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Forget About the Dirty Looks

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MTV.com: When I meet him in a diner in his native New Jersey, My Chemical Romance's Gerard Way is hunched under a hoodie that covers his long hair, wearing sunglasses and knocking back coffee like his life depends on it. He gives an excellent impression of being the archetypal hard-partying rock star, but in fact he's been sober for almost two years. This is just what he's like in the morning.

It takes a few refills before he really gets talking, but once he does, it's clear that he has plenty to say. "We definitely want to make a difference," he says. "That's really important to us. We want people to listen to our music and get more out of it than just, you know, the usual rock band thing. We've definitely got something more to say."

Now that MCR are playing to arenas rather than the small clubs and basements they started out in, the message is definitely getting out there. They've played hundreds of shows in support of their second album, "Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge", and there's more to come.

I asked them about their forthcoming tour of the UK and Europe, and whether they're glad to be returning to that side of the Atlantic. "It's going to rock. We fucking love the UK," Way says. "Those kids are so into us, into what we do, and we're really into them. Every time we go there it's amazing. We're really happy to be doing a long tour of Europe, too. We've got a few festival dates, and a lot of other shows, I can't even remember them all," he admits, laughing.

My Chemical Romance will be supporting Dimebag Revolution on a four week, thirteen-country tour that also includes emo up-and-comers Bullets and Proof and goth rockers In Love With Night...

* * *

There's always a feeling like the first day at summer camp or something when they get on their tour bus for the first time. Not that Gerard ever went to summer camp, but it's like he imagines summer camp might have been like if he and Mikey hadn't spent most of their summers hanging out in their basement watching horror movies and drinking cheap beer. If they'd gone on summer camp there probably would have been mosquitoes and near-drownings and probably zombies or werewolves in the woods or something. That would have been awesome, admittedly, but they probably would have split him and Mikey up and sent Mikey off with the other subs to do different activities, which wouldn't have been so awesome. So, first day on tour is totally like first day at summer camp, only with Mikey and Frank and Ray and Bob right there, picking their bunks and opening all the cupboards and checking out the tiny bathroom and the back lounge, and fewer mosquitoes.

Ray comes through with his and Bob's duffle bags and dumps them on the designated spare bunk, the bottom one behind the bathroom. Gerard goes to see what Frank and Mikey are up to, and runs into them at the bus entrance, tumbling up the stairs with more bags. "Hey, guys," he says, feeling a grin spread across his face. He flaps his hands at them. "Come on!"

"Dibs on my bunk," Frank yells, racing for the one he always gets, as if they don't already have their favorite spots picked out from the last tour and the tour before that and the tour before that. Fuck, touring in a bus is so awesome. Gerard does not miss the van at all. Well, maybe just a little bit.

"Jesus, Frank, quit it, you demented little fuck," Bob says from back in the bunk area. Frank's bunk is opposite Bob's and Frank's probably already throwing things across at him or reaching across to bug him. Bob doesn't actually sound too annoyed, though. Mikey catches Gerard's eye and they share a little smile of recognition. It's good to be back in the bus with these guys.

"You want your usual?" Gerard asks. It's not that he doesn't know the answer, but it's how they work together, ever since they were kids, Gerard taking the lead.

"Thanks," Mikey says, and Gerard gives him a little squeeze. They head back through the flimsy folding door, to the bunk area.

Ray's unpacking his stuff into his bunk below Bob's. He beams at them as they come back. "Hey," he says, then goes back to hunting around, charger in hand, for a power outlet for his iPod.

Frank's already in his bunk on the opposite side, crawling around in the space as he pulls stuff out of his bags and dumps it on his bed. "Where's my fucking iPod?" he asks nobody in particular. "Toro, did you find a power outlet?"

Gerard's bunk's the one under Frankie's. He's not going to bother unpacking yet. He just dumps his bags, takes a quick look at the space he's going to be living in for the next few weeks, and stands up again to find Frank's ass hanging out of his bunk. He gives it a slap, hard and open-palmed. Frank squawks, then pushes his ass out further and wiggles it.

Gerard laughs. "Later," he says.

"Promises, promises," Frank replies, turning round and favoring Gerard with a scowl that Gerard knows is totally put on.

"What's it been, three days?" Bob asks.

"Four," Frank says.

Jamia'd slipped Frank's favorite paddle into Gerard's carry-on at Newark before they left, winking at Gerard and saying, "Make sure this little shit behaves himself, alright?" Frank had given her an obnoxiously sloppy kiss and gotten his ass pinched for his trouble, making him yelp, then he'd sat down carefully on the plane when they boarded, and smirked when Mikey raised an eyebrow at him.

They've been in London three days now, doing publicity, and even though they were excited to be over here on this side of the Atlantic, it's still been a weird in-between phase, all jetlag and interviews and not quite being here yet. Now they're on their bus, in a parking lot beside all the other bands are loading onto their buses too, it feels like they're really on tour.

Tony, the tour manager, comes into the bus and starts handing out photocopied schedules. "We leave here in forty minutes," he says. "Don't make me come round you up. Four hours to Manchester, then you've got a couple of interviews before sound check." It's the usual deal, and Gerard zones out through most of the explanations of how everything's going to work, thinking about that comic store in Manchester, the one they went to last time they were here, and whether they'd have time to go there in between interviews, til Tony wraps up with the usual reminder for them all to tell him or Worm if they're leaving the buses or the venues for anything, "anything, guys, seriously."

"That wasn't my fault!" Gerard says, coming back to the conversation just in time. "My phone died."

"Yeah, well, let's try and keep the crazies at bay this time, just for once. You go anywhere, you take Worm with you, no excuses. We done here?"

"Yeah," Gerard says, and the other guys echo him.

"Alright, forty minutes," Tony says, and leaves.

Bob stands up. "I'm gonna go out, say hi to everyone," he says, then tugs on the hair at the nape of Ray's neck. "You want to come with?" Ray leans back against him, making a contented little noise in the back of his throat. "Come on then," Bob says, slapping Ray on the ass and pushing him ahead, out of the bus. The rest of them follow.

There are seven buses in total, including all the techs and stuff, spread out across the parking lot. It's overcast but still kind of hurts his eyes, so Gerard pulls his sunglasses on as he steps off the bus. Frank's racing ahead, trying to clamber up Bob's back for a ride, turning his head at the same time to talk to Ray, so Gerard and Mikey follow behind. Gerard swings his arm over Mikey's shoulder, and they walk side by side in companionable silence.

Bob's already found someone he knows, one of the techs for Dimebag Revolution, and before long they're all getting introduced to the band that's headlining the tour. Gerard knows them, of course, from MTV and awards ceremonies and stuff, but he's never really met them before. They're from the west coast, and they don't move in quite the same circles, so it's only through luck and a whole bunch of phone calls on Brian's part that they even invited My Chem on this tour.

"Fucking My Chemical Romance!" says one of the Dimebag guys, stepping forward. Gerard recognises him as Adam, the frontman. He's wearing a sleeveless white tshirt and showing tattoos all down his arms, even though the weather's kind of prickly-cool. He sticks out his hand to Bob. "I'm Adam. Glad you could fucking make it."

Bob introduces himself, then Gerard. Gerard steps forward and shakes the guy's hand. "Hey, thanks so much," he says. "It's really great to meet you." Introductions always make him feel like a dork but there's just no smooth way to manage it. "Um, this is Mikey, my brother. He plays bass. And Frank and Ray, they play guitar." He keeps his awkward smile plastered on his face as everyone shakes hands and stuff.

Dimebag Revolution's a four-piece act: Adam's their front-man, guitar and vocals; then there's Trayce who's small and tough-looking and also plays guitar; Matt, who has kind of stupid facial hair, just a patch on his chin, on bass; and Brandon, wearing a hoodie over a baseball cap and scowling, on drums. Gerard's not sure why every band has to have a Brandon or a Brendan in it, but it seems like a law or something. This particular Brandon kind of sneers at Gerard when they're introduced, but Gerard ignores it. Adam seems friendly enough, and the band invited My Chem to tour with them, so they must be alright.

"Hey, thanks," Gerard says to them. "For bringing us on the tour and everything."

"No problem," says Adam. "Rock on!" He raises his hand for a high five, then switches it to some kind of complicated multi-part fist-bump that Gerard fumbles his way through. "Hey, catch you guys later, okay?"

"Smooth," says Mikey, quietly, from just behind Gerard.

Gerard chokes back a laugh. "Shut up," he says. "Fuck, this is going to be great."

The next bus over is Bullets and Proof, and it turns out Mikey knows those guys from when they toured through the tri-state area a few years ago, so he introduces everyone round. Gerard's starting to glaze over with the names and stuff, but he remembers Meghan who's their rhythm guitarist, because she looks at Gerard's hoodie, which has a skeleton and, like, flayed organs as if his torso was transparent, and says "cool!" and asks him where he got it. They talk for a bit and Mikey catches up with the rest of the band who all give him hugs and ruffle his hair until Gerard starts to get twitchy and says, "So, uh, we should go say hi to In Love With Night or whatever," and drags Mikey off their bus and over to the next one.

In Love With Night's the only other band on this tour that's got even one sub, which is pretty typical, but Gerard's glad there's at least one if only because it's someone for Mikey and Ray to, like, hang out with and relate to or whatever. Not Frank so much, he never seems to really care or notice who he hangs out with, or at least he acts like he doesn't, but Gerard worries about Mikey sometimes, and Ray too, because he doesn't want his bandmates to feel uncomfortable or whatever. He can't always talk to them about sub shit, even though he tries. Gerard and Mikey know each other pretty well, but there's only so far it can go. With any luck, though, they'll be able to hang with Aimee, or make some friends with the techs or merch kids or whatever. It's not that My Chem aren't close like family, they totally are, but Gerard just worries sometimes, when they're on tour like this.

The rest of In Love With Night are kind of terrifying. They're dressed in leather bustiers and spike heels even at ten o'clock in the morning in a parking lot out near the airport somewhere, and their front woman, Mel, has a single-tailed whip hanging, coiled, from her belt. It's okay though, because they're the fourth band on the bill, and Gerard doesn't want to be too big-headed about tour hierarchies or any of that bullshit, but it's clear that they're actually excited enough to be on the tour and to meet My Chem that they don't spare more than a quick glance at Gerard's hoodie and sneakers and his chin-length hair hanging in his eyes, or make any smart-ass comments about his eyeliner or about the other guys. Which is good, because if they did, Gerard would be obliged to stand up for his band, and In Love With Night's tops could probably squash him like a bug.

In Love With Night's tour manager breaks in, interrupting Bob talking shop with their drummer and Gerard trying to make small talk with Mel, to let them know they have to be on the road in fifteen.

"So, um, I guess we'd better be going," Gerard says. "It was nice meeting you."

"You too," says Mel, smiling and showing her teeth between her dark red lips. "We can't wait to hear you play tonight."

"Thanks!" Gerard says, then nods to Bob, who goes to hunt down Frank. He's probably gone to bum a smoke or something. "Come on," he says to Mikey and Ray.

"I'll see you later?" Aimee says, ducking her head and looking sideways at Ray, and Ray smiles back at her, his hair bobbing as he nods.

"Yeah, see you in Manchester," Ray says.

They're on the road pretty soon after that, and Gerard keeps staring out the windows at the roads and the signs and the traffic, still getting his head around being on the left side of the road. That's one of the weird/awesome things about touring in the UK, Gerard thinks. It's like being in a mirror universe or something.

"You know what's awesome about the UK?" he says to Frank, who's sitting beside him playing Mario Kart, elbowing Gerard in the ribs whenever he tries to make a particularly energetic move with the controller.

"What?" Frank says, not looking away from the game.

"It's like being in a mirror universe. Everything's backward, even the bus is reversed. Like, the door and the bathroom and everything are on the wrong side."

Frank hits the end of a level and pauses the game. "You should grow a goatee," he says.

"Yeah," Gerard says, though he can't grow a beard for shit. Maybe in the mirrorverse he could grow one. Then he has a better idea. "No, wait, you should grow a goatee," he says. "Oh my god, Frank, you would be Evil Mirrorverse Top Frank, that would be so awesome." He starts to visualise it, and his hand twitches for a pen, wanting to draw Evil Mirrorverse Top Frank with his goatee and an evil sneer and, like, a crop in his hand. That probably means Gerard would be a sub in the mirrorverse, but he's okay with that. He's not, like, hung up on roles or whatever.

Gerard's just starting to describe this to Frank when Mikey comes out from the bunk area holding Gerard's phone. "Phone," he says, handing it over to Gerard. "It's Brian."

Brian's just calling to check in and go over PR stuff again. Gerard pulls a face as he disentangles himself from Frank and heads back to take the call somewhere quieter. Tony already went over the press schedule, but Brian wants to do it again, tell him which interviews are a big deal, and try and make sure they're not going to say anything surprising without telling Brian first. The label hates surprising. Gerard rolls his eyes.

"Everything else okay?" Brian asks.

"Sure," Gerard says. "Frank's got some kind of bet going with Bob already about jerking off in the bunks."

"Yeah, I don't wanna know about it," Brian says, his voice breaking up a little over the line. "Jesus. Look, just try not to make this tour any more dramatic than it has to be?"

"Drama free," Gerard says. "You wanna talk to anyone else?"

"Nah, it's cool. Tell 'em I said hi."

"Sure," Gerard says, and then since Brian actually called rather than emailing, Gerard curls up and talks to him for a few minutes, letting him know about yesterday's press stuff and the hotel they stayed in and the fans who spotted them as they were leaving. "Yeah, we did some autographs and stuff, it was nothing."

Gerard on the phone (fanart by anna_luna)

"Did they know you were at that hotel?" Brian asks, sharply.

"Nah, it was just random." Gerard doesn't roll his eyes. He used to think Brian was being paranoid, but they've had some weirdos figure out where they're staying before. These kids just got lucky, though.

"Okay," Brian says, and Gerard can picture him rubbing his eyes, that way he does sometimes. "Make sure you don't go anywhere without Worm, alright?"

"Yeah, we already got that talk from Tony," Gerard says. "It's cool, we know the routine." They're even sticking to it these days. They've all been living a quieter life since Gerard got sober, spending more nights on the bus just hanging out, and less out partying.

"I know," Brian says. "Just don't make me come over there and kick your ass if you don't."

"You could try," Gerard says, grinning.

"You wish," says Brian. "I gotta go."

"Okay, see ya," says Gerard, and hits the end call button. He tucks his phone into his pocket and grabs one of the comics from the shelf, and settles in to read it.

He manages to amuse himself with comics, and then with hanging out with the guys up front, most of the way to Manchester, but by the time they get there his nerves are starting to jangle and he finds himself talking louder, laughing a bit hysterically at Frank's jokes, knocking over a cup that, fortunately, only had dregs of coffee in it. First show of the tour, big venue, big crowd, and even though they know their material inside out, he can't help feeling that queasy excitement as the bus pulls off the highway and into the city streets. As they pull up to the venue, Gerard can already see kids starting to line up outside, some of them in MCR merch and makeup like Gerard wears on stage, dark lines across their eyes or smudged red and black. Some of them wave and jump up and down as the bus passes them, but he can't really hear what they're yelling through the glass, and they can't see him.

After sound check they've got an interview backstage and then Gerard and Frank head side-stage to watch the first openers and see what the crowd look like. The crowd looks kind of mixed but Gerard can see lots of MCR kids out there, some of them down front holding spots against the barrier.

When In Love With Night come on Gerard mostly stops watching the crowd and watches them instead, because they're really dramatic. They have a really theatrical performance, actually, and Gerard is definitely into that. They're all dressed up to the nines, and Mel stalks onstage in her spike heels with Aimee on a leash, unclipping it and leaving Aimee at her place at the keyboard stage left, before taking her own place at the mic. She's got a real stage presence, and though their lyrics are kind of cheesy and Frank's kind of pulling a face at the music, Gerard still thinks it's cool. He should talk to them sometime about costumes and stage effects.

They have to head back to their dressing room during Bullets and Proof's set to warm up, and that's when Gerard's nerves start to really crash over him. First show of the tour, fuck, it always messes with his head, not having been on stage for a while, not knowing what it's going to be like. In a week's time it will start to feel a bit more normal, but now it's just this big swirling mess of potentiality. He paces and does his vocal exercises and fixes his eyeliner and drinks a couple of bottles of water before he realises that if he drinks too much he's not going to make it through the set without needing to pee, and then he goes to pee before he finishes his warmups and one of the venue people comes and knocks on their door and tells them five minutes, and before he knows it they're heading out onto that stage to do it.

The lights are so fucking bright, he can feel himself starting to sweat his makeup off before he's even started. Fuck, it's great to be here on stage again. He puts one foot up on a monitor wedge and shouts to the crowd, "Manchester, we fucking love you!" The crowd shouts back, and Gerard sings to them, and the music pounds around him and through him til, all too soon, their set's over and the techs are crowding past them to tear down their gear and get ready for Dimebag's set.

"Fuck, yeah," crows Frank, jubilantly pouring a bottle of water over his own head backstage.

Gerard just grins. One show down, eighteen to go.

* * *

NME: In an industry where dominance is everything, it's tempting to wonder just how the band -- three fifths of them subs -- got so big, so fast. It's a lot of responsibility for drummer Bob Bryar and frontman Gerard Way, the only two tops. Or perhaps one and a half: Gerard's long hair and stage mannerisms do make you wonder. Still, lead guitarist Ray, whose tight pants and well muscled thighs are a visual highlight of the show, has been known to shred pretty well for a sub, and rhythm guitarist Frank's on-stage writhing and pretty bassist Mikey's quiet, head-bowed concentration do make for a show with plenty of eye candy.

* * *

"That guy is such a fucking dick," Frank says for the fifth time as he towels off his hair backstage in Paris. "He can get his own fucking beer and then shove it up his ass."

Gerard looks to Mikey for an explanation, but Mikey just shrugs. "Brandon," he says, and that's explanation enough. Ray had dragged Frank in, fuming, from the venue hallway where everyone seems to be celebrating a good show by getting drunk. If Brandon tried to tell Frank what to do, it's no surprise that Frank's pissed.

"You wanna come sign some stuff with me?" Gerard says, to change the subject. There'll be a bunch of kids out back by the stage entrance.

"I want to punch him in the face." Frank's scowling like he does when he's really pissed.

"Don't punch Brandon in the face," Bob says, not even looking around.

"C'mon," Gerard says. "Let's go say hi to the kids. Mikey, you wanna come too?" Mikey slides off the counter where he was reading a magazine and joins them.

"I'm gonna grab a shower," Ray says.

"'Kay," says Gerard. Bob hardly ever goes out to sign, so he doesn't ask.

"No, but seriously," Frank says as they work their way toward the back entrance where the buses are, "Brandon's an asshole. I'm not his sub."

"Right," says Gerard. "You're not anyone's sub. On tour I mean." Jamia's another matter, and she'd probably punch Gerard if she heard him say that without qualification.

Frank frowns, as if he wants to disagree, but all he says is, "I'm just saying, he's a fucking douchebag."

There's a couple of techs coming the other way, big guys in black shirts with stupid grins on their faces, and when they squeeze past each other in the hallways Gerard sees what they're grinning about. They've got half a dozen subs following behind them, all young kids, showing a whole lot of skin. There's a girl who's probably about fifteen, wearing cheap leather cuffs around her wrists and a Dimebag Revolution t-shirt that she's cut and tied to show her midriff and her cleavage, and a boy not much older who's bare-chested, his nipples pierced and his hair hanging loose around his shoulders.

Gerard reaches for Mikey's hand and pulls him along, shouldering past the techs and the groupies, looking the other way. Fuck, this sort of thing makes him sick. He's seen it before, roadies and security guys looking out for hot subs who want a backstage pass, bringing them back for the bands after the show. He'd never do that, Bob would never do that. It's so completely antithetical to what they're about. And okay, they have subs in their band already, but it's not like that, no matter what people say. It's about the music and about giving the fans something they can believe in.

It's warm outside and the kids are lined up along a barrier. There's some squealing when Gerard and Frank and Mikey come out, with a couple of security guys, and Gerard grins and waves. They work their way down the line, signing ticket stubs and CDs and t-shirts and stuff, and Frank manages to chill out and smile and laugh with the kids, and Mikey gets his photo taken with two girls who've made a Mikey doll wearing his glasses and dressed like he was on the last tour, and after the photo they give it to him. It's about two feet tall and it's really detailed, carefully painted and costumed and with yarn hair.

"Thanks," Mikey says, leaning across to give the fan a quick hug, then looks flustered and has to hand the doll to one of the security guys to hold before he can sign more stuff. Gerard laughs at him and they move down the line.

"Your music means so much to me," one boy says, as he hands Gerard a poster to sign.

Gerard's trying to unroll the poster and find a flat place to sign it, when a car goes past and a horn honks and someone shouts, "Fucking pussies!" The security guys step in a little closer.

"You're not," the boy says. "You're amazing."

Gerard smiles awkwardly, "Yeah, we kind of are," he says, "but that's okay. There's nothing wrong with that."

It's not the first time they've heard it by a long way. This tour's turning out to be an extra kind of special though, because Dimebag's fans really don't seem to like My Chem, or My Chem's fans. Gerard doesn't so much mind people shouting "pussy" and "cocksucker" and "slut" at the band when they're on stage -- he plays up to it, even, and Frank goes along with him, going on stage shirtless and playing whole songs on his knees, letting Gerard grab him and pull his head back, baring his throat -- but sometimes Gerard sees My Chem's fans being shoved around in the pit, and that's not cool at all.

"You're beautiful," he shouts to the kids at their next show, between songs. "Whoever you are, you're fucking beautiful. Don't let them tell you you can't do anything you fucking want." The My Chem fans scream and hold their hands out to him, and a plastic water bottle comes flying past his head. He ducks, then says, "I want you to do something for me. I want each and every one of you out there to look out for each other."

Mikey's bass comes in behind him, and Bob's drums, and they head into the next song. Gerard catches Ray smiling under his hair, and gives a little hip wiggle.

The thing is, the more people act like assholes about his band being full of subs, or about Gerard looking like one or whatever, the more it inspires him. He wants to challenge their expectations. Ray and Frank and Mikey are fucking amazing musicians, and every time they go on stage everyone can see that, and see that it doesn't fucking matter if they're subs, they're just as good as Dimebag or Bullets or In Love With Night. Better, even. And it doesn't fucking matter if they have long hair or wear eyeliner, it doesn't matter if Gerard does, even, it doesn't make him anything other than what he is. And if they can't understand that, Gerard doesn't want them at their shows. He doesn't want them buying their albums.

* * *

MTV España:

(The band sits crammed into a small sofa, Bob sitting on one arm of the couch next to Ray, and Frank sitting on Gerard's lap, with Mikey on the other side. The interviewer is a tanned woman with straight blonde hair, wielding a huge mic with the TV station's logo, which she holds out to them as they answer questions.)

Interviewer: You are all from New Jersey?

Gerard: Us four are (he indicates himself, Frank, Mikey, and Ray.) Bob's from Chicago.

Interviewer: And what is that like, the Jersey music scene?

Frank: There's so much music in Jersey. So many amazing bands, great shows. It's the best place to be from, as a musician, because you're always surrounded by it.

Interviewer: But you have not always fit in with that scene, right?

Gerard: No, well, we were kind of doing our own thing, and not everyone liked that.

Interviewer: You have had some trouble on this tour, too, people who don't like your band?

Mikey: We're kind of used to it. (laughs)

Gerard: The thing is, we don't care what those people think.

(Gerard leans forward to speak more clearly into the mic, shifting and holding Frank around the waist as he does so. Frank puts his arm over Gerard's shoulder for balance, and leans against him as Gerard speaks.)

Gerard (continued): If those people don't like what we're saying, if they want to call us names or whatever, we don't want them in the audience. They can just go home, you know? We're not playing for them, we're playing for the kids who do want us, who want to hear what we're saying.

Interviewer: And what are you saying to them, to the kids?

Gerard: Just be who you are. If someone has a problem with who you are, you can't change that and you shouldn't have to. That's what we want to tell our fans, just to be themselves, and not let anyone tell them they can't.

* * *

Somewhere around Barcelona, the first of a series of festival dates, Frank's mouthing off backstage, so Bob chases him round til he catches him and gags him. They send him on stage like that, his lips pulled back over the red rubber ball. It's not like Frank really had to sing much anyway, and it definitely makes an impact. The MCR fans are screaming for Frank from the moment they come on stage, and even the Dimebag fans seem to be throwing more shit than usual.

Frank spins across the stage toward Gerard during "Venom", and Gerard reaches for him and grabs the strap of his gag, hauling him in and kissing him over it. Frank drops to his knees and rubs his face against Gerard's crotch, and keeps playing, never missing a single fucking note. Gerard screams into his mic and thrusts a little, then pushes Frank back, hard, so Frank falls on his back, bare knees poking through the holes in his jeans, legs spread wide. Gerard feels like he might explode or something, seeing Frank writhing there, and he knows he's hard in his jeans and he doesn't even care.

"Did you see it?" Gerard asks Brian later, on the phone.

"Yeah, I saw it," Brian says. "It's all over Buzznet, what did you expect?"

"Cool," Gerard says, and he thinks he can hear Brian rolling his eyes even from this distance.

"You sure this is what you want to do?" Brian asks.

"What do you mean?"

"I just mean, the label’s starting to make some noises about it, about image or whatever."

"What? That's such bullshit, they know we're like this."

"Yeah, no, you don't usually fuck Frank's face on stage, and if you're doing it offstage I don't want to know about it. I'm just saying, you've got a pretty young audience, there's some people making noises about it."

"I don't fuck Frank's face off stage," Gerard says. Not lately, anyway, and not since he's been sober. Not that Jamia'd mind -- they'd discussed it, even, and he's got to admit he's thought about it plenty of times, and even more lately -- but so far that's not how it's playing out. "I think maybe Bob's fucking Ray's face off stage," he says.

"I did not want to know that. Jesus, Gerard. Are you trying to give me an ulcer?"

"No! They're fine, just, you know, they're --" he waves the hand that's not holding the phone, trying to figure out how to explain that Bob and Ray just have this low-key thing going on, and they both seem pretty happy about it. "Shit," he says instead, "I probably should have let them tell you or something. I don't even know if I'm meant to know about it."

Gerard knows Brian well enough to imagine what he's doing now, which is rubbing the crease between his eyebrows as if he's got a headache coming on.

"Do you guys need me to come over there and fucking babysit?" Brian says.

"We're fine," Gerard insists, and Brian sighs and says he'll call again soon.

Gerard grabs his sunglasses and goes to see if he can find Mikey or food, in no particular order. Gerard finds Mikey with Bob and Bullets and Proof in the catering tent. They've got a whole table, and there's nobody from Dimebag anywhere around, which makes Gerard's shoulders unhunch a little. They've been avoiding those guys as much as possible, and he's glad Mikey's with Bob. He hopes Ray and Frank have Worm with them, and aren't getting into any trouble, wherever they are.

Bob's deep in a conversation about how to mic a drumkit or something, so Gerard slides across the bench next to Mikey and steals half a sandwich from his plate.

"Whatcha been up to?" he mumbles around a mouthful of food.

"Just hanging," Mikey says.

"Fuck, this sandwich is --"

"I know, right?" Mikey's warm against Gerard's side, sticky with the summer heat. Gerard holds the sandwich out so Mikey can take a bite from it.

Chris, Bullets and Proof's bass player, pushes a paper plate with some kind of vegetables into the middle of the table, offering them to Gerard. "Italy, man," he says. "We should get these catering guys to come with us for the rest of the tour."

Tour food's normally shit, industrial hotdogs in plastic bread and stuff, but that's part of what makes it a tour. "I don't know," Gerard says. "Then we wouldn't appreciate real food when we got home."

"Point," says Chris. "Hey, you mind if we steal Mikeyway for a bit, when we're done here?"

Gerard looks at Chris and then at Mikey, who looks pretty relaxed about it. "What for?" Gerard asks.

"Secret bassist business," Chris says with a sly grin.

Gerard turns to look at Mikey properly. It's a good thing they've done this so many times, because he can say, Okay, Mikey? and Mikey can say, It's cool, I want it, without actually having to use any words.

"Okay," Gerard says, out loud, to Chris. "His safeword's 'Belleville'. No blood, no scat, make sure you use latex for everything, and bring him back to our bus by sound check." He gives Mikey a squeeze, then stands and plants a kiss on the top of his head. "Have fun," he says. "Make sure Chris walks you back."

Mikey tips his head back and smiles. "I will," he says.

They've done this enough times that it doesn't freak Gerard out like it used to when they were teenagers and Mikey first started hooking up with people at clubs, but he doesn't want to think too hard about it. He should probably go see what else is going on, get away from the buses for a bit. He grabs a Coke and heads off to watch one of the local bands sound check.

* * *

MTV.com: Gerard Way's role-bending on-stage persona, and the band's three subs (guitarists Ray Toro and Frank Iero, and bassist, Gerard's brother Mikey) have brought them plenty of attention. You can't go far without tripping over a photo shoot showing them posed, dramatically, covered in blood or lounging moodily in a dungeon. Gerard appeared in a recent magazine wrapped in chains, on his knees, his bandmates standing over him.

"I think it should be theatrical," Gerard says. "That's been missing from rock and roll. We do it in our videos too, we try to make them dramatic and tell a story."

Not everyone loves them for it, though. Criticism has been constant since the band first emerged from the underground scene with the release of their second album in 2004...

* * *

The show outside of Frankfurt is their fourth festival date, and it's the biggest so far. The crowd's huge, and there are two other stages with local bands, in addition to the Dimebag Revolution tour stage. The German crowd is drunk but friendly, and Gerard and Frank spend some time at the merch tent, signing shit before their set. There's some faces they've seen before -- kids who've followed them from festival to festival, who tell Gerard and Frank how much their music means to them.

They go on around dusk, and Gerard can hear the fans chanting, "MCR, MCR," as they mount the metal stairs onto the stage. The kids Gerard recognised at the merch tent are right down front. Gerard's got no idea how they got barrier, but he waves to them and they wave back excitedly.

It's one of their best shows this tour. The energy's amazing, and Gerard feels like he's flying, belting out the songs to a crowd who shout them right back at him. Bob's beat and Mikey's bass are rock-steady behind him, Frank's bouncing off the speaker stacks like a demented jumping bean, and Ray's shredding like a motherfucker. Gerard screams into his mic, tells the kids to form a fucking pit for "Hang 'Em High", and they do, bouncing off each other and picking each other up when they fall.

After, though, when they finish their set and they're slapping each other's backs and hugging side-stage, Gerard looks out and he sees the crowd shifting, Dimebag's fans pushing forward as the My Chem fans start to move away. He spots the kids from the merch tent, one of them pausing to hop on one foot as she fixes her shoe. Then a knot of Dimebag fans push past and knock her over. She falls on her ass and her friend helps her up, but the Dimebag fans just laugh, and shove them again as they squeeze away through the crowd, heads down.

It puts a sour taste in Gerard's mouth for the rest of the night. He tells the other guys in the dressing room, and Frank kicks at the door and then swears because he hurt his foot.

Later, Gerard's in the back lounge, curled up in the blanket he took from his bunk and with his hoodie pulled up over his head. He's still wired and he can't sleep, but he doesn't want to go out so he's on the phone to Brian again. It's late, but it's so late that it's morning where Brian is. Gerard keeps forgetting the timezone difference, but he got lucky this time, and Brian was awake, more or less, when he answered the phone.

"Seriously, Gee, if you guys want me to come over there," Brian says. He sounds tired and cranky, but Gerard's used to that. Having Brian all tired and cranky on the other side of the phone is comforting.

"No, it's fine," Gerard says. "I just..." He tails off, and huffs a sigh. "It kind of sucks," he admits. Brian makes a noncommittal noise at the other end of the line.

There's a knock at the lounge door and Bob pokes his head in. Gerard looks up, questioningly.

"Hey, do you know where Mikey and Frank went?" Bob asks. Gerard shakes his head. "Ray said they --"

"Sec," Gerard says into the phone. "It's Brian," he tells Bob.

"Yeah," Bob says, "Um, so, Ray says Frank and Mikey went out an hour or so back. They didn't tell you where they were going?"

"No?" says Gerard, feeling a twinge in his stomach. "I thought they were going to stick round our bus? They don't have Worm with them?"

Bob shakes his head. There's a squawking sound from the phone, which Gerard has clutched to his chest. He lifts it back to his ear.

"-- going on?" Brian says.

"Um, just Frank and Mikey. They went somewhere by themselves. We're going to go look for them." He raises his eyebrows at Bob, and Bob nods, then turns and leaves.

"Yeah, do that," Brian says, and Gerard's told him enough about the bullshit that's been going on that Brian knows that's not good. "Call me back when you find them, alright?"

"Okay," Gerard says, and hangs up.

Ray's looking worried. "They didn't say where they were going," he says. "I thought they'd be back by now."

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

"You want me to come?" Ray asks.

"No, stay here. Don't open the door."

Gerard pulls a hoodie on and tucks his phone into the front pocket. Bob's got a grim look on his face, and it looks like he's thinking the same thing Gerard can't stop thinking. They'd all agreed to stick close by the bus, and none of the subs are meant to go out without supervision. It's pretty noisy out there, most of the other buses partying, because they're parked overnight in a grassy field and don't have to leave til morning.

There used to be plenty of nights when Bob or Worm had to come find Gerard when he'd gone wandering out among the buses on a party night and drag him home, puking drunk. Gerard's not exactly loving being on the other side of the experience. He burrows his hands deeper in his hoodie pocket, pulling the front of it down, and hunches his shoulders. "Which way?" he asks.

Bob looks around, like he's sniffing the air, shrugs, and says, "This way." He leads off to the left, and Gerard follows. Bullets and Proof's bus is that way, and they've got a keg out in the space between their bus and one of the crews' buses.

"Heyyyyyy," says Meghan as Gerard and Bob come into the area that's lit by the windows of the bus and a couple of tiki torches. "You wanna beer? Katie, get some drinks for these guys."

A sub who must be Katie, Gerard guesses, turns to fill a couple of plastic cups but Gerard says, "Uh, no, thanks. You seen Mikey or Frank anywhere?" Katie comes back with the drinks, and Gerard clenches his fists in his hoodie pocket and concentrates on the mission.

"I don't think so," says Meghan. "Mikey might be in the bus, I guess."

"Yeah," says Gerard. "Is Chris in there?"

Meghan nods. If Mikey's with Bullets and Proof, he'd probably be with Chris. Mikey came back bruised and smiling quietly after that afternoon he spent on the B&P bus, and they've been hanging out pretty often since then.

Chris is in the bus, but Mikey's not. Chris is making out with one of In Love With Night's techs, whose hands are cuffed behind her back.

"Sorry!" Gerard says, trying to back down the stairs again and pretend he hadn't seen that.

"'S'cool," says Chris. "She likes tops watching, don't you?"

"Another time," Bob says, and pulls Gerard away.

They stand for a moment trying to decide which way to go next. In Love With Night's bus seems the likelier option, or there's a couple more crew buses and the Dimebag Revolution at the end of the row. Frank and Mikey probably wouldn't be partying with them, though.

Just as Gerard's thinking that, Bob lifts his head suddenly, as if pricking his ears to hear something. Gerard listens too, and then he hears what Bob heard, over the hubbub of nearer voices and music: Frank's voice, raised high enough to hear from a distance, swearing up a storm.

They're running before Gerard even really stops to think, racing towards Dimebag's bus. There's a crowd between Dimebag's bus and the last of the crew buses and he can hear the strains of Frank's, "Motherfucker, let me go, fuck you," from the thickest part of it.

"Frank!" Gerard shouts, and tries to push through the crowd.

"What the fuck is going on?" says Bob, more forcefully, and starts shoving at people, far more effectively than Gerard. He's got some kind of Viking berserker rage thing going on because the crowd parts in front of him, and Gerard manages to follow.

Frank and Mikey are in the middle of a circle of people, down on the muddy grass. Mikey's kneeling with his hands cuffed behind his back, someone holding onto the cuffs so he can't move. Fuck. Frank's sprawled on the ground, his hands behind his back, but he's rolled onto his side and he's kicking and yelling. Gerard doesn't even really look at the people around them, other than to note that it's Dimebag Revolution and all their hangers on.

Gerard steps into the circle and picks up Mikey's glasses off the ground, putting them back on his face for him. Mikey blinks at him, then looks over to Frank, who's still thrashing around.

"Frank, Frankie," Gerard says, reaching out for him. He takes a kick to the knee before Frank realises it's him, but he ignores it.

"Gee?" Frank says. "Fucking help me up."

Gerard helps him up to knees, then becomes aware that Bob's facing off against the Dimebag crew, standing with his feet planted as if he's ready for a fight. "Fucking pussies," comes a call from behind Gerard. "Why don't we get these cocksuckers on their knees too."

Bob completely ignores their taunts, as if he doesn't hear them. "You do not lay a hand on our fucking subs," he says, his voice deep and forceful.

Gerard finds himself straightening his back, drawing himself up beside Bob. Adrenaline's spiking through him, as if he were on stage. He'd be the first to admit he doesn't usually have much presence as a top, but right now, he feels like he could crush these guys under the heel of his boot if they laid a fucking finger on any member of his band. "Give me the keys," he says, holding his hand out and glaring at Dimebag. "The keys."

One of them grudgingly hands over a keyring, and Gerard unlocks Mikey's cuffs and then Frank's. Mikey rubs his wrists, and Frank stumbles to his feet, touching his lip where it's cut and bleeding and smearing the blood on his chin. "Fuck you," he spits at the Dimebag guys.

"Stop it," Gerard says, and grabs him by his shirt, twisting it hard in his hand to make Frank pay attention. "We're going now."

Bob takes Frank off his hands and Gerard takes charge of Mikey and they make it out of there, somehow. It's not til they're most of the way back to their own bus that the adrenaline starts to turn sour in Gerard's gut and he realises that he's gripping Mikey's hand way too tight. If he lets go, his hand will probably be shaking. He stumbles, and that's no good, he has to protect Mikey and get him back to the bus.

"C'mon," Bob says, coming up beside him, and somehow they make it back in one piece.

"Guys!" Ray says as they come in. "You found them?" Then he sees the look on Bob's face and says "Oh," and falters.

Bob lets go of Frank, giving him a little shove toward the back of the bus. "Can you help get them cleaned up?" he asks Ray, and Ray nods quickly, his hair bobbing around his face, and he shepherds Mikey back toward the bus's little bathroom. Gerard sits down abruptly on one of the couches, because he's not sure if his legs are going to keep holding him up.

He blinks and Bob's holding a bottle of water in front of him, its cap unscrewed. "Thanks," he says, a little thickly.

"You okay?" Bob says, taking a seat opposite him.

Gerard drinks half the water then puts the bottle down on the table and rubs his hands over his face. "They were -- if we hadn't gone looking for them --"

"Yeah," Bob says.

The silence stretches out between them. They can hear Ray's voice, high and light, from the other end of the bus, and Frank answering him sharply.

"Why would they go off alone?" Gerard says.

Bob snorts. "Bet you twenty that Frank says he wasn't alone, he was with Mikey."

Gerard grimaces. He's probably right. That's not the point. There's no way Frank and Mikey didn't know they shouldn't go off without backup, without telling anyone, especially after all the shit that's been going on. What the fuck were they thinking? He can just imagine what Brian will say -- oh. "I should call Brian back," he says. He's torn. He wants to hear Brian's voice, to have Brian say he'll do something about it, that he'll fucking fix it, but it still makes his gut clench to admit that they can't handle it themselves. Fuck. He kind of left Brian hanging and if he doesn't call, Brian's gonna call him and that'll be even worse.

"Yeah," Bob says, and sits there just waiting. So Gerard pulls out his phone and dials. This tour is going to cost them a fucking fortune in roaming bills, he thinks, irrelevantly, and tries to calculate just how much time he's spent on the phone to Brian so far, as he waits for Brian to pick up.

"Yeah?" Brian says.

"Found them," Gerard says, trying to sound casual and failing. "They were, uh, they were over by Dimebag's bus."

"Gee?" Brian says, and Gerard knows Brian knows it's bad. "Tell me."

Gerard gets as far as, "They --" and then he chokes up. "I can't -- talk to Bob," he says, and passes the phone over. He can't just say it, out here in the open like this, fully sober. He thinks maybe if he were curled up in his bunk, the curtain drawn and talking to Brian in the dark like he has so many times before, he might be able to, but not like this, sitting out in the lounge with Bob watching him.

Bob's fumbling with the phone and he doesn't look too happy about it, but he puts it to his ear and says, "Yeah, the Dimebag guys got hold of them and were messing with them. Yeah. Yeah, they had them cuffed. Frank was yelling bloody murder. Uh huh. Right, yeah. No, they didn't -- I don't think -- we got there pretty early I think. Ray's cleaning them up." He goes quiet for a bit, as Brian talks, and then he says, "Yeah, well, I thought that's what we agreed." He listens again, then looks at Gerard and says, "Brian wants to know what we're going to do about it."

"Do about it?"

"About Mikey and Frank going off like that." He listens to the phone again, then says, "I'll put him on."

He hands the phone back to Gerard, and Brian's voice says, "You know what you've got to do, right? Or do I need to give you a pep talk?"

"Um," says Gerard, and yeah, he knows the drill. He's known since he was a kid, when his parents and school teachers and everyone taught him it was his job to help Mikey learn how to be obedient. Mikey's still his little brother, and until Mikey finds a top of his own, there's nobody else to look out for him like Gerard does. And Frank's his responsibility too, while they're on tour, and he promised Jamia he'd keep him in line. It doesn't mean he wants to do it. He was there, he saw what those Dimebag douchebags were going to do, and he doesn't think any discipline he can deliver will drive the point home any more strongly. "It wasn't their fault," he tells Brian.

"It was their fucking fault they went off alone. They know the rules."

"But we can't punish them for Dimebag --"

"I'm booking a flight," Brian says from the other end of the line, and Gerard can hear the clicking that means Brian's at his laptop looking up fares. "If you haven't done it by the time I get there, I'll do it myself."

"No, we'll -- I'll take care of it," Gerard says, sighing. He knows it's the right thing to do, even if it makes his head hurt to try and separate Mikey and Frank disobeying the rules from Mikey and Frank nearly getting raped, fuck.

"Okay, you do that. I'll send you my flight details," Brian says.

Gerard hangs up, and looks at Bob. "I'll deal with Frank," Bob says.

"Now?"

Bob pauses a moment and listens to the sounds from the back of the bus. It's quieter, and they can hear Mikey saying something, laughing awkwardly and Ray laughing in return. "Tomorrow," he says.

They do it while they're on the road, somewhere between Frankfurt and Prague. Bob takes Frank to the back lounge, and the rest of them can hear him squalling from the front of the bus, even though they turn up the sound on the XBox and pretend they can't hear it. When they come out, Bob's a little flushed, and Frank's actually looking a bit chastened. He sits down carefully and takes Mikey's controller from him.

Gerard stands up, feeling awkward and like he doesn't know what to do with his hands. Mikey looks up at him, and stands too, then heads wordlessly to the back lounge.

"You know I have to do this," Gerard says, knowing Mikey understands.

"Yeah, I get it," Mikey says. He's unbuttoning his jeans, pushing them down and positioning himself bent over with his hands on one of the couches.

Gerard goes to undo his own belt buckle, then pauses. "Belt or cane?" he asks.

Mikey closes his eyes for a second, thinking it over. "Cane," he says.

"Okay," says Gerard, but that means he has to go find it. It's not in the spare bunk where they keep all the random crap, and it's not in his bunk, but he eventually finds it under the seats out front. "Sorry," he says, digging around under the seats while the others lift their feet and keep playing. Frank watches him as he grabs the cane and heads back to Mikey, then swears as Bob kicks his ass in the game.

"Sorry," Gerard says as he shuts the door behind him. Mikey's just where he left him, his jeans and his underwear pushed down around his thighs. Mikey always prefers fewer strokes on bare skin, getting it over faster. "I'm going to give you ten," Gerard says.

Mikey looks up at that, his eyebrows shooting up. Ten's a lot, with the cane. "I don't ever want that to happen again," Gerard explains. "Ever. You can't go off alone, Mikey, not on this tour. Those are the rules."

He lays the first stroke down across Mikey's ass, and Mikey winces, his hands gripping the cushions, white-knuckled, but doesn't make any sound. By the tenth stroke, Mikey's still silent, but tears are streaming down his face. Gerard drops the cane and pulls him into a tight hug.

"Mikey..." he says, feeling himself choking up too. "I was so scared for you."

* * *

Alternative Press: Dimebag Revolution like to party hard. We caught up with Adam and Brandon to talk about what they've been up to on their latest tour.

Who's the biggest party animal in DR?

Brandon: Adam!

Adam: I would've said Matt, but okay, I accept the title.

Brandon: Definitely Adam. I'm not gonna tell you some of the stories, but they're pretty brutal.

What do you guys drink on tour?

Brandon: Anything. Whatever. We've been doing a lot of tequila shots lately.

Adam: Beer. We're looking forward to German beer, they have the best stuff over there. We were there for Oktoberfest one time, that was a fucking blast.

Brandon: We're gonna see if we can get a keg installed on the bus.

Which European country has the hottest subs?

Adam: Spain, for sure. Those subs are wild, they'll do anything. Seriously, anything.

Brandon: Spain. No question.

Any words of wisdom for the cities you're about to visit?

Brandon: Bend over and get ready! Dimebag Revolution's about to own your ass.

* * *

Brian arrives the day after, showing up with a big backpack and a jetlagged scowl. He hires an extra security guy to trade off shifts with Worm, and comes with them to press stuff and hangs around signings. It shouldn't make that big a difference, but just having another top around, just having Brian around, who always seems to get shit done even if he does grumble about it, makes all the difference in the world. Gerard's still tense, but he's so much less tense than he was, just knowing that Brian's there with his phone and his laptop and his general badass powers of organization and asskicking.

Things more or less get back to normal by Zurich, and they settle in to a new, more cautious routine. They don't go anywhere, not even from the bus to the venue, without security. The Dimebag assholes have backed off a bit, and if there's some muttering and funny looks from the various tour crew, they can mostly ignore it. Gerard doesn't really give a fuck what the other bands think, as long as his guys are safe.

"There is one thing you could do," Brian says to Gerard, one day when they're on the road and everyone else is in their bunks or watching DVDs in the back lounge. Gerard looks up from his drawing, questioningly, as Brian continues, "If you want them to be safer. You could collar them."

"What? No!" Gerard's surprised. Gerard and Bob might be the tops in the band and the other guys might be submissive, but the band's never been like that. Collars are a symbol of outdated role essentialism, anyway. Gerard's sure he's told Brian this before. Anyway, that's not even the point. "That's not -- they shouldn't need to wear a collar to be safe. That's -- that's just messed up. It's victim blaming," he says.

"It'd help." Brian shrugs and looks back to his magazine. He's speaking casually, not exactly pushing the issue, but it's obvious he wants Gerard to think about it. And Gerard is thinking about it, even though he doesn't want to be. It's bullshit. Mikey and Ray and Frank shouldn't have to dress a certain way to be treated decently. That's the whole point, the whole thing he's been trying to say forever. So what, wearing a collar might make those Dimebag assholes back off a bit if they think the guys are collared, but it shouldn't matter. Brian fucking knows that.

"Besides, we're not like that," Gerard says, taking another tack. "The guys aren't collared to us, they can do what they want. I mean, what if they meet someone and they want to, you know. It just wouldn't be appropriate."

Brian rolls his eyes. "Whatever. I think you ought to ask them. Ask the whole band, get Frank to talk to Jamia, see what they say."

Gerard frowns, looks down at the paper where he's half-drawn a band leader in a marching uniform, and realises he's lost his inspiration and he's not going to be able to finish it. "Fuck," he says. "Alright."

Frank's sprawled across the back couch with his head on Bob's lap, and Ray and Mikey sitting on the floor at Bob's feet, when Gerard and Brian go into the back lounge. "Um," Gerard says, "Brian had a suggestion he thinks we should talk about."

Bob hits the DVD remote and Brian and Gerard take seats across from them. Everyone looks expectantly at Brian.

"I was just saying that if you want to reduce the amount of bullshit the guys get when they're off the bus, you might want to give them collars to wear. Gerard disagrees."

Frank pushes himself up off the lounge to sit cross-legged and attentive, and Bob frowns slightly, a crease forming between his eyebrows like it does when he's thinking hard. Ray's just looking quietly interested, and Mikey's gaze is steady on Gerard as he states his case. "I just don't think it should be necessary. It's complete bullshit that you should have to dress a certain way or wear something just to avoid being hassled. That's what we've been saying all this time."

"Fucking right," Frank puts in. "How about they fucking wear something to stop them hassling us?"

"Right?" says Gerard. "And it's not like Adam and those Douchebag Revolution assholes would necessarily care anyway. If they don't respect subs as people, they're not going to respect them just because they're wearing a collar. Do you think it would have stopped them doing what they did," he says, and swallows the bile that rises when he thinks of it, "if Mikey and Frank'd been collared?"

Everyone's quiet for a moment, then Bob says, "Honestly, with Douchebag? Yeah."

"I think it might have," Mikey agrees, nodding.

"What, no," Frank says, getting ready to argue, but Bob cuts him off.

"I saw what they were doing," Bob says. "And I saw how they stopped when I came in. I can't guarantee every asshole's going to be the same, but some of them at least care about that shit, and I think Adam and that lot care about it."

"It's just a symbol," Gerard says, agitated, and he knows he's going into rant mode but he can't stop himself, doesn't want to stop himself, because this shit's important. "It doesn't change anything. We should be trying to challenge outdated social roles, not perpetuate them."

"I'd like to hear what Ray thinks," Brian says, cutting him off.

Ray's been quiet so far, and Gerard hadn't even noticed. Fuck, sometimes he's a shitty top. He swallows the speech that's bubbling up inside him and says, "Ray?"

Ray looks up at him, and then at Bob, and says, "I'd... actually, I'd like it. I think it's a good idea."

"So that's three in favor, two against," Brian says. "And me, of course, not that I'd expect you to do what your fucking manager tells you or anything. So first chance we get, we hit a store and buy some collars. Problem solved." With that he stands up and heads back into the front of the bus.

"You don't have to if you don't want to," Gerard tells Frank. "None of you do. It's one hundred percent up to you."

"I still say it's bullshit," Frank says, "but I was thinking, if I wore one on stage, that would be a fucking statement, right?"

Gerard's eyes widen, and Frank laughs at him. "Oh my God, Frankie," Gerard says. "That's -- that's genius. Shit, you have to call Jamia and ask her. This'll be great."

When they get to the next city, the band's got press to do, but Brian goes to a store he looked up online and comes back with three collars. He takes Gerard aside before the show, to show him, but Gerard just says, "Later." It's a hotel night, and they can all get together and deal with it then.

They all wind up in the room Bob and Ray are sharing, and Brian pulls out the paper bag from the shop, which has a big logo of crossed floggers and a bunch of writing in a language Gerard can't even begin to read. Everyone's sitting watching, a little awkwardly, and Brian hands the bag over to Gerard.

He opens the bag and looks inside. There's three collars, all wrapped in tissue paper, so he pulls the first out and unwraps it. It's got sharp metal studs all over it. "That Frank's," Brian says, as if it wasn't completely obvious.

"Badass," Frank says, grinning like an idiot.

Gerard says, "Do you want me to..."

"Yeah, go for it," Frank says, and comes and stands by Gerard so Gerard can buckle it on. As soon as he's buckled it and checked that it's not too tight, Frank's bouncing off to look in the mirror. He pulls out his phone and takes a picture. "I have to send this to J," he says.

"This one's for Mikey," Brian says, reaching into the bag and drawing out out a second collar. It's narrow and plain, soft leather. It's a good choice, Gerard thinks. Mikey reaches out his hand and touches it, feeling the leather, and looks at Gerard. Gerard folds the collar in half and in half again, so it fits in his hand, and passes it to Mikey. He'll wear it when he needs to.

"Bryar," says Brian taking out the third collar, "You want to handle this one?"

Bob makes a gruff noise in the back of his throat. "Yeah," he says. There's some eyebrow action going on between Bob and Brian, which Gerard doesn't really get until Bob unwraps the tissue paper and throws a grateful look Brian's way, and Gerard realises that Bob had actually put in a specific order for this one.

Ray's watching silently as Bob lifts the collar and turns it over in his hands, and he's blushing a little. The collar's heavier than the other two, curved into a sinuous shape -- a posture collar, designed to keep the sub's chin up. There's a heavy-looking buckle at the back, and a ring at the front.

Bob lifts an eyebrow just a little, and Ray drops to his knees. Gerard feels something twist in his gut, watching them. It's not that he's jealous or anything, but it always makes him feel a little strange to see how easily Bob and Ray work together like this, how there's something between them that's not quite like what the rest of the band have.

Bob steps forward, the collar tucked under his arm, and brushes Ray's hair up off his neck, pulling it into a ponytail and tying it with an elastic he had round his wrist. Gerard wonders when Bob started carrying hair elastics around. Then Bob touches Ray's jaw to make him lift his chin. Ray presses a quick kiss to the inside of Bob's wrist, closes his eyes, and raises his chin as high as he can, baring his throat. Bob takes the collar and positions it gently round Ray's neck, making sure the widest part is centred in front, then buckles it behind. Ray swallows; his Adam's apple's hidden behind the thick leather, so only the movement of his jaw shows it.

Gerard's suddenly feels hot and prickly, kind of turned on and embarrassed to be watching what turned out to be a much more private moment than he expected. Nobody says anything, and Ray just stays kneeling, eyes closed, his hands fisted tight on top of his thighs. There's tension in his whole body as Bob runs his fingers around under the collar, checking the tightness and fit.

Brian's the one to break the silence, rustling the tissue paper and the paper bag as he gathers up all the packaging that's strewn around the place. Gerard shoots him a look.

"We'll leave you to it," Brian says, pointedly.

"Right," Gerard says, with a feeling of relief. "Um, yeah. Later?"

"Later," says Bob, and his voice is all growly. Yeah, it's time to get out of there.

Out in the hallway, Frank collapses into giggles.

* * *

Buzznet.com: MCR manager Brian Schechter -- a sub???

Check this out. I wont say who sent me this pic but it was a fan who spotted Brian Schechter (My Chem manager) at a certain airport on the way to meet up with the band who are on tour in Europe right now.

Is that an ***S*** on his passport??!? Just goes to show, MCR really ***is*** the subbiest band.

* * *

Brian's got his laptop open and cup of coffee sitting next to it on the table when Gerard staggers out the next morning. "Coffee?" he asks. Brian doesn't respond, but the carafe's still half full, so Gerard pours a mug and drinks it, then refills it before hunting around to see if there are any poptarts left.

Brian still hasn't said anything when Gerard's finished his second cup of coffee, and Frank staggers out swearing at them for drinking it all and puts on another pot.

"Hey, Brian?" Gerard says, because there's something weird about the way he's sitting there kind of quiet and tense.

Brian lets out a laugh, kind of tight and a little hysterical, and then he turns his laptop around to show Gerard. "You should probably see this," he says.

Gerard blinks and tries to focus on the screen. It's still early, okay, and he didn't think he'd actually have to look at the Internet and try and understand stuff until later in the day. He takes in the Buzznet page and the headline and the picture, and frowns. Then he looks up at Brian, who's gripping his coffee mug pretty hard, and down at the laptop again as he scrolls down to look at the comments.

"What is it?" Frank says, sliding in beside Gerard, and Gerard scrolls back up so he can see.

"Brian?" Gerard says, squinting at the blurry image on the screen. It's a cellphone pic, and it shows a passport open at the ID page, Brian's picture in the corner and his name front and center. Below it, next to his date of birth, it says, "ROLE: S". Gerard blinks, and looks at it again, and then at Brian, hoping Brian'll give him a hint about what's going on. It's probably a fake or something, but seriously, who the fuck would do that?

"Yeah, so, there's something you should probably know," Brian says, and laughs shakily. Then he sits and waits, with his hands flat on the table.

"You want me to get the others?" Gerard says. He's flailing here, not sure what's going on, but it seems like a band meeting sort of a situation.

"Yeah."

Bob's awake and moving around already, and Ray and Mikey get up when Gerard shakes them and tells them it's important and they have to come to the front lounge. Eventually they're all crammed in around the table, Brian's laptop open in front of him, and everyone's got a mug of coffee.

"So..." Gerard says, prompting.

Brian grimaces, then turns the laptop round so they can all see it. "This is my passport," he says. Then he reaches into his laptop bag and pulls out his actual passport and opens it and puts it on the table next to the laptop.

"That says sub," says Mikey.

"We can see that," says Frank. "What the actual fuck?"

"I was assigned sub when I was a kid," Brian says. "It's wrong. As soon as I was old enough I got some fake ID." He opens his wallet and pulls out his driver's license and hands it around. When it gets to Gerard he sees it says "D". "Driver's license is easy enough," Brian says. "Everything I have in the US says D, it's never any trouble. I couldn't get the passport changed though."

"Wait, what?" says Frank. "You're a sub?"

"No. I'm a top. They got it wrong."

"But..." Ray says, and he looks a bit freaked, but he's thinking it through. "Don't they do heaps of tests and stuff? How can it be wrong?"

"It just is. Look, they did all the tests, they said I was sub, and I was four fucking years old. What was I going to say to them? So I went to school and I did all that shit, you know, but I hated it. So I told them I'm not a sub, I'm a top, and they put me in remedial classes."

Gerard doesn't even know what remedial sub classes would be like, but he tries to imagine Brian in detention, kneeling, and it just about makes his brain explode. That's -- that's the weirdest thing he's thought all tour, and he generally thinks some pretty weird stuff, but the idea of Brian on his knees. Brian. Brian who's been organizing their shit for years, Brian who Gerard's been spending hours on the phone to all tour, and he didn't know -- wow. Just. What the actual fuck.

"Guess they didn't take," Bob says.

"Ha. Fuck no. I tried to get away as much as I could, started going to shows, got my ID really fucking quickly when I found out what it's like to try and get into a club when you're sixteen and you've got an S on your card. Nobody really knew me so when I got the new license I just hit different clubs, got in easy. That's when I realised I wanted to manage bands. I knew I could take charge of shit. So I started touring, and," he shrugs, "everyone just took me for who I am."

"Who you are," says Gerard, still trying to get his head around it. "You're a top," he says.

"Yes I'm a fucking top," Brian says. "So anyway, it was all fucking fine, except I have to use the passport when I leave the country."

"Don't they notice?" Ray says, frowning.

"Yeah, sometimes. You ever notice I get extra patdowns?" Gerard tries to think back, but he can't remember. He never noticed. He never actually thought about it -- that subs get patted down differently, that the agents probably feel them up or whatever. He can't believe he never even thought about that, and he definitely never thought about Brian getting felt up at the airport.

"So how'd they get this?" Frank asks, pointing at the laptop. "Are the TSA on Buzznet now?"

Brian shrugs. "Maybe someone at the check-in desk, or duty-free," he says. "I don't fucking know. Look, I'm sorry. I'm not going to say I'm sorry for lying or whatever, but I'm sorry you got caught up in this. Fuck." He runs his hands over his face, as if trying to scrub the whole thing away. "I'll resign or whatever, if you want. Or you can fire me, I guess."

"What? No!" Gerard's horrified. "What -- you can't. No." He can't get his words in order, because he's still trying to deal with the visual image of Brian on his knees in detention, and the idea of him being groped by TSA agents and not saying anything, and the idea of him being a sub -- no, wait, he's a top, but his papers -- ugh, he can't even get his thoughts straight, but the prospect of Brian not being there, of him not managing the band and not being at the other end of a phone line, freaks him out. "We're not firing you," he says, finally.

Brian's just looking at him warily, and wearily, like he's expecting bad things to happen but can't bring himself to fight them, and that's just wrong. So Gerard clenches his fists and wills all the stupid, distracting thoughts out of his head and he says, "Look, it's fine. We understand. It's just a letter, right? It's not you, it's just what some people thought you'd be when you were, like, three years old." Gerard has faint memories of visits to the pediatrician, and his kindergarten class being split into two groups. "It's not like it's the sorting hat or something, I mean it's not infallible, right?"

"Ha, no," Brian says, and laughs bitterly.

"Okay, well, we just have to figure out how to deal with this," Gerard says, waving at the laptop.

"Yeah," Brian says. "About that..."

The thing is, Brian knows how Internet rumors work. It could be nothing or it could be everything, and there's only so much he can do. It turns out Brian's got, like, secret identities on that he uses to comment on LiveJournal and all over the place. Gerard watches, fascinated, and tries to be supportive by bringing Brian coffee and sitting next to him and glaring at Frank when he opens his mouth to say dumb-ass shit.

Gerard completely supports Brian's self-identity as a top. He has to repeat it to himself, and he says it to Brian, too, when he puts down the fourth mug of coffee by his laptop. "I support your identity as a top," he says.

"Thanks, Gee," Brian says, and rubs his hands over his face.

It's good that Gerard can keep repeating that to himself, every time that fucking visual of Brian on his knees comes into his head. Fuck. It's not that he thinks of Brian as a sub -- it's not -- but he's just known Brian all this time and they've been so close and they've spent so long on the phone, even just this tour, and he never even guessed. And he knows he wouldn't be able to tell, but he can't stop worrying at it like a frayed hole in the knee of his jeans, trying to figure out if there was any hint he might have missed.

He winds up outside, later, sitting against the bus's tires next to Bob, talking with him in a low voice. "It's not that he's any less of a top," Gerard says, "But it's just shaken up my assumptions, you know? That's good though."

"Right," Bob says, but he doesn't sound so convinced.

"It's like a demonstration of what we're all about, you know. We keep telling those kids they can be who they want to be, we keep doing that shit on stage to mess with people's preconceptions about roles and stuff, and Brian's been doing it all this time and we didn't even know."

"You think that's why he wanted to manage you guys?" Bob asks.

"I don't know," Gerard says. "Maybe? I mean, I think mostly he just wanted to manage the band, but I hope he knew we'd be cool about it if we knew." There's rough gravel in the parking lot, and Gerard picks some up and starts flicking little pebbles across the lot. "You've known him longer," Gerard says. "Did you ever..."

"No," Bob says. "No fucking idea."

"Yeah," Gerard says.

Gerard can't stop thinking about it. There's a couple of days where everything's incredibly awkward and Brian looks totally haggard and everyone on the bus is on edge, and the only way Gerard can get away from it is in his bunk. But even when he's lying there with his earbuds in, it keeps intruding on his thoughts, some other aspect he hadn't considered.

The worst is late at night, when he's quietly jerking off, and the thought of Brian, kneeling, pops into his head and won't go away, and Gerard comes all over his hand thinking about Brian sucking his cock. And, okay, that's just not cool, he knows it, and he's kicking himself mentally for even thinking it. So he thinks, maybe just to be fair, he should reverse the situation and... oh, that works for him too. He jerks off a second time, and moans when he comes, and he's fucking glad he didn't actually say any words or anything because even if there's a gentleman's agreement to pretend that nobody notices anyone else jerking off in the bunks, actually saying Brian's name would probably be pushing it. Fuck, he's such a creep.

The thing is, Gerard's been playing up all this subby stuff on stage, wearing his hair long for years and the eyeliner and everything, having people call him cocksucker and pussy and making jokes about him crawling around on his knees and stuff, and he's been performing it, sure, but he's never really spent much time thinking about it off stage. And now he is and... fuck, he's actually embarrassed at himself. Not because he wants to switch, that's fucking fine and nothing to be ashamed of and he's not ashamed, but because he didn't even realise it til now, and because he wants to do it with Brian.

He mostly tries to stay out of Brian's way, because the last thing he needs is to blush or stammer or something, but it doesn't last long before Brian corners him backstage, in one of the rooms full of gear where there are techs coming in and out, unloading shit off the buses.

"Look, what the fuck is your problem?" Brian says, dragging him off to one side where they can talk without being overheard. "I thought -- I thought you said this was okay."

"It is!" Gerard says, flapping his hands.

"If you want to fire me, just fucking fire me, okay? Don't fuck around."

"We're not -- we're not going to fire you. It's fine. It's one hundred percent fine. I'm just -- it's nothing."

Brian narrows his eyes. "So why are you acting so weird?"

"I'm... not?"

"Yeah, no. Look. Is it because -- is it because of what it says on my papers? Don't bullshit me."

Gerard looks past Brian, hoping that Mikey or someone might be near enough to rescue him, but nobody is. And Brian's just staring at him belligerently til he answers.

"Um... a little?"

"Fuck you," Brian says, and looks away, tense and unhappy. "You're an asshole, you know that? You of all people."

"It's not like that!" Gerard protests, but Brian's won't look at him, and Gerard's pretty sure Brian's going to quit and then they'll all be fucked. "It's not," Gerard says, and then he doesn't know what to say at all, but there's a door just there and he's pretty sure it leads to a back corridor that nobody's using, so he drags Brian through it, and when the door shuts behind them he crowds Brian against it and kisses him.

"What the --" Brian says, not kissing him back, pushing against him.

"I just -- it's complicated," Gerard says, "Please." He means, please just understand all this shit in my head, willing Brian to get it. Brian looks puzzled for a moment, but when Gerard presses in close again, Brian reaches out and puts his hand round the back of Gerard's neck and pulls him in, and their mouths smash together and it's not like anything Gerard's felt with any of the subs he's been with. Brian's not pliant or teasing, he's pushing back against Gerard as hard as Gerard's pushing him. It's messy, and not at all smooth, and Gerard gasps for air as Brian's tongue pushes into his mouth.

Brian flips them around, shoves Gerard against the wall, and reaches for the button of Gerard's jeans. And oh, oh, this is not what Gerard had expected, but he reaches for Brian's cock and finds him hard and straining in his own jeans, and before he knows it they're jerking each other off in a fucking backstage corridor where anyone could walk by.

Gerard comes so hard he thinks he maybe popped an artery in his brain or something, and he slumps for a moment, pinned between Brian and the wall. Brian just swears and Gerard realises he's stopped his hand moving on Brian's cock, and he can't quite figure out how to move or do anything about it. But Brian just pushes Gerard's hand aside and finishes himself off, spattering come on Gerard's already filthy jeans.

Gerard stares at him, lost for words. Brian stares back, then he wipes his hand on the wall and says, "You're still a fucking asshole," and stalks off.

Gerard manages to zip his pants back up, then slumps to the floor. That was possibly the most fucked up thing he's ever done, and he won't be able to blame anyone but himself when Brian quits. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

He stays there, moping, til he hears the sort of sounds that mean it's almost time for sound check. Brian's nowhere to be seen, and he doesn't come back til after the show, when he comes back to the bus and heads straight for his bunk, pulling the curtain closed behind him.

Gerard is so, so fucked.

* * *

Daily Mail: Emo danger: Kids at risk as bands blur line between tops and subs.

Parents are frightened for their kids' safety, and they're blaming the dangerous messages sent by "emo" bands such as My Chemical Romance, who are currently touring the UK.

The band's lead singer Gerard Way, 29/top, regularly appears on stage with long hair, heavy makeup, and torn clothing. He tells fans, who cross-dress in outfits that mix top and sub, to defy their roles and "be whoever they want".

Pictured: Mixed messages. Gerard Way, shown onstage last night at the Hammersmith Apollo, sends dangerous messages to British kids.

And rumours are spreading that the band's manager, Brian Schechter, 31/sub, is a secret role-switcher. Pictures posted on the Internet last week show an "S" on his passport, though he dresses and acts like a top.

Pictured: Explain that! Brian Schechter, left, stepping off the My Chemical Romance tour bus. Right, his passport.

"It's sick," said Rosie Clarke, 43/top, whose teenaged daughter Kaitlyn, 15/top, is a My Chemical Romance fan. "I just want my girl to live a normal life, but she won't stop listening to them." Kaitlyn was suspended from school last month after refusing to remove makeup and a collar. She said the way she dressed was "just fashion", but admits she was inspired by the band.

* * *

If Gerard thought it was tense before, it's worse after, and everyone knows it. He catches Mikey giving him anxious looks, and even Ray frowns and looks concerned whenever Brian walks past. And then, on their second day back in the UK for the last leg of the tour, that fucking article shows up in the Daily Mail. It's not really worse than other shit that's been written about them, except that they've got hold of that photo of Brian's ID from Buzznet, and, well, it's the British tabloids. They're fucking vicious, and they're fucking mainstream. It's not like a bad review in NME or something, it's way worse than that.

When they arrive at the venue that night the bus pulls past the usual line of kids and Gerard notices a bunch of people with placards saying shit like SAVE OUR CHILDREN. There's even police out there, keeping the placard-holders away from the kids in line, and the kids in line away from the placard holders.

"What the actual fuck," Frank says, his face pressed up against the bus window.

"This is fucking ridiculous," Gerard says, chewing on a cuticle.

Tony, the tour manager, is back to arranging most of the press, or at least he's the one who comes to tell Gerard about the interviews they've got lined up. Brian and Tony spend a fuckload of time together bent over their laptops, and Brian's on the phone to the label every time their timezones match up, but he doesn't talk to Gerard directly if he can help it. He talks to Tony, and he talks to Bob, and he swaps a few words with Frank and Mikey and Ray, but basically it's awkward as fuck.

It's pretty fucking obvious that something happened with Gerard and Brian, but nobody knows what, and Gerard's planning to keep it that way. He's pretty sure he'd rather die than have to explain to the rest of the band that he threw himself at Brian and now Brian thinks he's an asshole and won't talk to him.

They do a radio appearance and the placard-holders are there too, right outside the radio station. There's a second and then a third article in the Daily Mail, and the other papers pick up the story, especially after two kids, identified as MCR fans, get beaten almost to a pulp on their way home from school one day. The papers blame the band; Gerard has to fight not to scream bullshit on the radio, instead he talks about bullying, and about kids who are different, and that MCR's music gives those kids hope. Sadly, nobody quotes that in the fucking tabloids.

The shows are -- they're intense, that's the only word Gerard can find for it. He feels fucked out after each one, like he's been torn to shreds, like there's nothing left of him after he's screamed out everything he's got, and he's an empty husk when he comes offstage. Then the next day he does it again. The other guys are worn out too, snapping at each other then apologizing. Gerard spends an hour one afternoon just hugging Mikey in the back lounge, hanging on tight til he starts to doze off, and Mikey jostles him and says, "You should lie down if you're gonna sleep."

Gerard lies across the couch and puts his head in Mikey's lap, and Mikey takes a couple of strands of Gerard's hair and starts to twist them.

"Are you going to talk to Brian?" Mikey asks quietly, after a while, when Gerard is almost asleep.

Gerard doesn't open his eyes. "Eventually. Maybe. I don't think he wants to talk to me."

"You should try," Mikey says.

"Mmm."

Mikey's probably right. He usually is, and it doesn't look like this is going to blow over. Gerard should just be a motherfucking grownup about it and apologise, he guesses. He hates being a motherfucking grownup. But the next day Mikey sees Gerard head for the back lounge, where Brian's working, and nods encouragingly, so Gerard takes a deep breath and knocks on the shitty plastic door. Brian grunts, so Gerard ducks inside and closes it behind him.

"Um," he says, when Brian stares at him belligerently. "I wanted to say -- I mean, I'm sorry. About what happened."

"Whatever," Brian says.

"No, really." Gerard's warming up to it, now he's got past the worst bit. "I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have -- that was really inappropriate."

"I'm not a sub," Brian says, heavily, and the words just kind of sit there between them like a brick.

"I know! I know that, absolutely! I didn't -- I mean, I wasn't thinking of you as a sub. I was trying to. Um. I just thought there could be alternative, um, options?"

"Gerard," Brian says, and he sounds exhausted. "I don't really want to hear it, okay? You're sorry, it won't happen again, blah blah. You said you're not going to fire me, so I've got fucking work to do."

"Right," Gerard says. "Is there anything..."

"I've got you a Kerrang! interview tomorrow," Brian says. "It's early, though. They're going to want to talk about the... tabloid stuff."

"Okay," Gerard says. He's getting better at that, now, dealing with the questions about those kids who got beaten up, and doesn't want to scream as much as he did just a few days ago.

"I've got to call the label," Brian says. "I'd tell them you won't say anything that'll make it worse, but I wouldn't want to lie to them."

"Brian," Gerard says, "you know --"

"Yeah, I know, it matters." He rolls his eyes, but Gerard thinks he looks like he's kind of doing it affectionately. At least he hope he is. "Anyway, I knew you assholes were like this when I signed on. Apparently I'm an idiot."

"Yup," Gerard says, and hazards a smile. "Thanks. You know, for --"

"Whatever, get out of here," Brian says, and shoos him out the door.

Mikey's eyebrows raise as Gerard comes out, and Gerard shoots him an "it's okay" look before heading for his bunk. He curls up around his pillow, holding it tight against his chest where his heart or his stomach or some other organ, maybe his spleen, feels like it's simultaneously tied in a knot and empty as a, a, a big fucking empty cavern or something. He is still so very, very fucked. It seems kind of late for him to be having a crisis of sexuality or role identity or whatever the fuck, but apparently he was saving up so he could have a really good one. The worst thing is, it's the sort of crisis he would've, just a few weeks ago, talked out on the phone with Brian. Even if Brian'd said he didn't get paid to deal with Gerard's identity crises, and did Gerard know what fucking time in the morning it was, he would've been there on the other end of the line. And now he's -- not.

"Gee?" It's Frank. Gerard rolls over and pulls the curtain aside to see him standing by Gerard's bunk, shifting from one foot to the other. "You okay?"

"Good timing," Gerard says, and skootches over, making room so Frank can climb in with him. He's small, and he fits into the curve of Gerard's body. Gerard throws an arm over him and pulls him close, like he was hugging the pillow before, and buries his face in Frank's neck. "Frankie," he says, "I am so, so fucked."

"Yeah? It's Brian, right?" Frank speaks quietly, so that his voice won't carry past the bunk, and it's clear from his tone that he gets it, knows that it's not just about them fighting. Gerard takes a shuddery breath and nods against Frank's neck.

"I don't want him to sub for me," Gerard says.

"That's what he thought?" Frank says, and Gerard nods again. "Jesus, does he even know you? You wouldn't -- you're not like that."

"I know," Gerard whispers. "But I don't know how I'm meant to tell him..."

"What?" Frank asks, as Gerard trails off.

"Just... it doesn't have to be like that. It could be something else. There are other options, there must be. We could figure it out."

"Wait, you wanna... you want to sub for him?"

"I -- maybe? I think so. I don't think all the time, it's not, um, I don't feel like that. But sometimes I think about it."

"Wow, okay, fuck." Frank sounds kind of surprised, and Gerard can't see his face but he sounds like he's probably chewing on his lower lip, thinking it over. "I guess you're gonna have to tell him that."

Gerard groans. "Or I could never tell anyone ever."

"Suck it up, princess," Frank says, twisting around to push himself up on one elbow and look Gerard in the face. "You've been making us all miserable all week. If you won't tell him, I will." Gerard doesn't answer, and Frank makes as if to climb out of the bunk and go tell Brian right now.

"Wait, no!" Gerard squeaks. "Get back here." Frank rolls back over next to Gerard and looks at him expectantly. "Okay, I'll tell him."

The thing is, he can't -- literally can't, he's pretty sure it would kill him -- walk back to the back lounge and knock on that door again and just stand there and say it. He's going to have to find another way, and he worries at it through soundcheck until they play through Prison and Frank smirks at him and then Gerard has it, he knows what he's going to do. Not tonight though. Tomorrow night -- it's the last show, and it's a hotel night, and it'll be perfect. Grand gestures, yeah, Gerard can do that.

He's nervous as fuck for the whole intervening day, and before the show the next night, he feels like he's about to crawl out of his skin or puke or run away or something. He gets Worm to take him for a walk around the venue and smokes several ill-advised cigarettes in the parking lot and tries not to think how much easier this would be if he was drunk.

Back in the dressing room he gets into his stage clothes and does his vocal warmups, then he waits til Mikey's done with his hair and finds a spot by the mirror to do his makeup. He makes his face pale, smudges dark eyeliner all around his eyes, and then he reaches into the pocket of the hoodie he's been wearing and pulls out the sharpie he's had there all day.

It's hard to write in the mirror, and he has to think carefully to make sure it comes out the right way round, but he actually starts with the B and works backwards and that makes it easier somehow. When he's done, he drops the sharpie and looks at his handiwork: SUB. He's written it across one side of his throat, in letters large enough to see clearly from a distance.

He catches Frank looking at him in the mirror, knowingly, then Frank laughs and turns away to bug Bob, and everything snaps back into place -- it's just the dressing room, like it always is before a show, snacks and water bottles and Mikey warming up on his bass and crew poking their heads in to tell them the time.

The moment they get out there, Gerard can tell it's going to be a great show. There's plenty of security down front, and the MCR kids are piled deep at the barrier, pressed tight against each other and holding their ground. When the first chords of "I'm Not Okay" crash out it's clear that this is going to be one of the best shows of the tour, maybe the best they've done, and none of the shit, none of the tabloids and the hate and the placard-holding fuckwads outside the venue are going to change that. And Gerard's going to put on the fucking show of his life.

They are on, they are so on, and Gerard is giving it everything he's got. He drops to his knees and pulls at his collar, baring his throat and the sharpied SUB to the crowd, and they cheer. He prances across the stage, and wiggles his butt, and when "Prison" starts up and someone tosses a feather boa up on stage, he knows exactly what to do. He catches it, stalks over to Frank, and drops to his knees, offering Frank the boa. Frank cracks up laughing for approximately one second, then gets with the program and takes it from Gerard's hands. He wraps it around Gerard's neck, and then tucks the ends into his belt, like a leash, keeping Gerard where he is.

Gerard starts to moan into his microphone -- "Oh, oh, oh, oh," -- and he catches Frank's eye and sees Frank's grinning like a loon. "I want to hear you say ohhhh," Gerard sings, and the crowd sings back. "I want to hear you say oh-ohhh."

Frank laughs, and sings "Oh-ohhh" into his mic while he grabs Gerard's face, and mimes thrusting against him. Gerard opens his mouth and sings, "Oh, oh, oh," until Frank pushes him away, and that's it, he has to get up and sing the song, so he pulls away, the ends of the boa-leash untangling from Frank's belt, and sings, "In the middle of a gunfight, in the center of a restaurant..."

Gerard singing (fanart by anna_luna)

He's done this before, plenty of times -- the boa's a standard, the moaning and the dropping to his knees is nothing unusual -- but this time he turns it up to eleven, playing it for all he's got, and this time there's something more to it, too, because for the first time he's actually thinking, I could do this. He's planning to do this, if Brian gets the fucking message. He shoots a look sidestage, but if Brian's there, he's standing back in the shadows and Gerard can't see him. It doesn't matter. He's watching, Gerard knows it.

Things are a fucking mess out in the crowd, the kids surging against the barrier and the Dimebag fans further back in the crowd shouting abuse like they do. Security's holding the barrier and pushing back anyone who tries to cross it, and the MCR fans have linked their elbows together against the douchebags behind them, and Gerard fucking loves it. He loves it, and he tells them so, crawling around and writhing on the stage. There's money on the stage -- coins, the douchebags are throwing pocket change because they don't even have plastic bottles out there, just shitty plastic cups -- and something pings off the top of Gerard's head and it fucking stings but he ignores it and just keeps fucking singing.

They get to the end of the set and make it off stage and it's a fucking zoo, people everywhere and security hustling them off as fast as they can. Gerard looks around for Brian but he's nowhere to be seen, and it's not til they get back to the dressing room and Worm and another security guy are standing outside the door that Brian storms in and shouts, "What the fuck was that all about? You don't think you could have fucking warned me that we'd need extra security and that I'm going to have to stay up half the fucking night talking the label guys down off the ceiling?"

Gerard stands frozen in place. He's got a towel in one hand but he drops it on the floor, then drops his gaze to Brian's feet and just waits, while Brian rants.

Eventually, though, Brian realises Gerard's not saying anything and the other guys are just watching and he grinds to a halt, saying, "What the actual fuck, Gerard. Don't you have anything to say?"

So this is it, and Gerard's been ready for it since he wrote on his neck, since he fell to his knees on stage in front of Frank, since he fucking decided this is what he's going to do. He lets his knees unlock, and drops, coming to rest right in front of Brian, his ass resting on his heels and his head bowed.

"Fuck you," Brian says, "Stop it. What are you doing?"
Gerard can hear the other guys making noise, and Ray says something and Frank answers. They leave, and Gerard has about ten percent of an actual thought that Frank must've herded them out of the room, but he can't think about it right now. His head's pounding with the sound of his own heartbeat and Brian's voice, and he can't focus on anything except that and the feel of the sticky carpet under his knees and his fists clenched white-knuckled on his thighs.

"... Gerard?"

Gerard looks up at Brian's voice, through the wet strands of his hair. Brian looks kind of confused, but also kind of like he's getting it finally. He says, "Are you doing this on purpose?"

Gerard says, "Yes?" And then, "If... if this is what you need, I thought... I could try. I want to try."

Brian just covers his eyes with his hands, a gesture Gerard's seen so many times before, and it usually means, "I can't believe I have to put up with this shit." But Gerard knows how to deal with that. He does what he always does, which is to keep talking.

He says, "I don't know, I don't think this is, um, my identity, like full-time, but it's something I want. I want to try it. I," he swallows, "I'm flexible, you know? We can -- we can figure it out, there are options." He knows he's babbling, but he keeps doing it, because he needs to get through to Brian that he wants... he wants whatever they can figure out, whatever that might be. "It doesn't have to be, we don't have to follow the rules or whatever," he says, and Brian's still rubbing at his temples but he's looking like there's a smile hiding back there somewhere. "I mean, that's what we've been saying, right?"

"Jesus Christ," Brian says. "You're fucking insane. Are you seriously telling me --"

"Yes," Gerard says. "Fuck, yes." He's still looking up at Brian, and he looks strange from this angle, and Gerard can't help but be aware that his head's right at the height of Brian's crotch. Then Brian reaches out and he takes hold of Gerard's chin, not cruelly, but not gently either, and looks back at him for a long moment, as if he's trying to read Gerard's mind or something.

"Get up," Brian says at last, letting go of Gerard's chin and helping him get to his feet. Gerard's feet are kind of numb, actually -- this kneeling thing is harder than it looks -- and he stumbles a little before he steadies himself. Then Brian says, "Fuck, Gerard," and pulls him in for a hot, rough kiss, then takes Gerard's hand and circles his finger and thumb round Gerard's wrist. "We can't do this here."

"Hotel night," Gerard says, feeling a little light-headed.

"Right," Brian says.

Gerard blushes furiously red at Frank's crow of delight and Bob's laughing, "Way to go, man" as Brian lets them back into the dressing room, and Brian somehow manages to make everyone shower and change and gets them out of the venue with unseemly haste.

Gerard sits next to Mikey in the van that takes them to the hotel, and Mikey squeezes Gerard's hand so Gerard looks at him. "This is good," Mikey says, quietly, in Gerard's ear, and it's kind of a question.

"Yeah," Gerard says, and squeezes his hand back. I want this, he tries to say, without words, and Mikey sends back, I know.

Brian hands keycards to the other guys then he turns to Gerard and says, "You're with me," and Gerard doesn't even care how hot his face feels. They get to Brian's room and Gerard drops to his knees the second Brian closes the door, pressing his face against Brian's crotch, feeling his hard-on under the denim of his jeans, and fuck, Gerard doesn't even know what he's fucking doing, but his mouth's watering.

Brian unbuttons his jeans and pulls his cock out, and Gerard can't help saying, "Fuck, please, let me --"

"Yeah," Brian says, and Gerard goes for it. He hasn't had much practice, so it's messy, but Gerard really doesn't give a fuck. It's Brian, and he tastes -- he tastes like Brian, he tastes like everything Gerard wants right now, and he can't get enough. Brian groans and puts his hands on Gerard's shoulders, and Gerard appreciates that Brian's managing to hold himself still and not to thrust any more than a few tiny little tremors, because Gerard's not sure he could handle it if Brian wanted to fuck his face. The stretch of Brian's cock in his mouth and the ache of his jaw is more than enough as it is.

He thinks Brian's maybe getting close to coming, when Brian pulls Gerard off, and Gerard says, "What?", hearing his own voice come out slurred and raw. "What's --"

"Fuck, Gerard," Brian says. "You -- come here." He drags Gerard to his feet and over to the bed and starts trying to pull Gerard's shirt off and put his hands in Gerard's pants at the same time. Gerard gets his hands inside Brian's shirt, too, pushing it up over his chest, stopping with it half off to get his mouth on Brian's left nipple. It's not very suave but somehow they get naked, eventually.

Gerard feels a rush of elation, and laughs out loud.

"What?" Brian says, and Gerard tackles him to the bed. They fall down together, their limbs all tangled, and Gerard winds up on top somehow. It's -- wow, there's a whole lot of nakedness going on, and Gerard's skin's sending him urgent messages to let him know just how much nakedness there is, and how much of Brian's skin is right there too. Their cocks are right there and when Gerard's rubs against Brians he can't help gasping and reaching in between them. Brian does the same and somehow they manage, fumbling, to get hold of each other and jerk each other off, mouths pressed hard together even if they're not, like, properly kissing. It's kind of competitive because Brian's not pliant and submissive at all, and Gerard's more or less forgotten that he was going to try to be. Brian's hand is dry and rough and Gerard doesn't even care, he's so close. All he wants is his tongue in Brian's mouth and Brian pushing back at him and both of them racing toward loud, messy orgasms.

"Fuck," Brian says, after, lying on his back, Gerard draped over him.

"That was..." Gerard says, then can't even think what to say.

"Different," Brian says.

"Not what I planned," Gerard mumbles.

Brian just snorts at that, and they lie there for a minute, listening to the hiss of the hotel room's air conditioning. "You sure about this?" he says, eventually.

"Yes. Fuck, yes," Gerard replies, and rolls over so he can look at Brian. "I want -- I want to try everything. Can you fucking believe it? I've been saying for so long that roles don't matter, and now I get to really, you know. Do it. For real."

"I'm not your political statement," Brian says, around a yawn.

"No! No, I don't -- I didn't mean that."

"And I'm not subbing for you."

"Everything except that," Gerard says. "I told you, we can figure it out, we don't have to do what society tells us." Gerard rolls over to kiss Brian gently on the corner of his mouth, and Brian kisses him back then flops back on the pillow with a noise that's half laughter and half a groan.

"Mm?" Gerard says.

"This band's crazy is contagious," Brian says. He doesn't sound too upset about it though.

"Yeah," Gerard says, and he can't stop grinning.

* * *

MTV.com: "We are who we are," says Gerard Way, lead singer for My Chemical Romance. "There'll always be people who don't like that, but we don't care what they think. We just want to make music."

The band, who've just returned from a four week European and UK tour plagued by bad publicity and antagonistic crowds, will be playing a handful of east-coast shows before heading to LA to work on their third album.

"We've got a lot of ideas," Way says. "I can't tell you what it'll be yet, but we hope it'll be huge."