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We're Friends When You're on Your Knees

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It begins how these things tend to. Girl meets boy.

 

No, wait. That’s not strictly true. Because in this tale the boy is sixteen – almost seventeen, but still, sixteen – and the girl is old enough to know better. Plus, Petra thinks she knows it all, thinks what she likes is tall, dark and asshole. He’s none of those. He’s short, blonde and argyle sweater. “You’re not what I expected,” she says, eyebrows arched in surprise.

 

“Likewise,” he replies. She doesn’t quite know how to take that.

 

He’s easy to ignore as anything more than a friend for the first year or so. Just an angry seventeen-year-old frustrated at the high school girls that don’t want to date him.

 

“Older women,” he says one night as they sit in his room writing endless songs that will never go anywhere. “Yeah, that’s where it’s at. Not fucking girls.”

 

His eyes glow with something she recognises immediately; he has a crush on her. Her heart flutters uncomfortably and her stomach swoops. This is why his mom glares at her. This is why the bedroom door has to stay propped open. This is conversations over cookies and milk about his best friend Petra and how to get noticed. This is, categorically, not good.

 

“You sound like an asshole,” she informs him, because he does. But that isn’t unusual, Patrick sounds like an asshole a lot.

 

“You like assholes,” he counters, neither of them saying anything else for a while. He’s thrown down his gauntlet, he just wants her to pick it up.

 

“I like adults,” she says, accepting the good-natured punch to her shoulder, the fuck you delivered without bite as he lapses into an argument about a chord progression. He argues like he thinks she’ll object. She barely knows one end of the bass from the other but she recognises the talent in him and she’s not half bad at hooking a stream of confused consciousness into a series of metaphors that almost make sense.

 

He doesn’t bring it back up.

 

The band starts to progress beyond basements, beyond half-formed interest and barely polite booing into something palpable, something that shifts with her pulse when they play on stage. Joe tells her to wear short skirts and shirts that show off her tits to draw in the crowds. Joe doesn’t mention it again with bruised balls and a bruised ego.

 

Patrick still looks at her like he’s trying to frame words he doesn’t understand. But he’s still seventeen and he’s still kind of an asshole which makes him almost possible to ignore. He’s fun to taunt in the back of the van, ticking his nose when he tries to sleep, draping dirty boxers over his face until he kicks his foot straight through their best amp in wordless fury.

 

Just a kid and acting like one.

 

He gets drunk on his eighteenth birthday – totally wasted, in fact – spurred on by Joe and Chris and a dozen other people that should have known better while Petra and Andy roll their eyes like they’re the designated responsible adults. But it suits him, in a strange sort of way, the fuzzy softness that steals his attitude problem and leaves his eyes glassy. They sit together on the back porch, sprawled on bone-bleached boards in the moonlight with her head on his shoulder. It might be close to May but there’s still a bite of cold to the air and she shivers in her too-short, too-tight Green Day shirt, the one that shows off her tits though she pretends that isn’t why she wears it. No one dares to comment anyway after the last time. Patrick slips off his denim jacket and throws it over her shoulders, wrapping her in the smell of him; his skin, cheap cologne and the faintest hint of sweat. Fuck, he’s such a sweaty little dude, his palm damp and hot against hers as he takes her hand like the romantic lead in a novel she’s never read.

 

He begins a monologue of you mean a lot to me, Petra, the kind of thing designed to woo her. But it’s sloppy and childish and slurred thick with cheap beer and, she thinks, maybe a couple of hits from the bong Joe has set up in the basement. It’s embarrassing to listen to him, excruciating actually, and she knows he’ll die of humiliation the next morning. If he even remembers it. She decides to give him something else to remember instead, leaning close and pushing her mouth to his. He squeaks, hand tight against hers as he dives in too eagerly, a clash of teeth and mumbled apologies before his tongue curls against hers as his hands sink into her hair.

 

He kisses like he thinks she might run away if he stops, like the world will stop turning if their lips part, like she’s the centre of his universe, the axis on which his planet turns, the sun in his sky. His lips are chapped, she notices it absently, bitten raw by nervous teeth whenever he climbs up on stage.

 

He’s a good kisser – fucking amazing, in fact – fluttering sweet little pecks of his lips to hers, nipping points of pressure with the sharp press of his teeth that makes them throb a pulse that seems to echo between her legs. His tongue is talented, doing interesting things against the roof of her mouth that make her shiver. Petra is constructed of nothing more than molten honey and stardust. She’s an explosion waiting to detonate with hands curled around his neck as he leans into her. And that’s the thing; she knows her weird little eighteen-year-old best friend shouldn’t get her wet from nothing more than a kiss. She should pull away when he takes her hand and presses it down between his legs, lets her feel the hard throb of his cock under the sharp scrape of his zipper. She should stop him when he slips a hand up her shirt and tweaks gently at her nipple, already stiff and she can’t pretend it’s just the cold as she tucks her mouth to the crook of his neck and moans against his skin.

 

There are voices in the kitchen behind them, questioning cries for the birthday boy that jerk them apart like opposing polarities, eyes dark and hands twitching against thighs as they try to make it look like nothing has happened.

 

“Later?” He whispers hopefully. She just smiles and hopes he’ll forget about it. She slips away early rather than find out, terrified of how she feels as she turns up the collar of his jacket and breathes in the scent of him. She wears it to sleep in that night, nothing else, just the rough denim against the soft of her skin as she slides her whole hand down the front of her panties. She rubs against the press of flattened fingers, grinding into the ridges of them, face down into her pillow to stop herself screaming as she comes and comes, again and again until she’s exhausted enough to sleep and not think about it.

 

He smiles at her at practice the next day, that same look lingering like he has something to say. There’s a tiny bruise on his neck that’s almost the shape of her lips. She ignores him and he doesn’t bring it up again.

 

She catches him sometimes, staring at her wistfully from across the eternity of a basement practice, pretty hands curled in defiant possession around his mic, lips soft with something dangerous. He looks away when she raises her eyebrows, flushed pink and stammering something nonsensical at the toes of his shoes.

 

Once they get signed it becomes easier to deflect him; the band is serious, they shouldn’twon’tcan’t fuck it up by dragging something as stupid as sex into the room with them. He discovers groupies, has fun, discovers a girlfriend and forgets about Petra at least a little in the haze of brand-new love. She pretends she doesn’t notice that the other girl doesn’t like her, that she doesn’t see the lingering glares, the way she finds a reason to slip between them if a conversation lasts a beat too long. She pretends it doesn’t hurt to see him slip away with her, eyes bright and smile slashed wound-wide across his face.

 

She pretends she can’t hear them in the room next door of their apartment, the way his girlfriend moans for him. She decides she must be faking it even as she touches herself, even as she hooks up with other guys and has them touch her. It makes her feel ridiculously powerful to see the way Patrick scowls at them the next morning. But he’s her friend and nothing more, a kid – and a dumb one at that – until the day he isn’t.

 

He goes right ahead and brazenly does that thing that teenage boys do.

 

He grows up.

 

She isn’t sure when, exactly, it happens, when he makes that shift from dumb kid who giggles at tit jokes to a man. She sees it one afternoon as they sit in the van, her legs kicked up onto his thighs, his arm slung across the back of the bench, fingers toying with her hair and his eyes gazing past her at the flat Midwest skyline. It’s something in the set of his jaw, in the way he holds his shoulders and the casual flex of his fingers against the upholstery. He’s a man and that means he isn’t safe anymore, a thought that strikes a confusing pulse in her veins.

 

They share a hotel room that night, always the case when there isn’t enough money to get her a separate room and there aren’t any triples for the boys to share. Twin beds, very proper, even his girlfriend claims she doesn’t mind though Petra hasn’t missed the sour looks the other girl gives her when Patrick slings an arm around her shoulders and slurs drunken declarations of friendship.

 

“You’re my best friend,” he announces, like anyone is listening, “You’re my… my dude without a dick, yeah, I fuckin’ love you, Peep…”

 

She refuses to think about the girlfriend as she showers off the van and post-show sweat and grime, as she washes her hair and shaves her legs, runs the razor over her pussy though she has no idea if he likes that. She won’t think about anything, she tells herself, as she reapplies her eyeliner out of nothing more than vanity and slips, completely naked, out of the bathroom.

 

“You done?” He doesn’t look up from his laptop right away. “I’m pretty sure my crotch is sixty-eight percent ball sweat right now and I…”

 

He almost chokes on his tongue when he glances up, eyes wide then jerking to the floor as his breathing rasps rough over those petal-pink lips.

 

“`Trick?” She wonders if she’s misjudged everything horribly, nerves warring with arousal for which can drive her heart rate highest. “Don’t you… I mean, isn’t this what – what you want?”

 

“Fuck, Peep,” he whispers, fists clenched against the comforter and a voice that stings with accusation. That doesn’t seem entirely fair when he couples it with the nickname he knows only he gets to use. “What the fuck are you doing to me?”

 

Everything in her wants to slink back to the bathroom, to drag on her pajamas – okay his pajamas but she’s claimed them – and hope he’s willing to pretend it never happened. Because of all the scenarios she imagined as she stood under the lukewarm spray of a shitty motel shower, outright rejection wasn’t one of them. She moves towards him, to where he lies on his back on the bed, laptop abandoned next to him, and straddles his hips, daring him to stop her.

 

He doesn’t.

 

“Don’t you want to?” she asks, sliding to grasp his hands in hers and sliding them to her breasts. Callous-rough fingertips find her nipples, tugging and pinching with a flair she’s only seen lavished on his guitar. She’s wet for him, rocking her hips to his as he stares up at her from eyes as dark as midnight. “You always did…”

 

“I have a girlfriend.” It doesn’t even sound like an objection, just an observation as the hard press of his cock pushes against her through his jeans. “Peep, I – ”

 

She won’t let him ruin this, she’s already decided, her hands quick and draft against the buckle and zipper keeping her from his dick. For a few moments it won’t cooperate and she begins to seriously consider gaining access via the huge rip in the thigh of his jeans but then he grabs her wrists in both hands, pinning her still as he pants and writhes beneath her.

 

“M-my hat.” It’s a pathetic objection, if it even is one, she reaches for the trucker hat and sets it on top of her own shower-damp hair. The tension breaks. He laughs and slips a hand between her legs, fingers sliding along her lips as his eyes widen. “Fuck, Petra, you’re so fucking wet.”

 

And that’s how she finds herself on her back in a cheap motel room with Patrick kissing fire into her throat as his fingers do clever things between her legs. He’s good at it, too, but like the kissing it’s a surprise that he knows what to do. She imagined sweet but clumsy fumbling, the warm buzz of an orgasm she mostly had to provide herself. She doesn’t expect to come hard and gasping with crashing stars exploding in her skull as he teases her clit with a single swirling fingertip. She hadn’t expected him to breathe lust and want into her ear, “I wanna eat your pussy. Can I, Peep? Please say yes…”

 

She thinks she might be prepared, after the kissing and the fingering, for him to be better than she anticipated. She lies, trembling and chest heaving, as he bites tiny, bruising little kisses to her inner thighs with greedy moans. She tenses, back arched, as he gently licks along her lips, circling where they part around her swollen clit but not quite touching just the right place.

 

He licks into her, tongue driving right into the core of her as she clenches around him, thighs hugged to his temples as he smirks up at her like he knows a secret. His fingers find her, three pressed inside as his tongue flutters around them, as he raises his head and slowly drags the plush swell of his lower lip over her clit, chasing sensation with hot breath and fired eyes.

 

The calloused pad of his index finger finds that spot, the one that knots pressure between her legs and makes her buck to his mouth as he teases slow, languid, precise. She thinks she screams, head thrown back, the thud of a fist from the other side of the flimsy drywall a strong indication that she’s pissed off Joe.

 

She’ll deal with that in the morning.

 

“Shh,” Patrick soothes, his heavenly mouth – that mouth, Patrick’s irredeemably, eminently, utterly filthy mouth – biting a bruise to her thigh as he orchestrates maddening heat within her with the press and curl of his fingers. “Peep, you gotta shut the fuck up…”

 

Her reply is delivered in the form of fingers knotted into his hair, his mouth dragged back to her clit as he huffs a breathless laugh over nerve-bright, aching, slicked-wet flesh. The noises don’t stop, embarrassing little whines and whimpers as he curls his tongue around her clit, as he licks and kisses and moans into her with a hum that vibrates straight to her skull. She bucks again, hard and desperate, cunt clenching around his fingers like she can absorb him as he breathes something halfway unintelligible about making her squirt.

 

He doesn’t, not this time, but the sudden pull of his tongue against the ache of her clit, the way his fingers tease and twist inside of her as he laves a long, slow, wet lick that burns with wanton heat is enough to arch her back from the mattress. Muscles pull and pulse within her, the very core of her being dragging with her heart beat around the invasive press of his fingers as something close to an incendiary explosion races fire through her bloodstream. There isn’t enough air in the room – and what there is slicks sticky and hot in her lungs – as her body throbs, as her vision washes white to gold to endless, limitless red and swirling orange. She rocks her hips, rubbing against his mouth like she can make it last forever, like the world will end if she stops.

 

He keeps licking, keeps kissing, keeps his fingers still as she shudders around him until the world calms briefly once more. She feels as though she’s on fire, as though she’s drowning, as though there’s nothing but Patrick, warm and solid between her thighs, that stops her from ascending somewhere else.

 

“God, Peep,” he whispers against her skin, lips and chin wet with his spit and her pussy. “Fuck, just… God.”

 

She’s never seen so much of him as she does on the motel bed, so much cream-pale skin dusted with red-gold hair. He contrasts to her perfectly, her gold to his pearl, the pretty pink of his lips closed around the tight dark of her nipples, the way his pale hand looks between her legs as he fucks his fingers into her until she cries out. She wants to possess him, to own and taste each inch of him as she feathers kisses everywhere she can reach, legs around his waist as he grinds into her through denim and cotton and she knows the front of his jeans will smell of her tomorrow.

 

Finally, he struggles out of them, wriggling and kicking until they thump to the floor in a tangle and she can look. He’s got the most gorgeous cock she’s ever seen, thick and pink and curving prettily towards his stomach. He lowers shy eyes, fingertips tracing something onto her thigh – a figure 8 or an infinity loop, she knows which she likes to imagine – her thighs hook to his hips.

 

“Can I suck your cock?” she asks, her mouth watering at the thought of wrapping her lips around him. He shakes his head slowly. “Can you fuck me?”

 

“I don’t have any condoms,” he shrugs and her stomach clenches a little. That’s not what she’s imagined so many times, she wants him inside of her, satin skin and the wet reminder of him in her panties tomorrow. She smiles.

 

“I didn’t expect you to use one,” she whispers, drawing him closer with the wrap of her legs around his waist. There’s a date-marked, foil wrapped blister pack tucked in her bag that says this is okay. “I’m clean, you’re clean, I’m… protected.”

 

She won’t imagine dark-haired, blue-eyed little poppets. She won’t. She’s already a breath away from an I love you. She’s already placing a bet with currency she doesn’t have. She’s already risking everything they’ve worked so hard on.

 

“Oh, you mean…” he trails off as he lowers himself to brace over her, knees and elbows taking his weight as he rubs the flushed-thick length of his cock along the flooded stretch of her pussy. She shudders around the nod, bitten nails stained with sharpie sinking sharp into his shoulders. “Right.”

 

She spreads her legs a little wider, feels him nudge just inside then still, shaking like he’ll break apart with it as he shivers with restraint. Her hands slide to the plush roundness of his ass, pressing and pushing and urging as he sinks into her, as she stretches to accommodate him and he breathes, hot and stale and smelling of stage salt and raw vocal chords, against her neck.

 

“Are you okay?” he asks like a gentleman, like she’s some untouched virgin corrupted by his cock. She wonders if he was his girlfriend’s first then immediately forces herself not to think about that. She nods furiously and strokes his cheek, his sideburns wet with sweat as he presses a kiss to the corner of her lips. “I’m gonna move, yeah?”

 

She’s almost sobbing by the time he does, nerves burnt raw as he drags out slowly, circles his hips as he thrusts back inside of her. It’s never been like this with skinny jean wearing scene boys on piles of coats in dark bedrooms at parties. It was never this good on her college dorm bed, in bathrooms or the backseat of cars with anonymous hands and mouths and dicks that didn’t belong to Patrick.

 

“Do that again,” she begs as he touches that spot inside of her and scores it with a lazy beat against her clit with his thumb. “Please!”

 

He does it again. Again and again in the steadiest rhythm she’s ever felt. She’s never fucked a drummer before, but she’s not certain she wants to fuck anything else as he keeps that perfect tick-tock back and forth. She wonders if she’s still contained within her body or floating somewhere above it as he breathes filth into her ear, as he tells her of all the things he’ll do to her, the ways he’ll take her, how he’ll make her scream for him until her head rings with the same pulse that pounds between her legs.

 

Petra comes screaming.

 

She comes like she’ll die if Patrick stops, like the world is crumbling around them and the flex and push of his shoulder under her greedy, grasping fingernails is the only thing stopping her from drifting to ash. She comes and feels the flood of him inside, the twitch of his cock as he croons her name, sweet and utterly lovely. Her cunt clenches tight around him, drawing each trembling pulse and flutter as he fucks out the last of his orgasm into her until they’re sweaty and breathless. This is it, Petra decides, fingers tight in his hair as she kisses him like she can shotgun the taste of herself that lingers against his lips and tongue, this is everything and all she’s ever wanted.

 

 He shifts above her awakardly, avoiding eye contact like it negates the fact that he’s inside of her.

 

“Are we okay?” he asks, unsure and flushed, his hair tufted and messy around his face as he blinks at her uncertainly. “I mean, I didn’t want – ”

 

“It’s only weird if we make it that way,” she insists with a nonchalance she doesn’t feel. “Let’s… not. Yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” he agrees, pulling out with a chaste kiss brushed to her mouth.

 

He showers but she doesn’t. She wants the reminder tomorrow; the fucked sticky sensation and the bleach-musk smell every time she uses the bathroom. She wants the reminder smudged like pearl against her panties – she does a quick recce in her bag for clean ones and sighs – okay his underwear, that she’ll steal and he’ll grouse but won’t actually mind. He curls into the bed beside her and reaches for his phone, squinting at it in the darkness as he scrolls to his girlfriend’s name.

 

“What are you doing?” she asks, panicked.

 

“I need to tell her it’s over,” he explains patiently, like she’s an idiot as his fingers comb through her hair. “I thought that’s… Isn’t this what you want?”

 

No. It’s absolutely the opposite of what she wants. She’s a girl in the scene, a band around her constructed of guys, touring with other guys in other bands, the only pair of tits on a stage filled with cock. She’s seen the way the girls in the crowd divide between the ones that want to be her and the ones that can’t stand her. She’s heard the whispers in smoky club bathrooms, the red-letter shame of being a girl amongst guys. She doesn’t want to fulfil the prophecy, doesn’t want to be the one dismissed for fucking her way into the band – even though she is the fucking band, even though she does everything and more to make sure no one thinks that.

 

She’s never been sure of anything, a life controlled with prescription pills and time on stage spent screaming her feelings into the abyss. All she’s known is that she doesn’t want average, she doesn’t want to be the prom queen that marries her high school sweetheart and settles for suburban obscurity. The thought turns her cold, shifts her stomach inside out and she won’t go back to it for anyone, for any reason whatsoever, she has to be taken seriously.

 

She’s been so careful, never wears a skirt on stage, skinny jeans and striped shirts or band shirts, studded belts at her hips and converse instead of heels. She never drifts too close to any of them, never rests a hand to a sweat-damp shoulder or brushes a kiss to a stubbled cheek. She’s girl-next-door not scene queen supernova. How long until the girlfriend talks, until petraisacreep is the LiveJournal they flock to for all of the wrong reasons? Her heart is too big for her chest, pulsing raw and wet and messy as she snatches the phone from his hand and switches it off.

 

In the darkness he tenses, stuttered confused and awkward with hands that don’t know what to do.

 

“Just…” she trails off for a moment before sliding a hand around the soft length of his cock. He twitches against her palm, flushing full and thick in a few strokes as he groans out tortured defeat into the air between them, all framed in a weak nod. “Let’s enjoy this, shall we? You can have her at home, this is just… us.”

 

She’s twenty-four and should know better.

 

He’s nineteen and in love with her.

 

She’s got this under control.

 

She’s got this.

Chapter Text

There are days when Petra feels close to normal. Days when the Zoloft chases artificial, pharmaceutical serotonin through her veins like half-hazed sunrises watched through lakeside scenic viewfinders to skirt just around the edges of the depths of her darkness. She’s not sure if she loves those days or dreads them, if the mellow low is worth the pay-off of the absence of a manic high.

 

She’s not sure if that makes her more or less fucked up, she just knows it’s the truth.

 

There are other days, the days the meds don’t take the edge off. Those are the days that Petra feels more ink than blood, the way it seems to trickle from the portrait of personality on her body to drip — drip — drip through cheap pens and onto the faint lines of spiral bound notebooks. Sometimes it makes its way onto a screen, emotions and thoughts and — dare she say it? — poetry poured out to finish with the same question; is petra a creep?

 

Usually, the number that agree outweighs the pitiful ranks of those that don’t. Sometimes, Patrick pretends he doesn’t read the updates, that he isn’t following avidly from under the brim of the dollar store trucker hat she bought him out in Missouri, mostly because she didn’t believe he’d actually wear a hat emblazoned with I [Heart] Bingo.

 

Patrick is full of surprises.

 

Petra is full of antidepressants.

 

(Everyone has to have something, right?)

 

It scares her a little a lot how at home she still feels around him, how easy it is to cast off her clothes and let him trace her body with callous-rough fingertips. She supposes, realistically, she’s been baring everything to him for years, every notebook filled with her soul in stanzas for him to dissect and rearrange. So far, he’s always managed to make her ugly into something beautiful, to twist the hard, cold lines of her into something softer and sweeter, something that kids sing back to her like her thoughts may actually be worth a damn. She loves him a little for that.

 

If they should be nervous that they seem to have severed the sex from the friendship, then he doesn’t seem willing to acknowledge it and she has no intention of bringing it up unprompted. She sits in the back of the bus, her knees tucked up to her chest and hood drawn up, watching him argue with Andy about the TV station as her fingertips dig into the bruise he left on her hip last night. He apologised, he always does, even though she begs him for the rough stuff, measures out her self worth in how hard he can fuck her, how explosively she can make him come.

 

Isn’t love the fucking damnedest thing?

 

Raindrops chase memories down the glass to her left. It didn’t rain the whole time they were in touring and it feels like Chicago is welcoming them home in the best way it knows how. She gathers a little of the condensation that catches prisms of light against the window on the pad of her thumb and impulsively sucks it away. It tastes of copper and salt, but that could be the tang of her bass strings and sweat. It’s layered with something mechanical and greasy that makes her nose wrinkle as it’s chased with the chemical sting of unswallowed pills. She tucks her hand back into the cuff of her hoodie as Patrick tosses her a smile over his shoulder and she’s not sure how it makes her feel.

 

Her fingers itch for her notebook but she’s doesn’t know why. They have an album almost prepared, days mapped in studio time as they pull it together without the frantic rush of the last time. They’ve got all the time in the world, Patrick reassures her every day. But there’s a buzz in her blood like electricity and there’s a freeway under the tires that hums like a lullaby.

 

She should be elated but instead it feels like everything is closing in around her, the tightening of a noose around her neck as she itches under her skin with unspent adrenaline. Petra is a shooting star streaking bright across the sky, glowing out the heat that sings in her veins and there for a moment until she burns out to nothing. She’s noticed only as long as she’s in view.

 

“You okay?” Patrick asks like a clap of thunder on hushed words, framed with a smile he can’t possibly mean. He smells artificially sweet, like soda and red vines, the memory of them clinging to his lips and tongue in a crimson caress. It sort of looks like blood and Petra sort of wonders if she’s losing her mind again. She heard him earlier, phone clamped to his ear as he paced the rest stop diner, murmuring the I love you he never says to her down the line just hours after he fucked her through the regulation mattress of another faceless, budget line hotel room.

 

“Fine,” she lies. She’s pretty good at lying. She’ll be good at pretending it doesn’t hurt to see him take his girlfriend — God, she needs to start thinking of the poor girl by her name, Cassie, her name is Cassie — to his room. She won’t cry until she’s alone and he’ll fake like he doesn’t know why her notebook is smudged. “Good to be home.”

 

“Yeah,” he says and bites his lip. It springs back from under his teeth, plump and shining and she aches with the need to kiss him. It’s gone in a heart beat as he turns back to the windshield.

 

When she was younger, Petra used to talk about how it might feel to touch the hot stove, the potential consequences of throwing herself head first onto the smooth surface of the drained swimming pool in the backyard, what it might be like if the airplane she was travelling in just fell to the ground. Those conversations landed her in talking sessions with a therapist who made sympathetic clucking sounds and tapped her pen against her teeth thoughtfully whilst Petra tried desperately to explain that she wasn’t crazy. Then they put her on pills and she figured maybe she was. It’s not that she doesn’t have the thoughts anymore it’s just… she’s learned not to talk about them. Except in her notebook; her darkness never looks so pretty as it does twisted around Patrick’s lips on stage and under lights.

 

The apartment feels like it swirls with hurricane insanity as they dump bags and race for the shower. Ladies first isn’t a rule they ever invoke with her — in honesty, she suspects they often forget she actually is a girl unless they noticed the tampons stacked in the tour bus bathroom — so she retreats to her room and waits her turn. By the time she emerges, Cassie has arrived and Patrick has disappeared, in his room and pretending he hasn’t had his dick sucked in weeks.

 

As she shaves her legs (right to the hip, and under her arms, the thin line of hair that would bisect the tattoo under navel if she let it, around her nipples and between her legs) she wonders absently if everything would have been easier if she’d just done the polite thing and emerged with a cock of her own. Maybe her mania would be dismissed as masculinity, her bad decisions nothing more than a well-earned case of boys will be boys.

 

Maybe then she wouldn’t be quite so infatuated with Patrick. She can’t imagine it, a male her — a Peter, she supposes, given her dad’s vanity of imposing the family name — on his knees for Patrick, sucking down his cock like it eases the ache. It could have been the good parts, the friendship and the affinity, without the complications.

 

Peter would probably have done the obnoxious thing and been gay, just out of spite.

 

It’s still so early and she’s faced with the decision of go out and find someone to make her feel a little better — self worth based on how pretty they find her is a double-edged sword but a weapon nonetheless — or lose herself in her own company. She stays home, it’s too much to imagine a man that isn’t Patrick with his hands on her. Instead she rests her head against the wall between their bedrooms and listens to the way Cassie moans for him. Do his groans sound the same as they do when he’s with her? He’s breathless and winded but not like hers, not with the faint crack on the end as she deconstructs him with her body.

 

She slips on her headphones and closes her eyes and listens to Guns n Roses with the volume cranked until her head hurts.

 

“Couldn’t sleep?” he asks her at two in the morning, padding on bare feet to fetch a glass of water. She’s moved to the couch at some point, sleep exchanged for enthusiastic infomercials. He’s wearing boxers and a ratty shirt and so is she, like some kind of twisted uniform, her feet tucked up under her on the couch.

 

“What else is new?” she smiles like it’s lighthearted, he frowns because he knows it’s not. “Care to join? I was gonna watch Ghostbusters.” She wasn’t. But she will if it makes him stay.

 

“Sure,” he drops to the couch next to her, arm slung along the backrest behind her head as he yawns. “You okay? You’ve been… weird.”

 

“I’m fine,” she shrugs obnoxiously. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

 

He hums speculatively for a second before tugging at the hem of her shirt, “That mine, Wentz? You know, it’s a gross invasion of privacy to snatch my stuff from the dryer…”

 

“I didn’t snatch it from the dryer,” she grins and hauls it up to her nose, breathing deeply; it smells of him, of warm skin and cheap cologne. It smells of a jean jacket thrown around her on porch steps. “I took it from your bedroom floor.”

 

“You serious?” She’s absolutely serious, his clothes stolen in an endless loop. She’s never understood why someone would take one shirt and keep it, she needs the scent, the illusion of his body heat trapped in the cotton. But he’s looking at her like that might be a little… off. So she lies.

 

“No, you idiot,” she shoves him away, hand braced to his head as she laughs like it doesn’t matter. “I got it out the dryer.”

 

“Right.” She can’t tell if he believes her and that terrifies her more than she can explain. If she can’t understand him better than he understands himself then what’s the point in anything? She shuffles around, head in his lap and legs kicked up on the couch as he smooths a hand over her hair. It’s greasy, she knows that, too long since the last time she washed it but it’s such a fucking effort looking like this. Would Peter spend countless hours flat ironing his hair? Clumping the natural curl of it with product until it hangs straight and smooth and acceptable?

 

She runs a hand slowly up and over his stomach, dragging his shirt with her until her palm is pressed above his heart, the stutter-thump of his pulse speeding under her touch. He glances down, face neutral but eyes engulfed in flame and she wonders if he finds the contrast of her smooth, copper-swirled-onyx skin against the cream-dashed-with-strawberry fuzziness of his quite as captivating as she does. Her mom always tells her she’ll regret her tattoos, that she’ll grow up and grow old and wish she hadn’t scarred herself with pointless pictures. Petra has no plans to grow up or grow old, so it seems kind of immaterial to dwell on it.

 

She presses a kiss to his stomach, revelling in the way he hitches under her touch, in the way his dick twitches and starts to lengthen and thicken just under the line of her jaw. It’s gratifying, she supposes, that he can have spent the night with his girlfriend but still respond to her touch. If she should worry that she takes her sense of worth from that then she firmly decides to think about it later. He’s still staring at her, eyes slightly narrowed, like he’s never seen her before. His thumb traces her lips, the swell and curve of them like a sweep of lip liner (fitting really, that it makes her feel just as powerful, just as desirable) as his eyes darken and he huffs out something between a laugh and a weak, tortured groan. His thumb smells of her and Petra knows she should pull away.

 

Petra is not that smart.

 

“You never say you love me,” she murmurs with a bite of accusation. He’s wide-eyed surprise and a bitten lip as he stumbles for an answer — the right answer, the one she wants to hear. Her brain is buzzing uncomfortably.

 

“Do you want me to?” he asks, confused. Is it really so puzzling to imagine that she might appreciate a little reassurance now and again? Is she so undeserving of that? “You know I do.”

 

That still isn’t an I love you.

 

“You say it to her,” she tries to stop it sounding like a criticism. She’s not sure she manages. “I hear you on the phone, through the wall… I love you, I love you, I love you…”

 

“I do love her,” he shrugs as though it doesn’t matter then hisses when she leans up and licks over the tight bud of his nipple, teeth a sharp suggestion against the pebbled heat of it. “Shit-fuck, Peep — ”

 

“It isn’t love,” she says as he frowns. “You and me. If you don’t want to talk about it then it isn’t love.”

 

“Are we having a conversation or writing an album?” he raises his eyebrows, the silvered scar carved through the right one close to sparkling. She wonders if it’s something Cassie wears. Some teenage powdered body glitter that smells of cheap, artificial strawberry. If it sticks to his skin like a slick of multipack Claire’s lipgloss when he fucks her. “You know what it is, whatever label you feel like slapping on it.”

 

Sometimes she forgets he’s just a kid.

 

“You want me to suck your dick?” she tilts her head at just the right angle, he’s the lense of a camera for the MySpace picture she knows looks incredible, all wide copper eyes and fuck-flushed pout. There’s a damp spot on his pale gray shorts that says that’s exactly what he wants.

 

“God, Petra,” he rakes his hands through his hair, knuckles glowing white in the flicker-flash of the television screen. The VHS is shitty, stretched out and staticy, it flutters shadows across the planes of his face as he stares at her. “What are you doing to me?”

 

That seems rhetorical so she doesn’t answer, choosing instead to rest her lips gently against that ever-growing damp spot. His hips twitch and he flicks a cautious glance at his bedroom door. The apartment sleeps around them, still and silent other than their breathing and the crackling scratch of the tape in the background. His hand moves down to her hair, stroking softly, his thumb tracing her ear. One of them should get their own place, hiding in plain sight isn’t working out for her. She tugs at his waistband like a question mark, the cotton is soft under her hand, well-worn and well-washed.

 

“No,” he shakes his head and tenses with her as she pushes back, rushing in with reassurance as though it can make a difference. “I mean, yeah, of course I want you to it’s just — Cassie? I — I haven’t showered and…”

 

“Yeah, no,” she nods and struggles upright, his shirt dropping back down and the bulge of his cock suddenly seeming more ridiculous than arousing. She tries not to think about the implications of what he’s saying; that he’s fucking Cassie bareback then sliding into bed with Petra to do the same. She doesn’t know why it’s never occurred to her before, he’s been with Cassie for over a year, of course he goes in raw, of course he leaves her shaking, thighs slick with his come. Of course Petra isn’t fucking special. “I get it.”

 

“Wait.” He comes after her, surging across the couch and pinning her to it, solid and hot between her thighs. He doesn’t even glance at his bedroom door as he slides a hand between her legs, as he drags his thumb slowly across the damp, baby blue cotton of her panties. She kisses over the crests of his cheekbones, along the line of his jaw, feels it shift under her lips as his teeth clench. He ruts against her thigh then presses his face to the curve of her throat, breathing her name over and over as he pushes her underwear to the side and slides his fingers inside.

 

His fingertip brushes against her clit, scorching heat that pushes out, out, out in ever expanding waves until she’s sure she’ll combust beneath him. He twists two fingers inside of her as he thumbs at her clit, lips mouthing at her neck as their breathing stutters together. She’s soaked, drenching his hand, her thighs, burning from the inside out as her hands fist into his hair and his mouth finds her nipple, stiff and sensitive through her his shirt.

 

It’s not that she doesn’t care that Cassie is literally in the next room.

 

It’s just that she doesn’t care enough to do anything about it.

 

“I’m gonna come,” he breathes, hot and sticky against her chest, and she glows with pride because she’s sure, oh she’s absolutely certain, that Cassie doesn’t have this effect on him. “Oh, fuck…”

 

“Not yet,” she gasps the words, barely biting off the moan that bubbles up as soon as she opens her mouth. They have to be quiet. She slides a hand down between them, fingers ghosting over her clit as he scrambles to his knees to watch, his own fingers still buried inside of her.

 

His eyes darken, lips red and wet and soft as he stares, entranced, as she works herself over. She makes a show of it, arching her back and fucking down onto his fingers, her own skating delicately over her clit. She’s so close but wants to draw it out, wants to feel it ache down into her bones. He drops his head, licks right down to the nerve endings in her thighs with a groan muffled by couch cushions and skin. He moves across, his tongue fluttering around her fingers and Petra is seeing stars, dragging him to her as she grinds up to his heavenly mouth.

 

She thinks she hears him chuckle, dark and dangerous, as he sucks her clit between his lips, his mouth nudging to the frame of her fingers, his tongue teasing gently under the hood. Her hold on reality slips, the scream of his name lost in the clap of his free hand over her mouth. She bites down, sinking her teeth into his skin like she can tear him apart with it, her cunt clenching around his fingers. She wants to watch, wants to see the way she grasps at him, wants to watch him drive his cock inside of her and fuck her weak-kneed and shaking. She’s pulsing around him, each ripple of her body shaking a shudder through him as he stares up at her in from between her thighs like she’s the fucking rapture.

 

There’s so much blue in the room. Blue static light from the TV, blue panties, blue eyes. She wants to swirl it with gold and make something beautiful.

 

“Fuck,” he gasps, thumbing hard over her swollen clit just to make her shiver with sensitivity. Just because he loves the way she tightens around his fingers.

 

“You can come on my tits.” The offer is out before she really thinks about it. She never wanted to be that girl — the one they fuck because it’s like watching porn — but this is Patrick and she’s pretty sure he doesn’t see it that way. She pulls off her his shirt and revels in the way he looks at her, eyes dark and mouth shining, thick lower lip bitten hard until he nods. As though there were any other possible outcome.

 

He slides to straddle her hips, cock eased from his shorts, thick and pretty as he wraps his hand around himself and begins to stroke. He smells of sweat and sex that isn’t them. Petra’s stomach coils tight as she watches the slick, red head of his dick sliding wet and shining through his fist on each stroke and scores matching ruby trails of possession up his thighs with the scrape of her blunt nails.

 

Cassie has pretty nails. Manicured with french tips.

 

He comes fast, eyes closed and head tipped back as the wet heat of it spatters her chest. It’s not the same as feeling it on her thighs, watching his cock twitch in his hand isn’t the same as feeling him pressed deep inside of her. Petra feels cheap. Empty.

 

She feels even worse when he makes an excuse and shuffles back to his room — detouring past the dryer for fresh shorts — leaving her sticky and alone on the couch. Because she didn’t mean to fall in love with him and she never intended to let him know. It was all so horribly uncontrolled, so recklessly incidental. Everything feels too much and not enough, too much noise in her head and not enough sound in the room. There’s static buzzing in her veins where there should be blood, a fever itch and nightmare shadows looming in the corners of the apartment.

 

He didn’t kiss her once.

 

She fumbles for her phone. She scrolls to James. They’re off-and-on and on an off at the moment but she’s pretty sure she can turn it to an on if she just says the right things. He’s pretty, she knows that objectively, tall where Patrick is short, hard where Patrick is soft. He’s handsome and looks good in tight jeans and with her draped over him in pictures. He’s the boyfriend everyone expects her to have and sometimes it seems as though her brand of not-right-in-the-head matches perfectly to his, like she could let go and drift  rather than constantly kicking against the tide until she’s exhausted.

 

He’s not enough but she’s getting used to that and he’s better than nothing so she calls him, unsurprised but still kind of hurt when he cuts the call off after two rings.

 

She should go back to bed but what’s the point? All she’ll do is lie awake, counting the cracks in the ceiling and feeling as though her bones are trying to shake their way out of her skin. If she watches the way they tense and flex in the back of her hand, she can almost imagine it, can see the way the muscle might split, the gold giving way to red and washed-clean white. When did she last take her medication? She doesn’t remember. She grabs it from the bathroom cabinet and shoves it into the pocket of a hoodie she thinks is Patrick’s. It’s plain black cotton, warm, soft with wear and smells of his skin around the neckline.

 

Car keys liberated from the hook, she pads into the hallway and down to the parking lot, chasing shadows on the walls. She wants to scream into the silence of the city, wants the walls to ring with the sound of her voice because she’s not sure she exists, needs the reassurance that she’s real and solid and still breathing. The faux leather upholstery is cool against her thighs, even through her sweatpants, the steering wheel slippery with her sweat and rubbed shiny where a dozen different hands have grabbed at it over the years.

 

She drives.

 

She doesn’t pay attention to where she’s going, just intersection after stop sign after red light until she finds another parking lot. She can feel her pulse in her wrists, at her temples, singing behind her eyes as the mutters of impending failure crescendo higher and higher until her ears ring with them. It’s too loud, too much, she slams the heel of her palm into her temple again and again until her head feels as though it’s vibrating and it’s still, somehow, not enough.

 

She’s not enough.

 

They stand at a precipice, the band and Petra, and she realises now that she’s doing nothing but holding everyone back. She’s the reason they’ll never be taken seriously, the reason magazines dismiss them as a girl band even though she’s outnumbered three to one. They can jump and soar, or crash to ashes and she knows which way she’ll pull them, the anchor that keeps them weighed down.

 

She doesn’t want to be crazy, not any more. She doesn’t want a lifetime dominated by insanity and the constant, exhausting rollercoaster rush of never being fully in control. She feels as though she’s been in freefall for over a decade, a youth spent plummeting towards the ground, watching it rush up to meet her and bracing for an impact that never comes. It’s endless torture, it’s never-ending fear as she stares, wide-eyed and waits for the ground to fill her vision, for pain, for silence, for something.

 

There’s something sour at the back of her tongue, something thick and clagging that makes her gag. Strange, she doesn’t remember taking the bottle from her pocket. She feeds in another pill and prays to something she doesn’t believe in for silence. Leonard Cohen is humming hallelujah on the radio. Ironic.

 

She should be thinking noble thoughts about her parents and siblings right now, she’s pretty sure of it. She should have left a note, shit, a fucking note. This is the digital age and maybe a LiveJournal post will do but she doesn’t have her laptop, doesn’t have an internet connection, doesn’t have a hope. That’s sort of the point.

 

“Peep?” She’s feeling a little off-centre, slightly drowsy in a loose-limbed way. She doesn’t remember picking up the phone. “Peep, where the fuck are you?”

 

“‘S’okay,” she slurs down the line. Poor Patrick, he sounds worried. “‘S’fine. I’ll — I’ll see you some other time, okay? I love you.”

 

“Where the fuck are you?” he sounds like he’s drifting further away, rushing in and out of focus as she rests her cheek against the steering wheel and closes her eyes. She wonders if he’ll just keep repeating that over and over — is he real or just an echo down a hallway?

 

“‘S’yellow,” she whispers, the glow of the sign on the wall like a smudge of yellow marker. Tiredness spiderwebs through her. “Best — Best Buy. Did something — something dumb.”

 

“I’m coming,” Patrick assures her and she thinks that’s nice as her eyes blink closed. “Just keep talking to me.”

 

~*~

 

The band fly out to the UK a week later, while Petra moves her stuff from the apartment back to her old room in her parent’s house. Her throat is still scraped sore from being intubated, the back of her hand itching where they drove in an IV. Patrick tells her it’s for the best, that there are fans with tickets and an album waiting to drop. He points out that they need the hype, that they can hold it together for a few dates and it all sounds so reasonable, so painfully fucking sensible. Petra just sees them moving on without her.

 

Chapter Text

The midsummer heat is oppressive, the sun beating down as though it intends to burn up all it touches. Everything absorbs the heat; tarmac, buses, equipment and sweat-slicked skin, drinking it in, internalising and intensifying it until it feels as though the whole amphitheatre is nothing more than a scorched-bright supernova, a red giant set to burn down the world around it. Skin sticks to skin in this heat, Petra knows that, salt staining her fingertips as she slides them down over his chest, his stomach, skirting the edge of his navel.

 

It’s so fucking hot. Each bead of sweat that forms at her hairline tracks shiver-shocks as it traces down over her spine, caught in the cup of his hands to her hips as she bites her lip and concentrates on the way he feels inside of her. This would be better in a hotel room, better outside, better anywhere that isn’t crushed up in his bunk with the curtains drawn until the air is thick enough to taste. He runs the pad of his thumb over the dark peak of her nipple and laughs, all breath, as she shudders.

 

He’s close, she can feel it in the way he tenses below her, the way his head arches back in the gloom and he whispers her name. She wonders if it’s the way it tastes that makes everyone so reluctant to say it in more than a murmur. She figures she’s probably being paranoid.

 

“Do I feel good?” he asks, and she almost wants to laugh at how conversational it sounds.

 

“Amazing,” she agrees, mostly because she’s learnt that that’s the sort of thing guys like to hear when they’re fucking her. It doesn’t matter if it’s true — although, to be fair, he does feel pretty good — and didn’t she write that the best part of believe is the lie? “So fucking good.”

 

“Are you gonna come?” he says around a bitten lip, glasses askew. She wonders if she’s fucking him or playing twenty questions but once she gets a couple of fingers on her clit it starts to feel better and she whines with a nod. “Mmm, fuck yeah.”

 

She’s embarrassed to feel a patch of stubble that she missed trying to shave in the swaying bus bathroom as they rumbled between cities. She really ought to wax but that would mean letting everything grow back in every few weeks and she’s not willing to do that. She ignores it as best she can and concentrates instead on getting off and still leaving herself enough time to shower before their set. She’s lost track of the time and she’s almost certain it would be really fucking rude to glance at her phone right now.

 

It takes a few more minutes, but he comes with a twist of his hips, his back arched and his eyes closed as he groans, low and breathy. She’s not close enough to get off before one or both of them gets bored but she does a pretty convincing job of faking it, grinding down onto him as she clenches and unclenches her pussy around his cock. He moans a little and stays inside of her, flopped back against the mattress with his eyes closed and his mouth open, his hands curled to fists on either side of his head. It feels presumptuous just to lean down and kiss him, but she does it anyway and he kisses back, his hands in her hair, twisting hard and holding her to him.

 

“You’re fucking amazing, Pete,” he whispers whilst she wonders if it’s impolite to slide off him yet. She hates that nickname anyway, not that he knows that because, of course, she’s never told him. But still, she’s pretty sure that despite the band and the obnoxious ability to drink most of them under the table, she is still actually female. Technically, at least. He slips out of her, condom already wrinkled against his softening cock. The whole thing seems so much less appealing in the aftermath. “Hey, where are you going?”

 

He slides an arm around her as she moves to grab her bra, his lips brushed to her shoulder, warm and sweet. Is this how it feels to sort of matter to someone or is he just fuck-drunk and looking for another round? A stolen glance at her phone tells her she won’t have time to shower, that the smell of sex will mingle with the sweat of the stage, that the dust kicked up by the crowds will stick to her skin until everything burns a little.  

 

“I have to get to the stage,” she smiles, big and bright, all teeth and shining eyes. “Are you coming to watch?”

 

“Yeah,” he nods, shuffling around as he pulls off the condom. He’s still mostly dressed and she can’t find her panties. “Of course.”

 

Mikey, in a lot of ways, splits himself between being like James and being like Patrick. He’s tall, slim, looks good in tight jeans and tighter shirts just like James. He wears glasses just like Patrick, is sort of quiet and nerdy just like Patrick. But he emphatically isn’t Patrick and he definitely isn’t James. Maybe that’s why she’s fucking him, why they’re the worst kept secret on Warped Tour when they sneak off together in a twilight, post show haze that paints her just a little more reckless than she would usually be.

 

(He doesn’t make her come like Patrick does, but he can usually get her off and that’s enough to take the edge off.)

 

She dresses fast and rushes to the bus, just enough time to play dress up in too much smokey eye makeup layered over the sweat and the memory of the pressure of Mikey’s hands against her skin. She can’t find her deodorant so sprays on some of Patrick’s and hopes it goes some way to covering up the smell of sex she’s sure she can see hazed over her body. She takes a moment to consider her reflection. On balance she decides she looks mostly fine.

 

For a disorienting minute or two, she can’t place herself in the venue. Is the stage left or right? Did she walk past catering already? Everything feels loose and unhinged and she can feel her temperature rising under the beat of the sun, sweat clouding everything and she’s not sure she can breathe…

 

“Peep!” her head jerks up at the sound of Patrick’s voice. “You’re late.”

 

He’s pretending not to scowl, his chin buried in the bandana knotted around his neck. He should look fucking ridiculous — objectively, she supposes he absolutely does — but her stomach still knots as she changes course and heads for them. Cassie is with him, wide-eyed in that way she always is when he invites her along, but those pretty blue eyes narrow when she sees Petra, her hand sliding possessively into Patrick’s back pocket. Petra isn’t sure if it’s jealousy or irritation that’s going to win out as she slips her bass over her head and shoves her radio pack into her jeans. She bites her lip until she’s sure she’ll taste copper, that her teeth will sink straight through, anything has to be better than looking Cassie in the eye and declaring I’m fucking your boyfriend like she wants to.

 

She’s almost sure it can’t be worth it.

 

They look good together, she reminds herself, all that blonde hair and blue eyes and smooth, pale skin. A perfect match, a physical embodiment of MFEO.

 

He kisses her, obnoxious and loud, the wet noise of it uncomfortably close to Petra’s ear as she shifts away. She catches Joe’s eye and grins as he grimaces and mimes a gag, mouths fucking gross, right and waits for their cue. It’s easier not to care when she can still feel the pressure of Mikey’s boney hips on the inside of her thighs.

 

Everything seems to flow better once she’s on stage, the missing pieces of her puzzle picked up amongst the cables coiled on the ground. She finds gravity in the way she can see the crowd sing along with Patrick and scream along with her as though the words she’s written resonate. Fuck what the critics say, if she wants to scream until her throat bleeds, if it gives her a moment when everything else falls to a crushing silence, she’ll take what she can get.

 

Unlike the pills — which only leave her numb — it leaves her soaring, tacks like oxygen onto her blood to pound through her system.  

 

Mikey doesn’t show, the side of the stage crowded with the ever-increasing number of people that have heard about them, that have heard the new album and want a little taste of it, but he’s not one of them. She catches Cassie’s eye without meaning to, the glare she receives is undiluted venom, warning humming between them like shots fired overhead. Petra waits for the bullets to land, to thud to the ground around her as Cassie mouths something that looks remarkably like whore.

 

But this is the thing; Petra is not a fucking whore. She’s been called many things during her time on the music scene and the time that came before it, insane, talentless, pointless, window dressing but nothing hurts as much as the word whore. A single syllable designed to reduce her to nothing more than a warm, wet hole to fuck. It’s whispered on message boards — the ones she can’t control — the list of people she’s supposedly fucked to get where she is. No one accuses Patrick of fucking his way to frontman, no one talks about the mouths wrapped around Joe’s cock in the back of the bus. Fury glows in her chest, an ember fanned to a flame and raised to an inferno.

 

Petra is the only reason Cassie still has him, the sole reason she didn’t receive a graceless text in the darkness a year ago. The lack of gratitude is pretty fucking wearing. They’re halfway through Dance Dance, the song she wrote for him and he underscored with the rhythm of his hips. It seems fitting and so, as the song winds on around her, Petra makes yet a another poor life choice.

 

She maintains eye contact with Cassie even as leans across her bass and presses a kiss to Patrick’s throat, mouthing at his skin as he sings.

 

He tastes of sweat; salt-bright and sharp on her lips. He’s hot enough to burn as he locks tense, shooting frantic glances from the corner of his eye that bounce between her and Cassie, his voice cracking in surprise. She adds a lick, slides her tongue against his skin and feels the caged-bird-frantic flutter of his pulse as Cassie’s scowl darkens in the split second before she pushes back, through the crowd and to God knows where.

 

The glow of victory lasts exactly as long as it takes for common sense to crowd back in. She just kissed him — fucking licked his neck — right out here in front of several thousand people. His eyes are impossibly wide as he stares at her, his throat working frantically as he swallows, face flushed as he knocks the peak of his cap down over his eyes and concentrates intently on his guitar.

 

If there were already sparks of rumours, she’s just thrown down the gasoline and lit a match.

 

She can pretend it’s all okay for exactly as long as it takes to finish the set, for the crowd to grab onto her as she hurls herself into the pit. For a few moments, she’s weightless, floating above them as though nothing matters anymore. By the time she’s hauled out, security grasping knuckles into the spikes of her pyramid  belt, by the time she’s lifted back onto solid ground, a kiss blown to the crowd from the stage, Patrick has already made his way backstage.

 

She swears to herself that she won’t feel guilty. She isn’t the one that sets his fatally flawed moral compass, she isn’t the reason he’s made the decisions that he’s made, why he’s done the things he’s done and will no doubt continue to do. Petra is merely the outlet, the vessel into which his bad decisions run and she will not be held accountable.

 

“The bus,” Patrick snarls from the corner of his mouth, shoulders squared as he appears from the crowd and tosses his guitar to the side. “Now.”

 

“We’re supposed to go to the signing tent,” she says with vague disinterest barely disguising the irritation that hums in her veins. She is not a kid to be summoned for a scolding. “I don’t think we’ve got time — ”

 

“If you’ve got time to fuck Mikey,” Patrick turns on her suddenly, alight with fury and something else, something that sets its sails like jealousy, fluttering bright in his eyes, “then you’ve got time for this. Bus. Now.”

 

They walk side by side but not touching, the same as they’ve always done, the same reason she shakes her head with a smile every time a photographer tries to coerce something more intimate from them. We’re not that kind of band, delivered with a smile and they change their minds, find her some other pose to strike that doesn’t involve draping herself over the guys like an accessory. But if she stretches her hand a couple of inches, their knuckles might brush and, hypothetically at least, that might feel nice.

 

At the bus, he stays calm as he keys in the code, as he climbs the steps and walks to the tiny lounge and waits for her to follow. Once the door swishes closed behind her, once she joins him on the opposite side of the table, he promptly throws his fist through the nearest panel. She blinks at the hole, ragged edged and imperfect, a scar on the wall that speaks of bad decisions and poor impulse control.

 

Hers or his?

 

Does it matter?

 

“What did you think you were doing?” he asks, icily calm as he nurses his bruise-bloomed knuckles against his chest. She shrugs and tries not to smile; he’s hilarious when he’s angry. “Oh, I get it, you’re not going to answer? Of course not. You’re Petra fucking Wentz.”

 

He rubs at the skin of his neck like she’s left an itch, as though she’s tainted him with her touch and branded him unclean. There’s a sticky, unpleasant taste at the back of her throat, words tangled there like thorns that threaten to choke her. She spits them out, lets them land on the table between them.

 

“Oh, come off it, Patrick, I barely fucking touched you,” she snaps. His scowl deepens. “It was just a stupid kiss, it’s not like I dragged your pants down and fucking blew you in front of everyone.”

 

She leaves it unsaid that she keeps those moments for when they’re alone.

 

“No, you’re too busy doing that to Mikey fucking Way,” he snarls around gritted teeth. “You think no one knows what’s going on? You think people aren’t starting to talk?”

 

“I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks,” she points out, internally congratulating herself on keeping her voice level. “If you have a problem with it — ”

 

“I don’t have a problem with who you fuck,” he stutters, hat snatched off and tossed across the room. A hole in the wall, then throwing his hat, what next? Maybe he’ll call his mom and tell her he didn’t eat any vegetables with his lunch. “Go right ahead, get whatever reputation you want.”

 

“You’re jealous,” she accuses him, viciously pleased when a flush creeps up his neck, cresting across his cheekbones as he ducks his head, avoiding her eyes in favour of examining his fingernails. “So, let me say it out loud, just so you can hear how fucking pathetic you sound; I can suck your cock when your girlfriend isn’t around, but if I suck someone else’s, I’m a whore?”

 

“I never called you a whore,” he mutters at the table top.

 

“And you never said you weren’t jealous,” she points out with a shrug, the injustice of it all bubbling through her veins until she could claw them open, let it flow black and bitter to stain them both. “Go ahead, say it.”

 

Patrick smiles, small-tight-bitter, fingers laced against cheap formica. Petra waits, breath held and pulse throbbing, for him to speak, to say something — anything at all — to break the silence. Instead, he climbs to his feet, fumbles for his hat and heads for the front of the bus.

 

Patrick, it turns out, can convey a lot without saying a word.

 

~*~

 

Patrick fucks Cassie hard that night in the bunk above Petra’s.

 

She throws the shitty desk fan provided to replace the busted air conditioning from one end of the bus to the other.

 

She calls it serendipity that no one gets hurt and spends the rest of the night with her notebook, phone propped between her chin and shoulder, the blue-buzz glow if it illuminating her scrawl.

 

~*~

 

She finds herself alone on the bus the following day, legs crossed beneath her as she flips through potential designs for her dress for the upcoming Video Music Awards. She’s close to settled on something in white, a punked up parody of a knee-length prom dress scattered with the same design that rests beneath her navel. She’ll wear it with black converse, she decides, make the guys wear black and white alongside her. She’ll style her hair and do something pretty with her eye makeup. Maybe she’ll wear her hair up. They don’t stand a chance of winning so they might as well stand out on the red carpet because — as she knows — there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

 

She sends an email to the designer, approves the designs with a flourish of the keys then slumps back onto the couch and wonders idly if Mikey is free.

 

A prickle shivers the hairs at the back of her neck, the off-centre sense of a pair of eyes on her as she turns, jumping with a gasp when someone is all too close behind her, lurking in the galley of the bus.

 

“Cassie?” she calls.

 

Halfway down the bus, Cassie freezes for a moment, shoulders stiff with unspoken rage. Petra’s not sure if she’s angry she got caught creeping, annoyed she’s been interrupted or simply buzzing with an entirely well-placed hatred for Petra herself. Cassie doesn’t speak.

 

“Are you looking for Patrick?” she asks, trying to be helpful even though it sets her teeth on edge. She wants to swing her arms wide and declare that he’s not there, that she has no idea where he is, to demand the praise for avoiding a temptation Cassie has no idea she’s battling with. Instead she bites her lip for a moment then continues softly. “Maybe he’s out by catering? Want me to help you look?”

 

Cassie moves forward, her features no longer contorted by shadows as she steps into the lounge. Her pretty face is twisted, knotted with something dark and unyielding caught in her smile as she leans casually against the wall.

 

“You don’t like me,” Cassie states.

 

It’s true, Petra really doesn’t like her.

 

“I don’t know you,” she answers instead, carefully balanced as she adjusts the way her beanie sits against her hair. Cassie is every girl she hated in high school; polished and pretty and aware of what they wanted.

 

“You’re fucking Mikey Way.” It isn’t a question, it doesn’t require an answer. Petra, however, is incapable of demonstrating restraint.

 

“Right now?” she goads instead, eyebrows raised innocently as she looks from side to side with exaggerated slowness. “I mean — I don’t see him here? Do you?”

 

Cassie laughs, an ugly little noise that Petra echoes, loads it with sarcasm as she drums her nails against the tabletop. This is a dangerous conversation, there’s too much catching on the edges of their syllables, too many unsaid words designed to hurt. But apparently Cassie has cast herself as Bette Davis in this particular picture and moves closer, looms over her and Petra decides she won’t give her the satisfaction of moving. She stays seated, keeps her legs crossed and runs her thumb lightly along the edge of the laptop.

 

“Cute,” Cassie snarls in a way that suggests she thinks Petra is anything but. “You know, Patrick told me all about you,” Petra won’t react, she won’t, just bites the inside of her cheek until she tastes blood, copper-salt-sharp on her tongue, “he told me the guys on tour had a bet on how many would be able to fuck you.”

 

It’s a cheap shot, designed to hurt, delivered by someone barely out of high school. Petra knows it’s bullshit, she’s not as ridiculously stupid as all of her critics would like to believe. She breathes deep, in through her nose, out through her mouth and tastes the chemical sweetness of Cassie’s Hot Topic perfume at the back of her tongue.

 

“Did he? That’s nice,” she examines her nails and wonders if he defends her, in the inevitable arguments that the two of them must have had concerning her, does he fight for her or agree? Besides, she doubts very much that Patrick has told Cassie all about her. Has he told her the way Petra feels around his tongue? The way she looks as she rides him? “You know, I’m sort of busy right now, but it’s been fun — ”

 

“Stay away from him,” Cassie interrupts her, still smiling, still blazingly insincere. “Just — accept that he’s not interested and stop making yourself look like a desperate whore.”

 

With that she spins on the heel of her pretty little pink converse, her dress swirling around her thighs as she trips her way delicately down the galley and off the bus. That word again. Petra grits her teeth and counts backwards from thirty — ten won’t be enough — until she’s sure she isn’t about to give chase and make a fool of herself in front of everyone.

 

Petra sucks Patrick’s cock that night behind the bus while Cassie calls her mom from the bunks. She sinks her nails into his hips and urges him to fuck his way down her throat, his hands fisted into her hair until he fills her mouth with the taste of him.

 

Revenge has never tasted quite so sweet.

 

~*~

 

They win the VMA and Patrick crushes her to him. Every ounce of self control she has is gathered, stored and redirected to stop her from pressing her mouth to his right there in front of the cameras.

 

At the after party, she can’t find him, searching the crowds for his fedora. Someone tells her he left already, swept away in a black car and for a moment or two she thinks about following him. Then Mikey sidles over, full of congratulations and shy smiles and she forgets all about Patrick in the press of a champagne flute to her hand.

 

It takes him three days to admit to her that the first text he received after the award was from Cassie telling him it was over.

 

Chapter Text

Petra tries hard to keep the press happy.

 

She smiles at all of the right times, she wears the right clothes (as though that were actually possible — she’s either a slut with her tits on display or a dyke in an old flannel of Patrick’s as though not being into guys is some kind of insult). She makes sure that she appears in the right places at the right times. She — mostly — keeps her relationship with James off MySpace and in Chicago. In amongst it all, somehow, Petra seems to have forgotten exactly how to make herself happy. All this means is that, apparently, no one is happy.

 

She isn’t sure this is what she wanted and tells Patrick so as they lie in bed at his place. He smells of own brand shower gel and whispered promises in the back of a beaten up van as he strokes her hair in the darkness.

 

“I was just thinking,” she begins, in that way she has that she knows makes his eyes roll. “And what if…”

 

“And what if,” he repeats. Somehow when he says it, it doesn’t sound like a question and she wonders if she’ll ever reach a point where she doesn’t need the answers to everything laid out in front of her. “What if, what if, what if.”

 

Patrick always knows exactly the right thing to say to her.

 

“You should get a new bassist,” she sighs, rolling away to face the wall. “Maybe one that can actually play bass.”

 

He laughs softly as he shifts after her, his thumb tracing gently over the ink and scar tissue at the small of her back. At least she can congratulate the Petra “Class of ‘94” edition for resisting the temptation to scar herself up with the suggestion of butterfly wings to flutter above the waist of her jeans.

 

“No way,” he says against her shoulder, lips shifting softly. “You’re not running out on us,” he doesn’t say if he means us: band or us: Petra-and-Patrick, “Did you take your meds?”

 

“You’re not my babysitter,” she snaps, irritated that he acts as though there’ll never been enough secondsminuteshoursdays between them and a Best Buy parking lot, a ghost of the now that could have been lurking over them like city smog. “Or my mom.”

 

“I know.” He strokes her hair and presses a kiss to her cheek. “Just asking.”

 

“Well don’t.”

 

They fall silent and it aches through her.

 

This seems to be what they are now. An unspoken secret, a hushed murmur of something that she can’t quite pronounce. It tickles the tip of her tongue now and again; the times when he looks at her like he wants to declare her to the world. In those moments, she gets a sense of what it might be like to be with someone who’s proud of her. She’s quick to shut him down, to cut him off, to fill the screaming accusations of inadequacy with dead space and silence. His breathing is soft in her ear, slow and low as he lies a carefully mapped distance away, precise in his quest to ensure that no part of their bodies touch.

 

“You act like you’re the only one with insecurities,” he whispers hours later, long after she thought he’d fallen asleep. She reaches back and touches his cheek in lieu of an answer, fingertips soft against the scritch-scritch-scritch of his stubble. “I have to deal with the fact that my girlfriend is a solid ten and I’m barely scraping a four.”

 

“Oh?” she smiles at the patterns carved by the fluorescent glow of the streetlight through the askew line of his bedroom blinds, “Girlfriend, hmm? Is she someone I know?”

 

She feels the curve of his grin against her throat as he presses close to her back, his arm slung over her waist in casual possession. She leans back into him and closes her eyes and tries to imagine a Petra that could do this without fucking up.

 

The thing about Patrick — a superficially interesting little factoid, the kind of thing printed in magazine articles — is that he’s an incredibly heavy sleeper. He can sleep anywhere, through anything, hell, she’s seen him sleep standing up, draped over an amp and has the photograph as proof.

 

That means it’s easy to slip out from under his arm when his breathing steadies, to pull on her jeans and his hoodie and steal from his house while the city’s hum ticks on like radio static. She doesn’t leave a note — although she thinks about it — because what could she say? I’m sorry, my particular brand of crazy flips the fuck out when you treat me like a normal, rational human being? She drives to the lake and spends the rest of the night watching the sky shade from diamond scattered velvet to rose-tinged gold as she writes, notebook balanced on her knees. At just after six, her sidekick chirps from her pocket, accusation spelt out in pixels across a lock screen picture of her and Patrick, side by side in Central Park.

 

Fuck you.

 

He doesn’t bring it up next time she sees him. Neither does she.

 

She almost wishes he would.

 

~*~

 

“You should let me take you out for dinner,” Gabe leans against the wall, lean legs, dark eyes, dangerous grin. “Seriously.”

 

A catchy cover of Hollaback Girl has him standing in her office, tight jeans, taut muscle (acres of it, God he’s so fucking tall — Petra is used to standing a couple inches over Patrick, what would kissing Gabe feel like?) and arms folded as he doesn’t even attempt to hide the fact he’s checking her out. From a feminist point of view, she should be pissed off. She’s not.

 

“You should quit hitting on your boss,” she points out with a laugh, like she doesn’t enjoy the attention. He’s all talk, but it’s smooth talk. “Besides, you couldn’t afford me.”

 

“You’re breaking my heart, Wentz,” he clutches it for effect. Gabe is a blaze of neon and poor taste, purple hood tossed up over his snapback. “But seriously,” he cocks his head and smiles, “I owe you.”

 

(Objectively, Petra knows he’s cute. She also knows he’s charming and that he’s hit on the receptionist, two session musicians and a sound tech since he arrived at the office two hours ago. Objectively, Petra is aware that this doesn’t make the doe-eyed glance from under his cap quite as special as he’d like her to believe. Subjectively, he’s exactly her type and she’s almost entirely sure she can stop this from crashing and burning.)

 

“Damn right you do,” she says hiding her grin in the wrap of the scarf around her neck. “You can pay me in units.”

 

“I can pay you in Taco Bell. If we go platinum, I’ll make it an Arby’s,” he counters, leaning a little closer, close enough that she can smell peppermint gum and truly horrible decisions. He has beautiful eyes. “Come on. What if we took a stand for love, right here, Petra Wentz.”

 

“I have a boyfriend, jackass.” She doesn’t. Off-and-on, on-and-off, on an off and she’s not sure she wants to switch it around anymore. Maybe she’s done with crazy and just needs charming. “You waited too long.”

 

“You fucking wound me,” Gabe says, all puppy dog eyes and dangerous grin. “Girl, I’ve been hitting on you since the nineties.”

 

“Yeah but you were just a creepy guy in a shitty band back then,” she pauses a perfect beat before raising an eyebrow. “I guess nothing’s really changed.”

 

Petra’s crazy comes and goes, pulled and pushed like the tide under an ever present moon. Cyclic, but without the predictability, she thinks of it more as an ever-decreasing helix. Once upon a time, the manic sides were far apart, spaced with another gentle twist on the loop down through normal. But they’re speeding up as she plummets and she’s terrified of what’s waiting at the vortex.

 

But today is a good day. Right now, she’s functioning with the meds buzzing soft through her system and flattening out the hard lines and angles. Gabe is smiling and Gabe is cute and Gabe doesn’t know the extent of just how fucked up Petra can be. Gabe doesn’t know about Best Buy but then, no one outside of the band and a slack handful of executives know. God knows the label worked hard to keep it out of the press, assuring her that the last thing the band needed was whispered gossip about her being “hysterical” or “attention-seeking” or, and this was her favourite, just “premenstrual.”

 

To Gabe, she’s a blank canvas, she’s fresh blues and candy pinks. She’d like to keep that, at least for a while.

 

Her sidekick buzzes on the desk — Patrick — she flips it face down and pretends she doesn’t notice the fact that Gabe notices.

 

“Do you have a band yet?” she asks, chewing on the cap of her pen. “It’s kind of central to what you’re asking me to do here, you know?”

 

She won’t fuck him. Too messy. But it’s nice to distract herself, however briefly.

 

“Working on it,” he assures her, with a blinding grin. “Trust me.”

 

She sort of does.

 

~*~

 

The doctor changes her meds when she complains they make her feel numb.

 

She doesn’t notice much difference with the new ones, besides the compulsion to swallow down double the dose each time.

 

~*~

 

She’s tripped past buzzed and into drunk when she gets the text from James. Words designed to woo, to lower her defences and stop her from barking back with a perfectly reasonable query as to why he’s getting in touch after three months of radio silence.

 

In truth, she’s lonely. Patrick hasn’t been around as much, retreating into himself since the night she snuck out of his bed like some shady teenager avoiding their parents, and she can’t say she blames him. But it means it’s hard to resist when James says he’ll call her, easy to answer and fall back into familiar rhythms with a familiar voice and the memories of a familiar cock. She’s kicked off her jeans but not her hoodie, hand down her panties as he whispers encouragement down the line and she’s so — fucking — close. She stops, breath sucked sharp through her lips until her teeth are chilled with it.

 

“You want to see?” she asks, sugar sweet and teasing as his breath catches down the line.

 

“You mean…” he trails off, leaves it unsaid as she struggles to her feet and to the bathroom, sidekick still clutched in her hand.

 

The mirror tells her she looks good. MySpace ready in her grey hoodie and plain white panties. Everything pale next to the gold of her skin, the jet of her hair and the kohl-smudged, pink-framed glow of her eyes. The Morrissey poster on the wall behind her makes her grin, slashed wide and silly as she flicks to the camera.

 

A selfie first. Just her face, framed and caught as she pouts a little for the camera, for James. He’s on speaker, purring noises that sound like he’s still touching himself. The shutter sound is impossibly loud, ricocheting off the walls. Bad decisions, terrible choices, Petra is carved from them.

 

She eases down the zipper of her hoodie, holds the phone close so James can hear it. He groans something that barely makes sense as she pulls the plackets back, hood still up but tits exposed. She glances in the mirror — fuck what anyone says, she’s got a great rack, caught and framed between the thorns around her neck and the skull below her navel. Her nipples are dark, peaked stiff and interested as she holds out the phone and — click — snaps another picture.

 

He’s breathing fast and loud; hot, wet breaths that would dew against her throat if she invited him over. She won’t. Instead, she hooks her thumb into the waistband of her panties and eases it down over her hip. Nothing is on display beyond more smooth, taut skin, not yet, but there’s a promise there as she holds out the phone and, with an electronic whir of shutter sound, she immortalises this moment.

 

“You want one more?” she murmurs, back on her bed and panties kicked aside.

 

“Fuck, yeah,” he groans. It sounds like he’s biting his lip. Fuck, it’s insane how much control her femininity grants her. She can barely believe she’s ever shied away from it, that she could ever have thought that this level of power over the men that want her was anything but a loaded gun in her hand. She is the one in control. She is the one with the thing he craves.

 

She presses two fingers into her cunt and reaches down with the phone, legs spread, the flash illuminating the room for a disorienting second. Her tattoo is there, the flourish of a signature against her personal canvas as she hits send. Then, she closes her eyes and lets her orgasm paint the world white.

 

Once James has hung up, lust-drunk and sweet, she glances through the pictures, finger hovering impulsively over the delete key. She highlights them, calls up a message and scrolls through her phonebook. T is for Trick. She hits send. One picture at a time.

 

He calls her ten minutes later, his picture painting the screen whilst Life on Mars shivers on shuddering sound waves from the phone. She doesn’t pick up. He follows it with a text two minutes later — I miss you.

 

Ten minutes later, another pings through — what the fuck are you doing to me?

 

A half hour after that and he’s at her door, questing hands and searching lips. He tries to fuck her against the wall and it’s almost-sort-of successful, her legs around his waist as he thrusts into her, deep and desperate. Then there’s a stagger, a spill of messy limbs like skittering on ice and they’re falling, falling, falling…

 

They land and laugh and don’t stop.

 

They don’t stop.

 

They don’t stop as they stagger up the staircase for the bedroom, pausing on the fifth step as he pushes her back and thrusts into her once, twice, three times. They don’t stop as they crawl along the upstairs hallway, rug burn glowing ember bright on palms and knees and the top of her feet, his cock in her mouth as he groans with each thrust. They don’t stop as he shoves her back onto the bed and licks into her pussy, wet messy hot, tongue dragging sweet over the swollen sensitivity of her clit.

 

Petra is reminded in moments like this, in the split second before she comes, that she’s nothing but animal instincts dressed up as something more. He fucks her hard and rough and fast, on his knees between her legs, drenched in sweat and a blazing grin. He smiles like sunlight, dawn-glow and beautiful until he comes inside of her with a moan like something musical.

 

She falls asleep on top of him, literally draped over him, thighs either side of his hips and lips tucked to the throb of his pulse in his throat.

 

He tastes of home.

 

~*~

 

“Fuck, I’ve missed you.”

 

It’s the first thing she hears the next morning, warm skin, warm breath, hands soft in the small of her back. For a moment, she doesn’t know where she is, barely knows who she is, because someone like her doesn’t get to wake up — makeup smeared like scars across her face, hair a tangled mess and morning breath — and have someone look at her the way Patrick currently is. She feels like sunrise, like the breath of air before flight, like silvered moonlight on darkened lakes.

 

He makes her feel beautiful.

 

They stay where they are, spring sunlight filtering through half-closed curtains to dapple their skin golden. She could stay here, she decides, just stay forever under the warmth of his mouth and the touch of his hands on her skin, her fingers pushing through the coarse rub of coppered hair on his chest. He kisses her mouth, her neck, maps the way her ears curve with the soft swell of his lips as he tugs gently on her nipples. He refuses to give her more, twists his hips away from her as he taunts her with his mouth until her lips are swollen and slick under his, flushed raw with blood and bitten with teasing teeth.

 

Then he starts on her tattoos.

 

Each line, each swirl of ink is explored like he’s never noticed it before. His lips, his tongue, trace each mark, teeth grazing her collarbone, bruises shaped like his mouth burnt deep into her skin. She’ll get them tattooed, she swears she will, the heat of his touch branded to her forever. Or maybe she’ll just never let them fade, have him bite them to her again and again each time the purple gives way to brown.

 

“I’ve missed you too,” she gasps insensibly, because it must be an hour since he said it, a rotation of the minute hand of her watch on the nightstand lost to acquaintance, cocooned in cotton sheets.

 

They spend the morning just pillow forts and playful, wrapped in half-forgotten memories of closeness and one another’s t-shirts. Not strictly true, she steals his; he grumbles and lets it go. Suddenly, life tastes like cookie dough and feels like rainy day movie marathons and she starts to relax, starts to feel at home.

 

“We could do this,” he whispers into her ear as they watch Batman, her back to his chest. She pushes a couple of dry Froot Loops into his mouth over her shoulder. She doesn’t have popcorn, doesn’t have much, they’re improvising. “I just need to you tell me it’s what you want.”

 

She hesitates.

 

She hates herself for it, but she does.

 

It’s barely a minute as she gathers her thoughts, as she collects them back from shattered glass to a taped up caricature of what they were before. But it’s still whole, jagged edged and imperfect but real. She bites her lip and closes her eyes, prepares to freefall and hopes to God that Patrick can catch her as she twists her lips to frame her response, breath sucked into waiting lungs as she moves to face him.

 

He’s smiling, soft and hopeful, shy behind his glasses. He ruffles his bangs a little like he can hide behind them as he takes her hand and squeezes softly. Flushed pink like sunset, the rainbow dust of sugared cereal flecking his lips and scratching between their fingers as she reaches up to touch his cheek.

 

On the nightstand, her sidekick bursts into life like a detonation.

 

“Ignore it,” he begs. “It — whoever it is can wait. They don’t matter.”

 

The caller ID reads Bob McLynn and the handset is at her ear before Patrick can stop her.

 

“We have a serious fucking situation,” Bob informs her. “Do you want to tell me what the fuck you were thinking?”

 

Petra has to admit that she honestly has no idea. But there’s a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach as half-snatched sentences and run-together words smear through her like a chemical burn. Patrick is pale and concerned, brow furrowed as he mouths questions at her that she can’t answer. Bob keeps talking, throwing out words like damage limitation and fake a leak that barely make sense around the ringing in her ears. Somehow, the best moment of Petra’s adult life has somersaulted over itself to become the very worst in the stretch of a two-minute telephone conversation.

 

“I need to speak to some people,” Bob snaps. “I’ll call you back.”

 

He doesn’t say goodbye as he rings off, the line dead as she stares at Patrick with shock-wide eyes and a heart that’s trying to kick its way through her ribs.

 

“Peep?” he begins softly, hands framing her face as he pulls the phone from her hand and places it down on the mattress. “What the fuck is going on?”

 

She scrabbles for her phone once more, ignoring him as he fires questions at her. It’s masochistic and it tears at something deep within her chest but she needs to see. She needs to know that it’s real and not just whispered rumours and half-truths.

 

One website. Two, three, four, dozens, hundreds. Maybe more. Snappy headlines and modesty granted with pixels but it’s her pout, her eyeliner, her pale grey hoodie and her white cotton panties.

 

Four pictures.

 

Four moments of weakened loneliness when she just wanted to feel like everyone else. Stupid. She tosses the phone to the side before she can find the other sites, the ones that won’t have feigned modesty with careful cropping and slapped over emoticons. The ones that will show her on display.

 

Patrick reaches for the phone, cautious and careful, a hand on her arm as he flips through the browser windows and drains to grey. There’s something like cold, hard fury in his eyes, something like hurt in the set of his plump lips. He takes a deep breath and looks up, looks past her, looks at the door as he whispers.

 

“How did those get out?”

 

She doesn’t answer, knees drawn to her chest. How can she say it out loud? How can she find the words to frame the thought that anyone in the world could log on to their computer right now and see her bare and wanting? Petra is safe in denial, in the moments before the truth. Petra is an idiot.

 

Petra is a whore.

 

“I said — ”

 

“I heard what you fucking said,” she hisses, because she remembers hearing somewhere that attack is the best form of defence. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s all she’s got so she throws her weight behind it and turns on him. “You’re not my fucking boyfriend, you don’t get to sit there and make out like you’re disappointed in me.”

 

He reels back like she’s punched him square in the stomach. He’s almost winded, breathing hard and sharp, glassy-eyed like he’ll break if he blinks. She did that. She did that.  If this is a position of power, she’s not sure she wants it.

 

“Who else?” he asks, already reaching for his jeans. She doesn’t answer, just stares at the wall and tries not to think about what everyone will say about her. She’s worked so hard to make sure she doesn’t become a pair of tits placed artfully above a bass guitar. Fuck James. “I said who the fuck else did you send them to? Because I sure as shit didn’t send them to TMZ and I don’t think you’re that fucking stupid. So, who was it?”

 

Socks, shoes, he doesn’t ask for his shirt back, just throws on his hoodie and zips it up tight. How bad would the reaction be if he’d done it? If it was his cock all over the gossip sites? They’d laugh, sure, but would they call him a slut? Would they make him less than for daring to display any sense of sexuality? She doubts it and she hates him for it, even though she knows that isn’t fair.

 

“James,” she spits it like a curse and he flinches once again. “Last night, before I fucked you. I called him, I fingered myself, and I sent him the pictures. They were for him.”

 

Patrick doesn’t speak for the longest time, hands loose at his sides as he stares at her, head cocked. It’s like he doesn’t recognise her, the morning snatched and torn and shredded away from them as he shakes his head slowly.

 

“I’m done, Petra,” he mutters, already heading for the door. “I’m just — I’m fucking done.”

 

~*~

 

xXGabeyBabyXx: Saw ur n00dz P. Look I thnk I spk 4 evry dude in th scn ryt  nw wen I say… wens tht hoodie gng on sale? x

 

Peepy-Wentz: That rly ALL u hav 2 say bout it? x

 

xXGabeyBabyXx: Hurt :( u knw im a gntlmn x

 

Peepy-Wentz: Orly?

 

xXGabeyBabyXx: Yarly…

 

Peepy-Wentz: … :o/

 

xXGabeyBabyXx:  I brly evn ntcd th tits

 

Peepy-Wentz: Fuck off Gabe

 

xXGabeyBabyXx:  I stll gt a hoodie ryt?

 

xXGabeyBabyXx:  RYT????

 

xXGabeyBabyXx:  P???

 

xXGabeyBabyXx:  Ur no fn

 

~*~

 

The pictures quickly become some of the most searched for celebrity nudes on the internet. Crush and Island manage to control the damage, to fake a line about hacked sidekicks and personal data breaches.

 

She sees some kid bring a copy to a meet and greet, sly smirk and sparkling eyes.

 

She sees Patrick snatch it away without a word, balling it up and tossing it into the trash before Charlie marches the kid out of line. Patrick doesn’t look at her afterwards. Patrick hasn’t looked at her in weeks.

 

She smiles at the girl in front of her and loops her signature across a copy of From Under the Cork Tree.

 

“I love you so much,” the girl informs her in a whisper, hot flushed cheeks and sharpie scrawled fingernails plucking at the pocket of her Clandestine hoodie. “Like, the band is great but you — my brother said girls in bands are pointless but… I started playing bass. You’re like, my hero or something, I guess. I don’t know. It’s dumb. But thank you.”

 

“You’re welcome,” she grins, although she wants to scream thank you until her lungs ache. “Hit me up when you’ve got a band together.”

 

The kid spins away as if she’s flying.

 

It almost makes up for the folder of screenshots she keeps on her laptop, message board threads that remind her, inelegant and ineloquent, that Petra Wentz is a fucking slut.