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Sometimes Frank will hang around the space after Pencey's done and watch My Chem practice, because he knows it can be fun to have someone else there, even if it is just the kid from that other band. Gerard always says, "Hey," and claps a hand to Frank's back.

One day, though, Mikey sidles up next to him. His fingers are red from having played for several hours, eschewing a pick altogether for some reason Frank can't fathom. He asks, "You ever go home?"

"When I could be listening to you guys?" Frank shrugs. "Seems like it would be a pretty poor decision."

"You know you're on the list of people we let into the shows for free, right? I mean, assuming the show's not already free."

Frank grins at him.

Mikey laughs. "Yeah, okay, I just don't wanna find out you're living in a shoe because we tempt you away from things like work and school."

"I dropped out."

"Things like work."

"I do all right, Mikey Way. And I think you meant shoebox."

"Whatever."

Frank bumps his shoulder.

Mikey sways a little bit with it. "What do we sound like, on repeat listen?"

It's a serious question, even asked quickly, perhaps all the more so for the fast nature of it. Frank gives it some consideration. "Like hope."

"Iero—"

"No, I mean it. You guys sound like, like that song you listen to on repeat when you can't get out of bed, because it's the only thing that's keeping your eyes open, you know?"

Mikey's eyes are generally quiet little things behind the glasses that do so much to hide them, but right then Frank watches as they roil in reaction to his words. "Yeah, I know that song."

Frank says, "So I go home enough. I like being here. Listening."

Softly, Mikey says, "Too bad Pencey already had you."

"You guys already have a lead singer."

"Yeah."

"Yeah," Frank says, his fingers itching oddly. He rubs them against his thighs.

"I'm gonna go crash," Mikey says.

"Tomorrow, then."

"We'll be here."

*


Right after a gig is perhaps Mikey's favorite time in the world. The music is still blazing inside him; he doesn't even have to generate it any longer, just let it roll and curl and crest around in his chest, his arms, his mind. The energy carries him far enough and he doesn't have to think about the next hour, the next day, the next anything.

Frank somehow always finds him in these moments. Mikey can't tell if it's good instinct, or if Frank just likes the after-show part, too, if it does something different for him as part of the audience, but something equally as good.

He'll hook his chin on Gerard's shoulder, his hand on Mikey's, smiling at Mikey from where he's perched.

Mikey can never not smile back, doesn't even want to try.

It's one of these nights when Frank admits, "Pencey's breaking up," the sibilant sound in Pencey a little bit slurred.

Mikey's never seen Frank drunk before and he has to narrow his eyes, to focus, to even see it now. Gerard pulls him onto a bar stool. Mikey watches both of them, because Gerard's had his fair share as well this evening. Matt's gone home for the night, but Ray's on Frank's other side now, and he's sturdy, spotting Frank with an arm to his shoulder.

Gerard orders him another beer, which Mikey isn't sure is the best thing for this, but he's not going to say anything, not when Frank is lifting the bottle to his mouth like that's the only motion that makes sense.

"It's not even," Frank gestures with his free hand, "it's not even that it was so great, you know? Because I come to your shows, I know what inspired is, I hear that. It's just that it was this thing and it was working out and I— I'm just a little tired of having to start over again."

Mikey's only a year older than Frank, old enough to know how young they both are, but he gets that, he does. Those first moments in a band, when it might be everything, it might be perfection, those are maybe worth all the times when it falls apart, but Mikey doesn't know. He doesn't think he could start over again if My Chem fails.

Frank says, "I've already talked to some people about something new, and it's on its way, I think. Yeah. On its way. But it's just so many damned steps backward, you know?"

All three of them nod.

When Frank finishes his beer, Ray pulls him up off the stool and is about to stick him in a cab with a word to the driver when Mikey asks, "Somebody expecting you? At home?"

Frank shakes his head. Mikey looks at Gerard, and Gerard nods. Frank's coming home with them.

*


Frank puts together a new band, but Mikey can tell his heart's not quite in it. He talks about it with all the right words, but Mikey knows how the words are supposed to sound and Frank keeps fucking it up, whether he knows it or not.

Mikey goes to some of their practices, and they're good, because Frank is good, and he finds good people, but they're not new, they're not the next thing, they're not really even a thing, not much.

Mikey's not shocked when Frank tells them that one's a bust, too. He doesn't even get drunk, just laughs a little bit and says it quietly, like the laughter—which isn't even real—might cover the words. Like the absence of the words will mean he doesn't have to get up the next morning and start refiguring what he wants from a band, whom he can find for it.

Mikey's name or not, this band is Gerard's band, but that doesn't mean Mikey's not gonna say, "Gee, I was thinking."

"Dangerous," Gerard grins his loopy, sweet grin and leans into Mikey and he's drunk, sure, because Gerard is drunk a lot, but he's not out of his mind with it.

"Only when it's you. I was thinking about our guitar sound."

"Ray's the man. I'm glad we knew him."

Ray is the man, and Mikey's glad they know him for reasons that extend far beyond his musical brilliance, but, "I know, but don't you think, I mean, sometimes don't you sort of wish the sound could be filled out a little?"

Gerard's gaze sharpens. "Rhythm guitarist?"

Mikey doesn't say anything. He doesn't need to. He's gotten Gerard far enough to go the rest of the way.

"Fill in harmonies, complement Ray— Also, we'd have Frankie. He'd be ours."

"Ours," Mikey agrees.

"We have to talk to Ray and Matt."

"Yes."

Gerard looks around, as if he might find them, but they've long gone home, Mikey has waited. "It will keep till morning, Gee."

"This is going to be the best, the best thing ever. This band. This band with us and Ray and Matt and now Frank."

"He hasn't said yes."

"He will," Gerard says.

Mikey can't really argue with anything Gerard is saying. He doesn't want to.

*


Youngest member or not, when he joins the band, Frank is old enough to know he's getting himself into trouble. It's good trouble, so far as he can tell, but trouble all the same, because all either Way brother has to do to get him to pay attention is to breathe, and generally Frank is harder to impress than that. He is actually, for the most part, not terribly interested in people. People are largely stupid.

Tragically for Frank, neither Mikey nor Gerard is. Even more tragically, Gerard has eyes that make Frank want to write lyrics, which isn't really his thing.

Mikey has hipbones and hands and cheekbones and a jaw line, but Frank pretends he doesn't, because there is trouble and then there is trouble, and the Ways are the latter, pure and simple.

So that first time when Gerard buys him a drink and laughs at a couple of his jokes and Frank knows the language, all right, he knows, he tries not to follow Gerard back to the fucking alley, tries not to respond to a kiss that's three-fourths music and one fourth lust. He fails.

It's predictable, really, but Frank wishes it weren't. He wakes up the next morning with knees that have cuts in them from the asphalt. Mikey notices and says, "Oh, hey," and pushes him into a chair before splashing the spots with alcohol. It stings, which is good, because Frank needs something to wake him up from all this.

Gerard stumbles into the room and looks at Frank's knees and there's just enough guilt in those eyes for Frank to know they're going to be doing this again. He thinks Mikey, who hasn't even looked back at his brother, knows too, but he just pats Frank's knees dry and says, "Maybe jeans with knees on them?"

Frank wants to say, "Please don't give me advice," because he knows he'll take it. Not that it's bad advice. He's just ready to start thinking with his own mind again.

Later Gerard tugs at Frank's lip piercing with his teeth and says, "Sorry about that, sorry," and Frank says, "I'm fine," even though he's not.

Gerard's apologizing for the wrong things. And he's not to blame for the right ones.

*


The problem, Frank knows, is that Gerard is so fucking genuine. So it's easy enough to pretend like he's an asshole when he's not around—which isn't all that often, what with being in a band with him, and all—but the minute he steps around the corner and smiles, even that quirk-of-the-lips one he has, Frank's waiting for later, when nobody's watching.

It's no good in the way that it's so utterly fucking brilliant from the very beginning, in the way that Frank rises up to the challenges Gerard sets but never finds himself meeting them, and it's Gerard, so maybe that's okay, because who the hell does really? Not even Mikey, and Frank knows that if Gerard could propel Mikey to the heights he tries pulling him toward, he would.

He'd pull Mikey before he'd pull Frank, and Frank shouldn't find that as driving as he does.

Frank thinks that the worst parts are the parts when it starts to be real: when Gerard finds him after he gets off the phone with his mom and lets him cry because New Jersey is seven states away; when he says, "Jesus fuck, did you swallow the guitar and sing it fucking out this evening?" with appreciation and maybe even a touch of awe; when he stays with Frank after they've both made a mess of the sheets and each other.

Those are the times when Frank has to remind himself that he is Frank Iero and Gerard Way is Gerard Way and he is going to get himself good and broken when he picks up the habit of saying "no" again.

It's not that Gerard asks for so much. It's not that at all. It's that he chooses what he asks for so very carefully, and never asks for half the things Frank would give without so much as a "please." He never asks for the things that make real real, and that's why the reality is dangerous. Reality that's based in, well, reality, is a scary enough thing. Reality that's based on two very different peoples very different needs and wants?

Frank needs to stop sleeping with Gerard Way before one of them says something they'll regret, something like, "'Morning, sweet," with Gerard looking all tossed and tired and young.

Gerard looks at him. "Sweet?"

Frank would take it back if he could, and not for all the reasons he's sure Gerard would want. "Whatever. You are, you badass, you."

Gerard smiles, his eyes curving upward, his teeth coming out from hiding. "Just don't tell anyone."

And that's the problem, isn't it? That Frank is already keeping Gerard's secrets, and Gerard evidently expects that he will. That Gerard has just let him get away with something not everyone—not anyone—would have, and fuck if that isn't real.

Sooner or later Frank knows he's going to forget all his reasons for not doing this, and then there will be nothing but Gerard, because Frank is only part of the larger Gerard picture. He tells himself, he tells himself, he tells himself he will say, "Gee, no, this may be the very best but I still can't," the next time, but the next time comes and "the very best" is so utterly fucking convincing and then there's the next time and the next, and soon enough, Frank can't recall what it was that made this anything other than real, why it should be anything other than that.

There is just Gerard.

*


Frank's been arguing with Ray for a week about the musical arrangement on "Cemetery Drive" when Gerard steps in. Mikey tells him not to, tells him to leave it the hell alone. Ray and Frank will come to a compromise and everyone will be the better for it. Gerard ignores Mikey. Mikey sort of predicts that happening, but it's annoying all the same when it does. Gerard says, casually, "Ray's got a point, Frank."

Mikey watches the way Frank turns to Gerard, eyes dark and unreadable. And Mikey gets that Gerard didn't have to side with Frank—Frank doesn't need anyone fighting his battles for him—but not keeping out of it was a complete betrayal.

Frank blinks, smiles a little oddly, and folds. "Okay, that's fine."

Mikey's stomach is suddenly not as content to simply stay where it is.

Luckily, Ray has the sense to say, "What?"

"We'll go with your idea."

Ray rubs a hand over his face. "Mikey, can you take your fucktard brother somewhere that is not here?"

"I just—"

Mikey stops him. "Gee, come on. There's a reason you're the lead singer."

Gerard looks like he's going to say something else, but in the end he just follows Mikey. They go down to the coffee shop on the corner by their hotel. Mikey orders them both lattes and they chain-smoke silently for a bit before Gerard says, "I just don't like it when they fight."

Mikey gets it, he does, but, "You gotta let them. Especially— You know how Frank is with you."

Gerard rubs out a cigarette, lights another one. "What the fuck, Mikey?"

Mikey wonders if Gerard has already started drinking today, if his powers of observation are impaired. "Gerard, c'mon."

"Are you implying he's easy for me?"

"Currently? Yes. Although given a few more minutes it's going to be more than implication."

"Funny, coming from you."

Mikey blinks. "What?"

"Don't, Mikey."

"He's not, Gee. He's not. And even if he was, it would be a friend thing, not a— He's yours, okay? Everyone knows that. Everyone."

Gerard just takes a sip of his coffee. Mikey goes and orders two more lattes. By the time they return, Frank and Ray have reached a compromise.

*


Gerard says, "I just don't like it when you guys fight," like that somehow excuses his actions. Gerard always knows he's done the wrong thing just moments too late.

Frank says, "People fight." He sounds a little flat, which is Frank's version of pissed, at least with Gerard.

"It's not that I think your idea doesn't have merit," he says. He feels dirty, sore, like maybe he fell and hurt himself without realizing.

Frank says, "That's not the point," and now he just sounds tired.

"I know," Gerard admits. Because now that Mikey has said, now Gerard can't close his eyes, can't shut off his ears, can't rewrite all the times that Frank has done things for him with doubt in his eyes.

Maybe he fell from really high up.

"I'm sorry," Gerard tells him. Frank snaps his gaze to him. Gerard can see the surprise there. He really needs a drink. "I'm gonna grab a beer. You want anything?"

Frank shakes his head slowly. Gerard bites the inside of his lip. "Okay."

Gerard gets his beer and comes back to sit beside Frank. He says, "You know, um. You know you should just tell me to fuck off, right? If that's what you want?"

Frank laughs a little and says something that Gerard thinks is, "If only," but he's not sure.

Gerard says, "Frank—"

"Forget about it, Gee. It's not a big deal. Ray and I found our compromise, your band is back on its feet, everything's fine."

"You're not."

"Fuck off," he says, sounding half-hearted, and like he's only echoing Gerard to echo him.

Gerard finishes the beer and contemplates another one. Frank's edges are digging into him, painful. He wants something to numb the attack. He asks, "Really?"

Frank shakes his head.

Gerard waits on the beer.

*


They have sex after the Jacksonville show, which is a couple of days later. It's a long stretch for them. Gerard doesn't want to ask, and Frank doesn't offer. After shows is just instinct, though, and they come together possibly without either of them actually meaning to.

Gerard looks down in the middle and sees the way Frank's hands and knees have to be burning in their back and forth against the rug, but Frank just grits out, "For fuck's sake, don't stop," and Gerard doesn't know what to do other than keep doing what he's doing.

Frank's lips are red when they finish. Gerard vaguely remembers biting them. He thinks Frank bit back, but it's hard to feel the sting under the anesthetic that the alcohol is lending him. He'd sort of like to, but not enough to stop, to feel everything else.

Frank licks those lips and says, "Good show," and everything's back to normal except for how it isn't.

Gerard nods. "Good crowd."

Frank laughs a little. "You aren't kidding. I was pretty sure we were gonna have kids on the stage."

Gerard isn't distracted. He wishes he was. "Yeah."

"You okay? You seem tired."

"Little tired, yes."

Frank gets a lascivious look on his face. "Wore you out, did I?"

Gerard laughs at that, and even if it's not quite boisterous, it's real.

"C'mon. Shower and bed."

"Bed," Gerard argues. He understands that Frank has his compulsions, but Gerard's not going to the kitchen and getting more Cuervo, is he? Well, maybe.

"Shower and bed."

"Bed."

Frank opens his mouth but then he just shakes his head. "Fine, we can shower in the morning."

Mikey's right. He should have noticed this on his own. He goes for the Cuervo. It'll help him sleep.

*


It's not as obvious with Mikey, Gerard realizes. But then, Frank's not in love with Mikey. Gerard is insecure, not crazy. Frank looks in a million directions and they all somehow end up leading back to Gerard. He isn't sure how that happened, but he's not going to question it. That would just be moronic.

It's not as obvious with Mikey, but it's there. It's there in the way Frank will share his drinks with Mikey even though Frank hates other people sipping off his drinks. Gerard wonders if Frank's ever told Mikey that, or if he can't bring himself to. He wonders if Mikey would stop if he knew. Probably. Mikey's always been the nicer brother.

It's there in the way Frank will come to Mikey on the stage if Mikey looks up like he's asking. Mikey doesn't very often, and Gerard has Frank already more often that not, but when he does and when Frank hasn't already been taken, he will go.

It's there in the way Frank lets Mikey have the bathroom first, even if he's itching for a shower. Gerard considers that he should feel jealous, that maybe he would if he stopped drinking long enough. It's a good reason not to stop drinking.

Mikey has never taken anything from him in his life, not even birthday or Christmas presents that he so clearly, clearly wanted to play with. Granted, Gerard always tried to share—Mikey never broke things and was always putting them back where they had come from, which is more than Gerard can say for himself—but still, Mikey never took. Gerard doesn't think he'll start with Frank. Even if he does want.

Gerard knows what surreptitious desire looks like on Mikey—so much of Mikey's has always been that way. He hides himself even from himself. For whatever reason, he's bad at hiding from Gerard. When Gerard drinks it gets a little easier for Mikey, and that's another good reason to continue, just to give Mikey some space, some breathing room, let his secrets be his own. Allow Gerard not to have to think about what it means that he has Frank and Mikey doesn't. That he hurts Frank where Mikey probably wouldn't.

Mikey has always been the nicer brother.

*


Frank's "no," comes back like a surprise, when, really, he should have been expecting it all along. Frank's "no" comes back the first time he bites at Gerard's neck, sharing a smile with him, saying, "Hey, maybe I could," and Gerard ignores him in that blithe way Gerard has. It's not being ignored, exactly. It's Gerard doing as Gerard will. The two are different, but if asked, Frank couldn't explain how.

Different or not, as Gerard slides in—and it's good, oh fuck, it's always so utterly blissful, so why should he want anything else, why?—Frank thinks, "This isn't what I wanted," and the thought is so surprising that he can't come, not even after Gerard sucks him for twenty minutes straight.

Gerard looks at him with wary, worried eyes and Frank caves: "I think I might be coming down with something."

He is, but not the sort of thing that will cause him to spend days in bed, not unless he's hiding. Frank wanks in the shower next morning thinking about Gerard in ways that maybe—probably—Gerard wouldn't like and he thinks, "No," and it's a warning to himself, but it doesn't come out of nowhere. They never do.

It's not even a dominance issue, Frank knows. Not for him and certainly not for Gerard, who's fully aware of his own power, if less than fully comfortable. And, okay, maybe it is a dominance issue in that sense, in the way that Gerard needs to know he won't, doesn't abuse it. Mostly it's just the way they work, the way neither of them needs anybody to carry them, but Gerard is like a fucking tide and Frank might be a damned aircraft carrier, but sooner or later everything bends to the ocean's power. It's a seductive power in more ways than one.

Frank questions himself, questions whether "no" really means anything, particularly as it hasn't been said aloud. Plenty of things have been, and perhaps, he tells himself, perhaps it is the sound, the echo of vibration that manifests the reality. He plays music. This is not an illogical train of thoughts.

And there are nights when Gerard looks at him—more nights than not, really, and that's the killer, that's the end, the only place Frank can sometimes see to, even if he knows there's an entire precipice below—in awe and wonder, the way the audience looks at him, but better, better because Gerard creates awe and wonder, he creates belief, and in those moments, Frank knows Gerard is creating them in him.

"No" seems like such a little thing compared to that. Trivial. He almost never remembers it until morning, when the tide recedes.

*


Gerard listens to the shower run, imagines the stark shock of cold and doesn't think about being in Frank, about the feel of Frank's cock in his hand, in his mouth, finally, about Frank's defeated, "I'm just tired, sorry. Just tired."

He doesn't wonder if maybe the water isn't cold, if Frank is thinking about something else under the stream, something that will allow him to finish. He knows when Frank walks out that he hasn't. The mirror is clear, and Frank looks a little transparent, a little eerie in the dark of the hotel. Gerard pulls him to his chest, rubs at his back. Frank is shaking from the cold of the water, his skin icy. Gerard finds a shirt and some boxers for him and pulls him into bed. Frank goes willingly, curling up into Gerard.

He can't fall asleep. At first Gerard can tell by how utterly still he is. Frank is never still, particularly in his sleep. Then Gerard can tell by the restless tremors that take up residence in Frank's back, his legs. Gerard whispers, "Frank—"

"Might have a flu coming on," Frank says, somewhat resignedly. It's not anything like the flus he usually has, if so. Gerard doesn't argue. "Maybe we should get you to a doctor."

"Maybe," Frank agrees.

"You want a Benadryl. Something?"

"Please," Frank says.

Gerard gets up and gets the pill for him, along with a bottle of water. Frank offers Gerard a sip. Gerard refuses and Frank drinks the whole thing, setting it aside and practically falling back over onto the pillow.

The pill does its job, and Frank is asleep within half an hour. Gerard is not so lucky.

*


Frank's second "no" is more of a vague thrum of "oh shit" that settles in his toes and works its way up to his temples.

It's not that Gerard has ever resisted a good time, Gerard has always been intent on grabbing each as it went by, as though it might not come again. As a model to live one's life by, it's not as inspiring as one would expect it to be.

When Gerard starts to cling to good times, though, starts to induce them, that's when Frank starts thinking he's seen this before, and he has. He saw it in his best friend from middle school before he O.D.ed, so the signs are easy enough to read. Easy enough that he should have been reading them before, but unlike the other people in his life, Gerard blurs distinctions so radically, that even knowing, knowing this can go nowhere good, Frank finds himself wondering if it's all in his head.

And it's not as if the stuff makes Gerard any less Gerard, if anything it makes him more Gerard, which often ends with Frank feeling like his skin will burn off at the slightest touch after being exposed for a bit. Somehow, the sensation is good, something he needs more of it. He should get the hell away, is what he should do, and he's aware—more aware than Gerard at any given hour of the day—but for the first time in his life, having absolute knowledge of an intelligent decision, the only decision, doesn't make him take steps toward it.

Mikey does things like pull Frank out of the way when Gerard is too high to be aware of where his arms are, but he doesn't say a word, not to Frank later, and not to Gerard, not that Frank can tell. And all right, that's fair, because Mikey's used to Gerard knowing what the hell to do and that's part of what's caught Frank, too. Gerard should know.

And so for a while it's easy to pretend that he does, that the way his dirty talk has escalated to valid verbal abuse is just a ratcheting up of things between them, another part of them that makes Frank Gerard's and Gerard Frank's. Frank's willing to handle the words that crash into him, burn him deeper even than Gerard's mere presence just to hold on, even if sometimes he forgets what he's holding onto.

Gerard gets on stage and reminds him. Gerard puts his tongue to Frank's and even through the liquor, Frank can still taste him.

Until the morning Gerard stumbles back around three and Frank can't. There's something else in his mouth, something Frank has never learned, but he thinks it's an interloper, he thinks it's a someone. Frank wonders who in the world could possibly overcome the signature of Gerard.

Then he says, "Hey, where were you?" and Gerard grins at him, that easy, goofy grin, the one he really only shows Mikey anymore, and asks, "Does it matter?"

Frank knows the answer is "yes." He knows. "No."

*


Want to as he might, Mikey can't blame Frank. Gerard is at his most entrancing when caught up in his own big pictures, and the genesis of the next album is so damn big Mikey can barely see all the edges in his own mind. He has to shift the picture from one end to the other. And who wouldn't want to be part of that? There has never been a time when Mikey could resist being swept up in Gerard's flights of imagination or fancy or even reality, and he doesn't really expect that anyone else will either.

It's even less plausible that he could blame Gerard, because Gerard can see the whole big picture, no shifting involved and so is it really surprising that the details, the peripherals, get lost? Mikey doesn't think so. Mikey wishes he could be surprised by Frank's knees being bruised and torn and dirty one morning, by Gerard looking vaguely abashed, but Mikey's too damn smart for his own good most of the time. He sees these things coming. Or, at the very least, isn't derailed by their arrival.

And, at the moment, Gerard is shining so fucking hard in his grief over Elena that if Mikey weren't his brother, he imagines he'd probably be fighting Frank for that spot on the ground in front of him. The universe, it seems, is vaguely merciful.

Mikey doesn't do anything about it. He's never wanted to take anything from Gerard before, and now that he sort of does—but only in the sense that he wants Frank, not that Frank is Gerard's—he wouldn't even know how. He's glad he doesn't know how. He doesn't want to test his own willpower.

Frank hasn't a clue, Mikey knows. If Frank did he wouldn't do things like sprawl over Mikey in the van, like loop Mikey's bass playfully over his back, help him adjust it to where it falls just right. If Frank knew he wouldn't smile so hard every time Gerard looked his way across a room or called him 'Frankie' or squeezed at his shoulder.

Mikey doesn't want to take that smile away. If it's not for him, it's not for him and there's nothing that can be done about that. Frank has his very own smile for Mikey, a more secretive, quiet thing, and Mikey wouldn't trade it, not even for the wide, completely open grin Gerard always calls up.

Gerard doesn't know either. Mikey sort of wishes he did. He doesn't want Gerard to feel guilty, he wants Gerard to be more careful with Frank. He's so very, utterly careless, and Mikey finds himself unable to say, "Hey, pay attention," lest Gerard look away from his pretty, pretty pictures for one moment and see Mikey, standing before him. It's a vicious cycle, one that Mikey allows to spin almost without halt.

It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, except that sometimes Frank will smile that smile that's Mikey's while Mikey is setting him back on his feet from the latest of Gerard's excesses and then it is. The absolute worst thing.

Mikey always smiles back.

*


Frank would give Gerard the benefit of the doubt, would label the incident an accident, but how the fuck does someone accidentally blow the drummer of his band in the middle of his bus on the road between Poughkeepsie and Charleston and expect not to get caught? It's the middle of the night, and they are being quiet, even Matt, who laughs when Frank catches them, pushes Gerard further onto his cock.

So maybe it is an accident.

Frank wishes Gerard had the excuse of being stupid. Frank wishes that if it had to be anything, it could have been Matt blowing Gerard. Frank wishes a veritable ocean of things, an ocean nearly as wide and powerful as Gerard. It's gaining.

Matt ambles to the back of the bus when they're done, his shoulder purposely brushing Frank's and Frank would be mad but Matt's validly just an asshole, and you can't really blame people for being who they are. Gerard says, "Sorry," but he doesn't sound like it.

Frank tries walking straight past him, into the kitchen, where he was going in the first place. Gerard catches his elbow and Frank tries to yank free, but Gerard tightens his fingers hard enough that Frank feels bones shift. He says, "Gerard, come on," breathless and urgent in more ways than one.

Gerard pulls Frank to him, one quick, super-strong pull. Frank has forgotten how psychedelics can make people inhumanly strong, and Gerard was never exactly weak to begin with. Gerard licks at the corner of Frank's eye, which would be hot, except that he still has Matt on his tongue and it is all Frank can do not to vomit. Gerard whispers, "What? Did you think you were the only one?"

Frank says, "Let me go, Gerard."

"Thought those eyes of yours, those pretty-boy, look-at-me, look-at-me, slut eyes were the only ones I ever looked at? That your ass was the only one I wanted to fuck? That you were more than that?"

"Let me go," and now Frank isn't even talking about his elbow.

"You're just another guitarist. The second guitarist." Gerard's hand tightens.

"You're not gonna have a second guitarist if you keep squeezing." The pain is making Frank a little nauseated. He thinks it's the pain. He chooses to believe it's the pain.

Gerard smiles, then, the same smile he sometimes gives the audience, a calculated one. "We could find a replacement."

Softly, Frank says, "Let go, Gerard."

Gerard presses his lips to Frank's and despite the lingering taste of Matt, Frank can still breathe Gerard, still recognize him and even now, even now, it makes him lean in a little.

As soon as he does, Gerard tosses him away. Frank lands on his hands and knees, the injured elbow buckling immediately. Gerard says, "Hope you're up for tomorrow's show," and leaves him on the floor.

*


Frank knows he should have iced the elbow, but it was all he could do to get himself back to bed. He regrets it when there's swelling and bruising and all matter of inconvenient things in the morning. He wears long sleeves, which he never does—he got the tattoos to be seen—and takes more than a few ibuprofen and when Ray asks, "What is with you?" at soundcheck just says, "Sorry."

Ray doesn't look all that mollified, but he lets it go, because evidently Frank has earned himself the right to play like shit on occasion. Mikey, though, Mikey gets him alone in the quiet room and goes straight for his sleeve and it occurs to Frank that he knows. Knows knows. Saw-it-happen knows.

Frank doesn't ask, "Why didn't you say something?" He didn't say anything to Ray, either.

"Oh fuck," Mikey gasps, and yeah, okay, maybe it looks a little worse than Frank thought it did this morning. "Okay, just, uh. Sit down."

Frank sits down. It seems like reasonable enough advice. Mikey disappears and Frank is too fucking tired to even wonder where he's gone. He returns with ice and a towel, which he wraps carefully around the elbow. "Frank, I don't think you should—"

"Shut up, Mikey," Frank says it calmly, not a hint of venom anywhere.

"—play tonight."

Frank just looks at him.

"Maybe I can find a brace." Mikey leaves him alone, which is how Gerard finds him. Gerard sits on the couch with him and looks at his elbow and asks, "I did that, didn't I?"

Frank doesn't say anything.

"I don't remember that part."

Frank can't help himself, can't stop the, "What part do you remember?" that comes off his tongue.

"I think I blew Matt." Gerard sounds like he might be sick, like he might fall from wherever he's been perched and break on his own waves, waiting impatiently below.

Frank would catch him, but he knows he won't be allowed. "That good, huh?"

"I'm gonna talk to Mikey. Ray. About getting clean."

"Talk to me, Gerard."

Gerard avoids his gaze, looks down at Frank's elbow. "I don't remember that part."

"Then fucking—"

"I'm gonna talk to Ray."

Frank waits until he can hear something other than the slow, sick thud of his heart. "Yeah, okay."

"I'll be better," he promises. Frank doesn't doubt it.

*


It should feel better that in the end, Gerard can't talk to any of them, not any of them, but it doesn't, because no matter whom he's not talking to, he's still not talking to Frank. Frank waits out the days when Gerard is nothing more than the withdrawal, nothing more than pain and want and maybe even need. He waits and listens to Mikey, who will at least sometimes says, "I miss my brother," and Frank knows there's a reason why he doesn't say "Gerard," knows that Mikey's feeling a bit confused about what happened, about who Gerard became. Mikey will let Frank wrap a blanket around his shoulders if he shivers, or hold his hand if he leaves it lying palm up and it's nothing big except for all those times when it's something huge.

Finally Gerard wakes up, really wakes up and asks for Mikey. Frank doesn't have the energy to be jealous, to even try and worm into the space between those two.

Mikey says, "He won't ask for you."

Frank already knows. He buys A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius because it's one of Gerard's favorites and he can't find the dog-eared, marked up copy. He goes to Gerard, holds it in front of him like a peace offering. Gerard takes it, nods. "Time to think in new ways, huh?"

Frank really hadn't been considering it like that, but it's probably a pretty good idea. Gerard, when he's in control, is full up on those.

Gerard says, "I'm not really ready to say sorry to you, yet."

Frank says, "I should have waited until you said you wanted to see me."

"I wouldn't have."

"I know," Frank tells him. There is a certain method to his madness.

"It's not that I don't love you."

Gerard has never mentioned either doing so or not doing so before and it takes Frank a minute to remember how to talk. Because now that he's said it, even though it's maybe still all wrong, Frank knows, "That could be the problem."

"That, and the part where I have to tell you to go get a battery of medical tests." Gerard looks away as he says it.

Frank's gotten that far on his own. He watched Gerard and Matt. "I'm clean, Gerard. You didn't infect me."

Gerard laughs at that. Frank smiles, trying his best not to allow the expression any twist of lemon-lime. "I have choices, too."

Gerard's expression calls the lie, but he doesn't say anything. Frank does laugh at that. There might even be amusement, dark, self-aware amusement, somewhere in the laugh. He runs his thumb along the outside line of Gerard's thumb and says, "I love you, too."

*


Frank would help Gerard keep the damn aloe plant alive if he would let Frank, but he won't. He says, "I don't think that's the point," and Frank says, "Admitting you can't do it all on your own? I don't know, seems like an important step."

The aloe plant dies, as does the fern that follows it, and the philodendron after that. Gerard's touch gets more tentative until Frank has to say, "Oh for— I find my own sunlight and water."

For a while this evidently works because if Gerard isn't exactly whole again there are at least goodly chunks that Frank recognizes floating around. Frank tells himself things are fine until the night Gerard finally says, "I'm sorry," in those words.

Frank says, "I know. I know you are."

Gerard says, "If you wanted to, you could," and with a smile he offers himself—the world—to Frank.

Frank knows he should say no, knows nothing comes for free, knows that work must accompany apologies, but not offerings, sacrifices of basic personhood. He kisses Gerard, kisses him and kisses him and in the end he can't say no, he can't, so he takes the gift and isn't surprised—maybe knew before he even asked the first time—when Gerard can't come undone beneath him, atop him. It is exquisite and painful and wrong and when they are done Gerard asks, "Was that— Did I—"

Frank says, "Sh, Sweet. Sh."

They don't do that again. Gerard does apologize again, but Frank just shakes his head, just says, "I think it's my turn," because it's not fair, what he's asking. Or maybe the question itself is fair, but not asking it of Gerard.

It occurs to him that Gerard probably deserves someone who takes him as he comes, but Frank can't give him up, not when he has him, and Gerard does things like draw fully-fleshed illustrations in the margins of the book Frank gave him, illustrations of the band, of forward movement, of the two of them.

Instead Frank gives himself over with pretended, desperate, hopeful abandon, sure, so sure that it will become real along the way. It has to. Gerard needs it to.

*


Mikey's never seen Gerard so damn afraid of a crowd, not ever, not even when he was a kid playing a boy who wouldn't grow up. Gerard was metaphorical even before the metaphors were his.

Frank has his hand tucked against the small of Gerard's back, but Gerard can't stay still for the touch, can't allow it to do its job and Frank is miserable with failed effort. Desperate, Mikey asks Bob, "Do you think you could make Gerard think you need a pep talk?"

"You think that will help?"

"It's worth a shot," Mikey tells him, and goes to pull Frank off of Gerard. Frank goes without much resistance, his shoulders curved up dangerously with defeat. Mikey rubs at the shoulders, digging his fingers in until Frank whimpers, "Ow, ouch, Mikey, stop," and then just pushes deeper.

Frank finally releases the muscles and then the digging is more relaxing than painful. Frank molds into Mikey's hands, docile and warm.

Mikey says, "Sometimes he needs something else. You know that, Frank."

"Most of the time," Frank mutters.

Mikey doesn't have anything to say to that. Gerard's not as good at leaning on Frank as Frank is good at catching him. It's a problem, but not one Mikey has the answers to. He's kind of tired of always needing to brainstorm. With himself.

"What's Bob saying?" Frank finally asks.

"Oh, he's pretending to be nervous."

"That was clever." Frank sounds impressed. Mikey does his best not to preen, it's really not the time.

"I think Bob is a little nervous, in a Bob way, so probably not the worst thing for him, either."

"I'm nervous," Frank admits.

"I'm pretty sure I'm gonna puke the minute we get out there."

"The kids are gonna love that."

"Hey, I hear tell they like seeing us raw."

Frank smirks. "I think that might be a little raw, even for them."

Mikey watches surreptitiously as Gerard loosens up slightly, clearly warming to the subject of whatever the hell it is he's telling Bob. Off to the side, Mikey can also tell Ray's doing his absolute best not to laugh. Yeah, Gerard can be a little bit much when he gets like this. Mikey loves it. He loves Gerard. Out of nowhere he tells Frank, "We're gonna blow this shit out of the water."

"Probably," Frank agrees.

"No, we are."

Frank takes a breath. "I believe you, Mikey Way."

Mikey does preen at that. He only has so much self-control.

*


Gerard is completely wired from the performance. Frank is almost afraid to touch him, like the rubber soles of his sneakers might not ground him enough. Gerard takes care of it for him, sweeping in, kissing him, and Frank does burn.

But then, that's Gerard.

"Have you always played like that?" Gerard asks. "Because Jesus H Fucking Christ on peanut butter, Frankie."

Frank laughs. Gerard swallows his laughter. Gerard is so there, so fucking there in a way he hasn't been in a long time, maybe forever and Frank wants to let himself be swallowed, let himself just take this, just go with this, just be happy.

Except that this is only part of Gerard, and as utterly, starkly real as it is, it is still only part. Gerard isn't big on letting Frank have all of him. And it's sweet, it's so damn sweet, the way he wants to protect Frank, only protection is a two way street. Frank's always going one direction with Gerard.

Gerard sinks to his knees and pulls Frank into his mouth and Frank goes because it's easy, because it's brilliant, because that's the right way down this street. But it's not the only way. And when Gerard is done, Frank will be able to see the yellow line again, and wish that the breaks allowed for him to cross it.

*


Frank's smile is off. There's nothing else that's off, so far as Gerard can tell. The coffee they're both drinking is good, and the people at the venue are treating them well, and mostly everything's fine, except that Frank's smile isn't quite right. Gerard tries kissing him a little to see if he can reset it, but when he pulls away Frank grins at him and the distortion is just that much clearer.

Gerard says, "Everything okay?" even knowing that unless Frank wants to be drawn out, it's not going to work. And Frank's usually pretty good about signaling that he wants that. He's not now, not that Gerard can tell. The smile is something else.

Frank says, "Yeah, why? Something on your mind?"

The answer is off, too. Gerard can't even figure out what's wrong with it, except that it's sort of like when Ray hits a wrong note—which Ray almost never does—and Gerard feels it stick in his throat. Frank sounds like Frank and looks like Frank and everything is Frank-ish, except that that "ish" is evidently covering a lot of territory today. "You seem a little...off."

"Gimme a break, Gee, I haven't even finished my coffee."

It's the middle of the afternoon. And okay, they haven't been awake that long, but still. "Wasn't criticizing. Just thought, I mean—"

Frank looks at him.

"You sure you're okay?"

Frank's reassurance smile isn't so far off as his grin, which doesn't make it precisely on. "Fine, I swear. You're just projecting nerves, or something."

That might be some of it. Gerard still hasn't gotten wholly used to performing sober, it's a harsher, more thrilling ride that can sometimes threaten to take him straight off, away from Frank and Mikey and Ray and Bob. And tonight's venue is bigger than most of the ones they've played so far. He doesn't think he's just imagining this, though. He knows Frank pretty well. For all the times when he doesn't know him, there are at least two when he really, really does. "Maybe." Gerard doesn't bother to wipe his tone free of doubt.

"They're going to leave gobsmacked," Frank says with a sage nod.

For a moment, Gerard is distracted, "Gobsmacked?"

Frank is unphased. "Excellent word."

And that's so, so close to Frank that for a second Gerard wonders if he is imagining things. Then Frank turns to him slightly, smiling, and Gerard knows for sure he's not.

*


Frank leaves Gerard on a Friday morning, but it takes Gerard until Saturday evening to figure it out, and by that time, Frank is almost ready to cave, to go back.

It takes Gerard until he's pulling Frank to him after the show—and oh, he's warm and laughing and the electricity of his own music is still running live through him, and Frank wants, he wants—and Frank says, "No, Gee, that's not on."

Gerard pulls back, the laughter still there, but with an underlying question. And Frank realizes that he didn't get the note.

Sometimes Frank wonders if there is a G-d, and if such a being hates him. It seems unlikely, given My Chem's success, but perhaps it is simply that G-d loves Gerard more than he hates Frank. Frank tells him, "We broke up."

Gerard says, "I stopped taking shit. I would have remembered."

So Frank has to go into Gerard's bunk, find the note that was clearly, clearly on the pillow but has now managed to find its way between the sheets and the wall. The note says, "It's not that I don't love you."

Gerard says, "Frankie," leans in for a kiss and Frank makes himself hold his mouth away.

If it were just Frank, oh, if it were just Frank then he could give in and not care, not care how much it hurt sometimes, know that it was worth it for the times when Gerard's hands are at Frank's throat, his stomach, his cock, when Gerard will smile and mean it only for him, only. But it isn't just Frank. And Gerard will hold to things, will hold things up until well past when there is nothing to hold.

It is not just Frank, and Gerard is in no less pain than he is. Gerard says, "If you— Okay." It is a soft word, a nothing word. Its two syllables take Frank apart, the "oh" running off with his internal organs, the "kay" with his words, his breath, his thoughts. He repeats, "Okay," because just then, he doesn't know how to say anything else in the English language. In any language.

Gerard leaves him alone after that, which is necessary, because if he so much as crooks his little finger, Frank is going to forget every resolve he's ever had, let alone, "No more Gerard." He leaves him alone, and more than anything, Frank knows that is Gerard's way of agreeing.

On Tuesday, Mikey says, "You've got to eat."

Frank puts his hands to his ears and presses, but Mikey stays, not put off by Frank's spastic grief. Or at least, not showing that he is. He waits for Frank to give up on shutting the world out and says, "You need to eat."

"I'm really, really not hungry."

"I really, really don't care."

"Jesus, Mikey, no, okay? No."

Mikey goes away and Frank thinks he's safe, except that Mikey brings back food and sits until he eats it and Frank thinks, "I have to mean 'no' some of the time," but for all that, his capitulation in this instance isn't the struggle of wills that it always was with Gerard. He eats a little and lays down on the couch and Mikey puts Frank's head on his lap and Frank thinks, "No," but it sounds different than it always did before.

*


Neither Frank nor Gerard says a word when Frank finally gives up. Mikey figures it out when Gerard screams himself raw in a concert, literally. Mikey catches him gurgling water, spitting up blood, after the show. He says, "Gee, I know you and Frank have that thing about leaving everything out there, but—"

Gerard retches a little at the word "Frank."

It takes Mikey a moment to catch up. Then he says, "Oh, Gee."

Mikey has the bus driver stop so that he can pick up some canned soups and cough drops. He charges Ray with helping him make sure that Gerard eats. Ray says, "See to Frank, Mikey. He'll let you."

Mikey climbs into Frank's bunk without invitation and says, "You been giving Ray trouble?"

Without turning from his position facing the wall, Frank says, "I suppose it would be too much to ask to be left alone?"

"It would," Mikey tells him. Frank doesn't say another word. Mikey asks, "You been eating? I haven't seen you emerge in a while. I was kinda worried I'd come in here and discover wild dogs eating at your rotted remains."

There's a second of silence and then Frank laughs. It's as ripped from him as the blood Gerard was spitting up. "I would say you would have noticed, but this is you guys."

"So see, it was a valid fear."

Another laugh follows, but this one breaks at the end of the first huff, breaks and the shards cut into Frank, his shoulders cracking wide open into one sob after another. The sobs are wholly silent, Mikey can barely hear him breathing, but the bunk is moving with his utter, sweeping loss.

Mikey presses himself to Frank's back, tries to take as much of it as he can into himself. It is only then that he notices how Frank's hands are pressed to his face, keeping the sound in. Mikey brings his hands up over Frank's, pulls them gently back. There's a deep, bruising bite mark in the palm of one hand.

Frank is still trying to halt the sound, catch it in his throat where it twists and winds and he makes keening, awful noises when they actually make it past his lips. Mikey says, "Breathe, Frank, just breathe."

His breath is nothing but misery, low pitched wails that tighten around Mikey's stomach. Mikey presses in tighter, tucks himself all around, says, "We're still here. We're still here." Please don't think you've lost everything.

Mikey is still pleading to whomever hears his thoughts when Frank finally wears himself out, finally falls into sleep, a short, sharp fall that leaves him muttering and restless. Mikey says, "Shh, Frank, just let yourself sleep. Shh."

Frank quiets.

*


People assume that because Ray is quiet that he doesn't care, that he's just along for the ride and the chance to play his guitar. Gerard knows better, but he tends not to say anything because Ray sort of likes that people don't get him.

Still, Gerard isn't precisely expecting Ray to be the one who makes him coffee every morning for two weeks after it's clear that Frank has left him. Maybe that's just because he never expects to be taken care of, never thinks he wants it until he does want it and then it's sort of too late to ask. But Ray just buys the deep roasted Ivory Coast beans that Gerard prefers and sets up a routine. He sits with Gerard and his coffee without earphones or PSP or anything and Gerard thinks maybe he should talk but as of yet, he doesn't have anything to say.

Ray finally says, "You should maybe write about this, man, if you're not going to talk about it."

Gerard nods. "My hand keeps getting stuck."

Ray says, "Next town, you and me."

Gerard wonders what will happen if someone else needs him. Then he decides he doesn't care. "Yeah, okay."

Ray takes him out to a Vietnamese restaurant and then to a chocolatier where they can get tortes sans milk or eggs. Afterward Ray walks him out to the water—Gerard thinks they're in San Francisco, but he hasn't seen the Golden Gate, so maybe not—says, "Take your shoes off."

The water is fucking cold and Gerard thinks they're probably going to lose a few toes each. At this point, it would almost be a relief, something to focus on. Ray takes out his guitar—fucker's been carrying it on his back, which has called more attention to them than not—and says, "Told you I needed it."

Ray rarely ever does things without purpose. He strums the thing and asks, "Where am I going?"

Gerard knows how to lead, he does. "Um. Minor chord. B? No, D. D."

Ray gives him what he wants.

"Then to G. Hm. Maybe make that a major?"

Ray snorts, but does it anyway. The song is terrible, but they all are at first. Gerard's mind works just fine, but cohesiveness is something he has to craft. Ray has an audial memory. He'll record the song until Gerard can write it down, see it on paper, know how to fix it.

In the middle of the song—it's clearly the middle, even if Gerard hasn't figured out the end—he says, "I let go of him."

"Yeah," Ray says, over a strum. "That was ballsy. I didn't think you had it in you."

Gerard snaps his gaze up to Ray who shrugs. "Sometimes shit validly doesn't work, Gee. You like to think that's your fault, but it's not, not always."

"I did some stuff—"

"Okay, I am actually in the band. I know you guys forget that, like, at rest stops and all, but I was around, yeah?"

Gerard nods.

"He didn't leave because of that stuff, and you didn't 'give up on him' or whatever because of it. You guys just had bad energy."

Gerard thinks back on the song, what he's done up until now, where to go. He listens to it in his head and knows that he won't be fixing it, knows that, "Sometimes shit just validly doesn't work."

Ray smiles. "Wanna start over again?"

Oh, how Gerard wishes. But he knows to take the chances he's given. "A flat."

"Probably better."

*


The thing about Pete Wentz is that, for the first time in what actually, truly feels like forever, he makes Mikey forget about the things he can't have. The thing he can't have. The person he can't have.

So, maybe not forget. But he makes Mikey look away, and that's new, that's different, that's utterly fantastic. And when Pete says, "Mikey Way," the emphasis is always on the "Mikey," not the "Way."

Which is why it's easy, so infinitely, bizarrely easy, to let Pete kiss him, let Pete wrap wide fingers over the back of his neck, caress at the skin there. It tickles a bit but not in a painful way, and not enough to distract from the heat of Pete's mouth, the contradictory taste of spearmint amidst the burn of his tongue. Pete knows how to kiss.

Mikey has missed that part of things. Because he can kiss any guy in any bathroom, but it's not a kiss, it's contractual foreplay. When Pete kisses him, Mikey feels it to his fucking knees, his toes, and that, that's the part that he can't find just anywhere. And it's not that Mikey doesn't see the danger in Pete, the part of Pete that can't still, can't accept that he's gotten what he wants, all he has to do is keep it, but Mikey lives amongst dangerous guys. He navigates danger as most people do rush hour traffic, and is not half so annoyed by it.

Even at his worst, Pete responds to Mikey, notices him there, notices his efforts to help and even if there was nothing else, even if there wasn't the way Pete sounds when he plays and the way he listens to Mikey and the kissing and the Mikey Way, even if not for all of that, there would be the fact that Pete lets Mikey hold him, hold him together, hold on.

Pete says, "You're too much, you're too fucking much," but Mikey knows that for the moment he's just barely enough. For both of them. That's okay, though, because for now he is enough and that is such an aphrodisiac Mikey can get hard just seeing Pete across a fucking room.

Mikey believes in unicorns, so he's pretty aware that he's not the best guy to go to for a dose of realism, but the way Pete looks at him feels like magic and even if unicorns don't exist, there are times when a guy needs the illusion. He's pretty sure he looks at Pete the same way. For Pete's sake, he hopes he does.

*


Gerard laughs at them a lot. Mikey would mind except that it's happy laughter, it's relieved laughter, it's laughter that Gerard has clearly been keeping for when Mikey found somebody who made him smile. Pete will come by the bus after shows and Gerard will say, "We don't speak bass on this bus."

Pete will get on his tiptoes to peer over Gerard's shoulder. "That one does. That one sings it."

Sometimes Gerard hugs Pete in sheer exuberance over the fact that he's good for Mikey, really good for him, and Pete just goes with it, just clings back. For all that Pete sees the take in himself, Pete has an excess of give. Pete's give comes out in a million ways, large and small. Mikey's favorite, even though he thinks it is the most unconscious—or perhaps, because of that—is the way Pete plays, the way he pours himself out, nothing but fingers and strings when he's on that stage.

But there are other things; the shirts Pete makes, the cups of coffee he brings, the way he shares Hemmy. The way he is in bed. And all right, maybe that's even better than Pete on stage, although the two run a close and vicious race. In bed, Pete will take his time with Mikey, will lave and bite and suck his way down Mikey's chest until the whole of it is heated, sensitive, waiting for Pete's hands. Pete's touch is never exactly gentle, but it's not anything else, either. Pete's touch is his touch and Mikey hasn't yet come up with another way to describe it.

He touches even as he continues to tease with his mouth, his lips nipping at Mikey's cock, his tongue swirling, pressing to Mikey's balls. He takes a long time, he takes forever, he waits for Mikey to whimper, "Pete, please, Pete," and Mikey knows Pete gets off on the sound of his voice coming out of Mikey's throat, thinks that makes him selfish. Mikey thinks it makes him human. Pete is so fucking unbearably human.

Pete will make him wait and wait, but in the end Pete always gives himself over, all of himself, letting Mikey in, letting Mikey surround him with his arms, letting Mikey whisper, "Pete, Pete," in his ear, just so he knows they are both there, both so very much there.

And when he has given all he has to give, Pete will lie there, and let Mikey give back, allow himself to take from Mikey and yes, it is better than the stage for that part, the part where it was Mikey that Pete was giving to, Mikey whom he will take from.

Mikey gives.

*


Pete doesn't sleep much. Mikey will travel on Fall Out Boy's bus, waking at all hours of the night to find Pete prowling, distracting himself from his own wakefulness. Distracting himself from sleep. Mikey pulls him onto the couch and rubs at his shoulders, digs his thumbs into the palms of Pete's hands—tensed from playing—waits for Pete to fall asleep at his touch. When he wakes up, Pete is never there.

Pete will make him breakfast—and by make, Mikey means pour the cereal and the soy milk into the same bowl and say, "Sorry, I got restless."

Mikey says, "It's okay," and means it, but Pete never truly accepts his forgiveness.

Pete won't come on My Chem's bus, not overnight. Mikey says, "It's not as if we're all bastions of mental health," but Pete shrugs, "My guys are used to the disturbances."

Mikey doesn't push. Pete so very rarely gets to feel comfortable. Mikey ignores how much he would like to be Pete's place of comfort. Pete doesn't need him to need things of Pete, or maybe Pete does, but not those things. Pete needs Mikey to need the things Pete can give, so Mikey can restrict himself to those things, he can.

He is good at cutting himself off, falsely imposing limits. He can't even summon the energy to be disappointed that he has to do it with Pete. He's not sure there's anyone for whom he wouldn't have to.

Pete tries, he tries so damn hard Mikey can see the effort pouring off of him, and it's utterly, wholly driving.

Mikey rides along.

*


Frank knows he should be happy for Mikey, and it's not exactly that he's not, except that he's sort of not. Pete's a nice guy and he makes Mikey smile, and Frank loves seeing his smile but it also makes his stomach burn. Until lately, he's never seen Mikey smile like that for anyone other than Ray, Gerard, Bob and himself. Matt could never manage.

It's fucked up to be jealous over a smile and Frank knows he's feeling a little bit at ends, still bruised from Gerard, so he concentrates on the ways in which he is happy for Mikey and ignores the other parts. Mikey's waited a long time to have someone like Pete, someone real for him and Frank's not gonna fuck that up with whatever shit is going on in his head. Mikey deserves better from him.

Annoyingly, the burn of jealousy only gets more intense as the summer progresses and Frank's just about to the point of considering whether he's developed an ulcer without knowing it when they're behind the stage, waiting to go on one night and Mikey laughs at something Ray has said, his lips accidentally brushing Frank's ear as he does. It is a small space they are all standing in. Frank doubts Mikey even notices. Frank is so hard he isn't sure he has any blood left for the parts of his body needed to play his guitar.

His thoughts—in no particular order—are, "No," and "Fuck."

Pete comes around after their set and Frank is as nice as he knows how to be, because if he is anything else, it will involve ripping Pete Wentz's pretty Mikey Way-stealing face right off his bones. My Chem has already lost a drummer. Frank doesn't want to be the cause of them having to find another guitarist. It's about the only thing that stops him.

Like Gerard, this band is always saving his life. And the faces of others.

When they head out, Frank calls, "Have a good time," and waves. Mikey grins at him over his shoulder and yells, "Oh, don't worry, we will."

Frank makes for the nearest bathroom.

*


Pete starts to get desperate about a week before the end of the tour. Mikey feels the shift, senses it in the way Pete's modes of initiating, carrying through sex become more frantic and more intense. Pete will kiss Mikey for an hour, an hour, without once touching him and then skip straight to penetration, bending himself over the nearest surface, saying, "Hold me, hold me," and meaning—evidently—"hold me down."

Mikey does. He knows what it's like to feel that the only thing keeping him with the people he cares about is gravity. Mikey can be a law of physics unto Pete, if that's what Pete needs. What he can't do is extend Warped.

The last three nights Pete doesn't sleep at all, won't take anything because he doesn't do that anymore, and Mikey gets that, sort of, but Patrick and Andy and Joe even look worried, and they're used to the worst of it. Mikey asks Patrick if he should go, leave the bus to them, but Patrick says, "You going is the problem," and doesn't mean it to hurt as much as it does. It's no more than a second later that he says, "Oh, hey, no, I didn't mean—"

Mikey shakes his head. He knows. He doesn't really want to go. When he has to he kisses Pete, kisses him and wraps his hands around Pete's biceps and says, "You have to remember where I am."

Pete nods. "End of the phone line."

"Other side of a text."

"On a bus."

"Waiting to talk with you."

Pete presses his lips together tightly. Mikey says, "I'll miss you."

Pete looks at him.

"So much."

Pete opens his mouth, but his eyes are wet and in the end all he can do is shake his head.

Mikey kisses him again. "So much, Pete."

*


Mikey texts Pete almost constantly, makes him tell Mikey all the things he would if Mikey were standing there, like the most recent places Joe has found to hide Patrick's hats and what Pete sees outside his window and what he had for breakfast that morning. If Mikey wants to know about how the next album is coming—and he generally does—he calls. That's the sort of thing for which he needs to hear Pete's voice to really understand what he's being told.

Pete calls a fair amount, but he always sounds as if he's pretty sure he's going to be interrupting something. Mikey stays on with him for as long as he possibly can, long enough that sometimes Gerard has to take the phone and say, "Pete, we need our bassist. We only have one of him." Mikey's not sure what Pete says back to Gerard, only that sometimes it makes Gerard smile.

On occasion Patrick calls and says, "I'm handing the phone to him, just talk," and Mikey does until his throat is raw and he's long past the marker of having nothing to tell Pete. When he can barely make noise anymore he will allow himself to ask, "Pete?"

Most of the time Pete will say, "I'm here." Mikey already knows Pete's there. The more important question is whether Pete knows where "here" is, where that is in relation to anything else.

Pete has a couple of days where he can come see Mikey and Mikey all but begs that he actually use them. Pete gives in right before the point where Mikey's on his knees asking nobody who can see the gesture, and Mikey thinks that's something, but only time will tell.

The week before Pete comes Mikey is anxious and his playing is jittery, off, he knows it. Gerard doesn't say a word. Frank cuts off a little of his coffee supply and Bob makes him sit and have his shoulders rubbed. Ray puts new playlists on Mikey's iPod and says, "Listen," in a tone that brooks no argument. It helps, but the only thing that's going to fix the problem is Pete being there, being all right being there. For that, Mikey just has to wait.

*


Pete doesn't stop touching Mikey from the moment he sees him. Maybe it's clingy, but Mikey needs it every bit as much as Pete does. The touches aren't ostentatious, except maybe the hand-holding, but they only do that on the bus.

The reunion sex is frantic and messy at first, and later it's just frantic, Mikey trying to get as far into Pete as he possibly can, Pete striving to let him even deeper in.

Mikey makes Pete spend some time with Gerard, because Mikey actually does believe that everyone should spend a little bit of time with Gerard, but Pete more than most. Gerard's confidence in Pete causes his shoulders to loosen, makes him stand taller. Mikey makes Pete spend time with Bob because Bob is a fixer, and sometimes just being near him makes things better. Mikey makes Pete spend time with Frank because Frank makes everyone laugh, and Pete is no exception. Mikey makes Pete spend time with Ray because Ray knows how to bring the calm, and Pete needs some of that. Pete needs a lot of it.

But mostly they hide away, talking in half sentences that they sometimes get and sometimes don't, but even in the latter instance there's no real need to ask. Pete can't sleep if Mikey's not in him, not lying atop him, not somehow taking him over, subsuming him. It concerns Mikey, but the absolute lack of sleep concerns him more, so he takes the quick fix, at least for the moment. Mikey always figures there's more time later, until there isn't, but even in those instances, the people Mikey has stood by have always been able to come through.

The days slip by in a haze of confidences, new and old chords, fingers and toes and lips and teeth. Pete says, "I don't want to leave you."

Mikey kisses him, says, "For a moment, just a moment, stop thinking that everything is a metaphor."

Pete looks helpless.

*


It's less than a month after Warped when Mikey starts looking like someone has taken the threads of him in his fingers and is pulling slowly, fraying him from the edges inward.

Frank considers whether any of Fall Out Boys' roadies could be bribed to beat the ever loving crap out of Pete Wentz. He doesn't think so. And Mikey probably wouldn't appreciate it. Frank doesn't even know if it would make him feel better. He's not generally a violent human being.

Gerard is worried and it's instinct on Frank's part, pure and guttural, to sit by him, to say, "You okay?" Only after Frank asks does he realize it's the first time he's touched Gerard outside of an interview or a show in nearly four months. Gerard looks at their legs, aligned side by side. He nods.

"Gee," Frank says.

"Think maybe I should talk with Pete?"

"I don't know." Frank really doesn't. His best idea so far has been the roadie one, and that's really not a good idea. At all.

"He looks so...diminished."

Frank knows. He caught Mikey slouching so far the other day he thought, for a moment, that he was sick. Then Mikey looked over and gave him a smile with too much tooth in it. It wasn't a mean smile, just a constructed one, which hit Frank pretty much the same way. "But he can take care of himself. He can."

"I know. I hate it."

Frank smiles, he can't help it. Gerard is just so damned Gerard some times. "Let's give it a couple weeks."

Gerard kicks at the floor. "I hate waiting."

Frank's smile deepens. So damn Gerard.

*


Pete calls him less after the visit.

They don't talk less, but it's almost always Mikey calling or Patrick intervening. Patrick starts to sound desperate. One time Mikey says, "Patrick. Tell me what you see."

"Mikey—"

"I don't mean betray him. I mean, just. Give me some insight."

"I think." Patrick stops. "He just misses you. All the time. All the time. And he gets to thinking it must be like that for you, and that you don't deserve that, that you should be able to have something more immediate, or at least more worth waiting for—"

"Patrick—"

"I'm saying what I see him thinking, not what I'm thinking."

Mikey runs a hand over his face. "Okay. Okay, so I just have to make him see that I don't mind waiting, that it makes it better when we see each other."

"Yeah. Just." Patrick sounds worried.

"Hey, I could use a little confidence here."

"Sorry. It's not that."

Mikey is silent for a second. Then he asks, "He's not fighting very hard, is he?"

"Please don't think it's about you. If there was anyone he'd fight for, it would be you."

Except, evidently not. Mikey takes a breath. This is okay. He's fought for two sides of an equation often enough. He can do it again. He can. And Pete is so very worth it.

He says, "Tell him I called."

"You don't want to—"

"Just. Tell him. I'd like to hear from him, okay?"

Patrick hesitates, then asks, "Mikey?"

"Yeah."

"You make him happy."

Mikey isn't sure that's true, but it's a comforting thought, all the same.

*


The thing is, though, that if Mikey just texts Pete and says, "Please, please call me," Pete will.

He will and he'll let Mikey stress over the way Gerard is changing, evolving, the way Mikey has become something less to him, maybe—no, not something less, but something different, different in a way Mikey hasn't yet come to accept. Frank, who is also transforming subtly into someone else in the wake of Gerard's change, will still grant Mikey the little things, the way he used to let Mikey clean his knees or tell him when he absolutely had to sleep, but Gerard just goes off by himself, with Ray, it doesn't matter so long as he's not leaning on Mikey.

And Mikey knows, he gets that Gerard is trying his best to be a good big brother, but Gerard has been a crap big brother Mikey's whole life—at least in that regard—and it's been the only way Mikey has ever wanted him to be. He doesn't need an independent Gerard. He needs his brother.

Pete says, "You carry too much, Mikey."

Right now, Mikey isn't carrying enough, and he can feel the lack every second, like he might get swept away if the north winds pick up. He's trying to carry Pete, and it's not that he thinks Pete wouldn't let him if he knew how, but Pete has learned to run at some point, and nobody has thought to teach him how to slow down. Patrick can get him to still, but that's about something else, that's about music and safety, and Mikey might be one of those things, but he's aware that he's not the other.

Mikey asks, "What's going on with you?" and Pete says, "Andy's gotten me addicted to these fried tofu things, I seriously don't even know what they are, and they're probably shit for me, because seriously, whoever thinks being a vegan is good for you is totally on crack."

"Fried tofu, huh?" Mikey will have to find out what they actually are from Andy.

"Evil," Pete says.

"You could use a little of that in your life."

"Nope, all filled up here."

Mikey sighs. He misses Pete. "How's Hemmy?"

"Bus sick. Sometimes we have to stop on the side of the highway before he starts peeing on things just to make a point."

"Yeah, we have to do that with Frank, too."

Pete laughs, then chokes on whatever he was taking a sip of when he started laughing.

"Sorry," Mikey says. He's not really. Pete doesn't laugh enough, particularly not when he doesn't know what's coming at him.

"Evil," Pete repeats.

"Told you you needed a little bit of that in your life." It's something, Mikey tells himself, that Pete doesn't repudiate the statement again.

*


The ironic part of one of the worst moments of Mikey's life to that point is that he thinks he could have handled it if Pete had just cheated. Had just slept with someone, random and unimportant and not at all Mikey to him. Mikey knows Pete loves him. That isn't their problem.

But no, no. Pete can't be simple in his oblivious, well-intentioned cruelty. Mikey doesn't know if he would be Pete if he were. Probably not.

It's at a Fuse function, one of those things that they are too close to New York at the time to beg off of. The guy approaches him casually, says something about his music. It's loud and Mikey's bored and he smiles politely, still trying to find Frank or Bob or anyone, really, that he knows. Then the guy, who is tall and built and sort of just the way Mikey likes his guys, says, "Pete sent me."

And despite the fact that it isn't said loudly, for Mikey, the room might as well be dead silent.

"I'm sorry?" Mikey asks. Maybe he heard wrong. Maybe he's starting to have some sort of bizarre, self-destructive cycle of delusions. It wouldn't be the most surprising thing ever to have happened to him.

The guy nods. "He said you deserved a little fun. And I was to show it to you."

There are a million reasons to be mad at Pete, a million and one, even, if Mikey counts the complete and utter lack of discretion. Mikey wishes, desperately, violently wishes, that anger was his response. Mikey tells the guy, "He was mistaken," and makes certain to disappear into the crowd to find Ray and say, "Please, please take me—"

Ray says, "Okay, Mikey, okay, just breathe."

Ray gets him out of there, away from the people and then Mikey can breathe but the air is sharp, filled with sand or broken glass or glitter. Mikey doesn't know. Something small and cutting. Ray rubs his back. "Mikey?"

Mikey shakes his head. "Nothing, nothing."

Ray gets them a car to take them back to the hotel. He calls the others on the way, lets them know they've gone. He doesn't say a word about the fact that Mikey is clearly losing his mind. When they reach the hotel Mikey tries going to his room, but Ray just redirects him with the hand still on Mikey's back. He puts Mikey in his own bed. Mikey asks, "You weren't having a good time, were you?"

Ray says, "You're more important."

Mikey laughs and feels the tears start. "Evidently. I'm very, very fucking important. Must be kept happy, don't you know?"

Ray asks, "What did he do, Mikey?"

"Who?"

Ray doesn't say anything. Ray's always paying more attention than anybody thinks. It can be bothersome at times. Mikey closes his eyes. "He just— Tried to keep me happy."

Ray inhales like he's going to say something else. In the end it is just, "Get some sleep, Mikey."

Mikey tries. He really does.

*


In the end, Mikey never says anything about Pete's offering because before he can figure out what to say Patrick calls and asks, "Is there any way for you to get to us? Any at all?"

He sounds like he's forcing himself to stay calm. Mikey says, "Let me talk to the guys."

He does and he's on a plane within three days. He has twelve hours to be with Pete, then he's booked on a flight that will arrive within hours of a show. When he arrives, Pete looks at him with bruised eyes and says, "Patrick shouldn't have called."

"Sometimes Patrick's a little bit smarter about you than you are," Mikey says gently. Most of the time Patrick is a lot smarter.

Pete laughs, the sound dry. "Isn't everyone?"

Mikey kisses Pete into silence, undresses him down to where he can't hide, pushes into places Pete keeps reserved for him. It takes Pete forever to climax, and it is all Mikey can do not to become frantic. He stays in Pete, though, ignores the way the sensation crowds in on him, too much, too much. When his efforts finally triumph over the twisted state of Pete's psyche, Mikey stays, rolls into Pete, still there, still inside, and says, "Sleep."

Pete says, "You're not here for very long."

Mikey says, "I know, I should have made you before now."

Pete's sleep is quiet and still unto death and it is, ironically, the only reassuring part of Mikey's visit. Pete wakes up as Mikey pulls off, making himself do the work of getting dressed. Pete says, "Don't go," then, "I didn't mean that." He did, he just knows the rules.

"I don't want to," Mikey tells him.

Pete says, "Maybe, maybe it's 'don't come back'."

Mikey stops midway through putting on his shirt. He makes himself continue, pull it over his head. "What?"

"Don't, Mikey. Stop running whenever I slow down long enough to be caught. Stop it. It's no good for you. And I— It would be better if I could just get over you. I would, you know? Even you. Even you I'd get over."

Mikey sits down. He's a little dizzy. "It's plenty good for me. I catch you, don't I?"

"Sooner or later—"

"Stop it," Mikey says.

"Sooner or later you'll just be running yourself into the ground. It's already started. You have a three hour flight to get to a show that starts in, oh, seven hours or so."

"Adrenaline high. I just saw my boyfriend."

"Mm, and it was rousing."

"You break up with me now and my performance is going to suck."

"In that case, I suppose I could wait until tomorrow, but I hate to do it over the phone."

The words impact straight into Mikey's stomach. "Pete."

"I'm sorry, Mikey."

"No. No no no no. You—" Mikey shakes his head. "You just need more sleep. Then you'll see we're fine."

Pete looks at him like he's crazy. "Maybe you need more sleep."

Maybe, but Mikey's not crazy, he's not. He's right about this. "Pete, you just needed to see me is all—"

"I always need to see you, Mikey. Always. And it fucking burns, all right? And it's just going to until it's over, and I'd rather be the one to end it for me than see you walk away for you, or worse, see me fucking burn you right along with me."

"You won't."

"I will."

"You won't."

"I've lived with me for a hell of a lot longer than you've known me."

"It's skewed your perceptions."

"Possibly, but perception is everything, don't you know?"

Mikey does, is the worst part. Pete says, "You have to go."

"Pete—"

"Literally, you're going to miss your flight."

Mikey runs a hand over his face. He leans in to kiss Pete. Pete turns his face. Mikey says, "Okay. Okay. I'll call you when I get in."

Pete says, "Goodbye."

*


On the third day Patrick picks up Pete's phone and says, "Mikey, you've got to stop."

Which is how Mikey knows it's really over. He laughs a little, but it's more the broken pieces inside of him moving, jangling on up through his throat. He says, "Tell him—" There's nothing to say.

Patrick says, "Hey, breathe."

Mikey hangs up. Gerard finds him ten minutes later. He wraps himself around Mikey and says, "Patrick called. Why didn't you say?"

"It wasn't predictable?" Mikey asks. He thinks, now that he looks back, it sort of was. An outsider's perspective might have told him that.

"Mikey," Gerard murmurs, and he's warm and safe around Mikey. It's different, this Gerard. Not bad, Gerard has never been bad even when he was horrible, but still, this is different, and right now Mikey would do anything for the familiar. He clings all the same. He clings and Gerard sniffles against his shoulder, crying for him, and okay, that's something Mikey knows. He holds on tighter.

He says, "Love you, Gee." Gerard kisses his shoulder.

Ray stands behind him before they go on stage that evening, his arm slung loose over Mikey's hips. He's solid and yet careful with Mikey, and that's familiar, too. Mikey says, "I'm fine."

Ray says, "Okay, Mikey."

Bob pulls Mikey into his bunk after the show. Bob doesn't like to share his bunk, not with anybody who's not Spencer, not really, so Mikey says, "You don't have to—"

Bob says, "Hush, Mikey Way." Mikey cries in his sleep, or maybe it starts in his sleep and carries into wakefulness, but he cries and Bob just lets him hide in his chest, doesn't say a word.

Frank rents a car and takes Mikey off the bus and they drive from one anonymous city to the next, guilty pleasure tracks blasting from the stereo. Mikey's guilty pleasures, not Frank's. They share quite a few, but Mikey recognizes the trend. Mikey says, under the music, "It's just that at some point, I think I expected the fact that a person loved me to actually be enough."

Frank isn't supposed to hear.

He says, "It will be, baby."

Mikey pretends he hasn't heard.

*


The problem with dating someone famous, Mikey has figured out, is that when a person is dumped, there's no way to just ignore the person who dumped him. Mikey can't walk past a newsstand, can't listen to the radio, can't turn on a damn TV if he wants to be really cautious about things. In the cities, he has to be really careful about which walls and billboards he checks out.

His Sidekick is problematic, too. He changes his homepage to ESPN. Mikey doesn't really like sports, but it seems like a safe bet. Everyone on that channel is pretty sure Pete is a fag. Mikey has never imagined homophobia as being useful.

He learns a lot about football by accident, which—bizarrely—endears him to Spencer. Spencer seems to call him a lot, every few days worth of a lot, just to talk football or something stupid like that. It takes Mikey almost a month to realize Spencer's worried. It takes him even longer to figure out that probably means Bob is worried, too.

Mikey's reality is a bit un-lyrical—that's how he thinks of it in his head—these days. Mikey asks Spencer, "Do you even like football?"

"When I'm with my dad," Spencer says. "It seemed to help."

Mikey hasn't been paying attention. When he does, he realizes Spencer's a little bit right. It's just so removed from anything, everything. Also, most quarterbacks come equipped with really nice asses.

He finds Bob and asks, "Did you sic your boyfriend on me, or was that just—"

"He's not good at sitting back and pretending the hurt doesn't exist." Bob closes his mouth tight and Mikey thinks there are things, so many things, Bob isn't saying. He wonders if they're Bob's things or Spencer's things. Either way, he doesn't ask. He tucks himself up next to Bob and says, "This could have been worse."

"That's sort of generally true of life, Mikey Way."

"This could have been Frank and Gerard."

Bob just sighs.

"And they lived through that."

Bob is noticeably silent.

"Bob."

"Sometimes giving a crap about you people really blows," Bob says, somewhat contemplatively.

"Spencer pissed you introduced him to us?"

Bob says, "It's all right, he probably does angry sex really well."

"You think?"

"He does every other kind really well."

Pete hadn't, not always, but Mikey misses those parts all the same.

*


The first time Frank consciously calls Mikey "baby," he shouldn't. At the time, it isn't meant as anything other than a verbal marker of care, of friendship that is too much for the term friendship, even with all that term can imply.

Still, he shouldn't. Mikey is too fucking thin from a three day love affair with several bottles of Ketel One, and Frank is too fucking tired from the dregs of his secret, personal, lingering depression over Gerard, and neither of them are in a place where they should be calling each other by anything besides their names. Maybe not even those.

But Frank rolls over the morning the Mikey decides to let the hangover hit and for the first time since he and Gerard had goodbye sex—slow and hesitant and nothing like all the times when they had real sex—sees something outside of himself. Mikey stumbles to the bathroom. Gerard is watching from the couch, his eyes skittering to and from the closed door. Frank asks, "What happened?"

Gerard looks away. "He won't talk to me." Then, softly, and with real intent, "I hate our fans."

Gerard doesn't, and he'll be fine by the time they have to play that evening, but it tells Frank what's going on. Mikey really has to stop thinking that these assholes who sleep with him as a form of proxy are going to suddenly be convinced that it's Mikey they wanted in the first place.

It also tells him he's probably not the best person to do this, and it's not that Ray or Bob wouldn't clean Mikey up if he asked, but he doesn't want to ask. He saves up his favors. Also, he wants to be the one to clean Mikey up. He's selfish like that with Mikey. He hasn't yet been able to understand why, when he never had problems handing Gerard over to Ray—or Mikey, of course, but that was Gerard and Mikey. If Mikey had let Gerard in the bathroom, that would have been that.

Maybe it's because Gerard never minded being handed over, and always waited for him to come back, later. Frank closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and doesn't think about Gerard. He opens the door to the bathroom, and stops breathing. He turns on the fan. It won't do much, but Frank's a big believer in little steps. Mikey's curled on the floor in a ball. Frank flushes the toilet, and props him up against the wall. Mikey says, "Um. Maybe not done."

And that's when Frank says, "It's okay, baby."

Mikey says, "No. Fuck you, okay?"

"Yeah. Yeah," Frank says, because he deserved that. "Here, wait."

Frank goes and sets some coffee to percolating, grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge. Gerard's eyes follow his every move, but Frank ignores him. It's mean, Gerard's just worried, but Frank needs a little time to be mean, even if their break up wasn't really Gerard's fault. It wasn't really Frank's either, and it sucks not having someone to blame. It sucks still wanting to talk to Gerard at the end of the day and knowing that maybe when the last of the hurt runs itself out, maybe they can, but for now they'll just end up doing things that won't go anywhere and then Frank will be stuck crying all over again. And he really will have nobody but himself to blame that time.

He comes back with the water. Mikey's where he left him, so at least he hasn't puked anymore. Frank says, "Let me help you stand up, get you to the sink."

Mikey glares and says, "I can't be him for you anymore than I can be him for some random asshole."

"What was the asshole's name?" Frank asks, because to have caused this, it might have been casual, but it wasn't random.

Mikey just glares up at him.

Frank says, "No Mikey, you really fucking can't be him for me."

Mikey blinks at that and slowly, slowly, reaches out a hand. Frank takes it and very carefully gets him to his feet.

*


The second time Frank calls Mikey "baby" they are both strung out on adrenaline, in the middle of a show, Mikey's guitar is cradling up to his and it might as well be Mikey's hip, Mikey's cock, maybe it's more important and Frank sidles his own instrument into the touch and Frank doesn't have to think, "we can do this, sure, they won't, this is fine," because it isn't like that.

Except maybe it is, because he says, "Yeah, baby, yeah," and Mikey doesn't tell him to fuck off. He doesn't even say it later, when their sweat has dried and they've downed two bottles of Gatorade each and they're waiting for their respective turns at the shower. Mikey says, "You had a good show."

In Frank's head it always comes together, even though at the time he can pick every minute detail apart. Sometimes Frank thinks of playing in a show as being in a comic, one of the old-time ones that he's not supposed to like because they're sort of hokey and lacking in subtlety, but he collected them as a kid, the ones with honest-to-goodness super-powers, he collected them and had dreams about flying or being invisible. As it turns out, his super power is a sort of attention to detail, a way to break down everything from the weave of Gerard's shirt to the quivering motions of the guitar strings once plucked. Afterward, though, afterward it's just one big sensation, so he says, "We all did."

"Yeah," Mikey agrees easily enough.

Gerard emerges from the bunks in boxer shorts and grins at both of them, even as his eyes land on Frank, a bit curious. He whaps Mikey on the head with his used towel. Mikey catches the end of the towel, yanks, and whaps back on Gerard's bare chest. Gerard pouts. "Ow."

"You started it," Mikey says.

"That was clearly an unprovoked attack," Gerard says, looking at Frank expectantly.

Frank rolls his eyes and stays silent. Mikey blinks at him. "I think that's your line."

Frank looks at Mikey. "You want me to back him up?"

"Um." Mikey tilts his head. "Why are you asking me?"

Frank looks at Gerard, then, who looks worried. Frank says, "You know what? You take next shower. I'm gonna go grab myself another Gatorade," and walks away from questions he can't answer.

*


At around two months, Ray programs Mikey's homepage to CNN, which can be problematic, but isn't all the time. He leaves him an email saying, "You're tougher than this, Mikey Way."

Probably, but Mikey just doesn't see any reason to be tough. Until now, nobody seems to have expected it or needed it from him. It's nice to know Ray realizes. It makes Mikey want to pull it together, not disappoint him.

Once he tries, Mikey remembers how easy, how completely simple it is to push aside the parts that hurt the worst. To forget the part where he started thinking about forever and just go along with the transience of this world, of his place in it. Frank watches him out of the corner of his eye, Mikey can feel the weight of his stare, but Mikey is good at this part, at coming together, even if sections of himself get left behind, have to be glossed over, hidden in places nobody but himself will find. Ray shares a thing of red licorice with him while they're warming up one day. He asks, "Where'd you go?"

Mikey scrunches up his face. "What are you talking about?"

"Gerard's looking everywhere for you. It's freaking him out that he can't find you."

"Ray."

"I didn't mean you had to stop grieving, Mikey. I meant that you had to stop hiding from the things that were causing the grief."

Mikey strums through a chord, but it's off. "Maybe I was just tired of grieving."

"We generally are well before we're ready to stop," Ray says. "You and Gerard taught me that. But you stayed with it until it left you, or at least, enough of it left."

Mikey doesn't think all of his grandmother's loss will ever fall from him. He doesn't want it to. "That was different."

"Yeah." Then, "And the same."

Mikey finds his chord. "I'm set."

Ray says, "Mhm."

*


Gerard knows there are times when Mikey thinks he's not listening to him, but Gerard listens. He listens to Mikey's answers in interviews and the rhythm of Mikey's breathing when Gerard passes by his bunk. He listens to what Mikey orders when they go out to eat and the pacing of his typing when he's sending out emails at rare quiet moments during the day. Mostly he listens when Mikey is playing, which is how he knows, really knows, when things start to go wrong.

Mikey's playing is never, ever perfect, there are chords that don't fall right, bars that run too fast, too slow. Gerard loves it, could live his life to that soundtrack. Does, at times.

When Mikey's not feeling it, his playing gets textbook. Nothing out of place, not a string unplucked. Gerard, who can talk forever to audiences—seen or unseen—and write until his fingers bleed, isn't wholly sure what to say, so he buys Mikey a dozen packages of the sour gummi worms he really likes, despite the fact that those fuckers have a decidedly marshmallow-type consistency and really, really shouldn't be put in anyone's body.

They make Mikey happy.

Mikey smiles at him, a tired smile, the kind Gerard can tell he's working for. "Hey, thanks." He rips open the first bag and takes one out, chewing on it slowly. He doesn't take another one. He hasn't been ordering much at meals either, lately.

Gerard says, "You, uh, got something on your mind?"

"Why, you stop thinking on a regular basis?" Mikey asks. Smartass.

"You've been a bit...quiet."

"I'm always quiet, Gerard. I'm the quiet one."

"You're not and you know what I meant because you know me, so could you please just, you know, tell me. Because I know, I know I don't deserve it, I know you came to me a million times and said the same thing and I said things I shouldn't have said, I don't know what they were, I can't remember and I think I'm lucky that I don't remember, because I'm not sure I could live with myself if I knew, so I know that if you said no you wouldn't talk to me I would deserve it, but I swear Mikey, I swear I'll beg."

"I said I forgave you," Mikey says quietly, accusatorily.

"I know." Gerard blinks. "I know. But that's different than forgiving myself, isn't it?"

Mikey sighs, but he takes another worm, so regardless of his utter repulsion, Gerard takes heart. Slowly, Mikey says, "It's just. I dunno. The doldrums."

It's a funny word, but so absolutely Mikey and what's more, Gerard knows exactly what he means. Gerard nods. "You want me to talk to management, see if we can rearrange a couple of dates? Give you some down time?"

Mikey's smile is natural this time, not big, or even particularly happy, but it happens without prompting. "Gerard."

"I'm serious. I can afford to piss off fans. I can't afford to lose you, even to your own head."

"Stop being a drama queen."

Gerard smiles his goofy smile, the one he knows makes Mikey forgive him most things. "Can't help it."

Mikey rolls his eyes. "I'm okay. Not more, not less. But okay."

Gerard listens to Mikey talk, too, so he knows when Mikey is lying. But he also knows when to let things with Mikey lie, when to wait for him to come around. He nods. "Okay."

Mikey knows he's been let off the hook, Gerard can see it.

Gerard says, "Okay," again and starts to stand, but Mikey reaches a hand out, presses it to Gerard's knee. That's all Gerard needs to grab Mikey's shoulders, pull him into his arms and hold him there, hold him so hard that no matter how much he struggles, he's not escaping. Gerard is still his older brother, dammit.

Mikey doesn't struggle.

*


The third time Frank says it the word comes out "babe," not "baby." They're playing a game of Risk—Mikey likes games that involve boards and pieces and strategy, rather than screens and remotes—and Mikey says, "I'm gonna grab some lemonade, you want anything?"

Frank stands—Mikey's kicking his ass anyway—and says, "I'll get it, babe," and then scurries to the kitchen trying to look normal before he has to catch Mikey's eye or think about why he might have just said that. He's pouring the lemonade when he hears someone come up behind him. He says, "No seriously, I meant I'd—"

"What are you doing?" Gerard asks.

Frank stills. "At the moment, pouring lemonade." This is a lie. The lemonade is already in the glasses.

"Because whatever else," Gerard's voice is soft, nearly silent, and so sharp Frank hardly recognizes it, "whatever else, you loved me and I loved you and you weren't the type of person who could do something like this."

Frank turns at that, trying to know the man in front of him who he knows so well. "Fuck you and your past tense."

"Frank—"

"What do you think I would do to him, Gerard? What do you think? Do you think I would use him to fulfill whatever void you left? No, no, even better, for revenge? Maybe you loved me, but I get the moral high ground of fucking loving you, so you can just—"

"Frank—"

"He isn't you. He isn't you and no, maybe I don't know what I'm doing and maybe because he isn't you I can't just fuck up until he catches me, in fact, I can't, I already know that, but this isn't…Whatever you think this is, it isn't that."

Gerard's eyes are wide and startled and a bit wet. Frank doesn't rail very often, and for about eight months now almost never at Gerard. He would apologize, except he thinks he's owed one. Gerard says, "I fuck him up enough just by existing. Occasionally I like to do something right by him."

Frank sighs. "You do all right by him. And even if you didn't, he would still love you."

Gerard's shoulders rise a notch. "But I wouldn't deserve it."

Frank can hear the part about Gerard not really thinking he deserves it now. "You would," he says.

"Frank," Gerard says.

"Gerard." Frank takes the step necessary to rest his forehead against Gerard's. "You wou— You do. You do."

*


Frank makes his move before he's wholly ready because Mikey has made a habit of going off with men who have mean, intent looks in their eyes, or who seem like maybe they need something, just something, or who don't even notice Mikey at all, so much as gaze past him to Gerard. Pretty much, Mikey gives anything that might not make him feel better a chance. Which is why Frank figures it's a lost cause, but at least Mikey thinks Frank's still jonesing for Gerard, so there's that.

Later, when Mikey has locked himself away and Frank has too much time to ask himself questions better left unasked, then he will wonder if that's why Mikey gives him a chance, and if—no matter how much Frank thinks, 'oh, right' everytime his hand finds the small of Mikey's back, everytime his cock pulls against Mikey's fast and long and hard—they are just kidding themselves.

But when Mikey's going through boys too pretty for their own good and men too fractured for anyone's good, Frank doesn't have the luxury of wondering if he's any better or not. He waits till Mikey is drunk, which goes against everything he's ever told himself about who he is, but Mikey never allows himself to look at Frank until he's completely plastered, so there doesn't seem to be much of a choice. Frank says, "Come home with me."

Mikey says, "Gerard will kill you first if we fuck up the band."

Frank knows. "Yeah." He thinks Gerard will let him live if he can stop this particular downward spiral, but Gerard is unpredictable, and Frank's not making any definite statements.

Frank grabs a bottle of water when they get in. He takes a sip, then presses a hand to Mikey's stomach, pushes him to the couch and feeds the water into his mouth. It's still cold, he hasn't held it that long and Mikey gasps but he takes it without sputtering. Frank repeats the action. Then he gives Mikey the bottle and says, "Drink."

For a second, Mikey looks like he might argue. Then he takes the bottle and finishes it off. Then he says, "Now will you fuck me?"

Frank slips to his knees, in between Mikey's legs, and undoes his jeans. He's got his mouth on Mikey's cock, his finger in Mikey's ass before Mikey can do so much as breathe and Mikey says, "Frank, fuck. Frank, that is not—"

Frank says, "Shut up," around Mikey's cock and despite the fact that there is NO way for Mikey to know what he says, Mikey does. Mikey comes and Frank swallows without so much as thinking about it and when he pulls back slightly, Mikey says, "I'm gonna—"

Frank sits on the couch, pulls Mikey onto his lap, arches into him and says, "Relax."

Mikey's asleep before Frank has come.

*


Frank is sipping coffee and reading Mikey's latest Hellboy when Mikey drags himself out of bed, asks, "Any of that left?"

Frank made a fresh pot after the first was done, knowing Mikey was going to want—need—some once woken. He nods. Mikey pads on past him, and Frank can hear him getting a mug, pouring from the pot. Mikey comes back and sits across from Frank, which, to be honest, surprises Frank. He would have bet good money on avoidance. He wouldn't mind it, altogether, just now. Mikey says, "That's a good one, don't you think?"

Frank, to be honest, hasn't really had the capability of paying attention. "The new guy they've got on outline duty is good."

"I meant the story," Mikey says.

"I know," Frank tells him.

Mikey takes a sip of his coffee and rubs at his temples. Frank gets up, grabs some of the store-brand paracetemol that Gerard likes and brings Mikey a couple of tablets. Mikey takes them, says, "Thanks."

Frank says, "I'm gonna—"

"You put me to bed."

"Yeah, you were sleeping."

"I just meant, you didn't, I mean—"

"I didn't know if you'd wanna wake up in a bed you weren't used to. And I figured you'd have a hangover, and then if you needed to get to the bathroom and you got disoriented— Anyway, I just thought you'd be better with yours."

"Not a second thought thing, then?"

"I wasn't drunk, Mikey."

"I thought maybe it was a pity fuck. Because if it was, I'm not gonna let it make things all weird. With the band."

Frank's frustration blurs with anger and for a second everything is tinted bright, sick orange from the merging of the two. "I've had your brother, Mikey Way, I don't need you, too." Which is wrong, grammatically, since Frank suspects Mikey is the one he needed all along, but contextually he thinks it fits.

"Well, that's why—" Something in Frank's face stops Mikey. Maybe it's the way Frank really wants to cry. He doesn't think there are visible indicators, but maybe there are. "Not a pity fuck?"

"Would it be easier for you," Frank snarls, "if it were?"

"Less complicated," which is both a lie, Frank realizes, and not the same thing as 'easier.'

"Have it your way," Frank spreads his hands and starts to walk away, only Mikey catches the hand left lagging.

"I don't... I'm not much into easy."

"Fucking understatement of the century."

Mikey swallows. "Don't be mad."

Frank says, "That's not fair, Mikey, it's not fair for you to ask that."

Mikey says, "I know," and doesn't retract the request.

*


The fourth time Frank calls Mikey "baby" happens during the second time they have sex.

They are not, precisely, together. They are not, precisely, not together.

What they are is alone in the studio. Mikey is looking at himself in the window separating them from the soundboards and Frank can see him thinking, "Where are my glasses?" even though Mikey made the decision, made it himself, and Frank thinks he thought it would make him feel like he was hiding less. But Mikey likes to hide.

Frank couldn't say it at the time, when the decision was being made, but maybe he should have. Maybe that was the friend thing to do. It's not so much that Mikey forgets that he wants them back, as that he doubts his own wisdom and Frank really wishes he wouldn't, because even with everything he's got going on, crowding out his own smarts, Mikey's a pretty bright guy.

Frank sidles up behind him and says, "I like seeing your eyes."

It takes Mikey a second too long to say, "What?" so Frank doesn't repeat himself.

Mikey pushes back a little and says, "We've gotta—"

Frank sinks his teeth lightly into the back of Mikey's neck, his eyes never leaving the window, so he sees the flash of surprise from Mikey, the way his breath becomes forceful enough to hit the glass.

"Frank," he says, but it isn't exactly a warning.

"I never did this with him," Frank says, smiling into the glass so that Mikey will see.

Mikey asks, "Why not?"

"He never would have let me."

"He does fans in bathrooms."

"Maybe I was different. I don't know. This wasn't our thing."

"Why would it be ours?"

"I think he knew that if we got caught, he'd be the one talking and he didn't want to. Not about that."

"But if we—"

"I'd tell people it wasn't any of their business. I'd tell people they should look at you and tell me it made any sense to stay away. What would you tell them?"

"You took a risk for me."

Frank can't stop himself then, could only stop himself if Mikey were to say, "No," or "Don't," or "Stop." He doesn't, and Frank's hands are undoing his buttons, in his pants, wanking him so hard that it probably hurts a bit, but there isn't pain on Mikey's face. Frank is rubbing against him, the press of his jeans to his cock raw, rougher than he generally prefers, but Mikey's mouth is slightly open, his eyes drooping and there's nothing, nothing but, "Mikey, baby, Mikey."

"Keep talking," Mikey says, and it's a request but a forceful one.

"So fucking hot, baby, so fucking everything," and he says more, but Mikey's coming all over his hand, inside his jeans and they're going to be messy when the others come back, but Frank really couldn't care less, not if he tried. He presses himself further into Mikey, knows the low-sitting makeup counter has to be digging into Mikey's thighs—maybe he'll apologize later—and comes with just the barest rocking upward.

Mikey supports them both, his hands flat against the window, and some poor intern is going to be wiping that thing down, wondering what the hell they were getting up to in here to leave such obvious marks. Frank licks lightly, once, at Mikey's neck, and lets go of his cock, placing it back inside, returning him to his normal state of less-than-whole dishevel.

Mikey says, "This is a bad idea."

Frank says, "That all of mine were so bad."

*


Mikey would miss the photos if he could, but he's too plugged in, too connected. He looks at the cock with which he is intimately familiar and for the first time, looking feels like betrayal. He calls Patrick. "I know he doesn't want to talk to me—"

Mikey hears the rustling of a phone being pressed to someone else's ear before he's even finished talking. Pete asks, "Hello?" He sounds like someone took sandpaper to his vocal chords.

"Hey," Mikey says softly. "Don't hang up, okay?"

Pete says, "Call because you were missing some of that?"

Mikey closes his eyes. Pete's the hardest fighter he's ever met in a lifetime of living around fighters. Mikey understands the impulse. "Stop."

"If I stop, I won't—"

"No, Pete, sometimes you can stop for a little bit. Stall, maybe. Rest. That's what you've gotta do here, is rest."

"It was just stupidity, Mikey. Nothing that merits a nice call."

"You're not stupid."

"I was then."

"Maybe you were angry or desperate or scared. I don't know. I don't— We haven't spoken. But you weren't stupid. That's the part I know."

"That's what they're all saying. Pointing and looking and saying and it's not theirs, you know that? It's not theirs, but they think it is and somehow I'm the stupid one."

"Topsy-turvy world," Mikey agrees.

"Evidently. Because I did my worst with you, and here you are."

"Not your worst," Mikey says.

"No, probably not. Still."

And yes, still. So very much still. "Still. You're my friend." It's the first time he's said that word in connection with Pete since they broke up. The letters stick at odd angles inside of him, but truth is often harsh and unwieldy in that way.

"Mikey," Pete whispers.

Mikey recognizes a plea when he hears it. "Yes," he tells Pete. "Yes."

*


It's been a while since Mikey's gotten a call from Pete in the middle of the night—a long while, since Pete stopped doing that well before he ever left—but it's surprisingly easy to slide back into answering, "Hey, what's wrong?"

Pete says, "I'm sorry."

"I'll fall back asleep, what's up?"

"No, I meant. I'm sorry."

Oh. "Me too."

"Don't, Mikey Way."

Mikey makes himself swallow. It's something of a feat. "Why not? You get to."

"I walked away."

Yeah, but it takes two, Mikey knows. "I didn't have what you needed."

"Closest I've ever come to it."

"Not much of a consolation prize," Mikey tells him. Amazingly, though, it is something. He can feel the way it settles, just a little warm, in his chest. He doesn't recognize the sensation at first—it's been a while since he's felt something, anything, positive. He's not sure he appreciates it, he was doing pretty well with his painfully established numbness. But then, that's Pete. Mikeys's not giving him up this time.

Pete says, "All I have, Mikey Way."

"It's enough."

Pete is silent for a long time. Even without hearing it, Mikey knows he's crying. Pete always cries without sound. Finally Pete says, "I'm trying to avoid the 'net."

"Nah," Mikey says, "ESPN."

"Really?"

"Yeah. We're in basketball season now, so Spencer's not gonna be much help, and if we ask Frank, we're going to need to be willing to dedication some serious hours to the venture, but I bet between the two of us we could figure it out."

"What does Spencer have to do with anything?"

"He's a football prodigy."

"We are both referring to Spencer Smith, right?"

"The inimitable." Mikey smiles.

"Evidently, when we don't talk, I miss all the important shit."

"I'm the go-to guy."

"Yeah," Pete says. "You are."

*


Gerard won't leave his side, which should be annoying but Mikey has always found Gerard's most strident efforts to be a big brother comforting. Particularly when they're not all that necessary.

Mikey goes to Pete, because Pete may call him, but he's not going to come to Mikey, not so soon. Gerard follows. Mikey lets him. He needs to know that things are really all right.

Pete gives him a nervous grin, so Mikey hugs him. It takes some nerve, and a deep breath on Mikey's part, but then Pete melts into it, the way he does when he knows something won't hurt him and Mikey couldn't if he tried. When they pull apart, Pete glances over at Gerard and wilts a bit. Mikey looks, and sure enough Gerard is tense, worried. He holds out for all of three seconds against slightly-diminished Pete at which point he mutters, "Fuck," and pulls Pete into a hug of his very own. He whispers, "Could you please, please not be an asshole to him again? Because that really sucked," and then wanders off into the crowd, leaving them on their own.

"Ignore him," Mikey says. "He has a severely debilitating case of older brother syndrome."

Pete laughs a little, but it's relieved laughter, and Mikey knows he doesn't yet trust the forgiveness he's been granted. That's all right. They have time. Mikey actually believes the words when he thinks them in this context.

Pete tells him, "It's cliche, but I've decided the Bulls are going to be my team."

Mikey nods. "You should root for your hometown. Besides, I think they're good. Or maybe they were. I know I hear their name a lot."

"What about you? You don't have a hometown team."

"Sure, rub it in."

"Gonna adopt New York?"

"That would be cliche."

"You haven't decided?"

"The Magics."

"See, I should have seen that one coming."

"Little bit, yeah." Mikey smirks.

"So now predictable is better than cliche?"

Mikey is pretty sure they each have their moments. "Predictable is part of friendship."

"That part I know. The predictable and the part of friendship thing. I knew that."

"You're smart."

Pete shakes his head. "Not with this stuff."

"You knew we didn't work. I would have kept—"

"I know."

"See? Smart."

"I'm not sure rational processes such as intelligence have ever had anything to do with my relationship with you, Mikey Way."

Mikey will give Pete that. "Still."

"Insistent much?" Pete asks with a grin.

"That's part of friendship, too. The believing thing."

"I'm good at that part."

One of Mikey's favorite things about Pete is the way he sees the absolute best of the people he chooses to see at all. "Great, even."

"I was trying to come over to you," Pete tells him.

Mikey would think he is changing the subject, but he understands the way subjects just don't confine Pete's thought processes. Mikey's often the same exact way. It makes talking between them at once much simpler and infinitely harder. "You didn't have to."

"No, but I wanted to. Gerard was looking a little scary."

Mikey never thinks Gerard looks scary, even when he clearly does. "Sorry about that. Like I said—"

"Older brother. I know. I'm just trying to say that I'm glad. That you came to me."

"You would have walked away by now, if you weren't."

"This is going to be nice, the you-knowing-me thing."

"Yeah," Mikey says, "it is."

*


The nice thing about being a rock star is that just about anybody will sleep with Mikey. And since he doesn't give a crap who it is they're seeing when they push him to the wall, push in, push deep, would almost prefer they were seeing Gerard—Mikey Way, Mikey Way—it's really, really easy to get laid and laid well by the type he likes most.

Sex is nice without complications, as easy as swallowing a pill, a shot of bourbon. He doesn't question the way it never feels quite right doing exactly as he wishes, the way he never wants to stay with them afterward, the way sex is just nice, and nothing else. Questions are bound to cause trouble, nothing more.

He doesn't even question when the sex stops being so nice, when his pleasure becomes vague and all but unreachable. That's fine, so long as it comes, so long as things seem to be working. Appearances are everything. He has seen Gerard perform. He has learned.

Frank watches him with those fucking eyes, watches and sometimes tries to find Mikey's pleasure and Mikey wants to tell him, "This can't be yours, too, it can't," but it already is, and Mikey has to lie to too many people right now to expend the energy on Frank. Maybe in a month or so, when it comes back to him. It always comes back. It always has.

For now he has to ignore the way Frank says his name—not like the fans, not like Pete, like Frank and that's always been Mikey's problem, is that Frank is too fucking much like Frank. There's nothing to be done for it.

Mikey has the grace to accept the things he cannot change, if not the courage. Courage is overrated, unless you're Gerard. Perseverance will almost always win out in the end. Almost.

*


Mikey doesn't stop sleeping with the boys who will never have what he wants and the men who don't care what he needs, but he comes to Frank when he's drunk, which has begun to be an event of startling regularity. Frank does what he can to control the situation, to still be able to wake up in the morning and look at himself but the day he actually can't meet Gerard's eye is the day he says, "Jesus, I think I fucked up."

He waits, he waits for Gerard—who has never lifted a hand to him, never, not even the time he was high as a fucking Boeing 747 and Frank, desperate, told him he was a fucking weak cunt—to hit him. Gerard says, softly, "I need you to look at me."

Which is maybe worse. Frank could have taken physical pain.

But Mikey is Gerard's younger brother and Gerard deserves his pound of flesh at least as much as Shylock did, so Frank makes himself settle his gaze on Gerard's. What he finds there very nearly breaks him in a way that nothing, nothing Gerard has ever done to him before—not even blowing Matt, fucking Matt, right where he knew Frank would see—could have.

Gerard isn't mad.

Frank babbles, he can't help it. In the face of Gerard's compassion he will say anything, anything that might make his transgressions less heinous. "I just wanted to keep him away from— You know how he is, you know how he goes away from the things that could help, and I thought at least with me it wasn't going to hurt him, I thought, because either he wanted it and it would be all right or he didn't and that would, um, well, but he would be safe, only now he, I don't know—"

Gerard shuts him up by pulling him into a hug so tight Frank can barely breathe. Gerard has the very best hugs, bar none. Bob's are pretty good, and Mikey's have definite beauty and charm to them, but Gerard's are utterly classic, unrefined and fierce. Frank holds on for dear life.

Gerard says, "I think I get the picture. Kind of."

"I should have talked to you first."

"Because of us?"

"Because you protect him better than anyone else." The knowledge is painful but true, and Frank has never been big on self-deception.

"You don't do such a bad job."

"You don't know—"

"I know his prescriptions need to be filled more often than they should be and that those bottles come with warnings about not mixing with liquor. I know, Frank. I just haven't figured out what to do about it, exactly." It's the first truly soothing thing Gerard has said in the whole conversation. If Gerard's stuck for answers as well, maybe there's some hope. So long as the answers are found.

Frank has come to have a hard time believing that Gerard ever fails to find the answers. It's just a matter of time. Frank's not sure how much Mikey has of that. His voice shakes as he says, "You don't know that I've been getting him off when he asks. When he's drunk."

Gerard stiffens but doesn't loosen his hold. Finally he says, "That was your plan to save him?"

"When you ask it like that, given hindsight, it seems like a pretty stupid plan. But at the time all I thought was that I had to be better for him than the raver he was trying to pick up that night."

"Frank," Gerard sighs.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so—"

"Sh."

Frank's glad Gerard stops him, because he's not sure he can stop himself. "I don't know what to do anymore."

"It's not just you, though, now."

"It wasn't really ever," Frank says, because even if he and Gerard hadn't spoken about this, he doesn't think Gerard just wasn't paying attention.

"Well," Gerard runs a hand over Frank's back, "now you know it."

Frank says, "Gee," and doesn't say, "I love you," because he's not allowed to say that anymore—yet—despite it meaning something else, something new.

"Frankie," Gerard whispers, and his statement sounds truncated, too.

*


The question is so soft Mikey almost doesn't hear it over the soft clicks of his Sidekick's buttons. He wishes he hadn't. He keeps typing. He's not even sure what he's typing anymore, but that's okay, Joe's never judgmental about shit like that. Largely because, in most cases, Joe doesn't realize things have taken a turn for the incoherent.

But Gerard asks again. "I said, do you have any idea what you're doing?"

"If I didn't," Mikey says, not looking up from the screen, "would it be any of your fucking business?"

"Mikey—"

"Mikey," Mikey mimics, "Mikey, Mikey, Mikey. Band's stupid little brother, always saying idiotic things. Ever notice how everybody forgets that Frank's a fucking year younger than me? How I used to get you jobs, because you were too fucked up to fill out an application that mostly asked for your name?"

Gerard is quiet for a moment and Mikey starts to think that maybe he's won, maybe Gerard will go away and they won't have to talk about Frank and how he went from loving Gerard to pitying Mikey. Gerard asks, "Have you been drinking?"

Just a little. Just enough to take the edge from last night's binge off, to get the anti-depressants going. "What the fuck does that have to do with anything?"

It's annoying, because Gerard knows all the tricks. He knows them in general, and he knows Mikey specifically.

"It's ten in the morning."

Mikey holds up his coffee cup with the hand that isn't holding his Sidekick. "You're gonna lecture me?"

"I'm worried."

"Relax. Frank just likes that I would bend over and take it if he asked. Which he hasn't. Too much gentleman in him by half. But I can break him of that, I'm sure."

"Mikey—"

"If you wanted him back, I'm sure you could figure out the position."

"It wasn't just—"

"Whatever. I'm not as stupid as everyone thinks. If you could remember that from time to time, that would be awesome. But if not, that's fine, too."

"I don't think you're stupid."

Mikey's pretty done having this conversation, though. Joe has actually started to notice something is up. Gerard's normal course of action, Mikey knows, would be to retreat, gather his forces, attack at first morning's light. Gerard stays where he is.

Mikey would never admit it, but everything aside, he's glad to have him there. It frustrates the shit out of him.

*


It is not that Frank doesn't see Mikey. Mikey gets that. Frank sees him. In all the important ways, Frank sees him. It's just that in the one way Mikey has always wanted Frank to see him, his gaze has always slipped, always wandered to the blinding phenomenon that is Gerard. When it comes to settle on Mikey, after all his waiting—well, not waiting, one can't wait for something that's not going to happen—he doesn't know how to understand it, can't believe it. Can't believe in it.

Mikey hates himself for not being able to say no. It's such an infinitely simple little word, made so for a reason, but every time he puts his tongue to the roof of his mouth, not a sound arises. It makes him hate Frank a little, this power he has over Mikey, this right to take from him by giving. Mikey has so little left. Gerard is fine, Gerard is better than fine, he's better than Mikey has ever known him to be. He doesn't need Mikey to get him out of the house, or to get him a job, or to put him to bed after a bender, or keep him upright while he frees himself of the drugs.

He doesn't need Mikey, not really. The only person who needs Mikey at the moment is Mikey, and that's the one person Mikey's forgotten how to be there for. And Frank comes in with his smile and his strong hands and thinks that pretending, that almost giving Mikey what he wants will be enough. It's so far from enough Mikey can't even see the landscape of enough from where he's standing. But he's the one not saying no. And Frank, for all the things he is, isn't a mind reader.

Frank's touches take away the prurient, mindless pleasure of other men's touches. Mikey thinks about calling Pete, about testing the theory, but Pete might be the one person on the planet who validly needs Mikey, or at least needs Mikey not to fuck him up any more than he already is, so Mikey stays far the hell away from his Sidekick.

He tries to get Frank to stop without saying no, begs with everything but words, but evidently Frank has traded not seeing Mikey for not hearing him, and all of Mikey's silences fall on deaf ears. Frank touches him in all the places Mikey has kept for himself for so, so long and when Mikey thinks, look away, damn you, he keeps his eyes precisely where they are.

*


Frank knows that whatever brings the absolute end—the rain of glass and blood and anger—that part's just an unconscious act on his part, a moment where, to be honest, he's not even thinking about Gerard as Gerard, just thinking that whatever he said—and he'll never remember it afterward, not even when he puts his normally quite reliable memory up to it—was funny. But he also knows that catalysts are so very rarely the real reason behind any fracturing, and this time is no different.

Which doesn't make the end result any less his fault. Oh, it's not his to hold that Mikey is depressed or reckless with that depression. It's not his to hold that booze and pills make all the lines of the story blurred and liable to morph into wholly different words. But it is his that two nights earlier Frank says, "Just once, just once before I stop, kiss me while you actually know who I am."'

Mikey laughs and Frank realizes that it is meant to be his casual laugh, the one that throws off the previous person's comments as insignificant, but it is bitter, jagged. "I always know who you are, babe."

Like being pierced with a spectacularly sharp object, there is a moment of blessed numbness before Frank feels the pain hit.

"You want me to see you?" Mikey asks and now Frank isn't sure because even without the liquor, this isn't Mikey.

"I just—"

"What, Frankie?"

"Don't—"

"Don't call you that? Is that Gee's name for you? That what you think in your mind when you have my cock down your throat?"

"No," Frank says, because maybe he's confused now, but he's not that confused. There's not enough confusion in the world for him to be that confused.

"Then what? What, Frankie? What were you going to say?"

"I should get back—"

"You kept me here. I could have been out having a good time. You want to pretend like maybe you owe me an explanation?"

Frank wishes he could say he doesn't owe Mikey anything. He doesn't have anything else to say for himself. "I suppose I just wanted to know who I was to you."

Mikey takes a step toward him, tilts his head. The gesture is calm, very nearly like Mikey, but not just quite. All the same, Frank is caught by the tenderness of his fingers as he reaches out to caress Frank's cheek, the softness of his lips as he kisses him. It has never been like this, not once, and that alone should warn Frank, but he doesn't see the shove coming, anymore than he sees the wall before it hits his head, dazing him.

"Mikey," he says, because it's the only word he can form with some semblance of coherence.

He gets his wish—if it is a wish—because Mikey's on him then—and oh, he's pretty sure it wasn't a wish—twisting him, grinding him into the wall, Mikey's cock hard and angry through his jeans. Mikey crushes into him, rubs off on him and it should be the hottest thing Frank's ever done, Mikey rocking into him, taking him, but that is all Mikey is doing, is taking, crushing Frank, hurting him, as he's pressed too hard to the wall, bruises forming where his wrists are trapped, still dazed from actual impact. He would try and fight, but he's too dizzy and he doesn't want to hurt Mikey, not if he can avoid it, not if this is as far as things go.

Mikey says, "At least the others don't fucking know I'm not him," and, "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, hatehatehate," until maybe Frank is only hearing it in his head, but it sounds real, it sounds so real and Mikey grinds into him even further and Frank bites his lip to distract himself from the way the bones in his fingers are shifting in resistance to the utter lack of give from the wall.

When he's done, Mikey grabs Frank by the collar and tosses him to the side. Frank stumbles, falls to his knees, closes his eyes so that the room will stop spinning.

"Gonna go run to Gerard?" Mikey asks.

Frank just keeps his eyes closed, as though if he can't see this, it won't be here, it won't have happened, it won't be Mikey and him only not Mikey but definitely him.

"Do whatever the fuck you want," Mikey says. "But keep your hands off of me."

Frank's eyes are still closed when he hears the door close. He's not going to make it to his room before he has to puke, so he uses Mikey's bathroom and when things stay still enough and he's sure he's done, he cleans up a little and then heads back. He lays down, thinks for a second that maybe he has a concussion and shouldn't give into sleep.

He's too tired to care.

*


Mikey wakes up with a guy he doesn't know and a hangover.

The hangover is pretty normal these days, and easily controllable, so long as Mikey can find another bottle of something fermented. The guy not so much. Not that Mikey hasn't been taking his fair share of that sort of thing. More than, really. But he hasn't been staying with them.

He makes his way to the bathroom, opening his eyes as little as possible, and spends the first few moments of his day over the toilet, getting rid of the poison he's been using as fuel. He knows better, he does, but knowing better and changing behavior are two wholly separate islands and at this point, Mikey can't remember how to swim.

When he's done puking and has even managed to get himself somewhat cleaned up in the shower, the night before comes back, the part before the alcohol and even some of it afterward. Mikey pukes all over again, this time on himself, but at least he's in the shower, and that's something. More than he deserves.

He gets himself away from this guy whose name he still doesn't know—maybe they exchanged names, that was after the alcohol. Mikey really fucking hopes not. The house isn't far away, as it turns out, the cab ride being very, very short, but Mikey's all turned around and couldn't have made it back without somebody else handling the directions.

Ray's tuning his guitar and he throws Mikey a frustrated look. "Nice of you to return."

Mikey says, "Sorry," and means it. He says, "I'll be down in a second," and climbs the stairs to his room where he can take a hit of early morning whiskey. He can't do what he has to do without the help, he can't.

Once downstairs, he slams back two of the pills he's technically prescribed—if not at the rate he takes them—and wonders why the fuck he didn't take them the night before, they keep him calm, they keep the things that need keeping kept.

Frank sleeps in and Mikey has to wonder if he did damage that couldn't be seen. Maybe he should tell someone, tell Gerard, Gerard will take care of Frank, Gerard has been taking care of things for a year. But if Frank didn't tell anyone maybe Frank doesn't want anyone to know, and shouldn't Mikey respect that? That seems like coward’s logic.

He's about to take another damn pill and just tell Gerard, or maybe Bob, Bob is good at fixing their messes, when Frank wanders out into the living room area. He's visibly tired and Bob asks, "You gettin' sick, Iero?" sounding concerned.

Frank shakes his head. "Just catching up." It's plausible, they're always catching up. Bob doesn't look convinced, however. Mikey wouldn't be either, even if Mikey didn't know.

It's Ray who notices the wrist, of course it is, because Ray plays the guitar too, and he and Frank have this guitar-player thing between them, and so yes, it makes sense that he's the one, but he says, "Jesus, what did you do?"

"Freak door accident," Frank lies. It rolls right off of him, and Mikey knows right then and there that he's been thinking it up, planning it, maybe even practicing it.

Ray rolls his eyes, because Frank is a klutz and this is a reasonable explanation. "Freak Iero accident, more likely."

Mikey opens his mouth to speak but Frank catches the action out of the corner of his eye and makes a decision for Mikey, speaks right over him. "We have any food in this house?"

Mikey gets up to make him something, respecting that the decision has been made for him. When he's done, Frank actually eats what Mikey hands him and Mikey goes into the bathroom, curling up into a ball and biting his knees until blood not only wells but actually flows. It only makes things a little better.

*


Mikey watches, watches how Frank doesn't put as much of himself into the songs as he normally does, into the hands of the rest of them, the sound techs. Or maybe there just isn't as much of himself to leave.

Mikey would give what he's taken back, only he thinks he was careless, that he left it somewhere. That's the worst part, the very worst, because he's always saved everything from Frank, everything. Mikey can recount every fucking smile, even if Frank had to work for it, everytime their hands have accidentally hit up against each other, every offhand comment Frank has made that caused Mikey's stomach to flutter. Figures it would be the one instant where it would matter, would be utterly essential, when Mikey would absolutely fail to gather the pieces and keep them for later. Then again, maybe Frank hid the pieces. Mikey was, after all, the one who caused them to break off, scatter.

The day after Mikey drinks until they're recording, drinks so that the only thing he can hear is the music, drinks so that the only thing he can see are his strings. He drinks once they get done recording, too, so that he won't remember the other things he heard, the other things he saw, the way Frank is not really Frank at this moment, but someone who looks like him and sometimes, occasionally sounds like him, and how Mikey's the one who made that happen.

Mikey's the destroyer of the things which matter.

If he waits long enough in between drinks, not only can he remember, he can experience the emotion incumbent upon his utter failure. He doesn't wait.

*


The moment Mikey knows what he has to do, is the same moment that he looks at Frank putting his hand on Gerard's shoulder and throws the glass he's holding, drinking from. At them.

Frank was laughing the moment before, using Gerard's shoulder for support, but the second he sees the glass out of the corner of his eye, he's on Gerard, pulling him down. Ray is screaming something, but it's Bob who gets to Mikey first, Bob who says, "Jesus, what the fucking fuck, man?"

Bob pins Mikey's hands to his side, but it doesn't matter because the glass has hit the floor and shattered, parts of it spraying into Gerard's thigh, Frank's bicep. Mikey can see the first hints of red from where he's standing and he's done. He says, "Bob, you gotta—" and realizes there's no way he's going to convince Bob to let him go in time, so just slips to his knees and vomits where he lands.

Bob lets go. There are other hands on him then, and he can smell the blood, which only makes him vomit harder. He manages, "Get off me," but it's weak and unconvincing and Ray is still possibly drowning him out with a string of obscenities.

By the time he can stop retching, Ray's worn himself out and things are silent, save the sounds of all of them breathing, loud and harsh and—if Mikey's anything to go by—terrified. Mikey says, "Oh fuck."

Gerard says, "Mikey," but Mikey starts shaking his head, keeps shaking it until black swims before his eyes and he's afraid he'll start puking again.

"Okay," Gerard says. "I'll make some calls."

Mikey closes his eyes. Good. He doesn't think he can make them himself. He's not sure he can read numbers right now. Frank says, "I'll stay here."

Mikey wants to tell him that he shouldn't, he should go, somewhere far, far and safe, but Frank's hands are cool and light across his back, and they are the only things not driving him into the ground. Mikey sobs. He cannot say the words.

*


Mikey tells Gerard they can come see him. He tells Gerard because Gerard will. Gerard is his brother and he won't think about it, won't consider his options, he will simply come. Mikey will never have to know if Gerard has told the others, if they have refused to come—if Frank has refused to come. Except that Gerard evidently does tell the others, because Frank comes.

Mikey thinks maybe he was wrong, maybe he isn't ready to see the others. Gee, sure, he's Gee. Well, and probably Ray. Ray's always been nicer to Mikey than just about anybody in this world. Okay, Bob would probably be fine, too. Bob is good with things that are broken.

Mikey clutches his arms to himself when Frank shows up, because he won't shake in front of him, he won't. Frank will be nice about it, because Frank is a nice guy and Mikey can't handle that, he just can't. Mikey pre-empts any niceness on Frank's part with an utterly sincere, utterly worthless, "I'm sorry."

Frank says, "I already know that part."

"I still— It still has to be said." Probably a few times. Or more.

"Okay."

"I didn't have the right. Not even— I just didn't."

"Not even what?"

Mikey shakes his head.

"Not even what, Mikey?"

And the thing about Frank is that Mikey will have to have him thrown off the premises if he wants to get out of answering this question. He won't do that. Frank is here and Mikey isn't making him go anywhere. "Not even if I wish you hadn't done what you did. Tried to fix things like that. I don't know, I don't know what you saw happening, but you couldn't have done that forever just because I needed it and then what, you know, but I still didn't have the right. Not to do that."

Frank says, "The biggest fuck up I made, in a considerable series of them, was that I didn't tell you what I was thinking. I didn't say, 'this isn't just for you, Mikey Way.' Because I can be selfless, particularly with you and Gee, but I'm not that fucking selfless. Jesus, Mikey."

Mikey stops breathing for a second. The world starts going gray as he asks, "That was— There was realness, there?"

Frank touches him for the first time since he showed up, presses both hands deep to Mikey's chest. "Breathe, Mikey."

Because he's done refusing Frank, at least for now, Mikey finds a way to. It hurts, but he does it. Frank says, "It just…it was so utterly real. To me."

Was. Mikey breathes in, Frank has told him to breathe. Waswaswaswas.

"I think— I think it still can be," Frank continues. "But you have to want it this time. Because I'm— That was sort of harsh."

"I wanted it too much," Mikey coughs out.

"Wanted?"

Mikey does not want to admit that there will never, ever stop being this want. Never. "Want. Oh, fuck, Frank. Want."

"Small favors," Frank murmurs and presses his lips right above where the tips of his fingers lie.

*


The first time Mikey touches Frank after the glass incident he pushes Frank's sleeve up to his shoulder and runs a finger over where a scar is forming amongst the tattoos. He says, "I fucked up your ink."

"I hear scars turn guys on."

Mikey says, "If you could be angry for a bit, I wouldn't mind."

"Wouldn't mind?"

"It would help," Mikey rephrases.

"I know, but every once in a while, I get to make my own decisions."

Mikey's hands shake. Frank says, "No, that wasn't what I meant."

"Does it really matter if that was what you meant, or not?" Mikey asks, and, bizarrely, given the nearly philosophic nature of it, Frank knows that the question is anything but academic.

"If I choose to forgive you, then, yes, I think it does."

"There have to be things that are unforgivable, Frank."

"Why?" Frank asks, actually wanting an answer. Mikey starts to answer, only he remembers, with a clarity that he hasn't known, hasn't felt in months—maybe a year—the things that he watched Gerard do to Frank, let Gerard do because he was Gerard and Mikey didn't know how to intervene, didn't know if Frank would thank him for it. Wasn't sure what he would do if Frank did.

Frank forgave Gerard. Frank still forgives Gerard. Mikey thinks Frank has even forgiven him for not doing what he could have done. Which only makes it all the harder to accept this new forgiveness. At least, in the last instance, it was only the absence of action that needed absolution.

Mikey wishes he had been drunk that night. Wishes he couldn't quite remember Frank shaking—not struggling, not even trembling, just shaking—under his hands, beneath his body, against his cock. What he says is, "There were bruises, Frank."

He remembers seeing them, mottling Frank's ink, impeding his playing. Frank had acted like they didn't. The more intense the pain, Mikey knows, the more likely Frank is to pretend it doesn't exist.

"They healed," Frank tells him.

Where everyone can see. Mikey knows all about the kinds of destruction that get left beneath the surface, that can't be healed, only pulled out whole. He knows all about just having to hope there's something underneath where those patches have grown. "Yeah."

"We don't see the same person when we look at you."

Mikey almost laughs at that. Almost. "Clearly not."

"I like to think my version is right."

"You're kind of a cocky fucker like that." That's for show, too, though.

"I'm a believer like that."

"You and Gerard," Mikey says, and he can't help that it sounds like a sigh.

"Worse people to hear my name in a sentence with."

Mikey hates that he agrees. "Yeah."

Frank takes Mikey's hand, places it over his bicep so that the palm connects with the new scar. "Makes the big picture more interesting, don't you think? The way it's interrupted?"

"No, Frank—"

"Sort of like a bridge, in a song."

"No."

Frank looks at him, eyes unusual and earnest and so very fucking Frank, who couldn't be bothered to have eyes like anybody fucking else.

"What I did was wrong."

"Yes," Frank lets him have that one. "But you said you were sorry."

"That doesn't take away the damage."

Frank smiles at that, at him. He places a hand over Mikey's and squeezes. "You'd be amazed."

Mikey would.

*


Mikey has been unable to sleep. It's fucked up, because he's tired, exhausted, even. He thought, when he first cleaned up, that it was just being apart from the others. He almost never is. He's pretty sure, though, that he would have been over that by now. The are still a number of options for what's going on, but Mikey knows of a solution that will probably cover most of them. The problem being, he's not sure if he can ask for what he needs.

Frank has been cautious, so utterly cautious, not to take over Mikey's space, take over Mikey, but Mikey needs just a little bit of that, and it's hard, hard to ask for anything when he's all too aware he deserves nothing. Luckily Frank is Frank, and when he's there he can read Mikey well enough to come over and rub at his neck, murmur, "You look wiped."

"Can't sleep."

"Something wrong with your meds?"

Mikey shakes his head.

"Have you talked to your doctor?"

"I'm fine, Frank." And he is, comparatively.

"You're not sleeping. That's not fine, Mikey."

"I'm just a little—"

Franks waits, keeps up his rubbing. Finally he nudges, "A little?"

"Lonely." Mikey can barely expend the breath for the word.

Frank's fingers falter for a second. Then they settle again, warm and knowing. "Okay."

"Okay?"

"Okay," Frank says.

*


Mikey sort of wants to stay awake, now that Frank has him in his arms. Mikey makes himself as small as he can—he wants to fit. Frank just works with what he's got and it's enough, he covers Mikey sufficiently, holds him almost easily.

Mikey tries to cling to consciousness, to feel this, feel Frank being here because he wants to be. Mikey tries so hard, but Frank is warm around him, warm and Frank-like and Mikey is nearly dead with exhaustion. In the end there is nothing to do but cave to it, and hope that he wakes up to this, hope he has time to savor in the morning. He wakes up to Frank's fingers kneading lightly at his stomach, to Frank whispering, "Mikey, hey, Mikey."

Mikey makes a sound to let Frank know that he's awake. Sort of.

"It's morning."

Mikey doesn't believe him.

"We have to get up."

Mikey makes a clear sound of disagreement. Frank laughs softly, the breath necessary for the laugh tickling at the back of Mikey's neck. "If you don't get up, I'll have to drag you into the shower and turn the water on cold."

"Meanie," Mikey mumbles.

"Mm, a word. I think you're more awake than you're letting on." The fingers that were kneading change to tickling and Mikey gasps and folds in on himself, but there is no escaping Frank's hand. Mikey giggles and twists and writhes and finally says, "Please."

Frank stops at the sound of "p." He rises up so that his face is above Mikey, who is panting, laid flat on his back. "You awake?"

"Bastard," Mikey says.

"Was that a 'no'?" Frank brandishes his hand.

"Awake!" Mikey says. "Very awake."

Frank laughs. "Good. Then I won't feel like such a rake when I do this."

He lowers his lips to Mikey's.

*


Mikey and Ray are both sleepers. The difference is, Ray can fall asleep anywhere, anytime; Mikey needs some level of quiet and still. Sometimes Frank thinks he broke simply so that he could find that, could justify the time spent with his eyes closed, his mind open. Frank tries to make sure he gets all he needs, works to help him come down off of shows more quickly, to see that the others don't wake him so early.

Frank really doesn't care how or where Mikey gets his sleep, so long as he gets it, so the day that he passes the couch and notices Mikey curled up on top of Gerard, fitting more than should be humanly possible, Frank just keeps walking, heading for the kitchen. Gerard stops him with a simple, "Frank."

Frank doesn't turn to face him. "Gee."

"Sit with me?"

The sun is shining outside, it might be a nice day to sit on the porch. Frank can see out the windows from where he's standing. He goes to the couch. Gerard gently unfolds Mikey a bit, shares him with Frank. Mikey doesn't even mutter, which is incredible, a testament to the ways in which Gerard knows exactly how to work with Mikey, care for him. For a long time Frank thinks they aren't going to talk, that they are going to sit here holding Mikey between them. Then Gerard says, "I don't think he would have come back if not for you."

And Frank realizes that not only are they going to talk, they are going to actually say things. "He's found a way to be with you his entire life. Why wouldn't—"

"We do change as we grow."

"Not like that. Not Mikey."

"Frank, I'm trying to tell you—"

Frank waits.

"I'm trying to say that he sleeps more now. Sleeps and smiles and does all that stuff that for a while was autopilot and insincere and enough to make your skin fucking crawl."

Frank's skin hadn't been the only thing crawling. "He's better."

"I shouldn't have tried to stop you."

Frank looks away. "That was neither of us having our best moment, there."

"I was jealous."

"I was glad you were."

Gerard looks over. Frank pays him the courtesy of meeting his eyes.

"It wasn't the first time I saw you."

"No, but it was one of the more notable times."

Gerard winces, but he doesn't look away. "All the same, I shouldn't have said the things I said. Even without you in the equation, I shouldn't have made Mikey think those things."

"Hindsight," Frank says.

"Killer."

"Gerard," Frank says softly.

"Yes?"

"You wanna sleep?"

Gerard doesn't get tired as often as Mikey, but he's been watching over him hard, and there are tells, things that Frank knows because he knows them, the looseness of Gerard's mouth, the abandon of his fingers. Gerard looks down at Mikey, "I—"

"I'll watch. Both of you. I'll watch."

Gerard says, "Frank."

Frank says, "I know."

Gerard closes his eyes.

*


When he comes back, Mikey is more sparing with his touch than Frank remembers. And sure, memory is subjective, but no, Frank remembers. This is Mikey, there isn't a lot of room for error, not so far as Frank's concerned.

When he does touch, though, he makes it count, which makes Frank think that he's waiting for something, looking for something. Frank keeps trying to give it to him, but not being sure of what the object of desire is impedes the process somewhat. So the day that Mikey touches a finger to the metal that graces Frank's lip, swipes the finger over that lip and then back to rest over the ring, and starts to say, "Um, maybe—" Frank says, "Sh." As much as he wants to give Mikey this thing, this thing he's looking for, he thinks that if Mikey has to ask, that will ruin it. For Mikey and for him.

"Sh," Frank says, and slips to his knees and unpacks Mikey from his jeans and his boxers and his overall look. He closes his mouth around the head of Mikey's cock, pressing in with his lips. No tongue, nothing, just his lips.

Mikey says, "Frank, Jesus, Frank."

Frank takes more of him in, caressing his lower lip along the length now, pressing the metal into the skin of Mikey's cock. Mikey takes a breath and Frank hears the sob-quality to it. It's too early on for that, Frank thinks, but then he realizes how long Mikey has been waiting, been trying to say, "I want this," how this, really, is the aftermath, even while he pulls back, dragging his lips along every inch of Mikey's cock that he can manage. He pulls off, licks his lips as much for show as lubrication, and goes right back to what he was doing.

Mikey's actually sobbing now, looking down at him and when Frank chances a glance up, their eyes meet. Mikey's are tired and relieved and so painfully turned on that it looks a little bit like love. Frank tenses his lips one more time and Mikey comes without a sound, nothing but the continuation of tears that aren't the type he hid before, the type he went and told strangers about, but couldn't show them.

Frank slips off of him when he's finished, swallowed, and he's going to carefully rearrange Mikey, allow him some time to do his own rearranging, but Mikey drags him up from his knees, kisses him, and Frank tastes salt. Mikey says, "You're so fucking—"

Frank says, "Okay, it's okay."

Mikey kisses him some more and says, "Yes. Now. Okay."

Feeling stupid and sentimental and the ways he sometimes feels when Mikey is in his arms, next to him, in the same room, whatever, Frank presses his lips to the corner of Mikey's eyes, and kisses—not kisses away—the tears.

*


Mikey can feel the space Gerard leaves. He watches him turn and stalk toward Mikey but he's stopped actually making it there, as though there's a wall Mikey can't see, but Gerard has found the edges to. Mikey thinks the wall is probably standing to his right and fairly Frank-shaped.

Mikey knows he shouldn't say anything about the wall. It will go away. The things between them always do. They are Gerard and Mikey and for all that that statement is self-evident, it is also true. But Mikey isn't used to being the one who caused the wall to occur. It sits unevenly on his shoulders, knocks off his balance and his playing. It grows heavier until he finds himself throwing it off, chucking it in Gerard's direction with a, "I didn't steal him. I don't steal from you. I don't."

Gerard looks at him and after a moment, his face twists. "I know, Mikey."

"You're not acting like it." Mikey's tone isn't accusing. It's worried. Because worried is better than terrified, which is mostly what Mikey is.

Gerard rubs at his temples. "Mikey, I just—"

Mikey waits. Finally, when he's roughly one hundred percent positive that Gerard's not going to finish, he prompts, "Just?"

"Need some space. I just need some space."

Mikey wraps his arms around himself, drawing into himself, making himself as small as he can manage. Gerard looks over and winces. "It's not as if—"

Mikey shakes his head. "I don't know the end to that sentence."

"It's not as if I don't want you happy. Or him." This last squeezes from Gerard's throat.

"I know, Gee. I know, I don't think—"

Gerard closes his eyes tightly. Mikey wants to hold him wants to make it better wants to do anything, anything that will change this. Anything but give up Frank. The truth of that sits bitter in his mouth, vile in his throat, rebellious in his stomach. But it is true. "Okay. Okay. Space."

Gerard nods, his eyes still closed. Mikey leaves the room as silently as he can.

*


"I'm not all porcelain and paper," Mikey says, rising up over Frank in the dark.

"Porcelain and paper," Frank says, because he likes the alliteration and because that's something Mikey's gonna have to explain.

"Imminently breakable or subject to ripping completely apart."

They've just had fairly athletic sex, part of which involved Frank bending Mikey almost completely in half. So it's a bit ironic, but Frank doesn't think this has anything to do with Mikey's body, despite the physical nature of the allusion. "Okay."

"You hold me like I am."

"Mikey—"

"I mean, you, not with your hands. It's not in the way you touch me, it's in the way you say things, the way you sometimes hold back on being happy because maybe that will be too much for me and I won't know how to handle it and I'll take it all back. And the thing is, I know what I did, okay? I'm not Gerard, I remember—"

Frank flinches a little bit at that, and Mikey reaches out without stopping with his words, his hand pressing wide and warm to Frank's stomach. "—what I did, but I came back to the band and I came back to you and that was my choice. I made that choice. It's not like before, when you were trying and I thought, well, I didn't think that I was your choice."

Frank covers Mikey's hand with his own. "What did you think?"

"That you saw I needed something. You were too much like Gerard for Gerard but you weren't too much like Gerard for me and you were smart enough to know that and you're kind of, well, you do things for us that you probably shouldn't and I've known I should say no at times, but I'm about as good at it with you as you are with me and then I said no in the wrong way and... I've forgotten what I was talking about."

Frank laughs a little, rolls Mikey over and kisses him softly. "You wanted me to know I couldn't break you. But I think maybe you were also telling me that I came very close."

"That was before."

"The two aren't quite so...dichotomous in my head."

Mikey says, "It would be nice, though. For it to be like that."

Frank smiles down at him. "No, it's better this way. With all of you here, not just the before parts or the after parts."

"Still seeing me in parts."

"Still seeing the way they all come together in you. I know you're not just going to shatter, but that doesn't mean I don't have a responsibility to be aware of where the lines are. You have that with me, too. I mean, I think you should."

"Your lines aren't so easy to see," Mikey says softly.

"For you?" Frank tilts his head, gives Mikey a look of doubt. "Because if not, I'll show you, I will. But I think you see them."

"Sometimes I try not to look. I forget that they're mine."

Frank nods. "I can remind you."

"Yeah?" Mikey asks, and it's clearly an invitation.

Frank lowers himself onto Mikey. "Yeah."

*


The first show of the tour, Gerard's pretty sure they're going to lose all cred as an emo band within the two hours it takes them to perform. He doesn't care. He doesn't care that none of them can stop grinning like idiots, that their faces are going to hurt along with everything else after this, that the audience isn't getting the rage they paid good money for, he doesn't care. He has Mikey back.

Gerard watches Frank do something that looks suspiciously like skipping—for fuck's sake—at one point, and he can't really blame him. Bob's just lucky he gets to sit down.

Mikey sounds amazing. He's all over the place. Except that he's not, he's there, he's with them, he's just...taking them places Gerard's never known they could go. Or maybe he forgot. Maybe he was too busy paying attention to Mikey, and the places they weren't going. He doesn't regret it.

Afterwards they offer Mikey the first shower but he says, "Nah, that's— I'll wait. I wanna—"

Feel this a bit longer, Gerard finishes for him, but doesn't say. He tells Ray, "All yours," and Ray doesn't wait for him to change his mind.

Gerard heads toward the back of the bus, where he can grab a change of clothes. On the main area table, the plant he gave Mikey after the breakdown is holding its own. Gerard knows that Frank thinks he was warning Mikey off of him, he knows that Mikey even thinks it a little bit, but mostly he was just being metaphorical, the way sometimes not even Mikey gets. Usually Mikey can be counted upon for Gerard-translation, or transliteration, as necessary, but there are moments when they are, well, ships in the night. To be metaphorical.

Gerard heads to the back of the bus because he knows Bob has the sense to follow, to leave Frank and Mikey to themselves for a moment, so that Frank doesn't skip around the bus all night, because really, how annoying would that be? Gerard thinks about what he's wearing to bed, about where the bus will be tomorrow, about what went wrong in the third set, about anything but Frank, and his happiness, and the way Gerard both loves him and hates him for it. The thoughts will twist Gerard until he breaks if he allows them too, and maybe there's a song in that later, maybe, but right now he just wants his band and their delight.

Gerard is, at his very core, human, too.

When he re-emerges Frank is kissing Mikey, sloppy and happy and not particularly sexy, and Gerard knows those weren't really their kind of kisses. Mikey breaks off, the smile in his eyes dampening at Gerard's presence and it's not that Gerard has never caused Mikey to be unhappy or afraid or disappointed before—not that he hasn't even seen the results of that—but it hits him sharper than any knife and harder than any flu bug everytime.

He says, "I was gonna grab a drink. You guys want anything?"

Mikey shakes his head.

Gerard says, "I'll get you waters. You should drink." He moves past them, not hitting them. They have all learned how to make the bus bigger than it really is, how to bend space to their own needs.

He feels Mikey at his back a second later, hears him start to say, "Ger—"

"I can't be the thing that ruins that, Mikey. I can be the thing that inhibits you, the thing that hurts you, I can be all the things I've been until now, but I cannot be the thing that fucks something that real up for you. I just—"

Mikey wraps himself over Gerard, completely impeding any process he was making at opening the water bottle. He is bigger, warmer, better than any blanket, and Gerard says, "Please don't look at me like that. Please."

Mikey murmurs, "I just worry."

Gerard nods. Mikey's a worrier. "Let me, for a bit, okay?"

"He was real for you, too."

"I know. But there's a reason the past tense exists as a tense."

Mikey is silent, heavy on Gerard's back now, but Gerard will not crumble. Mikey whispers, "There's also the part where you and me are real."

"We are," Gerard says, and more than an agreement, it's a promise. When Frank finds them wrapped up like that, comes to tell Gerard it's his turn for the shower, neither of them breaks away upon discovery.

*


They're watching TV when Gerard comes and sits at their feet, one shoulder resting against Mikey's leg, the other against Frank's. Frank reaches out and musses Gerard's hair. Mikey watches. Gerard just sits, either actually watching or pretending to watch the show, which is half done and of which Mikey has completely lost the narrative thread. He really hopes Gerard doesn't ask what's going on. He doesn't.

At some point though, when the music is kind of dramatic, Gerard brings his hand up above his shoulder, clearly waiting for Mikey to take it. Mikey does. Gerard squeezes and then doesn't let go. Mikey wraps the hand with his other one. Gerard says, "I was thinking of wearing something kinda crazy to this year's VMA's."

"Define crazy," Mikey says.

"Not black."

"Yeah, I dunno, Gee," Frank tells him. "You could send thousands of American teenagers into a spiraling whirl of uncertainty."

"There is that risk," Gerard says solemnly, "but I also feel that there are important lessons in that. Lessons about change and the instability of human nature."

"You just found something you wanted to wear that wasn't black, didn't you?" Frank asks.

"Essentially, that's the crux of the issue, yes."

Mikey laughs.

"I need a solid wall of support at my back to do this," Gerard says, leaning back even further into them.

"Oh, well, that's us," Frank says.

"Definitely," Mikey agrees. "Like a rock."

"And about as comfortable," Gerard says.

Mikey sighs, "I can't help it that you got the real-boy genes."

"You make the heroin chic thing work."

"Blow me."

"I would, but there would invariably be pictures, and evidently there are whole hordes of people whose imaginations don't need to be helped."

"Ew, stop touching me," Mikey says, trying to let go of Gerard's hand and squirm away.

Gerard holds tight.

*


Gerard says, "I kinda thought Frank was gonna go feral on that kid."

Mikey nods. The kid in question had been bearing a sign that said, "The Way Brothers Are Fags," which isn't even anything new, but Frank has been a little bit more rabid in his defensiveness of all of them—most of all Mikey—since his return. "Yeah. I depend on his large marshmallow center to negate any tendencies toward violence he might feel."

Gerard makes a face. "They make that shit out of horse's hooves, you realize?"

"You can get vegetarian ones. That's what he's like. Vegetarian marshmallows."

"I would not have dated anything resembling a marshmallow and we both know it."

"Have you seen him any time a human shorter than three feet walks into a Meet 'n Greet? Seriously, Gerard, you can live in denial all you like—"

"And I will."

"—but Frank is pure soft fluffy insides."

"Three Musketeers," Gerard offers.

"Shell's too hard," Mikey counters.

"He's pretty badass when he's on stage."

"So are you."

"If I find out you've been comparing me to freaky ass confections that should in no way, shape or form even exist—"

"I like to think of you as molasses. Sweet but slow."

Gerard flips Mikey off. Mikey grins. "Marshmallow."

"Whatever. I guess it's good he's all yours."

Mikey's grin widens, but his eyes take on a hue of worry. Gerard says, "I meant that part. I meant— He makes you smile like that."

"He does."

"So I'll let you have your talk of marshmallows."

"You're really more of a Take Five," Mikey tells him, getting up to go find the Stay-Puffed Man now that he will probably have calmed a bit. "Too many different kinds of brilliance at the center to really explain."

He can feel Gerard's gaze on him as he walks past.

*


Frank is not supposed to see it. In truth, Frank's not really even supposed to be behind this particular stage, but Bob has asked, "Hey, can you go grab Spencer while I help the roadies?" because there have been some problems with Bob's drums—largely, parts have been going missing—so Bob has been assisting in the tear down and load up every night. Not that Spencer couldn't find them on his own, but Frank gets the feeling that communication as to what exactly is going on has been a bit sparse. It's easiest for Frank to just jog on over to their stage and grab him from his boys. Which is saying something.

Panic has just gotten off the stage, and Frank can feel the hum of adrenaline before he's technically even in the structure. He sees it coming around a corner—which he then pulls back behind. He doesn't even know what tips him off, it's just Ross and Urie, still painted up, still panting, standing a little ways apart from each other. There's nothing really going on except that they're not touching, not at all, and while Frank has noticed that they're not as natural about it as most lovers, he has always thought that Ross just didn't like people seeing. But they don't know anybody is watching.

He hears Urie say, "This kinda shit's gonna happen, Ry."

"Ryan."

Frank blinks at the insistence in Ross's voice. It's such a little difference.

Urie sighs. "Ryan. People are gonna throw stuff. My Chem's had urine-filled bottles lobbed at them."

"My Chem hasn't had their lead singer knocked into unconsciousness by one of those bottles," Ross hisses. "I hate them."

"My Chem?" Urie sounds validly surprised by that. Frank is a little bit, too.

"The audience, I hate them. I hate them."

"It wasn't personal, the violence. I mean, it was in the sense that we were on the stage when it happened, but they're just stupid kids—"

"Yeah, well, my dad was just a stupid drunk and that was pretty fucking personal."

There's a silence after that and just when Ross opens his mouth, Urie says, "He never knocked you down so hard you couldn't get up, either."

Quietly, so quietly that Frank has to strain to hear, Ross says, "There were times when I didn't want to."

Urie asks, "You going to let me remind you there were reasons?" and stays exactly, precisely where he is. Frank has seen Urie dozens of times at this point and has never once seen him stay still like he does at that moment. It pays off, because after a bit, Ross lifts a hand and lets it fall to Urie's shoulder. Urie is quick to slide his own hand over Ross's.

Frank remembers waiting for Mikey, and it maybe wasn't so literal—Mikey was always more than glad to touch—but at least when Ross touches he's really there. In some ways, Urie is luckier than Frank was. Then again, Urie's probably put in his time by now.

"I still hate them," Ross says, and he sounds tired, exhausted.

"We're done for now. And the next stop's an entirely different place." Urie laughs a bit.

Ross smirks. "Optimist."

"You're my boyfriend, I've gotta have something."

Frank presses his back to the wall, thumps his fist gently against his heart.

*


Frank tosses in bed for a while after picking up Spencer and getting back to the bus. Mikey rubs a hand over his back, asks, "Something wrong?" but not even that helps. He says, "I think I need to write a bit." He feels a little sort of shitty when Mikey nods understandingly and lets him out of the bunk easily. Having a song caught inside you can be the worst kind of hell, but Frank doesn't have any songs, he has the tableau of Ross and Urie. As it turns out, that's almost as bad. Spencer should be canonized.

Frank takes a pad and pen with him but in the end he just keys up his sidekick and messages Urie. "You're a good boyfriend."

Frank doesn't really expect an answer, not until morning, but Urie's evidently keeping rock 'n roll hours, because ten minutes later the answer, "Iero?" comes back.

"Yup," is Frank's ever-so-helpful response.

Urie goes with it. "I have my days."

Frank debates whether to come clean or not. In his experience, truth can often lead to more pain than the clean omission of. But it is admittedly weird, him texting out of the blue. "I came by to get Spencer this evening. I came through the east doorways."

There is a long wait for the response, too long to account for Urie typing it in. "You should have said something."

"I know," Frank admits.

"You know. You know how little privacy there is."

Frank sighs. "I was afraid to interrupt. He seemed like he might not start again if he stopped."

Another too-long wait follows. "Probably not."

"I know what happened at Reading, okay? Walker showed surprising constraint. Ray and Bob would have been out there, beating the kid to death."

"That's why we got asked back to the festivals."

"They asked you back?"

"Ryan was pretty adamantly opposed."

"Well, yeah."

"He got outvoted."

Frank reads the comment three times before responding, "If only that audience knew how hardcore you guys really are, nobody would ever throw anything except sacrificed kittens at you ever again."

"We only take birds."

Frank snickers. "My mistake."

"It's not because he's weak. That he said no."

"No."

"He just doesn't like letting people fuck with what's his."

"Seems like that's one of the things you guys have in common."

Urie's, "Maybe," is slow to come.

Frank tells him the most pertinent thing, the thing he can't get out of his head. "You're patient for him."

Urie's, "He's worth the wait," comes so quickly Frank wonders how he got his fingers to work that fast.

"Yeah. Still. Good boyfriend."

"Sometimes."

"I'm thinking enough times for it to count."

"I'm hoping you're right." Then, "Goodnight, Iero."

"Night."

Frank climbs back into the bunk with no song to show for his efforts, but Mikey nuzzles up to him even in his sleep and Frank doesn't think he'll press too hard about things come morning.

*


Frank stops by Panic's bus in the middle of a soundcheck one day to find Brendon there, which is lucky, since that's whom he was looking for. Brendon answers the door, says, "I thought Spencer was with you guys."

"Oh, we lost him, thought he might have wandered back here."

"Fuck, Iero, he's probably been molested by Fall Out Boy, and now I have to dive into said pit of scum and villainy to rescue our drummer. We never lose your drummer."

"We appreciate that. Can I come in?"

"I thought you were looking for Spencer."

"Nah, he's busy annoying Bob by fucking up his rhythms every time Bob gets going."

Brendon blinks. "Um."

"Really, can I come in?"

Brendon stands back. Frank hops up the stairs. "I'm not interrupting mid-afternoon nookie, am I?"

"Ryan's with the sound techs."

"Perfect."

"Iero—"

"I wanted to apologize for eavesdropping, so I got you this." Frank hands him the box he's been holding.

Brendon looks at it like it might bite. Frank gestures with it. "It's a present."

Brendon takes it from him, lifting the top off. He frowns at the contents for a moment before lifting the jar. "Trying to tell us we need to step up the makeup? Because I have to tell you, I think our look is pretty—"

"It's for Ross. To have a tangible way to make you his. I mean, without it having to be forever and freak him out, because he probably doesn't handle commitment type things well, the ones who don't know for sure that what's theirs is really theirs never do and—"

"You gave me body paint so that my boyfriend and I could get all kinky with each other as a way of apologizing for eavesdropping on our horribly intimate moment?"

"Put like that, it seems sort of creepy, but that might be a result of the guys I hang out with."

"Bob's not creepy."

"I think that's Spencer's influence, truth be told. We try and try, but we just can't convert him."

Brendon looks at the jar appraisingly. "Huh."

"It's fun. Trust me."

"Fun."

"The other things are personal."

Brendon laughs. Frank smiles in recognition.

Brendon says, "If this works, I might accept the apology."

Frank says, "It'll work. And I'd like that."

*


Mikey never comes up to Frank from behind. He might hold him from behind once he's made sure Frank's aware of his presence, but he never approaches from that direction. Frank wouldn't even notice except that Mikey used to. Before the glass and before he pushed back at Frank, told him "no," told him "stop" without thinking to use words first. Frank's pretty sure that night is more the issue than the glass.

The thing is, Frank thinks that maybe, maybe if he ever saw the look Mikey had in his eyes that night again, maybe he'd know enough to be scared. But Frank never sees that look, and he isn't afraid of Mikey. He just isn't.

So Mikey can be mean. If he's honest, that's a quality Frank wishes Mikey had more of. Mikey went and worked, struggled to heal himself. And Frank knows it was for Mikey as much as anyone else, but it was for him as much as it was for Gerard, maybe more than it was for Bob and Ray. Mikey can come at him from the back anytime he wants.

Frank does things to try and make this apparent. He will snuggle up to Mikey from the back, twist in Mikey's arms so that Mikey is at his back, but Mikey chooses to be obtuse in the way that he can only be when he's very much trying. Frank leaves it for a bit, because there are enough obstacles to overcome where he and Mikey are concerned. He maybe leaves it for too long because there's the day he really just wants Mikey to come over and pull Frank into him. Mikey's standing a bit behind him and Frank says, "Could you just, y'know?"

Mikey says, "Um."

Frank rubs a hand over his face and turns slightly so that he's facing Mikey. "Nevermind."

"No, Frank."

"Sometimes I just want to be surprised by you."

Mikey looks confused, and okay, fair enough, because he doesn't live in Frank's brain.

"Just, to be sitting there, and then to have you around me."

"Oh."

Frank nods.

"I just thought—"

"I know what you thought."

Mikey opens his mouth, "I'm—"

"Please don't," Frank says. Mikey's already apologized, and Frank's already forgiven him and Frank just wants the good things now.

Mikey says, softly, "Turn around."

Frank does. Mikey doesn't make him wait.

*


Frank kisses Mikey, slow and lazy and without much intent, but he pulls back and says, "I want you to do something for me."

Mikey puts his forehead to Frank's. "I have a rule about knowing what I'm agreeing to before I agree."

Frank knows all about Mikey's rules. Sometimes they make his existence infinitely harder, but for the most part they protect Mikey, so he doesn't so much mind. "I would like you to fuck me up against the wall."

Frank makes it sound dirty, it is dirty. Frank likes dirty, likes Mikey when he's dirty. Mikey stiffens in his grasp. He doesn't struggle, just stiffens. Frank says, "I want you to."

Mikey says, "I don't know," like he's terrified of disappointing Frank, like Frank might make this an order, like Frank has ever asked for more than Mikey could give.

Frank kisses him again. "Try for me."

"Frank—"

"Try," he says again, "for me."

In the end, Frank thinks Mikey gives in more because he doesn't want to, and that seems somehow appropriate to him, but Frank doesn't care, sometimes things have to be backward, have to have cracks, have to rely on their very instability. He pulls Mikey to the wall, kissing him with every step.

He will do the work, will do everything, will unbutton the oxford Mikey has chosen to wear, button by button. Will push it back to his shoulders, kiss at those shoulders. He will brush his fingers along the ridge of Mikey's jeans, caress at the skin before opening them, before dropping to his knees, kissing Mikey's cock through the barrier of denim, before untying his shoelaces and supporting Mikey as he removes them, one at a time, as he peels back Mikey's socks, kisses at the ankles revealed. He will inch Mikey's jeans down, will hold him up at the hips.

Mikey will say, "Frank, Frank," and pull him up and beg, "Let me," his hands careful, unsure, at the hem of Frank's shirt.

Frank will raise his arms. "Sure, baby."

Mikey is not as careful with Frank, he can't be. His hands shake a little, his arms aren't so foundational as Frank's manage to be. Frank can stand tall, though, can hold himself up for both of them. Frank draws Mikey to his feet, brushes his fingers over Mikey's cheek, rocks forward a little so that their cocks slide along each other. It's not a press, not a rub, just a slide. Mikey gasps, his lips falling open a bit and Frank leans in, kisses him. He pulls Mikey just a bit further in and it's slow, so very slow, languid almost, but he can tell when Mikey becomes prickly under his skin, anxious and eager, and ever more than ready.

Frank settles Mikey with his back to the wall and lets go for long enough to recover the lube from his jeans pocket. Then he places one hand to Mikey's chest, holding him where he is as he applies the lube. Mikey's barely breathing by the time Frank puts his own hands to the wall, says, "Mikey, I want you to touch my back."

Mikey says, "Touch. Right."

His touch is light, so light Frank can barely feel the settling of fingers at his shoulder blade, his hip. Frank says, "A little more, Mikey."

Mikey allows his palms to come into contact with the skin.

"Kiss my neck."

Mikey kisses, licks a little.

"You can bite."

"No," Mikey says.

"All right." Frank has no interest in this being any harder than it is. "Put your arms around my chest. Hold me."

Mikey, who can cling for dear life on any average afternoon, keeps his hold light. Frank doesn't push, but he does roll himself back into Mikey, lets the curve of his ass do some of the work.

"Frank," Mikey whines.

"I want you so fucking much, Mikey," Frank says, lowering his voice but otherwise making it a statement of fact rather than a come on, a proposition.

"Oh fuck, oh fuck," Mikey says, even as he leans back a little to position himself, slide in. Frank pushes back, anything to speed this up a little. Mikey feels so good at his back and maybe there are demons there, just a bit, in the way his cock softens slightly, but then Mikey finds himself somewhere inside Frank and tightens his arms and Frank is so fucking safe that even the Ghost of Mikey Past can't make trouble.

"Not like last time," Mikey growls—Mikey growls—into his ear.

Frank says, "No," instead of, "I told you so." The latter seems lacking in dignity.

One of Mikey's hands falls to Frank's balls, Frank's cock. It teases and coaxes and squeezes even as Mikey concentrates short, even thrusts over Frank's prostate. Frank can barely keep himself from falling into the wall, almost does as he climaxes, as the world condenses to nothing but Mikey's hand, Mikey's chest, Mikey, just Mikey. Just Mikey keeps his arms around Frank's chest, stops him from falling. And then, when the world is maybe a tad wider than it was the moment before, Mikey breathes, "Frank, I have to—" and Frank strengthens his hold on the wall and returns the favor.

As soon as he can, he lowers both of them safely to the floor, and Mikey slips out, lets go so that Frank can twist himself around, can gather Mikey to him, can say, "See? See."

Mikey presses his face to Frank's chest and even though Frank can feel that his eyes are closed, he says, "I see."

*


Frank wakes up with Mikey's mouth on his cock, in the midst of Mikey giving said cock a full-on suck. It's almost too much, first thing in the morning when he's already raring to go from the simple fact of being born male. Frank takes a breath, fists his hands in the sheets and lets Mikey have his way until the pleasure crests. When Mikey is done he rests his chin on Frank's thigh and smiles up at him, clearly self-satisfied. Frank laughs and pulls Mikey up to where he can press his nose to Mikey's, nuzzle him for a moment.

"Eskimo kiss," Mikey says.

"I'm pretty sure that's an old wives' tale."

"A nice one, though."

Frank'll give Mikey that. He reaches down and wraps his hand gently around Mikey's cock. Only just enough that Mikey shifts, wiggles in his grasp, but Frank doesn't give him any more. "Was that just a good morning?"

"Yes," Mikey says.

"Liar," Frank says, and loosens his fingers even more.

"No," Mikey amends, "No."

Frank closes his hand again. Mikey squirms. Frank shakes his head. "Stay still. You get what I give you."

Mikey makes a sound of dissent, but doesn't move.

"What else was that, Mikey?"

"A blowjob."

Frank keeps his hand where it is.

Mikey makes a face. "A 'just in case'."

Frank pulls in one long, smooth stroke. "Tell me more."

"Because maybe you didn't sleep well. After last night."

Frank brings his other hand to cup Mikey's balls. "Why would I not have slept well?"

Mikey pants a little. "It was like before."

"It wasn't," Frank says and squeezes, just this side of too tightly.

"No, but. It. It could have gotten mixed up."

Frank runs a knuckle along the vein on the underside of Mikey's cock before wrapping it up again, pulling a little. "Did it?"

"At first, a little." Mikey's voice is high, breathy.

"Not for me," Frank says, and initiates a series of quick, circular jerks.

"Frank, Frank—"

"Be still, baby."

Mikey moans.

"Was it anything else?"

Mikey levels his eyes at Frank, glossy with waiting pleasure, hard with awareness. "Yes."

Frank grins at that. He won't make Mikey tell him those words, not now. He runs his thumb hard and steady over the head of Mikey's cock, pulls and squeezes and says, "Okay," as Mikey's head flies back, his lips forming the unsaid words without sound.

Frank can't read lips, but he knows what Mikey is saying, knew before he even said it.

Frank murmurs, "Me too," while Mikey is still distracted.

*


The thing about Gerard and Bob and Ray is that it's easy to watch them pull Mikey into their arms, mess with his hair, generally be complete, obnoxious asses in an unseemly, affectionate way. They're in the band, and they do that shit to Frank, too. Not quite as much, because, well, he's Frank and Mikey is Mikey. Still, they do.

Pete is something else entirely.

It's not exactly jealousy. Mikey sleeps with Frank and only Frank. There is nothing simple, has never been anything simple about that statement. Especially now that there's nothing one-off about the sex, nothing substitory, nothing casual. But just because Mikey isn't sleeping with someone doesn't mean he doesn't love them—Mikey loves all sorts of people he's not sleeping with. It is, somewhat discouragingly, something that contributes to Frank's enormous fondness for him. And Mikey loves Pete.

The reassuring thing is that Frank is fairly sure that at this point Mikey loves Pete in the way that someone with an older brother and no younger brother loves the younger brother he never got to have. Pete, to Mikey, is the person who can stand to be saved by him, or at least to let Mikey make the attempt. This is, Frank will admit, more than any of the guys in the band will openly allow. Frank wonders if maybe he should. Then he remembers that he doesn't need saving. Not that way. And Mikey's already taken care of the rest.

The other problem—perhaps the one that annoys him even more—is that Frank sort of loves Pete as well. It's hard not to, he's so, well, in need of love. Valid, I-don't-want-to-jump-you OR tattoo-your-name-across-my-breasts love. Frank, as it turns out, is a sucker for being needed. It makes him want to hit something. Maybe Pete. Probably not.

It makes him want to let Pete have Mikey for an hour, two, three. Because Mikey likes Pete, but he loves Frank. Frank can afford to be generous.

*


Frank doesn't recognize the number on his cell-phone, so he doesn't pick up. He really, really hopes that a fan hasn't gotten hold of his number. He hates having to remember to tell everyone what his new number is. He hates having to remember his new number. He's had to change it four times in the last year, and every time he invariably gives one of the old ones to important people and just—

He hopes it isn't a fan. He checks the message later. It's Pete. Frank programs the number into his phone, just in case he calls back, so that he doesn't have to stress out again. It sounds, from the message, like he'll call back again. The message is, "Frank. Mikey gave me your number. I, uh. I'll call back." So yeah, unless he loses his nerve, Pete'll call back. Frank could call him back, make it easy on him, but Frank is only so nice. At least when it comes to everyone but Mikey.

Pete calls back. It takes him two days, and Frank is starting to wonder, but he does. At three in the morning. Frank looks at the number, stumbles over Mikey, says, "Sh, go back to sleep," and goes to sit on the bus's couch. "Wentz, you play in a band with other guys, right?"

"Sorry, sorry. I just realized what time it was."

"Did you play a show tonight?" Frank can hear it in his voice, the soft hoarseness, the jittery, adrenaline-based shake.

"Yeah, which, right. Probably should have realized, huh?"

Frank doesn't say anything. Pete breathes out and Frank knows he's going to be passed out on whatever surface is nearest soon. "Is Stump there?"

"He’s asleep."

Yeah, he would be. "Wake him up, and make him put you to bed."

"It's not like that."

"No, because Stump is pretty smart."

Pete is quiet at that, which of course, of course dampens Frank's perfectly reasonable ire. Frank makes a face. "What did you need?"

Pete must hear the capitulation because he says, "I'm not trying anything. Not with Mikey."

"Well, that's good, because I'm not sure how much failure a man can take."

"The thing is, Mikey talks about you a lot, and I've met you, so I know you're not an asshole. But here you are being one, so I thought maybe if I said I just sometimes need someone who doesn't see me at my best and my worst to listen and hear me, I thought if I said that to you maybe you wouldn't hate me. I don't really like it. Being hated. Particularly not by Mikey's boy."

The description calms something in Frank that it shouldn't. "I don't hate you."

"You don't like me either."

"For fuck's sake, you're a celebrity. Universal popularity is at best a fucked up goal."

"Not universal. He's one of my closest friends. And you're just about the closest thing to a world that he's ever going to have. I mean, not counting the music."

Frank doesn't know how not to count the music, but he knows what Pete means. "If I tell you okay, will you go to sleep?"

"I... Would you mean it?"

"I'm not really a liar. Not when I don't have to be."

"Yeah. I bet not."

"Next time you come 'round, I'll take you out for coffee."

"Good coffee? Because I love Mikey, but when he says that, he means the Seven-Eleven stuff. Which has cream in it. Among other things."

"I'll spring for Dunkin' Donuts, black, if we're in a town that supports it."

"Careful, I might start to think you like me."

"Go to sleep."

"Mm. Iero?"

"Don't."

"He loves you."

Frank hangs up. He'll call back in a few days.

*


Mikey says, "We gotta remember not to nod when they ask 'regular'."

Frank nods. It's not so much that he forgets what regular means as that it has a different meaning in certain parts of the northeast, which throws him, because it is often hard to remember where he is at any given time, unless it's New Jersey. He's got that one pretty down.

"Why?" Pete asks.

Mikey says, "Because last time I ordered you chai you yelled at me." Mikey had sort of sucked at being vegan. He tried not to, he just got to thinking about other things, and the habit never exactly managed to become an actual habit. On the upside, he had generally been able to remember not to eat meat.

"What does chai have to do with anything?" Pete looks like he thinks he might have sleep-dep craziness.

Frank lets him think this for a moment before saying, "Regular up here means with cream and sugar."

"What kind of a system is that?"

Frank shrugs. "You have people go get you your coffee, don't you?"

"I didn't used to," Pete says, and his fingers pick at the hem of his jeans and Frank thinks maybe he shouldn't have been so accusatory. "Just, then Joe went to go get himself some beans, so we could, you know, make coffee and one of the employees recognized him and he was at the shop for two hours signing autographs. And it feels stupid to go with the bodyguards, who would keep that from happening, so yeah. Mostly we just write down what we want."

"Your problem is that you like Starbucks," Mikey says.

Pete nods sadly.

"Anti-establishment of you," Frank says, and lets Mikey get away with being a total hypocrite. Mikey loves Starbucks.

"We all have our weaknesses," Pete tells him, and looks from Frank to Mikey. Frank will give him that.

Undermining Mikey's brand-determinism, the girl at the Dunkin' Donuts does recognize them. Frank can tell by her smile, and the fact that she tries to give them the coffee for free. Frank pays for the coffee, subtly signs the nearest napkin, makes the other two add their names and says, "We just wanna hang for an hour or so. You think?"

She tilts her head at a corner table. "Best bet. And holy shit, thanks, y'know?" It's his name on that napkin, so no, Frank can't say he knows entirely, but he remembers the way he felt the first time he met Greg Ginn at an after-party, and hence has some idea.

Pete scoots in first and Mikey sits down next to him. Frank takes the other side, his knees slipping between Mikey's long, sprawled legs. If they're photographed, Ray will make fun of them, Bob will roll his eyes and Gerard will say, "Jesus wept," but there won't be much more of a commotion than that. Besides, Pete is curled up in the booth like a bloody monkey and Frank thinks that will draw the camera's attention more than anything else.

Mikey puts a hand to Pete's lower back for a second and raises an eyebrow. "Not your first cup of the day?"

Pete shrugs, and takes a larger sip than is probably pertinent, given the temperature of the beverage. He winces. Frank stands and walks over to the counter. "Hey, uh. Could I get a cup of ice?"

Fangirl nods. "Sure."

The cup she gives him is larger than necessary, but Frank just smiles and takes it. He slides back into the booth, takes one of Pete's hands from his coffee cup, places it palm up and deposits two pieces of ice inside. "Suck."

Pete looks at the ice like it might grow wings and fly for a second. Then he follows instructions. Mikey looks at Frank and Frank thinks, "Yeah, okay, the complete mess thing is endearing in ways it shouldn't be." Also, "Damn you, Way," because Mikey is his boyfriend, and he's allowed to curse him for getting Frank involved with people he's better off staying far away from.

"Thanks," Pete says, with a mouth full of ice.

"Drink slowly," Frank tells him.

"Yeah." He swallows. "Just kind of tired, lately."

"You might wanna try sleeping, for that," Mikey says softly, with an awareness that only someone who had high-level insomnia for all four years of high school can infuse into such a statement.

Pete nods. "Yeah. Yeah."

Frank wonders what exactly keeps Pete up at night, if it's the resounding screams of the crowds and the expectation that comes with it, or the energy of the road that never lets up, or something else entirely. Maybe it's none of these. Whatever it is, Mikey's advice is correct, even if its practical purposes are nil.

"I'm trying," Pete says into the silence that has followed his agreement, and it sounds to Frank like the statement applies to a hell of a lot more than anything that's been said in this conversation.

He says, "You got a show tonight?"

Pete shakes his head. "Night off."

That's the next night for them, which is probably when Fall Out Boy plays. "Why don't you come back to our hotel, when you're done doing what you're gonna do?"

Mikey says, "Or before," and it sounds more like a statement than a request.

Pete says, "I don't kn—"

One of Mikey's hands closes around Pete's nearest forearm in what has to be a pretty painful hold. Not tight enough to leave bruises, but almost. Frank's glad not to watch him squeeze just that extra bit. Pete is not Mikey's to be marked. And Mikey is not a mean person, not like that.

"Yeah, all right," Pete agrees.

Later, Frank will tell Mikey that tomorrow night is all theirs, but he think Mikey knows. For the moment he watches Pete sip his coffee more slowly, like he might actually be up to tasting it and doesn't feel as annoyed as he thinks he probably should.

*


Mikey's strumming with adrenaline, which would normally be fine, except that Pete is waiting for them when they get back and Frank doesn't have time to take care of things the way he would like to. Also, Frank's got his own excess of energy and he doesn't want to end up taking that out on Pete, who has his fingers pressed to the window so firmly Frank hopes he won't fall straight through.

Mikey says, "We're gonna take a shower," and Frank thinks Mikey's hot when he's smart like that. He sucks him off in the shower to prove this point. Mikey pulls him up and turns him around, pushing him into the wall and jerking him off. It's rough—very near to too rough, but not quite, just on the edge. By the time they've finished the water is running cold and they're both shaking, but at least it's not from a show high anymore.

Frank dries Mikey off and kisses him a little, gentle and slow and says, "Movies and popcorn?"

"Mostly he just needs to be touched by people who don't want to touch him."

Frank thinks the statement through. Mikey smiles. "Touch him like that."

"Yeah, I got there."

Mikey kisses him back at that, gentle but not as slow.

"Don't tempt me," Frank growls, because he's perfectly willing to stay in this bathroom all night, Pete Wentz or no. Mikey pulls a t-shirt and pajama bottoms on and pads out to the room.

Pete says, "Look, I should—"

"Shut up," Frank says, following Mikey out, because Pete's here, and Frank has come, so he might as well stay. He takes one of Pete's hands from the glass—it's freezing—and pulls him along. "We're about to plumb the great depths of the pay-per-view."

"Porn?" Pete asks, in a voice that is not quite as hopeful as it is probably meant to be.

"No," Mikey says, because he doesn't mind porn, but mostly he thinks it's kind of pedestrian.

Frank pushes Pete onto the couch and Pete flounders for a moment until Mikey pulls him over him like a blanket. Frank settles in on his other side, sprawling so that his fingers brush Mikey's stomach. Mikey lays a hand over Frank's. They settle on Little Miss Sunshine, which they have now seen at least three times, but Mikey likes the older brother. Frank thinks the character reminds him of Gerard, the way he just picks up after complete disaster and walks back up the hill for his younger sister.

Mikey's not a beauty queen, either. Frank wouldn't want him to be.

Pete has seen it too, but he still laughs, more as the movie goes on, and at some point, Frank slips the hand that's not on Mikey's stomach under the waistline of Pete's jeans and lets his fingers skim the skin of his hip. Pete burrows deeper into Mikey, which presses him further into Frank's hand. Mikey says, "Hey," and holds tighter, and doesn't move his eyes from the screen.

Mikey and Pete both fall asleep on the couch and Frank would let them stay, only Pete has a show that night, and Mikey's just gotten off the stage and they all need quality rest, so he wakes them both enough to loop their arms over his shoulders and have them all stumble to the bed. Pete mumbles, "I really should go."

Frank says, "I think that ship has sailed," and takes Pete's shoes off for him.

*


Mikey knows that sometimes, the empirical function of older brothers is, in fact, to be assholes. This does not, so much, ease his mind. To yell at Gerard would be pointless. Gerard would nod understandingly and say, "Yeah, you're right, sorry," in that patronizing way that he managed when Mikey wasn't overreacting but Gerard wanted him to think that he was, and go right on doing as he would. Instead, Mikey says, "It's not like you couldn't fucking say no," to Frank.

Frank cocks one eyebrow and says, mildly, "It's not like you couldn't have fucking told me it bothered you before now."

Mikey has so many thoughts in response to that assertion that in the same way black is simply the bombardment of too much color all in one place, his mind goes blank. What he manages, which is not—to say the least—really the thrust of the issue, is, "He's my brother."

Luckily, Frank is smart. Smart in many ways, but fully, deeply brilliant at knowing people. Knowing Mikey. "And the leader of the band and the one girls throw their shirts at and photographers offer blowjobs to and my ex."

Mikey hopes his strangled breaths are enough. Frank isn't going to get anything else out of him. Not just now.

"Do you want me to tell you that I don't love him?"

Mikey shakes his head. He doesn't. It's not true. And if it were, Mikey wouldn't want it to be. He's never understood people who didn't love Gerard. He doesn't want to understand them. Gerard is, well, his big brother. And while that is currently the problem, it doesn't negate his Mikey's adoration of him, devotion to him.

"Then how about I tell you that when he kisses me, it tastes like memories, the kind that you look at fondly occasionally, but can still remember, word for word, line for line, why you left behind?"

Mikey's breathing becomes less strained but he doesn’t shift his stance, doesn’t do anything that wholly lets Frank off the hook. Frank, to his credit, stays where he is as well. He says, "How about I tell you that when he kisses me, I am mostly thinking about where my hands are on my guitar and how, later, my hands will be on you? Playing you. That he is soft behind me, and that was always good, always great but it's not the sharpness, the definition of you, and when I want now, that is what I want."

Mikey says, "If he were to want you back—"

"He wouldn't do that to you."

Mikey knows. That's not the point. "If he were—"

"He's Gerard, Mikey. He's talented in that smooth, cross-disciplinary way that everybody in the world wishes they were, he's got a smile that makes you think he's smiling wholly for you, he listens like all he can hear is your voice, when in fact he can hear every tinkle and twang in the background.

"He’s Gerard and fuck if that isn't a driving argument, but he has never once looked at me like I was the boy to take home, he's never once said 'please' in a way that made me believe I was the only person who could draw it from him, he has never once run his hands up the neck of a guitar in a way that made me want to take them into me whole.

"You spend your life thinking that you're the second half, the lesser half, that somehow, when your parents made Gerard you were the afterthought, and maybe there was a time when you were just Mikey to me, but it was never, never in an afterthought fashion, and now he is just Gerard.

"How about I tell you that when he kisses me, all I can think is 'you do not taste like Mikey'?"

Mikey says softly, "Please."

"Fuck," Frank says, and then Mikey's face is between his palms, his fingers digging gently—how does he manage that?—into Mikey's temple, "G-d, fuck."

Frank kisses him, and Mikey isn't sure, would have no way of knowing, but he doesn't think Frank tastes like Gerard.

*


When Frank emerges from the shower Mikey is on the hotel couch, also clean and naked, watching "Roman Holiday," which isn't fair, because he knows black and white turns Frank on. Frank asks, "Think you're gonna get laid, huh?"

Mikey tips his head over the back of the couch so that he's looking at Frank upside down. "There's popcorn in the mini-bar."

Frank goes and pops it. He brings it to the couch and makes Mikey hold the bag just to prove he isn't totally whipped. Mikey takes it with a knowing smile, the dickhead. Frank is three-fourths too ready just watching the clean lines of Rome and Audrey Hepburn stand stark against each other, listening to Mikey's fingers rustle through the bag. When Mikey takes his hand and licks a swath of not-really-butter and salt right from his palm, Frank growls, "Spoiled fucking princess," throws the mostly empty popcorn bag aside and plows his hand into Mikey's hair, bringing his mouth down to where Frank's is. Frank's lips are a little chapped and the salt from Mikey's lips, Mikey's tongue, burns. He presses in, up, further. He grabs at Mikey's legs, rearranges until Mikey is straddling him and says, "Mikey, did you—"

Mikey pulls the lube from under one of the cushions, and Frank says, "Yeah, that's my little genius."

He slicks up and slides in and Mikey lets gravity help them out. He says, "Don't confuse me with him during sex."

Frank says, "I don't confuse the two of you when I'm asleep." Then, "Ride me."

He stays perfectly still as he watches Mikey do all the work, watches him rise and fall and moan and look at Frank a little desperately. When Mikey opens his mouth Frank really expects a, "Frank, Jesus, touch me," but Mikey just says, "Fuck you're so fucking gorgeous." He repeats it, a whisper, an echo, and then he drives himself down particularly hard and says, "You're mine." It would be possessive, but it's too disbelieving to be anything other than completely incredulous.

Frank doesn't put a finger on Mikey's cock, because it's not enough, he's barely come when he's pulling Mikey off of him, pushing him onto his back, onto the carpeting, swallowing his balls whole. He tastes them, savors them until Mikey is shaking, whimpering, but not pleading under him, and then he takes just the head in his mouth and Mikey can't hold on any longer.

Frank pulls Mikey up and throws them both back into the shower, as they're more lube and come and popcorn detritus than human at this point. Mikey smiles at him, an open smile and Frank says, "I've always been yours. Even when I didn't know it."

"I worry."

"I know."

"No." Mikey disappears under the spray for a moment. "Not that you want something else. I mean, that too, but. This worry. This worry is that you deserved Gerard."

"Gerard is—"

"Gorgeous and charismatic and brilliant," Mikey says, and he looks at Frank, like maybe he's talking to him. About him.

"You're biased," Frank tells him.

"Doesn't make me not right."

"Then how come you get to say that to me when I tell you pretty much anything nice?"

"Because I'm a Way," Mikey tells him, his tone utterly confident of his logic. Frank has to give it to him, in this band, it's a valid point. He kisses Mikey, reaching past him to turn off the water. They kiss, shivering, for a bit before Frank grabs a towel, tousles Mikey's hair, whispers, "That you are, babe," while Mikey's being distracted by the rubdown.

At a normal decibel he says, "We gotta stop throwing food in hotel rooms. My Chem's gonna get a bad name for themselves."

"We'll tell everyone it was Gerard."

Frank laughs. Poor Gerard.

*


Frank looks at the number on his screen before hitting, "talk." "Heya Spencer."

"Hi. How are you?"

"Other than being weirded out by your sudden conversion to polite Stepford child?"

"Fine, is Way there with you?"

"Which one?"

"The one generally attached to your dick."

"That's more like it."

Mikey leans in and says, "Hey you."

"We're going to play a little word association game."

"I like those," Frank says.

"Bonus," Spencer says. "Pete Wentz, go."

"Fuck," Frank says. Then, "Wait, that wasn't my answer."

"Too late," Spencer tells him.

"No, I totally get a do over."

"For what reason?"

Frank looks at Mikey. Mikey says, "You didn't give us a count of three."

Frank kisses Mikey. Spencer sighs. "Fine. One, two, three, Pete Wentz."

"Soul," Mikey says.

"Hidden," is Frank's contribution.

"Were those two in relation to each other?"

"No, but they sort of worked that way," Mikey says.

"Let's say, hypothetically, that one of my guys—"

"One of the available ones, or unavailable ones?" Frank interrupts.

"Available."

"That sort of narrows the playing field," Frank says.

"Anyway, let's say that said available bandmate was possibly doing something—"

"What sort of something?" Mikey asks.

"Is that prurient?"

"No," Frank and Mikey reply together.

"I'm not sure."

"Does it involve mouths, dicks or hands?" Mikey asks.

"I...don't think so," Spencer says slowly.

Frank and Mikey share a look. Frank finally says, "Jon's a pretty capable guy."

"Very," Spencer says.

Mikey says, "That's probably about ninety seven percent of what Pete needs."

"And the other three percent?"

Mikey admits, "If I knew that, I probably wouldn't be with Frank."

"Well, there was tragedy averted."

Frank makes a face at the phone but doesn't say anything, because he thinks Spencer is actually being somewhat serious.

"You don't think he'll bother my other guys?" Spencer asks.

"He's really not evil," Frank reassures him. "Just has a couple of screws misplaced. Jon'll find'em."

"I'm taking you at your word here, Iero." Spencer sounds a little too full of bravado, like he does when he's nervous as hell.

"I know, Spence. I know."

"And don't think I won't sic Bob on you if Pete Wentz turns out to be a total fucking Yoko Ono."

"Don't be all up on Yoko," Mikey says quietly. "It's kind of misogynistic, and uncool."

The bizarre tangent diffuses the situation, the way most of Mikey's do. Frank has the coolest boyfriend ever. He smiles, wide and unrestrained, to show him what he's thinking. Mikey grins back, asks, "Spencer?"

"I'm trusting you people with my band," Spencer mutters. He might as well say "life" at the end of that sentence.

"We know," Frank says.

"We really do," Mikey repeats.

"Yeah," Spencer says. "I know."

*


Frank likes to put his fingers in Mikey's mouth. He likes being settled deep inside Mikey, pushing ever further in, slipping them over Mikey's tongue and hissing, "Suck, baby."

Mikey will allow himself to suck, will suck with fervor, with technique. Mikey will not allow himself to bite, not even upon being given permission, not even upon being asked. Frank would beg if he thought it would make any difference, but Mikey's rules are Mikey's rules, despite the fact that Mikey has never once hurt Frank in a way that Frank couldn't reconcile within himself, couldn't recover from. Mikey has maybe hurt himself in those ways, Frank being merely incidental.

It's not exactly that Frank does not respect Mikey's rules. Mikey's rules keep the pieces of Mikey in close enough proximity that Mikey can pretend it is the same thing as them holding together. It's that Frank thinks rules are more mutable than Mikey tends to see them as. Which is why he says—one of those times when Mikey has his tongue to the pads of Frank's fingertips—"The tattoos hurt."

Mikey's tongue stutters without sound.

"They hurt. The needle pushing ink into my skin, sometimes right next to the nerve. How could it not hurt, Mikey?"

Mikey's back has gone stiff, fragile against Frank's chest. The only thing Frank will allow to hit Mikey from an unforeseen direction is himself.

"I like that part, like what I am doing for myself, making part of myself. I like the thought of you doing that to me. Not, I mean, not necessarily needles and ink, just— You're not... There's bad stuff in you, Mikey, not in a way that makes you bad, just bad stuff. It wouldn't make sense if everything between us was nice. Nothing is all nice." Frank doesn’t think he'd want it if it was. He takes his fingers from Mikey's mouth to let him know that he can talk if he has something to say.

Mikey says, "What I did wasn't even bad, Frank. It was...evil."

"No," Frank says.

"Frank," Mikey says. "I hurt you, and I did it with intent."

"In reparation for another hurt."

"One that wasn't intended."

"So? Everyone was making mistakes."

"It's a matter of degree."

"It's really not. And even if it were, I was stripping away what little was left of you, you were throwing me against walls. I win. Do you want me to stop being with you as some sort of arbitrary defining line of what's acceptable now? Because it is arbitrary, Mikey, it fucking is."

"It's my reminder, it's a point of what I can and can't—"

"There is no can and can't," Frank interrupts, driving himself deeper into Mikey.

Mikey arches up. "There should be."

"Should there be?" Frank pulls off a little.

"Yes," Mikey hisses as Frank brushes over his prostate.

"Between you and me?" Frank sinks back in.

"I— Fuck Frank, fuck." Mikey whimpers. "I hurt you."

"Yes. But now I'm just asking you to hold on."

"With my teeth?"

Frank settles again, stills, making this last as long as he can. "If need be."

"And if not?"

Frank rocks a little bit. "You really don't think we need to hold to each other with everything we have?"

Mikey meets him halfway. "If it hurts each other?"

"Does it really? Is the hurt anything other than a side-effect? Part of the fun?"

"It was," Mikey says.

"I asked if it is." Frank makes his thrust a little rough. Mikey grunts.

"Is it?"

"No, no," Mikey pants.

Frank slips his fingers back into Mikey's mouth. "Bite."

Mikey's teeth are dull, strong.

*


"Sometimes," Mikey says philosophically, "my brother is an asshole."

Given that Mikey has been molested in front of several hundred people by said brother, Frank thinks that's probably going lightly on Gerard. He bites his lip, because he's already laughed once at Mikey tonight—when there were people watching—and it seems like maybe it's time to be a supportive boyfriend. "Mm."

"So," Mikey tells him slowly, "are you."

Yup, caught.

"Because I think I should get to taunt the world with you, even though I know I can't?" Frank makes the question light, his tone unconcerned.

"I really, really hope that wasn't Gerard's motive there. Because that's kinda creepy."

Well, okay. "No, he just likes giving you shit. I was explaining why I felt little to no need to come to your rescue."

Mikey glares. "Right, next time I'll let down my hair, yeah? That'll be our cue."

"I don't know that long hair would work for you," Frank muses, mostly just to needle Mikey some more.

"You liked it on Gerard."

Frank stills at that. "Are you actually upset?"

Mikey holds himself tight for a moment, like a cat in the moment before pouncing. Then his shoulders drop. "Just... I'm not..." he tugs his shirt over his head and throws it to the side and looks straight at Frank. "This is yours. They can have the music and the lyrics and sometimes even me when I get to talking because it's the right question or the right moment or the right whatever. But the things that are yours are yours and there has to be a line, somewhere."

Frank breaths in for a long moment. "'Taunt,' Mikey."

"Yeah, but—"

"No. They can have a look. That's all."

"It's not—"

Frank pulls Mikey to him, sinks his teeth into Mikey's ear lobe and does not let up, not even at Mikey's soft whimper. Mikey doesn't say, "stop," and they know each other's language. Finally, Frank loosens his hold, drags his mouth to the hollow of Mikey's ear and growls, "That. Is. All."

Mikey breaths, "All."

*


Frank slips out of their bunk—it's his, really, but he doesn't think in those terms anymore and he doesn't think anyone else in the band does either—late into the night. Gerard's up. Frank knows he will be. Frank gets them both waters from the fridge and nudges in next to Gerard, because he doesn't want to have this conversation without touching him. Gerard takes the bottle with a murmured, "Thanks."

"You have to know what I'm going to say here."

"He's my little brother, Frank."

"He's also a part of your band, so stop fucking with him, okay? I know it's not— None of us doubts your claim or who you are to him or any of that. But next thing you know he's going to be learning the drums just so he can hide behind the kit. Then we've got territory wars and nothing good has ever come of that."

Gerard takes a sip of water. "I thought I remembered how well you do 'dire', but no, you're better than I thought."

Frank snickers. "Asshole."

Gerard says, "Look, you're you, and that's the only reason we're even here talking because I would've told anybody else in the world, even the other two, that he's my brother and there was no space in between that. Except you are the space in between that, sort of, which I hate sometimes but is probably even more screwed up from where you are."

"I don't want—"

"Let him hide for a bit, Frank. He'll come back up, you know he will."

"I'm just saying—"

"I know, that I overshadow him, I scare him, I—"

"Stop it."

"I can, sometimes. I can even mean to. Maybe I'm waiting for the day when he pushes back. Undoes my hoodie."

"Are you?" Frank asks, even as he remembers the way Gerard practically carried Mikey to Stacy's, remembers the way Gerard was there from the first day Mikey would let him come, and every day after. "Nevermind."

"He's my baby brother. And sometimes protection isn't as straightforward as everybody acts like it is. You know that." The last part sounds accusatory, a bit hurt.

Frank presses his leg into Gerard's, leans his head on Gerard's shoulder. Gerard reaches up to ruffle his hair. "But I like that you still try to make it that way."

Frank laughs at that, a tiny huff of not-exactly-amusement. Mostly it's because he believes Gerard.

*


Gerard, for all his anger and bleakness and hope and raw humanity, was pretty straightforward when it came to sex. No pun intended.

Not that Gerard’s way didn’t do it for Frank. It did, it did all kinds of things. And at first, he has trouble reconciling that difference, the way Mikey can be so utterly shameless, so gorgeously filthy from his toes on up. Every time Frank gets to thinking they've gone as far as they're going to go, Mikey proves him wrong.

Frank never, ever minds being proven wrong yet again. Especially not the night he almost passes Mikey on his way from the dressing room to the quiet room. The halls are dark because the backstage area of this particular stadium is designed for crap.

Mikey's not dressed for the show. Oh, he has his eyeliner on, and his hair teased out a bit and something that shines just so on his lips. His jeans are pulled down lower than normal and his t-shirt is hiked up so that his hipbones shine pale and lean in the bare light of the hallway. Frank stops, does a double-take, starts to say, "What are you—" when Mikey says, "I know, I know I'm not supposed to be back here," voice all hesitant and soft.

Frank is about to say, "Mikey, what the hell?" Then it hits him. "No, and if you don't get out, I'm going to have to find our security."

"Please," not-Mikey says. "Please, I just wanna see the show so bad."

Frank steps toward him a bit. "How bad?"

"I'll do anything. Please."

"Anything?"

Mikey nods, eyes large and earnest behind the dark markings of paint and shadow.

"On your knees," Frank says, soft and as apathetic as he can manage. Mikey sinks there, nowhere near as graceful as he usually is, clumsy and unsure and young. Frank is so going to hell. It's going to be an awesome ride.

Frank says, "Hands behind your back. Don't move them. Move them, and no tickets."

Mikey clasps one hand over the other wrist. Tight. Frank says, "Undo my pants."

Mikey looks up at him, "But—"

Frank just raises an eyebrow. Mikey worries at his lip a bit but then leans in, tugs at the clasp of Frank's pants. It unhooks with time and effort and Mikey works at the zipper the same way. Frank has to close his eyes momentarily, really, really not wanting to come just from this. He helps Mikey out a little, taking his dick out of his boxers. "Suck me, whore."

Mikey perhaps can't help the slightly ironic smile that breaks from his lips at that, but he suppresses it by opening his mouth and following the order. Frank buries his hands in Mikey's hair—hairdressing is going to be pissed and Frank really, really doesn't give a shit—and pulls him onto his cock. It's not gentle and Mikey gags, chokes a little bit. Frank just holds on until he settles. Then he fucks Mikey's face with short, deep strokes and Mikey opens up to him, takes it, lets him control everything.

Frank sort of wants to come on Mikey's face, but makeup actually will kill him if Mikey shows up completely scrubbed clean. Instead he holds Mikey tight to his pelvis and comes so deep in Mikey's throat he doubts Mikey even much feels it.

He lets Mikey go and while Mikey's busy panting, busy wiping his lips with the back of his arm and staring up at Frank, still in character—two parts awe, one part unseeing desire—Frank gets down on his knees and pushes his hand into Mikey's pants, not even bothering to unzip them. It's too tight a fit and Mikey whimpers a bit and Frank growls, "You'd best come. If you want those tickets you'd best—" he can't even finish before he feels the thick, wet heat of Mikey's orgasm in his palm, over his fingers.

Frank silently thanks Mikey for not being in costume. Wardrobe's the only department that's not going to be putting a contract out on their lives. When Mikey can speak again he says, "I wasn't sure you'd go with it."

Frank asks, "I didn't—"

"Sometimes I like it not very sweet," Mikey says.

"I know."

"Hm. It doesn't generally hurt to remind you."

"No," Frank says. It doesn't. He sort of likes to spoil Mikey. Mikey could use some spoiling.

Mikey kisses him, his lips too swollen. "Good thing it's hard for the kids to actually see much from where they are."

Frank laughs. "No kidding."

"Did I earn my tickets?"

"I've got a spot for you right on stage."

*


Frank spends all sixty-three hours of the "I Don't Love You," shoot hard.

It's bad enough that both Mikey and Gerard—and, well, Ray and Bob, whom Frank loves, but does not really want to fuck—are painted over with white facepaint, black lipstick and eye makeup accentuating the places that will need to pop in the video. The theory of it, the 3D representation of what is meant to be untouchable is so fucking hot that Frank has to, has to wank carefully, quietly in the studio bathroom every once in awhile. Once it is transformed, and the extent of his kink is fulfilled, Frank is going to be so screwed.

They're too tired to fuck after the first day of shooting, but Mikey says, "If you don't stop taking yourself to the bathroom, I might start getting jealous."

Frank makes no promises.

Gerard makes them all sit down and watch the final cut together. Frank sort of hates Gerard momentarily, because it's not as though Gerard somehow missed this kink. But hey, at least Gerard doesn't decide it needs to be saved as a surprise for their appearance on TRL, because Frank has bad, bad luck with TRL and being publicly humiliated. Mikey, luckily, is an amazing boyfriend, who, shortly after the video, drapes himself over Gerard and whispers, "I'm going to go take him now, while he probably thinks about you."

Gerard's eyes aren't haunted by the comment the way they would have been before JC. They are quiet, and his smile is unsure, but Frank hands Gerard his sidekick and says, "Email it to your boyfriend," and Gerard laughs. "I don't think it's going to garner the same response."

Frank shrugs, "Never know."

Mikey takes him to the bathroom, because no way are they driving all the way home and there's too much daylight to be stopping on the side of the road somewhere. He pushes Frank's hips into the sink basin, Frank's hands coming up to the mirror just so that he has a purchase on something. There will smudged hand prints when Mikey allows him to take them away. Mikey puts his hand to the button of Frank's jeans and says, "Tell me it's not him you see."

Frank looks in the mirror, at Mikey's face behind him. "Was he in the video?"

Mikey rips down Frank’s jeans and his own and then he's rubbing himself against Frank, cock sliding against the line of Frank's ass, up and down. Frank groans and crushes himself to the porcelain of the sink, but Mikey grabs his stomach, pulls him back to where he can wrap his hand around Frank's dick, squeeze and pull and hold, and ask, "Isn't that better than your hand?"

"Mikey, so fucking beautiful, with your skin, your white skin and how sharp, so fucking sharp, all lines, oh Mikey, Mikey."

Mikey laughs into his ear. "Yeah, you were pretty fucking hot yourself. You and all your ink, black on white on black."

Mikey pulls Frank back, presses in with particular force on one stroke and comes all over his ass. Frank imagines the color contrast of that too, watches Mikey's eyelids flutter a little, revealing only peaks of his dark, obscure eyes, and screams as he comes.

*


Mikey's shaking, vibrating under his skin like he does before a show and Frank knows it's fine, just energy, too much caffeine, not enough sleep, bus life and being a guy rolled into one, but now when he sees it, sometimes he sees Mikey shaking—shaky—in other ways and he has to think, "No. No, he fixed that."

Some nights it works and some nights it's not enough, won't be enough until he can put his hands to Mikey's shoulders and press just the tiniest bit. Until he can feel him whole underneath his grip. Mikey sometimes smiles at him, sometimes scowls, sometimes notches his shoulders into the hold and settles slightly. Depends on the night.

Frank says, "Gonna be a good show tonight," and he thinks it is. They're in the midwest (Chicago? Milwaukee?) where the audiences are always easier, less impressed by themselves, more impressed by the band.

Mikey makes a noise of acknowledgement, still jittery in his hands. Frank has to fight not to tighten his hold. He asks, "How's the cold?"

"The Cold" is a perpetual state of being for almost all of them. One of them will pick it up from who only knows where, and living in each other's clothes—literally, most days—none of the others have any defense against it. Mikey is the latest victim, but Frank is relatively certain it was Gerard who brought it on board this time. Frank has resigned himself to the fact that he's next.

Mikey sniffles slightly. "Almost done."

Frank lets one hand slide to the back of Mikey's neck, runs a finger along the vertebrae. Mikey's not too skinny, but he was, for a bit, and Frank likes to reassure himself that there is regeneration happening. "Maybe you should sleep, afterward."

Before the breakdown, Mikey alternated between sleeping all the time—too depressed for anything but recording, and even then it was hit and miss—and never sleeping, strung along on false energy and even more false happiness. Now he sleeps more like the rest of them—not enough for their age group, too much for their label. Mikey shifts under his hands. "I try."

Frank knows. There's too much electricity in the aftermath. If Mikey were Ray or Bob, Frank would offer up his trusty bottle of Nyquil and let him go to town. For obvious reasons, that's not going to happen here. He deepens the caress at the base of Mikey's neck, murmurs, "Come to my bunk, okay?"

There are other solutions than Nyquil. Better ones, in this case. For a second, a bare moment, Mikey is still. Then he breathes, "Yeah," and the energy returns, pure and oddly steadying.

*


Mikey is already in the bunk when Frank crawls in. He's clean, or as clean as any of them ever are after showering on the bus. His hair is damp and he smells like Pert, which is how Frank knows he's run out of shampoo again and is stealing Bob's.

He's still thrumming. Sometimes Frank considers telling him that if he would move around more on stage some of this would burn itself off, but he thinks Mikey knows. Most of the time, paralysis isn't voluntary.

He licks at the hollow of Mikey's neck, where some of the water that wasn't caught by the towel has pooled. Mikey arches off the bed but is silent, the way they all are, the way they've learned to be. It's not that the others won't know, but there are ways of sharing and ways of learning and all five of them are aware of the rules that surround sex on the bus. Rules or no, Frank laughs softly in Mikey's ear. "Yeah, okay."

He rolls over Mikey so that he's closer to the wall, presses his back up against it, pulls Mikey further into the bunk, against him. Mikey won't want gentle, not now, but he will want close, so Frank wraps one arm around Mikey's chest, doesn't think about whether there will be bruises—mostly, mostly, because if there are, the visual...Frank needs to last, just a bit—and pulls Mikey's boxers down just enough, just to his thighs. Frank reaches up to the small ledge of the bunk, where he's stashed the lube, pops the top and doesn't even bother with niceties, squeezing some straight into Mikey. Mikey gasps at that, the cold. Frank murmurs, "Sh," but it's not really a scolding. He likes the sound of Mikey's surprise too much for it to be.

He presses his cock in somewhat slowly, aware that there's been no preparation. Mikey's used to this—good at this—but still. Mikey wriggles on him, pushes onto him and Frank grabs his cock almost by instinct, squeezing just this side of too tightly. Mikey brings his hands up to the arm around his torso and digs his fingernails in. There will be marks, and Frank will have to wear long sleeves, but that's okay, because it's cold anyway. Their look is misfit-oriented enough that it wouldn't be remarked on even were it summer, not really.

Neither of them are going to last long and Frank knows it, not like this, cramped and hard and post-show, no. He whispers, "Yeah, baby, come on," and Mikey's fingernails sink deeper as he comes over Frank's hand, over himself. The pressure, the bare hint of pain is too much, and Frank follows his lead. When they've both fallen wholly into the bed, into the wall, limbless and yet somehow held together, Mikey is still for the first time the whole day. Frank asks, "Sleep now?" but Mikey's breaths are already steady and even.

*


Frank nudges Mikey awake with a hand to his shoulder. Mikey opens one eye—grudgingly—looks at Frank and asks, "Really?" in an amazingly ironic tone for someone who hasn't gained full consciousness.

Frank smiles, not wholly apologetically. "Sorry."

"Where are we?"

"Uh." Frank rustles underneath his bag for the schedule their manager printed out. "Have any idea what day it is?"

Mikey just looks at him.

"Right. Gimme a second." He remembers doing the Philly show, because there was that girl who managed to get on the bus despite security, and whoa hadn't that been a mess. Gerard still has scratches. The makeup crew likes to make growling noises at him.

He thinks that might have been three days ago. "I think we're close to Baltimore."

"We should go South. Really south. Cuba south. You think they'd like us there?"

"I think our rights as Americans might be revoked, but yeah, I'm pretty sure the youth of Cuba is equally pissed off at the world." Possibly more, but Frank isn't really claiming expertise. "Cold?"

"Freezing. Do we have heat on this bus, or did we not pay the bill last month?"

"I'm not in charge of the utilities," Frank says, but it's possible that if there were utilities, he would be. No, probably Ray. He puts the schedule back roughly where he found it and grabs one of his sweatshirts from right next to it. "Up."

Mikey grumbles but gets himself into a sitting position and puts his arms up, waiting. Frank pulls the shirt over his head. "Better?"

Mikey looks at him, accusatorily.

"Not what you wanted?" Frank asks.

Mikey's gaze stays precisely as it is. Frank crawls fully back into the bunk and curls himself fully around Mikey. "All right, but then we really do gotta get dressed."

Mikey snorts.

*


They have the night off on Thursday. Frank wakes up on the day he's pretty sure is Thursday. He's not wholly sure, so he asks Bob, who just shrugs, and Gerard, who has the sense to drag his mouse over the clock on his computer. "Yeah, Thursday."

There was a time—a relatively recent time—when Frank could run down to the local convenience store and grab himself some garlic chips and Dr. Pepper and cherry-lime popsicles, or whatever the hell he was craving. Not that he would give up the crowds, the way the girls (and the boys, hidden, hiding behind their hair and their designed-to-look-cheap clothing) smile when he's being rushed to the bus, the constant, unending closeness of the other four. No, not that he would give up any of that. But he wants some Twizzlers and it's a pain to have to ask someone else to go get them for him. It makes him feel stupid.

Still, he is going to ask so he makes sure Gerard and Bob don't want anything, yells out a check to Ray and then goes to find Mikey. Mikey's still asleep. Frank can see him breathing or he'd pass his hand over his mouth like he used to do when Mikey would sleep for twenty hours straight and wake up with eyes that were still bruised. Frank isn't sure if Mikey feels the shift in air currents caused by his approach, or if it's simply that second sense that allows someone to know when somebody's standing right over him in his sleep. Mikey twists a bit though, and stretches and Frank can't help reaching out to skim his fingers along the smooth plane of skin from hipbone to rib. Mikey bats his hand away, "Tickles."

"Pussy."

"Mm, you wish."

Frank doesn't. "I'm gonna have one of the roadies do a junk food run. You want?"

"Rocky road ice cream, sour worms and Cheez-its."

"Are you pregnant?"

"Yeah, that girl back in Atlanta. I told you something was screwy about her."

Frank grins. "We have tonight off."

"It's Thursday?" Mikey says, the word coming out with a hint of worship to it. In two weeks, Sunday will sound the same.

"Yup."

"I'm going back to sleep." Mikey closes his eyes.

Frank sighs. "Thought you'd say that."

Mikey smiles even with his eyes closed. "What, you don't want me awake for tonight?"

Frank goes off to procure them an energy source.

*


Gerard steals the rocky road, which is just bullshit, because Gerard doesn't even like rocky road—the marshmallows creep him out. Luckily, Frank has thought ahead, because he knows that occasionally Gerard feels the need to be a total brother, and not in the older, protective, useful sort of way that it generally manifests itself. He has ordered a pint and a gallon and hidden the latter. This is good planning on two levels: 1) he and Mikey will still have the gallon to dig into, and 2) if he positions himself right, he will be able to take photos on his phone of Gerard making faces every time he hits a marshmallow. One of these days, he's going to sell his collection to eBay. Maybe. Probably not.

The real threat to the sour worms comes from Ray, because Ray will eat anything that looks like it might have moved at one time. In order to stave off this theft, Frank has made sure to have gummy octopuses on hand, since Ray will be distracted by the many squirming legs. The Cheez-Its are safe, unless Bob gets the munchies, and then nothing is safe.

Frank always thinks he's going to find some time to learn jujitsu, and thereby defend his rightful transfat prizes, but when they get off tour, he mostly just sleeps a lot and sneaks to the store in the dead of night so that he doesn't have to sign some girl's bra while trying to figure out if the cantaloupe he's holding will taste like summer or faintly dusty cardboard. His mom keeps trying to teach him how to know, but there are things Frank is good at, and sadly, fruit discernment isn't one of them. He gets by.

Mikey's up when Frank delivers the goodies to his hotel room. They're in a hotel, an actual hotel that doesn't go anywhere once they walk in the door, and that's why it's a free night. There's neither concert, nor travel. Mikey's up and even somewhat dressed, which is a disappointment. Still, Frank likes the worn cotton of Mikey's off-stage, out of sight days, the cords that nearly crumble under his fingers, the jeans that already have crumbled, but Mikey holds together with his hipbones. Frank hands over the ice cream and shows him one of the pictures of Gerard all at once.

"Busy afternoon," Mikey says. "Come in."

Frank shuts the door after himself.

*


Gerard says, "You gotta erase those pictures. Because with my luck, you're gonna lose your cell phone and I'm gonna have hack reporters writing captions with sexual innuendo to them in J-14. And that will be the least of the horrors."

Frank has never lost his cell phone in his life. Nor his wallet, nor his watch, nor even his duffel bag. He loses socks all the time, but Ray seems to gain socks all the time, so he's pretty sure that's planned theft rather than accidental misplacement. Frank has no idea how Ray fits into the socks, but whatever, there are more important questions in life. "If I lost my cell phone, everyone I know and love would have to change their phone numbers, which I consider to be a bigger problem than you suffering some well-deserved humiliation, klepto."

Gerard tilts his head. "It's possible you have a point. I'll think it over."

"Do that."

Gerard looks down at his empty pad of paper as he asks, "How much of it did he eat?"

It's hard to know what to say to Gerard when he asks things like that. If Frank were asking Gerard he'd want to know, would think he had every right to know, but here Gerard is, blood and genes and history wholly entwined with Mikey's and Frank isn't sure where the lines of betrayal begin and end. "He's all right."

Gerard scribbles something, a swirl, a leaf—Frank can't tell except to know that it isn't words. Gerard says, "Okay."

Frank sits down across from Gerard and pulls the pad away. "What'd you do Thursday?"

Gerard shrugs. "Writer's block. There was a Robot Chicken marathon on Adult Swim."

"I like that show."

"It's funny." Gerard doesn't sound amused.

"He ate a third of it," Frank says, breaking. "It was impressive, actually."

"Huh," Gerard says.

"Stop trying," Frank says, and stands, taking the pad with him.

"It's sort of—"

"I'm in the band, Gerard. I know what it is. Stop trying." He walks away then, because a lot of the time when he argues with Gerard, Gerard wins, and Frank really doesn't want to give the pad back.

*


Frank doesn't worry about Mikey cheating, he's not the type. Even if he weren't in love with Frank—and Frank's about one hundred and four percent certain he is—he would be honest. Mikey's very honest. Frank does worry when he gets back, finally having beaten back the mono, to watch the way Mikey's eyes will sometimes follow a guy across a restaurant, in a hotel lobby. The guys are always roughly twice Frank's size, and obviously better acquainted with the gym. They are always in button down shirts, white or blue or even pink. They have soft curls, or well-parted locks. Their fingernails are buffed and clean. They walk like they have a book on their heads.

When Frank pushes Mikey to the floor of his hotel room after a particularly notable one—one with a cardigan, for fuck's sake—it is maybe more of a statement of possession than it normally is. When he takes Mikey on his hands and knees and won't touch Mikey, but presses with short, hard strokes up against his prostate and says, "From this, baby, just from this," it is maybe more desperate and fear-filled than anything between them has been in a while.

Mikey's shoulders are shaking by the time he finally manages it and Frank pulls them both onto the floor, Mikey on top of him, cushioned, because he can't quite say, "Sorry," not just yet.

"Um," Mikey mutters, his eyes closed, his chapped lips forcing Frank to run his thumb over the lower one. "Not to complain, because I'm pretty much still getting over missing you, but do I get to know what that was about?"

"You have a hot ass," Frank says.

"I kinda prefer yours," Mikey tells him and nips Frank's thumb lightly, sucking away the not-hurt.

"Yeah?" Frank means for the question to be droll. It's un-ironic. He knows what it takes for Mikey to use teeth.

Mikey sucks a bit more forcefully, but Frank knows he's just thinking. Then he lets go so that he can say, "Okay, you know what? Let's start over again. You wanna tell me what that was about?"

"Is this the kind of 'want' where I get a choice?"

"No, not really."

Frank sighs and gives in, because Mikey has asked, and Frank isn't so honest, but he is with Mikey. "I'm not your type."

"Huh?"

"Your type. You like them big and clean."

"For sex, sure. It's so...paradoxical, the way those types will talk to you with their perfectly manicured words and fuck you so dirty you can smell it for a week. And I'm a tall guy, they're sort of my size."

"We have sex, Mikey."

"Mm," Mikey smiles and wriggles against Frank, "we do."

"I'm not your size, and I'm not...what you see is mostly what you get with me."

"That's quite possibly the stupidest thing you've ever said to me. Well, okay, you're not exactly my size, but you make up for that by sheer force, so whatever."

"I wear myself on my arms, in our songs, Mikey."

"And yet everytime you touch me I know something new about you. Maybe I'm just stupid."

"Stop talking smack about my boyfriend."

"Not until you return the favor."

Frank says softly, "I just don't want you to be stuck. I don't want you to want things and think you can't have them."

"That part's done," Mikey says softly.

Frank would wonder where he was when he should have been looking at Mikey, but he remembers Gerard being in the way. He can't resent Gerard for it, but he sort of wishes he could. "Yeah," he squeezes Mikey until Mikey makes sounds of distress. It takes an enormous amount of strength.

*


Frank reads the copy of Rock Sound that they send each of them and calls Mikey, who doesn't pick up his phone. He leaves the message, "Call me."

He leaves the same message a few hours later. He fucking hates this, hates Mikey not being with them, hates that Mikey can just not pick up the phone if he doesn't want to talk to them, to Frank. He gets that it's necessary, that Mikey needs this, that the only thing to do for Mikey was to send him home, but that doesn't mean he has to like it. It blows, and Frank's not pretending otherwise, he's just not. The next day he's accelerated to, "Seriously, I miss you, please call."

By the afternoon he's at, "Mikey, c'mon, don't make me rally the troops to have people calling you every single second of the day. I know you, you won't turn your Sidekick off."

By his post-show phone call he's leaving ten minutes messages in the bizarre hope that maybe Mikey will call back in the middle, or something. By the third day he has Gerard, Ray, Bob, Spencer, Ryan, Brendon, Jon and Pete all calling Mikey non-stop. Mikey caves halfway through the day. "I thought you people sent me home for some peace and quiet."

"Not from me," Frank says.

"I'm very busy starting my own cult, I'll have to call you back later."

"Gerard and I have been discussing whether we can sue those fuckers, but evidently you're allowed to talk a lot of smack about us before we can kick your asses in a court of law. Bob is looking into seeing if we can have them taken out. He knows people."

"Bob?"

"Yes."

"No he doesn't."

"He's from Chicago."

"I'm from New Jersey."

"Right, but you're preoccupied with starting your cult."

"Evidently I didn't learn enough from Gerard's example about winning friends and influencing people because so far, it's a cult of one."

"No, at least two. And Gerard doesn't have fucking BPS, so those buttmunches can fucking bite me."

"Oh yeah? Everyone agreeing with you on that end?" Mikey's breathing was heavy.

"Mikey," Frank said. "Mikey. Baby. C'mon, stop. Stop."

"I'm not— I'm not like him, I can't just decide to get better and then do it. I can— I mean, I'm good at following a schedule and all those little, good boy things he could never do, but when it comes to being fucking effective he's always—"

"Mikey. Mikey. No. No no no. You're just different. Just different. Gerard was an alcoholic. You have a chemical imbalance. The two aren't even on the same scale. Of course it was easier for him."

"He must— I'm ruining his band, his fucking dream—"

"You're not ruining anything. All of us are just waiting for you, that's all. That's all. We're just waiting, because it's hard not having you. But you're not ruining anything. Thousands of fans are still seeing the show. It's not as good, it can't be, but they're still seeing it. You don't ruin things."

"Sometimes."

"Everybody makes mistakes, Mikey. Not everybody bothers to fix them, the way you do."

"Can't always."

"You and me both. Gerard and Ray and Bob for that matter."

Mikey's laugh has a little sniffle in it, but it's a laugh all the same. "Tell everyone to stop calling me."

"Tell'em yourself."

"Jerk."

"You're the asshole who was ignoring my calls."

"Cults are hard work."

Frank snorts and hangs up. He waits. The phone rings on two Mississippi.

*


They're back in New Jersey early because of the cancellations, and Frank feels like shit for thinking it—because Bob and Ray and Matt have been sicker than Frank has ever been in his whole life, and that's saying something—but he's glad. He's even glad they've left hoards of disappointed fans strewn out across states. They'll come back. They will. And Frank wants to see Mikey. He needs to see Mikey.

It isn't that he doesn't know how badly Mikey needed to leave, how he needed to stay in one spot, know where he was waking up and going to bed, not have to put on makeup and everything that goes with it. Frank knows. Frank was the one who told Gerard, to which Gerard asked, "I maybe should have had the balls to say it first, huh?" Frank doesn't blame Gerard for that. Gerard always wants to see Mikey as doing all right, wants to give him that much.

Frank knows and it's good that Mikey took them at their word and left before there were any more glasses and apologies and things that Frank just prefers to see left in the past. But Frank misses him, misses him with every damn stroke of Matt's fingers—and he's conscious, so conscious of being nice to Matt, who asked, "Is Mikey all right?" when they approached him about a temporary step in—misses him every time he climbs into his bunk, every time he wakes, every time he sits on the couch, just misses him.

He lets himself into Mikey's house. There are still boxes in a lot of places, many of them Ikea. Mikey can afford better furniture, but then he wouldn't get to put it together, which is a good three-quarters of Mikey's joy in buying the stuff. Frank calls, "Mikey?"

Frank hears rustling, then a little clattering and then Mikey descends upon him from an unforeseen direction. Frank takes it in stride, gets himself as tangled in Mikey as he can as quickly as possible. Mikey kisses him hard and fast and says, "I'll ask about the others later."

Frank slips to his knees and tugs Mikey's sweatpants over his hips, his cock. "Good plan," he says, and then gets busy christening Mikey's entryway.

*


Frank orders food when they've gotten the first rush of welcome out, because Mikey's always hungry, particularly after expending that much energy, and his kitchen has about four bowls unpacked in it. They don't match. He orders from his favorite Chinese place. It doesn't technically deliver to Mikey's part of town, but Frank bribes them with cash money. He wants fried vegetarian dumplings and a good Buddha's Delight and neither of those are easy to find in New Jersey, not even the schwank quarter Mikey's moved himself into. Frank supposes they expect everyone to commute the forty-five minutes into Chinatown. Whatever.

He tells them to bring extra fortune cookies. Mikey likes opening them. Frank folds himself onto the couch—one of the few surfaces completely clutter free—and watches Mikey figure out how to assemble the entertainment center. He would offer to help, but that would just ruin Mikey's fun. Mikey asks, "Seriously, how are Bob and Ray and Matt?"

"Ray and Matt are getting there. Bob's pretty close to dead. Spencer sent him this cold pack thing to put on his stomach to at least numb the muscles. It seems to help a little."

"Spence must be going out of his fucking mind."

"Brendon said Jon mixed the insides of a Benadryl capsule in his ice cream about a day ago."

Mikey looks up. Frank tightens his grip on his knees. "There were probably a couple of times when Bob couldn't even talk to Spence, he was so fucking sick."

"You guys didn't say."

"So you could be as freaked out as Spence? There didn't seem to be much point." Frank wanted to tell Mikey, but that had been a selfish thing, he'd wanted Mikey to say, "It's just food poisoning, they'll all be fine," and that isn't what Mikey needs right now, even if sometimes it is, even if sometimes Mikey needs things to put together, to hold up. Right now the Ikea is more than enough.

Mikey abandons his project for Frank, squeezes himself between the sofa and Frank's body, compact and contained. Frank holds to his composure for a moment and then melts into Mikey. Mikey strokes at his back, "I don't suppose you could contract mono again?"

"Blow me," Frank mutters. How the hell Mikey didn't get mono is beyond him. Also, annoying as fuck. Assholes with their super-human (or really, just human) immune systems.

Mikey takes the imprecation as suggestion, reaching down to cop a feel. "I don't think you're quite ready yet."

Frank's really not. Mikey rests his chin on Frank's shoulder. "If you asked me to come back, I would."

It's a cruel offer, with Mikey looking like he's actually sleeping some and keeping some weight on and managing basic human things that contribute to health and happiness. "I know."

"No?"

Frank shakes his head. There's a reason they sent Mikey home for a while. A good one.

"I miss you."

Frank knows. He knows with every rambling message Mikey leaves him while he's performing and all the texts he wakes up to the next morning and the gifts that arrive at hotels ahead of him. He knows because he would feel it if this level of emotion were his and his alone. The doorbell rings and Frank says, "You gotta let me go."

It takes Mikey a while.

*


Frank calls after the show because fuckfuckfuck. Gerard sits beside him, knees bouncing uncontrollably.

Mikey picks up, "Anyone get hit by a bottle?"

"We're all alive and well and I want you to remember that you're happy about that fact in a minute when I get done telling you what I have to tell you."

"Um. Okay."

"We were playing and you know how it is when you're playing and you're not really thinking and some pissant from the crowd maybe yells 'faggot' and you want to prove a point, but Ray's all the way across the stage and likely to be a little put off if you prove it with him and Bob's on a frickin' drum stand so really the only option is to walk across the stage and kiss the lead singer, who maybe then kisses back, because we're both, you know, proving a point."

Mikey is silent.

"Please, please say something. I swear it wasn't—"

"Has my brother called JC?"

"Um—"

"Because he probably should. Just. Y'know. There'll be pictures, and he should—"

"Mikey, please, I'm so—"

"If I had been there, would it have been me?"

"You have to ask?" Frank asks, largely because he literally can't conceive that Mikey would have to. Then he realizes that was the wrong answer. "I mean, yes, of course it would have been you, Mikey. Jesus."

"Because it might not have been as flashy, might not have proven your point quite so well."

"It would have proven my point perfectly, because I fucking love you and I have no issue being a faggot if it means I get to be yours and you get to be mine and fuck, I wish it had been you, okay? I wish—"

"Ray would have gone with it. Maybe not as much as Gerard—"

"Mikey I don't want your brother. I don't. And he doesn't want me. That's done. That's done."

There is another long silence and Frank is considering begging when Mikey says, softly, "I know. I just wish it hadn't been him."

The admission knocks any fight Frank might have had right out of him. "I'm so sorry, baby. I'm so sorry. It was stupid."

"Sometimes when you're playing," Mikey says.

"Mikey."

"You said you loved me."

"I do, I love you."

"I wish I had been there."

"The toilets are the most disgusting things I've ever seen in my life."

"Still."

Frank sighs. "Yeah. Yeah."

Next to him, Gerard begins to breathe again.

*


Frank goes straight to Mikey's place from the airport. He doesn't even care if Mikey will let him use the shower or not—he will—Frank needs to be with him.

He isn't even fully in the door when Mikey grabs him, yanks him inside, closes the door behind him. Frank's back is pressing into the doorknob and it hurts and he couldn't care less if he tried. Mikey says, "Mine," and it sounds more like a question than it should, far more like one. Frank does the most instinctive thing possible, throws his head back, bears his neck, says, "Mikey," says, "Yours."

Mikey's teeth sink in quick and sharp. Frank's forgotten that feeling, because Mikey has all his stops, all his guilt and Frank hopes that Mikey just keeps them where they are, doesn't let go, doesn't look back. Frank feels the skin break, feels the trickle of heat and iron and life between them. Mikey's hands find Frank's and they hold too tight, everything is too fucking much and Frank says, "Yours, oh, oh, yours."

Mikey releases his teeth, laps gently at the torn skin. "Want—"

"Just take, just. Yours."

Mikey lets go of Frank's hands but only to get at his jeans, tear them down, push Frank to his knees. "Take them off."

Frank does. It's hurried and unsexy and neither of them has any idea, cares. At all. Mikey is busy getting his own pants off, sinking down to rest with his back against the door. He grabs a condom from his pocket, slicks it on and says, "Get on my dick. Now."

Frank straddles Mikey, slides down so hard it burns, and that is as good as the bite, as the bruises he'll feel in his hands tomorrow. He wishes he had to play through the pain, had some need to feel it every fucking second. Mikey wraps his hand around the back of Frank's neck, presses his thumb to the teeth marks. "Mine," he growls, grabbing Frank's cock with his other hand, and there's no question there anymore.

"Yes," Frank says, "yes, yes."

"Mine," Mikey repeats and Frank wants to hold on, wants to be in this state of held, of awaited pleasure forever, but he can't, not with Mikey claiming him.

He says, "Mikey."

Mikey says, "Show me."

"Only you," Frank tells him. "Only."

*


When he can remember where he put his tongue, Frank says, "Now you need a shower, too." It's a happy thought.

Mikey laughs a little but doesn't move his head from Frank's stomach, where it has come to rest. Frank combs his fingers through Mikey's hair. "Come on. Hot water. It'll be fun."

"How's your neck?" Mikey asks softly.

The bite pulses a little, warm and low and comforting. Frank grins. He says, "Look at me, Mikey."

Mikey shivers.

"Look at me."

Mikey lifts his head and twists just a bit. He blinks at what Frank knows has to be a grin so bright they could probably turn off the lights and be fine. Frank asks, "How do you think it is?"

Mikey reaches out and touches his fingers to the skin around it. "Probably needs to be cleaned."

Frank perks up even further. "Shower?"

Mikey smiles at him, the best kind of Mikey smile, the one Frank wishes he had on film, even if it wouldn't be quite the same. It's Mikey's I-love-you smile, and it doesn't look the same for any two people in the world. Mikey nods. "Shower."

Frank adores Mikey's new shower. It's large and open and has two widely circular heads that drench a person without much persuasion from the dial. He has to wash himself first, but then he lets Mikey do it. Mikey pays careful attention to Frank's battle wounds, kissing at them gently once he has them cleaned out. Afterward they lie on Mikey's fluffy towels in the moist heat of the bathroom, clean and sated and comfortable.

Frank lets Mikey put some ointment on the bite, rubbing it gently in. He says, "I don't want it to go right away."

Mikey drags his thumb gently at the skin near Frank's right eye. "You really— That—"

"Yours," Frank says, grinning again. He can't help it.

Mikey lowers his head and proceeds to give Frank the biggest hickey he's ever had in his life.

*


Frank is rifling through Mikey's t-shirts for a clean one that he can wear until all of his have been through the laundry at least once. He fishes out the Rutgers Outdoor Club shirt and looks at it for a few seconds before bursting into laughter. "Jesus, Mikey, I can't believe you still have this."

Mikey looks over. "It's soft. And blue. And you gave it to me. Why the hell would I not still have it?"

"'Gave' it to you might be a bit of an exaggeration."

"It was too long on you, so you let me wear it."

"Not necessarily for keeps," Frank teases.

"Mean," Mikey tells him.

"You looked so hot in it. If NJPIRG had had more tablers that looked like you, I probably would have gone to save the whales rather than taken up with some emo band and it's dangerous, dangerous ideas."

"Good thing the PIRGers were all dogs."

Frank balls the shirt up and throws it at Mikey. "Mean."

"You noticed me looking hot?"

"Don't worry, I was entirely certain I was going to hell for it."

"Well, you were."

Frank laughs. "Wanna put it on for me now that I can gawk to my heart's desire?"

"Dirty," Mikey says.

"Not unless you lied about having done laundry."

Mikey smirks and throws the shirt he has on to the side. He pulls the Rutgers one over his head.

Frank stalks toward him. "Hell might be worth it."

*


Mikey has a somewhat irrational hatred of YouTube at times. He shouldn't hate it, because it brings him Frank, but he does because it's not ever really Frank. Mikey has a long and illustrious career built around Frank-watching and the figure in YouTube is always some sort of weird, blurred, stick-figure Not-Frank. It's like the Internet is taunting him.

Mikey tries to stay away, but evidently barely-visible marionette-boy Frank is better than no Frank, because Mikey just can't stop. It's worse than alcohol. When Frank comes back, Mikey's almost surprised to find him three dimensional, and with clearly defined edges. Almost, except not quite, because Mikey's sense of Frank has always been too strong for his own good.

When Frank comes back he isn't performing for Mikey, not strapping himself to his guitar and taking them both for a ride. He isn't singing and thrashing and doing all those things that the computer kept trying—if not particularly managing—to show Mikey. Instead he is doing things like brushing his hair, which has gotten too long for him to simply let be, not if he doesn't want mats on his head. That wouldn't be very Frank-like.

Mikey watches as intently as he ever watched any YouTube video when Frank will pull the comb through his hair—a rough, stop and go journey at first, settling into a smooth glide as Frank tames his own strands. The moment doesn't need watching as closely, it's right in front of Mikey, but Mikey has gotten in the habit and just because he has better pictures that doesn't make the pursuit of detail any less worthy.

Frank always starts from the left and makes his way around the crown of his head to the right. Even when the tangles are particularly nasty he just yanks with a sort of stoic acceptance, not even putting his hand to the strands to lessen the pull. When he catches Mikey watching him he'll smile into the mirror, goofy and sweet. Sometimes he asks, "Wanna take over?" and Mikey will, because Frank could clearly use a break.

It's hardly a chore to have the long, soft strands turned over to his care, but Mikey does miss watching the way Frank's torso moves with his arms, the inelegant swaying of his neck. Instead Mikey watches the way Frank's eyes slip closed when Mikey touches his fingers to Frank's roots and goes about the problem in a gentler fashion. He watches the way Frank will arch up into the tines of the comb occasionally, or breathe with his mouth open when the worst of the tangles have been worked free, and Mikey can just run the instrument through the strands.

At some point, Frank will mumble, "You gonna watch all day, or you gonna make a move?" his eyes still closed.

Mikey says, "I could give myself something else to watch," and palms Frank through his soft, time-off pants.

Frank lets his head drop back, the clean, surprisingly long line of his neck on display for all—Mikey—to see. He opens his eyes. "Big talker."

Mikey pops a button.

Frank breathes through his open mouth, and yeah, he knows what he's doing, knows he's there for Mikey's viewing pleasure. Mikey slips his hands into Frank's boxers. "How's that for talk?"

"Shutting up now," Frank says.

Mikey loves the "mute" button.

*


By the third month without Mikey at his back, Frank doesn't even feel the needles anymore, which he knows is a problem, he's not so far gone that he can't tell how far gone he is, but he can't bring himself to stop trying to feel them, can't stop trying to fill the places that suddenly seem empty with color, or—at the very least—ink. Words, pictures, anything, just so long as it's not skin, just so long as he's not stuck looking at it and seeing hands that aren't there. Changing the landscape is the only thing he can think of to stop, just to stop.

It's not working as well as he would like. Every new line, every new shade just calls for a new memory, for the need to have Mikey's tongue trace along the art, his fingers curve up over the edges. Frank tries getting them one after another, not allowing his body the time it needs, seeing if he can feel that, feel the push, feel what he isn't allowing himself, feel anything other than the sense of what's missing.

He takes up smoking again for the exact opposite reason, to see if it gives him pleasure, see if the chemicals take hold of him the way they used to. He wants Mikey around to light his cigarette for him, to talk while Frank is enjoying the rush of nicotine. He wants Mikey to tell him he's an asshole and he had quit and what the fuck is he doing.

Mikey actually does this last for him upon catching a photo of Frank smoking, but there's the filter of fiberoptics and while it's something, it's not what Frank really, truly wants. He doesn't say that, because Mikey sounds pretty settled—other than being pissed off—and settled is good, settled is what they all sent him home for.

Mikey doesn't sound settled when he says, "Gonna leave any skin just for me?" He sounds unsure.

Frank says, "Every inch."

Mikey says, "Frank, I don't— I don't get it."

Frank won't say, "I miss you," can't say, "I'm numb," is left saying, "I just needed them."

"Yeah," Mikey says, "That part I got. I don't get the part where you seem to think you're better if people can't see what's underneath."

Frank starts to deny the accusation and then stops. He hasn't thought about it until now, hasn't thought about how much easier it is with the art for people to stare at, rather than thinking it's just him. "People have a way of seeing through me too easily." People being mostly Mikey and Gerard, but he thinks Mikey will understand that.

"I worked for that," Mikey tells him.

Frank's not so sure that's true, but he likes the sentiment. "You can't see, now?"

"No, no. Frank. I can see. I just— I can see."

"I'm like your secret, then." Frank likes that idea, he likes it a lot.

Mikey laughs a little in a way that Frank can't exactly parse. He says, "In more ways than one."

Frank closes his eyes. "Yeah, but I made this one. I gave it to you."

"You say that like it's something new."

Frank knows that tone. It's the same one Mikey uses to tell Frank he loves him.

*


Frank says it in the middle of a conversation, he says it because it's on his mind, not because it matters or means anything, it's just something he says. "I have to sign another lease soon. I think my landlord's going to jack the rent. Which is annoying, given how much of the year I spend there."

Mikey makes a sound that Frank can't quite comprehend. "Babe?"

"Oh, you know, that's just, um. Stupid. Of your landlord."

Frank frowns. He's pretty sure that wasn't what the noise meant. "I'm not sure stupid is the right word. If someone from My Chemical Romance were living in my building two months out of the year I'd probably bleed him dry, too."

"No you wouldn't, and you should break the lease."

"What? Mikey, I don't really wanna spend my whole time at home apartment hunting. Remember the last time?"

"Intimately." Mikey sounds like he's shuddering.

"Right, sorry, that wasn't very nice of me."

"You're a total dick, that's why I'm dating you, and I wasn't talking about you apartment shopping." Mikey mutters something under his breath that sounds a lot like "functional retard," to Frank.

Frank takes a moment to go over the facts he has. Mikey has suggested giving up his apartment, but Mikey does not want him to look for a new apartment. "Are you asking me to move in with you?"

"I'm saying I think it's only reasonable, given your utter lack of rent-control." Mikey sounds stiff, nervous.

"You're such a romantic."

"Oh, fuck off," but there's an exhalation with the curse, a bit of laughter.

"You really want me?" Frank just needs to check. Just in case Mikey really does feel bad about the rent problem.

This time, Mikey just says, "Functional retard," in an audible tone. Then he says, "Frank, Jesus, did you miss the part where when I bought the house I asked you if you liked it, first? And then when you said, 'yeah, it's nice,' I made you walk through the fucking thing until you had something more to say?"

Oh. Frank actually kind of did miss that part, at least on a conscious level. "Mikey."

"What was the point of having this whole stupid house to myself? I mean, maybe if Gerard hadn't been so intent on moving across the damn country, but even then, really, no, no point if you weren't going to finally give up your stupid apartment."

"People are going to talk."

"Nah, I talked to Brian. He says he can make it look like you still keep your own place."

"Have I mentioned that I love having an evil overlord as our manager?"

"QED."

"Yeah, good point."

"Want me to go pack up your stuff?"

"You wanna go pack up my stuff?"

"I like your stuff."

"You have the keys."

Frank hears them jingle.

*


Mikey's lived in the house for quite some time, but when Frank comes home from PR there's really nothing to do but christen it as theirs. They mean to do so in the living room, since it's pretty central, but they don't make it that far and have to settle for the staircase—Mikey kneeling up, his knees on the second step, hands resting on the fifth, Frank holding on to the stair railing for support, both of them breathless. Frank seems to be actually trying to tell Mikey things, but Mikey's just going to have to ask later. Right then he's very busy being nothing but the smooth, warm wood beneath him, the wet, damp softness of Frank's free palm on his shoulder, the solid, consistent pleasure of him driving into Mikey. When they're done they both slide all the way to the floor and Mikey admits, "I don't have any clue what you just told me."

"Yeah," Frank says, "me neither."

Mikey hopes none of it was important. Frank tilts his head up, arching his back to look behind him and says, "Oh."

"Oh?" Mikey asks.

"You put my stuff out."

Mikey follows his gaze. There are some new frames on the mantelpiece bearing pictures of Frank with Pencey and Frank with his family. "Yeah. I put the Godzilla poster in the studio. I had it framed. I hope you like the frame I picked."

"I've been meaning to do that—"

"For like two years. Yeah, I had the time. I hung your pants in the closet, too. And I got us a shoe rack, mostly because I had to assemble it, but it's pretty useful, now I don't keep accidentally trying to put on your midget-feet shoes, which was just annoying. I threw my towels out and kept yours, yours were actual towels and mine weren't really deserving of that label any longer. I put your dresser in the closet, because it was looking kinda rough, but I put your underwear and socks and t-shirts in there."

"Do I have anything left to unpack?"

"Um... I bought bookshelves because I could put them together, too, so I put all your books out, but I didn't really futz around with order, so you might need to redo that. Other than that, I can't really think of much. You didn't have a lot of kitchen stuff, so I just mixed it in with my not a lot of kitchen stuff and the knickknacks can be found around the house at large."

"You didn't have to do that."

"Well, no, but I didn't want our time spent at home to be spent unpacking, and I thought this way you'd believe me, that this was yours, too."

Frank rolls over onto Mikey. "I believed you."

"Just in case, I'm just saying."

"Where are my dogs?"

"Backyard. They're gonna be pissed when they figure out I'm keeping you from them, huh?"

"Piglet Tree'll protect you."

"If it comes down to being between me and your dogs, I really am going to have to expect you to side with me."

"You ask a lot, Mikey Way."

Mikey looks up at Frank. "I know."

Frank kisses him. "I don't really notice."

*


Mikey looks at himself for the fifth time that afternoon and finally just gives up. "Is my fly open, or something?"

Ray says, "No. No," and pretends to go back to doing whatever he was not doing when he started staring at Mikey. Mikey turns the tables and stares at Ray. Tragically, Ray is better at ignoring Mikey than vice versa. Mikey goes and sits on Ray's lap. Ray wraps his arms around Mikey's midsection and goes right on pretending like nothing is happening. Mikey says softly, "If you don't tell me, I can't fix it."

Ray sighs. "Just. That's your third cup of coffee since you woke up. Two hours ago."

Mikey actually hasn't been counting. Coffee comforts him. "My coffee problem isn't a new thing."

"No, but... Do you ever wonder if all the caffeine fucks with your meds?"

Now that Ray mentions it, it's not something Mikey's thought to ask his doctor. It seems like something a doctor would have said, but it couldn't hurt to ask.

"Or even just makes you kind of..."

"Kinda?"

Ray shakes his head. "You know I suck at this."

Mikey can't determine if "this" means "being your friend," or "understanding what's happening with you." "I'm not gonna be mad at you for being worried."

"You get mad at Frank."

Mikey frowns. "No I don't."

"Frustrated."

"Okay, well, Frank sometimes does things like try to get me to eat six times a day. And I mean, I know I eat a lot, but that's overdoing it a bit, don't you think?"

"He was pretty fucked up with you gone. In a Frank sort of way. He just doesn't want that to happen again. None of us do, not if we can help it."

Mikey rubs at his neck. "I'm trying my best."

"We know. We know, okay? We're just—" Ray shakes his head.

"You think less coffee might be a good idea?"

"No, that was stupid, you should ignore—"

"No, maybe. Maybe I could cut down a little. Probably not the worst idea overall, you know? Even if I wasn't imbalanced."

"You balance just fine," Ray says.

Mikey kisses the top of his head. "Liar."

Ray tightens his hold on Mikey.

*


Frank really actually does try not to do condescending shit like ask if Mikey's remembered to take his meds, because of course Mikey's remembered to take his meds, Mikey hasn't forgotten to take his meds since he started taking them, not even all the times when they were flying overseas and he had to work out the change in hours and wake himself up to make sure he had them and the one time at the fest when for some reason all the water bottles were in a tent on the other side of the fucking event and Mikey had to walk all the way over because he wasn't willing to ask some gofer kid to do it for him. Mikey is really good about taking the meds.

It's just that there's not a hell of a lot Frank can do. Mikey gets tired of Frank always pressing food on him, and, okay, Frank can see how that would get really fucking old after the second time or so, and Gerard is Mikey's older brother, so he can do all that stuff like wrapping Mikey up in his arms even if Mikey is bigger; Gerard is softer and really, really good at giving hugs, and Ray stays calm when Mikey needs calm and Bob lets Mikey cheer him up when he's missing Spencer, which Mikey needs, needs to feel needed. Frank needs Mikey. He just isn't as good at making that tangible. He actually sort of sucks at it.

In the end he gives up trying to be at all cool about the situation, buys Mikey a stuffed unicorn somewhere in the middle of Florida and wraps it in a note that says, "I can't help worrying. I don't mean it to be I know you're a big boy and mostly okay and all but then sometimes you aren't and by that time I can't help and so I want to help when I can except I guess I'm bad at that but it's just that I love you, that's all. Just that."

Mikey finds him, the unicorn held against his chest. He says, "I named her Crescendo."

"How do you know it's a her?"

"I checked."

Frank nods. Mikey sits next to him. Frank says, "I just want what's good for you, what keeps you healthy and here. I want you with me."

Mikey rests his head on Frank's shoulder. "You can be overbearing. If you want."

"I don't mean to drive you crazy."

"I know. I can be more patient."

"Mikey."

"I just love you, too. I just want you happy, too."

"Just— Okay, if there's something you need, maybe come to me first? And if I can't help, then fine, we get Gerard or whatever, but give me a chance?"

Mikey lifts his head to look at Frank. "You think I wouldn't?"

Frank shrugs.

Mikey leans in, kisses him. "I'll be a better boyfriend, okay?"

"That's not—"

"I will."

Frank kisses him. "I just love you, is all."

Mikey nods, their foreheads pressing together.

*


Frank has learned to be watchful for the times when Mikey needs to be brought down from a show and the times when he needs to just be unwound from it; there are significantly different signs. The former involves a shakiness that almost seems to be under the skin, tremors almost. Mikey sometimes can't stop talking which is fine, Frank doesn't mind, could listen, could come back at him forever, but if he lets it run that long it will run its course and what will be left in its place will not be so fine, will hurt to watch. The latter involves tightened muscles and a clenched jaw and eerie silence.

The former can generally be fixed with sex, which is nice, if not always easy. The latter Frank has to be more careful about. He knows that there are things that Mikey can ask for and things that Mikey doesn't even know to ask for and being unwound falls specifically in the second category. Mikey and Gerard have that in common.

Frank generally starts by getting Mikey in the shower. It isn't even part of his compulsion. It's just a good way to know how hard this particular evening is going to be. If Mikey lets his shoulders fall under the water, Frank can probably get him to sleep with some slow sex, some careful words. If he won't, then something more clever is called for.

Frank orders peppermint scented oil because Mikey likes things that smell fresh and winter-y, even when it's 108 degrees out. Especially then. He tries it out one of the nights when Mikey's wound so tight it's amazing he hasn't broken on himself, just warms the oil in his hands and brings them to Mikey's shoulders, digging slowly in to where the worst of the tenseness will have settled. Mikey breaths in. "Oh. Nice."

Frank kisses the top of his head. "Just keep breathing."

The deep breaths help Frank in loosening up the muscles that have spiraled themselves into impossible knots. Frank pushes and pulls and twists and rubs. Occasionally Mikey moans or whimpers or says, "Oh, right, yes, like that." Mostly he breathes. He falls asleep sitting up as Frank lightens the massage to just touch, just unceasing caresses.

Frank whispers, "Mikey."

"Mm?" He's not actually awake, Frank knows.

"Help me put you to bed." Frank puts him on his feet and Mikey sleep walks to the bed with him.

*


Frank kisses Mikey while he's still talking. Mikey talks into the kiss but that's fine, that's fine, Frank has time. Tonight won't be like two nights ago, won't be like when Frank just listened until Mikey had worn himself into exhaustion, worn himself into doubt, into silence that was filled with words that Frank would have listened to but wouldn't have wanted to hear. Frank kisses Mikey through the words, kisses him till he kisses back.

There's a rustling above them and Frank feels a little bit bad, thinks, Call Jace, Gee, but he's not going to stop tending to Mikey to tend to Gerard. He's not going to stop. Frank rolls Mikey onto his stomach, because they can take their time later, or maybe another night, but not now. Now needs to be immediate, as fast as Mikey's tongue can move, faster than his demons can run.

Mikey says, "No, no," and Frank stops cold. That's new.

"I just," Mikey shifts onto his back. "I just wanna see."

Oh, okay. "Okay."

They'll talk about that later, Frank thinks, they'll need to, but for now, fine, fine, better maybe. Frank likes seeing, too. Mikey has a way of looking at him that's different than anyone else, different even than Gerard, who was awed, too, who loved Frank, too. Gerard saw metaphors in Frank, Frank is pretty sure. Mikey sees magic.

Frank slides into him and Mikey bites his lip, keeps talking, but it's slower, now, calmer, Frank can actually hear the words through the franticness of it all. Frank says, "Okay, baby. Okay," in response to everything. Nothing.

Mikey bucks up into him, says, "More, Jesus, Frank," soft, like he knows Gerard is there, too. He probably does. Mikey's learned to be here even when he's not, Frank thinks. That's why he gets so tired. He's there all the fucking time.

Frank speeds up, presses in, says, "Okay."

The come as one, which isn't, that isn't really a thing with them, but sometimes it isn't them pacing themselves, it's just the moment. Frank is careful not to crush Mikey. He says, "I'll go—"

"In a minute," Mikey says. "Be dirty with me for a second, okay?"

"Not dirty."

"It wasn't—"

"It was."

"Maybe a little."

"Not dirty."

Mikey lets him go for the washcloths.

*


Mikey likes to press his lips to the back of Frank's knees. Frank always shivers a bit at the sensation, sweet and intense and just a little wet. The first time he ever did it, Frank got hard just from the kiss and Mikey unrolled from the position he was in to palm Frank's cock and ask, "Erogenous zone, much?"

Frank said, "Never was before you."

Mikey calls it, "my spot," as in a casually murmured, "When we get home I'm going to sink my teeth into my spot until you beg me to move them elsewhere," or a quick swipe of his hand to them on warm days, when Frank is wearing shorts and a, "That's my spot," with a grin. Frank never argues. He sort of thinks of himself as one big "my spot" for Mikey, but if Mikey wants to be particular, that's fine, too.

It makes him think, though, and after he's been thinking about it for a while, he says, "I want you on my skin."

Mikey sneaks his fingers under the collar of Frank's shirt.

"No, I mean, well, yes. That too. But I meant like this." Frank traces the words at his wrist.

"Oh." Mikey inhales, quick and sharp. "Really?"

"That isn't really something I would just say."

Mikey tilts his head. "You didn't do that with Gerard."

Frank shakes his head. "No."

"Huh." It takes a second, but Mikey's smile is so blinding, Frank has to squint. Mikey asks, "What's it gonna be?"

"Haven't decided."

"Want ideas?"

"Have any?"

"Not really, but I could come up with some. I'm an ideas guy."

"I thought you were our name guy."

"Names and ideas. That's me."

Frank admits, "Yeah, I usually like your ideas."

"Big of you to say so."

"I sort of thought it was."

Mikey hits him in the shoulder. Frank catches his wrist and pulls him closer. "Right now I'd settle for having you on my skin like this."

"Yeah?" Mikey asks, pretending confusion.

Frank noses at Mikey's chin. "Yes."

"Very well," Mikey says, laughing. Frank flips him around and pushes him into the wall, laughing right along with him.

*


"Can I have one on each?" Mikey asks and lays out what he's come up with for the backs of both knees.

Frank says, "Yes," before he even looks. There are times when having an issue saying 'no' isn't as much of an issue. He's glad he's given in when he sees what Mikey wants.

Mikey goes with him to the tattoo parlor, even though he probably shouldn't, it's all just too intimate, but Frank isn't going to tell him he can't. There are times when not being able to say 'no' is a huge pain in the ass. Mikey's good at being chill though, laughing when the tattoo artist makes jokes about Frank's girlfriend and how whipped he must be. Frank knows he's the only person in the world—or well, at least one of only four people—who can see the secret in Mikey's eyes.

The needle doesn't hurt as much as it did on his lower back, over his spine, on his neck, but the pain is enough, enough, and Frank floats for most of it, ignoring everything but the soft hum of Mikey's voice when he will say things. Even then there are no words, just the general pitch and roll of the sound. There's a hand to his back at some point and Mikey laughs and says, "You fall asleep?"

Frank doesn't feel like explaining, not here, so he just yawns. "Maybe a little."

The artist gives him a bag of supplies and looks at his arms. "Can I assume you know the drill?"

Frank nods, sits with his knees carefully away from the edge of the chair and lets Mikey pay.

Mikey gets him home—home home, not the bus, they're in Jersey for the weekend, which is why Frank has chosen this time to go in and get them done. By Monday he'll be feeling just fine.

Frank lays down on his stomach on the couch, leaving enough room for Mikey to come sit by him, run his fingers through Frank's hair, ask, "Want me to order pizza?"

"Vegetarian Hawaiian?" Frank asks, sort of taking advantage, because Mikey's not huge on pineapple when cheese and red sauce are involved.

"Sure," Mikey says, which of course makes Frank feel bad and have to say, "We could go half 'n half."

Mikey laughs softly, twirls a hair at the nape of Frank's neck and Frank is falling asleep again, actually falling this time. "I'll figure something out, you just rest, okay?"

"Mm," Frank says.

Mikey pulls back and kisses the spot right above each bandage before walking away.

Frank calls, "You'd better be prepared to finish what you just started."

"Anytime, anyplace, Iero."

Frank would continue, but Mikey's couch is just way too comfortable to be helpful in the generation of good snark.

*


The thing that Frank sort of loves most about the new tattoos is that they aren't sexy, not really, not much at all. They're goofy and cartoon-ish and fit, both on his skin and as a signifier for him and Mikey. When they've healed enough to unwrap them, to let Mikey run his fingers—light and cautious—over the skin, he does, says, "You can have your spot back now."

Mikey doesn't take advantage, not right then at first. He looks at the now clean art for a long time before asking, "You maybe want me to get one? For you?"

"I want you to do what you want to do." Frank likes wearing his life in places where other people can see it, even misinterpret it. He doesn't worry so much about the meanings others assign to him. He knows his own meaning. Mikey knows a meaning that works for him. He doesn't need Mikey to adapt his ways to know that he matters. Mikey tells him by other means.

"Maybe not that," Mikey says.

Frank nods. "They don't hurt. Not now."

Mikey smiles. "Trying to tell me that if I—" he closes his lips gently onto the lips tattooed on the back of Frank's left knee. They are the Rocky Horror lips, all red and large, the bottom one being held by the upper teeth. The word "my" appears in the flattened space of the lower lip. Mikey lets go. "—did this, you wouldn't mind?"

"Something like that," Frank breathes.

"Or like this?" Mikey asks, running his tongue over the crease of Frank's other leg, where Spot the Dog now frolics.

"That," Frank affirms.

"I suppose you think you deserve a little something for putting yourself under the needle for me?" Mikey asks, still darting in and out with that tongue of his.

"Not. Deserve," Frank manages.

"Hm. That's too bad, since I sort of think you deserve it."

"Whatever you say," Frank tells him, letting Mikey work off his boxers. Mikey pulls him back at his hips a little so that he folds up, his back curving. Mikey scrapes his teeth down the length of Frank's spine before plunging his tongue into Frank's hole.

Frank stops breathing for a second. Air returns with the words, "Mikey, Jesus, what, oh, oh. Mikey."

Mikey laughs and Frank feels it straight through him, down to his knees, where Mikey's got his hands folded, grasping on, up to his neck, his skull. Mikey sometimes gets it into his head to take his time and evidently today is one of those days, so Frank is keening—he would be begging, but he doesn't have the words, can't remember them—when Mikey finally rolls him onto his side and cuddles in next to him, hooking his knees in Frank's and sliding his cock in all the right spots. Frank comes back at him—he can give as good as he gets in this—bucks and writhes and just moves never once unhooking their legs.

Amazingly, Mikey comes first, clinging to Frank, his short fingernails managing to dig into skin, saying things like, "For me, for me," and, "like this."

Frank doesn't bother to hold out much longer after that. When he's settled in the aftermath he says, "We should clean up."

Mikey tightens his legs at the knee just a touch. "Another minute."

Frank gives him two.

*


Brian says, "Look, I know Mikey's thing with Pete was sort of a disaster, but um, how off limits would you say his band members are?"

Frank blinks at Brian.

"You know, on a scale of one to ten."

"Did you break up with Matt?"

"Would it make you feel like the universe were spiraling out of control if I said yes?"

Frank nods. It really would. Brian and Matt are like Bob and Spencer without the age difference. There are some things that need to exist in this world for it to be good and pure and true and the two of them are pretty much on that list. Frank loves Mikey and he thinks he's a pretty good boyfriend when he's not feeding Mikey's issues accidentally, but if Matt and Brian break up, he's pretty sure it's just a matter of time before everything else falls to shit, too.

"No, I didn't break up with Matt."

"Um. Okay. Are you trying to fix someone else in the band up? Because we're all pretty much taken."

"Iero, seriously, could you just answer the question?"

"Mikey's more protective than anything. Don't fuck with the others or you're gonna see his teeth, fast and hard, and really, really don't fuck with Pete."

"And when you say fuck—"

Frank says, "Oh shit, what did you do, Brian Schechter?"

"Whispered something like, 'fuck, look at all that hair, wouldn't you love to bury your fingers in that while he was blowing you?' to Matt and Matt kinda agreed and then, well, look, Troh's hot on his knees, is all, and not the kind of guy to get all fucked up about that sort of thing afterward."

Frank makes himself not think about that visual. It's too close to cheating. Then it hits him. "Why are you asking me about this after the fact?"

"It's possible that Troh is really hot on his knees."

This is the kind of shit Frank could live his entire life without knowing.

"Brian—"

"Look, I just wanna make sure this isn't going to end with Mikey beating the crap out of me and coverage on MTV news."

As disloyal as it is, Frank is pretty sure Brian could take Mikey. "Not if you don't fuck shit up to the point where Joe starts pining. He's actually human in there somewhere, okay? Like, not that far in."

Brian says, "Yeah, that's sort of part of the hot."

"You— You're being— I mean, you talked with Matt, um. Fuck. You talked with him, right?"

Brian smiles. "Don't worry. We won't upset your world view."

"Better not. Or Mikey will be the least of your worries."

"I'm shaking, Iero."

*


Matt's grandmother always sends him the best treats, stuff with cinnamon and chilis and lime (not all at once) and it never seems like it should be good, except that if Mikey weren't pretty gay and really in love with Frank and a lot younger than her, he would totally seduce Matt's grandma. Older women like Mikey. Instead he just makes sure he's really super nice to Matt so that Matt will always think of him when the care packages come in.

Still, it's a change of speed when Matt brings a care package to him and offers him dark chocolate with chilis, which is one of Mikey's absolute favorite things. Mikey says, "Am I dying? Because if I am, and they sent you to tell me, I mean, no offense, or anything, but—"

"As far as I know, you're not dying. Lollipop?"

Mikey just eyes him and the box with a stealthy, well-deserved suspicion. Matt sighs. "Brian sent me."

Mikey's eyes narrow. "He usually does his own dirty work."

"Would you stop it? It's not that big a deal."

"You still haven't told me what 'it' is," Mikey says pointedly.

"We've been hooking up with Joe Trohman. Every once in a while."

Mikey looks at him.

"For sex," Matt explains.

"Really?" Mikey asks.

Matt says, "Oh, fuck you."

"That's... Athletic." Mikey ponders this for a second. "So you and Brian—"

"It was sort of hot. And then, it was really, really hot. And then we started missing him and thought, 'huh, maybe—'"

"—this is more than hot?" Mikey finishes.

Matt shrugs. "Evidently even Brian makes mistakes. He totally lied to me about that when we first hooked up."

"You're just realizing this?"

Matt rustles through the box. "It's only been a year."

"Closer to two."

"Whatever."

Mikey smirks. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Brian said something about you beating the crap out of us."

"If you callously break his heart, it might come to that," Mikey tells him plainly.

"We're probably okay."

"See to it that you stay that way," Mikey says, and steals more homemade candy.

*


November 2008

Joe finds Frank and Mikey checking out all the furniture Mikey made for Spencer and Bob. Mikey says, "Hi," and hugs him and Frank says, "Aren't you missing a couple of people?"

"Unlike Spencer and Bob, we come in a detachable set."

"You don't see them very often," Mikey says, wondering why it is necessary to explain this. "They miss you."

Joe smiles. "You're sweet, Mikeyway. I know. But I've been meaning to ask if you really did threaten to kick ass and take names if I got hurt."

"I'm pretty sure that wasn't the exact terminology I used," Mikey hedges.

"He was a total badass." Frank is of no help to Mikey at all in these sorts of situations. Mikey has come to a place of being accustomed to it, for the most part.

Joe reaches up to muss Mikey's hair. Mikey ducks away. When he comes back up, Joe is still looking at him. Mikey says, "What?"

"They're the closest thing you've got to band that isn't band. And I'm just in your ex-boyfriend's band. So I guess I'm kinda curious—"

"Pete didn't mean—" Mikey doesn't look at Frank. He sort of wishes he weren't here.

Frank says, "Pete didn't mean to hurt Mikey and the rest of you tried your best for him. Tit for tat."

Mikey peers at Frank surreptitiously. Frank finds his hand and squeezes it. Joe looks down at where their hands are linked. "Still. We weren't owed, okay?"

"Wasn't like that," Mikey mumbles. "Just. Sometimes—" He squeezes Frank's hand. "Sometimes people who aren't really bad can be kind of stupid or careless or...lots of things, and it isn't— They don't mean— Other people get hurt, is all. Brian and Matt are good guys."

Joe nods. "Noted."

Mikey smiles at him. "You're a good guy, too. Nice how that worked out."

"Nice," Joe agrees with a responding smile and saunters off.

Frank pulls Mikey into a hug. "The hurt doesn't last as long as you think."

"You knew what I was talking about."

"I'm not senile, Mikey."

Mikey makes himself nip at Frank's ear, Frank likes it when he can do that sort of thing.

"See?" Frank angles to kiss him. "Not so long."


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile