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The last improvement Bob made to the car before announcing that it was road-ready was to strip every inch of the old paint and cover it in three layers of a deep chocolate brown with a shiny finish. Mikey kept thinking the color looked familiar until the day he caught sight of Gerard laughing, the way his eyes brightened, and thought, "Oh. Wow."

The Jag was a sedan, so if Frank was willing to sit in the middle of the backseat, all five of them, including Tommy, could fit in without much fuss. Bob waited until they all had some time off--it ended up being July 4th, since Brian actually gave Mikey the day off when he asked--and made them pile in for a road trip. Mikey checked that his shoes were clean. Between him and the upholstery Bob had re-done the car with, Mikey was pretty sure Bob would protect the car first. He was a little rabid, in a Bob way.

Tommy asked, "Where are we going?" and Frank, Gerard and Mikey all answered, "It's a surprise." Bob was a closed-mouth little bastard when he wanted to be. Tommy said, "Okay," and watched out the window as they headed onto the highway.

Frank figured it out pretty quickly. Even before he said anything, Mikey could feel him straining forward, ready to get there. He said, "Are you for real, Bob Bryar?"

Bob laughed. Gerard asked, "What? What's for real?"

But in that moment of confusion, Mikey remembered one of the pictures in Linda's house, the one of Frank standing on the boardwalk, holding a kite with a larger version of himself standing above him, making sure the kite didn't go anywhere. Mikey had asked her once, when he'd gotten the nerve, "Frank's father?" and she'd nodded and said, "He had his moments."

"Carey Stadium," Mikey said softly.

"I know Carey Stadium is re--" Gerard stopped mid-sentence. "Oh, hey! We're going to see the kites?"

Bob said, "You like things that fly."

"So do you."

"I like cars," Bob told him.

"Go act one dimensional for someone else, dickface," Gerard said quite fondly. Bob snickered, and decided to test out his brand-new engine.


"I think I could actually fly with that thing. Like, take off," Mikey said, pointing at a kite that was being flown by two people, since clearly two hands just weren't enough. It was pretty awesome, the coordination of the pair operating the kite.

"We could do that," Frank said.

"We'd get blown away," Mikey said.

"Stop being so pessimistic," Frank said, or at least, that was what Mikey thought he said. The last word got lost in the cough he'd had for a couple of weeks. He'd gone to the free clinic and they'd sent him home with things to help loosen the congestion in his chest and a warning to get more rest.

Mikey wasn't sure, but he didn't think the rest or the meds were helping. He made himself pick up the conversation. "Not pessimistic, realistic." Mikey pointed to a kite that was in the shape of a unicorn. "We could fly that."

"Unicorns are magic," Frank explained to him. "They don't need our help to fly."

"I think you're thinking of Pegasus."

"Pegasus did not have a horn, Mikeyway. You cannot fool me."

"Okay," Mikey said, and kept watching the kites--small and large, psychedelic and monochrome, three dimensional and flat--flutter into the air, human feet and hands the only thing between them and the vastness of the sky.


Bob had prevailed upon Greta to make them an actual honest-to-goodness picnic, with the basket and everything. He'd thrown blankets from the apartment in the car, so they were able to find a spot in the shade of the boardwalk and settle down for chicken salad with grapes and walnuts on some of Alex's famous seven-grain bread, kettle-cooked potato chips, and celery with peanut butter. She'd also packed them bottled waters and juice cups. For dessert there were fresh strawberries and blueberries with real whipped cream. Gerard made sure to get as messy as he possibly could with these items before saying, "Happy birthday, America."

Frank fed Mikey a blueberry, his fingers getting caught in Mikey's mouth. Frank smiled at him like he'd done something worth being proud of. Mikey had maybe worked not to shy away, not to look around, so he returned the smile. Tommy, sweetly, gave them a moment before moving in between them and saying, "Stop hogging the berries, jerks."

Frank pushed him onto his ass.


They found a spot to watch the fireworks early, because Mikey wanted Frank to be able to see. He didn't, of course, say it that way. Tommy walked away from them time and again to traverse the length of beach barefoot. Mikey was pretty sure he'd never been to the beach, despite its relative geographic proximity. Even Gerard and he had been to the beach. Elena had taken the bus trip out with them at least twice every summer.

Frank and Gerard joined some of the kids nearest to them who were building a fairly lackluster sandcastle and before anyone knew what had happened, Gerard had managed to transform it into a summer palace. Frank's contributions were a little more prone to falling off, but Mikey could tell he was enjoying himself, all the same. The kids had a hard time letting the two of them go when their parents came to collect them and Mikey was beginning to wonder if he was going to have to fight off a five year-old and a seven year-old to reclaim his boyfriend when Frank finally managed to extract both Gerard and himself.

Tommy showed back up just as the sun was setting, damp all the way up through his hair. Frank asked, "You get thrown in?"

Tommy shrugged. "This girl taught me how to body surf."

They laid side by side on the blankets, staring up into the sky until the white pinpoints of the stars disappeared behind the phosphorescent blues and greens and reds of the fireworks. Gerard said, "Pretty," and somehow Mikey heard him, even over the explosions.


Mikey awoke to Frank getting out of the bed that night after Bob had brought them all safely home. Frank was pulling Mikey out as well. Beneath him, Mikey could tell the sheets were soaked. "Frank?" he asked.

"I think I had a nightmare," Frank said, soft and apologetic.

"You think?"

"Can't remember it," Frank said, coughing, "but the sheets are all soaked. Sorry. I didn't wanna wake you, but--"

"C'mon," Mikey said, and helped Frank change the sheets. He stayed awake until he was certain Frank had fallen back asleep. It didn't take very long.


Two days later, Mikey got a call from Frank in the morning, while he was at the center. He picked it up with a, "Miss me already?" They'd seen each other maybe two hours before. Mikey did already miss Frank, so it wasn't like he had any room to talk.

Only it wasn't Frank who said, "Mikey?"

Mikey tensed. "Who is this?"


"Um. Hi. Why are you--"

"Mikey, um. Maja took Frank to the clinic."

"The health clinic?" Mikey asked, which okay, stupid question, but Disashi was calling him on Frank's phone about Frank and Mikey just wasn't thinking clearly.

"Yeah. Mikey, he was coughing blood."

Mikey took a couple of seconds to breath. Panic never helped anything, it didn't. "Okay. I'm gonna go now and get a ride. Thanks for--"

"Call me when you know something."

"I thought Maja--"

"I told her that, too. I figure this way I'm covered."

Mikey tried to make a clever comment about lawyers, but Disashi's voice was lower than normal, less smoothly confident, and except for a small corner of necessary rationality, Mikey's brain was a white wall of panic. "I'll call," he said, and hung up to run to the first room that had someone in it. It ended up being Ryan, who had evidently drafted Brendon into helping make all the certificates of graduation from camp. Ryan said, "Wanna help?"

Brendon said, "Mikey. Mikey. What's wrong?"

"Ride." Then Mikey backed up and made himself speak in full sentences. Brendon and Ryan weren't psychic. "Could I please have a ride?" Brendon and Ryan shared the car that Spencer and Ryan had shared, since Spencer had pretty much been given the right to Brian's truck whenever he needed.

Brendon stood up. "Where're we going?"

"The clinic," Mikey said. "Frank. Disashi said he was coughing blood."

Brendon nodded at that, and held out his hands for the keys. Ryan passed them to him and said, "I'll tell Brian. Just call us when you know something."


Halfway to the clinc, Maja called Mikey and asked, "What's your hospital?"

"St. Michael's."

"Meet us there."

By the time Mikey clicked off the phone, Brendon was already making an illegal u-turn.


Frank didn't have health insurance so there were no forms where Mikey conceivably could be listed as next of kin. Luckily, Mikey worked at St. Michael's, so even though he didn't know the doctors working with Frank, the ones he did know where able to get him in the room. He left Brendon with his phone in order to call Linda, Gerard and Bob. He told him to wait until they knew something more to call Tommy and Disashi. Maja was giving the latter an update as it was.

Mikey went into the room with Frank and didn't even give himself a chance to think about it before crossing to him and slipping his hand into Frank's. He did his best not to be in anyone's way, but he wasn't letting go. That wasn't going to be happening. Frank seemed to feel the same way, because despite not being able to breathe all that well, he was clinging quite stringently.

There was a lot of blood-drawing and murmuring going on and finally Mikey said, "Look, can you just tell us what you're thinking?"

Mikey knew they were students, that there was an attending popping in now and then, but given Frank's uninsured state they weren't going to waste a fully qualified physician on him. The head student looked impossibly young despite probably being Mikey's age, maybe, maybe a year or so younger. She said, "It's a bit hard to diagnose, but from the symptoms Mr. Iero has told us about, we think he probably has tuberculosis. We're doing the necessary tests at this time. You'll need to be patient. I'm sorry."

"Wait." Mikey rubbed at his face with his free hand. "Tuberculosis? Does that even exist anymore?"

"Why do you think you get tested for it every check up?"

Okay, valid question. "But I thought--"

"It's generally only contracted by the very young, very old and the immuno-suppressed. Mr. Iero doesn't have a spleen."

Mikey nodded. "I know." Then, without knowing why, he said, "He lost it saving my brother's life."

Frank squeezed his hand a little tighter, which was amazing, because he was already pretty much cutting off the circulation. The doctor blinked. "Oh."

Mikey reigned in his urge to hit something because this wasn't anybody's fault, it wasn't. He made himself ask, "So, if it's not tuberculosis--"

"We have some other tests running as well. It's definitely lung-related."

Yeah, Mikey'd sort of guessed that from the coughing up blood thing. "And if it is?"

"Extensive treatment with antibiotics. I can't really give you any more information until we know if it is and can assess how long he's had it." She paused. "I'm sorry. I really am telling you everything."

Mikey nodded. He knew. He knew she was doing her best. He made himself say, "Thanks."

She said, "I'll be back as soon as I know something," and left the two of them alone. Mikey climbed gingerly into the bed and tucked Frank up against him the way he wished somebody had been able to do for him when he'd been in the hospital and hurting and scared out of his fucking mind. He said, "Hey."

Frank couldn't talk through the breathing mask, but he turned his face into Mikey, curled his fingers in Mikey's t-shirt. Mikey stroked along his back and said, "Unacceptable, Frank Iero," as soon as he was pretty sure Frank was asleep.


"I have consumption," Frank told Mikey after the doctor came back with a diagnosis, even the few words taking their toll.

Mikey said, "You're so not funny," cracking a smile for him anyway.

"Opera heroine," Frank said, pointing weakly to his chest.

"Don't even fucking joke," Mikey commanded. His knowledge of operas was scant, but he was fairly certain the heroines had a tendency to die before the curtain fell.

"Mikey," Frank mouthed.

"Frank." Mikey pushed some of the hair back from Frank's forehead.

Frank showed Mikey six fingers, then eight, which Mikey took to signify the six to eight months the doctor had said he would have to be on antibiotics. Mikey nodded. "I know."

"Insurance," Frank said.

Mikey shook his head. "Don't think about it. Gee just got that job with the studio up in the city, and Vicky is giving Bob a raise in September, and I think we can probably ask your bosses to front you some of the money, and I'll take care of rent the months when you're not making much later. Your mom can probably also help. We'll manage. No worrying, just getting well."

"Tired," Frank admitted.

"Sleep," Mikey soothed.

"Scared. Leave you."

Mikey shook his head. "You don't. You won't. You won't. And I won't. Just sleep. And I'll be here, waiting."


Mikey nodded. "Always."

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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile