sparsenicjade
RSS
[Reviews - 11] Printer
- Text Size +
Jon goes and gets Pete Wentz before Brendon beats the shit out of him because a) Brendon is tiny, but anger-fueled, and b) the band is actually on Pete's label, and he'll regret it in the morning. They all will. Brendon's just nervous. They've never played a festival this big before, nothing even close. Jon thinks if they want to get asked back they should possibly not act like hooligans before they've even played. Also, Jon suspects that Pete really only deserves about a third of the blame for Brendon's advanced state of being pissed off. Brendon himself deserves a third, and Brendon's always taking on more than his fair share, so there's probably a goodly amount of self-disgust being wafted toward Pete, and Pete's got enough issues without the extra help.

Jon passes by Hurley on his way, who's clearly headed over and says, "I got it, okay?"

Hurley shrugs. "I'm gonna crush him with one fist if he touches Pete."

Jon sighs. Pete is easy enough to distract away, despite the fact that Jon thinks he's probably looking to get himself beaten up. Brendon and Pete would almost be perfect for each other if Ryan didn't win at being fucked up, and therefore claim Brendon's heart every time. The two of them are beautiful and Jon loves them without reserve or regard to any notions of propriety and if they asked for his help again he's pretty sure he wouldn't say no, but in order for all those statements to be true, he has to know them, and he does.

Proving his point, Pete says, even as he's following Jon for all the world like a deceptively well-behaved puppy, "I kinda deserve to get hit. And I don't want Urie to hate me forever."

"Give it time."

"I sort of suck at patience."

Jon nods. Pete does.

"Does Smith hate me, too?"

"It's pretty rare that Spencer hates anyone. You'd have to do something pretty special."

Pete says, "I slept with Urie's boyfriend."

"Yeah, we're pretty sure Ryan was a lot of the special in that particular situation."

Pete's shoulders hunch up. "Probably. Wouldn't be me."

Jon resists the urge to roll his eyes. Pete perks up a little bit, clearly caught by a new idea. "I don't suppose you'd hit me? You have band rights, if not boyfriend ones, and you look like you could do a pretty good job."

"Has it ever occurred to you," Jon asks idly, "that the things you want aren't necessarily the same things you need?"

"Plenty of times, I just have a hard time differentiating."

"Ever tried waiting long enough before making a decision to see if some of the answers might come clear?"

"I have a hard enough time watching the way Andy and Patrick make their decisions with, like, actually informed answers to the questions. I'm pretty sure doing it myself would kill me."

"But you've never tried."

"I've never tried heroin, either, it doesn't mean that the first time wouldn't be the last."

Jon just looks at him.

"Yeah, Patrick finds that to be stupid logic, too."

"Maybe you should let the others make your decisions for you, for a bit."

Pete says, "That's kind of asking a lot, don't you think?"

"I would do it for any of mine."

Pete's silent for a long time. When he finally speaks again he says, "It's sort of nice that they found you. Like Cinderella, or some shit like that."

Jon thinks that if Ryan or Brendon ever slipped on a glass heel it would break on their foot, drive glass into their soles. Then he realizes that Pete's metaphor maybe isn't so far off. "Your guys are pretty charming in their own right."

"I try not to take advantage. Knowing that I'm going to. In ways I don't mean."

"There are times when things are only going to get worse before they get better." It's clichéd, and Jon prefers to avoid that sort of thing, but there are also times when true is true is true.

Pete screws up his face. "Don't say that."

Jon doesn't take it back.

*


Pete tries to suck Jon off after the VMAs, but Jon just hauls him to his feet like he might have tripped, or something and asks, "You want some ice cream?"

Pete says, "I'm a vegan."

"No, sweetheart, you're not. I'll buy it from the grocery store, nobody'll have to know."

Pete struggles in Jon's grip, but Jon can feel him shaking, so he doesn't let go.

"Chunky Monkey?" Jon asks. "I like that one."

"Cherry Garcia," Pete says, like he's ashamed of it, and maybe he is. Pete seems to be ashamed of a lot of things he should probably just accept.

Jon stashes Pete in his hotel room and leaves a note for the guys not to go in there, not at all costs. He steals Zack, who informs him clearly that he expects to be bought ice cream in his own right. Jon says, "Well, yeah."

Zack says, "You're kinda easier than the others."

"Spencer totally lets you pick him up."

"I wasn't talking about Spencer."

Jon knows. He gets Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey and Phish Food and a bag of heavy-duty plastic spoons and lets Zack get himself a gallon of Breyer's mint chocolate chip. When he gets back Pete is exactly where he left him. Jon rolls the Cherry Garcia against the exposed back of his neck and Pete yells, "Fuck, motherfucker."

Jon grins, hands him the pint. Pete scowls, but peels open his spoils of war, holds his hand out for a spoon.

"What do we say?" Jon asks.

"I'll eat you out if you'll just pass me that spoon?"

Jon's un-impressed face is one of his very best. He knows, he had to practice it on William all the time. Pete sighs. "Or, please."

Jon rewards him. Pete takes tiny, quick bites, like he's afraid someone will notice. Jon does, but he's not going to yell at him for wanting comfort food, not going to make him feel stupid or undisciplined. Instead he offers, "Hey, you want some?" and holds out the other two options for consideration.

Cautiously, Pete sets aside the Cherry Garcia and takes the Phish Food. "You could have some of mine."

"Okay, maybe."

"I'm good, Walker. At the sex."

"I believe you."

"But you won't— Wait. You're not in love with Ross, too, are you? Or Smith? Because I'm pretty sure Smith is taken, too."

Jon finds it mildly entertaining in a sick sort of way that Brendon never enters Pete's mind. "I'm not suffering a grand unrequited passion for Spencer Smith."

Pete looks down, digs further into his ice cream. "Then—"

"Maybe I'm a virgin."

Pete's eyes go so wide that Jon knows he will have to reward himself later for not laughing. Then Pete says, "Or, maybe you're an asshole."

Jon grins. "You could always leave."

Pete picks the Cherry Garcia back up, muttering to himself between bites.

*


Pete falls asleep in the middle of a heated argument about who is better: Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. Jon has taken Stewart for two reasons: they have the same name, and Pete has a crush three miles wide on Stephen Colbert, so choosing him would sort of negate the ability to argue. Jon is not surprised by Pete's sudden drop into unconsciousness, because he hadn't really been making sense for about twenty minutes.

Jon picks him up—he's fucking heavy, easily heavier than Jon, but Jon spends a fair amount of time pulling Brendon off of shit, so it's pretty par for the course. He puts Pete on the bed and pulls the covers over him before going to crash on the couch. He wakes up to a pair of brown eyes on him, as tossed looking as the sheets on the bed.

"Morning, sunshine," Jon says. "How'd you sleep?"

"I don't bite," Pete says. "Not to the point of breaking skin, anyway."

"I've seen your videos," Jon says and stands up to go to the bathroom. He closes the door, since he really doesn't want the evident temptation of his dick being anywhere in Pete's sight. He brushes his teeth and splashes some water on his face and opens the door. Pete's still there. It's almost like progress. "Want some breakfast?"

"Coffee," Pete says, in a somewhat pleading tone.

"Sure." Jon orders two coffees, a stack of pancakes, some butter croissants and fruit. Spencer likes to yell at him about not eating enough fruit. Spencer mostly needs to yell at somebody about something that doesn't matter and Jon doesn't exactly want to disappoint him in that, but he also doesn't want to die of scurvy, especially not after Spencer's latest detailing of exactly what it does to a person.

When the food arrives, he splits it evenly onto two plates. Pete says, "I'm not gonna eat all this. I just wanted coffee."

Jon says, "Do your best, leave the rest."

Pete eats more than Jon does. Jon asks, "Where you guys off to?"

"Indiana? Maybe it was Iowa. Or Idaho. Could have been Idaho."

"Well, we've just covered three quarters of the continental United States in the space of a minute."

"I get the 'I' states confused."

"We're from an 'I' state."

"Good thing I can just follow Patrick home."

Yeah, okay, fair enough. "Wanna call me when you reach Idaho?"

"It really could be one of the other 'I' places. And why?"

"Why?"

"Why should I call you?"

Jon shrugs. "Tell me you got in. What you were up to on the bus. Because I'm a nice guy."

"I haven't made any decisions on that last part."

"I guess I'll know when my phone rings. Or doesn't."

Pete's face crinkles in uncertainty. "Guess you will."

*


Pete calls him. Jon's not as surprised as Pete sounds. "Know where you are now?"

"Boise," Pete says, the exclamation a fairly proud one for a guy in his mid-twenties. Jon sort of sympathizes, though. It's easy to get lost on a tour.

"Idaho for the win."

"Where are you?"

Jon looks out the window. "Somewhere with a lot of cows."

"By that description, we could be in the same place."

"I think we're further east than you are. How was your ride?"

"I beat Andy at poker and he accused me of cheating."

"Were you?"

"Tiny bit, yeah."

"You should say you're sorry."

"I'm afraid if I say it too much he'll start to think I don't mean it."

Jon's breath catches for maybe half a second. Long enough for Spencer to look up and frown concernedly. Jon waves his hand airily. Spencer looks at him for a just a moment longer and then takes him at his word. Jon says, "Hurley seems like he knows what you're about."

"Isn't that sort of the problem?"

"From your perspective, evidently so."

"You know what I did to Ryan and Urie, right?"

"I think you'd be pretty amazed at what I know about those two."

"Because Urie and Smith kinda don't like me right now."

"Good thing for you the members of this band all come with separate brains and decision-making capabilities."

"I am, actually, validly sorry about that. Urie didn't deserve that."

"No, but he and Ryan are surprisingly big boys."

"I was still the other man."

"And somehow, still not the only one in the room."

"Yeah. Yeah. The problem with Ryan is that he's so utterly fucking real."

"I'm not sure I wouldn't argue that that isn't the problem with you, but all right."

Pete is quiet for several minutes.

"Still there?"

"Yeah, sorry, just. Yeah."

"Why don't you go apologize to Hurley, and curl up with Stump for a bit?"

"Patrick's kinda pissed that I didn't say where I was going last night."

"You gotta not do that. Stump has enough trouble without having to think you're lying in a gutter somewhere. Say sorry to him too, and then cuddle."

"How do you know—"

"Because you're pretty fucking real," Jon interrupts, "You've just forgotten how to recognize it in yourself, so you keep trying to see it. Stump and Hurley and Trohman already see it, Pete. I see it."

"You're sort of a presumptuous little fucker."

"Yup." Jon is unconcerned.

"I guess I could—"

"Talk to you later," Jon says, and hangs up.

*


Pete texts Jon with, "come to the city of angels im throwing a party". Jon tries not to think too much about why he doesn't think before asking the guys if he can take a couple of days.

"Are we playing that day?" Brendon asks. Spencer hits Brendon upside the head.

"Ow."

"He wouldn't ask if we were, monkey-face."

Brendon makes a face that really doesn't live down the name-calling. Then he smiles at Jon, annoyance forgotten, "Fine by me."

Spencer says, "Go with G-d, my son."

Ryan finds him later and says, "LA, huh?"

And okay, maybe Jon should have remembered that before Ryan did the whole sleeping-with-Pete thing, he was a fanboy. Jon asks, "You want me not to go?"

Ryan hooks his left hand over his right shoulder and rubs. He does that in interviews. He does that when he's having a conversation he doesn't want to have. He pretty much started this, though, so Jon's going to see that it finishes. Finally Ryan asks, "Are you guys fucking?'

Jon's not sure that's really any of Ryan's business, but Ryan doesn't seem to have asked it out of morbid curiosity so much as an attempt at trying to figure this stuff out. "No."

Ryan says, "Oh."

Jon asks, "Are you and Brendon fucking?"

Ryan says, "Uh—" Then stops. "Oh. I see. I asked the wrong question."

Jon smiles at Ryan. Ryan smiles back, not even all that hesitant. It took forever for Jon to get that response, and he can sometimes be a little greedy about provoking it. Ryan asks, "Do you like him?"

Jon nods. "Is that okay?"

"I kinda wish I could be the kinda guy you'll be for him."

"Do you?"

"If there weren't Brendon."

"Big if."

"I wouldn't mind being the kind of guy you could be for Brendon, either."

"I'm not the kinda guy Brendon wants, Ryan."

"Still," Ryan says.

Jon shakes his head but doesn't say anything. "So LA's okay?"

Ryan rocks on his feet a bit. "Yeah, you should go."

"I'll bring you guys back gifts. Sunglasses and shit. You like sunglasses."

Ryan says, "We'll miss you."

Jon says, "Good."

*


Jon brings "thanks for inviting me gifts." For Hemmy, Jon brings a t-shirt. For Pete he brings interchangeable bass straps. Predictably, Pete is more excited by Hemmy's gift. Jon arrives the night before the big party and he and Pete's band spend the whole evening around Pete's kitchen table, talking about business and the way Chicago changes if they leave it for two seconds and they even let Jon indulge a moment of gut-deep Cubs loyalty--something Joe evidently shares. When they're all about to leave, Jon touches Patrick's elbow and says, "Hey, it's late, maybe crash here?"

Patrick starts to smile and then stops. He waits a second. "Jesus. No wonder Pete's been going out of his skin."

"Is that a yes?"

"Wouldn't miss a minute of it."

Jon grins. He locks the door to the guest room all the same. In the morning—early afternoon—he finds Pete and Patrick eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch in soymilk, which is pretty disgusting, so Jon settles for coffee and a piece of toast. Pete asks, "How'd you sleep?" like maybe Jon will say, "Would've been better with you."

Jon says, "That's a pretty awesome mattress."

Pete's face scrunches. "You've been living on buses too long."

Jon doesn't think he's been living on buses nearly long enough. "Wanna play in a little bit?"

"You brought your bass?"

"You go anywhere without yours?"

Next to Pete, Patrick shakes his head. Pete admits, "Well, no."

"All right then."

Patrick joins in, doesn't even look askance when Pete reaches out and strums Jon's strings, just once, but maybe that's because Jon says, "Didn't your mom teach you any manners?"

Pete grins, "They didn't stick."

"This is mine. You have your own."

Pete pouts. Jon stares him down without much stare involved in the process. Patrick helps out with a, "Seriously, let's play."

And once they've started, Pete moves, dances, smiles like he's safe. Jon figures that's one percent of the time down. Now for the other ninety-nine.

*


Pete--in what is either a moment of desperation and an attempt to evoke jealousy, or Pete just being Pete--takes home a chickadee from his own party. Jon stays in the guest room all the same. With the door locked. Said chickadee looks somewhat surprised to be where she is come morning and like she's probably not such a bad kid. Jon asks, "You need a ride home?"

She nods, looking apologetic. Pete's still sleeping, so Jon borrows his keys, leaves a note on the kitchen table and drives her nearly an hour to her quiet suburban neighborhood. He's tempted to ask how she even knew about the party, but he doesn't. She says, "Well, thanks." Jon waits to see that she gets inside safely.

When he comes back Pete is curled up on his sofa, damp hair sticking out of a hoodie. He blinks at Jon. "You came back."

"Dude, there was a note on the kitchen table. I borrowed your car."

Pete shrugs. "It's a car. And people lie, particularly when they don't have to say anything to your face."

Jon rubs a hand over his face. "Where's Hemmy?"

Pete flies over the back of the couch. "Oh shit, I am the worst dog owner ever."

Jon doubts it. His doubt is proven valid when Hemmy is found to be happily prancing around the backyard. Pete picks him up, coddling him to his chest and murmuring things like, "Daddy didn't forget you."

Hemmy looks like he wouldn't mind being forgotten for a bit. Jon feels a little bit guilty for ruining his outdoor fun, even if it did distract Pete. Pete walks back inside with Hemmy, and Jon closes the door behind them. Pete says, "I would have taken her home."

Jon nods. "I know. Have you eaten yet?"

Pete says, "Um. I don't know that I have anything in the house."

"Want me to order in? I'll get you something that never had a face, not ever."

"Just because you have no willpower—"

Jon quirks an eyebrow.

"—doesn't give you the right to make fun of my dietary strictures."

"It pretty much does," Jon disagrees.

"There's a Mexican place I like. It makes me fajitas with just the veggies. Number's on the fridge."

Jon starts to head into the kitchen when Pete calls, "I would have stolen my car. I mean, if you'd—"

Jon waits.

"I would've dropped the girl on the side of the road and driven all the way back to my band."

Jon says, "Maybe that last, but not the first, and if we were the same person, we probably wouldn't be as interesting to each other, I'm thinking."

"I'm...interesting," Pete says like he's never heard the word.

"Infinitely," Jon reassures him, and goes to order them some food.

*


Pete says, "You need a dog. Then we could socialize him and Hemmy."

Poor Hemmy is pretty socialized, as far as Jon's concerned. "If I got a dog, Spencer would want to bring his retriever on tour, and I really don't have the right to tell him otherwise."

"Oh come on, you could take Smith."

Jon's actually not sure he could, or at least, not if Spencer were defending Ryan or Brendon. "I don't really want to take Spencer."

Across the bus, Spencer smiles at him, clearly clueless, but charmed nonetheless. Jon ambles over and squeezes Spencer, who sometimes just needs squeezing. Brendon gets in on the action with a flying tackle and Jon and Spencer both have to work to disentangle themselves, to get Brendon in a position where they can pet him. Once he's being petted, he settles quite nicely. Ryan, who has been watching, shakes his head and goes back to his writing.

"Smith needs tour dogs, is the problem. What kind of guy leaves his dogs?"

"Shut up, sweetheart."

Ryan snorts.

"Well, it's sad. You guys not having anything cuddly on the bus."

"Brendon works perfectly well, thanks."

Brendon—who clearly has no idea what's just been said about him—arches into Jon's hands and makes appreciative noises. "I do," he tells Jon. Jon scratches at the back of his neck and Brendon burbles a little. Pete says, "Now you're just trying to make me jealous."

"Stump not paying enough attention to you?"

"That's different, that's Patrick."

Jon waits.

"It's not 'cause you're straight, right? Because if you are, it's sort of an assholish thing, not telling me."

"I can provide signed affidavits that I am not, in fact, straight."

Brendon blinks up at him, smiling a self-satisfied grin. Jon smacks the top of his head lightly, and then rubs it when Brendon pouts. Spencer rolls his eyes.

"Oh. Okay."

"Maybe I'm just an old-fashioned gentleman."

"I'm starting to worry that that's the case." Pete sounds validly concerned.

"What's wrong Scarlett?"

"You know that movie ends unhappily, right?"

"She gets laid first, though."

Pete is silent for a second. "True."

"Not quite what you want anymore?"

"I didn't say that."

"Must be hearing things."

*


Pete takes up with Pink for a grand total of about a week, and it makes news rags from Bumfuck, North Dakota to Toyko. Jon calls him a couple of times until it becomes clear that Pete is actually screening him. Then he emails him with, "Could you pick up your phone? You're making me feel unloved."

Pete calls him within the hour. "She made me laugh."

"Laughter makes you live longer," Jon tells him.

"Well, that's good, since I'm gonna need it by the time you decide I'm worth fucking."

"I've long since made that decision."

Pete chokes on whatever he's drinking.

"Around the time I made the decision you were worth more than that. You seem to disagree on that aspect and while I like a good argument, there are some basic principles that I require myself to be in agreement on with the people I date, so we're having to give it some time.

"You kind of suck at waiting, so you're going to sleep with some—admittedly hot—people while the time is being given. As a male, I can appreciate that. As me, it's sort of annoying, and retards what little progress I make with you, but if you weren't worth it I wouldn't care, so I suppose I just have to get over that."

Pete's breathing is still a little bit wet and troubled by the end of this pronouncement. "Jon—"

"Whatever you're going to say is going to be wrong."

"I'm not the prize you're making me out to be. And it's sweet, that whole gentleman thing you're doing, but it's only gonna fuck with me, when you finally do what you're gonna do and then you come to your senses and I've got nothing left because you waited, you waited for all of me, and that's just not— You're a nice guy, okay, so I'm sort of asking you not to do this. For me."

"You know what part of the gentlemen's creed is?"

"That club wouldn't have me."

"We're not assholes."

"I said you were a nice—"

"You have a way of not saying what you mean even as you're telling the truth as you know it."

"I swear, I'll beg, if that's what it's gonna take."

"You can beg all you want. Until you prove to me that you don't want somebody who sees more than the art and hears more than just the words, we're at an impasse."

"Please don't do this. Please, Jon. Please don't."

"It was good talking to you. Mind if I call later in the week?"

"Yes," Pete says.

"Really?"

"No. I hate you."

"All right, you have a good week and I'll talk to you then."

*


Panic ends up playing a show in Oakland while FOB is recording in LA, so Jon rents a car and makes the drive out. He tells Pete he's coming, because Pete deals with enough surprises from Jon purely in his behavior, and shouldn't have to put up with unannounced house guests, even if it will make Jon's life easier to just sort of steamroll over Pete and his issues. This isn't about easy, and Jon knows himself, he wouldn't want it if it were.

Pete says, "Hi. I cleaned for you."

"I'm feeling pretty special," Jon tells him, setting his stuff neatly next to the couch.

"Well, I hired someone to come and clean, so that you wouldn't have to dredge through my crap."

"Trying to make me feel less special?"

"Trying to be honest."

"Maybe if you stopped trying so hard full stop we'd be getting somewhere."

"I sort of doubt it."

"I know, I'm the one with the good ideas in this relationship. You're the one who writes the songs about it later."

Pete laughs at that, and if the sound is a little bit unbalanced, it isn't hurt or frenzied. Jon finds the number in the phone book to order groceries and does so. He makes dinner, allowing Pete to lick the utensils and clean the dishes but not help much other than that. Pete seems like the kind of guy who could set his own kitchen to burning and not realize it until he was standing on his front lawn, wondering where the house went. Assuming he got out in time. Jon thinks this might be a big assumption.

Jon makes roast potatoes with rosemary and mint sprigs, a butternut squash soup and a basil infused salad. Pete eats thirds and says, "I think you might have missed your calling."

"Maybe, but I sort of really love the bass. Am I depriving the world?"

Pete looks conflicted. "You're pretty good at the bass, too."

"Kind of you."

Pete helps him clear the table and then John entices him in to a game of trivial pursuit. They both fail miserably at the game, despite their rivaling knowledge of pop culture and Pete's bizarre memory for historical trivia. Jon whips Pete's ass at the sports category, but the others cause them to go round and round until they call it a draw and Jon goes to set himself up in the guest room. Pete asks, "You sure you don't—"

"You really wanna finish that sentence and have me tell you what you know I have to tell you?"

There's a long moment of consideration. "See you in the morning."

"Can't wait."

*


Jon doesn't make it to morning. He would—Pete's guest bed is all sorts of comfortable and he sleeps in a bunk most of the time—only he wakes to screaming. The screams are violent, hysterical, and high-pitched. Jon throws the covers off, makes his way to Pete's room, and turns on the lights. Pete's thrashing and Jon knows he's going to be lucky if he doesn't end up with a shiner or something worse. Pete's compact and, in this instance, dangerous.

Jon takes a breath and does his best to capture Pete's arms while saying, "Wake up, Pete. Time to come back, sweetheart. Come on. Pete, Pete."

He takes a knee to the stomach, which knocks his breath away for a moment. When he has it back he just says Pete's name louder, keeps calling to him until there is a distinct, abrupt stiffening in Pete's limbs and his eyes fly open. He blinks in pain at the light, confusion at his sudden waking, and the backwash of leftover terror. Jon says, "Shh, you're safe."

Pete goes limp as suddenly as he woke. He tries to take his wrists back and—in an almost surreal reversal of their consistent battles over the privilege of touching and being touched—Jon refuses to let go. He pulls Pete into a sitting position so that he can slip behind him, support himself with the backboard. He arranges Pete in the crook of his legs, crosses an arm over his stomach, the other threading in the fingers of Pete's right hand. Pete says, "I'm fine. Sorry, sometimes I—"

"It's okay," Jon says, and rocks him a bit.

"You change your mind?" Pete asks after a few seconds, and the question is so tired that Jon actually thinks he might cry, for fuck's sake.

He pulls it together. "No, Pete. You were having a nightmare. You want me to get you some water? You were screaming for a while there."

"It's not a big deal. I've had them my whole life."

Jon moves the hand on Pete's stomach to caress at his skin a little bit. "Sit tight, I'm gonna go get that water."

"No, could you—" Pete literally bites his lip to get himself to shut up.

"What is it?" Jon squeezes his hand lightly.

"Nothing, it's fine. Water, great."

"Pete."

"Just fucking go, all right?"

Jon catches the emphasis. He asks, "You want me to stay like this for a little bit longer?"

"Fuck you," Pete says.

"Eloquent, but I take your point." Jon settles back, taking Pete with him, holding just a little bit tighter. "It's okay to ask for what you want."

"You always say no."

"To one, specific, repeated request. It doesn't translate to the things you want in general." Perhaps it is the final onset of aftershock, or the significance of the permission—Jon doesn't know—but Pete begins to quake in his arms, large, racking shakes. Jon says, "All right, okay, okay sweetheart," and holds on with all he's got. When the shaking finally subsides, small tremors run through Pete and Jon lays him down, still behind him, keeping him steady. Jon says, "I'm gonna go get that water now," and Pete doesn't say a word. Jon tells him, "I'll be right back."

Once he's free of the bedroom, he runs for the damn fridge, making it back in record time. He unscrews the bottle and makes Pete elevate just enough to get some of the water in him, and then sets it on the nightstand. He curls over Pete, tucks Pete safely against him. Pete mumbles, "You're always coming back," clearly three-quarters of the way to sleep.

Jon says, "That pretty much sums things up."

*


Jon wakes to a hand on his stomach and the sight of Pete fixated on said hand.

"'Morning," Jon says, and doesn't move the hand, because Pete isn't doing anything wrong and he should know he has some rights.

"I hurt you," Pete says in a tiny voice.

Jon looks down and sees now that Pete's fingers are resting lightly against a considerably sized bruise. He's glad he hasn't tried to move yet, because he's probably going to need to cover for any discomfort when he gets around to that, and the reminder is appreciated. "Hey, lay back down, okay?"

Pete looks thrown by the request, like he's not sure what it has to do with anything. Jon counts it as progress that he doesn't immediately take it as a sign of Jon wanting apology sex. Pete lays down facing him, hand still where it was, as though through his own repentance he might be able to heal Jon. Jon isn't really the one who needs healing, but Pete's guilt isn't helping him any in that regard. Jon says, "You didn't mean it, Pete. You weren't even awake."

"I never fucking mean it, Jon. I'm not—" Pete shakes his head, once.

"You're not bad," Jon finishes for him. "Or mean, or worthless, or dirty."

Pete takes his hand back and curls up, his face going into the pillow.

"Uh uh," Jon says, and brings Pete's face back into the light with two fingers. "I'm not upset."

"No, you don't do upset."

"I was upset last night."

Pete frowns.

"Worried. Concerned. Upset."

"I told you, I've always had them."

"Some people have always had congenital birth defects, it doesn't make them not a problem."

"I'm not defective." Pete thinks for a second. "Not like that."

"You've been left to your own devices for too long."

"Don't talk about my guys."

"I wasn't. Your guys can only do so much. Trust me, that lesson I've learned." Jon is careful not to let a damned thing show on his face.

Pete breaths in deep, then out. "Ryan's a handful, huh?"

"Don't talk about my guys."

"Yeah," Pete says. "Maybe I am mean."

Jon shakes his head. "I think you're sad. There's a difference."

"I can't tell."

"I know," Jon says. "You're too close to the line."

"I did hurt you, though. That's— There's a bruise."

"I can take what you dole out, Wentz."

Pete's eyes slip shut for a moment. Jon says, "Let's sleep some more, yeah?" but he thinks Pete's already there.

*


Jon finds tea in the cabinets. It's rooibos, rich and heady, and Jon wonders if maybe Andy sometimes puts things in Pete's cabinets on the off chance that he'll use them. He won't let Pete put sugar in his, since it doesn't need it, and neither does Pete. Pete glowers at him but Jon just toasts some oatmeal bread, spreads a little strawberry jam atop it and hands it to Pete, who crunches a fairly large portion of it immediately into his mouth. Pete talks with his mouth full. "You come, you don't do anything, and I still don't like the part where you leave."

"I made you dinner," Jon points out. "And breakfast." He doesn't mention the nightmare thing. Jon plays fair. Or, well, he plays nice. Fair isn't generally useful when it comes to Pete.

"I meant—"

"I know, but I like to pretend you want something else out of me."

Pete's jaw drops open in a second of unguarded surprise. "What?"

"I figure it could happen. I may not be quite as sleek as Ryan or come-hither gorgeous as Mikey, but I think I have my own charm. It's a long-shot, sure, but I'm working at the part where you look at me and see something other than my as-of-yet-unviewed cock." Jon keeps his tone light. He's not mad. He doesn't blame Pete for the ways he's found to keep his feet under him. Pete's looking at him like he's an alien, or, at the very least, sprouting a head from his stomach.

"Drink your tea," Jon says. Pete looks down at the tea, clearly having forgotten about it. He sips gingerly, as if it might protest its own digestion. Jon drinks his own slowly, watching Pete. Pete is worth watching, his dark eyes often unsure but brave enough to keep asking questions, his hands sturdy in their grip, as if he has learned how to hold onto things.

Jon asks, "Wanna come visit me next? It'll make me feel special."

"Not sure how Smith and Urie are gonna take that."

"They trust me to make my own friends." Then, "I'll protect you."

Pete flips him off. Jon smiles the smile he knows damn well is charming. Finally Pete says, "It's that I would take what I could get with you."

"So that's a yes?"

"I'll find you."

Jon thinks it's gonna be the other way around, but he realizes that in this specific instance, Pete is probably right. "I'm taking that as a solid oath. It's a matter of honor, now, Wentz."

"The other guys are rubbing off on you. You were cooler before they co-opted you into their missing role."

"I know," Jon says happily.

"Yeah," Pete sighs.

*


Pete does find him. He finds him in Atlanta, Georgia which seems pretty far away from anything pertinent so when Pete asks, "Feeling special?" all cocky and mostly hesitant—somehow at once—Jon says, "Yes," and makes sure he sounds certain. He does.

Pete holds up the most complicated catnip contraption Jon has ever seen in his life. "I brought a gift."

Jon says, "Do me a favor and give it to Brendon. He's easy when it comes to Killer."

Pete looks hopeful. "Really?"

There's a knock on Jon's door and Jon puts out a quick prayer that it's Ryan. It's Spencer. "Um, hey," Jon says, and stands in the doorway.

Spencer rolls his eyes. Shouts, "Hey Pete."

Jon blinks at him. Actually blinks. There's not a hell of a lot that surprises him these days. Spencer looks at him evenly, and Jon feels a little bit like a dick. Spencer's probably someone he should be trusting, particularly when he knows Spencer knows what Jon wants from something. He steps back a little bit.

"Spencer," Pete says, obviously trying to sound casual.

"How was your flight?"

"Turbulent," Pete says. Jon doesn't think he's talking about the flight here, today.

Spencer says, "Suck. Look, Brendon and Ryan and I were gonna check out the Mexican place down the street, because even though I told Ryan it isn't gonna taste like home he's got his mind made up, and honestly, he eats his shit with so much spice I'm not sure it'll make a difference, so if you guys wanna join, we're meeting downstairs in ten."

Pete says, "Um—"

"I'm pretty sure they'll have veggie stuff," Spencer tells him.

"No, uh—"

Spencer looks at him, eyes calm, waiting for him to finish. Pete scratches at a spot behind his ear and smiles. "Mexican, sounds good."

"Okay then." Spencer brushes past Jon as he's leaving. Jon thinks, if it wouldn't get me killed by My Chem and end any chances of me bagging Pete Wentz, I would totally make out with you right now, Spencer Smith.

He'll have to figure out a different way of saying thank you later. Pete asks, "What the hell did you tell them?"

"That we had married in secret and it was a done deal, so they had best be supportive."

Pete stutters for a moment and then laughs. "Who the fuck are you, Jon Walker?"

Jon smiles slow and easy. "Someone who's maybe starting to work for you." He turns around and goes to hunt up his flip-flops so that Pete doesn't have to come up with an answer, and he doesn't have to hear it, whatever it is.

*


Spencer pushes Pete into the side of the booth with Jon, and squeezes Ryan between Brendon and himself across from the two of them. At this rate, Jon is going to have to bear Spencer Smith's children. Or at least find him an adequate surrogate. Someone of whom Bob will approve. And Mikey and Frank and Gerard and Ray and… Sometimes Jon gets himself in over his head.

Brendon has buried himself in the menu, so Pete has to tap his hand to get his attention. Brendon looks up, his eyes wary and shuttered but not mean, which is something, and Jon wishes he weren't so fucking in love with Brendon fucking Urie. The universe has no sense of fairness.

Pete says, "I got Killer Queen a present," and puts the toy on the table.

Brendon looks at it. And looks. Finally he asks, "Are there instructions? Because it looks kind of complicated."

"Yeah, I had no clue what the hell it did either," Pete admits and turns the package over. "But see, there's a diagram."

Brendon sits up a little so that he can hunch further over the picture. His head is fairly close to Pete's. "Ooo. She has to get inside it."

"Yeah, and see, you can dangle—"

"Yeah, she'd have to, like, hunt it—"

"Kill it."

Brendon nods excitedly, "Totally."

Pete pulls back a little when Brendon actually looks up and he's smiling a small smile, which is Brendon's peace branch, Jon knows. Pete smiles too, but it's a smile of mostly teeth and nerve. Brendon stiffens slightly and Jon's stomach flips until he realizes that Ryan has put his hand somewhere on Brendon's back, really on his back, not his shirt. Another second and Brendon loosens, his smile widening. Next to him, Ryan's eyes are large and sweet and his smile is a deep, hidden thing, the curve of his lips only the scratching of its surface. Spencer asks, "I don't suppose we could be ready to order any time, oh, this evening?"

Pete says, "I know what I want."

Ryan rolls his eyes. "It's not hard for a vegetarian." He goes back to paying attention to his menu.

"Vegan," Pete says.

"Yeah, right," Ryan says, not bothering to look up. Jon suppresses a snort of agreement. Spencer doesn't. Pete pouts. Brendon ignores all of them.

When Brendon closes his menu he goes back to looking at the diagram and says, "It's a cool gift."

Pete shrugs. "I, y'know, try."

Brendon looks up and stares at Pete for a bit. Pete holds his gaze, even if he looks like he would rather be doing anything, anything else. Finally Brendon says, "Yeah. I'm pretty sure we all do."

Underneath the table, Jon risks soothing a hand over Pete's knee. Pete stares down at it like he's not sure where it came from, but when the pieces seemingly come together, he stills under the touch, allows it without pressing for more. Spencer nods in agreement while still looking at his menu. Ryan leans a little closer to Brendon. Pete looks on with something that might be envy, but then, Jon probably does too.

*


By the time they get back, the gummi bears and Hershey's Special Dark bars that Jon asked for have arrived. Pete says, "I really like the green ones."

Jon separates them out and gives them all to Pete in one big pile. They surf the web together, Pete having an enormous store of bizarre-ass bookmarks he's been saving up to show Jon, and then catch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Jon heads off to brush his teeth after that and Pete tags after him, unpacking his own toothbrush and joining in. When they're finished, John heads to the couch and Pete stands in the middle of the room, his hands crossed over his chest, tucked into his underarms. Jon figures he can meet him half way. "Something you want?"

"It's a king-size bed," Pete says, somewhat belligerently.

Jon waits with calm eyes, calm body posture.

"I wouldn't— If you slept in it with me, I wouldn't do things you didn't want me to do."

Jon nods, and heads toward the bed. "Okay."

Pete follows him slowly, clearly still surprised to have gotten his way. He climbs in under the covers facing Jon. He asks, "Is this because I was nice to your band tonight?"

Jon frowns a little bit.

"Because it's not exactly that I think a system of rewards is a bad idea—better than what my parents came up with—but I tend to fuck things up without meaning to a lot, and you haven't shown me what the punishments are like yet, and I'd sort of like to know. Ahead of time."

Something Jon can't even begin to identify burns, throbs inside his stomach, his kidneys. "You're not a child, Pete. And I'm in no position to be either rewarding or punishing you."

"Patrick says I'm like one, sometimes. It's not...he doesn't mean it as an insult, he just— I don't always think before I act. Or mostly, mostly I don't think before I act. It worries him. He doesn't know how to protect me."

Jon nods. "I can see how that would be hard at times. But that's the part where you're not a child. That you can't always be protected."

"It sort of sucks."

"Yeah," Jon agrees.

"This isn't a reward?"

"You asked. You wanted this. And I could give it to you. Maybe it's a reward for asking, but only in the sense that I can help you out when I know you need help." Jon tries not to let his exasperation show. It's not with Pete so much as with the situation.

"And you don't do punishments?"

"If you piss me off or hurt me, I'm going to tell you, and give you the chance to either apologize or tell me why you did it or both. I'd like the same consideration from you, if possible."

Pete takes a few deep breaths. "I can try."

"Good enough."

"Really?"

"I don't think I need as much from you as you seem to need from yourself."

"That makes me sort of sad."

"Only because you can't see how much of you there really is right now."

Pete asks, "You're sure you're not just an optimist?"

Jon smiles. "Optimists aren't always wrong."

Pete asks, "If I kissed you, just one kiss, just...just because you're smiling and hot with it and I really, I want to taste, I want— Would you push me away?"

Jon says, "Kiss me, sweetheart," and Pete doesn't wait for him to change his mind.

*


Jon comes to Pete next because despite the juvenile nature of it, he's pretty sure they're at the point where things need to be a fair one-to-one trade. Jon catches the Providence show, watches Pete peel back so many layers of himself Jon has to wonder where he hides the blood. Watches Pete kiss and coddle Patrick who probably would give himself to Pete if he could but Jon has come to realize that Patrick validly doesn't like the cock. It's sort of tragic for Patrick, but Jon's not going to be looking any gift horses in the mouth.

Afterward Pete is so intoxicated on show-adrenaline that he can barely form sentences. Trohman offers Pete a joint, Hurley smacks Trohman upside the head, Patrick says softly, "He's not usually this bad. He was sort of excited by you coming to see the show."

"Sort of" is probably an understatement. Jon says, "He seems happy."

Patrick looks at him assessingly. "He can be, sometimes."

Jon would say something to that, but Pete has bounded over, is asking a question that Jon's pretty sure he was in the middle of before he even opened his mouth. Jon ignores the question, says, "Hi."

Pete's smile is a thing of such utter brilliance, so intimate and rough and ageless that Jon can barely see for it. Pete says, "Did you hear that part of Afterlife?"

Jon knows exactly which part he means. "Yeah, that was..." Jon grins.

Pete nods excitedly and jumps onto Patrick's back. "Patrick lets me steal the show."

Patrick lets him climb a bit. "You going out, buddy?"

"Maybe. Wanna go out?" Pete asks.

Patrick is all but nodding his head at Jon. Jon wasn't going to say no. "Where are you taking me?"

Before they leave, Patrick tells Jon, "Look, I realize it's not always possible, but the less he talks to reporters, generally the better."

That's sort of Jon's motto in life so he makes the sign of the Boy Scout and nods solemnly. Patrick shakes his head, "I don't know where the hell Panic found you, but someone must really fucking like that band." Jon thinks someone probably really likes him, too.

Pete takes him somewhere with driving beats and strobe lights. Jon orders himself a Jack Daniels and gets a virgin piña colada for Pete who looks sort of surprised. "I love this drink."

"I have a good instinct for these things." Also, if Jon is very lucky, he can maybe get Pete to kiss him in the right way. Jon likes the taste of pineapple, straight or on someone else. Jon lets Pete dance with whomever he wants, doesn't give Pete the advantage of acting jealous when girls will press their breasts to him, rub up against his crotch. Jon isn't sure whether this is predictable or not, but Pete comes back to him and they dance like two guys in a club, two guys likely to get caught on camera in a club.

When he pours Pete into the cab most of the adrenaline has burned off but Pete is still smiling at Jon. Jon says, "I would sort of like to kiss you, because I had a good time tonight, and you seem happy to see me, and I like the way you smile."

Pete laughs. "You think you have to ask?"

"I think you need to know you have the right to say no."

Pete starts to laugh some more and then stops. "What would happen if I did? Say no?"

"I wouldn't kiss you." That seems sort of self-evident to Jon, but if Pete needs to hear it, that's fine too.

"Right, I mean, after that?"

"After I didn't kiss you?" Jon is maybe a bit confused. Pete nods.

Jon's about to ask for clarification when it hits him. Oh. "What would you want to happen?"

Pete looks down at his knees.

"I won't laugh. Or tell anyone. Or use it against you."

Pete looks up at him again and Jon can tell that words mean nothing in this instance. He's really not expecting an answer, not expecting Pete to hand over that level of trust when Pete tells him, "I wouldn't want you to go find someone else."

Softly, Jon says, "Then I wouldn't do that."

Slowly, slowly Pete answers, "I'd like for that, too. For you to kiss me. I'd really like that."

They're at the hotel by this point, so Jon pays the cab driver and takes Pete up to his room. As soon as the door is closed behind them, Jon cups Pete's face in his hands, dips his tongue just a bit into Pete's mouth. Pete's tongue presses back, curious, eager, and Jon lets him explore, but he uses his own tongue to keep things somewhat slow, to remind Pete of exactly whom he's kissing. Jon stands and kisses Pete until he cannot feel his tongue, until he has forgotten how a normal breathing pattern goes. Then he pulls back, and licks his lips and says, "Thank you."

Pete's eyes are dazed, hazy. Jon kisses him once more, chastely, and says, "Go take a shower."

Pete doesn't wait to be told twice.

*


They've settled into a pattern of seeing each other, of making time for each other, of tuning their basses together and kissing for hours—full-on hours—at a time and eating breakfast together and mostly being friends with the promise of more when Pete calls and says, "The thing is, this time I want you to hear it from me, not from some newspaper."

And that's progress, but the Yfke Sturm thing is not. Now, Jon has never been in a room with Yfke Sturm, but he's a smart guy and he can surmise that legs that run roughly a marathon's length to just the knee are pretty fucking enticing in a person. It's not as if he and Pete are dating. It's not as if he's ever asked Pete to stop touching other people. He hasn't. He won't. That's something Pete needs to decide on his own. Needs to decide Jon's worth the effort.

Jon says, "Thanks for calling," and avoids the newspapers, television, internet and his bandmates for three days until Spencer comes to him with eyes that are too blank to be anything but hurt.

Jon says, "Yeah, okay, I was kind of an asshole there."

"Could you just, um— Could you maybe mention to Ryan that you're not upset with us?"

Jon gets drunk that night, nurses himself through the hangover the next morning and goes to Ryan when he's pretty sure he doesn't look like he's done something Ryan's father would have done in this very situation. Brendon smiles upon seeing him, the smile Brendon uses when he's got nothing else, absolutely nothing else and he talks a mile a minute and Jon can tell it's giving Ryan a headache, but Ryan just lets him talk, because that's evidently easier than listening to anything Jon might have to say.

Jon finally says, "I was just licking my wounds in private," in the middle of Brendon's sentence when he validly can't follow Brendon's thought patterns any more. He can always follow Brendon. Even when Brendon can't follow Brendon. Brendon stops talking. Ryan says, "Oh."

Brendon says, "Okay, I realize I'm about the last person on earth who should be giving anyone relationship advice, especially this relationship advice, but has it occurred to you that maybe you should say something? About what you'd like? Because far be it from me to stick up for Pete Wentz and all, but he sort of called you, Jon. Like he thought you had a right to know."

Jon thinks that might be the issue, that Pete knows he had a right to know, knew it when he probably smiled that fucking too-perfect, too-surface, too-not-Pete smile at some girl with too many fucking consonants in her name and unreasonably perfect skin. Next to Brendon, Ryan keeps his mouth shut, but his lips tremble slightly. Jon runs a hand over his face. "Maybe."

After dinner that night, Spencer asks, "You gonna get drunk again?"

Jon looks at him because Jon totally did that in the privacy of his own room and didn't bother the rest of them with it, because he wouldn't, he wouldn't. Spencer's eyes are rimmed and tired and Jon has to ask, "Tell me you didn't call and bitch him out. Please, Spence, tell me."

Spencer shakes his head. "But I might have gotten into a huge fight with Mikey Way about it, causing my boyfriend to have to stop speaking to me for a little bit in order to save his band."

"Fuck. I'll call Mikey and patch things up tomorrow, okay?"

"Don't. That was my own fault. I probably said some inappropriate shit that you most likely would have hit me for."

"I don't hit you guys."

"I was being hyperbolic."

"I'd sort of like you not to be."

"Jon."

"I'll stop. I'm done. I'm done. I'll call him and we'll talk and I'll figure out where to go from here, and—"

"Jon."

"What? What, Spencer?"

"We don't know how to help you. None of us. And you fucking hate it when you can't figure that out with one of us, so could you just respect that we're lost and probably scared, here? We can't attack him, not really, and we can't protect you and we have nothing. If you could give us something, if there were anything—"

Jon pulls Spencer to him, holds him so tight he knows Spencer can't breathe, but Spencer just allows it, just holds back. When Jon finally lets go he says, "I don't like easy, but sometimes I wish I wasn't always trying for impossible."

Spencer nods. "Yeah."

"I don't know what to do for me, or I would tell you. I would let you."

"Okay. If you could maybe just remember that we're here. And not just as— We're not always the people you have to fix. I know you like us that way, but there's the other parts, there have to be the other parts."

"I know, Spence. I know."

Spencer says, "If you wanna get drunk again, I can stay. Not after tonight, no more. But one more time, I'll stay."

Jon says, "Would you stay if I didn't get drunk?"

"If you have to ask that, things are worse than I thought."

"I'm just tired."

Spencer goes to turn down the bed.

*


Pete shows up with flowers—fucking flowers—and an expression so scared Jon says, "Sit down before you pass out."

Jon takes the flowers and puts them in the window. They're pretty and he knows they were expensive and Pete is in LA and Jon can't be as mad as he really wishes he were. Jon turns back to Pete who has curled up by this point and is looking at Jon like he expects to have to turn right around and head home. He says, "I'm sorry."

"I know," Jon says, and sighs. "I know."

"I want to tell you that I won't—"

"Please don't," Jon says.

Pete nods, bites his lip. Jon walks over and rescues the lip with his finger. It's bitten nearly to the point of bleeding. He frowns and asks, "If I told you you were forgiven, what would you hear?"

Pete's eyes slide downward in thought. He looks back up. "Is this a trick question?"

"No." But Jon already has his answer from that.

"I... That you had forgiven me?"

"What does that mean, Pete?"

Pete's fingers tighten around his legs. "That you're not mad anymore?"

"I wasn't mad in the first place. I was hurt."

"That you're not hurt anymore?"

Jon sits down in a chair across from Pete and says, "All right. Different question. Do you feel forgiven?"

Pete just looks at him. "Jon."

"Answer the question."

"I don't understand the question."

"Okay." Jon thinks. "Do you even know what forgiveness feels like?"

"Patrick. Andy. Joe."

"And what do they do that allows you to feel that way?"

"They yell."

Jon raises an eyebrow. "They yell?"

"Because I've done something wrong. And then it's done and I know that they've gotten that stuff out, the anger, or the hurt or whatever. I know... Sometimes I want them to hurt me a little back, y'know? So that we're even."

"And they do? They hurt you?"

"Not hurt hurt. Not like I do. But I don't like being yelled at, so it's helpful. It's punitive. And then, after, I can believe that it's over."

"That's—"

"Fucked up, I know." Pete goes back to biting his lip.

"I was going to say 'logical'."

"Oh."

"You should listen to me some of the time, you know? I say interesting things." Jon keeps his voice light, if serious.

"I listen," Pete says. He sounds like he wants Jon to believe that. Jon generally believes Pete, maybe even when he shouldn't.

"I want to try something," Jon says.

"Anything."

"We're going to try it once, and if it doesn't work, we'll try something else. All right?"

"Until what?"

"Until we find something that works."

"Works for what?"

Jon shakes his head, moves to sit on the edge of the bed. He says, "C'mere."

Pete comes to stand in front of him, and Jon puts his hands to the button of Pete's jeans. Underneath his fingers, Jon can feel Pete's torso tremble. Jon undoes the button and the zipper and pushes both pants and boxers down around Pete's thighs. Pete takes a breath, "Jon—"

But Jon just pulls Pete down, settles him face down over his lap, which causes Pete to say, considerably more frantically, "Jon—"

"Hush."

Pete hushes. Jon rubs a bit at the small of Pete's back, but by this time, Pete's actively shaking under his hand, so Jon puts one hand on Pete's neck and brings the other one down on the curve of his ass. Hard. Pete makes a bitten off sound.

"You can make noise," Jon says, and hits him again, this time on the line bisecting ass from leg. Jon waits until about the fifth or sixth hit—when Pete is actively squirming—to ask, "Why am I doing this, Pete?"

Pete yelps a little at the smack that follows the question, "I— Because I cheated!"

"No," Jon says, and goes in for two more smacks. "Try again."

"Um. Ow, oh. Um. Because I hurt you?"

Another volley of smacks. "No. Again."

"Because— Because I'm dirty?"

Jon sharpens the smacks despite the fact that his hand has really begun to hurt and Pete's already not going to be sitting for days. "Definitely not. Again."

Pete is panting, sobbing. The words, "I don't know," are broken and desperate. "I don't know. I'm sorry."

Jon applies one more smack. "Because you said you needed it. That's why, Pete."

"I said...?" Pete sounds dazed.

"That you needed to be hurt. To even things out a bit. I don't want to yell at you. Patrick and Andy and Joe can do that because they're your guys and they know how to avoid fucking you up more that way. This I know will heal." Jon slips his hand underneath Pete's shirt, runs his knuckles along the cord of Pete's spine.

Pete shivers, but there is a looseness to it that wasn't there before. Jon says, "Breathe."

Pete draws a breath in, and as he lets it out, he sinks further onto Jon. Jon laughs a little, pets the back of Pete's head with the hand that was at his neck. He draws Pete up then—Pete mumbles, "Sleepy,"—and Jon says, "I know. Just a little bit longer."

He takes Pete to the bathroom and undresses him before setting him on the toilet so that Jon can undress. He runs the shower water lukewarm and draws Pete in with him. Pete hisses as the water hits his ass, but then relaxes as the relative coolness draws out some of the heat. Jon waits until he begins to shiver and then turns the water off, dries them both. He finds pajamas in Pete's overnight bag and gets Pete dressed before slipping into a pair of boxers himself. He gets in bed with Pete and lets Pete curl up into him, lips pressing at Jon's collarbone.

Jon asks, "Better?"

Pete whispers, "Forgiven."

Jon kisses his forehead and says, "Yes. Yes."

*


Jon doesn't recognize the number when the call comes through, but it's a Chicago number so he takes the chance, says, "Hello?"

"Walker?"

"Depends."

"Yeah, fair enough, it's Patrick."

"Oh, hi."

"Stole your number off Pete's Sidekick."

"Does he know?"

"No."

"Are you gonna tell him?"

"Probably."

Jon considers the possible reasons for that qualification. Finally he asks, "What's on your mind?"

"Look, Walker, it's not that I'm all that judgmental about kink, because I seriously couldn't be in a band with Troh if that were the way it was, but did you— Did you hit Pete?"

Jon runs a hand over his face. "Believe me when I say I'm not trying to avoid the question, but I seriously have to ask what makes you ask before I answer."

There's hesitation before Patrick says, "He didn't sit down for a couple of days after he came back."

"How did he seem, y'know, in his head?"

"He spent most of the time he usually spends sitting bouncing. And he was kinda...unusually helpful. Which, okay, not that I mind, not if it's just you making him happy, but if you're— He doesn't need reprogramming. And he's been beaten enough for one lifetime."

Jon remembers what Pete felt like under his hands, shuddering and terrified that whatever Jon did it wouldn't be enough, has a flash of going further, of blood and pain. Jon swallows back bile.

"Walker?"

"I didn't beat him."

"I didn't really think—"

"Did you ask him? Did you ask him what I did?"

"He said you did what he needed you to do."

"How did he sound?"

"He sounded...relaxed, I guess. No, relieved. Relieved. But Pete's reactions aren't always the best barometer of, well, anything."

Okay, Jon can see how that would be true. "He said that when you guys are angry you yell at him, and then everyone can move on."

"He likes limits. Or, he likes knowing that people give a crap enough to provide them."

"Yeah. He wanted me to yell at him."

"You didn't want to? He kinda sorta cheated on you, man."

"I thought it was pretty possible I'd hit a vein that way. Then what? Sit there and watch him bleed out? Watch him stay, thinking maybe I could help, even as he did?"

Patrick is quiet for a long time. "I see your point."

"If he'd gotten up, jerked away, said 'no,' anything, I would have stopped."

"Sometimes he doesn't know how to say no."

"But he's kinda good at saying it without saying it."

"If you're listening, sure."

"Stump." Jon takes a breath. "Stump, I swear, I wouldn't do something like that without listening."

"Hey," Patrick says, his voice soft. "Hey, okay. Relax."

"I was hurting him. And yeah, he all but asked me to, but I was hurting him. I was listening. I was listening so hard I could still hear him when he left."

"Walker, I get it."

Jon closes his eyes. Opens them when all he can see is Ryan and his fucking un-trusting eyes. "I'm not like that. I'm not."

"I get that, now. I get it. But I had to ask."

Jon knows, is the worst part. If it had been Ryan or Spencer or Brendon he would have been doing more than asking. All he can say, though, is, "I'm not like that."

"Okay."

"I don't want to do it again."

"You're probably going to have to."

Jon knows that, too.

"Wanna program my number in your phone?" Patrick asks.

"Soon as we hang up."

"Yeah," Patrick says, with a little laugh. "You can call it, you know? Any time."

"I'm glad he has friends."

"I think I'm pretty glad he stumbled into you."

"You think?"

"I'm cautious by nature."

Jon can respect that.

*


Pete glides up to Jon at the bar of the “Build God…” release party and asks, "Think anyone would notice if I took you to the bathroom and had my wicked way with you?"

"My band would totally defend my virtue."

"I could take your band."

"Brendon and Ryan? Maybe. Spencer? Not a chance. And he'd probably have Bob with him. And where Bob is, Ray probably is. Which means you might have Gerard on your hands too. Not long after, Mikey and Frank are gonna be getting in on that—"

"Fine," Pete says. "I won't abduct you."

"We can have fun right here," Jon reassures him.

"Not making out fun," Pete says.

"No, true. But hey-I-haven't-seen-you-in-awhile-what's-up fun."

"I talk to you every day."

"Getting tired of me?" Jon asks with apparent sympathy.

"Your face is even stupider than Brendon Urie's," Pete tells him sincerely.

"You surf the web too much."

"You knew the reference."

"You have a tendency to send me links."

"You don't have to look at them."

"You send me them."

Patrick pulls up to them, nods at Jon, says, "We might have a problem."

"I haven't done anything. Not even take Jon to the bathroom. He wouldn't let me."

Patrick is momentarily impressed. "Strong work."

Jon takes this as his due. He deserves it. "Thanks."

"And you're not the problem," Patrick tells Pete.

"Really?"

"I've lost Joe."

"He usually finds his way home on his own," Pete says.

"Yes, but last time I saw him he was unusually high, even for Joe, and had some vaguely deviant plans involving both the Olsen twins."

Jon says, "I'll take the upper level, you guys can split the lower one."

Pete says, "Joe's not in your band."

"Maybe I feel the need to defend the virtue of young and nubile starlet twins everywhere."

Pete looks doubtful.

"Or maybe I just like helping you out." Jon waves his phone while heading in the direction of the stairs. "If I find him, I'll call."

*


Pete finds Joe and says, "Seriously, Joe, it's my job to give Patrick a heart attack."

"Seriously?" Joe asks, drawn out and clearly not serious.

Pete can't help it; he laughs. "Have you done anything you're going to regret in the morning?"

"That's your problem, man. You regret things."

In the rare moments when Joe is sober, he sometimes regrets the stuff Pete does, too. Pete says, "Make you a deal. Promise me you won't ravish anyone younger than eighteen or likely to say they're having your lovechild and I'll tell Patrick I sent you home."

Joe sticks out his hand.

"I swear, if you fuck me over—"

"It'll pretty much be what you deserve?"

"But not what Patrick does."

Joe thinks about that. "Yeah, okay. I'll play fair."

Pete sets Joe free and goes to find Patrick. He says, "I got him in a cab."

"You're the worst liar on the planet, Pete."

Pete's pretty sure that's not true, Patrick's just good at reading him.

"Call your boyfriend, tell him he can stop walking around in circles. Can I assume you at least told Joe not to do anything phenomenally stupid?"

"I read him the riot act."

"I've seen your riots, Wentz."

Pete'll give him that. "He's not my boyfriend."

Patrick is silent at that.

"He's not, Patrick."

"He's something that's not exactly a friend, Pete."

"He doesn't touch me like that."

"No, because you think that's what defines a boyfriend and he knows better."

"It's part of it."

"I know, Pete, but you see everything in synecdochic or metaphoric terms and the world doesn't always work like that. There are parts to things, that's why shit falls apart, but if you're not willing to try all the parts, what's the use? Do you even enjoy the shit that screws you up while it's busy screwing you up? I mean, I'd think you'd want some sort of trade-off, but of late I think you run to anything that doesn't ask for more of you than you can casually remember how to give because it's just easier."

"It is easier," Pete says softly.

Patrick sighs. "He wants to be your boyfriend, Pete. He brings you flowers and takes you on dates and accepts your apologies for things he maybe shouldn't and helps you find wayward band members. Not even Mikey did that, not even when you were the only thing he wanted."

"Mikey had different ways of getting what he wanted."

"I know, I'm not saying they were wrong, but you were still easier at that time, not so convinced that things had to be a certain way. Jon's working his ass off and you're pretending like you're the one making the effort. Just, give him something, okay?"

"Aren't you supposed to be on my side? You're my best fucking friend."

"And it's for that reason that sometimes I've got to seem like the enemy, Pete. Because nobody plays that role better than you. Nobody."

Pete hates that Patrick always gets to be right. It's unholy. Inhuman. "What do you think I should do?"

"For the moment?"

"Yeah."

"Call the poor guy and tell him he can stop trying to find our guitarist."

Pete presses memory six and listens to Panic's version of "Killer Queen" until Jon asks, "Found him?"

*


Pete sends him a hoodie with Warhol-ian graphics of the latest set of pictures of Killer Jon has emailed. There's a note pinned to the inside. It says, "Because Patrick's pretty sure you're my boyfriend. Yours. P."

Jon has a trucker hat that says, "Voldemort makes the Baby Jesus cry," made and sends it to Patrick with a sticky attached. The sticky says, "For whatever you said that he heard."

Patrick calls him. "Pete is so jealous of my hat."

"That was sort of the plan."

Pete calls him. "Hey, you're my boyfriend."

"So? Bob sends me car magazines when he's done with them all the time. Spencer looks at them and thinks about banging Bob in the bed of the latest Ford F-whatever the fuck, I look at them and purr contentedly at the engines, which is what Bob is looking for someone to do with him."

"I don't think he would mind the truck bed thing, either. Bryar's totally a dirty old man."

"Two words, Peter. Or, well, four, in this instance. George Ryan Ross III."

"Spencer's younger than Ryan, and Bob is older than me."

"And yet, their relationship is more functional than anyone I know, including my parents, who are pretty normal and manage fairly well for themselves."

Pete sighs, and then, unsurprisingly, changes the subject. "Why didn't you tell me you were my boyfriend?"

"I thought the kissing gave it away," Jon tells him. He really did. He also thinks that possibly he should have known better, since Pete has a well-documented history of being caught kissing girls whom he earnestly refers to as friends.

"I just thought you liked that. Had fun with me that way."

"I do have fun with you that way. But I try to limit my kissing to people I want to do other stuff with." It doesn't always work out that way for Jon, but he makes the attempt, and that's something.

"Really? Don't you find that sort of sad? There are lots of good kissers out there, it doesn't mean I'd want to see any of them naked."

At this point, Jon's just glad that the one thing he does know about what's going on in Pete's head is that Pete would like to see him naked. "The kissing's fun with you because other things are fun with you. For me. It's part of something."

"Oh."

"We find a lot of the same things funny and have similar tastes in music and you're willing to let me have my baseball and cars thing and I'm willing to let you have your dogs and clothes designing thing. See? We're fun together. And when I kiss you, all of that stuff gets wrapped up in the physical part. It makes it better. I think it makes it better. Maybe you disagree."

Pete's only offering is, "Kissing you is a lot of fun."

It just doesn't mean the same thing in Pete's head. Jon can accept that. He worries, though, that none of the other stuff will mean the same thing when they get to it, either. Jon takes a breath and reminds himself to slow the fuck down. No use getting impatient now.

"Have you— Has there been— I mean, I know you're sort of stuck on, well, Urie, but since we started, have you...done what I've done?"

Jon can't decide which part of that to respond to first. He settles on, "I've always known I couldn't have Brendon," and wonders, vaguely, what was the thing that finally gave it away. "No, I haven't. I haven't really wanted to. I know what I want."

"But don't you ever want more than one thing?"

"I'm not particularly easy to distract."

"I have a short attention span."

"Not for the things that matter, Pete." Fall Out Boy has been around long enough for Jon to have determined that.

"Sometimes even then."

Jon thinks it's more that Pete gets scared by the things that matter and so reverts to comforting behavior, including following wherever his eyes lead him, but people get scared. That's something Jon can work with. He digs his fingernails into his palm and asks, "Do you not want to be my boyfriend? Is that what you're trying to tell me?"

Jon's starting to think Pete's been disconnected, or purposely hung up on him when Pete says, "I don't want you to decide being my boyfriend is a mistake."

"I'm not the one who's always using that word in connection with you."

"That's the worrisome part. You just haven't known me long enough."

"Long enough for that," Jon tells him, utterly convinced it's the truth.

*


Jon goes home for a little bit before Panic starts writing and Pete ends up being in town for his mom's birthday so Jon says, "I don't imagine you'd like to stay at my place, for a bit?" A bit being the one night Pete has free between flying in and out and actually celebrating with his parents. Jon was actually sort of hoping Pete would ask, but when it becomes clear that's just not going to happen, he takes the initiative.

Pete shows up first thing in the morning the day after his mom's party. He looks like he hasn't slept. "Hi, boyfriend."

The word sounds like another language when Pete says it. Jon pulls him into his apartment and kisses him hello. "Hello."

Hemmy, still caught in Pete's arms, barks. Pete looks apologetic. "I didn't wanna leave him with my parents. They ignore him."

Jon takes Hemmy and nuzzles his face to Hemmy's for a few seconds. Hemmy licks him, somewhat thoughtfully.

"That means you're his," Pete says.

"Oh?"

"Dogs lick to mark their territory."

"I thought that was their way of kissing."

"Evidently, dogs have a more clear system than humans do," Pete says.

Jon laughs. "Have you eaten?"

Pete shakes his head. Jon tells Hemmy, "You've gotta start taking better care of him."

Hemmy makes a huffing sound and Jon lets him down, allowing him free run of the apartment. Hemmy goes off to explore his new territory. Jon hopes he restricts himself to licking as a way of marking.

"Dinner was steak," Pete says.

Jon doesn't ask when the last time he ate was. He flew in yesterday, so the answer probably involves something around the two-days ago mark. Luckily, Jon grocery shopped for the occasion, so he's able to pull together baked apple pancakes and fruit salad within a half an hour. He even has good coffee. Pete eats ravenously and Jon watches, enjoying how Pete can let him give a crap in this way without putting up so much resistance.

When he's done, Pete asks, "Was there something you wanted to do today?"

"I TiVoed all the Daily Shows and Colbert Reports this week. Wanna curl up on my couch and watch?" Jon leaves the 'until you pass out' right off that question.

"There's nothing you—"

"We've got all day. And a night. I'll think about it while we're watching, okay? I promise you a real date before you leave."

"You don't have to. Promise."

"I know, but I did, so now I'm gonna see it through."

"I haven't had time to watch in a while," Pete says wistfully.

Jon positions himself behind Pete on the couch, Pete spooning up into him. He sneaks his hand beneath Pete's t-shirt, rests it squarely over the breast bone. Pete's asleep before the end of the first Daily Show, but that's fine. Jon will let him watch later if he asks. Jon turns off the TV, rests his lips at the back of Pete's neck, and settles somewhere safely between sleep and comfort.

*


Jon doesn't exactly fall asleep, but he isn't what he would call awake, either, when the whimpering starts. He rocks Pete a little bit, croons, "You're safe, sweetheart," and Pete settles. Jon falls back into his not-sleep until Pete's whispered, "Jon?" reaches him at some point, maybe hours later. Jon hasn't been paying attention to anything other than the perfect quiet of them together like this.

"Morning," Jon mumbles.

"Hm," Pete says, his gaze going out the window. "Maybe not so much anymore."

"Ready for your date?" Jon asks.

"Do you have to let go of me?"

"It does involve moving from the couch, yes."

"Maybe a little while longer, then."

Jon kisses the back of his neck. "Sure."

"Where are we going?"

"Somewhere fun," Jon tells him.

"You're pretty much the world's most annoying boyfriend."

"Because you've had so many."

"I can tell these things."

"Did you bring Hemmy's leash?"

"Hemmy's coming with us?"

"Unless you feel like he'll get in the way."

Pete's, "No," is a little while coming, and sounds a bit confused when it does. Jon makes himself rouse Pete, get both of them on their feet. He goes and slips into the flip-flops he wore to Pete's party months before. He tries not to think of them as his lucky flip-flops, because that's just stupid, but sometimes he can't help himself.

Jon rolls down the back window of his car so that Hemmy can hang out of it in the time honored tradition of being a dog. He makes Pete sit up front, but lets him have control of the radio. Pete seems happy enough with the trade-off. When Jon finds a parking space outside Lincoln Park, Pete says, "Holy shit, I haven't been here since I was kid. My parents used to take me all the time."

Jon loves the Lincoln Park Zoo, it's one of his favorite places in the world. He's a particular fan of the amphibian collection, which is considerable and if there are kids anywhere nearby—there usually are—they can be counted on to shriek at the snakes and hop with the frogs and all sorts of mildly ridiculous things. Pete lingers with him over the iguanas, lets Jon read some of the more bizarre facts aloud to him, makes faces at the animals. In exchange—and it's not such a sacrifice on his part—Jon hangs out in the bear section for the better part of an hour while Pete just watches, watches the polar bears swim and the sun bears tumble over each other and the grizzlies sun themselves.

Pete says, "They seem so deceptively cuddly," and Jon slings an arm over his shoulder, casual enough that cameras won't be a problem, but he thinks Pete will get the message. He hopes. They have communication issues.

When they've had their fill of staring at slimy and cuddly things alike, Jon leads Pete and Hemmy over to the part of the park where Hemmy can be set free to run, run like the wind. Hemmy runs more like a girl, so far as Jon can tell, and comes back a lot, as if to reassure himself Pete hasn't left. Where the hell Pete found himself a dog with the same issues as he has is beyond Jon, but it's bizarrely endearing.

When Hemmy's worn out they walk up to the North Pond restaurant, where Jon charms the hostess into keeping Hemmy in the coatroom. He doesn't feel too bad, since Hemmy promptly curls up on the floor and falls asleep, his big afternoon catching up to him. Also, the appearance of a dog seems to have made the hostess's evening better, and she sets them up at a window table so that they can look out onto the eponymous pond. Pete opens his menu and starts looking. Without glancing up he says, "You're good at this date thing."

"I try," Jon says.

"At a level of effort that I am not sure can be maintained."

"That's because you don't trust me."

"I—"

"Don't lie to me, Peter Lewis."

"Was that mercy on your part, cutting that short? Or just laziness?"

"Some combination thereof."

"Fair enough. And I'm trying. You're just better at the trying thing than I am. You're better."

"Not better. Different."

"That's what people say when they are actually better."

"Stop calling me people, I'm starting to feel hurt."

"See?" Pete asks. "You're better."

"You gonna call me people again?"

"Gonna try not to."

"Different."

*


Jon asks, "You're staying with me, tonight, yeah?"

"Since I told my parents my flight was this morning, it's either you or a hotel. And they're always getting uppity about Hemmy."

"Stop it, you're going to make me feel special."

"Also, I want to have mad, passionate sex with you."

"That memo I'd gotten."

Pete sighs. "No?"

"I've got a better idea," Jon says brightly.

"You really don't."

Probably not, but Jon's not going to acknowledge how badly he wants to pull Pete to him, take him on every flat—and not so flat—surface in his apartment. "We'll see."

Jon makes them coffee when they get back, decaf, just something for them to sip at together. He puts Billie Holliday on the stereo and says, "Dance with me."

Pete rolls his eyes. "Getting cliché on me?"

"You don't want to dance?"

"I bump and writhe and grind. Dancing I never learned."

"You're a talented guy, and I'm a pretty patient instructor."

"Jon—"

"Give it a chance," Jon says, tilting his head and smiling, and not thinking about the way he could change one word, just one in that sentence, and say what he actually means. Pete slides his hand into Jon's, settles the other on Jon's waist. The hands are familiar, calloused in all the same places as Jon's are. "All right. And one," Jon steps forward, nudging Pete's opposite foot back, "two," to the side, "three," back for Jon, forward for Pete, "and four," the other side. "Just like that."

Jon takes Pete through it again, his count soft. On the third repetition he uses his hold on Pete's waist to lead him through a spin. On the fourth he pulls Pete into a tighter formation. "I could teach you blues, too."

"What's the difference?"

Jon doesn't answer, just pulls Pete so that there's no space between them, says, "Kick your leg between mine, a small kick."

Pete does.

"One," Jon says, and kicks his left leg. "Two. Now your other."

Pete kicks.

"Three," and Jon finishes up with a final kick, "Four."

"That's it?" Pete asks.

"Keep going," Jon murmurs, and when they've truly settled into each other's rhythms he dips Pete a little bit, rolls him backward. Pete goes with the motion, trusts Jon to bring him back upright, not to drop him.

"You're so fucking beautiful," Jon tells him at the end of one dip, the line of Pete's neck having captivated him.

"I think you mean hot," Pete tries to correct him.

"I mean beautiful. Right fucking through yourself." Jon turns him slowly, and admires the view. When he brings him back in this time, he takes the chance to kiss him and he knows that if there's any more dancing that evening, it will be purely incidental. Billie sings on.

*


Jon picks up his phone. "Hey."

There's sniffling on the other end of the line.

"Pete?" Jon asks softly.

"I'm just pissed, is all," Pete tells him, and yeah, he's definitely crying.

"Wanna tell me why?"

"Fucking Patrick and fucking— He always has to be right, you know?"

Patrick doesn't strike Jon as that type at all. He does strike Jon as the type who, in an argument between Pete and himself, probably is right a lot of the time. "What were you guys fighting about?"

"I said some shit in an interview. It'll probably break tomorrow."

"What sort of shit?"

"True shit."

"About what?"

"People in the industry."

Jon swipes Brendon's Sidekick off the table and orders Patrick a stress-care package of Godiva chocolates even as he keeps talking so that he won't forget. "Well, I hate to take his side, but that probably wasn't wise, was it?"

"Could you—" Pete's intake of breath is slow, worn. "No sides, okay? Just talk to me. Not about this."

"The Cubs won last night. Nine eight in the tenth inning, which makes it a combination of a damn good game and a moment of any-one-you-walk-away-from."

"Did you celebrate?"

"I ate ice cream straight from the container. A gallon one."

"My boyfriend is a wild man."

"You wouldn't have me any other way," Jon says, and before Pete can respond says, "I'm not really looking forward to Reading."

"It’s still a ways off and the likelihood that Urie will get hit twice is pretty small, you realize?"

"If it had been Patrick—and I realize you're pissed right now, but just, if it had been Patrick? If you'd looked over and he'd been on the ground and not even, fuck, he was just in a ball, but not like when someone curls up, it wasn't natural, it was broken looking, and I couldn't tell who'd done it because it was all so fucking fast, but I would have killed the asshole. If that had been Patrick—"

"I wouldn't have taken the offer to come back."

"He would have, though."

"You left the decision up to Brendon?"

"You would have left it up to Patrick, too."

"No fucking way in hell."

Jon knows better. "He got back up. He finished for those kids. It was his right to say yes or no."

Pete sighs. "You guys'll be fine this time. Better than. They won't be able to touch you, you'll be so un-fucking-believable."

"I know," Jon says. He does. It doesn't really make him want to go back. "Better?" he asks.

"Did you just distract me with your own misery?" Pete asks.

"Yes. Did it work?"

When Pete manages to answer, "Yes," he sounds so surprised Jon is hard-pressed not to laugh. Instead he says, "Not so many people let you take care of them."

"You felt the need to be different?"

"For you? Pretty much always."

"Why?" Pete asks. "I mean, why me?"

"Because you don't expect it. Because if you were ever willing to be kept by me you would be worth keeping, and not many people are."

"How do you know?"

"I have excellent people sense."

"You got yourself into a band with two of the most emotionally-stunted people I've ever met."

"You think they weren't worth it? This wasn't worth it?"

"I think Patrick thinks that about me, sometimes."

"He doesn't."

"He said I never think about how my words are their words too."

Jon will not be distracted. "He doesn't think you're not worth it, Pete. Ever."

"He gets pretty mad."

"Friends have that right. He forgives you too, doesn't he?"

"Always," Pete says softly, both hope and confusion coloring his tone.

"That's because you're always worth it."

"I thought we weren't gonna talk about this."

"All right, but this time you have to provide the topic. I'm fresh out."

*


Jon emails the first recordings of their songs to Pete. They're not even studio recordings, just them sticking a digital recorder on so that they can play the stuff back to themselves. It's total betrayal and all three of the others would probably kick his ass, even Ryan. Spencer is so doing the same thing with Bob, he can lie to Jon about it all he wants, and Ryan and Brendon get to create the songs together. Jon doesn't see why his boyfriend should get left out of the loop.

Pete calls him. "Are the rumors true? Are all of you having sex non-stop in that cabin?"

Pete sounds casual, so Jon asks—equally casual, "Why do you ask?"

"Because there has to be some sort of impetus behind this sort of creativity."

"Well, we do all seem to like each other. Brendon and Ryan sleep together," he says, helpfully.

"Jesus, Jon."

"Made you want to make out with me a little, didn't it?"

"I always want to make out with you."

Jon grins.

"Seriously, Jon. When this gets cleaned up?"

"I know," Jon says. Music has excited him his whole life, but it's different with Panic, different being part of its inception, in the way its always growing.

Pete says, "I could hear you."

Jon doesn't think he means that the bass was audible. Softly, he asks, "Did it make you hard?"

"Yes," Pete tells him, his tone ashamed.

"I like making you hard. I love making you hard. And for all the right reasons like that. Tell me what you did."

"What I did?"

"Did you take care of yourself?"

Pete's, "Yes," is short, panted out.

"What did you do? Did you put the song on again?"

"Yes."

"And wrap your hand around your cock?"

Pete's, "Yes," is a bit tortured.

"Do you want to do that again now?"

"Jon, please. I'm trying—"

"Take your cock out, sweetheart, hold it for me."

Pete whimpers and Jon can hear him shifting the Sidekick to his ear, fussing with his jeans.

"Got it?" Jon asks.

"Got it," Pete forces out.

"Did you stroke it before, or was it more of a squeeze, a push and pull?"

"Started... Started with stroking."

"I'd like that, like to get to know how your cock feels, how it's different from any other cock I've ever touched. Are you stroking it for me?"

"Yes, Jon. Yes."

"How does that feel?"

"Please, don't make me stop."

"No, you keep going. Did you put the songs on repeat?"

"Loud."

"And when stroking wasn't enough?"

"Pulled."

"You ready for that?"

"Please, Jon. Please."

"Pull, Pete. I think that would be the best part, wrapping my fist tight around you, because you would be mine and you would know it, if you ever decided that was what you really wanted. I would be all the way around you, controlling your pleasure, knowing that I could give you everything I wanted to give you, things you haven't yet begun to want because you don't know enough to know they exist.

"You close?" Jon asks.

"So close."

"Tell me when you wanna come, tell me." Jon closes his eyes, listens to the sound of Pete's desperation. It's so intense it nearly blends in to Pete's, "Now, please, please now."

Jon says, "Hold on for one moment more. One moment. Because I'm asking. Are you holding?"

Pete's, "yes," is utter anguish.

Jon melts. "Come for me, Pete."

Pete shouts as he comes, a high, breathy thing of a sound. Jon keeps his hand away from his own dick, because if he doesn't there's no way he's going to be able to pay attention, and he wants to wait until Pete makes his way back, wants to ask, "Was that good?"

"Jesus, Jon. It'd be embarrassing to die from overstimulation through phone sex."

"You'd survive," Jon says dryly.

Pete laughs. "I want to talk to you about music, but my brain isn't working right now."

"Why don't you call me back when you take care of that problem?"

"Mm. Hour?"

"Sounds good." Jon is unbuttoning his pants even as he hangs up.

*


Pete calls back an hour and twenty-two minutes later. "I fell asleep," he admits.

Jon laughs softly. He sort of expected him to.

"I wanted you here."

That Jon didn't expect.

"I like sleeping with you here."

At this point, Jon's glad he was sitting down when the phone rang. "Good nap anyway?"

"I suppose." Pete sounds petulant.

Jon smiles. "Music?"

"You're holding back."

Jon considers the assessment. "Maybe, a little."

"What is it? Not trust the others to keep up?"

Jon snorts. Brendon, Ryan and Spencer can hold their own.

"Then what, Jon?"

And Pete noticed, noticed and had the balls to say it to him and both these facts have Jon just a little bit more imbalanced than he usually likes being but he's aware enough to know that he's not minding it so much at this moment. "I'm still finding my space." Jon is a cautious guy. He doesn't think Pete and he would still be speaking if he weren't. As such, it's not wholly a bad thing.

"Oh. Really?"

Jon shrugs, even though Pete can't see it. "Brent was theirs for forever. And they never, never fucking talk about it, but I catch Spencer with his hands on his phone not dialing a damn thing, or Brendon rubbing Ryan's back while he's trying to write the bass line. It's not that I think they aren't glad to have me, or even that they don't care about me in the way they care about each other, but I think Brent still exists and so that can get crowded."

"Okay. I mean, okay, there's not really much to say to that, except that you saved them. And they don't want another Brent they want you. And holding back because you think you're going to step on some toes or whatever it is you're stepping on… You're cheating them, Jon."

That particular choice of terminology hits Jon in the stomach, leaves him breathless for a second. He fights back the urge to tell Pete to step off, that this isn't any of his business, because he knows he actually wants it to be Pete's business, even if he doesn't feel that way right this second. He knows this is progress, this is what he's been waiting for and he's not going to ruin that, he's not. He pulls a breath in.

"Was I being a jerk there?" Pete asks into the silence.

"No," Jon manages. "No, you were being right. Which sucked. But."

"You push with me, you do. You know what's right and what will work and you just do that. So why not with them? What makes it different? That you can't lose them?"

It's possible that Jon is actually going to puke. He swallows and it burns straight down. "I'm sort of trying not to lose you either, here, Pete."

Pete sighs. "I didn't mean— I just need to understand the difference. For this conversation. If I want to help. If you want me to help."

"I want," Jon says. Then, "It's different because I got used to being temporary. And then I wasn't but it was fast, that change and sometimes I still forget. So with you I have this goal and I'm pursuing it and I know exactly where the lines are, but with them the lines changed and sometimes it's not as easy to figure out."

"On the next track, try it. Try just going there. Try it and see."

"I—"

"I'll remind you. I'll be your reminder guy. I'm good like that."

"You are," Jon says. "You're good."

"Jon," Pete says softly. "They want to hear you. I swear. They don't want Brent, not like that, not anymore. They miss... They miss what he was to them, not what he became, and they need what you've given the band. You have to know that. You knew them when it was them and Brent. You know the difference."

Jon does.

"Just try."

"Okay."

"Really?" Pete asks.

"Really."

"Then send me it."

"You just want to get off."

"On you? Always."

"Sweet," Jon says. The fucked up thing is, it sort of is.

*


Pete calls right before FOB announces the tour break. "Joe has pneumonia."

"Pot fucks with your immune system," Jon says.

"Yeah." Pete sighs. "At least it wasn't me this time."

Jon holds back a laugh. It's not funny. Except that it sort of is. "Wanna come see me with all your shiny new free time?"

"I was hoping you'd ask."

"You could have, you know?"

"It's your band. In the cabin. I thought maybe that was presumptuous."

"Bryar would already be out here except for that part where My Chem has two guitarists. Spencer and he have been trying for two weeks straight to figure out a way to temporarily disable Toro without anyone noticing."

"I wouldn't think it would have taken the two of them that long to come up with something. They seem like crafty fellows."

"Oh, they are. Tragically for them, Gerard evidently watches out for his fellow band members somewhat stridently."

"So, you're saying that I could presume?"

"You could. I would even probably like it."

"You would."

"I very much would."

"You don't need to talk to the others?"

"I'll talk when we get off the phone."

"I would talk to Patrick before, if I thought about it. Which I probably wouldn't. But the point is—"

"I know what the point is, but you worry a lot about fucking things up. Particularly with him."

"There's reason for that."

"I guess."

"Jon—"

"We all fuck up sometimes. You know that, right? It's not special to you."

"I have a talent."

Jon sighs. "Okay, well. I'd like to see you, you want to come, we'll leave things at that for the moment."

"I'll bring a present."

Jon doesn't bother trying to explain that he doesn't have to.

*


Pete brings premium blend Gevalia, Godiva truffles, an as-of-yet-unreleased Xbox game that he got off a guy he knows through Clandestine, and Hemmy. He sets Hemmy down carefully next to Killer and all five of them watch with wide eyes to see what will happen. Killer takes control of the situation almost immediately, sniffing around Hemmy until she's satisfied. She then trots off. Hemmy follows obediently in her wake.

Ryan says, "That was like the definition of a metaphor."

"Jesus, Ryan," Spencer says. Brendon is clearly trying not to laugh. Jon loves his bandmates, but there are days when he seriously considers killing them. (Spencer would get a pass, except that he would defend Ryan to the death, and so, sadly, would have to go as well.)

Pete flips them all the finger and wanders off to the kitchen. Jon follows. Pete looks around for a bit before asking, "You do have a coffee maker, right?"

Jon flips the lazy susan that hides it even as he says, "It's three in the afternoon. You not sleep last night?"

Pete shrugs. "I was coming to see you. Had things to pack, plans to make."

Jon settles his hands lightly on Pete's hips. "Maybe a nap, instead of coffee?"

"Don't wanna spend all my time with you sleeping."

"I thought you liked sleeping with me."

"You know what I meant."

"An hour. Then we'll get up and catch up on all our fake news and figure out how to play the new game together."

Pete turns so that they're facing, close but not touching. "Mm, fake news."

"I know what you like." Jon smiles. It's a little bit of seduction. Mostly it's just happiness to see Pete.

"I've heard I'm easy."

"You must be talking to the wrong people."

Pete rolls his eyes. "The only unknown in this equation is who the hell it is you're talking to, Jon Walker."

"I like to make up my own mind."

Killer sprints into the kitchen, bringing along her erstwhile companion. Jon scoops her up. "Wanna take a nap?"

She makes a noise of contentedness, probably more in reaction to the fact that he's stroking her belly than to the question, but that, so far as Jon is concerned, is unimportant. Hemmy is looking up at Pete with something that is either jealousy or distress and Pete picks him up as well. "Coming, bud?"

Hemmy licks Pete's face. Pete says, "I know."

Jon takes Pete to his room and the four of them curl up in his bed. Just when Jon thinks Pete has already fallen asleep Pete says, "It sort of is like a metaphor."

"Only if you're Killer and I'm Hemmy."

"No—"

"Perspective is everything, Pete."

Pete says, "I wish I could see what you see," and falls asleep with his hands fisted in Jon's shirt.

*


They watch three hours worth of fake news, Pete kicks Jon's ass at the new game for an hour and a half straight and then Jon says, "Hey, you hungry?"

"For food?" Pete clarifies.

Jon shoves him a little, laughs. "Well, I am." He stands up and heads toward the kitchen. He's pretty sure Pete will follow.

Spencer's in the kitchen when he gets there. He says, "Okay, there's a few options here. You could make something for dinner, we could order for pick up, or we could let things go as they are and see which one of us Ryan decides to eat first."

"Too far out for delivery?" Pete asks. Spencer and Jon nod. They discovered this the hard way.

Jon tells Spencer, "I had lasagna plans anyway."

"When we win our first Grammy, I promise to make everyone aware that you were the only reason we didn't starve to death on the way."

"That's why I joined, man. You were all looking kinda peaky there. It was heartbreaking."

"I'm sure," Spencer says, and leaves them to themselves.

Jon grabs Pete by the shirt, pulls him in for a kiss. "Wanna help me feed my band?"

"I know how to boil water," Pete tells him.

"You're a pretty useful boyfriend."

"I could be more useful."

"A highly tempting offer, but useful isn't exactly what I'm looking for in a boyfriend." Jon lets Pete go. "There are large pots in the cabinet next to the one under the sink."

Pete sighs and goes to get the pan. Jon does most of the heavy lifting so far as the cooking goes, but he brings Pete along with him, giving him things to do, brushing against him at regular intervals despite both of them having more than enough space in the cabin's kitchen. When the lasagna is assembled and cooking, Jon sticks the dishes in the dishwasher while Pete cleans the counters. Jon takes advantage of their newly cleansed state to haul Pete onto the nearest stretch of counter, fit himself between Pete's legs, press his hands to the inside of Pete's thighs, kiss him slow and thorough.

He's still there when the timer goes off for the lasagna and Brendon appears asking, "Are we gonna eat now, are we, because I'm telling you, Walker, Ryan would so go for your ass first, it's more appetizing."

Pete laughs, mumbles into his ear, "It really is."

*


Pete gives Brendon a run for his money on Apples to Apples but in the end Brendon pulls ahead. Jon says, "He kinda lives with us," and overall, the whole thing seems to do a fair amount to repair relations between the two.

Ryan and Pete spend a few hours the next day being cryptic in the way that only two lyricists stuck in a room together can be. Spencer shares his bag of potato chips—the one he has purposely hidden from Brendon—with Jon and says, "You realize we're going to have to decode whatever shit they come up with?"

"Welcome to my love life," Jon tells him.

Spencer says, "My boyfriend is a drummer," like that means something.

Jon considers Hurley in addition to Bob and Spencer and realizes that it actually might, which is just freaky. "Mine's a bassist."

"Yeah," Spencer says, and they eat their chips in relative silence.

When Pete emerges he kisses Jon and says, "Hey, you're salty, where's the salt?"

"Right here," Jon says, and kisses him again.

"Fine," Pete says, giving in with ill-grace but not much resistance.

"Cooties," Brendon shouts before running off to who only knows where. Ryan evidently knows, because he follows.

Spencer asks, rhetorically, "Why does my boyfriend's band have two fucking guitarists?" Jon laughs against Pete's mouth.

Later, Jon takes Pete into the nearby town. It's a small place, what his mom would call a one gas station town. There's a place that makes homemade candies, salt-water taffy and marshmallow fudge and cinnamon apples. Jon buys an assortment and then keeps on driving, into the desert where he parks the car and they sit on the hood eating things that stick to their fingers and inside their mouths. There's nobody around for miles, so Jon doesn't even look around when Pete takes one of his hands, sucks the pointer finger into his mouth. He doesn't object when Pete continues his slow assault. He objects when Pete's hand drops casually to the button on Jon's jeans. "No."

A desperate Pete is one most likely to strike at exactly the right places, so Jon shouldn't be surprised when he says, "There's nobody out here but you and me, not unless you brought Urie along."

But Brendon isn't the problem, hasn't been the problem for a while now, and Jon couldn't tell anyone—least of all himself—when that changed, only it did. The problem is, "The way you act, there's nobody but me out here."

"What the fuck, Jon? What the fuck does that mean?"

Jon makes himself take his time, makes himself think despite the frantic thrum of his heart. "You see me, now. You see me, and that's better. But in the same way that all you wanted was something for you to take away at first, now all you want is something for me to take away. You still don't believe there can be any us, not even in that act, and I don't want that until there is us. I don't want it. At all."

"Fucking fixers," Pete screams and hops off the hood, stomps away, kicking up sand and dirt with every step. Jon waits until he can barely see him to follow him with the car. When he catches up to him, Pete's walk has slowed and he's got his arms curled up over his stomach. Jon opens the passenger side door and, when Pete gets in, hands him a bottle of water. Pete swallows half of it in one go.

Jon says, "I'm sorry I can't ask for less."

Pete says, "I don't have more."

"You do. You do. You just don't see it."

"And you do?"

"I don't even have to look."

*


Jon doesn't find out from a tabloid, which is a plus. He doesn't find out from Pete, either, which is a minus. He finds out from Mikey Way, and Jon can't, for the life of him, figure out which column that weighs in on.

He says, "Okay. I should have seen this coming." And he did see it coming, he saw it coming with some gorgeous, easy, long-legged girl, some rising diva, someone available and distracting and not in need of much from the person on the other end. He didn't see it coming in the form of Janae, who is not casual and not about a lack of attachment and Jon says, "Mikey, can you hold on for a second?"

"Yeah. I'm here."

Jon sets the phone down and swears for a minute straight, every single word something his mother would have fucking bleached out his mouth over if she ever heard. He picks up the phone. "Okay. Sorry about that."

"Did you guys have a fight? Because sometimes he fights dirty."

"No. No. No fight. I just. Fucked up. And I knew it, but when we said goodbye—" Jon thinks back, remembers the way Pete still slept with him that night, pressed to him, quiet through the whole of the night. And maybe that should have been a tell in and of itself, that he never once whimpered or murmured or screamed. But in the morning he drank the coffee he'd brought, the coffee Jon brewed and brought to him to wake him up for the flight, and he kissed Jon and even smiled—and Jon knows it was real, he has learned to tell the difference even when the shades are subtle, soft—and Jon asked, "I'll come see you, when you guys are back on the road?"

Pete nodded. "Yeah. Come see me."

So yeah, Jon knew he had screwed up, but he also knew he wasn't wrong and sometimes there was only so much a guy could do. It meant waiting Pete out, hoping he wouldn't do something to set progress back. Still, Jon could have handled a small misstep. This is... This is not small. "Janae?" he asks. "You're sure?"

"I knew I should have made him tell you."

"No, no. I need—" some time, is the end of that sentence, but he doesn't want to say that to Mikey, doesn't want it interpreted when he doesn't even know what it means. "This was better. I appreciate it."

"Jon, can I— As someone who dated him? And I know I wasn't successful, but I was kinda meant for someone else, but I don't think you are, so do you mind?"

"Please," Jon says, because he'll listen to anything, anything that might salvage the situation at this point.

"The closer he is to something, the more stubbornly he rages against it. Because once a thing is real, once it's been instituted as possible?"

Jon sighs. "Then he has to face the equal possibility of failure. Yeah."

"He doesn't know how to comprehend success." Mikey sounds a bit apologetic.

Jon says, "You're a winner of a friend, Mikey Way. He got lucky with you."

"He's gonna be lucky with you, Jon. Just— He goes back to her because she'll never be anything more than that thing he can't have, you know?"

"I'm starting to."

Mikey hesitates a second. "You won't give up?"

Jon should. But he's so, so close.

*


Jon goes to Pete because Pete has told him to come. He has told him to come before Janae and he has told him to come by calling Mikey, having Mikey call Jon. Jon goes to Pete because somewhere along the way, the other option has become untenable. Jon has told himself on numerous occasions over the last two weeks that he is a fool. Fool or not, Jon goes to Pete because he's had time, and he's as ready as he's ever going to be.

Jon tells Patrick he's coming. He asks him, "Um, the Janae thing. I'm not gonna accidentally run into her, right?"

"She finished things up by throwing crockery at his head a week before he called Mikey. Pete didn't mean for that one to last."

Because he wants his suspicions confirmed, Jon asks, "What did he mean by it?"

"He was just pissed at you, man. Really, really pissed to do Janae, but pissed."

"Did he say—"

"Says you think he's stupid, a child. A stupid child."

"Patrick—"

"I don't think you think that. I'm just quoting. And now that the initial snit has passed, I'm pretty sure he's the one feeling like a stupid child."

John sighs. Patrick says, "I'm glad you're coming," and that's something. Between Patrick and Mikey, it's almost enough confidence for Jon to go on. Ryan provides a goodly dose of the rest by simply seeing Jon on the plane, hugging him before lift-off. Jon has to find the last parts for himself. By the time the plane touches down, he's almost there.

He calls Patrick, who gives him Pete's hotel room number. Jon knocks on the door. Pete answers and Jon pre-empts anything he's going to say with, "I should have talked about it more with you, I should have listened. I know you're in this. I just get worried about how you see 'this'."

Pete asks, "What are you doing here?"

"Apologizing for making you feel stupid and childlike, which I have been told you did. I don't want to do that to you. I'm sorry."

"Jon—"

Jon waits. Pete shakes his head. "You have to go. I'll do it again and again if you stay. You know I will."

"I don't," Jon tells him.

"You do."

"No, you think you know it and so you think I must know it, but what I know is what I said, that you're in this. What I know is that you're sending me away because you're afraid to not be in this, so it would be better just to get it over with, to have this fuck up be The Fuck Up that you think I'm waiting for. Only I'm not waiting. You are."

"I did it to hurt you," Pete says.

"I know that, too."

Pete's breathing breaks at that acknowledgment, a cracking sound coming off his lips. "Then what— How am I—"

"May I come in?" Jon asks. Pete stands still for a few minutes before registering the question, letting him in.

"Did you believe me when I said I was sorry?"

There's no hesitation on Pete's part, not a blink, not anything. "Yes."

"I would too, if you said it."

"I wouldn't believe me."

"What would you believe, Pete?"

"You won't yell?"

"No," Jon shakes his head. He doesn't apologize. Pete goes to his bag and digs through it for several moments on end. He pulls out of it a belt. A studded belt. Jon swallows bile. Hell, no. "I'm gonna be right back. Do you believe me?"

Cautiously, Pete nods his head.

"Okay, let me in when I knock."

Jon goes to Patrick's room. Patrick says, "That bad already?"

Jon asks, "Do you trust me not to hurt him?"

Patrick squints, "Um?"

"Physically. Do you trust me not to hurt him physically?"

Slowly, Patrick asks, "Jesus, what does he want?"

Jon shakes his head. "Just. Do you have a belt? Leather but unadorned?"

Patrick stands stock still for a second. When he says, "Pete," it's all but a moan. He tells Jon, "You don't have to."

"I want him," Jon says, and it's a lie, it's the worst lie he has ever told, because this is something so very different from want.

Patrick seems to follow. "Lemme—" He gestures meaninglessly and wanders toward his bag. He brings back the requested item, closing one hand over Jon's just a bit tighter than necessary in the transmission process.

Jon goes back. He knocks on Pete's door.

*


Pete opens the door. His eyes stray immediately to Jon's hand and he asks, "Patrick?" his cheeks flushing with shame.

Jon pushes him inside a little, just enough that he can get in too, close the door behind him. "Patrick loves you," he says, because that's something he can say.

Pete says, "I know," and sounds awed, confused, worried. Jon wants to touch him, to shake him a little, just a little, get him to listen, hold him. None of that is what Pete needs just now.

Jon says, "Take your clothes off." His voice is so even he doesn't recognize it. He wonders if Pete does. Pete follows the order, tossing everything aside, messy and crumpled. Jon says, "All right. I want you over the back of the couch."

Pete folds himself over it. He's so unutterably beautiful, whole and unmarked. Jon takes a moment, takes a breath, allows himself that. Then he sends leather flying. It hits Pete's ass, curls over the side, leaves a swath of red. Pete doesn't move, doesn't jerk, stays silent.

"What's this for?" Jon asks quietly, letting go another smack.

"Because I asked." Pete learned that lesson.

"Very good." A pause. Another. "What else?"

"I—"

Jon gets three in while Pete is thinking, his breathing becoming more frantic. Jon moves to his thighs, upping the pain quotient a bit, but doesn't ask again. Pete hasn't forgotten the question, he isn't being recalcitrant. He's considering.

"Because I went to her, instead of you. I could have gone to you."

A quick volley of three. "I wish you had, but that was your choice as one part of this relationship, and I won't make those choices for you, nor will I punish you for making them. What else?" Another two. Pete moans. Jon moves back up to his ass. Thinks, come on, Pete.

"Because I called Mikey first."

One. "You called a friend to help, that was also a decision you made as an adult. And Mikey's a good friend, and he helped." One, two, three. Slow this time, not as hard. Pete shifts, sniffles a bit.

"What else?"

"I— I didn't trust you. You told me to wait but I thought you meant— I thought you were playing with me and I didn't trust you."

A hard one. "You have the right not to trust me. I wish you did. I try to make myself trustworthy, but that doesn't mean you're always able, and I understand that. I know other people with trust issues, Pete Wentz." A quick two. "What else?"

Jon gets in a slow, almost lazy four before Pete sobs a tired, "I don't know, Jon. I don't. I don't. I'm sorry. I just don't."

One more, aimed at the line bisecting Pete's ass from his legs, tender and as-of-yet unmarked. Pete howls. When he knows Pete will hear, Jon says, "Because you needed it."

Jon drops the belt. He pulls Pete up from the couch, careful not to come into contact with any of the newly-formed welts. Pete is crying silently, his chest and back shaking with it, everything else almost eerily still. Jon herds him to the bed and lays him face down. Jon stretches out on his side next to him, threading Pete's fingers into his own, kissing at his temple. He says, "I'm gonna go get some cold towels, I'll be right back."

He runs the water as cold as he can in the bathroom, wets down and rings out every washcloth available. He lays the washcloths over Pete's inflamed skin, taking some comfort in Pete's sigh of relief amongst the sobs. Jon waits, tucked in next to him, as Pete cries himself out, as his body gives in to shaking that is partly the cold of the cloths hitting his system, partly exhaustion. Jon throws the cloths to the floor, maneuvers Pete to get him under the covers. Pete makes a small sound in his throat. Jon says, "I know, sweetheart, but I don't want you getting cold."

Jon climbs under the covers as well, puts an arm over Pete's shoulders. Pete stops shivering.

*


Pete sleeps for a little over two hours straight without so much as shifting. Jon drifts in and out, but he's more in than out. He traces patterns on Pete's back, enjoying the privilege of gentle touch and considering his next move. When Pete opens his eyes, settling them on Jon, Jon asks, "You hungry?"

Pete thinks about the question. "Maybe a little."

Jon picks up the phone and orders them an onion pizza with extra cheese, cheesy breadsticks and root beer. Pete says, "I'm a really bad vegan." He sounds ashamed.

"Cows need to be milked, sweetheart. And I eat steak and you don't seem to think that makes me a bad person."

"It's just— It's that I made the decision, you know? And now I cheat all the time."

"You like milk products, Pete. The majority of the American populace does. It's not a crime, and it doesn't say anything about the other decisions you make."

"I like sex, too. I really do."

"I know. And you were trying to tell me that that was part of being in this for you, and I ignored you. That was cruel of me."

"You're not cruel."

"Not intentionally, I hope."

"You're not," Pete says decisively.

"You got the part, though, where this wasn't all your fault. Right?"

Pete is quiet.

"Pete?"

"I know. I just don't know."

Jon kisses his back. "That's fair."

"Stupid," Pete corrects him.

"Fair," Jon reiterates.

There's a knock on the door. Jon says, "You stay. Exactly where you are."

He goes to get the pizza and when he comes back, Pete is still lying on his stomach, his eyes closed. Jon sneaks a hand under the covers, runs it over Pete's spine. "Cooperate with me, all right?"

Pete lets Jon move him as he will, propping Pete on his side so that he's supported but the least amount of damaged skin is coming into contact with another surface. Then Jon grabs a piece of pizza. Pete says, "This is gonna be kinda awkward— Oh."

Jon feeds the pizza directly to him. Alternating bites with Pete. Pete says, "I really do love cheese."

"Yup. Whoever thought to eat extremely curdled milk was pretty much a genius."

"No wonder so many geniuses die young."

Jon laughs. "See, it was only natural that you were going to be a handful."

Pete flushes and uses the excuse of chewing to keep from answering. When he does, he says, "There's more to cheese than curdled milk, I'm pretty sure."

Jon honestly has no clue.

*


It's nearly one in the morning when Jon says, "I want to rub your back. I like touching you, if that's okay."

Pete closes his eyes. "Jon, you can't— Every time you start and then stop—

"Give me a chance, here, Pete. Trust me to do something other than hurt you."

"I needed that," Pete says defensively.

"I know," Jon says, his tone free of judgment. "I need this."

Pete waits a moment before giving a quick, decisive nod. Both Jon and Pete keep hand lotion on them, it would be idiotic for a bassist to do otherwise with the wear and tear on his hands. Jon digs his out of his bag and warms some in his hands. At first the massage is less of a massage than Jon fulfilling a pure, selfish need to have his hands on Pete's skin, to touch in a way that will heal. And Jon knows, he knows the other stuff was healing too. This is his way of healing. He thinks he's earned it, a little bit.

Pete warms under his touch, makes small, contented noises. Jon leans down to kiss at Pete's shoulder, down the line of his arm, over his elbow. He gets off the bed and discards his clothing, Pete's eyes on him the whole time. It's impossible not to get hard under that gaze, intense and interested and just the tiniest bit terrified. Jon will take care of the last, he will.

He climbs back onto the bed, settling on his back. He closes his hand around one of Pete's wrists and pulls lightly, "This way, okay?"

Pete helps Jon pull him atop himself so that their cocks nestle together. Pete is hard, too. Jon asks, "You like me touching you, huh?"

"Jon," Pete says, "Jon."

"Mm." Jon moves his hips a bit in a lazy rotation and then shifts his face just slightly so that he can kiss Pete. Pete opens to him without qualms, his mouth soft and ready and lush. Jon runs one finger over the still heated, swollen skin of Pete's ass. Pete gasps into the kiss. Jon backs off enough to ask, "Too much?"

"Just enough," Pete tells him, and reclaims Jon's mouth. Jon thrusts up against Pete again, waiting, waiting until the pleasure of the movement takes tight hold and then drifting his fingers over the injured area. The slight pain of it always drives Pete into Jon and Jon thinks it might be too much for him, even if it isn't for Pete. Jon wraps one arm tightly around Pete's waist, holding them as closely to each other as he can manage. The thrusts become more abbreviated out of necessity, but there isn't an inch of skin that isn't somehow in contact with Pete's and that was exactly what Jon was going for, exactly what he needs.

Pete says, "Jon, I'm going to—"

"Come, sweetheart."

Pete says, "Just. Waited. So long."

Jon really does know the feeling. "I'm almost there, I'll be right there," he promises. Pete lets go even as his hands find Jon's shoulders, his fingers clamp down. Jon revels in being made anchor, sinks further into the bed as he lets himself float, lets the pleasure come.

When he can think in coherent thoughts—if not full ones—Jon thinks, "Pete. Kissing. Neck. Mine." It's mostly coherent. He knows what it means. "Pete," he says, and it doesn't mean a damn thing except, "keep being you, keep doing this, keep me, keep." Pete bites him, not hard, and Jon thinks, "Yes, yes."

As thoughts go, it's the most coherent one he's had in some time.

*


When Pete wakes up Jon is still asleep. Pete considers waking him, wants to be with him, but Jon is breathing deeply, and the lines around his eyes are a bit sharp for comfort. Pete knows he isn't entirely blame free in that. It's funny to realize that Jon wouldn't want him to take all of that blame. It's funny to care. Pete takes a lukewarm shower, lets the water soothe some of the ache from the beating. He gets dressed in loose clothing and pads over to Patrick's room. When Patrick answers the door, Pete holds out the belt. Patrick says, "Hey, come on in."

To the Sidekick that he has tucked between his shoulder and his ear he says, "Sarah, sweetie—" but Pete swipes the Sidekick before he can finish the thought.

"Hi pretty Canadian violin girl."

Sarah laughs. "Hello irrepressible American bassist boy."

"I need to steal Patrick for a bit. It's not his fault that he's a really good friend, and you should forgive him the failing."

"Haven't found one yet that I couldn't."

"Good. Hemmy likes you."

"The same to him, I'm sure."

Pete hands the Sidekick back to Patrick who says, "My friends are losers." Whatever Sarah says, it makes Patrick smile. Pete really does like Sarah.

"I'll call you back in a bit," Patrick tells her. "Yeah, I miss you too."

Patrick keys off the Sidekick and tosses it on the bed. "Hey."

"She's a good one."

"Yeah, we both seem to be doing well in that department."

Pete holds out the belt again. Patrick takes it this time. "You okay? I mean, you look good, but you can be deceiving like that."

"Not to you."

"Me too, sometimes."

"I don't mean to."

"I know." Patrick smiles. "I know that."

Pete looks at the belt in Patrick's hands. He says, "I gave him another one. I gave him that one, the black one I like."

"The one with the metal?" Patrick asks softly.

Pete nods. "He went and got that. I didn't want you to know."

Patrick says, "Yeah, uh. I sort of—"

Pete waits. Finally he asks, "Sort of?"

"Last time, when he, when he did that, I called him."

Pete tries to understand that sentence. "But I didn't tell you."

"You were hurt, Pete. I pay attention, you know."

"I wasn't— Okay, a little sore, but I wasn't hurt, not where it counted. He fixed that part."

"I know, but I needed to hear where he was."

"So he knew you knew?"

Patrick nods. "He knew."

"Oh."

"I don't think he was keeping it from you. I just think he figured it was my thing to tell."

Pete shakes his head. "More just, if he knew you knew, there was no risk in asking you for the belt."

"There was risk, that was escalation, Pete. Although, luckily he had some appropriate notion of escalation. Jesus fuck, Pete."

Pete makes a face. "I meant, there was no risk of you thinking I was wrong in the head."

"I think that as a matter of course."

"You know what I mean."

"And you know what I mean."

Pete sticks his tongue out.

"You're all kinds of mature today."

"He wants me," Pete says, and it's kind of a non-sequitur, only not, and Patrick will know that.

"That's part of it, yeah."

Pete gives him a wounded look. "I'm not jinxing your thing with Sarah over here."

Patrick says, "Then I wouldn't have any reason to jinx yours with Jon, would I?"

*


When he returns, Jon is awake and watching the door. Pete closes it behind him, stands with his back to it. "I went to give Patrick his belt back."

Jon nods. "I would have, later."

"I... That was my part."

"Feel better?"

Pete smiles. "Parts of me."

Jon says, "Come back here."

Pete doesn't hesitate. Jon is still under the covers, warm and soft and welcoming. Pete selfishly hoards the welcome. Jon slips a hand in Pete's pants, puts it to Pete's ass lightly before massaging just deeply enough to elicit a moan of discomfort. Pete asks, "Hey, what was that for?"

For once, he thinks he's been pretty good.

"Maybe next time, you could leave a note?"

Oh. "You woke up and found me gone."

"Yes," Jon says, and kisses Pete with the aid of his whole body. Pete has kissed a lot of people, but never anyone who could make it the experience Jon creates. Pete dissolves into it and there's really not much left of his brain by the time Jon says, "Note."

Pete would probably agree to genocide if Jon asked at that moment. "Note," he agrees.

"You're such a good boyfriend," Jon tells him before licking a path straight down Pete's sternum—Pete hasn't even noticed Jon riding his shirt up—yanking down his pants and sucking Pete right in, one long hard moment of lips and tongue and suction. Pete tries to find his tongue. He has somehow misplaced it. Very irresponsible of him. His hands find Jon's hair and okay, that's something. He pets at it. Good boyfriend, good. Jon got the wrong one of them with that assessment.

Jon laughs around Pete's cock and Pete misplaces his brain. He can't form phonemes, let alone actual words. He's lucky breathing is instinctual. At least, he hopes it is. Jon does something with his tongue, a twirl, a lick, an act of divinity and grace, Pete isn't sure; it doesn't matter. Pete is going to die, die here, in a hotel bed, and Jon is going to have to explain to Patrick—who liked him so much just an hour ago—that he accidentally killed their bassist and lyricist and then Fall Out Boy will have to invoke the Piratical Code and take Jon and Ryan as rightful spoils to fill in the missing gaps and the band just won't be the same, not at all. The thought of Jon playing Pete's part in "(After)life of the Party," flits through Pete's head and he comes so hard that if breathing was instinctual, it ceases to be so.

He comes around to Jon nibbling at his belly button. It's ticklish and Pete laughs, curling up around Jon's head, but Jon just keeps it up. Pete can't stop laughing.

*


Jon kisses Pete goodbye and says, "If you wanna see me again, this time, just call."

Pete bites at Jon's jaw, pulling back to say, "If I tell you, this time, listen to me."

Jon says, "You've got yourself a deal," and makes himself get on the plane.

Zack picks him up from the airport. He watches Jon from the corner of his eye as they walk to the car. "You look better."

Jon smiles at him and it doesn't take any effort. Zack smiles back. Brendon launches himself at Jon the minute he's in sight. Jon catches him mid-air and lets Brendon climb him the rest of the way. Brendon says, "We missed you, did you make your boyfriend stop being mean to you? Because Ryan and I came up with a plan, and by Ryan and I, I mean Spencer and I, but it sounds more respectable the other way—"

Spencer has arrived by this time, so Jon peels Brendon carefully off of himself and transfers him to Spencer. "Hi Brendon. Yes, Pete and I made up."

The look of relief on Spencer's face is a little painful. Jon maybe should have called. Ryan asks, "Really?" like a kid who was expecting a coal in his stocking and peered in to discover chocolate. Definitely should have called. "Yeah, Ry, really."

Ryan accepts the nickname, he even smiles for Jon. Jon says, "You guys coulda called. I would've picked up."

Spencer and Ryan look to the side. Brendon says, "We didn't want to interrupt possible nookie. Or whatever it is the two of you get up to."

"Way to make us sound like aliens," Jon says.

Brendon shrugs. "You do all the work for me."

Ryan is now facing wholly away, which is a sure give that he's laughing. Jon wishes Ryan would let him see. Brendon tugs Ryan a little toward him, murmurs, "Share," and Jon gets his wish. Jon looks at Brendon surreptitiously, but Brendon's concentrating on Ryan, or at least making a good show of concentrating on Ryan. Spencer asks softly, "If we'd called, that wouldn't have been—"

"You're my best friends, Spencer." They aren't, they're something more, bigger, better, but there's no word for what they are, and Jon can work with what he has.

"He's your boyfriend."

"What, if Ryan called while you were with Bob, you'd ignore it?"

Spencer looks mildly scandalized by the thought. Then, slowly, he says, "I wouldn't ignore your call, either."

"Yeah. That's all I'm saying." It's a lot.

When Jon looks over, Brendon's smiling at them.

*


Pete visits while they're still laying together the tracks, getting used to them, which might be the worst idea ever, because Pete often looks ready when listening to them rehearse and it makes it pretty hard for Jon to concentrate. Ryan finally says, "Seriously, Pete, could Fall Out Boy have an album without its bassist?"

Jon looks at the floor but Pete says, "Give us fifteen minutes," and wow, that's embarrassing, but at this point, Jon's pretty sure it's not going to take that long. They make for the bathroom and lock themselves in and Pete has Jon's pants down just far enough in a flash, has his hand wrapping around, pressing their cocks together. Jon grunts a bit and adds his hand to the mix. Pete says, "Your hands. Play."

"Yes," Jon says, because he's been to a Fall Out Boy concert, and all, but it's even more he thinks, even more when the music is still a secret, and oh, he's going to have to do this with Pete, going to have to watch him pull things together, watch him generate a world. It takes maybe four minutes, maybe. Jon's being pretty generous with them in that estimate. He doesn't think he should be judged too harshly. Pete is singing the song they were recording in his ear and Pete isn't a singer, not like Brendon, but Jon has long since learned how to hold on to himself while listening to Brendon. Pete sends him to places he's never seen, places he didn't know could exist.

When they are done, Jon reaches out with a shaky hand, grabs a couple of paper towels, wets them, cleans Pete and himself up. He asks, "Think you can behave yourself now?"

"I'm not the one thrusting my hips forward in an obscene and inappropriate manner. There are very probably laws against what you're doing in there."

"I happen to be doing my job." Jon doesn't think Pete is one to talk at all.

"Uh huh. Sure."

"Seriously, my band is on your label, it's in your best interest to actually let us get the album recorded."

"Well, certain best interests, anyway."

Jon smirks and turns to open the door. Pete says, "Jon."

Jon twists his head over his shoulder. "Pete."

"You've stopped holding back."

"You were right."

Pete is still for a second. Then he smiles, wide and soft and honest. Jon opens the door.

*


At Reading, Pete finds Jon's hotel room first, which is a total fluke, due largely to the fact that Jon is hesitant to leave Ryan to his own devices with Brendon, who is even more hyperactive than usual. Ryan's actually holding up pretty well, mostly staying out of Brendon's way so that nobody accidentally gets hurt. Spencer is off dealing with actual travel complications that have arisen, so Jon's the only one who can stick around and make sure Panic still has four members by they time they're scheduled to play. Also, Ryan has said, "You could go, you know," sounding like he sort of expects it of Jon, is resigned to this fact, and Jon knows if he does go, that will be the sound that rings in his ears. It's not passion inducing.

So Pete finds Jon's room, but Jon is not in Jon's room, he's in the connecting rooms of Ryan and Brendon. Pete's a smart boy, he finds Jon there, too. Jon kisses him hello, presses his forehead to Pete's, enjoys the way their grins mirror each other's. Pete looks over at where Brendon is hanging backwards off the couch, blood rushing to his face. Pete asks, "Nerves?"

Jon hasn't been sleeping well, the sudden, crushing silence of Brendon’s cessation of singing last year, the peripheral knowledge of his descent to the stage coming to Jon at night, when he has no choice but to allow himself to think about it. He can't imagine either Ryan or Brendon has been doing much better. Spencer, he knows, wouldn't have come back. Spencer who will fucking come at you from the back and cut you if you so much as look at what is his the wrong way simply would have turned the invitation down. But Brendon said, "Hell yes, we'll be doing that shit," and Ryan just stood at his back. Jon can't blame him, but sometimes he wishes Brendon didn't have so fucking much to prove to himself, let alone anyone else.

Ryan comes over, keeping his motions slow. He hugs Pete tight, and Pete hugs back. Jon watches, waits for the telltale twinge of "hands fucking off" but the hug is just a hug. Just a hello between friends, even friends with history. Jon glances at Brendon, who is watching, still upside down. He looks content to stay there. He says, "Hello."

Pete walks over and very deliberately reaches his hand out to tickle Brendon's stomach where his shirt has slipped down. Brendon shrieks and folds, sliding in a rather ungainly manner to the floor, where Pete just deepens the attack. Jon slides his gaze to Ryan who's biting his lower lip in a clear attempt not to laugh. Jon heads toward them, completely intent upon saving Brendon, but when he gets there, Pete looks up at him, eyes filled with happiness, and Brendon says, "Jon, Jon, you're my only hope," breathless and clearly having the time of his life and Jon does the only thing he can: he joins in.

*


The other guys come with him to Fall Out Boy's set, which Jon appreciates, because a show is good, but a show is better with other people who appreciate it. Pete sits them next to a girl with short blonde hair and her two friends, another woman with dark, curly hair and a man with deep-set eyes, holding Curly's hand. Jon knows he's seen them somewhere. It's Ryan who says, "You're Arcade Fire, right? I mean, part of it, anyway."

Curly holds out her hand, "I'm Regine. This is Win," she motions to the guy, who also holds out a hand. The blonde gives hers to Jon. "I'm Sarah. And you're Jon."

"Not that my fame never precedes me, but—" Jon stops. Goes back a few steps. "Sarah. Patrick's Sarah."

"At times," she says with a smile.

"Didn't put that together."

"I've noticed that Pete sometimes leaves out pertinent details." She says it fondly. Jon's pretty sure he would have been predisposed to like her in any case—he likes people, for the most part, particularly people who date his friends—but she's just won her case soundly.

Jon says, "Don't we all?"

She tilts her head then nods. "Yeah, probably true."

Brendon lands his chin on Jon's shoulder. "You play the violin," he says, dreamily, and Jon knows his conversational companion has been hijacked. He lets Brendon have her—ungentlemanly as that might be, she looks like a girl who can handle it--watching Ryan talk with Regine and Win, catching Spencer's eye at one point. Spencer smiles.

Fall Out Boy takes the stage and Jon couldn't pay attention to anything other than the way Pete slinks around that stage, the way he cuddles and cajoles his bass, the way he finds the music and throws it out to the crowd, couldn't if he tried. He has no interest in trying. At some point Ryan ends up beside him—Jon's not sure how—and says, "Do you even hear anything but him?"

Jon does, he hears everything, but he knows what Ryan is asking and it's not that, it's not about sound. "Not really." He asks, "Do you hear anything beyond Brendon?"

"Yes. But that's you and Spence."

Ryan has a point.

"You should give us up. Just for one show."

"Should I?"

"Yes," Jon says as Pete thrums his fingers over the strings, "Yes."

*


They go out for late night snacks afterward, all eleven of them. Sarah and Patrick both order massive ice cream sundaes. Jon puts a hand on Pete's thigh and squeezes under the table. "Not the only bad vegan," he says softly. Pete smiles down at his menu and orders chocolate cake with no flush of shame.

Jon hasn't been hungry since stepping off the plane, but he orders a side of "chips", just to have something to engage his hands with. When they come, Pete keeps watching him in what Jon knows he thinks is a stealth manner. Jon ends up eating the entire plate largely to keep him happy. He doesn't feel as much like throwing up as he thought he would.

Sarah lets Pete have all her cherries, Regine and Andy get involved in a serious conversation about Darfur that Brendon follows with wide and worried eyes, Win and Spencer talk about world-influenced percussive beats, Joe makes sculptures out of the silverware that seem to enrapture Ryan. All in all, it's the best night out Jon's had in some time. He shouldn't, but he watches Pete eat the damn cherries.

By the time they get back to the hotel, despite thinking of everything, everything that usually helps--up to and including old men having sex with dogs--Jon is ready to go, more than ready. They end up in Pete's room, mostly because they follow Patrick and Sarah long enough to say goodnight. Pete asks, "Problem?"

"No, no problem," Jon says, and kisses Pete so hard that it hurts, his lips crushing back into his teeth. It can't feel much better for Pete, but Pete just meets his force, goes with it. Jon crumbles to the ground. It's not a fold or a slide or anything graceful, he just goes down, the words, "Wanted to— Whole time—" and then he's quiet, occupied with sucking. Pete buries his hands in Jon's hair, not pulling but holding tight, tight enough to hurt just a little. Jon likes the reminder that Pete's trying to keep him where he is.

It doesn't take very long. Pete is ready too, well beyond, the show and the rich molten chocolate of the cake building into the sort of arousal that only has one cure. Jon slips off of him, licks his lips in self-satisfaction. Pete says, "Yeah, yeah," but there's too much pleasure in it for there to be bite.

Pete does slide to his knees, does reveal Jon just a little bit slowly, does watch Jon even as he lowers his mouth onto him. Jon keeps his eyes on Pete's even though he can't last, not doing that, not watching Pete go up and down, not even slowly. Pete's not trying to draw it out, not going for torture, and so Jon doesn't try and hold on. He can go back to that later. For now, he just lets have Pete whatever he wants.

*


Jon wakes to the tightness in his chest that's been insistent the last four or five days. He hasn't, so far as he can tell, been dreaming. Except that he knows he probably has; there is nothing dream-like about the scene his head can't stop playing. He slips from the bed to get himself some ice, run some water in the kitchenette.

Pete pads in when Jon's on his second glass. Jon grimaces. "Didn't mean to wake you." The last thing Jon needs to be stealing from Pete is sleep.

Pete tilts his head. "Makes us even, then."

"I don't mind being woken by you."

Pete just looks at him. Jon smiles down at his glass. "Okay."

"It’s almost over," Pete says.

"I've got an hour count going in my head," Jon tells him honestly.

Pete nods. "If it were Patrick I'd have a stopwatch. For the seconds."

Jon knows. This is the part they both understand. Apropos of nothing, he says, "I left Spence alone."

Pete follows. "You can check on him first thing in the morning. He might be sleeping."

Given the time difference, he's probably on the phone with Bob. That's not something Jon wants to interrupt, either. "Yeah, no, you're right." He sets in on his third glass of water.

Pete comes over and stands behind him, slides his hands, palms flat, all the way up Jon's back, settling the warmth over his shoulder blades. He kisses the back of Jon's head. Jon drinks too fast, chokes on the water. Pete rubs at his back through the convulsions, stays quiet. Jon says, "Okay. O-kay."

Pete laughs softly. "Wanna try something?"

"Sure," Jon says, because he's not going to act like all of Pete's ideas are bad. That's for other people to do.

Pete brings a hand around to Jon's neck, caresses a bit. "You're so—"

Jon doesn't ask what he is. Whatever it is, Pete doesn't seem displeased. Pete asks, "Wanna fuck me?"

Trick question. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Just not at this moment. "I'd rather you took care of things."

Pete's fingers still. "I don't— That's not really—"

"Try for me? If you don't like it, I swear I'll never make you do it again."

"It's just, um."

Jon waits. If Pete can come up with a good reason for not doing things this way, he'll listen. He's learned to listen. Finally, all Pete asks is, "That's what you want?"

In this moment, it is exactly what Jon wants, barring a few other, impossible things. "Yes."

"I can do that for you," Pete says, "for you."

Only me. Jon smiles, aware that Pete can't see it.

*


Pete asks, "Um, bed?"

"That sound good?"

Pete rests his cheek against Jon's back for a second. Then he decides, "Couch."

Jon follows him. Pete leaves him standing in front of the couch for a second, swiping condoms and lube from the nightstand. When he returns, he sits, pulling Jon onto his lap, bringing Jon's mouth to his, saying, "Hi," before kissing him. Jon lets himself feel the way Pete's arm is at his back, holding him close, holding him into the kiss, as if Jon might choose this moment to go somewhere. He pours himself into the kiss, because fear and worry and stress wait outside the circle of Pete's arms, but here, mouth to mouth, it is just the two of them, and they are made up of other, better things.

Pete tugs at Jon's hips a bit to get him to lift up so that Pete can slide Jon's boxers from him. Once they've worked together to accomplish this, Jon goes back to kissing Pete. They deserve a reward for their teamwork. He never even hears the popping of the cap on the lube, but Pete must pour some onto his hand, must rub it in a bit, because his palm is slick and warm over Jon's cock. Jon bites Pete's lower lip. There will be marks he'll have to explain away. Jon can't wait to hear what he says. Lies are always more exciting when a person knows the truth. Pete pulls his lip from Jon's teeth to smile. "Behave."

"Why?" Jon asks.

"Because I said so."

Jon laughs, the laughter catching when Pete squeezes. It's almost too much of a squeeze, almost pain, only Pete knows exactly when to stop. That's a little surprising. "Listening?" Pete asks.

"Always," Jon tells him. He tries, at least.

Pete relaxes his grip but doesn't let go. "Over the arm of the sofa."

Jon's cock twitches at the thought of Pete behind him, Pete driving in. He makes himself breathe. Then he follows instructions. Pete's hands are light, unsure on his back, but his teeth sink in to the left cheek of Jon's ass with determination. Jon yelps. Pete laughs. "Payback's a bitch." The right cheek does not escape Pete's vengeance.

Pete inserts a finger, wet and a little cold, like he forgot the middle step but that's okay, because Jon likes that feeling any way it comes, likes the first push of invasion. "Yeah, yeah."

A second finger and Pete finds Jon's prostate, pokes at it a bit insistently. Jon thinks, "Just like that." He asks, "Why?"

Which, okay, it probably makes sense that Pete asks, "Huh?" in response to that.

"Why don't you do this?" Jon wants to know. Pete's fingers are so nice. His cock has to be better.

"Um." Pete adds a third finger. "I just always— Nobody ever asked."

Jon would make the point that perhaps Pete should have asked, except that Pete is distracting him with the brilliance that is his cock. It's not the best part about him, but Jon fucking loves it all the same. Loves it. "Pete," Jon says.

"Jesus," Pete breathes. Jon laughs, breathless and pleased and not as knowing as he thought he would be.

"Jon."

"Would you— Move, sweetheart, just a bit, all right?" Because if Pete doesn't Jon is going to have to take care of things himself, and Pete said he would. Pete said he would, so he will. Pete moves. Pete moves and Jon's eyes roll into the back of his head at the utter glide of the two of them together, the heat and fit and closeness of it all. "Exactly," Jon moans, his tongue caressing each consonant. Pete licks at his back and Jon digs his hands into the couch, holding on with everything he's got. Pete pulls back a little, tugs at Jon's hips, bringing Jon onto him, slipping his hand down, back around Jon's cock.

Jon tries to expand in every direction, push himself into as much Pete's touch as he can. The effort brings him off, over Pete's hand, over the couch. Pete is muttering, "So good, so good, so fucking good," when he devolves into nothing but breath, nothing but skin and sound and pleasure. Jon lets every part of him in.

*


They wake up in bed the next morning, and Jon takes a couple of minutes to remember how they got there. Pete must have taken care of it. He knows he didn't. He remembers Pete cleaning them up, the water warm and the towel soft and Pete's touch too light, not enough. Jon had complained. Pete had given him a hickey. Jon touches Pete now, his hand curling around the erection that Pete hasn't quite woken to, not just yet. Jon takes it slow, waits for Pete to wake to the sensation of everything being taken care of. Pete awakens with the word, "Jon," on his lips and Jon nearly comes himself. Patience. He keeps things slow, nearly until Pete has to ask, has say, "please," but not quite.

Sated, Pete rolls onto Jon with a small moan, presses his thigh in between Jon's legs, against his cock and begins rubbing. "Sleep better?"

Jon takes a breath. Then another. "Sleep?"

Pete snorts, rubs more deeply. "I'll ask again later."

Jon would pay attention, really he would, except that Pete's thigh is warm and heavy and fucking perfect against his cock, so Pete's just going to have to wait for coherence. When Jon has finished, Pete lays on him and asks, "Seriously, how'd you sleep?"

"Better. Quieter." Pete's question reminds Jon that there are things they have to talk about. He tells him, "I really hope you enjoyed last night, because that part where I said I'd never ask you for it again if you didn't? I might have been lying."

"I wouldn't worry about it too much," Pete tells him.

"Oh, good." Jon grins. It fades a little as he asks, "Nobody? I mean, nobody ever— Not even Mikey?"

"Mikey didn't like to ask for things," Pete says softly. Jon realizes that this is a bit inimical to Mikey Way's personality, but he would have thought Mikey would have noticed that Pete needs to be asked, sometimes. That he only transgresses when the boundaries don't seem all that significant, or when they are all too significant.

"And nobody else—"

"I have a nice ass," Pete tells Jon, as if Jon might have missed this fact.

"You have a really fucking nice cock," Jon points out.

Pete shrugs. "It's kinda funny looking."

"No," Jon disagrees, "it's really not."

Pete doesn't say anything.

"Why didn't you ask? I mean, sometimes you know how."

"Mostly with you. That's sort of new."

"Oh."

Pete says, "I tried, once, but it was the wrong thing, the wrong thing to ask and just-- Stupid."

Jon hisses, "Not. Stupid," his arms coming up over and around Pete's back. Pete huddles into the hold. Jon says, "I'm glad you'd never done it. I'm glad that's mine and all mine and only ever going to be mine."

"Possessive much?"

Yes, and Jon's surprised by that, because while he's always known he was protective, the urge to kill anything that would take Spencer or Brendon or Ryan or Pete is a recent development, and until now, he'd thought it was a band thing. “If you had a Pete Wentz, you'd be possessive, too."

"I have him, and I'm not sure I am." Pete has a point.

"Well, then, someone has to be. Might as well be me."

"Definitely. Definitely you."

*


Arcade Fire goes on slightly later than Panic so one half of Fall Out Boy camps out behind the stage as Saturday wears on. Jon is really, really glad Panic is on Pete's label, otherwise it would probably look a little suspicious. Brendon is completely, wholly spastic, which leaves Ryan doing his best to see if he can get Brendon to contain the worst of it until they're on stage, until he can just let go. Spencer and Jon are both watching. For the most part Ryan has let Brendon do whatever the hell he feels like since the whole combined person fixing effort, but there's always a chance that Brendon will push something just a step further than Ryan knows how to go. Finally, Ryan mutters, "Fuck," snaps, "Brendon," and turns to march toward the bathroom. Brendon runs after him. Jon reaches out and rubs at the back of Spencer's neck.

"It would be so much easier if I could just be proud of him and be done with it." Spencer says softly. Pete's eyes are concerned, but he keeps them on Jon and Spencer, doesn't let them stray to where Ryan and Brendon have disappeared.

"He's gonna do fine," Jon says, infusing more surety than he feels into the statement. Confidence in Ryan he has in spades. Surety is something else. It's a long hour and a half of watching other bands warm up, chat, laugh. Pete is careful not to touch Jon, which is smart, because Jon isn't sure he could keep from wrapping him up, protecting what he can, what is his to protect.

When Ryan and Brendon resurface, Brendon's hands are still. They haven't been up until now. Nothing has been. Ryan looks as surprised at himself as Jon feels. It's a little bit of a betrayal, since Spencer just looks so fucking proud, so awed, but Jon hasn't known Ryan as long, so he's allowed. Brendon asks, "How long?" but he's smiling as he asks.

Pete looks at his Sidekick. "Less than an hour."

"Today is fucking ours," Spencer tells Brendon, low and intent.

"And then some," Ryan agrees.

"Let's leave a little for Arcade," Jon says generously.

"But only because I like Patrick," Brendon nods.

Pete laughs. Jon looks at him.

"You match when you smile," Brendon says. Jon's smile gets just a touch wider.

*


Pete finally manages to get to Panic after they've done all the post-show interviews and have convened in Jon's hotel room. He says, "That's it. As your label-owner I'm putting my foot down. No more Reading for you."

Spencer narrows his eyes, which makes Pete's stomach hurt a little, and Brendon says, "Dude, did you see how many people were watching us?" Ryan takes a second, looks at Jon and says, "Yeah, okay, we'll see," collects the other two and goes off with them.

Jon says, "Pete, there isn't even a bruise."

Pete frowns. "You got hit in the forehead with a bottle full of water. There's a bruise. It might not be visible, but there's a bruise."

"I'm just saying, I was more than able to stay on my feet." Jon sounds kind of elated about that. "And none of them got so much as grazed."

"Spencer had to stand at his fucking kit at one point."

"Really?" Jon asks.

"Yes," Pete stresses, thinking he might be making headway.

"Holy shit, I didn't even hear him go off beat."

"He didn't."

"Spencer Smith is my fucking hero."

Wait, no, clearly this is not going the way Pete has intended it to go. "Jon."

"Pete." Jon laughs, leans up a little and tugs Pete down to where he can kiss him. "I'm fine, stop worrying."

Pete glares at Jon. "Why? You get to worry all the time."

Jon leans back, looks at Pete consideringly. "Is that what this is about? You want to fuss?"

Pete rolls his eyes. "It's not fussing, Jon Walker, if someone on my label—"

Jon kisses him. "I'm sorry, you were saying?"

"If my boyfriend—"

"Better."

"Gets hit in the fucking face with a flying projectile and I want to make sure he's not brain-damaged, which, clearly, is not the case in this instance."

Jon laughs again. Pete says, "Oh—"

"No, no, sorry, it's just—" Jon goes in for some more kissing. "Sweet. It's sweet, sweetheart."

"I hate you," Pete informs him.

"As well you should," Jon agrees. "But when you get over that, you wanna, erm, fuss over me?"

Pete's waited a while for engraved invitations. He's not going to start turning them down now. "If you have a concussion and I accidentally kill you—"

Jon is still laughing, even as his lips stop Pete's from forming the threat.

*


Pete sends him the article on fineline electro-cautery branding and Jon spends two days letting Brendon kick his ass at Guitar Hero until Spencer says, "Maybe you should call Mikey."

Jon looks over at Spencer who's pretending to pay attention to the latest sheet of music Ryan's given him. "Mikey?"

"Sometimes it seems like it's easier for you to talk the Pete stuff out with him." Spencer's voice is so neutral it almost sounds like white noise. It's a thought. A good one, even. Jon wishes he could tell Spencer, wishes he could give him this, but there are parts of Pete that aren't for consumption, not even by people who wouldn't abuse the offering.

He tries calling Mikey, tries and tries, but in the end he can never get his fingers to hit the right button. Finally he gives up and calls Patrick. Patrick picks up with, "Bizarrely, I was getting pretty close to calling you."

Patrick doesn't sound panicked, though, so Jon just asks, "He okay?"

"Considering taking Joe up on his offers to share the weed, which he only does when he's stressed the hell out."

Jon wishes there was someone in his band who would offer him weed. "I told him I needed to think about something."

"What kind of something?"

Jon hasn't exactly thought about what to say in this moment, about how much context to give, if any at all. Patrick has a lot of context in general, but this is sort of outside of even that, Jon thinks.

"Jon?"

"Sorry, thinking."

"Doing a lot of that these days."

Jon smiles, says it before the vague ghost of humor can wear off, leave him frozen. "He wants to get a brand."

"Um." Patrick pauses. "Okay, maybe it's a stupid question, but we're talking the burning-a-design-into-your-skin type brand, right?"

If Jon were in Patrick's shoes, he'd probably be asking, too. "That type. And the thing is, I know it's his decision, I haven't any right to it, really, only he asked and it would be part of me that he'd be putting on his body."

"He asked though. That's pretty— Well. He asked."

Which means Jon has to answer. To say no is to be as censorious of Pete as the people Pete is always hearing in his head, as Pete himself. To say yes is to agree to let Pete let someone put fire to his body, to burn him so badly the scar will never heal.

"There aren't—" Patrick starts.

"Yes?" Jon prompts.

"There aren't that many ways a person can mark himself without pain. And if ink wasn't enough for Pete, I kinda doubt metal's gonna be either."

Jon—who had been considering the intense hotness that would be a guiche piercing on Pete—has to agree. "I think he wants to design it, to know exactly what it means. He can't do that with metal." No, when Pete knows what he wants, he knows, and that's the killer. Pete wants this, is asking and Jon is making him wait, making him feel like maybe he did something wrong when he actually did everything right. "Patrick?"

"Got yourself there?"

"Thanks."

"Uh huh."

Jon hangs up and dials Pete straight away before he loses his clarity of mind. Pete says, "It was just a thought."

"No, it wasn't."

"Not just, I guess."

"I was sort of looking forward to the guiche piercing I had dreamed up for you, but I can live with my disappointment."

Pete's silent for a minute.

"I mean it."

"I know. I was trying to figure out why the two had to be mutually exclusive."

"Oh," Jon breathes.

"You think that would be hot?"

"You standing still is hot," Jon points out.

"I'll keep it in mind."

So will Jon. He'll never be able to get it out of his mind.

"So I get my brand?"

"We do," Jon tells him, unaware until that second that this is how it has to work, how it has to be. "We get a brand. Same spot, same brand. Did you have an idea?"

"Jon—"

"Idea?"

"A bass note. I was going to have it be a bass note."

"I'd say that's just about perfect."

"You don't have to—"

"Neither do you."

"I want to," Pete reminds him.

"What's to say I don't?" Jon asks.

"You don't like pain?" Pete tries.

"No, but I love you."

Pete stutters for a second and then goes silent. He comes back with, "You're gonna use that to win every argument, aren't you?"

"Probably," Jon admits. He's not always noble.

"Shit."

*


The Skittle Brendon has just put into his mouth falls out. "You're going to what?"

Jon probably should have waited until he had finished chewing. Spencer and Ryan are silent, but Ryan has his hip pressed into Brendon's side. Brendon puts a hand at Ryan's back. Spencer has his hands held pretty tightly between his legs. Jon repeats, "I am going to get a brand."

There's silence this time, real silence, as Brendon doesn't even twist the knob on his candy machine for more Skittles. Spencer asks, "Where?"

"Left forearm."

"I meant where are you having the procedure done?"

"Oh. Tattoo parlor that specializes. I can show you online."

"Why?" Ryan asks, looking validly worried.

Jon isn't sure what he has to tell him will make it any better. "Pete and I decided we wanted them." And yeah, that's the abbreviated version of the story, but it doesn't make it not true. Oddly, this pronouncement seems to relieve Spencer, who releases his hands and works some of the tightness out of them. Brendon, however, says, "But. Ow."

"You weren't exactly thrilled while getting your tattoo," Jon says. Brendon was actually pretty good about it, but he'd been a little bit woozy afterward and had slept a lot that night.

"But people get tattoos," Brendon says, enunciating each word.

"People get brands, too. That's why the service is available."

Brendon frowns. Spencer asks, "Is he gonna come here or you go there? Or are you getting it done separately?"

"We'll be out in LA in a month, he was gonna meet up with me. Maybe Patrick, too." Which, "maybe Patrick" means probably the whole band. That's okay, Jon doubts he's going to be able to get any of his guys to wait at home, either. Tellingly, Brendon relaxes a notch when he realizes Jon's not going to just disappear off and do this. Jon asks, "Ryan?" because he hasn't said much, and Ryan's generally a good barometer as to how Jon is doing with Pete.

"You decided."

Jon nods.

"But he asked." It's not a question. Ryan knows both of them too well.

"He asked," Jon says, which is slightly different than what Ryan said. "Not for me. For himself."

Ryan nods slowly. "That's pretty permanent. I mean, worse comes to worse, Spencer could always have laser surgery."

"You really think I'm ever going to want to erase him? And even if I did, it's a bass note. That's...more than just the two of us."

"We're all kind of monogamous and boring, huh?" Brendon asks.

Spencer nods. "Totally boring."

*


The parlor doesn't have a huge waiting area, so Brendon ends up sitting on Spencer's lap, Ryan on the floor at their feet. Andy takes the other chair and Joe and Patrick mill around looking at the possible designs. Pete takes the parlor's paperwork from Jon's hands, because they're making the shaking more obvious and Pete doesn't want the others seeing, even though he knows they won't judge. Softly he says, "You don't have to."

"I want to."

Pete nods. He remembers how he was before his first tattoo, and that was a considerably gentler initiation into the world of body modification than Jon's about to receive. Pete hopes it doesn't turn Jon off for life. Pete says, "We had this place sign non-disclosure agreements through Decay's representation."

Jon tilts his head. "We're getting them in publicly viewable spots. And I'm pretty sure we had planned on telling people we got them together. Hardcore bassist creed and all that."

"I'm pretty sure we don't plan on telling people how I held you while it was being done, how I whispered things in your ear to give you something other than the pain to think about." The thought alone makes Pete hard, which is embarrassing, but Jon knows him, knows him and doesn't judge.

"Hm, maybe not."

"You were going to hold me too, weren't you?" It has actually never occurred to Pete that Jon might not. Jon is always holding Pete up when he needs it.

"I was going to let you have my hand, even if you broke it. I didn't know we had forms. If I had known we had forms there could have been elaborate plans."

Pete raises an eyebrow. "I'll consider myself punished for not telling. Next time, next time you'll be the first to know. Right after legal."

"How'd legal take that?"

"Much the way they take everything involving me. We hired some stone-cold motherfuckers."

Jon laughs. Pete says, "I won't let it hurt any more than it has to."

Jon says, "I know you won't."

Pete's gaze catches to where Patrick has surreptitiously stopped perusing the art and focused in on them. Patrick smiles at him a little. Pete returns the smile quickly and tells Jon, "You'd better do the same."

Jon says, "You got yourself into this mess."

Pete looks straight at Jon. "Only mess I've never wanted to clean up."

*


Pete tells Jon, "You go first." He doesn't want Jon to have to watch before, have to build up any anxiety.

Jon frowns. "I won't have both arms to hold you with."

Pete only ever needs the slightest touch from Jon. "One will do."

"Pete—"

But Pete, who has no problem folding to Jon in just about any way imaginable knows now the exact ways in which he can be intractable, precisely how far he can bend Jon beneath his will. Pretty fucking far. He tries to be responsible about it. "You first."

The artist, despite being twice Pete's size and having tribal art burnt onto every inch of her body—including her scalp—has a kind smile, a patient look to her. Jon's clearly not the first nervous client she's ever had. There's a medical bed in the center of the room. Pete lays on his side and tucks Jon against him, the arm getting the work done laying flat on the surface. The artist says, "Bass notes, huh? I'm gonna assume from the non-disclosures that you guys are people I would know if I stopped listening to salsa and house for long enough to pay attention to anything else."

Jon says, "Maybe."

Salsa and house?

Jon asks, "What kinda house?" His voice is shaking. Pete would tighten his hold, but he wants Jon able to breath. Jon needs to be able to breath.

She touches the fire cutter to his skin. "I don't pay much attention to names."

Which is for the best, because Jon's not listening anyway, Pete knows. Pete whispers, "I watched a baseball game, Indians versus Blue Jays, I like the Blue Jays uniforms, and there was this one play where the outfielder caught the fly ball and threw it to second and then second guy to home, triple play, you know, and I thought you'd like that, all the action, but mostly that they just worked together, and it was so fluid, it was better than some songs. I saved that up to tell you now, but I'll tell you again later, when you can understand.

"I do things all the time mostly so that I can tell you about them, which is sort of stupid and I would feel codependent, except that I end up enjoying them, so maybe I should have broadened my world before meeting you, but I'm glad I didn't. I'm glad you brought me that." When Pete can't, absolutely can't come up with anything else to say, he sings, “We do it in the dark, with smiles on our faces…” By the time he finishes the song, salsa-and-house-girl is wrapping Jon's arm. Pete whispers, "Love you," because that's sort of important and he somehow forgot to say it.

Jon says, "Me too."

Pete figures that if he can say it now, it's probably true.

*


Pete doesn't like pain, it isn't something he seeks out with an eye toward a trade-off for pleasure. That said, Pete's not going to be making the argument that there aren't times when it doesn't get Pete the places he needs to go. Pete puts a chair next to the table and sits Jon in it, since he's looking a little pale. Pete asks, "Need me to go get one of yours?"

Jon shakes his head. Pete watches him for a moment and when he's satisfied that Jon's just a little crumpled around the edges--as opposed to about to pass out--he hops up on the table. Jon offers his hand immediately. Pete takes it. The branded arm is tucked safely against him.

The first touch of heat is painful, but Pete has known pain. It is not until the third, fourth, fifth touches that the pain becomes something else, walks the raised edge of unbearable. Pete takes a breath and walks with it. He can still feel Jon's hand. Jon is the first to say to him, "All done," although the artist follows on the comment very shortly. She sounds amused, but not meanly so.

The pain evens out, the sharpness of it dulling to a constant throb. Pete gives the world a moment to settle into place, to not be quite so breathtaking. Jon asks, "Patrick?"

Pete laughs. Shakes his head. He sits up and can feel the way blood finds all the spots it couldn't get to before. Can feel everything. Jon tilts his head. "Hey."

"Adrenaline high," Pete tells him. He can recognize the feeling now.

"You're pretty hardcore."

Pete laughs again. His feet find the floor. When they leave the branding room, Spencer, Brendon and Ryan are still huddled together. The look of relief on their faces makes Pete laugh again. He really can't help it. Spencer rolls his eyes. "Fuck off."

Ryan nudges Spencer with his shoulders. "Hey, language."

Brendon's already on his way over. He touches Jon's face and looks at Pete. "He's pale."

"So's Pete," Joe points out in one of his odd, but not unheard of, moments of ferocity.

Pete says, "It hurt."

Jon nods at the understatement and doesn't add anything.

"We want to go back to the hotel and lie down."

Jon's nod at that is pretty emphatic. Pete has a whole bottle of Tylenol waiting for them back at the hotel.

Spencer says, "I'll drive."

Patrick steals the keys from off of Pete's belt loop, "Yep, me too."

Pete follows Patrick and the keys. Jon follows Pete.

*


They each take four extra-strength Tylenols upon returning. Spencer says, "Maybe you guys should eat something, get your blood sugar up a little."

Patrick finds the room service menu and orders them both spaghetti with meat sauce. Pete's glad Patrick got him to see reason on the vegan/vegetarian thing. Andy's awesome, but also Andy, and therefore by definition, not Pete. Jon seems to think that's okay. Jon seems to think a lot of the ways in which Pete fails to be someone else's type of awesome are okay. They both plow through the food. Patrick tells Spencer, "Good thinking, evidently."

Spencer says, "I got two tattoos in one sitting my first time out."

Pete blinks. "That was..."

"Ill-advised?" Spencer nods. "Should have asked you or Andy first. Didn't think about it."

"You have two tattoos?" Joe asks.

"He won't let you see the other one," Pete tells him, not entirely free of petulance. Joe looks impressed.

Jon starts to weave a little bit in his chair and Pete says, "Bedtime."

Ryan picks Jon right out of the chair, utterly careful and surprisingly sturdy. Pete watches him for a second but doesn't say anything. He probably should have noticed that about Ryan Ross before now. Brendon clearly has, because he just walks on Jon's other side, measuring his steps to Jon's. Pete follows, the buzz of the high wearing off, but the carb-induced energy replacing it a little. Jon lays down on his back so that Pete can curl over him on the side that isn't hurting.

Once Pete is settled, Jon looks up at the other six and says, "We're gonna nap now, so if you could maybe stop hanging around the bed, that would be less freaky."

Andy snorts and turns to go, Patrick, Joe and Spencer close on his heels. Ryan narrows his eyes just a bit before turning, tugging Brendon along by his belt loop. Jon kisses Pete's head. "I actually am going to pass out now."

"You go on ahead." Pete will catch up.

*


Pete gets asked about the brand first. He gets asked about the brand while it's still healing, still throbbing every time he plays his bass and he sort of loves that, sort of loves having Jon there with him like that. He hopes Jon feels the same way, because that would be a stupid thing to lose a perfectly good boyfriend over. Really stupid. And Pete might get his heart broken a little.

Ann Curry asks him about it when they perform for The Today Show, she says, "Rumor has it that one of the guys in a band under your label, Panic! at the Disco, also has one in that exact same spot."

He says, "We have a bassist's creed," with a straight face, an unusually straight face for him, actually.

She laughs. "A bassist's creed? And what would that be, exactly?"

"I could tell you," he tells her, "but I'd have to kill you."

More laughter, and like that, she lets it go. Pete emails Jon the link to the YouTube so that they have their stories straight. It isn't a complicated story.

Jon calls him and says, "Um, have you checked the message boards?"

"You shouldn't read that shit, it's bad for your health."

"Says the guy who sent Ryan the story about us gangbanging him."

"Well, that was just funny."

"It was funny until he withheld sex from Brendon for a week. Then it wasn't. Funny."

"Really?"

"Pete, Jesus. You slept with him. You know the guy."

"Sorry?"

Jon is silent for a second. "It was kinda funny."

"Next time I'll send Brendon something. For revenge, you know."

"Maybe not, Pete."

"No, it'll be good."

Jon sighs. "I don't do mean things to your band."

"I think you just stated the basic difference between you and me. I'm the bad boyfriend."

"No, Pete."

"Joke."

"Don't even joke about that."

"You usually have a pretty good sense of humor."

"Not about people saying shit about you. Ever."

Pete takes a breath. Swallows. Says, "Stop turning me on," because it's less intense than most of the things he wants to say.

"Why?"

"Oh," Pete says. Jon laughs.

*


Panic throws a pre-production party for the CD because, well, because they’re finally in the studio and it's a chance to throw a party. Okay, mostly because Jon says, "I think if the label threw a party, Pete would pretty much have to make an appearance," and the other three take pity on him. They all know that the last time he saw Pete, the only thing the two of them were hitting up was massive doses of Tylenol every few hours.

When he arrives, Pete says, "This was really smart of you, finishing an album, you should do it more often," smiles at Ryan and Brendon and Spencer and all but manhandles Jon to the nearest bedroom. Pete closes the door behind them and covers Jon's brand with his left palm. "Here's the thing."

"There's a thing?" Jon's pretty sure there's not. They're both there, Jon has condoms, no things. He closes his hand over Pete's brand, their arms clasped between their chests.

"I know that you sort of... I know your preferences, and it's not that I don't like your preferences, I like your preferences, it's just that every once in a while—"

"You want me to fuck you?" Jon interrupts. Normally he would let Pete finish, but they really haven't seen each other in quite some time. Pete nods, eyes hopeful. Jon would have to be a complete dick to dash out that hope. He tugs Pete even closer in and kisses him. "All you had to do was ask."

Jon maneuvers Pete's arms so that they are pinning Jon to the wall, the brand right where Jon can shift his face and press his mouth to it. He alternates between that and kissing Pete for quite some time. Even with all he gets to do now, kissing has never ceased to be one of his favorite parts of all this. Jon tugs Pete's shirt off of him, and revels in the map of marked skin, familiar and yet so long missing. Jon says, "Hi," and kisses the brand again, letting his fingers kiss at the ink that has nothing to do with him, but is Pete's, and therefore, his.

Jon would sort of like to drag this out, but there will be other opportunities and he's kind of missed Pete. In ways he can't even begin to talk about. He pushes at Pete's pants. Pete helps by kicking his shoes off, lifting his feet. Jon kisses at the brand again. "Over the bed? Lay yourself out for me?"

Pete nods.

"I like to look," Jon admits.

"Yeah." Pete smiles. "I like it when you do." He sounds surprised. Jon can't be. He's seen the way Pete looks at other people who take their fill. Evidently Pete agrees that what is his is Jon's. Pete bends himself over the edge of the bed and for a long moment, all Jon can do is look. Then he makes himself shed his outer layer, move to where Pete is waiting so very, very patiently for Jon.

Jon spreads himself over Pete. He asks, "How do you like this?"

"How do you like giving it?"

"Ah ah."

"Jon," a whine.

"I asked first."

"But I like surprises."

"Hm," Jon says against the back of Pete's neck, then drops down to finish his, "fair enough," along the ridge of Pete's ass.

Pete says, "Oh." He sounds surprised again. Jon goes about surprising him some more. He waits until Pete breaks, until he sobs, to rise up, slap a condom and some lube on and go in hard and fast. He thinks Pete's the kind of guy who likes taking it on occasion, like rising to whatever challenge is presented. Pete slams himself back onto Jon's cock with a gasped, "Yes," and Jon knows he's guessed right.

Jon says, "Stretch your arms out. I want to see. I want to see."

Pete stretches them, rotates them so that their mark is facing up, so that Jon can see how much of him Pete has allowed into himself. As if it isn't completely obvious. Jon doesn't care. He wants to be greedy. Pete makes him greedy. Pete spoils him.

"Beautiful," Jon draws out the word, whispers it straight into Pete's ear, shoots it right into his blood.

Pete says, "Jon."

Jon stretches his left arm directly in front of Pete's eyes. "Can you come? Just from looking? Just from knowing how much I'm yours? Can you?"

Pete takes one look and does as Jon has asked. It doesn't even take another look for Jon.

*


Pete doesn't recognize the voice that wakes him up, not at first, which only makes things worse. He jerks away from the hands that are touching him. The voice says, "Okay. Okay."

It is a reassurance. It takes Pete a moment to register this fact, a moment to register anything other than the sick thud of his heart, the fact that he can't remember where he is. The further the nightmare recedes the more things click into place and Pete makes himself turn, makes himself say, "Hi, Spencer."

Spencer's expression is inscrutable. "Hi, Pete."

"Did I lose Jon?" He remembers Jon being in the room when he fell asleep. Maybe he should have kept a closer watch.

"He ran to the grocery store. Said there was something else he needed for dinner."

Oh. Not lost then. Just temporarily misplaced. "Ryan and Brendon?"

"Um."

"Oh."

Spencer nods. Pete looks over at the television. It's on pause. "Sorry I interrupted."

Spencer rolls his eyes. "Okay, if I touch you now?"

Pete isn't sure what that means, but he doesn't think Spencer looks pissed, so he nods. Spencer nudges him up a little, surprisingly gentle for all his brusqueness. Pete goes easily, and doesn't fight when Spencer pulls him onto his lap, rubs gently at his stomach. Pete isn't even aware he's still shaking until he notices the action under Spencer's fingers. Spencer's other arm is solid around his back. Drummers have good arms. Pete says, "I'm fine."

"Shut up, I like fixing things. And Jon steals my thunder a lot."

Pete nestles a little bit closer. "I'm sorry about Ryan and Brendon."

Spencer's quiet for a bit, and Pete would think he's made a mistake only Spencer's grip doesn't tighten, his stroking doesn't slacken. Finally he says, "I know. But it's nice of you to say."

"And for hurting Jon."

"Don't do it again."

Pete flounders. "I—"

"I mean like that. I mean deliberately."

"No." And Pete means it. If he hurts Jon deliberately it will be with his teeth or his hands and it will be because Jon smiles at him and says, "Mm, yes." Spencer plays with the hair at the nape of Pete's neck. Pete tries to stop himself, but the happy noise he makes is just inevitable. Spencer's responding smile isn't mocking.

*


Jon returns with graham crackers for pie crust and bananas and chocolate so as to make the pie filling and a boyfriend who's asleep on his bandmate. Not, so far as Jon remembers, the bandmate most likely to allow Pete to fall asleep on him. Spencer puts a finger to his lips and yeah, Jon was already there. He mouths, "Everything okay?"

Spencer mouths back, "Nightmare."

Jon sits next to Spencer on the couch, carefully pulling Pete's feet into his lap. Pete doesn't so much as stir. Spencer asks, softly, "Are they usually that bad?"

Jon shrugs. Pete's sort of sensitive about them, and despite the fact that Spencer's clearly not taking advantage, Jon isn't really up to betraying Pete in that way.

"That sucks," Spencer says.

Jon nods. There's no denying it. It really does. "Thanks for—" Jon strokes gently along Pete's sweats-covered calf.

Spencer glances over at Jon. "He burned you into his skin."

"I—"

"Uh uh. I know you, Jon. You didn't come up with that idea. Maybe after he told you you decided you wanted it too, or maybe he asked, I don't know. But it wasn't your idea. He wanted you that permanently on his flesh. I know the feeling."

Jon nods. He's since seen flashes of Spencer's other tattoo.

"I just had to be sure, all right?"

"Wait." Jon frowns. "This was about— I thought— Ryan and Brendon—" Jon gives up. Either Spencer will understand or he won't. Jon hasn't a clue which one he would prefer.

Spencer's eyes are sharp. "No, Jon. You."

"Oh."

"How do you stand being in a band with three guys you think are complete assholes?"

"No, Spence."

"Because—"

"No. It's just, you and Ryan—"

"I know. But we care, Jon. We give a crap."

Jon looks at Pete, tucked into Spencer's chest, sleeping quietly. "I know. I do."

"Yeah, okay."

Jon smacks Spencer's arm. "Dickface."

"Cumwhore."

Jon laughs. "That's love."

"You know it, bitch."

*


Ryan finds Jon and sits across the room looking utterly miserable until Jon says, "Wanna tell me about it?"

Ryan puts his hands flat on the floor and says, "You're allowed to hate me, I understand if you do, but please don't leave the band, okay? Because Spencer and Brendon—"

"Whoa, hey, Ryan. Breathe."

Jon starts to walk across the room but when Ryan flinches he stops and sits in the middle of it. He tries not to take it personally. "I'm not gonna leave the band."

"Could you promise?"

Jon has seen Ryan terrified before, but not quite like this. He says, "I promise, Ry."

Ryan nods, swallows a little. He doesn't look at Jon. "I was talking. With Pete. And he— It was ten minutes ago and I don't even know what we were talking about, except that it was you and sex and joking and I said—" Ryan covers his mouth and turns the pastiest color Jon has ever seen anyone manage while still living. Deciding that it's the lesser of two evils, Jon hauls Ryan up by his belt loops and situates him over the toilet before he can puke all over the floor. He rubs at Ryan's back through the worst of it, and flushes the toilet when he's done.

"Okay," Jon says softly.

"I thought he knew. I swear, I thought— I figured— You're so honest."

"Wasn't exactly my story to tell, was it?"

"I'm not sure we deserved any consideration on that front," Ryan tells him, resting his cheek on the porcelain rim of the toilet. Jon nudges him up and gets him to rinse his face and mouth before taking him into the other room, lying face to face with him on the bed.

"You promised," Ryan reminds him in a whisper.

"It's okay, Ryan."

"It's not—"

"What did Pete say?"

"What?"

"What did—"

"No, I mean, he said, 'what?' and then I stuttered and said, 'I thought—' and then I probably hung up on him."

Jon is pretty sure that if he gets through this with a boyfriend, he will find this enormously funny later. "Okay."

"Jon, I— Fuck, I didn't mean—"

"It's okay, Ryan. It's okay. You didn't mean to hurt anybody. Sometimes mistakes happen."

"You fixed us. And then I fucked—"

"Just a mistake, Ryan. That's all. Calm down. I'm not leaving the band."

Ryan takes in a shaky breath. "Sorry."

"Close your eyes," Jon says. Ryan gives in with only slight hesitation. Jon waits until his breathing evens out.

*


Unsurprisingly, when he checks his phone, Pete has called him six times. There are also four text messages that all say the same thing: "call me". Jon texts, "I wasn't ignoring you. Ryan was hysterical," a minute before he calls. When Pete picks up, he asks, "Ryan okay?"

"He's sleeping. He will be."

"Jon—"

"It wasn't my story to tell."

"Except that you were there. Except that you slept with Brendon Urie, who you were in love with. Except that it was."

Jon sighs. "I'm going to tell you this, and you'll either have to understand that it wasn't, or not, but I can't change that it happened."

"I— Okay."

"Ryan— Look, you of all people know how Ryan was always doing shit to fuck him and Brendon up. And Ryan doesn't know, not really, not unless you told him, about me and how I felt, anymore than Brendon does, but he knew I wanted Brendon and he thought maybe it would be better for Brendon, so he sent Brendon to me, only I changed the rules and drew Ryan into it and made him understand that it was Ryan Brendon wanted, only Ryan. And yes, I slept with him, because it was— I'm a guy, Pete. I'm a guy and I was in love with him and he fucking offered and I knew, I knew it was just the once, and maybe it was worse for that, except that it did help them and they were better for a long, long time."

"That— That must have hurt like a bitch."

Jon doesn't like to think about it. "Not half as much as it's going to if you leave me over this."

"How did you— How the hell did you stay in a band with them?"

Pete doesn't sound mad, but Jon can't help wondering if he's just building to it. "They're my friends, Pete. They needed my help. I don't... They didn't mean to hurt me and I don't begrudge them that they asked."

"Jesus fucking wept, Jon."

Jon is quiet. He can't apologize for this, not even to keep Pete, he can't.

"If they ask again, the answer's no."

"No shit, Pete."

"You're mine."

"Yes."

"When Ryan wakes up, tell him to call me. And that the next time he hangs up on me, your band is going to have to find a new label."

"He'll believe you."

"I know. He's so beautifully easy."

Jon laughs. "Pete."

"Tell me you love me."

"In the most ridiculous of ways."

"Yeah. Me too."

"Okay." Jon breathes. "Okay."

*


Pete's kisses are just slightly more inquisitive than they generally are. Jon doesn't think much of it. Pete is a changeable being, and it's been over a month since they last saw each other. Jon just kisses back like he always does and lets Pete read what he needs to. Nothing has changed, not for Jon. Nothing will. "Where're the others?" Pete asks.

"I asked if we could have some time." Jon doesn't actually know. They're not here, that's what's important.

Pete smiles, but it’s not lascivious, not the way it normally would be. It's reassured. "Oh."

Jon asks, "How was your flight?" because he wants to know and because he thinks maybe Pete needs reminding that Jon doesn't just care, that he's sort of completely in love with him.

"Kinda bumpy," Pete tells him. Jon can't figure out if he's being metaphorical or not.

He hooks his fingers just inside the waistline of Pete's jeans and pulls him slightly toward Jon. "Yeah?"

Pete nods. Jon sneaks a hand up, inside the cotton of Pete's t-shirt to rub at his stomach. "Sorry."

Pete shrugs. "Made it here."

"Lucky me."

"Because you want me here," Pete says, sounding like he needs to hear the words aloud.

Jon nods, "All the time. But I'll take what I can get."

"All the time like you have Ryan and Brendon."

"All the time like I would have you."

Pete buries his face in Jon's shoulder. "Are there any other things? Please, I know it's them, I know, but if there are, please tell—"

"There aren't. There aren't, Pete. That was it. I would have told you. You wouldn't have had to ask."

"Okay. Okay."

"Can I— Is there some way to make it better? Make you know in your head?"

"You asked them to go away for me?"

"So that we could have some time," Jon rephrases.

"Yeah," Pete says, "for us."

Jon kisses the top of his head. "For us."

Pete melts further into him, and Jon stays upright for the both of them. He nudges Pete to the couch with his hips, pours him out onto the cushions before kneeling in the space Pete's legs seem to make for him almost instinctively. Pete says, "Jon, um—"

"Shh, I know," Jon tells him, drawing down his jeans and briefs to find him largely uninterested in the proceedings.

"It's not—"

Jon surges up and kisses him quiet. "I know."

He settles back down where he can take Pete in his mouth and work at the problem slowly, with patience. He keeps his hands on Pete's thighs, his thumbs rubbing in slow circles. It takes a while, but Pete comes around, his hands falling to Jon's head, holding tight but not forcing. Pete says, "Jon," moans it. Jon ramps things up a little, sucks harder, brings one of his hands to the base of Pete's cock. Pete makes sweet noises on his tongue, barely pushing them past his lips. Jon just takes him all the way, patient and steady. He swallows before tucking Pete back into all the right places, putting him back together. He stands then, just enough to settle beside Pete on the couch.

Pete says, "You want—"

"Not right now," Jon tells him.

Pete ghosts a hand over Jon's crotch. "Oh."

"It just wasn't about that."

"Then what?"

"You."

"Shouldn't that—"

"Your comfort, your ease. It just...wasn't about sex. Means to an end."

"Always is with you." Pete doesn't sound displeased by the thought.

"Lot of the time," Jon agrees. Sex for sex's sake is fun, but not as much fun as the other stuff, particularly not with Pete.

"How is it possible that you're the total girl in your band?"

"Spencer stole everyone else's masculinity. He keeps it locked in a box which he never allows out of his pet alligator's sight. It's up to you to save my manhood, Pete Wentz." Jon feels that he manages to keep his tone surprisingly monotone and even keel. Impressively so.

"I wrestle alligators all the time," Pete says through a yawn. "Lemme at him."

"Why don't you take a nap first?"

"Nap sounds good."

"Yes, then we'll vanquish Spencer's masculinity-guarding alligator."

Pete closes his eyes. "Sounds like a plan."

*


When Pete wakes up, Jon is gone and Brendon is sitting pretzel style on the floor, staring at him. "Did Jon go to get the alligator?" Pete asks.

Brendon blinks. "I think he's whupping Spencer's ass at Zelda."

"Same difference," Pete tells him.

"Okay," Brendon agrees easily.

"Did he leave you here to watch me?"

Brendon shakes his head. "Ryan. But I bribed him to trade places."

"With what?"

"Promised I wouldn't play Guitar Hero for two days."

"I was expecting something a little more intimate."

"That's because you have a dirty mind."

Pete nods. He does. "Why'd you bribe him?"

"Because I thought that you might think that I knew, that I knew when I did that to him when I asked that of him and I didn't and I didn't want you thinking that I would hurt him like that, because I wouldn't." The words come quickly and it takes Pete a bit to process them all in their correct order. When he manages he says, "I know that, Brendon."

Brendon opens his mouth, shuts it, tries again only to say, "Oh."

"There's a reason he was in love with you, a reason Ryan can't look away, not even for a second, not really."

Eloquently, Brendon's response is, "Um."

"At least—" Pete bites his lip. "At least he got to have you once, to try. At least I know he's not sitting around wondering what that's like."

Brendon looks a little ill. Pete knows the feeling. There's a second, a pause, and then Brendon's launching himself at Pete, leaving Pete no choice but to open his arms, hold him close while he says, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

Pete doesn't think he's really apologizing to him. That's okay, it makes it easier for Pete to say, "Me too."

Brendon just squeezes tighter and Pete says, "Yeah," and doesn't let go.

*


Jon keeps trying for the right picture. Keeps bringing the camera up, framing Pete in the prescribed lines, waiting for him to still enough for the photo to take. As of yet, he hasn't been able to depress the button.

Jon takes pictures of everything. Spencer's shoes, Ryan's guitars, Brendon's games, everything. If it can be captured on film, he makes sure it is. It isn't compulsive, he just likes the way things look different on paper, different with the light coming at them in other ways.

It isn't even like Jon's never seen pictures of Pete. There are hundreds of pictures of Pete, probably thousands. Pete takes pictures well, sad ones, happy ones, ones where he's not even really aware there's a camera. Pete is photogenic.

But there's always something just slightly less about Pete in his photos. It's not that Pete isn't a presence in them, he is, it's just that Pete when he's reaching out to Jon, Pete when his smile is stealing over his face, Pete when he's about to yell, Pete is so much, so very much, that there's no way for art to relay that. Not pictures, not paintings, not words, not even music. Pete just is and Jon doesn't want to fail at the things he tries with Pete, not even if he knows they are impossible.

For a long time Pete doesn't seem to notice, or if he does he doesn't say anything, but then there's the day when he says, "Afraid I'm going to break your camera?" smile soft and eyes diverted.

"Afraid I'm going to break you," Jon says, and realizes a moment later that it's the wrong phrasing, but he can explain himself, so he doesn't panic.

Pete says, "I'm flexible," with a little bit of a crack at the very end of the statement.

Jon kisses him, slow and long until Pete gives in and melts himself over Jon, lets Jon rub at the spots that always become sorest from the non-stop playing. Then Jon says, "Are you surprised I think you're better like this?"

"They don't have to be sexy pictures."

Jon raises an eyebrow. "Glad you think so."

"I mean, I could be walking, or laughing, or writing, or something."

"Can we pretend I just repeated myself?"

Pete thinks about it for a second before giggling. "Oh."

"It would be like a substitute."

"It would be something. For when it isn't like this. For when—"

Jon nods. He knows all about that when. And Pete has a point, maybe it would be better than nothing. Except he doesn't know. Because he would know the difference, he would remember this.

"Think about it," Pete commands, and it is a command, his tone firm, his body lengthening so that his face is slightly above Jon's.

Jon, though, doesn't really mind being told what to do, not from time to time. And when he does, he's perfectly good at finding his own ways around it. "I will."

"I want to see how you see me."

Jon looks at Pete. "You wouldn't though, it wouldn't be enough."

"It would be part. That's something. That's...more than I have now."

Jon nods. He says, "Maybe," and means, "probably." He just needs to remember that perfection is, at times, overrated.

*


Jon starts easy. He clicks a picture of Pete when he's still asleep. Pete isn't moving much in his sleep—a good sign, a sign that he's actually getting some rest—and it's easy to capture at least some of him, if not all of him. Jon can get the way his face is a little calmer, the way his body unwinds a bit. He can't get the easy cadence of Pete's breath, or the way his fingers never entirely settle, but it's something.

He prints the pictures later and shows them to Pete who looks at them for a long time. Finally he says, "I'm not very pretty there."

Jon looks at the pictures and sees the small stretch of ankle poking out of Pete's pajama pants, the soft line of his lips. "Are we looking at the same pictures?"

"My hair's kinda," Pete makes wavy motions with his hands that Jon takes to mean "unkempt".

"Yes." Jon will admit this is so. "And your point?"

Pete hunches over the pictures and concentrates really hard. Finally, he shakes his head. "Maybe it's not the same picture for the two of us." He sounds pretty dejected at the idea.

Jon rubs at his back. "No getting discouraged, grasshopper. We've only just started."

"Grasshopper?"

Jon smirks down at the picture.

"I'm older than you," Pete says.

"But not wiser," Jon argues.

Pete opens his mouth and ends up saying, "Oh fuck. Whatever." Jon laughs.

For the second shot he tries something a little harder, tries capturing Pete while he's reading. He's still sitting in one place, but his eyes are following the lines of the book, his body leaning into the prose. Jon can get his posture and the way his feet lay flat on the floor. He can't get the way Pete sometimes whispers lines to himself, or the way he'll stop when he really likes something, stop and just smile at the page. He shows Pete the prints and Pete says, "I totally have to stop reading in front of other people. I look like some kind of headcase."

Jon turns the picture 360 degrees, just to make sure he isn't missing anything. All he can see is the spark—not quite as bright as it should be—of interest in Pete's eyes, the line of his stomach as he curls over the book. He says, "You look engaged."

"Tomato, tomahto."

Jon stifles his laugh. It's fine. He likes a challenge.

*


For the third shot, Jon gets daring. Pete is cuddling with Hemmy, the fingers of one hand scritching gently under Hemmy's ear. There is so much in the look Pete gives Hemmy—trust and concern and love. Jon knows none of that will come out right. He does get the sense of slight motion, the way Pete's fingers must be doing something right, because Hemmy is looking at him with equal devotion. He manages to catch the way Pete's upper body loosens slightly when he's got Hemmy in his arms. Other than that, the picture is only a pale imitation, but still, he's kind of amazed that Pete's reaction is, "Okay, seriously, are you trying to take the world's worst pictures of me? Or am I just having some kind of a week?"

Jon looks at the picture again, just in case. Nope, still Pete unwound and caring and something like happy. Jon points to Pete's hand. "Look at your fingers."

Pete looks. Jon explains, "They're making Hemmy purr. Like your Clan bass. Like any bass."

"Look, I say this with love, but Hemmy's kinda easy."

"I'm not," Jon mutters, and tucks the picture away for his own purposes. He tries again when Pete is tuning said bass, taking his time, being methodical. Jon can see in the print the way Pete's arms seem to lengthen a bit, the concentration he enacts to listen to every part of the machine. It's missing the way Pete vibrates with his instrument, the way the bass almost forms itself into Pete.

Pete looks at the finished product and says, "I should probably be able to tune a bass without acting like it's a national emergency at this point, huh?"

Jon bites back a sigh and pulls Pete against him, so that Pete's back is flush against Jon's chest. Jon holds the picture out in front of them. "The camera missed the way each note lights you from the fucking inside. Cameras— They have lights and images and all this, but they don't have souls. That's just the subject. That can't be taken."

"I thought, in some cultures—"

"Maybe, but in mine? In mine you never actually see that in a picture. You see the way your hands know exactly where to go, you see the way the line of the bass fits your torso exactly, you see your almost-smile, which is one of my favorites, because it's the one you smile for yourself and nobody else. That's what I can show you. The rest— The rest will have to remain a mystery until I figure out a better plan for making you see."

"I don't see that stuff, Jon," Pete says softly.

"Keep looking," Jon orders. "Now that you know what to look for, keep looking."

Pete goes back to staring.

*


The fifth picture is sort of an accident, a series of accidents, really. Jon doesn't mean to press the automatic timer on his camera, but somehow he sets it to take a picture every minute and doesn't realize until roughly ten minutes later. By that time, there's enough incriminating evidence to bring down both their bands in a haze of homophobic glory. Possibly My Chem simply by association and rumors around The Summer of Like. Sometimes Jon wants to shake his head at Pete's sense of irony.

He's set the camera aside in the first place because Pete has been laughing, a full body laugh and Jon knows better than to even try and catch that, instead catches it the only way he can, with his hands, his mouth, letting Pete and his mirth pour over Jon, something he will be able to feel on his skin, later, when the actual touch of Pete is gone. He's got his hands on Pete's ass, his mouth nipping along the ridge of Pete's shoulder when he hears the click of the shutter. He laughs against the skin. "Oops."

He reaches out, turns it off, and continues with what he was doing. Later he flips through them before erasing, because he can't not look. He won't print these, won't transfer them onto his computer, won't take any risks, but he will look, just once. Pete hooks his chin over Jon's shoulder and says, "Oh. Huh."

In the pictures Pete is open and undone, confident and knowing. He is not warm and Jon cannot hear the beating of his heart, feel it beneath his fingertips. He is not trembling with want, happy with release. Jon doesn't like the pictures very much, if he is truthful. Pete says, "I look real," softly. "I look... I look in love."

Jon looks carefully at the pictures, and yeah, he supposes that's true, but this permutation of it is no more real—perhaps, less, honestly—than the ones he sees when he asks Pete what he wants to do for dinner, or for his opinion on a book, or to help him figure out a chord that's evading him. Jon kisses him. "I have to delete them, sweetheart."

"I know. I— Just not yet, okay?"

Jon puts the camera in Pete's hands, trusts him to do what needs to be done.

*


Jon doesn't see it coming. A lot of time with Pete there are warning signs, but this time it comes out of nowhere and even Patrick admits, "Um, that one was sort of a blind-sider."

Andy puts his hands on Jon's shoulders and squeezes. His voice is even softer than normal when he says, "Thanks for coming."

Jon rises into the touch a bit. "How're you guys?"

Andy's hands move a little, like a massage, but not quite. Joe says, "A little perplexed."

Jon knows the feeling. "Okay." He claps a hand over Andy's, squeezes for a second, and then slips out of the grip. "He's in his room?"

Patrick says, "It's possible he locked it," and tosses Jon a key. Jon catches it and then tosses it back. "He'll let me in." He makes his way to Pete's room and says, "Hey. I flew across the continental United States to cheer your band up, wanna walk across the room to let me in?"

Pete says, "My band's out there. They deserve some cheering up."

"Yeah, that's what I told them, but they seem to think you're a necessary part of that." Jon waits for a long time, but finally there's shuffling and the door opens a crack. Pete's mostly bruises and shadows. Jon asks, "What's the other guy look like?"

Pete runs for the bathroom. Jon winces, but lets himself in the room and closes the door behind him. He follows Pete, sinking to his knees and rubbing at Pete's back. There's nothing in Pete's stomach, and so the heaving is violent, the sounds tearing. Jon gets up and grabs a glass by the sink, rinses it out, fills it with lukewarm water. He forces Pete to drink, easing some of the process, but it goes on for a while. When it's finished, Pete crumples to the floor.

"Okay sweetheart," Jon says, combing at Pete's hair with his fingers.

"Please don't," Pete says, his voice cracking and strained.

"Don't what?"

"Call me that."

"Give me a good reason not to."

"Not sweet."

"I suppose we'll have to agree to disagree."

Pete shudders under Jon's fingers, shudders and then dissolves into full out shakes, like he's cold, freezing, only, so far as Jon can tell, his temperature hasn't dropped one bit. "Oh fuck, Jon, oh fuck—"

Jon pulls him up, presses Pete to his chest, rubs at his arms, his back. "Gonna fix it, Pete, no problem."

"Crazy, I went fucking crazy—"

"I know, I know, it's okay."

"No, no, fucked— Jon, I— Oh Jesus, the guys, they, I—"

"Breathe, sweetheart, breathe for me, please."

But Pete's too far gone for that, and no matter what Jon tries, he just keeps talking, talking until even the breath for that is gone. Jon feels him pass out, feels him go eerily still. He crushes Pete to his chest and closes his eyes for a moment. He mutters, "Pull it together, Walker," and sits there, keeping Pete safe while he's out, figuring out how the hell to deliver on his promise of a fix.

*


When Pete wakes up, Jon has managed to get him to the bed, under the covers. Jon's wrapped himself around Pete as tight as he'll go. Pete says, "I'm dizzy."

"Yeah," Jon says. "I'm not sure I can be surprised by that."

"Jon." Pete closes his eyes, but the world still spins. He hurts everywhere that the other guy's fists fell, but nowhere so much as his stomach, which aches from all the voiding, from the visions of the guy still on the ground beneath him even as Andy finally reached him, finally pulled him the fuck off.

The guy is suing. Pete will talk to the lawyers about settling later. For now there is Jon, Jon to talk to. Jon who is rubbing at his back, his arms, Jon who isn't trying to rush him at all. He says, "Jon," again and, "he started— At first it was just the normal shit. Smack about us, about Panic and I was— I had the beer to fucking calm down, to stay calm. But then he— He said—" Pete can remember every derogatory, untrue thing the man said about Jon. He can't say it back to him. "He said things about you. About— He made it— I just, you're not like that, not with them, not with anybody, you're not, and I— The beer was a bad idea. Everything, everything was a fucking bad idea, and I knew, I knew they weren't true, those things, and you knew and you knew I knew, so there was no reason, but I just— Fuck. Fuckfuckfuck."

"You were defending my honor?" Jon doesn't sound as though he's mocking the idea.

"He's suing and I'm sure he's gonna tell everyone that I've got a crush on you and then we'll need to not really be around each other as much for the guys, you know, for the band, and oh, fuck, I fuck everything up, everything."

"You don't," Jon says softly. "You haven't fucked this up."

"Jon, I—"

"Your band wouldn't give a shit if we came out publicly and you damn well know it, so stop taking that on. Who you love doesn't hurt them, they would tell you that if you ever bothered to fucking ask. And like Joe has a leg to stand on, kinky fucker."

Pete can't help it, he laughs a bit. It's a wavery, watery laugh, but it's a laugh.

"As far as the guy, if he's suing, then the settlement can include a non-disclosure if you want it to, and you both know it. So he'll probably stay quiet long enough to bargain for that."

"Probably," Pete admits.

"So the big problem, really, is getting you to stop hating yourself over this."

Pete sighs. Jon is the biggest optimist he's ever met, and Pete knows people who validly believe they can save lives with their music. He's not naming any names. He says, "Jon."

"Pete."

"I don't— I don't want to ask that of you."

"Somebody else?" Jon's voice sounds distant.

"No! No. I just. You hate it."

"But you need it."

"I thought— For a while, I thought maybe I wouldn't again. When I'm with you, it can be so easy, in certain ways. But it just, it creeps back and I ignore it, ignore it until...until this."

Jon's, "You needed to ask before now?" is quiet.

"Long before."

"Should I have—"

"You can't read my mind." Pete might wish Jon could, but he knows, he knows it doesn't work like that.

"There might have been signs."

Pete shakes his head. "Even I can tell that isn't fair."

"But if you don't ask—"

"I have to be better," Pete tells him. "I have to ask. And you have— Please. Please be willing."

Jon asks, "Can we do this now? Am I allowed to get it over with?"

"Yes, please. Please."

*


Jon goes into the bathroom, hoping Pete keeps a brush, rather than just combs. Jon thinks he needs something more than his hand, but he's looked at Pete's belts and not a one of them are suitable so far as Jon's concerned. Jon wonders if Pete buys them with the thought that he might need them for that some day. They're all heavy, too heavy. He really doesn't want to have to ask Patrick again, but if it’s needful, he will. He finds a brush in the third drawer he checks, a nice flat plastic back with a fairly large surface area. It will serve. Jon grabs the handle tightly, and takes himself back into the room.

Pete is naked when Jon steps out of the bathroom. Jon smiles at him, a soft smile. Pete doesn't quite smile back, but Jon can tell he's paying attention. Jon asks, "Will it hurt too much to lay on my lap?" There are bruises on Pete's stomach, his hips.

"Want— I want to."

"Okay. Careful, though." Jon sits at the edge of the bed and gives Pete time to get himself settled. He strokes over the line of Pete's back, his ass. He says, "Before I do this, there's some stuff I want you to hear. Can you listen?"

Pete nods slightly. Jon feels it more than sees it. "This is punishment. But not because you decided to fight or you wanted to get him to stop talking or any of that. Because you hurt yourself. You hurt yourself physically and you hurt yourself in your mind when you hurt him and I just— That is a punishable offense, Pete. So long as you feel you need punishment, that's something that absolutely falls under the rubric of things that upset me. But you have to choose the punishment the way you chose to fight, okay?"

Jon waits for Pete to say, "Okay."

"Okay," Jon says, and brings the hairbrush down hard, as hard as he can. Pete gasps. Jon lightens up then, says, "Tell me, Pete, tell me why we're doing this."

"Because I asked. I needed."

"So smart," Jon says, and lays in. Pete writhes and sobs and buries his hands in the comforter and says, "Sorry sorry sorry," but Jon waits, waits until he screams. Then he's done, throwing the brush to the side, standing Pete up and holding him, holding him through the last of what he has the energy to sob out. When he quiets, Jon asks, "Did that— Better, sweetheart?"

Pete says, "Better. Better."

"Gonna let me spoil you, now?"

"Rotten," Pete agrees.

*


Jon pulls Pete into the bathroom and leaves him with his hands on the sink counter, holding himself up. He says, "Give me a couple of minutes, okay?"

Pete says, "Take your time." He sounds calm, now that the crying is done. Jon still doesn't plan on following that suggestion. He walks quickly to the living room, where Joe looks to be even more high than he usually is, Andy's eyes are worried and Patrick throws him a sheepish smile. Jon smiles back, just for good measure. It's a tight, uneasy smile, but he means it. "Could I, um—"

"What do you need?" Patrick cuts him off.

"If one of you could change the sheets and someone else could order some food or make it, or whatever, and also, if someone could find Hemmy, all of those things would be—"

"Hemmy's in the backyard," Joe tells him, as gravely as though he is explaining cold fusion.

Andy rolls his eyes. "I think we can handle all that. Anything else?"

Jon suspects he has been forgiven, but he doesn't want to push his luck. "No, that's— Thanks." He makes his way quickly back to Pete, grabbing some clean sweats for both of them on his way to the bathroom and locking the door behind him once he's there. He inserts himself under Pete's arms, so that Pete's weight is resting on him.

Pete asks, "They give you a hard time?"

"No, I think Patrick interceded for me."

"Patrick's awesome," Pete says.

"Yup," Jon agrees. He maneuvers Pete over to the shower and runs the water lukewarm.

It wakes Pete up a bit and he says, "Cold."

Jon turns him so that his back is directly under the stream. Pete says, "Oh." Jon kisses him. When Pete starts to shiver, Jon warms the water up and washes both of them quickly. Then he gets them out and dries them off. He hands the sweats to Pete, who slips into them, wrapping his arms gently around himself. Jon rummages in the medicine cabinet until he finds some aspirin. He unlocks the door to the bathroom and peeks out. The sheets have been changed and one of the windows is open, letting in a breeze. There's nobody in the room. He turns to Pete, "Go lay down, okay? However you're comfortable."

He runs to the kitchen again for water. Andy says, "Food's on its way. We got him macaroni and cheese."

"Thanks," Jon says, and means it. "We're not going to be having sex or anything, so—"

Andy smirks. "Go away."

Jon goes. He makes Pete take the aspirin before he'll cuddle with him. He tells him about the food and Pete says, "Not really hungry."

Since Pete was dry heaving when he arrived, Jon tells him, "Yeah, I don't really care," but lets Pete fall asleep while they wait all the same.

*


There's a knock on the door and Jon calls, "Come in." Pete wakes at the sound, but he doesn't do much more than shift slightly in Jon's arms.

"I brought you Hemmy," Joe says, and walks in ahead of Andy, who comes bearing food, and Patrick, who has bed-trays. Jon makes a note to tell Patrick he's brilliant later. Jon feels it is also of import that Joe's hair is wet and Hemmy looks and smells freshly washed. Pete rearranges himself into a sitting position, wincing when his weight settles. Jon kisses his temple. The others can see, he doesn't care. This is between Pete and himself, unless Pete wants it to be something else, and if he does, then that's what he'll get.

Pete flushes a little. He reaches out to Patrick who hands him one of the trays so that Pete can set it up. Andy puts the food down in front of him. Joe keeps Hemmy, which Jon thinks is for the best at the moment. Hemmy is a big fan of human food. All three of them sit on the bed, their eyes on Pete. Pete looks down at the food and says, "Okay, okay."

He takes a couple of slow bites, but then he must realize he's hungry, because he sets in in earnest. When he begins slowing down again he says, "I'm sorry there's gonna be bad PR again," but he sounds just sorry, not like he wants to tear himself apart by way of repentance.

"Apology accepted," Joe tells him, mostly concentrating on keeping Hemmy—who is very curious about the smells coming at him—where he is.

"You blow at being a pacifist," Patrick informs him.

"But your right hook is coming along," Andy says, sounding suspiciously proud. Patrick narrows his eyes at him. Andy pretends not to notice. Jon knows the look. He pretends not to notice that Brendon is about to pounce all the time.

Pete laughs a little. "Bad influence."

"Yeah, well, evidently I have Jon to beat you back into submission, so that's okay." Andy says it lightly, but his eyes are on Pete, waiting.

Pete meets Andy's gaze. His own eyes are neither as steady nor as level, but Jon can see the way they stay where they need to be, if nothing else. He says, "He doesn't do a fucking thing I don't ask for."

After a second, Andy nods his head. "Okay."

Pete blinks. "You—"

"I don't eat honey because I worry about the oppression of the bee race at large. I don't think I've got a lot of call to be acting like other people are weird, okay?"

"Really? That's what the honey thing is about?" Joe asks. They ignore him.

"Weird is one thing—" Pete starts.

"Pete, Jesus. You're Pete. I've noticed before, I'm likely to notice again at some point. But that's all. You're just you. And he likes that, he takes care of that, so I don't give a shit what other people might think."

"Not even if it—"

Andy waves a hand. "I'd be the first member of this band to stand out there and shout queer rights, and I think we all know it."

Patrick says, "We do, but we try not to acknowledge the sad facts of life when at all possible to ignore them."

"Speak for yourself," Andy tells him.

"Well, and for us," Joe adds. He asks Pete, "You gonna eat all of that?"

Pete looks down. "Um, probably?"

"Fine," Joe says, and complains some to Hemmy, who clearly has no sympathy.

*


NOVEMBER 2008

Jon likes watching Pete eat desserts. He never seems to really pay attention to what he's doing, but at the same time, it's incredibly rare that anything ever misses his mouth, like he knows somewhere in his subconscious that he wants every single last bit. Jon wonders—and okay, maybe it's a little wistful, but mostly he's just curious—if Pete ever thinks about him like that.

There are cupcakes at the party because Bob and Spencer both have a fondness for bite size food, or failing that, food that requires fingers only. The cupcakes are actually from Cupcakes, since when Pete heard that Bob and Spencer were having a party he insisted on getting the cupcakes from there, knowing about this particular quirk of theirs and having something of a fetish for Cupcakes himself. As such, there's every flavor of cupcake known to mankind and a few that Jon really just wouldn't have guessed at, like sparkling pear and tiramisu. Pete is currently extolling the virtues of the Dr. Pepper to Jon's mom. Pete was a little horrified to learn that she'd never gone to Cupcakes, what with living in Chicago and all. He's saying, "I know it sounds weird, I actually ate it on a dare from Patrick the first time, but seriously, it's—" He thinks for a second and then just gives up on being creative, offering hopefully, "I'll share one with you."

Jon can tell his mother has her doubts, but doesn't want to hurt this boy that Jon brought home, who is still clearly somewhat fidgety. Jon thinks of the wonder bathtub and how he could help Pete out with that. Then he makes himself go over and grab a red velvet cupcake. He watches Pete split the cupcake carefully and hand Jon's mother the larger half. Jon surreptitiously hands her a napkin while Pete is concentrating on taking his first bite. Jon pretends, for a second, that his mother isn't standing right there so that he can watch to his heart's content.

Luckily, his mother has evidently been distracted by the fact that, "Okay, that's really sort of sinfully good, Pete Wentz. If I become addicted to this place and gain one million pounds, I'm outing you as a cupcake pimp to every available media outlet in this region."

Pete grins. "Better than some of the things I've been called."

"Oh, shut up and tell me which one to try next," she says before taking a second bite. Pete solemnly takes to the task of hunting her down a carrot cake.

Once he's accomplished this, Jon says, "Mom, we promised Spence and Bob we'd actually look around. Mind if I steal him?"

"Very smooth, Jon," she tells him. Jon grins unrepentantly. He got all his moves from his dad, whom she married, so he's not going to feel bad. He hooks his finger right under the waistline of Pete's jeans and pulls him along.

Pete comes easily enough, even if he says, "That was seriously kind of racy, Jon Walker."

Jon laughs. Pete's one to talk, but Jon knows that Pete has all these rules about when what is okay and when those things aren't. Jon also knows Pete breaks the rules sometimes, accidentally or otherwise. Jon says, "Yeah, well, if you didn't want me to take you away and ravish you, you shouldn't have been eating cupcakes."

"Oh sure, blame the victim," Pete says, but when they find themselves—or rather, when Jon very cleverly locates them—in the utility room, Pete clearly has no complaints about Jon pressing him up to the washing machine and tasting the famous Dr. Pepper cupcakes for himself. Jon picks Pete up by his waist and hoists him onto the washer. Pete helps a little bit, but mostly he just leans down to keep kissing Jon.

Jon pulls back. "That really is a good cupcake."

Pete grins. "I bring the boys to the yard."

"Mm," Jon says, unbuttoning Pete's jeans with a sort of lazy care. He pulls Pete out of his boxers, runs his hands up under Pete's shirt and leans over to suck. He doesn't care that they're in Bob and Spencer's house, that his parents are out there, that Spencer's parents are out there, Jon likes taking his time—what he gets of it—with Pete.

Pete whispers, "Naughty," and hooks his hands in Jon's hair, which Jon has gone to keeping just long enough for such an action. Jon doesn't have a problem with being described that way, particularly not the way Pete says it, half surprise, mostly awe. Sometimes Jon thinks that he'll never quite get over Pete being there with him, Pete's beauty, the things Pete asks for, the way Pete wants him, but that's okay, because Pete seems to be having a hard time getting over it as well.

Jon plays with him, draws it out until Pete's biting at the palm of his hand so as not to disturb the party. Jon pulls off to say, "Ask me for it," which is different than , "beg me for it," and Pete knows it because he says, "I want to come, Jon, I want, oh," and Jon lets him have what he wants. He swallows and carefully tucks Pete away, actually trying not to take advantage of the way Pete is always completely wrecked at this point.

Pete pulls at Jon ineffectually for a kiss, but Jon's willing to go easily. Pete asks, "You want something now, or later?"

"Make me wait," Jon says, because he knows exactly what he wants, and no matter how much Pete might want to give it to him, it's not going to happen now. "When we have our own dryer. And it's on."

"Whenever," Pete tells him, kissing him again. "Wherever."


Enter the security code shown below:
Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile