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Chimerical Romantics

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While the house is heavy and silent with the recency of their father's death and the imminence of their mother's, Michael intrudes upon Gerard's solitude to find him puzzling over a ledger with a wine bottle open upon the desk. The bottle is only half-full, but the glass beside it is still clean and untouched. Michael ignores the clear signs that Gerard does not desire conversation and comes over to perch on the edge of the desk.

"Chimerical Romantics," Michael announces, in the portentous voice he always used when naming his and Gerard's imaginary pirate ships and gypsy acting troupes.

Gerard does not look up, but Michael knows Gerard has heard him, for his shoulders hunch higher and the furrow of his brow deepens.

Michael nods to himself, pleased with the sound of the words in the stillness, and repeats it for good measure. "Chimerical Romantics."

Gerard scratches some figures down on a scrap of paper, but a quick glance at the ledger tells Michael that they are utter nonsense. Gerard has no head for figures. Michael nudges him, about to offer an explanation of the accounts, but Gerard jerks away and says, "Yes, yes, chimerical romantics. I don't even know what that means."

Michael shrugs. "Neither do I, but I mean to be one. We both shall. We shall be Chimerical Romantics someday."

"We shall be buried in the churchyard someday," Gerard snaps.

Michael is silent for a long time, stung. It is his father's grave as well as Gerard's that the earth is still fresh-turned upon, and it is his mother who lies in a bed upstairs while the whole house holds its breath, waiting for her to be carried out feet-first. It is not Gerard's grief alone, but he refuses to share it with Michael as they always shared their troubles before. They shared everything, once, but that was a long time ago, and that time has not come again just because they have both returned to this house where they were boys together.

At last, when he has mastered his voice, Michael says, "Carve it on my tombstone, then. Here lies Michael Way, beloved brother, Chimerical Romantic."

Gerard shudders, but does not object to the word beloved; Michael gives up and goes out, to sit with his grandmother at his mother's bedside. His grandmother, at least, will look at him, and listen when he speaks.

When the door is safely closed behind Michael, Gerard reaches for the bottle and drains it, drowning the image of Michael's tombstone in wine. For that hour he is victorious, but the words return to him often, carried by Michael's fearless voice. We shall be Chimerical Romantics someday. We shall.

It began with two boys, brothers, peculiar even in the peculiar place where they grew up. Gerard loved to read books, and to play elaborate adventurous games, and his brother Michael always played along, no matter how outlandish the pursuit. Michael never batted an eyelash when Gerard decided that they would do amateur theatricals and he, Gerard, would in a noble spirit of self-sacrifice play the lady's part. He did not demur even when Gerard decided they would be pirates and they commandeered a ship they didn't know how to sail--the boys capsized and nearly drowned in a stiff breeze half a mile from shore. They were rescued by fishermen, and Michael could not remember any other occasion when Gerard was whipped for any transgression; ever after that, though Michael loved the island, he feared the sea.

Their father was English (their mother and her mother were Jersey, and taught the boys to speak the language of the island, as well as French) and he insisted that his sons be properly educated. He sent them away to the foreign land of Essex for boarding school beginning at the age of eleven--Gerard left, in fact, not long after the incident of the boat. Michael refused to come even onto the dock to say farewell to his brother, but stood safely on the shore holding his grandmother's hand and bravely pretended that he was not crying.

Gerard had always been odd in Jersey, but he was odder in England--they called him French, and he was beaten three times in one week for lapsing into Jersey in school, twice by the teachers and once by other boys. While he soon learnt to avoid the teachers hitting him, the boys were not as easy to evade.

His misery was only compounded three years later when Michael (who had always been Michel when they were little boys, as Gerard's name had always been pronounced in the French style--but no more, after they went away to school; they were Englishmen thereafter as their father wished) joined him, for Michael's misery only compounded Gerard's own. For every mistake Gerard had explained to Michael how not to make, there was another Michael invented on his own, and he could not escape the stigma of being Way Minor, no matter how he might try.

It never seemed to Gerard that Michael tried very hard.

But in time Gerard escaped, first to university and then on his grand tour, traveling aimlessly about Europe, painting and writing wretched poetry and drinking, pretending that it meant something to him to be Seeing The World. He did meet Ramon Toro y Ortiz, a fine steady fellow who made beauty with his two hands, while Gerard simply reproduced aspects of despair. Gerard liked him very much, and though he could tell Toro's patience with him at times wore thin, their friendship remained constant.

Eventually Gerard returned to Jersey, being as eccentric as he pleased in between his father's brief lessons on how one managed an estate and household. The parts about how to determine the allowances of lackaday sons were certainly interesting. Gerard learned better how to angle for more money for paint and precisely how much of that he could spend on wine--alcohol, he told himself cheerfully, was a solvent.

Michael finished university and embarked on his own grand tour, scrupulously overland apart from a few harrowing incidents aboard ships, though never in rough weather, and never more than a few days' voyage. Every venture upon the sea was detailed to Gerard in long letters written in a shaky hand.

One such is an ode upon the kindness of a common sailor, near, Michael thinks, to his own age. He goes by the name of Frankie Ro, or perhaps Roe; Michael does not think he is very good with his letters. He seems rather heathenish to Michael's Church of England sensibilities, but he was kind to Michael and looked after him when he'd gone nearly mad with the fear of drowning; Gerard reads this and sends up rueful prayer of thanks for Michael's aptitude in attracting kind-hearted protectors.

Gerard's father's death is sudden--he clutches at his chest and falls from his horse one morning, and is dead before he strikes the ground. Gerard isn't out riding the land with him, isn't even yet awake; what he later remembers of his father's death is his own wine-sodden incomprehension as the steward--the new, young one, Bryan, scarcely older than Gerard himself--tries to explain to him that his father is dead, that Gerard is now master of the house. Gerard grew up watching Bryan's uncle manage the estate, and in his stupor he forgets the older man has been pensioned off, and cannot quite believe that Bryan is in earnest, that it isn't all a boy's prank upon the heir of the house.

Gerard's mother is inconsolable through the funeral, and even from his own retreat into a succession of wine bottles, Gerard can see himself in her, or her in himself. She drinks only sherry, but enough that her fall down the stairs might be accidental; Gerard stares at her, lingering senseless in the wide bed, and thinks only that she was braver than he has ever been.

She takes two weeks dying, and by the time they lay her in the churchyard beside her husband, Gerard has become a little accustomed to the idea that he is now responsible for the estate, for the household and for his brother and grandmother, who has always doted upon him. The knowledge of that responsibility only drives him deeper into melancholy, and so into drink, but Michael and Bryan encourage him to rely upon them. By winter Gerard has begun to trust Bryan, and the household is running as smoothly as it ever has, so far as Gerard can tell.

Gerard himself spends his days avoiding sunlight, drinking, and writing reams of wretched poetry. His grandmother gently encourages him to keep up with his drawing, and for her sake he does, though it is nearly as wretched as the poetry, if more technically skilled. Every day that passes leaves him more certain that he will always be this useless, hopeless eccentric in a house on a hill, leaving the land and all matters of business to Michael and Bryan--only playing at lord of the manor, and not very convincingly, either.

Nearly a year passes in this fashion before a bit of business arises which Gerard is required to handle personally, in Portsmouth, so he boards a ferry one crisp morning for the trip across the Channel. He is standing on the deck, close enough to see the docks, when disaster strikes: a powder explosion on one ship that quickly spreads fire to another.

Gerard watches in mute and helpless horror. The ferry is tacking against the wind--which carries the screams, the sounds of the flames, the smell of smoke--and cannot reach the afflicted ships.

Gerard is acutely conscious that, even if the ship could make its way there, he himself is far more a gentleman than a Jerseyman and could do nothing to help. He resolves on the spot that he must do something with his life, must get out of his darkened rooms and accomplish something other than a profligate waste of paper and ink.

He writes to Toro from Portsmouth, and speaks to Michael and to his childhood friend, Pelissier, as soon as he returned home. Within a fortnight he has assembled them all in the Way house (where his grandmother plays the grand hostess and cossets all four young men indiscriminately, so pleased is she to see Gerard and Michael keeping any company but each other).

Gerard soon swears his brother and friends into a newly-formed secret society. His first act, as leader of the society, is to beg Michael's permission to give it its proper name; Michael cedes it gladly, and so the Chimerical Romantics are born. Gerard, in fits of grandeur or strong drink, is prone to call them all "My Chimerical Romantics," but no one minds it; they all know that they would not be any such thing without him.

The aims of the Chimerical Romantics are not perfectly understood by any of them, though Gerard expounds upon them at length. The gist seems to be that they shall produce Great Art, and also be of service to their Fellow Men; Gerard read Don Quixote at an impressionable age, and played Robin Hood with Michael since Michael could toddle after him. Jersey lacks windmills to tilt at, or peasants being hanged for stealing crusts of bread, but Gerard remains convinced that there is something to be accomplished, and is determined to identify it.

In the early days this mostly takes the form of riding about at night wearing masks, undertaking feats more dares than daring, and endangering themselves more than any villain they might have encountered. Still, even if they are not strictly speaking helping anyone, Gerard feels enlivened by the sheer possibility that at some point, if only by accident, they might.

His poetry is improving, too.

One night, cloaked and masked, the Chimerical Romantics go into the island's only proper town, Mt. Helier. Gerard delivers a fairly lengthy speech about how they go seeking not mischief to do but to undo, and all four drink generously to that proposal before setting out, complaining bitterly that it is no longer the fashion for men to wear swords. It is already late when they set out, and by the time they reach Mt. Helier, all the respectable parts of town are quiet.

The Chimerical Romantics work their way down to the docks. When they come to places with traffic in the streets they are heckled or cheered according to the temper of the onlookers, and wave back merrily to all, so long as they are peaceable. Most are, and it seems a very dull night for the undoing of mischief. Pelissier proposes with a laugh that they should do some of their own, the better to undo it again, and Michael and Toro begin offering suggestions for how this might best be accomplished--and then, passing the mouth of an alley, they hear the sounds of a fight, and a lone voice crying out in pain.

Michael leaps off his horse and rushes in, and Toro follows suit. Gerard shouts after them to think a moment; he keeps his own mount, guiding the animal carefully into the narrow alley while Pelissier stays back, keeping hold of Toro and Michael's horses and watching out for further trouble.

By the time Gerard has penetrated several yards into the alley on horseback, the fight is breaking up, men fleeing through the other end of the alley. Toro is stalking after them, shouting furious-sounding threats in his own language. Michael crouches over the single figure who remains, bloody-headed and slumped against a wall.

He is small, seeming very slight as he curls defensively away from Michael; Gerard thinks for a moment that he is a child, and then Michael pushes his ragged sleeve up, revealing the bright tattoos beneath. The man is a sailor, if a young and short one; no surprise, in an alley near the docks. Michael is already getting to his feet, turning to face Gerard with an incongruous grin.

"Gerard," he says, pushing back his mask, even though Gerard had very particularly mentioned that this venture was to be performed incognito. "Gerard, it is Frankie, Frankie Ro. He must have got lost from his ship."

Michael is already helping the man to his feet, and Gerard stares; the light is poor, but he can see that Ro is sallow under his rising bruises, his eyes glazed and his hands trembling with more than the aftereffects of fighting or drink. His clothes are dirty, though Gerard has always known sailors to be surprisingly tidy sorts, and he can barely keep his feet even after Michael has helped him up.

He only shakes his head when Michael asks him which ship he's come from and whether they can take him back to the docks, and by the time Toro has returned, he has made Michael understand that he has no ship; he is alone in Mt. Helier and has nothing but the clothes he is standing up in. His teeth are chattering despite the mildness of the night, but he is sweating: sure signs of fever, though Michael seems to notice nothing as he stands there steadying the man with one hand.

Michael asks him where they might take him, where he is lodging, and Gerard glances toward Toro, wondering how to extricate Michael from this situation far enough to make him grasp that the man likely has none, and for significant cause. Toro gives Gerard a meaningful glance, tapping the mask he wears, and Gerard realizes with a sudden flush of shame and excitement that Frank is precisely what they came looking for tonight; a genuine unfortunate within their reach to help.

"We shall take him back to the house," Gerard announces. "Michael, you can see he needs a physician."

Ro makes an alarmed noise at that, his eyes going wide; he looks up at Gerard and over at Toro--both of them masked, Gerard belatedly realizes, both of them strangers--and attempts to step away from Michael. His eyes roll up and he stumbles; Gerard nearly pitches from the saddle to catch him by the shirtfront, and then Michael and Toro are there holding his shoulders, Michael worriedly repeating his name. He makes no response, entirely lost to the world.

"Put him up," Gerard says, not relinquishing his hold on Frankie's shirt. "I shall carry him home; Michael, you can ride to get Doctor Elliday."

The doctor has not set foot in their home since the day their mother died, but Gerard spares no thought for that. Frankie is injured, and sick besides, and he needs care. Elliday is a solid fellow, for all there was nothing he could do for their mother.

Michael nods, and helps Toro to push Frank up into Gerard's grasp. He is a limp, hot weight, awkwardly balanced over the cantle, sagging against Gerard's chest. He does not move except to breathe, and even above the sound of his horse, Gerard can hear the labor of each inhalation. Toro walks at his stirrup while Michael runs ahead to the street, and once Michael is mounted and on his way, Pelissier and Toro carefully flank Gerard, riding three abreast all the way home, and helping to lower Frank to the ground and carry him inside when they arrive.

Elliday arrives before dawn, and soon determines that Frank is suffering from malaria. A little reasoning paints the rest of the picture: Frank must have been thrown off his ship as an attempt at quarantine. He cannot have contracted malaria in Jersey or anywhere nearby, so the physician opines that Frankie is one of those unfortunates who, having survived the fever once, falls ill again some time later. This means that even if he does survive the present fever, he is apt to sicken again in the future. It is no surprise his shipmates cast him out. Frank has nothing in the world now, no possessions, no work, and no prospects.

Gerard declares at once that Frank is to be taken into the Way household, and nursed back to health; Gerard himself does a substantial share of the minding, so great is his enthusiasm for his new project. Servants mostly handle the messiest tasks, but Gerard lends a hand when he can do so without scandalizing anyone too much, and he is chief sitter-with-patient, mopping his brow and feeding him sips of water and spoonfuls of broth. The Way household is not so grand that any of the servants can be easily spared to look after their foundling sailor, but Gerard's time is almost entirely his own. The estate runs just as smoothly whether he is drunk in his own bed or sober beside Frank's.

He learns things about Frank this way. Frank speaks a dialect Gerard does not understand when he's troubled by fever dreams; it sounds like something near to the Florentine tongue he began to pick up when he was traveling, but it's not the same. When he attempts to describe it to Toro, Toro posits that it is from further south, perhaps even Sicily or Sardinia. But another time he speaks what Gerard would swear is Toro's Catalan, and the next day he shouts in Portuguese. When he opens too-bright eyes and Gerard says, "Frankie? Are you with us?" he murmurs in weak but perfectly intelligible English that he isn't Frankie, isn't Ro. He insists that if he should die Gerard must tell sailors his name properly, so his father will know he's died--but he keeps breaking off into a mumble of his own dialect when Gerard tries to catch his name, until at last he says, "Ask Michael, I know my letters."

Gerard waits until he's quiet and still again, and then goes and asks Michael whether there is any slight chance that he's mistaken Frankie Ro for someone else, or whether he has been wildly mistaken all this time about what the man's name is. Michael says, no, he can prove it, because Frankie wrote it out for him once, to prove he knew how, though Michael doesn't think he could actually read it. Michael goes and fetches the journal he kept on his trip, and flips it to a page across which is written sideways in tall, straggling letters, F RAN KIE RO.

"I don't think he knew what to do with spaces," Michael says helpfully, and Gerard takes the book from him and strikes him gently on the head with it.

"Iero. His name is Iero."

Michael wrinkles his nose and asks what sort of name that is, and Gerard shrugs and says, Sicilian, maybe, certainly further south than Rome, and Michael says, wide-eyed, "Do you suppose he's a Papist?"

Gerard merely stares. Toro clears his throat quietly but significantly, and Michael has the grace to blush. Gerard says, "Michael, he has a tattoo of the Virgin on one arm and a tattoo of rosary beads on the other. What did you imagine that meant?"

Michael just shrugs and mumbles that he didn't know, Frank never said any strange prayers that he could see.

Gerard looks up and meets Toro's gaze, sharing the same thought. Gerard says, hesitantly, "Should we send for a priest?"

Toro grimaces, considering. There is only one Catholic church on Jersey, and Toro visited it shortly after he came to live in the Way house--but he returned quickly, white-lipped and silent. Gerard had tagged along to Mass with Toro a dozen times. Toro went faithfully, in cathedrals and tiny chapels all across the Continent, and Gerard loved the spectacle of it, the strange secret magic of the Latin--hard edged and Italianate compared to the classical Latin he learned in school--and the mysterious reek of incense and the beautiful pantheon of saints. But Toro never went back to the church on Jersey, and Gerard has never quite dared to ask why not--but Frank is very sick, talking about dying.

"I'll go and get the priest if he asks," Toro says finally. "Or if... if there's no choice." If Frank is dying and must have the Last Rites, Gerard understands.

But Frank gets no worse that night, and the next time he wakes up a bit, when Gerard says, "Frank Iero," he smiles and nods. Gerard says, "Why did you let Michael say it wrong all this time?"

Frank smiles a smile more beautiful than any Gerard can ever remember seeing and says, "It sounded nice how he said it. And I hated to tell him he'd got it wrong, he was so happy."

Gerard looks at Frank, his sweet smile and his fondness for Gerard's brother, and with a crystal clarity Gerard knows that he is falling in love.

Frank's convalescence is slow, and Gerard keeps him company through much of it. Frank is a surprisingly good patient, perpetually good-natured, turning frustration that would have Gerard throwing wine bottles (after draining them) into infectious laughter.

Gerard asks him how many languages he speaks, and Frank can't answer. It is partly because he knows his numbers only a little better than his letters, partly because he's still sleepy and confused between bouts of fever, but mostly because he's never thought of it that way before. He answers people the way they speak to him. His English is distinctively accented but clear, and he can speak Jersey with Gerard if Gerard doesn't go too quickly or use too many peculiar local expressions, though Frank picks up more of them all the time. Gerard quickly realizes that Frank is a natural at making out what people mean from the way they look and speak, and language follows swiftly after.

He asks Frank where he came from, how he's had occasion to learn so many languages, and Frank shrugs. His father was a sailor, Frank was born practically on the docks; he's been working on ships since he was "so high," and he waves a hand vaguely off the side of the bed. Gerard guesses he must have been six or seven years old, running powder and messages.

In the brief interim that constituted his childhood, Frank lived, "Here and there, different places." It seems unimportant to him, scarcely remembered.

Gerard, who is sitting with Frank in the house where he was conceived and born, and where his mother was born and died, a short stroll from the churchyard where his parents and grandparents and countless generations are buried, cannot quite fathom so rootless an existence.

"People said my mother died when I was born," Frank explains. "But my father told me the true tale: my mother was a fearsome lady pirate, and when I was born she left me at the church door nearest the docks with my father's medal of St. Francis around my neck to know me by, and sailed off after her next prize."

Gerard spends several long seconds trying to absorb this and then says a bit faintly, "That's the true story?"

Frank scowls and says, "Are you calling my father a liar?" and Gerard makes a clumsy, frantic attempt to take the words back.

Frank looks away, weary, and shakes his head. "Sailors tell thousands of stories, all of them true," Frank says. "Even if none of them happened. And anyway if she did die to give me birth, she must be in heaven, and I cannot think of a better heaven than sailing my own ship."

Gerard thinks, privately, that dying in childbed with a sailor's bastard son is not normally considered a sure route to heaven, but then he's no Papist. Frank would know better than he.

Gerard can tell that Frank doesn't usually wear a beard; Gerard himself makes do without a valet (his father's man had made a game effort at being inherited, but as he'd already been passed down once, there simply wasn't much wear left). Gerard likes to be let alone in the mornings, and if it means he frequently looks a bit rumpled or mismatched, well, he and Toro are cultivating an image of careless country manners. Michael, Gerard thinks, actually does not care. Pelissier has a valet, or rather a succession of them; he fires them regularly, and as hiring new ones is a great bother, the unstaffed intervals have grown longer and longer.

So there is no one to whom Gerard can delegate the task of shaving Frank, and though his own hands are as steady and clever with a razor as with a brush or pencil, the combination of Frank's rather heavier beard and his periodic fevered thrashing make Gerard cautious. He waits until Frank is well enough to give some small evidence of dissatisfaction with his new beard--nothing so overt as a complaint, only a small frown creasing his forehead when he itches at it--and then Gerard announces that he is going to give Frank a shave.

Frank's protests are only that Gerard shouldn't have to do that--none saying he doesn't need or want it, and only one foolhardy claim to be able to manage a razor himself, when he can't yet even sit upright for more than a few minutes at a time. Gerard is sure of his ground then, so he plays lord of the manor and marches right over Frank's weakening protests.

He's never shaved anyone else before, though he's been barbered himself a fair number of times. He wanted to do it--with a giddy hot feeling, the same he felt stealing glimpses of some schoolboy crush--but he never thought it would be quite like this. Frank keeps his eyes closed, lashes fluttering on his cheeks, almost holding his breath. He's propped up on pillows, but still mostly reclined, so Gerard is perched on the edge of the bed leaning over him, his own face close to Frank's to watch what he's doing. He can feel how Frank is scarcely breathing, holding so still--nervous of being cut, Gerard thinks, but all the stories Frank tells show he's quite blithe about facing danger.

Gerard is scarcely breathing himself, being careful of where he places his hands, and when he's finished and patted Frank's face, ridiculously delicately, with a towel, he feels as if he's just run down to the docks and back without stopping.

Frank's eyes finally pop open, and he smiles--he beams. His face is unguarded, all bare pink skin. Gerard is suddenly acutely conscious that Frank is scarcely as old as Michael, if that, for all he's lived through. But Gerard smiles helplessly back and says, "Here, have a look at yourself, I'll help you sit."

Frank is shirtless. He only had the one shirt to begin with, and it's been easier to look after him without unnecessary clothing. No one has been excessively troubled for Frank's modesty, including, since he woke up, Frank himself, so the one shirt has stayed folded on a shelf ever since the laundry maid finished with it. Gerard has gotten nearly used to the sight of the tattoos on Frank's arms, the occasional glimpse of the birds traced on his belly in sweeping black lines. Gerard doesn't think anything in particular--he feels, yes, feels a warm shuddering in his belly as though he had a bird of his own there--but he doesn't think before putting an arm around Frank to tug him into a sitting position, to let him peer at himself more easily in a mirror.

But the skin Gerard touches is unnaturally ridged, knotted, and he flinches from it, thinking he'll hurt Frank. Frank only flinches at Gerard pulling away from him, and Gerard perceives this as well as the embarrassed flush rising on Frank's cheeks even as Gerard blurts, "Did I--"

Frank shakes his head, looking confused, but says only, "They're old scars."

Gerard puts his arm back--Frank really isn't strong yet, he needs the support--and this time he settles his hand firmly, not letting himself feel along the lines under his fingers. Frank clears his throat and mutters, "You can, I don't--" and then twists in Gerard's grip, showing his back.

Gerard catches Frank's shoulder, steadying him before he can move more--he shouldn't even be sitting up, really--and stares. Frank's back is cross-hatched with old flogging scars. There are less than a dozen actual marks, but several of them are traced by tattoos--some of them cut through tattoos, marking layers of ink and blood. Many of the scars are old, thin and faint and faded, and Frank isn't much more than a boy now, which means he cannot have been but a child when he was beaten badly enough to scar.

Gerard remembers the sole whipping his father ever administered to him--not enough to leave him bleeding, and he'd cried through it more for remembered terror at nearly killing Michael and himself than from the actual pain. The occasional beatings from schoolmasters were perhaps fiercer, but even so, he bears no visible scars.

"How..." Gerard says, and cannot think what to say, how many, how old.

"I fell asleep on watch, I think," Frank says thoughtfully. "Or else stole a sip of the captain's coffee to keep awake? I was eleven or twelve."

He laughs a little, but Gerard can hear the hollow sound of it, sitting here with his arm around Frank.

"I was crying as soon as they bound my wrists. I'd seen men flogged for as long as I'd been on ships, all my life. It's worse waiting for a blow than feeling it. I'd been waiting years."

He laughs a little more, and something in the sound makes Gerard's arm tighten around him involuntarily. "I pissed myself when the first blow fell, but it wasn't so bad after that. It was never as bad, after that."

Gerard feels himself shaking, though he knows it ought to be Frank who's feeling the strain of sitting up. He's forgotten all about the mirror, and murmurs, "Here, lie down," as he eases Frank back to the pillows. Frank yawns and rolls onto his side, rubbing his smooth cheek against the pillowcase, showing his back to Gerard.

Gerard's hand moves of its own accord, to settle over the spot on Frank's back where the largest tattoo is, a grinning skull with a nexus of scars forming one blind eye. He can feel Frank's heart beating under his palm, and stays where he is until he has felt Frank fall asleep.

All the servants call Gerard's grandmother Madame, though she has always been Grandmother to Gerard and Michael, not Grandmere. The lady rarely leaves her rooms anymore, especially now that Gerard's friends are in apparently permanent residence. They exchange weekly dinner invitations--she hosts the boys in her suite, quite grandly, and comes out to the formal dining room when so called--and she is at home to the boys in the afternoons, and at home to callers in the morning.

Toro flirts quite outrageously with her, painting endless portraits of her and asking for her hand in marriage at least once a week. She always defers to Gerard's judgment, as head of the household. Gerard always flatly refuses to give his blessing to such a match, when it is clear that Toro (who is, Gerard is vaguely aware, some sort of aristocrat in Spain and certainly never out at pocket) only wants her for her money or, alternately, will force her to convert and whisk her away to foreign parts, never to be seen again by her loving family.

Michael visits his grandmother faithfully, regularly losing track of whether he is supposed to come in the morning or the afternoon, and thus occasionally being made to endure the attentions of many of the hopeful mamas of Jersey, to say nothing of their pretty daughters. All the ladies on the island have worked out that if Gerard continues in his peculiar rakehell unmarried fashion, it will be Michael who eventually inherits the property--sooner than later, if Gerard continues on his present path, many gossips murmur--and Michael's wife will then be quite comfortably placed indeed.

Matthew has known Madame all his life, and is made rather uncomfortable by her advancing age and increasing infirmity (Toro rarely troubles to ask her opinions of his paintings, for it is clear to all of them that her sight is going--Gerard only shows her the sketches he makes in charcoal, stark black on white, which she is still able to make out). Matthew is always polite, but never easy with her, and in turn she never quite ceases to treat him as though he has just come in from playing in the garden with dirt on his face.

Gerard calls upon her daily, and the others always contrive to give him time alone with her. Gerard is always careful to come in the afternoon and not the morning, because his dread of the island's mamas is eclipsed only by his certain knowledge that, should he find himself cornered by them in his grandmother's sitting room, she will instantly develop a terrible headache and dismiss all her callers at once with scarcely a pretense of politeness. She acts with the impunity of a widow in her seventh decade, but really, his grandmother's protectiveness is mortifying, and Gerard does not like to imagine what polite society makes of it. Of course, so long as he stays in his own home--or in the homes of bachelors even more wild and eccentric than himself--polite society's imaginings touch him very little.

He spends his time with his grandmother in conversation; Gerard tells her everything, as he has since he was too young to know this sort of thing wasn't Done--he tells her his hopes and, more often, his hopelessness, his struggles in running the estate, all the doings of the secret society (which the others, as subtly as a street pantomime, pretend to conceal from her). He reads his poetry to her, sometimes, the verses that are not too unbearably secret.

When Gerard's hour with his grandmother is stolen from the time he spends at Frank's bedside, he speaks to her a little, shyly, of Frank. There is never much to say--he knows very little about Frank, and he is fairly certain that all that the servants know about his condition, they report to her directly. Still, Gerard reiterates the very latest news: always, especially early on, that Frank is resting quietly, and seems a little better, for that is the only way Gerard ever leaves him.

There is more he sees, more he feels, more about Frank--about sitting in a dim room, watching him breathe, about brushing the sweat-soaked hair off his forehead, about the strength of his grip when he grabs Gerard's hand in the midst of some fevered nightmare--but those words come out only in poems where nothing seems to rhyme. He locks them away or burns them; they are worse than secret; they're dreadful, mad and rambling. He sketches instead, birds and beads and rays of light and a stylized flame, and when his grandmother asks him what he's been drawing, he shows them to her and to her alone. They're just sketches, they don't say anything where anyone else can hear.

It never crosses his mind that the servants might have passed on to her anything so vulgar as detailed descriptions of the ink buried in Frank's skin.

By the time Frank is ready to venture out of his bed for more than brief expeditions around the green bedroom, his small stock of clothing has mysteriously multiplied. He is not suddenly possessed of slightly cut down versions of Gerard's wardrobe, though Gerard would have quite cheerfully shared if he did not think it would have been somehow grotesque, dressing Frank up in a gentleman's togs. By now it has begun to seem strange to Gerard that Frank should wear many clothes at all; his skin is adornment enough, especially now that it has returned to a normal color underneath the tattoos and scars.

But Frank must indeed be properly clothed if he is to go about in public, and the clothes that appear in the green bedroom are a sailor's, if a sailor rather less down-at-the-heels than Frank had been even before being put ashore in Mt. Helier. Trousers and short jackets and crisp white shirts and proper land-going boots, so that when Frank--with minimal assistance from Gerard, mostly with the damned boots--is dressed, he looked neither like lord nor servant, but like just what he is: a sailor, though a neat, smart one, perhaps somehow a tame one. His collar and curling hair combined to cover even the tattoos on his neck (and Gerard thinks little of the fact that the sleeves of the jacket are precisely long enough to cover the tattoos on Frank's wrists, though he recognizes his grandmother's fine stitching just as readily as she would have recognized his brushstrokes).

The others have all been letting Frank alone, and letting Gerard alone so long as he is near Frank. Toro and Pelissier both readily identify this as one of Gerard's odd quixotic starts (though Toro, who knew Gerard in the rather permissive atmosphere of the continent, has an idea that Gerard's motives might not be entirely altruistic). Michael, fond of Frankie as a boy might be fond of a puppy who's followed him home, has been willing to let Gerard do the messy, tedious parts. He did visit Frank periodically in his sickbed, entertaining him when Gerard was occupied with business or having one of his talks with their grandmother, but he finds sick people rather alarming. He retreated after an hour or two each time, not to be seen again for days.

When Gerard starts taking Frank for turns about the garden and up and down the lawns, the others approach Frank rather as if Gerard had taken a sudden enduring interest in one of the household dogs, to the point of including it in conversation. They treat Frank kindly, as a bit of a pet, and if Gerard were cruel to him or thoughtless of him, they'd only think it gauche--because it simply is not the thing for a gentleman to ill-treat his beast--and not that Frank had any right to anything better. Michael would be offended on Frank's behalf, of course, but Michael would be offended on the dog's behalf, too. He's soft-hearted that way.

Gerard's grandmother tells Gerard to bring Frank to tea. Gerard puts her off once, and then again, and on the morning of the day he would have put her off for a third time, he steps into Frank's room only to find Frank fully dressed and sitting up at a small table, breakfasting with Gerard's grandmother. The old woman seems more occupied in instructing Frank on his manners and posture than she is in eating anything, sitting ramrod straight in her chair with just a cup of tea in front of her. Frank beams at Gerard when Gerard hesitates in the doorway, and says cheerfully and as though he and Gerard's grandmother are quite the best of friends, "You see? I told you we would need a third chair."

There is indeed a third chair at the small table, and Gerard--who has been getting up rather earlier than was ever before his custom, in order to spend more time sitting by Frank--settles cautiously into it. His grandmother scarcely lets him make a polite good-morning, but immediately begins using his manners as a model for Frank, which only makes Gerard self-conscious and clumsy, for now Frank is watching every movement of his hands, his mouth, the way he slouches in his chair, and all at Gerard's grandmother's behest. Individually, his grandmother and Frank are two of Gerard's favorite people, but in combination they are quite terrifying.

Frank is perfectly undaunted by Madame's constant stream of instructions, seeming to treat it all as though it were a new language to learn or some elaborate game he is being taught to play. Sitting just so and holding his cup thus is less bother than learning to run up and down the yards, or clinging to a mast in a downpour, and Frank is as adept with his whole body as Gerard is with his artist's hands. By the end of an hour Gerard thinks he was wrong, and Frank could contrive to look quite as much at home in Gerard's clothes as Gerard himself does, if not more. Gerard tries to imagine the reverse and comes quickly to the disheartening conclusion that he himself would not last an hour as a common sailor, even if he had an instructor as kind as Frank, though this will not prevent Gerard from mulling over that unlikely scenario--in increasingly vivid detail--later, when he is alone.

By the end of an hour Frank is also, however, quite visibly exhausted. Gerard's grandmother excuses herself after inviting Frank, individually, specifically, and directly, to tea--granting him leave as she does so to bring along, "That ill-mannered wretch who calls himself my eldest grandson, if you should see fit."

Frank visibly deflates as soon as the good lady has cleared the room, and Gerard nearly has to carry him back to bed, tugging off his boots and jacket and settling him under the counterpane again. Frank reaches for Gerard as he turns to go, catching not his wrist, but the hem of his coat. Gerard sits down at Frank's weak tug, perching on the edge of the bed. "What is it?"

Frank's eyes are nearly closed, his face nearly as pale as the sheets and the tattoos on his throat standing out starkly in contrast. "You will come to tea, won't you?"

Gerard smiles. "Of course," he says. "There will be biscuits, and little sandwiches." And you.

Frank smiles back even as his eyes fall shut. "Good," he murmurs. "I don't think I could find the sitting room on my own."

Frank sleeps straight through tea that day, and is a little distraught over it when Gerard--who stopped by to take him to tea, and then sat beside him for four hours, watching him sleep--finally wakes him for supper. Gerard assures him that the invitation was a general one, for tea on whatever day Frank happens to have no other pressing engagements. Frank seems reassured by this, if still a bit put out at missing the sweets and little sandwiches, and Gerard notices as they eat supper together--from a tray, sickbed-fashion--that Frank watches Gerard's every move with covert intensity.

Gerard, striving for his grandmother's air of easy and unabashed direction, fills up their customary mealtime silence with instructions. Frank promptly resumes his air of learning a new game, unleashing irresistible smiles and an earnest air Gerard finds powerfully intoxicating, particularly now that his grandmother is not observing his every movement.

Gerard knows that his grandmother thinks he has been reluctant to bring Frank to tea because he thinks Frank will embarrass himself or Gerard, but that isn't it at all (though it would pain Gerard, excruciatingly, to see Frank made to feel uncomfortable). It is only that Frank is something precious, secret even though the whole household is aware of him, and Gerard likes keeping Frank to himself (sharing him occasionally and at Michael's whim with Michael, but all of Gerard's most beloved playthings have belonged to him with that caveat).

The next day, however, Gerard dutifully escorts Frank to tea with his grandmother. He is somehow not surprised to see that Toro and Michael and Matthew happen all to be in attendance. Frank acquits himself nicely, and in the presence of the others Gerard's grandmother confines her corrections of Frank's behavior to the occasional speaking glance or covert nod.

Frank, when plied with jam tarts and tea and drawn inexorably into conversation by Madame, turns out to be an expansive and skillful storyteller. He makes quite a different impression when not struggling to stay upright in front of four gentlemen all taller than himself, and Toro is promptly quite enchanted with him, Michael learning the same puppy fondness all over again, redoubled by Gerard's obvious approval and affection. If Matthew continues to regard Frank as an overindulged pet, well, he maintains a well-bred silence, and the others are all too busy listening to Frank to notice such a quiet undercurrent.

Frank, however, is unavoidably conscious that at least one person other than himself is aware of the strangeness of Frank's holiday in the Way house. He mentions it that night to Gerard--hesitantly, like a man bracing himself to plunge his hand into a flame, for once he speaks of it, Gerard is sure to see it. He remarks as casually as he can that he will have to leave soon; perhaps he can get work at the docks in Mt. Helier (which will allow him occasional glimpses both of ships and of Mr. Gerard Way--or might, if Gerard ever goes abroad so far as the town, but Frank allows himself to imagine he will, every now and again).

Gerard, who has been dreading the end of Frank's recovery and his inevitable departure back to the exotic life aboard ship, wrinkles his nose. He has heard Frank speak of the sea and of sailing, and he has an idea that working on the docks would be, for Frank, rather like having the job of washing windows outside a patisserie whose doors were barred to him. An exquisite torture. "Shall you not find a new berth and sail away from us, then?"

Frank hears this rather as a command, and his shoulders hunch against some cold wind only he feels. "Sailors talk. Folk will know I've had the ague, and they'll know I could fall sick again. I won't be wanted on the ships where they know me. I could get work on a North Sea trader, maybe, but better the docks than a whaling ship."

Gerard, who has heard stories of the sea all his life, says, "It does sound dangerous, going looking for monsters."

Frank shakes his head. He's grown perilously comfortable arguing with Gerard, a habit he knows he'll have to break and yet clings to, in the safety of his sickroom, a pocket outside of the world as he otherwise understands it.

"They're great beasts. It's a shame to slaughter them, filthy work. I'm a sailor, not a butcher. I might as well sign on to a slaver." Frank shudders expressively at that and adds, "Some things, an ocean won't wash off."

Gerard thinks of Lady Macbeth, and reaches out impulsively to touch Frank's still-clean hand. "Think no more of it. You're not well yet, you needn't go looking for work now."

He knows, though, that Frank is troubled by his idleness, so--after meeting with the others to discuss it, or rather to announce it and then quell any possible protests, though in the event none are forthcoming--the next night, Gerard brings Frank into the secret society. They spend the entirety of that night's meeting describing their past exploits--which include their rescue of him, of which he has no recollection, and otherwise range from disastrous to humorous to baffling--to Frank over several bottles of wine.

Frank, even in his present weakened state, has as good a head for drink as any of them, if not better. He listens raptly, with an expression on his face that betrays nothing but intent concentration. It is only when the hour has grown quite late and Matthew and Michael are both nodding in their cups, and Gerard has been talking without a pause for ten straight minutes about his grand goals, that Frank finally says, "But you are really terrible at this, you realize."

Gerard and Toro stare, and Michael blinks back to semi-awareness, while Matthew's eyes are gleaming slits.

"I mean," Frank elaborates. "You're not actually helping anyone. You can scarcely even keep from killing each other."

Gerard is briefly inclined to be a little hurt, but then Toro shoves at Frank's shoulder, saying something fast and angry-sounding in Spanish, and Gerard feels instantly protective of Frank's right as a member of the society to tell them that they are terrible. Meanwhile, Frank is answering fearlessly back in the same language, sailor and nobleman arguing like students in a coffeehouse, until finally Toro laughs, nodding. Frank sits back with an air of moderately drunken satisfaction.

"I can help you," Frank says. "You'll do much better with me around."

Gerard believes him without reservation.

Gerard has been in love before: at least twice at boarding school, before he'd quite figured out what it was, and then in a mad flurry at university--a different boy each term of his first year, and then the same boy (who was also in love with him, oh bliss) for the first two terms of his second year, until they had a falling-out and Gerard spend all of Trinity term nursing his broken heart. Third year was like first with more drinking and more boys, down to the last one, in the run up to Gerard's Finals, whose name and college (or whether he was in fact at a college and not just the apothecary's boy) Gerard never did know. His second-year requited passion aside, Gerard learned that actually becoming personally acquainted with someone with whom he was in love frequently ruined the whole thing--but he scarcely even remembers his passion for the mysterious blond boy anymore. He was too busy to write very many wretched poems about him, and the inevitable and requisite heartbreak got rather lost during Finals, and then it was on to the continent and his grand tour.

The trip extended in a leisurely fashion beyond the standard year, as Gerard felt no great compulsion to return home--Toro paid for things just often enough to keep Gerard afloat, and Gerard sold the occasional painting (more through the prettiness of his face than his art, he knew, but the end result was that people paid him for his paintings as though he were an actual artist) and it was sufficient to get by.

He fell in and out of love at a slightly more languid pace in Europe, and once again experienced the occasional brief requital. He did also, as he occasionally had in university, go to bed with the sort of woman one went to bed with, but he never fell in love with a woman, whether that kind or a more suitable one. Rutting between the sheets is nothing compared to the briefest touch of hands with one he loves, and the prospect of marriage crosses his mind only as the same sort of dreadful inevitability as death.

Gerard returned to Jersey in the winter of Michael's final year of university, seized with the first truly dark bout of melancholy he had ever suffered. It was a strange affliction disconnected from any loss of love or failure of art, though he was obsessed with both as signs of the dreadful pointlessness of his existence. He felt the occasional frisson of interest in someone during the years that followed, but being in love in Jersey, in the lap of his family, seemed incongruous and dangerous. Gerard never dared even to think about those men too much.

He is not precisely certain whether he has ever consummated any of his grandly passionate loves. Certainly there were kisses with some of them--some followed immediately by blows, some allowed to progress farther. During his second year of university, he and the Classics scholar got all the way to the point of nakedness once or twice, consumed as much with their own daring as with each other. Even without actually disrobing there had been many furtive touches in secret places, a leavening of furiously carnal pleasure in the midst of their otherwise largely poetic passion for one another.

It wasn't that Gerard didn't know boys could do other things to and with each other; it was just that all the truly definitive acts he'd heard of sounded like things that happened to you if you were unlucky in your choice of bullies at school. Gerard had been lucky, but some of his friends hadn't, and it all sounded quite terrifying and was evidently painful and injurious. He wanted no part of any of that, certainly not in relation to any boy he'd ever loved. Perhaps he did think about what it would have been like to be less lucky, once in a while, and perhaps those thoughts were quite engrossing when certain moods were upon him, but they were only thoughts and he knew it wouldn't be like that, truly.

And now the point is moot, because Gerard has fallen in love again, for the first time in years, as heart-poundingly intense as that first schoolboy infatuation. Gerard is in love with Frank.

Frank was buggered for the first time the same year as his first flogging. They weren't all that different in his mind: something he'd seen happen to others ever since he'd come aboard ships, something he'd been waiting years to have happen to him. More terrifying than painful--though painful enough--and never as bad again after the first time.

As far as Frank is concerned, rape is something that happens to maidens, uniformly beautiful and innocent, frequently possessed of vengeful fathers and brothers and sweethearts, though also prone to flinging themselves off high things and haunting the one who wronged them. What happened to him was just buggery; it just happens. He didn't agree to it, but he didn't agree to be flogged, either, nor put on short rations when half the supplies spoiled, nor to be caught in an ice storm, nor to have the wind fail them three days out of port. It's just what happens.

The first one was the ship's mate. He took an interest in Frank, taught him his letters, then kissed him one day, and longer the next, before he finally worked up to what he actually wanted. Lessons and kisses both disappeared after that, though the buggering continued past the point where Frank grew used to it. The mate liked the skin of Frank's back, smooth and perfect, and after Frank was flogged for the first time he made him keep his shirt on. It wasn't until years later that Frank had a grinning skull tattooed on his back, cutting across half a dozen old scars, but after that, whether his shirt is on or off, when he's buggered he thinks of it there, laughing at them.

The secret truth is that Frank didn't mind it all that much. Of course, there were the ones who wanted the hurt more than anything, and that was wretched. Frank learned to avoid those men, and how to defend himself (but if it came to the point of putting a knife in, he was already worse than fucked--there was never any real escape aboard ship, and Frank had no interest in being hanged) or to make it hurt less than they thought it did. But there were the ones who just wanted to get between someone's legs, anyone's, who thought Frank might be a good target (curly hair, quick smile, small enough to overpower, or to plausibly pretend to have been overpowered), and them... Frank didn't truly mind.

Sometimes, somewhere he can't admit, sometimes it was more than not minding. Sometimes, this awful vile thing that he put up with because it couldn't be avoided--sometimes, it felt good. He'd made sort of trades, even, once or twice with a hand his own age, and they would alternate from some obscure sense of fairness. The first time he did it, Frank concluded that if buggering always felt that good from the other side, he couldn't hold it so very much against anyone who'd ever done it to him, because oh.

But it was terrible and wrong and filthy, of course. Frank went to confession when he could find a church near to port, and made vague, mumbled admissions which nonetheless earned him hours of Aves and Paters from priests who've heard plenty of sailors' sins. They never failed to grant him the ego te absolve, despite their sternness and his reticence, and so Frank always went back, seeking forgiveness for something he didn't entirely understand, no matter what price they demanded in prayer and penance. He finally had the beads tattooed onto his wrist, so he could count them out across his skin, silent during a night watch, even as he waited for the next time he was cornered somewhere with no escape.

It was just something that happened.

Frank has never been in love.

Love--like rape--seems to be something that inescapably involves beautiful maidens. There is always either a great deal of suffering and death, or marriage and babies, or, to hear some of the sailors who leave wives in port talk of it, all four in no particular order. Frank has never found the prospect particularly appealing.

He went--was taken--to a brothel once, at the ripe age of fourteen or so (Frank is very clear on the fact that he was born on the night before All Saints', knows the story--even if he's not sure who told him--of his first cry ringing out, and then the matins bell for All Saints Day, like an echo, so his birthday is the eve--but he gets a bit foggy on how many years have elapsed). What he remembers about it, mainly, is that he felt dizzy and sick as soon as he stepped into the warm front room, and though he'd never been there before everything seemed for a moment strangely familiar--and then disturbingly strange, when nothing matched up to the way it ought to be, though Frank could not say how he'd come by such definite ideas about brothels.

He'd been brought to have a man made of him, his arse still a little sore and one hip still bruised from two nights before when they were still at sea. At last one of the whores took some sort of pity on him and led him away from his friends. She had a bed, a real one--narrow and not clean, but not a hammock, which was a novelty for Frank. He let her believe him very drunk, begged her not to tell his friends, and she laughed a bit and let him curl up on her mattress and sleep a little; when he woke she tugged his trousers down and spit into the palm of her hand, brought him off promptly and sent him back downstairs with a wink.

She was near his own age, Frank thought, apropos of nothing. Scarcely old enough to be anyone's mother at all.

Frank doesn't have words, in any language he speaks, for Gerard--what he is, what he means. He has no language for the way he feels when he wakes and Gerard is sitting there, for the way he feels when Gerard walks into the room, what it means when Gerard walks beside him, matching his stride to Frank's shaky legs.

He has a memory, though.

It was his second year as a powder monkey, still aboard his first ship, the Nora Jane. Winter, December--Christmas Eve, in fact, and though Frank's English was not yet as good as it would be, it was good enough. The day would have meant no more to him if someone had bothered to wish him Buon Natale instead of Happy Christmas. He'd contrived that day to make two of the other monkeys angry with him, so though they'd all huddled together into one hammock to keep warm, it was the two of them at one end and him at the other. He was warmed enough by their nearness to keep from freezing, but not enough to keep from shivering--and with three in the hammock their position was precarious. Any too-great shove by one would send all three tumbling into the cold again.

Frank scarcely slept all night, and when the bells finally summoned them to breakfast he was first up the ladder, grateful for the movement, the rising of the sun. He'd get warm again one way or another, and it was another day. Chrissmuss day, as all the men kept repeating.

But the monkeys were all stopped short of their breakfast, summoned to the captain's cabin by his particular orders. Frank glanced back at the other two, and their squabble was forgotten in their mutual dread. They'd never been summoned to the captain's cabin before.

The first thing Frank was aware of, stepping inside, was warmth, and he thought he could endure anything else for that; the cabin was bright and cozy, and his hands and feet tingled in the sudden luxurious heat. There was a strange smell in the air, too, sweet and rich and magical. Frank stared wide-eyed up at the godlike figure of the captain in his own private domain, hardly aware of the other boys beside him.

The captain laughed. "There you are, lads! Happy Christmas! Here, a drink for breakfast." And he--with his own hands, his own hands--gave each of them a mug to drink from. Frank expected grog, but the mug was warm in his hands, driving heat into his fingers, and the sweet unfamiliar smell rose from the opaque liquid inside.

"Go on!" the captain boomed cheerfully. His cheeks were rosy; Frank thought he might have begun drinking early today. "Happy Christmas!"

Frank obediently raised the mug to his lips and tipped it up, and that was his first taste of chocolate. Sweet and strange and indescribably fine on his tongue, warm in his belly. He drank it slowly, to make it last, and though there was a bitter bite at the end of the cup, he would never forget the first touch of it to his tongue, so unexpectedly fine it made his eyes prickle hot, like his skin had done in the first shock of the cabin's warmth.

That is Gerard, to Frank: kindness unimaginable, sweetness indescribable, that first shocking instant of perfection prolonged across weeks.

He is still waiting for the bitter taste of the dregs (the Christmas after that Frank ate with the men, unremarked, unremarkable except for the tiny foolish hope of another Christmas miracle, hope which froze and died and hurt so badly as it did that he nearly, nearly wished it had never happened at all) but no matter how slowly he sips, his belly is warmed, and Frank stores up the warmth and the memory of all Gerard has given him. He'll face the storm again when he must, but for this moment he is sheltered, blessed.

Being in love with Frank is not like being in love with anyone else; for all the practice Gerard has had at it, he feels like a bewildered schoolboy all over again every time he thinks of his feelings for Frank. He writes poems about Frank which are uniformly mad, or terrible, or mad and terrible at once. He cannot show them to anyone, but keeps them locked away, as precious as they are painful; every fortnight or so, wine-sodden and melancholy, he burns a handful of them, and the next morning finds him frantically trying to recreate them while his head pounds, his fingers still pink with scorching.

The poems are all too transparently about Frank, and Frank cannot be compared to any normal poetical things--he isn't like any kind of plant at all, flower nor nettle, nor any beautiful weather--nor like stormy weather either, with his sweet quick smile.

Gerard digs up all his old poetry about his assorted past loves; there's plenty, as none of it has ever been worth burning except from boredom, or embarrassment at his early efforts. He tries to remember how he used to write poetry about them. None of it makes sense anymore--he wrote half the poems as if his love were a woman, and yet he remembers that they felt true, at the time. He cannot imagine carrying out such subterfuge with Frank, whose maleness is so essential to everything he is, everything Gerard loves.

Even in those poems where he wrote of his love for a boy as such, all the boys run together, and the names he never dared to record in ink no longer spring to mind. He cannot see how he will ever forget Frank, or confuse him with anyone else, named or unnamed. He knows Frank as he never knew any boy he loved, even the Classics scholar of second year. His love for Frank is a specific thing, unpoetic and particular--and yet he cannot stop attempting to fit it into lines.

He has some small measure of success comparing Frank to a particular clear, powerful liquor which he first encountered on the continent under the innocuous name of vodka--which after all meant water, but clearly referred only to appearances. Frank, after all, seems only like a man of the water on his spectacularly scarred and tattooed surface, and yet there is more underneath--not something different underneath, not a hidden center that is not true to his appearance, any more than the transparent drink conceals its truly intoxicating nature. It's only that it can't be appreciated at a glance, but has to be drunk down in one fiery gulp to be understood. He's drunk it since, not infrequently, at house parties held by McCracken, the only man who saves Gerard from being the most notorious bachelor on the island--for while Gerard is certainly eccentric, he is most notable for keeping to himself, and his eccentricities are largely speculated (and not even that, in the earshot of his grandmother or the formidable matrons who are her intimates).

McCracken holds parties. And he employs a man--something between a servant and an artist in residence--to procure, and in certain cases to produce, his stock of potables. Bryar calls the clear liquor, which he distills himself to specifications he and McCracken have devised, goryashchee vino: burning wine. Gerard finds this much truer to its nature, to Frank's nature. He thinks often of the stylized black flame--not unlike artistic representations of the Pentecost, the gift of tongues--tattooed above Frank's heart.

He does not go to many of McCracken's parties after Frank comes into the house, preoccupied as he is. When he does go, however, he finds it necessary to drink a great deal of the burning wine, searching for understanding or distraction. Night after night, he finds neither.

Frank is accustomed to waking and finding Gerard somewhere nearby, and he opens his eyes even as his heart leaps. He jerks backward in the next second, because Gerard is leaning over him, Gerard's hand is on his bare shoulder, Gerard's face an inch from his, and Gerard is stinking drunk.

Then Frank forces himself to be still, go limp, let whatever will happen happen. At the same time his heart is racing, something wordless pounding in his veins. A moment he didn't know he was waiting for has arrived, and he is more than ready to face it.

But Gerard sits up suddenly, swaying, and Frank has to sit up as well and catch him before he tumbles off the bed. Gerard gives him a sweet smile, and Frank remembers that Gerard left before supper for McCracken's with Pelissier and Michael. This is just another of Gerard's late-night visits to Frank's room, coming home after a party and checking on him--but never on the bed before, never his hand on Frank's skin that way, his face so close. Frank is acutely conscious of his own hand on Gerard's side. He should let go, but Gerard is leaning into his grip. He'll fall if Frank lets go.


"I was speaking to Bryar tonight," Gerard murmurs, frowning a little. He is not meeting Frank's eyes but staring intently at his chest, as though he can see the wild pounding of Frank's heart. He even reaches out, and Frank flinches a little, because the moment has not come, of course not, of course Gerard would not, Gerard is not that kind, this is not the sea--and he cannot let Gerard know what he imagined in that first moment. What he imagined and was ready for.

Gerard frowns harder, flicking a glance at Frank's face, and then touches just the tip of his finger to Frank's chest, just above his heart. Frank grits his teeth, trying not to shudder at the touch, not to push into it or pull away, and then Gerard's fingertip traces a line, light and careful. Frank finally recognizes what he's doing, tracing the curve of the flame tattooed there. Frank lets himself laugh a little, then, and pulls away as though it tickles. Gerard's face breaks into a sudden grin, and he leans closer to Frank again, steadying himself. Frank doesn't drop his hand, just in case.

"I spoke to Bryar," he repeats. "He says you can make it from anything. It could come from anywhere, it scarcely matters where it comes from--I mean, of course it matters, what it is to begin with, where it starts from, but--it goes through so much, so much fire, it is distilled and purified until it is perfect, you see--until it is perfectly what it is, nothing else. With fire, tried by fire, whether it starts as rye or molasses or--or potatoes or anything, from anywhere. And then, and then the water, the water is what makes the difference, and you can add honey or add capsicum, make it sweet or bitter or anything, it can be anything at all but always the burn of it, do you see? And it's always strong--Frankie, it's always strong, whatever else it is."

Gerard's hand flattens over Frank's tattoo, and Frank knows Gerard must be talking about something he drank tonight--Bryar is something at McCracken's house, something to do with the drinks, thats what he does, how he earns his keep. But Frank has no idea what Gerard is talking about, or why he's talking so intently about it, as though it were something that mattered. Other times, when he's come back from McCracken's parties, he's told Frank stories of the people there, the wild men and scandalous women. He's always been drunk, but always slumping in a chair, his heels resting on the bed beside Frank, his voice low and broken with laughter, his eyelids drooping. He's never been like this, leaning close and still frowning a little, forehead wrinkling.

Frank shifts uncomfortably, uncertain, and something strange passes over Gerard's face, and then he's pressing against Frank's chest. "You should be resting," he murmurs, dropping his gaze. "You should--I shouldn't have woken you, I'm sorry, I don't--"

Frank lets himself be pushed back, lets his back rest against the linen where there's no chance Gerard will see it again. Frank still feels a little queasy when he remembers the way Gerard flinched from him. He does have to rest, he's still not--not strong, and Gerard has been pronouncing that word with peculiar emphasis. Frank can't help feeling his own lack. Still, Gerard's hand hasn't left him, and Gerard looks upset with himself for some reason, still not meeting Frank's gaze. Frank just wants to close his eyes, open them again and see Gerard beside him, amiably drunk and talkative in the middle of the night, in this room that is a place apart from everywhere else in the world.

"Tell me," Frank whispers, closing his eyes against his own audacity, to ask for anything. "Tell me about the party."

Gerard is still and silent for a moment, and Frank waits for Gerard's inexplicable displeasure to spill over onto him, but then Gerard's hand pats against his skin and withdraws as Gerard says in a lighter voice, "There was this woman there, in this dress, you should have seen her..."

Frank opens his eyes to see Gerard sitting beside his feet, knees drawn up to his chest with his arms looped around his legs, looking like any little boy sitting up late. Gerard keeps talking and Frank lets his eyes slip shut. He's not strong. He has to rest.

Gerard resists letting on about his feelings for Frank for a good long while. It's only a matter of several weeks, by the calendar, but they are weeks in close quarters, weeks spent at Frank's bedside or in company with him, drinking with him and sharing the Chimerical Romantics with him as he gets well.

Frank seems to take him at his word about the Romantics being a serious endeavor, not a mere boys' lark, however much of their time is spent in aimless pursuits. Frank joins with Gerard and Toro in many of their more serious discussions about project they might undertake, and though Frank has scarcely been two months on the island, he seems to have more ideas than all the rest of them put together about what troubles they might be able to remedy, and how. The projects sound a bit more tedious and difficult than roaming the streets of Mt. Helier at night, looking for mischief to intervene in, but Frank's ideas are serious, and real, and Gerard adores all of them and can scarcely choose among them.

In the meantime, Gerard begins teaching Frank to ride, or at least to not be petrified in the presence of horses, which will be essential to Frank's actually accompanying them on any of their wild rides (they may not be productive, but they are undeniably fun). Having Frank ride double behind him is a perfectly sensible first step. Gerard certainly, in the mists of earliest memory, had his first experiences astride a horse on those magical instances when he'd been pulled up into the saddle with his father.

Frank is just a babe in arms when it comes to horses--he does not even remember his first time riding with Gerard, on the way from the town to the house. Before then he had only seen horses tied up at hitching posts, or threatening to run down those afoot in the streets. It makes perfect sense to take him riding pillion to help accustom him to horses, and they are neither of them such strapping fellows as to overburden Gerard's mount unduly on a short, sedate ride.

Gerard takes them out into the estate a little way, keeping up an easy stream of chatter about the trees and land around them so that he will not let himself become too distracted by Frank's arms wrapped securely about his middle, and Frank's breath on the back of his neck. In a sheltered spot, Gerard stops and helps Frank practice mounting and dismounting, safely away from the eyes of skeptical grooms and servants and Romantics and Gerard's grandmother and Lord knew who else might contrive to happen by.

It isn't that Gerard hasn't thought about making some advance to Frank. He's thought about it. He's thought about a great deal more than that, most of it very wildly improbable.

He's even decided upon the most likely result of letting Frank know how he feels: he would make an advance, and Frank would leave. Gerard would nurse a broken heart for months, perhaps years, perhaps his blackest melancholy yet (perhaps his last, some little voice whispers, the thread of darkness that always lingers, the unspeakable danger he always courts just a little--the last fall, the lingering death, the place to rest in the churchyard). There would be beauty in this suffering, because it would prove that his love for Frank has not been some perverse, random attachment to an utterly unsuitable object. It would prove that his love for Frank is real as no requital has ever proven any past love of his, and Gerard, almost more than he desires Frank himself, craves the knowledge that what he feels is real.

There is, in fact, an even more deliciously agonizing scenario, one Gerard has contemplated in loving detail: Frank, having joined the Chimerical Romantics in their quest, having adopted it as his own and being devoted to it, would feel some obligation to stay. He would reject Gerard's advance--perhaps a little fearfully as well as angrily, defying Gerard's inherent authority over him with some trepidation--and he would beg Gerard never to repeat his unspeakable action.

Gerard would, on his honor, swear never to importune Frank again--for it is (as Gerard is periodically reminded, on the odd Sunday when he and Michael and Pelissier think to attend services) a terrible, unnatural thing that Gerard feels (though one approved by any number of Greeks and Latins, so Gerard cannot feel too terribly badly about it; Hell is just another artistic image, another opportunity for exquisite suffering).

So Gerard would swear never to trouble Frank again, and Frank would be wary of him at first--but Gerard will faithfully conceal all he feels, only writing about Frank in secret, burning the pages each night so there can be no danger of Frank discovering him. And Frank will stay, and work with them, and help to make Gerard's nebulous dreams into wonderfully tangible realities, to help people, to matter. All the while Gerard will be tormented with Frank's nearness and the impossibility of requital--and yet Gerard will be happy, because Frank will be a part of his world, safe and happy and occupied. And that will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Gerard truly loves Frank, and his suffering and joy will be mingled like the intoxicating fire of burning wine.

So the kiss Gerard presses to Frank's mouth is not precisely unconsidered, and yet at the same time it is wholly impulsive; Frank looks so pleased, so beautiful, the first time he succeeds in dismounting properly, and he laughs in that infectious way of his. Gerard's hand is already on his arm, steadying him. In that instant Gerard does not think this out at all, does not plan it, has not prefaced it with all the many, many words he imagined would be required. He leans in and kisses Frank with his eyes closed.

And when Frank does not back away or strike him or cry out, Gerard kisses him again. When Frank's lips part under his, Gerard dares to kiss him once more, his heart thundering and his cock stirring and his tongue pressing inside. Then the horse shies a bit and Frank pulls away, and Gerard is breathing a little hard.

Frank is, unfathomably, still smiling, and, yet more unfathomably, he says, "Yes, all right," as though Gerard had asked him some specific and answerable question with the kiss.

Then Frank glances around and says, "Now? Here?"

Gerard shakes his head faintly, dazed, having no idea what Frank might mean by that--unless he means more kisses now and here, which Gerard thinks might be good--except that Frank pulled back from the kiss, and is not returning to Gerard's embrace. That also would have entailed stepping closer to the horse again, however, and Gerard can understand that being a deterrent.

But then there is the sound of hoofbeats, and Michael appears, sitting his horse with his usual lazily perfect posture. Frank smiles and leans closer to Gerard, gripping the saddle as though to swing up, and murmurs, "Later, then."

Gerard flushes all over, nodding dumbly, hoping Michael will not expect him to make any kind of coherent conversation. Though he still has no idea what later might consist of, Frank does not seem to be running away, nor to be demanding Gerard never speak to him of this again, and beyond that, Gerard can scarcely think.

The Way household is not unlike a ship, in Frank's mind: a good ship, happy and well-run, all her lines neat and taut, ropes coiled, deck clean, all her men proud. The servants make up the crew, obviously, but Frank cannot decide from one day to the next whether Gerard is the captain, or Madame is. Eventually he concludes that Gerard must be, as he is master of the house for all the servants would never obey him against Madame: Madame is just Madame, and there is no equivalent rank, and Gerard would no more defy her than the servants could.

Frank is aware that he has no rank, either. He is aware that he is a passenger, and that he cannot pay his passage.

He is acutely aware that he will not be asked to--Gerard, Michael, Madame, they are gentles to the core, and they bestow their kindness where they will. A common sailor does best not to bite the hand that's nursed him back to health, nor would Frank ever dream of doing such a thing. But this can't continue forever. In his sickroom, when it was just him and Gerard--him and Mister Way, but Frank will never regain the vestiges of propriety he owes to Gerard, not after the first night he woke up halfway clear-headed and Gerard was perched on the edge of his bed with a cloth and a basin of water, and gave him a little to drink before bathing his forehead and wrists and throat in coolness.

But the green bedroom, and the bed within it like a pinnace, is a place outside the rest of the world; even when Michael visited him there, even when Madame came in and lectured him about how to sit and how to eat, it was all a part of some other world that didn't touch the real one. Frank was always half-convinced that this was a fever dream, or that he'd already perished and this was a heaven beyond all imagining, the mansion with many rooms he'd heard of once. As a child he imagined a villa, more windows, golden sunlight, different (better) food, but he could not have imagined Gerard, nor expected Michael's sweetness, nor Madame's grace bestowed upon him like the Virgin herself teaching him table manners.

It is when he begins to walk again that he realizes he still lives, and that the world outside can still touch him; it is there in the gentle condescension of Toro's gaze, in Pelissier's stolid refusal to be shocked by Mister Gerard Way's latest mad stunt. Frank is not even a passenger, but an exotic creature collected from some distant shore and packed along like so much baggage (Frank thinks of slavers, but it is not like that; he is not, Gerard is not, the house is not a ship at all).

It relieves him a little, when Gerard draws him into the circle of the others, commissions him as some kind of officer, perhaps a very junior lieutenant, an ensign, a powder monkey dressed up in fine clothes--but it is enough, a nod to propriety that will let him drink with Gerard and Michael and Toro and Pelissier, enough that Toro will argue with him and listen when Frank argues back. Toro demands that Frank make suggestions, help to devise plans, and sometimes Frank speaks to Toro alone, before meeting with the others, to try out his ideas, to make sure he has the words right so that he will not embarrass himself before Pelissier. Toro seems to understand, and argues with him until he knows his own side well; Toro, Frank thinks, is an excellent first lieutenant.

And Gerard is his captain. Frank wishes it were true, that the house were a ship, that they were cut off from the world on some storm-tossed sea (that Gerard's rarely leaving the house would become never, even though the nights when Gerard appears halfway to dawn, smelling of something sharper and stronger than wine or ale, tongue loosened along with his coat and neckcloth--oh, those nights, the things Frank thinks while he lies awake, murmuring responses to Gerard's half-coherent ramblings--they will be the death of him, his damnation). Frank could be something then, do Gerard some good service: bring him his coffee and help him to dress, or only be a common sailor, and yet do his work well and with a will, that Gerard's eye might fall on him with approval.

Might fall upon him with more than approval. Gerard might ask something of him then, if they were truly aboard a ship, if Gerard were truly his captain, Captain Way, and Frank's tongue shapes those words he dares not speak, for it would reveal everything he wishes and he knows those wishes are entirely wrong. But if only Gerard required some service of him, if only there were something Frank could do for him that no one else could, then Frank could be certain of his place, certain of meaning something to Gerard.

Then it happens. Gerard kisses him, sudden and shy, in the midst of teaching Frank something he doesn't need to know, and Frank realizes that Gerard is just getting the nerve to take what he wants from Frank. To ask for it, Frank thinks, for Captain though he is, Gerard is as shy as any hand who ever made some furtive grab for Frank in the darkness belowdecks. Frank is flooded with relief and joy, a shameful eagerness--at last, at last, Gerard has asked it of him, and he can assent, he can do something for Gerard that no one else can be asked to. Frank knows Gerard well enough by now to know that he would not stoop to press a servant, and naturally no gentleman could be expected--but Gerard has created an exception in Frank, by making him one of them even though he is patently not, and Frank holds very still, allowing Gerard to kiss him again and again before finally stepping back to say he understands, and yes, he will, he will, yes.

Gerard seems to think better of it, but Frank is reckless with the knowledge that Gerard wants this from him, wants him. He whispers "Later," as though it were up to him, as though he had any right to say when he would give in to Gerard. But Gerard nods, and Frank wills himself to be still until a better time.

Frank spends the rest of that day in a roil of anticipation, something twisting low and hot in his belly which is not quite shame or fear, for all that it belongs with both. But he has nothing to fear from Gerard: Gerard was not demanding but asking, out there among the trees. Frank knows it even though Gerard didn't say a word. Gerard is not the kind to demand, or he would have done it long since; likewise, no matter that Frank has given himself over to this, Gerard will not do the very worst to him. Gerard will take no pleasure in hurting him, and that is enough for Frank to know. Any harm he suffers incidentally will signify nothing. It is him Gerard desires, not his pain.

It is common enough by now for Frank to go up to bed alone at night, settling down to sleep without Gerard hovering nearby to help. Still, Frank stays awake, lying between the cool, soft sheets, waiting, wondering whether Gerard will come, what he will want. Wondering whether, having been once satisfied, he will be finished with Frank, or whether Frank can entice him to want more, to want Frank to stay.

There in the dark, the shame comes creeping upon him, for he cannot deny that his cock is hard, just thinking of the things that Gerard might do to him. He thinks of the other times, the best-worst, the times when his body betrayed him, revealing the perverse pleasure he took in being buggered, being used. He thinks of Gerard pressing him down into the mattress (he remembers the time with the whore, the only time he'd been so close to anyone in a real bed, though Gerard has come close, perching on the edge of the enormous soft mattress, leaning over him that one late night after one of McCracken's parties). Perhaps he will summon Frank from the bed, take him up against a wall or on the bare floor (more familiar surroundings, both, though he wonders how different it will be without a ship rocking and trembling around him). He thinks of Gerard taking him--uncertain, and made rough by it, maybe, or quick and assured, masterful. He thinks of the familiar burn, every different way it can hurt, and the secret shocking ways it feels good, and he is hard, so hard, aching.

He won't touch himself, he won't, but--he can prepare himself a little, for Gerard. Make things easier, later on. He doesn't let himself think too much about it, just sucks two fingers into his mouth, licking them well, and then curls on the bed, reaching between his own legs and pressing his fingers inside. He can't reach far, and his oddly-bent wrist hurts nearly as much as his arse, though neither hurts as much as all that. It makes his breath come short, it feels--incomplete, unreal, but it's not only pain, there's that treacherous thread of pleasure, and his cock jumps against his belly without his even touching it when he twists his fingers inside himself. Alone in the dark, his face flames at that, and he thinks--if Gerard had been here, if Gerard had seen him so wanton, so plainly desiring to be used this way...

He tells himself he's only taking a precaution--he'll take his pleasure now, and then there will be nothing to betray him before Gerard; better the sin alone than the sin and the humiliation all at once. He tugs his shirt up out of the way and curls his free hand around his cock, fingers still shoved inside himself, and he works both in an unsteady rhythm until his climax rushes down on him like a wave, knocking him flat and breathless, shaking and gasping.

He has the presence of mind, after, to roll onto his belly, making sure his shirt is pulled down just to his waist, covering the ugliness of his back but leaving the rest exposed. The touch of the soft sheets against his cock makes him shudder with something that is neither pain nor cold, and he shoves the blankets down a little and lies with his thighs spread, waiting. He feels lacking, waiting for Gerard to come for him, and he remembers the feeling he sometimes had--with another boy mostly, when it was belowdecks, on the floor between crates of supplies in the hold--a still moment when the other was first inside him, when the first shock of pain passed off, a knowledge that they were joined together, two bodies connected while he held the other's cock inside him--a jumble of sensation and feeling that never made sense after. But he thinks he would feel it with Gerard, with Gerard inside him, and he wants it desperately.

It's only when he wakes in morning's light, curled on his side with the covers tugged up to his ears, that he realizes Gerard isn't coming. Didn't come.

Or did come, and found Frank asleep, like a useless invalid; like the foolish woman in the scripture, asleep when the master of the house came upon her.

Or perhaps he did not want what he asked for, after all.

Frank bathes and dresses and goes down to breakfast; Gerard is nowhere to be seen until well into the middle of the day, when he appears looking pale and drawn, showing the obvious aftereffects of too much drink the night before. He watches Frank almost warily, but constantly, and he drinks very lightly that night. Frank thinks it through carefully, wondering whether something drove Gerard to drink so last night, or whether it was only that--that nothing stopped him from it. With a little more consideration, Frank realizes that it is not that Gerard does not want exactly what he asked of Frank--it is only that Gerard will not press him for it, not demand it of him, never call due the promise Frank made him.

So if Frank would give what he has agreed to give, he must offer it. The very thought makes his heart race with fear, with humiliations remembered and anticipated--but Gerard asked it of him, and Gerard has never been cruel. Of course, Frank has seen men turn cruel when it came to their pleasure, though they were kind everywhere else--but he cannot believe that of Gerard. Gerard has no edges about him hard enough to conceal that; his hands and voice are soft, gentlemanly, and if it had ever been his desire to see Frank crawl, he need only have not caught him as he fell, weeks ago. He did not let it happen then. He will not do it now.

Frank tells himself that again and again after he has worked out what he must do, and still he lingers in his own--in the green bedchamber, which does not belong to him any more than anything else in Mister Gerard Way's house. Finally, steeling himself, Frank slips out of his own room and into the servants' stair, taking their back ways to the master's bedchamber. Frank has never been there before, but he knows where it is, just as surely as he always knew where the captain was on any ship he served. He lets himself into Gerard's dressing room from the back stair, and hesitates a little longer in the little room where Gerard's valet would sleep if he could be persuaded to hire one.

Frank reaches out and touches one of Gerard's coats, thinking of Pelissier's man, Davies--he wears clothes nearly just as fine as Pelissier's, and no one looks sideways at him. Everyone knows just why Davies is in the house, and what he does, and if they don't speak to him, well, they don't not speak to him, either. Davies belongs. Frank could belong, if Gerard would let him; he's sure he could manage doing up buttons and polishing boots and bringing coffee and he's always had a steady hand with a razor, except when the fever was upon him. He thinks for a moment about that, about scraping a blade over Gerard's cheeks and chin and throat, as Gerard did for him a handful of times before he could manage for himself, and he shivers with a strange, formless hunger that isn't centered in his cock or his belly, that is just... wanting. He wants that, to be allowed to touch Gerard that way.

But he shakes off the thought--what he wants is no one's concern, not even his own--and remembers that he is here for a reason. He takes a deep breath and opens the door, and it's only when Gerard looks up--shaking his black hair back from his face and focusing on Frank with an expression that is entirely shocked, not at all (yet) angry--that it occurs to Frank that perhaps he should have knocked.

Gerard is sitting cross-legged in the center of his bed, sketchboard in his lap. At first Frank thinks he looks naked because he's wearing only a shirt, sleeves rolled up to his elbows and collar open on the pale skin of his throat. When Frank steps a little further inside he realizes that Gerard is wearing only a shirt, his sketchboard propped on bare knees, bare feet tucked under bare thighs.

Frank stops where he stands when he realizes that, still yards short of the bed and Gerard. He opens and closes his mouth, unable to find an explanation for his presence, unable to shape the words to offer himself explicitly.

But Gerard relieves him of that burden, raising one hand to beckon him closer. Frank moves instantly to obey the silent command, walking all the way to the foot of the bed--still out of arm's reach from Gerard, who is smiling a little now, looking just uncertain enough himself for Frank to be entirely reassured that he's done the correct thing.

Gerard clears his throat and says, "You did say later, didn't you."

Frank nods, mouth gone dry, and wonders what he should do next; Gerard isn't moving the sketchboard that covers his lap, which seems to limit the possibilities or expand them in awful directions, but there is Gerard's smile, sweet and a little shy.

Gerard bites his lip and says, "I had been wanting to ask you, and this seems a good time..."

"Whatever you like," Frank says fervently, for he won't hesitate again, not now.

Gerard looks down at that, his dark, loose hair falling between them like a curtain, and his hands move restlessly around the sketchboard.

"I'd like to draw you," he says, without looking up. "Your back. Ever since I saw it I've been thinking of it, but I can't remember enough to draw it without you in front of me."

Frank winces, unseen, and looks away himself; he knows he isn't anything worth drawing, not like the beautiful subjects Toro paints--Madame's dignified loveliness or the shy prettiness of the upstairs maid. And of all the parts of him that might be considered presentable, his back is surely the least worthy (the first man ever to bugger him had liked his back when he was young, when it was unbroken and perfect, before he'd ever been flogged--but now it is scarred and tanned and defaced with tattoos, whole enough to serve but nothing like fine). But he had told Gerard that he could have whatever he wanted, and if what Gerard wants is to commit Frank's ugliness to paper, then Frank will give him that. Even that.

Frank turns away, cheeks already burning a little with shame--he remembers Gerard's first startled flinch away from him, and the shocked quality of Gerard's silence when Frank turned to show him, as though Gerard were looking upon something too awful to be spoken of. With his back turned, he shucks off his shirt and then, thinking he might at least remind Gerard of what else he has to offer, he quickly removes the rest of his clothes as well, shoes and trousers and stockings, till he is standing naked with his back to Gerard. It's strange, being entirely uncovered this way--he can't remember the last time he was buggered with his shirt off, or his boots, or had his trousers pushed further down than they had to be--but he will give Gerard anything, even this.

It takes scarcely a moment, and Gerard is silent--not even a sound of movement or breathing behind him--and then Gerard says in a small, choked voice, "I can't make you just stand there, you must be tired. Come and lie down, be comfortable."

Frank scrubs a hand across his face--must Gerard be so circuitous, so exhaustingly delicate, must he call everything he wants something other than what he really wants? It's easier with sailors, who demand what they demand, take what they take, and don't dress it up in other language.

But when Frank turns to come to Gerard's bed, Gerard has retreated into one corner, sketchboard still on his lap, as though he really did mean to draw him. Frank remembers that he loves Gerard's delicacy, his gentleness, and he will be on Gerard's bed--not his own, where he must sleep later, not against a wall or on the floor, not exposed among the trees and grass--and that is a kindness he had no reason to expect. So he smiles and goes, taking note of the quick skim of Gerard's gaze downward over his chest and belly and cock and legs. He lies down quickly, then, rolling onto his side and facing away from Gerard, for his cock is stirring under Gerard's scrutiny, and he does not want to be exposed in this one particular before he must--though Gerard did not ask him to take all his clothes off and Gerard did not ask him to come here tonight and it is surely obvious to Gerard how shamefully eager he is.

"There," Gerard says, and Frank can feel him shifting on the other side of the bed, sees shadows dance on the wall as Gerard turns up a lamp. "That's better, isn't it? Tell me if you get cold, we don't want you catching a chill."

Frank smiles a little, ducking his head to keep it out of sight, at Gerard's ridiculous coddling--as though Frank had never stood watch through every kind of weather, soaked to his skin, frozen to his bones; as though Frank could catch cold in this comfortable room in this fine sturdy house, with a stoked fire in the grate and the bright light behind him flickering warm on his skin.

He feels Gerard move once or twice behind him, but Gerard neither touches him nor comes closer nor seems to be drawing anything--there is no scratch of charcoal on paper, no matter how Frank holds his breath, listening. The silence and stillness stretch, and Frank is holding his breath more and more desperately, listening, every muscle tensing as he waits for whatever comes next--anticipation is the worst part, and he can't see Gerard, can't hear anything. At least he doesn't have to worry about his cock betraying him anymore; he feels nothing but a twisting anxiety in his belly. He is aware of every inch of the exposure of his skin, every single place he is bare before Gerard, the nape of his neck and the spot where the freshest of his scars cuts across the small of his back, the ticklish spot at the back of his knee, the sole of his foot. His hands curl inexorably into fists, and he holds them tight to his chest.

It occurs to him to speak, but his throat closes on words more tightly than on breath. He thinks he might look back, but he can't bear to think what he'll see--doesn't know whether it would be worse to see Gerard looking at him or Gerard ignoring him. After a long deliberation he forces himself to find out, twisting his neck to look, a quick, committed motion.

Gerard is leaning across his sketchboard, chin propped in one hand, fingers curled against his mouth. The other hand is still holding a stick of charcoal, motionless. Frank licks his lips, but again the anxiety fades when he actually looks at Gerard, instead of imagining what could be, who it could be, who it has been in the past. Gerard is like no one else.

Frank dares to speak at last. "You don't have to pretend you're drawing, you know. I--" and he can't believe he's saying it, that Gerard has let him grow so bold, but the words spill out of his mouth almost before he's translated them in his mind. "I wish you'd just tell me what you want."

Gerard blushes hot at that, which makes Frank want to laugh in a mad, wild way, the feeling of it bubbling in his chest. Gerard straightens up and says, "I do want to draw you! It's only that I dont know where to start. I can't choose a line."

Frank squirms, trying to peer at his own back, thinking how it must look. "There are a lot of them, aren't there?"

Frank glances up only to find Gerard's eyes on his body, his arse or--no, Gerard is sitting up while Frank is lying down, Gerard is staring at the twist of his body. Frank can't help looking down at himself, the jut of his hipbones under the outlined birds, the skin of his belly pale above the dark curling hair, his cock lying against his thigh. When he looks back up at Gerard, he's still staring, and now his lips are a little parted, cheeks still just tinged with pink.

Frank rolls onto his back, and then onto his side facing Gerard. He's a body-width closer now, Gerard's knee nearly against his chest. "Maybe this side would be easier?"

Gerard's eyes drag up to Frank's face, flush blooming on his cheeks all over again. "Frank," he says, his voice husky and low and solemn. "You know that you don't have to--I would never--"

Frank feels a burst of uncertainty--desperate and exposed--but Gerard called him into his bed, and Gerard kept looking. After a wavering moment Frank settles on feeling exasperated, as he might with a powder monkey who simply could not learn fore from aft. Gerard has his lines all ahoo, fouled by his own gentlemanliness, and it will take a common sailor to get him all sorted. Perhaps a common sailor and a hatchet. Frank laughs suddenly at the thought, and pushes himself up to sit, face to face with Gerard.

"No," Frank says, grinning as Gerard smiles uncertainly back--and what a fine thing, not to be the only one confused, though of course he couldn't be so cruel as to leave Gerard in suspense. "No, of course you would never."

And he will never, so Frank leans in to make himself understood the same way Gerard did, pressing his mouth to Gerard's. Gerard's lips are already a little parted, and do not close against Frank's, nor deny the cautious pressure of Frank's tongue. Gerard's fingers brush Frank's skin like fluttering birds, lighting on his elbow and then his shoulder, thumb tracing the line of Frank's jaw. Frank drags kisses sloppily away from Gerard's mouth, concentrating on his touch. It's the touch that will tell.

Gerard's fingers slide into Frank's hair, twisting and tugging Frank gently back to Gerard's mouth for another kiss, lingering as if there were nothing but this, as if Gerard didn't already have Frank in his bed and must ask and ask and ask again. Frank thinks he might need to move matters along and reaches down, pulling tentatively at the sketchboard that still lies across Gerard's lap.

Gerard laughs against Frank's mouth and slips his hand from Frank's hair, breaking the kiss to shove the sketchboard from his lap. It hits the floor with a clatter, and Frank automatically looks, wincing at the sound and the destruction it heralds--fine paper crumpled or torn, the charcoal stick likely broken--but Gerard shows a fine gentlemanly disregard for his possessions. He never takes his eyes off Frank. His gaze is bright, avid, and he kneels up and kisses him again, one hand settling lightly on Frank's shoulder and the other in his hair. Frank waits for the push--Gerard is above him now, has the angle, the leverage, all the strength to overpower Frank or let him pretend to have been--but Gerard's hands just rest on his skin. Gerard's mouth just brushes over his mouth, tongue touching his lightly.

Gerard handles Frank with all the care he hadn't shown his drawing things, and it's ridiculous. Frank pulls back from Gerard's kiss, though not far enough to shake Gerard's hands from his shoulders, and knocks his forehead gently against Gerard's.

"You don't have to be careful with me, you know," Frank says. "You can do what you like, I won't mind. I'm used to it."

For an instant Frank thinks Gerard has actually understood him at last, for Gerard's fingers close, bruising-tight, on Frank's shoulders. But Gerard gentles his grip a second later, and pulls back to meet Frank's eyes. When he only stares, without saying or doing anything, it occurs to Frank that he oughtn't to have said that last. Gerard won't like the idea that others have been where he is, that Frank is naught more than a pawned jade, owned before by some other (though he has never desired so wildly to belong to any of them, no officer or gentleman he's ever met has been anything like Gerard). He must have known from the way Frank offered, but he won't like to hear it, now, like this.

Frank bites his lip--there is no way to take such words back--but Gerard doesn't push him away, though he is frowning now as he looks at Frank.

"That's a pretty paradox," Gerard says finally, and that doesn't make any sense at all. Surely there can be nothing pretty about it.

"What you said, I mean," Gerard continues, into Frank's uncertain silence. "It's a paradox; as soon as you say it it isn't true. As if you said out loud that you were mute."

Frank frowns back, tensing. "I'm no liar--"

"No, no," and Gerard kisses him--again softly, though Frank feels lost enough now to be grateful for the touch he scorned a moment before.

"You're perfectly honest, Frank, of course," Gerard says, rubbing his thumb distractingly against Frank's skin. "But if you will not ask me to be careful with you, it means I must be, because you don't expect me to be."

This is, Frank thinks, some particularly gentlemanly knot of logic; even Toro might not rise to this height of refined incomprehensibility.

"What if I do expect you to be?" For he would, if he had given it proper thought. Gerard is always careful of him, never demanding anything; Frank ought to have known it wouldn't change even if Frank were naked in his bedchamber.

"Well, then I don't dare disappoint you," Gerard says with a smile--and if it is a little mocking, Frank thinks at least it is himself he's mocking, and not Frank.

Frank bites his lip, because Gerard couldn't disappoint him except by sending him away, but he suspects it's best not to point that out. Gerard will only turn the words around on him again in some way he doesn't mean. "I don't want to disappoint you."

Gerard tilts his head, frowning as though that had never crossed his mind, and Frank starts to feel scared and uncertain all over again--hadn't Gerard wanted this? Hadn't that been what he was asking for? "What do you want, Frank?"

Frank feels his heart stutter in his chest. It doesn't matter what he wants, he's here for Gerard, and he wants--he wants that, he wants whatever Gerard wants so long as Gerard wants him.

He wants so much more than that, he wants Gerard, he wants to know for certain that he is desired, he wants Gerard to look at him--to draw him as though he were something beautiful, he wants this to last forever, he wants Gerard to use him, to take him and own him--he wants sinful, shameful things, and he cannot say a word, not in any language. He can scarcely breathe, his face flaming like he's been taken with fever again, and he wonders if Gerard can see it on him, see the words shining right through his skin like his ink and scars and rushing blood.

Frank actually tastes blood, realizes he's still biting down on his lip and forces himself to stop. He tries to raise his eyes to Gerard's, to think of what Gerard is waiting for him to say. If Gerard wants him to say it, not only to allow this but to ask for it first...

Gerard's hand cups Frank's jaw, and Gerard says, "Don't, Frank, don't--"

Gerard sounds so miserable that Frank finally does look up, but Gerard says nothing more, kissing him before Frank can meet his eyes. His tongue traces the bitten places on Frank's lip, stinging and sweet all at once, and Frank makes a wordless noise into Gerard's mouth, unable to hold back the sound.

But Gerard makes almost the same sound back, and he leans closer to Frank, his hand sliding to the back of Frank's neck to keep him close. Frank lets his mouth fall open under Gerard's, drinks in his kisses and breath and the small sounds Gerard makes, wanton, shameless, beautiful.

Frank unclenches one hand from where he's been clutching the fine linen sheets. If he can't give Gerard the words he wants, perhaps he can still make shift to show him he's willing, more than willing.

Gerard's kisses steal Frank's breath until he feels as light-headed as if he were standing on the deck of a burning ship, taking in nothing but smoke. His skin is as hot, too, a feeling like crackling flame dancing all through him as Gerard's kisses deepen and Gerard's fingernails scratch gently across the nape of his neck. Still, Frank keeps his wits about him enough to raise one hand, reaching out slowly. He'll let his fingers speak for him; if they can shape words out of ink and paper, they can do this.

Frank's touch falls lightly on Gerard's thigh, bare skin under his fingertips, but Gerard goes still at once, his mouth halting against Frank's. Even his breath stops, and Frank pushes, into the kiss and against Gerard's thigh, his fingers slipping under the hem of Gerard's shirt, his rough palm dragging against Gerard's soft skin like silk. Gerard moves when Frank hesitates again, his leg shifting slightly outward, pressing into Frank's touch. Frank dares to slide his hand further still, until his thumb is tucked into the crease of Gerard's hip, and then Gerard kisses him again, slowly but steadily. Frank shifts his fingertips against Gerard's skin, liking the feel of him--something fine and perfect--and liking even more the way he shivers a little at Frank's touch.

Gerard draws back from him with a last lingering kiss, and then he's biting his own lip--his teeth even and white against the slickly shiny redness of it--as he settles back on his haunches.

"Perhaps," he says, his hands falling away from Frank to curl in the hem of his shirt. "I could make this a bit easier."

Frank's lips part to ask--to answer--but Gerard is already moving, lifting his shirt, tugging it off over his head and tossing it down after his drawing things, leaving him just as bare as Frank. Frank can't speak, then, though he knows his mouth is hanging open. He can only stare at Gerard--every marble-pale inch, smooth and perfect without a single sharp edge. Only his cock juts out, standing up flushed with blood, the skin darker, and Frank thinks for a dizzy instant that his hand might not look out of place against it, of all places he might touch Mister Gerard Way.

The very thought of taking such an enormous liberty makes him snap his gaze back to Gerard's face, to see what Gerard is thinking--but Gerard is watching Frank with an uncertain look on his own face, biting his lip again just as Frank bit his.

Gerard is as naked as Frank is, and Gerard--Frank is staring at the evidence that Gerard desires this as much. Desires it more, perhaps, enough to admit it, enough to kiss Frank first. They are not at sea, and Gerard has nothing to excuse his desire but that he is a gentleman, and may do as he pleases. If Frank let anyone else here discover it--Frank would be driven out, which would leave him no worse off than he was before, but Gerard would have to stay here, rooted in this house, this island, with everyone knowing what he had asked of Frank. If Gerard is the captain of this ship, that traps him aboard it far more securely than it could ever hold Frank.

Gerard is braver than Frank has ever realized, and Frank cannot think of the words to tell him so--if it were even his place to say such a thing. He returns his hand to its place on Gerard's thigh, instead--if Gerard can be so brave, Frank cannot shame himself by doing less--and leans in as Gerard reciprocates, his hand warm on Frank's hip.

Their mouths meet halfway, and Gerard kisses Frank briskly, tongue pressing into Frank's mouth and mapping it out. He kisses as though he is finding his place, comparing the stars to his charts to be sure of his position and course. Frank keeps his hand steady on Gerard's skin, opens his mouth to receive his kiss, and awaits whatever will follow.

Soon Gerard breaks the kiss, pulling back just far enough to part his mouth from Frank's. He makes a low, half-musical sound, as he does sometimes when he is thinking, and then says, "Perhaps you wouldn't mind..."

Frank opens his own mouth to say that he won't mind, of course he won't, but Gerard doesn't give him time to say it, finishing his sentence with his hands rather than words. Gerard presses Frank down to the mattress with hands on his chest and shoulder--but he lays Frank down facing up, his back and his arse hidden against the softness of the mattress. His cock juts above his belly like a spar, and Frank feels himself blushing, feeling strangely exposed in this position, though there's little enough Gerard can do to him like this.

Gerard's hands don't leave his skin once Frank is lying flat, only shift across its surface. Gerard's hands glide over the flame above Frank's heart, the serpent on the side of his neck, and Frank lets his eyes flutter half-shut. The look on Gerard's face is intent, and he is touching Frank gently, his soft hands moving so lightly over Frank's chest and shoulders, up and down his arms. When that feather-light touch reaches down to his belly, Frank has to look, peeking through his eyelashes as Gerard's fingers trace the birds drawn between his hips.

Frank can't help arching into his touch, hips tilting toward Gerard's fingers, and Gerard looks up suddenly, looks him right in the eye and smiles so beautifully that Frank can't think or speak or breathe. Gerard moves, then, and Frank thinks it will be another kiss, but Gerard swings a leg across Frank so that he is straddling Frank's hips. He splays his hands across Frank's ribs and then settles lower, and Frank tears his gaze from Gerard's eyes just in time to see Gerard's cock brush against his. Frank's hips jerk up again, harder this time; the sensation is sharp as pain, but entirely the opposite, a lash of pure pleasure.

Gerard pushes down against him, his cock pressing hard and hot all along Frank's. It feels good, dizzyingly good, with no leavening of pain, or the knowledge of anyone else's either. There is just Gerard smiling above him, Gerard's weight settling gently over him like a heavy blanket, and Gerard's cock pushing rhythmically against his. Frank can scarcely breathe, cannot think at all, and when Gerard's lips brush against his cheek it takes Frank a while to understand the words, as though the waves of pleasure have washed English out of his brain.

"Are you used to this?" Gerard whispers. "Do you mind it?"

Frank shakes his head--no, he isn't, no, he doesn't--but Gerard's mouth is gone, trailing wet and soft down Frank's throat. Gerard shifts on top of him, settling his weight more heavily on Frank, shifting the friction slightly in a way that makes Frank's heart stutter in its frantic beating. Frank makes a hungry sound, unable to hold back, his hands landing on Gerard's shoulders and push-pulling restlessly. Gerard's whole body is pressing down against his now, all of Gerard's skin soft and smooth except where he is hard, sweat slicking between their bodies. Gerard moves steadily, as if this were a dance, while Frank feels himself writhing wildly, as if in the grip of a fever, as if he were fighting, though he has no desire to resist.

He is nearly--he cannot--he will shame himself, and even through the wild haze of pleasure he is aware of that, and that he has done nothing for Gerard, and that he cannot stop. He tries to say some of this to Gerard--to apologize, to ask what he should do--but Gerard doesn't seem to understand his words, only shakes his head and covers Frank's mouth with a kiss.

In the next moment he lifts up a little, and Frank thinks he will have a chance to get control of himself--but Gerard's hand closes on his cock and Frank loses control of words altogether, letting out a ragged cry as he thrusts into Gerard's grip. He loses all control of himself by the time he's run out of breath, climax crashing over him like a swamping wave, like a powder explosion--but all the while it lasts he is anchored by Gerard's hand, Gerard's mouth brushing against his, the frame of Gerard's body braced above him.

When he can think in English again, Gerard is still there, still smiling down at him. He takes his hand from Frank's cock as it goes soft, but settles it again on Frank's hip, and sated and wrung out as he is, Frank cannot but push into his touch.

Frank licks his lips, tries to command his limbs to move, and settles for asking, carefully, in the right words, "What--what may I--"

"Just this," Gerard whispers. "This is what I want from you. I want you to like this as well as I do."

Frank shudders, and his eyes close--Gerard is braver than he, so much, but that is what makes Gerard his captain, even if Gerard himself doesn't know it. He still can't make the words, can't tell Gerard what he wants to hear.

Gerard licks the sore spot on his lip, where Frank bit it earlier, and adds softly, "I'd like it if you touched me, too. If you wouldn't mind it too much."

Frank opens his eyes, meeting Gerard's for a moment--Gerard looks dazed, almost drunk; he is hard too, wanting, just as Frank had been. Frank slides his hand down from Gerard's shoulder, lowering his eyes to the shadowed space between their bodies. Gerard rubs his nose against Frank's cheek, breathes encouragement against his ear, and Frank feels as if he is moving in a dream as he watches his hand close around Gerard's cock.

Gerard shudders all over at the touch, and Frank squeezes a little, moving his hand up and down. It is a simple thing--he has done it for himself often enough--but this is something wholly different, Gerard's cock in his grasp, Gerard's breath in his ear, Gerard's body poised above him, with his own pleasure at Gerard's hands still echoing through his body like a struck bell. Gerard pushes into his grip, and his breath against Frank's ear turns to half-spoken words, and then to desperate kisses, and Frank can feel Gerard's body tensing with the nearness of his end.

Frank gathers his courage, turns his head to press his lips to Gerard's as Gerard's hips shove down against him, and Gerard vents something like a moan or a laugh against his mouth as he reaches completion, spurting over Frank's fingers, his hand clenching tight on Frank's hip.

Frank takes his hand away when Gerard has gone still, and wipes it carefully against his own thigh before he lets it touch the fine clean sheets. Gerard tips sideways a little, so that he is only half on top of Frank as he goes limp and heavy. Frank doesn't move, waiting for whatever Gerard will say or do next. He listens to Gerard's quick deep breaths, and tries to quiet his own, and the thunder of his heart. Something terribly important has just happened, but Frank cannot quite take it in. He is tired, and strangely happy, and Gerard's body still holds him here.

After a time, Gerard struggles up and reaches for the lamp by the bed, only to turn the wick down to nothing. In the dimness that follows, Frank braces himself to move, waiting only to be dismissed, but Gerard's arms close around him, tugging him back down to the bed.

"You must stay until I am asleep, please," Gerard murmurs, command and request sounding equally sweet in his sleepy slur.

Frank settles himself under Gerard's warmth, in the softness of the bed, and feels no urge to move if he is not required to. "I will stay."

Gerard's arms tighten. "Then you must stay until I have slept and woken again, and kissed you again. So that I will know this was real."

Frank thinks of the morning, thinks of another kiss, of Gerard desiring him to stay, and his heart speeds a little from its slow weary thumping.

"I will," is all he says, but in his heart it is a promise, an unspeakable truth stretching far beyond this moment, this night. He will go nowhere now until Gerard sends him.

When Gerard wakes there is a watery grey light creeping in around the edges of the curtains. Frank is still clasped in his arms, his back pressed to Gerard's chest, Gerard's breath stirring the hair at the nape of his neck. There is a sleepless tension in Frank's body, though Gerard is certain he was easy enough when Gerard fell asleep.

Gerard closes his eyes, licks his dry lips, and tries to gather his sleep-scattered wits. He ordered Frank to stay last night, but Frank certainly seemed willing--he had seemed entirely willing. Gerard had not pressed him; Frank had come to Gerard of his own accord. Frank is lying awake now, and Frank was nervous last night, but whatever he is frightened of in all of this, Gerard does not think it is himself.

He could well be frightened of those others, the ones who came before, who scarred his back and hurt him. I'm used to it, he'd said, and anything you like. What had he suffered, to let him so confidently estimate that Gerard could do nothing worse to him?

And now morning has come--or dawn, which is morning by Frank's utilitarian standards--and Gerard must say something. He must say the right thing, and he will only have one chance to say the right thing first. He must find some way to give Frank what he wants without compelling him to ask for it; he will never forget the sight of Frank's very blood welling before he would dare to ask for what he wanted.

Gerard flattens his hand against Frank's chest, feels the steady thud of Frank's heart in his grip. He feels something like vertigo, overwhelmed at the thought that he can hold Frank this way, and must now bear responsibility for him, for his happiness. Yet Frank is still in his arms, in his bed, and even at his most self-pitying Gerard cannot imagine that he is ill-used in this bargain.

He can only hope Frank will feel the same.

Gerard nuzzles at Frank's skin, not quite a kiss, but a reasonable prelude to speech at this entirely unreasonable hour. He speaks in a reedy whisper, but Frank still jumps a little at the first words, the beat of his heart lurching under Gerard's hand. "Shall I kiss you now, and let you go back to your own bed? Or down to breakfast, I suppose, you dawn-bird."

Frank does not relax, as though the suggestion eased him, nor does he turn to receive his kiss and be released. He holds perfectly still, not even breathing.

Gerard rubs his thumb thoughtfully along Frank's breastbone. "Or shall I tell you it is no fit time for anyone to be awake, and that I will be asleep again in a moment, and if you leave me now I shall believe I dreamt you after all?"

Frank moves a little at that, ducking his head against the pillow, exposing the back of his neck. Gerard cannot help but press his lips to the knob of Frank's spine, even as he recognizes that he's found the way of it, for now at least. Gerard squeezes him tighter, telling himself they'll find their way together, that it will not be so impossible to do right by Frank--and Frank will learn to trust him, and make it easier to find his way.

"Stay, then," Gerard murmurs, pressing his face to Frank's shoulder. "Stay and go back to sleep, it's hardly even light."

Frank does relax then, breathing again. Gerard takes that for answer enough, but Frank says, low, "It's raining. I was listening to the rain."

Gerard listens too, for a moment--he scarcely remembers to hear the pattering of the rain against the glass, familiar as any sound in this house--and then he says, "If it clears, we could go riding again."

Frank nods, and Gerard listens to the susurrus of his hair moving against the pillow, and wonders if someday that sound might be as familiar, and if he will hear it then as little as he hears the rain. He hopes so, and hopes not, all at once.

"And if it doesn't, I'd like to try drawing you again," he adds, and presses a small kiss to Frank's shoulder. "If you wouldn't mind it."

Frank nods and then shakes his head, and then squirms in Gerard's grip. Gerard loosens his hold at once, and Frank turns over to face him, looking him in the eye to whisper, "I won't mind."

Gerard can say nothing back for a moment. Frank is starkly beautiful in the monochrome light of a rainy dawn. He drops his gaze when Gerard stays silent, taking him in, and Gerard stares at his eyelashes, long and dark and not quite closed.

"If you didn't know where to begin," Frank whispers, low but steady. "If you needed to choose a place. There's the tattoo on my back, the skull. It's the first one I chose."

Gerard touches his forehead to Frank's and slides one hand over Frank's back until he thinks he's found the place, the knot of scar tissue between Frank's shoulder blades that forms one eye of the skull. He is filled with wonder at the thought that he might someday know exactly what is under his fingers at the barest touch, that he might have the time and permission to learn Frank so well. But more, he wonders at Frank's courage, to offer this, to ask. Surely they will find their way, if Frank can be brave and he can remember to think before he speaks.

Frank's eyes open a little and he looks up at Gerard as he adds, "Only I have never seen it, and I should like to know how it is from your hand."

He would not have had the chance, of course; for Frank to see the tattoo would have required two good mirrors and at least one man's help. It could be managed here, in Gerard's house, but Frank has asked Gerard for something and he shall have it. Gerard's eyes and hand will be Frank's mirror today. Later, when it is properly morning.

"I shall," Gerard murmurs, pressing close enough to seal the promise with a kiss. "Just as you like."