Frank kept it. It was probably the last thing Gerard was ever going to say to him.
Frank couldn't sleep. When he slept he heard the noise Mikey had made, woke up to his own terror and couldn't escape it, couldn't make what had happened not exist, couldn't make himself not the worst part of it.
The Skinhead Frank turned cut himself open with the sharpened edge of his toothbrush two nights later. Frank was starting to lose count of how many deaths that meant he was responsible for, except how he wasn't. Except how he could tell you the names of each one and what their crimes had been, and why he wasn't meant to be judge, jury and executioner. Mikey was safe, Mikey was, nobody had bothered them since The Shower, nobody had so much as looked sideways at Mikey--who had taken to wearing babydoll clips in his hair with the lipstick, the rouge.
Frank had mumbled, "You probably don't need--"
"Let me worry about what needs to be done," Mikey had said softly. Frank nodded, because he had enough appearances to keep up. If Mikey wanted to help, he wasn't going to tell him he couldn't. He wasn't going to tell Mikey much of anything Mikey didn't want to hear.
He accidentally touched Mikey in the showers one day, passing over a bar of soap. Mikey flinched so hard he actually stumbled.
To the side, one of the Homeboys laughed approvingly. Frank just stopped himself from breaking the guy's neck.
Later, Mikey said, "It's not, it's just-- If you'd fucking touch me, touch me the way you touch me, then maybe I wouldn't have to have those as my last memories of your hands."
"That was me," Frank said, because evidently Mikey was compartmentalizing in ways that Frank just wasn't sure he could condone.
"No," Mikey said, "that was this place. And if you can't tell the difference, then I don't think you've ever fucking known me. At all."
Frank tried looking at him, tried to tell Mikey it wasn't just the damage he saw in him, it wasn't, only he still couldn't look. Mikey still had fading scratch marks from fingers that Frank had purposely put him in the way of, still had the remnants of bruises and cuts that Frank had pounded in his body, blood and bone and flesh. He said, "Okay," and let Mikey have himself to himself.
Bob wasn't speaking to him either, which Frank sensed was more just an unwillingness to risk Gerard's wrath than any valid problem with Frank. Bob probably should have had a problem with Frank, but then, Mikey definitely should have, and outside the flinching, he didn't really seem to.
The Italians were currently in love with all things Frank, since the Skinheads had pretty much entirely fucked off trying to poach on their territory, at least for the moment. It should have been something to fill the void, but it wasn't. He was no better than any of them, his crime no less severe in most cases, and yet there was a gulf of understanding between them that Frank didn't know how to bridge. He wasn't sure that he wanted to.
Frank spent a lot of his free time in the library. The Muslims would look at him with judgment in their eyes, but they wouldn't bother him, and that was all Frank needed. If he couldn't have his friends, then being left alone was the only thing that didn't grate at him, didn't tear open the tiny pieces of himself that were still him.
He read Poe's poems and War and Peace and Paradise Lost and anything else in the library that seemed like something he should have read. For the first time in his life, the words actually reached him a little and Frank wondered if maybe they had been waiting for everything else to go entirely silent.
Sometimes, in the nightmare, Mikey raped him. Frank could sleep through that.
Mikey asked, "Do you think I'm-- Do you think-- I mean, I did it. You told me to and I was able and I did what you told me. Do you think--"
"No," Frank said, and looked at Mikey for the first time in probably a month, maybe a little more. He needed Mikey to know he was telling the truth. "No, I don't think that about you. I wouldn't. You were just-- I said-- You knew I had to and you--"
Mikey was looking straight at him, his face washed clean of the makeup, his hair pulled free of the barrettes, hanging loose and wild over his face. There were no more marks, not where anyone could see them. Frank knew there were minor bruises from the continued upkeep of appearances--a hard pinch in the hall, a wrenched arm in the common area. None of those were the ones that counted.
"How come I get a pass?" Mikey asked. "Is it pity?"
"Mikey," Frank said, desperate, a plea. "Mikey."
"Is it?" Mikey pressed.
Frank turned away. "You were just the weapon. Like my hands. Like the fire. I made you that."
"Fuck you, Frank Iero," Mikey hissed. "I went to the showers when you told me. I went. You think I couldn't have at least tried to fight? You think I couldn't have handed you over Bob's Russians? They may have made me prag, but you've never made me a fucking thing I haven't chosen to be." Mikey's breathing was a bit erratic. "I changed my mind. You can never fucking touch me again until you've figured that out for yourself. Ever."
That was actually a shorter span of time than Frank had sentenced himself to.
It wasn't heroic. It actually wasn't anything more than an instinctive reaction, the way one might pull one's hand away from a hot pan. The fight broke out at the table were the Homeboys were playing their version of craps, which was unfortunately close to where Gerard was at a table, drawing. It would have been fine, only Bob was across the room with the Bikers and Mikey was in the library, which was why Frank wasn't in there. He was, as luck would have it, closest to Gerard at the time.
Once the fight broke out, whatever had sparked it--assuming there was an actual reason--disappeared and it was simply a free for all. Gerard wasn't stupid, he tried to get out of the action, get to Bob as quickly as possible, but in trying to cross the room he got trapped in the crossfire. Frank didn't think, couldn't think, not really. It didn't matter that Gerard was mad. Gerard was Mikey's, the only thing that was really Mikey's at all, the only thing that Mikey absolutely couldn't lose and Frank wouldn't let him, he wouldn't.
He got to Gerard just as one of the Latinos--who had joined in the minute it was clear there was fun to be had--was about to stab him. Frank put himself in between and punched the kid. The kid fell backward. Frank looked around for the shiv, but he couldn't find it and he had more immediate problems, like actually getting Gerard to Bob. Mostly he was able to slip the two of them between other pockets of conflict, but there was the occasional fist-on-fist confrontation. Frank was small, but he fought dirty, and he was used to keeping himself alive by now.
When they reached the periphery--it couldn't have taken more than a couple of minutes, as the hacks hadn't come in force yet--Frank shoved Gerard at Bob while fending off a Homeboy and shouted, "Go, go before they lock it down!"
Bob took care of the Homeboy while Gerard grabbed Frank's wrist and pulled him out of the mess. The alarm was blaring and now that he wasn't moving as much, Frank was feeling a little dizzy. His side hurt pretty badly, someone had probably broken some ribs or hit a kidney, or something. Frank looked down to see if he could assess the situation which was when he found the kid's shiv, the one that had been intended for Gerard. "Oh," he said, and started to crumple.
There were hands at his elbows and Gerard was saying, "Easy, easy, the hacks are here, we'll have them get you to the hospital."
Gerard's voice was kind of distorted, but his hands were warm on Frank's arm, soothing over his cheek. Bob said, "Hold on, Iero. Mikey needs a protector."
"Tell Mikey," Frank said.
There was silence and then Gerard asked, "Tell Mikey what, Frank?"
"Tell him 'bout the picture. The one you drew of me. The one. Tell him about that."
Gerard made a noise. "You're gonna need to tell him yourself, Frank. Stop being an asshole. I'll stop talking to you again."
Frank wanted to say, "Please don't," but everything had gotten very, very loud and he couldn't really hear his own thoughts. Then, with a suddenness that would have scared him were he not pushed beyond the point of terrified, there was silence.