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Cuddles, Inc

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Frank felt the dip on the bed and he knew what was coming.

"Here you go. First cup of the day," Mikey said in a low voice.

Had this been a normal day, Frank would've jumped out of bed and swallowed the coffee regardless of how hot it was. Especially if it was brewed by Mikey--who, mere seconds after they finished moving Frank's stuff into their apartment, let Frank know that he took coffee very seriously. Frank remembered making a 'duh' face back at Mikey. After touring for 16 years, let alone being a couple for nearly that long, the fact that the Way brothers were huge coffee fanatics was something Frank knew down to his tippy-toes.

However, right now, the last thing he wanted was to pick up that cup. A part of him was craving that first caffeine kick. Still, his stomach felt full and heavy, like he had swallowed cement. Maybe he could stay home today. He half-groaned, half-mumbled a "still sleeping" before turning around and burrowing into the comforter.

"Dude, we went to sleep at the same time. I woke up two hours ago," Mikey said. "We've got a writing session in about two hours. It's going to take us almost as long to get to Gerard's place."

Eyes still closed, Frank twisted his head towards Mikey. "That's 'cause you're a robot. Or a vampire. You sleep like the dead." Sighing at the feeling of Mikey's fingers running through his shoulder-length hair, Frank relaxed back into a state of semi-consciousness. He ignored the jolt of pain that pierced through him when he moved his head.

"At least I'm not a kicker," Mikey replied before tapping the top of Frank's head. "Go on, get ready, drink the coffee that your loving boyfriend made for you. Meanwhile, I'm going to walk Bela and Sweet Pea."

There was a quick shift in weight when Mikey got up followed by the creak of the bedroom door opening. Almost immediately, the pitter-patter of tiny paws followed as some of the dogs squeezed into the room. Frank was set on ignoring them for just a little while longer; he hadn't slept too well in the past few nights.

Now that the band started working on a new album everyone's workaholic tendencies became amplified. Playing the guitar, coming up with new songs and giving it all was as familiar to Frank as breathing. He understood how intense the whole process was, looked forward to it even. But he wasn't too sure he had the energy for it today.

His plans to dawdle got shot down by the sudden wet-cold of Piglet's nose poking the middle of his naked back. "Motherfucker!" Frank jerked away, instantly regretting it after the urge to vomit rolled right through him. He slid out of bed, barely making it to the bathroom, somehow avoiding stepping on Pepper or Snowball's tails.

Afterwards, he flushed the toilet and shut the lid before slumping against the side of the tub, trying to keep the bathroom from spinning like a demented carousel. He couldn't be sick. Not again and not now.

Just two weeks ago he and Mikey had gone through their yearly physicals. Like always, Dr. Colton had harrumphed at him for the smoking and had advised Mikey to watch his coffee intake (yeah, like that was going to happen) before giving both of them clean bills of health.

But then, thinking back, he realized he'd been feeling weird for the past two days. The veggie pizza from Palermo's had been as tasty as always. He'd only eaten two slices in when he got that super-full feeling in his stomach. No one noticed when he put his paper plate on the table and pushed the pizza box away. Sitting on the other sofa, Gerard and Mikey had been geeking out on some Vertigo comics Gerard had picked up earlier in the day. Meanwhile, Ray had been on the phone, talking to his wife in between bites of his meat lover's pizza.

That'd been all that Frank had eaten that day.

Tuesday started bad and only grew worse. The coffee he'd had in the morning had felt like he had gulped battery acid. The two scoops of strawberry Toffuti he'd snacked on when he was finally hungry didn't stay inside him for long.

Why was his body betraying him now? Everything had gone so well. He'd only been sick twice during the last tour. Both times it'd been a common cold; the second time it'd taken down James, Ray's guitar tech, his own tech, their tour manager and a few more from their crew. Messy could've been a word for it along other ones like mucus-y, feverish and exhausted.

Even with all that and the occasionally crappy tour food, the last tour had been the best one yet. Playing with the band for a year, giving everything night after night and getting that rush of love from their fans had been worth it. Taking a break after all that hadn't been the easiest thing (it would always take Mikey about a week to realize that they were home rather than sharing a bunk on the bus whenever they called it a night. Mikey's clingy-as-an-octopus tendencies were something that Frank always welcomed.)

Now that enough time had passed for everyone in the band to enjoy plenty of R and R and then some, the time had come to start work on their seventh album.

He remembered being a kid way back when My Chem got their first real gigs. He'd been sixteen years younger and holding on to the dream of making a living by playing his guitar as hard and as loud as he possibly could. His stomach failed him many times, but that could've been blamed on the bad food, flat beer and poor road conditions that happen when you spend long hours in a van with the least hygienic people to have ever formed a band. Plus, whenever his stomach got better, his lungs would usually pick up the slack on his body's campaign to keep him ill for as long as possible.

This time around, everyone was so excited to be hanging out and messing around with the music. Between Gerard's lyrics-filled notebooks and Toro's files from the stuff they'd recorded during the tour, the excitement they felt about what they could come up with next from a musical standpoint was off the charts.

And the very last thing that Frank would've wanted to do was to pull the plug on that. He hadn't been sick in so long, other than the occasional sniffle or "too many cigarettes" cough that happened whenever he and Mikey stepped out into the L.A. mod and punk clubs. I suck, Frank thought as the nausea made itself known once again.

Bending his legs until his upper thighs touched his chest, he crossed his arms around them, put his head against his knees and focused on getting over the worst of the stomach cramps. He concentrated on keeping his breath even. A dose of Pepto would help as soon as he could stretch out and stand up without feeling like his insides were being ripped apart and put together again. If his eyes watered through the sharpest of the cramps, there wasn't anyone else to notice.

By the time Mikey would be back from walking some of their dogs, Frank would be OK.

"Hey, Frank, are you still sleeping?" He heard the sound of Mikey throwing his keys on the kitchen counter.

Fuck, Frank thought, grinding his teeth against the steady riot in his stomach.

The thud of Mikey's steps had made it into the bedroom. "Frank? You didn't have your coffee. Bunny got into your cup and now she's a total spazz." Mikey sounded close, too close. Frank knew had to get out of the bathroom before--

"There's no time to brew fresh coffee but we can always--What's wrong?" One of Mikey's hands was on his right shoulder while the back of the other one pressed against the top of Frank's forehead for a couple of breaths. "You feel a little too warm, babe."

Frank kept his head down. He was already feeling stupid about this whole thing. "Stomach hurts."

"Oh, Frankie." Mikey sucked his teeth. Next, he wrapped his arms around Frank with excessive care. "I should've known something was up when you didn't lunge for the coffee," he said while rubbing Frank's upper back. "You think you can get up?"

"Dunno," Frank said in a tiny voice. He pressed his nose against the side of Mikey's neck, letting the familiar smell that was Mikey ease some of his fears. Maybe Mikey and the rest of the band would forgive him for being a weakling whose alternate talent to playing the guitar was to have the immune system of a jellyfish.

Mikey let go of Frank and pulled back. Tilting his head until Frank could see him, he winked at him. "How about we give it a try?" He sniffed. "Gotta get you to the hospital because it smells like the pits of hell in here."

*****

Despite the one moment when Frank swayed after finally standing up, he and Mikey made it to St. Thomas' emergency wing in record time. Frank didn't remember much other than Mikey telling him he was calling the guys while zig-zagging through the L.A. streets.

Several hours and many tests later, Frank woke up hooked to an IV and facing three somber-faced band members.

"You didn't think we would find out?" Mikey's right eyebrow rose up into a sharp peak.

Gerard shook his head, lips pressed like he was trying his hardest to keep from saying something inappropriate--which was scary enough. He always had something to say. Always.

Ray walked up to Frank's hospital bed and crossed his arms. "Do you remember the promise we made four albums back?"

"The band's important, but we don't have to destroy ourselves to keep it going."

"Hmm, no," Gerard cut in. "Actually, what we said was--"

"Gee," Mikey said, placing his hand on Gerard's shoulder. "We know what we said. What Ray's shooting at is how, for some crazy reason, my boyfriend tried to hide the fact that he had the stomach flu ."

"I'm sorry." Frank wanted to curl into himself. "Thought I'd eaten something that was past due. Plus we had some momentum with the new album and--"

"Frankie," Gerard said softly, "what would you have done if it had been me or Ray or Mikey the one who'd been sick instead?"

"I--I would've . . ." Frank snapped his mouth shut while considering the possibilities. He'd have been upset at being deceived, sure, but more than that he'd been . . . Oh. "I'd have been worried." He heard Ray and Gerard's synchronized "uh-huh" but his eyes stayed focused on Mikey as he walked up to Frank's bed.

"You're a doofus," Mikey said before tenderly kissing Frank for a few seconds. "Lucky for you, I love you more than my entire George Romero zombie movies collection."

Frank wondered how Mikey could still make him blush after so long.

*****

"You know, for someone whose stomach is ten kinds of sick, you definitely like your applesauce." Mikey pointed at the empty cups of Mott's that littered the coffee table.

"Meds must have kicked in. I'm feeling pretty rad," Frank said. He lay against Mikey on their extra-cushy sofa. His arm hurt where the IV needle had gone in (Preventative measure his ass, Frank thought. Hospitals just happen to be run by sadists with easy access to needles.) Some of the lightheadedness had faded away and his stomach had stopped gurgling.

"Mmm, not for nothing did the E.R. doctor call it the BRAT diet." Mikey picked up their old comforter from the sofa arm and draped it over the two of them. Not even five seconds later, Bunny, Pepper and Sweet Pea plopped down around them. Down by the opposite side of the sofa, Snowball, Piglet Tree, Mama and Bela lay on a cat-dog-dog-dog pile.

Frank slid his callused fingers over Mikey's wrist tattoo. A pumpkin surrounded by flames and the words Per Sempre. As good as a wedding ring. Better. "Rub my belly, make me feel better?" Frank whispered.

He felt Mikey's answer by way of the kiss behind his left ear.

"Hold on," Mikey said, pressing the buttons on the main remote control until the opening credits of The Undead Revolution 5: Vampires vs. Zombies started rolling on the living room TV.

"I heard there are werewolves in this one," Frank said.

"This is the fourth sequel," Mikey replied, "I'm surprised Godzilla isn't in it."

"King Kong was in the second one. Maybe they'll only use giant monsters in the movies with even numbers." Frank wanted to watch the movie. He really wanted to. But Mikey had slid his right hand underneath the comforter, pulled up his t-shirt and had splayed his hand on Frank's belly. Whether it was exhaustion or Mikey's belly-rubbing skills that made him zone out, Frank didn't know. Not that it mattered much when Mikey kept his hand's movements slow enough to put anyone in a trance.

Frank smiled. He'd never felt warmer in his life.

THE END