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Love Will Tear Us Apart

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Patrick's usually glad they have two buses. It's nice to have a place he can retreat to, a Pete-free-zone for those times when Patrick starts to fantasize about gagging Pete, or maybe strangling him. (Neither in a sexy way, despite the leering insinuations Pete makes about erotic asphyxiation whenever Patrick threatens to shut him up.) Pete doesn't always stick to his own bus, but it's definitely better for Patrick to have his own bus instead of being crammed onto the same bus with Pete, with no escape or reprieve from his very intense. . .Pete-ness.

But tonight there’s no escape from the voice in Patrick's head that reminds him of all the things he's fucked up, and Patrick stares at the ceiling of his bunk wishing Pete were here to distract him. The drone of the engine drowns out any other sounds, and Patrick feels isolated and adrift, disconnected from everything that matters.

Maybe they've been doing this too long, maybe it's the hostile reaction to the last record. Whatever it is, Patrick's just going through the motions, pretending to be the guy he used to be. He thinks, not for the first time, "I don't want to do this anymore," and, as usual, suppresses the thought. What the fuck would he do if he didn't do this?

Sleep seems impossible until it catches him by surprise, throwing him straight into a dream about the previous night's show. The very last thing Patrick wants is to remember the kid in the front row who'd booed every time they played something from Folie; he's relieved when the dream shifts and he's on an outdoor stage, playing a show in the rain. This dream is also a memory, of a Warped show that got rained out, but the quality of the dream is entirely different from his earlier one, every detail sharp and real.

In the dream, the band keeps playing, despite the lightning and thunder. Pete catches Patrick's eye and grins, and Patrick tips his head back, letting the rainwater pelt his face, cool on his overheated skin. The rhythm vibrates through the soles of his feet and Patrick can't imagine why he wouldn't want to do this forever. It's the exact opposite of his earlier ennui, and as much as Patrick's aware that it's a dream, he desperately wants that part to be real.

Patrick wakes to the sound of rain pounding on the roof of the bus. At first he's not really sure if he is awake, or if this is just another dream. His disorientation is compounded by the fact that Pete's in the bunk with him, cuddled up against Patrick's back with his face pressed into the nape of Patrick's neck.

They must have stopped for gas while Patrick was asleep, and of course Pete snuck onto Patrick's bus. But Patrick can't find it in his heart to be mad at Pete, because the joyous feeling from Patrick's dream is dissipating rapidly and the sense of loss and disconnect is sharper than ever. The only thing that's keeping Patrick's anxiety in check is the feel of Pete's arm thrown over his side and Pete's warm breath against his neck.

 

When Patrick wakes up again, he's alone in his bunk, but the television is blaring the Thundercats theme song, so Pete's apparently still on the bus. In the lounge, Andy's twisted up like a pretzel on the corner of the couch, reading. Pete is sprawled on the rest of the couch, holding a fistful of Oreos in one hand and a giant travel mug in the other. When he sees Patrick, he beams, revealing a mouthful of black crumbs, and says "Good morning, sunshine!"

Pete scoots over to make room for Patrick, and he slides in, taking the mug that Pete silently offers him. The coffee tastes like it's got half a pound of sugar in it, but Patrick can already feel himself waking up.

Three sips later, he's conscious enough to consider the provenance of the Oreos Pete's eating. "Those better not be my Oreos," Patrick says, eyeing the rapidly shrinking stack of cookies.

"Andy ate the last Pop-Tart," Pete says, which, Patrick notes, is not a denial that the cookies are Patrick's.

Without looking up from his book, Andy says, "They were my Pop-Tarts." There's a very un-Andy-like edge to his voice. That's happening more and more lately.

Patrick sighs loudly and snags the last two cookies from Pete's hand. Pete pouts and retaliates by stealing his coffee back, but after a few minutes, he curls into Patrick's side and rubs his head against Patrick's shoulder. The gesture reminds Patrick of the previous night's dream, how vivid it was, even though he was constantly aware that it was a dream.

There's a name for that, but Patrick isn't awake enough to recall it. He licks the filling out of the last Oreo and says, "What do you call it when you're dreaming but know you're dreaming?"

"Loo-something," Pete says, snapping his fingers. "Lucent?"

That doesn't sound quite right, but it's something like that. Patrick shakes his head, and Andy supplies, "Lucid dreaming," in a weary tone.

"Right," Pete says. "I just had one of those last night. We were like, playing in a storm? It was rad."

"Weird,” Patrick says, feeling something shiver down his spine. “I had a dream like that last night too."

"Not that weird," Andy says, still sounding a little irritated. "It rained last night. Probably half the people on the tour had that dream."

"Did you?" Patrick asks.

Andy lifts one shoulder as he turns the page. "Maybe? I never remember my dreams."

***

Pete's never questioned the hungry, itchy feeling he gets when he's away from Patrick for too long. It's just the way things are, and if it's vaguely annoying during those brief interludes when they're not writing, recording, or touring, it's also completely understandable. Patrick is so cuddly and the soft pale skin on his neck is just asking for you to bury your face in it (and bite it, but Pete mostly doesn't let himself think about that)--who wouldn't want to touch him all the time?

Patrick rolls his eyes and complains about Pete being clingy, but he never pushes Pete away. Patrick always lets Pete curl his body around Patrick's and hide from the world, even when Patrick’s working, or when he’s angry with Pete.

As the tour grinds on, Patrick gets mad at Pete more and more frequently. Over breakfast, a discussion about whether to do a Michael Jackson tribute show devolves into a standoff about the Jackson 5 vs. New Kids On the Block, and Patrick gets all huffy and stalks out of the diner before their food arrives. Patrick glares at Pete throughout the subsequent interview. But later, when Pete finds Patrick stretched out on the couch in the lounge on Patrick and Andy's bus, Patrick scoots over automatically and makes room for Pete to balance himself precariously between Patrick and the edge of the sofa.

"You smell nice," Pete whispers into the back of Patrick's neck. Patrick smells like dirty socks and beer and sour milk from the latte he spilled on his hoodie yesterday, but Pete's not lying. Underneath all of that, Patrick smells like himself, like home.

"Ewwww," Patrick mutters, half asleep. He doesn't elaborate, because this is something they've discussed before.

It's cloudy outside and the lounge is dimly lit, hushed in a drowsy, mid-afternoon way. Pete dozes in and out, his hand curled around the bare strip of skin where Patrick's t-shirt is riding up.

One of their phones vibrates between them, and Patrick startles, nearly knocking Pete off the couch. There's a momentary flailing of limbs, as Pete tries to catch his balance and Patrick grabs at Pete. The phone clatters to the floor and Pete's knee connects painfully with the couch frame, and then Patrick catches hold of Pete's arm, keeping him from falling off the couch.

Patrick's eyes are lidded and confused; he's caught in the moment between sleep and waking, and for a long while, he just stares at Pete, his hand clenched tightly around Pete's bicep. There's something fragile about the moment and it keeps Pete from making a joke or tickling Patrick or doing any of the hundreds of things he does to break the tension when things get weird. The couch isn't really deep enough for two people to lie on it together and even though Patrick's still half sitting up, their faces are so close together that Pete can feel Patrick's breath every time he exhales. And then, Patrick licks his lips and presses them softly to Pete's.

Pete’s heart stops. He’s kissed Patrick -- mostly just to make him blush --but Patrick's never kissed him. And they've never kissed like this, bodies pressed alongside one another, anything possible in the quiet gloom. Pete has no idea what to do next, no idea what the hell Patrick's doing. Should Pete pull Patrick in, make it a real kiss, with Pete's fingers winding in Patrick's soft hair? Should Pete shake Patrick's shoulder and make sure that he's really awake?

In the absence of any cues, Pete holds his breath, stays as still as he can. The kiss draws out to the point of awkwardness, slight pressure of Patrick's damp lips against Pete's, their breath mingling. Pete's afraid to do anything, certain that whatever he does will be the wrong thing, the thing that fucks everything up forever.

Finally, Patrick pulls away, letting go of Pete's arm and sitting up. He blinks and when he speaks, he sounds shy. "Uh, hey. Did you get any sleep?"

Pete sits up too, shifting around so that he's on the opposite side of the couch. He clears his throat and says, "In and out. How about you?"

Patrick shrugs. With every second that passes he's looking more like himself. "Out like a light. I guess I needed it -- stayed up too late drinking with Gabe and Victoria last night."

Pete just barely stops himself from demanding to know why they're talking about Gabe and Victoria instead of what just happened. The usual noise in Pete's brain is turned up to eleven and he might vomit if he has to keep sitting here, pretending like everything is normal.

He struggles for something to say, and then realizes the bus is slowing down. He wipes his sweaty palms on his jeans and says, "I need a Coke - I'll see you later, okay?" Patrick looks every bit as relieved as Pete feels.

***

Patrick can't stop dreaming about kissing Pete. Well, kissing, and touching and. . .other things. They're definitely not the kind of dreams Patrick wants to have on the bus, especially not with Pete crawling into Patrick's bunk at all hours of the night.

He's so focused on keeping Pete from finding out that he's dreaming about him that it doesn't even occur to Patrick to worry about Andy finding out. But one morning, Andy looks over at Patrick and says, "Is everything okay? You were making a lot of noise in your sleep."

Patrick stares down at his Lucky Charms and tries to will himself not to blush. "Yeah. Uh. Lots of, um, nightmares lately."

"Rough tour."

Andy sounds sympathetic enough that for a second Patrick's almost tempted to tell him everything. Instead, he says, "Is there a way to stop yourself from dreaming about things you don't want to dream about?"

"You gotta set an intention," Andy says sagely. "Like, decide what you're going to dream about and think about that as you're falling asleep.

That night, Patrick dutifully imagines playing a show with Bowie and hanging out with him backstage, but it doesn't help. Instead, he dreams about Pete on his knees, about fucking into his mouth and Pete moaning around Patrick's dick, and the next morning Andy just shakes his head and says, "Maybe you should try yoga?"

Patrick's not really a yoga guy. Instead, he just stops sleeping. He's writing some new music, experimenting with a different sound and playing with lyrics, even though that's usually Pete's thing. Patrick can't decide if it's working or not, and he's not ready to play any of it for the band, so he winds up writing at odd hours when everyone else is asleep. He's vaguely aware that he's living on caffeine and post-show adrenaline, but it's better than lying in his bunk, worrying about the band and having smutty dreams about Pete.

One sleepless day blends seamlessly into another, and Patrick's doing fine, great, until Ryland and Gabe throw a Cinco de Mayo party on the Cobra's bus. In Patrick's sleep-deprived state, it only takes one margarita for him to be nodding off. He hasn't even started to dream when he wakes to Andy nudging his shoulder insistently.

"Go back to the bus," Andy says flatly.

Patrick blinks and squints at Andy, trying to wake up. "What? Why?"

"Because if you sleep here, the Cobras are going to draw dicks on your forehead or something."

"Or worse," Pete says, perching on the arm of the couch. “Do you remember when they gave Bill a mullet?"

Patrick makes a vague noise of agreement, but he's not really listening; he's too busy imagining what would happen if he fell asleep and had a sex dream about Pete in the middle of the party. Just thinking about it makes his cheeks heat up.

"Not that it's any better if you're awake," Pete says. "Somebody just gave Gabe some peyote, so we've got about fifteen minutes before he starts reciting poetry and talking about how fashion is the new religion."

Andy makes a face. "Joe and I are going to track down a diner a buddy of mine recommended. I have a date with a stack of vegan pancakes." To Patrick, he says, "Go get some sleep, you look like shit."

Pete says, "No pancakes for me," even though Andy hadn't actually invited him. "Come on, Patrick, I'll walk you back to your bus."

Patrick shakes his head and hauls himself off the couch. "I'm fine. Stay here and listen to the wisdom of the Cobra."

Pete rolls his eyes. "I've had enough of Gabe's wisdom to last a lifetime."

Once they're outside, Patrick takes a deep breath. Everything smells of beer and exhaust, but the air is cooler and the moon is round and full on the horizon. As they walk, the noise from the party recedes and Patrick can hear crickets chirping, loud over the more distant sound of traffic from the highway.

Pete says, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Patrick says, trying to force his tired face into a smile. "I'm great. Just need to get some sleep."

There was a time when Pete would've leapt on that opportunity for a lewd joke, but tonight he just furrows his brow and says, "I worry about you."

There's not really anything to say to that, and they walk in silence until they get to Patrick and Andy's bus. Patrick turns and leans against the bus, facing Pete. The halogen streetlight is harsh on Pete's face; he looks as tired as Patrick feels. "I worry about you too," he finally says. "Are you going back to the party?"

Pete shakes his head. "Nah, it's time for all good boys to be in their own beds." He takes two steps forward, stopping when the toe of his sneaker is less than an inch from Patrick's. He licks his lips and presses them together, and Patrick can't help mimicking the gesture. Pete's eyes are wide in his face, tracking the movement, and if Patrick thought Andy could actually be counted on to find the vegan diner and stay away for a few hours, he'd--but no, that's a bad idea.

"I should, uh. . .hit the sack," Pete says, without making any motion to leave.

"Yeah."

Pete takes another half step and his fingers land lightly on Patrick's shoulder. The wave of longing that hits Patrick is almost overwhelming. Pete seems on the verge of saying something, but then he just squeezes Patrick's shoulder instead. His pinky grazes the bare skin below Patrick's sleeve and he leans in quickly and presses his lips to Patrick's cheekbone.

Almost before Patrick really registers it, Pete's stepping away, shoving the tips of his fingers in the pockets of his ridiculously skinny jeans. "So, uh, sweet dreams and all that. I'll see you in the morning."

Patrick crawls into his bunk fully clothed, and pulls out his well-worn copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, determined to stay awake. Instead, he falls asleep before he’s read more than a page, and dreams that he’s in the old van with Pete, huddled under a ratty sleeping bag. It's nearly dark, and cold enough that their breath is visible in the dim light, but everywhere they're pressed together is deliciously warm.

Patrick pushes his cold nose into the crook of Pete's neck and curls in closer, twisting around so he's half in Pete's lap. Pete's breath is hot against Patrick's ear, his skin sweat-slick under Patrick's hand where he's working it under Pete's t-shirt. He smells amazing and all Patrick wants is to get closer.

It's a dream, so there's nothing stopping Patrick from rubbing his face against Pete's, from licking the soft skin behind Pete's ear, tasting salt and hair gel and feeling the little shiver that runs through Pete's body. Pete whispers, "Patrick," and Patrick can't help grinding down on Pete's thigh.

Pete's breath hitches and he nips at Patrick's ear, then digs his fingers into Patrick's ass and hauls him up to straddle Pete's lap. When Pete thrusts up roughly, Patrick moans, low and desperate.

Pete does it again, puffing laughter against Patrick's cheek. He says, "You like that?" but his voice is wondering, not teasing at all.

The sincerity is so exactly what Patrick wants, it breaks something in him. He can't help biting down on Pete's shoulder -- he needs more -- but he groans in frustration when his teeth close around the fabric of Pete's hoodie instead of his skin. He tries again, biting at the skin on Pete's neck, then, remembering that this is a dream, sucks and worries the skin with his teeth, leaving a trail of bruises down Pete's throat and pushing aside his t-shirt and hoodie so he can get at his collar bone.

"Want to put my mouth all over you," Patrick says, licking the bruises and biting again, just to feel Pete shudder underneath him.

"Fuck, yeah," Pete says, "yeah, let's do that."

Patrick unzips Pete's hoodie and stretches the neck of his t-shirt so he can get at more of his skin, but it's awkward, and it's not long before Patrick loses patience and slides out of Pete's lap. He gets tangled in the sleeping bag briefly but manages to push it out of the way and kneel on the floorboards. He shoves up Pete's t-shirt and mouths at his belly, making Pete whine indignantly.

Patrick wants to laugh at Pete's impatience, but his smell and the warmth of his body are making Patrick just as singleminded, focused on exactly what he wants. He gets Pete's fly undone while he bites the sharp point of Pete's hip, tugs his underwear out of the way, and sucks him down.

There's something heady and powerful about the way Pete responds, pleading and gasping, barely controlling himself from thrusting up into Patrick's mouth. Looking up at the bruises blooming on Pete's skin, Patrick wants him to fuck his mouth, wants to feel it in his throat when he goes on stage, wants everyone to hear what Pete's done to him. Patrick lets his mouth go slack and takes Pete deeper.

Pete rocks forward and says, "Patrick, Patrick, fuck, it's so--you're so--" Patrick thinks he might come in his pants, just from this -- the ache in his jaw, Pete's hands in his hair, the feeling of being surrounded and subsumed by Pete -- it's all too much, and he just has to touch himself.

But before Patrick can get his own fly undone, Pete's shoving his shoulder, saying, "I'm gonna--"

Patrick just clutches Pete's hip harder, holding him in place. A second later, Pete thrusts hard and makes an incoherent sound, flooding Patrick's mouth. Patrick tries to swallow, but it's too much, and when he finally pulls away, he can feel it dripping down his chin.

"Fuck," Pete says reverently, pulling Patrick up on to the seat, pulling him into his arms and licking the mess off Patrick's face, kissing him wet and sloppy and desperate. Patrick whines, rubs up against Pete shamelessly and then -- finally-- Pete's hand is on his fly, getting his jeans open and pulling him out.

Pete jerks Patrick hard and relentless, the calluses on his fingers just this side of too much. They're rough against Patrick's dick, but perfect, because he knows the feel of them from a thousand casual touches. It makes it impossible to forget that this is Pete.

Patrick wakes up with a raging hard-on, and he's jerking off before he's even really awake. He tries to hold on to all the sensory details of the dream: the taste of Pete's come thick and bitter on his tongue, the sound of Pete's voice, the feel of his hand on Patrick's dick. Patrick comes fast and hard, biting his lips in what is probably a futile attempt at silence.

This suspicion is confirmed when Andy waits a very precisely timed five minutes before knocking on the wall beside Patrick's bunk and says, "Breakfast in ten. By the time we found that diner, they'd closed for the night. We're going to try again this morning."

"Yeah, yeah," Patrick responds, still a little groggy, still thinking about the tight curve of Pete's ass under his hand. His voice comes out raw and gravely. He better not be getting a cold.

When they get to the diner, Pete and Joe are already there. Pete's unfairly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, leaned across the table and gesturing at Joe.

"Shove over," Patrick says.

"Trick!" Pete says, turning a delighted smile on him.

Patrick stops, half in the booth and just stares. There are dark bruises all down Pete's throat. Patrick has to stop himself from reaching out and touching them, because he put those there. Except of course, he didn't. They were probably there last night -- maybe Pete had hooked up with someone at the party and Patrick had been so tired he'd only picked up on it subconsciously. Still, his face is hot and flushed.

Pete snaps his fingers in front of Patrick's face. "Earth to Patrick. . ."

"Sorry," Patrick says, sliding the rest of the way into the booth. "I was distracted by the aftereffects of your tragic vacuum cleaner accident."

Pete gives him a confused look but before he can reply, the waitress comes over to take their order.

***

Andy's pissed about. . .something. Fuck if Pete knows. Maybe it's something about the greatest hits record, maybe it's about the fall tour, maybe it's about the interviewer this afternoon who asked Pete a bunch of questions about his love life and ignored everyone else. Maybe it's all of that. Everybody's always pissed about something lately, and Pete doesn't have the emotional energy to keep track of everyone's grievances.

"I'm sorry about this afternoon," Pete tries. Andy shoves a big bite of tofu in his mouth and chews. He's wearing his if-you-can't-say-anything-nice face, which has always struck Pete as more than a little Midwestern passive aggressive. "I didn’t try to dominate the conversation," Pete says. It comes out sharper than he intended.

Andy swallows. "You showed up for the interview with fucking hickeys all over your neck. You didn't think that was going to draw attention?"

"I did not," Pete insists. "They're not hickeys --I haven't been with anyone in, like, a month." Which is mostly true. He and Gabe got stoned and exchanged hand jobs a few days ago, but they didn't even kiss, and anyway, the marks showed up after that. "Maybe it's like. . .bed bugs. Or some kind of allergic reaction?"

Andy rolls his eyes. "Did your mom buy that line when you were thirteen?"

"Hives are totally a thing," Pete says indignantly. When Andy doesn't deign to respond to that, Pete confesses, "I think maybe. . .I dreamed them."

Andy snorts. "Sure, dude, whatever."

"Seriously! I had one of those, what-do-you-call-em --lucid dreams?-- last night. . .P--this person was like, biting and sucking on my neck, and today I have these all over my neck." Pete stares at the green room wall for a few seconds, trying to make sense of it. "Maybe it's like, psychosomatic or something -- like, if your brain believes it happened, it shows up on your body?"

"Or maybe you're full of shit," Andy says, without any heat, which is almost worse than if he'd gotten angry. Nobody's surprised any more at how disappointed they are with Pete, at how little they all trust one another.

Pete wants to find one of Andy's sore spots and poke at it until he gets a reaction, but Joe and Patrick come in and it's just about time to go on. Even now, when Pete can feel everything falling apart around them, they're still going through the motions, so they huddle and high five like they actually care what happens on stage. It makes Pete a little sick at his stomach.

When they get back to the bus, Pete asks Joe, "Did you ever hear about somebody dreaming about doing something and then waking up and it happened?"

Joe takes a drag off his joint and the tip glows bright in the darkness. There's a long pause and then he exhales slowly and leans back against the door of their bus. "Like dreaming that you're peeing and wetting the bed?"

"More like, dreaming that you're hurt and waking up with like, a bruise or something."

Joe squints, "Nah, but it seems like the same kind of thing -- your body responding to something that's happening in a dream as if it were real?"

Maybe Pete's not completely nuts. Joe offers him the joint and Pete shakes his head. Joe's been smoking up so much, Pete feels like he's got a constant contact high, and after last night, he likes his inhibitions right where they are, thank you very much.

It was so tempting to kiss Patrick. Pete stood there, staring at Patrick's mouth, imagining what it would be like, pressing him up against the door of the bus, nibbling on his bottom lip and Patrick's mouth falling open, soft and wet and inviting. And god, Pete wants that so badly. But there are a million reasons why that's a terrible idea. If he knew for sure how Patrick felt, if things were better with the band -- if, if, if.

Pete startles when Joe speaks again -- he'd kind of forgotten Joe was there. "Huh?"

"Patrick?"

For a heart stopping moment, Pete thinks maybe Joe could tell what Pete was thinking about. "What about him?" Pete snaps.

"Do you know what he's working on? Has he shown you any of it?"

Pete shakes his head. "No. I don't think it's--" naming it will make it real. "He's not ready to share it yet."

"Fair," Joe says. He blows a series of lazy smoke rings into the night air. "This gig isn't as fun as it used to be."

Pete's instinct is to deny that, to smile and assure Joe that everything's fantastic, but he's tired and he just can't play that game any more. "No kidding," he agrees.

***

"Whatever," Joe says, in the flat monotone he uses when he's pissed off, but he's not going to give anyone the satisfaction of an actual fight. "I'm going to go find a beer. I'll be back before we board."

"Assuming that ever happens," Andy says sourly. Their flight to New York's been delayed indefinitely. Apparently the plane is still stuck in Atlanta.

Patrick watches Joe stalk off. After he turns the corner, Andy says, "I'm just about finished with my book. I'm going to see if I can find something to read on the plane," and heads in the opposite direction from Joe, leaving Patrick and Pete sitting at the gate.

"There are worse places to be stranded than LAX," Pete says. His smile doesn't reach his eyes. "Remember that time we got a flat tire in Pennsylvania and the only thing around was His Final Harvest Church?"

"We need a break," Patrick says wearily.

"We're getting one," Pete says. "Madison Square Garden and then we'll take some time off -- we all agreed."

"Not a vacation," Patrick says. "Something more. . ." He can't say "permanent," so he says, "extended.” At Pete’s blank look, Patrick elaborates, "No albums, no tours, no fucking awards shows, nothing, for the foreseeable future. We all need time away from all this. Time apart. If we don't take a break, we're going to break."

"I don't believe that," Pete says stubbornly. "We're stronger together. Things are rough right now, but we're not going to make it better by splitting up."

"I'm not talking about breaking up the band," Patrick insists. "Just, like. . .a hiatus."

"What, you want to see if you can make it on your own?" Pete's voice is like a knife, and Patrick can't help flinching.

"It's not about that," Patrick says, loud enough that the old man sitting across from them looks up from his book and stares. In a quieter voice, Patrick says, "Okay. I. . .I have been writing some stuff. I don't think it's for the band. And I want to see what happens with that. But it's not instead of this. I just think. . .it could be really good for all of us to take a break from this. We could make some space for other things, figure out. . .who we are when we're not Fall Out Boy. And it will still be here -- we can come back to it when we're ready."

Pete screws up his mouth. He looks defeated and sad and Patrick wants to pull the words back. But they cost him too much to say, and there's too much weight behind them. They hang in the air between Pete and Patrick for a long moment and then Pete says. "I can't. . . I mean, you gotta do what you gotta do. But we need to talk to Joe and Andy -- it's their decision too."

"After the awards show," Patrick says, suddenly a little uncertain. "Don't you think?"

"Hey," Pete says, clearly making an effort. "Your idea, your call." He pushes himself up from the seat and says, "I gotta pee. I'll be back in a little bit, okay?"

He walks away fast, leaving Patrick alone with the pile of backpacks and messenger bags.

***

Pete's nodding along as Sara explains all the legalities, but none of it feels real. "It's a just a break," he tells himself.

"We could all use some time off," he says to Patrick, leaning over to whisper it quietly in his ear, as though it were a secret, not something they've all said over and over again while they debated the pros and cons of this.

Patrick smells clean, like shampoo and soap and the same laundry detergent his mom used when he was in high school, and Pete wants to bury his face in Patrick's neck until he can find the smell of Patrick's skin under all of that. This brightly lit office with all the chrome and leather furniture couldn't be more different than that lazy afternoon on the bus, but Pete's thinking (again) about Patrick's lips pressed dryly to his, about a hundred dreams he's had since where he didn't chicken out, where he kissed Patrick back, about biting Patrick's lips and Patrick moaning, wanton and greedy.

Patrick nods and gives Pete a sidelong look that lingers on Pete's mouth until Pete could swear he can feel it, his lips tingling like he's been kissed breathless. The air between them could catch fire from the heat in Patrick's gaze, and really, there's only one good thing about all of this: maybe it will give Pete and Patrick time to figure out what the hell's going on between them. Because it is different now; Pete can feel it. Even as tense as things have been, every moment is ripe with possibility, and god, he wants it so badly. But he doesn't want to do something that's going to fuck the band up even more than it already is. Taking a break, that means there's no band to fuck up. Just him and Patrick and whatever this is.

"Pete?" Sara's voice is uncharacteristically gentle, the way you'd talk to a sick kid or a skittish animal. Pete pulls his eyes away from Patrick and sees that she's pushed a stack of paper in front of him. He doesn't bother to read any of it, just initials and signs in all the relevant places and then passes the stack over to Patrick. There's a crackle of static electricity when their fingers touch, a satisfying little sting, and then Patrick takes the papers and frowns down at the pages, carefully reading each line and adding his initials after Pete's. He gets to the end and releases the breath he's been holding, and then signs on the line below Pete's, and shoves the pages towards Joe.

Afterwards, Joe and Andy take off quickly. Pete lingers, feeling as awkward as a school boy, as Patrick makes small talk with Sara, and shakes her hand, thanking her for her time, like she's not raking it in on billable hours for this. He follows Patrick into the glass elevator and leans against the rail, gripping it to keep himself in place. In the bright light, Patrick's face is almost as pale as his white dress shirt. He's not wearing a hat and Pete has another one of those weird moments of cognitive dissonance, and thinks, "Will the real Patrick Stump please stand up?"

The elevator lands on the ground floor and Patrick gives himself a little shake. He reaches up, as if to adjust the hat he's not wearing, and then redirects and pushes his glasses up instead. When they get off the elevator, they have to traverse the cavernous lobby to get to the doors and their footsteps echo ominously on the tile.

At the door, Patrick stops and turns, shoving his hands into his pockets. He says, "So, uh, I guess I'll be seeing you around?"

"I'm here!" Pete's voice is too loud, too bright.

"I'm, uh, I think I'm going to go back to Chicago for a bit," Patrick says, all in a rush. "Give myself some, uh, space?" After a pause, he says, “I mean, we all agreed not to talk for a few months.”

“Yeah,” Pete says. “But you can still call me if you need me, okay?”

"I’ll be back in a couple of months for that thing with Travie.” Patrick bites his lip and looks down before saying, “We should get together then."

Pete's skin feels itchy and wrong and he just needs to get out of there. "Sounds great," he says, pushing the door open. It comes out rushed, dismissive. He turns and gives Patrick a nervous smile. "Don't be a stranger."

***

At first, it's just a weird sense of absence, like Patrick's misplaced something important but he can't quite remember what it is. He chalks it up to being at loose ends. He's basically been going since he was sixteen years old, of course it's going to take a while to decompress.

He misses Pete, but that’s natural too. They’ve been joined at the hip since the day they met. It’s good for them to have some time to sort themselves out, to figure out what’s next, not for the band, but for them. Patrick tries to ”honor the space they’ve given each other,” to use Andy’s phrase, but he can’t help thinking about what will happen after this, if Pete feels about Patrick the way he feels about Pete. They could--well, the options are endless really, and Patrick finds himself spending far too much time contemplating all of them.

In an effort to distract himself, Patrick focuses on sketching out lyrics and recording covers of his favorite songs. He needs a project, something to focus his energy on, and he goes so far as to announce that he'll be releasing a solo album, but the restlessness and insomnia get worse, and he's too sluggish to actually do much work. Patrick tries to convince himself that this is just an adjustment period, that everything will even out eventually, but as the weeks turn into months, it becomes harder to believe.

Patrick doesn’t know what to do when Pete sends a quick flurry of texts. They’d agreed to leave each other alone, but it’s so tempting to respond. Patrick hesitates, until his phone rings. He knows he should ignore that too, but he misses Pete too much to let it go to voicemail. And when he hears Pete's voice, Patrick feels better than he has in weeks, like everything's suddenly coming into focus again.

They talk for hours, and it's nearly four in the morning when Pete says, "I guess I should let you go," for the third time.

Patrick has to fight back the urge to say, "No, don't go.”

He feels a little more grounded for a few days, but it doesn't last. Patrick rarely sleeps, and when he does, he wakes up hard and shaking from exquisitely, agonizingly erotic dreams. Sometimes Patrick thinks he's hallucinating, because he hears Pete's voice in his head, forgets that Pete's in LA, imagines that he's just in the other room, but Patrick stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that something's wrong.

Even when Patrick starts to develop physical symptoms, he ignores them. The low-grade fever? That could be a cold. The twitchy thing that starts in his fingers and works it's way up his arm? Maybe it's carpal tunnel. But when he passes out at his nephew's birthday party, he wakes up in the ER and he knows, without a single word from the frowning doctor, what's going on.

A couple of years ago, Patrick and Andy watched an episode of Strange Sex about soulbonds. All the symptoms correlate: Patrick should've seen it months ago. But he hadn't wanted to see it. He didn't want to believe that his feelings for Pete were just a biological manifestation, a stupid twist of fate, something that happened to him, instead of something he chose.

"It's unusual for the symptoms to progress this far," the doctor explains. "Usually the compulsion to be together is too strong, and it resolves itself. . .Unless the bonded pair don't have a way to contact one another or find each other again. Do you. . ." She frowns even more, and it occurs to Patrick that she's uncomfortable and that's her way of covering it. "Did you have a. . .uh, sexual encounter with a stranger prior to the onset of the symptoms?"

"No," Patrick says, wearily, fighting back a blush. "I. . .I know who it is. I just didn't realize what was going on."

"Are you in contact with this person? Has she--" something in Patrick's face causes her to correct herself, "he been experiencing similar symptoms?"

And that's when it occurs to Patrick that Pete broke radio silence because he needed that contact as badly as Patrick had. Patrick feels like the world's biggest asshole.

***

Pete's napping when Patrick calls--not really sleeping, but dozing in and out, fighting some kind of flu. He's felt like shit for weeks and it's getting worse. His whole body aches with fever and he's abandoned his bed for the couch because the sheets are sweaty and gross, but he's too sick to change them. He should go to the doctor, but he can't muster up the energy to make an appointment, so he's been lying around marathoning Animaniacs and missing Patrick.

Pete answers the phone on the first ring. Pete's still groggy, but talking to Patrick is a jolt of adrenaline, like when John Travolta stabs the needle in Uma Thurman's heart in Pulp Fiction, and Pete's sitting up, more alert than he's been in days. "Hey, what's up?"

"I, uh. I went to the doctor." Patrick's voice is weak and thready, and it's no surprise when he says, "I haven't been feeling well?"

"Me either." Pete's initial reaction is that Patrick's caught whatever he has, but that doesn't make sense -- they haven't seen each other in months.

"Yeah," Patrick says, "apparently, that's. . .part of it?" There's a pause, and Pete knows with absolute certainty that Patrick's pinching the bridge of his nose and rubbing his forehead the way he does when he's trying to figure out how to say something. "The doctor, um, she did some tests and -- I know this sounds freaky--like, I didn't really believe this kind of shit was for real?"

Patrick's never the most linear conversationalist, but he's only this circuitous when he's having to break bad news. This whole thing is starting to freak Pete right the fuck out. "Cut to the chase. What the hell is going on?"

"So, uh, the thing is, apparently I'm sick because I've, um, I mean, we're uh. . ." Patrick's voice drops to a desperate whisper and he says, "soul bonded."

Mikey used to make jokes-that-weren't-quite-jokes about him and Pete being soul bonded. Pete had laughed them off, even when his crush was at its most intense, and then the summer had ended and they'd both moved on. Mostly Pete thought the whole idea sounded kind of fake. It's a nice fantasy to think that you could have that kind of connection, that everything could just fall into place without having to work at it at all, but Pete's not gullible enough to believe that it could be real. And in all the years he's been friends with Patrick, Pete’s never even let himself joke about the idea that he and Patrick could be bonded.

"Patrick!" Pete says, in a saccharine tone, "I never knew you cared."

"It's not funny," Patrick snaps. "I have all these fucking pamphlets the doctor gave me--'You and Your Soul Bond,' and 'Emotional Health for Soul Bonded Pairs.' We have to 'maintain physical proximity' and 'engage in frequent physical contact' or we'll get sick -- or worse. People can die if they're separated from their soul mates long enough, and--"

"Wait," Pete says, as his brain catches up with Patrick's rant. "Is this something an actual doctor told you?"

"Yes," Patrick says emphatically. "That's what I've been trying to tell you. The doctor did tests and everything. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it's for real."

Pete's briefly speechless. When he finds his words, all he can say is, "Holy shit. . ."

Pete nearly drops the phone when Patrick says, bitterly, "It's completely fucked up."

"It's epic!" Romeo and Juliet kind of stuff, Pete starts to say, and then realizes that's not really a positive depiction of soul bonds. "Like, Westley and Buttercup or. . .Jack and Sally." The surge of energy has Pete on his feet, pacing the living room. "It all makes sense! We're meant to be together. Like for real, certified by the universe, happily ever after, 'til death do us part."

"It's. A. Trick. Of. Biology," Patrick grits out.

"It's fate," Pete insists. Of course they were made for each other. How could Pete have ever doubted that? His heart feels as full and light as a balloon, like he could float away on the strength of this elation.

"It's not real, it's not something we chose, it's just. . .some kind of freaky accident!"

Patrick's tone pierces Pete's mood, turning his heart from a balloon into an anvil. It’s like he and Patrick are speaking different languages on totally different frequencies, and Pete has no framework to deal with this. They fight all the time, but they always understand one another -- most of the time, they barely need words, because they're so in sync, communicating volumes in a word or a gesture. But now, nothing Patrick's saying makes sense, and he doesn't seem to be hearing Pete at all.

Patrick clears his throat. "The doctor says there's stuff we can do, so we can be apart some. We don't always have to be right next to each other? She says we just have to pay attention to how we're doing and if we start to feel crummy, then we have to spend some time together, to like recharge it or whatever."

When Pete doesn’t respond, Patrick says, "You've been. . .sick, yeah?"

Pete nods, then remembers that Patrick can't see him, and says, "Yeah."

"We should probably get together."

"Don't do me any favors," Pete retorts.

"It'll make us both feel better." Patrick says, in his look-how-reasonable-I'm-being-voice. "And we can, like, make a plan or whatever, for how we're going to deal with this."

Pete has the urge to push Patrick away and tell him that if he feels that way about it, he can figure this shit out on his own. But maybe if they were together, Pete could translate what Patrick's saying, could understand what the fuck's going on in Patrick's head and make him see how miraculous this is.

"Okay," Pete says. "You want me to come out there?" Chicago is home base. If they're going to do this anywhere, it should be there.

"I can come back to LA," Patrick says. He always tries to manage things when he feels out out of control, but it still feels like a rejection. But then he says, "How soon -- can I come today? Because I--" His voice cracks and he stops himself, but there's a little flare of hope in Pete's chest.

"Come whenever," Pete says. "I'm ready when you are."

***

Patrick stashes his suitcase in the overhead bin and asks the flight attendant for a blanket. He's asleep before takeoff.

He dreams that he's cold and alone, lost in the dark and filled with dread. He wanders, listening for any sound that might indicate that someone else is there, but he appears to be in a void, absent of any sensory input whatsoever. Eventually he decides that it's futile to move, and sits down on the ground.

His heart is racing and he tries to take some deep breaths, but he feels like he's hyperventilating, unable to slow down his breath. Telling himself that it's just a dream does nothing to alleviate the anxiety, and he rests his head on his knees and wills himself to wake up.

When he looks up, it's lighter, and he can see that he's on a sandy beach. The foam on the water gleams in the moonlight. The sand is pristine except where his own footprints cross and mingle with one another, marking his confused trajectory.

It's all sand and water as far as his eye can see, but then a figure appears on the horizon. As it approaches, Patrick can see that it's. . .himself. Dream Patrick is wearing a white dress shirt and jeans, and he's peering out at the water intently, as if he too is looking for something.

Patrick stands and waves his hand in the air urgently, yelling, "Hey!" As his arm comes into his field of vision, he's aware that it's not his arm at all. The angle is different from what he's used to, so it takes him a few seconds to realize that those are Pete's tattoos, that it's Pete's arm, and then everything is pitching and rolling and Patrick comes abruptly awake.

On the intercom, the pilot is saying, "--put the seatbelt sign back on and we'd appreciate it if you'd all stay in your seats."

Patrick draws in a sharp, shaky breath. The white-haired woman beside him pats his hand and says, "It's okay, honey, just a little turbulence."

"Shared dreams" had been one of the symptoms on the papers the doctor gave Patrick, but he's managed to avoid thinking about it. Patrick hasn't wanted to consider which of his dreams might be Pete's, or which ones of his Pete might have been eavesdropping on. But there's no escaping the realization now.

Shame is rolling over Patrick in hot waves, as he replays the most vivid details of the last few dreams he's had about Pete. Patrick has no idea how he's going to face Pete.

The only thing that's worse is the thought that Patrick's violated Pete's privacy in that same way, seen things that Patrick's certain Pete would never have wanted Patrick to see. Patrick wants to throw up. If he could, he'd make the pilot turn the plane around and go straight back to Chicago. Maybe they should just suck it up and break the bond entirely.

He finds a movie with a loud soundtrack and lots of explosions on the in-flight entertainment system and orders coffee as soon as the beverage service recommences. The last thing he wants to do is fall asleep again.

When Pete picks Patrick up at the airport, there are dark circles under his eyes and he looks like he hasn't showered in days. His smile is manic, too bright and glossy for the rest of him. He reaches out for Patrick and then pulls back, like he's not sure what to do with his hands, and all Patrick can think about is how abandoned Pete had felt in his dream.

Patrick hesitates, unsure how to comfort Pete without crossing a line. He settles for clapping Pete's shoulder awkwardly, then yanks his hand back at the intense wave of emotion that wells up in him at the touch. To cover his discomfort, he asks, "Did you, uh, see a doctor?"

Pete makes a sound that could be hurt, or could be annoyance. "I have an appointment tomorrow." Picking up Patrick's suitcase, he adds, "The nurse said it would be best if you came with me," and he's so shut down, Patrick can't tell how Pete feels about that at all.

 

Dr. Nguyen chastises Pete for not coming in sooner and goes through a similar spiel to the one Dr. Martinez had delivered to Patrick in the ER -- the necessity of a routine, symptoms to watch out for, emergency protocols if things get bad and they're apart. Unlike Dr. Martinez, Dr. Nguyen at least asks if they want to remain bonded.

Pete looks at Patrick and doesn't say anything.

Patrick says, "The withdrawal or whatever--it's bad, right?"

Dr. Nguyen nods sympathetically. "You shouldn’t do it without medical supervision. We don't have a lot of data -- bonds like this are relatively rare, and it's uncommon for bonded pairs to choose to part. Evidence suggests that the side effects are more likely to be unpleasant than life threatening -- like an extended bout of the flu. But there can be complications. And we can't predict how long it will take for the bond to resolve. If you go that route, you're looking at six to twelve months of bedrest and poor health, maybe more."

Pete mulls this over and finally says, "And afterwards?"

"Well," Dr. Nguyen says, "the recommendation is that you stay separated. Again, a limited data set, but there's a high incidence of relapse in pairs who subsequently spend time together."

"That's off the table, then," Pete says definitively. "Why detox just to retox?"

Dr. Nguyen smiles wryly. "Exactly."

"I guess we'll just make it work," Pete says, giving Patrick a sidelong look.

"Yeah," Patrick agrees, grimacing. Pete's not wrong, but Patrick can't shake his resentment at the idea of his whole life being defined by how far away he can get from Pete. It's the exact opposite of what Patrick wanted from the hiatus and it makes him want to push and kick until he can carve out a little space for himself again.

Of course, they hit traffic on the way back to Pete's. Patrick stares at the bumper of the Range Rover in front of them and tries to think of something to break the silence. The stack of papers and pamphlets the doctor gave them feels heavy in his lap. Pete's arm is resting on the center console, nearly touching Patrick's, and Patrick has to fight the urge to press his arm into Pete's, to squeeze his hand and feel the warmth of his skin.

Pete says, "Can you arrange things so you can stay here a while?"

"I boarded the dogs," Patrick said, "But I should call my mom and see if she can watch them. I don't want to leave them in the kennel that long."

Pete eases the car up a few feet, then hit the break again. "We don't have to stay here the whole time. If it's easier for you, we can go back to Chicago--"

"No." Something about the idea of doing this in Chicago makes Patrick flinch. "Here's fine."

"Oh," Pete says, sounding a little take aback. "Sure. Okay."

***

Pete sticks the list of instructions from Dr. Nguyen on the fridge. Pete doesn't really need the reminder; most of the items can be summarized as "stay as close to one another as possible." But it makes him feel better anyway.

The third item on the list is "share sleeping arrangements if it's comfortable to do so," but Patrick pointedly remains in the guest bedroom. Pete's sleep is even more disrupted than usual, filled with those weirdly intense shared dreams. Sometimes he can't tell if it's his dream or Patrick's, sometimes it's painfully obvious, His own dream vocabulary is his mother tongue, but he's rapidly learning Patrick's as well. Pete tries not to think about how many of Patrick's dreams involve flying, running, getting away.

The list keeps falling off the fridge and getting stepped on. One morning, Pete wakes up and finds it floating in a puddle of dog pee. He could ask the doctor for another one, but he's pretty much got it memorized at this point.

After breakfast, they sit on the couch, watching Arrested Development while Pete plays Candy Crush and Patrick divides his attention between the television and his laptop. When Netflix asks if they're still watching, Pete clicks "yes" and says, "You hungry?"

Patrick looks up from his laptop and shrugs. "I'm good."

"I could make us some grilled cheese sandwiches," Pete says. "Or some popcorn?"

Patrick stiffens a little, drawing back behind the invisible line he's drawn down the middle of the sofa. "I'm fine."

"Or we could order lunch from that Thai place you like." Pete pulls up the number in his phone and says, "Pad Thai?"

Patrick stares at his laptop screen. "Nothing for me. I'll get something later."

"Sure, okay. I'll just. . .make myself a sandwich."

Pete's halfway across the room before Patrick says, "Do you want me to pause this?"

His voice is distant, like he's barely there, and when Pete turns around, Patrick's typing rapidly, as if he's already forgotten the question.

 

It feels like they're just going through the motions, but it must be good enough, because the fever and chills subside rapidly, and by the end of the second week, Pete feels like his old self, for whatever that's worth. The summer wears on, one bright, cloudless day after another, and they fall into an ebb and flow, alternating hours together with time on opposite ends of the house. It has the same feeling of living in a bubble that touring had, without the release of a show every night, and Pete feels like he's holding his breath, waiting for whatever's going to come next.

He could go out, but Patrick prefers to stay in, and the thought of leaving him, even for a few hours, makes Pete queasy. And it turns out, everybody else has their own shit going on. No one pushes after the first few times that he blows them off.

Pete and Patrick sitting by the pool and Pete's clock-watching, counting the minutes until he'll allow himself to have his first beer of the day, when Patrick says, "I think it's been long enough."

Pete knows exactly what Patrick means, but his knee-jerk reaction is to play dumb. "What do you mean?"

"I think I can go back to Chicago," Patrick says baldly. "I feel better. Don't you?"

"I guess. We don't want to take any chances, right?"

"The doctor said, 'a month' -- it's been two."

"He said 'at least a month.' And that it varies, and we have to be aware of how we're feeling."

"I feel fine," Patrick insists, scrubbing a hand over his hair irritably. There's a glob of sunscreen on his cheek and Pete has to resist the urge to lean over and rub it in. "Are you still. . ." Patrick waves his hand vaguely before landing on, ". . .sick?"

"Not really?" Pete admits. "But Chicago's a long way away. You could find a place here and--"

"Chicago is home," Patrick snaps.

"I'm glad you're open to compromise!"

"Why does compromise always mean doing things your way?"

"Name one fucking thing about this that's my way!"

Patrick flinches, and when he speaks again, he just sounds tired. "I've got. . .there's stuff I want to do in Chicago. We can start out with a short break. Just see how it goes?"

"You want to go to Chicago? Go! I can go with you. There's nothing tying me here. I can--"

Through gritted teeth, Patrick says, "I'm glad to come back here in a couple of weeks. It's fine."

"How magnanimous of you."

"Look," Patrick says, "I'm trying to make this thing work."

"No, you're trying to work around it."

"What the fuck do you want from me, Pete?"

There's no reason to say it, not when it's obviously never going to happen. "Nothing." Pete says. "Not a goddamn thing."

Patrick exhales noisily and Pete stares off at the million dollar view. Through his dark sunglasses, the skyline is flattened into a two-dimensional caricature of itself, like the backdrop on a film set.

A leaf blower is droning somewhere nearby and Patrick has to pitch his voice over it when he finally speaks. "We have to figure this out. I need to. . .I've been writing. Solo stuff? And I think I have an album. Or at least an EP. I want to do some shows first -- try this stuff out." He ducks his head a little, but his voice sounds stubborn. "I really think it's good. But with the. . ."

Patrick never says "bond." He talks around it, like if he just doesn't say it, it won't be real. There's an awkward pause and then Patrick says, "Anyway, it's important to me to do this. I know it will be hard, but I think we can figure it out.

Pete feels lost, disconnected, and every word just makes it worse. He tries to tell himself that nothing's changed -- Patrick made noises about a solo album months ago -- but this feels concrete in a way that the initial announcement hadn't. Pete forces himself to say, "That's great!" then, plastering on a grin, "I know a bassist who's looking for work."

Patrick averts his eyes. "I'm, uh, going to record all the parts myself."

Of course he is. Pete can't even bring himself to feel hurt, because it's just so quintessentially Patrick. "Get your Prince on," Pete agrees. "But on tour? You'll need someone to--"

Patrick shakes his head. "If I'm going to do this, I don't want it all mixed up with the band. It needs to be its own thing."

"Right, yeah, I get that." Pete knows he should shut up, just let this go, but he can't stop himself from saying, "But I could still go with you, right? Just. . .ride along? I mean we need to--"

"Pete." Patrick's voice is strained. "I need. . .elbow room. Space to do my own thing. That was the whole point of the band taking a break! And I know we have to. . ." He waves his hand vaguely in the direction of the kitchen, presumably at the list that used to be on the fridge. "'Maintain regular contact,' but that doesn't mean we have to be together twenty-four/seven. We can keep in touch, visit every couple of weeks, that kind of thing."

Pete can't help the slightly sulky tone that creep into his voice when he says, "I'm just saying, I don't really have anything else going on. I can be at your disposal."

"You need to find something else to do," Patrick insists. "Yeah, we both need to be flexible to make this work, but you need your own thing. You can't just. . .sit around waiting for me to be done with this. It's not good for you, and it's not good for me. That's not space, that's. . .pressure."

It's nonsensical to Pete, beyond his ability comprehend, but somehow it's what Patrick wants, so he holds up his hands and says, "Okay, okay. I'll think of something. Just. . .do what you need to do. Go back to Chicago, go on tour, whatever. We'll make it work."

Patrick's smile is so sweet and relieved, it makes Pete's chest ache. "Thanks, Pete. I really appreciate that."

***

When Patrick gets home, the house feels empty and abandoned. There's a fine layer of dust over everything and the bedroom is in disarray from his hasty packing. Looking around at the mess, Patrick's struck with a yearning to be back in LA. It's just the bond, he tells himself, stripping down to a t-shirt and boxers and climbing into the bed.

The clothes that he left piled on his bed when he was packing fall to the floor with a thump, but Patrick just shifts around some more, trying to get comfortable on the too-soft mattress. He probably needs to wash the clothes again anyway, along with the sheets, which smell musty and stale. Something to deal with in the morning, when he's rested, and after he's gotten his dogs from his mom's.

He sleeps fitfully, drifting in and out of dreams that he recognizes as Pete's. There's no narrative continuity, just flashes of images--blood streaks on a white wall, a towering wave rolling him under, an empty room -- and over it all, the overwhelming sense of sadness and isolation.

Patrick takes a few days to revel in being alone, wandering around the house in his underwear and playing loud music at all hours of the day and night. Staying busy keeps the longing for Pete at bay, so Patrick spends a lot of time in his basement studio, working on songs for the solo album.

He's just getting into the groove when he has to return to LA. It's not Pete's fault, but Patrick can't help feeling resentful at the interruption. Theoretically, he could work in LA, but it's almost impossible with Pete hovering nearby, radiating curiosity and glancing at Patrick's laptop like it contains the secrets of the universe.

It makes Patrick work that much harder when he's back in Chicago, pulling all-nighters and letting all his other obligations fall by the wayside so he can make the most of the time he has. The work piles up -- putting together a band for the tour, lining up gigs, reviewing possible cover art -- and somehow nothing gets done with he's in LA. The stop and start cadence of it is maddening, and it only makes him that much more frustrated when Pete calls while Patrick's in Chicago.

Still, Patrick tries to keep his voice calm when the phone rings for the third time in twenty-four hours. "What's up?"

"Sorry," Pete says, "is this a bad time?"

"I'm sort of--"

Before Patrick can finish, Pete says, "I just wanted to let you know, I met someone."

Patrick's stomach lurches unpleasantly. Possibly he shouldn't have eaten that leftover tofu. "That's. . .great. . .I mean, it seems kind of. . .sudden, but if he--"

"I mean, I've met her before, at the studio? But we got to talking today--she's a singer, and--"

"Sorry, she." Patrick says. "I just mean, it's good that you've found someone who can make you. . .happy."

"We're not dating," Pete says emphatically. "I'm doing something. We're going to start a band."

Patrick definitely shouldn't have eaten that leftover tofu.

 

Patrick does a short tour, and they stretch out the time between visits by talking on the phone. Inevitably, just when Patrick starts to feel empty and fragile, his phone rings, usually at some ridiculous hour of the night, and he and Pete talk for hours about nothing at all -- pizza and the new Korean place that opened in Pete's neighborhood, gossip about Ryan and Brendon, and what Pete and Bebe are working on. It doesn't really matter what they talk about; just the sound of Pete's voice is more comforting than Patrick can let himself admit.

Sometimes Patrick wakes up still clutching his phone, and feels a weird mix of shame and resentment. It's nothing that hasn't happened before -- Pete's always been able to talk Patrick down and make everything better, and it's not unusual for them to talk through the night when they're apart -- but now everything Patrick has always loved about their friendship feels like a side effect, like something the bond has made him feel. He takes it out on Pete sometimes, turns curt and distant, even though Patrick knows it isn't fair. But it's just so frustrating to feel like they’ve been forced into this.

The recurring dreams are more frequent now, maybe because he and Pete aren't together as much, and almost every night Patrick wakes up sweaty and shaking and still hard, desperate for Pete's touch. Jerking off doesn't help much, but Patrick tries, resolutely trying to think of anything, anyone except Pete. But Pete sneaks into his fantasies as much as his dreams, and without Patrick realizing it, he's cataloging every tattoo, thinking about the negative space around the ink, the increasingly small number of bare patches where Pete's skin is golden brown and shockingly naked. Patrick spends far too much time daydreaming about the bones in Pete's wrists, the tilt of his chin, and the way he quirks his mouth when Patrick does something that surprises him. At least he doesn't have to worry that Pete's privy to his daytime fantasies.

Patrick's mostly avoiding their friends, but when he gets back to Chicago after the tour, Bill Beckett calls in obvious distress, and Patrick reluctantly agrees to have lunch with him. It's a mistake; Bill spends the whole meal complaining about Carden and how impossible he is to work with. Bill clearly wants Patrick's advice, but it all feels a little close to home, and Patrick can't even begin to tell Bill what to do.

When Patrick leaves the restaurant, he's so absorbed in memories of past disagreements with Pete that he overshoots the parking garage by three blocks. When he turns, the wind nearly knocks him off his feet. On the horizon, dark clouds have gathered, and Patrick can smell the strong scent of rain on the hot asphalt. A block later, he walks right into the storm.

All around him people are unfurling umbrellas and running into buildings. There's an awning just a few feet away, but by the time he gets there, his clothes are soaked through and his sneakers are squelching. He wipes his glasses ineffectually on his wet t-shirt, and, as his eyes adjust to the gloom, he realizes there's a couple behind him, pressed against the wall. They're nearly as wet as he is, and tangled together, talking quietly in between languid kisses.

Patrick looks around desperately for somewhere else to take shelter. There's a door a few feet away, but it leads into an upscale women's boutique, and Patrick can't quite bring himself to go in and drip all over the merchandise. The next awning is a block away, and crowded with people.

The woman laughs giddily and the rain blowing in under the awning feels icy against Patrick's flushed face. He wonders what it would be like to be that way with Pete, a world unto themselves. Maybe they could have that, if they didn’t know about the bond, if Patrick could believe that Pete wanted Patrick for himself.

As if on cue, Pete texts him, u ok? Patrick replies, I'm fine, but the fantasy of kissing Pete in the rain lingers in Patrick's brain, haunting him for the rest of the day. He dreams of it, of course, of pressing Pete against the wet wall, the contrast between the cold rain and Pete's hot mouth, Pete's fingers hooked in the belt loops of Patrick's jeans, pulling him in closer as he murmurs Patrick's name.

Patrick's pulled out of the dream by the sound of the phone ringing, and when he answers it, Pete gasps, "Patrick," and Patrick says, "Yeah, yeah," and shoves his hand down his boxers.

They don't talk about the dream, don't acknowledge that they've both got their hands on their dicks, but Patrick drinks in every hitched breath and moan Pete makes, stores them up for later, when he'll jerk off again to the memory of it, hating himself for every second of it.

***

"It's something about monsters and like. . ." Pete's been trying to articulate this for weeks, but he can't quite get there. The songs he and Bebe have written are okay, but it feels like there's something else, something more he's trying to say. He leans in, until his hand is almost brushing Patrick's arm and says, "Metamorphosis? Transformation?”

Patrick puts down his tea and tilts his head thoughtfully. “Like. . .Beauty and the Beast?”

“Yeah, but not turning back into a human, more like. . .embracing your inner beast. Finding power in what you thought was monstrous about yourself.”

“Huh,” Patrick says, in the tone that always means, “tell me more.” He’s leaned forward now as well, propping his head on his hand.

Pete can almost feel the idea coalescing in his brain, taking shape from the simple act of explaining it to Patrick. “I'm thinking about those old black and white horror films and, like. . .Vampires?”

“Or werewolves?” Patrick suggests, and bingo, that’s it.

“Yes!” Pete says so loudly that the barista looks up in surprise. In a slightly quieter voice, Pete continues. “You’re a genius.” He knew if he could just bounce it off Patrick, he could figure it out. “There’s something else, something about being in the public eye--”

This is where Patrick should jump in, with another question or comment, something that would further clarify Pete’s thoughts, but when Pete looks up, Patrick’s straightened, cupping both hands around his mug. He presses his lips together and says, "Sounds cool."

Pete tries again, saying, "Like, the way it changes you and. . .” He trails off, hoping Patrick will be tempted to complete the thought, but Patrick only nods. His face is shut off and his shoulders are hunched up around his ears. After a beat, Pete says, "So, uh, how's your album coming?"

Patrick's eyes dart to the window and he runs a hand over his hair. "Good."

"That video you did was rad," Pete says, a little too enthusiastic. He knows he's pushing, but he can't seem to stop. "I really like what I've heard so far -- it's. . .coherent. I can hear what the album will sound like." Pete's a little jealous. Envious. Both.

"Thanks," Patrick says. He sets his half-empty mug on the table. "I should probably go -- I don't want to miss my flight."

Patrick's flight doesn't leave for four hours and they're half an hour from the airport. "Sure," Pete says. "Keep me posted on how things go in London, okay?"

 

In the week leading up to Lollapalooza, Pete's shaky and feverish, in no condition to be on-stage. It's only been a month since he's seen Patrick, but it feels like forever. Despite feeling like shit, Pete insists on extra rehearsals, belatedly aware that the band's not as prepared as they should be.

"Now you want to rehearse?" Bebe asks, clearly exasperated.

It's true that Pete hasn't always been as motivated as he could've been. "I just want to get it right," he says, aware that he's quoting Patrick's usual line.

Everything is immediately easier once Pete lands in Chicago. Excitement at the prospect of seeing Patrick drowns out most of the anxiety, and Pete practically bounces in the backseat of the cab.

Patrick opens the door before Pete even gets up the front steps. He says, "Pete, hey," and reaches for Pete's suitcase. His hand brushes Pete's and Pete feels the touch reverberate all the way up his arm. Patrick sucks in a breath and takes a step back, pulling the suitcase into the house with him.

Pete stands awkwardly on the threshold a minute and then, although he couldn't have said which of them initiated it, they're hugging, Pete's face mashed into Patrick's shoulder and their whole bodies pressed together tightly. Patrick smells so good and Pete's missed him so much, and he loves the way everything falls into place with the bond the longer they stand there clutching at one another.

Pete sighs contentedly and Patrick breaks the hug, stepping back and running his fingers through his bleached hair. He gives a nervous little laugh and says, "I guess we should, uh, shut the door."

Pete resists the urge to make the "shut the goddamn door" joke. Instead, he makes small talk about traffic and the weather while they get his bags into the guest room and they make a plan to meet Bebe for dinner. Patrick keeps humming a tune that Pete's only heard in their dreams, and fragments of lyrics keep bubbling up in Pete's mind, but he knows better than to try to share them with Patrick right now.

Patrick and Bebe hit it off immediately, falling into an intense conversation about hip hop while they wait for their table. Pete just smiles and nods and lets the conversation flow over him.

Patrick's looking good; the blond hair suits him almost as much as his obvious enthusiasm about tomorrow's show. Bebe's tilting her head and turning her mega-watt smile on Patrick, but Patrick continues laughing and talking about the time he almost met Prince, apparently oblivious to Bebe's flirting.

Pete wonders if Patrick can tell that Pete and Bebe have slept together. The bond doesn't seem to extend to that sort of information -- Pete has no idea who, if anyone, Patrick's been sleeping with -- but it gives Pete a vicious little twist of pleasure to think about Patrick knowing.

Bebe leans forward and props her head on her hand. Her tank top slips down precipitously, revealing the pink lacy trim on her bra, and Patrick's eyes dart down to her cleavage and widen, like he's finally getting it.

"So, uh, dessert?" Pete asks brightly.

Bebe eats three pieces of baklava and licks her fingers and tries to convince them to go to some party the label is hosting. "Free drinks!" she says, like that's a selling point. Pete feels approximately one million years old. It's been a long damn time since free booze was a reason for him to do anything.

"Nah," Patrick says, "I think I need an early night -- rest up before the show."

"Yeah, me too," Pete says, flashing Bebe a regretful grin.

Bebe looks between them thoughtfully and then says, "All right, I guess I'll see you guys tomorrow." Pete can't shake the feeling that she's taken his measure and seen far more than he's comfortable with.

Pete and Patrick wind up sitting in the glider on Patrick's back porch, drinking beer and watching the moon come up over the tree line. Pete tries to find the Big Dipper, but light pollution obscures most of the stars, so he settles for counting fireflies instead.

"I'm putting together a fall tour," Patrick says abruptly. "With Brendon and Spencer?"

"Panic's going to open for you?"

Patrick snorts out a laugh. "No, I'm going to open for them."

Which. . .right, but it still seems strange to Pete that Patrick is opening for the kids he found on the internet. "That's great," he says, a little overly enthusiastic. "We're talking about a tour in the fall too -- if you let us know your schedule, we can. . .plan around it or whatever."

"Sounds good." Patrick tips back his head and takes a long pull off his beer. "Did Joe tell you he's in town this week?"

"No! It's been. . .a while since we caught up." Pete's barely spoken to Joe and Andy since the band went on hiatus.

"We should get together -- he's around all week."

"Yeah, absolutely. We should. . ." Pete gestures vaguely, unable to come up with anything concrete. ". . .dinner, drinks, whatever."

The conversation meanders -- the latest on Joe and Andy, the time Pete ran into Sisky at Trader Joe's in Santa Monica, Gabe's hot new girlfriend. Four beers in, Pete's not drunk, but he's not exactly sober either. Somehow he finds himself telling Patrick about the time Nate walked in on him and Bebe in the dressing room. "So here I am," he says, "bare-assed naked and on my knees, and Nate just blows through the door and--"

"Pete," Patrick groans, "do I really need to know this?" There's laughter in his voice, under the exasperation, and something else, like he's more interested than he's willing to admit.

"Oh, well, why not?"

"Do you really think Bebe would be okay with it?"

Pete waggles his eyebrows at Patrick. "If she thought it would pique your interest? Absolutely."

Patrick covers his face with his hands. "You are a terrible person," he mutters into his palms.

"I just call 'em like I see 'em," Pete says cheerily.

Patrick sits up and takes another sip of his beer. "Anyway, big day tomorrow. You excited?" Before Pete can turn that into a dirty joke, Patrick clarifies, "About your set?"

Pete shrugs. "Looking forward to seeing you play."

Patrick freezes. "Pete."

"What?"

"I just think that's. . .a really bad idea."

Pete stares at Patrick, trying to parse this. The living room light is spilling through the window, backlighting Patrick and casting his face in shadows. After a long pause, Patrick says, "I can't get anyone to take me seriously as a solo artist as it is -- if people see you at my show, everyone's going to assume it means that the band's getting back together."

“We’re not getting back together because we’re not split up,” Pete retorts.

“We know that,” Patrick says placatingly, “but you know how the rumor mill is.”

"In that case, we should probably avoid doing anything in public with Joe."

Patrick’s shoulders fall. "Shit, yeah. I'll see if he wants to meet us here." He drains his beer and sets the bottle on the patio. "Look, why don't you come back stage tomorrow -- you can watch from the wings."

Pete has to fight back a wave of longing and dread before he can speak. "Yeah, I don't. . .maybe that's not a good idea." "You know, I'm feeling a little. . .Something I ate didn't agree with me. I should probably crash."

"Oh okay. Sweet dreams." Pete can hear Patrick wince. "I mean, uh, sleep well."

You're not supposed to mix Ambien with alcohol, but it hasn't killed Pete yet. When he wakes up, he can't remember his dreams at all.

***

The album’s getting there; there are tracks Patrick's damn proud of, but it's still not quite what he imagined, and he can't figure out how to fix it. He wanted to do this on his own, to prove that he could do it, but it's harder than he expected to create in a vacuum without anyone else's ideas or opinions to react to.

That part's easy though, compared to the promotional stuff. Patrick never realized how much Pete shielded him from that side of things. Patrick forces himself to post to Twitter, to YouTube, to Facebook. He does interviews and appearances, does yoga on a beach, a car commercial, and a tour announcement video with Brendon. It all feels vaguely ridiculous and only marginally relevant to the fact that Patrick's got an album coming out, but everyone keeps assuring him it's how the game is played.

Pete made it look easy -- makes it look easy. Even with Patrick's inside knowledge, it's sometimes hard for him to reconcile Pete's public persona with the panic attacks and nightmares and the surges of despair that sometimes come through the bond.

But when Pete and Patrick are together, it's almost like Pete's forgotten he's in Black Cards, much less that they have an album coming out. It makes Patrick wish he could be a little less invested in his own album, but it's too important, there's too much riding on it, and he can't stop obsessing over it.

He pushes the release date and then pushes it again. He keeps rewriting and rerecording until Courtney from the label takes Patrick out for lunch.

"It's great," she says, earnestly.

"I just want it to be right," Patrick insists.

"It is!" Courtney smiles and takes a sip of her Malbec. "And even if it's not? It's still dropping at the end of October."

The tour should be a distraction, but the mood's a little too dance band on the Titanic for Patrick’s taste. Brendon and Spencer are doing their damnedest to act like they're over the split with Ryan and Jon, Ian's treating a post-Cab existential crisis with the liberal application of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and Dallon can't seem to decide if he's drinking to remember or drinking to forget. The party moves from bus to bus, with Eric presiding over the festivities like a low-rent Mephistopheles, egging everyone into increasing levels of excess.

It's all uncomfortably familiar, right down to the complaints from the fans, like Patrick is doomed to repeat that last awful Fall Out Boy tour over and over again. In Phoenix, Pete calls after the show and Patrick's so damn glad to hear his voice, it makes him giddy. He laughs too hard at all of Pete's jokes, and Pete listens while Patrick rants about Eric and Alex's stupid pranks (seriously, how is Eric's someone's father?), and they finally wind down to the part of the call where they're both quiet, neither of them willing to hang up, even though they don't really have anything else to say.

"I miss you," Patrick blurts out.

"Really?" Pete says, sounding a little shocked.

"Of course I do, dumbass," Patrick says.

Pete laughs and says, "You say the nicest things." In a quieter voice, he says, "I miss you, too."

***

Pete does shows and hams it up in interviews with Bebe, but it all feels fake and insubstantial. His primary occupation is watching the calendar, anticipating those slivers of time when he's with Patrick, when everything is is sharp and real.

Pete's like a black hole of need and desperation, so eager for more: more time, more attention, more touch. The loneliness is toxic, but Pete chokes it all back, feeds it back to himself, because he can't say the words, can't ask for anything in the face of Patrick's neatly drawn boundaries. Pete tells himself that Patrick is giving Pete as much as he has to give, that it's selfish to want more, but that doesn't stop Pete from craving it.

Pete fucks around some -- athletic post-show sex with Bebe, giggly stoned blowjobs with Travie, a threesome with Bill and Gabe that involves way more posturing and smirking than Pete has the energy for. It takes the edge off, but Pete still longs for Patrick. Almost more than sex, Pete fantasizes about actually sleeping with Patrick, curling up behind him and falling asleep with Patrick's hair tickling his nose, drowsy early morning kisses, and the delicate skin on the inside of Patrick's wrists. Patrick, soft and vulnerable and open to Pete in a way that he never seems to be any more.

Patrick's show at the Viper Room is coordinated to coincide with Pete being back in Los Angeles, a workaround so they can get the proximity the bond demands without interfering too much with Patrick's touring schedule. They've almost pushed it too far; Pete's been antsy and distracted for days before Patrick's visit, and Pete's pretty sure he feels it when Patrick's plane hits the ground. Pete's waiting in the cell phone lot, and there's a little jolt of energy and rightness, like the hit of caffeine and sugar from a frappuccino. His hands are shaking as he stares at his phone waiting for the text to appear.

When Patrick slides into the passenger seat of Pete's SUV, he leans in for a hug, just like always. His fingers graze the nape of Pete's neck and his breath is warm on Pete's cheek, and the bond sparks and fizzes. Patrick must feel it too, because he stiffens and pulls away, and Pete has to clench his jaw to keep from crying out in protest.

Patrick loosens up a bit over dinner, telling Pete about Brendon and Eric's prank war and the temper fit Ian threw on stage when his mic went out. After Patrick's third beer, he's starfished on Pete's overstuffed sectional, one arm resting on the back of the couch, and one leg sprawled so close to Pete's that Pete can feel the heat radiating from Patrick's skin. Patrick's telling Pete a convoluted story about Breezy and Dallon and Spencer, but Patrick's voice keeps getting swallowed up in jaw-cracking yawns, and Pete's completely lost the point. Mostly he's focused on the way that Patrick's slowly listing towards him; a good chunk of Pete's attention is taken up by trying to calculate how long it will be before Patrick's head is on Pete's shoulder.

Before that happens, Patrick winds up his story and looks at Pete expectantly. Taking a guess at the reaction Patrick's anticipating, Pete says, "Wow, creepy." (It's a good bet, any time Breezy's involved.)

"Right?" Patrick says, deeply satisfied. He yawns again, and stretches, then tips his head back, resting it on the couch and staring up at the ceiling. The bare skin of his neck is like an invitation.

Reluctantly, Pete averts his eyes, and says, "We should crash."

Patrick makes an incoherent noise that Pete recognizes as sleepy agreement but he doesn't move, just continues to watch the ceiling fan rotate, his eyelids getting heavier and heavier, his breath going deep and even as he slides closer towards sleep.

He's got to be dead on his feet. Pete's wiped out, and his body clock is on West Coast time. They should go to bed, but the thought of breaking the quiet intimacy of the moment makes Pete's chest hurt. Instead, he leans into Patrick, as close as he dares, and lets his eyes fall shut.

Pete tumbles into a dream fast, with none of the obsessive worrying and recriminations that usually keep him tossing and turning. It's so similar to reality that Pete's almost convinced it’s really happening, but all the colors in Pete's living room are too saturated and intense, and instead of the short-sleeved button down Patrick's been wearing since he got off the plane, he's wearing the grey t-shirt that says "Peter," which has been lost for years, left in a dressing room somewhere in the Midwest.

They're crowded together on Pete's couch, so close that Patrick is practically in Pete's lap. Patrick’s warm and relaxed, and the happy, unguarded expression on his face is like stumbling across something you'd thought was lost forever. When Patrick kisses him, Pete sighs into it and lets himself forget that this is a dream.

It starts slow but sure, gentle touches and open-mouthed, wet kisses, Patrick pushing Pete's t-shirt up so he can skate his thumbs over Pete's ribs, touching Pete like he's precious, like he's all Patrick could ever want. They make out for what feels like hours, until Patrick pulls away so he can tug Pete's shirt over his head. He traces the ink on Pete's arms and chest as if he's never seen it before, dragging calloused fingertips over the skin until Pete's whole body is on fire, desperate for more.

"Patrick," he pleads, making Patrick smile mischievously, teeth pressed into his bottom lip. "Come on, please?" Patrick's back in the gingham button down, and Pete fumbles a few buttons through the holes before giving up and yanking the the two sides of the shirt apart. The remaining buttons give way, skittering away across the hardwood floor, and Pete pushes Patrick's shirt off his shoulders and down his arms, revealing a view Pete rarely gets: Patrick bare chested, nipples startlingly pink against his pale skin.

"Patrick," Pete says again, all joy and wonder, and puts his mouth on one nipple, sucks a little, feeling it harden against his tongue. Patrick makes a guttural, growling noise, and reaches between them to unbutton Pete's fly and Pete sucks harder, dragging his teeth across the tender skin.

Patrick says, "Fuck, Pete, I need--" breaking off when Pete bites down hard.

Then Patrick is shoving on Pete's shoulder and muttering about getting Pete out of these stupid jeans, and there's a confusing moment where Pete understands that Patrick wants him to do something, but he's too distracted by the taste of salt on Patrick's skin to stop what he's doing. When it sinks in, Pete stands and pulls his jeans and briefs down, teetering briefly as he pulls one foot free, and sitting back down on the couch hard so he can tug them off the other leg.

Patrick's turning him, pushing him face down on the couch. His teeth are sharp on the nape of Pete's neck, and then he works his way down Pete's back, mouthing at each vertebra, licking the top of Pete's crack and holding him open so his tongue can dart and probe, sending little shivers of pleasure up Pete's spine and down his legs. Pete can't help whimpering and squirming, falling forward as he tilts his hips up and his knees sink further into the couch.

It's all ungainly angles and animal grunting, Patrick's stubble scraping across Pete's skin, and his fingers digging into Pete's hips. There's an edge of humiliation to the pleasure, an awareness of how awkward this position is, how desperately Pete wants this, and his face, pressed against the throw pillow, heats up. The only thing that makes it bearable is that the pillow is obscuring his vision and muffling the pleading, helpless sounds he's making -- it's a little bit like being blindfolded and gagged, and just the thought of that intensifies the pleasure, makes Pete arch his back and press back insistently, until Patrick adds a spit-slicked finger and licks around it.

Pete's opening up for him, so ready for more, but Patrick takes his time and it goes on and on, first one finger and then two, and Patrick's clever tongue teasing around and between them, making Pete beg shamelessly. He needs more, Patrick's cock, his hand on Pete's dick, anything, but Patrick just keeps up that slow, steady torture, keeping him right on the edge, until time loses all meaning, until Pete's pliant and limp, past the point of speech, too far gone to do anything but take it. He's been simplified, stripped down to a vessel, something to be used for Patrick's pleasure, all the edges of his ego blurring and merging with Patrick's.

Still, there's enough of Pete left to sob gratefully when Patrick cover Pete's body with his, hot breath on Pete's ear, sweaty skin sticking to Pete's back, and slides into him easily. Patrick stops, balls-deep in Pete, to bite Pete's shoulder. He worries the sensitive skin with his teeth as he rocks his hips, pulling out and shoving in again, pressing Pete's leaking cock into the upholstery. It's almost enough to make Pete come, the sweet burn and stretch, and the musical sounds Patrick's making, and then Patrick nudges Pete's leg, changing the angle ever so slightly and suddenly he's hitting Pete's prostate over and over again, and Pete's keening and coming, every muscle tensing and releasing, and it's like falling, like flying, like forgetting himself entirely for one long blissful moment.

Then everything shifts and Pete's awake, still coming helplessly, like an echo of the release in his dream, bucking his hips against nothing and crying out despite his gritted teeth. He's limp when it's over, dizzy and disoriented from the sudden return to reality.

Beside him Patrick's already awake, turned away from Pete, curled up on himself and breathing heavily. "Patrick?" Pete says tentatively.

"Don't," Patrick mutters into the back of the couch. His voice is sex-rough and needy. "Just. Please. Don't." He inhales and exhales a few times, the kind of breathing Pete learned in therapy -- good air in, bad air out -- and when Patrick speaks again his voice is closer to normal. "I'm going to go to bed. I'll see you in the morning, okay?"

Pete lies on the couch, cold and sticky and stiff, listening for the click of the guest room door. He waits, in case Patrick re-emerges to use the hall bathroom, but the house is still and quiet, settling around him. Finally Pete gets up and makes his way to his own bedroom, turning off lights as he goes, struggling for some semblance of normality. He leaves his filthy clothes on the bathroom floor and gets in the shower, turning the water as hot as it will go. It pounds on his back, and he tries to believe that somehow it can wash away the lingering traces of the dream.

The next morning is, if possible, worse than Pete had feared it might be. Patrick is awkward, clearly embarrassed, and they navigate the kitchen cautiously, keeping a careful, chaste distance as Pete grinds coffee beans and Patrick makes himself a bowl of cereal. It's exhausting, watching Patrick flinch every time they inadvertently get too close to one another, and the effort of it makes Pete snappish, spoiling for a fight.

The fourth time he catches himself baiting Patrick, giving him a hard time about how ugly all the Soul Punk merch is, Pete stops himself and puts his head on the table wearily. "We should. . .do something. You want to go see a movie?"

Transformers is a safe choice -- mindless explosions, almost no plot to keep track of, nothing to remind Pete of last night's dream, of the feel of Patrick's teeth on his neck and the sounds that he made. Nothing that is, except Patrick beside him in the dark, munching on popcorn and leaning away from Pete to avoid even the most casual of touches.

Pete's not sure if the dream was a joint fantasy, or if it originated in one of their heads and the other person was just an observer, but even if the dream was all Pete, it's impossible not to remember the desperate longing in Patrick's voice afterwards, impossible not to know that Patrick wants Pete every bit as much as Pete wants him. Which would be amazing, everything Pete could ever hope for, if it weren't also obvious that, as much as Patrick wants Pete, he doesn't want to want him.

***

It feels a wrong to think about the dream while Patrick touches himself, like he's giving in to something that he should be strong enough to resist, and like he’s using Pete, taking advantage of what the bond’s done to him. But Patrick does it anyway, in the vain hope that it will help. He jerks off in the shower, in Pete's guest bed, and once, sitting in the office with the door cracked and Pete just down the hall in the kitchen. Patrick closes his eyes and replays images from the dream, wonders if Pete can tell what he's doing, and indulges in elaborate fantasies about what would happen if Pete walked in on him like this.

It’s impossible not to imagine what could have been, what could be, if Patrick could just make himself forget that this isn’t real, no matter how badly he wants it to be. By the third day, he feels like he's going to shatter into a million pieces if he doesn't get a break from Pete. He's constantly aware of Pete's presence, of the precise distance they're maintaining, of how badly he wants to crowd into Pete's personal space and obliterate every boundary they've drawn.

It's a good thing he's got the show that night. Pete's clearly disappointed when Patrick insists that Pete stay home, but Patrick needs some space, as much from his own desire as from Pete.

Unfortunately, while Patrick can think a little more clearly away from Pete, it doesn't afford him any relief from the heightened state of arousal he's been in for days. It's maybe the wrong frame of mind for performing, or possibly the exact right one, if the performance in question were actually pornography. Patrick can feel something more than the usual pre-show adrenaline racing around in his veins during soundcheck, mixing with that excitement and amplifying it. When he steps onstage, the energy from the crowd is palpable, surrounding him and buoying him up.

The intensity is overwhelming, and Patrick has no choice but to run with it, grinding and shimmying and growling out the lyrics in his lower register. At first the band seems a little taken aback, but they follow Patrick’s cue and amp everything up accordingly. Matt grins and stalks Patrick across the stage, and part of Patrick is irrationally resentful at him for taking Pete's place. Patrick pushes that thought back, plays up to Matt, flirting with him and Michael and the audience indiscriminately.

Patrick's half-hard through most of the show and it's all that he can do not to jerk off in the dressing room afterwards. He doesn't go out with the band; he tells them he's too worn out, that he has an early flight the next day, and tries to ignore the way his whole body is yearning to be near Pete.

As soon as Patrick gets back into Pete's SUV, he regrets borrowing it to drive to the club. It reeks of Pete -- hair product and cologne and sugary coffee drinks -- and Patrick's mouth goes dry. He leans his head on the steering wheel and presses the heel of his hand against his dick and drives twenty miles an hour over the speed limit the whole way back to Pete's.

Patrick parks the car in the garage, half hoping that Pete's gone to bed, but when he comes in, Pete's waiting at the door by the garage, wearing basketball shorts and a t-shirt that pulls tight across his shoulders. He's rumpled and sweaty, like he worked out earlier and hasn't bothered to take a shower, and he grins nervously when he says, "I watched the live stream. Holy shit, you were on fire tonight."

The bond buzzes with energy and longing. Patrick can't tell if it's coming from him or Pete or both of them; he's just concentrating on squeezing past Pete without doing something stupid and reckless like pressing him up against the wall and biting his mouth.

Pete's hand is on Patrick's shoulder, and Patrick's mouth is moving, he's saying something, making noises about the crowd, the band, the show, but his brain is completely disconnected, distracted by Pete's tongue darting out to touch his upper lip. Everything feels like it's happening in slow motion and something in the bond clicks into place.

Patrick thinks, nonsensically, "Oh, there you are," and in that instant, Pete's eyes go unfocused as his mouth falls open, red and wet and tempting. Patrick swallows, closes his eyes and leans back against the wall. He tries to think of something really unsexy -- Andy's smelly socks or the quadratic formula -- but then Pete's hand tightens on Patrick's shoulder and he makes a quiet, high-pitched sound, bringing Patrick right back to the here and now. When he opens his eyes, Pete's face is full of naked longing and Patrick's self-control crumbles. The memory of all those shared dreams, Pete's unbearable proximity, the residual energy from the show -- it's all too much and Patrick's helpless to resist it any more.

Pete's holding himself back, the hand that's not touching Patrick clenched in a fist, and his eyes flick to Patrick's mouth, lingering there before he pulls his gaze back up to meet Patrick's. "I can't. . ." he says, "I should. . ."

He tenses, about to move, but before he can pull away, Patrick cries out, "No!" reaching out for Pete before he can stop himself. Patrick breathes, and tries to calm himself down. Instead, he finds himself saying, "Do you think maybe we should? Just. . .once? To, like. . ." It feels important that there be a reason for this, some kind of logic, but Patrick's not really capable of rational thought at this moment. He settles for, ". . .clear the air?"

"Do you want to?"

"Yeah." The admission is like stepping off a cliff, and Patrick feels like all the air has left his lungs. "Do you?"

"You know I do," Pete says, and he's already leaning in, kissing Patrick wet and dirty and desperate.

Patrick kisses back without any hesitation, pulling Pete in, grinding up against him and urging him on with filthy, pleading noises and grabbing hands, clinging to Pete's hips and pushing the baggy shorts down so he can get at Pete's warm skin. And oh god, the way the connection between them lights up with information is so good. Patrick tunes into Pete's arousal, until he knows exactly how much Pete likes the sharp pain of Patrick's teeth sinking into his neck, the way it makes Pete's knees weak with longing and need. It's even better because Patrick knows that Pete can feel his own desire, the hectic rhythm of Patrick's heart and the fierce satisfaction at putting his mark on Pete, biting down harder and sucking until they both know a bruise is blooming there.

Every touch echoes and resonates and every sensation is a blur of action and reaction. Patrick's being laid bare, every secret place exposed and brought out into the light, and it's amazing and terrifying to be seen and known like that, to have that knowledge of Pete. It's the synchronicity of the shared dreams taken to the next level, until Patrick loses himself in it, forgets where he ends and Pete starts.

Pete's on his knees now, on the hardwood floor, rubbing his face against Patrick's jeans, and there's no way Patrick can deny either of them this. He's babbling, "Yeah, yeah, hold on," and they're both fumbling with his fly, getting in each other's way, somehow getting the zipper open and shoving Patrick's jeans down around his knees. Pete mouths at Patrick's cock through his underwear, not teasing, more like he can't help himself, like he can't wait to push the briefs out of the way before he gets his mouth on Patrick.

There's a long moment where everything narrows down to the drag of wet cotton over Patrick's dick, and the steady pulse of more and not enough that Patrick knows is coming straight from Pete. Then Patrick's underwear are down around his knees with his jeans and the heat of Pete's mouth is no longer muted. He's sucking frantically, without any real technique, one hand at the base of Patrick's cock, slippery with spit. He's got the other hand down his own jeans, and everything is a heady mix of denial and satisfaction, the pressure of the floor under Pete's knees and the ache of Pete's jaw, the tension in Patrick's lower back from canting his hips forward and above all, the slide of Pete's mouth, the friction of his hand.

Pleasure bounces between them, spiraling in on itself, and Pete pulls away, looking up at Patrick and jerking him steadily. And then Patrick's coming, spurting all over Pete's cheek, his swollen mouth, his chin. Through it all, Pete keeps looking up at Patrick, and it’s too much, too intimate, and Patrick has to close his eyes to fight the need to lose himself in it completely.

***

Pete breathes heavily and rests his head against Patrick's knee as he slowly settles back into his own skin. Everything is too bright, too intense, like the hyperreality of the shared dreams has bled into real life, and everywhere that they're touching tingles with little aftershocks of pleasure.

"Jesus, Pete," Patrick says, his voice hoarse and strained. "I. . .I think--” He cuts himself off and, clearly shifting direction, says, “We should get cleaned up."

He offers Pete a hand and hauls him up. The momentum carries Pete forward and he lands right up against Patrick. The smell of Patrick's sweat is intoxicating, and Pete's dick twitches, like he could go again, with the slightest encouragement. Almost without realizing what he's doing, he presses his nose behind Patrick's ear, inhaling deeply.

Patrick stiffens, and presses himself back against the wall. "Pete," he says, a little desperately, "I need to--"

"Right," Pete says, stepping back. "I'm going to. . ." He gestures at the bathroom and Patrick nods.

Pete washes his hands and rinses his mouth, then splashes some water on his face. He lingers in the bathroom a long time, just staring at himself in the mirror.

When he finally comes out, Patrick's sitting at the island in the kitchen, drinking a beer. "Hey," Pete says, forcing cheer into his voice.

"Hey."

Pete leans against the pantry door, automatically crossing his arms.

Patrick cradles his head in his hand. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have. . .That was a bad idea."

"I didn't--"

"I know. It's all on me. I. . .I don't know what I was thinking. I know I. . .that was a dick move."

Pete bites back a response. Nothing he can say here is going to make this any better.

"I'll cab it to the airport tomorrow - no sense dragging you out of bed at the crack of dawn."

"I can do it." It's impossible to keep the hurt from his voice.

Patrick shakes his head. "I think. . .It's better if you don't, okay?" His sigh is world-weary. "Two more weeks and the tour will be over. I’ll see you then.” He cuts his eyes at the window, refusing to meet Pete’s gaze. “It will be good for both of us to have a breather."

At 5:00 a.m., Patrick's alarm goes off in the guest room. Pete lies in bed and listens to the quiet sounds of Patrick moving around, packing up and getting ready to leave. His footsteps stop briefly outside Pete's door, and then continue. Pete strains to hear the front door close behind Patrick, but it's too far away.

When the sun is pouring in through his bedroom window, Pete gives up on sleep and checks his phone. There's a text from Patrick that says, Headed back. See you in a couple of weeks. and one from Bebe that says, hello???? u there? It follows on three others she's sent over the past few days, none of which Pete has responded to.

Pete types a quick response to Patrick: safe travels, then deletes it; Patrick’s already on the plane and won’t see it until he lands anyway. To Bebe, he replies, yeah, what's up?

we should talk - i'm going 2 call u

The phone rings almost before Pete's read Bebe's text. "Sorry," he says, answering it, "Patrick's been here the past few days."

"Yeah," she says, "I figured. But you haven't responded to any of the stuff I sent you, and Phil's been trying to get in touch with you about the tour--"

"I know, I know," Pete says. He can't quite keep the annoyance out of his voice. "Like, I said, Patrick's been here and--"

"Look," Bebe interjects, "Even if we got serious about it right now, the album's going to be late. You don't care about writing with me, you're only interested in touring if we can go to the same cities Patrick's going to--" Pete makes an indignant noise at that, but she just talks over him. "I get it -- this was never anything but a way for you to kill time until he wanted to play with you again. But this isn't a game for me. This is my real life, and if you aren't going to take me seriously, then I'm going to go find someone who will."

"That's not fair," Pete snaps. "We're figuring out our sound, the album will be done soon--"

"Not if you never want to work on it," Bebe says sharply. In a softer tone, she says, "I'm sorry. I know you. . ." She doesn't complete that thought, instead she says, "You can have the tracks we've recorded -- do whatever you want to with them. And I'll do the shows we've committed to next month, but after that? I need to take care of myself."

 

It's almost a relief not to have to pretend that he cares about Black Cards, but it leaves Pete with a lot of free time on his hands. Luckily, Gabe's in town the next week. Pete manages to keep up a good front during dinner, but after a few rounds of tequila shots, he spills all the sordid details about the thing with Patrick.

Gabe's still and quiet, and when Pete's talked out, Gabe just says, "That's a shitty situation." He taps his fingers on the bar thoughtfully and he says, "So, you didn't hear it from me, but you should talk to Ross about this."

"Ryan?"

Gabe nods. "Yeah. I--I think he might have a perspective on your situation."

Pete hasn't talked to Ryan in at least a year, but he still has his number in his phone. He shoots Ryan a text the next day, and to Pete's surprise, Ryan responds, I'm free tonight if you want to hang out.

At Ryan's suggestion, they meet at The Carousel Lounge. It's the kind of hipster bar that makes Pete tired, but it's relatively quiet on a Tuesday night and nobody seems to recognize either of them, so that's a plus. The menu is full of drinks made with elderflower liqueur and cucumber vodka, and everything is certified organic. Pete orders a Corona and a plate of vegan stuffed mushrooms, and makes small talk while he tries to figure out how to broach the topic.

Ryan finishes his shockingly pink cocktail and gestures at the bartender to bring him another. "So what's up?"

"I just wanted to see how you are!" Ryan arches an eyebrow at this and stares Pete down until he finally says, "Look, I don't even know how to ask you this." Pete tries to take a sip of his beer, but it's nearly empty. Turning the bottle up further, he manages to drain the last few warm drops. He sets the bottle on the bar and says, "Um, what do you know about soul bonds?"

Ryan flinches, ever so slightly. "Why do you want to know?"

"Because I'm. . .bonded to someone, okay? And I heard--someone told me you know something about this stuff."

"Patrick?"

Pete looks away and peels at the label on his beer bottle. "Yeah."

"Since you're here and he's. . ." Ryan waves vaguely, ". . .elsewhere, I'm guessing it's not going so well?"

"Nope."

Ryan shakes the ice in his glass meditatively. "Are you going to try to break the bond?"

"Not a chance.” Pete tries not to worry about whether Patrick agrees with him on this point.

"Yeah. . .I'd recommend against it." Ryan's voice is like a dirge.

It's on the tip of Pete's tongue to ask whether it was Brendon or Spencer, but that feels needlessly cruel and invasive, so Pete just says, "Sucks either way."

Ryan says, "I'll drink to that," and raises his glass.

 

Pete and Ryan hang out semi-regularly for the next few weeks, eating brunch and playing mini-golf or going to the zoo and watching the elephants for hours. They almost never talk about soul bonds, but it feels good to have someone who gets it, and even better to do things that aren't a constant reminder of Patrick.

When Ryan heads out of town for a month, it only takes Pete a few days to feel bored and lonely. Pete works his way through his address book, calling increasingly more distant contacts, until he's left with the people who all need a reminder designation: Anne, (art gallery), Ricky (photographer), Sarita (from the studio), Jay (Bebe's friend).

Pete has only the vaguest memory of Bebe introducing him to Jay at her birthday party--Pete can't actually remember if Jay's the tall guy with a septum piercing or the short, dark guy with the watercolor tattoo-- but he's available, so he and Pete meet at the Starbucks in West Hollywood. Pete spots Jay's tattoo as soon as he walks in, and instantly remembers meeting him at some bar with a bunch of Bebe’s friends. Jay’s a comic book artist, with one of those deliberately complicated love lives that seem designed to demonstrate how open minded he is. His girlfriend, whose name starts with an M -- Molly? Myrna?-- is dating another guy, who lives with a third guy, who no doubt has a girlfriend or boyfriend on the side as as well, and it’s all suspiciously open and aboveboard and adult.

It's almost enough to make Pete turn around and leave, because his own life is complicated enough without getting tangled up in someone else's drama, but then Jay sees him and flashes Pete a warm, welcoming smile. Fuck it, Pete thinks, might as well give it a try.

Coffee turns into dinner and drinks, and neither of them is really sober enough to drive home, so they take a cab back to Pete's place and make out on his couch, falling asleep before either of them gets off. The next morning, Jay's gone, but Pete has a text from him that says, Great to see you. Do it again soon?

Patrick's tour ends, and he comes and goes every few weeks, like a ghost of himself. He's quiet and withdrawn and just shrugs when Pete asks if he's okay. In Patrick's dreams he's lost, falling and drowning and searching for something he can't ever seem to find. On Ryan’s advice, Pete doesn't push, even when Patrick barely leaves the guest room, even when the stretches between his visits grow longer and longer.

Nominally Pete's still got an album coming out, but the possibility of it recedes slowly into the distance, and he can't really bring himself to care. He hooks up with Jay sporadically, and then more regularly. After sex, they sprawl on Pete's bed and talk about music and their next tattoos, and then Jay goes home to Maura, and Pete doesn't miss him at all. When Jay's unavailable, Pete listens to Anne ramble about Shakespeare and Lacan, goes out for tacos with Mikey, and makes an idiot of himself trying to surf with Spencer and Brendon.

Ryan returns, and he and Pete get drunk as fuck at the Carousel Lounge. When Ryan looks up at Pete through his lashes and suggests they go back to his place, Pete surprises himself by saying, "You know, I think that would be a really bad idea," and they go get ice cream instead.

Pete feels steadier on his feet, tethered, in a way he hasn't in a long time. Still, he can’t quite convince himself that this can be enough.

***

Patrick watches the charts obsessively. When an album's doing well, you know it. You don't have to check to see how sales are going; the singles are on the radio and everybody wants to talk to you about using the songs for commercials, soundtracks, and events. When the album's tanking, the numbers are all you have.

If this really were his first album, Patrick would be thrilled. The reviews aren't terrible and it's actually on the charts. But a brief appearance in the top fifty doesn't really satisfy after you've gotten used to top ten. Even Folie went gold. And the fans aren't nearly as kind as the critics. The negativity and complaints, the sense that he's failed the fans in some fundamental way, are even worse than they were with Folie, because it's all directed at Patrick. There's no one else to share the blame or to commiserate with.

When fans tweet nasty things at Patrick, he almost wishes Pete would come to his defense, even though Patrick's specifically asked Pete not to engage. It's hard to hear the same complaints over and over again, and even though Patrick knows he needs to be visible to promote the album, it's easier to stop checking social media.

As the days grow colder and darker, Patrick gradually stops responding to email as well. It's not like there's much there anyway -- just messages from his family wondering what his holiday plans are. He books a trip to Los Angeles, but the weather's all wrong for the season, and Pete's busy with a bunch of people Patrick's never heard of.

"I can reschedule if you'd like," Pete says. His hand hovers uncertainly above the door knob.

Patrick tries to ignore the surge of memory -- Pete pushing Patrick up against that wall, kissing him like he was starving for it. Patrick can’t let himself give in to that again; it will only hurt Pete more. "Don't rearrange things on my account. I shouldn't have come at the last minute."

"I'm glad you're here. I missed you."

Patrick looks down at his feet. "I missed you, too." He clenches his fist and doesn't say, "Don't go."

When Pete returns, his hair's disheveled and his t-shirt's turned inside out. There's something loose and easy in the set of his shoulders that Patrick can't help but resent. His voice is edgier than he intends when he says, "Have fun?"

Pete's quiet, unusually still. Finally he says, "Yeah, I did." He throws his hoodie over the back of the couch and says, "Is there something we need to talk about?"

"No, sorry. I'm just--" Patrick cuts himself off before he can say "lonely" because that's not fair, not when he's the one who's been pushing Pete away. "Sorry," Patrick says instead. "I'm not trying to be an asshole."

"Okay," Pete says. Patrick can see the moment Pete decides to drop it. "You want to watch some TV?"

Patrick shakes his head. He feels off-balance and out of sorts. "I should go to bed."

He dreams that he's lying in the sun in Grant Park. The spring grass is velvety soft and he can feel the warmth of Pete's body next to his. Patrick says, "I miss you."

Pete laughs and says, "I'm right here," but when Patrick rolls over, Pete's gone.

It's snowing when Patrick returns to Chicago, and the sky is as grey as his mood. When he gets into his cab, the radio is playing "I'll Be Home for Christmas." Patrick only gets through one chorus before he asks the driver to turn it off.

Patrick begs off Christmas with his family and stays home, eating Korean takeout, cuddling with his dogs, and watching Pete's number come up on his phone and roll to voicemail over and over again. The next week is a blur: Patrick drinks more than he should and sleeps far more than he needs to. Faced with the prospect of packing to go back to LA, he cancels his flight and texts Pete, Sorry, something's come up. Can't make it this time.

Over the next few weeks, the texts from Pete become more urgent. Patrick's getting sick again and he knows Pete must be feeling it too. Patrick's being an asshole, hurting Pete as well as himself, but he can't seem to stop. His whole life feels like a trap: tied to Pete, whether Pete wants him or not, tied to Fall Out Boy, whether Patrick wants it or not. Somedays, he thinks it would be better to just wait out the bond, let it run its course and set them both free. But even at his lowest points, he can't imagine living the rest of his life quarantined from Pete.

He's been having groceries delivered; when he runs out of toilet paper and has to do a three a.m. run to 7-11, he realizes it's the first time he's been out of his house in weeks. He's wandering up and down the aisles when a kid with purple hair and a nose ring says, "Hey, you're that guy from Fall Out Boy, right?"

Patrick hasn't showered in days and he's wearing pajama pants and a stained Hush Sound t-shirt under his giant parka. He pulls his knit toque down a little lower over his greasy hair and impulsively says, "No."

The kid leans in, peering at Patrick's face. He smells strongly of pot. "Dude. You are too."

Patrick sighs and admits, "Yeah."

"Take This to Your Grave is still my fave record!"

Patrick smiles nervously and says, "That's great." Out of the corner of his eye, he spots the toilet paper at the end of the aisle. "Um. Thanks for letting me know." He lunges past the kid and grabs a roll of Charmin. Before the kid can say anything else, Patrick says, "Have a good night," and heads for the register.

He has to resist the urge to look behind him as he's checking out, and dashes for his car, slipping on the icy sidewalk and nearly falling over. His breath is shallow and too fast, and in the dim light from the streetlight he can see that his hands are shaking. He gets in the car and cranks the engine and thinks about just getting on the freeway and driving until the car runs out of gas. He should find some fly-over town where nobody's ever heard of Fall Out Boy, and start all over. He could be an accountant, a music teacher, a plumber. Except all of those jobs require degrees or training, none of which Patrick has. He barely graduated from high school.

All he's equipped to do is to make music, but he's washed up. Wearily, Patrick swipes his hand over the fogged over windshield, clearing enough that he can see to drive. There's nowhere else to go, so he might as well head home.

***

u there?

patrick?

Sorry, I was asleep. What's up?

can i call?

?

It's not really a good time.

u ok?

yeah

It's clear that Patrick doesn't want to talk, so Pete drops his phone on the couch beside him and turns on the television. He flips through the channels rapidly, looking for something that will distract him. News, a police procedural, Friends, The Daily Show -- he lands on each channel just long enough to register what it is before moving on.

Pete's cycled through every channel twice and his thumb is starting to cramp, so he stops at random and throws the remote on the coffee table alongside his phone. His beer's warm and his pizza's cold, but he finishes his dinner anyway, while he watches what turns out to be Law and Order: SVU. His phone buzzes once, and his heart leaps in his chest, but it's just a notification that Mikey's tweeted at him. Irritated, Pete turns off Twitter notifications and throws his phone back on the coffee table. He dozes off for a bit, and when he wakes up, NCIS is on. He should go to bed, but moving just seems like too much work, so he stays on the couch, gradually getting more and more horizontal.

He startles awake when the soundtrack takes a particularly suspenseful turn, and then drifts back off again, settling into a dream. He's in Patrick's high school bedroom, which is also, somehow, the guest room where Patrick stays when he comes to LA. Patrick's sitting on the floor, leaned against the foot of the bed, and he's wearing the red suit he wore when he played the Viper Room, his bow tie loose around the collar of his black shirt. He looks up at Pete and smiles, like he's happy to see Pete, and god, Pete's missed that.

Patrick's got his old acoustic guitar and he hums softly to himself, picking out a tune. Pete slides down the wall and sits at an angle to Patrick, stretching out his legs so that his toes fit under Patrick's calves. Patrick cuts his eyes at him and smiles again, fondly tolerant, and Pete wiggles his toes and leans back against the wall, letting the music wash over him.

As he listens, lyrics start to bubble up in his brain--perfectly turned phrases that are both strikingly familiar and completely new. They're exactly right for the music Patrick's playing, and Pete knows from experience that if he doesn't get them down quickly, he'll lose them. He looks around, but there's not so much as a pencil or a scrap of paper in the room. The words are coming faster and faster, and Pete begins to panic as he realizes that the earlier lyrics are already slipping away from him. Part of him is afraid that if he speaks, he'll break the quiet, companionable mood, but it's like the words are building up inside of him, and he'll explode if he doesn't get them out. He opens his mouth and tries to explain to Patrick what he's thinking, but all that comes out is a string of random syllables.

Patrick stops playing and peers at Pete in confusion. Pete tries again. In his head the lyrics are so clear and obvious, but again, what comes out of his mouth is nonsensical babble.

Patrick shakes his head sadly, and in that moment, Pete's suddenly aware that this is a shared dream. He can feel Patrick's presence, tinged with misery, longing, and a bittersweet nostalgia, and it feels like the words that Pete can't get out are magic, as if everything would be okay if he could just untangle them for Patrick. But the harder Pete tries to speak, the less human his voice sounds, until it's just a harsh repetitive cry, and everything he wanted to say is just as jumbled in his brain as it was on his tongue.

Pete wakes with one leg hanging off the couch and a killer crick in his neck. For a few seconds he can't figure out where he is; everything is too tasteful and clean, like a model home that's been staged by a designer, and he feels like he's the one element that's out of place. Then he tunes into the television, blaring yet another police procedural at top volume, and he remembers, right, this is his own living room.

He sits up and stretches, trying to work out the kinks from sleeping on the couch. He should just go the fuck to bed, but he can't shake the low buzz of anxiety from the dream. Pete's whole body is on high alert, and it seems unlikely that he'll be able to go back to sleep. He's not even sure he wants to, because who knows what his subconscious has in store for him next.

He picks up his phone, with the vague thought of calling Patrick but as soon as he swipes away his lock screen he's confronted with Patrick's earlier texts. Yeah, maybe not.

Instead, Pete backreads Twitter, mindlessly scrolling past most of his feed until he finds a tweet from Patrick: a little piece explaining where I've been "WE LIKED YOU BETTER FAT: CONFESSIONS OF A PARIAH," at my Tumblr.

The post is hard to read. It's painful to imagine Patrick feeling so hurt and frustrated, and guarding all that pain, pushing Pete (and everyone else) away, to avoid revealing it. Pete can't understand how you could know someone as well as he knows Patrick, share their dreams, and still not realize something so fundamental about them. Part of him wants to berate himself for it, but now that he knows what's going on with Patrick, there's no time for that kind of bullshit. He goes back to his text message screen, but he has no idea what to say. He could call, but Patrick's just going to blow him off again, if he bothers to answer at all. Instead, Pete opens up his laptop and starts searching for flights.

There's a five a.m. flight that arrives at eleven. If Pete leaves right now, he can probably make it. There's no time to pack a bag; fuck it, they have stores in Chicago. Pete grabs his wallet and his phone and gets two steps out the door before he has to head back to put on shoes. The next two hours are a mad dash -- doing eighty on the freeway to the airport, valet parking his car, and sweet talking his way to the front of the security line so he can sprint the length of the airport to his gate. He's the last person on the flight, and as he collapses in his seat, he feels like he's taking a breath for the first time since he read Patrick's post. He should be exhausted, considering how little sleep he's had, but Pete's exhilarated, buzzing with the energy of doing something.

When he steps out of O'Hare, icy air whips around him, cutting through his t-shirt and ripped-up jeans, but Pete barely notices, because the bond is white-hot. He felt Patrick's shock of recognition when the plane landed, and Pete can feel him now, stewing around in his anger and self-loathing. Pete sends a thought down the line: "I'm coming for you, motherfucker, like it or not." It's not really how the bond works but he hopes the sentiment comes through anyway.

Patrick doesn't respond to Pete's knocking, so he rings the doorbell. When Patrick still doesn't answer, Pete bangs on the door and yells, "I can do this all day. You want to let me in before your neighbors call the cops? Or you want to have a big fucking scene?"

That brings Patrick to the door. He opens it wordlessly and stands aside, letting Pete in. Patrick's hair is unwashed, lank and stuck to his head, and he's wearing plaid pajama pants and a navy blue hoodie that's at least two sizes too big. He closes the door with exaggerated care, making a point of not slamming it, and asks flatly. "What do you want?"

There are a hundred ways Pete could answer that question. "I'd kill for a cup of coffee," he finally says, aware that he's procrastinating.

They stand there, in the narrow foyer of Patrick's house with the grey morning light filtering in through the transom window, and the only sound is the drone of the heater. Patrick purses his lips, like maybe he's trying to stop himself from saying something he might regret. Finally he says, "Come on into the kitchen."

Patrick has to push aside a pile of takeout boxes to get to the coffee maker, and then he has to rearrange the dirty dishes in the sink to fit the pot under the faucet, but eventually the kitchen fills with the smell of coffee brewing. Patrick says, "Are you hungry? I think there's. . ." He opens the pantry and looks around dubiously, finally pulling out a box of mini-wheats. "Cereal?" He screws up his mouth and adds, "Although the milk is probably bad."

"I'm good."

Patrick shuffles dishes around until he finds a couple of mugs. He washes them, then dries them with the tail end of a paper towel that's stuck to the cardboard tube. The coffee gurgles and hisses and finally beeps, and Patrick pours some into each mug. He gives the milk a sniff test, grimaces, and looks at the overflowing trash can before turning back to the fridge and shoving the carton back into it.

There's an inch of sugar in the glass dispenser. Pete dumps every bit of it into his coffee, swirling it around when he can't find a clean spoon. When he takes a sip, it scalds his mouth, and he pushes it away -- it tastes like shit. "Why are you doing this to yourself?"

"What?"

Pete tilts his head at Patrick in disbelief, but Patrick just clenches his jaw and purses his lips, stubbornly silent. "Holing up in this house like it's the fucking zombie apocalypse? Staying away until we both feel like shit?"

Patrick flushes and says, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you--"

"It's not about me, asshole! I'm worried about you. You don't have to be the Lone Ranger or, or, Batman, or whatever. You have a lot of people who care about you."

"People who have their own lives."

"Those lives include you! Look, you're not an. . .inconvenience. People--" Pete takes a breath. "I want to help, if you'll fucking let me."

"You think you do," Patrick says bitterly, "but it's just because of this stupid. . .thing."

"No, it's because that's what friends do for each other."

"You have your own stuff going on. Your album? Your. . .friends in LA."

"Jesus, Patrick, nobody has the time for me to list all the times you've hauled me out of shit. For once, will you let me return the favor?"

“Not when you’re being. . .coerced into it!”

“Look, I know you think this is something that’s being done to us, that the bond is making us feel this way, but what if you’ve got it all backwards? What if. . . the way we feel created the bond?”

This actually shuts Patrick up. He stares at Pete, eyes wide and his mouth gaping.

“You’ve cut yourself off from everyone, like you’re punishing yourself--” And then Pete sees the answer, so obvious, he can't believe it hadn't occurred to him before. "You need your band."

Patrick opens his mouth, to protest, no doubt, but Pete's warming to the idea, and he just talks right over him. "This isn't about the music. The stuff you're doing now is fantastic. If you were happy right now? Fuck everything else. But one thing about all of this soul bond stuff -- I know you're not happy. And I don't need that shit to know what will make you happy."

"Yeah, because we were all hunky-dory before the hiatus."

"Okay, we probably did need a break," Pete concedes. "But we didn't need for you to fall off the face of the earth. Break's over. Time to get back to business."

***

"We can talk about it," Patrick had said. And then, "Just us. Let's just. . .see how it goes?" It's too big, too scary to think about sharing it with anyone else, even Joe and Andy. It's Pete's idea and it still scares the shit out of Patrick to talk to him about it.

Pete settles into Patrick's guest room and for a couple of weeks they talk about everything except getting the band back together. Patrick keeps thinking Pete will bring it up again, but Pete seems content to let the possibility hover between them, unspoken, but just as present as the bond. And so they dissect the plot twists of the latest episode of Game of Thrones, and go out for milkshakes, and take the dogs for walks, as if they have all the time in the world.

The weather starts to turn, bringing longer days and a hint of spring warmth, and one night, Patrick dreams again that he and Pete are lying on the spring grass in Grant Park. This time, when Pete says, "I'm right here," he takes Patrick's hand and squeezes it. Patrick holds on tight and Pete stays right there, warm and comfortable by Patrick's side.

When Patrick wakes up, he hears Pete puttering around in the kitchen. Patrick feels so grateful, so glad to have Pete there, it makes something in Patrick turn soft and yielding.

When he rolls out of bed and makes his way to the kitchen, Pete's making French toast. Patrick pours himself a cup of coffee and sits at the table, watching Pete examine the underside of the toast critically, trying to decide if it's time to flip it.

"Okay," Patrick says. "I'm in."

Pete turns and gives Patrick an incredulous look. "The band?"

"Yeah."

"Okay," Pete says. He stands there, beaming at Patrick until the caramel smell from the skillet starts to take on a scorched note. Pete startles and turns back to the skillet, flipping the toast rapidly and waving his hand to dissipate the little wisps of smoke that are coming from the skillet. "Uh, how do you feel about blackened French toast?"

 

Patrick's studio feels haunted by the ghosts of Truant Wave and Soul Punk, by everything he'd hoped his solo career might be, so they bypass the studio in favor of just camping out in the living room. Pete sits on the corner of the sofa, clutching a giant frappuccino and a purple Mead notebook with a torn cover. It bulges with scraps of paper that he's tucked inside it -- boarding passes and receipts and pages torn from hotel notepads. Patrick perches on the armchair with his laptop and his guitar. He tells himself that they're just experimenting, that there's no pressure, but it still feels momentous when he opens GarageBand.

There's a moment of awkward silence while they both try to remember exactly how this goes. Pete takes a loud slurp of his coffee. Patrick stares at the rows of projects on his computer screen. They're all so rough, not ready to be exposed to the light of day, and Patrick has the urge to just shut his computer and give up the whole idea. It seems impossible that they used to do this all the time, that he used to send Pete bits and pieces of unfinished songs, like it was no big deal.

Pete says, "Look, we don't have to do this, if you don't want to."

"No," Patrick says, "I want to. Really!" He scrolls through the list of projects again and stops, hovering over one that he's never been able to find the right lyrics for. "I have something I was working on. It wasn't right for Soul Punk? Just ignore the lyrics, they're all wrong. And I think it needs something at the end. . .It's not finished. It might not be anything, but it feels like. . .I mean, it could be something for the band?"

He clicks on the icon and the song starts to play, a little tinny on the laptop speakers. Patrick looks away, focusing on the darkened television on the wall, painfully aware of every false start, everything that's not quite right.

"Okay," Pete says when the final notes fade, "play it for me?" When Patrick starts to hit play again, Pete shakes his head. “On your guitar?”

Patrick mixes up the lyrics for the first verse, but Pete’s head is tilted and his eyes are vague and soft, the way they are when he's really paying attention, so Patrick carries on. When the Patrick stops playing, Pete taps his pen on his thigh thoughtfully. "I like that--and a lot of it feels really right?” He's flipping through his notebook rapidly, and when he finds what he was looking for he says, "I think maybe this belongs in there somewhere?”

Patrick's pretty sure the line about the darkness getting bigger is from an old post on Pete's blog, but it fits perfectly with the lyrics Patrick sketched out. Suddenly Patrick can hear the bass line in his head, loud and clear; it's like turning a corner in a strange neighborhood and suddenly realizing that you're home.

They shore up Patrick's original lyrics with a few more additions from Pete, then hit a wall. "Let's work on something else for a while," Pete suggests, and then he's humming a bit of the melody that's been running through Patrick's brain for the past year.

Patrick starts playing and singing, hesitantly at first, then more confidently, putting words to the tune, not even sure if they're his or Pete's. As the sun through the windows creeps across the carpet, they wind up sitting together on the couch, shoulders and hips pressed together. Patrick's so absorbed in their work that he forgets to be self-conscious about touching Pete; it feels natural to lean his head onto Pete's shoulder so he can see what he's writing.

"Okay," Patrick says, excitedly, seeing the connection more clearly now that it's down on paper, "but that bit about 'chlorine kissed summer skin' belongs in the chorus--no, of the other song. . ." It's easier to just write it down than to try to explain it, so Patrick sets his guitar down and tugs the notebook out of Pete's hands. Pete just laughs, low and rumbling and delighted, and hands Patrick the pen so he can draw arrows across the page, connecting what they'd originally thought were two different songs.

They've got solid drafts of three songs, and the bones of at least four more when Pete straightens up and winces, saying, "Fuck, I'm too old to be sitting for that long."

Patrick sits up and stretches, suddenly aware of the ache in his shoulders and lower back. The sky outside the window is steely grey, the last of the sunset a faint orange stripe on the horizon. Patrick shakes his wrist hard, trying to work out the cramp in his wrist. "We should eat," he says idly. He's not really hungry, but breakfast was a long damn time ago.

They order pizza and eat it in the living room while Pete mulls over the day's work, adding notes in the margins of each page. He's as pleased and satisfied as Patrick's ever seen him, and it makes fear bubble up in Patrick's chest. "It's not. . .don't get too. . .It's just one day."

"Everything has to start somewhere," Pete says. Patrick grimaces, and Pete sets aside his notebook and says, "Look. If this is all there is, it's enough for me. All the rest of it is great, but this? This part is magic. We'll figure the other shit out. Or we won't, and we'll do something else. But this is what I've missed."

His hand on Patrick's bicep is warm and familiar, and the contact makes the bond flicker and spark. Pete starts to pull away, but Patrick covers Pete's hand with his own, holding it in place. The energy between them shifts and changes, like a steady pulse, and Patrick breaths in and out, letting down his guard, letting himself be fully open to this for the first time. It’s like laying down a burden he thought he’d be carrying his entire life, and Patrick feels like he might float away if it weren’t for Pete's tight grip.

Through the bond, Patrick can feel Pete's relief and joy. The sense of openness, of possibility, takes Patrick's breath away. "Oh," he thinks, "Oh."

***

Pete stares gloomily at the suitcase he's borrowed from Patrick. "I don't have to go. I mean, I don't want things to get bad again." Everything feels so ephemeral, it seems risky to leave, like the ground they've gained might disappear if Pete's not paying enough attention.

"It's only for a few days," Patrick says. In the spring sunlight streaming into the foyer, he looks soft and sleep-rumpled, his Batman pajama pants sliding down his hips. "And you can't blow off the audition."

"It's not really an audition," Pete protests. "More like. . .an interview. A conversation."

"But you need to be in New York for it, right?"

"I guess. I mean, do I really even want to do this?" Pete's agent set this up before Pete came out to Chicago. Even then it had seemed kind of silly, but he was looking for something to distract him from Patrick's chilly distance and the not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper death of Black Cards. Now that things are better between Pete and Patrick, the idea of hosting a reality show seems ridiculous. "You don't think it's too. . ." Pete searches for the right word, then gives up and says, "It's a little random, don't you think?"

"Well, there's nothing saying you have to take it, even if they offer it to you, right?" Patrick gives Pete a sidelong glance. "But it can't hurt to talk to them. And. . .It could be good. I mean. . .I think. . .if Joe and Andy are in, and we. . .It would be good publicity. Keep you on the radar, all that jazz.” Patrick pauses, and then adds, “That is where this is going, right?" He sounds worried, like he thinks Pete might not agree, like Pete hasn't been waiting for this for years.

"Yeah, sure! If that's what you want. I don't want to--"

"No, yeah, I get that. I'm. . .I don't feel. . .rushed, or whatever. I'm ready if you are." Patrick's smiling, his cheeks a little pink, and he looks so much better than he did a few months ago, more like himself, that Pete allows himself to believe that everything will be okay.

 

When Pete gets back to Chicago, he can't stop staring at Patrick. It's so good just to be near him again, and Patrick seems just as glad to see Pete. Instead of just barely tolerating Pete's presence, Patrick leans into Pete's side, rubs his knee against Pete's under the table, and touches Pete's arm frequently as he tells him about his conversation with Andy. It's a feast, after Pete's subsisted on crumbs for years, and he can't get enough of it.

They stay up far too late working on the new songs, Patrick's head bent over his guitar and Pete scribbling lyrics in his notebook, and when they're both too tired to work anymore, they just sit on the couch, touching all along the sides of their bodies.

Through a yawn, Patrick says, "We should go to bed."

Pete tries and fails to suppress an answering yawn. "I'm not that tired," he insists.

Patrick sits up and gives him a skeptical look. "Did you or did you not have a 7:00 a.m. flight?"

"Well, yeah, but. . ." Pete gestures vaguely, ". . .this is good."

"It is," Patrick acknowledges, "but you've got to be beat."

"Yeah."

When Pete doesn't move, Patrick says, "Or. . .do you want to. That is, we could. . ." In a rush, he says, "Do you want to sleep in my room tonight?"

Pete's mind is immediately filled with a thousand filthy images. The flare of want is galvanizing, like slamming a Red Bull. "Yeah," Pete says quickly.

Patrick's eyes are a little glazed and he's staring at Pete's mouth, leaning in closer. "I meant, just sleep, but. . .we could--”

But Pete's already second-guessed himself. He draws in a shaky breath and says, "Except. Maybe we shouldn't. Last time--"

"Right," Patrick says. "No, that makes sense. Things are going so well. . ."

"--it just made things worse. And I don't want to fuck this up."

Patrick's clutching at his hair, making it stand on end. "Me either. Seriously, Pete. I know I've been. . .difficult about this, but I really want to make it work now."

"Okay. Me too." Pete exhales, deliberately releasing the tension from his body. "So maybe we should just focus on being friends? And the music. Just...take everything else off the table."

"That's probably a good idea. Whatever it takes, I want to do that." Patrick looks down at the rug. "But we could still do the thing -- 'share sleeping arrangements' -- just, platonically, right?”

"Absolutely," Pete agrees. "We should totally do that."

***

On the other end of the phone line, Joe exhales slowly. Finally he says, "Really?" He sounds a little stoned and a lot dubious.

"Andy's in," Patrick says, trying not to get too worried yet. Joe was always going to be the hard sell.

"Okay," Joe says, "sure. We've had some time away from each other, done a few side projects, you've had a Pete Wentz style meltdown on the internet. . .yeah, I see it."

Despite himself, Patrick, snaps, "You got something better to do?"

"Absolutely. I like what I'm doing these days. It's nice to feel like a full member."

"Look,” Patrick rushes to say, “I know Pete and I kind of. . .dominated things before. Neither of us wants that this time. We don't want to do a reunion tour - we want to make new music, evolve the sound. And we want you to be a part of that."

"It's not all about what you want though -- if the media makes it the Pete and Patrick show again, there's not a lot you guys can do about that."

"We can. . .tone it down."

Joe snorts derisively. "You can. What about Pete?"

"We both want this to work. And we don't want to repeat the mistakes we made before." There's a long silence on the other end of the line. It's probably a bad idea to bring this up right now, but Patrick feels compelled to say, "There's something you should know, if we're going to do this. It's not a big deal! But, uh, Pete and I are. . .soul bonded."

Joe makes a sound. Over the phone, Patrick can't tell if it's skepticism or laughter or what. Finally Joe says, "Of course you are. I mean, if anybody ever was, you guys are. I gotta say though, you're not really selling me on the whole 'toning it down' thing."

"We've figured out how to manage it! It doesn't have to be a thing."

"You guys are fucking, but it's not a thing?"

"For the record, we're not fucking. Literally nothing whatsoever has changed. It's just a random weird-ass thing that has no relevance to anything." Patrick winces at the defensiveness in his voice. Ten years ago, he would have just escalated from there. Today, he runs a hand through his hair and reins himself back in. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't. . .I get why you're worried about this, but things are better between me and Pete than they've ever been. It's not just the bond -- we've figured it out, and it just works now. It's not going to be like it was before." Patrick's not sure who he's trying to convince, Joe or himself.

There's a long pause, filled only with the sound of Joe smoking. Finally he says, "Okay. I appreciate you letting me know what's going on. I'll give it a try. But if things start to go south again, I'm out. Understood?"

***

Pete's been back to LA a few times since he and Patrick started writing together, but the first time he stays for any amount of time is when they come back to record. It's weird to be back, weird to be recording again, like somehow Pete's stepped off the track he was on, and back into his real life.

When they finally have a free night, Pete has dinner with Jay and Maura. Maura's radiantly pregnant, and goes to bed early, leaving Jay and Pete on the porch, drinking beer.

"It’s good to see you," Jay says, clinking his bottle to Pete's. “I missed you.”

"Missed you, too."

Jay's mouth tastes like beer, and it's easy and familiar to fall into their guest bed with him. Afterwards, Pete goes home and listens to Patrick's latest revision of "Death Valley." They eat ice cream straight out of the carton, brush their teeth at the twin sinks in Pete's bathroom, and settle in to Pete's bed together.

Pete turns off the bedside lamp and he can hear the mattress creaking as Patrick shifts around, getting comfortable. A few minutes later, Patrick says, "Do you wish you could stay over with him?"

Pete rolls over onto his back and considers this. "No? I mean, I like Jay. We have a good time together -- in bed and out of it. But. . .no. That's his deal with Maura. And. . .there's nowhere else I'd rather be than here with you."

The silence draws out so long, Pete's sure Patrick's fallen asleep, but then he says, "Do you wish. . ."

When he doesn't finish that thought, Pete prompts, "What?"

But Patrick just says, "I don't know. Nothing. Get some sleep, okay?"

That night Pete dreams that he and Patrick are sitting on a bench at the dog park near Patrick's house in Chicago. The leaves are just beginning to turn, golden light filtering through them, and there's a hint of a chill in the air. It's Pete's favorite time of year, and, as much as he likes California, he's missed this sense that you can feel the world turning, like everything is on the cusp of something else.

"It's weird," Patrick says, tipping his head up and looking at the sprawling branches above them. "This is the end of the year, but it always feels like the beginning to me."

"Every ending is a beginning," Pete says, watching the play of shadows across Patrick's face.

Patrick's lips quirk. "Mostly I think it's because of school."

"Well, okay, that too. Anyway, time is an arbitrary construct. We can declare any day New Year's Day and start all over again."

***

"Tell me it's going to be okay." Patrick still can't believe that everything has come together so far, that the secret hasn't gotten out. Now that they're on the brink of the big reveal, it feels like surely they've used up all their luck, and the actual announcement will fall flat, that no one will like the new song, that no one will come to the shows.

"It's going to be great," Pete says patiently, for at least the twentieth time today. "I promise."

Patrick pushes the food around on his plate. Maybe it's nerves, but he's not entirely sure about Thai Mexican fusion. "I still can't believe we have to be at the park at 5:30 a.m. We need to set like, six alarms."

Joe shoves a big bite of curry burrito into his mouth. "Andy'll get us up," he mutters indistinctly.

Andy's been in bed for hours, which might be evidence that he's the smartest member of Fall Out Boy. If the rest of them go to bed right now, they'll be lucky to get six hours of sleep.

Patrick asks, "Everything is sorted out for tomorrow, right?"

"I told you," Pete says, "It's all taken care of -- the stuff in the park, the show, everything."

"Okay," Patrick says, "in my defense, that thing we tried to do for Folie was a shit show."

"Fucking cops," Joe agrees.

"We're good!" Pete insists.

"Sorry," Patrick says, shoving his food away from him. "I think I should go to bed."

"Get some rest," Pete says, all the irritation gone from his voice.

The hotel room mattress is too hard, and Patrick can't get comfortable. They should've just stayed at his place, even though it would've meant getting up even earlier. When Pete comes in an hour later, Patrick's sitting up in bed, mindlessly scrolling through the Alternative Press website.

Pete closes the door behind him and leans against it. "Can't sleep?"

Patrick shakes his head. "Too wound up."

Pete shucks off his jeans and climbs into the bed, still holding his phone. "I've got something you should listen to -- might help." He pushes the pillows around until he's satisfied with their configuration, and then taps his phone a few times. When the music starts, it's achingly familiar, and also totally new in this context.

Patrick wants to roll his eyes, but he's caught, transfixed by the beat and the sound of his own voice, soaring above Pete's bass, Joe's guitar, and Andy's drums. Pete grins and says, "It sounds pretty good, huh?"

"I guess," Patrick says, but he can't help smiling back. "I was right about the chorus."

"You usually are." Pete rolls onto his side and props his head on his hand. "I'm not gonna lie, I'm scared shitless. But I also know this is a good song. This is a good album, and we had a great time making it. And if nobody else appreciates it, I'm gonna appreciate it enough for all of us. Okay?"

"Okay."

"Now go the fuck to sleep," Pete says, turning out the bedside lamp and pressing his face into Patrick's neck.

Patrick's asleep before the song ends.

***

Hotel nights used to mean debauchery -- bathtubs full of ice and booze, angry calls from the front desk, sex in a real bed. But now Pete's just happy to have a full-sized shower and laundry facilities. He doesn't know exactly when clean clothes became nonnegotiable, but it makes touring kind of a pain in the ass. It was a lot easier when he thought that sprinkling vodka on his t-shirts and letting them air out was as good as washing them.

It's been weeks since he had a chance to do any laundry, and everything he brought with him is stiff and smelly. As soon as they get back to the hotel, Pete dumps his suitcase out on the floor and starts throwing clothes into a plastic bag.

Patrick's leaned against the headboard of his bed watching Pete with a bemused expression. "You know the hotel has laundry service, right?"

"At six dollars a shirt? No thank you." Pete could buy like, a year's worth of new t-shirts for what it would cost him to pay the hotel to do his laundry.

"It's what money is for," Patrick says, throwing Pete's usual line back at him.

Patrick's not wrong, but no way could Pete look his mother in the eye if he paid those kind of prices for laundry. "Not if you ever want to retire," Pete says. "Come on, we can do yours while we're at it."

Patrick rolls his eyes, but he grabs his suitcase and follows Pete downstairs to the laundry room. Distantly, Pete can hear cheers and drunken laughter from the hotel bar, but when the laundry room door swings shut, it's quiet and hushed, the bright fluorescent light beaming down on gleaming white counters and a row of washers and dryers.

Pete sorts his clothes into lights and darks and buys a couple of packets of laundry detergent, taking a moment to appreciate that the machine now takes credit cards as well as quarters - the future is great.

Patrick's dumped all his clothes into the dark pile. He rolls his eyes when Pete methodically picks out the socks and underwear and places them in the pile with his own whites. "Hot water kills germs," Pete insists as he tosses the pile into the washer.

When both washers are going, Pete sits on the counter beside Patrick and pulls out his phone. Patrick's half-asleep, leaning against the wall and watching Pete scroll through his Twitter feed. Patrick's breathing gets even and slow as the washers chug and churn and Pete switches from Twitter to Candy Crush, but Patrick startles when the washers abruptly go silent. He lifts his head and mumbles, "What about the bear?"

"No lions, tigers, or bears," Pete assures him. "Go back to sleep."

Pete moves the clothes around and sits back on the counter. Patrick snuggles into his side, his breath warm on Pete's neck, and his hand heavy on Pete's thigh. Occasionally he makes a small contented sound or mutters an unintelligible word. Pete watches their clothes tumble together in the dryer and wonders vaguely what Patrick's dreaming about. If he closed his eyes, Pete would probably slip right into Patrick's dream, but one of them should probably stay awake to monitor the clothes, and anyway, it doesn't seem like that could possibly be more intimate than watching over Patrick as he sleeps in this warm comfortable room.

Patrick wakes when the dryer buzzes and he blinks at Pete blearily. "Clothes are done," Pete says, hopping lightly off the counter and pulling the dryer door open. The clothes are soft and warm and pleasant-smelling and there's something almost decadently satisfying about piling them on the counter and folding them into neat squares. After a few minutes, Patrick rubs his eyes and picks a t-shirt out of the pile. Once it's folded, he hesitates, his hand hovering over the two stacks.

"Mine," Pete says, dropping Patrick's Bowie t-shirt onto his pile.

Patrick puts the t-shirt on Pete's pile and holds up a stained sock.

"Yours?" Pete guesses, and Patrick throws it on his own pile.

They fold in companionable silence for a while, finally starting an "ours" pile for the stuff that they've been sharing so long neither of them can remember who it originally belonged to. They've probably done this whole routine hundreds of times through the years -- in laundromats and hotels, in their parents' houses and their own, and there's something zen about the familiarity of it.

Pete's focused on untangling Patrick's Batman boxers from the jeans they'd been tucked into when he feels the bond throb with something he recognizes as arousal. When he looks up, Patrick's frozen, staring at Pete's hands, and just like that, Pete's remembering that night when they fucked in the hallway of Pete's house. The memory is so vivid, he can almost feel Patrick's hands in his hair.

Patrick's cheeks are bright red, and his hands are tight on the hoodie he's holding. His eyes dart to Pete's mouth and he blushes harder, the red stain spreading down his neck. Pete's hand twitches with the need to touch Patrick's hot skin, and he reaches out, his fingers hovering so close that he can feel the stubble on Patrick's cheek.

In the hallway, someone laughs, and the moment shifts. Pete jerks his hand back reflexively, not sure if he’s disappointed or relieved.

Patrick takes a breath and deliberately releases the tension in his shoulders, setting the hoodie on the pile of his clothes. "I think that's it," he says. "Come on, let's hit the sack."

***

Now that they're touring together again, it feels like the shows Patrick did on hiatus happened to another person. Touring is the same as it ever was -- long periods of boredom punctuated with adrenaline-fueled performances -- but the energy is different from the solo shows, and completely unlike those last few pre-hiatus tours. There's a sense that they're all where they want to be, that the band is projecting their joy out to the crowd and having it mirrored back to them. Playing with Pete is almost exactly the same, but Patrick appreciates it so much more now that he understands what's happening. When Pete leans into him, Patrick's skin buzzes with something electric and intoxicating.

In Detroit, Patrick loses his hat during "Dance Dance." Pete picks it up and drops it back on Patrick's head, then squeezes the nape of his neck. Patrick feels a little zing of arousal first in himself and then echoed back along their connection. Pete grabs Patrick's hand during "Saturday" and holds it aloft, screaming the words even more enthusiastically than usual, and it's perfect, everything that Patrick could ever want.

After the show, they make their way down a long corridor back to the green room. Patrick's eyes haven't adjusted to the dim light backstage and he hears rather than sees Pete stop. Patrick turns and reaches out and his fingers land on Pete's waist, grasping bare skin and the tattered remnants of Pete's tank top. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Pete says, "just give me a minute."

Patrick closes his eyes, trying to get them to adjust to the darkness. Pete's skin is hot and slick, and he smells amazing, like sweat and beer and hair gel, and it's all that Patrick can do not to grab him and pull him in closer. It's not even about sex; or, it’s not only about sex. Patrick just wants to get as close to Pete as he possibly can. And then maybe just a little bit closer.

Patrick's dimly aware of the sounds of the crowd filing out, of the crew getting all their gear packed up, but mostly he's focused on the ragged sound of Pete's breath. The air around them is heavy and charged, like there's a storm coming, and the hairs on Patrick's arms stand up.

He opens his eyes and Pete's face swims into focus, shockingly close. Pete tilts his head back just a fraction, resting it against the wall and Patrick's knees go weak with longing. He braces his other hand against the wall and leans in closer but before he can close the distance completely, he hears Joe calling, "Yo, did you guys take a left turn in Albuquerque?"

Patrick jerks away just as Joe rounds the corner. "Sorry, sorry," he says. "We were just--"

"I tripped," Pete says.

"Uh-huh," Joe says. "Whatever. You're going to miss bus call if you don't hurry."

In the rush to gather up their stuff and get to the bus, all Patrick can think about is being alone with Pete, but when he gets back to their bus, Joe and Andy are camped out in the lounge with beer and pizza.

Joe's saying, ". . .it's just a long time to be away from her, you know?"

Patrick squeezes in beside Pete and says, ". . .dude, you just saw Marie last week."

"Oh yeah, totally," Joe agrees. "I was talking about Lola."

Andy rolls his eyes. "Just wait 'til I tell Marie that you miss your dog more than her."

"I don't miss Lola more than Marie," Joe says indignantly. "It's just been longer since I've seen her!"

"We should totally bring our dogs with us next time," Pete says. "We brought Hemmy on tour!"

"One dog," Andy says, "not five."

"We could have a dog bus!" Pete says, and Patrick can't tell if he's winding them up, or if he actually thinks this is a sensible plan.

"You and your big ideas," Andy says, but his tone is fond.

Joe and Andy switch to their own bus at the next stop. Pete stretches and yawns and tucks himself in closer to Patrick's side. The earlier sense of urgency has dissipated and the waves of contentment that are coming off Pete are so soothing, Patrick finds himself falling asleep still sitting up. He slides into a dream so easily that it takes him a while to realize he's dreaming. It's only when he notices that he's lying on the couch in the old lounge on his and Andy's bus, that he understands this isn't really happening. Like so many of the dreams he shares with Pete, it's also a memory, of that long ago afternoon on the dimly lit bus when Patrick kissed Pete, the sky outside sepia colored and the lounge shadowed and quiet. This time, when Patrick touches his lips to Pete's, Pete kisses back, a little hesitantly, but definitely with more commitment than he'd shown in reality.

Pete's fingers land on the back of Patrick's neck and his thumb rubs circles against Patrick's hairline. Patrick opens his mouth and deepens the kiss. He's rewarded with a soft, pleased sound from Pete, who rocks up against Patrick in a way that, if this weren't a dream, would probably result in both of them landing on the floor. Instead, they continue kissing, slow and lazy and sweet, as the light in the room slowly fades into darkness. Patrick's aware of wanting more, but somehow, this is enough for now.

When he wakes, his lips feel raw and tingly. It's early morning, and the bus has the same hushed, gloomy quality it had in the dream. Pete's still curled up beside him on the couch, staring at the ceiling with a dreamy look on his face. He takes Patrick's hand and they lie there together, watching the sun come up and paint a stripe of yellow light across the lounge.

***

They've got a back-to-back touring schedule, but, of course, when they have a few days off, Patrick books himself in the studio to do some production work with some kids Travie introduced him to. Pete's half-tempted to go with Patrick to New York, but he's going to be working, and, honestly, Pete misses his dogs.

Pete spends his first day at home enjoying the quiet and the space, both of which are nonexistent on the bus. The dogs follow him from room to room and lay on the bed with him while he watches television and eats food that he made for himself in his very own kitchen. A dozen times he thinks to tell Patrick something and then remembers he's not there, but it's not bad, just weird.

Pete's ready to see people again the next morning, and he's glad he planned brunch with Jay and Maura and baby Vivian. Pete holds the baby and she rests her chubby cheek on his shoulder while Jay fills Pete in on all the latest gossip and Maura talks about her screenplay. Pete gets swept up into their day, tagging along to the Farmer's Market and the dog park. They invite him back to their place for dinner, but Pete's already made plans to have dinner with Mikey and Gabe.

After dinner Mikey drags them to an exceedingly douche-y bar, where they all drink way too many jello shots, and Mikey and Gabe commiserate about how tense things are in their respective bands. Pete nods sympathetically and tries to avoid any appearance of gloating, but the next morning’s hangover feels like punishment for his silent gratitude that things aren’t like that with his band anymore.

After gallons of water, a hot shower, and a handful of ibuprofen, Pete's feeling well enough to stumble into the kitchen and make some coffee and an Eggo waffle. He sits down at the kitchen table, but then, seeing the sun sparkling on the water in the pool, decides to take his food out onto the patio. On impulse, he grabs his new notebook on his way out the door.

Several hours later, his phone vibrates, rattling against the glass table top. Pete's waffle and coffee are cold, and the notebook is nearly full. His phone screen says, "trix r 4 kids." He swipes the screen and says, "Yo, how's it going in the studio?"

"Great! I'd kind of forgotten how much I enjoy this side of things. How's it going there?"

"Good." Pete looks down at his notebook. "I'm, uh, going to have some stuff to send you soon. Maybe for the next album?"

"That's awesome. We can work on it on the tour."

"Definitely." Pete leans back in his chair and looks up at the impossibly blue sky. "So tell me about this band -- are they any good?"

"Yeah, I think so. They're still rough, but they're doing some really interesting things. . ." Patrick's voice rises and falls as he talks about the mix, and the drums and Maggie's range. Pete closes his eyes and pictures Patrick's excited gestures.

"It sounds great," Pete says, when Patrick winds down.

Patrick laughs, "Sorry, I just get. . .well, you know."

"Yeah, I do. And I love it. I'm glad you're having a good time."

"Thanks. Are you really doing okay?"

Pete thinks about it, and is a little surprised to find that it's not a lie. "I really am."

"Because the weekend’s coming up, I could--it's a long flight just for the weekend, but maybe we could meet somewhere in the middle?"

Pete misses Patrick, but there's none of the desperation Pete used to feel when Patrick was gone. The connection between them feels solid and secure, even with thousands of miles between them. "Do you feel like you need to?"

Patrick's quiet for a while. Finally he says, "No? I think I'm okay for now."

"Me too. And I'm kind of in the flow right now-- I think the space is good for me."

That night Pete falls asleep on the couch and dreams about the last Arma Angelus show, about Patrick baby-faced on the drums, a million times better than the rest of them, even then. Pete can feel the moment Patrick joins him in the dream, the way the texture of it changes, and becomes sharper and more real. The crowd and the other guys on stage fade away until it's just Pete and Patrick, leaning against the wall, looking out at the empty room.

Patrick says, "I just want to keep doing this with you, you know? Forever."

"Yeah," Pete says, bumping Patrick's shoulder with his. "Same."

***

The band celebrates the anniversary of their reunion by not doing a show. Andy's in the wilds of the pacific Northwest, communing with his hippie buddies, Joe and Marie are on a beach in Cabo, and Pete and Patrick are tucked up in Patrick's house in the middle of a winter storm.

The windows are fogged over, and the wind whips around the eaves, drowning out any other sounds; it feels like they're the only people in the world. Patrick is warm and content, safe in the knowledge that he doesn't have to be anywhere or do anything.

They've had a lazy day--walking the dogs during a break in the weather, watching television, and napping on the couch--and by four, Patrick's starting to feel a little twitchy. It's supposed to be a do-nothing day, but Pete's notebook is right there on the coffee table, and the song they've been working on is hovering on the edge of Patrick's consciousness, nudging him with the unfinished second verse.

"I know we agreed not to work," he says, sitting up and pulling one foot up under his thigh, "but I've been thinking about that song--"

"No, yeah, me too," Pete says, instantly invigorated. "I had an idea about the bridge this morning. . ."

An hour later, they've finished the song and made headway on another. Dusk is falling, and the space heater glows bright orange in the dark room. Patrick reaches past Pete to turn on the lamp, and Pete looks up from his notebook and smiles. His hair's standing on end, and there's dog hair all over his baggy sweater. Patrick thinks about the way Pete is on-stage -- all carefully crafted sex appeal -- and how different he is like this, soft and rumpled and vulnerable.

Patrick's wanted Pete for so long, through so much, and with barely any hope of having him, not on any terms that Patrick was willing to accept. But now all of that seems more like not-yet than not-ever. Maybe it's all been building to this moment, when anything --everything-- seems possible.

Patrick can see it so clearly, the way he could lean forward and kiss Pete, and he would kiss Patrick back, unquestioningly. It would be so simple, so easy, and they’d never have to talk about it at all. But it also feels like cheating, like withholding something from Pete. And maybe it’s not fair to either of them to just let it happen without explicitly redrawing their boundaries.

It’s not a risk, not really, but Patrick still feels a little awkward. It was somehow a lot easier to push Pete back than to invite him in. Patrick smiles hesitantly, and picks at the loose threads around the hole in the knee of his jeans. "You know how we agreed to just. . .focus on our friendship?"

“And the music,” Pete reminds Patrick. There's a teasing note in Pete’s voice, like he knows where this is going.

Patrick nods. "I think that was a good idea, for then. We needed to. . .make room for everything else? But maybe it's not. . .I think we can balance everything now. I’m not worried that it will mess anything up."

"That’s not a reason to do it. It’s just a reason not to not do it."

Suddenly Patrick’s impatient with the way they’re talking around this. What are they, twelve? “I want you,” he says baldly. “I want to kiss you and fuck you and write music with you and play with you and sit around doing nothing with you. I want all of that.” He’s pretty sure of the answer, but Patrick makes himself look Pete in the eye and ask, “Is that what you want?”

Pete answers by closing the distance between them, kissing Patrick. “Yeah,” he says, his breath warm on Patrick’s lips, “that’s what I want.”

Pete’s mouth is so soft, so yielding, and he tumbles backwards easily, so that Patrick's on top of him, pushing him into the cushions and kissing him sweetly, taking his time while the feedback loop of the bond builds on itself until Patrick's toes are curling and his hands shake.

Pete tugs at Patrick's sweater and repeats, "Patrick, Patrick," more and more insistently, an edge of laughter in his voice. "If you'll just--"

Understanding dawns and Patrick pulls back enough that Pete can wrangle Patrick's sweater over his head. He tries to kiss Pete again, but Pete twists up, pushing Patrick back and fumbling with his fly. "Please," he says, breathlessly, "I want to see you."

The last time they did this, they were in Pete's hallway, and they barely pushed their clothes out of the way. The thought of Pete's body laid bare for him, the slide of skin against skin with nothing between them, is dizzying. "Actually," Patrick says, "I think we'd be more comfortable in a bed."

"Oh," Pete says, and his face lights up. "Oh yeah, absolutely." He almost falls off the couch in his haste, and Patrick has to catch his arm, planting a quick kiss on Pete's shoulder as he steadies him, just because he can.

Pete turns in his arms and kisses Patrick again, wet and sloppy, and then mouths at Patrick's ear until Patrick can't help moaning and grinding up against Pete. Pete laughs and says, "Bed, remember?" and tugs Patrick towards the bedroom.

They can't seem to let go of each other, so they lurch erratically towards Patrick's bedroom, ricocheting off furniture, and pausing briefly when Pete pushes Patrick up against wall and kisses him again, even dirtier than before. When they finally make it to the bedroom, they tumble onto the mattress in a laughing breathless heap.

Pete pushes up on his hands and shakes his head. "I need you naked, Stump."

"Then get off me," Patrick complains, and Pete rolls to the side with alacrity. "And get naked yourself," Patrick adds, already unzipping his fly.

He gets distracted briefly, extricating himself from his jeans. He kicks them aside and hears Pete say, "God, Patrick."

Patrick resists the urge to wrap his arms around himself, and looks up to see Pete, naked and sprawled artlessly on Patrick's bed. Pete's face is unguarded, so vulnerable that it completely erases Patrick's self-consciousness. "Pete," he says helplessly, and then he's falling into the bed, grabbing at Pete and kissing his mouth, his jaw, his neck, sucking and biting, and leaving red marks all over Pete's skin.

The love and lust and openness coming through the bond is overwhelming, thrilling and terrifying. Succumbing to that connection is like diving to the bottom of a deep pool and trusting that you’ll be able to make your way back to the surface. But Pete is there with Patrick, and so he lets go and descends into the bond, more fully than he ever has before.

Time stretches out, as they kiss and touch and rub up against each other. It’s amazing, but eventually, Patrick wants more, wants their bodies to be as close as their minds are. His hand moves down Pete’s back, and Pete groans and spreads his legs encouragingly.

When Patrick slides a spit-slicked finger between his cheeks, Pete hisses, and says, "Yeah, yeah, like that," and wraps his hand around Patrick's cock.

It's all too much, the way Pete’s pleasure amplifies Patrick’s is too intense, and there’s no way Patrick’s actually going to last long enough to fuck Pete, but Patrick pushes a finger in, and Pete's body lets him in, so relaxed and ready. "I just want to be in you," Patrick says, licking the sweat off Pete's collarbone. "My fingers, my tongue, my dick. . .oh god, my whole fucking hand."

Pete shudders and thrusts hard against Patrick's leg and comes, saying, "Fuck, fuck, fuck," and it's like a series of explosions that start in Patrick's brain and race through his whole body, and then he's arching off the mattress, coming in Pete's hand, and repeating Pete's name like it's every song he's ever known.

Afterwards, there's a long slow settling back into his body, as Patrick remembers what it is to be himself. Eventually, he becomes conscious enough of his surroundings to notice that the room is freezing and all the blankets are on the floor.

He sits up, and reaches for the pile of bedding. Beside him Pete lifts his head. "Patrick?"

"Yeah," Patrick says, pulling the comforter onto the bed and tucking it around them, "I'm right here."

"Me too," Pete says. He smiles, sleepy and sated, and then puts his head back down on Patrick's pillow.

Patrick wraps his arms around Pete and pulls him in close. And they fall asleep and dream together of what the future can be.