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Heaven's Not About Your Reputation

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"Punk music," Ray said firmly for the billionth time, "is not illegal."

Gerard blew the smoke from his definitely illegal cigarette in Ray's face. "Awesome punk music is."

"Music that doesn't promote the mental and physical well-being of youth –"

"Bullshit. Awesome punk can promote mental and physical well-being. I mean, look at me." Gerard gestured to his torn jeans, studded belt, and filthy leather jacket. "I haven't had a drink in months."

"And yet, you still look like you got dressed drunk." Ray made a worried face. "Look, I know you really want to do this, but don't you think -"

"It'll be awesome," Gerard said. It was possible he was using the word too much, but if Ray didn't really believe it, then the whole thing would be pointless. And they were definitely going to get into trouble; Gerard knew it already. Ray probably did too, but he still had to convince himself that everything would go fine. "Don't worry about it, man."

Ray still looked worried, but he nodded acquiescence anyway. Satisfied, Gerard kicked back and started planning that night's stage moves.

||

It went down like this:

It was illegal for anyone under the age of forty to do anything even remotely self-destructive, and a music scene where people got kicked in the face all the time was definitely out of the question. But Gerard had been illegally drinking and snorting himself into a stupor for years, so when he went on one last, near-deadly bender and came out of it resolving never to do anything like that again, punk seemed pretty tame in comparison.

When he'd voiced his idea to Mikey, Mikey had just shrugged and said, "Okay," like it wasn't highly illegal, like the Tipper Board of Unhealthy Anti-Social Behavior couldn't have them thrown in a reeducation clinic for life – or killed, since Tipper violators were rarely see again. But then, Mikey would probably agree to serial killing if Gerard really wanted to do it. Recruiting Ray was simple, because the only thing stronger than Ray's fear of getting caught doing something illegal was Ray's need to protect his friends. Bob joined them after Otter got himself jailed for hiring dozens – literally dozens – of prostitutes.

Once they had Bob, Gerard thought they were done. They had a complete band. But somehow, Frank managed to worm his way in.

He hadn't been around for a long time. The band played tiny, secret shows. Their audiences were largely made up of people Mikey, who partied and slept with tons of people, and Bob, who didn't do either but seemed to know half of Jersey nonetheless, knew. So Gerard was surprised one night when he got up in front of the crowd and, same as always, fixed his gaze on the back wall –

Only to find himself staring at a tiny kid with a mohawk standing on a chair. He was shading his eyes with his hands, but Gerard felt his look all the same: he was watching Gerard with an intentness that made Gerard feel pinned to the spot.

They played the show because that was why they were there, but afterwards, Gerard broke the biggest rule the band had to keep them from getting arrested by leaving the other guys and going to find the tiny kid.

He couldn't have explained why he felt like he needed to, not even if Mikey was the one asking. Plenty of people looked at them funny; plenty of people stood on chairs or started brawls at their shows. He didn't even really know what the kid's face looked like.

But some part of him was urging him on, making him leave the tiny basement club and look both ways on the street above, searching for a short guy with a mohawk walking away.

"I'm over here," a voice said dryly.

Gerard whirled around. The guy – not kid, because he was short but definitely not too young – was leaning against the filthy brick wall of the abandoned apartment complex that housed the club. He was smoking, of course, with one leg bent, foot braced flat against the wall. His hips jutted out and his lip ring caught the light from the tip of the cigarette when he inhaled. "Um," Gerard said. "Hi."

"Hi?" The guy sounded amused. "Very suave, man. How are you even in this scene?"

Gerard shrugged. I spent way too long drunk and slept with a lot of people and Mikey saved my ass and all I could think about doing was starting a band so maybe other people would go to our shows instead of downing a bottle of vodka a night sounded too long and kind of wimpy besides. "You just said 'suave'. How are you even in this scene?"

The guy smirked. "Touché. My name's Frank Iero."

And oh, hey, that feeling was like a block of ice settling in his stomach. "The Frank Iero? The one who got arrested and thrown into maximum for – "

"Sneaking Pencey into Carnegie Hall and then burning the motherfucker down? Yep."

"So you're out."

"In more ways than one." Frank laughed at that, high-pitched and almost demented sounding. "My grandpa pulled a few strings. I was supposed to serve thirty years."

"Your grandpa?"

"Mafia, dude. Hardcore shit."

Mikey always said Gerard was gullible. Gerard crossed his arms and said, "Bullshit."

Frank threw his head back and hooted. "Man, Mikey wasn't lying about you. Ask him, if you don't believe me. Hell, ask anyone." He threw the butt of his cigarette on the ground. "And then you can call me and apologize for saying I'm a liar."

Gerard didn't have time to say anything in response, because Frank ran past him, across the street and to the bus stop where a bus was just now rolling in.

||

"Frank Iero was at our concert?" Mikey said the next day, voice pitched low but still obviously disbelieving.

They were standing in the Tipper Wing of the Barnes and Noble, shelving books with titles like Positive Energy: How to Ignore Curse Words and Banish Harmful Thinking and Under Forty, Under Watch: How the New Laws Will Save Our Youth. Gerard glanced around for their manager before saying, "He was standing on a chair in the back. I talked to him afterwards."

"So that's why you ditched us. What'd he say? Did he like the band?"

Oops, Gerard thought. He could feel himself blushing. "I don't know. I didn't ask."

Mikey huffed out an annoyed breath. "You're so lame."

"Fuck off," Gerard said automatically, shoving another book into its spot on the shelf. It didn't go all the way back in; Gerard pulled it out and tried again, but it stuck about three inches out from the others still. "What the hell," Gerard said, pulling the book out and sticking his hand in the crack it created.

There was a book lying crooked behind all the others. Its corner had been keeping Gerard's book from going in. He pulled it out and passed it to Mikey, shoving the other book in. It hit the back of the shelf. "Finally," Gerard said. "Have I mentioned I hate our job?"

Mikey was silent. "Dude, what the hell," Gerard said, glancing at him – and then said again, "Mikey. What the hell," because the book he was staring down at was by Irvine Welsh and Gerard knew from his Googling that that book was deeply, deeply illegal.

"Don't look at me, you're the one who found it," Mikey said, turning the book over in his hands and reading the back. "'Three tales of chemical romance'. Huh."

"Mikey! Put it down," Gerard hissed, covering it with his hands. "Do you seriously want us to get arrested?"

Mikey rolled his eyes. "Like you don't play in an illegal band, Gerard, geez." His eyes strayed to the shelf of positive-thinking books. "Chemical Romance would be an awesome name for a band. Like...maybe not just that, it's kind of vague. But like. The Chemical Romance. Or My Chemical Romance."

"Shit," Gerard said, because that was good. "Shit. That's really good."

"I know." Mikey sounded smug. "So I've named our band, and," he ripped off the barcode on the back of the book, "I'm taking this home."

"You are seriously going to rot in jail someday," Gerard said sincerely.

Mikey snorted. "Whatever. At least I know to ask people like Frank Iero what they think of my band. Douche."

"Fuck you," Gerard said, and they got back to work.

||

The next time Gerard talked to Frank it was almost three months later and Mikey had somehow managed to become friends with the guy. Gerard envied Mikey that ability, the way he could just slide in and make people love him. Gerard always had to work for it, and even when he was at his best he still wasn't half as good as Mikey.

My Chemical Romance had been gaining in popularity, and Frank went to every single concert like they were his new religion, or something. Apparently he was a janitor for one of the biggest crisis counseling places in Jersey – but he never talked about his job. After their shows it was just "Hey, Mikey, that song needs more guitar," or "Hey, Bob, gimme a piggyback!". For awhile Gerard thought he had a crush on Mikey or something, but he'd seen Frank pick out people and go home with them. Even though he was kind of funny-looking – short, weird hair, tons of completely illegal tattoos that he must have covered up religiously at work – people gravitated towards him even before they knew who he was. He was way, way too cool for Gerard and his band.

Except for how he didn't seem to realize it. "You guys should get merch," he said, carrying an amp that looked like it should have been too heavy for him to even lift.

"I don't think we want to be that notorious," Gerard said. "None of us want to go to jail."

"Jail's not so bad," Frank said.

"Liar."

"Yeah, whatever." Frank leaned against the side of the van. He was always doing that, leaning so that he looked even shorter than he really was and cocking his hips like he wanted someone to grab them. Out here in the back alley, with the sick orange-yellow city sky making him look even sallower than usual, it mostly made Gerard feel like someone had shoved cotton in his chest.

Fucking weird, basically.

"...should really get a second guitarist," Frank was saying. "Dude. Gerard. Pay attention." He snapped his fingers in Gerard's face.

Gerard blinked at him. "What?"

"Your band needs another guitarist," Frank said, slowly and carefully like he was talking to a five-year-old. "You should find one."

"Did you talk to Ray about this or something? Because Ray's our music guy."

Frank shrugged, expression obviously, carefully blank. "I might've mentioned it."

"Right," Gerard said after a moment, becoming increasingly aware that he was blushing and just sort of generally looked like an idiot. "Well. Thanks for the heads up."

Frank threw his cigarette on the ground and put it out under his heel. "No problem," he said, and went back into the venue.

||

"So," Ray said the next morning, over their twice-monthly IHOP binge, "we need another guitarist."

Gerard didn't choke on his coffee, but it was a near thing. "Oh," he said mildly. "Okay. Cool."

Ray narrowed his eyes. "Who told you?"

"Huh? No one." Gerard shoved a forkful of pancakes into his mouth and smiled at Ray, cheeks bulging, trying to look innocent.

But Ray had obviously known him too long; he wasn't buying it. "Frank talked to you, didn't he?"

"Of course not."

"Liar." Ray sighed. "You know, if I didn't know any better –"

Gerard stared at the table. Ray was good on picking up on all kinds of things, including Gerard's weird, stupid crushes. "Don't say it."

"So it's true?"

"Kind of." Gerard lifted his right shoulder in a not-quite-shrug. "He's Mikey's friend. And I'm...whatever. You know?"

"Not really," Ray said wryly, "but okay." He reached over and patted Gerard, hand curling on the spot where Gerard's neck met his shoulders. "Will you be okay with him in the band?"

Gerard didn't fall out of his chair, but only just. "Um."

"You can say no. We'll find another rhythm guitarist."

But the thing was, Frank had people of his own, kids whose loyalties still ran to Pencey. He'd bring them a bigger audience, make them a better band. And Gerard knew it. Hell, Frank obviously knew it, with the way he'd been hanging around and offering suggestions like it was going out of style. Standing in the way of that, Gerard thought, would be a seriously dick move.

So he shook his head. "It's fine."

"Are you sure?"

"Not really. But whatever, you know? The band needs him. He's practically part of us anyway."

Ray nodded. "I'll tell him, then."

Gerard stabbed his pancakes extra-hard. "Awesome."

||

He knew when Ray asked Frank because he showed up for practice with a guitar and an insanely eager look on his face. Gerard was so earnest people tended to tell him it was kind of creepy, but Frank had him beat that first day. He was freakishly determined to prove himself.

It didn't take Gerard long to realize that Frank really wanted to prove himself to him, Gerard, too. He had all these suggestions for parts he could have in the songs, and the thing was, he was right most of the time; he had a good ear for making their already decent songs sound better - and he wasn't shy about telling Gerard when he thought Gerard's lyrics were shit, either.

And he got them places to play. At first Gerard was a little suspicious; the warehouses and dive bars Frank found were the kind that the police busted pretty regularly, big lively spots that tons of kids congregated in to say fuck-you to the Tipper Laws and get high and start fights. Part of Gerard was convinced that Frank just wanted them to get arrested. That wasn't the case, of course; Frank was just good at people in a way even Mikey wasn't. And so far, the cops hadn't come.

It made Gerard want to ask him questions – about Pencey, about jail, about Frank's life in general. It made him want to be really, really creepy in the kind of ways that made Mikey get that one particularly weird set to his jaw.

Instead of being weird, he concentrated on their music. It needed to get better. They needed to get better. If they were every going to change anything, save the kids who thought breaking the Tipper Laws meant fucking themselves up for life, then they had to be a fucking force of nature.

One of the reasons Frank ended up staying with the band was when Gerard said that to his face, he just threw himself back into their work with twice the intensity he'd had before.

||

And now they were in jail. Well, fuck.

"It was gonna happen sooner or later," Frank said. He'd picked the metal bench that already held Bob and Ray, sitting on the edge with his ass hanging half off, feet planted wide, staring at the ceiling.

"This was kind of sooner than I'd hoped," Gerard said. "It's your fault, you know. You're the one who's been in the slammer before."

"Fuck you, it is not. And anyway, it's been three years. That's totally later." Frank swung his feet. "Don't worry. This isn't even prison. It's just where they stick the drunk people and shit."

"We'll probably be shipped off to prison sooner or later," Ray said.

"Thanks for that," Mikey said.

"It's just the truth."

"We'll have to stand trial first," Gerard said. He was leaning against Mikey on the wall opposite Frank, Ray, and Bob. "Right?"

Bob shrugged. "Maybe. You've heard the rumors."

People who broke the Tipper Laws in ways as...explosive...as they had that night tended to just disappear. "Great," Gerard said. "Awesome. We failed."

"We didn't fail," Frank said sharply.

"Yet," Mikey said before Gerard got a chance to.

"We'll get out of this," Frank said. "Somehow."

"Don't count your chickens before they're hatched," a new voice said.

They all five looked over to the door of the cell. A young woman stood there, her cop shirt tucked into some seriously ironed pants. Her name tag said "Simmons". "Can't you shake your keys like a normal cop?" Frank said. "Give us some warning you're coming."

"I didn't want to interrupt the pep talk," she said.

"So why are you here?" Mikey sounded sullen, like he did when he and Gerard were kids and Gerard would steal all his Easter candy, or something. Gerard winced.

"Hey, hey, cool the hostility. I just work here," Simmons said. She tapped her keys against the bars. "And I'm back here because you've got a visitor. Brian Schechter. Short, impressively good illegal tattoo concealer, equally illegal lip ring hole?"

"Send him in," Bob said before anyone else could speak up.

"What the fuck," Gerard said.

"Schechter?" Frank said, staring at Bob with new intentness. "The Schechter?"

Bob still looked completely impassive. "Guess so."

"...right," Simmons said. "Okay. It'll just be a second."

Mikey watched her leave with an expression Gerard couldn't decipher. "She seemed pretty hardcore," Gerard said.

"I guess," Mikey said. After a moment he added, "She has tattoo concealer on her arm."

Gerard hadn't noticed. "You'd think they'd check for that shit," he said, newly intrigued.

Whatever Mikey's reply would have been was lost when the short guy Gerard assumed was Schechter came in, followed by Simmons. "Check for what shit?"

"Nothing," Mikey said flatly.

"Hi," Gerard said, standing up and sticking his hand through the bars for Schechter to shake, "I'm Gerard. It's nice to meet you."

Schechter looked at him like he was doing something way more bizarre than just sticking his hand out. Which, okay, was a little weird on its own, but not that weird. "Nice to meet you too," he said finally, shaking Gerard's hand.

Gerard drew it back into the prison cell. "So. Why are you here?"

Schechter's confused expression cleared. "I got word through the grapevine that you got yourselves arrested."

"That's kind of harsh," Frank said. "It was an accident."

"It was a stupid accident," Schechter said. His voice sounded incredibly wry, like he was used to having this conversation. "And don't try to argue, Frank. I know who you are."

"You're going to get us out of here, Brian," Bob said quietly.

Gerard raised his eyebrows. "So. You guys know each other?"

Brian leveled a gaze on him that Gerard suspected he was supposed to find terrifying. "Yes."

"Um. Awesome." Okay, so it was a little terrifying. "How're you going to get us out of here?"

"I know a few people," Brian said.

"Are you gonna bust us out?" Frank's feet twitched. "Like, should we be awake at two in the morning or something?"

"Are you serious? You don't want to be fucking fugitives. Look, I'm going to get you out legally, and you're going to swear up and down that you've learned your lesson and don't want to play Tipper-violating music again. Even if it's a lie."

Frank's expression had moved straight into sulky. He was practically addicted to rebellion, Gerard thought fondly. "We got it," he said.

"Good." Brian sighed. "And Bryar. Don't let it happen again."

Gerard half wanted to protest that, hey, this was his band – but Bob didn't look smug or anything when he nodded, just as serious as he always looked. "Got it."

So he let it slide. "We'll be seeing you," he said, nodding at Brian.

"Undoubtedly," Brian said, and left.

"He's intense," Mikey said.

"He's fuckin' awesome," Bob said.

"Hey, chill, Bryar." Frank smirked. "No one was insulting your boyfriend."

"Children, children," Ray said when Bob moved to smack Frank.

Gerard sighed and leaned back. Even knowing they were getting out, his stomach still churned a little. He felt weirdly ashamed that he couldn't be the person who actually did the jailbreaking; he'd never really understood why Mikey and Ray rallied behind him when he'd gotten sober, and now that they were on the edge of doing something really huge, their support felt even weirder.

Not that he was going to argue with it, or anything. "We need to focus," he said. "Once we get out of here we'll have to try twice as hard. But we have to lay low, too. No more riots."

Frank snorted. "Come on, man."

But Gerard had known Frank long enough now to be familiar with the way he went looking for trouble. All of them lived on the edge of the Tipper laws, but Frank was the one who would heckle cops in the slums, throw rocks at them and bust bottles over their heads. He was good: he always got away. But it was still the kind of rebellion Gerard couldn't let the band as a whole embrace. "At least for a little while, we have to toe the line more. Come on, Frank, do you really want to get locked away for five years?"

Frank shrugged, expression still rebellious – but if he wasn't running his mouth, then Gerard knew he'd won. "Good," he said. "Now. We can work on new songs at Ray's place, and then I think we should play the docks again. It's a good spot, since if people get too rowdy they fall in the water. We can street team too, real carefully – bars the police won't go in, squatters' apartments, that kind of thing. We need to let people know we're still out there. The rumor that we got arrested will spread, and bands don't usually come back from that shit."

"Maybe you should wait to outline your game plan till after you're out," Alicia said.

Gerard jumped and felt his face flush. Damn it, why did he fail always? "Sorry," he said automatically.

"Whatever." Alicia unlocked the door. "Go to the third door on your left. Don't try to run off or we'll catch you and throw you in solitary." She turned and walked off.

Gerard made the mistake of glancing over at Mikey as the others filed out. He may as well have had hearts in his eyes. "You're disgusting," he said flatly.

"Whatever," Mikey said. "I bet she's been to our shows."

Gerard made a big show of snorting and leaving the cell, swishing his hips to communicate maximum indignation. He was so immersed in his dramatic exit (which, really, no one but Mikey would see) that he almost ran into Frank. "Shit, sorry."

"Um." Frank's eyes were wider than normal. "Yeah, okay. Sure."

If Gerard didn't know any better, he'd think Frank was stoned or something. "Third door on the left, right?" he said, giving Frank a little nudge.

"Uh," Frank said, and half-stumbled to the door in question.

Gerard wanted to ask him what was up, but a hulking cop at the table made him shut his mouth. The guy questioned them like his life depended on it, and Gerard gave all the canned answers Brian had told him to: no, they didn't know who owned the cinema they'd played at; yes, they understood that they were being acquitted of a felony; no, they had never been convicted of any misdemeanors (and here Gerard held his breath, but somehow, no one realized it was Frank Iero lying through his teeth). It was fucking nerve-wracking, and Gerard would've sworn the guy kept them around way longer than they really needed to be. He finally let them go with a suspicious glare and a warning to "never pull that shit again".

Gerard didn't let himself register that they'd been let go until they were out of the police station and halfway down the block. "Jesus fucking Christ," he said, slumping against the brick wall of the flower shop next to them.

"Deep breaths," Ray said, following his own advice and huffing loudly.

"Fuckin' asshole. He just wanted to see us sweat," Frank said. "Where's Schechter?"

"Brian'll show up when he wants to," Bob said. "Don't hold your breath."

"How do you know him, anyway?" Ray said.

"Mutual friends," Bob said, and left it at that.

Gerard knew better than to try to pressure Bob into giving up details he hadn't already offered. "I'm just glad they didn't take my jacket," he said, pulling it closer around him. "They could've."

"That thing is going to disintegrate anyway," Ray said disapprovingly.

"But it's mine." Gerard stroked it. "I love it."

"You're demented."

Gerard opened his mouth to deliver an acceptably snappy retort when Frank's phone rang. He made a face and flipped it open. Gerard watched his expression twitch minutely as he talked. "What's up, man? We – what? Dude, that's total fuckin' bullshit. They can't do that. Can they? ...fuck. Jesus. Okay, yeah, thanks for telling me. Later."

"What happened?"

"You know the dive apartment you and Mikey share? And the hole in the wall I squat in? And Ray and Bob's illegal loft?" Gerard nodded. "Raided," Frank said flatly. "Everything destroyed, the places torched."

Gerard had long since gotten used to the kind of shock that makes you feel like your stomach's been dragged through your toes , but this was worse: it felt like his entire brain was being squeezed, making it impossible to do anything but wheeze and gasp for air.

"Yeah," Frank said. "Jesus Christ, fuck everything."

"Where are we gonna go?" Mikey asked.

"Do you think if I knew that I'd be freaking the fuck out?" Frank snapped.

Mikey flinched a little. "Hey," Gerard said, hoping he'd implied don't make me punch you.

But Frank had already started looking contrite. "Sorry."

"Now that Dr. Phil's guide for healthy friendships has been played out, can we focus on where we're going to sleep tonight?" Ray said.

"I actually might have an idea," Mikey said, and pulled out his phone. "Hey, Mom? Is Grandma's old van still in the backyard?"

"Oh, fuck no," Gerard said.

"It is? Awesome. Yeah, we're gonna need to use it. For band stuff. Oh, it doesn't? That's cool, I think Bob can fix it. It's probably the battery. ...no, we're fine. I know. Seriously, though, we're okay. Okay. I love you too, bye."

"What's the verdict?" Bob said.

Mikey shrugged. "If we can make it start, we can have it."

"I don't want to live in a van with my band," Gerard said.

"Relax. It's not like we have instruments to play with right now anyway," Ray said bitterly. "We'll hardly take up room."

That hadn't even occurred to Gerard, and now he kind of wanted to smack himself. Great. "I'm sorry."

Ray waved a hand."Whatever. You're not the one who decided to burn our shit."

"We'll get more," Frank said. "Fuck it, man, we're not giving up now. We'll burn the fucking Tipper laws to the ground if we have to."

He had the kind of expression that Gerard was used to associating with, like...Che. "If you say so," he said.

"You talk big," Ray said.

Gerard half expected Frank to punch him or something, but instead Frank just started walking. "Fuck this shit," he said. "I'm going to McDonald's."

"You guys?" Gerard said, looking at everyone else.

"I'm gonna go to Mom's," Mikey said.

"Since I'm apparently the mechanic, I'll go too," Bob said.

Ray looked between Mikey and Gerard. "I think...I think I'll go to your mom's too."

Which left Gerard to follow Frank and make sure he didn't do anything stupid – or wait for him to get back from his sulking. Damn. "Okay. I'll follow Frank, I guess."

"Later," Mikey said.

Frank hadn't even gone a full two blocks. Gerard wasn't the fittest guy in the world; if Congress passed the Atkins Health Reform bill, he'd legally have to start exercising way more than he did. But Frank wasn't trying to outrun him, or anything, so Gerard managed to catch up pretty quickly.

"I didn't say I wanted company," Frank said.

Gerard could think of a lot of responses to that; most of them were just as assholish as Frank had just been. "It's true," he said finally. "You didn't. But -"

"And I don't want to talk about my feelings, okay?"

Sometimes Gerard thought that out of all of them, Frank had lost the most. Ray's dad was a mail delivery guy, nice and nondescript; Bob's family was still ensconced in Chicago. But Frank's parents and grandparents had been musicians with chips on their shoulders to rival Frank's own, and they'd been slammed by the Tipper laws when Frank was still a kid. "You're pissed. I just want to make sure you don't do anything stupid."

Ahead of them, the McDonald's arches loomed. "For fucking serious," Frank said, "stop it. I'm fine." He broke into a jog, disappearing into the restaurant when Gerard was still a block and a half away.

Gerard wasn't Yoda. He was really bad at people. He really didn't know what it was about Frank that made him want to fucking psychoanalyze the guy. His old crush, sure, but the urge to suck Frank off had mostly disappeared. They'd been a band for almost three years, and in those three years Frank had had plenty of sex with guys and girls. If he'd been interested in Gerard, then Gerard would've known.

And anyway, he thought, it wasn't like he'd had tons of sex in the past few years, himself. He'd probably be totally horrible at it if Frank decided he did want to fuck him. So really – really, it was for the best that Frank didn't.

Plus, that was ignoring the most important part: his weird old crush had nothing to do with the fact that he was borderline obsessed with making sure Frank was okay.

He shoved the confusion to the back of his mind as he walked into McDonald's. Frank was where Gerard had figured he would be: hunched in the corner, eating his Big Mac with the least amount of relish Gerard had ever seen on one person's face.

"That looks good," Gerard said, pointing to the bowl.

"A quarter pound of lettuce and fucking radishes and shit is not good," Frank said. "Fuck off."

They'd changed it from their old veggie burger a month ago, and papers all over the country had started saying either McDonald's knew the law was changing, or they were secretly pushing for the change. "Okay, fine, it's gross. But seriously, man, you're allowed to be upset."

"You think I don't fucking know that? Jesus Christ, how condescending can you get?"

Rhetorical question, Gerard reminded himself. "I just didn't want you to be alone."

"I'm not a kid. I'm fine."

If Gerard had been more daring, or even more self-confident, he would've called Frank on his bullshit. Instead he said, "Fine, okay. Can I sit down, at least?"

Frank could be a pissy, shitty punk, but he wasn't actually a giant asshole. "Do you seriously think I'd stop you? Christ."

Gerard stifled a smile and sat in the chair across from Frank. "So. The van."

"You're going to wash every fucking day. I'm not smelling Way ass in my brand new eight-feet-long house."

With anyone else, Gerard would've scoffed – but he'd been in Frank's tiny hole of a home. Somehow he'd managed to make it perpetually clean and nice-smelling."Okay."

"And Mikey's gonna wash his fucking feet," Frank said. "And clip his toenails. Outside."

"Okay."

"And – Jesus, you know, I had one fucking picture of my grandpa and it was in my motherfucking apartment," Frank said. He was cursing, which was illegal, so he kept his voice down – but it was the kind of intense, quiet yell that sent a chill down Gerard's spine.

"I'm sorry," he said finally; he couldn't think of anything else to say.

"Don't fucking apologize to me," Frank said. He threw his fork down, looking Gerard in the eye. His eyes were weirdly bright. "Just promise me you're gonna commit to this shit. Schechter's interested in us now, that means we could be huge. So stop trying to pretend you're not rocking the boat. You – we – were made to rock the boat. That's what we should be doing."

Gerard flashed back to the riot at the amphitheater, the furious energy and hatred for the police. There were so many frustrated kids in the city, so many people practically burning to break the damn Tipper laws. They could use that. They could... "I thought I was going to change things. Back when I was in school. And then..."

"I'm still kind of in awe of that," Frank said around a mouthful of lettuce. "The whole addiction thing. I mean, sucked, but I don't know how you found so much illegal shit."

Alcohol, Ambien, cocaine...in retrospect it really was kind of impressive, in a morbid way. "When I got clean I just wanted to save kids from rebelling like I had."

"Admirable," Frank said. "But come on, man. You know these kids are like caged animals. You want 'em to end up like you, just keep pretending we're not doing good when our shows get crazy."

Frank had been sick just a month ago, and now when he stuck his chin out it looked...weird. His jaw was too sharp, his cheekbones actually defined. Gerard stared for a second, thoughts completely chased out of his head.

Finally he nodded. "Okay. Yeah. You've got a point."

"You bet your ass I do," Frank said, and pushed his bowl away from him. "Now, come on."

"Where are we going?"

"I know a guy who knows a guy who's going to give me another tattoo."

Gerard's first thought wasn't even a thought at all, just wordless, aimless panic. His next thought was, "Are you insane?"

"Possibly," Frank said. "Why?"

"We can't just -" Gerard waved a hand. "Tattoos! Illegal as fuck, Frank." And, okay, Frank had a million, but those had happened when Gerard wasn't around.

"That's the attraction," Frank said. "Come on." He stood up and threw his fortified water in the bowl, along with his crumpled napkins and empty fat-free dressing.

A tattoo. A tattoo. Shit. It was way, way too soon after their (brief, but still fucking scary) stint in jail. "Frank..."

"Either you're coming or you're not," Frank said. He was already farther away, dumping his bowl in the trash and heading for the door. He didn't look back at Gerard.

And damn it, damn it, damn it, Gerard was too selfish to just let him go like that. He could get hurt; the place he visited could give him an infection, or he could be walking into a trap and get beaten up by Tipper-enforcing thugs. Hell, he could get arrested again. None of those were really prospects that Gerard wanted to explore.

But Frank was about to leave the building, and Gerard knew from past experience that once he was gone, Gerard wouldn't be able to follow. Christ, he thought, fine.

He got up and made it to the door in time to hold it open for Frank. "Thanks," Frank said like he wasn't even the least bit surprised. He probably wasn't, the bastard. "Know what I'm getting for my tattoo?"

"You're going to tell me," Gerard said.

Frank nodded. "An angel," he said. "Right on my back."

"An angel?" Frank wasn't exactly the type to restrict himself to a single theme, tattoo-wise, but most were just symbols, small and relatively easy to cover up. His only big one was also a tattoo of the old cult figure Frankenstein. It was on his leg, too – far enough up that it would never be exposed unless Frank wore booty shorts, or something, but still in a pretty dangerous place.

"Fuck yeah," Frank said. "What, you think I don't believe in God? He's totally awesome."

He said it flippantly, but Gerard had long since learned how to tell when he was being sincere. "Cool," he said.

"Fuckin' right it is." He'd been leading the way down the street, but he suddenly veered right sharply. The alley he slunk into was barely wide enough for Gerard to walk down, and ended after twenty feet in a wooden fence. "Um," Gerard said.

Frank jumped up, grabbed the fire escape, scrambled onto it, and jumped, disappearing on the other side of the fence. "Yeah?"

Athletic people sucked. "Never mind," Gerard said, jumping up and scrambling pathetically until he could jump down on the other side.

There wasn't concrete or anything, just hard-packed dirt, but the impact still sent a jolt of pain up his legs. "This seriously isn't worth it," Gerard said.

"Whatever you say," Frank said, and started walking again. The alley widened slowly, the number of alleys departing from it increasing until Gerard got the distinct impression that they were in a rat's maze.

"Where are we?"

"Back of the Five Hundred Development," Frank said.

It was a housing development, unremarkable except for the fact that its official crime rate was about a hundred times less extreme than the rumors. "Great," Gerard said, and started mentally preparing himself to get shot by a methhead.

"Just fucking relax," Frank said. He stopped in front of a brick wall with a white smiley face on it. Gerard squinted at the wall and the ground, but he didn't see any entrances.

"Okay," Frank said, and dropped to his knees. "It should be...hah." He grabbed a string of fishing line Gerard hadn't even seen, and pulled a two feet wide block of dirt up, revealing the ladder beneath it.

"What the fuck," Gerard said flatly.

"Awesome, right? Come on." Frank wiggled down so that the trapdoor was braced open against his back and started heading down the ladder.

Gerard really didn't want to follow, but if Frank was going do to stupid shit that would probably get him killed, he wasn't going to do it alone. "I hate you so much right now," he said, sitting down and scooting towards the ladder.

"Yeah, yeah. Just come on."

Trepidation made his moves slow and jerky. He backed himself into the hole, feeling for the ladder with his feet and moving down so he could clutch its sides. The trapdoor slid over his back and thumped shut when he took another step down.

They were in complete darkness. "Fuck," Gerard said, his voice higher than usual.

"No," Frank said. "Tattoo. Come on, it's not that far down."

Gerard very much did not believe him – but he went down another twenty rungs and his feet hit solid ground. "Seriously, is this really necessary?" he said, reeling away from the ladder like it had burned him.

"Yes," Frank said, and clapped his hands.

Lights blazed on. They were blue, old-time round ones with colored glass. Gerard felt, for a second, the thrill of excited fear. Anything could happen with these kinds of lightbulbs, he thought; they could explode and blind him and Frank, even.

"Jesus, don't let them give you a boner," Frank said, and headed down the dingy tunnel the lightbulbs illuminated. The tunnel itself was pretty boring – but it was smoothly made, with concrete holding up the top of the tunnel and dirt on the ground.

"What is this place?" Gerard said.

"Old subway tunnel," Frank said. "Closed off awhile back, converted by the guys who own the tattoo place."

It curved sharply after only about twenty feet – and then Gerard could see, a bit ahead of them, a plain wooden door.

"Bingo," Frank said. The door was unlocked and Frank opened it to reveal a steep set of stairs. He bounded up them; Gerard followed more slowly, trying not to gasp for air too obviously. When he finally reached the top, Frank opened the door.

Lights affixed to the walls – blue, but also red and normal yellow – illuminated five tattoo artists, all of them working on wiry-looking kids and young adults. The tattoo artists were all grizzled and seriously intimidating; one of them, a tall woman with a handkerchief wrapped around her right upper arm and a shaved head, looked especially like she could crush bones without even trying.

"...nice," Gerard said.

"They're professionals," Frank said. "They paid an old food designer hundreds for that dirt trapdoor."

"That's completely crazy."

"That's survival," said a young, skinny guy with piercings and tattoos all over. "You Iero?"

Frank nodded. "Here for my angel."

"Yeah, you damn joker. Okay, over here."

Gerard followed, feeling supremely awkward: the guy hadn't even glanced at him. But he'd said he'd go with Frank, and anyway, his fear of needles didn't extend to wimping out at seeing someone getting tattooed.

At least, that's what he told himself. As he walked past the buzzing needles, he got a little less certain. But Frank was talking to the tattoo artist now, all crazy animated like only Frank could be, and yeah – no fucking way was Gerard going to wimp out.

"So anyway, yeah, let's do this thing," Frank said, whipping his shirt off.

He wasn't as pale as Gerard remembered – but he was skinny, scary skinny, the kind of skinny Mikey'd been for a long time thanks to all the coke and stuff. They were probably going to have to have a talk about not playing shows after being so sick actual doctors advocated confinement. Gerard wasn't looking forward to it, since those talks usually ended in Frank trying to punch him.

He focused on the tattoo artist again when Frank said, "Okay, so, I want an angel, right? But kind of gruesome looking. Not evil or any bullshit like that, just ugly and a little messed up. Maybe with piercings or something, I don't know. I just want it to be God's really fucked-up creature. But still an angel. On my back, between my shoulders."

"Risky place for a tat," the artist said mildly.

Frank shrugged. "I'm game."

"Alright." The guy got out a sheet of paper and started drawing. Frank glanced at Gerard; Gerard almost didn't see it, because the second the guy's pencil had touched paper, he'd zeroed in on it.

He raised his eyebrows at Frank; Frank looked away. He went back to watching the guy draw. He was good, Gerard would give him that; but he wasn't as good as Gerard himself was. The angel's face was distorted, and its arms were mottled like they'd been blistered, but it was old-school tattoo style, which Gerard never would've used for this tattoo. It looked too doughy, too contrived. Thinner lines would be better, with the angel's face being sharper, and its robes swirling into darkness by its feet –

"You could just ask to do it, you know," Frank said, sounding amused.

The artist stopped. "Wait, your friend can draw? Shit, man, why didn't you have him do it?"

"Didn't figure he'd come," Frank said.

Gerard couldn't stop himself from rolling his eyes. "I would've done it earlier. Give me that."

The artist passed the paper over. Gerard flipped it to the other side and started drawing, keeping the lines sharp, the angles acute. He barely looked up when he felt Frank come closer and lay his hand on the table. "Does this look good so far?"

"Yeah," Frank said. His tone was weird – but Gerard just kept drawing, not looking up. Curled, skeletal wings, a twisted face, heavy black lines winding all over the angel's body...it looked sinister, Gerard thought, but not evil. Like Frank wanted.

He finished it pretty quickly after that. He didn't add much shading because he wanted the lines to stand out, curve down Frank's back and draw attention to his shoulder bones, the indentation of his spine.

It was probably pretty creepy, the way he was thinking – but no one had to know.

"There you go," Gerard said, pushing the drawing towards Frank and the tattoo artist.

"Damn," the artist said, whistling. "Nice job, man. You cool with this?"

Frank nodded. "Go for it. Thanks, Travis."

"I know you won't give us up." The artist – Travis – thumped Frank on the back. "Now lie down."

Frank hopped onto the table, lying on his stomach. "Do you need to grab my arm?" Gerard asked, for lack of a better thing to say.

Frank snorted. "Sure, mom, and can you get me a lollipop while you're at it?"

"Screw you," Gerard said mildly.

Travis drew the tattoo on carefully. Gerard watched kind of weirdly, uncomfortably aware of how intent he was being – but his hand was steady. "Relax, man," he said when he'd finished. "I'm not going to ruin your drawing."

Gerard flushed, because really, Travis knew how to do his job. "Sorry."

"Don't worry about it." He flipped on the tattoo gun. "Ready?"

"Go for it," Frank said.

So Travis did.

Everything was a blur after that. Frank didn't so much as twitch when Travis started, but when he started doing the detail work over Frank's spine, Frank gritted his teeth and inhaled sharply. It was hardly anything, but Gerard zeroed in on his face anyway, drawn and determined. It was...weirdly compelling, Gerard thought, in a way he really didn't understand. He just wanted to keep watching.

So he looked away. Every once in awhile Travis would wipe the blood off Frank's back, anyway, and that reminded Gerard that, yes, he was busy working Frank over with a needle, and then Gerard sort of wanted to puke. It was a tense few hours, with both Frank and Gerard breathing harshly and Travis humming under his breath as he worked.

Finally he said, "Alright, you're good."

Frank, ridiculously, twisted around, like he thought he'd be able to see the tattoo without a mirror. "How's it look?"

"Bloody," Gerard said.

"Asshole." Frank hopped off the table. "Fuck, man, I feel awesome. Mirror still in the back?"

"Yep," Travis said, cleaning the tattoo gun off.

Frank bounded away. Travis shook his head when he'd gone. "He's a fuckin' weirdo," he said.

"Yeah." Gerard couldn't stop himself from smiling. He probably looked like a moron, but whatever; he loved his band. He knew it.

"I've heard of you, you know."

That made him do a double take. "What?"

Travis grinned at him, leaning back in his chair. "You surprised? Everyone's heard of your band. You're starting to really make a buzz. When the riot happened, we figured you were gone for good. The cops've heard of you too."

Gerard shook his head. "Brian got us out."

That got him a narrow-eyed look. "Wait, Schechter? You got him carrying your banner?"

"In a manner of speaking," Gerard said.

Travis whistled. "Shit, man. You know he's been on the run since he was sixteen? If he decides he wants to support you, it means he's going to make you fucking huge."

"We can't get that huge," Gerard said. "We're underground."

That made Travis throw his head back and laugh. "Jesus, you have no idea how big the underground is, do you? The Tipper laws aren't just Prohibition gone punk, man. We're looking to do a lot more than build a couple singeasies."

"Singeasies." Gerard shook his head. "You can't be serious."

"You're an infant," Travis said. "Talk to Schechter about it, he'll tell you. You guys and Chicago. We're going to burn the laws to the ground."

"Are you guys talking revolution? Fuck you if you're from Chicago, I've heard tons about them," Frank said. He grabbed his shirt. "I like it. Bandage me up."

"'I like it'? That's it? Fuck you, man, that thing's a work of art." Travis grabbed some gauze and tape. "You know how to take care of it, right?"

"Duh," Frank said. "Are you done?"

"Cover your ugly stomach," Travis said. "And for the record, I'm from New York."

Frank shrugged his shirt back on. "Yeah, yeah. And you're in Chicago because they give good riot." He smiled, sharp and bright.

Gerard managed to look him in the eye when he said, "So, when we get back, we have to find Brian."

"He'll be in the van, probably," Frank said. "When he decides he likes a band, he really sticks with them."

So Travis had been right. Gerard thought about his pants and Mikey's unwashed feet and felt newly guilty. "Oh."

"Yeah, oh." Frank bumped against him, wrapping an arm around Gerard's waist and handing Travis three new-looking hundred-dollar bills. "Thanks, man."

"Any time," Travis said. "Now get out of here."

Frank mock-saluted him and obeyed, dragging Gerard with him. They went through the tunnel and up out of the fake dirt trapdoor quietly; Gerard wanted to talk, of course, because he always did when he was nervous. But he didn't, because between the tunnel and the ladder Frank's expression had settled into the closed, intent one that meant he was thinking things over.

The van was where they'd parted from Mikey and the others – and Brian was sitting in the driver's seat. "This thing fucking reeks," he told Gerard when Gerard climbed into the passenger seat. "You need to learn to do your laundry."

"Gerard knows how to do his laundry," Bob said. "He just never does it."

"Yeah, yeah." Gerard flapped a hand. "Whatever. Hey, Brian, Frank's tattoo guy was named Travis. He said you had plans for us. True?"

"It's pretty heavy stuff," Brian said. "You'll have to trust me."

"I do," Bob said immediately.

Gerard wasn't so sure. Back when he'd been drunk and high all the time he'd been hardcore paranoid; he wasn't like that anymore, but he was still kind of suspicious by nature.

Of course, he'd hand Bob Mikey's life, which was five times more important than his own. So. "Okay," he said.

Now it was Brian's turn to look surprised. "Just like that?"

"I heard a rumor revolutionaries have to be decisive," Gerard said.

It wasn't really that funny, but in the back, Ray laughed loudly anyway. "Sorry," he said when everyone else looked at him. "Nerves."

"Right," Brian said. "Okay. I'm going to take you to IHOP, and then we're going to talk. Okay?"

Everyone nodded, like kids on a field trip or something. "Good," Brian said, and started the van.

He drove like a New Yorker: Gerard kept his eyes closed after the second run red light. When they finally got there, Brian double-parked and waved a hand. "Out," he said.

They all piled into a booth. IHOP had discontinued syrup two months ago, and now served "infused" pancakes, full of vegetables, with a fiber-fortified dressing that pretty much tasted like ass. Their eggs were still something approaching normal, though, so that was what Gerard ordered, trying to look as polite as possible.

If Frank's snickers were anything to go by, he didn't really succeed. "Dude," Frank said. "You look like a T-Rex who just got told he had to go vegetarian."

"These aren't real pancakes," Gerard said. "Sooner or later they're going to pass a law against, like...brownies."

"Ohio's trying to make cheesecake illegal," Ray said.

"I'm going to kill myself," Gerard informed the ceiling.

"That's why it's important to keep playing," Brian said. "Wait. You." He stabbed a finger at Frank. "When you were in Pencey you were pudgy as fuck. What happened?"

"Would you believe I've lived a hardened life of crime?"

"No."

"I've been sick, then."

Brian got the narrow-eyed look that Gerard was already learning meant trouble. "And you fucked off to get a tattoo? How fucking stupid are you, exactly?"

"I got a lot of A's in high school."

"Don't joke about this. From now on, you feel sick, you fucking lie down and drink chicken noodle soup, you got it?"

If Gerard mother had donned a viking helmet and started packing heat – well, more heat; Gerard was pretty sure she already kept a .45 on her – she might have sounded as fierce as Brian did right then. "Fucking Christ, okay," Frank said, sounding just as scared as Gerard would've been.

"Right," Brian said. "Good. Eggs."

They ate pretty quickly, all of them concentrating on pretending the low-sodium, no-cheese omelets were just as good as the ones they'd grown up with. When they were done, Brian said, "Okay. So, you need instruments, right?"

"Eventually, yeah," Ray said.

"No, not eventually. Now." Brian threw down a bunch of twenties and stood up. "Come on."

"Where did you get that?" Bob said, pointing to the money.

"I called in a few favors," Brian said. "The jail, this, the instruments. That's the deal. I give you that, and you trust me and let me work you to death."

"For the revolution?" Gerard said. He tried to make it joking, but somehow it came out serious.

"Something like that," Brian said.

They were quiet after that, piling into the van without a directive word from Brian. Gerard tried to be concerned about the instruments, but his mind kept getting distracted by the idea, the encroaching reality, of revolution; something new, something important. It was an almost painful kind of suggestion, because it was important, absolutely crucial – and it was impossible to get now, or even anytime soon.

Also, they might be arrested and sent to actual prison. That wasn't too awesome a prospect.

Brian drove for almost a half hour before pulling into a dingy-looking alley. "Get out," he said, "Go to the end of the alley. On your right should be a dumpster. The instruments are in there."

"Hardcore," Frank said. "It's like you're James Bond."

"Just go," Brian said. "There'll be a police sweep in twenty minutes. We want to be on our way in ten."

Everyone but Gerard got out of the van. Gerard waited until he saw everyone in front of the headlights before he said, "We can't do this for forever. Living out of a van stuffed with our instruments."

"I can't call in another favor."

"I know." Gerard gritted his teeth. "But – I might be able to."

Brian's voice was carefully neutral when he said, "Yeah?"

"I knew a guy, awhile back. He's got an ear to the underground pretty much always."

"Why's that?"

"Well." Gerard bit his lip. "Bert's addicted to almost every drug known to man. So...yeah, he knows a lot about everyone."

Brian's laugh was more like a bark. "I know Bert. He won't be sober for the time it takes to give you an address."

"Maybe," Gerard said. "But maybe not. Come on, if you know him, you know he's smarter than he lets on. If we need a place, really need one – and we do – he might know of somewhere."

"And then if the cops dangle heroin in front of him, he'll spill."

"Not for me." Gerard tried to project as much surety into his voice as possible. "It's worth a try. We're going to be on the run from the cops, anyway – but if we're trying to all live in this van, it'll be that much worse."

"You'll have to live in the van when you go on tour."

Tour. Jesus; he wasn't kidding around with this. "Yeah. Well...we'll deal. But permanently, we need a place."

"If you say so." Brian was silent for a moment before he said, "How much do you know about Chicago?"

"Is that a trick question?" Gerard tried to smile – but he faltered at the humorless look on Brian's face. "Um."

"The Jersey scene, the New York scene, that's heating up. But Chicago...they've got groups out there, multiple ones. Multiple scenes. It's going to explode soon."

"So, what, we should head to Chicago?"

Brian's lips twisted. "Hell, no. We've got to get the east coast just as fired up. If we really want to change things, there's gotta be a movement. A huge one. That means you, that means Lupe, that means Wentz, that means fuckin' Springsteen. Everybody. We need a huge wave of people."

For a second all Gerard could do was stare. Finally he managed to say, "You don't have an army hidden somewhere, do you?"

"Not yet," Brian said.

He wasn't serious. Probably. At least, Gerard didn't think so. Either way, that was the end of their conversation, because Bob and Ray opened the side doors at the same time Frank opened the back. "We're going to be crowded ass to elbows," he called, shoving his guitar in the van and climbing over the seats to the front.

"You didn't shut the door, jackass," Bob said, getting out to fix it. He'd managed to store his kit under seats and in the back; it was something approaching magic, in Gerard's eyes.

"So," Frank said, ignoring Bob, "where to? A parking lot somewhere?"

"Actually, we're going to, um." Gerard slumped down in his seat, avoiding everyone's eyes. "We're going to see if Bert knows of a place we can crash."

Total silence. Bob had climbed back in, and Mikey was sitting between him and Frank; Ray was in the very back. When Gerard glanced up, all of them were staring at him.

"Dude," Mikey said finally. His tone said volumes – to Gerard, at least.

"I know," Gerard said. "Believe me, man, I do. But he'd know. You know he would."

"And then he'd sell us out," Bob said flatly.

"Bullshit," Gerard said. "Come on, guys. Bert would do a lot of things, but he wouldn't sell us out." Probably.

Something shifted then. Gerard couldn't have said what it was for the life of him, but it was like the air in the van just changed, like the old days when you'd buy french fries and open the bag and the smell would fill the car instantly. Ray was the first person to vocalize it, nodding and saying, "Okay. If you say so."

Brian raised an eyebrow at Gerard; Gerard fought to urge to squirm. Yeah, okay, his band let him lead them, and apparently did what he said now. That didn't mean a whole lot. It didn't mean he could go from rebellion to full-scale organized revolution.

Except he was getting the feeling he didn't really have a choice if he wanted to be able to live with himself. "Let's just get out of here," he said. "You said ten minutes, remember?"

"Where does Bert live now?" Brian said, starting the van.

"Oh God," Mikey said. "You've been keeping track, haven't you. Gerard."

Gerard was pretty sure his cheeks were on fire. "Fuck off," he said. "Just drive west."

He tried not to make it obvious how thoroughly he had the directions memorized, but it was hard, because he really did know them by heart. He'd never been to see Bert, not since he got clean and Bert spat on him for it, but he needed to know where Bert was. Just in case – not in case of this, not in case he needed to use Bert. But just in case something happened. Gerard had never been that great at letting go.

"Is he still in that band of his?" Ray said a few minutes later.

"Go left at the next light," Gerard said. "And yeah, I think so."

"They're not a part of this," Frank said. "I mean. Are they?"

Brian hit the brakes harder than was strictly necessary. "I tried to make them be. They didn't really want my help."

"Why the fuck not?"

"Because Bert's fucked up, and they can't take the risk," Brian said. "They're chickenshit. Forget them."

But if they agreed to help Gerard, then things would be different, Gerard thought. Not in the fluffy-kitten kind of way where all of a sudden they'd be best friends, but they'd have something to hide from the cops. Something that would end up being pretty fucking huge, if Brian had his way.

And it would connect them to My Chem, probably permanently. Gerard was a little ashamed of himself that he still wanted that. "Okay," he said once Brian had turned. "Two blocks down. I'll hop out and talk to him, you can circle the block."

"Fuck that," Frank said sharply. "Bob can talk to him. Or I can."

Gerard looked in the rearview mirror, unable to hide his surprise. Frank's face looked drawn; Bob just looked pissed. "Guys," he said. "I can't – he won't talk to you like he'll talk to me."

"Yeah," Frank said, "that's what I'm worried about. You and me, Bryar, okay?"

The worst part, Gerard thought, was that Ray and Mikey both looked relieved. Shit. "I – tell him I thought of him."

"That won't be necessary," Bob said calmly, meeting Gerard's eyes.

Gerard slumped down a little further.

"Okay," Brian said, "let up on the soap opera bullshit and be ready to hop out. You've got fifteen minutes. If he won't give us any information, stand on the street corner and wait for me, got it? Don't take longer than that."

"Thanks, Brian," Frank said. Brian slowed down at the spot Gerard had pointed out, and Frank and Bob hopped out.

As soon as they'd closed the doors, Gerard twisted around to glare at Ray and Mikey and said, "Wow. Thanks for the show of support, guys."

Both of them looked nonplussed. "Look," Ray said finally, "if you asked me to walk into a volcano I would, okay? But if Bert was in the volcano -"

Mikey gave a funny little snorting laugh. "Dude. Worst analogy ever."

"If Bert was in the volcano, I wouldn't." Ray scratched his head, making his hair scuttle against the ceiling of the van. "We saw you when you were at rock bottom, man. There are some things...look. We just can't do it. Okay?"

Gerard wanted to throw a temper tantrum. Instead he forced himself to nod. "Yeah, okay. Fine."

They sat in uncomfortable silence, circling the block until they spotted Bob and Frank waiting for them. "Drive," Frank said. "Quinn called the cops on us."

"Son of a bitch," Brian said, and floored it. "They didn't give us a place, then?"

"Quinn told us there's a hole in the wall two miles south," Frank said. "Here's the address." A crumpled paper ball thrown at Brian's head.

"But it's not safe, right?" Gerard said.

"He actually said he wouldn't call the cops, if we got away from them this time," Bob said.

"Real fuckin' trustworthy," Mikey said.

Frank rolled his eyes. "Mikeyway, if you've got a better option, feel free to let it fly."

There was a long pause, and then Mikey said, "Actually, I think I do."

||

"No fucking way," Brian said, staring at the house.

"It's in the burbs," Mikey said. "So, fewer cops. It's huge, and she's the only one who lives in it. It's secure. There's a basement, see the window? So if we need to get out secretly we can. It's perfect."

"Fewer cops," Gerard said. "Except for how she is one. And how'd you get her address, anyway?"

Mikey suddenly looked incredibly shifty.

"Fuck me," Frank said from the back.

"No one offered," Bob said. "Now shut up. Mikey, are you going to knock on her door or what?"

"For the record," Brian said, "I still think this is an incredibly stupid idea."

"Just keep the car on," Mikey said.

"Seriously, we can't sit in her driveway forever," Ray said.

"No," Alicia said into Gerard's open window, "you can't."

Someday they'd all laugh at the way they jumped and yelled at the same time. Today was not that day. "What the hell," Gerard said faintly.

"Are you guys lost or something? Make it snappy; I've got grocery shopping to do and you're blocking my car."

"Do you remember us?" Mikey said from the back.

"Sure. Guys with the super illegal band. Nice replacement instruments, by the way. You know it was the NYPD who torched your shit, right?"

"Why the hell do you even work for them?" Bob snapped.

She shrugged. "It's a salary. Seriously, do you need directions or what?"

"We actually need a place to stay," Mikey said. Gerard twisted around in his seat in just enough time to see him widen his eyes pathetically. "Please?"

"While you play illegal shows to try to drum up support for your big anti-Tipper revolution?"

"Basically," Mikey said. Gerard turned back around; Brian looked like he was ready to burst multiple blood vessels.

"Okay," Alicia said. "But seriously, you're gonna have to find somewhere else to park the van."

||

And that was how they ended up living in a cop's house semi-permanently. Gerard banished himself to the basement before anyone else had a chance to do it for him; Mikey followed, but Bob and Ray elected to stay in the den. Frank couldn't seem to decide on a place. Half the time he dragged a blanket down to the basement for a sleepover with Mikey, and half the time he crashed right on top of Bob. His stuff was right next to Gerard's air mattress, though, and every time Gerard moved it Frank put it back within hours. Gerard was pretty sure Frank was doing it just to fuck with his head; it was working.

Alicia didn't actually talk to them much. It was weird – if Gerard didn't know better, he'd think she didn't even care whether they were there or not. But she let them eat her food and replace it only sporadically, and she didn't complain if they decided they needed to rehearse at 1 A.M. Someone who didn't care wouldn't put up with that shit.

It was also weird that Mikey had the world's most obvious crush, so Gerard was trying not to think about it. Not that he didn't know Mikey had sex, or anything like that; it was just really embarrassing to see Mikey pining after a hot girl, or whatever.

Gerard had once told him exactly that and Mikey had shrugged and said, "Whatever, like you ever get laid." It was kind of a fair point.

So they hung out at Alicia's and practiced and only went out at night. It was pretty much Gerard's dream existence – or it would have been, had Brian not been a fucking drill sergeant.

It wasn't enough to see them practicing. Brian wanted them working on their stage presence, their look, even their fucking rabble-rousing methods. Gerard got used to trying to incite a bunch of couch pillows to violence. Even Mikey started projecting more intensity than usual, an achievement that Frank offered Brian a medal for.

And, yeah, it was boring. But then, so were a lot of things. "And as revolutions go," Ray said, "making one with music isn't too bad."

They never talked about the revolution like it was a joke. Which was funny, because honestly – honestly, Gerard thought, running his pencil under some promising lyrics, it pretty much was. One band couldn't topple a set of bureaucratic laws twenty years old. They couldn't even manage to not get arrested.

But the one time he mentioned skepticism to Brian, Brian looked at him like he was considering skinning him alive. Gerard kept his doubts to himself after that.

Two and a half weeks into their stay, Brian made them all cinnamon toast and eggs, waiting until their mouths were full to say, "I got us three shows, all headlining."

Gerard choked on his eggs – and he wasn't the only one. "What?" Ray wheezed.

"Three shows," Brian said patiently. "Headlining. The first one's in two days. Eat your eggs."

Frank stabbed his fork in Brian's direction. His fauxhawk, already overgrown, was flopping into his eyes. "You're demented. You torture us for fun."

"It's possible," Brian said.

"Bastard," Frank said, but he sounded admiring, and followed the invective up with a giant bite of eggs.

"It won't be hard, at any rate," Brian said. "You guys know your shit. All you have to do is convince the crowd of it, and we're golden."

"All we have to do, he says." Bob shook his head. "You're a fucking optimist, Schechter."

"Bullshit," Brian said easily. "If you didn't think what I'm saying was true, you wouldn't even be in the band."

Bob glared, but didn't answer. Interesting, Gerard thought.

"So," Gerard said. "We should rehearse for real. Like, not just jamming. No interruptions, that kind of thing. With a setlist and stuff."

"We need a practice space," Frank said. "A real one."

"No, you don't." Brian slammed a hand on the table. "You've got to get out of that mindset. A practice space? Fuck that. You're lazy assholes if you can't put together a tight show after practicing in Alicia's basement. And I don't help lazy assholes."

Gerard couldn't even begin to formulate a response for that. "Right. Okay, then. No practice space. But we do need to practice more."

"You'll always need to practice more," Brian said dismissively.

"If we're headlining, though, it's got to be tighter than usual," Gerard said.

"And yet, you're still sitting at the table."

Brian was a bastard, Gerard thought admiringly. "Okay, okay. Let's go, guys."

They set up carefully in the basement. Gerard was trying not to be too fussy, but it really helped to have everything just so; he wanted to be able to visualize a crowd like the one that had gotten them arrested. His hair, in part thanks to grease and in part thanks to gel, was standing up appropriately; he had everyone get changed into their stage clothes, all worn-down leather and torn jeans.

"Okay," Gerard said. Directly in front of him was his sleeping nest, mostly made of spare blankets. Beyond that was the wall. Not exactly a crowd ready to be pushed to the breaking point, or even a few couch pillows, Gerard thought – but he'd have to pretend it was. "Are we ready?"

"No way," Ray said.

"Let's do it, then," Gerard said, and they launched into the first chords of one of their oldest songs.

It was a good song to open with because Gerard had written it back when he was still alcoholic and hopeless, desperate. He tried to remember and channel those feelings now; he wanted to make the crowd as desperate as he'd felt. Rebellion, he thought, revolution – important words, vital words. This was illegal and it was one of the only things Gerard knew how to do well.

They tore through twelve songs. When they were done, Gerard snarled to the wall, "Thanks and fucking goodnight, children. Spit on a Tipper notification on your way out."

Behind them, Brian clapped slowly.

"I'm not being sarcastic," he said when they looked at him askance. "That was pretty decent."

"'Decent' isn't really good enough," Ray said.

"Do you believe in what you're doing? Do you think it'll make a difference?" Brian said.

Ray hesitated, like he thought it was a trick question. "Yes?"

"Then it'll be enough," Brian said. "And you'll get better."

It was as close to a positive as Gerard had ever heard from him. "Thanks," he said.

"Don't thank me. I'm going to run you into the ground."

Gerard grinned at that. "You already have, but thanks anyway."

Brian smiled a little and inclined his head. "Now all you've got to do is not lose your nerve between now and the show."

"We're going to rehearse again," Gerard said. Even he was a little surprised by how grim his voice sounded, but – hey. Whatever worked. "Until we get it right."

"I'm going for a walk," Frank said suddenly, and moved to leave, dropping his guitar on the ratty couch near the stairs on his way out.

Gerard raised his eyes at Mikey, who shrugged. "Dunno, man."

"Okay, then." Gerard shrugged out of his leather jacket, suddenly feeling awkward. "We're done, I guess."

Everyone starting moving immediately, putting shit away and getting ready to go back upstairs. Gerard sat down on the couch next to Frank's guitar; it would be super sunny upstairs, and if he was being honest with himself, he really didn't want to deal with that. Ray and Bob went upstairs without another word, but Mikey stopped to pat Gerard's shoulder. "You're doing good," he said quietly.

"We'll see," Gerard said, not looking up at him.

When Mikey had gone, Gerard grabbed his sketchbook from its spot on the floor and started drawing. Getting sober had made him realize how much time he actually had, and for years now he'd been using it to draw; he'd been working on a portrait of the five of them for just a few days now, but it was already almost done.

"That's really good," Frank said over his shoulder, what felt like a second later.

Gerard jumped. "Jesus! I thought you were going on a walk."

"I did," Frank said. "Dude, it's six o'clock, you've been down here so long Mikey was starting to divvy up your action figures with Ray in case you were dead."

That startled a laugh out of Gerard. "I didn't realize."

"No, you wouldn't have."

Was it just Gerard's imagination, or did Frank sound affectionate? In a friendly way, he told himself sternly. Since they were friends, and all. There was no need to get carried away with things. "Are you excited for the show?"

Frank moved to sit on the floor in front of Gerard, cross-legged, leaving his guitar alone. "I guess. It's weird, I..."

"You?" Gerard said after a minute's silence.

"When Pencey broke up, I thought that was it," Frank said. "And then you guys were around all of a sudden, and I won't lie, you kind of sucked in the beginning. But you were still – there was something there. You know? And Schechter – Brian's serious about this shit. He really thinks we can change things, and he's not going to let up till we have."

"You make it sound like a bad thing."

"Maybe it is." Frank picked at his jeans. "I've grown up with the Tipper Laws, man. I know they suck, but it's all I know."

"I remember having to turn my Misfits tapes in," Gerard said. "It blew."

"Yeah, you were what, like nine? But I was four. Dude, I don't even remember my parents reacting to it."

"But your dad –"

Frank nodded, hair falling into his eyes again. "And my grandpa. Yeah, I know. And I kind of want revenge for that, I guess. But it's not – I guess I just don't believe we can really do it."

"Brian talked about Chicago," Gerard said.

"Yeah, they've got multiple fucking movements. But that's pretty far out, and everyone knows Daley lets the singeasies go. New York's different. Jersey's different."

"You think we can't do it?"

"I think if we can, then even I'm scared of us," Frank said.

The Tipper Laws were the strongest, worst reforms the U.S. had ever seen. Gerard thought of the vicious mob, and imagined how big it would have to be to really change things. "Yeah," he said finally. "Yeah, I get that."

"And what scares me is how bad I want it." Frank scratched at a spot on his ankle. "I want to fucking burn the place down."

The way he said it creeped even Gerard out, a little. He'd never heard Frank be that intense before. "We might. Eventually."

Frank nodded. "Yeah."

"We will," Gerard said more firmly.

"We will," Frank echoed.

Gerard found himself completely incapable of looking away from Frank's eyes. It was kind of freaky, the way Frank just stared and stared; he looked pissed, but also driven. This was the kid who'd doggedly watched them after his own band fell apart; this was the guy who knew more about the local scene than Gerard probably ever would.

This was the guy who laughed at riots, and sometimes Gerard forgot that he was the same Frank who'd snuggle with Mikey and put rice in Bob's shoes if he noticed Bob hadn't been smiling lately.

"So," Frank said finally. "I should go upstairs."

"Yeah." Gerard managed to look away. "Probably."

"I'm going now." Frank stood – but at the last second he hesitated, looking down at Gerard.

"We're all proud of you, you know," he said, and went upstairs before Gerard could formulate an answer.

||

He couldn't sleep the night before the show. It wasn't usual for him; he'd gotten to where he could coach himself to sleep, normally, even when he was wide-eyed and painfully awake. But tonight it just wasn't happening. They'd practiced every day, listened to Brian when he gave them tips on how to incite action at the show, and just generally been as good as Brian wanted them to be. They'd succeed tomorrow – maybe not at making a riot, but at making people think. He knew they'd succeed.

So he didn't know why he was so fucking nervous. Why he felt like puking and wished he was still messed up enough to just drink until he passed out.

When two A.M. hit he got up and went upstairs. Everyone else was sleeping; he could hear Ray snoring in the living room from the kitchen. He grabbed his jacket, shoved on his boots, and went outside.

He'd grown up in a place that was just barely not a slum, the kind of place kids weren't allowed to play outside in. This was a respectable neighborhood; no one was slumped under the streetlights or leaning against newspaper boxes. Puke wasn't spread over the sidewalk and shit wasn't in the gutter.

It made Gerard angry – stupidly, since he'd been living in Alicia's house and eating her food for weeks now. She mostly stayed away from them; Gerard could never figure out if it was for plausible deniability or just because she didn't like them. It didn't really matter, since she obviously wasn't going to turn them in anyway.

But he did want to ask her what she thought of her perfectly sanitized neighborhood, why she had a tattoo and harbored criminals when the police department paid her bills. He wanted to know why she was, on the surface, pretty much rejecting the revolution Brian was trying so hard to build.

He had to admit, though, that it was nice to be able to wander without worrying about getting mugged. Too bad soon he was going to be worrying about how not to get arrested again.

The walk didn't calm him down, but it did send his panic into the kind of low-grade buzzing he could deal with. When he finally got back to the house, he went directly to the basement, crawling into bed and pulling covers over his head.

He thought he succeeded in not waking anyone up, but after a few moments of not-really-sleeping, Frank said quietly, "Go the fuck to sleep, you crazy bastard."

Gerard couldn't help but smile. He was still tense as all hell, but after awhile, sleep finally came.

||

"Shit," Gerard said as the punk band before them finished up their last song, "I can't fuckin' do this."

Brian examined his nails. "You can."

"No," Gerard said, "I can't. Are you crazy? There's no way." He knew it was irrational; he'd played shows before. Dozens of them, actually. But right now, he was paralyzed.

"Come on, relax," Frank said. "It'll be totally fine, just like last time." He rested a hand on Gerard's lower back. "Seriously, man, just calm down."

"Did you miss the fact that we're about to go onstage and try to incite a riot?"

Frank moved to stand in front of him. He was in full stage costume, hair slicked and clothes carefully messy; it made Gerard look away, hating the impulses he couldn't manage to ignore. "No," Frank said. "But I've got better things to do than worry about what's going to happen out there."

The other band came backstage, jostling Frank and Gerard. Frank turned and bounded onstage, not looking back.

Damn it. "Fuck him," Gerard told his feet vehemently.

"If that'll make the riot bigger," Brian said, and pushed him hard. Gerard stumbled forward – and onto the stage.

He scanned the crowd as Bob, Ray, and Mikey took their places, trying not to puke. The last band had gotten everyone riled up; they were shoving each other and staring at the stage hungrily, like they were ready to tear the whole place down. It was the perfect atmosphere for them to take over. Gerard could feel some part of him changing, twisting, ready to shape the people in front of him like he'd sketch out characters in a comic. This crowd was his. This crowd wanted to be hist.

"So how many of you heard about us getting tossed in jail?" he said when the initial roar of the crowd died down a little.

Everyone screamed. Gerard smiled, lips twisted so it was also a snarl. "Fucking right. So dance, you motherfuckers. We want to give worse than we got this time."

They lunged into the first song. Gerard strutted around the stage, rubbed a hand over his dick and licked his mic and insulted the audience and generally acted like an asshole. Before the second song, he grabbed Frank and pushed him to his knees, holding his hair in a fist for half of the second song. The crowd was getting more and more riled, so Gerard pushed Frank back and stalked to the edge of the stage. "Here's the thing," he yelled as Ray played the song's last few chords. "We're not in this for the short haul, kids. You should be able to stomp your feet any-fucking-where you want without going to jail." The crowd roared. "So do some fucking damage," he snarled. "Come up here. Kill us if you can. The cops couldn't."

He expected that to be the end of it, but Frank came up from behind him and pressed his face into Gerard's neck. Gerard reacted in a way he didn't think either of them really expected, turning and grabbing fistfuls of Frank's hair, kissing him again.

It felt fucking good. The crowd's approval almost felt better.

But Frank broke away, eyes wide and a little wild-looking. He wasn't scared – or at least, he wasn't only scared. Pissed off, a little. Surprised. Gerard fought down the guilt and turned back to the crowd. "Come on, you motherfuckers! Louder! Take us out!"

And they started playing again. The crowd was surging, fighting and screaming, shoes and bottles going flying. Gerard broke off his vocals to laugh, spitting into the crowd.

The song was almost over when the barrier collapsed – and then suddenly a wave of kids was engulfing them, hands grabbing at them, and somewhere in the chaos a bottle connected with Gerard's head -

And that was the last thing he knew.

||

He woke up to Frank's pissed-off face hovering inches above him.

"Oh, thank fuck," Frank said. "Guys! He's awake."

"I wasn't asleep," Gerard said. His mouth felt like it was full of mush.

"Don't try to talk," Frank said firmly.

Mikey's face appeared in his line of vision. "You got a concussion," he said. "We couldn't go to the doctor. We thought you were going to die."

It was all said with the lack of inflection that Gerard was used to from Mikey. In context, it was deeply freaky. And it didn't help that Frank was staring at Gerard like Gerard was carrying the secret to the universe on his forehead, or something.

Finally it got a little much. "What are you staring at?" Gerard said, trying his best not to sound as crabby as he felt.

"Your face," Frank said. "We really did think you might die."

"Yeah, I got that," Gerard said. He was trying to sound nice, but Frank looking at him like that was just making his stupid desire to make out with him even stronger. "But I'm not dead, so chill the fuck out."

Something in Frank's expression changed. "Fine," he said flatly, and backed out of Gerard's line of sight.

Gerard stared – or tried to. His attention was flashing back to the show, to Frank's uneasy attention. Maybe Frank did have a reason to be pissed, he thought; his own reaction to things was different, though.

He just didn't like Frank being so close when he wanted to make out with him. Oh happy day.

"Tell him I'm sorry?" Gerard said.

"He'll get over it," Mikey said. "He's not five, man."

"Yeah, but -"

"But?"

He would be kidding himself if he pretended he didn't hear the expectation in Mikey's voice. "Believe me," he said, closing his eyes, "you don't want to know."

"Uh-huh." Mikey made the weird noise that, for him, counted as a laugh. "Everybody else is going to want to say hi."

Gerard didn't have a chance to reply before Bob came downstairs. "Hey, why is Frank pouting up there?"

"Thin skin," Mikey said cheerfully.

"You guys are like fucking infants," Bob said. He didn't sound particularly perturbed. "I'm glad you're not dead."

Gerard snorted. "Me too."

"Good. Glad we got that covered." Bob sat down in one of the chairs pushed up against the far wall, crossing his legs. "Ray'll probably cry."

Gerard flipped him off. "Get fucked."

"Gerard?" Ray came bounding down the stairs, taking them two at a time. "You're awake!"

He looked like someone had given him a teddy bear or something. "I am," Gerard agreed.

"Congratulations," Ray said, his hair bouncing in agreement.

"Thanks," Gerard said. "We're going to need to regroup, figure stuff out."

"We can do that once you can walk," Mikey said. "Which you can't yet. So don't try."

Gerard wasn't like Frank, whose impatience compelled him to move sooner than he should and thus doom himself to more time bedridden, or Bob, whose entire injury philosophy seemed to be "ignore it till it goes away. Or kills me", but he was eager to keep things moving, and Mikey could apparently see that. "Fine, fine," he said. "I'll be good. But could someone get Frank down here?"

"Frank!" Bob bellowed. "Get your ass down here!"

Frank appeared a few moments later. "Yeah?"

"Gerard wants to kiss you," Bob said.

Frank rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. He did that already." He came downstairs, hands shoved into his pockets. "You're forgiven," he told Gerard with fake solemnity.

Gerard nodded his head. "Thank you."

"Oh my god, it's like a PBS show," Mikey said. "Like Franklin the turtle."

"Fuck you, I'm not a turtle," Frank said.

"Franklin wasn't PBS," Ray added.

And they were off. Gerard leaned back against his pillows, smiling, pathetically – and completely – glad to still be surrounded by his band.

||

He decided he was up for walking at two AM.

He'd gone to sleep at five and woke up at one to a tray of long-cold food next to his nest of blankets. Frank had, unsurprisingly, picked a different place to sleep tonight.

Gerard's head still hurt a little, but he was mostly feeling impatient. He sat up and drank the water on the tray, stretching his arms and wiggling his toes. He wanted to be outside; he wanted out of this stupid basement.

So he got up and went upstairs, slipping out the front door and sitting on the steps. There was only a little bit of moon, but Alicia's street was lit by two streetlights, one on either side of the road. Gerard took a deep breath and rubbed his hands over his knees.

He really, really needed to calm the fuck down.

"This is unfair, just so you know," he told the sky.

It didn't answer, and after awhile Gerard got bored and stood up again, going back inside. He went into the kitchen, visions of diet Coke dancing in his head –

And almost ran into Frank, sleeping at the kitchen table with his head down on the bare wood.

Well, then.

All Gerard could do was stare for a minute. Frank's hair was flopped over his eyes, his shoulders tucked in and his hands pressed between his legs. He'd drooled at some point, but was just wheezing gently right now.

Gerard wanted, more than anything, for Frank to be his.

But of course he wasn't. Right now he was just someone who was going to have a hell of a crick in his neck if he stayed that way. So Gerard shook his shoulder gently. "Frank."

"Mmm." Frank moved his head a little, pressing his shoulder against Gerard's hand.

Damn it. "Frank," he said more firmly, shaking Frank hard.

Frank jerked upright. "Aguh!"

"Whoa, easy. It's just me." Gerard didn't move his hand from Frank's shoulder. He knew he should; he just...didn't.

"Gerard?" Frank finally opened his eyes, smiling when he saw Gerard. "Hey."

"Hey." Gerard was caught, pathetically and completely caught. Frank's smile was like – okay, the first simile his brain offered was sunrise. Frank's smile wasn't like sunrise. But it was something Gerard wanted to keep as his own.

"...why are you here?" Frank said finally.

Gerard looked away from Frank, hating how quickly he blushed. "You'd fallen asleep. It just, I don't know. It didn't look comfortable."

"Yeah, Ray stole the couch."

"You could sleep downstairs," Gerard said.

Frank narrowed his eyes. "You're done being a pissy asshole?"

"Yeah," Gerard said, feeling supremely guilty.

"Good." Frank yawned. "Alright, help me up."

Maybe he was too tired to notice Gerard's blushing. Gerard held out his hand. Frank gripped it immediately, using it to pull himself up -

Until his and Gerard's faces were just inches apart.

"Um," Gerard said.

"Hey," Frank said. He was smiling a little. Gerard thought he might be leaning in, just a bit. Their knees were touching now.

"...let's go," Gerard said, letting go of Frank's hand.

He was making up how disappointed Frank looked. He had to be. "Why were you even down here?"

"I went outside, and then I wanted a Diet Coke," Gerard said.

"Caffeine? Fucking loser." Frank scrubbed at his hair, making a face as he yawned. "You need a babysitter. Or a boyfriend."

Gerard didn't trip over his own feet, but only because they were at the top of the stairs and he didn't want to die. His throat did close up, though. "A what?"

"A boyfriend," Frank said, sounding amused. "You know, someone you have sex with? And someone who would probably make sure you didn't do stupid shit like drink a fuckton of caffeine at three AM."

"I don't need personal life help, thanks," Gerard said stiffly.

"You're such a priss," Frank said. He hopped down the last four stairs and made a beeline for his usual sleeping bag. "Wake me up when you go upstairs. I don't want to sleep half the day or some shit."

"Will do," Gerard said, lying down in his nest of blankets and facing away from Frank.

"Hey." Frank's voice sounded almost gentle. "Thanks for waking me up."

Gerard scrunched his eyes shut. "No problem," he said.

He didn't fall asleep until after Frank did. When he finally managed it, it was to the sound of Frank's breathing.

||

Their concert had generated buzz – enough that even spending hours drawing and writing songs couldn't keep Gerard from feeling like he wasn't doing enough. It didn't help that Frank was in his space more than ever, begging to be drawn and mocking Gerard's worst lyrics and just generally clinging to Gerard like lint on Gerard's favorite pants.

So when Brian came into the kitchen the night that marked a week since they'd played, shaking water out of his hair as he announced, "Your tour will start in two days," Gerard almost fell off his stool with relief.

"Where are we going?" he said instead, trying to keep his excitement down to normal levels.

If Brian's amused look was any gauge, he really wasn't succeeding. "Newark, New York – four shows there – Boston, Philly, and then some smaller places. You've got to build up support everywhere, urban and rural."

"We should go outside more," Mikey said, not looking up from his sidekick.

"What do you mean?" Gerard said.

Mikey shrugged. "We gotta get people to know us better."

"What should we do?" Ray closed the refrigerator finally, munching on a sub. "Just go out and shake hands and be like, hi, want to be illegal with us?"

"The local scenes all have leaders," Mikey said. "So that's who we'll talk to. Make sure everybody knows what we're trying to do, get their phone numbers. Make an impression so we have an audience to come back to."

Gerard glanced around the kitchen, trying to measure everyone's responses. Frank looked eager, sitting on the counter kicking his legs a little; Bob looked impassive. Ray just looked a little confused, like he was on the edge of figuring something out but hadn't quite gotten there yet. "Good idea, Mikes," Gerard said. "We should start with right here."

Brian looked skeptical. "You can't build support up in just two days. They'll forget about you once you leave."

"We can try," Gerard said. "We'll only have one day in the other cities."

"People already know us here, a lot of them," Ray said. "So we'll just make sure they know why we're doing it."

Brian shook his head. "Obviously I picked the right band. Fine. Mikey and Frank, you can do that tonight and tomorrow. The rest of us are going to make sure the van's tour-ready."

Gerard glanced at Ray automatically; Ray looked just as uneasy as Gerard felt. "Tour-ready?"

"Don't worry. I don't expect any of you to actually know anything about cars. But I'll need people to hand me tools, and shit." Brian ran a hand through his hair. "Now, I'm going to go shower. Someone make me a plate of something, okay?"

"He's so weird," Frank said the second Brian had left the room.

"Touring freaks me out," Ray said, opening the fridge again. "Hey, didn't you have tacos, Bob?"

"There are a few left," Bob said. "Bottom shelf, I think."

Ray got them out. "Oh, ew, they're Taco Bell. Never mind."

"I'll do it," Mikey said, finally putting his Sidekick down.

"Why does touring freak you out, Ray?" Gerard said, watching as Mikey pulled various leftovers out of the fridge.

"I just have a feeling." Ray shrugged. "We're going to get our asses arrested, or something."

"Relax," Bob said. "We've already done that once."

"That's why I'm worried."

"We're not really on the Fed's radar." Mikey poured rice onto Brian's plate and then put a green goop of some kind of sauce on it. "I mean, we are, but they've probably got bigger fish to fry."

"Chicago," Bob said, nodding.

"You're from there, right?" Frank said. "Hey, Mikey, make him some toast, too."

Mikey put the rice-and-green-goop in the microwave and got two pieces of bread, popping them in the toaster. "Bob?"

"Yeah, I am," Bob said. "I knew Pete Wentz's crew. They weren't much back then, though."

"Apparently that's changed," Gerard said.

"It's more that there's, like, multiple contingents," Mikey said. "Alicia was telling me about it."

"Alicia? How does she know about it?" Bob said.

The toast popped up. Mikey grabbed it and pulled the rice out of the microwave, putting the toast on the plate next to it. "Apparently she used to date Pete Wentz."

Ray whistled. "How is she a cop?"

Mikey shrugged. "We haven't talked about that."

Something in his tone made Gerard squint at him. We? Jesus, if Mikey got seriously involved with a cop – even one whose house they lived in – Gerard was going to kill him.

But apparently no one else picked up on the inflection. And yeah, Gerard knew Mikey better than pretty much anyone else – but maybe he was just wrong. Weirder things had happened.

His paranoid thinking was interrupted by Brian coming back out, clothes on and towel slung around his shoulders like a cape. "Food."

Mikey shoved it at him. Brian squinted down at it. "What's the green stuff?"

"Deliciousness," Mikey said. "You probably don't want to know."

Brian blinked down at it for a few seconds before shrugging and grabbing the fork Mikey'd put on the plate, shoving a mound of it into his mouth. "Okay," he said around it, cheeks bulging, "you guys should cover the west side tonight and the docks tomorrow. Talk to everyone, got it? Punks, homeless people, store owners, fuckin' everyone. We want people to trust us."

"What if they turn us in?" Frank said.

"If you can't judge who'll do that and who won't, you should get the hell out of this business," Brian said. "Hmm. This is good." He took another huge mouthful.

"It's cool," Mikey said when Frank's expression stayed twisted in doubtfulness. "We'll be fine."

"You'd better be," Gerard couldn't stop himself from saying. The thought of Mikey getting put behind bars for this – without Gerard there, especially – made Gerard want to smash things.

Mikey smiled a little. "Don't worry."

Totally impossible, but Gerard knew what Mikey meant. "Okay, okay. You guys should probably go."

"Come back with phone numbers and email addresses," Brian said.

Frank hopped off the counter. "Got it. Come on, Mikey Way."

Mikey followed him without another word.

"Okay, kids," Brian said, eating the last of the green gloop, "let's get moving."

||

By the time it was time for them to go on tour, the van had been tuned up so well that it sounded like a Porche when it ran, and Mikey and Frank had a list of supporters' phone numbers that was longer than both Ray's arms. It was good that they'd been so successful, Gerard thought, because otherwise spending six hours in a van, squished up against the other guys and their instruments, would be pretty unbearable.

"You're going to have to get used to it," Brian said when Gerard mentioned it to them. "And you're gonna have to get used to gas station food being your only real food, too."

Gerard winced. Gas stations were the last bastions of seriously unhealthy food. "No IHOP?"

"You think you're going to have the money? Shit, I keep forgetting you're new."

But it went okay. At the end of each long drive, they'd get out and go in pairs to talk to the locals. It got iffy some days – Ray was often too nervous to talk to anyone, and Frank was usually overly eager and sometimes talked revolution to the wrong people – but it was a good way to remind themselves they were doing good, anyway.

New York freaked Gerard the fuck out. It wasn't just that the last time he'd been there, he'd been self-hating and drunk off his ass (though really, that didn't help); it was also that it was huge and had its own scene, and on the first night when people started getting rowdy, throwing bottles and crowd-surfing, Gerard started losing hold of their attention.

He had to do something extreme to win it back, he knew – so he yelled into the mic, "You think you're hardfuckingcore? Tell me what the bigwigs in Washington would think about this shit!" and grabbed Frank.

For a second he wasn't sure what he was going to do, staring at Frank sweaty face and bared teeth – and then he knew exactly, fisting a hand in Frank's hair and yanking him forward for a messy, brutal kiss.

The crowd roared. Frank stumbled backwards, looking marginally surprised; Gerard grinned viciously and turned back to the crowd. "In case you were wondering, that's how we fucking do it in Jersey," he said, and spat at the crowd.

After the show, Frank grabbed Gerard's arm and pulled him into the venue bathroom. "Want to tell me what that was?"

Gerard's arm tingled where Frank had touched him. God, this was so demented. "You were closest," he said. "Also, smaller than Ray. I knew you'd go with it."

Emotions flickered across Frank's face – frustration, confusion. "I'd like to know if you're planning on doing it again."

Gerard thought back to it, to the crowd and his sudden, vicious need to keep their attention on him. "Honestly," he said finally, "I don't know."

Frank leaned back against the bathroom wall, hips cocked out. Gerard felt himself turning red and started focusing on the bit of graffiti above Frank's head, trying not to embarrass himself. Apparently John hearted Kylie. "So, what, I should just be ready for random kissing?" Frank said.

"Do you care?" Gerard said. "It's just the show, man. That's it."

"Really." Frank sounded skeptical.

Gerard forced himself to look Frank in the eye. "Yeah, really."

For a second he thought Frank was going to walk out of the bathroom or hit him or something; Frank's expression was tense, almost upset. Gerard wanted to say something to put him at ease, but really, there wasn't a whole lot he could say. If it worked, Gerard was going to keep doing it, unless Brian told him to stop or it pissed Frank off so much he threatened to leave the band. Keeping people's attention was the most important thing. It had to be.

But finally Frank's tense expression dropped. He shrugged, looking away from Gerard. "Whatever works, I guess. Come on, let's get moving." He left the bathroom without waiting for Gerard to respond.

The next morning, he avoided talking to everyone in favor of heading to the Bronx to talk to more people. When he shook hands with a street kid and the kid said, "Yeah, I've heard of you guys," it felt a lot like victory. He didn't think of Frank after that; the mission, their stupid over-the-top amazing goal, was all his brain had room for.

That night, he couldn't sleep. They were almost through with the tour; they had two more shows here, one in Philly, and one in the basement of some bar in the middle of Pennsylvania before they headed back to Jersey. Part of Gerard wanted to keep touring forever. They never stopped long enough for people to start really hating him, and he liked it.

When three rolled around Gerard decided to finally stop giving up on pretending he was going to get to sleep anytime soon. He got off the piece of floor he was sharing with Ray and Brian and crept outside, careful to lock the door behind him. By the time he got back, someone else would probably be up.

He sat down on the porch and lit a cigarette, inhaling gratefully. Christ, he was so fucking tense. This touring shit was going to give him a heart attack.

"Hey," Frank said quietly, and Gerard almost fell off the steps. Scratch that, his band was going to give him a heart attack. "Hi? Where the fuck are you?"

Frank poked his head around the bushes lining the house. He'd been sitting on the grass. "Right here. Come down, it's a lot more comfortable."

Gerard stood up and moved next to Frank, sitting down warily. But Frank was right; the grass was soft and surprisingly dry. "Couldn't sleep?"

"Didn't want to," Frank said. "I mainlined some coffee. I've been having shit-assed dreams lately."

"That blows," Gerard said. He flashed back to Frank's comment about him and caffeine, and thought about ribbing Frank about needing a boyfriend – but he didn't have the guts. Fuck it.

Frank nodded. "Yep. Hey, give me a light."

Gerard pulled out another cigarette and lit it on his own, passing it to Frank when it was ready. Frank caught it and took a drag from it; Gerard resisted the urge to shake his hand after Frank touched it. The tingling would just have to go away on its own.

"You're scared," Frank said.

"I was drunk off my ass the last time we were in New York. It was easier."

"Did I ever tell you I'm proud of you?"

Gerard blinked. "You didn't know me when I was drinking."

"Yeah, but I've known you for – shit, what, four years now?" Frank shrugged. "I've seen you have bad days. Mikey's told me some things. And yeah, asshole, I'm proud of you."

Gerard turned his head to actually look at Frank. Frank's expression gave away nothing, but his face was just...it was familiar, Gerard realized. And he wanted to keep it, more than he'd wanted almost anything else in his life.

"Thanks," Gerard said firmly, the word tripping out of his mouth as soon as he'd thought of it.

Frank smiled a little. "Yeah?"

"I never realized – it took me a long time to start feeling like a person again. And I guess I didn't realize how much you'd been there."

"I'm not gonna hug you or buy you a teddy bear," Frank said, flopping back on the grass with his hands behind his head. "But, yeah, okay. You're welcome."

Gerard lay down next to him, not answering. His head was still spinning, but when he crooked his neck and took another drag on his cigarette, hearing Frank sigh next to him, he felt a little less like an alien had crash-landed in his mind.

||

By the time they arrived in Philly, Gerard was feeling pretty satisfied. For the first time, Mikey's contacts had come up with a place for them to sleep ahead of time, so they didn't have to spend their first night in the city sleeping in the van and eating Doritos to keep from passing out from hunger. The first night Gerard went out with Mikey to do some talking, and two people actually came to them: a scruffy pair of twins named Jill and James. "We heard you do this," Jill said, rubbing at a spot of dirt on her nose. She spread the dirt more than got it off, but somehow it looked endearing. "We wanted to help out."

"We pretty much just talk to people in person," Frank said, staring at them with a vague expression of distaste."

James jutted his jaw out. "Then we'll help you figure out where to go. Or we'll tell people how to find you, so you can talk to them. But we want to help."

Part of Gerard wanted to tell them no, but they had the earnest gazes Gerard remembered from the first few times he'd talked to people, knowing he was changing their minds for something huge and good. He couldn't say no to kids like that. "Do you know why we're doing this?" he said, ignoring Frank's glare.

"You want to overturn the Tipper Laws," Jill said promptly. "You want to make punk music legal again. And you want to make people pass laws about the slums instead of about fast food."

It couldn't have been more right than if she was reading off a pamphlet. "Honestly, you don't need us around to talk to people," Gerard said. "But you know there's a pretty big risk, right?"

Jill rolled her eyes and lifted the chain hanging from her belt loops. "Yeah, we know. Cops don't scare us."

"They don't scare me, either," Frank said, looking at her intently, "but hell, I've been to jail more than once, and jail does scare me. People who break the Tipper laws tend to disappear. You and your brother ready for that?"

"We lived in a gutter for three weeks because the Tipper laws shut down the bar where we worked," James said. "You and your boyfriend don't know the half of it. If you start messing with them, they'll sure as shit mess with you. The question is, are you ready for it?"

"He's not my boyfriend," Gerard said.

James looked at him coldly. "That's not really important, compared to the question I asked you."

That made Gerard a little ashamed. "Yeah, we're ready for it."

"Good." James pulled the fingerless gloves that had been sticking out of his pocket on. "We'll just be going, then. We'll cover the docks."

Frank snorted. "Your sister here'll get beaten before you walk two steps."

Gerard blinked and Jill had a knife pressing gently against Frank's throat. "Whoa, hey," Gerard said, throwing up his hands.

Jill didn't even look at him. "Take it back," she said, looking Frank in the eyes. "Please."

Frank raised his own hands. "I take it back. Jesus."

"Good." Jill tucked the knife back in the holster strapped on her forearm. "We'll be seeing you," she said, and she and James turned to leave, not looking back.

Frank raised a hand to touch his throat. "Well, that was fucking freaky."

"To be fair, we are trying to reach people who don't care about some of the scariest laws in the world," Gerard said.

"Yeah, but pulling a knife on me? That chick was psycho."

"Her brother didn't seem to mind." Hell, James had been smiling.

"And girls aren't the only psychic ones, yadda yadda," Frank said. "If they're taking the docks, we should probably hit up that slum we drove through. The one with the balconies."

Gerard nodded. "Let's go."

They talked to around fifty people before they had to head back; of those, Gerard thought maybe fifteen would actually come to the show. It was hard work, stupid work, but when they got back, Gerard had the now-familiar feeling in the pit of his stomach of having done something good.

To his surprise, Jill and James were waiting for them right outside the venue. "How'd you do?" James said.

"Fifty people," Gerard said.

Jill bumped fists with him. "Congratulations. And you told them everything, right? How to break the Tipper laws, where to protest, all that?"

"Bet your ass we did," Frank said.

"Great." James held a gun to Gerard's temple. "You're under arrest."

Shock took over Gerard, the force of it almost making him fall over. Frank had no such problem, lunging for Jill with a fist ready to punch.

But Jill stepped aside, tripped him, and rested a foot at the base of his spine when he fell. "If you try that again, we'll shoot your friend," she said calmly. "Put your hands back so I can cuff them."

"How am I supposed to know you're even cops?" Frank said.

James cocked the gun. Gerard tamped down panic as best as he could, but his knees still shook.

"Fuck you both," Frank said, but he put his hands back.

Gerard watched Jill lean down and cuff him. "Now you," she said, turning to Gerard.

Gerard didn't speak, just put his hands behind his back. The metal handcuffs were cold and uncomfortable when she clicked them on. "Get them in the van," she said to James. James shoved Gerard to the right with the gun; Gerard started walking obediently.

But apparently Frank wasn't completely cowed. "What's going to happen to the others?"

Jill's laugh was cruel. "They're going to be free to tell everyone else what happened to you."

Frank looked as murderous as Gerard felt. He could barely believe this was happening; for some reason, he'd always assumed the five of them would be arrested together. They were going to disappear, go to whatever mysterious place Tipper violators went – or maybe that mysterious place didn't exist, and they were just going to die. Gerard already missed Mikey so much his stomach was twisted in knots, and imagining Ray and Bob's reactions to the news made him almost as sick. And Christ, Brian. Brian was going to be so fucking disappointed. "We have rights," he said, already knowing it was futile. "We get lawyers."

James opened the back of the van. "Haven't you figured it out yet? No one you talk to is going to care."

They tossed Frank and Gerard in the back and then, when Gerard was still frantically wiggling and trying to sit up, slammed the doors shut.

The van's engine started a moment later. Gerard slid to the other side of the back when it turned violently. "Fuck," he mumbled, trying to steady himself.

"Where are you?" Frank said. Gerard could hear him thumping, but the van's motor was too loud for him to guess where.

"I don't know," Gerard said. He rolled and rolled, finally getting into a sitting position. "Where are you?"

"Hang on." Scooting noises, and then Frank's warm side was pressing against Gerard's. "Hey," Frank said, bracing his head against Gerard's shoulder.

Gerard couldn't help but smile. "Hey."

"We are so fucked, man," Frank said. "Like. We're so fucked they don't even have words for how fucked we are."

"We'll figure it out," Gerard said.

"Yeah, sure." Frank snorted. "And then we'll win the Nobel Peace Prize for being awesome activists. Seriously, man? We're going to prison. We'll never see everyone else again."

Gerard thought of Mikey, of how stubbornly he'd stuck to Gerard even when Gerard had hit rock bottom time after time. "Shut up," he said, ashamed by how wobbly his voice was.

"Might as well face the truth," Frank said, but he sounded a little unsure too. "Hey, man. We'll stick together, okay? If there's a way out we'll find it."

"You just said there isn't."

"Yeah, well, fuck what I just said." Frank scooted closer, until his legs were draped over Gerard's own. "The Tipper laws can't keep us forever. And anyway, we've got Brian on the outside."

But it all sounded hollow; Gerard knew it was useless. They'd all known there was some danger of this happening, of one or more of them getting caught. They'd also all known that when that happened, it was game fucking over. End of the line. Zip, zilch, and motherfucking nada could be done now.

So Gerard let his guard down a little, enough to admit the part of his brain that wanted nothing more than to be closer to Frank. He turned his head and pressed his lips against Frank's hair, inhaling and ignoring the smells of dirt and grease in favor of the clean smell of Frank's scalp. "Hotel shampoo," he mumbled, half to himself.

Frank barked out a laugh. "Dude, are you smelling my hair?"

"Only a little," Gerard said. He could feel his body heat up, blushing from head to waist.

"Freak," Frank said, but he sounded affectionate – and he sort of nuzzled Gerard's shoulder after that. "We should totally make out when they open the door, shock the fuck out of them."

Gerard's dick apparently hadn't gotten the memo about them being in mortal peril. "Let's not make things worse for ourselves," Gerard finally said, voice scratchy.

"We could," Frank said rebelliously, but he stopped nuzzling Gerard after that.

They rode in silence for awhile. The van was getting warmer and warmer, uncomfortably so; Gerard kept expecting Frank to move back so they wouldn't get their sweat on each other, but instead Frank seemed to press that much closer. It occurred to Gerard, in a surreal moment, that Frank might be afraid.

He knew Frank, or thought he did. It was still weird, somehow.

"I never wanted to fuck Mikey, you know," Frank said.

Gerard's muscles tensed on their own. "What?"

"Mikey. I never wanted to fuck him."

"...I didn't think you did."

"Mikey said that's why you were so fucking crabby with me, because you thought I did." Frank shifted a little, moving his head off Gerard's shoulder. "Was he lying or something?"

"Or something," Gerard said. Mikey had definitely been lying, but Gerard didn't want to let on to why Mikey had apparently decided he'd have to lie.

"You're not gonna talk, are you?" Frank huffed a sigh. "Christ, I'm going to go crazy in here."

"That's probably what they want."

"Probably," Frank said.

They lapsed into silence then, an uncomfortable one that seemed to fill up with shit Gerard wasn't going to or didn't want to say.

After a torturously long length of time, the van stopped. Gerard sat up as straight as he could, trying not to look too tired or desperate. Next to him, he could see Frank doing the same.

Jill slammed the doors open. It was dark out. "Hello, children. Welcome to your new home."

"Where are we?" Frank said. His foot was touching Gerard's very lightly – whether for reassurance or something else, Gerard wasn't sure.

"A certain penitentiary center," James said. "Recently re-outfitted by the federal government." He grabbed Gerard by one arm and hauled him out, dropping him on the pavement. It had to be on purpose; Gerard felt the sting of gravel on his knees, and then James was yanking him into a standing position. "You're going to like it here."

"I'm sure," Frank said dryly. He kicked out when Jill grabbed for him. "I can get down myself."

Gerard had to look away; the sight of Frank wiggling like a worm combined with Jill's mocking sneer was too much. He was embarrassed, both for Frank and for himself.

They were manhandled into the building, and then taken without any kind of acknowledgement into a tiny jail cell. There wasn't anything – not a bed, not even a toilet, just a bit of a depression in the corner with a bucket and a drain. Worst of all, there were chains on the wall that James fastened around their ankles.

"This is some serious middle ages shit," Frank said, sitting down and leaning against the bars. "I can't believe we're fucking shackled."

"I can," Gerard said grimly. "Still think we're going to get out of here?"

He regretted the question when Frank flinched. "I fucking hope so," he said finally.

Gerard sighed. "Sorry."

"Yeah. Well." Frank shrugged. "We had a good run, I guess."

Somehow, even though Gerard hadn't lied to himself for even a second about how bad things were, it made him feel almost sick to hear Frank giving in like that.

But there was nothing he could do. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, we did."

There were no windows and so he couldn't tell what time it was at all; but no one came to talk to them, and eventually Gerard felt himself yawning. "I'm going to crash," he said, taking his jacket off and lying down, balling it under his head. "Wake me up if anyone comes."

"Will do," Frank said. In the fluorescent lights, Gerard could see his eyes, wide and dark. Gerard rolled over; he couldn't sleep with people looking at him.

He woke up when Frank shook him. "Gerard. Fuck, Gerard, wake the fuck up."

"Gnargh," Gerard said, forcing his eyes to open. "Sorry. What's going on?"

"People are talking," Frank whispered. "Listen."

"...keep them in isolation," a female voice said. "If they're together, they'll be scheming."

"Don't we want them to scheme?" another woman said. "To maintain psychological awareness -"

"Yes, yes, but we don't want them to succeed."

A man snorted. "Top security, and they're amateurs. There's no way."

"Maybe," the first woman said. "But I still think we should put them in solitary."

"It would wipe their psyches beyond any worthwhile study," the man said. "Plus, the warden's expressly forbidden it."

"The warden doesn't care when we break the rules," the first woman said. "But you're probably right."

"We should feed them now," the second woman said. "Carefully – make sure they know we're still in control."

"What are we feeding them?"

A crackling noise, and the second woman said, "Saltines, naturally."

The man laughed. "I'll deliver them," he said.

The sound of footsteps. Gerard dropped back down on his shirt immediately, closing his eyes.

"Your friend's a weakling," the man said. His voice was loud now, arrogant. Gerard clenched his teeth to keep from answering.

"My friend's tired," Frank replied. His tone was a study in boredom. "You gonna give us those crackers, or are they just to taunt us?"

"We want your strength up," the man said. "But maybe I should make you put on a show first."

"Whatever."

"The Tipper laws, after all, are the focal point of your imprisonment. Why don't you tell me why they exist?"

"So people like you can control people like me." Frank actually yawned, so loudly the sound was obvious to Gerard. "Or, sorry, did you think I'd toe the party line for a couple crackers?"

The man sighed. "The Tipper laws exist to protect you from yourself. We have your file, Iero. We know about your sickness, your tattoos. Your unhealthy behavior wouldn't impede your quality of life if you actually obeyed the laws that are in place for your own good."

"My tattoos make my life better, thanks."

"And your friend? He broke the laws for years with his substance abuse, and even now he still craves the drugs and drink he used to have. Had he obeyed the laws entirely, he never would have fallen into addiction."

"I'm not arguing with you about this, man," Frank said. "Either hand over the crackers or get the hell out."

"You're not really in a position to give orders," the man said.

"Uh-huh." Frank was silent.

An agonizing few minutes passed where Gerard half expected to be dragged out and put in solitary. Finally there was a crinkling noise, and a sound that Gerard was pretty sure was the crackers falling on the ground. Footsteps sounded: the guy walking away.

"You can sit up now," Frank said.

"Thanks." Gerard leaned against the wall again, moving his shackles to the side. "I wish you wouldn't antagonize them like that."

"Why?"

"They might put us in solitary. Or worse."

"If you can think of worse things than solitary, then fucking kudos, man." Frank tore open the packet of crackers and shoved three in his mouth. "They wouldn't have the guts," he added, cheeks making him look like some kind of demented punk chipmunk felon.

Gerard was so distracted by the visual that he almost forgot to answer. "I just mean we might be separated. That would suck."

"I hate to bust your bubble, but we're probably going to get separated anyway," Frank said. "They can't possibly think leaving us together is a good idea."

"I don't know. They were talking about psych evaluations."

"They're probably full of it," Frank said. "And anyway, it doesn't really matter. We're fucked."

Gerard hadn't missed the way they were see-sawing, each of them taking turns being the pessimistic one. He sighed. "Can we just drop the act? We're both upset as hell and we know it."

"It's not an act, man. I can't decide what I think." Frank took another two crackers. "Whatever. We can just trade off being optimistic. You should eat a damn cracker."

"I hate crackers," Gerard said, feeling supremely immature even as the words left his mouth.

"Whatever, man. Just do it."

Gerard grabbed the package and pulled three out. They were just plain white saltines, but the second he took a bite, his stomach started grumbling. He could take a hint: he ate four more, and gave the rest of the package to Frank, who polished them off quicker than Gerard could blink.

"We are so fucked, man," Frank said, leaning his head back against the wall.

To Gerard's way of thinking, they'd talked about it too much. "Yeah, well. Have you slept at all?"

Frank shrugged. "A little bit. Not as much as you."

"Go to sleep. I'll stay awake."

"We sleeping in shifts now?"

"If we heard them talking before, they'll probably do it again," Gerard said. "And we want to hear everything we can."

Frank stared at him for a moment; Gerard, uncomfortable, looked away. "You never give up, do you," Frank said finally.

"Sometimes," Gerard said. "You know that. But not yet. This is too important."

Frank's expression changed in a way Gerard couldn't define or quantify. It was almost like it turned in on itself, like Frank's thoughts had become too important for him to let anyone else see them – even Gerard, even when they were pinned up like this. Finally he said, "Alright, fine. But you have to promise you'll sleep when I wake up. Even if something really interesting is happening."

"Because something interesting is totally gonna happen," Gerard said.

Frank jutted his chin out. "Promise me."

"Okay, okay. I promise."

"Awesome," Frank said, and flopped to the side like a broken doll. Gerard wasn't really surprised when he fell asleep immediately.

But things were even more boring without Frank to talk to. Gerard tried not to be antsy, but it was almost impossible; the minutes ticked by (or did they? Fuck, he didn't even have a way of telling the time) slowly and all Gerard had for company was his own mind. At first he told himself elaborate stories, some of them based on the comics he'd been working on; but that got boring after awhile. Then he tried to count shit: the cement blocks, cracks in the ceiling, stuff like that. But that, too, got boring as hell – even quicker than the stories did. He shifted and sighed, literally twiddled his thumbs and twitched his feet. He even watched Frank sleep. The last was only marginally interesting, because Frank was the kind of guy who slept like he was dead. Occasionally his nose would wrinkle or he'd twitch his foot, but mostly he just lay there like a corpse.

It would be more interesting if he turned into a zombie, Gerard thought. But he'd already imagined three different zombie apoclaypses. And it was kind of disturbing picturing Frank as a zombie, anyway, because Gerard was pretty sure he'd still think zombieFrank was hot, and then he'd try to have sex with him and get that disease that made his dick fall off. No, zombieFrank was a bad idea.

And he was raving. In prison. Shit.

For awhile he honestly thought he was going crazy; but Frank slept and slept, and after awhile there was nothing Gerard could do except let his thoughts run in circles until they finally quieted down.

He sat there, almost in a trance, until finally Frank started twitching and snuffling in earnest. "Finally, Jesus," Gerard said.

Frank smiled, slow and lazy. "Not my name, but you can call me it if you want to."

Something about his tone made Gerard look at his crotch. It wasn't even Gerard's fault – it had to be some kind of weird instinct thing. Sleepy tone, crotch-gazing. Except Frank had a boner, and suddenly Gerard's face was so red he was a little surprised it hadn't spontaneously caught on fire.

"Um," Gerard said. "So. I can sleep now?"

Frank yawned. "Yeah, hang on." He stood up, scratching his ass and stretching his neck. He half-stumbled over to the grate and pulled down his pants, peeing before they'd even hit the floor. "Man, no sink? Fuckin' inhumane," he said, and fasted his pants again. "Alright." He yawned again, sitting down near Gerard with his back to the wall. "Okay. I'm awake." He finally looked directly at Gerard; Gerard was having trouble breathing. "So. Go for it."

"Go for – oh, right." Gerard crumpled his jacket to make a pillow. This part at least was easy, something he'd done dozens of times before. He could sleep on the most uncomfortable surfaces in the world. "Goodnight."

"'night," Frank said.

Gerard had half thought he wouldn't be able to sleep after keeping himself awake for so long, but the second he closed his eyes he felt the world go a little wavery, like he'd suddenly been dropped in water.

"Gnargh," he said, trying to describe the sensation to Frank.

Frank had been on the other side of the cell, so Gerard knew he was on the way to dreaming when he felt Frank's hand in his hair. "Sleep," Frank whispered.

But I am, Gerard wanted to say. I...

He woke up feeling dizzy and not at all well rested. His knees hurt when he sat up. "Christ, I'm getting old," he said, arching his back and listening to it crack.

"Damn right you are. You slept for ten hours."

"How do you know?"

"I asked one of the guards," Frank said. "They're not all bad, even here."

Gerard couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't involve telling Frank to be careful, so instead he just yawned. "Do you need to sleep again, or...?"

"Nah, I'm good. We should be getting fed soon, too."

Gerard would have been completely deluding himself if he said he wasn't looking forward to it. He put his jacket behind his head and leaned against the cinderblock, staring at the ceiling.

"I could go crazy in here," he said.

"Hey." Frank bumped his foot with Gerard's, then seemed to think better of it and moved to sit next to Gerard. "It's okay, man. It'll be okay."

Gerard turned to look at him. Frank looked back, calmly, faith all over his face.

Damn him. "You're lying," Gerard said, trying to keep his voice steady.

Frank didn't say anything, just shook his head.

"You're lying," Gerard said again, helplessly. "You – you have to be, Frank. You're lying."

"I'm not," Frank said. "Not really. We're not going to die. We'll work something out."

He was too close, too fucking close, and with his face all open and honest – fuck, Gerard couldn't resist. He ducked in and cupped a hand around Frank's jaw, pulling him close and –

It was easy, so easy. Things were never clear for Gerard, not really; they'd gotten clearer since the band started the whole rebellion thing, but even then, he was a little bit of a mystery to himself. But this – this was clear. Kissing Frank, knowing Frank wanted it, feeling him react. Clear as fucking glass.

Frank's hands were in his hair, then, nipping his lip and pressing closer – eager in the way Gerard knew Frank wouldn't want to admit to later, almost desperate, sharp and intense and –

Frank moved backwards so quickly it was like Gerard had caught on fire. "Hang on."

One time Gerard had taken a creative writing class and had gotten put under psychiatric examination for some bloody stories he wrote. This felt a little like that: 'No, Mr. Way, there's nothing precisely wrong with you, we just need to evaluate what impelled you to produce such illegal material...'

Except, of course, Frank wasn't a psychologist and he wasn't insulting Gerard's writing or whatever. Grow up, Gerard told himself. "What?"

"We're going to get kicked in the balls." Frank's face contorted, one agitated grimace after the other. "Gay sex, man. Prison gay sex."

Gerard had no idea how to respond to that. He tried for a smile. "I promise not to drop the soap for anyone but you?"

"Not funny, man."

Gerard was silent, blinking at Frank instead of furnishing a real answer.

Frank sighed. "Okay – okay. It was a little funny."

"Hah," Gerard said.

He felt roughly twelve, but Frank's lips quirked up a little, so maybe Frank was only mentally fourteen or something. Not that it really mattered. "We can't do this here, is what I'm saying."

Gerard felt like he was gambling or something. He'd probably never be this reckless if they weren't locked up by Tipper fanatics. "What, you want to lose your virginity on a bed of rose petals or something?"

"You think you'd be popping my cherry?" Frank snorted. "Please."

"Wait. You've slept with other guys before?"

"Maybe."

Gerard frowned. He couldn't remember – blowjobs, sure, and making out (that time with the barely-legal Texas cowboy kid came to mind), but actual sex? "So what you're saying..."

"Is that you won't be responsible for popping my ass cherry." Frank smirked. "Sorry to break your heart, and all."

"Yeah, yeah." Gerard shook his head. They were bantering, just wasting time. Trying to ignore the inevitable. "Fine, princess. We'll wait."

"You'll enjoy it, anyway," Frank said. "When we can concentrate on that and not how we're about to become political martyrs."

His words were a pretty bleak premonition, but somehow, Gerard felt himself fixating on the promise behind them anyway. "I will."

"Yeah, dude." Frank's finger went into his pocket, where he rolled up a bit of lint and threw it at Gerard's head. "It wasn't a question."

||

"Shit, man," Frank said sometime during their second (or maybe third; Gerard was never sure, could never be sure) day of imprisonment.

"Hmm?"

"I need to fucking beat off."

Memory pinned him to the spot for a second: Frank's lips had been rough and chapped and he'd moved against Gerard with the exact same jerky, amazing energy he always had onstage. Gerard gritted his teeth. "Thanks, man. Because it's not like you're the one making us wait, or anything."

"Whatever." Noises Gerard could identify as unzipping and skin rubbing skin suddenly became all he could hear. "Just, you know, don't turn around," he heard through the rushing in his own ears.

"Right," Gerard said faintly. Maybe the rushing had been blood; his dick couldn't get it up quite that fast, but it was giving it a good try right then. "Okay. No turning around. Because your ass cherry is important. Got it."

"I told you already, Christ, that's not the fucking issue." Frank ended the sentence a little shakily, and a few seconds later let out a breath that was equally unsteady. Gerard bit his lip so hard he could feel a bruise starting. This was completely fucking unfair. Frank was a lunatic, and probably just doing it to piss Gerard off. Or make him want – whatever. The parts of Gerard that were still in middle school were wondering if this was some kind of prank – but then, Frank had never been able to dedicate himself to a joke for longer than a few hours.

Plus, Gerard knew that Frank had more misplaced romantic issues than he wanted anyone to know about. He really did just want Gerard to himself, without the whole jail thing hanging over their heads. It was fair – just also total torture to Gerard right now, when he could hear Frank's ragged breathing and his harsh, quick movements. It was probably nothing like how he'd be with Gerard, Gerard thought. Christ.

He had no idea how long Frank's jerk-off session actually lasted. It felt like an eternity, but then, since he was stuck with an epic hard-on and more than his fair share of humiliation, that made sense. Finally, though, Frank gave the low-pitched groan Gerard knew from too many shared sleeping spaces.

"Shit," Frank said. "Okay, I'm cleaning up with my shirt, which means you're giving me your jacket. Until they give us some paper towels or blankets or something."

"Which will be approximately never," Gerard said.

"I don't know what you're talking about. It's obvious they're worried about our comfort." A pause, and then: "Okay, you can turn over."

Gerard tossed Frank his jacket as he did so. Frank was lying on his part of the cell, looking boneless and incredibly pleased with himself. His shirt was balled up in the far corner.

"That's completely gross, you know," Gerard said. "It's like your jizz is looming at me."

"Yeah, whatever. People who never live in glass shower stalls shouldn't throw stones." Frank pulled the jacket on. Gerard wasn't really surprised to see that it looked indecent on him, just barely hiding his tattoos and generally making him look like a porno. "A guy's got needs. Are you gonna go?"

Gerard was an experienced lawbreaker who'd seen his share of debauchery, participated in plenty of it, and was almost impossible to surprise.

He gaped anyway. "No. That would be weird."

"Why? Oh, you mean the kiss?" Frank flapped a hand. "It's your fault. You kissed me when we weren't onstage. It got me thinking."

"Yeah, and then we talked and decided it was a bad idea."

"Nah." Frank's look resolved itself to a weird seriousness. "Just, hey, keep it in mind. For when we get out of here, I mean, because I'm not going to be anyone's prison bitch. Just – just keep it in mind."

"If by mind you mean dick," Gerard muttered, because seriously.

"What?"

Gerard sighed. "Nothing."

And then he went back to staring at the ceiling – because really, sex life changing revelations aside, there was fucking nothing else to do.

||

They'd gotten one more meal when Frank spoke again.

"Tell me a story."

Gerard blinked at him. "What?"

"A story. Come on, you've got tons of them. So tell me one."

"Why?"

"Because I'm bored out of my fucking skull." Frank ran a hand over his fauxhawk. "And I know you are too. So get talking."

He sounded tough, which meant he was worried – even scared. It made sense, Gerard thought, since he himself was pretty sure he was going to start bashing his head against the wall soon. "Okay," he said. "Uh, my comic's about a guy with the body of an ape."

"What the fuck? You're not allowed to rip off a movie Marlon Brando was fat and ugly in, man."

"I'm not ripping it off," Gerard said. "He's that way because – okay, hang on. I'll start at the beginning."

And so he did. It was comforting, talking this long; he and Frank had talked to amuse themselves, of course, but there was only so much time you could talk with one person before you started wanting to either strangle them or never talk to them again. But this was different – of course it was different. This was just him telling Frank a story.

It felt weirdly intimate, and Gerard liked it. He talked until his throat was sore and Frank had to make him stop and go to sleep.

||

It took another five days before Gerard realized that they were getting down to the wire.

It wasn't too noticeable at first, especially since they were allowed to have their clothes washed just a few days after Frank had gotten jizz all over his shirt. Each day, they were almost – almost – treated the exact same way they'd been when they first got in. And the thing was, the way they'd been treated was so epically shitty that when it changed, when they got meals once a day instead of two, it took Gerard awhile to notice.

When he did, he kind of wanted to puke. "Hey," he said. "I think they're getting ready to move us."

"For values of 'move' that mean 'kill', maybe," Frank said. "They'd better hurry up with the rescue."

Gerard pressed down the panic that wanted to take over as best as he could. "Fucking right," he said. "I want to get out of here. I'm going crazy, I swear."

"You could tell me more about Spaceboy," Frank said.

"I can't think of anything else," Gerard said. "I have storyteller's block, or something."

"You'd better write all it down when we bust out of here."

"If I remember all of it."

"I'll remember," Frank said, turning and meeting Gerard's eyes.

It was a weird moment after that – kind of like when Mikey caught him masturbating, only without the need to bleach his entire DNA system, and with the wish that Frank would just come closer.

So, okay, it was nothing like Mikey catching him masturbating. He had masturbating on the brain, though, since he hadn't done it in...Jesus, too long. And the two scenarios were the same level of embarrassing, Gerard thought.

"Dude." Frank sounded amused. "What are you doing?"

"Thinking about Mikey," Gerard said. And masturbation.

"Oh." Frank's voice got gentler. "It won't be much longer till you see him, you know."

"Yeah." Gerard tapped the cement walls of the prison. "Unless - "

"No," Frank said firmly. "It won't be long. Come on, aren't you tired of us doing this? It won't be long, dude. Let's just stop talking about it."

Except having to tell Frank that things were going to be okay two hours after Frank had told him was part of what was keeping Gerard sane. If they both believed it then it had to be true, right? And Gerard only really believed it when he was telling Frank. "You sure?"

"Yes, I'm fucking sure," Frank snapped. "Jesus."

Gerard shut his mouth and concentrated on the wall again.

He was concentrating so hard that at first he didn't notice the tapping. When he finally sat up, it was to see that Frank was asleep and Alicia was tapping the bars, normally expressionless face mildly frantic.

"Fucking finally," she said when she saw Gerard. "Jesus. Wake him up, we've got to get out of here."

"Mikey," Gerard said stupidly.

"Yeah, Mikey. Just remember this when you walk in on him going down on me." She hit the bars with the gun Gerard suddenly realized was in her right hand. "Come on."

"We're shackled," Gerard said. "You might have noticed."

Alicia rolled her eyes and tossed a key onto Gerard's stomach. "Yeah, yeah. Get going."

Gerard unshackled himself and moved over to Frank, shaking him roughly.

"Gnah?" Frank said. "Gerard? The fuck?"

Gerard leaned down and unlocked Frank's shackles. "We have to go," he said. "Now."

"Bring the key out," Alicia said when he dropped it to pull Frank into a sitting position.

"What the fuck is – oh, shit," Frank said, eyes landing on Alicia. "Okay, yeah." He bounded to his feet; Gerard grabbed the key and stood behind him. "Let's go."

"An alarm is going to sound when I open the door," Alicia said. "There are five doors between us and the outside, and then a barbed wire fence. We're going to have to run like hill and probably kill at least one cop. Are you ready for that?"

Gerard's stomach dropped. "I don't -"

"Yes," Frank said viciously. "Just give me a gun."

Alicia reached behind her and handed Frank a gun through the bars. "Okay," she said. "You guys ready for this?"

"Do it," Gerard said.

She pushed the door open.

The alarm was so loud and shrill that when Alicia yelled, "Run!" Gerard only barely heard it. That didn't matter, though; he was running like hell anyway, following Alicia as she sprinted down the hall. He was wheezing soon, his legs aching, but it didn't matter, because they were running past cells and towards a door and they were free if they could just keep going.

They came to a skidding halt in front of the door. "Stand back," Alicia said, taking three steps back and aiming her gun at the lock.

Three shots later, it was open. Alicia kicked it open and kept running, not even glancing behind her. Groaning, Gerard started up again.

Just a few seconds later, three prison guards rounded the corner. One grinned and grabbed Alicia's wrist – but she twisted and fired her gun at another guard. The bullet hit him in the side of the head, spattering – oh god. Gerard looked away as Frank barreled past him.

When the three were all down Alicia said, "Come on, just two more doors."

"It's okay," Frank said, and grabbed Gerard's hand.

Gerard kept his eyes on Alicia's back as they navigated past the dead bodies. When they were clear of the worst of it, Alicia started running again. Gerard and Frank followed suit.

They had to shoot ten more people on their way out – and when they finally slipped out a side door, there was a football-field length of open space between them and the barbed wire fence. Two helicopters were roaring overhead, sending searchlights all over the open space. Snipers were everywhere.

"Okay," Alicia said. "We have to make a break for it. Just remember, if we make it past that fence, there's a car waiting that can take us somewhere where we can all throw up, okay? We just have to make it a little ways further."

"How the hell do you expect us to get past that?" Frank said harshly.

Alicia's smile was almost frighteningly grim. "Yeah, that's the other part of the plan," she said, and pulled out a huge gun.

"The hell is that?" Frank said.

"Flare gun," Alicia said, and fired it up, to the right, and to the left.

"Now run!" she yelled, dropping the gun and following her own advice.

It was the scariest minute of Gerard's life. He was dead certain they'd be gunned down – but then Alicia was throwing a rope ladder over the barbed wire and climbing over it. Gerard followed, and then Frank. Gerard dropped to the ground, absorbing the pain in his legs and sprinting for the car idling just a few feet away.

He was almost there when Frank's agonized yell rang out. Gerard turned in time to see him collapsing, his shoulder gushing blood.

He didn't talk, didn't even yell to Alicia. He couldn't. All his attention was focused on getting to Frank, grabbign him and hauling him the last few feet.

They fell into the car together and Alicia pushed their door shut and got in, climbing into the driver's seat and hitting the gas. Sirens seemed to surround them; "Fuck fuck fuck," Alicia said, making such a hard turn that Gerard slammed against the door, pain rippling through his back.

But that didn't matter. "It's okay," he said, looking around frantically for something to stop Frank's bleeding with. He finally spotted a roll of paper towels and ripped some off, pressing them against Frank's shoulder. "We'll be fine. We're going to get back to the others, and it'll be fine."

"Fucking hurts," Frank said. "Think the bullet's still in there?"

"If it was, you probably wouldn't be hurting so badly. We're going to stop in fifteen minutes and switch cars. There'll be a first aid kid in there; you should be able to rig up something to keep him from bleeding to death. Then we'll drive the rest of the way."

Gerard could barely believe it. "The rest of the way to what?"

"You're in D.C. The underground here has a bunker. We're going to rest up there until the others can get down here. There are always tons of resistance people there – someone will be a doctor."

"Gerard," Frank wheezed. "He wants to see Mikey."

"He will," Alicia said. "But it'll take a little while later. Now stop talking."

Gerard thought back to her house, to how Mikey had talked about her. Her illegal tattoo, knowledge of the underground – Jesus, they'd gotten lucky. "Thank you," he said quietly.

"I'm just doing what I have to," Alicia said. "There's water under the seat. Just keep him alive till we get to the bunker."

So Gerard did, ignoring the sirens and Alicia's muttered curses as best as he could. Frank wasn't talking at all, which meant he was in pretty serious pain; he hadn't talked that time he'd had to be hooked up to an oxygen tank onstage, either. Gerard didn't know jack shit about bullet wounds, so he was just pressing the paper towels into Frank's shoulder, trying to ignore how quickly they were getting soaked with blood. "You're going to be fine," he said quietly. "You're going to be fine. You're my – you'll get through this."

Frank didn't even look at him. Gerard wondered how much of it was getting through, how aware Frank could possibly be. Probably not very, he thought; he couldn't even imagine the kind of pain he was putting up with.

"We're almost there," Alicia said.

"Are we still being followed?"

Alicia snorted. "Give me some credit, here."

"In New York or Philly –"

"You think D.C. cops don't know what's going on? They've just got better things to do, mostly." Alicia put on the break. "Okay, we're stopping. We'll have to walk about five blocks. Can Frank make it?"

"Have to," Frank said grimly.

Gerard just plain didn't pray – but now he closed his eyes briefly, thinking. Hoping. "Okay," he said. "Let's go."

It was a hell of a lot less dramatic than getting out of the prison. The alley was filthy, and so Gerard tried to block out what, exactly, his feet were squelching through, concentrating instead on helping Frank walk.

"Doing okay?" Alicia said at one point, not slowing down.

"We're fine," Gerard said. "Just get us there."

If he'd thought about it he would have expected some kind of bunker, like a bomb shelter or even just a fortified basement. But Alicia led them to a huge office building and stopped. "Okay," she said. "This place has a 24-hour desk attendant, so Frank's going to have to hide how hurt he is." She shrugged out of the pea coat she'd been wearing. "Put this on, and wrap your arm around Gerard's waist if you need to stand up. Don't make it obvious that you really need help."

"Are we in the right place?" Gerard said, helping Frank put the coat on and buttoning it up.

"We've got a few rich friends, and it's a good place to hide," Alicia said. "They don't really think to check legal places of occupancy. Now, are you ready?"

"Let's just do this," Frank said.

He sounded exhausted; Gerard's stomach twisted.

"Okay," Alicia said, and went through the revolving door.

Frank went next. To Gerard he was obviously in pain, but he was managing to keep it relatively hidden. Gerard pushed the revolving door hard on his turn, going through as quickly as possible so Frank could curl an arm around his waist and lean against him.

He distantly heard Alicia greet the desk attendant, but his attention was mostly focused on getting himself and Frank over to the elevators. When the light lit up and the elevator pinged, he was almost bowled over by relief.

Slowly, calmly, they all got in the elevator. "There are cameras," Alicia said quietly as the door closed. "Just a little while longer, Frank."

They were going to the thirty-first floor. The elevator was filled with Frank's harsh breathing until finally, fucking finally, they stopped and the doors opened.

Five more feet, and then the door was open, and Frank collapsed.

"Doctor!" Gerard yelled, surveying the scared-looking clumps of people. "Someone get a doctor now!"

A young woman pushed others aside, moving to Frank and falling to her knees. "I'm two weeks from a PhD," she said, and gentled pulled the shirt off Frank's shoulder. "Oh, Christ. Kelly! Get my bag!"

Gerard suddenly felt useless. "Is there anything -"

"Just don't crowd me," the woman said, putting two fingers on Frank's neck. She glanced up at Gerard – and her gaze softened. "And go ask someone to help you boil some water. We'll need it."

Boil water? God, was this place medieval? But it was something to do, so Gerard nodded and fell back.

He locked eyes with the first person he looked at. "Water," he said. "She needs boiled water."

"Come on," the man he'd looked at said. "It'll be okay, kid. Follow me."

So Gerard did.

||

He brought the boiled water back, but then the woman sent him out for bandages, and then again for food, and after awhile Gerard got the idea that she really didn't want him hanging around, watching while she removed bits of bullet with tweezers and Frank bit down on the ball of fabric they'd given him and tried not to scream.

And, okay. Gerard got why. So finally he went off and found a relatively quiet corner, sitting down and closing his eyes.

There weren't as many people as he'd originally thought. The rented space just had the one big room and a small kitchen area off to the side; it was probably meant to function either as a residence or as a business. There were maybe thirty people crammed into the space, sleeping on sleeping bags or just the floor. Their clothes were uniformly shabby – like Gerard's own, he thought, picking at the frayed fabric on his inner thigh – and would have looked more in place in the kind of hovel Gerard had been imagining for the underground.

But they were all relatively nice, and no one was getting on him for sequestering himself to a corner and freaking out, so Gerard really couldn't complain.

Finally, finally, the doctor knelt down in front of him. "He'll be okay," she said. "My name's Greta, by the way. Who're you?"

"Gerard," he said. "Um. Way. From –"

"Jersey," Greta said, nodding. "I've heard of you."

"Thanks?" Gerard said weakly.

"It's a small world down here." Greta glanced at the window and smiled wryly. "Or, well – up here. But you know what I mean."

Gerard nodded. "Thanks. When my band gets down here – we'll be able to pay you."

He was expecting her to say no, of course; that kind of service was in the kind-hearted nature of the whole movement. But he didn't expect her to stare. "Wow. You really are new."

"What?"

"We don't even offer that kind of thing here," she said. "It's a goodwill thing."

"I figured, but I also figured I'd ask."

"In the future, you might not want to. Some people might think you were trying to insult them."

It was a weird fucking world they'd stumbled into. "Oh."

"Yeah." Greta smiled again. "But it's fine. You really are new, even if you guys are important. You should get some sleep."

The abrupt segue confused Gerard – which proved Greta's point, really. "Um. Thanks. I'll do that now."

She laughed. "Yeah, good plan. I'll wake you up if there's any change, okay?"

Gerard nodded and slumped sideways. His whole body seemed to deflate the second he was horizontal; he didn't even remember fully lying down before he fell asleep.

||

When he woke up, Greta was shaking his shoulder lightly. "He's awake," she said. "He asked me to get you."

Gerard sat bolt upright without even thinking about it. He went over to the pallet Frank was lying on and dropped to his knees, staring at Frank.

"You can talk, you know," Frank said, eyes still closed.

Gerard felt like he was going to choke on his own tongue. "You're alive. Oh God. You're okay."

"Fucking 'course I am," Frank said. "You kept telling me I would be." His hand twitched, moving towards Gerard.

And, okay, he was every dramatic movie cliché all rolled up into one lame package. That didn't stop him from clutching Frank's hand. "Thank God."

"That's not who I'd thank." Finally, fucking finally, Frank opened his eyes.

They widened when he looked at Gerard. He must've looked even more like hell than he thought. "Jesus," Frank said. "You were put through the wringer, huh? Come here."

Gerard leaned down uncertainly. Frank huffed an impatient breath and said, "Here, man. Lean down."

He wasn't that surprised when Frank turned his head and kissed him – gently, but not even remotely tamely.

Gerard just tried to stay upright. Falling on Frank would be embarrassing, and also probably cause him mind-bending pain.

They moved apart after a few minutes, staying close enough that their lips were still brushing. Frank smiled a little. "I did tell you to keep it in mind."

"Yeah." Gerard took a deep breath. He knew he had to keep talking, but it felt a little like someone was twirling his intestines on a fork, like spaghetti. "But Frank...you know me. I'm a pain in the ass. You don't want to do this."

"If I didn't want to do this, I wouldn't be doing it," Frank said. "And fuck off, I know what a pain in the ass you are. That's not the point."

"Mikey will throw a fit."

"He'll be okay."

Gerard cast his mind around for another reason – but Frank was shirtless, a fact that Gerard was suddenly way more conscious of than he'd been all the times Frank had wandered around naked after shows. It was making it hard for Gerard to actually think.

"Okay," he said finally.

"Awesome," Frank said. "Kiss me again."

He did, which is why a few minutes later, when Ray said, "Oh my God, we risked getting arrested for this?"

They both froze, lips still together, tongues touching awkwardly. Finally Gerard pulled back, fighting the near-hysterical urge to burst out laughing. Ray, Bob, Mikey, and Brian were all standing in the doorway, staring at them. Only Mikey didn't look surprised.

"If you two break up while the band's still touring, I will fuck your shit up," Brian said.

"Fair enough," Frank said. "Hey, I got shot. I'm a motherfucking badass."

"Jesus Christ," Bob said. "Be more careful, Iero."

Frank responded by sticking his tongue out.

"Anyway," Mikey said. "Um." He took a few steps forward; Gerard stood up and met him halfway, hugging him so tightly he thought Mikey's ribs might bust through his chest.

...wow, there was a visual Gerard wasn't going to share. "I missed you," he said.

Mikey leaned his head down on Gerard's shoulder. Gerard was suddenly acutely aware that Mikey was clinging to him every bit as hard as he was clinging to Mikey. "You scared me," Mikey said accusingly. "Don't do that."

"Sorry," Gerard said awkwardly.

"Yeah, well." Mikey pulled back, the left corner of his mouth quirked up. "It worked out okay for you. Frank, seriously?"

"Seriously," Gerard said.

"Don't fuck up. And stuff," Mikey said.

That made Gerard smile a bit. "Promise."

"Great," Mikey said, and went over to Frank.

Ray was the next person to hug Gerard. "We were going to try to bust you out," he said. "But Alicia called us. Everyone was talking about you, so she knew."

"You seriously had a plan to bust me out?"

"I did," Brian said, popping his head out from past Ray. He looked like a prairie dog. A tattooed, crazy-eyed prairie dog. "It would've worked, in case you were wondering."

He actually really hadn't been, but. Well. "Thanks," Gerard said.

Brian nodded and disappeared again. Ray shook his head. "Anyway. How's Frank doing?"

"He's got the bullet hole," Gerard said. "But a doctor fixed him up."

Ray nodded, frowning into the distance. "There's going to be something big here," he said. "Alicia sort of hinted at it. Frank will want to be part of it."

"I'll tell him to rest up so he heals faster. Or you can. But you know Frank."

"He'll go anyway, even if he bleeds out in front of the White House." Ray shook his head. "Yeah."

"Go say hi," Gerard said, leaning in to hug Ray.

Ray smiled. "I'm glad you guys are looking out for each other."

"You're a fucking mom," Gerard said, and gave Ray a little push.

They kept rotating for awhile, catching up and bitching and just generally being in each other's company. Everyone else gave them a wide berth; judging by what Greta had said, Gerard wondered if they were just intimidated. It was fucking weird to think of.

But after awhile they all started realizing there was a whole room full of people. Ray went to talk to a kid in the corner who carried a clarinet with him everywhere; Bob went to the kitchen and struck up a conversation with Gus, a former gourmet chef.

"We're not staying here," Brian said. Gerard jumped; he hadn't even noticed Brian moving to stand next to him.

"I know," Gerard said. "They do too."

"Probably." Brian huffed a sigh, nostrils flaring. "Okay, look, I'm serious about you and Frank. Don't let this -"

"We're not," Gerard said hastily.

Brian raised his eyebrows. "Really."

"I mean it." He sounded like he was lying, actually, which was total bullshit. He tried to moderate his tone. "I don't really know what it is, but it's serious. We've known each other for so long."

"Yeah, and those breakups are the worst." Brian moved until he was standing directly in front of Gerard. "Don't go into this thinking you can't possibly mess up. You will."

Gerard wanted to protest, but he wasn't a kid, and he'd had relationships before (back before he was drunk all the time, he thought, but whatever). He knew Brian was right. He nodded, hoping acquiescence would make Brian drop it. "I know. Thanks."

"Good." Brian turned to talk to Frank.

Gerard took advantage of the breather to make his way to the corner he'd slept in earlier. He sat down, breathing deeply, trying to keep it together. He didn't know why seeing the band put his emotions in turmoil. Maybe just because he felt everything they were doing that much more sharply.

He was distracted by someone saying, "Hey, do you think they'll play for us?" Being away from the clumps of people meant that he could watch the question spread before he even had a chance to object – and that he could watch Ray and Bob exchange a glance before shrugging and nodding.

"Fuck you," Frank said loudly in response to something Brian said, "I can play guitar lying down."

"Frank," Brian said reprovingly.

"Seriously, man, screw you." Frank turned his head suddenly, locking his gaze with Gerard.

Gerard felt frozen to the spot. "Ah," he said. "You should...you should seriously rest," he said. "Dude, come on, you just had a bullet in your shoulder. We'll be okay."

"You'll play, then?" a girl said eagerly.

"Sure," Gerard said. It wouldn't be the smallest venue they'd ever played, even. Except – "Oh. Instruments?"

"If you ever imply I let us move without packing first, I'll make you sing soprano," Brian said.

Gerard flushed. "Okay, but where's the van?"

"Couple blocks away," Brian said. "Go get your shit."

"Wait," Greta said, stepping forward.

"This is Greta," Frank said. "She saved my ass."

Greta nodded, smiling a little – but her expression got solemn when she said, "Playing in here won't do much good. We all already support you. But playing out there..."

"Are you serious?" Gerard said. "We'll get destroyed."

Greta shook her head. "I was out just yesterday. People want something to rally around. The crowd's at a tipping point; if we can just push it a little further, we'll be golden."

Gerard thought it over. He trusted Greta to know what she was talking about, and he trusted everyone against the Tipper laws to make sure they were protected. And the thing was...he remembered a time before the laws, vaguely. Enough to imagine, when he was a teenager and doing almost as bad as he was when he was drunk all the time, a world where depression and crippling hatred of the world was something he could have an outlet for. Enough to imagine a world where who he was wasn't breaking five different laws.

And now that remembrance hardened in the pit of his stomach, forming something new. It wasn't just determination, or even the fighting spirit he'd fought to keep in prison. It was something more than that – the knowledge that he could help a crowd turn into a mob, or a gathering turn into a riot. It was the intoxicating taste of power he'd had during that fateful Jersey show.

"Okay," he said. "We'll do it."

"Tomorrow," Frank said quickly. "We'll do it tomorrow."

Gerard frowned. "You won't be well tomorrow, either."

"But I'll be better," Frank said. He had that expression on, the one with the jutted chin and raised eyebrows that meant not even Bob would change his mind.

Gerard finally relented. "But if you even try to do anything stupid – other than play – I'll kill you," he said.

Frank grinned. "Sounds good."

They spent the rest of the day trying to keep occupied. Gerard hung around Frank a little, but other people kept pulling him away to talk, and finally he had to accept that no one was going to let him rest while they could talk to him about the revolution – what it meant and how they'd fought for it.

Gerard didn't tell them that they hadn't even really been thinking about revolution for long. He knew how myths worked; hell, he wrote comic books. He'd be someone's superhero if they really needed it.

Night fell. Alicia left Mikey for the first time since they'd dispersed and flicked the lights. "Sleep," she ordered everyone.

To Gerard's surprise, people quieted and lay down. Gerard followed suit, lying down next to Frank. Frank's hand nudged his side, fingers spidering out until Gerard got the point and pressed his hand into Frank's.

Everyone was asleep quickly – Gerard could even hear Mikey's funny wheezing breath. It was comforting, even a relief, but Gerard still couldn't sleep.

He had no idea what time it was when Frank whispered to him. He was so impatient for the next day that it could have been twenty minutes that just felt like an eternity, or it could have been a few hours.

Either way, Frank squeezed his hand and whispered, "Come closer."

Frank had fucked a guy Mikey didn't even know in Mikey's bed once; Gerard didn't think it was too far-fetched to assume Frank wanted to kiss him. So he decided to take the initiative, propping himself up on his elbow and kissing Frank deeply.

When he pulled back, Frank grinned. Gerard could just barely see how amused he looked. "Not what I had in mind, actually, but I won't say no."

Gerard laughed nervously – and a little too loudly. "Shh," Frank said, reaching up and running a hand through Gerard's hair.

To forestall any nervous whisper-babbling, Gerard leaned down and brushed his lips against Frank's again.

They kissed languidly, Gerard completely aware of Frank's hard-on but not planning on doing anything about it yet. Opening his mouth for Frank, stroking a hand over Frank's jaw, made Gerard's stomach twist; Frank running his tongue over Gerard's lips, into his mouth, made Gerard want with an intensity that bowled him over.

"It's okay," Frank whispered. Gerard sighed a little and let himself press against Frank's leg. It felt amazing; it wasn't enough.

"We're going to kill ourselves," he said.

Frank grinned. "Feels good, though."

It did, and so Gerard returned to kissing him, the ebb and flow of it almost killing him. He never wanted it to stop.

But Frank had been shot and Gerard had been stressing himself insanely; eventually they both got tired, kisses slowing down. Gerard ran his hand up and down Frank's side one more time before pulling back. "More tomorrow," he said, licking tingling lips.

"After the riot, you mean." Frank's expression was – sharp was the only word for it, Gerard thought. He wanted to draw it even as he was scared of it.

"Yeah," Gerard said, heart lurching with excitement. "After the riot."

||

It was Greta who told them where to play and gave them advice for stowing their instruments once the crowd really got going. She wanted them to play by the smaller pond next to the reflecting pool. "There are tons of anti-Tipper people camping out there, and on the mall," she said. "And it's something of a neutral space. The cops'll hesitate moving in to stop you."

"That's...really public," Ray said. "Are you sure it's the best place?"

Greta frowned at him – but Gerard, who always understood what Ray wasn't saying, jumped in to say, "We're not going to be playing the show all the way through, Ray. This is a demonstration, not a musical event."

Ray made a face. "Oh, fine. Okay."

"Great," Gerard said. "Okay. Do we just drive the van up there?"

Greta shook her head. "You'll have to walk a bit. Do not carry your guitar," she said severely to Frank. Frank nodded meekly. "Once you're there, just start playing. Believe me, people will listen. They know who you are."

"I'll set up a speaker system," Alicia said. "We've got battery-powered shit. It won't last long, but neither will your show."

"You can do that?" Bob said.

"Fuckin' duh," Alicia said. "I used to get paid for it, before I became a cop."

"Isn't she amazing," Mikey said dreamily.

"Yeah, yeah," Brian said. "Okay. You can handle these people leaving, right?" Alicia nodded. "Good. Now my clowns, let's go."

Ray and Brian went for the door immediately, but Mikey paused to kiss Alicia goodbye. Gerard made a face.

"Dude," Mikey said, "I totally heard last night. Don't even try."

Someday, Gerard thought as his face heated up, he was going to train himself out of blushing so easily.

The ride to the mall was tense. None of them were speaking, or even really looking at each other. Frank had grabbed hold of Gerard's hand the second they sat down together, and he kept a death grip on it as Ray drove.

When they stopped, Frank hopped out without even glancing at Gerard. Gerard was desperately thankful for it; he was pretty sure if he saw everyone else was just as nervous as he was, he'd completely lose his shit.

They assembled everything quickly and silently. By the time Alicia hooked up the speakers (quickly and, as she'd promised, expertly), a crowd of a hundred people was assembled in front of the hill they'd chosen as a makeshift stage.

"Jesus Christ," Mikey said.

"Not quite," Gerard said. He was standing in front of the others, hips cocked, trying to get his normal stage presence back. "We ready to do this shit?" he said over his shoulder.

"Go for it," Bob said.

Ray played the first few chords of "Desolation Row". Thank God for Dylan, Gerard thought, and snarled into his microphone.

It took less than forty-five seconds for him to be in full form, stalking left and right, screaming at the audience, fucking owning them. And people were streaming over – first in pairs, but then in huge clumps. As the crowd grew and they started in on their own material, Gerard got bolder and bolder. They were fucking on, they were fucking good.

And then Gerard saw the cops moving in. Shit.

He threw up a hand. "So, you sons of bitches – there are cops coming. I don't know about you, but there are a lot of people I love out here. And a fucking lot of heroes." He locked eyes with Greta, standing off to one side but very close to the stage. "So are we gonna let them take us all in?"

The crowd roared. How many were there, he thought? A thousand? Five thousand? "I'll take that as a no!" he yelled. "Guys, girls, kids, all of you - fucking tear them to shreds!"

And then the cops were there and the crowd was surging, moving outward, trampling the cops. Gerard knocked his mic stand over and turned around, grabbing Frank in the process. Bob and Ray and Brian and Mikey were all coming closer, and fuck, fuck he loved his band. "Let's do this," he said.

Bob's expression looked almost demonic. "Where are we going to lead the mob?"

"To the motherfucking White House," Brian said. "Come on."

Alicia punched Gerard's shoulder. "Don't wimp out now," she said. "Take control."

Gerard realized he was still holding the mic. Well, then. "All of you!" he yelled. No one stopped, no one even paused, but he could tell some of them were listening. "We're going to catch hell for this, so let's make it count!" He raised his fist in the air. He felt a little ridiculous, but – Jesus. This was his scene, pissed-off music and riots and the whole nine yards. "To the White House!"

The crowd picked up his yell. "The White House! The White House!"

"Now's your cue to start walking," Alicia yelled, and took her own advice.

So Gerard did, holding Frank's hand and leading the mob across the mall. Alicia had made sure he knew the rough layout of D.C. before letting them play; they were going to trample the city's landscaping and stop its traffic before they got to the President.

Gerard couldn't wait.

Right before they stepped onto the first street, Frank grabbed him, turned him, and kissed him viciously. He was pale and panting when he pulled back – the bullet wound, Gerard thought. But he was also looking more fiercely happy than Gerard had ever seen him.

"I fucking love you, you asshole," Frank said. "Just thought you should know before the National Guard kills us."

"I fucking love you too," Gerard said, and stepped out onto the road, laughing as cars veered and brakes screeched.

They were going to break every single Tipper Law passed and then a few normal laws just for the hell of it, and it felt fucking good.