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"Shit. I knew I got that fucking formula wrong," Gerard mumbled into his math textbook. "Fucking math. Fucking teachers making fucking impossible problems worth too many fucking points on stupid fucking tests."

"Hey, Way! Talking to yourself again?" Gerard didn't have any time to brace himself before being slammed into his locker. His book slipped from his hands and hit the floor. Someone yanked his bag from his shoulder and proceeded to dump it over his head. Just as quickly as they came, they were gone, laughing as they ran towards the cafeteria.

Gerard rubbed his shoulder where it impacted the locker and sighed. His stuff was scattered everywhere. He could see a few of his good drawing pencils halfway down the hall. Everybody else went on to lunch, barely sparing Gerard a glance. They were going to get all the chocolate milk and all the good food and he was going to be left with fucking green beans and white milk because he was stuck out here picking up all his stupid shit because of stupid goddamn motherfucking assholes.

He sighed and crouched down to grab his stuff from all over the floor. His favorite sketchbook already had a huge dirty footprint half-smeared on the cover, god dammit, and some of his art pencils were snapped in half. He could probably save the pieces and sharpen them and use them anyway -

"Hey, dude, wait up!" somebody called out.

Gerard jerked his head up at the noise but looked away just as quickly. Frank Iero passed by laughing with one of his friends, one of the guys from the cross-country team or something. His other friends were probably already in the cafeteria. Including the douchebag who stepped on Gerard's sketchbook. Frank Iero wasn't a douchebag who stepped on his sketchbook, though. But he certainly wasn't one of Gerard's friends.

That was a fact that always bothered him. Back when they were chubby, awkward freshman who had gym together, Gerard thought they might end up friends. And then Frank was adopted by a couple of popular kids and grew out of his chub, got hot, and had switched to another section of gym. Now they were seniors and they hadn't spoken since. Not that they'd talked much in the locker room when they had gym together, or anything. Gerard imagined a bunch of really awesome conversations they could've had, though. In his mind. Silently. Like a weirdo.

Gerard shoved his stuff back in his bag and shut his locker. He double-checked the floor in the hallway to make sure he hadn't missed anything when picking everything up and walked towards the cafeteria. He didn't want to go. He knew he was going to end up sitting by himself eating crappy food. Again. But he was hungry enough to know he couldn't make it through to the end of the day without eating something.

There wasn't even a line for food when he finally got into the cafeteria, everybody was already eating and it looked like a lot of people had already finished and were just shooting the shit until their lunch period ended. He couldn't even muster up a sigh when Sister Teresa dished up a helping of green beans onto his plate. He just accepted them along with the flavorless chicken and grabbed his carton of white milk. The tray of brownies that usually sat next to the milk was empty except for some crumbs. He was relieved to see the whole end of a table in the corner free. As he made his way past pushed out chairs and bags on the floor, Frank Iero passed him on the way out. Gerard couldn't help but feel a small amount of schadenfreude at the pile of mushed green beans on Frank's plate.

Gerard sat down and poked at his food listlessly and listened to everything going on around him. Most people were having stupid conversations about stupid things. A couple at the next table were trying to stealthily make out, but just as they were really getting into it, one of the nuns descended. Gerard tried really hard to hold in his snickers. Apparently, karma heard him and decided to kick him in the shins, because once Sister Catherine was done separating the offending couple, she turned on him.

"Mr. Way, you have been warned about your hair. Either be at school tomorrow with it cut according to regulations, or I will cut it for you," she said and wrote what he knew would say the same thing on her pad of pink slips.

Gerard pinched his lips together so he wouldn't say anything. As soon as her back was turned (off to yell at another student for breathing, he supposed) he groaned and leaned forward until his hair fell into his face, shielding him from most of the other students in the cafeteria. She'd do it, too. He'd seen the hair clippers she kept on the bookshelf behind her office chair, propped up like some kind of fucking relic beside the crucifix and those horrible statues of the children with the too-big eyes.

He used to daydream about being popular, once, when he first started at the new school back in freshman year. He used to wish for the attention, for somebody to notice him. Now he just wanted to get through the day unscathed. Unnoticed. Untouched. He just wanted to be fucking invisible until graduation when he could leave these people behind forever but he couldn't even do that, couldn't even hold on to being able to hide behind his hair. Fucking hell.

At least it was Thursday. Thursdays were better.

*

"So did you get to finish that fight scene page?" Mikey asked, scratching his nose with his gloved hand. "I wanna see Batman beat the shit out of Ash."

"How do you know Ash won't beat the shit out of Batman?" Gerard asked, shifting the weight of his backpack to the other shoulder, "He's not afraid to use his chainsaw hand. Batman has morals. Ash has a boom stick."

"But he's all off-balance. Crazy. Besides, Bruce Campbell could totally take Bruce Wayne -"

"You're so full of shit, dude - "

"You just don't want to show me the page. I'm sure it looks awesome."

Gerard sighed. "It's in my sketchbook but it's not done. I'll show you when we get on the bus."

Mikey's mouth twitched a little which meant he was pleased. They stood and shivered at the bus stop for a while, hands jammed into the pockets of their overcoats. Sometimes Gerard really liked living so far away from the school - he was guaranteed not to run into any of the stuck-up pricks that made up most of his grade, for one - but the commute was a bitch. Especially when the city bus was late. Like today.

"I wish we had lunch together this year," Gerard said, scuffing his shoe through some of the dirty slush on the curb. "We could work on the comic at lunch. It's such a waste of time."

Mikey looked at him. "The comic, or lunch?"

"Lunch."

"Yeah, I guess. The brownies were really good today, though. You get a brownie?"

"Yeah, yeah. They were good." He stared at his toes and waited for the cold to seep through. He didn't need Mikey's brownie pity.

They fell silent and the bus pulled up a few minutes later. The seats they liked best were empty and Gerard led the way to them, but let Mikey slide in and take the window seat.

Mikey looked at Gerard expectantly. "Well?"

"It's still really rough," Gerard said and pulled out his sketchbook and flipped to the right page. There was a dirty footprint on the opposite page. Gerard grimaced and glanced over at Mikey who was staring at the footprint. He hoped Mikey wouldn't ask about it, because he really didn't want to talk about it. But Mikey's eyes slid to the drawing and looked at it silently for a while.

"It's awesome," he finally said. "Though, what's that?"

Gerard looked where Mikey was pointing and sighed. He fished around in the bottom of his bag and pulled out his eraser. "The first time I drew it, it really wasn't working. I guess I forgot to erase that part."

Gerard erased the hand sticking out of Ash's head and started sketching the background.

"You should put them on the edge of a building," Mikey suggested. "Make the fight more intense." Gerard spent the rest of the bus ride drawing the things Mikey suggested and getting annoyed every time they went over a bump. Mikey just laughed at him.

*

When they got home, Gerard went straight to the kitchen and made himself a sandwich and then rushed downstairs to change his jacket and tie.

When he got back upstairs, his dad handed over the keys and his mom said, "Tell her she needs to come over tomorrow so we can plan Aunt Selina's birthday party."

"Yeah, yeah, be back later," Gerard said as he scooted out the door. He skipped the last step off the front porch and made his way over to the car, jangling the keys against his palm. The car was old and mom-ish and smelled funky but it didn't matter in the slightest. He hummed as he pulled a cassette tape out of his pocket and jammed it in the busted-up deck. It whirred and moaned in the player but then finally spit out rough, loud guitar chords. He turned it up until the windows rattled and kicked the car into reverse.

When he pulled up in front of his grandma's house ten minutes later she was already standing on the curb waiting. He leaned over and popped the lock on the passenger door and she crawled in, automatically turning the music down.

"Misfits again this week?" she said, buckling her seatbelt. "I'm going to hear them in my grave."

"Grandma, don't say that," Gerard said as he pulled the car away from the curb. "It's morbid."

"What, it's not like I'm complaining. At least I won't be bored. And who gets to call me morbid? With that hair." She smiled and tugged at a piece of hair in his face.

Gerard sighed and turned the wheel. "The nuns are making me cut it."

"What! When?"

"I don't know, sometime before tomorrow. I'll probably do it when I get home tonight."

"That's absurd. What are they going to do if you don't?"

"Cut it themselves."

Grandma tutted. "That's no good. Who knows what a mess they'll make, all their hair is hidden up in those habits. They probably all have terrible haircuts. Probably why they started wearing that shit in the first place."

Gerard tried not to smile. "It doesn't matter. It'll look dumb no matter who cuts it."

"No way, sir, I am not letting my grandson go back to school with a bad haircut. I pay too much good money for that tuition to have them mess up your pretty face."

"Grandma - "

"There are scissors in the kitchen in the studio. It'll be great."

Gerard sighed. "They're all going to want to help, aren't they."

"Of course they are. You know old people. We meddle anywhere we can."

"You do indeed," Gerard said, pulling the car into the gravel parking lot off to the side of the road. It was already pretty dark outside but the old lit-up sign for Trudy's Dance Studio illuminated almost the whole street.

"You ready?"

"Baby, I was ready before you even thought about being born ready," she said as the popped her seatbelt off.

Gerard tried to keep a straight face and roll his eyes, but he couldn't contain the giggles and he knew Grandma was grinning beside him. It was the best he'd felt all day.

He parked the car and went around to the passenger side and opened the door for his grandma. He held out his arm gallantly for her to take and he helped her up out of the car and then escorted her to the studio. Gerard fished the key out of his pocket and unlocked the door. Gerard held open the door and Grandma walked in and flipped the light switch.

"Gerard, get the broom and sweep up. It looks like Trudy forgot to do it after her last class again. I don't know how twelve year olds practicing ballet can make such a mess," Grandma instructed. It was a familiar routine, one they'd been repeating nearly every Thursday for the last two years. Gerard retrieved the push broom from the janitor's closet. People started filing into the studio as he swept. His grandma greeted each one and Gerard waved when people called out to him.

He put the broom back where it belonged and fiddled with the stereo. He made sure the right CD was in the player and the volume was just right and then pressed play at a nod from Grandma. She beckoned him over and he held out his arm again and they started dancing to the strains of Buddy Holly. After the first dance, everyone switched partners.

"Hi Mrs. Henderson," Gerard greeted. Mrs. Henderson liked to lead. He thought she was awesome.

"Hello, Gerard. School still as miserable as ever?" she asked. He rolled his eyes and nodded.

"That's too bad, ducky. Keep that chin up, though, you're almost done."

Gerard smiled for her and let her spin him around.

After the next dance they switched again. Mrs. Wembley, this time. She had a voice like she'd been smoking since her teens (she had) and hands like she'd been working all her life (that too). If Gerard had to pick any old lady to be on his side in a fight (he wouldn't want his grandma, hopefully she would be watching proudly and safely from the sidelines, perhaps waving a white hanky while Mikey patted her arm supportingly, that'd be pretty awesome) it'd be Mrs. Wembley.

"Hello, sir!" Mrs. Wembley rasped, "I hear we're cutting your hair with kitchen scissors later."

Gerard groaned. "You heard? We're only two songs in. I swear you guys have old lady ESP or something."

"We're like fuckin' vultures, son, we smell an opportunity to flock and we're all over your shit. I'm good at hair, though. Had to do my husband's hair for him when he got back from the war, you know, couldn't lift his arms too high. I'll make you a looker."

"I don't think even your powers of hair could make me into a looker, Mrs. Wembley."

"Nonsense!" she said, gripping his hands a little tighter, "I know it when I see it - you just gotta hold your head up high enough for other people to see it too."

Gerard flushed a little but stayed quiet. Old people thinking you were cute really didn't count, especially when one of them was your grandma, but it was better than nothing. Even though they were pretty much out of his age range. And preferred sex. So pretty much all of it.

The rest of the dance lesson passed like usual, with Gerard getting passed off to dance whenever the other husbands wanted to sit or step outside for a smoke and dancing with his grandma the rest of the time. His grandma mentioned that they might start some real fancy ballroom moves soon, which would be awesome. Gerard liked spinning around.

The best part of every lesson, though, was always when they did the big run-through of whatever they had learned, or were working on, and everyone concentrated on getting their feet in order and hands in the right place and timing just right. In that moment Gerard forgot all about school and the dirty footprint on his sketchbook and every other person who made his stomach squeeze with anxiety and just had a really fucking good time.

Afterward, when the CD played out and whirred off, his grandma clapped her hands loudly to get everyone's attention.

"Now!" she said, calling out over the rumblings of conversation, "Who's going to help me cut Gerard's hair?"

Mrs. Wembley held up the kitchen scissors in her fist. "Already on it!"

Gerard groaned as he felt several pairs of hands pushing on his back towards the kitchen. Old people, seriously.

 

***

 

Frank Iero was really fucking tired of kneeling. He leaned back on his heels a little, taking some of the pressure off his knees. He'd lost count, but he was pretty sure they were getting to the end of the Mass. The kids who usually sat in the back were slowly filing up and taking the Eucharist. Frank's eyes were fixed on the back of Ashley Miller's head. Her hair seemed bigger than normal and Frank couldn't figure out how that was physically possible. Aqua Net could only do so much. He nearly shouted out loud when Andrew elbowed him in hard in the stomach.

"Elvis has entered the building," Andrew murmured out of the corner of his mouth. Frank glanced up at the front and it took him a few seconds to recognize Gerard Way. He certainly didn't look like any Gerard Way that Frank could remember seeing in the last four years. The Gerard Way he was used to seeing kept his hair as long as he could get away with and it was always in his face. And, okay, he did look a little like Elvis, but it didn't look bad. It looked fucking good.

"I know, right?" Andrew coughed a laugh and Frank snapped his mouth closed. Frank didn't really feel much like laughing. Gerard took the Eucharist and crossed himself and filed back to his seat and Frank watched him as far as he could without being too obvious about turning his head.

Finally, everyone was done and back in their seats and the final words were said and they were allowed to stand up and file out. Andrew made his way toward the aisle and Frank knew he was going to find Kevin. Frank followed a little behind. He was glad Mass was over, but he was not in any hurry to get to class.

Andrew grabbed Kevin and immediately said, "Oh my god, did you see Way? What the fuck was that Elvis hair he had going on?"

"Dude, what?" Kevin asked and Andrew pointed straight at Gerard.

"Holy shit, that is the weirdest that creep has ever looked," Kevin said with a guffaw. Gerard glanced over at them and his shoulders slumped even more. Frank frowned.

Suddenly an arm was slung around him and a voice boomed next to his ear, "Motherfuckers, there is a party tonight at the J Club and you are all invited."

"Chris, you are my favorite person in the world right now," Kevin said, "I was not looking forward to spending Friday night with my sister."

"No longer, my friend. How about you, Andrew?" Chris asked.

"Of course, dude," Andrew answered and they all looked expectantly at Frank.

"Fuck you all, I have a date tonight," Frank said with a grin. Chris punched him in the arm, and Kevin and Andrew whistled obnoxiously just as the five minute warning bell rang.

They dispersed and Frank hurried to English class. He was pretty sure they were going to have a quiz and he wanted a minute or two to study. Frank slipped into his seat and pulled out his notebook and read over his notes from the previous class. He kept mixing up Thoreau and Emerson. Mr. Gibson started class with an announcement about some writing competition he wanted them all to join. As if. Halfway through Gibson's usual speech about how competitions of this nature force you to stretch yourself as a writer, the door opened and Gerard came in. His hair had clearly seen some severe finger combing and some water. Frank didn't really have time to contemplate it because apparently Gerard's interruption meant Gibson's speech was done and he was passing out quizzes.

He bullshitted his way through the essay but felt pretty good about it overall. True/false were always the kicker, though. They loved to change one little thing so you couldn't tell it was a lie.

Lunch was gross as usual (fucking green beans, seriously) but afterwards Rhonda Jackson came over from her other lunch table and shot the shit with them for a while. She wasn't really in their circle, not really, but she and some of her other girl friends were a regular staple at their table and parties. She did lighting for the drama shows and since they had English together she always read over Frank's research essays to make sure he wasn't mangling the grammar too bad. Frank liked her even though she said she was a cat person, which was saying a lot.

"How'd you do on Gibson's quiz, Frank?" she asked, tucking some of her dark hair behind her ear.

Frank rolled his eyes and stabbed his green beans. "Who even knows, for real. I don't know where the hell that guy gets his questions."

"Ha, me either, I think he pulled the transcendentalism quote out of his -"

"Oh my god, you nerds, stop with all of your nerdtalk. Seriously," Andrew said, cutting her off. "Some of us don't want to talk about school all of the fuckin' time, especially on a Friday."

"It's not my fault you failed basic Comp, Bitters," Rhonda said, smirking.

"I am not bitter!" Andrew said, getting flustered. Totally bitter.

"So, speaking of Friday, what are you fuckers doing this weekend?" she asked as she stole a cold fry off of Andrew's plate. "The usual circle jerk? Or are you guys going to Ford's tonight? I hear he got some pretty cool band from Newark to come down and play."

"No way, man, Ford's place is so lame. The J Club has a huge-ass party tonight, you should get your friends and come with us," Kevin said.

Rhonda smiled and leaned forward. "J Club, huh? I thought they were hardcore about checking I.D.'s there."

"It's cool, I know the door guy," Chris said, grinning. "He's my cousin. Family ties, and all that."

Rhonda opened her mouth to say something else when the bell rang. The room became a mass of teeming, hurrying bodies all trying to dump the mess off their trays and make it to their next class on time. The guys went on ahead of him, off to gym on the other side of the campus (the bastards) while Frank had Calculus. He sighed and whacked his tray against the side of the garbage can, watching in disgust as the green beans clung like glue to his tray. Ugh. When he dumped his tray on the stack next to the bin and turned around, Rhonda was right there, looking at him with a little amused smile.

"Rhonda, hey," he said, eyes widening. "Uh."

"You really hate those green beans, huh."

"Uhm. Yeah. Personal vendetta. What's up? Don't you have Economics with Mr. Louis next?"

"Yeah, I'm about to head over. Listen, are you going to Ford's tonight? Or the J Club?" she asked.

Frank pushed open the door of the cafeteria and waited for her to walk ahead of him before he answered. "Neither, actually. My dad's coming over and we're going to work on my car together."

"Really? Kick-ass. Is it not running?"

"It's running okay but the sound system is totally fucked so we're going to try and upgrade it. It'll be a little out of place but at least I'll actually be able to listen to CDs in the car."

"Well, I promise I won't tell the classic car mafia, or whatever," she said, smiling. "I guess I'll just see you on Monday?"

"Yeah, definitely. Have a good weekend," he said, smiling and waving a little before he turned back around and headed towards Calculus. Thinking about the upcoming weekend made him smile. There really wasn't anything worse than getting stuck in Calculus and Physics on a Friday afternoon but he was so close to getting out of there it didn't even matter. It was going to be a good weekend.

*

"Hey, ma, I'm home!" Frank called, dropping his backpack by the front door.

"Take your backpack up to your room! Don't think I didn't hear you!" she called from the back of the house. Frank sighed and picked up his bag again. Every single time. How did she do that? He trudged down the back hallway to his little bedroom and tossed his backpack onto his bed, throwing his school tie and jacket on top of it. He changed into a pair of jeans and a hoodie and sighed, finally able to breathe properly. When he padded back into the kitchen his mom was bent over the newspaper's Specials section, peering intently at the small print.

"I'm going to run over to the grocery store and pick us up some stuff for dinner," she said when he entered the kitchen, not looking up. "Do you have any preferences? How about spaghetti?"

"Spaghetti would be awesome. I'm going to run over to the Jordans' house and pick up Delaney. Is it cool if she hangs out here for a bit?"

His mom looked up at him and smiled. "Yeah, that would be fine. How long are the Jordans out of town? Does Delaney want to spend the night here?"

"Really?"

"Sure, I don't see why not. Make sure she sleeps in your room, though."

Frank grinned. "Thanks, mom."

He grabbed his car keys off the hook tacked up by the front door and his coat off the stand. He was about halfway through the door when his mom popped her head out from the kitchen again, the newspaper still in her hand.

"Frank!"

"Yeah?" he said, pulling back into the house.

"Before I forget - your grandpa is going out of town next week so you're going to have to use the car to help your grandma run errands. And we have to talk about that Senior Trip the school just sent paperwork home about. To the coast? You need to call your dad and ask him if he can help with the registration fee. Otherwise -"

"Yeah, yeah, I got it," Frank said, ducking his head. "We can talk about it when I get back."

His mom smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "Yeah, of course. I should be back from the store by then. You want me to pick up some of that soy ice cream you like?"

Frank tapped his fingers against a rough patch of wood above the doorknob. "Chocolate?"

"Of course. See you when you get back."

Frank closed the front door behind him and skipped down the front stairs to the driveway where his car was parked. Yeah, it was pretty much a clunker, but it was his. A few more months of side jobs and he'd have enough to get her purring for real this time. He eased her back out of the driveway and headed down the way to the Jordans' house.

*

"Delaney! Hey, Delaney!" Frank called, turning his key in the lock and pushing the heavy front door open. "Where are you, girl?"

A high, excited yip answered him from the area of the kitchen. He headed in and Delaney was in her kennel, happily spinning in circles and jumping against the front wall of the cage. He scanned over the note on the counter the Jordans had left for him with their contact numbers before folding it up and shoving it in his back pocket. He turned and walked over to the kennel and Delaney started barking louder.

"Hey girl!" Frank said, grinning as he knelt down to undo the latch of the door. "How's my little lady?"

As soon as he had the door open she stumbled out and into his arms. She had to be the prettiest German Shepard puppy he'd ever seen, and it was so fucking awesome that the Jordans let him dogsit all of the time. She jumped up again, and again, trying desperately to lick his face. He laughed and pulled her up into his arms.

"You get to come home with me tonight, hm, did you know that?" he asked, straining his neck up to avoid puppy licks on his teeth, "And it's going to be awesome, yeah, it's gonna be awesome. Not every night I get to bring such a fine lady home, hmm?"

Delaney just barked and licked his neck and Frank laughed.

 

***

 

"Do you really think Ray was serious? About getting the comic into his cousin's store?" Mikey asked as they trudged towards the bus stop.

Gerard squinted up into the murky sun and sighed. Monday mornings were the fucking worst. "I don't know. It wouldn't be a real comic anyway, just like a zine thing. I doubt he could even sell it. You think we have time to cut over to the coffee place on Milton? I feel like I got punched in the face."

"Fuck you, it is a real comic. And you feel bad because you stayed up so late with Ray last night, dude, and his vodka was shit."

"Yeah, I know. Only time we get to see him, you know? I wish he went to this fucking school too."

"At least as his school they don't have to wear ties. And he gets to take music as an elective."

"Do you want to take music as an elective?" Gerard asked. Mikey'd never really shown an interest in anything at school. Not that Gerard blamed him.

Mikey hopped over the slush piles of snow in the gutter, changing their direction over towards the coffee shop. "Maybe."

The coffee shop was warm and surprisingly quiet for that time of the morning. Gerard got one big coffee to split and they stood at the bus stop and pried off the top of the coffee to cool a little before the bus finally rolled around, the tires squelching against the slick road. By the time it actually cooled down enough to drink they had to huddle outside the looming front gates of the school and drink it in gulps, barely managing to throw the empty cup into the garbage before the bell rang.

"Later, Mikey." Gerard said, slinging his bag back up on his shoulders as he turned towards the upperclassman's wing.

"Bye, Gee. Have a good day at school."

Gerard snorted. "You're hilarious, Mikeyway."

*

English was a rare highlight in a week filled with utter fucking crap. They had to write a short story in the style of their choosing and he'd worked all weekend (the parts he wasn't hanging out with Ray or drawing comics with Mikey or watching zombie movies with the both of them) perfecting his Emily Brontë knock-off. It was pretty awesome. There wasn't anybody who was quite the level of hot brooding douchebag as Healthcliff but there were a lot of long hallways with ghosts in them and forlorn young men throwing themselves into the sea and everybody being a miserable prick so it was pretty close. When Gibson had handed him back his paper in class he'd smiled at him, for once, and announced loud enough to the class about what a great job he'd done. He was just happy he hadn't made them read them aloud.

He was still smiling quietly to himself when Mr. Gibson passed Frank Iero's desk and paused. "And as for you, Frank Iero," he handed Frank back his paper and Frank's eyes got almost comically wide at whatever grade the red squiggle on the front page said, "excellent work. Stephen King could've been an easy way out, or far too cliché , but this was very clever. I'm impressed. You better keep it up."

One of Frank's friends, Andrew or something, punched Frank in the arm once the teacher had moved on up the row to keep handing out papers, but Frank seemed unphased. Gerard could see him smiling quietly down at his own paper too.

*

The rest of the week, however, just fucking sucked. Of course he got teased for doing well on the short story, god forbid anybody in this school actually earned a grade their parents didn't fucking pay for, and later that day some of the assholes in his gym class stole his pants out of his gym bag so he had to walk down the hallways, red-faced and staring at the floor, still clad in his dress shirt and gym shorts, to get to the office to check the lost and found for something in his size. They'd taken his belt, too, which meant he ended up with pants three sizes too big and no way to keep them up except to hoist them up every six seconds.

Tuesday there was a pop quiz in Civics and he hadn't read the chapter the night before so he totally blanked on anything that could have been even partially relevant, it rained the whole time he and Mikey had to wait at the bus stop, and when he got on the bus he realized his backpack had been slightly open so all of his books and sketchbooks were either damp or soaking. He had to spend the whole night drying them out with his mom's hairdryer just so he could do his stupid homework.

Wednesday in homeroom they had the first official class announcement about prom, and that was enough to ruin the whole day. Gerard kept his head down.

Thursday everyone was still buzzing about the upcoming prom king and queen nominations and who was asking who and who was having the big parties and Gerard ignored them and drew lots of pictures of his classmates being eaten by Carrie in his now dry but still warped sketchbook. Sissy Spacek was awesome. Especially when she was eating his classmates. Some dudes from the football team catcalled him in the hallway on the way to lunch (they had seen him on his walk of shame to get new pants from the lost and found and were apparently never going to let him forget it) and it was one of the rare times when he actually managed to see Mikey during the day, and he heard them. Gerard ignored them and nodded at Mikey and tried not to look at the expression on his face. It'd probably be better if they didn't really know there was another Way to terrorize.

But it was okay. It was Thursday. Thursdays were better.

*

Mrs. Wembley had apparently practiced her moves from the week before because Gerard barely managed to keep up as she spun him around the floor.

"Excellent, Joan, keep it up!" Grandma called out from her place by the stereo. Mrs. Wembley whooped. Gerard just tried to hold on.

They were doing more ballroom moves this week and there was a lot of swooping and spinning and twirling. It was pretty awesome. Some of the old people were better at the swooping and spinning than others, Mr. and Mrs. Davidson just sort of stood off to the side and shuffled back and forth, but they did that for pretty much every song so it wasn't too far off.

"You've been practicing again, haven't you!" Mrs. Wembley said, dipping him a little.

"Oh, uhm, just a little-" he managed before they were off again. "It seems like somebody had a good week," he said.

Mrs. Wembley smiled, "Of course I did! I'm alive, aren't I? Doesn't get much better than that. How are things on your end of the pond?"

Gerard rolled his eyes and shifted into a one-two step, "The same. But surviving, I guess."

"Gerard, watch your extension! Joan, don't grip his waist so tightly, you'll leave a mark and I'll have to answer to his mother. Everyone else, how are we doing?" Grandma called. The group made affirmative noises and kept dancing.

The next dance he got traded off to Mrs. Marino, a small, sharp woman who liked to threaten to take Gerard home and feed him all the time. She was pretty awesome, though, even if sometimes she made him foxtrot to whatever song they were doing, regardless of what they were supposed to be doing. She really liked to foxtrot.

"So how are we doing this week, Mrs. Marino?" he asked as the song began.

She smiled and moved their hands in position. "Good, good. My husband's down in Florida for the week so I've got the house to myself."

"Oh, well, how's that? Big ol' party?"

"I'm definitely catching up on my shows. Man couldn't work a DVR if his life depended on it, so I just let him have the remote and save all mine for later. I'm a whiz."

"You certainly are."

Mrs. Marino smiled, and then looked as if she just remembered something.

"Gerard, you know, I've been meaning to ask you - you go to Queen of Peace, right?" Mrs. Marino asked. Gerard counted the steps in his head one two change two before he responded.

"Uhm, yes, yes I do." Oh god, he hoped she hadn't heard anything about him, maybe somebody told her -

"My grandson goes there, I think he's in your grade. You know a Francis?"

Gerard thought back. The school was pretty small and even though he wasn't well known, he knew pretty much everybody. It was a survival tactic, mostly. You had to learn the ones to avoid. But no, no Francis Marino.

"I don't think so. Must have a different circle than me, maybe."

Mrs. Marino looked a little disappointed and was about to say something more when Mrs. Henderson tapped her on the shoulder and cut in. She spun Gerard around the dance floor for the next two minutes and then dipped him at the end. He always laughed (giggled, really, if he were being honest) when she did that. He couldn't help it.

He swept up the floor again because Grandma was always determined to leave the room cleaner than she found it and then talked to Mr. Grayson about the weather because Mr. Grayson was a meteorologist before he retired and always wanted to be sure Gerard's fancy Catholic school was teaching him about weather patterns and cloud formations. He was getting pretty forgetful in his old age, so he always asked the same questions and Gerard had memorized the answers.

There were little groups of old people standing around chatting. Some of them were spilling out the door and into the parking lot. It was like this every week. Everybody lingered for a while, not quite ready to leave. Gerard smiled and went to help Mr. Calloway untangle his wife's purse from his walker. He couldn't dance anymore, but he still came every week. After a few minutes, Grandma started shooing people outside. Finally, the room was cleared except for a knot of people by the door. Gerard double-checked the kitchen and the bathroom area and then pulled the door shut and locked it. He noticed Mrs. Marino was still standing there talking to his grandma and went over to say goodnight when he heard a familiar voice.

"Gram, you ready to go home?"

Gerard felt like someone had thrown a Freezing Fog spell at him. He couldn't move or speak. He couldn't even turn his eyes over there, lest his worst fears be confirmed.

"Just a minute Francis. Francis, this is Gerard. He goes to your school," Mrs. Marino introduced.

"Yeah. We, uh, had gym together freshman year. I think."

Oh god.

Gerard managed to at least turn towards Mrs. Marino. "I, um, I don't know him as Francis." It was definitely Frank. Gerard couldn't help but dart a glance to the side, but even at that he felt his face flush. Frank was leaning against the hood of his old, busted up car, wearing jeans and a hoodie with his hands shoved into his pockets and big, oversized aviator sunglasses obscuring his eyes even though it was still pretty dark outside. Gerard had never seen him out of his uniform before. He was really fucking hot. Frank was definitely looking at him. He felt his stomach drop down to his toes so he quickly looked back at Mrs. Marino and tried not to vomit.

"Seriously, Gram. Nobody calls me that but you," Frank whined. "Mom doesn't even call me Francis when she's pissed at me."

"Don't say pissed, Francis. And Francis is your name, so that is what I will call you," Mrs. Marino insisted. Gerard could practically hear Frank rolling his eyes. "Anyway, goodnight Elena. And Gerard, I do like that haircut. For once, Mrs. Wembley got something right." Gerard's hand shot to his head. He'd forgotten the hair. And that he'd styled it again for dancing.

"See you at school," Frank said and Gerard wanted to die on the spot. He waved vaguely in their direction and went straight to his car and got in it, his grandma trailing behind. She got in and shut the door.

"I'll be dead by eight-thirty tomorrow," Gerard said as if Armageddon was about to descend. "He's going to tell his stupid friends that he saw me here and then they're going to kill me."

Grandma patted his hand, "Then we'd best spend your last night on earth having fun. Let's go to the diner and get malts."

 

***

 

After she had finished all of her goodbyes Frank opened the passenger side door of his car and helped his grandma climb into the seat.

"Oh, look at that!" she said, running her hands over the dashboard. "Did you replace this already?"

"Yeah, a couple of weeks ago. It looks better already, right?"

"It sure does."

Frank eased the car door shut and then walked around to his side, pulling the heavy car door shut behind him.

"As soon as I get the money I'm going to replace the radio system too, and a CD player. It's gonna be awesome." He said. He shoved his sunglasses up onto his head and swiveled around in his seat to look behind him as he reversed out of the drive.

His grandma tutted. "You might want to think about replacing this first," she said, tapping the chipped rearview mirror.

Frank huffed. "But Grams, that's so much less cool. But don't worry, that's next."

He eased the car out of the gravel parking lot and out onto the main road. The car whined a little going over the lopsided concrete out by the old elementary school but kept running, so Frank considered it a success. She was such a lady.

"So, Gram - how long have you been taking lessons here?" he asked, trying to seem nonchalant.

"Oh, I don't know. After I got my hip fixed, at least, so a year and a half, maybe? Little longer than that?"

Frank tightened his fingers on the steering wheel and coaxed his car around the bend. "How often is Gerard Way there?"

"Gerard? Oh, every week! Unless he's got some big school project coming up or something. But yes, every week. Such a good kid."

Frank hesitated. "Does his grandma make him go?"

Gram snorted a laugh and rolled her eyes. "Yes, because every grandson has to be dragged along to hang out with their poor old grandmas."

"Hey now, unfair! So unfair. What about a couple of weeks ago, huh, we totally made dinner together for mom, that was awesome, that was totally hanging out."

"Yeah, yeah, I guess, I guess, if you want to get all technical. But yes, Gerard's there even when she's not. He practically runs that class now. Good, too, good teacher."

Frank was silent, considering. There was a whole lot of new information here to reconcile with the old Gerard Way. He just couldn't believe that that quiet, shy kid at school was the same one spinning around in that dance studio earlier. He wouldn't have believed it himself if he hadn't seen it with his own two eyes.

His grandma started rooting around in her worn leather purse. "I'm surprised you guys aren't friends. He lives pretty close to you, actually, I think, over near the park."

"I guess we just run in different circles." Frank said, frowning a little. He couldn't even remember if they'd actually spoken a word directly to each other before tonight. Maybe gym, freshman year? Didn't they have gym together? Before he met Andrew and Kevin and he managed to transfer to their section. Gym was always better if you had somebody to stand next to.

Frank pulled up in front of his grandma's house and slowed to a stop. "Alright, well, here we are. I'll see you soon?"

His grandma smiled. "Of course." She handed him a stick of cinnamon gum still wrapped in its small foil wrapper. "For the drive home. You smell like an ashtray. Don't give your mom a heart attack just yet, okay?"

Frank rolled his eyes a little but smiled and took the gum. "Thanks, Grams."

She got out of the car and waved a little before heading up the walkway and disappearing into the house. Frank stayed idling by the curb for a little longer, though, methodically unwrapping the gum and folding it against his tongue before he started chewing.

Gerard Way. Huh.

*

The next morning in Mass when Gerard walked by him in line to get the Eucharist Frank smiled at him but Gerard didn't even look his way. In fact, he seemed pretty determined to bore holes into the back of Katie Landry's head. Frank frowned and turned to look back at his clasped hands.

He tried again, later, to smile at Gerard Way, but when he smiled at him as they passed in the hallway Gerard recoiled like he'd been hit, jerking his head away and down and scurrying on. Frank paused, shocked, but was distracted by the bell ringing and Chris laughing at his confused face.

What the hell?

He was more determined than ever, now, to smile at Gerard Way, but he didn't see him for the whole rest of the day and then it was the weekend. He was weirdly disappointed.

*

"Hey, Grams!" Frank said, cradling the phone against his ear. "Yeah, yeah, I'm good - listen - is it cool if I drop you off and pick you up from dance lessons next week? Ha, no, no dancing for me - yes, exactly, bonding. It'll be great. I'll see you around five? Awesome. Bye Grams."

He hung up the phone and smiled.

 

***

 

Gerard spent the entire week wound up tight and waiting for trouble. There was no way Frank was just gonna let it go. No fucking way. Monday passed without incident. And then Tuesday. Wednesday would have been a fucking good day if he hadn't been busy developing an ulcer. On Thursday he was sure, sure that whatever Frank was planning would go down. Aside from some fairly normal (and pretty half-hearted) teasing about his hair from Andrew, nothing happened. For a brief moment, Gerard was afraid they were going to show up at the studio and give him crap there, but Gerard was pretty sure even Frank wasn't enough of an asshole to cause problems somewhere his grandmother was going to be.

When Gerard finally arrived home on Thursday afternoon, he didn't really feel much better. He was more than certain that he wasn't out of the woods yet. He wished they'd just get it over with already. Usually, no matter how shitty his day was, he looked forward to dancing on Thursday nights. He hated Frank for making him dread it. For making him feel like he had to avoid Mrs. Marino. Because there was no way he could lead her around the dance floor and tell her her grandson was a jerk.

Gerard barely touched his dinner that night. The only option worse than going was not going. He trudged downstairs and shrugged on his vest and tied his tie, then went into the bathroom and combed his hair how the old ladies had done it the week before. It was mostly pre-emptive. If he showed up with it not styled, they would just style it for him in the kitchen. He grimaced at himself and hurried out the door. When he arrived at his grandparent's place, his grandma was moving pretty slowly and gingerly down the sidewalk and using a cane. He jumped out of the car and opened the door for her and helped her sit down. She leaned back against the seat with a sigh.

"Grandma, is your arthritis flaring up?"

"Had a bit of a fall earlier. Nothing awful, mind you. But I think I'll have you lead the class tonight. Give my knee a rest. Should be back to one hundred percent next week, so don't you worry."

Gerard frowned at her. "Okay, Grandma. No getting up and correcting me this time. I'm gonna make you sit in a chair the whole time."

"Who's the grandmother here, anyway?" she smiled at him. Gerard rolled his eyes and pulled away from the curb.

He parked in front of the studio, turned to Grandma and said, "You stay here until I get the door unlocked and a chair set up. The less time you're on that knee, the better."

Gerard unlocked the studio and grabbed a metal chair from off the rack in the corner of the room. He wished they had a cushion or something. He looked around in various cupboards around the studio, but came up with nothing but a bunch of towels, which really wouldn't do. He sets up the chair near the table with the stereo on it from where Grandma usually leads the class. He felt like he should do something more, but at least grandma could sit down. If he forgot anything, she would tell him.

He went out to find her leveraging herself up and out of the car.

"Grandma!" Gerard scolded and rushed over to her. He held out his arm and she took it and they made their way slowly into the studio. "Jesus, you're stubborn."

"You learned from the best, then!" Grandma returned. Gerard huffed and helped her sit down. Once she was situated, Gerard retrieved the broom from the janitor's closet and swept up the dance floor.

"Grandma, is it tango week or foxtrot?" Gerard asked as he swept all the dirt from the floor into the dust pan. He was really hoping for foxtrot.

"Tango!"

"Fuck," Gerard said. His grandma laughed. He couldn't decide if it was better or worse that he was leading the class. He tipped the contents of the dust pan into the trash and put everything away and then flipped through the stack of CDs on the shelf looking for the tango CD and got it queued up to play. The room started filling with people and Gerard's stomach flopped just like it did every time he had to teach the class. Most of attendees had been through multiple sessions and were just coming for the excuse to get together and dance, so the lesson was generally short, but it was still a little nerve-wracking. Especially since all these people were at the very least forty years older than he was.

He took a deep breath and got everyone's attention. When he announced it was tango week, Mrs. Wembley let out a wolf whistle. He only just refrained from rolling his eyes. He breezed through the lesson and got to the practicing part as quickly as possible. It felt less bizarre when just a few people were ogling him at once, not the whole room. As he moved from pair to pair demonstrating the steps on a one-on-two basis, people kept making comments and whistling. A couple of people pinched his ass. Well. Maybe one person did it multiple times. Mrs. Wembley could move pretty fast. He didn't look any different than usual. And really, it's not like his tango was especially sexual. Especially not like this without a proper partner. The dance just made everyone look ridiculous. If he was honest, it was kind of comforting to know that even old people could still be silly. Which is something he'd always seen in his grandma, but until he'd started dancing with her, he'd thought she was just extra cool.

As he was helping Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins, he overheard Mrs. Marino say to Ms. Castle that her grandson Francis had brought her again that night, "He was so sweet about it."

Gerard's stomach plummeted. He made a beeline for the pair closest to the big bank of windows facing the parking lot and snuck looks out. And yep, he could just make out Frank's silhouette leaning against the hood of his car. God, why was he here? This was the very last place Gerard wanted him to be. For any number of reasons. He tried to put Frank's presence from his mind and concentrate on dancing, but it was difficult. Finally, their time was up and people started leaving. Everyone thanked Gerard for teaching and wished Elena well. Gerard took his time putting everything away and cleaning up. He was far, far more thorough than he would ever normally be. He started in on little tasks he was pretty sure not even the owner, Trudy, even worried about most of the time.

"Why are we avoiding going outside?" Grandma asked after a while.

"Um. Frank's out there with his grandma," Gerard answered.

Grandma hmmed and let Gerard continue. While he was organizing the CDs alphabetically by dance, she asked, "Gerard, do you have a crush on Frank?"

"Grandma! No!" Gerard exclaimed.

"Are you sure? You know I wouldn't care if you did, right?" she asked. Gerard kind of wanted to cry. He knew, really. But they'd never actually talked about it.

"He's... he's a jerk and he's definitely friends with jerks and just... no. I do not have a crush on Frank Iero," Gerard said decisively.

"Whatever you say, sweetheart." She didn't sound like she believed him.

Gerard huffed and finally put the last of the CDs back on the shelf. He helped Grandma stand and walked her out to the car. The parking lot was blessedly empty of anyone else. He ran back and turned the lights off in the studio and locked the door.

"Okay," Gerard said as he got in the driver's seat, "Let's go home. If I'm lucky, he won't show up again." Gerard had never been lucky.

 

***

 

"Yo, Frank!" Andrew called, waving at him from down the hall. "Wait up!"

Frank stopped outside the Spanish lab and waited for Andrew to catch up. He was breathing heavily and his shirt was sticking around his armpits. "What's up, man, you okay?"

"I just asked Jackie to the prom and she said motherfucking yes," Andrew said, panting. "I am going to get so laid. "

"You always sweat this much when you're turned on?" Frank asked. "It's completely charming."

Andrew punched him in the arm. "Fuck you, man, I just got outta gym. Asked her while we were running around the track. Who are you taking?"

Frank shrugged. "I don't know. I hadn't thought about it."

"Haven't thought about it?" Andrew asked, "Man, you are crazy. It's fucking senior prom, all the girls want to put out before they go off to college so they'll get older guys saying they've got experience."

Frank rolled his eyes. "I don't know, man. Prom's kind of lame."

"Lame! Fuck you, it's the biggest night of your high school life. We're getting a limo with a stocked bar and everything, and Rick's dad's place over on the lake is going to be insane. Don't you punk out on me. Only the forgotten stay home on prom night."

Frank sighed. He really hadn't thought about it. Prom was something people in cheesy eighties movies obsessed about. And paid a lot of money to obsess about. "I'll let you know, okay?"

Andrew clasped him around the back. "That's my boy! Too cool for school, Iero, too cool for school."

The bell rang and Andrew had to cross the campus to get to his Trig class so he took off immediately. Frank stood by the doorway to the Spanish lab a little longer, though, feeling off-balanced. Prom. Fuck, prom.

*

Frank thought about it for a few days and then promptly decided that he was just going to tell his friends he was going out of town that weekend if they brought it up. Done. Problem solved.

Things got a little bit more complicated when, a few days later, Rhonda stopped him after English class.

"Hey, Frank, you got a sec?"

"Sure, yeah, what's up?" he asked, shifting his textbooks around in his backpack still perched on the desk. Gerard Way skirted around him and ducked out the door before he could even blink. That dude was practically on a fucking mission to stay out of his line of sight.

"Look, I'm not really good at these sorts of things, so," she started, looking uncharacteristically flustered. "You have a date to prom?"

Frank's hands stilled on his books. "Uhm, no?"

"Would you like to go with me?" she asked, her hands wrapped tightly around the straps of her backpack.

Frank blinked a few times. "Sure?"

Rhonda grinned at him. "Awesome. It'll be fun, I promise. I gotta run but we'll figure out the details later, okay?"

Frank nodded, a little stunned. She turned and walked out, smiling wide. Frank's stomach plummeted. Fuck. He'd just agreed to go to prom. To prom. But - Rhonda was his friend, and he didn't want to lie to her. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe it would be fun. Rick did know how to throw an awesome party, even if the thrill of waking up with a hangover and dry mouth on the floor of somebody else's house the next day had pretty much worn off by now. He slung his backpack across his shoulders and headed out into the hall. He couldn't deny it, though, as much as the prom thing complicated things a bit, there was still that nice feeling in the pit of his stomach that only came from knowing that somebody liked you enough to ask you out.

*

Frank tapped his fingers against the steering wheel to the beat of the song he could barely hear coming from inside the dance studio. He took another long drag off of his cigarette before stubbing it out in his coffee cup and waving a hand through the smoke to get it out of the open window. It'd been two weeks since he'd seen Gerard at the dance studio the first time. Last week, he'd watched the whole thing through the window. When the music started up, Frank could hear a definite Latin flare to it. Watching old people do the tango was super weird and kind of hilarious, but watching Gerard was... something. Frank didn't even know. He was having a really hard time reconciling this guy, who looked pretty smooth and almost sexy through the window, with the guy he knew from school. He hadn't come out after, even though Frank made his grandma wait in the car a little bit, saying the engine was acting up and he needed to let it warm up a little. No dice, though. Was Gerard Way avoiding him? He hadn't even made eye contact with him since that first day, not that Gerard Way was known for being a fan of looking people in the eye.

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. The class was running late, for some reason, and Frank really needed to drop his grandma off so he could get home for dinner. He had to break the prom thing to his mom. It had been a couple of days since Rhonda had asked him but he still hadn't figured out how to approach the subject. Money was really tight right now and he hated stressing her out about shit like this, especially since he knew she'd find a way for him to be included. She always found a way, pride be damned. It was how he'd ended up at Queen of Peace in the first place, after all.

It just seemed like a whole lot of stress over something he probably wasn't even going to remember the next day. Tuxes and corsages and standing awkwardly for pictures and slow dancing-

Frank snapped out of his thoughts when the door to the studio opened, spilling light and music into the parking lot. He blinked rapidly at all of the crowd making their way to their cars. Dancing. Fuck. Dancing. Fuck. Frank pressed back against the seat and grabbed tightly onto the steering wheel. Shit. Fuck. Dancing.

Just at that second Gerard Way came out the back door of the studio, in the alley. Frank could see him dragging some trash bags down towards the dumpster. Frank popped open the door to his car and hopped out, stopping only to say a quick 'hey, just one second, be back in one second' to his grandma just coming out of the studio. It was hard not to run towards Gerard, spurned on by pure panic.

"Hey! Hey, Gerard!" Frank called, coming up to him.

Gerard whipped around, frozen. His hair was back in that crazy rockabilly hairstyle but he was in his school shirt and tie. "What?" He asked.

Frank stopped. Shit, he hadn't really thought this out. "Hey, listen," he said, raising his hands. Gerard flinched away. Frank stared at him, then lowered his hands. He felt clumsy and stupid.

"Uh, ah, Gerard. You teach dance lessons here, yeah?" he said. Gerard just stared at his face.

"What?" Gerard asked, still staring at him.

Frank jerked his thumb towards the front of the building. "The dance studio. You teach here, right?"

"No."

Frank frowned. "Yes you do. My grandma told me so. And I saw you last week."

"I don't-" Gerard said, rolling his eyes, dropping his bags of trash down next to his feet, "I don't teach, I just. Help out sometimes."

"Same thing. Look, man - Prom. Prom is coming up."

Gerard suddenly looked like he was about to vomit, but Frank barreled on. "I have a date and we're going to have to dance and people are going to look at me, and I - I don't dance."

"So? Don't dance," Gerard said, turning away from him to swing the garbage bag up and over the open lid of the dumpster.

"People at prom dance. I need you to teach me. How to do that." Frank sounded like an idiot.

Gerard stared at him like he was an idiot, which wasn't really helping with that assumption. He was quiet for a second but his face clouded over in a second. "You think I'm going to fall for that?"

Frank blinked. "What?"

"You're a dick. Why don't you leave me the hell alone?" Gerard moved to walk past him, back out of the alley, but Frank slid in front of him, blocking his way, his hands raised in the air. Gerard jerked back before he could touch him.

"I'm not-"

"Don't even fucking try it, okay," Gerard said. "I'm not a fucking idiot. Find somebody else to make fun of." He shoved past Frank and walked quickly out of the alley, rounding the corner before Frank could even get himself to move. What? He wasn't - he wasn't. He stood in the dark alley for a minute, trying to figure out what in the hell he had just said, but left before he got anywhere. Navel-gazing next to an open dumpster was a terrible idea.

His grandma was already buckled into the car when he came out of the alley. "You get to talk to your friend Gerard?" she asked, smiling.

Frank kicked the car into reverse and swung out of the parking. "Yeah, yeah, just had to ask him about ah, you know. Logistics problem."

Grams smiled and folded her hands over her purse, and Frank turned up the radio so he wouldn't have to say anything else.

 

***

 

Friday morning dawned bright and cheery and almost warm, even though it was still pretty early in the morning. Gerard felt exactly the opposite. Even Mikey seemed cheerful and Mikey was never cheerful in the morning, what the fuck?

"Stop smiling," Gerard demanded as they waited for their bus.

"What the fuck, I'm not smiling. You haven't even looked at me in the last five minutes." It had totally been less than five minutes. Maybe thirty seconds.

"Whatever," Gerard mumbled.

"What is your fucking problem today? Did you not sleep or something?"

"No. I'm fine. Just woke up on the wrong side of the bed or something," he muttered. He risked a glance at Mikey, who looked skeptical, but dropped it. Gerard rubbed the back of his neck. It still felt weird not to have hair there.

The bus ride into Queen of Peace was more excruciating than usual. There was a little kid crying at the front and some dude who kept shouting in his sleep. He pulled his hoodie up and turned up the music on his walkman and tried to tune it all out and definitely not think about Frank Iero. Apparently he did a pretty good job, because Mikey had to punch him in the arm to let him know it was their stop. Mikey slipped out of his seat and off the bus before Gerard even got his backpack over his shoulder. He sighed guiltily. Mikey didn't deserve his bad mood. He got off the bus and walked towards his locker. It wasn't until he was standing in front of it fiddling with his lock (he seriously needed to get another one) that he remembered that it was Friday. Which meant the reason everybody was streaming in the same direction was that they were all going to Mass. Gerard groaned and dropped his head against his locker. Mass was pretty much the last place he wanted to go today.

He sighed and slipped into the bathroom to make sure he didn't look like a total disaster. The last thing he wanted was to get detention on a Friday for being out of uniform. He straightened his tie and tried to tame his hair a bit and tucked in his shirt and then made his way to the chapel, taking his usual seat between Katie and Trevor. He basically zoned out for the next forty-five minutes, only rousing when it was time to go up for the Eucharist. Gerard really resented the fact that they had Mass on Fridays. The least they could do is have it on Monday. Mondays were already irredeemably bad. May as well add Mass to them. Gerard took the Eucharist and crossed himself, and went back to his seat as soon as humanly possible. He nearly tripped over his own feet as a result. He caught himself, but Jesus. That would have just made his day awesome.

Finally, finally the final prayer was spoken and the last announcement was made and they were let go. Gerard was glad he had English next. It was one of the few classes he actually liked, even if Frank Iero was in it with him. Class went well. Mr. Gibson liked the draft of his original short story, which almost made up for some of his shitty morning. Unfortunately, his next class was Bible and he fucking hated that stupid class. First off, it was totally useless, and second, the nun who taught it was a horror, and third, it was stupid in addition to being useless. He wanted to go like he wanted a hole in his head. He took his time at his locker. He got his bag all organized for the rest of the day. He made sure all his pencils were sharpened and his pens weren't dry. By the time he finally decided to go to class, the hallway was empty and the bell had already rung. He sighed and closed his locker and nearly screamed.

"What the fucking fuck?" Gerard exclaimed and clutched at the his backpack. Frank Iero was standing there smirking at him.

"Sorry," Frank said. He didn't sound very sorry. Gerard glared at him. "So, I'm serious about you teaching me to dance. C'mon, you know I wouldn't be asking if I wasn't desperate."

"Say you are, why the fuck should I?" Gerard returned.

Frank shrugged, "Because it could be fun? Because I need to learn and you're a good teacher. Because if we told anybody about it, we'd both be destroyed?"

"So it's threats, then." It all made sense now.

"What? No, I'm not..."

"Whatever," Gerard cut him off. "You're not used to people telling you no, are you?"

"What?" Frank sounded baffled now.

"People don't even want to tell you no very often, do they?"

"No really, what?" Frank asked. Gerard waved a hand.

"If you want to learn to dance so badly, why don't you ask your grandma? She's pretty good, you know. She could totally teach you," Gerard pointed out. A strange look passed over Frank's face and Gerard was sure he'd won.

"But I want to surprise her," he said earnestly, "I mean, I think she'd fucking love it, don't you?"

Gerard had to concede that point. Mrs. Marino would really love it.

"C'mon, what do you have to lose?"

"You seriously have no clue, do you?" Gerard asked incredulously.

"Please? Help me make my grandma happy." And then Frank gave him this look and Gerard knew he was going to say yes. He could never resist an appeal to his inner grandson. He took a deep breath.

"Fine. When?"

Frank grinned, "Um. How are Tuesdays for you?"

"I can do Tuesday evenings," Gerard answered.

"Alright. So, do we meet at the studio, or what?" Frank asked.

Gerard grimaced. "I don't have access to a car."

"I can pick you up? My grandma says we live pretty close to each other," Frank offered.

"Fine." Gerard pulled out a notebook and scrawled out his address. "Six should be good."

"Okay. See you then."

Gerard walked towards Bible class. He had no idea what the fuck he had just done.

 

***

 

Frank smoked three cigarettes one after the other on the way to Gerard’s house. He’d already almost burned a hole in his jeans twice when he wasn’t paying attention and turned the steering wheel at the same time.

He parked outside of what he guessed was Gerard’s house, if he had the right place – if Gerard hadn’t lied to him and sent him somewhere to get mugged or something instead. He undid his seatbelt to hop out and go run up to the door but before he could even pop the lock Gerard slipped out of the front door of the house and closed it quietly behind him.

Frank leant over and popped the lock on the passenger side door so Gerard could slide in.

“Were you just waiting by the door, or something?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Just drive,” Gerard said, looking forward and pulling the seatbelt across his chest. He looked flustered and his hair was messy and half-damp, like he’d just gotten out of the shower.

They passed through the neighborhood in near silence. Every time Frank opened his mouth to say something he couldn't think of a damned thing to say that would make this less weird. “So, uhm, you hungry?” Frank asked, pulling out onto the main street. He was kind of hungry. Maybe this would be less awkward if they both had food in their mouths and didn’t have to talk.

“Whatever,” Gerard mumbled.

“Awesome.” Frank said, and pulled off the road when they passed a fast food place and into the drive-thru lane. “You want anything?” He asked, turning to Gerard.

Gerard shrugged.

Yeah, this was gonna be awesome. “One veggie burger and one cheeseburger, two large fries, two large cokes?” he asked, leaning out the open window to holler at the drive-thru box.

“You a vegetarian?” Gerard asked, finally looking up at him.

Frank glanced over. “Yeah, have been for a while. Got a hold of The Jungle in junior high and it totally fucked me up.” He shuddered to even think about it.

“So, what, you’re going to let me eat the evil beef, is what you’re saying,” Gerard said. He looked almost like he could be trying to joke around. And significantly less like he was going to throw himself out of the car. Frank counted it as progress.

“Hey, man, your food is your food, I’m not going to get all crazy-eyes-PETA on your ass,” Frank said, pulling up to the next window. He lifted his hips up in the seat to grab his wallet out of his back pocket, and when he looked over Gerard was looking the other way. Frank paid and got the bag of food from the bored looking attendant, then tossed the bag onto Gerard’s lap, snapping his attention back to him.

“Grab me a couple of fries, will you?” he said, pulling out of the drive-thru and back onto the road. Gerard complied.

Things were a bit better when they both had food to eat, although Gerard picked at his more than anything. Frank, however, was starving, and shoving his veggie burger in his mouth certainly stopped him from saying anything else idiotic. The dance studio was completely deserted when Frank and Gerard finally pulled up. Frank sucked some of the sauce off his fingers and tossed the empty wrapper towards the bag on Gerard's lap. "They not have any classes tonight?"

"No, nothing tonight. Nobody comes in on Tuesdays," Gerard said, shoving Frank's trash properly into the bag. "C'mon."

Frank followed Gerard as he huddled close to the door of the studio, unlocking it from a key he had on his key ring. Gerard closed and locked the door behind them, flipping on the lights but keeping all of the blinds and curtains shut.

"Wow," Frank said. The place was definitely bigger than it’d looked from the outside. There was the wide, main open room with the slicked hardwood floors, and an attached kitchen area behind a partition, as well as some closed doors that apparently went off to the back rooms. The main room, though, had those floor-to-ceiling mirrors he’d always seen in movies with one of those ballet bars that was bolted most of the way around the room. "Cool."

"Let's just get this over with, yeah?" Gerard said, brushing past him to head towards the stereo perched over on the counter. Frank hesitated. Gerard liked dancing. Why did he keep acting like teaching Frank was some big thing? Teaching Frank had to be better than teaching a bunch of geriatrics every week.

Frank shoved his hands in the pocket of his hoodie and rocked up on his toes. "Yeah. Totally. So, like, how do you want to-"

Gerard pressed play on the stereo and the music started, cutting Frank off. Weird, swoopy, retro music. Gerard shrugged his jacket off and tossed it onto the counter next to the stereo, then turned to look at Frank.

"Uh," Frank said. Eloquently.

"Come here," Gerard said, gesturing to him with his arms outstretched. Frank walked over slowly. Were they supposed to just - start dancing? Like this? Maybe Frank should do some sit-ups or something or run around the block a few times or some shit. Loosen up. Forget he was here.

"Are you sure? I mean, they aren't going to play this kind of music at prom," Frank said, his hands still in his hoodie pocket.

Gerard rolled his eyes. "The fundamentals are the same. You slow dance to this, you can slow dance to anything, and this is better than anything you'll hear at prom anyway. And the slow dance is really the one where you don't want to look stupid."

"Can't I just, I don't know, shuffle around in a circle?" Frank said, hedging. This was a terrible idea. He'd just go hide in a corner while Rhonda and his other friends laughed at him. No biggie. Totally cool.

Gerard sighed. "Frank. You asked me to help. I'm going to help. Trust me, when you're holding a girl close and you know what you're doing, she's going to be able to tell."

"Do you know what you're doing?" Frank asked.

"Trust me. I'm a professional." Gerard said, raising his hands toward Frank again.

"Really?" Shit, Frank was so in over his head.

Gerard sighed and dropped his hands completely. "No of course not fucking really, it's just an expression. Now come here."

Frank pulled his hands out of his pockets and let them dangle limply by his sides. Gerard rolled his eyes at him again and grabbed his hands, lifting and moving them around until Frank's hand was on Gerard's waist over his hoodie and his other was clasped mid-air with Gerard's. Frank had to bite back a laugh at how ridiculous they looked.

"Your hand is sweaty," Frank said.

"From your hand," Gerard said. "Now. Just. Hold her like this." He pulled Frank a little closer and frowned as Frank involuntarily bent his body away a bit so there was still space between them. It was almost like they were about to hug. But not. But not hugging to music. There was no way prom was worth this.

"This looks silly," Frank said.

"That's because it's you and me and not you and her. Stop fidgeting." Gerard said. He looked super annoyed. Frank was the one who asked him for help so he tried not to feel too ridiculous as Gerard started to move them around the room. Frank tried to keep up without actually really moving his body all that much.

"You're shuffling," Gerard said. "Don't drag your feet so much."

"What else am I supposed to do?" Frank asked, frowning at him. "Jump around?"

"No, but you don't want to sound like the slow shuffling approach of zombies, either. At least pretend that you're excited to be there."

"Well, maybe it would be easier if my date didn't look annoyed at me all the time," Frank said.

"Well, maybe it would be easier for your date not to look so annoyed at you if you didn't keep stepping on her feet," Gerard said, wincing as Frank stumbled.

Frank yanked his hands out of Gerard's grip and stepped a few steps back. "This is stupid," he said, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

"This isn't stupid," Gerard said defensively, putting his hands on his hips. "Giving up is stupid. I thought you wanted to impress your grandma. And not look like an idiot at prom."

Frank stared at his feet. He felt stupid. "I guess," he mumbled.

Gerard held out his hands again. "Good. Now try it again."

Frank sighed. The embarrassment now had to be better than the embarrassment later. "Fine." He stepped forward again and rested a hand on Gerard's waist.

 

***

 

"Where were you?" Mikey asked, not looking up from his video game.

Gerard paused by the door, his jacket in his hand. He thought about telling Mikey what in the hell just happened, who he'd spent the last hour with in the studio. They'd laugh about it. He could show Mikey how Frank stood, practically in rigor mortis. But he just...couldn't. Not when he could still feel Frank's fingers on his waist. "Nowhere. Just out," he said instead.

"Someone drive you?" Mikey asked. He shot a zombie in the head and it writhed around in its own blueish blood before dying on the screen.

Gerard shook his head. "Nah. Walked. Just went over to the park to draw."

Mikey darted a look over to him but Gerard couldn't read his expression. "Cool. Wanna play me on multiplayer?"

"Fuck yeah," Gerard said, plopping down on the floor next to him and reaching for the controller. "You are going down."

 

***

 

Frank knew his dancing was pretty bad. Really bad. Horribly bad. But he didn’t realize it was bad enough to make Gerard Way not even make eye contact with him the whole rest of the week after the lesson. And seriously, he’d tried.

“Yo, Frank, what the hell are you looking at,” Chris asked, snapping his fingers in front of his face. “You’re totally spaced, dude.”

“Huh?” Frank asked, blinking at him. When he looked back over at the lunch table where Gerard was before he was gone. Dammit.

“You high?”

“Fuck no, I’m not high,” Frank said, frowning. “I’ve just thinking about, this – uh, paper, I gotta cram it in during free period.”

Andrew rolled his eyes. “You’re such a nerd.”

Frank threw a french fry at him. “Whatever, don’t be pissed I sit too far away for you to copy off me now.”

Andrew didn’t have any retort so Frank knew he’d nailed it. He glanced back over again but there was still no sight of Gerard in the whole cafeteria. He frowned. Seriously, what the fuck.

Frank saw Gerard again that afternoon in the library when he was trying to finish up his stupid paper (he really wished he had been bullshitting Andrew about that). He had his head bent over a notebook of some sort. Probably a sketchbook, since it looked like he was drawing furiously. Frank wished he could see what Gerard was drawing. But if he moved closer, he would definitely alert Gerard to his presence and apparently that meant Gerard would disappear.

He sat at his table, shifted his stack of research books around so it obscured his face a little, and just watched Gerard. It wasn't exactly interesting. Gerard just kept drawing without looking up or doing anything. But Frank couldn't seem to stop.

He startled nearly out of his skin when a voice to his left said, "Hey Frank."

"Jesus," he breathed. He turned to see Rhonda. She was smirking at him.

"You working on that Civics paper you told me about?" she whispered.

"Yeah," he murmured back. "Can't seem to concentrate, though." He grimaced in the direction of the stack of books.

"I feel that," she said. "Mind if I study for my Bio test here?"

"Be my guest," he answered. He sneaked a look over at Gerard's table and saw that it was empty.

*

Kevin whooped and slapped him across the back as they headed out the gates of the school. Fucking Friday, finally. He’d done pretty well on that Civics paper and the priest that morning during Mass had apparently been on a mission to get them all out of there fifteen minutes early. Pretty good for a Friday.

Of course, his Thursday had mainly involved sitting in his car outside of Gerard’s dance studio, scowling and smoking his way through a pack of cigarettes while he waited for his grandma to come out. Did Gerard think he was better than him? Did he think he was going to do something? Frank was a nice guy, dammit, and if Gerard was too busy being a sweaty fuckhole than there really wasn’t anything he could do about it. Except volunteer to drive his grandma again the next week, apparently.

Frank shot Kevin a little half-wave and rounded the corner. He couldn't wait to get home and out of this fucking tie.

“Frank, hey man,” Andrew said, rising from his spot outside the gym to flag him down as he walked toward the parking lot. “Laura just tipped me off – there’s a huge party over at Kyle’s tonight. You in?”

Frank didn’t even pause. “Of course.” Distraction would be good.

“Sweet, fuck yeah you are,” Andrew said. “I’ll pick you up, right, your car is so sketch it makes my face bleed.”

“Chicks love a classic car,” Frank said, pulling his sunglasses out of his bag and slipping them on. “She’s got inner beauty.”

Andrew rolled his eyes. “Delusional. I’ll be there around ten, alright?”

Frank nodded and Andrew headed back towards the front of the school, probably to holler at some of their other friends about the party. Frank shoved his cold hands in his pocket and headed towards his car parked in the very back corner.

He swung his backpack into the passenger side seat and hefted the door closed behind him, taking a second to just press back against the seat. Andrew never fixed a car up from the inside before. She was something. He ran a hand over the steering wheel gently, acknowledging, and then kicked it into gear, ready to head home and get ready.

He spent most of the afternoon finishing a bunch of chores for his mom so when she got home from work and he asked to go spend the night at Kevin's, she couldn't come up with a reason to say no. He threw a change of clothes into his backpack and was ready to go when Kevin and Andrew arrived to pick him up in Andrew's BMW. Frank had to concede that Andrew's car was nicer than his on any number of levels, but seriously. He was also a high school senior who drove a beemer. Frank's car had more character at any rate. And a lot more love. Andrew treated his car like shit and drove like the special kind of Jersey asshole that even his mother swore at and gave the finger.

They rolled up to the party in a screech of tires. Frank rolled his eyes and hopped out. He left his backpack on the seat with a vague hope that Andrew wouldn't disappear to parts unknown with it at any point. Kevin gave him a friendly punch in the arm as they walked up to the house and Frank grinned at him. They followed Andrew straight into the kitchen where the requisite red plastic cups of beer were shoved automatically into their hands.

Frank took the first gulp, grimaced, and then chugged the rest down. That was the only way to deal with shitty beer.

“I’m going to go find Jackie,” Andrew said almost immediately, grabbing another full cup of beer before splitting off and back into the surge of people in the hallway. Frank and Kevin saluted him with their cups and took another deep swig.

“You’d think that with a house like this Kyle’d be able to afford something that wasn’t straight from a horse dick,” Frank said, peering down into the foam after it still tasted as bad as it did before.

Kevin sighed. “You’re telling me. Hey, is Rhonda coming?” he asked, gesturing vaguely at the crowd.

Frank shrugged. “Dunno, didn’t see her much this week. What about you, dude? You ask that girl Sarah - you know, the one you’ve been in love with for like four years - to prom?”

Kevin took another swig, avoiding his eyes. “One of these days. Totally gonna happen.”

Frank smirked. “Come on, dude, let’s go see if Chris is here. He owes me some smokes.”

They passed by the keg and through the kitchen (although Frank stopped to peer inside the fridge and sneak a beer to slide in his back pocket) and then back into the mess of people. Frank was glad he’d gone out. This was good.

*

“This is terrible,” Frank said, stabbing his cigarette out against the concrete of the front sidewalk. “He fucking left?” He stretched his legs out in front of him on the sidewalk until his knees cracked. The party was winding down and the sun was coming up and Frank was fucking tired.

“He said he’d be back,” Kevin slurred. Some girl, Casey, Frank thought, or Carly, or something – was leaning up against Kevin’s side, half-asleep. Kevin kept looking at her like he wasn’t sure where she’d come from.

“My shit’s in his car, man,” Frank said, immediately pulling out another cigarette and fumbling with his lighter.

Kevin shrugged. “He’ll be back. I think he just went down the road a bit to hook up with that girl.”

“He better not get his shit all over my backpack, man, you gotta dry clean that shit,” Frank said, angrily inhaling his cigarette until the cherry crackled. He coughed deep and took a took a swig of his almost drained beer. It was warm and the label was practically dissolving against his palm. His head was already at a low throb, pre-hangover. Shit.

Kevin laughed and snatched Frank's cigarette out of his fingers and took a couple of drags before handing it back.

"So what's up, man?" Kevin asked.

"Fuckin, the sky man, I don't know," Frank answered. He felt Kevin huff next to him.

"Nah, dude. You've been kind of spaced out lately," Kevin insisted.

Frank shrugged. "Have I been?"

Kevin nodded and nudged him in the arm. Frank ignored him and popped open another one of the beers he'd snitched. He took a swig and handed it to Kevin who took a swig himself. They passed the beer back and forth for a while.

"I dunno, man. Money shit, probably. I'm not exactly Andrew, you know?" Frank finally settled on.

"Dude, nobody is Andrew. And thank fuck for that. He's a great friend and all, but I don't think I could handle more than one of him," Kevin said.

Frank tipped back his head and laughed. "No, definitely not."

He glanced back over at Kevin. "So, seriously. You gotta ask Sarah, dude. Otherwise some other asshole will ask her and you'll be stuck moping in a corner at prom with your little sister and wishing you'd been faster," Frank said.

"Fuck you, I wouldn't go to prom with my fucking sister," Kevin sounded scandalized.

"Oh, that's right. She's already got a date," Frank teased.

"I'd go with you, Kevin," Calley offered. "Well. No I wouldn't. I'm already going with Jason."

Frank cracked up and downed the last of his beer.

 

***

 

“Haven’t you already read that like eight times?” Mikey asked, huffing out a breath. His face was mostly obscured by his scarf and jacket but Gerard knew he was mocking him.

“Whatever, dude, this is so fucking good,” Gerard said, huddling over his copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Who cared if he’d read it eight (okay, technically nine) times. It made him feel good.

“The bus is late today,” Mikey said, huddling a little bit closer to him. “I don’t think we’ll have time to go over to Ray’s before the comic store closes.”

Gerard sighed, lowering the book slightly. “No, I don’t think so either. This bus sucks so bad."

"Dude, you have to take me to prom. I can't deal with this shit on prom night," Mikey begged.

"Fucking prom, you're going?" Gerard scowled.

"Yeah. Cara asked me." Mikey shrugged.

"Fine. I'll take you," Gerard sighed. "And the bus has officially screwed us over. I guess we’ll try again tomorrow, yeah?

“You have dancing tomorrow,” Mikey said. “Thursday.”

“Oh, yeah, fuck,” Gerard said. “I totally forgot.”

Mikey narrowed his eyes at him. “You never forget.”

Gerard shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m going to keep going.” He lowered his head again and didn’t look at Mikey. He didn’t want to talk about it.

Mikey didn’t say anything, just stepped a little bit closer. “Can I borrow that when you’re done?” He asked, nodding towards the book. Gerard just nodded and stayed quiet, huddling a little tighter into his coat against the wind.

*

Gerard got to English a little early and staked out his usual seat in the back corner. He was so fucking glad Gibson didn't do assigned seats. The room gradually started filling up. Gibson came in and started writing the vocab word of the day on the board as if they all hadn't already taken the SATs and still needed to prepare. When Frank came in the room and sat down, Gerard tried very hard not to look. He pretty much failed. Frank was talking to that Rhonda girl and smiling and laughing. At least until Gibson started class.

Frank actually seemed to pay attention in English, which sort of surprised Gerard. He wouldn't have pegged Frank as the type, but clearly he did okay in the class and seemed to enjoy it. Gerard just couldn't figure out his deal. He was pretty sure the whole dancing thing wasn't some elaborate conspiracy anymore. If it had been, something would have happened already.

"...Gerard?" Gibson asked. Gerard flushed.

"Can you repeat the question, please?"

Gibson smiled. "Sure. I was asked if you'd kill me if I made you write a story modeled after The Old Man And The Sea."

Gerard scowled. "Yes." The class laughed. Apparently his hatred of that stupid book had been noticeable to everyone.

"Well, it's a good thing I'm not, since we're moving on to poetry for the rest of the semester," Gibson said. A few groans went up around the room. Gerard rolled his eyes and glanced back towards Frank. Who was turned slightly in his chair and looking right at him with a small smile on his face. Gerard's stomach swooped. Fuck, he thought. Fuck. He did not need to have a crush on Frank Iero.

Gerard turned his eyes back to Gibson and kept them there for the rest of the class.

*

Gerard paused in front of the mirror in his bedroom and fidgeted with his tie. Maybe he really shouldn't go to dance lessons today. Really, it's not like it'd matter, and he could just tell Grandma he wasn't feeling well. It wasn't a big deal. And he could stay home and he and Mikey could work on their comic book and he wouldn't have to look at Frank Iero's stupid face or feel like he was going to throw up whenever he caught Frank staring. He was a freak, he got it, Frank didn't have to keep goddamn hammering it in.

He sighed. He didn't want to stay home. He wanted to go. Maybe Frank'd gotten tired of bothering him by now, especially since he'd given him the dance lesson like he'd wanted. He spent most of his days feeling like a coward at school, anyway. He didn't know if he could bear it all the time.

*

"Gerard!" Mrs. Harrison called, "You are looking particularly fine this evening."

"You always look particularly fine, Mrs. Harrison. You feeling fine?" he asked, spinning her around the floor a little.

"I'm feeling great," she said, a little slurred around the edges. "Spin me again!"

Gerard tried not to laugh when he saw Grandma rolling her eyes at the front of the room. The happy hour at the dive down the block coincided pretty nicely with the beginning of class and Mrs. Harrison liked to multi-task.

He'd seen Frank's car parked outside, like it usually was, the dark shape of Frank in the car hard to see through the glare of the wide front windows. He was determinedly ignoring him, though, focusing instead on not tripping over Mrs. Harrison's feet as she tried to improv a new step for the hell of it.

The song ended and they were all changing partners when the door to the studio opened and cold air whooshed in. Gerard didn't have to turn to know who was there.

"Good evening, Mr. Iero!" Grandma called out. "Are you going to join us this evening?"

Frank cleared his throat. "My heater broke, ma'am. It's kind of chilly. Do you mind if I just sit in the corner and read my book?"

"Not at all. You really should dance with us, though," Grandma pushed. Gerard wished he could make throat cutting motions at her or something.

"No thank you, ma'am. I think I'd rather just read and maybe watch for now," Frank answered.

"If you insist. Feel free to jump in anytime you feel moved to. As it were," Grandma said and started the next song.

Gerard was suddenly, stupidly nervous. It's not like Frank hadn't seen him dance before. Hadn't danced with him before. But the idea of Frank being there, in the room, watching him dance made him want to die.

He tried to put Frank entirely out of his mind and just focus on Mrs. Castle in front of him and on the steps. He was almost successful until they made a turn and he caught sight of Frank staring at him.

"Oops, there we go," Mrs. Castle said, smiling and holding him a little tighter as he tripped on her feet. God dammit. When he glanced back over Frank was looking away and down at his book, but smiling a little. Gerard wanted to punch it off his face.

He waited until Frank got up to head back towards the restroom at the back of the studio, through the kitchen, to make an excuse and duck out of the next dance. Elena gave him one of her eyebrows (Mikey had definitely gotten that one from her) but he just nodded towards the back supply closet, implying he was grabbing one of the brooms, and she nodded.

He stalked after Frank to the back of the studio and jerked the bathroom door open, the faulty lock immediately giving way.

"Jesus Christ," Frank said, his hands fumbling on the fly of his jeans, "What the fuck, I'm -"

"No, you what the fuck, Frank, you," Gerard said, crowding into Frank's space, jabbing a finger at him. Frank just stared at him like he was insane. He wasn't making much sense. It was a bad habit.

"You," he said, starting over. "You are here. Inside. Why do you keep fucking bothering me."

Frank frowned. "I'm not bothering you."

"If I say you're bothering me you're bothering me."

"Well maybe you're bothering me," Frank said, puffing up a little, his hands still on the button fly of his jeans.

"How can I be bothering you!" Gerard huffed. "I don't do anything to you."

Frank just opened his mouth, then snapped it back shut, like he just swallowed back down whatever he was going to say. "I want you to give me another dance lesson," he finally said.

Gerard was pretty sure his eyebrows shot into his hairline at that one. "What?"

"Seriously. You're really good and my grandma's face lit up when she saw me. I felt bad for not actually dancing with her," Frank said. Gerard stared at him.

"You." Gerard took a deep breath through his nose and let it out slowly. "Fine. Whatever. Tuesday." He walked out of the bathroom and grabbed the broom from the supply closet. He started sweeping at the edge of the room, going slowly because there were still a good number of people milling around.

Frank came out of the kitchen straight towards him.

"I don't get you," Frank said so only Gerard could hear.

"Well that makes two of us," Gerard returned. "I mean, I don't get you either."

"Okay." Frank was silent for a moment. "Pick you up Tuesday?"

Gerard sighed and nodded.

*

Tuesday actually felt like spring had arrived instead of the extended winter weather they'd been having. It was definitely nice not to shiver while waiting for the bus in the morning, but Gerard was having a hard time focusing on anything other than what was going to happen that afternoon.

He'd worked really hard over the past four years to make sure that nobody at this school could ruin the good things he had, that he protected for himself, and Frank Iero just made it seem like it was nothing to come in and mess everything up. It made him feel sick.

The day passed too quickly, a rare occurrence in Gerard's academic career. All too soon he was back home, trying to figure out what he was supposed to wear that wouldn't look too ridiculous. He sighed and pulled another t-shirt over his head, this one a little less smelly.

"You going out again?" Mikey said from his spot on Gerard's bed, sprawled back against the headboard and typing away at his phone.

Gerard sighed. "Yeah. Gotta work on some English shit. I'll be back later, okay?"

Mikey nodded and didn't look up. It was almost six so Gerard grabbed his backpack and his wallet and went to stalk out the front door. As soon as he heard Frank's car creak up he was slipping out and down the front steps. Frank had a really distinctive car. Mikey would definitely recognize it, at least from school, and Gerard just didn't want to deal with lying to Mikey and Mikey seeing through it immediately. He was really good at that.

"Hey man," Frank said as soon as Gerard slid in. "I got us some tacos. You like tacos?" He gestured with the hand not holding the cigarette to a little bag down by Gerard's feet.

Gerard nodded. Frank smiled and took another drag.

"Your car is freezing," Gerard said, because he was an idiot and said things like that when Frank Iero bought him tacos.

Frank looked at him a little weird. "I told you, my heater broke."

"Oh." Gerard thought he'd been lying. "Can I steal a smoke?"

"Sure man, yeah," Frank said, doing that thing where he managed to lift his hips out of the seat to reach in his back pocket while still driving at the same time. Gerard fumbled with the lighter a little, like always, and it felt good to have something to do with his hands.

The radio was on but Frank had it cranked down pretty low. Gerard could hear the beginning of The Clash's 'I Fought the Law' start up, though, and he was reaching for the dial before he could stop himself. Frank kind of gave him a weird look, and Gerard hesitated. Maybe he wasn't supposed to touch his radio. Some people didn't like you touching their radio.

"I love this song," he said kind of helplessly, his hand still hovering in the air by the dial.

Frank's mouth crooked up in the corner. "So do I. Crank it."

Gerard did.

*

The next few weeks were really fucking strange. Well, a whole lot stranger than what Gerard was used to experiencing. He was still teaching Frank Iero how to dance, for one, and he was still lying to Mikey about it, neither of which were things he thought he'd be capable of.

The dance lessons, though, were good. Frank, technically, was pretty terrible, but they laughed about it and whenever Gerard snarked at him about it Frank snarked at him right back without looking like he was going to storm out and never come back. He kept coming back, too, every Tuesday after school, and Gerard was by the door waiting (and ready for an excuse for his family if they asked).

Frank always grabbed some kind of shitty food for them, and they spent about half of the lesson sitting with their backs against the mirror, trading french fries and talking about shit while Gerard's dance music played on in the background. Frank liked books, and old horror movies, and already had his first four tattoos picked out (soon as he turned eighteen and had the money).

He was different than Gerard had thought. It was strange. He still felt weird whenever Frank was around, and kind of like he wanted to run away and throw up, but less because he thought one of Frank's friends was going to come up and punch him in the face and just...because.

The lying to Mikey, well. He didn't really know that one either. The lessons with Frank were this little weird bubble with him and Frank and not feeling like a loser and the mirrored walls of the dance studio, and every time he opened his mouth to tell Mikey about it he just didn't know what to say.

*

"Ugh, stop," Gerard said and pulled the stereo remote out of his pocket and paused the music.

"What now?" Frank asked exasperatedly.

"You have like, the steps down pretty well, but you're not really leading right. You're pulling when you should be pushing and pushing when you should pull and it's throwing everything off." Gerard put his hands on his hips and thought. There was really only one thing he could think of. He set the music going again, but punched down the volume a couple of notches. He reached out, took Frank's hand, and grabbed his waist the opposite of usual.

"Okay, I'm just going to show you," he said over the music, "You don't have to follow perfectly, but just try not to step on me, okay?'

"Fuck you, I only stepped on you that first day. And maybe a little the second," Frank said.

"And my toes will never be the same," Gerard returned and then started dancing.

Frank didn't actually do too terrible a job of following. He fucked up the steps a lot, but mostly didn't actually falter or cause Gerard to mess up. The music ended and apparently it was the end of the CD because the room went quiet. Gerard brought them to a stop and they ended up closer together than usual. Gerard took a deep breath and licked his lips. Frank's eyes shifted away and he stepped back and out of Gerard's grip.

"So... try to do that," Gerard said.

Frank laughed. "Easy for you to say. You're good at this."

Gerard snorted. "Not really."

Frank rolled his eyes. "Okay, start the music again. Let's see if I can please you."

"Not likely," Gerard snarked and started the music up again, holding his hands up for Frank to take his waist. Actually, Frank did a lot better. It wasn't anything brilliant, but Gerard didn't feel like he was being jerked around the dance floor quite as much anymore.

"Alright. We're taking a break now," Frank said after a few minutes and sat down right in the middle of the floor. Gerard sighed and sat down too. There were few things worse than awkwardly standing while other people were sitting down. And then Gerard's stomach growled. Which was definitely worse than awkwardly standing while someone else was sitting.

"Are you hungry?" Frank asked. "We could order food or something. I don't want to go home yet. I have a Civics essay to write and I would rather avoid that a little longer." He pulled at his messy hair and pushed it back out of his face.

"I guess. But I'm paying. You paid last time," Gerard insisted.

"Okay," Frank shrugged. "That'll give me more money for car shit, then. My dad's supposed to come out this weekend and work on it with me."

"Like, no offense or anything, but you don't really seem the car type," Gerard said.

"Hah. I'm kind of not? My dad got it for me to be mostly like, a father-son bonding thing. Well. He unearthed it from my uncle's garage and made sure it ran a little. The bonding thing has worked, I guess. We spend more time together now. And I'm not gonna complain about having a car." Frank rubbed his nose and looked to the side. "What do you want to eat? I have a decent Chinese place programmed into my phone."

Gerard agreed to Chinese and Frank called in their order. The talked mostly about school things until the food got there. Things like how much they both hated Sister Catherine and how they were pretty sure Gibson pulled his quiz questions straight out of a Dali painting because they never make any fucking sense. Their food arrived and Gerard forked over some cash and they sat back down in the middle of the floor eating out of the cartons with chopsticks.

"My dad is a mechanic. He's never worked on car stuff with me. Never even offered." Gerard's mouth said. He really didn't mean to say that.

"Would you actually want to?" Frank asked around a mouthful of noodles.

"Probably not. I guess dad and I do most of our bonding over comics. It'd be nice to be asked, though," Gerard answered honestly.

"Like, you're right. It's probably not something I would ever have thought to do on my own. I'm not... I don't really like getting all greasy and gross. But now that I'm like, doing it and stuff, it's cool. Everything has a purpose and it all has to work together in order to make it function properly," Frank said. "Like dancing. When the music and steps and everything all come together, it makes this really cool and beautiful unit. It's just really cool."

"That makes sense." Gerard could feel himself smiling a little at Frank. Frank stared back at him for a second and then leaned towards Gerard. Gerard assumed Frank was going to steal some of his food or something, but he kept coming and suddenly his lips were pressing to Gerard's. He had no idea what to do. Frank was a little too far away to touch, but he felt weird having his hands just clutching his food containers and chopsticks, so he tried to put them down. The kiss broke and Frank pulled back. Gerard set down his food and looked back at Frank. He really had no fucking idea what just happened. Before he could ask or run away or anything, Frank was scooting a little closer and leaning back in and kissing him again. This time Gerard got a hand on Frank's arm and tried to kiss back a little.

Frank pulled back after a few more seconds and went back to rooting around in his take-out container. "Yeah, so, uhm, I'm going to work on some engine stuff next, hopefully get it from making that horrible noise, but, who knows how long that'll take, right?" He kept talking about his car and some of the replacements he was going to put in, soon as he figured out how, and Gerard tried to respond, to keep up, but his mind was in an uproar. Frank Iero kissed him. Twice. It wasn't something he ever thought would happen to him. Ever.

"I should probably get back home," Frank said after a few minutes. "My mom should be home from work soon and I have to write that stupid essay."

"Right, yeah. I have an art project I should start on," Gerard said. Did he? He probably did. His brain was mush.

Frank drove him home and pulled up in front of the Way house, cutting his noisy engine. "See you tomorrow," he said.

Gerard nodded. "Good luck with the essay," he said. Gerard wanted to wipe his sweaty palms on his jeans but kept them balled up on his thighs.

"Thanks," Frank answered and leaned in and pecked Gerard on the lips again before pulling away quickly. Gerard blinked a few times and then got out and went inside.

"Where do you keep going?" Mikey asked when Gerard got down to the basement.

"Nowhere, really. Just around," Gerard answered. He went into his room and collapsed onto his bed. What the fuck?

*

Gerard was surprised to wake up feeling fairly well-rested the next morning. He had no idea what school would bring. All he knew was that he couldn't stop thinking about Frank's lips on his. He barely even noticed the bus ride or his homeroom class. He just sat there staring into space. He saw Frank between periods. There was hardly anyone in the hall, but Frank just walked on by without sparing a glance for Gerard. He felt weirdly disappointed. Gerard didn't know what he'd been expecting or hoping for, but it was definitely more than nothing. He sighed and made his way to his next class as quickly as possible.

 

***

 

“Hey, sweetie, how was school today?” Frank’s mom asked when he came in the door.

Frank jiggled his keys in his hand. “Same. Did well on an English test, though.”

“That’s good,” she said. She was in the kitchen stirring something on the top of the stove with her back to him. Whatever it was it smelled really rich, really good. Frank watched her motions almost in a daze. He had forgotten it was dinnertime. He wasn’t really hungry.

“I’m going to go lie down,” Frank said. His mom stopped and laid the spoon the counter, turning to look at him.

“Are you okay, sweetie? You’ve been quiet this week.”

Frank shrugged. “Just, you know. Stuff. School.”

“How’s that tutoring you signed up for going? On Tuesdays?” She asked, looking concerned. “Is it helping?”

Frank felt horribly uncomfortable. “Yeah, it’s, uh. It’s going great. Learning some stuff.”

“That’s good. Dinner will be soon. Your dad called, he won’t be able to make it out this weekend after all, he had to pick up a few more shifts at work. Apparently there’s some horrible stomach flu that took out half the team. I don’t know. He said he’d try for next weekend though, okay? He’s going to try and call you on Monday.”

Frank ignored the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. “Oh. That’s okay. I’m just gonna-“ He started again, jerking his head towards his room. “Call me when dinner’s ready?”

“Absolutely,” she said, and smiled before turning back to the stove. Frank trudged back to his room and closed the door quietly behind him before leaning against it and sighing.

He shrugged off his jacket and tossed it over the back of his chair, then made short work of his school uniform until he was down to his undershirt and khakis. He flopped back on the bed and stared at the ceiling.

He kissed Gerard Way. Several times. Huh. So…that was apparently that, then. Or something. He didn’t know. He still didn’t really know. He hadn’t even really thought about it until right then, sitting next to him in the dance studio. Gerard had smiled at him and then Frank was leaning forward and quite possibly scaring the shit out of him with his mouth. He’d tasted like lo mein. That was very smooth.

Frank pressed his hands to his eyes and groaned. But Gerard had kissed back? Sort of? Mostly he had stared at Frank like he thought Frank was going to punch him in the face, which was kind of terrifying in weird ways.

His mom knocked on his door. “Frankie? Dinner’s ready.”

Frank rolled over and planted his feet on the floor, determinedly not thinking about it anymore. “Be right there.”

He and his mom ate dinner together at the counter, sitting on their mismatched barstools and sharing toast to dip in their soup. His mom told him all about the projects she was working on at work, and he nodded in the appropriate places. When she asked him about school he told her the things he knew she wanted to hear.

When he got back to his room Andrew and Kevin had texted him asking him his plans for the night and talking about some big party down on Spruce Street, but Frank didn’t reply back. He shut his phone off and shoved it underneath his pillow.

“Mom?” He asked, coming back into the living room. His mom was curled up on the couch with a book and she looked up at him over her reading glasses.

“Yes?”

“I think I’m going to go to the video store. Do you want anything?”

“No, sweetie, but thank you.”

Frank hopped down the front steps of the house and headed off to the video store. He didn’t take his car. It’d only make him think about his dad. He wanted something that’d not make him think about anything, really. Something where people died in terrible ways. Maybe in slow motion. Maybe not.

He picked up a copy of the latest teenagers-in-the-woods-get-attacked-by-a-frogman-with-knife-hands type release and then headed into the older DVD section, waiting for something to catch his eye. There was one, though, that did, and he had to check over his shoulder to make nobody was looking. Nobody was.

He turned it over in his hands and read the back, tapping his finger over the spine. Yeah. Yeah, okay.

*

“Get anything good?” His mom asked when he came home. Frank shrugged.

“Murder. Mayhem. The usual.”

“Well, that sounds lovely. Have a good night,” She said, and flipped another page on her book.

Frank headed down to his bedroom with the bag from the video store bumping around his knees. He sat on his bed and kicked off his shoes and pulled his hoodie off over his head without unzipping it first. He pulled the horror movie out first and slid it into the little cheap DVD player he'd hooked up to the little TV his dad had given him right after the divorce. He pressed play and laid back on his bed, only managing to sit still for a second before he leaned over the side of his bed and found the bottle of Jack he kept tucked away in the back behind his winter comforter.

The lukewarm can of coke he found on his dresser really didn't make the best mixer, but it'd work. It made the terrible movie a little bit better, or at least in the way he paid little attention to the actual story. He curled up on his side and sipped at his drink the best he could without spilling over the covers. Eventually he could hear his mom make his way down the hallway towards her bedroom at the back of the house, turning off the house lights as she went. He watched to the end of the movie and then sat up when the credits rolled. His head was warm and swimming, but pleasantly so, where everything was a little off balance and felt pretty damn nice.

He grabbed the bag from the video store and stumbled over to the DVD player, pulling the horror movie out and sliding the other movie in. He flopped back on the bed and kicked off his pants, rolling under the covers as the opening scene rolled. He kept the volume low so his mom wouldn’t hear. It was called Strictly Ballroom and there were lots of very shiny people wearing very shiny outfits and spinning in very shiny ballroom circles. Frank watched from under half-lidded eyes and just sort of let himself fade back, watch the colors and the Australian accents all swirl together all nice on the screen. The main guy was pretty hot. He wore a lot of tiny undershirts but sometimes wore full tuxedos with shiny shoes. Gerard would look really good in a tuxedo. He already had that nice hairstyle down like they all did. Frank liked Gerard’s hair.

He was sad Gerard didn't wear his hair like that to school anymore. Gerard didn't seem to like attention, though, not from anyone, especially not at school. It made Frank kind of sad and kind of like he wanted to figure out why and mostly like he wanted to make sure Gerard didn't look at him like he could actually hurt him. He'd kissed Gerard and he'd kissed back but he knew if he tried to do anything like hold Gerard's hand at school Gerard would look at him like he'd hurt him, like having everyone there looking at him was the worst thing Frank could have done. He didn't want that at all.

He was so tired, suddenly, like he'd been exhausted for days but hadn't even noticed. He quietly moved his hand down under the waistband of his boxers and gently ran his fingers over his dick. He jerked off as quietly as he could under the covers and had to clamp his other hand over his mouth when he came. He rubbed his hand on the t-shirt on the floor by his bed, threw a towel over the bottle of Jack, and curled up into a little ball and crushed his other pillow to his chest. He couldn't even watch until the end of the movie. It didn't matter. He turned it off and fell asleep almost immediately, and didn't think about anything at all.

 

***

 

Frank hadn't talked to him or looked at him since Tuesday. Gerard spent his free period chain smoking in the smoker's alley instead of where he was supposed to be. He was surprised none of the other smokers were hanging around, but it was definitely a relief to have some time to himself. He skipped dancing at the studio on Thursday. He'd given his grandma a pretty flimsy excuse, but he just couldn't bring himself to go. He skipped English earlier, too. He was contemplating skipping again on Monday, when he heard steps coming towards him. He sighed and glanced over. It was Frank. Gerard wanted to throw up.

"Hey," he said and leaned against the wall next to Gerard. "Can I bum one?" Gerard handed over his pack and lighter. He watched Frank pull out a cigarette, light up, and take the first drag. He tipped his head back against the wall and exhaled smoke up into the air, his eyes closed.

"So," Frank said. "Are we still on for Tuesday?"

"Um. Yes? If you want," Gerard answered.

"Cool," Frank said and opened his eyes and smiled at Gerard so big his eyes crinkled at the corners. Gerard's stomach did a summersault. It felt kind of awesome. Gerard felt himself smiling back. When Frank handed Gerard back his cigarettes and lighter, his hand lingered longer than was strictly necessary on Gerard's and then he flicked his butt to the ground and stepped on it before heading back into the school.

Gerard stayed where he was for a few minutes, trying to get his head back under control. He had no idea what was going on with his life.

*

Gerard sat in the living room waiting for Frank to text telling him to meet him outside on Tuesday afternoon when there was a knock on the door. He frowned and got up from his spot on the couch and opened the door.

"So," Frank said and then coughed pathetically, "I'm sick."

"Okay," Gerard said, not sure how to respond. "I'm sorry."

Frank shrugged, "I'm used to it. But I probably shouldn't dance today. I mean, I'd just spend more time coughing than dancing."

"Okay," Gerard said. Frank moved closer to the door.

"Can I come in? I mean, it might be fun to just hang out for a while?" Frank asked.

"Sure," Gerard answered after a beat and stepped back to let Frank in.

"Gee, have you seen our Day of the Dead DVD?" Mikey asked as he walked into the room. He froze when he saw Frank standing there.

"Um. Mikey, this is Frank." Frank raised a hand and waved.

"Yeah. I know," Mikey said. "Have you seen the DVD?"

"I think it was on my dresser?" Gerard offered.

"Okay. Well, if it's there, I'm watching it," Mikey said and went back towards the stairs. "Are you coming?" He called back over his shoulder. Gerard looked over at Frank.

"It's one of my favorites," Frank said with a smile. Gerard breathed a sigh of relief and they followed Mikey down to the basement. Mikey was rifling through the crap on Gerard's dresser looking for the DVD when they got down there. Gerard kind of wanted to bury his head in some sand or curl up in a ball and die at the thought of Frank seeing his room, but Frank was just looking around curiously and didn't seem revolted or anything.

"Sit down, I guess," Gerard said and gestured at the bed. It was then that he realized that he hadn't washed his sheets in way too long. But Frank just grabbed a pillow and scooted back against the wall. Gerard moved to help Mikey find the DVD and he finally discovered it on his nightstand, instead of his dresser. He handed it to Mikey who put it in the shitty little DVD player and TV they'd saved for for months.

Gerard sat down on the edge of the bed. Frank tugged on his hood and Gerard couldn't really help but smile a little and scoot back. He shoved his hands in the pocket of his hoodie, leaned against the wall, and tipped his head back to stare at the ceiling. His life was really weird sometimes. But this felt weird in the good way.

Mikey got done fiddling with the TV and sat on the other side of Gerard. He pushed play on the remote and the movie started. Gerard had seen it a million times, so it was easy to be distracted by Frank next to him. Their thighs were almost touching and Gerard could feel the warmth coming off Frank's leg. Gerard took his hands out of his pockets, but he wasn't sure what to do with them, so he moved to put them back, when Frank grabbed his right hand with his left and then didn't release it, just rested their joined hands between them. Gerard sneaked glances at Frank, but just watched the movie without looking back at Gerard. At least not when Gerard was looking.

On his other side, Mikey jabbed him in the ribs. Gerard glared at him and turned to the movie. He didn't really watch it, he just stared at the screen for an hour and a half. Gerard didn't really mind.

"Fucking love that movie," Frank said when the credits started rolling. He didn't let go of Gerard's hand. "It always makes me wanna listen to The Misfits after, though."

"Totally," Mikey said and got up disappeared out the door. He was back within a minute. He put a CD into Gerard's stereo and pressed play. The sounds of "20 Eyes" filled the room. Frank grinned at Mikey who smiled back. Gerard did victory arms in his head.

They listened for a while and then Frank glanced at his phone, "Oh shit, I gotta go. I'm due back home in five minutes." He was already scooting towards the edge of the bed, but he didn't let go of Gerard's hand, so Gerard followed and they climbed the stairs still holding hands.

"See you," Frank said when they reached the door. He paused for a second and then turned back, kissed Gerard briefly and was out the door before Gerard had a chance to respond. Gerard went back downstairs. When he walked into his room, Mikey raised his eyebrows from his spot on Gerard's bed.

"Shut up with your eyebrows," Gerard grumbled.

"Seriously, what the fuck, Gerard?" Mikey asked.

Gerard slumped down on his bed and buried his head in a pillow. It smelled like Frank. "I have no fucking idea," he wailed.

"Well. Like. He seems nice, I guess? And he has good taste. And he's not as big an asshole as some of his friends," Mikey offered.

"Yeah," Gerard said. He kept his face in the pillow. Mikey patted his leg and left the room.

*

The rest of that week was fucking... Gerard didn't even know. He couldn't focus on anything. Frank didn't show up at school on Wednesday or Thursday. At the studio Thursday evening, Mrs. Marino arrived, but Frank's car did not. Gerard was debating whether or not to just ask after him when he overheard Mrs. Marino tell Grandma that Frank had been sick and that she'd made him stay home.

"That boy. He insisted he was feeling better, but I told him to rest one more night. I have other people who can cart me around if necessary," she said with a sigh.

Elena smiled. "He sounds like a good boy." Gerard ignored her when she looked over at him.

Frank was at school on Friday. He looked like he'd been sick. His shoulders slumped a bit more than usual and his eyes had big, dark rings beneath them. Mass was excruciatingly long and class was even worse. Gerard wanted to talk to Frank, but he also didn't. He didn't even know what he wanted, except for school to be over for the weekend. Ray was supposed to come over and hang out. It would be the one normal thing to happen in what felt like forever.

*

"So, Gerard, what's new with you?" Ray asked as he plopped himself down on the bed. It took a lot longer for his hair to stop moving than the rest of his body, but that was pretty normal.

Gerard shrugged. "Nothing. School sucks. I hate the world. Etcetera etcetera."

Ray smiled. "So just like old times, then."

Gerard nodded. "Just like always."

Ray leaned over to his big black backpack on the floor and rummaged around for a bit before pulling out a handle of something clear, probably something wretched and terribly alcoholic. "The cure for all your ills, my friend."

"I'm pretty sure that's the source of most of my ills, actually, at least by tomorrow morning." Gerard said, smiling a little in spite of himself. He really liked Ray. Ray didn't care that he was an awkward basement-dwelling comic book nerd because he was an awkward comic book nerd too, even though his bedroom was just off the kitchen and actually had a real window. They'd been friends since the start of middle school when they had music class together and he showed Gerard some Queen covers he'd been trying to learn on the school's one dinky electric guitar. Gerard was really glad his parents and grandma wanted him and Mikey to get a good education by sending them to Queen of Peace, but the reality was that he'd trade a good education in a heartbeat just to have a friend like Ray to sit next to at lunch.

Ray worked on unscrewing the lid as Gerard grabbed two empty cups off his desk. He checked to make sure he hadn't actually used them as painting cups yet (it had happened before) and passed them over to Ray to fill.

"I think we have some cans of Coke upstairs, I'll go grab a couple." Gerard said, rising to his feet.

"Where's Mikeyway tonight?" Ray asked, still concentrating on measuring out the drinks, "He want to join us?"

"He's out at the movies with some friends, I think, but he'll be home later. Save him a shot."

"You ever worry you're corrupting that kid?"

"Nah, not really. He's a Way, he's already fucked. He's better at it than I ever was, anyway."

"Better at what?"

Gerard shrugged. "Life."

Ray laughed a little and Gerard turned to head up the stairs. The kitchen was empty so he grabbed as many cans of Coke as he could carry. He loved when his mom went to the bulk store. She was out for the night, too, she and dad were out doing something-or-other. Not that she would have thought it suspicious if she were home. Or would have noticed. She was a pretty astute mom but she was sort of weird about noticing things like her kids getting drunk in the basement.

He kicked the door behind him with his foot as he cradled the cans of Coke in his arms. "Got 'em!" he called.

"Excellent." Ray said, and held out a cup. "Bottoms up."

*

Ray was already passed out on Mikey's bed by the time Mikey came tromping down the stairs. It had to be pretty late, but he wasn't really sure. Maybe it was pretty early. The drinks were pretty strong. He faintly heard the sound of Mikey nudging away an empty Coke can with his shoe and making his way over to the bed, but he just rolled over on this back and groaned blearily. That shit was wretched.

"We saved you a shot." Gerard mumbled at Mikey, keeping his eyes closed. He could feel Mikey's weight dip the mattress beside him.

"I'm good. You good?" Mikey asked quietly.

"No good."

"No good?"

Gerard shook his head a little but it made things spin more, so he stopped. His stomach kept moving, though. Like Ray's hair. Or Frank at dance lessons. Spinning. In circles. In his stomach. Maybe on his stomach. He probably looked hot no matter what part of Gerard's body he was currently making feel nauseous.

"Hold on, Gee -" Mikey said, rising off the mattress. Gerard was already bent over the side, though, his arms wrapped around his stomach. "Trash can's right here."

"Imalrigh'," he slurred. It wasn't a throw-up kind of sick. He wasn't that drunk yet. But definitely the kind where you wished you could just to get it over with. He spit a little in the can anyway. "I'm okay. Ima be okay."

Mikey was silent, which could mean pretty much anything in the range of Mikey silences and Gerard couldn't open his eyes long enough to tell what his eyebrows were saying. Probably that he didn't believe him. It's okay. He didn't believe him either.

Mikey nudged him until he rolled over enough for him to fit his lanky little body between him and the wall. Gerard groaned a little but shifted and kept his eyes closed while Mikey toed his shoes off at the side of his bed and threw his hoodie into the pile of dirty clothes by the desk. Ray just snored.

Gerard settled and listened to Mikey breathe. "'rglasses?"

"Already took them off," Mikey said. "On the desk."

Gerard nodded. "Kay."

They were silent for a while, listening to Ray snore in the bed beside them. Gerard couldn't seem to let himself fall into that drunken sleep that he wanted so badly. Everything just seemed to sit in the pit of his stomach, heavy and cold. Ray's stupid wretched vodka didn't make him feel better.

"Why are boys so stupid?" Gerard asked, his eyes still closed.

Mikey was silent for a long time. He was probably asleep.

"I dunno, Gee. I'm sorry." He said finally. Gerard knew he was looking at him, but he kept his eyes closed.

"It's okay."

"I'm still sorry."

Gerard didn't really have anything to say to that so he just turned over on his side and pretended to fall asleep. Once Mikey's breaths evened out enough to mean that he was really, truly asleep, Gerard fished his fingers into his jean pockets and pulled out his cell phone. He flipped it over and pushed down on the broken tab button to bring up the messages.

A couple from Ray and Mikey and some reminders from his mom (ever since she learned how to text she was all over that shit), and a few from Frank, asking about meeting for dance lessons from the week before. He hesitated only a second before hitting reply.

what's the biggest lie you ever told

He flipped the phone closed but held it in his hands. Frank was probably asleep, too. Or out with his friends. Or that pretty girl he got to hold hands with at prom.

Wherever he was, he wasn't answering text messages, because his phone never beeped. Gerard didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed, but he swallowed it down and finally fell asleep, phone still in his hand.

 

***

 

Frank's phone beeped halfway through a Bela Lugosi marathon with his dad. It was just past midnight and while getting texts from his friends at all hours wasn't unusual, they didn't usually say they were from Gerard. In fact, that had never happened. The only time he'd ever gotten a text from Gerard was when it was about meeting up for dance lessons. He couldn't really help but smile.

"Oooh, did you get a message from your girlfriend?" his dad teased. Frank felt his cheeks heat up and he squirmed.

"Um. Not really," he answered and opened the message, what's the biggest lie you ever told.

Frank felt suddenly, desperately uncomfortable. He started tapping out a total bullshit answer, I burned a bible and told my mom it had fallen into the fireplace. Frank sighed and stabbed viciously at the clear button.

"You sure that's not a message from your girlfriend? That's a girlfriend kind of a look if ever I saw one," Cheech teased more.

"No, Dad," Frank sighed.

When I was younger and still mad at my dad about the divorce, I told everyone he was dead. It was cleared almost as soon as he finished.

I tell a lot of small lies that add up to one big one all the time. Frank saved that one as a draft, flipped his phone shut, and shoved it in his pocket.

"Dad, you remember when I was little and I told everyone you were dead?" Frank asked.

"Not likely to forget," his dad answered, eyes fixed on the screen.

"I'm sorry," Frank said. His dad turned towards him and patted Frank on the knee.

*

Frank could not stop looking at Gerard. He was wearing a vest and tie like he wore to dance on Thursdays a couple of times. He definitely could not concentrate on dancing. Finally Gerard stopped and put his hands on his hips.

"Okay. Seriously, I would like to be able to walk tomorrow. How about we stop for the night?"

Frank laughed and ran a hand over his face, "Yeah, that's probably a good idea. Wanna go get milkshakes and fries or something?"

Gerard smiled at him. "Sure." He bustled around making sure everything looked exactly like it did when they came in. As they were walking out the door, Frank grabbed Gerard's hand and squeezed it. And then he noticed that he'd left his car lights on. They were already pretty dim.

"Shit," Frank said. He quickly unlocked the door and slid in to the seat, pushing his key into the ignition. He pushed the clutch in, took and held a deep breath and turned the key. Nothing happened.

"Shit," Frank said again and thumped his forehead on the steering wheel before trying again.

"I have Triple A?" Gerard offered.

Frank moaned. He could faintly hear Gerard step away from the car to call, but Frank just kept his head down and ran his hands over the steering wheel. He couldn’t believe he did that to his car. He was usually so good about this sort of stuff. To be honest, though, he'd had other stuff on his mind lately.

As if on cue, Gerard slid into the seat next to him, his cell phone pressed against his ear. "Yeah. Yeah, no, that's great. Thanks." He hung up and slid the phone into the pocket of his pants, and then awkwardly folded his hands on his lap. "They'll be here ‘soon,’ they said."

Frank moaned again. "This sucks."

Gerard sighed. "I know."

Frank thought about telling his mom about the bill and felt completely nauseated. "The bill’s gonna suck. At least I'm not hungry now," he said a little morosely. He knew he was whining, but seriously, his car. He rolled his head a little on the steering wheel to look over at Gerard. "Thanks for calling them for me."

Gerard shrugged. "Not a big deal. I feel kind of bad that every time I get near your car something breaks. I think I'm bad luck."

Frank laughed a little and sat back against the seat, slouching down the frame. "Nah, she just gets jealous easily."

Gerard did that thing where he looked at Frank like he thought Frank was making fun of him and rolled his eyes.

"She's been pretty much jealous constantly since we first started hanging out," Frank continued. Gerard cracked a smile.

"Oh really?" Gerard said after a moment. He turned a little in his seat so he was facing Frank.

"Yep." Frank grinned. "Man, we are in some horror movie shit right now. It's almost dark and we're stranded with a car waiting for a fucking tow truck and there are like - the nearest people are kind of far away."

Gerard laughed. After a beat, they both reached over and locked their doors.

"Creepiest thing that ever happened to you?" Frank asked.

"I was really young, so I don't remember much about this, but this like, hippie looking dude was wandering the neighborhood. Like, he was creepy and he said weird things to people, but he mostly seemed crazy, but harmless? My mom gave him food sometimes because he didn't look like he ate much. Anyway, one day he showed up at our house with what turned out to be a huge headstone from a cemetery about a mile away on his shoulder. He put it down on the ground and told my parents 'They're waiting for you,' and then walked off. My mom called the cops and they took him away. But it seriously took like, five guys to lift that headstone and take it back to the cemetery. I don't really remember that part, but I do remember the looks on everyone's faces after it happened," Gerard grimaced.

"Dude, what the fuck?" Frank breathed.

Gerard shook his head, "I have no idea. Like, they never did figure out what was up with that guy. It was just super creepy and bizarre. What about you?"

"So, this one time like, two years ago, my mom and I were driving back from my dad's parent's place. It's not really out in the boonies, but you kind of have to go through some boonies to get there. So we're driving back and this car gets right up behind us, totally tailgating. It was dark and my mom was tired, so she didn't want to speed up, so she went to pull over and the dude started following us to pull over. So she sped back onto the road and he kept following us. Once we got back to town, my mom tried to shake him by turning a bunch of times, but nothing worked, so she drove straight to the nearest police station. The dude vanished." Frank shuddered.

"What is wrong with people?" Gerard asked, clearly horrified.

"I have no idea," Frank answered.

"Okay, to counter the creepy, favorite movie as a kid?" Gerard asked.

"Ghostbusters," Frank answered immediately.

"Good choice." Gerard grinned.

"You?" Frank asked. Frank couldn't really see Gerard in the near dark, but from his body language, he was clearly embarrassed. "C'mon, it can't be that bad. I'll tell you my secret second favorite if you tell me your favorite."

Gerard sighed. "Breakfast At Tiffany's."

"Dude, I am not even making this up, that is my secret second favorite. My mom and I watched it whenever I got sick. I always cried at the end with the cat in th--" Frank was cut off rather suddenly by Gerard's mouth on his.

Frank probably flailed a little too much, but it was understandable. Gerard hadn’t initiated anything the whole time they’d been…whatever they were, and Frank didn’t mind, but Gerard taking the lead and pushing him back against the driver’s side door while he kissed Frank made every hair on Frank’s body stand on end. In an awesome way.

Gerard was practically straddling the little center console to brace himself over Frank. Frank just wrapped his hands in Gerard’s tie and tugged, not letting him back away. Gerard moaned a little in his mouth, and Frank was pretty sure he was done, that was it, and he was considering the logistics of getting his hand on Gerard’s dick when there was a rapping at the window and a bright light shone into the car.

Frank and Gerard flew apart, gasping. Gerard had his hand over his mouth and he was flushed and rumpled, staring past Frank at the light.

Frank felt like his heart was gonna pound out of his chest but he slowly cracked the window. “Yeah?”

“You guys called Triple A?” The guy said, peering in at them.

Frank stared at him. “Uh. Yes. Seriously? That was, uh, really soon.”

The guy shrugged. “I was in the neighborhood.”

Frank just blinked at him. They totally were in one of those movies, god damn.

The Triple A dude tried giving Frank's car a jump first and when that didn't work, he got busy hooking Frank's car up to the truck. Time seemed to drag on forever, but it was really only a few minutes before they were sitting in the cab of the tow truck and they were driving to Frank's house. It took even less time to unhook the car. Gerard was standing there with his arms crossed over his chest waiting in his stupid vest and tie still. Frank pretty much had to get his hands back on Gerard as soon as fucking possible.



"Be right back," he said and ran into the house. He found his mom watching a movie in the den, totally oblivious to the fact that her son had just come home in a tow truck.



"Hi sweetie," she said.



"Yeah, sorry. My car battery died and the friend I was studying with had Triple A, so he called them and we got towed home. I gotta take him home now, though. Can I borrow your car?" Frank asked in a rush. 



His mom sighed heavily. "Hopefully your dad can help with the cost of a new battery."



"Yeah," Frank sighed too. "So, the car?" he asked again.



"Keys are in my purse on the kitchen counter." Frank kissed her cheek and dashed off to grab the keys and then get back out to Gerard. 



"Okay, let's go," he said.



"Well, at least this wasn't the creepy kind of adventure," Gerard said as they pulled out of Frank's driveway. 

Frank laughed, some of the tension from everything leaking away. "Yeah, definitely."

“I mean, did you see that guy?”

“Did you see that guy’s beard?”

“Did you smell that guy’s beard? Dude had a portable lunchbox growing out of his face,” Frank said, his hands rattling on the steering wheel. Gerard just laughed, but it was weird and high and he kept looking back over at Frank, and then looking away.

Frank wanted to pull the car over, but. It was late. He shouldn’t. Should he? No, he really shouldn’t. Shouldn’t press the horror movie backdrop too much for one night. Should he? He really shouldn’t.

He got the car to Gerard’s place mostly on autopilot, and was far too disappointed to realize how short the ride had been.

“So, I guess this is my stop,” Gerard said, tugging at the end of his tie.

“Guess so,” Frank said, staring at Gerard’s hands.

“Yes,” Gerard said.

“Yes indeed,” Frank said, for no particular reason at all except to look like an idiot, apparently, and when Gerard opened his mouth to probably say yes indeedy back to him to continue their cycle of oh my god already, Frank launched himself at him.

Gerard’s head cracked against the passenger’s side window. “Fuck!” Gerard said, but he didn’t sound like he really minded.

Frank apologized by sucking on Gerard’s neck, right at the part masked by his stiff shirt collar. Gerard made a really stupid, high-pitched noise and sort of wiggled down against the side door until he was half-sprawled against the seat, like his bones had gone missing.

Frank wanted go to lower, get at the spot where Gerard's neck and shoulder met, but there was a collar and tie in the way, so he started tugging at the tie, trying to get it loose. Gerard helped out by reaching up and pulling it off entirely. Frank was glad the top button was already undone, so all he had to do was push back Gerard's collar to get at more of Gerard's neck.

Gerard's hands slid up under Frank's shirt and Frank moaned into Gerard's neck. He lifted his head and pressed his lips to Gerard's. Gerard's mouth opened a little and Frank took the opportunity to use his tongue. Gerard's arms wrapped around Frank's waist and they just kept kissing. It was awesome. Until Gerard pulled back an inch. Frank leaned down and kissed him again. Gerard pulled back.

"I should... I should go inside," he breathed. Frank dropped his head to Gerard's shoulder for a second.

"Uhm, okay?" Frank said.

Gerard blinked up at him. His face was flushed, even in the dim light from the street lamp down the block. "I have a test. I have a Bio test, and I haven't started studying yet, and, ah, I'm not. If I fail I'm going to be really fucked," he said. Frank knew what he was saying was logical, but the idea of actually stopping what they were doing right now so Gerard could go study was not really all that appealing.

"Seriously?" Frank said.

"Seriously," Gerard said morosely. He squirmed a little and Frank backed off to his own seat. Most of his hair was sticking straight up off of his head. Frank had to still his hands so he wouldn't reach out again.

"Um. So. Goodnight." Gerard said, still staring at him.

"Yeah," Frank answered. "G'night. Thanks for, you know, calling Triple A and everything."

"No problem," Gerard said. He had his hand on the door handle.

"Good luck on your test tomorrow," Frank said, willing Gerard to stay a little longer.

Gerard huffed out a laugh. "I'm bad luck, remember? But if you've got any extra lying around, be sure to send it my way."

"I will indeed," Frank said, nodding a little. "See you tomorrow."

Gerard had his hand on the door handle and started opening it when he turned swiftly and kissed Frank again before pushing the door open all the way and getting out.

 

***

 

Gerard was half-convinced the last night hadn't happened, that he'd made it all up while he was lying in his bed trying to fall asleep, or something. But he stumbled into the bathroom the next morning and pulled his t-shirt off as the shower ran hot water, and there was a dark, bruised hickey on the side of Gerard's neck, and when he touched it he inhaled sharply. Fuck.

He didn't know what he was going to do when he got to school. He could barely think about his Biology test, even though he'd spent most of the night before zoning out looking at his flashcards and thinking about Frank's fingers spread against the skin of his waist.

"You okay?" Mikey asked on the bus to school. "You seem, like. Happy. To go to school. It's freaking me out."

Gerard rolled his eyes. "Please. This is me we're talking about, here." He made sure to keep his smile down so not to scare Mikey. And probably his classmates.

When he got to his locker he barely had time to switch out his books and run to Biology but he immediately paused, his hand still on the latch. There was something - he frowned, looking closer, immediately suspecting a prank, but no. It was just a penny, heads-side-up, clear taped to the front of his locker.

For luck. Gerard couldn't help but smile, then, and he pulled the penny off carefully before pocketing it and heading off to his test.

*

Gerard didn't have a chance to talk to Frank all morning. He stayed to the last second of Bio to keep adding facts to his final essay, and when he got to English class Frank wasn't there yet. He barely made it in before the bell rang and he only had a second to shoot Gerard a quick glance before sliding into his seat as Gibson stood up to take attendance. He was smiling, though, hidden a little in the corners of his mouth, and Gerard had to duck his head so nobody else would see him smile back.

Gerard stayed after English for a couple of minutes to talk to Gibson about his final project. When he was done, he noticed Frank and that girl Rhonda were still sitting at their desks quietly talking. Gerard went back to his desk and slowly started gathering his stuff together.

"So prom," Rhonda said. "It's coming up pretty soon."

"Yeah it is." Gerard could hear a smile in Frank's voice. He wanted to puke.

"We're still on, right?"

Gerard couldn't listen anymore. He grabbed the strap of his bag and ran out the door.

 

***

 

Frank tried not to wince when Gerard left the room. "Yeah, definitely."

"Cool. Like, it's probably going to be stupid, but I guess that's part of the whole experience," Rhonda said with a wry look.

"So," Frank said and ran a hand through his hair. He didn't really know how to say this. "Like, you're an awesome friend. Seriously, the best. And, uh, I don't know."

"Don't worry. I don't want to date you either, Frank Iero," Rhonda said with a laugh and a smile. Frank held in a huge sigh of relief and smiled back.

"Alright, I gotta get to study hall before Sister Catherine lands my ass in detention. See you, Frank." Rhonda slung her bag over her shoulder and headed out the door.

Frank cleared his desk and put his stuff in his backpack. He needed to find Gerard.

Frank went to lunch, expecting to at least see Gerard, but he didn't show up. He hardly noticed what he was eating, which was probably a blessing. Kevin tried to talk to him a couple of times, but gave up after Frank finally said he was stressing about some of his final projects. Frank was glad Andrew was eating lunch with his girlfriend, one less person to deal with.

After lunch, he ditched his books at his locker and went wandering the halls. He saw Mikey and almost asked him if he had any idea where Gerard was, but Mikey disappeared into a classroom. He was heading to the art classroom when out of nowhere, an arm wrapped around his shoulders.

"Frank! Man, you're missing out on all the fun lately," Andrew said. Frank sighed inwardly.

"Sorry, dude. The end of senior year. Everything is going on. You know how it is," Frank said.

"I don't know what's going on that doesn't involve me, but that just needs to stop, Frank," Andrew said jokingly. Frank didn't think he was actually joking very hard. "I mean, I'll have to replace you with Tye over there," Andrew gestured at an intimidated looking freshman, "He's been learning all about how to kiss senior ass, but we could upgrade him."

"You might have to do that for now, man. I am seriously booked at the moment," Frank said and ducked out from under Andrew's arm and continued down the hall. He heard Andrew mutter "what the fuck" behind him, but didn't turn around.

He peeked inside the art room, but there was nobody in there. He went down to the library, but still nobody. He was about to give up when he realized that of course he knew where Gerard was. He went straight toward the door that lead to the smoker's alley. Gerard would be there.

 

***

 

Gerard dumped his backpack to the ground of the back alley and leant against the brick wall. He lit a cigarette and inhaled, then yanked at the tails of his shirt until they untucked from his khakis. Frank might be by soon, and Gerard wanted an extra few minutes to himself to breathe and smoke and mull on some shit.

There were prom decorations fucking everywhere in the school, like some kind of niggling reminder of just how bad Gerard hated his life sometimes. At least it was quiet in the smoker’s alley, nothing there except brick walls and the back of some of the gym’s air conditioning units. He sighed and exhaled a plume of smoke.

He heard footsteps, then, and immediately perked up – Frank was there, and his stomach did that stupid, horrible little swooping shit it always did – but then he realized there were several sets of footsteps. Frank wouldn’t have brought somebody else. He quickly threw his cigarette to the ground and crushed it underneath his shoe, grabbing for his backpack at the same time.

“Going somewhere, freak?” Someone asked from behind him. Gerard cringed immediately. He turned around and saw some of Frank’s friends. It was Andrew and some guy named Derek and some guy he didn’t know, but played on the lacrosse team, and probably had hands that could crush his skull. Gerard wanted to run but he knew they’d just chase him down. He stayed silent.

“Whatcha doing back here?” The other guy asked. Gerard darted a look over to him, but still didn’t say anything.

“Can’t you fucking talk, you idiot?” Andrew said, getting up into his space.

Gerard stepped back. “I can talk. I just don’t want to talk to you.” His whole body felt numb. Shut up shut up shut up.

“Why not? Think you’re too good to talk to me?”

“I don’t make a practice out of talking with unintelligent, inanimate objects,” Gerard shot back, eyes narrowing. “Just leave me alone.” Shut up.

He started to walk away but Derek and the lacrosse guy immediately crowded forward, blocking his exits and forcing him to retreat back up against the wall. Andrew stood back and smirked.

“So clever. What are you even doing back here, huh, Way? Crying into your hair? Writing sad poetry? Waiting to suck some dick?”

“If that’s what goes down here then you obviously came prepared,” Gerard said, cocking his head towards Andrew’s henchmen. “I’m just trying to learn from the master.”

Andrew’s face darkened immediately. “Fuck you,” he said.

Derek pulled back a fist like he was about to punch Gerard in the face, and Gerard immediately drew back against the wall and covered his head. Andrew barked out a laugh.

“Don’t punch him in the face. That’ll leave a mark,” he said. Derek nodded and grabbed Gerard’s shoulders, twisting him and shoving him to the ground like he was nothing. Gerard gasped as his knee scraped across the rough concrete. When he looked back over the guys had his backpack in his hands, and before Gerard could say anything they turned it over and dumped everything out onto the ground.

“Later, dickface. Have fun down there on your knees. You look quite the natural,” Andrew said, and like that they were gone again. And they had taken Gerard’s backpack and left all of his shit all over the ground. Gerard pulled himself up and stumbled over, immediately grasping all of the loose pieces of paper which threatened to blow away in the wind.

He concentrated on that, on collecting his things, and determinately did not think about how bad his knee hurt or how his stomach ached or how he just wanted to set certain people on fire and watch them burn to bits.

He didn’t even notice the approaching footsteps. “Gee?” Someone asked. He looked up and there was Frank, looking pressed in his uniform with his stupid hair all sticking up from the wind, his big sunglasses already down over his face even though this half of the campus was almost always in the shade.

“What the fuck happened?” Frank asked, immediately coming over and helping him gather his books. Gerard felt hot all over and he was so angry, so angry at god fucking everything, especially Frank’s stupid hair and stupid god damned timing.

He snatched a couple of his textbooks out of Frank’s hands, but Frank fumbled at them to try and hold on. “I got them, man, let me help you-“

“I don’t need your fucking help,” Gerard said, yanking at them again until Frank released them into his grasp. He pressed them to his chest and kept his head down, almost frantically pawing at everything else to make a pile.

Frank paused, his hands still frozen in mid-air. “What happened,” he asked. Gerard didn’t raise his head.

“Oh, nothing, you know, just a couple of your friends thinking - and apparently rightfully so - that they could just shove the freak around for some fun, the usual,” he said. It came out almost as a snarl. He stacked two of his crumpled sketchbooks on top of his biology and English textbook with a satisfying whump. “You have charming taste in fellow human beings, might I add.”

Frank seemed stunned. “Who did this?”

“Your buddy Andrew and his cattle herd,” Gerard said, digging into the dirt for his expensive ink pens. “I didn’t catch all their names, you’ll have to forgive me.” He pulled everything into a haphazard mess of a stack in his arms and shakily rose to his feet. “I have to go.”

“Wait, I thought- I thought we-“ Frank started, standing up with him. He looked pale and shocked, and some dirty little place inside Gerard felt good about it. Good. Someone else could look stupid for a change.

We are nothing,” Gerard said, shifting the weight of everything in his arms. “That much is obvious.”

“Don’t say that,” Frank said.

Gerard stopped. “Are we something?”

Frank opened his mouth but didn’t say anything, and snapped it back closed.

“That’s what I thought,” Gerard said, turning on his heel to go. If he left now he could still probably catch the afternoon city bus home. He wished, then, more than ever, that he and Mikey had the same lunch. Mikey would skip with him. Mikey would help him carry his shit home. Mikey wouldn’t ask stupid questions about his dirty, bloodied pants and where the fuck his backpack went. Mikey would not be a jerkface.

“Why are you angry with me?” Frank asked. He sounded genuinely shocked.

Gerard stopped and turned. “Are you serious?”

Frank stood there. He looked young, like those first few days of gym class in freshman year when he was just as chubby and awkward and lost as Gerard. “I mean, I know those guys are dicks, but I didn’t do this, I didn’t do this to you, I’m just trying to help-“

“You've just made things worse,” Gerard said, unable to resist taking a few steps forward into Frank’s space. “You and your stupid, stupid friends. I should have known in the beginning. I knew in the beginning, but I ignored it because I thought maybe you were different.”

“I am different,” Frank said, clenching his hands into fists. “How can you say that? You know I am. Who else came to you because they wanted to learn how to dance, huh? Those guys wouldn’t do that.”

“If you’re different then why the fuck do you still hang around them, Frank?” Gerard said. “The only reason you came to me in the first place is because you were so goddamned worried about what they would think of you. Why do you care?”

"Like you don't?" Frank said. He didn't look confused, now, just pissed off. "Don't - don't act like you're better than me. Don't do that."

Gerard barreled on. This was it, this was everything he'd been tamping down for the past few months all burbling out of him like drunk babble. "You're ashamed to be seen with me. You lie about me to them."

"That's not true at all!" Frank said, getting up into Gerard's space. His shoulders were tense and his fists were tight by his sides. "You're the one who doesn't want to be seen with me because you're so worried about what they're going to say, I was just trying to keep it on the down low. I thought that's what you wanted."

"It's pretty clear to me what you want, Frank Iero," Gerard said, getting riled up again. "And that's everything without any of the fucking consequences. That's not how it works. That's not how this works. I can't do this anymore."

"Do what?" Frank asked. "I don't understand what you want me to do. You want me to tell my friend Rhonda, after she asked me months ago, that I can't take her to prom? You want to go with me? Is that what this is about?"

Gerard pulled back a few steps. "No." It was. Mostly. He felt petty and stupid.

"You want to stand up there in front of the whole school and slow dance and hold hands and take pictures and have everyone look at you, Gerard? You want to see the look on their faces? I know you, you don't want that, so don't act like you do and that it's my fault."

"Well don't pretend those people are your friends if they're not. And if they are, then don't pretend that we're still friends, that we're still anything, because we're not." With that Gerard turned on his heel and stalked out of the alley. Some of his pens fell out of his grip and into the grass lining the path but he didn't stop. He didn't stop until he got all the way to the bus stop, fuck the rest of his classes. Frank didn't follow and Gerard pretended that he didn't wish he had.

 

***

 

Father Matthew said the final benediction and Frank only just restrained himself from leaping out of his seat and whooping. He never had to sit through another goddamn Queen of Peace Mass ever again. He got up to file out when he caught sight of Gerard slinking out the back of the chapel and his stomach dropped. He sighed heavily and rubbed the back of his neck. It'd been two weeks since the fight in the alley and they hadn't said a word to one another. Gerard wouldn't even look at him.

"Everything okay, Frank?" Rhonda appeared next to him and he stopped so they could talk. And so Frank could maybe avoid passing Gerard in the hall.

Frank shrugged and said quietly, "I'm going to be so glad to get the fuck out of here."

"You and everybody else," she said.

"So, in case I don't see you between now and then, I'll see you tonight, yeah?"

Frank tried to smile at her, "Definitely."

He finally got out to the hallway and started heading towards his locker when he heard Andrew's voice down a short hall to the left.

“Yo! Iero!” Andrew said happily, slinging an arm around Frank’s shoulders. “You ready to get fucked tonight? The limo’s coming ‘round my place at eight.”

Frank slid out from underneath Andrew’s arms and turned to walk away. “Yeah, listen, man – I think Rhonda and I are just going to take my car.”

“That piece of shit? Frank, dude, I know you’re all into fixer-uppers, but you can’t roll up to prom in that. Come on, man! I thought we had plans.” Andrew said, frowning at him.

“Yeah, well, plans changed,” Frank said, not looking back. “Later.”

*

“You look so handsome,” his mom said, retying his hair and brushing at something on his shoulder. She was probably gonna cry.

“Are you gonna cry?” he asked, rolling his eyes.

No,” she said, totally about to cry.

She straightened his bow tie again and blinked a lot. "So who's this girl again?"

"Her name is Rhonda. But she's not... we're just friends, Mom. She's not my girlfriend," Frank said. He wanted to tell her about Gerard, about how he maybe did have a boyfriend. But he had no idea what was going on with Gerard right now and he was supposed to pick up Rhonda at her house in 20 minutes.

"Well, I'm glad you're going with a friend, then," she patted his cheek. "You put the seat covers on, so you don't get your nice clothes filthy, right?"

"Yeah, mom. I gotta go now."

His mom pulled him in and hugged him tightly. "Have a nice time, baby," she murmured in his ear and then pushed him towards the door.

Rhonda lived in one of the nicer areas of town. Frank was suddenly happy that the body had been one of the first things they'd worked on when his dad had given him the car.

When he pulled up to the curb in front of her house, Frank didn't even get his door open when Rhonda was opening the passenger door and getting in.

"The phone rang, and I booked it. I figured it would be less humiliating for everyone if we avoided the whole meeting the parents scene," she said.

Frank grinned, "You are fucking awesome."

"I know, right? So let's do this thing."

Frank pulled away and drove to the school. It felt pretty surreal to park in his usual spot for what was one of the last times and get out in formal wear. He shrugged it off and grabbed the cellophane-wrapped flower off the backseat and turned to Rhonda.

"Thanks, Frank. And thank you for not getting a corsage. I hate those fucking things." She grinned at him and pulled a little box out of her purse.

Frank took it from her and lifted the lid. "Oh, badass. You are so awesome." He pinned the little Black Flag pin she got him on his lapel.

"Okay, let's go to the lockers. I want to put my flower there. And also get something special I hid in there last week."

“Yeah?” Frank asked.

Oh yeah,” she said, and led them inside. It was sort of surreal to walk through the empty school at night and hear only their shoes echoing through the halls. The actual prom was in the gym on the other side of the school but Rhonda took them up to her locker on the second floor by the art room. She spun the lock effortlessly and popped it open, sticking the flower in the little magnetic pencil case stuck to the inside of the door.

“They totally check purses going in,” she said, rooting around in the back and pulling out a flask. Frank grinned.

They stood by the lockers in the dark, taking warm shots out of the flask. Frank winced and exhaled. “Jesus, nice motor oil.”

Rhonda laughed. Frank passed the flask back to her and looked around the empty hallway. “You going to miss this place when we’re gone?”

Rhonda shook her head and took another sip. “Nah. High school sucks. It gets better after this, though. You really just have to be worried if you think high school is awesome. That’s the bad sign.”

Frank smiled a little and took back the flask.

By the time they walked over to the prom he was feeling pretty good about this whole thing. Rhonda was pretty great, and he had a Black Flag pin on his lapel, and maybe he’d actually have fun at this god damned thing.

He gallantly held out his arm and she put her hand in it and they walked towards the grand entrance or whatever it was they were calling it. There were several sets of doors all next to each other and the actual doors had all been taken off and put elsewhere, leaving the entry completely unobstructed. The doorjambs had tulle and shit all around them. Frank was almost impressed in spite of himself. They got stopped at a little table just inside the door. Frank turned over their tickets and a nun looked through Rhonda's purse and then they were shooed into the building. It was actually kind of cool-looking inside. At least they managed to make it not look like a gym.

The first thing Frank really noticed was that the music was godawful. He looked at Rhonda and she grimaced.

"This is what we get for letting Jessica Larson be elected student body president," she hollered in his ear above the noise.

Frank laughed and then turned to her, bowing and holding out his hand, "D'you want to dance, my lady?"

"Why yes, good sir," she answered with a grin and he led her onto the floor.

It turned out, this dancing really was nothing like what Gerard had showed him. Nothing at all. He tried to follow some semblance of steps and lead and everything, but it was a hopeless case. Prom was not, apparently, a ballroom dancing sort of place.

Oh man, Gerard would laugh so hard if he saw him right now. Then he’d scowl and correct his off-rhythm bopping. Frank had a feeling, though, that Gerard knew all along this was how he’d end up looking. The thought made him smile, but then his stomach flopped and he felt sad and stupid again.

“You okay?” Rhonda mouthed.

Frank nodded and smiled at her and did a move he’d seen some of those kids do in one of those prom movies. He looked like an idiot but Rhonda laughed and did the same move, and it was okay. Kevin and some of his other friends smiled and waved at him from across the room and he smiled and waved back. He spotted Andrew over by the line for pictures but he’d immediately turned so he wouldn’t see him and come over. He didn’t even want to look at him.

Eventually, though, they faded the loud music out and put on some sappy smooth song that made everybody pause and then awkwardly shuffle together. The nuns watched disapprovingly from the sides as some people shuffled closer than others. Frank knew this, though. He rested a hand on Rhonda’s waist and held her other hand out at the appropriate level, and Rhonda gave him a look like she knew his motions were deliberate.

Frank couldn’t help but let his mind wander, though. It was impossible not to. Gerard wouldn’t have wanted to be there, but that didn’t mean Frank didn’t want him to be there. He would have looked great in a tux.

“Frank?” Rhonda asked, leaning close to him, her lips against his ear.

“Yeah?” He asked, spinning them gently.

“You missing someone right now?” She asked.

He squeezed her hand a little. “Yeah. I’m sorry."

She pulled back a little to look in his face “It’s okay. I’m glad you came with me. You’re a cool guy, Iero.”

“And you put me to shame,” he said. “Seriously, a Black Flag pin? I’m dying.”

She grinned and let him spin her out and dip her a little at the end of the song. He thought he spotted Mikey at one point, with one of the hot girls from the theatre club standing against the other wall looking bored, but when he glanced back they were gone.

“Come on,” she said, touching his arm gently after the song when the loud music started back up again. “Let’s go take pictures. My mom will kill me if I don’t have any pictures from tonight.”

“Mine too,” Frank said, and followed her off the floor.

The line for pictures was blessedly short and then they were in front of the stupid backdrop. It was then that Frank realized Rhonda was totally taller than him in her heels and that their picture was going to look fucking ridiculous. He laughed and threw his arm around her waist. The photographer snapped a photo and shooed them away. They went over to get punch and found Kevin and his date and a couple other people in their general group. Kevin slung his arm over Frank's shoulders.

"Frank!" He was clearly a little drunk. Frank sniffed his punch suspiciously, but it smelled like regular, run-of-the-mill punch.

"Kevin!" Frank said back.

"You're coming to the party, right? It's gonna be legendary, dude. Fucking legendary."

"I don't know, man. We'll see. I might get a better offer," he said and then winced, because wow, that sounded not at all how he meant it to. He shot Rhonda an apologetic look, but she just laughed and rolled her eyes.

"Dude, you can't miss this. Didn't I say legendary, Sarah?" Kevin asked his date who smiled up at him glassy-eyed, clearly drunk as well.

"Legendary, Frank. You'll break my fucking heart if you miss it," Kevin pleaded. Frank rolled his eyes.

"We'll see," Frank said. Thankfully, a song Frank was actually a little familiar with and also kind of liked came on, so he led Rhonda back to the dance floor.

"I'm really sorry. I totally didn't mean to imply..."

"Don't worry about it, dude. I don't care. I know you didn't mean it like that anyway," she assured him.

They continued dancing for a while. It was stupid and a little bit fun and it was a good way to avoid people he didn't really want to see or talk to. They slow danced a few more times and did stupid dance moves to a few more than that, and then eventually they snuck out the back to the smoker’s alley to smoke a couple of cigarettes before everybody was to leave for the party.

“You’re going to stink up your tux,” Rhonda said, lighting her own cigarette with Frank’s lighter.

Frank shrugged. “I’ve got Febreze in the glove compartment of my car.”

“Always prepared,” she said, smirking at him a little.

Frank saluted and took a drag. “You want to go to the party?”

Rhonda looked thoughtful. “Yeah. Yeah, I think I do. We’re already here, you know? Might as do the whole thing. There’s supposed to actually be a real DJ there, and not some kid with a midi player..”

Frank nodded. Some of his friends were dicks, it was true. But some of them were his friends, or at least it felt like it. And it was senior prom, right? Had to do it with a bang. And it’s not like he had an alternative.

He threw his cigarette down to the ground when the cherry was down to the filter and ground it down to the sidewalk. There were several discarded butts on the ground and Frank couldn’t help but remember Gerard, the last time they were here. The way he’d looked at him.

“Come on, yeah,” Frank said, shaking his head a little.

They rounded the corner of the school towards the parking lot. Frank laughed at something Rhonda said and then looked up and froze, his whole body numb. Andrew was down at the edge of the parking lot and Gerard was there. Fuck. Gerard was leaning back against the side of his mom’s car, his arms crossed defensively across his chest and head down, hair in his face. He hadn’t seen Frank.

Andrew was up in his space, saying something and making hand gestures in his face, and there was Derek and Steven and Josh and Nathan all standing around, laughing at him. And Gerard just stood there and took it, didn’t say a god damned word.

They were too far away for him to actually hear anything that they were saying, but Andrew twisted back to say something to his buddies and Frank knew what he was saying, could see his mouth forming the word, could see him slinging that word at Gerard, and before he even knew it he was off at a run.

He’d never actually punched someone with an intent before, and it was a bit different than he’d imagined it, watching action movies, it felt like his hand was maybe broken, split, but it also felt like maybe he took Andrew’s face down with him at the same time, so that was okay.

Frank!” someone yelled, but Frank ignored them and pulled back to swing again. Andrew was covering his face, wailing, and Frank felt like his whole body was on fire.

Someone grabbed him from the back of the neck and pulled him back until he hit the grass, almost immediately crawling to his feet. Derek and Josh were helping Andrew up, who was cradling his bloody nose.

“What the fuck,” Andrew said, blubbering blood.

“Don’t you touch him,” Frank said, jabbing a finger towards him. Kevin and Rhonda were there behind him, their hands on his chest, Rhonda’s hand gently hovering above his arm.

He looked over to where Gerard had been and he was gone.

"Fuck you, Iero," Andrew spat blood on the ground. "What the fuck?"

"For three and a half fucking years, I stood by and watched you be an asshole. Fuck you. I should have done that fucking years ago," Frank yelled.

"So what changed, did you get your dick sucked by this guy or something?" Andrew asked venomously. Frank surged forward, trying to get at Andrew. Kevin wrapped his arms around Frank's waist and held on, not letting him get far. Rhonda was still clutching his arm.

Andrew laughed, "He totally did. He sucked your dick and now you're turning on your friends. Whatever. I'm through with you. Be glad you waited to pull this stunt until now. I'd have made your life a living hell." Andrew spit again and walked off. Derek and Josh looked back and forth between them all for second and then turned to follow Andrew. A small crowd had gathered, Frank noticed, but he didn’t care.

"If I let go, you're not gonna go after him are you?" Kevin murmured in Frank's ear. He shook his head no.

"Promise, Frank?" Rhonda asked. He nodded his head yes. Kevin let go.

"I have to... Rhonda, did you see where Gerard...?" Frank didn’t know why he was breathing so hard.

She shook her head.

"He drove off with his brother," Kevin's date, Sarah, said quietly.

"Okay," Frank said. "I have to. Rhonda, I have to go. I... can you get home? I can take you home if you need me to."

"I'll be fine, Frank. I think I'll get a ride to the party anyway," she said. He nodded.

"Yeah. I really did have a good time tonight. Thanks," he said and leaned in and gave her a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek, then turned and sprinted toward the student parking lot. His hand fucking ached and he was hopped up on adrenaline and the weight of what he had just done, what the fuck had just happened.

He’d done that. He’d just fucking punched Andrew in the face in front of half the school and Andrew’d called him gay and he hadn’t denied it. He felt completely drunk and horribly sober all at the same time, but he had to find Gerard immediately.

He drove by Gerard’s house but his car wasn’t there. He paused, his foot stalling on the brake, but then he realized. There was only one other place he could be.

The lights of the dance studio were off when Frank pulled up, but he could see Gerard’s car parked around the back, half-hidden by the dumpsters. Frank parked his car a little way down the street and made his way to the studio, carefully avoiding the loud crunch of the gravel parking lot underneath his feet. There weren’t any lights on in the studio but when he tried the front door it was unlocked.

The little chime of the bell strung up to the front door rang out loudly in the still studio. Gerard was at the other side of the room, facing away from Frank, his hands resting on the ballet bar bolted into the mirror. He was looking at Frank in the mirror but Frank couldn’t read his expression. He sidled in and closed the door behind him, making the bell ring out again.

“Hi,” he said. It was barely above a whisper.

Gerard didn’t say anything.

Frank leaned against the door and just watched Gerard. He was more nervous standing there and looking at Gerard than during any point in the fight with Andrew. He had to remind himself to breathe. After a few seconds he pushed off and walked toward Gerard.

"Gee," he said a little bit louder. Gerard finally turned his head and looked directly at Frank. Frank stepped closer until he was totally in Gerard's space. He reached out and after half a beat of hesitation, put his hand on Gerard's arm.

"Gerard?" he said again. Gerard moved, dislodging Frank's hand and his heart sank, but then Gerard was lacing their fingers together. He met Frank's eyes and he didn't look worried or confused or annoyed or any of the ways he usually looked at Frank. He looked practically serene, like he'd finally figured something out he hadn't been able to before, and like Frank was a part of that.

Frank didn't really know what to do with that so he closed his eyes and leaned up and pressed his lips to Gerard's. Gerard didn't even hesitate before turning fully towards Frank and using his free arm to pull Frank closer. Frank let go of Gerard's hand and buried his fingers in Gerard's hair, deepening the kiss. Gerard wrapped both arms around him and pulled him in so that Frank practically had to straddle his legs to press closer. Frank was trying to be careful with his sore hand, but he gave up and grabbed onto Gerard's hoodie and didn't let him back away even an inch.

His hand twinged a bit (okay, kind of a lot), but he didn't even care. Gerard's hips were at a weird angle from the bar behind them, and he gasped a little in Frank's mouth as he pressed him against it. He pulled back only far enough to quickly scout the room for a better location and then leaned back to him again, sliding his hands down to wrap around Gerard's waist and guide him to turn.

He walked Gerard back to the wall with no fucking bar on it and then sunk to his knees. Gerard inhaled sharply but didn't say anything, just kept his hand hovering in the air like Frank was still standing. Gerard was hard in his jeans, though, and Frank could feel under his hands how his legs were almost jerking under his touch.

Frank's fingers were shaking and his hand fucking hurt, so getting Gerard's jeans unbuttoned and unzipped and down was a little difficult, but he managed to get Gerard's pants and underwear down around his knees. Frank had never really seen any dicks but his own up close and personal and he kind of wanted to just look, but Gerard whined a little in the back of his throat and he was already hard and Frank leaned forward and took Gerard in his mouth.

Gerard moaned and it was seriously the greatest sound Frank had ever heard. He swirled his tongue around, tasting and exploring for a few seconds and then wrapped his non-injured hand around the base of Gerard's cock and started sucking like he'd seen in some of the porn he'd watched recently. Apparently he learned the technique well because Gerard moaned again, splaying his hands out on the wall behind him. Frank was almost glad his hand was still hurting, because there was no other way he could have resisted touching himself and he was kind of hoping Gerard would touch him.

Frank looked up at Gerard and expected to see his head thrown back or his eyes closed, but instead he was looking in the mirror next to them, watching Frank blow him. He could see everything. Gerard lifted a hand and rested it on Frank's head, tangled in his hair, and the whole situation became impossibly hotter and Frank moaned around Gerard's cock. Gerard's hips stuttered and Frank nearly choked, but he pulled back a little and then started sucking in earnest. It didn't take long before Gerard was tugging Frank's head back. Gerard's cock slid out of Frank's mouth and Gerard came all over Frank's face.

“Jesus Christ,” Frank managed, blinking up at him. His hand were still braced around Gerard’s hips but his cock was straining against the zipper of his tux pants and he felt manic, like every single nerve ending he ever had just exploded in his brain. Gerard just came on his face and there was nothing he really wanted to do more right then than to do that again, but Gerard shoved at his shoulders, overbalancing him until he sort of flailed backwards and hit the ground, hard, his head smacking against the wooden floor.

Jesus Christ,” Frank managed, bringing a hand up to rub at the back of his head, but Gerard didn’t even apologize. He was on a mission, and that was apparently to get Frank’s cock in his mouth as fast as humanly possible. He almost ripped Frank’s shirt yanking it out of his dress pants and he undid the stays before Frank could even move to help, and just like that he had his hands in the waistband of his underwear and tux pants, yanking them down until they were down by his knees, Gerard still half-dressed and hovering over him on the floor.

He looked up at Frank, then, just for a second, and Frank just stared back, and then Gerard bent down and sucked his hard cock into his throat.

“Jesus Christ Mother of Mary God fucking shit,” Frank managed, as Gerard pumped his hand around the base of his dick. Frank had one hand in Gerard’s hair as he moved up and down on his dick, just holding on for dear life, and he clamped the other one down over his mouth.

He managed to twist his head enough to look over in the mirrors next to them, and he could see everything, could see Gerard’s other hand on his own dick, rubbing at it as it bumped against the inside of Frank’s leg, and the way his lips stretched out around Frank’s cock, coated and heavy with spit and meeting his fist every time he swallowed his cock down further, the way Gerard’s come was still on his own face, splattered over his cheekbone and back to his hairline.

Frank moaned beneath his hand. Gerard looked up at him then – not up at him, but up at him in the mirror, and their eyes met in the reflection, and Frank thought that was it, he was done for, but then Gerard moved the hand from the base of Frank's cock down, down to his balls, and then further, and Frank had to practically swallow his own hand to stop himself from yelling every word he ever knew he shouldn't say.

He bucked up into Gerard’s mouth again, and harder, and Gerard pulled his hand back and kept his mouth on Frank’s cock, but yanked at the crux of his elbow until Frank's hand slid away from his mouth. Frank fisted the other hand in Gerard’s hair and bucked again, and moaned, and then came so hard he thought he was having a spasm. Gerard fucking swallowed it down, too, only pulling back at the last second to gasp for breath.

“Fuck fuck fuck you, fuck you,” Frank said, still writhing it out on the floor of the studio.

Gerard stared up at him.

“Fuck you,” Frank said again, but it came out mostly slurred. Didn’t he used to be able to make words? He couldn’t remember.

"You," Frank said again and grabbed hold of the nearest part of Gerard he could reach, which happened to be Gerard's hand and tugged. Gerard pitched forward and landed on the floor next to Frank. Frank put his arms around Gerard and pulled him even closer.

"Fucking Christ, you are amazing," Frank said. Gerard squirmed around, apparently to pull up his pants. Frank took the opportunity to get situated himself. "Ow, motherfucker," he grumbled when he went to button up. Now that the adrenaline and distraction of sex had passed, his hand really fucking hurt.

Gerard laid his head on Frank's shoulder and took Frank's injured hand in his own and kissed his knuckles. "You're so stupid," Gerard murmured. It was the first thing he'd said to Frank since they fought.

"I couldn't... he was. Gee," Frank breathed. Gerard lifted his head and looked at Frank. His eyes were shining.

“You missed it, though,” Frank said, looking back up at the ceiling. “I didn’t just burn some bridges, I fucking napalmed them. You would have been very impressed.”

Gerard was quiet, still holding Frank's bruised hand between his palms. “I’m sorry I bolted,” he said after a while. “I just couldn’t-“ Frank just shook his head, cutting him off.

“I’m sorry I was an asshole,” Frank said. “And that I lied. About stuff.”

Gerard rolled over on his side until he was pressed up against him, still holding his hand. “You were an asshole. Such an asshole.”

Frank let his head loll to the side in his direction. “Gee. I’ve got your come on my face. Can I get a little slack?”

Gerard laughed. It was wonderful. He didn’t do that enough. Frank was going to make sure that happened more now. Gerard looked at him with a strange expression on his face. “I’m sorry I was an asshole too.”

Frank just smiled. Gerard lay back on the floor and they just sprawled there for a while, their hands intertwined, staring up at the pockmarked ceiling.

Gerard groaned. “Oh my god, I can’t believe I lost my virginity on prom night. I am such a teenage cliché I am going to die.”

Frank laughed until he ached all over, and then Gerard kissed him until he couldn’t even remember he’d been hurt.

*

They dropped Gerard’s car back at his house (“Don’t want my parents to freak,” he'd said, and tapped out a quick text message to Mikey on his phone) and then Frank drove them back to his place. The car, for once, ran mostly silently, so he knew his mom would still be asleep. He’d told her not to wait up.

They crept up the stairs quietly, Frank pulling Gerard along by his hand. When they got to his room Gerard kissed him before he even had the door closed, and took his time stripping the rumpled remains of Frank’s tux off of him.

"You should tape up your hand," Gerard said after he carefully pulled Frank's dress shirt off over his hand.

Frank shrugged and flexed it a little bit, making sure he could move all his fingers, "It should be okay, I think. Just sore."

Gerard looked at him skeptically. Frank just smiled at him and kissed the corner of his mouth. He sank down onto his bed and pulled Gerard with him.

"Like, maybe this is a weird time to say this, but I really want you to meet my mom," Frank said.

Gerard bit his lip and then smiled wide, "I'd like that."

Frank smiled back and then he just couldn't stand it anymore. He leaned forward and captured Gerard's lips with his. Eventually, they got situated on the bed. It was even longer before they actually settled in to sleep. Frank didn't mind. Prom was awesome.

 

***

 

[one month later]

It was a fucking gorgeous day. Which meant it was also way too fucking bright. Frank had his sunglasses on and was drumming the steering wheel to a beat he could hear coming from someone's backyard a house or two over when his grandma opened the door and sat down.

"You ready to rock n'roll, Gram?" he asked happily.

"Absolutely. Let's go," she said. He pulled away from the curb and drove the now-familiar roads to the dance studio. He pulled into the parking lot and saw Gerard smoking a cigarette, leaning against the wall. He could feel himself smiling like an idiot. He didn't even care.

“Hey!” he called after he’d parked and climbed out of the car. Gerard grinned at him.

“Hey yourself. You ready for this?”

Frank rolled his eyes. “Grams, he wants to know if I’m ready for this.”

His grandma hefted the door of his car shut with a solid thump. “Born ready,” she said, and Frank made a pleased gesture at her because really, how could you argue with that.

Gerard rolled his eyes at the both of them. “You two just think you’re so charming,” he said.

“Yep,” Grams said, and passed by them inside. Frank stayed outside for a second to steal a smoke and a kiss.

“Mikey tell you about the midnight movie tonight?” he asked. “Rhonda and Kevin and Ray are gonna meet us there, I thought we could pick up food for everybody on the way.”

Gerard nodded. “I can’t fucking wait. If they ruin this adaptation I will seriously fucking cry.”

Someone inside the dance studio cranked up the music. Frank cocked his head and tried to listen to the beat. He could already hear people laughing and chattering away inside, and Elena instructing people into place.

“What are we doing this week?” Frank asked, taking another drag off Gerard’s cigarette. Frank liked smoking after Gerard. They tasted like him. Gerard took a final drag and ground the cigarette out against the cement floor, smiling slyly.

“The paso doble.”

Frank’s eyes widened. “The paso doble? Like, the paso doble? From Strictly Ballroom paso doble?”

Gerard pressed up behind Frank and herded him in the door, his hand barely touching the small of his back. “You know, I should be jealous of your weird crush on a fictional character.”

“But his hair. I can’t believe you would act like it’s a weird thing even after I bought those Han Solo striped pants.” Frank sighed.

“For you to wear,” Gerard said.

“For you to see me wear, ‘cause I know you liked them,” Frank said, “so don’t act like you don’t know-“

“Boys,” Elena said from her place at the front of the room. “Date later. Dance now.”

“Sorry, Grandma,” Gerard said, turning a little red. Frank grinned. They made their way to the other side of the room and said their hellos to everyone in the crowd. Mrs. Wembley took up her position next to them and raked her eyes over Frank. She liked doing that a lot.

“Gerard, really, are you going to keep your boy to yourself the whole time, again? It’s terribly selfish.” She said.

“Just for this one,” Gerard said. “And then he’s all yours.”

“I hate you,” Frank said, moving his hands into position.

Gerard smiled. “I know.”

Elena counted off to the music, cutting off Frank's reply. Gerard squeezed his hand and they waited for the right beat, and then they took the first step.

 

[END]