sparsenicjade
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Written for , on the remembrance of her birth, and all that.

Author Notes: Thank you to Turps33, for betaing the fic, all mistakes left are mine. (And thanks to Luc for cleaning it up a little during her read. I made her read it without headers. Because I'm allowed to be mean to her like that.)

***


Mikey was so used to the sound of shutters flashing, clicking in their endless rounds of photographs that it took him a second to realize where he was and what he was doing. Then, for a second, he was pretty sure it was he who had sworn, but no, no that was definitely Frank. "Fuck. Fuck fuck, fucking motherfuckers."

Frank was tense like he was going to spring, so Mikey held on with all his strength. Frank was more compact, but when Mikey was desperate, he could keep hold of Frank just fine. Frank said, "This is your fucking house."

Mikey knew exactly what this was. He'd never had a papparazzo hide in his bushes before and later, later he would wonder what had prompted the sudden curiosity. That was the sort of thing that happened to Gerard.

"Damage is done," Mikey said, because they'd only been kissing, making out against the kitchen counter, but Mikey had no illusions as to what they had looked like. A couple of more minutes and they would have been moving into some messy, deeply satisfying floor sex, which Mikey would have totally claimed to be too old for afterward.

"Not if I kill him and take his camera," Frank said, still straining in Mikey's grip.

"Frank," Mikey said.

Frank whipped back to him. "'This is us Mikey."

Mikey nodded. He was a private person by nature but, "And I won't fucking be ashamed of that."

Frank stilled for a second. Then he tugged gently free to close the blinds that they should have closed in the first place. Mikey said, "We should call Gerard."

*


They called Brian. Mikey listened to Frank explain, "...they were in his fucking yard, man, it's not like-- Yeah, okay. Okay."

"What'd he say?"

"That we needed to meet as a group and talk about our next step."

Mikey leaned into Frank's chest. It shouldn't have worked, given the height disparity, but it always did. "That's it?"

Frank ran his fingers through Mikey's hair and looked at him consideringly. "What were you expecting?"

For all his concerted efforts not to, Mikey had thought about this moment a lot throughout My Chem's run. "That we should have been more careful. That, contrary to popular belief, not all publicity is good publicity. That this was our problem and we'd have to figure it out. Dunno."

Frank didn't say, "You worry too much," just, "It is his problem, Mikey. He's our manager. And we've been careful enough not to get caught for four years and this isn't bad press, it's just invasive press."

All press felt invasive to Mikey, but he was willing to put up with it for the feeling of being nothing but the line Gerard depended on to keep him singing, the foundation to each of their songs. Frank ran his fingers along Mikey's neck. "Some of our fans are going to be thrilled. A lot of them."

Which was true, but there would be others who felt betrayed by them having been outed, rather than taking the step on their own and yet others who would consider them abominations because of it. Mikey's therapist was forever telling him that he was too open to others' emotions, too willing to take on what the guys or the audience or the press threw at him, consciously or no. Mikey didn't think she was wrong, just that that particular trait was inimical, and not likely to change ever. He said, "Yeah, that's-- That'll be good."

It would, too. Mikey had grown up watching the rockstars of a previous era just to have some sense that he wasn't alone, wasn't the only person in the world like this. Gerard had been like him and that had been reassuring, but even as a kid Mikey had known that he and Gerard were two of a kind and that their ways of doing things, of being, didn't really apply to other people. It had only been that much more evident when he'd reached his Teenage Years of Sexual Angst and Yearning. Mikey was glad not to be teenager anymore every day of his life.

Mikey just didn't like that in providing certain kids with someone to look to, he was providing other people with a convenient target. Mikey had done that enough for one lifetime, thank you very much. And even if he did choose to do so at some point again, he wanted it to be his choice. That sort of agency was forever being taken from him. He knew the band worked their hardest to try and help that not happen, and he knew that he had signed up for it when he had agreed to be part of the band, but sometimes taking responsibility and realizing he had people at his back just didn't help as much as they should have.

Frank's phone buzzed beside him and Frank took a quick look at the number before picking up. "Hey, Bri." He paused to let Brian say whatever he needed to say. "Yeah, over here's fine, but you fuckers need to bring some coffee. Yeah, okay. See you then."

When Frank had hung up Mikey said, "They're bringing coffee?"

"Yeah, but Brian said something about Panera, so I think he might be getting us actual food, too."

"What a gentleman."

Frank said, "I'll totally go open the windows and take the dust cover off the couch for you."

"Aw, are you competing for my attention?" Mikey asked, rising up a little so that he could smile down at Frank.

Frank pecked Mikey on the cheek. "Only every time I need to."

That was pretty much never, but Mikey thought Frank knew that. He was pretty sure. He pulled Frank to him to make the point. The windows and the couch could wait.

*


Gerard and Brian arrived first, letting themselves in. Gerard sniffed the air and said, "Nice. Arm & Hammer?"

Mikey flipped him off. Just because Gerard insisted on using Glade and acting like nobody would know him and Brian were going at it like monkeys didn't mean they all wanted their homes to smell like "candy apple peanut butter funk" or whatever. Frank came down the stairs dressed but barefoot and said with an air of hopefulness, "Food?"

Brian held up a bag, Gerard held up a box of coffee. Mikey was just about willing to put his mouth under the fucking spout. Instead they all traveled into Mikey and Frank's kitchen where Mikey pulled mugs from the cabinets, setting out extras for Ray and Bob and Krista, just in case she accompanied Ray. Brian looked at the closed shades. Mikey could tell he was probably wondering why the hell they couldn't have just closed them before. He said, "Sorry."

Gerard said, "Fuck that."

"Gee--" Mikey said.

"High time you got to show me up a little, wouldn't you say?" Gerard asked with a small smile.

"Oh yeah, because that was what this was about." Mikey took the biggest mug for himself, but he gave it to Frank. Frank just filled it up and gave it right back to him. Mikey loved Frank.

Frank said, "Think people will think we're having some kind of kinky threesome now?"

"I'm pretty sure everyone already thought that, dumbass," Ray said, walking into the kitchen. He set a bag on the counter. "My mom's pound cake. For later."

Mikey poured another cup of coffee and handed it to Krista. He kissed her cheek. "Hey Kris. Sorry to pull him away."

Krista shrugged. "I'm with him. Where're the critters?"

"Laundry room, last I checked," Frank said. "They've nested in our touring clothes. It's not gonna be pleasant, I warn you."

"I'm made of surprisingly stern stuff," she said and wandered off to find them. Bob showed up last, ringing the doorbell. Frank went to go get it and Mikey only half-listened as he made fun of Bob for never getting the key he had loaned to Matt back. Mikey was less than surprised to see Frank brought back into the kitchen in a fireman's grip. He was struggling for all he was worth. The first couple of times it had worried Mikey. Now he knew that Bob wouldn't drop him, no matter what. Bob set Frank down next to Mikey and allowed Mikey to keep him upright. He said, "You had a guy at your gate."

Mikey sighed. Yeah, they were probably going to be everywhere now. Brian took a sip of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table. "What do you want to do?"

"Aren't you supposed to be telling us what we're going to do?" Frank asked. He didn't sound hostile, more curious.

"With the exception of the fact that Gee and I are careful about closing the shades, let's all pretend like this could just as easily have been him and me. And let's also pretend like this band is about doing the right thing and this might be one of the more important moments of not fucking that up."

Mikey looked at Frank. "What do you want to do?"

Frank said, "Tell everyone you're mine," without looking up from the coffee mug he was contemplating.

Mikey smiled into his own cup. Then he set it down and looked at Gerard. He said, "This is your band. Your dream."

"Queer teenagers have a higher risk of suicide than any other group in that age range. I should have been the one to do this, and a long fucking time ago, I just--"

"Thought it shouldn't matter." Mikey knew. Mikey agreed. Except that they all knew, realistically that until straightness wasn't the default, it did matter.

"If you want--" Gerard started, but both Frank and Mikey shook their head. They knew him too well.

Frank said, "Let's break it to our audience gently, 'kay, Gee? Let them still have their lead singer."

Gerard made a face, but he nodded, acquiesing to the logic. He could, occasionally, be cajoled into doing so. Brian looked quietly relieved. Mikey knew it wasn't just about public image. It was about the fact that once Gerard came out, Brian lost any privacy he still had left. At least Mikey and Frank weren't terribly used to that anymore. Mikey looked over at Bob, who just shrugged. He said, "I'm just here for the drums."

Ray said, "I've already totally got a melody for the song about this."

Mikey wasn't surprised. Frank said, "Why am I not surprised?" and snickered. Then he asked Brian, "How fast can you get something set up for us?"

Brian finished his coffee. "Lemme make some calls. Then we talk about the plan. Short term and long term."

Mikey went and got some plates for the pound cake. The healthy shit would have to wait its turn.

*


The only thing to do, really, was make it not look like damage control. Damage control was an admission of guilt, and Mikey and Frank were more than willing to come out, but neither of them was going to do it like some kid caught with his hand all the way inside the bubblegum machine. Brian called Steven Smith, chatted with him about the band he'd had on a couple of nights before, how he was doing and then said, "You wanna do an interview? My Chem?"

Brian had him on speaker, so Mikey listened as Steven said, "Yeah, sure. They doing promo stuff? I thought they were on break."

"They are," Brian said, "but some dickface papparazzo hid out in Mikey's bushes and caught a shot of him and Frank. It's probably already up on the net, I haven't checked in the last hour, so if we're not gonna be ahead of this thing, we'd at least like to not be too far behind it."

Steven was quiet for a long moment. "Gerard goes through over half the scene while he's on shit and Mikey gets caught in his own house? That kid can't catch a break." Then, "Sorry, man, I know you and Gee are--"

Gerard looked kind of pale so Mikey sat down next to him on the couch and took full advantage of his gangliness to wrap himself completely over Gerard. He didn't care that he was the one who had been caught. He didn't wish this on Gerard and Brian. If anything, it was kind of nice that he'd been able to keep Gerard safe this once, actually take the bullet for him.

Brian said, "Yeah we are," his voice lighter than Mikey probably would have managed.

"I didn't mean--"

"I know," Brian said, sighing. Mikey could tell he did, too. Steven wasn't an asshole, and he was mostly just stating fact. By the time Gerard had gotten distracted for more than two minutes by Bert, he'd literally slept with one person in just about every band they'd toured with, sometimes two. Mikey didn't really like to think about how lucky it was that Gerard wasn't very very dead. Knowing Brian wasn't looking, Mikey cast him an appreciative glance. Then he went back to drowning Gerard with his limbs and his attention.

"Look," Steven said, "don't take this the wrong way, I really wish Mikey could catch a break and Frank's a great guy, but I don't really know how I feel about helping you cover. That's kinda--"

"We don't want to cover," Brian said.

There was silence for a good minute. Then Steven asked, "So, I can ask the question, and they'll talk?"

"They thought they'd take advantage of the situation to save some lives," Brian said smoothly, smiling at Gerard. Mikey could feel Gerard loosening under his touch and he sort of wanted to let go to maul Brian with his love. He held on.

"Um. Shit."

"We wanna do it quickly, we want to make sure that people understand they aren't ashamed, they're not hiding from this. And we want it not to seem like the biggest deal in the world, like it's not the most important thing about the band. They're on break, they're going back on the road for a short tour in about a month, and then they're getting back into the studio. Ray and Gerard have already started writing. Frank's gonna do some Leathermouth and Skeleton Crew stuff while we're home, Bob's helping a friend's band out with their sound."

"Sure, yeah, that's-- Holy shit. I can't believe you're actually handing me this."

"You've been good to them," Brian said.

"How're they doing? Mikey and Frank? The others?"

"Other than being pissed that their homes aren't safe? Okay. As good as can be expected, really."

"You really should nail the fucker for tresspassing."

"As soon as I figure out who it is," Brian agreed.

"So, when are we doing this?"

"When can you be at the studio and what's the first thing that can be pulled to make room for this?"

Steven was quiet for a couple of seconds. "See you in an hour?"

Brian said, "Nice talking to you," and ended the call.

*


Mikey called Pete on the way into the city. There were really only seven people in the world that he couldn't handle finding out that he'd come out from actually seeing an interview of it, and Gerard had already called their mom. Frank was on the phone with his mom. Four of them had been at the meeting this morning. That left Pete.

Pete's phone rang into voicemail and Mikey said, "Call me, Pete. Call me before you check your email, before you look at the internet, turn on a TV, anything. Call me." He texted him too, for good measure. Pete wasn't really casual with their friendship or careless of it at all. They were both too well aware that its survival was something of a miracle, and neither of them were the type to throw that away. It was just that sometimes Pete had to be told clearly what was needed of him. Mikey's inability to lay things out in the days when they'd been together had been one of the biggest downfallings in the whole relationship. Bob had taught Mikey better later, but it had been too late for him and Pete. Mikey was neither stupid enough or mean enough to believe that Pete had failed him.

Frank tucked his hand behind Mikey's neck. "He'll call back."

Mikey didn't question that; he questioned whether it would be in time, or whether Pete would sound like he knew he didn't occupy a space of that much importance in Mikey's world, but wished he did. Mikey swallowed back his own fears, clearly concentrated in the form of Pete Wentz for the moment. "Yeah. I know."

He jumped at the sensation of teeth sinking into the t-shirt covered flesh of his shoulder and blinked down at Frank. Frank grinned with his eyes up from where he was still embedded by mouth in Mikey's bicep. Mikey rolled his eyes. "Freak." Frank bit down a little harder, just enough to almost hurt and then let go. Mikey leaned in and kissed him. He was still kissing him when his phone rang and buzzed against his stomach all at once.

Frank said, "Tease," but backed off. Mikey picked up the phone.

Before Mikey could say hi, Pete was talking, "Mikey? Are you okay? You're fucking freaking me out here, man--"

"Pete," Mikey said softly and Pete quieted. "Pete. Frank and I, we're on our way to Steven's studio. We're gonna do a coming out interview."

There was a significant pause. Then Pete said, "Wow. Really? No, I mean, of course really, that's not the kind of thing-- Jesus, Mikeyway, that's awesome. I mean, also scary, really scary and you have to be careful--you've talked to Worm about this right? I mean, he's there with you and everything? Because--"

"Pete," Mikey said again. "Worm's here. So's Brian. We're fine. It's not-- I'm not being cool, okay? There were pictures."

"Pictures?" Pete asked, like he'd never heard the word before.

"We were making out in the kitchen. I forgot to close the shades."

There was a quick intake of breath and then Pete asked, very calmly, "Want me to have them killed? All I have to do is a little bit of recon and then I'll know precisely who to go after."

"No killing, Pete."

"But--"

"No killing," Mikey reiterated.

Pete sighed. "Just. Keep it in mind, okay?"

Mikey bit back a smile. "I have your number."

"Yeah, you do. Mikey-- I mean, I know you have Frank and all, and your guys and Brian and all, but if you needed to talk to someone. I'm sort of an expert at having shit you don't want other people knowing splashed all over the fucking place, you know?"

Mikey winced. He knew. He'd been there for that, too. "Yeah, Pete. I know."

"And I'm never too busy for you, swear. Like you never were with me."

Mikey closed his eyes. Sometimes Pete's belief in him was as oppressive as it was uplifting. "I know, I do."

"Okay. I'm gonna go stream your interview."

"I wish you were here." Mikey wasn't sure where the words came from, but he knew they were true.

Pete said, "I could get a flight. The guys'd deal. I don't think one week or so is really gonna fuck our recording schedule any more than it already is."

Mikey looked over at Frank. He knew he could hear, Mikey had turned up the sound so he'd be able to. Frank just smiled at Mikey. Mikey said, "Maybe, Pete, yeah?"

Pete said, "Like you said, you've got my number.

*


The thing about Steven, was that for all that he gave the impression of fucking around, he knew what he was doing. He knew how to focus an interview without it seeming forced. He knew how to work with the information he was given and find humor, or at least interest even in the things that were sort of mundane. Most of all, he knew how not to let things get out of hand. Like most interviews, Mikey let Gerard, Frank and Ray do most of the talking, so it was easy to watch how Steven opened up with small talk and eased into the topic at hand without seeming like he was doing anything of the sort. And, then, miraculously, managed to navigate away from it. He even kept audience response open without having them deluged with questions about what they liked in bed by answering the online questions, which he could look at and choose from before asking them. If Mikey hadn't been totally spoken for in his heart, he would definitely have made out with Steven Smith.

Since they were on break, after that first interview, and the breaking of the pictures--which were still good for shock value, since Steven's Untitled Rock Show wasn't quite as mainstream as Us, People, and Star--the whole thing became mostly a game of deciding which interviews to take and which not to. Frank decided to say yes to both Advocate and Out. Mikey agreed to do an interview with Frank for Kerrang and the band as a whole gave Rolling Stone some time. The rest they turned down, politely but firmly.

Worm put some extra security on them, especially around the house, but other than that, not much changed. Frank said to Brian, when they noticed, "Well, I mean, it's not like people didn't think we were fags before."

Brian said, "Classy, Iero." Frank just shrugged. It was the truth.

In private, when it was just the two of them, Frank said, "We could, I mean. We could kiss in public. If you wanted."

Mikey tilted his head. "Is that something you want?"

"I'm not talking an onslaught of PDA here, or anything, I'm just saying. If you wanted to kiss me goodbye when you left to go somewhere I wasn't going, or whatever. I mean, we do that in front of the guys."

Mikey crossed his arms. "Yeah. I guess-- I'm used to hiding. I'm used to this being ours."

Frank's smile was so quick and true that it took Mikey by surprise, and Mikey knew Frank pretty well. Mikey thought about what he'd said and smiled back. "I'm selfish."

Frank's eyes darkened a little. "Good."

Mikey made himself look away. If he didn't, no talking was going to get done, and a little bit clearly needed to. "You said-- When we were caught, you said you wanted to tell the world that I was yours."

"I did that," Frank said evenly.

"Yeah, but I-- I haven't been letting you show them."

Frank shook his head. "You let them have exactly what you want them to have, and you keep the rest for us. I don't love them. I love you."

Mikey sort of hated being the kind of sap who would never get tired of hearing Frank say that, but some things were the way they were. "You just have to remind me."

"Remind you."

"It's like muscle memory, making myself walk away from you without a kiss, a touch. It's something I trained into myself, and now it's there."

"You mean, you think you would have-- If we'd just been college kids or professionals or--"

"Definitely. Definitely." Mikey felt like Rain Man, but it bore repeating. He loved touching Frank. He was selfish that way, too.

Frank moved in, his entire attention focused on Mikey. He put a hand to Mikey's cheek, moved his face to where Mikey was looking at him. "Reason you aren't looking at me?"

Mikey rolled his eyes. "No, no reason at all," and lowered his mouth onto Frank's. Enough talk; time for some action.

*


Mikey found out about the hate letters from Frank, who found out from Bob, who found out from overhearing a conversation between Worm and Brian. People--especially Brian and Worm--always forgot Bob was in the room and that he totally would tell your secrets if they related to the guys. Frank said, "Bob said Worm was sounding kind of uneasy. So, probably not the ones that are clearly just pissy kids."

If he was being honest, Mikey found pissy kids pretty scary as well, since they didn't have the impulse control that came with time. But hateful adults were more dangerous, he knew, at least most of the time. "They have any idea who's sending them?"

Frank shook his head. "The postmarks are from all over."

Mikey frowned. "They're sure it's the same person?" If there was more than one, then this was jumping from a rating of "kind of freaky that Worm actually feels the need to pay attention to it" straight to, "oh fuck, we're all gonna die."

Frank bit his lip where the ring had been. He'd never quite gotten used to it not being there. "Pretty sure."

"Well, that's six against one with Worm. Eight if you count James and Matt in and nine on a night when Brian's there. Those are good odds, right?"

"I really told you more so that it would make sense when Worm starts crawling up our butt about everything we do."

Mikey nodded. "I know. I just wanted to say it. Aloud."

Frank moved in closer, aligning one leg with Mikey's. "We knew this was going to happen. That there would be at least a little of this."

There was knowing and then there was knowing. Mikey folded over a little to rest his head on Frank's shoulder. Frank brought his arm around Mikey, tucking his fingers into the waistband of Mikey's jeans. Frank said, "We don't have to go out again. They haven't even released the dates. We could take some time. Write, take a vacation. I don't know. Whatever people do when they're not working."

Mikey buried his face in Frank's shoulder and laughed. Frank twisted to kiss the top of his head. "I'm kinda serious."

"I know, but I think we've wreaked enough havoc on my brother's band. How 'bout you?"

"Mikey."

Mikey sighed and pulled himself up to where he could look at Frank. He said, "I don't want to hide from them. We did that and it's over and I don't want to start up again."

After a bit, Frank said, "Yeah, me neither."

"That vacation thing, though, we should do that," Mikey said thoughtfully.

"What, Jersey isn't enough for you?" Frank asked challengingly. Mikey laughed and leaned in the extra inch necessary to kiss Frank. Frank kissed back a little, then asked, "Where would you want to go?"

"The Arctic Circle," Mikey said without having to think.

"The Arctic Circle?" Frank's hand was sneaking around, unbuttoning Mikey's jeans. Mikey wiggled his hips slightly forward, into Frank's hand. Frank rubbed at him through his briefs, entirely without urgency.

Mikey closed his eyes. "We've never been. It's special that way."

"Mm. I wouldn't mind seeing you fucking glow in the Northern Lights, Mikeyway."

Mikey made a sound of agreement and found the button to Frank's jeans without opening his eyes. When he'd popped it open, he casually began returning the favor. Mikey said, "Have to warm each other up at night."

Frank's lips were warm and soft and sweet along the line of Mikey's throat, as patient and undemanding as the strokes of his hand. Frank murmured, "That'll be a hardship."

Mikey laughed softly, pressing himself a little more actively into Frank. "What's vacation without a little hardship."

Frank met his challenge. "I just don't know."

Mikey brought his lips to Franks, knowing where they were, even in his self-imposed dark. Frank's tongue swept up to meet his, and Mikey melted, came, giving into Frank's persuasive talents.

*


Mikey settled into the tour with a fair amount of ease. After the debacle otherwise known as The Black Parade Tour, Brian had insisted that all tour breaks come complete with an actual month off, and that during that month, they park their asses somewhere, and not move around much. Besides being just plain better for the band's mental and physical health, the mandate made Krista happier, which was a major plus, since she hadn't really signed up for the rock star lifestyle outside of accidentally falling for a rock star. Mikey didn't think she could be blamed for that: Ray was pretty awesome.

With a month of sleeping in a bed with Frank every night, and waking up to their super snazzy coffee maker every morning, and playing with their pets every day, Mikey was pretty much ready to get on a bus, see things beyond the boundaries of his back yard. The first couple of days were always a bit of a shock to the system anyway, no matter how many times he did it, or how well-rested he was going into them. But after that there was a rhythm to things. Space was established in certain ways that were contradictory to physics but worked for the five of them, day and night were redefined by when people were up versus when they were asleep, but there was still a level of "normality" or routine that was established purely by them. It was comfortable.

Gerard had come to them before the latest leg of this tour and said, "I had a thought." This had been greeted largely by unimpressed silence, since Gerard often had thoughts. He'd said, "What do you guys think about setting up a basic play list that we can feel free to deviate from if we just, y'know, decide we're not feeling those songs that day?"

The silence that greeted that was considerably more impressed. Frank was the first one to break it with, "You mean, make the concerts a jam session?"

"Well, not in the Grateful Dead kinda way, but yeah." Gerard sounded hopeful. In any given situation, Frank was by far the most likely to go along with Gerard's shenanigans, dragging Mikey in his wake. Once that happened it was three against two and Bob and Ray just had to suck it up. Bob and Ray did a lot of sucking it up. When Mikey thought about it, it was actually kind of amazing they hadn't left and started their own bands.

As such, it was a little bit of a surprise when it was Ray who said, "That fucking rocks. Why haven't we done that yet?" He looked at Bob, like Bob would know. Bob just shrugged. Gerard glanced over at Mikey anyway--he always did, even when Frank was busy recruiting Mikey to their cause, Gerard always checked with Mikey. Mikey grinned at him.

Gerard said, "Right. Right. So, now we just gotta come up with a basic set." That, of course, had taken the better part of the month off. Bob and Mikey had placed bets on whether Frank's tactics of sheer annoyance would wear Ray and Gerard down and win him the songs he wanted, or if they would persevere and win the day for their choices. Mikey, who had bet on them persevering--he loved Frank, but everyone in the band had learned coping mechanisms at this point--also laid a bet on Gerard getting his way. It was kind of like magic. Mikey had no idea what Gerard said to Ray or did, but in the end, nine times out of ten, Ray would find a compromise that gave far more to Gerard than he'd probably originally intended. Bob lost the Frank bet, but won the Ray bet, since Ray got over fifty percent of the set he wanted.

When it was all done, Mikey wrapped his arms around Ray's neck one evening and made a soft argument for "Black Hole", which was his favorite off their last album. Twenty minutes, and Mikey had what he wanted. Gerard wasn't going to argue. He was pretty sure Gerard had tried putting it on the set list for him in the first place. Frank said, "I hate you with your wiley wiles."

"Not when I reserve them for you, you don't," Mikey pointed out. Frank scowled, but then jumped Mikey in the kitchen and made him come in his pants, so Mikey could guess at the truth of his words.

The decision made this tour a little different, just because no two shows were terribly alike, which was new, but Mikey really loved it. It meant playing more of their catalogue, it meant reacting to the audience more, it meant stretching himself, sometimes playing songs he hadn't even listened to in a few years. The unscripted nature of it made Gerard and Frank even more unpredictable, and now that Frank could do whatever the hell he wanted to Mikey on stage, that meant that things could get a little questionable, but even when it fucked his playing up, Mikey didn't so much mind. Frank glowed when he would walk away, his hair wild, his eyes wilder. Gerard would sometimes laugh right in the middle of a lyric, and, for the most part, the crowd's roars sounded friendly.

Ray, for his part, was fucking thrilled. The Frank tornado--against all odds--had been permanently diverted from him and his rather expensive guitars. He bought Mikey three pounds of M&Ms, which Mikey really loved--they made your tongue turn colors and the chocolate in the middle was somehow always a surprise--and said, "Thanks for taking one for the team, Mikeyway." That wasn't really how Mikey thought of his relationship with Frank, but Ray was smiling as he said it, so Mikey smiled back.

And just like that, Frank and him were out and on tour and the only thing that really changed was that Mikey had to be a little more protective of was his bass. That was a trade off he could live with.

*


If there was something funny about that night, it would have been that they were playing "Teenagers" when it happened. "Teenagers" wasn't even one of the songs on the set list, but a group of kids kept shouting for it, and Gerard was playing completely to the crowd this tour, even more so than he had previously. Frank was whirling around, throwing himself this way and that, and Mikey was sort of busy watching. He wasn't moving much, he didn't, not unless Frank or Gerard forced the issue.

The music was loud enough around him and in his monitor, that when he was first thrown back, he thought he had just lost track of Frank and been blindsided. It didn't occur to him that the force had hit him dead on. He took a breath to tell Frank to get off him, he was trying to play. His breath bottomed out and the pain hit. Panicked he said, "Frank? Gee?" Asking questions was a lot of effort, it hurt. Everything really hurt. But Frank and Gerard were both there. So, in fact, were Bob and Ray and Matt and James and Worm.

Gerard was saying, "Mikey, Mikey, can you hear me?"

"Hurts," Mikey tried to tell him. Then Worm leaned over him and "hurts" became the understatement of a decade. Mikey screamed, he couldn't help it.

Frank was soothing hair back from Mikey's forehead. "Breathe Mikey, breathe. Worm's gotta stop the bleeding till the ambulance can come, okay?"

Mikey was pretty sure he was crying. Bob was next to Frank saying, "Stay with us Mikey, that's right. Stay right here."

"What--"

"Sh, sh, Mikey," Frank was lying down on the stage now, Bob making room so that he could lie alongside Mikey, and okay, that helped him feel calmer, if not in less pain. "No talking, okay? Just try and stay awake, that's all."

Mikey really wanted to know what was going on, what had happened, why he hurt so much, but Gerard looked really fucking scared, and Mikey didn't want to make that worse. He said, "Hurts," again, because evidently he couldn't not.

"I know, baby. I know." Frank was whispering into his ear. Everything was really loud, but somehow Mikey could hear him. That scared him, though, worse than the pain. Frank didn't usually call him by pet names unless he was freaked out. Mikey tried to just breathe, take it for granted, enjoy it, because he liked that Frank knew he could say things like that to Mikey, but he wanted to sleep, to give in and let go.

Gerard said, "No, no, Mikey, eyes open, eyes fucking open."

Mikey was trying, but Gerard really had no idea how hard this was. He was on the edge of being unable to hold out any longer when he felt Frank being pried away from him. He said, "No, no," but Frank was saying, "It's all right, Mikey, they're gonna take care of you, it's fine, okay?"

Who, who was fucking going to take care of him? There were people talking to him, saying, "Mikey," and he didn't know them, they shouldn't have known his name. He tried to find Gerard, but he had moved back, was standing to the side. He said, "Gee, Gee."

Gerard said, "It's okay, Mikey. It's okay. They're the paramedics. Let them help, okay?"

Paramedics. Oh, right. Because he was hurt. Okay. They were still talking to him. "Mikey, hey, we're gonna move..." he lost what they were saying in a rush of painpainpain barely heard the count of "one, two, three" before they were picking him up and oh fu-uck,. More voices he didn't recognize telling him he was doing great, but he didn't feel like it, felt mostly like he was going to vomit and pass out, not necessarily in that order. There was a lot of moving then, and Mikey couldn't hold back his cries of pain.

Frank was somewhere near, saying, "That's okay, baby, that's okay."

The movement stopped, and then Frank was by him again. Mikey asked, "Gee?"

"Bob's driving him and Ray to the hospital. They're right behind us."

"Sleep now?"

The paramedic said, "Hold on just a little bit longer. Can you do that for me?"

Frank was holding Mikey's hand. Mikey made himself concentrate on the touch. Frank was saying things to him, nonsense things, but it helped to listen. Something must have happened, but Mikey had no idea what. Whatever it was, the paramedic said, "Okay, Mikey, if you need to--"

But Mikey was ten steps ahead of him.

*


Brian called Gerard and Mikey's parents. Frank watched him do it, all the while trying to keep Gerard calm. Ray was doing his best to help out. Frank thought maybe he should. Gerard was Mikey's brother, had been his whole life. Frank couldn't even breathe without paying attention. Bob made him sit, tucked Frank into his side and sat with him, waiting while nobody came to tell them anything, waiting and waiting and fucking waiting.

Brian seemed to be on the phone non-stop and it took Frank a while to realize that he had all their phones, was fielding calls for them. He didn't actually seem much less freaked out than any of them, but Brian was good about not letting on about those sorts of things to people who didn't know him well. Frank closed his eyes, tried to let the rhythms of Bob's body--not terribly steady themselves, but better than anything Frank had going--reset his own. After a few minutes, he got up and paced relentlessly.

Brian stopped him in mid-stride and handed him a phone. Mikey's phone. Frank said, "I don't want--"

"Talk to him, Frank."

"Who?" Frank asked, but Brian was already walking off. Frank considered just hanging up the phone, but Brian was already on another call dealing with another person. He wouldn't have pawned this off on Frank just to do so. He nearly dropped the phone while raising it to his ear. His hands were slippery, cold. He could barely feel his fingers. "Hello?"

"Frank." The voice on the other end was wavering. "Frank. They taking care of you?"

Frank blinked and looked at the screen on the phone. "Pete?"

Pete just repeated himself, "They taking care of you, Frankie?"

Frank didn't like random people calling him that, and normally he would have ripped Pete a new one and shoved his head up it. Instead he went for the relatively mild, "The fuck?"

"If it was me I'd wan-- I'd need--"

Okay yeah, Pete was freaking the fuck out, which was honestly the last thing Frank needed. He wanted to tell Pete to shut up; he wanted to hang up; he wanted to hand him back to Brian and glare like hell. Instead, he thought of the way Mikey wouldn't say a word to him about it, would accept it from him because Pete was the one issue Mikey never pressed about. Every thought of Mikey was sharp in his stomach and Frank stopped moving for a second, certain that he was going to vomit. When the urge finally passed, Pete was saying softly, "He would want you taken care of."

The truth was, Mikey would want that for Pete, too. Pete wouldn't come first on the list, that spot would go to Frank or Gerard, maybe a tie. He might even be after Bob and Ray, but he was on the list. Frank said, "Pete?"

"Frank."

"Go have Troh share a joint with you." Frank's own skin was buzzing, stinging with the need to take a drink or four or five, but he wasn't going to be that guy. Not for Mikey. Pete could be that guy. He was allowed. Frank wasn't jealous.

"Paranoid stoner," Pete said. "Don't think that's a plan."

Frank couldn't find it in himself to feel surprised. In fact, other than terrified and pissed, Frank was pretty short on emotions overall this evening. "Then get drunk, I don't give a fuck Wentz, just--" Just leave me alone. Just don't make me responsible for you.

"Can I come? There? Would-- Would you be pissed?"

Yes. But Mikey, when he woke up, when, he would be happy to see Pete. "Get your ass on a plane."

"Um. Really?"

"You'd better be here within a day," Frank warned.

"Hours," Pete said.

"Whatever," Frank told him, and hung up.

*


Pete was there before they had any news about Mikey. He and Patrick both showed up, Patrick carrying seven coffees, Pete looking like he didn't know where he was, or how he'd managed to get there. Patrick set the coffees down on a nearby table. He took one to Gerard first, carefully curving Gerard's hands around it and making sure Brian was watching before he let go. Brian hadn't stopped watching. Patrick brought the second coffee to Frank and repeated the procedure, this time using Bob and Ray--who had taken up sentinel duty on Frank's other side--before letting go.

Brian went and got his own coffee, Bob picked ones out for Ray and himself. Patrick took the remaining two and made sure Pete had his before starting to drink. It was finally Patrick who asked, "How long's he been in surgery?"

"Six hours, twenty three minutes." Frank wasn't even counting, he could just feel every fucking second of the clock tick under his skin, tight and painful and ominous.

"And they haven't said anything?" Patrick asked gently. Brian shook his head.

Gerard took a sip of his coffee and clearly burnt himself because he swore, "Fuck. Ow, fuck, fuck, fuck."

Brian took it from him, peeled the lid back and blew over the surface. Frank handed his coffee to Bob and stumbled to the waste basket, where he threw up bile. Frank couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten. Probably before the show. He didn't want food now. His stomach was trying to claw its way out of him. There were hands on him, maybe Bob, maybe Ray, but he shook them off, shivering in the aftermath. Then, a pair of hands he knew for no reason other than that they were the one pair Frank knew how to fear, appeared in front of him, pulled the liner out of the trash can and tied it up. Quietly Pete asked, "All done?"

Fairly sure he was telling the truth, Frank nodded. He looked up to see that Pete's eyes had focused. He still looked like a stiff wind could take him out, but something had snapped into place inside him. He said, "I'll be right back."

He walked out of the waiting room and this time, when Bob tried to help Frank up, back into the chair, he didn't fight. Pete returned without the barf bag and with a nurse, who put a new liner in and checked Frank's vitals. Frank didn't even have the energy to tell her he was fine. She said, "You need to drink something, young man," and sat and watched while he obediently sipped on an orange juice. His stomach was still adamantly opposed to this idea, but he did it regardless. It was easier doing what he was told than having to make decisions for himself this moment.

When she was satisfied that Frank wasn't going to be more of a problem than the people actually in hospital beds, she left them alone again. By this point Bob had lined up a number of chairs without arms next to each other. He pulled Frank over to them and made him lie down, resting his head on Bob's lap. Ray was about to go to the spot where Frank's feet were, but Pete beat him there. He put Frank's feet in his lap and squeezed so hard it actually hurt even through Frank's shoes, but he kind of wanted it to hurt.

Patrick brought Pete and Bob their coffees. Frank said, "Give mine to Gee."

Patrick said, "Sure."

Frank closed his eyes, and without even looking thought, seven hours, and knew he was right.

*


At the nine hour mark, Matt showed up with food. Frank couldn't eat, but it made the waiting room not smell quite so much like disinfectant and post-show funk, which was appreciated. Pete eyed Frank and Frank knew he was thinking of trying to get him to eat, but Frank just pinned him with a look that promised a death far more painful than a gunshot and Pete desisted.

Matt rubbed at Frank's shoulders and said, "Just about everyone I've ever worked with has called and said they're keeping him in their thoughts."

Matt had worked with a lot of people. If cosmic energy meant anything, Mikey would be fine. Frank wasn't sure it did. He mumbled, "Thanks." Matt just kept at his shoulders. He and Patrick cleaned the food up when those who could eat were done so that it wouldn't start to reek.

The seconds were ticking very near to the ten hour point when a doctor who was not the doctor they'd seen every couple of hours or so all night came out and asked, "Family of Michael Way?"

Gerard said hastily, "I'm his brother."

"Your brother is going to be fine, Mr. Way."

Frank literally felt the floor slip out from beneath him, but he couldn't slow time down enough to get his feet settled back on it. Luckily, Bob and Matt both caught him on his way down. The doctor was saying other things, things about a collapsed lung and the bullet narrowly missing the heart and Frank didn't care, because Mikey was going to be fine, the doctor had said so. Gerard asked, "Where is he, can we see him?

"He's resting. He's still on the ICU, so there's restricted hours for seeing him, and only immediate family can, but if you wanted to see him shortly now, that would be all right."

"And Frank," Gerard said.

"Frank?" The doctor asked, looking at the rest of them as though Gerard had just insisted that they all be allowed to come.

Frank spoke up, "I'm listed as his next of kin. You can check." It had been the very first thing both of them had done after coming out.

The doctor glanced at him, and whatever he saw--whether it was the way Frank felt even smaller than normal, or the way he had a fight banking in his eyes--he said, "All right. Just the two of you, though, I'm sorry, but I really can't--"

"That's fine, doctor," Brian reassured him. "We'll just wait here."

"You might want to go back home. It's going to be probably at least another ten or so hours before he wakes up. Get some rest, eat something. He'll still be here."

Gerard turned to Brian and the two of them shared a look. Sometimes, Frank couldn't quite credit this Gerard, this person who could pull himself together even right now and be their leader, still care about what was best for the others. Brian said, "Go, let him know we're here. I'll organize things on this end."

Gerard grabbed Frank's hand and pulled him from the room, following the doctor. Frank was glad Gerard was with him, because he was pretty sure he'd get lost on his way back otherwise. When they reached the room, Gerard lead him right in, and that was good too, because Frank was having trouble feeling his legs. Mikey was whiter than he'd ever been in Black Parade makeup, more still than Frank had ever seen him, even at his most exhausted.

Gerard herded Frank to the side of the bed and then went to the other side. He brushed a lock of hair off Mikey's face and said, "Hey, baby brother."

Frank lifted up the blanket and found Mikey's hand. He slipped his own in it. "Mikeyway," he said, softly. "New rules, Mikeyway. First rule: no getting shot."

Gerard nodded. "Second rule: If you're going to get shot, nowhere near the heart. We can't have a spiritual leader of this band without a heart. We have enough problems as it is."

Frank added, "Third rule: No scaring the shit out of Frank. He scares easy when it comes to you, which you know."

Gerard said, "Fourth rule: No scaring Gerard. He scares easy period."

Gerard looked at Frank, but Frank just said, "We'll leave it at that for now. You probably need your rest." Mikey hadn't so much at breathed louder in response to their presence. Frank moved the hand that wasn't holding Mikey's up over Mikey's heart. The entire area was swathed in bandages, but Frank could just feel the beat below it, as steady as the beep on the monitor.

Gerard said, "They're gonna make us leave, Mikey."

Frank told him, "We'll get your pajamas. I'll do a load of laundry at the hotel so you can have some clean stuff."

"We're not all gonna go at once. Brian's organizing shifts. Some of us will be here at all times."

Frank hesitated slightly and then said, "Pete's here, waiting for you to wake up. We're all waiting, Mikey."

A nurse stuck her head in the door and said, "I'm sorry, sirs, but--" She actually did sound sorry.

Gerard said, "One more minute."

She nodded and waited outside the door. Gerard kissed Mikey's forehead. "Sleep. We'll be back."

Frank pressed his lips to Mikey's. They were cold and dry, but Frank had only known one pair of lips in his life the way he knew his own, and those were Mikey's. He said, "Love you, we all love you so much, Mikeyway."

As it turned out, Gerard hadn't been paying attention on the way there either. After a bit, Matt came and found them and lead them back.

*


Pete helped Frank with the laundry. Frank had to tell him what to do with every single step--whether because he couldn't concentrate or because he'd never done his own laundry, Frank couldn't tell--but he didn't mind. It gave him a way to focus. He doubted Pete was doing that on purpose, but Frank appreciated it. He didn't tell Pete that, didn't have the energy to be building bridges, even if he knew that was what Mikey would want. Instead he just said, "This, uh, this would've taken longer."

Pete looked doubtful, but said, "Thanks."

When Frank would pass out from sheer exhaustion in the waiting room and wake up to one of the guys trying to calm him, pull him out of his own panic, Pete was always there with water or coffee or a bagel, something. If the look on Patrick was any indication, Pete wasn't getting much sleep either. Frank said to Bob, "Think you could get Wentz to rest?" Bob had ways and means.

Bob said, "I'll see what I can do," and didn't sound hopeful. Frank suspected the doleful look he was giving Frank was indicative of how he felt about being sent off when Frank wasn't doing so well on the rest-scale himself, but someone to fix was someone to fix and Frank had asked, and between the two, Bob would take care of it.

The next day, Pete sat with rigid posture next to Frank and said, "You didn't have to set Bob on me. You could have just said."

Frank rubbed at his eyes. "Said what?"

"That you wanted me gone. I called before I came so that you could-- I'm not trying--" Pete broke off with the purest sound of frustration Frank had ever heard. "Whatever you think, I wouldn't hurt him. I wouldn't. And he loves you, needs you, fucking-- You're like-- Just, I wouldn't take that away, wouldn't try, especially not to replace it with me." Pete laughed, bitter and broken and less than sane. "I'm not here because--" Pete shook his head. "He's my friend. And I don't have that many. Even if I did, friends like Mikeyway are fucking rare."

Slowly, the exhaustion not allowing him to respond with any type of actual comprehension, Frank said, "You really needed to sleep." It was a weak answer after Pete's diatribe, but it was the truth, and Frank was trying to keep things simple for the moment, as simple as he could.

Pete looked at him for a long moment before saying, "Oh."

Frank said, "I'm not actively an asshole." He thought about it a second. "Mostly." Then, "I try not to be."

Pete said, "Yeah, that's-- You always deserved him so much more, was the thing. It fucking pissed me off. Patrick said I should get it the fuck together and act like a grown-up, but Patrick totally stole Anna's cat when she cheated on him, so I didn't take his advice."

"She cheated on him," Frank pointed out.

"I know. I don't always focus on pertinent details when I'm throwing a temper tantrum."

Frank could almost appreciate that type of self-awareness except, "And wasn't he like, twenty, when that happened?"

"Something like that. I wasn't that much older when Mikey broke up with me."

"Several years," Frank said, not letting him off the hook that fast. "And you're that much older now."

Pete winced. "Yeah, thanks."

"I just--"

"I should have said it a long time ago. And it shouldn't have taken this to get me to say it. And it's no wonder you're with the best guy I've ever met, ever, and I'm alone, okay? Does that help? Does that fix things? Does that make it okay that I want to stay here until he wakes up, just to know that he's still here, even if I can't have him?"

Frank choked out, "Pete."

Pete rubbed a hand over his face, streaking the few tears that had managed to sneak past his guard. "Sorry, guess I'm still kinda tired. Don't know how you're not falling over."

"He didn't break up with you because you weren't good enough for him," Frank said, knowing, absolutely knowing that he was going to hate himself for his honesty, for giving any part of Mikey away, particularly to Pete, as soon as he had done so. But Mikey would never, never have let Pete say that without saying what Frank was about to say, never. "He broke up with you because he wasn't enough to fix you. And he didn't think he ever would be."

Pete stared at Frank. Slowly he said, "He didn't have to. I wouldn't have asked for that. I wouldn't have. I mean, I know I can be selfish and shit, but I'm not--"

"It didn't matter. He wanted you to find someone who could. Or at least someone who could help you to get to the point where you could. He wanted you to have a chance at something better for you."

"That's... The stupidest thing I've ever heard," Pete said, sounding truly amazed. Frank was torn between the desire to nod in agreement and snarl protectively. Pete said, "And you-- You totally didn't have to tell me that, did you?"

Frank said, "You're not the only one who always wanted to be worthy of him."

"Wants."

Frank looked at Pete. Pete said, "Present tense. Wants to be worthy."

Frank took a deep breath and said, "Yes. Right. I didn't mean--"

"I know, I just--" Pete spread his hands.

Frank took one, slow and unsure of whether Pete would let him. Pete did. He even squeezed back, and let Frank keep his hand until the nurse told him he could go see Mikey. Pete gave it an extra squeeze for good measure, then, and let go.

*


Mikey woke up confused and a little panicked, and Frank was just glad it was during one of his visits. Gerard startled from the chair on the side of the bed where he was reading the latest Spin to Mikey. Frank said, "Hey, hey," and Gerard whispered, "Mikey," and the two of them stood as much in his line of vision as they could, Frank tucking Mikey's hair behind his ear, Gerard clasping his hand. Mikey's breathing was short and Frank said, "Take it easy, baby, just breathe."

Gerard took the glass with the straw that the nurses had been refilling every few hours from the side of the bed and said, "Want some water?"

Mikey closed his eyes, started to breathe, just like Frank had told him. Then he opened them and nodded. Gerard held the straw to his lips and waited patiently for Mikey to have his fill. When he had, Mikey asked, "The fuck?"

Frank laughed a little for the first time since Mikey had fallen to the stage, days and days before. It was tinged with tears, more relief than amusement, but it was laughter. He laid his head down on Mikey's leg and took his own advice, breathing for a bit. He could hear Gerard telling Mikey that it was okay, that he--Frank--was fine. When he got himself together enough to come back up and join them again, Gerard had advanced to lecturing Mikey on not scaring the ever-loving shit out of them like that, ever again. Frank was pretty sure Mikey still had no idea what was going on, so he laid a calming hand between Gerard's shoulder blades and said, "You were shot, Mikey."

Mikey blinked at Frank several times. "Where?"

"At the con-- Oh." Frank took Mikey's hand in his and moved it up over his heart, just slightly above to where the bandages covered the damage.

Mikey's breathing picked up again. He said, "I don't-- I don't feel it. Don't remember. Nothing, there's--"

"Shh," Gerard said, covering Mikey and Frank's hands with his own. "They've got you on the good stuff, Mikey."

"Fuck," Mikey said.

Frank leaned forward and kissed his temple. "It'll be okay. We won't let that be a problem."

"Frank," Mikey said softly, and yes, Frank did know that what he was promising was more problematic than the force of his own willpower, even combined with Mikey's, but all the same, Frank meant every word. He wasn't going to be looking elsewhere while Mikey fell to the ground, not ever again.

Frank pulled back. Mikey was starting to fade, his eyes drooping. Frank watched as he forcefully opened them. "Ray and Bob?"

"They're in the waiting room," Gerard said. "They'll come see you as soon as they move you out of ICU and the visitation rules unwind a bit."

"They're okay," Mikey said, but it was more like a question.

"Other than being worried about their bassist and a little ripe," Frank confirmed. And then, before he conveniently "forgot" to say it, "Pete's here, too."

Mikey yawned. "Pete?"

"Gerard might have mentioned everyone being scared."

"Mm," Mikey said, less out of apathy than exhaustion.

Gerard looked at Frank, who nodded at him. Gerard said, "You sleep some more, 'kay?"

"Really tired," Mikey said, apologetically.

"That's okay," Frank told him, "you'll wake up."

*


The fourth time Mikey woke up he was definitely in a different room--this one was peach rather than yellow--but a quick, "Frank?" brought said Frank to his bedside, so that was fine. Mikey wasn't really into yellow anyway.

Frank said, "Hey. Morning." He walked away for a second and opened the window curtain. It was sunny outside. Mikey noticed that there were flowers everywhere. "Fans?" he asked.

Frank frowned for a second and then looked where he was looking. "Oh. Some. Also the label, and the half of Fall Out Boy that didn't come rushing to your side, and the TBS guys, and honestly, pretty much everyone we've ever toured with."

"The kinda scary one in the corner with all the orange was Bert, Quinn and Jeph, yeah?"

"Oh, how well you know them. They also sent this." Frank held up a hand and disappeared for a second before pulling up--seemingly from under the bed--a ginormous stuffed cat.

Mikey smiled. "Did they actually expect me to fit in bed with that?"

"Who the fuck knows with them? They sent Gerard a dog matching in size with a handwritten note from Bert that said, 'you're allergic to cats.'"

Mikey said, "Um, really?"

Frank came back to his bedside. "Yeah. Mikeyway: uniting the world even when nearly dead."

"Maybe I should have been the lead singer."

"I can see how that would've worked out."

Mikey wanted to laugh, but his shoulder hurt enough for him to know that they'd taken him off some of the drugs and that he was better off, much better off, resisting the urge. "Where's Gee?"

"Brian made him go take a nap. It wasn't pretty. I was impressed you slept through it."

"Probably just thought I was on the bus."

Frank smirked. "Yeah." Then, "Ray was here earlier, too. And Bob. Bob's actually coming back, he just went to go get some food."

"Pete?" Mikey asked. They hadn't spoken of it since that first time, but Mikey knew Pete was still here. Frank would have said something if he'd left.

"I think-- I dunno. I think he's waiting to know that you want him."

Mikey expended the energy to roll his eyes. He had to think about it more than usual. He had to think about everything more than usual. Frank laughed softly. "Want me to give him a message?"

"Tell him I said--" Mikey thought. Pete could be a little tough. It was never clear what he was going to take as a joke and what he was going to take to heart, especially when he was stressed out or upset. And the message wouldn't be coming straight from him, it would be coming through Frank, who wouldn't bastardize it, Mikey knew, but it just changed things, it couldn't not.

After a bit, Frank squeezed his hand. "Hey. You can sleep on it."

Mikey smiled, feeling tight all through his body. "That's all I do."

"Well, that's what happens when you go around getting shot, dickface."

Yeah, Mikey didn't think Frank was really going to forgive him that one for a while. He said, "Tell him I thought he came all this way to see me."

"Okay," Frank said softly.

It wasn't perfect, but it would remind Pete that Mikey was waiting, and that he appreciated Pete coming. Mikey said, "Hey?"

"Hey."

"Do that after I fall asleep?"

Frank tightened his fingers slightly again. "That was the plan."

*


There were a lot of people in the room. Gerard was sleeping in a standing position, being held up by Bob. Frank was sitting on Ray's lap at Mikey's bedside. Pete was curled up on the windowsill, hiding behind the myriad of flowers. Mikey counted, though, and the numbers still weren't coming out right. Then, finally, his brain caught up with the rest of him. "Brian?"

Pete fell off the windowsill. Bob laughed at him. Frank said, "Way to make us feel wanted."

Mikey wanted to flip him off, but his hand was buried beneath something that was probably a sheet. Fuckers were totally plotting against him. Ray, prince among men that he was, informed Mikey, "One of the bands got itself stuck in Singapore. He had to go try and get them out."

"Really?" Mikey asked.

Everyone except Gerard, who was still sleeping, nodded. Mikey smiled. "Wow. Not even we did that."

"He said something like that," Bob said.

"Yeah?"

"Substitute 'Bert' for 'we'."

"Yeah, well. Yeah. Good point." Mikey let his head drop to the side. Pete smiled a little at him, having regained his perch. Mikey mouthed, "Hi."

Pete said, "I made you new shoes."

Part of what Mikey loved about Pete was that everything made sense for Pete, you just had to be patient enough to figure out how. Gerard chose this moment to yawn and say, "But I did the drawing."

"I was gonna say," Pete told him. "I was."

"Hm," Gerard opined, then smiled. "Hi Mikey."

"Hi Gee. Tired?"

Gerard broke away from Bob and came to the bedside. He dug Mikey's hand out--figures, given he no longer wanted to make obscene gestures. He said, "It's hard work watching you sleep all day."

Mikey thought about making fun of him, but he figured he'd probably have keeled over dead if he'd seen Gerard shot, so he just didn't have the heart. Instead he said, "Wanna get in?" Moving was still a complicated and not altogether advisable plan, but Mikey looked at Frank and without even having to be asked, Frank helped to slide him over, careful and slow. Gerard climbed up gingerly, keeping to the unhurt side only. Once he was there, Mikey burrowed in a little, as much as he could without it hurting. Gerard snuffled slightly into his hair. Mikey found Frank with his eyes and said, dolefully, "I need a bigger bed."

Frank scritched at the spot low on his neck that always made him close his eyes and sigh in happiness. "We'll get you home as soon as we can."

"Mm," Mikey said. He missed home. To distract himself, he said, "Tell me 'bout the shoes, Pete."

"Frank gave them to me," Pete told him.

Mikey opened his eyes long enough to look questioningly at Frank. Frank said, "Your old Navy Converse, the ones you weren't wearing anymore."

"They'd lost most of the shoe," Mikey said. He hadn't stopped wearing them until they'd literally fallen off his feet from the fabric coming apart from the tread.

Pete said, "That's so fixable, Mikeyway. I-- Um. They're purple now. Purple-red, actually. With stars."

"Stars are mine," Gerard said muzzily.

"The stars are his," Pete nodded.

"You drew me stars?" Mikey wasn't shocked, but stars weren't exactly Gerard's normal milieu.

"Pattern didn't work well with unicorns." Gerard was frowning into Mikey's neck, Mikey could feel it. "Tried."

"I like stars," Mikey assured him.

Pete nodded. "There's a bass, too. He drew it. But I suggested it."

"Awesome. I love those shoes."

"I know," Frank said, smiling a little.

Mikey said, "Tell Brian to come home. Gee's tired."

Gerard mumbled nonsensical words against Mikey's neck. Frank laughed. Pete said, "We'll mention it."

*


Withdrawal, even in slow stages, was about as pleasant as Mikey remembered it being. If he ever got his hands on the person who had shot him, he was going to get the asshole addicted to something like fucking blow and then lock him in a room and laugh at him as he detoxed. Then he was going to do it again.

Of course, Gerard and Brian had both done it in their own time, and Frank and Ray and Bob had watched Gerard do it, so they were all pretty good at dealing with Mikey not wanting anyone to touch him, saying things that he patently didn't mean, crying out of nowhere, puking for hours on end. Pete wasn't quite so good. He wasn't bad, he just didn't have the same ability to walk away when he needed to that the others did. Patrick and Frank and even Ray had had to pull him out of the room at least three times now when Mikey was talking about his inability to keep it in his pants, his lack of talent on the bass and his pathetic crushes, respectively.

When Mikey would calm down, when the worst of the withdrawal insanity would pass, then he would remember and want to talk to Pete, get him to understand that that was brain chemicals speaking, not personality or belief, but it was always then that Pete couldn't be found, of course. Frank said, "It's okay, I'll find him and talk to him."

Mikey said, "He's not your responsibility," in lieu of "he's not your friend," because things were complicated enough at this moment without them having a discussion about Pete's position in relation to the two of them.

Frank said, "I know. I'll do it anyway. I'm that kinda guy."

Frank was, he just didn't always bother for most people. Mikey sometimes wondered if in another life, one where there hadn't been press and wealth and the sort of things that made a person wary, if Frank would have been, full stop. Even with the slurred edge of drug and alcohol use, Mikey remembered Pencey Frank well enough to know that Frank hadn't always had the edges he had now. He'd always had edges but they'd been different ones, ones that related to his size and his way of getting about in the scene. Mikey said, "Owe you."

"Yeah, so get better. It's no fun trying to take it out of your hide when you're all covered in vomit."

"Nice," Mikey rasped.

"Just telling it like it is."

Mikey laughed shortly. It took a lot of effort. "Hey."

"Hey?"

"'Mere."

"Mikey," Frank's tone was not indulgent.

Mikey brought the hand on his uninjured side up, rubbed at his eyes. "Frank." He didn't really feel the need to say, "Yeah, we both know it's going to hurt. So fucking what?"

Frank held out for all of a minute and then sighed. He climbed carefully, carefully onto the bed next to Mikey. Mikey cut off the sounds that scratched at his throat. The barest touch felt like sandpaper over newly tattooed skin and Mikey really didn't give a shit. He had Frank where he wanted him. Frank said, "You're so fucking stubborn."

"Yeah," Mikey agreed, but closed his eyes and relaxed. He wanted to be home, where he didn't feel like nurses and doctors were watching him come off the meds and judging him, trying to figure out if he was just going to fuck up once he was clear of their watchful eyes. He wanted to be home where he could curl around Frank no matter how much it hurt and remember the reasons why he shouldn't just give into the need to shoot release up his arm.

Frank whispered, "So. Haven't said I love you in like, two days."

"That part where I was saying the only reason we let you in the band was because you were girl-sized and scene kids like that sort of thing and suggesting you just fuck my brother if that was what you really wanted may have dampened the desire."

"You do know where to hit."

"It's cause you talk to me. You shouldn't do that."

Frank sniffled a little. "I'll take my chances."

"Stupid," Mikey said softly, affectionately.

"Mm," Frank said, not sounding all that upset by the judgment.

"Love you more."

Frank just snorted in response.

*


When they finally got Mikey back in bed after his first physical therapy session, he may have indulged in a bit of self-pity over a) how much fucking pain he was in and b) how ridiculously hard it was going to be to get himself back to the point where he could hold a bass, let alone play it. Said self-pity expressed itself in words, specifically the words: "They should have just killed me."

There was a stunned silence at that, and when Mikey opened his eyes, it was to the twin horrified looks of Frank and Gerard. Mikey said, "I didn't mean it."

Brian--who had come back with both a suntan and a severely annoyed expression--at least looked like he knew that, but he said, "You didn't exactly have to see yourself get shot, Mikey."

No, he just had to do the getting shot part, but whether he wanted to admit it or not, he kind of understood. Pete was nodding vehemently. "I only saw it on the television."

Clearly, Mikey had caused years of therapy for everyone. That was, after all, his specialty. Bob wasn't saying anything, but his lips were thinner than usual and it occurred to Mikey for the first time, that out of all of them, Bob had maybe had the best view, being up on the drum stand. The fact that he hadn't said anything was kind of a testament to his very Bob-ness. Mikey would have to buy him a present. Maybe some striped socks with color. Yeah, that was a good Bob gift.

"Mikey?" Gerard asked.

"Huh?" Mikey said. Evidently, people had been talking to him.

"Yeah, okay, sleepytime for Mikeyway," Frank said, and started to shoo the others out. Worn out as he was, Mikey didn't miss the look that passed between Pete and Frank. Frank nodded and Pete went.

When everyone but Frank was gone, Mikey worked to stay awake long enough to ask, "Pete okay?"

"He wants to talk to you about something. But you gotta be awake for that to happen."

"Something bad?"

Frank said, "No, I think you'll like it."

"Mkay," Mikey said. Frank was pretty good at knowing what Mikey would and wouldn't like. He forced his eyes open from where they'd dropped shut and said, "Hey. I really didn't mean it."

Frank nodded. "Gonna stay for a bit."

Mikey closed his eyes and smiled. "How 'bout forever?"

"Sap," Frank accused gently. Mikey just kept smiling.

*


When Mikey woke up, he was alone in the room with Pete. Pete said, "Oh. Hi."

"Expecting someone else?" Mikey asked.

Pete grabbed the cup of water from the side of the bed and handed it to Mikey. "You'd kinda been sleeping for a while."

"How long?" Mikey asked, because sometimes he slept for over a day and didn't know until someone told him. Less so now that he was off the drugs, but the pain was still exhausting, wiping away most of his reserves.

"You fell asleep at four yesterday and it's, uh, almost noon."

Mikey said, "Huh."

"The doctors said that's going to happen."

Mikey rubbed at his eyes for a minute and tried to think. Amazingly, it paid off. "Frank-- I think Frank said you had something to talk to me about?" When he looked up, Pete was playing with his hair, considering the lack of pattern in Mikey's blankets. Mikey let him take his time. Pete had always told him the things that mattered, even if sometimes they had come out wrong, or hurtful. Mikey could trust him to talk.

Pete said, "You-- It's cool, having me around, yeah?"

Mikey narrowed his eyes. "Pete."

"Just, because, I've kinda been thinking."

When Pete stopped, Mikey smiled, he couldn't help it. "How many times have we talked about that?"

Pete snorted. "Yeah."

"So?"

"I mean, we're recording, and it's not like-- A band can fucking record anywhere. Panic keeps recording in a fucking hotel and they've yet to miss, so I just-- And even if that wasn't true, it's Jersey, not the barrens of, I dunno, Mississippi, so I mean, Patrick was gonna talk to the guys. If you were-- If that was okay."

Mikey took a second, broke down the sentences and said, "Oh."

"If not, you can say, you know you can say, you know I'd--"

"You really want that?" Mikey didn't ask the other questions, the questions, statements, they never talked about between them, about Pete having to be that near and know what he couldn't have. If Mikey had known, if Mikey had had any idea of the way Pete had felt, he would never, ever have slipped behind that first bus, even with all the reasons he'd had for doing it. But there was always going to be Frank, if Mikey could get him to look his way long enough to notice, always, and Mikey hadn't meant to leave Pete behind. Intentions were often Mikey's worst enemies.

Pete's, "Something is better than nothing," was small.

Mikey's heart hurt in a way that had nothing to do with bullet wounds. He was sick with it. "Pete--"

"Even Patrick agrees. And you know he wouldn't if he thought-- If he thought anything would be better for me."

That was true. Patrick was often rabid about keeping Pete away from Mikey if he thought it was going to cause further damage. Mikey nodded. Pete said, "I just-- For a while at least, I just need to know you're still here. Okay. If you think-- I swear I'd fucking give you to him a million times if it meant you were okay, I would."

The worst part was, given that Pete had never once made a play for Mikey in all the years he'd been with Frank, despite clear desire to do so, Mikey knew. All he said was, "I think it'd be fun, getting to hear you record."

"Well, that's a little delusional, but."

Mikey grinned. Pete rolled his eyes. Mikey laughed. It hurt, a full, body-based laugh, but once Pete joined him, he really didn't care.

*


Loathe though he was to admit it, Frank was sort of getting used to Pete's company. Normally it was filtered a little by having someone else in the room, three or four or five or however many people just waiting for Mikey to wake up again, talk to them again, be with them again. But all the same, he was getting to the point where when he looked at Pete, it was Pete he saw first, not some dark, nicely tattooed, smart, fucked up man who wanted his boyfriend. Of course, all those things described Pete, but there were other things that described him as well. For instance, Pete had read a lot of the same books Frank had. And they had similar taste in punk bands, and could share thoughts on different tattoo parlors throughout the states. Sometimes Pete was too much, too much talking, too much laughter, too much fear, but mostly it was kind of nice to have someone, who, like him, like Gerard, was so full of energy and emotions that it had nowhere to go but into other people should they allow it. Frank got Pete, even when he was busy being thoroughly fucking annoyed by him.

The thing was that, unlike other people--whom Frank had seen Pete just become even more Pete with when they started to become visibly annoyed--Pete would stop, if he picked up on the signs from Frank. And he generally did. He was surprisingly good at paying attention when he put his mind to it. There were, of course, the times when he didn't, and Frank had to leave the room if he wasn't going to pummel Pete, but they were getting fewer and farther between.

But for all that, it wasn't as if they were close, or even friends, really. So it was something of a surprise when Pete cornered Frank in the bathroom, actually locking them in there together and said, "I won't stay if it'll make you unhappy."

Frank knew Mikey had agreed; Mikey had told him. He had known Mikey would, though. Even if Mikey hadn't liked Pete--and Mikey maybe didn't love Pete the way he loved Frank, but he loved him all the same--he wouldn't have refused the request. Mikey didn't hurt people just because he could, not when he was in his right mind. And Frank, Frank didn't hurt Mikey, no matter what. Not if he could help it. He said, "You should stay," and was a little surprised to find that he meant it, and not just because he knew it was what Mikey wanted.

"Should's a stupid word," Pete said quietly. It sounded like something he'd had told to him a lot. But Frank knew the things Pete had accomplished in his life. He didn't think Pete had paid much attention when other people had told him that.

Frank crossed his arms and leaned back against the sink. He was tired, tired of waiting for hours and hours in between getting to talk to Mikey, tired of always having to share him, just plain bone-tired from sleeping mostly sitting up for weeks now. He admitted, "I'm not sure what you're looking for, here."

Pete sighed and came to stand beside him, their hips brushing. Frank was a touchy-feely guy, but he'd generally always steered clear of Pete before. He didn't move now, didn't want to move, and that was a little strange, but Frank was too tired to question it. Pete was looking at him, his expression suggesting he wasn't too tired, but he didn't question. Instead he said, "I-- Yeah, I dunno either. Just--"

Frank waited.

"Just that I want something. I want to not feel like the bad guy in your world."

"You're in luck, someone else just shot my boyfriend."

"Not even I think that's funny."

"Do too," Frank said.

"Maybe a very little."

Frank made an unimpressed face. Pete laughed. Frank nodded. "Knew it."

"You're such an asshole."

"Takes one to know one."

Pete smirked and didn't call Frank on the childishness of the sentiment. Vaguely, Frank poked at the thought of what would have happened if they'd met independently of Mikey. But Frank never really wanted life to be free of Mikey, even when maybe it would have meant less strife, so he left it aside. Things were what they were. Frank said, "Even when I'm jealous, you're not the bad guy. It's not like that."

Pete was a little slow to ask, "What's it like?"

"It's like-- It's like you make him smile, and I'm never, ever going to be able to characterize that as bad, even if I usually wish it was me making him smile."

"You make him smile all the fucking time," Pete said. Frank couldn't just hear the jealousy, he could feel it.

Frank shrugged. "Evidently that's not enough for me."

"I can't even tell you how much I want to hate you a lot of the time."

"Ditto," Frank reassured him.

"But I don't." Pete sounded less confident saying it.

"Ditto," Frank repeated.

"I... I'm gonna come record in Jersey, then."

"Okay," Frank said. "Okay." And it was.

*


Mikey's left side lit up and burned in fiery agony all the way from his neck to his hip any time he did anything like, say, take a step, but he was learning to work with that. It was getting better, in any case. At first the agony had been enough to ground him after a step, and then after a few steps. Now Mikey could make it down the hall. He couldn't really do much with his arm yet. Mostly it just had to be held to his chest, a sling keeping it from being mobile.

What the pain meant on a daily, hourly basis was that things that were fairly routine for him before were big fucking ordeals now. Mikey honestly wondered if he would die between getting from the hospital back into his house. He actually did vomit from the pain when the plane jolted down. Gerard just held the bag in front of his face and Frank soothed a hand down his back. When he was done, Gerard disposed of the bag and Frank helped him to the bathroom where he could rinse his face and his mouth. Frank didn't go in with him, was good about letting Mikey do these kinds of things by himself. Mikey stood with his forehead pressed to the wall, just breathing for several moments, before he could start to wash up.

When he left the bathroom, Frank had gotten Bob, who just looked at Mikey and picked him up, carrying him all the way down the stairs and off the tarmac and into the car. The bouncing hurt, too, but Mikey was pretty sure he couldn't have walked it, so he just curled into Bob as best he could, and let Bob do what he could. Frank and Gerard stayed in the car with him while Ray, Bob, James, Matt and Brian grabbed the bags.

Mikey fell asleep before they even left the airport. He woke up to Frank saying softly, "Hey Mikeyway, hey. We're home."

"Hey," Mikey said. His throat felt scratchy. He wondered if they had water in the fridge. He couldn't remember what had been left before the tour.

"The guys are putting your bag in the house. We were gonna order Chinese, I think. Sound okay?"

"Mmm, lo mein," Mikey opined.

"I know," Frank grinned. Frank never made fun of Mikey for the fact that lo mein was his favorite mostly because he could actually eat it with chopsticks. He sucked at all the other dishes. Gerard was a bizarre mastermind of alternative utensils and as if it weren't enough that Gerard was the lead singer of the band and talented in every way known to man and G-d and all creatures in between, his ability at chopsticks was really just the last straw for Mikey. He refused to eat Chinese unless there was lo mein and Mikey could pretend competence.

"'Kay," Mikey said. "Getting up."

"I can help."

Mikey thought about refusing, but it had been a long day. He just nodded. Frank said, "Deep breath."

Mikey took one, and moved when Frank helped him up by way of his good side, pulling him gently out of the car. Mikey looked at the stairs he needed to mount to get to the house and asked, "Why did I think it was a good idea to live on a hill?"

"Because the hill had a perfect Mikeyway house," Frank reminded him. It was cold comfort at the moment. They made their way up the stairs, step by step, but when Mikey got to the door, Matt pretty much just hauled him the rest of the way to the sofa and Mikey lay down, passing out again.

When he woke up this time, Gerard said, "We got you moo shoo, too, because those pancake thingies are finger food."

Mikey flipped him off, but he did it with a smile. Ray brought him a plate and Frank came with water with just the right amount of ice, because Frank knew all those tiny things about Mikey. Mikey didn't even know how, just that he did. Then again, Mikey knew all kinds of stupid shit about Frank and he liked it that way. Details about Frank made Mikey happy. Also, the fact that it was Mikey's left side that got hit and he was still fairly functional for using things like chopsticks and, oh, his fingers, made Mikey happy. And the way Frank cleaned said fingers after each serving of moo shoo. The guys made fun of them. Mikey said, "Jealous," and went back to concentrating on his food. Gerard was looking at Brian kind of plaintively, so Mikey knew he was right, at least in that instance.

Mikey meant to get up and wash off after dinner, but he fell asleep again while the guys were cleaning up and when he woke up, the house was really quiet. He said, "My hands feel clean."

"I asked them to bring wipeys with the food," Frank said, as though this were a totally normal opener after just having woken.

"Fucking brilliant."

"That's why you love me."

Mikey said, "It's on the list."

Frank asked, "How do you feel about pajamas?"

"Naked would be easier," Mikey told him.

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking, too."

Mikey laughed. It hurt, but he didn't care. "Oh, I'm sure."

*


For Mikey, the signs of trauma had become readily apparent fairly quickly. The nightmares had come on almost as soon as the drugs started wearing off, and his therapist hadn't wasted time in getting him to a trauma specialist who could diagnose the aspects of PTSD he was experiencing and help him navigate those. The rest of the guys didn't get that lucky. Mikey knew that Gerard--who had never gone to meetings in his life--was going every morning. He brought donuts. They evidently loved him. Brian had also picked up the frequency of his meeting attendance. Ray and Bob both found themselves therapists right quick when they started doing things like having flashbacks in the grocery store when some kid's balloon popped--Ray--and nearly causing a four car accident when a motorcyclist's engine backfired--Bob.

Frank's, when it came, came in the form of random, unpredictable and terrifying panic attacks that more often than not ended in him passed out on the floor, Mikey on the phone with whoever's number he hit the memory dial for. Gerard was good about staying on the phone with Mikey until Frank woke up and Mikey could get him to drink some water and come back to himself. Brian was good about talking Mikey through it, and Ray and Bob were both good at checking on the two of them, repeatedly and with a regularity that Mikey had once found annoying, but was now reassured by. However, to everyone's surprise, really, it was Pete who was pretty much the best person to call. The first time Mikey accidentally hit a seven, Pete picked up on the first ring and said, "Mikey?"

Mikey could hear Andy's drum beat fall off, like Pete had picked up while they were recording. Mikey was too scared to think about it, though, with Frank right there, unable to breathe. He said, "Frank," and Pete said, "Okay, I'll be right there," and then stayed on the line even as he drove through morning traffic to get to them.

Frank was unconscious by the time Pete reached them. Pete said, "What happened?" even as he picked Frank up like a child and carried him to set him down on the couch. He pushed Mikey gently into one of the chairs.

Mikey said, "Panic attack. He's been--" but his lips were numb, everything sort of was, except the wounded area, which throbbed like a bitch.

"Okay," Pete said again, and went to the bathroom, bringing back some cool cloths, which he draped over Frank's forehead and his throat. He said, calmly, "I had these for a while, as a kid. After camp."

When Pete said "camp," he wasn't talking about the band camp he went to for two years as a middle schooler, or the day camp he had attended in elementary school. He was speaking of the boot camp his parents had sent him to, and despite his willingness to mention it to reporters, there weren't that many people in his real world that he spoke to about it. Mikey said, "Pete."

Pete smiled, and it was actually a smile. Mikey understood a second later when he said, "So I know what to do."

Sure enough, when Frank coughed his way back into awareness, Pete said, "Hey, Frank, Mikey called me," and turned Frank slightly, careful not to spook him. He rubbed at all the spots that Mikey had noticed Frank holding tightly after these attacks, talking quietly the whole time, mostly just words that had a certain rhythm to them, a cadence. Frank fell back asleep partway through, but Mikey could tell that it was real sleep, the kind Frank hadn't been getting much of at all.

Pete covered him with a throw, put the washcloths in a nearby sink and sat down pretzel-style in front of Mikey. "How're you, Mikeyway?"

Calmer. "I didn't mean to call you."

Pete tilted his head. Mikey motioned at Frank. "I-- Usually it's the guys, if I need help. You're just number seven and I--"

"Number seven?" Pete grinned. "Really?"

Mikey couldn't help it: he grinned back. "Thanks for coming."

"I didn't decide to record in Jersey because I like the weather." It was raining outside, torrentially.

Mikey acknowledged the joke with a quirk of his lips but said, "You didn't come for him, either."

Pete was silent for a long moment. "It's not like the two of you are that easy to separate."

Mikey blinked at the tone, the way he couldn't read it, not at all. He was trying to figure out what to say when Pete asked, "You think I can't see what you see?"

Mikey was always surprised that everyone didn't see what he saw, but not everyone was in love with Frank--even if a hell of a lot of people were in lust--so clearly they didn't. It had just never occurred to him that Pete might try looking at things from his perspective. "Um."

Pete smiled a little. "Number seven, huh?"

Mikey hesitated for a second and then said, truthfully, "You beat out James for the spot."

*


Frank always awoke nauseated and shaky from the attacks. He needed to find a doctor, needed to stop them. Something could happen to Mikey while he was passed out and then-- Frank made himself stop thinking, made himself breathe now that he could. He listened to the low murmur of voices, trying to figure out who Mikey had called. It took him a little longer than usual, he was so used to it being one of the guys. He turned on his side and looked at them for a moment and then said, "Hi, Pete."

They both startled. Mikey grinned, obviously relieved. He was always so relieved when Frank woke up, like Frank would ever leave him. Pete, on the other hand, looked unsure. He said, "Um. Hi?"

"Time is it?" Frank asked. Sometimes he stayed under for a long time. Mikey said he probably needed the sleep, but he didn't like the thought that he was away for that long, that Mikey might need him. Of course, Mikey called people. Mikey called Pete. But Frank still wanted to be there, just in case.

Pete glanced at his Sidekick. "Almost three."

"You have to get back to the studio?"

Pete shook his head. "We were chasing our tails anyway when I left. I'll go back tonight, try and get some words set with Patrick."

"Stay for dinner," Frank said, not making it an offer, because if he did, Pete would hem and haw and deliberate. It would get more awkward than it already was, and Frank wasn't interested. Pieces of the morning were coming back to him now, Pete's hands warm and oddly confident on his back, digging deep and hard under his shoulder blades. Pete pulling him back from the shock of the panic, keeping him safe, with Mikey. Frank yawned and realized, for the first time since he'd woken up, he hadn't been passed out. He'd been sleeping. He stretched, and some of the worst of the nausea fell away, the shakiness dropped right off like it never did.

Clearly watching him, Pete asked, "What're we having?"

Frank thought about the myriad of menus they had on their fridge. Then he asked, "It's only three?"

Mikey and Pete nodded together. Frank said, "Macaroni and cheese."

Mikey's eyes widened. "The real kind? The Frank kind?"

"With romano and pecorino and any kind of cheese you want, Mikeyway."

"And burnt on the top and bubbly on the inside?"

"Just the way you like."

"And a little bit spicy, right? Little bit."

Frank grinned. "As much as you want."

"You cook?" Pete asked, sounding as if he had discovered a rare, perhaps extinct creature.

Frank shook his head. "Just basics."

"Just awesomeness," Mikey said.

Pete laughed. "Do you have tomatoes? Can I put tomatoes in mine? I like-- My mom used to--"

"Finally, a man who appreciates the beauty of tomatoes." Frank put out a hand and Pete stared at it for a bit, but reached out after a moment and high-fived Frank.

Mikey made a face. "Ew."

"So, so misguided," Frank said, shaking his head sadly.

"Ew," Mikey repeated, for emphasis.

"I can help," Pete told Frank. "I can...grease the pan. I am awesome at greasing pans."

Frank literally had to bite his tongue. There was a moment of silence until Pete said, "Oh, I hate all of you." Mikey laughed, not as loudly as Frank could tell he wanted to, and he held his shoulder as he did it, but it was a laugh all the same.

Frank snickered and started to head toward the kitchen. From there he called, "Well?" and Pete actually scampered right in.

*


Mikey started looking ready to fall over a few spoonfuls into his second helping. Frank was honestly surprised he made it that long. He was still sleeping a good ten hours straight nightly, with hour long naps spread throughout the day. Mikey put down the spoon and said, "I think--" but it was cut off by a yawn that eclipsed his face.

Frank said, "You mind hanging out here for a bit?" to Pete, but didn't really wait for an answer before collecting Mikey, herding him to the bedroom. He said, "Brush your teeth."

Mikey grumbled but followed directions. Frank helped him into a pair of pajama bottoms and laid down next to him in bed. Mikey settled on his back with a long release of breath. Frank rubbed at his stomach. "Want some Tylenol?"

"Nah, I'm..." Mikey's eyes were closed and Frank knew that he wasn't purposefully not finishing his sentence, he was too tired.

Frank angled his face up to kiss at Mikey's ear. "Sorry I scared you."

"Should be," Mikey murmured, and then his breathing evened out. Frank stayed for a bit, mostly just to listen to him breathe. Then he made himself get up, pull the blankets up to Mikey's shoulders and go back out to where Pete had evidently started in on a third helping.

He looked at Frank guiltily. "Um, this is really good."

Frank gestured to where there was plenty in the pan. He cooked to have leftovers. "Eat as much as you want. Mikey gets full easier than he used to."

"Is that-- I mean--"

"His appetite will come back." So the doctors told them, at least. Frank had yet to see any evidence.

"That's-- Okay, that's-- Should I have left while you guys were back there? Sometimes I miss the signs."

"And leave everything for me to clean up?" Frank asked.

Pete hesitated for a second and then grinned. "Guess not, huh?"

Frank shared a grin of his own before he even realized what he was doing, and by that time he didn't care to stop himself. He helped himself to more macaroni and sat back down. "How's the album coming?"

Pete shrugged, his smile fading. "We're mostly in the stage where Patrick and I yell at each other a lot."

"Going on longer than it usually does?"

Pete flinched. Frank said, "No, I just-- Black Parade. There were days, um. Sometimes there was blood, you know?"

Slowly, Pete nodded. "I mean, we're not usually that bad, but, yeah."

"What time you guys meeting tomorrow?"

"Dunno. I, uh. Patrick's probably sent me a text. I haven't checked."

"Where're you staying?"

"Patrick got us a duplex. Andy and Joe are staying in the other half. It's-- I kinda suck at living on my own. I remember to feed Hemmy but forget to eat. Do laundry. Simple stuff. Grown-up stuff."

Frank hesitated for a second before admitting, "Gee's that way. Brian won't leave town without making sure that one of us is going to check in on him. Mikey does it as a matter of course, when he's feeling all right. He's pretty much got the rest of us trained up at this point."

Pete chewed on a bite slowly before asking, "It doesn't bother you?"

Frank blinked. "Gee? He wouldn't be Gee if he--" He just shook his head. "No."

"Oh. That's--"

"It doesn't bother Patrick or Andy or Joe, Pete."

"Sometimes they--"

"I have once or twice or seventy million times told Gerard that he should put his bills on automatic pay--Brian finally did it for him--and remember to take the sheets out of the washer and put them in the dryer before they mildew. On occasion, I raise my voice. It doesn't bother me."

Pete swirled his spoon around and around in his bowl. "Well. Gee."

Frank frowned at that. He considered his options of how to make himself at all believable and in the end, only came up with one. "Hey, when we finish the dishes, you wanna stay here?"

"Patrick'll--"

"You can call him. I don't think he's worried we're molesting you."

"You're-- Are you sure?"

A million sharp, funny responses flitted through Frank's head. Instead he said, "Positive."

*


Frank woke to the repeated ringing of his and Mikey's doorbell, and Mikey's confused, slightly startled, "Bwuh?"

Frank squeezed Mikey's hip and said, "Go back to sleep," then stumbled down to the front door, peered out the peek-hole and tore it open, "The fuck, Stump? You woke Mikey."

Patrick looked about to go on a tear but just as he opened his mouth, his brain seemed to catch up with what Frank had said and instead he asked, somewhat incredulously, "You're all asleep?"

"The fuck time is it?"

"Almost two," Patrick told him.

"In the afternoon?" Frank asked.

Patrick looked pointedly at the sun, which was almost directly above them.

"Yeah, right. Uh. Come on in?" He moved back so that Patrick could step inside and closed the door behind him.

"I left like eight messages apiece--"

"I think we left our phones on the table," Frank said, and glanced. Sure enough, they were all three sitting there, message lights blinking frantically at him. "I'll go find Pete for you."

"'M'here," the Pete in question said, all but rolling down the stairs, still rubbing his eyes. He looked at Patrick and frowned. "Were we meeting early today?"

"If by early, you mean noon," Patrick said, but clearly most of his ire had been spent. He was watching Pete with a half-bemused, half-fond expression.

Pete blinked. "I slept in?"

"About time," Patrick said, and there his tone was nothing but pure relief.

"Huh," Pete said and scrubbed at his face. Frank couldn't blame him, he felt sort of the same way. These days, if Mikey didn't wake up from a nightmare, Frank woke up from a tension under his skin that he couldn't define, couldn't get rid of. They never slept well into the day. Frank stretched. He felt sort of...awake, in the nicest way possible.

Frank heard scuffling and turned around. Mikey was making his way down the stairs. He hadn't put a shirt on--it still hurt too much without someone helping--and Frank took a minute to admire the view. When he glanced over, Pete was decidedly looking anywhere but at Mikey. The thought didn't make him tense up, which was new. Frank was going to have to try this sleeping thing more often. Mikey scratched his head, making his bedhead even worse and Frank really wanted to kiss him, but he wasn't that much of an asshole, not with Pete standing right there.

Mikey asked, "Is it daytime?"

"I think we slept like fifteen hours, or something." Pete yawned at the end of the statement. Patrick laughed at him.

"Breakfast," Mikey said and continued walking on past the three of them, toward the kitchen. Frank noticed then that, yeah, he was pretty hungry, which wasn't surprising, given how long they'd all slept.

He looked at Patrick. "Why don't you call your guys, and stay? Mikey and I make a mean Bisquick."

"I pour syrup well," Pete advertised.

"But can you spread butter?" Frank asked.

"If it's softened a little," Pete hedged.

"Good enough." He herded Pete into the kitchen behind Mikey. Mikey was going around, getting the things he could grab with one hand. Frank brought the griddle up from the cabinets, the old-fashioned one that Donna had given them, because, "Lord knows Gee wouldn't know what the fuck to do with it." Gerard had pouted until they'd promised to make him pancakes. Then he'd gotten over the snit. Mikey brought Frank the mixing bowl and the spoon, the eggs and the actual mix. Frank measured out the milk.

Patrick came in and asked, "Want me to mix?"

Frank just handed him the bowl. Mikey went and sat down, carefully lifting his feet onto Pete's lap. Pete stole a glance at Frank before bringing his hands up to massage at the bottoms of those feet. Frank smiled and said, "Me next."

*


It wasn't every night after that, but more often than not Pete would call from the studio, ask if he could come over. Mikey would still glance at Frank if he was the one to answer the phone, but Frank just answered," yeah, see you in a bit," and unlocked the door. Pete always knocked anyway.

Mikey couldn't have said why he chose one of the nights when Pete was there to try and sit down with his bass. The physical therapy was helping with his range of motion and he thought he might have a chance of holding the neck properly. He knew he couldn't stand with it, couldn't put a strap over his shoulder. But he thought he might be able to sit on the couch and strum a little bit, just a few notes.

Frank said, "You don't want to give it a bit longer?" Frank, who wanted Mikey to be able to play as much--more--than anyone, and Mikey ignored the note of concern to the question. Frank let him. Frank was always letting him get away with more than he should have.

Mikey settled himself on the couch and Frank handed him the bass, face mostly hiding his misgivings. The bass rested easily against his torso, and Mikey laid his fingers against the strings. He made to wrap his other hand around the neck and immediately felt the strain of it. He bit his lip to keep from making a sound. Frank said, "Hey, breathe."

Mikey thought about ignoring the advice, but that seemed likely to become counterproductive. He made himself concentrate on inhaling and oh, oh, "Fuck." He dropped his hand and
tried his best not to whimper. Frank left, probably to go get ibuprofen or Tylenol.

Pete said, "Um," and moved cautiously next to Mikey on the couch, like Mikey might bite. Or Frank. Pete wedged himself against Mikey's bad side, being super careful not to hurt him. "Here." He took the neck of the bass in his hand and asked, "What do you want to play?"

Mikey tried to come up with a song, anything that Pete would know, too. He tried, but in the end he said, "Please-- Please don't, please--"

Pete scrambled up. He accidentally knocked Mikey trying to get away and Mikey keened with the pain. Pete was saying something, oh, "Fuck, fuck--"

And Frank was back. "What the hell?"

"I--" But Pete just shook his head and ran for the door.

Mikey tried to breathe, tried to get enough air to call after him, but it was useless, all his air was being used to keep him conscious. Frank was kneeling in front of him. "Hey, hey."

Mikey brought his hands down over Frank's, balanced on his knees. He closed his eyes for a second and just tried to concentrate on getting the pain to calm. When he opened his eyes, Frank asked, "Pills?"

Mikey held a hand out wordlessly. Frank gently extracted the bass from where it was without so much as an "I told you so," and gave Mikey the pills and water. Mikey downed them and then rested back against the cushions as much as he could, waiting for them to kick in. Frank just stayed there, his hands warm against Mikey's legs, a murmur of encouragement now and then. When Mikey could, he said, "Ow."

Frank laughed a little, but it was muted. He wriggled one hand beneath Mikey's shirt and touched his stomach. "What happened?"

"He-- He was going to help me play."

Frank waited. Mikey said, "But I-- I just-- It can't be like that. I need to be able to--"

"Okay," Frank said. Mikey took a breath.

"I asked him to stop, kind of, I maybe, um, freaked."

"And he tried getting up," Frank finished.

Mikey nodded. "Can you get me my phone?"

"You wanna call?"

Mikey frowned. "I wanna make sure he's all right."

"Yeah. Um. I had an idea about that."

Mikey almost asked, but then he decided that he trusted Frank. That even if he hadn't, Frank hadn't so much as jumped to a conclusion upon coming back into the room and finding Mikey in pain and Pete panicked, and that was worthy of some confidence. "Okay," he said.

"Okay." Frank stood.

*


Mikey fell asleep in the car. He woke to Frank saying, "Hey, we're here," and opening his eyes to find himself nowhere he'd ever been before. He blinked a couple of times before finally registering that they were sitting in front of a duplex. Oh.

Frank helped him out of the car and walked slowly up to the closest door beside him. He rang the doorbell, and Patrick answered. Patrick stood in the doorway looking rather immovable and said, shortly, "Yes?"

Frank said, "Don't," calm as you please, and Mikey said, "Hey," because he knew that kind of calm from Frank, and it never heralded anything good. He touched his hand to Frank's elbow, and said to Patrick, "Let us in? I came to apologize, promise."

Patrick muttered something about not being able to hold onto his righteous indignation, "...for two fucking seconds, Mikeyway," and let them in. Mikey grinned at him. He would have bumped him, or some other small gesture of affection, but he was still feeling pretty breakable. He had never been over to the place Pete and Patrick were keeping, so it took him a couple of tries, but he finally found the right door. Pete was curled up on the bed, tucked over Hemmy, his earphones on, facing away from the door. When Mikey sat on the bed, he said, "I'll sleep in a little bit, promise."

"'Kay," Mikey said, "but talk to me first."

Pete went even more still than he'd been the moment before. He said, "Thought you were Patrick."

"I kinda got that. Wanna turn your music off?"

"Are you giving me an option?"

Mikey just waited. Pete sighed and Mikey heard the tiny sounds cease. Pete stayed where he was. Mikey said, "I'm sorry I freaked."

"I shouldn't have--"

"Hey. I'm sorry I freaked. I know you were just trying to help. I know that."

Pete didn't say anything. Mikey asked, "You not gonna look at me?"

"Mikey," Pete said, like an argument, but he turned, all the same. His eyes were red and puffy. Mikey put a finger to the corner of one. Pete murmured, "Didn't mean to hurt you."

"I know," Mikey said. "I didn't mean to--" He gestured uselessly with his good arm.

"Frank--"

"Was the one who put me in the car and drove me over here. I was going to call. He was right. He usually is."

"We should rescue him from Angry Bear," Pete said tiredly.

"Patrick? Frank's got it. He's very charming."

"Mikey--"

"The thing is, I mean-- You remember--" Mikey considered what he was about to ask, but pressed ahead anyway, "Remember after the pills, when everybody tried to do everything for you because we were all freaked about what leaving you to your own devices meant?"

Pete wrinkled his nose. "Yeah. I remember."

"The guys, they've had to hold me up more times than they really should have to count at this point. And if I let them, they will, they'll hold me until my legs don't work, either. And I love them for it, but I can't have it, y'know?"

Pete nodded.

"And I just-- Either I can play or I can't, but-- But that bass is more important than my fucking legs."

"I know. I get it, Mikey. Except, you have to go to PT for your arm, right?"

It was Mikey's turn to nod.

"Because you have to build the strength back up, you have to recondition it."

Mikey nodded again.

"The bass is going to be like that. I'm just... I'm like those balls and stuff that you have to squeeze in PT, or whatever it is you do, I'm like, an instrument of therapy. Or, I mean, I could be. That's all."

Mikey thought about it. "I'm scared." There was more to that thought, but it was enough that he'd managed just to say that.

"Me too, and I'm not the one who was shot."

"You're gonna have to-- Sometimes I freak out. Frank has to deal with it about every other day. You just have to, I mean, you have to understand."

Pete said, "I hurt you."

"The asshole who shot me hurt me. You're just a monkey."

"Whatever, lemur-boy."

"I...don't even have a response for that."

"Yeah, thought not," Pete said in his self-satisfied voice. Mikey laughed. It hurt like a bitch, but nothing compared to how good it felt.

*


Gerard had his worried face on; not just any worried face, either. Not the worried face that could mean, "Did I remember to turn the stove off?" or "I think I was supposed to buy toilet paper," or, "I wonder if I should up my donation to Project Hope this year. There seem to be a lot of kids starving in Africa." It was his, "Oh fuck, please don't let the band break up over this," worried face.

"Gee?" Mikey asked, and okay, if it was a little tentative, he couldn't exactly help that.

"How's Bunny?" Gerard asked brightly, and yeah, okay, no.

"Gee," Mikey said sternly. He wasn't quite ready to pull out Gerard's full name, but he wanted to let him know not to push it, because he would, oh, he would.

Gerard chewed at his thumbnail for a bit and Mikey waited. It was no good rushing Gerard, he'd just get frantic, and nothing he said would make any sense. Finally Gerard asked, slowly, and with the tone of someone signing his own death warrant, "You and Frank, um, you're okay, right?"

"Yeah," Mikey said, without having to think about it, because Frank and he had just had their quarterly, this-habit-of-yours-annoys-the-fuck-out-of-me blow up. They'd even managed makeup sex, if considerably less athletic makeup sex than in previous years. Mikey sighed. He missed being able to throw Frank over the couch and keep him there. Then he shook his head and made himself focus. "Why are you asking?"

"Pete's--" Gerard inhaled sharply. "Pete's been over a lot. Almost every night."

Mikey closed his eyes. "We sleep better when he's there."

There was a long silence. Mikey didn't open his eyes. Gerard would either continue the conversation, or he wouldn't. He did. "Uh, we?"

"Frank and me."

"Yeah, I uh-- You don't usually with the royal-- Really?"

Mikey opened his eyes and fixed Gerard with a look. "Yeah. I don't know, we just do. He sleeps better, too. So it's-- Frank and him, they've started--" Mikey rubbed at the back of his neck with his good hand. He wasn't sure if "getting along" was going overboard. "Not being so spooked by each other."

"Bob said--" Gerard stopped, flushing.

Mikey laughed softly. "I know how it works, Gee." Bob and Ray and Brian definitely had been consulted, if they hadn't begun the consulting themselves. James and Matt were probably in on it, too. Krista and Donna and even Patrick weren't completely out of the realm of possibility.

"Said it had to happen sooner or later, and that I should stop worrying."

"Bob's pretty good at knowing what to get worked up over," Mikey said, nodding.

"You think he's hiding something?"

Mikey would have been taken off guard, but he was used to Gerard jumping trains of thought. Another couple of second, Gerard would be back, focused on his original topic, like nothing had ever happened. Mikey said, "Bob? You should talk to him about it."

Gerard looked at him thoughtfully. "Is it something I actually want to know about?" For all his curiosity, Gerard was actually pretty smart about knowing the difference between things he did and didn't want to know.

Mikey forced himself not to shrug. It was one of the things he'd had to really work on and there were still moments when he forgot and sent himself into paroxysms of pain. "I think it's good news."

"But there's a reason he hasn't told me."

"There's a reason."

"Can I get a hint?"

"No," Mikey said, because there wasn't a thing in the world he could tell Gerard that wouldn't cue him into the fact that Bob was all-but dating a member of The Used. Mikey had always thought Bob and Jepha were dancing around each other, and he really, really would have preferred not to have gotten shot, but if Jepha stepping up to the plate of really being there for Bob was going to mean they were together and happy, the way they probably should have been for years if not for the whole Bert/Gerard thing, Mikey was just going to be happy something positive had come of it.

"You suck," Gerard told him.

"Not as much as you do," Mikey replied easily.

"He still loves you, Mikey," and yeah, there it was, the thing Frank never said, Pete never said, Mikey never even said.

Mikey nodded. "I know, Gee."

"Do you--"

"I love Frank," Mikey said.

"I, uh, I was going to ask if you worry about that?"

"Fuck," Mikey said.

"Mikey."

"I love Frank," Mikey said again, and honestly, there were very few things he'd ever said in his life that were as true as those three words.

"I know," Gerard said. "I know you do. So does Frank. He knows."

Mikey said, "Frank knows," not sure if it was a question or not.

And Gerard, who occasionally knew Frank better than Frank knew himself, said, "Frank knows.."

Mikey took a breath. It didn't pass his notice that it didn't hurt quite as much as it usually did.

*


Frank watched Pete tuck himself behind Mikey, his left arm coming up to hold the neck of the bass. Pete asked, "Okay?" sounding nervous. After the last time, Frank didn't blame him, but Mikey had asked this time. Mikey took a deep breath. Frank winced in time with him.

He nodded. "Yeah." He brought his hand up to where he could keep it along the neck, if not really support the bass, or extend his fingers along the length of it.

"What are we gonna play?" Pete asked.

Mikey looked over at Frank. Frank hugged his guitar to him. It was the first time he'd worn it in front of Mikey since the shooting and it felt like betrayal and like a shield all at once. He said, "Dunno. Misfits?"

Mikey smiled. "Yeah."

Frank gave Pete an intro, because he was pretty sure Pete didn't have their shared psychic connection. Pete caught on fairly quickly, and nodded, bringing in the bass line, Mikey strumming. They made it through an entire song without major mishap, and Mikey said, "Hey, way to name that tune," to Pete, because yeah, he hadn't needed much to just get right in there.

Pete said, "I can be punk, Mikeyway."

Frank rolled his eyes. "Like Hot Topic can be."

Pete flipped him off. "Because you're so hardcore, Iero."

"I was," Frank said mournfully.

"Then he met me," Mikey said. "I reformed him into quiet domesticity."

There was a moment of utter silence before both Frank and Pete burst into laughter. Mikey grinned after a moment. Mikey was really good at keeping a straight face, except when he was proud of himself for making someone else laugh. Frank wondered if he hadn't been laughing at Mikey's jokes often enough. He'd have to watch for that.

"So, Pixies?" Pete asked, rubbing at the corner of one of his eyes.

"Know anything other than the singles?" Frank sniped.

"Blow me," Pete told him.

"Hm, how would you feel about that, Mikey?"

"Do I get to watch?" Mikey asked.

Frank said, "Well, obviously," and tried not to think about the hint in Mikey's tone that meant he wasn't entirely kidding, not wholly. Frank could see how the offer would be enticing. They'd talked about having a third person before, just for fun, just to do it, but not Pete. Not someone who might mean something, who would come back, again and again.

Pete was blinking at them both, clearly trying to pretend he'd expected this turn in the conversation. "Maybe Evil Hearted You?"

Frank and Mikey both looked at him, then. His fingers tightened around the neck of the bass. "I just like that one, okay?"

Frank played a line of the melody, and Pete took the distraction and ran with it. Frank, for his part, concentrated on the notes he needed to play, not how it would feel to have Pete at his mercy, begging to be allowed to come, think about waiting for Mikey to say, "Okay, Frank, okay, let him, he's earned it." He didn't want to think about afterward, his head on Mikey's thigh, Mikey's fingers in his hair, Pete curled small and safe against Frank's side, Frank's finger mimicking Mikey's in Pete's hair. And what the fuck? Pete wouldn't--

Frank played three chords in succession wholly wrong and Mikey frowned at him, a concerned frown, not a frustrated one. Frank said, "Sorry, wasn't paying attention."

Pete just kept his eyes on his fingers, on the work they were doing. Frank followed his example.

*


Mikey was staring at Frank's ass. Frank could feel it. He had intuition when it came to this sort of thing. Frank was dusting. The house needed it, and Frank had nervous energy from having been in one place for so long, so it seemed like as good a time as any to take care of it. Frank didn't wiggle, or anything--he had dignity--but he might have chosen to try and dust the harder to reach stuff. Maybe. It was plausibly deniable, if anyone chose to ask.

"Frankie."

Frank stilled. Mikey didn't use that nickname for him very often, and when he did it was never a cute diminutive. It was always rasped low, and without much more tone than anything else Mikey said. It was always laid out slow and like an idea, a, "So..."

Mikey said, "Take off your shirt."

Frank did, but he didn't turn around. He hadn't been told to. When Mikey asked, "Why'd you stop cleaning?" there was a hint of amusement in his voice.

Frank said, "Yeah, yeah," and, "Lazy," in response, but he liked the feel of Mikey's eyes on his back, watching his muscles.

"Pants," Mikey said simply after a few minutes, and it took a second for Frank's brain to catch up. When it did, he slid them down, left them on the floor, his boxers falling in their wake. Mikey made a pleased noise, and Frank smiled to himself, kept cleaning.

He didn't hear Mikey come closer, so the touch of fingers to the base of his neck startled him a little. Mikey laughed softly. "Sorry."

Frank pressed upward into the fingers. Mikey said, "You were thinking about Pete," and Frank stopped breathing.

"Mikey?" It was hard to ask, his chest trapping the syllables.

"The other night. You were thinking about what it would feel like, his mouth on your cock. If he would take you all the way in, or if he'd put his hand around you. If he'd have the same calluses I do."

Mikey still wasn't touching Frank except for the three fingers at his neck. Frank said, "It was just-- Mikey, it's not--"

"He watches you. The whole time, he watches. Like he wants to make sure he's doing it right."

Frank really was going to pass out if he didn't get a breath sometime soon. Mikey spun him with a slight push to his neck, said, "Knees, Frank."

Frank folded, collapsed, something less graceful than either of those. He put his hands up to Mikey's waistband but Mikey said, "Ah, ah, ah."

Frank begged with his eyes. Mikey said, "I thought about what you'd look like."

Frank blinked at him. Mikey worked the pants down, the process a little awkward because of his weaker arm, but Frank got that he hadn't been invited to touch yet. Mikey was hard, waiting for him, and Frank didn't want to sit still anymore, but he would. He would do what Mikey wanted. Mikey stroked one side of his face. "Thought about you sprawled on the couch, legs open, touching his face."

Mikey leaned back against the wall, a permissive nod of his head allowing Frank to come closer, take Mikey in his mouth. Frank hadn't been given permission, but he held Mikey's hips, made sure he was anchored without having to dig his shoulder into the wall. Mikey gasped, "Fuck, Frank."

Frank took him in, all the way, one slow swallow, and he kept his eyes upward, watching the line of Mikey's neck. Mikey said, "Would you-- If I asked-- Would you have--"

Frank murmured, "Mm," around Mikey's cock, because he was shit at lying when Mikey had him on his knees. The flush of shame, of worry, of sheer consequence, spread all the way over his body, Frank could feel the heat.

Mikey looked down at him and asked, with eyes dark, "Would you enjoy doing it? Even if I didn't ask?"

Frank closed his eyes. Mikey touched a finger to the corner of one eye and said, "Watch me, Frank," and Frank had no choice, no choice but to open them. Mikey's mouth was slightly open, his cheeks still too sharp, hollowed the way they had gotten after the shooting. He was all skin and shadow and Frank couldn't have looked away for anything but a direct order. Mikey said, "Don't come," and settled his hands in Frank's hair, pushing Frank's head back, too far back for comfort, fucking his mouth without mercy. Frank thought, don'tcomedon'tcome so hard that when Mikey came he choked a little, too busy concentrating on that.

Mikey used Frank's shoulders to help himself down to the floor and kissed Frank, messy and thorough, his tongue sweeping over the insides of Frank's cheeks, tracing his teeth. He pulled up, trailing his lips along Frank's cheek, to his ear. He said, "You still love me."

Frank said, "Mikey," the word was broken, more whine than name.

"You still love me and I still love you."

Frank's heart was beating so hard it hurt, his entire chest was sore, like after he'd overdone it on his workout. Mikey said, "Open your mouth."

Frank opened and sucked obligingly when Mikey laid a finger on his tongue. Mikey took his finger back. "Hands and knees."

Frank scrambled. There was no other word for it. Mikey finger-fucked him lazily, just one finger, slow, gentle strokes. Frank let his forehead rest against his bicep and begged. "Mikey, Mikey, please, please."

Mikey said, almost thoughtfully. "You love me, and I love you, and if both of us want to complicate that a little, that's our decision, right?"

"Totally ours," Frank agreed, although, he probably would have agreed to genocide at that point.

Mikey wrapped his fingers firmly around Frank's cock and set up a rhythm. "Frank," he said. It was enough. Frank came.

*


They were relatively unsticky and cuddling on the floor under blankets when Frank woke up. He rubbed at his eyes a bit. Mikey said, "I wanted to get us to the couch, but, um."

Frank nodded, he stretched and tried to clear his head of some of the post-orgasmic haze. He grinned at Mikey, a silly, stupid, I-got-laid-but-good grin. Sex had been a little tentative since they'd gotten home. Mikey grinned back, but his expression was reserved. Frank said, "C'mon," and got them to the couch. When they were comfortably cuddling again, Mikey said, "I shouldn't have done that."

"Disagree," Frank said, "disagree so hard."

"Frank--"

"Disagree," Frank sang.

"Oh my--" Mikey laughed. "Okay, why don't you tell me when we can have a serious conversation again."

Frank laughed, too, kissing Mikey for good measure. Mikey sighed into the kiss, stroking at Frank's hair with his good hand. Frank pulled back after a moment and said, "I would have lied. If you'd just asked."

"I know." Mikey didn't sound mad about that fact, just accepting, understanding.

"I know. But I-- I also used-- We need to talk about the agreement we came to. Didn't come to. I don't--"

Frank laid a finger over Mikey's lips so that he could think for a few seconds. When he was ready to speak, what he said was, "He needs us," which hadn't really been what he'd been thinking at all, not that he'd noticed.

Mikey was slow to answer, "Pete needs a lot of things."

Frank was the last person to argue that, but, "Not like he needs us."

Mikey narrowed his eyes, considering Frank. "You like that."

Frank shrugged, and figured that the time for half-truths was pretty much long past. Or at least, an hour and some mindblowing sex past. "I'd have to be a little stupid not to, wouldn't I? I mean, he's always needed you, so maybe you're used to the way he looks at you--"

"No," Mikey said softly.

Frank nodded. "So you know."

"It can't just be about that, Frank. For his sake, as much as ours."

Frank called Mikey on the lie. "Is it? Is that all it is?"

It was Mikey's turn to flush all over. Frank wasn't going to let the gravity of the conversation keep him from looking and appreciating. Mikey mumbled, "I really do love you."

"If I questioned that, I wouldn't be able to consider this. I'm too selfish about you." It wasn't one of the things Frank was proudest of, but he was certainly self-aware regarding it.

"He's-- He's kind of a lot like me, if there hadn't been Gee. If I hadn't had to take care of him and if he hadn't been there to, um, for us to be us? Yeah. That's Pete, I think, sometimes."

Frank nodded slowly. It made a lot of sense. "He's such-- He's a total paradox."

"All the time," Mikey agreed.

"I would get confused by myself."

"I'm pretty sure he is."

Frank smiled for a moment before admitting, "I don't-- I don't want to fuck him up. More. Fuck him up more."

Mikey took a couple of slow breaths and said, "He needs us," with a certainty that Frank rarely ever heard him have about much.

Frank waited a second before nodding decisively. "He totally does."

*


Frank was a cuddly little fucker, so Mikey wasn't surprised that it took Pete a while to catch on that Frank was being abnormally tactile as opposed to just his general monkey self. Pete had seemed slightly suspicious at first, given that Frank hadn't really been about touching Pete at all until fairly recently, but he'd mostly just taken for granted the idea that Frank was doing his best to make things easy on Mikey, and part of that meant being nice to Pete. It wasn't until Frank got antsy and nipped at Pete's ear that Pete finally seemed to clue into the fact that Frank wasn't only using him as a cuddle buddy. Pete went still, eerily so, when it happened and looked at Mikey, eyes wide open and pupils blown huge in fear.

"Frank," Mikey chided. Frank looked really unapologetic. He dug his teeth lightly into the skin of Pete's neck and stayed. Mikey sighed. He knew he should have talked with Frank about Pete spooking easy. But Frank had been taking things so slow; for Frank, at least.

"Mikey?" Pete kept his voice soft, like if he reminded Frank he was in the room, Frank might go in for the kill.

"C'mere," Mikey said, and held out his good arm. Pete didn't move and Mikey said, "Frank, leggo."

Frank thought about the suggestion, then lifted his mouth long enough to say, "No." Mikey was about to press the issue when Frank just herded Pete to Mikey, himself still attached. And yeah, okay, that would work. Frank was careful not to bump into Mikey, and it took a little maneuvering to get them all settled comfortably. When they were, Frank drew off of Pete and draped himself so that his head was in Mikey's lap, his torso over Pete's. Mikey carded his hand through Frank's hair. Pete touched the ridge of indentation left in his neck and did his best not to touch Frank with any part of his body that wasn't his legs.

Mikey took Pete's hand in his and settled it over the sliver of skin that was showing where Frank's t-shirt had ridden up, tucking his fingers an inch or so beneath the waist of Frank's jeans. Pete said, "Okay, so, I think I might have missed a conversation," sounding pretty freaked out.

Mikey soothed his thumb up and down over the surface of Pete's hand. "Hey."

When Pete was starting to at least breathe normally again, Frank fixed him with an unimpressed look and asked, "Would Mikeyway allow me to fuck with you, Peter Peter?"

Pete threw Mikey an apologetic glance but said, "You're Frank."

Frank looked somewhat thrown by this assessment, and Mikey had to laugh. Frank sometimes forgot that. He told Frank, "You really are," and squeezed Pete's hand.

Frank spent another few minutes thinking about this before saying, "Okay, but the point here, is that that's not what's going on."

"The point," Mikey said, "is that Frank wouldn't do that."

"Probably," Frank said.

"Definitely," Mikey said over the last of Frank's response. Frank liked to seem like more of a hardass than he actually was. It was endearing, but at times it got in the way of progress.

Pete looked down at his hand. "Okay."

"Pete, if you don't want this--" Even with Pete's hand between them, Mikey could feel the way Frank tensed at the option.

Pete looked down curiously, as though he wasn't sure what could have caused the reaction. He said, "I'd have to be a bit of a fucking moron not to, wouldn't I?" There was something off about the question, it wasn't the agreement it sounded like. "Then again," he said, "I'd have to be even stupider to agree."

Frank turned his face into Mikey's leg. Mikey set his other hand over the back of Frank's head, just to settle him. "How's that?"

"Anyone who--" Pete bit his lip. "Mikey, if people had just paid fucking attention the two of you would have had to come out long before some asshole hid out in your bushes. The two of you, you're-- Look, I can be stupid, and not think about consequences as much or more than the next person, but getting in the middle of that? I'm not completely brain-damaged."

Frank wriggled until he sitting up, wholly in Pete's lap. He looked at Pete for several long minutes, his eyes considering, careful, hard. Then he said, "You need us."

"That's not fucking fair, Frank--"

"I don't fucking care, Pete. You need us, and maybe we need you. I don't know yet. But we want you. Not want like Tuesday night outside a club, want like washing dishes after dinner and walking the fucking cat, or whatever, and maybe that becomes need, I don't make promises I can't keep, but it's worth finding out, you fucking pussy."

"Um," Pete said.

"What Frank means--" Mikey started.

"He knows what I mean," Frank said, low and sure. Mikey thought he probably did, but there were times when sweet talking wasn't such a horrible thing.

Pete looked at Mikey and Mikey opened his mouth to soothe things over, but what came out was, "Pete. Pete. You do need us."

Pete said, a little helplessly, "You're Frank and Mikey." Mikey nodded.

Frank said, "I'm going to kiss you now."

Pete said, "Yeah, I had a feeling that was coming."

*


The Talk didn't really change much, at first, actually. Well, it meant Mikey could make out with Pete, which he had kind of really missed doing, regardless of how awesome a kisser Frank was. And it meant he could watch Frank make out with Pete, which, given how tired he still was sometimes, was even a little better at points. Sleeping was an issue, because they wanted Pete to sleep with them, but the bed just wasn't big enough to accomplish this without Mikey being hurt sometime in the night. Frank solved the problem by going out and having a bed that was one and one half times the size of a California King made, with a Tempurpedic surface so that his and Pete's movement wouldn't disturb Mikey.

When Frank showed it to Pete, Pete said, well, nothing. Mostly he just looked at it and stared for a long time. To fill the silence, Frank said, "I'm having a headboard made, it's totally nice. Cherry wood and there are posters and everything, so we could put drapes on it and hide from everyone. Takes longer, though, than the mattress. The mattress was pretty easy."

Pete said, "You made a bed."

"Technically, I called the guy, gave him the specifications I wanted and waited for him to deliver it, but yeah, your way sounds cooler."

There was a moment where Pete looked over at Mikey. Mikey didn't feel himself doing anything, but maybe that was it, maybe it was his lack of resistance, or maybe Pete was better at reading the things people didn't want him to read than most. Pete blinked slowly, but that was the last thing that was anything less than completely fucking whirlwind. Mikey didn't even know how Pete got Frank down on the bed as quickly as he did, pinned beneath him. Mikey was the first to know that Frank was neither as light nor as easily pushed around as it might seem. But Pete had him down, and he wasn't even struggling. For a second, Mikey felt a sharp, fierce burst of jealousy, jealousy that Pete could still do that, that Frank allowed him to. Then Pete turned to Mikey, eyes uncertain. "Well?"

Mikey canted his head. Pete said, "I don't know what he likes. You have to help me."

Mikey climbed on to the bed, wincing slightly as the action pulled at his injury. He moved himself back so that he was up against the pillows and said, "He likes it when I'm naked."

Pete looked down, as if for confirmation, but Frank said up to him. "You want to? You haven't in a long time."

Pete took a couple of deep breaths and let Frank up. He tugged him up the bed by his wrist and the two of them undressed Mikey together, their hands brushing everywhere, light and careful and teasing. Mikey told Pete, "Just a guess, but I think he'd like it if you were naked, too."

Pete made it a show, just like he always had with Mikey, and if he was maybe a little too brash, a little too forward, a little too forceful with his motions, that was okay. Mikey knew what fear looked like, and they were all allowed to be a little afraid. Frank glanced at Mikey when Pete was finished, wholly bared to them. Mikey smiled at him, have fun, and Frank took him at his not-word. He played with Pete's nipples for a long while, holding at the base of his cock in a grip that had to be just a bit painful, but then, if Mikey remembered correctly, that wasn't exactly going to be a problem for Pete. When he was ready, Frank pushed Pete all the way into the mattress, his head against Mikey's thigh and went down on him. Pete made a happy, strangled sound.

Mikey said, lackadaisically. "Oh yeah, I forgot. He likes to suck cock, too."

Frank laughed around Pete's cock and Pete said, "Fuck, Fuck, Frank, I--" Mikey gave him a finger to suck, slowly, for a moment, and then turned Pete's head into his cock. Pete wasn't close enough to deep throat, or do anything fancy, but he could certainly suck at the head. Frank let his gaze flicker up and moaned. Pete made a panicked sound around Mikey's cock. Mikey said, "It's okay, it's okay. Whenever you want."

Pete pushed fruitlessly at Frank's chest. Frank could be pretty immovable when he chose. He stayed, and swallowed, and Pete sighed, heavily, relaxing even further into the bed. Mikey pulled him wholly off his cock and soothed the hair from his face. "You know what else he likes?"

Pete babbled something unintelligible up at Mikey. Mikey grinned. "He likes being fucked. You wanna see that?"

Pete's nod was jerky, a little bit odd, like his body had forgotten how to make his head go up and down. Mikey got the message. He said, "Maybe you should get him ready for me, then."

Slowly, Pete got himself to his knees, but then he made fast work of Frank's clothes, throwing them as far away as he could manage. Frank laughed but that cut off shortly, right when Pete pulled them both down again, Frank atop Pete, his cock pressed between them. Pete said, "You have any--"

"Hold out your hand," Mikey said, and poured the lube straight into his palm. Frank had cleverly remembered to replace it in both nightstands. Pete used one hand to anchor Frank, applying pressure to the small of his back, then he pushed a finger inside, and Frank said, "Please."

Pete kissed Frank a little, clearly confident that was allowed. He said, "Please, what?"

"Pete," Frank gasped. "Please, more, Pete."

Pete grinned up at him and gave him exactly what he wanted. Mikey waited, watching, watching the two of them move together, tiny and solid and perfect. He waited until it was obvious Frank was getting desperate. He said, "C'mere, Frank."

Pete let go immediately, twisting on his stomach so that he was facing Mikey. Frank kneeled on the mattress, looking expectantly at Mikey. Mikey just looked expectantly back at him, and then Frank got it. He licked his lips, which was nearly too much. He came in closer and settled himself on Mikey, who was ready for him, more than ready. Frank rode him, head thrown back, one hand holding onto Mikey's uninjured arm, the muscles in his own arm trembling. Mikey managed to say, "Pete. Pete. Help him."

Watching Pete's hand on Frank's cock, the ink on his arms rippling, Frank looking down in wide-eyed surprise, and something else, something Mikey wasn't wholly certain of, even as he felt like he should be, all of that was just too much, and when Frank yelped and fell sideways into Pete to avoid hurting Mikey, Mikey let go too, whispering, "yes, yes," the entire way down.

*


Bob said, "Look, normally I would stay the fuck out of all this."

Mikey was surprised because, well, normally Bob would. Frank said, "So maybe you should," but there wasn't any bite to it.

Bob reached out, grabbed Frank right from where he was standing and yanked. Frank came flying. It was an odd reversal of how things usually happened. Once Bob had Frank mostly settled on his lap, he said, "I've never-- Two cocks, at most, is really enough for me in any relationship. Two of anything. But Jeph--"

"I am not taking relationship advice from anyone in The Used." Frank crossed his arms over his chest, as if to prove his immobility on this point.

Bob just took a breath and said, "He's done it, Frank. And it's complicated even when it isn't the three of you."

"The fuck," Frank said, and squirmed in Bob's grip, but Bob wasn't letting go.

"Frank," Mikey said. Frank calmed.

Softly, Bob said, "You guys are FrankandMikey. Everybody knows it. And he's Pete. Everybody knows that, too."

Frank shared a look with Mikey, as if asking him to speak up. Mikey just stared back. Frank capitulated. "That doesn't mean what everybody thinks it does."

Bob looked at Mikey, who sighed and asked, "What are people saying?"

"And who are 'people'?" Frank added.

"Usual suspects. Us. Kris and Jeph. Pete's guys."

Mikey just raised his eyebrow to let Bob know he wasn't going to get away with ignoring his question. Bob dipped his head in acknowledgment. "Mikey, just-- Frank's already kind of...easy. For you. Even when you're okay, you know?" Bob glanced at Frank. Mikey had seen a lot of things in Bob over the year, but generally not outright fear.

Frank hissed, then, and went for a decapitation strike. Mikey let Bob handle it. If he got a little hurt, well, Mikey got the feeling he wasn't just the messenger. Frank said, "He doesn't fucking use me. And if you knew the first thing about him, about being in a relationship--"

Bob held up his hands, letting Frank attack. Frank didn't last long after that. He wasn't really much for going after the defenseless. Panting, Frank said, "I wanted it. I wanted it. I just knew he wanted it, too. Pete-- Pete at least wanted him. I figured anything else, I mean, I'm charm--"

Mikey said, calmly, "He still doesn't know the first thing about Pete," to Bob. "But we're working on that."

"I know things," Frank said. "I know... I know that he stays awake just to make sure you get to sleep and that he rubs his eyes the way kids do when he's just barely managing. I know his favorite movies and what toppings he likes on his pizza and what makes him scream."

Bob blanched, but stayed quiet. Mikey said, "But you don't know that when he pretends to be reading, most of the time he's watching you, trying to figure you out, trying to understand why you said yes. You don't know that he's driving Patrick crazy trying to write a song about you."

Frank blinked. Bob looked pointedly at Mikey. Mikey said, "Okay, okay. But we're working on it. And it's not like you think."

"It's not cause we're assholes. You guys act like--"

Frank attacked again, only this time it was a hugs 'n cuddles offensive, which, granted, could be every bit as dangerous as the other kind of attack. Bob took it in stride, long practice making it nearly easy. Nearly. Mikey said, "Seconded," despite the fact that Frank hadn't uttered more than a few wordless grunts. Bob laughed.

Mikey admitted, "We're kind of terrified, too."

"So maybe if you dickfaces could come around instead of watching from the windows--"

"Creepy," Bob said.

"Really creepy," Mikey agreed, thinking uncomfortably of surprising flashes of light.

"You get my point." Frank rolled his eyes, sighed the sigh of the heavily put-upon.

"We were... Gee had some idea about giving you guys space to work shit out."

"Since when does anyone listen to Gee?" Frank sounded validly confused. Mikey felt for him.

"Yeah, Ray and I both thought we should wait until Brian was back to take a vote, but Pete's kids totally fell into line. In fairness to Joe, I'm pretty sure he was high. The rest of them have no excuse."

"I'll talk to them," Mikey promised.

"Yeah, um--"

"Oh Jesus, Bryar, tell me they aren't ambushing him." Frank looked panicked.

Mikey got up, put a hand on Frank's shoulder, scruffed his hair. "Relax, we'll do damage control."

"What if--"

Mikey leaned over. It hurt and it wasn't the best position for what he wanted, but he did it, because it was the only way to get to Frank's mouth, to kiss him. He said, "We'll do damage control for that, too."

*


Pete didn't show back up by two that morning, which was generally the absolute latest they stayed in the studio. Mikey and Frank both tried calling him, but he wasn't picking up. Mikey gave up after the third try and let Frank continue while he put in a call to Patrick. Patrick asked, "Wait, he's not at your place?"

Mikey said, "I'll call you back." Mikey took the phone out of Frank's hands, waited for it to ring through to the voicemail and said, "We're going to come find you, and then, when we do, I'm going to kill you." He snapped the phone shut and said, "Okay. If I were Pete, upset, and on my own, where the hell would I go?"

Frank pocketed his phone and said, "La Strega?"

La Strega was the Italian-lesbian owned hole-in-the-wall pizza place ten minutes from Mikey's house. It was open 'round the clock, which meant that it was where Frank and Mikey consistently settled their late night cravings. Mikey said, "Let's start there," and headed for the car, Frank in tow. They got outside, Frank realized he hadn't actually brought the keys, so he went back in and got them, but other than that slight hiccup, they were a well-oiled searching machine.

Pete wasn't at La Strega, nor at any of the bars near Frank and Mikey's neighborhood or his own. He wasn't in any of the parks, on any of the bridges they tried, or still at the studio. Finally, at around five, drop dead exhausted and nearly to the point of hoping they weren't going to have to try hospitals, Mikey said, "Oh."

"Oh?" Frank asked. He looked like he was still holding it together pretty well, which Mikey appreciated. Someone needed to.

Mikey said, "He still goes to big parking lots to think. I forgot."

Frank blinked at him. "You're... You're kidding, right?"

Mikey didn't really have the mental space to kid at this moment, so he just stared blankly at Frank and hoped he clued in. He did. He ran a hand through his hair. "Parking lots. Okay, um, Costco?"

It was as good a place to start as any, so they went there, then to the big one by the Circuit City. They found him in the third one, by the big supermarket. They pulled up next to him and Frank killed the engine. "You want me to stay here?"

"What would you say the likelihood is that he's more worried about you wanting him around than he is about me?"

"Fair to excellent?"

"Get out of the car."

"Yeah," Frank said. Mikey was stiff as hell after sitting in the car, being bounced over New Jersey roads for the better part of four hours, but he got out, too. Frank went to the driver's side of the car and when Pete opened the door, dragged him right out of it. Pete hunched in on himself, but Frank just rolled his eyes. "I'm not going to hit you."

Mikey totally would have, had he been feeling better. Pete deserved it. Instead, he got in the backseat and waited for Frank to push Pete into the middle, get in on the other side and shut the door. Mikey asked, "You couldn't have just picked up your phone?"

Pete flushed. "Left it at the studio. That, uh. That was an accident." Then, softly, "Sorry."

Mikey just sighed. It was no use trying to get mad at Pete when he was like this. It was hard enough getting mad at Pete when he was bristling and defensive and a compete asshole. Frank said, "Okay." He took a breath and said, "Okay," again. Then, "New rules." He looked at Mikey.

Mikey said, "One, no disappearing without telling us, even if you think we don't care."

Frank said, "Two, no thinking we don't care."

Mikey said, "That pretty much covers it."

They sat in silence for a bit, Pete crushed between them, not precisely being cuddled, but not precisely not, either. Pete said, "My guys, um. They said Bob was going to talk to you."

Mikey negotiated silently with Frank about who was going to ford that one. Frank said, "Yeah? They say what he was going to say?"

"Just. Just make sure this was good for-- They said everybody, but I mean, Bob is yours and--"

"He was pretty concerned about you," Mikey told him. "You probably shouldn't go around underestimating my friends." He pulled out his phone and texted Patrick. "got him. will bring back."

"I shoulda told Patrick," Pete said, sounding more resigned than guilty, like he was so used to fucking these sorts of things up he didn't have any room left for guilt, just the awareness of his own worthlessness.

Frank said, "Jesus, Pete," and pulled Pete fully into his lap.

Pete took a moment to figure out where he was and how he'd gotten there. "Did I-- Did I not fuck this up?"

"You're talking to a chronic manic-depressive with a penchant for being shot and Frank Iero," Mikey told him. "The real question is, did you actually think we'd be that easy to get rid of?"

It took a bit, but Pete choked out a wet laugh. Frank smiled at Mikey, relieved, and kissed at Pete's shoulder. Frank said, "Okay, maybe rule three is, you have to talk to us before you're allowed to be stupid."

"We're flexible," Mikey said. "We can maybe be convinced to permit it, but you have to ask first."

"You never know, we might want to be stupid with you," Frank added. "And it might piss us off that you went and had all that fun without us."

More laughter, still raw and broken, but genuine. Mikey asked, "Can we go home?" He was just barely managing to keep himself upright. Pete's eyes flew to Mikey's face. He looked stricken.

But Frank just rubbed his back a little more and said, "Let's get gimpy here in bed, yeah?"

Pete said, "I'll help." It had the solemnity of a promise.

*


Frank slipped out of bed while Mikey and Pete were still asleep, safe and warm under the covers. He drove to his favorite coffee place, ordered four of the daily roast and went on to Patrick's. He was somewhat maliciously pleased to note that when Patrick opened the door he looked fairly wrecked. Frank walked in without being asked and set the coffees down on the kitchen table. He took one for himself and waited for the others--who were, predictably, there--to join in.

Patrick opened his mouth, but Frank just shook his head, and Patrick fell silent. When Frank had gotten far enough into his coffee cup he said, "It's not that I don't get that he's yours to take care of." Frank rubbed at the back of his neck. "I get that. We get that."

Frank sighed and sat down at the table. Joe was already sitting. After a few moments, Andy and Patrick joined. Frank said, "It's just that, for all the whimsy, and bad decision making, he is an adult."

"We know that," Andy snapped.

Patrick looked over at him and Andy backed down, ever so slightly. He quieted, so that was something. Frank asked, "Did he-- Did he tell you anything about how it went between us?"

Joe and Andy both shook their heads. Patrick said, "He said you had asked. He said that several times."

"We did more than ask," Frank admitted. "We maybe pushed. But it wasn't--"

"We're pretty aware you aren't holding Pete against his will, man, relax." Joe smiled, which was a first for anyone in the room, and Frank smiled back, a small, concerned thing of a smile, but one all the same.

"He'd be hard to hold," Frank said.

"With Mikey in the offering?" Patrick looked dubious.

"See, this is what I'm talking about. He's not stupid. He's not even particularly easy, and the thing is, I figure you know all that, you're just so fucking used to worrying about him that it's hard to look at the specifics and see what they are."

"It does get to be habit," Andy conceded.

"He wouldn't just take what he was given. He wouldn't. If that was the way it was-- Well, I sure as shit wouldn't be sitting at this table, talking to the three of you. But he wouldn't do that, so it doesn't matter."

"And you and Mikey? What would you do?" Patrick asked.

"Look, lemme ask you something. When Ashlee left him, when she...when it got to be too much and she just couldn't anymore, not even for love, what did you think of her?"

Andy's face went blank and Joe found somewhere else to look. After a long silence in which it was clear nobody else was going to answer, Patrick said, "I couldn't really blame her. Not really. She wasn't cruel about it."

"But?" Frank asked, because there was a but.

"But she was a fool," Andy said, his voice deceptively flat. Frank looked at him. Andy shrugged. "You don't give up something like Pete because of what other people think, or because of the constant exposure to that, or even because he tends to do shit that inflames that. You just don't."

"Yeah, well, my boyfriend and I came out publicly, so I think we can agree I might tend toward feeling the same way, right?" Frank asked.

"But you already have--" Patrick started.

"Mikey. I already have Mikey. I've never had a Pete. He had, and I don't think he ever really got Pete out of his system. And I always thought-- I always worried that meant I wasn't enough or wasn't as good, but as it turns out, all that means shit. None of us work as substitutes for each other, no matter how much we might love that person."

"Deep," Joe said.

Frank watched Andy and Patrick. They were clearly going to be the deciding factors here. Andy said, "Fucking Pete." He sounded tired, young.

Patrick looked Frank in the eye and said, "You weren't the one who had to be there the first time, after Mikey."

"I can't say there won't be a second time. If that's what you're looking for-- I don't have that."

Patrick asked, "What do you have?"

Frank said, "I think the first time wasn't supposed to have happened. I think we all messed up. But Mikey and I, we're pretty good about not making the same mistakes twice."

Patrick waited a minute. "That's it?"

"Is it enough?"

There was a quick, silent discussion between the three of them. Patrick said, "Guess it's gonna have to be."

*


Pete was up when Frank got home, sitting pretzel style on one of the chairs at the kitchen table, feet bare, reading the World section of the paper. Frank dropped a kiss on his head and asked, "Feet cold?"

Pete shook his head. "They pissed?"

"More at us than you, but I think I diffused things a bit." Frank found the peanut butter and grabbed an apple from the refrigerator. He sliced carefully, steadily over a plate and then spread the peanut butter onto two slices, handing Pete one. Pete took it, thanking him softly. When he had chewed the first bite he said, "Sometimes, lately, I have this nightmare."

Frank waited patiently, buttering two more slices. He didn't like talking about the shit that scared the crap out of him in his sleep, either. He wasn't going to push Pete. Pete finished up his first slice and took a second, his fingers brushing against Frank's. "Mikey gets shot, which, yeah. But he-- He doesn't--"

Frank nodded. That was how most of his nightmares started. He knew. Pete said, "But that's not even the thing, I mean, obviously that's bad, but it's that you won't even look at me. At the funeral. You won't even. I'm saying I'm sorry. I'm saying it over and over and you just--"

Frank said, "I just?"

"Walk away."

"And then you wake up," Frank said, "and I'm there."

"You weren't this morning," Pete said. It wasn't an accusation, just a statement.

Frank said, "Sorry 'bout that. Didn't want to wake up murdered in my own bed. By my in-laws."

"You wouldn't be the first."

"Still not feeling it."

Pete cracked a smile. Frank said, "Mm, that's what I like coming home to," and fed Pete a slice of apple. Pete nipped at his fingers, but it wasn't really meant to start anything, so far as Frank could tell. Mikey walked in as Pete was taking the last of the apple. He was always looser in the morning, not yet wound up with the pain of gravity and simply trying to get through the day.

He said, "'mmungry."

Frank and Pete both laughed, and Frank got up, taking an apple slice to Mikey, feeding him the same way he'd fed Pete. Mikey frowned at him. "Bed was cold."

"Sorry, princess."

Pete sauntered out of the room, onto the couch. He said, "C'mere, Mikeyway. Bring your boy with you."

Mikey pulled a less-than-reluctant Frank to the couch. Now that the adrenaline of having to defend himself and Mikey to Pete's family was wearing off, he was starting to feel the early hour, the way they had all been up far too late the night before. Pete tucked himself against one end of the couch and pulled Mikey down gently, setting his head on Pete's lap. Frank was about to go to the other end, take Mikey's feet, but Pete tugged him down, too, pressing him into Mikey, both of them cautious of Mikey. Frank's head fit on Pete's lap, too, and Pete said, "I would have talked to them, you know?"

Frank yawned. "I know. But I needed to anyway."

"Should've taken me with you," Mikey said tiredly.

"No, they needed-- They already know you didn't mean to hurt him."

"Told them," Pete said, the words spaced, like he had forgotten what he was saying.

Mikey kissed at Pete's thigh. "Thanks for protecting me."

Pete snorted. Frank smacked at him, lightly. Pete said, "Sleep."

Frank wasn't real in to just following Pete's directions without giving him shit first, but this was one time that he couldn't help but just give in.

*


Nobody was less surprised than Mikey when Gerard started flying out for a day or so at a time here and there to go to benefits for victims of handgun violence, or, sometimes, hate crimes. Mikey never went with him because, for one thing, the thought of sitting through plane turbulence made Mikey a little nauseated without even having to experience the pain, and for another, because that just wasn't Mikey's style. Coming out and getting shot in public in one year had been enough overshare for a lifetime. Gerard never asked, either. As overbearing as Gerard could be about certain things, he had long learned to just let Mikey be Mikey, and in turn, to be himself, independent of Mikey, at least for short periods of time.

Mikey wasn't all that surprised, either, when Frank asked, "You mind if I go with Gee to that thing he's doing next week?"

There was a reason, a good one, that Gerard and Frank were best friends. "Have fun."

Frank looked a little surprised at the answer. "Yeah?"

Mikey thought that was sort of unfair, given that it wasn't like he usually stopped Frank from doing the stuff he wanted to do. Frank shook his head before Mikey could say anything, though. "Sorry, that probably sounded bad. I just meant, you're sure you're okay?"

"I have most of the use of my arm back, Pete stays over almost every night and worst comes to worst, I can call Bob or Ray or Matt. You sure you're gonna be okay?"

Frank held up his hands. "Okay, okay."

Mikey tilted his head. "Frank."

Frank was jumpy in a way that wasn't just energy-to-burn. Mikey kept steady eyes on his jittering until Frank caved. "You ever know something's ridiculous and worry about it anyway?"

Mikey prayed briefly for patience. "I don't know. Do I?"

"Yeah, okay, sorry. It's just, despite the rumors, I'm not likely to fall in love with your brother in the span of two days, and even if I did, I don't know how into that Brian would be, and so if I come back and you realize that you really never should have left him and I was just a really intense phase, or something, well, that's going to be--"

"Holy shit, you're actually a moron. I didn't believe the people who told me. I defended you against those charges."

"I take your point."

"I shouldn't have to make it. I came out to the fucking world because I didn't want to lie about you, ever. I took a bullet for the two of us and our right to say we like to fuck each other, and I still don't fucking regret doing it. I can't even stand and hold my fucking bass at one time, Frank. Jesus. Yeah, yeah, I'm gonna decide all that was just a phase. You're such a fucking asshole sometimes."

"I'm sorry," Frank said softly. Mikey could barely hear him over his own labored breathing. He repeated, "I'm sorry. But you don't see the way you look at him."

Mikey stared at Frank for a second and then just laughed. Frank frowned. Mikey said, "No, just. You don't see the way you look at him, either. And you clearly don't see the way I look at you, or we wouldn't even be talking. Pete's right. If people had just paid a little more attention, we would have had to come out so much sooner. Sometimes I can't pay attention in interviews because your fucking mouth is distracting me. Your hips. The fact that you breathe."

Frank crossed his arms over his chest. "I just-- I've never been scared to lose anything like I'm scared to lose you. I wake up three times a night to check that you're still next to me, sometimes."

"I know," Mikey told him. Even when he didn't wake up at the tentative touches, the relieved breaths, he knew.

"When you were down, lying on that stage, I thought-- I wanted it to be me. That would have been easier. I wanted to fucking climb off the stage, and find the guy with the gun and dismantle him with my hands, shoot him in the stomach and watch him scream as he bled out. I wanted that, but I needed to stay with you more."

"I-- It was good that you did. I was scared. It hurt and I didn't know-- I don't remember actually getting hit. Just afterward, just not knowing, and you and Gee-- You were there, Frank. And that was what I needed. I needed you there. Don't you-- I don't know how else to say this shit to you. I don't know what you need to hear to get that I'll miss you every fucking second while you're gone. Pete is my Pete. He's not my Frank."

Frank chewed on his lip for a bit before nodding. "It's only a couple of days."

Mikey said, "Always longer than it sounds."

"Yeah," Frank said knowingly. "Yeah, it is."

*


Mikey had progressed to the point where he could hold his own bass on his lap and even play for about a half an hour stretch, so long as he wasn't too mobile in his playing. Luckily, he had never been that sort of bassist. Pete would sit on the couch with him, tune up his own bass, the two of them talking about shit that didn't matter to distract Mikey from the pull that was still there, the pain that he wasn't sure would ever go away.

With Frank out of town, it somehow felt safer to say, "I nearly pee myself every time I think of getting on a stage."

Pete looked up, Mikey felt it even though he had his eyes on his bass. He said, fairly evenly, "Well, that makes two of us. I mean, when I think about you getting on a stage, not me."

"Yeah, I figured." Having not been shot, it would have been a little late in his career for Pete to have developed sudden-onset stage fright.

Pete was silent for a moment. "Was I supposed to say something like, 'it's going to be fine'?"

"I think I might have killed you. With my bass."

"I sort of figure that's how I'm going to go, sooner or later."

Mikey smiled. "Dickface."

"Have you said that to your therapist?"

"She told me to read this book. About PTSD."

Pete asked, "Did you?"

"Yeah. It kinda-- I mean, there's stuff I do, exercises and that sort of thing it recommended, but mostly it was like, 'your brain will heal. It's resilient.' Which would be reassuring except for the part where my shoulder seems to be healing a hell of a lot faster than my brain."

"Your brain's a more complex muscle."

"One of these days, just when you don't want me to, I'm going to remind you you said that."

Pete grinned. "I said complex, not large."

Mikey swatted at him with his good arm. "Like I don't get it enough from everyone else."

Pete's eyes flashed just slightly, then. "Like they have any room to talk."

"Hey," Mikey's voice was soft. "I don't-- The people who matter know how smart or not smart I am."

"Doesn't mean I have to like people saying shit about you." Pete shrugged. "You don't like it when they do it with me, and most of the time I deserve it."

"I suppose we must have different definitions of deserve," Mikey said lightly.

Pete snorted. Mikey began plucking out a song, but Pete didn't come along with him, and after a few minutes, he looked up. "Pete?"

"You don't have to tour, you realize? I mean, you guys were poised to record shortly anyway, and Frank says Gerard and Ray've been writing. You could just, go back into the studio for a bit, y'know, see if it--"

Mikey shook his head. "I'm-- I think if I do that that I'll never-- I just. I think it has to be now. Is all."

Pete nodded like he got it. "Maybe a club tour? Like, real clubs, not like the shit we call clubs nowadays to make ourselves feel better that we never do small shows anymore. Places where you can see pretty much every face in the crowd."

Mikey considered the idea. "It'd probably piss fans off pretty bad, not being able to get to a show because they sold out too quickly." Not that Mikey was ever a big fan of pissing off the fans just to do it, but he thought they might really need people in their corner for a bit right at the moment.

"You could do a couple of shows at each venue. Even three. That way you could rest, not have so much of the time be traveling."

Pete had a point. Mikey nodded slowly. "I should talk to Brian."

Pete said, "I'm kinda jealous. It's been forever since we did that kinda thing."

"So finish your fucking album, and tour with us."

Pete laughed. "Because a double billing at clubs wouldn't cause rioting, or anything."

Mikey didn't say anything. Pete looked up. "You're serious."

"As a gunshot."

*


They couldn't really talk about the idea when Frank got back, because Frank had a tendency to need to surgically attach himself to Mikey for about twenty-four hours and not really think about anything but being near him after he'd been away for longer than two days. Mikey never minded. If anything, it was reassuring, Frank's need. And when Pete came home from the studio, skirting the two of them quietly, uncertainly, Frank just pulled him in to the constant, moving embrace they had going and said, "Hi, Wentz."

Pete said, "Hihihi." It sounded a lot like, "Missed you," and maybe, "You came back."

They ordered pizza, and watched Adult Swim, and spent a lot of time getting used to the feel of a third person. Mikey would have expected it to feel like something was intruding, itchy, like something that wasn't supposed to have settled under his skin. Mostly, though, it was warmer, and a little less roomy, and well, sort of fun.

At some point, when he was feeling restless, more than he had in quite some time, Mikey stretched a little, just until he felt the first pull of pain and whispered into Frank's ear. "I want you to fuck me."

Frank's breath caught. "Oh."

Mikey could feel Pete watching them. Mikey licked a messy path up Frank's throat. "And I want to watch him fuck you while you're in me."

Frank's eyes rolled back slightly. Mikey looked calmly at Pete. "That's agreement from him."

Pete made a sound that seemed like it might have been a yes if he still had a tongue. Mikey considered it good enough. He got up and started walking to the bedroom. He looked back after a bit. "Well?"

And the thing was, Mikey knew he wasn't sexy when he walked, he was at best average, at worst awkward, but both Frank and Pete were just staring. Mikey giggled and rolled his eyes. "No, seriously, get off your asses and follow me."

Frank grumbled, but he helped pull Pete up, keeping his eyes on Mikey the entire time. Pete said, "Yeah." In response to what, Mikey wasn't wholly sure.

If Mikey concentrated and didn't forget to breathe, he could undress himself. It was slow and painful, but he could do it. Frank opened his mouth, probably to offer help, but Mikey just looked at him evenly, and Frank didn't say anything. Instead he draped himself over Pete and watched, one hand creeping up under the hem of Pete's t-shirt, stroking at the skin of his stomach. Pete shivered under the touch, his breaths becoming more shallow.

Mikey settled his eyes on them and Pete didn't need anything more to start stripping, giving Mikey what he wanted. Frank followed shortly, only pretending at reluctance. Mikey stuck his tongue out at him. Frank gave him tongue right back. Well, he did until Pete bit it and kept it for himself. Mikey watched the two of them kiss, playful and a little slow. He lowered himself to his back.

Frank caught sight of him and pulled away from Pete, but brought him to the bed. Frank asked Pete, "Will you get him ready for me?"

Pete's expression was a little surprised, but he just grabbed what he needed and leaned over to suck at one of Mikey's nipples. Pete loved Mikey's nipples. Mikey's nipples loved attention from Pete, so it worked out well. Pete, amazingly, had learned just how far he could take Mikey without Mikey writhing in ways that would hurt. He stopped just short of that, kissing at the still-forming scar on Mikey's shoulder, moving down to enjoy himself with Mikey's belly-button, and then lower, to suck firmly, determinedly at the head of Mikey's cock. Mikey moaned, "Pete."

It was then that Pete slipped a finger in, and Mikey had to breathe through it, because there were better things, better things coming. At two fingers, Mikey wasn't entirely sure what could actually be better, but luckily, soon thereafter, Frank was there to show him, sliding in and establishing a careful rhythm, one that deviated just enough not to jar Mikey, but to leave him wondering how the pleasure would come at him next. Mikey brought a hand to where Frank's was anchoring him on the bed, and he curled his fingers over Frank's.

He looked at Pete, who was watching them, eyes dark, and said, "Pete."

Pete blinked at him and looked confused for a moment before saying, "Oh. Oh. Right."

Pete clearly wasn't half so gentle with Frank as he'd been with Mikey, and Mikey thought about asking if he'd paid attention, seen the way Frank always pushed back, the way he liked things just a little more. Either way, Mikey felt it when Pete pushed hard, not quite hard enough to hurt Mikey, but hard enough that Frank said, "Pete, fuck, yeah, just, yeah."

Pete said, "Say my name again," and it wasn't really an order, not the kind Mikey gave, just a wish so pure it kind of sounded like one.

"Pete," Frank breathed, drawing it out to at least three syllables. Pete rocked into him, pushing Frank into Mikey and Mikey panted.

Mikey said, "Touch-- Fuck, touch me."

Both Pete and Frank's hands came around, fingers brushing over Mikey, palms wrapping and squeezing, tight, tight, almost too tight, just enough. Mikey looked up at Frank, who was throwing his head back, trying to kiss Pete, bringing his gaze back to meet Mikey's. Mikey looked past him, at Pete, who was watching, always watching.

Frank brought his hand all the way up to the head of Mikey's cock in one smooth stroke, twirled his fingers around the head and ground down, pressed there by Pete. Mikey gasped, and came. He stayed with them, though, stayed with them all the way, unwilling to be anywhere else.

*


Frank woke up and slipped out of bed, careful not to jostle Mikey or Pete. He made his way to the bathroom and turned the shower on, waiting for it to reach just this side of scalding. He stepped in and closed his eyes, ducking under the spray. He was startled by Pete's, "Mind if I join?"

Frank hacked the water that he'd inhaled and Pete said, "Shit, sorry, didn't mean--"

Frank just pushed the door open and pulled Pete in. He kissed him, "Morning."

Pete grabbed the shampoo and started sudsing Frank's hair. "Wanted to run something by you."

"You can walk it. I'm not in a hurry."

Pete said, "Wow, you so clever."

"You know it," Frank said, and let Pete push him under the stream, effectively silencing him.

When the shampoo had been rinsed out, Pete pulled him forward again and said, "Mikey and I talked while you were gone, about the concert thing."

Frank stilled. He hadn't yet gotten up the nerve to ask Mikey how he felt about touring again, too scared that Mikey wouldn't want to, ever, and Frank would have to choose between the life he loved most and the man. He knew which one he would choose, there wasn't any comparison where Mikey didn't win, hadn't been in so long, but that didn't mean Frank was looking forward to the day where he had to. Pete continued, "He brought it up. No fucking way was I going to."

Frank nodded. It was kind of reassuring that Pete, who didn't even really have any stock in Mikey touring, was every bit as paralyzed on that front as Frank. Pete handed him the shampoo and Frank took it, got to returning the favor. Pete's hair was always ridiculously smooth when it didn't have product in it, not at all like the softness of Mikey's, but perfect in it's own way. Pete said, "I suggested maybe small clubs. Like, the old underground type places."

"He freak about the publicity nightmare of that sort of exclusivity?"

Pete smiled with his eyes closed. Frank said, "I know him pretty well."

"I told him to do multiple dates in one place. Give him some time to rest, too."

"Smart," Frank said. Pete grinned. Frank murmured, "Careful," and pushed Pete under the water. When he pulled him back out, Frank asked, "What'd he say?"

"He liked the idea."

Frank's chest loosened to an extent that nearly made him dizzy. Pete said, "I was jealous of my own idea."

Frank made himself focus. "What? Why?"

Pete shrugged. "You miss small clubs too, don't tell me you don't."

"I wouldn't exactly trade'em for some of the places we've gotten to play."

Pete tilted his head in acknowledgment before grabbing the soap and going to work on Frank. "I'm still right."

Frank said, "A little, sure."

"He said--" The soap slipped out of Pete's hands and he knelt down to get it.

Frank took a moment to appreciate the view. Then, when Pete was facing him again, Frank said, "He said you should finish your fucking album and come with us."

"That's really a little creepy," Pete told him.

"Mm, you love it." The last word was a little breathy, since Pete had chosen to get even for Frank's flippancy by cleaning his balls.

Pete kissed him a little, and when he let off, Frank said, "He's right. You should finish your album."

"Well, yeah."

"And you should definitely come on the road with us."

Pete dropped the soap again. He let it go this time. Frank laughed a little and went to pick it up, not complaining when Pete ran one wet finger down his side. When he straightened he said, "We're all fucking scared."

Pete nodded. "Yeah."

"Not the time to be splitting up."

"Not that there's ever a good time for that." A third voice came from outside the shower and both Pete and Frank looked to see Mikey leaning against the counter, watching through the glass planes.

Frank said, "Eavesdropper."

Pete said, "Voyeur."

Mikey smiled wolfishly, or, well, as wolfish as Mikey ever was and said, "As you were."

*


Brian said, "Hey, do you think you guys could make life a little more complicated for me?" but then he got in touch with Fall Out Boy's touring manager and started setting things up. He made certain that the tour didn't start for another five months. Even with the songs that Pete had insisted on adding last minute, FOB's album was actually only about a month off from being in the finishing stage. Mikey, however, was still reminding his arm how to do most of what had been sheer muscle memory before getting shot.

He couldn't play "Teenagers." He wanted to. He wanted to, partly for spite, partly because he just plain liked the song, but even the first notes of it caused his shoulder to twinge in a way that had nothing to do with the fact that it was still healing, and everything to do with his brain reacting largely with a "hell no," to the proposition of even playing it. Frank just plain refused to play it, said, "I hear it in my nightmares, I don't need to inflict it on myself."

Gerard, for his part, just said, "I'm never singing that song again. Ever." He didn't even sound fierce, the way he often sounded when making declarations, he just sounded certain, and like it was something he had worked out for himself. Ray admitted, "I don't even want to play that song, and I think we can all recognize that I'm usually the one to take a rational stance, if any of us are going to."

Bob had flipped him the bird then, and Ray gestured something that Mikey thought might have been meant to say, "Okay, you're the exception."

Mikey said, "Isn't that kinda like letting them win?"

"Letting them win would have been you dying in that hospital bed," Gerard growled, literally growled, which Mikey couldn't remember him ever doing, really. He was pale, too pale, and Mikey wondered if Brian had been out of town a lot. Sometimes Gerard forgot to eat and other important stuff when there wasn't someone to remind him. Mikey was pretty sure Ray or Bob or even Matt probably would have taken care of that if Brian couldn't, but he just, he didn't look good.

Mikey said, "Okay, Gee, I--"

"Letting them win would be us not touring again," Bob said softly. "Not that we wouldn't. If you didn't want to, that would be--" He shrugged.

Ray said, "Sometimes winning and losing is kind of bullshit."

Bob nodded. "What he said."

"We tour," Mikey said decisively. "They don't get to have that. Not from me and not from Frank."

Frank, who had been overwhelmingly silent throughout the conversation said, "I'm with Gee, though. No Teenagers."

Gerard looked at Mikey. "You're totally outnumbered."

The thing was, Mikey knew he could get them to decide to play the song if he just pushed, just played his cards a certain way. He didn't want to. He didn't want to have to relearn it when it was fighting him, and he didn't want to put his best friends through that. All he said was, "Yeah, you've got me. Okay, no Teenagers. We need a set list, though, we can't just-- Or, at least, I need to know which songs we might decide to play. Things are taking a bit right now."

"Yeah, dude," Ray nodded. "Bob and I've been talking about that."

Gerard blinked. Ray shrugged slightly apologetically. "Gee, you've been a little unavailable."

Gerard looked a bit wobbly for a second, but then said, "Yeah, sorry, I--"

"Don't say sorry," Bob told him. "Not for doing what you needed to do. Just-- Don't."

Gerard seemed to think about it for a moment, but then he just asked, "So, what'd you guys think? About the set?"

Ray said, "More of our recent stuff, at least at first. A lot of it has simpler bass lines, since we decided to go more about the melodic theme and worry less about instrumentation. We picked out a few from Revenge and some from Parade that we've played more often, so should be easier to get back in the hang of." Ray made a face. "I don't know, I've never been shot."

"It's okay," Mikey reassured him. "You should maybe try and keep it that way."

"Definitely," Frank said. "Definitely try and keep it that way. New rules: no more band members getting shot."

"That's an official new rule," Gerard clarified.

"Okay, well, I know we all do our best not to break the rules, ever," Bob said so dryly that despite the underlying thread of seriousness to all of this, Mikey had to laugh. Bob grinned at him.

Mikey said, "What you're saying makes sense, Ray. Maybe email me the list and I can start concentrating on those songs?"

Ray nodded. "Sounds good."

Out of nowhere, Gerard said, "I still like winning better."

It took Mikey a second, but he laughed. "Yeah. Me too."

"Me three," Frank said.

"I'll fist bump to that," Ray said, holding out his fist. Everyone took him up on it except Bob, who smacked him upside the head.

*


Five Months Later

"Explain to me why my band wasn't invited on this tour again," Jepha said.

Bob spanked him, hard, and pulled him onto his lap. "Behave."

"Not a good incentive, Bryar." Jepha angled his mouth up for a kiss, and Bob rolled his eyes, but he gave it to him.

Frank watched Mikey watch Gerard, who was paying attention to Bob and Jepha. Gerard said, "I'm glad you're here," softly.

Jepha grinned at him, and Bob hauled him up, with a, "We'll be back," and a smile for Gerard, who smiled back.

Brian was rubbing gently at the back of Gerard's neck and he said, "Yeah, I think that might be a good idea." He herded Gerard out of the room, toward the dressing rooms. Ray was watching the opener with Joe, Patrick and Andy were hanging out behind the venue with the techs, so it was just the three of them, after that. Frank snorted. "Our friends are so subtle."

"It's endearing," Mikey said. He sounded short of breath. Frank pressed his mouth to the sharp bones of Mikey's neck, licking lightly. It wasn't even an invitation, just a reminder that he was there. Mikey made a sound that was something like a laugh.

Pete put down the bass he was fucking around on--it was already tuned--and came over, crawling into Frank's lap. Mikey was healed to the point where a person mostly had to make direct, forceful contact with the shoulder for it to be a real problem, but Pete still liked being careful. Frank sensed he always would. Pete clung to Frank's neck and asked, "Scared, Mikeyway?" in a tone that made it clear he thought Mikey'd have to be insane not to be.

"Nervous," Mikey said. "Just-- Possibly I should have done the press conference with Gee and Frank. Given myself a little prep for being back in the public."

Frank said, "Fans are better than press. And we've got this place locked down better than Leavenworth." He did his best to hide the blank terror scrolling through his mind.

It was no use. Mikey smirked, "Scared?"

"Shuddup," Frank said. He burrowed his face into Pete's arm. Pete reached around and ran a finger over the ridge of Frank's ear. Frank shivered.

Pete giggled. "Hey, really?"

"Mm," Mikey said.

Frank brought his face up to glare at Mikey, who looked at him unrepentantly. Frank sighed, and was a bit surprised when Pete didn't press his advantage right then and there. Instead, he admitted, "I'm pretty fucked up, too. And I wasn't even there."

Frank actually sensed that was about three-fourths of why Pete was screwed up about it, but he just tightened his arms and said, with as much certainty as he could manage, "This is going to be awesome. They're gonna be fucking excited to see us. And they're gonna scream and dance and have signs and it's going to be the best fucking thing ever."

"Yeah. The signs'll probably be pretty good," Mikey agreed.

"Maybe even clever," Frank said.

"More likely lewd," Pete said, and grinned, quick and still with an edge of worry, but real all the same.

"If only they knew," Mikey said, largely toneless.

Frank laughed. He asked, "Do you want them to?" of Pete, letting it come off the end of the laugh so that there wouldn't be so much behind it.

Pete sucked in a breath, then turned and kissed Frank, hard. When he let go, Frank noticed Mikey watching the two of them, leaning back just a bit from Frank's side so as to see it all. Pete looked at Mikey when he said, "No."

Mikey tilted his head a little and Pete said, "Maybe I've grown up."

Frank made a doubtful noise. Pete flipped him off. Mikey said, "Maybe you have all the attention you need."

"Impossible," Pete said softly, but he sounded amused.

"Improbable," Frank agreed. "But then, this is kinda, too."

Pete shrugged, but Frank could feel the acceptance in the movement. Mikey said, "Maybe for you people. I believe in unicorns."

*


Fall Out Boy finished their set with the last song they had recorded, a song about the uselessness of hate and the import of love. It should have been a cliché. It was a fucking cliché, but Mikey loved it, loved the earnestness with which Pete played during it, the way Patrick sometimes let his anger and his fear actually get the better of him, come through his voice.

Pete yelled, "Scream, motherfuckers!! Scream! Scream for My Fucking Chemical Romance!"

The crowd obeyed. Frank whispered, "Thirty minutes."

Pete smiled at them from the stage. Mikey could still see the imprint of his grin even after the lights went down.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile