Is the Magic Number (1/3): gift for [livejournal.com profile] akamine_chan

Jan. 2nd, 2013 07:23 pm
[identity profile] stuffitmod.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] bandomstuffsit
Title: Is the Magic Number
Author: [livejournal.com profile] turps33
Pairing(s): Pete/Mikey, Alicia/Mikey, Alicia/Mikey/Pete
Rating: R
Warnings: Brief mentions of depression. Low self-esteem issues.
Word count: 23,884
Summary: For years, Pete's kept a secret. A secret that affects the way he views the world, has him running away from relationships, and pushing away people who try to get too close. But now, finally, Pete might have a chance at the kind of happiness that's worth fighting for. If only he can find the courage.


If pushed, Pete would admit he tells lies. Not always, not often in fact, but sometimes it’s just easier to tell a mistruth.

A skilled misdirection, clever words and a smile used to distract. Pete’s a master at keeping his secrets.

Especially the one he’s shared only once.

---o0o—

“I bought you something,” Pete says, both hands clenched as he holds them out toward Alicia, who’s sprawled on the ground in the shade of a bus. “Pick a hand.”

“If it’s a photo of Dirty’s dick again I’m going to be pissed,” Alicia says, but pushes herself up on one elbow, eyes squinted shut as she looks up at Pete. “The left one.”

Pete grins, and blows on his hand as he unclenches his fist, revealing the small silver robot keychain he’s been hiding. “Congratulations, you won. For your prize you get your own robot.”

“Just what I always wanted.” Alicia says dryly and reaches out, taking the keychain. Looping the ring over her index finger she starts the robot swinging. “Have you been taking presents from fans again?”

“A few,” Pete admits, and drops to the ground. Stretching out on the grass, he stares up at the sky, watching the few wispy clouds. “I was hungry, one of them gave me a Snickers.”

“And a robot,” Alicia says, and settles back down, her arm brushing against Pete’s. “That you gave to me.”

“She won’t know.” Plus, it’s not like Pete’s going to tell, especially as that would mean going back out to the fans. “She’ll have our picture on Buzznet by tonight, that’s all she’ll care about.”

“A photo with Pete Wentz, be still my heart,” Alicia says, grinning at Pete. “You could have bought a Snickers, and kept away from the fans.”

“I could,” Pete agrees, and mostly it’s something he does, only going on impromptu meet and greets when the crowds are low and he’s in the mood for small talk and hugs. “But this way I saved some money.”

“Because you’re so broke.” Mouth curled into a smile, Alicia turns her head so she can look directly at Pete. “Does this mean you’re not buying me dinner?”

Pete links his hand with Alicia’s, holding on as he pretends to consider. “I could steal you dinner? Rumor has it a barbecue is going to happen, and I’m expert at swiping sausages from a grill.”

“Make sure you get a bun, too,” Alicia says, and this is why Pete likes her so much. Her easy acceptance and willingness to play along while not taking his shit. It’s why this relationship is working so well, something easy and relaxing, Pete not having to think while they’re out having fun.

Not that it’s going to last, they never do, but Pete’s not going to think about that now. Instead he jumps to his feet, already restless and pulls at Alicia’s arm, the robot swinging between their joined hands. “Someone’s filled a wading pool, I saw it on the way over.”

Alicia allows herself to be pulled up, and then stands still, perfunctory brushing dried grass off her tank top. “Are you going to strip off and jump in wearing your boxers?”

Pete thinks for all of a second and says, “Probably.”

“Good,” Alicia says and starts walking.

---o0o--


”Swap you an apple for your cookie,” Sarah says, shining the apple on the front of her sweater as if to tempt Pete. “You like the green ones.”

“I like chocolate chip cookies, too,” Pete says, but he’s already pushing his tray across the table, the wrapped cookie to one side of his empty plate. “It better be an apple from home.”

Sarah throws the apple and looks scornfully at the cafeteria serving line. “Like I’d pick one from the botulism breeding counter over there.”

That’s enough for Pete, though truthfully, he still would have eaten the apple even if it had come from the den of school dinner poisons. Apple caught safely, Pete takes a bite, glad that he’s got Sarah to hang with.

She’s not his girlfriend, at least, not in the actual sense. But she is a girl and is a friend and Pete’s sure one day she’ll become more.

Until then, he’s happy with hangs, and having a friend who doesn’t care if his gaze strays to the girls, and sometimes, the boys, who constantly surround them.



---o0o--

“She’s nice,” Pete says, hooking an arm around Mikey and pulling him close, enough that Pete can relax and lean heavily against him. It’s Pete’s personal living support as they sit in the shade of a tent and relax, watching the tour happen around them. “Don’t you think that she’s nice? I’ve seen you looking.”

“She’s nice,” Mikey agrees, and Pete smiles, brittle and fake as Mikey stretches out his legs, his feet crossed at the ankles and adds, “She sent me some links.”

“The piano playing cat?” Pete asks, and this is what he wanted, for Mikey and Alicia to get closer, but now that they are, jealousy is starting to creep in, and all Pete wants to do is scream: stop!

Not that he will. He can’t, because this has to happen. Mikey needs to go to Alicia because he was never intended for Pete. It’s just, Pete isn’t ready, no matter how often he thinks through the ‘what if’s’ and ‘if onlys’ and no matter how hard he’s tried.

Making out in stifling hot busses, holding hands as Pete clung on, wanting more but afraid to get closer. If Pete was braver. If he was better, he could get what he wants: but he’s not. Getting closer means facing up to his own fears, and Pete can’t. Mikey’s not a situation Pete can pick apart and reform into words. He’s a person who holds his own scars, and the inevitability of Pete adding more isn’t fair.

It’s why Pete turns slightly, rests his head against Mikey’s shoulder and says, “I like her.”

Mikey’s hand is against Pete’s thigh, fingers tapping along to a bassline from a nearby stage. “I like her, too.”

“Good,” Pete says, and squeezes his eyes shut against sunshine that’s suddenly too bright.

---o0o—

“If you’re staying, help me with this.” Patrick’s sitting at the bus table, hunched over his laptop, his focus tight as he presses a button and says, “There’s something missing and I don’t know what.”

Pete steps forward and sits, fitting himself into the space next to Patrick. Legs pulled up and heels hooked on the edge of the couch, Pete listens as Patrick plays his new song. Right now it’s little more than bare bones, a slow stream of notes that Pete wants to make sharp with his words.

“There.” Patrick clicks stop then rewind, replaying a moment that sounds okay but not special. “It needs something else, but I don’t know what.”

Pete agrees, there is something missing, the problem is, he doesn’t know what that is either. Pete loves music, he loves to manipulate and form it to his own needs. He knows what he likes and what sells, but that’s different to being a good musician. It’s something Pete’s known for a long time, always aware of his own failings, and he says, “You should have asked Andy or Joe.”

“I asked you.” Patrick clicks play, listening once more before sighing and carefully pushing his laptop to one side. “You’re not hanging with Mikey?”

Pete rummages through the mess on the table, crushing a stale Cheeto with a press of his thumb. “He’s with Gerard. Their freaky co-dependent bond needed recharging.”

"So you decided to strengthen your freaky co-dependent bond with me,” Patrick says, batting at Pete’s hand when he tries to press orange dust against Patrick’s cheek. “What else?”

Pete licks at his thumb, a delaying tactic that lasts all of a second. “Nothing else.”

“Bullshit,” Patrick says, grimacing when Pete sucks the orange mess from off of his thumb. “You’ve spent weeks on their bus. If they wanted alone time you’d have just sat in a corner and watched.”

For a moment Pete considers feigned offense, but when it comes down to it, Patrick’s right, at least mostly. By now the My Chem bus is as familiar as Pete’s own, but that doesn’t mean he’s some kind of creeper. “I wouldn’t sit watching. I’d talk to someone else, or go hang in Mikey’s bunk.”

“Which isn’t creepy at all,” Patrick says, his mouth quirked into a smile.

Pete considers Mikey’s bunk with its nest of blankets and photos stuck onto the ceiling and wall. It’s one of the places where Pete’s learned to feel safe, but he’s aware that’s mostly due to Mikey himself. It’s easy to hide from your demons when you’re pressed up tight against someone who gets it, a steady presence when you’re too wired to sleep.

“Maybe a little,” Pete allows, and thinking of Mikey makes him want to get up and go to the My Chem bus, brotherly bonding sessions be damned. “But I wouldn’t be doing anything creepy. It’s not like I’d be jerking off into Mikey’s pillow.”

“I hate you,” Patrick says slowly, each word deliberate as he stares over at Pete. “I’ll never unsee that.”

Pete grins, the ache of missing Mikey replaced with delight at this new possibility for teasing. “I never told you to imagine me jacking off. It’s you and your perverted imagination, but it’s okay, you can tell me if that’s part of your spank bank, I won’t tell anyone.”

“Sure you won’t,” Patrick says. “Until you put it in a song and I spend the next ten years singing about wacking off to my best friend.”

“Wacking off to your best friend wacking off,” Pete corrects, already thinking of lyrics. “The fans will love it, and won’t know they’re singing about you imagining my dick.”

“I’ve spent more than a day with you, I don’t have to imagine it,” Patrick says and leans back, trying to get comfortable in the cramped space. “Which reminds me, close the damn doors, I don’t want to see you taking a piss.”

Pete relaxes and slumps against Patrick. “Got it, piss play no, wacking off yes. I’ll make a note.”

“Fuck your note,” Patrick says, shifting so he can put his arm around Pete. “And tell me why you’re really here.”

“I told you....” Pete starts to say, and yelps when Patrick pinches his side. “Okay, fine. Mikey was with Gerard, but he was going to call Alicia later.”

“Alicia, Alicia? Tech Alicia who you had a thing with before?” Patrick asks, tensing as he turns, trying to look down so he can see Pete’s face. “What the fuck? I thought....”

“She’s nice, they’ll be good for each other,” Pete says, and after week’s worth of practice, each word sounds natural, like Pete isn’t personally invested in the situation at all. “She’s been sending Mikey links. That one with the cat and the piano I forwarded to you? I got it from Mikey and he got it ....”

“I don’t care where he got it,” Patrick says and keeps turning, pushing at Pete’s shoulder until he gives in and sits upright so Patrick can see his face. “I thought... you’re with Mikey. You have been all summer.”

“As friends,” Pete says, and more than anything he wishes he’d hidden out elsewhere. Even one of the baby band vans would have been better than this, when Pete’s facing down the one person who knows him as well as himself. “Gay above the waist, remember?”

“I remember,” Patrick says, and he’s staring at Pete as if somehow he’s just changed in front of his eyes. “But I thought. This whole summer was you trying something new. You know, you don’t like girls so decided to try with a guy instead, and then ended up falling for Mikey.”

“I like girls fine.” It’s all Pete can think of to say, especially as, to an extent, Patrick is right. It’s just, things aren’t that simple. Pete wishes they were, because it would mean the voices in his head would shut up, and Pete could let himself take that last step.

“I know that, I just mean.....” Patrick pulls in a long breath and then says, “I just thought you’d been sleeping with Mikey.”

If he was more of an asshole Pete would say that he has been, but Patrick doesn’t deserve Pete playing with meanings, especially since, from the start, Patrick’s tried to understand and kept hold of Pete’s secret. “Sleep yes. Full sex no.”

Patrick waits a long moment and then says, “So you’re still a virgin?”

“Define virgin,” Pete says, unable to let that go, but then adds, “Yeah. Yeah I am.”

---o0o—

“If you could, would you change who you are?” It’s something Pete’s thought about often, but he still can’t come up with a definitive answer. “I don’t mean how you look, but how you are.”

“I don’t know,” Mikey says. He’s got a paper plate on the table in front of him, the shredded remains of a burger bun soaking up ketchup. “It’s like, if I change who I am will I still be me? And I like me: mostly.”

“Yeah,” Pete says, because that’s the problem he can’t solve. Pete’s fucked in the head, he knows that, but it’s a fucked up that’s as part of him as the color of his eyes or the length of his legs. If that’s taken away, Pete won’t be Pete. He’ll be a better Pete, sure, but is being better worth losing who he is now? “I like you, too.”

Mikey grins, taking the complement without comment and Pete tries to imagine a better Mikey, one without the demons that both pull Pete closer and make him afraid. Without those, maybe Pete could allow himself to get closer, push back his own fears when there’s no chance of destroying Mikey in turn. Except, Pete doesn’t want a Mikey who is better, he likes the Mikey he has now.

“I’m falling for you.” It’s not what Pete planned to say, but he needs Mikey to know that right now this matters, to know that Pete genuinely loves him when this summer is over. “I wish I was better.”

Mikey pushes the paper plate to one side and leans over the table, one elbow barely missing a puddle of sticky spilt soda and eyes hidden by ridiculous oversize sunglasses. He moves his foot, resting it against Pete’s and says simply, “I don’t. You’re perfect.”

And it’s a lie, Pete knows that it is. Pete’s not perfect, he never has been and never will. But, as he stares over the table at Mikey, in this open sided catering tent stuffed full of people, Pete can let himself believe that to Mikey he can be.

It’s why Pete needs to end this, before he’s in so deep he’ll pull them both down, and he says, “How’s Alicia?”

Mikey waits a long moment, just staring at Pete, then simply says, “She’s fine.”

---o0o—

“Mikey’s sleeping.”

Pete slows and stops, looking from Gerard to the bunk area, and then back. After spending so much time with Mikey, Pete knows Gerard much better than he did at the start of the tour, but he’s still not really a friend. Friendly, sure, but Pete’s not about to add him to speed dial.

What Pete wants to do is keep going and wake Mikey. He’s done it before, crept into the bunk and woken Mikey up with a yell, or a popsicle applied to his ribs, or on one occasion, just laid down and watched Mikey sleep. But today it feels awkward, like Pete’s taking liberties as Gerard sits watching, mouth curved into a smile as if he’s amused by Pete’s indecision.

“You can go through, I’m not going to go after you with a shotgun,” Gerard says, his grin widening at Pete’s flinch. “But he was tired.”

It’s a comment that makes Pete’s decision. He’s all too aware of the complexities of sleep, how sometimes it remains elusive even when you’re about to drop with exhaustion. It’s why Pete’s spent countless nights wide awake and trapped in his own head, his body heavy and the silence oppressive as he seeks distractions to get through the night. Like Mikey, who even when they’re sleeping apart, tends to text back in seconds.

About to go back to his own bus, Pete stops when Gerard says, “You can stay if you want.”

“Aren’t you busy?” Not that Pete needs undivided attention when he’s in someone’s space, but he’s not about to stay if Gerard’s trying to draw, or write, or do anything that means Pete needs to sit here in silence.

“Not really.” Gerard puts a pen on top of a notebook, balancing both on a pile of comic books that looks seconds from slithering down to the floor. “Just passing time, you know.”

Pete does know. Being on tour part insanity and part doing anything to fill in the time. For Pete that means a lot of talking to people, his band or Dirty or sometimes even the fans. Not that Pete does that too often. He likes talking to the people who love him and the music, but that comes along with them pressing too close, and as much as Pete craves touch from his friends, such close contact from strangers leaves him feeling unsettled.

“One of the Avenged techs got into a fight with a merch kid,” Pete says, tour gossip always a good thing to fill in a silence. Pushing a pile of clothes to one side, Pete sits, ignoring the smell of displaced stale sweat. “Apparently hair was pulled and vengeance sworn.”

“You weren’t there?” Gerard asks, and then adds, “Fuck. I didn’t ask if you wanted something to drink. Mom would be pissed,”

While Pete hasn’t met Donna Way, he’s heard plenty of stories from Mikey, all of which suggest that Donna isn’t exactly a paragon of host etiquette. Even so, everyone knows you don’t insult someone’s mom, which is why Pete wants to bite his own tongue when he blurts out, “She’d actually care?”

Gerard considers a moment and then says, “She’d tell you there was soda in the fridge, cookies in the cupboard and if you touched her cigarettes she’d kill you. So I guess, if you’re thirsty there’s soda in the fridge. I think. At least there was. That and some water.”

“It’s okay.” Pete waves away the offer and turns his attention to the stack of DVDs on the shelf under the TV. Since he was last here, it looks like they’ve increased, and Pete squints, trying to read titles. “Highlander box sets. You guys branching out?”

“Some fans gifted them a few states back, we’ve been marathoning on a night,” Gerard says, miming swinging a sword as he adds, “There’s decapitation, and you know, Methos.”

“Decapitation and Methos, always a good time.” Pete settles back, relaxing into the small talk and background quiet of the bus. “And the eternal question about where they keep their swords.”

“I know, right?” Edging out from behind the table, Gerard pushes back the pile of comic books, revealing a remote. Picking it up, he switches on the TV, keeping the sound down low as he brings up the channel for DVDs. “I can put in disc one if you want, start from the beginning,” and then, as if he’s just realized he hasn’t asked Pete if he actually wants to watch. “That is, if you want to watch something now?”

“From here’s fine.” It’s not like Pete’s got the time, or the desire, to watch the series from beginning to end, but some mindless TV is perfect for now, when Pete can take a moment to kick back, without anyone watching or wanting him to give over a part of himself.

Gerard presses play and puts the remote back on the table, ignoring the start of the show as he opens the fridge and takes out two bottles of water, handing one over to Pete. “If anyone asks, I haven’t touched these.”

Pete grins and unscrews the cap of his water, always happy to indulge in some band thievery, especially when it’s done by somebody else. “Thanks.”

“Welcome.” Gerard unscrews his own bottle and takes a drink before sitting, reclaiming his former place. And for a while there’s comfortable silence, Pete getting caught up in the episode until Gerard cuts through a flashback and suddenly says, “I’m not going to threaten to beat you up.”

“Er, good.” It’s all Pete can think of to say, the thought of Gerard actually wanting to beat him up having never crossed his mind. “Did you want to?”

Gerard thinks a moment and then says, “No, but convention suggests I should threaten you in case you hurt Mikey.”

“You’re giving me the don’t touch my brother speech now?” Pete wants to add that it’s a speech that’s weeks too late and also insulting to Mikey, but keeps quiet when Gerard shakes his head.

“I wouldn’t do that. Mikey’s an adult, he can look after himself,” Gerard says, and then falls silent, looking troubled as if he’s trying to work out what to say next. “I just. Give me a heads up when you end this, because he won’t tell me himself. At least, not soon enough.”

Pete takes note of the wording, when and not if, and more than anything he wants to take offense and walk out. To tell Gerard that he’s wrong, that this thing Pete’s got with Mikey is solid and lasting. But he can’t, all he can do is sit and wonder what he’s projecting that Gerard’s seeing so clearly, and why, if that’s the case, Mikey isn’t seeing the same.

“I know that you like him a lot,” Gerard says and puts down his bottle of water, his attention solely on Pete. “It’s why you’re not getting the speech, even if I would kick your ass.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Pete says, and then pulls in a deep breath, steadying himself before he can make Gerard a promise. “I’ll tell you.”

Gerard reaches out, touching Pete’s arm briefly and says, “Thank you.”

---o0o--
“I’m going to miss this.” Outside Pete can hear shouting, someone laughing as they run past the bus. Later he’ll circle the parties, saying goodbye to the people who’ve been part of his life for this summer, but right now, this time is for Mikey.

It’s hot in the bunk and too cramped, the space never intended for two people. But to Pete it’s become home, and he leans over Mikey, fitting together like they’ve done from the start.

“You don’t have to, we could...” Mikey says, and Pete needs to stop this right now.

His palm against Mikey’s cheek, Pete cuts him off with a kiss. Gentle at first, a distraction against words too painful to hear as Pete pulls back long enough to say, “Not now.”

Or not ever, Pete knows that, that this is his own personal goodbye as he kisses again, mouth pressed against Mikey’s as Pete wiggles so he’s got his thigh between Mikey’s legs, his hands on Mikey’s face, keeping him still as Pete deepens the kiss.

And Pete loves this. Mikey submitting completely, trusting as Pete explores with his tongue, running it over the sharp points of Mikey’s teeth and into his mouth. It’s something Pete revels in, drinking in the sounds Mikey makes and how he always holds onto Pete, like in that moment nothing else matters.

“Mikey.” Pete’s eyes close and he bites back a groan at the drag of skin against skin, Mikey’s t-shirt riding up as he presses against Pete, hips working against him. And this is good too, Pete feeling dizzy, like he’s flying close to the sun, both over-heated and exhilarated at once.

“I wish I could change,” Pete says, grounding himself with his head against Mikey’s and his voice pitched low. “I wish I was better.”

“I don’t.” Mikey moves his legs over Pete’s, trapping him so he’s unable to move, held close and secure as Mikey says, “You’re perfect.”

And this time Pete can say, “No. No I’m not.” Because if he was he’d be braver and take that last step, to give himself over body and soul to one person. But Pete’s not. As much as he likes -- as much as he loves --- Mikey, it’s still not enough.

---o0o—

Pete slips away later that night.

Throat aching and chest tight, he leaves Mikey sleeping, walks to the front of the bus and doesn’t look at Gerard who says nothing. Just stays seated as Pete manages to say, “Tell him I’m sorry.”

“I’ll look after him,” Gerard says, and all Pete can do is nod, not looking back as he exits the bus.

---o0o--

”You can if you want,” Maisey says, breath peppermint scented and gum tucked at the side of her mouth. This close her mascara looks clumped and her lipgloss smeared -- she’s still the most beautiful girl that Pete’s seen.

He wants to look at her always, touch the smooth skin of her back as they lie on her bed. Boyband posters on the wall, the pink comforter rumpled beneath them, and Maisey’s parents safely at work.

It’s a moment they’ve been working up to for seemingly forever. Going from closed-mouth kisses to Pete touching her tits and then under her pants, and he loves it, he does. He’s spent the last few months jerking off to memories of kissing and the sounds that she makes as she opens her legs and Pete slips in his fingers, rock hard and needing, imagining the moment he finally gets to put his dick into a warm body.

And that moment is now. Pete wants this. He wants to have full sex with this girl that he loves.

Except, somehow he can’t.

Heart racing and chest tight, Pete stumbles as he gets off of the bed, pants around his ankles and hard on deflating as he says, “I’m sorry. I just, I can’t.”

They don’t try again. There’s no point when even the thought leaves Pete panicked.


---o0o--

Patrick paces the dressing room, tension bleeding out despite his best efforts to keep calm as he stops close to Pete and says, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I can tell him to get lost.” Joe lowers the magazine he’s been hiding behind for almost an hour, his expression set as he looks directly at Pete. “I like the guy but I’ll still kick his ass if you want.”

“I don’t want.” Pete stares in the mirror, checking his reflection even though Mikey won’t care how Pete looks. Hell, Pete shouldn’t care how he looks to Mikey, it’s not like they’re anything but friends now, but somehow, Pete still does want to look good.

It feels like forever since Pete saw Mikey in person, a long silence followed by hurt texts that eventually morphed into meaningless links and typed small talk. Sometimes, it feels like Warped never happened, summer days and long nights nothing but memories that Pete has imagined and not actually lived though, except, those memories still have the capability to cut deep.

Pete misses Mikey, in a way that catches his breath and leaves him feeling empty inside, in-jokes and gangs replaced by hastily written words and an unsettling feeling of loss. And it’s a loss caused entirely by Pete.

Now all he can do is keep going, hold onto the friendship at least as he watches Mikey fall for Alicia, never looking back toward Pete as he runs to someone who can love him as much as he needs in return.

“Fuck this, I’m telling him to go.” Pete looks away from the mirror, his attention pulled back to the present and Patrick who’s heading toward the door and the security who’ll be standing outside. “No one knows he was supposed to be here, anyway.”

Pete stands, grabbing for Patrick’s arm and holding on. “I know. I want him here. I wouldn’t have asked him if I didn’t.”

“He’s bringing his girlfriend,” Patrick says, the muscles in his arm tight as he clenches his fist. “He’s rubbing your face in it.”

“No he’s not.” That’s something Pete knows for sure, especially as he was the one who suggested Mikey bring Alicia along, to watch the secret show and be there for support. “I said he should bring her. He was going to come alone.”

“Fuck, Pete.” Patrick drops his arm, looks toward Joe who’s hiding behind his magazine again, and Andy who’s seemingly fast asleep on the sofa. “What the hell are you doing? Do you really need to hurt yourself so much?”

Pete wants to deny it, but Patrick was there after the end of the tour. Through the endless days and nights of Pete spilling his emotions onto paper.For the too wide smiles and declarations that Pete was okay, even as he survived on coffee and pills. It’s why, all Pete can say is, “It’s Alicia. You like her.”

“I do like her. I like Mikey, too,” Patrick says, staring at Pete as if he’s trying to see into his head and work out what Pete’s actually doing. “But I want to hate them, both of them for what they did to you.”

“They didn’t.....”

“I know.” Patrick holds up his hand, cutting off Pete. “I know they didn’t do anything, and that’s what I hate the most. That hating them means I’d have to hate you for causing this, and I can’t do that.”

“Good,” Pete says, because this is something he needs, the knowledge that no matter how stupid Pete is or how he hurts those around him, Patrick’s at his side always. “Don’t say anything to Mikey or Alicia. I’m okay.”

“Yeah, you’re not,” Patrick says, no trace of his former anger visible as he looks at his watch, seemingly resigned about what’s going to happen tonight. “Are they coming soon? We need to decide what songs Mikey will play.”

There’s no need for Pete to check, but he still brings out his phone, pretending he needs to read the message from Mikey as he says, “Twenty minutes. He’s going to text when he’s close.”

“Okay,” Patrick says, walking away from Pete and picking up a handwritten set list that’s been left on the table. “I’ll go over these while you wait.”

Pete doesn’t reply, just keeps hold of his phone and counts down the minutes.

~~~~~

Despite telling himself that he has to act cool, Mikey’s barely taken a step into the dressing room when Pete launches himself forward, arms outstretched as he grabs Mikey in a hug and holds on. Unlike the hugs Pete’s learned to tolerate, the ones from the fans and people who just want to show that they care, this is a hug that feels right. Like something inside of Pete has snapped into place as he leans his head against Mikey’s and says simply, “I’ve missed you.”

“Me too,” Mikey says, and Pete knows that many people would sound bitter right now, their actual feelings exposed with a face-to-face meeting; but not Mikey. Mikey who forgives always and is far too tolerant of behavior that would drive others away. It’s why Pete takes a step back, needing the distance before he allows himself to think that things could change and they still have a chance.

“You brought Alicia,” Pete says, glad to see that Patrick, Joe and Andy are greeting Alicia as an old friend and not the person who’s stolen Mikey away. “Things are still going well?”

Truthfully, Pete’s not sure if he’s got the right to ask, personal questions another thing lost along with the long nights and intimate physical closeness. But Pete needs to know that Mikey is happy, even though, right at this moment everything screams that he is.

Mikey grins, wide and bright as he looks toward Alicia, who, seemingly feeling the look, turns and gives him a wink. “They’re great. We’re thinking of moving in together.”

“Already?” On one hand it seems hasty, but on the other, what this industry has shown Pete is you have to take happiness when it’s there for the taking, even if that’s something he can’t do himself.

“It feels like the right thing to do,” Mikey says, radiating contentment as he tugs at his hat, ensuring it sits right. “Not yet, though. She’s got her own place and we’re busy, but yeah. We’ve talked about the future.”

Which is more than Pete ever did, thoughts of a long term future always suffocating and seemingly impossible when at times it takes Pete all his effort to get through the day. Resentment and loss warring with wanting Mikey to be happy, Pete pulls on his best defenses as he smiles and says, “You’d better invite me to your housewarming party.”

“One of the first on the list,” Mikey says, looking past Pete toward the others before he adds, “You always will be.”

And this is what Pete wanted, to know that despite everything that happened, Mikey’s a friend. Except, now that he has it, it doesn’t feel nowhere near enough. Which isn’t fair, it can’t be when Pete can’t give any more. It’s why he steps away from Mikey and says, “You should go talk to Patrick, he’s got ideas for tonight, and I want to say hi to Alicia.”

“It’s about time, I thought you were leaving me hanging.” Alicia extracts herself from out of the group, attention going to Pete as she waits for him to come close.

“Just talking to Mikey,” Pete says, swapping Mikey for Alicia as he moves in for a hug. One that feels good as Pete relaxes at the familiar scent of Alicia’s perfume and the way she knows not to hold on for too long. “He says you’re thinking about moving in together.”

Alicia looks over at Mikey, mouth curled up in a smile as she says, “We’ll probably die of malnutrition and have to sleep on the floor, but we’ve talked about it.”

“Get a place in the city, you can survive on take out and sleep on the couch,” Joe says, as if living in any other way is abnormal. Hell, for most people in the business it is, it’s just a case of whether you survive on take out in a shitty rented apartment or your own house. “Keep your basses in a corner, a blanket nailed at the window and you’ll have all the comforts of home.”

“Tempting,” Alicia says, standing so Pete’s left next to Mikey. “We’ll give it some time, see if I’m ready to put up with his cold feet twenty-four seven.”

“HIs corpse feet.” Pete shivers, remembering the shock of Mikey’s cold feet against the back of his legs when they crammed into a bunk and attempted to sleep. “It’s like sleeping with an ice cube.”

Mikey dips his head, chin hidden beneath the high collar of his coat and looking amused as he says, “We all can’t be hot blooded like you.”

It’s a long standing comment, one that usually ends with Pete joking about warming things up, but today it’s a joke that feels wrong. Pete all too aware of Alicia watching, even though she laughs in response and then says, “Guess I need you both to even things up.”

“Or make things explode,” Andy says, attention already diverted as he pulls a set of drumsticks from out of his back pocket and drums a careful drill on Joe’s arm. “It’s nearly showtime, we need to get ready.”

“Ready to rock!” His arm outstretched, Joe runs in a tight circle as he hi-fives Patrick, Andy, Alicia, Pete and then Mikey, an impulsive quick version of the band ritual that always happens pre-show.

As distractions go it’s perfectly timed, Pete needing to give himself over to the buzz of the impending show, because if he does that he doesn’t have to think of what Alicia just said. A casual comment that was meant as nothing more than a joke, Pete knows that, but it was also one that hit hard.

“Mikey, we need to discuss the set list.” Patrick urges Mikey away from the group, steering him toward the side of the room where the set lists have somehow ended up wedged between two bags of chips. “Decide when you’re going to appear.”

“Which contradicts the impulsive nature of the thing,” Andy says yet again, checking the time before taking his former position on the couch. “Mikey knows our songs, he should just come on stage whenever.”

“Or he could come on when we expect him to,” Patrick says, giving Andy a look before plucking the set lists free and turning back to Mikey. “As I was saying...”

Alicia takes a step closer to Pete, her voice low as she says, “I see he hasn’t changed.”

“No.” It’s a short answer, but the only one Pete needs to give, knowing that Alicia’s comment is based on old friendship with no judgment implied. “You want a drink? We’ve got water or soda.”

Alicia grins, bumping Pete’s arm with her own. “You’re treating from the rider. You charmer.”

Pete mock bows and links his arm with Alicia’s, escorting her to the table that’s covered in drinks and platters of food, grinning as he says, “No one said I don’t know how to treat a lady.”

Part 2
Part 3
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January 2013

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