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sing like silver bells do

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Some part of Pete's mind still can't believe that he's the big-shot rock star, now. He's literally at a party his label (his label!) threw for him and his band. This is like, it. Payoff.

"Pete!" A hand lands on his shoulder. Its owner is white, blond, with a blinding smile. "We've been introduced, right?"

They have, and Pete is abruptly reminded that while he is a big-shot, he still doesn't call the shots. So he smiles pretty and says, "Steve, right?"

"Got it in one." Steve loops his arm around Pete's shoulders, not subtle at all.

It's kind of a joke and kind of gratifying, people looking at Pete like this - he's almost thirty, for fuck's sake, not some jailbait prettyboy. At any rate, Steve doesn't want much of him, just Pete laughing too big at shit he says for half an hour, being visible.

After that, though, Patrick pops like the fabled weasel, saying, "Sorry, I need him for a thing," and pulling Pete away.

"For a thing?" Pete says, highly amused. "You couldn't even think of an actual excuse?"

"Sorry," Patrick says, the liar. "I wanted to get you away before we had to break out the mouthwash. Or the Kleenex."

Pete wrinkles his nose. "Gross."

Patrick looks baffled for a second. Then he grimaces and punches Pete in the shoulder. Hard. "I meant because you'd be crying, assface."

"Your mom," Pete says, and snags a tiny sausage off Patrick's plate. "What? You're vegetarian, you weren't going to eat it."

Patrick keeps the outraged facade for another minute before it crumples and he admits that he got them for Pete.

Later, outside, Pete stares at the sky and wishes he’d taken up smoking at some point in his life, or not given up the kind of smoking he did do. You can’t tell people, “Sorry, need to step outside for a ten-minute existential break.”

Existential Break(down) might actually be an awesome song title. Pete makes a mental note.

He’ll come inside in a minute, just another minute. It’s probably the smog and humidity making him want to take a shower or five. LA in August, man: sometimes he wishes he did the smart thing and stayed in Chicago, like Patrick.

The door next to him opens. Pete tenses, but as though summoned from the aether by Pete’s subconscious, Patrick shows up, closing it up before the party noises can reach them. “Man, it’s hot inside,” Patrick says.

It’s hot outside, too. Pete refrains from mentioning that. “I’m tired,” he says instead.

Patrick squints at him and says, “Like you want to go to sleep, or like you haven’t slept, or…?”

“Or,” Pete says, with a sigh. “I’m out of, of whatever they want from me.” He spreads his arms wide.

Next to him, he’d say Patrick is quiet if he couldn’t hear gears turning. “You could recharge,” Patrick says, slowly, testing. “Maybe it’s just that you’ve given out too much in too little time. You can’t pace yourself for shit.” He checks Pete’s shoulder, but not hard, and he stays close afterward.

Pete closes his eyes and lets the back of his head hit the wall. Maybe he could face the party after all. He says so.

“Maybe you don’t have to.” Patrick doesn’t say it like anything, just pointing out possibility. He’s a little too tense to be as casual as he sounds, though.

Pete breathes in deep. “Maybe I don’t.” The words feel like a shattered shell peeling off him. He grabs Patrick into a hug. “I love you, Patrick Vaughn Martin Stumph. Let’s get married and raise a puppy together in a house with a white picket fence.”

Patrick laughs, like he always does when Pete makes these statements, but he doesn’t struggle away and Pete thinks he hears him say, “Okay.”

Pete’s got a bad case of wishful hearing sometimes. He knows that.

~~

It’s easy to forget the party when they’re on tour, one promo event among millions. Pete maybe takes things a little easier, not partying out all night, or when he does, going out with close friends and not a whole entourage.

It’s weird. Pete would never have called himself an introvert. He needs attention too badly, and that’s not lessened at all with age. He just got more circumspect about how he gets it.

Shows are the best, an easy, clean trade: an adoring crowd shouting for him in exchange for hard work and little pieces of his soul, all shined out by Patrick and handled by trembling, loving hands as the audience reaches out for more, more. He doesn’t drop after shows like he used to. There have been so many. Even if this was the last, surely Pete would be greedy to ask for anything beyond that.

Pete is greedy, though. Ask anyone.

Turns out the secret to greed is to get the things you want most first, by any means necessary, and then float around feeling generous because everything else is details.

What the hell more could Pete want? He has fame and fortune, a job he loves 90% of the time. Even his brain is, touch wood, no worse than usual. And best of all, he has Patrick, who has started going out with Pete more. He’ll sit by Pete’s side, talking happily to friends, never sulking and disappearing after five minutes like he did when Pete would bask in a cloud of groupies.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why Pete is keeping to quieter hangouts. He’s done worse to lure the elusive Stump to his side.

~~

Tour’s end always breaks Pete’s heart, a little bit. Good thing he’s got practice.

When they come home from touring, everybody wants their own space. Even Pete. Rejection stings that much worse when you feel like you can never tell people to fuck off and leave you alone. He learned that the hard way.

A couple days later he opens his door and there’s Patrick, who is decidedly wanted company at any point.

“Dude!” Pete says, ushering him in, about to ask what he’s up to, when Patrick picks up a USB drive.

“The new Game of Thrones season,” is all Patrick has to say. The rest of that afternoon is popcorn and the slowly darkening living room, Patrick’s face lit only by the TV as they try to remember which actor is which.

“They all have beards,” Patrick laments. Pete throws popcorn at him. Patrick shoves him off the couch and tells him to get coke. “Diet, if you have it.”

The glass of diet coke is still half full when Patrick dozes off on the couch. “So much for caffeine,” Pete says, not loud enough to wake Patrick up. He covers him with an afghan and goes upstairs to read.

The next day, they have another three episodes to finish the season, and then they bicker about how carefully the show should follow the books.

“If you spoil me,” Patrick says, “I will strangle you.”

Pete doesn’t doubt him for a minute. “It’s okay, though, the series is going to pass what’s in the books soon and then I’ll be the one hiding from spoilers. I was just saying, in his other books, of which there’s like a million but you’ve never read one,” Patrick hits him with a pillow, “you have this, this theme of loss and death and beauty all together. In A Song for Lia--”

“You will never let me rest until I’ve read it, will you,” Patrick says tiredly.

“Well.” Pete fidgets. “No. There’s probably an audiobook?”

There isn’t, but it’s not a very long story, and Patrick’s amenable to Pete reading it to him.

“Huh,” Patrick says after, fingers tapping against his thighs in a rhythm Pete can almost follow. Patrick loves stories, for all he doesn’t like reading - his tiny genius mind tries to make everything into music, and apparently it’s distracting.

Maybe it’s selfish, but Pete’s happy about that. Patrick’s tiny genius mind is the best thing in the goddamn world, except maybe for Patrick’s hugs.

He tackles Patrick into one of those, and Patrick lets him, humming snatches of tune against the top of Pete’s head until he’s lulled to sleep right there on the couch.

~~

According to Pete’s clock screensaver, which he installed on his entertainment unit in a fit of masochism, it’s 1AM when he wakes up. He’s still tired, and he has a sleeping Patrick snoring on him. He doesn’t bother moving.

He might drift off again because next thing it’s 3AM and Patrick’s stirring. He gets up and shuffles upstairs. After a brief moment spent just looking at him, Pete gets up and follows, both of them collapsing into the master bed.

~~

A routine happens, almost overnight.

They eat trashy takeout, watch movies, play games together. Sometimes Patrick holes up in Pete’s work room. Sometimes Pete goes upstairs to read, or jack off. Andy visits, Joe visits, Pete goes to visit Travie for a few days. He asks Patrick along, Patrick says, “Raincheck?”

A jar of mustard mysteriously appears in his fridge; Pete hates mustard.

When Pete spots a strange toothbrush living on his sink, it occurs to him that something happened while he wasn’t paying attention.

He walks to the living room, where Patrick is playing Candy Crush. “Shit,” Patrick says, putting the phone down.

Pete’s about to tell him to Get a life, make Patrick throw something at him, hopefully a pillow and not his phone. Instead he says, “Hey, want me to blow you?”

The expression Patrick gets - it takes a minute for Pete to parse it. Not surprise, or eye-rolling, or anger. Patrick’s trying hard for blank, but under that he’s… sad? “No thanks.”

“Sure?” Pete doesn’t know why he’s pushing this. If there’s any person in the world he’d want to blow, it’s Patrick, but he never really liked doing that at all.

“Sure,” Patrick says, with the firmness that means if Pete doesn’t back off Patrick will go away and possibly steal something Pete loves in the process.

Other than Patrick himself, that is.

~~

Pete offers a few more times - when Patrick’s pissy, when Pete’s feeling on edge. Each time, it’s knee-jerk, words thrown out from his diaphragm like a hiccup, never even getting to his mind. And every time Patrick is patient, and firm, and fucking infuriating.

It shouldn’t be that annoying. Pete’s just joking around, right? Or he’s careful to sound like he is.

At some point, Patrick looks at him, sighs and says, "Do you really want to?" His shoulders slump a little as he’s asking.

Pete rolls his eyes. "Gee, since you sound so into it."

And Patrick snorts and Pete doesn't offer again and Patrick doesn't date.

~~

Pete tells himself that it's just a rut that they’ve settled into. Except it's one Patrick seems weirdly committed to maintaining. Evidence the mustard, and the toothbrush.

He’s a got a vivid image of himself waking to an empty house, throwing that fucking jar out three years after the best by date, a phone ringing on and on with nobody answering on the other side.

Pete may have gotten older and wiser, but in some ways he’ll always be the smart kid who does the stupidest shit.

There’s always invitation to events and stuff, they’re filling up his email and his phone and his actual physical mailbox. There’s one that night. Pete goes, and procures a date.

Her name, and she makes him promise not to laugh, is Starla. “My mom named me that, swear on a bible.”

“I can’t throw any stones.” Pete grins, and she scribbles her number on his palm. Easy. Fun. Why has he stopped doing this?

He remembers after going out on the town. There’s nothing wrong with her. She’s beautiful, although her face has just enough personality to count as a hindrance in LA. She likes pop music and Tamora Pierce.

She puts a hand on Pete’s thigh.

He really is out of practice: he forgot how much distaste there was to tamp down when people did this, the same whiny No, do I have to? that he feels every time he wakes up from sound sleep.

The music of the restaurant feels muted, suddenly, somehow. Pete blinks. “I’ll get the check.” He moves away subtly.

Not subtly enough, by the chill in her expression. “Whatever.” She looks away.

Pete pays the check, and her cab fair home. He can afford it; besides, he owes her that much for the joyous realization that he doesn’t have to do this, he doesn’t have to do it at all.

~~

He comes home late and smelling of her perfume from the polite kiss she brushed against his cheek as he held the cab door for her.

Patrick's hiding in his workroom, headphones on. "I didn't hear you come in," he says, colorless, when Pete comes in and takes them off him. "Date go well?"

In one way, it did, it was a rousing success. In the more prosaic sense - it didn't go badly, is the thing. It went about as well as most dates Pete has been on. He doesn't care about her a millionth as much as he cares about Patrick, but that's true for like, 99.99% of the human population.

While Pete is still trying to figure out a reply, Patrick closes his laptop. "Look, Pete, if this is your way of telling me you need me to put out, there's kinder ways to do that."

Pete's spluttering as Patrick packs up his laptop, but it's not until Patrick puts shoes on that Pete registers that Patrick is leaving.

"No!" He hangs on to Patrick like a monkey, because fuck dignity, okay? "Don't go." Patrick's pale and tired and has this set to his mouth that means a freight train won't be able to budge him from whatever decision he settles on.

Sometimes during the last few years, Pete learned to be careful.

He whispers in Patrick's ear, "I won't see her again. I won't go out. Okay? That what you need?"

Patrick draws back a little, gives Pete one of those looks that goes right through him. "I need to know you're not playing around." He takes Pete's hand, lacing their fingers together. It's both familiar and foreign, Patrick's calluses, his strong grip. "Are you with me or not?"

In a voice that breaks like it hasn’t since puberty, Pete says, "I am," and kisses him.

Then he goes to his knees, unthinking (even if he doesn’t have to it’s Patrick, Patrick should have everything), and Patrick says, "No." Gentle but firm, like Pete is a freaking puppy. "I don't want that. If you do," Patrick's mouth goes pinched for a moment, "then we'll talk about it. But--"

"I don't," and Pete is up again, and they're kissing, clinging so close that Pete wants nothing between them, not clothes or even skin, wants their bones touching, not their boners.

~~

For the next couple weeks Pete alternates between giddy and paranoid. He clings. He's painfully aware of it.

"He's going to send me away," he hisses at his therapist.

She gives him a blank smile, and Pete remembers why he hates meeting her in person. "Is that your feeling mind saying that, or your reasoning mind?"

"It's my learned-from-experience--" Pete deflates. "Feeling mind. But it's still fucking valid."

"Language," she says. It's kind of hilarious that she still thinks he'll stop cussing one day.

He comes home, though, and there's mint chocolate chip ice cream on the kitchen table, just chilling. Or the opposite of chilling, he supposes, since they're in LA in June. Maybe it's chilling the air around it. The spoons are all dirty, so Pete has to wash one, but when he does the ice cream is at perfect meltiness level.

"Did you calculate that?" he asks Patrick once he's eaten his fill. "Did you figure out how long it'll take me to come back, notice the ice cream, and wash a spoon, and set it out accordingly?"

"I'm an ice cream savant," Patrick says with a straight face, and steals Pete's spoon.

~~

Eventually they do fight, because they always did, and it's about something stupid - Pete forgot to bring light bulbs from the supermarket for the fifth time in a row, and Patrick told him he'd go shopping but Pete insisted no, he could do it, he'd get them, and then he didn't, and then there's shouting.

Pete's used to shouting in relationships, he has these old standbyes that he goes to when that happens, so at some point he yells, "--because you want to make eyes at the cashier?" at Patrick.

Patrick stares at him for a good three minutes before bursting into laughter.

That should piss Pete even more except, fuck. Has he always sounded that ridiculous? "Also you're a dirty communist agent," he tacks on, because he might as well.

"It's true." Patrick nods solemnly, or as solemnly as you can while still hiccupping a little. "I'm cheating on you with Lenin."

"Always knew you had good taste," Pete says, and then he apologizes and goes back to buy the fucking light bulbs.

~~

One night it's 3AM and Pete's awake - so, basically, a Tuesday - and he's staring at lights from the road drifting across the ceiling. Patrick mutters something grumpy and tosses over, then goes still in a way that means he woke himself up. He does that a lot. Usually he goes back to sleep right after and doesn't even remember in the morning: it says a lot that Pete has witnessed this multiple times and hasn't killed Patrick once.

This time, Patrick blinks and gets up. Pete hears the bathroom running, then Patrick ambles back under the cover, pressing a sleepy kiss against Pete's shoulder.

"I think we need to talk about me not wanting you to put out," Pete says. It's a little like someone else is speaking, or maybe he can pretend Patrick was just dreaming later.

"What's to talk about?" Patrick turns over on his side, facing Pete. Without glasses or contacts, his eyes are unfocused, his expression soft. "You don't want to, I don't want to, we don't. Problem solved."

Pete stares up at the ceiling. "Shouldn't this be a problem, though?"

Patrick sighs, and shuffles, and crawls on top of Pete. "I'd tell you to stop borrowing trouble," he says, "but you haven't listened the first three hundred times, so I'm not gonna bother."

I can't stop borrowing trouble, 'cause I invest in my misery, Pete thinks. Needs work but he might be able to salvage some lyrics out of that. He pets Patrick's hair, strands fine and a little stiff under his palm. "Say you'll never leave me," he says, on impulse.

"I'm not saying that," Patrick says, and before panic hits Pete, he adds, "but if you haven't run me off yet, I don't see that happening in the foreseeable future."

"Can't you just promise to love and cherish me forever like a normal person?"

"A normal person couldn't live with you," Patrick says. "With me either, I guess, so score for us both." While Pete is trying to calculate the angles for a successful fistbump, Patrick climbs up, leaning his forehead against Pete's. "You know I love you, right?" His tone is casual, conversational. Just mentioning fact.

Possibly the weirdest thing is that Pete doesn't just know that, he believes. "I love you, too," he says, just in case it needed mentioning.

"Right," Patrick says. "And we like each other, and I'm staying here until you kick me out or, or, break one of my guitars on purpose to piss me off, I guess. Do you want me to wear a ring or something?"

It's kind of sudden, except for how it isn't, at all. Pete takes a deep breath.

Patrick forestalls him. "I'm not getting a tattoo."

"Aw, just a little one!"

After the ensuing tussling, Patrick says, in a small voice, "If you really want me to get a tattoo..."

"Nah," Pete says, and gathers Patrick close. "I'll get you a Clan hoodie with purple glitter bartskulls, that shit will stick in your hair until you die. Like fashion herpes."

"Mm, herpes," Patrick says. "Yay."

He wouldn’t do that, either. But Patrick’s been looking wistfully at pictures of cute Pomeranians when he thought Pete wasn’t paying attention.

Or maybe a corgi. “Patrick? Do you want a corgi?”

“I want to sleep.” Patrick’s face is mashed against Pete’s shoulder. “But, I don’t know. There’s an ASPCA like ten minutes from here, we could check it out?”

“Get something small, fluffy, and underprivileged, I get you.” Pete nods enthusiastically. He’s woken himself all the way up. He offers up only token resistance when Patrick shoves him out of bed.

He goes out, for a walk, grinning at the sky that might have been starry a hundred years ago but now were just red with smog. He glances at his own house, and the grin turns into laughter.

White fucking picket fence. Pete should send his realtor a fruit basket.