When Patrick comes into the room, Pete is kneeling with his eyes downcast. "Master."
Patrick's shoulders tense. "What did you do now?"
Pete squirms ever so slightly. "When you say do..."
Patrick goes near and grabs him by the collar. (Collar. God. Patrick still has a hard time believing that he found his bondmate and collared him: it sounds like something from another life. But then he remembers it's Pete, and it all clicks back into place.)
"If you're going to do protocol," Patrick says, just for completeness' sake, "you might not wanna be a smartass. Kinda defeats the purpose."
Pete looks up at him with adoring eyes, and that one isn't about protocol or ceremony. It's just him and the way they always are.
Despite the temptation to sit down so he's level with Pete, Patrick stays standing, keeps his grip on the collar. "Tell me about it." He rubs his fingers over Pete's cheek, playing along, reassuring.
"I was naughty," Pete murmurs. Then he slumps. In a normal tone, he says, "Master, I fucked up."
And normally Patrick would sigh and ask him and they'd talk about it - maybe some yelling on Patrick's end - but Pete doesn't do the whole elaborate display thing very often, so whatever he needs, he must need it bad, and that means Patrick wants to give it to him. That simple.
Normally Patrick gives Pete punishment by ear - literally, almost, in that he goes with his first impulse until the bond sounds just right. At the moment the bond sounds like a group of postmodern musicians tuning their instruments - seriously, Patrick thinks he's hearing cowbell in there - so Pete must want order. Rules.
"Put your hands on the back of your neck," Patrick says. "Don't move."
He rakes his mind to remember the shit they taught in concordance lessons. All Patrick really paid attention to was stupid capitalization rules. That might be actually funny, making Pete write poetry where all his references to Patrick had capital letters, including the metaphors, but it doesn't help him much at the moment.
For once, Pete waits patiently, eyes on Patrick. He looks good like this, in a way that Patrick feels almost guilty about. Pete looks like the centerfolds Patrick used to jerk off to as a teenager. (Yes, okay, as a younger teenager.)
Patrick sits on the bed. "Come here."
It's almost funny to see Pete shuffling on his knees, hands behind his neck. Not enough to keep Patrick's breath from catching, or that his dick from getting hard. Crawling is silly, Patrick always thought so, but knowing Pete is moving in a really stupid way because Patrick hadn't given him permission not to - that's working for him, right now.
It's also working for Pete if the bond is any indication. There's no harmony there, not by any length of imagination, but a coherent theme is beginning to emerge. Flute, Patrick thinks.
"Sit on my lap," Patrick says. He helps Pete get upright, because there's a limit, then wraps one arm around Pete's waist. "You've been bad?"
Pete's breath hitches, desperate. "Yeah, Master. Real fuckin' bad."
Patrick undoes Pete's fly. Pete's caged under it, locked up and small. "Tell me," Patrick says, rubbing his fingers over Pete's bartskull tattoo.
Pete buries his face in Patrick's shoulder and whines.
Patrick pinches the thin, sensitive skin. "I gave you an order."
Pete's silent for a long moment, long enough that Patrick's contemplating punishing him again. "I took off the cage, Master. I'm sorry."
It's not what Patrick expected. He stiffens. "Uh. Yellow."
Pete shifts, looking at Patrick with a worried frown.
"See, Pete," Patrick says, struggling to keep his voice even, "I know that this is standard obedience play, but it's actually hurting my fucking feelings, here."
Before he can say anything further, Pete's arms are squeezing the breath out of him. "I really am sorry," he says, heartfelt. "I'm so fucking sorry, you have no idea."
Patrick breathes in and out. "Okay, yellow over. Do you know what you're sorry for?"
The question is textbook. Pete's answer, thankfully, isn't. "It's a kind of betrayal. Master." He inhales and exhales. "I went against your command. I didn't even talk to you about it, to safeword or anything. You asked me-- you gave me an order, and I said I'd do it, and then I went behind your back and took it off without even giving you a chance to think about it and maybe change it so it'd work better for both of us."
That's comprehensive, and it shows that however little Pete thought before taking off his cage, he's definitely thought about it afterwards. "So why did you do it?"
Pete shudders, and Patrick realizes he's stifling a short, bitter laughter. "Master, I don't have a good reason. I was horny and my day sucked, and I wanted an orgasm, so I went for it."
Patrick thinks back over their week. "That was on the day your prescription ran out, wasn't it?" The timeline doesn't work out otherwise.
"Yes, Master." Pete bites his lip. "It's not an excuse, though. You reminded me to renew it, and I didn't, and then everything was awful and nothing hurt. Except my balls."
Patrick laughs before he can think not to. It's not in breach of protocl, though, not for the Dom. Still, he shouldn't encourage Pete's bad behavior. If they're doing this, they might as well do it right. "What kind of punishment do you think you deserve?"
That's one card Patrick really doesn't like playing, because normally Pete takes that to mean "What can I do to you that you'll genuinely hate," which is basically the opposite of anything Patrick wants to do with people he loves.
After a long period of consideration, Pete says, "I think you shouldn't let me come for the next week, Master. I'd love it if you still let me get you off, but I get that I don't deserve that. And." He hunches slightly.
Patrick holds on to his collar. "Finish what you were saying."
"I think you should padlock the cage." Pete's words come out hurried, especially the "Master" he tacks on, so clearly an afterthought that by rigid standards Patrick should probably order him to grovel.
"You know why I haven't done that," Patrick says. It's not really unsafe: most ERs have boltcutters for subs coming in with shackles or locks that need cutting off in a hurry. Still, on the road like they are, if something goes wrong it'll be embarrassing at best and might cause actual damage at worst.
"Why should I change my mind?"
Pete is shrinking against him, but the flute theme has picked up accompaniment by violin and a gentle thrumming bass note. The cowbell is gone. Patrick holds firm.
At last Pete says, "Master, I will feel a lot better if I know I physically can't." There's an ugly keyboard-mashing mismatched chord at the words, and Patrick recognizes the feeling: Pete knowing he'll say something to make his partner hate him.
It's his turn, now, to squeeze the breath out of Pete. "Then we can do that." He keeps his voice low and steady instead of yelling at Pete that he fucking loves him, that Pete feeling better is the actual fucking point, here. He thinks that's a good sign of maturity.
He kisses Pete's temple. "I want to go shower and sleep. Can we do that?"
They drop protocol after that, padding around the room the way they do, cuddling close together in bed. Pete's forehead rests against Patrick's collarbone, Pete's breath warm on his chest. "So that could've gone worse," Patrick says.
"Yeah, no kidding." Pete's eyelashes flutter, tickling Patrick's skin. "I didn't even offer to stop wearing my collar because I was such a huge disgrace."
That makes the breath catch in Patrick's throat. "Okay, Wentz, I'm telling you this once and I better not have to tell you again: if you tell me to take off your collar, you will not be getting your ass kicked. You will be getting your collar taken off, for good."
When Patrick stops seeing red, Pete is still close, rubbing a hand over Patrick's thigh. "Yeah, please pay attention to how I didn't fucking do that. I'm not that much of an asshole."
Patrick's heart is still pounding just from the idea. "Seriously, you dickhead, don't even fucking joke about that. Just." He exhales, loud and shaking. "I love you," he says, in a helpless small voice. "Not some perfect hypothetical version of you, you. Fuckups and all. Hinting that I'd divorce you because you disobeyed me once when you had a shitty day isn't just hurting my feelings, it's actually insulting."
Instead of answering, Pete just presses close. "Let me make it up to you," he says, sliding down Patrick's body.
Patrick stops him. "Hey. No getting off, remember?" He keeps holding Pete's gaze until he sees the realization dawn that neither of them will be coming.
"You are evil," Pete says, admiring.
Patrick kisses the top of his head. "Hey, you wanted punishment, you got it. Now go the fuck to sleep."
"Easy for you to say," Pete mutters, but for once he's the first one snoring.