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Everything on this page is fanfiction.

The stories listed below may contain:
- sex
- death
- sex and death
- true love
- made up people
- real people
- teenagers
nightswimming
by wax jism
same 'verse as everyday mysteries in the summertime, set a few months later
for bexless who audited the whole thing over months and months and months, and who knows it better than i do
also thanks to joyfulseeker, cimness and megolas for encouragement, comments and suggestions
 
 

Tuesday

Frank wakes up to the muted chirp of his cell phone alarm at one in the morning on the Tuesday of the last week of summer school. The night before, he made tired faces at his mother around nine thirty and went to bed, because he's not allowed out on school nights anymore and he can't sneak out until everyone's asleep. He could do it when his mother's alone, but fucking George has bat ears and he's staying over tonight.

His mother got fucking George to take the fire escape down at the beginning of the summer, but Frank scored a rope ladder off this guy Bob knows and the plus side of this setup--besides the fact that it's pretty cool to swing down the side of the house like a pirate on dry land--is that nobody knows about it. "Always assure plausible deniability," Gerard told him once when they were drunk-talking about politics. Frank pays attention when wisdom flies past.

He's awake but a little sleep drunk still when he pulls on jeans and a shirt and shoves his bare feet into sneakers. Focusing his eyes is not completely automatic like it should be. He hip-checks the wardrobe corner hard enough that it'll leave a mark, which is embarrassing. But by the time he's skimming down the ladder three rungs at a time he's feeling great.

The night is still and warm, but the ground is wet and the air has that basement feel to it that it gets after rain, like the temperature might be in the eighties but everything else is telling you it's actually freezing.

He lets himself drop the last few feet and lands quietly--he's practiced that part. The lawn behind the house is more like a meadow at this point because Frank's been in summer school and the rule is he doesn't have to mow when he's getting an education, and his mother doesn't have time either so she just does the front and sides to keep up appearances. The tallest grass stalks come up to his mid-thigh. He walks very carefully and tries not to bend the grass too much. If he takes care, all traces of his stealthy passage will have disappeared by morning. His jeans are getting soaked to the knee, though, but it can't be helped.

The light from the street doesn't make it past the big maple tree in the front yard, so getting his bike out of the garage is a little tricky since he doesn't dare turn on the porch light and his flashlight has been out of commission since he dropped it climbing out two weeks ago. He doesn't like the garage in the dark because of the potential spider hazard, so he gets a little jumpy and twitchy in there and turns over a stack of paint cans that was lurking just inside the door.

When he can breathe again, it's too late to do anything; the cans are all over, some of them rolled under the car.

"Aw, shit," he mutters, but that doesn't really sound quite enough so he adds, "Motherfucker."

He stands there for a moment, chewing on his bottom lip and weighing his options. In the end he just shrugs and gets his bike and heads out. He'll tidy up when he gets back--that late the risk of waking someone up is smaller and he can turn on the light. Much easier. And he can see if Gerard or Mikey has a flashlight.

He goes fast when it's downhills or straight road, but he has to take it a little easy in the rises because he still gets out of breath quickly after, like, three bouts of bronchitis just since the beginning of May. He doesn't light a cigarette until he's leaned his bike against the bottom of the stairs up to Gerard and Mikey's place.

He lets himself in. He has a key because the Ways are paranoid about burglars or monsters or whatever and refuse to leave a spare key under a rock in the flowerbed or something, like normal people do. Frank kind of misses the basement window. He's the only one who fits in through it comfortably, which is why Gerard was okay with leaving it open. "If somebody who's smaller than you wants to burgle this place, I say bring it," he said.

The hall is dark and the door to Mikey's room is open and no one's in there. Frank toes off his sneakers and pads barefoot down the hall past the dark living room. Gerard's room is at the end, their grandmother's old bedroom.

He doesn't knock, just pushes the door open. He's never yet caught Gerard doing anything more embarrassing than watching Passions in his underwear, but Frank lives in hope.

Tonight, Gerard is not in his underwear but wearing his worn blue pajamas with Snoopy on them, and he's not watching Passions but Lost Highway. He's sitting cross-legged on the bed, cigarette in hand, smoke curling around his face. There are two bottles left in the sixpack by the bed. The only light in the room comes from the TV.

He smiles when Frank comes in but he looks tired. Gerard always looks kind of tired but there are degrees and Frank can usually tell when it's stayed-up-all-night-drawing tired or stayed-up-all-night-drinking tired or this one, which is haven't-slept-for-a-week tired.

"Hey," Frank says and goes and sits next to him on the bed. On TV, Bill Pullman is driving. Frank says, "Guess he found the highway."

Gerard snorts and kind of chokes and spends some time coughing, and Frank slaps him hard on the back so he makes the snorty noise again.

"Fuck," Gerard gasps.

Frank pats his head. "How many times have you watched this?"

"A lot," Gerard says. His voice is a little rough, a little deeper at night than in the day. He sounds cooler like this. "Like maybe fifteen. Maybe more."

"So now do you know what it's about?"

There's a silence. Gerard's staring blankly at the screen. He's got really big eyes, sort of round, sort of not, and he can look pretty awesome when he just stares like that, all 'you're getting really really sleepy.' He doesn't even blink.

"It's about guilt," he says after a while rubbing the back of his neck, then scratching his scalp and twisting a strand of hair around his index finger. "And reincarnation. And, um, David Lynch is a really weird and deep dude. You know, they made it into an opera."

"No shit?" Frank leans over and snags one of the beers. It's lukewarm, but whatever. It's a school night and he's drinking beer. It tastes great.

"Yes, Frank, you can have a beer," Gerard says and smiles. Frank smiles back, shows all his teeth. Gerard smiles wider. Frank rolls his eyes. Gerard crosses his. They both start laughing at the same time. Frank really appreciates that Gerard hasn't used his long life to, like, learn how to keep a straight face.

"I just love you for your beer, baby," he says and leans his head on Gerard's shoulder. Gerard nods and pats him absentmindedly with the hand holding his cigarette.

"Oops," Gerard says. "Ashes."

"Whatever," Frank says. He slides down the bed and settles his head on Gerard's thigh. Drinking lying down is an adventure. "I'll spill beer in your bed and then we'll be even steven."

Gerard says, "Okay," and pats Frank's head again. Pets it, really, like Frank's a cat or a puppy. His elbow rests on Frank's shoulder. "You're gonna fall asleep."

"Nah," Frank says. "I'm good." Gerard's hand lies heavy and warm on his head.

"I had the werewolf dream again," Gerard says. His voice sounds weird, like, expressionless. Frank blinks himself out of sleep--he only realizes it was actually sleep when he sees the credits roll on the TV screen.

"What--" He yawns wide. Gerard's hand is stroking his hair restlessly. The ashtray on the bed is overflowing. "Uh, what dream?"

The hand stills. "Didn't I show you the drawings?"

"You show me drawings all the time, Gee. Werewolves? I don't know."

Gerard lifts Frank's head off his thigh gently and stands up. Frank twists around onto his back and lets his head hang off the edge of the bed, looking around at the upside-down room: the bed hanging off the ceiling, the light fixture standing on the floor. Gerard is a dark, shuffling Batman. A really ratty, unwashed, drunk Batman. Before he decided to become a Dark Knight, Frank decides. Batman Begins Batman, nerdy Christian Bale. Waiting to bust out the Kung-Fu and giant muscles.

The Not Yet Dark Knight returns with a pile of sketchbook paper.

"I guess I only told Mikey," he says. "Sometimes I forget which one of you I tell. Sometimes I, like, think about telling you something, like... a lot. And then I think I did it already."

Frank stays upside down. Gerard looks really funny like this, all chin and nostrils and dirty black hair. Then he bends down and it's the usual Gerard face, only the wrong way. Frank feels a smile stretch across his own face, like gravity is pulling it out of him. He sticks out his tongue and crosses his eyes.

Gerard sort of smiles, sort of doesn't. "I started having these in June, I guess. After my birthday sometime."

"Like nightmares? With werewolves?" Gerard always has seriously entertaining dreams. Sometimes they aren't even nightmares, just fucked up stories that just happen to him inside his head. It's great that he can draw them.

"Yeah, nightmares."

Frank arches his back and flips himself off the bed. He almost makes it, but fucks up the landing, overcorrects and lands on his ass. He needs to give that a little more practice.

Gerard's spreading out the drawings on the bed, shoving the ashtray out of the way and spilling butts and ashes everywhere on the way. Probably not his first sixpack, Frank thinks. He wonders where his beer went. He only remembers drinking like a couple of mouthfuls before conking out like a toddler.

He opens his mouth to ask Gerard, but before he can do that he looks down at the bed and what comes out is, "Whoa."

"Sometimes it starts like that--" Gerard points at a fiddly pencil sketch of a hand twisting into claws. "Sometimes I'm already the monster."

"Wow, fuck." Frank reaches out and touches the big color one with the blood spatter everywhere. Nothing bloody has even happened, but Gerard has put the blood there anyway. "Nice picture of me fucking shitting myself."

Gerard's mouth twists in a crooked grin. "You were brave," he says. He pokes the big drawing away a little and under it is a smaller one, just in pencil. "Didn't help."

Frank feels his eyes go round, 'cause Gerard has really gone into detail there.

"It's this fucking... anxiety," Gerard says. "I mean, my subconscious isn't being real subtle here, you know?"

"You're ripping Mikey and me to tiny bits," Frank says. Really tiny bits. Gerard's got one hell of a morbid imagination. He pictures his mother's face if she ever saw any of these. She would drag him to the other side of the country in a heartbeat. "I guess there's dream interpretation bullshit and then there's... tiny bits."

Gerard rubs his eyes and tries to sweep the hair out of his face. It slips right back. "Sometimes I wake up but I don't wake up, so the dream starts over when I think I'm awake. Sometimes it's just you, or just Mikey."

His voice is getting scratchier, like it hurts to talk. "Sometimes I follow you around first, like, stalking you."

"You should write horror movies," Frank says. Gerard's staring at the pictures, shoulders hunched, his head bowed. "Look, you have your splatter scenes all storyboarded and shit."

"Mikey wants to leave," Gerard says.

"What? No, he doesn't."

"He should." He shuffles the drawings into a pile again and goes to put them back in the drawer from whence they came.

"Can I have one? The color one. It's pretty awesome."

Gerard looks down at the bundle like he's never seen these pictures before.

"Seriously, man. I wish I could draw my dreams." Frank shuffles through the pile and snags the big one with all the imaginary blood. "And look at me and Mikey being brave little toasters about to go down hard. It's so cool, man."

Gerard obediently looks at Mikey and Frank being brave little toasters.

Frank says, "Of course Mikey wants to fucking leave, man. This town is fucking hicksville. If you don't wanna work at a gas station for the rest of your natural life you have to get out of here." He goes over what he just said and adds, "Not that there's anything wrong with that. Working at a gas station, I mean. But it's not for Mikey. Or you. Or me."

"Exactly!" Gerard says, waving his hands around all DUH. The drawings flap wildly and a couple come loose and flutter to the floor. Frank picks them up. "But here I am," Gerard adds.

Frank rolls his eyes. Sometimes Gerard is so fucking stubborn, and sometimes he makes Frank feel like the grownup. "You sound like you're, like, thirty. Your life isn't over. Plus you're gonna draw a bloody as hell werewolf comic and get rich as all fuck, and then you can just take me and Mikey with you somewhere cool. You're our meal ticket, man."

"Some meal ticket," Gerard says, but he's so gonna crack up soon, Frank can tell.

"Yeah, we'll just lie around smoking pot and watching TV and being all, 'yo, draw shit about your dorky buddy and your geeky kid brother smoking pot and watching TV and getting slaughtered by the werewolves!' and you have to do all the work. Cause you're the only one with any fucking talent. We'll be your entourage. It'll be great."

Gerard gets a smoke out and starts looking for light. He can never remember where he puts his lighters. "So you're gonna be, like, surf babe Bridget Fonda in Jackie Brown?"

Frank rolls his eyes again and digs his own lighter out of his front pocket. "Fuck no," he says. He lights the smoke for Gerard like dudes do in old movies, all suave, and Gerard leans in and puts his hand gently on Frank's to hold the flame steady. His fingertips are smudged gray with graphite. Frank watches them rest against his own summer brown skin. "I don't want to get shot by Robert DeNiro. I'm stoner Brad Pitt in True Romance."

"Floyd," Gerard says.

"Fuckin' Floyd."

"You forgot to buy toilet paper, Floyd!"

"Flooooyd!"

Frank pretty much loves Mikey and Gerard for their weird obsession with the eighties and nineties. There's no way he would have been watching all this shit on his own, but they have DVDs and videotapes piled floor to ceiling; TV show box sets, anime imports, a bunch of awesome blaxploitation and B-horror flicks from the seventies just so they could 'understand the context' of Tarantino and Rodriguez movies, the collected Cohen brothers and a total metric shitload of Asian extreme horror and old school American and Italian splatter. Frank's mother has Opinions on horror movies and she also thinks buying DVDs is a waste of money that could go to jeans that don't have holes in the knees and new shoes that aren't drawn all over with sharpie and other things that don't really move Frank a whole lot. He can usually buy comics himself, issue by issue with money he makes mowing lawns, but this summer he had school, and anyway he can't do a lot of physical work what with getting sick from looking at his own face wrong in the mirror or whatever.

"So yeah," he says airily. "It's gonna be awesome. You'll be a fucking star." He nudges Gerard with his elbow and grins up at him.

Gerard nudges back. He's grinning back kind of dorkily, showing all his small even teeth. "Nice pep talk, kid," he says.

"Don't call me kid, fucker."

"Don't call me fucker, kid." He hands Frank the drawing with the red blots. "Put this over your bed and see how you sleep then."

"I sleep like an angel," Frank says. He spots the last beer under the bed and dives in to get it. Gerard must have just finished his and Frank's and sat there and watched the movie with Frank probably drooling all over his lap.

"Yeah," Gerard says. "A snoring angel."

"I can't believe I dragged my ass all the way over here just to fall asleep. Seriously, I wasn't even feeling tired for once. You're just way too comfy as a pillow."

Gerard ducks his head and smiles in that way that makes him look like a little kid. Always cracks Frank's shit up and then Gerard makes the other face that makes him look like a little kid, the confused one. It's a viciously hilarious circle of fun times at Gerard's expense.

Frank's laughter dries up real quick when he spots the time on Gerard's Spider-Man alarm clock. "Tell me that thing is at least two hours ahead," he says.

"Fuck no," Gerard says. "Spidey knows the fucking time."

"That's great, that's awesome, also I'm so busted," Frank bitches and grabs Gerard's arm and bangs his head against it a few times. Hurts less than the wall but makes the point. Gerard just looks at him with a baffled grin. "Fucking George wakes up at six! I'm so grounded!"

"You can make it," Gerard says and starts shooing Frank out of the room. "Just go. Fly like the wind, Frank. Don't you have a coat? Cause it's raining."

"No!"

Gerard picks his old army coat out of one of the piles on the floor and shoves it at him. "Go, go, go, put it on first, and go!"

Frank goes, and makes it, out of breath and dizzy, but not too cold and he's got his ladder in its place and himself in bed by the time he hears fucking George start poking around downstairs.

***

Wednesday

The next day it's raining even more so he wears Gerard's coat over his jacket to school--his mother doesn't even ask where it came from, which shows how much she's paying attention when fucking George is around.

He hits up Travie first break for some weed, and talks to Pete Wentz at lunch, and then during PE he sits in the hall outside the gym reading Preacher and listening to Rollins Band loud enough to drown out the hollering of the coach and the grunts and shouts of the boys.

He contemplates sneaking out and getting high, but decides against it because he doesn't want to waste his stash on sitting by himself and moping when he could bring it over to the Ways later and basically die laughing. There are no funnier people in the universe than Gerard and Mikey stoned out of their minds. Frank doesn't even need to smoke anything--although he will--'cause just watching them fall all over each other, laughing their bizarre, demented cartoon bird laughs would be enough entertainment.

He takes the long way home, via the station. Mikey's slouching behind the counter looking bored. No one can look as bored as Mikey. Actually he doesn't even have to be bored to look bored.

"'Sup?" Frank says.

"Not a thing," says Mikey.

"Pete's coming over later, I guess," Frank says.

"Yeah," Mikey says. He's got that deliberately neutral look on his face now, the Pete look. Mikey's a cagey one about some things.

"Can I ask you something?" Frank says. Mikey just raises an eyebrow. "Just out of general curiosity. Don't go all... Mikey on me or whatever. You guys fuck, right?"

"Oh my God," Mikey says, scrunching his eyes shut. "I am not talking about this with you."

There he is, going all Mikey. "Why not? I'm not your mother! Or, you know, your brother."

"Oh my GOD," Mikey says again. "Go ask Gerard embarrassing questions!"

"I will, Mikeyway," Frank says, grinning. "About you. Also, I have weed. See if you get any."

Mikey stands up straight. "Really?"

"It's green and sweeeeet."

"You still don't get to ask me who tops," Mikey says. "And Gerard's writing up orders, and you absolutely cannot get him wasted until he's done."

"Don't worry, I gotta go home. I'll be around tonight around midnight maybe."

Mikey shakes his head. "This summer school thing is insane, man."

"Your mama is insane, Mikey."

"I guess that's true," Mikey says and slouches down on the counter again. "Are you wearing Gerard's coat?"

When he leaves, Frank sees Pete Wentz jogging quickly across the road.

"Hey, Pete!" he yells. "Who tops?"

"We switch off, duh," Pete yells back. "Don't you know anything, Iero?"

***

He doesn't fall asleep until after eleven, and it hurts getting up just an hour later but he also can't just go back to sleep once he's up, so he gets his ladder and climbs out. And gets soaked immediately by the rain pelting the house, drops the size of fists.

"Motherfucker," he mutters. Gerard's coat is like made of dragonhide, so he feels relatively snug under the circumstances, but his jeans are sticking uncomfortably to his skin and his sneakers are squelching. He's got his hood up but it's not really doing that much good.

It hasn't stopped pouring down when he gets to the station, and he's so wet by then he might as well have worn a bathing suit and called it nightswimming.

The door is wide open and Gerard sits in the doorway, smoking and watching the rain.

A flash of lightning paints everything bright for a second and leaves Frank with pink stripy afterimages dancing in front of his eyes. The sound of thunder comes almost ten seconds later.

"Come on down!" he yells at Gerard. "Get some fresh air!"

Gerard huddles into his hoodie and shakes his head. Frank shakes his own back at him. His wet hair slaps him in the face. He wriggles out of the heavy coat and throws it over a rose bush.

"You'll get struck by lightning, asshole!" Gerard says, his voice high-pitched and nervous.

"What a way to go!" Frank skips over the flowerbed, maybe decapitating some sad, wet begonias or whatever they are on the way. The grass is slippery and springy and he toes off his sneakers and socks and runs barefoot. He's so wet it doesn't matter one way or the other. If he's gonna get sick he's getting sick. Gerard will make him coffee and give him a towel, it'll be okay. The tiredness has washed away with all the rain and he feels like running in circles and laughing. So he does.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Gerard asks, stepping gingerly over the flowerbed. He sounds like he's whispering in a barrel, the rain is so loud on the tin roof and the leaves. "Are you trying to kill yourself?"

Frank just laughs and runs right at him, leading with a shoulder like a football tackle, and Gerard goes down like a sack of unathletic nerd. He gets Frank right in the nose with a flailing elbow, and Frank gets him back in the gut with a knee and they roll around swearing and wheezing for a while.

Frank puts his head on Gerard's shoulder and whisper-shouts, "See, doesn't that feel great?"

"No," Gerard mumbles against his forehead. "It kinda hurts, actually."

"At least you know you're alive, man. Come on." He staggers to his feet and offers Gerard a hand up. Gerard doesn't let go of it and tries to drag him towards the house, but Frank digs his heels in. Gerard isn't looking pissed off, he's trying to hide a grin, so Frank doubles his efforts and tugs harder in the opposite direction. "Thunderstorms are pretty awesome."

"Yeah," Gerard says, nodding. "Right until they fucking kill you with fire."

"Whatever," Frank says, squeezing Gerard's warm hand. "Fuck, it's raining, it's like being under the sea!"

"Under the lake," Gerard says, tilting his head back and opening his mouth. "Sweet water."

"We should go swimming," Frank says. Water is running down his face and his back and his legs. His toes are going numb. "Like, for real."

"I'm not going to the fucking beach," Gerard says. "Ew."

"At night, man. It's the coolest time anyway. Heh, in both ways. Let's go on the weekend."

Gerard's rolling his eyes and blinking because he's getting water in them. Frank reaches up with his free hand and rubs it over Gerard's face, but obviously that doesn't do much good since Frank is as wet as the rain.

"I think you're turning blue," Gerard says. "Jesus, Frankie, you have no common sense, you're like Mikey."

"Jesus, Gee," Frank says, "you have no common sense, you're like Frank."

"That's it," Gerard says and wraps his arms around Frank and half-carries, half-drags him back towards the house. Frank lets himself go limp and makes Gerard work for it. Gerard has him under the arms, trying to get him propped up a little, and everywhere their bodies touch it's a little warmer, and everywhere they don't it's freezing and stinging and nasty.

"Shit, you suck at this, let me," he says and twists himself loose and jumps onto Gerard's back, squeezing his knees around Gerard's sides and clinging to his shoulders. "Go on, please."

"Fuck," Gerard pants. "Wait, your shoes." He staggers around, bending over and trying to pick up the shoes and socks.

"If you drop me on my head, my mom's gonna kill you."

"She's gonna kill me anyway if she hears about this bullshit."

"Then your mom's gonna kill me for getting you killed."

Gerard laughs and leans back and forth, making Frank cling and whoop. "Nah, no way," he says. "Ma fucking loves you. She'll keep you as her backup kid while your mom's doing hard time for homicide."

"That'd make us, like, brothers," Frank says, digging his chin into Gerard's neck. "Posthumously."

"Weird," Gerard says.

"Yeah, weird."

Gerard hauls him all the way up the stairs and into the hall. Mikey's door is open, the room empty. Frank slides to the floor and stands dripping and shivering on the dirty lino.

"Mikey's not back?" he says. "Pete must be a really good lay."

"I try not to ponder that too deeply," Gerard says primly. "But I think they're at some house party or whatever, Bob and Ray called earlier."

"Huh," Frank says. "I guess that means more for us." He gets the baggie out of a coat pocket. It's held off the water and the weed is totally fine. "Let's smoke up and watch something bloody."

"Fuck, Frankie, you didn't even say anything!" Gerard makes grabby hands and Frank dodges, but he's shivering so hard and his feet feel like they're made of spongy ice cream and he almost goes headfirst into the wall.

"Whoooh," he mumbles, biting his teeth together to stop them from chattering. "'m fkn cld."

"Fuck, me too," Gerard says. "We gotta get the wet shit off. We can hang it up in the bathroom. Do you wanna take a shower?"

Frank starts wrestling his sodden hoodie. "Nah, a blanket'll be fine, man. And some weed. And coffee? And heating. And weed. And coffee." He yanks it off hard enough to rub his arms red, and drops it on the floor with a shudder.

"Yeah, I guess the hall floor is just as good as the bathroom," Gerard says. He drops his own sweater there too.

"They'll smell like gym locker in like two hours," Frank says. His t-shirt feels like saran wrap out of the freezer. He rolls it up and over his head and arms. It's like crawling through a rotten snake skin or something, except cold. "It feels like rotten snakeskin," he says. "Only cold."

"I wonder if you could make t-shirts out of snakeskin," Gerard says. "Dude, your lips are blue."

"I can feel it, thanks," Frank says, skimming out of his jeans. "You're not as cold, you can hang this shit up. I'll be over here, looking for heat."

Gerard busies himself picking up wet clothes, even Frank's underwear and socks, which is nice of him, and shuffles into the bathroom without communicating further, leaving a wet trail behind him. He's still wearing all his wet clothes. He's weirdly shy about that kind of thing. Mikey too, actually, which makes it extra weird that Mikey is now sexing it up with someone like Pete Wentz who'll get naked at the drop of a hat, or even without any hats involved. It's actually weird that Mikey is sexing it up at all. It makes Frank bummed that he's not sexing anyone. He's not shy. He has lots of sexy dreams, and he's not even all that embarrassed about his mother washing his sheets. That stuff is totally natural.

"Gerard?" he calls on his way down the hall, butt-naked and clutching his baggie. "When you were like my age and had wet dreams, did you get all embarrassed and wash the sheets yourself?"

There's a quiet moment. Then Gerard's voice, quiet and somewhat muffled, says, "Well, yeah. Ma never comes into our room anyway. But Mikey totally didn't bother with his, so I washed his too."

"What a bitch!" Frank says, and tries to, like, imagine Gerard voluntarily using the washing machine. He must have been really embarrassed.

"He just doesn't care, you know? Sometimes it's like he's not even there."

Frank scoffs. "He totally gets embarrassed, though. I know, I've seen him. Today I made him blush when I asked him about Pete!" He grabs a blanket off Gerard's bed and wraps it around himself. He's really fucking cold. It's ridiculous. It's the middle of summer. He sits down on the bed. Then he scoots back and curls up inside the blanket.

"Yeah," Gerard says, coming in wearing some really funny old pajamas, striped flannel ones like something Frank's grandfather might wear on a cold night. Gerard is such a fucking dork. "Sometimes he just doesn't pay attention."

"Huh," Frank says. It comes out like a chopped-up hiss, though, because his stupid teeth are still clattering around like castanets. He laughs a little and it's like "huhuhuhuh" and sounds totally insane. "Jeez, I'm getting like hypothermia. Next time remind me that I'm crazy."

"I reminded you this time," Gerard says. "Are you okay?"

He's futzing around the room, turning on the coffee machine and weighing an ornate glass bong thoughtfully in his hand before putting it back down again, poking at a pile of DVDs on his desk.

"Cold," Frank says. "Feeling like an idiot."

"It was fun, though," Gerard says kind of quietly. He sits down on the edge of the bed. He looks red-cheeked and warm, the fucker, like he doesn't even feel the cold. Frank scoots forward and leans against Gerard's back. Oh fuck, yes, he is a man-sized water bottle.

"Ahhhh, you're warm," Frank murmurs into the flannel. "I'm just gonna, yeah. Fuck, you roll the joint, I'm trying not to die."

Gerard fumbles a whole lot with the pot, so maybe he's still feeling cold too. Frank just clings to his back and tries not to leave bruises on his shoulders. They couldn't pry me off with a crowbar, he thinks and giggles to himself. He tries to tuck his feet under Gerard's thighs but it turns out to be physically impossible. Also Gerard squirms and drops fucking weed everywhere.

"Are you gonna smoke that or just, like, sprinkle it over the bed?" Frank says. He's starting to feel a lot better already, even being this stupidly un-high. Parts of him are totally thawing up. He closes his eyes and relaxes a little. "Is this some kind of arcane Way voodoo type thing? Cause I would really like to enjoy that fine homegrown I paid my mom's hard-earned money for, just sayin'."

"Fuck, Frank," Gerard mutters. "Keep your pants on--Aw, fuck."

"Too late!" Frank crows, 'cause that one was just wide open.

"Sigh," Gerard says melodramatically, and sighs, melodramatically. Frank, his ear pressed against Gerard's back, hears the air hissing in his lungs. Cool.

Finally Gerard finishes. He hands the joint to Frank over his shoulder. "Okay, okay. Here. "

It looks pretty deformed and Frank remembers why Mikey usually does the honors. How Gerard can be so good at drawing but such an unspeakable loser at rolling joints is a mystery. "What the fuck, man?" Frank says. "I can't believe you, it looks like a fucking carrot."

"A Camberwell Carrot," Gerard mumbles in a funny slurred voice and giggles. He sounds like he's high already. Frank goes to dig his lighter out but oops, right, no pants.

Gerard hands him a lighter.

"All right!" The first hit is sweet and burning and spicy and almost makes him choke. Sometimes his dumb, weak lungs just play him like that. But he keeps it together. "Lean back, nutcocker, we have to chill."

"What the fuck is a nutcocker?" Gerard asks, but he straightens up and pushes himself back and up against the wall. He's wearing thick thermal socks, the dweeb. But it's a good idea.

"Not a clue." Frank passes him the joint. "Look in the mirror, whatever."

"Nutcocker," Gerard says. "What the fuck."

Frank inches closer again, tucks himself against Gerard's side. "I'm gonna leech some more heat off you, man," he says. Gerard's hitting the joint like it's the last one on Earth. "It's your function today, human radiator, lameo jointroller, and fuck, you're gonna finish that in one go, fucking nutcocker. That's, like, bogarting. Why's it called bogarting? What did Bogart ever do?"

Gerard hands it over obediently. "I mean," he says, watching Frank smoke with slightly teary eyes. "It doesn't even make sense. Nutcocker? It means nothing."

"Jeez, Gee, it has the word 'nut' and the word 'cock', I think whatever comes to mind is probably right."

"Chickens?"

Frank does choke on his hit then, and he laughs and folds up with pain and unfolds again to fucking breathe, and knocks his head against Gerard's forehead with a smack. "Ow, fuck, how are you so random?"

Gerard rubs his forehead, and then he rubs the side of Frank's head a little too. "You know, chickens. Cocks. Um, nuts... that they eat."

He's smiling now, relaxing already. He's at the point of his pot-smoking career that he only needs a few good tokes to get a mellow buzz going. Frank's working hard at overtaking him.

"You're deep, Gerard, really. Don't they eat, uh, chicken feed? What's that, seeds and stuff?"

"And nuts. Chickens, Frank. Chicken. Mmh, chicken."

"Shit, don't harsh my buzz with that meat-eater talk."

"Sorry," Gerard says. He doesn't even giggle or anything, just smiles that dazed smile, a little crooked, like, lopsided, and his eyes crinkling up at the corners.

Frank leans closer to look. Gerard has long eyelashes. And he's really warm. And sort of solid and a good size for use as heating pillow. "You're really warm, man," Frank says. "And nice, yeah."

"Thanks," Gerard says, all bashful. "You're nice too. But not very warm."

"I'm getting there, come on," Frank says and tries to nudge himself closer. "Seriously, come on, move your arm. Don't let me die of exposure." He butts Gerard's arm with his head and Gerard lifts it and hooks it around his shoulders.

Maybe he spaces a little for a while, because next, Gerard is jostling his head with his shoulder and giggling squeakily. "Come on, Frank, I gotta, like, I gotta roll another."

"No, no!" Frank grabs his hands that are reaching for the baggie. "You're not rolling any more carrots. Fuck."

They struggle kind of limply for a second, and the baggie and the lighter and the paper all fall right off the bed. "Shit," Gerard says.

"No problem," Frank says and crawls forward and flops his upper body over the edge. His arms feel really heavy, but he rallies and pushes forward a few more inches. The blanket is slipping off him and his back is getting kind of cold. "Ugh," he says. He gathers up the stuff and tries to shove backwards. "Um."

"Uh, Frank?" Gerard's saying. He's moving around back there in a twitchy Gerard-y way.

"Shit, I can so not get back up." He pushes feebly at the floor. "Pull me up, bitch! My head's gonna fill with blood and pop like a balloon!"

Gerard mutters something kind of incoherent and then he grabs Frank around the middle and yanks him back up, none too gently. Frank tries to sit up, but whoa, headrush. He falls sideways and just rolls onto his back and blinks at the ceiling and rides it out. Gerard is shuffling around, trying to find a comfortable spot or something.

"Jesus, lie down before you elbow me in the nuts or something," Frank says. "Heh, Jesus. Jesus, Gerard. Jesus-Gerard. Jeeesus. Where's your pillow?"

Gerard is looking around wildly, his hair flopping this way and that. Fuck, his eyes are giant. "The other end." He grabs it and throws it at Frank. Then he tugs up the blanket, too.

"Thanks," Frank says and settles down comfortably. Rolling a joint lying down is fascinating. He drops flakes on his face, which makes him giggle, which makes him drop more.

Gerard finally picks the stuff out of his hands and finishes the job. He's looking pretty toasted, kind of pink and glazed-eyed. His hands aren't too steady, but the joint gets rolled and he hands it to Frank.

"Lie down, man," Frank mumbles around the joint. "You're twitchy as fuck."

Gerard rolls his eyes. Frank smiles, and the smile kind of grows into a big old grin. He can feel it stretching his face. Kind of like in the Black Hole Sun video. That was some trippy shit, too. He makes his eyes go big. Gerard is cracking up and turning bright red, his hands clapped over his mouth.

"Seriously," Frank says, although he's forgotten what he's supposed to be serious about. He waves the joint at Gerard. "Mmh, what happened to the coffee? Are you getting the munchies yet?"

"Uh, not yet," Gerard says. "Soon." He gives up and lies down--flops down like a ragdoll to lie next to Frank on top of the blanket.

"I'm the little spoon!" Frank says quickly and rolls onto his side. Gerard reaches over him and takes the joint, tokes, puts it back in his hand. He leaves his arm kind of hanging over Frank's side. Frank moves around, fitting himself into the curve of Gerard's body. He's starting to feel really good everywhere. Pretty much warm through and through, and maybe he won't get pneumonia if he can keep all his limbs heated at all times. He reaches back and aims the joint at Gerard, and Gerard doesn't take it this time but just takes a drag directly, his mouth against Frank's fingers, his hand light on Frank's wrist. Frank giggles lazily. The lack of sleep is kind of catching up with him and he feels heavy and limp, kind of snackish but not enough yet to do something about it, heavy and limp and warm. His eyes are slipping shut. "You finish it," he mumbles. "I'm pretty baked."

Gerard takes a few more tokes right out of Frank's hand, and they both giggle, but it's slower and slower, like clockwork winding down. Gerard puts out the joint against the wall and tucks it away in the baggie. His arm gets heavier around Frank's waist and his breaths wash slow and rhythmic against Frank's neck.

"Mmh," Frank says. "I feel so fucking good right now."

Gerard sighs against his neck, bringing up gooseflesh down his spine, a really delicious, sneaking chilly thrill. His hair has dried completely and a strand of it is lying wispy and tickly against Frank's cheek.

Frank thinks--literally, so he almost has to facepalm for real--he thinks, what's this warm tingly feeling? He thinks this for like five seconds while he moves his hips a little and leans his head back against Gerard's forehead. Once the five seconds are over, the pot-blurry pieces fall together and of course he's fucking horny. Pot does that to him almost every time, plus he was kind of feeling it even before, maybe. What? he thinks.

He makes himself stop moving and lies still for a while, contemplating what's going on and where he is. Yup, getting himself ridiculously stoned. Yup, naked under a blanket in his best friend's bed. It reminds him of this really vivid dream he had the other night, maybe last week, maybe before that, he can't remember, but the dream is still standing out in detail. In it he was dead, maybe, or if he wasn't dead--

He should be telling Gerard this, of course.

"In this dream I had," he starts, and Gerard kind of jerks as if he was startled from sleep. "Right, I was dreaming that I was maybe dead? Or something, anyway, I was laid out in a church like fucking Juliet in the movie, you know, candles everywhere. Anyway, maybe I was dead, and I was lying there all still and my eyes were closed but I could still see stuff like you do in a dream."

"Mmhmm," Gerard breathes against his neck, sending a new wave of tingles downwards.

"Shit, yeah, uh... so you were there wearing a pretty natty suit, your Sunday finest. I guess it was my funeral, only with way more goth type dripping candles and black roses and stuff than normal. And you were kind of looking at me, not sad, but, like... fucking serene. Serene. And you kissed my eyelids."

"Huh," Gerard says, a huff of breath and his chest kind of vibrating against Frank's back.

"Yeah, I don't know. It was deep and symbolic, man. Beautiful. And, uh, that was the dream, the end."

The part he doesn't think he can bust out with right at this moment is that he woke up and had to jerk off, like, twice in a row. He didn't think much of it at the time, 'cause jerking off, not such a singular occurrence in his life. But in retrospect, yeah, maybe there was something there.

"Cool," Gerard whispers. "How did it make you feel?"

"Um. Pretty good?" Now he's really tired but also turned on and the blanket feels too heavy and rough against his skin, and his shoulders aren't covered so they're kind of chilly, but the rest of him is starting to sweat and he's really having to stop himself from just rubbing himself against Gerard right now.

Weird.

But not uncool.

Pot and near-death by hypothermia, he thinks, it can all lead to weirdness. But that's kind of a stupid cop-out and Frank is not a stupid copper-outer. This is what it is. Gerard's breaths against his neck and the hot blanket and Gerard's arm on his waist.

"Yeah," he says. "Pretty good." He wriggles around, determinedly, and Gerard goes completely, perfectly still.

Seriously, he isn't even breathing.

Frank giggles, a little breathless himself really. He wriggles a little more because he's really starting to feel hot, not just on the inside. The blanket shifts and he flails his arms around until they're free. He can't help but giggle again because he's being pretty dorky about this. He's pretty sure Gerard has been the target of smoother come-ons.

Then he considers the evidence (Gerard "Just Moved Out Of The Basement" Way) and, like, he doesn't actually know if Gerard has ever had sex, or with what kind of person, gender- or age-wise, he's done it if he's done it. They don't sit around talking about sex. It doesn't come up with Gerard. Frank talks about sex more with Mikey.

Asking about that right now would probably take the last of the mystery out of this seduction.

That thought makes him crack up for real, and he spends some time curling up around Gerard's arm and clutching it against his stomach and laughing until everything hurts.

Gerard comes out of his paralysis and says, "You're just not gonna share, are you?"

"No way," Frank gasps. "Just, like, pot logic."

"Uhuh." Usually it only takes Frank cracking up to make Gerard laugh, but he's not laughing right now. His hand twitches a little in Frank's grip and Frank laughs more and kisses the back of it.

Gerard did go to college for a while, he thinks and stretches out his legs along Gerard's legs. Everyone knows what going to college is all about.

Gerard's arm tightens around his middle, and he feels breath against the back of his neck again, sort of irregular, more like sighs. Frank wants to turn around but he's suddenly nervous and jittery and has to stop himself from twitching so he folds his fingers around Gerard's hand and squeezes. Gerard squeezes back and kisses his neck quickly.

Frank moves his legs a little and pushes his ass back against Gerard's belly, and yeah, okay, that's not subtle, but what he can feel against his thigh right now is not that subtle either, not subtle at all through the blanket and those fucking flannel pajamas. He thinks, oh, thank God, and also, holy fuck, this is going down. His eyes are basically crossing he's so turned on, but his stomach is a twisty mess and he's totally shaking even though he's sweaty hot.

"Frank?" Gerard says very very softly and Frank turns his head around to push his cheek against Gerard's face, and Gerard's mouth slides over the side of his neck and jaw.

"Fuck yeah," he whispers and tries to kick the blanket away subtly. "Yeah."

Gerard lets go of Frank's hand so he can slide his palm over Frank's chest and belly. It's really slow and hesitant but Frank is going to throw up from nerves or just explode if something doesn't happen, like, right now, so he puts his hand on top of Gerard's and pushes down like Frank's the skeevy old guy trying to get the innocent little girl to touch his dick and not, well, the other way around, right? So he's giggling stupidly at that thought when Gerard touches him, the first person not him to put a hand on his dick, not counting the school nurse, oh horror and humiliation, and the giggle just kind of dissolves into something breathless and incoherent.

Gerard's not fucking around, he's just, like, going for it, like it makes no difference whose dick he's got his hand on. It makes a difference to Frank, though, holy fuck, it makes a fucking difference. Gerard's hand is a little sweaty and his fingertips are rough, and Frank bites his lips and screws his eyes shut and tries to not come until he's at least enjoyed the situation for a little while. Itt's a losing struggle. Gerard is pretty much humping his leg at the same time and it's weird and probably not super great for Gerard, but Frank just can't do anything about that, he's got fifty different thoughts flying in every crazy direction in his head but his body is doing absolutely nothing but pushing helplessly into Gerard's hand and then coming like a motherfucker.

He thinks he makes a squeaky sound, but he'll deny it if it ever comes up. And his thoughts shut down one by one until there's nothing left but warm lassitude and a baseline hum of contentment. Gerard's gone still again, his breaths coming very short and shallow, chilling Frank's sweaty neck.

Oh, wow, Frank thinks. Holy fucking fuck, we just-- Then he thinks, Oh, yeah, I should-- and when he wakes up, he's still warm, he's tucked in under a mountain of blankets that smell like Gerard, but Gerard's sitting curled up in the computer chair, reading the Sinfest archives and drinking coffee.

Gerard turns around when he sits up. His hair is a rat's nest and he looks completely bombed--not stoned bombed, but fucking exhausted, pasty white in the face with purple smudges around the eyes and feverish red in patches on top of his cheekbones.

"How long was I out?" Frank asks. His voice is a sleepy croak, so he sounds like Gerard looks.

"Couple hours," Gerard says, studying his coffee cup with a concentrated frown. "It's three thirty. Uh, a.m."

"Aw, shit."

"Yeah, I was gonna wake you up soon."

"Coffee?"

"Will you be able to sleep?"

Frank makes a face. "Hello, I can sleep hanging upside down from a tree. Tweaking on speed."

Gerard waves his cup at the coffee maker. "It's been on there for... a while."

Frank slips off the bed and wanders over to the desk, and honestly, he doesn't even remember the bit about being totally naked until he sees Gerard ducking his head really fast.

Frank isn't totally sure about post-handjob protocol, but he thinks the time to be weirded out by nudity is past. But Gerard is a weird dude about some things. Also sometimes the protocol about certain things that happen between dudes--or so Frank has heard--is to pretend it didn't happen. He was kind of hoping this wouldn't be that kind of situation, but he'll play along. He's the late bloomer here, almost sixteen and never been kissed. He knows for a fact that Mikey got totally lucky with Tracy whatserface when he was even younger, and Mikey's kind of cute but he's got bad skin and glasses and starts stuttering or trailing off when he gets nervous, so Frank's pretty sure Mikey fits inside the generally accepted standard for people who won't get laid without luck.

Frank says, "So maybe I have to borrow some clothes again."

Gerard meets his eyes quickly. "Yeah, um... You can see if Mikey's got any clean jeans. Lemme look for a shirt..." He starts wandering around the room with his mug, poking at various piles with his toe. Frank shrugs and goes in search of pants.

Just about three seconds too late, Gerard calls after him, "Oh yeah, maybe you should, like, not walk around naked--" because it turns out Mikey is back.

He's in front of his own computer, still in these ridiculously tight jeans and a tiny blue t-shirt, and he's got black smeared eyeliner on and his hair is a big messy blond swirl hanging over his face. His mouth looks suspiciously red and puffy.

He blinks owlishly at Frank behind his glasses. "Frank, you're... naked..." he says, slowly.

"Didn't know you were here," Frank says.

"I forgot to tell him!" Gerard yells. "Sorry!"

"Yes, but..." Mikey says, waving his hand at Frank. "Tell me there's an explanation that isn't gross."

"Um. Define 'gross'," Frank says, but he feels his face go quickly and completely hot, and he just knows he's blushing all the way down his chest, too. He takes a deep breath. "My clothes got wet in the rain."

"Okay, okay," Mikey says, looking relieved. "It's not raining anymore. And don't wear my jeans without underwear, okay? Seriously. And don't use my underwear, Frank. Seriously."

"Mine are too big!" Gerard calls.

"Fuck," Mikey says. "Gross."

Frank gets jeans and underwear out of Mikey's closet and a sort of cleanish Batman & Robin t-shirt that Gerard digs out of his floor archive. They laugh at it a little, and things are pretty relaxed despite the it-didn't-happen protocol. When he's biking home it's four in the morning and he realizes that yes, he's still almost sixteen and has never been kissed, but he also had a really awesome orgasm, and then he has to stop and jump around in the middle of the road a little, because sex, holy fuck!

He tries to catalogue every moment so he'll remember it in detail later--but everything's kind of floating together into a mess, but he does remember what it felt like, in a word, fucking awesome. Two words. It's easier to remember how Gerard's body was pressed against his back than what Gerard's hand felt like on his dick, which is weird.

Even if it didn't officially happen, it can probably not-officially-happen again with a little effort, Frank thinks. There's no way Gerard is going to be an asshole about it, because Gerard is not that kind of dude.

***

Thursday

At breakfast, while Frank is drinking coffee and trying not to throw up from sheer exhaustion, his mother says, "Come home directly after class today, Frank."

"What?" he says.

"No swinging by the Ways', no little excursions downtown to look at records."

"But--"

She's kind of fussing with her hair and throwing dishes in the dishwasher at the same time. Frank waits for something to break, but it never does. "Father Leary wants to talk to you."

"What?"

"So I said we'd be over at four thirty. Try not to get your jacket or pants stained."

"Mom..."

She puts her hands on her waist, her this-is-final pose. Gerard stands like that too, but it means he's forgot what he was doing because he's zoned out thinking deep thoughts.

"Frank, you're hardly awake."

"It's morning," he says, maybe with a little whine.

"That's the problem. You obviously don't sleep enough, so I can't even imagine what it is you do all night." Her expression suggests she can imagine very well. He tries really really hard not to think about Gerard while she's staring at him like that. "There are things I can't talk to you about, Frankie. You need a man in your life."

He can feel his eyes bugging out, he swears. He's going to bust out laughing in just a second and that will end in a complete shitstorm, so he surreptitiously stabs himself in the hand with a fork and stares fixedly at the tablecloth.

She says, "I don't think you would appreciate advice from George. I can understand that much even though you think I don't know a thing."

"Uh..."

"Your father is just... not an option." Her nose wrinkles briefly. He doesn't think she even knows she does it, but she does it every time she mentions Dad. "Father Leary has a lot of experience."

Pain stops working as a deterrent and his mouth busts out with, "Except with, you know, that one thing--"

"Frank Anthony," she says, her voice measured and chilly. Now, that--that always works. "I will see you here at four fifteen, then. At the latest. Okay?"

"Okay," he says.

***

For once it's kind of sunny, and at lunch he sees Pete Wentz lying on the grass outside the dorm, his shirt off, tattoos everywhere. Frank is so fucking hot for those tattoos it's not even funny, but Pete is eighteen and Frank will have to wait forever before he can get so much as a squiggle inked anywhere. But his dad has totally promised to cough up the dough to get one done, as a present. Frank likes his dad a lot more since he moved away and married a bimbo.

Pete has hickeys all along his collarbones like ugly new tattoos.

"Hi, Pete," Frank says. "Have a good time last night?"

"You know it, Iero," Pete says without opening his eyes. "This is me bragging. You know you're jealous."

Frank is, although not necessary the way Pete thinks. "I'm green and melting," he says.

"You're green and mixing your metaphors."

Frank looks again at the garland of barbed wire and the weird bat thing and sighs a little inwardly. "Being a teenager is not a punishment for past sins even if it feels that way," his mother told him a few months ago in a rare moment of sympathy. That just makes it worse, Frank thinks, though. Then it's just completely unprovoked.

"Say hi to Mikeyway," he tells Pete and walks on.

"I will! With my tongue!" Pete yells after him.

***

Frank has never spoken to Father Leary beyond hello and goodbye at the church door, so he's not totally sure of what to expect. He promises his mother to keep his smart mouth in check, but he crosses his fingers in his pockets. Those kinds of promises are no good to make because sometimes--a lot of the time--he just can't keep it in check.

He doesn't call the sacristy 'backstage' and he doesn't say, "So this is where the magic happens!" when he comes in, which is already a small victory for self-control.

Father Leary is tall and broad and lushly white-haired and really fucking Irish. "He's done really well for a mick," Frank once heard his aunt Francesca tell his mother. After she left, Mom sat him down and told him carefully that it wasn't okay to call people 'mick' and he should never listen to a single word Aunt Francesca says.

"Hello, Frank," Father Leary says, looking down at him from somewhere up in the rafters. He's probably like a foot and a half taller than Frank. It's like being interrogated by an Irish, snow-white Chewbacca. "How are you?"

"'m okay, Father," Frank says. Neutral is how it's done. "How are you?"

"Excellent, Frank. Excellent. I always like to talk to my young parishioners." He sits down at the heavy oak table and gestures at Frank to sit opposite. Then he honest to God steeples his hands and makes a little wrinkle between his bushy white eyebrows. His eyes have that Irish blue twinkle to them. Dumbledore, Frank thinks and wishes he'd thought to bring a fork, or maybe some thumbscrews. "Your mother tells me you've been troubled?"

"Nah," Frank says.

"I know when I'm being dismissed," Father Leary snaps, and Frank leans back and starts paying attention. Okay, hardball. "Now, Frank, I know you're growing up without a father present in your life, and that can be very difficult and confusing, especially at your age. Sometimes it will make you want to... act out."

"I know, yeah," Frank says.

"You're almost a man now," Father Leary says and meets Frank's eyes with a hard look that clearly means 'double dare you to roll your eyes, punk.' Frank keeps his eyes front and center. "Don't worry, I'm not going to make you tell me about your urges. I know all about young men and their urges. Let me just suggest that moderation in all things pleases God."

"Okay," Frank says.

"You've probably already experimented with girls--always in such a hurry to grow up, the young. Then you'll spend the rest of your life wanting to be young again."

"No, not really," Frank says. "I'm not real interested in girls."

"Hmm," Father Leary says. "Does this bother you?"

Frank shakes his head. Father Leary's twinkly fucking eyes are creeping him out a little. Also, this place is not at all creepy with the bare tile walls arcing into the ceiling, and the weird church paraphernalia cluttering the tops of the cupboards and the heavy dark furniture. Probably spiders crawling around everywhere. And crypts with skeletons under the stone floor. Oh yeah, and more spiders. "Spiders bother me," he says. "Girls are okay."

"Your mother told me you have a problem with authority. I can see it."

"Yeah, I do," Frank says.

"Do you want to be more specific?"

"Okay," Frank says. "It's like, okay... everyone tells you to tell the truth. But if you actually tell the truth, you have a problem with authority. How about that?"

More twinkling. Father Leary can stare like a motherfucker. "Well, Frank, honesty can be cruel if you don't choose your words carefully. It can be used as a weapon."

"That's good," Frank says. "I like that one."

"You can be bluntly honest with me, Frank. You just need to learn to guard your tongue with those of more delicate sensibilities. Do you understand?"

"You mean lie."

"Just follow the rules. There's a reason we have them."

"Look, Father. How about this one?--Wait, this is confidential, right? I don't need my mother to hear the truth, if you know what I'm saying."

"Just between you and me, Frank."

"Good. So the truth is that I like guys. I mean, I want guys to put their hands down my pants. How do I squeeze that into the rules?"

Father Leary sighs.

"I don't have a problem with this," Frank says. "I mean, really. I think it's pretty cool. I like guys. Guys are awesome."

"This is a situation where the Church is--"

"Yeah, exactly," Frank says. "So you can't even tell me anything but, like, 'don't.' Right? So, you know. You can't help me. And I don't need help."

Father Leary says, "But you do, Frank."

"Not from you," Frank says.

"That's probably true," Father Leary says, and then he smiles. Even white teeth. And he twinkles. "I was young during the sixties, boy. I wasn't raised by nuns. However, I can't encourage you."

"Hey, whatever. I didn't expect anything else."

"So many things in the world to be disappointed by, aren't there?"

"Hey, man, don't project," Frank says. "I'm good. It was nice to talk to you, Father."

"Don't start lying now, Frank."

"I'm trying to guard my tongue here." He gets up and offers the priest his hand. "Thanks for the chat, Father."

"Talk to your mother," Father Leary says and shakes it. "You're fearless, but you're also very young. You don't know everything."

***

He falls asleep in the car on the way back home, and once he gets home he barely makes it through his homework--last of the summer!--and he goes to bed at six thirty and doesn't wake up until his mother shakes him out of a dream about churches in the morning.

***

Friday

After school, his mother finally makes him mow the back lawn, and then do a bunch of other chores around the yard. Fucking George is lurking around again, doing stuff in the garage, probably setting up new booby traps of paint cans and shit all over the place.

"Frank, you could try to be a little nice to George," Mom says when George is out of earshot. "For me?"

"I am being nice to him for you, Mom."

"I wish..." she says and trails off. Infuriating. "I wish you had some friends with fathers."

He can't stop himself from making a sort of Gerard-like gesture of frustration. "Mom, what is your issue?"

She should be grateful he stopped himself from adding a Gerard-like 'motherfucker' to that sentence. "Didn't you make any friends at Hill?"

"Sure," he says. Travis is a really great dealer, never stiffs you and his product is excellent. Pete Wentz is one hilarious motherfucker. Almost like friends.

"I don't think I've seen Donna Way at Mass since the separation," she says, making a lemon face. "I've never seen either of her sons there."

"They're not religious," Frank says, shrugging. Gerard might actually burn his hand on the church door, he thinks. Mikey would fall asleep inside five minutes. It would probably be hilarious. The only time he's seen either of them anywhere near a church or church-related place was their grandmother's funeral, and that was all kind of a blur of black and gray and staring at Gerard and Mikey holding hands so tight their knuckles were white, and at their tired faces and red eyes and realizing that he had no idea what they were going through, like, for real, and hoping fucking fervently that it'd be a long time before he had to learn. That was kind of a revelation for him, he thinks. He was really such a kid last fall, it was amazing.

Last fall, Gerard was already an adult, though. And pretty much the year before that, too, when Frank was just thirteen. Weird.

He decides against bringing this up with Gerard. He thinks this might be what Father Leary meant about guarding his tongue around sensitive people.

"Why are there paint cans all over the floor in here?" George yells from the garage.

***

Saturday

Mikey calls on Saturday morning, around eleven.

"Dude," he says. Then he doesn't say anything for a while.

Frank feels a spider of worry slither down his spine on eight icy legs. "What?"

"I'm just gonna say this once," Mikey says. His voice is sort of even and quiet, not goofy at all. "Do not be fucking around with my brother."

Frank has no idea what to say to that.

"Yeah, so, that's all I wanted to say," Mikey says, sounding kind of relieved.

"Wait, Mikey," Frank says quickly. "Define 'fucking around'."

"Fucking emotionally, Frank! I don't care if you get into fucking... BDSM scenes with, oh my GOD, I have scarred my own brain, thanks a fucking lot. You know what I mean!" Mikey's voice goes from relieved to exasperated to squeaky and weird in a completely natural, smooth progression. Frank is fascinated.

"Seriously, Mikey, you're not the scariest thug around, but it's pretty cute how you want to protect Gerard," he says. "No, actually, it really is. I love you guys. Really." He draws out the last 'really' just a little bit, sleazy and suggestive, and Mikey squeaks again.

"Let's never talk about this again, okay?" he says.

"Nothing much has even happened," Frank says, grinning. He sort of likes how Gerard can't keep a secret from Mikey for two seconds. It's sweet. "Give my love to Gerard, though."

"Shut up! I'm hanging up now."

"Okay! I'll be around when I can shake my tail, okay?"

Mikey hangs up without another word. He's way easy to freak out.

Now Frank is a little freaked out, too, though. If Gerard talked to Mikey, obviously the it-didn't-happen protocol is no longer valid.

Freaked out isn't the right word, though. Thrilled? Maybe thrilled. Maybe a little freaked. Thrilled and freaked.

He certainly feels more cheerful about painting the picket fence with Mom and fucking George all afternoon. Cheerful and really annoyed because it's almost like Mom has some kind of agenda this weekend, with all the family togetherness and shit.

When he figures it's safe to make for the exit around six, she's on his case in a red hot second, fucking George looming like a big blond tree behind her.

"I'm going to Mikey's," he says, very duh because there are, like, basically two places he could be going and Bob's record store isn't open on Saturdays after six.

Her lips thin.

"Mikey Way did not teach me to disrespect authority," he says, enunciating carefully. That was Gerard, he thinks, though, gleefully. His mother does not know the truth about Gerard. In fact his mother barely knows Gerard exists beyond whatever crazy rumors are going around town. To the ladies of St Mary's, Gerard Way is a tragic, upsetting example of what happens when parents, church and school fail to catch the warning signs. They all think Mikey is cute and innocent, though, and probably all have secret plans to adopt him when the inevitable happens.

"Back by eleven, Frank," fucking George says. Mom puts a hand on his beefy, freckled arm, all 'I've got this'. At least she isn't giving up the wheel to fucking George yet.

"Back by eleven," she says.

"Yes, ma'am," he says. He'll be back by a quarter to eleven, in bed by eleven sharp, and sneaking out again by half past midnight. The rest of the summer is his bitch. He's wearing Mikey's uncomfortably tight jeans and Gerard's stupid Batman & Robin t-shirt, and Mom kind of makes a face but looks confused as if she is trying to remember when she bought those things for him.

***

Neither Mikey nor Gerard is in their apartment, so Frank goes back around the house to the station. Mrs Way is sitting behind the counter, dressed in her typical all black, platinum hair climbing cotton candy heights on her head. Frank likes Mrs Way, but she weirds him out a whole lot, too. Mikey and Gerard aren't freaks out of the blue. The soap opera addiction is one thing, but really, no one should have that many animal heads in the living room. "No one ever even hunted in our family," Mikey told Frank once. "Grandpa collected roadkill to, like, practice taxidermy on, no lie. And Ma sometimes buys stuffed animals at auctions. I guess she's honoring his memory. You know, he was her dad."

"Hi, Frank!" she says, cheerfully. She always looks happy to see him. He thinks she's probably glad he's keeping Gerard company. "Do you want a soda?"

"Thanks, Mrs Way," he says politely. His mother would be proud. He's always polite to Mrs Way. He can respect authority. Especially when authority looks like she could put a curse on him. And she never treats him like a nuisance, which is nice. "Where are, you know, your kids?"

"The kids are in the basement, sweetie. That boy from the Hill with the tattoo he likes to show everybody is there too. Pants tight like it's 1973 again. Oh, I see, you too."

"These are Mikey's," Frank says and grins at her. She smiles back. It's just a little gruesome.

She pushes a can of Coke across the counter. "Well, that makes sense, then. I don't think he'll ever be anything but skin and bone, what do you think?"

"It just wouldn't be right with a fat Mikey," Frank says. "Um, in the basement basement, ma'am? Or in, like, their old room?"

"They're finally going through that mess, honey." She tugs at her hair, fluffs it a little. Her tics remind him of Gerard, although Gerard looks absolutely nothing like her otherwise. But he's definitely her son, no doubt. "It's about time. I just didn't want to push him. Gerard, I mean. He took Mama's death so hard."

Frank nods.

"Just moving into her room was a big step for him," Mrs Way says, tapping a sharp, black fingernail on the counter. She's the oldest person Frank knows who wears black nail polish. Mrs Way is such a goth. "Sometimes... sometimes I wonder what I could have done differently. So he wouldn't have turned out so fucked up."

"He's good, though," Frank says. "Fucked up, yeah, but he's a good person."

She smiles at him, a really sad smile. "You're such a sweet fucking kid, Frankie," she says. "Don't tell your Ma I'm such a potty-mouth around you. She might not let you come around anymore."

"I would never tell, Mrs Way," Frank says and grabs the Coke off the counter. "I'll go look in the basement, then."

He jogs around the house and makes the usual run-and-slide at the basement window. They've sneakily moved the dresser, though, so the drop is a little bigger than he was expecting. His palms and knees take some abuse and the Coke can rolls away across the floor. Pretty rad, though, the way the surprise drop felt. Frank likes surprises.

He's picking himself up off the floor and studying his burning palms when Mikey and Gerard both stick their heads into the room.

"Frank, Jesus Christ," Mikey says.

"You changed it up," Frank says. "Keeping me on my toes, huh?"

"Hi, Frank," Gerard says and waves. Mikey elbows him in the side and retreats into the basement.

"Hi, Gerard," Frank says. There's a moment that could possibly be described as an uncomfortable silence.

"We're, we're cleaning the basement," Gerard says. "Pete's helping. For certain values of 'help'."

"I've been painting the fence and listening to fucking George talk about fucking gardening and his new car and fuck knows what all day." He grins at Gerard when he pushes his way past him--Gerard doesn't move away fast enough so Frank gives him a little friendly shove, just a hi, we're still okay. Gerard will either get it or he won't. Sometimes Gerard doesn't totally pick up on simple clues like that. "Oh yeah, except when he tried to talk to me about baseball."

After a beat, Gerard smiles back. "Seriously?"

"Seriously. Baseball."

"No one's ever tried to talk to me about baseball," Gerard says. Frank thinks he sounds a little wistful. Gerard is probably the only person in the universe who cares less about sports than Frank does. Well, Mikey, but Mikey can somehow fake his way through a conversation about anything, mostly by looking disaffected and so over it.

"You can come over and paint the fence and see how you like it. Get yourself some sun."

"Like Tom Sawyer," Gerard says. Frank imagines Gerard in a little cap, which is easy. Then he tries to imagine Gerard convincing a group of his friends to do his work for him, and that's not so easy. Like, there isn't even that much of a group of friends unless you count Bob and Ray who Gerard seems to like okay, but doesn't really hang out with a whole lot. Sometimes when Frank runs into him in the record store and they talk, Ray asks about Gerard. He's probably bummed that his old best buddy from middle school turned into a crazy hermit and stopped calling. Frank would too, if he had a best buddy from middle school.

"You'd scare the fuck out of fucking George, man," he says. "He thinks I'm a delinquent already 'cause I've got dyed hair. You showed up all long-haired and, like, pallid, man, man. He would freak."

"I'd freak out your mom, too, though," Gerard says. "And then she'd get a restraining order."

"She doesn't even know the worst of it," Frank says and then he wants to bite his fucking tongue so fucking hard because Gerard kind of blanches and steps back, and Frank fucking meant the weed and the booze and not, like, the other thing. Shit. "Hey, man--"

"Dudes!" Pete Wentz crows just then, popping out from the bowels of the basement, holding up two identical glass spheres. "Someone's got witches in the family tree! Iero! Hi!"

Frank nods at him. Gerard's pushed his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and is twisting the fabric almost violently.

"This place is trippy," Pete says. Then he stops, frowns, and says, "What?"

Gerard rubs his eyebrow. Then he scratches his ear. Then he drags his knuckles over his jaw. A spot on Frank's neck starts itching.

Pete rolls his eyes. "Like I said, trippy."

"Fuck," Gerard says. He turns around in a circle, looking this way and that like he's forgotten where he is. "Mikey? Did you put the beer in the fridge or what?"

"'Course," Mikey says from somewhere behind a massive, battered display case full of bird skulls and eggs and feathers mounted on dusty cardboard. "I can't believe they kept all this stuff."

Frank stares at a pretty gray and white mottled feather and asks, "What are you gonna do with it?"

There's a little pause and Frank thinks somehow Mikey and Gerard just managed to exchange glances without actually seeing each other. Then Gerard says, "Save the personally valuable, sell the actually valuable, dump the in no way valuable." He sounds like a kid reluctantly reciting a poem in third grade English class.

"Wow," Frank says. "You're really going whole hog here. It'll take, like, days."

"We're just doing reconnaissance right now," Mikey says. There are small sounds as he moves around, the scraping of boxes sliding over lino, his shuffling footsteps, the whisper of something sliding over something else. "We're not actually gonna empty it out today."

"I really need to be so much more drunk for this," Gerard says. When Frank turns to look at him, he looks down.

"I kind of have to book?" Pete says suddenly. He's bouncing a little on the balls of his feet, his eyes flicking between Frank and Gerard. "You guys are so weird I'm feeling sickeningly normal right now. But I also have to book for real. Mikey!"

Mikey emerges from wherever. His hair is messy and kind of dirty. Frank thinks he sees a clump of spiderweb clinging to his glasses. Gross. Gross and disturbing.

"Walk me out?" Pete says. This is where Frank wants to meet Gerard's eyes and they'll make the 'your brother and his boyfriend are dorkasses and they're gonna make out now, ha ha' faces at each other. Except, yeah. He leans against the wall and watches Mikey and Pete exchange their 'we're dorkasses and we're gonna make out now' faces. Pete slides his hand into Mikey's back pocket when they walk up the stairs.

Frank lets exactly three seconds of silence pass after they're gone before he says, "Okay, Gerard." Then he kind of stops dead, because he doesn't actually know what he's going to say. Please put your hand down my pants now. Please give me my first kiss so I can run home and write in my diary about it. Please stop thinking bad thoughts! He opens his mouth and says, "Happy thoughts."

Gerard frowns thoughtfully. He's actually looking directly at Frank. And thinking. All other activity has stopped. His hand has stopped with the nervous tugging at his hair, but mid-twist, so his fingers are actually caught in there. He looks like one of those paintings of half-naked chicks doing their hair in front of ornate gold-plated mirrors. Except with less gold and more uneven black hair dye.

"Yeah, I mean," Frank says. "Stop beating yourself up, asshole." He waves his hands at the horrible basement maze of spidery death. "You're working shit out! It's cool. Don't worry. Happy thoughts."

Gerard looks absolutely baffled for a second. Non-plussed. Flabbergasted? Flabbergasted.

"Happy thoughts," he says, tentatively.

"Yeah! Hell yeah!" Frank says with lots of enthusiasm. "Wanna go up to your room and play Battlefield? This place still creeps me out like all fuck."

That tugs a tiny smile onto Gerard's frowny face. It's a little reluctant and lopsided, but Frank'll take it. Crisis managed.

***

It's hot and sunny the whole day and even at midnight, it's still pretty warm. The air even smells warm, that summer smell of grass and the dirt the grass grows in. Frank stands on the short, springy lawn with his hand still on the last rung of the rope ladder and just breathes for a while. He's not tired at all right now because he never actually went to bed. Well, he went to bed in the way where he sat on it and played Tetris on this original GameBoy that fucking George gave him when he was in the hospital the last time. It's from like the nineties or something, from back when even Gerard was just a kid and Frank was, like, an embryo. It's pretty awesome. Frank is forced to recognize that fucking George takes good care of his vintage electronics, and that fucking George is pretty determined to make Frank love him and hug him and call him Daddy. Too bad he's such a tool and Frank already has a dad.

He takes his time biking the two miles to the Way joint, because he's thinking. It takes a while for him to get the thinking ball rolling, because he keeps snagging on things like, like, Gerard's hand on his dick! and that feeling right before the Gerard's hand on his dick part, that free-fall of certainty. The whole night feels half like a bizarre pot-induced dream he dreamed a really long time ago, hazy and fragmented; half like something that's still happening. The free-falling feeling is back, although the certainty is not.

He bumps into Mikey coming around the house--literally bumps into him, almost knocking him over. Frank himself actually does fall over, landing on hands and knees in the lumpy grass.

"Fuck!" Mikey says, flailing his hands like a girl at a mouse.

Frank's hands and knees were actually still kind of sore after this afternoon so there's a little pain to ride out. Now his pants have grass stains and there's a cut on his left palm. He stays on the ground for while, licking blood off his hand and catching his breath.

"Good thing I left my bike in the bike stand," he says.

"Dude. Why don't you ever, like, walk?"

He squints up at Mikey. "It's two miles, man, it's just more convenient on a bike. What kind of question is that?"

Mikey flails some more. "I mean instead of running like a fucking maniac!"

"I am a fucking maniac, Mikeyway," Frank says and flashes all his teeth at Mikey.

"I'm surrounded by maniacs," Mikey says.

Frank scrambles to his feet and quickly throws his hands around Mikey's chest and squeezes. "Isn't your life awesome?"

Mikey pats his back gingerly, but he doesn't try to shake him off or anything. Mikey's not really a hugger, although he does hang on Gerard a lot, but Frank figures that's just because Gerard somehow invites it just by being such a... Gerard. That thought makes Frank feel a little like flailing too, but he just squeezes Mikey's scrawny frame again and lets him go. Mikey's smiling a little, a tiny, happy smile. Frank's pretty sure Mikey's life is awesome in some ways right now.

"I'm going to make Gerard come with me to the beach," he announces. "What are you gonna do?"

That smile again. Mikey says, "Pete's borrowed Gabe's car. He's picking me up."

"Gabe's car?" Frank says. He's probably making a really stupid face right now. "Gabe Saporta's car?"

"Yeah," Mikey says. And he shrugs, like it's no big deal. Fucking coy bastard. "Pete kind of made friends with Gabe. I don't fucking know, man. I guess Gabe was impressed with his right uppercut or whatever. Pete's got some kind of superpower, I think."

Frank remembers to close his mouth. "Mind control. Jeez."

"Yeah, pretty much. I gotta go, okay. Good luck getting Gerard anywhere near water." He shrugs again and looks around, starts walking back towards the house, stops, turns around, starts again in the opposite direction.

Frank cracks up, and Mikey flips him off over his shoulder without looking back.

***

The way to get Gerard near the water--Frank figured this one out on the way, and it's actually the best plan ever--is to walk in and say something like, "I'm going to the beach! I'm going to take off my clothes and swim in the dark! Awesome!" and make a whooping noise, and then just run out again.

Gerard will have to follow because he has the kind of imagination that will show him all the horrible ways to die when you go swimming alone at night. He's seen all those movies, he's read all those books. He's had all those nightmares. It's probably not fair to play him like that but it's also really funny to watch his expression.

The beach beach is a couple more miles up the road, but there's a quiet strip of rough sand between thickets of trees and bushes and other foliage just a short walk away--it's a pretty great spot except for the mosquito issue, and no one's ever here. It's so weird that the Ways grew up right next to the lake but never turned into tanned beach rats the way every other kid on this side of the river does. Frank so would be one except for how he was sick so much when he was younger that his mother never let him put his foot in the lake. He learned to swim in heated pools.

"Isn't swimming kind of a bad idea for you?" Gerard is muttering behind him in the patchy, treacherous moonlight between the trees, sounding like he's trying and failing to do an impression of Frank's mother.

"Yup," Frank says. "So's a lot of shit."

"Just checking. I'm not going to swim. I'm going to make sure you don't drown yourself, that's it."

"Sure," Frank says.

"It's cold."

"It'll put hair on your chest," Frank says.

"No thanks," Gerard says. "You know, there are these nocturnal spiders that like to hang out by water..."

Frank stops. His legs want to turn him around, really a lot. He tries really hard to not think about big (of course they'd be big) hairy (and hairy, of course) spiders just sitting in the trees waiting.

He looks at Gerard who is looking back, his pale round face placid, his dark round eyes wide and guileless...

"You are so fucking with me."

Gerard's got a poker face with a half life of about two seconds, so he cracks up immediately and Frank is forced to rush him and tackle him. It doesn't work quite as anticipated, though, because Gerard has somehow seen him coming and braces himself and catches Frank in a clinch. He gets an arm around Frank's neck in preparation for noogie mayhem, but it kind of peters out and he ends up just ruffling Frank's hair almost gently, and his hand on Frank's shoulder clutches at Frank's shirt. Frank's heart speeds up like an engine revving and it's almost hard to breathe. His knees feel watery. But Gerard lets him go almost immediately, without warning, and he almost can't un-water his knees in time to stay upright.

He says, "I see your spider bullshit and I raise you this: sometimes the junkies leave their needles behind, you know, on the beach. Like little presents. Buried in the sand."

"You want to swim alone?"

"There are never any fucking junkies on this beach," Frank says. That's probably true, too. He touches Gerard's sleeve, just a brief little tug. "It's just us, honest."

"I know," Gerard says. "I'm just..."

He trails off. Frank waits for him to pick it up again but he doesn't. It must be like the first time ever he hasn't done his utmost to finish a thought he started.

"What?"

"Nothing," Gerard says. He's also not the kind of guy who says 'nothing.'

The moon is half and actually really bright, but moonlight is pretty deceiving; things aren't exactly where you expect them to be, and the lack of colors really fucks with the general sense of space and perspective somehow. Frank has to concentrate way too hard on not breaking his toes on rocks or roots.

"The middle of the night is really beautiful," Gerard says in a dreamy voice when the hard-stamped dirt of the path turns into gritty dry sand. "Like, the real middle of the night, in the real world. When I dream it's always in the city, I don't know why. Maybe I read too much urban fantasy, it infects my subconscious with, like, fucking rusty pipes and rats and subway vents. I never dream about forests. Not even in the werewolf dreams. Never forests."

"You read too much Sin City," Frank says. The middle of the night is really beautiful. So's Gerard, white face and black hair and his eyes sort of glittering. He looks like he's ready to suck some blood in a sexy way. "You should swim now, dude. You only live once!"

"I've been kind of thinking about reincarnation," Gerard says, frowning as if he's Thinking About Reincarnation right now. "It seems a more likely theory than, you know, Heaven. A struggle over and over and over until you get it right and then just oblivion. Sounds more true than that whole eternal hellfire or eternal bliss."

"Sure," Frank says. "Maybe you'll be reborn a fish. Or a seal. Or an otter. Otters are really cute, Gerard."

"Yeah, otters are cool." He smiles. "The little hands, right?"

"Yeah."

Frank kicks off his shoes. The sand is cool but not cold.

"You're really going in?" Gerard says dubiously. "Seriously."

"Fuck yeah," Frank says and takes off his hoodie and folds it and lays it on a patch of grass. He reminds himself to shake his clothes really really well before putting them on again.

"Freak," Gerard says and crosses his arms.

Frank grins at him and pulls his t-shirt over his head. "Just get naked and take a fucking swim, man," he says. "You're the freak with this, like, hiding everything thing."

"We can't all be crazed exhibitionists."

"It's dark," Frank says and puts his t-shirt on top of the hoodie. "You can't, like, exhibit if no one can see you."

"I can see you just fine," Gerard says, but he's not exactly looking at Frank, he's looking at Frank's little pile of clothes.

Frank doesn't let himself hesitate before unbuckling his belt and unbuttoning his jeans and shoving them down along with the underwear. Apart from how he really wants Gerard to get naked with him, like, right now and no waiting, he also really wants to swim. He hasn't done a lot of that this summer, what with school and being sick and... school and fucking being sick, and then lots of crappy weather after the heatwave in June. Living two miles from a relatively clean lake with a relatively clean beach and not swimming every day is such a fucking crime.

"You're such a dumbass, not swimming here all the time," he tells Gerard. "You don't even have an excuse, you're just, I don't even know. It's great out here."

"I'm a dumbass," Gerard agrees. Frank knows that it's impossible to dare Gerard into doing something by calling him names. He'll just agree that he's whatever insult and then go on not doing whatever you want him to do. Like fighting a fucking cloud.

Gerard is looking right at him now, though, his eyes intense and unblinking, and his expression is, like... Frank can't tell what it is, but gooseflesh breaks out all over his arms and chest and back and, like, everywhere, and it's not because it's cold because it's not. The light breeze is the mildest, gentlest kind of wind, almost warm.

He stares back at Gerard, tensing, thinking, now, right now. But then Gerard blinks and looks down and says, "I'm getting cold just fucking looking at you, weirdo."

Oh, what a fucking lie, and Frank is torn between kicking him in the shin for being a dirty liar and shaking him to try to snap him out of this whatever it is. But the lake is right there, dark and glittering with moonlight, and he might as well go play in it instead if Gerard's going to be this difficult. A little lakewater reboot of the system.

He raises his chin and marches down to the water's edge. He has to try with a toe first because he has no idea what the temperature's like after all the rain they've had this month.

It's not horribly cold. It stings a little wherever the water touches dry skin but feels great once he gets used to it. The lake has this thing where it's about ten paces of knee-deep water and then a sharp drop to about seven feet, and he kind of forgets about it for a crucial moment and basically sinks like a rock, swallowing water in surprise.

The water is silky cool awesomeness even as he kicks his way back to the surface to cough and sputter for a while. He's so perfectly, completely awake and his eyes sting and his lungs are trying to shrink into little raisins but he really just wants to dive into the black and be totally surrounded.

"Frank!" Gerard's voice calls. He sounds anxious. "Frank?"

Frank opens his eyes--he never even noticed he'd screwed them shut--and there's Gerard, standing right at the edge of the drop-off, water almost to his knees, with his fucking clothes still fucking on because he's a total freak, looking totally freaked out like the total freak he is.

Frank shakes his hair out of his face and dives, swimming fast under the surface towards the beach. He resurfaces just a few feet from Gerard.

"Did you at least take your shoes off, Gee?" he asks.

"Um," Gerard says sheepishly.

"I can swim, you know," Frank says.

"Not everyone can swim!" Gerard says, making a helpless little gesture. "Ray Toro can't swim, for example."

"I know," Frank says. "He tells me, like, every time I mention water. I'm fucking drinking water from a bottle and Toro will be like, 'I never learned to swim!'"

He finds the bottom with the tips of his toes and walks up the brink, letting his body stay buoyed by the water, not straightening up until he's up on the shallow.

Gerard's eyes go really round, and it's the fucking last straw--Gerard's standing there like the biggest, prettiest fucking dweeb in the world, with his jeans getting soaked and his fucking shoes on, and Frank's every breath hurts. Being in love is kind of crazy, he thinks. And then he looks at Gerard and sort of nods to himself--it's really that easy--yeah, I'm totally in love with you, you fucking dork. Holy shit.

He opens his mouth to tell Gerard, wow, he's so absolutely about to go there right out the gate, but Gerard interrupts everything by reaching out kind of, like, twitchily--like he's about to fall over and is just flailing for support--and grabbing Frank's shoulder almost hard enough to hurt.

"Fuck, Frank," he mumbles, almost unintelligible, and Gerard is a freak but he's a really articulate freak unless he's completely beyond-redemption wasted. Right now he's almost sober as far as Frank knows.

"Yes," Frank says, really really enunciating and Gerard yanks him close and folds him into a really tight and kind of desperate hug, his hands moving all over Frank's wet back and shoulders, his breath rapid and chilly on Frank's neck.

"Oh, motherfucker," Gerard says and runs his hands up through Frank's hair and cups both sides of his face and kisses him.

It's not all smooth and slow like in the movies. Gerard forgets to tilt his head to the side so their noses mash up together, and Frank isn't sure what to do and also can't move, and it's too hard so his lips grind against his teeth. It's not exactly what he imagined--but then Gerard makes a short, frustrated sound and moves Frank's head and relaxes a fraction, and then it's not just all teeth and noses anymore. Frank still doesn't quite know what to do, so he stays still, standing on slightly unsteady tiptoe, stretched up to meet Gerard, his hands clenched in Gerard's damp hoodie. When Gerard opens his mouth, he does too, and when Gerard touches his lips with his tongue, Frank pushes his own to meet it.

For a second it's just weird. French kissing is the kind of thing that makes no sense in theory--why would you want to stick your tongue in someone's mouth? But Gerard moves his mouth again and nudges at Frank's tongue and Frank feels Gerard's eyelashes flutter against his cheek, and the confusion gets drowned out by all the whoa. It's not any less weird but it's also dirty and hot and, like, obscene and Frank could really just go on doing this until he turns blue. He's getting turned on but for just this moment he doesn't even care, he just wants to push closer and suck on Gerard's tongue forever.

When Gerard pulls away, Frank even tries to follow, craning his neck and maybe making some sort of embarrassing noise.

"Shit," Gerard says, kind of thickly.

Frank tugs at his hoodie. Gerard stares at him, his eyes black and shiny in the cold white moonlight. Frank shoves his hands into Gerard's greasy tangle of hair and yanks at it and Gerard closes his eyes and comes back, tongue and lips, and his hands on Frank's head tighten again.

Frank just has to push his hips against Gerard's body, too, and his wet, naked skin against Gerard's jeans is almost painful and, like, completely fucking necessary and he can't stop, he lets go of Gerard's hair and grabs his arms, and then his waist and then his ass, fingers snagging in the back pocket and the belt loops and he keeps trying to breathe through his mouth and it feels like he could choke, but he can't just stop to breathe. It takes ridiculously long to remember that he can breathe through his nose. His eyes are seriously rolling up in their sockets.

Gerard pulls away again, going, "Frank. Frank. Frank. Frank," even while their mouths are still sort of connected.

"What?" Frank says. He doesn't stop pushing his dick against the rough fabric of Gerard's jeans even though it's going to be too painful in, like, a second. He doesn't even fucking care. "What?"

"You're so cold," Gerard says.

"Fuck, no, I'm not."

"You-- We-- Uh." Gerard scrunches his eyes shut and, like, literally shakes his head to clear it--Gerard totally does things like that. He sometimes treats the weird shit in his head as if it's actually there and he can dig it out with his fingers or shake it out or rearrange it by slapping the side of his face. "We should get inside."

Frank doesn't want to leave. He loves this lake like he loves Gerard right now. They're, like, one and the same. The water feels warm and inviting against his calves. It's just the air that's cold, the wind now no longer gentle, turning the droplets on his body into tiny ice pricks.

Frank says, "Just, just kiss me again. Okay?"

Gerard looks up, and then to the side, and chews on his bottom lip. His hands are still on Frank's head, though, gentle now, fingertips stroking the short hair on his temples.

He wants to tell Gerard to stop worrying, but he doesn't want to remind Gerard of how Frank's a shitty little almost-junior in high school in case that's not actually what Gerard is worrying about right now, and nothing is as obviously glaringly immature as being all, "I'm not a kid, dammit!"

So he just waits, which is at war with his very nature, and lets Gerard make up his own befuddled mind.

Gerard touches Frank's mouth with his thumb, which is a weird thing because it's, like... such a tiny touch but Frank's lips tingle and his chest aches and there's a shiver of total crazymaking, focused want that he doesn't even know what to do with. Fuck this waiting. He grabs Gerard's hair again and makes it happen, and Gerard bows his head to Frank and kisses back.

I love you, Frank thinks again, feverishly. He sort of wants to say it and get everything absolutely out in the open, but Gerard's hard grip on his shoulders and and the way he's screwed his eyes shut and seems so completely laser-sight focused makes Frank suspect any declarations would just either fly right past him or throw him completely off balance. Also Frank has got the impression that I love you is something you have to work up to in a relationship.

When Gerard runs his hands down Frank's back they feel startlingly hot, and he has to admit that he is cold. He pushes at the hem of Gerard's hoodie and slips his fingers under it and Gerard gasps right into his mouth, but Frank isn't sure if it's, like, a turned on gasp or a muffled giggle.

"I think I need to put my clothes back on," he says, sliding his mouth just a few inches to the side, speaking against Gerard's cheek. There's a tiny bit of stubble--really tiny because Gerard's beard grows at a glacial pace and sort of not in every place you'd expect it to--and it feels really funny against his lips. He keeps his mouth there and adds, to make absolutely sure, "I mean, so we can go back, and then we can take off our clothes again. So you can warm me, um, with your body. Like we're trapped in a snowstorm. Naked."

He rubs the soft warm skin on Gerard's flank with his fingertips and thinks about being allowed to just pull the shirt off him and touch everything. He wants to put his mouth everywhere.

"I want to," he whispers. "I want to kiss you everywhere."

Gerard leans his forehead against Frank's, eyes still closed, and strokes Frank's hair again, and his cheek. His sighs sound tortured. Frank feels a tiny spark of fear--getting this far and then having the opportunity snatched away at the last second would be a pretty fucking giant suckfest, and then there'd be the added suck bonus of weirdness with Gerard.

"Don't freak out," Frank says. He kind of wants to beg. Please please please don't freak out and make it weird.

Gerard sighs again, but maybe that's relief and not inner torment? He slumps and hugs Frank again with his face pressed against Frank's neck. Frank hugs back and kisses the top of his collarbone--his shirts have pulled a little to the side and Frank can push his face right on that bit of shoulder, and smell his warm skin, not just sweat and smoke and the faint lingering echo of soap or shampoo, but whatever it is that human skin actually smells like, if there's a word for that smell.

He could ask Gerard. Maybe later, when it's warm. When the worrying is done.

He twists out of the hug and almost overbalances right off the drop into the deep water again except Gerard's still got his hands on his shoulders and saves him, and hauls him back into another bear hug.

"Don't drown yourself now," he says, really quietly.

"I wouldn't," Frank says. "That's not me."

Gerard says, "No, not on purpose. But you're really accident-prone, Frank."

"Or just kind of stupid like that." He takes Gerard's hand and squeezes it. He's not going to let go unless he absolutely has to. Gerard squeezes back.

The moon goes behind a cloud and the black water is suddenly even blacker. Gerard is just a faint shape of even blacker black than the generic night black around them.

"Maybe we should have brought a flashlight," he says and stumbles in the water. Frank's walking very gingerly on his numb feet. Even though he didn't see that much even with the moonlight, this kind of dark makes all the things he thought he saw then grow and change in his mind. He can't remember if there were rocks in the water.

"Yeah, uh, I hope you're not afraid of the dark or anything."

"I am," Gerard says matter-of-factly. "But I like it too."

"Huh," Frank says. "Makes sense, I guess? Scary things are fun sometimes."

"Not in a fun way, though." Gerard's shoes squelch hilariously once they're out of the water. The rough sand makes Frank's feet burn and tingle with waking nerves. "It's like... this real darkness, full of real things. Solid, you know? It's the same in the dark as it was in the light."

"Yeah," Frank says. He's forced to let go of Gerard in order to find his clothes and pull them on, but thankfully Gerard keeps talking and making his presence known.

"Metaphorical dark things are so unreliable," Gerard says. Frank can hear the soft rustle of him scratching his head and messing with his hair. "They change when you're not looking at them. Sometimes I just have to look at real things and remember that they are what they are and nothing else. Unless you get really technical and go to, like, the quantum level and they're actually... mostly emptiness? So actually they're totally not what they are. Maybe reality was more real before they told you about quantum mechanics. Now reality is a metaphor too, I guess."

"It's still real. I mean, even if there's mysterious quantum shit going on that you can't see, it's still, like... it's still a beach and a tree and, and, a Frank right here."

"Not just a metaphorical Frank," Gerard says, his voice a little soft around the edges and Frank knows he's ducking his head and smiling even though he can't see it. That's enough for him. "My shoes are so full of water. My toes are gonna be like raisins."

Frank's trying to get his sneakers on in the dark, which is actually really difficult with wet, dirty, freezing feet. He says, "Fuck, man, don't even talk about toes here. Mine are gonna fall right off."

A drop falls on his nose. Another on his hand.

"Aw, crap," Gerard says. He's moving around, his shuffling steps going squelch-crunch, squelch-crunch on the sand. Frank can see him out of the corner of his eyes--there's another weird thing about darkness, how things stand out when you're not looking directly at them. It's got something to do with how eyes work and not so much with the darkness, but he can't remember what the deal was and basically it's just weird, end of story.

Gerard bumps into him, his hands fumbling over Frank's arm before grabbing his hand. "Come on, Frankie, before we get totally-- Aw, fuck."

The rain goes from single drops to solid wall of wet in, like, four seconds and change.

"Well, I was already wet," Frank says. Then he has to repeat it, shouting, because the sound of drops on leaves is ridiculously loud.

They run, or they try to, anyway, but it's really fucking dark and really fucking wet and really fucking slippery on the path, so what they do is they stumble and stagger and say 'fuck' a lot. Frank's hand aches from Gerard's death grip, and from gripping back just as hard.

The worst is over by the time they climb the grass bank to the highway, the hard, whipping rain relenting into something more natural and less natural disaster. Frank whoops when he scrambles into the soft yellow circle of a streetlight, and Gerard grins wide. The way the light hollows out his face and turns his eye sockets into fuzzy black pits and the way strands of wet black hair slither over his brow ridges and cheekbones turns him unexpectedly ghoulish, and Frank's startled into a laugh.

"What?" Gerard says, still grinning, and fuck yeah, he looks creepy right now, all sallow skin and no eyes and snakes for hair and lots of tiny sharp teeth.

"You look, like, totally undead, man!" Frank yells and runs his hand over Gerard's zombie face, pushing away the freaky snake hair. Gerard leans his head back and the light hits his eyes and the shadows fall away. "And now you don't. Wacky!"

"I just put the glamor back on," Gerard says, pompously. "My true visage is upsetting to some, unfortunately."

"I like it," Frank says, poking Gerard's non-undead face again. "So I Married A Zombie."

"I now pronounce you Frank and Zombie," Gerard says, and his mouth twitches and Frank leans in and kisses it because he can, and Gerard's arms come up around him. They're both wet and shivering now, and wherever they press together it feels cold at first but then quickly warmer.

Headlights cut through the rain and Frank remembers that they're, like, right in the middle of the road making out like the last scene of some chick flick. They drag each other to the side, the least co-ordinated escape ever, and almost fall into the ditch. The car honks as it passes and Frank flips it off.

"Uh, I think that was, like, Todd Sorensen from up the road," Gerard says.

"Nutcocker," Frank says.

***

It's déjàvu all over again in the hall, dripping water on the carpet and looking into Mikey's empty dark room.

"So, uh," Gerard says awkwardly. "Mikey isn't back."

Frank snorts. "He's making out with Pete in Gabe Saporta's car."

"He's making fucking what in what the fuck?"

Mikey is a sneaky bastard. It's amazing how many times Frank can forget that. Gerard is frowning and twisting his hands, and there's an actual pool of water forming under them.

"I'll tell you all about it," Frank says. "When we're all warm and snug and shit."

Gerard's frown deepens like he's just not sure what 'warm and snug' means anymore. Frank puts his hands over his, making the twisting stop, at least. He keeps tripping up on things in his mind, like, oh, now I can just do this, and then he can't even think of what to do. Like, holding hands? Cool, if you're dating a freshman chick or something, so why is he standing here holding Gerard's hands and it's making him feel all fluttery and tense? And when Gerard turns his hands and folds his fingers over Frank's it makes him feel even more fluttery, which suggests that maybe he's the freshman chick.

"This is not how you get warm and snug and shit," he says, straightening his back and letting go so he can unzip his useless wet rag of a hoodie.

Gerard's now fussing with his own zipper like now he's not only not sure about what 'warm and snug' means but also how zippers work and where he is and maybe some other things like the fucking Earth is round and revolves around the sun. Frank slaps his hands away and unzips the fucking thing himself. Underneath, Gerard is wearing the Batman & Robin t-shirt. Arnold Schwarzenegger's block-of-oak face in Mr Freeze drag stares evilly at Frank.

"Fuck, even Mr Freeze is fucking cold," he says and pokes Mr Freeze, which means he pokes Gerard's chest, and then he pats the same spot, and the way the old, worn t-shirt clings when it's wet is really kind of fascinating, and he can feel the heat of Gerard's skin through it, and that's fascinating too. He leans even closer and wonders if Gerard has washed the shirt since Frank wore it for days last week. Probably not. He remembers wearing it and that it smelled like Gerard, not real strong because it had probably been lying on the floor for a while before he got it, but these faint little nudges that tickled somewhere in his brain. Maybe now Gerard's been getting his brain tickled by little Frank nudges.

Frank gives him a little Frank nudge right in the chest with his nose, and smells wet cotton and Gerard. He lifts his head a few inches and puts his mouth on the place right between the collarbones, just above the stretched collar of the shirt. The skin there just tastes like rainwater and a bit of salt, so it's probably a little weird that he kind of doesn't want to move away, but whatever, weird is not that weird in this house.

Gerard's gone all still again, but when Frank moves his mouth a little along his collarbone, he can actually feel Gerard's pulse jumping crazily under his tongue. Gerard doesn't move when Frank pushes his hands under the hem of the shirt, but when he tugs it up he lets Frank pull it over his head.

Instead of staring--which is what he wants to do because Gerard is one pale motherfucker and it's not like Frank didn't already know that but it's different when there's, like, a lot of the white white skin just going on in every direction--Frank quickly yanks off his own gross wet t-shirt and throws it on the floor.

He puts his hands on his belt and looks up, and Gerard is staring at him with a really intense expression, almost a creepy one because Gerard concentrating is... really concentrated, and he, like, forgets to blink. Frank's arms and chest are totally all over gooseflesh that might be caused by the cold, but then there's also this wash of heat underneath that's a blush, half oh no, half fuck yeah. He feels like giggling, but he also feels like closing his eyes and just letting himself fall forward until Gerard catches him.

Getting his pants off is kind of a hassle, though, because even though he's cold as fuck and nervous and sort of confused--Gerard's really stopped giving him any clues here when he's the one who's supposed to know about these things--even despite all this, he's still turned on and negotiating wet denim and a zipper and an unhelpful hardon is like some kind of test. He does giggle when he actually manages to pinch his own fucking short and curlies and yank at them along with the jeans, and that makes it easier. He's totally okay with being a dork, and when you're, like, getting naked right in front of someone you intend to, like--he doesn't even know what he intends to do but he knows what he wants to do sort of--but anyway, he thinks it's better to be a little dorky than be just scared.

He looks up again and shit, there really is nothing to be scared of here, it's fucking Gerard, no bigger dork alive.

Frank smiles at Gerard and says, "I'm totally nervous. I don't even know."

Gerard doesn't smile back although his expression softens a little. He holds out a hand and Frank sees it's shaking.

Before he can stop himself, he blurts, "You have done this before, right? I mean, um, had sex?"

Gerard's eyes widen so much that he looks like a Final Fantasy character for a second, and Frank cracks up again even though he thinks that maybe that was not the smartest thing to say right at this moment.

"Yes," Gerard says after a while. His hands twitch a little like he doesn't know what to do with them, but they're also still totally shaking. "I have."

"Um, good," Frank says. "Cause, like, yeah. It's good that someone has. With dudes, too, right?"

Gerard says, "Yeah." He's quiet for a second, but then, as if he's finally reached the end of his tolerance for being cagey and weirdly quiet, he adds, "More dudes, I guess. Although I'm not totally sure. 60-40-ish. There are a few months there that I'm not, like... I don't remember that much."

"Oh," Frank says, and then, "Wait, what?"

Gerard waves a hand in the air. "You know. Um. Well, I guess maybe you don't. College was... I was a little into experimenting. I hadn't been away from home a lot before and it was just, you know, new. And people didn't know me, and I don't know, I just felt it was my chance to be someone else just for a little while, or become someone else who would be, I guess, be better, or just different and fascinating. They always say 'college try' so I tried." He pushes his hand through his hair, with some effort because it's wet and tangled and snarls around his hand. He tugs distractedly and says--looking at the wall, looking at the carpet, not at all at Frank, "I wanted to experience people, too. I mean, be in their lives or, like, look into them? It felt like there were so many and, I mean, if they were taking the same courses or going to the same places to hang out voluntarily, not shoved into it by, like, the law like in high school, that maybe... I wanted to see if they would be the same as the people here, or if there were, like... if I could find some people who were like me."

"So did you?"

"I guess. In a way. But I didn't really connect, and I didn't even know it, I was just going through it all really fast and you can fuck a dozen people in a week and never really talk to anyone, you know? It was shallow and it was the wrong way of looking for, uh, for connections. I was pretty wasted a lot, too, on the weekends. Maybe I would have given it up, I think I was about to, because I wasn't getting... what I wanted. But then... you know. Then I had to come home and it kind of just ended right there."

He takes a deep breath and tugs at his hair again, and looks directly at Frank. It occurs to Frank that Gerard really talks a lot, but he's never talked that much about his life. He's always really talking about more, like, about ideas and not stuff that happened to him, or stuff that he's done. It's almost kind of horrible how much you can listen to someone or talk to him or whatever and just not know, especially with Gerard who always seems to say exactly what he's thinking as he's thinking it.

He gets it now, though. Like, he gets that this isn't something you just tell your kid brother's obnoxious little friend. And now he's... something else, so now if he asks, Gerard will probably tell him everything.

"Are you weirded out, Frankie?" Gerard says. He looks really freaked out now, chewing on his lip and twisting his hands together again. "I guess I kinda dumped that on you. It's... I mean, I shouldn't--"

"No, it's cool," Frank says to stop him from falling into some kind of regret downward spiral, which is totally something he does sometimes and it usually ends with brooding and drinking and nightmares. "I just... yeah, here I was, like, hoping this wasn't gonna be some kind of 40 Year Old Virgin deal, and instead--It's... I guess you... I don't even know what I'm saying."

"I'm twenty!" Gerard says, and Frank makes a talk-to-the-hand gesture and they both crack up, with totally nervous, stupid laughter.

Frank is still cold but with hot patches of, like, residual blush and he's unbelievably still totally hard and standing here naked and almost more embarrassed than turned on but not quite, and he's really ready to stop talking now and move on to somewhere warm and still he has to ask, "What were you looking for, then?"

Gerard rubs his mouth and rolls his eyes in the way that means he's thinking, not that he's exasperated. "Love, I guess," he says, dragging out the words like he doesn't really want to let them out. "Isn't that what everyone looks for?"

"I didn't, like, look," Frank says. He meets Gerard's eyes and that's totally a moment. It's got weight, he can hear Gerard's brain ticking.

"Yeah," Gerard says, almost smiling. "I'm pretty much done looking."

Oh yeah, Frank thinks. Moment.

"Wait," he says, because he has a thought-- "Am I like you?"

Gerard makes the deep thoughts face again and scratches his arms, first one, then the other. "Yeah... no... Like, yes, but only in the ways that won't turn you into a... well, you're not... You're not a coward, and you're not such a fucking mess. But you're into the same kinds of things, I guess, and if you're not you don't get all weirded out. You get it. So I guess you're like me in the ways I want, and not like me in the ways that would suck. Pretty cool. I'm really glad I know you."

"I'm really glad I know you too," Frank says, because that's maybe the best way of saying it. He tries to imagine the last eleven months if Gerard hadn't come back from college. He could fucking cry at the thought. "Seriously, Gee. My life would suck so much without you."

Gerard does the head-duck and smile that he always does if he gets a compliment, and then he says, "Wow, we're, like... still cold and wet."

"Cause we're idiots, maybe," Frank says. "Maybe we should have had this talk someplace else, but I guess it had to be this way, huh?"

"Confessing sins is something best done with some, uh, mortification of the flesh," Gerard says. "Or so I heard. It's like for penance and shit."

"But why am I cold? I don't have anything to confess." He taps his mouth and makes a thinky face and adds, "Except maybe that I totally, like, get hall passes if I'm bored in class and go and jerk off in the bathroom. But I think everybody does that, like, even the girls. I think some of the girls might do it in class."

"Yeah, I've heard about that," Gerard says. "This one chick told me she and her friends had, like, fucking masturbation challenges. I'm not sure how they got into college because it sounded like they weren't exactly paying attention in class a lot. Talent, I guess. I had to pay attention, man. I knew I had to get into college and get funding or I would just... High school just felt like prison."

"I'm still doing that fucking time," Frank says.

"Yeah," Gerard says and then he doesn't say anything more. There's another moment, not quite as delightful.

Frank decides to stop that shit right now, because he's pretty sure what needed to be said has been said, and he's as sure as he thinks he's ever going to be that Gerard isn't just going along for the fuck of it and that he's also actually going along--Frank has never fallen for a bait and switch but he knows it happens because Gerard once told him about a chick in high school who strung him along as a joke and then dissed him in front of everybody, and stories like that stick like hooks--and that the only reason they're still standing here freezing their balls off and waiting is that no one's said "go" yet.

"Go," he mutters to himself and reaches for Gerard, touches his arm, and his side, and Gerard looks serious when he leans down towards him.

"Go?"

"Yeah, you know," Frank says. Gerard's not super tall, which is good because Frank doesn't have to crane his neck or stand on his toes, it's enough if he looks up and Gerard looks down. "Go."

He puts his hands carefully on Gerard's belt buckle. "I'm just gonna take these off you now, if that's okay."

Kissing makes it hard to concentrate, though, and Gerard runs his hands over Frank's back and pulls him closer although not so close that Frank gets squished against the gross wet pants. Gerard's considerate like that.

The buttonholes on Gerard's black jeans are worn and loose but it's still a struggle to get the buttons open. The stiff wet denim is like tent canvas, and Gerard is licking at Frank's mouth and slipping his tongue inside all slow and careful and slick while he, like, touches Frank's throat with just his fingertips. Frank thinks that getting down with someone who Tried In College is a great idea because these things would totally not occur to Frank, that a light touch along his jaw and over his Adam's apple would do anything. It does, though, and his whole body shudders. Actually everything sort of hurts, all over, good and bad at the same time because he's been hard for, like, hours but he's been cold and wet for hours, too.

He gives a frustrated and slightly vicious yank at the stupid stubborn fly and the buttons finally give it up. Fanfare, and a brief moment of hesitation because he's about to go where no Frank Iero has gone before. Gerard's hand on his throat stills, too.

Frank turns his hand palm against the damp skin of Gerard's belly and slides it down under the elastic of his boxers and over rough pubic hair. Gerard's pants are always kind of tight and even with the fly open there isn't a lot of room. He pushes down with moderate violence and Gerard makes a sound that's right between a whimper and a groan.

"Oh, fuck," he says, a little choked, and his hands tighten briefly on Frank's shoulder and neck before he lets go to push at the jeans himself.

Frank shifts his hand and suddenly, and somehow surprisingly even though it's what he was aiming for, he's got his fingers around Gerard's dick. His brain just goes Jesus fucking fuck and his heart's slamming like crazy in his chest and he bites Gerard's lip. Gerard just makes another whimpery noise and snaps his hips forward, just once, like it got away from him.

If he'd know it would be such a fucking battle to actually get Gerard naked, he would probably have thought of some other clever plan instead of swimming or running around in rainstorms, but okay, he'll take this, even though Gerard's face twists against his when the stupid fucking evil pants stick to his hips and thighs and also catch on Frank's wrist before finally relenting.

"Motherfucker, buy some pants that fit," Frank pants, and Gerard huffs out scratchy, wheezing laughter and kicks the jeans and boxers into the pile of soggy clothes. Frank looks down, past his own hand still clutching Gerard's dick awkwardly, and past Gerard's dick, hi, fucking hell, and sees that the fucking boxers are bright blue and have the fucking Superman logo on them. "No way," he says.

Gerard looks down too. "Um," he says. "Way?"

And they both laugh again, shaky and almost hysterical, and Frank leans against Gerard, his whole body against Gerard's, his really fucking confused dick against Gerard's thigh. Gerard puts his arm around Frank's shoulders, pulls him in tight.

"Frank," he whispers, soft like he wants to say something really sappy right now but he loses track or something because there's nothing audible, just his mouth gently moving against Frank's neck, just below his ear. Then he pulls back and shakes his head again, presumably dislodging some brain-clogging debris, and says, "Come on."

It really doesn't compute at first--Come on? Come on what?--but Gerard nudges his shoulder and nods in the general direction of last-door-down-the-hall, making kind of a hilarious face at the same time. But he's got a point because, fuck, mattress, pillows, a pile of fleece blankets because Gerard likes to bundle up like a little old lady sometimes, and being horizontal while naked, all in that direction.

Walking down the dim hallway half a step behind Gerard, his sandy feet shuffling on the skanky carpet--is he or the carpet getting skankier? He can't tell. Maybe it's an equal skank exchange--he gets a soundtrack of Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon in his head, which makes him think about John Travolta and that's not exactly an inspirational image even if it's über-cool Pulp Fiction Travolta, not post-Battlefield Earth Travolta. He's snickering to himself and Gerard turns to look, with that little smile he has when he has no idea what's going on but he's not feeling too bad about it.

Gerard's bed is not just covered in half a dozen ratty blankets in various colors but also a whole bunch of various random junk that in no way belong in a bed, like fucking pencils and lighters and an issue of New X-Men that Frank thinks is actually his, and a bird skull from that creepy cabinet in the basement, perched on top of an open sketchpad with lots of little drawings of the skull from different angles.

Gerard looks at the bed and makes a face, then just gathers up the topmost blanket with all the shit on it and pitches it on the floor.

"Alexandrian solution," he tells Frank, grinning quickly before looking down and Frank's pretty sure he blushes, too. Because that suddenly put him over the embarrassment threshold. Frank has no idea what an Alexandrian solution is, but if it means the bed is good for lying in, he's cool with it.

He's also fucking cold, so he sits down on the bed, pulling his legs up and sticking his feet under a blanket, and tries to not look like a virgin about to be, like, ravished. He wants a cigarette, but he can ignore the craving. His cigarettes are a soggy mess in his jeanspocket anyway, probably a dead loss. Maybe later he can fucking chew on the flakes or something. Or Gerard will have a carton in his desk because he always has a carton in his desk.

Gerard pulls the green blanket up over Frank, all the way to his shoulders. Then he sits down next to him, back to the wall, and extracts an ancient, faded yellow blanket with little red Ferraris on it from the pile and huddles under it.

"Gerard," Frank says. "I don't think this is how you got laid so many times you forgot how many."

Gerard shrugs awkwardly, biting on his lower lip. Frank sees that his mouth is pretty red, and his cheeks are kind of pink, too. "I was drunk. Or high. Or, you know, both at the same time."

Frank leans in closer, tucking his feet under himself. "So you're, like, totally sober now?"

"Pretty much," Gerard says. "I guess I had a couple beers... um, I don't know, before you came over in the afternoon. And I guess a couple Xanax before we went down in the basement. That was even earlier."

"I'm so sober my brain's fucking transparent, man," Frank says. He worms his hands out from under his green blanket and in under the yellow one, grabbing the first body part he can find, which is Gerard's ankle. He says, "Just tell me if I'm doing something weird."

He pushes the fucking Ferrari blanket out of the way and climbs quickly, if not all that gracefully, into Gerard's lap, still hanging onto the green one. There's a second where he doesn't know where he hell to sit down without making things really uncomfortable or advancing the plot too much, but Gerard gets with the program--his mouth has fallen open and he's staring right at Frank, unblinking and looking like he's caught halfway through an expression before forgetting what he was going for--and catches him around the waist and puts him down carefully before pulling him forward, closer.

"Oh, good," Frank says, the insides of his thighs tingling and his chest tightening again, and then, "Oh, fuck."

He falls forward against Gerard's chest, catching himself with his palms flat against his shoulders. He leans his forehead against Gerard's and says, "Just... tell me what to do, something. I want to make you come." He shifts a little, and Gerard sucks in a breath. "I think I owe you one, like, a handjob at least. And I want to try stuff. I don't know what you like."

Gerard's hands on his waist grab a little harder and he slides another inch forward, which puts him flush against Gerard, his dick pushed against Gerard's soft belly and Gerard's dick keeping it company, which feels weird and excellent and makes him want to move. He's getting warm and his feet are stinging with pins and needles and neither of those things really matter.

Gerard cups his jaw with one hand and kisses him really slowly and deliberately, all wet and deep, and the other arm is wrapping around Frank's waist with the hand settling on the small of his back, pulling him forward even more, and that brings the kind of friction that makes his eyes fucking roll up and his toes curl. He gets his hand down between them, and he intends to just go for Gerard's dick which is drawing slick wet spirals on Frank's stomach, but his own dick is like right there and he ends up kind of wrapping his hand around them both. It seems really obvious once he's there, like, hi, this is totally how it's done, isn't it? Maybe with some more slick stuff, it might be even better but he's so beyond working that shit out, someone just needs to fucking come or things will start exploding. Just getting into this position has ratcheted up that about-to-come tension from I-could-come-with-some-work to T minus two proper strokes or some fucking dirty talk, and Gerard's tongue is doing the dirty talk on the sly, without the actual talk.

Frank tears his mouth away to gasp on the next little push from Gerard's hand on his back, and he can feel every finger there like a separate spot of heat, and a couple are, like, right on the top part of his ass and there's another new thing, how he kind of wants more of that. He wonders if that means he's a catcher, but that is totally not something he's got the brain power to consider right now. He just slides his loose fist down along their dicks, letting most of the friction come from the way they're squished together because there's really no need to rush, or maybe there is because the feeling right on top of everything is more, more, more. His mouth makes a grin of some kind because even seconds away from coming he's, like, thinking about Billy Idol or whatever, and Gerard leans his head back, banging the back of it on the wall and clearly not even feeling it, and Frank says, pulling his hand up and pushing down again, "Like, like Rebel Yell," sounding weird and breathless in his own ears.

Gerard blinks and nods and moves his hand down a couple inches and is now totally grabbing Frank's ass, kind of hard and deliberate in a way that makes Frank want to push back, although he can't because he can only push forward for the foreseeable future, forward into his own hand and into Gerard's stomach that seemed soft a while ago but doesn't give a whole lot right now that he's tightening up every muscle he's got.

When Frank starts to come, he has to lean back, though, to give himself a little space to really stroke himself through it, and his head just falls back and he stares at the ceiling where Gerard has pinned a pull-out poster of Famke Janssen as Dark Phoenix, shitty movie full of moronic retcons but fuck, she was hot when she went evil, and he's never noticed the poster before. Gerard's a fucking weirdo, but he's got taste--

"Frank, Frank," Gerard says, thickly, almost slurring it, and lets go of Frank's neck and just shoves his hand down to wrap around Frank's, smearing come between them, his ragged bitten nails rough on Frank's skin, and he leans forward and presses his face against Frank's chest, and his breath comes in hot-cool gusts, short and sharp like their strokes. Frank's out swimming somewhere in orgasmland, connected to what his body is doing in the most fuzzy, blissful way and everything feels one hundred percent fucking awesome right now.

Gerard is a lot noisier when he comes, which probably comes from how he's had orgasms that weren't happening like ten feet from his mother's bedroom door. It's almost, like, a shout, and Frank's pretty sure there are words in there but he can't make them out. He regains control over his neck muscles enough to look down again to see Gerard's wide-eyed, slack-mouthed expression, like his stoned expression combined with his this-close-to-beating-a-level-in-Doom one. The two would never combine naturally because Gerard can't beat a level in fucking Pacman when he's stoned. Right now, though, all that weirdly unfocused focus is directed at Frank and not the great beyond or the monitor. Frank sits where he is, his hand still tangled with Gerard's in the slick mess of come between them, pretty much not in a state to do anything else, and stares back.

He can sort of look at things he was too jacked up to notice before, even though he was looking, like how Gerard's skin is really really white--okay, he's pretty sure he noticed that, but yeah, Frank's hand own hand looks almost brown next to him, and Frank just isn't that fucking tan this summer, what with all the being sick and sitting inside studying. And Gerard's also not got a lot of hair on him, unlike some other dudes Frank has seen, like his dad who is, like, one of those really hairy Italian dudes with thick, curly, black hair on his chest and back and on the fucking backs of his hands. Frank hopes pretty fervently that it's not in his own future. He's been trying to study his maternal grandfather for signs of gorilla fur but it's inconclusive so far. Gerard doesn't look super manly anyway, with his round soft face and big eyes and small hands. Maybe that means Frank isn't completely one hundred percent gay, then, since he likes such a girly dude? And Famke Janssen. Not that any of that really means much when he's sitting here with his hand still on the dude's dick, pretty much covered in come and wishing to make more of it.

"Yeah, wow," he says, half to himself, and Gerard blinks slowly. He's got really long eyelashes too, curved and pretty. Frank's breath has calmed down but his voice still feels kind of raspy. He can't stop himself from just blurting out, "Let's do it again."

"Oh, fucking crazy," Gerard mumbles indistinctly, because he's still kind of panting. Every time he takes a breath, they shift against each other a little and Frank feels a little insistent zing in his dick.

"It's not crazy, right?" he says. "I mean, I can go again, like, give me five minutes." He leans back and lets himself fall, Gerard's hand still on the small of his back, until he's arched backwards in a really satisfying stretch, his shoulders on the edge of the bed, his knees kind of clutching at Gerard's thighs. He must look really fucking porny from up there, it occurs to him, but that's only good at this point. Gerard's fingers dig hard into the muscle on the sides of his spine.

He lifts his hips so he can get his legs out from under himself, and Gerard's other hand, sort of forgotten there on his dick, slides sweetly, slickly over him, and he's still half-hard and going back to hard pretty much right now.

Being horizontal is fucking sweet, too, and he thinks something slow might do it now, just burrowing up against Gerard, if Gerard would just lie down--"Hey, hey, come here," he says and reaches up. "Lie down."

Gerard obeys, like, immediately, which is awesome, but then again, Frank knows he's probably going to be in charge for a while, he's not fucking stupid, he knows how this might look from Gerard's point of view--gotta be careful with the kid, although Gerard probably thinks about it in more poetic terms.

Gerard shuffles them both around a little, shifts pillows and blankets around, actually wipes the mess off with the precious Ferrari blanket and floors it, bye Ferrari. Then he settles against Frank, not on top of him or anything, and kisses his shoulder, and his jaw and his temple, all concentrated with his eyes closed, like Frank's mother kissing a saint or something. But his hand is on Frank's chest, drawing little circles, skimming over his nipples, which is another funny thing because it doesn't really feel like anything but there are, like, more zings, like fucking telepathy with his dick. He wants to laugh out loud at that, but he still surprises himself when he does.

"What," Gerard mumbles with his face pressed against Frank's neck, hand still moving on Frank's chest, slow strokes, tracing his ribs with a finger, running his palm down the middle of his ribcage and over his belly, up again along his side.

"I just felt like laughing," Frank says. He looks up at the poster in the ceiling, now upside-down. "The Phoenix watches," he intones.

"She's always with us," Gerard whispers, his mouth right over Frank's ear, his breath fanning over his sweaty neck and making the short hairs stand up. He slides his hand down over Frank's belly again and bumps into Frank's happy dick. "Jesus, you're a fucking Energizer bunny."

"Mmh," Frank says, feeling totally calm and un-Energizery, but yeah, turned on, too, however that works. "You don't have to, like... I can..." He's not sure what he's saying, but he puts his hand on his dick, under Gerard's. Hi, dick, never done until it's done twice.

He feels Gerard's mouth move into a smile and just a hissed, "Shh." Then Gerard shoves himself up, kisses him briefly but not at all casually on the mouth, and slides down the bed, a pretty smooth move. Practiced, somehow, and Frank tries to imagine other people Gerard might have done that with, but he doesn't actually want to think about that now or maybe ever. That might just be a conservative upbringing--thanks, Mom. He came to Gerard right out of the box, so maybe he wants to think of Gerard as right out of the box for him too.

That's a downright stupid and uncharitable thought so he makes himself think about pretty college girls with their long legs wrapped around Gerard's head, stuff he's seen in porn on Mikey's computer--Gerard probably has porn too but he never fucking shares, either he's embarrassed or he's just stingy like porn might wear out if you watch it too much, and really, one guess which it is. Mikey's weirdly matter-of-fact about porn, he'll just be like, "If you jack off in my room I will stomp you," like he could fucking take Frank.

All thoughts of college girls, Mikey and porn vanish in a puff of smoke when Gerard slides his mouth down the arc of his hipbone and then up the length of his cock, the tip of his tongue moving, like, in little...Jesus, Frank doesn't even know what he's doing but it's like a whole new universe of sex right there. Fucking punch-in-the-face hot. He's got no idea what to do so he just tries not to move, digs his fingers into the mattress until his fingertips hurt when Gerard just lifts his head and goes down totally smoothly, and Frank can see his eyelids flutter closed like he needs to shut out the visual or something, and Frank gets it because he can't watch for long either, he has to look up at fucking Dark Phoenix again and she's watching him with her evil pretty face.

He remembers thinking thoughts like 'slow' and such just about thirty seconds ago, but that's out the window. Not that Gerard's pushing it or anything, he's moving without hurry, like he could keep it up for a while, but Frank's fucking dissolving here, his knees are, like, shaking even though he's flat on his back, and it almost hurts to breathe like he's wrapped in something that only lets a little air through, like an egg or something, huh, if you can say you're wrapped in an egg. He doesn't crack up even though the egg line of thought is totally weird enough and, like, Gerard-y enough to be worth a good belly laugh. He just gasps in little stutters and chews viciously on the corner of his lip and stays so so still because he doesn't want to make Gerard stop. It's making his fucking abs hurt from the effort.

He looks down again, just a glance, and catches Gerard looking up, dark-eyed and so fucking intense, and that's just it, he can't stop his hips from twitching, and he can feel the buildup trembling through his body and making everything go tense with the last few seconds of waiting. He wants to say, like, "Watch out," or "Timber!" or something but it basically comes out "Aaa," totally unverbalized and Gerard just tightens his lips around Frank's dick and doesn't even try to move away.

Frank has no idea what Gerard does with the spunk, spits or swallows or just lets it spill, and he's not sure it's really significant. In porn they always shoot it all over the girls' faces, which seems not super enjoyable and basically a silly thing to do, like getting slimed on Nickelodeon.

He remembers to open his eyes again, not that he knows when or why he closed them, and Gerard's just curling up and laying his head on Frank's hip, his hand on Frank's belly, fingers moving slowly. He's smiling, a sweet, happy kind of smile. Either he really likes sucking cock or he really likes the taste of semen. Or both, maybe they go together.

"Cool," Frank says, feeling pretty uncool and goofy but okay with it.

"Yeah," Gerard says and presses his lips against Frank's flank, just a quick hi or something before sliding right up the bed again to lie next to him, still fucking smiling. Frank turns his head and kisses the corner of his mouth. It's kind of a familiar smell and taste there, just mixed up in an unfamiliar way, which is interesting. He opens his mouth a little and Gerard sighs and meets him and it's weird and nice. Like a lot of things tonight.

He thinks he might be fading, his eyes stinging, all his limbs just growing so heavy he can hardly move. It would be really rude to fall asleep on Gerard a second time, though, so he struggles out of the sleep quicksand and keeps his eyes open.

"Just sleep a little," Gerard says, because of how cocksucking leads to reading minds or something. "I'm pretty beat too."

"Aw, but I wanted to try it," Frank mumbles, and he's not just saying that--he wasn't even sure until he said it, though. But he is. He's totally pro-oral. It's something he wants to learn.

Gerard reaches out and grabs a couple pillows and yet another blanket, because the green one has slipped right off the bed what with all the sex going on. This one's bright yellow and apparently pretty new since it doesn't yet have any suspicious stains on it. Snuggled up together like this they fit just fine under it, and Frank puts his head on Gerard's shoulder and a foot over his calf and his arm over his chest. The lights are on but nobody is going to fucking get out of bed to deal with it.

It's another moment that could maybe contain some kind of speech or communication type thing, but Frank doesn't want to babble all over it, and Gerard seems happy to shut up for once, just leaning his head against the top of Frank's head and his hand against Frank's side.

***

Frank wakes up earwormed with just one line from a Rihanna song (I don't wanna beeee... a murdererrrr...). He's hot on one side and cold on the other, thirsty and logy-headed--he might be getting something again, maybe--and the bed he's in seems wrong yet familiar, definitely smells wrong yet familiar. Which means he's passed out in Gerard's bed again.

"He's more than a man," he hums, and chuckles because his voice sounds so fucking blown. "This is more than love..."

He opens his eyes and looks up, and Famke Janssen looks back. He stops humming.

The hot side and the cold side crash in the middle and he's got shivers and gooseflesh all over. He stretches out his legs and arms and feels every aching muscle. Fuck yeah he passed out in Gerard's bed again. Fuck yeah.

Gerard's not in the bed, or even in the room at all. There's a lingering smell of relatively fresh cigarette smoke, though, so he's been here recently. Frank wants a cigarette. He swings his legs over the edge of the bed and puts his feet right on a pile of blankets, the green one and the one with Ferraris. Oh, yum. He wants a cigarette and then he wants to mess up some more bedclothes. He's got a little morning wood going, and now that he's thinking about it, it's developing into give-me-sex wood.

There's still sand between his toes, and probably, like, seaweed in his hair and he's definitely kind of crusty in the general crotch area, which, yeah, just falling asleep after nutting all over the place leads to that. The bed is probably, like, covered in it. If the CSI dudes came and shone on it with their blue lamp it would fucking glow. Then they would run DNA and be like, "Two donors, the resident and unknown male." Then someone would make a pun about all the hot gay sex that happened. Frank can't think of a pun, it's way too early. Not even a really crappy one.

Why would Grissom and his merry geeks be here, though? They'd have to have a crime. Werewolf slaughter? Then they'd match his blood to the come on the bed and figure shit out. Then they'd find Mikey and Pete's come in Mikey's room--

There are hushed voices coming from the hall, almost whispering. Mikey must be back.

Spider-Man says it's twenty-two minutes past four although Frank feels like he's slept for far longer. He grabs the yellow blanket and wraps himself in it like a tasty yellow Frank burrito. For a second he considers trying to find something to wear but he's just not man enough to look through Gerard's closets. He pads into the hall, tossing the end of the blanket over his shoulder like he's Julius Caesar.

Mikey's door is almost closed, like, just a few inches ajar. Inside, Gerard is speaking softly, steadily. Frank's not sure if this is a family emergency or them being goofy or what, but he won't know until he asks, right? So he nudges the door open with his shoulder and sticks his head inside.

Mikey's sitting cross-legged on the floor by his bed, his glasses cradled in his hands, his hair a freaky, matted mess as if he got caught in the rain too except with way more product in it than Frank and Gerard. Gerard is sitting next to him wearing a white t-shirt with the Bryar record store logo on it and also a giant rip in the armpit, and white tighty-whities, so he looks like a mental patient. He's leaning his head on Mikey's shoulder, eyes closed.

Mikey looks up, and Frank spots his swollen eyes and disgruntled expression. Family crisis, then.

"Um, sorry," he says and starts to back out, but Mikey rolls his eyes immediately.

"Just-- Whatever, Frank," he says. It makes sense if he's really upset, Frank knows what that shit feels like. You just want people to fucking guess what you want and not make you fucking explain every stupid thing. He takes a tiny step into the room and Mikey just looks down again and leans his head against Gerard's.

"Hey, Frank," Gerard says, opening his eyes for a second, but not smiling at all. But there's, like, kind of a warm vibe there, like, come on, welcome, this is us. Something like that. Gerard takes Mikey's hand and says, "Okay?" and Mikey nods. "Yeah, Pete's going back to Chicago, I guess."

"Oh," Frank says. He'd sort of thought that was common knowledge. "But--"

"He got his fucking diploma," Mikey mumbles. Oh. Not coming back.

"Shit."

"I'm okay," Mikey says, straightening up and shrugging hard enough to momentarily dislodge Gerard. "Kind of pissed off, I guess." He rubs his hands over his face--Gerard catches his glasses before they drop off his legs to the floor.

"I can punch him if you want," Frank says.

"Yeah, me too," Gerard says. They've offered that before, Frank thinks, vaguely remembering a lot of beer and some gross liqueur shit and vomiting. Gerard's probably made that offer sober, too. He really seems to think that a) Pete's face would look better around his fist and b) he could actually take Pete. Fucking Pete who is a fucking legend in town by now for the Gabe Saporta KO.

"Fuck, if someone's gonna punch him, you guys," Mikey says, twisting his mouth in a little pout of distaste, "it's gonna be me. Plus, whatever, it's not his fault. Not like he can just hang around this shithole for no reason."

"Well, he could treat you right while he is here," Gerard says. Mikey smacks him in the face, maybe harder than intended, 'cause Gerard winces and rubs his mouth delicately.

"Oh my God, Gee, I am not Meg Ryan."

"Yeah," Frank says, still standing in the door in his blanket toga, but feeling pretty okay about it. "We're dudes. We should get drunk and kill a hobo now."

"Well, or watch Apt Pupil, I guess," Gerard says, nodding. "Wait here, I have some fucking Smirnoff somewhere, I swear." Before he gets up, he puts Mikey's glasses back on him, somehow without poking him in the eyes.

Frank goes to sit down on the bed behind Mikey. When he and Gerard pass in the middle of the room, Gerard's hand touches his real quick, a little nudge that makes Frank feel kind of Meg Ryanish himself.

"Fucking bummer," he says to Mikey.

"Uhuh," Mikey says. He's bending the fingers of his left hand back one by one, making gross cracking sounds. "Also, he fucked me first and then told me."

"That's classy right there."

"I think he wanted to, like, soften the blow."

Frank giggles and clamps it down and then they're both quiet for two seconds before he can't hold it in anymore and laughter fucking explodes out of him in weird choked gusts, and thankfully it pulls Mikey along too into the chorus of weird hysterical laughter.

After they calm down, Mikey says, totally matter of fact, "You guys are fucking for real now, right."

"Uh," Frank says.

"You're fucking naked in my room again, you freak. And you were here in my house fucking my brother while I was getting broken up with." There aren't even any outraged squeaks in that sentence, just Mikey's weird monotone. Frank can't tell how he's feeling. Seriously, he might be joking or he might be about to have a nervous breakdown.

"I'm not naked, I'm wearing a blanket."

"You are so naked," Mikey says.

"And we didn't so much fuck as--"

"Fuck you, it's enough if it's just blowjobs, I don't even want to know."

"President Clinton does not agree with you! And fuck you, too, Mikeyway, you totally started with the gay stuff."

"Obviously you've just been waiting for the opportunity."

Frank grins and nudges Mikey in the shoulder with his toe. "Damn right," he says.

"Well," Mikey says, leaning against the bed and glancing back at Frank. "Congratulations, I guess? Don't-hurt-him-or-I'll-cut-you."

Frank leans forward and kisses him on the corner of the mouth and dodges back before Mikey can get him.

He's trying to figure out a way to ask Mikey if he knows about the whole Gerard the College Slut thing when Gerard comes back with an unopened bottle of vodka and thank God a pack of smokes.

"Were you guys talking about me just now?" he asks, squinting at them. "I heard you laughing."

That cracks them up again, of course. Frank manages to get out, "No, we were fucking laughing at Pete."

"But now we're laughing at you," Mikey adds.

Gerard smiles. "Okay. Here, have some." He hands Mikey the vodka and Frank the smokes and sits down next to Frank.

Mikey crawls up into the bed, too. "So we're having a fucking drunken pajama party in my bed, I guess. 'Cause we're not Meg Ryan."

Frank leans across Gerard and cards his fingers through Mikey's gross hair. "I think I can figure out how to make French braids." Mikey grabs his wrist and twists and Gerard grabs Frank around the middle and pulls him away, and then leaves his arm there, his hand warm on Frank's thigh.

"I'm not even looking at you two, it's unspeakable," Mikey says and knocks back a stupendous amount of booze in one big gulp. Mikey's such a quiet, unassuming little weirdo that it's really easy to forget that he can put back that shit just as fast and hard as Gerard, almost. If Frank didn't have as much sense as he does, which is a lot more than either one of these two, he'd be constantly stuck under the table. When Gerard passes him the bottle he takes a couple small sips and passes it back, basically tries to pace himself.

It still makes him feel pretty warm and sweet on the inside, and sitting almost in Gerard's lap isn't doing him any bad things either. He leans his head against Gerard's shoulder and puts his hand on his back just because he can. He could do that before, too, he realizes, because the Ways have always been pretty okay with him jumping all over them, but now if he puts his hands on Gerard, Gerard will know what it means. Or something.

Gerard starts on a long and confusing story about some chick he met in college (Frank tries to guess from the way he talks about her if he slept with her or not, but who the fuck knows) who went on some kind of insane roaring rampage of revenge against her ex.

"Jesus, I'm not even angry enough to pee on his bed," Mikey says, his tongue already lazy with booze.

"I'm just saying," Gerard says. "That's where some people take it. A little extreme, I guess. I don't know, though, it might be really satisfying."

"I'm not going along with any pet-killing," Frank says.

"Yeah, no," Gerard says, waving his hands no no no and catching both Mikey and Frank across the face. "It's pretty gross to take it out on, like, innocent people... uh, things. Beings."

"I wouldn't want to kill anything," Frank says. Somehow the bottle is his again and he drinks and says, "Except spiders."

"You mean you make Gerard kill the spiders for you," Mikey says with a snort. The fact that Frank is totally legitimately fucking phobic about spiders is really amusing to Mikey who, like, thinks they're cute or something. Fucking cute. If he gets a pet spider, Frank will hire an assassin.

"I think it's like his job now," Frank says. "Also, being afraid of spiders is not irrational. They can be deadly. So stop fucking with me about that."

"I don't fuck with you about it, Frankie," Gerard says sweetly. He doesn't, that's true. Frank rubs his head against Gerard's face.

"You guys, fucking boyfriends," Mikey says, sounding disgusted.

Gerard giggles a little and leans against Frank, and strokes Frank's face with his fingers, skidding clumsily over his mouth and nose and cheekbone. When Frank kisses him, the kiss is eighty-proof and smoky, and he gets fucking turned on like that. He's been told that a teenage hair-trigger evens out when you grow up, but what kind of help is that when you're looking at, like, four more years of this shit?

"Ew," Mikey says, and Frank aims a middle finger vaguely in his direction but doesn't let Gerard pull back. "Seriously! You're in my bed. Oh my God, Gee, you're not wearing pants, can I just remind you? Wasn't this party supposed to be about cheering me up?"

Frank squeezes Gerard's fingers and lets him go. "Sorry, Mikes," he says. He is kind of sorry, really. Mikey is a good kid, he doesn't need to have his heart broken by the likes of Pete Wentz even if Pete can beat up Gabe Saporta with his arms tied behind his back. Frank could maybe unwrap his revenge-fu and, like, send Pete's picture to an x-rated dating site or something, CockHungry69 Looking For Leather. If he could find a naked picture of Pete. Photoshop! Totally. He lets himself fall back on the bed, comfortably slow and messy thoughts and comfortably slow and warm body, and Gerard mimics him and of course forgets he's taller and bangs his head on the wall. Mikey's bending over with laughter.

"Smoke?" Gerard says, lighting up.

"Mmh," Frank says, snatching it out of his hand.

"Okay." Gerard lights another. "Hey."

"Hey."

Mikey lies down too and they all kind of move around until all body parts are in the bed, and Gerard gives Mikey a couple drags on his cigarette because although Mikey doesn't really smoke, he likes to just a little when he's drunk, and Frank puts his head on Gerard's chest and watches the cherries light up whenever someone takes a drag.

***

The thing about getting kind of wasted at, like, four-thirty in the morning is that you're still wasted at five-thirty, obviously, and at six-thirty, which is when Frank snaps awake again and says, "FUCK" loud enough to wake up both Gerard and Mikey too.

"Ugh," Mikey says.

"What, what, mmph?" Gerard says. Frank's squished up under his arm, the one where the t-shirt is ripped. It's really warm and kind of smelly, but not smelly enough that he's grossed out. He can also smell Mikey a little, and a lot of vodka and cigarettes. And he can see pale light outside the curtains.

"Fucking morning," Frank squeaks. "How is this my life?"

"Oh, fuck," Gerard says, flailing around trying to get up and sounding genuinely freaked out. He's probably thinking up horror stories about being caught by Frank's mother. Which, Jesus Christ, does not even bear thinking about. Frank slides out of the bed, leaving his yellow blanket behind, and stumbles out of the room.

His clothes are still in that pile on the hall floor, still fucking wet and starting to smell like something died. He turns right around and heads for Mikey's closet because no, he is still not prepared to open Gerard's.

"Fuck, Frankie, not again," Mikey mumbles.

"Emergency, fucking emergency! I'll fucking wash them, okay?" Which is more than either of these filthy bastards do anyway. Mikey's method is to wear everything just one day at a time and put it back in the closet and pretend it's clean, while Gerard is more straightforward and just embraces the skank as a lifestyle. It's something you get used to or you can't be around them.

"Yeah, okay," Mikey says, mollified. He can recognize a good deal when he sees it.

Frank dresses in Mikey's mercifully plain and non-themed underwear and Mikey's stupid skinny, low-cut jeans and ridiculously tight t-shirt, and Gerard's college hoodie that Mikey has appropriated to the point of hiding it in his closet. He has to roll up the jeanslegs like five layers and Mikey's chortling sleepily from the bed the whole time.

Gerard wraps his arms around Frank and kisses him and squeezes him hard enough to make it uncomfortable, but Frank squeezes back.

"I'll text you," Frank says. "During Mass."

***

Sunday

It's a close thing again--Gerard offers to drive him but obviously that would be an adventure bound to end in death or mutilation, so Frank bikes and swears and sweats. He has to stop halfway and throw up in the ditch, but he kind of feels better after that and totally makes it up the ladder and into his room and out of Mikey's clothes and into the bathroom before his mother comes to wake him up.

"Oh, you're already up," she says. "Good! Don't do anything strange with your hair, please!"

"Okay, Mom," he says, adjusting the shower from hot to second degree burn. He needs to scorch the booze from his system and fast.

"You wouldn't let me cut it?"

"No, Mom."

He showers for a long time, even though he's so tired he only has the energy to jerk off once, and after the water runs cold he sits cross-legged on the fluffy carpet in the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, with another twisted into a turban on his head, and thinks about Gerard like a total girl. He almost falls asleep, too, before his mom knocks on the door.

"Frankie, honey, I wish you wouldn't, um..." She totally hesitates, which is always a sure sign that she's about to say something horribly embarrassing. "I wish you wouldn't be so obvious about, um, touching yourself in the bathroom."

It's actually less embarrassing than he anticipated. He's still kind of buzzed, though, so that might be why. "I wasn't obvious!" he yells.

A pause. "You've been in there over forty minutes."

"Mom, please, it really doesn't take that long." He could come like three times in forty minutes. Maybe he should give her some details on that point while they're sharing. He decides that no, this is enough, and there'll be payback somehow, he just knows it. "I was just enjoying a shower, totally innocent. And I even cut my toenails. I'm so clean I'm squeaking." He makes a squeaky sound to prove this.

"Okay," she says, obviously not convinced, but dropping it anyway. "Just get yourself ready. And don't do anything strange with your hair! I mean it! People already think I let you run absolutely wild."

***

He thinks about gelling his 'hawk spiky and stealing his mother's eyeliner but this is probably... okay, definitely not the time to piss her off. It was enough that he took way too long in the bathroom and she gives him the I-know-what-you-were-doing-in-there-pervert look she's been perfecting for the last year or so. Frank's been a pervert in the bathroom for way longer than that, so he should probably be happy she didn't start it up earlier.

He ends up pissing her off anyway because he falls asleep twice during Mass, his head lolling against her shoulder. After the second time she pinches the back of his hand hard enough to leave a red mark.

He holds his phone between his legs while pretending to be deep in prayer and texts Gerard, "* ***** *** *** ** [this msg censrd by GOD] xxxF"

In the car on the way back--fucking George is driving even though they're in Mom's car, bopping his big blond head to some sickening top 40 bullshit on the radio--Mom twists around and holds a hand out to Frank who's almost asleep again. He blinks at her.

"Your phone," she says.

"No!" he says, but he ends up handing it over, of course, and is fantastically happy that he's fucking paranoid about never keeping messages in the inbox or the sent folder. She'll be so disappointed when she goes through it.

"I really thought we had an understanding," she says.

He says, "I'm really sorry," because sometimes an immediate and solemn apology works. And he is pretty sorry he couldn't stay awake. That was just not cool.

"I don't think you are, Frank," she says. Ouch. She's got a really pained expression, too. Fucking George is pretending not to listen, but his big red fucking ears are basically twitching. "I just... I don't understand you. You don't seem angry, but you keep acting out, you're irresponsible and rude... You know better, I know you do."

Frank's gritting his teeth to stop himself from saying anything because whatever he says will make it worse right now. It would be better if he really was angry, but now he's just feeling fucking guilty for being a shit and also in no way about to stop. And she looks tired under her discreet makeup. He hopes she won't end up looking a wreck like Mrs Way. Gerard and Mikey were never even the kind of sneaky bastards Frank is, and it doesn't seem like Mrs Way has to put up with a lot of drama at home, so Frank can't imagine what caused it. Frank's dad once called her face 'twenty miles of bad road.' He was kind of laughing and shaking his head fondly. They knew each other when they were younger, Frank thinks. Frank's dad is a townie born and bred like Mrs Way.

"I'm going to hang on to this for a while," Mom says, her mouth tight. The way she does her hair for church, the tight bun, makes her look old-fashioned and stern, like the mistress of an orphanage in one of those orphan musicals. "You're not grounded, but I think cutting some privileges is appropriate."

He hangs his head and says, "Okay," and thinks phew. And then it occurs to him that Gerard will wake up, read his message and possibly, in fact probably, reply to it.

Frank stops breathing. He has to clench his hands into fists to stop himself from facepalming.

How is this his fucking life? He's pretty sure he saw shit like this in some crappy office comedy but in those it always leads to pratfalls and people getting locked up in their boss's office wearing only red polka-dotted silk boxers. In real life it leads to military school or deprogramming camp.

He sweats through the car ride and doesn't even think of the totally obvious solution until after they get home. As soon as he gets a second unsupervised, he grabs the house phone and locks himself in the bathroom and calls Gerard.

Gerard answers on the tenth ring, his voice groggy and rough.

"I can't really talk," Frank says. "Just saying don't reply to my message, okay, my fucking mother has my phone."

"Whuh? Shit. Were you late?"

"Oh, fuck no. We would not be having this conversation if that happened. I'd be fucking behind bars. Chained up in the basement until I turn eighteen or something. Okay, fuck, I have to go. Just had to warn you. Don't try to call me! I'm not grounded, okay."

"Okay." There's a little pause and some shuffling, probably Gerard scratching his head. "Yeah. Um. Okay, bye? Love you, Frankie."

And that's it. Frank stares at the phone for a little while. That was casual. It sounded casual, but Gerard always overthinks things... Frank chews on a nail and thinks. Fucking boyfriends, huh.

He calls back.

"Um," Gerard says.

"Just, you know," Frank says quickly. "I love you too, okay? You know? Yeah, okay. Bye."

He hangs up. That was that, they might as well exchange rings now. Fucking Meg Ryan.

***

He's not grounded, but he's not exactly free to go, either.

"I think you can live without Mikey Way for a day or two," his mother says. Obviously he can. He can even live without Gerard for a day but he doesn't fucking want to.

"But Mikey's kind of bummed right now, Mom," he tries, although he knows it's not going to go through. "His, um, girlfriend, like, broke up with him. It was pretty harsh."

"Mikey can come here and be bummed, then," she says, although she doesn't look real happy about that either. "Look, Frankie, I just need you to settle down a little, okay? Just spend some time with George and me. We can play Scrabble. Mikey can come here and play Scrabble with us, how about that?"

"Yeah, uh," he says. "That'll stop the tears for sure."

She just looks kind of sad when he says that, though, so he feels bad too, even though he's ready to punch a wall with frustration after just a few hours stuck in his room.

After two more hours he fucking well gives up and calls Mikey.

"Please," he says, pathetically. "Just hang out for a few hours and try not to... Um. I mean, like, wash your hair and don't do anything weird with it! And no obscene t-shirts. And shake George's hand."

"Stop it, Frank," Mikey says, his voice too hungover-scratchy to sound annoyed, but he totally could be annoyed. "Somehow you're getting me confused with Gee and at this point it's a little disturbing."

"Okay, just wash your hair, then," Frank says and laughs. "It was pretty scary this morning, I'm just saying."

"I got rained on," Mikey says. "Gee is looking at me like a crazy person. I think he wants to say something."

"Shit, no," Frank says. "The heat is around the corner. I repeat, the heat is around the corner. Just tell him, um. You know. Um. I'm bummed I can't introduce him to my mother?"

"Oh my God, this is too much," Mikey says. Away from the receiver he says, "He's being sappy as fuck so you're probably okay, Gee."

***

Mikey shows up in an almost clean, almost neat blue button-down shirt and a pair of jeans Frank remembers from two years ago, before Mikey discovered the girl cut. He hasn't put any shit in his hair at all, so it's both stringy and flyaway, and he looks like the greatest nerd the world has ever seen. It's amazing. Frank sees Mom blink and, like, readjust her worldview 90 degrees. Last time she saw Mikey was in the spring when Mikey had been in one of his brief goth phases. "I just like the aesthetic, like, sometimes," he told Frank. Unfortunately the goth aesthetic really worked as advertised on Mikey in the way where he actually looked like the walking dead, his already pale face only needing a bit of white foundation to lose the last glimmer of life, his eyes surrounded by black eyeshadow and disappearing into their deep sockets.

Today he looks wholesome enough, but really cranky.

"I look like an idiot," he says as soon as Frank's mother looks away.

"Yup," Frank says. "Thanks for coming and shit. I'm going seriously fucking insane here."

"Language, Frank," Mom says because she has ears like a bat. "Michael, would you like a soda? I hope you've boned up on your vocabulary!"

"Um," Mikey says, smiling his closed-lipped smile of I've-lost-track-of-this-conversation. "Sure."

"Great," she says. "Are you feeling all right? Frank told me you've had some bad luck in love. It's always sad, but perhaps for the best. When you're young those long-distance relationships are really hard to keep up."

Mikey throws Frank a completely blank glance. "I'm okay," he says after a while. With the pause and the blankness and the slight scratchiness still in his voice he sounds like he's trying to hold back tears or something, and Frank's mother nods solemnly and shakes her head just a little. That poor boy, she's thinking. Frank can see her worldview shifting another couple degrees.

"Hi!" fucking George booms, his big blond presence filling up the hall. He elbows past Frank and presents Mikey with a hand. "I'm George Szobotka. You and Frank are friends from school, right?"

"Mikey," Mikey says and barely touches fucking George's hand. "Way."

"Don't like being called Michael, huh?"

Mikey shrugs. "Everyone just calls me Mikey."

"Ha! When I was thirteen I made my family stop calling me Georgie! I had a jar and if someone slipped, I charged a quarter!"

"Wow," Mikey says.

***

Mikey is stupendously shitty at Scrabble, not because he can't spell (although he sort of can't) or because his vocabulary is small (it isn't smaller than Frank's, anyway) but because he has absolutely no vision. After a while, fucking George just moves over next to him and partners up without Mikey's consent. Frank's in pain from not laughing by then. Mikey just looks neutral. If he's laughing on the inside, it's deep inside. He just frowns at the board and frowns at his letters and spells things like NO or DOOR or TOE despite fucking George nudging him with his elbow and making crazy faces.

"How is your mother, Michael?" Frank's mother asks while it's Frank's turn and he can't pay enough attention to Mikey's expressions. "I never see her anymore."

"She's busy," Mikey says. "The station. And her salon."

"You tell her hi from us, okay? I hope Frank behaves when he's over. That he's not a big hassle for her."

"Oh no," Mikey says, his lips twitching. "She loves Frank."

"Yeah," Frank says. He could get CLITORIS, but he's pretty sure he's not in a place where he can get away with that today. If he had a V and a Y he could get VICTORY. But he has no such things. "She thinks I'm charming."

"Well, you are charming," Mom says, looking between them as if she thinks they're full of shit but can't quite see where the catch is. "Well, as long as he's no trouble. What do you do all day long?"

"Hang out," Mikey says.

"Play computer games," Frank says. SLIT. Still sounds a little dirty, but not overtly so.

"Not into anything more outdoorsy, then?" fucking George asks. "Football, baseball, swimming... I was on the lacrosse team in high school. Now there's a sport that will get your heart beating."

"Violent," Mom sniffs.

"Sometimes I go to the beach," Mikey volunteers. He doesn't volunteer that he never swims unless it's in beer.

Frank settles for SLIT. He says, "His Warcraft characters are very outdoorsy."

***

Mikey drinks so much Coke Zero Frank thinks bubbles should be showing up in his eyes. He smiles at Frank's mother enough times that she's clearly sort of getting fond of him and filing him under 'good boy'. Frank can tell because she makes the good coffee, which Mikey sucks down even faster than the Coke. He's finishing his second mug when she suddenly makes a little 'oh, right' face and says, "Your brother Gerard... when is he going back to college? He's still living with you and your mother, isn't he?"

Mikey's blank expression freezes on his face, and Frank's pretty impressed with himself for spotting that.

The pause before Mikey answers is far too long, and Frank sees his mother already opening her mouth to say something else that will also be totally awkward when Mikey finally says, "He's still thinking about his options."

"It was very, um," she says, leaning forward hesitantly. "Very nice and thoughtful of him to take a sabbatical to help your mother?"

Frank gulps down his own coffee to stop himself from telling her to stop prying, but Mikey just says, "Yeah."

"A man who respects his mother is a good man," fucking George says, pretty loudly, and if Frank didn't know better he'd almost think fucking George is trying to change the subject because he goes on, "That's what my mother always said, at least. Ha. Ha."

"Ha," Frank says. "I totally respect you, Mom."

Mikey just keeps his eyes on his coffee.

***

Frank doesn't get a single minute alone with Mikey, so he can only send him apologetic glances every once in a while, but Mikey just stays pretty much non-committal, nods and says yeah in the right places and manages to drink four cups of coffee without arousing suspicion or getting a single comment out of Mom. He also doesn't go to the bathroom once, so he must have a bladder the size of Manhattan. Frank's only had two glasses of Coke and one cup of coffee and he's already gone once and has to again. Freaky.

After Mikey's said goodbye and solemnly promised to pass on greetings, love and fluffy bunnies to his godless mother and insane brother, and shuffled out the door, fucking George says, "A man of few words," and Frank's mother says, "I just don't remember him being so sweet."

"He needs a good athletic hobby," fucking George says. "But I like him. I'm surprised we haven't seen more of him, Frank. He's your best friend, isn't he? You never want to just 'hang out' here?"

"Frank's the age when his own mother is an embarrassment to him," Mom says. She's saying it all lightly but Frank feels a pinch of guilt anyway because she's totally close to nearly not so wrong. He's the age when his mother is a serious spanner in the wheels of his alcohol, drugs and sex habits. She probably knows, somehow.

***

Monday

In the morning, he rides downtown with Mom and fucking George, and they drop him off at Bob's store while they go shopping for new wallpaper for the den or something super interesting like that.

It's just nine-thirty so the place isn't even open yet, but Frank knows Bob always comes in at like eight or whatever because he's a workaholic freak and also he loves the store like it's a person. Bob's just a summer out of high school, and it's not really his store, but he will take over one day and he basically treats it like it's his by now.

He opens the back door after only five minutes of kicking.

"Fuck, Frank," he says. He doesn't let Frank in immediately; instead he comes out in the alley and lights a cigarette. Frank makes big cow eyes at him and he shrugs and holds out the pack. "Mooching little shit."

"Hey, man, I'll pay you back, you know, when I can buy cigarettes."

"Keep laughing, keep laughing." Bob cuffs him on the head. Bob's not a man of a lot of words either, but he can be fucking funny, and he knows a lot about music. "What's up? You and Mikeyway both have been kind of absent this summer."

"Yeah, uh... You know."

"Right," Bob says, blowing a couple smoke rings. "So, Toro and me were thinking, right?"

"Oh no."

"Just thought we could try to drag him out for some fun on his sweet seventeen. We figured maybe you could convince his asshole hermit brother to join the festivities."

Frank concentrates on trying to duplicate the smoke rings. He really sucks at it. "What makes you think I can do it? I mean, yeah, hermit. Gee's not gonna be, like, the life and heart of the fucking party."

"Come on," Bob says mildly. "You got him wrapped around your tiny annoying finger, Iero. That's pretty common knowledge."

"Common knowledge where? In the 'hood?"

"Common knowledge with me 'n Ray and fuckin' Mikeyway. The involved parties." He chucks his butt in the overflowing can by the doorstep and lets Frank inside and makes him help put records back in their places after the kinds of dickhead customer who'll pick a CD off a shelf and then put it back somewhere else.

"I wasn't thinking anything major, just some buddies, a little beer, a little ganja, a little decent music unlike that shit they play down on the playa." Bob holds up something that looks like Benny Goodman, but surely that part is a joke. "Stuff our very own Mikeyway likes. Maybe paintball."

"What?"

"That was just me and my wishful thinking."

"Oh man, we can do that for my birthday," Frank says, filling up with glee immediately. Bob pretty much rocks with the ideas. Fucking paintball. That's one of those things he forgets he wants to do unless he's reminded. Shooting at things without killing them. Total consequence-free mayhem. Best invention ever. He has to run up to Bob and, like, hug him and try to climb up to kiss the top of his head at the same time. "We'll just kill the fucking Ways inside five seconds and then it'll be fucking WAR, Bryar. I'm taking you to fucking Omaha beach."

Bob doesn't even try to shake him off. "See, now you're already talking like you've got Gerard Way signed and delivered on my doorstop. I knew it."

"Yeah, man, it's just, like... persuasion," Frank says, sliding down Bob's back. "Charm, you know. Grooming. Shit you wouldn't know anything about." He makes an expansive gesture that suggests everything except blowjobs.

"Sure," Bob says and straightens his clothes fastidiously.

***

When Mom and fucking George come to pick him up again Frank is full of cheer and goodwill and hope, and decides to chance it and asks, "So, uh, any chance you could drop me off at the station?"

They exchange an obnoxious parental look which makes Frank want to yell "I WAS TALKING TO MOM," but he wants something and that's never a good time to aggravate the decision-makers.

"Two hours, Frankie," Mom says. "And that means you're at home in two hours. Get it?"

"Got it but good, ma'am," he says and nods and tries to look innocent.

***

He waits until the car's disappeared over the hill before he jumps up and down like fifteen times and yells, "Freeeeeeeedom!" at the gray, chilly and totally indifferent sky. Some old dude getting into a muddy SUV gives him a really nasty look. He waves happily back. "Hi, man! Beautiful day!"

He thinks he hears, "Goddamn punk" as the dude slams the car door, but he's not really listening and he totally is a goddamn punk.

"And proud of it," he says to nothing and no one in particular. He swings by the front of the station to look in through the display window.

Gerard is sitting slouched and scowling behind the counter, looking like Death after working a battlefield all night.

"Holy fuck," Frank says and fucking slams through the door. He stops right inside. Gerard looks up. "Hi," Frank says. He knows his eyes have gone, like, huge and he's looking like a total nerd right now.

Gerard's making weird goggling eyes too, though, which is totally encouraging.

Frank looks out over the lot. There's not a car in sight now that the old cranky dude has taken his mud monster away. There's also no one in the store.

"Hi," Gerard says.

Frank shrugs at himself--whatever, man, do your thing, don't just stand there--and does his thing, which is something he's done a couple of times to freak out Mikey, a really nice flying leap onto the counter without actually bringing down everything on it, or killing himself.

He gets his legs around, even, and just knocks this one little stand of Fantastic Four tie-in gum onto the floor. Gerard's backed up like three steps and looks freaked out for a second, but he comes right back, stepping in between Frank's dangling legs like they do this shit all the time.

"Fuck, man," Frank says.

"We kind of gotta be more careful," Gerard says, really quietly, leaning close. "Your mom's kind of a bruiser."

"No shit." He thinks he should wait for Gerard or something, but about half a second after thinking that he's already got his mouth on Gerard's and his hands in his hair. He's been way patient for, like, days.

Oh, fuck, he can't even get close enough, it's like trying to scrape off skin or something. He wraps his legs around Gerard's waist and Gerard's hands are tugging at his shoulders. It's kind of crazy and manic for a while, sloppy as fuck and just brain switched off while he tries to climb into Gerard's shirt and rub his whole body against his at the same time.

When they both break off for air at sort of the same time, Gerard manages to actually say, "Dude, goddamn, Frankie, motherfucker."

"Whatwhatwhat?" Frank says. He's fucking panting like a dog at this point. He's still sitting on the counter if for 'sitting on' you accept any value where his ass has any kind of contact with it, however minimal. He's got most of his weight on Gerard and he's clinging like a monkey. Gerard has gone from pallor of Death to kind of rosy-cheeked, which is a good sign, Frank thinks.

"Just, fuck, considering the giant fucking plate glass window behind you." He doesn't let go or anything, though, like his body and his brain aren't really connected. Frank is so right there with him.

"Yeah, shit."

They kiss again because, like, what are they gonna do? But the blind soft fingers of nagging worry have started tickling the back of his head, so eventually Frank relaxes his legs and slides down to the floor, feeling just a little shaky and let down.

"I have like, I don't know, ninety minutes?" he says, wiping an arm across his mouth because his entire face is spit-wet. "But I can sneak out tonight, I think."

Gerard's just touching his own mouth, rubbing his fingers over it. "Mmh," he says. "Uh. Yeah. Fuck, I wasn't worrying this fucking much about where you were before."

"Well, I was. I mean, when we weren't-- I'd kind of be thinking about you, or like, you guys I guess. Maybe mainly you. Cause you're always here, right, so I knew if I could just get over here you'd be there to hang out with."

Gerard laughs, kind of low. "I guess I'm predictable as fuck."

"You're the bedrock of predict." He has to slink out from behind the counter and walk a couple laps around the store or he's going to molest Gerard again and yeah, giant plate glass window. "Oh yeah," he says, pacing back by the counter. "I didn't see this coming, though. The fuck are you doing serving the customers all of a sudden? This is a really shit place for making out."

"Ma took Mikey to buy clothes for school," Gerard says sullenly.

Frank has to stop and, like, savor that image for a second.

"Yeah," Gerard says. "Picture that if you will."

***

They go outside to smoke. The air is cool, and the sky seems even grayer than it was like ten minutes ago.

"I'm gonna get wet again tonight," Frank says. He leans against the wall all casual and slips his hand into Gerard's back pocket. Gerard gives him a look with an eyebrow in it. "What?"

"Maybe you could, I don't know, wear a raincoat?"

"Oh!" Frank says. "You're so smart, baby, you're like all forethoughtful and awesome."

***

When there are customers Frank sneaks into the back room, or hides under the counter and tries not to crack up, or skulks around the shelves doing his best Juvenile Delinquent. Gerard looks pretty animated and actually smiles at people, but he's somehow making people uncomfortable, it seems, because everyone keeps giving him second looks, like his pretty smiling face really is a glamor and they're sure they saw Something out of the corners of their eyes.

After a couple late summer visitor chicks in white shirts and flowery skirts finally leave--how long does it take to buy bottled water, seriously--Frank sidles up to Gerard and nudges his side and says, "We should fuck."

"Um," Gerard says. "I mean, is that, what?"

"Okay, no, for real," Frank says. "Bill Clinton says I'm still a fucking virgin. That's no good. I can't wait to be, like, good at it. I want it to be just awesome and not awesome but fucking nerve-wracking. Know what I'm saying?"

Gerard says, "Yes."

"And awesome for you and not just, like, watching out for the newbie." He waves a hand at Gerard's face of I'm-about-to-attack-your-arguments-until-you-can't-remember-what-they-were. "I'm up for it, you know I am. I'm not like those chicks on those shows, you know, where they're all worried their asshole boyfriends are gonna dump them if they don't put out so they're all wah wah wah I have to have sex! And it's a huge deal and then they never go through with it unless it's a plotline about teen pregnancy. I hate that shit. That's not me, okay?"

"Okay," Gerard says, apparently, amazingly stunned into silent introspection by Frank's speech.

"Uh... I don't just want you for the sex."

"That's what the asshole boyfriends always tell the chicks," Gerard says, but he's smiling, a kind of dazed smile.

***

Frank gets home on time and his mother looks really grateful. For a second he feels torn about his sneaky plans to sneak out--he's not that fond of feeling guilty--but he only has to think about Gerard for like a second--not even any dirty thoughts, just Gerard in general, the way he smiled today or what he looks like when he's drinking coffee or his hair hanging in his face or anything--and there is no fucking contest.

He helps out in the kitchen without being asked and after lunch he tidies his room and vacuums everywhere, even under the bed and inside the closet.

When he comes down the stairs with the vacuum, she's standing in the hall with her arms crossed, looking like she can't decide whether to look pissed off or just let go and laugh.

"You don't have to suck up," she says. "I will give you your phone back in a couple days."

"I'm not sucking up!" He isn't paying attention to the last few steps and narrowly avoids tripping on the hose and breaking his neck. It actually kind of hurts his feelings that she's so suspicious. "Come on, Mom. I just feel bad for being such a shit."

She looks a little sad, actually, and she rubs his cheek sort of fondly but she doesn't hug him or anything, and she says, "I know, baby. I just wish--" and cuts off and, like, never finishes the sentence. "If you still feel bad you could take that vacuum outside and help George with the car."

It occurs to him while he's crawling around in the backseat, vacuuming every seam and seatbelt hole, that fucking George has been around a lot this summer, and here he is cleaning Frank's mother's car, and earlier there was the painting of the fence and he may be working up to mowing the lawn. They haven't talked to Frank about any of this, it's just been happening. And he's been too busy planning his next illicit getaway to notice the pattern even though it's now clear to see it is a pattern that will end up in fucked up things like fucking George moving in and trying to become his dad for real.

"Are you going to move in?" he asks when he's crawled out of the car again and turned off the vacuum.

Fucking George is wiping the window with a soft cloth, leaning real close to catch every last stain. He kind of flinches when Frank asks.

"Why do you ask?" he says, clearly trying to dodge.

"Are you going to move in?" Frank asks again, because he can play that fucking game.

Fucking George shakes out the cloth and then just shrugs and pats at his big sweaty blond face with it. "We haven't made any concrete plans," he says.

"Okay," Frank says, but he keeps staring at George. Fucking George is like seven feet tall and totally goes to the gym, but Frank can't stop himself from thinking about Pete Wentz and Gabe Saporta, and thinking headbutt, motherfucker. It's just crazy fantasy land, of course. Frank hasn't won a fight in his life, although he's lost a whole bunch. Usually lost in the way where he ended up stuffed in a locker or dipped in a toilet or thrown under a shower with his clothes on.

That line of thought reminds him that he still has to go back to school even though summer school ending has made him feel like he's, like, done for the year already. Going to Hill was kind of better than going to the public school, despite the stupid uniform and the strict teachers. The kids weren't as bad, actually. No one tried to beat him up, and they would have got their asses expelled anyway because even though kids like Travie totally got away with peddling dope right on campus, there was serious attitude about fighting, and at the beginning of the summer the faculty totally called the cops on a dude who beat up a smaller kid, shit that was totally everyday at the high school in town.

"I'm very fond of your mother, though," fucking George is saying.

"Yeah, wow, that's not something I wanna know about, man," Frank says quickly because hell no. If he has to think about fucking George and his mother fucking, like, ever, it'll be too often. "No offense," he lies.

"I understand," fucking George says and smiles his I-totally-understand smile. Frank looks right back at him without smiling and thinks about going down on Gerard. He's going to do it. Tonight. Fuck you, fucking George.

Then he wants to hit himself in the face because it's not cool to use Gerard as some kind of fucked up revenge on George method. Gerard's so fucking above that shit. Frank almost feels like he should email him and be like, "I don't just want to suck your dick because I'm not supposed to."

"I'm pretty bummed that you have decided not to like me," fucking George says. "Really. I think you're a good kid, Frank, but you work really hard on that attitude."

I'm working really hard on not attacking you with the vacuum cleaner, Frank thinks.

"I know it's not easy to think about the future when you're fifteen and things like college and work and starting a family all seem so far away."

Fucking George is totally gearing up for a massive campaign of fatherly advice and Frank just will not deal with that today. Or any day. He says, "Look, George, seriously, don't f-- don't try to do the Dad thing."

George says, "Frank, I'm not--"

"You are not," Frank says, feeling perfectly calm, like eye-of-the-storm calm, "my fucking father."

Whoa, Luke Skywalker moment. For a horrible second he can imagine George revealing that in fact, he IS Frank's father because Frank's father went Dark Side and got shoved into a volcano by his best friend and the evil emperor then turned him into a blond seven feet tall Polack.

Yeah, maybe not. And Frank really looks like his Dad, short and dark and a little stocky, and he knows he reminds Mom of Dad all the time, so he's probably safe from that whole horror scenario. Fuck, an imagination is a fucked up thing to have. Gerard must be such a mess on the inside. A lot of the mess is showing, but it's gotta be just like the top of the iceberg. Frank has two sudden, insistent urges: to call his Dad and just talk and make sure he still fucking remembers he has a kid, and to just blow this fucking pop stand right now and, like, run back to the station and just do anything with Gerard, fuck, drink, watch him draw or talk about comics or whatever, anything.

He drops the vacuum hose that he's been holding hard enough to make his hand ache and just walks out of the garage before the eye of the storm blows past and the real shit starts. He marches right into the house, up the stairs, into his room, closes the door carefully and punches the wall next to it. He pulls the punch just a little, though, because he's not angry enough to actually break bones.

It still fucking hurts, and he staggers around the room for a while, sucking on his knuckles and basically feeling like an asshole. He kind of hates losing his temper. He likes doing stupid shit for fun, not because he's so pissed off he can't think straight.

To chill, he gets his covertly procured DVD of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre out of the secret compartment behind the desk it shares with the rope ladder and his small stash of porn mags and emergency weed and maybe-one-day condoms that he will totally get to use before they fucking expire, and watches it on his computer with his headphones, curtains drawn in his room and the lights off so he'll notice immediately if someone opens the door. By the time the credits roll he really is feeling better. Chainsaw therapy, totally the best.

When he goes downstairs for dinner fucking George keeps giving him long, kind of thoughtful looks but Frank's mother isn't in hysterics or calling the military school, so apparently he's biding his time for now. Frank eats his vegetarian lasagna (fucking George is like a compulsive meat-eater or something and since he's been around, Mom has started making two versions of every meal, no-meat-no-dairy for Frank and everything-but-the-fur for fucking George, even though when it was just the two of them she'd basically stopped eating meat too) and keeps quiet.

He goes back to his room after dinner and sits on his bed, bored as fuck but too twitchy to really do anything. He ends up making a playlist of songs about sex, which is really not hard because there are a lot of songs about sex. Most of them seem to be about sex with girls, though. He googles 'songs about sex with boys' but that just turns up a lot of articles about how listening to songs with explicit lyrics makes teenagers have sex earlier. His only question is how come that didn't work on him?

He kills half an hour looking for all songs with explicit lyrics on his playlist, but it's like all of them, basically, so he gets bored of it. By now it's eight-thirty. Mom and fucking George are watching TV downstairs, he can hear them laughing along with the laugh track. Frank's singing along to Nine Inch Nails. He really wants a cigarette. He's ready to crawl out of his own skin. He can't even think about Gerard or the itch to just fuck off right now now now gets, like, unbearable.

He goes downstairs again and watches the end of an old episode of Friends with Mom and fucking George even though he'd kind of rather spork out his own eyes. Fucking George gives him a look that's hilariously surprised, though.

After Friends, Mom zaps around until she gets roped in by more comedy reruns, fucking Seinfeld.

"I'm gonna take a shower," Frank says, because he can't take any more of this shit. Mom gives him a Look, but she doesn't actually say anything.

Fucking George also gives him a Look, but Frank doesn't know what that one means. It's kind of thoughtful, kind of curious. Sometimes fucking George seems like he might be close to figuring something out.

In the shower he gets the washing part over real quick and then stands there, like, thinking for a second with his hand on his dick, because right now there are sides to this coin to, like, measure. If he takes the edge off now he'll be totally chill for a while and maybe he'll even fall asleep. But on the other hand, it seems wrong to waste orgasms now.

He can't quite stop himself, though, because here he is, holding his dick. He takes his hand off it but he's pretty much primed and ready to go just from being naked, wet, and thinking about sex. Any two of those would be enough. Any one, probably. He puts his hand back on his dick, rubs his thumb over the head and gives in and thinks about that first time when they were so fucking stoned and Frank somehow got naked in Gerard's bed. He tries to remember what it felt like to look at Gerard and not know. He might as well be trying to remember a previous life or something. He's been completely retconned.

He does remember the moment he realized, and how stunning and breathtaking it was to suddenly get it. And Gerard's hand on his dick, the first time, that'll stay with him, Gerard's breath on the back of his neck and Gerard's body kind of curled around his back and how hot it was, sweaty hot and hard to get enough air through all the hotness.

He leans against the tile wall, his head back. The shower's now mostly on his chest, still warm but maybe starting to cool a little, and he strokes his dick the way he usually does it, hard and methodical, because he doesn't want to get experimental and shit now, this has to be strictly functional. He does touch his chest a little because he's kind of curious about that, the whole nipples on guys question, and a soft rub doesn't do anything much but pinching a nipple between thumb and forefinger and twisting has this weird effect where it definitely hurts but there's this quick, focused blast of whoa right into his dick, so he wants to stop and he doesn't want to stop at the same time, the same amount. He squeezes his dick and thinks he needs to ask Gerard about his nipples, and that thought leads to a thought about Gerard maybe biting his nipples and he pumps viciously hard once, twice and comes.

When he comes out of the bathroom wearing just the towel wrapped around his waist, he walks right into fucking George who's coming out of Mom's bedroom carrying a towel, too. One of Mom's towels, in fact.

"I hope you left some warm water," fucking George says, kind of airily.

"Not a lot," Frank says. He's knocked the air out of his hate-on for fucking George, at least for tonight, so he adds, "Sorry, didn't know you were going too."

Fucking George tucks the towel--which is a really old one Mom's had forever and never uses because it sheds pink fuzz--under his arm and leans against the doorjamb and looks at Frank like he wants to say something but can't decide where to start. Frank is still a little wet and his skin feels thin and sensitive and the leftover buzz from jacking off is still zapping around his body, sending tingles and sparks here and there. He puts his hands on his hips all casual but mostly to check his fucking towel stays up, and he looks at George's t-shirt because he's not going to stand here looking up at the bastard. Fucking George is wearing a plain gray shirt so there isn't even anything to look at.

"Frank..." fucking George says.

"George?" Frank says, lifting an eyebrow at fucking George's manboobs.

"I'm sincerely sorry I've given you the impression that I'm trying to take your father's place," George says, and Frank has to look up quickly to see his face. He's wrinkled his big blond brow. He looks pretty sincere, really. "That wasn't my intention."

Frank is sincerely fucking surprised because he's kind of been expecting to hear something about being such an asshole. Now he doesn't know what the fuck to say because he still doesn't like the dude but if fucking George is gonna bend over backwards to be nice it might be smart to throw him a bone.

He looks George steadily in the eye even though he has to tilt his head back and it feels like looking up at a building. "It's cool," he says. Never let it be said that Frank Iero can't be gracious. "I was in a bad mood. Don't worry, man."

That was a huge bone, he feels. Should keep fucking George happy for days.

"Thank you, Frank," fucking George says. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

Wow, seriously, at this point he's just fishing for extra credit. "No, I'm good," Frank says. "You might wanna pick another towel, though."

He leaves fucking George standing there looking at the pink towel with his big blond eyebrows still pulled together in a frown, and goes back to his room. He hangs the towel over the back of his computer chair and lies down on his bed, naked and warm and feeling pretty comfortable. Jerking off did make him feel a little sleepy, but there's still kind of a tension, something building. He rolls his head to the side and looks out the window, and maybe that's what's building, a fucking thunder storm. He can see clouds moving across the small square of sky visible, blue-gray and opaque. The window is open but there's no breeze.

A couple of crows fly past the window, their wings casting dissolved, misshaped shadows on the bedspread. A while later they fly past again, but this time there are three of them. Guess they had to invite a buddy to make a murder, Frank thinks, and now his eyes feel heavy and a little sore. He makes himself sit up and dig through his desk for his old alarm clock, check that it works and set it for midnight.

***

He wakes up before the alarm clock, curled up in a ball in the bed, clutching his pillow. He's kicked the blankets to the floor and he's cold because the window is still open but now the wind is whipping through the room and rain is pelting the curtains and leaving a puddle on the floor. As Frank unfolds his limbs from their cramped positions, lightning flashes so several times so rapidly it's like a strobe light. The crash of thunder follows almost directly, a titan's Pop-Rocks-and-Coke belch that just goes on and on until Frank's ears are ringing.

"Cool," he says, sitting up in the bed and blinking at the darkness outside, turned almost green by some weird thunderstorm optical illusion. He's completely awake now, thrumming with the storm and the tatters of whatever weirdo dream he was having--he can't even remember anything except something about underwater deer, but he remembers how it made him feel, anxious and elated at the same time, like waiting for news that could determine the course of the rest of his life. Fate and shit like that. Just the kind of thing you dream about on dark and stormy nights, now with 100% more diving deer. "Cool," he says again.

It's eleven-thirty so he turns off the alarm and gets out of bed to stand by the window for a while, looking at the mayhem outside and wishing he had a car and a driver's license. Or a chauffeur, maybe a tall and quiet dude named Jack or Vince who'd double as a body guard and carry a handgun. He could follow Frank around in school and show it to the assholes looking for someone small to hassle. It occurs to him that Gerard's got kind of a rep these days because he's so crazy and a total recluse, it might work to just have Gerard follow him around scowling and looking dark and tormented and like he's two wrong looks away from pulling a Columbine. It'd be pretty handy to have him around anyway, 'cause they could make out in the bathrooms if they wanted.

It'd be pretty evil to make Gerard go back to high school, though.

He gets clean clothes, unembarrassing underwear--not that it would matter one way or the other since he's seen Gerard's collection and there's no way to out-embarrass that shit--and digs out his raincoat that's too small by now and bright yellow. It's almost pointless to wear it since he's pretty much going to get soaked anyway. It might keep him a little warmer, though, and it's not like he really needs to cold-compress his chest every other day to be sick all the time, it totally happens on its own.

After grabbing the rope ladder of freedom out of the stash he also picks up those just-in-case condoms and tucks them in his pocket. He's not sure they'll be needed, like, tonight, but there'll be a time and the time will be soon. So, Just In Case. That thought makes his stomach feel fluttery and squirmy in a way that isn't actually unpleasant. Kind of warm, but also cold. He tries to imagine what Gerard is doing right now--there's no way he's sleeping because Gerard doesn't really believe in sleeping when it's dark outside. He could be lurking around the Neil Gaiman forums or playing Warcraft with Mikey, or watching something suitable for a dark and stormy night, like Eraserhead or Freaks or Halloween. Or he could be all jazzed up like Frank and hiding just-in-case rubbers under every pile of dirty clothes and lighting scented candles all over the place.

Frank cracks up at that thought and has to chew a little on the fold of his elbow to muffle the sound. If Gerard has scented candles they're probably black and smell like tar.

When he climbs out the window, the wind tries to yank him loose immediately. He clings to the window frame and closes his eyes and acknowledges that he is majorly defective for doing this but he's getting laid, for fuck's sake, and there are some things he's absolutely willing to fall out of a window for and this might be one of them.

Biking is also interesting in the wind. He gets out of breath immediately; the storm steals it with sudden gusts right in his face. He has to walk up the hills, and by the time he's coming around the last curve he's pretty much miserable and in pain and cursing the fucking weather with every wheezing breath.

Then the streetlights go out, leaving nothing but their floating afterimages behind, and he almost goes head first into the ditch before he gets his feet down. He has to wait for a minute right where he is until he gets used to the darkness and can see the road again, sort of. Getting thrown into pitch black without warning was maybe a little above and fucking beyond, he thinks. What is this, some kind of challenge? Frank isn't about to get intimidated by a little storm and a fucking blackout. What's next, struck by lightning, hit by truck and drowned in a puddle of his own blood, maybe. It would be pretty fucking sucky to die a hundred and fifty yards from Gerard's door, still clutching his just-in-case condoms.

He flips off the clouds with both hands and crosses the road quickly, feeling exposed even though the blackout obviously wouldn't cause car headlights to go out. It's this random fear he has--of being hit by an invisible car--and right now, in the dark, it seems at least a thousand per cent more likely to actually occur. He just wants to see what kills him, is that too much to ask?

Stumbling up the stairs, finally, soaked and half-blind and cranky and breathless, he notices the flickering light of a candle in Gerard's window.

Of course he's dug out a candle, there's a fucking blackout, but Frank's heart makes a weird, dizzying lurch and he has to stop for a second and take deep breaths and walk up slower. Too fucking slow for his peace of mind, because somehow he's stored up all his excitement while battling the elements and now it's all crashing down on his head and spreading everywhere until even his toes feel it. His pants are wet from mid-thigh to hems and damp everywhere else, and he has to kind of adjust himself because some switch has been flipped and discomfort or pain or cold don't work to distract him anymore.

The way this is all working out, he'll end up with some weird fetish for bad weather, popping wood every time there's a fucking raincloud in the sky. Just the littlest tug at the crotch of his jeans has his dick going yes yes yes, and he has make an effort to make himself take his hand away. Digging for the key in the front pocket is another exercise in frustration since now anything that occurs in any area near or nearish to his dick seems to make it harder and more insistent. He hasn't even consciously thought about Gerard, it was just the fucking candle and some subconscious chain of associations, candles and condoms and Gerard's room, and boom, horny as all fuck. He's not even stoned.

The hall is dark as a fucking crypt, and he stumbles over a bunch of sneakily placed shoes, and almost brains himself on a corner. "Fuck," he whispers. The dark kind of makes him whisper. Both Mikey and Gerard's doors are closed. For a second it kind of feel like he is breaking into a crypt. If anyone's making any noise, it's drowned out by the booming thunderclaps and the angry smacks of hard, fast rain on the roof and windows and everything. He could call out but he can't quite make it happen, so he staggers down the hall in the dark, leaving his shoes and probably a puddle of rainwater behind on the carpet.

Gerard's door isn't actually closed closed, just pushed shut, and it swings open with just a little nudge. Frank goes inside and stubs his toe a little on the doorstep when he does, but fuck that. Gerard's sitting cross-legged on the bed, wearing his Snoopy pajamas, and he's looking right at Frank, his eyes glittering black in the candle light. He isn't doing anything but chewing on his nails. He also doesn't look startled at all so he must have heard Frank coming in and then just not come out in the hall to meet him. The freak.

Frank shuts the door carefully behind him. The latch clicks. Gerard doesn't move. Frank thinks maybe he should say something. Like 'hi' or whatever. But he just pushes back his raincoat hood and his hoodie hood and his wet bangs out of his face. His fingertips are pruning up. His dick is pretty much throbbing by now, like having a choir of sex crazed maniacs yelling do me do me do me in his pants. He takes off the wet raincoat and leaves it on the floor, and the hoodie, same. Gerard's still just sitting there, like maybe he isn't sure Frank is actually there, because even though a normal person probably wouldn't think a soaking wet kid in a yellow raincoat is a hallucination or ghost or whatever, this is Gerard.

Frank is about to tell him not to worry because this is real--he knows it's true because he can feel the water dripping down his back, and there's no hallucination that can replicate that special disgusting feeling of wet denim clinging to skin--but he gets distracted by his dick again for the hundredth time and he has to, seriously has to put his hand on it, squeezing a little through the jeans, and it's like a punch how his heart just races and his breath catches and Gerard is still just looking.

Frank makes himself move, and he takes the five steps from the door to the bed on shaky legs, pulling his t-shirt over his head on one and two and letting it just drop on the floor on three, unzipping his fly on four and pushing his pants down impatiently on five. It's pretty fucking smooth if he can say that himself, and Gerard's mouth totally drops open and he finally moves, sliding forward on the bed and unfolding his legs and reaching for Frank.

"Hi," Frank says. "It's raining."

He stamps the jeans off, probably not looking as smooth there, swaying around on one foot, but Gerard's hands are scrabbling at his waist the second he's free of them so it really doesn't matter much.

He thinks he could come just by willing it, but he clenches his teeth and wills against it firmly and lets Gerard pull him onto the bed and onto his lap.

"Hi," Gerard says, his face against Frank's chest. His hair seems a little damp and Frank leans down suspiciously, burying his nose in it, and he smells something cheerfully girly and fruity like apple shampoo or something.

Oh, tonight is a special night for sure.

"Sorry," he whispers, pushing his hips forward just a nudge, his dick catching deliciously on the fabric of those amazingly dorky pajama pants, and he pushes his hands up under the shirt to get skin. "I can't even--"

Gerard lifts his head and pulls Frank's down and kisses him, leading with tongue right out the gate, and Frank slaps a hand over his own dick and comes with like two strokes, and bites Gerard's lip when he does.

Gerard just grabs him around the waist and neck and pulls him in so tight he can hardly breathe, and Frank thinks he can, like, make out Gerard saying his name right into his mouth.

When he has to struggle loose for breath, he says, "Sorry about Snoopy," cause he feels a little sheepish about that, honestly, he'd maybe planned to get the fucking pajamas off first.

Gerard kind of laughs, kind of just pants, and shrugs against Frank, and then he does another one of his weirdly practiced sex moves--he just rolls and flips Frank sideways so he's suddenly flat on his back on the bed and Gerard's looking down at him.

"Jesus, Frank," Gerard says gently. He looks totally dazed and he also looks kind of mysterious and darkly beautiful in this light, his skin glowing and his hair highlighted in gold-orange.

"Yeah, Jesus, Gerard," Frank says. "Really, I just, like. I couldn't concentrate. Sorry about just, you know." He's still got that excitement bubbling in his stomach even though he just came, it just barely knocked the edge off. Maybe thunderstorms turn the sex drive up to eleven or something because he feels like he could go and go, as long as Gerard keeps looking at him with that dazed look, or the other look that's focused and hungry, or some other that means he's going to stick around and keep his hands on Frank's body.

Gerard is touching him pretty deliberately, slowly, like mapping him out or something, starting at his throat, just running fingertips down to the notch between his collarbones, and back up, and then rubbing his thumb over a nipple slowly, like four or five times and on like the third touch Frank starts feeling it like he just needed his fucking nipples to be programmed to receive, like his preferences weren't set right before.

"You can, uh, you can totally bite them or whatever," he says, and it feels a little weird to say, because that's maybe getting to a slightly more advanced stage than this, whatever stage this is. "I'm not super sensitive."

"I am, kind of," Gerard says and bends down. His breath fans over Frank's chest and Frank thinks about taking back the part about not being sensitive. "I don't need a lot. Sometimes too much is just right, though."

Frank can't even think of what the fuck that actually means in, like, terms of sexual acts that are physically possible for him to perform, but he intends to find out. And Gerard drags his mouth over his chest and scrapes his teeth over a nipple, and then he bites, not hard because he's clearly testing Frank. He runs one of his hands down Frank's arm at the same time, and folds his fingers around Frank's.

Frank squeezes his hand and says, "If you take your fucking Snoopy fucking pajama off I'll suck your dick, okay. Oh-- kay." The last bit comes out breathy because Gerard kind of bit down right there and there was that pain that gets mistranslated on the way to Frank's dick somehow because he can't help pushing his hips up against Gerard's thigh. "That's so fucking weird how that works. It's like, ow fuck, and then whoa, the hell?"

Gerard runs his tongue gently over the sore spot and that's another thing that works. Then he pushes himself up and sits back, unbuttoning his shirt with his head bowed, his hair hanging in his face. Frank wants to kiss him or help him get naked but he also just wants to watch, because Gerard is still somehow all bashful about it, fumbling with the buttons and getting confused about the sleeves like taking off a shirt has suddenly become some kind of complex operation that can only be performed by trained professionals.

"I never really settled for, like, a position," Gerard mumbles once he's defeated the shirt and shoved it off the bed. "I mean, the whole top versus bottom thing is kind of restrictive and it really depends on whoever you're with. I usually just went with whatever happened, I guess it worked okay. I missed out on a lot by doing everything so fucking fast. It was just about getting off before I came down."

"Huh," Frank says because he doesn't know what else to say. Gerard's kind of just sitting there, his hand resting lightly on Frank's belly, his fingers moving slowly, but his eyes are unfocused and he looks sad or maybe confused. Trying to remember some lover who wasn't Frank and probably knew more about sex but clearly meant less in the big scheme of things. Frank's pretty sure Gerard will remember him in two years. "Didn't you ever, like...date people?"

Gerard blinks his eyes into focus. "In high school," he says. His hand slides casually over Frank's hipbone, down the crease between hip and thigh, and Frank spreads his legs a little, mostly automatically. There's still something slow and syrupy and post-orgasmic about the way he feels like he's sinking into the bed and floating above it at the same time--his mouth pulls into a smile at that thought because what the fuck?--but his fingers are digging into the sheets and he's hot all over, breaking into sweat even though his hair is still wet from the rain.

Gerard's attention is focused on him again--he's staring down at Frank's dick or at Frank's hips or whatever, at his own hand moving over Frank's damp skin--or maybe he's thinking about something else and just happens to be looking that way, but he keeps stroking his fingers over that tendon, like, the one right next to Frank's balls and it's pretty much cutting Frank's thoughts into shreds with how not-enough it is. He can't help moving, flexing his thighs and back and kind of chasing the touch but Gerard's really good at anticipating the stealthiest thrust.

"Oh fucker," Frank mutters and digs himself out of the quicksand of, like, braincrashing lust--Jesus, the quicksand of lust? "I just thought "the quicksand of lust", dude, what the fuck?" He has to unclench his fingers from the sheets to make the air quotes.

Gerard cracks up the way he does when he's surprised, first a choked kind of gurgle and then the big honking BWHA HA HA that cuts off immediately when he realizes he just made a noise loud enough to wake, like, his mother downstairs. "Shiiiit, Frankie," he mumbles with his hand over his mouth.

The quicksand of lust lets Frank go finally with that and he pushes himself up so he can actually reach Gerard and slide an arm around him and kiss him hard and put a stop to that teasing thing. Gerard opens his mouth and lets Frank take charge, he just yields like, like, whatever, just this lack of resistance that's actually just as teasing, and Frank pushes harder just to find the fucking edge, almost biting Gerard's mouth and, totally on a whim, scraping his nails hard over Gerard's chest.

Gerard's hands, that have been lying light and still on Frank's shoulders, tighten for just a second and dig into the muscle. Frank shifts and slides closer to Gerard, and they're sitting in a really stupid position because his knees are in the way, pushed between Gerard's thighs somehow and keeping them apart. He can feel Gerard's dick, though, through the fabric of the fucking Snoopy pants, the really messed-up Snoopy pants because Frank came all over them like five minutes ago.

"Dude, dude," he says, just barely moving away enough to free his tongue for talking. "Snoopy has got to fucking go." His hands are already on it, pushing at the waistband. Obviously that doesn't really do much since Gerard is sitting on the fucking pants, so Frank ends up just shoving his hands under them, scratching his fingers through wiry hair and over hot, silky skin. Gerard sucks in a sharp breath and Frank twists out of his grip and pushes him down on his back, like a tackle but slowly, and Gerard yields again and lies still under him.

Frank holds himself up on his arms and says, "So, okay, seriously, tell me if I'm not doing it right, okay?"

Gerard nods, but Frank wonders if he's really actually listening because he's gone all unfocused again and there's a whole new nuance to the stillness--less like he's just letting Frank do his thing and more like he's trying really hard to stay this way.

Frank has thought about this, obviously, and mostly he thought things like take it easy and work up to it and shit like that, and he was still thinking that somewhere in the back of his head just two seconds ago but somehow what happens is that his brain just pretty much stops telling him sane things and instead hits all systems go. So he just tugs those fucking pajama pants down enough to get access and, like, goes down.

Well, he stops for one second to consider the situation from a closeup type position, maybe going a little cross-eyed staring at Gee's dick, like, right there, living color, big as life and twice as hard. There's a bit of a lingering smell of soap under the more there and really familiar bitter-nutty smell of come. He sticks out his tongue and licks and tastes just skin and a little salt and then a sharper, saltier, slicker taste that's also really familiar. But different. It's not bad, not that he thought it would be, and Gerard's groin muscles twitch under his hands so he opens his mouth and bends down, just a little bit at a time, sucking lightly and getting used to the size of it, and the thought, too, because hi, holy shit. Dick is definitely a new thing for his mouth, sort of bigger than he thought--not bigger like monster big, just kind of there's more of it than there is of his mouth, and he has to open up really wide and it's difficult to remember to breathe through his nose.

The salt-sharp taste is covering his tongue and he's kind of drooling and it makes it easier to move, pull slickly back up and then push down again, and he does that a couple times. It's a really fucking strange thing to do, he thinks, and a really fucking strange position to be in, leaning over a dude's crotch, kind of disconnected from him but at the same time really really close in a big way.

He really can't take very much of it down, but he's not going to risk choking or gagging because he doesn't want to get any bad associations with this, he wants it to be just a fun thing and he wants to always be into it. Gerard's still not moving in the way where he's gone totally rigid, which Frank decides to interpret as positive. He wraps his hand around the part of the dick that is not in his mouth, which is actually really ideal and obvious, and now he totally remembers that Gerard did that to him. The memory is pretty hazy, though, because he has to dig it out from under a lot of debris what with how his mind had been like exploding all over the place at the time.

He works on setting a rhythm, not just slop around all randomly, and it gets kind of hypnotic after a while, the zen of sucking cock, and the texture of the skin starts to imprint itself on his brain so he's got a big 3D visual model floating before him, only not quite as ridiculous as that. He moves his tongue, pushes it against the notch just under the head, and against the underside as he slides down, and on the upstroke flicks quickly over the slit at the tip. The taste kind of, he doesn't even know, billows in his mouth making him drool even more. His lips feel rubbed a little raw, tingling and sensitive, and the same goes for the rest of him even though no rubbing has been going on anywhere else, really. He shifts, and realizes that he'll probably be into this for always because it's totally turning him on, like, more than he was already turned on in a more general way. It must be the association, like, sucking dick, his brain is making it about his own dick and suggesting that it should also be sucked. Right now, maybe. He moves again, trying to find something to rub against. Finally he has to just use his own hand because it's crazymaking how much he needs to be touched, he could probably come if Gerard just, like, put his hands in his hair, oh fuck, if he pulled at his hair or pushed up his hips or something rude and selfish and demanding like that.

He squeezes his dick and pushes down really deep on Gerard's because he's basically blacking out from all those random impulses attacking his brain, and he doesn't even gag, it's just a smooth slide, not deep like deep-throating deep, of course, but kind of more than he thought he could deal with, probably more than he could deal with if he wasn't half braindead.

Then he does feel Gerard's hands on his head and that just shuts down the last bit of active thinking and he shoves his fist over his dick and his other fist on Gerard's dick and tightens his mouth and sucks hard, and he comes and it's like being kicked in the stomach but good, like so much good that it's almost horrible, but he can't even make a sound because his mouth is so full, and he has to pull back to gasp for breath and Gerard's hands are so tight in his hair and won't let him back down again.

"Whaaaa--?" he says, his tongue not exactly all about articulation right now.

"Just, just, with your hand," Gerard says tightly and Frank has no idea what he's saying, but Gerard's hands twisting in his hair are insistent and Gerard's also pushing up against his hand with his hips, and Frank just stares down and kind of struggles dumbly and when Gerard comes he gets the whole load right in his face.

Gerard lets him go immediately. Frank's brain goes what? what? orgasm!

"Fuck," Gerard says faintly. "Sorry, shit."

"Wha--?" Frank says. He wipes a little at his face. Wow, he got slimed after all. It's a huge mess, and his hands aren't much better so he ends up grabbing a corner of the sheet and using that. He doesn't know how he even keeps his head up, though, because he feels like he's been stretched out and let go and should be a limp puddle and not still having thoughts with words in them and coordination in his limbs.

Gerard's kind of scrambling up now, touching his face and lifting him a little, and kissing his sore mouth softly and carefully.

"Hey," Frank mumbles, "like, wow."

"Fucking crazy," Gerard says. "Pulling up is really the universally accepted signal for I'm gonna come, duck now."

"Oh," Frank says. "But you totally stayed, like, so I came in your mouth that time. So I was kinda going for that I think."

Gerard kisses him again, licking the corners of his mouth and pushing it open with his tongue. Frank can feel some distant, feeble twitches of getting turned on again. He thinks he might have to give it a little more than five minutes before he can get any proper action, though. Which is okay since Gerard's kind of negotiating them both into a snuggling type formation now, pulling Frank close and wrapping his arms around him. Frank just closes his eyes and kisses him back lazily, slowly, and knows he's sinking into sleep. He doesn't fight it very hard.

In fact he's almost asleep, just on that edge where everything's slow and unreal, when, completely without warning, his mother's face pops into his mind.

"Shit!" he says, and he jerks completely awake hard enough to shake Gerard's hand off his waist.

"Mmh!" Gerard might have been all the way asleep, in fact, because he's blinking and flailing a little, stuck with his arm under Frank.

"Sorry, fuck, I just--I can't just come here and pass out again, I so almost got caught last time." He sits up and takes a few deep breaths. Gerard flops onto his back and spreads his arms out, looking at him with heavy-lidded eyes. "Also your candle's about to fall over and light the desk on fire."

"What?"

Frank clambers out of bed and stumbles across piles of shit to the desk to the rescue. The candle is listing like the tower in Pisa, a little too small for the candlestick or something. It's not black or scented, it's just a plain white standard candle, but it's got a good drip going like this, so it passes goth inspection, Frank thinks. It's also standing on top of a pile of paper, which, holy fuck. There are wax stains all over some random sketches and stuff. "Fuck, Gee," he says. "I thought Mikey was the one who does fucked up shit like this. I can't believe either of you survived, like, past kindergarten."

"I think the same about you sometimes, Frankie," Gerard says, totally not upset that they almost just died in a fire. "You're a little, like... reckless. And fearless, like you're just not afraid of anything at all."

"Except spiders."

"Except spiders, okay." Gerard has rolled onto his side and is just watching Frank now, looking awake enough and smiling a faint, distant smile as if he doesn't know it's even there himself.

"And small spaces. And old ladies with varicose veins. And dying in a fucking fire, asshole. And pitbulls, and spiders, and spiders and motherfucking millipedes, scorpions, and big flocks of birds. And spiders, did I mention the fucking spiders?"

Now Gerard is laughing, soft tired giggling, and shaking his head. "Okay, okay, okay. You're just a big chickenshit, sorry."

"Damn right," Frank says, leaning on the desk and striking a gangsta pose. "Don't fucking call me fearless, I will fight you."

The candlelight flickers and makes the air seem full of, like, texture, kind of grainy like underexposed photographs, and Gerard looks all gold-skinned and black-eyed and smooth like a statue. He stops laughing like the fadeout at the end of a song, and his eyes are locked on Frank, almost too intense suddenly. It makes Frank want to either hide or stand taller, so he slouches a little more instead and gives Gee a look that might be seductive or just retarded, he's not sure because he hasn't had time to examine his come-sex-me looks in the mirror yet.

Gerard closes his eyes, like seriously scrunches them shut for several seconds. When he looks up at Frank again he's got this look, sort of sad, sort of not, like he's not even sure himself. He's chewing on his lip.

"What?" Frank says.

"Fuck," Gerard says, holding out his hand. "Frankie. Just come here."

Frank unslouches. "Yeah," he says. Like, just the sound of that, Gerard's voice sounding all low and a little hoarse, and he's half-hard again. Because he's total Plug-and-Play, clearly. Just hit that big button that says SEX. "Yeah... okay."

Gerard grabs his hand as soon as he's within range, and tugs himself to the edge of the bed and up. He kisses Frank's knuckles and then turns his hand over and kisses the palm, like they're in a period movie and their love dares not speak its name. And his wrist, the inside where the veins are blue and close under the skin; and the fold of his elbow. Frank feels Gerard's eyelashes flutter against his upper arm, tickling but not enough to make him jerk away. He stands really still and lets Gee just do what he wants, feeling warm and dazed and maybe like he's still actually asleep. With the candlelight not really lighting up that much, and the sound of rain still slapping on the windowpanes, and Gerard's serious, solemn face, it does feel pretty unreal. The most real part is how Frank is standing on the Snoopy pajama pants. He grins when he realizes that, and Gerard looks up at him and smiles shyly and then turns back to kiss Frank's bellybutton and run his hand slowly down his hip.

"It doesn't feel real," Frank says because he wants to explain, like... whatever he wants to explain. He isn't even doing anything.

"No, it doesn't," Gerard says with his eyes closed. His lips are moving against Frank's skin. "We're inside a bubble. Everything else is gone, or it's us. We're gone."

That's pretty much it, for real. Trust Gerard to have words for what he's feeling and what Frank is feeling too.

"Maybe the storm opened a rift in time and space," he says. He touches Gerard's hair, which feels strange because it's, like, totally clean and runs all silky through his fingers.

Gerard sighs and looks up, meeting Frank's eyes. "We're adrift out there, lost," he whispers. "We can't get back because I don't think this room has faster-than-light drive and even if it did we don't know how to pilot it."

"Well, Earth is overrated anyway," Frank says. "We'll just live on, uh..."

"Love," Gerard says, completely fucking serious.

"I think they say you can't actually live on that," Frank says but he can't help grinning again like a total fool.

"But if reality isn't real anymore, love is like the most real thing we have," Gerard says, frowning, and Frank has to bend down and kiss his upturned face, and his mouth and it's totally unreal that he can do this, that he's here and feeling like this. It's kind of upsetting somehow, that he can't make it seem solid in his mind. He's a pretty solid guy, he thinks. He's not all caught up in weirdness like Gerard. In fact Gerard once told him that he's good to have around because he'll always keep shit on planet Earth. But that's apparently right down the toilet now, so much for being grounded and, like, sane.

They just kiss for ages, and Frank's back starts to feel kind of strained but he doesn't even want to break off to move, it's too fucking perfect. Kissing is one of those things people never really talk up enough, it's always about something else. Maybe it's just hard to describe what's so great about it. He sure can't, it's just great and he wants to do more of it. Fortunately Gerard is okay with that. And Frank's mouth still feels... delicate or something, like it's been used hard, which it has, so ha. And it makes kissing even more interesting.

Then there's a hard bump on the door, like someone kicking it or maybe falling against it, and they both jump so high it would be fucking hilarious if it wasn't so heart-attack-inducing.

"Gee?" says Mikey's voice outside the door, kind of high-pitched with a strange edge to it. "Gee? What?"

Gerard's hand tightens on Frank's waist. "Mikey?"

There's like a scratching on the door, which makes Frank think for a second that Mikey's been fucking turned into a zombie and is here for their brains and they'll have to beat him out of undeath with the candlestick, which is just a really nasty thought on so many levels.

Then Mikey finally finds the doorknob and the door opens. He's wearing just his Calvins and that awesome old school Transformers t-shirt that Frank has been making plans of stealing, and not his glasses which kinda explains the fumbling. His face looks fuzzy and naked without them, and even more so because he's got tears in his eyes and his eyelids are swollen.

Gerard's up, dragging the sheet with him, and Frank too because he hasn't let go of him. He's looking scared and worried.

"Mikey, Mikey, hey. What's wrong?"

"Nothing, I don't know. The lights don't work," Mikey says, looking down and wiping furtively at his eyes. He's always been way more embarrassed about crying than Gee, kind of determined to cling to his dignity. "I guess I freaked out a little. Can't find my glasses."

"Blackout," Gerard says. "There's a thunderstorm."

"Hi, Frank," Mikey says, still looking down at his feet. "At least I guess it's Frank. Fuck."

"It's Frank," Frank says. "Um. I'm naked again, sorry."

"Fucking horndogs," Mikey says completely without inflection. He's apparently too upset about waking up in the dark to get upset about random attacks of nudity.

"Sorry, Mikey," Gerard is saying, touching Mikey's arm, stroking it gently. "I didn't think, uh, you know. Fuck, I just forgot about you."

"Yeah," Mikey says, quirking a little wry smile, although his eyes are still glittering with tears. It looks pretty in the soft light. Mikey has those big soulful eyes like Gerard's, although set really differently in his face. "I guess I can see why. It's not on you, man. I mean, I fell asleep in my chair and had some stupid fucking dream, and I just, I guess...I lost it a little. Didn't know where I was and stuff. I'm okay. Should I go or are you gonna put some clothes on?"

"I think you're standing on my clothes," Frank says.

"Do you have candles?" Gerard asks. "Fuck, I almost lit the house on fire already, this might end up a disaster."

"Just give me my pants or something," Frank says. "They're, uh... actually they're wet. Maybe just my boxers."

"And your clothes are always wet, too," Mikey says, kind of resigned. He crouches down and pokes through the sad little pile of clothes. "Ew, Christ. Nothing gross better have happened in these things that I'm touching right now."

"No, no," Gerard says. "Just rain, I'm pretty sure."

"Also, why are they spread out all over the floor?"

"All the gross things happened on the bed," Frank says, grinning.

"Hope these are yours," Mikey says, waving Frank's underwear around. He's holding them gingerly between his thumb and forefinger. "Cause I'm not looking anymore, okay."

Frank leans quickly forward and snatches the boxers out of Mikey's hand and puts them on so fast he almost falls over. Half his head is still in the sex place and won't stop, and the rest is just really confused and going, wait, what, why did the naked kissing end? But he doesn't hold it against Mikey. Waking up in the dark is creepy, especially if the weather's all dramatic. And Mikey's a good kid, really awesome. Still, just a little frustrating.

"Look," he says. "Mikey, I'll go find your glasses, okay? I guess you can't find them yourself if it's dark and they're on the floor or whatever."

"I'm not totally blind," Mikey says, but he looks kind of relieved, like he really didn't want to go back to his room. "Thanks, though."

Frank goes, and quickly realizes he sort of spaced on how maybe it would have been a good idea to bring some kind of light source with him because without light he's obviously just as fucking blind as Mikey. But he thinks maybe Gee and Mikey want a couple minutes to, like, hug it out or whatever, so he fumbles his way down the hall anyway. First he goes to the bathroom and sits down to pee because he doesn't want to end up getting it all on his feet. Then he crawls around on the floor in Mikey's room for a while which is not quite as dangerous and disgusting as doing the same in Gerard's room but close. He doesn't find the glasses there, but he does find a lighter. Score. It even has gas left.

Mikey's desk is covered with CDs mostly, and some comics--it's hard to read by the light of a crappy Bic lighter, though, so Frank has to give up on trying to read the new Wolverine, but he'll remember to get it once they have electricity--and his cell phone which, duh, the dork could have used for light. He must have been really freaked out. Frank flips it open. Dude has like five unread messages. Must have slept right through them beeping.

The cell phone display is much brighter than the lighter and it's not hard to find the glasses now, even though Mikey has poked them way under his computer monitor so they're on the verge of falling off the back of the desk.

Frank puts them on and blinks and squints. Whoa. He has reading glasses that he never uses, but Mikey's massively myopic and wearing his glasses feels like having your eyeballs squeezed or something. Also these things are kind of covered in fingerprint smudges and dust. Frank grabs a shirt off the chair and tries wiping them a little. Probably doesn't help a lot, though.

He walks back to Gee's room in the bluish light of the cell phone. Mikey and Gerard are sitting on the bed together, Gerard's arm around Mikey's shoulders, which gives Frank a little jolt of déjàvu. Gerard's possibly still not wearing clothes because he's wrapped himself in a sheet and Frank can see Snoopy on the floor where they left him. Mikey's skinny feet hang over the edge of the bed, toes pointing inward sadly.

Here's Frank standing in the door again like he's waiting for permission. He's, like, entitled to come in here now because he just blew the owner of the room, it's gotta be a rule. He marches up to the bed and sits down next to Gerard.

He stretches out his legs and notes that when they're sitting in the same position, his toes are about level with Mikey's ankles. It reminds him randomly of this time when some old guy saw him in Bob's store talking to Ray who's like six feet tall plus another foot of hair, and the oldtimer was like, "How old is your son?" Which, seriously, that was the fucking straw that fucked the camel. Ray cracked up so hard he couldn't even answer, he just pointed at Frank and brayed like a sick donkey. Ray's usually really polite to people, too. The old dude pretty much backed away slowly and got the hell out of the store. And then Bob was making horrified faces and banging his head on the desk all, "He was going for the fucking box sets, you idiots! The box sets!"

"What's so funny?" asks Mikey in a weird, soft voice like he's not sure he even wants to speak. He's maybe still crying, which is also déjà fucking vu. How does Frank always end up in this place, honestly? Gerard's also looking a little crushed or something.

"Uh, just... thought of something," Frank says, awkwardly. Gerard pats his leg and smiles at him, a brave-little-toaster smile. "Are you guys okay? Um, here are your glasses, sorry. And your phone. You have messages."

Gerard hands the stuff to Mikey and Mikey puts on his glasses and looks at the phone for a while and then puts it down next to his leg. After a couple seconds he jerks his hand out and shoves it away hard. It lands on the floor with the brittle crash of expensive shit breaking.

"Oh," Frank says. He suspects he sees where this is going. He's just going to shut up now. Gerard leans against Mikey and kisses his ear. His hand is still on Frank's leg, though, reassuring. And Frank thinks he might be a little jealous, not like in a don't touch my boyfriend omg kinda way, but in a way he thinks he's always been around Gee and Mikey, the wishing he had a brother kind of jealous. He feels that just a little with his dad and his uncle, even, because they're close and have lots in common, down to the marrying of bimbos. Why couldn't his dad wait, like, two years before infuriating Mom to the point of divorce? Then maybe there would have been another kid. Not a lot of use whining about it, though. Frank will just have to borrow Mikey or something. Mikey can be his little brother even though he's older. Mikey could never be anybody's big brother, it would go against all laws of God and man.

"Yeah," Mikey says morosely. "So... yeah."

"Yeah," Gerard says and strokes his hair.

"Um. Yeah," Frank says, although he's not sure what they're actually talking about. There's a silence.

"Does anybody have any weed?" Mikey asks.

"No," Frank says. Fuck, he could use a toke or two himself at this point. Just drop out and lie with his head on Gerard's lap and think about nothing in particular. Maybe give him another blowjob at some point if the urge takes him, which is totally would if he was high. It will even if he isn't, he's pretty sure. In fact just thinking about it makes him want to. Fucking Mikey. Sorry, Mikey.

"No," Gerard says. Not that he ever has weed. Mikey's the one who buys it, or Frank. You can't get weed online.

"So," Mikey says, pulling up his legs and wrapping his arms around his knees. "If I hadn't tripped on Frankie's fucking shoes and made enough noise to warn you I would have walked in on you two getting it on, right?"

"Oh yeah," Frank says immediately before Gerard can even think about denying it.

"We have to figure out some system with, like, socks on the door or something."

"What!" Gerard says, looking kind of outraged. "Like I haven't spent all summer sneaking around trying not to see too much of you and-- uh." He falters and looks at Mikey and then up and then at his hands, and then he scratches his eyebrow thoroughly.

Mikey is rolling his eyes so hard Frank thinks he might hurt himself. "Dude, you can fucking say his name," he says with a curl of his lip. "I'm not gonna run out and, like, stick my head in the oven."

"Okay," Gerard says gently. "You and Pete."

Mikey is grumpily pinching the fold of skin between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand. Frank has seen his mother doing that too when she's got a headache. It's one of those nerve points or whatever. "I'm not like you, Gee."

"What do you mean?" Gerard's voice is still really soft. He's trying not to piss off Mikey more, or upset him more, or maybe he's aiming for something else, like he knows if he talks a certain way Mikey will spill something important. Sometimes Gerard has instincts about shit like that, like he'll almost accidentally ask the exact right question. Then other times Frank kind of thinks he has no idea what he's even talking about himself. It's really hard to tell with Gerard.

"I mean I'm not crushed. I got dumped, it sucks. But I'm not... You're just more emotional." Mikey looks up and right at Frank, his eyes suddenly sharp behind his glasses. "You should treat Frank good cause he can crush your heart like it's glass."

"I wouldn't!" Frank says, because what the fuck?

"But you could," Mikey says. "You have that fucking power."

"But I wouldn't," Frank says again.

Gerard's quiet, though. It gets obvious after a while.

"Not you too!" Frank says.

"No, it's not--" Gerard starts. He thinks for a second, looking up and down and moving his mouth like he's trying out words silently. "I worry about you. Not that you'll fuck off and crush my heart, but that you'll... I don't know, be stuck with me? Or that I'm fucking you up with this whole thing, not just the, um, sex thing but... just being around you because I'm such a fucking mess--"

"Hey, dude, seriously," Frank says, turning around and grabbing Gerard's knee and shaking it. "What the fuck? You know you can't stick me anywhere unless you nail me to the floor."

"Okay, um, I'll just..." Mikey mumbles, but Frank isn't going to let Gerard get distracted again, and he doesn't look away. Mikey's shuffling around, maybe looking for his cell phone. "...go, okay. I'm taking a candle from your drawer."

"I know, Frank," Gerard is saying, also ignoring Mikey. "I just mean--"

"No, fucking listen: stop thinking ahead."

"I can't turn off my brain!" Gerard says in a DUH! voice.

Frank leans in close enough that his eyes want to cross and he has to pick an eye to look into. "Fuck you, Gerard, then I'll do it for you," he says, and wow, he did not even know he was going to say that until he said it. But obviously it's a good idea because Gerard's eyes widen and he sort of draws in a breath and holds it.

Frank doesn't even notice that he's holding his own until his lungs start to burn. He lets it out slowly and leans in the last inch or so to kiss Gerard, just all soft and no tongue, just waiting to see what he'll do.

He seems to be debating with himself. He keeps doing that for about two seconds more than what's fucking comfortable for Frank, but finally he sighs and just fucking melts against Frank. It almost feels like he's giving in--or giving up something, somehow, but giving up what? Fucking Mikey, what a thing to bust out with. Now Frank's feeling almost... like, afraid that he'll accidentally somehow crush Gerard if he doesn't look where he puts his feet.

He tastes salt and when he pulls back, Gerard totally has tears in his fucking eyes. Frank must have made some kind of face because Gerard winces and smiles that sort of rueful smile he has when he's been caught doing something weird that he actually knows is weird. It's a rare occasion, but it happens. "Um," he says. "I'm not being crazy, I just... You know how sometimes there are these articles in the paper... like, about a dog that's saved its owners by waking them up when there's a fire? And then the fucking dog dies in the fire. Or even if it doesn't."

"Yeah, man, I hate those stories," Frank says, kind of puzzled. "Total tearjerkers--oh. Okay?"

"I just get all touched. Like Ma at weddings. Even weddings on TV, actually. Or in books. Or in the gossip rags."

Frank smiles and not even kissing can quite get the smile off his face. Fucking weirdos, the whole family, it's pretty awesome. Even Mikey with his unexpectedly pointed remarks. "I love you guys," he says, bumping his nose against Gerard's. "Seriously, you're the weirdest fuckers I know."

"Thanks, I guess," Gerard says.

"You're not gonna cry if we make out a little more, okay?"

Gerard laughs and squirms out of his sheet and just--whoa--pushes Frank onto his back and yanks him close just like someone did in some movie one time, Frank totally remembers it, one of those sex scenes that start like a fight, in a movie with a hunky hero and a feisty heroine, and lots of action in between the fucking. He thought it was pretty hot at the time, but he also kind of worried about the chick's back. Carpet burn is nasty, and he knows this from all the times he's tripped and faceplanted, not from all the time he's had slam-bam sex on the floor.

The bed doesn't give him carpet burn, though, and that move is pretty hot in real life, not just in the movies. Especially when Gerard's still sort of smiling like he's forgotten to stop, and his eyelashes are clumped together with tears, which makes him look a little disturbed and super intense. And he's kind of sitting in between Frank's legs--although Frank's not sure when he spread them and how that happened exactly--and he's running his hands over Frank's thighs and hips, sort of like he's petting a dog and sort of like he's just enjoying it while he's thinking about something else.

The smile fades slowly and turns into something thoughtful. He leans forward, stretching out on top of Frank carefully, all of his body pressed against Frank's although not all his weight, and kisses the underside of his jaw and his throat and then his mouth, and Frank doesn't even know what to do because it's like every part of him has something to tell him now. He ends up kind of squirming and trying to rub himself against Gerard without dislodging him or breaking his, like, concentration or anything, and pulling up his legs and pushing his hips up with his feet planted. He thinks he's digging his fingers into Gerard's ribs too hard, but he can't stop either, so as long as there are no cries of pain he won't worry.

"Just... what--" he sort of pants, and it doesn't even come out as a question because he's not sure what he's trying to ask. Should he point out the condoms of Just In Case? Is this a Case? Even if it isn't, he wants his stupid underwear off before he comes in them and has to bother Mikey about borrowing some again for like the fifty-seventh time.

Gerard hums softly under his breath and mouths along Frank's jaw and back again to his throat, and also puts his thumb over the Adam's apple and rubs gently because clearly he pays attention and noticed that it flipped Frank right out that one time. Frank snaps for air even though there should be enough, but he's forgetting how to breathe and the air feels thick and heavy and saturated and he has to work to get it into his lungs and out again, and Gerard moves slowly... Frank has to scrabble for the word: sinuous, if that's what it means, then Gerard is moving sinuously and his dick slides wetly along Frank's inner thigh. He makes a sound, muffled against Frank's throat, a breathy mmph that sort of breaks at the end.

Frank arches his back almost violently--or it's more like Frank's back arches because he's not really deciding anything right now on the conscious level--the back of his head digging into the mattress so hard he can feel the springs on his scalp, and he crushes his hips against Gerard's, grinding his poor trapped dick against whatever it will reach, and just when he's at the point of just wrapping his legs around Gerard's waist, Gerard backs off--so quickly Frank, like, drops and bounces, a one-inch drop but still--and slaps a hand on his hip to hold him down.

"Agh," Frank says. He's hanging right on the edge by, like, one fucking thread, just one touch will do it, and his whole head is buzzing with the need and what the fuck? "Whaaaaaa--"

"Wait," Gerard says, sounding at least halfway together, which is kind of unfair, but only halfway, which is good. "Just... wait."

He holds Frank still for a couple more breaths, just enough to let him sink back from the fucking precipice a little, and then he very carefully pulls down his underwear, making sure nothing rubs too much against his dick, and flings them off the bed.

"Jesus, what," Frank mumbles. He's got his hands fisted in the sheets and has no idea what to do or if he even wants to do anything. What, what, what, his brain goes. Also, touch me, fucking touch me. His brain has become one with his dick. How long can he stay like this?

Gerard does touch him, then, but cruelly, fucking teasingly, just a hand sliding up the inside of Frank's thigh from knee to groin and not so much as nudging his desperate, aching dick with a knuckle. In fact there's another hand on his other thigh and what Gerard is doing is pushing his legs apart, and Frank feels his stomach swoop and roll, a dizzy feeling but not a sick one. He thinks he might fucking pass out if he moves, and he might explode if he doesn't. Gerard is stroking his thigh, maddening light touches, and then he bends to put his mouth against the knee. Frank feels sweat gathering on his chest and prickling his scalp and he's seriously going to go insane here, he doesn't even know what's going on and he's fucking spreading his legs wider on his own volition just hoping for something.

Gerard bends down further and Frank can feel his tongue right by the base of his dick, still fucking teasing, and then down on his balls which is weird and unexpected and makes him shiver all over. He has to throw his arms over his face to stop himself from, he doesn't even know what, he just has to push his forearms over his mouth and eyes and stop breathing a little because Gerard's definitely going places with his fucking tongue and Frank just doesn't even know how to react. His lungs are burning again and his thighs are trembling like he's run a mile.

He remembers seeing stuff like this in porn like, once or twice, and it just seemed so fucking unlikely and outlandish and bizarre, like why would you stick your tongue anywhere near a person's asshole, seriously, but clearly there's a point to it, and the point is that Frank's barreling right back to the place where he's going to fucking come no matter what, pretty fucking soon. Then Gerard moves away, up again and oh fuck, finally, gets his mouth on Frank's cock and Frank barely even notices that Gerard's also pushing a finger, like, inside, except he does, he notices and he thinks he screams, but he's forgotten to breathe and also his arm is still over his mouth so it's not very loud. He's heard guys in school talking about screamers and the talk was always kind of scornful, or just disrespecting.

The actual bit where he comes seems almost tame in comparison to that fucking rocket launch of buildup, but it seems to go on for a while, filling his head with white noise and sparks. Gerard keeps his mouth where it is and his finger where it is, too, until Frank's limp and wrung out but returning to the world where there's up and down and sideways and things like that.

"Are you okay?" Gerard asks, his voice rough. "Frank?"

Frank realizes he's still got his arms thrown over his face. He lets them drop, stretches them up over his head. "'mgood," he says. He's not sure it's ever been as true as it is right now. He's still buzzing all over like he's plugged into a low-grade current, and he feels sort of wide open and floaty. He blinks at Gerard, who is looking at him from between his legs, face flushed and eyes intense, sweaty hair hanging in his face. Frank finds his voice again. "I am so good. Like, wow. Oh wow."

Gerard actually, seriously turns a shade redder and ducks his head. Then he takes his hands off Frank, and out of Frank, and wipes them both on the sheet, which, man, Frank is going to make some laundry happen in this house if it kills him, but right now he feels weirdly abandoned in the middle of all this blissed-out floaty cloud of sex.

So he says, "So, like... if you wanted to, like... whatever you want to..." Okay, so obviously he's not going to be able to put it delicately without sounding like a retard. So he says, "You should fuck me, okay?"

He waits and watches the expressions flit over Gerard's face. First he just looks shocked, mouth hanging open and all; then for just a second, suspicious, the suspicious you are when something awesome happens and you think it might be the lead-in to some extra humiliating prank; that goes away and what's left is just plain heat, like the kind that makes Frank feel almost chilly all over because Gerard is like sucking up all the heat around him. Frank shivers and thinks, yeah, he wants to. He doesn't know why it feels like such a triumph because honestly if you think about it there wasn't much doubt. But Gerard has these weird tripwires in him and nothing's actually ever a sure thing. So it feels like a score and like jumping off a cliff into a river, something really awesome that's going to keep getting awesomer but also scarier and maybe painful.

Gerard leans forward, over Frank, and he's pushing one of Frank's legs up at the same time, his hand in the fold of the knee. "Don't say that if you don't mean it, Frank," he says, all quiet and gentle on the surface, but everywhere he touches Frank feels tense.

Frank can't even deal with that, he's in the strange no man's land between post-orgasm spaciness and ready-to-go, kind of an awkward place that he wants to leave. He flings up his hand and gets his fingers in Gerard's damp hair and yanks, and Gerard almost falls right on top of him, does in fact fall, but he catches himself and Frank lifts his head to meet him, opens his mouth to him.

Gerard is still tense but he kisses back, and Frank feels the moment when he really gets into it, or when he stops thinking, probably. He'll probably get really used to that moment, he thinks. Gerard forgetting himself.

They're getting really messy here, he thinks, turning the bed into a battle field of sex. CSI comes to mind again and he almost cracks up, but Gerard moves just then and his dick kind of slides along Frank's dick. Frank's going to be ready to go really fucking soon. He doesn't know if he can come yet, not like a fourth time in... he doesn't know how long he's been here, but whatever, maybe not long enough. It doesn't seem to matter a whole lot right now.

He lifts his other leg too and hooks it across the small of Gerard's back, and Gerard twitches forward immediately, pushing hard into the kiss, putting more weight on Frank's leg trapped between them and on Frank's dick. Frank's folded up like a pretzel and for a second it's too much, he can't breathe but then Gerard shifts and moves back a fraction and they slot into each other somehow, and Frank thinks, slot into and oh, fuck because like this he can totally imagine how it's going to be, like this it'll be deep, and what he can't quite imagine is what it'll feel like.

He snarls both his hands in Gerard's hair and tries to project it's cool at him with everything he has. Even though it's like the opposite of cool, he's fucking surprised they're not causing electrical storms inside the room, that's how opposite of cool it is. There's salt in the kiss from the sweat, and Gerard's chest slides against his all slick, but there's just enough friction left to make it feel shivery and intense.

"Fuck," Gerard pants, pushing himself away, although Frank's still clinging to his hair and digging his heel into his back, and ends up sort of following, locking them in an awkward halfway position until he lets go. "Fuck, I need to find... uh..."

"I brought condoms," Frank says, thinking this is the Case, for real.

"Jesus," Gerard says. "You're--"

He never tells Frank what he is, but he leans back in and kisses him, strokes his face sort of fiercely-gently, thumbs over his cheekbones and palms over his eyes, forehead, pushing his hair back.

"Okay. Okay. Just... hang on a second."

He scrambles off the bed a little stiffly and Frank just lies flat on his back, listening to his own quick breaths rushing in his throat and chest, and feeling his heart lurching along fast and loud. Above him, the Dark Phoenix looks down, mostly just a dark smudge on the ceiling in the flickering candlelight, but she feels comfortable and familiar nevertheless.

"Frank," Gerard says and Frank turns his head a little and sees him standing by the bed, and he's so familiar, too, his round face and stringy hair, and his white skin and his soft hands with the nails bitten down to the quick. He's standing with his shoulders hunched like he does almost all the time, both him and Mikey are hunched up like that, as if they're afraid to seem too big despite the fact that they're pretty small guys anyway. He's frowning at Frank, thinking again, so hard Frank thinks if he listens hard enough he can hear the thoughts buzzing in Gerard's overactive brain. He's still hard, though, and it makes Frank feel calmer, and it makes Frank feel just a little nervous too. "You have to think--"

"Is it a really big deal?" Frank asks. "I mean, not... Don't you like it? You have, right?"

Gerard sits down next to him, as casual as a cocked gun, pretty much, but he touches Frank's thigh a little distractedly and says, "It's kind of overwhelming, okay? It's, um, it can be the best thing ever or the worst thing ever, fucking degrading and painful and just, shit."

"But, wait--" He grabs Gerard's hand and shakes it a little. He's trying to find that kind of possibility here and he just can't, and Gerard's obviously thinking about something that happened, but... "That's not even possible, I mean, you'd have to want it to be like that. I mean, you."

Gerard manages to nod and shake his head at the same time. "It's just a big deal to feel," he says, rubbing his temple.

Frank squeezes his hand and says, "Are you afraid?"

Gerard laughs a little, really nothing more than a huff of breath and a twitch at the sides of his mouth. "Just, yeah. I just don't want to fuck you up."

Frank doesn't roll his eyes but it takes an effort. They keep ending up in these in-between places, in these places that should just slide past but they snag on something and it's usually something Gerard thinks of. The snags always happen when they're not touching enough, so Frank pulls himself up and wraps his arms around Gerard, leaning against his back, chin on his shoulder. "You could just fuck me, okay?" he says, making sure he's not actually whining. "Seriously, you want to, right? I'll fucking tell you if I feel fucked up, you know I will."

"Fuck," Gerard says, slapping one hand over his eyes all dramatically, but he grabs Frank's hand with the other one, linking his fingers with Frank's and squeezing. Frank pushes his face into the sweaty crook of his neck, not saying anything because he's not sure he knows exactly where Gerard is coming from--there are a whole bunch of things going on, clearly. Fuck Gerard for never talking about his past. Frank's pretty sure he's told Gerard absolutely everything worth mentioning about his own. Then again, there really isn't that much worth mentioning, and Gerard's got all this history of sex, and some of it apparently bad--which, actually, Frank wasn't sure existed outside abstinence-only sex ed--and what, degrading and humiliating?

He hugs Gerard tighter and kisses the side of his neck, and the way the pulse jumps and flutters under the skin is kind of fascinating, especially if he feels it with his tongue--he follows it up to the curve of Gerard's jaw. What's that vein called, the jugular? But, wait, the ones with pulse are the arteries, right? So actually he has no idea. This is so totally something Gerard would know, he draws enough shit with arterial fucking spray all over the place, he must have the anatomical structure of the neck memorized by now.

"Fuck," Gerard says again and twists in his grip and grabs Frank's head and kisses him, kind of hard and fast, like he couldn't wait long enough to actually find a position that doesn't break his back. Frank thinks oh thank fucking Christ yeah, and doesn't feel bad about influencing the vote. Lobbying with his tongue, it's democracy in action.

Frank says "Yes, yes, yes," with his lips and tongue on Gerard's lips and tongue, although Gerard probably doesn't understand it. They could totally develop a kissing language with enough time. Secret tongue sign language. Like code, in case they are ever held hostage by supervillains or aliens. "For when aliens attack," he tells Gerard's mouth. Maybe Gerard says something back but it gets a little lost in the fucking rush when Gerard pushes him backwards again and follows him down.

He does hear it when Gerard rears back, kind of wild-eyed, and says, "Shit, uh, I mean--I think I have lube--"

"What?" Frank says, blinking. Gerard's pushing himself off the bed, leaving Frank flat on his back and cold and abandoned and totally hard again for the fifty-seventh time today, possibly.

Gerard's digging through his desk drawers, bent over so the stretch of his back kind of glows orange-gold with the candlelight and the brown roots of his hair have warm auburn highlights. From the top drawer he produces some slightly foxed Superman figurines (not displayed on the parade shelf with the mint condition ones), a Tupperware container with some weird goop that Frank really really hopes isn't the lube--maybe it's some kind of paint stuff?--three half-full packs of Marlboro lights and one of Lucky Strikes which is Mrs Way's brand, and a My Little Pony painted black with its round pony ass decorated with skulls and crossbones and its mane chopped short and spiky and dyed bright aniline pink.

Frank snickers, and Gerard turns around, still holding the pony. He looks puzzled and sort of half-amused, like he knows there's a joke and it's maybe on him but he's going to be a good sport about it. Then he looks down at the pony.

"Oh yeah," he says. For a second he frowns. "I was working on this, um. It's for Mikey's birthday."

"Awesome," Frank says. Again he feels that little pinch of brother envy. His whole life he's only gotten presents from grownups. The coolest present to date is probably that fucking antique GameBoy from fucking George, and that really takes something out of him to admit.

Then he feels kind of petty and also ridiculous for getting all wound up over a custom My Little Pony that no one but Mikeyway could love. And also really amused because it really is something only Mikey could love and he will love it.

"He'll fucking shit himself, man," he says, and Gerard nods gravely and turns the pony around to show Frank the stumpy little horn on its forehead.

"The unicorn ones are actually kind of hard to find," he says. "Or, like, always out of stock. People collect these things like they're action figures, man. I had to overpay like hell on eBay for this one. I think it's vintage from like... whenever. It was almost sad to paint on it. You know, defacing a mint condition vintage figure."

"Anything for Mikey," Frank says.

"Yeah," Gerard says softly and puts the pony back in the drawer. He rummages around for a second more and then holds up a little crumpled tube of K-Y. "You know," he says thoughtfully, turning it around in his hand. "They used this stuff on the Alien movies to make the acid slime."

"Yes, please stick that up my ass immediately," Frank says, and Gerard flicks his eyes to meet his and stay too long, just staring with wide eyes, and Frank stares back. It's a weird, intense moment where he's not sure if they're thinking about aliens or dick, but there's a hot, liquid feeling spreading in the bottom of his chest, and he thinks the hairs on the back of his neck are standing up.

"I was using it as thinner for my acrylics, I think," Gerard mumbles. "Mikey probably has more."

"That he's not using for painting, Jesus," Frank says, still feeling kind of hot and shivery.

"Right." Gerard's back to staring at the lube, now with a confused, worried expression, eyebrows drawn together and mouth pressed into a thin line. "Uh."

"There are condoms in my pants," Frank says in a bid to get the conversation back on topic. "I mean... in my pockets. On the floor."

"Oh, yeah! Good!" Gerard says, looking hugely relieved. "Fuck, I totally realized I don't even have any, seriously, I haven't had sex in so long it's like, I don't know, I think I haven't even wanted to, you know?"

Frank really, really does not know, but he nods anyway because Gerard is looking at him kind of anxiously.

"They have, like, sentimental value by now," Frank says while Gerard is looking for his pants. "I mean, I was pretty much set on not getting to use them before the, you know, use-by date. But better safe than sorry is my motto."

"It's so not," Gerard says. "You're a fucking menace to yourself and society."

"With sex!" Frank says. "And food. And insects. And, uh... whatever spiders are... archaic, whatever."

Gerard drops the jeans on the floor carelessly and is back on the bed in, like, one long step, pulling Frank up and hugging him tight. Naked hugs, Frank thinks, are not really comforting the way the usual kind of hug is, but they make up for that by being naked, all that skin sliding against skin and feeling the muscles and bones under the skin, and the sweat immediately getting trapped between their bodies. And Frank's dick skidding happily against Gerard's belly and Gerard's dick pressed against Frank's thighs. All that. He hooks his arms around Gerard's neck and moves against him, and just doing that after the whole mood-breaking supply-foraging interlude brings it all back again. Oh yeah, this is what we're here for.

"Frank," Gerard whispers against his shoulder. "Frank."

Frank whispers back, "Yeah." He doesn't want to say 'It's okay' or anything like that in case Gerard wasn't actually having second thoughts or worrying and being told it's okay reminds him to have the thoughts.

Gerard strokes his back and says, no longer whispering, "You have to be really relaxed, okay?"

"I am practically in a coma," Frank says quickly, even though it's a pretty blatant lie. "I'm a rag."

"Fucking menace," Gerard says and kisses him, and the second thoughts seem forgotten. Frank imagines a control panel with a dial sliding into the green. All systems ready. "I mean, it. It's... It'll be uncomfortable and weird at first. I don't know, some people never like it."

Frank thinks about Gerard's fingers and tongue and goes hot, like, everywhere. Seriously, flash-flood of hot. And he says, "I think you could pretty much do whatever you want and I'd be fucking into it. You haven't done anything, like... anything that I wasn't into. Just tell me what to do. I don't know, how should I...?"

Gerard kisses him again, stroking his hair and cupping the back of his head, and the heat everywhere stays and makes Frank sweaty and both limp and frantic, and he still doesn't know what he's supposed to do so he just clings to Gerard and tries to think relaxing thoughts because he's not actually relaxed right now. He's also getting to that point where he could come again, although it'll probably be almost dry by now. He's done some experimenting with marathon jerkoff sessions, and he thinks he's probably pushing the edge of how fast he can reload.

Gerard runs his hand down Frank's neck, and down his back, and over his ass and down, hooking his fingers around to stroke the inner side of his thighs, the crease between his ass and thigh. Frank tenses because he's surprised and then surprises himself by arching into the touch, like, automatically and eagerly. It's basically built-in already and he hasn't even done it yet.

It makes Gerard's breath hitch and his hands tighten, pulling Frank closer, digging his fingertips into Frank's thigh and the spot between his balls and asshole that makes his knees tremble.

Fuck, I totally want it, he thinks, not that he didn't know that before, but hell yeah, he wants to have things stuck up his ass. He can almost feel it. Just the thought makes him want to-- but he still doesn't know which way they'll go. Should he be on his back or his front? Or maybe on top? He tries to picture the angles, but he's not sure he knows enough about whatever's on the inside to make a call. He kind of wants to be able to kiss but maybe that's just for straight people and porn stars, he can't tell.

"I just," Gerard says, sounding unsteady and breathy. "Your face, Frankie."

"What?" If he has something weird on his face and Gerard's waited this long to tell him he's going to elbow him right in the nose. After the sex.

But Gerard just smiles, really briefly, hardly more than a twitch, and says, "I just like it. Do you think you can make it on your back? It's a little more work."

"Sure," Frank says, because he can do work, no fucking problem, holy fuck. "I like yours."

Gerard smiles, and Frank smiles back because he does like Gerard's face, and he likes his smile a lot too.

"So, okay," he says and pulls backwards a little, and Gerard lets him go and watches, the smile sliding off his face. Frank lies down on his back. First he lies down right on top of the lube, which, yeah, really smooth. He digs it out and tries not to crack up, and fails. He's kind of over the first times, really. He wants to do this again, so he'd already know what's going on and there'd be less nervous laughter and more straight up sex without awkward breaks to negotiate.

Gerard picks the tube out of his hand and puts it down somewhere. He looks kind of worried again, and really concentrated like he's about to perform some complicated trick he's not totally sure he's mastered. Then he puts his hand on Frank's knee and lets it rest for a second, staring at it, staring at the hand or the knee, whatever. Frank lies still and waits. Maybe this is some kind of zen thing. Finding your inner whatevers and opening them. Gerard slides his hand up a little and around, and lifts Frank's leg up and pushing it to the side, very carefully. He bends and kisses the inside of the knee, sliding his hand up Frank's thigh, firmly so it doesn't tickle, and Frank's dick twitches and his hips kind of move on their own accord before he can settle down again.

Gerard does the same with Frank's other leg, and it's weirdly solemn and slow and Frank's reminded of that dream he had that time, where he was dead and Gerard kissed his eyelids.

It was weird how he could see Gerard in the dream even though his eyes were closed. Dream double vision. Omniscient point-of-view? That would be a handy superpower. Well, omniscience in general would be, in fact.

Gerard's just touching his legs, thighs, knees, calves, and it is kind of weird but the whole concentration and stubborn slow pace of it is somehow totally working on Frank, like maybe he's thinking bizarre necro thoughts but he's moving his hips in tiny little hitches that he really can't stop, and his back is arching and his head's falling back and he has to snap for breath a couple times 'cause he can't fit enough air in his lungs.

He sort of spaces on the slow touches because when Gerard leans down over him he has to open his eyes to see him, and he doesn't remember closing them. Gerard kisses him, still slow, and wet and messy, licking deep into Frank's mouth and over his lips and teeth, and sucking on his tongue, and at the same time his hands are sliding over Frank's hips and belly and just barely nudging his dick, tiny crazymaking touches.

"Okay," Gerard says softly against his mouth. "Relax."

"I am relaxed," Frank says. He thinks he might be slurring his words at this point. "But you know, telling me to relax is not really relaxing."

"Shit, yeah, I totally know," Gerard says, in a d'oh! voice. His hand slips between Frank's legs and cups his balls. "This is so weird."

Frank finds it in himself to grin a little and say, "My nuts? I think they're standard issue. Are they weird? You're gonna give me a complex."

Gerard giggles, sharp huffs of breath against Frank's face, and pulls his hand up his dick in a loose fist, fucking excruciatingly slowly and Frank finds himself trying to, like, follow, looking for some friction or something.

"No," Gerard says. "Your nuts are fine. I mean, I'm kind of more used to bottoming, I guess. I kind of ended up picking up a lot of butch guys, and, like, rough trade. I don't know why."

"'Cause you're pretty, duh," Frank pants. Gerard runs his fingers down his dick, ridiculously slowly and ridiculously lightly, and kisses his throat and then his breastbone and licks a nipple very carefully. Frank squirms and it's a serious effort to keep his hands to himself and not just grab Gerard's hair and, he doesn't even know what he'd do but something. He's not sure why he doesn't just do it, but it feels like Gerard is working through a protocol and it seems wrong to interrupt even though it makes Frank feel like a dog on a choke chain.

"Okay," Gerard says again, and he backs off just a bit and pushes Frank's legs wider and futzes around for like a second and then, yeah, fuck, pushes a finger inside, still fucking slowly, so slowly, but it's slick and easy and Frank doesn't think he tenses a whole lot. It's weird but okay. It doesn't really feel like anything much, but he finds himself fisting the sheets until his fingers ache and totally pushing against the finger, trying to find some kind of resistance there, looking for more. He thinks that's probably a good sign.

"it's good," he says, trying to figure out how to say that. "Good... uh. You can, just... like, go for it, man."

"Yeah, just... give it a little time," Gerard says, looking focused and almost stern. "You can touch yourself if you want."

Oh. Oh. That would, like, so not have occurred to Frank. It really gives him a nice feeling that Gerard's actually on top of this thing, he's been here and knows what feels good and what goes where and shit. Like being at a spa or something like they're always doing on The OC, just lying around and getting pampered by quiet professionals. Frank isn't sure spas cater to teenage boys, but if they do maybe he should think about saving up. He could probably use a cocoa wrap or, whatever, a manicure. Gerard probably needs a manicure the way he chews on his nails. Although it's good that they're all worn down right now. Frank tries not to think about long nails and what they could do to his tender insides. That's always a thing that weirds him out about chicks in porn, those fucking long nails.

He ends up fisting his dick kind of hard and fast because his left hand is still digging grooves in the mattress and it's hard to be all coy with one hand and put all the energy in the other. He has to stop after just a couple strokes or he's going to come before any other dicks are involved at all.

Gerard's sticking more fingers into him now, kind of stretching, and it still doesn't hurt and it still doesn't feel like anything other than what it is, but there's that urge to push against it and a longing, maybe, that need for more. Frank grits his teeth and turns his face away, pushing his burning cheek against the sheet. "Just, just," he says, but that's really all he's got right now.

He flails his arms around a little, patting the bed and finds the condom of Just In Case lying innocently next to him, just waiting for its big day, not knowing that it's arrived. He grabs it and waves it at Gerard. Should be a signal clear enough for Gerard to pick up even in the heat of the moment even when he's so totally concentrated on whatever he's concentrating on. He's actually looking kind of spaced out, his eyelids heavy and his mouth a little open, and his free hand is holding Frank's hip pretty hard, almost enough to dig bruises into the flesh.

He blinks at Frank's hand for what feels like minutes before he accepts the condom of Just In Case. Solemnly, as the occasion warrants.

There's a part where Frank's just kind of lying there, maybe shivering a little because everywhere Gerard was touching him and isn't anymore are feeling cold and abandoned, and he just has time to get nervous even though it's kind of layered on top of that deep grinding need to be touched. That confusing clash of things to feel makes his stomach twist and he has to keep his face turned away until Gerard touches him again, just slides in on top of him, pushing his legs up until his knees almost touch his chest.

"Frank," Gerard says in a voice that's really calm in that way that means he's about to flip out in two seconds or something. Frank turns his head back and looks. Gerard's face is flushed and his eyes gleam in the candlelight and he's pushed back his hair but strands are hanging in his face, limp, sweaty strings of flat black. Right now he looks eerie and dangerous, with the serious expression and the barely contained fucking mania underneath. "Okay?"

"Go, fucking go," Frank snaps out before he can even think about it, because really, thinking is not what's required. He's folded up like a piece of origami here, feeling like a big hole waiting to be filled and like something tiny and fragile and like he can't breathe and like he really needs to put his hands on something right now because he can't stop opening and closing his fists.

And Gerard fucking goes, slow as fuck but now Frank totally gets the whole finger testing deal because whoa, he feels this, does he ever feel it. His mouth falls open and he thinks he's rolling his eyes up because he totally can't see anything for a second. "Oh, fuck," he says, and it comes out with a strangled little moan and Gerard stops immediately, which was so not what Frank was going for. "Fuck no, go, man," he grits out. It feels like way too much but there's this point he can feel where the too much will be just what he needs, and he just needs to ride it out, just go through it and then. Then. He doesn't know what then will be like, but it's there. His abs burn and he realizes he's tense as a bowstring and he tries to just let go, and he unrolls his eyes with some difficulty and looks at Gerard again. Gerard's looking back, that intense concentration still there, and if Frank's a bowstring, Gerard is, like, something that's fucking tighter than a fucking bowstring. Godzilla's bowstring made of titanium or something. When it snaps, it'll take out half of downtown Tokyo.

Frank tries to roll his hips a little, and something about that shifts something else and there's a second where the going is suddenly easier, with just a sweet, sweet burn that he could ride all night, and he moves again and Gerard makes this dragged out, high-pitched sound and kind of falls forward, pinning Frank like a bug. Oh god, skewered, Frank thinks and then Gerard pulls back a fraction and lifts Frank up a little and things start to slot together, like click click click, like hell yeah, like fucking right on.

"Okay?" Gerard gasps, and Frank can tell it's costing him to wait right now.

Frank says "Jesus fuck," and then he says "Now now now." He reaches out with his hands, like he's blind because he can't tell where anything is somehow, and he kind of knocks the back of his hand against Gerard's nose before getting directions and distances worked out and getting his fingers into Gerard's hair.

Gerard closes his eyes really slowly. And pushes his hips forward, really slowly but kind of mercilessly, just going like there's no resistance even though Frank's burning and shivering and his legs ache and his stomach aches and his hand twists viciously in Gerard's hair but his entire face feels slack and his head just lolls on his neck, rolls back and forth with every movement.

Gerard pulls back, not very far, and pushes in again, faster and kind of at a different angle, and Frank feels the then and the just right fucking billow out from whatever it is that's being pushed right there and he makes a sound that's pretty much a yell at this point, no more quiet because quiet can't contain it. He thinks he gets it now, how to hold himself and not fight the intrusion, it's getting clearer and he can move with it when Gerard stops holding back and just gets to the fucking part. Frank can barely feel anything else, like, he's just made out of ass and dick right now, with some minor, faint whispers of input from other things like his overtaxed muscles being all what is this yoga shit? and the sting in his fingers where Gerard's fucking hair is cutting into them, they're twisting it so hard. Gerard doesn't look like he even notices he's being like scalped.

Frank tries to find his other hand, he doesn't even know what the fuck he's doing with it, beating the shit out of the mattress or something, and then he fumbles in the direction of his dick, trying to figure out how to coordinate, like, anything. Gerard is really fucking him now, keeping a steady pace and the whole thing is just like rolling Frank up on every in and unfurling him on every out and his dick's, like, connected to Gerard's dick like they're somehow touching via a special ass nerve that no one's told Frank about before. And even though Gerard is totally concentrated on the rhythm and he's got his eyes closed and he's probably about to blow up if he's feeling anything like what Frank's feeling, even despite this, Gerard finds Frank's dick before Frank does, Jesus Christ. It's like the jokes about finding your ass with a map and compass, only worse, he can't find his own dick even though it feels like a red hot poker about to go totally nuclear.

Gerard's hand is slick and hot and follows the rhythm of his hips and Frank can basically do nothing but fold his fingers over Gerard's and suck in a massive, dizzying breath and lie there like a helpless, sweat-slick pretzel and ride the wave right into the crash.

He does not bother to muffle his shout. He probably wouldn't find his fucking mouth anyway.

He briefly loses all contact with his body and floats around in the whirlpool for two seconds that stretch like years, and when he slams back to his senses, Gerard has dropped more weight on him, pushing him into the mattress and his knees into his chest on every thrust. He's totally found Frank's mouth too, and Frank has unconsciously been kissing back, apparently, because he has his tongue in Gerard's mouth. The rhythm is kind of deteriorating and he can feel Gerard's arms trembling violently as if he can barely keep them from buckling.

Gerard says his name when he comes, on a long groan, all cut up because it's actually not really a name you can just moan easily, the hard sound breaks it up. It would probably sound funny if you weren't in the middle of having sex.

Everything kind of stops. Frank pretty much stops breathing for a little while, too, because he's just so squished up that it seems to take an unreasonable amount of effort to pull in a breath right now and he's gone completely limp everywhere. His hand has even untangled itself from Gerard's hair. He thinks he ripped some out on the way. He'll work on those violent impulses later. Maybe.

Eventually he has to breathe again and he thinks he's going to start coughing or something, but Gerard snaps out of his own whirlpool and rolls off and pulls out, and it makes Frank sort of forget about breathing for another couple seconds while he adjusts his entire universe to not being filled up and weighed down. Like being dropped into vacuum.

Gerard's still panting next to him, stroking Frank's hip kind of distractedly, his breaths fanning cool over Frank's sweaty shoulder. He's not touching Frank anywhere else, like maybe he needs a while to readjust too, and get used to being alone in his skin.

"Yeah," Frank says, faintly. He doesn't know what he means. But yeah.

"Yeah?" Gerard mumbles.

"Yeah," Frank says, firmly.

***

Frank wakes up when the lights come back on. He has that logy, doped feeling that tells him he's either slept way too little or way too much and his stomach flips in panic and he sits up so fast his head spins.

It's still dark outside, though. The candle's even still burning. He closes his eyes and waits for his pulse to stop racing.

Huh, he thinks.

He looks around and sees Gerard asleep next to him, face smushed into the pillow, his hair tangled and matted.

Frank's stomach flips again, but not so much in panic this time. He rubs his face and winces because his mouth feels tender and raw. Then he shifts a little and winces again because, yeah, wow, his mouth is not the only place. And he needs to pee a whole lot. And he feels like he's been pummeled by a gorilla all night, or maybe several smaller monkeys. And it feels kind of great. The good kind of pummeled, where every muscle complains but it, like, means you've done something for real.

Gerard twitches and mutters in his sleep and Frank leans over and pets his hair a little until he settles again. Gerard's looking a little pummeled himself.

Walking is kind of a challenge, and so is bending over to pick up his jeans. His back feels like maybe he overtaxed it in the bad way a little, and his legs tremble so hard he has to lean on the bed like an old man when he puts his pants on. He stretches slowly and carefully, trying to find the places that smart and work them out enough that he won't fall over if he makes a sudden move.

He shuffles down the hall and into the bathroom, which is traditionally the grossest place on Earth but Gerard seems to have had a snap of the crazy last night waiting for Frank to show up, and some cleaner may or may not have been spilled on things in here. There's kind of a hint of lemon scent in the air.

He pees for about twenty minutes or so and lets his brain spin in lazy circles. He's not making an effort to remember everything, he's just letting the remembering happen the way it wants to. His body certainly reminds him every time he moves, and he looks down to see if he's standing bow-legged and it cracks him up for a second. He does his best to choke it down, though, because he doesn't want to wake up Mikey who looked really bummed last night--well, it's still this night, technically--or Gerard who just looks really fucking cute when he's asleep.

He looks at himself in the mirror and cracks up again. He looks like he's rubbed himself against a porcupine. Beard burn, he realizes. Holy fuck. He totally didn't notice anything, and it's not like Gerard can actually grow a fucking beard, but obviously just enough to make Frank look exactly like he spent all night kissing a dude.

He doesn't know what time it is, but his guess is there aren't that many hours between now and the first time he has to face his mother and not look like he--holy fuck again!--spent all night kissing a dude and having actual sex, holy fuck. He looks around wildly and wonders if he could just lock himself in here and not come out until he's presentable.

He has a little hickey on his chest, too, but nothing crazy. Gerard's clearly not as determined to leave his signature as Mikey is.

He'll have to stop standing here, laughing at his own reflection. Any old time now.

He thinks for a second and then he shrugs at himself and shucks his jeans and gets in the shower. He totally smells, and maybe the worst thing that could happen would be bumping into his mother on his way to the bathroom at home, looking like he spent all night kissing a dude and smelling like he spent all night having actual sex holy fuck. This must be what cathouses smell like.

Hot water is fucking heaven on his back and shoulders and he puts his head under and just stands there, weaving a little and thinking about Gerard's sleep face and then Gerard's sex face, the way he looks almost shocked when he comes, first surprised and then kind of like he's in pain and then just blank. Like a movie death scene where you don't know the dude's been shot until he keels over.

He sniffs out Gerard's shampoo which is apple-scented and especially for dyed hair with vitamin E and jojoba and other things girls put in their hair, and Gerard's shower gel which is even girlier. Frank sometimes wonders what goes on in Gerard's head when he picks out products. Maybe he thinks the enticing fruity smells will remind him to take showers more often? So far it's not working.

He cleans himself really carefully everywhere. His dick is not quite itself yet; even a gentle touch feels like too much, although only halfway in a bad way. The other half is kind of sexy, like all the nerves are just sending too much info but a lot of the info is SEX STOP SEX STOP MORE SEX STOP. He pokes his ass a little and yeah, hopes really hard that he doesn't have to take a crap in a while because ouch. This is maybe something you get used to with time, like developing a callus.

When he's clean and smelling like roses and apples it kind of sucks to put on the fucking jeans again but it can't be helped. At least they're dry by now. Dryish, anyway. He'll get home and change into something nice and soft.

That makes him think about the going home part, and it makes him think about climbing onto his bike and pedaling two miles. He thinks he could do it. If rabid giant zombie spiders were chasing him.

He goes back to Gerard's room--stopping in the door because whoa, no, that is what cathouses smell like--and starts looking for his clothes, but he gets distracted because Gerard is still asleep but he's frowning hard in his sleep, scrunching his face up and making these short, clipped sounds like whimpers with words in them, although Frank can't make out what he's saying.

He crawls onto the bed and leans down and says, "Gerard." Gerard just keeps on dreaming whatever he's dreaming. It can't be good, so Frank pokes his shoulder and says his name again, and again a little harder and louder.

It's not until he actually shakes Gerard for real that it works. Gerard starts awake with his arms flailing, smacking Frank right in the throat and himself in the eye in one fell flail, and twists away so fast he collides with the wall.

When Frank can take a breath again without his eyes tearing up, Gerard has turned back and is staring at him with his eyes wide and horrified and confused.

"Hey, hey," Frank says, hand still over his throat. Ouch. "Are you okay?"

"What!" Gerard says. He's not blinking. "What?"

Frank reaches out gingerly, kind of watching out for a new smack, but Gerard doesn't flinch when he strokes his cheek.

"You were having a nightmare, I guess," Frank says and Gerard relaxes suddenly and completely, pushing his face toward Frank's hand and closing his eyes.

"Fuck," he mumbles. "Yeah, same old."

"Werewolves, huh?"

"Yeah." He puts his hand over Frank's. "It's usually Mikey waking me up."

"This is Frank, though," Frank says. "FYI."

"FYI I totally knew that. Even though you smell like my shampoo."

Frank smiles and Gerard smiles too even though he can't even see Frank. "You really really really fucking don't, man. And this room is like...What's the word I'm looking for?"

Gerard blinks and yawns and scrambles up, looking exactly like Frank felt when he woke up. "Uh, kind of looks the same to me."

It's a losing battle, obviously. Frank says, "Look, I have to get back before my shoes turn into pumpkins or whatever. Um."

"Fuck," Gerard says. "Fuck. Frankie. Are you, uh...okay? Everything okay?"

Frank holds up a hand with the thumb and forefinger making the circle of all good.

"Okay," Gerard says.

"Really, I'm kind of great," Frank says. "All... okay, I won't lie, I feel like I got fucking poked by Moby Dick but in, like, the good way, totally. Um. Moby's... dick. Shit." He cracks up for like the fifty-seventh time since he woke up. If everything's this fucking funny, he has to be pretty sure he's honestly okay.

Gerard seems too tired to actually laugh but his mouth twitches and then he just grabs Frank and hauls him in and kisses his face, like cheeks and nose and forehead and cheeks again and mouth, and Frank laughs the whole time.

"I'll drive you home," Gerard says. "It would suck big time to bike, wouldn't it?"

"I guess you know, huh."

"I spent a lot of time lying down," Gerard says. "Trying not to move at all. I tried to be careful with you but I don't know, it's like... hard. I haven't done that before. I mean, with someone who hasn't. Or with someone smaller. Well, except girls, I guess. I didn't sleep with that many girls, though. It's different with you, Frank."

"Than with a girl, I really hope so."

Gerard kisses him again, and it ends up going on for a while, all slow and careful like a movie kiss. Frank leans against him and wishes he could just lie down and go back to sleep here.

"I wish I could sleep here," he says. "It sucks to have to go back and pretend that I didn't spend the the night getting massively laid."

"I'm dangerous to sleep with, though," Gerard says quietly and puts his hand over Frank's throat. "Did I hit you hard?"

"Don't think it'll bruise or anything," Frank says, shrugging. He hardly notices the throat; it's just another little reminder of the crazy good times.

"I know, though," Gerard says. He's still got his hand on Frank's throat, rubbing it a little. "I don't want you to go. But I guess, right. I'll get dressed now."

"I love you," Frank says when Gerard lets him go to stand up. It just kind of slips out, all oh by the way. Oh by the way, fucking hell. His stomach makes a tiny little flip.

Gerard smiles a happy little smile that makes his cheeks dimple. "I love you too, Frankie," he says, totally earnest and straight-faced and doesn't look nervous or anything. There's no weirdness. It's pretty awesome. Frank almost wants to say it again just because he can, but there's a limit to how fucking goofy he wants to be about this, maybe.

Gerard gets his smokes out and lights one, and gives one to Frank and lights it, and then he starts getting dressed. Frank sits on the bed and smokes and watches Gee try to smoke while he's pulling on a hoodie, ready to jump in and put out the fire if he needs to. Gerard's totally practiced this, though, and comes through in a triumphant puff of smoke.

"Nice moves," Frank says. He's feeling kind of really reluctant to even put on his t-shirt. Fuck, he doesn't want to get off the bed. Eventually he has to, though, so might as well get it over with. The pain of going home to his own stupid room and then have to wait forever and sneak around like a jerk just to see Gerard and then do the whole thing all over again is definitely less than the pain of his mother busting him. "What's the time?"

It takes Gerard like five minutes to find the clock because it's fallen off the desk and is shoved under the bed in a mess of dirty blankets and pages of random sketches. "Four-ish. Maybe."

Turns out it's actually five-ish and Spider-Man really needs to be retired--the dashboard clock in the truck is more trustworthy and depressing. It's stopped raining but the wind still slapped stray drops in their faces when they trudged down the stairs, and the clouds look stony and troublesome.

The lights are still out in Frank's neighborhood, not totally unexpectedly since it's a kind of cheapo neighborhood right next to a really shitty one. His mother wants to move but she keeps running up against the part where they'd have to get something a lot smaller and she tells him often and with heart that she does not ever want to be stuck in a tiny place with a hyperactive teenager. Frank thinks the real reason for all the waiting is that she thinks fucking George is going to pop the question soon and then they can get a big house in a good neighborhood.

Gerard pulls over two houses away from Frank's because the truck's muffler is for shit and it sounds like a cranky T-Rex when it rolls up. They sit there in silence for a minute, Gerard nervously clutching the wheel and Frank balling his hands into fists in the pockets of his hoodie.

"Shit," Frank says.

"Yeah," Gerard says and tugs at his hair. He glances at Frank. "I guess... Fuck, come here."

Frank crawls over immediately, cursing bucket seats, and ends up climbing into Gerard's lap, getting the gearshift stuck in his pocket for a weird three seconds of struggling, and maybe kneeing Gerard in the nuts a tiny bit. It doesn't stop Gerard from kissing him fast and wet and sloppy, palming his ass and fucking rubbing the inseam of his jeans like he wants to make something of this when they're right on Frank's street.

"If someone walks by we're so fucking dead," Frank pants, but it's not like he's going to stop until Gerard does. He just repeats, "So dead," and sticks his tongue in Gerard's mouth and rolls his hips.

Gerard pushes him away with an expression like he's about to get a flu shot and mumbles, "Yeah, uh, fuck. I know. Okay." His face has gone a little pink high on the cheeks. "Are you gonna get your phone back soon?"

Frank picks himself off his lap and slides back into the passenger seat, but he lets his hand linger in Gerard's. "Maybe. If I really suck up and no one asks me why I look so happy and bow-legged today. 'Cause I don't know what I'd say to that, you know, and when I improvise is when I really piss her off."

Gerard goes a little pinker still and smiles a lopsided smile. "Try not to."

Frank takes back his hand and opens the door and climbs out and it really fucking sucks. "Yeah. So. Bye," he says. "Thanks for the ride."

"I'll get your bike," Gerard says, getting out. Oh yeah. Wow. Frank's brain is not really on top of this situation, obviously.

Gerard lifts the bike out of the back of the truck and there's another moment where Frank thinks they're gonna end up making out again, but fortunately the bike is, like, between them because next thing he sees the flicker of candlelight in the Sanders' kitchen and Mrs Sanders is the biggest gossip on the block.

"You gotta get out of here before she gets your fucking plates down," he tells Gerard. "I'm not even kidding."

Because there's no way he can kiss Gerard now, he wants to so fucking bad, it's ridiculous. He ends up kind of just touching his sleeve and nodding before he turns really fast and drags the bike up the street, half-running. It's not really comfortable, to say the least, but whatever. He hears the truck start up but it doesn't drive away until he's ducked into the garage to put the bike away.

***

Tuesday

Mom doesn't try to wake him up until after nine, which is a boon and a blessing, but she does it by tugging at his comforter, which is something she should have learned to avoid by now. It's only Frank's lightning reflexes that save them from serious, no good very bad embarrassment.

At least he fucking wakes up for real, if just to sit up and yell, "Jesus, Mom! I'm naked!"

She drops the comforter like it's red hot and backs off, comically wide-eyed. Frank yanks it up--that was fucking close, and has she never heard of morning wood, anyway? God--and huddles down. They stare at each other for a couple beats.

"I'm sorry, honey," she says eventually. "Good morning?"

He thinks she probably didn't have time to process, say, the fucking hickey on his chest. Jesus Christ. "It's okay. Just, like. Give a guy some warning before you start-- uh. Before you barge in. What happened to knocking?"

She raises an eyebrow. "I did knock, young man. Maybe you're going deaf already?"

"I'm up now, though," he says, trying for bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. "Receiving five by five."

"There's pancakes, so get downstairs before everything's cold." She stops in the door and turns back. "Oh, and Francesca finally called. She'll be here before noon. Fair warning."

He almost jumps out of bed butt naked anyway at that. "What! Since when?"

"Frank, what is wrong with you? Do you ever listen to anything we tell you?" She rubs her face all tiredly like she does when he's being Too Much. "I'm giving your phone back, okay, but on probation. Your aunt will not leave this house to tell mother all about what a delinquent you are, you hear me?"

He nods humbly.

She fishes the phone out of her pocket and drops it on the bed. "You have some missed calls."

He does, mostly from Bob and Toro, but there's an out-of-state number on there that called twice, two days ago and last night.

When he calls it back, some tired-sounding dude answers.

"Uh, who is this?" Frank says.

"Who are you," the dude says. "You called me."

"I called you back, okay. This better not be some stalking weirdness."

There's a brief pause and some shuffling sounds like maybe the dude is getting out of bed. "Frank?"

"Hey, guy, state your purpose!"

"It's Andy, Andy Hurley." A sigh. "Pete Wentz's friend? And you're friends with Mikey Way."

"Ye-es?"

"Okay, Frank, listen up. This is obviously none of our business officially, yours or mine? But the situation is getting ridiculous. Do you think you could ask your friend Mikey to please, fucking please answer just one call from Pete before he does something stupid?"

"You-- what?" Frank closes his own mouth by pushing at his chin with a finger. Then he fucking cracks up for a good long while.

"Frank? You can fucking stop laughing any time," Andy says. "Pete probably deserves whatever he's going through but he's not the stablest guy, you know? He can get a little obsessed."

"Oh, trust me," Frank wheezes. "I am calling Mikeyway the second we hang up because this is too fucking good."

"When I say obsessed I mean, uh..." There's a significant pause. "Morbidly obsessed. Psychotically obsessed. Suicidally obsessed."

Jesus fucking Christ. "I'm sure hearing that will make Mikey like a thousand times more likely to pick up the phone, Hurley. Is he gonna get, like, single white femaled?"

"Nah," Andy says dismissively. "I'm trying to look out for Pete here. He's my idiot friend, not Mikey. Although I'll be sure to warn you guys if Jennifer Jason Leigh is coming that way."

"This is seriously soap opera, man," Frank says, because it has to be put out there. "I think Ridge wants to talk to you about Brooke's pregnancy later."

"Ha fucking ha," Andy says. "You're not the one getting all the fucking emo poetry emails and the long phone calls in the middle of the night and the darkly suggestive yet cryptic texts."

"Okay, okay, shit. You think he really will, like, I don't know... do something?"

Andy thinks for a while. Frank wishes he could smoke. Then Andy says, slowly, "Pete's a drama queen, yeah, but he's stone cold for real, too. It can be scary. Just talk to Mikey? Pretty please, cherry on top. It's all I ask."

"I can't believe you're calling me and like begging, man."

"Seriously. Okay. Later, Frank."

He hangs up and Frank stares at his phone for a while. Then he laughs again, good and long, until his mom calls up and asks what's so funny that he doesn't even want pancakes.

But on his way downstairs he thinks about Pete who pretty much seemed like a happy go lucky kind of guy even though the rumors about him were fucked up. He remembers telling Mikey Pete was allegedly insane but it's not like he actually really believed it at the time. And that reminds him of how Gerard flipped out when Mikey and Pete screwed in the upstairs apartment, and all that fucking drama.

So, shit.

Mikey's number goes straight to voicemail, and Frank has a vague memory from the part of last night that didn't feature fucking, and it's Mikey kind of throwing his cell on the floor and maybe smashing it? So then Frank has to call Gerard's phone instead, which he had planned on not doing until later when he can lock himself in the bathroom for some privacy. He shrugs and dials up while he's walking down the stairs.

It takes Gerard like ten rings to pick up, but that's kind of standard for Gerard because his phone is always in his other pants or buried under his crap or in the fucking fridge or whatever. Fucking flake. Just thinking about him running around looking for his phone like an idiot makes Frank long fucking viciously to be there to find it for him and then laugh at his baffled face and then, like, make out with him until they can't even breathe. Oh, Jesus fuck, this was actually not a cool idea to do this now. His mother is looking up from the pancakes with a question on her face, and Frank backs out of the kitchen like whoa. And Gerard says, "Frankie?" in his ear.

"Frank?" Mom says, too.

"Okay, um, Gerard..." Frank says to Gee. "This is actually about Mikey--I seriously cannot talk to you or there'll be hell to pay if you know what I mean and I think you fucking do. Get me Mikey. Uh, please. Thank you."

"Okay?" Gerard says, and maybe he's sounding a teensy bit hurt.

"Seriously, Gee. This is, you know--" He lowers his voice and fuck, that'll sound even more suspicious, but it'll have to be suspicious. Fuck. "It's hard enough, okay? Mom's ears are flapping."

"They're really not big enough to flap," fucking George says right behind him and Frank jumps five fucking feet in the air and drops the phone. He also screams like a girl. Fucking George is holding up his hands and being all whoa whoa like he's trying to calm a freaked out dog or something. "Sorry, Frankie, I didn't mean to scare you. Here."

He picks up the phone and holds it out to Frank. Gerard's tinny distant voice is saying, "Frank? Frank? What happened? Frank?" Frank stares at it in horror, actually feeling like a fucking freaked out dog now. A freaked out dog about to get the fucking rolled-up newspaper.

"I think your friend is worried you're being eaten by wild animals, Frank," fucking George says mildly. "You better reassure him."

Frank makes his limbs obey with pure fucking force of will and takes the phone. "I'll call you back," he says quickly and hangs up. He looks at fucking George. "Okay. Um. I'm gonna go, like, have a heart attack or something now. Excuse me."

"Sorry again!" George calls after him. He hears his mother ask something and George answer, "Nothing, I just surprised him. I think he's still a little asleep."

Up in his room he texts Gerard SRY FKN G FKN W/ ME, PLS AX M TO CALL HOUSE PHN. LOVE F. Then he smacks himself a good one in the face for being such a freak and goes down to eat some fucking pancakes. His mother and fucking George just kind of snicker at him and no one even asks him anything. Another close call he got away with. Time to stop taking stupid chances, he vows. No more stupid, period.

"No more coffee," Mom says when Frank reaches for the pot to get his second. "You're twitchy enough as it is. I suppose it would be a waste of time to ask you what's going on?"

"I'm sorry," Frank says quickly. "I just, like, um. He kinda snuck up on me? I didn't mean to spazz out like that. I'm okay. Sorry, f-- uh, sorry, George."

"It's completely my fault, Linda," fucking George says. "I was being clever. It's the first thing they tell you, too, never sneak up on anything unless you want to take a kick in the knee."

Frank looks at the coffee. So close, yet so far away. His head hurts a little, and it's actually really uncomfortable to sit on the hard kitchen chair right now. "Well, I didn't kick or anything," he says and tries not to squirm.

The whole sore ass thing is a bitch for more than just the obvious reason, too. It's a constant reminder. He can't move without feeling it and that means he can't move without thinking about it and that means he can't move without Gerard fucking popping up in his head all intense and leaning in with his fucking eyes and his mouth and yeah, every move. And Frank loves pancakes, and Mom has even started making them vegan just for him, but it is a struggle to get anything down today. He makes an effort, though, because there has been enough weirdness already.

***

Mikey doesn't call until eleven-thirty, and he sounds kind of grumpy or maybe sad, because they sound the same in Mikey's voice.

"Um," Frank says. He's suddenly not really happy about having this conversation. It's kind of fucking sad, actually. Mikey's always so low-key it's hard to tell if he's, like, crying on the inside or something, but it seems like he's having a hard time. "So."

"Gerard was babbling something about, I don't even know what he was saying--Gerard, what the fuck was that about Frank screaming?--Were you screaming about me, because that would be kinda weird, Frank."

"No, shit, that was just kind of an accident. What I wanted to, uh, tell you was that, um." He looks around quickly to check for lurking Georges or other potential ambush situations and lowers his voice a little, but not in a suspicious way. "Andy called to say Pete's a mess and you should answer your phone but I guess you broke it so maybe just call him okay."

Mikey goes quiet for a long time, until it starts getting fucking freaky. Frank says, "Mikey? Did you get that? Andy, Pete, heartbreak and woe, call him on the phone."

"Yeah, I got it," Mikey says quietly. "Okay. Thanks, Frank."

"Okay?" Frank says. "Okay."

"Frank?" his mother calls. "You can't go over to Mikey's today, remember Francesca! She'll want to spend time with you, God help us."

"No, it's okay!" Frank yells back, putting the phone down. "He just wanted to, um, talk about some stuff. I'm good."

He goes back up to his room and lies down on his back and tries to stay still. That reminds him of Gerard, too, though, of Gerard's fucking college fuckfests and all that shit, so not helpful at all. He turns over and lies on his front instead, and thinks about Leatherface and chainsaws, and then about the remake which was, like, fucking sacrilege and a criminal waste of money, fucking hell, and about the Psycho remake which was just a joke, and the Dawn Of the Dead remake which shamefully was kind of good, but obviously not scary at all, and no, that does not help either because he watched that thing with Gerard and they got high after and to think they could have been making out, like, all those times they just hung out watching movies and getting wasted and reading comics and playing Tekken and Battlefield and Doom. All those times. Months.

He's, like, too fucking young to be thinking about wasted time, for fucking serious. And also, maybe Pete and Mikey are what you get when you don't take your time. Gerard is probably more fucked in the head than Pete, Frank can't, like, kid himself there. Sometimes Mikey kind of lets slip things, like about nightmares that Gerard doesn't even wake up from until he's throwing up, or fucked up shit like that. Gerard kind of glosses over them a little, Frank thinks. He shares, but he doesn't really get that detailed about how messed up it is.

Frank is also too fucking young to be lying around contemplating and brooding and getting emo, so he rolls out of bed and fires up his recently acquired hack of the Tombraider 10th anniversary remake to spend some quality time in the jungles of Peru.

Even Lara fucking Croft brings him around to Gerard, of course, because they once had a conversation that went something like... Gerard saying her tits were unnatural and the game has stopped being a game and just gone into the porn business and Frank saying what the fuck is the issue there, you watch porn, you hypocritical perv? and Gerard sighing the sigh of you just don't understand and Frank eventually admitting that the tits might be kind of stupid but he's a guy, what's he gonna do? It's hot. And Gerard sighing again and finally nodding because yeah. It is hot.

He concentrates really furiously on killing some dinosaurs and not on his sore ass and why it's sore, and not on his boyfriend--boyfriend!--who is just two miles down the road but might as well be on Mars.

Then Aunt Francesca calls up, "Frankie! Darling! Come give your auntie a big kiss!"

He hasn't seen her in a couple years, not since she moved to Florida, and he thinks she might have missed the part where he's not a toddler anymore. At least she'll be kind of distracting.

***

Somehow Frank has completely forgotten that Aunt Francesca and fucking George never actually met before. They're already giving each other the stink-eye when he gets downstairs and it continues through dinner. Francesca really likes Frank's dad. She's also loud and smokes and dresses maybe a little slutty, totally unlike Frank's mom who is the younger sister but looks like she's the one five years older.

She likes Frank, too, though. She doesn't let him so much as say hi before she's already giving him a couple of those big kisses, and then she laughs this hoarse laugh that's a total pot laugh, and says, "Oh my God, baby, you grew up!"

"Yes, Fran, it happens," Mom says behind her, kind of dryly. She's next to George, and he's got an arm around her shoulders, a pretty tight arm. She looks like she wants to pinch the bridge of her nose. "You do know when he was born. I think you were there at the Christening almost sixteen years ago."

"Oh, get off it, Linda," Francesca says, waving her hand. "Let me say hi to the kid before we start."

"Hi, Aunt Francesca," Frank says. It's actually pretty interesting to watch this happy reunion. There were so many things he didn't get when he was a little kid. He thinks he might understand some of them now. "How's it going?"

She smiles at him, a big smile that scrunches up her face. She's got eyebrows that are waxed to pencil-thin arcs and her eyelashes are pitch black with mascara. "It's going good, Frankie," she says. "Good to be back up here and even better to know I don't have to stay, you know what I mean?"

"Francesca," Mom says tiredly.

"Yeah, I get it," Frank says.

"What do you do in Florida, Francesca?" George asks. Francesca snaps her head around in a way that seems studied and practiced to set her carefully arranged curls fly out like she's in a hairspray commercial.

"I cater, George," she says. "Wedding anniversaries for the pensioners mostly. It's very giving work."

"Would you like something to drink, Fran?" Mom asks.

***

For dinner there's this stinking giant steak and Frank gets stewed mushrooms. The smell of meat grosses him out more and more the longer he stays vegetarian, and this is just fucking overkill. He can't stop staring at it, either. It's, like, obscene.

"Vegetarian!" Francesca exclaims, like it's totally thrilling. "Are you one of those straightedge kids or something, Frankie?"

"Nah," Frank says, tearing his eyes off the pink uncooked bit in the middle of the thing. "I just don't want meat."

"He stays healthier like this," Mom says. "The doctors recommended it."

"Also, I don't want to eat dead animals," Frank says stubbornly.

"It is getting popular with the kids today," fucking George says. "They serve vegetarian lunch at school."

"Not vegan, though," Frank says. "It's always covered in frickin cheese."

"Frank," Mom says.

"You wanna walk me around the old neighborhood after dinner, kid?" Francesca says. "Show me the sights, what's changed in three years."

Mom looks like she's about to hop in with something like oh, let's all go, which would be pretty fucking agonizing the way everyone's all tense and glaring like they're in one of those movies about estranged families getting together at Thanksgiving or whatever and there's always at least one cousin or adopted son or whatever who brings up child abuse or secret alcoholism and someone's died and it was someone else's fault and no one talks about it but everyone thinks about it. Frank hates those movies not just because they're boring but because they make him fucking cringe the whole boring time.

Frank says, "Yeah, cool. It'll be cool." He smiles what he hopes is an enthusiastic smile, and Mom looks kind of pleased and doesn't make any suggestions.

Francesca's shoes have stiletto heels and they make her taller than Frank by about fifteen feet or so, or maybe just four inches, but basically she's hovering above him like some Valkyrie in a miniskirt, and it's kind of weird but impressive.

"You're never gonna be tall, kid," she says when they're walking down the drive. "Your daddy's one stumpy little bastard, too."

"Thanks," Frank says. "I kinda figured."

She lights a cigarette and offers Frank the pack. He squints at her suspiciously but she just kind of shrugs and her eyebrow twitches. He shrugs, too, and takes a cigarette. He's pretty sure she'll get the blame if Mom busts them.

"Really not edge, huh?" she says and actually winks.

"No, really not."

"How are things here?" she asks, blowing smoke rings and tapping ash onto the Sanders' hedge. "Is Linda going to marry that big blond jock?"

"I guess," Frank says.

"Yeah, it's looking imminent. What about you?"

"What about me?"

"Girlfriends, lady friends, that kind of thing." She nudges him with her shoulder. "You've got that really pretty face, they must love you."

"Not really," he says. "I'm kinda... I don't know, they just don't."

She ruffles his hair. "Fucking high school. Don't know what they're missing."

She tells him a long story about her Cuban boyfriend who is a shark fisher, and it all sounds completely made up but Frank's almost sure it's actually true. If he told her about his boyfriend it would sound made up, too, he thinks. He doesn't, but she asks him about friends and he gives up Mikeyway and what she says is, "Mikey Way? Like, the Ways Mikey Way?"

Her tone of voice is funny, so Frank doesn't really want to commit even though he kind of understands saying the Ways like that. "Well, I don't know," he says. "His name is Mikey Way and... his family is also named Way?"

"You know what I'm saying. The Ways with the gas station near the West beach."

"Yeah."

"Wow, the Ways," she says, lighting, like, her third cigarette. "I remember them. Not Mikey, so much because he's so young, but the older one. The really fucking weird one."

"Gerard," Frank says, and it comes out kind of angry.

"Yeah, Gerard. I went to school with Donna, you know. She's a couple years older." She slows down and turns around, walking backwards and looking at him, which makes him super tense because she's going to fall over and break her hip or something. He tries to walk around her so she'd have to turn back, but she just laughs and backs up faster. "She was wild. Crazy wild. I pretty much worshiped her, you know? She was one of those chicks that just don't give a shit about what anybody thinks. Of course her Mama was an artist, it explains a lot."

Frank tries to imagine Mrs Way young and wild, and he gets her into young and wild outfits but her face just won't change.

"She was really pretty, too," Francesca says, looking up at the sky almost dreamily. "Pretty hair. Everyone was so surprised when she married Donny. He was such a, what should I say... He was a plain, quiet nerd, you know? Really liked wood shop and building model airplanes. And as expected they got some funny-looking kids."

"They look okay," Frank says.

"Don't worry, I'm not disrespecting your friends--you must have met Gerard? Although maybe he's in college, he must be, what, twenty-one by now."

"He came back home when Mrs Way's mother died."

Her mouth falls open. "She's dead? Elena?"

He nods and her face crumples for a second before she smooths it out and smiles at him.

She says, "She was a really cool old lady, Elena."

"Yeah," Frank says, although he only met her a few times. But Gerard talks about her like she's Mary, Mother of God and Wonder Woman wrapped into one. He holds out a hand. "Can I have another smoke?"

She hands him the pack without even blinking. "Shit," she says. "I can't believe it. I have to go see Donna. What do you think, can I borrow your lovely mother's car?"

"Sure," he says, and adds really casually, "Can I come?"

***

"You know," Francesca says just as she swerves into the station lot, cigarette clamped in her mouth. Frank's mom is going to flip out over the smell of smoke. "I kinda remember you were this bright, talky kinda kid, Frankie. You're being really quiet now. You got trouble? You in trouble?"

He shrugs. She laughs her hoarse laugh and flicks the cigarette out the window, which makes Frank's heart skip a beat because they're right next to the pumps. Nothing blows up, though. His heart keeps making those little flips anyway, because now he can see Mikey and Gerard in the store, both slouching with their elbows on the counter.

Francesca gets out of the car and waves at them. "Oh my," she says. "Haven't they grown up, too."

They go inside and both Mikey and Gerard straighten up and turn, the exact same movement, and for just a flash of time they look weirdly the same, Gerard a dark shadow version behind Mikey. Then it passes and they're themselves, and of course they look nothing alike.

"Oh my," Francesca says again. Mikey's kind of squinting at her, puzzled, but Gerard is looking her in the eyes, almost staring. Then his eyes slide off her to Frank and his face goes completely, and completely obviously, blank.

Frank waves a little and Mikey waves back. Gerard stays blank.

"Gerard," Francesca says. "Mikey. I'm so sorry about Elena, I'm so sorry. I never even heard." She sounds almost devastated now even though she was, like, ogling them five seconds ago. Gerard comes around the counter, his eyebrows drawing together.

"I'm--" he starts but he doesn't get to finish because she pretty much launches herself at him, wrapping her arms around him hard. Frank can hear him go 'oof.' She's taller than Gerard, too, especially with the fluffy hair.

"I can't believe it," she mumbles. "Poor Donna. Is she holding up?"

Frank and Mikey exchange glances. Mikey raises his eyebrows. Frank shrugs. Gerard is patting Francesca's back gingerly.

Finally she lets him go and he looks around a little frantically. "Uh," he says. "Yeah, she's... I think she's okay. Are you okay, Francesca?"

"Yeah, yeah, I just get, you know. It's been a long time since I saw her and I was kind of looking forward to... Anyway. Great to see you again. You too, Mikey."

She pats Frank on the head when she walks out, her heels making sharp clicks on the floor.

"Who was that?" Mikey asks as soon as the door closes behind her.

"My aunt," Frank says at the same time as Gerard says, "Francesca."

"She's your aunt?" Gerard says at the same time as Frank says, "You know her?"

"You guys," Mikey says. "Stop that."

"Okay, okay," they both say and everyone pretty much starts laughing then.

"I don't remember her," Mikey says. "I mean, not... really."

"Francesca," Gerard says. "Francesca the model!"

Mikey's eyes go round behind his glasses. "The model!"

"No, seriously," Frank says, sidling towards Gerard. "Aunt Francesca. My mother's sister."

Gerard looks sideways at him, all eyelashes and tiny smile. Mikey snorts. "Gerard's got tons of naked pictures of your mom's sister, dude."

"Well, yeah," Gerard says, rolling his eyes. "Model. She used to sit for Helena, man. Sometimes I'd do some sketches too."

He leans down and kisses Frank really quickly before backing off again.

"You guys," Mikey says again.

"How much time do you think we have?" Gerard says, quietly but probably not quietly enough because Mikey sighs deeply behind him.

Frank turns to him and makes big eyes. "Call when she comes back?"

Mikey sighs again but he waves his hand fine fine.

***

They kind of speedwalk around the house and end up racing each other up the stairs, Frank winning because Gerard trips halfway and almost knocks his teeth out on the railing. Then they crash through the door and Frank grabs Gerard's shoulders and jumps up to wrap his legs around his waist. He used to do this to Toro a bunch, and Bob--okay, sometimes Gerard, too, but obviously, at the time, without the part where he clutches the sides of his head and sticks his tongue in his mouth. That part's the new part, and the best part, too. Gerard laughs against his mouth, breathless and clutching Frank right back, his fingers digging into Frank's hips.

"Fuck," Gerard pants, "you're heavier than you look."

"I think you've said that every time this far," Frank says, but he lets himself slide down along Gerard's legs, pushing his hips forward when he does. Gerard runs his hands up his back and into his hair. Frank looks up at him and says, "Hi."

"Hi, Frank," Gerard says.

"Hi, Gerard," Frank says and laughs and pulls him in again. The whole thing degenerates into frantic humping inside like five seconds, and Frank starts thinking through options--there's been so little time to do stuff that everything's like the best ever, and it's hard to decide where to go next.

They disengage long enough to stumble to Gerard's room, but then they end up standing in the door, staring at the bed. "Oh yeah," Gerard says. "I was gonna wash, uh, the sheets... And then when I was looking for clean ones I found this box of those old Phantom issues... They're fucking hilarious, too, you should take some."

"Mikey's bed?" Frank says.

They almost go for it, but then Gerard says, "He and Pete have totally fucked here, and I know he hasn't changed the sheets."

"How does that suddenly bother you!"

"It bothers you," he says, tugging at Frank's hand. "Come on."

Nobody ever uses the livingroom and it's still the same as it was when Helena lived here, her old TV and easy chair and the easel in the corner. And an ugly, brown sofa the size of a small yacht. They shove the embroidered cushions aside and sink into it, and it's like drowning in brown plush waves, it's so soft. Frank can hardly get enough purchase to get his hands between them and start digging around for buckles and buttons and zippers. Gerard also hinders him by trying to take off his shirt at the same time, and their arms are, like, tangled like that's even physically possible. They're smushed together so tight anyway that every move makes everything else move, maddening and almost enough.

"Jesus!" Frank says, bucking up and yanking fiercely at Gerard's stupid belt buckle.

"Wait, wait, you first--" Gerard manages to prop himself up on his arms, precariously but enough that Frank can get them both out of their jeans, sort of, well, unzipped and stuff anyway. "Oh, fuck it."

"Yeah," Frank agrees, and Gerard slides against him in a slow, deliberate roll of the hips and Frank gasps against his mouth and twists his hand to get his fingers around Gerard's dick. And that's how they do it, just Frank's hand kind of stuck between them and Gerard moving against him, rucking up his t-shirt and running his mouth over Frank's chest, teeth scraping his nipples. It's fucking great, and crazy fast and it feels like they haven't touched in weeks even though obviously they fucked like twelve hours ago and Frank's still aching and sore.

They also make a complete mess but Frank doesn't even consider that until his breathing's evened out a little and his brain lets his thoughts out of battle stations.

He opens his eyes and finds himself staring at one of the pictures on the wall.

"Dude," he says. "Tell me that is not my aunt Francesca on the wall."

Gerard shifts a little against him but doesn't look up. "I'm afraid I can't tell you that, Frankie," he says, his voice muffled against Frank's neck.

Frank looks away and is forced to think about something else quickly. Which brings him to-- "Oh, shit. We didn't, uh, happen to come all over my pants, did we?"

They roll apart and survey the damage.

"Um," Gerard says, and then he giggles all high-pitched and nervous. "I think Francesca will probably know what that is."

Frank's still feeling sort of spinny and floaty (although he's also completely ready to do it again) and he's probably not as freaked out at the prospect as he would be without the whole, like, orgasm thing bringing the mellow. "I think... You know, we can just wipe it off and if she asks I'll just lie like a rug."

Gerard relaxes and slumps down next to him, nuzzling the side of his neck. "Point blank denial or crazy excuse kinda rug?"

"Point blank, I think," Frank says, turning his face towards Gerard to be kissed. "You know, I have no knowledge of these events, sir, whatever."

After a while he says, "I did promise myself no more stupid chances."

"Too late," Gerard says. His phone rings somewhere down by their knees. "Showtime," he says and giggles again, they both do.

They don't let go of each other's hands until the last step around the corner because that whole thing about stupid chances is obviously for pussies. Frank's already stopped them to make out like twice on the way down the stairs. He thinks he's probably gone completely insane, like maybe this is what abstinence only was invented for, the fact that having sex makes you crazy and stupid. Gerard's supposed to be all used to it, though, but he's just as stupid, keeps slipping his hand under Frank's shirt and stroking his skin and pushing his face against the crook of his shoulder.

"Oh God," Frank says when they're two almost safe feet apart and walking down the gravel walk towards the station. "We're so those people. Those annoying people who giggle and can't stop making out in public."

"I know," Gerard says. He doesn't sound like it's a big surprise to him. Shit, he probably knew what he was already, the sneaky fuck.

"I always hated those people."

Gerard fishes around in his pocket and gets out his cigarettes. "Well, yeah, it's a pain in the ass to watch that shit. Like, get a room."

"For real."

They light up and smoke in silence. Francesca is leaning against the car, her long legs crossed at the ankle. Gerard waves, all innocent and smiling. Frank almost feels guilty but he won't waste the actual guilt on anyone but Mom.

"Hey, kids," Francesca says. Her mascara is a little smeared like she's cried and then tried to fix it. "You left Mikey all by himself."

"Yeah, um," Frank says.

"His day," Gerard says, cool as a cucumber which has to be, like, a first.

Francesca nods and smiles at him, her face really lighting up. She really remembers him, Frank thinks. And she liked him. "You two sure grew up fine while I was away," she says. "Where is that chubby awkward kid with the baggy sweaters?"

"I don't think he'll ever go away," Gerard says.

Mikey's leaning in the doorway, his mouth turned down, his arms crossed. Francesca waves at him and he waves back without lifting his arm, or smiling. "Your brother isn't looking too happy," she says.

Gerard says, "I know." His hand lingers for a second on the small of Frank's back before he goes, shuffling across the tarmac toward Mikey.

In the car, when they're back on the highway going way too fast again, Francesca cocks an eyebrow at Frank and says, "So it's like that, then."

"No, it's not," Frank says immediately, but for some reason he doesn't feel super freaked out. She's obviously been around the block a few times, around the block, the city and the whole county, probably. Gerard has drawn naked pictures of her--Frank can't quite help imagining a sort of Titanic scene with lounging and suggestive looks, even though having your grandmother in the room probably would dampen the mood just a little--and she is looking at Frank right now with that eyebrow raised but no outrage in her face at all.

"Uhuh," she says and smiles wide. "Okay, Frankie." She makes a zipping gesture in front of her mouth, even turning the key and throwing it out the window.

"Okay," he says, still a little caught in the Titanic scene there, thinking about high school Gerard all serious and concentrated and Aunt Francesca lounging on that giant, too-soft couch. He's trying to not think about her breasts or whatever but it's not easy because a--they were right there in his face on the wall and b--they're in fact right there in his face right now, busting out of her low-cut top.

Aunt! he reminds himself and she grins at him again because obviously he's been fucking staring right down her cleavage. Probably looking completely dazed, too, because he feels dazed.

"Reel that thought in, kid," she says and he claps his hand over his eyes and tries really hard, and she laughs her pot laugh and accelerates even more.

***

Around ten o'clock that night Mikey calls his cell and asks, without any lead-in, "What exactly did Andy say?"

Frank has been out cruising entirely different oceans of thought and it takes him embarrassingly long to remember who the fuck Andy is and what the fuck he said. Oh, Andy. Oh, that. "He begged, Mikey. The words 'cherry on top' were used."

"Fuck, whatever," Mikey says with unusual heat. "I mean about Pete."

"That he's a scary obsessive motherfucker who writes bad poetry and cries about you all night?"

"Huh," Mikey says. He seems to be thinking. It's taking a while.

"I guess he kind of misses you, or something," Frank supplies. "I mean, maybe he, like, fell in love with you?"

"Whatever," Mikey says. "No."

"Are you doing okay, Mikes?" Frank asks, not really expecting an answer.

"I'd be better if people stopped asking me that," Mikey says. He sounds tired. "Gerard won't get off my case either."

"Well, I mean, he cares. Obviously. And I guess because, you know, we kinda had... you know, bad timing? You know."

Mikey snorts. "That's not even-- Frank, you know you weren't fucking fooling anyone, like, ever? Even your aunt pegged you guys in like two seconds, Jesus Christ. I saw it coming from Texas, okay. You guys are so fucking lame."

"Okay," Frank says, leaning his forehead against the desk. Wow. Mikey's such a space cadet but sometimes he fucking turns on the deep space radar, for serious, and then anything's up for grabs. "Fair."

Mikey says, "So I'll just call Pete and see what he has to say, I guess." It sounds like that's what he wanted to say all along, although Frank's not sure why he's the one getting this and not Gerard. Maybe Mikey's worried about disrupting Gerard's happy sex vibes with his emo or something. Sometimes Mikey gets like that, keeping shit down because he doesn't want to disrupt. And then sometimes he just lets it all fly, spikes out.

"Yeah," Frank says. He's never been into avoidance anyway, so Mikey's decision to hunker down and wait it out pretty much weirded him out from the start. But Mikey's different, maybe he just needed to lay low for a while first. Even Gerard with all his hermiting and hiding in his room is, like, more impulsive. "Like, whatever else happens, it'll be interesting?"

Mikey laughs for like two seconds at that before he just says, "Yeah, catch you later, Frankie," and hangs up.

There's no way for Frank to sneak out that night because at two thirty, Francesca and Mom are still drinking wine and giggling downstairs, and maybe he's tempted fate enough for one day anyway. But he can't even make himself go to bed until he's so tired he just falls over; he doesn't want to make the decision to not go and he keeps waiting for them to fucking go to bed and they never do.

He wakes up at, like, six am still in his clothes, curled up the wrong way on his bed and fucking freezing. Because he's an idiot and the window is open and it's raining again. But when he goes downstairs to make some tea because seriously, freezing, he finds two empty wine bottles on the livingroom coffee table, his mother on the loveseat under an afghan, with her legs tucked up and her shoes on the floor, and Francesca sprawled on the big couch with her long bare legs just everywhere. She looks like she could be pretty cold, too, so Frank gets the soft wool blanket off the chair by the window and throws it over her. She doesn't even stir.

***

Wednesday

The next time he wakes up someone's shaking him by the shoulder and his head hurts and he's been flying.

He turns his face into the pillow, away from the annoyance, still clinging to the dizzy, swooping feeling of flying.

In his dream he's a bird, which is cool. It's not precisely a cool bird, though, but some kind of little sparrow or whatever, something tiny and fluffy that bounces when it flies. He's been lost in a hedge the whole time, fluttering from twisted branch to twisted branch--it's a giant hedge, though, or he's the tiniest bird in the world because it's like jumping between buildings--dodging wicked thorns and giant gaping caves in the trunks of the bushes where he just knows spiders lurk, ready to snack. But he's pretty fast, he'll make it. Or he would if he weren't awake now, the dream shred into tatters and dissolving.

He turns onto his back, a little bummed. He kind of wanted to know if the Frankbird was gonna make it out of the maze.

The dizzy, swooping feeling doesn't actually go away with the dream, though. Then he notices that his sinuses are tickling, his throat is sore and there's a familiar dull ache in his chest. He wants to, seriously, he could punch himself in the face. He settles for slapping the wall really hard.

Then he opens his eyes and it's not his mother, it's Francesca.

She says, "Your mother is a little embarrassed that she got wasted on a bottle of wine and crashed on the couch. She's more sure than ever that I'm a bad influence."

"Mmh," he says. His voice vibrates unpleasantly somewhere in the phlegmy bottom of his chest. What the fuck, he goes swimming at night, he's soaked to the skin three times in a row and then he sleeps one night on top of the covers and it's plague time? "Fuck."

"You look a little flushed, kid," she says, putting her cool hand on his forehead. He doesn't think she's ever done that before. Francesca isn't exactly the motherly type. "You might have a fever."

He does have a fever, but it doesn't feel too bad and he has fevers all the time without other symptoms, it doesn't mean anything until he starts hallucinating. He might get out of this one with a minimum of hassle if he can make himself stay in bed.

Just the thought of that makes him tense up, though. He's so unbelievably sick of being sick.

"Yeah, uh." He has to cough, but just to clear his throat. He doesn't think it's the fucking bronchitis again. Yet. "I guess."

"You still get sick all the time?" She's stroking his hair back from his face gently, pretty much the same way his mother does it.

"Just call me Typhoid Frank."

"Typhoid Mary was the one who gave everyone else the fever, she wasn't actually sick herself," she says, and that's kind of how Gerard does it. Sometimes he can't resist correcting people.

That sends him into a really pathetic fantasy about curling up in Gerard's bed and just sleeping there while Gerard comes and goes, computer, TV, coffeemaker, bed, computer, TV, coffeemaker, bed, until Frank is better and they can get on with the having of lots of sex.

He puts his hands over his eyes and groans.

"I'll make you some tea," Francesca says. "And... whatever else is it Linda always makes you take?"

Of course she doesn't get as far as making any tea before Mom is up in his room, dragging in the electric blanket and his flannel pajamas and extra pillows and plugging in the heater and taking his temperature and calling Dr Gupta to ask questions she already knows the answer to. Francesca stands in the doorway with her eyebrows raised, just stepping quietly out of the way when Mom swoops by.

When they're alone upstairs for a second--Mom's in the kitchen digging out her first line of defense emergency stash of herbal infusions, ginger, honey, garlic and god knows what--she says, "She's got this down to a science by now." She sounds kind of impressed.

"Do it enough times," Frank says.

***

After sleeping a few more hours, eating some vegetable soup and drinking about five gallons of herbal tea and running to the bathroom every five minutes for half a day, he is so bored he's starting to ponder self-harm as a way out, like a trapped monkey in a cage. If he had a tail he would start chewing on it. He's not really sick, it's obviously just a fucking cold that is not going to kill him, but Mom has learned from past mistakes and she's watching him like a a hawk, a hawk carrying soup and tea. Francesca comes up to watch A Nightmare Before Christmas with him around two pm and she knows the songs and hums along, which is also something Gerard does.

Eventually he notices that she's not really watching the movie, though, she's watching him.

"What?" he says.

She stops singing and says, "You just remind me of me. Makes me wonder if my kids would have been like Linda if I'd had any."

He snickers. "They'd be so embarrassed!" She raises an eyebrow and he flips through what he said and, okay: "Uh, I mean, you know... Mom's always giving me shit 'cause I'm rude and, like, inappropriate and stuff."

"Don't worry, kid," she says and pats his head. "She's always been a little embarrassed by me, too."

***

He does start feeling crappier toward the evening, that fucking cough he always gets creeping up slowly and chewing at his lungs. He turns his face into the pillow as if that will choke the cough out of him, he punches the wall like The Bride punched her way through the coffin in Kill Bill Volume 2, but all he gets are sore knuckles and the wall remains undented, what a fucking letdown. He's probably not a natural born killer.

He texts Gerard: "SICK AGAIN FUCK. BORED SND PIX OF YR P33n STAT."

About two and a half seconds later, Gerard replies: "No. You would put them on the internt Please dont die of plague. I LOVE YOU. did you watch Nightmare already."

The cough makes his head hurt, which is another barrel of fun. His mother comes upstairs again and watches him cough for a while and then she sits down on the bed and hugs him really tight and whispers, "Dammit, Frank," into his hair.

He thinks forward at long days of coughing and headaches and not being able to smoke and not seeing Gerard and generally being bored and fucking lousy and giving his mother a fucking nervous breakdown. "Yeah, dammit," he says.

"I'm taking Francesca over to Mom and Dad's now, okay? If you feel any worse call me, or call Dr Gupta, she'll be available until nine, I talked to her. I'll try to get back as soon as I can, honey. Drink your tea. I'll leave the thermos up here with water, just make more."

"Yes, Mom," he mumbles, really close to tired and miserable enough to forsake sarcasm even though she's being over the top. He's not going to develop, like, Ebola in the two hours it'll take her to drive there and back.

***

He wakes up and sees spiders all over the walls and he screams.

Then he wakes up for real and there aren't any spiders, just his dark room and the blue light of the DVD player standby screen on the TV. He can't even remember what he was watching. He reaches out blindly and almost turns over the thermos before he finds the light switch. He turns off the TV and that's as much as he wants to do right now. He still doesn't think it's worse than a cold but it's one bitch of a cold, of course.

Mom's in the doorway in her long, white nightgown and wild hair, looking like a ghost for a second. She looks kind of cool, actually. He likes her sharp, bony face and wide mouth, even though she's not as pretty as Francesca.

"Frank?" she's saying anxiously, pushing tangles of hair away from her face. "Baby, are you all right?"

He tries to answer but his throat isn't having any of that, and when he clears it he just ends up coughing and coughing. He'd punch the wall again in frustration but it would just make her more anxious. He just waves at her, making the OK sign and turning his thumb up to emphasize. Finally it ends and he croaks out, "Nightmare."

She gets his temp and frowns , and she hugs him again and sits there for a long time with her arms around him.

"It's not that bad, Mom," he says. His voice doesn't sound too bad once he's woken up a little.

"If your temperature rises another fraction of a degree I'm taking you to County," she says.

***

Thursday

In the morning the cough is still there, and he kind of feels like he's been kicked in the side over and over. There's a text from Gerard that just says, "Better?" and then another one that says, ":(?"

He replies, ":/" and feels a little bit giddy even though he's kind of too tired to hold up the phone. He also feels a lot fucking goofy.

"George will be here around eight," Mom says as she sort of half-runs in, wearing her uniform under a coat. It must be raining again. "He'll work from here today."

Fucking George is some kind of consultant. It might have to do with vacuum cleaners but Frank never really paid attention long enough to find out for sure.

Instead of groaning out loud he just says, "Okay." She's put her hair in a French braid, erasing all of that crazy Woman in White look. She just looks a little stern. Her nose seems bigger when her hair is pulled back.

"Stay in bed, Frank," she says. "I mean it. I don't want to hear from George at work."

"Okay," he says, maybe with some attitude, but he doesn't think he could actually whip up the energy to escape right now. That's fucking depressing. It's one thing to lose days of fucking summer school, but he's really so completely over being sick when he finally has some time off. He keeps thinking he'll get through a vacation without an attack of the plague, but he keeps getting disappointed. Like fucking clockworks.

He texts Gerard, "FUKN SAVE ME."

***

"Frank? Frank? Are you awake, Frank?"

He can't quite make himself speak but he mmhs and cracks open one eye. Fucking George is standing over him, which is just a great way to wake up when you're sick.

"I am now," he tries to say, but it comes out mostly air and the occasional wheeze.

"Your friend Mike is here," fucking George says. He sounds kind of cranky. "And his... I didn't get his name. Another friend of yours, maybe? Long black hair, dressed all in black, too. They wouldn't take no for an answer so I came up to ask you. What do you think your mother would say?"

Frank closes the eye again and thinks. It's harder than it should be.

He clears his throat. It hurts, but he doesn't explode with coughing which is basically total victory.

"I feel better," he whispers. "Throat just sore, nothing worse. Let them in."

Fucking George frowns at him all serious and maybe suspicious too. "Okay, but just for a while. Well, Linda will be back in an hour. Maybe they could clear out before that."

Fucking George is afraid of Mom's mother bear mode. It's almost cute.

***

Mikey shuffles in, huddled in a stripey hoodie with the hood up, his shoulders hunched and raindrops still on his glasses. Behind him, Gerard skulks like his short, round shadow. He doesn't have his hood up, and his hair is lank and dripping on his shoulders.

"Hey, Frank," Mikey says.

"Hey, Frank," Gerard says, kind of peering over Mikey's shoulder as if Frank might, he doesn't even know what, turn into a bat and fly right at him? Croak of the plague right now? Then Gerard looks back towards the door and there's fucking George, of course, hovering like a giant blond gargoyle or something, totally freaking Gerard out with his gigantic blondness, no doubt.

"Hi," Frank says with a little effort. It even comes out as proper voice type sounds. "Uh, thanks, George?" What the fuck is he supposed to do, tip him? Go away, George. Fucking George.

George and Gerard are locked in some kind of staredown, fucking George frowning all confused, Gerard hunching down and maybe giving George that glare he so totally practices in the mirror. It's, like, as scary as watching two kittens fight, but Frank's seen people actually shy back when Gerard's glared at them. That's what fucking happens when you listen to fucking rumors, you end up scared of Gerard Way which is so fucking hilarious.

Fucking George just looks confused, though, so he probably doesn't know about Gerard's rep as a Satanist or potential serial killer or member of Al-Quaeda or whatever it is they think now.

Gerard pulls his shoulders up even higher and looks down, and George gives Frank a kind of helpless look. Frank waves at him. Go, go, go, go away.

"Okay, boys," fucking George says, probably trying to sound, like, fatherly. "I'll be downstairs. Frank, uh...Linda left some soup to heat. Just tell me when you want it, okay? Take it easy."

Mikey is kind of rolling his eyes. Gerard has turned back to look at Frank again, still behind Mikey, still peering over his shoulder.

"Okay, George," Frank croaks. "Have fun consulting."

"I'm just compiling some data for a presentation, I'm not actually-- Okay, yes. I get it, I get it. How about I bring you up that soup around three, and then you guys can clear out?"

He is so whipped, Frank thinks. He's fighting a grin pretty hard even though he still feels kicked and bruised on the inside from coughing and his head spins from sitting up. "Sure," he says just to get rid of fucking George.

As soon as George is gone, Gerard pushes the door shut and says, "How shitty are you feeling, Frankie?"

"Don't even fucking ask," Frank says and falls back onto the pillows. Gerard kind of sidles up to the bed as if he's afraid to make too much sound. He sits down on the very edge. Frank says, "Don't act so freaked out. I don't think I have anything you can catch. You're like never fucking sick."

Gerard looks down at him, all, "That's not--" Then he stops and narrows his eyes. "You're fucking with me."

"Fuck yeah," Frank says. He extracts one of his hand from under the three layers of blankets and touches Gerard's thigh. Gerard puts his hand over it. Frank grabs it and tugs a little.

"You guys are so fucking... I don't even... Fucking pink hearts and roses," Mikey kind of splutters. "I'm gonna look through your music folder, okay? Tell me when you stop making googly eyes."

Gerard folds himself sideways and leans his forehead carefully on Frank's shoulder. His damp hair makes a cold spot right under Frank's jaw.

"Did you guys seriously walk here? Is this crazy world or what?"

"What, fuck no," Mikey says, and Gerard kind of shakes his head against Frank's chin and mumbles, "Truck."

"You're like totally wet."

Mikey blinks at him behind his glasses. "Dude, have you looked out the window today?"

Frank raises an eyebrow in the general direction of the window, and the curtains that have been drawn since... probably since he closed the window the other morning, whichever morning that was. Now that he's paying attention, he can sort of hear the white noise of rain outside.

Gerard raises his head enough to look him in the face. "It's like the end of the world out there. We were like waiting for fucking Moses to show up in the fucking Ark."

"Huh," Frank says. "Cool."

"Yeah, fucking cool," Mikey says. "I'm gonna take off my shoes, they're so fucking soaked."

He takes off his socks, too. They're both black but Frank thinks they're not actually the same pair because one is like twice as long as the other.

Gerard sits up and kicks off his sneakers too, and bends down to get his sock. He hasn't even tried to match them, Frank sees--he has to kind of lean over the edge of the bed to see, but it's totally worth it--one is black and may be the brother of one of Mikey's, and the other one is some kind of pale green, with a dark green fucking frog on it. And the heel is worn out and holey.

"You guys are so special," he says, but he's reaching for Gerard again. Gerard might not be able to match his fucking socks but that's not, like, that high up on the list of requirements. "Fuck, I can't believe I get sick again now."

"It sucks," Gerard agrees. "I didn't know what 'save me' meant exactly but we brought, uh, what did we bring, Mikey? Nightbreed and House of 1000 Corpses and Halloween and Halloween II?"

"And The Lion King," Mikey says.

They do know what he likes, although he will have to hide all those movies from his mother because one look at Rob Zombie or whatever and she'd freak the fuck out. Some people have mothers who buy Roger Corman collections to sit next to their videotaped Days of our Lives episodes and think hanging Giger prints in the john is hilarious, other people have mothers who still watch Love Story once a year and think CW shows are too sexy and violent. "Fuck, the last thing I need is you two blubbering all over my fucking sickbed when Mufasa bites it."

"Fuck you, Frank," Mikey says distractedly. "You cry too."

Gerard's digging DVDs out of Mikey's bag one-handed because he won't let go of Frank to get it done, and he's humming Circle of Life under his breath. He doesn't even contest the crying accusation. He's the bigger man, really.

Mikey makes a sound that's kind of a whoop of excitement, Mikeyway-style, basically a squeak that peters out before it reaches actual whoop levels. "You have a shitload of fucking Smiths bootlegs, Frankie," he says, jabbing a finger at the screen. "You think Morrissey is whiny. What's going on here?"

"I was saving those for you two assholes," Frank says. That was going to be a surprise. Well, Mikey is probably surprised right now. "I was talking to this dude in some comm someplace and he hooked me up. I was pretending to be you, Mikeyway. I was all, 'oh, I would be emo but I'm too disaffected, Morrissey helps me reach myself.' You know he bought that shit."

"Fuck you, Frank," Mikey says mildly. Gerard has switched to singing about how he just can't wait to be king. He's folded Frank's fingers into his palm and is rubbing his knuckles gently with his thumb. His face looks placid and he's smiling a tiny smile. Frank's pretty sure most of him has left the building.

Frank battles the mountain of pillows and his own heavy head and gets himself kind of upright so he can turn Gerard's face and kiss him.

"Ew," Mikey says, "you're totally giving him the death plague now."

Gerard smells like rain and smoke and Frank wants a cigarette like he wants to make out with Gerard, which is a lot--okay, if he had to choose, like, for forever, cigarettes or Gerard? he'd obviously pick Gerard. However, as a rule Gerard comes with cigarettes, so it's like a trick question or something.

Mikey puts on The Smiths and surfs MySpace with way too much intense concentration--maybe he's found Pete Wentz's profile--and Frank gets Gerard's undivided attention with his hands and his mouth even though he has to break off to cough and it's probably kind of gross to suck face while suffering from a contagious disease, at least on the theoretical level, and his chest really hurts, both the deep and constant ache and the shallow, sharp pinches when he moves.

Gerard strokes his hair and face restlessly, tracing the curve of his ear and jaw and eyebrow, stuff like that, and Frank thinks he's probably holding himself back all nobly. Frank's kind of trapped in his pillow and blanket mountain and can't scrape together the energy to fight himself loose, but he doesn't really need to. Gerard's got him held up with a steady hand on his back, and he's not making any moves to, like, accelerate, he just explores Frank's mouth slowly and thoroughly, keeping it light so Frank can break off to breathe easily if he needs to.

It doesn't matter how easy it is, though, because after a while there are, like, black sheets fluttering around the edges of Frank's vision and his breaths are starting to sound like death rattles.

"You sound fucking horrible," Gerard says, breaking off but still holding Frank close.

"I think I got the black lung," Frank Zoolanders, and it's both more and less funny when he doesn't have to fake the croak.

Gerard lies him back down again, gently like he's something priceless and fragile, like a mint condition 1977 Obi-Wan in original packaging.

"Uh, Frank," Mikey says. He's lifted his head like an antelope listening for lions. "I think your mom's home."

Gerard lets go of Frank and backs away so fast the bed squeals, and Frank's heart kind of stops for a second and then he can't even think through all the coughing. In between having his lungs ripped out through his spine he sees Gerard hovering nervously, kind of halfway between the bed and the computer chair as if he can't decide what would be an appropriate distance.

They all freeze when Mom's voice reaches them, high-pitched with worry: "--not a good time, George! I know he's a handful but you could try to be the adult!"

Gerard looks freaked out to the point where Frank's worried he'll just try to escape through the window, and even Mikey's getting up and preparing for battle.

Mom slams into the room and stops dead right inside the door. She's opened her mouth to say something but loses track and closes it again.

"Hi Mom," Frank wheezes, almost in control over his body again, almost. "You're back early."

"Um, hi, Mrs Iero," Mikey mumbles. Gerard shuffles half a step backwards, closer to Mikey.

Her eyes flicker between the Ways and Frank, and she squares her shoulders. "This is really-- I'm sorry, boys, but it's really too-- Frank needs to rest even though he chooses to believe he's Superman."

"We just came to say hi," Mikey says. "We really have to go anyway." Frank sees him move surreptitiously to nudge Gerard in the side.

Mom is giving Gerard brief, covert glances. Gerard isn't even looking his freakiest today, Frank thinks, his clothes are pretty clean and, like, there aren't too many holes or anything and nothing weird on his shirt.

"They haven't been here that long," Frank says. He knows he sounds kind of bitchy but fuck it, he hates being interrupted, even mid-cough.

She looks at him all exasperated and tired, she looks really tired and worn, it's even more obvious now that he's freshly reminded of Aunt Francesca and her nice skin and big laugh. So there, now he's feeling bitchy and guilty, and sick of it. If she could just take it easier, stop with the worrying and overworking. He doesn't think he demands a lot. He knows, like, so many kids who are constantly on their parents' case about new shit, games and computers and cars and fuck knows what, but Frank just wants some fucking freedom.

Now she looks directly at Gerard and says, "Hello, Gerard." She manages to sound completely neutral. It occurs to Frank that the last time she saw Gerard was when Gerard had to drive him to County after Frank had snuck out when he was sick. He doesn't remember that much of it but Mikey told him later that Gerard was out for hours and probably spent most of that time hovering somewhere near Frank's room and trying to hear what the doctors were saying. That time Mom called Mrs Way and thanked her for sending Gerard, like it wasn't totally Gerard's idea and he had fucking carried Frank from the truck into the reception.

Which, in retrospect, wow--he would so appreciate that shit more now. At the time he'd been nursing this utter rage at, like, God or whoever for making him so fucking deficient and a smaller kind of rage at Gerard for being stubborn and melodramatic and embarrassing, and he'd also been trying to stay conscious and tasting blood in his mouth. What a shitty day. But as a memory, yeah. Pretty sweet.

He has no idea what Mom and Gerard talked about then. Probably nothing at all.

"Hi," Gerard says and ducks his head. His hair falls into his face. It's still not quite dry so it's like Brandon Lee's goth hair in The Crow. At least he's not wearing leather or, like, anything with buckles. He's also not wearing shoes or socks, of course.

Maybe now his mother is going to start associating Gerard with Frank being sick, like he is the Crow for real, in a more bad luck omen kinda way than a vengeful ghoul kinda way, but still. Of course, then she'd have to associate, like... blankets, tea, soup, the sky and the sun with Frank being sick. He's not sure she doesn't, actually.

"All right," she says, composing herself and turning on the chill Mother In Charge mode. "I'll go heat you that soup, Frank. You boys see yourselves out, okay? Give my love to your mother."

They chorus a, "Yes, Mrs Iero" with all the enthusiasm of starving orphans who couldn't have some more.

Once she's left the room they put on their socks and shoes in silence, and Frank lies on his back also in silence and feels abandoned already.

Gerard pats Frank's leg through the blanket before he leaves, and he is making kind of a Scarlett O'Hara face that would be funny if it didn't make Frank feel so bummed.

Mikey hisses, "Would you stop acting like you're fucking Romeo and Juliet?" and tugs Gerard out the door.

And Frank wants to yell something after them but he can't find enough air.

He looks around his empty room. This kind of sucks. And then he has to crawl out of bed and stagger over and get those fucking horror DVDs out of the way so things don't have to suck even more. He can hear fucking George talking downstairs, probably trying to be nice to Mikey and Gerard and staying on Mom's good side at the same time. Good luck with that, fucking George, Frank thinks. He feels something that might be sympathy for a second there.

He leaves The Lion King out because Mom will think it's sweet that they'd bring him cartoons to watch.

When she comes up, she does mention that it's sweet, and then she watches him eat his fucking broth and says, "Just let your body get better, Frank." And then she says, "It's nice of Gerard to drive Mikey here, though."

And then she says, "Do you spend a lot of time with him?"

And Frank says, "Who?" because he is not going to go anywhere near that voluntarily.

"Gerard. Does he... I always got the impression he doesn't socialize a lot, but he and Mikey seem close."

"I guess," Frank says.

She nods thoughtfully as if that was actually an answer. "He doesn't look quite healthy. He should probably get out in the sun a little more."

***

Friday-Saturday.

It always gets worse before it gets better, so on Friday evening he gets shipped to County to get prodded with needles and stared at and poked hard in sore places by Dr Gupta. At least she's pretty and pretty nice, too. She's really young, though, and Frank's mother always looks at her with a little frown of suspicion even though she'd never switch doctors because Dr Gupta is like a miracle of patience and understanding. Frank's old doctor once yelled at Mom, seriously, told her to back the fuck off. Frank almost punched him in the face, except he was hooked up to an IV at the time.

He also overhears Mom and fucking George have a Serious Talk about insurance payments and 'getting through the month' and 'I don't need charity' and 'working yourself to death isn't going to make him healthier!' He doesn't think they realize they're that loud, because they're doing the angry whisper thing that totally is like 'listen up, we're having a secret argument!'

That drives him back to Pai Mei exercises for real, and he doesn't stop until he notices he's about to draw blood and he's being, like, so fucking teenage loser that he'll have to do something drastic to balance his world again. He doesn't know what, but it'll be awesome. As soon as he can fucking get out of bed. He watches all the movies Gee and Mikey brought that night, even the fucking Lion King, but he falls asleep halfway through Nightbreed and when he wakes up, his mother has confiscated it.

"I don't even know how you get a hold of these things," she says in a tone of voice that suggests she knows exactly how he does it. She holds the case gingerly, as if she can hardly bear to touch these ungodly images through a cover of plastic. "You can have it back when you're seventeen."

Frank's pretty sure Gerard will understand. At least it wasn't the Halloweens.

***

Sunday

By Sunday he's feeling halfway decent and probably well enough to make it through Mass, but he doesn't precisely let Mom know that. Catholic guilt is such a bitch and he's determined to burn through his as quickly and cleanly as possible, so he spends the time wisely: he downloads some fucked up old German punk on Bob Bryar's recommendation (email subject line: Things To Do On The Internet When You're Dead), he calls Gerard and opens with "I've been thinking about fucking" and after they hang up he jerks off for the first time in a week. Just once, though, because afterwards he feels like he just ran a marathon up a mountain, just flat on his back wheezing like a dog on a choke chain.

He calls Gerard back and says, "I was serious about the fucking. I'm dying of all this, like, pent-up sexual frustration."

"Are you sure you're feeling better?" Gerard asks. "You sound kind of fucked up right now."

Frank tells him why he sounds fucked up. Gerard's silent for a while.

Frank says, "Fuck, I can't believe I, like, hung up to do it. It's like I've never even heard of phone sex."

"I never did that," Gerard says. "I mean, um, not... officially."

"What does that mean?" Frank asks, but when he thinks about it it's kind of obvious. "You are such a dog, man, I can't believe it. That's totally creepy!"

"I guess it is," Gerard says quietly.

Frank shifts a little. He can't even sit up, and if he tries to come again he will seriously stroke out from exhaustion. "You're totally doing it now, too," he says, feeling pretty confident about that part. "If you're not, you should. Don't even tell me."

"I miss you," Gerard says.

"I don't even have to talk dirty, I don't know, man, but dirty talk makes me flash back to those fucking, remember that gross movie Mikey had, with the, uh... fuck, I don't even remember, with that fucking ugly ass dude and... Anyway." He runs out of breath and ends up just kind of panting in Gerard's ear, which has to work on some level. "I miss you too," he adds, all breathy.

"Frank," Gerard says, kind of shakily.

Frank shifts a little again because he's got fucking cold shivers and he meant it when he said he misses Gerard, it's like, like, this huge melodramatic fucking production in his head all the time, it's like an opera by one of those dead German dudes, the fat lady is fucking singing her fat little heart out. He says, "Do you ever, like, have dreams about me where you don't end up killing me?"

"...yes," Gerard says. "But I don't have that many good dreams. It's mostly, like, all fucked up. I end up trying not to sleep, but then I start, like, nodding off and I don't even know if I'm asleep or awake." There are little hitches in his breath when he speaks, but his voice doesn't change from this slightly distant, thoughtful tone. "The worst is when a dream starts out deceptively nice and then it takes a turn just when you're feeling safe."

"Jesus fuck, Gerard," Frank says. "Don't make me come over there. I have never met a dude so desperately in need of a fucking hug."

"It's blowjob, 'in need of a blowjob.'"

"You probably don't even need the blowjobs, but you'll get them anyway, okay? Go hug Mikey or something."

There's a a longer pause and Frank just hears short breaths and a muttered curse. Then Gerard says, "He'd probably appreciate it if I washed my hands first."

Frank lies back and wishes for new lungs and the ability to fucking teleport.

***

Monday-Tuesday

By Tuesday he's feeling pretty okay but last time he thought he was okay to bike a couple miles he really, like, wasn't, so he forces himself to follow orders and stay put. It's fucking eating him that he's stuck but fuck if he's gonna spend any more time in bed than he absolutely has to this summer. Unless, obviously, the bed also contains Gerard. He calls Gerard a lot, and they watch episodes of the original Batman cartoon while on the phone, and sometimes they have more of the kind of phone sex where you don't tell each other that's what it is, but it totally is.

"This is absolutely fucking perfect nerd sex, seriously," Frank says. He's still got his face pushed into the pillow and his hand down his shorts. Gerard's gone quiet on the other end because Frank broke the rule about how you can't talk about Fight Club or whatever. "No, really, it's perfect. You don't actually have to touch anyone, or talk about it, but you get off. Did you get off yet?"

"We're talking about it now," Gerard says. "Not yet, cause I'm not the fucking fastest gun in the East."

"Hey, man, sorry I'm easy and all." He waits and listens to Gerard's breaths. "Speaking of, Mom and fucking George, like, accidentally started talking about sex while I was in the room today."

"Uh, what?" Gerard gasps, although the gasp is probably not one of horrified shock.

"Yeah, I kind of spaced on the sofa while we were watching something boring. Something boring with Kevin Costner."

"I liked Waterworld," Gerard says, his voice sinking deep, like this is the sex talk. Kevin fucking Costner.

"Of course you fucking did. Anyway--well, I thought the whole Kevin Costner drinking his own piss thing was funny, but it made no fucking sense, you know? Why bother with the piss when he's in a fucking boat on the fucking ocean, ya know? Asshole--anyway--"

"Yeah, the gills were in the wrong place, too."

"Exactly! Anyway, they must have forgotten I was there, I was like nine tenths asleep, so fucking George is like, I just don't think that's romantic. I don't know what it was that wasn't romantic. Kevin Costner, I guess. And Mom's like, didn't you ever feel that way? That crazy need? And I'm lying there trying not to think about my fucking mother's crazy need, and George is like, Oh, I have felt the crazy need, Linda, ha ha, you know it."

"Awkward," Gerard breathes.

"I'm trying to like decide if my brain can handle any more of that or if I should wake up really loudly, and Mom's like, it just reminds me of my first kiss... it's how I ended up married to Frank in the first place. And she says, You know what they say, better marry than burn?

"Yeah, that's when I decided it was time to fucking shut that down before I got to know things I couldn't un-know. There were some red fucking faces, I shit you not."

Gerard doesn't say anything at all. In fact there's kind of a thump as if the phone took a tumble.

Frank says, "Gee?"

After about half a minute, Gerard's voice comes back, even more breathless. "Frank?"

"What the fuck?" Frank says.

Gerard sounds slightly sheepish. "Sorry, dropped it. I kind of had to because I have nothing but respect for your mother, okay, and, yeah. Jesus. You're a little evil, Frankie."

"I know," Frank says, and he's, like, struck with this fucking... this fucking crazy need, basically, crazy aching need to just get out of this house and go grab Gerard and just not let go. For a long time. Or until they're both so sexed out they can't move, except that doesn't mean they'd have to let go... He wants back on the Federation Starship Gerard's Room. "Okay, if I don't get out of here inside, like... twenty-four hours, I'm going to lose it, seriously."

"What can I do?" Gerard asks immediately, like he's firing up his teleporter and just needs Frank to say make it so.

"Click your heels together three times, I don't fucking know," Frank says. He thinks he's probably whining. He wants a cigarette so bad.

Gerard says, "Think you can make it out of the house?"

Frank has to think. George is here, and they were talking about crazy need, so they're probably having sex right now, something he needs to so very not think about ever again. "Not before, like, one am. But yeah, sure."

"I'll come pick you up."

Frank's fucking surprised, not that Gerard wants to come get him, but that he's in shape to drive at this hour. "I love you, like, so much right now," he says. Then he adds, "Not just right now, of course. But kind of especially right now."

"You too, Frankie," Gerard says, sweetly. "I'll park up by the intersection."

***

The crazy need doesn't settle at all in the endless fucking hours that he has to wait. He hasn't even been outside in, like, too long to contemplate and he's had that rat in a cage feeling since day one and it's been building to a constant roar. He doesn't jerk off again, though. He's saving that. He paces his room, leashed to the stereo by the headphone cord--he gets it tangled around his legs, like, twice, and almost pulls his entire set-up onto the floor but saves the day with his Spider-Man fast reflexes, but he bangs his knees and the side of his hip on the computer table so hard he has to sit on the floor and gasp for a while. Spidey reflexes, not Spidey grace so much. At least he's not a whiny bitch, so he thinks he still wins. He's just kind of fucking frustrated.

At ten minutes to one he cracks open his door and sticks his head out, listening hard. No creaking bed, no muted whispers, no horrible parental sex noises.

He almost falls over again, he races to the window so fast. And then he almost falls off the fucking ladder, too, because he puts his foot down wrong and the sole of his sneaker slips and his correcting move causes a swing that bangs his fingers against the wall painfully. He clings through the pain, though, and gets down in one piece. Jesus, he's so het up he's a danger to himself at this point.

It's stopped raining but there's a fog lying like a wet blanket over everything, turning the world a sickly grayish yellow and kind of swallowing sound so everything's muted and dull. It's like walking through a raincloud, and Frank can't see more than two houses up the street, the first a blurred outline, the second just a gray shadow and after that nothing but a whole lot of nothing. It's a pretty cool sight, like something out of an old spy movie. A great night for secret rendez-vous and that kind of shit. He speedwalks into the street, not quite daring to run because he doesn't want to start coughing. The night of spies is all lurking and waiting and watching.

The intersection is four houses up, four streetlights. He can see three lights making fuzzy glowy hovering spheres, and at first he thinks the fourth one is eaten by the fog, but it turns out it's just plain busted.

He doesn't even see the truck until he's almost next to it.

Then he smells cigarette smoke and his heart fucking lurches and his chest tightens, and he pretty much throws himself at the driver's side window. The window is, of course, not there because Gerard's rolled it down and is leaning on the frame, and Frank kind of crashes right into him. Not too violently, although Gerard startles and chokes out, "Aaah, fuck!"

"Just me, chill," Frank says although he's like the opposite of chilling. He reaches out with both hands and one goes around Gerard's neck, to pull him closer and the other plucks the cigarette right out of his hand.

He starts with a kiss because he has fucking priorities. Gerard's hand comes up to touch his shoulder, fingers digging into the flesh, and Frank presses against the dirty wet side of the truck and closes his eyes. He kind of forgets the cigarette and shoves the hand holding it into Gerard's hair and doesn't even notice until he feels the sting of hot ash on his fingers. He jumps back, flicks the cigarette into the street and pats Gerard's head to make sure it's not on fire.

"Hey," Gerard says, licking his lips. "Maybe you should get in the truck or something. You know?"

"Yeah, okay," Frank says and makes a face like might as well, don't have nothing better to do, but he yanks open the door so fucking fast.

Gerard says, "Whoa, how about the passenger si--" but Frank's taking the shortcut right across him, and if that means stopping for a grope or two on the way, that's just the extra topping.

"I was going fucking crazy," he says, squeezed between Gerard and the wheel, trying really hard to circumnavigate the fucking horn or there'll be hell to pay. "Apeshit, man. Totally apeshit."

Gerard runs his hands up Frank's sides, bunching up his hoodie a little and touching the skin on his waist with his fingertips. "Let's get out of here, okay," he says.

***

"Is Mikey home?" Frank asks when they're walking up the stairs, slowly because he keeps getting out of breath and smoking obviously doesn't make that any easier. Gerard's got his arm hooked around Frank's waist and is kind of dragging him along, though. That's not really helpful either, actually.

"Yeah," Gerard says. His fingers twist around the hem of Frank's hoodie. "He's been real bitchy for a while. He's still trying to decide, you know, about Pete."

Frank doesn't get what there is to decide. Call the guy, hear what he has to say, it should be obvious. He says, "Fuck, if he doesn't call the dude soon I'm gonna do it for him."

Gerard chuckles, which makes the smoke he's exhaling come out in puffs like smoke signals. Smoke signals that say 'ha ha ha' obviously. Then the smile drops off his face again--at this point, Mikey and Pete aren't really a joke anymore, Frank figures. "He won't talk to me. I mean, he talks but he doesn't let on how he's actually feeling. I get--seriously, Mikey is always, like... he doesn't like to show shit that's in progress. Like, I'll tell him everything right when I'm thinking it or feeling it cause it makes me feel better to share right then, you know, the moment. And the progress and how everything I feel kind of, like, happens. You know?"

"Yeah, yeah," Frank says, nodding. He wants Gerard to show him those thoughts in progress. He'll show him his. "Totally, like, it's not even about where you end up, it's how you get there."

They've stopped on the landing where the stairs turn. The railing is damp with condensed fog, but they lean on it anyway, and Frank tucks himself against Gerard's side and leans his head against his shoulder. Gerard slumps down helpfully so it's not awkward.

Gerard says, "Mikey isn't like that." He pauses for like two drags off his cigarette, frowning like it's hard to think about the ways Mikey isn't like him. Maybe it's just that it's hard for him to think he might not quite get Mikey. "He just wants to think about things first. Not out loud. I guess sometimes I do that too."

Frank tilts his face up to nuzzle the soft underside of Gerard's jaw, and Gerard hmms and turns to face him, his arm tightening around Frank's shoulders. The kiss is full of smoke and Frank has to close his eyes against the sting. He slips his fingers under the collar of Gerard's shirt to warm them. The raw wet air hangs around them like a cold shower in slow motion, and Frank feels like the fog has crept inside his skin. The only warm parts of him are wherever he's pressed against Gerard.

Cold shower or not, it's not putting much of a damper on this. It's like, like... it's like a hairdryer in the cold shower, just a touch and the power's back on. It'll never get old, Frank thinks. It can't. He doesn't even know what he's doing, just fucking burrowing into Gerard, fingers and mouth and body, keeping his eyes squeezed shut so it's just the smell of smoke and the wet cold night and Gerard's skin and the heat between them.

Gerard tears loose with a gasp and says, his voice hoarse with smoke and the chill and forgetting to breathe, "I get scared."

He doesn't go on for a while and Frank starts to think it was just a random brainspark. Gerard has them a lot, and they get shared because of his thoughts-in-progress philosophy. Frank doesn't mind. If it was going somewhere, it'll come out, and right now he's on tiptoes, his back wedged kind of uncomfortably against the railing, and Gerard is coming back, his mouth slick and wet and knowing.

"I mean," Gerard says, barely backing off now, and his hands keep pulling Frank close and his body keeps pushing Frank against the railing. "There's--it's all over literature. There's never any happy endings."

"What the fuck?" Frank says, ending up crossing his eyes to see Gerard's face. "There's fucktons of happy endings."

"Not when they're crazy like this, like obsessed and just... like this." His hands around Frank's upper arms tighten like a demonstration, fingers digging in hard.

"But it's good," Frank says. Even the hard grip feels good, fucking hell. Even the cold and the railing grinding against his spine feel good.

Gerard relaxes against him and stops squeezing his arms, but he mumbles against Frank's neck, his breath hot against the skin, "Yeah, it feels good. It feels so fucking good, Frank. And I'm better when I'm with you. I'm not so wrapped up in myself." And the words are yeah okay but the tone is tense and still all strung around with nerves like the voice version of wringing your hands.

"So where's the bad, man?" Frank says, pushing his face against Gerard's hair and poking Gerard hard in the ribs with his knuckles because this shit is making his stomach twist and he totally is not going to spend tonight fucking worrying. "You're wrapping right now so cut it the fuck out, dude. Maybe worry about... I mean, what are you actually worried about? That you'll flip out and eat my brain or, I don't even know? I'll tell you when it gets too crazy, okay. Do I gotta say that every five minutes or what?"

"Okay," Gerard whispers, and Frank thinks he can hear a smile now.

"So now we can go in and fuck, right," he says.

"Okay," Gerard says again, with a huff of breath that could be a chuckle.

The lamp in the hall isn't turned on but there's a sliver of light creeping out under Mikey's closed door. There's also the sound of Nine Inch Nails, which would be total happy fucking day music for Gerard, but when Mikey's cranking up The Downward Spiral it probably means he's wallowing.

"Earlier it was Joy Division," Gerard says under his breath. Not that he has to whisper cause Mikey's playing that shit pretty loud.

Gerard looks kind of torn for a second, staring at Mikey's door but holding Frank's hand tight. Frank can basically hear the brief but intense battle going on inside his head, and he worries for a moment that they'll have to abort because Mikey is fucking Mikey, he'll always be first for Gerard. Frank's not even jealous of that now, that would just be stupid. And yeah, he really doesn't want to be Gerard's brother.

But Gerard sighs and turns back to look at Frank, all black-eyed in the gloom, and Frank can see the worry sink into the background.

"Yeah," Frank says. 'Cause yeah. "Come on, come on, time's a-fuckin-wasting."

"Before the truck turns into a pumpkin," Gerard says and he's walking backwards down the hall while kicking off his shoes, and Frank's wrapping his arms around Gerard's neck and when he tries to get rid of his own shoes he stumbles and ends up kind of hanging, and Gerard yanks him up until his feet dangle.

Gerard's room seems less of an unbridled dump than last time Frank was here.

"Wait, wait," he says, craning his neck over Gerard's shoulder. Gerard stops tugging at his shirts to twist around, trying to figure out what Frank is looking at. "Did you clean in here?"

"No," Gerard says too quickly. "Yes. No. I did laundry. I mean... we did laundry. The other day. We just took, like, everything we own downstairs. Ma seemed really happy, like, she helped out."

The bed isn't made, but the sheets have that crisp, stiff quality to them that hang-dried sheets have for a few days after you change them. Wow, wow, Frank wants to be naked and lying on them right now. He hasn't seen these sheets before either, mostly because Gerard changes sheets so rarely and because he's seemed to just alternate between two sets that aren't even sets but just random mismatched things. These are matching and look new, not faded or worn soft and threadbare. They're deep blue with clouds drawn as just white outlines. They look like something Frank's mom might think is nice. It looks like a kid's bedroom got spliced into Gerard's general geeky-artsy mayhem of bloody comic book art and Iron Maiden posters that all feature Eddie in all his rotting glory and, like, cubic-or-whatever art by Gerard's grandmother--maybe of Aunt Francesca's rack, who knows. Frank can't see the car blanket anywhere, but it would go with the bed, kinda. Maybe it's still in the wash. The sheets, though... clean, new sheets. Frank loves clean, new sheets.

"Shit, man," he says, backing out of Gerard's reach and unzipping the hoodie and slipping it off. "I was gonna say maybe I could, like, be on top this time? But I've changed my mind."

"What?" Gerard says.

Frank runs a finger over the edge of the mattress. The sheets are pretty cheap ones, a little rough to the touch, and cool. He thinks about lying on his front on them, pushed into them by Gerard's weight. Yes. "Yeah," he says. "I don't know, I mean, would you be okay with me fucking you sometime? I just want to try it that way, to get the full experience. But not right now."

He peels off his t-shirt and unbuckles his jeans and then Gerard kind of shoves him down on the bed and pushes his hands away so he can do it instead.

Frank lifts his hips up towards Gerard's hands and just like that, he's ready, teetering on the edge, toes curling, sweat breaking out all over, pulse racing. He keeps forgetting exactly how that feels, the sudden rush--it's not the same when he's by himself, it's slower and he has to kind of make it happen. This is like a dream, like waking from a dream just as he's coming.

Gerard slides his hand into Frank's shorts without even unzipping his jeans, and Frank tries to find purchase for his feet and fails because he can't actually reach the floor in this position and just ends up banging his heels on the sharp edge under the bed and eventually sliding forward against Gerard. He pushes up frantically, arching his back so hard his spine creaks with the strain, and then he comes.

"Oh man," he says when he can breathe again.

"Fuck, you're fast," Gerard says, pulling his hand out of Frank's pants, looking around a little dazedly and then wiping it on the sheet. "Hmm, I guess after you'll want me to change these again or something."

"Oh, man," Frank says again. "Not yet. Fuck, we gotta mess them up for real first."

He shoves at Gerard until he shifts away to sit on the edge of the bed, and quickly pushes down his pants and the underwear. Oh, gross. He kicks them away and scoots back so he can lie down comfortably. "I guess with age I'll learn to stop coming in my pants."

"I haven't yet," Gerard says kind of airily and stretches out next to Frank to lean over him and kiss him, and Frank lies there and just lets it happen for a while, lets his brain come back from, like, nirvana and his body wake up and notice again. It's a gradual thing but there's like a click at some place, where the switch between post-orgasm and pre-the-next-orgasm happens.

Kind of, he thinks, elbowing himself up and shoving Gerard backwards, like when you think the Terminator is dead and then the light in the eye comes back on. Kind of like that only not. He wedges a knee between Gerard's knees and Gerard just yields, rolling onto his back, spreading his legs so Frank's thigh slides up between his legs. Frank follows the movement and ends up straddling one of Gerard's legs, shoving against him. His jeans are scratchy against the insides of Frank's thighs and the buckle on his belt digs into Frank's hipbone.

Frank leans back for a second to look because Gerard's hair has fanned out in a kind of black, tangled halo and his eyes are wide and glittering and it makes him look, like, innocent but...Frank doesn't even know the word for what he looks like, but it's fucking great.

"What word am I thinking of?" he says, falling forward and catching himself with his hands on both sides of Gerard's shoulders. He slides forward a little, settling himself right across Gerard's hips.

"I don't know. Uh, should I guess? Triptych." Gerard says and grabs Frank around the neck and kisses him again, throwing off his train of thought with his tongue.

"Cryptic?" he says. He does like that word. Not that it was the one he was thinking of, if the one he was thinking of even exists.

Gerard is stroking the back of his neck, fingertips on the upstroke, nails on the downstroke and it's sending tentacles of shivers down his whole back. He moves against Gerard, rubbing all his naked skin against Gerard's clothes, zippers and buckles and buttons and worn fabric, and Gerard whispers, "No, triptych" on a gasp.

"Don't know what the fuck that is," Frank whispers back. "So that wasn't it. I mean a, um, whatsit, adjective. For how you look when you're all, like, with the hair and your face."

"Not even cryptic?" Still whispering. "I mean, I wouldn't mind being cryptic. Sometimes I try to be on purpose. It's probably annoying, though."

Okay, they're whispering, it's kind of sexy how it's mostly just breaths between them with the words, like, felt rather than heard, although Frank supposes he must be hearing it because he can't actually read lips with his lips.

"Nah," he breathes against Gerard's cheekbone. "I like listening to your weird shit. But my word! Like you look all young and innocent but it's like... not innocent but just after it's not innocent anymore."

"Debauched," Gerard says out loud.

"That's it! If it means what I think it means!" He kisses the cheekbone, and he kisses the bridge of Gerard's nose and his forehead and messes up his hair so it looks more debauched. "You're awesome."

"You look pretty debauched yourself," Gerard says and touches Frank's face, palm on his cheek. He strokes a thumb over Frank's mouth and Frank catches it with his teeth. Gerard says, "Yeah" and pushes against the grip and Frank runs his tongue over the raspy fingerprint grooves and sucks, and Gerard puts his other hand on his hip and moves slowly, this slow-motion arch and back down and again. Frank's dick, hard again, skates over Gerard's belly, rubbing against his hoodie. The teeth of the zipper are tiny slivers of cold silvery pain where they catch on his skin.

He bites Gerard's thumb again and says, words kind of slurred around it, "I'm ready, come on. Take your clothes off."

"Oh," Gerard says, his eyes heavy-lidded. He draws a deep, hissing breath. "Ahh. Yeah, I should... yeah."

"Or I could do it," Frank says and pushes himself down, over the belt buckle again--cold against his ass and then his balls and his dick--and further to straddle Gerard's knees so he can unbuckle and unbutton and unzip. He starts pulling the jeans down and Gerard lifts his hips obligingly but Frank gets immediately distracted because shit, the red line of imprints where the waistband has bitten into Gerard's skin is weirdly tempting, like he just has to lean down and put his mouth there and drag his tongue over it and feel the texture of the shallow dents. And then it's a really short trip down to nose at the springy curls of pubic hair poking out of the 'v' of the open fly, and after that he might as well fucking stay for a while. He yanks down at the jeans a little more.

He just wants a taste, really, and the burn in his jaw from holding his mouth open and the weight and size of Gerard's dick against his tongue. It doesn't make any fucking sense that sucking dick should be as fucking cool to do as it is, but whatever, just one of those things that really, like, appeal to him. He can't believe he's only done this once before because it feels familiar and comfortable. Like, he knows what he can do, and what's pushing the limits of his mad skills. Of course he pushes it, though. Of course. He goes down too far, like, immediately, just to see if he can figure out how to not make it feel like he'll choke, and just before his gag reflex kicks in and stops the party it's really fucking hot, like a naked extreme sport with adrenaline kicking through every limb. He barely hears Gerard's muffled cry, and when he slides back up, he notices that he's dug his fingers into the sharpest place on his hip and left red fingermarks that take a while to fade.

For a second there he could feel how he might be able to relax his throat and just open up, and that must be how those dudes swallowing swords do it, although it seems kind of like the sword would be a lot more uncomfortable. A dick really kind of fits in his mouth, like, it's round and blunt and also not made of sharp steel.

He lets his teeth scrape just the tiniest bit on the underside and Gerard makes that cry again. Frank listens carefully now. He lifts his head and says, "Swallowing a sword would be a lot more uncomfortable."

"Mmph, yeah... yeah," Gerard says, all breathy. "Those swords aren't sharp, though, or those dudes would like cut their own throats doing it."

Frank kisses Gerard's thigh and sits up and says, "Good thing you can't cut my throat with your dick, then, cause that would be a huge mess."

Gerard blinks at him for a second and Frank can fucking tell that he's watching that hypothetical situation with his fucked up mind's eye.

Frank says, "Stop thinking about cutting my throat with your penis, weirdo."

"You're the one who brought it up!" But Gerard pushes himself up to grab Frank's shoulders and tilt his head back and kiss his throat and suck really lightly at the skin, not hard enough to leave any horrible revealing mom-alerting hickeys--he thinks. Hopes, really--but just hard enough to make him shiver and go kind of limp for a second, like he just wants to hang in Gerard's grip like one of those naked paintings of Greek gods stealing human boys to sex them up on Mount Olympus.

That'd make Gerard a Greek god, though, and Gerard is fucking pretty and pretty fucking hot, too, but he really isn't the Greek god type. Like, his nose is totally too small and cute.

Then Gerard does that thing again where he just flips Frank like it ain't no thang, Jesus Christ, that will never get old. Frank ends up on his back with his legs spread, panting and trying to reconstruct, like, the sequence of movements--not really complicated but all fast and decisive when everything else about Gerard is usually a little... not wimpy or anything but he's not exactly macho. Except in bed and that's something Frank wants to fucking tell everybody and it pisses him off that he can't.

"I wanna tell everybody about you," he gasps, breathless because Gerard's nipping at his chest, not carefully--and there it goes, he sees how it all will just get better with every time because they'll know each other more and know where to touch and how hard. It's gonna be fucking, fucking... geometric. "I want everybody to know you can, like, fucking do this and then I want them to know they can't have you."

Gerard stops and stares at him for a second. He probably doesn't want Frank to tell everybody that he's a total stud even though he is.

"I know, I know," Frank says. "Fucking shit, it sucks though."

"It would suck more if you told anyone, trust me," Gerard says softly.

Fuck, that was almost a moodbreaking thought. Like, almost. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, I get it. Fuck."

"Frank," Gerard says.

Frank says, "Yeah, you should just... what word am I looking for now?"

Gerard says, "Fuck."

"Fuck yeah. That's what you should do, okay. I'm just gonna, like, be over here." He shoves at Gerard. "Take off your fucking pants!"

"Oh yeah," Gerard says and looks down. His jeans are where Frank left them, just with the fly open and shoved down like a couple inches. When he moves, his dick slides across Frank's thigh and Frank wants to just spread wide and pull him back in, but he really wants some more nudity too so he rolls away, makes a full roll towards the edge of the bed to lie flat on his stomach. He crosses his arms in front and leans his head on them.

"Whenever you feel like it," he says and smiles at Gerard, or smirks, really. But he's feeling that tightening in his chest again, like a spring's being slowly coiled tighter and tighter. He stretches out his arms and pushes his face against the mattress and waits without looking.

It's a whole different vibe to the other time where he was looking at Gerard the whole time. This has kind of a kinky flavor to it, maybe. Not that there's any kink here but, like, not looking and just lying face down and waiting for a touch, it's got its own tension. Gerard's completely quiet so maybe he gets the same vibe. Frank can hear him shuffling around, the clink of the belt and the sound of fabric sliding over skin, and every time he moves the bed moves, of course. The sheet is hot and rough against Frank's body.

He wants to say something about what this is like, but at the same time he wants to stay really quiet and see what happens, not break the tension. Gerard is totally getting it, too, because there's the thump of the pants hitting the floor, and the bed dips and rises when he stands up, and there are the sounds of him wandering around--looking for lube, Frank thinks and shivers, but he doesn't look--and the squeak of the drawer and then the bed dips again. Frank squeezes his eyes shut and just breathes. It's kind of an effort to breathe, actually, because he's got his nose mashed into the sheet and every lungful is thick and damp and used. The skin on his back is prickling so hard he wants to squirm.

Gerard's hand on his shoulder is almost startling and Frank thinks he makes a sound but he can't be sure, he can't hear himself over the beating of blood in his ears. He can hear everything Gerard is doing, though, his breaths and every move and, like, almost the beats of his heart too. It's probably a hallucination brought on by being too turned on, but Frank will take it even if it's makebelieve magic.

Gerard slides his hand down to Frank's throat and around his jaw and turns his head maybe just to look at him, because he doesn't say anything, just stares with his eyebrows scrunched and his eyes dark and intense.

Frank thinks his own face must look pretty dumb right now because he feels slack-jawed and hypnotized. It doesn't seem to bother Gerard, though, because he leans down and kisses Frank and then he pushes his face into his neck and maybe he mumbles something but it's too soft to hear.

Then Gerard slides his hand down the length of his back and he arches like a cat, and Gerard says, still softly but loud enough to hear, "Do you want it this way, Frank?"

He nods and hopes it looks like a nod from this angle, and Gerard moves downwards, his teeth scraping the nape of Frank's neck bringing delicious, shivery sparks and tingles. Frank pushes his face against the sheet again and holds his breath.

That's the end of the crazy slow foreplay right there, because Gerard just goes right for it, sitting back and pushing one of Frank's knees to the side, spreading him open in a way that feels different and strange and dirty, dirtier than when he was on his back looking up at Gerard. He bites his lip and grabs his wrist with his other hand, squeezing hard, like he's trying to stop himself from struggling even though he's not struggling--he thinks he might be wishing Gerard would grab his wrists like that, but he also thinks he might be getting kind of ahead of himself. But maybe when they've done this every which way and they can fuck as easily as they talk.

Gerard kisses the small of his back quickly and then he's right down to business, slick fingers pushing in while he strokes the back of Frank's thigh with his free hand. Frank's entire body goes stiff at first but he takes a deep breath and relaxes, one limb at a time, shifting against the weirdness of it, because he knows there's a point where it goes from weird to Jesus pogo-jumping Christ and it's so close, it's right there.

Gerard must know that because he doesn't stop, he just makes a kind of soothing hmm noise and moves his fingers and Frank bites a little at his own arm, just enough to focus and he spreads his legs wider and arches his back and there it is, there, victory over his own body when he just relaxes on the inside and accepts the intrusion.

"Okay," he says, or tries to but it comes out just a breathless little gasp, not even a whole word. And he stays breathless and somehow both relaxed and accepting, and fucking tense and trembling with anticipation at the same time.

Gerard doesn't say anything, which makes Frank think, gleefully, he already knows me, which is kind of an obvious thought because hello, they've known each other for like a year, but what Gerard knows is that Frank will tell him if something's wrong, that he doesn't have to keep asking for the okay. He's not careful when he gets ready or when he gets Frank ready, he just settles in between Frank's legs, grabs his hips and lifts them a little and slides right home. Slowly, not all wham bam, but there's no hesitation.

For two or three freakishly suspended seconds it feels weird again, and there's pain, kind of a burning, scraping pain even though he's slick and not fighting it at all, but when the pain fades just a little it becomes this welcome stretch that makes it hard to breathe and hard to move, hard to do anything but lie there with his arms locked together over his head and his face getting rubbed kind of raw against the sheet and his dick just barely touching the bed because Gerard is still kind of lifting his ass up. Doggy-style, Frank thinks and that makes him think about Snoop Dogg, actually. And he huffs a laugh in the middle of it all, because fucking Snoop Dogg, right? Jesus. But then Gerard pulls back and then snaps his hips forward again and Frank stops laughing and stops thinking about perma-baked rappers, too.

Gerard is sliding his hand down, though, and now Frank has to speak up because they haven't covered this before--he says, "No, no, don't touch me, don't jack me off," and Gerard doesn't even break his rhythm, just moves his hand away, up to wedge under Frank's chest where it's pressed into the bed and he scrapes his nails over a nipple right on a thrust, which is a funny kind of one-two punch that just goes right into Frank's spine and his dick.

Coming is slower like this, it's this long balance on, like, the crest of the wave, orgasm-surfing or whatever, where every thrust shoves him forward into the mattress and nudges him an inch closer and then he loses the friction again until the next one, so maybe it's more like being hammered into something springy that yields only a little with each blow. By the time he's there he's snapping for breath, his throat raw, and digging his fingers into his own wrist so hard he can feel the bones grind.

When he comes, he comes less like a punch and more like a bungee cord snapping back, this long moment of dizzying freefall where he's completely fucking unaware of anything except his own body.

Gerard fucks him hard and steady through the aftershocks and when he comes he gasps something that sounds like a mashup of fuck and Frank. Which is a nice sentiment, really. There's the problem with this position, though: he can't see Gerard's face now and he really wants to, but he also doesn't want to shake him off so he can turn around.

Gerard solves that by kissing his neck gently and pulling out carefully. Frank lies still for a second and adjusts to having his body to himself again, and then he rolls over onto his back.

Gerard's just tossed the condom towards the trash bin and failed to score, and he's scrunched up his face all oops but he's still flushed and kind of glassy-eyed, his mouth red like he's been biting his lips. Frank's sure his own mouth must look the same, and that thought makes him smile and his mouth stings when he does.

"Hey," Gerard says, smiling back kind of goofily. "Frank, Frank, Frank."

Frank says, "What?" but Gerard's crawling back into bed and kissing him, first softly but quickly getting more into it, and Frank gets into it too because of the tingle in his bitten lips, how they feel hot and swollen and extra sensitive. Gerard's hands are cupping his jaw, fingers rubbing along the bone and digging a little into the soft part, and Frank tilts his head back and lifts his tired arms and wraps them around Gerard's neck.

He almost doesn't hear the door open, like, maybe he hears it but he reacts to it on a delay so the first thing he really understands is Mikey saying, "Shit, Gerard, you should-- oh FUCK, oh my GOD."

"Shit," Gerard says, but he stays where he is, covering Frank with his body. "Mikey, what the hell?"

Frank lets his head kind of loll to the side. He's too fucking blissed-out to really get upset. Not like Mikey should be surprised that they're in here steaming up the windows.

Mikey's standing in the doorway with his hands clapped over his eyes. "I'm okay, I'm okay, just... not the kind of image I need to have in my brain, Gerard."

"Duh," Gerard says, and he and Frank reach out at the same time and grab the cover, and it makes them both crack up as they clumsily pull it over themselves, getting their limbs tangled and elbowing each other all over the place.

Mikey's peeping between his fingers. He says, "What I came to tell you is that there's something going down outside."

Frank says, "Going down?"

When Mikey uncovers his eyes finally, he actually looks kind of worried. "I heard yelling, I don't know. I think there's a car."

Gerard's mouth tightens. "If it's those fucking vandal toe rags with the hillbilly truck again I'm telling Ma to buy a shotgun." He scrambles to his feet and Mikey puts his hands over his eyes again like a little kid.

Frank's still lying on the bed, kind of blinking stupidly when Gerard get his pants on and walks out the door while trying to untangle his t-shirt.

Mikey lingers in the door for a second, and what he says is, "You better get dressed, too, Frank. And, like... open a window? Make it look like you didn't just have totally illegal underage sex in here in case someone calls the cops."

Then he fucks off after Gerard and Frank is still lying on the bed, stunned and still blinking, and feeling something cold and sick spreading through his insides.

He gets up slowly and looks for his clothes, and for just a second he's embarrassed and awkward and sort of ashamed even though he's alone. Then he, like, realizes that he's basically letting Mikey's stupid freakout get to him and he straightens his back because whatever happens he just got fucking spectacularly laid, and fuck it, he's young and proud and whatever.

He straightens out the bed and opens a window--the outside air is a cold wet shock, and he can hear a car engine and someone doing that quiet yelling thing you do when you're bitching someone out in the middle of the night. Actually it doesn't sound like the kind of vandal toe rag that comes in a hillbilly truck. It sounds like a really pissed off chick in a totally ordinary car.

He gets dressed, even puts on his hoodie because okay, it's fucking cold out there, and he gingerly picks up the condom and carries it to the bathroom and flushes it down the can. Then he washes his face and hands and pats down his hair.

When he opens the door he can hear Mikey speaking, too, kind of loudly for Mikey, too high-pitched, stumbling over words. What the fuck. Frank hears, "It's not her fault," and then he says, "Please just listen."

Frank steps onto the landing and looks down toward the yard. Behind him, the door falls shut with a bang that cuts through everything. There's a really movie-like pause where it's like every other sound fades while the bang echoes and echoes and echoes, but Frank thinks it's just in his head.

It's just in my head, he thinks again because the car is his mom's car, in park with the high beams on and aimed right at Mrs Way's door, and in the light from the beams and the light from the open door are Frank's mother and Mrs Way and Mikey and fucking George, and fucking George is holding Mom back with arms around her shoulders, and Mikey is standing between them and his own mother and they're all staring up at Frank now.

He can't even fucking move, it's like they've pinned him down with a searchlight even though he's high above them and in darkness but their stares are so shocked and hard. Even Mikey looks shocked.

Then Mom fucking shrieks his name and Frank sees George plant his feet to keep her from tearing loose. She's as hysterical as Frank's ever seen her, and her hair is loose and wild and she's really the fucking woman in white right now, yelling at him to get down here right now, but he doesn't even start walking before she's snapped around to yell at Mrs Way again--yell at Mrs Way, Frank's mind is boggled, fucking whammied--and she yells, "Why would you lie, how can you LIE, bitch! Coward!"

"Stop it!" Mikey says, but he's pretty ineffective here, it's not like he can take Frank's mother on the best of days and this isn't one of those.

Frank's mother spits in his face and George pulls her back another step. Frank feels like that wakes him up, unfreezes him, and he starts down the stairs and halfway down he's running, and at the bottom he crashes into Gerard who clearly hasn't unfrozen yet. They grab each other and for a second their eyes meet, and Gerard is as fucking death's head pale as Frank has ever seen him.

Frank stops for just one breath, enough to squeeze Gerard's hand because this shit is so fucking on Frank it's gonna haunt him forever, and if his mother calls the cops-- That's not even a thought he can finish.

"Mom!" he shouts. "Stop yelling at her!"

Mom's doing no such thing, of course, because her rage burns pretty long and hot when it burns, if she's in the place where she's yelling at strangers she's had some time to work herself up real good.

Gerard's following him down the path, following him when he cuts right through the fucking bushes, getting soggy limp pink petals stuck everywhere on his pants, following him all the way to the fucking arena. And when they're there, Gerard goes to stand beside Mikey, next to their mother, and Frank goes to stand next to his.

Mom grabs him by the scruff of the neck and kind of shakes him, but not really hard enough to hurt much--still, he sees Gerard's hands curl into fists, and that's a new thing to worry about, a really fucked up thing would be if Mom smacked Frank one, nothing that happens a lot but sometimes he gets a cuff on the ear if he's a real turd about something and he doesn't think Gerard's in a mood to think clearly right now and who the fuck knows what might go down.

Mrs Way is crying, Frank notices, and she's wearing a dressing gown and rolls in her hair and no makeup. He hardly recognizes her like this, with her eyes puffy and red-rimmed and naked. She looks really small and fragile, only her hands look the same, strong and black-nailed like hands that could give somebody a good slap or maybe scratch out your eyes. Right now she's got one hand clapped over her mouth and she doesn't look like she's about to slap anybody.

Mikey puts a hand around her shoulders.

"I will press charges," Frank's mother hisses.

"Linda..." fucking George says.

"Come on, Mom," Frank says, turning to her. She isn't looking at him at all. "I snuck out! She doesn't even know about this!"

She says, "You've let your boys run completely wild, Donna, and it's no secret, well, now it's gone too far."

"It was me!" Frank says louder.

"Frank isn't even sixteen! He's doing well in school, he's not this kind of boy."

Frank grabs her hand and yanks at it. "Mom!"

"Be quiet, Frank, so help me God," she says, pretty much between gritted teeth.

"Stop fucking yelling, Mom," he snaps. "You're gonna get a fucking restraining order put on you for being insane."

At least that works in getting her attention, he thinks, dazed, when she gasps so hard he thinks she's gonna choke. George gives him a look that's not so much shocked as... Frank can't really tell but maybe George is actually impressed, impressed that Frank has the fucking balls to say that to his mother's face. Frank's impressed with himself, too. He also thinks he just fucked himself so fucking completely he may not see the light of day before his eighteenth birthday. That cold sick feeling makes itself known again, like he's sinking into a pool of something sticky and freezing. So fucked, so completely fucked. He can't even look at the Ways right now.

"Let's go," George says quietly. "Let's talk about this at home."

Maybe because she's still, like, stupefied or something, Mom lets herself be dragged to the car and hustled into the passenger seat. Frank doesn't look back until he's in the backseat and buckled up and George has closed the driver's side door and is putting the car into Drive. Then he does look and they're still standing in the light like statues of a family, Mikey still with his arm around Mrs Way, Gerard blank-faced and not looking at either of them. But when the car starts to back away, he twitches awake and digs a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and holds it out to his mother. Mikey leans in and kisses her cheek.

Then George turns into the station parking lot and Frank leans back and closes his eyes. Nobody speaks on the way home.

***

Mom does slap him when they get inside the door, without saying anything. Just a fast, hard one that really stings, and then she marches off and leaves Frank standing in the hall next to fucking George.

"She's really scared," George says. Frank just rubs his cheek and thinks he probably never deserved a smack in the face as much before in his life. George adds, "You should probably show me your hideyhole before she starts tearing up your room with a chainsaw."

There's not much to say to that because he's, like, beyond right. Frank goes up to his room and just opens his compartment and takes out everything, skin mags, horror movies, a baggie with about half a spliff's worth of pot crumbling on the bottom, a full pack of Marlboro Lights.

Nothing incriminating with regards to illegal gay sex, which is the one pretty huge mercy in all of this. George holds up the baggie and Frank just shrugs. His mother isn't going to drag him downtown to the police for some pot. She's probably going to put him in the Church's program for troubled kids, though, but he can deal with that.

"Try to see her point of view, Frank," George says. He's sounding pretty ragged himself at this point, Frank thinks. "Cell phone?"

The window is closed and the rope ladder is gone. He turns off the phone before he gives it to George. At least they're not going to read his messages.

George is being pretty decent here, but a nice prison guard is still a fucking prison guard, right? Frank's not about to show him any weakness because once he goes there he's going to just fold and collapse.

"I'm gonna come back and get the TV and computer, too," George says kind of morosely.

"Whatever," Frank says and goes to his bed and lies down on top of the bedspread.

After George has come back and left with Frank's last possible links to the outside world, Frank stares at the closed door for a long time. George locked it from the outside, but it's more of a symbolic gesture than anything that'll physically keep him locked in--Frank could put his hand through the balsa wood without even getting a splinter.

He thinks, they couldn't actually stop me from leaving.

But of course they can. It's weird, the power parents have.

Then he realizes he just included fucking George in 'parents' and that somehow is just the last fucking straw, the very last. He can't even call his real dad and reassure himself that he still has one, that he hasn't suddenly turned into Frank Szobotka.

He punches the wall by the headboard as hard as he can so he doesn't feel like a total pussy when he cries. He still does, though.

***

Wednesday

George brings him breakfast at seven o'clock, looking sleep-drunk and mussy-haired. Frank hasn't slept. He has jerked off twice, and when he wasn't doing that he paced back and forth. When he heard footsteps on the stairs, though, he went back to sitting on the bed.

He doesn't want to talk or anything, but he kind of cracks just as George is about to leave and asks, "Is there a time limit on this, or is it, like, 'for the rest of my natural life' or 'until further notice' or something?"

George gives him a hard look and says, "It's not for me to say."

Fucking Switzerland motherfucker, Frank thinks and looks out the window. The sun's coming up bright and cheery because that's how this fucking world works. It's burned away most of the fog already, and there's the beginning of a breeze shuffling around the leaves. He opens the window and pulls up his computer chair and sits in it cross-legged, leaning his arms on the window frame.

He sings Rancid songs under his breath. He taps his fingers on the pane. He gets a pen and carves a jagged broken heart into the wood. Then he writes FRANK IERO TAKES IT UP THE ASS AND LIKES IT. Then he kills like ten minutes carefully covering it up with deep scratches. Then he writes it again in another place because fucking hell.

He tries to sleep but he's so restless he can't lie still. His entire body is, like, twitching. He feels hot even though it's pretty cold in the room with the window open. After ten minutes he goes and scratches out the text again.

He drinks his OJ but he doesn't eat anything. He's not hungry and his stomach is so knotted up he couldn't tell anyway. Maybe a hunger strike will buy him sympathy points.

Probably not.

When he lies down again, he does fall asleep and sleeps without dreams until George wakes him up again with lunch.

"I can bring you some books," George says. Frank doesn't even bother with a 'whatever'. He knows he can't keep up a sullen silence for very long, but he's going to fucking try. Plus, fucking George has nothing to do with this situation anyway, and if this is some kind of fucked up good cop/bad cop game, Frank's not playing.

Last night he was mostly feeling guilty and shocked, but now he's about 90% pissed off and so over this shit. 10% lives in fear that he'll get sent to military school. The 1000% that's worried like hell about Gerard is running in the background and he's not letting it out of there because right now, there's nothing he can do about anything and it'll just drive him completely nuts.

Fucking George does bring him a book. It's a cheapo paperback copy of Crime & Punishment and when Frank looks inside it says 'abridged' which is kind of hilarious. He's not sure if George is being condescending or encouraging there.

Still. Crime and fucking Punishment. What the shit? "You have got to be fucking kidding me," he says. George doesn't even twitch at the swearing, which, kudos to him. He also stays really obviously expressionless. "Shit, you are."

His fucking mother needs to get her shit together and get up here for the dressing-down before he starts actually bonding with fucking George.

He knows she needs to calm down before The Talk, it's how the big blow-ups work, but the problem with them is that the longer she takes to calm down, the more pissed off Frank gets.

After George fucks off, he throws the book at the wall, gets up and picks it up and throws it at another wall. Lame abridged paperbacks aren't all that satisfying to throw, and he'll have to put in a lot more effort to do any actual damage.

He leafs around in the book for a while, looking for the bloody parts but he totally fails to turn up anything that isn't a bunch of people with long, Russian names wandering around places called M______ Street and stuff like that, having boring conversations and maybe starving. If this is what real literature is supposed to be like, Frank thinks he'll stick with the fake kind. He contemplates the horrible possibility that he'll be grounded without TV or internet for long enough that he'll cave and read Dostoevsky. Fuck, maybe then George will give him War and Peace. Unabridged. And he'll read it. It'll take a year.

A fucking kingdom for an issue of Hellboy. And a ladder. Or a teleporter. Oh, fuck, a teleporter would be the best. What a fucking joke the future is. This is the twenty-first century and he has no flying car and he has no teleporter. He has a book and it's made of trees.

For some reason that makes him think about Gerard's werewolf nightmares and those awesome paintings he made of them. Frank never remembered to take any of them home, and now he's fucking thanking God for his scatterbrain. If Mom had found pictures of him getting his guts ripped out she would have called the cops.

He lies down on his back and puts his hands behind his head. He could always pretend he's in the big house for real, doing hard time for throwing his momma off the train. In this fantasy Gerard is obviously his cell mate and the prison sex is good times for everybody.

By the time he gets to the point where Gerard has him pushed against the bars Frank sticks his hand down his shorts and comes in like five strokes. He lies there panting and kind of cradling his dick and he should feel totally good about this because hi Mom I just jerked off to a kinky prison sex fantasy about Gerard Way eat that, but instead he kind of feels like he wants to cry. He yanks off his messy underwear and throws them on the floor. Then he sticks a foot down and nudges them under the bed. Then he leans over and pulls them out again. Fuck it.

He crawls under the covers and closes his eyes and thinks 99 bottles of beer on the wall...

He falls asleep again and when he wakes up, his mother is just leaving the room.

"Hey!" he says, fighting his way out of that slow, stupid sleep place.

She jumps, like, a foot. Like she's guilty. She was just going to watch him sleep and sneak out. That's pretty fucked up, he thinks.

She isn't actually a coward, though, so she turns around and looks at him. There's a brief staredown. She's way too Mom to get into some kind of competition, but she doesn't blink, either. Frank's the loser because it's fucking creepy and he has to look away.

"I'm sorry I hit you, Frank," she says.

That's creepy too, because apologizing, it's like she's admitting to something that didn't really happen--like she abused him or something.

"I had it coming," he mutters. It doesn't make it less creepy, though. He doesn't know how to do that.

She doesn't contradict him.

"Do you understand why I am upset?" she asks, very slowly like he's retarded or three years old.

"Yeah," he says, gritting his teeth and keeping his eyes on the floor. If he tries to stare her down again he's not sure he can keep his temper down.

"I haven't even begun to be upset about the cigarettes or the dirty magazines or the drugs," she says. "I'll get to that. Right now it's the lying. The ladder."

Okay, he's sorry it had to be that way but he's not sorry... he's absolutely not fucking sorry he did it. So he doesn't say anything.

Actually... What he says is, "You should apologize to Mrs Way."

Her mouth tightens until it's just a thin, angry line surrounded by deep grooves of displeasure. She says, "Frank..." but she doesn't go on. She just leaves.

Okay.

After an hour she comes back with a big mug of coffee, and she says, "You're grounded without privileges until school starts."

"Okay," he says, because he pretty much expected that. That's three weeks of Russian classics to look forward to. It's not pissing him off right now, it fucking scaring the shit out of him. He thought he'd prepared himself but it might as well be three years. He can't look at her again because he thinks he's going to fucking bawl if he does. She's still holding the coffee, keeping the sugared caffeine goodness from him, like a cruel taunt.

Three weeks. He will lose it inside three days. And no phone, no way to fucking communicate. That teleporter would be real fucking handy right now. Fuck. Fuck, telepathy, whatever.

She says, "I don't want to..." Then she gives him the mug and starts again. "This is really hard, Frankie. It's hard to know that I can't trust you."

For a second it seems like she'll cry and then he'll cry too and they can, like, hug and shit and it'll be a little easier. But she makes the disappointed tight face again and he feels a flash of anger because she's disappointed in him--yeah, well, he's disappointed that he can't trust her not to yell at random innocent people in the middle of the night.

"I just wanted to see my friends," he says. He drinks the fucking coffee, though. He'll take her coffee bribe.

"Your friends," she says, her lip curling like it does when she talks about Frank's dad. "Some friends."

"Okay, okay," he says, because he needs her to understand a couple things, he just needs to set the record straight. A little straighter. "That pot? I bought it from a guy at Hill. Ge-- Mikey and Gerard had nothing to do with the pot. That stuff was all over campus. Same with the skin mags."

She doesn't like to hear that, but she seems to believe him because she just moves right on to, "And the R-rated movies?"

"Yeah, well," he says, and now he is trying to stare her down. "They just wanted to cheer me up. They don't always remember I'm just a snot-nosed little kid."

She fucking hates sarcasm so those were fighting words. He almost regrets going there but at the same time, yeah, it was on purpose, yeah, there's that warm fuzzy feeling of now it's fucking ON. He started out wanting to be reasonable, at least he thinks he did. Who was he kidding, though? He's locked in like pig in a pen. Jesus fuck, now he wants to fight--fuck trying to beg or wheedle or debate to convince her when she'll never get it anyway because the universe is just fucking set up that way. The unfairness of that is like getting sarcastic lip from God.

"Do not take that tone with me," she says, her temper already up. The lines around her mouth deepen when she makes angry faces. He knows that if he tells her that right now, he'll get slapped again. "Don't even--I don't understand when--how you became this person."

"Well, who raised me?" He meant that to be kind of lazy and taunting, but his heart is just pounding away in his chest now and his voice comes out tight and almost shaky. He takes an accidentally giant gulp of coffee and it fucking flays his throat going down, and he can't let it show so he grits his teeth and tries to breathe through his mouth to cool things down without making it obvious. He lets his voice drop, and it's raspy but almost steady when he says, "Good luck fixing me, I mean, fuckin' lock me up and see if I get better."

Her hand twitches forward and he flinches.

She stands there for a second and he can see her counting to ten, and he sits up straight and stares her in the eyes and counts to ten out loud for her. Loudly.

There are tears in her eyes which means he's won something. And then she says, "I can't deal with you, Frankie, I just can't," and she sounds exhausted. "I'm going to Rose's. If you leave the house while I'm out, I'm selling your records and your computer."

He must have made a face like he wants to speak even though he doesn't have shit to say, because she bares her teeth and hisses, "Try me," like she's Dirty fucking Harry.

She wipes her face and leaves.

Frank's still holding the coffee that's too hot, and his throat hurts like fuck. She left the door open and he can hear her downstairs, hear the hall closet door slam--he's slammed that fucker himself and it's always frustrating because it makes this lame ass sound and bounces back, and then you end up having to pick a bunch of shoes off the floor. Then she slams the front door too, and that one's heavy and the lock catches even if you really throw it shut. The whole house shakes.

"Fuck," he says. "FUCK."

He hauls around and pitches the mug at the wall so hard the muscles in his right shoulder scream.

There's a dent in the wall now, surrounded by a big coffee stain. The whole room smells like a Starbucks. He looks around for something else to destroy.

He's about to see if his fucking desk lamp can fly when he has a thought, like being struck by lightning or something, and he just puts the lamp down and gets downstairs so fucking fast it's like he's flying.

If the idea came to him fast, his brain is just grinding to a complete halt now, though. He thinks he stares at the phone jack in the hall for like five minutes before it really penetrates that she took the phone with her.

Then he paces the length of the hall back and forth twice and then he tears the faux antique mirror off the wall and drops it. Splinters everywhere. It doesn't even matter that his bare feet get some on them because he is so fucked anyway. He stands on one foot and tries to pull out a shard, and then he steps on another one, so finally he just goes outside. He has hidden a pack of cigarettes under the porch in another secret compartment, and he crawls in there and gets them, probably getting horrible flesh eating bacteria in the cuts on his feet but right now he doesn't even care. If there are spiders down here--something he thought hard about when he first came up with this hiding place--he doesn't care about that either. Fucking bring it.

Then he feels something, like, touch his hand and he's suddenly ice cold and shivering and backing out of there and banging his head on a beam or whatever.

Okay, don't bring it. He slaps his hands kind of wildly at his arms and chest and face, trying to brush off the cobwebs and all the, like, mini spiders that will lay eggs in his ears and make his head explode. Or the bigger ones that get under his shirt. His head hurts where he banged it, and his knees hurt because he put them on something sharp, and his feet hurt and he's getting blood on the grass and he has never needed a joint so much in his life, which is why he has no fucking pot. He's never needed Gerard to fucking be... fucking available so much either, he thinks.

He could go knock on doors. He could go knock on doors, barefoot and bleeding and begging to use the phone, bet Mom would love that.

Finally he just sits down on the porch, still cold with leftover shock. His hands are shaking, too, so just lighting the smoke with kind of damp matches is a pain. He tries to remember if he saw a blue flash when he hit his head. Bob Bryar, who loves to tell everyone about gross medical shit that he knows because he hates doctors and just wants to take care of everything DIY style, told him that's usually a bad sign.

He doesn't feel dizzy, though, not more than usually. He tries to pick glass out of his feet but his hands are clumsy and he just gets blood kind of everywhere, like on his cigarette. Now he's basically smoking his own bodily fluids which is gross yet kind of cool.

He smokes three and stubs them all out in a neat row on the porch and leaves them next to their own char marks. Then he stomps upstairs on his stinging feet--halfway up the stairs he starts bleeding again and leaves marks on the carpet.

He sits on the toilet lid and pries the glass out of his soles with Mom's personal eyebrow tweezers. There are a couple tiny ones he can't even get, and they'll just sit there and sting and be annoying but he just splashes on some hydrogen peroxide and figures it'll do.

The annoying task of poking his own feet kind of made his white hot rage simmer down, and now he just feels cranky and tired and, oh yeah, locked up. He thinks seriously about ducking over to the Santoses and feeding them some bullshit about broken phones. Just the possibility makes it hard to fucking sit still, but he's almost sure Mom will actually sell his shit if he fucks up one more time. Almost sure.

Maybe she'll just hide it. Sometimes she thinks she can fucking bluff him. She'll probably just hide it. He tries to imagine what she's thinking right now, but what he gets is if he were her, he'd already have sold all his shit. And kicked his punk ass to the curb and rented his room to a fucking lodger.

He goes downstairs and tiptoes gingerly past the glass Armageddon in the hall and gets the broom and sweeps all that shit up and throws it in the trash. He even hangs up the empty mirror frame on the wall again. And he gets a bright pink Post-It from the little key bowl and writes SORRY :( and slaps it in the middle.

He also rubs the cigarette soot off the porch and throws the butts in the toilet. He can't bring himself to crawl back under the porch and put the smokes back in the safe place--safe from snoops but not from eight-legged freaks, fucking hell. He puts them in his old stash instead. The best place to hide is where they just looked and all that.

He gets the dishcloth and tries to wipe up the blood, but it's not coming out of the carpet very well. Why do they have beige carpet anyway? It looks pretty gross even though Mom's big on cleaning.

He adds 'CANT GET THE BLOOD OUT EITHER' to the Post-It and goes up to his room and lies on the bed with his arms behind his head. After a while he has to turn over because it hurts his shoulder. He has a headache, too. And now that he's not full of rage or running around like an idiot cleaning up after his hulk-out he has too fucking much time to think about Gerard.

He stares at the ceiling and counts to ten a couple of time... a couple dozen times, actually.

Fuck. It's been a day and he's already losing his shit completely. The problem, he thinks, is that he can't, like, tell Gerard about what went down. What the fuck are they even thinking about it over there, seriously--that was some psycho shit Mom pulled. For all Frank knows the Ways have put all Ieros on their shitlist forever and ever.

Or Gerard is flipping out thinking Frank's at some military school in Montana.

Or Gerard is just patiently waiting for Frank to call him-- No, okay, Gerard doesn't patiently wait for anything, that's not how he fucking rolls. He's maybe got two ounces more patience than Frank, but that's basically the Xanax talking.

Frank gets out of bed and toes on his chucks. Well, first he tries to do it that way, but then he has to sit down and put them on really carefully because ouch. He also puts on a hoodie because his shirt is looking pretty gruesome by now.

He gets his first break today when it turns out the only one home is Tony Santos who is like a year and a half younger than Frank. They're not friends because Tony is a fucking football player and already taller and heavier than Frank is ever gonna be, and last year he was already hanging with the meatheads that liked to chase Frank off campus during break just so he'd be late for class and get sent to the principal's office. For the sake of neighborly relations, though, they've got kind of an agreement to leave the school bullshit at school.

"What's wrong with your phone?" Tony says. He's home sick, apparently; he keeps blowing his nose and looks ready to fall over.

Frank doesn't actually want to go inside, he wants to run the fuck away from this walking germfest, but he shrugs and says, "Dunno, maybe Mom forgot to pay the bill or some shit."

"Whatever," Tony says. "Just don't call no fucking 9800 numbers."

Frank flips him off. "Like you're not calling those and blaming me the second I'm out of here."

Tony shrugs.

Frank freaks out for a second because he totally blanks on Gerard's cell number, but it comes back to him after some frantic pacing.

It rings like fifty thousand times.

Fucking motherfucking nutcocking bastard fuck.

He digs Mikey's number out of his brain with the power of fucking desperation and tries that. The phone's turned off-- Fuck, because Mikey's phone is still broken. Frank bangs his head against the Santos's fake wood paneling. It hurts because he forgot about his headache.

He calls directory and gets Mrs Way's number.

It's ringing when Tony comes back from wherever the fuck he wander off to and asks, "Who the fuck are you calling, Iero? Your shrink or what?"

"Fuck off," Frank snarls, and that's of course when Mrs Way picks up.

"Frank?" she says.

"I'm sorry," he says. And okay, might as well do the whole verse. "I'm so sorry about my mom, too. And about getting you involved like that. Like, really, I apologize so totally."

There's a little pause and a sniff, and then she says, "Apology accepted, Frank," all solemnly and with a little vibrato in her voice like maybe she's about to cry.

"Is, like--" He lowers his voice a little because Tony is still lurking somewhere behind him in the hall. He turns so he gets a bead on the fucker in the mirror--nice mirror, maybe he could pinch it for his mom--and goes on, "Is Gerard or Mikey somewhere around? I can't get them on their cells."

"Oh, Frankie, I haven't seen them today. I've been stuck down here all day--I mean, manning the station of course. Gerard was supposed to help today, but Mikey said he wasn't feeling well, and then Mikey disappeared, too, the unhelpful little shit. I love them, but sometimes they are just so unreliable."

She doesn't sound too concerned, but she does sound a little bit... well, a little like Gerard after about a sixpack, and Frank thinks maybe she has been drinking tea again.

She says, "Can I ask them to call you back, honey?"

"No," he says, scrunching his eyes shut for a second. Fuck, fuck. "No, I don't have my phone. And they can't call the house phone, since-- Well. You know. Sorry."

"Grounded, huh?"

"Until hell freezes over, ma'am."

"I was wondering when she'd catch you. I had a little bet going with myself, you know. I lost, though. It took her a while."

"Thanks, ma'am," he says. "Tell them, you know. I'm grounded 'til school starts. I'll try to call later maybe, but I don't know when I can. Bye. Thanks."

"Dude, you're grounded? Harsh," Tony says after Frank hangs up.

"I kind of told my mom to shut the fuck up," Frank says, and then he wants to take it back because it comes out sounding like he's trying to be tough to impress fucking Tony Santos. "Thanks for letting me use the phone, okay. See ya."

"Not if I fucking see you first, bitch," Tony says. He sounds almost friendly.

Frank limps back to his empty jail and lies on the bed and tries really hard not to think at all.

He dreams that he's running along the road towards the Way house, but the road is, like, longer than it really is because he keeps thinking he's almost there but there's always another bend. And behind him he hears his mother yelling his name, louder and louder.

And really loud, actually, and he breaks through the surface of the dream and realizes he's awake and his mother is actually fucking shrieking his name.

He sits up so fast his head spins just as she bursts through the door and she just runs up and grabs him and hugs him.

"Baby, baby, what--" she's babbling against his shoulder.

"Uh," he says. The dream clings to him uneasily, like a bad taste in his mouth. Mom's kissing his face and kind of shaking him back and forth.

"I'm so sorry," she whispers. He thinks she might be crying, and the bad taste becomes a tight fist somewhere in his belly, and he leans against her and screws his eyes shut against tears. He has no idea what's going on.

"Mom?" he says carefully.

She kisses his forehead once more for good measure and lets him go. She rubs her eyes and says, "I just saw all the blood stains, and the door was open... I got so scared, Frankie."

"Oh," he says. Now he really does want to cry. "I just, you know. I broke the mirror and then I kinda stepped on the pieces. I'm sorry I scared you."

She puts her hand over mouth but he can hear she's laughing even though there are still tears running down her face, smudging her mascara. "Oh, oh, oh. Oh, your temper!"

"Yeah," he says. She leans in and kisses him again and ruffles his hair.

"I love you, baby," she says. "You are such a little pain in the behind but of course I love you."

"I love you too, Mom," he says and puts his arms around her. Note to self, he thinks: break more things.

"Stop trying to give me heart attacks."

"Okay."

"You're still grounded."

"I know."

She whispers right into his ear, "I'm going to call Mrs Way and apologize. Happy?"

He just hmms because he's not going to be happy until he's looking at Gerard's stupid face, but he's pretty fucking glad his mother's seeing reason.

She says, "Clean the wall, too, Frankie. You should have drunk the coffee before throwing the mug."

***

Later when Frank is watching Dumb And Dumber on the TV in the livingroom, Mom comes in, winces at Jim Carrey and says, "If you can keep your nose clean for twenty-four hours, and you go to Mass with me tonight and confess--and I don't see the Father running out of there looking like he wants to throw up--you can call your friends."

She gives him a look. She's crossed her arms. She's not going to negotiate, obviously. He considers the terms and, yeah, okay, they sound reasonable. For Guantanamo Bay.

"I can do that," he says.

The phone rings. He looks at her. She looks back at him.

"I'll get that," she says. After a second she comes back with the phone. "It's Bob Bryar."

She is impressed with Bob, who is polite and has a good business sense and is starting college this fall. She doesn't know the part about how he got kicked out of his old high school for fighting.

"Yo, Bob," Frank says.

"Why do you have your fucking cell turned off?"

"Grounded," Frank says. Mom raises an eyebrow at him.

"Fuckin' little shit you are," Bob says. "No fucking use. I was gonna ask if you wanted to make a few bucks helping out with the inventory this weekend but I guess not."

"Oh, f-- Hang on, I bet she'd let me do that. Mom, Bob's asking if I can help him with the inventory at the store on the weekend. It'd be like a job." Bob's laughing in his ear.

She's wrinkling her forehead, obviously trying to figure out if there's an angle. Then she holds out her hand. "Can I talk to Bob for a sec?" To Bob, she says, "Hi, Bob, it's Linda again. Tell me about this weekend. Uhuh. Uhuh. Well, I shouldn't keep him from working. As long as actual work will be involved. I'll need you to-- Uhuh. Can I trust you to keep an eye on him, Bob? Thank you. Yes, of course, just a moment."

She hands Frank the phone back, and Bob's saying, "You are really in the doghouse, dude. What'd you do?"

"Shot a man just to watch him die," Frank says.

Bob says, "Hardcore. Saturday, okay. Don't flake out on me. I can't scare up fucking Mikeyway either, it's like suddenly cell phones are so last week for you people. What's going on?"

"His is broken," Frank says quickly. He should tell him to try Gerard's, but he doesn't want to remind Mom of certain facts. Or people. "Uh, so, yeah. Saturday. Catch you then, Bob."

Mom says, "Lucky shot for you."

"Yeah," Frank says. "Bob's cool."

***

Father Leary says, "Would you like me to hear your confession?"

"Yeah, okay," Frank says, slouching down uncomfortably. His ass already kind of hurts because Mom made him wait until everyone else, literally every single person in the church, had gone before letting him take his turn. Even though he napped in the afternoon he kind of nodded off a couple times and Mom elbowed him awake.

There's a moment of silence.

Frank says, "I guess, uh, this might take some time. I've had a busy, um, few months."

"Take your time," Father Leary says.

Frank's been pretty much avoiding confession for, like, the last year or so and he also didn't exactly give the whole truth and nothing but the truth all the time either, so there's way too much to list. He feels like confessing now, though. He can't be pissed off at his mother anymore, it's just making him feel shitty--which is a good place to start, right? "Well, to start off, I have disrespected my mother, like, so many times. Then, uh... I've lied, obviously. And I take God's name in vain a lot... other cursing too. And the usual, you know, illegal stuff. Not so much sinful, just illegal, like. Smoked pot and drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes. Oh yeah and then I had sex with a guy, like, a bunch of times but I don't repent that."

"Repentance is--" Father Leary starts, but Frank can't stretch out his legs and this booth smells like Mr Lopresti's BO and he kind of needs to get this said.

"I know, I know." He cracks his knuckles and says, "Just didn't feel like a sin to me, man. The part that sucks is I can't tell anyone and the whole thing is, like, a giant pain in the butt. And it's making things hard with Mom. I'm sorry about that. Don't know what to do about it, though. It's one of those, um... whatchacallems, catch 22 type things?"

"It's not a Catch-22 unless there's truly no good solution."

"Ha ha," Frank says. "Gay sex: don't do it?"

"That isn't even the issue," Father Leary says, his voice a little more alive now, not the PriestBot shtick. "You're deliberately doing something that drives a wedge between yourself and your mother. That is what is making you uncomfortable, and that is the sin."

Frank leans his elbows on his knees and folds his hands under his chin. He's totally, like, about to pass out, he's so fucking tired. The air in the confessional is thick as soup, too, and when he lets himself fall a little sideways so his head leans against the wall, the wood feels weirdly smooth and greasy under his cheek, like the rubbed-off face grease of a million bored confessing Catholic assholes before him has just layered up there over the years.

He sits back up and says, "Yeah, okay, I get that. Fine, I repent. I'm sorry. How many Hail Marys does that make?"

"You do ten of those and ten Our Fathers and think about what they actually mean while you're saying them, child. And then you go home and honor your mother--really honor her. She provides for you, Frank. Think about her sacrifices over the years. How do you want to repay her, with tears or joy?"

Frank kind of wants to bang his head against the wall. It's too fucking gross to contemplate, though. "You're really not gonna touch the gay sex part, are you?" he says. "Don't answer that, okay. So... I'll be helpful and good and not a jerk. And do the dishes and stuff."

"Maybe a little more enthusiasm, Frank," Father Leary says. "Go, and sin no more, child."

He doesn't think about what the prayers mean while he says them, because that is for the fucking birds, but he does send a little signal under the signal to the old dude upstairs and the signal is you suck so much. But he ends up thinking about his mom a lot, though, and wishing so hard he could just tell her. She'd be happy if he had a girlfriend, he thinks. Maybe not a twenty-year-old hard-drinking hermit girlfriend, but even then she'd... try? Maybe. She'd give the chick a bunch of lectures and get solemn oaths out of them both that no sex would be had until after the wedding, but... yeah.

So fuck.

"Hail fucking Mary full of fucking grace, blah blah fucking blah," he mutters. He's been kind of playing with the rosary and he actually lost count of the Marys, so he says a couple more and calls it a night. He doesn't feel any better, and that's the fucking sneaky horror of this shit, all the guilt. He'll be eighteen in two years and change, and then he can come clean and deal with Mom and everything.

That'll be two years of suck, but the alternative is infinitely, epically worse. He forgot to tell Father Leary that he's in love. He's not just fucking around. Not that people ever believe some little fifteen-year-old shit can be in love for real unless it's on the fucking CW network.

"That didn't take very long," Mom says when they're walking out. "Are you sure you told him everything?"

"I told him everything," Frank says, and Mom doesn't even pester him anymore about it so he must look as bummed as he feels.

She just links an arm around his neck and kisses the top of his head and says, "It's hard at first but it really helps to make it right with God, I promise."

"Yeah," he says, and thinks, fuck you, God.

***

Thursday

Because he's trying to honor his mother he doesn't nag her about the phone at all for hours the next morning. He cleans the bathroom, too, and disinfects the shit out of Mom's tweezers in case he left some toe-bacteria on them. Then he vacuums the upstairs and dusts the tops of the shelves. By, like, three pm she's starting to look almost freaked out.

"Is this your penance?" she asks.

He shrugs.

"You don't have to go overboard, Frankie. Not that I'm against a little cleaning, but I'm going to give you your phone back for an hour either way. You don't have to sweet talk me."

"It's my penance," he says. Now he feels kind of like an ass for trying to suck up, but at the same time the fucking refrain in his head is AN HOUR AN HOUR AN HOUR. Just the thought winds up so tight he's vibrating, and he immediately knocks a glass off the kitchen table just walking past it.

"Okay," Mom says. "I think the hour starts now, just get out of here before you break anything else."

She takes his phone out of her pocket and hands it to him, and it's like the doors of fucking Shangri-la open and a choir of angels backed up by a bunch of other angels on trumpet start going Hallefuckinlujah all over the place.

"Thanks," he says totally casually but on the inside it's thankyouthankyouthankyou and he has to stop himself from hugging her. There's no need to let her know just how fucking desperate he's been. "I'm just gonna... yeah, okay. Thanks."

He wanders upstairs, kind of dazed because it feels like he's been stuck in the dungeons for years when it's actually been like... a couple days.

When he dials Gerard's number it rings and rings and rings again and he's almost ready to throw the phone out the window and jump after when there's finally, finally fucking finally a voice on the line.

It's Mikey, though, sounding sleepy and confused. "Frank?"

"Where's Gerard?"

"Ma said you called yesterday," Mikey says. His voice actually reminds Frank of Mrs Way right now, because he speaks slowly and carefully like he's trying to not slur. Mikey isn't usually wasted in the middle of the day.

"Yeah, well, nobody fucking answered your fucking phones so I had to call her."

"Mine's still in, like, pieces." He clears his throat and adds, "I guess your mom called Ma, too. That was, like... She was pretty upset."

"Mikey," Frank says. "Where the fuck is Gerard?"

It takes Mikey five full seconds to answer--Frank counts. "Asleep."

"What--Can't I--"

"No," Mikey says. "No, you can't talk to him, he hasn't fucking been awake since, I don't even know. He got wasted yesterday and then he took something to sleep, okay."

"What?"

Mikey sounds almost annoyed when he says, "You know how he gets."

"I just wanna talk to him, man," Frank says, pretty fucking close to begging.

"Look, he's not going to wake up yet, he's sleeping that shit off."

Frank takes three deep breaths and says, "Did he flip out over my mom, like, flipping out? What's his deal?"

"I'm not your relationship counselor, Frank," Mikey says. "I'm like so hung over right now. Don't you think I tried to wake him up?"

"Mikey, come on."

"Yeah, he freaked out, except I don't know what exactly he freaked out about cause he wasn't too coherent, but maybe that thing about how maybe he's about to go to prison for fucking you, maybe that's something he's worried about." Mikey's, like, breathing fast in Frank's ear like he's freaking out too. Maybe he needs a couple fucking Xanax as well, Jesus Christ. Frank certainly does.

"She doesn't know, Mikey," he says, trying to sound fucking calm. "She's not gonna know. She's never gonna find out, okay. At least not 'til I'm eighteen and moving the fuck out."

"This is the kind of thing that gets out, Frank," Mikey says.

Frank kicks at the wall but instead he hits, like, the bed, or the leg of the bed that's secretly in his way and it feels like he fucking broke a toe or something, so he crashes like a bag of rocks onto the bed and curls up into a little ball around the phone and rocks back and forth for a while.

"Frank?" Mikey says.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck--I know, man, fuck, sorry, I hit my fucking toe--I just fucking want to see him, Mikey. I'm not fucking around, seriously." He pushes his face into the bedspread and mumbles, "I love him, okay, I'm not even kidding. Could you please tell him... Tell him I'll be at Bob's store all day Saturday, from like, nine am."

"You two are the same kind of idiot," Mikey says. "It's always life or death. I thought you were gonna be less weird once you, like, fucked and got it out of your systems but it just got worse."

"Shut up, Mikey, like you don't have boyfriend drama," Frank says and it's not funny like he meant it to be. "Sorry," he says. "I didn't mean it like, I don't know. Sorry."

"Whatever," Mikey says, in the tone of voice that comes with a resigned shrug. "I called Pete last night when I was drunk and I got voicemail."

"Fuck," Frank says. He's not sure what the reaction to this is supposed to be, Mikey's always so damn deadpan.

"I guess I left a message but I can't remember what." He huffs, something between a chuckle and a sigh. "And I used Gerard's phone so I don't even know if he'll call back. So."

"Fuck, Mikey," Frank says. He tries to imagine--like, if Gerard lived in Chicago? And just... it makes him feel kind of sick and dizzy to think about it. He makes himself relax and unfold from the fetal position and breathe slower. He says, "That sucks, man, for real."

Mikey doesn't even answer, but Frank knows he's fucking shrugging.

"Saturday, okay? You think he'll be, like... Do you think he'll even want to come over there?" He doesn't doubt that Gerard is pretty into him, but Gerard's a really weird and anxious dude and Frank isn't going to sit around kidding himself that he'll just come wandering into the store all merry and 'hi you guys' and wave at these dudes he hasn't talked to in a year or whatever.

"Well, I'll tell him about it at least," Mikey says, sounding kind of doubtful or kind of uninterested, either or.

"Okay," Frank says. Fuck, he's going to be a wreck of previously fucking unprecedented proportions by Saturday, and he's stuck here so he can't even get bombed to take the edge off. Maybe he'll be able to wheedle back his mp3 player if he stays in Mom's good graces. "Thanks, Mikey. Um. Yeah, take care, okay? See you later."

"Don't do anything stupid, Frank," Mikey says, like he's such a... such a chooser of smart choices.

After he hangs up Frank pulls up his knees to his chin again and gives himself ten minutes of intense stupid worrying. He gnaws on his knuckles and tries to figure out ways to placate his mother and set up the perfect escape route and pull off both those things at once, too. If this was Doom he'd be in Gerard's room throwing a bucket of water over Sleeping fucking Beauty already, but the real life alien demon motherfuckers are bigger and badder and Frank doesn't have that many weapons to choose from.

It's just half past three in the afternoon but he slept like shit last night, so he falls asleep and when he wakes up after beating up alien demon spider motherfuckers with Gerard's giant glass bong in his dreams, Mom's been in and snaked the phone out of his hand and left the mp3 player on the bedside table.

He needs to stop falling asleep every time he lies down. Sometimes it feels like he could sleep twenty hours a day and just get up to eat and piss, except then he can't even relax when it would suit him to get some rest.

***

Friday

Friday is sluggishly endless, spent in a state of half-panicky anticipation that makes him crawl up the walls--except he can't because he has to play it cool as Capone for Mom and fucking George. There's lunch at Taco Bell and George blathers something totally irrelevant about The Bourne Ultimatum that might have interested Frank in some alternate universe where he wasn't a prisoner waiting for his fucking conjugal visit, and Mom blathers something else totally irrelevant about getting the lawn mowed now that it's not raining.

"Sure," Frank says whenever someone asks him something.

There are three hours he spends in his room reading some more dumbass Crime and tedious Punishment just to take his mind off himself. Three hours he'll never get back, but better that than having to live them all over again. There's mowing the lawn in the early evening, wearing two hoodies under his jacket because he was really too het up to eat enough at lunch and now he's cold and tired but still not actually hungry.

There's dinner and he's so tired he's afraid he'll faceplant in the mashed potatoes, and the smell of fucking George's pork chops makes his stomach turn. He keeps it together long enough to eat a tiny amount of potatoes and peas and a vegan spring roll from the supermarket--"I just thought they looked good, what do you think, Frankie? Maybe not with mashed potatoes next time..."--and then a little bit longer still so he can help clear the table like a good boy and then he excuses himself and drags himself upstairs and sits slumped on his bed for ten minutes before running to the bathroom and revisiting the spring roll.

It doesn't feel like food poisoning or the flu, so it's probably just his stupid stomach giving him shit for being so fucking jittery. He sits on the bed again and tries to think happy thoughts, which is weirdly difficult when you still have a sour taste in the back of your throat. He tries to figure out what kind of weapon Gerard's glass bong would have to be so you'd actually be able to kill spider demon monsters with it. Obviously some sort of blessed vessel of the gods. Maybe containing a trapped genie.

He falls asleep in his clothes and doesn't dream, and when he wakes up it's two am so he goes to the bathroom, jerks off quickly without thinking specifically about Gerard and goes back to bed, under the covers this time.

***

Saturday

Ray Toro opens the back door when Frank bangs on it, and he ducks his head shyly when he sees Frank's mom and says, "Good morning, Mrs Iero." Ray's like Gerard's age but he's always totally bashful and super polite around people's parents. Frank sometimes thinks Ray actually respects authority.

"Hello, Ray," Mom says. "Tell Bob to call the house when he wants to get rid of Frank. Frank, when you get food, you get food and not just Twizzlers and Coke."

That's the kind of Mom-line that's really murder to be smacked with in front of your so-called peers, but Frank's noticed that the last year or so when he's been mostly hanging out with older dudes and especially Gee and Mikey, it's totally stopped bothering him.

He's not sure if it's because he's getting all grown up and shit or because his friends are such nerds that losing cool points in front of them is like your pants falling down when you're on a nudist beach.

"Yes, Mom," he says and waves at her. She gives him the Eyebrow but she does leave, and Frank watches her car pull away from the curb and the taillights blend into the Saturday morning traffic. Then he takes a deep breath of chilly air that smells of exhaust fumes and last night's garbage, and slumps against the tile wall. "Fuck."

"Heard you're grounded for life," Ray says, nodding sympathetically. His fro sways like a cheerleader's pom-pom. "What a bummer."

"Yeah," Frank says. He slips his smokes out of his pocket and lights up. His hands are a little shaky but not as bad as yesterday. Now that he's here it's like he's found the zen of, like, inevitability. Que sera sera or whatever. He's going to count records and smoke and talk shit with Bob and Ray and even if Gerard doesn't show up it'll be a better day than yesterday. He sucks on the cigarette so long his lungs burn, holding the smoke like it's pot, until he almost chokes on it.

"Mom not letting you smoke either?" Ray says.

"Someone's having a shit week," Bob says from just inside the door.

Frank asks, "Can I smoke inside?"

Bob's already coming outside, though, pulling out his own pack. "Fuck no. This is a record store, not a fucking club. Plus the smoke alarm will go batshit." He leans against the wall next to Frank and stares thoughtfully up at the pigeons perching on the windowsills. "I know, I tried once. Kinda awkward."

"Yeah," Ray says. "Fire department and sirens and everything. It was huge."

"So, um," Frank says, stubbing out the butt against the wall. "I kinda let slip to Mikey Way that we're here, so he might show up. Or, you know, his brother maybe, I don't know."

"You look shifty, Frankie," Bob says. "What's the deal here?"

Frank shoves his hands into his pockets. He can feel his pulse hammer hard and fast in his throat. "What? No deal. I just thought I'd let you know."

Ray leans down and tilts his head to peer into Frank's face. "Yeah, Frank, what's the deal? You do look shifty."

"What did you really get grounded for, that's the question," Bob says, blowing some deformed smoke rings and then shattering them with a wave.

"Are we gonna count records or are we gonna gossip like a bunch of church ladies?" Frank says.

"Church ladies or poker night, same diff," Ray says philosophically. Then he does this, like, hilarious double-take where he freezes, cuts his eyes to Frank, unfreezes and scrunches up his face suspiciously. "Wait, why the hell would Gerard come here?"

"Yeah, that dude hasn't been around since the ice age," Bob says. "Did you actually talk to him about my awesome party idea?"

"What party idea?" Ray says, shoving Bob against the door, kind of like an over-friendly orange Newfoundland dog. "You mean our party idea, right?"

Frank cracks up, mostly out of relief, and says, "I thought the party idea was, like, 'let's have a party, you guys'--that's a little sub-awesome. I was pretty embarrassed to bring it up with Gerard, he doesn't get out of bed for less than a fucking stripper in a cake."

"What do you know about strippers in cakes, you fucking tadpole?" Bob says. "Saw a picture of one on someone's MySpace page, huh?"

"Fuck off, what are you, thirty-five?" Frank scoffs.

"Let's just put it this way: I'm not twelve," Bob says, flicking his cigarette into the bucket. "Okay, guys, let's get to work."

They follow him into the quiet store. "I've never been grounded," Ray says, rubbing his neck and rolling his shoulders as if he's preparing for hard labor and not, like, flipping through boxes of CDs. "I didn't get into a lot of trouble when I was a kid."

"I guess the world needs every kind," Bob says.

***

Around noon, after Frank has overturned the Metallica standee for the third time, Bob grabs him by the scruff of the neck and drags him into the back room. "Sit your ass down and chill for a second," he says. "You're so twitchy I get a headache just looking at you."

"Look, I'm sorry," Frank says, although he sits down. He is twitchy. His heart feels overworked from speeding up every time someone walks by the store. He keeps fumbling with the boxes, not just Metallica, and he has papercuts on both hands from the cardboard edges. "The arrow thing keeps snagging on my hood."

"Seriously, man, chill. Mom give you too much coffee this morning?"

The back door slams and Frank snaps his head around before he can stop himself.

"It's just Toro," Bob says. He's watching Frank, face in that impassive expression that can mean he isn't really interested or it can mean he's formulating theories.

"No such thing as 'just' Toro," Ray says from the other room. "Frank, I thought Mikey was supposed to come help us out. Where is that lazy bastard?"

Frank shrugs.

"Go get something to eat, Frank," Bob says.

Frank shakes his head. "I'm good. I'll just, you know, pick up the fucking Metallica shit again."

***

At one-thirty, Frank and Ray are sharing the pain of the Easy Listening section, and Ray says, kind of out of the blue, "Does Gerard actually go, like, outside now?"

Frank has successfully not thought about Gerard for at least three minutes, but here he goes again. Kissing through the open truck window, that's a good thought, like a scene in a movie that you rewind over and over even though it doesn't have any exploding heads or dudes getting diced in slo-mo by lasers. He immediately wants another cigarette.

"Not so much," he says. "You know how he is."

"No, I don't know," Ray says sounding almost cranky. He's a really mellow kind of guy, although in a spastic way with the head-bobbing and constant blinking and the squeaky voice--it's hard to piss him off. Even when he is angry he just comes across as kind of mild-mannered.

"Seriously, man," Frank says. He feels pretty bad for Ray even though Ray isn't, like, languishing without his BFF or whatever. Frank never had a best friend, in junior high or otherwise, but if he'd had one he wouldn't just let the fucker stop calling without going over and asking for a good fucking reason. He gets that Ray's not that guy, though. Obviously he needs some good advice. "If it's bumming you out you should just call him."

"Stop Dr Philling me, kid," Ray says. He's flipping through a stack of Cher's Greatest Hits, his lips moving as he counts. After he's written down the amount he adds, "This isn't some Nora Ephron movie."

Frank has no idea who Nora Ephron is but he's pretty confident that she makes chick flicks. Frank can do chick flicks, especially if he's stoned. Obviously Gerard will cry at sad scenes and that is especially great.

"I'm just saying. He's not gonna, like, suddenly snap out of, you know. Whatever it is he's got, depression or whatever." He can hear Bob going out back, probably for a smoke. He really wants to smoke, too, but he puts it off. He's fixing friendships here. "He's a really smart dude but he's a fucking idiot, too. Trust me."

Ray rubs his forehead and looks to the heavens, or, like, to the dusty box set jackets perching on top of the shelf behind the till. "Oh my God, this is a Nora Ephron movie. And you are Rosie O'Donnell."

"Rosie O'Donnell is seriously twice my size, she could swallow me whole. And she's a lesbian."

"Right, she only sleeps with women, you can do that."

"Well, um, actually--" Frank says and oops, sudden unexpected coming-out scene. This is his first one that actually matters, since he doesn't even fucking rate telling the priest. He feels thrilled when he says. "I pretty much, you know. Don't."

Ray makes hilarious bug eyes. "You're fucking kidding."

"Am I laughing?" Frank says and cracks up immediately. "Shit, fuck, that always makes me laugh. I am not kidding!"

"You think you're funny," Ray says. "I'm surrounded by idiots who think they're hilarious."

Frank smacks him on the elbow. "No, fuck, Ray. I'm being totally straight here. Um, I mean--" And he's off again, it's like he can't get a sentence out without being totally hilarious to himself. He has to lean against Ray's side while he clutches his stomach. It's basically hysterical laughter at this point, like either he'll laugh or he'll start throwing shit around.

Ray says, "Frankie, you little fucker," and hooks his arm around Frank's neck and gives him a really thorough noogie that leaves Frank's scalp burning.

Bob's voice interrupts them from the back of the store. "Would you two assholes stop tearing the place down? It's lunchtime and Their Fucking Majesties have arrived."

They let go of each other and turn together, totally synced like dancers. Mikey's just stepping around Bob, waving vaguely at the room and heading arrow-straight for the indie section.

"Check out what I found wandering around out there like a hobo without a fuckin' cause," Bob says. Gerard's standing behind him, looking pallid and hollow-eyed and twitchy, staring at the floor like a complete retard. His hair is wet even though it's a perfectly clear day so he must be right out of the shower.

"Hey Gerard," Frank says. His voice sounds like it's coming from someplace else. His face is burning hot. "Hey."

Gerard glances up nervously, and before this can turn into some kind of slapstick bullshit, Frank walks across the floor and passes right by him, all casual--as casual as he can be when he's blushing like a fire has broken out all over his face and feeling like he could pass out from sheer fucking excitement, and says, "I'm gonna go for a smoke. You should come give me one, Gee."

Gerard looks around. He looks like he just woke up. He blinks at Frank, then he looks at Ray and quickly back at Frank again. "Okay," he mutters.

In the doorway, Frank grabs his hand, and when the door slams shut behind them--locking them out, duh, but that could not matter less right now--he reaches up and yanks Gerard down by the hair and kisses him.

He could fucking cry, it's such a relief. He remembers Mikey complaining that it's always fucking life or death, and he thinks Mikey was right on the money there--it does feel like life or death. He's probably hurting Gerard, he's got his fingers tangled so tight in his hair, and he's kind of trying to climb into his lap even though they're standing up. Gerard staggers and turns them around, they knock over the ashtray bucket and bang into the wall, the pointy edge of a broken tile biting into the small of Frank's back.

Frank thinks he had, at some point, the idea that playing it kind of close to the vest and being, like, discreet about this dating/boyfriends thing would be the way to go, but obviously that's not going to work because he just can't back off right now. Gerard's knee pushing his legs apart and his hands scrabbling over his back and ass, that also suggests they might be pretty much incapable of playing anything cool.

This is the kind of thing that gets out, Frank thinks and pushes against Gerard's tongue and hips and hands. Oh, fuck.

"Gerard, shit, Gerard," he pants, trying to struggle loose except he's totally still holding on to Gerard's hair so it ends up just being a lot of wriggling and completely counter-productive. "Gerard, stop, stop--"

Gerard stops immediately, like Frank hit the off-switch. Frank's feet hit the ground again. He never even noticed that they weren't, like, touching it. Huh.

He unfolds his fingers and lets Gerard go. It's completely insane to miss someone when they're two inches away but there you go. This is insane.

Gerard looks totally anxious, and he's actually backing away. Frank wants to yank him right back, but no, this is the time to act sane.

"Maybe not, um, you know. In public," Frank mutters, pretty much against his own will, and Gerard seriously flinches like someone poked him with a needle, and looks around with this hilarious mix of guilt and anxiety. The alley is empty, of course, it always is. But obviously the point is that they didn't check, and the street is like right over there.

Frank fishes out his smokes. They're a little squished. The first one he gets is broken, which is fucking annoying. He pulls the filter off and tosses it onto the heap of scattered butts on the ground next to the overturned bucket and lights the rest. Gerard stares at him for a while, looking conflicted, and then he relaxes a fraction and gets out his own pack of Marlboros.

"Sorry," he says.

"What, whatever, man," Frank says. "I'm just fucking glad to see you, you don't even know."

Gerard leans forward and takes his hand. Then he looks at Frank solemnly and says, "I know." It's kind of over-earnest or something, too intense, but Frank shivers all over. He's turned on and frustrated--maybe more frustrated than he was before, but at the same time it's so good to just kind of hang out, and he'd want to just hang out with Gerard even if they could never have sex again, even if it would be the most painful thing ever. It'd still be better than not seeing him.

He looks around carefully and then he leans in and kisses Gerard again, keeping his tongue to himself this time, making it short and sweet. Gerard totally gets it and doesn't grab him or anything, and they both lean back and smoke and keep looking at each other but don't touch.

The door opens and Bob sticks his head out. "Would you two stop jerking each other off and come back inside? We're calling out for pizza."

They both flinch, which makes Frank wants to punch himself directly in the eye. He's got to be the worst ever at keeping secrets. He loses at the spy game. Bob squints at them suspiciously.

"Food!" Frank says, feeling awkward and wrong like his Act Normal protocol just crashed. Gerard's just staring intently at the wall.

"Who kicked over the bucket?" Bob stabs his finger accusingly at them. "You fuckers clean that shit up. What were you doing out here, pro wrestling moves?"

Frank starts laughing before he even knows he's about to, and he laughs so hard he folds up and staggers right into Gerard.

When he comes up for air, Gerard is patting him awkwardly on the back and Bob is kind of goggling at him.

The last of the laughter seeps out of Frank. "Um," he says.

"Did you sleep at all last night?" Bob asks. "You have been the twitchiest fucking freak all day."

"Jesus, Bob, I'm grounded," Frank says, making a sad puppy face. "Have some fucking sympathy."

"Yeah, yeah, it's just you and your hand tonight," Bob says, rolling his eyes, and Frank catches Gerard's eyes totally by accident and Gerard's gone all wide-eyed with horror, or amusement, or both. Horrimusement. Amusorror.

Frank can't even think of any good comebacks about masturbation even though he knows he has a metric ton of those. Seriously.

Bob's giving them the squinty look again, his eyes cutting from Frank to Gerard and back again. "You two have been spending a lot of time together, haven't you?"

He probably means it totally innocently, like, they've started to act crazy the same way or whatever, but Frank feels his stomach shrivel up into a prune of worry. Mikey's told him about how Bob totally guessed that Mikey was boning Pete Wentz, just using the power of his Bob-brain. Maybe... maybe it would be better to come clean straight out, not straight per se, but, like--

Judging from how the whole coming out thing went with Ray, maybe not.

"Yeah," Gerard says, kind of snippily, or defensively or something. A wanna-make-something-of-it? voice. Oh, no, Frank thinks.

He acts fast.

"I just don't think you would be happy if I tried to climb in through your window at night!" he says, making a grab for Bob. "Gerard likes it when I sing, but I'm kinda scared you'd throw shoes at me!"

"Cause I have ears, baby crow," Bob says and dodges smoothly backwards and slams right into Mikey who obviously needs a bell around his neck.

Frank feels Gerard's hand low on his back, just lying there gently, and he leans back a little. Mikey's folded himself up and is making wheezing noises and Bob is apologizing and kind of giggling and rubbing Mikey's shoulder.

"You better not have broken anything," Gerard says. He's standing so close to Frank that Frank feels his breath on the back of his head. "That's my brother there."

"You okay, Mikeyway?" Bob says. He sounds worried, actually. Mikey's nodding frantically, but he's still clutching his stomach and breathing funny. "Sorry about the elbow, seriously."

Ouch, that fucking sucks. "Try to relax, Mikey," Frank says. "Like, don't try so hard to breathe. It's a cramp." He's been there before. There's really nothing useful to do when you've got the breath punched out of you.

"'uck ou ank," Mikey gasps.

Frank slaps Bob's shoulder. "He's alive!"

"Fuck you, Frank," Bob says.

"Fuck you, Bob," Gerard says.

Ray sticks his head into the hall and says, "I just went ahead and ordered, you guys. Frank, everything vegetarian seemed really gross, but that salad bar on fifth delivers if you wanna call them."

Frank has a shining, glorious idea, and before he can second-think it he says, "Oh, except they're super slow at delivering, man. Hey, hey, Gerard, you think you could just, like, drive me down there? It's like five blocks."

"Like fuck it's five blocks," Bob says. "It's like--"

"Yeah, sure," Gerard says stupidly quickly.

Bob sighs and says, "You'll regret letting him boss you around, Way. He'll never stop now."

"Too late," Mikey mutters.

***

It's more like two and a half blocks to the salad place, and Frank gets his lunch in like two minutes because they're actually really fast. Gerard waits outside, idling the truck and smoking like he's some kind of badass.

"How long do you think we can get away with?" Frank asks when he's back next to Gerard with the door closed. He holds out his hand for the cigarette, waving his fingers in front of Gerard's face. One of Mikey's mix tapes is on the stereo, heavy on the fucking Smiths and fucking, Frank doesn't even know, Pulp or Blur or whatever. Something bouncy and poppy in an English accent so thick he hardly understands a word. Gerard's kind of humming along, though, only vocalizing the occasional line.

He stops humming to say, "Not real long."

"Gossipy bitches," Frank says.

Gerard says, "Mikey'll cover, though."

"Yeah, except Mikey's a worse liar than you are," Frank says. Then he adds, for fairness, "And me."

A car honks behind them and Frank flips it off over his shoulder as Gerard pulls the truck out into traffic.

They're going the wrong way and Gerard doesn't make any turns, just follows Main Street all the way out of the commercial district and into the kind of run-down part of town that comes after that.

"This sucks," Frank says. "Maybe we should tell them. They'd totally cover. Not just Mikey."

Gerard gives him a look.

"This sucks," Frank says again.

"Yeah," Gerard says. "But it's--"

Frank intends to wait for him to finish the thought, but waiting's never been fun for him so after like five seconds he says, "It's what?"

"It's crazy," Gerard says. He's clutching the wheel really hard. His knuckles are white. "Us."

He's never been that fucking concise about anything before, but now he's just staring out at the road all stony-faced and twisting his fingers around that wheel like he wants to hurt it.

Frank grinds his teeth together and then he says, "Fuck you, Gerard."

Gerard kind of slumps but he doesn't say anything.

Frank smacks him in the shoulder. "Say something, man. What the fuck?"

Gerard looks around sharply, both ways, even over his shoulder. He pulls the truck over in front of a vacant lot. There's broken glass and weeds and bricks, and graffiti on the walls of the adjoining houses. It's this total urban decay tableau, total gangland crime scene kind of place, even though this piece of shit town is about as urban as Wisteria Lane and all the murders are, like, drunks stabbing each other or domestic violence gone too far and other mundanely horrible shit like that.

"I don't know, Frank," Gerard says, really quietly. "I just... I have the nightmares all the time, and it's always you now, I keep dreaming about killing you, or just...finding you dead, with blood all over. So maybe it's not a real good id--"

"You had those dreams about Mikey before, though, and you didn't try to fucking break up with him!" He takes a deep breath and says, trying to sound less fucking hysterical or whatever, "You're just fucked up, that's all. This isn't more fucked up than you were before."

Gerard looks past him, at the weeds and the bricks and the broken glass. "I'm just fucked up," he says tonelessly. "Frank, I'm scaring myself." And he looks right into Frank's eyes then, and Frank totally believes him. He does look scared, with his eyes showing too much white and filling with tears.

Frank rubs his hands over his own dry, stinging eyes so hard the flashes of red take a while to fade. "This sucks," he says. "It sucks so much I think I'm gonna fucking puke."

"Frank..." Gerard says.

"No," Frank says. He rolls down the window, rolling too hard and almost twisting his pinky finger off when it kind of gets stuck between the door and the handle. He can't even think of a curse strong enough so he just hisses at it and throws his salad out the window, right into the weed-covered crime scene. There, investigate that. He rolls the window back up and says, "Let's just go back before they start fucking gossiping, okay."

Gerard stares at him, looking totally fucking miserable. Gerard can really really look miserable. He's the fucking master of sorrow and woe. He looks like Frank not only killed his dog but also cooked it and ate it right in front of his face. And said it tasted just like chicken.

"Jesus Christ," Frank says. He's not even really angry. Well, he's angry, but he can't fucking be angry at Gerard for being fucked up, he can't even be angry at Gerard for trying to break up with him or whatever the hell this was about. It makes him even more pissed off that he doesn't have anything to punch right now.

They're staring at each other and Gerard's face is getting wet even though he's not really crying, he just looks crushed and his eyes are kind of leaking like he forgot to turn off the faucet, the melodramatic bastard, and Frank's stomach is such a fucking twisty mess that he thinks he really will barf if this goes on for much longer.

Then Gerard lets out a breath Frank didn't realize he was holding, and grabs Frank's hand hard. Frank squeezes it back. Their hand bones grind together painfully.

"Fuck," Frank says and leans forward, and the leaning forward turns into springing forward, just scrabbling at Gerard's wet face with the hand that isn't clutching Gerard's, pulling him closer by, like, his ear, his hair, whatever can be grabbed, and tasting the salt on his face, licking his mouth and biting at his lips, and winding his arm around his neck tight as a vise.

Gerard lets go of his hand and just kind of grabs both sides of his face, nothing gentle about him either, and they just basically kiss like it's gonna get banned any second because that's what it fucking feels like. Frank can't even breathe and he doesn't care, he tries to suck in short breaths through his nose but the air feels heavy and used and his chest aches like it does when he's got bronchitis.

They aren't even touching anywhere else but Frank is going to come in his pants, like, now if he doesn't stop, if Gerard doesn't stop.

Gerard has approximately one ounce more self-control, so he does manage to pull himself back. Frank slumps against his seat, panting and hard and still fucking pissed off at the world.

Gerard wipes tears and spit off his face with the back of his hand and leans his forehead against the steering wheel.

"Fucking life or death, man," Frank says.

"Fuck yeah," Gerard says. "Seriously."

"Fucking life or death for my dick."

"It's just you and your hand tonight, baby," Gerard says, but he runs out of hilarity halfway and it ends on a sigh. Being star-crossed really kills all the jokes.

***

When they walk into the store, Bob says, "We were just about to call the cops."

Ray says, "To take forty five minutes to get a salad from two blocks down Main Street you had to, like, have been abducted by aliens at least."

Mikey is scowling over the rims of his glasses.

"Alternate dimension, guys?" Bob says.

"What was your theory, Mikey?" Ray says. "Mikey had a good one."

Mikey looks down and mutters, "It was just a version of the alternate dimension one."

Ray waves a finger in the air, making a a figure eight a whole lot of times. "Main street as a Moebius loop!"

"I dreamed that once," Gerard says. He's looking at Mikey with a little confused frown and twisting his hands together.

"I know," Mikey says. "That's how I thought of it."

"You guys ate all the pizza," Frank says. There's a haphazard pile of green-white-red takeout cartons on the desk.

"Hey, figured you guys stayed and had lunch or whatever," Ray says. Frank's not sure but he thinks Ray is a little pissed off in there under all the hair and easygoing manner.

Mikey leans back and shoves the pile over and flips the undermost carton open. The other ones fall on the floor and Frank sees Bob close his eyes and obviously counting to ten.

"Saved you some, Gee," Mikey says with a lopsided shrug.

Frank looks at the slices of pizza--pepperoni and pimientos, looks like--and feels like an idiot because he's fucking starving now and he fucking threw his lunch out the car window. Gerard couldn't have waited until after eating before starting the drama? He pushes his hands into his pocket and watches Gerard hook an arm around Mikey's neck and whisper something into his hair. Mikey shakes his head, smiling a kind of reluctant, twitchy smile.

The smell of congealing cheese and greasy sausage makes Frank's stomach twist. "I'm gonna smoke," he says.

Outside he just barely stops himself from punching the brick wall. Instead he kicks it, which is a really shitty substitute. He kicks the ashtray bucket into the wall, spreading butts and crumpled up packs and ashes all over. Bob's gonna fucking kill him.

He sits down on the step and smokes and grinds his heels into the oil-soaked dirt in the giant pothole right in front of the door. The smell out here isn't any less nauseating, garbage and soggy ashes and gasoline. He pushes his fist into his stomach and curls up and tries to concentrate on the sharp, fragrant smoke.

The door opens behind him and Bob says, "Oh shit, Frank, I will kill you." He doesn't sound super angry, though.

"Fucking bring it," Frank says.

Bob's feet shuffle back and forth a little next to him and the door shuts with a muffled squeak. Frank listens to the sound of Bob lighting a cigarette; the crinkle of cellophane and the click-scrape of the lighter and the satisfied sigh of the first drag and exhalation.

"I'm participating in your little mission, uh, kum bah yah mission of bringing estranged friends together," Bob says.

"Huh?" Frank says. His cigarette is down to the filter and he lights another one off it. The thing that really goes with chain smoking is beer. He wishes he had some beer. He wishes he had some money so he could buy beer. He wishes he was fucking twenty-one so he could buy beer--he wishes he was twenty-one so he'd be older than Gerard and could fix him.

"I'm hiding out here with you." He must have leaned against the door just then because the lock makes the definitive click of absolutely positively locked.

"Hope you got a key on you," Frank says.

"Don't even doubt," Bob says. "Mikey went to get a new phone. I can't believe he even survived this long without a cell. He's stronger than I thought."

Frank straightens up gingerly and finds that his stomach has untwisted just enough that he doesn't feel in danger of explosive vomiting anymore. "Sorry about that," he says and lifts one shoulder in the general direction of the ashtray bucket mess. The bucket itself has actually rolled all the way into the middle of the alley.

"I've got a broom for when you feel really sorry." Bob's tapping his fingers on the door in a sweet little syncopated rhythm. "You okay?"

Frank shrugs and tries to blow smoke rings.

"Practice, practice," Bob says and Frank twists around in time to see him execute three perfect specimens in a row.

"You ever punch walls when you're pissed off?" Frank says. He takes one last drag off the smoke and screws up his face at the bitter taste of scorched filter. He decides against lighting a third and just drops the butt on the pavement and grinds it flat with the tip of a sneaker.

"I punch people when I'm pissed off, I guess," Bob says after a while.

"I mean, like, when you're pissed off at yourself."

Bob sits down next to him, stretching out his legs. He scratches his beard and purses his mouth. "Suddenly I feel all this, like, pressure," he says. "Like I need to give you advice, be a good example or whatever."

That startles a laugh out of Frank. "Oh, fuck you, Bob man. I know you're not my daddy."

Bob quirks his mouth at him. "Are you sure? 'Cause the beard gets people confused sometimes, honestly. I'm told I'm real, like, fatherly-looking."

"You got kicked out of school for fighting. You're a worse example than my actual dad."

"What'd he do?"

"Nothing. Just married a bimbo and fucked off to New York."

Bob hmms and drops his butt right next to Frank's. Frank grinds it down too. Bob says, "Yeah, I can think of worse things, I guess. I'd fuck off to New York too but I'll never get a place as sweet as this one, you know?"

"Gerard went to college in New York," Frank says, kind of an out-loud thought that he didn't actually mean to speak.

"Yeah," Bob says. "Guess he might still go back?"

How weird, Frank thinks. That's one of the doomsday scenarios he's never even considered. Probably because Gerard talks about it like it's something he tried that didn't work out, like he's given up on it. But it's fucking college, he should go back.

He digs his fist into his stomach again.

"Hey," Bob says, nudging him in the side with an elbow, kind of hard but not hard hard. "Cheer up, emo kid."

"Emo this," Frank says and tries to stick his middle finger up Bob's nose, and Bob swats it away, hard hard for real. That's a challenge right there and Frank attacks with both fingers. Bob defends himself. "Ow, ow, motherfucker!"

"Stop poking me in the fucking face and I'll stop slapping you," Bob growls.

They call a truce after Frank is an eyelid away from putting Bob's eye out and Bob slaps Frank twice right on the ear in retaliation.

Frank's ear is still ringing. The nausea has settled again and he feels warmer and calmer than he has since the vacant lot. Kind of warm and fuzzy, really.

"I wanna tell you something," he blurts. It just kind of slips out because of the warm fuzziness and immediately the sick feeling is back.

"Hmm?" Bob says. He's still rubbing his left eye. There's a red scratch from Frank's fingernail across the eyelid.

"Um," Frank says, staring at the scratch. He really could have fucked up Bob's eye there. That would really have sucked.

"That's not, uh, that's not much of a revelation," Bob says. "The buildup kinda suggested something more interesting."

He can't say it. This is the kind of thing that gets out. He doesn't get where these stupid urges to tell everyone comes from. It's some kind of fucked up self-destruct button. He's like the chicks in his class who're always going on and on about who they're dating or want to date or used to date or whatever.

So he says, kind of awkwardly because it's such a weird thing to just bust out with, "So, uh, I'm gay."

Bob scratches his beard again and then he lights another cigarette. Frank does too.

Bob says, "Like Mikeyway."

"No," Frank says. "Gayer than Mikey."

"Okay," Bob says. "Well, congratulations. To me. More for me."

This year Bob's been kind of a sleeper hit with the summer guest chicks, and also with the older townie girls. Frank's never got anything but eyerolls from them or, like, any other girl ever.

Bob adds, "I mean, I was worried that maybe you were gonna grow up to be, like, not an obnoxious little ass and actually start scoring one day. Thanks for taking yourself out of the race."

"No problem," Frank says. Telling the less scandalous half of the truth is like fries without ketchup, and Bob being totally cool about the basic gay issue doesn't mean shit in the big picture. Frank has to jump up and pace a little, and he totally stumbles in the pot hole and almost faceplants. What the fuck.

"Hey, Mikey," Bob says and for like at least two seconds Frank thinks Bob's forgotten who he is talking to and it's bizarro time, but then he sees Mikey ambling towards them down the alley, earbuds in, focusing in frowning concentration on his new phone.

It's Gerard who sometimes forgets, of course.

"Mikey," Bob says again, louder. Mikey stumbles on his own pigeon toes and stops ambling to straighten himself out. He looks up from the phone for a second and spots Bob and Frank.

"Oh, hi," he says too loudly--Frank can hear the music from ten feet away--and nods at them. Then he goes and sits down next to Bob on the step and continues to fiddle with his phone. Now Frank thinks the frown is not concentration but, like, worry or anger or some unknown Mikey emotion.

Bob picks the earbuds out of his ears and slyly messes up Mikey's carefully styled stupid hairdo in the process.

"What," Mikey says.

Frank kicks at some beer caps.

"Pete has written me like thirty messages since my phone broke," Mikey says, his voice totally inflectionless. "Seriously, thirty. He sounds really messed up."

"I miss you like crazy messed up or I'm coming over there with an axe messed up?" Bob asks, leaning over to look at the screen. Frank remembers Mikey and Pete this summer, their stupid shared grins and the hands in each other's back pockets. He kicks at another beer cap and gets a good hit that shoots the cap straight at the door, where it zings off the metal and hits Mikey in the back of the head.

"Let me inside, Bob," Frank says. Thinking about Mikey and Pete leads to thinking about the night Pete broke up with Mikey, also known as The Night, capital T, capital N, and how it was like yay sex, nay Mikey crying over that dick Pete Wentz and then there's the breaking up/not breaking up thing today which makes Frank's stomach clench painfully again.

"Ow," Mikey says after a couple beats. "What was that?"

Bob grabs Mikey's shoulder to push himself up but Mikey just crumples under his hand because that's how Mikey fights, he just folds and it's like fighting your own shadow, really fucking annoying. Eventually Bob gives up trying to shove him and gets up and opens the door for Frank.

"I don't know," Mikey says, patting his ridiculous hair, smoothing it down around his face. His glasses are askew and his mouth is set in a tight line. "Like maybe he'll do something messed up."

"I told you he was crazy," Frank says. He kind of wants to hear the sordid details of Pete Wentz's crazy text message stalking but he also really needs to not sit out here all day and waste his precious fucking time not being with Gerard.

"Yeah," Mikey says morosely.

Before the door closes behind him, Frank hears Bob say, "I'm turning into some kind of life coach for gay kids, I swear."

***

Gerard is saying, "Fuck, I wish it was that real. I mean, it's real, but obviously... obviously not to that point."

"Seriously?" Ray says. They're sitting by the desk, bowed over a magazine. Ray's big hair hides Gerard from view almost completely--Frank just sees the inside-out hood of his hoodie sticking out behind the frizzy red cloud.

"Yeah, it's named for this Italian, uh... French guy who went to Florence and just spaced out looking at all the art. There's like a thing about it on disc two if you get the special edition."

"Bet he wasn't as hot as Asia Argento, though," Ray says with a sigh. "Or as crazy."

Frank waits in the doorway, feeling some of his nervous frustration drowned out by the warm glow of satisfaction. Ray and Gerard, together again and talking about movies.

"Oh, but you know who was?" Gerard says. "On the L-Word, they had... there was this one scene where Bette has a Stendhal moment looking at a photograph, really beautiful acting by Jennifer Beals. Did you ever watch the L-Word?"

"Yeah, but I kinda, um..." Ray sort of squeaks, and Gerard laughs his big explosive oh-I-get-it-now laugh.

"You're a dog. I was watching for the plot."

"Well, you're weird that way," Ray says and looks up at Frank. "Hey, Frankie, ever watch the L-Word?"

"Just the sexy parts. Mikey always has YouTube links." He reminds himself to find the sexy parts of Queer As Folk too, now that he is gay and all.

"It's a really strange feeling," Gerard says. He's leaning back now and sort of looking at Frank around Ray. "Sort of" because he's got that unfocused look where he's away in Gerardland, seeing things that Frank totally wishes he could see too. He's rubbing his head, twisting his hair into ever crazier crow's nest snarls.

Ray gives Frank a puzzled look and then twists around to stare at Gerard. "Watching just the sexy parts?"

"The Stendhal Syndrome," Gerard says.

"With Asia Argento?" Frank says.

"No, man," Ray says. "I mean, yeah, but he means--what the fuck do you mean, Gerard?"

Gerard blinks. "What? Oh. I just meant... it's like an out-of-body experience."

"Wow, I mean, you're telling me you've had it?"

Frank goes up to them and tries to see what they're reading, but it is just an ad for the special 2-disc edition of The Stendhal Syndrome, which Frank hasn't seen but totally wants to because there's never anything wrong with Asia Argento and blood. He elbows Gerard in the shoulder. "You've had what?"

"Yeah, yeah," Gerard says. "The Stendhal Syndrome, Frankie. I thought I was--It was this massive painting of Joan of Arc, the Bastien-Lepage, it's like seriously so big you can't even understand everything at first, and I could only see her face. Just her face."

He's looking down at Asia Argento's face as he says that, and he's picking at the torn cuff of his hoodie. Frank has no fucking idea what he's talking about, but he wants to put his arms around Gerard kind of desperately, like, right now. For a second he wishes Ray would just evaporate. Ray's looking a little amused and a little weirded out.

Gerard says, "I thought I was dying because I couldn't breathe." He puts his hand to his throat, his fingers bent into claws. "I was having the vision with her, and I could smell the wet leaves in the garden and I thought I could reach out and touch her hand, it was so real. It felt like the most important moment of my life."

"Wow," Ray says.

Frank stares at Gerard's bent neck and feels shivers chase each other down his spine.

Gerard mumbles, "I still don't know why it was important. Maybe it will, like, reveal itself."

Frank watches his own hand on Gerard's neck and doesn't even know when he put it there. He manages not to jerk it back like a fucking idiot. Instead he is one smooth motherfucker and ruffles Gerard's hair, and Gerard twists his head around and grins at him. The grin's a little uncertain at first as if Gerard doesn't know what Frank's up to, but then it gets wider and his eyes crinkle up. Frank smiles back.

"That is so weird," Ray says and ruffles Frank's hair. Frank hopes it doesn't mean he has a crush now too.

Gerard's looking at him, bright-eyed, and Frank looks back and then--and he loves when they have these moments when their brains just click--they both go for Ray's 'fro, digging their fingers into the curls and dodging his flailing hands.

Ray yells "I wasn't even mocking your big moment!" in his shrill voice, and it's pretty funny, and Frank laughs and grabs Gerard's hand around a tuft of red hair. When Gerard stumbles on a chair leg and reels against the desk, some of the hair totally comes with him and Ray makes a sound kind of like when you step on a dog's tail, and throws his arms around his head.

"What the fuck, you guys?" Bob says from the hall.

"Sorry, sorry, sorry," Gerard breathes at Ray, handing him the strands of hair back like maybe he thinks they could be reattached. It's not a huge amount of hair or anything, but ouch. Frank doesn't mind having his hair pulled a little, but he isn't into having it pulled out.

"Sorry, sorry, sorry," he says, maybe kind of mimicking Gerard's breathy apology voice a little. Gerard twitches like half a smile at him, real quick.

"Just, seriously, stop molesting the hair," Ray says huffily. He's patting his fro gently, like it's a living thing that could, like, decide to eat him whole for revenge. Or maybe he's just looking for bald spots.

"Dunno," Bob says. "It's really inviting, man."

"Did you get your phone, Mikeyway?" Gerard says, wandering over to Mikey--but on the way he nudges past Frank and Frank feels his hand slip totally stealthily over the small of his back.

Mikey shows him, and Gerard frowns at the display and makes a face and Frank doesn't even want to know what a fucked up message from Pete Wentz reads like.

"Do you guys really wanna still be here at midnight?" Bob says.

***

"So, like, are you and Gerard cool now?" Frank asks Ray later when he's watching Ray recount the box of Steely Dan postcards--seriously, Steely Dan postcards, Frank can't even contemplate that shit--that Frank sort of nudged off the shelf with his elbow just as Ray was counting them for the first time.

Ray throws him a look full of reproach and flaps a postcard at him like Frank's a buzzing fly. Frank guesses he is being kind of a pest. He feels tense and crazy again so he can't fucking stop, though. He's been trying to avoid Gerard a little because being around him turns everything Frank does into something directed by the Farrelly brothers, and that's why he's chilling with Ray instead.

"That dude will never be cool," Ray says grumpily and tucks the box of cards back on the shelf. "It's good to see him, though. Surprise! He's alive!"

"Don't say I never did nothing for you," Frank says. He's like a couple stupid inches too short to see over the shelves, which is driving him just a little ape right now, because he can hear Gerard's voice but he can't see him. Obviously he could just walk over and be like hi you guys and elbow Gerard in the side and tell him to come out for a smoke and then they could make out a little or whatever but he thinks he's right on the limit of how far he can push it before he fucking snaps and rips Gerard's pants off.

"Do you need me to lift you up or something?" Ray says. Frank realizes he's been craning his neck.

"Yeah, lift me up and suck my fat one, Toro," he says.

"Stop coming on to me," Ray says. "I mean, you're an infant, it's gross."

Frank steps on his foot with his heel and grinds down, and maybe he does it about twice as hard as he would for a joke. Ray gives him a startled look but then he just shoves Frank away and rolls his eyes and goes back to counting.

Frank goes outside to smoke by himself, and he totally bangs the door shut on the way.

He sits on the step and smokes two in a row and just as he's taking the last few drags off the second one and contemplating a third for good luck or bad luck or whateverthefuckluck, he hears his mother's voice.

She says, "Put the cigarette out!"

He doesn't have to because he fucking drops it, that's how much she scares the living shit out of him. And his first thought is holy shit I could have convinced Gerard to come out with me, I was this close.

"Sorry, Mom," he says. He knows he's turning the burning red of caught in the act, but he's really so relieved he doesn't know if he can stand up. At least that itchy, crawling anger is gone like it never existed.

"Frank," she says. Somehow he was so deep up his own ass he didn't hear her heels fucking clip-clopping on the asphalt. The car is pulled over at the mouth of the alley. He squints and sees fucking George waving from behind the wheel of the car. Whatever.

"Mom," he says. "I thought I was calling you when we were done."

"That's what I said, yes," she says. "But I don't entirely trust you."

Since she has a fucking point there, he can't even be pissed off. It's great to be a lying little shit, it really is.

She holds out her hand. "You just go ahead and give me the rest of those cigarettes, Frank."

"You can use them for, um, scaring away ants and snails," he says as he gives her the pack. There are only like three smokes left anyway, he's not gonna cry about it.

"Very funny," she says.

"No, for real. Someone told me." Gerard told him, of course, while they were talking about--fuck, Frank has no idea how it came up. Gerard just tells him all this random shit and for some reason he remembers most of it. Gerard has, like, write access to Frank's memory database or something.

"Go get your things," his mother says, crossing her arms. "Why are you outside in just your t-shirt, Frankie? Do you really want to go back to the hospital again before school starts?"

He really doesn't, but he isn't cold, either. He almost tells her to fuck off because he's been around normal, non-parent people for too long today, but he stops himself at the last second. Instead he just mutters, "It's not cold," and kicks the door.

Ray opens and says, "You little shit, I'm pretty sure my fucking toe is-- Oh, hi, Mrs Iero." He goes bright red. "Sorry, Mrs Iero."

She makes this hilarious face combining the lemon face of Hearing Bad Language with the fond smile of Hearing Polite Young Men Respecting Her. Frank bites his tongue.

She says, "That's okay, Ray. I forgive you. He brings that out in people."

Frank ducks under Ray's arm, scoring a good elbow jab right under his ribs as he passes.

Ray yelps and shouts, "Seriously, Frank!"

"Frank!" he hears his mother's scandalized voice.

He walks right into Gerard, who's just turning into the hall.

"Ow," Gerard says. He got an elbow in the rib too. Frank puts out his hand and pats the spot because Gerard hasn't done anything to piss him off in, like, the last few hours at least. He's having trouble making himself stop touching Gerard, he notices next. Oops. Gerard's standing really still.

The door's still ajar behind them, Ray chatting politely with Mom, blah blah blah helping in the store, blah blah boring smalltalk, blaaaah, college blah.

Gerard whispers, "That your mom?"

Frank looks around. Ray's leaning against the door frame, but most of his head is outside. Hardly any hair is even visible. In the store, Bob and Mikey seem to be playing with Mikey's new phone.

"Shh," Frank says. "I gotta go, so." He puts his other hand on Gerard's waist and leans in closer and looks up. Gerard stares at him, wide-eyed. His fucking giant eyes are almost hard to look into, it's the fucking abyss right there.

Gerard slips his hand under Frank's and holds it. Frank thinks about Gerard and his most important moment with the painting, and feels dizzy and breathless and totally understands. Kind of. He doesn't think he'll get there with just an old painting, but obviously Gerard's brain just spins that way.

Bob says, "Seriously, that is some creepy shit," and Gerard flinches so hard he, like, scratches the back of Frank's hand with a jagged nail. Frank glances over at Bob who is totally innocently still talking to Mikey, and at his own hand which is actually bleeding a little bit. Jeez.

"You better kiss that shit better," he whispers, and Gerard looks down and lifts Frank's hand to his mouth, but of course instead of kissing it he licks the scratch because he is a freak. Frank shivers but he says, "Oh, no you did not."

Gerard grins and Frank shoots up on tiptoe and kisses him, really fast, really so fast that only dogs should be able to see him, but when he looks around, Ray is right there staring at them with his eyes fucking bugging out of his head again. He should get a bulk discount at the Shocked Facial Expression Store just for today.

This is totally the kind of situation that Frank thinks he could handle if he was alone--he is good at being a shitty little liar and he knows he can still stop his face from doing the guilty twitchy thing but there is no fucking point. Gerard couldn't hide his guilt behind an iron mask. In fact, he and Ray are having sort of an eye-bugging competition right now.

Frank says, "It's exactly what it looks like, Toro, and if you fucking tell anyone I will fuck you up."

"Frankie..." Gerard says, standing slumped like he's already resigning himself to, like, doom.

"Shut up, Gerard," Frank says, smacking his arm. "Toro's cool. Toro better be cool."

Ray seems to remember how to blink. And to close his mouth. "You guys," he squeaks, at a pitch previously unfuckingknown to man.

"Yeah, you guys," Bob says. When Frank and Gerard spin around to look, he and Mikey are standing almost right behind them, like they're all playing a creepyass game of Blink. Mikey is rubbing the bridge of his nose demonstratively.

"Goes for you too, Bob," Frank says. "I mean, I don't think I can, like, take you, but I will fucking try and you'll have to kill me and then you'll go to jail forever and they like blonds in there, you know they do."

"Uh, yeah," Mikey says, kind of quietly like it's no biggie. "I'm with Frank."

"With Frank, too?" Ray blurts.

Everyone turns to stare at him. Frank can feel the switch when the mood in the room changes. He thinks the first giggle is from Mikey but it's drowned out inside two seconds because everyone is laughing. Except Ray, who makes the 'what? what?' face for a while before giving up and laughing too.

"Great," Ray says after the laughter has petered out a little. He's wiping tears from his eyes. "Now I have to, like, bleach that image from my brain. I mean the creepy gay incest threesome... thing."

"Oh my god, Ray, shut up," Mikey mumbles, making flaily hand gestures.

Frank touches Gerard's hand. Not all in your face, like. Just to get his attention. "Don't freak out, okay?" he says. "It's cool."

"Okay," Gerard says, and maybe it is, although he's gone back to hiding behind his hair and looking down. His hand twitches under Frank's.

"I gotta go," Frank says, squeezing Gerard's hand harder. His fucking psychic mother yells his name just then. Shit. "Seriously, be cool. When school starts she's gotta unground me, just keep your shit together 'til then and I will too."

"You guys," Ray says. "You're holding hands."

"Okay," Gerard says. "Okay, Frank."

"Okay," Frank says. His mom yells again, starting to sound pissed off. "Bye, guys. Catch you when I've done my time. Sorry about messing shit up all over, Bob."

Bob shrugs. Frank makes himself let go of Gerard's hand. Wow, awesome how much he doesn't want to.

My life sucks, he thinks. Gerard smiles at him, well, sort of half-smiles because he's still got the big eyes of doom going, but Frank thinks he's kind of trying to look reassuring and, like, together. Pretty hilarious. Hilarious like a sucker punch.

Frank gets his hoodie and shrugs it on, and gets the fuck out before his mom pitches a real fit.

***

Sunday

On Sunday Mom makes him stay after Mass and she actually tows him up to Father Leary herself and tells him to fire up the Confessomobile. Only she doesn't call it the Confessomobile. Father Leary gives Frank an eyebrow and Frank shrugs all whatcha gonna do?

He starts with, "So that whole honor your mother thing, I'm working on it but it's gonna take some time to, um, get it right."

"Are you sure you're actually working on it? Sin is the easy path, that's why it's so popular."

"No way, sin is a lot of work too, you don't even know." He's already feeling claustrophobic as fuck in here, shut in and jittery. He pulls his feet up on the bench and then he tips forward and ends up kind of crouched on it, perched like a bird. Or a monkey, more like a monkey. When he grabs the edge for support he puts his fingers in someone's gum. Gross.

"You guys should clean in here a little more often. This box is seriously kind of skanky."

Father Leary isn't interested in hygiene issues. "I suggest you start your work by being honest with your mother."

"Yeah, that'll turn out great," Frank says, swaying slowly on his perch and trying to pretend he's sitting on a branch of some tall tree on the top of a mountain. It would be pretty awesome to be an eagle. Or even a monkey. "Mom don't really want complete honesty. Seriously. She would have me committed."

"Perhaps you underestimate her."

"Perhaps you underestimate how much she doesn't like to think about me having sex."

Later when he's doing his fifty million Hail Marys, Mom kneels next to him and does a whole bunch of her own, and he really wants to ask what it is she's done that's worth as many Hails as gay sex.

"They have a little group here the last two weeks before school," she says when they're walking out. "For high school students who have some trouble adjusting, who need guidance to feel motivated."

"And?" he says, although obviously he sees where this is going.

"You could spend your grounded time there instead of at home. It might stop you going stir crazy."

Frank has his doubts, but okay. Maybe he can convince Mikey to go too. Mikey might need some guidance to feel motivated, actually. It'd be like a good deed to make him come. And then Gerard would have to drive him...

"Okay," he says, and Mom gives him an 'oh really?' look like she's trying to figure out his angle. She's absolutely fucking on to his game. Or at least on to the fact that there is sure to be a game.

Saturday night wasn't as awkward as it could have been but the disappointed looks were always the worst part of pissing off Mom, so Frank hid in his room the whole time and practiced the art of jerking off in silence, and in the morning when he woke up he threw up from nerves and didn't even really know what he was so nervous about. Now he's feeling kind of better. Maybe there is something to this religion thing after all. Maybe God has healed him out of mercy and grace and that kind of shit.

But he chews on his already-bitten-down nails the whole way back home and when Mom says, "Frank, are you feeling okay?" and he jumps like she poked him with a needle, he realizes that he's back in the bad, tense place again.

"'M fine," he mutters. He's not sure why he's going crazy now--he saw Gerard yesterday, and he slept pretty well, he thinks, doesn't remember any stupid nightmares about spider monsters or being naked in school or anything, and still. And still. He feels fucking... fucking foreboding.

Fucking George has the radio on but it's quiet and Frank can't even hear what song is playing. He leans against the seat, tipping his head back as far as he can and stares up. The sky is overcast, completely steel gray all over except for patches of black where small angry clouds kind of duck underneath the big layer. The small angry clouds are moving fast, like cars chasing each other across a blue-gray desert in some movie about outlaws on the run.

George turns onto Burns which goes right through a nice neighborhood full of trees and huge houses with faux-antique looking iron gates. Frank's view of the car chase clouds is cut up by branches and leaves, black against the sky. He has never seen a desert. He thinks he'd probably like it. He gets cold really easily but he likes heat, he likes the sun. Gerard would hate it. If they were on the run, say in a stolen car or something like that, driving across the desert, some desert, kicking up a huge dust cloud behind them, they'd have to drive at night because Gerard would want to hide out in a cave or something in the daytime.

He has to ask Gerard if he's ever been to, like, Arizona or Nevada.

He doesn't even realize that Mom's talking to him again until she yells his name. What the fuck? "What?" he says.

She shakes her head, again with the disappointed look. "I don't know what to do with you," she says. He doesn't know either. They're really kind of working the same dialog over and over like in drama class. Now do it again but as a middle-aged black woman.

"Sorry," he says and kicks his own ankle over and over. As soon as they get home he runs upstairs to his room and runs right into the wall, sort of on purpose in that way where it seems like the thing to do right until it's too late to stop from slamming into it.

He's bitten his lip bloody, so he sits on the floor and licks at the blood and that makes him think about Gerard licking the blood off his hand. The little scratch is hardly there now because he disinfected it when he got back yesterday. He's maybe a little twisted but he's not crazy. He read somewhere that the human mouth is basically a pit of filth and grossness no matter how much you brush your teeth, and Frank really doesn't want to die of gangrene.

He rubs the scab and leans against the wall and waits for his head to stop spinning. Running face first into the wall is kind of a stupid stunt, he thinks. He once saw Pete Wentz do it, that's the kind of stupid stunt it is.

He should ask Mikey how his Pete thing is going.

He goes downstairs. Mom and fucking George are watching Fox News, the losers. "Can I make a phone call?" he asks. "I just--" He forgot to make up some kind of cover story. Just wanting to fucking talk to someone isn't going to cut it.

"Who?" Mom says. "What was that crashing sound, Frank? Did you throw things around again?"

"Yeah," Frank says. "I'm just feeling a little, you know. Jittery."

"If you have a zit don't pick on it," she says and he has a blank little second before he realizes that she means the cut on his lip.

"I just want to call someone, okay?" he says, biting the sore spot and trying to look pitiful and not like a boiling pan of arrgh. "I know I probably don't deserve it, but--"

"Yeah, you probably don't," she says, her mouth doing the thin line of anger thing.

"Linda..." fucking George says, putting a hand on her knee. "Maybe--"

Out of, like, nowhere, the boiling pan pretty much explodes and he's got shrapnel all over. "Shut up, fucking George!" he snaps, and his head fucking pounds with the shrapnel of rage. His head is a thunderstorm. If he could shoot lightning bolts with his eyes, and he fucking wishes he could, George would be a patch of smoking grease on the couch. "Stay the fuck out of it!"

George flinches and yanks his hand off Mom's leg so fast her skirt rides up, but Mom is just as fast and yanks it right back and fucking bellows, "That's enough, Frank!"

Frank's still got the thunderstorm behind his eyes but it's receded just enough that he can feel the cold rain of oh shit too. That just makes it worse to try and hold it all in.

He kicks out wildly and hits a table leg, and the table is this rickety little thing with a vase full of flowers and a lamp on it, and the whole setup falls over and the lamp bounces on the carpet but the vase falls on the lamp and cracks into a million pieces, splashing water and flowers everywhere. There's a flash of bright blue light and a loud zapping sound, and then the whole room goes dark.

Holy shit, Frank thinks. It's the seven years of bad luck. It's started.

He's still staring at the yellow afterimage of the flash when his mother shoots off the couch and grabs his arm, digging into his bicep with fingers like murder robot claws.

"It's enough," she hisses. "No more lip. No more tantrums. George is here to stay, and you are going to beg his forgiveness and you are going to church every day for two weeks and praying the Lord's forgiveness too, you ungrateful little shit."

It's not totally dark, obviously, but her face seems all shadow and also kind of tinted yellow right now, and her twisted mouth looks seriously scary and Frank's anger has shriveled and left him with nothing but cold, bright fear. He can't think of a thing to say, and he doesn't think he could say anything if he thought of it, even, because he thinks... he has never seen her this pissed off, or if he has he's blocked it from his mind, and he is pretty sure he's about one smartass remark from military school right now.

"Linda--" George tries again somewhere far away, but he's not even an issue right now.

"Not now," she says without taking her eyes off Frank. Her fingers dig in a little harder still. "Do you hear what I'm saying, Frank?"

He nods mutely.

"Okay." She takes a deep breath and lets him go. "Go to your room."

His jaw is so tightly clenched his ears are popping. He turns, and when he's shuffling out of the room she calls after him, "Remember where you get your temper from, Frankie."

And when he's halfway up the stairs he hears George say, "Linda, he's obviously going through something serious. Maybe you really should consider--"

And Mom cuts him right off with, "He doesn't need a shrink, he needs an exorcist, George."

Frank slinks up the rest of the stairs and crawls into bed and pulls the sheets over his head. Now his face hurts and his foot hurts and his stomach rolls crazily and it hurts, sharp and mean like he's swallowed acid. Maybe he really needs an exorcist. Maybe he and Gerard both need one. Maybe that's what this whole thing is, demonic possession. Makes you crazy and angry and really fucking stupid. And sick. He climbs out of bed and shuffles to the bathroom, hunched over around the sour churning in his stomach. Hurling makes the nausea settle quickly but it still hurts, like a band drawn chokingly tight around his middle. He drinks some water and brushes his teeth and goes back to bed and tries to shut off his brain. He hates going over fucked up conversations in his head, he hates regretting shit he's done. If it's done he should just live with it, right? But he can't make it stop. If he could have just shut his stupid fucking face when it was spewing stupid, he could be talking to Gerard on the phone right now. If he'd just shut his stupid face he could be working shit out with Mom and maybe get out of being grounded before his fucking eighteenth birthday.

"Stupid motherfucker," he tells himself and knocks his forehead against the wall. Not too hard, though, 'cause he already has a fucking headache growing angry and loud in his temples. It's the thunderstorm again.

***

Monday

Apologizing to fucking George isn't going to be such a huge deal, Frank thinks. He just has to boil it down to basic reality: do it or never see Gerard again.

Mom takes him to church first thing, no breakfast or anything, and he spends an hour kneeling and picturing Gerard naked; longing for a cigarette; trying to say Hail Mary backwards without messing up; thinking about food; fighting down nausea; wishing he was high and could think this shit was funny; picturing Gerard in his Snoopy pajamas, sitting cross-legged on his bed sketching the leftovers of a werewolf dinner.

Mom is keeping communications to a bare minimum. She's got her own thunderstorm, Frank thinks. He keeps his head down around her. She doesn't look fooled by his quiet, though.

When they get back she says, "I'm going to work. When I get back, you will have apologized to George from the bottom of your heart and made him feel okay about being a part of this family."

That's kind of a tall order, taller than fucking Gabe Saporta. What he wants to say is, how the fuck am I gonna do this when I'm not even okay with being a part of this family? But that little race car cloud of annoyance floats away really fast when it spots the fear around the corner.

So he just nods. She looks at him for a while and her face is creepily expressionless. He worries that she's developed some kind of superpower overnight, like maybe she's stapling his soul to the inside of his chest right now, and if he sins during the day it'll tear bleeding holes in, like, his lungs and he'll choke on his own blood.

Wow, he thinks, that's a good one. I should text Gerard, like--

He clenches his teeth shut around that stupid and pointless train of thought before it turns into anger, and nods at his mom again and stands still in the hall even after she's closed the door, even after she's pulled out of the drive.

Fucking George is noodling around in the kitchen, putting away shit or whatever, being disgustingly obvious.

Frank stares at the darker square of wallpaper where the broken mirror used to hang. "Fuck you too," he mutters at it.

Even though he's talked himself into it and everything, it's still fucking hard to, like, move from the hall to the kitchen. He paces back and forth for a while. He cracks all his fingers one by one, trying to make them really pop. He almost dislocates his left middle finger doing that, because it does pop, and then there's kind of a shooting pain and he can't bend it for a while.

Then he sits down on the bottom of the stairs and feels like a complete failure. That sting is pride fucking with you, he thinks. He needs to take Marsellus Wallace's advice right now and fight through that shit. Pride only hurts, it never helps.

Except. Except.

He bangs his head against the railing a couple times, but he can't do it very hard because that thing is fucking rickety, and the way things are going there's probably some kind of bad luck stored in railings too. And his head still hurts a little from all the abuse yesterday. He wonders if banging your stupid head against things to punish it for stupidity counts as self-harm like those emo chicks who are always carving themselves up with razors until they have scars in criss-crosses up and down their arms. He always thought it was kind of pathetic but what does he know, they probably have their reasons. He gnaws on the scabbed-over cut on his lip, and the bright little pain reminds him of Gerard for some reason. It's fucking exhausting to keep up with how his mind jumps around. He wants a fucking cigarette. Or coffee, he could drink some coffee. His stomach still feels unsteady and kind of flinches at the thought of coffee but every other part of him craves it so much he can smell it. The way to coffee is through fucking George, though.

He looks up, full of determination and motivation and other coffee-induced things, and there's George, and coffee.

Fucking George is standing in the kitchen door holding two big mugs, one red, one blue. Those mugs belong to Frank and his mom--they were presents from Grandma one Christmas. Red for Mom, blue for Frank. George is filling up the whole doorway like a big blond buffalo.

"Um, Frank?" he says.

Frank stares him right in his big blond face. George is sporting a little stubble this morning, kind of reddish blond, like Bob Bryar's beard. George is about twice the size of Bob Bryar, though, and like twenty times less awesome.

"I made coffee," George says, holding up the mugs. "Do you want some?"

That's a really fucking stupid question, but it's still hard to answer because the answer is YES GIMME but Frank is still battling with that sting of pride. That coffee comes at a price.

"Look, Frank," George says, kind of slumping, if you can say slump when he's still seventeen feet tall even when he's not squaring his shoulders. Actually his shoulders are square even when he's not squaring them, and what's up with that? There, that reminds Frank of Gerard too, because Gerard always stands like his spine is made of rubber, his hips pushed forward and his shoulders hunched. Frank's caught himself standing like that a few times, like his body is imitating Gerard for no reason.

George is, like, talking and Frank is zoning out thinking about Gerard's spine.

"--just talk about it, how about that?" George is saying.

"What?" Frank says. He honestly did not hear most of that, but the what? comes out all belligerent.

George sighs and looks briefly down at the coffee. "I'm trying to... clear the air. Get things out in the open."

"I got like no idea what you're talking about," Frank says, cracking his fingers again like a freak, even though he still can't move that one ring finger properly. "Start over, man."

George looks him in the eye and now he does square his shoulders, and it makes him grow to like eleven feet. "Just come into the kitchen, please, and we can try to talk. You don't have to apologize if you don't want to."

"Stop being so fucking nice," Frank lashes out before he even knows he's annoyed. "Stop fucking trying."

"Look," George says, scrunching his face up in a frown with some effort. That thing must be carved out of oakwood. "How about this? You stop swearing at me and I'll stop being nice."

"Huh," Frank says. But okay, he's curious for a second there, so he says, "Sure."

George smiles. His smiles always look stubbornly, idiotically good-natured. "Good. Okay, Frank. This isn't an easy situation to walk into for me. I don't know if you've considered it from that angle, but I'm deliberately sticking my hand in a real hornet's nest here. You're not the worst teenager I've ever met but you're up there. Your mother is at her wit's end."

He wanders over, maybe he's trying to do it casually but Frank notices that he kind of stumbles, almost stumbles, at least, on the spot where the carpet is uneven. He catches himself, though. When he hands Frank the blue mug, it looks almost like his hand is shaking. Frank takes the mug automatically, before he can even consider if he really wants to be accepting anything from George yet.

He scowls at the sweet, dark, beautiful surface and inhales and his face relaxes on its own accord.

"All this coffee is going to stunt your growth," George says.

Frank stares at him. He doesn't know if he should laugh or throw something. "Are you picking on me 'cause I'm short?" he says, and now it sounds like he's just kidding, like they're just fucking around, like they're buddies.

George doesn't hear it, though, and his Serious Non-Nice Business facade cracks, like, immediately. "No!" he says, all shocked. "I'm just worried."

Frank looks at the coffee again and breathes, and mutters, "Oops."

"Now, where was I?" George says as if he didn't just fucking show his bluff. "You're rude and sullen and so defensive that talking to you is like a contact sport. If I didn't love Linda so much I would have left a long time ago. Do you understand me here, Frank?"

"Putting up with me because Mom is so great, got it," Frank says.

George's shoulders slump again and he makes a gesture with the red mug, like the hand part of taking a bow. "What did I say, contact sport."

I'll show you contact sport, Frank thinks, but even in his inside voice bravado it's kind of lame because the only contact sport Frank's ever scored at is, like, awesome sex and that's just because Gerard taught him how. Fucking George could fucking puree him without even breaking a sweat. Without putting down the coffee.

"I haven't asked Linda to marry me yet," George says. "She wants to get married, she's made it clear. But I'm waiting for you."

"You're not fucking marrying me," Frank says, trying to scrape really gross images from his brain.

George's face kind of tightens up. "Don't play stupid. You're not." He sighs and takes a sip of the coffee. Automatically, Frank does too, and then feels kind of dumb. But coffee. He takes a bigger sip, a gulp really, ignoring how it's scalding his mouth, while George says, "I was waiting for you to work out your problem with me, but these last few weeks I've started to think you might not be able to."

"Yeah, I heard you want to take me to a shrink."

"I don't think you're crazy," George says quickly.

"Whatever, I'm not worried about that. Nothing weird about being crazy." Okay, that came out kind of wrong since the craziest person Frank knows is Gerard and Gerard is certainly really fucking weird, too. "I mean, I'm not like, being all defensive here. I know getting therapy doesn't mean you're crazy, I read those little info things too. You can stop with the psych babble, like, now."

"I don't know how to say this to you," George says. He makes another gesture with the coffee mug, kind of a helpless little wave. "I'm worried that you don't have an adult person in your life to confide in without pressure."

This is always the fucking angle. Frank is on his feet so fast he gets hot coffee all over his hand. It burns but he totally ignores it. Pain, whatever.

He says, "And that should be you, right?"

George doesn't back away. He looks down at Frank from up on high and maybe he's trying to use his creepy pale blue eyes to hypnotize him or something because he's not looking away for a second. "For example," he says. "Because I'm not your father or your mother or your priest."

"Yeah, exactly," Frank says. He needs to put down the coffee before it goes flying, but he doesn't want to take his eyes off George. "You're nothing to me, you're just some dude who's boning my mom."

George stays where he is but there's something careful in the way he speaks, words coming out like a mongoose circling a snake, waiting for the strike. "Do you... Do you feel like I'm coming between you and your mother?"

"Whatever," Frank says. He wants to scream it, like a little kid throwing a fit, whatever whatever whatever whatever. The tension is bubbling up again, making his hand clench around the mug. His knuckles are smarting where they're pushed against the hot side of it. He feels like he's been hooked up to electricity, he's so jittery. It's taking everything he has to stay still.

"I do think you might benefit from some therapy," George says, lowering his voice a little. "Just as an outside perspective on your situation."

Frank's hand is really burning now, and he is going to have to give up and put down the fucking mug at any second. George is still looking kind of calm even though he's totally nervous. But he's not splashing coffee everywhere. He keeps taking little sips. Frank says, "What the fuck do you know about my situation?"

"Just an outside perspective, Frank. No details, of course, just the symptoms. It doesn't take a therapist to see that you're struggling with something big."

The bubble bursts suddenly and violently into laughter because, yeah, fucking hell, struggling with something big. He drops the mug. He feels it slipping and he can't even make his hand move to try to save it, he just folds up around his laughter as coffee splatters all over his sneakers and his church pants. "Aw, jeez," he gasps between giggles, and digs his fists into his stomach. It hurts to laugh, it's like the sin staples are in there too, shredding his stomach lining and letting acid seep into his body. He's pretty sure he's about to vomit.

"Frank?" he hears George's voice from somewhere high above him, and he notices that he's on his knees, curled up into a ball. He smells nothing but coffee everywhere. "Frank? Frankie? What's wrong?"

Then there are big hands on his shoulders and big feet in his field of vision, soles squelching in the spreading coffee stain on the carpet. Frank leans his head against George's jeans-clad shins and tries to breathe.

"Just the-- just--" he tries to say, but instead of finishing the sentence, he retches violently and throws up a thin stream of bile and coffee on George's shoes.

The nausea settles immediately, satisfied with the little sacrifice to the gods of vomit. His abs tremble with the effort of bringing even that much up and there's a burn all the way down his throat, turning into a kind of cramping, throbbing pain in his chest and stomach. He spits a little weakly and tries to breathe through his mouth.

"Jesus, Frank," George says, still clutching at his shoulders. "Do you need to-- Should I take you to the emergency room?"

"Nah," he says, screwing his face up. It's really no fun barfing on an empty stomach, it's like being wrung inside out. He's been around this block before, though. It'll settle after a while. Unless he's actually given himself an ulcer or something. That'd be pretty typical the way things are going. He's not sure not-quite-sixteen-year-olds can get ulcer, but if they can, he's probably a fucking prime candidate. He stares right ahead, trying not to move. He mutters, "Maybe you should change shoes, though."

"Can you stand up?"

Frank thinks about it. His thighs are shaking. He's kneeling in coffee and barf and the arm he's leaning on feels numb and weak. "Don't wanna."

"Okay, okay," George is saying, moving his hands. "I'll just put you on the couch for a while and get you some water, okay?"

He doesn't wait for Frank to say yay or nay or anything, just lifts him up like he weighs nothing and carries him to the livingroom.

"Don't do that again," Frank says after he's on his back, his head sinking into a pile of cushions. "Don't lift me up. I'm not a fucking monkey."

"I'm sorry," George says, and he pretty much looks sorry, and totally freaked out. "I just didn't want you to sit in the throw-up."

Now that he's horizontal and taking long, slow breaths, the dizziness and pain are fading and he's almost feeling normal. He calls after George, "I'm not sick, it's just--" He snaps his mouth shut around 'nerves' because weren't they having this huge facedown and shit just now? He considers. Well, what the fuck. "I just have a nervous stomach, it's like genetic. My dad's like that too."

George comes back with a glass of water. He's stirring something into it with a spoon. "I put some soda in this," he says. He also hands Frank a box of Kleenex.

Frank wipes his mouth and drinks the water and feels weirdly comfortable with lying here like a lump. Then again he's pretty used to being incapacitated. Not like there's much point clinging to his pride now.

George sits in one of the easy chairs and tries to be, like, not totally obviously freaked out. He's taken off his shoes and socks. His feet are, like, huge.

"You have totally giant feet," Frank says.

George looks down. "Just size twelves."

"Like I said." He wears a six and a half. He closes his eyes for a second, just a second, but he must have dozed off because when he opens them again, George is slouching in the chair reading Crime & Punishment.

"You can't like that thing," Frank says and George jumps like a feet in the air and drops the book.

"Um," he says, fumbling for it. "I do, actually."

"But that guy Raskolnikov is the whiniest moron ever invented, he's like the Spider-Man of Russia, except he doesn't even have any actual tragedies to whine about. What is his deal? Don't answer that."

George smiles kind of hesitantly. "Okay." He seems to have lost all determination to Have A Talk, like he thinks maybe he'll make Frank spew blood or something with a harsh word. It kind of makes Frank want to talk just out of contrariness. He's hungry now, and thirsty, and still a little tired.

"Okay," he says. "Three guesses, dude. What's wrong with me?"

"What?" George says. Another glacially slow frown is spreading over his face.

"Hey, I'm giving you a total prompt here," Frank says, fighting himself upright, a battle with the tempting softness of the cushions. "'Cause you're being a sport about me getting vomit on your shoes. Three guesses, come on."

George leans forward a little and looks at him, like, really looks at him as if the answer is printed in tiny text on Frank's forehead or something. "Fair enough," he says after a while. "Guess one... trouble in school, and you're afraid of going back, and it's making you lash out. I'm starting with the obvious ones," he adds.

"Fuck no," Frank says. "I can handle school." It's only half a lie. He'll get stomped as usual and it'll be a drag and kind of hell, but it has hardly entered his mind in the past month or so. He can deal with that bullshit, it's not even important.

"Hmm," George says. "Was I even close? Warm or cold?"

"Kinda lukewarm... ish. Lakewater-warm. I don't care about school."

"Okay. Guess two. Um, guess two..." He's making the same thoughtful faces as he does when he's playing Scrabble. Then he has it, and the expression solidifies into this kind of mild concern. "Guess two, sexual identity."

Frank knows he hasn't moved a single face muscle, but he thinks he might have given it away with how it takes him like a second too long to react. He's still cycling through options when George says, all careful and neutral, "You don't have to tell me, Frank."

The fucker is totally smarter than he looks. Frank's stomach twists again, just a little warning squeeze, all watch it, I can still erupt.

"I'll just--" George says, making like he's going to sneak out.

"No, wait," Frank says, waving his hand. "I'm not that much of a fucking pussy."

George just waits, all patient and shit, all 'here is my listening and understanding face.'

"You know Mom would freak out, right. I mean, seriously, terminally freak out."

"I believe you're right," George says carefully.

"So this is absolutely one hundred percent between us." This is so stupid, he thinks. This is like jumping off a bridge trying to hit an air mattress in the water level stupid. "Seriously, she finds out, I run away. I'm not going to fucking deprogramming camp."

George looks kind of taken aback there. "She wouldn't--" he goes. He's obviously a fucking liberal Catholic. Frank's never really paid attention to Mom and George's talks about, like, politics or whatever. They must have them, right? Does Mom even realize she's hooking up with a liberal?

"I'm not sticking around to find out, dude," he says. "She's an old-fashioned kind of chick, you gotta know that."

George is rubbing his stubble like he's trying to play shrink for real. "Perhaps," he says.

"Plus, that's not the actual problem anyway, it's just the beginning," Frank says. He feels strange and floaty like he's been filled up with bubbles. Nothing really hurts right this second except his head a little. He doesn't feel very well, though. "Wanna spin the last guess while you're winning?"

"Love," George says immediately.

"You're a fucking genius," Frank says. He fights the bubbles and gets to his feet. He needs a proper nap so bad. "That's all I'm gonna say about that. Thanks for the chat," he tells George and slaps him on the shoulder. Fucking surreal. The whole house is starting to look weird to him now. George looks like a stranger, like someone who doesn't even belong in this time, like a time traveler from somewhere in the past, dressed up in jeans and a t-shirt but fooling no-one.

He forgets to skirt the gross stain in the hall, and it's when he puts his foot right in it that he notices that George has taken his shoes off. His sock gets a little soaked but hopefully it's mostly coffee and not so much barf.

When he gets up to the top of the stairs he's lightheaded and winded. Jesus Christ. He fights his way out of his pants and his stained church shirt and tie--George has loosened the tie, too, it seems--and falls face down onto his bed and just barely has enough consciousness left to crawl under the sheets.

***

When he wakes up he's just come in his shorts but he can't remember what he was dreaming. Outside it's raining. He can hear it lashing the window panes and rattling on the roof. It's night and the only light in the room is lamplight from outside, shredded into tatters by branches and filtered through the curtains . His body feels slow and heavy, enjoying some nice post-fuck drowsiness, but his brain is weirded out because it feels like he should know what was going on. He's had like fifty bazillion sex dreams in his life--seriously, there was a time where he was changing sheets every night and it wasn't that long ago--and he usually doesn't remember them very well, it's totally standard, so what is his deal now? There's a nugget of panic growing somewhere in the back of his head.

He finally convinces his limbs to move and squirms out of the soggy underwear. He's still totally more than half hard and everything on him, even his stomach, the traitor, feels pretty much okay.

Mysterious ominous portentous vanishing sex dreams, what the fuck. He is not down with mysteries inside his own head, so what he does is rub his dick a little with the side of his thumb and think just the tiniest thought about Gerard. He really doesn't need a lot of imagination there, all it takes is, like, one mental image and it's all systems go.

He takes a deep breath and listens to the rain--it's reminding him of Gerard's wet clothes and what it felt like to press against them naked.

He's just decided to take his time and really work every crumb of anxiety out of his brain by way of a slow and lazy orgasm, and maybe practice that whole not-coming-in-his-pants thing at the same time when the door to his room opens, spilling buttery light into the gloom and almost scaring Frank into a heart attack.

"Jesus," he says faintly when he makes out George's broad figure silhouetted in the doorway. "What?"

"I'm sorry," George says, all quietly as if that's gonna be any fucking help at this point. "I didn't mean to wake you up. Linda took a double shift so she won't be back until midnight. Are you hungry?"

It takes Frank like thirty seconds to even reconnect to his stomach. It's not reporting any hunger but it's a lying sneaky bastard so he's not taking that as fact. "I don't know?" he says tentatively.

George might be laughing at him.

Frank makes an effort to take his hand off his dick without making it obvious that that's what he's doing. Then he considers the day, such as he can remember it. "I guess I never ate anything at all."

"Linda said there would be things you like in the freezer," George says.

"Anything's fine as long as it has never been on something with eyes, okay." Automatically, he adds, "And I don't mean potatoes," because every time he uses the eye argument on either Gerard or Mikey they will get on his case about potatoes because they are the kind of nerds who think it's the funniest shit ever and they also forget that they've said it like thirty times already.

"You don't like potatoes?" George says. Apparently he's not that kind of nerd.

"Can I use the phone?" Frank says, the anxiety still lurking in the back of his mind jumping forward like a ninja wielding blurted-out questions like nunchucks.

George's silhouette moves its wide shoulders uncomfortably, making the light flicker in the room. "Should I ask you who you want to call?" he says.

"No one surprising, just Gerard Way," Frank says. Just Gerard, just Gerard.

"Gerard Way," George says, kind of drawling the name. "He's the brother of young Mikey, right? The dark brooding one."

It's funny how calling Gerard 'the dark brooding one' is, like, the total truth but at the same time so completely inaccurate that Frank kind of has to choke down laughter. 'The dark brooding one' as a description really misses the point. The point of Spider-Man clocks and Ferrari blankets and Snoopy pajamas.

"Yeah," Frank says. The Ferrari blanket is a bad thing to think about, especially when he is naked under a thin duvet with George kind of advancing slowly into the room. He shifts uncomfortably and George stops and turns and flicks on the light.

"Sorry, sorry, is it too bright? You slept all day. I wasn't sure if I should wake you up, but you seemed so exhausted..."

Frank opens one eye. "It's cool, not like I have anything better to do here."

"Right," George says. He's folding and unfolding his big hands. "Right. Well. One good turn deserves another, as my father used to say, may he rest in peace. I will let Linda know that you called your friend, though."

It occurs to Frank that George probably knows that he'll get stuck in the doghouse right there with Frank for that, at least for a while. Mom working double shifts is like a thousand per cent less likely to accept deviations from the rules.

"So, um, yes," George is saying, shuffling backwards. "I will try to cook something. Or heat something, at least. You just call your buddy."

For, like, no reason that makes sense Frank blurts, "I didn't do you any good turn, though."

George stops in the door and smiles this weird smile. Like smug maybe, or satisfied or something. It's a pretty big smile. "Sure you did," he says.

***

It takes Gerard about five hundred thousand rings to pick up, the asshole, and Frank has time to get first tense, then outright twitchy and finally kind of fucking angry. Seriously, this could, like, be his one chance to use the phone unsupervised before he fucking turns eighteen.

Gerard answers the phone like a moron, too, all, "Uh?"

Frank says, "Jesus fuck, would you keep your phone somewhere you can actually find it?"

"Frankie," Gerard mumbles, his voice fuzzy and soft-edged. "I am like so fucking wasted right now, baby."

The tenseness and twitchiness and anger all spike like a revving engine. If Gerard's getting wasted, Frank should be there getting wasted with him. "Fuck," he says. "Motherfucker."

"Mikey's locked himself in his room," Gerard goes on, totally unconcerned. "Talking to whatsisface, whatsisface you know--"

"Pete," Frank says.

"For like an hour I fucking swear to fucking god. Frank, Frank, you should come over, I'm gonna have a Tim Burton marathon and it's so fucking uncool without you."

Frank pulls up his legs onto the bed, curling himself up. He's pretty sure he's being a total girl but fuck, Tim Burton marathons and Gerard drunk and rambling are a match made in the really awesome hell of so fucking funny you'll laugh 'til you hurl.

Again, Gerard says, "It's just uncool without you."

"Pretty fucking uncool," Frank says.

"Yeah," Gerard says and sighs. Then he says "Sigh." Then he giggles.

"I can talk on the phone, though," Frank says. "Fucking George is babysitting and he's being nice to me cause he wants to marry my mom."

"Uh, George..." Gerard says like he has no idea what Frank is talking about. "Oh yeah, Mikey says he's kind of a weirdo but pretty okay. It's funny cause you were always bitching about him like he's the fucking devil and George Bush, or the devil and Bush's unholy spawn or whatever. But I guess you have, uh... I guess you gotta have that perspective, uh. The fucking perspective... from the inside."

Frank stretches out on his back on the bed and turns his head to the side so he can rest the phone on his ear. Somehow he's still tired even after sleeping all day, and his stomach is twisting into tighter and tighter knots. He tries to not think about it and says, "I'm like... I guess he's okay. Things are weird around here, seriously."

"I had a dream where I didn't kill you, Frankie."

"Oh yeah?"

"It wasn't like any other dream ever. I always have nightmares but this wasn't... nothing happened except we were sitting in the forest, and the sun was shining between the trees and you were wearing that Batman & Robin shirt and I put my hand on your back and it was warm from the sun. That was the whole dream. It was like... It felt like... It just felt huge. I could smell, you know, the pine needles and the earth and everything."

Frank has to curl up again, pull his knees against his stomach and breathe slowly. Gerard's slow, slurred, dreamy voice is twisting him up like a rubber band and something's going to fucking tear soon, so fucking soon.

Gerard lowers his voice and says, "I knew I was dreaming. It was so huge, the forest was enormous. And we were so small, and so warm and... I don't know how it made me feel. I usually know. I painted it in the morning. Well, in the afternoon. Night. Anyway, I fucking painted it and I made two versions because I felt both ways, you know? One with more yellows that was happy and fucking full of... fucking promise and anticipation. And then with the other I, like, took out the sun because it was there too--I mean, that feeling was there too somewhere, underneath. Do you know what I'm saying? I feel like it's hard to say what I mean."

When he's super fucking drunk, Gerard takes a little longer to get to whatever point he thinks he has but the difference is actually really tiny. Like, academic. Once he gets going the only thing that gives him away is that maybe he stumbles over more words or he's a little slurred. When Frank is the same amount of drunk he can hardly get a word out without either tripping up and losing his place or just fucking giggling like a retard. Gerard is one fucking unstoppable blab machine.

Frank squeezes his eyes shut and says, "Fucking hell, Gerard, this sucks so much."

There's a short pause and he just hears Gerard breathing, these small snuffling sounds and a little cough, and then Gerard says, "I was thinking about summer before."

"Well, obviously," Frank says, although it isn't really that obvious because Gerard can dream about summer without thinking about it. Gerard can dream anything.

"About this summer, Frank," Gerard says, all urgently, his voice rising. "When Mikey and Pete were, you know. You know."

"Fucking like horny weasels," Frank says. He opens his eyes and looks at his fingers. He's chewed all his nails down, it looks kind of gross. He needs to file them or something. And paint them black.

"We were just sitting around watching movies and getting stoned and, like..."

"We could have been fucking like horny weasels too," Frank says and he chews on his thumb, just the cuticle because there's basically no nail to attack there.

"Always too late," Gerard mumbles. He's slurring more now, like he's run out of blab at last, like he wore himself out. "I'm so tired."

Frank rolls over and pushes his face into the blanket. The phone falls off his head and bounces on the cover and off the bed. Jeez. He crawls over to hang over the edge and pick it up and remembers hanging over the edge of Gerard's bed.

"--too much," Gerard is saying when Frank puts the phone back to his ear.

"What?"

"What?"

"No, I mean, I didn't hear you, I fucking dropped the phone."

"Huh?"

"I love you," Frank says, although it's kind of a weird place to stick that, when Gerard is being kind of a douche and Frank's hanging upside down. But whatever. He needs to. He says it again to make sure Gerard hears it.

"I love you, too," Gerard says, but he sounds distant, still slurred and kind of distracted. "Tell me something."

It sounds like there should be more to that sentence so Frank waits a while, but there's nothing but silence and Gerard's slow breaths on the line. He says, "Something."

Gerard snickers. "Fuck you, Frankie, what the fuck. That's pretty lame."

"You tell me something, wasted boy. If you're so fucking funny."

"The first guy I did it with was a Hill boy," Gerard says, just fucking rolls it out there like nothing.

Frank's voice is this fucking embarrassing squeak: "What?"

"Oh yeah," Gerard says, unconcerned, still distant. He's wandering down some memory alley, looking through the dumpsters or something. "Just before I went to college. The summer before, and I didn't tell anyone, not even Mikey."

"Wow, what--"

"Except Helena," Gerard barrels on. He's breathing faster. Frank opens his eyes and stares at the patches of light on the curtain. "After... like, after the whole... after they caught us, I went and fucking cried to her because I couldn't tell Mikey, I was too ashamed."

"What the fu--"

"I won't do that to you, Frankie. I swear, I won't let anyone fucking hurt you." There's a thump and some shuffling sounds and then Gerard's voice again, sharp and urgent, saying, "I promise."

Frank says, "I promise, too."

"No, no, no," Gerard says, "you don't get it."

"Fuck it, Gerard, I fucking promised," Frank says sharply. "You fucking need protection too, you fucking idiot."

He's pretty sure Gerard is right, he really doesn't get it. He doesn't want to ask what he's talking about, though. Not when Gerard's this wasted. It seems wrong to push because it'd be like cheating, to get Gerard to tell secrets when he's drunk and doesn't know any better.

Gerard's moved on already, he's giggling again and going, "You sound like, like, well, not like my mother, but like a mother, chicken mother."

"Gerard, fucking stop drinking now, you're fucking hallucinating shit," Frank says and maybe he does sound a little like a fucking parent, but Gerard needs someone to kick him in the head right now, Jesus Christ.

"I'm not drinking," Gerard says. "I didn't... I don't think I drank that much, I just forgot that... oh, that's what I was saying, you know how Xanax and booze kind of... yeah, it's a funny ass feeling. I'm probably gonna puke soon. I didn't remember, but I was feeling like pretty fucked up earlier because Mikey was pitching a fit like Mikey pitches fits all quietly but I can tell."

"Uh," Frank says, but Gerard isn't done.

"And he kicked me out of his room because he had to call Pete but he was like almost crying and I wanted to hug him so instead I took a couple and tried to play Halo. I got like so totally killed every other second and then I burned myself on a cigarette like an asshole and that's when I knew the day was like a total waste so I had to steal Ma's fucking gin and I fucking hate gin." After a small pause he adds, "Ma hates gin, too, so I don't even know who bought that shit."

"Maybe--" Frank tries.

"Probably because if no one likes it no one will steal it. Guess that didn't work. Seriously, I'm gonna fucking hurl. Ew, shit. I can't get off my bed. I have to stop talking. I don't wanna. I love you so much."

There's a little sound and then complete silence and Frank says, into the silence, "I love you, too," even though he knows Gerard fucking hung up on him, the fucking wasted dickwad.

He drops the phone on the floor again and yanks violently at the covers trying to find an edge because he's cold and he doesn't want to get up. He feels about a million times worse than he felt before he called, but he also feels somehow better at the same time, like his two brain halves are going in different directions. He tries to picture that--the only way to do it is in a kind of lurid ultra-graphic comic book style with splashes of bright red blood and his eyes all bulging as his skull splits open, kind of Mad Magazine-y. If he could fucking draw he'd make it into a gift for Gerard. See what you do to me, asshole.

Way to make himself feel like a loser. He gets out of bed and picks up the phone and shuffles downstairs to give George a hand in the kitchen and maybe stop him from sneaking red meat into the food. Total moratorium on Gerard-brooding for the rest of the night, he decides. Maybe if he's nice, George will let him have his computer for a while.

***

Tuesday

Tony Santos is attending the motivational church group for assholes and delinquents. "Oh hi," Frank says and sits down three chairs to the left of him. "You don't have motivation either?"

There are only a couple other kids there, nobody Frank knows, so Tony shrugs and says, "I have motivation. And a whole lotta D's."

Frank's got himself a whole lotta A's and B's after summer school so it's actually beyond unfair that he's here. He doesn't think his motivation will be improved by holding hands and singing hymns and praying for guidance.

"My Lord won't ya gimme a whole lotta A's," Frank hums but Tony just looks blank. Then the rest of the assholes and delinquents start coming in and it's like fifty-fifty weirdos and nerds, and no-neck football jocks which is basically the whole problem with school in the first case. Tony moves another seat away from Frank to sit next to Nick Manzoni. Frank slumps in his seat and picks at his cuticles.

A freshman girl Frank vaguely remembers seeing a few times but has never spoken to sits next to him. Her hair is bright pink, which is kind of cool. She's put on so much black eye makeup that Frank can't quite make out her actual eyes in there. "Hi," she says and smiles. She's twisting her hands together and her face is splotchy red. "You're Frank, right? You're like friends with Mikey Way."

"Yeah," he says carefully. She looks like a total reject but sometimes the rules of popularity are more complex than that. Like, if she's rich she might be one of Them even if her nails are bitten down and her mascara is clumpy.

"Do you know if he has a girlfriend?" she says, and now he notices that she's doing that thing with her hands to stop them from shaking.

Oh, Jesus. "Um," he says. She's practically digging claw marks into her own palms there, and he totally feels her, he knows what that sickly excitement is like, totally, but on the other hand, what the fuck is he supposed to tell her here? "He's kind of... um. I'm not sure? He had this... thing."

She giggles, so shrilly he has to lean away a little. "Oh. I mean, what does that mean?"

"They might not be broken up, I guess," Frank hedges.

"Oh," she says, all dejected. Frank feels bad.

Some balled-up paper bounces off her pink hair and they both jerk. Loud obnoxious jock laugh echoes in the room.

"Fuck you, assholes," Frank says automatically, not even paying a lot of attention, so of course that's when Father Leary and a sister Frank doesn't know come in.

"I see we have a lot of work to do," Father Leary says brightly. "You better start with talking about appropriate language, Sister Mary Paul."

***

There's a break after ninety minutes and Frank is just about to escape to lock himself in the bathroom or somewhere, anywhere, to get away when pink hair girl, whose name is Alicia, grabs his arm and says, "Wait, wait, Frank."

"Look," he says as gently as he can, "I don't know anything more about Mikeyway's sex life, okay? You have to ask him yourself or whatever."

"Whatever," she says. "I mean I know, I'll do that when I get over myself, you know? But I just wanted to tell you that those fucking limp-dicked football retards are totally planning to beat you up or something now."

He glances around and yup, the jocks are gathering, looking grim. Tony Santos is kind of trailing behind them. At least he has the sense to look a little sheepish, but Frank obviously can't count on him to do anything.

He backs against the wall and tells Alicia, "Better back off now or you'll get blood on your shirt."

She rolls her eyes and says, "That's real macho, Tiny Tim."

Tiny Tim? "Tiny Tim?" he says, incredulously.

"Hey Iero," Nick Manzoni says. "Your ho is taller than you."

Frank squares his back against the wall and says, "Oh yeah? Well, I think that boil on your nose is taller than me, too."

Alicia shoves him so hard he staggers to the side and goes down on one knee, and then she walks up and hocks a loogie right at Nick's stupid jock face.

Or tries to, because of course he dodges, he's a fucking football player and Frank's pretty sure Alicia has never thought very hard about the logistics of spitting on someone who's a foot taller. Frank could have told her it'd be useless. Nick doesn't beat up chicks, though, so he just kind of shrugs her off and keeps advancing, and Frank curls up on himself and puts his arms over his face.

There are no blows, so after a while he looks up and they're basically just standing there staring at him. Nick laughs. The rest of them laugh, too, as if they were just waiting for someone to show them how. Tony Santos looks almost guilty, but after a while he laughs too, the pathetic motherfucker.

"I don't even have to beat on you," Nick says. "That's good. We trained you good."

"Yeah," one of the other guys chime in. "Woof."

"Just leave him alone, assholes," Alicia says.

"Fuck off, goth whore," Nick says kind of distractedly and slaps Frank on the shoulder so hard he staggers again and barely stays upright.

***

They go and hide in the girls' bathroom which has a better lock, and Alicia says, "I can't believe how retarded they are, seriously."

"I got no trouble believing it," Frank says. He pokes his shoulder gingerly but it's not too bad, no worse than falling off his bike or that time he kind of fucked up the basement window slide trick and slammed into the Way house wall and bruised his entire left side.

"So how come you don't know if Mikey's got a girl or not?" she says, leaning against the sink and rubbing at the makeup around her eyes. He can see it sticking to her fingertips. She's got chipped pink nail polish on the nails of one hand and black on the other. "Don't guys ever talk?"

"It's complicated," he says.

"I heard this rumor he was dating a guy," she says. "I guess you don't know anything about that either."

"Where'd you hear that?"

She pushes herself off the sink. "Oh. My. God," she says. "He is."

"Look, Alicia--"

"The cute ones are always gay!"

"Look, seriously, Mikey is not gay!" Frank yells. "Uh, like, not completely anyway. Don't throw a fit."

"You will know when I'm throwing a fit, Frank Iero," she says, crossing her arms. "Better believe that."

Frank sits down on the toilet lid. Alicia leans against the sink again.

"The sister will think we're making out," she says.

"The jocks will think you're dating me and then you'll get more shit in school," Frank says, shrugging.

"I think dating Mikey Way would be good because it's like he's untouchable," she says. "I don't even know why. He seems so, like, dreamy or something? But nobody ever fucks with him."

Frank looks up at her. She's making a pretty dreamy expression herself. He wonders when she had time to get moony over Mikey. Like, was she stalking him in secret last year? Frank really doesn't remember seeing her around much. "You know why?" he says.

"No?"

"Everyone thinks his brother is, like, Ozzy Osbourne and will bite off their heads and drink their blood if they mess with Mikey."

"Oh shit, I heard about that! He's like this mental case or something?" She chews on one of the pink nails. "Mikey seems so quiet and, like, normal."

"Gerard isn't--" Frank starts but indignantly but okay, Gerard kind of is. He doesn't want to explain how Gerard is a mental case only not like people think. "He doesn't drink blood, okay. But it's good that people think he does, cause Mikey would have been so fucked in school otherwise. He doesn't really pay attention, you know?"

"I know," she says like it's the awesomest thing. She digs around in the pocket of her hoodie and produces a cell phone. "You could, like, give me his number."

Frank stares at the phone, and for a second he's this close to just snatching it out of her hand. Somehow his life has been reduced to this constant battle to get access to cell phones.

"Hey, Alicia," he says, totally casual and cool. "If I can borrow your phone I'll call Mikey and ask if he's single and then I'll throw in a good word for you."

"I don't need your help to get a date," she says, wrinkling her nose, but her hands are totally shaking again. He's so got her.

"You need help to get a date with Mikey Way," he says, holding out his hand. "Mikey's so spacey he might not even notice you're talking. Honestly."

"Fuck you," she says, but she gives him the phone.

He starts with Gerard's number even though it's kind of stupid, what with how Alicia is hovering over his shoulder.

"So who are you calling?" she asks.

"Shh." It's ringing and ringing. And ringing. Frank leans against the wall and tries not to look like wants to beat up somebody even though he really wants to. Fucking Gerard. "Fuck," he mutters.

"Hello?" Mikey's voice says, sounding grumpy.

"Where the fuck is Gee?" Frank says immediately, forcing himself to relax a little. He's getting Alicia's stupid phone all sticky and gross with his sweaty hands.

"Asleep," Mikey says. "Well, passed out, whatever. hmm, I think he might be just sleeping now."

Mikey sounds kind of fuzzy himself, actually, so Frank says, "Are you drunk?"

"Not as drunk as Gerard," Mikey says. "Cause he drank everything before I got to it."

"You are such fucking losers, seriously. I can't even get a fucking beer."

"Who are you talking to?" Alicia hisses and pinches his hand.

"Hey, Mikey," Frank says and she shuts up and backs off. It's like magic. "How did your phone call go yesterday?"

"What phone call?" Mikey says blandly.

"That phone call."

"Okay, I guess."

"That doesn't really--"

"I'm not trying to drink my sorrows away, so whatever. Stop trying to fix stuff. Try to fix Gerard instead, okay."

His voice is still bland and uninflected when he says that but Frank thinks he hears a little undertone of sadness there. But you can't tell with fucking Mikey.

"I would if I could talk to him."

"He took a bunch of pills," Mikey says. "I've been in here every hour to poke him just in case."

Frank rubs his eyes hard because they're stinging nastily. He has to take a couple deep breaths before he can say, "Just keep poking him, okay."

"Duh," Mikey says. "I haven't slept in like thirty hours I think. This is so fucked up."

Alicia pokes Frank in the side, looking apologetic.

"Oh," Frank says. He'd basically forgotten about her there. Fucking Gerard. "Do you know this chick named Alicia?"

"What?" Mikey says. "You mean Alicia Polito or Alicia Simmons or that other Alicia with the German name?"

"Hang on," Frank says and turns to Alicia. "Hey, is your last name Polito, Simmons or something German?"

"Simmons," she says. "He knows who I am?"

"Simmons," Frank says. "She's got pink hair."

"Yeah, I know her," Mikey says. "Not to talk to, I guess. I heard she got suspended for three days last year cause she skipped like a day and a half of classes to go see Morrissey in Newark that time. I don't even know how she got into the venue."

"For real? Wow." He looks at Alicia with new respect. He also remembers why Mikey couldn't go, it was like the week after the funeral and everything was crazy.

There's a bang on the door and Sister Mary Paul's voice going, "Mr Iero and Miss Simmons! I hope you realize your parents will be informed of this!"

"Shit, we gotta go," Frank says and slams the phone shut.

Alicia stares at him. "Asshole, what the fuck!"

"Oh, come on, he's like so easy if you're into Morrissey. Just quote him some lyrics or something. He'd sleep with Santos for Morrissey."

"Ew," she says.

"I will get the janitor!" Sister Mary Paul says.

"That's what Morrissey said too," Frank says and opens the door. "Sorry, we were just putting our clothes back on."

"Oh my God," Alicia says, sounding weirdly like Mikey. Made for each other, really, Frank thinks.

***

True to her word, Sister Mary Paul takes Frank's mom and Alicia's mom aside to tell them about the bathroom incident. Frank and Alicia sit on a bench in the hall outside the office.

"This feels weirdly familiar," Frank says.

"Yeah," Alicia says. "Do you get detention a lot?"

"It happens," Frank says. "So, like, I'll give you Mikey's number, okay? Don't call the one I called 'cause that's Gerard's. Like, his brother's."

"Shit, are you like friends with him? What's he like for real?"

"He's cool," Frank says automatically, before he realizes what he just said and kind of wants to laugh and cry at the same time. "I mean, he's not... He's... Um."

"Wow, you are like so articulate and smooth, Frankie," she says.

"Yeah, well, so's your mom," he says randomly, and then they both jump because there's like yelling behind the door.

It opens and Frank's mother comes out, her rage face on. She doesn't even look at Frank, she's looking back into the room saying, "I think you should think hard about what you're saying before you say it!"

From inside, Frank hears Sister Mary Paul trying to get a word in but Alicia's mom is on a bitch roll too. "I think you should keep your little brat on a leash!"

Frank notices that he has a headache. It's probably been building for a while but it kind of feels like it just popped out now, fully grown and digging its claws into his temples. He leans back and waits for the so-called grownups to get a grip.

His mother has stopped in the middle of the hall, looking like she's about to bring the smackdown. Alicia's mother is tall and really kind of stacked and wearing too much makeup just like her daughter, but there's no pink hair.

Mom says, "I don't have to listen to this."

Sister Mary Paul says, "Let's all just calm down."

Mrs Simmons says, "I will calm down when your son gets away from my daughter!"

Frank says, "Hello? Anybody wanna ask me about this?"

Alicia says, "We were hiding from the fucking jocks, Mom."

"Yeah," Frank says. "The boys' bathroom doesn't lock."

They might as well be yelling at a black hole to stop sucking up the universe. Mrs Simmons grabs Alicia and starts towing her out, and Frank's mom throws up her hands and says, "That girl is a foot taller than Frank! What's he going to do, stand on a stepstool to molest her?"

"I don't even like girls," Frank hears himself say before he can bite his tongue. Fortunately Mom is still being a black hole and ignoring him completely.

"There are always some discipline problems the first few days," Sister Mary Paul says, clearly trying to sound soothing. She does have a kind of deep, hypnotic voice. Frank almost fell asleep a couple times in there. "Before we can establish a routine. It's very important to grab onto these things immediately, and I assure you we will."

Mom sighs. "Frank is a handful, I'll be the first to tell you that, but I can't imagine he'd do something like that."

"What is it you think I did?" Frank says. "Because if I was going to try to pick up girls, church meetings wouldn't be the place I'd go for."

"Sometimes troubled kids might lash out in unexpected ways," Sister Mary Paul says. "We'll talk about appropriate ways of expressing difficult emotions tomorrow."

Mom looks like she's about to cry. "I don't know how to deal with him sometimes," she mumbles. "I'm sorry, Sister. I'm tired. I shouldn't have gotten upset with Mrs Simmons. She's a mother too. I understand where she's coming from."

That's surprisingly fair of her, Frank thinks. Now maybe she'll try and use this newfound empathy on him. He says, "Mom, I didn't do anything."

"Frank, please," she says quietly. "Just go out to the car."

***

Fucking George is sitting behind the wheel, reading Better Homes & Gardens.

"Trouble?" he asks when Frank slams the backseat door.

"Same shit, different idiots," Frank says. He's got ninety-nine fucking problems and being mistaken for someone who'd lock girls in bathrooms and feel them up isn't the most important one. He wonders how long it would take for him to run to the station. He might even get all the way there before he fell over dead from exhaustion. Actually, strike that--he might not even get out of the car the way his brain feels like it's trying to escape through his eyeballs. "Life's giving me a giant fucking headache."

"I've got some Advil if you want," George says, and Frank makes gimmegimme hands at him. George even has a bottle of water. "Your mother gets a lot of headaches, too."

"I know, I thank her every day for passing those genes along," Frank says. He sucks down water greedily. He didn't even realize he was thirsty.

Mom comes out still wiping her eyes and looking defeated. Sometimes she makes Frank feel helpless the same way Gerard does--like he should be able to help her somehow but can't even see where to start. He can't change himself into some well-behaved happy straight clone kid for Mom and he can't make himself older and wiser and stronger for Gerard so he's fucking everything up on both sides.

George gets out of the car and hugs her, patting her back gently and stroking her hair, and Frank feels a deep, nasty pinch of resentment. He looks down at his hands and tries to think happy thoughts. He tries to imagine Alicia and Mikey out on a date and almost works up a laugh because seriously, that would be the funniest shit ever. They'd end up mooning over pictures of Morrissey and then they'd, like, do each other's hair or something.

Then he starts to wonder what Pete would do if he found out about Mikey's hypothetical pink-haired date and the laughter dies a sudden death. Pete obviously wants to get back together with Mikey or he wouldn't be obsessing and sending creepy texts and driving Mikey to the bottle. There's always someone getting shafted, fucking always.

"--and her pink-haired slut of a daughter," he catches from Mom as she opens the door. "I was pretty much at the end of my rope there."

"Alicia isn't a slut," Frank says. "Don't make this about her because her mom's a bitch."

"What was she doing with you in the bathroom, then?" Mom asks, not even looking at him. "I swear to God, Frank, either you stop getting into trouble or we have to talk seriously about where to take this next."

"I didn't do anything," Frank says. "Would somebody actually listen to me speak for once?"

Mom says, "I'd say you've used up your excuse credits."

"Alicia has a crush on M-- this dude, she was just asking me about him! I was being nice. I was trying to make friends and be, like, social and well-adjusted."

"If you could make friends with some people who don't dress like prostitutes, that would be nice."

"She was wearing a hoodie!"

"She was wearing enough makeup to last the Pussycat Dolls a year!"

"Now, let's not drag the Dolls into this," George says, obviously trying to lighten the mood.

"Who was I supposed to make friends with, Mom?" Frank says, throwing up his hands. The Advil hasn't kicked in yet and his head is like a swelling, throbbing melon of pain. "In a group for bad kids, I'm just saying!"

"I don't know, Frank, maybe the boys, how about that?"

"Yeah, sure, because I'm such a sucker for punishment, I really love getting my teeth knocked in, I live for that shit."

"Don't be ridiculous, Frankie."

"Wake up, Mom!" he yells. "I'm the biggest loser reject in school! Mikey Way is the only one who'll even talk to me. People in the chess club think I'm lame and beat me up with their boards!"

That's not strictly speaking true. Frank doesn't know anybody in the chess club because chess club nerds are absolutely the most boring people on the face of the planet, but they'd probably think he was lame for not knowing how to play chess, so.

"Frank--" she says, and he really can't tell if she's working up to another bout of why-don't-you-get-your-shit-together or if she's about to ask him about the chess club maniacs, but he doesn't care.

"I'm small and weird and sick all the time and I can't shut up and once they decide you're not cool, you'll be not cool for the rest of your natural life. Jesus, it's like you never went to high school. Were you a cheerleader or something?"

"I was captain of the squad, actually," she says quietly.

Right now she might as well have told him she used to date Hitler. How did he never fucking know that? Maybe he knew it but never really understood it. Francesca should have fucking told him. "Then we should stop talking about this because you'll never understand."

She looks like she's going to cry again. "I worked hard for that spot, Frank."

"And I work hard to get through every day in one piece, Mom." Right until the cheerleader shock, talking about this with her felt kind of like a relief, and maybe he'd even thought it would change something. Father Leary always talked about honesty and stuff, maybe he had a point, like. But what a fucking crock of shit that was. Still he can't stop. It's like his mouth is now following some kind of self-destruct sequence. "I don't know about you but I'm not that jazzed about getting my head stuck in urinals. I kind of like to not be covered in piss."

"Frank, stop," she says. "Why would you say that?"

"You think I'm making it up!"

"Yes!" she yells. "Yes! I think you're making it up because why would you go through that and not tell me! It doesn't make any sense!"

"Actually--" George says, really carefully. He doesn't even try to touch her or anything. "Bullied kids rarely tell their parents or teachers."

"What do you know about this?" she snaps.

"I've read some studies. There's a lot of talk about this nowadays." He looks out the window and adds, "They rarely tell because they're afraid of not being believed."

Mom starts to cry like George pushed the button that says BREAKDOWN. She just crumples right up and covers her face and sobs, and Frank has to dig his nails into his arms to stop himself from doing the same.

"Okay," George says. "Uh, I'll just... drive us home now. We could all use some strong coffee."

And a bottle of Scotch, Frank thinks and stares hard at the back of the driver's seat.

***

Nobody speaks a word for the whole drive. Mom stops crying after a while but she stays slumped in her seat and keeps dabbing at her nose and eyes with a napkin. She gets out before George has even turned off the engine. Frank follows slowly, preparing to sneak up the stairs and hide in his room for the foreseeable future, but George taps him on the shoulder before he can flee.

"Stick around, Frankie," he says. He looks solemn and serious, like a big blond Jesus or something.

Frank still feels kind of way too close to tears for comfort. He needs to fucking lie down and not think about anything at all for the rest of oh, forfuckingever. "For what?"

"Just stick around, okay? She's not the enemy just because she was popular in school. Maybe this is a good thing, you think of that?"

"George, you can stop talking crazy any time, for real. She has no idea who I am, how is that good?"

"Just... give it a chance?" He smiles a little hopeful smile, looking dorky as fuck.

"Kum bah fuckin' yah," Frank mutters.

"That's right, kid," George says. "Then once you've made up I'll call for a group hug and we'll all live happily ever after."

***

Frank sits at the kitchen table while George puts on coffee and potters around like an overgrown house elf, getting cookies out of some secret hideaway and setting the table with the wedding china. The fucking wedding china, seriously. Frank considers telling him about how seeing it makes Mom make The Face of Thinking About Dad, but maybe she'll actually appreciate the thought. She's soft on George anyway.

Mom doesn't make an appearance until George goes to get her, and she looks pretty terrible, all puffy in the face and red around the eyes. She's cleaned off all her makeup and her hair is flat on one side where she's lain on it. Frank feels pretty horrible. What kind of asshole makes his mother cry this hard? He has to remind himself that she was harboring these totally unrealistic hopes for him and he was like destined to let her down. His life kind of makes sense now, in retrospect.

She sits down and grabs the cup of coffee almost before George is done pouring. She spills a little on her lap and doesn't even twitch even though she's wearing a light blue skirt that shows the stain like whoa.

Frank nibbles on a cookie. It's oatmeal and raisin, his grandmother's oatmeal and raisin cookies and he might as well be chewing on cardboard. He puts it down after a while. His stomach is giving him warnings but he's going to drink coffee anyway if it's the last fucking thing he does.

He feels like Mom should start because she's supposed to be the grownup here, but she still seems really upset and Frank can't stand the wait, he really really can't. So he says, "I'm sorry, Mom." He thinks he isn't lying. He's sorry he made her cry.

Tears well up in her eyes again and she reaches out kind of blindly and he takes her hand. She squeezes hard.

"How bad is it?" she whispers. Her voice goes kind of squeaky from trying not to cry.

He hesitates.

"Frank, tell me," she says.

"I'll survive, honestly," he says. "I'm not the only one, like."

"I don't want you to 'survive' or 'get through it' or something horrible like that," she says fiercely. "I want you to be happy."

"Mom, I'll be happy when I graduate. Nobody likes high school. It's like being in prison for something you didn't do and you don't even get to appeal."

George gives him a look. Maybe that was overdramatic or whatever, but Mom just squeezes his hand harder.

"I just... how didn't I know? I feel like the worst mom in the world."

"At least you're not a stuck up bitch like Alicia Simmons' mom," Frank says.

"She was a cheerleader, too," Mom says. There's a hitch in her voice and Frank thinks she's going to cry again, but then he realizes she's giggling. "She's three years older than me. Dated the quarterback and everything."

"You should be, like, best friends or something," Frank says.

"She didn't know I existed. I didn't get accepted on the squad until after she graduated. I think she married... I can't remember his name, but the quarterback anyway, right out of high school. Mr Simmons is her second husband."

"I'm sure she has a magical life," Frank says and Mom laughs out loud, tears still trickling down her face.

"I'll talk to the sister tomorrow, okay?" she says. "She should keep a better eye on what goes on there anyway. Who was bothering you?"

"I don't wanna name names," Frank says. "You know what happens to snitches."

"I'm sure I don't," she says.

"They get stitches," George intones. "That's also something that they mentioned in those studies. It's like the mob, really."

"Frankie," Mom says. "Honey, would it help if you went to Hill instead?"

"What?" Frank says.

"It's a much smaller school, maybe it'll be easier." She looks at him intently. "You'd tell me right now if there were problems there too, right?"

"It was okay," he says. "I mean, it was mostly not the same kids in summer school, I guess. So I don't know what the regular ones are like."

Gerard will pitch a shitfit if Frank ends up going to Hill for real. Total shitfit. Then again, Gerard isn't in fucking high school anymore, so he doesn't even get a say.

"But you think it might be better?" Mom sounds ridiculously hopeful.

"I kinda thought it was too expensive anyway," Frank says.

She scowls. "Your father will pay," she says. "Or I'll boil his bunny, I swear. He'll pay."

"Whoa, Mom, maybe start with just prank calls or something."

She waves a hand at him. "Don't worry, he'll support this. He didn't have a word to say anything against summer school, either. In fact he was acting like it was his idea. I got the feeling his bimbo might have made some remarks. I should write her a thank-you card."

Frank taps his fingers on the table and says, "It's just another couple years, I'll make it. Mikeyway's still there this year, he'll, uh, protect me." He almost laughs, but it's not actually as funny as it should be--he doesn't get harassed as much when Mikey's around because everyone either fucking likes Mikey and wants him to come to their parties, or they're a little scared of the Shadow of the Vampire, also known as Gerard.

Mom's obviously trying to picture what kind of help Mikey provides because she's wrinkling her nose a little.

"If you're sure," she says after a while. She drains her coffee in a big gulp. She's pretty much the same kind of coffee junkie Frank is. Then she says, "Oh, you know what makes me really happy, Frankie?"

"What?" he says. George makes just the right kind of coffee, strong and nasty like a jock on the warpath.

"You and George getting along. I'm not even going to ask how that happened, nope. I'll just be over here, trying to get the coffee out of the carpet." She smiles at them both. It looks just a little manic, what with the swollen eyes and tears still drying on her cheeks.

"Yeah, sorry about that?" Frank says. "I guess you have my blessing or whatever. Hope you crazy kids make it, blah blah blah."

Mom and George both laugh the awkwardest fucking laughs in the history of uncomfortable situations, like he just suggested they should go upstairs and fuck or something.

"Right," Frank says. "So I'll just go watch TV now. Okay?"

"Okay," Mom says, still smiling a little.

Frank says, "Okay," and leaves them to be weird without him.

***

Wednesday

When he wakes up at eight the next morning, his computer and his TV and his phone and his CD player are back in his room. It's kind of sad that he always sleeps like the dead because it would have been awesome to secretly watch them try to be quiet like it was fucking Christmas Eve and they were filling stockings.

He tries to call Gerard but it goes to voicemail.

***

Alicia is already sitting in the back row when Frank gets in, and she waves at him and kind of smiles.

"My mom is such a bitch," she says. "I can't believe her."

"It's cool," Frank says. "Don't worry about it."

He gives her a note with Mikey's number.

"Thanks," she says. "You're the man."

"Thank me after you get to know Mikey Way," he says. "He's a weird dude."

"That's okay," she says. "I'm a weird chick."

***

During the break he goes to the bathroom--alone this time--and calls Mikey. He's kind of been fondling his phone the whole day, feeling warm and fuzzy despite the voicemail setback. Gerard forgets to charge his phone sometimes, anyway. Especially if he's on a bender.

"What?" Mikey says in his hangover voice.

"I gave Alicia Simmons your number, hope that's okay. You can always tell her thanks but no thanks, right?"

"Yeah, I can always tell her thanks but no thanks," Mikey says.

"Is Gerard awake?"

"No," Mikey says.

Frank counts to three before he says, "How come?"

Mikey's voice gets mumblier than ever when he says, "I don't know, okay. He doesn't wanna get out of bed, I guess. He just turns over and falls asleep again, he's not in a coma or anything. He's just being, uh, Gerard. I don't know."

"Is he having nightmares or something?"

Put-upon sigh: "He always has nightmares, Frank."

"Jesus fucking Christ." Frank knocks his forehead against the wall a couple times, not quite hard enough to give himself a headache again. "Give it to me straight here, Mikes. What's going on there?"

"I don't know!" Mikey snaps, and Frank almost brains himself on the towel dispenser in surprise. When Mikey speaks again, though, he's monotone. "He's just getting himself as fucked up as humanly possible, as often as he can. It's not totally new and special behavior for him or anything, Frankie."

"Is it like a year ago?"

Reluctantly, Mikey says, "I guess."

"Fuck," Frank says.

"I'm too hung over right now," Mikey says. "I have to survive work today too."

"Fuck," Frank says again, but Mikey's already hung up and he's talking to dead air. He forgot to tell Mikey to charge fucking Gerard's stupid phone, too.

***

Gerard doesn't answer his phone or his emails all day.

"He's still in bed," Mikey says when Frank calls his phone again to ask what the fuck? "He got up like once to go to the bathroom and lift beer from the store room. I mean, seriously, he's not gonna listen to me when he's like this. I don't know if he'll even listen to you."

"But maybe he will?" Frank says. "Not that I'm fucking clutching at straws or anything."

"Well, can you come over?" Mikey says immediately. He's probably clutching at straws too. "He's like, I don't know, I think he's trying to fuck himself up for real."

Frank figures his problems right now are on two distinct levels: logistical and moral. Logistically speaking he doesn't know how to get out of his room. It's past nine o'clock, and no matter how friendly his mom is being she's not going to just let him waltz out of here tonight. Morally speaking it would be pretty shitty to try to sneak out now that his mom is being friendly. Pretty shitty.

It'd be pretty shitty if Gerard fucking... fucking drank himself into a coma or worse and Frank sat here the whole time twiddling his thumbs and waiting for permission to leave the building.

He does sit there for a while, not twiddling his thumbs so much as chewing his nails down to the bloody quick, his heart racing even though he's barely moving. How fucking stupid he's been the whole time, getting into dumbass fights with his mom when he could have fucking tried to play it cool and stayed on top of the situation.

"Boo hoo, sucks to be you," he tells himself, which is awesome, he's basically down to talking to himself now. "Whiny little bitch."

He puts on his headphones and listens to Black Flag loud enough to make his head feel like it's being attacked by killer robots. Maybe Henry Rollins will subliminally tell him what to do.

He wakes up four hours later with another fucking killer headache. At first he thinks he won't even be able to get out of bed; every time he moves his brain, like, squelches. He thinks he might be dying.

After a while he's pretty sure he's not going to die, so he gets up on shaky legs and walks to the bathroom really really slowly. He doesn't throw up, surprisingly. He drinks water until he can't drink anymore. Then he takes three Advil and drinks some more water anyway.

He sits on the toilet lid and waits for the pills to kick in.

If Henry Rollins actually told him anything, it's drowned out by how fucking horrible he feels. Then again, maybe that's old Hank's message: fuck you, kid.

He shuffles back to his room and opens the window and leans out. The street lights cast their sad piss-yellow light on the world. So close, yet so far away.

His phone rings and almost makes him fall out the window because he's still somehow wound tighter than Iggy Pop on speed. He also drops the phone under the bed when he fumbles for it, and has to get down on his belly and crawl around a little before he finds it again. He answers without looking at the screen, still under the bed, so when he hears Gerard's voice he hits the back of his head on the bedframe.

Gerard says, "Frankie?"

Frank says, "Ow, fuck." Then he says, "Oh, fuck, Gee."

Gerard is quiet, but Frank can hear him breathing on the line, kind of heavily like he's feeling sick (which he probably is, unless Mikey was lying) or scared, or just ran a mile. Frank lies totally still, ignoring the dust tickling his nose. He takes a quick breath when he has to, and then he's still again.

"Are you okay?" Gerard asks eventually. His breaths get even louder, like little snuffling gasps now.

"Are you okay?" he says. "Are you crying, dude?"

"Maybe," Gerard mumbles. "Yeah. I feel kinda shitty, I was like... asleep... or something."

"Mikey said you went on some fucking epic bender," Frank says, letting his head drop and pressing his cheek against the chilly floor.

"I think... I'm still..." Gerard says, trailing off for a really long time before finishing up with: "Kinda... drunk. You know that last gasp before it turns into the hangover. The time when the hair of the dog is looking really fucking... really fucking sweet."

"Uhuh," Frank says. He does know the last gasp. And he knows Gerard fucking loves the fucking hair of the motherfucking dog.

"That's why I called you," Gerard says. "I just wanted to... Fuck, what day is it? Fuck..."

"I don't fucking know, Gee."

"I had this total, like, stoned dream, before all the nightmares, I mean, just a sweet stoned stupid dream where I was like working on some big art project, like a real one, and it was so secret I didn't even know what it was until opening night and it was just your face over and over and over."

Frank doesn't know what the fuck to say to that because it's like kind of sweet but also totally weird and maybe just a little creepy. Also... "Before all the nightmares, huh?"

"I always have the nightmares," Gerard says kind of nonchalantly. He's talking a lot more clearly now, just a little nasal but not, like, all crying anymore. He's probably forgotten what he was crying about, he's got that tone he gets when he's looking inward. "I was just pretty stoked to have a stupid innocent dream for once. Pretty weird keeping secrets from myself, too."

He sounds okay, and Frank breathes slowly and regularly, counting seconds between inhales. He's gonna fucking cry soon, he thinks, that's the kind of shitty he's feeling, and hearing Gerard's scattershot patter is so fucking soothing and still really, shit, like rubbing it in that Frank can't just hug him or whatever, or throw a pillow at him or even just look at him.

"I mean, it was a pretty big exhibit, all done in this kind of edgy style, almost primitive, just these slashes of ink... pretty good, really, I should try to replicate some of them even though, I mean, I was like painting in the dream but I couldn't see what I was doing? It was pretty trippy, but I can remember the brush strokes... Like there's a pattern in my memory but it doesn't quite come together.

"After that it was just the nightmares, though, and this one-- I woke up, I think... I think I did, but I couldn't move, it was like I was trapped. I thought I was dead."

"Fuck," Frank says.

"I couldn't feel anything or move. Like I was tied to my body with just this thin thread, and it was kind of choking me, pulling me down and keeping me and I'd still be there as my, like, my flesh rotted and fell off my bones. I don't know what I'd be stuck to then--like, the dry bones? Or would I disintegrate with the meat parts? I thought I was screaming, like it felt I was screaming? But I asked Mikey and he said he didn't notice."

Frank says, "Gerard..."

"I just wanted to talk to you, Frankie. I don't even know what I'm doing. I've been thinking a lot about Hell and... what it might be, and about death of course."

"Gerard, Gerard," Frank says a little louder. He tries to move and bangs his head on the bed again. What the fuck is he doing under here anyway? "Fucking listen to me!"

Gerard's "What?" is distracted.

"Can you, like, keep your shit together until I get out of being grounded or do I have to bust out and slap your shit together?"

"I am keeping it together," Gerard says, and Frank can just see his fucking earnestly puzzled expression, like all who me? and just a second ago he was talking fucking shit about being dead.

It never felt this fucking scary to listen to Gerard ramble before, not when Frank knew he could just go over there and crack a joke and fuck around with old school console games on Gerard's computer or watch a movie or, well, during that brief time, fuck like fucking weasels.

He actually says, "ARGH."

"Seriously," Gerard says. "Don't worry, Frankie. Just, you know, I miss you a lot. A lot a lot. So that all the dreams are about you. Well, sometimes Mikey when I get worried about him, he keeps talking to Pete, you know? He locks himself in his room and talks to Pete."

"I miss you too," Frank says, and, "Are they like... back together or something? How are they gonna work it out?"

"I guess they're 'friends', whatever that means, you know. I can't even imagine. Pete's pretty cool, though."

That comes out sounding like Gerard's been, like, talking to Pete on the phone and Frank just barely recognizes the stab of fucking fury as jealousy. Hello. It's obviously crazy talk--Pete Wentz is not a threat--but still. Frank's two measly miles away but Gerard is chatting with fucking Pete Wentz.

"There's this chick at my church group or whatever, she's got this huge thing for Mikey. You think he'd be interested in a girl now?" he says instead of STOP TALKING ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE FOREVER. "If he's not heartbroken anymore, I mean. Is he?"

Gerard chuckles, that little fond chuckle he has for whenever Mikey is being really Mikey-ish, but when he speaks he's totally serious again. "I'm not sure. I mean... I don't even know how long I was asleep, or how long I was kind of uber-wasted before that... it's been... days? Fuck, I think I'm getting to the hangover part now. I need a fucking hammer to the head. Or a beer. Oh, Jesus fucking Christ. Fuck, Frank, I have to, uh, go... throw up now. Frank, Frank, I love you, I forgot to say that, but I don't forget, um, I feel it all the time. I think about you all the time, even when I'm trying not to."

Frank says it back but he's pretty sure the call's already disconnected.

The desire to just get over there is so strong for a second that he thinks he can almost sprout wings just by the fucking strongness of it.

Sprout wings or jump out the fucking window and run a couple miles just to pat Gerard on the shoulder while he throws up.

Not like he hasn't been there before. Actually he's pretty sure Gerard's done it for him too. There are a few nights from earlier in the summer that he's not totally clear on. His stomach is kind of weird about mixing stuff.

He crawls out from under the bed and brushes dust off his t-shirt. Then he closes the window, maybe with some excess violence and without even looking at the piss-yellow street light of no, you fucking can't.

He's cold now, so he gets into bed and pulls the blankets up to his ears. He still feels tight everywhere, spinny in the head and screwed up in the stomach and even his fucking kneecaps are trembling. He doesn't think he can sleep, but he just lies still and tries to think about quiet and darkness and night and stuff like that. Instead his brain keeps picturing Gerard painting, with his eyes whited out like that dude on Heroes. Gerard's kind of like that dude on Heroes, in fact. Only not, like, Hispanic. Or shooting up heroin. Or in any way ending up with his brain outside his head, ever, under any circumstances, fucking hell.

***

Thursday

In the morning, after the world's suckiest night, he feels kind of nauseated right up front, and he can't get anything but some mint tea down, and Mom takes his temp like three times and asks him even more times if he's feeling okay. And obviously he lies and says yes, fine, just slept badly, whatever Mom, blah blah.

"Just nightmares," he says.

"Why are you having nightmares, honey?" she asks. "Are you still worried about school?"

"I guess," he says.

***

"I texted Mikey Way last night," Alicia Simmons tells him first thing, leaning so close that Frank can see every clump of mascara clinging to her eyelashes. "At like midnight."

"What'd you say, ILU WANNA DATE Y/N?" Frank says, and it comes out kind of tired and cranky which wasn't what he intended really. Alicia doesn't seem to notice, though.

"Fuck off, that's what you'd say."

"Yeah, I would," Frank says, and that reminds him--he fishes out his phone, his precious, sweet, beloved baby, and texts Gerard: OK? PUT THE FKN BEER DOWN MOFO.

"He answered, too," Alicia says, sounding pleased. "He totally knows who I am."

***

In the car on the way back he somehow allows his stupid big mouth to ask, "When will I not be grounded anymore?"

Mom turns around to look at him, and she keeps looking for a good long while until Frank's fucking squirming in his seat. Fucking George is staring too, in the rear view mirror.

"I don't know," she says finally. "I'm just... worried, I guess. That turning you loose will just lead back to how it was--I don't even mean just the drugs or the sneaking out, but mostly the lying."

Now he's got his stupid big mouth on a real tight leash, so he just tries to look contrite and shuts the fuck up.

"May I come with a small suggestion?" George asks, and Frank tenses up. He wants to believe that George has his back, but he totally understands Mom here. It's fucking hard to trust people.

"What is it, darling?" Mom says without taking her eyes off Frank. Darling, huh. Cute.

"We could swing by the station and have a brief chat with Mrs Way face to face. Clear up things that may still need clearing up."

Fuck, George is a fucking genius. Frank is basically stunned.

"Maybe you're right," Mom says, tapping a finger on the armrest and pursing her mouth. "Yes, I think you are."

Frank is grinding his teeth together around his excitement. He's sick with it, basically. He hopes he's not actually going to be physically sick with it. His body has pulled weirder tricks on him, obviously. He tries to think soothing thoughts. He pictures the Misfits fighting Batman. Obviously Batman wins with his awesome gadgets. Even with fucking Danzig in your corner, you can't beat the Dark Fucking Knight with just some guitars and attitude.

"You can go see if Mikey is home, then," Mom is suddenly saying. "He lives upstairs with his brother, doesn't he? You'd think Donna completely forgets that Mikey is still a teenager... But I'm not going to say anything about that, don't worry," she tells George.

"So, uh..." Frank says. He's not even sure what the hell to say.

"You're still on probation, Frankie," she says. "But I don't want to keep you from your friends."

"Thanks?" he says. He must sound like kind of a dolt right now, he's just that surprised.

"Don't look so surprised," she says wryly. Frank sees George's eyes widen in the rear view mirror.

***

When George has pulled into the station parking lot, Frank is opening the door before the car's even in park.

"Frank," his mom says sharply and he counts to ten and steps out of the car slowly and carefully. She comes around the car.

He says, "Okay, uh... so how long do you think it'll take?"

The parking lot is deserted. The sky has clouded up and somehow come down to hover over them like it's about to give up and fall any time now.

"I have no idea," Mom says. "But you'll see us through the window, so--"

"The what now?" Frank says, but then he spots Mikey through the big display window, leaning his elbows on the counter and looking just as bummed as he always does about being there. "Oh. Um. Right. I might go up and see Gerard, too, though."

Mom's lips thin dangerously, and Frank has to pedal on immediately with, "I mean, yeah, totally, there's Mikey. Uh, like, I'll be around, don't worry, just do your thing. Make peace."

For a second she looks really fucking suspicious, but then she relaxes and says, "That's the plan."

***

Frank leans in through the station door and yells over the little bell chiming, "Remember that time my Aunt Francesca was here?"

Mikey jumps like a foot in the air and drops something on the floor behind the counter. "Fuck," he says morosely and disappears after whatever it was. His voice is dry like mummy dust when he says, "Yeah, I remember how you made me your lookout so you could fuck my brother."

"So, uh..." Frank says.

Mikey's head shows up behind the counter again. He looks kind of tired, dark rings around his eyes and everything. His hair looks like he just let it dry however it wanted, which is new. It kind of looks fluffy and wavy and shit. Frank totally understands why Mikey spends so much time fighting with it.

"Not that you'll be doing any fucking today," Mikey says, straightening up slowly. "But I'll look out for your mom."

"What does that mean?" Frank asks, but Mikey just shrugs grumpily and crouches down again.

Frank jogs across the parking lot, runs up the path, double-steps it up the stairs and slams in through the unlocked front door.

"Gerard?" he says into the gloom of the hall. He steps over the usual pile of sneakers and boots thrown all over the carpet. It always smells kind of like gym locker in here but it seems worse than usual today. Frank figures he just has been away from the gross ways of the Ways for so long that his hard-won immunity has worn off.

Gerard's door is closed, and Frank stands outside it for a second, feeling weird and unsure, mostly unsure why he isn't fucking barreling through that door. Hesitating because of his hesitating, or some whacked out circular thinking like that. He even thinks seriously about knocking before he gets his shit together and just opens the fucking door.

He must totally have some kind of mystical psi sense of impending doom because it's worse than he's even imagined and he was fucking right to hesitate. He must have felt the black cloud of misery through the door.

Gerard's room is obviously never going to be tidy, but now it looks like a movie set after a scene where Jason Bourne has schooled some other assassins hardcore. Frank tries not to breathe too deep while he notices the most extreme oh-fuck standouts: there are actual fucking slashes in the actual fucking wallpaper, like knife slashes. There's a broken bottle in a puddle under the desk. Everything is kind of covered in wadded-up sheets of paper. The bed is piled high with blankets and more paper and beer cans. Everything smells like vodka and puke and cigarette smoke. Frank concentrates on the smoke.

"What the fuck?" he says, kind of breathlessly, because... what the fuck? He wants to run down and punch Mikey in the throat. What the fuck, what the fuck?

"Mph," the pile of blankets says.

Frank realists he never took a breath again after speaking. His chest burns and his knees feel weak and his head swims. He sucks in air through his mouth and coughs because it's like fifty per cent smoke and the rest is thick and stuffy and he can smell the vomit even though he hasn't used his nose since he opened the door. He can, like, feel the stink curling in the back of his throat. He's not usually all pussy about barf. It's not like he doesn't throw up every other day himself. It's not like he hasn't been around Gerard's recycled booze before, but something's just making him feel like he's about to pass out.

"Fuck," he says, 'cause it's basically what there is to say.

Then he stomps into the room and yanks at the pile of blankets.

Gerard has curled up right against the wall. He's not actually choking on vomit, but he's, like, definitely spewed right in the bed and just turned around and pulled the blankets over his head. It's pretty fucking gross, and it makes Frank want to get the garden hose and just start spraying wildly around.

"What is wrong with you?" he asks, and it comes out kind of muffled because he's grinding his teeth.

"'m tired," Gerard mumbles.

Frank scrunches his eyes shut for a second. "No, you're fucking... fucking wasted, Jesus Christ." He yanks harder on the fucking blanket wad and Gerard grunts and rolls over.

He's really pale, kind of zombie-colored and the bags under his eyes are purplish black like smeared makeup, and there are pillow creases on his cheek like angry red scars, and his lips are chapped and cracking.

"What the fuck, Gerard?" Frank says. Because. "You look like a fucking junkie or something."

Gerard blinks and says, "I'm tired." He doesn't mumble or slur, even. Then his eyes fall shut and when Frank nudges him in the side, he doesn't even twitch.

Frank backs away from the bed and rubs violently at his face until he almost pokes his own eye out by mistake. He stomps back out into the hall and into the bathroom. There are a few puddles of water on the floor and a damp towel wadded up on the toilet lid, so somebody who is not Gerard is actually taking showers in this house. Frank thinks about Mikey's wavy hair and dark-ringed eyes. Jesus Christ. A guy gets locked up for a few weeks and everything turns upside down.

He remembers Gerard getting super wasted on his own kind of a lot last year when he first got back--at least he remembers Mikey telling him about it, but fuck, they were such kids back then. Frank knows he totally didn't get what was going on, and he bets Mikey didn't either. He can't believe they were all supposedly the same people a year ago. It's like shit got changed up sometime this summer, and the notification got lost in the mail.

He looks around for some kind of, like, container, and finally he steals the trashcan--a plastic bucket with the handle broken off--from under Mikey's desk. He dumps out the trash on the hall floor. Mikey has a serious Twinkie habit. Gross.

He fills the bucket halfway with cold water and marches back to Gerard's room and throws it over the bed. He yells "AAARGH!" when he does it, and it totally makes him feel better.

It takes Gerard two whole seconds to react. Then, what he says is, "What?" in this 'five more minutes, Ma' kind of voice.

"AAARGH!" Frank yells again and kicks the bed. "WAKE UP!"

"What?" Gerard says again, but this time he sounds more scared than whiny.

Frank drops the bucket. There's no way he can get Gerard out of the bed unless Gerard cooperates. Frank wishes hotly that he was 6'5" and built like a brick shithouse. He would drag Gerard into the bathroom like a damp rug and just hold him under a cold shower until he's awake and responding.

Instead he will maybe hit some mythical growth spurt at some hypothetical later stage of his life and right now he's barely over five feet.

He puts a knee gingerly on the soaked mattress and leans over Gerard. "Gerard," he says. "Get up. Get up. Get up. Get. Up. Getupgetup. Get up or I'll punch you in your fucking face until your fucking brother won't recognize you, I swear to fucking God."

Gerard just kind of blinks and turns his head away, and Frank slaps him in the face as hard as he can.

Gerard flails limply and knocks Frank on the side of the head with his elbow. "Fuck," Frank grits out. It doesn't hurt, but he doesn't even know if what he's feeling is rage or something else--it could just be fear. I am so fucking freaking out, he thinks.

He should run down and get fucking George, who is a brick shithouse. He should at least get Mikey.

Instead he grabs a chunk of Gerard's soggy, dirty, gross hair and pulls. Not a hard yank, but a real slow hard pull, getting his back into it, wedging his knee against the side of the bed.

Gerard slides like halfway across the bed before he twitches to life, flailing and making these yelping, whimpering noises that sound like they come from a scared puppy and not from a guy having his hair ripped out by the roots. Frank lets go and almost falls back on his ass. Some crumpled-up papers stick to his shoes. Gerard struggles himself into a half-sitting position. He holds it for like five seconds, and then he slumps forward and throws up over the edge of the bed.

Frank slaps himself in the face right then for good fucking measure.

"This is crazy," he says. "Gerard, this is crazy. Mikey and your fucking Ma and my fucking Mom and fucking George are downstairs."

"I can't feel my--" Gerard mumbles.

"This is crazy," Frank says. "What can't you feel?"

"I don't know," Gerard says. He's touching his own face with this weird blank look, like he's not sure whose face he's poking.

"Can you walk to the bathroom or do I have to hit you again?" Frank says. He can hear his own voice getting all tight and squeaky. His throat hurts.

"I don't know," Gerard says, and Frank slaps him again, not quite as hard. And once more to be sure, on the other cheek. Gerard says, "Ow."

The only way to get Gerard off the bed without a dip in the vomit pool is that Frank has to squeeze himself in under his arm and, like, push and pull and lean and lever both of them away from the bad side (puke) and towards the good side (door). Gerard does make some kind of effort, Frank can feel the muscles in his back bunching, but it's too uncoordinated to be called 'walking' or even fucking 'standing'. Frank bites the inside of his mouth and keeps a kind of muttered prayer going, if 'please God MOVE' can count as praying.

Gerard's not a huge guy when he's standing next to some more average dudes, but right now he seems to weigh approximately as much as a harpooned whale and he's also about as helpful as one. He'll take two steps and then he'll go, "I'm tired," or "Where are we?" or "Mikey?" and just stop, and Frank will have to kickstart the whole circus again and by the time they're stumbling over the shoe trap in the hall, he's sweating and panting and his back has developed a sharp, twisty pain. By the time they literally fall into the bathtub, he's ready to just stay there.

I need to start working out, he thinks.

He says, "Did you take too much Xanax or something?"

"Yes," Gerard says. "I couldn't sleep."

He speaks perfectly clearly even though he's folded up against the slick edge of tub, his chin pressed into his chest. Frank pretty much fell on top of him, and now he can't quite get up, so there he lies with water soaking through his hoodie and tee and getting him cold, and the heat from Gerard's body seeping through the chill and warming him up.

"You fucking idiot. Fucking asshole," Frank says and finally fights himself off and up. He rubs at his face even though his hands are gross and sticky with god knows what, and that's when he notices there are tears running down his cheeks. Great, great, now they can just sit down and cry it all out.

He reaches out blindly and twists the shower on.

It's so cold his lungs just cramp up for a while and he stands there gaping and choking before he can get it together and turn up the hot water. Gerard's making muffled noises, trying to get up and Frank grabs his arms and helps him sit up so he doesn't drown in an inch of water or something.

Gerard's wearing his Snoopy pajamas, fucking Snoopy, buttoned wrong and dirty and the pants have a hole in the crotch where a seam's given up. When he can feel his hands again, Frank starts unbuttoning--as fast as he can because he doesn't want to think about how he could be doing this somewhere dry and not freezing and not puke-stained and it could be fun.

Gerard has a big Technicolor bruise on one shoulder, and a couple more down the same arm. Some of them are different, older colors, like he's fallen over again and again. He lets Frank strip the shirt off like he sort of knows what's going on.

Frank really wants a cigarette.

His phone rings and he realizes it's in his fucking pocket getting fucking wet, so he shuffles out of the shower and shoves the wet towel off the can and rips off his fucking pants over his sneakers and drapes them carefully over the cistern. The phone stops ringing.

"Gerard," he says. "You're going to take a shower and wake up clean."

"Hmm," Gerard says. He's blinking up at the spray.

Frank grabs a random bottle off the shelf. Shampoo, and the smell when he flips open the cap is like some kind of fruity memory magic because he has this totally clear, like HDTV clear image of Gerard sitting on his bed in candlelight with wet hair hanging around his face.

He pushes that shit aside and crouches down across Gerard's legs. The water is almost hot now, drumming on his back through his shirt. The fabric clings to his skin like heavy saran wrap.

"Are you with me?" he asks.

"Frankie," Gerard says and blinks and meets Frank's eyes for like the first time.

"Yay fucking yay," Frank says and pushes Gerard's head away from the spray and squirts a good handful of shampoo into his hair. "Here I am, washing your hair with fucking Pantene."

He rubs up a lather. There's a bump and what feels like a scab just above the hairline on the same side as the bruises, and Gerard twitches when Frank's fingers poke it, but then he just closes his eyes and leans into Frank's hands and slumps against the wall.

"I'm sorry," he says, still all articulate and not sounding drunk even though he's half asleep. He's just a freak like that. He says, "I couldn't remember what your face looked like."

"It's not that fucking long since you saw me," Frank says, but his stomach does this little roll-and-clench move.

"I got kind of drunk, I mean like totally fucking wasted beyond any salvation, and I forgot." He blinks and then scrunches up his face and makes a limp little move with his hand. He's probably got shampoo in his fucking eye. Suck on that, Frank thinks, and then he puts a hand under the spray to rinse the soap off and wipes his fingers over Gerard's eyelids carefully. Gerard says, "I thought I was dying."

"What?" Frank says.

"It just felt... like I was dying. And I thought if I wanted to, like if I wanted to enough I could just do it. Not like suicide do it, just... wish it and it'd happen." He blinks a couple of time but after that he just keeps his eyes shut.

Frank almost doesn't want to untangle his hands from Gerard's hair, but he does and he leans Gerard forward into the spray and holds him there until there are no more suds.

That's one clean bit right there. He feels totally accomplished for like one second and then he just feels really fucking tired, and he leans forward and slips his arms around Gerard's neck and pushes his face into his clean fruit-smelling hair. It moves like silk with the water. He has to look up to breathe and the spray makes the breath stick in his throat somehow, like the air is being sucked away by the moving water.

"Frank," Gerard mumbles, not so articulately, and moves his arms a little in a way that seems deliberate, finally, and touches Frank's knees. "Frank."

Frank tightens his arms around Gerard's shoulders and lets himself stay there for a count of ten. Then he pushes himself away and says, "Dude, can you stand up?"

"I don't know," Gerard says, looking down at himself. "I'm not sure which way is up?"

"I'll pull you up, okay, and that way it'll be pretty fucking obvious which way is up, but we can't stay here forever and by here I mean squeezed into the tub under the shower and by forever I mean more than a minute. Get up, Gerard." He speaks much faster than he means to, and it comes out breathless and weird, like he's forgotten how speaking works and it's just all falling out in a jumble. For a second he's not sure he'll be able to stand up himself, but then the right, like, series of movements come back to him and he gets his legs in line and shoves himself up.

Then there's another moment where he's sure Gerard's just not gonna stand up ever and they'll just be stuck here 'til the water runs cold and they both freeze to death forever forever forever amen. But then Gerard looks up at him and takes his hand and how they get him off the deathly slick tub floor must look like a comedy routine but it somehow works. Frank's back twinges.

"Don't puke on me," he says because Gerard makes a weird face.

"No, just... headrush, headrush." Gerard's fingers dig into Frank's shoulders and Frank digs his fingers into Gerard's waist.

"Take off your pants," he says and shoves them down over Gerard's hips, and they kind of inch downwards and stick around his knees. "Or just leave them there, whatever. Let's do this."

"Let's do this," Gerard says into the side of Frank's face. His breath is a little sour still but that whole vodka and vomit and death stink is gone.

Frank's phone rings again. Which is good, because at least it's not shorted out from being in the shower. But it's also seriously fucking oh shit because now Frank kind of remembers about his fucking mother--what was he thinking earlier? Nothing at all, obviously, because he's soaked to his underwear and he's in the shower wearing his shoes and he's the only thing between Gerard and a brain-splattering faceplant in the bathtub and he has no fucking idea what he's going to do now.

What would Jesus do? he thinks. Answer: Jesus would not have let his friends get into this situation in the first place. Real helpful there, Jesus, you fucking know-it-all.

What would somebody with a fucking brain do?

He grabs a bar of soap off the sink and puts it in Gerard's hand and folds his fingers over it. "Sit down again, okay? Make soap bubbles. Sit down, sit down."

"Okay," Gerard says and sits down, and it only takes 90% of Frank's strength to make it happen in a non-brain-bashing fashion. "I was getting dizzy anyway." He kicks a little and actually manages to get out of the soggy Snoopy pants himself.

Frank leaves him to play with the soap and goes to answer his phone.

Mikey whispers, "Your folks are getting weirded out, man. You can't stay on the shitter for more than twenty minutes. I think George is thinking about breaking down the door."

Frank takes a deep breath. Then another. Then he has to thumb tears out of his eyes because holy fuck, he is so fucking out of luck again.

"Mikey," he says and his voice is just a little shaky and not squeaky at all. "Mikey, I am rescuing your fucking drunk fucking idiot fucking brother from a fucking coma so you keep them occupied or I swear, I swear something fucking horrible that I will think of when I'm not freaked out like a freaked out fucking freak."

Mikey's completely quiet for long enough that Frank says, "Mikey?" just to make sure the line didn't disconnect.

"You better not be fucking with me," Mikey says in a strange tone, hoarse and colorless somehow.

"Fuck you, Mikey, if you think I'm fucking with you." The squeakiness is back; he must sound like he's fourteen again, breaking on every other word.

"Fuck you, Frankie."

"No, seriously, fuck you." He rubs at his eyes again. It feels like he's got shampoo in them too, they're stinging like fuck.

"Stop, stop, I'm sorry," Mikey says. His voice is rising in pitch too. "Is it-- Is he--"

"He's talking, okay, he's not gonna die or anything, unless he falls over in the fucking shower. Chill. Just keep them occupied. Make a scene!"

"What? What does ma--" Frank disconnects without listening to the rest of the sentence.

Gerard is sitting in the shower, staring at the bar of soap in his hand.

"That's not how you use it, fucker," Frank says.

"Oh," Gerard says. "Right." He swipes sort of half-assedly at his chest with the soap. Frank shrugs at the world in general--he's already completely wet and so so so fucked, so whatever--and goes and climbs back into the tub and crouches down between Gerard's legs and takes the soap and starts with one arm and then chest and then the other arm and then back, and then belly, and Gerard moves a little, leans back, and Frank slides his fingers through his pubic hair and between his legs and it's like not even sexy, it just makes his stomach cramp painfully again when Gerard sighs and leans forward again so his forehead rests against Frank's shoulder.

"How do you feel?" he asks, and Gerard pushes his face into the crook of his neck and whispers, "tired."

"I mean," Frank says, "do you feel like you're dying or something? Will you wake up if you fall asleep? Do you know?"

"I'm just a little dizzy," Gerard says. "And tired and my brain feels like fucking maggots are eating it, you know? It's just the hangover, I think."

"Okay," Frank says. "If you're lying and you die in a coma I'm going to kill myself just so I can hunt you down in the afterlife and kill you again, you fucking retard asshole. Are you hearing me?"

"Yeah," Gerard says meekly. "It's okay, Frankie."

There aren't any dry towels in the bathroom, so Frank takes the used one off the floor. It doesn't smell moldy or anything, so it's probably as clean as anything ever is in this house. In fact it smells kind of nice, like the Pantene shampoo and some other thing, probably some body wash he didn't find. It's not that awesome to dry yourself with a cold, wet towel, though, and Gerard makes a face and shivers when he feels it, but he stands still and stays upright without support and even tries to help, sort of. Frank's starting to feel like he's the one with the hangover. He really hates how his body reacts to stress by making everything more stressful with stomach cramps and headaches and random stabs of pain in random places. He's shaking all over like Michael J Fox.

He frogwalks Gerard to the sofa in the livingroom and gets him stretched out and covered with a blanket. He should really fucking get up right now and steal some more of Mikey's clothes and then make up a really good story, but what he does instead is sit next to Gerard and lean his head against his shoulder.

"Frank," Gerard says softly. He sounds thoughtful, but then he just says, "Tell Mikey I'm okay."

"Okay," Frank says, but he stays and listens to Gerard's breaths even out into sleep.

It feels like it's been hours. He feels like two years older. Twenty years older. Fast forward. Or slow motion? He stops trying to make sense of the metaphor. Metaphors are for idiots who drink themselves into a coma, anyway.

"Fucking idiot," he says, and then he gets up and goes to raid Mikey's closet.

***

When Frank sneaks into the station through the back door, hoodie up to hide his damp hair, he's greeted by the grand theater of Mikey telling Mom and George the story of Pete. Loudly. With gestures. He's tugged at his hair and it's snarled into a wild kind of blond-ish version of Tim Burton's goth 'fro. His glasses have slid down to hang awkwardly from the tip of his nose.

"He keeps calling me," he's saying. His voice is pretty deep but it's not always so noticeable because he's kind of soft-spoken, but now he's almost booming. "To talk for hours. Hours. His friend Andy says he used to stalk this girl in Chicago he slept with like once--"

"He dates, uh, girls, too?" Mom says. She's got her arms crossed, but not all tight and judging, more like a loose shield to protect herself from Mikey's unexpected Crazy Unleashed.

"Yes!" Mikey trumpets. His voice is in fact both deep and kind of nasal, so he sounds like an upset goose with a stuffed nose. "I can't even decide if I want him to stalk me or just leave me alone. It's hard to sleep! And there's this girl I want to date, too. But Pete just keeps talking. And long-distance relationships are hard enough, you know. And I'm not even gay, like. He was just... I guess I'm bisexual, though. But I'm not having some huge identity crisis. I'm all, uh... um... comfortable with my sexuality, like."

"Um," fucking George says. He looks honestly concerned. When he spots Frank, he looks kind of relieved, though. "Oh, hi, Frank, there you are."

Mikey whips around and stares at Frank, all wild-eyed. There are splotches of red on the sharp arcs of his cheekbones but his forehead is white and kind of shiny. He looks pretty crazy, really.

"It's cool," Frank says. "Hey, Mikey, Gee says, um, um, he's okay... with the thing." Jesus, he's run out of steam completely. He will get like so busted and he won't even be able to lie. He tried to pick clothes that kind of looked like the ones he was wearing, dark jeans and white tee and a black printed hoodie--he's wearing one of Mikey's black printed hoodies, and maybe no one will notice that the print is different--but everything is tighter and too long in the arms and legs, and he must look so weird. Like he just snuck out to an alternate universe and got all hipstered-up.

"Okay," Mikey says, his shoulders dropping with relief.

"Frank?" Mom says, kind of tightly. "We should really..."

"Okay," Frank says. "See you, Mikey."

"It was nice to meet you, Mikey," Mom says really quickly and sidles towards the door. George actually shakes Mikey's hand, though, and pats him on the shoulder all reassuring.

***

In the car, Mom says, "I really... I really don't know what to think about that poor Way boy."

"He's a teenager," George says philosophically. It sounds like 'he's a teenager' covers all kinds of weirdness in George's book. "He seems to have most of his ducks in a row, considering. He has a lot of heart."

"Hmm," Mom says and makes the Ew Dad face. Frank guesses it's the Ew Gay face this time, but it looks the same.

Nobody even looks at Frank's clothes.

***

At home he doesn't feel like talking, so he goes upstairs and watches The Terminator. It reminds him of earlier in the summer when Mikey was out somewhere with Pete, and Frank and Gerard watched this movie and got so baked it took them like three hours after to explain to each other what was fucked up with the time travel, mostly because they cracked up so hard when Gerard did a Michael Biehn scowl and husked, "Your son sent me back. Me and my sperm."

He doesn't really feel like thinking about Gerard, either, really, but here he is, thinking about that fucked up bastard. He turns off the movie before Reese buys the farm. Then he lies on his bed for a while, listening to Mom and George talk in the kitchen. He can just hear their voices, no words, but they sound comforting, all homey and ordinary and everyday, and also fucking infuriating because of how Frank's been so low on the just-hanging-out kind of stuff lately. Like, is that too much to ask? Just some ordinary everyday shit, not so much fucking drama.

"Jesus Christ," he says out loud. "Pogo-jumping shit-eating Jesus fucking Christ sucking fucking donkey balls. Sorry, Jesus, but fuck."

He calls Mikey.

"Yeah," Mikey says. "He's just sleeping. Seriously, I go and poke him like every half hour."

He sounds pretty bummed and really tired, so Frank has to forgive him for almost letting his brother die in a coma. Obviously he didn't mean to. "Don't beat yourself up," Frank says.

"Whatever," Mikey says, his voice getting kind of shrill and weird for a second. "I thought he was... You know. I thought... Whatever."

That was unusually inarticulate even for fucking Mikey, but Frank really doesn't want to prod whatever it is out of him. Right now he wouldn't even try to prod answers out of Gerard if he had him here. He just kind of wants a fucking hug.

So he says, "Yeah, man. Well, you could tell him that I'm going to beat his dumb overdosing ass to a pulp next time I see him."

"Not before I do it," Mikey says morosely. Frank wishes either of them really meant it for real.

After he hangs up he goes downstairs to hang out with Mom and George instead of stewing in his own broody thoughts.

They're having coffee at the kitchen table, and Mom pours him a mug and waits until he sits down before she says, "Frank, did you know about Mikey Way?"

"Know what?" Frank kind of snaps, because it annoys the shit out of him that she's trying to be delicate and doesn't say Frank, did you know Mikey Way is a big flaming homo? which is what she means.

"That he had a relationship with this boy?" she says after thinking about it for a while.

"Yeah," Frank says. "What a bummer, they were pretty cute."

"A summer guest," she says, as if that explains the deviancy.

"Actually he was in summer school," Frank says. "I totally know him. Interesting guy. Kind of a jock."

George is paying a lot of attention to his coffee. Mom says, "Oh? Is that right? What sport?"

Frank shrugs. "Soccer."

"Mikey didn't seem like he was very interested in sports," Mom says. George coughs a little and takes a sip of coffee.

"Yeah," Frank says. His hands are cold, and he puts them around the mug and just smells the wonderful sweet coffee smell. "I always wondered what they talked about. Maybe they didn't talk that much."

"Frank," Mom says, frowning. Then she sighs, puts her empty mug down and folds her hands on the table. "Pete was the 'girlfriend' Mikey was so upset about a few weeks ago, wasn't he?"

Frank nods.

"It must have been quite a painful and confusing experience," she says. "Only a year after Elena's death. He seems so sad."

"Mom, that's just how Mikeyway is," Frank says, even though he's pretty sure it's a win that she's just chalking it up to, like, crazymaking grief and not the Devil. "He was looking exactly the same in, like, sophomore year. Just with an even uglier haircut."

It's not completely and totally the truth, though. Mikey has been quieter and stranger this year, even when he's drunk or stoned. Maybe the whole Pete thing was all about the crazymaking grief. And who's even more crazy than Mikey? Yeah.

George coughs again and says, "This Pete character sounds like the confused one."

Frank looks at him. So does Mom.

George adds, "Soccer is a fine sport, though. I played lacrosse in high school, but I had friends on the soccer team."

***

Later, Frank thinks about trying to call Gerard, but he ends up sitting on his bed with his cell in his hand, thumb hovering over the little green phone until he just has to put the thing down again because his hands start shaking. He's developed, like, stage fright about calling now. He can't deal with Gerard not picking up.

He suddenly feels completely exhausted. He feels like a deflated football. He always thought those things were seriously sad, like they were more like the original pigs they came from, the original dead sad little pigs.

He makes himself stop thinking about dead pigs and curls up on the bed even though he knows he'll fall asleep inside ten minutes if he does, and it's like six pm. At least he has no trouble sleeping through the night, but there is something fucked up about sleeping away your, like, youth in eighteen-hour blocks.

Youth is fucking overrated, though. Youth is basically the fucking point of origin of ninety-eight per cent of his trouble.

***

At first he thinks he wakes up because he's about to die in his dreams--he's a bird in a thorn bush again, but at the same time he's himself and he's locked a spider monster out, but it's about to break through his bedroom door, and he can hear it tapping on the door, looking for a weak spot. Any second now it'll notice that the door is made of like cardboard and then Frankbird is toast. And Frankbird can't escape because he's caught a wing on a thorn and every time he yanks at it, it feels like his arm is being wrenched out of its socket.

But when he finally is mostly himself again he notices that he's lying on his stupid arm and he's tangled it up in the comforter so he can't move, and it does feel like his arm is being wrenched out of its socket. And the spider monster isn't behind the door, it's tapping on the window.

He rolls out of bed and tries to breathe slowly to make his heart calm the fuck down, but in the dark he steps on something and his ankle twists and he ends up hitting the floor elbow-first and then he can't do anything but clutch it and gasp for a few minutes.

The spider monster is still tapping, on the window, on the window, then on the wall, then on the window pane, then on the wall again.

"There are no spider monsters," he whispers to himself when the pain is just the cold thrill of endorphines and a hot throb in his elbow. "It's, like, a bird." That makes him think of fucking Edgar Allan Poe and his stupid raven, though, and it's still dark and he prefers not to think about shit like that when he just woke up from a nightmare, thanks.

He makes it onto his feet and crabwalks to the window, holding on to the bed and the desk carefully. He can't really hear anything besides the rain, but it seems weird that he'd confuse rain with actual tapping, it fucking rains all the time and it doesn't usually drive him to crazy nightmares that go on after he's woken up. Then, just as he's leaning closer to the window to make sure, something small and dark bounces off the glass. He almost falls again.

It's obviously not a spider, though, monstrous or otherwise, so he rolls his eyes at himself and turns on the desk lamp and opens the window.

The rain isn't too heavy or anything, just a kind of beginning intro to another autumn storm, a drizzle on a gusty, nervy wind.

A pebble hits him in the shoulder.

"The fuck?" he hisses down at the lawn--he can see the pebble-thrower as a dark blob in the general sallow gloom of the back yard--and then he realizes with a big DUH followed by a wild rush of adrenaline that there are only so many people who would stand outside his window in the middle of a rainy night chucking pebbles at his window like they're stuck in one of Mom's girl books from the sixties. He says, "Gerard?"

"Frank?" Gerard yells. "Frank!"

"Shhhhhh!" He waves with both arms, stop stop stop. "You're gonna wake Mom, you fucking jerk!" He leans out so far his feet leave the floor for a couple horrible seconds before he gets himself righted again.

"Frank!" Gerard says in this ridiculous stage whisper. "Frankie!" He seems to be waving his arms around, too. Frank's entire midsection is cramped up like he's taken a punch, and he's clinging to the window frame with one hand so hard his fingertips sting and he feels so dizzy and lightheaded that he thinks he might be able to launch himself right out the window and land softly on the grass like a ninja or one of those crazy parkour dudes.

He stops himself, though, which is reassuring in that 'oh yeah, I have brains!' kind of way.

"Wait, wait," he says, sort of imitating Gerard's stage-whispering. "We can't-- Wait, let me get my phone, do you have your phone? Why the fuck didn't you call?"

"I DID," Gerard falsettos.

"Hang on," Frank says, and then he's crawling around on the floor looking for his phone, because now he has this super vague memory of turning off his alarm which would have been kind of weird what with how he never turned it on in the first place.

The phone is under the bed, of course, kicked there by his elbow-clutching flailing. When he flips it open, the LCD lights up with 2 Missed Calls glaring at him from a rectangular box of accusation. Both are from Gerard, the first at eleven thirty, the second at two thirty. Frank clicks back to the main screen. It says 3:14 am.

Now he does hit the green phone, and he can hear Gerard's phone playing You're My Best Friend out in the dark, over the background white noise of the rain--and since he knows Gerard's usual ring tone is Megadeth, this must either be a new one, or a Frank-specific one. He actually shivers, something between the normal brr and, like, a dog shaking off water. He almost drops the phone.

Freddie Mercury's tinny distant voice cuts off in the middle of a line and Gerard breathes, "Frank?" into his ear.

"Yeah," Frank says, taking a deep, shuddering breath. "Are you-- I'm sorry I didn't pick up, I was asleep-- Are you, um, I mean, what are you doing here, you freak?"

There's just the rain for a while, and Gerard's breaths coming a little too often and too shallow.

"Dude?" Frank says, although he feels his own breathing speed up to match, like Gerard is a metronome or something.

"I woke up on the couch," Gerard says, speaking suddenly and kind of fast. "I didn't even know where the fuck I was, you know? I was just staring at that fucking painting and--No, it was more like I didn't know when I was. I was staring at the painting and I could smell her, like she was sitting next to me, like she was about to reach out and touch my hair and tell me I was a fool for drinking so much I passed out, because she always said it was defeating the point of drinking for pleasure.

"I almost started talking, but instead I started crying, like, before I knew why I was crying. Mikey was all freaked out. He kind of yelled at me."

"Fuck, man," Frank says, rubbing a hand hard over his head until his hair clings staticky to his scalp. He's gonna fucking cry, that's what's gonna happen really soon. "Fuck. I mean... fuck."

Gerard is quiet again for just long enough to be weird, and then he says, "Yeah."

Frank bites the inside on his mouth hard and then he can't stop worrying at the spot with his tongue. He gets up, fights off the headrush and weaves up to the window again and leans out. Gerard's standing in the same place, just a shadow outlined in faint yellow wherever there's enough water clinging to his clothes to reflect the light. He's like a frame from a comic. Maybe Batman, except Batman would be on like a rooftop and not on someone's lawn.

Then he moves a little and looks up, and now the light from the window hits his face.

"I just needed to talk to you," he says, and Frank hears it in stereo. "I can't even remember anything-- I mean, I don't know which parts are real."

Frank leans out the window again. Rain taps gently on his head. It's only a ten feet drop or something like that. "Where's Mr Fantastic when you need him?" he says and tastes salt in the back of his throat.

"It's a useful superpower," Gerard says, and Frank can see him nodding and lifting his hand. "Can you come down?"

It's after three, Frank thinks. Three am is like the actual dead of night.

He tiptoes through the room and cracks the door open and peers out. The upstairs landing is dark but there's light coming from the hall downstairs. When he holds his breath he hears a soft noise, fabric on fabric, and then a voice, really low, mumbling something.

He yanks his head back in so fast he almost misses the door falling shut again and it's only by some kind of dumb luck he catches it before it goes blam.

"Jesus!" he says. Gerard makes a small, worried sound, and Frank adds, kind of horrified to have to say it out loud but he really has to say it, "I think my Mom and fucking George are, like, fucking downstairs on the livingroom couch."

And it's like, super fucking gross, but it's also so beyond unfair that they're just getting it on right there, not a care in the fucking world when he can't even hug his stupid wet boyfriend who just woke up from a fucking coma.

"I can't get out," he says flatly. "There's no way unless I fucking Spider-Man it down the..."

He trails off because he's staring at the messed-up bed and the open window and he's having, like, the worst idea ever.

"That's also a really useful superpower," Gerard says quietly, sounding so resigned that Frank wants to slap him out of it, or kiss him out of it, or actually both like they do in the movies.

"Wait," he says and puts the phone down. He goes up the window and looks out at the lawn and Gerard still standing there getting more and more soaked. He's just wearing a hoodie, of course, and the hood isn't even up. He isn't looking up at the window anymore, but down so all Frank can see is the top of his bowed head and his drawn-up shoulders and his hunched back.

Frank has that feeling again, that he could just kind of leap down there, although it's more like he could just reach out and touch Gerard's hair, if he just leans far enough. It's total crazy talk. But. But.

He goes and picks up the phone again and says, "Gerard?"

And Gerard says, "I forgot about your mom," sounding totally wretched. "I'm gonna get you busted again. I just-- Shit, I should go, it's like... what time is it? I just woke up and--I mean, first I woke up and I tried to call you, and then I woke up again... Did I try again? I feel like I haven't eaten in days. Not, like, in a bad way... or bad, but not painful, just kind of... light. Like I'm not as stuck on the ground as I used to be, or maybe like I can't feel my feet."

"No, no," Frank says, "wait, I'm coming! Wait, okay?"

Tying knots in sheets is easy enough but there doesn't seem to be a good way of knowing if they're good knots or not. Frank is not a fucking boy scout. He yanks at them until his fingers ache.

There's always an extra set of sheets tucked in his closet under the t-shirts--his mother kind of started putting them there last year, all apropos. Sometimes she really seems to get it, which is why it's so fucking weird that most of the time she is completely clueless. But due to the extra spunk emergency sheets there is definitely enough to go around, for sure. Frank tugs every knot so tight he kind of worries he won't be able to get them open again. Plus he really sucks at climbing up.

But fuck that.

When he throws the sheet rope out, Gerard's head comes up and Frank can see his eyes gleaming. He looks like a startled deer.

"Frankie, no!" he whisper-shouts and jumps forward to grab the dangling sheet.

"The knots are like rocks," Frank hisses back. "It's okay! It's just like ten feet!"

"It's like fifteen!" Gerard says, but Frank ignores him and swings his legs over--he's kind of excited now, not just to get down there and put his hands all over Gerard, but because it's pretty cool to escape on a rope made of sheets, like seriously, totally old school prison break. He turns around really carefully and clamps his feet around the sheet and lets them slide down until he can get a good grip with one hand, and then two, and then he's hanging by a sheet! From his window! The makeshift rope gives about two inches suddenly and he almost shits himself thinking the knot around the desk leg is about to go, but it was just the desk settling against the wall.

Somewhere beneath him, Gerard is whispering, "Oh fuck, Frankie!" over and over again in a breathy voice. Frank shifts his weight to his arms and puts his feet against the wall. It makes it feel more dangerous, though, like he's about to flip right over and land on his head, so he goes back to clumsily sliding down and clinging to the rope with everything he has while his clothes catch on the rough finish of the wall.

He gets... pretty far, really. And the stupid thing is that his knots totally hold; they really are like rocks. He just kind of forgot about how the flatsheet he was using has a patch in the middle that's like worn almost transparent because it's already an emergency sheet. He doesn't remember that until he hears it rip, and then it's too late to do anything but try not to scream as he falls.

There's that moment of confusion that always comes with a fall, the sense of the ground coming up towards him instead of the other way around, and the breathless numb moment before it all comes back and the pain sets in. He doesn't even realize that he's like bounced off Gerard on his way down until he manages to crack an eye open again and sees him curled up on the wet grass just a few feet away.

First there's just that numbness, right, and then there's a huge, shiny silver spike of pain shooting up through his foot all the way to his hip, and then he notices that he can't breathe, he's just gaping like a fish and nothing happens, and then he just curls up around it and waits for the first wave to wash over him so he can sort through the input and decide if he's going to fucking die or not. It's somewhere in between the first tiny breath he can force his lungs to accept and the second slightly bigger one that he opens his eyes.

Gerard rolls over and Frank feels his wet, dirty fingers on his face. He can't get enough air in his lungs yet to say anything reassuring, but he nods a little. I'm good. He's pretty sure he isn't dying, at least.

"Frank? Frank! Frank. Frank? Frank?"

"Gnnnnh," Frank manages, between short, inadequate gasps. "Kay, gnh."

"Jesus, Frank!"

"M o-kay," Frank says as firmly as he can. He tries carefully to uncurl himself and it doesn't kill him either. Every breath is easier. It's not the worst knock he's even taken. It's not even the worst knock he's taken this year.

He's still holding the sheet. It feels like maybe his hands are bleeding around it. He scraped them against the wall, he remembers now. The whole fall seems terribly clear in his memory, actually. "Whoa," he says. "Crazy."

He blinks and, like, really notices Gerard's hand on his face. Everything's wet and cold, although he can't quite feel the cold for real yet, but it's starting to seep in through his sweatpants and t-shirt, which, like... what the fuck was he thinking? He didn't even put on real clothes. He didn't even put on shoes.

Gerard stops touching his face and instead grabs his shoulder and tugs at him, and Frank is like, oh yeah, right because now that he's getting used to his body kind of hurting all over and most of all in the general left foot area, and also used to breathing again, he is reminded of why he didn't have time to even put on real clothes. He loosens his ninja death grip on the stupid broken traitor sheet and pushes his own shaky weak hands over the foot or so of wet grass between him and Gerard.

Gerard wiggles around and gets closer and leans his face into Frank's stinging, scraped palm and covers Frank's stinging, scraped knuckles with his free hand. Frank closes his eyes again and relaxes, the last of the adrenaline rush fading into dizziness and nausea, but nothing he can't deal with. He just feels really tired again, but under the tiredness he feels kind of warm even though he's like obviously freezing cold and about to die of exposure from lying out in the rain like a retard. Gerard wiggles even closer and kind of drags Frank forward inch by inch until they're close enough that Frank feels his breath on his face.

"Jesus, Frankie," Gerard whispers. He sounds like he can barely make the words. Frank's pretty sure he's crying or about to start, but he doesn't want to open his eyes to check. "That was... that was fucked up."

"Shut up," Frank says. When he tilts his face up a little, his nose bumps into Gerard's. "I mean, fuck you telling me what's fucked up, you fucking fuckup. Just, like... shut up." He curls his fingers into the neck of Gerard's hoodie, looking for warm skin.

Gerard pushes forward the last inch, his cold mouth on Frank's cold mouth. It tastes like rain and grass and mud and salt, and then it tastes like coffee and cigarettes, familiar and right, and Frank squeezes his eyes shut hard around the tears and digs his fingers into the soft skin on the back of Gerard's neck, twisting them around wet clumps of hair. He can smell the shampoo he put in it earlier.

Gerard pushes him away with a hand on his face and Frank hears himself make a sound somewhere between a whimper and a squeak. "Frank," Gerard says, "Frank, we have to-- you're like shaking, you're hurt--"

"Fuck no," Frank says automatically, but he's already opened his eyes and somehow it reminds him of, like, the rest of him. And yes, he is shaking, and yes, he is hurt. Gerard's eyes glitter with reflected light and Frank can't quite tell what he's thinking.

"Is it your leg?"

Reluctantly, Frank says, "Yeah, um, I think--Hang on..." He moves first his right foot, which doesn't hurt a lot, just the usual oops-I-stepped-wrong kind of ache; and then the left which immediately goes from ow? to red hot poker motherfucker.

"Frank?" Gerard says and his face crumples a little.

"Yeah, um, I think it's maybe just a little broken." Gerard makes an alarmed face, all big eyed and oh no! and starts to push himself up or something, and Frank grabs his hand like so fast and snaps, "No! I mean, no, don't get up, I'm okay."

"You need to get that looked at! And it's freezing. You'll get pneumonia again."

This is unfortunately true, especially the pneumonia. Frank could stab his stupid weak lungs if they weren't already kind of hurting. "How did you get here?" he asks instead.

"Truck," Gerard says and moves his head in a way that is probably meant to be a nod in the general direction of the truck, but he just ends up knocking his forehead into Frank's, and Frank twists his hand in his hair and holds him still to kiss again.

"Maybe we could sit in the truck," he mumbles against Gerard's mouth, which is now a little warmer even as most other parts of them both are colder.

"But--" Gerard starts, but then he just cuts himself off and presses his face closer and says, under his breath like he's confessing to something horrible, "Okay."

Frank presses really close too and confesses just as quietly, "I love you," which is probably kind of old news by now, and he's still also kind of angry at Gerard at the same time that he doesn't want to let go of him ever. But there it is, pretty simple, and totally true.

Gerard doesn't blast it right back at him; instead he just kind of goes still in a way that includes holding Frank in a vise-like grip. Everywhere his skin touches Frank's, his cheek against Frank's, his hand on Frank's neck, his neck under Frank's hand, blossoms with heat.

Then he lets go abruptly and starts unfolding himself--it takes him more than one try to get to his feet, and Frank isn't even trying yet but he feels totally dizzy anyway.

"You're not still drunk or, like, high or anything, right?" he says. That's where the anger is.

"I don't think so," Gerard says. He's kind of trying to brush himself off, but Frank's pretty sure he's just spreading the dirt out more. "I pretty much slept it off. I feel like... I guess I feel like I've been, like, in a coma for years and I've been dreaming most of my life and now I have to learn the difference between the dream and the stuff that I didn't make up."

"You were out for like a day and a half," Frank says, trying to push himself up without jostling his legs too much. "With a little shower break in between."

"I wasn't sure that actually happened," Gerard says. "That really feels like something I made up."

"Except you totally smell like roses, dude, that should be a hint."

Gerard screws up his face--one of his eyes goes giant and shiny and spooky in the sketchy light, like something on the cover of a horror movie--and turns his head this way and that. After a while he says, "Oh yeah. Wow. You're right." He runs his dirty hands over his face, leaving muddy stains, and through his hair. "I am like so awake right now. This night feels really real, you know?"

Frank moves a little--his foot hurts a whole lot, but it's not unbearable anymore, just a steady throb of heat. The endorphines are totally taking over now. He almost feels like laughing out loud. Cold water is seeping through his sweats and soaking his underwear.

"It's really fucking real, Gee," he says. His eyes are stinging, but his words bubble out like giggles. "Everything totally happened."

Gerard paces a little back and forth, his boots making squelchy sounds on the sodden grass. He waves a hand at the rainy sky. "Shit, shit, Frankie, I don't even know why I came here. I'm getting you in trouble again. Fuck, I mean..." He breaks off and laughs a short, embarrassed laugh. "Even when I'm fucking sober I don't know what the fuck I'm doing with you."

Frank digs his hand into the mud and claws out a nice, dripping wad of grass turf and lobs it at Gerard's head. He misses, sort of, because it hits Gerard on the throat--Frank couldn't have come up with a better spot on purpose because now it's stuck in the neck of Gerard's ratty hoodie and with the black splatters of mud reaching across his white skin it looks like some kind of tentacled parasite trying to implant him with heart-eating alien babies.

"Aw, fuck," Gerard says and wipes it off, but he's not really paying attention much. "I didn't mean-- I mean, it feels like I'm just wandering around in this total black pit and every time I find something it's you, it's just you everywhere, like the only thing... no, wait. I mean I want to cling to you but there's so much black."

Instead of saying 'cause it's the middle of the night, numbnuts, Frank finds himself blurting out, "You should fucking cling to me, stop being crazy!" He reaches a hand out to Gerard, who is still kind of pacing, only one step back, one step forward, like a total spastic. "Help me up, okay?"

"Okay," Gerard says, and he helps Frank up really carefully, sliding an arm around Frank's middle and the other under his knee. Frank's pretty sure lifting like that is going to seriously bust Gerard's back, but it seems okay, Gerard just grunts in his ear and digs his heels into the soft ground and straightens up with Frank coming along.

It hurts whenever the fucked up foot moves, but it doesn't seem super important right now. Frank leans against Gerard, his leg hooked up against Gerard's thigh and his arms up around his neck. He's getting mud on his face from rubbing against Gerard's filthy wet neck.

The wind and rain have picked up. It's not actually as cold as Frank thought while he was on the ground, but it's not exactly balmy; there's a sting in the rain lashing against his face and a smell of rotting leaves that makes it feel like a fall storm instead of a summer storm. The whole month's been kind of ridiculous like that. There better be some longass fucking indian summer action after all this cold rain.

"Maybe it's easier if I carry you," Gerard mumbles, trying to grab Frank's other leg.

"You'll break your back," Frank says. "I'm not a fucking midget."

Gerard smiles; Frank just feels his mouth move against his forehead, the hard edge of teeth. "Not like I haven't done it before. Come on."

Jumping onto Gerard's back really hurts, but Frank screws his eyes shut and thinks what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and rides it out clinging to Gerard's neck like he's the parasite, digging his fingers into Gerard's soft skin and pushing his face into his hair. The smell of the shampoo is almost drowned out by the raw earth smell of the muddy grass.

They stagger off towards the drive.

"Fuck," Gerard pants. "I parked like two blocks down, of course."

Frank nuzzles through the lank stripes of hair and finds skin to put his mouth against. He wonders if someone is awake in any of the houses.

When they get to the truck, Gerard opens the passenger side door first and turns around so Frank can shuffle backwards onto the seat. He lets himself fall back and almost brains himself on the parking break handle, and his hurt foot gives a deep angry twinge and he's like covered in mud and getting it all over the seat. He lies with his head wedged uncomfortably between the seats and the handle digging into his ear, and his legs dangling over the edge of the seat.

He huffs out a laugh, surprising himself--and Gerard, apparently, because he jerks a little, making the door squeak.

It kind of hurts to laugh, and pain tends to make Frank laugh more anyway, so there's a kind of vicious circle built in here. He digs his fists into his stomach to stop it from, like, bouncing and making his legs bounce, but it's pretty futile. "Fucking fucking fucking fuck," he gasps.

Gerard is twisting around kind of awkwardly, bumping against the door again. He puts his hands on Frank's thighs and leans in. "You okay?" he asks, his eyebrows wrinkling together. "Only hurts when you laugh?"

Obviously that won't stop Frank from laughing himself to death. He feels limp everywhere except his fucking abs, which are starting to hurt. "Aaah, shit, you fucker, shut your face."

Gerard doesn't answer, he's kind of stopped moving and is looking down at his hands with that frown still on his face. Then he slides one hand up, thumb skating along the inseam of Frank's gross, wet sweatpants. Frank shivers all over, like, starting in his legs and traveling up all the way to his head so his scalp prickles with tiny sparks of whatever the fuck. He's still fucking chuckling occasionally but it's petering out.

He tries to find purchase somewhere to pull himself up, but his arms just flail stupidly around. Gerard bows his head a little and keeps running his thumb over Frank's inner thigh and up along, like, the fold of his groin to his hip and back again, all concentrated and quiet.

He's such a fucking weirdo, Frank thinks, and says, "You are such a weirdo."

"Yeah," Gerard says softly, without looking up. Frank tries to move his legs just a little, just to make sure Gerard has better access. To make sure he knows the weirdo comment wasn't, like, a complaint or anything. It hurts a bit to move, though, but Gerard totally gets it. He might be a weirdo, but he fucking knows what he's doing right now.

Frank's getting hard even though he's cold and in pain and really uncomfortable, and Gerard is basically staring at his crotch with utter fascination and never even touching Frank's dick, just that same short, light rub.

Then he says, "Hmm," and takes his hands away, and Frank has this second of WHAT, NO before Gerard adds, "We're kind of in the middle of your neighborhood, gotta move the truck. I want to blow you, it'll make you feel better too. Right?"

He's pulling Frank up and pushing his legs into the cab. "Uh," Frank says. "Right, yeah. I mean, it totally will."

"Maybe I should take you to the emergency room, though," Gerard says, peering into Frank's face as if looking for signs of, like, concussion or something.

"Fuck no," Frank says quickly. "You can't do that, shit. You have to just take me back home. You will not be in any way involved in this. Fuck."

"Are you--"

"Trust me, it'll be easier if I just like ding the doorbell and come clean about trying to climb out the window." He doesn't want to think about it too hard, though, because Jesus, he is so fucked. Again for like the fifty-seventh time this year. He should pretty much be used to the feeling by now. "Relatively easier, I guess. Uh, I think a blowjob would go a long way to set off the anxiety?"

Gerard's mouth twitches, but then he leans forward and kisses Frank. He still tastes like rain, but it's not as cold now, and Frank's already turned on and heating up on the inside even though his skin is cold from the wet clothes. Gerard puts his hands on both sides of Frank's face, just lightly, and Frank leans back and kind of lets him drive, still feeling a little limp and dizzy. He can't even remember when they last just, like, fucking made out in fucking peace. It's amazing to think that they've only been together for less than a month. It feels much longer somehow.

"Dude," he says before he can even really untangle his tongue from Gerard's. "It feels like forever."

"I know," Gerard says, and kisses Frank's cheek and forehead and eyelids, and touches his mouth with his fingertips. "It totally does."

***

Gerard drives around for a while so the heater can dry out the cab a little bit, and Frank puts his feet against the vent--the left one really really carefully--and his hands too, and they wake up slowly and start to hurt more, pins and needles on top of the whole possible broken bones thing, and the scraped knuckles on his hands. He pokes himself carefully in the stomach and chest to see if there's any, like, internal bleeding or whatever, but he's just kind of banged up, not dying. He broke his other foot once in sixth grade when he fell off the jungle gym, so he can pretty much tell he's going to need a cast. It's swelling up already.

Gerard goes, "Oh!" and flips open the glove compartment and digs out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter and dumps them in Frank's lap.

"Oh God, I love you," Frank breathes, and Gerard kind of smiles with half his mouth but keeps his eyes on the road. The weather is ridiculous, water and leaves and whole fucking twigs pelting the windscreen, visibility like three feet. Gerard's driving really slowly. Now that it's getting warm, Frank feels almost cozy here, leaning his cheek against the seatbelt and looking at Gerard's profile. He lights a cigarette and takes a drag so deep that his head spins crazily. "Oh, fuck, that's so fucking sweet."

Gerard takes one hand off the steering wheel and reaches out, and Frank misunderstands totally on purpose and just holds it for a while, squeezing it until his sore knuckles sting. Something tightens and aches in his chest and he stares at their hands, bloody knuckles and muddy streaks and all, and it feels like he's going to fucking cry or something. It wouldn't be that embarrassing to cry in front of Gerard, like, duh, but it might freak him out in this particular situation, so Frank bites it back and bends to kiss Gerard's dirty fingertips. Then he gives him the cigarette and watches him smoke it and doesn't say anything. Gerard doesn't say anything either, so he probably gets it.

***

Gerard keeps the engine running but turns off the headlights, and the inside of the truck is lit faintly bluish by the dashboard light. They sit still for a while and smoke, and Frank takes Gerard's hand again and holds it. After a while, Gerard says, "Heh, paradise by the dashboard lights."

"Stop right there," Frank says because after a year of knowing Gerard, he knows a lot of the random seventies and eighties music Gerard likes.

"I do, though," Gerard says, turning his head and looking straight at Frank. Frank's still got that tightness in his chest, and it twinges again when he meets Gerard's eyes. He's also got a fucking Meatloaf song in his head now.

"Hope there aren't any, you know, state troopers cruising around the back forty tonight," Frank says, but Gerard doesn't seem worried, and they are on this narrow strip of road that goes to like some abandoned farm or something so it's probably okay. Frank has never had sex in a car before. Or any other vehicle, except the Federation Starship Gerard's Bedroom, of course. "Have you, like, fucked a lot in cars?" he asks.

"Yeah," Gerard says. "Seriously uncomfortable. Blowjobs are okay, though. Try not to bounce around too much with the foot, okay?"

He grins at Frank a little before he bends down, and Frank sits there staring at his own faint, blue reflection in the window and feels a little stunned by his life again. He thinks he should be used to it already, that sex will happen to him, just like that--that somebody who has had lots of sex with other people would just, like, pull over and put his fucking head in Frank's lap--but there are still these moments of holy shit. At the same time it's all really, like, right and familiar and obvious, because it's Gerard.

"I don't even know what I'm thinking," he says out loud. Gerard is kind of staring at his crotch again, and sliding his fingers just under the waistband of his sweats.

He says, "Maybe you're thinking I should stop fucking around and get on with it?"

Frank touches Gerard's messy hair, all caked together with mud and grass, drying into weird shapes. He cups his palm around the shape of his skull, and Gerard sticks his hand into Frank's pants and curls his fingers around his dick.

"Okay," he hisses through his teeth. There's so much going on that he hasn't had time to really be turned on for real, but there it goes, that focusing--he loves how his body does that; he wonders if it's the same for everyone or if he's some kind of super sex freak, because he can feel his body shutting out everything extra, channeling everything into Sex Mode. Gerard's hand is a little cold and rough-skinned and he isn't trying to be smooth or anything, just strokes Frank's dick all sloppy and careless, and pushes the sweatpants down with the other hand. "Yeah, okay," Frank says, kind of unnecessarily. How many blowjobs does this make? he thinks when Gerard licks his lips and just slides right down. It takes some effort to not bounce around, but just thinking about it of reminds him of his stupid foot.

He keeps his hands really light on Gerard's head and looks down every once in a while and tries to remember, like, seriously, how many times, but it all bleeds together into this blurry stream of wet heat. His mouth waters and he feels his eyes rolling up under his closed eyelids.

"There are like-- like," he tries to say, between gasps, "like so many places and... places to do them in, I mean, um, many things to do, and so many... fucking places to do them in. You know?"

"Mmh-hmm," Gerard says, and Frank braces his good foot against the floor and pushes up and Gerard just pushes back, so smoothly that it's like, Frank can't even fucking take it, his toes are curling, in the bad foot too and it hurts, and he's curling his fingers too, twisting them in Gerard's hair.

Coming has kind of that same feeling of the ground tilting up to meet him that falling out a window does, but at the end it's like explosion! of awesome! instead of broken bones and cramping diaphragms. He bites his lip, hard, and he probably makes some kind of sound that he can't even hear over the fucking rush, and the tight feeling in his chest swells and bursts. He ends up, like, crumpling into a rag, just pinned to the seat by Gerard's mouth--his brain, out floating around in the big empty, gives him the Frankbird of his dream, caught by its dick and not its wing, which, what the hell?--and he swallows with some effort and says, "Oh man, oh man, how is that so great?"

Gerard moves a little, pulls off and wipes his hand over his mouth, which makes Frank want to kiss him, really a lot. He says, "I really like your cock." He runs his fingers over it, too, like he wants to illustrate. Frank shivers. It's almost, like, too intense right now. Gerard kisses his belly just above the pubic hair, his wet mouth leaving a cool spot, and then he pulls up the sweatpants carefully and straightens up. "It's pretty."

"Huh," Frank says, because he has never in his life thought of a dick as, like, pretty. Maybe it's something you appreciate more when you grow up, like Russian epics.

Gerard smiles at him with his mouth still wet and a little red, and when they kiss it doesn't taste at all like the weather outside.

Frank slips his hand into Gerard's lap, but Gerard grabs it and moves it away and says, "Oh, no, I'll fucking come in my pants and I still have to, you know, get you back and stuff."

"I can, like," Frank says, kind of struggling against Gerard's hand and trying to shift his position so he can reach, without jarring his stupid useless foot.

Gerard shakes his head and smiles and says, "Shit, I'll live, but you're just... I mean, you broke your fucking foot, Frankie. Chill, you know?" He laughs because he fucking knows it sounds crazy, but obviously he also means it.

It also reminds Frank of the rest of the world and how it hates him and wants him to be unhappy. He really, like, fervently and deeply and passionately wants to ask Gerard to drive them both to the fucking station, and carry Frank's crippled ass up the stairs and then they can go to sleep in Gerard's messy bed in Gerard's messy room.

He sighs and sneaks Gerard's cigarettes out again and lights one, and hands the pack to Gerard.

"Yeah, well," he says. "That's stupid."

"It kinda sucks, yeah," Gerard says.

"Except for how it doesn't," Frank says, and they both laugh kind of without being that amused. Without thinking much first he asks, "Am I, like, a good lay or whatever? Like seriously, I know you're with me cause you like me, but speaking, you know, objectively... Okay, you don't have to answer that."

"There is no way of speaking objectively about it, dork," Gerard says and nudges Frank in the side with his elbow and looks down at his cigarette. He's biting the inside of his mouth all thoughtfully. "Also I don't know how the fuck to even try without sounding like a fucking amateur sexologist or just some kind of creep... I don't know, you're like totally not self-conscious, so everything's real easy with you? Easier than, like, I thought it would be with, you know..." He trails off, waving his hand around so the smoke makes big, wobbly circles in the air.

"I'm pretty easy," Frank says. "Unless I'm grounded. Which, um, I'm going to be. For a long time. Motherfuck."

For a wild second he's like on the brink of saying something crazy like 'let's run away' or just, like, 'drive.' He thinks Gerard might try if he asks. And then they'd be out there somewhere and, like, he can't even figure out a scenario where it might work out. Two years, he thinks, staring through their reflections into the storm outside. Just two years.

***

Things are pretty mellow until Gerard pulls up right outside the house, which is when Frank's pulse goes into fucking overdrive and he has to dig his hands into his thighs to stop from shaking. "Oh shit," he says, faintly.

Gerard looks at him, mouth going tight. "Hey, they won't yell too much, right? Not when you're all banged up. Right?"

"Yeah," Frank says. He feels pretty warm and okay, even though his clothes are, like, really gross. He doesn't know why he's freaking out. He knuckles his eyes and breathes deep. "Whatever, I'm cool. Just, like, gimme a hand, kay?" He pushes the door open and almost falls right out after it. Gerard catches him by the elbow.

The rain's maybe thinned out a little but the wind is just fucking crazy, smacking him in the face like it wants to start something, throwing leaves around the place and tearing at the roof of the house so hard Frank can hear the tin groaning. They start with Frank kind of hopping along, clinging to Gerard, but after like three clumsy hops Gerard stops and grabs Frank and kisses him quick and hard and says, "This is stupid, just catch a ride, Frankie."

The porch opens right into the wind so hanging out there is like doing that king of the world Titanic thing only on the nose of a fucking jet. "I'll wait until you drive away, but don't fucking drag your feet. This weather is kind of shit," he says, and Gerard laughs, and then they're both quiet for like a second, staring at each other. Gerard's eyes look black, and his face is really white.

"Frankie," he says. Frank thinks this is like something out of Titanic anyway, it feels fucking epic. Maybe not Titanic, 'cause Gerard is not about to drown or anything, just drive away to his house two miles away, which should be nothing.

Gerard kisses him again right on the fucking porch, deep and for real, and crazy and wild, and makes Frank's stomach flip and also turns him on fast as fuck even though he's tired by now and feels like a wrung out dishrag with a rip through the middle.

"Say hi to Mikey," he says.

"Okay," Gerard says, stretching out the word like he doesn't want it to end. "Yeah. Okay. Give me a second to get to the truck. Okay."

"Go, go," Frank says and waves at him, and Gerard walks away across the lawn, disappearing into the dark. Frank leans against the wall and waits for the sound of the engine. He almost misses it, the wind is so loud.

He doesn't know what time it is, but George answers the door really fast when he rings the doorbell, so they must have still been awake. George is holding Frank's baseball bat behind his back. The bat was a gift from Dad a couple years ago.

"It's just me," Frank says, and feels tears welling up in his eyes. He doesn't mind, because it's good for stopping the yelling anyway, and he's so fucking tired suddenly. His fucked up foot hurts like a motherfucker. "I kinda fell out the window."

"Frank?" George's hair is all messed up and he's wearing his t-shirt inside out. Fucking inside out. Frank would fucking laugh, but then Mom comes into the hall, her hair all messed up, too.

"Frank?" she says, her voice already going shrill. "Frank, oh my God!" She elbows her way past George and grabs Frank's arm. "What are you doing?"

She yanks at the arm and Frank staggers and ends up putting his weight on his left foot. The pain spikes, all dials to fucking eleven, and the leg just, like, bends under him on its own.

"What are you doing, Frankie?" she yells. She's still holding his arm, her fingers digging into his skin. George drops the bat and it clatters on the floor while he bends down over Frank like a blond Godzilla checking out some smallish skyscraper in Tokyo.

"Hang on," he says, kind of trying to pry her off. "I think he's hurt."

She lets go immediately, and instead crouches down next to George, turning Frank's face up with both hands. "What happened? What happened?"

"Um," Frank says. He's almost done choking down the tears--weirdly enough all the stabbing pain is making it easier to stop feeling sorry for himself. It's like he can only deal with one issue at a time, and the ow motherfucker ow is more urgent than the rest of it right now. "Just my foot--"

"You're not wearing shoes!" Mom gasps. "How-- What-- Frank!" Frank notes kind of distantly that she's working herself through the stages of motherly distress in like record time--the worry is over and hysteria is setting in, but it won't be long until she figures out that he's not dying and then relief will become anger and then, oh yeah, he's so fucked.

"Let's get you inside, you look soaked to the skin," George says sensibly and shuffles around so he can grab Frank under the arms and heave him over the threshold. Frank tries to get his right foot down to support himself, but George is like too fucking tall, so he's just hanging there. He tries to get a grip on George's shoulders to push himself out of his grip but it's useless.

"George!" Mom shouts, for a change.

"Shut the door, the rain's blowing right in," George says and puts Frank down. "Can you stand?"

Frank flails around for something to hold on to that isn't George, and ends up clinging to the hat stand in the corner.

Mom's shut the door and now she's just standing in the middle of the hall, right on top of the faded coffee stain, hand over her mouth, the other hand clasping her elbow. She says, much more quietly, "How did you get outside, Frankie?"

"He said something about--" George squints at Frank. He just looks baffled. He should really be used to the drama by now, Frank thinks. "Did you say you fell out the window?"

Mom makes a face like the victim in a horror movie, this kind of crazy twisted grimace, and then she marches right past them and up the stairs.

"Oh, fuck," Frank says.

"Uh, I better..." George says vaguely, but he doesn't have time to follow her before there's a crash from upstairs; they both jump. Frank almost pulls the hat stand down with him.

Mom comes down the stairs after a while. She's carrying the wet sheet-rope in both hands, holding it kind of gingerly.

"What," she says. She's got that tremble in her voice that means she's about to go nuclear. "Is. This?"

There's no good way to answer that. She doesn't even want an answer. Frank says, "My sheets." He feels impatient suddenly, really ready for the drama to be over so he can go lie down in a hot bath for like two hours.

She throws the wad of sheets at him. She actually fucking throws it. It's a girly throw because even when she's furious, Mom's still got a shitty arm, and Frank doesn't even need to block--it flops wetly onto the floor right in front of him.

When he looks up, she's crying.

"I can't do this anymore," she's saying, stabbing a finger at him. Her hand is shaking pretty violently. She also says, "You little bastard, you little bastard, how can you just--" She looks like she wants to claw his face off, or her own.

"Mom--"

"No, Frank, I have had it, I have had it up to here." She swipes her hand across her face to wipe away the tears almost distractedly, like she doesn't even realize they're there. "You-- I don't--- What were you doing? What did you think you were doing?"

He's still holding on to the hatstand; if he lets go he'll fall right over again, and he pretty much has to use both hands to hold himself up even now. He's so cold his fucking kneecaps are shaking. Why the fuck is it always raining?

"Mom," he says again. "I'm sorry. I just... like, I just had to get out of there."

"You--what?" she says, throwing out her hands. "You, what, you had to, what--"

"I know I should have, like, asked, or, I mean... I should have gone out the front door, but-- you guys were, like--"

"Ohhh," George says. Wow, Frank totally forgot he's, like, in the room at all. He thinks Mom forgot, too, because she kind of snaps around to stare at George all wild-eyed.

Then she snaps right back to stare at Frank again. "You used your sheets to, to, to escape?"

"I'm sorry! It was dumb, I know, like, obviously I know that now."

In this weird slow motion move she puts both her hands over her face. Her shoulders are shaking.

Frank thinks he might be getting close to hysteria, too, because he can't stop himself from babbling suddenly. "I'm really sorry, I just felt totally trapped and, like, I just thought I'd, like... I just wanted to get out for a second. I guess it was like temporary insanity or something. Mom?"

Now she's making weird, choked sounds.

"Linda?" George says, very very carefully.

"Oh, God," she mumbles through her hands. "Oh, God, Frankie."

He's trying to think of the good things that he will get even after she sends him away to military camp, like a warm bath and some painkillers, and a chair to sit on, but he can't concentrate on that. He'll have to run away. He'll actually have to run away and live on the street. It's almost calming to think that right now. Here's the actual life or death moment, it's totally here. He shivers, this long, slow shudder sliding down his spine, making all off his skin crawl, like, his scalp and his palms and the backs of his thighs, everything. Holy fuck.

"Frankie," Mom says and throws out her hands again, all what the fuck? "You climbed out the window on a rope made of sheets!"

That's when he realizes she's fucking laughing. And crying, sure, so hard her eyes are like streaming tears and her face is completely wet, but mostly laughing, fucking choking on it and trying to stop, but it's bursting out of her in short, hoarse barks. "Made of sheets!" she croaks.

"It seemed like--" he starts, but then he just says, "It even seemed like a stupid idea at the time, but it almost worked."

She kind of half-walks, half-falls down the last steps and grabs him around the neck. For a second he thinks she's going to shake him or, like, try to strangle him or something because she looks really fucking crazy right now, but she just hugs him and kisses his head over and over, getting snot in his hair and still laughing the whole time. He can't let go of the hatstand to hug her back so he just stands there, his leg starting to get that acid sting like he's been running, his foot throbbing like a motherfucker, everything else pretty much aching too, but he's afraid to say anything at all.

Finally she lets him go. He slumps against the hatstand. The hatstand is a total lifesaver, a pole of, like, steadiness and shit. His hands hurt from squeezing it so hard.

"You're cold," Mom says. She sounds a lot calmer, like she laughed herself out or something. She wipes her face again and kind of snorts. She must be all stuffed up. "And your hair is damp. You need to take a hot bath immediately. You really don't need to miss the beginning of school again."

"I think we need to take him down to County for the foot," George says.

"I just want the bath first," Frank says quickly.

Mom says, "The foot?"

***

He doesn't even have to stay at the hospital. He tells Mom like a hundred times that it doesn't even hurt, which isn't true until after he gets a shot. Then it's really true and he feels kind of floaty and stoned for the rest of the night. The drive back from the hospital is super trippy, and Frank lies in the back and stares at his splinted foot and lets his head loll bonelessly against his shoulder in the curves. His head feels heavy and hard. The whole bit before the painkiller seems faraway like a story someone told him.

George carries him up the stairs, which is somewhat humiliating, but mostly funny because Frank keeps thinking about how Gerard would end up falling on his face if he tried that, and Frank would have to ride on his back instead. George could probably carry Gerard up the stairs.

George kind of looks at the desk still pushed in front of the window and the stripped bed, and he sighs totally melodramatically and looks at Frank and says, kind of slowly, "There was dry mud on your clothes."

Frank stares right back for three seconds and then he giggles, because he's so fucking stoned. He has no tolerance for legal drugs. "Awesome, Sherlock," he says, and lies down on the bed even though there aren't any sheets. George probably had more things to say about stuff, but in the nick of time Mom comes in with a cup of tea and interrupts.

Frank tries to lift an eyebrow at George, but it takes him a while to figure out how to make his, like, facial muscles do that, and he giggles again.

Mom sits down on the bed with the tea in her lap. Frank sees George sidle out of the room.

"I just don't know what to do with you," she says, and Frank has one sharp sober memory of Gerard pacing in the rain.

"I just..." he says, but what the fuck is he going to say? He thinks about Father Leary and his whole honesty propaganda, but honesty is honestly a bad fucking idea right now. Two years, he thinks. His mom is looking at him, and her face is serious. She's not going to start laughing again. Her hair is still all messed up, and strands that have escaped the sloppy ponytail are framing her face, making her look younger, kind of girlish. Frank says, "I just felt really shut in."

She just keeps looking at him. He stares back at her pale face and the dark shadows under her eyes, and for just a second he wishes he'd never met Gerard. If he told her he was crazy in love with some girl, even someone weird and badly behaved like Alicia Simmons, Mom would understand.

Just that thought makes his mouth go dry, though, and his throat clicks when he swallows. "They always do it on TV," he says. "With the sheets."

"I'm tired of being the bad guy, Frankie." She runs her hand through her hair, messing up the ponytail even more. "I must be doing something so wrong. I'm just trying to keep you safe, but you keep-- The harder I try, the wilder you get. You don't fight fair, do you?"

Frank moves his shoulders. It's not quite a shrug, because he doesn't want to piss her off, but hello. Fair! His eyes sting and he has to blink and blink and blink. "I'm your kid, you have like total power over me. I'm just, like, going crazy here. I didn't mean to be such a, um, such a delinquent. You know? I don't want to go to military school. I don't try on purpose to be a bastard to you. I mean, you're my mom, I love you."

The stinging has turned into welling up, which is embarrassing sort of, except she's got tears going again, too. She looks like she's going to say something like, 'oh Frankie' in that exasperated tone she uses when she's not sure if she's actually pissed off or not, but she just sets the cup down carefully on the desk, and then she leans down and kisses his forehead. Her hair falls around her face and tickles his cheeks and nose.

"I love you too, Frankie," she says quietly. "Okay. I'm going to get you some new sheets. If you get some wild urge to tie them together again, just come talk to me. Just talk to me. Please. I'm not going to send you to military school, I promise."

"Okay," he just says instead of mentioning her special time with George again. After she's gone and he's drinking the tea and zoning out on the fading painkiller buzz, he decides that next time he gets the urge, he totally will go tell her, see how that'll pan out. It can't possibly be more disastrous than tonight. Except for the blowjob. He tries to balance the tallies--blowjob vs broken foot. Hanging out with Gerard vs grounded for life.

"You pay and pay and pay," he mutters, and then slaps himself in the face because it's no fucking contest. He can just lie here and try to come up with something he won't do, and it'll take him all night and all day. Maybe, maybe he wouldn't get through like a Temple of Doom type tunnel of bugs and spiders even if there was a Gerard waiting at the other end, but that would be because he'd go completely insane and they'd have to lock him up in a fucking padded cell, because fucking hell. He still can't watch that part of the fucking movie, he has to close his eyes until they're clear of the bugs. All those fucking legs.

***

Friday

Nobody wakes him up in the morning. He wakes up on his own sometime in the afternoon and hobbles clumsily to the bathroom, takes a piss, drinks some water and takes a couple Advil, and then he goes back to bed and passes out again. The foot aches and turns his dreams anxious and frustrating. He can't remember them after, just that he didn't like them. It's dark outside when he wakes up again, and he counts seventeen hours asleep total. But he doesn't feel sick or like he's getting a cold or anything, just kind of nervous and hungry.

There are missed calls on his cell again, one from Gerard and two from Mikey. Gerard's phone is turned off when Frank tries to call back; Mikey answers his after one ring.

"So is he there?" Mikey says immediately, talking weirdly fast. "What's with not picking up, did your mom take your phone again?"

"What?" Frank says.

"Fuck," Mikey says, his voice going even tenser. "Okay, then... I was kind of counting on your place. Now I got, like, nothing."

Frank takes a deep breath and says, really slowly, "Mikey, explain yourself because you're freaking me out."

"Right, um," Mikey says. "I just haven't seen Gerard around for a while, you know, and, like, he never goes out. You know? Unless he's with you. And there's a pile of really muddy clothes in the hall--"

"Well, I know about those," Frank says, trying to remember everything that happened. What the fuck, Gerard? "I mean, he was here last night."

Right away, Mikey sounds totally suspicious: "What happened?"

"Nothing," Frank says automatically. Then he cracks up, but he thinks he probably sounds kind of fucked up when he laughs. He might be getting a little hysterical. Fucking hell. "Okay, I totally broke my foot falling out the window, but nothing, like, dramatic. Dramatic-er. I mean, we just made out in the truck a bit and then he left."

There's a pause. Mikey's probably rolling his eyes and counting to ten or something. Then he says, "Seriously, Frank. Just, was he okay? You know him, give me a reading. Where the fuck would he go?"

Frank thinks Mikey sounds pretty pissed off, under all the Mikeyness. Maybe he's bitchy 'cause he has to ask Frank for hints about his own brother.

"I don't fucking know," he says. Last night pretty much feels like something he made up. I'm probably still asleep, he thinks. Another stupid anxiety dream. Where are the spider monsters when you need them?

"I don't fucking know either," Mikey says. "He didn't take the truck or anything, so he's on foot."

"There might be a place," Frank says. "You know that little beach, like, the--"

"The secret beach?" Mikey says immediately.

"It's not fucking secret if you know about it, is it?"

"Whatever, whatever." Mikey's speaking faster and faster. "I know it but I can't find it in the fucking dark! Why the fuck would he be there, anyway? I don't think I can find it!"

If Mikey was here, Frank could shake him or something to make him stop being a freak. Or hug him, whichever will work. Hugging Mikey sometimes makes him act even weirder. He says, "If you come pick me up, I'll help you."

"Oh, God," Mikey whispers. He's probably thinking about trying to back the truck out of the drive in the dark.

"I can't get there on my own, I'm fucking crippled." Plus he might need a getaway driver after he tells Mom about this, no matter what she said about no military school. But this is the urge, all right. What the fuck, Gerard? Things just can't stay sane around here for one single day. "Just bring a fucking flashlight and keep your eyes on the road."

After he hangs up, he tries to pace around his room and think, but it's a fucking hassle to pace with crutches. Putting clothes on is a hassle, too--he ends up wearing sweatpants again because he doesn't want to try and fit jeans over the foot. And while he's battling them he can't even decide if he's more afraid of finding Gerard, like, dead on the beach or of not finding him at all. And on top of that, now he has to worry about fucking Mikeyway driving the truck into a tree.

Yet another hurdle is getting down the stairs. It's kind of like climbing down the wall all over again for a while, because the carpet is worn and slippery in some places and not in other places, and it's totally a gamble which it'll be when he puts the crutches down. When he finally reaches the hall and its beautiful, flat floor, he's sweaty everywhere and kind of dizzy.

Mom and George are in the livingroom watching a movie. The DVD case is on the coffee table, and it says Solaris but there is definitely no George Clooney in this, 'cause it's in fucking Russian. George is obviously trying to indoctrinate Mom. She looks pretty bored, though, and looks up eagerly when Frank comes in.

"Um," Frank says, but then he can't even get anything out. George looks up, too, and then he gets the remote and pauses the Russians.

"How are you feeling, honey?" Mom asks, smiling. "Are you hungry?"

George says, "Slept enough? You have turned daytime into nighttime."

They look cozy and ordinary sitting there, George's arm around Mom's shoulder and even their empty coffee mugs rubbing up against each other on the table.

Shit, Frank thinks. He says, "Um. So there's kind of an emergency and I have to go over to Mikey's?"

"Have to?" Mom says, at the same time as George says, "Emergency?"

Trying to explain will make him sound like a basket case, he realizes when he starts with, "Mikey, um, I mean, he can't find Gerard."

Mom opens her mouth, and then closes it again. She turns to look at George. George lifts one bushy blond eyebrow.

It's pretty late, and it's dark outside. This whole thing is most likely stupid and pointless, and nothing's wrong and Mikey's on crack. But Frank remembers Gerard's confused monologues last night, and he also remember the day before that. And Gerard never leaves the house, especially not without telling Mikey, it's like written in fucking stone. It's the Law of Gerard. Frank says, "I just have to find him. Just... I'm asking, you guys."

Mom says, "Why is this suddenly so important? Is something going on?"

Way to fucking ask the loaded questions, Mom. Frank shifts, concentrating on the ache in his fucked up foot instead of the sick clench in his belly. "You know," he says, super casually. "Gerard's kind of messed up sometimes. Not like dangerous, just... you know. Depressed and stuff. You know?"

They exchange another look, one of those ones where they're communicating grownup judgment by psychic vibes only. Frank fucking hates that, even though he knows how it works and he can totally do it with Gerard. It just sucks to be the one who has to wait for them to, like, reach a understanding.

"Please?" he adds, just to make sure he's done what he can. Maybe he can still bike with the foot like this. He doesn't even know what the weather's like, though. If it's still fucking storming it'll suck pretty hardcore no matter what.

"Are you telling us everything?" Mom asks. She's not looking pissed off, just, like... thoughtful. There's a tiny crease between her eyebrows, but her mouth isn't doing the thin line of disappointment thing at all.

Frank has to think about that, though. Then he takes a breath and says, "No, man. Look, look, it's like private. I can't tell you guys other people's confidential shit. I mean, stuff. I mean... secrets. It's not something illegal or anything, just personal, if that helps?" His palms are getting sweaty around the plastic handles of the crutches and his left thigh trembles from holding up the bandaged foot.

He thinks George looks impressed. Mom's frown lines deepen for a second, and then she says, "Okay. Okay, Frankie. But you're not going running around outside by yourself at night, and that's final."

"Mikey is coming to pick me up," Frank says. "He just needs some help finding this one place I think might be, like... It's not even far, I swear. I just need to know he's okay. I mean, Gerard. And Mikey. They're my friends, they're having this totally hard time."

He knows he's got her then because she makes this aw face for like one second before she goes back to looking worried again, and he has to kind of fight to not look stupidly relieved.

"Okay," she says.

***

She makes Frank take a sandwich and a Coke Zero with him, and he eats while he waits for Mikey, leaning on one crutch and getting peanut butter all over his fingers. It's raining again, or still, or whatever, and he's wet and the stupid sandwich is wet, and he has exactly enough time to make up all these scary doom scenarios about Gerard before the truck kind of crawls up and almost pushes him into a hedge because Mikey can't even park on an empty street.

Frank gets in, and says, "Nice parking," and Mikey flips him off. He's wet, too, and looks like a really miserable drowned rat with his pale, pinched face and red kind of drippy nose and his ears sticking out awkwardly between strands of thin, colorless hair.

"This is like my one idea," Frank says, holding up one finger. "I mean, after that I'm as clueless as you, but I was thinking, like, if our lives was a movie, where would he be? You know? You know he fucking thinks like that."

"If this was a movie, I'd probably be dead," Mikey mutters. "They always kill the kid brother, it's like, whatsitcalled, Gerard's always babbling about it. Narrative convention."

Frank stares at him. Mikey is such a mopey motherfucker sometimes. Like, in a totally different way from Gerard. "You just, like, assume that you're just a supporting character, man," he says. "I mean, maybe this is your biopic we're living?"

Mikey just rolls his eyes. Obviously that thought is just, like, unthinkable to him. Frank wonders if he'd be like Mikey if he had his own big brother, all convinced he's not important. Mikey doesn't even seem to mind.

***

Frank isn't even going to try to get Mikey to drive all the way to the beach, because it's like this tiny timber road that's maybe technically drivable for someone in a tractor, who hasn't flunked driving three times. They park where the real road stops and there's kind of a clearing or whatever, a wide enough space that even Mikey can get a truck turned around. It's still pouring down and it's pitch black, but the wind has calmed down since yesterday and it's a lot warmer.

"What the fuck?" Mikey says, waving his hands at the looming trees all around them. "Why the hell would he be here? You can't get him outside without, like, tasering him."

Frank throws him a Look, and Mikey twists his mouth and rolls his eyes again. "Right," he says.

"Tell me you remembered a flashlight," Frank says. He's tried a couple times to call Gerard's cell, but it's still turned off. Motherfucker. He tries again.

"It's been turned off since, like, this afternoon or whatever," Mikey says, sounding surly, but he leans over and flips open the glove compartment and wow, he did remember a flashlight, and it's even a good one, one of those bigass Maglites that you could use as a murder weapon. "I'm gonna kill him, I think."

"Wouldn't your movie end, then?" Frank says. "If you're living his biography or whatever?"

"At this point," Mikey says, opening the door and peering out at the sheets of rain coming down, "I don't even fucking care."

Frank clambers out of the cab, which is way harder than he expected. The crutches skid on the wet ground and his sneaker sinks into something gross and nature-y, immediately getting soaked with cold water. Oh yeah, brave rescue ranger right here, barely standing upright. He hobbles awkwardly a few steps. Mom made him wear double plastic bags over his bandage, taped to his leg, and a raincoat, although he had to take George's raincoat because no one could find Frank's own in the rush. George's raincoat reaches his knees. Frank is pretty sure he now looks like the disembodied torso of a dead fisherman floating along two feet off the ground.

He balances precariously on one crutch and pulls up the hood. "I know what you did last summer," he intones, mostly to himself, but he hears Mikey snort somewhere behind him.

Now that he's outside, though, he has a pretty good feeling about, like, direction and stuff. The flashlight is a bright spike of light that cuts through the rain a whopping five yards, showing some eerily bright trees and bushes and then nothing. Frank's pretty sure he would find the beach easier in the dark than fucking flinching at weird glowy things. There are no fucking spiders in the rain, and he's got this path burned into his head, he is a fucking homing pigeon right now. He can feel it.

"Frank," Mikey says quietly right next to him, and Frank almost falls over. The patter of drops on leaves is so loud that it lets Mikey get fucking stealthy.

"Jesus, what?"

"How sure are you? I mean, like, what if he isn't here? What would he be doing here?"

Frank shrugs, a little awkward because if he moves to fast his crutches will either slide out in different directions or simply get stuck in the mud. He can picture Gerard sitting on the beach in the fucking dark and the fucking rain, but fuck if he knows what exactly he's actually doing. If he's there. Frank thinks he understands the general idea. He might come out here himself to, like, reminisce or whatever, but it takes fucking Gerard to do it for hours, in a downpour.

"You're gonna fall on your face," Mikey mutters, but it turns out that even though Mikey is the one holding the flashlight he still manages to also be the one that walks into like two different trees and trips over a rock on the really short walk. He must be kind of freaking out, though, because he doesn't even curse or anything, he just rubs his face or pushes his glasses up or brushes clumsily at his clothes and plods on.

Walking with the crutches is weirdly focusing, like it's easier to not think a lot of extra unnecessary freakout thoughts when so much concentration goes to putting them in the right place and avoiding knocking the bad foot into anything. He just kind of has these random memories from the last time he was here, getting wet in the dark.

They run out of creepy shiny trees all of a sudden, and the light just disappears into empty air, bouncing off raindrops on the way. Frank's crutches sink into the sand, but not too deep. It's not that fine, golden stuff they have on the public beach; this is almost gravel.

"Gerard!" Mikey calls, flailing wildly around with the light so it's like the batsignal gone berserk all over the beach. The sound of the rain is different here, too, softer on the sand, wetter on the lake, with the dull roar of it staying behind in the forest.

Frank hops blindly down the easy slope. He can kind of see the water like a wall of, like, blacker black in all the black, and he's pretty confident he's not gonna just fall right in or anything.

He's getting a little used to the dark; there's still some reflected light from the town painting the hanging clouds dirty brown orange, and when he's not, like, blinded by the stupid flashlight, he can make out shapes okay.

So he sees the small, still figure down by the water pretty clearly out of the corner of his eye.

He crutches it down there, and it's just five staggering hops with his heart slamming in his chest and his breaths hissing in his throat. He doesn't even know why he's suddenly so nervous, because Gerard is obviously alive and awake and just being an asshole not answering Mikey.

Frank misjudges the last hop and smacks Gerard in the elbow with a crutch.

Gerard jumps like a foot in the air and yelps. Frank staggers and gets his feet tangled up with his crutches and he's pretty much doomed to faceplant when Gerard's arms come up and catch him around the waist. They end up leaning drunkenly against each other, Gerard on his knees in the sand, Frank hugging his head and trying to keep weight off the bad foot.

"Frank!" Gerard says, as if he's somehow surprised that Frank's there. The spacey motherfucker.

"Hey," Frank says. Gerard's skin is cold under his hands and he can feel him shivering. "What the fuck are you doing?"

"I was just, uh," Gerard says vaguely. He's kind of running his palms over the raincoat. "Why are you-- Wait, what-- Can you stand?"

His voice is thick and slow, like he just woke up. Maybe he did. Because sitting on the beach is exactly how some dudes nap. If they're insane space aliens.

"Yeah, because I'm not fucking-- How wasted are you?" Frank asks. He's fucking relieved, that's what he is, but now he's also getting a little angry.

"No," Gerard says, squeezing Frank's back through the raincoat and pushing his face against his chest. His voice gets all muffled. "I mean, I'm not drunk. I was just, like, thinking. I guess I lost track of time. I needed to really clear my head, and my room was just too close."

Frank struggles out of his grip and stands swaying crazily on one leg for a while. He has to shoot a hand out and grab Gerard's hair for support, and he has no idea where the crutches went, probably rolled right into the water, but he manages to fold his legs and sit down without injury. He'll call that a win.

Gerard sits down next to him. Frank can hear his teeth clattering over the sound of rain.

"Mikey was going nuts, man," he says.

Gerard moves restlessly in the dark and Frank more feels than sees him turn around to look up the beach. "I just forgot," he says. "Fuck. I was just so inside my head. I was thinking about Helena. You know, wishing I could talk to her? About you. She'd understand, I think. I mean, I don't know if she'd be totally down with this--" he nudges Frank in the side-- "but she wouldn't judge. She wouldn't freak out. I really need that, Frankie."

Frank's whole body tenses up, but mostly his face, like every muscle in his mouth especially has gone rigid. There's a pain somewhere under his jaw, from clenching.

Then Gerard says, "Because it feels, like, too big for just us. It's fucking huge. Fucking huge." His hand fumbles over Frank's arm until he finds the end of the too-long sleeve. "This raincoat is fucking huge, too," he adds.

"Or I'm small," Frank says, pushing his hand out of the sleeve to grab Gerard's. "I'm not, you know, tall."

Gerard's hand is like a fucking Popsicle. Frank squeezes it and tries to think warm thoughts.

"It wasn't this dark when I came down here," Gerard says. "It wasn't raining as hard either."

"Fucking dumbass," Frank says, leaning over and reaching for Gerard's other Popsicle-hand. "It's like ten pm or something." The tension has drained out of him mostly, but there's still this clump in the bottom of his chest, he doesn't even know what it means. It's fucking huge, he thinks; he's not that sure he knows exactly what that means either. Except he thinks he's had the same thought.

"I remember you being all excited about fucking swimming here, man," Gerard says. "So I don't know who the dumbass is."

"That was in the summer," Frank says.

"That was like a month ago, I think. It's still summer," Gerard says, tugging a little at Frank's hands. Maybe he's smiling, but Frank can't see him. It's in his voice, though. "Funny, it really does feel like longer. Like it was last summer. Or ten years ago."

"A hundred years ago, whatever. Before the Vikings found America."

Light sweeps over them and Frank almost yanks his hands back, but he stops himself. He can't see anything at all but red swirly flashes after it's gone. He hears Mikey's voice: "Frank, you fucker, you fucking found him, fuck!" He sounds pretty pissed off now, even though his voice is still weirdly monotone. But he's loud, almost yelling. "We need to get the fuck out of here before you both die of pneumonia."

Frank doesn't feel that cold, actually. George's giant raincoat looks ridiculous, but it's good cover, really. His right foot and the bottom part of the two pairs of sweatpants he's wearing are pretty wet, but other than that he's totally snug. But Gerard is seriously shaking, probably about to drop dead from hypothermia because of being a moron.

"Come on," Frank whispers so only Gerard can hear him. "You're gonna freeze. Don't you want to share body heat?"

Gerard twitches; his hands squeeze Frank's hard.

Frank lowers his voice even more, leaning closer. "Seriously, Mikey drove here. I totally risked my life to find you."

Gerard lets him go suddenly, and Frank can't even breathe for a second until he realizes that Gerard's just wiping his face, knuckling at his eyes and sniffing like his nose is stuffed up. Which is fucking should be, after hours out here. Maybe he's crying, too. You never know with Gerard.

Gerard says, "Yeah, okay. I'm a little fucking cold. And I'm out of cigarettes. Or maybe they got wet." He's turning his head this way and that like he thinks he could actually see something, the freak. "I don't remember. Man, I could drink like a gallon of coffee. Frank. Frank."

He fumbles for Frank's hands again.

"What?" Frank says. "What is it?"

"You knew I was here."

Duh, Frank thinks, but he feels this quick flash of heat in his chest and his face. "I knew you were here," he says. "Narrative convention, you know?"

Gerard leans against him, almost like a fall, and puts his cold cold hands on Frank's face and mumbles, "You're so awesome," into his ear.

***

Mikey doesn't really talk a whole lot to Gerard, and he doesn't look at him a lot, either, the whole way back to the truck. He just pulls his shoulders up almost to his ears and keeps the flashlight aimed steadily up ahead. Mikey sometimes focuses better when he's angry.

At the truck, Gerard tries to help Frank into the cab, but he's shivering so hard it just doesn't work, so Mikey has to help them both, and he does it without even speaking. It's kind of awkward, or it should be, anyway, but Frank feels--he actually has to, like, stop and think about it--kind of giddy? Almost high. It might be the cold, or the pain, because his broken foot isn't real happy about being this cold. Or it's because Gerard leans close immediately and his wet hair brushes Frank's face and he puts a hand on Frank's leg. Yeah, maybe that's why.

Mikey slams their door, and then he slams the driver's side door after he gets in. He doesn't look pissed off, like, more pissed off than Mikey usually looks. He just has this glum expression and his eyes are hidden behind his foggy glasses and his mouth is pinched shut when he fumbles with the key and starts the truck.

Gerard looks just a little blue, and the skin around his eyes is like seriously purple. He holds out a hand to Frank--it's fishbelly white and wrinkly.

"Jeez," Frank says. "What, were you in a coma?"

That kind of came out wrong, he realizes too late, because Mikey goes still--it's amazing that Frank can tell something changed, because it's not like Mikey was bouncing around before. But this is the oh no you didn't stillness. The truck doesn't swerve or anything, though.

It's a ten minute drive back to the station even though it's just like half a mile as the bird flies. Mikey's phone beeps the message beep like three times in that time, and Frank sees his hands, like, twitch, but even Mikey isn't crazy enough to try to text while driving on a narrow road in the dark in the rain.

When they're back and parked kind of almost in the drive and mostly not on the lawn, Mikey gets out immediately and wanders off towards the stairs without looking back, already texting for all he's worth.

Gerard looks after him, but Frank isn't even sure Gerard gets that Mikey's having some kind of major freakout. He looks exhausted, or maybe just dead, with his eyelids all purple and his skin drawn tight over his cheekbones. His lips are whiter than the rest of his face.

After a while, he turns back to Frank, like he can feel Frank staring. His eyes look even more giant and dark than usual. Maybe the look isn't like 'dead' but more like an illustration from a D&D book. Half-elf bard or something. Something kind of magical and strange. After a long night... barding. In the rain.

Gerard says, "Frankie."

Frank wriggles even closer and tries to kiss him, but the hood of the stupid raincoat gets in the way. Gerard pushes it away. His mouth is so cold, even on the inside.

"You need to get warm, like right now," Frank says.

***

Mikey's door is closed when they get up to the apartment. Also, he's listening to The Smiths. Frank is kind of out of breath because climbing all those stairs on crutches is crazy hard work. Gerard looks like he's about to keel over right in the hall.

"Mikey..." Gerard says faintly, but he doesn't finish the thought.

"He's freaked out, man," Frank says. "I don't fucking blame him, either. You gotta take your clothes off and warm up. Bath? A hot shower at least."

Gerard smiles with one side of his mouth.

Frank says, "I can watch you, right?"

Gerard grabs him and hugs him, and now Frank does drop his stupid crutches so he can throw his arms around Gerard's neck. His hands are trapped inside the monkey sleeves of the ridiculous fucking raincoat and he can't really do anything about it, but he clings tightly and closes his eyes and lets himself really feel relieved for a second. Relief is such a light, spinny feeling.

He leaves the crutches and the raincoat on the floor when they go into the bathroom. He sits on the toilet seat and watches Gerard fumble out of his clothes with clumsy, slow movements and almost fall and crack his head open when he tries to get in the tub. There's no way Frank could have moved fast enough to catch him, and there's a second where his heart, like, stops beating or something, but Gerard makes it with just a little stumble and barking his shin on the edge.

"Oh Jesus," he says when the water comes on, "everything fucking stings, I mean burns, I mean... Fuck, fuck, pins and needles."

"Next time you'll think twice about sitting on the beach thinking deep thoughts until your core temperature is, like, critical," Frank says, tapping his nails on the toilet cistern. "Don't even think about getting out of there until you have feeling in every place you, like, should have feeling in. Seriously. I'm gonna go get your fucking Snoopy pajamas. Don't fall over, asshole."

Gerard doesn't even answer, he's in some kind of masochistic trance now, eyes closed against the spray. The bathroom is steaming up. Frank himself has some pins and needles going on, too, so he pulls off his wet sneaker and drops it on the floor with a wet plop. Then he wrangles off both his wet pairs of sweatpants. Then he clenches his jaw and rips off the tape his mother used to secure the plastic bags. There'll be a hairless ring around his calf after that, for sure, fucking hell.

When he opens the bathroom door and hops into the hall, clinging to the doorframe for support, the first thing he sees is Alicia Simmons taking off some wet sneakers of her own right there. She's wearing a weird short black dress or skirt-with-suspenders or whatever the hell it is, over a ridiculously tight white t-shirt with a picture of David Bowie in orange, and black tights and striped black and white kneesocks, and so much black around her eyes it looks like she got punched on both sides. Her pink hair is held back with two black barrettes.

Frank slides along the wall so he can close the door behind him to protect Gerard's... Gerardness. He also tries to look casual about how he's standing here with no pants on. Like, whatever. It's just Alicia, he thinks. She has a crush on Mikeyway.

"So, uh, hi," he says. She's staring at him with her black-ringed eyes wide. "What's up? What are you doing here?"

She crosses her arms over her chest. He never noticed that she had, like, breasts before. Because she was always wearing baggy hoodies and slumping. Now they're like all over the place.

She lifts her chin and says, "I'm here to seduce Mikey Way. What about you?"

He leans back against the wall so he can cross his arms, too. It's kind of a bad idea, though, he realizes after he does it, because it makes his hoodie pull up higher so now she can see even more of his underwear. It's weird that he feels weird about it, he thinks. He's like totally gay, and this is a girl.

"His brother," he says, lifting his chin, too. Let her see his underwear. They're not embarrassing even though his mom bought them. She never buys shit with, like, weird patterns or cartoon characters on or anything. "I mean, I'm here to seduce Mikeyway's brother."

They both crack up at the same time, and they both sound way too high-pitched and squeaky. "For real?" Alicia says. "Wow."

"For real," Frank says. "Look, Mikey's a little, you know, um, upset right now..."

"I know," she says. "He texted me like fifty times. You sure got the crazy one."

He shrugs against the wall. These things are relative, he's pretty sure. Gerard isn't the one who's in his room listening to Morrissey wail about being unlovable right now.

"So you and Mikey, like..." he says. "That was fast."

She smiles at him, kind of wickedly. "We haven't even met yet, we were just chatting online before," she says. "And texting a lot. The door was ajar? So I just walked in. That's his room, right?" She points at the closed door barely holding back all the British angst. "I'm gonna go see if he wants to have wild sex."

She smiles again, but Frank thinks she looks just a little bit nervous. She doesn't let it stop her, though. She knocks like once, not really loud, and just pushes the door open enough to slip inside.

He gets the crutches off the floor without falling on his face, and then it's short work to hop down the hall to Gerard's room, but then it takes like forever to find anything resembling pajamas. The place has been kind of cleaned since the barforama the other day, or at least it doesn't smell like anything but cigarettes now, and the bed has clean, if mismatched, sheets on it.

The Snoopy pajamas are in the closet. Folded. Clean. "Holy fuck," Frank says, staring at the neat rows of t-shirts and pants. The socks are rolled up. "Who the fuck fairy godmothered this place?"

"I needed to think," Gerard says behind him. Frank is pretty proud of himself for not even twitching. He turns around and Gerard explains, "Sometimes folding is, like, soothing."

"Sometimes?" Frank says. Gerard's rubbing his hair with a towel. Otherwise he's totally naked. "Dude, you should know--"

"Well, today folding was soothing?"

"--there's a girl in this apartment. Getting it on with your brother."

Gerard squints at him. "There's a what?" Then he kind of shrugs and runs a hand over his face. "Fuck, I'm tired. I'm warm, but I still feel cold somewhere deep inside, and it's just sucking up all my energy. I want to lie down. With you," he adds, looking at the towel he's holding. Frank doesn't think he means the towel. "Frank. With you, Frank."

Frank feels his face scrunch up into a ridiculous smile. "Yeah?" he says. He didn't mean for that to be a question, but he's tired, too, even though he's only been up for like... an hour and a half. After sleeping around the clock. Whatever. So he says, "Yeah."

He puts the pajamas back in the closet and hops the three steps of clear floor between them, and Gerard drops the towel and pulls him close. He presses his face against Frank's neck and holds still. He says, "Mikey's pissed at me."

"Duh," Frank says. "But, um, you don't want to interrupt him right now, seriously. And you should close your door."

"Who is here? I mean, did you say--"

"Alicia, dude. You know Alicia?"

"No," Gerard says. "I like that name. Better than Alice." He leans back suddenly. "Oh, Alicia. The text message girl?"

Frank wonders at what point in the big drunken bender that was this whole week did Gerard have time to listen to Mikey talk about Alicia, but Gerard touches his face with damp fingertips, pulls them over his cheek and mouth, and it's not like Frank actually cares that much. He can ask later.

Gerard pulls back and takes Frank's stupid crutches and leans them against the wall. They fall over immediately, clattering and bouncing off the door. Gerard ignores them and just kicks the door shut and grabs Frank by the upper arms and half-lifts, half-shoves him onto the bed. Frank's pulse speeds up, like seriously, zero to a billion before his ass hits the mattress. Maybe he's not that tired after all. He pushes himself backwards onto the bed and tries to wrangle off his hoodie and t-shirt at the same time. Gerard follows him and helps him really efficiently, so fast Frank doesn't even know where the clothes go. He flops back onto the pillow and Gerard covers him with his body, with his skin still kind of hot and damp from the shower, his hair dripping cool water on Frank's face when he bends down to kiss him.

"Oh fuck," he whispers against Frank's mouth. "How fucking long has it been since I got to do that."

"For-fucking-ever," Frank says and lifts his head a little so he can run his tongue over Gerard's mouth, and at the same time he spreads his legs a little so Gerard can fit a knee between them. Gerard can't be that tired either, because he's pushing his dick against Frank's thigh and sliding his hand down into Frank's shorts at the same time. He opens his mouth to Frank's tongue and meets it, and the kiss is, like, like, so fucking intense, like an orgasm, except not. Like, almost-an-orgasm, the way it gets almost up to the enough point but never quite there, so Frank just pushes back mindlessly against Gerard's hand and tongue and makes weird noises.

Somehow, through it, he remembers to only push with his right foot.

Gerard stops to let them both breathe for the few seconds it takes for him to shove Frank's underwear down, but nobody wants to actually stop and back off and, like, take them off or anything, so they just stay halfway down his thighs where they tie his legs together, infuriatingly but not infuriatingly enough to make him do something. He just arches up as Gerard drops down again, his dick sliding wetly over Frank's belly, and getting his hand back on Frank's dick and his tongue back in Frank's mouth.

It takes exactly five seconds for Frank to white out completely. His fingertips hurt a little when he becomes aware of them again, from clutching Gerard's shoulders. He sucks in wet, gasping breaths while Gerard mouths his jaw and palms his dick gently. His own is still wedged against Frank's hip.

"Hey," Frank says. He kind of slurs it. "Man... man." He shoves weakly at Gerard's chest, takes a second to find his muscles again and shoves harder. "Come on, let me."

Gerard rolls over pretty much on his own; Frank's not sure he could actually make Gerard shift much against his will without resorting to dirty tricks. He pushes himself up on shaky arms and crawls down Gerard's body, only stopping a couple times to lick some random patches of skin--a nipple, maybe with a little scrape of teeth there, and his bellybutton, and the soft bump of hipbone. Gerard makes a tiny, choked sound at that, so the next patch of skin is the underside of his dick, which tastes like Frank's own come a little bit.

He slides his mouth down slickly, not too fast, and runs his hand over Gerard's inner thigh and through the wet curls of his pubic hair. Gerard puts his hands lightly on Frank's head and Frank pushes against them, trying to say yes, yes without actually saying it. Gerard has to remember--and he does, he tangles his fingers in Frank's hair. Not hard, but not all wimpy either, and Frank shivers all over and flattens his tongue against Gerard's dick and sucks hard, slides his hand down between Gerard's legs, to push his fingers against the smooth skin just under his balls.

His own dick rubs against the sheets with every move he makes, and it's starting to make itself known again, sending these signal flares up his spine, so he curves his back and thrusts a little with his hips, but it's not super urgent, not like the feeling of going down on Gerard's dick so far that it feels like it's going to choke him and, like, getting totally through that, just digging that feeling, testing the limit. His jaw starts to ache a little pretty soon, but it's still a good ache, like being tired but not too tired, just sort of pleasing and warm and zinging.

Gerard's hands tighten suddenly in his hair, hard enough to hurt, and he struggles against it and pulls his lips back from his teeth for just, like, a fraction of a second and then his mouth fills up in a flash and he has to pull back. He swallows just a little of it, the slick bitter taste that's nothing like the smell sticking everywhere.

He lets his head kind of fall onto Gerard's hip, bonking his temple on the bone and getting come all over his face. He probably has the stuff in his hair too. He presses his lips against soft slippery skin and just lies there and feels his own body calm down, the second-go-now? feeling sinking into the background a little. Gerard pets his head softly, fingers trailing through his hair, across his forehead and eyebrows and ear.

Frank wonders if Mikey and Alicia are doing the hetero version of this in Mikey's room right now. It's Sex Night at Casa Way tonight.

"What?" Gerard says from somewhere above Frank's head. His voice is soft and fuzzy.

"Mikey and Alicia," Frank says, and Gerard huffs out a laugh that makes Frank's head bounce a little.

"C'mere," he says and tugs at Frank's hair. "Up here."

"Oh yeah," Frank mumbles against his skin. "I wanna kiss you. Mmh." He doesn't move. His back feels, like, liquid.

Finally he rolls limply off Gerard and rubs his face against the sheet until he's not so sticky anymore. He wonders how hard it is to get come out of hair. Then he hands-and-knees it up to flop down next to Gerard and rub his face against his shoulder instead. His boxers are still stuck somewhere around his knees.

"I feel totally good," he tells Gerard, and realizes at the same time that he hasn't felt all that good, like, not even close to almost good, in so long. It's like he's been thirsty but didn't even notice for real until someone gave him water, not to make it all life or death or anything. He's not sure how to explain that, though. "Uh... like, I was thirsty but, uh... whatever," he vagues. He can't even get the whole metaphor out, he just kisses Gerard's ear, getting damp hair in his mouth, and Gerard's cheek and temple, and then Gerard turns his head and meets his mouth.

After a while they make a really uncoordinated attempt at pulling the blankets straight and getting every bit of chilled skin covered. Frank ends up just pulling up his shorts because it's easier. Gerard's unusually clean sheets are pretty gross at this point, but Gerard isn't gonna care, and it isn't Frank's bed so whatever.

"Maybe I should..." Gerard mumbles into Frank's ear when he's tucked Frank into the curve of his body and is sort of nuzzling Frank's neck. "I mean, maybe I should try to talk to Mikey."

"You should wait 'til tomorrow maybe," Frank says. "When he's all, you know--I don't know if he's like you, does he get all glowy and happy when he gets laid? It's always hard to tell with Mikey."

"Huh," Gerard says. "Yeah, he totally does. It's subtle, but, yeah. Not like you, of course. You look so fucking smug." He folds his fingers around Frank's hand and squeezes a little.

Frank feels pretty smug, he's not gonna lie. Everything feels awesome except his stupid foot, and it's not hurting bad enough to knock the rest down from the awesome place. He's not really sleepy but he could lie here and doze for a while with Gerard's breaths getting slower and slower against the back of his head.

His mind kind of wanders, and then suddenly he has a thought, he doesn't even know what train of thought brings him there, but, like, thank God it did. "Gerard?" he says out loud. "Gerard! I gotta call home, man."

"Mmh?" Gerard mumbles, and his arm tightens around Frank's waist for a second. "Whuh?"

"They're like sitting there waiting for me to call, for serious. Shit. Hang on. My phone's, like, in my pocket. Aw, fuck, my pants are in the bathroom, I think." He starts to wriggle himself off the bed.

"I can go," Gerard says, although it comes out, like, acngo.

"No, I gotta pee anyway." He's kind of high on sex hormones and shit still, so even though he's maybe a little not so steady on his crutches when he gets them pointing the right way and gets his legs pointing in the right way and everything, at least he's not in a super amount of pain or anything. Gerard doesn't even laugh at his flailings, he's like too tired, just kind of mumbles something and tries to keep his eyes open. Frank's sure he'll be asleep before Frank's halfway down the hall. But that's okay.

He pees first and then he gets his phone, and he puts down the toilet lid and sits down. His sex hormones aren't keeping him from being nervous about calling, and he has to sit there for a while, like, collecting himself before he can dial.

Mom answers like before the first ring is over.

"Hi," Frank says, really quickly. "We found him, he's okay."

"Oh, good," Mom says. "A--"

"Everyone's really freaked out, though, and it's like, late? I should probably stay here. Gerard's not gonna be able to drive."

"Frank," Mom says, her voice going into the deep register of I Don't Think So.

"Mom, please," Frank says, but he tries really hard not to sound whiny. "I'm not being, like, a nuisance to them or anything."

"What does Mikey's mother think about all this?"

Oh shit, Frank thinks. Mrs Way. He's like 90% sure--more--that no one's told her Gerard's fine. Aw, jeez. He says, "I'm gonna go talk to her, okay? She's always up late. I'll call you back real soon, okay? Okay?"

There's a pause, and he can just imagine Mom rubbing her face or frowning. Both, probably. Then she says, "Okay, Frankie. Ten minutes, then I'm calling you."

"Totally," he says.

So he needs to, like, clean up and get his pants on and then clean up Gerard and get his pants on, and get them both downstairs inside ten minutes. He gets up off the toilet seat and goes to wash, and he's just done swabbing the worst off his general crotch area and is splashing water on his face when the door squeaks open and Alicia comes in.

"Jesus!" Frank say and bangs his head on the mirror cabinet. One of his crutches takes the opportunity to slide off the side of the sink with a zinggg and bounce off the edge of the bathtub before hitting the floor.

"Sorry," Alicia says. She's kind of standing sideways in the door, totally fucking peeking in a really obvious way. Her makeup is kind of messed up, and so is her hair, and she's not wearing the stripy socks or the tights anymore. Her legs are round and really white and she's got an old bruise on her thigh really high up. That dress is seriously short. "Nice bandage, Frankie. I heard you jumped out the window."

"I didn't jump," Frank says, trying to look casual about covering his fucking dick with his hand because she is so absolutely staring. His underwear is actually stuck on the bandage because he didn't bother to get it off completely just for the quick wash. Jeez. "How's Mikey?" he asks, trying to decide if it'll be dorkier to try to get them back on or just leave them like nothing's going on.

"Oh my God!" she says, her eyes going big and round. She waves both her hands in the air like girls do when they get excited. Well, Mikey does it, too, actually. Gerard's more about the one-hand action. "Oh my Gooood, Frankie, he's so cute. I never get this weird about guys, anyone will tell you, seriously, but I just, like, think about him and my heart goes crazy. My friends were kind of like 'ew' about him because he's supposed to be weird, you know? Even though everyone totally likes him, but he's maybe a little weird, and his brother is, like, an actual freak, or so the rumors go, anyway, you know how it is. I like weird, though. And he's so sweet. So sweet. And totally hot, you know?"

"Gerard is not a freak," Frank says, feeling kind of disappointed in her even though it's cute how excited she is about Mikey. "He's an artist, okay."

"Okay," she says, looking pretty earnest about it. "I mean, I totally don't know him, it's just, you know this town and rumors. Mikey really loves him, too. I'm sure he's totally cool. Mikey says he draws, like, comics and stuff."

"Yeah," Frank says, forgiving her. "Those rumors are just so people would leave Mikey alone in school, 'cause of how he doesn't do sports and shit."

"Oh yeah, oh, that's so cool." She nods like ten times. She looks a little red around the mouth and Frank feels this little zing in his stomach because he totally recognizes that.

"How much did you guys make out?" he asks.

She giggles and does the two-hand flail again. "So much, so much. Oh man. Also Pete Wentz texted him, like, right in the middle." She rolls her eyes a little at that.

"What," Frank says, "Mikey reads texts in the middle of sex?"

"No-o, we read it later." She looks a little smug, maybe, Frank thinks. But he also thinks maybe Mikey is busy texting Pete right now. Maybe, maybe not. Even Gerard isn't sure what's up with Pete for real. If he and Mikey are just text message buddies now, like they never looked at each other like giggly smitten dorks, like they never broke up and cried and phone stalked and all that--Frank wonders if it would be possible, like, in any universe, for him and Gerard to just end like that, go back to be friends again and not be all crazy about each other. No way. No fucking way.

Alicia says, "I just have to, like, pee? Um, do you mind?"

"Um, you could give me my pants," he says, probably trying too hard to sound nonchalant. She's got black nail polish on her toenails. She's a really cute girl. Frank's pretty sure Mikey's feeling less pissed off right now by far.

He has to sit down on the edge of the bathtub to get his shorts pulled up, but Alicia is merciful and turns her back and makes a big production of picking up his damp sloppy sweatpants off the floor and in return he looks away when it looks like the bending over might pull her tiny dress up above the waterline.

He takes the pants and hops out of the bathroom. It's weird, he thinks, just a few months ago he would have been way more freaked out about being trapped in a bathroom naked with a girl, and more turned on by the idea at the same time. But now he's still mostly thinking about Gerard. Even though she is hot in that short ass dress. It's just weird. He wonders if it means he's like totally one hundred per cent pure gay now, or if it's just because he's in love.

I'm in love, he thinks, like a little reminder, not like he needs to remind himself of that.

***

Mrs Way hugs Gerard the second he's through the door, and she also starts crying a little. Gerard hugs her hard, stroking her back while Frank shuffles his feet and thinks how shitty it must have been for her sitting here being upset and maybe thinking all day that her kid is dead or in a coma or whatever she and Mikey thought had happened. She's been drinking the special tea, too, and she looks scarier than normal, black streaks of mascara running into the grooves on her cheeks.

He pats her arm a little, and she hugs him too, enveloping him in the smell of face powder and flowery perfume and whiskey and cigarettes. Kind of like the standard Gerard smell, but cleaner and with more flowers. She gives very big whole-body hugs, and Frank almost feels guilty that he can't hug her back without dropping his crutches and falling over.

"Oh, Frankie," she says. "You are a sweet, sweet boy. I was just thinking about you stampeding through my flowerbed. I've missed you." She's smiling kind of a brave-little-toaster smile. "Are you hungry? Are you hungry, Gerard? "I'll make you some pancakes."

"Ma," Gerard says.

"Oh, damn!" she says, waving her hand. Her nail polish is a little chipped. "Frank can't have dairy. Well, I'm sure there's something..."

"I just need to ask you if it's okay if I stay here tonight?" Frank says. "I mean, upstairs. My Mom needs you to, like, sign off on it."

"Oh, no problem," she says, smiling again. It's a bigger smile. "I love to have you here, sweetheart. It's not like I see that much of you, anyway. You boys are always holed up together."

"Thank you," he says sincerely. Mrs Way is pretty awesome, although she has really had a lot of tea, he thinks.

He's going to say something else but she interrupts him by smacking Gerard hard on the chest and saying, "What the hell were you doing?"

"I'm sorry, Ma," Gerard says, hanging his head. "I lost track of time. I was just thinking."

"Just thinking," she mutters, throwing up her hands. "Jesus Christ. It's like you somehow got all those Rush family freak traits combined in you, I swear, Gerard. You know they're all insane drunks, like my Uncle Ge--"

"I know, I know," Gerard says. "I'm really sorry."

Then she hugs him again, and then she hugs Frank again and mumbles, "Thank you, sweetie," into his ear, and then she lights a cigarette and hands Gerard one, and then she kind of looks around the hall furtively as if maybe Mom could be there, like maybe skulking behind the kitchen door, spying, and gives Frank one too. "My heart," she says, waving at the smoke. "You kids. My heart."

"I'm really sorry, Ma," Gerard says.

"You're hopeless," Mrs Way says. "And you look like death. Where did you find him, Frankie? Standing on the train tracks, facing down the Amtrak?"

"On the beach," Frank says.

"Of course," she says. She's kind of laughing, kind of crying. "On the beach. Perfect weather for it. Get out of here, go get warm. Fool. Frank, I charge you to make sure he doesn't wander off to the beach again tonight. Where's Mikey?"

"He's pissed off at me," Gerard says. "I'm gonna talk to him."

"I have to call Mom back," Frank says. "She said--"

"Oh, don't worry, I'll call her," Mrs Way says. "Where's my phone, Gerard?"

"I don't know," Gerard says immediately, but then he turns around and picks it up off the hall table where it was really not hidden by a vase of faded-pink dried roses.

"You should make yourselves some sandwiches, boys," she says, and then she wanders off, dialing the phone.

"I'm too tired to eat," Gerard says. He does look really tired still, not so corpse pale anymore, but the dark rings around his eyes aren't going anywhere. "Do you want something? I have, like, half a bag of Doritos in my room, but that's kind of it."

"Doritos are fine," Frank says. He's feeling kind of achy and tired too, even though he's not sleepy. He just wants to lie down and put his arms around Gerard and think about nothing much for a while. And then he wants to have sex again as soon as Gerard can keep his eyes open for it.

***

He didn't think he would fall asleep, but he must have because he snaps awake when something heavy slams into his back. He curls up into a ball on instinct and puts his hands over his face, but there's no more abuse, just a heavy thump.

After a while, a strangely distant voice says, "Fuck."

It's really dark, and it takes Frank a while to remember where he is and why, and he doesn't remember both of those at the same time, either. Gerard's room, Gerard's bed--that thought wakes him up for real. He scrabbles wildly at the sheets and throws himself into a sitting position; his head spins and his heart is pounding loud in his ears and it hurts to breathe. Then the rest of it--beach, George, Alicia--comes back to him and he almost laughs. He doesn't have to run out and get back before Mom wakes up. He can just roll over and go back to sleep. He blinks at the darkness and wonders what woke him up, because he wasn't having weird dreams or anything--

"Frank?" Gerard says from somewhere under him.

"Dude," Frank says. He's starting to notice that he's really fucking hungry, and his left foot aches like a total bitch, and Gerard is obviously not in this bed. "What?"

"Oh, fuck, man. Frankie." A disembodied hand reaches up from under the bed and grabs Frank's arm and he yelps even though he knows it's Gerard. "You're okay. You are okay, right?"

"Uh, yeah?" Frank says carefully, taking Gerard's hand and yanking at it. "I mean, almost died of a fucking heart attack, but I think I'm gonna make it. Are you coming back up here or what?"

Gerard squeezes his hand hard enough to kind of hurt, but he doesn't move. Instead he says, "A lot of my dreams are, like, hyper-real, you know? Like in a movie. Well, like a Tim Burton movie, or any comic book movie? Kind of too bright colors, or too dark, or the angles all weird. Absurd. Absurd amounts of blood. Yeah... this just felt real, really fucking real. I guess it wasn't all that original, in the sense that it's been used in a lot of movies... it's this really old jump scene trick." He's talking slower than normal--of course, normal for Gerard is pretty fast, so this is, like, normal for normal people?--and kind of softly. It's so quiet in the house, though, that Frank can hear just fine. "I always end up telling Mikey my nightmares."

"You tell me, too," Frank says. "I mean, when I'm around."

"You're a lot sweeter about it, too. Fuck, Mikey is a grumpy bitch when he wakes up. I dreamed you were dead, and I put my hand in the blood. That's why I jumped and kicked you. I haven't been that happy to fall on my face, like, ever before." The last part he says all fast and breathy like he just wants it out.

"Oh, man," Frank says. He's making a face at the darkness. Those scenes are totally cool in movies even when they're fakeouts, but he really wouldn't want to be there. "You mean, like, murdered type dead?"

"Yeah."

"Oh, man. That sucks. I mean, wow. I just dream I'm, like, a bird? A Frankbird."

"Frankbird," Gerard says like he's picturing it. "Frankbird."

"Yeah, and of course I'm like this tiny pussy little bird, like a sparrow or something, Tweety bird only brown. Nothing cool or anything, just a bird stuck in a hedge or whatever."

There's a rustle and a grunt and Gerard pulls himself up. "No, no, man, it's totally cool. You know a sparrow is a psychopomp, right? Crows, too. That's how come The Crow is a crow, you know. They carry souls and messages between this world and, like, the Other Realms." He's like shaking Frank's hand. "Seriously... Frankbird, I love it. Is it a hedge with thorns?"

He crawls back up onto the bed and nudges Frank away from the edge. The best part about this, Frank thinks when they're all settled in, Gerard on his back and Frank with his head on his shoulder, is that it's still the middle of the night and nobody has to run out in a panic. They can just curl up together and he can tell Gerard the fucking story of Frankbird vs The Spidermonsters and listen to Gerard's voice resonate in his chest when he starts getting excited and coming up with plot ideas for a whole Frankbird universe.

"This is awesome," he says when he can get a word in again.

"Totally," Gerard says. He's waving his hand around even though it's dark and he's also like trying to hold Frank to his bosom at the same time. Dude can't stay still when he gets into something. "Totally awesome, I'm like almost ready to start sketching stuff, except I think I have to, like, let it percolate a little first? Also I'm still tired. My hands are shaking, but I'm not even feeling all fucked anymore. Awesome, Frankie, you're so fucking-- Hey, man--" His flailing hand lands on Frank's head and he tugs at his hair to move it, getting them into a kissing type position without breaking anyone's neck. "Fuck, I love you so much," he mumbles against Frank's mouth.

Frank tries to say I love you, too, but has to use, like, tongue braille and maybe it's not completely clear. But probably pretty clear.

***

He dozes again for a while, listening to Gerard fall asleep. After a while he gets up too noodle around the internet on Gerard's computer and eat those Doritos. He also listens some more to Gerard snuffling in his sleep and watches his sleeping face in the light from the computer screen, kind of like a total creep, except it's not that creepy because Gerard knows he's there, and also Gerard has drawn Frank sleeping like so many times, anyway.

Watching Gerard makes him want to touch, though, so he crawls back into bed and snuggles up close, and Gerard mumbles something in his sleep and kind of snuggles back, all unconsciously.

Frank puts his mouth right against Gerard's ear and whispers, "I love you," under his breath. Maybe it'll subliminally enter Gerard's brain and give him sweet dreams. It could totally happen.

***

Saturday

He wakes up when his phone starts ringing. Gerard doesn't even fucking twitch, so Frank crawls down to the foot of the bed and starts looking for his pants on the floor. He answers the phone hanging upside down.

It's Mom. "Good morning. I woke you up, didn't I?" she says, all cheery and shit. "I thought I should call and warn you that I'll be coming around pretty early to get you to group on time. I hope you didn't stay up all night playing video games."

"No, Mom," he says. His voice probably sounds a little weird. He can feel the blood throbbing in his head. Someone who was probably Gerard told him that thing about how people die from hanging upside down because their veins like explode or something. Gross. "I'm good. Uh, so when are you coming around?"

"You have an hour and then you'll have to really hurry to wash up and change here, okay?"

"Okay," he says.

She hesitates a little before she says, "Is, um, Gerard okay?"

"Yeah, yeah," Frank says. As okay as Gerard ever is, anyway. Close enough, he thinks. "Okay. I'll see you then, Mom, love you, bye."

He drops the phone back on top of the clothes and drags himself back up onto the bed. Gerard's twitching a little now, moving his arms and legs in slow waking-up stretches.

"Hey," Frank says, but Gerard just sighs and flops over onto his stomach. Frank's lying on top of the sheet, though, and Gerard rolled himself out from under it. There are pink creases all over his white back.

"Hey, asshole," Frank says and shuffles closer, throwing a leg over his legs and an arm over his back. "Wake up. Waaake up." He drags his fingertips along one of the creases, from spine to armpit. Those things feel like scars only soft. Frank always wakes up with pillow creases all over his face but it's weird to feel them on someone else. He leans down and licks along it and blows on the damp skin, and feels Gerard's whole body shudder. He says, "I'll keep doing that 'til you say something."

Gerard moves a tiny little bit and makes a soft, throaty noise. Frank runs his tongue up the back of his neck along the spine.

"Mmh," Gerard says. "S'mthin'."

Frank pushes himself up a little so he doesn't have to strain his own neck, so he's basically lying right on top of Gerard. He notices, like, just then, that his dick is like pushing against the crease of Gerard's thigh.

Frank thinks, oh, wait, wow, and puts his open mouth against Gerard's neck again, and moves his hips a little and yeah, yeah, fucking yeah.

"Wake the fuck up, Gerard," he says urgently. "Are you awake? We only have an hour, seriously."

Gerard shudders again and shifts, spreading his legs.

"'m awake." He turns his head and twists an arm around and flails around, his fingers groping clumsily at Frank's hip. His voice is all sleep-scratchy and deep. "Yeah, an hour."

Frank stretches out along Gerard's back, his legs along Gerard's legs, and oh yeah, that's a lot of Gerard, a lot of Gerard's skin right against Frank's skin, warm and a little sweaty. He smells sleepy, kind of a sweet, dusty smell. For a second, Frank wishes he were bigger so he could, like, reach more, but on the other hand, then he'd be too heavy and he'd end up crushing Gerard or something. This is good. He runs his hands down Gerard's arms and puts his mouth against Gerard's ear. "Hey," he whispers.

"Hey, Frankie," Gerard whispers back. He moves again, rolls his hips so his ass pushes against Frank's dick.

Frank holds his breath for like a minute and just listens to his own pulse throb in his temples. He's got his fingers curled around Gerard's wrists and he thinks he can feel Gerard's pulse there too, and maybe under his mouth when he puts it right in the side of his neck, under his ear. But he could just be feeling the echo of his own, he doesn't know for sure and it doesn't really matter because Gerard is still pushing his ass back against Frank and making this soft, deep noise.

He almost says something about his mom, or about having to go soon, but changes his mind. It's a whole hour. He's hungry as fuck, and kind of thirsty too, but not enough that he wouldn't rather stay here.

Gerard says, "You're so warm." And then, "And not too heavy. Warm."

Frank cranes his neck a little so he can kiss the side of Gerard's mouth, lick at the corner and along his bottom lip, and Gerard turns his head more and opens his mouth, and it's kind of awkward but that kind of makes it hotter, like it matters more if you have to work for it a little, and also Gerard has to pull his knee up a little to brace himself, and Frank has to push forward, and that way he ends up sliding down between Gerard's legs.

"Hey," he says, "so, um. Would you mind if I like, you know, I mean--" He's not sure he really needs to ask, but he's also not totally sure he's supposed to not ask, and it's not like they've done it this way before and also he totally doesn't know how Gerard likes it; Gerard knows how Frank likes it, because Gerard has superhuman sex powers or he can just make Frank like whatever--that never occurred to Frank before, like, is it possible that Gerard is somehow deciding how Frank will feel about something? just with the power of his dick or whatever--but everything Frank remembers right now is that Gerard said it could be awful to be fucked.

Overthinking, overthinking, he thinks, and says, "I mean, do you want me to fuck you? You could tell me how to make it good."

Gerard sucks in a great big breath and then everything just kind of spins and Frank ends up flat on his back, and like a second later Gerard's right on top of him, grabbing his face and tilting it up and back a little, and kissing him, all deep and sloppy and wet.

"I just had to--" he says, speaking fast. "You should fuck me, Frankie, like right now, or in a second because I have to kiss you right now. Wow, I can't even decide, I want to lie still and wait and see what you'll think of on your own, and I want to just grab you and work through every fucking filthy fantasy." He laughs, just a couple of chuckles, but Gerard's chuckling is really, like, infectious, so Frank laughs too. "Fucking filthy fantasy, nice alliteration."

Frank can't remember what alliteration means but what the hell. He says, "Fucking filthy fantasy," and thinks he should make like a list of his own fucking filthy fantasies and show Gerard and then they can work through them. He's pretty sure Gerard's are more, like, complicated, though. Gerard probably comes up with things that involve props.

"Yeah," Gerard says, and his dick is hard against Frank's thigh, and his belly is soft against Frank's dick. He's smiling with half his mouth like he does, just the one side pulling up, and his eyes stay on Frank, all serious. "Like in the good dreams. Wait here." And he kisses Frank again, open-mouthed, running his tongue over the inside of Frank's lip, which, what the hell, but Frank's legs go all tense and his toes curl and when Gerard pulls away he holds on to his arms.

"I'm getting stuff," Gerard says, but he comes back again, mouth and tongue again, and covering Frank with his body, everywhere they touch getting kind of sticky with sweat.

It takes him a while to find stuff once he lets go of Frank. Frank always notices that about tidying shit up, too, it's like impossible to find anything afterwards. He lies on his back and watches Gerard wander around the room. Gerard is scratching his head a lot and muttering to himself, and he's naked and still hard and, like, occasionally he'll reach down and give his dick a little squeeze, and then Frank has to do the same just cause his dick is all hey! And he thinks about getting up and just walking... or hopping, whatever, hopping across the room and pushing Gerard against the fucking closet door or something. Not the door with the big drawing of a dragon on it, though, because it would suck to ruin that thing, it's fucking awesome. It's something Gerard made before Frank ever saw this room.

That also sucks, he thinks, that Gerard had all that time to be awesome without Frank ever knowing about it. Frank was stuck in junior high getting dipped in toilets and all that fucking time Gerard was just, like, wandering around here being alive and painting dragons and collecting the full runs of Doom Patrol and X-Men and having sex with all those people that aren't Frank.

"Oh, score!" Gerard whoops, and he's holding up Mikey's fucking present, the skull and bones My Little Pony. "I put them back in the fucking drawer. This one's almost done, I just have to, like, put some clear finish on, make it all shiny. Maybe some glitter. You wouldn't know it to look at him, but Mikey fucking loves glitter."

"I know," Frank says. "And you can totally tell by looking at him."

Gerard puts the pony back in the drawer, but he keeps looking down at it like he's waiting for it to say something. "Toro said you guys were planning a big party for Mikey," he says. "That'd be, like, awesome. Like really awesome."

"Bob knows like everyone, so it'll be huge," Frank says. "I'm in charge of getting you to show up, you know. So you gotta show up or I'll look like a dick."

"Really?" Gerard says. "I mean, of course. I mean... of course I'd come if I was invited, it's Mikey's birthday party... Ray didn't even say anything about, uh--"

Frank swings his legs over the edge of the bed so he can sit without bending the left one in any uncomfortable way. His head spins a little bit when he sits up, but not too bad. He doesn't even have the slightest bit of soreness in his throat or stuffiness in his nose or anything, he realizes, even though he got pretty cold last night. Maybe sleeping next to Gerard, he gets to like share Gerard's totally superior immune system. Or maybe it was swallowing his come, maybe that was like a vaccine against sore throats.

"Ray probably thought it was too fucking obvious to mention," he says. Without Gerard's totally superior immune system or totally superior body heat or whatever, he's getting a little cold. "So, like... find anything other than Mikey's Little Pony?"

Gerard looks up from the drawer and over at Frank, and sort of freezes there, with a wrinkle growing between his eyebrows and his mouth a little open and slack. Frank stares back. There's a whole moment like that. Maybe a Moment, Frank can't tell. Gerard's obviously thinking.

It stretches on for like two seconds longer than Frank can stand, and he's already opening his mouth to say something when Gerard snaps out of his freeze frame and, well, he probably walks, but he does it so fast--either that or Frank blinked or something, because one second ago Gerard was over by the desk and now he's standing right in front of Frank, with his hand curving around the back of Frank's head.

Frank's chest goes tight and he has to open his mouth and, like, drag in his next breath with actual effort. He hears something small bounce on the mattress next to him, but it doesn't seem super important. He blinks and looks up at Gerard's round face and round eyes. He looks down again and opens his mouth and leans in.

Gerard's hand in his hair stops him for a second, and he struggles against it, grabbing Gerard's hip and kind of pulling, and actually, hey, spreading his legs and tugging some more until Gerard steps in between them. That puts Gerard's dick right there all hi, how ya doin', and Gerard's hands have both settled on his head, fingers twisting in his hair but not pulling.

"Uh, Frankie," Gerard says.

Frank says, "I know, just wait a second, I just, um," but he doesn't even know what he's trying to say so he shuts himself up with Gerard's dick.

This is like an awesome position, because he doesn't have to hold himself up so both his hands are totally available and he can, like, do stuff while he sucks carefully and slowly and he won't get a crick in the neck or anything. He gets distracted by the whole dick in his mouth thing again, though, and how it's such a weird thing to like, and he tries to figure out what it is that's so awesome about it. Like, here he is, sucking on a dude's fucking dick, why does it feel like he could come right now? And Gerard makes this sound, like a grunt with a word in it and it's probably 'Frank' and at the same time, his dick twitches in Frank's mouth and his hands tighten for like a fraction of a second, and then Frank really is in danger of coming. He pulls off quickly, struggling against Gerard's hands briefly again, and ends up leaning his forehead against Gerard's hip, breathing hard. Everything right here smells more Gerardy than most other places and it's not really helping, but he doesn't want to move, either, in fact he wants to put his tongue there, on the place where the inside of Gerard's thigh starts, where the skin is really soft and thin.

"Sometimes I get these moments," Gerard says. His voice sounds kind of reedy and distant. He might be looking away, Frank thinks, or up at the ceiling. "Where I don't know if I'm real. Not like when I was so fucked up I couldn't tell what was happening, but just like your standard... existentialist mini-crisis. Or sometimes, I mean, more often now, I've been wondering if you're real because how the fuck, you know? How the fuck, Frankie. I don't mean that in a coy way," he adds, like he actually thinks Frank is about to accuse him of something, "I mean, honestly, sometimes I just don't know. You just kind of showed up and wouldn't leave. I was thinking that... I think the first time I was thinking this was, remember back in June when I got so fucking wasted on that gross, uh--"

Frank says, "Coffee liqueur," right against Gerard's groin and even just moving his mouth there, with scratchy curls on one side and smooth, damp skin on the other feels, like, so cool and so fucking hot at the same time it's crazy. And Gerard's dick is like rubbing against his ear, and it moves when Gerard breathes and Frank can feel this tension in him, in the muscles of his thighs and ass. And still Gerard is fucking talking, rambling on totally calmly like his mouth isn't even connected to his body.

"Right," he says, "coffee whateverthefuck, and I was throwing up and you sat next to me and rubbed my back and just kind of talked, like it was nothing weird, just hanging out in the fucking bathroom."

"I puked too," Frank says.

"I don't remember noticing before," Gerard says. "That you were so..." He's silent for a while, thinking, and Frank strokes the backs of his thighs and waits. "Solicitous, I guess," Gerard says.

"So you figured I couldn't be real?" Frank says.

"I figured you might have a crush on me," Gerard says, and Frank is suddenly, surprisingly, embarrassed--he didn't even know he had a crush on Gerard, that's how clueless he was back then, Jesus--but he still wants to put his mouth back on Gerard's dick. "And then I realized that you might not be real. But I had all those nightmares about you, the recurring ones with the werewolves and, uh, some other ones, and... they didn't feel like the ones about people that aren't real."

Gerard is so fucking weird, Frank realizes. Like for real, weird as fuck. And awesome. Frank never thought Gerard wasn't real, no matter how awesome or weird he got.

"But my point is that, that... Actually this isn't my point, I mean, not the point of that thing I just said, but I need to tell you anyway, that I'm a coward, Frankie, I mean I've been a coward, but I'm going to fucking protect you, okay. Because I love you," he adds with emphasis, and he rubs the top of Frank's head, and then he tilts Frank's face up and drops to his knees on the floor by the bed and kisses Frank's eyelids. It feels like some weird kind of mob initiation rite or something. The Kiss of... Something. Frank's still so fucking turned on, but he's also feeling hard of breathing again.

"I love you too," he says and kisses Gerard on the mouth, closed-lipped, because it feels like he needs to seal the deal, too.

Gerard smiles, and then he pushes Frank firmly up the bed. "I haven't done this in a while," he says all cheerfully, like he's got all the brooding off his chest now. "But you don't need to be careful. Like, don't be careful. We'll just keep it really simple." He runs his palm over Frank's dick a couple of times like he's petting it, and Frank seriously has to look away or blow up. When he looks back, Gerard is unwrapping a condom. He looks up at Frank. "Maybe it would have been better to wait until we have more time, but I'm kind of excited."

"Me too," Frank says. Whoa, understatement. Even though his head doesn't know what just happened because Gerard is driving again and Frank thinks they were in a completely different fucking car there for a minute or two.

Gerard rolls the condom down over Frank's dick really really slowly, and Frank stares and wonders why he always thought condoms were kind of faintly gross or at least a little embarrassing, when in fact they are awesome. He's tried a couple on, like, in the privacy of the bathroom, but there are obviously some things you can't do right on your own.

"I think I told you that I really like your cock," Gerard says, getting the lube, like, totally casually because obviously he's not fucking worried that the top of his head is going to come right off.

"You did," Frank says, trying not to move at all. He's leaning back on his arms and they're starting to shake. He's breathing way too fast, too. Gerard's face has that concentration wrinkle again and he's just staring at Frank's dick, at his hand moving slickly on Frank's dick.

"I'd love to just jack you," Gerard says. "Maybe with you leaning against me, just feeling your back against my chest and your cock in my hand, and I could put my other arm around you, fuck. Slow and easy. Some other time."

"If you really--" Frank starts, but Gerard tugs his hand away, like, immediately.

"Oh, fuck no," he says. "You need to go for it. Here, give me your hand." He takes Frank's hand in his sticky lubey one and rubs some of it into Frank's fingers. "Just, a little, touch me a little. I don't need it, but I like it, I mean. And you look like you're about to go off, so maybe use your fingers, like, for a while."

"I am about to go off," Frank says, kind of through gritted teeth, because Gerard is, like, rolling over to lie on his stomach, and he's fucking spreading his legs a little and kind of making himself, like, fucking available. What the hell, Frank is always floating through these first times all baffled by the things that are so hot he can't even deal. Everything's a fucking surprise.

He shuffles around, trying to get his bandaged foot out of the way, and he runs his dry hand over the swell of Gerard's ass and just lives the fucking surprise for a second. He surprises himself a little bit by leaning down and kissing the dip just before the swell, the dimples at the small of Gerard's back. Then he closes his eyes and tries to remember what it felt like when Gerard fucked him, and then he opens his eyes and tries to fucking unremember, because the about-to-go-off feeling grew three sizes just then.

He fumbles at first and, like, it's not fucking smooth at all--he remembers Gerard just kind of slipping him a finger, well, and a fucking tongue, and it was totally like porn. This is more like something out of American Pie, maybe. He takes a breath and concentrates first on the wet skin under his mouth, and then on his fingers.

It's definitely not like pie, but then again, he's never been anywhere near a girl, so maybe that's different. It's slick enough and it's hot, like, really warm, and for a second really tight, just for a second, and then Gerard just kind of lets him in.

"Oh," Frank says and ends up almost biting Gerard's ass. He keeps it at just a little scrape of teeth, though.

Gerard moans--it's totally a moan, a really low, long sound--and pushes back and then he says, "Ahh, oh, yeah, oh, you won't need to touch my dick." He spreads his legs even wider, arching his back, and Frank moves his fingers. He's using two, and the two he's folded up are kind of in the way, and it feels like it's probably not enough. He thinks if he can go like this for like a few more minutes--except Gerard keeps fucking breathing in that sex way, even though he's not being super loud, but it's not making it easier. All Frank wants is for something to touch his dick.

He counts to ten, that's all he can do, and then he leans back and pulls his fingers out and wipes them on the sheet. "Sorry," he mumbles, kind of pre-emptively in case he comes the second the tip of his dick touches skin.

"Frank," Gerard says, dragging out the sound, all Fraaaaaaaank. Frank shifts and something about the position makes his foot blast, like, a warning shot of pain right at him and, like, thank God, that did the fucking trick, and he leans forward to get the pressure off the foot and grabs his dick and fucking goes for it.

"Oh, Frank," Gerard says, but Frank couldn't say anything back if he wanted to because he's gritting his teeth so hard he thinks he's going to break them, that's how much he has to work to stop himself from just shoving right in. That's what his dick and his hips and his spine and, like, everything about him wants. There's, wow, for fucking real, this is something else, sliding way too slowly in, or down, like getting caught somewhere, like there should be an end or something but there isn't. Gerard's pushing back and keeps saying Frank's name, sort of under his breath, and also, like, 'fuck' a whole lot of times.

It's not totally smooth, like, there's a rawness, almost too much, and Frank thinks there probably isn't enough lube or something, but he's just going to have to fucking trust Gerard to fucking tell him if something sucks because he absolutely can't stop right now. His fucking hips get away from him and he sort of twitches the rest of the way in, until he's completely flush to Gerard's ass, and he has to wait a second and count to ten again. He counts really fast, though.

"Uh, okay?" he says, even though he doesn't know what he's asking and it sounds totally breathless and shaky coming out of his mouth.

"Oh, fuck, okay, yeah, okay, Frankie," Gerard rambles, "shit, go on, go on. I forgot, man, you wouldn't believe a guy could forget, but I think I did, shit, shit, fucking move, please."

Frank tries to find his sense of rhythm, or his, like, muscles or anything, but at first he just kind of spazzes because sliding back feels almost as overwhelming as sliding forward, and he's scrunching his eyes shut so hard he's going to give himself a permanent squint or something, and his jaw is fucking aching by now from clenching.

"If you, ah," Gerard says, "you can... lift up a little and, like, if you aim like, fucking... down, fucking down-and-forward, that should--"

Frank tries, but he has no idea what he's actually aiming for, because if Gerard ever told him any details about this he's forgotten, and all he remembers from getting fucked is that it felt really fucking good the whole time and he's ready to do it again any time, but maybe that was Gerard's sex magic doing its thing, maybe Frank's not doing it right.

Gerard pulls in a breath so fast he makes this whistling sound, and he hisses, "Yeah, FUCK, go!"

Frank does it again, tries to stay where he is and keep a rhythm, and who knew fucking was such hard work, right? His thighs and arms are feeling pretty shaky already, and he can't relax anything because he's in that place where it stops mattering even though he's still aware of things that should be uncomfortable. On every push, Gerard has something to say, usually 'fuck', or 'Frank' or 'yeah' or sometimes a couple of them or all three in combination.

Frank can't reach far enough forward to do anything but kind of nibble on Gerard's neck, so he mostly just gets a mouthful of hair when he drops his head and crashes right across the line between the place where he can tell his body what to do and the place where his body just fucking runs the show. The seconds before he comes stretch into some kind of endless rubberband of too much everything and not nearly enough, and he thinks he gets pretty loud, he's starting to become really convinced he's a born screamer, it's just how he's made.

He thinks he should be both blind and deaf after, but he can definitely hear Gerard bark, "Just a little more, Frankie!" and he obeys pretty much automatically. He can't do more than a couple of thrusts, though, and in the general mayhem inside his head he's not even sure if it was enough or not until he feels Gerard go completely limp under him.

Frank's arms finally give up and he just collapses onto Gerard, out of breath and hot and sweaty and buzzing all over. He's still, like, inside and it's fascinating, going slowly soft and getting kind of squeezed. He thinks if he waits here a couple minutes he might get hard again just from that.

"Whoa," he whispers into Gerard's messy hair. Gerard moves one leg slowly, rubbing his heel against Frank's foot. Frank rubs back and thinks he should probably move. He really doesn't want to, even though it's sticky and about to get gross and the sweat on his back is cooling and soon he'll be cold too.

"You should probably, uh," Gerard says. He sounds maybe kind of wistful. His hand twitches, and Frank notices that he's bunched up handfuls of sheet. That's a good sign, right? Frank reaches down and puts his hand over Gerard's, and Gerard immediately grabs it. He says, "Yeah, like, I don't know what time it is, but..." He pulls Frank's hand to his mouth and kisses the knuckles.

Frank's phone rings.

"Oh my God," Gerard squeaks and goes, like, stiff and then shakes Frank off like he's light as a blanket.

Frank's dumped right on his ass, and his fucking heart is slamming erratically somewhere in his fucking throat. He feels kind of like he's been dropped in cold water. "What the fuck? Where's my phone?"

Gerard dives off the bed like a really strange, white seal. Frank rolls into the space he vacated, still trying to calm down, and the fucking phone keeps ringing, the serious business office phone ringtone he's set for Mom.

Gerard slaps the phone down on the bed triumphantly. He looks kind of wild-eyed. "So much for afterglow," he mutters and heaves himself back up, lying down carefully next to Frank and going very quiet.

Frank thumbs the green phone and says, "Mom?"

"Hi, Frank," Mom says, and she giggles.

"Mom?" Frank says again, in case he had some kind of hearing hallucination just then.

"Honey, I--" She's going from giggles to full out laughter now, and her words come out all scrambled up. "I'm sorry I woke you up! I can't-- believe-- Frankie, it's Saturday!"

Frank feels his mouth drop open. Next to him, Gerard's making giant question eyes, his eyebrows raised to his hairline. "What?" Frank says. He can hear George rumble something in the background and Mom just keeps laughing and laughing.

She gets a hold of herself enough to say, "I hope I didn't wake up everybody else, baby. I can't believe this. I was at work yesterday, and there's no... I somehow lost a day in my mind, out of stress, probably. You can go back to sleep if you still feel tired." Then she adds, "Unless you want me to come pick you up now?" but she doesn't sound super enthusiastic about that.

"No, um, I'm, um," Frank stutters, "I'm good. I'm still. I'm still in bed."

"Good!" Mom says cheerfully. "Please tell everyone sorry for calling at such an inhuman hour on a Saturday morning. And make sure you look at your poor foot, that it's not swelling again."

After he's told her he loves her--which he really really does right now, and not just because she's letting him stay--and hung up, he lies back and looks up at the ceiling (where the Dark Phoenix still hangs, although a corner has come loose and is giving her a droopy, lopsided look) and says, "She's never got days confused before. Do you think she's going senile? How old do you have to be for that? And I think she and George are going to have sex now and they're happy I'm out of the house."

He turns his head, and Gerard is there, nodding and frowning, like he's thinking seriously about Mom and George and what they might be doing. Then he stops frowning and his face softens and he pushes closer and touches his mouth to Frank's. "She sounded happy," he whispers. "That's good, I think she's been sad."

Frank's stomach twists just a little bit, just a quick guilty flip to remind him who's making Mom sad. But Gerard's looking at him and smiling this tiny smile that's almost just his eyes, just this little crinkle and one corner of his mouth stretching. His face is so close it's blurry, and his eyes are big fuzzy patches of green and black. When Frank moves his head to kiss him, he can feel Gerard's eyelashes on his cheekbone.

"Like spider feet," he tells Gerard. "But I'm not even creeped out."

Gerard's mouth moves into a bigger smile right against his. "You should develop a therapy method for phobias based on this. You could improve the quality of life of millions of people."

Frank's totally done thinking about spiders, though, seriously. Gerard's stroking his shoulder and arm slowly and still smiling against his mouth, and it would be so awesome to just lie here and bask and come down for hours. So awesome. And he can. That makes him feel fucking light-headed in the good way even though he's starting to notice that he's lying in this massive wet spot, and also he's still wearing the condom which is going to end up glued to his dick if he doesn't do something.

Condoms have gone back to being gross and kind of embarrassing, but Frank's pretty sure Gerard's the best guy ever to be embarrassed around because he never even notices, or if he does he acts like he doesn't. And he's kind of hard to embarrass, too, probably because of the not noticing thing.

He says, "Bet you can't hit the trash from here--just tie it up before you pitch."

The trash can--empty for the first time in months--is only a few feet away, but Frank's pretty sure he wouldn't be able to hit the floor from here right now. Still, a bet's a bet, so he takes the shot. It's like magic.

"Score," Gerard says, kind of sleepily, bumping Frank's shoulder with his knuckles. Frank rubs his fingers on the sheets and squirms a little. "Wet spot? We should move...somewhere."

They shuffle unenthusiastically a foot towards the wall so Gerard's in the wet spot instead.

"I don't even care," he says. His shoulder twitches in a half shrug. "I made it, I'll lie in it." He pushes Frank onto his back and curls up against him, head on Frank's chest. "Tell me if you can't breathe or something. I'm listening to your heart."

Frank can breathe, although Gerard's head is heavy enough that he has to work at it a little. He just lies still and feels the weight and looks down his nose at the snarls of black hair and the inch of brown roots, and gets kind of fixated on the sliver of Gerard's right ear he can see sticking out of the hair like a shark fin. He has to touch it with his fingertips, and Gerard twitches like a cat and giggles, just a quick, sharp sound before he lies still again. Frank leaves his hand in his hair, twisting it around his fingers slowly while he thinks he might like a cigarette and enjoys the total undeniable fact that Gerard will get him one if he mentions it.

There's no sound of rain from outside and the light coming in through the gap in the curtains is yellow and warm. Frank listens to Gerard's slow breaths and the faint music coming from Mikey's room, and feels his foot ache like something bad that happened to someone else.

"Things are okay," he says, and Gerard hmms softly, his breath fanning over Frank's belly. "Mikey'll even forgive you for being a dumbass now that he got laid."

"He got laid?" Gerard says and twitches again. "Oh, yeah. Ohh." He rolls his head and kisses a patch of skin right under Frank's left nipple. Then he says, kind of quietly, "He forgives me a lot. You too."

"Not that much," Frank says, because right now he can't think of that many things, for real. Gerard probably has a whole bunch of forgivings that he dreamed up in his twisted-ass nightmares. "But I will if I have to, of course," he adds. "I mean, in case it comes up. And Mikey, too. But he has to, he's your fucking brother. And I have to, I'm your fucking boyfriend."

Gerard lifts his head and pushes himself up on an elbow to kiss Frank slowly, opening his mouth with his tongue, his hand flat on Frank's face, thumb stroking along his cheekbone. We have time, Frank thinks.

***

Monday

After group, Father Leary is skulking outside the door and catches Frank as he hobbles past.

"Perhaps I'll see you in confession tonight?" he says, twinkling Dumbledorishly at Frank. "I missed you at Mass."

"I'm sorry," Frank lies. Then he thinks, oh yeah, honesty, and says, "Actually, no. I'm not really. So I'm sorry I lied, instead." He smiles at the Father.

"I see," Father Leary says, raising an eyebrow. "Well, run along. I'll pray for your swift recovery."

Outside, Mom and George are just pulling up, but already parked, so badly that it's taking up two spaces, is Gerard's beat up old truck. Mikey is leaning against the driver's side door, and Alicia is trying to climb him like a tree. Mikey's got his hands stuck in her back pockets.

Frank waves a hand awkwardly at Mom and points in the direction of the truck and waggles his eyebrows and walks his fingers through the air. She holds up her hands.

It's exactly forty hops to the truck from the steps.

"Hey, Mikey," he says. The air is still and warm--Alicia and Frank are both in t-shirts, although of course Mikey is wearing his hoodie zipped to his pointy chin and the hood up so only his glasses and a few strands of lank hair sticks out. "Nice parking."

"Hey, Frank," he says. "Shut up, Frank."

There's a small cloud of smoke hovering over the passenger side and when Frank rounds the truck he sees Gerard's hand sticking out the rolled-down window, holding a butt with about two good drags worth left on it. Frank throws a glance over his shoulder and ducks in quickly and steals it. He leans his crutches against the side of the truck and smokes the two drags.

"How was class?" Gerard says, sticking his whole arm out and patting Frank's elbow. "Mikey has suddenly decided he wants to drive again. Still can't fucking park. I never had any issues with that. Maybe it's a disorder. Something with the inner ear, I guess. I brought you something."

He hands Frank a small stack of paper.

"I kinda sat up all night so I guess it's for the best I'm not driving."

Frank's mother's voice calls his name across the lot. "I gotta go," he says. He sticks the sheaf under his elbow and leans into the truck. "Hey," he says.

Gerard smiles. He's wearing a black hoodie, as usual, also zipped up. Sometimes it's like the Ways live in another country. Like, maybe Iceland.

For a second he almost thinks he could get away with kissing Gerard right here, church parking lot and everything, but then he hears loud jock voices and comes to his fucking senses.

Instead he touches Gerard's hand and backs away. "See you."

When he's hopping back across the lot towards Mom's car, he hears Nick Manzoni yell something after him, and he turns around. The whole gang is there, Tony Santos standing a little awkwardly two steps behind the rest.

Frank stops and takes a look at the first page Gerard gave him and sees a drawing of a bird, a little bird sitting on a thorny branch. It's only got half its feathers left and the ones that are there lie in disordered clumps, sticky and matted. Gerard's drawn the side of its ribcage fleshless and its heart like a red glowing thing just glimpsed between the ribs. Its eyes glow red too. It's a fucking zombie bird.

FRANKENBIRD, it says underneath in bold swirly letters.

"Hey, asshole!" Nick Manzoni says.

"Fuck you," Frank says, not bothering to look up. He does wave his middle finger around a little. Then he turns to look just as Mikey gets the truck running, and he waves as it rolls by. Alicia is sitting between Mikey and Gerard, leaning her head on Mikey's shoulder. She waves at Frank, grinning. Gerard and Mikey both nod in sync. Gerard is grinning, too. Mikey is just squinting out the windscreen with intense concentration, barely sparing Frank a brief glance.

When he's in the car, with the crutches tucked on the floor in front of him, Mom turns around and says, "I hope that's not how you plan on making friends, Frankie."

"Sorry, Mom," he says automatically.

"Mikey Way might benefit from this group," she says. "Although the way he's glued to that Simmons girl, perhaps not. What's that?"

"Gerard's drawings," Frank says, holding up the one where the Frankenbird is just a tiny speck of black against a swirly grey sky. Maybe she doesn't need to see his zombie sparrow alter ego. Not until he's eighteen and gets it tattooed on his chest. It's the fucking most awesome thing ever. Fucking Frankenbird.

"Oh, it's great that he still draws," she says. "I remember he went to art college. And of course Elena was an artist. Do you think he's feeling better? Any more sudden nighttime crises coming up?"

There's a werewolf in one of the drawings, just as a gray snout and a bloodshot green eye staring in through an opening in the thornbush at the zombie bird. It's a nice touch how Frankenbird's glowing little heart is reflected in the wolf's eye.

"Might be," Frank says.