Check My Phone (and You Keep Calling)

Written by me, beta'd by [personal profile] clandestine . Commission for Sweet Charity.

Pairing: Pete/Ashlee/Patrick
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Polyamoury (if you're not into that), canon!kidfic
Summary: “What do you think of her?” || “Who? Ashlee? She’s fine. And not addicted to anything, which is pleasant.”


Pete presents Ashlee to Patrick. His fingers hover an inch away from her elbow, not quite touching to lead her anywhere; his mouth keeps stretching into a bashful, I-know-you’ll-totally-approve-of-this-one-because-she’s-different smile.

Ashlee herself is polished and Hollywood, eyes hidden behind huge, dark lenses, making impressions on the skin over her cheekbones. She’s skinnier than Pete. They won’t be able to trade pants.

Patrick holds his hand out to her. It’s kind of a rookie move to say anything along the lines of, ‘Oh, yeah, wasn’t that you on the cover of the magazines next to the grocery store checkout line?’ Instead, he says, “I’ve heard a lot about you from Pete. Hanging out with us today?”

“Time to meet the family,” Ashlee agrees, with perfectly straight teeth and practiced smile. She confides, “It’s really a delaying tactic to keep him away from mine.”

Patrick smiles, and nods, and waits for an opportunity to go back to his laptop so she can meet Joe and Andy instead.

He never knows what to say to Pete’s girlfriends. Mostly he doesn’t think about it, but watching these girls with Pete makes Patrick think, He’s in love with me. It’s a fact of life, and it doesn’t mess them up, but it’s still… just, it starts the endless cycle of does she know, and then does she know that I know, and am I supposed to know that she knows or that I don’t…

Whatever. Patrick just lets Pete deal with Pete’s girls, and cleans up the mess later.

--

“What do you think of her?” Pete asks over the phone.

“Who? Ashlee?” Patrick asks, distracted by driving. Driving is important. And Patrick doesn’t really have the hang of Bluetooth, like, at all. “She’s fine. And not addicted to anything, which is pleasant.”

“Yeah. So.” This is Pete trying to get Patrick to read his mind long-distance. “Uh. So, I can’t make it to lunch?”

“What- Pete. I’m already at the restaurant.” He just missed the turn-in for the parking lot, actually. “You’re cancelling?”

“I have to talk a distribution manager down from a caffeine overdose, he’s not doing too good,” Pete explains. He admits, “I’m cancelling.”

“Fine, I’ll just go home again.” Patrick finds and takes the turn to correct, though, heading to the place.

“No, okay, wait, because you know how Ash had to try really hard to schedule this lunch, right? Just. Go anyway, and keep her company?”

Patrick sighs. “No. I’m not going to go tell her that you stood her up. Do it yourself.”

“I’ll tell her myself, but please. She doesn’t get a lot of breaks. Just go hang out for an hour, you were planning to anyway.”

So, five minutes later, Patrick and Ashlee are seated together.

Patrick clears his throat. “Pete, right, he called you?”

“He said he can’t make it,” she assures him, “and also that he’s willing to lend me you if I give you back in good condition.”

He tries to laugh, because it’s a joke. Mostly it makes him twitchy. They’ve never dated, but it – It feels like Pete’s cheating, maybe, and Patrick’s the other woman, but in some set of circumstances that makes it completely not Patrick’s fault.

After they’ve ordered, Ashlee takes off her fashionable, huge sunglasses and tucks her hair behind her ear. "You don't like me very much, do you?"

It genuinely startles Patrick. “I... huh?” He sips his water, buying time to think (which doesn’t help). "I like you fine. You're intelligent, and, uh, I listened to your CD like fifty times while Pete was,” oh right shouldn’t mention that, “definitely not stalking you. Pre-dating? Whatever."

"Then, what are you worried about all the time?" she asks. Blunt and honest; it’s obvious why Pete likes her.

"Pete, mostly."

She frowns, defensive. "He knows what he's doing."

"You know what you're doing,” Patrick corrects. He didn’t mean to imply anything about their relationship. “It’s just that Pete has no idea. Never does."

Ashlee looks away, perhaps fondly, at the chair that Pete would have filled. “No, he really doesn’t, huh?” She digs in her purse, suddenly. “Right, he gave me a list of icebreaker topics.”

The paper she pulls out is covered in black sharpie, Pete’s familiar slanted scrawl. It says, How To Win Over Baron Von Stump.

She glances at it, and then at Patrick. The lopsided, endearing grin makes her beautiful. “I don’t really need this, though, do I?” she says, and then crumples the paper up into a ball.

--

Texting with Ashlee turns into hour-long phone calls and then webcam chatting where viable. It spills over into Pete’s lyrics, and Pete requires more cuddling while away from her.

“Are you sure this helps? We’re not exactly shaped alike,” Patrick asks, with Pete’s head tucked under his chin.

“Dude, you have no idea. I’m closing my eyes and believing that it’s her. It’s the power of belief, coming through for me.”

Patrick shrugs and ignores the twinge. After a while, he asks, “Why are you being Pete at me all the time? Do you still, um. Are you over, that whole thing? I mean, you have Ashlee now.”

Pete laughs, sinking in closer. “Dude. Patrick. Seriously; I will never be over that.”

--

Pete and Patrick pick Ashlee up from the airport, planning a night out at Angels and Kings. They’re inside the doors and sitting down at a VIP table before Pete looks up from his texting and grimaces. “Uh.”

Patrick scowls at him. “You have to go.”

Ashlee turns around, distracted from her crowd-watching. “What? Pete.” Her tone is disappointed but forgiving. “Something Clan?”

“The Cabbies got banned from their venue somehow, I have to help find a workaround for tomorrow night,” Pete says. It’s not an apology, but it sounds close enough.

Patrick pinches the bridge of his nose, pushing his glasses up over his fingers. “Peter Lewis Kingston Wentz III.” Saying the entire name is kind of like counting to ten. “Fine, just go.”

Pete sticks his lip out at Ashlee. “Okay? I’ll meet you guys back at Patrick’s. Patrick, right, you’re putting us up?”

Patrick waves, taking a huge gulp of his drink, because he needs one for tonight.

Reaching out to touch the back of Pete’s neck, Ashlee says, “Yeah. Fine. See you later.”

Pete grins. “Love you.” He leans and kisses her. She beams at him. Utterly casually, in nearly the same manner, he repeats, “Love you,” and changes directions to catch the very edge of Patrick’s mouth.

When Pete’s gone, Patrick licks his lip absentmindedly and tries not to resent being used as an excuse, part of a chance to laugh off Pete using the ‘l’ word on Ashlee as a joke.

Ashlee shakes her head and moves into Pete’s vacated seat, closer to Patrick. “When he was trying to ask me out, he hit on my friend first to try to get my attention. And Jenny recognized him and, right, she’s not used to,” she waved around at Pete’s empire, with stray tabloid stars in the corners sometimes, “so she’s falling all over herself, and Pete’s trying to catch me looking? It was weird. Like watching an eight-year-old try to make his gradeschool teacher jealous by kissing a girl on the cheek.”

“That sounds kind of uncomfortable,” Patrick acknowledges.

“It was humiliating for all of us,” she agrees. She takes a sip and eyes him curiously. “It’s amazing to me that he’s using subtlety now.”

They spend the evening swapping Stupid Shit Pete’s Done For A Girl stories, and later catch a cab home since Pete took the car. Inside Patrick’s living room, she seems small and slight and twisty, which might just be the tipsy(drunk)ness.

Ashlee purses her lips together and she has the tiniest of laughlines around her eyes. “Where am I sleeping?”

“Pete’s room is down here,” Patrick says, after debating for too long. “There’s, um, a shower and things? Right, that can wait for the morning. But. You want some water first?”

They drink out of the same glass in the kitchen, rinsing it cursorily with tap water and trading it back and forth. Patrick squints up at her, in the stark overhead florescent lights that he means to replace every time he’s actually here.

She kicks off her heels, and they’re closer to the same height. She leans against the counter and knocks their shoulders together. “Hey, so, thanks for hanging out. It was fun, you know?”

“Sorry my idiot best friend sucks at priorities,” Patrick says. He licks his teeth, enjoying the distant almost-numb pressure. “No, wait, it’s a relief that he’s learned to rank his business above… this kind of thing.”

“Gee, thanks,” she laughs. “Wouldn’t want to come first.”

“Shit, sorry,” he huffs. “I mean – usually he gets completely wrapped up in new girlfriends? To the exclusion of everything else? So I just. Shit, I’m shutting up.”

“I get it.” She sets her head on his shoulder, at an awkward angle. “Maybe we’re past the ‘first flush of puppy love’ stage?”

Patrick hasn’t seen that with Pete, except for an immediate transition into the ‘screaming 4am fights’ stage, but he allows, “Maybe.”

“I’d like that.” She hums. “If we were, y’know, more serious.”

“Yeah,” Patrick agrees.

She lays her hand on Patrick’s cheek and turns him for a kiss, slow and nice, sleepy and drunk. He twists his body and steps into her, pinning her against the counter, pushing too hard into it. She holds his shoulders – too broad for her hands – and he grabs her hips to rock them together. Instantly, he wants her; he wants everything; he can’t wait.

Her leg hikes up around his, and they keep kissing deeply and breathing hard, and everything blurs and slides together until he’s choking and coming in his pants. She reaches down and leans her forehead against his cheek and brings herself off before he can unfreeze from sudden panic.

When he’s sure she can stand on her own, he escapes to his room and locks the door and freaks out until sleep takes him.

--

Patrick keeps freaking out all the next day, begging off the corny touristy things that Pete wants to do with Ashlee around Chicago. He says that it’s because he doesn’t want to be a third wheel, but that’s a lie. He carefully words every text to Pete, and then gets doubts after hitting ‘send’ and finds guilt between every line.

Finally, in the afternoon, Pete calls him and asks, “Wait, so, is this about what you did with Ash?”

Patrick tears the magazine page he’s flipping. “Nothing happened? What. Well. Wait, what?”

“She told me, duh,” Pete says. “All my significant others are allowed to sleep with you, as long as I’m informed immediately. And, obviously, if you’re willing.”

“What, I don’t. I didn’t mean. We were drunk, I’m sorry?” Patrick flails his hands a little, not properly ingesting Pete’s words. “They’re allowed to what?”

“She’s hot and can make her own decisions, don’t be guilty,” Pete laughs. “Also, threesomes: your thoughts?”

Patrick hangs up and refuses to meet them for dinner later.

--

For weeks, Patrick avoids alone time with Ashlee and remains guilty.

She calls him on his private cell, so he answers even though he doesn’t recognize the call from a restricted number. She says, “So, you don’t need to be freaked out, alright?”

Patrick carefully saves the progress on the tracks he’s fiddling with. He squeaks the first time he tries to speak. “Hey, Ashlee.”

“Pete knows and doesn’t mind, I know and don’t mind, you know and do mind. You are honestly the only one uncomfortable about it, except now it’s spilling over into making Pete sad that you refuse to have anything to do with me.”

Patrick wants to ask her, But do you know that he’s in love with me, and going out with you, and it’s all an extra degree of fucked up?

What comes out of his mouth more closely resembles, “But you’re with Pete, so I can’t…”

Ashlee laughs, maybe a little forced. “I get it, you actually don’t want anything to do with me. But, I repeat, you’re making Pete sad. Can you try? We got along fine, before. Nothing has to happen, or not-happen. It’s fine.”

“Uh,” Patrick says shakily. “Okay?”

“Oh, and I’m pregnant. So, if Pete calls you up in about half an hour to tell you that, it’s the truth, not him overreacting or anything. Okay?”

“Wow, congratulations,” Patrick breathes, taken aback. “You okay? I mean, have you been to a doctor? Are you sure?”

She giggles, and her voice drips with her amusement. “Thank you, and yes, and yes, and yes, I’m sure. I’m pretty awesome about it. I’ll take a picture of Pete’s face when I tell him, okay?”

“Yeah, wow. Wow, Ash.”

“Call me sometime when you’re in town, Patrick,” she invites.

When they get off the phone, his fingers buzz with energy and he can’t sit still long. Pete calls him squealing, and they scream together like girls for a while.

--

Five month pass, and Pete and Patrick write an album, and Pete and Ashlee get married. The three of them – Pete and Patrick and Ashlee – spend time in LA, because Pete wants to be wrapped up in Ashlee as much as possible. Most of the time, she passively emails people and conducts over-the-phone interviews while Pete pitches new lines and Patrick pitches new hooks. Sometimes, she says things like, “Isn’t that kind of trite?” or, “You’re not saying anything about my skills in bed, Wentz.”

Pete’s obviously and completely in love with her. And he still won’t stop getting handsy with Patrick all the time.

And Patrick carefully feels out the areas where he can be natural with Ashlee, and the places where he can’t.

--

Ashlee is six months along, lounging around in her (Pete’s) house, eating chocolate cereal dry and shifting under her visibly rounded belly. Patrick putters around, keeping busy with one earbud in because he wants to hear if Ashlee calls for him.

Pete’s in New York or something, doing a promotion for the album (due in stores in four months, hey, Patrick needs to review and finalize some stuff still, shit). He’s been on the phone with one or the other of them for fifteen minutes out of every given hour he’s been gone, which mostly accounts for transit.

Ashlee yells from the den. “Patrick! Hey. Stump. Hey.”

Patrick shifts his work off his lap and gets to his feet, feeling swollen in his joints and either too old or too sympathetic to the pregnant lady. He gets into the room, asking primly, “Can I refresh your drink? Or get you ice cream? Or plump your pillows?”

“Shut up, I’m bearing a great burden for the good of our family.” She toes a slipper halfway off and kicks it at him. “Hey, so. Do me a favor?”

“Sure, anything you need.” (This, Patrick has learned, is the easiest part of any ‘favor’.)

She bites her lower lip and flies past all of their carefully constructed boundaries, eyes raking up and down over Patrick. “Eat me out?”

Patrick jerks back a step reflexively. He bites his tongue to stop the first two things he tries to say. “No! Whoa! No, Ash, I can’t do that.”

“Dammit!” she growls, pressing her thighs together and twisting her hips hard, looking for friction. “Please? I’m stupidly turned on, and – Seriously, it’s happened before, okay? It’s a hormone thing. Usually Pete takes care of it, but, you know. And I’ve tried going the masturbation route, and it’s just not gonna work here.”

Patrick stares at her, sitting on the couch and grinding down with a purpose, wearing Partick’s borrowed shirt in lieu of more glamorous maternity clothes and… no pants, under the summer blanket that’s slipping down, just panties and smooth thighs steadily losing their fake tan. He still says, “I can’t. You know I can’t.”

Ashlee glares and hooks her fingers in her panties, pushes them down. “Patrick Vaughn Motherfucking Stump, get over here and get on your fucking knees, or I swear to god I will fillet your balls while you watch.”

Patrick kneels in front of her and watches his fingers press valleys into her skin. He winces and tries to joke, “Don’t swear in front of the baby, right?”

She pushes his hat off and scrapes her nails over his scalp as she pulls him in with a sigh.

--

At some point, Ashlee is too pregnant for sex.

(Patrick finds out approximately fifteen minutes after the expectant couple reaches this conclusion; Pete sits in Patrick’s (the guest’s) bedroom and says, with wonder, “I know, I’m surprised, too. I guess the baby’s closer than I really, like, had worked out in my head. Three weeks sounds longer than twenty days, you know?”)

About a week passes, where apparently Pete’s stuck with handjobs and humping because Ashlee just can’t bend the right way for oral. Patrick gets updates in text-form, simple ‘wish u wre here’s, which confuse him until he figures out that they’re all post-orgasm.

He’s mostly expecting it, then, when it’s been ten days of hands and nothing else for Pete and Pete feels confident in declaring, “Man, I could totally go for a blowjob right now, jesus christ.”

Patrick sensibly ignores this (and the corresponding mental images). He pretends not to see Pete’s pointedly expectant look.

Pete’s patience runs out. “So, hey, Patrick--”

“No, Pete,” Patrick says. He’s had plenty of practice with this one.

--

And then Ashlee knocks on Patrick’s door early in the morning. “So, listen, Stump,” she says in a raspy whisper-yell, trying not to wake up Pete down the hall. “My water broke.”

Patrick opens the door two seconds later. He keeps his voice down, too, in a conspiring mood. “Really? Any contractions yet?”

“Kind of,” she makes a face that is sillier than labor really warrants, “kind of fluttery ones? They’re like bad period cramps, not the oh-my-god-end-of-the-world stuff.”

“So, hospital?” Patrick suggests. They’re standing too close together. He may or may not be looking at her lips, plain without lipstick and swelling up from her nervous biting.

Ashlee shrugs. “It’s not urgent, really, like, the books all say that we have hours.”

Patrick shrugs back. “Still.” He’s read all the same books as Pete and Ashlee. He would really prefer if they grabbed the pre-packed bags and got in the car now.

“Mostly I’m here because my water broke in bed,” she sighs. “And Pete’s going to notice sooner rather than later, and then he’s going to panic.”

“Alright, hang on,” Patrick says. He steps around her in the hallway, on the way to her bedroom, and rubs a hand over where her waist used to dip in on her side, and kisses her. “Hey, Ash,” he murmurs, surprised at himself and how close their faces still are, and too aware of morning breath. “Um, you’re really doing this.”

“We really are,” she agrees. “Anyway, I’ll go brush my teeth and hair and stuff. You know, get ready.”

He leaves her to it and goes to Pete, kneels on the floor next to his face. Patrick’s fingers press in very specific places on Pete’s neck, and Pete’s eyes fly open instantly.

He takes a deep breath and blinks. “Patrick.”

“Pete,” Patrick returns. “Okay.” He doesn’t bother saying don’t panic, but it’s in his voice. “We’re all going to the hospital now, okay?”

Pete’s face wipes absolutely clean, and for a weird second he looks exactly like the guy who stood on Patrick’s doorstep and offered him the world. Then he grins, wide like he’ll never be able to stop, and tumbles out of bed and right on top of Patrick. There is kissing, almost dry and chaste, and perhaps some wandering hands. “Patrick! We’re – Where’s Ashlee? Dude. Is she okay? We need to go!”

(Everything is too fast after that, including the hours in the hospital room watching Pete and Ashlee hold hands and smile. Patrick’s torn between loneliness and pure, blinding anticipation.)

Anyway. Barely any time later, Pete’s helping Patrick wrap his arms around a tiny pile of blankets. The face is alien and bug-eyed, the lips bowed and slack, the cheeks round and quivering. Patrick gapes down at him, and he doesn’t know what he actually expected during debates about names and genders. Not this, though.

He looks up at them – at Pete, eyes crinkled and proud and hopeful, and Ashlee, tired and accomplished and halfway falling asleep. Patrick can’t close his mouth. He fumbles for words and finds: “I love you guys so much. I don’t – Pete, I love you, okay? And I love Bronx. And possibly the whole world.”

Pete waves his hands, needy. “Steal my kid some other time, Stump. Gimme.”

--

Patrick keeps staying at the Wentz house, learning about changing diapers and his own level of tolerance for being puked on (which, after too many airplane-related adventures with Pete, is very high). There are interviews, sometimes; short TV or radio appearances that don’t take them out of LA. There are plans in the works for Europe and Australia – another world tour, which wasn’t going to get old anytime soon – but that’s comfortably far away, dim on the horizon next to the shining goal of releasing Folie à Deux and inviting everyone the three of them have ever met to come meet Bronx.

Two weeks in, two more before the album drops, Ashlee staggers home from her first out-of-the-house work since childbirth. She falls onto the couch face-first, stretching her arms out past her head.

Patrick comes in from the kitchen and sets his sandwich down on the coffee table. “Hey. Rough day?”

“I used to have stamina, Patrick Stump,” she sighs mournfully, turning her head to avoid suffocation. She keeps her eyes closed, though. “I was a professional. Ugh, I feel squishy and bloated and gross. Angelina Jolie is a MILF, and I’m a whoopee cushion.”

Patrick says, “Hungry?” and pushes his plate into her line of sight.

She reaches out a hand, but lets it drop. She groans, “Sleep first. Oh, shit, baby. Nursing first, and then sleep. Where is baby.”

“Here, wait, Ash. He didn’t finish the milk you left this morning, if he wakes up there’s that. Just take a nap, alright?”

Ashlee yawns, but forces her eyes open. “And where’s the light of my life?”

“I told you, sleeping,” Patrick teases, deliberately misunderstanding.

“Where’s the light of yours, then,” she asks, punching his knee. (He shouldn’t stand too close when he makes fun of her, but he always forgets.)

“Physically abusing me.” He rounds the table and puts one leg on the couch, and then hesitates, and then swings the other over to straddle the backs of her thighs. “Hold still and relax.” He presses his fingers on either side of her spine and starts working his way up.

She makes a throaty noise and says, “Your fingers are really strong.”

“Guitar, piano,” he explains absently.

“Pete’s aren’t strong like that,” she points out.

“Yeah, he doesn’t practice as much as he should,” Patrick admits guiltily. He should be badgering Pete about it, especially since they haven’t played anything in a while beyond the occasional fooling-around stuff while Joe or Andy are in town. “Oh. And Pete’s trying to seduce some Nordstrom executive over lunch today, I think.”

“He better not come back with the clap, then.”

Over the course of about three minutes, Ashlee melts into a boneless string of spaghetti under him, but doesn’t fall asleep.

She prefaces a request with, “So, don’t think I’m pulling a Pete for this, but,” and Patrick chuckles. “Could you sing?”

Patrick sings her the lullaby that Pete wrote for himself, about honey and jellybeans and a place with no pressure. Where fuck-ups like falling for his best friend’s wife can’t ruin his life forever.

Ashlee hums along spottily, quieter and quieter until she’s just breathing deeply.

--

Being married for the last seven months has not curbed Pete’s inclination to climb into bed with Patrick at god-fucking-dammit in the morning.

He tucks Patrick’s arm around himself and snuggles into the places where they’ve grown to fit together. Then, because Pete can be a real dick sometimes, he wants to talk. “Hear me out on this.”

“I’ll kick you out,” Patrick offers instead, grumpy. Pete’s probably coming back from feeding Bronx and wide awake.

“No. Here. Listen.” Pete rolls over to address himself to the ceiling. “What if I break him?”

“I don’t think that’s actually possible.”

“It’s totally possible, dude. I can feel exactly how possible it is. Kid’s fragile like… a fragile thing.”

Patrick accidentally jabs his (admittedly sharp) toenails into Pete’s ankle. “Then you can break him and Ash and I can fix him back up, seriously. You overestimate yourself here, Wentz.”

Pete scoots closer, sharing Patrick’s pillow and then Patrick’s air. Secret and sharp, he asks, “You know that I still – you know. You know, right?”

“Yeah. I know,” Patrick says. Cold leaks down his throat to his stomach, pure and lingering dread.

“Yeah.” Pete touches their foreheads together and Patrick wishes there were enough light to see his eyes. “You and Ashlee, huh?”

Patrick stops breathing. For a second, he wants to cry; when he’s sure his voice will come out evenly, he says, “I can go. This isn’t working out, I can go and see you when the signing and touring winds back up and, and just.” That’ll be a really long time away from Bronx. Pete and Ashlee can happen over the phone, but. Bronx.

“Don’t,” Pete commands. “Don’t think. Don’t freak out. Don’t leave, for fuck’s sake.”

He kisses Patrick, warm and easy and obvious, and then says, “We can all talk about it in the morning.”

Patrick falls back asleep, too eager to pretend everything is a dream.

--

When Patrick wakes up, Pete’s not in bed anymore, but that’s typical. Music is playing downstairs, some of the fun syncopated dancing music that Ashlee shuffles her feet to during her morning routine. Patrick takes his time showering and shaving, brushing his teeth, being more discerning with his clothing than the day of his first-ever date. Waiting to be sure that one or both of them has left for the day, so this doesn’t have to be two against one.

Ashlee settles it by calling up the stairs, “Patrick? You awake? Let’s watch chick flicks and sigh a lot at the sappy parts. I feel a marathon coming on.”

Patrick shows his face in the den, aware of his red cheeks and trying to hide behind himself. He takes the toast she hands him and then the coffee, and trails after her to the couch.

Bronx’s blanket is stretched out on top of a huge, soft pile of other ones, in between the couch and the television, in plain view. Bronx lies on his back there, mouth moving and eyes swiveling over the as-yet-unfamiliar territory of the room, neck swiveling but not able to lift his own head. (It makes Patrick’s breath catch, sometimes, remembering how helpless he is.)

They sit together for a while and watch high school clichés and true love overcome circumstances. Ashlee lazily, affectionately taps their knees together in time to the soundtrack.

Patrick asks, “Pete’s out somewhere?”

“Mikey Way’s in town. He’s visiting.” She turns her head, unsubtly looking at him from the corner of her eye. “Honestly? I’m supposed to play go-between for you two, since you guys can’t figure yourselves out otherwise.”

Patrick laughs, startled and weak. He clears his throat before asking, “What exactly do we need to figure out?”

The movies runs on as background noise when she pulls his shoulder until they’re face-to-face. She asks, “If I wasn’t here. If I didn’t matter to you, or to Pete. How would you feel about him?”

“You matter,” Patrick argues, without thinking.

She smiles ruefully. “But if I didn’t. Would you and Pete ever get together?”

“No.” It’s easy and painless to say. Patrick lifts his hat to rub his scalp and then pulls it down again. He tries to explain; “He’s been in love with me since before I was legal, okay? And I’ve known. And, sure, he’s Pete, and I could never really keep from loving him, but I couldn’t… be solely responsible for him?” He can’t look at Ashlee’s face, because here he is, saying that Pete has never been (and never will be) just hers. “He always had me to lean on and someone else to be head-over heels--”

“--Crazy-vindictive-stalking--” Ashlee inserts helpfully.

“--In love with,” Patrick says, grinning at his coffee. “That way, one of us could break his heart and the other could patch it up. And it’s. I was a teenager. I couldn’t handle being his best friend and his boyfriend, because what if I broke him?”

He blanks on the rest of the words in his head. He meets her eyes – tired, knowing, forgiving – and says wonderingly, “That is exactly that Pete asked me last night about Bronx.”

Her eyebrows go up. “You guys are so codependent and unhealthy and utterly in love,” she says, impressed.

Patrick shakes his head, frustrated. “No, it’s – we’re not. I could never… We could never function as a couple as long as we were each other’s project.”

“I’m surprised you function as it is,” Ashlee teases, earning herself a nudge of their knees.

“But now I’m producing and filling in and… you know, that, and Pete made that opportunity for me out of thin air. And Pete has Bronx, but I couldn’t have ever given him that.” Patrick meets her eyes and finishes, “So, you matter. God knows Pete’s couldn’t do this without you, and I wouldn’t want to see him try.”

“Plus, you’re in love with me,” she points out, almost casually. Her eyes flicker to his and then away, resting on Bronx. He’s squirming, working to lift his legs and arms without too much success.

Patrick draws away from bodily contact with her, abruptly moving down the couch. He says with forced levity, “Wow. New kid, married less than a year. I must really be in the way.”

“Okay, no, you’re not allowed to be like that,” she scolds, grabbing for the lapels of his jacket and pulling him into a kiss (which turns into a stretched-out-on-the-couch kind of thing.)

Bronx graciously gives them some time together before demanding to be fed.

--

Pete comes home with Mikey and Alicia dragged along in his wake. He walks with his chin up and chest out, speaking too loudly; nervous and hiding it. The tightness around his eyes smoothes when he sees Patrick standing in his kitchen, humming along to mellow jazz, Bronx tucked into the curve of his arm.

“There’s my boy!” Pete announces, taking his son and pinching the soft skin on the inside of Patrick’s elbow to be sure that he’s real. (This is because Pete doesn’t ask others to pinch him if he thinks he’s dreaming. Because Pete is a dick.) Patrick can’t retaliate, because whoever’s holding the baby is Switzerland.

Ashlee and Alicia greet each other with stilted words and a short hug. They’re alike but different, their taste in men and threshold for touring troubles aside.

The Ways stay for dinner. Mikey drops obvious, joking hints about kids, and Alicia shrugs them off; it looks like an old, settled subject between them, letting anything happen in its own time. After, Pete jumps them by begging, “Can you make sure my baby doesn’t die while I take my wives out for a movie or something?”

Patrick kicks his shin under the table.

Mikey looks bemused. “If you think that’s a good idea.”

“Oh my God, really?” Ashlee asks, sagging back into her chair.

“I promise not to let him leave your kid somewhere,” Alicia says, and the women smile across the table.

--

Pete makes no pretense of taking Patrick and Ashlee anywhere but a hotel. No one argues. They stand in the elevator and Patrick watches Pete’s body curve inexorably toward Ashlee’s, reflected in the bright doors. He waits a bit apart from them and wants them to live happily ever after with everything he is.

They reach the floor, file into the room. It’s ludicrously identical to everywhere else Patrick has stayed the night; the slightly stale air from the closed window, the starchy, scratchy bedcovers. Ashlee reaches back for Patrick’s hand and pulls him to sit with her on one bed while Pete drags the blankets to the foot of the other. Patrick wants, abstractly, constantly, as though it has been flooding through him slowly but can only now be recognized and acknowledged.

Pete straightens up and cracks his back, twisting, and then strips his shirt up and off. He stalks across the room to stand in between Ashlee’s legs, impatiently opening his belt and then his fly. When his hips are revealed, the lines running down to his pelvis, he stops.

“This is gonna happen, now, okay?” he asks Patrick. His hands fall out, held away from his body, fingers curled in. Unsure of what he can touch.

Ashlee’s taking off her necklace, her earrings, her shoes. Smiling reassuringly when she sees Patrick looking. Her shirt.

Patrick bites his tongue and doesn’t ask them what they think can possibly come of this. He reaches for Ashlee and unclasps her bra, kissing her. Flinching in surprise when Pete’s hand rests wide on the back of his neck.

They move to the other, bare bed, losing their pants (and Patrick’s hat and shirt) while they go. Ashlee wrestles a few foil packets from Pete’s pants, kisses and rubs Patrick while she rolls a condom on him.

On the bed, Pete climbs up on his knees, takes Ashlee into his arms when she follows. They kiss and tip over, laughing, on their sides. Pete’s arms tow her in, his hips move to touch his erection to her stomach. It’s slow and familiar and Patrick wants to leave.

Pete rolls Ashlee onto her back, showing her to Patrick and looking for something in Patrick’s face. Ashlee’s knees come up, spreading for him, and Patrick.

Patrick fucks her.

He’s ungainly and sloppy, pulling her hair when he tries not to rest his weight on her, losing his rhythm when Pete reaches for Ashlee’s breasts, or to kiss her, or down down to rub her. Patrick kisses her, too, but mostly ends up breathing hard into her mouth.

Too much time, full of an uneasy radio silence punctuated by the sound of two bodies coming together, gives way to Ashlee sighing in exasperation and tapping Patrick’s arm.

“Wait, hold up a second,” she says briskly. “Out. Come on. Over. Hold still.” She climbs on top of him and he slips back in. She establishes the pace and then fists her hand in Pete’s hair, tight and unforgiving.

Pete makes a defenseless noise and draws closer, tethered, pressing his cheek to her ribs and opening his mouth.

Ashlee pushes him toward Patrick. “Kiss him. It’s not like it’ll be the first time.”

Any hesitation eliminated, Pete licks his way into Patrick’s mouth. Patrick takes his hands off Ashlee’s hips and flails around for Pete’s shoulders, holding him when he might try to pull away again. Ashlee moves over him and Pete’s hands push the bed down around Patrick’s body, until Pete turns and lies on his side, kissing Patrick and rubbing off where Ashlee’s thighs push her up and down and up.

At some point, almost by surprise, Patrick realizes that he’s coming. He opens his mouth to breathe and moan but all that comes out is a broken note. His hands grab for Ashlee’s hips and roughly pull her down (oncetwice) and create bruises. He says – a name. He says one of their names, or both; a portmanteau of the things that have come to measure his life.

Ashlee squeals when Pete wrestles her to her back, arm against Patrick’s. Pete goes down on her, sure in his technique, hoisting her knees up over his shoulders. Ashlee’s hand searches for something to hold and finds Patrick’s.

Her left hand goes to Pete’s head, to his hair. Pete looks up the length of her torso at Patrick, and then Ashlee, and his left hand reaches to move hers and lace their fingers together, arms resting diagonally across her stomach. Displaying their weddings rings.

Patrick kisses Ashlee’s forehead, and then her cheek, and then extricates his hand to take care of the condom. When he returns, they’re kissing messily, rolling and fighting for power, showing their teeth and snarling and laughing all at once. They have energy together, and fierce love, and Patrick wavers.

And then he says, “Hey, Wentz,” and captures Pete’s legs to pin him to the mattress without landing on Ashlee. He winks at her, and then lowers his voice to that range he’s been informed (by Pete) is ‘so motherfucking hot’. “We’re going to try something.”

Pete stares at Patrick, eyes wide, and doesn’t struggle. His dick does twitch, though.
Patrick takes it in his mouth and then just lets it rest against his tongue, full and hot, leaking. The vein telegraphs Pete’s heartbeat, fast and unsure.

Pete groans and thrusts up, trying to go in further, and Patrick holds his hips down and sings. (He doesn’t know what he sings. It’s wordless and slow, rumbling out of him, so more accurately he’s humming; he’s chasing a tune in there somewhere.)

He expects it to be a tease, or maybe a non-issue beyond whatever vibration Pete can feel. He’s prepared for all of them to laugh at the years-old joke that Pete’s hot for Patrick’s voice. He’s possibly looking forward to this being something fun instead of desperate and fraught with history and balance.

Instead of any of that, Pete gasps and grabs Patrick’s head. Patrick slides down lower and the head of Pete’s dick touches the back of his throat and Pete comes.

Patrick chokes on it, a little stunned and a lot unprepared for the practical dilemma involved. Ashlee comes to his rescue, holding the trashcan out for him, and he spits.

Pete gapes at Patrick like he just suggested a morally dubious fetish that Pete’s never considered before, but wholly approves of. “Holy shit! Patrick Martin Stumph, the things you do to me.”

“Vaughn,” Patrick corrects weakly. He can’t think of what to do with his hands, how to conceal everything from the neck down without clothes.

Pete keeps staring, unashamed, and Patrick doesn’t meet his eyes.

Ashlee says, “How did you manage to be best friends for years without spraining something, goddamn.” She sits cross-legged on the bed and holds Patrick’s hand. “Patrick,” she says ceremoniously, “I love you.”

When she wiggles her fingers, he echoes, “I love you, too, Ash.”

Pete gets the picture and pokes Patrick’s thigh with his toe. “Love you, Lunchbox.”

“Fuck you,” Patrick says, swatting his foot away, and then more bashfully, “yeah, I love you.”

“Okay, we should clean up and rescue our son from the Way clutches,” Pete announces, but he can’t stop grinning. He pauses to consider. “Hey, shit. We probably can’t all fit in the shower, huh.”

--

Pete has his phone out, texting steadily with the rapid-fire rhythm he perfected during his time with Mikey Way. It’s something Clan, or maybe the Gym Class guys updating him after the show, or something. Pete makes sure there’s always something else in line for him to do.

Patrick kicks the back of the couch, making Pete sway. “Go to sleep.”

Pete looks over his shoulder and smiles at the baggy pajamas. He asks, “Finished wearing out my wife?”

Something clutches in Patrick’s chest, just for a second. Patrick flushes and feels the prickling awareness that he still smells like the sex he just had with Ashlee. He says, “You could’ve, I mean, that didn’t.” You could have said something. This isn’t Pete looking betrayed or hurt, though, not even him trying to cover it up.

Pete says, “BX will be awake in, like, half an hour or so. I’ll go to sleep after, I swear.” (Patrick has those two letters written on one shoulder, and Ashlee above her knee; both in Pete’s uneven blocky capitals.)

“No,” Patrick says. “You didn’t sleep last night. You didn’t even try. Go; I’ll get him.”

Pete sighs heavily, but levers himself out of his seat. He climbs over the back of the couch and lands without his balance, tilting into Patrick, arms coming up around his shoulders. “Night, Trick,” he says, rubbing his nose against Patrick’s neck and then yawning into his ear.

Patrick holds Pete and pulls him closer, warmer. Neither of them tries to pull away, and Pete doesn’t breathe. Their faces touch; cheekbones surprisingly cool, contrasted against the hot puffs of breath.

Patrick kisses Pete, slowly and guilelessly, trying to say everything and ask a question at the same time. Patrick wishes he’d thought to brush his teeth, because the taste of Ashlee is still there between them.

Pete grunts and buries his face in Patrick’s neck, hugging him desperately, rocking on the balls of his feet to some tune in his head. He says, “Patrick, Patrick. Don’t worry. You’ve got us, and we’ve got you. I’ve got you.”

Patrick pats Pete’s hair, messing it up and earning a laugh. Patrick says, “I’m not worried. Much.”

Pete doesn’t call him on the lie, which is nice of him. He goes to sleep, taking another piece of Patrick with him.

Not too long after, Bronx starts with his hiccupping pre-cursor to tears, and Patrick changes his diaper. He carries Bronx around with him through the house, turning off lights, singing as he goes. “It's not how it seems in the lands of dreams...”
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