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Whenever Frank woke up, it was to the feeling that somebody was sitting on his chest. He could manage to stay awake and enjoy the feeling for maybe five or ten minutes before falling back asleep. He could never remember all of his Very Important Questions in those five or ten minutes. Whoever had thought up TB deserved to be infected themselves. It sucked.

Once, when he was awake, a doctor was there, the girl one, from before. She explained that the TB had progressed to extra-pulmonary TB and that he also had meningitis of the central nervous system. Frank said, "I fucking hate meningitis," and went back to sleep. She came back a while later--possibly a day or two, it was hard to be sure--to tell him that the antibiotic treatments were working, and they were cautiously optimistic.

They took him home at some point. Frank had no idea how long he'd been in the hospital. It seemed like it must have been a while, since he'd kept waking up there, but his sense of time was so screwed, it was entirely possible it had only been a couple of days. He woke up on the ride home and told Bob, "You have a nice car." He'd been trying to appreciate the fact that his head was on Mikey's lap, and Mikey was stroking his hair, but it was just too much, and he fell back into the black hole of complete exhaustion.

When he next woke up he was in the bed Mikey and he shared. His mom was saying, "C'mon, Frank, medicine time, wake up, that's right baby." She made him eat a little, feeding the soup to him spoonful by spoonful like she had when he was an infant. Then she gave him the pills--there were a lot of them--and when he had successfully downed them, she let him fall back asleep.

Mikey was back the next time. Frank smiled at him. "Hi."

Mikey said, "Hey," and made him eat. He wasn't as good at the feeding thing as Linda, but Frank figured he probably didn't have as much practice. They worked together as much as they could.

Frank asked, "Not sick. Right?"

Mikey looked confused for a second. Then, "Oh, no. They tested us. All of us. AJ, Maja and Disashi, Brendon, the guys at the center, anyone who had possibly had prolonged contact with you. We're fine. Evidently there's like a twenty-two percent rate of infection. We're the other seventy-eight. The doctors seemed a little amazed that I hadn't gotten it, because of the pneumonia and us kissing and all, but I knew you just wouldn't let it hurt me."

Frank wished it had been that purposeful. Mostly he had just been trying not to kiss Mikey as much, not to give him whatever cough he'd picked up. Some cough. There were so many things Frank needed to ask, but when he tried to form the words his chest exploded in a flurry of coughing that left him too breathless to even whimper, and he wanted to. It really hurt. Mikey just kept his hands on Frank's back, rubbing gently. He didn't try to tell Frank it was all right, or anything inane, he just stayed with him. When it was over, Mikey worked with him to find a comfortable--or less uncomfortable--position, wiped him down with a cool cloth, helped him to take his meds, and said, "Sleep some more."

"All I ever do," Frank told him, but even as he said it, he was falling back asleep.


Frank woke up to something very wet on his nose and the hushed sound of someone saying, "Goody, no. Goody, c'mon." Frank pried his eyes open. Tommy saw him awaken first and froze more suddenly than a deer in headlights.

Brendon caught on pretty quickly after that. He said, "Hey. Morning. Sort of. Sorry about your dog. She really wanted to see you."

Frank found his hand and petted at Mizzy to calm her down a little. "Okay, girl. Okay."

Tommy tried to coax her off the bed, but the best he could do was get her off Frank. He said, "Sorry. Brendon drove me and then we were trying to slip in to help you with lunch and meds and she just-- She really misses you."

"Hi," Frank said, because he still had to try and keep responses down to one word or risk extensive coughing fits. He really hated those, but even more so when Mikey wasn't around.

Tommy said, "Greta sent food. I'll go make a plate."

"Not much," Frank told him. It was kind of a big day if he managed a bowl of soup at this moment.

"Okay, but you're only encouraging Alex in his plan to go on a Fatten-the-Frank campaign when all this is over." Tommy walked toward the kitchen.

Frank had long ago accepted that there were consequences for every action. Brendon sat on the side of the bed with Mizzy and stroked at her fur. He said, "How you feeling?"

"Better," Frank said softly. Eating was still distasteful and talking an uphill climb and he slept about eighteen hours a day, but that was down from twenty, and so long as he didn't over-exert himself, he no longer felt like his lungs were going to burst straight from his chest, obliterating everything in their path. The worst of the headaches from the extra-pulmonary TB were starting to let up as well. Mikey wasn't sick, so all in all, things could have been worse.

Brendon said, "So, I can totally make fun of you for getting a nineteenth century lady-of-the-court disease when you're actually able to leave your bed?"


"Oh, shut up, like your history is any better."

Frank smiled. Mizzy wiggled up the bed, trying to get even closer to him. Frank squeezed her as hard as he could without hurting himself. Frank asked, "Tommy?"

"We're taking care of him," Brendon promised solemnly. "Alex and Jon particularly, when Mikey or Gerard isn't around. But we aren't going to let anything happen to him, promise."

"Scared?" Frank asked. He knew he should have called that, but he forgot, sometimes that Tommy thought of him as something to lose. He shouldn't forget that, it was too important, and it only ended up hurting Tommy.

"We all were. Are, a little bit." Brendon nodded. "But yeah. Out of his mind."

Because Brendon wasn't the kind of guy who told other people's secrets, no matter how shitty he was at keeping his own, Frank said, "Me too."


As it turned out, having Mizzy need to stay with him every second she was inside rather than being walked worked out to everyone's advantage, since all Frank had to do was take a breath out of place and she would go to find whoever was staying with him and bring him or her. Usually he could expect the person who walked in the door--it was Gerard and Tommy most of the time when it wasn't Linda or Mikey or Bob, since their jobs were the most mutable--but it had been Greta once, and Jon and Matt a couple of times when Mikey had to be at the center in the evening and Gerard and Bob wanted to go out. Even Bert and Quinn had taken a turn on one memorable occasion. Frank had actually managed to stay awake long enough to watch Mizzy teach Liar how things were with an invalid in the house.

The day Maja, Disashi and AJ all piled in the door was a first, though, and Frank blinked at the clock. "Um. Two," he said, pointing at the red LED letters. "Office?"

"We moved our base of operation here," Disashi said.

"Gerard needed an afternoon off," Maja added. Frank could just imagine how that had gone down. Poor Gerard, he never really had a chance. Maja could probably take Bob if push came to shove.

"How are you feeling?" AJ asked.

"Awake," Frank told him. That was a new thing. He could actually stay awake for up to three hours in one go, so long as he didn't do anything that required more energy than going to the bathroom. On the upside, he could make it there by himself now, too.

Mizzy made herself at home with her head on Frank's lap and Frank said, "Grab a seat." He could also handle short sentences in one go. It shouldn't have been as liberating as it was. They arranged themselves on the edges of the bed. Frank said, "Thanks for--" and made a gesture.

"We're looking for healthcare companies," Maja told him.

"Expensive," Frank said. He knew why it was they hadn't insured him.

"Yeah," Disashi sighed.

"As it turns out, not having a spleen is considered a pre-existing condition, jerkface." AJ was scowling.

Frank wasn't sorry for what he'd done to lose the spleen, so he didn't apologize. Disashi rolled his eyes at AJ. Maja told Frank, "We're going to cover the medication. We spoke with Mikey, and he agreed."

Frank was willing to bet anything that was the phenomenally abbreviated version of that story. He wondered if he could get Mikey to tell him, or maybe Gerard. Gerard was easier sometimes. He hated feeling so left out of the loop.

"You have to get better, Frank," Disashi said, with a surprising level of earnestness.

"The office is falling down. We had a leak spring yesterday." AJ nodded.

"I called a plumber," Maja said. Frank smiled. He was pretty sure they were fine on their own. They had been, for the most part, before he came along. She continued, "But I couldn't figure out which funds I was supposed to use to pay him."

Frank said. "Oh. Okay." He took a breath. "Maybe I can do small stuff. Soon."

All three of them frowned at him. Disashi said, "You almost died."

"No, I--"

"Of fucking consumption. Seriously." AJ looked sort of impressed, like maybe Frank had figured out how to revive the disease or something. Frank was going to have to figure out who had convinced everyone to start calling it that.

"Did not."

Maja clearly disagreed, and Frank knew his limits. He could maybe, maybe win a fight against Disashi and AJ when he was at full speed, but the three of them? Feeling like this? He said, "Fine."

Alex laughed a little. Disashi asked, "Hungry? They said to feed you."

Fuck consumption, Frank planned on dying of embarrassment.


When Frank could actually sit up for entire hours at a time, he would sit with Gerard at the table while Gerard sketched out plans for the jobs he was currently working on. Gerard would ask Frank's opinions, and depending on how Frank was feeling, he'd either actually talk to Gerard about it or give a thumbs up/down review. There was one day when Frank was working on some papers he'd managed to cajole out of AJ so as to try and at least have some idea of what was going on. After a while--maybe a couple of hours, things often felt longer to Frank at this moment--Gerard pushed his picture over to Frank and Frank got ready to consider it when he looked and actually saw what was in front of him. It was himself in the hospital, hooked up to drips and machines and all sorts of man-made medical equipment. Mikey was in a chair beside the bed, both hands grasping at the blankets, curled tightly, as though if he could just keep a hold on them it might mean Frank would stay too. There were bruises under his eyes, shadows along the lines of his cheeks. Gerard had titled the piece, "Prayer."

"Gee," Frank said.

"The two of you are fucking stupid," Gerard told him evenly. Frank blinked. Gerard shook his head. "You love each other. Whatever else the fucking problem is, that's not it."

"O-- Okay."

"And if you ever try and die on my brother again, I'll kill you myself."

"Counterproductive," Frank mused.

"Try me," Gerard said. Frank didn't really think that was a good idea.


Around the same time Frank started to feel comfortable that he could kiss Mikey again and not accidentally kill him, he also got up the nerve to say, "Mikey, um."

They had been making out, and Frank still tired easily so Mikey laid off, settled down to allow Frank to cuddle into him. Frank said, "No, I meant-- Uh. Know any shrinks?"

Mikey turned his face to look at Frank. "Shrinks."

"Like. For couples therapy." Frank said it as quickly as he could and tried not to breathe so hard that he obscured the words or sent himself into a coughing fit. They were less regular now, but not any more fun. "I mean, if you--"

Mikey nodded his head. "Yes. Yes, I mean. I think that could--"

Frank said, "It's something to try."

Mikey nodded some more. "I think, I mean, my insurance doesn't have mental health, I don't think, but there's some people at the hospital who might be willing to work with me. Us." Mikey grinned and dove in for another kiss.

Frank grabbed him when he tried to pull away. "Why didn't you say? That you wanted this? Why didn't you--"

"I was going to. I got distracted by your lungs refusing to work."


Mikey smiled a little. "Oh."


"Love you," Mikey said, before Frank could finish the thought. "Just. Thought maybe it was a good time to say it again."

That was a better thing than what Frank had been going to say so he smiled back, went in for one more kiss and said, "Love you more."

"I'm only letting you have your way because you're the heroine in this scene."

"Whatever works."

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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile