Notes:

Written for the [info]2lineschallenge. My prompt was "Baby girl, I don't got a huge ol' house, I rent a room in a house. Baby girl, I don't got a motorboat, but I can float your boat."

Thanks to [info]megolas and [info]stereomer for beta.

The premise for this story and all the encouragement necessary to write it came from [info]cimorene111.

The Nesty Verse: It's Bafflingly Long Winded! A cosy domestic world of fluff where MCR never existed. Gerard threw himself into art instead of music after 9/11, Frank owns an independent label, and Ray is a studio musician.

1. Absence Sort of Does Make the Heart by [info]cimorene111 (set 2003) 2. Worth It by [info]cimorene111 (set 2006) 3. Conclusions (set 2006)
 
 
Conclusions
 


Frank hasn't even sat down when Mikey sticks his head through the door and says, "You're still looking for a lodger, right?"

"No students, no non-smokers," Frank reminds him, putting his keys and his cell and his smokes down on his desk. There are like seventeen post-its stuck to his computer already and it's not even ten a.m., Jesus. "And nobody who's the reason people say most accidents happen in the home."

Mikey blinks at him. "Have you been talking to Ray?"

"I've been talking to anyone who's known you more than five minutes."

Mikey rolls his eyes a little and his skinny body follows his head into the room. He's carrying coffee. Frank loves Mikey. "Anyway it's not for me. It's for my brother."

"Gerard?" Frank sits down and holds his hands out for the coffee. "Didn't you just say last week he was never ever ever going to move out of the basement?"

"Yeah, it turns out Mom has different ideas." Mikey puts the coffee down on the desk and hands Frank like twenty-four more post-its, all covered in his weird scratchy writing.

At least the phone numbers are legible, Frank thinks, unsticking the top one and squinting at it while he gulps down some - ouch, too hot, fuck - coffee. "I don't know, Mikey. You work for me. Wouldn't it be weird?"

Mikey shrugs. "Not for me."

"Let me rephrase that." Frank sits back in his chair and looks at Mikey over the rim of his cup. His hair is particularly insane today. Speaking of insane, "Isn't he weird?"

"He's not weird!" Mikey doesn't glare, exactly, but he does sort of stand more intensely, or something.

"Uh huh." Frank has only met Mikey's brother twice, because apparently the dude never leaves his house. Once was at a show for one of Frank's bands, and once when he came in to Skeleton to drop something off for Mikey. Both times he was twitchy, both times he was wearing a scarf with red stains and Care Bears on it, and both times he stared at Frank when he thought Frank wasn't looking. "Sure, he's just a regular guy."

Mikey folds his arms. "He's not a regular guy. He's awesome."

Frank says, "He's a recluse. And anyway, art isn't exactly a steady income, you know what I'm saying? I can barely pay my own bills, never mind taking on freeloaders."

He hopes that'll be the end of it, but of course it isn't. Mikey sits down in the other chair without being asked - Frank makes a mental note to rethink his Regular Joe managerial style - and says, "Money is no problem, okay, he's got like, patrons. He works all the time, like you. And you like the same music. And the same movies. And the same-"

Frank cuts him off with, "You think he's so great, why can't he move in with you?"

"There's no space. And anyway, I kind of, you know." Mikey breaks off and looks around the room, breathing in deep through his nose. Finally he says, "I kind of think he should live with someone he's not like, related to by blood. You know?"

Frank switches his computer on - the thing takes like a week to load so he starts peeling the post-its off the screen while he's waiting. "Explain to me again how this is my problem?"

"You need a lodger, he needs a place," Mikey says, and then he holds one long finger up in the air like a victory salute. "And he's not afraid of spiders."

"Yeah, that's right up there on my list of qualities to look for in a lodger." Frank clicks impatiently at the fucking welcome screen.

Mikey digs a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket. "It's number fifteen."

Frank stares. "You stole my list?"

"Smokes," Mikey reads aloud. "Likes dogs in case ever get one. Likes rock music. Likes loud rock music. Is interesting. Does not hog bathroom." He looks at Frank over the top of his glasses. "Dude, it's like you're meant to be."

Frank thinks about it. On the one hand, it's better than a stranger, and the chances of Gerard disappearing off the planet with Frank's stereo are slim to none.

On the other hand: freak in the attic. "Mikey, I don't know-"

"He can pay rent in advance," Mikey presses. "And he has like, every comic book ever printed, and he doesn't mind if you spill on them while you're reading."

Frank's computer finally groans into action and Frank scowls at the seventy-five thousand emails already sitting in his inbox. He loves musicians, obviously he does, but sometimes he wishes their crises could happen at three in the afternoon. He opens the least tiring-looking one (it's from Ray, with the subject line 'Reasons why I am never playing a session for any of your bands ever again: a list') and looks around the monitor at Mikey. "I'll think about it."

Mikey smiles and stands up. "Sweet. Oh, and by the way, that guy from Reprise called again about Never Never."

"I'll call him back," Frank winces. Great, now he's going to have to have another emotionally draining talk with Neil. "Today, I'll get to it. Did he sound pissed?"

"No, just impatient. And kind of like he was wearing a suit." Mikey adds, but he doesn't bug Frank about it anymore. He's halfway out of the door when he says, "So I'll call my brother and tell him it's a deal?"

"Sure," Frank says, not listening, then it filters into his brain and he looks up says, "Mikey, no, wait!"

But the door's already shut and knowing Mikey, he's already hitting speed dial.

Frank sits back in his chair and rubs his hands over his face. It's going to be a long day.

***

By the time Frank pulls up in his driveway, it's dark out. It's mostly quiet, but there are kids around, he can hear their low murmurs and occasional flurries of scratchy laughter coming from a clump of nearby trees. Probably the same group who broke Frank's window with a skeeball last week and ran off before he could see their faces, the assholes.

He walks across the street and down the scrubby path onto the pebbles (hoping he doesn't tread on any broken glass, or a hobo) and looks out at the lake. In this light you'd never think they pulled four dead bodies out of there in like the last eight months. The streetlights reflect off the water and make it look pretty and mysterious, and in the dark you can't see all the soda cans and fast food wrappers and abandoned shopping carts and mattresses and fuck knows what else littering the shore.

Frank's mom had made a lot of worried noises when he decided to move out here, but the housing prices had totally bottomed out thanks to all the murdering, and Frank knows a good opportunity when he sees it. Hell, if he didn't sign shitty bands with a spark of potential to Skeleton, he probably wouldn't sign anyone at all, and it just makes sense to take the same approach to getting on the property ladder.

Besides, he thinks, making his way back across the street to his house. He can't think of anyone who'd want to kill him and dump his body in a lake.

He's pulling a box of demo tapes out of the trunk when some guy walking his dog comes past and tips his hat to Frank. "Beautiful evening," he says, and doesn't wait for Frank to answer before moving on.

"Yeah!" Frank calls after him anyway. It never fails to surprise him that he's a guy who owns a house and mutters to himself about the local kids and has neighbours who say hello to him when they see him on his driveway.

It's like he's a grown-up, he thinks, trying to balance his bag and the box and everything else while he gets his key in the door. At some point he became a grown-up and he didn't even notice.

***

He ends up having the emotionally draining talk with Neil the next day. Same old, same old: Never Never are enjoying some real success, and they need bigger things than Frank can provide for them. But Neil doesn't want to leave because he thinks of Skeleton as home, and the rest of the guys don't even show up to discuss it because they all follow Neil around like he's the Pied fucking Piper anyway, and in the end Frank yells,

"Fine! Stay here and rot, if that's what you want. Throw away everything you've worked for, everything I've worked for, and maybe in five years you'll have forgotten how bad you wanted it and how close you came, and you won't feel like killing yourself every time you see some shitty band doing a shitty impersonation of you on MTV."

He slams the door on the way out and drives around the neighbourhood, fuming and punching his steering wheel, until the anger starts to drain out and leaves him feeling like a royal fucking asshole.

He goes back to Skeleton and finds Neil still sitting in his office, playing cards with Mikey.

"I told you he'd be back," Mikey says, standing up. "I'll leave you guys to talk. Frank, I took your keys to get a copy for Gerard, cool?"

"So not cool," Frank tells him. "I didn't even say yes."

Mikey shrugs. "I'll have them back to you by the end of the day."

"Ugh." Frank shuts the door behind Mikey and goes to sit down opposite Neil, who's staring like he thinks Frank is going to beat him over the head with his stapler. Frank spreads his hands out on the desk and speaks calmly. "I'm sorry, man. That was also not cool."

Neil wrings his hands in his lap, his dirty hair hanging over his face. "I just don't think we're ready, Frank. What if they try and change us, I mean, all those corporate guys, they don't know shit about music."

"Who told you that shit, some small-time loser?" Frank smiles at him hopefully, and gets an eyebrow twitch in return, which is pretty much a full-blown grin coming from Neil, who takes his angst very seriously.

"You're not a loser." Neil pushes his hair out of his face. It immediately falls back to where it was. "Can't we just wait until-"

"Until what, they're not interested in you any more?" Frank pushes out of his chair and comes round to sit on the desk, elbows on his knees. "Neil, this is it. This is your moment, all right, your shot. Everything we talked about. At least meet with the guy, come on."

Neil sighs and looks around dolefully. He scratches his nose and shrugs his shoulders way up to his ears and lets them down and sighs again. Frank tries really hard not to move or roll his eyes or beat Neil over the head with the fucking stapler for real.

"Fine," Neil says eventually. "We'll meet him. But you have to come with us."

"Of course," Frank promises, mentally putting the stapler down. "Of course I will."

***

Frank meets Ray for lunch (Frank buys, to make up for Ray's list) and is halfway through a really satisfying rant about fucking Neil and his fucking success phobia and the fact that his fucking photocopier is broken on top of everything else when Ray interrupts him with,

"Dude, is it true Gerard's moving in to your attic?"

"Apparently." Frank stabs his ketchup violently with a fry. "I haven't actually said yes, not that my consent seems to be necessary."

"Dude," Ray says again, and then he starts laughing, braying and rocking back and forth in his seat. His hair wobbles crazily around his head. "Dude!"

"What, what? Is he an asshole? What? Toro!" Frank stamps on Ray's foot under the table to get him to shut up. "You guys are friends, aren't you? He can't be that bad."

"Dude, it's not that." Ray gropes at the napkin dispenser, still laughing, and pulls a couple out to wipe his eyes. "Gerard's awesome."

Frank rolls his eyes and takes a bite out of his veggie burger. "So Mikey said," he says, making sure to display the contents of his mouth to Ray.

Ray wads the napkins up and throws them at Frank's face. "You're disgusting. And he's not an asshole. You guys actually have a lot in common."

"Jesus Christ, did you and Mikey write these speeches together?" Frank swallows and picks up his soda. "This is like when I go to visit my Grandma and all her friends try to set me up with their granddaughters."

Ray chuckles. "It's true, though. He's a little weird, but you'll never be bored."

Frank steals one of Ray's sweet potato fries - he always forgets how good they are until someone else orders them - and shrugs. "Yeah, well. Whatever, it's cool I guess. Mikey seems to think he needs to get out of the basement."

"He does," Ray says with surprising vehemence. "The dude's twenty-nine and he's never done his own laundry."

"Wow, yeah, he sounds like a prize."

Ray steals one of Frank's regular fries and chews thoughtfully. "It'll be fine, I'm sure. I just think," Ray's voice wobbles slightly, "I just think you might clash over the bathroom."

Frank stares at him. "Don't tell me he hogs it."

Ray laughs for five minutes straight, then, and he won't tell Frank why.

***

Frank spends the next few days fielding frantic phone calls from Lucy, the bassist for a tiny college band he signed last month. She's managed to break her guitar and can't afford another one and it's the end of the world. When he's not doing that he preps for the Reprise meeting and e-mails Neil every ten minutes to make sure he's not having a nervous breakdown, and suddenly it's Friday and Mikey comes in with Frank's coffee in the morning and says casually,

"So Gerard's gonna move in tomorrow."

"What?" Frank looks up from his calculator and the column of numbers he's hoping will magically add up to a new bass. "Tomorrow? Mikey, I haven't even - shouldn't I at least meet him first, like get a coffee with him or something?"

"You've met him twice," Mikey points out. "My landlord didn't need to take me on dates before I signed my lease."

"There is no lease." Frank presses more buttons on the calculator and, when the display doesn't read 'Guitar!', throws it across the room. "I haven't even been up the attic, God knows what state it's in."

Mikey goes to retrieve the calculator, dusting it off and setting it carefully down on Frank's desk. "He doesn't get up until like, noon at the earliest. You can clean it tomorrow morning."

Frank drops his head onto the desk. Ow, fuck. "The Reprise meeting is tomorrow, Mikey, you knew that. And I don't want to go into the attic."

"Ray and Bob are going to come protect you from spiders." Mikey says soothingly, petting Frank's shoulder. "And Gerard's got keys, you don't need to be there."

"I don't need to be there when someone moves into my house," Frank tells the desk. "No, of course. Why would I think that?"

He leaves work early and drives home, thinking wistfully about how he'd planned to spend the evening lying on the couch eating Pop Tarts in his underwear. Now he's going to have to trawl the whole house for embarrassing stuff, and it is just now occurring to him that he can never eat Pop Tarts in his underwear again because someone else will be there to see it.

Well, he could eat them in his underwear in his room, he supposes. But somehow what seems like a regular thing to do on his couch becomes weirdly seedy when he mentally transfers it to the bedroom.

After he eats dinner - in his underwear, because he can - he gets online and tries to research do-it-yourself leases and rent agreements for a while, but he's been staring at numbers all day and his head starts to swim. He goes around the house with a damp duster and a trashbag instead, but the place is actually pretty clean already. Frank is not a neat freak, whatever Mikey says, he just likes to know where things are. He runs the vacuum over everywhere, and rescues a couple skinmags from under the couch and puts them under his bed with the others, and makes a space for Gerard's shoes in the rack by the door.

There are leaves and shit all over the driveway. He finds a broken rake in the garage and gives himself a bunch of splinters trying to tidy the front yard a little. The guy with the dog comes past again and gives Frank an approving glance and a harrumphing, "Afternoon, young man!" and Frank gets trapped making small talk with him for half an hour.

It's getting dark by the time Frank has tweezered a whole fucking forest out of his hands, and he decides the tangled mess that is the backyard is just something Gerard will have to live with. According to Mikey he never goes outside anyway.

He goes to take a shower, and while he's drying off he finds himself staring at the toothbrush mug. Do roommates share toothbrush mugs? Or will Gerard bring his own? Frank looks around, trying to imagine someone else's toiletries mixed in with his own, someone else's razor and shaving foam and seriously, if they share a toothbrush mug won't their toothbrushes touch? And what if Gerard likes the toilet paper hung the other way around so the free end is next to the wall? Frank hates that. This is a terrible idea. He makes up his mind to call Mikey and call the whole thing off, but just then his cell rings and it's Neil, hyperventilating about the impending destruction of his artistic spirit.

It's after midnight by the time Frank gets off the phone, and he thinks it's probably a dick move to pull out on the actual day of Gerard's arrival, so he goes to bed and jerks off really loudly for the last time before falling asleep.

***

"Are they all gone?" Frank calls up the stairs, one foot hovering in the air in case a spider drops towards him and he needs to make a sudden retreat. "And don't fuck with me, Ray."

"Yeah, no, don't fuck with him, Ray," Bob's voice floats down the stairs. "He'll bite your kneecaps right off."

"Fuck you, Bob." Frank jumps when a piece of lint flutters down towards him and almost falls headfirst down the stairs. "I'm serious, Toro, if I come up there and there's spiders, you will never find work through me again."

"They're all gone, you fucking pussy," Bob calls, doing something that makes a thumping noise. "Get up here already."

Frank climbs to the top of the stairs and gingerly pokes his head up into the attic. Ray, of course, is waiting to jump on him but Frank's expecting it so he sticks his hand up Ray's jeans and grabs hold of his leg hair and pulls as hard as he can.

"Fucker!" Ray yanks out of his grip and backs up a few paces. "See if I ever rescue any of your bands from certain shittiness again."

"Whatever." Frank climbs up and looks around. There's a lot of dust, and still some cobwebs. "Are you sure they're all gone? What did you do with them?"

Bob holds up a paper bag with the top rolled down tight. "Flatter than roadkill, I promise."

"I would hug you," Frank says, "But you got a bag full of horror."

"Finally, an answer to all my problems." Bob puts the bag down, squashes it even flatter under his boot - take that, Frank thinks gleefully - and then tosses it into a trashbag.

Frank immediately runs over and squeezes Bob as hard as he can around the waist. "I love it when you're in town."

Bob grunts and shoves him away, and Ray picks up the broom and tosses it to Frank. "Here, you take the floor. It's the only thing you can reach. And make it snappy, I'm teaching in an hour, and then we gotta help His Highness cart all his shit over here."

Frank sweeps while Ray and Bob deal with the cobwebs. It's therapeutic, sort of. He's all tense inside over the Reprise meeting later, and listening to Ray's bitching about one of the kids he teaches, Tommy, takes his mind off it. Apparently the kid's got zero aptitude, but his parents are rich as hell and they always tip.

"That's because his mom wants to get some private tuition," Bob says, waggling his eyebrows. "You're a heartbreaker, Ray Toro."

Ray flicks the duster at him. "Shut up. What about that guy who tends bar at the Loop Lounge and practically comes in his pants every time you smile?"

They leave after the attic is as clean as they can make it ("Gerard's not going to care, Frank. Trust me.") and Frank spends a long time showering all the dust off. He knows there are no spiders in his hair, he knows that, but he washes it three times anyway, in case.

He still feels like it's rude to not be there when Gerard arrives, so he scribbles, 'Make yourself at home! Back by seven, xx F' on the back of an old postcard and props it up by the coffee machine where he knows Mikey, at least, is sure to find it.

He's halfway out of the door when he realizes that maybe putting kisses on a note to a guy you've met twice is weird. He runs back to the kitchen and grabs a pen, but then it seems like scribbling them out would be even weirder. And he can't think of anything you can turn kisses into that makes them look like anything but kisses, unless it's like a drunken emoticon face or something, but maybe that's insensitive, on a note to an alcoholic?

He doesn't have time to write a new note, though, so in the end he leaves it the way it is, and just hopes (hopelessly) that Gerard won't see it that way, and maybe Ray and Bob won't see it at all and give him shit about it until the end of time.

He gets to Skeleton with about five minutes to spare. Neil and the guys are standing around outside. The others actually look sort of excited, but Neil, as usual, looks like he just got sand kicked in his face.

"Remember what I said," Frank tells him when they're in his office. "This is your moment. You own it. You gotta never let it go."

That actually gets him a smile, and through the window Frank sees a black car pull up.

"Okay," he says, taking a deep breath. "Showtime."

***

The meeting goes better than Frank could have hoped. Reprise are good guys, Frank has always thought, and they send Dominic, who actually looks like he's listened to music a few times in his life, and not Steve, who looks like an investment banker.

Dominic and Neil bond over the Smashing Pumpkins, and there's a lot of talk about vision and artistic freedom, and although Neil says he still needs to think about it, Frank can tell there'll be ink drying on the contract by the end of the month.

Well, maybe a couple months. It is Neil, after all.

He takes the guys out for a drink to celebrate, but begs off after two beers because a) he's driving and b) he still has to go home and say hi to the total stranger who's now living in his attic.

He stops by his mom's house on the way home - she gives him a lecture about making Gerard feel welcome and loads him up with the home-made lasagnes her freezer is always full of.

Frank's freezer is full of them too. Well, half a shelf. He has nothing else in there except ice and a bottle of vodka that's about ten thousand years old.

There are no lights on when he gets home, and for a brilliant second he thinks maybe Gerard has changed his mind or there's been some huge misunderstanding and he's not moving in after all. But when he gets through the front door he immediately falls over a pair of unfamiliar shoes and smacks face-first into a stack of boxes.

"Ow," he says to nobody, straightening up. "Hello? Is anybody here?"

There's no answer. Frank hits the lights and navigates his way through the maze of boxes and bags - okay, now he's wondering if there was a misunderstanding after all, and Gerard thinks he's moving into Frank's living room. He goes upstairs and stands at the bottom of the attic stairs and calls again, but there's still no answer.

Maybe this isn't all Gerard's stuff, and he's gone back with Ray and Bob for another trip, or something, Frank thinks, making his way back down to the kitchen. He shoves the lasagnes in the freezer and flips the switch on the coffee machine and there's his note, lying on the counter. Underneath his own writing it says, 'Thanks! See you then xxG'

"Weird," Frank says out loud, and then jumps three feet into the air when a face pops up outside his kitchen window. "Fuck!"

"Sorry!" Gerard says, waving and grinning. "I didn't mean to scare you!"

"Fuck," Frank says again, pressing his hand over his chest. He's pretty sure he's having a heart attack. "Jesus Christ."

Gerard disappears from view. When he comes in through the kitchen door, he's stopped grinning and looks worried. "I'm really sorry."

"Don't worry about it," Frank says. He takes his hand off his chest and holds it out. "So we already met, kinda, but, I'm Frank. Hi."

Gerard shakes his hand, grinning again. "Gerard. God, what a great start, huh? I guess it's weird I was out there - it's really cool, though, like all wild? I totally dig that. I bet there's all sorts of stuff living in there. You should check before you have bonfires. I like your tattoos."

Frank blinks and waits for his brain to process this landslide of information. This is not the twitchy silent Gerard he remembers from before, and he doesn't know whether to feel relieved or cheated. "Thanks. And I will. Check."

"Cool." Gerard nods and puts his hands in his pockets and they stand there awkwardly for a minute. "Are you making coffee?"

"Oh! Yeah." Frank grabs a mug off the shelf and then grabs another one and tilts it at Gerard. "How do you like it?"

"With everything." Gerard slides into a chair while Frank busies himself finding sugar and spoons. "So this is really awesome of you, like I have no idea how you look for someone to live with. How do you know they're not a freak, you know? But Mikey's always saying how cool you are, and this way I'm close to home. I mean, my mom's home," he amends, sounding sort of sad. He brightens when Frank brings him his coffee, though. "Oh, thanks!"

Frank squeezes into the other chair - the table is tiny and they bump knees underneath, fidgeting around trying to find a way to fit together. Frank ends up with one foot hooked around the leg of Gerard's chair, and the other leg stretching out across the floor.

"So I'm sorry about all my stuff everywhere," Gerard says, blowing on his coffee. I don't think Ray and Bob were really expecting me to have that much. And to be totally honest, I was like so not finished packing. And they took all my like, furniture upstairs for me, but then they both had to work but they said they can come back tomorrow. I can probably get Mikey over here too, but he won't lift anything heavier than a pillow."

Frank blows on his own coffee. "Tell me about it. I want lifting and carrying done at work, suddenly Mikey is invisible. It's like his superpower."

Gerard laughs, scratchy and high like Mikey but louder and less self-conscious. His round face is totally different when he's smiling. "He fucking loves that place, though, man. Your own record label, wow. That's like huge."

"It's pretty cool yeah," Frank smiles back, because it is cool, and also because Gerard has one of those smiles that somehow magically beams itself onto other peoples' faces without their permission. "And I can help you with your boxes, man, don't worry about it."

They hash out a temporary agreement on the rent and bills while they finish their coffee, and then they go into the living room to make a start on Gerard's stuff. Frank tries to cheat by going for a sports bag that he assumes will be full of clothes, but either he's wrong or Gerard secretly wears chainmail under his jeans.

"Jesus Christ," he pants, struggling up the stairs behind Gerard, who's carrying two boxes marked 'books' like they're filled with feathers. "What the fuck is in here?"

"Hmm? Oh," Gerard cranes his neck around to see what Frank's holding. "Comic books."

Of course. The natural thing to pack in a sports bag. Why not? He's more careful after that, testing boxes a little before he picks them up, and leaving the heaviest ones where they are.

"It wouldn't be so bad," Gerard wheezes when they have to stop to sit around and smoke and try not to die, "If there weren't two flights of stairs."

Frank wipes sweat off his face - Gerard doesn't bother, and his hair is stuck to his wet forehead and pink cheeks - and says, "Dude, of course. Fucking assembly line, you're a genius."

It's easier after that - Gerard brings the boxes upstairs and Frank takes them up into the attic, and they only have to stop twice more to bend over and lean on their knees and cough and groan and sweat. When it's done, they collapse on the couch in the living room and share a bottle of water Gerard pulls out of his bag.

"I am so not unpacking tonight," Gerard gasps, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand and passing the bottle back to Frank. "Jesus, I feel like my lungs are collapsing."

Frank gulps gratefully at the water and does some gasping of his own. "I gotta quit smoking, man, for real. This is not an appropriate lung capacity for a grown man."

"Yeah." Gerard squirms around and pulls his smokes out of pocket. "You want one?"

Frank accepts the cigarette and finds the remote and they smoke while they watch the end of Family Guy and the beginning of Scrubs.

"So how does this work?" Gerard says suddenly, ashing into the now-empty water bottle. "Like, the attic is huge, man. Much bigger than I expected. I could probably spend the rest of my life up there if I had a coffee machine. And a toaster. And a bathroom I guess."

"I don't want you to feel you can't use the rest of the house," Frank says, surprising himself because up until now he thought that's exactly what he wanted. "I use the room across the hall for work, and there's my bedroom upstairs, but everything else is fair game. Oh, and there's a box room I use for storage, if you got anything you need to stash."

Gerard nods. "Cool. I'll probably keep most of my stuff with me, though. I don't really like getting rid of stuff, you know, you never know what you might need."

"Evidently." Frank drops his smoke into the water bottle and swirls the dregs around to make sure it's out.

Gerard watches him interestedly, and then says, "You're making fun of me." Frank looks at him out of the corner of his eye, and Gerard makes a face like he's considering his options, sort of rolling his eyes and scrunching his mouth up. Eventually he says, "I'm going to let it go."

They both crack up, and Frank says, "We'll just figure it out as we go along, I guess. I've never done this before, so you'll have to tell me if I'm being like, tyrant landlord guy."

"And you'll tell me if I'm like the lodger from hell, deal?"

"Deal," Frank agrees, and they shake hands again to seal it.

***

It's actually not so bad. It's weird at first, having someone else in his space. They bump into each other in the kitchen and Gerard keeps blocking Franks' car in on the driveway and Frank finds himself hiding in his bedroom and listening like a creep at his closed door when he hears Gerard coming down the stairs at night, as if running into each other on the way to the bathroom is a fate to be avoided at all costs.

Gerard keeps really weird hours, like he sleeps for three days straight (at least Frank thinks he's sleeping, because there's no noise from upstairs and he has already learned that Gerard talks/sings/quotes Lord of the Rings to himself when he's working) and then takes up residence on the couch and channel-flips for a whole twenty-four hours.

He also either has an unending supply of clothes, or Ray wasn't kidding about him not knowing how to do his laundry. After two weeks, the idea of all those dirty clothes lying on the floor right above where Frank sleeps is really starting to freak him out. On Sunday morning he shakes himself out of a dream about getting choked to death by a malicious dirty sock, and decides to do something about it.

"Gerard?" he calls up the stairs. "I'm doing laundry, do you have anything you need me to throw in with it?"

There's a series of thumping noises and a muffled squeak, and then Gerard's voice, "Um…yeah, I have…no, you know what, I can just take it to my mom's."

Frank rolls his eyes. "Dude, you can't be taking your laundry to your mom's house, what are you, nineteen?"

There's silence, and then, "There's…kind of a lot."

"You don't know how to use a washing machine, do you?" Frank grins at his feet when Gerard makes a guilty, embarrassed noise. "Come on, you pay the bills, you can learn to use the fucking appliances."

"Oh. Well, hang on a second." There's some more thumping noises and a lot of cursing, and then Gerard appears at the top of the stairs, wearing pink pajama pants and a T-shirt Frank's seen Mikey wear at least twice. He's holding two trashbags that bump heavily on each step as he comes down the stairs. "This is embarrassing, right?"

Frank shrugs and picks up a sock that's escaped. "Hey, I don't know how to use watercolors or whatever."

What's weird is that Frank has not actually seen Gerard wear three-quarters of the clothes that come out of the bags. The dude's rotated between three outfits since he moved in. Maybe Gerard changes a lot when he's painting, or he just assumes that anything on the floor needs washing, which is what Frank used to do when he was in college. Probably if you spend your life throwing paint at canvases that's a valid assumption to make, anyway.

"No, no, that has to go in with darks," Frank grabs the red shirt Gerard's holding. "Unless you want all your whites to come out pink."

"I wouldn't mind," Gerard frowns at a green sarong - seriously, when has Gerard worn a sarong? In fall, in Jersey - and shoots a questioning glance at Frank before placing it on the 'colors' pile. "Pink is a great color for guys to wear, actually. It replaces the like, bloom your skin loses from shaving - I have this pink pashmina I use for draping, it really makes other colors fucking pop."

Frank gingerly toes a pair of Gerard's shorts into the darks pile. "See, you're learning, I'm learning. Soon I'll be Van Gogh and you'll be Martha Stewart."

Gerard watches while Frank scoops out washing powder. "Martha Stewart went to jail."

"Van Gogh cut off his ear." Frank grins when Gerard rolls his eyes. "All right now look, this goes in here, and the fabric softener goes in here."

Gerard gets up close behind him, and Frank explains the markings around the dial and there's this weird second where all he can think about is how warm Gerard must be because Frank can feel it, even though they're not touching anywhere.

Then he looks down at all the laundry and thinks about how Gerard has taken exactly three showers (to Frank's knowledge) in two weeks, and the moment passes.

He actually does learn stuff from Gerard, is the thing. Either he spends hours on Wikipedia or he keeps every bookstore in Jersey in business, because he knows the most random shit about everything.

"He told you his theory about the haunted island yet?" Mikey says over lunch on Tuesday, when Frank's finished telling him about how he spilled popcorn on the floor and Gerard wouldn't let him clean it up until he'd taken a bunch of photographs to sketch from.

Frank wipes his fingers on a napkin. "There's a haunted island?"

Mikey nods and swallows. "In the centre of the lake. Well, I don't know if it's actually haunted, but the story is that a bunch of girls went out there one night and never came back."

"Did they drown?" Frank can't believe there's a haunted island in the middle of his lake and no-one told him. "Dude, that's awesome!"

"Yes." Mikey sips his soda. "Girls drowning is totally rad."

Frank flips him off. "I'm just saying, ghosts? Right here? Too cool."

"Yeah, that's what Gerard thinks. He was like totally obsessed with it when we were teenagers, man, he'd draw these creepy fucking pictures of the girls like floating around all soaking wet with their throats cut and shit." Mikey laughs around a mouthful of pizza. "He even wrote a story about it, and then the school called our mom and asked if there were problems at home."

Frank shakes his head. "It's a fucking miracle you guys made it out of high school alive, man."

Mikey smirks. "Look who's talking, locker boy."

Frank gives him a dirty look which Mikey ignores, so when Frank's phone rings he makes Mikey answer it. "Say I'm in a meeting."

"Skeleton Records," Mikey says into the phone, sounding bored even for him. Frank puts on a big fake smile and points meaningfully at his own face, but Mikey carries on, drawling, "Oh, hey, what's up? Oh, he's in a meeting. Uh huh. Uh huh. Uh huh. Okay, I'll tell him. Bye."

"Oh, hey, what's up?" Frank says when Mikey hangs up. "Are you serious?"

Mikey shrugs. "It was just my brother."

"Gerard?" Frank stares at Mikey and then at the phone. "What…calling here? Why?"

"Neil's at your house. He's all upset."

"What?" Frank swallows his too-big mouthful of food and grabs for the phone. "Jesus Christ, Mikey, why didn't you pass it over?"

"You said to say you were in a meeting." Mikey starts clearing the wrappers off the table.

Frank dials his home number with one hand and makes a fist with the other, digging his nails into his palm and taking big deep breaths in time with the ringing. "I swear to God, one of these days."

Mikey points at his own placid face and dodges, laughing, when Frank throws a handful of paperclips at him.

Gerard takes forever to answer, even though he must be right next to the phone if he just called. "Hello?"

"Gerard! It's Frank. What's going on?"

"Oh, well, Neil's here. He's kind of upset. Wait a second," everything goes muffled - Frank can hear Gerard's voice rising and falling unevenly, and Neil's doom-and-gloom tones in reply, and then Gerard comes back. "He doesn't want to discuss it over the phone."

Frank bangs his fist on the table. "What are you, his secretary now? Just tell him to get his ass over here."

"Can you come here?" Gerard sounds a little desperate, actually, and it occurs to Frank that he was probably working and doesn't appreciate being interrupted by a total stranger. A total stranger on the verge of ruining his own career, to boot. "He's - I'm not sure he should drive."

Frank grits his teeth so he won't yell, takes a couple more deep breaths and says, "Fine. I'll be right there. Just - just try and stop him from laying down in traffic, okay?"

"Okay," Gerard says, and hangs up.

There's nothing planned for the afternoon that can't wait, so Mikey comes home with Frank, "To stop you from committing crimes. I like my job, okay?"

There's traffic, of-fucking-course, even though there's nowhere for anybody to be going in Belleville at this time of day. When they finally get back, Frank slams through the front door and heads straight for the kitchen, where he finds Neil sitting at his kitchen table and Gerard perched on the counter, both of them holding cups of coffee and…smiling.

"Neil?" Frank has to physically restrain himself from grabbing the kid and shaking the shit out of him. "Are you okay? What's going on?"

"He's doing just fine," Gerard says proudly. Mikey sidles up to him and Gerard hands him his coffee immediately. "Aren't you, Neil?"

Neil nods rapidly. "I'm sorry, Frank, I was all messed up. But it's fine now. Gerard really straightened me out."

Frank stares at him. "Gerard did."

"Yeah! We talked about how you have to really go for your dreams, you know, like Gerard did when he went to art school." Neil looks over at Gerard and his face rearranges itself into what Frank thinks might be a grin, except he's never seen such a thing on Neil's face before, so he can't be sure. "Life is fleeting. You have to make the most of every day. Get out there. See the world. Make a difference. Right, Gerard?"

"Right!" Gerard takes his coffee back from Mikey and toasts Neil with it, grinning. Then he looks at Frank and his face drops. "Oh. Should I not have - I didn't mean to interfere."

Mikey looks quickly at Frank. "It's fine, Gee."

"Yeah. Yeah, it's fine," Frank manages, even though he's reeling from the idea of someone who lived in their mother's basement until very recently giving anyone a motivational speech about Getting Out There. "It's fine, Neil, I'm glad you're okay."

Neil nods and stands up and lopes over to Gerard and hugs him, seriously, what the fuck is going on here? "Thanks, man."

Gerard pats his back. "Anytime."

Frank walks Neil out and agrees to arrange another meeting with Reprise, and then he goes back into his kitchen and folds his arms and says to Gerard, "I've been working on this kid for months. Months. Five minutes with you and he's practically signing on the dotted line, what the fuck is that?"

"Gerard's always been really good at that stuff," Mikey says. He's sitting on the counter next to Gerard. "He's like, inspirational."

"Oh yeah?" He can't even inspire himself to take showers, Frank thinks meanly, but he doesn't say it because Gerard is looking hopefully at him, his face open and his mouth all mushed up into a scrunch on one side. "The Force is strong with you, or what?"

Gerard breaks into a giant grin and nods with his whole body. "I always wanted to be a Jedi! But I don't know if I could deal with that whole, a Jedi must not love or hate thing. I'm like, so emotional."

"You're an artist," Mikey says seriously. "You have to be."

Gerard nods thoughtfully and Frank remembers the whole interrupting him while he's working thing. "Shit, Gerard, has this like, salted your mojo or whatever? I'm sorry, I had no idea he'd show up here."

"It's okay, I was pretty much done anyway. I'm presenting to a client this afternoon."

Mikey taps his knee. "The dog lady?"

"Yeah." Gerard makes a face, and explains to Frank, "Pictures of her dogs, you know those fucking chocolate-box things? It's like the least artistically fulfilling thing ever, but she pays well. It leaves me free to do other things that aren't so, you know, lucrative."

"Hey, whatever gets you through the month, right?" Frank wedges in next to Gerard to get at the coffee machine, trying not to elbow him in the side. "When I was trying to get Skeleton off the ground, I did all kinds of crap. I even worked security at the Loop for a while, like anyone's scared of me, right?"

Gerard reaches behind him for a mug and hands it to Frank. "You're short," he starts, and laughs when Frank makes a 'no shit, Sherlock' face. "No, I mean, but you're like, fearless. That can be intimidating."

"Yeah, what do you know, you've known me five minutes." Frank looks up from stirring sugar into his coffee and Gerard's smiling, his eyes crinkling up at the corners and he's doing the magical beaming thing again because Frank's smiling back without even thinking about it. Gerard's eyes dart away and flick back up and Frank clears his throat and steps back. "And I'm scared of spiders."

"Mikey told me," Gerard nods. "But I don't think a lot of them try to get access to clubs."

Frank looks around him at Mikey. "He's a comedian too? Is there anything he can't do?"

"Deal with needles," Mikey says, and Gerard shudders. "Change a lightbulb."

Frank laughs, but Gerard doesn't. Frank slides into a chair and looks up at him. "You can't change a lightbulb?"

"I can!" Gerard protests, kicking at Mikey, who's laughing into his coffee. "But I really don't like to. I'm scared they're going to break in my hands when I push them in, you know?"

"That happened one time," Mikey says patiently. "To someone else. In a movie."

Gerard rubs his hands together nervously and shakes his head. "I need all my tendons, man."

Frank looks up at the ugly brown light fixture in the ceiling. "And here I was hoping you moving in would be an end to my days of climbing on chairs."

By the time they've finished listing all their respective fears and phobias and shit they just won't do for love nor money, it's already two-thirty and Frank decides fuck it, he's the boss, he can give himself (and Mikey) the afternoon off if he wants to.

They give Gerard a ride to meet his client - the paintings are all wrapped up and when Frank tries to wriggle his fingers under an edge to lift it up and see, Gerard puts his hand over the top and says, "Don't, come on. I don't want the first time you see my stuff to be this shit, all right?"

Even though Frank's instinct is to wait until Gerard's back is turned and then rip the coverings off anyway, he backs off. They drop Gerard off and go to pick up the bass Frank's found for Lucy, and then surprise her at a band practice.

At least, it's supposed to be a practice. The band's name is Slacker and they're living up to their name, if the sudden burst of activity when Frank sticks his head through the door is anything to go by.

"Frank! Hey!" Lucas, the singer, pushes himself off the couch, swaying a little in a tell-tale fashion as he stands. "Dude, awesome! I didn't know you were coming!"

"Evidently," Frank waves at the rest of the guys and points at Lucy, who's sitting in a corner looking sad. "So, on a scale of one to ten, how much do you love me right now?"

"What?" she says, and then Mikey holds up the bass and Lucy comes barrelling across the room, shrieking. She jumps on Frank and wraps her legs around his waist, yelling in his ear, "I love you I love you I love you I love you oh my God, Frank! You're the best!"

Frank staggers under her weight, grinning. "Yeah, you remember that next time you're bitching about my cut, all right?"

Lucy jumps off him and latches on to Mikey, covering his face in kisses before she yanks the bass out of his hands and drops to her knees, fondling it in a way that makes Frank see her in a totally new light. "Oh, baby. Oh, Frank, she's beautiful."

The guitar's nothing special, but Frank remembers how he felt when he'd busted his guitar and couldn't even afford to pay his phone bill that month, never mind anything else, and Ray gave him one of his, out of the blue. It was like being offered the fucking sun on a stick. He squeezes Lucy's shoulder and says, "You're welcome."

They hang out there for a bit - the band are sounding better, much better, and Frank hashes out his development plan for them with Mikey on the way to pick up Gerard. They play him some of Slacker's tracks on the way home, and he totally gets it, exclaiming over all the things Frank loves about them and picking up most of the stuff that still needs work.

When they get back Frank calls Ray and Bob to see if they're working, and they aren't, so he invites them over and they have an impromptu pizza/Halo orgy in the living room. Bob's beating pretty much everyone, probably because the dude presses buttons for a living, and also he has his own personal cheerleader in the form of Ray.

"You'd look cute in a cheerleader's outfit," Gerard says when Frank points this out. He reaches over and tugs on Ray's hair a little. "You even got a pom-pom built in, look at that."

"Fuck you," Ray leans over and shakes his hair in Gerard's face until Gee squawks and bats at it with his hands. "You're the one who looks like the Homecoming Queen."

Gerard purses his lips and flutters his eyelashes - he really is fucking pretty, Frank thinks, and then he shakes his head and looks down at Mikey, who's sitting on the floor with his back to the couch.

"What about Miss Teen Lesbian Nineteen-Ninety-Seven, here?" Frank messes Mikey's hair up because he hates that.

Mikey jerks away, dropping his controller, and flattens it down again. "Whatever, baby face."

They all look at Bob, who doesn't even pause in his annihilation of Mikey. "I will end you all."

Later, when they've all got aching thumbs and Frank's stomach hurts from laughing at the way Gerard jerks his controller around, like if he lunges forward and makes an arch in the air with it, it'll make the Master Chief jump further, or something, Ray thumps Frank's foot and asks,

"He drawn you yet?"

"Ray!" Gerard slumps down and lets his hair fall in his face. "God."

Ray grins up at him, "What, you've drawn me like five hundred times. And Mikey. And even," he pauses for dramatic effect, holding one hand up in the air, "Bob."

Bob grunts. "Don't fucking remind me, Jesus."

Ray rubs Bob's ankle. "It was very traumatic."

"You drew Bob?" Frank pokes Gerard's hip with his toe until Gerard looks up. "You draw people? Like, people you know?"

Gerard grimaces and makes a circle in the air with his hands. "Sometimes. I don't, like - it's not like when I do portraits, you know, for commissions or whatever. It's just, you know. If they're there, and I'm there, and I have a pencil, whatever."

"Dude, draw me!" Frank hangs off the couch and digs around in the bowl on the coffee table for a pen. He pulls out a random beermat he doesn't remember putting there, and holds them both out to Gerard. "Should I pose?"

"I can't do it on command," Gerard says, hunching in on himself and shoving his hands between his knees.

"You paint fucking dog pictures on command," Frank flaps the beermat at Gerard, but he won't take it. "Come on, why not?"

Gerard just shakes his head again, and Frank calls him a pussy and then drops it, because it's just weird to be begging a dude to draw him. It bugs him, though, even when he's lying in bed that night after Ray and Bob have gone home and Mikey and Gerard have both crashed out on the couch. Whatever, he thinks, turning resolutely over and punching his pillow into shape. Maybe Gerard can't work in the medium of ballpoint, or something.

When he comes downstairs in the morning, there's no sign of Gerard, but the beermat is propped up against the coffee machine. There's a bunch of snappily-dressed spiders lined up beside a roped-off door, and a tiny Frank holding a clipboard.

Tiny Frank has a bubble coming out of his mouth that says, "Two-legged suits only, sorry fellas."

Frank grins at it and sticks it up on the fridge with his YooHoo magnet. Then he goes to shake Mikey awake, so they can get themselves to work.

***

After a few weeks, Frank is surprised to realize that they've settled into something resembling a routine. If Gerard is awake when Frank gets up in the morning, they drink coffee and grumble about how early it is together. If he's not, then Frank makes sure there's coffee left for him when he eventually surfaces, and goes to work.

The evenings they're both home, they bitch about Frank's day of dealing with fragile egos and even more fragile budgets and the showcase he's trying to organize for the end of the month. Or they talk about Gerard's stupid clients and how he can't mix the exact shade of blue he wants and how he can't sleep because he's so excited about this big project one of his patrons is setting up for him.

Most nights Gerard cooks. He's surprisingly good at it ("I'm creative!" he says, sounding a little hurt, when Frank gapes at the sight of him wearing a fucking apron, Martha Stewart for real,) and he's happy enough to find vegetarian alternatives after Frank opens the fridge one day and maybe has a very small bitch fit over the bloody carcass of a dead animal that's just lying around in there on top of Frank's salad leaves all oh, hey, what's up?

Gerard even starts to come to see Frank's bands play, something that never ceases to amaze Mikey and Ray.

"I guess I don't usually leave the house that much," Gerard shrugs, when they're in the grocery store at the weekend. "I mean, to go where other people are. People I don't know, I mean. Crowds freak me out."

Frank tosses a bag of chips into the cart and pauses, considering the salsa display. "It's so weird that you and Mikey are brothers. You can't keep that kid away from a party unless you're throwing a bigger one yourself."

Gerard smiles. Frank can't tell if his eyes are crinkling because he's wearing sunglasses, the freak. "Yeah, he's the butterfly."

Frank comes down in favor of salsa and dumps two jars in the cart. "Bacon," he says, and they set off for the chiller aisle.

"I love this stuff." Gerard pushes his sunglasses up onto the top of his head and reads the back of a pack, like he still doesn't believe it's not made of anything porcine. "It's like, better than the real stuff."

"That's because nothing died to make it." Frank knows Gerard loves fake bacon - he loves it so much that Frank didn't even get to eat any this week. He's not mad, though - Gerard left a note on the fridge that said 'Ate the last of the fake pig, sry' with a sketch underneath of a sad vampire. Who can be mad in the face of sad vampires? Not Frank.

They go back home and Gerard 'helps' Frank put the groceries away by sitting at the table and smoking supportively. When Frank's done, Gerard stands up and grabs his hand and looks into his eyes.

"Come upstairs with me," he says urgently.

"Uh," Frank says cleverly, and everything slows down and stretches out and there's this endless moment where he tries to figure out if Gerard means it the way any other guy would mean it (probably not, because it's Gerard, but maybe) and if he does mean it that way, is it a good idea (Gerard's his lodger and Mikey's brother, so no, fuck no) and if he does mean it that way and Frank ignores the good idea question, does he want to go upstairs with Gerard (he has to feel around inside his own head carefully for the answer to this one, and is dismayed to discover that it is, apparently, a resounding fuck yeah) and in the end he decides to say the only safe thing he can think of, namely, "What?"

"I want to show you my work," Gerard says, squeezing Frank's hand and then dropping it. "I come to your shows, right? You should see. I'm like, ready."

He sets off for the stairs and Frank just stands there, reeling from a realization that he didn't even need to fucking have, because of course Gerard wants to show Frank his paintings, what the fuck else would he have meant. He's sort of mad about being tricked like that, but then Gerard sticks his head back through the door and says,

"Frank? Are you coming?"

"Yeah," Frank says, shaking it off. Whatever, Gerard's hot and Frank's not blind. It doesn't mean anything except it's been way too long since Frank got laid. "Yeah, man, of course."

The attic looks like nothing that should be attached to Frank's shitty house. There are drawings everywhere, pinned up on the beams and tacked to the wallboards and even lying on Gerard's laptop and strewn over his unmade bed. Paintbrushes and scraps of canvas litter the floor; there are three easels set up with paintings in (Frank assumes) various states of completion, and a long table piled up with sketchbooks and two of those little poseable wooden mannequins on stands that Frank used to put into rude positions when he was bored during art class in high school.

"It's like A Beautiful Mind up here," he says, following Gerard over to the table. "No wonder you can't sleep, you crazy fuck."

Gerard laughs, rifling through the sketchbooks, pulling them out seemingly at random. "I'm used to it, you know, after the basement. I guess it'd be good to have a separate room for a studio, but you know, needs must."

Mikey's told Frank that Gerard has more than enough money to get a place by himself, but Frank keeps his mouth shut. Gerard would probably think Frank wanted him to move out, or something.

Gerard brings a sketchbook and a large black folder over to the bed and gestures at Frank. "Come on, sit down."

Frank perches on the corner, but Gerard tuts and shuffles closer, laying the book over both of their laps. His thigh presses against Frank's leg, and he's warm everywhere. Fuck. Frank stares hard at the book - Gerard's opened it to a page showing drawings of a rotting apple from a bunch of different angles.

"These are detail studies for the piece on the easel over there," Gerard points at a painting that's just a whirl of colors and shapes, but as Frank looks at it, it morphs itself into a tree that's dripping fruit into a bowl. The bowl itself is melting into the ground, and there's a hand reaching up from under the earth. "I do these first, usually, and then I try to translate the best into the final piece, but it doesn't always work out that way."

Frank makes what he hopes are encouraging noises as Gerard talks him through the book - honestly, he's too blown away to make any kind of intelligent comments, and what the fuck would he say, anyway? He doesn't know shit about art.

"Don't you get bummed when you have to give them away?" he says eventually, when they've reached the last page of the book and they're both staring in silence at a painting of a nun who's crying blood. It's both kind of upsetting because she looks really anguished, and really fucking cool because, blood. "I mean, with music, you still get to listen to it once you've given it away, you know? Isn't it hard knowing you might never see a painting again?"

Gerard blinks at him, and then smiles, soft and pleased and kind of surprised looking. "Yeah," he says quietly, nodding. "Yeah, sometimes it's a real wrench. But that's why I have this."

He dumps the sketchbook on the floor like it's nothing and opens the folder. It's full of photographs - photographs, Frank realizes, of paintings Gerard's already sold.

"This way I can still see them," Gerard says thoughtfully, turning the pages. "Mikey says I should get them on the computer, you know, digital. In case there's a fire or whatever. I guess he's right."

"But this way you can touch them," Frank says, and his hand actually moves towards the photographs even though Frank's spent his whole life being nagged by his mom to hold pictures by 'the edges, Frankie, don't get your mucky paws all over them.' "I mean, not the pictures. You know what I mean."

Gerard nods again, sucking his bottom lip into his mouth and frowning at Frank a little. "Come on," he says, grabbing Frank's hand again and pulling him up. "Over here, come on."

He leads Frank to stand in front of the tree painting and looks at him expectantly.

"What?" Frank hopes he isn't going to be asked for critique, or something.

Gerard tilts his head towards the painting. "Touch it."

Frank laughs and backs off, knotting his hands behind his back. "No way, dude, I'll spoil it."

"It's dry, you moron." Gerard gets up behind him and kind of hustles him forward, taking one of Frank's hands and moving it up and forward so his fingers are pressing against the painting.

"It's spiky!" Frank says in surprise, and Gerard laughs, a warm puff of air against Frank's hair. He moves Frank's fingers over the painting, down to where there's a smooth ripple and then over to where it almost feels like it's tiled. "I thought it would be soft."

Gerard hums, moving Frank's hand this way and that. "The texture in oils is one of my favorite things about them. I mean everything has its own touch, you know, watercolors are dry and sort of wrinkly, and chalks feel smooth, like dust on books."

Frank is having a hard time keeping his eyes open; lulled by the warmth of Gerard's body and the steady murmur of his voice. He loosens his grip on Frank's hand after a while and lets Frank touch by himself, but he keeps his fingers resting on the back of Frank's wrist, his other hand heavy and hot on Frank's hip.

"It's so complicated," Frank says, and it sounds stupid and not at all enough to express what he means. "Like, when I first saw it I thought it was - not bad, I mean you're amazing, look at this shit. But like," he stops, frustrated, and shakes his head before starting again. "It feels like you could pick the colors out, where they're spiky. Like they wouldn't be mixed anymore, if you could just, like, you know."

"Find the thread," Gerard finishes for him. He lets go of Frank and steps back, and Frank feels cold and awkward, like he got caught doing something he wouldn't want anyone else to see. "That's, yeah. I knew you'd get it, Frankie."

That night Frank dreams about Gerard painting his skin with fruit, crushing peaches and strawberries between his fingers and smearing patterns that he cleans up with his mouth. He wakes up hard and desperate with a pillow pressed between his thighs, and he comes the minute he gets his hand wrapped around his dick.

"Fuck," he breathes, staring at the ceiling and thinking about Gerard lying up there, surrounded by his sketches and his beautiful paintings that Frank has managed to turn into fruit porn.

Gerard probably does shit like this all the time, anyway, Frank thinks, making his way furtively to the bathroom to clean up. He's an artist, and he's weird; everybody says so. Frank will just have to get over himself and stop being such a creep - he's pretty sure rubbing one out because his lodger showed him a painting puts him pretty firmly in the Bad Landlord category.

He slides back into bed and pulls the covers up over his head. In the morning he'll just act like nothing happened, and hope like hell Gerard doesn't decide to get into pottery, because Frank doesn't think he'll live through a re-enactment of that stupid scene in Ghost.

***

In the morning Frank has a vague idea about leaving early for work, except then he realizes it's Sunday and for once, he's disappointed. He stays in bed for as long as he can, but nobody can beat Gerard at sleeping in, so eventually he accepts defeat and goes downstairs in search of coffee.

Gerard, of course, is already down there, smoking and poking an orange with a Q-tip..

"Frankie!" he says, smiling, when Frank comes into the kitchen. "You want some breakfast? I was gonna make pancakes."

Frank hovers in the doorway, trying to figure out if Gerard's offering regular pancakes or 'let's talk about how creepy you are' pancakes.

"Frank?" Gerard stands up and comes towards him, looking concerned. "Are you okay?"

"Fine!" Frank jumps backwards and looks around wildly for an excuse. "Uh, I'm gonna take my mom out for breakfast, actually. So, don't worry about it. See you later!"

He's already in the car when he realizes he's still wearing pajama pants. He doesn't want to have to explain to his mother, so he goes to Mikey's instead.

"Do I have any clothes here?" he says, pushing straight past Mikey when the door opens. Mikey's apartment is pretty nice - he makes these weird ornaments out of like, tulle and fake eyeballs and sticks them up everywhere. Sometimes, though, like today, it fucking reeks. "What died in here, Jesus?"

"There was an incident with some tupperware," Mikey shuts the door and stumbles past Frank into the living room. "And come on in, by the way."

Mikey collapses onto his couch and turns on the TV while Frank goes and digs through his closet for the jeans and shirt he knows he left there last time. He changes and stuffs his PJs into a plastic bag that's hanging on the door, and goes back into the living room.

"Dude," he starts, and then stops, because what's he going to say? Dude, your brother made me touch his paintings and it got me hot? Dude, does Gerard always get handsy when he's exhibiting or do you think he likes me? Dude, I dreamt about your brother making a fruit salad on my crotch, what do you think it means? "Dude, Gerard showed me his art last night."

Mikey doesn't turn away from the TV. "He's good, huh."

Frank slumps on the sofa next to him. "Yeah," he says glumly

Mikey looks at him out of the corner of his eye and smiles annoyingly.

"What?"

"Dude," Mikey says, and laughs without making any noise.

Frank thumps his knee. "What?" he repeats, but Mikey just shakes his head and won't say anything else.

Frank sits and stews while Mikey flicks up and down through the music channels - he's got this weird OCD thing where if he catches the end of a video he likes, he keeps going through the channels over and over until he finds it starting from the beginning again.

Eventually he says, "You should ask him to do a poster."

"For the showcase?" It's not a terrible idea. Frank usually ends up using a photograph of one of the bands and then enduring a bunch of bitchiness from everyone who's not in it. "You think he'd be up for that?"

"You should ask him," Mikey repeats, and then they both get distracted by Beastie Boys.

Frank does take his mom for breakfast - she's all happy and surprised and he feels sort of bad that he's using her as an excuse to avoid accidentally getting turned on by his lodger - and when he gets home, Gerard is up in the attic, listening to Jeff Buckley and not singing along.

Frank stands at the bottom of the stairs for a little while, wondering if he should yell up that he's home or something, but he's never done that before, so he doesn't. He goes downstairs instead and shuts himself in his computer room. He answers a few emails, including one from Dominic at Reprise, confirming their next meeting with Never Never. Some kid called Ryland who says he met Mikey at a party in Brooklyn last week has sent him a bunch of tracks - half under the name This Is Ivy League, and half without the 'This Is' part.

Frank downloads the first one, not expecting much, but he's drumming his fingers against his knees by the time the song ticks over into the sixty seconds mark. He downloads the rest for later and emails the kid back, "Dear (This Is) Ivy League: I'm listening."

His fingers are restless now so he puts his headphones on and plays his guitar for a while - he's trying to work out a problem in the intro to Slacker's latest effort, but he can't concentrate because his stupid brain keeps climbing the stairs and trying to peek into the attic.

What's Gerard doing up there, anyway? He's not singing, so he's not working. Maybe he's fondling his paintings. Maybe he's got someone else up there and they're fondling his paintings together. Maybe he's dead. He's probably not dead.

Frank shakes his head and keeps playing, random snatches of songs he knows and the stuff he and Ray came up with last time they jammed together. Frank wonders if Gerard has ever fondled his paintings with Ray. Or Bob. Or both of them at the same time. Maybe they're up there right now talking about how provincial Frank is for not knowing that this is the proper way to appreciate oil paints and okay, obviously Frank is not going to get anything constructive done while he's obsessing over Gerard's possible fondling past and present.

He should just ask, Frank decides, throwing his headphones on the desk and going for the door. "Hey, Gerard," he practices as he walks into the living room, "Hey, Gerard, do you-"

"Do I what?"

"Jesus!" Frank catches himself on the back of the sofa, narrowly avoiding falling straight over it into Gerard's lap. "You have got to stop scaring the shit out of me, asshole!"

"Sorry." Gerard's sitting on the couch, chewing his nails. The lights aren't on and neither is the TV.

"What the fuck are you doing, sitting here in the dark like a freak?" Frank hits the lights and Gerard blinks, wincing. "Is this part of your artistic process?"

Gerard is silent while his face goes through this rapid-fire shuffle of guilt-annoyance-resignation. Finally he says, "Why were you talking to me, if you didn't know I was here?"

"I wasn't!" Fuck, he totally was.

Gerard looks at him like Frank's the crazy one, and Frank scrolls madly through his brain for an excuse, for anything that'll make it not look weird that he was marching through the living room making demands of someone he didn't even know was there. Turns out there isn't one. "I was practicing."

"Practicing saying my name?" Gerard's face shifts again, but this time it's into a little uncertain smile, which is a relief even though Frank's about to die of humiliation. "Okay."

Frank has a sudden brainwave. It won't save him from looking weird, but it will prevent any discussion of paint fondling. He hopes. Thank fuck for Mikey Way. "I was gonna ask if you might be able to do a poster for the Skeleton showcase at the end of the month."

Gerard makes a surprised 'o' with his mouth, and then scrunches it shut again, frowning. "And you wanted to practice that because?"

"I don't know, maybe you'd think it was dumb." It's only half a lie, anyway. Frank edges around the couch and thinks about sitting down on it. He's not quite there yet, though. "Look, forget it. I know you're probably really busy, it's just I can never come up with shit worth a damn and I thought, you know, maybe, but it doesn't matter-"

"I'd love to," Gerard interrupts, and then he stops and makes the surprised face again, like he didn't know he was going to say that. "Uh. I mean, if - if you want."

Frank perches gingerly on the arm of the couch. "Well, yeah. Like - just something people will actually look at, you know? This whole town is fucking plastered in posters of four guys sitting around glaring, right?"

Gerard rolls his eyes and nods. "Or some angry chick, all eye-linered up to hell in a schoolgirl's outfit with her tits on show. Wow, yeah, you're like totally subversive. I bet your music is fucking groundbreaking."

"Exactly. Nobody's fucking looking at that shit." Frank slides down the arm onto the couch cushions, tucking his feet under him. "I really need to build on Never Never going over to Reprise, you know? Plus, they're my biggest draw by far, my bands are going to be playing to three stoned kids and a homeless guy if I lose their fans."

"You're not going to lose their fans, Frank." Gerard curls up, pulling his own feet under him. Frank's brain yells insistently at him about the article he totally didn't read on about.com that said mirroring body language was a Sign. Frank tells it to shut the fuck up. "Neil told me his band weren't shit when you found them, man. You've done it before, you'll do it again. The kids'll keep coming."

Frank rolls his eyes to stop himself from smiling. "They will if they see a totally awesome poster all over town."

Gerard doesn't bother to hide it when he smiles, a real one this time. "Flattery will get you various distances, depending on the situation."

"Oh really." Frank's getting pins and needles so he uncurls his legs a little towards the centre of the couch. "Well, let's see. I firmly believe that your artwork is integral to the success of my show."

Gerard shakes his hair out of his face dramatically. "Go on."

Frank laughs and wriggles around to get his cigarettes out of his pocket. "Your art is a shining beacon, showing the music lovers of New Jersey the True Way," he lights a smoke and throws the packet to Gerard. "No pun intended, unless that'll help."

"Hey, couldn't hurt." Gerard shakes a cigarette out and leans over to put the pack on the coffee table. When he settles back onto the sofa, his feet almost touch Frank's. Frank's brain freaks out about the article again. "Keep going, man, I don't usually do pro bono."

"You're Picasso," Frank says, tossing Gerard his lighter. "You're Alex Ross. Monet. Jim Lee." Gerard pulls a face. "Scratch that. Fucking, you're Joe Quesada and Michaelangelo's secret love child, all right?"

Gerard lights up and inhales, rolling his head around on the back of the couch. Watching Gerard smoke is almost as good as doing it yourself, Frank thinks. You can practically see his toes curling when he takes the first drag.

"All right," Gerard exhales, smiling with his eyes closed. "I suppose my secret love parents would want me to share my incredible gift with the Jersey music scene."

"Awesome!" Frank wriggles his toes and bounces a little in his seat, because all flattery aside, this is going to kick ass. "Dude, when Mikey suggested it, I wasn't even sure you'd do it."

Gerard lifts his head up and opens his eyes. "It was Mikey's idea?"

"Yeah, I was over there today because I managed to leave the house without actual pants, as you may have noticed." Frank takes a drag on his smoke and inhales too quickly because he didn't really mean to bring that up and he so doesn't want to talk about it. "Fuck. Ow. Anyway, I usually keep some clothes there in case, you know, and we were watching TV and he said-"

"Do you stay at Mikey's a lot?" Gerard's sitting upright now. His feet are on the floor.

"I don't know, sometimes." Frank sits up too because it feels weird to be practically lying down when Gerard has suddenly gone all tense and stopped smiling. "Dude, what?"

"No reason," Gerard says quickly, picking up the remote. "You wanna watch some TV?"

He doesn't wait for Frank to say yes, just turns the TV on and clicks around until he finds Daredevil, which Frank knows for a fact he thinks is a shitty adaptation, and like five minutes later he gives an elaborate and totally fake yawn.

"Man, I'm exhausted, I gotta get some sleep, I was up early, big meeting tomorrow, night," he says all in a rush, and he stubs his cigarette out and practically runs out of the room.

Frank stays where he is. He doesn't bother changing the channel, even though he thinks this is a shitty adaptation too. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner have stupid gratuitous sex and Jon Favreau acts the shit out of his fifteen lines, and none of it helps Frank figure out what the fuck is going on.

***

Frank doesn't see Gerard for three days after that. To be honest, at first he's just relieved, because he's busy anyway. He has to hover at the Never Never practices in case Gerard's magic wears off and Neil has another crisis of faith, and drop in on the Slacker practices to make sure they actually are, and make fifteen million phonecalls about the showcase and play the Ivy League tracks to Mikey and argue with him about whether or not they'd be a good fit for Skeleton.

"So," Mikey says, twirling in his chair. "Trouble in Paradise?"

"What? No, Simon and Garfunkel."

"You and my brother, asshole." Mikey stops twirling and the chair creaks as he sits forward. "I talked to him last night and he sounded weird. More than usual. Did you have a fight, or what?"

"He's been talking about me?" Frank says, and then has to sit on his hands so he won't rip his tongue out of his head. "I mean, what?"

Mikey shrugs, linking his fingers together and stretching his arms out in front of him. "I don't know, man, you tell me. You live with him."

"I haven't seen him for a couple days, to be honest." It's safe to say that - Mikey knows Gerard's hermity ways better than anyone. "I don't know, I think I bruised his ego because I told him it was your idea about the poster."

"You - okay." Mikey makes a pained face and sticks his fingers under his glasses to rub his eyes.

Frank hits pause on iTunes because it's not fair to Ryland if his music is forever connected with 'awkward conversations about Gerard' in Frank's brain. "Why does it even matter whose idea it was?" he asks, and he really wants to know, but Mikey just starts rubbing his temples instead. "You getting a headache?"

"Yeah." Mikey resettles his glasses and looks at the ceiling. "Probably the added strain from rolling my eyes so much."

Frank doesn't know what that means, but he's afraid to ask in case Mikey starts asking questions back, so he shrugs and restarts the track. "We got work to do, man. I'll make it up to him, all right?"

Mikey holds his hands up in a 'do what you want' gesture, but he stops rubbing his head, at least.

Frank feels like shit for the whole rest of the day. Correction: he feels like A Shit. But it's not all his fault - it takes two people to completely avoid each other despite sharing a house. Frank remembers that much from growing up as an only child of a single parent. He also remembers how much it sucked that if they weren't talking to each other, there was nobody else to talk to at all. Usually that was what ended their fights in the end: neither of them could stand the silence.

He's already determined to get some sort of truce called - not a truce, because they aren't fighting, but an end to this weirdness, something - but when he gets home and finds the poster he'd asked Gerard for, propped up against the coffee machine like all other important correspondence, it seals the deal.

"Gerard!" he yells, picking it up. "Get the fuck down here!"

The poster is fucking awesome. It's a clown with a wide happy smile painted on but sad, red-rimmed eyes, vomiting up his own guts into a spill of sticky-looking tangles piling up at the bottom of the page. Gerard has done some crazy thing with the Skeleton logo too, so it looks different from usual, cooler, better, and he's worked the names of the bands into the clown's make-up, so it looks like his tears have smeared the letters down over his cheeks.

"It's disgusting," he says gleefully when Gerard finally makes an appearance. "I fucking love it."

Gerard scratches his head and his eyes dart around all over the place. This, Frank thinks, is the Gerard he was expecting to move in. He'd like the other one back, please. "I think Mikey will like it," he says morosely, his shoulders up around his fucking ears.

Frank wants to tell Gerard to fuck off and get a fucking grip, like he would tell Mikey or Ray or Bob or oh, any other normal human being in the world, but he also wants Gerard to not be upset any more, so he counts to ten (okay, six) before he says, "I like it. Fuck, it's awesome. It's so like - it reminds of that thing, you know, word vomit?"

"Vomit," Gerard repeats, folding his arms and making his head practically disappear down the neck of his hoodie. "Okay."

"Word vomit," Frank stresses, putting the poster down so he can use both hands to gesture while he explains, "I get it all the time - like you don't mean to say anything? Or do something, sometimes. But it all comes up anyway, and it's stuff you didn't even know you thought, or something, but then there it is. And everyone heard it. And you can't stuff it back in. And, yeah, it's cool," he finishes lamely, trailing off because Gerard still isn't saying anything and is still standing like he wants to disappear. "It's how it can feel when you make music, sometimes. Or art, I guess. Or just - being a person."

Gerard scratches his head again and shifts on his feet and then his shoulders drop a fraction and he actually meets Frank's eyes. "Yeah. That's pretty much it."

"I love it," Frank says again, and he really, really doesn't want to say the next part, but fuck, he has to. "But dude - I'm so sorry, but I can't use it."

Gerard shrugs his shoulders back up and leaves them there. "Oh."

For fuck's sake. "Dude, it's a clown vomiting guts." Frank goes over to Gerard - he sort of wants to shake him or smack him or something but Gerard's hunched so far in on himself he looks like he'll turn inside out if Frank tries to touch him, so Frank just shakes the poster at him a little. "They'll get torn down by the fucking Mommy Brigade or some fucking thing, all right? And there's all the record stores and shit, half of them won't hang these if I *pay* them."

Gerard eyes him from under his hair and starts chewing his thumbnail. "I guess it is a little graphic," he admits. "I just - it's what I was feeling."

Frank laughs because fuck, Gerard is so weird, and then he does touch Gerard, tugs on his sleeve so Gerard will know Frank isn't laughing at him, just…because of him, and eventually Gerard smiles a little and straightens enough that his chin is visible.

"I can try something else," he says, holding his hand out for the poster. "Something a little less vomit-y."

Frank pulls it out of reach, though, because he really does love it. He feels stupidly nervous for asking, "Can I keep this one?"

"You want to?"

"Yeah!" Frank crosses over to the fridge and sticks it between the sad vampire note and the tiny Frank beermat. "I might take it into work tomorrow. Hang it in my office, what do you think?"

Gerard has pushed his hair behind his ears and left his hands there, curled up either side of his neck. His cheeks smush up against his knuckles when he smiles and shakes his head. "If you really like it."

"I said I loved it, didn't I?" Frank opens the fridge, digs out two cans of Coke Zero and closes it again. He holds one of the cans out to Gerard and eventually Gerard comes forward into the kitchen and they admire the fridge door together.

Gerard opens his Coke, gulps, and wipes his mouth on his sleeve. "I don't think anyone's hung my artwork on the fridge since I was in grade school."

"This fridge door is going to be worth a lot of money some day," Frank says, and Gerard snorts and rolls his eyes, but he's smiling too.

***

"Frank."

Frank doesn't answer. He's asleep.

"Frank."

Frank still doesn't answer, because he's still asleep. His name winds itself into his dream and disappears.

"Frank."

Frank frowns against the tug of sound pulling him upwards, out of sleep. He presses his ear into the pillow, shrugs the comforter up high and sighs, curling up tighter, away from the noise.

"Frank. Frankie. Frank?"

There's a hand on his shoulder, now, shaking, and Frank struggles to hold onto sleep for one more second before grudgingly opening his eyes. Gerard's standing over him, wrapped in a blanket and shivering.

"Gee?" Frank works his arms out from under the covers and sits up and fuck it's cold in his room. He hisses and yanks the comforter back up to his chin, huddling down into it and glaring suspiciously up at Gerard. "What the fuck's going on? What time is it? Why is it so cold?"

"I think there was like, a frost. And the heating's broken," Gerard's teeth are chattering so much he sounds like a cartoon character. More than usual, even. The blanket is sticking up in a triangle behind his head. "And I don't know how to fix it, and I'm sorry about waking you up, man, but if you think it's cold in here, you should try the attic, okay, it's like the ninth circle of hell up there."

Frank groans and starts to swing his feet over the side of the bed, but then the movement reminds him that he's really not fit for company. "Um, I'm sort of not wearing clothes."

"I mean that it's cold," Gerard says, "Not that it's full of like…betrayers."

"Right, okay." Frank waits for Gerard to leave, but he doesn't, he just stands there clutching the blanket around his shoulders and shivering and staring miserably at Frank. "Dude. Seriously, I'm naked."

Gerard says, "Oh!" and turns and shuffles rapidly out of the room, his legs bound together by the blanket so he takes little sliding steps, scooting his feet over the floor.

Frank waits for the door to shut and forces himself out from under the covers. He mutters and swears and hops up and down on his way to the dresser, and even though he puts on his warmest sweats and two extra pairs of socks he's still freezing, the kind of cold you should never be inside a house. He grabs his comforter and wraps it around himself and pads out to find Gerard, who's standing in the hallway in the dark.

"The lights broken too?" Frank says, hitting the switch. They are not. "God, you're so weird."

"I'm so cold," Gerard complains, as if that explains it. He follows Frank to the top of the stairs and watches while Frank pokes at the thermostat. "It says it's warm."

"It's lying." Frank hits the on/off switch a few times and turns the dial experimentally from side to side, but nothing happens. And now his hand's cold, so he tucks it back inside his comforter and looks at Gerard. "I think we have to go down to the basement."

Gerard has huddled so far down inside his blanket that only his eyes and forehead are visible and his voice is all muffled. "Okay."

"Yeah, okay," Frank says, and he's fine until they get to the top of the basement stairs, and then the fear rises up in him and makes his stomach clench and his ears ring and he stops, suddenly, and Gerard kind of ricochets off him and Frank has to flail his hand out and grab at the doorjamb so he doesn't fall headfirst down the stairs.

"Shit!" Gerard bounces off the wall and sticks his hand out to grab Frank's shoulder. "Sorry. Are you okay?"

"No?" Frank stares down the stairs and swallows because his throat has gone all tight. He thinks his voice sounds a little strangled, too. "It's. You know. Spiders."

Gerard shuffles closer and squeezes Frank's shoulder through the blankets. "You want to stay up here?"

Frank weighs not having to face the spidery horror up against looking like a pussy in front of Gerard. But it's Gerard, and anyway Frank doesn't care about looking like a pussy but he does care about spiders, so he just nods and moves out of the way so Gerard can get down the stairs.

"Watch where you're putting your feet," Frank calls after him. "If you trip on your blanket and fall and break your head open, I can't come down there to get you so you'll probably bleed to death. Just so you know."

Gerard laughs, high-pitched and scratchy. "Thanks, man, you're a true friend."

He disappears from view and goes quiet. Frank stamps his feet and flexes his fingers and generally tries to keep his blood from turning to frozen sludge inside his veins. He flips the switch on the coffee machine because fuck sleep, he needs to get warm. Then he stands and looks at the clown poster for a while and reminds himself to bug Gerard about making a new version, and Gerard is still quiet downstairs, what the fuck is he doing?

"Gerard?" Frank cranes his neck and tries to see into the basement, but he can't so he forces himself to move down onto the top step. He keeps his hand on the jamb, though, because of the fucking spiders. There's just silence and more silence and Frank lets himself become convinced that Gerard's corpse is being feasted upon by a giant tarantula with millions of eyes before he yells, "Gee, I swear to God, if you're dead I'll fucking kill you."

Gerard appears at the bottom of the stairs, smiling. "That probably wouldn't be necessary."

Frank rolls his eyes. "What the fuck are you doing down there?"

"I got distracted by this." Gerard holds up a broken doll. It has half a face and one leg and both of its arms stop at the elbow. "Can I have it?"

"You can have whatever you want, just make some noise so I know you're still with me, okay?"

"Okay." Gerard disappears again and about two seconds later he yells up, "I'm not dead!"

"What about the heating?" Frank yells back. "I'm freezing my dick off up here!"

"It's not exactly the Bahamas in the fucking basement either, asshole!" There's a clanging noise and some muffled swearing and then Gerard appears at the bottom of the stairs again and this time he holds up a piece of metal tubing. "Is this supposed to come off?"

Frank sighs and resists the urge to bang his head on the wall. "You're going to make me come down there, aren't you?"

"I'm sorry, they didn't exactly teach heating maintenance at SVA, you know?"

"But you lived in a basement!" Frank moves down another step, scanning the ceiling for movement or evil. "How could you sleep in the same room as a boiler for god knows how many years and never have to fix it?"

Gerard shrugs, examining the tubing. He says quietly, "My Dad always did it."

Frank curses himself for reminding Gerard of how much he wishes he could still live at home, because now he's got his heartbreak face on and Frank has to force himself down a few more steps and say, "If I get attacked by a spider, I am setting fire to all your clothes."

"I'll protect you," Gerard says earnestly, looking up at Frank with wide eyes. His forehead is creased and his hair is everywhere. Frank has a sudden and insistent urge to put his hands in it, even though it probably hasn't been washed for a week.

He restrains himself, though, and moves down the rest of the stairs and skirts warily over to the big metal box heating air-conditioning…thing in the corner. "I think we have to take the cover off."

Gerard tries to fit the tubing back on, but it won't go. "I guess we need like, a screwdriver. Do you have a toolbox?"

"In my bedroom."

Gerard looks at him out of the corner his eye. "Do I wanna know?"

Frank tries to kick him, but the comforter makes him overbalance and he ends up just sort of swaying against him and making a circle in the air with his foot. "Fuck off. My Dad gave it to me when I bought this place, all 'You're a man now!'"

"Gross."

"Yeah. So I took the tools out and I keep my make up in it." Frank looks at the high shelves in the corner. The light doesn't really hit them. There's probably an entire spider civilisation lying in wait. "I think I put them up there."

Gerard eyes the shelves. "What, did you get Bob to lift you up?"

"Fuck you, you're like four inches taller than me." Frank gives him a nudge with his shoulder and Gerard nudges back, smiling. "There might be a box you can stand on."

Gerard goes over and pokes about on the floor. Frank takes the opportunity to check the ceiling for spiders again, and then Gerard comes back with a hammer. "We could just hit it."

Frank nods seriously. "Yes, absolutely. I have always wanted to see what a big metal box looks like when it explodes."

"It won't explode. It'll be like in Armageddon!" Gerard swings the hammer to illustrate. "When the Russian guy fixes the spaceship with a wrench!"

Frank snatches the hammer off him. "And then he goes blind!"

"That's Deep Impact."

"It's Armageddon!"

"No, because Robert Duvall reads to the blind guy and then there's the whole bit with his kid that makes me cry every time." Gerard purses his mouth and tilts his head, then says, "Well, Armageddon makes me cry too."

"Oh, God, the goodbye scene with Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis, right?"

"Yes!" Gerard beams at him and then looks back at the heating box and sighs. "Maybe we should just wait until the morning and like, call someone."

"Yeah." Frank puts the hammer down - far away from Gerard - and scoots closer to the heating box. He bends down to look through the little grate at the bottom, but then something brushes his cheek and he yells and leaps backwards, dropping his comforter and pawing frantically at his face and hair. "Oh my God, is it on me? Get it off, get it off!"

"It's just lint!" Gerard drops his own blanket and grabs Frank's shoulders and forearms and then his hands, pressing them between his own and forcing them to still. "It's just lint, Frankie, it's not a spider."

"You promise?" Frank twists around, trying to see down his back and arms and neck and up to the top of his head. "Seriously, Gerard, don't fuck with me!"

"I wouldn't!" Gerard insists, squeezing his hands.

Frank tips his head forward, shivering from the cold and the feeling of his skin trying to crawl away without him. "Can you check?"

"There's nothing there," Gerard says, but he strokes his cold fingers through Frank's hair and rubs the back of his neck. "It wasn't a spider, Frank."

"Ugh." Frank grabs the blankets off the floor and hands one to Gerard. "Fuck this noise," he says, shaking his blanket out roughly and bundling himself back up again. "Let's call Bob in the morning. He knows about this shit."

Gerard follows him up the stairs and heads straight for the coffee machine. "I can never get to sleep when it's cold. I'm lying there and all I can think about is how I can't feel my feet and I'm probably getting frostbite. And a deep-vein thrombosis. And cancer."

"Oh, well, of course cancer." Frank gets the milk out of the fridge and passes it to Gerard. "I hear cold causes that now."

Gerard puts sugar in the coffees and hands one to Frank, and smiles when Frank tries to say thanks and it just comes out as a giant yawn. "I can't believe you were sleeping through this."

Frank wraps his hands around the hot mug and holds it close to his face, inhaling the steam. "Mmm. I don't know, it wasn't as cold in my room as yours, I guess."

"Yeah." Gerard looks dolefully down into his mug. "Well, I have an extra blanket, I think. I'll be okay."

There's this awkward silent moment where Frank has a crazy impulse to ask Gerard to come and share his bed. Most of him is wildly in favor of this idea, but the part of him that isn't addled with cold and sleepiness and googly-eyed lust makes him bite his tongue.

He can't send Gerard back up to the icebox in the attic, though. Just the thought of him up there shivering is going to keep Frank awake all night.

Gerard sighs and starts to say something, but Frank cuts him off. "I'm not going to sleep after drinking this anyway."

Gerard eyes Frank's coffee eagerly. "I can drink both of them."

"Hell no, keep your hands off." Frank stands up and jerks his head towards the living room. "Come on, let's see what the good people at QVC think we'll be in the market for at two a.m."

There's plenty of room on the couch for both of them - Frank's couch is old and ugly and brown, but it's huge and feels like sitting in a marshmallow, which is why he abused his position as label owner and made the guys from Never Never help him bring it home after he found it on the sidewalk next to a sign saying 'Please Give Me a Good Home :('.

The available space doesn't stop him from burrowing as close as he can to Gerard, though. "Body heat," he explains when Gerard gives him a sideways look. It never works on Bob or Ray, but Gerard just shuffles around and lets Frank sneak in under his arm and shove his knees under Gerard's legs. Frank feels a little creepy doing this when the feel of Gerard's hands and breath and heartbeat makes Frank shiver in a way that is totally not from the cold, but whatever, Gerard isn't exactly complaining.

He even thinks he hears Gerard sigh when they finally get settled, tucked under both blankets with their coffee cups clutched in their hands and the remote balanced on top of the mountain their knees make. Frank presses closer to see if he can get Gerard to do it again, but Gerard just uses one finger to press buttons until he finds an episode of Batman Beyond.

"Hey, what about the shopping channel?" Frank complains. "There could be a super-cheap decoupage kit with my name on it and now I'll never know."

"You don't do decoupage," Gerard says comfortably. "Nobody with a piece of board covering a broken window in their front room does decoupage."

"I can't afford to get it fixed yet!"

"Uh huh." Gerard's cheeks are round with smiles where they peek over the top of the blanket. "I guess that explains why this place is like living in nineteen seventy-five."

Frank pokes him in the side. Gently, so it won't hurt. "People who live in crazy attics shouldn't throw opinions about interior décor."

"I'm just saying, you could do with a little personal color down here."

"Yeah, if only someone with an ounce of artistic flair lived here too." Frank sighs and drains his coffee. "Wouldn't that be awesome?"

Gerard laughs, and it makes his chest and shoulder shake where Frank's pressed against him. "All right, point taken. I just - it's your house, you know? I don't want to get in your way."

Frank pokes him harder this time. "Will you quit it with the martyr act already? I told you, it's fine. It's more than fine. Please, God, be my fucking guest, all right?"

"All right, all right!" Gerard takes Frank's cup and leans forward to put them both on the table. It pulls the blankets off Frank and the cold air whooshes in like it's just been waiting for its moment and Frank squawks and yanks Gerard back again.

Gerard is really warm, Frank thinks, just like when they were sitting together in the attic. His palms are hot from holding the coffee but when Frank grabs his hands, the outsides are still chilled. And his feet feel cold even through the thick socks he's wearing, but the most part of him, the actual body part, gives off heat like a furnace.

"How are you so warm?" Frank says, huddling closer until Gerard shifts and Frank can get his head down on Gerard's shoulder. He wishes it was the other side so he could hear Gerard's heartbeat, see if it feels fast and irregular like Frank's. Now he doesn't have a cup to hold it's a conscious effort to keep his hands in safe places, to stop them wandering over Gerard's belly and under his shirt to feel his skin. Frank knots them together against his chest for safekeeping and demands, "Tell me a story."

"You want me to paint you pictures, now you want a story." Gerard's voice sounds deeper and less uneven like this, when Frank can hear it from the inside, sort of. "What's next, I'm going to have to start packing you a lunch in the mornings?"

"I like smooth peanut butter, grape jelly and white bread with no crusts." Frank grins when Gerard makes an exasperated noise. "Come on, we've seen this episode like five hundred times."

Gerard makes him wait another few minutes, though, while Bruce is cranky and someone almost - but not quite! - uncovers Terry's secret identity. Eventually he takes a breath and says, "Did you know there's a haunted island in the middle of the lake?"

"Dude, yes!" Frank lifts his head up and grins. "Mikey told me!"

"Oh," says Gerard, deflated.

"No, no, he told me that you used to draw pictures of it, that's all." Frank nudges Gerard when he frowns. "Tell me, come on. I wanna hear."

"Nobody really knows what happened." Gerard pulls the blankets further up. "I saw this documentary on it when I was like fifteen? Totally fucked me up."

Frank lowers his head back to Gerard's shoulder and closes his eyes. "Tell me."

"The girls were all about to go to college," Gerard starts. He's told this story before, Frank can tell by the way his voice rises and falls with the words. "They'd graduated high school and they'd planned to take this trip out to the island as like a last hurrah or a bonding trip, because it might be the last time they were all together. One of the dads had a boat, and this girl, her name was Sarah I think, was an experienced sailor. So nobody thought anything of it, you know. There were a bunch of them, like eight I think, and they were all excited and it was a warm night and they set off in this boat and just never came back."

Frank presses his fingers against the worn-away logo on Gerard's shirt. "Did they drown?"

"That's what people thought at first," Gerard says excitedly. "But when the girls didn't come back the parents went out there with like the cops or the coast guard or whoever and they found the boat moored safely, right? And all the girls' shit was on the beach. They'd even built a fire. So they obviously made it to the island. What, they all fell into the lake by accident? All eight of them? It doesn't make sense. And they dragged the lake for months and never found any bodies. Well, not the right ones."

Frank traces the logo with his fingertips. "Maybe they just took off."

"And left all their shit there?" Gerard shakes his head and taps the back of Frank's hand insistently. "The authorities decided it was a mass suicide, can you believe that shit?"

"It happens, though, right?" Frank twists to look up at Gerard's face. "Like in that movie?"

Gerard makes a face. "Eight seemingly well-adjusted girls make a suicide pact and then kill themselves in a way that magically leaves no blood, no evidence and most importantly, no bodies. There's no way. Like there's physically no way to do that."

"What do you think happened?"

"I think they were murdered," Gerard says simply. "I think they were murdered and the drowning thing is a cover-up. And since then, people who live around the lake have said that they hear screaming coming from the island in the middle of the night."

"I've never heard any screaming," Frank tells him, and Gerard sighs.

"Me neither. And I really listen sometimes, too." Gerard rubs Frank's knuckles absent-mindedly with his thumb. "I think it's the girls. I think they're screaming to be heard. I think they need someone to go out there and listen to their story, get the truth out. But anytime people do go, they get freaked out and leave before the girls can get through to them."

Frank stays quiet, breathing in time with Gerard and watching his fingers move over Frank's hand.

"It's really sad," Gerard says quietly. His hand stills and the lines of his body are tense. "It's sad and it's fucking unjust and somewhere there's some sick fuck who murdered these girls and just got away with it, and now they're trapped out there forever, just screaming for someone to listen."

"Jesus." Frank turns his face into Gerard's shoulder. "You can really take the fun out of a ghost story, you know that?"

That makes Gerard laugh, and the tension in his body breaks and Frank breathes in deep. "I was a messed-up little dude," he says sort of fondly. "It's probably all bullshit."

Frank hums and stealthily rotates his hand so Gerard's fingers are resting on his palm. "Maybe you should go out there."

"Maybe." Gerard traces a pattern with his fingertips and then folds his hand around Frank's and squeezes before letting go. "You wanna see if that decoupage kit is still up for grabs?"

There's no decoupage kit on QVC, but there is a collection of truly disgusting fake jewellery. Frank feels his eyes getting heavy before long; there's still caffeine zipping through his veins and he's hyper-aware of Gerard's hand resting on his elbow and the steady movement of his chest under Frank's ear, but the reality is that it's ass o' clock in the morning and Frank is finally completely warm.

He thinks, 'Maybe I should go to bed,' and that's the last thing he knows until morning.

He wakes up with his arms around Gerard's waist and his face pressed into Gerard's throat. His first instinct is to start kissing it and just see what happens, but his second instinct, which follows pretty hot on the first one's heels, is to back the fuck up before Gerard wakes up and realises he's being molested in his sleep.

That plan doesn't work out, though, because of how Gerard's arms are wrapped around Frank's shoulders and their legs are tangled up together right down to their feet. When Frank pulls back it just makes Gerard frown adorably and hug him tighter, and Frank's only human, so he nestles back in and sighs happily.

"Frank?" Gerard says sleepily, stirring a little. "Is the heating fixed?"

Frank sticks his hand out of the blankets and then immediately draws it back in, because, "Nope."

Gerard moves around a little more; not trying to get away, Frank doesn't think, just sort of feeling out where he is. "But I'm so warm."

"Like I said," Frank rubs his face against Gerard's shoulder. "Body heat."

Gerard says, "Mmm," and then a second later Frank feels him wake up for real and he pulls his head back and looks down at Frank a little wildly. "Oh!"

Fuck. Frank should have gone with the backing the fuck up plan, obviously.

"Sorry," Gerard's saying, but he hasn't actually moved his arms or legs, Frank notices. He bites his lip and says awkwardly, "Um, I'm like…a cuddler."

"Me too," Frank says, stubbornly clinging to Gerard until he relaxes again. "Can you reach the remote? There should be cartoons."

The remote's on the floor, as it turns out, and tempting as the idea is, Frank's not creepy enough that he'll make Gerard lie on top of him to reach it. He scoots out of the way and sits up under the blankets and stretches and waits for Gerard to sit up too so Frank can snuggle back into him.

"You're not just a cuddler," he says when he's arranged Gerard to his liking. "You're like a really fucking good cuddler."

"Mikey says that, too," Gerard smiles, handing Frank the remote. "And you're not so bad yourself."

Frank stabs the buttons a little harder than usual, because he doesn't really want to be connected with the brother-space in Gerard's brain. He forgets to sulk when he finds Thundercats, though. "Oh, fuck, see now this is worth being up early for."

"Fuck yeah."

Eventually they have to get up to piss and find more coffee and call Bob and it really sucks, leaving their little nest of blankets on the couch. It's not just that it's cold everywhere; Frank really doesn't want to let go of Gerard. He lets himself mope all the way to the bathroom and back, and when he sees Gerard back on the couch and two bowls of cereal on the coffee table, he doesn't even bother to hide his delight.

"Move over," he says bossily, climbing back in. "You're on my side!"

"It's a couch," Gerard says, rolling his eyes. "You can't have sides on a couch."

"You can totally have sides on a couch." Frank wriggles his feet under Gerard's legs and digs in to his breakfast. "Bob says they'll be here in an hour."

Gerard munches his cereal. Milk drips down onto his shirt and he either doesn't notice or doesn't care. "Cool."

He has to get up again to open the door for Ray and Bob, both of them trailing scarves and fresh air and fucking leaves into the house. "Gerard! Our knights with shining DIY knowledge are here!"

"It's colder in here than it is out there," Bob grumps. He lets Frank hug him for one and a half seconds before shoving him off. "There better be fucking coffee in this for us."

"And donuts!" Ray adds. He hugs Frank back because he's not made from stone like Bob. "Where's Gee?"

"I'm in here!" Gerard calls, and Frank leads the guys through to the living room. Gerard waves from the couch. "You're fucking lifesavers, seriously. We're dying here."

"Yeah," Ray says, taking in the blankets and the cartoons. "It looks like you're just having an awful time."

Frank volunteers to go for donuts, because that way Gerard will have to do basement duty. He feels giggly and stupid and he smiles way too much at the girl in the bakery. His neighbour with the dog - Frank really needs to learn his fucking name - is walking past when Frank gets back home, and Frank says hi first for once and even manages to work up some enthusiasm for a chat about the weather.

It's still cold when he gets inside, but there's an encouraging whirring sound and when Frank leans down and sticks his hand in front of the vent, sure enough he feels a current of not completely freezing air.

"You're my heroes!" he yells down the basement stairs, and laughs when he gets a growl in return. He goes into the kitchen and bumps Gerard's hip as he slides the box of donuts onto the table. "Dude, I had a thought about my new poster. You should put those girls on it."

"From the island?" Gerard opens the box and looks at it thoughtfully. He always spends forever choosing even though he always has the same kind. "Huh. Yeah, that might be cool."

"It'd be awesome," Frank corrects him, and then gets distracted because Bob and Ray come clumping up the stairs and immediately get into a fight about who deserves the biggest jelly donut.

"What the fuck are you grinning at anyway, Iero?" Bob says when they've finally agreed to share both it and the smaller one.

"Nothing," Frank says innocently. "Hey, you're going to do sound for my showcase, right?"

Bob garbles something vaguely affirmative around his half of donut, and then they get into negotiations about Bob's fee. It's pretty involved (Ray has definite Ideas about appropriate forms of payment from someone who is, "A label boss, Frank, come on. Baked goods, are you serious?") so Frank doesn't even smile stupidly at Gerard too much. And anyway, every time he forgets not to, Gerard's smiling back.

***

Frank's post-night-of-cuddling buzz lasts him all through the rest of the day and into the next morning. It's Sunday and he's lying in bed formulating a vague plan to somehow seduce Gerard back onto the couch and spend the whole day watching Iron Chef (and if they end up napping, well, so be it) but then his Mom calls and reminds him that it's his Uncle Jack's birthday.

So he drags himself out of bed and over to her house, and helps her pack like seventy thousand casserole dishes into the car, and on the drive to Uncle Jack's Frank tries to bargain her down to an estimated departure time that isn't, like, tomorrow.

"Is something wrong, honey? You usually love seeing Uncle Jack." Frank's Mom looks at him suspiciously. "Did you have something planned for today? I told you about this weeks ago, you know."

"I know, Mom." Frank checks his mirrors and tries to sound as nonchalant as possible. Frank's Mom can smell a love-life secret from fifteen paces. "I just have some things to do around the house today."

She watches him for another minute, but lets it drop.

He actually does love seeing his Uncle Jack, and catching up on everyone's gossip about babies and weddings and divorces and so-and-so's rich new boyfriend is always fun. At four in the afternoon he's in the kitchen, clock-watching and listening to a story about Uncle Jack's no-good sonofabitch ex-business partner in the kitchen when he gets a text message from Gerard.

It says, 'Ntire fmly @ Mama's fr dnr, fuck,' and then there's another one that goes on, 'Me n Mikey gtng r cheeks pinched til they bleed, snd hlp.'

Frank grins and texts back, 'Same here. Home by 7:30 I hope xxF.'

"Who's Gerard?"

Frank waits to make sure the message sends, then snaps his phone shut and looks over his shoulder. His second…third…something by removal nine-year-old cousin Lila is sitting on the counter behind him. "Didn't your Mama ever tell you it's rude to read over people's shoulders?"

Lila shrugs and holds her arms out to Frank. "He doesn't spell very good. Is he your boyfriend?"

"No, he's my roommate." Frank lifts her down and follows her out to the yard. The other kids are chasing Uncle Jack's dogs around and yelling. "You don't wanna play with the others?"

"They're boring." Lila folds her arms haughtily. "Is he your roommate for real, or your roommate like Auntie Carol's?"

Auntie Carol is one of Frank's cousins and her roommate is Dianne, her girlfriend since for-fucking-ever. Frank thinks about saying something about how he wishes Gerard was his roommate like Auntie Carol's, but decides he likes having at least the illusion of privacy.

"He rents the attic in my house," Frank digs in his pocket for his cigarettes before remembering he promised his Mom he wouldn't smoke in front of her. His fingers itch for something to do, though. He looks thoughtfully down at Lila. "Hey, you wanna learn how to play guitar?"

Frank's not like Ray, who's made entirely out of patience and spare strings, but he can teach a little kid a few chords. She concentrates hard, tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth, and before he knows it the light has faded totally outside and his Mom is standing in the doorway with a totally gross look on her face.

"You're so good with kids," she coos. Frank rolls his eyes. So does Lila. "I thought you'd snuck out without saying goodbye."

No such luck - it always takes at least an hour to get out the door at one of these things, and today is no exception. Frank gets hugged and lipsticked and slapped on the back until he feels like he's gone three rounds with a prizefigher - but at least he gets to take a bunch of the food with him.

Unfortunately, he gets home to find Gerard's family had the same idea.

"I don't know where the fuck we're going to put all this," Gerard says, scratching his head and looking from the fridge to the table, where there's a tower of Mrs. Way's tupperware. "We're going to have to set up some kind of Mom schedule so this doesn't happen in future."

It takes forever to get everything packed away. In the end Frank just stands back and lets Gerard take over, passing him containers as he demands them. Gerard mutters to himself and makes measuring gestures with his hands, and Frank drifts off into a ridiculous fantasy about a sex game involving a Rubix cube. He snaps out of it when Gerard says,

"I don't think I'm going to need to eat for at least a week, dude, but if there's a nuclear disaster we know we won't starve."

Gerard goes upstairs to take a phonecall from a client and Frank spends some time in his computer room, checking his travel details for the Reprise meeting in New York on Tuesday. He's planning to stay overnight and meet up with Ryland and his bandmate Alex, and maybe check out Knitting, if he has time.

When he comes out Gerard is on the couch watching TV. "Hey," he says, waving the remote. "You wanna watch a movie?"

"Sure." Frank isn't quite brave enough to assume that his snuggling privileges haven't been revoked since yesterday morning, but he does sit down next to Gerard instead of curling up at the other end. "Anything good on?"

Gerard shrugs and hands him the remote. He settles against Frank's side - maybe it's because Frank's couch is so old and soft that you don't sit on it so much as sit in it, but maybe it's not. Frank zaps around and then jumps when Gerard yelps, "Field of Dreams!"

"Where, where?" Frank clicks back a few places and sure enough, Kevin Costner's tan, placid face fills the screen. "Oh, man, I love this movie."

"Me too!" Gerard bounces a little and rubs his hands together. "You know the dude James Earl Jones plays is based on J.D. Salinger, right? He wrote Catcher in the Rye, it's like this seminal work of teen angst."

Frank kicks Gerard's foot. "I know that, you superior son of a bitch. I've read it like fifteen times."

"I've read it like fifteen hundred," Gerard says, but he's not bragging, he just seems really excited. "Man, I knew I liked you. Catcher in the Rye, fucking awesome."

Gerard keeps talking about his love affair with Holden Caulfield while Kevin Costner mows the field and gets laughed at by his neighbours and goes slowly broke. He shuts up when the ghost players show up, though, stopping in the middle of a sentence with his hand still curled on Frank's knee, where he'd thumped it for emphasis.

He leaves the hand there during the whole weird time-travel bit, and by the time Moonlight's out on the field they've curled in towards each other and Frank's own hand is resting next to Gerard's. Frank feels like he's in high school again, sitting watching TV with Mary Robinson on his mother's couch: sick with nerves, paying no attention to the screen, totally focused on trying to work up the balls to hold Mary's hand.

Their arms rub together a little every time they breathe, and Frank's so distracted that he's not prepared for the part where Moonlight steps off the field to save the girl's life and he's old again and he'll never be a pro-baseball player, he never was, and Frank barely has time to register the stupid inevitable hot prickly pressure behind his eyes before he fucking wells up like his Mom at a wedding.

He tries to subtly tip his head back and like, force the tears back into his eyes or something, but that just makes them leak out across his temples. And he doesn't want to wipe his face because then Gerard will know he's fucking crying at a fucking Kevin Costner movie, so he shrugs his shoulder up to rub his face and tries to pass it off as an itch or something.

Gerard gets up suddenly and goes into the kitchen without a word. He comes back with a box of Kleenex and sits heavily back down on the couch and hands a tissue to Frank and pulls one out for himself and it's only now that Frank realises Gerard is totally crying too.

"Fucking Kevin Costner," Gerard says in a wobbly voice. He wipes his eyes and drops his head onto Frank's shoulder. "Jesus Christ."

"Yeah," Frank agrees, blowing his nose. He crumples the Kleenex up and Gerard passes him another one. "Thanks."

Gerard takes a deep, shaky breath and scrubs at his face again. Frank mostly pulls himself together until Kevin Costner starts playing catch with his dead dad, and that sets them both off again.

"Fucking Dad stuff, man," Gerard says thickly, yanking an entire handful of Kleenex out and just wadding them up against his eyes. "I don't even have Daddy issues, for fuck's sake."

"I do, kinda." Frank hates crying; the way it makes his head fill up with snot and pressure and his eyes feel hot and swollen. He takes a deep breath and decides that he's done. "Just divorce, you know, the usual."

Gerard gropes out with the hand that isn't holding the Kleenex and squeezes Frank's knee. He sighs and hiccups and finally lifts his head up to look at Frank with his pink, watery eyes. "Do you wanna talk about it?"

Frank thinks about it, and he makes the mistake of looking back at the screen while he does and all the fucking cars are lining up and the fucking music's swelling and apparently he's not done, because here he goes again, for fuck's sake. He shakes his head and grabs another tissue.

Gerard hesitates, and then says, "You wanna watch the credits while we both blubber like idiots and then watch Night of 1000 Corpses?"

Frank splutters out a laugh and nods, and Gerard squeezes his knee again and puts his head back on Frank's shoulder.

***

"And then we watched Night of 1000 Corpses, and then Shaun of the Dead," Frank tells Mikey the next day at work. "It was awesome."

Mikey shakes his head. "Dude, now he knows you're a fucking leaky faucet too, it'll never stop. He'll make you watch Batteries Not Included next. And Big Fish."

"Yeah, probably," Frank says, and he sounds dreamy and stupid even to his own ears, so he clears his throat and casts around for a change of subject. It's another Gerard-related one, but it's all he's got. "He finished the poster, by the way."

Mikey makes grabby hands and Frank passes it over to him. "Oh, dude. Fucking awesome, didn't I tell you?"

"Yeah, yeah." Frank grins at Mikey's stupid lit-up face, the way he traces the lines of the poster almost reverently, not quite touching the paper. "It's-"

"The dead girls from the island, I know." Mikey pushes his glasses up his nose with one long finger. "This showcase is gonna kick ass."

Frank is overcome with a sudden burst of excitement, and he has to drum his hands on the desk and spin around in his chair to let it out. "So you can take care of that, right? Get your army of admirers on it, okay, I want it all over."

Mikey rolls his eyes. "Yes, boss."

Frank doesn't actually manage to see Gerard before he leaves for New York. There's so much to do at Skeleton that he has to go straight from work to the Crimson, where Never Never are playing their last show as a Skeleton band.

Gerard doesn't show ("He's working, I called him before," Mikey explains) but the place is packed out. There are people Frank's seen at almost every show the guys have ever played in Jersey, and a lot of parent-and-family-types, too. Frank does a lot of handshaking and plays two songs onstage with the band and throws himself into the crowd after. It's awesome.

Never Never play two encores and get what would probably be a standing ovation if everyone wasn't already on their feet. Neil gives a whole speech about how Frank's the second coming of Jesus or something, and he makes everyone give three cheers and Mikey shakes Frank's hand in the air like he's just won a boxing title. Frank gets so embarrassed and emotional that he has to challenge Bob to a Jagermeister contest to recover.

He loses, of course, and has to be rescued from the attentions of a surprisingly forward and deeply underage girl by Mikey and Ray.

"She thought I was hot," Frank insists as they bundle him out of the door.

"She thought you were in her chemistry class," Ray says grimly, and Frank is too busy trying to find a bit of sidewalk that isn't spinning to argue.

They put him to bed at Mikey's, and the next morning it takes him so long to get out of bed and into the shower that he only has time for a flying visit home, to pick up his stuff for New York.

The first thing Frank notices when he gets off the train is that Mikey's street-teamers have out-fucking-done themselves. Frank doesn't know how Mikey managed to get the posters to the city so fast, but they're absolutely everywhere. He reminds himself to give Mikey…not a raise, they can't afford that. But an extra hug or something.

"I can't believe this is happening," Neil says in the elevator at the Reprise building. "Fucking Reprise Records, man. Did you see that big picture of Sinatra behind the desk?"

"One day people will come to Skeleton and there'll be a huge picture of you guys behind the desk," Frank tells him, and then the doors open and there's Dominic, coming to shake all the guys' hands and blind them all with his smile.

For all Frank's dreaming about this moment, for all his pushing and planning and nudging and encouraging and beating Neil over the head with imaginary office supplies, he's just not prepared at all for how it'll feel. It's not until the ink is dry and they're in a restaurant afterwards eating free food and drinking free champagne that it really hits him.

"You're not my band anymore," he blurts to Neil when they're outside smoking. Well, Frank's smoking. Neil's just staring at people walking past, looking more like someone just diagnosed him with a terminal illness than a person who just signed a record contract with a major label.

"I know," he says, and for once Frank doesn't tell him to cheer the fuck up. "Frank, what are we gonna do without you?"

"You're gonna be huge, man," Frank says. He believes it, too. "Way too big for me."

Neil sighs. "When you get big enough, you fucking call me and sign us back up, all right?"

"Yeah." Frank blows smoke out and bumps his shoe against Neil's. "Try and fucking stop me, man."

When he gets back to his hotel room that night, he notices he's got two missed calls from Gerard. It's late, but Gerard's not exactly an early-to-bed type, so Frank brushes his teeth and gets into bed and calls him back.

"I see how it is," Gerard says, instead of hello. "Now you're a bigshot you don't answer the phone anymore, you're too busy doing cocaine off hookers."

"No hookers," Frank grins into the phone. "And if there was coke, nobody offered me any."

Gerard sighs. "You're destroying all my preconceived notions about the music business, I hope you know."

"Sorry. Is everything okay?"

"Everything's fine. Your mom came over." Gerard laughs quietly. "When I said you weren't home she was like 'Oh, I know.' I think she wanted to check out the weirdo in the attic."

"You're not a weirdo," Frank says automatically, even though he kind of is. "She probably wanted to make sure I'm fulfilling all my landlordly duties, or whatever. Did she do anything I should be embarrassed about?"

"No, man, your Mom's awesome. She brought more food, and she wanted to see the attic and stuff. I actually think she has a little crush on me, if you must know. She sat on my bed to make sure it was comfortable and bounced. Twice."

Frank covers his eyes, cringing. "Thanks, that doesn't send me to a horrifying mental place, or anything."

Gerard laughs again, muffled, and Frank hears the click-pop of a lighter and Gerard inhaling deeply. "So how're you doing? You have empty nest syndrome yet?"

"Completely. It's horrible." Frank curls onto his side and switches hands because his arm's going numb. "This was a terrible idea, man. Who the fuck gives up their biggest band to another label?"

"Someone who cares more about them than about himself," Gerard says seriously. "Why do you think Neil adores you so much, huh?"

"Because I have the patience of a saint?"

"Please, you got about as much patience as a flea on a sugar high. It's because he knows he can trust you." Frank can imagine Gerard's earnest face, the way he's probably leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, gesturing with the hand holding his cigarette. "Look, I gotta go, man, Mikey's here and he wants to start making a dent in the Tupperware mountain."

"Hey Mikey!" Frank yells, and he hears Mikey say hi back. "Tell him he can't be late to work tomorrow just because I'm not there."

"Frank says you can take the morning off," Gerard says, and then to Frank, "You're home tomorrow, right?"

"Yeah, in the afternoon. I got a meeting with the Ivy League guys in the morning." Frank picks at the ugly hotel sheets for a minute. "They were my first band, Gee."

Gerard makes a sympathetic noise. "They won't be your last."

"Yeah, I guess." Frank is suddenly bone-tired and he yawns hugely and loudly into the phone. "I gotta crash. Night, man."

"Sweet dreams," Gerard says, and they hang up.

The next day Frank's early for his meeting with Ryland and Alex, so he kills some time in an internet café. When he checks the Skeleton address there's an e-mail from some guy wanting to know if the Gerard Way who did the art for the showcase poster is the same Gerard Way who exhibited at The Westwood Gallery last year.

Frank does some Googling to find out, and it turns out that it is, in fact, the same Gerard. He clicks through the online galleries, replies to Gerard's…fan, apparently, and emails himself the link to a truly hilarious picture of Gerard standing artfully next to a giant bowl of broken lightbulbs.

Alex and Ryland are waiting for him outside Frank's favorite non-Jersey place to get pancakes. Frank practically has to get up on tiptoe to shake Ryland's hand - the dude makes Bob look like, well, Frank.

"Thanks for meeting with us, man," Alex shakes Frank's hand too, smiling. "We really appreciate it."

"We like the brackets thing, by the way," Ryland adds. He curves his hands in the air to demonstrate. "(This is) Ivy League, yeah. We're definitely thinking about considering it as a possibility."

Over breakfast they discuss the Simon and Garfunkel thing, and the Nick Drake thing, and how hard it's been for them to get a foot in the door in New York.

"We're both really big Never Never fans, by the way." Ryland inhales half a pancake in one go. "Is it true they just signed to Reprise?"

"Yesterday," Frank nods. He feels that jealous regret again, but this time it's mostly drowned out by the warm swell of pride in his chest. "So Ryland, Mikey says you studied acting at college, right?"

Alex jumps in, "Yeah, in Florida. He's really good."

"You've never even seen me," Ryland rolls his eyes.

"I saw the school plays," Alex argues. "And you always pretend you're that British guy when you're drunk."

Frank interrupts to ask, "Is that still your main thing, or are you totally focused on music now?"

Ryland spends the next ten minutes convincing Frank that he lives, eats, breathes and sleeps music while Alex nods furiously, and by the time Frank signals for the check he's made a decision.

"I'm having a showcase for the bands on the label at the end of the month," he says, waving his hand (and trying not to think about Mikey's face when he does the expenses at the end of the month) when they both go for their wallets. "Why don't you come along, get a feel for what we're about, maybe jam a little bit, and we'll take it from there?"

They fall over themselves to say yes, and thank you, and Frank spends the train ride home feeling guiltily smug and important.

He drops by the office to say hi and thanks for doing such a great job with the posters first, and for his trouble he gets accused of not trusting Mikey to hold the fort while he was gone.

"You might want to log out of MySpace before you get all self-righteous," Frank says, looking pointedly at Mikey's monitor.

"It's an addiction," Mikey says guiltily, but he doesn't even make a move towards the mouse.

Gerard's car is blocking the driveway again when Frank pulls up, so he parks on the street. He gets inside and yells hello without thinking and then freezes, hoping he hasn't interrupted Gerard in the middle of a moment of inspiration or something, but Gerard comes thumping down the stairs a minute later.

"Hey!" Gerard goes straight in for a hug and Frank doesn't complain, breathing in the smell of cigarettes and turpentine that follows Gerard around everywhere. It's a miracle he's never set himself on fire, actually. "How was your meeting, good?"

"Yeah, they're cool guys." Frank steps back reluctantly when Gerard lets him go, then thumps his elbow. "And why didn't you tell me you were famous?"

Gerard wrinkles his forehead. "What?"

"Some dude recognised your work on the poster and emailed me about you, man." Frank remembers to put his bag down, finally, and shrugs out of his jacket. He takes them to dump on the stairs and calls, "And there are photographs of you on the internet."

"There are photographs of you on the internet too," Gerard scoffs, and then there's a long pause. "I mean, there must be. From your shows. And stuff. I didn't look or anything."

Frank stays where he is behind the door so he can make a stupid excited face and wave his hands around where Gerard can't see. He tries for a normal tone of voice when he speaks, though. "Well, he seemed pretty psyched about you. You might want to watch out for stalkers."

"I'll bear that in mind." Gerard comes into the hallway and stands there fidgeting. "So, um, you wanna hang out in the living room?"

"Okay?" Weird, but Frank's not going to turn down any sort of hanging out that might lead to more time sitting too close together on the couch.

Gerard stops by the window, though, and fidgets some more. "Um."

"Dude, what?" Frank says, digging in the couch cushions for the remote. Then he looks over at Gerard and at the window and he sees it. "Oh my God."

The board covering his broken window has been totally transformed. Gerard's painted the whole thing, a mural of, of, Frank doesn't even know, ballroom-dancing ladybugs and tribal faces and the creepy broken doll from the basement doing her make-up in a broken mirror. There's a backdrop of Mount Rushmore, except the faces carved into it are Wolverine and The Joker and Lion-O and Iron Maiden's Eddie.

Frank races outside and that side's painted too, but a lot more neighbourhood-friendly. It's a scene in pale, glassy colors, like a reflection in a regular window, almost. "Is that the lake? But without all the grey and the trash and the Jersey?"

"Yeah." Gerard's standing in the doorway, grinning with his hands jammed in his pockets. "Do you like it?"

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Frank runs over and throws himself at Gerard, wrapping both arms and one leg around him so Gerard has to grab him and stagger around to stop them falling over. "It's fucking amazing! Dude! I can't believe I didn't notice it when I came in!"

Gerard says, "Well, I kind of tried to make it so the outside wasn't so obvious," with his face pressed against Frank's ear.

Frank can feel his lips moving and he shivers and clutches Gerard tighter. "You're incredible. I don't even know."

"Personal color, right?" Gerard says, and he starts to move back at the same time Frank turns his head and Frank ends up accidentally-on-purpose rubbing his nose against Gerard's cheekbone and then totally on purpose kissing it. Gerard makes a funny hiccuppy laughing sound and says, "I thought, you know, if you were bummed after yesterday. It would like, make you smile or whatever."

Frank is smiling so hard his face hurts, from the window and the hugging and the hiccuppy laugh and everything else. "It does, it does," he says, and he puts his foot back on the floor but keeps his arms where they are. "Thank you, man."

"You're welcome," Gerard says quietly. He doesn't let go either, but he loosens his arms now they're not careening around all over the place.

"Your fan in New York will be so jealous," Frank says, and then he has to step back because otherwise he's just going to shove Gerard up against the jamb and do something inappropriate. "A Gerard Way original in my living room, fuck."

Gerard rolls his eyes and says, "Shut up," but his cheeks are pink.

Gerard actually goes out without Mikey or Frank or Ray or Bob that evening - he's meeting up with some of his buddies from art school. Frank stays at home and moons around the house, picking random things up and smiling at them and sighing and putting them down again and always drifting back into the living room to sit on the couch and stare at his window mural some more.

He's almost too buzzed and happy to jerk off, but the inevitable slide into horizontalness that the couch involves brings memories of being curled up with Gerard, pressed against him all over. Frank touches himself through his jeans and thinks about Gerard's hands, the paint-spattered backs and stained, bitten nails. He thinks about what it would be like to wash the paint off him, put his mouth on Gerard's skin and see if he tastes like he smells, sharp and smoky. And then about Gerard's paintings and being naked in Gerard's bed, surrounded by all the crazy stuff that's made the leap from his mind to the canvas, and he undoes his jeans and strokes his dick while he thinks about it and comes in the middle of a thought about kissing Gerard's lopsided mouth.

He lies there breathing and sweating and looking at the mural. People probably don't paint surprise murals for just anyone, he thinks. Or maybe they do, but they don't also cuddle on the sofa with that person, surely. Frank has never been good at this, figuring out if someone likes him or if it's just his own wishful thinking projecting all over them, but even when he thinks about it really carefully and is really, really honest with himself, he keeps coming up with that fizzy swoopy feeling you get when you know someone likes you back.

Maybe after the showcase, he thinks while he's in the shower. Maybe when all that's out of the way he'll have worked up the guts to do something. Or maybe Gerard will, or maybe it'll just happen naturally, like it never has for Frank. He lives in hope, though.

***

As if Frank doesn't have enough to do in the run-up to the showcase, he starts to get sick. It's not so bad at first, just a stuffy head and a vague case of the shivers, but on the third day he wakes up with a dirty, dry taste in his mouth and that ominous wet, pinching drag in his lungs. He groans and fumbles for his phone.

"Mikey," he croaks, and then coughs for like an hour.

"Dude, again?"

"Yeah," Frank rasps between coughs. "Okay, you need to get everybody's setlists in today, and make sure Jimmy's booked the night off work, because I don't know anyone else who can play a moog."

"Got it."

"And check up on Breezeblock and make sure they haven't killed each other, and also can you call the printer and find out-"

"Frank," Mikey says patiently, "I've got it, it's all on the computer. Rest up, get better, make my stupid brother wait on you hand and foot, okay?"

"Okay," Frank says, and he hangs up and falls immediately back to sleep.

When he wakes up, Gerard is leaving the room, closing the door behind him.

"Hey," Frank tries, but it comes out mostly silent so he clears his throat and tries again. "Hey, Gee."

Gerard turns around immediately and comes back into the room, looking worried. "Hey, how are you feeling?"

Frank makes a face and shakes his head.

Gerard comes over to the bed and crouches next to it. "Mikey called me. I thought you'd gone to work already, or I would have checked on you earlier."

Frank says, "Mmph," and tries not to look too pathetic. He obviously doesn't succeed, because Gerard's eyebrows move even closer together and he covers Frank's hand with his.

"Do you want anything?" he rubs Frank's hand and then pushes Frank's sweaty hair off his face. "Painkillers, juice? Your Mom?"

Frank laughs, or he tries to, but it just devolves into another coughing fit and Gerard rubs his back through it, looking stricken. "All of the above," Frank says when he can breathe again. "But the pills and the juice, especially."

Gerard brings them to him, and a big bottle of water and the new issue of 52 that Frank knows for a fact Gerard hasn't even read yet because he's been working so much he's totally behind. "Mikey says you get sick a lot," he says while Frank props himself up on the pillows. "That sucks."

"I really agree." Frank downs the pills and guzzles half the glass of juice in one go. "Fuck, I so don't have fucking time for this."

Gerard hangs out with him until Frank's eyes start to get heavy again, and then he brings some more juice and pills and leaves Frank to sleep. He also apparently calls Frank's Mom, because she comes over after she gets off work and fusses and makes soup and tea and has whispered conversations with Gerard outside the bedroom door.

"I'm not dying," Frank bitches when his Mom comes back in to say goodbye, but she just clucks and kisses his forehead.

"I'll come by tomorrow to see how you're doing," she says, resting the back of her hand against his cheek. "Eat your soup, okay? Gerard, you make sure he does."

Gerard smiles a tiny smile, lurking in the doorway. "Yes, Mrs. Iero."

"It's Linda, Gerard, what did I say?" She kisses Gerard's cheek on her way out, and Gerard makes a massively upsetting leery face at Frank before going down to see her out. He comes back with a bowl of soup for Frank and one for himself, too.

"You're eating my soup!" Frank accuses him. "I'm sick and you're eating my soup!"

Gerard laughs around the spoon in his mouth. "It's really tasty. I love a woman who can cook."

"Ugh, shut the fuck up." Frank eats his soup moodily and shoots Gerard dirty looks which only seem to make his smile bigger.

His Mom does come back the next day, and Mrs. Way comes over too and they sit in the kitchen swapping stories about how hard it is to raise a good boy in this day and age while Frank lies on the couch with his head in Gerard's lap and prays for death.

Gerard pets Frank's hair slowly, stroking it away from his face and winding the longer pieces around his fingers before smoothing them flat again. Frank feels way too shitty to get turned on (also their Moms are like, right there) but that doesn't stop him tilting his head around, pushing into the touch like a cat. It's so nice, it's comforting and it sends a low-grade buzz through all his limbs when Gerard rubs his temple and the side of his neck.

Frank keeps drifting in and out of sleep; every time he opens his eyes there's something new on TV. At some point his Mom leaves, and then Gerard's Mom, and finally Gerard, but Frank doesn't notice it until he wakes up with his face jammed against the cushions and his arm bent uncomfortably backwards, hand trailing off the edge of the couch. He rolls onto his back and folds his arm up against his chest and rubs his cold, sore elbow and sees Gerard sitting in the chair opposite. "Hey."

"Hey." Gerard puts something down on the coffee table - a notebook, Frank realizes with a little hopeful thrill - and leans forward. "Your breathing sounds better."

"Mmrgh." Frank actually does feel a little better, maybe. He turns over to face Gerard and points at the notebook. "Did you draw me? You drew me, didn't you?"

Gerard makes shifty eyes and shrugs. "It's not good. I was just sketching."

It doesn't mean anything, Frank knows that. Gerard draws people all the time, whatever, but he's never drawn Frank before. Not that Frank knows of anyway, not like this. He holds his hand out and gives the big eyes, and Gerard sighs and hands the notebook over. "You woke up before I could finish."

"Sorry," Frank says, even though he so isn't. He looks at the sketch - it's so weird, because it's just in pencil and you can't even really see his face and Gerard hasn't drawn in any tattoos on his exposed arm, but Frank still totally recognizes himself. Probably the awkward sprawl gives it away. "Can I have it for the fridge?"

"I'm never going to get to keep anything I draw ever again," Gerard complains. Frank takes that as a yes.

The next day he's well enough to have Mikey come over and they work from home, and the day after that he drags himself back into the office. He still doesn't feel great, but he can't stay in bed anymore, it's driving him crazy. Plus all the worrying about the showcase is going to give him an ulcer, he's pretty sure.

Gerard insists on driving Frank to work in case he sneezes while he's driving and closes his eyes and crashes and dies or something. They only get to the end of the street before Frank says, "Dude, no offense, but I think my life would be in less danger if I'd taken my chances with the sneezing."

"What are you talking about, I'm a great driver!" Gerard says, running a red light and doing a twirly hand-wave out the window as an apology to all the people he almost just killed. "Ooh, bagels."

They screech into the parking lot at the bagel place and Gerard parks sideways over like three spots. Then when they're back in the car he tries to eat and drive and smoke and give Frank an animated lecture about Sin City all at the same time. At first Frank just closes his eyes and grips the dashboard and hopes for the best, but after the third time Gerard slams the brakes on and says, "Oops!" Frank takes his bagel and his cigarette away from him, only passing them back - one at a time - when the car is at least temporarily stationary.

He and Mikey pretty much just run around like crazy people the whole day, and it continues for the rest of the month. No matter how much planning Frank does for these things, there's always a backed-up mess of stuff that has to be done immediately right now when the final few days start ticking down. Someone can't afford new strings, someone else needs a part-time job because they got fired and their rent's due, someone else gets grounded and needs Frank to call their parents and beg for them to be allowed out.

Somewhere in there he finds time to get down on his knees and beg Ray to fill in for Stevie from Breezeblock, who's managed to fuck up his hand during an incident with a tire iron. Usually he wouldn't even think twice about it, but the thing is, that there's no money left. He makes Mikey go through the figures twice and then does it again himself, but there's not a cent that isn't already earmarked.

Frank feels really bad about it because Ray's entire, like, word belief system is built on the principle that People Should Get Paid for Shit, so he cheats and goes through Bob first.

"It won't kill you to exercise a little altruism, Toro," Bob says mildly, hitching Frank further up on his back. Frank clings and tries to reach out to poke Ray with his toe without falling on his ass. "Come on, I'll split my fee with you."

Ray snorts. "I'll have to call my accountant and move some funds around first."

"Ray, please." Frank jumps off Bob and kneels down in front of Ray instead. "Come on, you know I'd pay you if I had shit to offer. I already had to ask Gerard for his rent early, man, help me out. Please? Please please please please please please please-"

"All right!" Ray laughs and shakes his hair around. "God, shut up and get off my floor, Jesus."

"He was always going to say yes, you know," Bob tells Frank when he's leaving.

"I know," Frank says. His own world belief system is built on the knowledge that Ray Toro is a Nice Guy.

Gerard's not around as much as usual either; he keeps disappearing for long meetings with one of his patrons, and then holing up in the attic and working for hours and hours and hours. They mostly communicate through notes on the coffee machine and the occasional text message until the night before the showcase, when Frank is lying in bed obsessively scrolling through his mental checklists, and he hears Gerard moving around in the hall.

"Gee?" he calls, pushing up onto his elbows. "That you?"

"No, it's a burglar." The door opens a crack and Gerard stick his head through, smiling but looking completely exhausted. "Sorry. Can't sleep."

"You too, huh?" Frank pats the bed and Gerard comes over and sits down on the edge of it.

He stares into space for a moment and then lets out this big breath and folds down next to Frank, rolling onto his stomach and resting his head on his folded arms. "I'm always like this right before I start a big project. It's like - okay, this sounds bizarre, but it's like once I get a handle on the idea, it starts like building up inside me and I can't get it out until I start actually working on it so I end up feeling like I'm going to explode."

Frank curls up facing him. Gerard has dark circles under his eyes and his nails are bitten bloody in places. Frank ignores the urge to start sucking his fingers, and says, "Work it out in the moshpit tomorrow, man. You're still coming, right?"

Gerard nods. "I'll probably leave the moshpit to you, though."

"Yeah, you wouldn't want anyone to think you were having fun, or anything." Frank laughs when Gerard scowls. "I'm just saying, you always hang on the wall or follow Mikey or Ray around all night."

"I don't like crowds," Gerard reminds him. "I only come because of you. Guys. You and Mikey, you guys."

Frank's pretty sure his heart genuinely just skipped a beat. He has to try really hard to keep his voice from squeaking when he says lightly, "Yeah, I think you're just afraid someone's going to fuck up that pretty face."

"This from the guy who freaks out if he gets a zit." Gerard grins. "Oh, can I borrow your straighteners tomorrow? Mine got wet."

"Sure. They're in the toolbox."

"Okay."

There's silence for a minute. Gerard has closed his eyes and Frank takes the chance to look at him and wallow in the stretchy longing feeling in his chest. I could kiss him, he thinks, and it's so tempting because it would be so easy to shuffle just a few inches closer and fit his chin into the crook of Gerard's elbow and touch his mouth to the pink curve of Gerard's top lip.

That train of thought leads rapidly to putting his mouth other places too, Gerard's throat and his nipples and the inside of his elbow and the base of his spine and then Frank has to stop himself before it all gets completely x-rated. He has to work to keep his breathing steady; he keeps holding it by accident.

Gerard shifts onto his side and draws his knees up so they're touching Frank's His hands lie open on the bed between them and Frank pretends to yawn so he has an excuse to pick his hand up, cover his mouth, then put it back down again right next to Gerard's. He rubs his little finger against Gerard's palm and Gerard rubs back, and Frank's hand tingles and it spreads up his arm and down his back and all over, everywhere, like being dropped into a bath of Alka-Seltzer or something, crazy. He's actually a little concerned about what might happen when he touches Gerard for real, if it feels this good when he's just barely on first base. Maybe he'll just explode or have a heart attack or die, or something. That would suck.

"What are you thinking about?" Gerard says softly, rubbing his finger again.

"Dying," Frank answers honestly, and then has to laugh at Gerard's horrified face. "Not in a bad way. I mean, not that there's a good way, probably? Just, I don't know, I guess I get what you were saying before, about feeling like you're going to explode."

Gerard hums and rubs a circle in Frank's palm with two of his fingertips. His eyes have slipped closed again and he slurs a little when he speaks. "Because of your showcase."

It's more because if Frank doesn't get to kiss Gerard in the next five seconds he will just cease to exist, but he can't say that, so he mutters something non-committal and then Gerard sighs and rolls closer and wraps his arm heavily around Frank's waist. For a frantic, brilliant second Frank thinks this is it, but Gerard just sighs again.

"I'm passing out on you," he mumbles, and then his face goes slack and he's gone, breathing even and steady through his open mouth.

Frank sways back and forth between wallowing in sexual frustration and letting himself feel giddy that Gerard apparently sleeps better when he's with Frank. He settles on a point between the two, and slides his arm around Gerard, splaying his hand out wide between his shoulderblades. He watches Gerard's face for what feels like a long time before he falls asleep.

When he wakes up, Gerard's hand is in his pants.

Not grabbing his dick or anything, more's the pity, just resting inside the loose elastic waistband, palm curved over Frank's hipbone and fingers resting on the crease of his thigh. Frank struggles to wake up enough to understand what's going on and Gerard shifts behind him, breathing out against the back of Frank's neck.

Frank doesn't care what's going on, he decides, as long as it doesn't stop. He's warm everywhere and buzzing in the way you do when you wake up already turned on - like from a sex dream, but better, because it's real. He presses back into the curve of Gerard's body and Gee's arm tightens around Frank's waist and oh, fuck yeah that's Gerard's dick.

That's totally Gerard's dick pressing into Frank's thigh, and it's totally hard and so, for the record, is Frank's, and Gerard's fingers are centimetres from it and this is the best way to wake up ever, Frank decides. He wants to wake up this way for the rest of his life and he's about to say so when Gerard suddenly freezes.

"Frank, what," he croaks groggily and then Frank's phone rings and makes them both jump and Gerard yanks his hand out of Frank's pajamas like he's allergic to dick.

Frank reaches out to grab it, and as he does so he catches sight of the clock and all the warm fuzzy horny feelings in his body are suddenly washed away by a wave of panic. "I fucking know," he says into the phone and hangs up, scrambling out of bed and stumbling over to the dresser. "That was Mikey," he says, yanking clothes out at random. "I gotta go, dude."

He leaves his PJs on the floor and yanks his clothes on as he runs into the bathroom to brush his teeth and splash water on his face. He's so fucking late, fuck fuck fuck, of all the days to sleep through his alarm it just has to be fucking this one, of course, and by the time he gets to Skeleton he feels so guilty and awful for being late and leaving Gerard that he's shaking, and Mikey's eyes widen when he bursts through the door.

"Did you break the landspeed record to get here, or something?" he says, steadying Frank into a chair and handing him coffee like the angel he is. "What happened, anyway?"

Frank shakes his head and drains half the cup in one go. "Alarm didn't go off, or I slept through it, or something." Or I didn't set it last night because I was too busy feeling your brother up, he doesn't add.

The day pretty much flies by in a frenzy of last-minute panic and phonecalls. Despite the seventy-five million things Frank has to do, he still keeps drifting back to this morning, to the way it felt to wake up with Gerard wrapped around him like that, to how they were so close and there's just no way it can't happen, now, right?

He looks over at Mikey at some point in the afternoon and wonders if he should say something, "Hey, dude, I have your blessing to lick every inch of your brother's body, right?" but Mikey's been a fucking star over the last few weeks and Frank doesn't want to make him drop dead of a gross-out-induced aneurysm or anything. It should probably be Gerard who tells him anyway.

He swings by the Loop to make sure everything's on track. Bob's already there, God love him, frowning at stuff and moving cables in a way that Frank finds deeply reassuring. Like if Bob's there, doing the sound, it won't matter if anyone fucks up because Bob will do his magic and make it come out of the amps sounding like fucking Beethoven.

"That's what you pay me for," Bob says when Frank tells him. "And you do have to pay me, okay, Ray's completely serious about splitting my fee."

"He's so weird," Frank says, scanning the bar and jumping in place a little with excitement. "You guys split all your bills fifty-fifty anyway, right? What difference does it make?"

Bob shrugs. "He's a man obsessed."

On the way home to get changed, Frank has an idea. He wants to tell Gerard about it but he's already left to meet Mikey, so Frank goes digging through the closet in the hall where he keeps the random boxes of shit his Mom packed when he moved out. He's never gone through them so it takes a while, but finally he finds what he's looking for, and stows it in his bag for later.

After his shower, Frank goes into his bedroom to find that Gerard has picked up the pajamas Frank left lying all over the floor in the hall that morning, and folded them neatly on Frank's chair. He's made the bed, too. It's both really sweet and sort of bizarre, because Frank didn't even think Gerard understood the concept of folding.

He's pretty sure Gerard hasn't been replaced by a pod person, though, because he's also left Frank's straighteners plugged into the mains. Frank uses them himself and makes a mental note to remind Gerard about how they don't want to die in a fire.

He microwaves one of the ten thousand Mom-sponsored dinners in the freezer and then gets back to the Loop as soon as he can. Ray's outside, keeping Bob company while he smokes. Perfect.

"Hey man, got your fee." Frank hands it over, giving Bob his straightest face and trying to telegraph 'play along' with the force of his mind. "Let nobody ever say Bob Bryar's not a good fucking deal."

Ray squawks and grabs it out of Bob's hands. "This is a hacky-sack!"

"And let nobody ever say Ray Toro isn't the sharpest spoon in the shed." Frank raises one eyebrow a fraction of an inch at Bob while Ray's turning the hacky-sack over like he thinks there'll be money pinned to the other side.

Bob's eyebrow shifts minutely back. He's totally in.

"We can't split this!" Ray shrills. "You tricked me! How are we supposed to split a hacky-sack?"

Bob takes it from him, drops it onto his foot and flicks it over to Ray. Ray just stands there with his hands on his hips, staring, so it falls flatly to the ground.

"You're supposed to kick it back," Bob says patiently. "It's called sharing."

Ray's whole face is going red and his hair is like standing up on end, even more than usual, and Frank has to duck inside and run to the bathrooms and laugh for about five minutes, wiping his eyes and totally fucking up his eyeliner. It's worth it, though.

Mikey shows up not long after, with Gerard in tow. Frank doesn't know if it's an effect of all the gropey cuddling, or if Gerard's just showered, but he looks really fucking good.

"I like your hair," Frank says, reaching up to touch it. It's all shiny and falling forward into Gerard's face instead of sticking up crazily everywhere like it's trying desperately to get a point across.

Gerard says, "Thanks," and smiles a lot and Frank smiles back at him because he's so pretty and Frank is so completely crazy about him and he feels shy and stupid and manic and like he wants to mess up Gerard's party hair good and fucking proper.

He distracts himself by going to find Ray, who's standing behind the bar with the hacky-sack, a pair of scissors, and two glasses.

"I think these things are filled with like, beans," he's saying. "I'm going to split them exactly, okay?"

"Okay," Bob says seriously. "But who gets the material, like the carcass?"

Ray points the scissors at him. "Half each."

"Hey, I didn't give you one of my most treasured childhood possessions just so you could fuck it up!" Frank scrambles over the bar and grabs for the hacky-sack. "The destruction of personal property was not part of our agreement."

Ray pulls out a bastard big-brother move, jamming his hand on Frank's head and shoving him away, waving the hacky-sack in the air. "It's not your property anymore! It was exchanged fair and square for our services!"

Frank flails backwards and bangs into the counter behind the bar and narrowly avoids smashing a lot of dollars' worth of bottles. "Ow, fuck. I will fuck you up, Toro, I swear to God."

"You should probably wait until after he's played," Bob points out, munching thoughtfully on a potato chip. "Because I don't think he offers refunds."

"Not without a valid receipt," Ray agrees. He stabs the hacky-sack with the scissors and wiggles them around to make a hole. Little plasticy beads spill out, and Ray looks up at Bob. "You want me to count them, or do it by eye?"

Bob pretends to think about it. "I trust you."

Ray pours the beads into the glasses, crouching down and eyeing them to make sure the levels are even. Then he cuts the sad, empty material into halves and curls a piece each into the glasses, like a bartender putting an umbrella in a cocktail. "Here," he says, sliding one glass over to Bob. "Nice doing business with you."

"Cheers," says Bob, and he clinks his glass against Ray's.

"You guys are dorks," Frank tells them. Ray gets all 'J'accuse!' and starts complaining bitterly about how nobody appreciates the principles of capitalism anymore and it's all Frank's fault. Frank shoots Bob a giant grin and gets the world's smallest smile in response. He can't wait to see Ray's face when he hands over Bob's actual fee at the end of the night - and also, he realizes, this whole debacle will probably make Ray so grateful to see cold hard cash that he won't realize how little there is of it.

There are kids hanging around outside already; mostly local fans of the bands who're too young to get into the bar. Frank sends Mikey out to say hi because the guy is like Yoda to scene kids, and he's on his way over to talk to Gerard, who's smoking nervously by a wall (of course) when Alex and Ryland show up and distract him.

"Hey, I'm so glad you made it!" Frank runs over and shakes both their hands - Ryland seems to have gotten even taller, if that's possible. "Okay, make yourselves at home, whatever. I'm gonna be running around, so just hang out and have a good time, okay?"

"Is there anything we can do to help?" Alex takes off his jacket and nudges Ryland. "Take your fucking sunglasses off, you look like an idiot."

That gives Frank an idea. "Actually," he says slowly, looking around for Gerard. He spots him sitting at a table near the back, drawing on a napkin. "See that guy? That's my roommate, and he's like allergic to socialising, or whatever. If you made sure he doesn't like freak out and leave before the show even starts, I'd owe you bigtime."

Ryland's folding his sunglasses up. "Bigtime like signing us?"

Frank smiles. "We'll see."

They set off in Gerard's direction - Frank cracks up again at the bemused panic on Gerard's face when he sees them coming - and then the guys from Breezeblock show up, and Bob gets up and heads over to the mixing desk, and the work begins in earnest.

Frank stays glued to the stage while the bands tune up one after the other. From time to time he glances over to Gerard, who's actually laughing, what the fuck, with Alex. Ryland's telling them a story involving a lot of hand gestures, and Frank's about to go over there because he really hates not being in on a joke, but then he feels a hand on his shoulder.

"Frank Iero?"

Frank turns around and there's this guy standing there, maybe mid-thirties, with long hair in a severe side-parting and round glasses. "Yeah?"

"I'm Danny," the guy says, holding his hand out for Frank to shake. "I emailed you about the artwork on the poster for this event?"

"Oh! Yeah, hi!" Frank shakes the dude's hand and tries not to be weirded out. He supposes he should have known the guy might have come down here to try and meet Gerard if he's such a big fan or whatever, but it seems a little creepy. "Um, the doors aren't actually open yet, so there's a little wait until the show starts."

Danny waves his hand. "I'm not interested in the music, to be perfectly, uh, frank." He gives Frank a creepy wink. "Your friend on the door let me in, I explained our acquaintance."

I emailed you one time, you giant freak, Frank thinks, looking desperately around for Gerard so he can signal 'Stalker! Stalker!' at him with his eyebrows. "Uh, so…if you're not here for the music, how can I help you?"

"I was hoping to meet with Gerard," Danny says, tossing the long scarf he's wearing over his shoulder. "Is he here?"

"Um," Frank is not going to spring this guy on Gerard unannounced, that's for damn sure. But he also probably shouldn't be making decisions about who is and isn't allowed to speak to him. Maybe this guy is perfectly normal. Maybe he wants to pay Gerard a million bucks for some art, and Frank is not going to get in the way of that. "I don't know," he says eventually. "Why don't you go and get a drink, and I'll go and check for you?"

"I appreciate that," Danny says gravely, looking down his long nose at Frank. Frank gives him a weak smile and speeds off to the bathroom, jerking his head frantically at Gerard to get him to follow.

"What's going on? You look freaked out," Gerard closes the door behind him. "Is something wrong with the show?"

"No, no." Frank wrings his hands together and decides to just lay it all out. "Okay, don't be mad at me, okay?"

Gerard's forehead wrinkles. "Why would I be mad at you?"

Frank sighs and rubs his face. "Remember I told you some guy emailed me about your art on the poster, like a fan or something?"

"Yeah?"

"Well, I emailed him back and said yes, right?"

Gerard starts to look freaked out already, shit. "Frankie, what?"

"And remember how the date and time and venue are all on the poster too?" Frank bites his lips and watches the penny drop, realisation sliding over Gerard's face. "I'm so sorry, man, I didn't know he was gonna like, come down here. He wants to meet you. I'm an asshole. I didn't realize."

"Dude, is that all?" Gerard has his hand pressed over his chest and is sort of laughing and breathing heavily. "I thought you were gonna tell me I'd accidentally committed copyright infringement and I was getting sued, shit!"

"Yes, well, obviously that was my first though as well," Frank scoffs. God, what a freak. "Are you seriously okay with this?"

"Well, yeah." Gerard gives him a weird look. "He probably just wants to ask to use the work in an exhibition, or something. It's fine, it happens all the time."

Frank stares at him for a minute, trying to work out if it's the hair that's turned him into this 'oh hey total stranger let's chat' person. Or maybe it's the company. "Okay, I don't know what Alex and Ryland have done to you, but I'm signing them as soon as humanly possible."

"You should!" Gerard smiles. "They're really nice guys. And they know a lot about Skeleton, they're pretty into you."

I'm pretty into you, Frank thinks, and then he has to laugh at himself and shake his head when Gerard asks him to share the joke. "Nothing, nothing. I gotta get back to it, man, I'll send your fan over."

Gerard rolls his eyes and holds the door open for Frank. "Shut up." Frank elbows him in the stomach as he walks past and Gerard pushes him gently, laughing. Then he gets his serious face on and says, "I appreciate you looking out for me, though."

"Anytime," Frank says, and then he has to like speedwalk back to the stage to stop himself from dragging Gerard back into the bathroom, fuck the fucking show.

He sends maybe-not-creepy Danny over to Gerard's table and makes himself concentrate on the job at hand.

When the show kicks off, it really fucking kicks off. Mikey's managed to fill the place to capacity ("It's one of my superpowers," he says proudly when Frank mentions it) and the crowd are really up for it. Frank gets on stage and says a few words about appreciating the fans and how awesome the bands are and thanks to Bob and Ray and especially, "Mikey Way, who pretty much saves my life on a daily basis."

Mikey gets a giant cheer from the street-teamers, and through the lights Frank can just make out Gerard clapping his hands over his head and beaming at his brother. Danny is standing next to him looking dour. Gross.

Slacker kick things off and they really have been practicing, they sound awesome and not, Frank thinks hopefully, just because Bob's doing the sound. Frank works the crowd a bit, doing all the gladhanding stuff that Mikey is indescribably awful at when the hand in question is attached to anyone over the age of twenty-five.

When Ray gets up to play with Breezeblock - and stands his glass of dead hacky-sack on his amp, the dork - Frank goes to hang out with Bob.

"He's amazing!" Frank yells to Bob over the noise, and Bob nods his head like 'duh'. "I always forget until I see him on stage!"

Bob swats him away - his own glass of hacky-corpse is tucked under the desk, Frank notices - and Frank goes back to meeting and greeting. He checks in with Alex and Ryland when they take a brief break from the pit.

"You guys having a good time?"

"It could be better," Ryland shrugs. Frank thinks about punching him until he adds, "It could have us."

"Yeah, a little folky vibe would really round things out, don't you think?" Alex grins.

Frank doesn't get to talk to Gerard while the bands are playing - he's busy, obviously, but also every time he looks over, Gerard's deep in conversation with Danny, their heads bent together. Gerard's nodding a lot and making shapes in the air with his hands. He's not even tapping his feet to the music or anything. At one point Danny touches Gerard's arm, emphasising a point or something, and Frank is surprised by the flash of hot, insistent jealousy that goes through him, making his hands curl into fists.

Mine, he thinks, and then feels like a total asshole and goes to talk to Lucy's boring but supportive mother as penance.

When the show closes, Frank gets back up on stage and thanks everyone for coming, and especially for paying the cover charge because now he can cover Mikey's wages. The DJ takes over as soon as Frank clears the stage, and he grabs Mikey and slips out the back door with him.

"Dude," he says, shivering a little in the cold night air, and Mikey smiles and says, "I know, right?" and Frank has to hug him, get up on his toes and wrap both arms around him and squeeze as hard as he can.

Mikey's pointy chin digs into his shoulder and Frank kisses his ear. "I fucking love you," he says fiercely. "If you ever try to leave me I will come to your house and kill your pets."

"You're vegetarian," Mikey says, but he stays where he is and squeezes Frank a little bit. "Dude, tonight was fucking awesome."

"I know!" Frank lets him go and spins around on the gravel, flinging his arms out and laughing. "I know!" he says again, and goes in for another hug because Mikey's grinning and bouncing on his toes, and that's when Gerard comes out and sees them.

Mikey lets Frank go and sidles over to Gerard and hugs him, and Frank says, "No, no, me first," and tries to push him off and get in under Gerard's arm and they end up staggering around laughing and Frank has to cling to Mikey's shirt so he won't faceplant.

"It was really good," Gerard says when they've untangled themselves. "You guys should be really proud."

"Oh, you were listening?" Frank says, poking Gerard in the ribs. "I couldn't even tell."

It's meant to be a joke, but Gerard's face sort of falls and then his forehead scrunches and he says, "No, no, I was! It was great! Totally awesome, really."

"Uh huh," Frank says, and now he thinks about it, maybe he is kind of mad that Gerard was paying so little attention. Everyone goes quiet and they just sort of stare at each other awkwardly for a minute.

"I'm freezing," Mikey says suddenly, giving an exaggerated shudder. "I'll see you guys inside."

He slips back through the door, subtle as an anvil, and Frank laughs and shakes his head. "Your brother, dude."

"That he is." Gerard pulls out his cigarettes and passes one to Frank.

They smoke in silence for a while, Frank considering the best way to go about this. Before the show he'd sort of figured he'd grab Gerard and say, "Please let me put my hands in your pants," or something equally suave, but now it's weird, what with the silence and the stupid Danny. What was he saying that was so much more important than Frank's show, anyway? Frank's not a jealous 'don't talk to anyone but me' asshole usually, and the feeling is strange and unwelcome. Gerard's out here with him, though, not inside with the creep.

He scuffs his sneakers against the gravel and wishes he could just know, that it could be done already, past the part where he actually has to say 'I like you' and they could just get on with the naked part of this equation, already. Gerard's not going to make a move, that much is pretty fucking clear.

He has a sudden and awful memory of James Stevenson, the first non-off-limits guy Frank ever had a serious crush on. They hung out every single day for months and then when Frank finally worked up the balls to try and kiss him, James pushed him away and gave him some bullshit speech about how Frank was already in the Friend Box in his brain and James couldn't see him in a romantic light, or something.

That was bad enough, but the worst part was that James didn't even want to hang out with Frank anymore. That can absolutely not happen with Gerard. Frank does not want to be in the Friend Box in Gerard's brain, and even more than that he doesn't want Gerard to move back to the basement.

The small part of Frank's brain that isn't bubbling over with nerves points out that Gerard probably doesn't hump the legs of people in his Friend Box, but it gets shouted down by the much bigger, way louder part that's sort of freaking out.

"Dude," Frank starts, not really knowing what he's going to say but needing to break the silence. "You know when like, you feel a thing, and then maybe you start to feel a different thing, and you don't know how to get from thing one to thing two?"

Gerard tilts his head to the side and frowns, exhaling smoke. "Can you narrow it down?"

Frank casts around desperately for a metaphor or something. "Like, if you know someone one way and then you like, it's another way, but you're worried that the second way will fuck up the first way, or maybe you can't even go from one to the other? Like, can you make that transition, you know?"

He's babbling, he knows, and Gerard just looks confused as hell. Frank has a sudden brainwave and says, "Like, with office romances, you know? If you know someone through work, and then you decide you want to know them, like biblically, or whatever, can that work?"

"What?" Gerard is making giant bug eyes, which, Frank thinks as his heart fucking drops into his stomach like a stone, can so not be a good sign. "I don't - what?"

"Because people always say it's a bad idea," Frank ploughs on desperately. "Because then you still gotta work with them and it's weird to change the dynamic, and then what if it doesn't work out? One of you has to leave and then there's a sexual harassment suit and it's a whole big thing. You know?"

Gerard just stares like Frank's grown a second head. "I've never worked in an office."

"But you get what I'm saying, right?" Please, please, please get what I'm saying, Frank prays. He drops his cigarette and grinds it out with his heel and Gerard is still staring, his pretty face all slack and his eyes as round as saucers and his pink mouth hanging open and Frank thinks, oh, fuck this. "You know what, I'm just gonna come out with it. Gerard, I-"

"I have to go," Gerard interrupts him, and no, that's Frank's heart dropping, for fucking real. "Um, Danny and I are gonna talk some more, and it's really loud inside, so. See you later."

He turns on his heel and practically runs inside, slamming the door behind him.

Frank stands there reeling, letting the disappointment and the embarrassment crash over his head in a giant, humiliating wave. There's no fighting that shit, you just gotta let it happen, so he does, breathing through it and feeling pathetically grateful that Gerard at least stopped him before he actually said the words.

Fuck, he thinks, this fucking hurts, and he doesn't even have any cigarettes so he can't suffocate his sorrows in a cloud of smoke. He can drown them though, so he slams back inside and heads straight for the bar.

"Dude," Mikey says, coming up to him immediately. "Gerard just left with-"

"I know." Frank cuts him off and orders two drinks and gives one to Mikey. He downs his in one go, then changes his mind and takes Mikey's back and downs that too. "Same again? Good."

Ray and Bob join them after a few minutes - Frank can feel the concerned looks being exchanged over his head and it makes him want to punch something until he bleeds. He remembers to give Ray Bob's check and the look on his face is pretty priceless but Frank is too miserable and fucking pissed off to enjoy it properly.

Bob supplies him with cigarettes and Frank chainsmokes moodily between drinks. Fucking Gerard. Who the fuck cuddles with you on the couch and draws murals for you and puts their hand in your pants while you're sleeping and then bolts at the first sign of 'I like you'?

He manages to pull it together enough to say goodbye to Alex and Ryland when they leave, but after that he devotes himself to the serious business of getting absolutely shitfaced.

"Fucking cuddling. Fucking roommates," he slurs at random, later when he's slumped with his head on Mikey's shouder. "This is your fucking fault, Mikey."

Mikey's not listening; he's chatting up some chick with too much fucking eyeliner. Frank gets transferred to Bob's shoulder at some point, and then later Ray holds his hair back while he's throwing up in the gutter outside, and then Frank's vaguely aware of being put to bed on Mikey's couch.

"It hurts," he tells Mikey, watching through one eye as Mikey pulls off his shoes.

"I'll get you an aspirin," Mikey says. That's not what Frank meant, but he passes out before he can explain.

***

Waking up is pretty much hell, but it doesn't compare to the way it feels when Frank's walking down the street towards his house and sees Gerard, on the driveway, painting an upside-down wooden boat.

He's wearing a huge brown sweater Frank's never seen before, a real 'my Mom gave it to me for Christmas' number, and baggy blue jeans. He has headphones on and is singing along to what Frank recognizes as Thunder, loud as hell even though he's like right outside where anyone can see. He doesn't even have the decency to sound bad.

Frank wants to crawl inside the stupid sweater with him and curl up somewhere until the pounding in his head eases and the sick swirling in his stomach subsides, but he can't. Because Gerard is a bastard cocktease commitment-phobe or some shit and everything is terrible.

And he's painting a boat on the driveway. "Dude, what the hell?"

Gerard pulls off his headphones and says, "Do you mind? I can't get it up to the attic."

"Well, no." Frank stares at the really disturbing things Gerard's painting on the boat. "Is this your big project?"

"Yeah, it's this guy, one of my patrons. He's got this weird thing about boats." Gerard moves past Frank to rinse his brush out. "I don't think this one even floats."

Frank watches Gerard futz around with his tubes and pots for a minute. If Gerard's already working, he must have been up for at least a few hours already. "Did you have a good time last night?"

"What?" Gerard hasn't put his headphones back on, but he's looking at the boat instead of Frank.

Frank doesn't like to interrupt Gerard when he's working, usually, but if he's going to do it in the middle of the street, then whatever. He swallows against a wave of sickness and says, "I mean with that guy. Creepy Danny."

"He's not creepy," Gerard says sharply, and forget curling up in his sweater, Frank wants to punch him in the fucking face, for real. Excuse him for not being crazy about the guy Gerard ditched him for and probably brought back to Frank's own house to fuck, Jesus Christ.

"Did you crash at Mikey's?" Gerard squints at the side of the boat and makes a tiny brushstroke.

"Yeah."

Gerard goes totally silent and concentrates on his paints and whatever. The air feels heavy and oppressive around Frank's head, and he really doesn't know why Gerard had to pick now to start a project that won't keep at least him out of the way while Frank works out his humiliation.

"I'm going back to bed," Frank says, and if he slams the door a little on his way in, well, fuck it. Fuck Gerard.

The anger lasts him all the way up to bed, but when he's stripped his clothes off and is lying there wishing like crazy that it was still the night before last, that Gerard was still curled up sleeping next to him, all he feels is fucking heartbroken.

***

Unbelievably, things get worse. As if the funeral-home atmosphere in the house and Mikey being quiet and vaguely accusatory at work and Ray and Bob doing their mind-meld concerned thing all the time isn't bad enough, Frank comes home a few days later and Gerard accosts him in the kitchen and says,

"Here's my rent check."

Frank takes the check and gives it a cursory glance. Then he looks at it again. "Dude, this is way too much."

"It's two months' worth," Gerard says, not looking at him. "I figured it might take you a few weeks to find someone else, and I don't want you to leave you in the shit."

Frank stares at him, and then back at the check while his mouth goes dry and his ears start ringing. This cannot be happening. "Find someone else?"

Gerard nods and busies himself with the coffee maker. "Yeah, I found an apartment."

"You're moving out?" Frank's voice totally squeaks and he doesn't even care. This is so much worse than he thought. "Since when?"

"Since I found an apartment." Gerard stirs in sugar. "I can move in in three weeks."

"But." Frank stops, because what is he going to say? Of course Gerard's going to move out. Frank would move out if it wasn't his house, probably. All the awkward silence can't exactly be inspirational, either.

Gerard's just standing there looking down into his coffee, stirring and stirring. Frank sometimes hears people say stuff like this is like an elephant in the room, but nobody ever told him it would feel like the elephant was sitting on his chest.

He takes as deep a breath as he can, considering the elephant, and cuts to the fucking chase. "Is this because of, you know, because of that morning? Because I don't-"

"I know you don't," Gerard says, sounding tired. Frank didn't even know what he was going to say, though, so he doesn't know how Gerard can be so sure. "I just think it's time, Frank, you know? I should get my own place. We both need space."

Frank stares at him miserably. He has plenty of space. He can't even remember what he used to do with it all before Gerard moved in and started leaving random odd socks and piles of comics everywhere.

"I have to get back to work," Gerard says quietly, and leaves.

Frank sits in his empty kitchen alone. Fucking James Stevenson all over again.

***

Trying to avoid someone who works at home is pretty easy when they spend all their time in the attic. It's not so easy when that person is working on the driveway, though, because then they tramp back and forth through the house all the time, muttering and carrying random objects; a coat hanger and a blowtorch, an apple and a corkscrew, a wooden figurine and a hairdryer. When it rains Gerard rolls the boat into the garage and keeps on working. And fucking singing. Frank has really started to go off the Misifts.

Frank spends as much time out of the house as he can anyway; there's usually a show to go to, and he spends some time at Mikey's. Not as much as he'd like, because the chick from the showcase with all the eyeliner suddenly has a name (Alicia) and first refusal on all Mikey's free time.

Alex and Ryland come to Jersey to sign, and Frank throws himself headfirst into putting together a new recording for them. The production they've managed by themselves isn't awful but it's not good either, so Frank uses some of the showcase profits to hire Bob for a few days.

"I'd do it for some of your Mom's eggplant parma," Bob says when they're in the studio. "That shit is like crack."

"My Mom's eggplant parma is only to be exchanged for love and devotion," Frank says, watching Ryland tune up. "And anyway I don't want to give Toro a heart attack. We need him."

The next day Ray comes to hang out and jam with the guys a little. He gets flustered and red when Alex starts blowing smoke up his ass about his fingerwork, and Frank's watching and giggling from an old office chair that's so broken you have to lie rather than sit in it when his phone rings.

"Yo," he says, giving Ray the finger when he rolls his eyes.

"Hi, Frank. It's me."

Frank sits up quickly and the stupid chair has like a nervous breakdown and tries to propel Frank face-first into the mixing desk. "Gerard! Um, hey, what's up?"

Bob and Ray immediately make matching worried faces. Well, not matching exactly because Ray's all big eyes and crinkly forehead where Bob's more of a very slight rearrangement of his eyebrows kind of guy, but Frank can still tell. He scowls at them and stands up, moving away a little.

"So, I just got a call from my new landlord," Gerard's saying nervously. "It turns out the apartment's gonna be ready earlier than we thought, so, I can move out next weekend."

"Oh." Frank really wants to sit down again. "Um, well, good. For you, I guess."

"Yeah," Gerard agrees, and then he falls silent. Frank wonders if he should be saying something, but he can't think of anything that isn't 'please don't move out' and he's not about to bust all his personal stuff out in the studio. So he just bites his nails and waits, and eventually Gerard says, "I was wondering - do you have any like, boxes or crates or whatever lying around at Skeleton? Because I threw all mine out a while ago. I guess I didn't think I'd need them. You know, yet."

"Yeah, I know what you mean." Frank rubs his face and takes a deep breath through his nose and makes a decision. He can either let his stupid hurt feelings run the show and probably end up never speaking to Gerard again after he moves out, or he can get a fucking grip on himself and try something a little more grown-up. "I can bring some boxes home for you tonight, man, no problem. Do you want some help packing?"

Gerard's silent but Frank can hear his brain working, making a decision of his own. "Yeah," he says slowly after a while. "Yeah, that - that'd be great. Thanks."

Frank gets off the phone and goes back to sit by Bob. The guys have stopped playing; Ryland and Ray have got into some deeply involved conversation about Hitchcock and Alex is trying to join in.

"So I have to give up another one of my precious free mornings to help Gee move again, is that what you're telling me?" Bob pulls the 'No Smoking' sign down off the wall and lights a cigarette. "Awesome."

"You work in sound," Frank points out. "Every morning is a free morning for you."

Bob shrugs. "It's the principle."

Frank darts his hand into the pocket of Bob's hoodie and steals a smoke for himself. Grown-up, he reminds himself, and says, "Yeah, well. I guess he needs more space, whatever. You can't blame the guy for wanting to sleep in a room that doesn't smell like paint thinner."

Inside the booth, Alex makes like he's going to touch Ray's hair and Ray rears back quick as lightning, moving out of reach. Ray's kind of precious about his hair - Bob's the only person he'll let touch it when he's not drunk. He lets Bob touch it when he is drunk too, of course, but Frank prefers not to witness that because then he tends to make hilarious but disturbing purring noises that sober Ray would never admit to.

Sober Ray does work this smug little Bob-specific glow thing sometimes, which is gross, but not as bad as these matching sign-language faces of silent concern. Ugh. Frank is going to take his next boyfriend to their apartment and make out in front of them all the time.

He was planning to do just that with Gerard, actually, because Ray's known him since high school and Frank's pretty sure that would earn him a lot of bonus gross-out points. But that was before Frank realised he was going to die alone, of course.

Bob's watching Frank out of the corner of his eye. For a horrible moment Frank thinks he's going to get all Dear Abby and start trying to give him advice, but then Ray calls over,

"Bob! Tell these guys how you used to live with the dude from Fall Out Boy."

Bob makes a face. He has the best stories about famous people but he's really weird about sharing them or even mentioning his career if he doesn't know you. Frank supposed that's why they all love him so much, maybe. He's like the Fort Knox of celebrity gossip.

The guys are making begging faces, though, so eventually Bob sighs and makes a 'fine, fine' hand-wave.

"I love Fall Out Boy!" Ryland says enthusiastically. "Oh, man, Patrick Stump. What's he like? Is he like all a genius and bursting into song while he's brushing his teeth and stuff?"

"I don't remember him doing that," Bob says thoughtfully. "But he did once sing O Solo Mio to me while I was taking a bath."

"What?" Frank thinks about Bob lying in the bath doing air-conducting and cracks up. "Dude, why?"

"Penance. I can't even remember what for," Bob smiles, exhaling smoke. "Something bad."

Frank curls up with his forehead on his knees and laughs until he can't breathe. "And that was his apology? Singing opera to you?"

Bob nods seriously. "Sometimes you gotta pull out the grand gestures, you know?"

Ray's making bug eyes. "I can't believe Patrick sang to you while you were in the bath!"

"He was outside the door," Bob says like 'duh'. "Christ, they make 'em dumb in New Jersey."

"I'm from Jersey!" Frank protests, folding his arms.

Bob gives him another sideways look and says, "I know."

***

"I used to go crazy for this stuff when I was a kid," Frank says, ripping off another piece of bubblewrap. He tucks it carefully around Aquaman and lays him in the corner of the crate. "My Mom says if someone sent me a gift through the post, you know like a distant relative or whatever, I'd just ignore the toy and play with the bubblewrap until she wanted to shoot me to make the popping stop."

Gerard laughs and then chokes when a flurry of dust flies up from the books he's stacking. "Fuck."

Frank watches him cough and flap his hands. "Have you ever cleaned up here?"

"I'll clean it when I've moved my stuff out," Gerard wheezes. He thumps his chest and blinks his watery eyes at Frank. "I won't leave it messed up."

Don't leave it at all, Frank thinks at Wolverine. Wolverine doesn't have any say in the matter, though. Frank wraps him up and puts him on the Marvel side of the crate. "So, is your new place bigger than up here, or what?"

Gerard shakes his head, sorting through the big sheets of paper on the table. "I don't know like, square footage. But it'll be good to have more than one room, you know. I can have an actual bedroom for the first time in ever."

Frank thinks about his own bedroom, downstairs. It's totally big enough for two people to share. The Buffy in his hand gives him an accusing look, and he sighs and wraps her up too.

He doesn't like thinking about Gerard in his new apartment. And not just for the obvious reasons - the thought of Gerard not having anyone to make coffee for him in the morning or stop him from hitting heating devices with hammers is really upsetting. And that's before he even gets started on his own empty house and what that'll be like.

"At least you won't have to feel bad about eating all the fake bacon," he says lightly. One of Batman's hands has come off and Frank concentrates on reattaching it. "Although I'm kind of bummed there won't be any more sad vampires on my fridge."

"I've never had my own fridge," Gerard muses, rolling some papers up and slipping an elastic band over them. "Or my own bathroom."

Frank laughs and shakes his head. "Yeah, sharing must be such a hardship when you want to get in there once a month."

"Hey," Gerard says, smiling. "I shower."

"Oh, I know. The fifteen towels swimming in an inch of water are always a clue."

Gerard rolls his eyes and makes a tsking noise. "Well, you'll have it all back to yourself soon enough, clean freak."

Frank can't think of anything to say to that. He doesn't know what expression he's making, but Gerard's face drops and the atmosphere in the attic deflates like a murdered hacky-sack.

Later on Frank stands in his bathroom, staring at the toothbrushes in the toothbrush mug. He can remember being freaked out about someone else's stuff in here, but he can't remember why it seemed like such a big deal. He finds himself fantasising about turning Gerard's attic into a real apartment - partitioning it into different rooms and even getting a bathroom installed in there, so Gerard never has any reason to leave.

That's probably really creepy of him, and anyway he can't afford it, but the more he stares at Gerard's razor and shaving foam and shampoo and his fucking toothbrush, the more he realizes that the grown-up let-it-go plan is not going to work. This can't - this can't just be it. There's got to be something he can do.

He goes downstairs to make sure the doors are locked, and there's Gerard's shoes kicked off by the door in the place where they're most likely to cause Frank injury, and his jacket slung over the arm of the couch even though Frank has repeatedly pointed out the hooks on the wall, and his Wired magazine next to the overflowing ashtray on the coffee table, and the fucking mural in the fucking window.

Frank opens the door and looks at the driveway he never gets to park on because it's got a fucking wooden boat on it, covered in paint. He stares at it for a while, and for no good reason Bob's voice pops into his head, talking about that guy from Fall Out Boy and grand gestures.

A seed plants itself in Frank's mind and he moves to pull out his phone, careful and slow so he doesn't scare the thought away, spill it like milk from a saucer. "Toro," he says into the phone when Ray picks up. "Do you still teach that rich kid with the Mom who's into you?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Because," Frank says slowly, staring at the boat. "I have an idea."

***

"You want to go out to the island," Mikey says, spreading his hands flat on the desk.

Frank nods. "Yeah."

"The haunted island."

"Yes."

"The haunted island in the middle of the lake."

"You know another one?"

"To hunt ghosts. On a boat."

"No, I thought we'd waterski." Frank looks at Mikey around his feet, which are propped on the desk, and raises his eyebrows. "How the fuck do you think we're gonna get there?"

Mikey looks back at him for a second, face totally blank. "And you want to do this because?"

Frank takes his feet off the desk and sits forward. "I told you, man. Gerard's always wanted to go, right? It's the perfect way to like, see him off."

"He's moving two blocks."

"That's not the point!" Frank stands up and starts pacing back and forth. "I can't take him out and get him wasted. He doesn't like the crowds at gigs. This is perfect. Don't you think he'll like it?"

"I think he'll love it," Mikey says, looking at Frank over the top of his glasses. Frank hates it when he does that; it's like he can see into your mind. "But I don't know where you're gonna get a boat."

"I'm working on it." Well, Ray's working on it, but whatever.

Mikey folds his arms and hunches his shoulders. "Frank, I don't know."

"Mikey, please." Frank leans over and grabs his hand. "You can bring whatsherface, Eyeliner."

"Alicia," Mikey says, face breaking into that stupid soft grin he gets whenever he talks about her.

Frank holds onto his hand and pulls out his absolute number one pleading face, the one he reserves for his mother and the little brothers of people he's in love with. "Please?"

Mikey gives Frank this look, suddenly, like really fucking piercing and careful, like he's looking for something. Frank doesn't know what it is so he can't make sure it's there, or try to fake it. He just stares back and eventually Mikey says, "Okay, Frank. I'm in."

*** "Did she say yes?"

"I couldn't just come right out and ask her," Ray hisses, although Frank doesn't know why he's whispering because he doesn't have to make sure Gerard doesn't hear. "I've got to sweeten her up first."

"Sweeten her faster!" Frank stands on tiptoe and peers around the door to make sure Gerard's still occupied by the TV. "Come on, bat your fucking eyelashes or something, can't you?"

Ray makes a spluttery, exasperated noise. "She already looks at me like I'm a piece of prime rib! I don't want to encourage her anymore than is strictly necessary!"

"Why are you whispering?" Frank hears Bob say in the background.

"Because Frank is," Ray says defensively. Then to Frank, "Look, I'll ask her straight out tomorrow after Tommy's lesson, all right?"

"Make sure we can have it all of Friday night," Frank reminds him. "And if Gerard asks you to help him move-"

"Tell him we're busy until Sunday, I know, I know." Ray goes quiet a second, then says, "Frank-"

"Gotta go, he's coming," Frank says, and hangs up as Gerard comes into the kitchen. "Hey, man."

"Hey." Gerard moves past Frank and opens the fridge. "Who were you talking to?"

Frank can't think quick enough to make something up, so he says, "Ray."

Gerard frowns. "Really? I left him two messages earlier and he didn't call me back."

"You know Ray, he probably forgot." That's like a giant lie; Ray never forgets to call anybody back. Frank distracts Gerard by asking, "So, when exactly were you planning to move out?"

"Um, Saturday I guess?" Gerard's still looking uncertainly at the phone. "I was gonna ask Ray and Bob to help."

Frank shrugs and slips past Gerard into the living room. "I'm busy on Saturday," he calls back to the kitchen, pressing his palms against his cheeks to make sure he's not flushing and giving the whole thing away. "But if you wanted to wait until Sunday, I could give you a hand."

Gerard comes into the living room holding two cans of Coke. He tosses one to Frank. "Well, I'll see what Ray says, I guess."

"Okay, but I'm pretty sure they have plans too."

"Oh." Gerard stands there looking a little lost. Frank feels a little bad, but not enough to come clean. It'll be worth it in the end. "Well, I have work to do."

"Sure," Frank agrees easily, watching him as he shuffles out of the front door. Then he lunges for the phone again and dials. "Mikey? It's me. Make sure Gerard doesn't have plans for Friday night, okay? Ray's moving ahead with Operation Abuse Rich Older Woman's Crush."

Mikey groans. "Frank, he's asked me twice if he can come over. What am I supposed to say?"

"Tell him you're getting laid. That's what you always tell me."

"He's my brother," Mikey stresses. "Bros before hos!"

A voice in the background says, "Oh, Mikey Way you did not just call me what I think you did."

Mikey says, "Shit, Frank, I gotta go."

"No plans for Friday!" Frank repeats and Mikey says, "Fine, FINE!" and hangs up.

Frank runs upstairs and pushes open the door to the box room. The place is pretty much a dumping ground for everything he can't find a place for anywhere else, and he has to haul boxes and shit around while he's looking for his camping stuff. Frank's not actually huge on camping (as a kid his Mom thought the risk of him getting sick was too high, and as an adult the idea of being away from a hot shower that long doesn't exactly fill him with joy) but he's got a sleeping bag and a tent somewhere, he's pretty sure. Another well-meant but totally inappropriate gift from his Dad, probably.

He's tugged his sleeping bag out from under a box of Stephen King books and is wiping the dust off what looks like some kind of collapsible water heater/filter…thing, when movement outside catches his eye.

He picks his way carefully over to the window and watches Gerard move around on the driveway, leaning close to the boat and then taking big steps backwards and holding something up to measure against his thumb, one eye closed and his mouth curled up to one side.

I love you, Frank thinks, simple as that. It's such a weird feeling to have when there's no 'I love you too' to count on, like waking up on a rollercoaster with no memory of getting on. Frank's sort of sick of feeling desperate and twisted up inside with longing all the time, the fizzing in his stomach every time Gerard smiles and the ache in his chest every time he doesn't. He feels a little better now he has a Plan, though, some positive action going. At the very least, Frank wants to put an end to all this moving out bullshit.

Probably, Frank thinks as he lugs his stuff into his bedroom to hide it under the bed - not in the closet, because awkward silences or no, Gerard still has no hesitation about borrowing Frank's shoes - probably it's a little crazy that he can't just let it go. It'd probably be easier to get over wanting Gerard if he wasn't living in the same house anyway, but the thing is, the idea of not having Gerard around at all is so much worse than just not being able to have him around in a way that involves nudity.

Plus sometimes, when he thinks Frank isn't paying attention, Gerard gets this look on his face, this careful blankness like the exact halfway point between one expression and another: happy and sad, accusing and remorseful, dreamy and fucking morose. Frank does not claim to be an expert on body language, but that's got to mean something. It's got to mean something.

And if Frank has to organise a surprise ghostbusting boat trip to find out what it is, well, so be it. He's never claimed to be subtle.

***

"Where the fuck are you? It's eight o' clock already, man."

"I fucking know that!" Frank peeks out of the box room window to check - yep, Gerard's still working. "I can't interrupt him when he's working, man, he really hates that."

"He interrupts me when I'm working all the time," Mikey points out. "Here, Ray wants to talk to you."

"No, no, Mikey don't-" Frank sighs when Ray comes on the line with a heartfelt 'Hello, asswipe.' "Hi, Ray."

"Seriously, it's cold as balls out here. And it's fucking dark. We're gonna be on a boat in the dark."

Frank gnaws on his nails and looks out of the window again. Still working. "It can't be that much harder than in the light, can it?"

"Oh, because you know so much about boats, right?" Ray covers the phone and says something to someone in the background. Then he comes back to Frank and says, "Can't you just go and get him?"

"I don't know why he's even working this late." Frank slides down the wall and pulls his knees up to his chest. "He never works this late on a Friday."

"Probably because you made everyone he knows blow him off," Bob says, because of how him and Ray are now actually the same person. "Come on, Iero, it's dark already. He can't be creating great works of devastating genius if he can't fucking see."

Frank puts his head on his knees. "Yeah, I guess. All right, I'll do my best."

"Just get him down here," Bob insists, and hangs up.

Frank stays where he is with his head on his knees for a while, his stomach churning with nerves and anticipation and dread. He'd snuck up in the attic earlier and all Gerard's stuff was in boxes, his desk dismantled, his bookshelves empty and stacked together. The walls were clear, all Gerard's drawings packed away, and there weren't even any art supplies lying around because the ones Gerard was using for the boat were living in the garage. The only thing left was the bed.

It was terrible. The thought makes Frank uncurl and stand up and go downstairs. He pauses in the doorway for a minute, watching Gerard sing the wrong words to Run to the Hills while he mixes paint around on a piece of old board.

"And tasting the men," Gerard warbles, oblivious to his audience. "The homies who're into me are lame."

God, what a dweeb. Frank waits for Gerard to shimmy closer, then reaches out and snags his headphones. "Hey, Sinatra, you got a minute?"

Gerard whirls around and blue paint flies off the loaded brush in his hand and spatters Frank's white T-shirt from collar to hem. "Oh, shit! Shit, I'm sorry. You scared me."

"Yeah, how's it feel?" Frank grins, looking down at himself. "Shit, man, I look like I murdered a Smurf."

"I'm so sorry." Gerard reaches out jerkily and then pulls his hand back before it touches Frank. "Sorry, Frankie."

Frank waves his hand and steps out onto the driveway. The board in the living room window stops any real light from spilling outside, so Gerard's been working in the feeble light from the bare bulb in the garage. Frank can just make out an octopus-shaped creature on the side of the boat, its tentacles curling up towards the front. "Nice octopus."

Gerard looks over at the boat and blinks, like he's surprised it's there. "Oh! Oh, it's not an octopus. It's a squid."

"Yeah, same thing."

"Actually, that's a common mistake," Gerard says knowingly. "Squids have two tentacles as well as eight arms, and they have fins, and their tentacles have hooks, and -"

Frank holds his hands up. "I believe you, I believe you. Jesus, where do you get this shit?"

"I read," Gerard says defensively. "For research."

"Uh huh." Frank tries to shove his hands in his pockets and immediately gets paint all over his forearms. "Shit. Will this wash off, or do I need like, paint thinner?"

Gerard goes into the garage and rummages around, then comes back with a bottle of baby oil. "Use this," he says, thrusting it into Frank's hands. "It's easier on your skin. You'll probably have to throw that shirt out, though. Or you could give it to me."

A person can't just get dropped headfirst into a whirpool of thoughts involving Gerard, baby oil, and the removal of clothing and then be expected to make actual words, so Frank just stares. Gerard makes a thoughtful face, obviously re-running what he just said, then raises both eyebrows and makes his eyes really wide and waves his hands around, shaking them no no no.

"I mean I could use it to paint in! Not - not anything else. I don't like, go around throwing paint on people so I can steal their clothes. It's probably too small for me anyway. Not that you're little! I mean you are little, but, okay." Gerard steps - literally - into the shadows, backing out of the light from the garage. "I'm going to stop talking now."

Frank snaps out of his fantasy and dumps the stupid baby oil on the lawn and darts forward and grabs Gerard's hands, both to calm him down and also to stop himself getting smacked in the face during all the flailing. "Dude. Breathe. It's fine. It's fine."

Gerard makes a pained noise and tosses his head around, but he doesn't pull out of Frank's grip. He looks down at their hands and mutters something that Frank can't hear, then looks up at Frank's face. "I'm weird when I get interrupted. It's like a different plane of existence, sometimes. It takes me a while to like, come back and remember other people can hear what I'm saying."

Frank wavers between rolling his eyes and wincing guiltily. The guilt wins out. "I know, man, I'm sorry. I can go back inside-"

"No, no, I don't mind." Gerard squeezes Frank's hands and then drops them immediately like they're burning him. "I mean, it's fine. What - did you want something? Am I making too much noise?"

His eyes are huge and he's chewing his bottom lip and all but wringing his hands and Frank wants to kiss him so bad it hurts and then he just starts laughing, suddenly, at how fucking ridiculous everything is. Gerard just makes a resigned face, all 'the joke's on me again' which just makes Frank laugh harder, and he has to flap his hand at Gerard and choke out, "I'm not laughing at you, man, just give me a minute here."

Gerard stands there watching while Frank cough and giggles and tries to get a grip. Then he turns his head and says, "Hi, Mr. Wilkinson."

Frank looks over and the neighbour with the dog is standing there, both of them watching Frank and Gerard with their heads tilted at the exact same angle.

"Gerard," he says, tipping his hat. "How goes the painting?"

"Good, thanks, how are you?" Gerard walks over and crouches down to pet the dog. "Hi, Rosie."

Okay, so while Frank's been running around trying to organise surprise boat trips (and shit, the guys are still waiting for them) apparently Gerard's been busy making friends with the world - well, a neighbour - and his dog. And he knows their names. That settles it. Gerard absolutely cannot move out.

"I thought you'd be in your new place by now," Mr. Wilkinson's saying to Gerard. "My offer to help still stands. My son has a van."

"Oh, thanks, but my friends are gonna help me on Sunday, I think." Gerard stands up again and takes a few steps back.

Mr. Wilkinson says, "Well, good luck," and tips his hat again and walks on. Frank waves quickly because he doesn't want to look like an asshole. Then he decides he's had enough of all this stuttering and awkwardness and says to Gerard,

"So, if you're not too busy throwing paint at innocent bystanders, I kind of have a surprise."

***

Gerard's a pain in the ass all the way to meet the guys. He keeps saying, "What is it? What is it?" and then making anxious noises when Frank won't tell him, then saying, "What is it?" again like Frank's going to have changed his mind about telling him during the intervening thirty seconds.

Frank's original plan was to have the boat like, opposite his house, hidden by the bushes, and then everyone could jump out all 'Surprise!' but Ray said he wasn't putting his feet in the lake for anyone, so unless Frank was planning to carry him out to the boat, they were going to wait by the dock.

Also, Mikey made a face over the jumping and yelling. Frank let it go, though, because apparently Alicia knows how to drive - sail? Captain? Whatever - a boat, so he was kind of integral to the plan.

Frank tells Gerard to close his eyes when they get close, but he doesn't trust Gerard not to peek so he makes him put on Frank's old beanie hat and tugs it down over Gerard's eyes to make sure.

"I feel like I'm on the news," Gerard comments as they pull up. "Grainy footage of me being taken hostage. You're going to torture me for information."

"Information about what, fucking squids?" Frank jumps out and waves to the guys, standing in a little huddle by the edge of the water. Ray gives him the finger and then makes an exaggerated tapping gesture on his wrist.

Frank runs around to the passenger side and opens the door. "All right, watch your step."

"I can't see," Gerard complains, and he holds tight to Frank's hands as he climbs out of the car. "Seriously, I feel like I'm about to get shot."

"Oh, ye of little fucking faith." Frank leads Gerard down to where there's a good view of the guys and the truck and the boat on the trailer and motions at the guys to be quiet. "Okay, keep your eyes closed!"

Gerard makes another querulous little noise, and Frank yanks the beanie off his head. "Surprise!"

Gerard blinks and stares and blinks some more. Then he breathes, "Oh, my God. Is this what I think it is?"

"Yes!" Frank jumps up and down a bit, grinning. "We're gonna be ghostbusters."

Gerard laughs and like claps his hands over his mouth and shakes his head. "Dude," he says, all muffled. "Dude!"

Frank says, "I know!" and gives the guys a big thumbs-up. Mikey and Alicia are both grinning and even Ray and Bob are wearing grudging smiles. Frank says, "Okay, give me a hand getting the stuff out of the car."

"Stuff?" Gerard says, and his eyes get even wider when Frank pops the trunk. "Are we camping?"

"Yeah, man, fire, marshmallows, the whole bit. I even printed off a bunch of information about those girls." Frank shoves the sleeping bags into Gerard's hands and raises an eyebrow at his surprised face. "What, you're the only one who can do research?"

They haul their kit down to the truck; Bob gets in and backs it down to the water, Alicia shouting orders and waving her arms around.

"Her uncle has a boat," Mikey tells them, grinning stupidly. "She knows like a bunch about it. She's awesome."

Gerard gets a weird look on his face, eyes darting between Mikey and Frank. "That's great, man," he says quietly to Mikey.

Frank doesn't know what his deal is, maybe some Way-brothers backstory he's not aware of, so he goes down to watch Alicia boss Ray and Bob around while they get the boat unhooked and into the water.

"Grab the dockline!" she's saying, jabbing her mittened hand towards a coil of rope. "And knot it with a cleat hitch. No, no, like this."

She tugs the mittens off with her teeth and shoves Bob out of the way, bending down to do it herself. Bob stands back but watches intently, and his hands twitch like he's memorising the actions.

Gerard appears at Frank's elbow and laughs at Bob's stern concentrating face. "You still on a mission to become the next MacGyver, Bob?"

"He can already do anything with a roll of duct tape," Ray pipes up. He's wearing a hat and his hair sticks out horizontally underneath. "Next up are homemade defibrillators."

"With the candlestick holders!" Alicia smiles, looking up from the rope. "I fucking loved that episode."

Mikey sidles past and grabs Alicia around the waist, hauling her up straight so her toes don't touch the ground. It's weird to see Mikey all animated and crazy about someone; Frank's used to him rationing out movement and facial expressions like there's a national shortage. "Are we getting this show on the water? I wanna see ghosts."

"You might not be able to see them," Gerard tells him, stepping out of the way to let Ray come past with an armload of stuff. "I don't know if they'll manifest that way, you know, corporeally."

Bob's torn himself away from his pursuit of rope-knowledge and is helping Ray load stuff into the boat. Ray's picking through a bag, frowning. "You bought hotdogs but no hotdog buns? How are we supposed to eat them?"

"I bought white bread," Bob says, tossing a sleeping bag into the boat. "I don't know, it seemed like what you'd eat on a camping trip."

"You didn't get ketchup either," Ray complains, putting his hands on his hips. "Or chocolate."

"You didn't bring chocolate?" Frank says, appalled. His vision of camping utopia is crumbling before his eyes. "How can we make smores?"

Bob raises an eyebrow at him. "Ray's better at food stuff than I am."

"I had to whore myself out for the goddam boat!" Ray says shrilly. He turns on Frank and points his finger accusingly. "You should have done the food! This was your idea, and you were late."

"We were late?" Gerard has put Frank's hat back on. His hair doesn't stick out, but his cheeks are pink from the cold. "Why didn't you just come get me earlier?"

Frank shrugs. "You don't like to be interrupted when you're working," he says, and then he has a horrible thought and asks Bob anxiously, "You got vegetarian stuff, though, right?"

Bob rolls his eyes. "Hell yes. I'm not spending the night on an island with you if you're only running on marshmallow."

"Oh, well, of course. You remember Frank's creepy fake meat but not chocolate." Ray heads back to the pile of gear on the dock and looks at Frank and Gerard. "You know, if your arms aren't actually broken, you could maybe help us with this stuff. If it's not too much trouble."

Nobody asks Mikey to help - there's no point, as Frank knows all too well, although Mikey does volunteer to be in charge of marshmallows - and he and Alicia stand there whispering, all wrapped up together. Frank gets a weird sick bitter feeling in his throat and it takes a while for him to identify it as jealousy. Maybe inviting two couples along wasn't such a great idea - but Frank remembers he had some vague notion that it would mean Gerard had no choice but to let Frank curl up to him for warmth.

Of course, then the plan was for everyone else to magically disappear and Gerard to…Frank doesn't even know, get overwhelmed by ghosts or the cold or something and then Frank would be all understanding, and then…well, he can't remember the rest of the fantasy because he'd already started jerking off by that point and so the memory of his train of thought is more than a little unclear. But he knows it ended with nudity and Gerard not moving out.

Once the stuff's loaded onto the boat, they all climb in and Alicia licks her finger and holds it up in the air. "The wind's moving away from the dock," she announces, "So we have to cast off the bow and stern line at the same time."

Everyone just stares at her blankly and she rolls her eyes. "Untie both the ropes."

Not only does Alicia know about boats; she also unearths a bunch of ketchup packets from the bottom of her bag. Mikey crows and uses it as an excuse to put his tongue down her throat, and Gerard gives Frank another one of those nervous looks, which, seriously, what?

"I think Alicia's out-MacGyvering you, Bob," Ray grins, counting the ketchup packets and dividing them into six. "At least where condiments are concerned."

Bob's sitting next to him with his foot resting on the opposite knee, hands deep in his pockets. His scarf is around his face so it's muffled when he says, "I'd still win in a duct-tape contest, though."

Ray laughs goofily and knocks Bob's knee with his own. Frank gets jealous again and turns to Gerard, who's reading the pages Frank printed out with Bob's tiny flashlight.

"I don't know how to feel," he says when he notices Frank watching him. His eyebrows are all scrunched up together and he's chewing the inside of his mouth, making his chin dimple and his bottom lip stick out, the bastard. "Like, I'm actually really scared that they'll be there and I won't be able to help. You know?"

"I-" Frank starts, but Gerard carries on.

"But then on the other hand if they're not there, I should probably be like relieved because then they're not like trapped between worlds, or whatever?" Gerard scratches his nose and the flashlight shines directly into Frank's eyes and leaves him blinking and blind for a second. "But then I'd also feel sort of disappointed. But maybe that's really selfish? And you went to all this trouble, too…"

He trails off and peers anxiously at the notes and then back up at Frank. Frank pretty much doesn't believe in ghosts, or at least he's never come across one before, but Gerard's so earnest about it that it's hard not to get caught up.

"It wasn't any trouble," he says firmly, and then jerks his head in Ray's direction and grins. "Well, not for me, anyway."

Gerard laughs and looks down at his notes again; a piece of hair has escaped from the hat and is dangling in front of his eyes. Frank gives in to the urge to push it behind his ear.

"If they're not there, you can tell us ghost stories around the fire - fun ones, okay - and we'll eat Bob's crappy chocolate-free smores." He leaves his fingers against Gerard's skin for a few seconds longer than necessary - Gerard doesn't seem to notice. "And if they are there, well, after fifteen years of hanging out and screaming, even sub-standard smores will probably calm them down."

Gerard thinks about it for a second, then nods and smiles. "Yeah. Yeah, okay, Frankie."

"Gerard, dude, look at me," Mikey calls from the front of the boat, striking a pose. He's wearing a stupid little white hat he's got from somewhere. "I'm First Mate!"

Ray makes an anxious face. "Was that on the boat? Mikey, don't mess with Mrs. Prunille's stuff!"

"He's probably okay," Bob says thoughtfully. "It doesn't have any wires."

Alicia laughs and takes one hand off the wheel to push Mikey's hat to an angle. "I think you look cute!"

"I think you look like an idiot," Gerard says, but he's grinning. Mikey ignores all of them and moves up behind Alicia, putting his hands on top of hers. Gerard makes a funny little contented sound, and then busts out the anxious glance at Frank for the millionth time.

"Dude, what?" Frank says, but then Ray asks Gerard to tell Bob the story of Ray getting lost at the Maritime Museum during one of their high-school field trips. Frank's heard it so he zones out and watches the black water and the cloudy, orange-tinted sky, and by the time they reach the island, Gerard's still talking.

"And then he said, 'I don't even like fish!" Gerard says in a high squeaky voice, and Bob's completely gone, laughing into his hands, shoulders shaking. "Oh, man. He found fish sticks in his locker for like three months after that."

"Yeah, don't think I don't know who put them there, either," Ray grumbles, but he's totally laughing too. Frank sort of wishes he'd listened to the story now, too.

Ray makes Mikey leave his hat on the boat ("You don't need to be First Mate during shore leave," Alicia assures him) and they get the thing parked, or moored or whatever, and start piling their gear onto the island.

It's pretty small - you can't see all the way around, or anything, especially because of all the trees - and it's dead quiet, in that weird way where there's no cars or background noise at all. There's a strange smell, musty underneath the fresh scent of the water and the breeze. It still doesn't seem like the kind of place ghosts would hang out, really. Frank's always associated them more with big mansions and graveyards. And you know. Fiction.

Gerard stands in the boat for a minute after the rest of them are on dry land, staring.

"I can't hear anything," he says, pulling the hat off and twisting his fingers in it. "Can you hear anything?"

"No screaming so far," Frank agrees. Gerard looks disappointed so Frank says, "Maybe they're shy. They need to sense that we're friendly, or something."

"Maybe." Gerard hops down and walks up to where Mikey and Bob are bickering over the best way to start a fire.

"We need to find, like, kindling," Bob insists, and Frank takes that as his cue to jump on Bob's back without any warning. Bob just catches him under the knees and says, "I'm always expecting it, Iero," in a bored voice.

They leave the guys setting up - well, Ray and Gerard. Alicia and Mikey are back to cling-and-whisper mode - and Bob carries Frank into the trees a little way. When he tries to set him down, Frank clings and says, "There might be spiders!"

"Yeah, well, if I have to try bending down to pick up twigs with you on top of me, there might be a cracked skull." Bob shakes him off and Frank hops gingerly around, trying to find a patch of ground that looks safe to stand on.

He's too scared to actually grub around on the floor with his hands, so Bob does it and Frank carries the growing bundle of twigs, after Bob's checked each and every one for spiders and cobwebs and possible spider eggs. It's even quieter in here, without the lapping sound from the lake; it feels like they're the only people alive. What the fuck was Frank thinking, coming in here with Bob? He should have brought Gerard. Gerard might not be able to carry him, though. And also Frank doesn't think he could seduce somebody and look out for spiders at the same time. Probably he'd try to kiss Gerard and a spider would drop directly onto his face and then he'd die. And always associate kissing Gerard with spiders. And screaming. And death.

"I don't think there's any ghosts," Bob says after a while. He frowns at a small branch and discards it.

"Yeah," Frank agrees. "Or if there are, they're not too bright. We're like, separated from the group. If this was a movie, the horror would be starting right about now."

On cue, there's a loud crack and an ominous rustling noise and a sudden gust of wind, and Frank drops the fucking twigs and leaps straight into Bob's arms. "Fuck! Bob, fuck, did you hear that? Oh my God, Bob, we're going to fucking die. Bob!"

"My name isn't a protection spell," Bob points out, and then he rolls his eyes and says, "For fuck's sake, Gerard, wear a fucking bell or something."

"Sorry," Gerard says, standing a little way off and looking anything but remorseful. He's grinning. "Apparently my purpose in life is to scare the shit out of Frank all the time."

Bob bends down and starts gathering the sticks again. "Did you come to make sure we weren't being attacked by dead girls?"

"Actually, I came to tell you Ray's like…Mikey's forgotten the tent pegs or something..." Gerard looks back towards the shore. "I don't know, it seems like a big deal. Ray's hair is pretty huge."

Bob says, "Got it," and sets off determinedly with the bundle of twigs under his arm.

Frank stuffs his hands in his pockets and rocks on his feet a little, watching Gerard. Gerard looks back and doesn't say anything, and it's really quiet and they're all alone so Frank says, "Come here."

"What," Gerard says, but he comes, cracking more twigs under his feet. He stops about a foot from Frank and says, "Do you want to like, I mean, I thought maybe we could look around the island."

"Sure," Frank nods, flinching when something moves to his left, but it's just a leaf. "Do you want to get the other guys?"

"No," Gerard says simply, and Frank bites down hard on his lip so the stupid giddy feeling he gets won't manifest itself as a giant smile.

They walk in silence through the rest of the trees and come out on the other side; the island's not quite in the centre of the lake so the mainland seems further away from this side, little lights shining in the dark. It looks really pretty from far away, when you can't see the dirt and the grime. Frank kind of loves the dirt and the grime too, though. Wouldn't be Jersey without it.

"I think you're right," Gerard says softly, when they've been standing there looking out for a few moments. "I don't think there are ghosts here."

He doesn't sound upset about it; in fact when Frank sneaks a glance at his face, he looks pretty peaceful. "Gerard," he says, but Gerard says, "Frank," at the same time and they both crack up and motion for the other to go first.

"No, seriously, go ahead," Gerard insists, but Frank's stubborn and he makes a buttoning gesture over his mouth and shakes his head. Gerard rolls his eyes. "Fine. I was just gonna say, you know, thanks. For this. I don't even know why you would."

Frank's heart is banging in his chest; he has to move so he paces a little further out, feeling like this might be easier if he's not standing right next to Gerard with his skin all pale and soft-looking and his stupid mouth all pursed up like a giant neon sign that says 'KISS ME'. There's a load of driftwood and pebbles in a heap right on the shore; Frank picks his way over it, holding his arms out for balance. "You wanted to see for yourself," he calls back to Gerard. "Now you don't have to worry about the girls anymore."

"I know, but it's so, like, thoughtful." Gerard sighs, a short, frustrated sound. "I feel like I've been an asshole."

Frank remembers thinking Gerard had been an asshole too, but right now he feels like they might be fucking getting somewhere at last. He keeps his back to Gerard and says, "Why?"

There's a long pause. When Gerard speaks again, he sounds closer. "Because you were so nice, you know, giving me somewhere to live, and everything, and then I - I made things weird, and I don't know how to fix it."

Frank turns around carefully, his sneakers slip a little on the wet wood, but he catches himself in time. His mouth is dry and he has to chew his tongue a little to work up some moisture before he says, "I thought I made things weird."

"What? No," Gerard frowns and shakes his head. "It was totally me, and I'm sorry. But I don't want this, you know," he makes a jerky hand motion, towards Frank and back to himself, "I don't want this."

Well, fuck. Gerard sure knows how to let a guy down like a lead fucking balloon. Frank hugs himself a little and says, "You know, for an artist, you're not particularly sensitive."

"But I am, Frank, that's the whole point!" Gerard comes a few stuttering steps forward and holds his hands out. "Would you come down from there? You're gonna fall."

"I'm not gonna fall," Frank snaps, inching backwards, out of Gerard's reach, and then his feet skid right out front under him and he crashes into a really fucking painful backwards somersault, pebbles and planks crunching under his skull, scraping over his spine and he flips right over and lies in the shallow, freezing water, gaping up at the sky and clenching his fists until he can get his lungs to open up and accept air again.

Gerard crashes down into the water next to him, his knees sending a wave of water right over Frank's face and it makes Frank choke while he's trying to sit up and wipe his face and breathe all at the same time. "Frank, Frankie, Frank are you okay? Oh my God, did you break something? Are you all right? Can you hear me? Frank!"

Frank flaps a hand at him to let him know he's alive, and Gerard grabs him around the shoulders and hauls him into a sitting position, still babbling 'oh my God' and 'Frank' over and over. He puts his hand on Frank's face and pushes his soaking wet hair out of his eyes and holds up his other hand. "How many fingers?"

"None," Frank chokes, moving his legs gingerly to make sure they're not broken. Gerard makes a horrified face so Frank clarifies, "You're making a fist."

"What?" Gerard looks at his hand. "Oh. Well, at least you could tell. Who's in the White House?"

"An asshole," Frank quotes, and Gerard smiles and kind of collapses forward, wrapping both arms around Frank's shoulders and rocking him a little bit, side to side. Frank works out how to get his arms moving and clings on to the back of Gerard's hoodie. He's warm, he's always so warm and Frank pushes his face into Gerard's neck and just tries to breathe and tries not to think about anything.

He can't help wincing when Gerard's hand touches the back of his neck. "Fuck." He must have scraped all the fucking skin off.

"Sorry," Gerard says quickly, and he lets go of Frank but stays close, peering into his face. "Shit, you could have broken your neck."

"I've had worse," Frank says, pushing at Gerard until he stands up and Frank can grab his hand and pull himself upright. His legs and back and hair are totally soaked; the frigid water runs down inside his shirt and jeans and makes him shiver violently. He reaches up and touches the back of his head gently, and checks his fingers for blood. There isn't any. "Fuck. Ray and Bob are gonna have a fucking field day."

They hurry back to the other side, partly because Frank's fucking freezing and needs to get to a fire and some dry clothes, but also because now the whole whoops-I-almost-died-again thing is over, the conversation from before hits Frank's memory like a humiliating train and the last thing he wants to do is be alone with Gerard.

He can't figure out how he's managed to get this so wrong. Again. Either Frank has gone his whole life without ever realising that he's seriously mentally deficient, or Gerard just has some fucked-up sociopathic desire to play with peoples' emotions, and Frank doesn't actually know which would be worse.

Gerard shoots him little worried glances and keeps asking if he's sure he's okay, but eventually he lapses into silence too and they just walk grimly through the trees, Frank too focused on the hot throb of pain from the scrapes on his back to freak out about the possible spiders, even. Well, to freak out about them too much.

"Oh, no," Ray says when they emerge. He's sitting by the fire with Bob, drinking a beer. In his other hand he has a stick with a marshmallow on it, which he points at Frank. "Do not tell me you fell in the water, Frank. I'm too young to have the best day of my life already."

Frank has never been less in the mood for Ray's particular brand of bitchiness, and he's about to say so but then Ray says, "You're not actually hurt, though, right?" so Frank just gives him the finger and steals his marshmallow.

Gerard heads over to Mikey and they begin one of those conversations that's conducted entirely in eyebrows, Mikey murmuring translations to Alicia, who gives Frank an interested look out the corner of her eye. Frank turns his back so he won't scowl at her - it isn't her fault - and struggles into a dry T-shirt and the sweatpants he brought just in case. The material on his shirt clings uncomfortably to the scraped places on his back, and then he realises he doesn't have another hoodie. "Fuck."

"You can wear mine," Gerard says, getting up. Frank waves him off but he pulls the hoodie over his head anyway and comes over to Frank, holding it out. "Come on, Frank, you're gonna freeze."

"There's a fire," Frank points out sulkily. "I'll be fine."

"But-" Gerard protests, but Frank really doesn't want to hear it.

"I don't need your hoodie," he says sharply, pushing past. He feels like enough of an idiot as it is, without accepting pity-clothing. He doesn't know what he's more mad about - that he's been wasting his time mooning around over such an insensitive prick, or that he still wants to kiss Gerard's stupid anxious face despite the fact that he's an insensitive prick.

He goes and sits by Mikey just to be spiteful, and Gerard wavers for a minute, shoulders drawn up, his facial expression unreadable in the firelight, before he walks over and sits down next to Ray.

The heat from the fire warms Frank's face and chest, but his arms are covered in prickly gooseflesh and he presses close to Mikey's side, trying to suppress the violent shivers that go through him every time his hair drips down the back of his neck. Alicia leans across and offers him a marshmallow. Frank loves Alicia.

There's no noise except the crackle of the fire for a minute, and then Ray clears his throat and says, "Well!" loudly, but before he can get anything else out, Gerard interrupts him.

"At least get a blanket or a sleeping bag or something, Frank, for fuck's sake."

"I'm fine," Frank grits out, not looking at him.

"I can feel you shivering from here," Alicia says. Frank hates Alicia.

"You're gonna get sick again," Gerard presses. He still hasn't put his hoodie back on, he's holding it balled up in his lap. "Frank, you could get pneumonia."

"I'm not gonna get pneumonia."

"You do sometimes get pneumonia," Mikey chimes in.

Then Bob says, "I'm not driving your ass to the hospital again, okay, my dashboard never recovered from that alien being you hacked up."

"Just put the hoodie on, Frank," Ray says reasonably, and Frank jumps to his feet and yells,

"I don't want the fucking hoodie, okay, nobody fucking asked you, Toro!"

There's another silence, this one broken by Bob saying evenly, "You asked him to get you a boat."

Fuck. "Sorry," Frank mutters. He is, and he's also now even more pissed off because he looks like an asshole.

He wishes he could get away, from Ray and Bob and Mikey and Alicia and most of all Gerard. This was the worst idea ever. It's not like he can just call a cab. Maybe, he thinks, eyeing the water, maybe he could swim home? No, his lungs would probably collapse just from the cold. He wishes he was a six feet tall bald-headed swimmer. Or rich, so he could call his helicopter to come get him. Or Jesus. Jesus could walk it.

There's not even any doors to slam. Frank hates his life.

Ray shrugs. "Forget about it. Just put the hoodie on so you don't freeze to death and have to spend the afterlife thinking about what an asshole you were."

Gerard stands up and holds the hoodie out with this ridiculous hopeful expression on his face.

"I don't need it," Frank repeats, even though he's freezing and he knows he's being a dick. Once his stubborn side gets a hold of him, it takes something really big to shake it. Bigger than a hoodie.

"You're shivering," Gerard says, and he steps forward and tries to, Frank doesn't even know, push the hoodie into Frank's hands or maybe he's going to try and put it on him, and he slaps Gerard's hands away harder than he meant to.

The hoodie falls on the ground and Frank asks Gerard, "Why do you even care?"

Gerard's forehead creases and he says, "Of course I care, Frank, don't be stupid, come on-"

"Yeah, insulting my intelligence is the way to go."

"I wasn't-"

"I don't want your hoodie!"

"Fine!" Gerard yells suddenly, windmilling his arms around. "What the fuck do you want?"

"I want to know why you're moving out!"

Gerard goes still and he glances at the other guys (all watching, because they are assholes, with giant eyes and rapt expressions. Alicia's mouth is actually hanging open) before saying quietly, "You know why."

"I want you to say it," Frank insists, folding his arms. His stomach's cramping painfully with anger and anxiety and he's pretty sure his teeth are going to start chattering soon. "I want you to fucking say it, all right."

"You want to have this conversation here?" Gerard's voice rises again, and Frank thinks that's it, that's his out, that's his chance to avoid letting all his friends know about how Frank can't keep his hands to himself.

He doesn't take it. Frank may be a sex maniac, but Gerard's a dickhead.

"Yes," he says, staring Gerard square in the eyes. "I want to have it here."

"All right." Gerard folds his own arms, his jaw working furiously. It occurs to Frank that he's never actually seen Gerard get mad before. It's interesting - he's still pale, but he's got these spots of colour burning high on his cheeks and he's rolling his eyes like every other second. "Let's do it. Let's talk about how hard it is to live in a house with someone you want and can't have. How hard it is to see them every day and not be able to touch them. How hard it is to be in love with someone who's in love with someone else. You of all people should understand that!"

Frank would love to tell Gerard he's totally overestimating how into him Frank is, but they'd both know it was a pathetic lie. And also, what? Gerard's in love with someone now? Probably that fucking Creepy Danny guy. Wow, how great was this idea to have this conversation in front of everyone? Now they all know how pathetic Frank is. Awesome. "I can take it," he grits out, even though now he wants Gerard to move out, Christ.

"I can't," Gerard says seriously, his mouth turned down at the corners. "It's too hard."

"What do you think I'm going to do?" Frank shouts, balling his hands up and digging his nails hard into his palms. "Fucking take advantage of you in your sleep? That's more your area, isn't it?"

Gerard rocks back like he's been slapped and Frank actually hears Ray gasp.

"You what?" Mikey says incredulously, eyebrows higher on his forehead than Frank's ever seen them. "Dude, no fucking way. Gerard wouldn't do that."

"It was an accident!" Gerard says desperately, wringing his hands. "I was asleep too!"

"God," Alicia breathes, clutching Mikey's hand. "I am so glad I met you, baby. This is better than TV."

Bob laughs, trying and failing to cover it up with a lame fake cough. "Sorry," he offers, when Frank turns on him. "It's just - you were in the same bed?"

"I couldn't sleep," Gerard says miserably.

Ray coughs delicately. "Apparently you could."

Gerard makes a pained sound and covers his face with his hands, rocking back and forth a little bit. Frank steps forward before he knows what he's doing - Gerard's not going to cry, please, God, - and as soon as he touches Gerard's arm, Gerard looks up, eyes all big and crazy, and says, "Why would you be taking advantage of me?"

"Who else would I be taking advantage of?" Frank says, mentally waving the last of his dignity goodbye.

"I," Gerard stops and looks uncertainly at Mikey, then back at Frank. His mouth works soundlessly for a minute. "You - but I thought-"

"Oh. My. God." Mikey beams hugely and points at Gerard with both hands. "You think Frank's in love with me!"

There's a silence, during which Gerard makes a face like someone just burned all his paintings in front of him, then everyone except Gerard says, "What?"

"Dude, as if!" Frank says, clutching harder at Gerard. Alicia makes an angry sound and Frank nods distractedly at Mikey. "No offense, man."

"None taken," Mikey says cheerfully.

"But you're always talking about him," Gerard says doubtfully, staring wildly at Frank. "You sleep at his house. You keep clothes there."

Frank shakes his head desperately, his chest filling up with bubbles of pure fucking relief and tentative joy. "He's my best friend!"

"You gave me a whole speech!" Gerard says, pushing Frank away and making his mad face again. "You gave me a whole speech about office romances!"

"That was a metaphor!"

"Oh, hey," Bob says, pointing at Gerard. "You love those."

"I can't believe you thought I was in love with Mikey," Frank says. He doesn't try to touch Gerard because he's still all windmill-y, but it's a fucking struggle. "I can't believe - do you think I organise surprise boat trips for just anyone?"

"Do you think I paint window murals for just anyone?"

"Do you think I snuggle on the couch all night with just anyone?" Frank fires back, unable to help the giant smile he can feel spreading over his face.

Gerard grins back. "Do you think I do? God, you are so stupid."

That's it, Frank cracks up so hard it hurts and he has to bend over and put his hands on his knees so he won't just fall down into a giggling heap. "You're so stupid!" he chokes out, then cracks up some more. He tries to stop, really he does, he could be kissing Gerard right now but he can't help it, all the emotion's got to come out somehow. In huge cracking gusts of laughter that make his forehead pound, apparently.

"I think we can all agree that you're both drooling morons," Ray says dryly.

Frank laughs even harder. "Fuck you, you accidentally went on a date with an old man!"

"You did what?" Alicia laughs.

Ray scowls. "That was one time."

"Wow," Alicia says. "Jersey boys."

"For real," Bob says with feeling.

Frank feels Gerard's hands on him, pulling him up. Frank goes, trying to breathe, blinking tears out of his eyes, still wracked by streams of stupid giggles.

Gerard's still smiling, but softly now. He puts his hands on Frank's face, which makes Frank crack up again, and says, "I don't want to move out."

The laughter stops abruptly. Frank takes a shaky breath and puts his hands over Gerard's and says, "So don't. Move in. To the house. With me, for real."

"Yeah," Gerard says, a little muffled through the hands on Frank's ears, but Frank still sees his lips move, still hears the word. "Yes."

Frank laughs once more, just because he's happy, and Gerard's mouth is right there and seriously, okay, Frank has waited long enough. "Gerard," he says. "Fucking kiss me already."

At first they're both smiling too much for it to be good; lips stretched too tight, mouths too wide and narrow, teeth clacking, but then Gerard gets into it and kind of lifts Frank up against him, one hand cupped around the back of his head and the other sliding inside his T-shirt to splay across the small of his back.

Frank just sort of hangs there and lets himself be kissed, lets his eyes roll back and his mouth open to Gerard's tongue. Gerard tastes sweet and dirty, cigarettes-and-marshmallows, perfect, and his mouth is slick and hot and he seems to be trying to catalogue Frank's teeth with his tongue, which is fine, Gerard can do whatever he wants as long as he doesn't stop.

"God," Gerard says, breaking off to breathe, then he dives back in, mumbling something about fate and missed chances and motherfuckers right into Frank's mouth.

"This is really upsetting," Mikey grumbles.

"Your face is upsetting," Frank garbles around Gerard's tongue, then sucks it into his mouth and shivers all over when Gerard moans loud enough for everyone to hear.

"Guys," Ray says after a minute. They ignore him. "Guys."

Gerard laughs and they break apart. Frank beams at him and says, "I got to make out with you in front of Ray after all!"

"Mmm," Gerard hums, eyes closing, rubbing the sides of Frank's throat. Then he opens his eyes and says, "If that's one of your fantasies, I'm going to be really upset."

"You'll be upset?" Ray shrills, which makes Frank crack up again.

He buries his face in Gerard's neck and wraps his arms around him and squeezes, nice and tight before reluctantly letting him go. It's cold out of Gerard's arms and Frank eyes the crumpled heap of black material by their feet. "I'll take that hoodie now, if it's still going begging."

"Yeah, what am I supposed to wear?"

"I'll keep you warm," Frank says slyly, sliding his fingers under Gerard's waistband. Ray makes a vomiting noise and Frank grins at him. "Shut the fuck up, glow-face."

Much as he'd like to drag Gerard to the nearest warm, horizontal place as soon as possible, he can't really insist they go home yet. So he lets Gerard wrap them both in a blanket and they sit by the fire and listen to Ray explain, for the hundredth time, how it wasn't his fault he accidentally went on that date that time, it was a simple misunderstanding.

Frank even manages to keep his hands to himself. Mostly.

Later, when all the hotdogs-in-white-bread-blankets and the fake smores have been eaten, Mikey sidles over and moves his eyebrows at Gerard. Gerard says, "Oh, come on," but Mikey's eyebrows get all insistent, so Gerard sighs and starts untangling himself from the blanket.

"Where are you going?" Frank grabs at him, frowning. "No, you're not allowed. It's a house rule."

Gerard squeezes his hand and ducks back in for a kiss and says, "We're not in the house. I'll be right back."

Frank watches him go and raises his eyebrows at Mikey. "Please tell me this isn't A Talk."

Mikey folds down into a tangle of skinny limbs and pointy bits and sighs. "I can't tell you that, Frank," he says glumly.

Frank sighs too and steels himself, but Mikey just pushes his glasses up his nose and examines his fingernails.

"Is this the talk?" Frank says hopefully. "Because this is actually pretty easy."

"Frank," Mikey starts heavily, but Frank grabs his arm and cuts him off.

"I get it, Mikey, hurt, die, all that stuff." Mikey looks enormously relieved and Frank laughs at him. He draws his knees up to his chest and links his arms around them. "How unfair is it that just because I don't have brothers, Gerard doesn't have to get one of these?"

"Are you kidding me?" Mikey jerks his head towards where Ray is standing in front of Gerard with his hands on his hips. Frank can't see his face, but he can see his hair, and it looks…insistent. Like Mikey's eyebrows.

"Oh," Frank says, He presses his face into his knees and laughs. Toro's such a dork. Frank loves the shit out of him.

Frank loves the shit out of everyone and everything right now, actually. He falls sideways and catches Mikey in a hug, banging his head on Mikey's bony shoulder. "You're the best, Mikeyway."

The ride home is seriously the longest boat trip of Frank's life. Actually, it's one of the only boat trips of Frank's life, but whatever, it's long. He actually can't keep his hands to himself, the temptation is too much. His hands keep creeping inside Gerard's clothes and Gerard's no better, mouthing at the skin under Frank's ear and dragging his fingertips in circles over Frank's thigh.

"Sorry," he whispers, when Frank whines and shoves Gerard's hand back to a place that won't make Mikey have an aneurysm if he looks over. "Sorry, Frankie, it's just that I've been waiting."

Frank grits his teeth and reminds himself sternly that sweatpants really don't hide anything.

Once the boat and stuff get loaded back up onto the truck, they say goodbye (Bob lets Frank hug him for two seconds longer than usual, and Mikey whispers something in Gerard's ear that makes him say, "Ew, you're my brother,") and get into Frank's car. Gerard is absolutely no help on the drive - he keeps leaning over to Frank and putting his hands everywhere, smiling and kissing Frank's cheek and the corner of his eye and sucking his earlobe, then pushing away abruptly and laughing at himself before coming back for more two seconds later.

By the time they get home Frank is ready to flip the seats back and do him right there, and if any neighbours with dogs walk past, well, lucky them. The seats in Frank's car are so broken that they don't actually recline, though, so he summons up some restraint from somewhere and drags Gerard inside the house.

"Fucking finally." Gerard backs Frank up against the wall, then changes his mind and leans back to pull the hoodie off Frank, then presses back in, warm against Frank's front in contrast to the chill wall behind him. "I think I'm just gonna blow you right here, okay?"

He kisses Frank deeply and then drops to his knees. He rubs his hands flat against Frank's hips, dragging the sweatpants down an inch or two, then presses his thumbs in on either side of the hard, obvious line of Frank's cock.

"Okay," Frank says weakly, pressing his hands flat against the wall, but then Gerard sits back on his heels and frowns.

"Maybe you should warm up first, though."

"I'm warm, I'm warm!" Frank protests, but it's too late, Gerard's getting to his feet and making concerned faces. Frank grabs him and spins them around so Gerard's the one against the wall. "Fine, I'll blow you, you fucking tease."

"I'm not a tease," Gerard says, giggling and fighting Frank when he tries to undo Gerard's belt. "I just think, you know, you fell in the water," Frank abandons the belt and just rubs Gerard through his jeans instead, "Oh god, oh - I just think you should warm up. Like take a hot - ah! - bath or something."

"I don't want a bath!" Frank sticks his hand up Gerard's shirt and rubs his thumb over Gerard's nipple. Gerard arches and bangs his head against the wall. "I want to do stuff to your penis!"

Gerard laughs on a moan which sounds sexy and stupid at the same time. "And here I was wondering how to ask you for dirty talk."

"You can ask for whatever you want, just - oh!" Frank grins at Gerard and pulls him away from the wall. "I could go for a hot shower, though."

The journey up the stairs is kind of fraught with T-shirts-stuck-on-their-heads danger, but they make it into the shower safe and sound and Gerard shrieks when Frank hits the water and it comes out freezing.

"Fuck fuck fuck," Frank pants tightly, clinging to Gerard and screwing his eyes up against the cold. "Fuck, just wait two seconds."

Before it's even properly warm Gerard seems to recover, rubbing his wet hands over Frank's wet back and grabbing his ass, pulling Frank up tight against him. Frank wraps his arms around Gerard's neck and kisses him, water running down his face and getting into his mouth. It sort of sucks to have to keep breaking off to breathe, but Frank can't let go long enough to get them turned around or whatever. Not when there's all this naked skin for him to rub against, Gerard's cock hard against Frank's, trapped between them.

"I thought about this," Gerard breathes between kisses. He rolls his hips and Frank groans; he has to get up on tip-toes to get his dick aligned with Gerard's, and it's making his calves cramp but it's totally worth it, Jesus. "About you, all naked and wet. You're in here all the fucking time, it was fucking torture."

The water's hot now but that's nothing compared to the wave of heat that comes over Frank's skin. He can't decide what's better - being here with Gerard or the thought of Gerard touching himself, thinking about Frank in the shower. Okay, that's a lie, this is totally better, X-Men compared to Spiderman better.

While Frank's comparing sex to comic books, Gerard turns him around so he's facing out of the spray, back to Gerard's chest. It stings a little in the scraped places, but not enough to stop. For a second Frank thinks Gerard's going to wash his back or his hair or something equally nice and romantic and totally not what Frank fucking wants right now, but he just backs off for a second and then wraps a soap-slick hand around Frank's dick, no fucking around.

"Good?" he murmurs, stroking Frank with a tight no-nonsense grip, and Frank bucks into his fist and reaches back to hook his hands around the back of Gerard's neck.

"Nnnraagh," he manages, and Gerard laughs, a sharp huff of breath against Frank's wet neck that raises gooseflesh despite the heat of the water. He keeps stroking Frank's dick and his other hand wanders around; pressing hard against Frank's stomach, coming up to rub his nipples, then he slides it down to squeeze Frank's balls lightly. Frank jerks and he can feel Gerard rubbing his dick against Frank's ass and hear him moaning into Frank's ear and Frank makes another wordless sound, and tries to push forward into Gerard's hand and back against Gerard's cock at the same time.

He's up on his toes again and the rocking motion almost makes them overbalance; Gerard shoves him sideways and Frank lets go of him to fold his arms against the wall and rest his head on them. Gerard keeps jacking Frank's dick and keeps rubbing against his ass and licks Frank's shoulders where the water runs over them and Frank bites into the back of his arm and comes all over the wall and Gerard's fist.

He slumps against the wall, panting, and Gerard waits for him to come down a little, then steers him into the water. Frank feels loose-limbed and jelly-like and full of bliss, but Gerard's still wound up tight behind him so Frank rinses off and pushes Gerard gently back against the wall.

He kisses him lazily, letting himself run his hands over everything he hasn't gotten to touch yet - Gerard's pink nipples and soft belly and his ass, and it's sort of a dick move but Gerard's little impatient noises are too nice to miss. Frank rubs his thumbs over Gerard's hipbones and tucks his fingers between Gerard's thighs. Gerard says, "Frankie," and spreads them pointedly, and Frank laughs against his chin and takes pity.

He has to fold his legs up like three times to fit kneeling sideways, but it's worth it for the view when he gets down there. Gerard's palming over his dick and staring down at Frank with his eyes all huge and serious, water running all over his flushed chest and belly.

"You look like porn," Frank tells him, and then laughs because Gerard clearly doesn't know whether that's meant to be a compliment. Frank wraps his hand around Gerard's dick and licks all the way up the underside to the tip, and he keeps his eyes on Gerard when he opens his mouth and slides down and the confusion on Gerard's face dissolves into the same slack-jawed oral sex face Frank's seen on every guy he's ever blown. But prettier. Frank closes his eyes and gets down to business.

For someone who apologises ten times if he accidentally steps on your toes, Gerard is satisfyingly forward about what he wants. He wraps his fingers in Frank's wet hair and moans and says, "Yeah," and, "More, use your tongue, oh," and when Frank slides his hands up the back of Gerard's thighs he gets the hint and rocks his hips forward, pushing his cock further into Frank's mouth.

It's not the smoothest blowjob Frank's ever given - his toes are going totally numb all mashed up against the side of the tub and he has to keep his head at a weird angle so he doesn't get water in his nose and drown, but Gerard doesn't seem to care. Before long his hands tighten on Frank's head and he gasps, "Frankie," and Frank pulls back just a little, just enough to taste it when Gerard comes.

"Jesus," Gerard slurs when Frank climbs to his feet and shuts the water off. "Jesus Christ."

"I know," Frank agrees, reaching up to snag one of the big towels folded on the shelf. He folds Gerard up in it with him and they lean against the wall and kiss for a while until their wobbly post-orgasm knees threaten to give out.

In bed, Frank arranges Gerard on his back and sprawls over him, rubbing his foot up and down Gerard's calf and sighing contentedly. "I thought of another house rule."

Gerard hums and runs his fingers through Frank's hair. "Shower sex every day?"

"No," Frank scoffs, snuggling in closer. Then he reconsiders. "Actually, if that would encourage you to wash more…"

"Fuck you," Gerard laughs. "You didn't think I was so gross just now."

Frank grins and kisses his collarbone. "Actually, I was gonna say that I don't think you should be able to wear clothes anymore. In the house, I mean," he clarifies. "I don't want Mr. Wilkinson thinking he can hit that, okay?"

"The heating bill's gonna be through the roof," Gerard says, but he doesn't say no. Frank decides to count it as a win.

Gerard finds cigarettes in Frank's nightstand and they smoke in silence, trading silly grins every now and again. Frank feels tiredness setting in before he's even halfway through his smoke; it's not even that late but all the soap-opera drama action followed by shower-sex action has left him kind of wiped.

Gerard turns the light out and puts his arms around Frank's waist. "Hey," he whispers in the dark, "There's stuff I wanna say."

"Tell me in the morning," Frank says, hitching his leg over Gerard's thigh. "Not going anywhere."

"I guess not," Gerard says, and Frank feels him smile.

***

In the morning Frank wakes up facing the edge of the bed. His back hurts and his head's a little sore too, and he blinks at the floor for a minute until his eyes catch the big towel crumpled up by the bed and it all comes back.

Hell, yes. Frank reaches out behind him, groping around for Gerard's hand so he can pull him in for some spooning while they wake up enough to fuck, but his hand meets nothing but empty air.

Frank turns over and the other side of the bed is distressingly Gerardless. The sheets are cool, too, cooler than they'd be if Gerard had just gone to the bathroom or something, he's sure. He slips out of bed and yanks on some underwear - Gerard's probably downstairs making coffee or pondering life's infinite meaning or something.

When he gets down to the kitchen, though, that's empty too. "Gerard?" Frank calls, walking on tip-toe on the cold kitchen floor. "Gee, you here?"

He's not in the yard or outside working, either. Frank makes coffee and rubs his arms and shivers while he's waiting for it to be ready, then carries his cup back upstairs.

He stands outside his room for a minute, ignoring the anxiety in his belly in favour of coming up with rational explanations: Gerard's gone to get donuts, or Mikey's having an emergency and Gerard had to go and save him from a flaming toaster, but why didn't he leave a note? Frank would have left a note. Maybe he's run off with Creepy Danny after all - then there's a creaking noise from upstairs.

Frank climbs up into the attic and sticks his head through; Gerard's asleep in the bed. He's got both arms flung out and his mouth wide open like he's welcoming the Holy Spirit into his heart or some shit. Frank picks his way across the floor and watches him for a minute, sipping his coffee. Then he kicks the bed as hard as his bare feet will allow and says, "I swear to God, if this is some second thoughts bullshit I will fucking kill you."

"Frank?" Gerard blinks at him, then his expression clears and Frank can practically see the memories slotting into place behind his eyes. He smiles and says, "Frank."

"That's me," Frank says, and at least Gerard seems pleased to see him, that's something. "What the fuck are you doing up here?"

"Hmm? What - oh!" Gerard jerks upright and stares around blearily, tugging his hands through his hair. "I don't - I don't know?" He rubs his eyes and makes grabby hands at Frank's coffee.

Frank holds it out of reach and says, "Oh, no. Hit-and-runners don't get coffee."

"I wasn't running. I think," Gerard rolls his eyes around, thinking, and then gives a little embarrassed laugh. "I think I got up to go to the bathroom and then…I was still mostly asleep, so I came up here on, like instinct." He peers up at Frank sheepishly, and holds his hands out again. "Come here."

Frank allows himself to be pulled down into Gerard's lap, and has to surrender his coffee so he can get himself settled with his ankles hooked around Gerard's back and his hands on Gerard's shoulders.

Gerard coos into the cup, takes a sip and groans in pleasure and Frank reminds himself sternly that it's irrational to be jealous of a beverage. "I thought I was gonna find a fucking note on the table," he tells Gerard.

Gerard rolls his eyes again, in the 'duh' way this time. "Don't be stupid," he says, stealing another sip of coffee before handing it back to Frank. "We're supposed to be done with the being stupid portion of the program."

Frank eyes him over the rim of the cup. "I don't know," he says lightly, "Maybe it's better this way."

"Better what way?" Gerard says, frowning. "You think we should keep separate rooms? I mean, I guess, if you want to take it slower-"

"Now who's being stupid?" Frank says triumphantly, and Gerard gives him a dirty look and then an even dirtier kiss. He rubs his palms up Frank's thighs and Frank says, "If we take it any slower we'll disprove entropy."

Gerard's forehead creases. "I don't think you can disprove entropy," he says seriously, taking his hands off Frank and using them to gesture with. "You can disprove an entropy theory, like if you had a, a, whosit, a variable that-"

"I just meant," Frank interrupts, taking Gerard's hands putting them back where they were. Note to self: during the pursuit of morning sex with Gerard, do not mention anything which he may have once looked up on Wikipedia, "That we should probably do it up here at least once before it's just your studio. I mean, unless you make a habit of having sex in your workspace."

Gerard grins guiltily and tries to fit his fingertip into Frank's bellybutton. "Well, um, actually…"

"I knew it!" Frank says indignantly, jabbing Gerard in the chest. "The paint-fondling thing! I knew it!"

Gerard laughs and takes the cup away from Frank. He drains what's left of the coffee and bends to set it down on the floor. Frank takes the opportunity to start counting the freckles on Gerard's shoulder but then Gerard comes back and rolls them over, pressing Frank into the mattress.

"Hey," he says, rubbing his nose against Frank's. Now Frank's not freaking out he can appreciate Gerard's stupid bed-head and the way his eyes slant at the corners with tiredness, and the pillow-crease running right over his pointy nose.

He kisses Gerard's crooked, smiling mouth and pushes his hair out of his face. "Hey."

"How's your back?" Gerard shifts down the bed a little and kisses Frank's throat and the hollow between his collar bone. "And just how many tattoos do you have, anyway?" He shifts further and licks Frank's nipple, then kisses his bellybutton. "And what is this underwear bullshit?"

"Fine, a lot, get 'em off," Frank says in a rush, lifting his hips. Gerard laughs and does as he's told. He settles his knees either side of Frank's thighs and traces his fingers over the swallows on Frank's hips. Frank squirms and says, "I thought about this. About you, up here. About your paintings."

Gerard breathes out a little shakily and says, "Frankie," in a way that implies there's a whole speech coming, and Frank gets it, he does, he knows there's stuff to say, but he's been really fucking patient and Gerard got to live out his shower fantasy already. Fair's fair.

"Later," Frank promises, and pulls Gerard down before he can say another word.

***

Frank is late to work every single day that week.

"I don't know what's worse," Mikey says thoughtfully when Frank sidles in at ten thirty on Friday morning. "You being late all the time and getting away with it just because you're the boss, or knowing why you're late."

"What, my car wouldn't start," Frank grins, dumping his stuff down on his desk.

"Why, did you have too much sex with my brother in it?" Mikey leans against the doorjamb and folds his arms. "Can't you do it at night instead?"

"What do you mean, instead?" Frank says, and Mikey makes a noise like a dog dying and disappears.

"Don't make me get tech support to block MySpace!" Frank calls after him.

Mikey's voice floats back, "I am tech support."

Frank laughs and switches his computer on. It makes an even more worrying noise than usual, fuck. Frank can so not afford a new computer at all.

There's already coffee on his desk and the usual stack of Post-Its. Stevie from Breezeblock has apparently made a new contact during physical therapy for his hand, and he thinks the guy might be useful for setting up bigger shows.

Frank calls him and arranges to meet up for a beer next week, then leaves messages for Alex and Ryland about finishing the tracks they've been laying down. There's an email with no subject line from an address he doesn't recognise, and it has an attachment but Frank opens it anyway. Mikey's just paranoid about all this virus stuff, he's sure.

The attachment is a picture and it takes Frank's computer like a year to open it, but finally the screen finishes loading and there's Neil, bent over what Frank thinks is actually a super-sweet Gibson. His hair is falling in his face and the light behind him is soft and warm and on his face, partially concealed by all the hair but definitely there, is a small, blissful smile.

The email just says, "Thanks."

Frank smiles at his screen until his face hurts. I did that, he thinks.

He prints the picture out and pins it up on the wall behind his desk. It's not Sinatra, but it's a start.

***

On Saturday Frank doesn't get to do anything that would upset Mikey at all. Gerard's deadline for the boat project is coming up and he spends the whole day out there, belting out what Frank thinks are show tunes and making the tiniest adjustments possible with his brush.

Frank gives up in the evening and goes to watch Ray, who's playing at the Crimson with Donny's band.

After the show he goes back to their place for beer and video games. He tells them about Neil, and then about his computer woes, and Bob says, "Yeah, you'll be all right. You got a sugar daddy now."

"Gross!" Frank shoves him but just ends up staggering backwards himself. Bob Bryar is one immovable object when he wants to be.

Frank hasn't even cashed Gerard's last rent check yet. Partly because at first he'd been in denial about Gerard leaving, but mostly because he feels weird about the rent thing now they're sharing a bed. It seems creepy and not how he wants things to be. He sort of wants to split everything down the line like Ray and Bob do, right down to dead hacky-sacks, but he hasn't figured out how to bring it up with Gerard, yet. And also he feels like maybe that's a lot to ask from someone you've only actually been with for a week.

When he gets home Gerard's asleep. Frank climbs into their warm bed and curls up behind him, fits his knees into the back of Gerard's and presses his face between Gerard's shoulder blades. Gerard makes a blurry, sleepy sound, but that's all.

He wakes up to Gerard's fingers dragging slowly up and down over his stomach. "Mmm," he says, turning his face towards Gerard. "I could get used to this sleep-molestation thing."

Gerard laughs quietly. He's propped up on his other hand and he looks pretty awake. "So I want to say this, and you've been kind of avoiding it, so I figured I'd do it now, while you're still sleepy, and that way if you don't like it I can lie and say you were dreaming."

Frank rubs sleeps out of his eyes and shifts, trying to encourage Gerard's fingers to move less up and more down. "I think you just stepped on your own genius plan there a little, but okay."

"I'm sorry I was so, you know. Before, when I didn't know," Gerard says seriously. His hand stops moving and he lays it flat on Frank's belly. "I'm sorry I was such a coward, and I'm sorry I hurt your feelings even though I didn't mean to, and I'm sorry I let you think I was interested in that Creepy Danny guy."

"You said he wasn't creepy," Frank reminds him.

Gerard rolls his eyes. "He was totally creepy. The only reason I was paying him such close attention was I thought if I took my eyes off him he might cut off a piece of my hair and start rubbing himself with it."

Frank cracks up, curling up facing Gerard and it's too early and he hasn't had coffee and he smoked too much last night so it dissolves into a painful coughing fit.

"I can be kind of lost in my own head sometimes," Gerard goes on as if Frank isn't hacking up a lung between them. He rubs Frank's back absently. "And I over-think everything, and I forget anything else exists when I'm working, and-"

"Gerard." Frank shoves his hand over Gerard's mouth to shut him up while Frank struggles to get his breath back. He coughs once more, clears his throat a bunch of times - wow, those noises are really attractive - and looks up. "I didn't just meet you yesterday. I know this stuff. And I'm sorry I was such a pissy little prick and that I used the worst metaphor ever."

Gerard doesn't say anything. Oh, but that's probably because Frank's hand is still over his mouth. Frank takes it away and Gerard says, "Okay."

"That's it?" Frank eyes Gerard suspiciously. "That's everything?"

"What, you want it in writing?" Gerard smirks, and then he slides right down the bed and puts his mouth on Frank's cock and Frank completely forgets what they were talking about.

"There is one more thing," Gerard murmurs in his ear, when he's got Frank turned over and his slick fingers in Frank's ass, stretching and twisting, his other hand holding Frank's arm out, away from his body, pushing his wrist down into the bed. "If you don't mind talking about it a little longer."

"Fuck," Frank groans, pushing back onto Gerard's fingers. His dick rubs against the sheets and when Gerard curls his fingers, Frank's toes curl too. "Whatever, whatever you want, just get the fuck on with it."

Gerard laughs and bites the back of Frank's neck. He pulls back and Frank can hear him slicking himself up and then he rolls Frank over again and settles between his thighs. Then he just stops and Frank says, "Come on," and tries to wrap his legs around Gerard's waist and lift himself up and make Gerard fuck him.

Gerard kisses him, deep and with a lot of tongue, and reaches down to line himself up and then finally, thank God, Frank feels the blunt press of Gerard's cock, and then the stretchy, sweet burn when he pushes it in.

Frank says, "Ah, fuck," and inhales deeply, rolling his hips and willing his body to relax and accept it. Gerard rocks his hips until he's all the way inside Frank and he doesn't wait before pulling back and pressing back in, steady and slow, making Frank arch and whine and grab at him.

"I want to share the house," Gerard pants, getting his arm under Frank's leg and folding Frank's knee up against his chest. "Financially, I mean."

Frank did not think he would ever hear the word 'financially' when he had a cock in his ass, and even more than that he never thought he'd find it sexy but there it is. Gerard could ask for anything right now and Frank would give it to him; the fact that he's asking for something Frank already wants is just a bonus.

He lifts his hips to meet Gerard on the next thrust and Gerard snaps in hard and Frank chokes out, "Yes, yes," and he means it to everything and Gerard gets it and doesn't make him talk anymore, just leans heavily on his elbow next to Frank's head and fucks him fast and deep with his wet, open mouth pressed against Frank's throat.

The springs squeak and the headboard totally bangs against the wall and it makes Frank laugh until Gerard takes his dick in his hand and strokes it roughly in time with all the noise they're making. Frank says, "Yes, yes," again and comes for what feels like a really long time, still shaking with it when Gerard starts to come and his hips lose their rhythm and his arm gives out.

Frank clings to him and strokes his back and kisses his sweaty hair and his ear and the side of his face. Gerard has all his weight on Frank and he can't really breathe, but it's worth it to feel Gerard's heart thudding quickly inside his chest and his heavy breaths in Frank's ear.

"Well," Frank whispers - not because he's trying to be quiet, just because he can't fill his lungs - "That was easy."

Gerard groans and pulls out and rolls off and gives him a look. "Yeah, for you."

Frank waits for him to deal with the condom, then pulls him back down. "That's not what I meant."

There's a little pause while they get their various body parts into a comfortable tangle, then Gerard says, "I know."

Later on, Mikey comes over, which Frank was expecting. He also brings Mrs. Way, which Frank was not.

"Didn't I tell you?" Gerard says, waving at his Mom when she gets out of Mikey's car. "I thought I did. Oh well!"

It's not like Frank has never met Mrs. Way, far from it, but he's never met her as someone who's sleeping with her first born before, so he would have liked a little warning, maybe. Mikey comes up the path behind her and stands to the side looking embarrassed while she gives Gerard a big hug and then gives Frank one too.

Mrs. Way is kind of scary-looking, with her pointy long nails and pointy black eyebrows, but she's actually pretty cool and she's always been really nice to Frank. He fidgets nervously next to Gerard and when Mrs. Way lets go she grabs him and Frank gets a mouthful of her giant blonde hair.

He tries to spit it out unobtrusively and when she lets him go she opens her mouth and says, "I'm so happy for you both!" in this high, trembly voice.

Gerard goes, "Mooooooom," as if he isn't going to be thirty in like six months, and Mrs. Way tsks and flaps her hand at him.

"I brought you guys something," Mikey says, stepping in to save them from any further embarrassment. Frank latches gratefully onto the striped shopping bag Mikey's holding and yanks out - a wreath.

"This is a wreath," Frank says unnecessarily, staring at it. It's made of black tulle and skulls, little plastic ones, all piled up on each other like they're peering out of a mass grave, and in the centre it says 'WELCOM TO OUR HOME' in tall, spidery letters. "You made us a wreath. Of skulls."

"I know," Mikey says gravely, pushing his glasses up his nose. "It's for your door."

Gerard grabs the wreath from Frank and laughs, beaming all over his face. "Mikey! This is awesome! Dude, how did you get them to stick together? No, wait, don't tell me. It'll ruin the illusion."

"They're both very creative," Mrs. Way tells Frank proudly. "Ever since they were little boys."

Gerard wants to hang the wreath but Mikey says, "No, you'll do it wrong," and pushes him out of the way. Frank doesn't argue. He knows all about Gerard and hammers.

Then Mrs. Way wants to take a picture of them standing next to it, which is mortifying but pretty funny the way she barks orders at them both to stand closer and straighten their shoulders and smile. "Like you're happy, for goodness' sake! Put your arms around each other. Gerard, take off your sunglasses. And stop squinting, both of you!"

Gerard puts his foot down after about nineteen million pictures of him, Frank, Mikey and Mrs. Way in various combinations, and takes his Mom inside for coffee. Frank touches Mikey's elbow as they follow behind. "You know 'Welcome' has an 'E' on the end, right?"

"Of course I know," Mikey sighs. "I thought it might give you something to be an asshole about if you ever run out of other ideas."

Frank laughs and kisses his cheek and shoves him inside. He walks a little way away from the front door and considers his house: crazy painted boat on the driveway, crazy painted mural in the window, crazy skulls-and-tulle misspelled wreath on the door. Except for the basic structure, the walls and roof and upstairs windows, it doesn't even look like Frank's house anymore. It looks exactly like Gerard's, though. Of course, Frank thinks happily, that's the same thing.

He should call his mom, he thinks. He should call her and get her to come over and take embarrassing pictures under the wreath as well.

He goes inside and shuts the door - carefully, so the wreath doesn't fall off. Actually, what if someone steals it? Maybe he can get Bob to rig it so it electrocutes anyone who tries. He knows about wires.

Mrs. Way leaves after she runs out of stories about Gerard dressing up in tights, and also after she asks Frank if there's room in the garage for the boxes Gerard still has at her house.

"How can you have more boxes?" Frank says, later when they're curled up on the couch watching the Orson Welles Transformers movie. "We carried every box in Jersey up two flights of fucking stairs. How can there be more?"

"I don't know," Gerard's holding Frank's hand in his lap. He lifts it up and kisses the back of it. "If I'd known we'd end up like this, we would only have had to carry them up one flight."

Frank says, "Yeah, hindsight's always twenty-twenty," and wriggles down to rest his head on Gerard's belly. He tucks his fingers under the hem of Gerard's shirt and sighs contentedly.

Gerard says, "I love you."

Frank's heart does not skip a beat; that doesn't really happen to people, he doesn't think, but he does feel a weird rush of adrenaline or something go through him. It's not like he didn't know, of course, but Gerard hasn't actually said it before. Frank keeps his eyes on the screen and says in a bored voice. "Well, yeah."

Gerard is silent for exactly three seconds before he says, "Frank," and Frank twists around and sits up, laughing at Gerard's indignant face.

"I love you too," he says, and he kisses Gerard's forehead where his eyebrows are all scrunched up, and high up on his cheek where Gerard has a little red mark, and then his mouth, which is also scrunched up. Frank laughs at the way his lips feel, pursed up like that, and kisses it again. "Of course I love you. I have since like, forever ago."

"I'm not a mind-reader," Gerard says grumpily, pushing his hands under Frank's shirt.

That, Frank thinks, kissing him again, is something on which everybody can agree.

The End.
 
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