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And the Painted Ponies

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The first time Frank hears his phone he groans, pulls his pillow over his head and instantly goes back to sleep.

The second time he hears his phone Frank groans again, his face plastered against the sheet as he gropes amongst the crap on his bedside table with one hand. Phone found, Frank cuts off the call without looking.

Except, now he can’t go back to sleep. It’s too stuffy and too hot and now that he’s been so rudely woken Frank’s aware of how his t-shirt is sticking to his back and how his boxer briefs are twisted and strangling his nuts.

Frank keeps his eyes closed, refusing to let such minor details defeat his plan for much needed sleep.

Which is when his phone rings again.

In one abrupt, angry movement, Frank rolls onto his side and grabs hold of his phone, accepting the call with an angry stab of his finger. “This better be fucking important. Someone better be fucking bleeding out at the side of the road.”

“Is an interview for a possible new job important enough?”

Ray doesn’t bother with pleasantries, but Frank can hear that they’re there, lurking as if Ray wants to chime in with a cheery ‘good morning’. Frank hates him, even as he rolls onto his back, tugs at the fabric of his briefs and says, “When, where and who with?”

“Four this afternoon, at the office, use the time to get showered so you look respectable,” Ray replies, talking to the background sound of muffled footsteps. “Sorry, had to close the door.”

“There’s someone else in the office?” Squinting, Frank looks at the time on his phone, knowing that this early there shouldn’t be anyone else there. “It’s only mid day.”

“Just me,” Ray says, and Frank can’t understand the apparent need for secrecy, even when Ray takes a deep breath and adds, “This could be big, Frank. Huge.”

Frank pushes himself up so he’s sitting with his back to the wall, suspecting he needs to be upright for this kind of talk. His knees pulled up and his feet under the covers, he says, “The new client?”

“Maybe.” It’s not often that Ray appears rattled, even now it’s only a long friendship and almost a year working together that lets Frank hear any tell of Ray’s nerves. “I got a call from Worm, you know he’s shutting up shop.”

“Yeah, yeah I know,” Frank says, urging Ray on with his story. “Did he offer you the Bentleys door job?” Frank hopes so. While working the doors at an upscale club isn’t his dream job, it’s easy work that comes along with good perks, and undoubtedly more money than Frank makes now. “If he has, remember you owe me a raise.”

“Taking that on is out of the firm’s league still,” Ray says, easily stating cold facts. “But he did recommend me to one of his private jobs. A one-on-one bodyguard gig.”

It’s obviously the possible new job for Frank, someone big if Ray’s reaction is anything to go by. Any lingering exhaustion washed away, Frank tries to remember Worm’s former clients, hoping that he’s going to be interviewed by one of the bands, and not another vapid soap star who expects Frank to carry a purse dog.

Frank digs his toes into the mattress and prompts, “For?”

“Mikey Way.”

“The model? Mr Ice King himself?” It’s not a name Frank expected, even though now he’s been prompted he can remember seeing pictures in the press -- mostly paparazzi style shots with Worm frowning and Way his usual aloof self. “What do they want me to do, watch to make sure no society wannabe crashes the runway?”

“Amongst other things,” Ray says, bypassing the fact Frank wasn’t actually asking a serious question. “His manager will have more details when we meet up.”

“Like how many emergency make-up bags I’ll have to carry,” Frank mutters, then, at Ray’s intake of breath. “I know, big client, I’ll be on my best behavior, a bodyguard elite.”

“Just get here on time,” Ray says, and then, “And bring doughnuts with you. I won’t have time to get out for lunch.”

Frank stares at his phone, and the small picture of Ray that’s on the display. “You’re my boss. You’re supposed to treat me.”

“Sucks to be you,” Ray says, ending the call, and the worst thing is, Frank knows the bastard is smiling.

~*~*~*~*~

Frank does buy doughnuts, a whole box of them which he cradles in his arms as he climbs the stairs to Ray’s office.

As always Frank takes them all at a run, his sneakers squeaking against the linoleum as he takes a sharp turn and shoulders the hallway door open at landing three. Quickly passing the other offices, Frank twists his hand so he can check the time, pushes open the door to Counter Threat and announces, “I’ve got your doughnuts, you cheap bastard, and I’m....”

Frank trails off, stopping dead in the small waiting room when he sees Ray in his inner office, but more surprising, the back of some stranger sitting in the chair Frank usually takes for himself.

Ray frowns, and while Frank can’t hear what he’s saying it’s easy to imagine Ray’s apology as he stands, circling the desk so he can open the door. “Frank, come in, we were just talking about you.”

Frank ditches the box of doughnuts on one of the waiting room chairs, dusting his hands against his thighs as he says, “All good I hope.”

“Of course.” The stranger stands, grinning through an awkward moment of hesitation before extending his hand. “Hi, I’m Gerard.”

Frank extends his own hand, grasping Gerard’s firmly but briefly in the approved bodyguard 101 handshake of first greeting. “Frank, but you seem to know that.”

“Yeah, I do,” Gerard says, and Frank’s feeling left out, like he’s the only one with no clue about what’s going on.

It’s a problem Ray seems to take in, and he pulls out another chair from in front of the desk, indicating that Frank should sit down. “Gerard is Mikey Way’s manager. He was in the area and decided to drop in.”

“It was pointless going back to the shoot to come back.” Gerard waits, only sitting when Frank and Ray do the same. “Ray was kind enough to see me early.”

Frank’s sure Ray would have seen Gerard in the middle of the night if need be, especially when getting a client of this caliber is something he so desperately needs. Not that Frank’s going to say that. Instead he slips into his professional persona, sitting straight, his attention on Ray when he speaks.

“Gerard needs a bodyguard for his client, Worm gave him our name.”

“He said your firm was small but one of the best.” Gerard’s sitting back in his chair, legs crossed and mouth pulled down at the corners. “He’s been with us from almost the beginning. His word means a lot. I had to come check you out.”

Frank notes the wording, and it’s something he approves of, because Gerard should check them out, especially for something as important as guarding a life.

“I’m glad that you did.” Ray’s leaning forward on his desk, the arms of his suit jacket pulling up and the collar of his shirt open, exposing the t-shirts he’s got underneath. Knowing Ray’s usual routine Frank suspects he had to pull his client clothes on in a hurry, not that it seems to be bothering Gerard, who’s listening intently as Ray keeps talking. “Like I was saying, you can see Frank isn’t the tallest, but he’s one of our top men. His certifications are all current and he’s fully trained in both hand-to-hand and weapon defense. I like to call him our secret weapon, small but deadly.”

“It feels like I should be making some joke about size not mattering.” Gerard turns slightly, his attention solely on Frank. This close it’s a scrutiny that feels weird, Frank’s skin prickling as he fights to stay still and project the professional that he is. “Do you like music?”

It’s not the follow-up question Frank was expecting. Most of these interviews start with questions about his experience, or sometimes, if the client is going for the personal touch, about his ink. Frank’s got pat answers for both now, but Gerard’s thrown him, enough that Frank stutters slightly and then says, “Yeah. I like it a lot.”

It’s obviously the right thing to say, Gerard smiling again, but more natural this time, nothing like the fake grin of before. “I knew it. Mikey likes music, too.”

“If that includes live music one of Frank’s specialties is scoping out venues for potential dangers,” Ray says, looking only at Gerard. “He’s had lots of practice.”

What Ray doesn’t say is that most of Frank’s experience comes from going to shows, both as part of the audience and also part of the band. Not that it matters. Frank is an expert at scoping out bars, and he’s sure that’ll extend to the ultra-hip and sterile places that Mikey Way likes to visit.

“Live, recorded, he likes it all.” Gerard’s grin fades as he stares intently at Frank. It’s a stare that lasts a long time, enough that Frank’s feeling antsy when Gerard eventually says, “You’d protect him? You’d give your word that he’d always be your number one priority when you’re working.”

Without hesitation, Frank says, “When I’m on the job I’d step in front of a bullet for him if I had to.”

“Okay, that’s fucking disturbing to think about.” Gerard’s tense in his chair, his gaze losing its focus and Frank knows, wherever Gerard has gone, it’s not in this office.

Frank turns further toward Gerard, ignoring the way Ray’s frowning. “It’s okay, I’ve only been shot once and that was a glancing shot. Statistically, shooting won’t happen.”

Gerard blinks then relaxes, his shoulders dropping and mouth quirking into a smile when he says, “Well if you bring statistics into it...”

“Is there anything else you’d like to ask?” Ray cuts in, giving Frank a warning look. “Either me or Frank.”

Gerard shakes his head, says, “No need. You’re hired.”

~*~*~*~

“I can’t believe you brought up getting shot,” Ray says, deftly unbuttoning his shirt. Pulling it off, he slides it onto a hanger and fastens the top button, ensuring it stays in place. “And I thought I told you to look respectable.”

“I’m wearing a button down, that’s respectable.” And really, it’s lucky that Ray got that considering Frank’s a week past needing to do laundry. “If that’s not good enough for the fashion world, fuck them.”

Carefully, Ray hangs his shirt next to his jacket, then sits on the edge of his desk, looking shell-shocked now they’re alone. “I almost shit a brick when Gerard turned up. An hour early. Jesus fucking Christ.”

Frank looks at his watch, figuring out times as he grabs the abandoned box of doughnuts from out of the waiting room. “You were talking for nearly an hour? Guess that explains why he hired so fast.” It’s something that Frank’s been wondering about, that Gerard’s actual interview of Frank himself was so short, with the hiring seemingly based on an instinctive reaction. “So much for my magnetic personality.”

“No, that’s the weird thing, most of the time we didn’t talk about the job. He didn’t even sit for the first ten minutes, just looked at all my plaques on the wall,” Ray groans then, his head in his hands. “He looked in the bathroom, I hadn’t even checked if there was toilet paper.”

“God forbid there was no paper.” Setting the box on the corner of the desk, Frank selects a doughnut and takes a big bite, cream oozing out the sides of his mouth and sugar coating his lips. Happily, he takes another bite and says, “I should eat all of these, I’ll be on carrot sticks when I’m working with The Ice Prince.”

“He eats, I’ve just seen the pictures,” Ray says. “The Enquirer has a full page spread of him at Starbucks.”

Frank swallows, looking around the office for the magazines that Ray’s apparently bought and then hidden away. “Where are they? I want to see.”

Ray gives Frank a look, but doesn’t say anything as he stands and goes to one of the filing cabinets at the back of the office. Opening a drawer he takes out a stack of glossy magazines, holding them tight as he closes the drawer with a bump of his hip. Setting them on the desk, he runs his hand over the pile, spreading out the magazines that ranges from high fashion to those aimed at teens.

It’s an impressive amount, and Frank plucks out one of the gossip magazines, paging through it until he finds a page headed Roboflaw, with a picture of Mikey Way, a zit at the corner of his mouth ringed with a red circle.

“They’re the ones that started the whole Roboboy shit,” Ray says, reading over Frank’s shoulder. “Worm told me it’s what the paps yell, trying for a reaction.”

Frank stares at the picture of Mikey, how his expression is set with not even a hint of a smile. It makes him appear aloof and unapproachable, and someone Frank has no desire to know at all. Closing the magazine, Frank drops it onto the others, says, “And I thought watching miss soap starlet was bad.”

Ray gathers up the magazines, ensuring the stack is perfectly straight before saying, “Worm really likes him, but if you don’t think you can do it I’ll see if Gerard is happy with me assigning one of the others.”

“Of course I can do it,” Frank says, making an effort not to snap back. He knows what this job means to Ray, and how the prestige of working for Mikey Way will be good for the firm, but that doesn’t mean Frank has to like it.

Frank’s a professional. He’ll go to this first meeting tonight and do the job. In the end, liking the client doesn’t come into it at all.

~*~*~*~

“Frank, hi.”

Gerard waves a greeting from where he’s half hidden by the steps up into the building, the end of his cigarette glowing red and cutting a ribbon of light through the shadows. Bypassing the steps, Frank approaches Gerard, noting how he’s hunched up inside of his coat, and surrounded by cigarette butts that litter the floor.

“Can’t smoke inside,” Gerard says, taking a final drag. Blowing smoke from the side of his mouth, Gerard drops the remains of his cigarette, grinding it out under the heel of his boot. “And I wanted to wait for you too, so I can introduce you to Mikey.”

While he’s sure he’d have found Mikey himself, Frank can appreciate the gesture, especially when they go into the building and Gerard heads up to the top floor, leading the way into a loft that, right now, looks like a scene of barely controlled chaos.

“The brickwork here is fucking awesome,” Gerard says, talking over his shoulder as he steps over trailing wires and makes his way toward a cream sofa. Ordinarily it’s one that would look inviting and comfortable, but right now it’s more of a gathering place for an assortment of items, bags and hats, a book that’s become wedged between two of the cushions. Gerard picks up a bag from one end of the sofa, clearing a space for Frank to sit down. “Stay here, I’ll see if Mikey’s got a few minutes.”

A quick smile and Gerard disappears into the group of people clustered at one end of the loft. Not wanting to sit, Frank tries to see his new client, and quickly finds it’s impossible to do so, the end of the loft crowded by not only people but huge silver umbrellas and brightly lit lights on a variety of stands.

It’s something that makes Frank nervous. He doesn’t know this place and the security weak points are worrying -- the door to the fire escape that’s propped open, the main door to the loft that’s not locked, the countless strangers that are filling the space.

To Frank they’re all threats -- to a person Frank still hasn’t seen yet. It’s like he’s been trusted to guard a name only, and Frank hates it. The same way he hates taking a breath and tasting hair spray at the back of his throat.

It’s all fake, worse even then Frank’s TV starlet assignment, because at least there the studios were never meant to be real. Here someone’s home has been changed, the brick walls concealed by a silvery gauze fabric that ripples with the aid of a fan and the windows covered in places, lights creating ‘sunshine’ when there’s plenty outside. It’s reality gilded and altered, much like Mikey Way himself.

HIs expression carefully neutral, Frank watches Mikey approach with Gerard. They’re talking about something, Mikey’s head dipped so at first Frank doesn’t see the way his eyes have been carefully lined, how his lips are glossed and his skin artificially flawless. But up close Frank does see, it’s impossible not to when Mikey’s nothing but a shiny layer of plastic.

“Mikey, this is Frank, Frank, Mikey.” In the short time he’s been gone Gerard’s found a cup of coffee and he takes a drink before adding. “Frank likes music.”

It’s a conversational opener that feels like it should go somewhere, but it doesn’t. Mikey only saying a subdued, ‘Hi’, in response.

Frank drops his hand, feeling stupid as Mikey stands in place, not speaking at all. It’s left to Gerard to fill in the silence, as he says, “I know I told you to come now, and I wanted you two to meet, but the shoot’s running late so if you want you can go, I’ll go home with Mikey.”

“No, I’ll stay. Keep an eye on things.” Not that Frank actually wants to, but he’s been hired to watch Mikey, and that’s exactly what Frank’s going to do, even if it means spending the night in this tacky gilded madhouse.

Gerard beams, coffee sploshing over the rim of his cup when he drapes his arm around Frank and pulls him in for a quick unexpected hug. “I knew you were the right one. But seriously, go, no one here is a danger to Mikey and he’ll be going straight home after.”

Frank wants to press the point, but technically this is nothing but a first meeting, Frank not actually on the schedule until the next day. Right now the best thing probably will be to leave, especially as Mikey still hasn’t made an attempt at actual conversation, or in fact, moved in the slightest. It’s like being in the presence of an overly made up living doll, and Frank backs away slowly, says, “Okay, fine. I’ll see you tomorrow. Ten am at Mikey’s apartment, right?”

Unsurprisingly it’s Gerard who responds. “Yeah. You’ve got his number, if he doesn’t answer your knock, call him, he’s mind melded to his phone.”

For a split second, Frank’s sure he sees Mikey smile, the slightest curl of his lips that’s so small that Frank’s convinced he’s seeing things, especially when on second look Mikey’s back to his standard dismissive expression. Which is all kinds of infuriating, and Frank says, “You need to lock the front door, it’s too easy to get in here,” before walking away, phone already out of his pocket.

~*~*~*~

“You should have seen him, if he smiled his face would crack, no fucking wonder they call him Roboboy.” Frank tucks his phone between his shoulder and ear, continuing to talk as he balances his pizza and six pack of soda on one hand whole unlocking the door to his apartment. “He didn’t even say hello, just left it to his manager to do the talking and stood there like a fucking mannequin.”

“You only saw him a few minutes,” Ray says, sounding infinitely patient, something that’s impressive considering Frank’s been sporadically ranting about Mikey for almost an hour. “And Worm really likes him.”

“So you keep saying.” Frank kicks at the door, forcing the warped wood out of the frame. “Tell him to get his head checked, he must have brain damage from the camera flashes.”

“Or he took the time to actually get to know Mikey.” Ray sighs, says, “Eat your pizza, everything will look better tomorrow.”

“What, he’s going to turn into an actual human being tomorrow?” Frank can’t see it, no matter how often Ray mentions Mikey and Worm’s so-called friendship or points out that Frank hasn’t seen Mikey long enough to form an actual opinion. “But okay, I’m eating. Then I’m going to find some oil just in case.”

“Frank.....”

“I know, be respectful to the client,” and Frank will be, he always gives respect no matter the person. “I’ll be the perfect bodyguard. I’ll even wear my shades and good suit if you want.”

“Like you have a good suit,” Ray says, his voice dropping away for a moment before he adds, “I should go to bed.”

Frank grins as he toes off his shoes, setting his pizza and soda onto the counter. “I’m not stopping you. You and me, baby. I’ll keep you company while you raid your spank bank.”

“Yeah, no. I’m not having a threesome with you and my hand.”

Frank pulls free a soda and sets the rest to one side, says on a laugh, “You know you want it, some deep breathing, some dirty talk. ‘Oh Ray, you’re so big, slap my ass and ride me like a cowboy’.”

“And this is why you don’t get laid,” Ray says, sounding amused even as he cuts Frank off. “I’m going to bed. I’ll call you in the morning.”

“Have fun,” Frank says, and then, “And I do get laid.”

Frank suspects that Ray didn’t hear, but still, it needs to be said. Frank does get laid, it’s just, despite his love of flirting and having fun, Frank’s choosy about who he actually hooks up with.

“Okay, maybe it’s been a while.” Frank clicks on the TV, making his admission to the empty room as he gathers up his pizza and soda and heads for the couch.

Good pizza and bad TV. It’s exactly what Frank needs to relax, fortifying himself for the next day.

~*~*~*~

“This is ridiculous,” Frank mutters, knocking on the door yet again.

It’s not like Frank wouldn’t rather still be in bed as well either, but unlike spoiled models that are apparently deaf and welded into their beds, Frank’s got no choice. He raps harder, his knuckles aching and sure that at any moment security will arrive and demand he stop creating a disturbance before escorting him from out of the building.

“Okay, fine. Plan B.” Frank stops knocking and pulls his phone from out of his pocket. Quickly scrolling through his contacts he finds the entry he made for Mikey and presses call, dubious that an actual phone call will work when repeated knocking hasn’t registered at all.

“Urgh.”

Surprised at the quick answer, but also well versed in deciphering early morning communication even when done without words, Frank says, “It’s me, Frank. Your new bodyguard.”

“‘Kay.”

Mikey ends the call and Frank puts away his phone and stands straight, slipping into the role which he’ll hold for the rest of the day.

A few minutes and there’s the sound of locks being pulled back before the door slowly opens, revealing Mikey wrapped in a blue comforter that’s tucked to up under his chin.

“Sorry, I was sleeping,” Mikey says, stating the obvious considering his epic bed-head, half-closed eyes and the pillow crease that runs over his cheek. “Coffee in the kitchen. I need... Bathroom.”

The comforter slithering against the floor, Mikey shuffles away, leaving Frank standing in the doorway. It’s tempting to stick to rigid protocol and stay in place until expressly told to enter by Mikey, but despite everything, Frank’s not that much of an asshole.

Also, Frank actually wants to see the apartment, both from a professional viewpoint and his own personal curiosity, sure that he’s about to walk into a place that’s sterile and blank.

Within a few steps Frank sees that he’s wrong.

Even in the dim light caused by the shut curtains, Mikey’s apartment is anything but sterile and blank. Between the bookcases and framed artwork every wall is covered with something to look at, and Frank itches to examine the bookshelves, all of which are crammed full.

The door shut behind him, Frank ensures that it’s locked before heading for the open-plan kitchen, taking in the giant TV with multiple game consoles laid out in front and a couch that’s almost hidden under a pile of cushions and blankets.

Frank’s sure he can see clothes in the pile too, but he’s not about to look closer, especially when on reaching the kitchen he’s faced with a coffee machine that looks like it it’s been stolen from Starbucks.

Frank stares. He knows coffee, Frank’s got a machine of his own that at a push he can program, but that is nothing like this. This is the terminator of the coffee machine world, cool and sleek and terrifying.

“Put a mug into the gap and press the green button, it’ll be ready to go.”

It’s the most Frank’s ever heard Mikey speak, and he looks over to where Mikey’s appeared, seeing that in the last few minutes he’s lost the comforter and has changed into a hoodie and sweat pants.

“Okay, I can do that.” Technically Frank’s duties don’t involve providing coffee for his clients, but one thing he’s learned while doing this job is what’s written down is only a fraction of what he actually does end up doing.

It’s something Frank learned quickly. He’s carried purse dogs and given opinions on clothes and held back the hair of TV starlets as they puked in a gutter. This is just another element of that, and Frank grabs a mug, slotting it into the gap before pressing the button.

“Thanks.” Mikey pulls out a barstool and slumps down on the counter, his head on his crossed arms. “It was a long night.”

“No problem.” Now he’s this close Frank revises his opinion that Mikey changed into these clothes. They’ve obviously been slept in and Mikey himself smells of hair product and sweat, a faint tidemark of make-up at the back of his neck. “Did the shoot go well?”

“The client got the pictures they wanted.” Mikey turns his head, looking at Frank through a curtain of hair. “It just took for-fucking ever.”

“Sucks.” It’s all Frank can think of to say. While he enjoys taking a few photos himself he knows nothing about the fashion world, and little more about what goes on at a shoot. Making a mental note to research Mikey’s world, or at least settle in for an America’s Next Top Model marathon, Frank takes the mug once the coffee stops pouring, setting it down next to Mikey’s head. “Here.”

Mikey sits, wrapping the mug in his hands and takes a sip, steam curling past his face as he keeps the mug close to his mouth. “You’re a prince amongst men.”

Frank isn’t sure how to take that. All he did was press a button but Mikey looks blissful as he takes another, longer, drink. It’s an expression that reminds Frank of one of the pictures he saw in Ray’s magazines, one of the few spreads where the focus was on Mikey looking soft and peaceful instead of his usual hard lines. It’s what Frank’s seeing now, except instead of white clothes and perfect hair Mikey’s bundled up in black, his hair still defying gravity and crusted with product.

“Fuck, sorry.” Suddenly Mikey stops drinking, says, “You can have coffee, I’m so used to Worm helping himself that I forgot you’re new. There’s breakfast shit in the fridge, too.”

“You want me to make breakfast?” While Frank can make a mean pancake he can’t imagine doing so here, or Mikey ever eating them. “I will but you’ve got the promo at midday, remember.”

“Not for me, for you,” Mikey says, sighing as he stands. “If you’re hungry, help yourself. I need to go get showered. The clients don’t go for the Scissorhands look.”

“No, scars don’t sell,” Frank says, almost missing the mug he’s about to grab when, for the first time, Mikey smiles wide, directly at Frank.

“You like that movie? It’s here somewhere,” Mikey says, clutching his coffee with one hand as he crosses the room and pulls back the curtains, blinking in the sudden bright light. Crouching in front of a set of shelves he stares at the contents. “Gerard tied scissors to my hands once. I almost cut off my nose.”

It feels like Frank’s suddenly two steps behind the conversation. Trying to work out how Gerard became involved, Frank goes to stand next to Mikey, impressed when he sees the hundreds of DVDs that are crammed onto the shelves.

“There. I knew it.” Mikey reaches forward, and Frank can’t help noticing how the movement pulls his hoodie up at the back, exposing a stripe of pale skin. “I haven’t watched in a while, but you can if you like. Or you know, do whatever. I won’t be long.”

Mikey stands, his smile wiped away and mood back to subdued as he puts the DVD back on the shelf.

“I’ll just have some coffee and wait,” Frank says, not comfortable enough to sit watching a movie while Mikey gets ready. “I need to double check with the venue anyway.”

It’s true, Frank already pulling out his phone and checking his organizer as Mikey disappears into the bathroom. Quickly checking details he already knows off by heart, Frank makes a call to Sweet Lips, ensuring that nothing has changed since Gerard sent over the schedule.

Assured that mall security will be in place, and the set up for the signing is complete, Frank ends the call, and is left with nothing to do. Pushing back the temptation to call Ray, who by this time will already be knee deep in paperwork, Frank pours himself a coffee, taking small sips as he looks around Mikey’s kitchen.

Apart from a display of different coffee types and accessories, most of which Frank’s unable to name, there’s little that stands out. The appliances the kind of shiny that suggest scarce use and, in contrast, the sink full of mugs, all of them used.

Except, as Frank keeps looking his attention is pulled to the fridge, and the photos and notes that are stuck to the front. There’s no way that Frank won’t look, not when they’re out there for public display.

Mug safely set down to one side, Frank walks to the fridge, standing in place as he looks at each picture in turn. Most are of strangers, but there’s a few of Mikey with Gerard, and in each of them they’re touching in some way. It’s like Frank’s seeing them both in a new light, and he can’t help looking at one photo in particular. One where Mikey’s been captured laughing at something that Gerard is saying.

This Mikey is a world away from the man in the magazines -- Roboboy made real -- and the difference is enough that it takes Frank a while to step back. His attention redirects to the rest of the apartment.

With the curtains pulled back it’s easier to see now, and Frank walks a slow circuit, checking safety issues and access points and taking the time to examine the control of the alarm set up next to the door. Satisfied that the system is one of the best, Frank goes around again, this time only for his own curiosity.

In a way it reminds Frank of his own apartment, just with better quality furniture and fittings and a lot less mold and stains. Frank sees copies of DVDs and CDs that he owns and he’s up on his tip-toes admiring a row of action figures arranged on a top shelf when Mikey says, “You can touch if you want. None are really rare.”

Frank turns, and sees that Mikey’s come out of the bathroom, steam wisping past his body and wrapped in two towels, his hair slicked back and curling at the nape of his neck.

“You’re done already?” Frank was expecting Mikey to take much longer, not be in and out in under ten minutes.

Mikey grins. “I was only washing in there, what else were you expecting me to do?”

“I just...” Frank trails off, glad that he’s not prone to blushing, because despite what Mikey apparently thinks, Frank was not imagining Mikey jerking off in the shower. “I thought you’d have to do modely shit, like moisturize and stuff.”

“I used a moisturizing shower gel,” Mikey says, sounding amused. “And I have to go dry my hair now, so I guess that’s modely shit.”

“Okay, I’ll just stay here then,” Frank says, watching as Mikey goes to his bedroom, leaving a trail of wet footprints behind him.

Alone again, Frank stares at the shut bedroom door, and realizes he doesn’t know Mikey Way in the slightest.

~*~*~*~

“Any of that left for me?”

Ray looks up from his laptop, groaning a little as he straightens up and rotates his shoulders. One handed, he pushes the closed pizza box across his desk and says, “Help yourself.”

Frank opens the box, unsurprised to see a full pie of veggie delight. It’s just what Ray does, one of his rituals where he’s there for his staff when they go out on a first job. Officially it’s to get feedback, but Frank knows it’s more for Ray to ensure his people are okay and comfortable with their new clients.

Slice of pizza in hand, Frank sits in his usual chair but makes no attempt to actually eat.

“That bad?” Ray closes his laptop, looking concerned as he looks over at Frank. “Gerard seemed happy when he called, but if you’re having personality clash issues with Mikey I can change things around.”

“It’s not that.” And in fact even if he was having issues Frank wouldn’t want Ray to step in. It’s just, today has been weird and Frank still doesn’t know how he feels. “I went to his apartment, and onto the promo thing at Sweet Lips, and tailed him to a thousand meetings after.”

“And?” Ray prompts, when Frank stops speaking.

“And he’s all kinds of confusing,” Frank says, dropping the slice of pizza back into the box. Frank stares past Ray, trying to work out how to explain how frustrating it’s been working for Mikey, how one minute he’s one thing and the next changed completely. “I went to his apartment, and it’s awesome, like, normal rich person awesome. And Mikey was nice, he offered coffee and said I could watch a DVD. Then we got into the car to go to the mall and he froze over. It was fucking freaky, like somebody had thrown a switch.”

Ray considers a moment, then says, “So he changes at work, you do that too.”

It’s a valid point. Frank does change while working, his sense of fun overlain with a rigid attention to detail and professionalism, always. But still, “Not to that extent. I nearly got frost bite sitting next to him.”

“But you’re okay to work with him still?” Ray asks, as he opens his laptop and pulls up a page. “Because you’re scheduled to work with him all week. Including that high profile red carpet on Friday.”

Frank picks up his pizza again, this time taking a bite. “No, I’m good. I can put up with him being bipolar.”

“I doubt he’s actually bipolar,” Ray says, laptop shut again as he takes his own slice. “And you shouldn’t generalize like that.”

“I know, I know.” Frank waves off Ray’s comment, and slumps back into his chair, suddenly achingly aware of just how late that it is. “It’s been a fucking long day, I should get going. My bed and an America’s Next Top Model marathon is calling.”

Ray grins, pushing the pizza box over to Frank. “Take this, you can eat it while you’re learning about Mikey’s world.”

“I don’t need to,” Frank says, because no matter what he’s seen today, what it comes down to is the modeling world is nothing but fake, and Frank doesn’t need a TV show to know that. Eating the rest of the slice in a few bites, Frank checks his watch, seeing it’s well past time for Ray to go home too. “Walk me to the subway?”

“You’re the bodyguard around here,” Ray points out, but he’s already shutting down his laptop and grabbing the case from the back of his chair, “You should be walking me.”

Frank holds up the pizza box, says, “You can’t buy my services for the price of a pizza, I’m not that cheap.”

“You forgot I get the boss and friend discount,” Ray says, pulling on his coat and draping his arm over Frank’s shoulder, steering him toward the door. “And I pay your salary.”

“Well I guess I could protect you this time.” Frank looks up at Ray, leaning in a little so his head is against Ray’s shoulder. “But I expect to be kept in pizzas.”

Ray grins, says, “Deal.”

~*~*~*~

In the time that Frank’s been working for Mikey he’s had to resort to wake up calls four times. Which is why it’s so surprising when he knocks today and almost instantly hears someone unlocking, then opening the door.

“Frank, hi,” Gerard says with a smile, but there’s also something else there, some tension that has Frank instinctively rest his hand on his Glock, prepared for any potential hostile situation.

Icily calm, Frank steps inside, and instantly drops his hand.

“Pete turned up to finalize details on the Androids Never Die collection,” Gerard says, indicating Mikey’s couch, which is barely visible under an array of different fabrics, most of them black. “He wasn’t supposed to arrive until next week.”

“Creativity waits for no one.” The man coming out of Mikey’s bedroom is small, and tattooed, and smiling at Frank in a way that’s all teeth and show. “Frank, I assume. Mikey’s been telling me all about you.”

Frank isn’t sure what, unless Mikey’s managed to spin some tale out of how Frank takes his coffee and his taste in old movies. Still, it’s Frank’s job to be polite and he says, “Nice to meet you.”

“I’ve rearranged Mikey’s meetings for this morning,” Gerard says, his attention on Pete as he gathers sketches from the breakfast bar and starts looking at each one. “Are those the designs for the jacket? We need to talk about the collar.”

Frank obviously forgotten, Gerard hurries toward Pete, trying to look at the sketches as they both sit on a clear patch of floor close to the couch, the sketches spread out in a fan.

Which leaves Frank unsure what to do. Most days he makes Mikey coffee and then wanders the apartment, checking out the DVD, book and comic collections when Mikey goes to shower. Today he’s not even sure if Mikey is here, and Frank casts a longing look at the coffee machine, and the array of mugs that are spread out over the counter.

“Gerard. Pete.” The door to the bedroom is pushed open, and Mikey looks out, answering the question about if he’s actually here. His gaze going from Gerard and Pete, neither of whom pay any kind of attention, Mikey looks over to Frank. “Can you come in here, give me a hand?”

It’s won’t be the first time Frank’s been in Mikey’s bedroom; he was in there the first day to check out the locks on the window. But it’s the first time he’s been in there with Mikey, and certainly the first time he’s been there when Mikey’s standing in a pair of tight leather pants, and using his arms to keep a corset fixed into place.

Hesitating, Frank says, “I can go and get Gerard or Pete?”

Mikey shakes his head. “If Gerard’s got his hands on Pete’s sketches they’ll be there for hours.”

Frank looks back into the main room, seeing that Pete and Gerard are caught in an intense conversation that involves a lot of pointing at sketches. It’s obvious Mikey’s right and they’re there for the long haul, and Frank says, “What do you want me to do?”

“I need this laced up,” Mikey says, one hand flat on the front of the corset. “It’s one of Pete’s signature pieces, but it’s impossible to put on myself.”

Frank stares, trying to work out how the corset actually fastens. From where he’s standing it looks little more than a piece of ribbed leather, and eventually Frank admits, “I’ve no idea how that works.”

“Oh, it’s got strings.” Mikey turns, exposing his back. “Cross them over the hooks and keep pulling.”

“I can do that,” Frank says, and he can. He’s a fully trained professional. He can fire all types of firearms and fight in hand to hand combat. He's even a master at sewing on errant buttons. And yet, when Frank takes hold of the strings he feels clumsy, fumbling as he wraps them around the first hooks.

Mikey stands still, his breathing slow and soft, and Frank’s all too aware of how his knuckles keep brushing against Mikey’s skin, fleeting touches that surprise Frank every time.

“You need to pull harder,” Mikey says then and looks over his shoulder, trying not to twist his body. “It’s designed to be tight.”

Frank stops crossing the strings, so they lie lax in his hands as he looks at the leather that’s curled around Mikey’s body. There’s no way it’s going to meet in the middle, no matter how hard Frank pulls, and he says, “They’ll pull against your back, it won’t be comfortable.”

Mikey takes in a deep breath, says, “Welcome to the world of fashion.”

Frank takes that as a request to keep going. The strings wrapped around his fingers, he pulls, so that the strings already wrapped around the hooks pull tight, the sides of the corset drawing together at least two inches. Not wanting to tighten it further, Frank moves to the next row of hooks, and already the strings are pressing hard against Mikey’s skin.

Not that it doesn’t look good. In fact, Frank has to admit that visually it looks great, the black strings stark against the pale of Mikey’s back, while the metallic ribs stand out as darker slashes of shadow.

“There’s a jacket to go over the top, it’s what Gee and Pete have been arguing about,” Mikey says, looking forward and remaining perfectly still, his breathing shallow. “The whole outfit is the central piece of the Androids Never Die range, they want it to be perfect.”

For the last few minutes, Frank’s been caught in the rhythm of hook, tighten, hook again. But Mikey’s words throw him out of that rhythm, Frank’s hand slipping as he says, “Your signature range is called Androids Never Die?”

“It was Pete’s idea, to fuck with the stereotype and names.” Mikey laughs, and Frank keeps his hands still, the strings cutting white lines into his fingers. “They’re going to throw shit anyway, so we’re making shit sandwiches, or shit cake.”

“That’s fucking disgusting,” Frank says, but it’s also a concept he can get behind, negativity being used in positive ways. Except, Frank thinks about what he’s heard said about and to Mikey, even just in the last week. “It’s going to make them worse, the paps and the gossip mags.”

“I know,” Mikey says, and the way that he’s standing, frozen in place, he could be the Roboboy that the press are so fond of presenting, except, Frank knows that he’s not. He can feel Mikey breathing, the warmth from his skin and how he’s itching to move. “They’re going to say it anyway though, so....”

“So you’re taking back the description.” Frank likes the idea, and the reasons behind it even more so. “I like it.”

“Thanks.” Mikey looks over his shoulder again, smiling at Frank. “It’s our fuck you to the haters. Something subtle since me flipping them off would be bad press.”

“It would be satisfying though,” Frank says, knowing firsthand how satisfying it actually is. Even if all he can do is flip off prior annoying clients when he sees them on TV.

“Well, yeah,” Mikey agrees, turning back around so Frank can start hooking and lacing again. “Besides, androids are fucking awesome.”

“They’re badass.” Frank crosses over the strings and pulls. By now he’s almost at the top of the corset and is having to stand closer, his fingers brushing against Mikey’s shoulder blades as Frank reaches the top two hooks. This close Frank can smell that Mikey’s already showered this morning, and can see the few freckles that are scattered over his shoulders.

“Fasten it with a bow or something,” Mikey says, breaking into Frank’s thoughts. “Not a tight knot though, having Pete gnaw at them so close to my back is unnerving.”

Frank bets that it is, and makes sure that the knot that he makes will be easily unfastened. Ensuring the free ends of the strings hang even and straight, Frank takes a step back and says, “Done.”

Instantly Mikey moves, turning as he tugs at the corset, ensuring it sits right. Adjustments over, he drops his arms, looks directly at Frank and says, “What do you think?”

“It looks good.” Truthfully ‘good’ doesn’t cut it for what Frank’s actually thinking. He’s not about to go running around in leather pants and a corset himself, but he has to admit on Mikey they look right, like he was born to wear that kind of outfit. Torn between keeping a professional interest and the desire to just stare, Frank notes how the corset rests above Mikey’s hipbones, and how the metallic stripes give the illusion of ribs pulling in at the waist.

It’s an outfit that’s all contrasts and harsh lines, the black leather that’s molded to Mikey’s body, a second skin that accentuates the slight curve of his hips. Out there for sure, but Frank loves it.

“Think I look enough like an android?” Mikey asks, and slips into the expression that Frank’s seen so often in pictures, blank and disinterested, like Frank’s not worthy of notice.

“That’s fucking freaky,” Frank says, the words slipping past his usual professional veneer.

Mikey grins then, Roboboy pushed away as he makes for the door, and says, “I’m going to show Gerard and Pete and make sure there hasn't been any blood shed over the jacket.”

Frank makes no attempt to move, just stands still and watches Mikey walk, the strings of the corset swinging with each step. Unable to look away, it’s only when Mikey leaves the room that Frank softly says, “Fuck.”

~*~*~*~*~

With Pete in town and Mikey insisting he’s got no plans to leave his apartment, Frank gets home earlier than usual.

It feels weird to be there while it’s still daylight, and Frank’s all too aware of the dust that coats every surface, and how the laundry has backed up again. Not that Frank’s about to do anything about that just now. He’s got enough clothes to last for a few days still, and intends to use this free time kicking back and watching TV, and maybe throwing away the tower of pizza boxes that are stacked in a corner.

As piles go it’s impressive, and Frank eyes it suspiciously, sure that it’s grown since this morning.

Resolved to throwing the pile out, Frank secures his Glock in the safe at the back of his closet and takes off his work shirt, pulling on an old t-shirt instead. Instantly he feels more comfortable, more at home in his skin as he hunts down a trash bag and starts breaking down the boxes, stamping each one until it bends in the middle.

Two bags filled, Frank balances them next to the door, ready to be thrown out in the morning, and then takes note of his options, which at the moment amount to shower, food or TV.

Of course the best solution is all three. Quickly putting in an order for takeout, Frank turns on the TV, flicking through channels as he toes off his shoes. Stopping on an episode of Storage Wars, he puts down the remote and strips off his t-shirt, throwing it onto the couch.

In socks and pants only, Frank takes the few steps to his bathroom, phone and wallet left safe on a shelf and unfastening his belt as he turns on the shower and waits for the water to heat up. Usually it takes a few minutes, but Frank’s still stepping out of his pants when the water starts steaming, almost too hot when he puts his hand into the stream.

But almost is fine by Frank, and he’s not about to waste this opportunity for a genuinely hot shower. Pants folded and put on top of the toilet tank, Frank takes off his boxer briefs, kicking them into the hamper that’s wedged under the sink.

Frank steps into the tub, gasping at the hot water that hits against his shoulder then back. In those first few seconds it’s close to being too much, Frank’s chin against his chest as he moves further under the stream, inching his way in as water flows down his legs and soaks his hair, rivulets running forward and running from the end of his nose.

Frozen in position, Frank basks in the heat, soaking in the warmth of the water as his muscles relax, tension pushed back. All that matters is the water hitting his body, the damp heat of the bathroom, the scent of his shower gel as Frank grabs hold of the washcloth that’s hung on the caddy.

Gel squeezed onto the cloth, Frank starts to wash, rubbing under his arms and over his chest, leaving trails of suds that get caught in the water and flow down to the drain -- and somehow starts to think about Mikey.

Frank tries to shut the thoughts down, pushing them away before they grab hold, but it’s too late. They’re just there, taunting and providing memories no matter how hard Frank tries for professional distance.

Mikey is Frank’s client. Frank’s hired to protect him, not stand in a shower, hard and turned on as he remembers how good Mikey looked in a corset and tight pants, or how Mikey smelled when Frank was so up close to his body, how his shoulders were lightly muscled and skin warm.

Despite himself, Frank lets his hand drop, rubbing the cloth over his stomach in slow circles. It’s Frank’s own form of torture, hand so close to his dick but not touching -- and he won’t. He can’t, Frank’s never crossed the line with a client and he’s not going to start now.

Washcloth dropped to the floor, Frank reaches out, teeth gritted and forcing himself to stay still as he turns the dial, turning the hot water to abruptly, icy cold.

~*~*~*~

Still chilled, Frank hurries along the sidewalk, heading for Dave’s Bar.

It’s little more than an hour since his cold shower and in that time his plans have changed completely, a night in front of the TV swapped for takeout shoved in the fridge and plans to meet Ray. Though Frank still isn’t sure why, Ray remaining cagey about why he and Frank need to meet up.

Not that Frank has put up much resistance. It’s better to get out than stay indoors with the all too real danger of throwing professional sense to one side and jerking off to thoughts about Mikey. Frank doesn’t even know where the thoughts have come from. Mikey’s too fake, too polished and put together, he’s not Frank’s type in the slightest. And yet, Frank can’t stop thinking about him, even now remaining half hard as he turns into Dave’s.

As bars go it’s nothing special. The carpet's long past showing its original color and walls that remain stained with old smoke. But it’s got beer that not watered down, and it’s a place that’s totally safe, which makes sense when most of the patrons work in security.

It’s a place where Frank feels at home, and he waves at the bartender, who points to one of the tables that are tucked back in a corner. Stretching up, Frank sees Ray, sitting with his back to the wall, and then, “Bryar!” Frank runs, taking a flying leap and grabbing Bob in a tight hug before he can think of moving away. “Did Timberlake let you off of his leash?”

“He’s vacationing with his mom and Jessica,” Bob says, making a pretense of trying to pry Frank off. “She’s got her own security so I was cut free for a week.”

“And you decided to see me.” Frank grins wide and presses a kiss against Bob’s forehead, delighted to hear the expected growl in response. “Tell us all the juicy details, did you find any bedazzled bandannas hidden in his closet or his dick in a box?”

“You know a lot of shit about him for someone who supposedly hates pop music,” Bob says, sitting back in his chair and letting Frank cling. “And no, I didn’t find anything like that, just a fuckload of hand sanitizer and sneakers.”

To Frank that sounds like the start of a good story, promising enough that it needs face to face interaction. Letting go of Bob, Frank sits in the chair next to Ray and says, “Well come on, spill.”

Bob shrugs. “He likes sneakers, and doesn’t like germs. There’s no more to tell.”

Bob’s refusal to give gory details is something Frank gets, protecting client confidentiality always important. That doesn’t mean Bob can’t give some detail, and Frank leans forward in his chair, his gaze locked with Bob’s. “You can give more than that. Tell me if he does really spray door handles with sanitizer at least.”

“That was OK! sensationalizing as usual,” Bob says, keeping Frank’s gaze, but then adds, “When I’m on duty I keep hand sanitizer in my suit pocket. Two bottles of the stuff.”

Frank laughs, enjoying the moment as Ray says with a grin, “I saw you in your monkey suit. Bob Bryar in a tux escorting Justin’s mom to the ball.”

“Lynne’s a classy lady,” Bob says, taking a long drink of his beer. “And she really loves Justin.”

“So I’ve heard,” Frank says, weighing up the possibility of getting a drink of Ray’s beer while still interrogating Bob.

“Don’t even think about it, Iero.” Magically, as if he’s tapped into Frank’s brain, Ray picks up his glass, draining his drink before standing. “I’ll go and get more, the usual?”

Frank nods, and turns back to Bob, but any further questions are cut off when Bob says, “So, I hear you’re babysitting models now.”

“One model.” Even the thought of looking after more than one has Frank’s eye twitching, and as much as he loves Bob, right now Frank hates him for bringing up Mikey. “He’s an asshole.”

Bob stretches out his legs, perfectly relaxed as he takes another drink and then says, “Yeah, he looks it.”

As comments go it’s nothing Frank hasn’t heard before, hell, he’s said it before, but now it feels wrong. Like he’s become part of the masses who judge Mikey without knowing him at all. It’s why Frank has to say, “He’s not really. At least mostly, he can be a fucking cold bastard in public, but he’s nice really. I like him.”

“It’s a bonus when you like your client,” Bob says and holds his bottle up in a salute. “Hope it stays that way.”

Frank hopes so too, and right now he should be steering the conversation back to Justin, but all he can think of is Mikey. Which sucks, and Frank’s not used to this. Sure he’s had attractive clients before, but they’ve never held any actual sexual attraction for him. Hell, Mikey didn’t hold any sexual attraction until today, and Frank doesn’t get it. The words blurting out, he says, “Are you ever attracted to your clients? Like, sexually attracted?”

Bob stares at Frank, says slowly, “Are you asking if I get a hard on to Justin Timberlake?”

“Not just Justin, any of them.” Frank hopes so, because Bob is one of the best bodyguards out there, and if it’s happened to him, it could happen to anyone.

“No,” Bob says, not even stopping to think. “They’re clients, they’re off limits.”

It’s what Frank expected, and he’s got no idea why he came so close to crossing his own lines. Bob remaining silent, Frank thinks back to this morning, and says, “Maybe I’ve got a thing for corsets, or leather, or pleather, I don’t think it was real. Yeah, that’s it. It’s probably the Catwoman thing coming back.”

“I haven’t got a clue what you’re saying,” Bob says, setting his empty bottle down on the table. “You have a thing about Catwoman?”

“I did.” Head in his hands, Frank stares down at the gross carpet, moving his left foot away from a wad of pink gum. “Mikey was wearing a suit like hers, just with a corset instead of a tight top. It probably triggered some adolescent sex fantasy.”

“Which you’re going to shut up about right now.” Bob frowns, shaking his head. “Ten minutes and already you’re talking scarring bullshit.”

“I’ve had to put up with that shit for the last six months,” Ray says, sitting in his former place and putting three bottles of beer onto the table. “Was he telling you about fishing the engagement ring out of the toilet?”

“Worse, about jerking his tiny teenaged dick to Catwoman,” Bob says, grabbing a bottle as he adds, “And wanting to have sex with Mikey Way.”

Frank sits up straight, glaring at Bob who’s making no attempt to hide his amusement. “Asshole, I didn’t say that. I don’t want to have sex with him. He’s my client.”

“Yeah, he is,” Ray says, looking between Frank and Bob. “An important one.”

“I know that.” And Frank does. He knows it and won’t forget.

~*~*~*~

It’s not the first red carpet event that Frank’s worked. Not even close, but the ones in the past have been for TV award shows or movie premiers on a small scale. This is something else entirely, and Frank looks out of the tinted windows as their car crawls toward the crowds that surround the entrance into the building.

Even from here Frank can see the press waiting, long lensed cameras held by photographers camped out at the barriers and toward the back of the press enclosure, standing on stepladders.

It’s a chaotic scene and Frank runs through his preparations yet again, the timings to get Mikey inside, the people who’ll be wanting to talk and the ones Frank won’t allow to get close. It’s the usual standard of entrance for this kind of event, just amplified with a lot more out there outfits, and Frank’s as sure as he can be that things will be fine.

“Remember, mention the new line when you get asked,” Gerard says. He’s sitting next to Mikey in the back of the car, turned to the side and his knees against Mikey’s as Gerard gives last minute instructions. “If that fucking asshole from TMZ starts blow him off, he’ll be expecting it anyway.”

Mikey nods, and at this point, so close to showtime, he’s so shut down that Frank’s unable to see any hint of the Mikey that’s been haunting his dreams.

Gerard glances out of the window, and then turns even further, pulling Mikey into a quick hug, saying, “Don’t let the fuckers get to you, Mikes.”

“I won’t,” Mikey says, his icy persona flickering for a moment as he hugs Gerard back.

“We’re here,” Frank says, moving so he’s sitting close to the door. At the warning Mikey breaks the hug, sitting up and pulling at his shirt so it’s lying straight. In the low light of the car the material looks flat, but Frank’s seen how under the flashes of cameras details appear, fake rivets on the seams and a hint of wires that crisscross over Mikey’s chest.

The car pulls to a stop next to the red carpet, and Frank asks, “Ready?”

On Mikey’s nod Frank gets out of the car and steps into a world that’s all flashing lights and shouts for attention. Something that only gets worse when Mikey steps out of the car.

“Roboboy, over here!”

“Mikey, look this way!”

“This way, Robo! This way!”

Expression blank, Mikey ignores every shout as he stands still, posing in the way that he’s famed for. Frank stands back with Gerard, and checks out the crowd, watching for anything or anyone that looks out of place.

“Hey, you unfeeling bastard, look over here!”

Gerard flinches, says under his breath. “One day I’m going to fucking take them out. Every single one of them.”

Frank can understand why. In the time he’s known Mikey he’s heard the comments and insults, but this is a thousand times worse. It’s like Frank’s helped deliver Mikey to a crowd of people who hate him, and have no issue with letting him know.

“Should I move him on?” It’s not time yet, the schedule saying Mikey needs to stand for at least a minute before moving on to the reporters who are watching, waiting to pounce. But right now Frank doesn’t give a fuck about timing.

“Not yet,” Gerard says, checking his watch. “They need their shots or they’ll get even more hostile.

To Frank that doesn’t seem possible, but Mikey seems to be coping just fine, his expression unchanged as he turns, expertly showing off all of his outfit.

Frank checks his own watch. Mikey may need to give his minute but they’re not getting a second longer, Frank moving as soon as he can. Hand against the small of Mikey’s back, Frank blinks against the explosion of flashes as he urges Mikey forward.

“Hey, robosuck, is that your robofuck?”

The shout comes from out of the press pens, and Frank scowls and starts to turn, only stopping when Mikey slows and then completely stops walking, watching someone who is ignoring the yelling reporters and heading directly toward them.

“Mikey Way. I see they’ve let you out of the retirement home again.”

The man talking is dressed in an outfit as form fitting as Mikey’s, except instead of black it’s a riot of colors, red and green striped pants and a shirt that’s nothing but net at the sides. He’s someone Frank’s seen before, and he thinks through all the pictures he’s looked at in Ray’s -- and then his own -- collection of magazines, before finally remembering the name -- Ryan Ross, the so called new Mikey Way.

“Ryan.” Mikey looks Ryan from head to toe, cold and haughty as he says, “Isn’t it past your bedtime?”

“Isn’t it time you were back in your box?” Ryan sneers, hands on his hips and positioned for maximum exposure as behind them the cameras keep rolling. “Leave the actual work for those that can cut it.”

“That rules you out for a start.” Mikey starts walking again, the camera flashes intensifying when he reaches Ryan and brushes straight past, not even dignifying him with a look.

Putting himself between Mikey and Ryan, Frank looks back, seeing how Ryan is milking the moment, his poses almost exactly like Mikey’s. Except, despite what the press says, Ryan will never be Mikey. He’s not good enough, he doesn’t look good enough, and Frank wants to laugh that Ryan’s so deluded.

Instead, Frank steps to one side, his expression schooled as a reporter steps forward, mic outstretched in her hand and says, “Mikey, Marion from E! Online, tell me, is this outfit from your own new collection?”

“A one of a kind piece designed by Pete Wentz,” Mikey says, ignoring the camera that’s being pushed up close to his face. “But we’ll be releasing a collection based on the same design aesthetics.”

“How’s he doing?” Gerard asks, appearing at Frank’s side.

“Okay.” Frank keeps watching as Mikey answers more questions, repeating his answers when they move onto the next reporter in line. All the time the cameras push close, people yelling from the surrounding crowds, taking their own pictures and demanding autographs, shouting louder until Mikey looks their way.

“It drives them crazy he doesn’t give a reaction,” Gerard says, looking back toward the press pens. “The more he ignores them the more that they yell. He’ll have been torn apart by half of them by tonight.”

“More Roboboy shit,” Frank says, hating the way the words sound from out of his mouth.

“That and a load of other crap.” Gerard starts walking, close to Mikey and watching his back when finally, the last interview is over and they can all go inside. “Because none of those bastards know him, not like we do.”

And despite only knowing Mikey a few weeks, Frank knows that he’s right.

~*~*~*~

Frank’s no stranger to being awake during the early hours of the morning. Usually though, he’s on his way back from a show, clothes soaked through with sweat and his ears buzzing.

Right now he’s standing in a quiet hallway, still dressed in his suit and holding a gaudy gold award, careful that the protruding spikes don’t stick in his chest.

“I still think it’s some kind of mutant pufferfish,” Mikey says, busy opening the door to his apartment. When it’s unlocked he steps inside, disabling the alarm and then turns back to Frank. “Are you coming in?”

Frank goes inside, peering at the award as Mikey turns on the lights and closes the curtains. “Where should I put the dandelion head?”

“Shove it in a corner somewhere.” Mikey sits on the arm of the sofa, legs stretched out and lets himself fall so he lands with a soft thump on his back. “Fuck, that was a long night.”

Frank has to agree. Between the countless awards intersected with micro runway shows Frank’s had more than enough fashion to last him for years. It feels like he’s just spent the last seven hours existing in a reality that’s nothing but fake. The only positive aspect of the night was that at least Frank got to sit in the back of the auditorium with the other hangers on and bodyguards and not up front like Gerard and Mikey.

“Don’t you display them?” Frank looks around the room, finally putting the award in an empty space on a shelf. “Fashion Icon of the Year sounds like a big deal.”

“Only for people who care about that shit.” Mikey pushes himself up on one elbow, looking at Frank over the side of the sofa. “Mom’s got most of them. She hangs them up next to Gerard’s paintings and her creepy dolls.”

Surprised that for the first time Mikey’s sharing personal info, Frank says, “You’ve got a mom?”

“I wasn’t actually built by robotics engineers,” Mikey says, grinning at Frank. “Of course I have a mom, I share her with Gerard.”

“Your brother, right.” Frank takes in the new information, the photos on the fridge now making more sense. “He doesn’t look like you.”

“Half the time I don’t look like me,” Mikey replies, letting himself flop back down. “It’s late, and I need to be up in eight hours. What kind of idiot schedules a meeting the morning after a red carpet?”

“That would be your brother.” Frank looks at his watch, and suppresses a groan, all too aware that between his journey home and getting back here in the morning, his own sleep is going to be cut short. “I should get going.”

Mikey sits, swinging his legs over the side of the couch. “You can stay if you want. It’ll take forever to get back to your place this late and there’s plenty of room, as long as you don’t mind taking the couch.”

Surprised, Frank tries to think how to reply, and in the end all he can say is, “I didn’t know you knew where I lived.”

Mikey leans forward and starts unfastening his boots. “Gerard had you checked out as soon as Worm recommended Ray’s firm, and specifically you.”

It makes sense, and Frank remembers the first time he saw Gerard, realizing he must have known everything about Ray and Frank before attending the meeting -- the meeting which was hours too early. Things sliding into place, Frank says, “He wasn’t really in the area, was he?”

“It’s part of his thing, he always turns up unexpectedly.” Mikey looks up then, grinning at Frank. “He says it’s amazing what you see when people aren’t expecting you.”

“Sneaky, I like it,” and Frank does, a lot.

“So, are you staying? I’ve got food and blankets.” One boot off, Mikey shoves it to one side and starts work on the next, then stops, holding onto his laces when Frank still doesn’t reply. His smile gone, Mikey looks over at Frank. “I’m making you feel uncomfortable; I’ll pay for a cab home instead.”

What Frank should do right now is take the cab home. It’s the right thing to do because as much as he’s starting to like Mikey, he’s not Frank’s friend. He’s Frank’s client, and Frank has to remember that fact. It’s just, it’s late and cold and the last thing Frank wants to do is go back outside, especially when he needs to be back here in a matter of hours.

Decision made, Frank says, “Okay, I’ll stay, and I won’t even bill you.”

“You’re all heart.” Mikey pulls off his second boot, and gets to his feet, seemingly re-energized as he heads for the kitchen.”I’m going to make hot chocolate, you want some?”

“Not coffee?” Normally when Frank’s in Mikey’s apartment he’s in the kitchen, making him coffee as Mikey slowly wakes up. Now Frank feels awkward, unsure what he’s supposed to be doing in this new role of being both bodyguard and guest.

“I have enough trouble sleeping without adding coffee this late,” Mikey says, filling a mug with water and putting it into the microwave that sits at the end of the counter. “Get comfy and put on the TV. This won’t take long.”

“You just want to see me struggle with that damn remote.” Frank takes off his jacket, draping it over the back of the sofa as he kicks off his shoes and lines them up close to the wall. It’s something that helps, Frank feeling like he’s taken a step away from his official job role as he sits on the sofa, positions himself so his Glock isn’t sticking into his back and picks up the ridiculously complex remote. ”If I turn on the shower again you’d better not laugh.”

Mikey looks over at Frank. “I won’t. Unless you threaten to shoot the remote again, then all bets are off.”

“There’s no need to have everything wireless,” Frank mutters, pressing a button that he hopes will turn on the TV. “Ha, got it.”

From the kitchen Mikey gives Frank a grin and a thumbs-up, and from anyone else Frank would think they’re being sarcastic, but on Mikey it’s a gesture that seems perfectly sincere, enough that Frank can’t help a small smile. Beginning to surf channels, Frank’s attention is divided between the TV and Mikey who’s an exercise in contrasts, domestic against high fashion, as he rummages in the cupboards for marshmallows and hot chocolate mix, adding a spoonful to the two mugs that are now filled with freshly boiled water.

By now he’s not as crisply perfect as the start of the night. His t-shirt is wrinkled and his hair is losing its style, but Frank thinks he looks better like this, approachable in a way his usual professional look never achieves.

“Iron Chef, nice choice.” A mug in each hand, Mikey leaves the kitchen and sits next to Frank, handing over a hot chocolate. “Do you think they know the mystery ingredient beforehand? I think so but Gerard says no.”

Frank watches as, onscreen, one of the chefs takes a knife to a tentacle, severing it with a quick chop. “They have to know. No one knows that many recipes about squid off the top of their heads.”

“That’s what I said but Gerard says knowing beforehand is cheating.” Mikey takes a sip of his hot chocolate, melted marshmallows sticking to his top lip. “I like the episodes with the chocolate, all the shit I can’t eat.”

Frank eyes Mikey, remembering visits to multiple coffee shops over the last week. “You eat chocolate, I’ve seen you. And you’ve got marshmallow on your top lip.”

Mikey grins, showing that he’s also got melted marshmallow stuck to his teeth. “If only the press could see me now, and yeah, I do. But I’m not supposed to have much. It fucks with my skin and the stylists bitch if I put on a few pounds.”

“What, they’re worried about you being the size of a branch instead of a stick?” To Frank, the very idea is ridiculous, especially when Mikey looks perfectly fine as he is. “You should tell them to fuck off.”

“It’s their job, I don’t take it personally,” Mikey says, settling down more comfortably in his corner of the couch. “Under this professionally buffed and moisturized exterior I’ve got a hard skin.”

Frank can believe it, and he can’t help remembering the scene on the red carpet, how unruffled Mikey appeared while under attack by the press. The icy calmness is something Frank understands on a professional basis, but he doesn’t get appearing so calm while under personal attack. Despite knowing he shouldn’t, that despite appearances right now, it’s not his place to ask personal questions, Frank asks, “How do you do it? Just stand there and take it.”

“Practice.” Mikey shrugs, holding his mug securely in both hands. “They’re not saying anything I haven't heard a thousand times before. It’s all noise now. And it’s not all of them, most are okay.”

Frank isn’t sure he could take the verbal abuse calmly, in fact, he’s sure that he couldn’t, even if he did have years’ worth of practice. “Don’t you want to punch them in the face?”

“I used to,” Mikey says, and then adds, “”Now I just ignore them. It drives them insane.”

“I couldn’t do that,” Frank admits, even now his fingers itching to make a fist as he remembers some of the comments. “Not that I’d ever be on red carpet as a model.”

Mikey takes another drink, looking at Frank over the rim of his mug. “I don’t know. You’ve got the face for it but you’d have issues height wise.”

“Are you implying I’m short?” Frank asks, his mouth twitching up into a smile.

Mikey grins back in reply. “Not implying, saying.”

“We can’t all be six foot willowy supermodels,” Frank says, stretching out his legs and slumping until his feet are the same distance from the couch as Mikey’s.

“I’m not that either,” Mikey points out, tapping his foot against Frank’s before standing. “I should get to bed. I’ll get you some blankets.”

Left watching a chef making squid foam, which frankly, is something that looks and sounds disgusting, Frank finishes his hot chocolate and takes the empty mug back to the kitchen. Quickly washing the mugs, he turns to see Mikey dropping an armful of blankets onto the couch.

“Help yourself to one of the toothbrushes in the cabinet,” Mikey says, pulling at the blankets until he finds a pillow which he puts on top of the stack. “I think the TV has an alarm somewhere, but well....”

“You use me instead, I know,” Frank says, cutting Mikey off. “I’ll set my phone alarm and wake you.”

“Okay. Great.” Mikey smiles, taking a backwards step toward his bedroom. “I’ll see you in the morning then.”

“Night,” Frank says, and waits until Mikey’s gone into the bathroom before starting to make up his bed.

~*~*~*~

When Frank wakes there’s something sticking into his side and some annoyingly chirpy girl icing cupcakes on the TV.

Eyes narrowed against the glare he gropes for the control, hitting the off button and plunging the room into silence and the kind of diffused light that suggests early morning. It’s a light that makes the apartment a strange place, Frank trying to place shadows as he wiggles to the side and gropes between the cushions, pulling out a black studded belt. He also finds a pair of black jeans and a t-shirt, and Frank’s reminded of seeing clothes on the couch on his very first day.

Clothes thrown to the side, Frank lies still, trying to get back to sleep, and quickly realizes that that’s not going to happen. Frustrated, Frank pushes his face against the back of the couch, his eyes tightly closed. If he was at home he’d get up and go out for a run, getting his work-out done early so he could go back to his apartment and make breakfast, for once able to watch the news while leisurely working his way through a round of peanut butter on toast.

Here though, that’s impossible. Frank’s got none of his running clothes and while he’s sure Mikey’s got some, and wouldn’t mind sharing, Frank can’t see himself running in some designer version of a track suit, even if he could make them fit.

Wide awake now, Frank turns so he’s lying on his back, staring up at the ceiling. The very boring, non-descript ceiling that doesn’t even have any water stains to break the expanse of grey space.

With no visual focus at all, Frank lets his mind drift, the bills he has to pay, how he has to buy some actual food soon, domestic thoughts that eventually meander to remembering the night before.

Or more specifically, remembering Mikey.

It’s dangerous territory, but this early Frank’s mental barriers are weakened, enough that he’s focusing on Mikey in a way that’s all physical. Not Mikey his client, or Mikey who Frank is starting to like as an actual person, but how Mikey looks.

How he smiles when no cameras are around, and the long line of his neck. The intensity he displays when captured on film, and his mouth that looks so perfect for kissing. Not that Frank would ever attempt that, or even wants to. At least, not much, only in the most abstract of ways in that Frank’s just woken up and he’s lying on Mikey’s couch in Mikey’s apartment with Mikey asleep in the next room.

It’s no wonder Frank’s thinking about him, there’s no way Frank wouldn’t in this situation. It doesn’t help that the blankets retain the slight scent that Frank’s come to associate with Mikey himself: the combination of the shower gel he uses each morning layered with the faint chemical smell of the stuff he puts in his hair.

Frank pulls the blanket up to his chin and takes a deep breath, his hand clenched into a fist as he fights the urge to let it drop down. If Frank does that he’ll end up touching his dick, and having to acknowledge the fact that he’s actually getting turned on. Right now, hands curled up and clutching the blanket, he can pretend there’s nothing going on. It’s just a normal morning, one where Frank’s not going to rub one out while thinking about one of his clients. For one, it’s unprofessional, for two, Frank’s mom would never forgive him. You just don’t masturbate in a strange bed, even if that bed is only a couch with blankets that haven’t seen the inside of a washer for a long time.

Not that knowing that helps. Frank keeps thinking of Mikey. His back showing through the laces of the corset. The dip of his collar bone, the way the wired and riveted t-shirt clung to his body like a shimmering second skin.

And when it comes down to it. Frank’s only human.

Relaxing, Frank inches his hand down his body, hyper aware of every sound in the room. Just a quick touch, something to take the edge off and Frank will be fine. He’ll be able to stop thinking about Mikey and do something productive instead. Like wake Ray with a series of cheery good morning texts or go out to get breakfast, hell, maybe Frank can find the repeat of Iron Chef so he can find out who won the squid battle.

What Frank actually does is let his legs fall open, the blankets tickling against the back of his hand as he curls his fingers around his dick, and freezes in place. Frank listens past the sound of his own breathing, his heart racing and everything feeling pinprick sharp.

Frank knows that Mikey doesn’t wake up until later, but maybe today is the day he changes his routine. Maybe today he’ll open his bedroom door and see Frank with his legs spread and his arm moving under the blanket, Frank’s eyes half closed as he tightens his curled fingers, barely moving his hand.

It’s all too easy to imagine, and Frank knows this is fucked up, that his hand is too dry and his range of movement too limited and this shouldn’t feel good in the slightest -- but it does.

The threat of discovery, the secrecy, the knowledge that he could so easily come all over the blankets. Frank revels in every one of those dangers, his legs shaking as he fights to stay still. Head pushed back against the pillow and teeth digging into his lip, his hand barely moving.
The threat of discovery pressing close, Frank’s breathing is shallow as he strokes his fingers over his dick, a touch that’s driving him crazy. It’s not enough, nowhere close to enough, and Frank wants to thrust up into his hand – but he can’t. Instead Frank focuses on the barest slide of skin against skin, the small languid movements of his hand that create a slow build.
It’s a rhythm Frank isn’t used to, but all he can do is hold on, his eyes fluttering closed as he thinks about Mikey. How he looked earlier, how he’s sleeping so close.
And it’s enough. More than enough, Frank tightening his grip, biting back a gasp as the slow build peaks, and Frank spills over his own hand

 

~*~*~*~

After rubbing one out on Mikey’s couch -- which, the fuck, Frank thinks he must have gone insane for a while -- and disposing of the evidence with a handful of toilet paper, Frank watches TV with the sound turned low.

It’s comfortable on the couch, even with the wet patch drying on his leg and Frank’s content to sit quietly, easing into the day. At least, until the growling in his stomach reminds Frank that it’s time to make breakfast.

Double checking, Frank looks at his watch and wiggles out of his cocoon, pulling on his pants and undershirt and taking the time to fold and neatly stack the blankets before reaching under the couch where he’d hidden his Glock. Which, as storing his firearm goes, is nowhere near ideal, and if Frank’s going to sleep here again he needs to buy a case to keep at Mikey's. Not that Frank does intend to sleep over again.

His Glock back in its holster at the small of his back Frank relaxes at the reassuring weight, and it feels like a sign. One that reminds Frank that even though he’s still bare-footed, his shirt from the night before draped over a chair, he’s back on the job, a bodyguard instead of a guest.

Quickly pulling on his shirt but leaving it hanging open, Frank grimaces at the smell of old smoke and sweat. It’s a reminder that as convenient as staying over is, it doesn’t come without consequences, like how grimy Frank’s feeling right now. Not that there’s much he can do about it. Frank’s not about to go take a shower without asking and it’s not like he has any clothes to change into. But, one thing he can do is have a quick wash down.

As quietly as possible, Frank goes to the bathroom and splashes his face with cold water. Shivering, icy droplets trailing down his neck, Frank scrubs at his pits with the dampened edge of a towel and brushes his teeth. It’s a make-shift clean up, but it’s the best Frank can do at the moment, and it’s better than greeting Mikey looking and smelling like some unkempt yeti.

Not that Mikey looks much better himself first thing in the morning, but still, it’s the principle of the thing. That, and Frank wants to look the best that he can.

The bathroom tidy, Frank buttons his shirt and checks his watch again. It’s still a little too early to wake Mikey, but Frank really is hungry, and that means coffee and toast at least.

Thankfully, despite most days skipping breakfast, Mikey still keeps his fridge stocked up. Or at least, some employee ensures the fridge is stocked up, Frank can’t imagine Mikey going out and buying groceries himself. Not without a lot of reluctance anyway, and no doubt huge sunglasses and an outfit specifically designed by Pete, complete with a matching shopping bag

Amusing himself by imagining Mikey stalking the produce aisle, Frank quickly fills the coffee maker, drops two slices of whole wheat bread into the toaster and opens the cupboard where Mikey keeps all of the spreads. Except, somehow Frank opens the wrong one, this cupboard a jumble of boxes and stacks of paper, not the selection of jelly and peanut butter that Frank expected.

Realizing his mistake, that it’s the second cupboard from the wall and not the third, Frank goes to close the door, swearing under his breath as one of the highest stacks starts to list to the side, an avalanche of papers falling to the floor.

Frank crouches down and quickly sees what’s fallen are letters, one of which has a pink lipstick print pressed onto the bottom. Embarrassed that he’s surrounded by personal fanmail to Mikey, Frank starts to gather up letters, deliberately not trying to read. Something that changes when he reaches for the last stack.

They’re noticeable due to the rubber band that’s keeping them all together, and the fact these letters are printed and not written.Frank can’t help taking in some of the words. Death.You suck. I hate you. His instincts screaming danger, Frank sets the loose pile of letters he’s already holding onto the counter, holding onto the ones that are bundled together.

Despite knowing he shouldn’t be reading, that this is a gross invasion of privacy, Frank pulls out the first letter, opening it up so he can read -- and as soon as he’s done so, is almost running to Mikey’s bedroom.

“Mikey.” Mikey’s curled up in the middle of his bed, covers pulled up so all that’s visible is the top of his head. All Frank wants to do is grab hold and shake him, needing answers about a situation he knows nothing about. Again, Frank says, “Mikey.”

“Frank?” Mikey moves slightly, one eye appearing over the edge of the cover. “Too early.”

“I know.” Frank takes a step closer, biting back the urge to grab the covers and pull, forcing Mikey to wake up and give answers. “What are these?” Frank waves the letters close to Mikey’s face, watching awareness strike home. “I found them in the kitchen cupboard.”

Awake now, but nowhere near fully, Mikey pushes himself up so he’s sitting, yawns and says, “Those are my death threats.”

“Your death threats?” Frank takes a moment to just breathe, then says, deadly serious. “Tell me you’ve told the police about these? Because you didn’t tell Worm or he would have let Ray and me know.”

Mikey doesn’t reply for a long moment, a silence more damning than any verbalized response. Then says, “Stuff like that comes with the job, and they’re not serious. I’ve been getting them for months and nothing has happened.”

“Months.” Frank starts pacing, unable to stand still. “Have you told anyone about them? Have you told Gerard?”

“He’d only worry,” Mikey bites back. “He doesn’t spend enough time with Lindsey as it is, and I’ve already got one babysitter. I don’t need two.”

It’s not the first time Frank’s been called that. It’s not even the first time it’s been flung in his face, but it is the first time from someone he actually likes, and it hurts. Reverting back to icy professionalism, he heads for the door, says, “These need to be documented. I’ll call my contact at the precinct while you get ready.”

“Frank.....”

Frank hears Mikey saying his name, but doesn’t look back, just shuts the door behind him.

~*~*~*~*~

“There’s seventeen letters, Ray. Seventeen fucking letters and a package with a smashed up toy robot and dried oil. Why the fuck didn’t he tell someone?” It’s a question Frank’s repeatedly asked himself, before and since bursting into Ray’s office, and one Frank can’t actually answer. What Mikey did was inconceivable, it was stupid and Frank wants to kick something; hard. “There’s someone out there who wants to kill him, and he thinks it’s a joke.”

“I doubt he thinks it’s a joke,” Ray says, his brow furrowed as he flicks through Frank’s handwritten copies of all of the letters. “It’s easier not to think about that shit, not everyone faces danger head on like you.”

“He’d put the box in his closet. His fucking closet.” Frank sinks down onto a chair, his head in his hands. Only late afternoon and already it’s been a long day, Frank forced into polite officialdom as he talked to detectives and listened to Mikey explain how and when he received all of the letters. “How can he not be worried? It makes no sense.”

“Did you ask him?” Ray shuffles the pages together, adding them into a file. “Maybe it is all about Gerard being worried. You said that they’re close.”

“They are.” Of that Frank’s got no doubt, but he also thinks that Gerard is an adult, and well able to deal with the reality of threatening letters. “He was pissed off today, demanding DNA checks on the box and that the detectives check the security footage from the foyer of Mikey’s building.”

Ray sighs, says, “Another crime show watcher. I suppose he wanted the results by tomorrow.”

“Today.” Frank remembers Gerard’s barely suppressed anger as the detectives explained getting viable DNA samples wasn’t a given, and even if they could the results would take more than a day. “He wants me to stay with Mikey twenty-four seven.”

Ray whistles under his breath. “That’ll be expensive, and not fair on you. I’ll tell him you’ll have to take shifts with someone.”

“No don’t.” It’s not that Frank doesn’t trust the other bodyguards on Ray’s staff. They’re all kickass and Frank would trust his own back to them all. It’s just, “Mikey knows me now, and I could do with the money.”

“Well, you’d get plenty of that.” Ray leans back in his chair, his attention solely on Frank. “Are you sure you can deal with the hours? You’re not exactly a fan of the world that he lives in.”

Truthfully they’re issues that Frank’s thought through himself, has been since being cornered by Gerard and asked if it was possible to arrange round the clock cover. But, on top of Ray’s concerns is Frank’s lingering embarrassment that he acted so unprofessionally this morning. It’s something that can’t happen again, and Frank vows that it won’t as he says, “I’m sure.”

“Okay, fine. I’ll get in touch with Gerard and work out a new contract,” Ray says, already opening his laptop. “Who’s with Mikey now?”

“Gerard. He said he wouldn’t let Mikey leave until I got back.” It’s the only reason Frank actually left the apartment, reluctant to leave despite lingering annoyance with Mikey. “He said I was his babysitter. A fucking babysitter.”

Ray stops typing and looks over at Frank. “Gerard thinks you’re his babysitter?”

“No.” Frank frowns at Ray, frustrated at his inability to keep up. “Mikey said that.”

“Oh.” Clearly to Ray it’s not a big deal, something that’s shown even more when he muses. “Technically it could be said that you are.”

“Fuck technically.” This is a conversational direction Frank has no intention of allowing. He’s not a babysitter and especially not to Mikey. “Mikey’s a grown-up.”

“I know, I never said that he wasn’t,” Ray says simply, pushing his laptop aside as he looks over at Frank. “What’s wrong?”

Ray’s wearing his concerned expression, the one that invites you to tell all your troubles without the fear of being judged. It’s one that Frank’s seen often, but not for a while, and he can’t believe he’s been so careless that Ray’s picked up any issues at all.

“There’s nothing wrong.” Frank has to try for a deflection despite knowing Ray won’t believe him. But what it does do is buy Frank some time as he tries to think what to say, and then thinks, fuck it, it’s not as if Frank can keep this all to himself. “I did the four finger shimmy on Mikey’s couch last night.”

“You mean you masturbated on a client’s couch?” Ray asks slowly, and then, “Tell me he wasn’t there.”

“Of course he wasn’t there.” Frank jumps to his feet, needing to move. “He was in his bedroom asleep, and I didn’t mean it to happen. He got into my head with his corsets and tight pants and that fucking smile of his and I’ve been having a dry spell lately and fuck. I came so hard I nearly took a chunk out of the blanket when I bit down.”

“Yeah, I didn’t need to know that,” Ray says, looking pained. “As your boss I have to say, don’t do that again. It was unprofessional and I should pull you from the job right now. As your friend....” Ray trails off, waiting a moment before haltingly saying, “Do you like him, or was it like, a blue balls thing where he happened to be the closest living thing at hand?”

On the scale of one to awkward, this conversation is at awkward extreme. It’s not that Frank’s ashamed of sharing his sex life with Ray, just not like this. It doesn’t help that Frank’s got no idea how to reply. He does like Mikey, and yeah, he’s physically attractive, but still. Mikey’s a client, and therefore off-limits. “I like him. Most of the time.When he’s not being a dick. But not like him, like him.”

“Okay, good.” Visibly relaxing, Ray goes to start typing again, his hands held over the keyboard as he says, “If you do like him.....”

“I don’t,” Frank interrupts, shutting this conversation down before it can go any further. “It’s not an issue.”

And it won’t be. Frank won’t let it.

~*~*~*~*~

“Is that even necessary?” Mikey’s huddled up at the end of his couch, laptop on his knee and phone in his hand. Alternating between answering texts and surfing the net, he’s spent most of the time ignoring Frank and Gerard as they supervise the installation of new door locks. “The old locks were perfectly fine.”

“And these ones are better,” Gerard states. Leaving the locksmith to work, Gerard goes to sit next to Mikey, sitting sideways so they’re facing each other, their feet touching. “I need you to be safe.”

“I was safe, I am safe,” Mikey says, correcting himself quickly. “They’re only letters.”

Mouth a tight line, Gerard stares at Mikey a moment and then says, “That were delivered here by hand. The person writing them knows where you live, they’ve been watching you. There’s no only about it.”

It’s a chastisement Frank agrees with, and one he’s given a variation of himself, just as bodyguard not brother. All he can hope is that Mikey’s actually taking it in.

Gerard leans forward, his hands braced on Mikey’s knees. “It would suck if someone skinned you alive and used your face as a mask.”

As statements go, it’s an understatement, and completely out there, enough that Frank keeps glancing over to Mikey and Gerard, even as he gives the locksmith a pointed scowl for doing the same.

“Fine. Okay.” Body angled over his laptop, Mikey leans forward, his forehead against Gerard’s. “I’ll be careful.”

“Good.” A moment and Gerard pulls back, looking only at Mikey. “I wouldn’t do well in prison.”

Mikey shuts his laptop, ignoring an incoming text alert on his phone. “You’d be someone’s bitch within hours. Then probably hide in the library until Lindsey got you out.”

“She’d break down the walls trying,” Gerard says, serious, like he’s actually thinking about how his wife would break him out of a prison. “She could get plans tattooed....”

Frank doesn’t hear the end of Gerard’s illogical plan, his attention pulled away when someone knocks at the door. Instantly, Frank’s on alert, ushering the locksmith to one side and stretching up so he can look out of the peephole -- and sees a huge bunch of flowers.

Admittedly, it would be more reassuring if Frank could see the person who’s holding them, but he relaxes a little when there’s another knock and someone shouts, “Delivery for Mikey Way.”

Frank opens the door, and sees that the flowers come along with a giant bunch of balloons, all saying Happy Birthday, and are being carried by a man wearing the uniform of an upscale florist that Frank’s actually heard of.

“Sign here.” The deliveryman thrusts a clipboard toward Frank, sighing when Frank shakes his head.

“It’s not my apartment,” Frank says, stepping to one side when Mikey approaches.

“I’m Mikey.” Quickly, Mikey signs his name, and is given the arrangement, holding it with two hands as he steps back, balloons pulled against the door jam. “Thank you.”

Turned around, one arm over the back of the couch, Gerard asks, “Who’s it from?”

Mikey puts the arrangement down on the floor, batting at the balloons that bump against his head. Crouching, he fishes out the attached card, reading before saying, “It’s from Ryan. He says he’s glad I’m not dead.”

“It’s not your birthday, is it?” Frank’s sure that it’s not, at least it isn’t in the info he’s read about Mikey. “And doesn’t he hate you?”

“Ryan?” Mikey asks, like Frank’s just said something absurd. “Me and Ryan are friends. He’ll have phoned the florist and ordered an arrangement. He’s just not good with specific details.”

If Frank thinks about it it’s not really that much of a stretch. He enjoys insulting his friends and sure, maybe he doesn’t do it on the red carpet in front of multiple cameras, but the point still stands. What isn’t explained is how Ryan even knew to send an arrangement in the first place, and Frank asks, “How does he even know?”

“I told him,” Mikey says simply, heading over to Gerard and handing over the card for him to read. “Even if I hadn’t he’d have known within hours of the police report going in.”

Gerard reads the card before handing it back to Mikey. “He’s right.The fashion world exists on rumors. By tomorrow the gossip rags will be running it that Mikey had an attempt on his life.”

“Or I’m in a coma,” Mikey says, laughing as he talks with both hands and words. “Remember last year, that Italian magazine that ran I’d been trampled by a herd of cows at a shoot? They didn’t even get my name right.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah,” Gerard says, grinning as he adds, “At least they said you tried to shield the photographer with your body.”

This whole conversation is insane, especially as Frank should be concentrating on the fact that Mikey’s an idiot with no sense of self preservation, somehow though, Frank’s drawn in. It’s like the Ways are projecting some kind of insanity field and despite himself Frank’s picturing the rampaging cows. “I can’t see the shielding going well, they’d have knocked you flying.”

“Yeah, well, that explains the coma,” Mikey says, seemingly not concerned with his false-coma status. “Apparently I took a hoof to the head. It was all super tragic.”

“Cows are mean bastards.” His tools gathered together, the locksmith stands, brushing at his knees. “The only good cow is the kind in a burger.”

Frank bites back his reply, the unprofessionalism of the locksmith a reminder that Frank’s been getting too casual also. It’s not his job to discuss rumors or magazine articles, Frank’s here to watch Mikey, nothing more.

“Without cows we wouldn’t have lattes,” Gerard says, thankfully cutting the cow conversation short when he approaches the door, checking out the new locks. “How many keys do we get?”

“Two sets.” The locksmith hands the keys over, pointing at the different ones on each fob. “You’ve got a keycode or dual access with mechanical key override. Decide which one you want and stick with it, it’s easier that way. Keys are coded to the lock so if you want more it’ll cost you, but I’d recommend sticking with the two. Any questions?”

Frank waits, for all of a few seconds and then steps forward, peering at the new locks as he says, “Yeah, I’ve got questions.”

~*~*~*~

“Fuck it, I’m going to order pizza.” Pushing himself up onto his hip, Mikey pulls his phone from his pocket. “What kind do you want?”

“Veggie special,” Frank says, and then, suspicious about timing, “Are you even supposed to eat that?”

“Yeah.” Mikey’s staring at Frank, as if wondering why he’s asking. “I can eat what I want within reason.”

“I just thought....” Frank trails off, feeling like he’s taken yet another misstep as he tries to understand Mikey’s world. “With Gerard just leaving.”

“Oh.” Mikey’s expression clears, fingers and thumbs flying as he types out a text. “If I’d ordered while he was here he’d have stayed longer. This way he gets to eat dinner with Lindsey.”

“His wife, right?” Frank says, putting together connections. “Is she in management, too?”

“She’s a photographer.” Phone back in his pocket, Mikey looks over at Frank, then indicates the other end of the couch. “Come and sit down, you’re making me nervous standing like that.”

“Yeah, I doubt it,” that’s something Frank’s sure of, Mikey’s nerves seemingly impervious to any things that really should matter. Still, Frank goes to join him, ensuring he sits as far away as possible, no parts of their bodies even close to touching. Settled, Frank intends to stay quiet, maybe watch whatever Mikey puts on TV, but silence is something Frank has to work at, and questions are pushing forward, enough that he says, “A manager and photographer. Are you trying to get Ways into every part of the fashion world?”

“We’re trying, but they wouldn’t let mom onto the hairdressing team,” Mikey says with a grin. “Gee’s not really a manager though, he only does it to help me. Art is his passion.”

“He’s not a real manager?” That Frank never expected, Gerard so thorough at his job that Frank finds it hard to believe he’s only playing the role.

“He is a real manager. He’s got all the qualifications, and knows what he’s doing. Just I’m his only client,” Mikey says. “He’s really great at it.”

“He is,” Frank agrees, and no matter how much he tells himself it’s not actually his business, Frank wants to know more. Especially as it seems Mikey has no issues in telling. “How did that even happen?”

“Lindsey, she was taking photos at a club one night and took some of me,” Mikey says, looking at Frank as if waiting for some reaction. “You haven't read my discovery story?”

Frank has, many times, and each one just that little bit different that he’s unsure what’s actually truth. “I know photos of you were spotted in a magazine and you got signed due to those.”

Mikey nods, says, “Yeah, well, Lindsey took those, so when things started to take off it made sense for Gerard to pitch in and help.”

To Frank it seems like the kind of story that’s made up. Mikey in the right place at the right time and then Gerard stepping in and steering his career to the heights it is now. “You really were an overnight success?”

“Fuck no,” Mikey says instantly. “Those photos got the attention of an agency, but I never wanted to be a model, and I nearly got canned after the first official shoots, they were a disaster.”

Frank thinks about all the stories he’s read, the articles relating to Mikey’s early career. “I didn’t know that.”

“Not many people do.” Mikey looks directly at Frank, as if weighing what he’s about to say next. “I hated those shoots, being watched every minute, the cameras, the directions to look natural when it was all I could do to stand still and not throw up in a corner. They were expecting the person in Lindsey’s pictures, and instead they got me, fucked up, hung over and with a crop of zits at the side of my mouth.”

It’s an easy scene to imagine in some ways, but in others, the person Mikey’s describing sounds a million miles from who he is now. Frank turns slightly, his body angled toward Mikey. “So what happened? You obviously got past that.”

“They buried those pictures,” Mikey says, seemingly uncaring the photos are still out there somewhere. “The agency was a start-up and they were desperate for any kind of success. It’s why they took a chance and asked Lindsey to take charge of a shoot.”

“Lindsey Ballato, right?” Frank says, this part of the story something he’s read in the past. “She’s the same Lindsey. Your sister-in-law.”

“She is now,” Mikey says, the words accompanied by a fond smile. “She put on loud music and just started talking. By the end of the session I had my first set of professional pictures.”

Frank knows those photos, has seen them featured in every article about Mikey’s early career. He’s even got favorites, and before he can stop himself says, “I like the one on the floor.”

It’s a clichéd choice, Frank knows, featured often in early-days articles, but it’s easy to remember every detail. A younger Mikey stretched out on the floor on his back, t-shirt pulled up exposing his hip-bones, his knees bent and pushed together as he tilts back his head, looking at something just out of the shot.

“I was looking at Gee,” Mikey says, his smile remaining. “He’d come in from work and gone straight to the proofs.”

It makes sense, and now it’s been pointed out, Frank can recognize the expression Mikey tends to keep for Gerard, something trusting and open always. “It’s a great picture, no wonder the clients came running.”

“Not at first,” Mikey corrects. “A gawky, spotty teen who wanted to throw up in front of a camera wasn’t the best draw. But awkward chic was the new trend, and I had plenty of that.”

Frank hesitates, caught between social niceties which suggests he should deny any awkwardness at all, or to say what he’s actually thinking.

It’s Mikey who breaks the silence. “It’s okay, you can say it. I was really fucking awkward back then and still am.” Mikey laughs, hands held up as he makes quotation marks in the air. “It’s my ‘thing’.”

“Not always.” After spending so much time with Mikey, that’s something Frank can say for sure. He grins, feeling comfortable enough to add, “Just ninety percent of the time.”

“Sounds about right,” Mikey says, playing along as he turns slightly, his foot close to Frank’s. “Enough about me. Tell me about being a bodyguard.”

It’s something Frank’s been asked before, his extended family and friends curious for details about his celebrity clients, even if they are well down on the C list. It’s just nothing Frank expected from Mikey, and he says, “You’ll know more stories than me.”

Mikey frowns.”I don’t want to tell stories, I asked about you.”

“Oh.” It’s not what Frank expected, his usual clients not interested in him as a person at all. It leaves him unsure what to tell and he asks, “What do you want to know?”

“How you become a bodyguard? Do you like it? Can I touch your gun?” Mikey says, rattling off questions. “And no, that’s not a euphemism.”

“Long story, yes, hell no,” Frank replies, even the thought of Mikey holding a gun making him shudder. “And I’m disturbed you needed to clarify.”

Mikey turns completely to the side, back against the couch arm and arms wrapped around his bent knees as he looks directly at Frank. “Tell me your long story.”

“It’s not an interesting story,” Frank warns, because it’s not as if he did anything special like becoming a sort of overnight success. “When I was a kid my mom got mugged and when I tried to attack them they laughed and knocked me over. I joined a kick boxing class that night.”

Mikey considers a moment, then says, “To learn how to protect your mom.”

“Yes.” Surprised, Frank wants to ask how Mikey got that, one of a very few that actually has. “Most people think it was to protect myself.”

“You were with your mom, you always protect the people you love over yourself,” Mikey says, as if stating some universal truth. “And that led to being a bodyguard?”

“Sort of.” It’s the best answer Frank can give, the road between that first class and joining Ray’s firm long and convoluted. “I got my black belt and kept going to classes, even when I left school. But I didn’t want to be a bodyguard, I wanted to be in a band.”

“And?” Mikey prompts, when Frank stops talking.

“And things changed.” It’s not something Frank’s talked about often, and even now it feels weird to do so, like he’s portraying himself as some idealistic savior when really he’s not. “I was leaving this dive club one night when I saw some drunk assholes kicking the shit out a homeless guy. I stepped in and stopped them.”

“Fuck,” Mikey says softly. “You’re hardcore.”

Frank shakes his head. “I’m stupid. I ended up with a busted nose and two black eyes,” and what Frank isn’t saying, a feeling of pride for trying to help. “A few months after that and the band I was in self-destructed and I’d lost my job for being absent too often. Taking a bodyguard course seemed like a good thing to do.”

Mikey tilts his head, looking past Frank as if he’s picking over the words. “That’s a big jump. Going from in a band to bodyguard school.”

“Almost a big of a jump as being photographed at a gig and becoming a model,” Frank says, and he could so easily leave it at that. He’s given his story, all facts laid out and presented, but there’s still more to say. Going by instinct, Frank decides to trust Mikey and finish his story “But yeah, it was. Mom said all I was doing was setting myself up for more failure, but I knew I could do it. I had to, just to prove I could actually succeed at something.”

“And you did,” Mikey says.

“Eventually.” It’s yet another twisted part of the story, where Frank spent all of his courses competing against people who’d thought he’d lost from the start. “I passed all my exams but no one wants to hire a bodyguard who looks like they’re twelve. I always had something to prove.”

“People are assholes,” Mikey says, his mouth curling up into a smile. “You look at least thirteen.”

Frank bares his teeth in a mock smile. “Thirteen and dangerous. I could take you down.”

Mikey stretches out his legs, crowding Frank against the side of the couch. “I know you could. You’re hardcore.”

“A hardcore babysitter,” Frank says, unable to resist. “Next time you act up I’ll put you on the naughty step.”

“Not over your knee?” Mikey asks, grinning wide as he turns away from Frank to answer his ringing phone.

Which is good. Is great. Because Frank has no idea what to say in reply.

~*~*~*~

If pushed, Frank would have to admit he still doesn’t get the fashion shoots in the slightest. The equipment is interesting and while Mikey’s in make-up and styling Frank’s happy enough to wander while remaining close by, standing back and watching as the photographer takes test shots of the scaffolding built up in the middle of the warehouse.

“I hate these kinds of shoots.” Gerard appears in Frank’s vision, standing close and bundled up in an oversized coat, scarf and mittens. “Fucking editorial themed shoots.”

“I thought you liked the out-there kind,” Frank says. “You said fashion forward means pushing barriers.”

Gerard stares at the scaffolding, mouth pinched even tighter when a hook and chain is attached to one of the bars. “It does. I just hate this shoot.”

About to ask why, Frank snaps his mouth shut when finally, Mikey appears from the corner that’s been set aside for styling, a PA providing support as he takes careful steps forward.

“Is he.... He’s....” Frank swallows hard, his eyes watering at the smell of raw meat as Mikey shuffles past, blood dripping down his legs and arms from the cuts of meat stitched around his body. “Tell me that’s not real.”

“It’s real,” Gerard says, shoving his mittened hands into his coat pockets. “It’s also a concept that’s already been done, but the client won’t listen.”

Frank wants to throw up, the smell intensifying when Mikey takes up position next to the hook, standing motionless as more blood is dribbled over his face.

“They said it’s disease free and only the real shit would do,” Gerard spits out, never looking away from Mikey as the hook is attached to a harness that’s hidden under a slab of meat on his chest. “Which is fucking bullshit, I’ve used fake blood, you can’t tell the difference. Pretentious assholes.”

It’s the first time Frank’s heard Gerard even hint at disliking what Mikey does. Usually he’s fully supportive, even through the mind-numbingly boring meetings and hours spent watching Mikey pose for pictures with fans. This though, it feels like something else is going on, and Frank doesn’t get it, until Mikey’s attached to the hook, the photographer standing close, giving instructions before stepping back, watching as Mikey is pulled up into the air.

Toes brushing the ground and body slumped, Mikey lets his head drop to one side, his eyes wide open and surrounded by rivulets of blood. He looks like a hunk of dead meat, and while Frank suspects that’s the concept, he feels sick to the stomach seeing Mikey strung up -- and for Gerard it has to be a thousand times worse.

“I’m watching him if you want to go,” Frank says, taking in how Gerard’s so pale, his eyes shining bright. “I won’t leave him.”

“Neither will I,” Gerard says shortly, never moving as the photographer starts taking her pictures.

~~~~~

“I’m going to stink like a slaughter-house for days.” His head over a bucket of water, Mikey scrubs at his hair, pink suds flowing over his hands. “I’ll probably get chased by dogs on the way home.”

“You do smell like beef jerky,” Frank says, keeping a safe distance from any potential retaliatory splashes of meat-water.

“Guess you’ll have to protect me from packs of rabid dogs.” Mikey scoops more water over his head, looking at Frank through the wet strands when they hear Gerard yell from the other side of the warehouse. “You should go and get him. He’s going to make someone cry.”

“Yeah, not going to happen.” For one thing, Frank’s not about to leave Mikey alone, for another, Gerard has every reason to yell. “It’s ridiculous they haven’t arranged for a shower.”

Mikey squeezes water from out of his hair and then stands. “At least I’ve got a bucket and clean water.”

“That’s not enough.” Frank may not be an expert about fashion photography, but he does know you don’t dress your star model in a meat suit and then leave him with no way to clean up. “Someone messed up, big time.”

“Nothing we can do about it now,” Mikey says, twisting around so he can try and see down his back. “Can you clean the blood off my back? I think I’ve missed a spot.”

He has, a few spots in fact. Grabbing the packet of wipes donated by a make-up artist, Frank pulls out a wipe and stands behind Mikey. “You look like you belong in a gore fest movie.”

“If there was more blood.” Mikey stands still, his arms held away from his body. “We’ve talked about that, me and Gee. I’d be one of the first that got killed. Probably have my throat slit within ten minutes.”

Frank rubs a wipe over Mikey’s back, scrubbing away the remaining spots of blood and trying not to notice how Mikey’s skin is covered in goosebumps that Frank wants to touch, to see how they feel under his fingers. “That’s what you get for being one of the pretty ones. You need to be a badass with a chainsaw.”

“Can I not be pretty and have a chainsaw?” Mikey asks, and Frank stops rubbing at the spots, his stomach sinking as he realizes he’s just called Mikey pretty

“Only if you kick badguy ass.” Faint spots remain on Mikey’s back, but they’ll have to remain for now, Frank needing some distance before he says something even more stupid. Walking away, he throws the wadded up wipe in the trash before scooping up a robe and handing it over. “Put that on before you get a cold.”

Mikey shrugs on the robe, the sleeves covering his hands as he gathers the sides together, leaving the belt trailing. “You don’t get a cold from being cold. It’s a virus.”

“Okay, fine,” Frank says, eyeing Mikey. “Put that on before you’re savaged by a wolf pack.”

“There are no wolf packs around here.” Mikey grins, his flip flops slapping against the ground as he follows Frank toward wardrobe and his own clothes. “Would you save me from the wolves, too?”

Frank pretends to consider. “Depends, are we talking normal wolves or dire wolves? Because those fuckers are fierce.”

“So are you,” Mikey says, and then adds. “Yeah. You’d save me.”

~*~*~*~

“I think I’ve got a problem.” Frank stares at the TV, the movie he’s supposed to be watching turned down and forgotten. “In fact, I know I’ve got a problem.”

“Do I need to come get you? Or send someone to relieve you?” Ray says instantly, and it’s so easy to imagine him sitting in his apartment, solid and comforting always that all Frank wants to do is say yes.

“No. I’m okay,” Frank says, his voice low despite knowing Mikey should be sleeping. “But you know what you said about liking liking him?”

“You mean Mikey?” The sound of Ray moving, the TV in his apartment being turned down, Ray sighing as he says, “He’s your client.”

“I know,” and Frank does, he’s thought about nothing else. How inappropriate this all is and how he’s apparently regressed in age and developed a crush. “He likes shitty movies and comic books, he loves music too and wants a houseful of pets. And fuck, have you seen him?”

Ray sighs again, longer this time. “He’s attractive, I get that, but.....”

“He’s got this face and this body, these freckles on his back,” Frank groans softly, hand dropping down to his dick. “Jesus Christ, just talking about him gives me a boner.”

“I don’t want to know,” Ray says quickly. “You’re in a client’s house, you can’t be telling me you’ve popped wood.”

Frank pulls back his hand, stuffing it between the couch arm and his body. “I’m not going to do anything about it.”

“That doesn’t help.” Ray falls silent, Frank counting ten breaths before Ray says, “I don’t know what to say, Frank. If you really like him and think you’ve a chance, I’ll pull you off the job. But you can’t have both. You have to know that.”

“I do.” Frank slumps down, his eyes closed and all too aware of just where he is, and that Mikey’s sleeping so close. “But he’s a supermodel and I’m me, I haven’t got a chance, I wouldn’t do anything even if I did.”

“Good. That’s good,” Ray says, and then, “And of course you’ve got a chance. Being a model means nothing. Mikey’s not better than you.”

Frank laughs softly, his affection for Ray pushing close. “You’re kind of sending mixed messages here.”

“That’s because as your boss I’m fucking horrified,” Ray says. “But as your friend. I want you to be happy. It’s been too long.”

“Yeah, well. Nothing is going to happen, so....” Frank keeps his eyes closed, the knowledge that Ray is listening helping, even if he’s giving no actual answers. “I need to go take a shower. I’m sure I smell of raw meat.”

“Do I even want to know?” Ray asks, answering himself with, “No, I don’t. Talk tomorrow, okay?”

“Okay,” Frank says, ending the call and pushing his phone back into his pocket. On screen someone gets killed, messy and violent, but Frank doesn’t care who or why, or even about the movie at all.

All he can think about is Mikey, and Frank’s got no idea what to do. It feels like he’s thirteen again and fixating on the underwear models in his mom’s Victoria's Secret catalogue. Except, this time instead of being on torn off and sticky paper, this model is here in the flesh. More than that, this model is someone Frank actually likes.

Which is the problem. Liking a client is fine, but liking them sexually isn’t at all. It’s a line Frank can’t cross even if Mikey does keep coming out with innuendos and seemingly has no issues asking Frank for help to get dressed. By now Frank’s becoming an expert on hidden fastenings and outlandish outfits that take two to get into -- and it’s driving him insane.

It feels like he’s constantly on the edge of arousal, only iron will and a fear of ending up photographed with Mikey, Frank’s dick ringed with red as they point out his boner, pushing him back from that edge.

It’s all kinds of frustrating, and while the talk with Ray has helped, it hasn’t helped enough. Frank wanted Ray to bring down the boss hammer and forbid Frank thinking about Mikey. Instead he’s been all supportive and Frank wants to kick something. Or disconnect his dick from his brain. Or go grind against the nearest hard surface.

“This is fucking ridiculous.” Frustrated, Frank gets to his feet, pushing the blankets back onto the couch as he grabs his washbag and heads for the bathroom. Hoping a cold shower will take the edge off, Frank examines the control panel, trying to decide what setting to use. Normally he hits number one, something that results in water from overhead only, but tonight he wants a full body cold blast.

Hitting buttons, Frank stops when water jets from three sides as well as the ceiling of the cubicle. Putting his hand in the spray, Frank’s satisfied at the coldness, already steeling himself as he pulls off his sleep clothes and then stands, naked and half hard.

Frank looks down his body, scowling at his dick, “This is all your fault,” and then steps into the shower.

Water hits from all sides, cold and forceful and Frank gasps, the breath stolen from his body. Already shivering, he moves slightly, freezing water hitting his side as he goes to adjust the control, the problem with his dick not even an issue now it’s pulled up close to Frank’s body.

“Are you some kind of masochist?” Already frozen, Frank’s body temperature seems to drop even further, cold flooding his insides too when he turns his head and sees Mikey standing on the other side of the cubicle. He’s wearing one of the t-shirts he sleeps in, but doesn’t look sleepy at all. More interested as he looks at the temperature display on the control. “Or did you hit the wrong buttons? I’ve done that before.”

Words beyond him, Frank manages a nod, his knees weakening when Mikey opens the cubicle door and pushes buttons on the control panel. Instantly the water starts to warm up, and Frank would be glad, except Mikey’s not moving.

“I heard you when you got in the shower, it wasn’t a good shower noise,” Mikey says. “The walls in this place are really thin.”

Frank has no idea what to say. This whole situation is surreal and he’s blinking away the water that flows in his eyes while wondering if he should be covering his dick with his hands. Which is stupid because it’s Mikey that barged in and is making no attempt to leave, and it’s not like Frank has any issues about being naked. It’s just. This is weird and heading fast into uncomfortable.

“Gerard likes you.”

In the time Frank’s been working for Mikey he’s become used to his random observations, and how often, conversations jump in directions Frank never expected. This however, is the most random of all, and all Frank can think is Mikey is about to reveal that Gerard and his wife want a threesome with Frank, or that Gerard is holding his own crush. Which is flattering, in a way that leaves Frank’s seconds from pushing Mikey aside and going to hide away for the rest of his life.

Absently, Mikey rubs at his face, wiping away droplets of water with the back of his hand. “I like you too, but we agreed it wouldn’t have been right making a move if you didn’t like me like that. I don’t want to be one of those creepy employers who take advantage.”

Frank stares, because apparently Mikey’s fine with being a creepy employer who lurks outside of shower stalls. He’s also just came onto Frank -- Frank thinks -- truthfully he’s not sure and hesitantly asks, “Did you just come onto me?”

Mikey lets his head drop back, banging it against the frame of the shower. “I’m normally better than this. I had this whole speech worked out, then heard you on the phone and decided to wing it. I don’t think it worked.”

“Yeah. It really didn’t.” And the thing is, it could have. Frank’s seen this scenario in movies, hell, he’s ran it in his head, the big come on that ends with wet, slippery sex in the shower. The reality is, though, Frank couldn’t perform if he tried at the moment. “I need to finish getting showered.”

“Oh. Yeah.” Mikey straightens, as shut down as Frank’s ever seen him as he walks away without speaking again.

The door to the bathroom closes, and Frank stands frozen under the spray.

~~~~~~

Showered, dried, and dressed in comfortable sleep clothes, Frank sits on the couch and stares at his phone. Despite it being after midnight, all Frank wants to do is call Ray, or his mom, or anyone who’ll tell him things will be fine if Frank follows his instincts.

Right now they’re screaming that Frank should take a chance, push past his professional obligations and just do it. Stand up and go to Mikey and see what happens from there, but the truth is, Frank’s scared.

If he does go to see Mikey this whole situation could blow up in his face, and Frank likes this job. Sure, the fashion world is weird and Frank still thinks that it’s fake, but it’s not as bad as he thought at the beginning. More than that, Frank really likes Mikey.

If things go wrong Frank could lose his job, and someone he’s come to know as a friend. The fact it would negatively affect Counter Threat is also a very real fear, but at the same time, Frank’s never been afraid to face things that scare him. Except for this time it seems.

“Frank.” Mikey appears out of his bedroom. He’s pulled on a hoodie and sweat pants and looks tired, his shoulders slumped and head down as he slowly approaches. “I’m sorry. if you want to leave I’ll get it.”

“No.” That’s one thing Frank does know, and he puts his phone to one side, knowing that the only person who can help right now is himself. “You surprised me, that’s all. I had no idea you even wanted that.”

Mikey stops walking, his arms crossed tight over his chest. “Do you know how many people I’ve been linked with? I take a friend to the movies and next thing the press is saying we’re married. It sucks and I hate it.”

Frank can understand why, but what he doesn’t understand is the relevance to this situation. “We’ve never been to the movies.”

“I know.” It takes Mikey a while to say more and then, “It’s about hiding. I’m Mikey Way the successful model. I’m Roboboy, I’m the face of Androids Never Die. What they don’t see is me, someone who likes eating the marshmallows out of Lucky Charms and watching shitty movies and thought his new bodyguard was cute the instant he saw him.”

“I’m not cute, I’m devilishly handsome,” Frank says instinctively as he remembers that first meeting. “And you didn’t even talk to me the first time I saw you.”

Mikey moves a few steps closer, dropping his arms to his side. “I was sewn inside an outfit that didn't let me piss and wearing boots two sizes too small. You’re lucky I came over to see you at all. And you are cute. I’m a professional. I know these things.”

“You’re a professional idiot,” Frank says, and maybe it’s not the correct thing to say right now but still, it needs to be said. “You tried to pick me up in the shower. The fuck?”

“Gerard said I was an idiot, too,” Mikey admits casually, as if the accusation doesn’t throw him at all. “It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.”

“You told your brother?” Frank asks, answering himself before Mikey gets the chance. “Of course you did. Who else did you tell?”

Mikey lifts up his hand, counting off on his fingers. “Gerard. Pete. Ryan. Oh, and Bob.”

“You mean my Bob? Bob Bryar?” Frank’s sure that’s exactly who Mikey does mean. It’s just that kind of night, where every single thing that happens seems to be surreal. “He never said he knew you.”

Mikey shrugs, says, “He doesn’t really. I know Justin, we did a William Rast campaign together a few years back.”

It’s an answer that doesn’t answer Frank’s question in the slightest, but how Mikey got talking to Bob has to wait as Frank gathers his courage. “So what? This is some secrecy thing where you get a bodyguard with benefits?”

“No.” Mikey takes the last few steps toward Frank and sits so they’re side by side on the couch. “This is me saying I like you.”

“I shouldn’t do this,” Frank says, deliberately not looking at Mikey. “It’s wrong, I work for you.”

“Would it help if I said that you’re fired?” Mikey asks, laughing when Frank immediately looks up, about to protest. “You’re not fired and we can make this work. We’re both smart.”

“Yeah, we are,” Frank agrees, and deliberately steps over his own line. “You want this?”

“I want this,” Mikey says in reply.

~*~*~*~

Of course, wanting and actually doing are two different things.

It doesn’t help that Frank remains so conflicted. Sure, he’s attracted to Mikey, and likes him, a lot, and knowing Mikey likes him in return feels like the best Halloween ever. Like instead of cheap dime store candy Frank’s been given as many full sized chocolate bars as he can eat. Not that Ray seems to be getting the comparison.

“So you’re telling me that Mikey’s like a chocolate bar.” Ray’s voice drops away for a while before he carefully says, “If this is a lead up to some remark about chocolate body paint and sex I don’t want to know.”

“The fuck?” Frank stares at his phone, trying to understand how Ray’s made the jump from candy to sex. “I’m not talking about sex. I’m saying he makes me feel like I’ve been given a Hershey Bar instead of a Lifesaver.”

“Because that’s so clear,” Ray says, and then, “You’re talking about feelings, right?”

“I’m not a thirteen year old girl writing Mr Way on a notebook,” Frank protests, because even if he is conflicted right now it’s for good reasons, not because he’s some kid with a crush. “But yeah, I like him.”

“Getting that loud and clear,” Ray says with a sigh. “I thought you’d end up with a musician or that girl from the farmer’s market, not some model who likes wearing a meat suit.”

“He’s only done that once, and you and me both. A model.Jesus Fucking Christ.” Frank pushes himself up from the counter and walks to the fridge. Distractedly, he looks at all of the photos, moving the magnets so they lined up at each corner, the silence stretching until he finally admits, “I don’t know what to do.”

“What are you doing now?” Ray asks, patient as always as Frank takes a while to reply. “Frank?”

Frank moves a last magnet, one with googly eyes and a tuft of blue hair, positioning it over a photo of Pete. “I’m in the kitchen. It’s the furthest away from Mikey’s bedroom.”

“You’re telling me that a hot model is lying in bed waiting for you and you’re hiding in the kitchen?” There’s a sound that could be Ray sighing again, or him biting back laughter. Frank doesn’t know which he hates most and he’s regretting calling at all.

“I’m not hiding.” That’s one thing Frank does know. He doesn’t hide from anything, he never has, and isn’t about to start now. Lingering over doing final nightly checkups though, that he can do. “I’m checking the alarms and I don’t even know if Mikey wants me in there.”

“I thought you said he came onto you?” Ray says, sounding confused. “I know you haven’t dated for a while but the next step isn’t hiding.”

“I’m not hiding,” Frank snaps back, forgetting to keep his voice lowered. “I needed to call you to clarify my position if something did happen.”

“I’d have to reassign you,” Ray says instantly, professionalism replaced by friendship as he keeps talking. “I wish I didn’t have to but....”

“I’d ask to be reassigned anyway,” Frank says, before Ray has to apologize for something that isn’t his fault. “That’s if I ever get out of this kitchen.”

“The nightly checks taking a while?” Ray asks, keeping up the pretence that that’s what Frank is actually doing. “Get them done and go and see Mikey, see if this is something that’s worth losing this job over.”

Frank smiles slightly,humor something he can hold onto. “Are you telling me to go and have sex with my client?”

“I’m telling you to go and work things out with someone you like,” Ray says, and then, “And if that includes sex I don’t want any details.”

“In that case, I’ll make notes.” Finally, Frank starts moving, taking comfort in Ray’s ever present support. “If this doesn’t work out I’m going to work in the office. I’ll sit at your desk and take the appointments.”

“After what you did to my computer last time, I don’t think so,” Ray says. “But you can work as the cleaner. Monday to Friday, six am to seven.”

“I’ll make sure you’ve plenty of toilet paper,” Frank says, his steps slowing as he approaches Mikey’s bedroom. “What the fuck am I doing?”

“Going for what you want, like you always do, so man up already,” Ray says instantly. “I’m going, and I’m not saying this as your boss, but, good luck.”

“I’ll send pictures,” Frank says, ending the call as he knocks on the door.

“Come in,” Mikey replies instantly, and when Frank goes inside he sees Mikey sitting at the head of his bed, the sheets crumpled beneath him, both his phone and a book ignored at his side. Mikey waits a beat, his expression set and says, “The alarm system giving you trouble again?”

It’s Mikey giving an out, a last chance for Frank to take the excuse and put distance between them -- but it’s an out he’s not going to take. “I was freaking out in the kitchen.”

Mikey stares at Frank, as if picking over what he’s just said. “Did it help?”

“The freaking not so much, but the call to Ray I made during it, yeah,” Frank says, keeping the door open behind him. “You’re not going to ask if I’m okay?”

Mikey considers a moment. “I can if you want, but you’re here which suggests you’re okay.”

“I could be here to say I’ve changed my mind,” Frank says, and while he’s starting to know Mikey’s tells, the times he’s locked himself down or projected an expected image, right now he’s just Mikey. Hair unstyled and wearing clothes that are washed out and baggy, his hands pulled up inside his sleeves as he waits for Frank’s next words. “I’m not.”

Mikey smiles, toothy and unguarded as he moves to the side a little and says, “My bed’s big enough for two.”

Frank takes in the bed with its sturdy posts at four corners. “That thing is big enough for an orgy, and you really need to work on your seduction technique.”

“I can change outfits if you want, I’ve still got the android corset in my closet and I know you like that,” Mikey says, looking thoughtful as if he’s about to get out of bed and go change. “You’d have to help me into it though, and the powder to stop the pants from chafing gets everywhere when you take them off.”

“Seriously, F-minus on the seduction,” Frank says, and then, his stomach drops when Mikey’s exact words hit. “You knew I liked the corset?”

“It was kind of obvious when you were lacing it up,” Mikey says, easy, as if something like that happens every day. “It’s when I first realized I could have a chance.”

“So much for my super stealthy ways,” Frank says, and as much as Mikey’s said that he wants him, the casual comment relaxes something deep in Frank’s chest, relieves him that Mikey’s wanted Frank for a while now, and this isn’t just some impulsive craving for sex or throwing Frank a sympathy bone after overhearing his conversation. Without looking away from Mikey, Frank reaches behind him, closing the door. “Don’t get changed. You look fine.”

“Eighty Seven percent of Style Weekly readers would agree with you,” Mikey says, adopting a pose for all of a few moments before laughing. “Come lie down with me before this gets weird.”

Frank walks forward, approaching the bed. “News flash. This got weird the first moment I saw you. You crashing my shower was just the weird icing on the weird fucking cake.” Thankfully, though, Frank’s finding out he likes weird. Which is good, because Mikey’s reaching for his phone so he can type out a quick text. “Do I even want to know who you’re texting?”

“Just Gerard.” Mikey looks up, using his hand to push his hair out of his eyes. “He’s been alternating between telling me I’m an idiot and sending inspirational quotes.”

Frank doesn’t want to know, he really doesn’t, but somehow still hears himself saying, “He’s sending you inspirational quotes from one of those bullshit websites?”

“Not unless they’ve got ones that say ‘People who touch their bodyguards, live not the longest, but get lots of great sex and happiness too’,” Mikey says, reading from his phone. “I guess he’s modifying them, Gerard likes to send a message.”

“Your manager is sending you a message to have sex with me?” Frank would think the idea was insane, but right now it’s just one more element to what’s already a surreal situation.

“Not my manager, that wouldn’t be professional,” Mikey says, grinning when he reads an incoming text. A quick reply and he puts his phone to one side. “He’s talking as my brother.”

“Oh.” It’s all Frank can think to say, because really, Gerard talking as a brother doesn’t help in the slightest. Frank’s not used to being discussed in such detail, especially when at the moment, nothing has happened at all. Beyond brief moments, Frank hasn’t even touched Mikey and it feels unfair that a go-ahead has been given when Frank’s standing at the foot of the bed and still fully dressed.

Of course, Mikey is too, bundled up in hoodie and sweat pants as he says simply, “Come here.”

It’s what Frank needed to hear. Mikey taking the lead, showing clearly he still wants this as Frank kicks off his shoes and puts his Glock on the dresser, then hesitates, unsure about the rest of his clothes.

“Take your shirt off, it’ll be more comfortable.” Mikey’s watching Frank’s every move, gaze fixed on Frank as he takes hold of the hem of his shirt and pulls upwards, tugging it over his head.

Despite knowing he looks good, that the years of running and martial arts have burned away fat and left defined muscles, Frank feels exposed. Barely resisting making some joke or striking a mock pose he swallows instead, his throat dry when Mikey rolls onto his side, hooks his fingers over the waistband of Frank’s pants and pulls.

“I told you to come here,” Mikey says, moving with Frank so they’re left face to face on the bed.

“Bossy,” Frank mock grumbles, and as awkward as this could be, when Frank’s half naked on the bed while Mikey remains dressed, it doesn’t feel awkward at all. Not that it means it couldn’t be better. Frank takes hold of the front of Mikey’s hoodie, pulling it gently. “Take this off, it’ll be more comfortable.”

“You stealing my lines now?” Mikey asks, his mouth quirking into a smile, and Frank would protest, except Mikey’s already wiggling out of his hoodie, throwing it off the side of the bed.

It’s a move that takes literally seconds, which is impressive when Mikey’s lying on his side on the bed. Watching the hoodie drop, Frank says, “Did you magic that off?”

“Practice, I have to make a lot of quick changes when I’m working.” Mikey props himself up on one elbow and while he’s not touching, not even making any move to touch at the moment, it’s like Frank can feel him looking. Only Mikey’s eyes moving as he looks from Frank’s stomach up to his neck.

It’s a fascination that Frank’s used to, even if usually it’s the visible tattoos that lead to the comments. On familiar ground he says, “You can ask if you want.”

It’s usually what people want to do, search for the meaning behind each design inked on Frank’s skin, but Mikey shakes his head and says, “Can I touch them instead?”

Without thinking, Frank says, “yes,” and lets himself fall so he’s lying supine, his arms slightly away from his body, giving Mikey full access. Even then Frank expects Mikey to start talking -- to ask questions -- but he doesn’t.

Frank jumps, his skin tingling at the first sure touch, the tips of Mikey’s fingers over Frank’s ribcage, against what has to be the edge of one of his roses. Frank lets his eyes close, his breathing quickening as he waits for where Mikey will touch next.

He goes left, and Frank imagines Mikey carefully tracing the lines of Frank’s ink, Frank visualising each line, matching it with sensation as Mikey drags his fingertips over the rose and follows the line of the bomb, following a path that’s important, like Mikey’s taking in and mapping each one. Frank shivers at the drag of skin against skin, a trail over Frank’s sternum and he’s sure Mikey can feel his heart beating, he has to when it feels like Frank’s heart is about to jump from his body.

“I like them,” Mikey says softly, tracing the arch of words inked into Frank’s chest. “They suit you.”

Mikey doesn’t ask for the meanings and Frank’s glad. Right now isn’t the time for confessions and talks of the past. Now all he wants to do is lie still, lost in the moment as Mikey changes direction, following the webbing of Frank’s chest piece and then down. And this time Frank knows where he’s going.

It’s there in the hitch of Mikey’s breathing, the way when Frank opens his eyes he sees Mikey’s mouth is slightly parted, watching his own hand as he keeps moving it down, and stops on the swallow inked onto Frank’s pelvis.

Frank wants to push up his hips, anything but lie here, hot and uncomfortable and hating he’s wearing his work pants, hating that Mikey’s stopped moving. If feels like Frank’s skin is pulled too tight, his breathing too rapid and he’d feel stupid for reacting so strongly if Mikey wasn’t stripped back in return, every emotion showing as he looks down at Frank.

It’s something Frank isn’t used to. On the job he works to fade into the background, on stage he was all show, his true self concealed behind spat words and screaming back at the crowd. Here all Frank has is himself, but somehow it’s seemingly enough.

“Can I?” Mikey asks, and all Frank can do is nod, the sheet crumpled in his fisted hands as finally, Mikey moves again. Fingers tracing over the swallow and across to the ‘A’ following the curve of the letter and this time Frank has to look. Craning his neck he watches Mikey follow the first line of the ‘N’ over the bridge and then down, but this time he keeps going.

Frank bites back a gasp, barely able to breathe between feeling Mikey’s fingers brushing his skin and seeing his intention. How Mikey glances at Frank’s face before looking back down, his intention clear as he flattens his hand, warm and solid and relentless as Mikey slides the tips of his fingers under the waistband of Frank’s pants and underwear.

It’s the most teasing of touches, Mikey pressing his palm down gently, but keeping his fingers relaxed. Frank’s going crazy with want, so turned on he knows there’s no hope that he’ll last. Which he’d be embarrassed about but right now Frank doesn’t care, unable to stop himself pushing up with his hips, needing more contact.

“It’s okay, I’ve got you,” Mikey says, moving his hand further and this is awkward and frustrating as Mikey struggles to curl his fingers around Frank’s dick, neither willing to take the moment that’s needed to loosen buttons and zip.

Finally, Mikey manages a loose fist that Frank can barely push into, his waistband digging in and his junk getting crushed and Frank knows he’s about to come in his pants like he’s fourteen again.

“Mikey, I’m....” Frank starts to warn, his words cut off as Mikey rolls to the side, his body heavy against Frank’s and the angle all wrong as he moves in for a kiss.

His words stolen, Frank kisses back, his hand against Mikey’s back, holding on as Mikey moves his hand again, the tiniest of amounts -- but it’s enough.

It’s more than enough, a last touch that pushes Frank over the edge, moaning into a kiss as he spills over Mikey’s hand.

~*~*~*~*~

Comfortable on a folding chair, Frank watches Mikey, enjoying the way he looks so relaxed as he poses for Lindsey.

Unlike the last shoot, there’s little cutting edge about this one, just Mikey on the constructed set of a living room, sitting on a sofa and laughing at something Lindsey’s just said.

Lindsey grins back in return and takes the shots from where she’s crouched on the ground, directing Mikey with only a few words. While he’s no expert, it’s the most laid back shoot that Frank’s observed so far. Music playing in the background and the connection between Mikey and Lindsey more friends than model and photographer, even though they remain professional at all times.

“They’re looking great.” Frank looks over, seeing Gerard. He’s bundled up in a heavy coat and holding a tray of coffees while standing well back as he peers at Lindsey’s open laptop. At the moment it’s displaying a page of thumbnails, Mikey in his first outfit of the Androids Never Die casual collection of hoodie and pants. “Pete did a great job.”

“You all did a great job,” Frank says, well aware that both Mikey and Gerard helped with part of the designs. “You know catering brought coffee.”

Gerard stands next to Frank, handing over the tray as he peels off his layers, his damp coat draped over a large box and gloves balled up on top. “I know, but I was passing the shop and it was habit to call in.”

“God forbid you ignored the siren call for coffee,” Frank says with a grin. Selecting a cup, he takes a sip, face screwing up at the hit of strong, black coffee. “You’ve outdone yourself, this has to be extra, extra, extra strong.”

Gerard sits, the air around him cold as he takes back the tray, balancing it on his knee. Grabbing a cup Gerard gulps down half of the contents. “Just added a few extra shots. It’s been a long day.”

“You’ve been doing.... manager-y things?” Truthfully Frank’s not sure what Gerard actually does when not escorting Mikey and arranging his life. Something that Gerard apparently realises as he puts down his coffee and grins wide.

“I’ve been checking final arrangements for the Androids show and spent a few hours overseeing the transfer of the art to digital form.” Leaning to one side, Gerard pulls a folded piece of paper from out of his pocket, opening it up to show a print out of an android, one broken down and obviously depleted of all power. “This is from the start of the show, the start of the transformation. It’ll be shown on screens either side of the catwalk.”

“You drew this?” Frank’s seen examples of Gerard’s artwork, both the big pieces that Mikey’s framed and hung up and the random selection of sketches Mikey keeps in a box. This android screams Gerard’s touch, and yet again Frank’s reminded of how much care is being put into the planned show. “It’s fantastic.”

Gerard shrugs, but seems pleased at the compliment. “It’s one of the first sketches. They’re telling a story, about life and lies and rebirth. Each series is matched to the music and outfits being shown at the time.”

Frank can’t look away from the printout, an ache in his chest as he looks at the android laid out on the ground. While he’s only starting to know Mikey’s story, Frank knows enough to realise that what’s being planned is telling, in a way Mikey’s never attempted before. Frank looks up, directly at Gerard. “This is important. Beyond launching the line.”

“Really fucking important,” Gerard says, glancing over to Mikey, who’s telling some story to Lindsey with both words and hands. “He never wanted to do this, I think he only did because people said that he couldn’t. He’s a stubborn bastard sometimes.”

To Frank that’s an understatement, and he can’t help laughing, cutting himself off because this really isn’t the moment. Not that Gerard seems to care.

“I know, right? He’s always wanting to prove people wrong. I used to sit watching him practicing his walk for hours, determined to improve his posture and as for his skin routine.....” Gerard trails off then, lost in his own thoughts, then suddenly says, “He’s been working his ass off for years, and you’re only on top for so long in this industry, so yeah it’s important.”

“He’s planning on quitting?” It’s what Frank thinks Gerard is hinting at, and nothing Frank expected to hear. Mikey’s still a big name in the business, and still gets given big campaigns. Still, after what Frank’s seen on the job, he can understand the appeal of taking a step back.

“Not yet.” Gerard takes a drink of his coffee and then holds the cup toward Mikey who’s looking their way, laughing when Mikey pouts and makes grabby hands in their direction.

Lindsey looks over her shoulder, grinning wide when she sees Gerard. “Stop teasing, he can have some when he’s out of these clothes.”

“I’m not teasing,” Gerard says, the curve of his smile visible when he takes a long, deliberate drink.

“Of course you’re not.” Handing over her camera to an assistant, Lindsey walks over and plucks the cup from Gerard’s hand, drinking the remaining contents herself. Presenting Gerard with the empty cup she presses a kiss against his cheek and then turns to Frank. “Keep one safe for Mikey. It shouldn’t take long to finish this set.”

Frank eyes the cups, and Gerard, who’s got his hand against Lindsey’s hip, a casual touch before she goes back to her cameras. “I don’t know, Gerard’s fierce, he might fight me for it.”

Lindsey puts her hand over Gerard’s squeezing once. “You’ll win, you’ll be fighting for something that matters.”

Frank tells himself she means the coffee. That somehow all Ways have a thing in their brain that means coffee means everything, always. Except he knows that’s not true. “You know?”

“Gerard told me,” Lindsey admits, and looks back toward the couch, where Mikey’s talking to the make-up artist brushing powder over his nose. “And Mikey did too.”

Frank pulls on all his training, remaining cool as he tries to work out what Mikey’s actually said. All Frank can hope is it wasn’t everything, even if Mikey seems to have no internal filter when it comes to his family.

“Don’t drink all the coffee.” Lindsey ruffles Gerard’s hair before turning to Frank. She winks, says, “You’ll have to show me all of your ink one day. Mikey said it’s impressive.”

“Oh, he meant Frank’s ink when he said that,” Gerard says innocently and Frank hates them for being so cheerful and accepting and drawing Frank into their circle so easily. A last grin and Lindsey walks away and Gerard’s smile fades, the mood becoming more serious in moments. “He’s not quitting yet, but he will in a few years. So, thank you.”

Thrown by the abrupt change in tone, all Frank can say is, “For what?”

“For being there the last few weeks, for showing him it’s possible for someone to see past his image,” Gerard says, and then, “For showing you understand why we love him.”

Mikey sits posed on the couch, legs crossed and book in his hand, the robot on his hoodie shining bright as he pretends to read on a fake set, while Lindsey prowls and takes photos.

It’s fake relaxation on a fake set in an industry Frank still isn’t sure of. But what he is sure of is Mikey, and Frank simply says, “Yeah. I understand.”

~*~*~*~

For the last two nights Frank hasn’t slept on the couch.

Logically it makes sense that Frank should sleep with Mikey. It’s more comfortable, and keeps the living room clear of Frank’s stuff, and the biggest reason of all, Frank wants to. That doesn’t mean it’s any less weird. Especially as right now, Frank’s still classed as Mikey’s official bodyguard. It means that Frank’s having to straddle two roles, one where he’s at the beginning of a relationship with Mikey, and the other, where he’s being paid to guard his life.

It’s not something Frank approves of or likes, but right now there’s no one he trusts to take on the job. The other bodyguards at Counter Threat are already working full time, or in one case, out sick. It’s why Frank allows Mikey to persuade him to wait, and that there’s no need to approach a new firm.

Frank tells himself a few days and Matt will be better, and that until then Frank’s capable of being professional when they’re away from the apartment. And Frank is, maintaining a balance that’s been working. Frank still wakes Mikey up, he still makes him coffee, and if he does both along with a kiss. Well, that’s just a bonus.

“Mikey, five minutes and you have to get up.” Frank takes a moment to take off his sneakers and peel off his damp t-shirt, dropping it on his pile of clothes in a corner. Rubbing his hands through his hair he kneels on the bed and crawls forward, leaning over Mikey. Giving him a hard pinch to his nose, Frank says, “I swear if I have to call to wake you up again I’m not making you coffee.”

“Will,” Mikey mumbles, pulling away and pushing his face into his pillow.

“One morning I won’t,” but it’s an empty threat, Frank already moving as he crawls back off of the bed and heads back to the kitchen. It’s part of the morning Frank’s come to enjoy, when he’s finished his run and work out and is back in the apartment, able to relax as he cools down. Right now it’s still quiet, beams of light pushing past the curtains and all Frank feels is content and at peace.

Even the terminator of the coffee maker world feels friendly this morning, Frank confident as he presses buttons and slots a mug into place. Satisfied, Frank grabs his water bottle, draining the contents as he opens the fridge, enjoying the blast of cold air against his chest as he considers options for breakfast.

Most days Mikey won’t eat until later, but Frank enjoys a facon sandwich, especially when he’s got time to actually leisurely eat. Like today, and Frank’s takes a package off of the shelf about to head for the stove, when he sees the new letter – one lying close to the door, the envelope white and Mikey’s name typewritten in black.

Instantly, Frank throws down the facon and runs, knowing the letter wasn’t there minutes before. Throwing open the door to the apartment, Frank doesn’t care that he’s wearing sweatpants only as he runs headlong along the hallway and turns the corner.

There’s no one waiting at the elevator or heading into the stairs. There’s no one in sight at all and Frank wants to kick the nearest wall as he shoulders open the door to the stairwell and goes down three stairs at a time.

Adrenaline driving him on, Frank’s socked feet skid against each landing as he turns the quick corners, hand brushing the bannister until he reaches the ground floor, momentum carrying him forward as he bursts through the doors and into the main lobby.

“Was anyone here?” Frank demands, directing the question at the concierge who’s stepping from behind his desk, looking concerned. “In the last minute.”

“Not that I saw, but I was answering the phone.”

Frank stands in the doorway to the building, ignoring the stares as he watches people walk past. Lots of people. Any one of whom could have slipped out of the building and lost themselves in the crowd.

Frank wants to grab hold and interrogate them all, but he knows it’ll be no good. Furious, with himself and the person who delivered the letter, Frank turns, ignoring the concierge’s questions as he runs back to the apartment.

~*~*~*~

As first meetings go between Mikey and Ray, this isn’t what Frank would have ever planned in the slightest. After hours of talking to detectives, it’s obvious Mikey has no desire to go over things again, no matter how hard he’s trying to hide it.

“Can you think of anyone that would want to hurt you?" Ray asks. He’s got a notepad on his lap and holds a pen in his hand, but makes no attempt to hurry Mikey on when he makes no attempt to answer. “Or someone you’ve pissed off in the last few months?”

Mikey laughs shortly. “That list would go into the hundreds if you included the paps.”

“Have any of them been extra dickish?” Frank can’t resist asking even though they agreed beforehand that Ray would take care of the questions. It’s just better that way, Ray able to remain calm and collected when all Frank wants to do is rain down violence and vengeance.

“None of them cackled and made a slashing motion against their throat if that’s what you mean.” Mikey sighs and slumps back, closing his eyes. ”I don’t know. I don’t know who’s sending them or why or what the fuck that I’ve done.”

Ray reaches out, touching Mikey’s knee briefly. “You’ve probably done nothing. This happens all of the time, people getting fixated on celebrities.” Ray glances over at Frank, indicating this interview is over. “Matt will be back at work soon, and until then Frank will be here keeping you safe.”

Mikey keeps his eyes closed, says, “He would keep me safe all of the time, I don’t need a new bodyguard.”

“Yeah, you do.” It’s Gerard that replies and Frank’s thankful that he’s backing up what Ray has been saying. “Frank’s awesome, and fucking great at his job, but you’re too much of a distraction.”

“A distraction how?” Mikey demands, looking directly at Gerard. “I do my job, Frank does his. There’s nothing complicated about it.”

It’s the first time Frank’s ever seen them even approach an argument, and it’s something uncomfortable to witness. The whole feel of the room wrong as Gerard leaves the kitchen area and sits on the couch between Mikey and Ray.

Gerard turns, his knees against Mikey’s. “Nothing complicated but you’re you. You’re fucking mesmerizing when you’re working. People watch you, they always do.”

It feels like a moment where Frank should protest that he’s a professional who doesn’t get distracted by watching his client -- but he won’t. As tempting as it is, Matt does need to take over as Mikey’s official bodyguard, and the sooner that happens the better.

“I wouldn’t allow Frank to work with someone he’s in a relationship with anyway,” Ray says, cutting through the uncomfortable silence. He taps the pen against his thigh, obviously not enjoying playing the bad guy. “And I’d recommend using someone from a different firm until Matt’s back on duty.”

“No,” Mikey says instantly, ignoring Gerard’s pained look. “You said yourself the person sending the letters is probably harmless and the Androids launch will have extra security. I don’t need anyone new yet.”

“No one actually said that,” Frank points out. Even if most senders of threatening letters are harmless and not intending to act, there are always ones that actually are dangerous. Frank’s not about to let Mikey remain complacent when his life is being threatened. “You should listen to Ray. That last letter was disturbing.”

“And full of badly spelled insane ramblings,” Mikey says, looking past Gerard to Frank. “I can look after myself and I trust you. Do you really want someone neither of us knows in our business all of the time?”

And that’s the thing, Frank doesn’t. Professionally he knows that he should be knocking back Mikey’s arguments, but when it comes to it, Frank’s sure he can continue doing his job, especially when it’s only a few days.

Seizing on the hesitation, Mikey presses his point. “A few days and the launch, we can do that.”

“I’m still arranging extra security for the show,” Gerard says, his mouth pinched in a thin line as he stares at Mikey. “And you need to keep thinking about people you’ve pissed off so we can find this sick fucker.”

Mikey frowns, his attention back on Gerard. “I’ve already told the police everything I know.”

“And now you’re going to tell Ray,” Gerard says, putting his hand over Mikey’s. “Don’t make me take a bullet for you.”

“Melodrama doesn’t work,” Mikey says levelly, never looking away from Gerard. “I’m immune to it now.”

“Okay. Okay then.” Gerard thinks a moment and then says, “How about if I said please? I can’t lose you, Mikey.”

“You’re not going to,” Mikey says, and the facade he’s been portraying starts to waver, the icy cool model cracking to reveal Mikey himself. Mikey turns his hand, his fingers wrapped around Gerard’s. “I’ll be careful.”

It’s a scene that feels too intimate to witness, and Frank’s unsurprised when Ray stands, making his excuses about needing a drink.

“Well, what do you think,” Frank asks quietly, grabbing Ray a soda from out of the fridge.

“I think you’re right to be concerned.” Ray cracks open the can, taking a drink before adding, “And that you’re insane for not insisting someone else guards him.”

As comments go it’s not what Frank wanted to hear. He asked Ray here for a second opinion, not to tell Frank things he already knows and has pushed to one side. “I’m good at my job, Ray.”

“I know you are,” Ray says instantly, his attention caught by the new photo of Frank and Mikey that’s been stuck to the front of the fridge. “But you’re not thinking straight."

“A few days and I’ll step down,” Frank says, and he will. He’ll let Matt take over his job and Frank’s only responsibility will be to keep falling for Mikey.

That’s something he can do easily, and until then, he’ll push back his misgivings and continue what he’s been doing and look after Mikey in his own way.

~*~*~*~*

“I like Ray,” Mikey says, not looking away from the TV where for some reason, a girl is walking a catwalk with eggs attached to her shoes. “Gerard was right about him.”

Frank shuffles closer to Mikey, so they’re pressed together from shoulder to hip, and sharing a pillow. “I’ll take you to watch him play next time. He shreds like a pro.”

Mikey smiles slightly, looking pleased. “I’ll hold you to that.”

It’s a promise Frank intends to keep, sure that Mikey will enjoy seeing Ray play, and get to know him away from threats to his life and tense situations. There is one potential issue though, “You may have to go in wearing a disguise. They don’t get many supermodels at the bar.”

“I’ll raid Gerard’s costume closet,” Mikey says, shaking his head a little as on screen, the girl falls, egg splattering the catwalk. “I can’t believe they use eggs.”

Frank looks away from the TV, pushing himself up a little so he can see Mikey. “Gerard said you practiced your walk a lot.”

“I had to,” Mikey says, light flickering over his face, his cheekbones in shadows as he turns to Frank. “One of the first designers I saw on a go see said no knock-kneed skinny boy with bad posture would ever get paid to walk a catwalk.”

“So you decided to prove them wrong,” Frank says, sure that’s what actually happened.

Mikey glances back to the TV, where the girl is struggling to stand. “I marked out a catwalk with tape on the floor and raided my mom’s closet for heels and started to walk. A month or so later I had blisters on blisters, but could also fake it enough it looked like I knew what I was doing.”

As stories go it’s impressive, but all Frank can think of is, “You wore heels?”

“I read somewhere it helped with your posture,” Mikey shrugs, as if wearing heels is something he does every day. “And they made my legs look good.”

It’s a scene that Frank can’t help but imagine. A younger Mikey dressed the way he was in his first shoot. Hair a mess and pants low, his t-shirt too small, riding up even further as he practiced, his hips pushed forward as he walks.

“I’ve still got some. I can show you if you like.”

Frank blinks, realising Mikey’s been talking. “You.... What?”

“Heels, I’ve a few pairs in the closet.” Mikey grins as he sits and gets off of the bed, looking over his shoulder at Frank. “I’ll show you.”

Before, Frank would say his tastes were vanilla. Maybe a little light spanking on occasions or getting off to free porn. Now though, he’s acquiring a list, corsets and leather pants and a constant desire to bite Mikey’s neck.

“Holy shit,” Frank breathes, and now it seems he has to add high heels to that list. In the seconds Mikey’s been gone he’s pulled off his sweat pants but left on his t-shirt that’s stretched out enough it falls to his thighs. But it’s the heels that attract Frank’s attention. They’re black, the heel spiked enough that it causes Mikey to change how he walks, the sway of his hips sensuous as he moves to the foot of the bed, adopting a pose when Frank scrambles to sit up.

“You like?” Mikey asks, and right now he’s all show, the model in him taking over as he adopts a pose that exposes his neck, head tilted and body twisted, his t-shirt hitched up on one side. It’s a position that leaves Frank wanting to touch. He wants to break lines and shatter Mikey’s composure, take him apart piece by piece.

Frank crawls off of the bed and sits at the edge, his legs spread as he commands, “Come here.”

Mikey walks forward, his gaze locked with Frank’s, no hint of a smile as he stands between Frank’s legs. This close Frank has to look up, seeing the way Mikey’s throat moves when he swallows, how his eyes half close when Frank rests his hands against Mikey’s hips and holds on, fitting his thumbs against the crease of his groin.

“Frank....”

“Shush,” Frank says, pressing his thumbs in harder, a constant bruising pressure as he takes a last look at Mikey’s face before moving in closer. Frank needs to touch, to taste as he mouths at the pale skin over Mikey’s hipbone, sucking hard.

As positions go it it’s almost perfect, Mikey’s dick warm, brushing against Frank’s cheek as he keeps sucking, leaving marks that’ll be hidden under clothes.

Mikey groans, a bitten back gasp when Frank uses his teeth, biting down for an instant before pulling back, gently blowing on the teeth marks that are blooming red.

“Frank,” Mikey says, putting his hand on Frank’s shoulder, his fingers digging in.

Frank knows what he wants, and Frank obliges -- a little. His touch teasing, he lightly licks over the marks once again, but this time he keeps going, to the side and then up, dragging his tongue along the underside of Mikey’s dick. Then he stops, taking a moment to take it all in, the sound of Mikey’s harsh breathing, the scent of him and how the head of Mikey’s dick feels against Frank’s lips.

It’s something Frank loves, when Mikey’s his for the taking, fighting for control as Frank brings his lips together and sucks -- gentle and not far. It’s tempting to keep going, to suck hard and push Mikey to the edge fast, but Frank doesn’t want that. He needs more, and in a move that obviously takes Mikey off guard, Frank stands, twists them both around and then pushes, Mikey falling back onto the bed.

As landings go it’s awkward, Mikey sprawled out on the bed, his t-shirt rucked up to his chest and cheeks flushed, but to Frank he looks perfect, rumpled in a way that softens his edges. Needing, Frank climbs onto the bed, careful of where he places his knees as he straddles Mikey’s thighs, pinning him down.

Not that Mikey’s trying to escape. His eyes gleaming, he stares directly at Frank, letting him make the next move, and Frank knows exactly what he wants. He’s not a quick change artist like Mikey, but Frank pulls off his t-shirt with one move, throwing it away without looking.

Bare chested, he brings down his hand, running his thumb across the head of Mikey’s dick, a warning move of intent as Frank lets himself down, fitting their bodies together. His mouth falling open, Mikey gasps as Frank moves, the material of his boxer briefs dragging as Frank gets into the position he wants.

And all he can hope is Mikey gets his intention. His hips moving, slow and steady, Frank loses himself in sensation, Mikey’s breath on his cheek, Mikey’s body beneath him, solid and pliant, hoping Mikey understands when Frank manages to say, “Your shoes.”

It takes a moment, and Frank’s sure he’s going to have to explain what he needs --- then Mikey’s moving. His knees splayed out to the side, Mikey pulls up his legs and while Frank can’t see what it looks like, he can imagine, and is unable to bite back a groan at the first touch of the heels.

It’s gentle at first, two spots of pressure on Frank’s lower back, but Mikey keeps pressing, Frank urging him on. His whole body overheated, Frank mouths at the cord of Mikey’s neck, Mikey pushing up against him, only the thin layer of material between them as they work their dicks together, matching their rhythm as Frank moves again, his mouth against Mikey’s shoulder.

Frank bites down -- hard -- and Mikey’s whole body jerks in response, his heels digging in even further, and it’s enough, pain and pleasure merging into something white hot. All Frank can do is ride the sensation, breathing hard as Mikey shudders beneath him.

~*~*~*~

 

The reveal of the Androids Never Die line is a huge deal for Mikey.

Over a year’s worth of work is coming together at tonight’s runway show, and Frank’s attention is pulled off to all sides as Mikey discusses last minute details with Pete while getting final adjustments done to his first outfit.

It’s something that looks very Mikey. The collar on the jacket high and brushing his jaw, his pants skin tight and the corset Frank laced back at the beginning, but pulled much tighter than Frank managed himself.

“How are you even breathing?” Frank asks, moving in as soon as Mikey’s left alone with Pete. “Jesus Christ, have they removed some of your ribs?”

“My stylists are sadists,” Mikey says, grinning at Pete.”The designer is too.”

Pete grins back in return, slipping his hand under Mikey’s jacket and cupping the curve of his waist. “You know you love it.”

As touches go it means nothing, casual in the way this whole industry is, where kissing and hugging is as natural as breathing. Frank still hates it, that Pete gets to touch while Frank is forbidden.

“What do you think?” Mikey asks, and before Frank can even start to reply, Mikey’s walking an imaginary runway, switching from animated to aloof in an instant. It’s a switch that still takes Frank by surprise, and all he can do is watch as Mikey turns, slipping off his jacket for the walk back.

“He’s a teasing fucker.” Pete drapes his arm over Frank’s shoulders, uncaring of the roles they’re supposed to adopt. “Showing all of that skin should be illegal.”

Frank has to agree, at least here where he’s unable to touch. At home however, when Frank’s got Mikey stretched out on the bed....

“Hey.” Pete snaps his fingers in front of Frank’s face, his grin impossibly wide. “No dirty fantasies now, the show’s about to start.”

Frank checks his watch and sees that Pete’s right. Annoyed with himself for losing concentration, Frank slips from under Pete’s arm, backing up so he can actually see what’s going on around them. .

By now the backstage area is a scene of organized chaos, the coordinator of the show yelling instructions as the models start to line up. As a group they all look fantastic, and Frank can’t help second-hand pride, knowing how much this collection means to Mikey and Pete.

Ignoring the coordinator, Mikey steps close to Frank, his voice low as he says, “You didn’t say what you thought.”

Frank takes a moment to consider, taking in everything from Mikey’s heavy boots to his hair which has been slicked down close to his head. “I guess you look okay.”

“Yeah?” Mikey’s mouth curls up into a smile as he leans in, says, “In that case I’ll put it on tonight.”

Frank swallows, imagining peeling Mikey out of the outfit, revealing pale skin from under the layers of metal and black. “If I get red circled for having a boner I’ll kill you.”

Mikey laughs, something unusual enough at these events that several people look their way. “In that case I won’t tell you I’m not wearing anything underneath.”

It’s not new information, it can’t be when Mikey’s pants are so tight. Still, once again Frank’s mind starts to wander, and he almost loses sight of Mikey when he hurries back to the coordinator who’s arranging the models into a straight line.

“Frank.” Weaving through the crowd, Pete beckons to Frank. “There’s a spot from side stage you can watch.”

Frank looks where Pete is indicating, an alcove at an angle to the entrance to the runway. “It’s okay to stand there?”

“It can’t be seen from the audience,” Pete says, no trace of his smile left as he takes in the models, each one wearing his clothes. “We’ve done it.”

“Yeah, you have.” Frank still doesn’t know Pete that well, but he knows him enough to understand what this show means, his pride and sense of achievement obvious before Pete snaps out of the moment. Running along the line, Pete high fives each one of the models, and then takes up position next to the coordinator who snaps into cool efficiency as the soundtrack to the show start to play.

Taking the cue, Frank checks that Mikey’s okay, then slips into the alcove. Already it’s half full, and Frank takes a position close to the curtain. From here he can see some of the audience, including Gerard who’s sitting in his normal seat at the end of runway. Right now he’s sitting on the edge of his seat, attention focused where the models appear, and it’s through Gerard’s changed expression, his smile and obvious pride that Frank knows that Mikey’s stepped into view.

It’s not the first show that Frank’s seen. He’s watched them on TV on America’s Next Top Model and more recently, watched Mikey walk the runway for a local charity show. This is nothing like either. The hairs on the back of Frank’s neck stand up at the blast of applause as Mikey starts walking -- cold and aloof, never looking at any of the audience as he stalks down the runway.

His throat dry and heart beating fast, Frank wants to applaud too. Only the people around him and the photographers that surround the runway provide a deterrent. Caught in the moment, Frank fights to maintain professional detachment, especially when Mikey pulls off his coat, contemptuously throwing it to one side as he walks back.

“Go, go, go!” Frank listens to the coordinator urge the next model onstage, a girl this time, dressed in one of the more casual pieces, the robot on the front of her hoodie gleaming silver as she struts the runway, fierce until the blinding grin she directs toward Frank on her way back.

Frank smiles in return, and while he’s no fashion expert he knows the show is going well. It has to be when every outfit provides a reaction, each model given more applause, until finally, Mikey appears in his last outfit.

Compared to the others it’s appears simple at first, but as Mikey walks things change. The glowing panels built into the back of his shirt start to flicker, the mask he’s wearing is pulled off with a flick of his hand.

It’s an illusion that Frank’s watched be crafted, Pete, Mikey and Gerard working together so it appears Mikey is casting off his hard shell. Black gloves backed with metallic bones are cast off, the wide belt that encircles his waist falls to the ground. Piece by piece things splutter then fall, until Mikey’s left in a simple black outfit and stands frozen in place at the end of the runway. Stripped back and vulnerable in a way that makes Frank’s heart ache.

For a long moment there’s silence. No music or applause at all. Then, as if on a signal, everyone is up on their feet, the applause deafening, Mikey the focus of an explosion of sound.

There’s no way that Frank can’t applaud too. His hands stinging as he looks only at Mikey, and it’s why Frank’s nearly too late.

Distracted, it takes him a few moments to see the man running forward, a few more to see the gun held in his hand.

“Mikey!” Frank yells, pulling out his Glock, but he knows he won’t make it. He can’t, and all Frank can do is run and then take a desperate lunge forward, tackling Mikey to the ground as the man with the gun fires.

Frank hits the floor hard, and everything goes black.

~*~*~*~

Frank hates being in hospital. It’s always too cold and too noisy and the gowns give no dignity at all.

The fact that he’s ended up in some high-end hospital doesn’t change that. Even if he is in a private room with a working TV and comfortable sofas for visitors, all Frank wants to do is go home, and has stated that fact repeatedly.

“I’ll sign myself out,” Frank says, glaring at Ray who’s sitting by the side of the bed. “Or just walk out. No one can stop me.”

Ray sighs, says patiently, “You got shot in the head, Frank.”

“I got a flesh wound to my head, I’ve had worse shaving.” And okay, maybe a shaving cut doesn’t result in Frank having his head bandaged and him wanting to puke whenever he allows himself to think what would have happened if the shot was a tiny bit to the right. The point is Frank’s fine. “I mean it, I’m walking. No one will see me.”

“I doubt that.” It’s a break in Ray’s usual responses, and with a searching look at Frank, Ray grabs the remote and turns on the TV. “Not with those scenes.”

Eyes squinted shut against the glare of light, Frank stares at the screen. It’s showing a news report, a reporter talking against a backdrop of a crowd of other reporters standing outside of the hospital that Frank’s in at the moment. Most confusingly of all Frank Iero: Shot in the line of duty is a constant title at the foot of the screen.

“The fuck?” Frank doesn’t get it. He’s a no one, there’s no reason they should be there or interested in him at all. “They’re there for me?”

Ray nods, his hand held out as if he’s about to turn off the TV. “You and Mikey.You saved his life, Frank. They’re going crazy, especially as it was captured on camera.”

“No. Leave it.” Frank has to see what’s next, as on-screen the live scene of the reporters changes to an image of Mikey, standing in his final, triumphant pose, and then Frank, his Glock held out and yelling as he runs forward and then jumps.

After that it’s all things Frank hasn’t seen. Glad he’s lying down he sees himself and Mikey crash to the runway, and then, seconds later, Mikey pushing himself up onto his knees, blood on his face and running through his fingers as he presses his hand against Frank’s head.

The report stops running then, freezing on a last image of Mikey and Frank, Mikey’s every emotion there to see as he mouths Frank’s name.

“That’s on the front page of every newspaper in the city,” Ray says, and turns off the TV. “Everyone wants an interview, you’re a hero.”

“I was just doing my job,” Frank says faintly, swallowing against the bile that’s hot in his throat. “He could have died.”

Ray reaches out, his hand on Frank’s. “But you didn’t.”

“No.” Frank shakes his head, instantly regretting doing so when pain flares even under the blanket of painkilling drugs. “Not me. Mikey. I wasn’t paying attention and he nearly died.”

It’s Frank’s worst fears coming true. Not only could he have lost someone he was supposed to be protecting, it would have been Mikey, someone that Frank’s starting to love. Which is the problem, Frank crossed a line he knew that he shouldn’t, and now there’s only one thing he can do.

“Where’s Mikey?” Vaguely, Frank can remember Mikey sitting by his side earlier, constantly there through Frank being loaded into an ambulance and brought here. “He was here, right?”

“Gerard took him to get cleaned up,” Ray says, sounding impressed when he adds, “Or more truthfully, tag-teamed him to get cleaned up along with Lindsey. She’s one amazing lady.”

“Yeah, she is,” Frank says, trying to breathe past the lump in his chest as he prepares to say the next words. “I don’t want you to let Mikey back in.”

“What? Why?” Ray looks toward the door to the hallway and then pulls his chair even closer to the bed. “I thought you were happy with him?”

Frank squeezes his eyes closed. This is hard, harder even than breaking into an industry that never took him seriously, and for good reason it seems, Frank having proved he fails as a bodyguard too. “I am... was happy with him. But I can’t see him, professionally or personally. You need to arrange for another bodyguard for him. I almost got him killed.”

“You’re not thinking straight,” Ray says, curling his fingers around Frank’s hand and holding on. “It’s the drugs and the blood loss. You’ll feel different in the morning.”

“No, I won’t,” Frank states, seeing more clearly than he has for a while. “I crossed the line and now I’m stepping back. And that means not seeing Mikey.”

“Okay, okay.” Ray looks toward the hallway, and then back to Frank. “But I don’t think I can stop Mikey coming back in. Not without a legal reason at least.”

Frank sits, light-headed and swaying until Ray steadies him with a hand to Frank’s back. “Then I’m leaving. Now.”

“You’re being an idiot,” Ray says, but he knows Frank, and knows he means what he’s saying. Ray pulls out his phone, hitting call after scrolling his contacts. “We’ll have to leave by the back, and get you some clothes. Hi, hello, Bob, I need some help.”

Relief hits as Frank inches himself to the side of the bed.

This is the right thing to do no matter how much it hurts.

And it does hurt. A lot.

~*~*~*~

“You know you can stay as long as you want,” Ray says, perching on the arm of the couch. “But can you at least call Mikey? He called the office seventeen times today.”

Surrounded by his nest of blankets, Frank pushes his laptop to one side and reaches for his phone, checking the screen. Since the last time he looked he’s had five missed calls, and the new text symbol is flashing. It has been almost constantly for the last three days. Not that Frank looks at the texts before he deletes them.

“I can’t.” It’s something Frank has told Ray multiple times, but Ray doesn’t seem to be taking it in, no matter how often Frank’s tried to explain. “Have you arranged for a new permanent bodyguard yet?”

Ray gives Frank a pained look, but allows the deflection, slipping down off of the arm to sit at Frank’s feet. “Bob’s having issues with Justin, so he’s decided to quit and start over here.”

It’s a good solution. Frank trusts Bob completely and he’s not likely to lose concentration and put Mikey in danger. Except, there’s a big problem. “I thought Bob flew back to L.A?”

“He did,” Ray replies, pushing at Frank’s feet and the blankets until he can sit fully on the couch. “He should be back in two days.”

“So who’s watching Mikey now?” Frank asks, trying for casual, but plainly failing if the way Ray flinches is any indication.

“The police,” Ray says, holding up his hand as Frank prepares to yell a protest. “They’ve got someone watching his apartment and Pete and Gerard are staying there too. Gerard’s cancelled all of Mikey’s engagements and said they’re fine waiting for Bob.”

“Are they crazy?” Frank wants to punch something, or kick or scream at Mikey and ask what the fuck he thinks he’s doing. It’s insane he’s going without any bodyguard at all. Frank glares at Ray and demands, “The police can’t give him the attention he needs, they’re stretched too thin as it is. Why didn’t you tell him that was a fucking stupid idea?”

“I tried,” Ray says, calmly meeting Frank’s glare. “And he hasn’t had an official bodyguard since the fashion show. I told you that.”

It’s probably true. Ray’s told Frank lots of things since the night they broke out of the hospital, most of them Frank hasn’t taken in at all. Too drugged up at first, and then later, too busy researching and getting in touch with his contacts. “Okay, sorry. But you need to change his mind. That fucker gunning for Mikey is dangerous.”

Ray laughs shortly. “I got that considering he shot you in the head.”

Frank waves that away and turns his laptop so Ray can see the screen. “I’ve been reading the message boards and community groups dedicated to Mikey. There’re a lot of obsessed and sick bastards out there, but I noticed one name that kept creeping up and saying negative shit.”

Ray looks from Frank to the laptop and then back. “You’ve been researching who’s sending Mikey death threats? I thought you’d holed up to watch weepy movies and eat chocolate.”

“I’m not some chick with a broken heart,” Frank protests, telling his own partial lie and glossing over the fact that while Frank may have fucked up, he’s not about to forget that Mikey almost got killed. “I’ve been in touch with some old contacts and joined a few groups. I’ve been having some interesting conversations with Robosucks29.”

“I’m sure you have.” Ray moves along the couch, deadly serious as he takes in the pages of notes that Frank has been keeping. “He thinks Mikey’s a sellout who betrayed his roots by becoming successful. Someone’s got issues.”

“And then some.” Frank clicks to a new page, the one where even knowing what’s coming doesn’t help dampen his anger. “Apparently Mikey’s a talentless hack who doesn’t even look good and is only successful due to using his family.”

“Brainless idiot,” Ray says, and looks back to Frank. “He’s talking out of his ass, but this doesn’t actually prove anything. Every celebrity out there has to deal with shit like this.”

“I know,” and Frank does. He’s dealt with so-called fan letters before, where all the writer wanted to do was insult and bitch at his clients. But this is different, and despite recently ignoring them, usually Frank trusts his instincts. “I private messaged Robosuck29 and we’ve been talking today. He really hates Mikey.”

“That could be seen as entrapment,” Ray warns, moving in closer again as he reads the messages that Frank has been saving. “And saying fucked up stuff like this doesn’t mean he’s been sending the letters or tried to shoot Mikey. Hell, you don’t even know that it is a he, Robosuck could be an old lady from England.”

“Could be but isn’t.” Frank hesitates, because as much as he trusts Ray, he’s still Frank’s boss and some things probably shouldn’t be shared. Including the fact that Frank has been using ways of getting information that aren’t legal in the slightest. “I put some stuff together, traced his ISP and embedded some trackers.”

“You did that?” Ray cuts in, sounding dubious. “Mr I Can’t Program My Own Cable?”

“That was one time.” And okay, maybe it was one time a few months ago but to Frank the point still stands. “Can we keep it at it the tracking happened without talking details?”

Ray shrugs, says, “Works for me.”

Frank breathes easier at the answer. He was never about to stop what he’s been doing, but Ray knowing and being supportive is a relief. He’ll also be able to help now, and Frank says, “I’ve narrowed his location down to somewhere in the city. A few more messages and I’ll have him.”

“And then what?” Ray asks.

There’s only one answer to that, and Frank says simply, “Then I bring him down.”

~*~*~*~

Even reading Robosucks29’s past messages makes Frank feel sleazy. Itching over the dressing on his head with the flat of his hand, Frank considers the latest message that he received in his in-box. It’s one sent over two hours before and despite Frank trying both subtle and pointed questions, he’s been unable to get Robosucks29 to reveal his actual specific location or to admit to anything concrete at all. Frank’s sure Robosucks29 both sent the letters and attempted the shooting from what he’s been hinting, but hints aren’t an actual written confession, and that’s driving Frank insane.

Only the thought of the eventual confrontation is keeping Frank going. How they’ll meet up and Frank will punch Robosucks29 hard in the face, and probably kick him hard in the nuts a few times. It’ll be Frank’s form of retribution before handing Robosucks29 over to the police, and also hopefully help ease the ache in Frank’s chest.

The truth is, almost a week after the shooting and Frank’s missing Mikey like crazy. Everything about him from his stupid fashion forward clothes when they’re out in public to the way he laughs and spills popcorn everywhere when they’re watching TV late at night.

Frank misses seeing Gerard and Lindsey and prodding Donna for embarrassing details about Mikey’s childhood when they talk on the phone. Hell, Frank even misses Pete. A little. In the way you’d miss an annoying yappy dog that won’t leave you alone.

What he doesn’t miss is being lectured by Ray when he finds magazines with spreads featuring Mikey that Frank’s left in the bathroom. Lectures that are plainly unfair, because it’s not like every one that Ray’s picked up has been sticky.

It’s one of the reasons why Frank should go home to his own apartment, and he will, soon, because it’s not like Frank minds being alone.

“Frank, we’ve got a problem.” Frank jumps when the door to Ray’s apartment is flung open and Ray runs inside. Throwing his bag to one side he leans over the back of the couch, taking control of Frank’s laptop. “Gerard just called. Mikey’s doing a last minute fundraiser for Mercy Hospital, to say thanks for them saving your life.”

“My life wasn’t ever in danger,” Frank says, the pat answer instinctive and pushing through the urge to go find Mikey and wring his stupid neck. “And the fuck? Tell me Bob’s going to be there.”

“He should be touching down soon.” Ray brings up a new tab and types in an URL, revealing a page from a news source stating how Mikey will be taking part in a short fashion show with some of his friends, all ticket proceeds going to the hospital. “I told Bob to go straight there.”

Frank stares at the news page, and the photo of Mikey. It’s one of the ones from a few years before, when Mikey’s hair was much shorter and he’s wearing an outfit seemingly made out of bottle caps and aluminum foil. It’s also an outfit that Frank’s laughed at before, the last time while sprawled out in bed with Mikey and mocking past fashion trends as they scrolled Mikey’s fan sites.

As memories go it’s a great one, but Frank can’t think about that right now. “He’s walking at the place he nearly got shot? With no personal bodyguard at all? What kind of idiotic, careless, fucking ridiculous person is he?”

“Gerard says it’s a deliberate choice, to show he’s not scared. And Mikey’s not that much of an idiot. The police will have people there and Gerard hired a few guys from Bouncers.” Ray stops talking then, mouth turned down at the corners. “I don’t like maligning people from the business but....”

“Well I’m not. The people from Bouncers are hacks,” Frank cuts in. He’s got no issues about stating what’s true, and the facts are, anyone hired from Bouncers are inexperienced at best, and at worst, only there for the money. “Mikey needs more security than college age kids and bored cops.”

“He’s going to get it,” Ray states. Straightening, he takes the elastic band off his wrist and pulls back his hair, checking his phone as he heads for the door. “I’m going over there.”

A last look at his email and Frank stands, scanning the apartment for his shoes. “Not without me you’re not. Roboboysucks29 hasn’t emailed for a few hours.”

Ray goes into his bedroom, and Frank can hear him open the door to his closet, then the heavier creak of the gun safe inside. “You think that’s a problem?”

Frank knows it’s a problem. Roboboysucks29 has been keeping in contact regularly during daylight hours for the last two days. If not via IMs than in posts on a variety of fansites. To have him drop out of sight like this so completely makes Frank nervous, and he can’t help picturing the worst.

“If he gets shot I’m going to kill Mikey myself,” Frank says, jamming his feet into his sneakers. The laces tied, Frank fastens on his gun holster, the straps fitting perfectly, feeling a part of him despite Frank being on leave the last week. “He could have waited, but no. He goes out and does what he wants without thinking.”

Ray hands over Frank’s Glock and then heads for the door. “You’re not being fair. As far as Mikey and Gerard are concerned they’ve got security. Lots of it.”

“Security that sucks,” Frank says, refusing to be mollified. “He wouldn’t get some kind of haute couture outfit from the first designer he saw, security isn’t any different.”

“Haute couture, really?” For a moment amusement breaks through as Ray looks over his shoulder at Frank. “You’re knowledgeable for someone who thinks the fashion world is ridiculous and fake.”

“It is.” Frank scowls at Ray and then allows, “At least most of it is. Some of it is okay, even if he does do stupid things like go do a fundraiser for a hospital while someone is out there to kill him.”

Ray doesn’t reply, at least not at first. It’s only when they’re about to step outside and hail down a cab that he says, “You know, you didn’t leave him much choice. You wouldn’t speak to him or let me tell him where you were staying. Mikey misses you, this is probably him trying to give something back to the people who saved you.”

Frank doesn’t reply. There’s nothing he can say, not when he was never the one that needed saving at all.

~*~*~*~

As soon as the cab comes to a stop Frank jumps out, leaving Ray to pay for their fare.

Already Frank can hear music and applause coming from inside of the venue and he feels sick as he runs up the steps to the main entrance, shouldering his way past one of the guards on the door.

“I’m with Mikey Way,” Frank shouts, uncaring he’s being yelled at as he ignores the crowds around the runway and hurries toward backstage. As usual it’s the same level of organized chaos and Frank’s unable to see Mikey within the throng of make-up artists, dressers and models who are clustered together. Who he does see is Ryan, and Frank plunges into the crowd, grabs hold of Ryan’s arm and demands, “Where’s Mikey?”

“Get off him, now!”

Someone takes hold of Frank’s shoulder and he reacts instantly, whirling around and kicking out, sending the guard from the door flying. “I told you, I’m with Mikey Way.”

“He is.” Ryan stares at the guard, unblinking like he’s the most fascinating thing that he’s seen. “He’s Mikey’s bodyguard.”

The guard snarls, says, “Well you should know better than to barge in, then.”

“And you should be better at your job,” Frank spits back. “I could have been anyone pushing my way in.” He turns back to Ryan then, uncaring of the guard’s continued anger. “Ryan, I really need to find Mikey.”

“He’s already out there,” Ryan says, indicating the runway that’s on the other side of panels of gauzy curtains. “He opened the show and then stayed at the end of the runway. It’s the concept of the show, putting yourself out there and facing your fears.”

“The concept sucks.” In fact, it more than sucks, it’s pretty much the worst concept ever. Catching sight of Ray pushing his way close, Frank says, “I have to get Mikey off the runway.”

“It’ll take a while, the audience are crammed up close,” Ray says, and then, “I can evacuate the building.”

Frank considers, but within seconds shakes his head. “It’ll cause too much chaos and Robosucks29 is here, I can feel him.”

“Frank....”

Frank cuts Ray off, says, “He is. If you don’t trust my instincts trust my tracking. He lives in this city and he hates Mikey. This is the perfect time to try shit again.”

“I always trust your instincts,” Ray says, his hand on Frank’s back, pushing him gently forward as the show coordinator urges Ryan toward the curtains. “You know what to do.”

Frank does. Grinning fiercely at Ryan. “Want to take a walk?”

Ryan inclines his head, allowing emotion to briefly shine through as he says, “Lead the way.”

Stepping out onto the runway is like nothing Frank’s ever imagined. Next to Ryan he looks ordinary, dressed in a hoodie and stretched out jeans instead of a feathered jacket and pinstripe pants, but Frank feels powerful, his chin held high and strutting in time with Ryan as all around cameras keep flashing.

Approaching the end of the runway, Frank sees Gerard first, standing close in a position he can watch Mikey always. Then Frank sees Mikey. He’s standing off to one side of the runway, dressed all in black, the long coat that he’s wearing brushing against the floor as he turns and notices Frank.

“Go,” Ryan says softly, urging Frank toward Mikey. “Get him to safety.”

A last sneer directed at Mikey, Ryan abruptly turns and walks to the end of the runway, posing with his hand on his hip. It’s the distraction Frank needs, and he takes the few steps over to Mikey and says, “We need to go. Now.”

“You came back,” Mikey says, making no attempt to start moving. “You never replied to my calls.”

“Not the time.” In fact, as times go to have a heart-to-heart Frank can’t think of any worse. “You need to get off the runway. Please.”

Frank isn’t sure why, but the please seems to get through. Ducking his head, Mikey says, “I need to do my last exit walk.” It’s not what Frank wants to do, a walk like that too slow and too public, but he’s got little choice. Especially when Mikey touches the tips of his fingers against Frank’s. “We can do it together.”

It’s a touch that could be written off as accidental, and words that if needed, can be spun to save face. When Mikey’s asking for much more than they walk back to safety together, and Frank knows that. The same way he knows that yeah, he crossed a line, but can admit to himself now it was for a very good reason.

Frank holds out his hand and takes hold of Mikey’s, their fingers entwined as they walk, Roboboy nothing but a memory as Mikey looks directly at Frank and smiles.

It’s what should be a fairytale ending, except life isn’t like that. Frank holds onto Mikey’s hand, happy in a way he hasn’t been for a long time, but he’s also remaining on guard. He takes in every movement around them, each person who’s pushed close to the side of the runway.

And that’s when he sees Robosucks29. Instantly Frank knows that it’s him, even before he sees the t-shirt Robosuck29 is wearing, Mikey’s face crossed out in red on the front.

“Keep walking,” Frank orders, stepping in front of Mikey and covering him with his own body. “When I say go run for backstage and tell security I’ve got eyes on the shooter. Do not follow me.”

Mikey tightens his hand. “Frank, I’m not....”

“Do what I say, Mikey,” Frank orders, snapping from the person who loves Mikey to the one who’s guarding his life. It’s a change that’s easy to embrace, Frank deadly serious, never looking away from his target when he says, “Go now!”

Mikey runs and Frank dives off of the side of the runaway, throwing himself at Robosucks29 who reveals the gun in his hand, about to aim it toward Mikey.

“Not this time,” Frank growls, grabbing hold and holding on as they both fall to the ground. As tackles go it’s not one of the best, too many people around for Frank to disarm in the approved bodyguard way. What he can do is fight dirty, and has the motivation to do so, slamming Robosucks29’s head against the ground and kneeing him hard in the crotch.

“Give up already,” Frank yells, able to get in punches as the people around them scatter, leaving Frank room, which he uses to his advantage when finally, he jams his own gun against Robosucks29’s ribs. “Give me an excuse to use it. I dare you.”

Robosucks29 doesn’t, just lies still, showing the coward he is without a weapon as Ray comes running and picks up the gun that’s slid under the runway.

“You okay?” Ray asks.

Frank spits out the blood from his mouth and looks up, seeing Mikey pull away from Gerard and come running, uncaring of the photographers who are fast moving in. Frank keeps watching and holds up his hand when it looks like Mikey’s about to let himself down off of the runway.

“I don’t think so,” Frank says to Mikey, standing when Ray and two more guards arrive and surround Robosucks29. “Don’t you dare come down here.”

Eyeing the height of the runway, Frank takes a running jump, landing at Mikey’s feet.

“I wanted to see you were okay,” Mikey says, and holds out his hand. “You saved me again.”

“I did,” Frank agrees, and allows himself to be pulled up. “I can’t believe you walked a show while someone was trying to kill you.”

“We hired guards,” Mikey says, and moves in closer to Frank. “And I knew that you’d come.”

Frank stares, barely able to believe what he’s hearing. “What if I didn’t? You could have died.”

“But I didn’t,” Mikey says, staring Frank down for a few moments before dropping his gaze and allowing. “Okay, maybe it wasn’t one of my best ideas.”

“It’s not even close to your best ideas.” Frank looks over to where Robosucks29 is being led away, and close by, Gerard and Ryan watching from the start of the runway, the gauzy curtain draped over their backs. “Promise me you’ll never do something stupid like that again.”

“Promise,” Mikey says instantly, and then, “I do have another idea. You should come back to my place. We’ll watch shitty TV and eat popcorn and then you can take me to bed.”

“I could do that.” But there’s something else that needs to be agreed first, something important, and Frank says, “And we need to talk. About where this is going and how I can’t be your bodyguard.”

Mikey hesitates a moment, then says, “Agreed. But TV, popcorn and sex first?”

“Works for me,” Frank says, the world around them exploding with camera flashes as Mikey smiles, their agreement sealed with a kiss.