keeps waking in his living room at around 3 in the morning, more often than not with Pete’s feet in his face on the couch.

He knows why he’s avoiding the issue of bedrooms—he is keenly fucking aware—but Pete’s motives remain a mystery. Possibly he’s doing it on purpose, snuggling in appropriate contexts as often as he can get it. Pete has always been very open about his distaste for sleeping alone.

Whatever the reason, it’s become a habit of theirs. Sometimes Patrick wakes up to find Pete’s actually gone to bed, and experiences the relief of being alone; sometimes Pete’s still playing Halo, and Patrick just rolls over, stretches his legs into Pete’s lap, and goes back to sleep; other times Patrick gently unfolds himself from Pete’s sleeping form and slips upstairs into his solitary bed. It works as well as anything about this situation works.

Until it doesn’t.

Patrick is deep in a muzzy, innocent sleep when something stirs him closer to the surface. He's dreaming, maybe, of being warm and safe with arms around him. He's dreaming of feeling secure, loved. He's dreaming of lips brushing his neck, and in his sleep he's shivering with sensation. He presses back into the touch, sinks against the comforting solidity of the body behind him. The lips explore brazenly the hot, sleepy, sensitive skin below Patrick's chin. It is a good dream.

It is a good dream and Patrick leans deeper into it, turning his head to expose more of that blueblush of his throat, seeking or at least—allowing. There is no caution in dreaming. Patrick dreams recklessly. Patrick shifts his weight against the body behind him, rolling his ass against hipbones, against hardness, against heat. His insides clench and uncoil at once, wanting. His heartbeat expands his chest, his blood thick and slow as syrup, sweeter. He presses back against the architecture of the body that frames his, chestribcagehipsdick, and hums his pleasure at the hand that cups his thigh, at the fingers that graze between his legs. Patrick's cock stirs, but not like waking; like rolling over and falling, warm, back into sleep. There is no rush, no urgency. Just touch, brush, tingle. His sleeping blood fills his sleeping body. From a dream he throbs. Teeth scrape his throat and his lips loose a low moan. His body moves in synchrony with the body behind him, linked up dreaming, effortlessly one.

Patrick exhales, or else rolls over. In liminal spaces thinkingfeelingdoing are the same. He exhales into someone else's lips, and they kiss. They kiss with mouths and bodies too. Bones knit up, each to each, as dream-weight presses into him. Unthinking hands slip and slide, grip and find. Mouths meet, heat. Patrick is very far away. Patrick is right here. The feel of flushed skin against skin, Patrick's shirt riding up. Patrick's finger hooking someone's waistband and then fingertips, just daring the edge of someone's coarse hair. Some urgency, then, as blood blooms, awakening at the touch, awakening, awakening—

Patrick's eyes fly open, his brain chugging a few seconds behind, just as his hand wraps around someone's dick. Dreaming—a dream—a dick. An actual dick. Patrick cannot move, cannot breathe. They are so close, mouths and faces pressed, that even with his eyes open he cannot see—Pete.  Patrick pulls his head back from lips with sufficient violence that Pete makes a sound, a deep-sleep protest against loss. This is Pete's dick he's fumbling with, Pete's mouth he's kissing, Pete's horny dream and traveling hands that woke him. This is Pete. Pete. Pete.

Patrick's brain comes back online at last. He leaps off the couch, extricating his limbs and motherfucking appendages from his best friend and landing, somehow, on his feet. Pete's eyes open so heavily, so reluctantly, that Patrick knows he's not faking. He really was asleep. Handsy, but asleep.

Patrick is horrified. Patrick is embarrassed. Patrick is outraged. Patrick is—aroused? No, outraged. Definitely outraged. He glares down at his own tented pants with (he hopes) boner-killing ferocity. He glares at Pete the same way.

"Pat?" says Pete. The voice is soft, half-formed. Pete speaks as if from a great distance. Patrick doesn't know what he wants to do more: finish getting himself off, or throw up.

Pete blinks up at him, so fucking fragile. So fucking small. Patrick wishes desperately he felt anything but extremely fucking turned on. Patrick wishes he knew how to get himself out of this situation. A dream, a dream, it was all a dream.

Actually. Works for TV writers, doesn't it? Worked for an entire season of Roseanne. "You're dreaming, Pete," says Patrick. The hitch in his own voice betrays him. "You fell asleep on the couch. By yourself. And I'm here because—you made a noise. While you were dreaming."

"I think I dreamed you," says bleary Pete.

That's enough. That's more than enough. That is too fucking much. Patrick's got to get out of this living room, out of this house. It's three in the fucking morning; he's got at least half a hard-on; this is the only place he has to live but here is the one place he cannot stay.

"Go to sleep, Pete," he says, and hopes the words don't sound like his world is ending.

Patrick backs out of the room, feeling rougher with each passing second of terrible consciousness. There is really only one place for him to go.

Patrick calls Andy.

*

So that’s the story of how Patrick yields up his house to Pete, almost exactly as he once yielded  the master bath to a large and disturbingly pale spider, and runs away to Andy’s house instead.

Andy, apparently much more skillful than Patrick at living with a roommate, lives with Matt Mixon in a half-renovated 1800s walk-up in Logan Square. It is an unsettling blend of modern floating staircases, chrome appliances, showers lined with trash bags because the tiles have crumbled into dust, unidentifiable discolorations in cracked claw-footed tubs, and shrieking floorboards that are no longer nailed down. The doorknobs are all very small, made of crystal-cut glass. It suits Andy very well, and even at three in the morning he graciously welcomes Patrick into it.

Patrick feels like hell and can’t look much better. Andy ushers him out of the night and into the exposed brick entryway. Below a dusty gold-and-glass chandelier, the warped, stained floors creak ominously. Andy is looking at Patrick with some concern. All Patrick managed to say on the phone was “A thing happened with Pete. I can’t stay here.” Before he could even think of a lie, Andy was offering to order him a cab, skipping right over the formality of even inviting him over.

Andy is a good friend.

“What is helpful right now?” Andy asks levelly, practical even in his concern. He sizes Patrick up like a field medic, triaging his needs. “Hot chocolate? Breakfast? A bed with clean sheets on it? Action movies, sad music, a listening ear? I am very good at listening.” He takes another look at Patrick and adds, “Or maybe the punching bag in the basement?”

Patrick is simultaneously so grateful he wants to collapse into Andy’s arms and sob, and decidedly slimy-feeling for all the lying and false pretenses going around lately. Also, when they were digging up the basement floor, Matt and Andy found human remains from two centuries ago. Patrick is definitely not going into the basement.

“Are you going to ask what happened?” Patrick wants to know if he can relax or if he needs to scramble for a lie that can explain his 3 am flight without making either him or Pete look bad. Especially not Pete.

Andy keeps giving him that gut-churningly supportive look. It’s been 5 seconds and Patrick is turning into a character from a Dostoevsky novel. He’s not cut out for deception. Gently, in his 3 am voice, Andy says, “Patrick? If I was gonna start asking questions about you and Pete, I wouldn’t start there.”

Patrick winces because he is in physical pain. Right. Andy thinks that Patrick has been withholding band- and life-altering news from him. If this were a traditional relationship (read: a real one), Patrick probably would have held a band meeting about it. Talked it through. Joe and Andy would have a right to express whether they thought it was a suicidally bad idea. And even if they weren’t, like, colleagues, Andy is one of his closest friends. One of only three people alive with whom he has shared the formative, unknowable, fucking awe-inspiring, incredible, impossible, terrible, wonderful life experiences that made them this band. Yeah. It so sucks that he hasn’t talked to Andy about this.

So Patrick tells the truth. For the first time in what feels like eons, he tells the truth. Tired, confused, still dressed in the clothes he fell asleep in yesterday, he stands in Andy’s foyer and says, “I’m sorry.”

He says, “I guess I’ve been—sort of avoiding you. I’m not comfortable with all the lying and I’ve been trying to deal like—out of sight, out of mind.”

Patrick is not only ready to come clean, he’s actively trying to confess. He is totally fucking unprepared for Andy to clasp his shoulder, look right into his eyes, and say, “You mean not telling us? It’s okay, Patrick. You two took such a long road to each other. In your position, I would be cautious too. I know you would have told us when you were ready, if the internet hadn’t beaten you to it. Anyone with eyes can see how special it is, what you guys have. I meant what I said: I’m so fucking happy for you.”

Obviously Patrick can’t tell him the truth after that. It’s all Patrick can do not to fucking start weeping. Andy is a beautiful person. Every square inch of Patrick Stump is nauseated.

“You make it sound like we’re gonna be together forever. You know Pete’s kind of an asshole, right?”

A bark of surprised laughter rips out of Andy. He shines at Patrick, squeezes his shoulder. The whole house feels instantly warmer, less spooky. (It’s totally still haunted.) “Oh, I know. Come upstairs, let me make up a bed. I’ll regale you with stories about what he was like at 17…”

*

It feels like a slumber party, with Andy sitting cross-legged on the bed he’s made up for Patrick. It feels like touring. Even though it’s not his house, it feels like home. Twenty-four years old and there’s no place he’d rather be than on the road with his friends, living in a bus, keeping vampire hours and lighting up a different city every night.

He should be tired. He’s been awake for years. But he’s buzzing, busy-brained. He’s glad Andy’s here.

“He’s loved you since he met you,” Andy’s saying. He probably hasn’t run out of anecdotes about Pete’s disgusting antics as a 17 year old on tour, but they have both laughed until their sides ache, until Patrick’s ribs threaten to split and his abs burn like an aerobics video. The mood has turned to softness, now. Andy’s tongue has turned to information that Patrick doesn’t deserve, shouldn’t know, cannot bear to hear.

“You weren’t there when he met me,” Patrick points out. “You were still too cool for Fall Out Boy then. How would you know?”

“Pete told me,” he says simply. He just keeps smiling. “He was trying to convince me to join, and I was trying to convince him I was too cool. I was, like, a metal drummer. He kept calling, allegedly trying to sell the idea of the band, but really all he could talk about was you.”

“He’s like that with everyone when he firsts meets them,” Patrick protests. This is what he’s been telling himself for years. It is essential to the structure of his entire worldview that he continue being told this.

Heedless, Andy bazookas Patrick’s precarious state of ego integrity with a small shake of his head. “Absolutely not. Definitely not. I know what you’re talking about, that kid-at-Christmas way he gets, and I’ve seen him do that maybe three times, ever. And once it was Panic! at the Disco as, like, an entire concept. Who have you ever heard him talk about the way he talks about you? Who have you ever seen him smile at like that? Because I can’t think of anyone else.”

Patrick scrambles internally, trying to come up with an answer. Any answer. He can’t bear this. If this is true, he has no room to breathe. Where will he live, when his carefully stitched skin won’t fit him anymore? The longer he fails to speak, the bigger Andy’s smile gets. Andy does not perceive the motherfucking peril.

“Sorry. Sorry. I know this is new and I’m probably freaking you out. You are renowned for your ability to freak out. I’m just—I’m excited. I feel like, for the first time since 2005, I can stop worrying about Pete, you know?”

“No pressure,” croaks Patrick. God, he never imagined—he never thought his behavior would affect so many people. Everything he’s done the past few weeks feels very selfish, very small. “Andy, what if we… break up?”

The childlike grin is wiped from Andy’s face. This hurts in a way Patrick cannot name. Andy marshals a serious, empathic expression. “Of course. I’m a jerk. You’re not here because you want to hear about how great I think you are Pete are together, you’re here because you guys had a fight and you needed space from him. You need to yell about what a frustrating asshole he is, or… cry?”

Patrick swipes angrily at the stinging, traitorous drops of water in his eyes. It’s practically sunrise; he held Pete’s dick in his hand tonight; Andy’s in love with the idea of them being in love; Patrick dare not ask himself what the fuck he feels. It’s been a long night. He is paralyzed by the horror of facing morning. He still hasn’t called his fucking mother.

“What did you fight about, Rick?” Andy asks, so fucking gently.

Hot bitter tears splash Patrick’s cheeks without his permission. He’s too tired to lie. “It was—a sex thing,” he says. His voice is brittle, his tendons tight. Another truth: “I don’t know what to do.”

Andy hugs his knees to his chest and waits. Patrick’s face is burning. When it becomes apparent Patrick isn’t going to volunteer any more than that, Andy prompts, “So like, a sex thing… how?”

Patrick hides his wet, blushing face in the crook of his elbow. Looking at Andy is much too much right now. “Like… we’ve never done it, and we came kind of close without talking about it, and I don’t know if it was okay with him or with me or if it’s what I want, and—and I freaked out, which as you say I’m quite accomplished at, and now I’m here.”

He sneaks a glance at Andy. Andy is statuesque, blank-faced and just taking it in. Patrick didn’t mean to say half of that out loud. He feels so tangled up and guilty, it’s like it’s only a matter of time til it all bursts out.

“Pete’s been my best friend for, like, all of my life that’s mattered. I don’t want to ruin that. I’m worried I already did. I’m worried this is all going to go to hell and I’ll lose the whole friendship. It’s… fucking confusing, thinking about him in—in a romantic way. It scares me. What if I want to—stop?”

Andy lets the torrent of truths and terrors wash over him, rubbing a grounding circle on Patrick’s back. In a calm voice, he asks, “Do you want to stop?”

“I don’t know,” whispers Patrick, his voice muffled by his own arm. “I have no fucking idea.”

That’s the truest thing of all.

*

Possibly, Patrick should have left a note. Possibly he should have, like, at least texted Pete to say where he planned to go. Maybe he should have told Pete he was going at all.

Maybe he shouldn’t have gotten himself photographed leaving his own house, stricken-faced and with an overnight bag, in the middle of the fucking night.

As it is, morning brings a fresh wave of fucking rumors and bullshit, ever more frantic voicemails from his mother and the PR team, and a terse text from Pete.

The text is the only thing he cares about. It reads,

if u didnt like the breakup plan u cldve just said. tired of lrning abt my own life frm headlines

Patrick wants to say ‘you’re tired of it?’ He  wants to say ‘I can leave my fucking house without your permission.’  He wants to say ‘we spoke at length about how I didn’t like the breakup plan.’

Patrick wants to say ‘I’m sorry I’m sorry, I’m new at this, I didn’t think. Please don’t be hurt in a way I can’t undo. Please let me undo it.’

Patrick says nothing at all.

He opens the most recent link Fatima has sent him, ignoring his other 49,000 urgent notifications. A pixelated image fills up his cracked screen: it’s him and his duffel bag lurching out of his front door, dark and blurred like he’s a cryptid caught on film. His face is grainy and anguished. Below the photo, a headline reads, Trouble In Pop Punk Paradise? It has over one million hits. It is 10:13 am.

Patrick turns off his phone, pulls a pillow over his face, and goes back to sleep. There is so much on queue for emotional processing, he doesn’t even want to fucking start.

*

Trouble In Pop Punk Paradise?

Lead singer of mega-band Fall Out Boy, Patrick Stump, was sighting leaving his Lakeview home at 2:45am with an overnight bag. Stump recently made headlines when he was caught in a scandalous kiss with his controversial bandmate, Pete Wentz. “Yeah, I am a fag,” Wentz told Out! Magazine on Monday, accompanying a saccharine domestic snap of the lovebirds and supportive band members, Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley. But now rock and roll’s first openly gay power couple may be in trouble. What lovers’ quarrel drove Stump out of the home the two have been sharing at such an indelicate hour? Is he leaving Wentz for good?

Wentz is no stranger to shock and spotlights, as his fame and bad behavior have destroyed a torrid string of relationships with half of Hollywood’s Who’s Who. (And let’s not even start with dick pics and suicide attempts! Some people are just desperate for attention.) Wentz hasn’t been able to keep his name out of our mouths since we first learned it in 2003. Some say his recent commercial success and launch of varied business endeavors (a record label, a nightclub, and a major clothing line, to name a few) represent a new stability and maturity for the troubled bass player. Those of us who love to hate the King of the Emos and Archduke of Girl Jeans may have another perspective on this latest debacle…

For now, the question on everyone’s lips is this: can Fall Out Boy survive this falling out?

Click here for a gallery of Wentz’s most memorable misdeeds, misdemeanors, and mistresses.

*

“Pete Can Be a Pain in the Ass…”: Fall Out Boy Guitarist Speaks

Joe Trohman, lead guitarist of Fall Out Boy, the band that might as well buy stock in gossip mags at the rate they’re making them sell, was reached for comment this morning about the rumored split of provocative couple Patrick Stump and Pete Wentz. If the two break up, what does it mean for the future of the band, whose 4th studio album is scheduled for November release? Our reporter was on the scene to find out.

“Break up? No, I don’t think so.” said Trohman, found in line at local hideaway, Do-Rite Donuts. “Patrick’s got a temper and Pete can be a pain in the ass, so I’m not surprised if they have some fights. But no one is happier than me that they finally got together. Pete and Patrick are a perfect match. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any two people more in love. Give them some space, let them live. Let me eat a $*#@ing donut.”

Trohman declined further comment.

*

So they end up accelerating the staged break-up timeline.

They haven’t talked about it, really—just exchanged texts, the emotional tone of which Patrick cannot decipher. They feel terse, barbed. He wishes he could see Pete’s face, hear whatever else is in his voice.

But Patrick can’t do this, because Patrick won’t leave Andy’s house.

He’s not hiding. He just doesn’t want the paps hanging around outside to figure out that he’s here. He doesn’t need headlines about Homosensual Stumpet Seduces Drummer Next In His Relentless Incestuous Sexscapade. He also doesn’t need to find out what happens if he’s alone in a house with Pete Wentz again. Or what happens if he gets there and Pete’s gone and he’s just alone in an empty, lifeless house.

So maybe he’s hiding a little.

He hasn’t apologized to Pete. He can’t decide whether he needs to.

He reads about Joe’s poorly timed comment on their romantic fucking bliss. It sounds so much like what Andy told him that he wonders if they’re coordinating stories and synchronizing watches and otherwise masterminding a secret, nefarious scheme of their own. That’s when he breaks down and texts Pete, whose one hurt message takes up more space in his inbox than all 8.7 billion other texts.

Patrick sends,

it got weird. i got weird. wasn’t thinking, just needed space. not used to being followed w cameras. im not good at it.

In the agonizing 43 minutes before Pete responds, Patrick avails himself of Andy’s shower (no comment on whether or not he masturbated, thinking of Pete, halfway between hornrageous and actual crying, and watched his come swirl down the drain feeling like the ugliest, smallest person ever to live), shaves, and makes a piece of toast he has no appetite for. Whether he cried in the shower or while making the toast is also not up for discussion.

His phone makes the annoying chime assigned to Pete and Patrick abandons the pretense of staring down the toast like he’s actually gonna eat it. (All the times his doctor has bugged him about his weight, you think he’d have mentioned the ‘create an interpersonal situation so fraught and terrible you will have no appetite for anything but fucking drain cleaner’ diet.)

The message reads,

‘a perfect match’

Patrick’s stomach—fuck, all his organs—lurch to the left in a sudden, urgent attempt to die by spontaneous disembowelment. He can think of only a few moments in his life when he has felt shittier than this, and at least one of those times was when he left Pete in the hospital and went to Europe to play without him.

Eyes blurred by definitely-not-tears-of-misery, Patrick texts back,

just like romeo & juliet. fucking doomed from the start

im half-doomed, ur semi-sweet

what do we do?

wish u wld talk 2 me abt this

that’s what im doing

wish u wld come home

Patrick’s thumbs fly, trying to respond to that before he has to feel it:

paps outside.  wanna carefully consider my next headline. im learning.

He thinks a moment, sends off,

seems like a good day 2 be dumped

i dont wanna dump u

feels like i deserve it but we can say it’s mutual

so r u saying u dont want to stay together?

This is one of those times Patrick really needs to see Pete’s face. He pushes back from Andy’s scarred kitchen table, a shop antique marked up with long use. He leaves his phone beside his toast, a modern art piece he’ll title ‘Unwanted Things.’ He doesn’t know how to answer Pete because he doesn’t know what Pete’s asking.

Does he want to navigate the rapids of this latest press drama and limp along their fake relationship for another week, just to have the fucking pleasure of announcing the break-up on an hour-long talk show? All for the nebulous benefit of—what? The pretense for staying ‘together’ has become even flimsier than the pretense that started this whole fucking thing in the first place. They’re certainly not avoiding any media notoriety or providing a source of comfort and representation to angsty queer teens. They’re just—

They’re just hurting each other.

we have that 10 min TRL spot tomorrow. lets just do it then

Patrick texts before he can think better of it. He waits a while for Pete’s answer, but nothing comes.

He throws away the toast.

*

so like

im sorry if I sexually assaulted u in my sleep

you can come home dude, i wont attack u

The third time his phone vibrates, Patrick gets out of bed and looks at it. He reads Pete’s messages, lets them settle. It’s 11 o’clock at night, hours and hours since Patrick said they should break up and Pete said nothing.

Patrick feels kind of weird about spending another night in Andy’s guest bed alone.

Patrick kind of misses the couch.

Patrick kind of misses—

His phone buzzes in his hand. This message reads,

i feel like i chased u out of yr own house & i hate that. i want u to come back so i dont lay up all nite feeling like a monster. im being selfish. pls come home

Patrick’s mouth does something strange, something it hasn’t done in almost 24 hours: it tugs into the smallest smile.

He types back,

& i'm sorry if i assaulted YOU. that was, um. a mess

His smile grows larger when his phone vibrates again.

my fault. i was having a naughty dream. u were there

do you think it’s better if we stay apart tonight? like, for the press. consistency. huge elaborate charade. etc?

i never think its better wen we’re apart. fck the press. well dance for them 2morrow. 2nite id rather see u

Patrick packs his tiny bag and goes home.

*

It’s their last night together. Patrick tries very hard not to be aware of this. Nothing is changing, he reminds himself in the car on the way over. Sure, Pete will move out tomorrow, but it’s not like they won’t be living together on a bus again in a couple of months. It’s not like their friendship needs to change once they stop pretending to be dating, because they were never actually dating—nothing really ever changed. Of course it didn’t. Everything will still be exactly the same.

(His gut has always twist-clenched like that when he imagines Pete smacking a big, wet kiss to his neck on stage, when he imagines Pete hooking his bass over Patrick’s shoulder and rocking his hips against Patrick’s ass in front of an entire stadium of fans. Exactly. The. Same.)

Then Pete opens the front door before Patrick can unlock it, so Patrick knows he’s been waiting; all that shit about nothing changing floods out of Patrick’s head. Pete, Pete. He stands there looking so vulnerable, so dear, so ridiculously fucking sexy—

“I missed you,” Pete says, and that’s enough, Patrick decides not to hold himself back anymore. Forget the paparazzi and fuck tomorrow: it’s their last night. He steps forward, takes Pete’s face in his hands, and kisses him exactly the way he’s been longing to all day. All week. All seven fucking years since they met.

Patrick kisses him into the house, shoves the door shut behind them. Kisses Pete with such desperate force they both stumble. Presses Pete back against the wall and urges Pete’s mouth open with his desperate, rushing tongue.

Pete whimpers, his hands fluttering, uncertain where to land. Patrick breaks the kiss, pulls back to look into those amber eyes. They are wide and full of smiling stars. They look ancient, lost  treasures of a forgotten civilization, and they look brand new, eyes blinked open for the first time. Patrick is panting.

“I want—I want—” But even now, he can’t find the words. Isn’t that the central fucking tragedy of him and Pete? That in all these years, he’s never been able to name whatever it is he wants from Pete Wentz? Because it’s not dating or kissing or fucking or friendship or bandmates or any of those straightforward concepts everyone knows. If it was just that he could’ve said it—years ago. He doesn’t know what it is. He doesn’t think there’s a word for it.

As fucking usual, he stands in front of Pete Wentz, swollen with feeling, tender with fear, and doesn’t have a fucking clue what words to say.

But Pete’s always been the one with words. Pete’s always been the one to save him, even when Pete’s the one who dragged him to hell in the first place. Pete says, “I want, too.”

So Patrick dispenses with need for words entirely, chooses to use his lips for other things.

Patrick kisses Pete again and Pete’s hands find the courage to alight. He grips Patrick’s hips like he’s holding on for his life. He bucks his own hips forward, not like a decision but like a need, and rubs himself against Patrick’s belt. His hot mouth pants “yes yes yes” into Patrick’s neck when Patrick slips his hands up Pete’s belly, stroking the skin under Pete’s shirt.

This is it. This is the first and last time. It doesn’t mean anything—it can’t.

It means everything. It always has.

They trail puddles of clothing: Patrick’s hat and Pete’s hoodie just inside the front door, Pete’s t-shirt and Patrick’s jeans on the stairs, Pete’s pants peeled off ungraciously in the hallway. (Patrick is obliged to kneel, wrestling the tight ends of those pants off Pete’s ankles. Inspired by the view, he turns his head, sinks teeth into Pete’s inner thigh. Pete knots fingers in Patrick’s air and yelps, “Jesus fucking Christ, Patrick!” Patrick licks the bright red welt, saving his place, and Pete nearly collapses.) By the time they reach the doorways, they’re down to underwear and Patrick’s t-shirt. Even now, he feels self-conscious taking his shirt off around Pete.

This damned hallway. The infernal problem of doorways. Once again it is almost their undoing.

“Wait,” says Pete. “We should talk. Last time—”

“This isn’t like last time,” Patrick growls. He’s so hard he’s actually going blind. It’s a miracle he can fucking speak at all. He does not wish to converse. Conversation is the last thing he fucking needs.

“Last night,” Pete tries again. There is a question in his eyes that’s not making it to his lips. How does he expect Patrick to answer?

“Yes. Our last night,” Patrick misunderstands firmly. If doorways are such a problem for them, he decides, they will do this in the hall. He is not particular about the details.

To illustrate this, Patrick sinks to his knees, leaving a line of lingering kisses down Pete’s torso. A decisive tug at the hem and Pete’s boxers pool of the floor with all the rest of their reservations. Patrick smiles wickedly at the thick, throbbing cock that’s popped free. He looks up at Pete and feels something grow, bursting and glowing, in his chest. It feels like—is—happiness. The pleasure of wild abandon.

The pleasure of him and Pete.

Grinning, Patrick purrs, “Oh, this I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” and he takes Pete into his mouth.

“Fuck,” gasps Pete. It’s the last word either of them manages to say for the rest of the night.

*

This is actually the first time Patrick’s ever had a dick in his mouth. In spite of his hammering blood and bursting heart, in spite of the terrible fleetingness of time, in spite of every screaming-urgent molecule of his bodyselfandsoul—in spite of all in him that rushes, he approaches this task with curiosity, with caution.

His tongue is tentative as it swirl the head of Pete’s penis, the ridge of heat and hardness. His teeth are timid, his cheeks hollow, his world narrowed to length and suction, to slick velvet motion, to the vainglorious sounds emanating from Pete’s throat. Those sounds urge Patrick on. He can feel the wound-tender tip of his own erection leaking, pulsing like a chambered heart.

God, god. He never thought—no, he won’t think. He just wants to feel: Pete’s hot thighs in his hands, Pete’s greedy cries in his ears, the earthy-dark taste of Pete In his mouth. He just wants to feel this until he’s filled up, til sensation spills out his seams and rides him ragged, til empty and aching he can begin again. He just wants to feel this forever.

His caution gives way to urgency, then. It is not reverence being discarded, just sped up: worship in fast-forward. He truly might die unless Pete’s come hits his tongue, unless his mouth fills up with the salt-bitter-sweet and he finally, finally, consumes part of Pete. They will be part of each other then. They will be tied up and bound.

Pete staggers back, pulling out of Patrick’s mouth with a wet pop, stumbling til his back hits the wall. Patrick feels wonder and delight, taking in the spit-shined sight, Pete’s eyes closed and throat bobbing with desperate breaths, Pete’s thighs soft and spread, hips curved gorgeous within the frame of bone-shadow and needle-ink, Pete’s red dick nested in dark hair, arcing painful to the heavens, cravingburningneeding release. Patrick takes in the sight with appropriate awe, then grabs the base of Pete’s slick erection with his hand and guides it back into his hungry mouth.

Patrick’s knees scuff on the floor, the friction-burn not unpleasant as it adds to this molten cascade of bursting sensation, all the points of his body lighting up one by one, his nerve endings making constellations. As of this moment, Patrick’s sole goal, purpose, and aim in life is to make Pete’s legs give out. Only then can he be happy.

Pete’s hands are in his hair, one knotted up at the nape of Patrick’s neck, the other hooked around an ear. He is being careful too, holding on softly, not pushing. Not forcing. God, he’s been careful of Patrick for so many years. Everyone with an internet connection probably knows Pete’s done this before, but he’s shy like a teenager, like a blow job virgin. He receives this like it’s the name of god, like it’s apocalyptic and divine.

Patrick considers being annoyed by all this affected veneration but decides he likes it. Pete can pretend this is the first time if he wants to. Patrick’s head is spinning. At the eye of this storm is something he must not look at, must not think. He fills his head with Pete, with the rhythm of suction-motion-tongue. He lets himself go, to drift endless through this perfect moment. He can feel his heartbeat echoing through his entire body. His nervous system crackles with live wires. He wants—he wants this so much.

Patrick is far away on a plane of boners and bliss when Pete moans strangely and bucks his hips, a motion that feels uncontrolled and involuntary. Patrick grabs his waist to hold on and Pete cries out. Pete’s knees buckle, his feet stumbling out from under him, sliding down the wall. He comes half in Patrick’s mouth, half on it. They end up a tangle of limbs on the hardwood floor. Pete’s chest heaves with the labor of breathing, his ribs unfurling and reknitting beneath Patrick’s wandering hands.

Because Patrick is still curious. Patrick is still hard. First night, last night. Patrick wants it all.

Patrick kisses Pete on the mouth, leaves Pete’s lips sticky. Pete licking at his own come, those plush lips shining—it is unbearable. Patrick is going into a frenzy. Patrick is losing his mind.

Then Pete takes Patrick’s painfully rigid dick in his hand, and Patrick doesn’t exist anymore. Patrick is gone.

*

They glut themselves in the hallway. They gorge on each other, a rich and vulgar feast. Time passes, or it does not. Patrick can no longer tell if it’s his blood throbbing in his veins or reality throbbing against his skin. He is the barrier, the conduit: the thin—remaining—film. He bursts, lets go.

At some point they make it into his bedroom. All the hesitation collapses in on itself, becomes a vacuum, and they are pulled in. The pragmatic need for condoms carries them over the threshold. They tumble onto the bed, a merry tangle; Patrick is equal parts needing and laughing. He lands on top. Laughing gasping kissing licking into Pete’s mouth, his hands in fists on either side of Pete’s head, Patrick moves to straddle the other man—to straddle his best friend, to grin around the shape of a moan as their raw cocks rub, flushed with blood, sticky with come, hot with love. Yes. Yes, this. This.

Something is happening at Patrick’s asshole. Oh: Pete’s fingers. Yes to this too. Patrick tongues his approval deep into Pete’s mouth. This Patrick has done before, thinking of Pete. Thinking of Pete and whimpering, fucking his hand, fingering himself, coming hot hard good unless he caught himself before he could finish. Some things have always been off limits. Thinking of Pete while fucking himself—that was a big one. But nothing is off limits tonight. No thought, no desire, no fantasy made action. Not on their last night. Why hold anything back, when tomorrow it will be gone?

So Patrick rides Pete’s crooked fingers with abandon, biting urgently at Pete’s throat, leaving bruises on Pete’s collarbone with his need for more, more. He whimpers and moans and keens without self-consciousness, noises he never imagined himself making flooding out of his mouth. His vision tints pink, then red. He is all blood. He wants and wants and wants and takes.

Pete is tugging, insistent needing, at the hem of Patrick’s t-shirt. It is the only piece of clothing that’s survived. Patrick makes a fist around their dicks, the friction just this side of painful, grinds against Pete’s fingers and thrusts into his own; Pete’s eyes roll back, his chin jutting up, his throat a skeletal arch against the band. Sweat sticks his hair to his forehead. Old eyeliner smears shadows around his ancient, gold-glow eyes. Patrick thinks and tastes the word ambergris.

The shirt comes off too. Patrick is careful, usually, not to be shirtless in front of people. Especially in front of Pete. He’s not being careful today. Fucking obviously. A nonverbal trade occurs: Patrick takes shirt off, Pete rolls condom on. Pete goes wide-eyed at the pale expanse of Patrick’s chest, at all that secret skin. Not even the sun has touched it. Pete’s hand trails up Patrick’s ribs, raising goosebumps; finds a small, pink nipple; plucks and twists and pulls. The sounds Patrick makes would not be mistaken for human.

Pete pushes him down, hesitates for a moment to stare hard into Patrick’s eyes, then lowers his head to lick around Patrick’s nipple without breaking eye contact, without blinking. Pete’s mouth begins to suck, bringing just the edge of teeth; Patrick’s hips move without any communication to his brain, Patrick’s ass lifting up and up off the mattress, a wordless plea. Fuck, fuck, fuck me.

After seven years’ imagining, he’s still not ready for what it feels like, when the head of Pete’s cock brushes his entrance. He goes rigid like it’s a cattle prod. His body locks up electric. He makes another one of those sounds. The lubed tip of Pete’s dick circles, circles, oh my god oh my god circles, and then—

Then.

Then Pete’s inside him.

Just the head at first, the thick ridged cap; Patrick writhes and Pete just fucking holds on. Patrick feels Pete’s fingernails break the skin at his hips and all he can really think is don’t let your fucking hands slip, don’t you fucking dare let go. He’ll bleed out here and now, die by ten tiny cuts and the race of his own heart rate, as long as Pete stays inside him. As long as Pete always stays inside him.

Slowly, with agonizing precision, Pete’s hips begin to move. His powerful thighs flex like tearing, the planes of his ass tensing and shifting into a rhythm underneath Patrick’s hands. The movement ripples through Pete’s graceful body like he’s made of water; the equal and opposite sensation rips through Patrick’s like it’s a red hot iron pulled from seven years’ inferno. He blacks out or sees stars or just fucking dies, probably. At the deepest point of each stroke, Pete’s length brushes the gleaming, spider-silk edge of it: of the golden fucking horizon, of blinding white infinity. The head of Pete strokes and catches and tugs against Patrick’s orgasm, teasing it, urging its unwinding. Patrick fills his mouth with whatever he can reach, muffling his scream in Pete’s shoulder, licking his agony and ecstasy into Pete’s pecs.

It is a fraction of a second and an eternity both, the space between two atoms, the sound of the big bang, before Patrick can’t take it anymore, before Patrick melts from the inside out, before Patrick lets go. Patrick shudders and locks up, coming hard and scalding into the space between them, arcing white across Pete’s stomach, dripping hot onto his own. Pete looses a groan like he’s been sucker-punched, nudges Patrick’s head down onto the mattress with his forehead, and looks into Patrick’s eyes, breathing in choppy open-mouthed gasps, fucking him hard and thorough for a few—last—strokes—

Oh, sweet release.

*

Want is one thing. Need is another.

Patrick is learning the difference.

Patrick’s lips stick to Pete’s skin, the sticky salt of someone’s come binding them, each to each, one to one. Their legs tangle together in a humid mess of sweat, spent condoms, the stench of sex. Patrick is exhausted. Pete’s eyes shine in the dark. He holds Patrick’s gaze, pulling at his still-soft dick, trying to coax yet more life into it. Looking at him—sweetbitter unmanageable creature who steals in, if Patrick can be permitted to quote Sappho now that he’s been fucked insensible and has surely died—looking at Pete now is an exercise in awe. The complications of everything Patrick feels grows tangled up through his ribcage, a walled garden gone wild, thorns tearing out hunks of brick, snagging unprotected skin.

Patrick’s tasted him, swallowed him with unparalleled hunger. Patrick’s been fucked by him, felt Pete in him so deep he couldn’t tell their heartbeats apart, delineating and then destroying the boundaries and borders of bodies, of physical laws of heat and matter and need. Even now Patrick lays in a cooling puddle of Pete’s come. He hopes it soaks in through his skin, suffuses him—stays real. He hopes this all still exists, come morning.

It doesn’t feel real. It feels better.

All of that—all of this—it’s just want. It’s not until Pete’s cell phone alarm starts going off somewhere far away, til Pete heaves a sigh and twists away from him, til Pete speaks rusty-throated for the first time in hours to groan “Fuck no, not the morning. I better find my pants,” til Pete rolls off the bed and stands on shaky legs. It’s not til he’s watching Pete walk away from him, from their beautiful, impossible dream of a night, that Patrick feels for the first time true need.

*

The sun has risen; the spell is broken. Patrick’s voice returns, though he’s still skittish, scared of speaking. He sits alone in his rumpled, sex-smelling sheets with the earth spinning and swirling around him, ripping through the universe at 67,000 miles per hour and feeling it.

His head whorls in the wake of their first-last night. His skin hasn’t yet cooled from Pete’s molten touch. His nipples are puffy, vaguely sore; his lips pulse and burn. The peculiar sweet ache inside him recalls the shape and feel of Pete. The bites and bruises on his body have not yet fully risen. His broken capillaries issue waves of blood that carry them to shore. Even so, it already feels unreal. It already feels like it never happened.

Patrick should be gratified or relieved or—or something. He feels like crying instead. The sense of loneliness is so thick it chokes him. He waits, but Pete does not return.

The third time he hears a great crash of pots and pans from downstairs, he gets out of the bed (now cold) and pulls on clean clothes. Twenty minutes ago he was a riot of nerve endings, his skin firing like fiber optic cable, glowing like a Lite Brite with input, pleasure, sensation. Now the light in his heart has gone out. He is clumsy and numb. That’s it, then. It’s finished. He’s had his filthiest adolescent fantasies fulfilled, lived out what he used to jerk off imagining in his sleeping bag in the back of Joe’s cramped van.

It doesn’t feel like he thought it would.

Dressed, Patrick faces himself in the bathroom mirror. He doesn’t look different, doesn’t look like some important, internal tumbler has shifted, unlocking a new truth. Does he expect to? He looks covered in hickeys and without a minute of sleep. The slackness around his eyes, the feverish mottle to his cheeks—yeah, Patrick will believably pass as a guy who’s just been dumped. He looks uncannily like someone who’s been punched in the fucking heart.

This is what he wanted.

This isn’t what he wanted.

He speaks in words for the first time in hours. He practices his lines. To mirror-Patrick, he says, “It was a difficult decision for both of us, but Pete and I have split up. The most important thing to us will always be the band. We don’t want our fans to worry; we aren’t planning on this changing anything. Romance didn’t work for us, but our friendship is strong as ever.”

He watches his reflection flinch at the words, his face crumpling; but he feels still and calm. It’s like he felt so much last night, he used it up—spent out all the emotions allotted for the rest of the day, the week, the year, all spilled out into the circuit of he and Pete. Maybe he’ll never feel anything again.

“Pete was my boyfriend and now he’s not,” Patrick says. He wants it to sting. It sounds fake because it is fake, he tells himself.

The mirror may as well be empty. Patrick turns away, finding, feeling nothing, and heads downstairs.

*

The smell of pancakes makes Patrick feel instantly more normal. He finds Pete in the kitchen, making breakfast.

“I feel like I’m on One Tree Hill,” Patrick jokes, announcing his entrance to the room.

Pete turns from the stove, beaming with Bisquick on his chin like he’s a commercial for wholesome Sunday mornings (anal sex notwithstanding). “I think that’s the last time I made pancakes,” Pete laughs, going along with it. Teasing him about his TV appearances is safe, familiar ground, ground that requires no negotiation of their relationship. Talking about last night is definitely in the ‘unsafe’ category. Talking about the future seems iffy too.

Pancakes are another safe topic. Pete keeps stealing small glances at him, his eyes crinkled, his lips caught up in an almost-smile that makes Patrick warm all the way through.

“I don’t think you’ve ever cooked for me before,” says Patrick.

“That’s a filthy lie! I have microwaved and toaster-ovened a wide variety of delicacies for you.” Pete pulls an affronted look.

“How could I forget so many years of poptarts? I take it back, you’re basically Julia Child.”

Pete brandishes the battered spatula at him. “You take that back. I’m obviously Guy Fieri.”

They eat, they chat. Patrick is surprised by how normal it feels. How good. He could get used to it, teasing Pete over breakfast, his body tingly and raw from the night before. He cannot get used to it.

Pete stacks his silverware on his empty plate with care, folds his hands on the tabletop, studies them. Patrick joins him. They’re beautiful hands. Patrick has a whole new dizzy set of memories about those hands. He has the sense that the zone of safety is crumbling beneath his shaky legs, that whatever Pete is preparing to say holds peril. He should have eaten more slowly. Damn it.

“So should we, um,” says Pete. “Practice our lines?”

It’s not what Patrick might have hoped he’d say. But it’s not like Pete’s going to say let’s call the whole thing off and run away together. It’s not like Patrick wants him to. The last two weeks have done nothing if not illustrate what a complicated pain in the ass it would be, being with Pete for real. That’s not Patrick’s goal. That was never his goal.

He’s a compass needle spinning.

“I really would prefer not to,” Patrick says. His pancakes turn in his stomach just considering it. “We can just say—it’s a mutual decision. For the band, for our friendship. That it just—could never work.”

Pete is watching him with startling intensity. Patrick has known him a long time and rarely seen a look like that. Patrick wants to reel his words back in after seeing it. He wishes he knew the terms, here. The stakes. What they’re really talking about, and what any of it’s supposed to mean.

Now Pete’s nodding. “Good, good. Thanks for not dumping me, or, fuck, making me dump you. Like, obviously worse things have been said about Pete Wentz—true things, even—but. Just. Not this. I hated the thought of the whole world thinking I fucked you up, too. Thinking I could hurt you.”

Patrick feels a powerful urge to take Pete’s hand. Instead he asks, “So how about the PR team, the label? Should we tell them?”

Pete grins like a trickster god. “Way more fun to watch them scramble and shout.”

“I have to tell Joe and Andy, though,” Patrick says. “I’ve been feeling very Crime and Punishment about lying to them.”

Pete’s eyes go soft about the grin of wild mischief. It is a breathtaking contrast. Patrick’s pulse surges in his lips and groin with a vivid stab of memory: of kissing that grin. Of Pete’s reverent gasp as he slid inside Patrick for the first time. Of the ten thousand lewd acts Patrick never dreamed they, together, would ever perform.

Not that he’s thought about it or anything. Oh no. It is very, very important this morning that Patrick—well, that Patrick lie to himself. It is the key fucking mechanism of his survival.

“Of course. Tell them everything. They deserve to know.”

Patrick reads nothing into Pete’s tone of voice, the look on his face. He reads nothing at all.

It’s about survival.

*

me & pete are breaking up today on TRL. it was not real. im so sorry we lied. complicated. thank u fr being so supportive & accepting, i love you guys. can i take u out for pizza & beer & longwinded apologies after?

Patrick, a coward, waits for the message to send. Then he turns off his phone.

It’s time to go.

*

This is the story of how Patrick Stump comes to be sitting beside his best friend in front of a live studio audience, enunciating into a microphone about how he’s the boy who broke Pete Wentz’s heart.

The crowd shifts and whispers around them as the countdown begins. Patrick decides right then, he hates having his back to so many highly excited people. The back of his neck tingles in a thoroughly unpleasant way, like his skin’s trying to crawl off him and get the fuck out of this situation since the rest of his body doesn’t have enough sense to. His heart is thundering; he can’t unclench his fists. He can’t believe what they’re about to do. This, this is the most uncomfortable he has ever been. If he opens his mouth now, actual vomit is as likely to come out as words.

“And we’re back with Total Request Live!” bubbles Lyndsey Rodrigues, the host. The hottest lights you can even imagine come up, immediately begin searing into his pale skin. “Joining me today are notorious heartthrobs and headline-making lovebirds, Pete Wentz and Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy!”

The crowd erupts. Patrick catches himself flinching from the cacophony (and/or the word ‘lovebirds’) and plasters a rictus grin on his face. He tries to think of the queer teens. He pretends he is noble instead of just sweaty.

Thank god Pete is here, Patrick thinks, as he thinks during every interview. Pete’s smile is easy. He does a little Queen of England wave at the crowd and the screaming redoubles. Everything Patrick has ever seen him do has looked so fucking natural.

“We’re psyched to be here, Lyndsey!” How does he do it? Sound so cheerful and calm when Patrick feels like he’s going to hurl. When the answer occurs to him, it’s worse: because to Pete, this is not a big deal. This is a casual lie, an act that means nothing. It’s not costing him anything to lie about it, not costing him anything to dissolve the lie. To Pete, this truly has been… nothing. Last night was… nothing.

“As soon as I heard the news about you two—I almost fainted!”

“Me too,” jokes Pete.

“No, I screamed. I did scream. I just thought—suddenly Pete’s lyrics make so much sense! ‘We do it in the dark, with smiles on our faces’? ‘We’re always sleeping for the wrong team’?” Lyndsey points back and forth from Pete to Patrick, her grin threatening to totally obscure the rest of her face. “I see what you did there. I see what you’ve been doing all along.”

Something new is happening, something Patrick has rarely seen before. Pete Wentz is blushing, his honey-dusk complexion flooding with sunburn pink. (Of course, Patrick’s blushing too—remembering the taste of those lyrics on a tongue that still, almost, hums with the dream-flavor of Pete—but there is nothing new or remarkable about Patrick Stump’s face filling with blood in any situation ever. Pete, though. When has Pete ever been humbled, felt shy?)

“So the question that’s on everyone’s lips, guys—the viewers would probably kill me on air if I let the chance to ask this slip by—how long has this all been going on? Really? Pete, you’re famous for hanging off—and climbing up—Patrick on stage. Was it ever just a show? When did it turn into something more for the two of you?”

Patrick seriously considers the possibility that Lyndsey Rodrigues bears them ill will. Better questions to wound, he cannot imagine. Wound and then rub salt in.

(He is aware that if they’d talked to the PR team first, they would have arranged for different questions. He’s aware that someone at some point signed off on all of these, gave it the go-ahead—possibly even Pete, since Patrick has refused to be involved with any of the press coverage of this farce before now. He is aware that avoiding the feeling he is currently feeling in his gut is the entire purpose of having a PR team. He’s not thinking about that right now, thanks.)

“Actually, Lyndsey—and this is awkward, so I’m sorry to anyone we’re disappointing today, I wish it wasn’t this way—but me and Patrick have actually, well. Basically, Patrick Stump broke my heart.”

He says it with this sweet, self-effacing grin that probably distracts people who know him less well from the soul-deep sorrow undisguised in his eyes. There are actual gasps from the audience. Lyndsey’s mouth is open, a look on her face like instead of announcing their break-up, they’re announcing that they personally went to her house, peed on the toilet seat, and ran over her dog.

This is off-script, not what they agreed on. Patrick jumps in, his brain scrambling to modify his lines. He lets out a little helpless laugh. “Um, please don’t send me hate mail. It didn’t go quite like Pete’s making it sound. The—uh—health of the band and our friendship are our first and second priorities, so—um—mutually, I mean, we decided to—”

The rumbles from the crowd are getting louder. Patrick thinks he actually hears someone boo. Lyndsey doesn’t bother to reaffix her megawatt TV smile.

Pete tries to save him. “Our relationship going public and all the attention from the press really made us realize we can’t do this without distracting from, maybe even destroying, the band. It was a difficult decision, one of the hardest—Patrick is, and always will be, my best friend—”

Pete’s trying to walk it back, to restore the patter of the interview. It’s not working. Can’t they just announce the video and cut the live feed? Patrick pretends his skeleton is collapsible, tries to recede into his own skin. It was a terrible fucking idea to do this on live TV without warning the host, without any PR support. This whole fucking shenanigan was a terrible fucking idea, the worst he’s ever had.

(Patrick shifts on his sore ass, feels the bruises from Pete’s mouth burn like brands beneath his blazer. Second worst idea he’s ever had.)

The host opens her mouth, closes it. She looks openly annoyed. “Okay, so, I guess let me ask the next most obvious question. Was this whole 20-minute gay relationship thing just another classic Pete Wentz publicity stunt? Because exploiting the LGBT community to generate buzz for a rock album is probably the sleaziest—”

She’s said the word ‘stunt,’ and Pete is turning purple. Patrick braces himself for what he knows must happen next. Two seconds later, Pete turns into Mount Vesuvius, just fucking erupts.

“If the world can’t see what this kid fucking means to me—” More gasps from the studio audience as Pete says the word ‘fuck’ on live TV and their grip on their record contract becomes ever more tenuous—“then there’s nothing I can say now that will convince you. But Lyndsey, that is an ugly suggestion.”

Pete lurches to his feet, whirls away from the host and turns his face to the nearest camera.

“Patrick Stump is my world,” Pete declares into the camera. He picks up volume with each word. “I’ve been in love with him for seven fucking years, and maybe even before I knew he existed. I love him like breathing. It’s the realest, most true thing about me. So no. This is not a publicity stunt. This is not a fling. This is the most important relationship of my life. This is everything I’ve ever wanted, everything I’ve never deserved, blowing up on live TV because you guys have some sort of fucking problem with me and cell phones and leaking pictures of my private life to the press without ever for a second considering what kind of damage that does to the real people and real relationships involved.”

Pete stands in front of the camera like he’s going to punch its lens out, face twisted, breath coming hard. No one else breathes in the entire building. No one knows what will happen next.

The storm on Pete’s face breaks open. No one is more stunned than Patrick when tears start to spill down Pete’s cheeks. Pete makes no effort to hide it. “Patrick is the love of my goddamn life, and now I’ve lost him. So don’t ask me to convince you this is real. I don’t care what you think.”

And Pete turns and stalks out of the studio, rubbing his face with his sleeve with one arm and flipping the whole world the bird with the other. He scowls magnificently, disappears.

All eyeballs and camera lenses turn to Patrick. Patrick who can’t believe, maybe doesn’t want to believe, what he’s just seen and heard. Unbidden, a lyric he’s belted twelve hundred times drifts disjointed through his shell-shocked skull. Joke me something awful like kisses on the necks of best friends.

He gets it now.

Lyndsey was right. A whole lot of lyrics suddenly make a terrible kind of sense.

“Um, I really would rather not talk about it,” Patrick says in a strangled voice.

As if jolting back online after a major power outage, Lyndsey jerks her mic back up to her mouth. “So with that, uh, allow me to introduce Fall Out Boy’s newest single, uh, the appropriately titled—I Don’t Care.”

And they cut to video.

*

Pete’s not in the dressing room.

Patrick dare not venture out into the rest of the studio. It’s an angry mob out there. It’s an angry mob in his head. He’s been instructed to wait here for the public relations paramedics to arrive—once again, people are tossing around the phrase ‘damage control,’ with no sense of the fucking irony. Patrick is taking an uncontrolled amount of damage. Today Patrick can’t think of a single reason to do as he’s told.

He goes home.

Pete’s not there, either.

*

“So wait. I still don’t understand. Was it real or was it not?” Mouth full of pizza and face twisted with consternation, curls wild around his face, Joe poses the existential fucking crisis of Patrick’s life as if Patrick can possibly possess the answer. As if Patrick even knows what he wants the answer to be.

He takes an extra-huge, choking-hazard size bite of pizza to buy himself some time.

“I don’t think he knows either,” Andy looks up from his vegan pie to say.

Pizza and beers with the bros: this was supposed to help. Patrick was supposed to feel better after this. Patrick has gotten caught in a fucking riptide and has been dragged a long way from ‘supposed to.’

Joe’s not finished illuminating Patrick’s life problems. Gesturing expansively with a floppy pizza slice, he says, “So, okay, the stuff at the wedding—all the fake stories and telling people you were boyfriends—that wasn’t real. Even the infamous fucking kiss was staged. But you felt real things, didn’t you? Doesn’t that make it real, even the staged stuff? And everything after that—except when you were lying—that was real too.”

It was all true except when they were lying. Yes. Clear as mud. And Patrick still doesn’t know when Pete was lying, when he was true. The things he said—shouted—this afternoon on TRL, Patrick believed them. He did. But then Pete disappeared.

Patrick takes another suffocation-risk bite of pizza. He imagined this outing would be a lot more of him begging for his friends’ forgiveness for deceiving them, a lot less his friends puzzling out his love life.

“Well, and what about the sex thing?” Andy asks sharply. Joe and Patrick each choke. To Joe, Andy says, “The other night, Patrick came over all upset—the event that started the break-up rumor—and mentioned a sex thing. Unless you made that up?”

Voice hoarse from exuberant coughing, Patrick rasps, “I didn’t make that up. There was a—sex thing. Um. And then we had sex.” He can’t meet anyone’s eyes.

Joe’s fucking eyes are so wide they take up his whole face, which makes them difficult to avoid.  “And—like—was the press involved in that, or…?”

“They were fucking not,” Patrick snaps. “It was a terrible and disastrous idea.”

“The sex? You had sex with Pete?” says Andy.

“And it was a disaster?” presses Joe.

Patrick tries to murder his friends with the power of his glare, just to see if he can. “The sex was fucking life-ruining,” he spits. “Next question, I’m not talking about this.”

Joe has the next question chambered and ready to go. This is the goddamn Spanish Inquisition. “Okay, next. If it was all just a big sham, why not just keep it going til things cooled down and the press forgot about it?”

Patrick can’t believe he ever thought talking to his friends and telling them the truth would be helpful. “Because I got scared,” he says. It is a relief to know the answer to something, at least. “I was starting to—mean it. And I didn’t know whether Pete meant it back, or if I wanted him to.” Before Joe can even ask, he adds, “I still don’t. I am so fucking confused. Thus—pizza and beer and those paps over there who think they’re fucking sneaky.” This last he directs loudly at a neighboring table, offering a little wave to the unscrupulous photographers who do not look remotely ashamed of their behavior. Patrick’s getting better at spotting them. Heaven help him, he’s getting used to this.

Just in time for it all to be over.

Can something be over, if it never existed in the first place? What is he supposed to do with the shit Pete said on TV? What is Pete expecting? And, like Joe’s asking, how much of anything in the last few weeks has been—real?

Andy shrugs, focused on his pizza and root beer and apparently bored of organizing, alphabetizing, and color-coding Patrick’s drama. “For what it’s worth,” he says, “everything I said was 100% genuine. I think you are so good together, good for each other. I think you need to figure out whether you want it to be real, Patrick. And then you should go get the guy.”

“I’ll drink to that!” cries Joe. “Because you looooove him, Patrick. Don’t you? You do. You totally do.”

His friends clink glasses, the matter, apparently, settled. Patrick does not join the toast.

*

Listen.

Pete’s not answering his calls. Patrick doesn’t even know what he’ll say if Pete does, given that Pete just shouted on live TV everything Patrick has been longing for and terrified of since he was 16 years old. The social media—all of it—has basically been set on fire. His friends are unhelpful. Patrick’s heart is just—just fucked.

Listen.

Patrick has no idea what he’s supposed to do. Patrick—alone, paranoid, covered in hickeys and now also hives from all the stress—can no longer even tell if Pete was being real or just acting in the TRL studio. (This is a half-assed defense mechanism. He felt what Pete said in the marrow of his fucking bones. Anyway, he’s seen Pete act. He’s not that good.)

Does Pete want a response? Does Patrick want to respond? Will Pete ever turn his phone back on? Will Patrick ever stop getting a jolt of ohgodohgodit’sPete every time his phone rings with yet another to-be-ignored call from his mother? All these questions and fucking more keep him up at night.

This is the most important relationship in my life. Don’t ask me to convince you this is real.

Pete said it. Pete fucking said it.

Listen. Patrick’s listening. But he doesn’t know what he wants to hear.

*

Patrick is in no state to receive company—he’s more ‘angst’ than ‘corporeal being’ at this point—but there stands Dale Wentz, illuminated by flashbulbs like it’s the fucking red carpet, at Patrick’s door.

She is wearing a jean jacket and a stern look. Patrick has rarely seen anyone look so mom-like. The hand that isn’t knocking rests on her hip. She’s spent 30 years as the mother of Pete, so Patrick’s pretty sure she’s not going to allow herself to be turned away by the heartwrenched, poorly groomed likes of him. He has a theory that if he leaves her out there long enough, she might actually shame the paps into going home. It’s only been two minutes and she’s already said “This is a nice boy, you just leave him alone” more than once.

Imagining what the gossip mags will caption this photo, though, chills Patrick’s blood.

He invites Mrs. Wentz into his home.

“Oh, Patrick,” she says, and pulls him into a crushing hug. She smells like a home and hugs like Pete and before Patrick knows what’s happening, he’s crying into her denim shoulder.

Pete’s mom rubs his back, makes soothing noises, says into his hair, “I know, sweetie. I know.” Patrick had no idea, as usual, but it is exactly what he needed.

After he finishes snotting all over her, Patrick invites Mrs. Wentz in properly. She follows him to the kitchen and watches him fix a pot of Turkish coffee for them. Turkish coffee is fussy; Patrick chooses it so he has something to do with his hands.

He pours them little dark cups of steam-curling coffee. They sit down at the island counter and sip. Patrick has no idea how a woman so capable of stillness and silence possibly bore Pete Wentz, the perpetual motion machine.

Just when Patrick’s starting to sweat, Mrs. Wentz says what she came here to say. “So you broke my boy’s heart, hmm? I saw it on TiVo.”

She drinks her coffee, stares straight ahead. Her face is unreadable. Patrick goes ahead and sweats.

“Um,” he says.

“Oh, you’ve always been such a nice young man, Patrick. I want to say to you ‘it’s okay, you know Pete, he breaks his heart like most of us stub toes.’ But I can’t say that, because we both know that’s not true.”

“Are you sure you can’t say it?” Patrick jokes weakly.

Mrs. Wentz cuts her serious gaze over to him. Her eyes, so like Pete’s, are soft. “He’s not like that about you. We know.”

Patrick is squirming in his skin. “I can’t!” he blurts. “I can’t know. Not knowing if Pete means it—if it’s a show, a circus act, just another performative nothing, or if it’s real—that margin of doubt is where I live. It’s how I survive. Because I don’t have defenses like him. Not against this. I don’t have anything to hide behind. If I’m in, it’s all in. If I commit, I’m committed. Whole heart or not at all. I’m not like Pete, Mrs. Wentz. I can’t just make out with somebody on stage and walk away like that’s normal, like nothing’s changed. I can only do this the one way.”

Mrs. Wentz blinks at him slowly, taking it in. “Is that what he does? Make it seem like a show?” she murmurs. “It is scary, it is hard, it may even be dangerous. You’re afraid Pete will—change his mind? Leave you?”

Hearing it all out loud like this. It’s—well, there’s a reason he’s been avoiding it all this time. Something in Patrick cannot stand up to it all. Something in Patrick gives way.

“I’m afraid I love him too much,” he says. His voice is quiet. His words are true. “I’m afraid—I won’t survive him. Not me, not the band, not our friendship, nothing. I’m afraid that what I feel is—car-wreck, scorch-the-earth, no-survivors love.”

Mrs. Wentz sips her coffee calmly, like Patrick’s not giving voice to things that have lurked nameless and unsaid for seven years. Like Patrick’s not puking up his long-stewed prophetic guts in horror and fear, coming face to face with his own heart for the first time.

“I see,” Mrs. Wentz says after a stretch of silence goes by. “And you have decided to live safely?”

Patrick’s behavior has answered the question for him.  He didn’t stand up on live TV and scream ‘I love you too,’ did he? He has let over two thousand, five hundred days go by without ever saying it. Without even daring to think it too loudly, lest he overhear himself. He hasn’t even had the courage to go out and look for Pete, to call his known accomplices or pound the pavement, trying to turn him up. It’s astonishing he has enough courage to even meet his own eyes in the mirror.

Patrick doesn’t answer. Patrick looks away.

Mrs. Wentz sets her cup down. “Well,” she says, getting to her feet. “I must ask you to reconsider. I’ve never seen him the way he is about you about anyone else, and I’ve known him all his life—whether you want to know it or not. His heartbreak is glooming up my whole house.” Mrs. Wentz fixes him with a sharp look, says, “It gets lonely, behind defenses. Sometimes you have to venture beyond the walls and let yourself get all fucked up on love.”

At the doorway, she adds, “And Patrick? Call your mother.”

And she’s gone.

*

Pete’s still not taking his calls. Patrick considers going full John Hughes, writing an apology song on his acoustic, showing up at Pete’s parents’ house with flowers, torching the word Prom? into their front yard, the whole fucking thing—but that’s not really him. That’s not really what this has been. Grand romantic gestures, or at least the appearance of them, is more or less what caused all this to begin with.

Patrick stays true to himself and sends an awkward text instead. Then he waits, hoping Pete turns his phone on and sees it.

The text bubbles with grating cheer, is so long it splits itself into two messages. It pains him, how hard he’s trying to sound casual.

still have ur IL driver’s license? it’s free day at the shedd if u do. last time i went was when u kidnapped me from school my senior yr bc u said skipping class would build character,  remember? im ready to come out of the bunker, house is getting small. maybe ill see u there?

On the way to the aquarium, Patrick does stop at a grocery store and waffle in front of the flower case for a while. He really has no idea what the fuck he’s doing.

He doesn’t get any flowers. Pete probably won’t even show.

Patrick knows the paparazzi are tailing him—they stopped trying to be subtle at least a week ago, and have some stunning portraits of Patrick’s middle finger to show for it—but he tries very hard to act as if this doesn’t bother him. He spent the vast majority of their big, fake courtship barricaded in his house, jumping at his own shadow, acting in every sense horrified and ashamed. As if he could not show his face in the world after what he’d done, when all he’d done was—kiss Pete.

In retrospect, that can’t have felt great for Pete. It seems important, now, to do this in public. To show up, ready to be honest, at least a sliver of him not afraid. To at least pretend he doesn’t care who’s taking pictures, or of what. It’s a gesture, kind of. He hopes Pete sees it that way.

He hopes Pete comes.

He hopes, he hopes, he hopes. Hoping is easier than wanting. You don’t have to commit as much of yourself.

Patrick stations himself at the huge 360° Caribbean Reef tank that holds 90,000 gallons, a veritable rainbow of fish, sharks, and octopi. He turns his back to the museum entrance and just watches the marine life swirl by. He decides to stop trying so hard to be any one thing and to just—allow this. To allow himself. To simply meet whatever comes.

He sinks so deep into a fish-trance that he doesn’t notice right away, when someone plunks down on the bench beside him. It’s a school day, so even with the free admission, the place is quiet and calm. Patrick is glad he came.

“This was a good idea. I love it here.” Pete’s quiet, inside voice is pitched low. He has this way of speaking deep in his throat sometimes; it vibrates through Patrick like electricity, makes him just about lose it. There have been times in Patrick’s life when he’s cursed god for the effect Pete Wentz, World’s Most Ridiculous Human, has on him. This is not one of those times. This time, Patrick allows himself to be affected.

Patrick peeks at Pete out of the corner of his eye. Pete has a beanie pulled down to his eyebrows, securing his hair in front of his eyes. He’s wearing all black, save for the chunky purple sneakers. This is what passes for incognito. Pete looks like a shadow, skittish: too afraid to be any more solid.

It’s almost funny, seeing Pete pale and self-controlled just when Patrick has finally run out of caution. It’s like Pete’s mom said: you gotta get fucked up sometime. If you’re going to get a grenade shoved inside your ribcage and blow up your heart, it might as well be for the person you love most in the world. For your best friend. For the sweetbitter unmanageable creature you’ve been in love with for every day of your life that has mattered, a count that started on the day you met him.

“You know how for like two weeks you’ve been saying we should talk?” Patrick asks.

“Yeah.”

“I think we should probably talk.” Patrick has to bite back a laugh at his own unfunny understatement.

Pete finds it less amusing. His face is lit aqua-blue by the glow of the huge column of seawater before them. “I don’t have anything else to say, dude. Maybe you didn’t notice—you’re like, really good at not noticing what you don’t want to—but I kind of already said it.”

Patrick watches a sea turtle drift gracefully by. He’s learning so much about his fucking skills, lately: freaking the fuck out, ignoring emotional content that might be inconvenient to his status quo. Fucking great. He realizes the turtle has no back flippers and suddenly, he recognizes her. The last time they were here, Patrick remembers hearing about how she was injured by some asshole speedboat and rehabilitated by the Shedd Aquarium. Sea turtles really do live for decades. She’s beautiful: she looks healthy and strong as she glides through the tank. Patrick hopes to one day be as serenely okay with himself as that turtle. He hopes to one day recover so well from this speedboat-disaster week of his life.

“Let me talk, then,” he says. He thinks it’s bullshit—Pete always has something to say—but he lets it be. “I, um, kind of owe you an embarrassing public declaration.”

The silence coming off of Pete is not at all horrible or intimidating. It’s relaxing. Comfy, even. That Patrick is once again becoming sweaty is a totally unrelated coincidence.

“So I’ll just start, then,” blathers Patrick. “Um. When we slept together? That was, like, the graphic realization of seven years of fantasy. That was phenomenal. It was everything I spent years pretending I didn’t want because I was scared that if I had it, I wouldn’t be able to live without it. But then, afterwards? I felt like shit.”

Pete flinches. He’s still staring straight ahead. His face is closed up, dulled out, quickly losing all color. Before Patrick’s eyes, he’s turning to stone. Patrick is not saying this correctly.

“Fuck,” he says, as if to illustrate his eloquence. “I didn’t mean—what I meant—it was our only night together. I knew that going in. But then, when you got out of my bed, all I felt was loss. I didn’t want it to be the last time. I don’t.”

Pete gets up and walks closer to the tank. He presses his fingers to the glass, tracing the shape of the speckled eels wending in and out of the sea grass. “Do you ever feel like that?” Pete asks.

 “Like an… eel?”

“Trapped behind glass. In fucking captivity.” Pete turns to face Patrick for the first time, face and voice spiking with sudden heat. A crack appears in the left ventricle of Patrick’s heart, just looking at him.

“Like you’re living your whole little life in this transparent bubble, and you’re trying to be happy, but people just keep fucking staring at you, expecting something, waiting for you to perform.” People are moving away from them, actually. Patrick decides not the point this out.

“Yeah, sometimes I feel like that,” says Patrick. “Especially lately. That’s always been something holding me back—from you, from singing, from showing up and attending my own life. The fear of that. And, Pete—I don’t always know whether or not you’re performing.”

Grimacing, Pete yanks off his unseasonable beanie so he has something to twist in his hands like he wants it to come apart.

“I’m not a frontman,” Patrick goes on carefully. “I have, like, no sense of showmanship. I’m not the-man-the-myth-the-legend like you are. I have so much less to hide behind. It makes me—cautious. Even alone with myself.”

“So what are you trying to say, Patrick?” Pete’s voice is sharp with impatience. He already fucking knows how cautious Patrick can be. How afraid.

Patrick’s sympathetic nervous system is in fucking overdrive. “I’m saying—want to go down to the underwater whale viewing area and make out?” His voice is all squeaky, not remotely alluring.

Pete lets out a startled laugh. It’s neither the best- nor worst-case scenario of Patrick’s imagined responses.

“I’m sorry, that was me being cowardly again.” Patrick cops to it, even though the plan sounds preferable to continuing this conversation about long-suppressed emotions by several orders of magnitude.

“Cautious, you mean.” He recognizes the tone in Pete’s voice now: he’s being teased. Teasing is a way more encouraging version of Pete than the one who was brooding about eels. This is a positive development.

“Cautious, then,” Patrick agrees. “Let me try again. I’m trying to say—I’m trying to say—fuck, it’s hard to say it.” Patrick can feel himself turning any number of unnatural colors.

There, at the corner of his lips—Pete’s almost smiling. He’s enjoying this. Asshole. “Patrick Stump, do you have feelings for me?”

Now he’s doing the Southern belle voice. He knows Patrick hates this. If Pete is teasing him, something between them must be healing. Patrick is barely even annoyed, he’s so grateful for the ray of lightness.

“Wait, let’s go back to you thinking I just want to use you for sex, I was more comfortable with that,” grumbles Patrick, but his mouth is warmed from smiling, his voice melted with laughter. Happiness tingles on his tongue.

Pete is close enough now that Patrick can reach out, catch his hands, keep them. Patrick holds Pete’s hands against his heart. This almost but not quite makes it easier to speak.

“Sex that made you feel like shit,” Pete adds. His voice has dropped lower. His eyes, unblinking, are liquid gold in the watery blue light. They are very close, now.

Pete shouted it on live TV. Surely Patrick can handle saying the words out loud, to another human being, in a mostly empty aquarium.

He opens his mouth and doesn’t give himself time to think. “The day I met you was the first day of my life. You aren’t just part of me, you’re the best part. One chest, two hearts. I love you so fucking much—”

Patrick gasps in a painful, half-panicked breath, his heart tripping over itself, every molecule screaming DANGER DANGER TURN BACK, the very isotopes of his being threatening to vibrate the fuck apart. Even his sweat is sweating. But he’s over the hump now, he’s spit out the hard part, said the words he’s been clutching in his gut like a stomachache for almost a decade. Pete hasn’t pulled back in horror. The hetero police haven’t burst out of the reef tank in dive suits to cuff him and haul him away. The earth hasn’t swallowed him up. All Patrick has to do is finish the sentence.

He takes a second, less desperate breath. He looks directly into Pete’s eyes like he’s not having a panic attack and says, “I love you so much that I don’t think I’d even exist, without you. So fuck it. Fuck being careful, fuck biting my tongue, fuck holding myself back out of some drive for self-preservation. I want to immolate myself on you.”

Patrick feels his heart racing under Pete’s hands and says the bravest thing he can think of. “I want you for real. I want you to move back in. Like, not to live out of a suitcase, but to fill up my house with all your ridiculous belongings. The sneaker collection, the X-Men arcade game, all your dumb clothes.”

He’s rambling, now, and starting to insult Pete. This is not a recommended seduction move. He pulls it back. He quotes Pete back to himself, from last year’s VMAs, when they were covering Akon and Pete gave him a fucking heart attack. “Pete Wentz, um—I want to see us together.”

Pete closes the last of the distance between them to kiss Patrick slowly, sweetly on the mouth. Patrick catches his breath and loses it all over again in this kiss.

“I do declare, von Stumpet, you’re making me swoon,” Pete whispers, leaning his forehead against Patrick’s. It feels like magic. It feels like happily ever after. It feels like Patrick could float away and take Pete with him. Two stars to the left and straight on til morning indeed.

“Seriously, though,” Patrick whispers back, “do you want to let the whales watch us make out?”

*

Later—very much later—Patrick is wrapped in Pete’s arms, leaning against Pete’s chest and watching a gorgeous beluga whale meander through her habitat. Pete’s chin is tucked on Patrick’s shoulder. He keeps turning his head in the relative darkness and biting fresh hickeys onto Patrick’s neck. They are much too old for this—sneaking off to fool around in dark corners of public museums, covering each other in love bites, holding hands inside hoodie pockets. It feels wonderful. Patrick wishes never to stop.

“You could have just told me,” Pete murmurs against his throat, sending goosebumps rippling over his skin. “Made a lot of things simpler.”

“Me! You could’ve fucking said something before you bottled so much up you literally erupted on TRL. That’s gonna be the new Tom Cruise freak-out video. Everyone is talking about it,” Patrick bullshits knowledgeably.

“Patrick, everyone in the world knew I was in love with you. You are literally the only person to whom that was news. I’m very obvious.”

“You’re very something,” Patrick grumbles. They can both plainly hear that he’s smiling so hard his face is starting to ache. “I thought I buried whatever I felt about you a million years ago, and about five minutes of you being charming in a tuxedo undid—every defense I ever had. What’s your excuse? Why did you agree to my suicidally reckless fake boyfriend plan if you had real feelings? And don’t fucking tell me it was for the gay teens.”

Pete laughs into Patrick’s skin. Getting Pete home and into bed is climbing Patrick’s priority list quickly. “Maybe I hoped you would feel it too—how good we are together. Or maybe I thought, if we just did it, it would stop seeming like such a terrifying, destructive idea. I’m scared too, you know. The idea of being with you scares the shit out of me. I don’t want to—ruin you.”

Patrick snuggles deeper into Pete’s embrace. “Even if I beg you to?” he asks. His mind is fully, squarely in the gutter now. “Even if I say—take me home and despoil me?”

Pete sinks teeth and a groan into Patrick’s neck, biting and sucking at the yoke of Patrick’s collarbone until Patrick turns in his arms to find his mouth. There’s no more need for words for a long time. In this moment, they understand each other perfectly.

*

“So, like—when you say it’s real this time. Please explain what the fuck that even means? Are you boyfriends now? Are you gay rights activists? Are you just bros who fuck? Like, real what?” asks Joe. He’s looking a little exasperated by the whole situation. His enormous halo of curls telegraphs his annoyance. “What are you telling the press? Because I came out of your last press announcement looking like a fucking ass.”

“Still winning that award,” Pete chimes in, nominating himself by waving a finger in the air.

“I feel like this whole process would go much more smoothly if you didn’t restrict yourselves to labels artificially imposed by the construct of patriarchal monogamy,” Andy, relationship anarchist and know-it-all, offers sagely. He fidgets behind his drum kit, frowning as he tightens and loosens his cymbals on their stand. He’s probably ready to go back to being a band again, instead of a factory for drama. Patrick can relate.

“Um, we don’t really have a plan. So far my only plan is, I need a fucking break from being stalked by paparazzi for a minute,” says Patrick. “Like, I want to be able to turn my phone on again without it flinging itself off the table and committing suicide. I don’t want to live in fear of getting the mail or opening the door for a delivery guy. And I really need to call my mom.”

Patrick makes a few final adjustments to the turning pegs on his guitar, signaling he too is ready to stop discussing he and Pete and get on with band practice. He steals a glance at Pete, who has his chin tucked while he plucks at his bass, totally absorbed in what he’s doing. God, it’s a beautiful sight. Patrick can’t believe Pete is his. Suddenly he wants to forget band practice entirely. It was way too soon to venture out of the bedroom. He needs another hour with Pete. Another day. Three days. No more than a week. Oh, is there ever a week’s worth of things he wants to do in a bedroom with Pete.

“So you’re—back in the closet again? None of us talk about how stupidly in love you obviously are? Business as usual?” Patrick’s pretty sure Joe is only acting grumpy because they embarrassed him with the donut quote. He knows that under the layer of irascibility, Joe’s happy for them, and relieved he doesn’t have to bear witness to any more unrequited pining.

“We’re not in a closet,” Pete puts in. “We’re not hiding. Rickster insists he’s not ashamed of me. I’m gonna have to try harder.”

Patrick adjusts his glasses with his middle finger for Pete’s benefit. “Just—no press appearances for a while, unless they’re about the actual album,” says Patrick. “You know, whatever Andy said about labels. Let’s just—can we just be Fall Out Boy again? I kind of liked it when we were Fall Out Boy.”

“Let’s change the name of the album of Pete and Patrick’s Tunnel of Love,” Pete suggests unhelpfully. “Or, um—Will You Marry Me Patrick Stump. Or what if we renamed the band Fall Out Bisexuals? We should definitely do some rebranding. I’m envisioning rainbows.”

“Oh my god, Peter, shut up.” Patrick crosses Andy’s basement, grabs Pete by the chin, and kisses him hard on the mouth. It’s the only reliable strategy for stopping words coming out of it that he knows.

“That’s new,” Andy says mildly.

“It’s adorable,” Joe says with disgust. “They’re not going to be like this on stage, are they? We’ll have add airsick bags to our fucking merch table.”

Patrick can’t stop smiling. “No!” he insists. “It’s going to be low-key. Everything will be the same as always, except the stuff that’s better. You’ll see.” He strums the opening chord of their new single to try to get everyone’s attention. “Now let’s play this fucking song.”

“We’re eloping to Disney World. We’ll do our vows at Cinderella’s castle. There’ll be a photo on the front page of the Chicago Tribune,” Pete says cheerfully. “Super tasteful, very low-key.”

Patrick rolls his eyes theatrically. No one believes for a second that he’s annoyed. But they pick up their parts anyway, and at last, practice starts. The song starts to build up around them, charging the air.

Pete walks his bass over as Patrick starts hollering “Say my name and his in the same breath” into his mic. He grinds his forehead into Patrick’s shoulder, plays his bass against Patrick’s hip. It is exactly like it’s always been, except this time it’s—

Real.