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Bob decides he doesn’t want a soulmate about six months after his dad dies. The car wreck happens at the end of his freshman year of high school. He even hasn't sparked yet but it doesn’t matter at the time. All that matters is the way his father's throws his arm out as if to brace her against impact, despite her seatbelt, as the drunk driver's truck jumps the median.

They flip three times. When their car finally stops, the roof is completely caved in on the driver's side. Bob aches everywhere and can barely think because his mom is screaming. She screams until her throat gives out, grabbing the base of her skull at her joining spot, frozen, until the ambulance arrives. Bob can't move far, but when he manages to touch her shoulder, she doesn’t react. She's locked too tightly into that whatever nightmare is holding her captive.

The truck is completely immolated, no signs of life at all. On the other hand, it takes the jaws of life to tear the car open enough to reach any of them. The shriek of metal is almost as bad as the noises his mother made before her voice gave out but not quite. Nothing could ever be that bad.

Bob's leg hangs horribly when the firemen ease him out. The EMTs tell him that he'll probably have to have surgery on it, that possibly he could have internal bleeding but somehow? That seems like nothing compared to the way his mom is trapped in a silent wail of despair as her soulmate and dominant dies in front of her. She won't let go of his arm, still thrown across her chest. They roll his gurney away before the paramedics can pry her fingers off.

His mom's sister Emma and her submissive are sitting on either side of his bed when he wakes up after the surgery that sets his leg. They each hold one of his hands as they what he already knows, that his dad was pronounced dead at the scene and his mother is still in the coma-like mourning sleep. The two women promise him everything will be okay. The only reason he doesn't tell his Aunt Meg and Aunt Emma to go fuck themselves because his parents raised him better than that.

They're wrong. He knows they're wrong. His friends are wrong too. Everyone is fucking wrong about things being okay because when she wakes up from the mourning-sleep his mom is ruined. She's barely there, a shell of a person who floats through life like a ghost. They have to move in with Emma and Meg because she forgets things – like grocery shopping, cleaning the house, going to work, and Bob.

"Mom, please, I need you to sign this." He held a permission slip for a drumline trip in front of her and she just stared at him.

"What?"

"It's for band. Mom, please."

She blinked at him a few times then tears welled in her eyes. "Oh. My god but don't you look like my Robby. I lost him. I don't- I can't-" She shakes her head. "I'm sorry.

It's what she always called his dad and fuck. Fuck he hates this. It's just wrong. It's the moment that breaks him. If this is what a soulmate costs then its just not worth it. Bob is sure of it.

He fumes through concordance classes that are required when he starts 10th grade. His distain in dominance and submission world traditions and etiquette class is so blatant that he actually gets he gets called into the bonding counselor's office.

The counselor seems like a nice enough. His name is Dr. Adams he's a good looking man with coffee colored skin and a thin silver collar that matches his wedding ring perfectly. He gives Bob a gentle smile as he slumps in the chair on the student side of the desk.

"Well, its nice to meet you Mr. Bryar. I hear you're having some trouble in concordance. You want to talk about it?"

"No."

"Sorry, but if you've made it to my office, you kind of have to. Do you know your orientation yet?"

Bob rolls his eyes so hard it should hurt. Of course he does. He figured out he was a submissive before his balls dropped. That isn't the problem and he doesn’t want to talk to this guy about it. It's not his business.

"Right. Yes, I see in your file that you've self-identified as a sub. My apologies. You also don't seem to have sparked yet so it's not that either." Dr. Adams folds his hands on his desk. "My best guess is that it has something to do with your father's passing last year."

Bob fixes his gaze on the wood grain in front of him. It's a slow winding spiral across the edge.

Dr Adams clears his throat and asks "How's your mother holding up?"

"Go fuck yourself," Bob snaps. He's glaring at Adams now, his eyes locked on the man's placid expression.

"You know, after a soulmate dies, it takes time for the survivor to recover. It's a physical and psychic trauma."

Bob doesn't say anything because this asshole doesn’t know anything. He's collared and married. His dom is off somewhere right now, living eir life, connected through their bond. Eir is one wrong step away from getting hit by a bus and struck by lightning destroying Dr. Adam's for life forever.

"Sadness is expected," Dr. Adams is saying. "The loss of a bond is something that can't be explained until its felt."

"Are you done?"

The counselor sighs. "You need to understand that what your mother is feeling is normal for the situation."

"Yeah," Bob says. " That's the point."

Dr. Adams' brow furrows. "I don't understand."

"I know. Dr. Adams, just tell me what you need me to do to get the hell out of here?"

"Behave yourself in concordance classes. All you're required is to take basic power exchange history and etiquette so you'll know what you're looking at and dealing with when you're with people who want to follow tradition." He sits back in his chair. "And for gods sake, there are a lot of students who want to learn these skills for their soulmate. Just because you don’t doesn’t mean you can be rude. Respect their desire if you expect them to respect your lack."

"Fine. Can I go please?"

Dr. Adams sighs. "Yes. I want you to start seeing Dr. Mallory the guidance counselor. You need grief counseling, Mr. Bryar, whether you think so or not."

Bob doesn’t say anything to that. He just gets up, grabs his backpack and leaves without looking back. He's late for math, which he hates, but it has to be better than this.

Ironically, he gets the idea of how to deal with the problem of the soulmate bond in concordance classes. Some unoriented girl raises her hand and asks what happens when soulmates decide to renounce? It lead to a messy conversation about reasons why someone would do that at all that lasts for most of the class but in the end, the answer is either meditation and spiritual introspective type detachment that takes over week or with better living through chemistry, bond blockers like Xinitac.

That is so damn simple and obvious that Bob bursts out laughing in class. Everyone stares at him but he doesn’t care. It just feels good to finally have a solution. Hell, he even has an idea of how to get it.

Of course, it still takes all of Bob's nerves to approach the burnouts. They hangout underneath the bleachers like a walking talking cliché and they stare at him when comes over. He may wear black jeans and a Megadeath t-shirt but he's not one of them. The leader is a dominant who looks like he's knows has repeated 12th grade at least twice with red rimmed eyes who leans into Bob's personal space. His breath smells like pot and old fast food as he asks, "What can we do for you, little man?"

His friends laugh but Bob doesn’t care. He doesn’t owe these bastards anything and he's got a pocket full of cash. That's what matters here. "I need Xinitac. Can you get it?"

The burnout's face softens and he frowns at Bob. "Kid, what are you twelve? What the fuck do you think you're doing with a bond-blocker?"

"I don’t ask what you guys do with whatever it is you're using." Bob says, his voice shaking more than a little. "Can you get it or not?"

"Xinitac's legal. My fucking insurance'll cover it. Of course I can get it."

"How much?"

"Kid, I don't think you should -"

"You're not my dom," Bob blurts because he's not. He is not and it hits Bob that if he can get the Xinitac, Bob will never meet his dominant, even if eir is standing right in front of him.

Bob's thought about this decision a lot since his mom woke up a shell from her mourning-sleep but this is the first time it's really hit him what that means. If he does this, he'll never know what is to kneel and give the honor of his submission to the person he was meant for. He won't feel his knees hit the ground for his soulmate. He'll never be given the gift of care and dominance or have hands hold his soul's home as he's kissed. He'll never be given a collar to show the world that he's legally recognized as part of a bonded pair, that he belongs to someone.

Knowing that makes him hurt, deep down in the space where his bond is already starting to grow little by little. Even so, that pain's nothing compared the thought of becoming a shade like his mom, drifting through his aunts' house like a ghost without her soulmate. He'd rather have nothing than risk that.

He clears his throat. "Anyway. I want it. How much?"

"Twenty a bottle." He holds up a plastic baggy between his fingers. "Want some weed for now?"

Bob shrugs because at this point why not. "Sure." He hands over ten bucks, gets a dime bag, some rolling papers and instructions to come back in one week.

He smokes up in his room and watches MTV until he passes out. His aunts call him down when its time for school. They pet his hair, ask him why he's wearing the same clothes as last night but when he doesn’t answer, they just kiss his forehead and drive him to school.

The rest of the week passes by in a daze and on Friday he slinks over to the bleachers. The dom who leads the burnouts smiles sadly when he sees him. He jerks his head to the left, walking out and away from his crew. Bob follows him hoping to hell that he isnt going to get the shit kicked out of him. His hope dwindles when they come to a stop behind the equipment shed, completely out of sight of the bleachers and the parking lot.

Only instead of throwing a punch, the dealer reaches out and cups his cheek in his hand. "Kid, do you know what you're really doing? I mean, fuck, have you even sparked yet?"

"You can't tell?"

"People cant tell just by looking, idiot."

"No. I haven't."

"I have. I can feel eir, out there, waiting. When they're sad, I can send them comfort. I may be a fuck up but I can feel eir love and they can feel mine. I know they're out there and one day, eir's going to kneel for me. You sure you don't want that?"

Bob shrugs. "There's always places to play. Every club in every city in America has people I could go down for. I could do it for you if I wanted it."

The guy's brows go up at that. "Do you want to?"

Bob shrugs. He's good looking enough, brown hair tied back in a ponytail and just enough stubble to look like an adult. He also seems to genuinely give a shit about this, about Bob, and is still touching his cheek. So, yeah, okay. First time for everything and he would rather his first be like this, casual and easy.

Bob sinks to his knees in the grass in the fluid motion they taught in those stupid concordance classes he's always hated. He settles with his hands resting on his thighs, palm up. As much as he hates to admit it but fuck, it feels good.

He grins down at Bob and runs a hand through his hair. "Thank you for the honor," he says.

It makes Bob laugh because really? Really? They're going to stand on ceremony? It may be the casual one for uncommitted play but still, here? Out in the dirt behind the football field? Whatever. If Mr. Burnout Drug Dealer Dom wants to play that way, Bob can roll with it. "Thanks, I guess, for the gift."

He looks down at Bob and shakes his head. "You really don't want the real thing do you?"

"Oh my god, you actually can learn. You think you'll graduate this year?" Bob asks. That earns him a quick smack across the cheek and oh fuck, that's good. He hisses through his teeth and tips his head back, silently asking for more.

"Safeword?" he asks.

Bob doesn’t want to feel grateful but he does. This isn't how he imagined his first time but then, the last year he stopped imagining anything but mammal sex. "Car. What's your name?"

"Will. What's your name, kid?"

"Kid is good."

His hand twists in Bob's hair. "I ask a question, you answer and you call me sir when you do it. That’s not a question."

His brain is screaming yes, especially when the grip loosens but doesn’t release. He hopes that Will won't let go of his hair. He likes being held in place more than the pain which is good to know. "My name is Bob, sir."

"Okay, Bob. How do you want do this?"

"You're the dom. Just tell me how the fuck you want us to fuck. Sir."

Will shakes his head and scratches at Bob's scalp with his fingernails. "You are… interesting." He murmurs, almost affectionate. Then he chuckles. "Okay, kid. Unzip me and suck. I'll tell you when to stop."

Bob can do that. He reaches forward and undoes the fly of Will's jeans. He's never done this and Will is bound to figure that out as soon as Bob gets going.

His hand is shaking when he pulls Will out of his boxers. His cock is already hard. It's hot and smooth in hand. He takes a few deep breaths before he takes the head into his mouth. He takes a few experimental licks and sucks at various places and speeds before he gets a rhythm he can maintain.

"Goddamnit, kid," Will breathes, pushing both hands into his hair and gripping tight. "Just like that. Keep going like that so I don’t have to fuck your mouth."

Bob groans low and deep in the back of his throat. Something about it makes Will gasp. "You like that? You do, don’t you? Okay? Okay, fine."

He grabs Bob's head, careful to avoid the joining spot, and just uses him. Bob opens his throat as best he can but it's still makes him gag. That's good too. It makes his eyes water but he doesn’t resist, doesn't fight it. He likes the feeling of being used like this. With enough practice, he could probably take this kind of fucking without even blinking. Oh, God, that thought makes him hard enough to hammer nails.

He whimpers, wondering if he should reach down and touch himself or not. He doesn’t have permission but Will didn't tell him not to either. He looks up with questioning eyes.

Will moves one hand so that he can feel himself through the thin skin of Bob's cheek. "You're so needy. You don’t know how needy you are, you really don't. You can touch yourself, baby. Go ahead."

Bob's scrambles blind at his own pants and manages to get his own fly undone before shoving his hand inside. He barely has room to move his hand but that’s okay. He doesn’t really need to stroke himself, he just needs some friction to contrast with this feeling of being on his knees, giving in and giving up and being used. He comes about five minutes later, choking on Will's cock as an involuntary noise tries to tear itself free from his throat. The vibration must be enough to set Will off because he's pulling back and coming warm and bitter in Bob's mouth and on his lips.

Then it's over and Bob keels over, toppling forward and Will catches him against his hip. He drags his nails through Bob's short blond hair for a long time. Bob likes this too, the feeling of being cared for. He can surrender himself and it's alright. It's good even.

"You still sure you want the Xinitac?" Will asks. "Because that was great but anything you do with your dom is going to be so much better. Seriously, it'll be so good you want to fucking die."

Bob laughs into Will's skin. That's the point. He closes his eyes against the stinging tears because yes, he is sure. He hates that he's sure. Right now, he can just imagine what it would be like to be held just like this by his soulmate. As content as he feels in this moment, as relaxed, how much more would it be with his other half? How much better?

Good enough that going without it would destroy him. That's how good. So he can't think about it. He won't.

He takes a deep breath in through his nose and looks up at Will. "Yes please, sir."

"Fuck, Bob, get dressed and get up. We're done. I can't do this with you down there. I feel like I'm ruining you."

Bob does as he's told, shaking he's told the whole time. "You're not. You're saving me, man."

Will shakes his head. "I'm not. You just don’t know it yet."

"Can I have the fucking drugs or not?"

He watches as Will fishes into his back pocket and comes out with an orange pill bottle. He hands it to Bob with steady hands. Bob shoves it into his jacket pocket but when he goes for his wallet, Will catches his wrist. "No. Don’t you fucking pay me for ruing your life and eirs, kid. I'm not fucking taking it. 'Specially not after I just fucked you."

Bob licks his lip, a little surprised when they come back bitter from the come still lingering there. He nods and pulls his hand back. "Thanks."

"Yeah I guess. I'll see you next month, kid, if its still what you want."

It is. He just doesn’t get why no one will fucking believe him.

~*~*~

Patrick's soulmate doesn't want him. He sparks into his bond and the realization when he's ten years old. He's working on his English homework so he can go watch TV already and the bond snaps into place with a violence that made him stiffen and gasp. With it came the sharp, desperate feeling of "no, I don’t want you" before it faded into a low thrum discontent and rejection.

He puts his pencil down and rolls off his bed. He runs barefoot into his parents' room where his mom and dad are watching TV in a familiar position. His dad is on the floor while his mom sprawls on the bed on her stomach toying with the edge of his collar as they watch Jeopardy. They are pillars of calm parental strength and Patrick is so, so glad they're there, just like always.

He climbs up on the bed and puts his face in his mom's shoulder. When she turns her head and looks at him, Patrick finally gives in and bursts into tears. "Baby, oh," His mom twists into a sitting position to pull him into her arms. His dad hits mute on the TV and joins her, resting a hand on his back.

"Patrick, what's wrong?" His dad asks because his mother is too busy cooing at him, rocking him back and forth. It takes Patrick a long time to stop sobbing long enough to form words.

When he does, he doesn’t stop crying. He just chokes out, "He doesn’t want me," through the tears and the snot. Patrick can feel that too, that his soulmate is a boy. He's older and sad and he doesn't. Want. Patrick.

"Who doesn't?" his dad asks, rubbing circles on his back.

Patrick can't answer. He doesn't know his name. He doesn’t know his face. He just knows that he loves him. That he belongs to Patrick. He's close, so close, maybe he's in Chicago but he doesn't want Patrick. He doesn't want to be with him and it hurts. It hurts so much. "My-my-my…"

He can't say it. He can't breathe long enough to form the words. Besides it if he says 'my soulmate' it means that this is real. It means that he's going to be different from everyone, forever. He's a discard, a reject, not even good enough to be loved by the person he was made for.

Patrick hears his dad suck in a breath through his teeth."Oh God. Mistress, I think-"

His mom shifts towards him, squeezing Patrick tighter. "He's too young." She whispers.

"It's happened before and to kids who are younger."

Patrick is still sniffling when his mom pulls back and looks at down him with her cool blue gaze. "Baby, what are you feeling?"

Patrick doesn’t want to say it. He really doesn't but his mother is the family dominant and he knows better than to disobey her. "I feel someone. He's close and far and he's feels like he should be mine but I can feel that he doesn’t want me." He starts crying again because he can't help it. "He doesn't want me. He never met me. How can he not want me?"

"Oh baby. It'll figure itself out. It will somehow. You're such a good boy. Anyone would want you. When you go on your seeker trip, he'll realize how amazing you are. I bet it won't take half a minute of seeing you face to face before he realizes how lucky he is to have you," she promises.

Then she hugs him tight and kisses his forehead and temples and the top of his head. His father sandwiches him from the other side and it helps. It doesn’t fix anything though. She can talk for hours but that doesn’t change the way the bond feels, muted, dull, and full of pain and stubborn rejection of Patrick's very existence. "It hurts," he whispers.

They cuddle him until his tears stop and let him have all the ice cream he wants. Then they call him in sick to school for the rest of the week and when it's time for bed, they let him sleep with them. The first thing they do is take him to the doctor, just to be sure that sparking so early and so negatively hasn't impacted him physically.

The doctor says nothing is wrong with his body but gives his parents a number for a child psychologist. His parents put him in therapy for a few months to establish that no, its not his fault. Yes, he can be loved and have a healthy relationship with someone else. People who are widowed or unbounded find happy relationships every day. The therapist also tells him that he shouldn't worry about this. He's a child and he should enjoy his childhood. He tells Patrick to journal or do art when he feels things through the bond he doesn’t understand.

Patrick does try. He does and for a few years, it's easy. His soulmate isn’t really there most of the time. Then he starts high school and one by one, his friends and classmates spark. Then its not so easy anymore because so many of them are excited about the feeling of someone out there for the first time, feeling the joy and excitement of engaging.

Not saying anything is better than telling them about the waves of "do not want" that hit him sometimes, out of the blue, like slap to the face. It's bad enough to have on his own. Sharing it would be like tearing open an old scar with a dull knife.

Only the knowledge wears. He never checks an orientation on paperwork because it doesn’t matter. He slumps in his chair because sometimes, the weight of being unwanted feels like its pulling him down from the inside. His mom is always telling him to stand tall, be proud of himself but that doesn't work and by the time he's 15 he's got some of the lowest self esteem of anyone in the marching band. Probably anyone in school

Then a couple months after he turns seventeen he meets a guy named Joe in Borders. Joe's funny and smart and knows almost as much about music as Patrick. Most importantly, through Joe, Patrick meets Pete Wentz from freaking Arma Angelus and Racetraitor.

He's been going to shows in the Chicago scene since before he was old enough to drive. He knows who Pete is in the same way he knows who Tim McGrath and Bill Beckett are. In the abstract sort of way that he knows who the quarterback of the football team is.

Real Pete is like no one Patrick's met before. He's loud and brash and amazing. Patrick feels lit from within when Pete's around. That is probably because starting the moment Joe introduces him, Pete decides that Patrick is awesome and is going to be his new best friend.

"You're squishy and delicious and clearly magic," Pete declares about a month into knowing him. "Also a genius. Can't forget that."

The way Pete praises him makes Patrick uncomfortable all the fucking time. At least at first. Then Arma implodes spectacularly. Patrick spends a lot of time on couches watching as Pete and Joe decide to scrap together a new band and who will be doing what. It's pretty funny until Pete whirls on him and declares "And Patrick, you'll be our singer."

Patrick stares at him, his chin on his knees, his eyes what. "I'm sorry, I'll what?"

"You'll be our singer. It'll be perfect. Your brain is already full of music magic. You can let it out your fingers in a guitar and out your mouth."

"Pete I don’t sing."

Pete rolls his eyes at him and blows a raspberry. "Have you ever tried?"

"Well, no." He didn’t really see the point. He doesn’t like being in front of people. He doesn’t feel very secure exposing himself. One of the good things about the marching band is that he gets to play the music he loves without having to put himself out there. He's had to before and echoes of the ache from the bond have amplified the shyness he already had. So no, he never sang.

"So sing for me, Patrick. Sing me Joy Division." Pete grins at him. "Don’t say you don’t know Love Will Tear Us Apart because you do."

"Pete I don’t think-"

In a really low movie, Pete comes over and puts his nose against Patrick's. "Please?"

"Goddamnit, Pete, get the fuck out of my face."

Pete jerks back, for just a second. Then he moves forward again and rubs his nose against Patrick's in protest and clicks his tongue in his cheek. "Nope. Not until you agree to sing."

"Fine just take a step back. Your breath is just rank." Pete blows air in his face just to be a dick then falls back so hard he lands smack on his ass on the basement floor.

Patrick sighs and says fuck it, in his head. Just fuck it. Shockingly, for the first time, something echoes to him through the bond that isn't dismissal or emptiness. It's feeling that manages to convey "Hell yes, good for you, fuck it all," without words. It's so unexpected that for a moment, Patrick can't even breath. A second later the bond is completely gone and he's back in the room with Pete and Joe staring at him.

"When routine bites hard…" Pete prompts.

"Fine." Patrick sighs and clears his throat and picks up with the next lyric. He sings like he's in the shower. He closes his eyes and pretends that no one is there. When he gets to the end he opens them and looks at his friends.

They're both staring. Joe's mouth is actually hanging open. There's a long beat before Pete tackles him so hard they both fall sideways on the couch. "Amazing," Pete repeats in his ear, clinging to him like a baby octopus. He kisses Patrick's cheek then pulls back and declares "We are going to be so fucking huge, Patrick, you don’t even know."

Things move fast from there. Patrick spends a lot of time writing lyrics and music with Joe while Pete is chasing down Andy Hurley. The guy is one of the best drummers in the scene and Pete, being Pete, wants the best.

However, Andy sparked recently. Every time Pete asks, he waves him off excuses about going on a seeker trip or not having time because he was in three other bands.

Both of those things were true but Pete didn't give a shit. He wanted what he wanted and he fucking got it. The band gets its name during it's second show at a crappy little dive right before Thanksgiving break. Some idiot in the crowd shouted out Fallout Boy and Pete decided that was the one to go with.

Patrick thinks it's kind of a stupid name but being an official member of Fallout Boy makes Patrick feel really, truly special for the first time he can remember. Andy joins the band week before Christmas. Pete sets up shop in the Stump living room over the break. He spends every free moment of the holiday beating down on Patrick's parents until they crack and give Patrick got permission to tour. So Patrick piles into a van instead of a school bus in January.

It's good. It's better than good. Standing on stage, a guitar hanging around his neck and a mic in front of him are all transcendent. Every moment he's performing he feels like a hole is being filled. They sleep in the van and don’t wash for days and live on chips and cheetos and Patrick hasn't been happier since he was in elementary school. Kids are dancing to their music. With Pete, Joe and Andy, he finally, fucking finally belongs.

Being back in Chicago isn't so good. Patrick takes the tests required to graduate but Pete is coming out of his skin. Whenever they spend time together, its like Pete can't sit still. There's nothing wrong with that. Not most of the time.

There's a day in June not long after Pete's birthday when Patrick's just had enough. Pete's frenetic movements are making Patrick actually nauseous and if he doesn't stop Patrick is going to kill him. Murder in the first fucking degree. "Fuck, Pete, just sit the fuck down!" he shouts, losing it completely.

And Pete goes down. He sinks like a stone to the couch and looks up at Patrick like Christ risen from the grave. Joe and Andy are looking at him with wide eyes too.

"How did you do that?" Joe whispers, reverent.

Patrick shrugs. "I don’t know. I just…asked."

"You didnt not ask." Joe says. He shakes his head so his fro shakes. " That was not a question."

Andy nods in agreement "You're a dominant right?"

Patrick shrugs. "I don’t know. Maybe. I never thought about it."

He's forced himself not to wonder. Wondering makes him reach down the bond and hit the emptiness, which is better than the strained 'no, don’t, go away' vibes he gets when there are hints of his soulmate there. "Why's it matter?"

"I am," Andy agrees. "So is Joe but that doesn’t mean Pete will listen to either of us and he's the subbiest fucking sub I've ever met."

"This is true," Pete chimes in from his place on the sofa. "You're a total dom, Trick. It's like a gift from god." He grins at Patrick. "I am totally grateful for the gift of your care and dominance man. If I could just pick a dom out of thin air? You'd be at my first choice, no question."

Patrick stares at him. He doesn’t know what to do with that, with being wanted. It makes his chest ache and his eyes sting. "Oh. Um. Thank you for the honor?" He looks over at Andy and Joe. "Is that right?"

"Yeah it is and you know what? We need pizza." Joe says, hopping out of his chair and heading towards the stairs that lead out of the basement they've been using as a practice space. "Also weed. Andy? Shall we?"

Andy glares at him. "You know I don’t smoke that shit, dude."

"Okay, so we'll get some fucking soda too. Hurley, get the fuck up and help me."

Andy rolls his eyes and clambers to his feet. "Whatever."

It leaves the two of them alone. Patrick cant tell whether that's a good or bad thing until everything's over most of the time. All he knows that he is now a victim of the full force of Pete's far too perceptive attention. He stares at Patrick from his seat on the couch for long enough that Patrick's skin starts to itch before asking, seemingly out of nowhere, "Lunchbox, what the fuck happened to you?"

"Nothing." It's a rote answer that comes out quick and easy. He's had six years to practice. Everything's fine. He's normal. There is no problem here. Only Pete knows people way too well and doesn’t buy it for a second.

"Liar."

"Pete."

"You're lying. You don’t have to lie to me." He smiles up at him. It's the same open, honest smile Pete's been giving him since day one.

Patrick can't help but think that it's just not fair. It's not fair that Pete isn't his because it is so obvious in this moment that Pete wants him. He really does. If Pete were his soulmate, fuck, Patrick would take such good care of him. He really would. He would protect him from himself and ease the shadows in his eyes and make him sleep.

He's not though. They could always date. People who aren’t bonded do it all the time but Pete sparked hard in junior high. They're fairly unstable. Pete's got whatever mental health issues and meds he's on fucking with his side of the bond and God knows what was going on over on his dom's side of things. All of that makes their bond fluctuate dramatically but when it was on the stronger side? It was one of the most intense bonds Patrick's ever heard of. Hell, he's walked in on Pete talking, out loud, to his soulmate through the bond, with actual words rather than just emotions and impressions.

So even if Patrick could make that kind of offer, he wouldn't. Pete knows eir is out there for him and doesn't mind waiting. Besides, the band is more important than anything. Hell, Andy even put off his seeker trip for this. It's everything right now. So his problems with his bond and orientation isn't worth talking about.

"Pete."

"Don't Pete me. If I can't pull shit with you you cant pull it with me. Tell me." He holds out his hand. "You're my best friend, Patrick and something's hurting you. Grow a pair and tell me." His grin turns lopsided. "I probably wont use it for lyrics. Honest."

"You really want to know?"

"I just fucking said I did. I know you're not stupid." He snaps his fingers. "Try and keep up."

"When'd you spark?"

Pete shrugs. "Thirteen? I think? Before the shit with boot camp, definitely, because ey were with me then."

"I was ten." Patrick says looking down at his worn out Converse. He hasn’t talked about this in years. When people ask he just shrugs and says "not yet" and his family don’t talk about it at all except to ask if he's okay. So this is the first conversation he's had about it and yes, it sucks just as much as he expected.

"Shit, Trick, that's young."

"Yeah. I don’t know what happened to him to make me spark so young but I felt how upset he was, how sad and how angry. God he was so angry and wounded. I don't get much from him anymore but when I do a lot of it is low-level anger and pain. I don’t think he even knows it even hurts anymore you know?"

He swallows hard and god, it was all right there again, just under the surface of his every moment. The ache. Patrick thinks the whole mess is made worse by the fact that despite himself, he loves the man on the end of the bond.

He didn't want to. After that kind of rejection, Patrick wanted to hate him. He spent the early years of his adolescence trying to. Only the things that slipped through were sometimes soft and warm and often desperate for the kind of solace Patrick knew he could give if he could just reach him. He fought loving his soulmate so damn hard but he was only human. They evolved this way for a reason. It just sucked that the guy on the other side was better at fighting nature than he was.

He shrugs. He's been hoping since he was ten that if he plays if off like it doesn’t matter, maybe at some point it really wouldn't. "I don’t know what happened or what I did, but he doesn't want me. He never has; I've always known it. The bond's barely there and when I can feel him that’s the clearest thing I get from him – how much he doesn't want me. "

Pete frowns. His whole face crumples with confusion. "I don’t understand."

Patrick folds his arms over his chest. "What do you mean you don’t understand? It's not that complicated."

"It doesn’t make sense. How could he not want you?" Pete waves a hand at him. "You're Patrick. You're awesome. You're a good person and a power dom and a musical fucking genius. Also you're hot in an adorable ginger sort of way that is seriously hard to come by. Of course he wants you. He was made for you." Pete grins at him like he does when he's just had one of his ideas. The kind that usually end up with someone either vomiting or talking to the cops. "Trust me, Trick, he wants you."

"You don't live in my head, Pete. You don’t know what it feels like to have your soulmate sending how much they don’t want you screaming through the bond. You spend your life wondering what's wrong with you, what you did wrong, why you couldn't do better, couldn't be good enough for them to want you around. Try and imagine if your dom thought that at you every time you reached out to eir. Try."

Pete goes pale and his hand reaches up towards the back of his head towards his joining spot. He closes his eyes, reaching out in his head and his color comes back as, no doubt, his soulmate soothes him with the sort of assurances that Patrick never gets. Yes, Pete was wanted. Yes Pete was loved. Yes, one day they would find each other. Still when Pete opens his eyes and meets Patrick's gaze, he looks horrified. "Fuck."

"Yeah. So. Just. Shut the fuck up okay?"

Pete shakes his head. "No. I'm not going to shut up." He clambers to his feet and wraps himself around Patrick. "I want you. So screw him, Patrick. Just screw him. Because you're wanted. I want you, Patrick. I want you. I promise I want you." He presses a kiss to Patrick's cheek and squeezes him tight, repeating it over and over into his ear.

Patrick tries not to cry. He hasn't cried about this since he sparked but then again, he hasn't told anyone since then either. No one has held him like Pete, solid and understanding and a peer, not a parent. He sags in Pete's arms and lets the words sink into him. He tries really hard to believe it. To his surprise, when Pete lets him go he actually does.

"We're going to be fucking famous, Patrick," Pete promise. "Fallout Boy is the real deal. We'll make them so jealous because you and I are going to be huge. We'll make the most amazing music that it won't matter. He won't matter because what you make's going to be so beautiful that everyone will love you."

Fuck Pete. Fuck him so much, Patrick thinks as tears force their way past his defenses. Pete wraps him up in another tight hug which shatters him. He doesn't know what to do with this. Pete's conviction moves mountains; Patrick's seen it.

He sobs into his friend's shoulder because he believes him and doesn’t really know what to do with it. It's too much and too new. He digs his fingers into Pete's solid back and thinks that he can probably get used to it which is weird because it makes him a little more.

"We're going to be stars," Pete murmurs. "We're going to create things so brilliant that'll emit freaking light."

Patrick laughs and leans back, his face wet. "I think you're right."

"Hell yeah I am. Now cuddle with me some and then we'll call Joe and make sure he actually brings us that fucking pizza."

"Yeah. That sounds okay.

"Meat lovers?" Pete asks as Patrick leads him to the couch. Pete giggles and Patrick shoves him.

"Perv. Yeah whatever. That’s fine." Patrick sighs as Pete curls up with him. He loves this. He's never had a close friend he could actually lean against before. It's priceless.

They settle on the couch, Patrick's head on Pete's shoulder. Pete drapes an arm around his shoulder and for the first time, Patrick believes what the counselors told him. He can be happy without his soulmate. He can build his own life, damnit, and a good one. He will too. Just fucking wait.

~*~*~

Doing sound isn't Bob's dream. He's not playing drums in a band after all but it's a good living. More importantly it's one that keeps him hip deep and music. Music is in his ears all day every day and he doesn’t have to worry about shit like math or English or government. It puts him in the ideal place if not the ideal position.

Teching puts him on the road which has the bonus of being filled with the least relationship-centric people he's ever been around. Things like bonding and seeking don’t matter because almost everyone is either as-yet unbound and just looking to play or their recognized soulmate doesn’t care if their partner plays with other people. People on the road are relaxed by nature. That laid back vibe sinks in and filling up his Xinitac scrip when they stop for a hotel night doesn’t feel illicit.

Bob meets Brian Schecther on a festival tour the summer of 2001. Brian's a tour manager for like three of the bands on the line-up which Bob thinks is insane. That's how they meet. The sound check for one of his baby bands is going terribly and they call in their guy because, apparently, doing Bob doing his job like a fucking professional is "a problem." Assholes.

Brian swoops in like a fucking superhero, his manager and dom hat both on tight and Bob is having none of it. He doesn't bring his orientation to work, thanks. So the two of them scream at each other for a solid half an hour before Bob says something about Brian's mother, a donkey, and a pineapple and they both dissolve into laughter. The baby band is not pleased but Bob fixes their sound and Brian shuts them the fuck up. The incident binds them together like industrial strength adhesive.

When they're not doing their respective jobs, he and Brian end up practically glued to each other's sides for the rest of the tour. Bob can't remember the last time he had a real friend, someone who got him to his bare bones. Also, Brian is funny, smart and toppy as fuck. Bob spends half the tour on his knees for him and loves every second.

It's not easy to play out scenes on tour. It's hard to go down in a truckstop bathroom or in the parking lot behind a venue but they manage. Neither of them are too attached to conventional dom/sub sex rolls but Bob's a big believer that a good dominant doesn't need too much to make eir power felt. Brian's great at taking charge of any scene and Bob always feels controlled, even when he's balls deep in Brian against the brick wall a Laundromat.

Afterwards they smoke, always. They're giant fucking addicts, the both of them and any excuse for a cigarette is taken. They share one usually and talk about where they're headed next. Towards the end of the tour, on a rare hotel night when the can actually scene in a bed, Brian tells Bob that he's got these guys, the Used, who just signed with a major label.

"We start touring again mid-September. You should do sound for us." Brian says, handing over his cigarette.

Bob snorts, rolling his head on the pillow to look at Brian. "You just want a convenient sub on tour."

"No. I want the best sound guy possible on tour. I like domming you as a bonus." He grins and Bob grins back. "You're the best I've had in ages though, I will say that."

"The best sound guy?"

"The best sub," Brian says. Bob laughs and preens a little when Brian pets his hair. He's still a sub and praise goes a long way for him. Not all the way but pretty fucking far.

That’s not why he says "Yeah sure, I can do that." He agrees because he needs the work. He'd rather be on tour with someone he likes than a crew he isn't sure of.

The Used are a fucking great group of guys. Bob likes all of them, on sight. Jepha is weird in all the best ways and Quinn is cool too. Bert is tiny, hilarious and so talented it's disgusting. He's legally recognized with this girl Kate. She wears his collar and tours with them full time. They're good together; except for the whole crystal meth thing.

Bob's been around drugs before. It's a fucking tour. Everyone drinks. Everyone. Most people use something – take pills, snort things, smoke things, shoot up. Hell, Bob's in no fucking position to talk. The only reason he doesn’t get trashed, regularly, is the Xinitac and he still smokes up more than the average guy on the street.

That shit scares him because Will never dealt it. Ever. Meth and PCP were shit that Will wouldn't go near not even in small doses and Bob's never forgotten that. "Pot heads don't kill people. Most junkies just want to shoot up and chill out." Will told him once, before Bob dropped out of school and the aunts moved them all to Florida. "But even making crystal can get you blown up."

A lead singer on is meth which Bob finds kind of scary. Hell, meth in general is scary. Bob doesn't judge, he's not that guy. He's worked just fine with coke heads and functional junkies over the years. It's just that meth makes people fucking crazy. Not crazy in the slow way as heroin can but actual crazy.

Bob can deal with a bad case of the nods or a little coke-fueled pacing and babbling, especially if it's with someone he doesn't give a shit about. Meth-heads get that thing where they have energy and insanity they hit Bob with this horrible instinct to care for them. Bob spent years watching his mom be her own brand of actual crazy that he doesn’t want to be around it. End of story.

So he tends to retreat to the bus when Bert and Kate smoke. It gives him time to get to know the rest of the band though. They've all got their own problems, most of them are in a bottle – bit of pills or beer. Bob gets that. He's got bullshit too. His just aren’t the kind of thing you talk about.

Thankfully, Bert and Kate can handle their fucking high. The Used tear up the stage every fucking night with music he loves listening to. Bob's life is made infinitely easier by being good at what they do. He gets to spend most of his very limited free time hanging out with or being dommed by Brian. Best of all working with the Used opens the Warner Bros. doors that get him connected to more contacts that he knows what to do with.

When the Used ask him, he goes out with them but the rest of the time, he's booked solid. Linkin Park. Slipknot. Hell he even does some lower level work on one of the Rolling Stones US tours. He works with bands he's never heard of, doesn't like, has been listening to for months, and loves like air. He scenes with any dom or domme who is hot enough and asks him nicely.

What he doesn’t do is go home between tours. He calls the aunts twice a month. He lets them tell his mother he loves her. Bob doesn’t see the point when she wont remember he called anyway.

Instead he goes to wherever Brian is and hangs out. Usually its on a tour. Bob makes it a point to show up with gifts for him because he knows what it is to be on the road. So he throws a couple packages of socks, underwear and undershirts - all of which he got from Wal-mart from about 11 bucks a piece - into whatever bag he brings.

It's always fun to present that shit to his friend. Brian treats them like a gift from on high. Also it gets him so well laid that it's like he found the magical pot of gold at the end of the sex rainbow.

He's not with Brian when everything changes though. He's on a bus in west no-fucking where. His cell phone rings and he picks up to the sound of someone breathing heavily over the line. "Hello?" There's more breathing and Bob sighs. "Hey, whoever called me, if you want to have phone sex, you're going to have to identify me first."

"Bob." It's a breath and oh, duh, its Brian. He should've checked his caller ID.

"Hey man, what's up?"

"I- Shit, Bob, I found the band, man."

"The band?"

"You know, the band. The one I'd leave the road for. They're just- they're so good its scary. Only I don't-" He can hear Brian inhale sharply over the line. "I don’t know what to do?"

"Uh, sign them?" Bob tries valiantly to keep the 'you're an idiot' tone out of his voice. Brian is distressed so he really does. He isnt sure he succeeds.

"Bob," Brian chokes out. Bob sits up straighter. Brian's voice sounds fucking broken. "Bob, their singer. He's, fucking Christ, Bob, he's mine."

"Yours. You sure?"

"Fuck you," Brian snaps around a laugh that Bob finally recognizes for what it is. Brian is on the verge of tears. "Fuck you."

"Brian, calm down."

"He was right there. He had to have felt me. Jesus, Bob, it was like the Wizard of Oz, when the whole fucking world goes from black and white to color. I don't-" He breaks off and laughs again. "He's fucking beautiful, Bob. He was singing and sweating and throwing himself around on stage and he's so mine. I've been waiting for him forever and now he's so close. I wonder if he can feel me right now, if he knows I'm coming for him. I am. I'm going to. God."

This part of the process just freaks Bob right the hell out. The idea of throwing yourself at a stranger just because you think that you belong together doesn't make sense to him. The times in the past when he's had to adjust his dosage, the waves of comfort and familiarity that rushed through the bond had terrified him. He could imagine how easy it was to sink into that and always upped is dose as soon as he could – first by going to Will or another dealer, then when he turned eighteen with his doctor.

Seeing or hearing someone else sink into it at once horrifying and gorgeous. Brian has never sounded so sure, so desperate, so fucking in love. "You need to take a few deeps breaths and get your shit together before you make any big leaps here. I thought you said you wanted to sign them. Is that because they're good or because you want their singer on his knees."

"I don’t want him there." Brian huffs, annoyed. "I need him there. You've scened with me. You know who I am. How do you not get that it’s a need and he's mine. I thought you'd understand."

Bob squeezes his eyes shit and pinches the bridge of his nose. He's the last person who Brian should be talking to about this. Except for the part where the man is his best friend on earth, damnit. "I'm unbounded. I can't understand. The best I can do is try and give you some, I don’t know, sober perspective."

"Sober perspective," Brian repeats in a voice so cold it would burn skin. "Which is that I should be sure if I actually want to sign them?"

"Yeah."

"I was sure when I heard the demo. I was sure when I was at the back of the venue watching kids lose their shit over a little show. Then I saw him. It's not the same thing, Bob. I swear its not and when you find your soulmate, you'll understand."

No he won't. He won't ever be like this. It's too much, the idea that one look can unhinge Brian – in charge, implacable, competent Brian – is just further proof that he doesn’t want to be part of this system. "I guess."

"Can't you just tell me you're happy for me? Some people spend their whole lives searching and I found him. I found him, we want the same things, and if he lets me I can help him get where he wants to go. Do you know how amazing that is?" He pauses to let Bob speak and when he doesn’t Brian continues. "My Chemical Romance plays again tomorrow."

"You going?"

"Yeah. I'm, uh, I'm hoping he'll see me. I want- I hope." He lets out a loud breath. "I want to acknowledge him tomorrow if I can. I caught his name from some of the kids in the crowd but I want to hear it from his mouth. I want him to say mine. Fuck, Bob, he's so close."

"You sure you want to wait til tomorrow?" Bob asks on a sigh. "You could probably just drive to his house and bang on the door. That's how it happens in the movies."

Brian laughs. "Maybe. I've been waiting my whole life. I can wait a few more hours. I need his family to not hate me because I can't really take him back to Michigan."

There's a long silence between them where neither of them say much. Brian rarely brings up his family. Whatever his deal is, its not great. Bob's the same way. It's part of what makes their relationship work. "Okay."

"I'll call you tomorrow," Brian says. "I- yeah. Tomorrow."

"Good luck," Bob says. He's not bitter. If Brian and his singer really are going to be happy then Bob is down. Brian is one of if not his absolute favorite person on earth. In his opinion, the guy deserves nothing but good things.

Even so, Bob checks his phone excessively the next day. It's a road day – no show, all driving with a blessedly early arrival in a real live city the day before the show. They'll get to sleep in a hotel bed and get to do some laundry and everything.

When the phone rings, at ten pacific time after Bob is settled in his hotel room, he still jumps out of his skin even though he's been looking at it what feels like every fifteen seconds. It rings twice before Bob picks up. "Hello? Brian?"

"Hi," Brian says, breathless. "Bob, hi."

"Hi," Bob says, settling down on his bed with a smile. Brian sounds good, thank god. "How are you?"

" I'm so good. Hey, so I don’t have long but I just wanted to let you know, officially, I'm acknowledging Gerard Way." In the background a voice calls out "Hi Bob!" and that has to be him. Bob can hear the laughter in his voice which is a very good sign. "I thought I should tell you. He's taking me back to his parents place. We're going to crash there."

Bob doesn’t know what his face is doing, something between a grin and the downturned empty expression he gets whenever his aunts call outside their scheduled chats. The first night together is so important. Not the sex, just the sleeping. It solidifies the bond, ties everything together. Brian's whole life is going to be different from now on.

"I'm happy for you man."Bob says. He aches because really he is so damn happy for Brian his heart might explode. He just can't wrap his mind around it; can't fathom how anyone can sound this excited over someone they've never even met before.

"He's amazing," Brian murmurs. "He went to his knees for me, Bob, behind the club in front of his brother and his band. He didn’t have to. We could've waited but Gerard-" The sound of Brian swallowing is loud in Bob's ear. "Gerard said he wanted to make sure they knew who I was to him."

Bob doesn’t know what to say. Kneeling is usually private. Public acknowledgement tends to come with collars or, for less conventional couples, rings. The knowledge that Brian's sub would even think to do that speaks volumes about him. Not all of them are good by the more prudish conventions but in terms of Brian and what Brian needs from a partner, it's pretty fucking perfect.

The only thing Bob can think to say is, "Shit."

"Yeah. Fuck, yeah. I don't even know."

There's a pause and then distantly, like the phone has been moved away.

"Hey. What's up?" Brian asks, definitely not directed at Bob.

"We're heading out. You coming with us or you have got your own ride?" another voice asks. It's a little higher than Brian's though definitely male and with a slight New Jersey accent.

"I've got a car."

"I'll go with you then."

"Okay. God, I can't deal with how fucking beautiful you are. Jesus. Just. Look at you."

"I am," Gerard, it has to be Gerard, says. "I don’t know if I'll be able to stop."

"I'm going to go," Bob says. He says it loud enough, hopefully, to be heard where they can hear him. He hangs up a moment later and tosses his phone on the table, absently remembering to plug it in a few minutes later. He doesn’t know what to think, how to feel about the whole thing. Brian seems happy though. So. That's something. Enough for now.

It feels like no time until Brian's managing My Chem and he's roping Bob into teching for him. Brian drills him on the details of each member of the band before they even meet. Like Bob has to pass a pop quiz or some such bullshit. He likes all of them.

There's Matt (or Otter or whatever name he's going by) on drums who Bob knows is Brian's least favorite person in the band, even though he never says so outright. There's Ray the guitarist who, apparently, has fingers like god and hair Sideshow Bob from the Simpsons. There's the rhythm guitarist Frank, the front man and Brian's sub Gerard, and Gerard's little brother Mikey, the bassist.

My Chem are like a pack, Bob thinks. Their nature is to circle together against outsiders, insular and protective. Brian's the first new blood in the group in ages, from what Bob can tell. Frank's bonded but he found his soulmate Jamia in high school. They're one of the only examples of a switch pair that Bob's ever even heard of, let alone met. Everyone else is a friend of a friend of someone who has known someone since forever.

Bob melds into the group anyway and fast. Brian makes it pretty clear that Bob is the closest thing he has to family. For the Ways that's pretty much all it takes. If Bob is family for Brian, that makes Bob family for them and they don't screw around when it comes to family loyalty.

Despite this, when Brian asks him to come to Europe and tech for My Chemical Romance - for free - Bob almost tells him to go fuck himself. He goes with diplomacy instead. He's trying to grow as a person or whatever. "I'm sorry. Did you forget the part where I work for a living?"

"I poured my life savings into these idiots. I get working for a living. We don’t have a sound guy and you're the only person I can ask."

"And what I'm just supposed to say yes because you asked?"

There's the sound of fighting. Then Brian telling someone to "Get off me! Seriously, asshole, don't fucking-" and then there's a new voice on the line. "Hey, Bob?"

Goddamnit. That's Mikey fucking Way, has to be. "Yeah? Hey Mikes."

"Bob, Brian's fucking this up but we really need you to come to Europe with us okay? I swear to god, we'll pay you back as soon as we can but you have to. We need you. So please come."

Bob sighs because seriously, goddamnit. Mikey gets way the fuck under Bob's skin, has from day one and doesn't even realize it. He's a dorky, geeky, quiet little dom who makes Bob feel shit so deep it scares the crap out of him. It also makes Bob want to spend all his time around him.

That has to be why. It's the only explanation why instead of doing the smart thing, the fiscally responsible thing and shutting this whole idea down, he wavers. "I don’t know, Mikey."

"Come with us," Mikey says. That is not a question. Bob wonders if he knows he's doing it or not. Maybe. It's so fucking hard to tell with Mikey.

Upon examination, Bob finds that he doesn’t care. He likes the way obeying Mikey feels too much to argue. "Fine, okay? Fine. I'll go on your fucking European tour."

"You're the best, Bob, the best and I fucking love you," Mikey declares.

Bob does not puff up under the praise. There is no one to see him. Also it’s a stupid fucking decision and he shouldn't be proud of it. Still, getting told he's the best, that he's loved, even if its just in a playful way? It's probably worth the price of the plane ticket alone.

Europe is always cool by virtue of not being America. Even if they are in the van or working all the time, the roads that stretch by are European roads which makes everything better somehow.

However, being around a newly bonded couple all the time grates. They fuck. Everywhere. All the time. And when they're not fucking, they're cuddling. Half of My Chem (both Ways and Frank) are cuddlesluts by nature but throw Brian into the mix and Gerard turns into a xenomorph facehugger. There is just no call for that shit in a van they all have to share with boxes of merch and tech and each other.

Bob doesn't even have anyone to complain about it too. Well Otter but he's with Brian on this that one. The rest of the band is just too happy for the two of them to give a shit. Bob can understand, really, because they would be cute if there weren’t so fucking much coupleness so often.

On the plus side, by the time the European tour is over, Bob honestly does feel like a part of the group. But he can't stay. That’s not how sound works. Their paths cross often and he keeps in touch, with Brian especially but with all of them.

There's really only so much he can keep in the know about things living the life he does. He isn't prepared when Brian calls him in late July, not long after My Chem's second album drops. There's no way he could know his best friend is going to be a complete fucking wreck. Bob can barely understand him at first.

"Okay wait. Calm the fuck down. What happened?"

"He wanted to die," Brian chokes out. He is trying not to sob. Bob can hear it in the way he's breathing. "I didn’t know that's what I was feeling until he called but it was."

"Jesus," Bob breathes, "Is everything okay?

"No." Brian sounds so young. He sounds like a child and Bob can imagine him in his apartment in New York, curled up tight with his arms around his knees. "Nothing's okay. God, Bob, nothing on earth is okay."

"Talk to me. Tell me what's going on?"

"Gerard called me. He was high and, fuck, Bob, he wanted to die." He makes a strangled noise and whispers. "He still does. He actively wants to die. I keep sending him how much I love him, how happy he makes me, how much I need him but I don’t think it is enough. I'm not enough for him to live and I don't know. I'm not- "

"Breathe, Brian, okay? Just breathe."

"What am I supposed to do?" Brian asks, voice breaking on a sob. "How do I save him from himself? I don’t know what to do. And what if he dies? How am I supposed to live?" He's crying now. It's making him hiccup the words. "I can't even remember how I functioned before I had him, how I slept or ate or thought without him in the back of mind. If Gerard dies how do I breathe without him?"

"I don’t know," Bob admits. "I'm sorry."

"This can't be it. Someone has to know something. Bob, please. Please, help me."

Bob takes a deep breath. "My dad died. When I was a kid. So, do you want honesty or do you want to feel better?"

There's a long silence on the other end of the phone while Brian pulls his shit together and considers his options. "Both. I'll take both."

"My mom lost it. Completely. She doesn’t even know who I am. So. Bad. I don’t know, Brian. You may not be able to live without him."

Brian lets out a bark of bitter laughter. "Thanks. I hope that was the honest bit and not the feel better one."

"It was. The feel better part is that if you think for a second Mikey is going to let Gerard go down without a fight then you don’t know either of them. His band is going to protect him and watch over him because you and I are going to call all of them and the tour staff and tell them what we're watching for. You're going to keep pumping your love and hope and everything else good you've got directly into his brain, so I don’t know. Feel better because that has to be worth something." Bob takes a deep breath. "I haven't got a bond, Brian. I've been without it my whole life but what I get from you guys is enough to make a difference. It's so small compared to what you're giving Gerard so it has to do something right?"

Brian doesn’t say anything. He just breathes down the line for a long time. Bob lets him. There's nothing he can say that will help. After awhile Bob tries "You want me to fly out to you? Or to Gerard?"

"You go out with Project Rev in like three days." Brian mumbles.

"Yeah. So I have three fucking days."

"Bob."

"Just shut up. I'm already in Chicago". He can't go to Brian the same way anymore so he's staying at Will's. Will's actually back in school the crazy fuck. Chemistry of all things. He doesn’t say that because his band life and his old life don’t need to mix but he is.

Still, he's been at Will's since the last tour ended and a flight from O'Hare to JFK's only a few hours. That's nothing compared to days on the road. It's pretty cheap too. It's five in the morning but he can be on a plane before noon, especially if he brings all the shit he needs to tour and flies straight out to Iowa.

"I'll call you when I board."

"You don't have to do that."

"Tell me you wouldn't do it for me," Bob demands. "Tell me you wouldn’t and I'll stay in Chicago."

Brian doesn’t say anything. They both know he would.

"I'll see you soon." Bob says and hangs up. Then he rolls over onto his back and stares up at the ceiling for a long time.

Will pushes up on an elbow and looks down at him. Now that he's stopped dealing, he looks mostly normal. No more red rimmed eyes, no more ponytails, although he's still got that slightly sharp edge to his personality that makes them work as friends and lovers. "When are you leaving?" he asks.

"Soon as I get my shit together."

"Everything okay?"

"No."

"You want to talk about it while you pack?"

"When the fuck have we ever talked?" Bob asks rolling out of bed. He fumbles in the dark for his underwear for a moment before will flips on the bedside lamp. He tugs on his boxers and reaches for his discarded jeans.

Most of his shit is either in his suitcase by the dresser on the far side of the room. He ferrets around looking for his laptop and his wallet. He starts checking through his credit cards in the lamplight to find the one with the best balance and the lowest interest.

"Motherfucker I'm the only person you ever talked to," Will shoots back completely unmoved. Bob hates him for a second for saying shit like that. Especially since it's true.

"Brian's soulmate's suicidal," Bob says with a shrug. "I told you about Brian. The manager guy. He called last night ready to do something stupid and Brian's a wreck."

"Jesus," Will breathes. "That is just horri-" He trails off and looks at Bob. "Oh, you dumb fucker. No."

Bob's laptop is booting up on his knees and he looks up from the welcome screen to see Will frowning at him. That makes him look more like the burnout from high school than any other expression Bob's seen on him since the bastard finally managed to graduate. "No what?"

"No, this isn't normal. No, this isn't what happens to people who have soulmates. No, this isn't yet another reason for you to be taking the fucking Xinitac. Don’t be stupid, shithead."

"Don’t talk to me like you have any idea what is going on in my head."

"Not exactly," Will snaps. "But I've got a better idea than most. I mean, Jesus, Bob, does anyone else know you're on bond-blockers?"

Bob clicks around on Expedia and shrugs. "My doctor here in town. A few dozen pharmacists spread across the continental forty-eight."

"I didn't fry all my brain cells, you know, and I remember when your dad died. The whole fucking school was talking about it. Then a few months later you show up with me, on your knees, looking for bondblockers? It's not that complicated why someone in your position would do that." Will shakes his head, shifting under the sheets.

"Don't start this shit again. I found a ten-o-clock flight. I don’t have time."

"You've got a muscle in your jaw right here." Will taps the underside of his chin. "It ticks any time you say the word soulmate or bond or any one of a dozen things off on that track."

"Uhuh." Bob looks down at the screen. It's easier. "Sure."

"Yeah. Sure. I know what you're doing. I know why. Don't take what's going on with your friend as one more reason, Bob. That’s all."

"Well thanks for the generous fucking advice." He hits send on the copy confirmation number to his sidekick. "You want to drive me to the airport or what?"

Will considers him for a moment. "I want you to get on your knees on the side of the bed. Now."

Bob doesn’t even blink. He just goes down, knees folding underneath him, hands linked behind his back this time. He likes that better with Will. He rests his forehead on the edge of the mattress because this they've done dozens of times over the years.

Large warm hands bury themselves in his hair. "I order you to be good to yourself," Will says. "And if you need to beat yourself up, come back to Chicago. I'll do it for you." He drags one hand down and rubs it through Bob's beard. "I've got a new flogger we didn't get to use."

"I don’t know if I can do that, sir," Bob admits. He finds it hard to be anything but honest like this. Anyway it's Will, who's known him since he was fifteen, angry, and desperate.

Fingernails dig into the back of his neck hard enough to hurt. He hisses and arches into the pain. He isn't exactly a masochist. He just likes to feel.

"Make me proud, kid." Will hisses, digging even deeper. "That doesn’t mean be tough. Now get up."

Unfolding is never as easy as going down. There's a metaphor in there but English was never Bob's specialty. Will doesn’t kiss him. He just rolls out of bed and makes for his closet. "I'll drive you to O'Hare."

Brian and Bob don't really talk. Bob just makes sure he eats and sleeps and showers and fields calls with the rest of the My Chem guys until they can get Gerard on the phone. It doesn't feel like enough but its all he can do until he leaves for Iowa.

And then, somehow, less than a month later? Brian's calling him, asking him to leave Projekt Rev and fly out. They need a drummer for My Chemical Romance and they want him. Bob can't say no. He's wondering if spur of the moment plane trips are going to be a thing from now on.

~*~*~

Nothing about the beginning of Fallout Boy is easy except playing the music. They're broke as hell. They sleep in the van and on the couches and floors of people Pete meets on the internet for fuck's sake.

About a month after Take This To Your Grave drops, the kids at the shows all know the words to their songs. They sing along to Saturday and Grand Theft Autumn. It's a fan favorite even though Patrick still kind of thinks they should've left it where is your man rather than where is your boy because of the implicit sub connotations but Pete had argued so hard he nearly turned purple. Playing it a few hundred times wins Patrick over in the end.

They are gross all the time. They have semi-clean clothes that they keep in their music cases and only pull out for the shows. Everything else is a blur of highways, gas stations, and small venues with shitty lighting and nearly nonexistent green rooms.

It's at one of those shitty as fuck venues that Patrick meets Anna. She's gorgeous. She's the kind of sub who wears wrist cuffs to show off her orientation and thick eyeliner and torn up shirts to show that she's scene. Best of all, she likes him.

"Not for keeps or anything," Anna says the first time, beer bottle hanging from her underaged fingers. "But we could scene if you want. I haven’t gone down for anyone as cute as you in ages."

"I'm not- I haven't-" He clears his throat. "I've never dommed anyone before. Not like that."

She grins at him, all teeth and too bright lipstick. "I could show you if you want." She holds out her free hand to him. "Come on. I've got a place."

The place is her parents' house. He asks her how old she is and she says seventeen which isn't that bad. He only just turned nineteen so it's not like he's Pete, dating a girl seven or eight years younger than he is. Pete says its because it doesn't matter anyway.

Anna matters. Anna is the first person to want him like this, enough to show him what she wants and how to do it. He's turned on and she wants to kneel for him. There's no fucking question he'll say yes.

"So," Anna says when they're in her room, the door safely looked. "I'm going to get on my knees and we don’t have to say all the formal shit. You're not my soulmate so I don’t really care about that part and I don’t think you do either."

Patrick blinks at her. He hasn't really thought about it since that thing with Pete. He nods dumbly because she's been taking off her clothes as she talks. He doesn’t know how to think with the way she's slowly getting more and more naked.

For some reason, Patrick feels like an instant later that she's on her knees in front of him. She's stunning, make-up still on, her hair still pulled back and up but everything else laid bare. He wants to touch her only he has no idea where to start.

"I'm not sure how to do this."

"You tell me what to do, and I do it. Wanna go with the red, yellow, green safeword structure?"

"Like traffic lights."

She grins up at him. "Just like that."

He nods. "I can work with that."

"Cool. So. Tell me what to do, Patrick."

Patrick thinks about what he wants and comes up with the bare bones. Whenever he imagines what he wants, the fantasy always involves a blown open bond. He pictures himself being washed in emotion and sensation and finally knowing who is on the other end of the rarely-there connection. He thinks of the feedback loop he'd have with his sub, how good it'd feel to experience the power of dominance and the relief of submission at once. He thinks about sliding his hands cradling his soulmate's joining spot as Patrick fucks into him slow and smooth.

That’s not what Anna's asking for. She wants here and now and that takes more thought. He looks at her, at the Marilyn Manson and Invader Zim and Nightmare Before Christmas posters on her room. There's a thin green vibrator on her bedside table and shoes poking out from beneath the bed. So yeah. That.

"Get on the bed." His voice comes out low and thick. Anna actually shivers before she rises to her feet.

"Face up or down?"

Jesus he hadn’t even thought about that. He doesn't want her on her stomach though. He likes her eyes and wants to be able to see them. "Up."

She grins at him and sprawls on top of her comforter. "Yes, sir."

Patrick's whole body reacts because fuck. That is so good. It's so damn right. It's like a switch being flipped from off to on. He still doesn’t know what he's doing but if she keeps saying yes sir, in that voice, with that expression? He'll figure it out.

"Would you-" He stops. This isn't the place to ask questions. She wants orders, he wants to give them. So he reframes it. "I want you to get yourself off." He jerks his chin at the nightstand and the unassuming toy. "You can use that if you want."

She grins at him and reaches for the vibrator. "Yes sir." A low mechanical hum fills the air and she moves her hands between her legs.

Watching her touch herself is amazing. He could come from just that if he had even the smallest bit of friction. Instead he digs his nails into his fists so hard they leave crescent indentations and watches her moan and arch and come panting.

She gasps in this little hitching breathes as she comes down from her orgasm, the vibrator still buzzing but her hands hanging limp. It's possible that she is the most beautiful thing that Patrick's ever seen in his life, just like that. He crawls onto the bed and givens into the impulse to lick first her fingers and then her thighs clean.

He moves up until Anna is whimpering and has her hands in his short hair, pulling his face against her wet heat. He could tell her to stop and she would which makes this even hotter but he's never eaten a girl out before. He likes the guidance and he likes feeling her contract around his tongue and lips. She comes again which is awesome because he did that. He made her. He makes her until she's begging him to stop, to yellow, yellow, yellow.

He pulls back to look at her. She's been so wet that he has to actually wipe his face off with his hand before he can even imagine kissing her. When he pulls up even with her and asks, "Can I fuck you?"

She laughs. "Orders. You give orders not ask questions." She licks her lips and says, wraps one leg around him and says, "Green."

Anna has condoms in her dresser drawer and she's already so slick. She's come twice so she doesn't mind that he's doesn't last long. "Next time, you'll be better," she promises and Patrick grins down at her.

They don't tour very often that year so he and Anna keep seeing each other. It goes from every weekend to every few days to all the time. Before Patrick knows what's happening, he's in a relationship with her, a real one. There are dates and intimacy and movie nights and sex that keeps escalating into something more and more complicated.

Patrick finds himself loving her before he knows what he's doing. It's not a conscious decision. Turns out Patrick isn't the sort of person who can spend that much time laughing and fucking and generally enjoying each other and not end up loving her.

That's why Patrick shouldn't have had to find out she'd found her soulmate the way he did. He should have had some warning. It should not have been by him unwittingly going into the apartment she gave him a key to so that he could see her getting fucked face down in her duvet, collar around her neck, ropes around her wrists torn between moaning and laughter.

He didn't hold finding her soulmate against her of course. She was just waiting for the pull, for the drive that would send one of them on the seeker trip. He knew that when they started dating that he was temporary to Anna.

That doesn't make it hurt any less. Pain apparently makes him petty too because Patrick kind of wants to do something at to get back at Anna. He wants to, god, let Pete loose on her maybe? He doesn't know

That’s the best he's got. Patrick is not good at coming up with revenge scenarios. He's good at sitting on the couch in the living room of Pete's mom's house feeling sorry for himself. Pete's on the floor, his head leaned back against Patrick's knees. Andy once said looks a lot like a dog at rest. Pete didn't take offence. Hell he actually seemed pleased and even barked before cracking up and taking over the Xbox.

Pete's always been loyal. He'd attack too if Patrick let him off the leash which might have been half the problem. Patrick took the control Pete offered because Pete needed. It helped Pete and so few things did. He trusted Patrick's dominance and care to hold together since he hadn't found his dom yet, since he was ragged at the edges, since he was constantly clawing his way out of the dark places in his head and since he so often couldn't sleep.

Anna never understood, that what he did with Pete wasn't anything beyond friendship. Submission and dominance were so tightly wound up in sex to her that she couldn't wrap her head around how Patrick could do those things with Pete and it had nothing to do with the way he felt when he was with her. She liked to throw Pete in his face when they fought.

That didn't excuse what she did. There are rules, damnit. There is an etiquette. She didn't wear his collar but he loved her and she could've at least called. Or texted. Or something. Anything. A note on the door saying –please don’t come in I'm being fucked- would've been nice.

"I just wanted the common courtesy of not having to see someone fucking my girlfriend. That's not too much to ask for is it?"

"I could blog about what she did if you want," Pete offers. "It would take about fifteen minutes and we could write a whole album about it. Lyrics about pain and betrayal always sell. Trust me, it would be awesome."

"Um, no." Patrick replies. Anna was the first person he ever loved so he can't yes, even though the petty hurt part of him wants to. "Don't do that."

"She could've been nice about it. What happened to her loving you?"

"I guess she found her soulmate and everything else fell away."

"That’s not how it's supposed to work," Pete says. "Your soulmate is supposed to make you, I don’t know, better."

"I don’t think that's how it works. I seem to remember a lot of talk about evolution and biological pairing in concordance and history class."

"Whatever. Screw her. She clearly wasn’t good enough for you anyway." Pete lolls his head back. "I'm going out to Las Vegas in a week. Come with me. We'll watch those guys in that band play and then I'll take you to the Strip. I will buy you a hooker. I'll buy you two hookers. I'll get you so drunk you don’t even remember her. "

Patrick ruffles Pete's hair and shrugs. "Sure. Why the fuck not?"

Pete's mom pays for both of them to fly out to Vegas for a week. Patrick has no idea why. Pete says its because she could see how wounded he is. Dale says its because she doesn't want Pete out in Sin City on his own. Patrick thinks it’s a little of both.

People finally know who they are. They're starting to, well, not make money. They are making the equivalent of part time at a burger joint and shit maybe they'd get tips at a burger joint. Pete makes marginally more with his Clan stuff but still. They're all broke as shit (except for whatever money Dale and Peter Sr. gave Pete for this trip; Patrick's scared to ask) but they are fucking working musicians who are on a label and are going to be touring like crazy in the coming year.

That's where this fucking Ross kid comes in, as far as Patrick can tell. He's been livejournal stalking Pete for months. Pete's always admired tenacity because he's the pushiest guy in any room. Patrick thinks he just finally got tired of it and listened to what the guy had to say or sing or whatever.

"Their singer's got pipes," Pete says for, like, the seventieth time. "You'll feel better when you're out there, Trick, I promise."

Patrick doesn’t argue. He just does a load of laundry, packs and gets on a plane to the desert with Pete. Apparently his dad gave them one of his credit cards so they rent a car and drive out to the suburb of Summerlin. They reach the town's only sad little indie nightclub just in time to catch the back half of the set.

Panic! At the Disco, and yes they insist on the exclamation mark, are at first glance pretty freaking sloppy. They're young, so fucking young. Yes, Patrick knows that's hypocritical because he's twenty and he started when he was about their age. Whatever. They look younger than Patrick has ever felt. The lead singer looks all of fourteen in this terrible, sexy jailbait sort of way with big brown puppy dog eyes and hands that are too big for his body but just the right size to grip a microphone. The other guys are no better, with their floppy hair and torn clothes.

Jarring immaturity aside, the real problem here is that Pete is right, goddamn him. The vocals are amazing. The lyrics are sharp and interesting. The song structure isnt quite there yet but musically they have the potential to be something special.

"Right?" Pete shouts directly into his ear. Patrick reaches over, grabs Pete's ear in retaliation and twists. Pete whimpers but he comes down to Patrick's level so that he doesn’t have to shout to speak.

"They're okay," he concedes, ignoring Pete's whining and wincing. He likes it. Patrick is doing him a favor here. "They could be good."He lets go of Pete's ear, stopping to rub the skin in apology and approval but the points made. They agree and the kids on stage are worth hanging around a little longer to talk to.

The guitarist is sees Pete in the crowd early and does everything he can not to lose it. Patrick sees him slide down in a move like a baseball player trying to steal a base up next to the drummer at the end of a song. There's a minute while the singer shifts from guitar to piano where the drummer runs a hand through the kid's hair all the way back until it rests on his soul's home. When he pops up a second later, he's loose and calm and grinning into the next song. Before they even reach the bridge, singer nuzzles into his shoulder. The guitarist smiles and leans into it when a kiss is pressed into his cheek.

Patrick has a moment of sharp, stinging jealousy at these kids. And they are kids; there is no freaking way that the drummer is legal, probably not the bassist either. He's burning with envy that they all found each other.

After that show is the same as after every show. People with drinks mill around while the band packs up their instruments and equipment. There's a small throng when they're done – scene teens who just want to do something other than their homework. Pete is holding court with the few people who recognized him because that's what Pete does until the crowd has thinned enough for him to sweep the four Panic boys out of the bar.

Patrick follows. God knows what will happen if he leaves Pete unattended with impressionable, fuckable teenagers. Well, no, Patrick knows will happen. He's got a very vivid mental image. He just needs it to not.

Seriously, he is 84% sure these boys are not entirely legal. Dale may be a lawyer but who wants to explain that to their mom from jail? No one. Not even Pete. So Pete needs to not have any bench warrants pending in Nevada. They will no doubt be touring here in the future.

Summerlin is a ghost town after ten p.m. so there's nowhere to go after the show. Except it turns out that Ryan, the guitarist sub who spent the last few months stalking Pete, has a dad who moved into the bottom of a bottle when his soulmate renounced him and makes for a great alibi. So his dom Spencer and the singer Brendon all call their respective parents and tell them they're staying at his place. Lies firmly in place Pete drives all of them - minus the bassist Brent who apparently can't stay out, regardless - into the Strip where its always daylight and everything is moving.

Patrick vetoes a bar because Pete is the only one old enough to drink. Seriously what the hell is he even thinking? Instead they settle in at a diner that seems like the kind of place that would have awesome burgers and great fries. Ryan and Pete talk animatedly about music and Fueled By Ramen and the boutique label that Pete's been talking to Janick about starting and albums. The whole time they're talking, Spencer keeps his hand on Ryan's neck, his thumb resting over the pulse point, nodding along.

"They've been acknowledged since they were twelve and thirteen." Brendon tells him when he catches Patrick looking. "I didn't know them back then but Ryan and Spencer were friends their whole lives and sparked at the same time. Their parents actually submitted the whole thing to some scientists because that kind of close-contact early recognition is so rare. They got special legal dispensation to get recognized when they turned sixteen even though they both live with their parents. They're in books."

Patrick stares at them. There's a hint of a necklace showing at the edge of Ryan's t-shirt, probably his collar, something easily concealed because of his young age. The way Spencer is looking at him though, its so obvious. "Wow."

Brendon nods. "Yeah. It's cool, ya know? One of those things that gives you hope." He looks down at his patty melt and frowns. "Like if they could find each other that early and that easy then there's got to be hope for everyone? Anyway." He looks up and is grinning again. "So what did you think of us, vocally? I mean, your voice is so amazing I'd love any tips you could give me."

"Of the top of my head? You reach too far too fast and get out of tune. There's more but most of it's stylistic. All you have to do is practice I think. That's something you guys can work on before you get in the studio."

Brendon stares at him as if Patrick presented him with the bright and shining answer secrets of the universe. "We're really going to get to make an album."

Pete and Ryan are talking over each other so loudly that Patrick really cant understand them. He knows that look on Pete's face though. "Yeah. You absolutely will. Pete'll make it happen, you just watch."

Surprising everyone but Patrick really Pete manages to talk the bond pair back up to his hotel room. Patrick doesn't mention that Spencer is seventeen because the boy's a dom and he'll probably end up having Pete and Ryan fuck each other for his amusement. Pete's the type. It's happened before; Patrick has absolutely no doubt it will happen again.

Even so he pulls the Ross kid aside and checks to make sure he knows that having sex with Pete is not necessary to get the music help. Ryan just laughs. "Of course I know but I've wanted to fuck Pete Wentz for ages. Spencer said I could so, yeah." He trails off and grins, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

Patrick rolls his eyes. Whatever. Ryan is eighteen. More importantly, he is not Patrick's boy, so he is not Patrick's problem.

What is his problem is that he really had been looking forward to having Pete get him drunk… or buying him a hooker. Sub hookers are notoriously tricky because of the danger involved and implications therein. The regulations in Vegas made that sort of thing genuinely safe. Now he couldn’t do either because Patrick was sad about Anna but not sad enough to get shitfaced alone in Vegas.

"So don't get shit faced alone." Pete pulls out his ID, hotel key and a couple credit cards then tosses Patrick his wallet. "Take Urie and go ape-shit."

There is over two-hundred dollars in cash in there. What the holy hell? Patrick is going to pay the check with one of Pete's credit cards and counts out the bills on the table while Brendon stares at him.

"Wow. That's- Wow."

"No. Pete's parents are successful and generous. We are broke. Don't be fooled." Two-hundred-and-sixty-eight dollars plus the fifty Patrick's got in his own wallet. So. Yeah. He could do some damage with that if he were, you know, old enough to buy booze. Or gamble. Or do anything fun except vote or buy a gun. He gives Brendon a cursory look. "So what do you do for fun around here?"

Brendon shrugs. "It's Las Vegas. What does anyone do for fun?"

"I don’t know. If you're not old enough to drink or go into the casinos most of your options are eliminated and it’s a little late to see the Celine Dionne show."

Brendon lifts an eyebrow. "I can't tell if you're joking."

"Only about Celine. I do have some taste."

"How old are you?"

"Freshly minted twenty." He holds up the new twenty dollar bill the weird oversized Andrew Jackson on it. "Just like this."

"Huh. I thought you were older."

"Nope. Pete cradled robbed me too. It's what he does."

"Again," Brendon says. "I can't tell if you're joking."

"Not this time," Patrick admits. "So…strip club?" He holds up the bill fold. "I bet we could get a lot of ones."

Brendon bites his lower lip, like he is trying to stop himself from saying something. When he releases it, its bright red. He leans towards Patrick, nervous puppy eyes dark and wide and takes a deep breath. " I'd like-" He looks around. "Could we-"

Patrick reaches out and touches Brendon's cheek which is already getting pink. "You wanna go to one where the boys dance, Brendon?"

"Please?" He breathes out, ducking his head into the touch. If Brendon isn't a sub, then Patrick sure as fuck thinks he might act like one for him.

"Yeah, of course. I like all of it. You heard of anywhere good?"

Brendon knows the names of two places that are apparently infamous. Patrick asks the waitress and she writes the directions down for them on the back of their receipt. Since he paid with Pete's credit card, they tip her fifty percent.

Over the years, Patrick has been dragged into his fair share of strip clubs. Pete has his priorities and he doesn't like to be alone. The Stiff Rooster is actually one of the nicer ones he's been to. Every surface is so clean it could be eaten off of(not that Patrick would because ew). The men are beautiful, talented and well trained. The bouncers are huge and probably armed. The music is loud but not so much so that they can't talk.

Brendon's eyes are locked on a dancer who with a sharp jaw and a pointed chin who is muscular in a slim way. Instead of the hairless look, he's one of the more natural performers with a dusting of dark hair over his belly trailing down into his barely their underwear to match his thick black brows and leg hair. Patrick is more distracted by the way his companion is ogling the dancer more than the gyrations.

Patrick waits until the dancer finishes, smirking at the audience before strutting off stage. Then he puts a hand on Brendon's shoulder. "What's going on?" he asks right into his ear even thought he doesn't need to do so to be heard.

He can feel Brendon stiffen all over. His jaw tightens and Patrick sighs, He's going to take a page out of Pete's book for this one and flags down a waiter. He gives them Pete's card and asks for a private room and the dancer who just left the stage. The waiter beams at them and leads them out of the m main club and into a quiet backroom with a large chaise-like piece of furniture for them to sprawl on.

The stripper calls himself Gage which cannot be his real name and tells them that he's they've got him for an hour to start. Is there anything they'd like? "What do you usually do?" Brendon asks with a voice that shakes.

"I usually I touch myself and dance. Sometimes I touch you. There's a camera there."He points up at the ceiling."And the rule is you have to keep your hands to yourself. But if you want to touch yourself or each other, that’s okay." Gage grins. "You can also ask me to touch you or myself in a certain ways if you want. Just be aware that I reserve the right to say no to anything."

"Oh." Brendon's voice sounds small. "That sounds fair."

Gage smiles at Brendon. "Sweetie, have you done this before?"

"Yeah. Of course. Yeah. I did. I mean I have. Definitely."

Gage casts his gaze over to Patrick. One perfectly plucked eyebrow rises. When Patrick doesn’t respond Gage says, "Anything you want me to do for your boy?"

"Just dance. We need to talk."

Gage winks. "I can definitely do that." The music starts and he starts to move slow and sexy.

Brendon's face flushes red and he is torn between staring and hiding. Patrick isn't an idiot. He has eyes. What's more, he knows what it's like to be low and shy.

"Brendon, what's going on?" He asks again. This time he reaches out and takes his hand. No, he takes his wrist, wrapping his hand around it in a makeshift cuff. Brendon shudders and unwinds, pressing his face into Patrick's neck. A second later, Patrick fears wetness on his neck. He lifts his other hand to stroke through his dark hair, soft compared to Pete's coarse strands. "Oh. Hey. No don't cry."

"My dom's a boy," Brendon chokes out into his neck. "He feels so beautiful. Like, my ADHD is so bad but he's so calm. Sometimes I feel like he's the only thing that keeps me from spinning into space."

"That sounds good to me," Patrick says. "I mean, that’s what you want out of a soulmate, someone who balances you out."

Brendon pulls back and shakes his head. He wipes his eyes and looks at Gage with longing of a different kind. "No. It's not. The LDS Church doesn't sanction male pair bonds. You can't get married in the Temple and you can't acknowledge to your family without getting excommunicated. "

"You're Mormon?"

"Yeah. We're not fundamentalist but we're still practicing and my family, they're already unhappy about me playing music. If I find him, they'd lose it. It'd be okay if I were girl. That’s how the old history of polygamy happened. In the early days, sister-wife bonded pairs would attach themselves to a bigendered couple so that they could have children in unified families. Bond pairs are supposed to be how Heavenly Father creates perfect families in the preexistence but not male pairs. It has things to do with Cain and Abel, Sodom and Gemorrah, and the importance of children."

"That is bullshit."

Brendon shrugs. "Maybe but it's going to come down to family or soulmate for so many of us and I just…" He shakes his head, eyes locked on Gage. "There are more Mormon men on Xinitac than any other recognized group in America."

For some reason, that makes something twist sharply in Patrick's gut. "Are you serious?"

"Some people cant handle it. They'd rather never meet their soulmate than risk losing their family or and excommunication an eternity in outer darkness. I talked to one guy about it." Brendon admits. "He said it was easier not to feel the bond that to know what his soulmate felt like and to know he couldn't have it."

All the air felt knocked out of Patrick's lungs. For the first time in ten years he feels like the puzzle pieces of his bond are clicking into place. Xinitac. Bond blockers. It's so fucking obvious Patrick doesn't know why he didn't realize it before. There are a thousand and one reasons like the one Brendon mentioned that his soulmate would try and suppress their bond – from religion, to family, to a trauma, to something beyond his imagining.

Knowing this doesn’t make up for any of the pain he's felt but having an explanation feels amazing. He takes a moment to look over the feelings that have come through the bond over the years of rejection and fear and realizes that no, they were never aimed at Patrick the person. They were more nebulous than that.

"Oh god." The words slip free before he can help himself. He's horrified that his soulmate, his sub, his love has been out there, somewhere, for so long hurting so badly that he thinks that not having is safer than ever trying to connect. The very thought makes his throat burn.

Worse, there's nothing he can do if his soulmate really is on Xinitac. He can't force his side of the bond. It's like trying to make a call if the recipient's disconnected their phone. He could try forever but it wouldn't get through. There isn't a word for the way that makes his heart feel. It hasn't been invented.

"Do you want to leave?" He asks quietly Brendon. "We could go somewhere else. If you want." Patrick just needs to get out of there. Gage is beautiful and wasted on both of them. He wants to curl up in Brendon and make them both feel better.

"That'd be good," Brendon says.

"Thank you," he says to Gage. "I'm sorry about this."

"Oh Honey, don't worry. I've seen a lot worse that you." Gage accepts their tip with concomitant grace. He smiles when they leave with their fingers laced together.

Pete's got the hotel room. No doubt he, Spencer and Ryan are doing unspeakable things on sheets they don’t have to clean. It's okay because if there's one thing Las Vegas has plenty of it's hotels. They go to the nearest one on the Strip, hand them Pete's much abused card and take the elevator up.

When the lock clicks into place, Patrick leans against the door and sighs. He bangs his head against the faux wood once and looks up. This not at all how he expected this trip to go.

"Patrick?" Brendon's lovely voice is tremulous, cracking on the K. "You okay?"

"Are you?" He retorts.

"No. I should be." Patrick drops his head in time to see Brendon drop onto the king sized bed. "I mean, you guys basically signed us. That's awesome. It's the beginning of exactly what we wanted. I just…" He sighs. "My parents aren't going to be happy about this."

"The music?"

Brendon nods. "They want me to go to college. Only I'd major in music. We weren't big on TV in my house. Everyone in my family plays an instrument. We used to play together and I…I'm good. I can play guitar and piano and I can sing and I learned to write. They taught me to love it."

"And now they don’t want you to live it."

"How is that fair?"

"It's not. Life's not fucking fair."

"You're only twenty. You're in a band that is already awesome. How do you know that?"

He looks at Brendon. This boy, and he is a boy, is scared and wounded and trusting him. He can do the same. "What you said, about the Xinitac? I think that my soulmate's taking it. I've been trying to figure out what's wrong for years, why he's mostly missing and you gave me the answer, in a fucking strip club. So yeah. I know."

"Oh." He sounds so small and looks so fragile. "We're like one of Pete's lyrics," Brendon says. "Two fucked up strangers baring their souls in a substandard hotel room."

"That's not Pete's. That's yours. You should write it down."

"It's true though."

Patrick shrugs. "Yeah. It is."

"Have you ever, you know, done anything? Since you can't reach him?"

"Are you asking if I've ever had mammal sex or if I've ever dominated anyone? Because the answer to both is yes." Anna liked straight up vanilla sex sometimes and Patrick did too. "Just not with a man. Nothing sexual anyway. Sometimes I feel like I spend my whole life dominating Pete into sanity but I don't think that's what you mean."

"Oh."

Brendon sounds disappointed. Yeah, the slump of his shoulders is definitely a disappointment sag. He's seen it on Pete enough times to recognize it. "But I would. Do you want that?"

He looks down at the bedspread. With one fingernail, he scratches at the stitching."I- I just met you."

"Yeah you did and you know you don’t have to scene with me to get signed. I mean, I don’t even have a say in that. It's Pete's vanity label, not mine."

"It's not about that."

"Okay."

"It's just…" Brendon chews on his lower lip. That move should be illegal. Patrick doesn’t know what the age of consent laws in Nevada so possibly it is. "I've always wondered and you're…" He rubs the back of his neck. "Do people tell you that you feel safe a lot?"

Patrick laughs. "Yeah. They do. I don’t know why."

"It's because you are. It's probably because you listen."

"That's a musician thing. You listen too."

"Ryan and Spencer are musicians. They don’t listen like you."

He rubs the back of his neck. It's hot and jostles his hat. "Well thanks, I think."

"If I wanted to try, to see if, you know, it might be worth it. Would you be willing to try with me?"

Whether Brendon meant worth it to leave the Church or worth it to take blockers one day, Patrick had no idea. He was probably better off not knowing which question he was asking. It was so much easier not to try and sway him that way.

"Yeah, I can try. I just don’t know what want. I might not be what you're looking for even short term."

"I watch Ryan go to his knees for Spencer all the time and he just…" He trails off and close his eyes. Without opening them he says, "He puts his head on Spencer's knee and Spencer pets his head and he just looks almost like he's peaceful. If you knew Ryan you'd get how big that is."

Oh yeah, that Patrick can understand. Pete's been in that place countless times. Brendon isn't Pete though so he probably doesn’t need the same kind of discipline but at least he's got a direction to work with. "You want to submit."

Dark brown eyes fly open. "Please?" Brendon asks on the verge of tears. "Please can I? I just want to know how it feels."

Patrick crosses the room to him. Desperation of that kind is like a starter pistol at a race. He cups Brendon's soft cheeks in his hands. "Hey, it's okay. Of course you can. Thank you for the honor, Brendon."

The noise Brendon makes his broken. He leans forward and presses his face into Patrick's shirt. He's only three years behind Patrick but with the way he's been raised to think about his bond, he is so young.

Patrick just cards his fingers through Brendon's for a few long minutes. He hums under his breath until he relaxes against him. "We're not going to have sex," he tells Brendon. "No pain play, no intentionally sexual contact; just some power exchange. You can see how you like it."

"Thank you for the gift," Brendon mumbles into his stomach. Patrick doesn’t usually like his extra weight. It's not something he's very comfortable with but Brendon keeps rubbing his face and nose against it and sighing like he wants to live there. He almost laughs when Brendon nuzzles his midsection like a sleepy cat.

Patrick leans down and presses a kiss to the top of Brendon's head. His hair smells like cheap shampoo and cigarette smoke and stripper glitter. "Get on your knees on the bed for me."

He doesn't watch as Brendon scrambles to obey. This isn't Pete or Anna. He doesn't have to worry about disobedience or a play for discipline. He picks up the phone as Brendon gets into position.

He orders a hamburger and fries from room service because he is kind of hungry. More importantly, the kind of quiet submission he has planned for Brendon is fairly effective with food. Anna never liked this and Pete rarely can sit still long enough but it's one of Patrick's favorite things. He likes to think that his soulmate might like it too but he's fairly sure that it will work for Brendon now.

He tells the room service guy that he's got an extra fifty if they can have it up here in ten minutes. When he hangs up, he turns to Brendon and finds him exactly where he was ordered, kneeling on the bed. He is fiddling with his fingers, unsure what to do with his hands. It makes Patrick wonder if boys in the LDS Church even got submission training as a standard education.

"Do you know the color safeword system?" Patrick asks, honestly shocked when Brendon shakes his head. He's never actually met someone who didn't. He hates whoever was responsible for Brendon's sex education on principle in that moment. "Okay. It's just like traffic lights. Green means everything's good and we should go ahead full speed. Yellow means okay but things should slow down or change things. If you say yellow, we can stop and talk about what we should do differently. Red just means stop, period. No questions asked. Got it?"

"Yeah."

"No." Patrick says, reaching out and tipping Brendon's chin up with his fingertips. "You can choose what to call me: sir, master, or if you don't feel comfortable with something like that then Patrick is fine. But when you answer, you'll address me with a respectful honorific until the scene ends."

"Yes, Master," Brendon murmurs.

Holy shit. Of all the things Patrick was expecting him to pick? That was not it.

Most people went for sir. Most subs preferred sir or ma'am since the subs rights movement really gained steam in the '50s and '60s. Patrick nearly chokes on his tongue and wills himself not to go back on his word and lay hands on Brendon. No one's ever called him master before. It's heady.

"You are so good, Brendon. I want you to know that. We've barely started and you're already trying so hard." He runs his fingers up his jaw and over his cheekbones. "You're beautiful on your knees. Do you believe me?"

Brendon gives a small nod. It's not enough.

"Brendon," Patrick says softly. "Do you believe me? Tell me. That's an order. It's okay if don't. I just want you to be honest with me."

There are tears in Brendon's eyes. "I don't know, Master. I want to."

"That's okay. I promise; it's okay. Do you believe me? Tell me. That's an order."

"Yes, Master," Brendon says. That Patrick doesn't doubt at all which is very good. He needs Brendon to trust him, even if he isn't going to stretch him.

"Sit back and put your hands palm down. Relax and get comfortable on your knees. You're going to be there for awhile." Brendon lets out a noise in reply that is reedy and strained but he does as he's told.

Watching him settle into his position makes Patrick wants to meet this kid's soulmate. He wants to sit him down and tell the guy that he doesn't have a discipline case on his hands. He's not like Pete either, a painslut looking for direction and control. Brendon is already showing himself to be the type of sub who just wants to be good, to please his dominant, to be loved.

The knock on the door makes Patrick jump a little but Brendon doesn't move. His head is down, eyes closed. That's a great sign actually. He crosses the room, grabbing Pete's wallet and grabbing cash out and shoving it at the room service waiter. He grabs the tray of his hand and shuts the door in his face without a word. He sets the food down on the nightstand. It's precarious but Patrick so doesn't give a shit. He has more important things to focus on.

He climbs on the bed and straddles Brendon's thighs. "Open your eyes for me, Brendon. There's a good boy," he murmurs when Brendon does as commanded. He presses a kiss to the space between Brendon's eyebrows and it earns him a dazed smile. "What's your color?

"Green," Brendon sighs. "So green, Master."

"Okay. I'm going to move behind you. You're going to lift your arms o'ver your head and back when I do. Understand?"

"Yes, Master."

"Good boy."

From where he's sitting, Patrick can actually feel Brendon shiver at the praise. It's so fucking sweet. He'll probably be coming to it later. Now he slide around to press himself against Brendon's back. Brendon obeys perfectly, arms up and back as Patrick peels his shirt off and then twists it around his wrists a few times, binding them behind him with the fabric. He presses a gentle kiss to Brendon's cheek. "Color?"

"Hm?"

"Brendon. Tell me your color. Now."

"Green, Master," Brendon drawls, head lolling back to rest on Patrick's shoulder. His face is so blissed out he looks high. So bondage is a hot spot for him. Good to know.

Patrick leaves him sitting there for a moment and set up the tray in a less dangerous way and sets everything up for what he wants. When he's done setting up, he pulls Brendon back so he rests against Patrick's chest. He takes a moment to settle them so that Brendon is resting with his head on Patrick's chest, just above his heart, his legs unfolded and stretched out and with his arms still bound behind him.

"My good boy," Patrick murmurs and Brendon lets out a little sigh. "How are you?"

"Good. Feels good. You feel good, Master. Just like this."

"Mm. I know." He reaches out onto the tray and grabs a small piece of cut hamburger. "Open, chew, and swallow."He instructs and Brendon obeys. He's so good at obeying, and chews lazily. Patrick repeats the process over and over until the hamburger is gone and Brendon is sucking his fingers into his mouth, chasing them with his tongue when he pulls away.

By the time the food is gone, Brendon is whimpering and hard. There are so many things Patrick could do with that but he promised. He's not going to betray that trust, not with all that Brendon's given him in his submission.

Instead he holds his greasy fingers up in front of Brendon's face. Without being told, Brendon sucks the digits into his mouth, moaning around them as he cleans them with his tongue until Patrick pulls them out and away. He makes a bereft sound and leans back against Patrick's shoulder with a sigh.

"You did so well," Patrick tells him. "You can't imagine how amazing you look, how great you were at following my orders. You're learning so fast to be such a good boy. I'm so fucking proud of you, Brendon."

Brendon tilts his head back to look up at him. "Really?"

He forgot the honorific but Patrick lets it slide. That’s not really the point. Not now. "Yeah." He kisses the hair at Brendon's temples. "We're done with the scene now. If you sit forward I can undo the shirt from your wrists so you can go take a shower."

"Do you think," Brendon begins then trails off for a moment before starting over. They've only known each other a few hours but Brendon's already figured out that Patrick isn't the type to like a question left unasked. "Do you think we could keep going? I know you said no sex but maybe, in concordance they talked about scene renegotiation. Could we do that?"

"If you want to."

"I'm not ready for it to end," Brendon admits. "Can we just go back to the colors? With you in charge? Please, Master?"

Patrick is twenty fucking years old. He doesn't have the strength or wisdom of age required to turn that down. He just doesn’t. "Absolutely."

They end up in the shower anyway. Only instead of a solo clinical activity, Brendon is on his knees facing away from the faucet. Patrick stands over him, watching the hot water cascade over all that pale bare skin. He keeps his chin tilted up because Patrick told him to so he can watch the shower send rivers streaming down his face, over his down his full lips and clinging to his ridiculous eyelashes.

"Lean forward for me." Brendon tips his head forward and Patrick groans. He is so fucking hard and he's naked too. With a word, he could have Brendon's wet mouth around him.

That's all it would take. Patrick would just need to say "Suck" and maybe pet the top of his head and like a good boy, he'd do exactly as he's told. Brendon would suck him down without protest. Then he would probably moan at the act of submission if not the visceral sexuality.

Instead Patrick reaches out for one of the little mini-shampoos and squeezes the contents out into his hand. His hands sink into thick black strands and works it up to a foam.

Patrick loves care dominance. Anna was never a fan. Sometimes Pete needs it after he's through beating himself all to shit but Patrick rarely gets a chance to do it like this. Patrick never gets to do care for a sub just for the pure pleasure.

So he circles his fingertips against Brendon's scalp until he moans. "That's it," He murmurs. "Let me hear you. That’s what a good boy does. He lets his Master know how he's feeling."

Brendon groans from a place deep down in his throat. It vibrates all around the small space shaking them both. Patrick thinks, with the part of his brain not lost in the scene that he needs to get this boy in front of a mic as soon as he can. Every sound he makes is beautiful. Watching him sway a little under the touch, pressing into the contact makes all of that even better.

"Tip back." Patrick moves his head even has he speaks and water sluices down over Brendon's face and neck. Patrick keeps rubbing his hands through his hair, down his neck, tumbling over his mouth.

By the time the last of the suds rinse away and Patrick brings his head forward again, Brendon is panting. His chest is heaving with nipples tightened into tight buds. His cock is flushed and hard, standing up at attention against his stomach. All of it is highlighted by the fall of water and Patrick is absurdly grateful all of a sudden, that Brendon would trust me to be the first to see him like this.

"You're hard, Brendon." The words come out of his mouth but sound alien to his ears. "I think you want to get off. Touch yourself how you would if you were alone."

Brendon looks up at him with fear written all over his features. For a moment, Patrick half expects him to safeword – yellow or maybe even red. Instead he takes a deep breath, licks his lips and says very unsteadily "Yes, Master."

He watches as Brendon wraps a hand around the base of his cock, his eyes locked on Patrick's face. The water smoothes the way as he fucks into the circle he makes with his thumb and forefinger. Patrick mirrors him stroke for stroke, watching the way Brendon's lips part and his eyes go dark with hungry arousal.

"I need you to be a good boy for me, here, Brendon." Patrick grits out. "I'm close so when I tell you to, you're going to come. When you do, I'm going to paint that gorgeous face."

"Master, oh fuck, Master" Brendon chokes out. It's a plea and it is beautiful. It is like a starter pistol going off at the start of a race.

"Now, good boy. Come now."

Brendon's eyes screw shut and he shouts as he comes. His whole body convulses. The muscles in his neck chord as he throws his head back. The sight is enough to send Patrick over the edge.

His orgasm hits him like a fist but he forces himself to keep his eyes open. He wants to see the way Brendon looks with stripes of Patrick's come streaking his face. It's filthy, dripping down his cheeks and lips.

Patrick catches his chin in his hand and smears his come across Brendon's upper lip. "Fuck you're beautiful. Just like this."

Brendon doesn’t open his eyes. He just whines in the back of his throat and leans into the touch. Then without being told, he licks his lips. If Patrick could, he'd be hard again watching the tip of that pink tongue pull taste his come for the first time.

"Let's get you cleaned up," Patrick murmurs more to himself than Brendon. Brendon has left the building. He's in outer space with the satellites and comets. Patrick enjoys getting down on his knees himself to wash Brendon clean of sex and first time anxiety.

He leaves Brendon alone in the warm bathroom just long enough to pull on his pajama pants and an ancient Prince t-shirt. When he comes back, he eases Brendon to his feet and towels him dry. Brendon leans on him heavily as Patrick guides him out to the bed and between the sheets. He doesn't have any clean clothes with him to change into and he's in no shape to get dressed when he can just as easily curl up under the blankets.

Patrick turns off all the lights but the bedside lamps then climbs in himself. Brendon is at his side seconds later, molded to his side. He rests his head on Patrick's chest and lets out a soft sigh.

"You were perfect," Patrick murmurs. "We're done with the scene now but I wanted you to know that. You were perfect."

"Hmm," Brendon sighs, nuzzling against his shirt. "Thank you. I can't even- I just- Thank you."

'Thank you too. You're not the only one who had fun you know."

"That wasn't even fun. That was something else. It was-" Brendon shakes his head a little and pauses, searching his mind for what to say. "It was like my skin fit. Finally."

"Now that I get," Patrick agrees with a chuckle.

There's a moment of easy silence. Patrick thinks Brendon may be drifting so he turns off the lights and settles down into the pillows. As soon as he does, Brendon ask, "If it's that good with you, it makes me wonder how good it would it be like with my soulmate, you know?"

Patrick doesn't say anything for awhile. Figuring out what to say to that, when there is so much hollowness in his own mind, is difficult. What he comes up with is "What do you think?"

"I think…I think that when I get on my knees for him it'll be where I'm supposed to be." Brendon traces shapes on Patrick's chest through the shirt. "I just don't understand how anyone can live without this."

There's a quiet finality to his words. Brendon's made his choice. Patrick can hear it. He is going to choose music and his soulmate and a life that may not include his family of origin but will include love and creativity and submission – all the things Brendon is realizing he needs.

"I don't know how either," Patrick agrees, even though it makes him a little sad, mostly for himself. He tries not to get bogged down in self-pity. It's been ten years. He's mostly over this shit. Sometimes though, he wishes for things he knows he's powerless over. Right now, he's got a bed full of warm naked submissive who is happy to be with him. That’s enough.

They meet up with Pete and the bonded half of Panic late in the afternoon for lunch. Pete is covered in bites and fingershaped bruises all up his arms. Spencer keeps his arm around Ryan the entire time and they both look extremely pleased with themselves. Lunch is all music talk, planning, contacts, everything they can think of before he and Pete fly home that evening.

Patrick writes his phone number on the back of Brendon's hand before they leave. When no one is looking, Patrick presses a kiss to his palm. "Lean on him, Brendon. He's there for you."

Brendon nods and hugs him tight before following Ryan and Spencer into the desert. Pete grins at him and opens his mouth give him shit but Patrick holds up a hand. "Do you want me to take those bruises from green to purple?" He asks casually.

Pete pouts. "No."

"Then shut up and I wont ask you what you thought you were doing screwing your pet project."

"It's an investment in their future."

Patrick rolls his eyes heavenward. "You are a filthy old man and you should be ashamed of yourself."

He sighs. "I am. I push through it."

The next six months are a blur of touring and helping Panic get adjusted to being part of the Fueled by Ramen family. It's so busy that Patrick almost misses it. He almost misses the way Pete is fraying – first at the edges and then all the way through.

He should have realized when Pete stopped coming to him for dominance. That should've been the clue. Patrick was so busy trying to get back in the swing of touring and trying to compose to the pages and pages and pages of verse that Pete was constantly plying him with.

He missed it right up until Pete's mom calls him from the fucking hospital where Pete is now in the ER. Dale is in tears when she tells Patrick he swallowed an entire bottle of lorazepam in the parking lot of a fucking Best Buy. The only reason he isn't dead is because and made the mistake of telling Hilary where he was.

Patrick plays the good traditional friend while Pete's in the hospital. He visits while he's on a mandatory three day hold on the psychiatric ward. He doesn’t say or do anything while Pete is home, curled up on his mom's couch crying the sort of quiet tears that come from nowhere and flow like a water out of a tap. Then, when he's finally cried out, Patrick gets pissed.

After about a month though, Pete's meds get adjusted. He rests. He pulls his shit together and by midMarch he's mostly himself again. When Pete invites himself over while Patrick's parents are out of town, Patrick can barely let Pete inside before he punches Pete right in his heartbreaking face.

"What the fuck, Trick?" Pete groans, clutching his cheek.

"Yeah. What the fuck is the question? Kind of scary to have no idea what's going on isn't it?" He demands, grabs Pete by the shoulders and slams him into the door. "You know what else is scary? Wondering if your best friend is ever going to wake up again, realizing that everything is going to stop. Forever – singing, talking, laughing, feeling, breathing? Everything would end. It's frightening to know that you may stop and never start again, right?" He gives Pete another violent shove but he's already backed into solid wood. He has nowhere to go so he takes the full impact. He sags against the door, staring. "That's what you were doing. You were chasing that, you stupid fuck."

Pete bites his lower lip. His eyes are watering but its not in the empty way he had cried before. "I'm sorry."

"No. Shut up. I'm not ready for you to apologize yet. We're going to get there but not yet." Without warning he hauls off and smacks Pete so hard across the face that his palm hurts. "That's for your soulmate, you selfish, self-centered prick. You were going to take yourself away from eir without ever letting eir meet you?"

Pete's eyes go wide. Yeah. That clearly never occurred to him. He wonders if that's part of why he got low, if the bond was more unstable than usual. Even if it were, that's no excuse. "Ey would've known I didn't-"

"No. Ey wouldn't. There'd just be an empty gaping wound where you should be for the rest of eir life. I'm lucky that I'm just hollow but you would've fucking amputated half eir spirit. There's someone on the other end of the bond. I know you love eir so I just have to ask how dare you? How dare you do that to them after every time they've been there for you, supported you, loved you across miles. Jesus, Pete."

"Patrick, please."He crosses his wrists in a way that is asking to be punished. It unlocks something in Patrick because now its not a fight. Now it’s a scene where he knows the rules and what he can and cant do. It's suddenly civilized.

"Please what?"

"I don’t know. I didn't…"

Patrick hit him again, open palm because this is what Pete is asking for, even if he doesn’t want it. "Think?" Another blow. "Consider other options?" Another. "Have hope?" He reaches out and rubs the now burning skin in gentle soothing circles. "Pete, if you hurt that badly then you should've gone to someone. You know your illness. You have to take care of yourself or let someone else do it because this is unacceptable."

"I just needed it to stop," Pete whispers. "I couldn't sleep."

"You didn't come to me." The words feel ripped from his chest. "Pete, you didn’t tell me. Why wouldn't you come to me?"

"I...I don’t know." He sounds so small. "I couldn't see myself out, not even to you."

"You can't let it get this bad again. You understand? You can't. I fucking forbid it." He pushes his forehead tight against Pete's. "I'm going to be alone for the rest of my life but it's okay because I have you." He tightens his hand on Pete's face. "You're why I have music and friends and myself. You're all I have Pete so you can't leave me. You can't."

Pete's hands drift up and rest on his shoulders then twine around his back. "You have more than me, Patrick. You've got the whole fucking world."

"And what the fuck is that worth if you're not in it, Pete?

Pete shakes his head, rubbing their noses together and sighing. "Probably about as much as it'd be worth it for me if you weren't here."

Patrick has no idea how they end up kissing. It's not something they've ever done before. Their breathing each other's air, trying to crawl close. It's sexual in that two bodies grinding together cause friction but mostly it's just Patrick feeling his air, his life, his presence. He's fucking crying, he can't help it. When the first tears hit Pete's face, he is pushing off Patrick's hat to stroke his thin hair.

They sag together, ending up in a heap on the floor. They can't stop though. They paw at each other, petting arms and faces and ducking in for kisses. Patrick feels like he's drowning in relief and residual grief and fear. It's too much and he just doesn’t want to move. He wants to stay right there against the door with Pete, where he knows he's safe – forever.

"I'm sorry," Pete says.

This time Patrick is ready to hear it. He presses a kiss to Pete's forehead. "I forgive you. Don't do it again."

"I won't. I swear."

"I'm going to try and believe you. We have too much too look forward to in the next seventy years, Pete. You don’t get to duck out early."

Pete nods into his shoulder. They don’t get up. There's no point. There's a lot coming. Lots of tours, the release of Cork Tree but right now, they can be still together. That's enough.

~*~*~

Bob switches meds right around the time that the band goes into Helena overdrive. The Xinitac is starting to give him migraines, the kind that cut through his skull like knives and get in the way of his playing. As soon as they get back from Europe, Bob flies home to see his doctor because he has no time for bleed through with Frank throwing himself on top of his bass drum on TRL.

"Tranaxil is a little more extreme than Xinitac," the doctor is telling him. "You need to take it at the same time every day. Don’t fluctuate dosage and if you miss a dose, try and take it as soon as you remember."

"Okay. I can do that."

"Nausea, dry mouth, and drowsiness are all normal side-effects. But if you experience anything neurological – muscle twitches, tremors, seizures, convulsions, anything like that? You go to a hospital, Bob. Immediately. We're talking about brain damage here. Do not pass go, do not collect $200." He holds up the scrip and jerks it away when jerks it away when Bob reaches for it. "Do you understand?"

Bob reaches out and snatches it out of his hand. "Yeah. I get it. Once a day. No shakes or spasms. Be good."

"Damn right. I'm serious, Bob. Don't fuck around with this drug. Xinitac is standard. It's been around more than fifty years. It's a well tamed beast where we know what we're dealing with."

"And you guys don’t know about this?"

"We know but moving to Tranaxil is like changing from prescription strength motrin to percodan. Tranaxil is a whole other level. It's a control substance where Xinitac was not so you have to be careful. It affects your brain chemistry and the psionic nature of the bond in a different way."

"I get that. Are you done?"

The doctor sighs. "I wish you would go to counseling, Bryar. I normally require it for this kind of prescription."

"And you know that I'm going to be back on the road in two days."

"I know." He sighs and rubs his furrowed brow. "Be careful. You're not playing anymore. Overdoses on this are like overdosing on Oxycontin or Xanax. I like you, Bob. I don’t want you killing yourself on drugs I gave you."

Bob nods and finally takes the piece of paper. "Noted," he grits out. His hand is only shaking a little.

There's a weird few days where Bob can feel his Dom as he transitions from Xinitcat to Tranaxil. His presence feels like warm water on the strained places of his spirit. It'd be like spending almost a week in a hot tub only Bob can feel that he's hurting. His soulmate is exhausted and afraid of something huge. It reminds Bob of the way he felt when his dad died and oh, his dom hurts. Bob can feel him hurt so much.

Despite himself, Bob reaches out with every ounce of himself and sends gentle waves of affection and support. Bob doesn't want to call it love but that's probably what it is. He's probably sending love through the bond and thoughts like "you'll be okay" and "I wish I could give you more" and "I think about you even if I can't be there for you" and "I want to. I do want to. I'm so sorry." Yeah. It's love he sends through the bond.

He's shocked when it echoes back, thick like pudding and fast like a tidal wave. Desperation of his soulmate's love and want hits him so hard he almost loses his footing in the airport. Frank raises an eyebrow at him and catches him as he trips into his shoes at security. "You okay?"

"Yeah. I'm fine. Fucking TSA." He sends regret and affection and apology and more love on back down the line because he's already taken his Tranaxil for the last two days. This isn't going to last. He's hurting the person on the other side and he's sorry. He is, and he does love his dom.

Bob knows the man is probably a beautiful person who deserves so much better than what Bob is doing to him. He just can't be caught in that trap. By day five, the residuals will be gone completely but until then, he can sit on the plane and send what little he has to give through the line as a small atonement to the man he doesn't plan to meet and will most certainly never be worthy of. He has right now that he can give them both as a small apology.

So he sits in his cramped economy class seat and puts his noise-cancelling headphones on, closing his eyes. He reaches out as the plane taxies and gropes his way through takeoff. Bob doesn’t know how navigating a bond is supposed to work so he listens to his favorite playlist and just tries to look in.

He turns the ipod to pause before they captain turns off the seatbelt signs because music. The bond is full of music. This isn't something anyone warned him about, the twisting cadence pouring through the connection into Bob's mind from his soulmate. It's so beautiful that he tips his head back against the headrest and tries not to cry. None of it is a song he can recognize, original music from inside the person he's meant for.

It's not fair. It's not fair that this is so good because he knows how bad it can be when this is lost once it becomes ingrained. Bob can live without it a few days of this music, this depth of connection. But after years or even months? No. "No," Bob breathes, choking on the pressurized air. "Fuck, no."

Mikey pulls his headphones off. "Bob are you okay?" he asks. His chin is resting on Bob's shoulder.

"Yeah. I'm fine."

Mikey's bony fingers reach up and rub at Bob's face. He holds them up and they're wet. "You're crying."

"Oh."

"Bob."

"I'm fine though. Just…the air pressure."

Mikey studies him through his thick lenses. He looks like one of those cartoon owls. "You're lying." He says eventually. Then he reaches up and wipes at Bob's cheek again. "Tell me."

It’s the casually commanding tone that Gerard confirmed a few years ago that Mikey doesn’t even realize he's doing half the time. Combined with the music of his dominant's mind, Bob folds like a piece of Wal-Mart lawn furniture. "I'm just having some issues with my bond."

"I thought you'd never sparked." That was the unspoken assumption on most of the tours he's been on. Since he's joined My Chem, he's done as much as he can to reinforce that idea without lying outright.
Will's at Northwestern getting his BA in chemistry of all things, so there'd just be Brian to tell otherwise.

When Bob joined My Chem, Brian and Gerard were so busy with the combined projects of rebuilding the band, releasing that first video and most importantly pulling Gerard out of his drugs and depression that Brian was basically MIA except for absolute business or emergencies. So he was never there to answer any questions that a curious roadie might have asked.

"No. Not exactly. It's complicated."

"We've got a nine hour flight, dude," Mikey points out.

The overhead lights flash and make a dinging noise as if to emphasize this point. Mikey's not wrong. Only the music is still there. Bob doesn’t really want to talk to another dominant, not even Mikey fucking Way with those notes thrumming through his soul. "I don't want to talk about it."

Mikey drops his head onto Bob's shoulder. "Okay. I'm going to nap here though, so you're not alone."

Bob wishes the world were different. He wishes that people just feel in love in a chance encounter and some dates. Mikey's the kind of boy he could love. He's sweet and smart and funny not to mention hot as shit. Plus he plays directly into Bob's thing for smaller guys topping the shit out of him.

Only it will never ever happen because this is the world they live in. Mikey way is in a truly terrifying relationship with his soulmate. Ey are fuck knows where but it doesn't matter. Sometimes Mikey says eir is barely there and sometimes ey're so close that Mikey actually gets glimpses out of his soulmate's eyes, can hear eir words. They've all been the one to wake Mikey up screaming from a shared nightmare which doesn't even touch on the most recent turn events.

Yeah. February was bad for everyone in the band. Gerard spent all his time not on stage curled around his brother. Mikey just cried for days slipping in and out of mourning sleep in a way that was rarely heard of. Even weeks later, he was still shaking sometimes. Before he would've curled up around Gerard, but since Gerard was collared, he's stopped doing it so much.

This time around, Bob was the one he turned to, tucking himself under his chin and clinging to his larger frame. Bob held him through the tremors and told him that it was fine, it was okay, his soulmate was just having a hard time and everything would work out – even though he didn't know if he believed it or not. That’s probably why Mikey's turning this around on him now.

The contact helps but it's not right. So mostly he listens to the music that filters in over the bond and tries to send as much as he can over the connection while it's open. He knows it's not enough but it's all he's got. By their third night in Europe, the bond is gone and Bob cries through the show but no one notices because the tears mix with the sweat so completely that they're all just salt water.

Europe is a good distraction though. Europe is always good for Bob. It's not as good as Asia but nothing is. He still feels himself slide back into his skin in London, Glasgow, Paris, Cologne, Berlin, Munich, Stockholm, Rome and Vienna. European crowds are different than American ones but they don’t love any less hard and they sing just as loud. They're not okay and both their cars collide and they hang onto fences afterwards waiting for a glimpse of them. Bob doesn’t forget the music he heard but he can put it in the same place he puts his dad's witty sense of humor and his mom's hugs and wrapping the tour around them helps seal them away.

When they get back in the summer, they have about fifteen minutes to breathe before Warped. Bob flies up to Chicago and crashes with Will so he can see his doctor. Will rifles through his cosmetics bag and whistles lowly. "You just love to play with fucking fire don’t you Bryar?"

"Shut the fuck up and fuck me already," Bob snarls. His hands are chained above his head to the slats in Will's headboard.

"Safeword out then."

Bob glares at him but says nothing. He just watches as Will climbs on top of him, naked, fitting Bob's cock into the crease of his ass as he stares down at the pills. "You know, the foundation for Tranaxil is actually a neurotoxin? It incapacitates receptors in your brain so that they can't make the proper connections needed to connect to the bond.In fact, it actually makes them fire wrong, so your soulmate can't see you." Will shakes the bottle. "You're slowly killing your brain cells with this."

"Wow, thanks professor."

"You could just stop, save your mind and give your soulmate a chance to meet you." Bob bucked his hips upwards and Will sighs, grinding back down. "Or you could be the most obstinate sub in history and keep fucking yourself out of one of lifes pleasures. That works too. Sure. Do that."

The conversation hadn't really improved from there. The sex had. Angry sex was fantastic, especially with Will. That didn't change the fact that it got them less than nowhere when it came to this argument. Will was still glaring at him when he dropped Bob off at O'Hare.

Warped is surreal. Not because it was yet another huge festival circuit which does have a lot to do with it. Bus cities were always odd. No, Warped has this air to it like right here, right now, they've all entered a crystalline moment that can't be replicated. The entire band feels it but no one can seem to figure out why. Not until they meet Fall Out Boy on halfway through day two.

Well, that's not accurate. They don't meet Fall Out Boy so much as the front man comes barreling across the parking lot towards the spot where they're all having a smoke and actually skids to a halt. There's a squeaking sound as the rubber of his Converse drag over the pavement and everything.

Then the guy is dropping to his knees so hard it has to hurt, right at Mikey's feet. He looks up at Mikey with huge, dark eyes in an olive skinned face and beams up at him. "You," he breathes. "It's you. Jesus, you're even more beautiful than I thought you would be, fuck." Then he leans forward and rests his forehead against Mikey's hip. The man lets out a little hiccupping breathe and says, "God, and you feel so fucking good, baby. I knew it. I knew it."

Mikey's hand is actually shaking when he reaches down to stroke the man's thick black hair. "You're here?" Mikey asks, his voice shaking. His face is still a mask but his eyes are so bright. "How are you here? I felt something but I never-" He shakes his head to clear it. "Thank you so much for the honor of your submission. Mikey. I'm Mikey. Your name. I need your name. I've been waiting forever for you, please. I want to know everything."

"Pete," he chokes out. "I'm Pete. Thank you for the gift of your care and dominance Mikey." He pulls his face out of Mikey's side and tips his head back. "Will you kiss me? Please? I've thought about it so much I just want taste you. It's all I can think about. Holy shit, look at your mouth. You're so perfect."

Mikey's on his knees a second later and the two of them are kissing like they don't need air, like all they need to breathe is each other. Bob looks around and Gerard and Frank are beaming. Ray looks a little sad but happy too.

Then there are three other people approaching. Two are tall – one with curly black hair and one with long brown hair and glasses, and a third who is even shorter than Frank with a trucker hat and glasses hiding him from the world. The three of them must be the rest of Fall Out Boy because they look concerned and Bob cant help but think that concern looks good on the short one. Really good.

"What just happened?" The short one demands.

"They found each other," Gerard says dreamily. He holds out a hand. "I'm Gerard Way. Mikey's my little brother. He's Pete's soulmate. I can't tell you how happy I am for them. We were worried about them for awhile but this is better." He beams at him until he is forced to take his hand.

"I'm Patrick," He points to himself then at the black haired man, then the one with glasses. "Joe, Andy. We're his band and are…you sure?" he glances over at the two of them again. They're still kissing like the world will end if they stop. Mikey's hand is around Pete's neck, thumb pressed over his airway and Pete looks like a rag doll. He also looks like he's floating in a sea of bliss.

It hits Bob then that he has never seen this before. He's seen bonded pairs. He's seen single people who have a bond that hasn’t been consummated yet. Hell he even had Brian call him when he found Gerard but he has never once seen a pair find each other in person.

It's breathtaking, the way they break apart and press their foreheads together, noses rubbing together as they whisper to each other. They're sharing secrets their hearts have been sharing for decades that they can finally put to words. There are tears on Mikey's face even though he's smiling hugely, like Bob's never seen before and he cant keep his hands off Pete's face, thumbs rubbing over his cheeks down his jaw again and again.

"It's really something isn't it?" Patrick asks. He sounds a little wistful, a little sad but happy too. "I've been waiting for him to find this since I met him. You guys can't take him or anything, not until we're sure he's stable but they've always been so…"

"Intense?" Bob finishes and Patrick laughs.

"That's a word for it. I was going to say enmeshed but yeah." Out of the corner of his eye, Bob can see Patrick adjust his hat then shove his hat than then shove his hands in his pockets. It's fucking charming as hell and the guy is cute. So his type, small and compact. If he's a Dom the package will be complete and Bob will have himself another fruitless fucking crush.

"Yeah."

"They look good together," Patrick adds. "I just hope your Mikey helps him level out. Pete's had a rough year."

"February," Bob says with a nod and suddenly Patrick is staring at him. Bob can feel the full force of his gaze and ugh, yeah, hes a Dom. Definitely.

"He felt that. Right. Of course he did."

"It wasn’t a good month for us either," Bob says with a grin. He glances over at the pair by the bus. Mikey has fallen back to sit on his ass on the asphalt and Pete as crawled into his lap, face buried in his neck. "But that was months ago."

"Yeah." Patrick agrees. "So, the rest of us are going to go see who else is here and then we've got sound check. If they can't untangle before seven, could you send someone over to let us know?"

Bob nods. "Sure."

He watches Patrick walk away and wants. He wants with an intensity that makes his whole body hurt. He's never wanted anyone the way he wants that tiny, gentle-voiced young man and Jesus, the bones in his legs are practically begging him to follow and then sink to the ground. He shakes his head and turns back to his bus.

Gerard is like a new mom with how he flits and fusses over Mikey. He insists that either Mikey stay on the Fall Out Boy bus or Pete stay with them. "Your first night together is so important," Gerard proclaims. "It doesn’t have to be perfect it just has to be together you know? It's so different when you wake up, right Frank? Oh Mikes, god, you found him."

Frank just nods along and grins that big Frank grin. "He's hot. I like his ink."

"You would," Bob mutters and Frank pokes him with his foot.

"It's okay to be jealous because you haven't sparked yet. Don't worry baby, you will. I'll totally dance at your wedding."

"Dude shut the fuck up." Bob snaps.

Mikey gives him a pained look that is out of character on him right now, with how fucking happy he is, and comes to Bob's defense. "Come on, Frankie."

Frank holds up his hands in surrender. "Hey, I am just trying to help." And the thing is, it's Frank. So Bob knows that he really is doing just that.

The thing is? The longer they're on tour, the stronger the bond gets. At first it's just a little itching tug but a week into the tour, he can hear the music again, low and distant but definitely there. It's happy and excited but also tinged in exhaustion.

So he cracks some of the Tranaxil pills in half and adds each of the halves to his twice daily dose. That works for the first week or so before he ups it to a full extra pill each dose. Taking his meds are just another small punctuation between riding in the buses or playing shows or the best times when he joins Mikey over at the Fall Out Boy bus. Pete sits at Mikey's feet wherever they are, his head against Mikey's knees. If they're eating, Mikey feeds him from his hand and if they're not he's always playing with Pete's hair or ear or the skin of his neck.

They've slid perfectly into the roles they were meant for and it shows. Hell, Pete looks so fucking content that it hurts Bob to look at him. Actively fucking hurts.

He keeps his eyes on Patrick instead. He's shy. He ducks his head when he smiles his wide smiles but he throws his head back when he laughs. He's what anyone else would call average but Bob looks at him and gets so fucking hard that he could cut class with his dick.

"You should play with us," Patrick says about three weeks into the tour, sprawled in the lounge of the My Chem bus. Gerard is in his bunk having phone sex with Brian, Ray is shut up in the studio in the back of the bus, Mikey is with Pete and Frank is… Actually Bob doesn’t know where Frank is.

"Have you seen Frank?"

"No? That wasn't what I was talking about though."

"Right but if you don’t keep tabs on him terrible things can happen."

Patrick purses his lips. "You say that like he's a walking bomb."

"Yes. Perfect analogy actually." He's already fishing into his pocket for his sidekick. He sends out a where the fck is frank text to pretty much everyone he knows for a fact are actually on tour.

He gets back a text back from The Rev that reads on the roof of DKMurphys bus. prob sober def stupid. Bob can live with that. He's not surprised it's from the Rev rather from Johnny or Zacky. It's the drummer grapevine sometimes. His people are watchers. They have to be keep an entire band of crazy fucks on beat, and he has yet to be let down.

"Anything exploding?"

"No. He may be in traction tomorrow though if he falls off the roof."

Patrick gives him a smile from under his eyelashes. "Bus or building?"

"Bus," Bob says, sinking back onto the couch. "So if he does break his neck, you'll get your wish and have to play together. We'll be short a rhythm guitarist."

"Your faith in my talent's comforting but I don’t know the My Chemical Romance catalogue. Pete's baby band might though. The Ross kid is scary into you guys."

"You could do it," Bob says with complete confidence. Pete rambles, a lot, especially when Mikey doesn’t command silence. One of his favorite topics is Patrick and his magical music abilities. Bob's seen them play – the way Patrick picks up an instrument and it just sort of melts into his hands like it was created for him. It's awe-inspiring. Then again, Bob is crushing so blindingly hard that maybe its just Patrick.

When Patrick is really truly smiling all the way to his eyes, like he is at Bob right now, his whole face transforms. He goes from a shy, barely legal presence in the background to a spotlight shining directly wherever is attention is focused. Right now its on Bob. That kind of attention isn't helping the crush problem at all.

"Well you could do it too. I'd five you something easy. Of All the Gin Joints maybe."

"That one's not that easy."

Patrick beams. "That’s because Andy kicks all the ass." He nudges Bob with his knee. "You're pretty awesome too. Ray played me some of the work you guys have been doing on that new one – the Five of Us Are Dying. The march elements you've done are really impressive."

Bob suppresses a shudder. Gerard is deeply fucked up with calling that project. It feels like they've been tinkering with it forever and it's still nowhere near done. Bob knows it won't be until they actually get in the studio but he's with Ray on this one. They have got to get a new title for that song. Soon. It's starting to get really unnerving.

Instead he of saying any of that, he nods and bumps Patrick back. "Yeah, well, you know, I was in drum corps for and it's not that hard to get back into that rhythm."

"Me too," Patrick confides with a smile. Bob has the sharpest instinct to lean over and kiss him, to scoot to the side and rest his head in Patrick's lap and let him do, well, whatever he wants. It's stupid and shortsighted to want yet another dom who has an active bond but that doesn’t stop Bob from feeling it. "I never did DCI or anything. I was too young and then there was the band but I remember practices, especially right before school started." He wrinkles his nose. "Chicago in summer, man."

"Yeah," Bob agrees. "Not always worth it but then you go to the lake and it's like oh yeah, that’s why this city is awesome."

"Right,I keep forgetting you're from Chicago too."

"That's because I live with a bunch of grimy dudes from Jersey."

Patrick laughs. He has a great laugh but Bob's had a low level headache for a few hours. The sound just makes it worse. Even so, Bob doesn’t want him to stop. "Oh come on," he protests. "Only Gerard and Mikey are grimy. Frank is down right fastidious and you manage to maintain a sparkling beard despite how disgusting it is out here."

"My beard sparkles?"

"When the light hits it right. Patrick says. He's clearly joking but there's something in his eyes, bright and interested. His eyes dart down as if to inspect Bob's beard but they linger on his mouth. Then he's says, "Mostly it just really compliments your face." He swallows so loud his throat makes a clicking noise. "You have a great face."

Bob's dick stands up at attention at being under the inspection of a Dom he wants so freaking badly. It makes his chest ache too because he knows, knows that he could lean forward and kiss Patrick right now and Patrick would kiss him back. He doesn't seem the type to mind a sub initiating things. He is the type to take charge though, his will probably gentle but rock solid.

The problem with that would be that Bob doesn’t just want casual scening with Patrick. It's not like Brian or Will, where there was never more than lust beneath their friendship. This wasn't like Mikey either, where his desire never went past a passing fantasy that was a great jerk off material and a low level longing. Bob could fall for Patrick, hard, but unless he was one of the rare people who was widowed or lacked a bond altogether, he was asking for a world of hurt.

"I can't," he says even though somehow, he's gotten so much closer to Patrick than he meant to be. It would take so little for them to be touching, for Patrick to be on top of him or for him to be curled against Patrick. It'd feel so good that his muscles may actually be shaking at force of his restraint.

"Right," Patrick says deflated. "I didn't realize you were bonded already or I would never-"

"No," Bob says. He's having a hell of a time resisting the urge to reach out. He gives up after about three seconds and covers Patrick's hand with his own. "I don't have a bond, let alone a bondmate," he says and that's mostly true. "But Mikey's said some things and I know you do. So." He shrugs.

"So that means we can't? What if I don’t have mine either?"

"You'll find eir at some point. You're too awesome for it not to happen," Bob says, his conviction total. "I just can't let myself start something with you knowing that it's going to end before we even start."

"So there would be something." Patrick moves his hand so that it's covering Bob's wrist. His fingers are a warm contrast to the joint always aches, even when he hasn't played in hours. If he asked, Patrick would knead the spot until he melted, or cried or both. He knows it just like he knows a touch like this is a prelude to other firmer holds.

"Yeah," Bob agrees. He draws in a deep breath, letting it out slowly before he continues. "But you've got someone waiting for you and I'm not- I've lost other people because of a bond. It fucking sucks."

He lifts his eyes from Patrick's hand because it's too much like how he's been pinned before. It reminds him of everyone who let him go and walked away. Brian. Mikey. He even counts his mother though she didn't walk so much as she was dragged out of reality by her bond's vice grip on her throat.

"I don’t want to do that with you." He gives Patrick what he hopes is a convincing smile. "Nonbonded lovers come and go. I'd rather keep you as a friend, you know?"

The fact that he wouldn't be able to watch Patrick with his soulmate if they let this go farther goes unsaid. Right now, as a friend, Bob will be fine. He'll be disappointed and maybe even hurt but he won't lose what they've already built.

Patrick stares at him, his glasses magnifying his eyes. "It's not that simple. My bond's not that simple."

"Yeah you could have one of those rare threeway bonds but it doesn’t change anything. Can we please, just, not?" He hates that he can't keep the plea out of his voice. "I don't think it'd be fair, to either of us."

That gets him a sharp, ugly laugh. "Life isn't fucking fair, Bob. I may never meet my soulmate but this," His grip tightens on Bob's wrist, not painful just exerting pressure that whispered of possession. "This could be something real anyway." His thumb drags over the heel of Bob's hand. "We could be real."

Bob licks his lips and sighs. "Yeah, I just. Patrick." He doesn’t know what else to say. All he can manage is Patrick's name, one more time.

It gets Patrick to release his grip. He lets out a small, disappointed sigh and scoots away, putting just enough space between them to be friendly rather than intimate. He gives Bob a smile. "So," he says the cheer in his expression carefully controlled. "Are you going to play with us at some point or what?"

"Yeah," Bob replies. "Yeah I'd like that."

After that, the headaches get worse, radiating out from his joining spot and tendriling into his brain. He ups his Tranaxil dose again and it works for about three days before he has to do it again, and then again a couple days after that. His appetite is drying up. It hurts but he can't force food down over the ache in his joining spot.

The potential for something more with someone else, it has to be agitating his bond and Bob refuses to be anything but ruthless with the pull. He's fine though. Everything is fine. He's great, especially when they play and he can pour everything into his kit. Only when he comes off stage is it obvious that whatever his new Tranaxil level is already starting to become ineffective.

He isn't even sure what state he's in when he gives in and texts the tour manager saying he's not feeling well and can't play tonight. It's one of the few cities where they're playing two days in a row so no one will notice if he leaves the venue for awhile, or the night in a hotel to try and get some real rest. He starts by walking over to the gas station near the venue. He's running out of Advil and Tylenol and maybe he wants to get a beer away from the crush of the bus city.

It's not until he's falling over onto white and grey linoleum that he remembers what Will said about Tranaxil being technically toxic. By that point, his knees have already given out and he's sprawled on his back in the drink aisle.

A woman in her early thirties appears at his side, clutching a Mountain Dew. She's saying something to him. He can barely understand her. She's talking with marbles in her mouth and he tells her so and she shakes him.

She repeating the same question in different ways over and over until he can understand her. "Did you take something?" She says again. "You look high as hell what did you take."

"N'thing." He slurs. He doesn’t touch the hard stuff and she probably knows that beer or weed wouldn’t do this. "Meds. Too much." He manages.

He hurts. He hurts everywhere. His body is screaming in time to the throb in his head. He's felt pain before but this is new and it's vicious. He can feel tears on his face which makes sense because this is hell. It's actually hell. He can't imagine the pit Gerard keeps talking about could be worse than this. He's praying that he'll pass out, soon, because he can't take more of this. He can't do it.

She's saying something else, asking him what kind of meds. Where they are then? What is it, please? Has anyone called 911? Bob closes his eyes against the light. Someone is sobbing and he doesn't realize it's him until right before he finally, blessedly, loses consciousness.

~*~*~

When Bob gets hospitalized, all of My Chem basically disappears over night. Patrick knows that’s not typical and he's been touring long enough to know. The only member of the band still around is Mikey but that's because his and Pete's bond is in the early stages and neither of them can stand the idea of spending a full twenty-four hours apart. Patrick can't blame then when they both know that when Warped is over, they're going to have to spend so much time on tours that don’t crossover.

However, despite his presence on the bus, Mikey's not really there. He spends all his time texting or on the phone with his band with a frown cutting through his usually flat expression.

Pete spends all his free time sitting at Mikey's feet or pressed tight against his side. When they're tuning their instruments, Pete tells him that it helps.

"He doesn’t even realize he's giving orders most of the time," Pete tells him. "But I can feel how much better he feels when he does, like controlling me balances out the fact that the Bob thing is so out of control, you know?"

Patrick does. His skin is crawling with the knowledge that Bob is in a hospital hundreds of miles away from him. He can't do anything to help or even sit by his bed and hold his hand. Those things he keeps to himself though.

What Bob does to him, how he twists Patrick's insides up in knots is so much more than he ever thought he could feel for someone. He figured that with his soulmate renouncing him, love was out of the equation. Most people would rather wait and there were no widowers or renounced people in his small insulated world.

Only now there is Bob. Bob is amazing and understands the appeal of quiet in a community that is always exploding with noise but was always willing to listen when Patrick wanted to talk. Patrick loves his strength and stubbornness and how that willfulness complimented how beautifully submissive Bob is. He's funny and obnoxious and sarcastic and patient with Frank's bullshit and Gerard's eccentricities – but only to a degree. When his limits were met, he wasn't afraid to throw them off. Patrick adored it all.

Since meeting him, the fantasies Patrick harbored of the man on the other end of his bond looked like Bob. Every time he closes his eyes lately and imagines his bondmate, he looks like Bob. He's been thinking of how he's going to get past Bob's protests, planning different arguments that could get them past the issues of bonding and soulmates.

None of that matters at the moment. All that really is important is Mikey's status reports from the rest of his band. He doesn't even care that Bob's hospitalized because of a fucking drug overdose. He knows it means a mess, means things about Bob that Patrick is a little repulsed by and a lot of afraid of but he doesn’t fucking care. He just wants Bob to be okay.

He's so focused on getting through each set, on helping Pete make sure Mikey was eating and sleeping right that and worrying about Bob that he forgets about himself. He isn't paying attention to the ache in his head and the fear in his chest because he thinks is just the situation. Patrick is not prepared when all of a at ten in the morning four days after My Chemical Romance drops off Warped, his bond snaps all the way open.

His soulmate pours into his brain all at once. Fear, pain, exhaustion, confusion all crash on him like a storm surger. It's like being thrown under the full force of a waterfall. Patrick has to take time to gather himself together, to make himself believe that this is really happening after all this time.

Then there's the pull. A physical tug from the bond is actually making his body hurt. He almost trips over Pete in the lounge where he sits with his head against Mikey's knee curses a blue streak that has them both staring at him.

"Trick, you okay?"

"No," Patrick snaps. He yanks off his hat and runs his hand through his hair before putting it back on. He shakes his head and says "I'm not okay. He's not okay. Pete, I can feel him. He's there and he's hurt and I have to go. I have to go now."

Pete sits up straight like a blood hound with a new scent and then tackles Patrick. He almost trips into the TV but manages to stay on his feet as Pete catches him around the neck. He presses a wet kiss to his cheek and crows "I knew it. I told you he'd come around didn't I?" He turns to look at Mikey, not letting go. "Didn't I, baby? I fucking told you all."

"Yeah," Mikey agrees. "You did."

"So now we need to go. I'm going to go online and rent a car and then I'll take you seeking."

Patrick splutters. "Pete, you don't-"

"You do not get to boss me around anymore. Only Mikey gets to do that now. You said your soulmate's hurting, that you've sparked which means he probably needs you so you have to go. There's no Fall Out Boy with you so, I might as well take you."

"We," Mikey corrects. "We'll be able to get to him quicker if we've got more drivers in case it's, like, up in Canada or somewhere else far the fuck away."

"Exactly," Pete agrees. "There. Settled we need to go. He needs you."

Patrick is speechless. He doesn’t know what he expected but this wasn't it. He can't do anything but nod. He's far enough gone that he'd agree to just about anything to get to his bondmate.

Pete calls Enterprise Rent-A-Car while Patrick makes the run to Joe, Andy and their tour manager. None of them are happy but seeking comes first. Everyone knows that. It's a universal truth. The whole thing doesn't feel real until the three of them are piled into a blue midsized Mitsubishi headed back east the way they'd come the day before.

Lying in the backseat, Patrick listens to his ipod and focuses on his soulmate. He sends waves of love and comfort and "I'm coming, I'm coming to you, I'll be there soon." He doesn't get up or open his eyes or talk to Pete and Mikey except to tell them when a direction change is coming up. There's a moment when he considers driving but they shoot him down.

"We've got this" Pete assures him. "Mikey's going to nap while I drive and vice versa so we'll get there super fast. Bathroom and gas breaks only."

"Also you look like shit," Mikey adds. "I don’t want you to drive us off the road before we find him."

"See? Another good reason for you to shut the fuck up and chill out."

So he does. It's not until Mikey reaches back and shakes his leg eight hours later that he really rejoins the world.

"We're back," Mikey says. "This is where the guys are. I called them and let them know where we are. Do you have time to go to the hospital and see Bob?" His eyes are shadowed with concern. "It's okay if you don’t but I know you wanted-"

Patrick finds himself nodding. He shouldn't, he should keep moving. He's so close but he can't not go see Bob can he? "Yeah. Yes. That sounds good."

They stop at a gas station for directions and climb back into the car. Patrick expects the aching feeling of going the wrong way to sneak up on him as they drive but no. The pull just gets stronger murmuring that he was close if he just keeps going. By the time they reach the hospital, the bond is practically shouting at him.

Patrick thinks he knows what's going on but oh, God, he doesn't want to get his hopes up. He can't. Not after almost twelve years of being let down. When they tumble into the building, Patrick knows. He knows he's here and he takes off at a run, following the internal compass that is leading him up three flights of stairs and down a hall, Pete and Mikey on his heels.

He skids to a halt when he sees Ray standing outside the door to a room, half asleep standing up leaned against the wall. This is happening, he thinks, knowing that his soulmate is on the side of the door. It's happening, for real, and please, please let it be Bob and not whoever he's sharing a room with.

Ray jerks at their sudden arrival but Patrick ignores him. He's not important. None of them are important but his sub, his soulmate, the other half he's been missing for so fucking long. He yanks open the door and stumbles in to see Bob curled up on his side facing him. His eyes are squeezed shut against the low light but it doesn't matter. Just looking at him, Patrick knows.

"Bob," he breathes, crossing the room to him and leaning over the bed. Gerard and Frank and the woman in the other bed might as well not be there for all that he notices them.

He reaches out to touch Bob. When his hand makes contact with his bare arm, Patrick shudders at the rightness of the sensation. He knew it would be good but he couldn't have dreamed of it being like this.

"Bob, hey, it's Patrick. Come on. Open your eyes." He puts some steel behind the command and Bob obeys.

Blue eyes blink at him, blown and terrified. He's so scared, so sad, so lost and so hurt. Patrick gives him a shaky smile and moves to touch his face.

"I wanted it to be you," Patrick says. "When I felt you again yesterday, I wanted it to be you."

"No," Bob whispers, shaking his head. "No. Fuck fuck fuck, no."

"Just wait. Bob, just-" Patrick runs a thumb over his cheekbone. "Please give me a chance. You wanted us to try before and I can help. I can make it hurt less. I can take care of you. I want to take care of you, please let me."

Bob squeezes his eyes shut again and a tear leaks out the corner, rolling dow towards his nose. Then he nods and Patrick moves to slide his hand back to cup Bob's joining spot. He breathes out and thinks I'm here, I 've got you, its okay at Bob as hard as he can.

He knows it wont translate as words but the feeling should translate. No, it will. Patrick won't stop until it does.

When the panic battering him eases, Patrick says Bob's name again. This time when Bob looks at him, he doesn't look scared so much as heartbroken. "I can't," he chokes out. "Patrick I'm so sorry."

"IT's okay. Just, just let me stay for a little okay? We don’t have to do anything, I just have to find out whats going on."

"I fucked up," Bob says, his voice flat and dull. "Tranaxil."

It's a bond-blocker. The name makes Patrick wince. "Oh."

"It's not you," Bob says, desperate. "I'm sorry. I'm so fucking sorry. We shouldn't-"

"Stop." He can't hear this. He can't have waited this long and come this far only to be rejected again. "Lets not do this now. Let's just wait until you're okay and then we'll deal with all this."

"He's mostly detoxed," Gerard says. His gentle voice cuts like a knife through the bubble his world became the moment he saw Bob. "He's only got two or so days left before we were going to come back on tour."

Patrick nods but can't tear his eyes from Bob's face. "You all need to leave," he says. "Now."

He can hear Frank begin a token protest before the rest of his friends drag him out. When the door swings shut behind them, Patrick is a wash in relief and gratitude at the realitive privacy. The other patient is quiet so that's close enough.

"Are you okay to talk?" Patrick asks, rubbing the back of Bob's head with his fingers. "I think we need to talk but I can wait if you need."

Bob shrugs. "It's fine. It doesn’t matter." More despair radiates towards him, an hollow pain that feels like nothing matters.

"It does. It matters. It matters to me so much. I've been looking for you. I waited for you to open the door and now you have and I-"

"I didn’t do that. That was the detox." He shakes of Patrick's touch on his head. "It wasn't my choice."

Patrick nods and takes a step back, then stops. No. No, this isn't fair. "And what about my choice?" He shakes his head. "This isn't happening again. You don't get to decide this without us at least talking first. Do you hear me? It's cruel."

"I didn't do it to hurt you."

"But it did. It hurts, okay? It fucking hurts. It's hurt for years. Don't you hurt?"

Bob says nothing. He doesn't need to speak. Patrick can see the mirror of his own pain in his pale eyes. He doesn't understand any of this. Bob is amazing, everything Patrick's ever wanted and it was only a couple of weeks ago that they sat on his bus with Bob wanting him, wanting to be with him. He doesn't get why them being made for each other would make that worse.

"We don't have to talk about it now," Patrick says.

He watches as Bob nods then shakes his head and sits up. Bob's Adam's apple works and he says, "I'm not saying I want to acknowledge okay? That’s not why I'm going to say this."

"Okay?"

"Can I- I want to-" he lets out a long sigh before trying again. "If I got on my knees for you, could you take that without, you know, taking it as anything else?"

"No," Patrick admits. "I love you. I can't not feel that with you kneeling for me but I'm not going to push you into acknowledgement if you're not ready." It's the truth. If Bob doesn't want this, he wouldn't force the bond. Having him that way wouldn't be worth the damage it would cause. "I want you to but if you physically can't then don't do it because you think I need you to."

"I can. I need to. It'd help."

"Then yes," Patrick chokes out. "Fuck, yes, please, Bob. I've been thinking about for weeks."

Carefully, Bob climbs out of bed, refusing to take Patrick's hand when it's offered. Watching Bob slowly lower himself to the linoleum floor in nothing but a hospital gown is the most amazing thing he's ever seen in his life. Patrick wants to cry at how gorgeous, how perfect he is on his knees. How close they are to everything he's wanted takes Patrick's breath away.

"Thank you," he chokes out and fuck, he's crying. "Thank you for the honor of your submission. Thank you so much."

"Thank you for the gift of your care and dominance," Bob returns. He sounds strangled, like the words are torn across a barbed wire. "Would you– Sir would you touch me? Just once."

Patrick can't help the shudder that hits him at the honorific then buries his hand in Bob's thick blond hair, pushing it back off his forehead. He cups Bob's joining spot briefly before doing it again. He cards his finger's through Bob's hair again and again until Bob goes limp, leaning forward so that his forehead rests against Patrick's hip.

Exhaustion and anguish and sadness floods the bond. It makes Patrick want to sink to the floor too, take Bob in his arms and just hold him until he sleeps, until the only thing he can feel is peace and joy. He promised he wouldn't push so he doesn't do more this.

They stay like that for what feels like hours until the physical pain gets to be too much for Bob. He lets Patrick help him up and ease him back into bed. Bob curls up again, tucking his knees up against the way his body and brain are attacking him. With a shaky hand, he reaches for the button that controls his morphine drip and Patrick knows he's going to fade soon.

"I'm going to go," Patrick tells him. "You're sleeping and you don't want- I'm going. But I'm going to stay in the hospital. If you need me, I'll be back okay?"

Patrick doesn’t wait for him to answer. He almost runs out of the room. Pete and Mikey are waiting for him along with the My Chem manager, Brian. Where Brian goes, Gerard usually follows – the two of them don’t get to spend as much time together as either of them would like according to everything Bob's told him – but this time it's just the two of them.

Pete catches him around the waist and says "Drinking. We need to be doing that now."

"I'm fine. "

"No, you're not. Now come with us." Brian orders cutting off his protest mid-word and shit, Patrick's a dom and everything but Brian's force of will makes even him want to obey. He lets the two of them guide him off the ward, passing the rest of the guys on the way down who give them significant looks but say nothing.

Partick's surprised when they don’t go to a bar but instead beeline to the hotel My Chem's been camped out in since Bob's overdose. When they arrive, Brian picks up two of those plastic gallon jugs of vodka from behind the front desk. They leave Mikey to check in for the three of them and he, Pete and Brian go up to his and Gerard's room.

Patrick frowns as he watches Brian retrieve Sprite and Coke and from the room's minifridge and all the little glass hotel tumblers in the room. This doesn’t add up."I thought Gerard was sober."

"He is," Brian says. "I'm not and neither are you which is why you three are going to crash here and Gerard is going to sleep in the room Mikey just got, if the guys even make it back here tonight."

He pours them drinks that are more booze than soda and a moment later Mikey is there, taking the fourth glass as they sit sprawled across the two queen-sized beds. Well, Mikey and Pete sprawl on the bed near the window while Patrick sits with his legs crossed at the foot of the other with Brian sitting with his back against the wall at the head.

They drink in silence until Mikey thrusts his hand out for a refill and says "He told me that he had an issue with his bond but I didn't think it'd be this."

"At least you knew," Brian grits out. "He told me he didn't have a bond at all. I mean, bond blockers. Jesus. When I found out I figured, I don’t know. Maybe he found his soulmate too young and he abused by him. It happens sometimes but…"

He looks at Patrick. There's abject pity there. Patrick can't take it. He looks down at his drink and wishes it was deep enough to drown in

"But its not. It's nothing Patrick did but Bob renounced him anyway," Pete snaps. "I don’t care if he was chewing sadness pills with a chase of doom coffee every day for the last decade. That doesn't forgive this."

Mikey's hand tightens visibly on Pete's wrist. "Hey, I don't think-"

"No, you didn't see. Neither of you saw." Pete meets his eyes and Patrick feels so small and so young and so hurt that for a moment it's like the room is a vacuum. Pete's never looked at him like that before. Usually that kind of concern goes the other way around. "I saw. I saw you, Patrick, remember? This isn't okay."

"Hey, Pete." Mikey's fingers begin to move up and down Pete's arm in, soothing him. "No one is saying it's okay."

"I thought we were going to drink." Patrick holds up his glass. "Wasn't that the point of this? For there to be a liver-destroying amount of alcohol."

"Pretty sure the alcohol is really just to facilitate the talking." Brian replies. "Because we need to talk. This is your soulmate and he's basically my other brother. We have to talk about this at least some don't we?"

"Which part? The part where he overdosed on a fucking neurotoxin because he was so desperate not to be bonded to me? The part where I've spent the last dozen years of my life feeling like part of me was missing? The part where I still managed to fall for that asshole even without the bond and he still won't trust me?" Patrick snatches the unopened jug off the floor. Fuck it. He's drinking it straight out of the container. He cogush at the burn the glares at Brian. "Exactly which part are we talking about?"

"All of it, I think. So, why don’t you tell me and Mikey about your side and then we can fill in the holes we know about." Brian says, completely unshaken. Patrick is both unsurprised (managing My Chemical Romance is the human version of herding cats) and deeply fucking annoyed by his calm reply. Memories wrap tight around his neck for a moment and he can't breathe. Then it all comes out in a painful rush.

Saying it out loud reminds him of the few glimpses he's had of Bob's side of the bond over the years. There was always so much despair, so many hopeless apologies. It doesn't fit with the Bob he knows, with the life Patrick's lead.

"I just don’t get why," Patrick says at the end. "He doesn’t like it. He fucking hurt himself."

They are all drunk. Not slurring drunk but enough to cushion the sharp edges of the day. "I think its got something to do with his parents," Brian says at last. "He told me once about his dad. He died."

"People die," Pete says. "There's a million widows and widowers on this planet. My dad's mom was widowed when he was a kid. That doesn’t explain it."

"It was bad though," Brian protests. "From what little he told me, his mom had a psychotic break or something when his dad passed away."

Pete isn't willing to let it drop though "That doesn't happen though. I mean, sometimes people kill themselves with grief but people don't just go crazy."

"Unless they already were," Mikey points out. "I mean, Bert lost Kate last year and he fell apart for awhile but he already had a pretty bad habit you know?"

"Well it happened this time. I don’t know what happened exactly but from what he told me, his dad died when he was a teenager and his mom was so far gone that she doesn’t know him."

The room goes quiet as they all stare at Brian. Mikey looks as stricken as Patrick feels. "He never said," Mikey murmurs. "He never said anything, to any of us."

"He wouldn't," Patrick says. "It's Bob." The silence that fills the room is all the confirmation Patrick needs. He screws the top onto the jug and drops it on the floor before rolling onto his side to face Brian. He lets out a deep breath. "Okay. Okay, tell me what else you know?"

Brian doesn’t know all that much. He knows that the only family Bob talks about are his aunts and that all of them are in Florida now. He also knows that there's one guy in Bob's contacts with a Chicago area code which Bob texts sometimes, a guy named Will. "He said they went to high school together. You can call him if you want. Otherwise I just don’t know." He reaches in his pocket and holds out Bob's phone.

Patrick takes it with careful hands then gets up and moves to the other bed. Bob's still drugged unconscious but there's sadness so intense that not even sleep's shutting down the flow of it through the bond. He wants to be near Pete, close to someone he knows and can trust.

Pete gets it, because he's Pete. Patrick thinks he has kept a running tally of all the times Patrick has held him up that he says "Come here, Trick," and pulls him down to lie sandwiched between himself and Mikey like the reciprocity is nothing at all.

Before Brian leaves, Patrick has fallen asleep in his clothes and Vans on top of the covers with between best friend and his best friend's bondmate. He's gone when Patrick wakes up and untangles himself from Pete and Mikey.

He picks up the key Brian left and slips into the hall because fuck it. Fuck it, he's calling this Will guy. He needs answers before he can face Bob again and no one else seems to have any so why not?

Will picks up on the third ring, cheerful with hints of a Chicago accent and Patrick says, "Hi, Will?"

"Yeah? Who is this?"

"You don't know me but my name's I'm Bob Bryar's soulmate."

"Bullshit you are," Will snorts.

Okay then… Patrick tries again. "What? Listen, a friend of his said you've known him since high so I'm just hoping you could help me. He's in the hospital."

"Fucking idiot! Jesus I fucking told him not to- Asshole fucked up with his Tranaxil didn't he?"

Patrick can feel his mouth drop open of its own accord. "Yeah. How did you know that?"

Will lets out a long sigh and growls "Asshole. Fucking asshole, I warned him," like Patrick never even spoke."I've been fucking warning him but that stupid fucking asshole just wouldn't listen. Stubborn son of a bitch. Where are is he?"

Patrick ignores the question. He's got questions of his own. "You knew about the bondblockers?"

Will sighs long and loud. "Yeah. Are you really his soulmate? I mean really? You're not just saying that so that the hospital will, I don’t know, give you rights to see him or something?"

"Yeah. I am. I just found out, when he detoxed."

"Lucky bastard. So fucking lucky. He could've died. He could've destroyed the receptors in his brain that allow you two to connect at all, he-" Will breaks off. "Oh, Jesus, he detoxed. He detoxed so the bond must've opened and you went seeking him. Fuck, man, I'm so sorry."

Squeezing the bridge of his nose, Patrick counts to ten before he says anything else. Will is upset. Patrick can hear it but he's upset too. His soulmate's been pushing him away for years and now he's debilitated and hospitalized. He gets to do all the asking and freaking out, thanks.

"I need you to tell me what happened. He's been blocking me for more than ten years. He's still pushing me away and he's so-" Patrick doesn't have word for what Bob is. There's just the feeling and sight of him in so much pain. "Please, tell me what to do."

"I can't. I want to tell you everything, okay, because I've been waiting for him to stop blocking you since the day we met but, he's a private guy."

"I know that."

"Then you know get why I can't tell you."

"I know its something with his parents. Can you at least confirm or deny that's why this is happening?"

Will sighs. "Hypothetically, I could say that if I saw something really fucked up happen to someone I loved because of a destroyed bond, it could scare me off the whole idea. If it happened to me."

Oh. Fuck. "So it's about his mom."

"It's about Bob," Will corrects. "If you're really it for him, you'll get that."

"Yeah," Patrick agrees. It is about Bob. It's about the man he's always been connected to, even when the wall between them was insurmountable. This is about how Bob feels and why. Patrick is just trying to understand so that when he sees Bob in a few hours, he might be able to get through to him.

"Look, man, here's what I can tell you without feeling like a traitor. Both these things are true and were pretty much public knowledge in high school, okay? His dad died when he was fourteen and he bought weed and Xinitac off me for the first time when he was fifteen." Will's pause sounds like it should be accompanied with a shrug. "That's all I feel like I can say."

"Thanks," Patrick says, meaning it. The confirmation is more than enough.

~*~*~

Bob wakes up to find Patrick, sitting at his bedside, holding his wrist in the ring of his fingers. He floats in the security of the gentle restraint for a moment before he tries to tug his hand free. With a sigh, Patrick releases him and sits back.

Bob feels better today. His head's down from screaming agony to a solid ache and his body feels merely battered instead of broken. A wave of comfort floats through the bond to him, like a smooth purr of violin strings and Bob can't resist singing into it a little.

"Morning." Patrick says. Bob hums back in reply but doesn't actually speak.

Patrick's alone. There's always been two or more of the guys in with him but this is different. His dom, well, the man he could allow to be his dome, is here now. It changes the etiquette.

"So, I'm going to talk," Patrick says, "And I'm hoping you'll talk back but you don't have to. I am though. I've got things to say to you, so I'm going to."

"Okay."

Patrick smiles. It lights up his whole face like fucking sunshine. "Okay. So, I talked to Brian and Mikey and your friend back in Chicago, Will, and from what I can tell, you blocked me because something happened with your parents, something with their bond. You got scared." He holds up a hand before Bob can refute that. "I felt you get scared. Every time the door between us opened up, you were scared of me. I thought it was me anyway. I think now maybe I was a little off."

Bob closes his eyes. He can see his father's rigged arm thrown across his mother's chest. He can see her dull blue eyes, staring sightlessly at him. "You're not."

"Yeah, I think I am. Because you were never scared of me when it was just us so, I don't think its me. I think it's the bond itself."

"Patrick," Bob begs because he can't argue. Not because every instinct in him is begging him to obey, to just do what Patrick says so his entire soul can finally be set at ease, but because he's right. He's right and it's too much to take.

"Yeah?"

"It's not that simple."

"Okay. Explain it to me then. I want to understand." he says and his voice is so fucking soft. Bob wishes he were angry. Anger would be easier to take than the careful affection in his tone.

Bob doesn't want to talk about the accident, about living with the aunts, about how scared he's been his whole fucking life. "Brian told you something," He says instead."Was it about my parents?" At Patrick's nod Bob lets out a huff of breath. "My mom doesn't know who I am. She can't take care of herself, or be left alone. When my aunts aren’t home, she's got a nurse who comes to the house – like she's an Alzheimer's patient."

"I'm sorry."

When Patrick says it, it doesn't sound like a platitude. Bob wants to hate him for how much comfort those two stupid, usually empty words give him. "It's fine."

"It's not. Not if you're so upset you'd self-medicate like that."

"I wasn't self-medicating because she's fucked up. I'm taking precautions." Bob wraps his arms around himself, as if doing so could ward off the memories. "She's only like that because my dad- they were bonded. Now she's this barely human shell," he spits. "It's pathetic."

"Oh."

"Yeah. Oh." He squeezes his arms tighter around himself. "No one wants to be like that."

Of course Patrick can read him, knows that "no one" actually means "I" and that this is why he's been running. The fear of losing himself is what's kept him hiding from Patrick behind a thick shield of pharmaceuticals more than half of Patrick's life.

Patrick sits back in his chair, taking his hat off to run his fingers through his hair in the now familiar stress ritual. "I don’t guess it'd help much to tell you that I don’t intend to die on you, right?" Bob glares at him. "Right. I don’t know, Bob, what do I need to tell you to get you to try? That I love you? You know that, you can feel it and I told you. I'll tell you again though. I love you. I've loved you since the first time I felt you and I loved you again here on tour when I had no idea, when you were just a drummer and I was just a singer and we were just two people falling for each other."

"That doesn't make it better." Bob didn’t know that this is what a heart breaking felt like. It's a rending sensation in his chest which is surprising. He never thought it would be so literal. "It's worse actually."

"What would? Jesus, Bob, I've spent forever missing you and now you're here. You're right here in front of me and I'd rather have fifteen minutes with you knowing I was going to lose you than fifty years without ever trying." He sighs.

"Because it means you matter more, Bob thinks. What comes out is a week. "I just can't, all right? I'm not built that way."

It's a complete lie and they both know it. He's built to be at Patrick's feet, to wear his collar, and belong to him. He's made for this, the quiet connection and nonverbal conversation that could take away the loneliness he felt forever. With the bond unblocked, he knows Patrick can feel that but Bob doesn't admit it. He doesn’t know if he can.

"Maybe we could try but if you really don’t want it, you could renounce me later," Patrick offers. "I mean, it happens. People renounce each other. If you saw how it was and decided you wanted to I'd understand. I'd let you go but please, Bob, let us at least try."

God, Bob wants to say yes. He wants to say yes and roll out of his bed and back down onto the ground. Nothing in his life had ever felt better than kneeling for Patrick, to giving over his will and trust knowing that the person he gave it too was who he was meant to have it. He opens his mouth, to say that he can't, that he shouldn't, that he wants to, that he needs to but before he can Patrick lifts a hand and cuts him off.

"Think about it okay? You're it for me, Bob, so I can wait. I've already waited so long, longer doesn't matter so much. Just," He holds out his hands palm up, "Don't block the bond until we can talk again okay? Don't do that again."

"I can't." Bob admits. "I'm supposed to wait at least six weeks before I can even go on the milder blockers like Xinitac."

"Oh. Okay." Patrick's tone is neutral. He's working a pretty decent poker face in fact.

Despite that, Bob's hit with a wave of relief straight from Patrick's lizard brain. This one is more like woodwinds, clarinets maybe? Something that can trill. Bob wants to ride it in, like a surfer to shore. He doesn't think he can. At least not here and not now.

"So now what?" Bob asks. He hopes he doesn’t sound accusatory but fuck it. He's a mess right now so however it comes out is how it is.

"Now me and Pete have to fly back to Warped. I think Mikey's coming too and you'll get well. That's an order." He gives Bob a thin smile he can't resist returning. "We'll talk when you get back to the tour."

Bob can live with that. Patrick seems to understand because he rises to his feet as if to leave. Instead, he leans over the bed, cups the back of Bob's head over the joining spot and ducks in for a kiss. It happens slowly that Bob has a thousand chances to stop him. He could pull away or put a hand on his chest or just said "no." What he does is lift his hands to mirror Patrick's touch and kiss him back.

Bob's been kissed a lot in his life. He's fucking good at kissing, skilled even. Those kisses are nothing like this. This is home, it's finding the place where he fits like a puzzle piece. It's peace and the rush that the first drop on a rollercoaster brings screaming awake. In that moment he knows, knows without any doubt, that Patrick loves him – beyond the bond but into the hours and hours talking on buses and parking lots and laughing back stage. It's the most terrifying thing he's ever experienced.

When they break apart, Patrick pulls back and smiles at him. "Just so you know," he says, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Take your time okay? I'm not going anywhere. Well, back to the tour but you know what I mean."

"Yeah."

"Yeah," Patrick agrees. "See you soon okay? Get better and if you need me, you know I'm here, even if I'm not here."

Bob nods and watches him turn and walk out. He doesn't let himself call Patrick back because he does need time. He needs to think, to figure things out but holy shit, he really wants to.

They release him from the hospital the next day with the warning "not to talk anything until he can meet with a certified bond specialist" and bottle of prescription strength motrin. He's shocked by how much of a relief climbing on the bus is. He spends so much time wishing for a hotel night, for a chance to shower and sleep in a bed but now getting back on the road feels like the answer to all his questions.

The drive out to the tour takes more the twenty-four hours. Bob mostly sits in the lounge and stares out the window at the country moving past them. He feels mostly back to normal and Frank slips into dom mode and pets his hair most of the way back until he's actually normal.

They get to the venue in time to play which Bob is grateful for. Gerard brings the house down and all of them are on top of their game with relief and elation to be back on stage. Bob manages to avoid Patrick because with the bond, he knows just how far away he is. Of course the bond also pulls him toward the Fall Out Boy bus, or the singing tables or wherever Patrick happens to be.

It's fine, it is, until Brian pulls him out of his bunk at six in the morning when the rest of the bus is asleep. They sit at the table in the lounge and Brian stares him down with this steady eyes of his until Bob snaps.

"What?""

"It's come to my attention that your dom isn't going to have this conversation with you. Patrick's too decent and is respecting some line or boundary between you too but you're not my sub you're my best friend so screw lines and boundaries." Brian actually points a finger. "You're being a fucking coward."

"Fuck you," Bob growls and god he wishes there was beer on this bus. He hates being in a sober band sometimes. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"Yes," he chokes out through gritted teeth, "I do. I know better than anyone. I had Gerard dying on me, remember?" He raps his knuckles on the table. "Bob. Do you?"

"You know I do."

"Then you remember how I got to spend twenty-four hours, day in, day out, for months, feeling just how badly he wanted to end it, just how much he was hurting. I lived with the exact fear that's keeping you away from Patrick. Hell, Bert actually lost Kate. We're both still here so maybe, you should take another look at what you're doing because both of us are still standing and you know what asshole? We're better for it because at least we tried. You?" He waves a hand, "You're hiding from shadows you think are monsters."

"Yeah because Bert is doing so great."

"Bert is dealing. He's using more than he should and a lot of his choices lately are beyond stupid but he's dealing just like I'd deal if something happened to Gerard. Human beings are tough and you're the toughest bastard I know. So be the tough stubborn son of a bitch I know you are and pull your head out of your ass."

Bob glares and Brian glares back but he makes the first move towards piece by grabbing the coffee pot off the counter and pouring some into two plastic mugs that held soda the night before. He takes a sip grudgingly but nods. Brian is right, he's often most of the time, goddamn him, so why should that be different now?

"I'll think about it."

"You should."

It'd be easier to snap to a decision if Patrick weren't fucking…Patrick. If he weren't gentle and easy and calm and warm. If he pushed or tried to make Bob give in to the desire to knee he felt so deeply, then Bob would have a defense against him. As it stands, all Bob can do is play and sleep and listen to the music in his mind that has nothing to do with sound and everything to do Patrick.

On top of that, he's surrounded by bonded couples – newly formed and established. Mikey and Pete's bond is so sparklingly fresh that Bob can almost taste it in the air. They're so in sync, so fucking happy, even Mikey who's expression is always as immobile as the statues on Easter Island is smiling all the time. He can't ignore Gerard and Brian, the easy comfort in the way Brian hooks his thumb under Gerard's collar whenever they're close enough. Even Jamia and Frank when she comes out to join them on tour, their combative and playful balance is so achingly attainable. Patrick is there too, patient and hopeful and still the guy that Bob fell so hard for before the bond opened up only more now.

Warped makes it all the way back to the east coast before it gets to be too much for Bob. He's tired, has been for years and the only time it eases is when he's near Patrick. So, fuck it right? Fuck it.

"Fuck it," he says during sound check in Virginia and Ray turns to look at him.

"Fuck what?"

"Everything. Just, you guys got this?"

His tech nods and he tosses him his sticks because when Bob decides to do things, he just does it. He did it with the Xinitic, he did it with leaving school, he did it with join it with My Chem so he's not even that surprised with himself that he's going to do this now, so soon after making his decision. Although this time, he's fairly sure he's trying to act before he chickens out.

Following the bond, he finds Patrick in the PR section. He and Pete are doing a web interview for Fuse. They're talking about the new album that just dropped and the video which is playing on the station nonstop. Pete talks with his hands and talks about being newly bonded because everyone loves a good love story and Patrick talks about how great Pete's partner is and how happy he is for him. Despite the sincerity, Bob can feel how much of a strain every word is for him.

He waves at Patrick from behind the camera and while Patrick doesn't speak, the rush of joy and hope Bob feels lets him know that he understand. Bob heads outside, inbetween the tents and waits. Patrick finds him less than five minutes later. He looks up at Bob and shines that smile at him and for the first time, Bob feels like he's not making a mistake.

"What's up?" Patrick asks. His smile is forced but the hope is still there, fizzing between them. It's there every time their paths cross, like the ringing of a bell. It always goes quiet when Bob shies away or can't meet his eyes. This time, Bob holds out both his hands, palms up, wrists together. "Bob?"

"I thought about it," he says, "You and me and everything." Patrick says nothing. Bob wishes he would say something but no. That's not what he really needs here and more than that, it's not who Patrick is with him. "If we did do this, we wouldn't have to be the kind of couple who mindmelds into one person right?"

Patrick snorts. "Neither of us has the patience for that." Gently he reaches out and strokes one of Bob's wrists with his fingertips. "But yes. We can be anything we want, Bob. That'll be half the point- figuring out who we are together."

"I need it to be different," He says and his voice is shaking. "I need us to be different from that. I can't be part of one of those pairs where the dom makes all the choices and the sub does whatever they're told or where they lose themselves in each other. I need to be able to walk away, at least physically if not-" He waves a hand at his temple. "I can't."

"I wouldn't want you to. You cant leave your band more than I can leave mine so, yeah. Yeah, Bob. People do it all the time. Half the tour's got a bondmate they only get to spend two months a year with. All I want from you is the chance."

Bob lets out a long breath and holds his hands out farther. "Can you hold them for me while I go to my knees?"

"God. God, yes, Bob, of course." He wraps both of Bob's wrists in his fists, tight enough to hurt in the best fucking way. Bob lets his strength balance him as he sinks to his knees in the thin grass. Patrick is looking down on him like he's made of sex and chocolate and the best high any drug could produce and Bob can feel the emotion mirrored through the bond. It's what's always been missing from down for other people.

The sensation of his knees touching the ground is almost enough to fall into subspace. Bob fights the warm water feeling of sinking into Patrick's control because he needs to be completely in control to do this. He's spent so much time fighting this with all of him that if he's going to let it go, give it up, then he needs to use all of himself for that too.

"Ask me," he says, spreading his fingers so his hands are open in supplication. "Ask me again about acknowledgement."

"Okay," Patrick says with a nod. "Right, okay. I didn't think-" He breaks off with a laugh. "Do you know how beautiful you are like that? Do you have any idea? God, yeah, so, hang on."

Bob listens to Patrick take a few deep breathes and relaxes. It's comforting, to know that this is just as huge, just as overwhelming for Patrick. They've somehow stumbled onto equal footing, despite everything. So he waits, comfortable at Patrick's feet until Patrick speaks again.

"Robert Bryar, will you do me the honor of acknowledging me as your soulmate?" Patrick says, with the perfect precision that hints maybe he's been practicing since that day in the hospital, when Bob went to his knees the first time.

That doesn't stop Bob from being utterly terrified, scared of the things he could have almost as much as what this could lose him. He wants to say yes. He's going to say yes and that certainty, combined with the soothing lovelovehappinesshopelove pouring in from Patrick cements his resolve. "I accept the gift of our bond and acknowledge you as my soulmate." He says, shocking himself that he doesn’t trip over a single word in the ritual response.

It's not magic. It's not like something shifts on a global scale. Something, though, deep inside of Bob clicks like a lock flipping into place. He sags in Patrick's grip, hanging limp with his wrists the only thing keeping him from pooling in the dirt. It's okay though. Patrick's not going to let him fall.

"Have you got a safe word?" Patrick chokes out, his fingers digging in now, hard. "Tell me what it is, please."

"Car," Bob sighs. "But I'm not saying it now."

"Car. Got it. I'm going to kiss you now and if you don't want me too, safeword out okay? Actually, safeword any time you need about anything. I'll respect it, I swear I just need to be kissing you."

Bob nods but says nothing. He wants Patrick to kiss him like he did before only without all that pain and disappointment. He gets it when he puts his hands on Bob's shoulders instead of his wrists and leans to kiss him so that Bob can stay there, down on his knees, where he fucking belongs.

Patrick takes his mouth, hot and hard and commanding until Bob is literally gasping. Then Patrick joins him on the ground, knees touching. He releases his grip on Bob long enough to yank off his hat then and bring his hands around to massage on Bob's soul's home. The pressure on the back of his skull alone is enough to get him hard. He could probably come from that and kissing Patrick if they went on long enough.

They don't kiss more. Instead, they just sit there in the busy parking lot city but not a part of it, feeling each other. Bob moves his hands in request and when Patrick nods, he mirrors the touch to his dom's soul home.

His dom. His. Patrick is his dom.He's shuddering at the thought and Patrick nuzzles him, rubs his thumbs in circles over his soul bond and sends reassurance to him in a smooth stream.

All of it is so good and its been mere moments which makes it so much clearer, how his mom lost herself, how Brian reached that panicked point when he called a year ago. He could end up just like them because he knows now. He knows what he could lose and it's more than he could've imagined.

"We're going to figure this out," Patrick says, feeling his agitation. "Not right now but we will. We've just got to try."

"And I'm trying, Sir," he says, the honorific slipping through without thought. It makes Patrick moan and mental explosion of pleasure and approval are so intense they're almost intoxicating.

"That's all I need, Bob. Right now, I promise, that's the only thing we need."

"Yes sir," Bob murmurs, even though he can't quite believe it. He can see believing it as a possibility though.

So, that's probably all right, Bob thinks as Patrick kisses him again. He slides his arms around Bob's neck and back and Bob lets himself be pulled close and held up by Patrick's physical and mental dominance. The whole thing feels so good, feels so right, so much like home that when Patrick breaks the kiss again, Bob manages to rasp out "Me too. Love you. Too," and it's true.

It was true of the man on the other side of the bond he never met and it was true of Patrick – the guy he fell for on tour and he sends that feeling with the words. It makes Patrick smile even wider, the kind of light that could choke a black hole. . The fact they're the same person, that he's managed to come this far and gets that smile considering how much farther he has to go feels like a good thing for the first time. So maybe, Bob thinks, maybe it all really will be okay.