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Maybe--probably--the whole thing starts before Gerard remembers it starting. When he thinks in linear terms--not often, but still--the germination of this time line most likely starts with Frank.

One of the problems is that these days Gerard has issues separating each of his bandmates wholly from each other, let alone Frank and Mikey. The second problem, contingent perhaps on the first, or perhaps not, is that since the day Gerard's mom came home from the hospital carrying Mikey in her arms, very little in Gerard's life hasn't in some way started with Mikey, not really.

He talks about that in therapy sometimes, and his shrink says all these things about co-dependence and other clinical words, but Gerard knows that things between him and Mikey (FrankRayBob) are just something else, something nobody but someone in a band can understand. Mikey being his brother both complicates and simplifies that.

So if this part of Gerard's story really starts with Frank saying, "Gee, you're not what I need," and Gerard saying, "I can try harder," and Frank shaking his head, "Then you wouldn't be what I wanted," Gerard can forgive himself for editing the narrative. He has authorial privilege.

As far as Gerard is concerned, things begin roughly three hundred and twenty-two days after that particular conversation with Frank. They begin with him trying to make cupcakes without eggs or butter.

Mikey asks, "Want some help?"

"You really have any more idea of how to do this than I do?"

"I was always better at following instructions," he says, and takes the recipe from Gerard. Gerard lets him, because it's true. Mikey has the stamina for going line by line. Gerard gets distracted by the bigger picture. Sometimes he simply gets distracted by other pictures.

Mikey begins measuring the flour, leveling it out, one swipe with a straight edge back, one swipe forward. "Gee."

Gerard knows what Mikey has to tell him. He pays attention when it matters. If he were half the man he wishes himself to be, he'd make this easy, say, "Yeah, it's good, Mikey," because no matter how much it hurts, aches, stabs through him, it is good. For Frank and for Mikey, it's good.

Which should be all that matters.

Gerard is not the man he wishes himself to be.

Mikey spoons out some baking powder and says, "If you say no, I won't. We won't. We agreed."

Gerard considers his brother's back, the way his t-shirt hangs off his shoulders. Mikey has always been drawn of crisp lines and perfectly shadowed angles, but ever since he began having to struggle against the chemistry of his own mind there's been a little bit too much of that. Maybe Gerard can get him to eat a few of the cupcakes.

"Gerard," Mikey says. There is a noticeable lack of tone to it. Gerard blinks slowly. Usually, Mikey brings up his pitch a little with the things he wants the most. Gerard thinks of it as vocal-puppy-eyes. "Say something, okay?"

"Yeah," Gerard murmurs, rubbing at his eyes, "I'm always what people want."

"What?" Mikey asks, turning away from his stolen home economics project.

"You really think I would say no?"

Mikey tugs at the hem of his t-shirt. "I think you should be given the chance to."

Sometimes, Gerard wonders if his life would be easier if Mikey wasn't such a fucking prize of a younger brother. If maybe then he could give in to his urges to destroy, the same way he lets the ones to save carry him any direction they so choose.

Gerard tilts his head and smiles, small but as real as he can make it, "Nah, Mikey. It's fine."

"Fine." Mikey sounds unsure.

"You're pretty right for each other." And that's the worst part. They really are. They probably always were. Gerard carefully does not think about whether he knew that the first time he pulled Frank to him.

He's fairly sure he did.

Mikey takes a couple of steps to place himself in Gerard's space, knock his hip up against Gerard's, rest his temple in the corner of Gerard's forehead. Mercifully, he does not say, "thank you."

And like that--despite the fact that Pete Wentz is nowhere in the room, nor even in the conversation at the time--the story's first line is written.

*


The Pete Wentz Thing isn't planned. It isn't, no matter how much it probably seems that way. The Pete Wentz Thing is Gerard giving into the very worst of his compulsions. He's not proud of it, not the next morning or the second next morning or even the fifteenth.

Not being proud doesn't stop him.

It probably seems planned, the Pete Wentz Thing--Gerard thinks of it as an acronym, PWT--given how the first time it happens is less than a month after Frank and Mikey formally admit that they're a couple. Given how Gerard chats Pete up at Mikey's birthday party.

Pete looks a bit skittish when Gerard pulls up next to him and says, "Hello."

Which is probably smart, since Gerard used to glare at him a lot back when he was fairly certain Pete was involved in a severely co-dependent relationship with Gerard's baby brother. Gerard still thinks the relationship was an unwise move on both their parts, but as Mikey finally told Pete that they were probably going to be the death of each other, he really has very little reason to glare anymore.

In fairness to himself, throughout the duration of that relationship, Gerard never once sent Pete a letter threatening both his dog and his bandmates. He thought about doing so.

At least, he doesn't think he sent it.

The look Pete is giving him makes him wonder. Not one to really beat around the bush, he asks, "I didn't say really vile things to you while you were dating Mikey, did I?"

"Not utterly vile," Pete tells him.

Gerard nods. "Sorry for the sort of vile stuff."

Pete shrugs. "I've done some shit I probably wish I hadn't."

And just like that, it's utterly simple to slide into a conversation that vigilantly avoids any discussion of Frank and Mikey.

What is probably not as simple--nor as excusable--is the part where they slide into Gerard's car, into his apartment, and Gerard pushes Pete onto his knees in the middle of his living area and says, "Yeah, that's, yeah," when Pete's tongue makes a wet, drawn out stroke along his cock.

Talking to Pete isn’t planned before Gerard walks into the party, sees him there and thinks, "Huh, someone who will know what not to talk about," but the sex part isn't planned until Pete's looking up at him, lips glistening around his cock, eyes lost in the dark of Gerard's apartment.

When Gerard's mind whispers, "Look at this, Mikey, look," he knows he'll never believe later that there was a lack of premeditation. Which unquestionably means he should pull Pete off him, clean him up, call him a cab.

Gerard combs his fingers gently through Pete's hair, takes a breath, and opens his mouth to say, "Pete, Pete."

Pete hollows his cheeks, swallows around Gerard's cock and the words never make it onto his lips, let alone past. His fingers tighten on Pete's hair and Gerard pulls him further onto his cock.

Gerard isn't fucked up enough--anymore--to believe that he's what Pete needs. But there are moments when being what somebody thinks he wants isn't such a bad deal.

*


The second time is maybe more planned. It isn't as though Gerard seeks Pete out, or anything, because that would cross a line that Gerard can't see but he knows is there. Most of the important ones are hidden in shrubbery or washed out by the river or swept away with the wind. Gerard has tripped over enough of them to have a sense of where they are.

He doesn't go to the MTV event because Pete will be there. He goes because there are times when everyone has to suck it up and kiss a little ass. Gerard, for all his idealism has a core of realism. It runs through him so hard he spent several years twisting it up and balling it away with a treatment of alcohol and anything else he could get his hands on.

That Pete will be there is an added bonus. Late in the evening, (early in the morning,) when things are too loud for anybody to notice much, Gerard drags Pete to the bathroom by the collar of his shirt. Pete smiles wantonly--which is pretty much the way he does everything. "Hello there, Way."

"Gerard."

Pete looks at him, hard and maybe amused, but maybe just scornful. "Let's pretend that I'm one of two fucking people in this world unlikely to get the Way brothers confused."

"So sure there's two of you?" Gerard asks softly and it's unfair, he knows it. Frank doesn't see him when he looks at Mikey, and even if he wanted to, he didn't see Mikey when he looked at Gerard. In his more rational moments, Gerard knows that.

Sometimes it makes things better.

Sometimes worse.

Gerard kisses Pete, just in case he's thinking about saying anything else. He might. Pete talks a lot.

It's not a nice kiss. Gerard thinks maybe he tastes blood--their teeth hitting up against their lips in all the wrong ways; it's not even that Pete is struggling. They just don't fit. Gerard doesn't want them to fit.

Gerard undoes his jeans and Pete says, "Door--"

Gerard laughs because, seriously? "Wentz, there are pictures--"

"Door," Pete says, and it's not a joke, not a plea, it's a command, so Gerard reaches out and locks the door.

Pete's already on his knees, but Gerard's had that, he's been there, so he drags Pete up to his feet and kisses him again as he works open his jeans--girl's zippers are always harder--and presses himself into Pete. He crushes their cocks together, messy and not-so-straightforward, chafing against the bare opening of their respective flies.

Gerard tries to concentrate on how good it is, because it is, but he's distracted by Pete underneath him, by this person who is a person, even if he's meant to only be a conduit, a piece of paper upon which Gerard is writing notes to Mikey.

Pete whimpers, his fingers curling into Gerard's shirt, holding him close, in. Gerard almost says, "Jesus, it's not like I'm going anywhere," but then decides he likes the begging, the need.

Just then, so close to the edge, it doesn't matter that it's as false as his oncoming pleasure.

They come on each other, leave each other a mess, and if that's not a metaphor for what's going on in this bathroom, Gerard really doesn't know what is.

*


Gerard texts Pete, "Going to be there?" before the third time, which throws out all claims of plausible deniability.

Pete texts back, "miss me?"

Gerard can't help the, "Yes, and your third-grade education," that slips off his fingers. Or maybe he can, and just doesn't really want to.

Pete shows up to the event in a halter top with sparkles on his lips and Gerard can almost believe Pete deserves what he gets. Almost. He'd have to know himself a little less well to believe it all the way.

Pete blows him, slow and wet, in some kind of broom closet. It smells of ammonia and faux-pine, and Gerard is amused at the faux overlay of cleanliness. As Pete's swallowing, Gerard says, "If anyone comments on my crotch sparkling, I'm going to tell them you can't take no for an answer."

"They already know," Pete says, smirking as he says it.

His tone does not match the smirk.

Gerard actually had every intention of returning the oral sexual favor, but the words make his stomach twist in a way that he knows is going to end with him vomiting on Pete if he even tries. As a way of distracting himself he says, "Jerk off for me."

Pete, who has been on his knees near a drainage hole in the floor for the better part of the last twenty minutes, blinks at Gerard.

"I want to watch," Gerard says, and maybe he allows a little bit of actual desire to slip into the statement. It's not for Pete. It's for himself. "And don't even fucking think of telling me you don't like to perform."

Pete says, "Don't--"

But Gerard doesn't care what Pete wants or Pete doesn't want. Pete isn't the point of this, not at all. "Do it, Wentz."

Pete stands slowly, unzips his jeans, pulls himself out, apart.

"Touch your balls."

Pete glares. "You gonna let me do this, or--"

"Shut up. Touch them."

Pete unveils that part of himself, too. He is surprisingly gentle in his actions, shockingly careful given everything between the two of them. It is not what Gerard wants to see. But then, Pete is pretty smart. Maybe he knows that.

Gerard watches, eyes drooping, playing at disinterest, waiting until Pete is breathing in short, heated little gasps. "All right, you can fist the tip. Just the tip."

There is the suggestion of rebelliousness in Pete's stance, but he doesn't disobey.

Gerard settles back into waiting. Nobody is going to find them here, and if they do, it's Pete who's got his pants around his thighs.

When Pete says, "Please, okay, please, you fucking asshole, please," Gerard stalks around to where he's standing behind Pete. He sucks on two of his fingers, making the sound every bit as wet and messy as Pete's blowjob. He presses the fingers in, both at once. Pete sobs, "Ple-ease."

"Fist the base," and this time the order is a whisper, a direct shot of allowance into Pete's ear, his veins.

Pete doesn't even hesitate, slides down, and his grip is so tight Gerard wonders if he even can come, wonders if maybe that's Pete's way of staving off the inevitable.

Gerard flicks his fingers, aware that the action will send them driving into Pete's prostate.

Pete's scream is bitten off. Gerard idly hopes he doesn't swallow enough glitter to cause his throat to bleed.

"Wanna come, gorgeous?" Gerard growls the last word, as though it is the build in one of his songs, the lyric that will get him where he is going.

He thinks the sound Pete makes is meant to be another plea. Gerard drives his fingers down once more, says, "Now."

Pete comes so hard Gerard can feel him lost his ability to stand with the orgasm and is quick to withdraw his fingers, to help Pete to the floor.

He doesn't think about what it means that he doesn't leave while Pete is still down, that he waits until Pete moves a little and says, "Maybe we should get back."

He definitely doesn't think about what it means that he helps Pete to his feet.

*


The fourth time is validly Pete's idea and so, ironically, the time when they get caught.

Not by Mikey.

By Stump.

Gerard is actually going to leave him alone, he is, because he's smart enough to know that this might not be entirely about Mikey at this point, which is problematic, to say the least. Also, Frank and Mikey have been sort of painfully careful around him, which makes him want to scream at them even more, makes him want to ask if they think he can't handle it, can't be an adult. It makes him love both of them all the more, until it is a sick twirl in his stomach, like the time he too much cake and ice cream at his eighth birthday party.

But Pete catches his eye and slips out of the room and there are times when even Gerard Way thinks with his dick. More than he would really be comfortable admitting.

Pete has found an unused room, large and dark and empty, and the metaphor in that mental description almost makes Gerard laugh.

He does laugh when Pete says, "This time we're gonna--" Laughs and cuts him off with his teeth, closing them over the now-bare flesh of Pete's lower lip.

Pete moans in something that Gerard suspects is pain. He lets off on his teeth and sucks at the area, not particularly gentle, but soothing all the same. Then he pulls off, "You were saying?"

Pete shakes his head.

"Better," Gerard says. "You expect me to be here tonight?"

Pete nods. Gerard puts his hand to where Pete's cock is straining indecently against the front of his too-tight jeans. He presses hard enough for Pete to squirm, pant. Pete doesn't try to get away. There's not even a wall at his back. He could go any time.

Gerard smiles, slow and greedy and unkind, "Like that, gorgeous?"

Pete's eyes blank at the mocking term of affection.

Gerard says, "Let's see. One, you were expecting me. Two, you found me. Three, you baited me. May I presume that four is you're ready for me?"

Pete just barely manages, "Condom. Pocket."

Gerard finds it with the hand that's unoccupied. Then he lets go entirely. Pete sobs.

Gerard says, "Go put your hands against wall. Pants down."

Pete isn't seductive about it, is hurried and frantic and even clumsy. By way of seduction, it works. His hands are pale splashes against the smooth dark of the wall, his arms longer than they should be holding him away from it. Gerard unbuckles his belt on his way over, pushing his pants down only at the last moment. He rolls the condom over himself before sneaking a hand inside Pete's shirt, flat against his stomach. He positions himself and says, "I hope you're not out of practice," even as he pushes in.

Pete stiffens under his hand, around him, but Gerard just continues his steady progress, not all that fast, probably not as slow as Pete could stand to have it.

When he's all the way in, tucked to Pete's back, he asks, "All right?" He doesn't mean to, doesn't realize he's going to ask until he does, doesn't know that he really gives a crap what the answer is.

Except that he asked.

Pete says, "Jesus, move."

Gerard stays right where he is. Stays and stays until even his control is at a snapping point--and Pete has done his best to move this along, clenching and writhing the little that he can in Gerard's grasp. Gerard pulls all the way out, a slow, controlled tug, and slams back in. Pete's howl is dampened only by him biting into the flesh of his own bicep.

Gerard laughs in his ear, "Mm, yeah."

Gerard changes it up, doesn't let Pete get comfortable. Pete starts to take one hand off the wall and Gerard sing-songs, "Don't you fucking dare."

He waits another few minutes for the begging to set in, Pete begs so beautifully, so lyrically, and he would, wouldn't he? Gerard laughs a bit more before closing his hand over Pete's cock, squeezing, squeezing and then pulling. It doesn't take more than two, maybe three strokes before Pete's coming onto his hand, dripping onto the floor.

Gerard closes his own eyes and lets go, burying himself far enough in Pete that Pete's arms quake for the first time all night.

They clean up as best they can, Gerard wiping his hand off on Pete's jeans, which earns him a glare. Gerard smiles sweetly. He says, "I'll go first," and heads out, back toward the party. He runs into Stump coming out of the door. For a second Stump looks confused, then he just looks tired. "Fucking hell."

The thing is, Gerard gets stressed out enough having to look after his guys, and if anybody is MCR's Pete Wentz, it's Gerard himself, so he sort of feels for Stump.

Gerard says, "He's still standing."

Stump says, "He usually is," and brushes on past him.

*


Stump has his own ways of fighting. Surprisingly vicious ones.

Gerard feels sort of stupid for being caught unawares. Kind eyes mean nothing. Gerard, on occasion, has kind eyes.

Within twenty-four hours Mikey is on him, and Gerard realizes that when he started this he forgot two things: a) in order for Mikey to know that Gerard can have anything he can, Mikey had to find out about the situation, and b) Mikey fights like a girl. He finds a person's softest, most open spots and goes for them--with his elbows.

Mikey has bony elbows, supported by bass playing arms.

Mikey asks, "You couldn't have just gone after me? You had to involve fairly innocent bystanders?"

"By implication, you just put 'Pete Wentz' and 'innocent' together in a sentence."

"Stop it," Mikey says.

"Talking, or fucking him?"

"Pretending that you're anything but his second choice," Mikey says easily, with relish, like maybe he's wanted to say that for a long time. Gerard has seen Mikey take fans who were staring across the room at Gerard all evening back to the club bathroom, to the hotel, so maybe he has.

"That I would pretend presumes that I care enough about Pete Wentz or about you to force an emotion," Gerard says, knowing it's going too far. Mikey can always smell bullshit from a mile away, but particularly when Gerard isn't even careful in his lies.

Mikey narrows his eyes and switches tactics. "With, like, a pretty much singular exception, you could have anybody in the fucking world you wanted. Why is it such a big deal that one person wants me more?"

"Needs you," Gerard says.

"Needs me," Mikey repeats, like it's semantical. "A whole world of people needing Gerard Fucking Way to save them, why is Frank so fucking important?"

"You're the one who's in love with him, you tell me."

"If I were the only one, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"Why are we? You gave Wentz up."

"Jesus, he's not a discarded video game. And because you're using him to prove something to me, which is just a total shit thing to do. You're not a shit."

"Oh?"

"Wanna pretend I've known you for the better part of my entire fucking life here for just, like, a second?"

Gerard doesn't really want to, but that encompasses a lot of things for him just at the moment.

Mikey sighs. "Please stop, Gee."

"Worried about your friend?"

"I'll worry about Pete later. At the moment you're taking up all the brain space I have for that."

Gerard's hand finds its way to his stomach without permission or desire on Gerard's part. He has forgotten how sharp a thing Mikey's love can be.

"Please," Mikey repeats. "Please stop."

Gerard closes his eyes and nods. "I will."

Gerard has lied to Mikey countless times over the course of their lives; some lies have been in the pursuit of keeping Mikey happy and some have been meant to deflect suspicion, wriggle his way out of trouble. He has never, until this moment, lied simply by accident.

*


For a long time after he proves himself to be a liar, Gerard will blame Pete for making him a liar, even knowing that nobody makes anyone else anything. The fact that Pete can be blamed at all supports the hypothesis that he is somebody rather than nobody. Gerard blithely ignores that aspect for the part where he can just be annoyed by Pete Wentz and his need for dirty, mildly demeaning sex.

Gerard manages to wholly avoid Pete for another few months, and then, upon running into him at some sort of charity event, keeps himself at a distance.

Evidently Pete feels the need to respect the sanctity of the charity because he leaves Gerard to his avoidance techniques. The next time Gerard tries that, however, he finds himself cornered in the men's bathroom, the door on the other side of Pete and clearly locked, if from the inside. Pete asks, "What, you find yourself a real boyfriend? I would have heard about a girlfriend."

"Maybe I just got tired of worrying that my dick would fall off from the potential syphilis."

"Syphilis causes insanity, not limb-droppage. And I play safe."

"Your boy Stump doesn't think I'm very safe."

"Patrick loves me too much for his own good."

"Maybe you ought to appreciate that."

Pete's eyes flicker at that for a moment. Then he says, "Maybe later."

Gerard tries to push past Pete, but Pete is surprisingly steadfast and solid and the look in his eyes tells Gerard he's not going anywhere until Pete gets what he wants.

Gerard thinks for a second, considers his options, what he can do here without breaking his word to Mikey, exactly. "Have any unlubed condoms?"

Pete pales a little, shakes his head.

"I suppose lubed will do." Gerard holds out a hand.

Pete hands a packet over and Gerard takes it before folding to his knees. Pete jumps, literally jumps, at the unexpected overture. Gerard grabs his hips. "Stop making this difficult Wentz."

Gerard takes Pete out of his pants and wraps his lips around the head of Pete's cock, giving one quick, strong suck.

Pete writhes.

Gerard slides his tongue along the bottom of Pete's cock even as he goes down further, further, until he's cradling Pete with his throat and every swallow makes Pete say, "Oh fuck. Oh fuck."

Gerard pulls off then. He takes the condom out and lays it flat before bringing it to wrap around the base of Pete's cock tightly, but not tightly enough to cause permanent damage. Gerard can just imagine the lawsuit. "Don't take that off. Not until you leave here. If you're still hard when it comes off, then you can touch yourself, do as you please."

"It's not even midnight, Way," Pete gasps. "We'll be here for hours."

"I'll be interested to know if you cheat. Don't think I won't find out."

Pete starts, "But--"

"Careful what you wish for," Gerard tells him, kissing the very corner of his lips, and walking right past him, back to the party.

*


Gerard reads the text, "i wasnt thinking of you when i came", and doesn't need to glance an inch upward to see the caller id. He doesn't have hoards of people texting him about their sex lives without the aid of capital letters. He probably could, but he chooses not to.

He deletes the message. It is the responsible thing to do. Pete will thank him later.

Probably not, and Mikey will hopefully never know, but he feels the sentiment itself is valid.

When Pete texts him two days later ("and i know youre reading these"), Gerard seriously considers changing his number. He has to do it every six months or so anyway, and he's coming up on five.

He doesn't.

The third text says, "im bored i bet you are too".

Gerard is. Touring life doesn't bother him, but it can get a little monotonous, which generally causes him to do stupid things, like considerable amounts of cocaine, or, alternatively, responding, "And you're going to entertain me?"

"you seem to find me enough to keep your attention when we're in the same room"

Gerard thinks about mentioning his whole quasi-revenge plan gone awry, which is odd, because he doesn't owe Pete honesty. Or if he does, he doesn't have any interest in paying it out. At least, until now he hasn't. He also considers saying something derogatory about Pete's ass, but the idea makes Mikey's voice ring in his head. Gerard didn't used to be the kind of guy who hurt for the sake of hurting, at least not when he wasn't so out of his mind that he couldn't even feel the places he hit while lashing out. He knows he should think about why Pete brings that out in him--if it's even Pete, for fuck's sake, and not the resonance of Mikey left on his surface. Instead he distracts himself with the answer, "Events are even more monotonous than buses."

It's not nice. It's not as cruel as he could be, as he almost wants to be. Almost.

Pete is a while in responding and Gerard wonders if maybe he's finally gotten it, finally decided to do the healthy thing and leave Gerard the hell alone.

Gerard really should remember that it's Pete Wentz he's dealing with. "Healthy" is a deserted island smack in the middle of New York.

Pete sends, "youre answering me so maybe not".

And the worst of it is, the absolute worst, is that Gerard can hear the way Pete's voice gets softer when he's just fighting to hang on, even if he doesn't know why. Gerard isn't sure when he started noticing vocal cues, hasn't even realized they've talked all that much, but clearly they have, somewhere along the way. Some time. Even more clearly, Gerard has listened.

Gerard can pretend he doesn't know himself with the best of them, but when the cards are down, Gerard knows the worst and the best of himself intimately. Gerard knows, for example, that he only listens when he gives a shit.

"Fuck," Gerard mutters with an intensity that he generally saves for performances. "Fuck, fuck, fu-uck."

The last thing, the very, very, ultimate last thing Gerard needs to care about is Pete Wentz.

He gives scaring Pete off one last, desperate try. "I hear flashing yourself at anyone who will look--or won't--is a great way to relieve boredom."

Pete, though, evidently has balls of titanium. Gerard wishes he would have noticed this earlier. "been there done that find something new for me to do"

The problem is that Gerard knows he will.

*


"The part you're not going to like about this, is that I did something I said I wouldn't." Gerard keeps his tone passive.

Mikey's pretty much impossible to catch alone these days, but that's okay, because Gerard probably needs Frank on this, too, and it's easier to get swallowing his pride out of the way all in one not-so-easy dose. Hopefully Bob and Ray can be kept out of things, and Gerard will never have to do this again. Probably not.

Still, Mikey's the hardest to admit all this to, with Frank coming in a close runner up, so after this things should be relatively easy. Gerard hates relativism.

Mikey rubs a hand over his eyes. "You're still fucking Pete, aren't you?"

And okay, Mikey knows him, but that was unusually prescient, even between the two of them. "Um."

"You left your Sidekick on the table the other day. With the chatlog on screen." Frank doesn't look proud to have noticed.

"Talking does not equate to fucking," Gerard points out.

"With Pete? Sometimes. Most of the time."

"It didn't with you."

Mikey looks away.

"I haven't-- Not really. Not since you asked me not to."

"Not really?"

"There was one time, but he was very insistent and I mostly kept my hands off. Just enough to make him go away, you know?"

Mikey looks like he doesn't. Gerard sighs. "The thing is--"

Mikey and Frank both wait, expressions mirrors of each other, of patient expectation.

"--he's kind of... Maybe it's that I like saving things."

Frank narrows his eyes. Mikey says, "He's not one of your fans."

Gerard says, "No, but he is lost."

"He won't know how to accept friendship from you at this point," Mikey says.

It's Gerard's turn to look away. He bites the inside of his cheek and considers whether he can admit the things he's been thinking about. This is Mikey, so he probably has a better chance with him than anyone else, maybe even Frank.

Frank says, "Jesus, Gee," and reaches out tentatively to rub a little at his shoulder.

For the first time in a very long time, Gerard doesn't feel the need to jerk away. If anything, it's nice, the touch. "All my plans to be a bad-ass always go wrong."

Frank laughs a little. Mikey asks, "Don't you think that should tell you something?"

Probably. Gerard goes back to the matter at hand: the conversations between him and Pete. "The things is, his friendship isn't really what I want anymore."

There is a long silence at the end of which Mikey asks, "The question is, would you take it?"

Gerard turns his head to look at them, look at Frank, then Mikey. "If that was all that was on offer."

Slowly, Frank nods.

Mikey rubs at his neck, his eyes shifting wearily between Gerard and Frank. Finally, he says, "All right. We're gonna need a plan."

The thing is, when Gerard is trying to save people, he's pretty fucking good at planning.

*


Gerard knows Pete isn't going to make this easy. Which is sort of convenient, actually, since Gerard also knows that if Pete made it easy, he wouldn't be half so interested in pursuing him. Gerard likes his challenges challenging.

It has to start with words, because text is their main form of communication these days. And it has to start slow. Pete will know something is up if Gerard suddenly starts being nice. Also, Gerard isn't nice. He can be enormously kind, generous, even caring, but nice isn't really part of his repertoire.

Pete texts him at some point a little past three in the morning right after The Plan has been drawn out, to the extent that it can be. Pete is unpredictable, therefore The Plan must have blank spots, parts that seem a bit like the Choose Your Own Adventure books Gerard was forever taking out of the library as a kid. Pete's text asks, "you awake"

He isn't, but he has his Sidekick on vibrate, under his stomach so that it will wake him. "No."

"um"

"Why are you?"

"no reason"

"Liar," Gerard accuses.

"sometimes"

Gerard winces. "Welcome to being famous."

"sometimes to the people who matter"

"Bandmates?"

"no at least i try not to"

"Intent does count for something." Gerard actually believes that, even when it means he has to see the worst in himself.

"do you"

"Do I?"

"lie to them? to the people who matter"

"Yes."

"why"

"Self-protection. Spite. Secrecy."

"people call you honest"

Gerard takes a breath before asking, "Mikey?" That wasn't part of the plan.

"believes in you im not sure", but Pete just stops at that.

"Why?"

"no i mean im not sure it matters if you lie."

"It matters."

"if i asked something would you tell me"

"Ask," Gerard types. It is not an answer, not a promise.

"was i about mikey and frank"

Jesus fuck. Gerard debates lying, decides that if he starts now, he will never stop. Decides that if he wants this, he is going to have to take risks. "Smart boy."

Pete's answer is a long time in coming. "funny you think so".

"You were." Gerard hopes he sees the past tense. He is smart, he should.

"and now"

Good boy. "I suppose that depends on us."

"us"

"You expect me to do all the work?"

"maybe you should get more sleep"

Gerard considers whether he's gotten Pete far enough for one night, one conversation. Almost. "You should, too."

"um"

"Talk to you in the morning."

"it is morning"

Gerard laughs a little, and turns the Sidekick to silent.

*


Gerard starts the next conversation because it can't always be Pete coming to him. The Plan will never work that way. Frank told him that, and Frank would know. Gerard sort of wishes someone had told him that before Frank, but not as much as he used to. Mikey smiles a lot now, which is new, very new, despite having known Mikey the entirety of his life. And Pete is distracting, at the very least. Gerard isn't sure what Pete is, only that Gerard wants it. That maybe isn't fair to Pete, in a time when Gerard is actually trying to be fair, but things have to start somewhere, Gerard knows. Nobody had to tell him that; he figured it out all on his own.

He starts it with, "Was I about Mikey?"

Pete takes an hour to respond, and Gerard's pretty sure he's online the entire time. When he finally does he says, "first and second times".

Gerard considers his options for nearly half an hour before tucking himself onto the couch next to Mikey and showing him. "I don't know what to say."

Mikey takes the Sidekick and types, "What changed?"

Gerard appreciates the intervention, because there's pretty much no way in hell he was going to get himself to ask that question.

Mikey doesn't hand the Sidekick back. Gerard supposes that's allowable. He plants his chin on Mikey's shoulder. Mikey should be all bony and uncomfortable, but somehow Gerard always fits just fine.

Pete answers, "didnt want to associate that with mikey".

Gerard says, "The Plan is never, ever going to work." He should have known.

Mikey bites his lower lip and asks, "Why'd you continue?"

Gerard's not sure he wants to know anymore. He's proven right when Pete tells Mikey who is supposed to be Gerard, "wanted you".

Gerard rubs a hand over his eyes. "Puts a whole new spin on don't ask questions you don't want to know the answers to."

Mikey's gaze is focused on the Sidekick screen. "It could be worse. He wants you. That's something."

"Wanted was in past tense."

"Gerard," Mikey says, stressing both syllables the way he does when he's annoyed. There's something under the annoyance, but Gerard can't plumb its depths. He floats atop it.

"It's always want. It's never anything more, Mikey."

"It could be."

"No, I think I effectively killed that, even assuming--"

"Even assuming what?"

Gerard just shakes his head.

"What, Gerard?"

"It's a thing, Mikey. I'm the guy people want, not the-- Want is pretty fleeting, that's all."

Mikey looks at Gerard for a long time. In the end he doesn't say anything, just turns back to the Sidekick and punches in, "How much?"

"more than I should"

*


It's hard to know what to say after that, so Gerard just doesn't for a few days. Evidently Pete agrees, because he doesn't contact Gerard, either.

Finally Gerard sends, "Should is a stupid word."

Pete's, "is there one you would prefer" sounds pretty tired.

"Not prefer." Gerard thinks for a long time. "Maybe if you just didn't have so many expectations of yourself."

"youre one to talk"

"Am I?" Gerard curls his knees up, makes himself small as he waits for the answer.

"gerard way. savior of the innocent and the not so innocent"

"But that's the performance." It's not, not exactly, but it's not the truth either. It has been a long time since the two were distinctly separate for Gerard.

"okay"

"That wasn't a lie."

"okay"

Gerard mutters, "Fuck," happy with the fervency of it, the experience of actually hearing his own voice after the soft clicking of the past few moments. "Was I that with you?"

"i dont count"

Gerard reads the sentence three times. He wonders for a second if maybe he's missing something--Pete's unusual texting grammar sometimes still throws him. But the sentence is only three words, four if you separate out the "do" and the "not". There's not even a period to get in the way of things. Nothing to misunderstand, really. "Why the fuck would you say that?"

"i was just revenge for frank."

Sometimes Gerard thinks Pete's periods are his version of emphasis. Sometimes he thinks Pete's finger just finds the button, and Pete goes with it. "Was."

Pete waits so long that Gerard wonders if maybe he walked off, left Gerard alone with himself and his machinery. "what now"

"Still figuring that out," Gerard admits.

There's another long pause before Pete asks, "want me?"

Gerard knows that the correct answer is a simple, stolid, "yes." He doesn't want to tell Pete he wants him. The problem with words is that they tend to have a multi-valency to them, are perhaps that way by definition. Gerard doesn't know Pete well enough to know what the word "want" means to him. It could have positive connotations. Or it could have wildly different ones. He settles on, "Among other things."

"what other things"

"Yet to be determined. I sort of need you along for that planning meeting."

"why"

Gerard rubs a hand over his face. "Because you just asked 'why'."

"i dont really get you"

Millions of teenagers all over the world who would tell anyone willing to listen how they get Gerard Way and, "Yeah, I get that a lot."

"i sorta want to"

"I don't get that as often."

"lol"

*


The thing about Pete being in Fall Out Boy and Gerard being in My Chem is that they're pretty much guaranteed to run into each other sooner or later. The sooner in that sentence representing "sooner than Gerard is ready for."

Luckily, Gerard's band members have his back--all of them, now that Bob and Ray have discreetly inquired of Mikey and Frank what the hell is going on and joined the ranks. Or, really, not so discreetly, given that Ray yelled across the bus, "What is up with your brother and your ex?"

"Sort of the same thing that was up between me and his ex," Mikey answered, which wasn't exactly true, but reassures Gerard, because Mikey and Frank turned out pretty well.

So when Gerard stridently whispers, "Do not let me go off with him," he finds himself with an escort for the rest of the night.

Frank has babysitting duty at the point where Pete finds him. Pete hugs Frank--he gives good hugs, Gerard has noticed, the kind that involve the whole body and seem to mean something underneath all the skin involved. Frank musses Pete's hair. "Heya."

"Hi," Gerard says softly, and wishes Pete would hug him too, that they could just have that between them, but knowing he doesn't deserve it, not really.

"Hi," Pete says.

Frank, though, Frank takes matters into his own hands and pushes Gerard into Pete a little bit, at which point it's just awkward not to wrap around him, not to hold on for a little bit. And if Gerard pretends that he's the kind of guy who can get a hug upon greeting and have it mean, "I've missed you," well, everyone has his moments of weakness.

Pete lets go first. He steps back and tilts his head, looking pretty hard at Gerard.

Gerard, who is a lot of things, not one of them being smooth, asks, "So, how are you?"

"Bored," Pete tells him.

Gerard knows the feeling, but despite the lack of innuendo in Pete's voice, he also thinks the response is an invitation. Which, no. They've done enough of that without thinking their actions through. Or perhaps thinking them through to all the wrong conclusions.

Gerard asks, "Wanna see if we can find the kitchens and force them to make us something I can actually eat?"

Next to him, he can feel the hope radiating off Frank. Frank is hungry.

"You should give up veganism. It makes you happy. I know for a fact."

"I'll consider it," Gerard says, even though he won't. Other than caramel and roast beef sandwiches, Gerard doesn't really miss much from his pre-vegan life.

Despite Pete's advice, the three of them bound off in search of adventure, or, at the very least, someone in a white hat and striped pants. It is Frank who finds the kitchen, but that's not really surprising, since Frank is like a bloodhound. Gerard has witnessed Mikey sending him off to locate a lost pair of shoes or a shirt time and again. Gerard should have taken advantage of that when he had the chance.

Then again, Frank is easier with Mikey than he ever was with Gerard.

Gerard looks over at Pete. Despite being unable to make it work with Mikey, that relationship had been easier than Pete and Gerard's as well. He can recognize a pattern when he sees one.

When they get inside Gerard does his best for charming, widening his eyes a little bit, telling them how amazing everything at the event looks. Within minutes he and Frank have bowls of butternut squash soup from the other event going on two floors up from theirs, as well as a spread of veggies. The three of them have to sign quite a few aprons, but Gerard feels that a small price to pay for actually eating.

Pete puts away the carrots and Gerard asks, "Hungry?"

Pete shrugs. "Didn't eat much at the party."

Gerard hesitates but makes himself ask, "Everything okay?"

Pete chews slowly at his carrot stick. "I don't know."

Gerard isn't sure what to say to that.

Pete takes another carrot and looks at it a long time. "Maybe now."

"Getting there," Frank tells them.

"You think?" Pete asks.

Frank smiles. "I'm cautiously optimistic."

Gerard runs his spoon along the bottom of his bowl. Someone has to be.

*


"why the guard dogs"

The text comes early in the morning when Gerard is still sleeping and his Sidekick is set to silent. He gets it five or so hours later upon waking. "My bandmates, you mean?"

"potato potahto"

Gerard disagrees, but takes the point. "I don't trust myself with you."

Pete takes a long time to say, "you didnt break me".

"Didn't treat you with due caution, either."

"dont let the eyeliner fool you im not some girl."

Gerard rolls his eyes. "You think I ever once treated Frank the way I treated you?"

"frank."

Gerard knows that period is for emphasis. Frank, indeed. His fingers fly. "No, Pete. No. It wasn't about what you deserved. It was about cruelty. That's why. The guard dogs. That's why. I need to trust myself."

"i didnt tell you no"

"If you did, I wouldn't need my bandmates to."

"want me to?"

"Not unless it's real."

"course gerard fucking way"

Gerard can hear the snort, the ambivalent amusement in the statement. He sighs. "That's me."

"told you i wanted you"

"You want what I can give you. Or what I could. No more. It's different now. It would be okay for you to want that if there was something behind it, if you would believe there was something behind it, but you wouldn't, not yet, and until you do, it's just abusive."

"youre not bad"

"Neither are you." Gerard's fingers snap hard against the keys.

"im not good"

"Depends on the context, and who really is?"

"patrick"

"Stump could possibly be an exception to the rule," Gerard allows. "But the exception that proves it."

"mikey"

Gerard lays back down. It's hard being Mikey Way's brother, but then, he figures it's probably worse being Gerard Way's brother, so that's probably only fair. "You can want me, but I don't want to hurt you anymore. We have to find a way to reconcile those two."

"and if we cant"

"Maybe one of us will learn to stop trying."

Gerard doesn't really think so. They're both secret believers.

*


Gerard calls Pete on his birthday, actually picks up the phone and calls.

He's never heard Pete's voice filtered through fiber-optics before. It hides a lot of things that he can hear when they're in the same room.

Pete picks up with, "You sent me a present."

"Happy birthday," feels pretty lame after that, but Gerard says it anyway. Sometimes he's bad at changing his plans last minute. Not most of the time, but there are moments.

"So far not bad. My parents kept their call short so we wouldn't start fighting somewhere in the middle, Patrick sang happy birthday to me, and Hemmy's giving me kisses."

Gerard wishes he had a dog. Dogs aren't particular about upon whom they lavish their affections. Not that Pete doesn't deserve it, just, Gerard could use some of that, too. "Have you opened the present?"

"Want me to?"

"Well, I did send it to you. For the purposes of enjoyment and use."

"Fine," Pete says. Gerard hears some rustling and then ripping. There's silence then.

"One of these books is entitled I Hate You."

"Thematically problematic, I grant, but I wanted signed ones, and that was one of the ones I could find."

"Manners Can Be Fun?"

Gerard laughs. "It really wasn't a subliminal message. I just know you like Munro Leaf's stuff. You named your album after one of his books."

"I'm not sure that extends to the whole collection."

"There's a pamphlet on malaria in there done by him and Dr. Seuss. You seriously going to tell me that doesn't turn you on a little bit?"

"You're right. Malaria's a bulletproof orgasm-enhancer for me."

"Who else is going to provide for your needs like that?"

"Mosquitoes?" Pete says thoughtfully.

"Next birthday," Gerard tells him.

"Assuming you're still sending me things by that time."

Gerard closes his eyes and plunges ahead being the brave one. It's Pete's birthday, he deserves the day off. "Maybe I'll be there with you. Maybe I'll give them to you in person."

"That was almost romantic."

"Almost?"

"We were talking about mosquitoes."

"Point."

Pete's quiet for a moment. "I like romantic."

"Traditionally romantic or just--"

"This is a really good present."

"Pete." Gerard knows that if this is going to work there will have to be a day where he will be okay with Pete appreciating the nice things Gerard does, but at the moment this still feels simply like payback territory.

"No, listen. Listen. This is a really good present."

Gerard listens. "Because it meant something?"

"Meaning is romantic."

"It can be," Gerard agrees.

"Did you mean that?"

"I didn't not mean it. I just don't think I thought about it that way."

"How did you think about it?"

Gerard doesn't answer. It's too embarrassing.

"Gerard?"

"Um."

"Gerard."

"The smile you used to give Mikey when he'd share his coffee with you. That. That was what I was thinking about."

"That's--"

"Fucked up?"

"I was going to say really fucking romantic."

Which is pretty fucked up, too, but Gerard doesn't care. He cares that Pete's maybe smiling like that right now. "Happy birthday."

"Yeah," Pete says. "Yeah."

*


"whatd you read when you were a kid"

Gerard smiles and shows the question to Mikey. "That's a total normal person conversation question."

"If the normal person in question is Pete? Yes." Mikey is smiling, though.

"I should answer him." Gerard types, "Babar. I liked elephants. Mikey stole all my Babar books when he was born and dribbled all over them."

"and in retaliation"

Gerard stills at the question. Mikey says, "He's not drawing parallels."

"He could be."

"He's not. He just think book defacing deserves some sort of just reward. It doesn't, because you were totally always leaving your shit everywhere, which you still do, and what was a toddler to do, all right? But that's what he's asking. Not the other thing."

Gerard is slower to type, "Hid all his pacifiers."

"clever and appropriately vicious"

Gerard's fingers go numb.

Mikey whips out his Sidekick. He texts Pete. "Hush."

Gerard can't help looking over his shoulder to see Pete's response. "spying mikeyway?"

"Helping." Mikey doesn't defend or explain himself. Gerard wonders if maybe he is the one person in this whole situation who doesn't have to. It doesn't seem fair.

"even tho he stole your binks"

Mikey snorts at the word binks. "He's not the one who steals the important stuff."

Pete takes a really long time to say, "you hurt him".

Gerard can't tell if Pete means it as question or statement. Sometimes Pete hides his intentions behind his bad texting grammar purposely. It's sneaky and Gerard can appreciate sneaky, but it's also frustrating.

"I know."

"he thinks he hurt me"

"Yeah, he's pretty sure about that." Mikey looks up at Gerard.

"would he believe you if you told him he hadnt"

"Would I be lying? I try not to lie to him."

Pete doesn't answer. Gerard's Sidekick buzzes against his leg and he sees, "did he cry lots when you hid them".

It takes Gerard a second to understand before he looks up at the preceding conversation and reads his admission about the pacifiers. "He started to."

"then what"

Gerard curls over his Sidekick, not sure what to say, not wanting Mikey to read anymore. He hears Mikey typing away and glances over to see what he is saying. Mikey presses "send" and Pete is messaged the words, "He took one out of hiding, washed it off and gave it to me."

Gerard feels more buzzing. He looks down. "afraid of your mom finding out"

"Yes," Gerard says.

"liar", Pete accuses.

Gerard is. He has never liked seeing Mikey cry, not even when he was an infant and it was only the natural order of things.

"He never means the hurt," Mikey tells Pete.

"maybe thats the same thing as not hurting me"

Gerard shakes his head. Mikey types, "No."

"doesnt feel like hurt anymore", Pete texts Mikey.

Mikey shows it to Gerard, says, "Read that. Read it until it means something."

Gerard says, "You're always forgiving me."

Mikey counters, "You're always deserving it."

Gerard shakes his head. "He just knows what he wants. Knows how to get it." Gerard suspects Pete has gotten it too often, perhaps to the point where he doesn't even understand the boundary between want and its echo anymore.

"Why's that so bad?" Mikey asks.

"Want is ephemeral."

Mikey blinks. "Not always."

"Maybe not in your case," Gerard tells him.

Mikey tells Pete, "Hurt can take surprisingly quiet forms."

*


Pete sends Mikey maple-flavored coffee from Vermont with the note, "Saw this in the coffee shop Patrick found and was mainlining off of during our last stop. Suppose Gerard could share, too."

When Pete is forced to use a pen, he evidently remembers elementary school grammar. Maybe it's Pavlovian, or programmatic in some other way. Gerard finds it bizarrely sweet, which he would be surprised by, except he's getting used to nothing making sense with Pete.

He's getting used to being utterly lost to the entire lack of sense in an enjoyable--if terrifying--way.

Gerard sends him a thank you note, an honest-to-G-d thank you note. He asks Mikey for the address and Mikey has to do some digging to discover the one that will get the letter sent to Pete, rather than his mail-sorters. Gerard would like to think the note would make it anyway, but there's always the possibility that the kid going through all of Pete's letters would think someone was just using Gerard's name.

Mikey comes through for him and Gerard posts the letter.

It takes a week--it has to be forwarded on to Pete, wherever the hell he is, but when Pete texts him, "youre so old fashioned", Gerard knows the letter has gotten where it needed to go.

"That's charming in some people."

"the present wasnt even for you"

"You said I could share. Did you not mean it?" Gerard shared. It was good coffee, and he isn't as in to coffee as Mikey, not in the knowing of it, the caring what brand he's drinking, but he can appreciate a bean that tastes fresh from the earth, wakes him up purely with its scent.

"meant it"

"Well, then."

"wanted to send it to you but wasnt sure"

"Wasn't sure?"

"how youd feel"

"How I'd feel."

"mikey and i are friends"

"We're not friends?"

"dunno you know?"

"I'd like us to be."

"oh"

Gerard frowns at the response. Then he adds. "To start. I'd like us to start as friends."

"late for that"

"Why do we have to do things the way everyone else does them?"

"seems to work for most people"

"I'm pretty sure we aren't most people."

"point"

"Occasionally, I have those."

"always a surprise tho"

"Blow me."

"pretty sure friends dont do that"

"And we're friends."

"you said we could be"

"I said I wanted us to be."

"same difference"

"No," Gerard tells him.

After a long pause, Pete texts, "no maybe not".

"Friends don't do that."

"not unless they become something more"

"Not unless." Gerard closes his eyes and doesn't let himself worry that he's essentially taken two steps back in the name of progress. Friends do that for their friends.

*


Gerard emails Pete the link to an article about Explosions in the Sky that he doesn't think he will have read.

Pete reciprocates with an article about how humans actually use their whole brain--that whole 10% thing is a myth. Gerard has no idea what makes Pete think it's the article for him, but whatever the thought process, Pete's sort of right. Gerard quotes roughly a third of it to Frank, who listens raptly.

Gerard comes back with an article from The Onion which makes him laugh.

Pete ups the ante with an interview with Dave Chapelle that has Gerard in tears of laughter.

Gerard digs up a particularly biting Doonsbury and Pete finds him an absolutely gorgeous manga, fully scanned in to a free site.

They go an entire two weeks without ever saying a word to each other, but every time Gerard checks his email there's a response waiting for him, one that will invariably make him smile. When he sends Pete the YouTube of a basset hound playing Chopstix on the piano, he includes the text, "You're pretty good at this friend thing."

Pete's corresponding YouTube has an elephant playing a pretty accomplished game of tennis and, "shut up".

Gerard sends back the words, "I'm serious," without a link. Not that he couldn't keep this up basically forever, but he doesn't want to take the chance that Pete has to be the first to call it quits. Pete needs the last word sometimes.

Pete's answer is, "no" then, "miss touching you".

And, okay, friends aren't supposed to touch each other like that, but there's such utter shame in the admission that Gerard doesn't even really think about not telling Pete, "Me too."

"not enough dirty boys where you are?"

With Pete it's often hard to tell if Gerard has done the right thing or not. That's not precisely a novel experience, but Pete makes him feel like if he just keeps working at it, he might actually get there. "Plenty of dirty boys. No Pete Wentzes."

The next email has a gift card to Darkhorse Comics, nothing else.

Gerard uses it to send Pete all four Kingdom of the Wicked comics with a note that says, "I like you fine without bribes."

Pete texts him, "sometimes i like to give my friends gifts".

"It wasn't the gift, it was the timing."

"you said something nice i sent a thank you"

"One of my goals of being your friend has just become to get you to have higher expectations of niceness. I'm probably going to need Patrick, Andy and Joe's contact information for this. Email me that stuff?"

"leave my band alone"

"You want me to get it through Mikey?"

"mikey wouldnt"

"He likes me lots."

"fine" and then, "i hate you"

"It's why ours is such a solid friendship."

"its too bad you send good gifts or i could find myself a better friend"

Gerard knows he doesn't mean it. It sort of hurts anyway.

"that was mean"

Gerard nods. It kind of was.

"mostly im surprised you dont find yourself a better friend"

"Couldn't. Wouldn't want to."

"maybe you just havent tried hard enough"

"I know where I want to concentrate my efforts." Pete takes a lot of them. Gerard doesn't mind. Another sign he's pretty much gone. The thought catches in his head for a second, rings uncomfortably. Gerard makes himself relax into it, the way one is supposed to with experiences that might hurt.

"have it your way"

For the moment, that's the only way that's going to get both of them what Gerard is pretty sure they both want.

*


Pete calls and says, "I have plague. Cheer me up, bitch."

He sounds mostly dead, unexpectant that Gerard will actually help him out, and less than wholly insulting in his chosen epithet. Gerard takes a brief moment to come up with something. "Have I told you about the time Frank decided it would be a good idea to have sex with Mikey on the bus while we were at a frippin' hotel? The bus driver took the bus to get some errands run and fill it up and they hadn't taken their Sidekicks, because, well, evidently neither of them felt they were going to last that long."

Pete is silent.

"Not doing the trick? Because once we found them and got them to the venue, I laughed for hours."

"Sorry, just trying to figure out why you would have sex on a bus when there's a bed readily available."

"Frank and Mikey are-- They just have their own ways."

"Yeah, well. Mikey."

"Plus Frank."

"Plus Frank." Pete does laugh then, a little. It dissolves into coughing and misery.

Gerard says, "Hey, hey. Are you laying down?"

"When I sit up I fall over."

"Roll onto your stomach, okay?"

There is rustling. Pete announces, "Face down."

"Okay. Imagine I'm there, and that I have Vapo-rub."

"I do have Vapo-rub."

"Then have Patrick does this for you later."

"Want you," Pete says petulantly.

"I want to be there," Gerard says honestly.

"Sick," Pete reiterates, apropos of everything and nothing all at once.

"I know. Imagine I'm laying my palms flat over your shoulder blades, rubbing the medicine lightly in, pressing just enough to release the pressure, not enough to hurt. I don't want to hurt you."

Pete's breath is shaky, but he doesn't cough on the exhale.

"All right. Now I'm moving my hands, working the stuff into each of your vertebrae, around the wall of your spine. I'm taking my time with every notch, every piece of this is important."

Pete's breathing begins to settle a bit.

"Now I'm holding my palms over your kidneys. Not massaging, just holding, just letting you know someone is there."

There is a soft sound from Pete at that.

Gerard asks, "Pete?"

Pete does not answer.

Gerard goes and gets Mikey to call Patrick, have Patrick turn Pete's phone off so that he isn't awoken by the busy signal when Gerard hangs up.

He thinks about having Mikey tell Patrick to put some Vapo-rub on Pete, but that's Pete's call. Gerard will leave him to make his own decisions about who gets to touch him. In any way.

He says, "Sleep, Peter," and presses the correct button to end the call.

*


He calls Pete back the next afternoon. "Feeling any better?"

"I put the Vapo-rub on my chest."

"It helps there, too."

"That was brave of you, getting Patrick. He doesn't like you very much."

Gerard doesn’t blame him. "I'm bad at first impressions. He'll warm to me. You are. Warming."

Pete laughs. "That's probably the fever you're sensing."

Gerard bites his lip.

"Relax," Pete says, sounding worn. "I was kidding."

Gerard sort of knew that.

"It was nice of you to call. Check on me."

"Friend," Gerard says. He really is a good friend. He might be shit at the whole partner/boyfriend/lover/whatever the hell someone wants to call it role, but friend he can do. Most of the time, anyway. Definitely when he's putting in the effort.

"You have a different style of it than my others. I keep forgetting. Also, there was the part with the fucking."

"Yeah." Gerard can admit to that part confusing things. "So you're feeling better?"

"Better. Not human, but better."

"I could send you Campbells."

"I thought we were friends."

"I don't know anyone who cooks."

"Andy cooks."

"Probably not with chickens, though."

"He made me tomato soup. With little alphabet noodles. I think the noodles might have had eggs in them. It was a true act of love."

"Definitely."

Pete laughs.

"I could send you cookies. There are bakeries. That's, you know, fancier than cans."

"Also, cookies mean love."

"Also."

There's a break of silence and Pete says, "I wasn't--"

Gerard says, "Don't."

"I just mean I don't expect--"

"You have fucked up expectations or lack thereof. I've decided to ignore them."

"I thought my thoughts were important."

"It's complicated."

"I'm pretty smart."

"Very smart, and okay, that was-- You're right. I just mean that I don’t really think I should be pandering to your low expectations. I mean, it's good to know about them and all, so as to avoid them, but playing to them? That might have been what got us into this mess in the first place."

"Is this a mess?"

"Not as messy as it was."

Slowly Pete says, "Yeah, still a little bit of a mess."

"But you're feeling better."

"It's not a metaphor, Gerard. I have influenza. Or something."

"Whatever."

Pete laughs.

*


Sometimes Gerard can't draw proper lines for himself; he needs Frank and Mikey for that. Or Bob and Ray. But while Bob and Ray are excellent at drawing safe lines for Gerard, in this instance Frank and Mikey are needed so that the lines are safe for Pete, too.

Gerard feels a little bit like that matters even more than his safety. Gerard knows how to pick himself up and dust himself off. Not that Pete doesn't. But if he's going to have to, Gerard wants to be the one to provide him with a place to lean, not be the one knocking him down. He's done with that.

He says, "Friends go visit other friends. I mean, that's not-- That's not not a friend thing."

"You guys aren't exactly friends," Frank says.

Gerard sighs. He knows. It isn't for lack of effort. They're just both bad at it. It's a good thing Mikey's so fucking stellar as a friend, or he and Pete probably would never have spoken again.

Mikey says, "It's not a bad idea, though. Friends do visit. You just have to be responsible."

Mikey looks like he has faith, which is forever Gerard's undoing. He hates proving Mikey wrong, particularly about the good things. Gerard would travel well beyond the ends of this earth and any other to find Mikey unicorns.

Gerard nods. "Responsible."

He has Bob book him tickets to Chicago while Fall Out Boy is holing up there, trying to get some writing done. Gerard busies himself with buying Pete a really nice fountain pen, the kind where the ink barely needs to come in contact with the page. He also gets him several liner notebooks and a stress ball, because that always helps Gerard when his hand cramps up. He has Bob arrange for a hotel room as well, but when Pete finds out about that he asks, "Seriously, Gee, do you make your friends stay in hotels?"

Gerard hears Frank say, "you guys aren't exactly friends." "Um, no?"

"I thought we had decided that you don't think I'm an asshole."

"It's kind of jerky to invite yourself into someone's house." Not many of his mother's etiquette lessons stuck, but that one Gerard has down.

"Only if the someone wasn't a jerk and didn't just invite you in the first place."

"I'll consider myself invited," Gerard says, before Pete can say anything else about himself. Gerard can't see that going anyplace good.

There's a driver waiting for Gerard when he arrives at the airport. Gerard follows him to the car and slips into the backseat, where he finds himself with an entire lapful and two arms' worth of Pete Wentz.

"Hi," Pete says, as though maybe his body-language isn't getting his message across.

Gerard hugs him, because friends hug, and says, "Hello."

Then he puts Pete very neatly back on the seat next to him, and buckles him in. He says, "I brought you presents."

Pete smiles. "You didn't have to."

"You're housing me." Gerard doesn't say he got the stuff before he knew that.

Pete rolls his eyes. "I'll send you part of the electricity bill, okay?"

"I think I'd rather just give you the presents."

"Be that way," Pete says, but when Gerard gives him the box with the pen, wrapping paper flies.

*


Pete writes for hours. He stops occasionally to squeeze at the stress ball, work it through his palm, look up and say, "I suck as a host."

Sort of, but Gerard doesn't mind watching him write, watching him scratch through his ideas and start over and stretch out and hunch over and frown in consternation and light up better than any Christmas tree when something starts working. He doesn't mind at all. And if he starts to, he can always annoy one of his bandmates with random text messages. Life is good. Gerard does his best to keep himself looking busy so that Pete won't worry.

The fifth or six time Pete goes for the stress ball, though, Gerard intercepts the hand. He spreads it out flat. Pete says, "Oh, ow."

Gerard digs into the muscle along the outer edge of the palm and Pete keens but keeps his hand still, never once tries to take it away.

Gerard says, "It'll start to feel better in a bit."

"I know," Pete says.

Gerard looks at him. Pete shrugs. "You...mostly you don't seem like a guy who hurts things just to hurt them."

The comment stings, regardless of whether it's actually meant to. "You're a person, not a thing," Gerard says, looking at Pete's hand. "And whatever my general proclivities, that doesn't excuse what I did."

"I didn't say no."

"Yeah, we're gonna need to see if we can get you to be better with that." Gerard digs into the very center of Pete's palm and waits, waits to feel the muscle release. Pete bites his lip, his eyes tearing a bit at the edges. Gerard feels the slight pop-hiss sensation of it right before he thinks actual tears will fall. He moves to a light caressing of the now doubly-abused muscles. "Think you can let the words go for the day?"

Pete looks at his hand, closes his fingers just a tiny bit over Gerard's. "Something you wanted to do?"

"Not in particular. But if you can't let them go, I think I should write for you."

Pete says, "I've done worse. That ball thing is pretty awesome."

"Yeah, we're gonna have to get you a hand massager, too."

"We are?"

"Mm. But for now, you think you can let go?"

"Most of the last stuff is gonna have to go anyway."

"Wanna go get some dinner?"

Pete frowns. "What time is it?"

"Nearly seven."

Pete's eyes widen a little. "Why didn't you say something?"

"I know how it feels, to actually be there, actually be flowing like that. I didn't want to interrupt."

Pete frowns. Gerard smiles. His smile gets him out of a lot of things. He's not entirely sure what he's done here, but Pete's looking at him with a fair amount of incredulity and a little bit of worry, like Gerard might be missing a few important parts, so it's something.

Pete asks, "You know... I mean, if we are friends, and that's sort of up for debate, I guess, but whatever we are, there's friendship somewhere in there, you know friends ask things of each other, right?"

"Hello, kettle, nice to meet you."

Pete smiles, an easy spread of the lips. It's so real Gerard's heart stutters for a second before regaining its instinctive rhythm. Pete asks, "Dinner?"

Gerard nods. "Dinner."

*


It's an offhand thing when Gerard says it. An, "Uh huh, sure, Peter."

Pete stiffens so much Gerard actually thinks he might crack. Or strain something. "Don't call me that."

The thing is, normally Gerard is pretty good about accepting people's boundaries, and he's been trying to be super good about it with Pete, given his early fuck-ups. But, "That's your name."

"If we want to get technical, my name is Peter Lewis Kingston Wentz III. But I go by Pete. For a reason." Pete's voice is chilled. Gerard curls his toes against incipient frostbite.

"Peter's a nice name. Literary. Peter Rabbit, Peter Pan, Peter Wimsey. It has both dignity and innocence to it."

"It's a stupid name, and it's easy to sound disapproving when you say it. Peter," Pete's voice rises on the first syllable, "or, Peter," simply a low mutter, "or Peter!" a quick sharpening of the full name.

"Peter," Gerard says softly, and with as much fondness as he has. It's a lot of fondness.

"Peter Lewis," Gerard says then, because if he's going to pick a nickname with more syllables, then he might as well go all the way and Peter Lewis has a nice cadence to it. Gerard can appreciate a good rhythm.

"Why don't you just send me to boot camp while you're at it?" Pete asks, glaring, his shoulders hunched and his jaw almost too tight to allow for words.

Gerard frowns at the total randomness of the question, as well as its possible implications. "Why would I want to send you away? I don't get to see you enough as it is."

Pete blinks, which at least gets him to loosen up a little. "Um."

"And boot camp? What the hell?"

"Mikey didn't-- You've never read--" Pete flounders.

"I missed something, didn't I? An important reference."

"My parents, they--"

"Holy shit, your parents sent you to boot camp? Were you, I dunno, more butch as a kid?"

"I was skipping classes. This is not-- The whole world knows this, Gerard."

"I only ever read the international section and business section of CNN online and it wasn't in there. I mean, I get Rolling Stone and the others, but I almost never have time to read so I'm sort of picky about which interviews-- They sent you to boot camp? Because you were skipping classes?"

Pete takes a step backward. "It's not that they don't love me."

"I wasn't going to suggest that." Gerard really wasn't. That's not the sort of thing you say to someone, particularly not someone who looks like the tap of a finger could have him on the floor.

Pete just shrugs.

"Peter," Gerard says, and this time he's careful with every letter, but particularly the "r". "Peter, Peter, Peter." And, "I skipped classes, too."

"Why can't you just--"

Gerard waits, but when Pete doesn't finish he tries, "Let you be afraid of things?"

Pete's eyes are cutting. "Nobody else seems to have an issue with it."

Gerard sort of doubts that. He's pretty sure Patrick and Andy and Joe just don't know exactly how to help. It can be hard, from the inside. "Maybe it wasn't their issue to take."

"I have plenty of nicknames."

"I like your real one. Peter Lewis."

Pete says, "You're a complete asshole."

Gerard couldn't agree more.

*


Patrick comes bearing pizza on the second day that Gerard's in town, and okay, Gerard probably should have (and kind of does) expect the deep level of unimpressed that colors Patrick's tone when he says, "I brought cheeseless for you."

Gerard counts himself lucky Patrick was nice enough not to starve him. It is possible that Patrick wanted to, and is just too nice for his own good.

"Thanks," Gerard says, and eats four pieces, even though they're big, and he's really pretty full half-way through the third. He doesn't want to seem unappreciative.

Pete, who is really smart, and also, at times, a jerk, decides Hemmy needs a walk right after dinner. Gerard's about to offer to walk with him when Pete says, "I'll clean when I get back, do me a favor and keep Patrick company?" Pete ducks in to kiss Gerard's cheek. "Best house guest ever," and then it's just Gerard and Patrick.

Gerard says, "I'll, uh, I'll clean the dishes."

There are only three. And Pete has a dishwasher. It's not the epic effort he wishes it were.

He carefully folds the pizza box and puts it in the right recycling container. He turns to find Patrick watching him and says the first thing that comes to mind, which is, "You can hit me. Totally free shot."

"You would think that would fix things, wouldn't you?"

Which isn't really fair, because most of the time, Gerard isn't a violent guy. Then again, Patrick has no way of knowing that, and Gerard crossed a line with his best friend. "I didn't know what else to say. Offer."

"Why are you here?"

"Mikey didn't tell you?"

"I want to hear it from you."

"I came to visit my friend."

"Did you take lessons in earnest?" Patrick--Gerard can tell--still isn't impressed.

Gerard opens his mouth. Closes it. There's nothing to say.

Patrick sighs. "It wouldn't have been such a fucking big deal if you weren't Gerard fucking Way of My fucking Chemical Romance."

Gerard is man enough to admit to being a little taken aback by Patrick's sudden preponderance of profanities. "I don't even know what that means."

"Could you at least be honest while doing earnest? It would take out some of the sting."

"Patrick--"

"Don't act like you didn't know about his hero worship, just don't."

Gerard is going to be sick. He scouts out the nearest vomit receptacle just in case. Patrick says, "Oh. You didn't."

Gerard shakes his head. He really will throw up if he opens his mouth.

"Out of curiosity, how did you miss it?" Patrick's voice is softer now, more willing--Gerard thinks--to forgive. Which is useful, because Gerard's pretty sure he's never going to forgive himself, not in a million years.

"Mikey didn't tell me." And wow, lame excuse, but pretty true. Gerard depends on Mikey for these things. He wonders, briefly, whom Mikey was protecting in keeping that secret: Gerard or Pete.

He's probably going to have to apologize to Mikey again, too. At least practice is starting to make him perfect. Or, well, vastly improved.

Suddenly, Patrick laughs. It takes Gerard a moment to understand the sound and then he's pretty sure his jaw drops, because as far as he can tell, there is nothing funny about this situation. But Patrick is doubled over with it, one hand in the air, and a gasped, "Sorry," breaking out from between heaves of laughter.

Gerard just watches in confusion, and not a slight amount of consternation.

When Patrick has remembered how to breathe he says, "It's just-- Only Gerard Way would accidentally manipulate the one fucking person in the universe who was utterly prime for it, and only Pete Wentz would be the person accidentally manipulated. And I use that term lightly because the thing about Pete is he's always more in the game than he lets on."

Gerard nods. "All valid points."

Patrick laughs a little more, like a bookend to the earlier explosion. He runs a hand over his face. "Oh fuck. Just tell me your intentions are honorable."

"You can probably lock the shotgun back up."

"Probably?"

"Gerard Way and Pete Wentz."

Patrick just starts laughing again.

*


Pete falls asleep while writing the next morning. Gerard takes the pen out of his hand, covers him with a throw and lets him sleep. He seems like he needs it. Personally, Gerard doesn't often turn down a perfectly good chance to sleep.

Gerard makes himself lunch, lays still while Hemmy explores him a little bit, watches some TV, and texts Mikey, "I think I'm not fucking up."

Mikey responds, "Way to be positive."

Gerard snorts and is about to say something back when Pete twitches. Gerard looks over, waiting for him to wake fully. Only he doesn't. Without so much as moaning, Pete jerks and contorts. Gerard frowns and asks Mikey, "Does Pete have nightmares?"

Mikey's answer is startling both in its immediacy and urgency, "WAKE HIM UP!"

Gerard all but throws the Sidekick aside. He snaps, "Pete. Pete, wake up!"

Nothing. The convulsions are getting worse.

Really hoping he doesn't get decked or kicked or otherwise damaged, Gerard catches Pete's shoulders, hauls him up. He feels the moment Pete wakes. It's an intake of breath, a breaking of a barrier that Gerard can't see. Pete says, "Fuck," and Gerard does the only thing that seems right and brings him all the way up, folds Pete to his chest, and holds just tight enough that Pete has to know he can get away, if he so chooses.

The only thing he chooses to do is ball his hands in Gerard's shirt.

He says, "Sorry," but doesn't let go.

Gerard says, "Sh, hey, just relax." He rubs slowly at Pete's back, waiting to feel the muscles unknot. Hemmy jumps up on the couch and licks at one of Pete's arms.

Pete laughs at the sensation, shifts his face to look at Hemmy. He tells Gerard, "My dog loves me."

"Your dog and your band and my brother. Pretty respectable list."

"All people and creatures too nice for their own good."

"Maybe. But I'm not."

Pete's grip falters for a second. Then he redoubles. "Smooth."

"Yeah, I thought so."

Pete laughs a little, sort of a sniffle's equivalent of laughter, shaky but audible. Gerard asks, "You wanna talk about the nightmare?"

"Not really. My therapist is always having me do that and they haven't gone away yet, so if I don't have to relive them, well."

"Okay," Gerard says. "Wanna eat something?"

"If I say no to that, you gonna let it go?"

"Somewhat unlikely. You're feeling flimsy."

"It's amazing I can ever feel bad about myself in your presence."

"I'm working on that. Come on," Gerard murmurs against Pete's hairline, "Let's get you sturdied up."

Gerard doesn't move, though, and Pete says, "Give me a few, all right?"

Gerard ends up giving him an hour.

*


Mikey picks Gerard up from the airport. Gerard looks to either side of him. "Don't you die if away from Frank for longer than thirty minutes? You know, like fish and water?"

"Do you really want me to tell Pete about the time mom told you that you couldn't have a rabbit and you cried for three days?"

"Pete would understand."

Mikey pulls his Sidekick from his pocket. Gerard clamps a hand over his. "I'm sorry."

"I wanted some you and me time. To see how things went."

"Yeah, I don't know what-- I'm glad, okay?"

Mikey nods. "Okay. Spill."

"I don't think Patrick hates me anymore."

"Patrick didn't hate you to begin with."

"A little."

"No, Gee. He called me, remember? He asked what the hell was going on with you."

"He was mad, though."

"You would kill anybody who did that to me. Slowly."

Gerard sneaks a peek at Mikey. "I'm glad you know that."

Mikey quirks his lips a bit. "So, other than your grand reconciliation with Patrick, how were things?"

"He liked my gifts," Gerard says slowly. "He wrote while I was there."

Mikey stops walking for a second before shaking himself slightly and beginning to move again. "Really?"

Gerard nods.

"Huh."

"Huh?"

"Just, I've only ever known him to do that with Patrick. I guess, I mean, Patrick's gonna see the stuff before it's finished anyway, so I always figured that was why he could manage it with him."

Gerard thinks about Pete sprawled on his stomach, new pen between his teeth, fingers tapping the blank page. "Maybe he's mellowing."

"Maybe." Mikey sounds doubtful. "Maybe he just knows he's already let you see his worst parts."

Gerard frowns. "He's seen mine, you mean?"

Mikey is silent for a bit. "That could be part of it, too."

"Mikey."

They've reached the car by this time and Mikey crosses his arms over the roof, rests his chin on them. Gerard hoists himself on the trunk and sits. They should get inside, go before someone recognizes them. Gerard doesn't care. Mikey says, "He let you because it was you. I mean, Patrick said-- I should have told you. But I didn't realize--" Mikey sighs. "He let you do that. Because he wanted you, any part of you he could get. That's the worst part of Pete, as he sees it. How far he'll go for the things he wants. His inability to erect protective boundaries. He thinks it's stupid. Slutty."

"Dirty," Gerard says softly.

Mikey nods.

Gerard opens his palms, stares at the lines running through them. "I don't know how-- I want to be--" Gerard makes a sound of frustration in the back of his throat. "If I try to be anything more than a friend, I'm afraid it will just make him feel like that again. And it's not, it's not that I wouldn't just continue to be his friend forever, if that was what was best for him, and maybe it is, I guess, but I just--"

"You're sorta in love with him," Mikey says softly.

Gerard buries his face in his hands. "Sorta."

"Hey," Mikey says, one hand settling warmly over Gerard's closest knee. "Hey. We'll come up with a plan."

Gerard moves his fingers and shifts his head so that he can peer with one eye out at Mikey. "Yeah?"

Mikey squeezes his knee.

*


It is Gerard who comes up with a plan. It's one he does not dare tell Mikey about, despite one of Mikey's comments being the germination of it. The plan is not a bad one--or at least, not the worst Gerard has ever come up with--but it definitely has its risks.

The good part about the plan, maybe Gerard's favorite part, is that it's going to take a while to implement. It involves being in the same space as Pete, and as that has just happened, it will most likely be a while before it happens again. Gerard is more than happy to wait, to let things be as they are. If nothing else, Pete likes him right now.

What Mikey says is, "He probably is going to need to know that you would go as far as he would, you know? That this is mutual."

Mikey means the suggestion innocently, but Mikey wasn't there for when Gerard was busy pushing Pete into walls, busy drawing blood, both literal and figurative. Gerard asks, "Have any idea of what would prove that to him?" and keeps his own counsel.

Mikey's ideas seem to involve a lot of Gerard waiting Pete out, which Gerard is more than willing to do, but that seems paltry in comparison to the crimes committed. It really doesn't matter that Gerard had no idea he was picking an easy target. He writes entire fucking songs about not picking on people smaller than oneself, preaches to crowds of hundreds, and Gerard is a lot of things, but he really tries not to make "hypocrite" one of them.

Frank, though--who has less jagged edges than Mikey but knows Gerard from different angles--says, "Maybe you just have to take what he dishes out for a bit."

Gerard doesn't say anything. Frank looks at him and Gerard knows that Frank has figured out they're on the same page.

The problem isn't taking it, Gerard knows. Gerard can take Pete's worst and walk away on his own two feet, holding Pete up beside him. He is confident of that.

The problem is getting Pete to give him his worst.

Gerard hasn't a clue of how he's going to manage that, but he does some of his best thinking on the fly, so he leaves the problem for the moment.

There's plenty else to concentrate on in the meantime. For one thing, he has a band.

For another, Pete texts him when he's barely been on the ground for two hours. "hi"

"How's Hemmy?" Gerard asks.

"he misses you"

"I give good tummy rubs."

"yes"

Gerard feels all three letters cut into his stomach, sharper and more deceptive--less noticeable--than glass slivers or the fine edge of typing paper. "I miss him, too."

"hes been clinging to me all morning"

"You should let him."

"He lonely?" Mikey asks, without even bothering to inquire if Gerard is texting with Pete.

"Yeah."

"Tell him to drink some matte and listen to Elliott Smith."

"Because that won't depress a person."

"Seriously, Gee, tell him."

Gerard keys in, "Mikey says to drink some matte and listen to Elliott Smith."

"mikeys smart about me"

"Elliott Smith?"

"he has hope if you listen for it like a secret a secret hope"

"Matte?"

"tastes like far away"

"Far away."

"a place you go to get away from things"

Sometimes Gerard puts cinnamon and chilies in his hot chocolate and drinks it even if they're in New Mexico or some other ridiculously warm place for half of February. He gets escapism. "That's a plan, then."

"hemmyll still miss the tummy rubs"

"Tell him I'll be back."

"you have to be sure i dont lie to my dog"

"Tell him, Peter."

"PETE"

"Got you to find the shift key."

":p"

Gerard grins.

*


Gerard makes a clandestine run on a Costco somewhere in Arizona and sends Pete an industrial-size case of small-headed toothbrushes for Hemmy. Pete has complained on more than one occasion about how he's always running out of them at the worst possible moments. Gerard attaches a note that says, "Happy Labor Day," even though he sends the thing a full week after Labor Day.

Pete, predictably, asks, "Labor Day is a gift giving occasion?"

"I thought it was weird if I just sent you toothbrushes for your dog without a reason," Gerard admits.

"So making up a gift-giving holiday that's already technically passed lessens the weirdness?"

Good point. Not really. Gerard should have thought of that before. "Are Hemmy's teeth clean?"

"They shine like the top of the Chrysler building."

That would be freaky if Gerard weren't so sure Pete is quoting "Annie." "That's all I ask. Also, you do a really craptastic Carol Burnett."

"I wasn't really trying."

"Uh huh."

"Well, we can't all be Liza Minelli in our off hours, Gerard Way."

Gerard sighs. Tragic, but true. Softly, he asks, "How've you been sleeping?"

"Okay," Pete says. "Patrick's been over a lot. It's that part of the process. So he stays, and that helps."

"You sound kinda drained."

"That part of the process."

Gerard nods. Fair enough. "What's your favorite candy?"

"Um. Cruel question."

"I suppose you can have a top three."

"You're a generous guy."

"Mikey's trained me well."

Pete's laugh is muffled, like maybe he's put his hand to his mouth. "Okay, top three. But you're next. Hot tamales, chocolate-covered raisins and yogurt-covered pretzels."

"That last one borders dangerously on health food."

"Oh yeah, I'm sure my doctor would agree."

Gerard smirks.

"'Fess up."

"Hm. Peanut brittle, watermelon salt-water taffy and Cadbury bars, the ones with almonds and raisins in them."

"Oh. Those are good."

Gerard nods. "Have you ever had them in England?"

"See! I told Andy they tasted better over there, but he wouldn't believe me."

"Yeah, but he's a real vegan. He probably has to tell himself these things to soldier on."

"Stop making excuses for the complete pain-in-the-ass things my band members do. And I thought you were a real vegan."

"In all things except Cadbury. It's like the exception you make with your spouse, you know? And, well, okay. Just tell me when you want me to start again."

"The exception you make with your spouse? I'll let you know."

"The one person you could sleep with scot-free."

"You have a lot of healthy relationships, don't you?"

"Probably about as many as you."

"Touché."

When they hang up, Gerard uses the Sidekick to order Pete a gift basket's worth of hot tamales, chocolate-covered raisins, yogurt-covered pretzels and some imported Cadbury. He sends it with the note, "Happy whatever the hell day you get this."

*


Mikey says, "I asked Pete to come visit me."

Gerard looks at Frank, who just looks back at him. He looks at Bob, who shrugs. He looks at Ray who says, "Clearly you were going to be too much of a pussy to ask yourself. Somebody had to."

"I wasn't being a pussy," Gerard explains. "I was being patient."

"Funny how the two so often look identical on you," Ray mutters, and puts his headphones back on.

Gerard flips him off, but it's half-hearted and when Ray tugs him down, Gerard goes easily, resting his head on Ray's thigh. "When's he coming?"

"I told him to spend Thanksgiving with us. He doesn't like going home for the holidays."

"Also, I told Mikey I wanted some quality Patrick and me ex-roomie time while we were back in the city," Bob says.

Mikey smirks.

"So that Bob can clean Patrick's apartment for him," Frank says solemnly.

"Says must-must-MUST-have-a-shower boy." Bob is clearly unbothered by his bandmate's callous mockery.

Frank grins.

"Is he staying with you guys, then?" Gerard asks.

"I told him he could stay wherever he wants," Mikey says. "Which probably means he won't have the nerve to ask to stay at your place, so you're going to need to man up, here."

"Man up?"

"You're the one who left me alone with Nas and Kelis at that MTV thing."

"I swear I thought Frank had just gone to the bathroom."

"And after ten minutes, you weren't concerned that maybe I had died in there?" Frank, who had actually been trying not to fanboy Jack and Meg White at the time. And pretty much failing.

"In fairness to myself, I was duly punished for my actions." And then some. Gerard had managed to get caught in a conversation with Avril Lavigne.

Frank, Mikey and Bob all laugh at his pain. Ray takes one headphone off, "What'd I miss?"

"Gerard's nuptials," Mikey says without even blinking. "He'll be taking the name Mr. Lavigne next week. Trailer-side service."

"I could always just let Pete stay with you. It'll probably make fucking over your brand new banister a little complicated, but--"

"We'll be good," Frank promises. Mikey nods, and puts three fingers over his heart.

Gerard reaches up and removes the headphone that Ray has just put back. "Your mom gonna mind an extra person?"

"Is Pete gonna mind your mom and mine acting like its possible he hasn't eaten in three years and they are the only women in the world willing to rectify that?"

"Sucks for him if he isn't," Mikey says.

Gerard gestures with his thumb in agreement. "We have the best moms ever."

"Obviously," Ray says, and replaces his headphone.

Gerard closes his eyes and twists a little so that he can nudge Mikey with his toe. Mikey catches the foot in his hand. Gerard peeks out of one eye and smiles. He mouths, "Thanks."

Mikey squeezes the big toe.

*


They send a driver to the airport for Pete, because anything else seems unnecessarily foolhardy. The driver brings him to Mikey's, but Gerard tosses his bags in the back of his car. He says, "Frank and Mikey don't get to spend much time here. Is it gonna bother you, staying with me?"

"It's not gonna bother you?"

"Friend," Gerard says, and steals Hemmy from Pete. Hemmy licks him hello.

They have dinner with Frank and Mikey, and let Mikey show Pete around his house. While they're touring, Frank says, "Um. It's not that we don't like having you guys around--"

"When he gets back I'll say I'm tired."

"You're a truly noble individual." Despite the melodrama of the words, Frank sounds serious.

Gerard looks over at him. Frank says, "I know you think you did all this wrong, but if he hurts you there will be nothing on this earth, not even Mikey, able to stop me from tearing him apart, piece by piece." Only when he is done with the softly stated threat does Frank look at Gerard.

Gerard reaches out and squeezes Frank's shoulder. Frank twists his head and presses a kiss to Gerard's hand. Gerard lets go when he hears them approaching. What they are doing isn't illicit, but he doesn't want Mikey to have to see it anyway. He forces a yawn and asks Pete, "You mind if we head back? I don't know how much longer I'm good for driving."

Pete kisses Mikey's cheek. "Tomorrow."

Mikey musses his hair as he walks away. He mouths, "thanks," to Gerard, who just rolls his eyes and follows Pete to the door.

It's not a long drive back to Gerard's place. He helps Pete inside with his bags, so that he can carry Hemmy rather than putting him on a leash for the two seconds to the door.

Gerard still has an apartment. It's a nice apartment, but he just can't seem to get himself to buy when he's never around to make sure that the pipes aren't freezing and the weeds aren't taking over the yard. It's a two bedroom, but he converted the second bedroom into a studio when he started renting, so, "I'm gonna take the couch."

"Like hell."

"I always do when I have guests. You're not special." The first statement is true. The second is not. "It's a comfortable couch." Also true.

"Then I'll be fine. I sleep on my couch all the time."

"Pete."

"I'm not kicking you out of your bed."

"And I'm not exiling you to the couch."

"Then our options are that I go stay with Frank and Mikey or I share your bed."

Technically, Gerard is pretty sure he could call Ray, but that seems unimportant to mention. At least not as important as, "I have a king."

Pete grins. "Hemmy sleeps with me."

"I know." Gerard knows how to clean his sheets. This isn't the obstacle one would believe.

"Were you really tired as all that?"

"Depends, what did you have in mind?"

"I play a pretty intense game of checkers."

"I don't have a board."

Pete reaches into one of his bags and pulls out a travel sized cornucopia of board games. Gerard says, "Game on."

*


Despite the fact that Gerard very clearly remembers wishing Pete a tired, "Sweet dreams," from the other side of the bed, he wakes up with three armfuls worth of Pete. Which would be fine--more than fine, really, a completely perfect way to wake up--except that it is causing a very specific reaction in Gerard and that isn't something he's willing to have Pete wake up to. Not yet.

Carefully, oh so carefully, Gerard rolls Pete off of himself and makes time to the shower. Gerard is not Frank with his shower fetish, but there are times when there is absolutely nothing, nothing that can be substituted for the privacy and heat and white noise of water falling in uninterrupted patterns.

Pete is awake when Gerard emerges, problem taken care of. Pete has reversed his position on the bed so that he is lying on his stomach, his chin propped on his arms, looking out from the foot of the bed. His feet are crossed in the air. Gerard says, "'Morning," feeling about twelve, and like he's been caught stealing cookies from a younger child.

Pete says, "I maintain that I won that last game."

"Did not," Gerard tells him, unsure how it is they managed to have an undecided game of checkers, let alone how it is they are still debating the fact nearly ten hours later. "Go shower. Ray gets pissy when we make his mom wait."

The speed with which Pete jumps out of bed is nearly alarming but not completely. Gerard knows Pete has utter and complete respect (and perhaps a bit of terror) when it comes to the domain of mothers.

Pete emerges no more than five minutes later, wet and in nothing but a towel. The ink seems even darker against damp skin, and the light filtering into the room highlights every angle he has. Gerard has never, ever wanted to kiss someone so much in his entire life, not even Frank when he was spinning his fucking guitar and grinning at Gerard with the late, great lip piercing.

Gerard says, "I'm gonna go get the car warmed up, meet me?"

It's not that cold in Jersey, not for late November, but cold enough, especially with Pete's hair being wet. Also, Gerard needs to get the fuck out of there before he does something he'll regret.

Pete comes down in dark red cords and a blue cardigan over a button down. His hair has been brushed out of his eyes and he looks like some kid nervous about his first day of high school, and wow, that really, really shouldn't turn Gerard on, at all. Gerard says, "Where's your coat?"

Pete has left it by the door. The car is too warm when they get in, and Gerard dials the heat back. Pete says, "For a Jersey boy, you're sort of thin-skinned."

"Mikey got all the hardy genes."

Pete looks out the window. "He's sturdier than he looks."

"So are you."

Pete whips his face back to where he can look at Gerard. "I wanted that from you. It's not the same."

"You didn't want that. You were willing to take it in the guise of what you wanted."

"And I lied to you."

The admission could cover so many things that Gerard is forced to ask, "What?"

"I let you think, y'know, that it was-- That Mikey--"

"That was just fair play."

"No. No, it was mean. It was... I was mad that you didn't feel the same. That I was just something to dangle in front of Mikey."

"Good." Anger was a healthy sign in that situation.

"The thing is, I think if I had just--" Pete runs a hand through his hair, mussing the lines he was probably so very careful to put in place. "You listen. When I say things, you listen."

"I don't know that I would--"

"You would have."

"Pete--"

"No, no. We're like each other that way. We both see the stuff we think we hide, but we miss the other stuff, the stuff that's so obvious to other people. You would have, okay? I know."

Gerard thinks about arguing further, but Pete is right about the first part of his statement, at the very least. Logically, it follows that he may very well be right about the last part, as well. Gerard isn't sure he wants to know. It's enough that Pete thinks he does. "I had this plan."

"A plan."

"To try and give you something back."

"I don't need--"

"I know. But I want to give."

"What's this plan?"

"That you take what you want. Like I did. You take whatever you want."

"That's your whole plan?"

"Plans don't always have to be elaborate to be good."

"That plan blows."

Gerard frowns. "Does not."

"Does," Pete says. "You know why?"

"Why?" Gerard asks, aware that he might sound a tad belligerent.

"Because I only want the things you want to give."

Pete is right: this is a complication Gerard has not foreseen. He sighs. Back to the drawing board.

*


Ray's mom gives hugs like Ray does, which is to say, the best hugs ever. Well, except Bob's hugs. And Frank's. But those are two very special instances of specialness. She will generally hold on until the person being hugged lets go. Gerard has neglected to tell Pete this, and in the end, Ray has to gently draw Pete away so that the turkey doesn't suffer the consequences.

Pete whispers to Gerard, "Does that mean she likes me?"

"Of course she does." Gerard forgoes telling Pete that Ray's mom likes everyone.

Gerard's mom, he knows, is going to be a little more difficult. Donna is largely easy-going as well, but she had to answer quite a few phone calls that involved her youngest son sounding subdued and at times even glum in the months after Pete and he broke up, so in her mind, Pete still has some things to answer for. Mikey has tried explaining that despite the sadness, it really was mutual, but Donna is having none of that. Nobody breaks her babies' hearts. Gerard hasn't exactly mentioned his intention to woo and wed the seducer and destroyer of her youngest child.

He's getting around to it, though. He is.

Luckily, Pete's a hard guy for moms not to take to. He offers his assistance, and knows which side of the plate forks are supposed to go on, and he calls them ma'am. They haven't even started eating by the time Donna's looking at him like she might be willing to reconsider her previous opinion. It doesn't hurt that Pete keeps making Mikey laugh, and that Frank clearly doesn't mind him being there.

She takes Gerard's arm as they're bringing out all the dishes. "Help me with the stuff in the oven."

Gerard walks to the oven with her and she hands him oven mitts, opening it. Across the waft of heat, her voice carries. "You sure it's such a good idea to be falling for Mikey's ex?"

Gerard has often wondered if women get omniscience with pregnancy hormones, and if--unlike breast milk--it never goes away. "It's a terrible idea."

"Realize that too late?"

Gerard nods. "I sort of got myself into this one."

Dryly, she asks, "I love you like my own child, Gee, but when do you not?"

She has a point. She hands him the mashed potatoes and the vegetable bake. Ray's mom looks out for him and Frank and their high-maintenance eating ways. Donna says, "And you think it can work out for you?"

Softly Gerard says, "Frank is working out for Mikey."

Equally softly, Donna says, "Oh baby. Mikey hasn't got anything you haven't. Sometimes people just aren't right in combination."

"So maybe Pete and Mikey weren't. And maybe Pete and I are. He really likes me."

Donna closes the oven. "Fair enough, but I'm telling you what I told Mikey when he started dating Frank. If he hurts one of my boys again there won't be a place on this earth that he can go to get a home cooked meal and some momma-loving. Not China, not his own fucking house. You hear me?"

Gerard's pretty sure Pete can't really go home for that sort of thing already, but he takes her meaning. "You really said that about Frank?"

"I love Frank Iero," Donna says, "but I love the two of you more, Gerard Arthur Way."

Gerard knows that, and it's not that he wants Frank harmed--ever--but it's sort of nice to hear that she stuck up for him that way. Gerard puts down the two trays and takes hers from her, setting them down as well. Then he throws his arms around her. She responds in kind, petting his hair and rocking him a little. Gerard says, "Love you, mom."

She kisses his forehead. "You too, baby."

*


After dinner, Ray's mom gives Pete the can of whipped cream and a stern look. "Can you do this without making a mess?"

Pete smiles. He's already figured out that her bark is worse than her bite. "I'll be good."

"That I sincerely doubt."

Pete is, though. He doesn't even try putting whipped cream on Gerard or Frank's special vegan pie pieces. He maybe shoots the whipped cream straight into his mouth when he's all finished, but Gerard can't really blame him for that. Ray's mom smacks the back of his head, but it's more like a love tap than anything else. Pete grins guiltily at her around a mouthful of whipped cream.

She laughs.

They debate going to a movie, but it's pretty clear a few seconds in to the conversation that all they really want to do is lounge around in sweats and enjoy not being on a bus. Ray actually has plans to see people, since Ray is social and has a life like that. Gerard makes fun of him for it, briefly, until Ray takes revenge by way of going for the one spot on the whole of Gerard's body that is actually ticklish, and, "Fuck, Pete didn't know about that!"

"Um," Mikey says.

Gerard looks at Mikey in utter and total betrayal. "Ray is one thing, but Pete?"

"Hey." Pete frowns.

"You," Gerard states very clearly, "are not in my band."

"No," Pete agrees, "but I am your friend."

"There are things one's friends should not know about a person."

"Yeah," Pete says, with a dangerous lilt to his voice, before reaching out and going for the spot. Gerard folds more quickly and messily than a house of cards.

"Uncle," Gerard yells.

Pete stops almost immediately. He is crouched on the floor beside Gerard, who is still heaving with forced laughter, glaring at Pete in indignation. Pete whispers, "Only what you want to give."

Gerard twists slightly away from him, so as to hide his immediate and somewhat painful response to that statement. He pants, "Me too."

Quickly, so very quickly, Pete moves in and kisses the spot he's just abused horribly. Then he runs off to the kitchen, saying, "I should help," even though they all cleared the table and did as much as they could before the moms shooed them off, telling them they were just getting in the way.

Gerard sits and watches for a second before Ray hauls him to his feet as Frank is saying, "Are you a moron? Follow! Follow!"

Gerard wipes his hair from his forehead--it's getting kind of long, he should get it cut--and stalks determinedly toward the kitchen. Once there, he finds Pete drying the dishes, listening in on the New Jersey gossip hotline. When he sees Gerard he says, "They don't need more help."

"Yeah, but they like me enough to allow me to keep them company."

Ray's mom snorts, "Don't flatter yourself, Way."

Pete hides his grin behind the plate. Gerard is not fooled. He goes over and clamps a hand around Pete's neck. Pete looks up at him and Gerard bends down and kisses his forehead--another lightning strike attack. "I have been avenged," he announces and goes back to savor the feel of Pete's skin on his lips and let his bandmates mock him with neither compassion nor mercy.

*


Gerard wakes up Friday morning to an empty bed and stumbles into his kitchen where Pete is looking at the coffee machine longingly, and with a sense of bewilderment. Gerard understands. He had to read the instructions four times before he could so much as program the clock. It was a present from Mikey. Mikey is forever getting him gadgets that could be eminently useful if he could just figure out how the fuck they worked. Which is sort of the problem.

"Coffee?" Gerard asks.

"Please," Pete says politely and with only a slight edge of desperation.

Gerard laughs a little, but not really at Pete. He's been there before. "Sit down, okay?"

"Do we have food?" Pete asks.

"Vegan food."

"It's not like non-vegans can't eat that stuff, you realize?"

"Just warning," Gerard says, and takes out a veritable buffet of Morningstar Farms products.

"Oh hey, I liked that part of being vegan," Pete says, happily.

"Convenient." Gerard takes out a frying pan and does the very slight amount of cooking he can manage while his Super Special Coffee Machine of Wonder and Brilliance percolates and possibly thinks about what Gerard should wear that day. Gerard wishes his coffee machine could talk. It would probably be better at color coordination than he is.

"So, do we have plans?" Pete asks.

"We could."

"What kinds of plans?"

Softly, Gerard asks, "Wanna see a musical?" It's one of his absolute favorite things to do now that he can actually afford it, drive into the city and sit down for two or more hours of pomp and glitter and spectacle. When he was little his parents would take him every once in a rare while--birthdays and special occasions. Less so after the divorce. Even had he not loved musicals for sheer sake of musicals, he would have loved them for the memories that came along with them.

"A Broadway musical?"

Gerard turns to look at Pete, who acknowledges with his expression, "Right, stupid question."

"We don't have to, there's tons of stuff--"

"No. No, musical is good."

"One in particular you want to see?"

"Um. Okay, actually, I know next to nothing about musicals. Particularly if they haven't been made in to movies."

Gerard laughs. "There really are other things--"

"You sounded excited. Really excited."

Gerard flips the breakfast not-meats. "Favorite past time."

"Exactly. We should go."

"If you won't enjoy it--"

"I will."

"Because there are clubs and probably more than a few concerts or we could do something during the day and just dinner, or--"

"Dinner and a show?"

Gerard takes the frying pan off the stove and shuffles its contents onto two plates. He pours them coffee and serves up breakfast. "Or dinner and a show."

"Something you wanna see?"

"Oh, you know, only about eight things."

Pete grins. "Think you can narrow it down?"

"I'll manage. Somehow."

"I'll try and support you through the decision."

"Big of you."

Pete sips at his coffee. "Very."

*


After the show, when Gerard is still high on the colors and the lights and the music and the total disengagement from reality that musicals always lend him, he asks, "Up for some training?"

"Where to?"

But Gerard just shakes his head and pulls Pete into the subway station, has them hop the 1 train. They get off at 114th and Gerard leads them into The Donut Pub.

"You eat donuts?"

"No, but I drink coffee. And you eat donuts."

They sit at the counter and Gerard says, "You should try the jelly filled. Especially the lemon."

"How would you know?"

"I used to eat donuts."

Pete takes him at his word and orders a lemon-filled and an apple-fritter.

Gerard sips at his coffee, which is dark and rich and all the things he likes in a good cup of coffee. Next to him, Pete licks lemon jelly from his fingers, crumbles the apple fritter donut into his mouth and grins over at him. "Oh, this was a good plan."

"I have good plans," Gerard informs him.

Pete rolls his eyes. "Sometimes."

Gerard would argue, but Pete's already been exposed to some of his less intelligent plans, so he probably deserves his moment of mockery.

"Wanna bite?" Pete asks.

"I actually really am a vegan."

"Look, I just don't want to seem selfish here."

"You're not selfish."

"You really should talk with Patrick before operating under that assumption. And Joe and Andy. And maybe your brother."

"I like to form my own opinions."

"Yeah, you're stubborn that way. I think it gets you into trouble a lot."

"It's a trade-off. Trouble for actually knowing what I'm thinking is real and mine. I made myself a deal, after getting off all the shit."

Pete nods. "Okay."

"Okay?"

"It's hard to argue with that. Also, you seem to like me for me and well, I don't get that a lot, so it would be really going against my own interests to keep trying to convince you otherwise."

"That doesn't seem to have stopped you at any point previously in this relationship."

"Hm, point. Maybe I'm growing as a person. Or you could be having a good influence on me."

"Seems sort of unlikely."

"Weirder things have happened."

"Well," Gerard takes a sip and considers, "that's true."

Pete asks, "We have plans for tomorrow?"

"We could." Gerard's going to have to think up something Pete would like, since while he doesn't think Pete didn't have fun this evening, they really did this for Gerard, not Pete.

"Because I don't often get to just, y'know, lounge."

Gerard knows. "That could be our plan."

"I like that plan."

Not so secretly, Gerard does too.

*


By eight the next morning, there are pictures of Pete and Gerard with their respective coffee and donuts on about twelve message boards. Pete discovers this at around eleven, when he wakes up enough to start fiddling around with his Sidekick. He says, "Oh, huh. Well, at least they didn't bother us," and shows Gerard the pictures. They're pretty innocuous, which means nothing regarding the amount of caps-locked posts of fans having convulsions over this moment of evident friendship between the two.

Most of them were positing more.

Pete says, "They seem to be getting ahead of themselves."

Gerard asks, "Don't they always?" Unless it's him and Frank, in which case they're behind the times.

"It's not unusual," Pete agrees. "You know what is?"

"There are a multitude of possibilities which my brain has supplied. How about you tell me which one you're thinking of?"

"Me getting caught on film in a position that wasn't compromising."

Gerard says, "Maybe you just hang out with the wrong people. I mean, other than your band."

"I'm the common denominator."

"That's only proof that there's a lot of crappy people available to hang out with. I don't know about you, but I already knew that."

Pete twists his lips a little. Gerard steals the Sidekick and turns it off. "C'mon."

"Where are we going?"

"To the couch."

"To do what?"

"Lie around while we wait for our Chinese to come."

"We ordered Chinese?"

"We will. My Sidekick is by the couch, and it has the number programmed in."

"You have the number programmed in? You're never home."

Gerard tugs Pete to the couch. "A man has to have his priorities straight."

Gerard lies on his back and brings Pete down atop him. Pete shifts for a few minutes until they're both comfortable--if one discounts Gerard's raging hard-on. Gerard is attempting to do so. He hopes Pete will as well.

No such luck.

Pete says, "Maybe the message boards aren't so ahead of themselves as all that."

Gerard turns his head, reaches for his phone.

Pete catches his hand. "Gee."

"Sorry, it's just-- Sorry."

Pete shifts once more, causing his own erection to press against Gerard's. "What for?"

"Not really being a friend."

Pete presses his hand against Gerard's chest so that he can raise himself up a bit, look directly at Gerard. "Do you want to hurt me?"

Gerard shakes his head, vehemently.

"Humiliate me?"

Another violent shake.

"Then why is it wrong to want me?" Pete sounds like he already knows the answer.

Gerard pulls him down into a deep, careful kiss. He says against Pete's lips, "There is nothing wrong with wanting you. There is something wrong with taking more."

Pete sucks gently at Gerard's lower lip. "How about... But I could take?"

"Anything," Gerard says. "Anything you want."

Pete kisses him again and it's not familiar. It should be, they've done this before, except they haven't, because before there was Mikey on Gerard's tongue and secrets on Pete's, and now this is just them, them and their truths. Gerard caresses a little at the exposed skin of Pete's arms. That's probably cheating, but Pete's skin is soft and so, so near, and Gerard's never been all that good at following rules in any case.

Pete reaches up and runs his thumb along the line of Gerard's throat, between them. Gerard mumbles, "Pete," onto Pete's lips, over his tongue.

Pete keeps things slow, his stomach quivering against Gerard's with the effort. He doesn't give into the strain. Gerard doesn't ask him to.

When Gerard is entirely sure he's going to die with Pete's tongue gently lining his own--and has pretty much reconciled himself to being happy about that--Pete pulls off and asks, "Would you-- I mean, it's just-- You don't have to--"

"Anything," Gerard reminds him, and means it. He's not sure there's a single thing Pete could ask of him at this moment that he wouldn't do.

"Blow me?" Pete asks, eyes guarded.

Gerard pulls and pushes and rearranges them until Pete is sitting on the couch, pants off, legs spread, Gerard between them. Gerard asks, "Anything you like in particular?"

"Your mouth," Pete says with quiet disbelief.

Gerard grins up at him. "You do know how to make a boy feel special." Without waiting for a response, he sucks the tip of Pete's cock into his mouth, and tongues firmly at the head. Pete fists his hand into the cushions of the sofa. Gerard sinks down, slowly, taking his time, not even so much teasing Pete as enjoying himself. Pete's cock is decadent, and Gerard has always taken decadence in careful, worshipful stride.

Gerard closes his eyes, takes a breath through his nose and swallows, swallows until he can't swallow anymore, until he's pressing to the skin of Pete's pelvis, smooth and damp.

"Mm," he says,

Above him, Pete whimpers, sobs, "Gerard, oh, Jesus, Gerard Way."

It shouldn't, but it makes him laugh from his chest. It's not a mocking laugh, it's a gleeful one. Pete squirms at the way the reverberations work through him. Gerard brings his hands up, wraps them over the blunt planes of Pete's hips, holds on as he establishes a rhythm. Above him, Pete's breathing is harsh, pleasured, an asynchronous rhythm of its own. Gerard's eyes skim over the length of Pete's torso, tautened and yet nearly frantic with potential movement.

When Pete tightens under Gerard's fingers, his palms, Gerard pulls off a bit so as to actually taste.

He pulls off wholly when Pete has finished, licks his lips, just to see the expression on Pete's face. Pete tugs him up, kisses him, and this time it's not slow, not slow at all, but not rough. Gerard wonders how many ways Pete knows to kiss. He plans to find every single one of them out, so long as he's allowed.

Pete says, "What do you--" but Gerard's already got himself positioned against Pete's leg just right, is already taking care of things.

Pete says, "I could--"

"What do you want?"

Pete kisses him again, hands grappling at the back of Gerard's shirt. He pants, "Can you-- Do I make you--"

Gerard comes before he can finish up the end of the question. "That answer things for you?"

Pete kisses his cheek, mumbles. "Pretty good at making a boy feel special yourself."

*


Gerard considers moping after dropping Pete off at the airport; he's really skilled at moping.

In the end, though, it feels more productive to get out his pencils and start Pete's Christmas present.

Or, more specifically, if he doesn't, his hands are never, ever going to stop buzzing like they have somewhere to go but no way to get there.

Pete is surprisingly hard to capture on the page. Then again, Gerard has never really tried with people he knows, people whose insides are as complicated as their physical representations. He tries and--sure enough--Mikey and Frank are nearly impossible as well.

But then, the gift wouldn't be worth much if it were easy.

The others watch it come along when he lets them. Ray, in particular, has always loved following this part of Gerard's artistic process. Gerard asked him why once and he shrugged, "It's like watching you play an instrument you're actually good at."

Gerard supposes that makes sense if you're Ray Toro, and he likes Ray just the way he is, so he doesn't hold back much from him, just the first few pages, which are between Pete and Gerard only.

Ray's a pretty smart guy; Gerard's fairly certain he fills in the blanks.

Frank asks him, "What are the last frames?"

Gerard shakes his head. "I don't know."

"You're just going to leave them blank?"

Gerard's considered it. He doesn't know how their story ends. He's been faithful to the plotline as he sees it until now. He could leave off at Thanksgiving, that's a fairly happy ending, as these things go, but it also seems dishonest. Gerard knows that real stories don't have finite ends, so anything he chooses will be arbitrary, and yet leaving it blank doesn't feel right.

In the end he draws two endings: the one he hopes for and the one he fears. There is a third ending--a sheaf of blank pages. If nothing else, it gives Pete some options.

Mikey asks, "Did you miss the part where he's as much of a romantic as you are?"

Gerard has missed a lot of stuff, but not that. "Just because two people are romantics doesn't mean they'll decide to be romantic together."

"Isn't that what mutually agreed upon sex after a period of dating is?" Frank asks.

Gerard frowns at him. "No, Mr. Logical."

"Oh." Frank looks at Mikey, who shrugs.

"Look, let's review the facts: one, Pete evidently wanted to get dirty with me when this whole thing started--"

"I object to that descriptor," Mikey says primly.

Gerard sighs. "What would you prefer?"

"Have sex with, fuck, get laid by, whatever. But it wasn't dirty until you started acting like a dick. And Pete doesn't need that shit being said about him, even if he can't hear it."

Mikey has a point. Gerard grants him it, "Do the horizontal tango, then."

Frank smirks. Mikey gestures for Gerard to continue.

"Two, I was a complete shit, but despite that he still took me up on the offer. Multiple times."

Gerard gives this a moment to sink in. Mikey and Frank nod.

"Three, when I started being an actual human being to him, I retracted the offer, because I felt that it was distracting us from the human part. Also, a bad idea in general."

"It was," Mikey says.

"Testify," Frank agrees.

"Four, after being decent to him for a while, I gave into the weakness that defines my spirit and fell back into glorious carnal relations with him, this time minus the dirty."

Frank and Mikey sit quietly for a moment. Finally Frank asks, "Oh, was that the last point?"

"Yes that was the last point. I tell you guys everything, how could you not know that was the last point?"

"Well, it just seemed to lead back to what we were saying before, is all," Mikey says.

"About the romantic stuff," Frank helps.

"No, no, see, he always wanted to sleep with me. It just helps that I'm being a good guy, is all. But it wouldn't matter."

"Hm."

Gerard does not like that sound when it comes from Mikey. "Hm? Hm?"

"I think it's possible you misunderstood Patrick."

"What was to misunderstand, he said 'hero worship' which in my experience--" Gerard stops.

"Yeah," Frank says into the silence.

"In my experience has very little to do with wanting to sleep with someone," Mikey finishes.

Gerard opens his mouth. Shuts it. Tries again. "You always knew? Did he-- When you were--"

"No. Pete has loved us both in his own way," Mikey says softly. "The pull to you was just stronger."

Gerard glances at Frank. Yeah. It happens like that sometimes. "He let me fuck him because that was what he could get?"

"Pete--" Mikey twists his mouth. "Pete always hopes for the things he can't believe in. He hoped, Gee. For more."

"And you gave it to him," Frank says.

Gerard rubs the back of his neck. "I'm still sending him all three endings. He should have options."

"He won't know what you want," Mikey tells him.

"Then I suppose we'll both have to use words." The idea twists at Gerard's stomach, but he knows it's necessary, has been since before they were engaging in the practice.

Frank says, "Yeah, that should be fun for everyone involved."

Mikey sighs.

*


Gerard tries to call Pete Christmas morning, but Pete won't have read it yet, will only have glanced through it, and Gerard can't, he can't get his fingers to so much as go anywhere near his speed dial. Mikey asks, "You want me to--" but Gerard just shakes his head.

"I think I need to give him a little time."

"If he hasn't called by tonight, you're calling." Ray sounds pretty authoritative.

Gerard looks at him.

"Bob and I have decided to get this resolved once and for all."

Mikey says, "Oh?"

"Everybody knows we're the reasonable members of the band," Bob adds.

"Who does everybody consist of?" Frank asks.

"Me and Ray, mostly," Bob says. Ray nods.

Mikey asks, "Does it undermine me disproving this theory if I agree, momentarily, with Ray?"

"Yes," Ray and Bob both say at the same time that Frank says, "No."

Mikey turns to Gerard. "Tie breaker."

"Uh. Maybe."

Ray and Frank both put their fists in the air and then frown at each other. Bob laughs. After a second, Gerard does too.

"He's going to love it," Frank says softly, arms falling to his side.

"You didn't see all of it," Gerard reminds him. Nobody did. Gerard even warned Pete in his card that the gift was pretty personal.

"I know." Frank nods a bit. "I also know it doesn't matter."

"As much as it pains me to admit this, Iero is probably right about this," Ray says solemnly.

Bob's nod is a hesitant, grudging thing.

Mikey says, "He's gonna love it, Gee."

"Oh, sure, side with your boyfriend," Ray complains.

"I'm pretty sure I'm siding with my brother."

"Are the two mutually exclusive?" Ray asks.

"Possibly," Bob answers.

"Not in this instance," Mikey says. "But it doesn't matter. What matters is that it was a good present, and Pete's going to love it and he'll call."

"But if he doesn't, you will," Frank reiterates.

"Yeah," Gerard sighs. "I'd sorta gotten that message."

*


Pete calls. He calls right as Gerard is considering if drowning himself in the nearest stagnant pool of water would be easier and less embarrassing than calling Pete.

He's glad it doesn't have to come to that.

Pete says, "Which ending would you have chosen, if you could only choose one?"

Gerard tries to say, "The happy one," but he has problems, sometimes, with paralyzing honesty when it comes to the people who matter to him. "I don't know."

"You don't."

"The happy ending would be nice, you know? Really nice. But the blank one is our ending. It allows us to be us and make our own mistakes and fix them and do it together and there's no prescribed way it has to be. And I think I might like that better, even if it is more trouble, and I probably do really stupid things. Because I think you forgive me them, and that's better than everything just being good. That's, I mean, that's how I see it."

"That's a good ending," Pete agrees softly.

Gerard wants to ask him which ending he liked best, but the words stick hard inside his throat. Coward.

His self-prodding does not so much as get him up off his chair.

"I had a favorite part," Pete says.

"Oh. Um. Oh?"

"The part where he-- Where you call me 'Peter'. The look on your face. I didn't look, not really, that time. I was too busy arguing. I didn't see."

"It's a good name. It fits."

"I think I'll sort of like hearing it, now."

"Sort of?"

Pete makes a soft sound of amusement. "My gift to you was sort of lame in comparison."

Although it's warm in the room where Gerard is, he wraps the specially designed Clan scarf around his neck one more time. "I love it."

"But everyone knows you're easy."

Gerard laughs. "Is that what everyone knows?"

"That might be me. I get confused."

"You're not easy."

Pete laughs. "Oh, come on--"

"I don't find you easy."

"Maybe I haven't been working hard enough."

"Or maybe you've been working too hard. I like a challenge."

"I don't even know what we're talking about anymore," Pete admits.

"Me neither. Except the part where I want the beginning of the end to start with you being my boyfriend."

"I like that not-ending."

"Yes?"

"Yes."

"Merry Christmas, Peter."

"It is at that, Gerard Way."

*


Gerard hates doing New Year's specials, it's essentially agreeing to work right straight into the new year, but he accepts MTV's invite after learning that Fall Out Boy is going to be there, because it seems too easy an opportunity to pass up.

He doesn't even ask the other guys to come, because that's sort of a shitty thing to do, so come New Year's Mikey and Frank are very happily holed up in New Jersey, and Ray is staying with Bob, out in his LA apartment. Gerard, therefore, is at the event as a pretty face, which is even worse than being there as part of My Chem.

Luckily, Pete and he conversing isn't all that newsworthy unless it's being done at nearly midnight in late fall at a donut dive in upper Manhattan.

Gerard says, "Please, please be aware of the lengths to which I'm willing to go to see you."

"I actually am feeling pretty flattered."

That makes the rest of the evening easier than it should be.

After the ball drops they stick around for a bit and then Patrick whisks Pete off to the hotel. Gerard meets him in his room roughly half an hour later. "Was Patrick pissed he had to leave early?"

"Patrick hates this shit. You're his new favorite person."

"Well, that's a reversal of fortune."

Pete grins. Gerard leans in to taste the expression.

Gerard was right in assuming that Pete knows how to kiss in a million different ways. He knows how to make every minute of it new, every second of it engaging. It almost makes it hard for Gerard to think about going any further.

Luckily, Pete's got his eye on the prize. He messes with the buttons on Gerard's shirt, slowly getting to the point where he slips his hands inside, spreads his palms over Gerard's chest.

Gerard slides his own hands under the hem of Pete's hoodie, wraps them over Pete's hips. He inches them around to where the button on Pete's jeans are, and works the jeans down a bit, far enough to palm lazily at Pete's cock.

Pete is so utterly, gorgeously responsive, melting further into Gerard's hands, over his mouth.

Pete pulls them toward the bed and once they're there, once they have collapsed into a tangled pile of limbs, Pete goes for Gerard's clothes, desperate to have them gone. Gerard helps. He's not really loving them, either.

That done, Gerard returns the favor. Pete isn't quite as helpful, but that's okay. Gerard likes taking care of Pete.

He finds the condoms and lube in the nightstand drawer, but he's not quite ready for that, and clearly Pete isn't either, because he's pressing Gerard to the bed, sucking firmly over Gerard's left nipple and Gerard knows he enjoys that, but holy fuck, it's like Pete has three tongues.

"Peter," Gerard says, a pure, indolent roll of pleasure and awe forming the word.

"Mm." Pete switches his attention to the right nipple, his gaze flashing up to meet Gerard's.

Gerard reaches out and swipes his thumb over Pete's cheekbone. This distracts Pete, who twists his head to catch the thumb, suck it down, slide off of it far enough to bite down on the pad. It's a gentle bite, not nearly enough to actually hurt.

Pete crawls up Gerard slightly, pressing their cocks together. It's new and familiar and perfect.

Pete throws a hand out and finds the lube. Gerard watches lazily as Pete opens the tube and then frowns when he says, "Hold out your hand."

"Huh?"

"Hand, please."

The politeness of it shocks Gerard into responding. Pete pours a dollop of the lube into Gerard's palm and then works it over his fingers.

"Pete--"

"Sh, you like giving me what I want."

This is a true statement, so Gerard hushes. Pete widens his legs and says, "I like fingers. For starters, y'know?"

Gerard's having trouble thinking in full sentences, so not really, no, but hey, that's fine. Gerard likes using his fingers on Pete.

He works one in, twisting a bit until Pete pants and says, "Oh, oh. Hi."

Gerard laughs, husky and more happy than amused. He adds a second finger. Pete kisses him some more in appreciation.

Gerard goes for a third and Pete drags his lips to Gerard's ear to hiss. "Ready, very ready."

"Tell me how you want it," Gerard says, amazed at his ability to string together that many words. He needs to know, though. He needs to know.

"Gerard, just--"

"Tell me," Gerard coaxes.

Pete opens his eyes and looks at Gerard for a moment before pulling back, tugging on Gerard's arm. "Up."

Gerard struggles into a sitting position and scoots to the edge of the bed at Pete's urging. Pete rolls the condom onto Gerard and Gerard has a very, very stern moment of reminding himself that he is not sixteen, thank you very much.

Then Pete straddles him and sinks onto him and throws his head back ever so slightly so that there's nothing but miles of throat in front of Gerard, and who the fuck cares how old Gerard is or is not.

Gerard leans forward just a bit to kiss at Pete's throat. Pete laughs, breathy and low.

Gerard brings his hands to Pete's lower back and holds him close. Pete drops his head, looking down at Gerard. Gerard says, "Peter," soft and filled with things he should try telling Pete. Later.

Pete says, "This is happening," and smiles so hard Gerard nearly has to look away.

He manages instead to keep looking up and say, "Yes. Yes."

Gerard slides one hand up to the center of Pete's back and brings the other to Pete's cock. Pete anchors himself with his hands on Gerard's shoulders. Gerard says, "Any time you want," and Pete nods, "I know. I know, Gee."

Pete's faith is what Gerard absolutely cannot hold out against and he draws Pete nearer in, holds him close.

Pete lets his arms slip around Gerard, lets himself cling, lets the closeness take him over the edge to where Gerard is waiting.

Gerard falls back onto the bed when he has finished, bringing Pete with him. It takes him a while, but he manages to get them untangled and to retrieve a washcloth from the bathroom. Once he's saved them from incipient stickiness he throws it aside and he and Pete scrabble to get under the covers, to re-invade each other's space.

Eighteen floors beneath them, the sounds of Time Square are faint, but Gerard can hear them if he just listens.

Pete whispers, "Happy New Year."


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile