Mikey was happy, too, if in a different way than Gerard. The house didn't have his name on it, but it had Gerard's, and that was close enough. It was permanent and real, the first place that had been since the government had taken Elena's house upon their arrest. Mikey had gone by it one day after getting out. The new owners had painted it, put a garden in. They were treating it well. Mikey had bit his lip and done his best not ring the doorbell, tell them they'd taken what was his.
Mikey was happy, but it was taking him a while to settle, it always did. New places never fit right at first for Mikey, and it was even more complicated this time, because it didn't need to fit just Mikey. It needed to fit MikeyFrank.
Tommy had taken dozens of pictures of the two of them since Frank's release, so Mikey spent some time one morning at the center going through his options with Tommy, discussing which ones would be the best on the wall, or on the mantle, and then asking Tommy to print the ones he'd chosen. He had enough that Frank could flip through them, see which ones he liked, and they could settle on those.
They picked out a color for their room together, a warm cream tone for the walls. Gerard sketched fall leaves in oranges and reds and golden yellows along the tops of the walls, because fall was Mikey's favorite season. Gerard said, "See, now you have it all year." Frank said, "I like spring," and Mikey had Gerard paint them a May rainstorm on the back of their door.
They organized their closet with their pants on one side, shirts on the other, Mikey's to the left, Frank's to the right. They even splurged and bought themselves two new sets of sheets, one cotton and one flannel, to match the room. Mikey said, "I just want this to be new for us. I want us to--"
"Start somewhere that isn't there," Frank finished for him when he couldn't find the right words.
Mikey looked at him. "Start somewhere we're meant to stay."
"How does Mikey need fixing?" C asked Frank.
Frank looked over at Mikey. Mikey tucked his knees to his chest and rested his chin on his knees. Once there, he gave Frank a curious look and just waited. Frank said, "He needs to believe he's something more than Gerard's little brother."
Mikey frowned at that. Gerard's little brother was a pretty amazing thing to be. Frank said, "He needs to remember that what they did to him was about them, not about him, and that Ray and Bob coming for Gerard first was a coincidence. I'm younger than either of them. He needs to remember that none of that is important, that the person he's made himself out here is important, the person who goes to school and works at a community center and has about a million friends who would kill for him without thinking twice."
C gave that a moment to sink in and then turned to Mikey, asking, "All right. How does Frank need fixing?"
Mikey had been thinking about this for a while. C never forgot to come back to the things he said he would get to. "He needs to know that this is real now, that this is about us, that nobody else matters anymore unless we choose to make them."
"Do you agree about the things he sees in you that need fixing?"
"I--" Mikey stopped and made himself consider the question. There was no point to these sessions if he wasn't going to push back at the things that caused the most immediate reactions in himself. "I don't like hearing that I only think of myself as Gerard's younger brother, but I think, maybe, that's because it's true. And I don't mind, is the thing. I like being Gee's younger brother. He's funny and smart and talented and he loves me. But I guess I can also see where if I were Frank, I wouldn't want someone else's younger brother, I'd want the person himself. So, I guess I'm willing to admit that it's possible that I need to figure myself out a little more. The rest-- The rest, yeah, but--"
"One step at a time," C said, as though he'd sensed the way the idea of all of it was pressing into Mikey's chest, hurting him. He probably had. C wasn't a shrink for nothing.
"And you, Frank?"
Frank dug his fingernails into his thighs. "I need-- It's more than that. It's, um. I need to know who we are when nobody else matters. There's so much stuff that comes up and I never had any idea about it, because I mean, we were so careful in there, so unsure of what was safe. It's like, I mean, I don't even know what he wanted to be when he was a kid, or who his first kiss was or-- There are so many questions, and I worry that our order is so mixed up that I don't even know how to fix it."
"A fire mage," Mikey said.
"I wanted to be a fire mage when I was a kid. Until I was like, ten, and I decided that I wanted to go out west and be a horse wrangler. Gee and Grandma weren't great at telling me that things didn't exist any longer. Or, um, at all. And that horses would probably eat me."
Frank laughed. So did C. C said, "I went riding with my best friend, J, one time and neither of us got eaten. I'm pretty sure you're safe."
"I'd like to ride a horse," Mikey said. "That would be awesome." Then he remembered what he'd actually been talking about. "And my first kiss was Melissa Smollen. We were fourteen and she had braces that cut my lips, but she had a really nice laugh and she never laughed at me and we were both into comics, which you didn't get so much in girls. I really liked her."
"What happened?" Frank asked, peering at C like maybe that wasn't okay.
"Her dad got transferred and she had to move."
"Was... Was our first kiss kind of like that?"
Mikey laughed, he couldn't help it. Frank looked stricken, so Mikey kissed him and then pulled back. "Our first kiss was like finding out fire mages actually exist."
Bob tended to let Frank borrow the car on Sundays so that he could get out to the prison easily to see Zack. Most Sundays Frank came back and he and Mikey took Mizzy for a walk, or went to movie, or played board games with Bert and Quinn, who both had very original spins on just about every board game ever created. One Sunday, though, Frank said, "I'll be back around two. Be in clothes you can get dirty in, okay?"
Mikey worked with children and dirt all day long. He didn't have many outfits that didn't qualify. When Frank got back he honked and Mikey came out to get in the car. He said, "Where are we going?" Frank just rolled his eyes. Yeah, that had been a long shot.
The ride out was a good hour and Mikey watched the changing leaves for most of it, until he fell asleep to the rhythm of the road beneath him. Frank woke him up with a, "Mikeyway," when they were where they were supposed to be. Mikey blinked and rubbed at his eyes. Then he said, "Are there horses in that stable, Frank Iero?"
"C'mon," Frank Iero said, and reached over him to open the door, push Mikey gently out. Mikey walked toward the structure in a daze. He'd never been near an actual stable. He hadn't even realized they existed out east. If he'd thought about it, he probably would have realized, but he'd always just thought of them as something from places where there was still fresh air and, well, horses. He followed Frank into a small office in the front of the stable where there was a girl the age of most of the center kids in amazingly filthy jeans and an oddly clean shirt with the name of the stable on it.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
"Um. We have a riding lesson?" Frank asked, like he wasn't quite sure he'd actually managed to arrange it.
"Oh, hi, you're Frank?" She stuck out her hand. "You sounded bigger on the phone. I'm Kendra."
Frank shook her hand. "Hi Kendra. I'm bigger than I look."
"Well, okay," she agreed. "If you go into the stable, Aunt Bree's gonna help you get ready. She's your teacher."
Mikey was pretty much on his way there by the time she told them this. There were horses in that stable, and horses--everyone knew--were only one step away from unicorns. They found Bree fairly easy, as she was the only one in the room. She was wiry and silver-haired and she said, "So you've never ridden, correct?" without bothering to introduce herself.
Mikey shook his head, suddenly ashamed of this deficiency. Frank stepped in front of him a little and Mikey was afraid he was going to start something just from sensing Mikey's discomfort, but Bree said, "Good. Won't have to break you of any bad habits in that case." She looked them over. "I know just the horses for you. Come on, let's make sure you get along first."
Mikey's horse was a chestnut bay with a white star on his forehead. His name was Nestor and from the moment Mikey reached a tentative hand out to touch his nose, he pretty much decided Mikey was his. Mikey was sort of afraid Nestor was going to duel Frank for the privilege of keeping him when this was all finished. Frank's horse was a spotted appaloosa named Perdita who liked to tickle Frank by blowing air over his neck. It was pretty awesome.
Bree put the saddles on the horses, letting Mikey and Frank watch, and adjusting them once they were atop the horses. Then she led them out into the fields at a walk. She talked smoothly, guiding them on how to direct the horse without spooking it. Mikey spent a lot of time reaching forward to pet at Nestor's neck and remind him how pretty he was. Bree led them through a vaguely wooded area and then to further fields where she let them break into a cantor. Mikey had to lean back then a little bit. It wasn't such a hardship. Perdita was slightly more spirited than Nestor, so Mikey was getting a well-appreciated view of Frank--Frank riding a horse.
The lesson was an hour, and then Bree took them back to the stable, had them help cool the horses down, let them give them carrots. Mikey kissed Nestor's nose softly and said, "Thanks, buddy."
Bree said, "You two should come back. The horses'd be glad to see you, and that's pretty much all I need in riders."
Mikey wasn't entirely sure Frank hadn't sold a kidney for this hour, so he just smiled and said, "Thanks. We had a really, really great time."
Frank looked at him and smiled. "Yeah. We did."
On the ride home, Mikey said, "Pull over."
Frank looked about to question and Mikey just said, "Pull over," injecting a little of his don't-question-me voice into it. Frank pulled onto a bypass. Mikey said, "Get in the backseat. On your stomach."
Frank sucked in a breath, and Mikey looked over, but Frank was already fumbling with the door in his excitement. Mikey waited until he had followed instructions to reach into the glove compartment, where he knew Gerard kept emergency supplies. He'd refill for them later, while he was scrubbing his brain free of the fact that he'd used his brother's contingency condoms. Mikey looked over his shoulder and asked, "Why are your pants still on?"
Frank turned and twisted and contorted and Mikey watched, getting so hard that he was a little afraid he was going to come just from the foreplay. He got out of the car and walked slowly around to the back where he got in and laid himself as much over Frank as he could. There was more of him, he didn't fit as well, but he managed it. He whispered, "I'm going to fuck you in this car, out here, where anybody could look in and see, look in and know that you're mine, that you'll take it from me anytime, even when you're a little sore from an afternoon riding, especially then and that you want them to look, you want them to see."
"Yes," Frank gasped, "Yes, Mikey, keep talking, keep fucking-- Hard, okay? Just--"
Mikey was already on it, already rolling the condom over himself and slicking up and sliding in fast, too fast for someone who had just spent his first hour ever on a horse and Frank said, "Just like that, yes, yes, keep talking," so Mikey said, "Such a fucking pretty little thing when you're taking it from me, so fucking perfect, and I want them to see it, too, like before, only they can know this time, they can know what we are, what the truth is, they can see all those things we weren't allowed to show, hear all those things we weren't allowed to say--"
"Mikey!" Frank shouted, and Mikey brought his hand down and found Frank semi-hard. He was nowhere near to orgasm, Mikey didn't even think they'd be able to manage that, but he had something approaching an erection and that was, "Mine, mine, fucking mine," Mikey said and drove in as forcefully as he could manage in the confines in the car, even as Frank murmured, "Harder, Mikeyway, harder."
Mikey kept up with his, "See how you respond to me, they can know that only I can do that to you," kept talking until he couldn't make the words make sense in his head anymore, until after, when Frank said, "Mikey, Mikey," and Mikey said, "Okay," but didn't give up, not really.