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You Only Hear the Music When Your Heart Begins to Break

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The very first day of their freshman year of high school, one of the senior jocks catches Frank watching Gerard take a piss.

It's not like he's actually looking at Gerard's dick or anything, though it's right there and kind of hard to miss. It's that sometimes Gerard's piss turns sort of reddish-purple. Frank thought it was hilarious when he first found out about it, but he'd been all of ten years old at the time. It stopped being funny once he figured out that it meant Gerard was having an attack, or sometimes about to have one, and it really stopped being funny once he realized that if the attack was already starting, sometimes Gerard wouldn't notice.

They do everything together anyway, and so what if that going-to-the-bathroom-together thing is supposed to be for girls? Frank is never, ever going to allow a repeat of the time he sort of giggled about the purple piss thing and not ten minutes later watched in impotent horror while Gerard screamed in pain, curled up on the floor and clutching his stomach, until Mikey came running and kept Gerard's hair out of his face while he threw up and forced pills down his throat when he stopped.

Frank knows all the pills in Gerard's backpack; what they do, and which ones he needs at which times. He knows how to tell when Gee just needs to eat (his lunch is mostly bread, which can't be very tasty but Gerard says he's used to it), and when he needs his pills, and when it's time to get him to the office so they can call his mom and get him to his doctor. Frank also knows that the fact that he does know all of this is the only reason Mikey didn't stow away in one of their backpacks or something. Frank had been forced to promise like, a million times that he would take care of Gerard, and even then Mikey didn't look very convinced. The high school is only a half-mile away from the K-8 school Mikey is still attending, but Frank knows it's pretty much the furthest apart Gerard and Mikey have ever been.

He promised Mikey he'd take care of Gerard, and anyway, Gerard is Frank's best friend, so yeah, he's watching Gerard take a piss (reassuringly yellowish) when this big jock wearing the standard-issue letterman jacket and crew cut comes into the boys' bathroom and sees Frank watching, and says,

"Are you some kinda faggot or something? You like watching your boyfriend take a piss?" In this voice like he expects Frank to be menaced.

And maybe he should be, because Asshole Jock Guy is at least a foot-and-a-half taller than Frank, and probably three times his weight, but basically everyone is bigger than Frank, so it's not like he's gonna be intimidated by that. Gerard, though, looks pretty intimidated, finishing up and tucking himself away quickly, which Frank gets. Gee's not really all that good with confrontation on the best of days, and getting into a fight with your dick hanging out would suck. Luckily, that's what he has Frank for.

"So what if I do?" Frank says, bouncing on the balls of his feet to keep himself limber. He wants Asshole Jock Guy to take a swing at him, but he doesn't actually want to get hit. Gerard looks a little wide-eyed, like what are you doing Frankie?? but Frank's between him and Asshole Jock Guy, so he'll be fine. "What's the matter, your boyfriend won't let you watch?" He taunts, and Asshole Jock Guy growls.

"You little punk--!" Asshole Jock Guy shouts, and -- yes! -- takes a swing at Frank that he dodges expertly. A few seconds later, Asshole Jock Guy is on the floor, groaning in pain and clutching both his bloody nose (hopefully broken, Frank thought he felt it crack) and his crotch, and Gerard is saying, "Oh my god, Frank, you're going to get expelled!"

Frank grabs Gerard's hand and starts pulling him toward the door. The break between classes is almost over, and if they're late they'll get in trouble. More trouble, Frank knows, than he'll get in for breaking Asshole Jock Guy's nose, which seems paradoxical, but Frank read the student handbook cover-to-cover. The school has a no-tolerance policy for hate speech and hazing, and Frank has Gee to back him up that Asshole Jock Guy had called him a faggot and tried to punch him. But he doubts it'll even get that far.

"I need to wash my hands," Gerard protests, and Frank lets go of him so he can. He contemplates his own hands briefly before deciding that he doesn't care that his hand touched Gerard's hand that had been touching his dick. Like, dick germs can't be that different from person to person, and Frank touches his own dick all the time, so whatever. But, Gerard's sort of obsessive about shit like that (even though he almost never showers, which is way grosser than a few dick germs), so Frank washes his hands too, then pulls Gerard's gloves out of his pocket and hands them over once Gerard's hands are dry.

Gerard smiles at him and puts them on, but then Asshole Jock Guy gives another moan and Gerard looks nervous again so Frank grabs his newly-gloved hand and tugs him along to their next class.

Gerard spends art class drawing a picture of Frank the superhero defeating a hulking giant with a crew cut, and still has time to draw the stupid bowl of fruit that Frank spends the hour slaving over. Art's not really his thing, but he used his asthma as a get-out-of-gym-forever card, and by taking art instead of PE, he and Gerard have perfectly matching schedules. (Frank sees nothing wrong with this; "codependency" isn't a vocabulary word until like, junior year anyway.) Gerard gives the drawing of Frank to Frank, as he always does, and Frank puts it in his folder to keep it flat until he can file it away when he gets home. He's got a whole shelf of binders full of Gerard's drawings, all in little plastic sleeves that his mom got so sick of buying that she stocked up in bulk.

~*~

As Frank predicted, by the end of the day the entire school knows that it was Frank who broke Asshole Jock Guy's nose, but the Assistant Principal and the school nurse hear some lame-ass story about an accident with a door that Asshole Jock Guy opened too quickly.

The incident catapults Frank to the coveted status of 'coolest person in the class' among the freshmen, and the bigger kids -- which is pretty much everyone -- don't hassle him or Gerard, even though they go to the bathroom together (and Frank watches Gerard piss), and sit next to each other in every class except the fifteen minutes of alphabetically-arranged homeroom, and hold hands in the hallways. Frank doesn't really give a fuck what anyone else thinks about it. It's not like it's a thing, it's just them, him and Gerard. It's what they do.

And it's not like he doesn't have girlfriends or anything. Or girlfriend, anyway, because he dates Vanessa Cavendish for two whole months in the middle of junior year, once he's got his license and can manage to wheedle his mom into letting him borrow the car. They go out for burgers and go to the movies, and in the back row of the theater she lets him reach up under her shirt and touch her boobs, and she sort of pets him through his jeans until he comes in them, which is kinda gross but mostly awesome.

She breaks up with him at the end of the two months, though. As far as Frank can tell, it isn't even anything he did; she just got freaked out by Gerard's drawings, which were mostly of her being eaten by zombies. So, fuck Vanessa Cavendish anyway, because even after two months of dating she wouldn't let him below her waist, and Gerard's drawings are the fucking coolest things ever. He keeps all of them in his binders, even the one Vanessa spilled Coke on the last time she ate lunch with them.

The breakup actually hurts more than Frank thought it would, though. It wasn't like he was in love with Vanessa or anything, but he liked her. And going from guy-with-a-girlfriend to guy-who-just-got-dumped-at-lunch-for-telling-his-girlfriend-she-looked-good-having-her-brain-eaten really sucks. Luckily she breaks up with him on a Friday, so Frank feels justified in spending almost the entire weekend in Gerard's basement bedroom, reading comic books and complaining about how Vanessa was a total bitch anyway, he doesn't know why he ever liked her. Gerard makes sympathetic noises and spends all day Saturday drawing vampires for Frank, which is his way of saying cheer up! and I still think you're awesome. Which is dumb, 'cause he says all that stuff out loud, too, but Frank never looks a gift vampire in the mouth. Gerard draws really excellent vampires.

Gerard's mom bought an air mattress when they were thirteen and she came downstairs one morning after Frank stayed over -- to get Gerard up for some appointment or something, Frank doesn't really remember -- and realized they were still sharing Gerard's bed like they had been ever since they were nine. The air mattress is still in its box, somewhere in the junkyard under Gerard's bed. There's not really space for it on the floor anyway, since the floor is usually covered with a thick layer of dirty clothes and comic books and notebooks and action figures and the detritus of Frank and Gerard and Mikey's ongoing D&D game (which is basically him and Mikey trying to convince Gerard that it's really unfair to put the two of them up against a whole army of orcs when they're still only at level 5).

But even if there was room for it, Frank doesn't want to sleep on the air mattress. Gerard's bed is the perfect mix of soft and lumpy, and Gerard doesn't care that Frank always ends up using him as a human teddy bear. Plus it's better that way, because with Gerard curled up against him, he can kind of just tell when Gerard's gonna be sick in the middle of the night, and he's right there when Gerard needs Frank to hug him tightly, to hold him close so he knows he's safe and that the monsters in his head aren't real.

Sometimes if it's a bad night, Mikey climbs in on Gerard's other side and they all sort of huddle together, even though Gerard's bed isn't actually wide enough for three people. It's not weird or anything, not really, though logically Frank knows that most sixteen-year-old guys would rather be caught dead than sleep curled up with their best friend and his little brother. Frank thinks most sixteen-year-old guys are pretty fucking stupid.

Gerard is way better for cuddling with than Vanessa, anyway, especially when he rolls over and smushes his face against Frank's neck and leaves drool spots on the collar of Frank's t-shirt.

~*~

Frank's mom is worried about him.

He can tell she's worried, because she says things like, "Frank, I'm worried about you," which leads to meetings with his guidance counselor in which he has to explain again that he's not 'anti-social', he'd just rather hang out with Gerard than anyone else. And that he's small and looks sort of sickly because hello, asthma, so it's not like he'd be joining the football team even if he had a foot more height and an extra hundred pounds of muscle. And if he's pale it's because his best friend can't go out in the sun and Frank has this thing where he tries not to be a massive douchebag to his best friend by going off and doing stuff he can't do.

Frank finds himself explaining all of these things at least twice a year, every year since the fifth grade, so he's learned how to phrase that last part so the point gets across without him needing to use the word 'douchebag', which always makes his mother sigh and say, "Language, Frank," like she doesn't know perfectly well that 'douchebag' is exactly the right word.

He's halfway tempted to start some kind of drug habit, just so his mom will have something to actually complain about, but you need to like, make friends with drug dealers to do that, and Frank is basically just friends with Gerard. And Mikey, but Frank's pretty sure Mikey's illegal activities only extend as far as bootlegging DVDs to supplement his and Gerard's allowance-slash-comic-book fund.

Instead, he buys a couple of skin mags off the guy a couple lockers down, and sticks them under his mattress. It should be a good distraction for his mom, he thinks. Or at least it'll give her something different to be worried about for once.

Frank is mystified when he comes home from school to find that his mom has changed his sheets (which means she has to have seen the magazines; he made them really obvious and everything), but doesn't appear to care. In fact, she smiles at him way more than usual, and lets him have a third helping of spaghetti, which she never does because she claims it's for leftovers.

Moms, Frank decides, are fucking weird.

~*~

They don't talk about college until the summer before their senior year, when Frank's mom starts leaving college brochures in places where Frank is likely to find them, like inside the microwave or under the strings of his guitar. She stops with the microwave thing when Frank just leaves the brochure in there while he heats up his hot pocket, and the staples spark and set the whole thing on fire. It's only a little fire, but his mom's really touchy about shit like that. Anyway, there went the University of Nebraska, which Frank wasn't going to consider anyway.

Frank's college choices are pretty limited. If he had to write out a list, it would have one thing on it: Wherever Gerard's going.

Not that he really thinks of it like that, because that would be sort of stupid, like he's some lametard in a John Hughes movie. It's just that Frank doesn't have any particular ambitions, and he doesn't feel like an ambition is gonna drop out of the sky and land on him like one of those ACME cartoon anvils. College without Gerard would be ... well, it'd be a lot like life without Gerard, and maybe it's fucked up, but Frank doesn't actually remember much of life-before-Gerard, and what he does remember was pretty boring. If he'd had Gerard around back then, maybe when he fell out of the tree in his old backyard he would have ended up with a story about how he was wounded battling hordes of the undead, defending the tree fortress from the forces of evil, instead of just getting a cast with lots of stupid "feel better!" comments written on it in Sharpie. Gerard probably would have been willing to do like, a mural on his cast. That would have been cool.

So that's how it is. Frank knows that Gerard's gonna go to art school. He's known Gerard is going to art school since the first time he ever turned his imagination to such mythical places as 'college'. Frank doesn't know if they let you into art school if you can't draw worth shit (despite enrolling in four years of high school art classes, and Gerard trying to teach him all these little tricks that he swears will help), but he figures they've gotta have art history majors, or something that doesn't involve being graded on your actual artistic ability. He flirts briefly with the idea of majoring in guitar or something, maybe they let you do that, except playing guitar is fun and there's no way Frank is going to take his fun thing and make it into work, much less homework. Ew.

They're lying on Gerard's bed at the end of August, enjoying the cool of the basement even though it's the height of summer and Gerard mostly can't go outside, so the cool of the basement is actually about the only temperature they experience. Maybe most people would be lying sideways, legs hanging off the side of the bed and a respectable amount of distance between them, but they're stretched out lengthwise, bare feet knocking together, and Gerard has Frank's arm and is busy drawing Crayola marker tattoos all over it (because Frank's mom vetoed Sharpie after that incident in the fifth grade).

"I think I'm gonna go to art school," Gerard says seriously, capping his marker and letting the ink dry a little before switching colors. He glances at Frank like he's expecting Frank to be shocked or something.

"Duh," Frank says, shrugging his decorated shoulder for emphasis. "Where are you gonna go?"

Gerard fidgets with the green marker for a minute. "I don't know. Somewhere in New York, maybe? Like SVA or Parsons? SCAD is too far south," he says. "The sun." Frank knows, and he reaches out to hold onto the edge of Gerard's t-shirt with his fingertips. It's warm and a little sweaty, kind of like Gerard himself, and the cotton slides over Gerard's belly when he takes a soft breath. Frank likes how Gerard is a little bit pudgy, at that just-right place between bony and muscular where he's really neither of those things.

"Make sure wherever you're going has Art History or something," Frank tells him, and Gerard blinks at him.

"But I don't want to take Art History," he says, following up with, "Or, well, yeah, I guess I probably should, you have to have a solid foundation--"

"You're so dumb," Frank cuts him off, and Gerard looks really hurt for a second until Frank tugs on his t-shirt and says, "I meant for me, fucker. There's no way my mutated fruit pictures are getting me into your fancy artist classes."

"You don't even like art, Frankie," Gerard reminds him, but his eyes are all glittery and he's dropped the marker in favor of letting his hand fall down to Frank's hip, where his fingers splay out across the divide between waistband and skin.

"I like your art," Frank corrects him. "So maybe I'll learn about all this stuff, and then you can be a famous artist and I'll be like, your agent. Or whatever famous artists have. That guy who tells everybody how awesome you are and how they should spend millions of dollars buying your paintings and shit."

"You probably shouldn't call it shit if you want people to spend millions of dollars on it," Gerard says, all his stupidly freaky little teeth on display when he smiles.

"See?" Frank says, as if Gerard has just proven his point, "This is why I need to take all those classes. So you have to go somewhere they have Art History."

"Okay," Gerard says, still smiling, and he picks up his marker again to finish his design. A tangled vine of jagged leaves and alien flowers winds its way up Frank's arm; he reminds himself to take a picture of it before his mom makes him shower it off, this time.

~*~

Frank doesn't have a date for the prom (and probably wouldn't have had a date for prom at all) until Melissa Shepard asks him. So he has to shell out all of his lunch and comics money for the week to buy the tickets, but he figures it's worth it, because the way she asked him he's pretty sure that he's gonna get laid. The rest of prom (and most of high school) can go fuck itself, but Frank isn't going to graduate a virgin if he can help it. He tells Gerard about it during art class, because Mr. Thornapple would probably get down on his knees and suck Gerard's dick if Gerard asked him to, so Gerard -- and by extension, Frank -- can do pretty much whatever he wants to do in art class and never even get called out on it.

"So I'm taking Melissa Shepard to prom," he says, dropping his backpack on the floor next to Gerard's and hopping a little to get situated on his stool. It fucking sucks, being a goddamn midget. But hey, getting laid, so Frank focuses on that instead of how the art room was clearly designed with the basketball team in mind. Gerard pauses, his charcoal and ink stained fingertips hovering over his current piece.

Gerard's already been in the art room for an hour, since the school let him sign up to take two periods of art so he could work on his senior project. It's the first time they haven't had every class together, and it's fucking weird, but the guidance counselor took one look at Frank's class schedule request and snorted at him and said I'm sure you and Mr. Way are capable of surviving without each other for fifty minutes a day and then signed him up for the accounting class that his mom thought he should take and that he thought was bullshit. (It still is bullshit, but he ended up being halfway decent at it, so at least he's not going to flunk the class.)

"Oh. Yeah?" Gerard says tonelessly, going back to smudging, "I didn't know you liked her."

Frank shrugs. "She asked me. But she's totally hot, right?" He briefly imagines Melissa, in that skirt she'd been wearing last week that only barely covered her ass. Yeah, totally hot.

"I guess," Gerard says, picking up his lumpy gray eraser and viciously attacking whatever part of his drawing had offended him in the last ten seconds.

"I'm gonna get laid!" Frank crows, keeping his voice low enough that he's not announcing it to the entire room, but Thornapple still gives him the stink eye. He shifts defensively toward Gerard and looks critically at the blank sheet of his sketchbook that he's supposed to be drawing on, like he's trying to figure out where to start, until someone else raises a hand and Thornapple's teacher-ly attention moves away from Frank.

"But you're not even dating her," Gerard says, setting his lumpy eraser down and looking at Frank with confusion written all over his face.

"So?" Frank wrinkles his nose. He doesn't want to date Melissa Shepard. He'd probably have to go see really awful movies, like the ones his mom likes that all have Hugh Grant in them, and spend all his money on taking her out instead of buying Doom Patrol and Punisher. If there was one lesson Frank learned from his brief relationship with Vanessa Cavendish, it's that girlfriends are way too high maintenance. He thinks he's better off as one of those suave, too-cool, love-'em-and-leave-'em types who wear leather jackets, and sunglasses even when it's dark out, and who have like, lines of girls waiting for their chance to try to tame them (but of course Frank would never be tamed; he would just leave them in the dust, looking mournfully after him as he rides off on the motorcycle he'd developed at some point in this daydream).

"So how do you even know she wants to? You can't just assume that because she wears short skirts she wants to have sex with you, Frank," Gerard says, slipping easily from confused into lecture mode, where he informs Frank about the evils of the world and all the ways people are being oppressed. Gerard's lecture mode is the reason that Frank's a vegetarian now, which is sort of balls because Gerard was supposed to be a vegetarian with him but flaked out after two weeks and came to school smelling like sausage McMuffin. Frank hadn't forgiven him for at least five hours, which still stands on record as their longest fight ever. Now Frank has to content himself with giving Gerard sad, soulful looks designed to make him feel guilty every time he eats something that had a face.

"Dude, I know," Frank says, waving a hand. Gerard shuts up but looks mildly annoyed, probably because he was working up to a full-scale ramble, and Frank knows how much he likes those. "But she said, specifically, that a bunch of people are going to this hotel afterwards, and, get this, we could get a room or something. She said it just like that!" He grins in Gerard's face as Gerard's pinched expression moves around and shifts, like Gerard is totally actually conflicted about this. Frank sighs. "Gee, man, I am getting laid. Stop thinking about teen pregnancy statistics and be happy for me."

Gerard blinks, his face going blank for a second, then he looks down at his feet and when he looks up again, there's something like a smile on his face.

"Okay," he says, and, "That's awesome, Frankie."

"I know!" Frank says, bouncing on his stool. He kind of wants to keep talking about it, but Gerard has gone back to attacking his drawing with the lumpy eraser and is making little muttering noises under his breath, so Frank leaves him alone to be artistic and contemplates his own paper.

Maybe he'll just fill it in all black and call it an expression of his soul. But that's the sort of thing that makes his teachers call his mom and his mom call the guidance counselor, so he decides to draw the stupid water pitcher Thornapple has set out on the still-life table instead. Whatever. He's getting laid.

Frank grins and starts sketching.

~*~

Gerard is acting weird.

It took Frank a couple of days to figure that out, because Gerard always acts weird -- that's like, Gerard's whole thing -- but the point is that eventually he figures out that Gerard is acting weird even for Gerard. On Friday, which is the third day in a row that Gerard frowns when Frank says, "So I'll be over after I finish my math homework," and replies with vague explanations of "plans" and, "Maybe another time?" Frank figures out that something is fucked up.

"He's washing his hair," Mikey says in a flat, expressionless voice that not even Frank, with all his years of experience deciphering Mikeyway, can read into. Frank punches the doorframe of the Way house, which does more damage to his hand than to the house, but he feels better. Sort of. Not much better, though.

"His fucking hair? What the fuck, Mikey!" Frank shakes out his hand and hopes his knuckles don't swell up too much. The prom is at the end of the next week, and ending up with his hand in a cast or a splint or some shit like that will put a serious damper on the whole getting laid plan. "Gee never washes his fucking hair. That is the lamest bullshit I've ever fucking heard."

Mikey shrugs and pushes his glasses up his nose with his middle finger, which Frank could choose to interpret as Mikey flipping him off, but he'd rather give Mikey the benefit of the doubt on that one. "You should probably go home, Frank," he says, just as expressionless as ever, but Frank gets the feeling Mikey is somehow disappointed in him. And that's fucking stupid, because Frank didn't do anything!

"Hey!" Frank sticks a foot in the door to keep Mikey from closing it. It doesn't really work -- the door stays open a little bit, yeah, but Frank's pretty sure his foot is now broken. "Mikes, Mikey, man, what the fuck did I do?" So maybe he's begging a little, but this whatever-it-is cleared the Longest Fight record two and a half days ago, and Frank is willing to admit to unhealthy levels of codependency.

Mikey stares at him through the narrow opening of the door for a long minute. Finally he says, "Sometimes you suck, Frank. Get your foot out of the door."

Frank takes his foot out of the door, and stands staring at the grain in the wood. He actually can't remember ever being turned away from the Way house, not even when Gerard was really sick in the 7th grade and had to stay home for almost two weeks and even go to the hospital once (Gerard hates hospitals). Even then, Frank was always welcome.

Whatever he did, it was huge, and Frank doesn't have a clue what it could have been.

~*~

Frank knows Gerard is good at avoiding people -- the combination of living in the basement and letting his stringy hair fall out of his hoodie and over his face when he's forced to emerge for school is remarkably efficient at convincing people to leave him alone -- but Frank has never been considered 'people'. He doesn't want to be considered 'people', he thinks, kicking his heels against the legs of his chair and trying to forget how Gerard is sitting in the desk right next to him, completely ignoring his presence.

Gerard's fingertips are still stained with ink, and there are hints of brightly-colored paint around the edges of his fingernails; cadmium red and cheerful lemon yellow standing out starkly against the black ink and Gerard's pale skin. His fingertips are all Frank can see, the rest of him hidden behind his fingerless gloves and his hoodie and that fall of greasy hair that he had clearly not been washing, Frank knew Mikey was full of shit.

Frank keeps glancing over, hoping that one of these minutes, Gerard will realize that he's being completely overdramatic about whatever Frank did, and that he should probably forgive Frank and maybe turn his head and smile at him with all his stupid, freaky teeth, and then they'll be good again, just like they've always been. But Gerard never turns his head, and he doesn't smile. Frank kicks his heels some more, and tries to give more of a shit about 19th century literature than about whatever Gerard is drawing in his notebook, but he already knows that's a lost fucking cause.

Art class is maybe the worst, now, because Gerard managed to convince Thornapple that he needs private studio time or some shit, so he's working on his senior project in the room that used to hold the kiln until someone blew it up, and Frank is alone in a room full of people he's never bothered to talk to, drawing more mutated fruit pictures. They have to do a painting for the senior showcase, which Frank has been dreading because one, his mom is determined to come to it, which will be so fucking embarrassing Frank isn't sure how he'll survive, and two, he completely sucks at art. And now Gerard isn't even there to help him fix the shit he fucks up. He has to start on the stupid painting, though, so he decides to go with the mutated fruit thing -- it's basically his only art skill, drawing mutated fruit -- and commandeers a bowl of apples that he's pretty sure the freshmen were using for still-life practice, but they'll get over it. What do fucking freshmen know, anyway?

Frank knows fuck-all about oils despite that whole semester of oil painting that he only barely survived, so he digs into the acrylics and sets to work. That's what he does for three days of art class; he just sits there and focuses on his fucking apples, not on how Gerard isn't there. He doesn't think about how Gerard's not standing just beyond his shoulder, slaving away at his own project and occasionally piping up with advice and encouragement for Frank. He absolutely does not think about Gerard's stupid fingertips and their bright paint colors and what Gerard could possibly be working on. He doesn't think about how he hasn't heard Gerard's voice since last Friday. He doesn't think about how all he's seen of Gerard's face this week has been flashes of his nose and chin, sticking out from his hood and showing through gaps in his hair. He doesn't think about how worried he is, even though Mikey's a sophomore now and he can look after Gerard, that Gerard might miss his medication because he's too wrapped up in something to notice the time.

He finishes his fucking fruit painting on Thursday, about halfway through the hour, and sits there staring at it for ten minutes. He used all the wrong colors; the apples in the bowl are bright red and cheerful and generally look like every other freshman still-life apple Frank has ever seen, but the ones in his painting are brown and blue and sickly yellow, with deep purple shadows carving out their edges. They look angry, Frank thinks. Angry and pissed off and sad (especially the ones that kinda look like they're rotting), which he didn't know apples could look like, but there they are, staring back at him from the canvas. The one on top looks like it's ready to start something, Frank thinks, and he decides it's his favorite. Thornapple comes around to check on him, and makes an odd sound in the back of his throat. Frank winces.

"I know the colors are all fuc-- ah, messed up," Frank self-corrects; he doesn't need detention on top of everything else. It takes him a second to figure out that Thornapple doesn't look pissed off, which is how he normally looks at Frank. He's almost smiling, which is fucking weird and usually reserved for Gerard. Who Frank is not thinking about.

Thornapple's hand comes down on his shoulder, and Frank tenses, but then he's saying, "This is really fantastic work, Mr. Iero. It seems that after all this time, you have managed to learn something about art," and looking at Frank like he's proud or something. Frank doesn't understand how a fucked-up fruit painting means he's learned anything about art, but then, he doesn't understand half of the stuff that Gee always rhapsodizes about anyway. If fucked-up, weird-colored fruit makes Thornapple happy, who's Frank to argue?

"Thanks?" Frank ventures, hoping this means he won't fail the class and screw up his scholarship with NYU. Which makes Frank think about Gerard, who he's not thinking about, and how Frank's gonna be in New York, without Gerard, surrounded by art people and hipster kids and trust fund babies that Frank doesn't understand at all. Fuck.

Thornapple hands him a piece of paper, with blank spaces for him to write his name the the title of the picture. "Don't forget to sign your piece," he reminds Frank, clapping him on the shoulder again and almost knocking Frank off his art stool. He re-situates himself, then uses a small brush to paint a little FI in the corner of his painting. It makes it look almost legitimate, like one of Gerard's actually-good paintings, and fuck, he is not thinking about Gerard, who's being a dick even though Frank didn't do anything.

He looks at his little slip of paper, then pulls a ballpoint pen out of his backpack and scrawls his name on the top blank space, then in the second blank space, he scribbles Whatever I did, I'm sorry. Now please stop being such a dick. Thornapple raises an eyebrow when Frank hands him the paper, but doesn't even mention the language, probably because it's "art" so you're allowed to swear. So it's not a great title. Actually it's not even really a title at all, because Frank doesn't know what the fuck to call a bunch of angry-looking mutant apples, but Gerard won't fucking talk to him, or even look at him, and Frank knows for a fact that he spies on all the stuff that's been set aside for the senior showcase, because he's a nosy little shit as long as he doesn't have to actually ask anyone about anything.

Frank hangs around the room until he's sure he sees Thornapple putting his mutated fruit in with the rest of the stuff for the showcase -- it's Frank's only actual contribution to the show, but at least he won't fail the class now -- then hikes his backpack up on his shoulder and gets out of there before Gerard can emerge from the kiln room.

~*~

Frank doesn't get to even try to go over to the Ways' house that night, because his mom takes him out to get his hair trimmed and pick up his rented tux. He thinks he looks like a penguin, but his mom says he looks 'distinguished', which Frank is pretty sure just means 'penguin' in parent-ese. Then Melissa calls him right after dinner to go over every detail of Friday night, from not getting a corsage that will clash with her dress (Frank got a white one, because that seemed a lot fucking simpler than trying to figure all that color bullshit out) to what time the limo they're splitting with like, twenty other people is going to be picking them up at her house, and what time he needs to be there so her mom can take pictures, and a million other things Frank doesn't really give a shit about.

"The hotel room's all set," she purrs into the phone just before they hang up, and Frank almost pops wood right there in the kitchen, because fuck yes, he is so ready for that.

"Awesome," he says, grinning and trying not to think about how he won't be going over to Gerard's the next day to tell him all about it.

Melissa says hi to him in the hall the next morning before first period, winking and tossing her hair. She's wearing her short skirt again, and it distracts Frank long enough that he doesn't notice Gerard actually looking at him until it's nearly too late. Gee's eyes widen fractionally and he turns back to his notebook, burying himself in whatever's there, but he was looking, which means maybe he got Frank's note and is considering forgiving Frank, and that would be an excellent start to his last day of virginity. He's sure he feels Gerard's eyes on him a few more times throughout the morning, and he's tempted a few times to turn, to say something. He keeps himself in check, though. He tried; it's Gerard's fucking turn this time. He'd throw in thought about balls and whose court they're in, but sports metaphors and Gerard don't mix very well.

By the time Government Studies rolls around, though, Frank feels the change in the way Gerard is looking at him, feels it instinctively, with a rush of knowledge that's put together from all the little things -- the way Gerard is clutching his pencil, the way he's sitting, the way he doesn't look away when Frank turns to him, the way his pupils are wide open. Fuck, fuck fuck fuck, Frank thinks, because they're in the middle of class, but fuck that anyway, some things are more important than his assured detention. He reaches across the tiny aisle and hunts through Gerard's busted mess of a backpack until he finds his sunglasses, grabbing the side of Gerard's face and turning his head so Frank can get them on his face.

They've got the attention of the entire room, now, but basically everybody knows that Gerard's got some freaky medical shit going on, so all Frank has to say is, "We're going to the office," as he shoves his books and Gerard's into their bags and pulls Gerard out of his seat, and Mrs. Nunez gives him an approving nod. Fuck, Gerard's out of it, totally gone and making tiny whimpering sounds that Frank knows well, knows them against his shoulder on the bad nights, and he's getting Gerard out of here, out of the sight of all the assholes who are snickering at him.

He has to coax Gerard down the hallway, vice grip on his gloved hand because he knows if he lets go Gerard will bolt. He asked, in the sixth or seventh grade, what Gerard saw when he got like this, what he remembered. Frank has all the drawings Gerard did after that, tucked away in one of his binders where he doesn't accidentally come across them. Just the drawings were frightening enough; Frank tries not to think about what it must be like, to think that those things are real. He's just glad there's no one out in the hallways in the middle of the class period.

"Come on, Gee," Frank mutters, over and over, keeping close to Gerard's side and taking most of his weight along with their backpacks. He's gotta get them to the office soon, or he's gonna be squished. "It's okay, right? I'm right here, and I'll punch any fucking monsters that come near us, got it?" It's enough to keep Gerard moving, sort of, though he fights Frank when he tries to take them around the corner to the hallway that leads to the office and the nurse's room, and Frank can't even guess at what he thinks is there.

Finally, finally they make it to the office, and Frank drags Gee through the doorway and says, "You need to call his mom right now," to the startled receptionist, who nods and pulls out the file of student emergency cards. Gerard's has a little red tab on it, Frank knows, because it was easier to do that than to search for it all the time. She hasn't even pulled the tab yet when Gerard grasps at Frank's shoulder, dislodging the backpack strap that was resting there. Frank lets the bag fall to the floor as Gee crowds into his personal space.

"Frankie," He says in this terrible voice, broken and scared and hurt but at least he knows who Frank is, Frank thinks fleetingly before he feels Gerard shudder. He has no idea how he does it, with Gerard clinging to him and the bags and having the reflexes of the opposite of whatever has good reflexes, but he manages to snag the trash can in the corner with two fingers before they go down in a heap of limbs and backpacks in the middle of the office and Gerard starts throwing up.

That's how they are when the runner the receptionist sent comes back with Mikey hot on her heels, and Frank looks up at Mikey as Mikey looks down at the two of them; at Gerard sprawled out and mostly in Frank's lap, dry heaving because he's got nothing left in his stomach -- there wasn't much to begin with, and Frank wants to smack him because he clearly skipped breakfast which he's not supposed to do -- and Frank's hand rubbing slowly up and down Gerard's spine, his fingers catching at the hem of Gee's sweatshirt. Mikey looks almost surprised, for Mikey, and Frank narrows his eyes at him. Like what, did Mikey think that just because they were fighting about... whatever the fuck they're fighting about, he wasn't going to take care of Gee? Fuck Mikey, if he thinks that. But Mikey's face fades back into even-more-neutral, and he settles down on the floor beside Frank, taking over the trashcan-holding duties.

"Mom should be here soon," Mikey says noncommittally. Frank nods, pressing more firmly against Gerard's shoulders when he starts shaking a little more. It helps; it always helps.

"Frankie?" Gerard murmurs again, and Frank scratches his fingers through Gerard's hair, not caring that it's sort of disgusting.

"Yeah," Frank says. "I'm right here, and so's Mikey." Mikey's got one of Gerard's hands in his, and Frank can see him squeeze it, just enough. Gerard relaxes for a second. It's only a second, and then he's crying out and trying to throw up again and it's awful, but Mikey scoots in a little closer until his shoulder is pressed against Frank's, and they stay like that until Gerard's mom shows up along with two paramedics and an ambulance that doesn't have the sirens on but is an ambulance nonetheless.

"Text me?" He asks Mikey as they take Gerard out, already starting to hook him up to needles and shit that he'll fucking hate once he's coherent enough to realize they're there, and Mikey gives him that inscrutable look that Frank thinks only Gerard can translate. But he nods at Frank and says, "Yeah," which means that Frank can actually breathe again.

Then they're gone and Frank realizes he's got Gerard's Government book in his backpack, he'd just been shoving things in, and then the nurse, who hadn't been able to do anything more for Gerard than what Frank and Mikey were already doing, tells him, "You need to get back to class, Mr. Iero," so Frank sleepwalks to Accounting and fails a pop quiz spectacularly.

~*~

Frank's cell phone plays the opening bars to "Meat is Murder" -- his text alert, and a small part of his ongoing campaign to remind Gerard how guilty he should feel for eating hamburgers -- around five o'clock, just as his mom is fussing with his bowtie and trying to make his hair "behave", which is pointless because Frank had it cut that way, that's how it's supposed to be. He bats her hands away and makes a diving leap for his phone before she can catch him, opening the text from Mikey and scanning it quickly.

He breathes a sigh of relief. Gee's out of the hospital; they just got home. He's about to reply when his mom sweeps the cell phone out of his hand and closes it.

"Car, now. You're already running late," his mother scolds, and seriously, it is so not Frank's fault that he has no idea what to do with a cummerbund. But he grabs the corsage from the fridge where his mom had stashed it because Frank left it sitting out on the counter (who the hell is supposed to know you have to refrigerate it?) and climbs in the car so his mom can drive him to Melissa's house. He'd protested the indignity of having his mom drop him off, but she pointed out that she agreed he could go to the afterparty, and she needs the car to get to yoga at seven the next morning; does Frank really want to get himself home in time to return the car? Which, no, Frank does not, and he's sure he'll be able to find somebody to give him a lift home afterward, so.

His mom insists on coming into Melissa's house with him, which is fucking embarrassing, and taking pictures right alongside Melissa's mom, which is even worse. At least she doesn't kiss his cheek or whatever when the limo arrives to pick them up; she just tells them both to have a good time and waves from the porch. Frank can vaguely see Melissa's dad through the front window of the house, scowling, and Frank is sort of glad he's not dating Melissa, because her dad looks fucking scary.

There's already a gajillion people inside the limo, and most of them glance at Frank and then go back to talking to each other about something that happened on the quad that morning, which Frank had missed since he was busy holding Gerard's hair back while he puked. Frank fidgets in his seat. Melissa's pressed up close beside him, the slit in her dress exposing most of her tanned thigh, but Frank's attention is mostly focused on the bulge of his cell phone in his pocket. His fingers itch, and everyone else is laughing at some joke but it's way too late to laugh now, so Frank just forces a smile and hopes that's good enough to make him look less like an idiot.

The limo picks up two more couples, the interior increasingly crowded. The guy on Frank's left pulls his date into his lap, and Frank would think that maybe he should follow suit, but he's still kind of a midget and Melissa is actually bigger than him and that would be really fucking awkward, so he doesn't. Melissa's hand falls on his thigh when they're about halfway to the hall the school's rented for prom, but Frank thinks that's because he's been jiggling his leg nonstop since they sat down and it's probably annoying her. When they get to the hall, Frank gratefully shuffles out of the limo with everyone else, but while they all pair off and start moving toward the balloon-and-streamer-framed doors, he pulls his cell phone from his pocket and grabs Melissa's elbow.

"I gotta make a call real quick," he says, and she frowns a little.

"Now?" she asks, in that tone of voice like, why didn't you do this before we left for the prom, you idiot? to which the answer is obviously my mom wouldn't let me but that's the least cool answer in the history of the universe.

Frank sighs. "Look, I just wanna check and make sure Gerard's okay, alright?" He says, knowing that she probably doesn't give a fuck about Gerard and sort of hating that about her for a second. She surprises him, though.

"Oh!" She says, her face clearing, "Your friend; the one who was sick, right? I heard they took him out in an ambulance..." She trails off, but if she's expecting more detailed information, she's not gonna get it from Frank.

"Yeah, they did," he confirms, but doesn't add anything further. Melissa nods a couple of times.

"Okay, yeah. I'll tell everybody else to go ahead," she says, and prances over to the rest of the group in a way that should not be possible in those heels, Frank is sure. But he's grateful for the time and the space, and he pushes down on speed dial 4 -- #1 being emergency, #2 being his mom, because she insisted, and #3 being Gerard who probably isn't actually in any condition to find his cell phone at the moment -- and stands there next to the limo while Mikey's cell phone rings and rings. Finally, just when Frank's sure Mikey's going to let it go to voicemail (because Mikey is never, ever without his cell phone, so if it goes to voicemail, it means Mikey is ignoring him on purpose), he picks up.

"What do you want, Frank?" Mikey asks, and Frank can feel the chill rolling off his voice and through the airwaves. Frank's not entirely sure what to do with that.

"I wanted--," Frank pauses. He wants a lot of things, actually, including for Gerard to talk to him again, and smile at him, and hold his hand in the hallways, and be his best fucking friend since the fourth grade again, but he doesn't think saying any of that to Mikey will help much. He starts again. "How's Gerard?"

There's a long silence on Mikey's end of the line, then he repeats, "How's Gerard?" in that flat monotone of his, but Frank can tell the difference between normal Mikeyway monotone and the venom that's being directed at Frank in that moment. There's another long silence, during which Frank can hear a muffled, "I'm going outside," and a door slamming shut, and then Mikey says, "How's. Gerard." again, and Frank is getting kind of pissed off. He's been fucking worried, all day, and he doesn't need this shit from Mikey.

"Yeah, Mikey. How's. Gerard. You know, my best friend, who got hideously sick and went to the fucking hospital today?" Frank bites out angrily, then forces himself to take a deep breath and continue more calmly. "I've been fucking worried, Mikes. Is he okay now?"

There's another long, long pause, and when Mikey starts talking again, his voice isn't monotone at all, and that's when Frank knows he's completely fucked.

"Is he okay?" Mikey asks, disbelieving, and Frank is getting sick of Mikey repeating his questions back at him instead of answering. "No, Frank. Gerard is not o-fucking-kay you fucking asshole. Gerard is getting over the worst attack he's had in three fucking years, and instead of being here you're off at some stupid bullshit teenage 'rite of passage' you don't even give a fuck about, just so you can fuck someone else. Explain to me, Frank, how Gerard could possibly be okay."

Frank stands shocked and still, staring at the decorated hall but not seeing it, and only the fact that he has a deathgrip on his phone keeps it from sliding out of his hand. "...What?" Frank says, feeling stupid even as he says it, but he also feels like he's been hit by a Mack truck or maybe a 747, so forming coherent questions is a little beyond his abilities at the moment.

"Fucking what," Mikey mumbles on the other end of the line, clearly not actually talking to Frank, though Frank can hear him, and then he says, "Seriously, fuck you, Frank. If you actually didn't know Gerard's been in love with you since fucking forever, you're a fucking moron, and if you've just been leading him on all this time, you're a dick. And either way, I have no idea why the fuck he likes you." Then there's silence, real silence, which means Mikey just hung up on him.

And, okay, maybe Frank really is a fucking moron, because if you didn't know Gerard's been in love with you since fucking forever and no, he didn't, but he knows Gerard's smile, and the way his hair looks really stupid in the morning, and the near-permanent inkstains on his fingertips, and the way Gerard's the last person he wants to see at night and the first person he wants to see in the morning, and the way Gerard's tongue slips between his stupid, freaky teeth when he's concentrating. And he knows Gerard's drawings, thousands of them in their individual plastic sleeves, lined up in binders on his bookshelves. He knows Gerard's weight on his chest in the middle of the night, the way he mumbles in his sleep, the way his hands are always a bit too warm and a bit too sweaty and the way Frank always wants to hold them anyway.

Oh.

~*~

"We've got you rented out for the whole night, right?" Frank asks the limo driver, who put down his Sudoku book and rolled down the window when Frank knocked on it, like he hadn't been watching the whole thing anyway. "Like, you could take me somewhere and then come back here and wait for everybody else?"

"Yeah," the driver shrugs. "I guess so." He points, and Frank can see a flash of ink where the sleeve of his uniform slides up. Cool. "You should put some ice on that."

Frank reaches up to touch his cheek out of reflex, wincing as his fingertips make contact and dropping his hand quickly. "Yeah, I will. But can you take me?"

"Sure, kid," the driver says. His name badge says "Jeremy" on it, and he looks like he's mildly surprised at how interesting his night has become. Probably he doesn't see guys get punched in the face by girls in evening gowns and three-inch stilettos very often. Or maybe he does, Frank doesn't know. "Get in," he says, "I'm not really supposed to let you sit up front, but you can if you want."

Frank nods and runs around to the passenger side, flinging himself into the seat. "Thanks," he says, then rattles off the address. Jeremy nods and pulls out of the parking lot, turning towards the Way house.

"So why'd you break up with her? She was hot," Jeremy comments; not in a creepy way, though, which Frank appreciates, because he's clearly older and Frank doesn't want to sit here having to listen to him skeeving on high school girls. "Did she cheat on you or something?"

Frank shakes his head, trying to ignore how his cheek is kind of throbbing. Melissa has a mean right hook, fuck. She asked if she could hit him, not break his face. "She wasn't my girlfriend," he says, and then he says, "Actually, I'm pretty sure I have a boyfriend," before he thinks about it, and he has a second of being worried that Jeremy is some kind of homophobic asshole who's gonna beat the crap out of him, but Jeremy doesn't stop the car or take a swing at him.

"Whatever works for you, man," he says with a shrug, and Frank relaxes back into his seat as much as he can, given that he's about to vibrate out of his skin.

It's not far to the Way house, and Frank's stumbling out of the limo and saying, "Thanks for the ride!" before he has much time to process or really think about what he's going to say. He doesn't get any more thinking time, either, because Mikey opens the door almost as soon as Frank's fist makes contact with it. Frank breathes heavily -- fucking asthma -- and looks him in the eye as Mikey stares at him.

"I'm a fucking moron," Frank says as soon as he can say it without sounding all wheezy and shit. Mikey is nonplussed by this, so Frank decides to elaborate, mostly because he apparently sucks at keeping this to himself. "I am a fucking moron, and I'm sorry I was a dick, and I kind of want to like, marry your brother and raise cats together, okay, so can I come in now?"

Mikey's lips turn upward at one edge, and inner!Frank does a small victory dance, because Mikeway smiles are like fucking unicorns which means Frank actually, finally, got this one right.

"You suck," Mikey says, but in the nice way, so Frank grins at him and says, "I know. Think he'll forgive me?" And Mikey punches him in the shoulder, which probably means yes.

~*~

Gerard's room is dark, just like it always is. The level of darkness varies, though. At the moment it's mostly-dark, with just a little bit of the single beam of light filtering in through the window, and Gerard's little TV set casting an eerie glow over the space. Gerard himself is scrunched up in the corner of his bed, wrapped up in probably every blanket that could be found (his mom doesn't know what to do after his attacks, he'd told Frank at one point, so she brings him blankets and it makes her feel better if he takes them), and when Frank steps into the room through the narrowly cracked door, Gerard looks up at him, all huge owl-eyes.

"Frank?" he says, like he can't believe it even though Frank closed the door enough that the light behind him won't hit Gerard, which means he's not backlit anymore. Which means that it's not that Gerard doesn't recognize him; it's that Gerard didn't expect him, and Frank's got only himself to be angry at for that one.

"Hey, Gee," he says quietly. Gerard looks like shit, which he usually does after an attack like that; he's pale even for Gerard, still kind of shaky and his hair is a tangled mess crowned with the fringed edge of a hideous plaid sofa blanket. That's all normal, or normal enough given that Frank's been best friends with Gerard since they were nine. What's not normal is how Frank thinks about pushing Gerard back into his blanket hoard and kissing him until his cheeks flush. That's a new thought, but kind of fucking awesome, because there's nothing about it that Frank doesn't like. Putting 'kissing' and 'Gerard' together is genius, really.

"You look like a penguin," Gerard says, and Frank snorts.

"That's what I told my mom," he says, spreading his hands like, moms, right? until Gerard almost smiles.

"Aren't you supposed to be at the prom?" Gerard asks, the smile fading from his face and every bit of happiness draining out of his voice. He's tired and he's sick, which means he's no good at pretending right now, and Frank wants to kick his own ass for missing it before.

"Yeah, well," Frank shrugs, "Prom is fucking stupid anyway." He takes a couple of steps towards Gerard's bed, and Gee's blanket pile moves in a way Frank thinks means he's trying to make room for Frank to sit, so he does.

"What happened to getting laid?" Gerard says bitterly, and Frank is such a fucking idiot, seriously, because everything makes sense, especially why Gerard drew so many pictures of Vanessa being killed and eaten, and now that he knows Frank thinks it's kind of awesome that Gerard was jealous.

"Gee?" Frank says, turning towards the blanket cocoon and tugging at an outer layer of it, so he can sort of see Gerard's t-shirt clad shoulders as well as all of his actual face.

"Yeah?" Gerard asks miserably, and Frank crosses his fingers that he isn't going to fuck everything up.

"You can punch me if you want," he says, and Gerard's face goes all confused in the split second before Frank shoves even more blankets down and out of the way, and presses his lips to Gerard's.

As kisses go, Frank thinks, it's pretty much crap, because Gerard was maybe going to say something so his mouth is open just a bit too much but not quite enough for tongue, and Frank is about to slide off the bed in an avalanche of floral-patterned comforters and afghans with kittens on them. But it's Gerard and Frank is kissing him, so none of that actually matters at all. Gerard makes a funny sort of squeaking sound and somehow manages to free an arm from the tangle, because his hand closes around the curve of Frank's shoulder. Frank knows for a fact that Gerard hasn't done this before, not ever, but when Gerard finds things he likes he throws himself into them headfirst, which in this case translates to opening his mouth under Frank's and letting Frank lick inside. It's pretty obvious that he hasn't brushed his teeth, which is fucking gross but fuck it, Frank doesn't give a shit. Apparently he's willing to forgive a little grossness when he's just figured out he's in love.

"Frankie, Frank, what--?" Gerard finally manages to get out when they finally break apart to take a breath (which happens far sooner than Frank would have liked). Frank kicks another kitten afghan off the bed and onto the cluttered floor, and the blanket pile is suddenly manageable enough that Frank can figure out where to put his knees so he's not in danger of crushing Gerard's balls or something. Gerard looks shocked, but also really, really happy, and it makes Frank's heart flutter in a way that is totally lame and girly, but Gerard keeps telling him that gender stereotypes are for losers, so whatever.

"I suck," Frank says, cutting Gerard off when he opens his mouth to argue. "I suck, and I'm a moron, and I've been a total fucking dick, but it turns out I'm in love with you, so I'm kind of hoping you'll forgive me."

Frank has a second of absurd worry that Mikey is wrong and he's totally screwed, but then Gerard is beaming at him, his smile full of all the radiant sunshine he never sees, and Frank grins back because he's helpless to do anything else.

"In that case, I forgive you for being a total fucking dick," Gerard says solemnly, but he ruins it by giggling at the end, his stupid fucking high-pitched giggle and Frank really can't help but kiss him again. Kissing Gerard, he decides, is his new favorite hobby and he's going to spend as much time as possible practicing it, even if Gerard's mouth tastes disgusting and he looks like death warmed over.

"You know," Frank says, layering his voice with fake casualness because, okay, Gerard is kind of easy to scare off, sometimes, "I haven't entirely given up on the 'getting laid' plan..." He smirks as Gerard flushes hot and pink and his breath catches.

"Frank!" Gerard whispers at him; some of his scandalized tone is affected, Frank knows, but some of it's not. Gerard's such a romantic about shit like that, which is how Frank knows he's not getting laid tonight. Probably not for a while, actually, but he feels strangely okay about it.

"...But I might be willing to settle for a Romero marathon and making out a lot?" he suggests; the Romero marathon is a given but the making out is still brand-new and the thought of it sets his nerves jangling.

Gerard pretends to think for a minute, then all those freaky little teeth of his are on display again and he says, "Okay, but only if you take off the bowtie. I can't make out with someone wearing a bowtie."

"I can do that!" Frank bounces agreeably, undoing the bowtie with much less fuss than had gone into getting it on him in the first place and tossing it to the side, where it immediately disappears into the wasteland of clutter.

They both freeze when someone knocks twice on the door, but it's only Mikey, who sticks his head in just far enough to say, "If you keep me awake with your gross sex noises, I'm dumping all your paint in the sink."

"Fuck off, Mikey!" Frank calls out affectionately as Mikey disappears again and the door clicks shut. Gerard actually looks worried, though. "He doesn't mean it," Frank says, even though Gerard already knows that and would realize he knows it if he actually thought about it for a second.

"Yeah," Gerard gives him a sheepish grin, but still glances nervously over at the corner where his art supplies are piled in seemingly-haphazard fashion. Frank rolls his eyes.

"So where were we?" He prompts, resting a hand on Gerard's chest and curling his fingers in the warm and slightly sweaty cotton of his Thundercats t-shirt.

"Right here, I think," Gerard mumbles, mainly because he's got one hand wrapped around the back of Frank's neck and is already pulling him in. It's at least two hickeys and possibly a bite mark later before either of them thinks to get up and put the movie on.

~*~

Everything changes and nothing changes. Frank kind of likes that. They're back to spending every minute together, and holding hands in the hallways, and all the rest of that shit they always did before, but now when Gerard's freaking out about finishing his senior showcase in time, Frank can haul him down and kiss him, right there leaning up against the lockers, and every time Gerard blushes and completely forgets about being worried.

They've only got two weeks left of high school, but even accounting for that, no one seems to care much. Which either means their school is much more awesome than Frank ever got the impression it was, or everyone already thought that he and Gerard were fucking (which they aren't, technically, but whatever). Or maybe it's something else entirely, which he finally twigs to when Jeff Baker coughs Fags! at them in the hallway on Wednesday, and Melissa Shepard, of all people, stomps on his foot and grabs him by the ear (it's utterly classic, Frank wishes he had a picture) and makes him apologize in front of everyone.

Frank takes this to mean two things. First, that Melissa has probably seen Jeff Baker's dick and knows how small it is, and thus owns his ass until graduation, maybe longer. And second, that he picked an awesome girl to end up not taking to prom. She smiles at both of them in the hallways every time they pass, and on Friday when they get their yearbooks she signs both his and Gerard's, with twin curlicue hearts and I hope you'll be totally happy together!s, though she adds a PS- Sorry I punched you so hard! to Frank's, which mostly makes up for the black eye he's been sporting all week. She dots the i in her name with a heart, too, which seems ridiculous but also sort of perfect. And she hugs Gerard, which gives him something that looks like a panic attack but isn't really, so Frank isn't worried about how he spends the whole time laughing at the look on Gerard's face.

~*~

For all he's been freaking out about it for weeks, Gerard refuses to let Frank see any part of his senior showcase. Frank can sort of guess at what's in it, based on the stuff he'd seen Gerard working on in class, but Gerard's had that extra hour all year and then he was avoiding Frank so really, Frank has no idea and for once, Gerard won't indulge his ravenous curiosity.

"You're not allowed inside!" Gerard tells him when he closes the door to the multi-purpose room in Frank's face. Technically Frank isn't; only the students setting up their showcases are allowed in, and Frank is not one of those. But a little bit of technical rule-breaking had never stood in their way before.

"Stop being an oppressor!" Frank yells at the door, which Gerard seems to have bolted shut. Or maybe he stuck a chair under the handle.

"You're not being oppressed, Frank!" Gerard's muffled voice replies from inside. Frank glowers at the black paper that's been taped over the window, to keep the showcase secreted away until Saturday night when all the parents are supposed to come and marvel at their kids' creativity.

Regardless of what Gerard says, he definitely feels oppressed.

~*~

Frank is pretty sure his mom is taking this all way too seriously, given that all Frank has in the show are his angry-looking apples and the two charcoal drawings he determined were his best, since they were all required to have at least three pieces on display.

One is a mutated fruit picture; a pineapple, because Frank thought it looked the coolest out of all the stuff on the still-life table, but on the page it looks a bit like someone melted it alongside Dali's clocks. The other one is nominally a picture of Gerard, since they were required to draw portraits and Gerard is the only person Frank is willing to draw a portrait of because Gerard always tells him his pictures are awesome even when they look like shit. You can't really tell it's Gerard, though, since he spent most of the time Frank was working on his portrait looking away from Frank, so all that's on the page is the vague impression of Gerard--hood pulled up and hair falling across what little of his face is visible, long sleeves and gloved hands gripping his pencils. It's kind of okay, Frank thinks; good enough that Thornapple gave him an A- on it, even though it didn't look like anybody else's portraits.

Gerard's portrait was of Frank as a zombie, with half his face rotted off and blood all around his mouth. Frank is still kind of disappointed that he wasn't allowed to keep it in his binders.

Anyway, his mom is acting like three stupid drawings are some kind of big deal; she got her nice dress out of the closet and everything, which Frank is pretty sure is overkill. He refuses to dress up in a suit just to go to school, but he concedes to wearing a shirt with a collar and jeans that cover more skin than they show. He picks at the beginnings of a tear on one knee as his mom drives them both to the school; they're a little late, because his mom made Frank change shirts at the last minute once she realized the one he was wearing was the one Gerard had gotten spray paint on last summer, when Frank went over there after his cousin's wedding. (Frank thinks the spraypaint looks cool, like bloodstains. His mom maintains that it looks like someone got spraypaint on a good dress shirt.)

The senior showcase technically opened its doors at 6pm, but they get there around 6:15. Frank's mom immediately goes to talk to Thornapple, like she hasn't talked to all of Frank's teachers about fifty million times, seriously, and anyway he's a week from graduating and Thornapple already told him he's passing the class. Instead of staying to hear what they have to say about his lack of initiative or whatever-the-fuck, Frank finally steps inside the multi-purpose room, which has been transformed with sections of modular wall hung with the students' art.

Frank knows his stuff is up there somewhere, but he's more concerned about finding Gerard's corner. Partially because he still hasn't seen it -- seriously, Gerard's such a dick -- but also because the seniors who actually have real showcases in the senior showcase are required to stand there all night and like, answer questions about their vision, and he knows Gerard must be freaking out about being forced to associate with people who aren't Frank or a blood relative.

He finally finds Gerard's showcase in the very back corner. Of course, because Thornapple probably gave him first choice of locations, and unlike the kids near the door who stare at everyone who walks in with hungry eyes, clearly waiting to pounce on the first person who dares ask any questions about their masterpieces, Gerard would really prefer not to talk to anybody. Even though, as Frank knows from long experience, he usually has a lot to say about his art, and most of it is completely awesome. He just doesn't want to talk to these people about it, because most of the parents wandering around are smiling those patronizing parent-smiles, the ones that say I AM BEING SUPPORTIVE when actually they think everything is pretty much shit but little Johnny might be hurt if they actually say that. Frank understands Gerard's avoidance completely; he wouldn't want to put up with that kind of bullshit either.

His cynical musings about his fellow showcase visitors are pretty much knocked out of his head, though, when he actually looks at Gerard's showcase.

He's draped his corner in black, which isn't actually that weird since a few of the other kids have done the same, but they've all done it to make their art, all light colors, stand out. Gerard's art sinks into the background--he's matted things on the same shade of black, chosen pieces that fade into shadow at the edges, so from a distance it's not entirely clear where the background ends and the art begins. He's devoted a big chunk of wall to a collection of small paintings of fantastic creatures that appear and disappear from the gloom -- there's a long sea monster-type thing that shows up in several of the pictures, like its long body stretches through the black and only appears in brief flashes, and either a swarm of tiny creatures or one creature with dozens of eyes, staring out.

It's really fucking cool, and Frank stares at it for a while before he can even take in the rest of the space. In front of the wall is a table, clearly constructed from two of the art room stools and a piece of canvas board, on which there is a strange, abstract sculpture made entirely from the contorted and sometimes melted bodies of Storm Trooper action figures. Frank is momentarily appalled at the carnage.

"None of them are original," Gerard's voice says, and Frank jumps. Somehow he managed to miss Gerard sneaking up on him, though actually Gerard probably just walked and it only feels like sneaking up because Frank was distracted.

"They're all those new ones they put out when they re-released the movies." Frank makes a face, and Gerard nods his agreement with Frank's assessment.

There's a parent nearby who makes an interested noise, and Gerard freezes, clearly realizing that coming out of his hiding place, wherever it had been, leaves him open to things like questions.

"What's the vision for your sculpture?" The man asks. He's wearing one of those expensive designer trenchcoats and shoes that are shinier than any shoes have a right to be, and he asks the question in this haughty tone like he's expecting Gerard to start in on some existential thing about the meaning of life or whatever, and he's fully prepared to be snooty and shoot down anything Gerard has to say.

Gerard shoots Frank the very smallest of smiles before turning to the man, his eyes wide and soulful and every inch of him radiating seriousness. "It's a memorial," he says, and the man frowns and looks at the sculpture again, looks Gerard over. Frank can tell that he's calculating the odds that it's a memorial to Gerard's pet hamster versus the odds that it's a memorial to like, his mother who was murdered last year or something equally tragic that the guy doesn't actually want to be forced to talk about.

"Oh?" the man asks vaguely, like it's up to Gerard whether he wants to finish or not. Gerard nods, still serious, serious, serious.

"It's in honor of all the Bothans who died," he concludes, and Frank knows without looking that Gerard's giving the guy his best eyes; the ones that are like, soul-sucking. The man fidgets awkwardly for a long minute before saying, "Ah," which means I have no idea what's going on, and he beats a hasty retreat while Frank hides his snickering behind his hand.

Gerard watches the man go, until he's around the corner and out of sight, then turns back to Frank, but Frank doesn't notice. He'd been at the wrong angle to see Gerard's other wall before, but now that he's moved a few significant degrees he can see it just fine. Unlike the seemingly jumbled collection across from it, the second wall features three bigger panels, all uniform in size -- triptych, Frank thinks, and wonders if that's the right word.

The first one makes Frank distinctly uncomfortable, and he doesn't even pretend not to know why. Gerard still hates drawing vampires, even after all this time, but the centerpiece of the painting is a vampire; one that looks suspiciously Gerard-like, the way Gerard draws himself being as familiar as the way he draws Frank. Vampire Gerard is in the middle of a crowd, all the faces and bright clothing obscured but all similar, like everyone is a copy of the same faceless person. The space around vampire Gerard is empty and dark, faint tendrils of light encroaching on the safety of the darkness but not invading too far. He looks sad, Frank thinks, and moves on.

The second panel is full of zombies, all of them dressed in formal attire. Rotting flesh appears from beneath glittering dresses and tuxedos, and it's hard to tell if the zombies are dancing or swarming. There are two figures featured this time, two living people in a room of the dead, and Frank doesn't have to work at it at all to realize that it's them, him and Gerard in matching tuxes, though Frank's bowtie is undone and Frank quirks a smile at that. They're looking at each other, blood splashed on their faces and clothes, completely ignoring the horde that may or may not be coming for their flesh.

The last panel is like the polar opposite of the first. There's darkness at the edges, engulfing those same faceless figures. They've been sapped of all their colors, like all the color has been pulled to the center. It's him and Gerard again, this time picked out in bright primary colors that sometimes don't even make sense, like Gerard decided there needed to be more and more and more, and it's gorgeous even though Frank wants to laugh at the thought of Gerard with fire-truck red hair. They're still ignoring everything else in the panel, but this time they're on fire, almost literally. Frank can feel the explosion, the shockwave that's rolling out through the panel, leaving skeletons behind in its wake and sending those dark corners into sharp relief even as it comes for the figures lurking there.

The little title card beneath the panels is written out in Gerard's spidery handwriting; the only hope for me is you.

Frank actually can't form words, so he settles for finding Gerard's hand with his own and holding it tightly.

"I was going to change it," Gerard says quietly. "I was going to make you a girl, before I put them up, but then..." He blushes, and Frank is suddenly, fiercely, possessively glad that he figured things out in time.

"Fuck," he says, which is fucking inadequate and not even one percent of all the things Frank wants to say, but Gerard moves a little closer so their shoulders are touching -- as much as they can be, with the height difference and all -- and their hips brush, and Frank knows that Gerard understands.

"Your title is better than mine," Frank comments after a long pause, and he can feel the way Gerard relaxes next to him, whatever tension had built up in him while Frank looked at his showcase leeching back out of him slowly.

"But you got your point across," Gerard says reasonably, and Frank shrugs.

"Yeah, but I was wrong," he admits. It's not hard, when Gerard is the one he's admitting things to.

"You didn't know you were wrong at the time," Gerard says, and Frank elbows him.

"Stop doing that. Let me wallow," Frank demands, and Gerard fucking giggles at him, and Frank has no idea how it took him so long to see what was right in front of his fucking face this whole time.

~*~

Frank doesn't notice his mother on the other side of the room; he's too preoccupied with pulling Gerard down so he can kiss him, fuck everyone else. So he doesn't see the way her eyes widen, or the way she looks at them and then at Frank's angry apples and his charcoal sketch of three-quarters of the back of Gerard's head, or the way she sighs and leaves them to it.

 

Fin.