“Welcome to Robot Lovers Anonymous,” says a tall, pale man with black framed glasses.
Pete raises his eyebrows when he sees them. Those look seriously vintage, and anyway, no one wears glasses for practical uses anymore. Just vanity. Pete starts reconsidering whether they should have listened to Gerard.
“I see we have some new friends,” the man continues.
Pete blanches a little at the term, but Patrick elbows him, and he sighs. “I’m Pete,” says Pete dutifully.
“I’m Patrick,” Patrick says. He gives a tiny, adorable wave.
“I’m William,” the guys replies. “I’m the group leader, and I’m currently pursuing a degree in Robot Psychology.”
“I’ve never heard of that major,” Pete tells him. He’s not being belligerent. Well, not very, anyway.
“It’s quite recent,” William says serenely. “And not many people study it; it’s very small and interdisciplinary. Let’s get on with things, shall we?”
“My name is Ray,” says the first person. “And this is my partner, Bob.”
“Hi Ray and Bob,” the entire circle choruses. Pete and Patrick are a little behind, faint echoes.
“We’re here because I’m concerned about Bob’s safety,” Ray continues.
“What’s the problem?” William asks.
“Bob doesn’t seem to have any concern for his safety,” Ray says. “I get that he’s a robot, and all, but setting yourself on fire is equally dangerous for people made of flesh and bone as it is for people made of plastic.”
“’M not all plastic,’ Bob mutters. “And I can be fixed.”
“But you’re in pain until that happens,” Ray counters. “Do you think I like seeing that?”
“I didn’t do it on purpose,” Bob says, looking longsuffering.
“Of course you didn’t!” says Ray. “But you’ve had five injuries in the past four months. You’re not injuring yourself on purpose, but you’re not doing anything to prevent it, either.”
“Everyone gets hurt in construction.” Bob glares at the floor.
“You’re still not being careful enough. Jesus.” Ray stares at the floor for a moment, the mirror image of his partner, before looking back up again. “Also, you’re a little bitch when you’re on bed rest.”
William quickly steps in. “Ray, please no potshots.”
“Sorry,” Ray sighs. His hair droops a little bit. Pete watches it, fascinated. Maybe it’s one of those new emotion-sensitive implants.
“Ray, it sounds like you’re worried about Bob’s well-being. Which is perfectly natural. Everyone wants the best for their loved ones,” William says smoothly. “But what you have to understand is that being injured is a perfectly natural process for Bob. He’s been fixed probably hundreds of times—“
“More than that,” Bob interjects.
“So it’s not a big deal for him,” William explains.
“But…” Ray shakes his head, still looking unhappy.
“Bob,” William addresses, “you also have to understand where Ray’s coming from. Ray is human. His mortality is very immediate to him, and when he is injured, there is a very real possibility he could die. His mindset is completely different from yours. Whether you suffer the same vulnerabilities as humans do, when you are injured, what Ray sees is a person who could easily slip away. It’s not a rational reaction.”
Pete studies William a little closer as he continues speaking. It’s unexpected, but William sounds like he might actually know what he’s talking about. Patrick looks enthralled, too, staring at William as though he’s speaking a language that he’s never heard before. Which Pete supposes he is, in a manner of speaking.
“Do you want to go next?” he whispers to Patrick.
Patrick grimaces a little at the thought.
“Is that a no?” Pete prods.
“Maybe we shouldn’t talk about our weird sex issues during the very first meeting,” Patrick says, twisting his mouth.
“So we’re coming back and talking about our weird sex issues later?” says Pete, trying not to sound too reluctant.
Patrick shoots him a look, and Pete subsides, sighing. Fine. It isn’t as though his Tuesday evenings were booked for anything but jerking off and annoying Patrick, anyway. (And he can still accomplish one of those things here.)
“I take it you want me to be more careful,” Bob is saying when Pete tunes back in.
“If you can,” William agrees. “Just to keep Ray’s mind at ease. You want him to be happy, don’t you?”
“I thought you said no potshots,” Bob says, raising an eyebrow.
William smirks at him.
Pete notes the smirk uncomfortably. He’s getting the feeling that putting off talking about their weird sex issues isn’t going to make the experience any less mortifying.
* * *
They go to the meetings regularly for the next few weeks, and each time, Patrick drags his heels at talking until the very last minute, by which time William is telling everyone to hold hands and feel the combined energy of their love rush through themselves and heal their turbulent relationships.
It seems like a pretty religious process, so Pete doesn’t like to interrupt.
But it’s reaching the point where Pete almost feels like Patrick doesn’t want to resolve their—well, their problem, only it’s Patrick who’s continually dragging them to these meetings. And it does seem like he’s getting something out of it, even if that something is just morbid entertainment.
Besides, they’re meeting some interesting people.
* * *
“Hey, I’m Cash,” says a guy, plopping into the seat next to Pete. “You’re new, yeah? What are your names?”
“Pete and Patrick,” Pete answers when Patrick doesn’t respond, too busy listening to an older couple speak. Pete thinks they’re discussing a fight over having a baby.
“Just because I want a human baby doesn’t mean that I—that I don’t love you enough, or some bullshit,” the lady bursts out, suddenly, and her partner is crossing his arms, staring stonily at the floor. “I just want something more. Is that so bad?”
Beside him, Patrick is stiff as a board, and Pete rubs his arm comfortingly. But Patrick shifts slightly away.
“This is a great place, huh?” Cash says, and Pete turns back to him. “My guy’s name is Singer, by the way.” He gestures to the boy sitting next to him. “He’s in a band. Pretty famous, too. D’ya recognize him?”
Pete stares at the guy for a moment. “No,” he says. “I don’t think so.”
Cash looks crestfallen, before straightening up again. “Well, lots of people do,” he informs Pete. “They’re on the verge of breaking into mainstream stuff.”
“Cash,” William says, apparently done with the older couple. There’s an odd note in his voice. “And Singer. How are you two?”
“We’re good!” Cash says with a broad smile. It falls off his face a second later. Pete thinks Singer kicked him in the ankle. “But, I mean—we’ve been having problems, of course.”
“I can’t stand his tattoos,” Singer proclaims, earnestly. “They’re ugly and stupid and I can’t have them staring me in the face every time we—yeah. Especially, um, the dollar bill one.”
“Really,” says William. He raises one thin eyebrow. It’s very eloquent.
“Yeah, really,” says Cash. “So, look, can you help us out? Because I’m so not getting them lasered off. Those things cause skin cancer, y’know?”
“You’re a robot,” Singer reminds him.
“Better safe than sorry,” Cash recites piously.
“Your problem with tattoos has nothing to do with Cash being a robot,” William says, looking long-suffering. “And you guys know that. There’s no need to resolve this problem at Robot Lovers Anonymous.”
“Shit, our bad,” says Cash. He scratches the back of his neck.
“Of course,” William continues, “if by some freak chance you are here not for my expert counsel, but in fact for the free refreshments that come afterward, you are more than welcome to stay.”
“Hey, we are so not freeloaders,” Singer protests.
“Right,” William says. He doesn’t actually roll his eyes, but somehow manages to convey the impression that he’s expending a lot of effort in resisting the motion. “Anyway. I’m sure that you’ll get signed soon, Singer. And that when that time comes, you’ll be able to afford groceries again.”
Cash sinks lower in his seat, and Singer blushes a bright red, and Pete laughs a little at the sight, before getting distracted by a small scuffle behind him.
“Let me go. I’m leaving. This was completely useless,” says the lady from before, sharply. “I’m going, and you can’t stop me. I’ve already looked through the sperm bank, you know? The baby’s going to have green eyes. So—so, you can deal with that, or…” She trails off suddenly, an odd look crossing her face.
“Or what?” the guy asks, tone quiet but furious.
“I don’t—I can’t—I’m leaving,” the woman repeats. And then she grabs her bags and marches away.
Pete watches Patrick watch her go.
* * *
On yet another Tuesday evening, Pete is almost ready to fall asleep when suddenly, the door bursts open. A short, red-cheeked man comes running in, dragging someone else behind him.
“Sorry we’re tardy, Bill!” the guy says, before taking a seat. “Ryan made us late.”
“I don’t see why we still have to go to these,” Ryan mutters. He’s skinny, almost unattractively so, but it works for him. His neck is swimming in scarves of all colors.
“You know what the court order says,” the guy replies, not quite under his breath.
“Fuck the court order,” Ryan mumbles, and Pete narrows his eyes, intrigued.
“Brendon, Ryan,” William calls out, quelling. “How are you two doing today?”
Ryan folds his arms across his chest. “You still haven’t given me the digital rights to my Chuck Palahniuk back,” he accuses. “I haven’t been able to access that thing in ages.”
William turns faintly red. “That’s not really what we’re here to discuss, Ryan,” he says. “And you’ll have it back by tomorrow, okay. Um, Brendon, do you have anything to add?”
“No, not really,” Brendon says. “Ryan’s being kind of a bitch about the bedazzler again, but that’s par for the course. You need a haircut, by the way,” he continues, apropos of nothing. “Want me to take another stab at it? Uh. Not literally.”
William winces. “Thanks, but, um, no.” Brendon opens his mouth again, and William holds up a hand. “Very no.”
Brendon shrugs. “Your loss.”
“Are they regulars?” Pete whispers to Cash.
“Oh, yeah,” he replies. “They just come once a month, but they’ve been members for ages. Total legends, if you know what I mean.”
Now Patrick’s bending over, looking interested. “Legends?” he asks.
“Well, yeah. Ryan totally tried to return Brendon to Gerard, like, five times before Ryan finally got the message. Brendon kept coming back, the sneaky little ass.”
“Return him?” Patrick is pale and wide-eyed.
“Ryan can be kind of impulsive, at best. And their relationship is…fucked up.” Cash scratches the back of his neck.
“Brendon, shut up,” Ryan’s saying in front of them, voice rising.
“Don’t tell me to shut up,” Brendon retorts. “It’s your own fault you’re making me bring this up here.”
“Is something the matter?” asks William.
“Ryan doesn’t want to visit Gerard for St. Patrick’s Day,” Brendon blurts out. “Even though his party is totally the best party in town. They have mechanical leprechauns, did you know? And the latest artificial rainbow-makers.”
“Gerard doesn’t like me!” says Ryan, crossing his arms. “And I don’t like him, either.”
“Of course he doesn’t like you.” Brendon rolls his eyes. “You tried to return me to him, like, twenty times.”
“The last few times were just a joke!” Ryan defends. “Kind of. Well, okay, what did you expect me to do? You kept trying to hide all my scarves.”
“For your own good,” Brendon shoots back. “And why do you need scarves anyway? It’s not cold at all unless the Weather Controller ever breaks down, which it doesn’t.”
“You just don’t want me to hide any of my hickeys because you’re a stupid possessive freak,” Ryan grinds out.
“And why do you want to hide them?” Brendon says quickly, finger jabbing into the air.
“I don’t! I just like scarves; is that so hard to understand?”
“Boys,” William says mildly. Then, more forcefully when none of them react, “Brendon. Ryan. We’ve been over this before, haven’t we?”
Ryan raises his nose and looks somewhere to the left. Brendon’s eyes get really sorrowful and contrite and shiny.
“Sorry, William,” Brendon says. “We didn’t mean to disrupt the meeting.”
“Stop using the puppy eyes. You look like an idiot,” William snaps. “And go find a couples’ counselor. I am so not equipped for your level of drama.”
Pete raises his eyebrows at William’s loss of composure. Then he looks back at Brendon and Ryan, and his eyebrows shoot up even higher.
“Dude,” Pete says, poking Patrick. “Is that even allowed?”
Brendon and Ryan are making out, in this really angry and forceful manner, like they’re trying to devour each other. Brendon’s got one leg thrown over Ryan’s hip, and Ryan’s cupping Brendon’s ass roughly.
It’s pretty hot.
William stares at them for a moment, before sighing, sadly, and valiantly trying to ignore them.
“This always happens,” Cash tells Pete helpfully. “Best part of the meeting, if you ask me.”
Brendon and Ryan stop, after a while, and the rest of the meeting continues as if nothing happened.
At the end of the hour, right before William starts his handholding ritual (which Pete is beginning to think is just therapy’s version of hugging it out), Pete can hear Brendon and Ryan talking to each other, quietly.
“Fine. We’ll go to the party if we can come home early,” Ryan says, grudgingly.
“That’s perfect,” Brendon tells him, smug. “That way we won’t miss Family Feud: Clone Version.”
“I hate that show,” Ryan mutters.
“I know,” says Brendon. He touches his hand to Ryan’s, though, and their fingers slide through each other in a gentle clasp as if they’ve done this a thousand times.
Pete glances back at Patrick to point and smirk at them, but Patrick is already watching, tiny smile on his face.
* * *
It’s not like Pete thought this day would never come. He’s been impatiently waiting for it, actually—sometimes even prayed for it, usually after Patrick kisses him and then goes off to, like, scrub the fucking doorknob, or something. But after an interminable amount of Tuesdays and crazy relationship problems, Pete kind of let his guard down.
He’s regretting it now, though.
William’s looking straight at Pete, smile as bright as ever. And Pete has this creeping suspicion that he’s about to ask Pete and Patrick to share.
“Ryan!” Pete says, totally not in a panic.
William blinks, then shuts his mouth.
“Yeah?” Ryan asks, eyebrow raised.
“What’s the story behind the court order, anyway?” asks Pete. He’s kind of impressed with his own ability to come up with off-the-cuff questions.
“Yeah, I was wondering about that, too,” Patrick says immediately, bless his little quick-thinking heart.
“The court order’s pretty standard when something like this happens,” Ryan admits.
“He turned me off against my consent,” Brendon explains, rolling his eyes. “Just because I had a few too many caffeine shots. Of course the authorities got involved.”
“Wait, that’s a crime?” Pete asks.
Brendon and Ryan fall silent, turning towards Pete in one eerie motion. The rest of the circle follow suit a moment later, faces all wearing an identical expression of shock. Pete feels like he’s missing something.
“Well. Yeah,” says Ryan, slowly.
“The RRA, man,” Brendon adds. “Ultimate legal whammy to robo-phobic dicks. Uh, sorry, Ryan.”
Pete blinks. “Did you say IRA?” he asks.
Brendon huffs out a short laugh, but quickly stops when Pete doesn’t join in. “The Robot Rights Act of 2289,” he elaborates. “Are you…You seriously don’t know?”
“Should I?” Pete frowns, uncomfortable. He turns to look at Patrick, but his face is pretty blank, too.
“It’s pretty much the law regarding human-robot relations,” a guy speaks up, eyebrow raised.
“It should be required reading for everyone, in my opinion,” the girl beside him says. “My mom wouldn’t let me buy a robot until I had pored over every single word, going over the amendments twice.”
“The RLA used to hand out pamphlets about the act,” William says, nodding. “Back in the nineties, when hate crimes were still a problem.”
“So what does it say?” Pete asks.
Patrick’s rubbing his ear, which is how Pete knows that he really wants to hear this. Something involving his volume control is located there.
William clears his throat, looking like he’s about to deliver a long, familiar speech. “The RRA makes up part of the foundation of mutual understanding and respect between robots and humans,” he explains.
Pete nods; he got that much.
“One of its most basic tenets is the illegality—and the wrongness—of turning someone off without their consent. No one should have that level of control over a fellow sentient being. Abusing it is…” William trails off, face pinched.
“Is what?” Pete prods. Sitting across from him, Ryan has his gaze directed towards the floor very intently. Brendon’s holding his hand.
After a few moments of thinking, William grimaces. “I don’t—It’s just not really done. Particularly in…friendly relationships.”
“I’m actually surprised Gerard never said anything to you about it,” Brendon says, looking at Patrick. “You weren’t aware of the law?”
“I was—I was aware,” Patrick says, a touch defensive. “I just hadn’t really realized the scope of it. I mean, Gerard mentioned it once or twice, but you know how he is. He’d stop in the middle of the sentence and start talking about something else. It was really annoying.” Patrick scowls.
“Anyway,” William says crisply, not bothering with a more subtle subject change. “Alex, Ryland. What brings you to RLA today?”
* * *
“You think we should order out for dinner?” Pete calls out, flipping through the electronic phonebook reader. The RLA meeting ran a little late, and he’s fucking starving.
“Uh. Yeah, okay,” Patrick says.
Pete frowns. Patrick’s completely missed his cue to tell Pete that he’s a robot, he doesn’t need to eat, idiot. They have a routine and everything.
“What are you doing back there?” Pete walks toward the living room curiously, putting off ordering dinner for now. “You feeling all right?”
“Fine,” Patrick says absently. He’s cradling the tablet in his hands, and whatever on the screen must be incredibly fascinating, because Patrick’s nose is about three centimeters away from it.
“Oh, hey, are you watching porn?” Pete grins. “Because I was wanting to show you that—“
“No, not porn,” Patrick says, and he doesn’t even say that with the right annoyed tone, either, all airy and indifferent and entirely too…distant. Pete’s frown deepens.
“What are you looking at, then?” Pete asks.
“I’m just—“ Patrick looks up at him, finally, and he has an adorable pink tinge to his cheeks. “I was looking up the RRA. You know. Felt like something I should probably read over at least once.”
Pete relaxes, lips turning upward. “Yeah, okay. Find anything interesting in there?” He slides into the couch next to Patrick and reads over his shoulder, leaning their heads together.
Patrick shrugs. “It’s pretty much just what William was talking about.”
“No crazy rules about human-robot relationships? Should we be setting some guidelines, here?” Pete jokes. “Do I have to sign some sort of contract to get into your pants?”
Patrick smiles faintly. “No. No contract. Um, you know. It’s just more stuff about equal treatment and equal standing in the eyes of the law. And elsewhere, of course. There’s also a long preamble about the historic perception of robots as second-class citizens.”
“Sounds boring. Why are you still reading?” Pete asks, digging his chin into Patrick’s shoulder. “Come help me figure out what to eat for dinner.”
“I want to finish this,” Patrick tells him. He’s fiddling with his hat, twisting it around and then pushing it back down, like they’ve just been in a wind storm and he’s making sure it’s firmly on.
Pete sighs, long and drawn-out, breath fanning out over Patrick’s cheek. Patrick twitches. Pete grins and does it again, watching his sideburns ripple, until Patrick huffs and shoves Pete away.
* * *
There’s just a little something in William’s steady gaze that makes Pete feel kind of like a caged animal.
“Pete,” William smiles.
Pete gives him a little wave, pretending like he’s not scooting slightly behind Patrick.
“And Patrick,” William says. “You two have been to several meetings, yes? But you’ve never shared anything about yourselves.”
“Except for how you didn’t know what the RRA was,” says a girl who was at last week’s meeting. “Please tell me you’ve at least skimmed it by now.”
“We looked it up that very night,” Pete tells her. Whatever. It’s almost true. Pete and Patrick are a unit, so what Patrick does, Pete does by extension. Logically.
She gives him a mildly accusatory look, as though she’s not sure whether she believes him.
“Right, so,” William interrupts. “Let’s remember that we’re here to talk about relationship problems, everyone. Weren’t you two just going to share? Was there anything in particular that pushed you two to start coming to meetings?”
Pete turns to Patrick, pointedly. Patrick looks back at him.
Finally, Patrick sighs and starts talking. “Me and Pete, um. We, uh. We’ve been trying to, well, move our relationship to the next level—“
Cash makes a very graphic hand gesture, presumably trying to help clear up any ambiguities in Patrick’s words. The tips of Patrick’s ears start turning red.
“And,” Patrick struggles on, “we’ve been running into some, uh, blocks. I keep trying to clean—I was made as a cleaning robot, by the way—whenever we actually, um. Get anywhere.” The last two words are a bare whisper, but judging from the way everyone’s leaning forward, Pete’s pretty sure the entire circle heard.
“I’ve never run into this problem myself,” says William slowly, “but I have heard of it.”
People are starting to whisper behind their hands, and Pete can feel Patrick getting progressively tenser.
“So?” Pete finally prompts, when William’s stayed silent for what seems like forever, and he thinks Patrick’s getting so tense he’ll snap something if William doesn’t explain further.
“Well,” William says, floundering a little, “I would guess that there are some trust issues in this relationship. And that might be the barrier between you two becoming more intimate, both emotionally and, uh, physically.”
“Trust issues,” Pete repeats flatly.
“That would seem most likely to me,” William says.
“But we don’t have trust issues. That’s—that’s completely off the mark. I mean, I definitely don’t.” Pete looks over at Patrick for some moral support, but he’s too busy staring at his hands.
“Patrick?” William asks gently.
“What?” Patrick replies without looking up.
“We have Pete’s input on your possible trust issues,” William says patiently. “Can we get yours?”
But Patrick stays silent, still staring down at his knees.
“Patrick,” Pete finally says. “You doing okay there?”
Patrick looks up at him, slowly, and it’s disconcerting the way Patrick looks as though he’s actually trying to study Pete.
This is getting ridiculous. “Patrick,” Pete repeats, sharper. “Dude, just tell him—you trust me, yeah?”
Patrick blinks a few times, and Pete’s suddenly struck by a memory of blowing over those pale eyelashes, barely minutes after Mikey had given him to Pete.
“’Course I do,” Patrick says after another pause. “Yeah.”
But he sounds less than convinced, and it’s so obvious that Pete doesn’t know why the rest of the group isn’t responding to it. William only stares at him for a quiet second before moving on to greet Cash and Singer.
Patrick doesn’t look at Pete for the rest of the meeting.
* * *
Patrick’s silent the entire bus ride back to the apartment.
Pete doesn’t feel much like breaking the silence. Or, he does, but every single one of the things he can think to say boil down to one question.
Why don’t you trust me?
And it all goes downhill from there.
So instead, he counts the nicks in the memory foam of the seat in front of him. There are twenty-eight, and one of them looks like a boob. Right next to it, someone’s carved fuck the world into the seat.
It’s kind of a comforting message in its familiarity, and Pete stares at the words for a while. He wonders who carved it in, and why, and whether they still feel that way. (Because that way, he doesn’t have to think about the meeting, or about Patrick, or about his own fucking stupidity.) It was probably some angry teenager, Pete muses, grounded for a month. Or a drug addict, hurting for a fix that was never going to come.
Or just some stupid kid who was bored and had an enjoyment of vandalism.
Pete turns away from the words and starts chewing on his nail. Patrick doesn’t tell him to stop, that it’s a fucking gross habit, that he’s probably ingesting millions of harmful germs.
The silence feels suddenly unbearably heavy, and Pete sinks a little lower in his seat.
* * *
It’s two hours later, and Patrick’s been cleaning the same damn lamp for the entire time. Neither of them have said a word. Finally, Pete throws aside the tablet he was fiddling with—he feels like writing something down, but nothing’s coming out, and the blinking cursor makes him want to throw it across the room. Roughly, he rubs the burning feeling out of his eyes. He’s been staring at the stupid screen for too long, and closing his eyes only makes the sensation worse, making it swell to fill his entire socket, hot and angry.
It feels like he’s been crying, and Pete rolls his eyes at the thought. Quietly, he gets off the couch and walks over to Patrick, as slowly as he can. He counts his steps, measured beats in time just out of sync with his heart. Still, he’s in front of Patrick way too soon, but Patrick doesn’t look up, just keeps wiping at the lamp shade.
This is stupid. He feels like stepping back, just walking outside, getting away from all of this bullshit. He almost does, legs tensing to turn and escape.
But as soon as he thinks that, he opens his mouth to speak, because fuck if Pete Wentz is going to run away from something when he can crash into it head-on.
“Patrick,” he says. Patrick’s motions slow, but he doesn’t turn around. “Patrick,” Pete repeats, loudly, and it feels like falling. Like he couldn’t stop himself now if he tried, and the words are tumbling out too fast for him to follow.
“What the fuck happened back there in the meeting?” Pete asks. “You don’t trust me? You think I’m going to, what, turn you off and leave you in some dusty attic somewhere?”
He laughs after that, just because, but it comes out all wrong—twisted and kind of strangled—and now Pete just wants to take it and shove it all back in, down his throat and back into his brain, even if he chokes on it. Just so everything’s not hanging heavy in the air, like suffocating, polluting smog.
“Pete,” Patrick says after a few beats, and then he stops.
“What? What?” Pete demands. “Would you finish a fucking sentence? It’s like talking to—“
“To what, Pete?” Patrick interrupts. He lifts his head to finally look Pete in the eye, and Pete sucks a harsh breath in at his stony expression. “To a robot? Because newsflash, Pete, I am. Surprise, right?”
“What the fuck are you even—I don’t know what you’re saying,” Pete says, slowly, enunciating too much because it makes him feel better about what he’s saying, like if the words are crisp enough, they’ll sound okay. “Of course I know you’re a robot.”
“Yeah,” says Patrick. “Yeah. You know, sometimes I think you forget that I’m a robot, and then I think it’s all you can fucking remember about me.”
“Can you just say what you mean?” Pete cuts him off. “Stop talking in fucking riddles, man.”
“Riddles,” Patrick repeats. He laughs a little, and it sounds just as bad as Pete’s, sharp and thin and jagged where it should be smooth, full, happy. “That’s you, man. Not me. I’m just the robot, here. Nice and straightforward.”
“Okay, no, you are just as bad as me,” Pete says, voice rising uncontrollably. “You’re the one who’s hiding behind your—your origin, or whatever the fuck. I can’t have a fucking conversation with you where you don’t find a way to work it in. It’s my programming, Pete. I’m just a robot, Pete. I’m not going to tell you anything about myself because I’m just another goddamn robot. You’re—you’re making it into your whole fucking identity, and now you’re turning around and telling me that that’s my fault, which is such bullshit.”
“Of course, yeah, no, it’s really all my fault,” Patrick yells back. He seems to have completely given up on staying calm, face getting redder and redder, until the red’s all Pete can see when he looks at him, and there’s no more hint of Patrick anywhere.
“I don’t know if you remember, because I’m sure it was such an insignificant day for you,” Patrick continues, “but the very first day you got me, within the first few fucking hours, you turned me off. Just to look at what was under my goddamn hat.”
“Wait, what? I don’t—“
“Yeah, I know you don’t remember,” Patrick tells him, cuttingly. “Because it was just so fucking unimportant to you that you immediately forgot about it. There are better things to worry about, right, Pete? Like what to eat for dinner, or how you’re going to do your hair.”
“I didn’t know that it wasn’t okay!” Pete runs a hand through his hair, grabbing at the strands and pulling sharply, anchoring himself with the pain.
“I don’t care!” Patrick shouts. “You still did it. It doesn’t matter whether you knew or not. You just looked at me and reduced me to some thing, some stupid appliance you could just turn off and on whenever you wanted! You were surprised when I could talk, Pete. You wanted to know if there were any other tricks I could do, like some incredibly clever dog.”
“Bad choice of words—“ Pete starts, shutting his eyes for a minute because they’re burning again.
“You tried to name me.” Patrick keeps talking inexorably, voice getting quieter, but the reduced volume isn’t doing any better, just taking the extra bits of silence and shoving them into Pete’s stomach where they can churn. “And you kept asking your stupid friends why I wasn’t listening to you. You were my master, after all, weren’t you? Why was I so fucking disobedient?”
“Patrick, I didn’t—“ Pete tries to say, but his throat contracts and the words are stuck there, squeezed until they suffocate and wither away.
“No. You—you shut up. I am just a toy to you,” says Patrick, stumbling over the words a little bit. “A shiny, talking toy. You know what happens to toys, Pete?”
Pete stares at him, mute.
“They get thrown away,” Patrick informs him, completely calm again. “And you know, I think I’ll save you the trouble. I’m leaving.”
“Patrick,” says Pete, almost pleading, but Patrick’s already turning around and marching to the door. He jerks it open, and, desperate, Pete yells after him, not even thinking about what he’s spewing out.
“Where the fuck are you going to go?” Pete shouts, voice scraping in his throat. “You don’t have any place to stay! You don’t have any friends. All you have is me—“
The door slams, and Pete’s left with his mouth still open, facing the blank expanse of metal.
There’s a sudden silence. No sound of footsteps fading into the distance. Pete freezes, barely daring to wonder.
Silently, he walks over to window, holding his breath without realizing it. He looks outside, mouth still slightly open, biting the inside of his cheek.
Patrick’s still outside Pete’s door, like he’s waiting for something, but he’s crouched down. Pete presses his face closer to the glass, so he can see better. And…
Patrick’s cleaning the doormat. He’s fixing it, brushing dirt off of it and moving it so it lays straight. Then he stops, glares at his own hands, and then—then Pete can hear his footsteps walking away, down the path, across the street.
Pete slides down onto the floor, leans his head against the wall, and starts laughing. He laughs until his stomach hurts, until his eyes are wet, until it’s all he can hear, drowning out the sound of Patrick, going farther and farther away.
* * *
It’s 2 AM and Pete’s creating art. He’s got his tablet on the floor and a drawing program pulled up, whipping color around like a motherfucker. A few jagged streaks of purple here, some blue there, plus a few splotches of black, but now Pete’s just getting fucking fed up with the whole mopey feel of the piece—because he’s not sad, he’s annoyed, and angry, and really goddamn furious, and—so he pulls up some red and orange and just shoots stark lines over all of it, big straight x’s going through the entire mess.
It’s 3 AM and Pete’s got a pencil in his hand for maybe the first time since elementary school, just for the feeling of something solid to grab onto, to dig his nails into without fear of damage. The darkness of the graphite on paper is more satisfying, too, with none of the fucking soft glow of his tablet, the fake plastic click of his stylus on the screen. The page actually has some texture, and he can feel his words being etched onto the priceless antique paper, even if he has no idea what he’s writing, just that he is and can’t stop.
(Another advantage of the paper is that when Pete pulls at it, it rips, and rips, and rips, until the floor is covered in little white snowflakes and Pete has grey smeared all over his fingers.)
It’s 4 AM and Pete is sitting, just sitting, and staring at the door. He can feel his neck cramping, but he likes it, the slowly spreading ache. He imagines the pain spreading throughout his body, infecting his arms and chest and legs and toes until it’s all he can feel, until he’s just one red pulsing mass of twisted wrong-feeling hurt. Pete smiles at the thought. And then he gets up and kicks at the door as hard as he can, one last move left over from his doomed high school soccer career. The door’s made up of the newest space shit NASA’s thought up, and Pete’s not surprised when he doesn’t even leave a mark.
It’s 5 AM and Pete is hunched over the floor, picking up all the paper shreds he left there. Because they look wrong, all dull and white and feathery against the polished (fake) wood floor, still clean from when Patrick—from before. Pete picks up the last piece and then looks at the pile of white in his hand. Slowly, he walks over to the trash receptacle and lets them fall through his fingers. His throat is tight. He needs a drink, he decides.
It’s 6 AM and Pete is drinking steadily through the entire supply of alcohol in his fridge. It’s wet, which is good, but Pete’s throat doesn’t feel any less constricted, and the whiskey’s burning a trail down his throat (Pete imagines a parade of soot and ashes, slowly drifting down his esophagus), which really isn’t making things any better. He drinks it all down anyway, grimacing, and then looks up to survey his kitchen through blurry eyes. Everything’s gleaming, smooth flashes of bright light in the corners of his eyes, irritating. The whole damn place is cleaner than when Pete bought the apartment in the beginning. No dust anywhere, no unidentifiable stains, no moldy shit sneakily creeping up the side of the wall behind the fridge.
Nothing except for one piece of paper that apparently Pete forgot to pick up. Pete looks at the white spot for a moment, marring the pristine clean of the rest of the kitchen. And then he hurls his whiskey at it, glass and all, just so the paper won’t be the only thing messing the place up.
It’s 7 AM and Pete Wentz has nothing in front of him except for broken glass covering a sticky floor.
* * *
“Hey, boss, you haven’t been in lately. Everything all right? We’re okay here, holding the fort down, but, you know. Give me a ring back, man, so we know you’re not dead in a ditch somewhere. Cassadee’s already angling for your position.” An awkward laugh. “Okay. That’s it. Just call so we know you’re okay? This is Jon, by the way.”
* * *
Pete wastes a lot of money buying hats online. Trucker hats, baseball caps, fedoras, even a construction helmet. He tries not to think of the symbolism around the last one too much.
When they arrive through the Express Chute, Pete throws them all into the back of the closet, then bolts it shut. Just because.
* * *
“Pete, it’s Joe. I can’t find one of my socks. Is it at your place? I really need it, man. Marie’s mad because I forgot her birthday, and I can’t figure out how to work the laundry machine.”
* * *
Maybe Patrick’s back with Gerard, living with him in his little workshop and meeting all the other new robots. (Telling them about the RRA.)
Maybe he’s hitting the streets, living it up with anyone and everyone.
Maybe he’s huddled, penniless, in some unemployment shelter.
Maybe he found a new job, and he’s working there right now, long hours and low wages and too many people.
Maybe he’s on his way back to Pete right now.
* * *
“I just read this report about top-secret government operations that are using robots to infiltrate dissidents! You gotta let me check out that thing’s hard drive, Pete, make sure it’s clean. I’m serious, man. This is a legit report, not like that last one about the video cameras in toilet bowls. Call me.”
* * *
If Patrick had stayed, just for a few more seconds, Pete is sure he could have made everything better. He could have apologized. He could have promised never to pull any of that shit again. He could have done something, instead of just letting him walk out the door. Maybe if he had gotten down on his knees and begged, Patrick would have stayed.
(It was such a small thing. He just wanted to see what was underneath the hat; that’s all. Just the stupid hat.)
Pete wishes Patrick had a phone.
* * *
“Boss, Cassadee here. Can you stop beating your chest and batting your eyelashes at your cleaning robot long enough to come in and help me with the fucking inventory?” Short pause. “And if you’re sick, go to the hospital. I’m serious. We’ll scrape together a Keep Wentz Alive fund even though I know for a fact you’re scalping us all out of our fair wages. Okay. Call me. Really.”
* * *
Pete has to know. He can’t sleep, and he has to know. So he looks up William and RLA, and there’s a contact number.
“Who is it?” William sounds groggy.
“Oh.” Pete looks at the clock. 2:36 AM. He hadn’t realized how late it’s gotten. “Sorry. Did I wake you up?”
“Nah. Just on standby. Is this—Is this Pete?”
“Yeah,” Pete says distractedly. Standby? “Wait—you’re a robot?”
“Yes,” William says around a yawn.
“You’re the William?” Pete asks. “You’re Gabe’s robot?”
“He’s my human,” William says, almost snappishly, and Pete blinks. “What did you need, Pete?”
“I was just—I’m sorry, that thing you said during the last meeting. About the trust issues.”
“What about it?”
“I just—say I had turned a robot off. Hypothetically,” Pete says, and he knows he sounds pathetic, but he can’t bring himself to say it aloud. “The trust issues that would result from that. I mean. How bad are we looking at, here?”
When William speaks again, his voice is hushed. “Taking advantage of that kind of power—the power to literally turn someone else off—can cause very serious problems of trust.”
“But—that can be fixed, right? I can do something to…help overcome it. Right?”
“Sometimes,” William says.
There’s something odd going on in Pete’s chest, compressing it until he can’t inhale at all. “But not always?” he has to ask.
There’s a brief pause.
* * *
“Pete, this is an emergency. Marie won’t have sex with me without my black socks on. It’s become, like, a thing. Pete, you gotta help a brother out.”
* * *
Pete goes out to the closet and throws out every single one of the hats.
Then he goes to the bathroom and vomits.
* * *
“Pete Wentz, this is, um, Ryan Ross. From, ah, RLA? Robot Lovers Anonymous? I hate that name. But, anyway. I think I may have something that, um, you might want to see. And that wants to see you, too. Well, not that he said that. But I think he really does, at least to, you know, get things sorted, because whenever someone says something that sounds remotely like Pete, he does this whole body flinch and starts scrubbing at the nearest surface. Which usually turns out to be, you know, my boyfriend, and I really don’t appreciate the whole touching—“ There’s a scuffle, and then another voice is speaking, louder, “Don’t listen to him, it’s fine. Just—come over. Call us back at 3892-4445-0195, yeah?”
Pete’s finger is still poised over the Delete button three seconds after the message finishes. And then he almost sprains something lunging for the video phone.
* * *
Pete is going over to Brendon Urie and Ryan Ross’s apartment at noon today. He knows that because he wrote it down, right after he finished talking to them, and his tablet’s planner function has been reminding him for the past five hours.
It’s now 11:45 AM, according to the large red digits on his bedside clock.
Pete thinks he can smell himself. Cautiously, he lifts his left arm and takes a slight whiff. Maybe he should take a shower. His hair’s definitely greasy, and he hasn’t styled it for the past three days. Plus he can feel the itchy remnants of three-day-old eyeliner crusting on his face.
And he could probably stand to change his hoodie—
No. He’s not doing this. Because it’s fucking idiotic, and also, Patrick was the fucker who ran out, not him. Patrick was the one who left, and he’s probably sitting at their apartment right now, laughing and talking and enjoying himself. He probably doesn’t look anything less than perfect, what with his stupid robot non-sweatiness and non-smelliness and whatever the fuck.
So, no, Pete’s not going to put any fucking effort into this. He’s just going to go as he is, and if Patrick can’t deal with that, if Patrick can’t accept that, then...
The clock tells him it’s 11:52.
Pete sprints for the shower.
* * *
“Hey, sorry, am I late?” Pete asks all in one breath, leaning against the doorframe and panting slightly.
“Oh, no, um, it’s fine.” The guy—Pete’s pretty sure this one is Brendon—looks behind himself shiftily, and then steps outside and closes the door behind him.
Pete wonders if he should be getting a little concerned. “Is Patrick inside?” he asks, trying not to sound too pointed.
“Yeah, yeah, he is.” Brendon fiddles with his fingers for a few moments, gaze dipping down.
“So, can I see him? What’s the hold-up?”
“Well, the thing is, he doesn’t exactly know you’re coming,” says Brendon very quickly and with his hands in the air, like he thinks he needs to calm Pete down.
Pete blinks. “I thought you said he wanted to see me.”
“He does! He just hasn’t, um—verbalized it. Yet. We were being proactive.” Brendon gestures expansively.
“Proactive,” Pete repeats flatly. “Right.” And then he turns on his heel and starts walking away, because fuck, if Patrick doesn’t want to see him, that’s fine for him. That’s great for him. He can stay here with his fucking RLA friends and his fucking life and Pete’ll just walk off a fucking bridge, or something, see if Patrick wants to see him then.
“Pete, wait!” Brendon calls out. “Come back! Jesus, humans are so fucking touchy.”
“What? If Patrick doesn’t want to see me, I’m not going to go in and, like…beg him, or something.” Pete folds his arms across his chest.
“He wants to see you, okay? Trust me. He’s just—scared.” Brendon heaves out a huge sigh, like Pete’s the one being dense. “Look, I get how you feel. Ryan and me, our relationship didn’t exactly fall into place perfectly at first, either.”
Pete snorts without meaning to. “He returned you about five times, yeah?”
“Seven,” Brendon corrects with a weird air of pride.
“I don’t get it. Why are you still with him?” Pete asks. “If he doesn’t—if he doesn’t even want to be with you.”
“Of course he wants to be with me. Have you seen me?” Brendon grins at him, brightly. “He was just weirded out by it, at first. He needed time to get used to being with me.”
“But he returned you seven times,” Pete repeats. “And he turned you off. How could you get past that? You, I mean. Not him. How did you…” Pete trails off, and he stares at the wall, feeling incredibly awkward.
“The incident where he turned me off was stupid,” Brendon says, but there’s a slight edge to his voice. “I was barely off for three seconds before he was rebooting me again, apologizing and crying all over the place. I think that was between the third and fourth times he returned me.” Brendon frowns thoughtfully. “It’s been a while. He’s learned. I’ve learned.”
“That’s nice,” Pete says. “But still, how do you move on? How do you…”
“How did I learn to trust him?” Brendon finishes for him, quirking an eyebrow. “Trust is hard, especially if it seems like one person has all the power.”
“It’s not like I can help that,” Pete snaps.
“I know,” Brendon returns, calm. “But you don’t have to. Because you don’t have all the power. Ryan—the reason Ryan returned me all those times was because he was frightened of the power I had over him. Pete, I trust Ryan because he reaches for me even when I’m not there. He has this weird thing about doing half the household chores even though I’m the one who’s supposed to be the cleaning robot. And—and when he gets mad at me, and screams at me, or whatever, every word he says looks like it cuts deeper into him than it does into me.”
Brendon licks his lips, looking almost nervous for the first time, and finishes, “I trust him because I know that, theoretically, he has the power to turn me off again, but he would never do it without…turning himself off in the process.”
“And you just—you just know that.”
Brendon cracks a tiny smile. “Haven’t you met Ryan? He’s shit at hiding the important stuff. Don’t tell him I said that, though. He likes to think he can keep secrets from me.”
Pete huffs out a short laugh.
“Look, just go in and talk to him,” Brendon tells him. “He’s been depressed as all fuck, and I can’t handle another drama queen in the house.”
“He’s been depressed?” says Pete, biting his lip.
“Just go in,” Brendon says, and he propels Pete into the apartment before Pete can even blink.
Patrick’s vacuuming the already spotless living room carpet when Pete’s unceremoniously shoved into the room. At the sight of Pete, he promptly drops the handle of the vacuum. It goes shooting into a flower vase, shattering it into tiny pieces all over the floor.
“Don’t worry about it; I’ll clean it up!” Brendon calls out to them. “You guys just—talk. Or whatever.”
Patrick’s not walking toward him—he looks like he’s been put on standby, only his eyes are still open and staring at Pete in a dazed, kind of panicked way—so Pete takes the first few steps.
“Patrick,” Pete says. And then he stops, because that’s all he really wanted to say, right in that moment. Patrick.
Patrick doesn’t say anything back. Pete doesn’t think he’s breathing. He would be worried, only, well—robot.
“Patrick,” Pete says again, “I’m really—“
“I’m sorry!” Patrick blurts out.
“You are?” Pete asks, trying not to look too pathetically invested in Patrick’s answer.
“About your plant.”
“I haven’t watered it these past few days, and I know for a fact you haven’t, and it’s probably dead now—“
“The one upstairs. With the leaves? And, um, roots?”
“Oh, that one. I thought it had died years ago.”
“No. Still living. Well, dead now, I guess.”
There’s an awkward pause. Patrick has a smudge of dirt on his cheek, and Pete wants to wipe it away, but he doesn’t know if he can, and that just—that just sucks, too. Like the stupid dead plant with the leaves and the roots.
“Listen, I’ve been a dick—“ Pete starts.
“I’m not really sorry about that plant,” Patrick says at the same time.
There’s another brief pause.
And then Pete continues, because he has to say this, or he’ll do something stupid like get on his knees and beg Patrick to come home, “You’re not a toy to me; you could never be just—an object, or whatever, I can’t even—“
“No, I know, I was being—I was being unreasonable, and Pete, I know. You look like shit.”
“Oh, crap, is my part off?” Pete scrabbles at his bangs a little bit.
“No, I meant. You look like you haven’t really slept.” Patrick’s frowning, but it’s alarmingly unreadable, and Pete doesn’t know what he’ll do if Patrick doesn’t get back together with him because Pete’s sexiness factor isn’t up to snuff.
“Um, I guess I haven’t really slept.” Pete shrugs. “I was wondering…I don’t know.”
“Yeah,” says Patrick quietly. “Me, too.”
“I mean, I want to be better,” Pete makes a nonsensical motion in the air, “at this. I want to, I want to try to be less of a jackass, and—I know it will take a while for you to trust me, but that’s okay, as long as you let me try to earn it, you know, and I promise I won’t, like, grab your hat or anything anymore. I just…”
“I’m still a robot,” Patrick says, but it’s reluctant, and he’s looking at Pete like he’s wavering, and Pete just goes for it, starts speaking like it’s the last chance he’ll ever get to say anything again, words tumbling out so fast Pete’s pretty sure he’s not making any sense.
“I don’t care that you’re a robot—I mean, I do, in that I know that you’re different from me and we have different mindsets and different bodies and all that, but that doesn’t matter because it doesn’t really change anything, not anything important, anyway, and I get it. I get that you’re a robot. But I know that you’re still—you’re still Patrick, at the same time, and that matters more than the whole robot thing, and anyway, being a robot doesn’t make you any less than I am.”
“Any less than you?”
“No, no, of course not; you’re actually more than me, in all the best ways, you’re more practical and smart and hard-working, and…”
“And my dick’s bigger,” Patrick nods.
“And your dick’s—“ Pete starts to agree, because at this point, he’s ready to agree with Patrick on anything and everything in the entire world, but then he stops and thinks about what Patrick just said.
“You asshole,” Pete breathes.
Patrick’s grinning, now, like the lunatic asshole he is, but Pete just starts beaming back, smile too big for his face.
“Does this mean you’re…” Pete doesn’t know what to say. Does this mean you’re my boyfriend now? Does this mean I can finally sex you up? Does this mean I have to sit through all the stupid Tom Cruise movies with you and pretend not to enjoy your enjoyment?
Finally, he goes with: “Does this mean you’re coming home?”
Patrick sighs and scrunches up his face and just generally frowns very hard at Pete, but he eventually says, “Yeah. Sure. You’d probably drown in your own filth without me, anyway.”
“That is very true,” Pete says. He doesn’t think he’s ever going to stop smiling. “Hey, you know, before we get back to cleaning my house, maybe you can, uh, clean my mouth up, first?”
Patrick rolls his eyes even harder, and his cheeks start getting that shade of furious red, and Pete feels like he’s going to just burst with—with everything.
Finally, Patrick mutters, “I really should not be encouraging this,” but he leans forward obligingly anyway, lips barely an inch away from Pete’s when he stops.
“What?” Pete whispers. It feels rude to talk at normal volume to someone who’s literally sharing the same air.
“You’re dripping,” Patrick whispers back.
“And? I just took a shower.” For you, Pete doesn’t add.
“And I don’t feel like cleaning your mess up,” Patrick finishes, smugly, before leaning in the rest of the way and kissing Pete, long and slow and so deep that Pete doesn’t remember where he is until Brendon and Ryan come walking up, annoyed about something like the puddle that’s forming on the floor, and how this is their apartment, not a motel renting by the hour, and we don’t need to see that, and just get a room, for god’s sake.
“Maybe we should go home,” Patrick says to him, lips tugging upward. His fingers are entangled with Pete’s, and Pete can’t remember when that happened.
“Yeah,” he says, tightening his grip on Patrick’s hand. “Okay.”
No Assembly Required by pearldrop
Don't Turn Me On by angelsaves
Mix by tam_cranver
Back to Masterpost
All feedback is very much appreciated! ♥