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Ryan said, "I want to go to Italy."

Frank wasn't horribly surprised by this revelation. Ever since Jon had packed Ryan onto a plane with Brendon and himself for their tenth anniversary--proving to Ryan that flight wasn't quite the terror Spencer made it out to be--Ryan had been a little restless to see pretty much every place in the world he'd never seen. Which was everywhere, really. "I hear good things."

"And I want you to go with me."

"Um. What?" Frank was actually pretty sure he'd heard right, since he'd been listening, but the words weren't making any sense.

"Well, you and Gee, obviously."

"Ry, the clinic--"

"Mikey goes on vacation every year with Ray and MJ," Brendon pointed out. "It's kinda only fair that you get to go on vacation once in every, oh, never."

"Besides, Mikey thinks it's a good idea," Ryan said, somewhat defensively. Too defensively, in fact.

Frank narrowed his eyes. "Ryan Ross. Did you give Mikeyway kicked puppy eyes?"

"No." Ryan scowled. "I just said I thought you needed a vacation."

The thing was, Frank believed him. Ryan didn't need kicked puppy eyes to make Mikey do whatever the hell he wanted. Mikeyway had a soft spot for Ryan, Brendon and Spencer that was acres wide, but it was widest for Ryan. Frank had seen enough of Ryan's scars to have an idea why that was, so he didn't give Mikey a hard time about it. Besides, Frank had a disgustingly soft spot for Ryan as well, so it was probably for the best that he didn't go about throwing stones. Frank sighed. "I still dunno, Ry. Italy--"

"Gee likes art, you like pizza, it'll be awesome, Frankieway. Awesome." Brendon poked at Frank for good measure.

And the thing was, it would be awesome, it totally would, just-- "Look, I'll talk to Gee, okay?"

Brendon smiled like he'd won first prize at the all county-festival for fuck-only-knows-what. Ryan tilted his head, eyes cautious. "'Kay."

*


When he told Gerard, Gerard said, "I'm getting that there's something I'm not getting here."

"I, uh. I don't actually know if I can leave the country." Frank had never really thought about it. Okay, that was a lie. He had thought about it during college, when other kids were going off and doing it, but in a vague, dreamy way, fairly content to study what he wanted to study, touch whom he wanted to touch and live in a place where he had a bed and a bathroom all to himself.

"Oh." Gerard scrunched up his face. "Huh."

"I, um. There's some people I've got to talk to."

Gerard nodded. "Yeah, okay. Are you-- I mean, you don't have-- You could tell them we can't afford it, or something."

"Jon would fucking subsidize us and we'd just have to come up with another excuse. Besides, Ryan asked." And really, that was the kicker. Ryan never asked for anything unless it was something he wanted so badly it hurt.

Gerard sighed. "Yeah. There's that."

Frank walked over to where Gerard was sitting on the couch, surrounded by papers. He shoved the papers aside, probably messing up Gerard's "system"--he thought of Mikey's lack of tone whenever he said that--and climbed atop Gerard, sprawling over as much of him as he could. Gerard pulled him in tight, squeezing until Frank was actually wheezing from the pressure. Frank said, "It's okay," not really sure what he was referring to.

Gerard grumbled into the top of Frank's head. It sounded a lot like, "Love you."

*


Frank checked in with his handler once a month without fail. He wasn't sure if that was actually protocol, or if Will, his handler in Jersey, kept tabs on Frank that way. Either was possible. It didn't matter. If he didn't call Brian, Brian would call him. If he didn't pick up, Brian would find him. Brian wasn't much bigger than Frank, but he wasn't the kind of guy Frank suspected he could take in a fight, either. It worked out all right, because Brian was pretty cool, all things considered, and did his best to let Frank live his life so long as he wasn't doing anything to jeopardize his safety.

When Frank called him about the whole Italy idea he was kind of tentative, apologetic for even bringing it up. Brian was quiet for a second before he said, "Frank, um, you aren't-- You were never under criminal charges. You're not our prisoner. Technically we can't even keep you in the program if you want to leave. I mean, I'd try to convince you not to, but we've got no legal hold over you."

"Oh. I thought--" Frank actually hadn't really thought about it much. He'd done what Will had told him to do and hoped it kept him alive.

"You were a minor when you were brought in, so at that point, yeah, we had some say in the situation. But now? It's your life, Frank."

"So you're saying I can go to Italy?"

"You could go to Russia and I couldn't stop you. Again, I'd advise against it--"

"Yeah, Italy'll do me just fine, thanks."

"When did you wanna leave? Because I'm gonna need some time to get together papers for you. Passport, that kinda thing."

"I haven't exactly agreed to go yet. You've got time."

"I'll put in the request."

"Brian?"

"Yeah?"

"The passport. It'll say Frank Way, right?"

"That's your legal name."

"Yeah." Frank smiled to himself. "Yeah, just checking."

*


Mikey drove them out to the airport, along with Bob and Spencer. Spencer was a complete fucking mess for the entirety of the ride. It looked different on Spencer than most people--he just got really, really bitchy--but they could all tell. Mikey hugged him when they got there anyway, and told all of them, "MJ expects postcards. She's really upset that you're all leaving her at once."

Frank was pretty sure Mikey was totally using his daughter to receive mail, but that was okay. If Mikey, Ray, Bob, Spencer, Jon, Brendon and Ryan all left him for two weeks, he'd expect lots of things from the post office, too. Frank hugged Mikey an extra long time and said, "I promise to take care of Gee."

Mikey said, "I know," like he hadn't even needed to ask. It was only fourteen days, but Frank was going to miss Mikey a lot.

He went inside where Brendon and Ryan were evidently waiting for Jon to get back from parking the car. Ryan was sitting on his carry-on, thirty-one years old and still able to just fold himself up, tuck himself away. Brendon was standing behind him, both hands on Ryan's shoulders. He grinned when he saw them, waved, as though they might miss the two of them.

Spencer looked at Ryan and said, "I hate you."

Wordlessly, Ryan offered up a stash of jelly beans. Spencer glared. Ryan said, "I picked out all the ones you don't like."

Spencer said, "Cheater," but he took the gift and sat down next to Ryan. They both fit on the bag. Frank sort of wanted a picture, but he didn't dare. Bob went and stood by Brendon.

Gerard whispered, "They're cute when they hover."

Ryan and Spencer scowled. Bob rolled his eyes. Brendon grinned. Frank was totally going to have to teach Gerard to whisper one of these days.

*


The plane was huge. Frank had only been on the FBI jet that had flown him from Jersey to California after the trial. This plane had three rows of seats going across the plane, one with five seats in it. They put Bob, Spencer, Ryan, Jon and Brendon in that one so that Spencer could be sandwiched between Ryan and Bob, and Ryan could be placed between Spencer and Jon or Brendon--the latter two kept switching seats as desired. Frank was across the aisle from Bob, sharing a row just with Gerard. He played with the buttons up top until he had figured everything out. Then he explained to Gerard, who flew down to Texas to visit his parents on a regular basis and probably knew. Gerard just listened, like he needed the tutorial.

They played crappy movies all the way over, and Frank amused himself by watching without headphones, making up dialogue on his own. Gerard got in on the action by the middle of the first movie, which was awesome. Gerard was the absolute best at fake dialogue. He did voices, too. They were weird voices, but that kind of only made it better.

By the time they landed on the runway, Frank was crawling out of his skin with pent up energy, and he and Brendon had to race each other to the baggage claim in order to avoid doing something like piggy-back attacking other people. Brendon beat him, but not by much and Brendon was younger, so it didn't count anyway. Jon caught up to them and pulled Brendon to him by his belt loop. He said, "Wanna use some of that energy getting the bags?"

Brendon asked, "What do I get out of it?"

"Gelato," Jon said, not even missing a beat. Brendon was waiting at the carousel by the time Jon got to the last syllable.

Gerard asked, "Think he'd get ours if I promised him an espresso?"

"Don't you dare," Ryan said. Gerard sighed and trotted off to wait next to Brendon. Frank smiled at not even having had to ask. Then he went and stood beside him.

*


Ryan had had a list of about twelve things he'd wanted to see in every city, and Jon and Brendon were mostly willing to just be dragged around by him. Spencer and Bob were mostly there to be together, although Spencer had insisted on at least one day on the Riviera. Spencer loved the beach. Gerard, though, Gerard had listened to Ryan's lists and talked with Ryan long and hard and between the two of them, they had hammered out a schedule.

That schedule started in Venice.

Brendon's comment on the subject was, "I really need one of those hats, Jon, you know I do," referring to the sun hat several of the gondoliers were wearing. "I would look utterly criminal. All the boys would be jealous."

"All the boys are already jealous," Jon said, and instead just loaded Brendon and Ryan into gondola. Ryan was too busy looking around to be worried about hats, or much of anything else, for that matter.

They took another gondola, with Bob and Spencer. Spencer was clearly pretty happy about all the water in Venice, which was putting Bob at ease. They parted ways once they arrived at St. Mark's Square. Spencer had wanted to see La Fenice. Bob had smiled when he'd suggested it and neither had been willing to explain what the fascination was. Bob and Spencer were kind of jerks like that.

Frank and Gerard had gotten their revenge by deciding to go St. Mark's Clock Tower--largely because clocks were fucking cool--and acting like they had some big old reason for going that they weren't going to tell anyone. Bob and Spencer had remained unbothered. Jerks.

They shopped the markets, where they bought a pendant of Venetian glass for MJ to wear when she was a little older, and a fairly decadent Venetian mask to go in the living room. When they met up with the others for dinner, Frank wasn't surprised to see that Ryan had gotten one of his own. It was more demure than the one he and Gerard had picked out, and yet more intricate, at the same time. Ryan put it to his face for a moment. Frank could see his eyes through the holes. He said, "I see you, Ryan Ross."

Beneath the rim of the mask, Ryan's lips curled into a smile.

*


They had put Florence on the schedule largely because Gerard had said, "Uffiziufizziuffizi" until Ryan had been shaking with laughter and Frank wasn't even sure Gerard wasn't having some kind of verbal seizure.

Frank didn't really know much about art. He had a passing familiarity with the world of body art, mostly as it applied to himself, and he liked it when Gerard drew, or brought home paintings by local artists to hang on the wall, but his knowledge of art as a discipline was fairly scant. Gerard, on the other hand, had an almost bizarrely encyclopediac knowledge of art, and Frank spent the entire day holding Gerard's hand, letting Gerard pull him from one room to the next, lighting up even brighter with each new viewing experience and telling Frank stories about their artists, their lives, why they had painted a particular piece, whatever.

When they arrived at Caravaggio's Medusa, Gerard stood behind Frank, his chin resting on Frank's shoulders, his arms wrapped loosely around Frank's waist. He said, "I saw this picture in a book in middle school. I think-- A history book, maybe."

Frank had never seen it before, but it was kind of gruesome, he thought, for a middle school textbook. He was sort of fascinated by the way her blood seemed to drip to the floor. Gerard said, "She was supposed to be evil, Medusa, I mean, turning men to stone, and stuff. But I just thought she looked sad."

Frank would be pretty sad if his blood was dripping on the floor, too, but he took Gerard's point. "You just like the villians," he said softly.

"The snakes are pretty fucking cool," Gerard admitted, but he still sounded pensive.

"Gee?"

"It just-- It always made me think about the way you could draw things nobody wanted to see. And people could look at them and still only see what they wanted to see. Does that--"

"Yeah," Frank said, because it made perfect sense. "Is that why you like it so much?" He'd asked Gerard a million things about his art, but never just that, never just, "why?"

"I... I like it because it's about the things we believe, not just the things we see."

Frank thought about all the sketches he'd found of himself over the years, left on the table, shoved to one side of the couch, crumpled in the waste basket. He said, "Oh," and it took him a couple of seconds to follow when Gerard wandered off to the next piece of art.

*


In Rome, Ryan and Gerard sat down in the Sistine Chapel and stared up for so long, Frank was validly a little worried their necks would stick that way. Bob and Spencer didn't stay as long, slipping out to walk around Villa Ada together. Spencer liked being outside when he could. Bob once told Frank, "He's like you with your windows," and Frank had said, "Sunshine is shiny."

Frank hung out with Brendon and Jon. Brendon was a little quieter than usual and Frank bumped into him slightly, enough to send him tripping lightly toward Jon. Jon caught him and righted him, and Brendon smiled at Frank. Frank asked, "All right?"

Brendon looked up for a few minutes. Frank followed his gaze, thinking about the story Gerard once told him, about Michaelangelo and the paint dripping down into his eyes. It was Jon who said, "I don't think I ever thought it was real."

Frank looked at him. Jon shrugged. "Just, I mean, it's one of those things you read about that seems too...big to be real."

Brendon nodded. "Too much."

Frank thought about that, focused on just one part, just one splash of color, one line. He said, "But you have each other. And Ryan."

Brendon blinked. "Good point."

Jon said, "Take that, Michaelangelo."

When they stopped laughing, both Ryan and Gerard were looking over at them, distracted, clearly meaning to scowl. Neither of them were managing.

*


They took a day in Naples before getting on board an overnight ferry to Sicily. Ryan had convinced Spencer that the beaches in Sicily were better. Well, okay, Ryan had said, "Sicily starts with an S and has a C in the middle, like Spencer, we can get there by boat, and the beaches are warmer."

Spencer had said, "But the Riviera is...the Riviera."

Ryan had said, "It'll probably be more crowded."

Spencer said, "Sicily it is."

Frank had never slept on a boat before. He'd been on sailboats in the marina, and the gondola and even a paddleboat at one time, but he'd never laid down and felt the back and forth, backforth of the waves coming up to greet him.

He said, "Gee. Um, you-- You're not seasick, right?" Mikey had a tendency to get seasick just by looking at the ocean.

Gerard shook his head. "It's kinda fun."

Good, because Gerard being sick didn't fit into his plans. "Wanna--" Frank kissed Gerard, sweet and slow.

"Mm," Gerard said, "mmhm."

"Like, just let the waves--"

"Yeah," Gerard panted, not forcing Frank to go any faster, keeping them both aware of the motion beneath them, and when he slipped in, he didn't move, didn't have to, let the slight rocking take care of business for him. Frank came inside the warmth of Gerard's hand, keeping the steady beat of the ocean beneath them.

He said, "Ugh, Gee."

Gerard said, "Mind if I stay--" his cock softening inside Frank, and Frank shook his head, said, "Stay, Gee. Stay."

*


The first day at the beach, Gerard, Brendon and Jon built the sandcastle to end all sandcastles. Well, Gerard designed it, Brendon helped him mold it, and Jon fetched and carried sand and water. They were a good team. Brendon brought Ryan to it when they were done--like maybe Ryan hadn't been watching the entire time, or something--and said, "Your castle, my liege."

Ryan rolled his eyes, but he smiled as he did it. Gerard looked at Frank over Brendon's shoulder and grinned. He asked Ryan, "What say you, liege? Is it big enough to share?"

Ryan looked at it, sprawling a good five or six feet one way, another three or four the other, at least two or so feet tall. Spencer was making a circle of it, as though he was checking out the perimeter defense. Bob was watching him, although that probably had to do more with Spencer being in swimming trunks, than anything else. Ryan said, "It'd get lonely without you guys."

Frank grinned. "Obviously."

Spencer said, "I think it needs a moat."

"Too right you are, Spencer Smith," Brendon said. He jumped on Jon's back. "To the water, Lord Knight."

Jon laughed, and did as he was bid, Ryan and Spencer following in their wake. Gerard stepped toward the water, holding his hand out. Frank took a step and reached out to take it.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile