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Born to Motorbabies

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Frank's sleeping in the dishwasher again.

"That's bad for open wounds, you know," Mikey says.

"It's not," Frank says, reclining against the warped metal side. "It's a dishwasher. It's clean."

"Maybe it was clean in 2011," Mikey says, "But there hasn't been hot water out here since the fall of the Dakotas."

"Is he aggravating his injury? I'm not stitching you back up again," Ray says, walking by with his welder's torch. Frank sticks out his tongue.

“I like the dishwasher," Frank says, defiantly, though Ray's adjusting the blue flame on the torch and Mikey's dragging over the stool, getting a knee up and yanking down a stash of wires he's kept hidden above the ceiling tile.

"You just don't want to claim a mat in the kitchen because you're saving a spot for Dr. Death Defying," Mikey taunts.

"Fuck you," Frank says, crossing his arms across his chest and regretting it as the movement tugs at the stitches on his shoulder.

"We don't even know if he's in this zone," Ray says and flicks the torch on and off and on again.

"But you hope he is," Mikey says to Frank. Frank scoots inside the dishwasher and grabs the handle, flinging the door down and tucking his hand inside just in time. Despite the warped side, the door still catches and closes him in the dark. He breathes in and imagines he can still smell harsh clean scent of dishwasher soap.

It's been eight days since he's heard anything that had an electric guitar. He doesn't count his own humming. The radio is always on, but there's not always music. Still, static and dead air and the crackle when Dr. Death Defying has something to play means there is always the potential for music. Frank's willing to wait.

 

He'd been pinned down on a bad curve, road in front of him, road behind and no good cover, because he was a fucking idiot and had gotten himself stuck there. Life's sucked but not so much that he wanted to fucking die like that, alone and covered in sand and taken down by some lame-ass pseudo-villains just because he was stupid enough to get himself backed into a corner.

He'd been stupid since he'd been without a crew. There was no denying it, not with dracs advancing on him. He'd been taking risks he never would have taken if he'd had someone to pull him back. But fuck if he was gonna get ghosted laying down behind a fucking rusted out shed or whatever was cutting into his shoulder. So he put his bandanna up over his mouth and turned to give it his best shot, but before he was up, one of the dracs went down, and Frank saw someone in a yellow jacket standing behind him with some kind of weird glove on his wrist. The two other dracs went down with fire from whoever this other guy was, hidden behind a pretty sweet helmet.

"Fucking thanks, man," Frank had said, standing up. The glove guy held out his bionic hand to shake and Frank held up his hands in surrender, just incase he was reading this rescue wrong. But then the guy laughed, and shook the glove off, holding out his real hand.

"Mikey," he said. "How'd you get their attention?"

It was a kind way of asking whether Frank was a liability. If he told them who he used to run with, they'd probably turn around and leave him. Maybe shoot him like a drac. So Frank doesn't say.

"Blew out the depository," Frank said, because at least that had gone ok. "Was in a hurry and took a wrong turn."

"Aren't many right ones around here," the helmet guy said. "I'm Ray."
Frank shook Ray's hand and said, "Seriously, thanks."

"Wanna lift? Where you squatting?"

"Was squatting at the depository," Frank said ruefully, because, yeah, maybe blowing it without picking a new shelter hadn't been the best plan.

Mikey grinned. "Come on," he said and Frank followed him over to the road, where there was a Trans Am with a giant spider on the hood.

"Nice car," Frank said. He liked the car a lot, hated the spider, but he figured he liked the car more than he hated the spider.

"It's my brother's," Mikey said. Frank doesn't ask where his brother is, because you don't ask people that question anymore.

Mikey turned on the radio and there was static for a moment before Dr. Death Defying came on. "Traffic report says there's a shiny explosion where a depository used to be. We could see it from here, though of course, we see everything."

Mikey thwapped Frank's arm. "Hey," he said,"He's talking to you." Frank felt the flush go up his face and hoped the dirt hid it.

"Here's something from the archives for your escape," Dr. Death Defying said, and then he put on Horror Hotel.

"Hey, who's the new guy?" The pile of coats suddenly asked, and Frank startled as a kid climbed out.

"Frank," he said, holding out his hand to shake her tiny one.

"Hello," she said solemnly. "I want to meet Dr. Death Defying."

"Me too," he said.

"Hey," Ray said, giving her a stern look. "It's polite to introduce yourself."

"I'm Nin," she said, rolling her eyes.

"Nin?" Frank said, looking to Mikey, and then Ray, then back to her.

"Short for Ninja," the girl said, and did some elaborate kick that somehow managed to remain inside the confines of the car, but just barely.

"That her real name?" he whispered to Mikey.

"Beats me," Mikey said.

Frank realized he probably should have asked what her name was before, but that's also not something you ask, especially not about a kid who looks barely old enough to know how to fire a gun. Frank wondered briefly when he started judging age by that, and then Mikey took off and all Frank thought about was the road.

 

Here's the thing with having a crush on a mysterious DJ; it's kind of an inconvenient place to hang your affections. Except, in the desert, in this existence, Dr. Death Defying has been one of the most consistent forces in Frank's life. He's there when Frank really needs the music, he reminds Frank there are other people out there when he feels like he's the only guy alive who wants to keep it that way, and mostly, it's just like someone's on his side, like someone's got his back. Dr. Death Defying's voice is the thing that reassures him the most since he had an apartment with a lock, and a shower with hot water, and a bed with sheets. It's the good favor he hasn't lost yet.

Mikey and Ray and the tiny ninja are a tight crew. Frank can tell they've been at this a while, setting up the diner as a permanent base, striking when they can, getting by the rest of the time. Whenever it gets too quiet, Mikey turns up the radio that sits balanced on a bar stool.

Dr. Death Defying is talking about guitar riffs that sound like laughter, and Frank says, "That DJ, man, sometimes he's the only thing that keeps me going."

"Never thought we'd have to get to the end of the world to hear the voice of God," Mikey says.

"Never thought he'd like Anthrax," Frank says. "Or that he'd have a voice like that."

"You have a crush on God," Mikey says, looking scandalized.

"I'd be a priest for Dr. Death Defying," Frank says.

"I will weld this radio to your skull if you ever say anything like that again," Ray says.

"He's hot," Frank says.

"He's a voice," Ray says.

"He's THE voice," Frank says. "Out there. Watching out for us." He gestures wildly and sends one of Ray's screwdrivers scattering across the bench.

"You're nuts," Ray says. "We rescued a crazy man."

"Love makes you crazy," Mikey points out helpfully.

That's not what makes Frank crazy, but it's good an excuse as any.

 

There's a rumble far away, but big enough that they feel it in the diner, and when Frank rushes out onto the road, they can't see anything on the horizon. Frank thinks it might be an earthquake; he thinks he remembers those used to happen, but this really sounds like something blowing up, leaving his ears ringing. The kid is at his side, hands over her ears.

"Loud," she shouts, and then Ray and Mikey are rushing outside.

"The radio's on," Mikey says, though he has to say it three times before Frank understands.

"That's what you think it is," Dr. Death Defying says. "Crash, smash, bang bang bang." He's shouting too, over the white noise of the explosion. "We're gonna be on the move for a while, rockandrollers, you're gonna have to keep the music alive. We won't keep you waiting long." There's static, and then there's nothing.

"That doesn't sound good," Ray says.

Frank's mind is racing. He's picturing vinyl on fire, radio antennas crushed in a crumbling building like a foot coming down over a twig.

"I want to keep the music alive," Nin says, and Frank ducks into the kitchen, puts his gun in his holster, puts his jacket on. He has to get out of here.

"You got somewhere you gotta be?" Ray says, a step behind Frank.

"Out," Frank says, "Fighting."

"You ought to let me at least re-stitch your arm," Ray says, and Frank hasn't even noticed the gash, which is seeping through his jacket already. "You got it pretty bad at that raid."

"I can't," Frank says.

"It's not your fault," Ray says.

"Yeah it is," Frank says. "It's retaliation." That's the thing with once belonging to Leathermouth - actually, Frank thinks that as the last surviving member, he is Leathermouth - it only takes blowing up one building with a few squatters still in it to show you where you stand on collateral and consequences. Frank turns away from Ray and tries to tie his shoes, but bending over makes him dizzy and Ray stills him with a hand on his shoulder. Frank supports his weight against the counter.

"You did not blow up Dr. Death Defying," Ray says, "And you're not going out there to throw yourself into the fight with your dying breath. I'm gonna stitch you up and Mikey's gonna give you some pills for the pain because we have a few to spare, and then we can talk about what we do here and how you would be a big fucking help as long as you don't bleed to death first."

Frank's arm is starting to throb, or maybe it has been this whole time and he only notices now. He's light-headed and shaky and he nods, because Ray seems like a nice guy, because he and Mikey and the kid are a crew and it's been so long since Frank's had a crew that he's forgotten how good it feels like to let someone else handle everything.

The pills help the pain but send him into a weird place of memories and hallucinations, uncomfortable and unsettling. When his head finally clears, he can't figure out where he is. He's inside a metal box that's just big enough for him to fit with his knees tucked up, and he would start to panic at being confined like this if there wasn't a sliver of light where his shoes have caught the edge of one of the metal sides. He flexes his foot, and two sides lift up, flooding his face with light. He's in the kitchen; he's curled up inside the dishwasher, which has been stripped of the motor and anything else that would make it work. It is just a crawlspace now, a hiding place.

He climbs down, and his body aches, and his legs don't quite work, and then Mikey is steering him by the shoulders into the one the diner booths. He notices the radio is silent.

"How long?" Frank says.

"How long have you been out?" Mikey says.

"How long has it been since there's been a song?" Frank says.

"Haven't been counting the minutes," Mikey says. "Too busy." And then Frank notices the arsenal spread out on the diner's bar.

"You feel up for a zone run?" Ray says.

"I'll play you an anthem," the kid says, and then she starts banging her fists on a rusty barrel she's balancing on her knee. Frank winces because he's expecting it to be just noise, but it comes out a low thump like a double bass. It sounds like a rallying call.

 

On day nine without the soothing sound of a thrumming guitar, when Frank's finally thinking he's got the plumbing of the sink figured out enough to start scavenging pipes, someone starts knocking on the kitchen door, which is completely unnecessary because there's only half left of a set of swinging double doors.

"Who is it?" Frank asks in a sing-song voice, because the knocking is just ridiculous and it can't be Ray or Mikey and so maybe it's some defective draculoid who made it past the traps Mikey set out.

"Gerard?" the guy says, like he's not sure. Frank sees a flash of crazy red hair through the wide port-hole of a window, now missing it's plastic.

"You are Gerard or you're looking for Gerard?" Frank asks back, still hidden behind the door, though all the guy would have to do would be to lean on it and send Frank flying.

"I am Gerard," he says. "I'm looking for Mikey."

"State your intentions," Frank says.

"Uh," Gerard says, "I was gonna hug him? And then ask him what the fuck he'd done to my car?"

Frank swings the door out and Gerard stumbles back. "Oh," Frank says, and reaches out to steady him, and ends up with his hands fisted in Gerard's shirt. "Uh," Frank says, and lets go. "Sorry."

Gerard's eyes fly all over Frank's face, and then he wets his lips before he says, "It's ok. So, do you, uh," Gerard says, still scanning Frank, eyes wild. "You know where Mikey is?"

"By the back grill," Frank says. They're still staring at each other, and Frank kind of wants to find a way to get his hands in Gerard's shirt again with the way Gerard's looking at him. "Want me to show you?"

"Sure," Gerard says, a little breathy, and Frank holds the door open with his back, ushering Gerard in like this is some sort of secret lair and not just a room that used to be a kitchen, and probably still could be if they ever got gas, and water, and food you could cook on a grill. Frank's not even sure he remembers what hash browns taste like anymore.

"Mikey," Frank calls out ahead, "I have someone who claims to have loaned you a car?"

"About fucking time, asshole," Mikey says, and comes barrelling at Gerard and wraps him in a hug. Mikey pulls away just as fast, and shoves Gerard, but Gerard just beams back at him. "Frank, meet my loser brother, Gerard," Mikey says. "He's been working on a thing down at the dam." Frank doesn't have any idea where there'd be a dam around here, but it doesn't matter because he's stuck realizing that sometimes brothers loan you their cars and they just take a long time coming back.

"Hi, Frank, nice to meet you," Gerard says. He gives Frank a smile with layers, and it travels up Frank's neck, giving him goosebumps.

Frank grins at him. "Hi Gerard."

"Mikey, the flame's dying," Ray says, and then he pushes up his goggles. "Gerard, man, hey, how's the dam?"

"Fucking dry," Gerard says, and then the kid comes flying into the room and she and Gerard have a ninja battle which he quite obviously lets her win. Frank's got a song in his head he can't place but it's better than the nothing at all that's been there for too long.

 

Gerard spends the few hours catching up with Mikey, and then he takes a nap on Mikey's bedroll and doesn't wake up until dark. "Shit," Gerard says, sitting bolt upright, and making Ray drop his wrench. "Sorry," he whispers belatedly. "I didn't mean to sleep that long. I need to get back to the dam."

"You're an idiot if you're planning on going there at night," Mikey says.

"That's the best time to go," Gerard says. "Keeps it secret."

"Don't you guys ever sleep?" Ray says.

"What is the secret about the dam anyway?" Frank asks.

"It's secret," Gerard whispers, but there's a flash of teeth in the dark and Frank grins back at Gerard.

"You want the car?" Mikey asks when it's clear Gerard isn't going to change his mind about leaving.

"Nah, if I walk to crossroads, someone will give me a lift."

"I'll walk with you," Frank says. He feels Mikey give him a look but he tries to ignore him.

"Me too," Nin chimes in.

"No," Ray says immediately. Gerard turns to her. She's a tiny lump under the pile of coats again.

"What are you doing up, sweetheart?" He says. "The monsters are gonna get you."

 

It sounds kind of cruel, but she giggles, and Frank realizes it's an old joke. "No monsters gonna get me if I'm with you," she says. "They're all scared of your hair."

"And rightly so," Gerard says. "This hair is meant to invoke terror. It's called Terror Red."

She giggles again. "No, it's not, it's called Firetruck Red. I saw the box when you dyed it."

"Have you ever seen a firetruck?" Gerard asks seriously.

"No," she says, shaking her head.

"Exactly," Gerard says, and then he kisses her forehead. "Later, motorbaby."

Gerard hugs his brother, then briefly Ray, and then he heads for the door, looking at Frank, who's pulling on his jacket.

"Enjoy your walk in the middle of the night," Mikey says to Frank, and then the diner door is closing behind him.

Frank doesn't go out at night nearly as much as he should, it's fucking beautiful. The horizon's so dark it's blue and there are a fucking million stars. When he looks at Gerard, he's looking up at the sky, too.

"Mikey said you were the one who toasted the old shopfronts on La Calle Principal," Gerard says.

It's the part of the conversation where if they were in another life, Gerard would be asking Frank what he did before. But it's not like it matters. You don't talk about before. It's further away than asking what kind of toys he played with when he was a fucking toddler. Here, now, the best explanation of who you are is a laundry list of what you salvaged and what you destroyed.

"Yeah," Frank says.

"On your own?"

"La Calle Principal, yeah," Frank says and Gerard looks impressed. "I ran with a crew, a few warehouses back."

Gerard's closer, stepping into Frank's space. "You lose them?"

He's not supposed to ask, and Frank's eyes squeeze shut automatically at the intrusion. Gerard's hand is on his elbow, and Frank forces himself to look at him.

"Yeah," he says, because Gerard asked and you aren't supposed to ask, and fuck him, if he keeps pushing, he's gonna get the whole story, the whole fucking ugly truth. "Rock block fuse went bad," Frank says. The short version. It leaves out so much it's almost like a lie. "They went back to check on it and ....I was the man outside. Saw them go up."

Gerard's fingers tighten on Frank's elbow and instead of turning away like Frank expects, turning away from the blame that's all over Frank. Gerard leans in, so close the sides of their faces are together, the wind whipping Gerard's hair so it dances over Frank's cheek. "We lost part of our crew," Gerard says. "Me and Mikes and Ray. Not that long ago. Still look for them, you know, if I look over my shoulder, they'll be there like they always used to be, at my back."

"Yeah," Frank says. Gerard tilts his head back up at the sky.

"So fucking many," Gerard says. "I always thought they'd be harder to see, you know, once the world went boom. Dust clouds or whatever closing in on us, but here they are. There's still so much space."
Frank doesn't know what to say so he just looks at Gerard, looking up at the stars. Frank watches until they both hear a whistle that sounds like Old Susannah.

"That's my ride," Gerard says. "See you soon, Frank," and then Gerard jogs off into the dark. "Get home safe."

 

Home. Home is this diner, for now, for this moment. Frank crawls up into the dishwasher, lifting the door quietly, watching Ray and Mikey's shoulders rise and fall on the mats, resting his forehead against the inside of the dishwasher where the jets used to be, and closes his eyes, and thinks of the stars. A few minutes later, when he's just starting to let himself get drowsy, there's a tug on his leg.

"Hey," Frank says. "What are you doing up?"

Nin doesn't answer. Instead, she says, "That's not a bed."

"I like it," Frank says. "And I sleep here, so that makes it a bed."

"Can I come in?" she says. It's the damn conversation in the dark with Gerard, he knows it is, but Frank lets himself wonder for the first time who she lost.

"Yeah," Frank says. "Come on, you can have this whole side." He takes off his jacket, wraps it around her shoulders and lets her tuck her knees up inside the dishwasher. She's so much smaller next to him. "Now close your eyes and imagine."

"Imagine what?" she whispers.

"Anything you want," he says.

 

When Frank wakes up, Ray's trying to get Nin to wash her face with the damp cloth.

"It stinks," she says, whining.

"And you will you if you don't use it," he says. She crosses her arms and shakes her head, and Ray sighs and walks away.

"She's not wrong," Frank says. "Those fucking clothes do stink."

"Of course they stink, they're soaked in cactus juice," Ray says. "When did a cactus ever smell nice? But it's what we have when we don't have water." Ray hangs the cloth over the edge of the grill, then smells his hands and makes a face. "You were good with her, last night," Ray says, his voice quieter, so Nin doesn't hear. "Thanks."

"She's adorable," Frank says. "It's a not a hardship." Being nice to Nin isn't the hardship, it's putting back on his armor when it's morning and there isn't Gerard or the kid making him feel alive, just the desert out there, wanting him dead.

"Yeah, not like trying to keep her clean," Ray says.

"She yours?" Frank says, realizing he hasn't actually asked, and then remembering a moment later that you're not supposed to ask.

Ray just smiles at him, though, doesn't get angry or shove him out the door. "As good as," is all Ray says.

"Is Frank using the stinky cloth?" Nin asks, and Frank is just barely able to hold back a laugh. When he looks over, she's craning her neck from the booth, trying to see.

"I don't know, is Frank?" Ray asks, not looking at Nin.

Frank picks up the cloth and holds his breath, and then wipes it all over his face. It smells like the inside of a rotten pumpkin. Frank hasn't thought of pumpkin in years.

"I'm using it," Frank says. "To clean my dirty, disgusting face. I'm getting more beautiful by the minute, you won't even be able to recognize me," Frank says. Nin laughs, and then makes a face when she remembers shes not supposed to like the cloth.

"Thanks," Ray whispers.

Frank's barely able to stop himself from saying, don't thank me, I'm no good, but he just bites his tongue.

 

"Mikey hasn't been at the diner long," Gerard says, the next day he's relieved of dam duty. He's digging through a box of pipe fittings like he's not sure what he's even looking for. "Well, I mean, I don't know what we call long anymore. We were at an old coffee shop a while back. You ever have coffee? I fucking miss that shit."

Gerard's doing that thing where everything he says makes it seem like there's a giant blinking sign over his head that says, 'The Rules Don't Apply.' None of Frank's rules apply to him, at least, especially not the one that says keep his distance. As soon as Gerard's in the room, it's like Frank only wants to be closer. He wonders if it's some accident of how they met, lines getting crossed, because they're always kind of tripping over each other when Gerard's here, Frank's always accidentally too close, or Gerard is reaching for the thing he is at the same time, and even if Frank is dismantling the faucet and Gerard's all the way on the other end of the kitchen unknotting tangled rope, they'll suddenly end up practically on top of each other.

"I don't really remember coffee," Frank says, and he feels bad for the lie as soon as Gerard's face falls.

"Wish I could forget it," Gerard says, and then immediately adds, "No, I don't mean it, I don't want to forget anything." His gaze goes unfocused, like there are other things passing through his mind that might be up fro getting, and he's reminding himself about them. "This is a nice kitchen, Frank," Gerard says, and Frank feels a little unsteady with the quick change of conversation.

"Thanks," Frank says hesitantly. "No one was using it much and I wanted to stay out of the way."
"Ha!" Gerard exclaims, and then because Frank's probably wearing the hurt on his face, Gerard adds quickly, "No, no, I mean, the kitchen is the center of everything. Didn't you ever hear anyone say that?"

Frank shakes his head, another lie.

"Well it is," Gerard says. "If this diner were actually still a diner, everything important would be happening here."

The truth is, Frank likes the kitchen because it doesn't remind him of anyone. It's bare, steel and tile, and no one lived here before, this belonged to no one. It was just a way station, it was just where things came in and out, the catch of the loop. Frank's never wanted to be at the center of everything. He's always been better at the edge, balanced there, one life fading fast as he moves into the next.

Gerard goes quiet for a while and Frank gets distracted taking apart an drain trap, except he's using a bent fork instead of a Phillips screwdriver, and he really shouldn't be trying it at all. Ray is a million times better, and actually understands the mechanics. Frank's just toying with it, using hope as a strategy, and just a little bit of determination. The radio crackles on and Frank puts down his fork, turns the dial up, but there's nothing. It's probably just a fluke.

And then Gerard starts singing Smashing Pumpkins, in a low, distracted way like he's not even aware he's doing it. It makes Frank feel like he's in another life. It reminds him of before, and it's miles away from reality but for the space of a few lyrics, it's real.

He can't help but picture Gerard with a pair of headphones over his ears, his mouth bent to the microphone, his fingers on the dials. It doesn't make any sense of course, but Frank can't get the image out of his head.

"What?" Gerard says, when he catches Frank staring.

"You," Frank says, and swallows. "You were singing."

Gerard looks a little embarrassed. "Yeah, sometimes I just - if it's too quiet, you know?"

"Yeah," Frank says, and when Gerard grins at him, it's so bright Frank has to look away.

 

Frank's working on the gear shift for Ray's mystery machine when Nin starts bouncing on the booth seat beside him. There aren't any springs left in any of the seats; he knows, too, because Ray needed a coil a couple of days ago and Frank spent a whole afternoon elbow-deep in seat stuffing, and there wasn't a spring to be found. Still, Nin seems to provide her own bounce, as though she is jumping on a trampoline on top of a stack of mattresses.

"Wanna know a secret?" she says. Frank cranks the gear shift experimentally. It jams.

"I really do," he says, and sets the gear shift aside, rests his chin on his hands. She stops bouncing and immediately does the same, except she's resting her arms on the top of the booth, and it looks like she's considering doing a somersault over onto the next seat.

"I know what's under the dam."

"That's not a secret," Frank teases her. "Everyone knows what's under the dam."

She looks affronted. "It's not water," she says, "not under part of it."

If she's right, then it is a pretty good secret, and Frank wonders how he became qualified enough to have it shared with him.

"So what's under the dam?"

Nin leans forward and whispers, "Music."

Frank considers this. Her expression is very serious. Either it's the truth or she believes it so hard she's made it truth.

"And where did you hear this secret?" Frank asks. He's trying hard not to seem too interested, incase she decides she's hooked him and starts spinning a tale.

"Can't say," she says. She's leaning forward so she's see-sawing over the booth. "Unless you tell me a secret."

The request strips Frank to the bone and he knows she can't possibly know what she's asking. Frank doesn't have any secrets that he can tell a kid. Still, he's agreeing before he really processes what he's doing.

"Ok, your secret first," she says. Frank figure she'll wait him out, so he just agrees to that, too.

"Ok," he says. A dozen things flash past in his mind, explosions and detonators and smoke from day-old fires still burning. "I like the dishwasher because it feels safe," he says.

She eyes him, and then seems to find this an acceptable trade, because after a moment, she says, "Gerard."

"Gerard what?" Frank says.

"Gerard told me about the music," she says. "He says only half of what he does at the dam is about the water. Half is music."

"Music," Frank says. He feels the blood rushing to his face as he thinks about Gerard singing, feels himself get even redder when he hears Gerard come up behind him.

Nin bangs on the back of the booth when she sees Gerard, like she's playing bongos, but then she loses her balance and topples forward, falling half onto Frank and sending the gear shift he was working on skittering off the table and onto the floor, where it breaks into a dozen pieces. Nin looks up at up, eyes wide, clearly terrified. Frank gets a sick feeling in his stomach to see her look at him that way.

"It's ok," he says, his voice practically gone. "It's ok, are you ok?" Nin is still staring up at him.

"What a spectacular feat of gymnastics," Gerard exclaims, instantly drawing Nin out of wherever her head has just gone, and she tumbles out onto the floor, arms spread wide, for Gerard's approval.

"Why don't you go challenge my brother to a somersault race," Gerard says, and Nin is tearing off to find Mikey before Gerard even finishes his sentence. Gerard immediately bends to pick up the pieces of the the gear shift. Frank realizes he's still just sitting there and goes to help Gerard, and like all the other times they try to work around each other, their fingers brush as they reach for the same piece at the same time and everything gets all tangled up.

"You ok, Frank?" Gerard asks.

"Yeah," Frank says. "yeah, she just....scared me for a second, you know?"

"She's pretty resilient," Gerard says. Frank wants to explain that it's not what what actually scared him, but instead he holds his hands open for the gear shift and Gerard dumps the pieces he's holding into Frank's open hands, the tips of his fingers brushing against Frank's palm.

 

Frank forgets about the secret music under the dam until he's got the gear shift back together, and by then, Gerard has caught a ride with Mikey, so Frank can't even ask about it. Not that he's sure how he'd bring up a secret like this, especially not when his brain is making the connection it's been threatening to for days now. Gerard with headphones on, hitting a switch, dropping a needle, working on a secret music project under the dam. Because it's not as if there are that many secret musical projects. There are music stashes, which aren't secret so much as lost. And there are rumors that there are studios out there, but nothing Frank has heard about for a long time. It doesn't make any sense; Gerard doesn't sound a thing like Dr. Death Defying. But it doesn't need to make sense to stick in Frank's mind. So he just turns it over and over like a song you should have stopped listening to twenty times ago, but you still can't get the catch chorus out of your head.

He should he overjoyed. He should be over the fucking moon at the possibility that he'll finally meet - that he's already met - Dr. Death Defying. That he's grabbed God by the lapels and thought about pressing their mouths together. The problem is that Dr. Death Defying knows everything; he's seen it all, which means he's seen Frank at his worst. He's seen what Frank did when he was running with Leathermouth; he's seen a crew be too terribly good at destruction. He thinks, unbidden, of the terrified look on Nin's face, and that's the way Gerard will look at him, once he finds out. That's what he does to people, he blows up what little is left of their lives. There's no reason now for anyone to look at him with anything other than fear, except possibly pity, and that would be even harder to bear.

 

He must fall asleep, curling further and further in on himself in the dishwasher, because he startles when someone lifts open the door and blinks against the bright light streaming in from the kitchen window, sparkling off dust in the air. "Frank, thank fucking god," Gerard says. "I came in and no one was here and I know we'd said not to leave the diner unoccupied but - Were you sleeping? I'm so sorry," Gerard says "I just got freaked out when no one was around and - "

"Mikey and Ray are probably in the back with the pipes from Six," Frank says, trying to clear the sleepy out of his voice. "Ray had the welding torch."

"He got some propane for it?"

Frank nods, rubs his eyes, and scoots forward. Gerard doesn't move back in enough time, and Frank ends up with his face right in Gerard's stomach. There's an awkward moment when they both freeze and then Gerard stumbles back. "Sorry," he mumbles. Frank feels himself flush and tries to hide it as he slips down from the counter and onto the floor.

"You're back early. How's the watertworks?" Frank asks.

"A parking lot," Gerard says. "I've been thinking of coming back and staying with Mikey for a week or two while until it clears."

Their eyes meet and Frank feels the same frisson from when Gerard's face was flush with his belly, it makes him want to hide in the dishwasher in the dark so he doesn't do anything embarrassing.

"Here?" Frank says, although it's stupid because it's not like Mikey has some other hideout, although maybe he does.

"Yeah," Gerard says, easy. "I mean, there's room, right?"

"Even if there wasn't," Frank says, and means it, and Gerard beams at him, "And you could always have the dishwasher."

"Oh, Frank, I'd never take the dishwasher from you."

Gerard isn't making fun of him; he seems to get it. Frank's glad because he's not sure he could explain.

 

Ray is unpacking a box of spoked wheels with a joyous expression on his face and then he looks like he might explode with happiness when he finds a tight ball of wrapped copper wire.

"What are you even going to do once you get the water working?" Frank finally asks the question that's been buzzing in his head every time they get one step closer to finishing Ray's project. "How will you control the distribution? Is that the thing you're working on?"

"We're not gonna control the water," Ray says, though he's still contemplating the wire. He looks up briefly then starts untwisting a piece from the coil. "That sounds like something Leathermouth would do," Ray says, and Frank goes completely still, but Ray continues without seeming to realize how obviously broken Frank is by what he's just said. "We came through, offered to help the zone."

"You done this before?" Frank says, struggling to say something into the silence.

"Not with water," Ray says, "But I guess, yeah." Ray studies Frank then, far too closely for Frank's comfort. "You really thought we were doing this for profit? You had it rough, didn't you?"

"Not more than anyone else," Frank says.

"You sure?" Ray asks.

It's an invitation for the confession Frank's been afraid to make, but he can't. He just can't. Instead, he says, "Why'd you let me stay? Once I was all healed up, you could have just sent me on my way."

"You wanted to stay," Ray says. "And we had room."

It's not really the answer Frank wanted. He was hoping Ray actually had a reason.

"Besides," Ray says. "No one should be alone, no matter what they think they deserve."

It cuts a little too close, and Frank spends the rest of the afternoon hiding, his eyes closed but not sleeping, counting explosions that had his name attached to them.

 

The argument's been building for days. Frank sees it in the kid's staunch refusal to go to bed on time two days ago, her abject horror at a breakfast that's exactly the same as it's been for weeks, and her quickness to say no to anything anyone asks her to do, regardless of what it is.

"You're not listening to me," Ray says to her as Frank walks into the sitting area. It's a tableau he wants to walk right back out of as soon as he sees it. Nin and Ray are in a stand-off, both of their arms crossed across their chests, legs spread wide. Frank doesn't need to know what it is she's refused to do to know that it was clearly just one thing too many for Ray. "I didn't give you a choice."

"I don't need to do what you say," Nin says.

"That's where you're wrong, honey, in this case you do."

"I'll run away," she says. It doesn't seem like an idle threat. She's got a backpack over her arm and the only thing that seems to be keeping her from making a run for the door is Ray.

"This isn't like before, kid, you run off out there on your own, you die." There's a tense moment, where is seems like she really will make a run for the door, and then she starts to cry. "And I won't let that happen," Ray shouts. She cries harder. And then Ray's scooping her up, hugging her tight, murmuring into her hair and she buries her face in his neck, "I won't let anything happen to you, ok? I won't. I don't care how angry you are at me." He holds her, saying it over and over, and she's not the only one crying.

Later, Frank finds Ray in a booth, head on his arms, looking wrecked. "You ok?" Frank says.

"She's just a kid. She doesn't deserve this life."

"Fucking right, man," Frank says, and then, because he feels like Gerard would say something more helpful if he were here, "But it's life. We're not dead."

Ray looks up at him and smiles briefly, then wipes his eyes, as though trying to pretend there's grit in them. "We're not dead."

 

Gerard's on the floor of the kitchen, knees tucked up under him, looking through a metal box full of folders that Mikey salvaged from a garage raid. Frank sits down next to him, looks over his shoulder, watches his fingers page through the folders, grabbing a white corner of something with typed letters, another with faded blue ink, setting them back.

"Anything good?" Frank asks. Gerard looks up at him and smiles. Frank's close enough to set his chin on Gerard's shoulder, but he doesn't.

"Just paper," Gerard says. "It'll burn. I was hoping there'd be a clue about one of the Nada stashes, you know? Supposed to be enough vinyl to cover the road from here to Old Vegas. Could keep the airwaves rocking for weeks," Gerard says. He lets the lid of the box fall closed. "It's out there, somewhere."

"If anyone could find it, you could," Frank says, and puts his hand on Gerard's thigh, a reassuring pat, but Gerard moves his leg at the same time and Frank's fingers skid across the inside of Gerard's thigh, along the seam of his pants. Gerard hisses in a breath and his eyes fly to Frank's face. Frank knows he can't help the way he's gone red, and he can't seem to move his hand. It's just, still there, right along the warmth of Gerard's inner thigh. Gerard takes a deep breath and Frank finally gets his arm to work, but pulling has hand back means basically rubbing the palm of his hand along Gerard's thigh, along his knee, and then Gerard is licking his lips and it's so much like that first time, when Frank's hands were in his warm shirt, and Frank just - leans in and kisses him.

He thinks it's going to end the way all their other moments like this have ended, near misses, a wet smack on Gerard's cheek as he scrambles away, playing it off, but then Gerard sighs against his mouth and they're kissing, Gerard's lips moving softly against his, and then then Gerard's tongue catches at just the corner of Frank's mouth, a rough, wet fraction of a lick. Frank gasps and then their tongues are sliding together, Gerard licking his way in, the heat going straight through Frank, making every part of his body buzz as though he's touched a live wire. He tightens his hand, still on Gerard's knee and Gerard makes a small needy noise and kisses Frank deeper.

"Oh, uh - " a voice says and they fly apart. Ray is standing in the door, two iron spokes and wheels in his hands. "I, sorry uh - " and then he just turns and walks off in the direction he came.

Frank and Gerard look at each other, mirror images, cheeks flushed, eyes dark. Frank's breathing hard, stunned.

"I should get going," Gerard says, looking up at the window, "if I want to catch a lift."

"Yeah," Frank says, his heart hammering in his chest. He doesn't want Gerard to go, doesn't want him leave, wants to chase that electric feeling. His eyes fall to Gerard's mouth and he looks back up at Gerard's eyes, which are crinkled in amusement.

"Want to walk me there?" Gerard says, the unmistakable promise in his voice sending Frank to his feet faster than he can even answer, following Gerard outside and down the road.

As soon as they're out of sight of the diner, Gerard's hands are sliding up Frank's back, pulling him close, pulling their mouths together. It's messier than it was inside, Frank's hands landing on Gerard's arms, gripping tight, and Gerard's gasping between kisses, already breathless, their hands wild and tight all over each other. Gerard's hands in Frank's hair, tight in his jacket, Frank's hands sliding up and down Gerard's arms, up and down his sides. Gerard takes a step into Frank's space and Frank wishes there was something he could lean against, something he could let Gerard push him back against, but there's nothing but the open desert and the sky stretching bright with stars above them, and so Frank steps back into Gerard's space, so they're standing with their thighs between each other's legs, chests pressed together rocking in this back and forth, like a dance step kicking up dust.

Gerard makes a strangled noise and pulls back, biting his lip, hands still tight in Frank's hair. They stare at each other, not saying anything, and then Gerard, as if having decided something of utmost importance, bends his head and kisses Frank again, slower, as if each movement requires serious consideration, their lips catching, sliding wet against each other, Gerard dragging his tongue across Frank's bottom lip, then taking Frank's top lip between his teeth, like he's trying all the ways their mouths can fit together, testing them all, and it makes Frank moan against Gerard's mouth, Gerard kissing him at one angle, then the other, moving his lips against Frank's like he's waiting for them to slot into space, tongue across Frank's teeth, teeth against the corner of Frank's mouth. Frank makes a desperate whine before he can help it, and Gerard pulls back just enough that Frank can feel him smile against his mouth and then he kisses Frank again, heat and tongues and trying to get deep inside each other. Frank loses all sense of time, of where they are, of anything except how Gerard feels against him.

Gerard pulls back with a small, sad sound and Frank realizes the thing he'd been hearing is the Oh Susannah call, which someone has been whistling for some time now.

"I have to go," Gerard says, and then he kisses Frank full on the mouth once more before he says, "I'll see you soon."

"Soon," Frank says, dazed and elated and he watches Gerard until he disappears onto the back of a bike and drives off into the dark.

 

 

They're in the middle of a game that Nin invented that's as close to Go Fish as they're going to get without either cards or fish, when the radio crackles on. It's Dr. Death Defying providing a traffic report; his voice is tense, the way he sounds when he's reporting something he wishes he weren't reporting. There's a spin of a siren through the speakers, and Frank can't tell if it's a music effect or if there are actually sirens. Some of the old buildings still have them wired, trip alarms, rusty metal bells designed to be as high pitched as possible to call everyone to the spot of the break-in, good or bad.

"Sounds like danger," the kid says, and suddenly Frank's alert, body tense, getting up to go to the radio to listen.

"Listen up, crash queens, we have a conflagration in progress, zone two by the reservoir, you'll see it when you're close enough. If there's backup out there, this is your time to shine."

"Mikey," Frank says. Zone two is where Gerard is. It's no coincidence.

"There's no reservoir out in zone two," Mikey says, as if confirming Frank's fears.

"I think he's trying to say water," Ray says, and then they're all on their feet.

"What is it?" Nin asks.

"Shhh," Ray says, and kisses her forehead, and Frank squeezes his eyes closed and listens.

"What's a conflagration?" Nin asks this time. Ray stands up.

"You coming in the car or you staying here and keeping our home safe?" Ray and the kid stare at each other; she seems completely taken aback at being asked after being ordered around so recently, after their fight.

Several looks pass over her face. Finally she seems to settle on scared out of her wits. "Can I - can I stay here?"

"Good choice," Ray says. "We need a sentinel."

"A conflagration's bad, right?" she asks Frank.

"It means fire," Frank says.

"And are you the firetrucks?"

Frank has a pang, thinking of Gerard and his ridiculous hair. "Yeah, we are," he says.

 

Mikey drives so fast that Frank enters a trance state. There's no one on the roads Mikey takes, and some of them aren't even roads, aren't even paths. Mikey finds the most direct route to trouble, and the fastest route to his brother, and since they're one in the same this time, Mikey's practically flying.

Ray looks like it's breaking his heart to drive away from Nin, waving from the window of the diner, but he puts his helmet on and hides his face. Frank listens to the engine accelerating higher and higher in pitch.

There is an actual fire. Frank hasn't been sure how much of the report was symbolism, but, no, there's a square cement building that looks like it used to be some sort of tollbooth with smoke billowing out from the windows, fire dancing up from the roof. There's an antenna tipped over on it's side, and Frank can't tell if it's new destruction or old.

Mikey doesn't even bother trying to find a place to park the car, just jerks the wheel hard to the side and pulls them over. Frank blinks against the choking, bitter smoke, scans the horizon. At first, it doesn't seem like there's anyone around at all. But Dr. Death Defying wouldn't have sounded a call for an empty building on fire.

And then Frank sees the bike. The one that Gerard's mysterious secret taxi service uses to pick him up on the road in the middle of the night. Almost a second later, a creature with an inhuman green face is taking Frank down, and everything narrows to the immediacy of the fight, to ducking each blow, to landing each hit, to gaining just the advantage he needs to get away and move on to the next one.

He sees a flash of red hair through the hands of the draculoid trying to close over his face, and he knows Gerard is ok. He throws off the draculoid and gets his gun and realizes that Gerard is more than ok, Gerard is standing in the middle of the fucking tumult, shooting at their attackers like taking cover is for cowards, like his coat is armor, like the mask he's wearing is a shield and no one will ever know who he really is.

When it seems there's a pause on the onslaught of draculoids in white coats, of monsters and fire, Gerard shouts for his brother and Ray to help the other dam rats who are scrambling for cover. Frank's about to shout that there's no one else around, but he's not seeing the whole picture the way Gerard is, probably because he's suddenly knocked face first in the dirt. He cranes his neck and sees there are three kids rigging what Frank thinks must be dam equipment to a flatbed trailer on a scooter. Mikey, who can fucking drive anything, is hopping on the scooter, and Ray and the kids are on the trailer, and they're tearing off down the road as the fire in the building gutters, and then the roof gives in.

Frank covers his eyes at the billowing smoke and then Gerard is at his side, hauling up face-up. "You ok, Frank?" he asks urgently.

Frank realizes his daze is because there's a lump on his forehead, a trickle of blood going down past his right eye, and he doesn't feel as bad about being slow. "Fine," he says, blinking rapidly.

Gerard shakes his head. "Come on, we gotta get out of here, they're coming over the hill."

Frank doesn't even see a hill, there's nothing that's a hill for fucking miles, just flat, empty desert, but there's a groan like a monster out of a movie, and fuck, Frank hasn't seen a movie in years and ok, ok. He can focus. Gerard helps him to his feet and they stumble to the car when the laser blasts start flying past them.

"Shit," Gerard says. "Faster than I thought." and pushes Frank down behind the car, the sides still hot from the sun, from the way Mikey had worked the engine.

They're pinned down behind the car, and Frank thinks, fuck, this is just his past catching up with him, he really was supposed to die back there where Mikey and Ray found him. His one regret is that he's taking Gerard with him.

"I'm sorry," Frank says, stupidly, as a blast ricochets off the car.

"Frank," Gerard says, seriously, and then he's standing up, pushing Frank's head down, and firing, then ducking back down. "Can you drive the car?" he says.

"Shit, I don't know," Frank says. He hasn't driven in years, and this is one of those cars with a second pedal - a clutch.

"You can," Gerard says, hands on his knee, fingers squeezing, "You have to because I can't shoot out the back window if you don't drive us the fuck away. On my count."

"Wait, what?" Frank says, but then Gerard doesn't even count, he just says, "Now, Frank," and yanks open the door and throws himself in, leaving Frank to dive in after him, and somehow maneuver himself into the driver's seat.

Gerard is in fact shooting out the back window, glass raining down over the back seat, and then firing behind them, as they tear up the road in a dust cloud and keep driving.

When Frank can finally see, when he can finally breathe, he says, "Fuck, are you ok?"

"Frank," Gerard shouts over the wind, the road so loud now with the window gone, dust flying up everywhere, making it hard to breathe. "Turn up ahead," Gerard says. "We need to deliver the music."

"What?" Frank says. "What music, I thought this was part of the dam?"

"We're not really near the dam," Gerard says, almost apologetically. "Also, I'm bleeding."

"Shit," Frank says, and grinds the gears, swerves wildly as he tries to look over his shoulder to see where Gerard's been shot.

"I know where we're going," is all Gerard says, and slumps down in the back. "Left, Frank, and tell me when you see polka dots."

Frank's pretty sure Gerard's badly injured, judging by the incoherence of that last sentence, but he turns and he drives and the thing is he does see polka dots. A long tall someone wearing a polka dot leggings and skating down the street. "Gee," Frank says, and Gerard kind of huffs awake.

"We there?" Gerard asks weakly.

"Polka dots," Frank says, and Gerard sits up, winces, Frank watches in the rear view.

"Slow down," Frank says, and then Gerard's kind of crawling half out of the shot up back window. Frank thinks if he survives this he's going to die later from a belated heart attack.

"Pony," he hears Gerard shout over and over and then, the skater is stopping, holding onto the side of the car like Frank's a fucking tow truck. Polka dots pulls off and skates on down the road.

"Go on," Gerard says, "Follow."

"Whatever this is, this had better not be some fever dream," Frank says. "Because I'm not sure whose dream it is, and so I don't know which of us needs to wake up."

"We're going to see the doctor," Gerard says and Frank thinks, fucking good, because whatever's wrong with Gerard is beyond Frank's home medical skills. Especially if he's chatting with random skaters.

Half a mile and too many held breathes later, they're pulling up to a trailer that looks like it's made out of a giant tin can. "Don't park too close, you'll mess with the signal," Gerard says.

The signal. Frank suddenly knows why all the hair under that helmet seemed familiar. "Wait, were you - were you talking to Show Pony?"

Gerard smiles weakly, and then Frank's in the back seat, kind of dragging him out of the car, Gerard stumbling and catching himself, shoulder first on the car. Frank thinks this is it, this is where he'll find out that Gerard, stupid, reckless Gerard, is really Dr. Death Defying.

Show Pony holds the door, and Frank holds Gerard, and then they're inside, and it's no more a studio than Frank's bedroom is a working kitchen, but there's a DJ on the air, and his voice, his voice is the voice Frank's been hearing like a back-up call, like support. It's not Gerard, though. It's this hardcore guy with a moustache that could kill Frank if he looked at it wrong, but then Gerard's kind of falling over and Frank's trying to catch him and then Dr. Death Defying shows that he's not just good at turntables, he's got a steady hand with a surgical tools that Pony produces from an old doctor's bag.

"Shit," Frank says, grinding the palms of his hands into his eyes.

"Laser blast, nothing to worry about, my friend," Dr. Death Defying says. "Got just the balm for it. Do me a favor and put on the next record? Take one of the ones from that case, there. You always bring me the best," he says to Gerard. "Just slap it on."

And Frank does, because what else can he do but fall apart, and if he was gonna do that, he would have been ghosted ages ago. This Frank, this desert crawler, this motorbaby, he knows how to keep it together, how to drive a car in a gunfight, how to drop the needle without it skipping, how to rock the fuck out and still wipe Gerard's hair back from his face where it is starting to stick. He knows what to do when the voice of God is telling him that if they just made it through one more song, and then one more after that, they'll be golden like the sunrise. Just one more song.

 

Someone's shaking Frank and he realizes he's been staring at nothing. Dr. Death Defying is looking at the lump on Frank's head with careful fingers, and then pressing a damp cloth to it, and lifting Frank's hand so he's holding the cloth in place.

"Stinks," Frank says, because it's a fucking cactus juice cloth.

"Fucking right it does," Dr. Death Defying says, then he turns to the other side of the room, where Gerard is sitting up in what looks like an airplane seat that has been bolted to the floor. He holds up a record. "This, my friends, is from that treasure chest you found," and then he puts in on the turntable, and it's years and years ago, it's before, and Frank is listening to Joy Division, Iggy Pop, the fucking Misfits and Gerard is closing his eyes and laughing, warm and beautiful, woven into the music, and Frank lets the daze, which might be time travel or sleep, wash over him.

Pony wakes them and sends them on their way when the coast is clear. Dr. Death Defying is nowhere to be seen, and Frank doesn't ask where he's gone because he knows he's not supposed to. Because you don't ask if the music's still playing.
Gerard drives this time, while Frank stares out the window, radio loud, wind howling through the back window.

Finally, Frank says, "Dr. Death Defying, holy shit."

"You know, it's funny," Gerard says, and then Frank thinks that's all he's going to say, that yeah, this whole thing is funny, as the desert blurs by. "You almost seemed disappointed.Thought you wanted to meet Dr. Death Defying more than anything."

"Not more than anything," Frank whispers. Gerard looks at him and Frank's heart starts to pound. "Did you see that collection, though?" he says.

"Frank," Gerard says, hands steady on the wheel.

"It was a crazy thing," Frank says, "a crazy thing I thought once and couldn't stop thinking. Whatever you were doing was so secret, and it was like he knew me too well and - " he stops, feeling like he's said too much.

"You thought I was Dr. Death Defying," Gerard says, awed.

"Just a crazy thing," Frank says, "Too much time on my hands to think you know? Hey listen," he says, because he needs to say it now before he chickens out. He needed to say it long ago. "My old crew," he says and stops. "My old crew was Leathermouth." He risks a quick glance at Gerard, who doesn't looks away from the road. "I can't say I didn't know what they - what we - were doing, because I did. I wired the rock blocks, and I never once checked a site to see if it was clear. We just took whatever we could or we blew up whatever was in our way."

"It's ok," Gerard says.

"No, it's not," Frank says miserably.

"Ok," Gerard says. "No, it's not. But it's not who you are right now, is it?"
Frank doesn't answer, and Gerard places a hand on his knee, the lightest of touches.

"So after they- after I lost them," Frank says, because he can't stop now. "It was worse. Because when they were around, there was a reason we did those things. They made it make sense, doing what we could to get by. But then it was just me, and I couldn't. There was a moment I was gonna give up. My bike was outta gas, I was outta water, I was just done. And then I heard Dr. Death Defying, from a radio in an old store I was gonna hide out in, maybe even lay down in and never get up. And he said that sometimes we all did what we thought we had to do to get by," Frank stops and swallows hard. "It sounded like he knew me. Like he was talking right to me."

"Frank," Gerard says, and he catches Frank's hand where it's gripping the seat. "I'm sorry."

"Why are you sorry?" Frank asks, brushing his fingers, stiff and awkward against Gerard's.

"That I'm not him," Gerard says, though his eyes are on the road. "That I'm not Dr. Death Defying."

Frank shakes his head, laughs a quiet laugh. "I didn't need you to be him," Frank says, "You're you." They look at each other, and then Gerard pushes the pedal down to the floor.

 

They pull into the diner, and there's no tail, no one around for miles and miles. The radio's still on in the diner, and fuck if Mikey doesn't almost hit his brother as soon as they come in the door. His 'don't you ever do that again' is lost in the hug, and Ray pokes at Frank's forehead, inspecting the damage. Nin, thank fucking god, is asleep in the booth.

They're all so tired they can barely speak, and it's mutually agreed upon that the story, the explanation, the consequences to be paid when you scare the people who love you can be paid in the morning. Frank lays out his bedroll in the kitchen, in the shadow of the half-swinging door, and after several loud shuffling noises which Frank thinks might be Mikey finally hitting his brother, Gerard has his bed roll and he lays it down next to Frank's, and then lays down beside Frank, motionless as soon as his back is on the floor. Their breath sounds loud in the quiet, the shuffles outside as Mikey settles down, as Ray covers Nin with a jacket, as everyone comes as close to rest as they're going to get.

Gerard presses against Frank's side, such a surprise in the stillness, such a shock that Frank can't breathe, then Gerard rolls all the way on top of him, and it should be too hard, too much weight, pushing him into the floor, but Gerard's grabbing his hands, pinning them at his sides with his own, and then he's leaning down and kissing Frank and Frank doesn't feel the floor underneath him at all. They're fully clothed, Frank still has the bandanna around his neck where he's just pushed it out of the way when they came back, so tired he'd just collapsed on the floor. Gerard's still wearing his leather jacket even, and they're dusty from the desert, but Gerard's mouth tastes sweet, and his tongue is so hot, so slick against his. Everything about Gerard is perfectly still on top of Frank except for his mouth, moving hot and slow against Frank's, and Frank doesn't want to move, doesn't want to ruin this, but Gerard's tongue flicking against his lips makes him buck up, and he feels Gerard start to roll away, and his heart's sinking with the ruin of this perfect moment, until he realizes Gerard is pulling Frank with him, rolling Frank on top of him. Gerard frees Frank's hands to tug at Frank's back, to roll him perfectly on top of him, and so Frank shoves his fingers in Gerard's hair, relishes Gerard's silent gasps against his mouth, tugs harder. Gerard arches up, catlike, all chest, and neck, and Frank rolls and arches with him, until they're moving, shifting against each other, slow and sinuous and so fucking perfect it's driving Frank insane.

It's the hottest thing he's had forever, in too long, since another world, and it's Gerard, with his ridiculous red hair and his stupid devil may care approach to desert guerrilla music warfare and Frank has him still and his and right here against him, so real, so present. They kiss and rock against each other, waves like a flag sharply rapping in the wind, and then Gerard makes this little hitch in his throat, once, then again, then he tucks his leg up over the backs of Frank's knees and oh fuck, they had better get their clothes off soon or Frank's going to ruin his only pair of jeans with something that isn't going to be able to be washed out with cactus juice.

"Gee, fuck, fuck, Gerard," Frank murmurs and Gerard just arches again, shoulders back, elbows into the floor, arches up into Frank like he's trying to fucking get inside Frank. "Gerard, we should - " and then Gerard's grabbing Frank's shoulders, rolling them again, back to Frank's mat, or maybe away onto the floor, Frank can't tell, he's disoriented and Gerard's got his hands in Frank's hair, fingers massaging his scalp as he drags his teeth down Frank's neck, shoving the collar of his shirt back and sucking on his collarbone. "Please, please," Frank saying, and he knows there was something he was supposed to be trying to make happen but all he wants now is for Gerard to never ever stop, for Gerard to make him feel more and more and more. Gerard slides his hands out of Frank's hair, kisses him slow and slides his hands down and down and down, down over Frank's arms, over his hips, and then across the front of Frank's jeans, fingers sliding over his cock. Frank goes tense, shivers hard, bites Gerard's bottom lip and tries, tries not to moan, and then Gerard's opening his pants, tugging down his zipper, sliding his hand under the elastic of Frank's shorts and wrapping his hand around Frank's cock.

Frank makes several helpless mewls before Gerard can catch his mouth and muffle the sounds in a kiss. Gerard's too skilled at this, too good at touching Frank just the way he needs, kissing him to keep him quiet, sliding his tongue like it's a promise of hotter, dirtier things, circling his thumb over the head of Frank's cock, rough and just right and god, god - then Gerard's pulling away and Frank thinks he's going to roll them back over so Frank's on top again and he can rub against Gerard just like he needs. But Gerard's hair is tickling Frank's belly as Gerard pushes his shirt up, tugs his jeans and shorts down in one efficient tug and then takes Frank's cock in his mouth, not even teasing but sucking Frank hard, fast, swallowing around him, Gerard's fingers sliding over Frank's back, thumbs on the curves of his hips, holding him there. Frank has to shove his arm over his mouth, bite down in the sleeve of his jacket, trying to take slow deep breathes though his nose but it doesn't matter, he's making helpless noises in the back of his throat and Gerard's making this deep exhales and the sounds of their clothes rubbing against each other, Gerard's sleeves against Frank's pants, isn't quiet enough at all, but it doesn't matter because Frank's going to come.

"Gee," he whispers, too harsh, too sharp, but Gerard groans, low like an engine turning over and hollows his cheeks and sucks and Frank loses it, comes teeth biting tight on his sleeve, coming so hard his toes are clenched in his shoes, his forehead sweaty and damp, his back arched, so he slumps hard when he comes back down. He opens his eyes and Gerard's tonguing his bottom lip, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He looks wrecked, mouth red, pupils blown, saliva on his chin.

"Fuck," Frank breathes out, and reaches out for Gerard, and when Gerard leans against him, brings their mouths together, Gerard kisses Frank so filthy, so wet and open.They're still wearing all of their clothes, even if Frank's shirt is rucked up and his pants are awkwardly around his thighs, and he wants everything, everything, but Gerard is kissing him like they have all the time in the world to fuck sweet and slow and they don't, this isn't that world, they need to take everything now, when they can. It should be better for Gerard, Frank wants to give him that, but he can't, not right now, but he can slide his hands under Gerard's shirt, brush his fingers over Gerard's nipples and make him jump and kiss Frank harder. Down across his belly, opens his jeans but not touching him yet, just slides his hands at the skin just over the fabric, until Gerard's breath is hiccuping at each inhalation, and Frank pulls them onto their sides, the floor sharp on his hip, but he's going to do this, he slides his hands inside Gerard's boxers, one hand on his ass, palm spread, the other around his cock, and he rocks Gerard like that, forward into his hand, back into his hand, squeezing and stroking until Gerard's trembling, still kissing, though more frantic nips, more harsh breathing into each other's mouths, and then Gerard arches and Frank knows, he can feel it, and he lets Gerard come into his hand, and then still squeezing Gerard's ass, Frank lifts his hand to his mouth and licks it clean.

When he looks, Gerard is staring at him, eyes wide, mouth open, chest rising and falling, still shuddering against Frank. Frank pulls up his own pants, helps Gerard, then slides Gerard out of his jacket, Gerard untying the bandanna, like now they have time to undress, to shed the memories of the day. Frank slides his hands up Gerard's bare arms, Gerard traces the tips of his fingers along Frank's throat and they catch their breath, not letting each other go, staring at each other until Frank's eyes are falling closed, the day catching up with him, the weight of tiredness, warmth, comfort, bringing him down. He sees it on Gerard's face too, and their touches slow, become sleepy caresses, until Frank starts to fall back onto his mat, gravity and exhaustion bringing him down to the floor, and a moment later, Gerard's falling next, like it's in slow motion, until they're lined up arms, hips, legs, feet, hands touching, two bodies on the ground, laid out like corpses but still defiantly alive.

 

Frank wakes up to Nin kicking his feet. "Frank," she whispers, though it's more of a shout wrapped in a whispered voice.

"You ok, kid?" He asks, voice thick with sleep. He's blinking and can't quite see more than her outline in the dark.

"You're sleeping out here," she says, still to loud.

"Come here, shhh, come here," he says, trying to get her to mimic his actual whisper.

She kneels near his bedroll. "You're not in the dishwasher," she says.

"No," he says. "I feel asleep out here."

"With Gerard."

Frank's not sure how to handle that, so he just says, "Yeah."

"Does he make you feel safe?" She asks after long consideration. "Like the dishwasher?"

"Yeah," Frank says quietly. "Like the dishwasher."

"Okay," she says, and then she's off, and Frank can see distantly in the dark as she runs into Ray's bedroll and flops down against him.

When Frank lays back down, and when he turns his head, Gerard is smiling at him, eyes open.

"Like the dishwasher," Gerard says, quietly, barely above a breath.

Frank presses his fingers to Gerard's lips and Gerard smiles against them and then kisses the tips of his fingers.

In the distance of the room, he hears Nin giggle, Ray shush her, and Mikey sigh.

"Go back to sleep," Frank says to everyone, but it's half-hearted, and then Gerard pulls him close. They grin at each other in the dark.