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Ain't Nobody Gonna Love You Like The Devil Do

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I was once a child of God
but then the devil kissed me

he gave me fear and said, "my dear,
God will never miss thee."

                                                    --Birdeatsbaby, Tastes Like Sympathy

 

 

"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned." Frank takes a deep breath. The air is cool and incense-heavy, familiar and reassuring. "It's been... uh, four days since my last confession."

He feels better already. He stops for a minute, just to get his thoughts in order. He fucking hates missing things out when he confesses. The last thing he needs is more shit to feel guilty about piled on top of what he already has. He quickly tallies everything up in his head and finds himself guilty of twelve counts of impure thoughts, two of disrespecting his parents and five of self-abuse in the form of jerking off. Not bad, but not great, either. He runs through the list of his sins methodically, without blushing or stuttering. He's embarrassed, sure, because telling a priest you've been jerking off his always going to be kind of awkward, especially when you're visualizing the priest's judging expression. Judging is basically Father Agostino's permanent expression. Frank thinks it's the eyebrows. But he's used to the shame, and anyway, it's always totally worth it for how light he feels afterwards.

"Fifteen Hail Marys," intones the disembodied voice on the other side of the grate. It sounds bored, as usual, which Frank's always thought is kind of weird. He doesn't think it sounds so bad, sitting in a confessional for a few hours, hearing people's dirty secrets and getting to be the one who forgives them.

That's probably an un-Christian thing to think. He spares a moment to feel bad about it, then thanks Father Agostino and sets off on his way home.

 

*

 

When he gets home, he slouches into the kitchen to say hi to his mom. She pulls him into a bone-crushing hug, but she looks irritated. He's just glad she remembered to put the vegetable knife down first. She's surprisingly strong for such a tiny, delicate-looking woman. Frank has fond memories of her beating his dad's six-foot hulk of a brother at arm wrestling one Thanksgiving. No one fucks with his mom. Or, at least, no one is stupid enough to do it more than once.

"Is dad, uh..." Frank says cautiously. His mom has that look on her face, the one that says bite me, motherfucker, I dare you. Frank might be paraphrasing a bit there, but the general sentiment is right. She's been getting that look more and more lately whenever someone mentions Frank's dad.

"Out," she says tartly. "With his friends from the garage. Again. If he's hungry later he can cook for himself."

Frank groans inwardly and hopes it won't come to that. He loves his dad, but the man cooks like an arsonist. Even if he manages not to set fire to the kitchen (again), the whole house will still reek of smoke for at least a week afterwards. Frank will have to avoid the kitchen for a while, his stupid lungs don't cope well with smoke.

"Anyway," Frank's mom says, visibly pulling herself together. The thin, disapproving line of her mouth curves into a brittle smile. "Let's not talk about that. How was school?"

 

*

 

Later on, in the shower, Frank turns the water up until it's not quite hot enough to scald, then strips out of his uniform and steps in. He stretches out and makes a little happy noise as the hot water starts to work on the knotted muscles in his shoulders, undoing the hour he spent hunched over his calculus homework earlier. It feels fucking awesome. People who don't like showering are obviously crazy, and not to be trusted under any circumstances. He grabs the stupid flowery shower gel his mom always buys, then swears when he drops the slippery bottle on his foot. He picks it up off the cracked tiles and squeezes some out into his hand. It's really, really fucking pink. Sort of fuschia-colored. Secretly, though, he does kind of like the way it smells. Very, very secretly. He'd deny it vehemently if anyone ever actually asked.

Once he's washed his hair, he slicks his hand up with soap and lets it creep down over his soft belly and down again to his dick. He wraps his fingers around it and starts jacking himself, staring fixedly ahead at the tiles on the wall. He works fast, he doesn't want it to be too good. Jerking off is something he does quickly and furtively, and he tries to enjoy it as little as possible. The better it is, the dirtier he feels afterwards. He bites his lip, doing his best to suppress the soft, raw, guilty noises that are trying to slip out. The only way he can even justify this is the fact that trying to hold out against it for too long means he can't concentrate in school because he's too busy trying to marshal the fucking avalanches of impure thoughts. This is the lesser of two evils, or something. Whatever.

He keeps his mind carefully blank while he does it, but he can feel it building, his stomach tightening and his balls drawing up. He comes into his hand with a couple more strokes, and it's – yeah. Just right. Enough of a relief to make it worth it, but not so good that he feels any guiltier than he needs to. Like letting out a breath you didn't realize you were holding, he thinks, as he rinses the soap and jizz off his hand under the spray, stops the water and steps out again to grab a towel.

When he's clean and warm and dry, he curls up in his bed and loses himself in Catch-22 for an hour. He isn't enjoying it, but he's sticking with it because trying to keep up with exactly what the fuck is going on is exhausting, and it never fails to make him sleepy. He gives up when his eyelids start getting heavy, and reaches for his rosary. He prays, then sinks gently into a deep, dreamless sleep.

 

*

 

"Hey! Excuse me! Uh – excuse me? You dropped this." Frank's gasping for breath and his face feels hot, just from running halfway down the street. Fucking fuck, he is going to be so late, and all because some dude dropped his wallet and Frank's inner altar boy just couldn't say no to the prime good-deed-doing opportunity. Returning someone's wallet is totally spinach for the immortal soul, or something. He just hopes Sister Agnes will see it the same way. He doubts she will. He curses his stupid fucked-up lungs and the stupid fucking baby fat that just won't shift.

The dude who dropped his wallet turns round (fucking finally, Frank's been hollering fit to bust), and Frank waves the stupid wallet at him by way of an explanation while he struggles to breathe.

"You," he tries to explain. "This."

The dude's face clears, splitting into a broad grin. "Oh, shit! Thanks, man, I'd be fucked if I lost that."

Frank waves a hand in a magnanimous, don't-mention-it kind of way, but he suspects the effect is ruined by the fact that you could probably fry an egg on his face right now. "No worries," he wheezes, then straightens up to look at the guy properly. Pretty, he thinks, and then, immediately, what? The guy's – well, that's the only word Frank's got, pretty. Pretty like a girl, with big, dark eyes and a soft, round face. It's super weird. Frank abandons that train of thought, because this dude isn't a girl, no matter how much he might look like one. He must be new in town, Frank doesn't recognize him. Devil's Gap is basically a fucking hamlet about a million miles from anywhere. Frank doesn't know everyone by name, but he can spot an unfamiliar face from a mile off.

And then he notices the guy's shirt, and he's talking again before he can stop himself, non-existent smoothness be damned. "Oh, dude. Dude. You like the Smashing Pumpkins?"

The guy's grin brightens, and he shoves a hand through his dark, untidy hair. "Fuck yeah," he says. "Fuckin' A. Favorite album?"

"Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness," Frank answers instantly, and the guy holds out a hand for Frank to fistbump.

"Yes," he says emphatically. "You are so fuckin' right. Hey, you wanna go and get a coffee or something? On me. Just to say thanks for picking my wallet up."

Frank deflates. "Can't," he says. "I've got school."

The guy raises an eyebrow. "Oh, the Catholic one over that way? Queen something?"

"Our Lady Queen Of Heaven, yeah," says Frank gloomily, scuffing his feet against the sidewalk. "Sorry, man."

"Hey, don't worry about it," the guy says with an easy shrug, but he looks a little disappointed. Fuck. Frank wants to. If it's a choice between Latin grammar and hanging out with the first other person he's ever actually met who's into the Smashing Pumpkins – well, that's no choice at all. Although, actually, it still wouldn't be any kind of choice if it was between Latin grammar and being hauled face-down over hot coals. Latin grammar is not Frank's strong suit. He suspects it's all a conspiracy to make people feel dumb, that no one actually understands it and everyone who says they do is just pretending.

"Oh," the guy says, as an afterthought. "I'm Gerard. You know, by the way."

"Frank," says Frank, and Gerard tips him a two-fingered salute.

"Nice to meet you, Frank," he says, with a smile that's almost sly. "See you round."

 

*

 

Frank spends the entire day regretting Doing the Right Thing instead of cutting class to hang out with Gerard. As usual, he drifts through the crowded school hallways like a ghost, shoved and jostled by the forest of taller people around him. No one tries to trip him up or bundle him into a locker, which is something, but no one actually acknowledges his existence either. It could be worse, he supposes. He'd rather be invisible than be a punching bag for the school's resident assholes. As long as he doesn't mind pretending he doesn't exist, they don't mind doing the same.

Class isn't exactly exciting on the best of days, and this is really, really not the best of days. It's probably just the restless sense that he could be somewhere else, doing something more interesting, but every minute feels like an hour. Frank sits and watches the clock and manages to provoke no fewer than six nuns into making I'm-really-very-disappointed-in-you-Franklin faces at him, which he thinks might be a new personal record. He starts awarding himself points: five for an aggrieved sigh and ten for a disappointed face. It doesn't make the time go any faster, but at least it keeps him occupied.

Eventually, though, four o' clock rolls round. Fucking finally, Frank is so ready to get out of here. He takes the route that leads him past the church. It isn't the quickest way home, but he loves that church. It's kind of a lucky charm for him – just walking past it is usually enough to make him breathe a little easier. He's still annoyed with himself about earlier. Was a day of pointless lessons really so high a price to pay for some time with someone interesting who actually seemed to like him? He's a fucking idiot.

"Frank!"

Frank turns back to look for the source of the voice, spinning around so fast he's probably given himself whiplash. He knows that voice, but surely--

And there's Gerard, sauntering out of the long, slender afternoon shadow of the church with a lopsided grin on his face. Frank waves eagerly at him like the total loser he is, and immediately wants to kick himself in the face for being such a fucking dork. Sometimes he feels like he just shouldn't be allowed to talk to people. Ever. He should just go somewhere far away and live under a rock or something.

"Where are you headed?" Gerard asks.

"Uh, just. Home?" says Frank, feeling like he should have had something more exciting to say.

"Mind if I walk with you?"

Frank is so surprised he finds himself saying "Sure," before his brain can catch up and start wondering if this is some kind of joke, but at least he manages to shut his mouth before he can ask who put Gerard up to talking to him. He starts down the hill in the direction of his house, and Gerard falls into step next to him.

"So," Gerard says, flashing Frank a sidelong grin. "How does a good Catholic boy like you wind up listening to The Smashing Pumpkins?"

"It's like..." Frank says, reeling a little from the fact that someone is actually asking him this, has actually listened to what he said and thought about it and found things they wanted to know. He thinks for a moment, scrabbling for the words to explain how prayer and confession centre him when he feels like he's going to drift away and music drags him back to the surface when he feels like he's drowning. "Okay. Church kind of grounds me, I guess? And music, like, brings me back up. It's sort of a... balance thing."

"Huh," says Gerard thoughtfully, like Frank just said something that was actually interesting. Frank isn't entirely sure whether to be flattered or suspicious that Gerard is making fun of him.

And then Gerard looks over at him with that lopsided smile again and says, "So what else are you into?" and Frank's misgivings scatter like the leaves on the sidewalk.

 

*

 

"I'm telling you, you and Mikey are totally wrong about this one--"

"Mikey?" Frank asks, as they start the hike up the next hill.

"My little brother, we're renting an apartment just out on the edge of town. He just started at your school, you've probably seen him around."

Now Gerard mentions it, Frank does know the name. Mikey's a skinny kid with glasses and mousey hair, whose uniform hangs off him like it would rather be somewhere else. His expression is permanently set to "bored", and Frank's pretty sure he's never heard the dude speak. Actually, Frank is pretty sure Mikey's in his English class, but because Mikey just sort of lurks in the back corner and never seems to make any noise at all he doesn't really register with Frank. Mikey is the kind of person Frank doesn't consider himself brave enough to talk to. He's curious about the implication that Gerard and Mikey are all alone in the apartment, though, and he promises himself that he'll try to do some surreptitious digging later. Gerard could be full of secrets, for all Frank knows. He wants to go hunting for all of them. Gerard is the most interesting person he's ever met.

"No way, though," Frank says as they turn the corner onto his street, picking up the thread of the argument they've been having since two hills back. "No way was Meat Is Murder better than Hatful Of Hollow, okay. I don't even care, I will fight you."

Gerard cracks up. His laugh is super weird and kind of hilarious, but Frank still feels like he's won something every time he makes it happen. He's kind of jealous of the way Gerard pulls it off, though. If Frank laughed like that, he'd just sound like a dying goose.

"Bring it," says Gerard. "I could totally take you."

"Shut up, I'm fun-sized," Frank retorts, sticking his tongue out at Gerard and then slowing to a reluctant stop at his front gate. "So, uh, this is me," he says, suddenly feeling awkward and self-conscious for the first time he saw Gerard earlier.

"Oh, okay. Hey, what are you doing later? There's a midnight showing of this new zombie movie and Mikey's busy, I've got no one to go with."

"Shit, seriously? Dude, that'd be awesome." Then Frank remembers himself, and looks down at his shoes. "But, uh, school night and all. My mom and dad are weird about that shit, they'll never go for it."

Come to think of it, Frank wonders what the fuck Mikey could be busy doing at midnight on a weekday in this two-bit town. Fuck, fuck, fuck. His cheeks feel hot. Way to make Gerard think he's just some stupid little high schooler. Which is basically true, but it's not like he needs the universe hanging a big fucking neon sign over his head in case it wasn't already obvious enough.

But Gerard just smirks like he knows something Frank doesn't, and doesn't look at all put off. "Ah," he says. "But what if your mom and dad didn't know? Later, Frank."

And then he's gone, halfway down the street before Frank can even say, "Wait, what?"

 

*

 

Frank spends the rest of the afternoon feeling weirdly flustered. Every time someone speaks to him, they have to repeat whatever they were saying two or three times before he hears it, which (of fucking course) makes his mom fuss over him and take his temperature in case he's getting sick again. The thermometer doesn't flag up anything out of the ordinary, but Frank is pretty sure his mom isn't convinced. Actually, he thinks, it's probably better if she suspects he's getting the flu or something. That way he won't have to choose between lying to her face and explaining himself. The lying is a no-go because she has, like, bionic powers of lie detection, and explaining himself doesn't sound so good either. His mom and dad are pretty down on the whole talking-to-random-strangers thing. The best thing to do, he decides, is to just act normal. He can totally do that. Being prone to regular bouts of death flu has its uses.

Acting normal is much more difficult than he'd been expecting. Trying to watch TV with his mom shooting suspicious, speculative glances at him every five minutes like she's checking for advance warning signs of death by viral plague is actually pretty fucking stressful. In the end, he only lasts about half an hour.

"I'm gonna go to bed," he announces, getting up and faking a massive yawn. He's not really sleepy, but he feels so twitchy he's just about ready to start chewing his own arm off just for something to do. "Like, early night, or whatever."

"Good." His mom kisses his cheek, then ruffles his hair. He cringes. He hates that. Every time, with the hair. "Sweet dreams, baby. Feel better, okay? Come wake me up if it gets worse."

"Yes, ma," he says meekly, because living with his mom has taught him to pick his battles, damnit.

Figuring he'll sit and read for a while to calm himself down, he pads upstairs to his room.

 

*

 

He's rudely jerked awake a few hours later by the noise of something hitting his window.

"What the fuck," he groans, grinding the heels of his hands into his eyes. They feel all sore and gritty, and he's still wearing all his clothes. He's also got a killer crick in his neck, and his spine clicks reproachfully when he drags himself upright. If it's Mrs. Gadaleta's cat again, he's going to start campaigning for a dog. Or maybe just a Super Soaker, that would work too.

Catch-22 is still lying where he left it on the bed. Apparently his cunning plan to trick himself into chilling out was more successful than he'd anticipated. "I blame you," he mumbles at the book, then stumbles over to the window and cautiously pulls the curtains open.

It's Gerard.

Gerard is standing in Frank's front yard with a shit-eating grin on his face, throwing rocks at the window.

Frank fumbles with the latch and yanks the window open. He is so completely, royally fucked if his mom and dad wake up. Gerard gives him a cheery wave.

"Dude," hisses Frank. "What – are you insane, what the actual fuck?"

"Something like that," Gerard stage-whispers back. "C'mon, you wanna see this fucking movie or not?"

Frank's stomach flips. "Wait. Seriously?" He's waiting for the punchline. Guys like Gerard, who are confident and interesting, do not go out of their way to sneak losers like Frank (losers who they barely even know, what the fuck) out to the movies. It just doesn't make sense.

Gerard keeps grinning, his teeth a pale crescent in the dark. He beckons, and turns towards the unfamiliar car parked in the street outside. Frank closes the window again, scrambles for a hoodie, grimaces at his reflection in the mirror (puffy eyes, fucked-up hair, clothes creased all to hell), and slips out onto the landing. He pauses for a second to listen for sounds of parental intervention, then creeps silently down the stairs, avoiding the ones that creak. He steps into his chucks, then carefully shuts the front door behind him and steps out into the cold. He's so excited he feels almost sick with it.

Gerard is waiting for him when Frank climbs into the passenger seat, and Frank suddenly feels too hot in the small space.

"Alright," says Gerard, starting the engine up. "Let's go watch some zombies die."

 

*

 

The movie is fucking terrible.

Frank doesn't think he's ever had so much fun in his life.

"Oh, god," groans Gerard. "Look at that fuckin' blood spatter, that is not what would happen if you stabbed someone in the head."

Frank almost chokes on his mouthful of the popcorn Gerard insisted on buying, and has to stifle his laughter in Gerard's shoulder. The theatre's pretty empty and they're right up in the back row, but Frank's under no illusions about the fact that his laugh is pretty obnoxious.

"She doesn't even look scared, what the shit," Frank giggles helplessly, when he can speak again.

"Right? You don't look bored when you're running from the hordes of the undead, Jesus Christ," Gerard says with disgust, and reaches into his jacket pocket. "I'm gonna need a drink to get me through the rest of this," he mutters darkly, pulling out a hipflask. He unscrews the lid and knocks some back, then offers it to Frank.

I shouldn't, says Frank's brain. I've got school tomorrow, I don't...

His hands aren't listening to his brain, so they reach out and take the flask anyway. He's never really drunk beyond the occasional sip of his dad's beer or a small glass of wine at family dinners, and he can smell that whatever Gerard's got in the flask is a hell of a lot stronger than either of those. He decides he doesn't care, so he lifts it to his mouth and downs some like Gerard did. Unfortunately, Frank isn't prepared for either the foul taste or the way it burns his throat, and he ends up coughing and spluttering, tears running down his cheeks.

Gerard cracks up like an asshole and takes the flask back, but Frank can't help feeling like he's just passed some kind of test.

 

*

 

When the movie's finished, Gerard leads Frank back out to his car. Frank's giddy and punch-drunk with laughter, staggering and leaning on Gerard. Frank can't remember ever feeling so comfortable around someone, but he also can't remember the last time someone whisked him away in the middle of the night to see a movie. Gerard pulls out into the street, but the turn he takes isn't the one for Frank's house.

Frank pokes him in the shoulder. "Um," he says. "Dude. You're going the wrong way."

"I know," says Gerard.

It suddenly strikes Frank that he's out in the middle of the night in a near-stranger's car, heading out towards the edge of town. He thinks back a little uneasily to all the times his mom and dad have told him not to go out without telling them, not to go out alone at night, not to-- well. Not to do most of the things he's doing now, is the point. He chances a look at Gerard, sizing him up as a potential kidnapper. He's not a big dude, but then again, neither is Frank. Frank swallows, and feels for the reassuring weight of his cell phone in his pocket. He scrabbles back through his memories of the last few days, trying to figure out when he last plugged it in to charge. Shit, if he gets abducted or murdered out here, it is so totally going to be his own fault. He'll come back to life and die again immediately out of embarrassment.

Then Gerard flashes Frank an infectious, sharp-edged grin. "Don't worry," he says. "I'll get you home."

And for some reason, as utterly fucking stupid as it sounds, Frank has a hard time not believing him.

Gerard pulls up at the edge of a field on the outskirts of town and gets out of the car. Frank follows him. It's cold outside and the air smells of wood smoke and fresh rain, the earth soft and damp under Frank's feet. Gerard walks around, sits down on the hood of the car and pats the space next to him, looking up expectantly at Frank. Frank takes it, shivering slightly, and Gerard lights a cigarette. The cherry glows orange in the blue darkness when Gerard takes a drag, and Frank watches, hypnotized, when Gerard exhales. The way the pale smoke curls away into the cold is different every time. It's really fucking difficult to look away from.

"So," says Gerard, looking over at him and raising an eyebrow. "You enjoying life as a teenage delinquent so far?"

"It's awesome," Frank says happily, tucking his hands under his arms to keep them warm. Gerard chuckles, and Frank doesn't even care that Gerard is laughing at him. He's got that flying feeling, the one he hasn't had since he was a kid on a swing set. Nothing this cool ever happens to him. He looks up at the scattering of stars and the fat, pearly moon, taking a deep breath of smoky night air and wondering who was burning dead wood earlier. He feels all wired and turned on – not in a sexy way or anything, just like he's been on standby mode for years and now he's suddenly alive. And okay, sure, his parents would probably be pretty pissed if they found out, but they never explicitly told him not to sneak out with virtual strangers without telling them. He's pretty sure that means it doesn't technically count as disobeying them.

"Here," says Gerard, pulling the flask out of his jacket again and handing it to Frank. "Finish that, it'll warm you up."

Frank takes it, and this time he manages to drink without hacking up a lung. He sips cautiously at it while Gerard finishes his cigarette, enjoying the weird, bright warmth that kindles in his throat and radiates outwards, threading through his veins. The silence between them is easy, and Frank doesn't feel any need to break it with an inane comment or an awkward joke like he normally would. Maybe it's the booze.

"Oh – dude, here," he says, holding the empty flask out towards Gerard.

"Mm? Oh, you can keep that. I've got another one at home."

"Really? I mean, I don't have anything to put in it."

"Ahh. No fake ID?"

Frank shakes his head. He's pretty sure there's a dude at school who knows how to make them, but it just sort of never really occurred to him to get one before now. Although, he thinks, if this is how being half-drunk feels, it's actually pretty awesome. Maybe he should get on that.

"Keep it," says Gerard again, pushing Frank's hand away. "Just stick with me, I've got an ID and loose morals. You'll be fine." He takes one last drag on his smoke and drops it, grinding it into the dirt under his heel. He pushes himself away from the hood of the car, stretching like a cat, then walks back around to the door.

"C'mon," he says. "Let's get you home before you pass out on me."

 

*

 

Frank manages to sneak back into his room and hide the flask in the back of his closet without waking his parents, but he has to work a lot harder at it than he did earlier. He suspects this is mostly down to whatever Gerard had in that flask. He feels a little lightheaded, just on the verge of laughing, warm and golden all the way down to his toes. He leaves his clothes draped haphazardly over the back of his desk chair, wriggles into the stretched t-shirt and sweats he uses as pajamas, then climbs into bed.

Of course, he can't sleep.

His alarm clock tells him it's 2:37am, but he's too wired to calm down enough to doze off. Every time he thinks he's getting close, he remembers something Gerard said about the movie, or Gerard offering him a drink like it was no big deal, or Gerard insisting that popcorn is a must for horror movies or Gerard throwing rocks at his window.

Frank feels sort of cheated, like he's been missing out all these years, and that's the last thought in his head before he finally passes out.

 

*

 

The next morning, his mouth tastes like something died in there, and he's sure as fuck his alarm clock isn't normally that loud. He groans, reaches over to hit the snooze button, and burrows deeper under the covers. The noise is drilling into his skull and it just needs to go the fuck away. He's trying to sleep, for fuck's sake.

He's just drifting off again when his mom knocks briskly on the door. "Frankie?"

"'M up, 'm up," he grumbles, kicking the covers off and shrinking away from the cold. Jesus fuck, there is no need for it to be this cold. He forces himself out of bed, frowning as a half-remembered dream shifts uneasily in the back of his mind. Something about fire, he thinks, but then it's gone, dissipating like smoke in the watery morning sunlight streaming through the gap in the curtains. Weird.

He grabs yesterday's pants off the back of the chair and goes in search of clean socks.

 

*

 

He's halfway to school before the vague sense that he's forgotten something solidifies, and the penny drops with a nasty clatter. He can't believe he forgot to pray a rosary last night, being out late with Gerard is no fucking excuse. Guilt curls in his stomach, sick and familiar, and he promises himself he'll make up for it. It feels a lot like disappointing his parents, but worse. Extra Hail Marys, for sure. Mary's his north star. She's easier to talk to than God, and she always forgives him. She hasn't led him wrong yet. Maybe he'll go to the chapel at lunchtime. He's pretty sure the cafeteria lunch today is that gross-smelling lasagna that he wouldn't eat even if it didn't have meat in it.

Feeling better already, he keeps walking.

 

*

 

It turns out that late nights and the thrill of sneaking out don't do much for Frank's concentration in class. Which, he reflects, okay, isn't all that surprising. He sits and zones out in the back row in English, doodling a zombie on the cover of his notebook. He can't draw for shit and the proportions look pretty terrible even to him, but he thinks Gerard would appreciate his dedication to artistically rendering the zombie's decomposition. The right arm, hanging off on a sinew, is a particularly nice touch.

"Frank?"

"Zombies," says Frank automatically, then jumps at the spiky ripple of laughter that goes through the rest of the class. Every single person in the room is watching him (except for Matt, who's asleep again), and Sister Alicia raises an eyebrow.

"I appreciate your use of modern pop culture archetypes to comment on Holden Caulfield's characterization, Frank, but is there anything else you'd like to add?"

Frank manages to pull out some plausible-sounding bullshit about Holden Caulfield being a cautionary figure for modern youth, but he's blushing so hard he's pretty sure his face must look like a traffic signal. When he finally rambles to a halt, Sister Alicia tips him an approving half-smile and a nod. He sinks down lower in his seat in a feeble attempt to disappear completely. At least it was Sister Alicia, she's pretty chill. He likes her. She doesn't seem to take things too seriously, unlike Sister Agnes, who believes that untucked shirts, misplaced apostrophes and split infinitives should all be made hanging offences. Frank is basically permanently persona non grata with Sister Agnes.

Frank wonders idly if Sister Alicia knows that eighty percent of the student body lusts after her. She probably does, she's pretty sharp.

With an effort, he wrenches his mind off its tangent and tries to concentrate on the paragraph he's meant to be analyzing.

 

*

 

It isn't until later, when Frank is idly watching the dude who sits across from him in math surreptitiously texting under his desk, that he realizes that he doesn't have Gerard's number. He doesn't know his address, or his email, or... well, anything. For some reason, that's a lot more disappointing than it really should be. Maybe Gerard makes a habit of throwing rocks at the windows of near-strangers and taking them to the movies. Or maybe he thought Frank was cool until he actually spent some time with him, then realized his mistake and vowed to avoid him like the plague in the future. There's a small part of Frank that's perfectly aware that he's being ridiculous and paranoid and whiny, but he ignores it.

He settles a few inches deeper into his sulk, then, when the lesson's over, slouches off to the toilets.

When he steps back out of his stall, Pete Wentz is standing at one of the sinks, peering into the greasy mirror and dabbing carefully at a nasty split lip. Frank kind of hates himself for the way he automatically checks that there's no one else around before he speaks – he's not an asshole, he's just very aware of the fact that a) he's about as useful as a dead fish in a fight and b) being seen talking to Pete Wentz is basically the same as sticking a "kick me" sign on your own back. Frank feels sorry for the guy. The word is that Pete's parents are going to ship him off to military boot camp or something if he keeps getting into trouble. Frank thinks it's only a matter of time, Catholic school clearly isn't working out for him.

"Dude," he says. "Again?"

Pete nods, looking resigned. "Fucking assholes," he says thickly, and Frank notices the dried blood just under Pete's nose. "They got me when I went outside the back gates for a smoke."

"Shit. What happened?"

"Same old. They call me a fag, I get pissed and sarcastic and ask them if they even know how to spell denial, I get a bloody nose." He smiles, but it looks brittle and stretched and his lip starts oozing blood again. Frank doesn't know whether the dude's an idiot for talking back or a hero for sticking it to the douchebags. Maybe he's both.

 

*

 

It's another week before Frank sees Gerard again, and by then he's pretty much resigned himself to the fact that Gerard's obviously forgotten all about him and is now somewhere else, doing more interesting things with cooler people. Frank's grades take a sudden and mysterious upswing again, which his mom and dad notice but don't complain about. Frank supposes the grades are probably going to be more useful in the long run, but it's still a bummer. The empty hipflask stays hidden in the back of Frank's closet, out of sight but not out of mind.

He's staring at his calculus homework and willing it to do itself when the doorbell rings.

"Frank, can you get that?" his mom calls up.

Frank is already out of his chair. "I got it!" he yells back down the stairs. It won't be anyone looking for him, but it'll get him away from his desk and give him a cast-iron excuse not to be working. No amount of dedication to getting into college is ever going to make calculus bearable.

He slouches downstairs towards the door. Maybe it'll be Aunt Nina on one of her flying visits, or one of his mom's friends from church. Sometimes they just show up out of the blue with cakes or cookies, which is always awesome (apart from when it's Mrs. Messieri, who seems to think that the existence of carrot cake means beetroot and broccoli cookies are completely A-okay too). He hopes it's not Mrs. O'Brien either, she can't even look at Frank without pinching his cheeks. He fucking hates that. He'd pinch her cheeks just to see how she likes it, but she's built like a brick shithouse. She could fuck him up.

It isn't Mrs. O'Brien. It's Gerard.

"Hi," he says. "You're coming over today. I have frozen pizza and violent video games."

"Uh," Frank says, because keeping up with Gerard is really hard work and it takes him a minute to switch gears to Gerard's speed. He's still kind of stuck on the fact that Gerard is here, wanting to hang out with him. "Hi. Sure? Sounds, uh, good." (It sounds fucking awesome, but he doesn't want to scare Gerard off by acting like an over-eager puppy.) "I'll go and, uh, tell my mom."

He cringes internally and makes for the kitchen, leaving Gerard on the doorstep. Smooth, Iero, he thinks. Way to fucking go. He is seriously the biggest dork in the history of ever.

His mom is in the kitchen, up to her elbows in dish soap, and Frank feels momentarily guilty for not offering to help.

"Mom?"

"Mhmm?" She doesn't look up from the tomato sauce stain she's scrubbing at.

"I can go out, right? My friend's here."

That makes her look over her shoulder at him, one eyebrow raised. "A friend?"

"I have friends," he says defensively. Well. He has a friend, non-plural. Whatever, it's basically the same thing.

"Of course you do. Well, I don't see why not, as long as you're not back too late and you get all your work done for Monday."

"I will," he says immediately, already backing out of the kitchen. He can cross that bridge when he comes to it. "Thanks, Mom!"

Gerard is waiting at the car, leaning against the hood.

"Time off for good behavior, huh?" he says, smirking like a motherfucker.

"Cleared of all charges." Frank sticks his tongue out at Gerard and climbs into the passenger seat.

"Not guilty?" says Gerard, starting the engine. "We should celebrate."

 

*

 

Gerard and Mikey's apartment is nestled deep inside one of the only modern buildings in Devil's Gap, a grimy slab of bricks with spidery fire escapes clinging to the outside walls. It's right out on the edge of town, and as Gerard leads Frank up through the dingy stairwell Frank's almost sure he can hear little rodent-y things scurrying around in the gloom.

"This one, right here," says Gerard, stopping in front of a door with a tarnished number six nailed to it and red paint flaking off to show black underneath. Gerard fishes a key out of his pocket and wrestles with the lock for a minute, then opens the door to let Frank in.

Inside, the apartment is small, dark, odd-smelling and impossibly full of mess. The fact that so much mess even fits into so little space is probably breaking several generally accepted laws of physics, Frank thinks, gazing with awe into the kitchen. It's making him itch to clean, which means his mom would probably be having a conniption right about now.

But for all that, Gerard has an apartment almost all to himself. Frank can't even imagine how fucking cool that must be, eating what you want, sleeping whenever you want, going out without having to clear it with anyone first. He's jealous. He's really, really fucking jealous.

"Okay," Gerard says, from where he's kneeling by the TV. He's holding one flat case, and as Frank watches, he digs another one out from under a heap of comics and an empty Chinese takeout carton. "Halo first, then pizza, then Call Of Duty. Think of it as part of your cultural education. Life lessons, or whatever the fuck. You want a drink?"

 

*

 

"I'm gonna... bathroom," Frank slurs, two hours later. He manages to push himself up off the couch, but his knees suddenly stop cooperating and he nearly falls on his ass.

"Woah," says Gerard, suddenly right there, slinging an arm around Frank's waist and propping him up. "Dude. You gonna hurl? 'Cause I would really appreciate it if you could, you know, not do that on the carpet."

"'M good," Frank hums, swaying slightly in place. He feels... weird. Warm all the way down to his bones, feather-light. He counts drinks. One, two, three, four, five, six – seven. Oh. Yeah, that would be it. "Gerard," he says, because it suddenly seems really important that Gerard gets to share his epiphany. "Gerard. I think I'm really, really fuckin' drunk."

Gerard cracks up. Frank likes his laugh. He doesn't even mind that Gerard's laughing at him. "No shit, Sherlock. C'mon, let's get you into the bathroom."

Frank lets Gerard push-carry him through to the bathroom, then collapses to his knees in front of the toilet. He actually does feel kind of sick now. Gerard is really smart. He can feel Gerard's hand resting between his shoulderblades, moving in little gentle circles. It's nice, kind of soothing.

"Yeah," Frank says weakly. "I don't feel so--"

And then the nausea rises to an icky, churning peak and he's throwing up the contents of his stomach. Gerard makes a sympathetic noise, and keeps on rubbing Frank's back.

"Look at it this way," he says philosophically. "The more you throw up now, the less shitty you're gonna feel later."

"I feel shitty now," groans Frank. This is conclusive proof of the existence of a vengeful, smite-happy God if he ever saw it.

Gerard makes another low humming noise of commiseration. "I know, man, I feel your pain. You gonna be okay here for a minute? I'm just gonna get you some water, you'll thank me for it later."

 

*

 

Gerard has the foresight to wait until Frank's at least sort of half-sober before he takes him home again. Frank can already feel a motherfucker of a headache coming on. He just wants to take a couple of Advil and be somewhere dark and quiet for about a month.

"Okay, this is your stop," says Gerard as he pulls up outside Frank's house.

Frank opens his eyes and looks out. "Huh. I guess – hey, should I give you my number or something? So you can, you know..." he waves a hand vaguely. It's probably a good thing he's still kind of drunk. He doubts he'd have the balls to do this sober. Gerard fishes a sharpie out of the glove compartment and hands it over, holding out his arm for Frank to write on. Frank has to concentrate so hard his eyes nearly cross, but he manages to write his number out semi-legibly across Gerard's pale inner arm, which he thinks is an achievement.

"Awesome." Gerard looks down at the slanting row of numbers, blowing on the ink to stop it smudging. There's something about the way his mouth looks when he does that, and Frank has to force his eyes away. He's not that drunk. However, he is still drunk enough to throw his arms around Gerard in a surprise tackle-hug when Gerard walks him to his door. Gerard lets out a startled huff of laughter, but he hugs back, and Frank sort of can't help noticing the way his head just fits against Gerard's shoulder. It's weird. It makes his stomach feel all squirmy, and he's not sure whether it's in a good way or not.

Still, he thinks, as he grabs the Advil out of the drawer in the kitchen, he actually does kind of have a friend now. That's pretty fucking sweet.

 

*

 

Sitting in the pew the next morning, buttoned into his Sunday best and feeling like death warmed over, Frank promises himself that he is never drinking again. Ever. Not for at least another week, anyway. His head's throbbing, and he feels dangerously close to projectile vomiting all over Mr. Bertucci in the row in front.

He swallows queasily, and tries to concentrate on Father Agostino's sermon about surrendering your heart to God. He's feeling guilty as fuck now, being in church always makes him think about all the things he's been doing wrong lately. He pretty much lied to his mom (by omission, at least), and definitely indulged in some vice and didn't even get all of his school work done.

He probably deserves to feel like shit today, actually.

He fidgets uncomfortably and pulls at his tie, but his mom gives him the stink eye and he stops. Only the Eucharist and the concluding rites left to go, and then he can go home, crawl into his bed and die.

 

*

 

The Monday after that is an even bigger suckfest than usual. The sudden absence of Gerard by his side is weirdly disorienting, and Frank keeps turning round to look at him before realizing he isn't there. He feels like a total loser every time it happens. He's glad no one around here can read minds. He really fucking hopes not, at least. This is the kind of thing you'd expect from someone who's lost a best friend or a sibling or something, for fuck's sake. He's only seen Gerard – he makes himself count – four times. This is getting ridiculous. He reminds himself sternly that he's fucking lucky to be going to such a good school. He's going to get his head down and do some actual fucking work today as penance.

 

*

 

Frank does spend the rest of the day working, but he finds himself heading for Gerard's instead of home at the end of the day. His conscience shifts uneasily, but he manages to placate it by reasoning that he won't stay long and he'll totally do his homework when he gets home. Most of it, at least. He bypasses the doorbell (the button part is gone and there are wires spilling out of the little box like entrails, he'd be reluctant to touch it even if he thought it would work), knocks instead, and waits.

Instead of Gerard, it's Mikey standing in the doorway, yawning like he just got up.

"Hi," says Frank. "Uh. Is Gerard here?"

Mikey shakes his head, yawning again. "Nope. He went out... somewhere."

"Oh." It isn't like they'd arranged this or anything, but Frank can't help feeling kind of disappointed. "Okay, no worries. I'll just... go, I guess? Tell him I say hi."

He's about to turn around and start the long trudge back home, but Mikey frowns and says, "Wait. You live, like, all the way on the other side of town, right?"

"Yeah," says Frank gloomily. "Why?"

"And you just walked all the way here from school?"

Frank nods.

"Dude," says Mikey. "You don't have to head off yet, hang out here for a while. I don't know when Gee's gonna be back, but we've got food and stuff." He glances back over his shoulder in the direction of the kitchen. "Uh. Probably. C'mon in. Anyway, Gee likes you, so you must be cool."

Frank doesn't really know what to say to that, so he ignores the weird little flip his stomach does and follows Mikey through the dingy hallway and into the kitchen. Mikey looks fucking exhausted. There are big, bruise-colored shadows under his eyes. Frank wonders what kind of vice he was up to last night, then catches himself. Judge not lest ye be judged, asshole, he reminds himself sternly. Whatever Mikey was or wasn't doing is none of his business.

"You can have whatever's in the fridge," Mikey says indistinctly, already foraging through one of the cupboards above the counter. Frank braces himself, and yanks the fridge door open.

The fridge contains half a lemon, a patch of something gross and fuzzy, a can of coke and a Batman action figure.

"There's an action figure in your fridge," he says. He refrains from mentioning the seriously icky mold, or whatever it is. Mikey pulls his head out of the cupboard and comes over to look.

"Huh," he says, and they contemplate it in silence for a while. It looks kind of like Batman's guarding the empty salad compartment against the menace of the mysterious mold.

"It's probably Gee's," says Mikey eventually. "We should leave it, he's weird about his action figures."

Frank nods solemnly and reaches in for the lone can of coke. By the time he's managed to wrangle it out without touching the gross white patch, Mikey is ripping the plastic off a package of microwave popcorn and setting the timer.

"Your fridge is nasty," Frank says conversationally, as they watch the bag of popcorn swell slowly and the smell of butter and salt starts to creep out into the kitchen. "Seriously, when the contents of the fridge have set up a government of elected representatives, it's time to clear that shit out."

Mikey looks over at him, one corner of his mouth lifting slightly, and Frank realizes it's the first time he's actually seen the dude smile.

"I dunno," he says thoughtfully. "That might be cool. It'd be, like, a microcosm or something. You wanna stay and watch Star Wars?"

 

*

 

By the time the movie is over and Frank is almost home again, he feels like he's had his mind blown fifty times over. Fucking Star Wars, seriously, he's been missing out on so much. It's like the universe is suddenly ten times the size it was yesterday. Mikey said he could come back and watch the other movies sometime, and Frank can't fucking wait.

When he gets through the front door and kicks his shoes off, his mom is standing in front of the hall mirror, her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth as she concentrates on putting her earrings in. She spares Frank a smile, kissing his cheek as soon as he's within range.

"Hi, sweetheart," she says, going back to the mirror, letting her hair out of its neat braid and combing her fingers through it. "Have fun this afternoon?"

"Yup," he says happily, and she smiles again, quick and bright.

"Good. Well, your dad's out again and I'm going to Angela's for dinner. I'll be back late, but there are leftovers in the kitchen for you. Five minutes in the microwave, don't forget to press the defrost button this time." She grabs her coat off the hook, wrapping her favorite poppy-red scarf around her neck. "Night, baby."

"Night, ma."

She hugs him tightly, and he inhales her familiar, flowery perfume. Then she opens the front door, letting in a cloud of damp, chilly air, and steps out, leaving Frank alone in the house.

Frank resists the urge to dance like a loser, then remembers he's home alone and there's no one around to judge him for it. He dances all the way up to his room, turns his stereo up as loud as it'll go, then dances back down to the kitchen.

Dancing like a loser for extended lengths of time is a lot more tiring than most people give it credit for, so Frank sits up on the counter while his leftover veggie Bolognese defrosts in the microwave. He wolfs it down as soon as it's cool enough, like he always does when there are no grownups breathing down his neck and trying to make him chew every bite until it's mush. His mom and dad are hardly ever both out at the same time, he has to make the most of this opportunity.

He's just taking his empty plate over to the sink when the doorbell rings. He leaves the plate on the counter and goes out into the hall to see who it is. Maybe his mom forgot her keys or something, it wouldn't be the first time.

It isn't his mom.

"Hi," says Gerard, holding up a half-full bottle of whiskey. "Mikes said I missed you earlier. You gonna let me in?"

 

*

 

"Wait, wait," says Gerard. His eyebrows are in danger of disappearing into his hair. "You mean you've never--"

"No! I just – haven't, okay?" Frank looks down at his knees, feeling his cheeks coloring. He hadn't even realized this level of embarrassment existed. Come to that, he isn't even sure how they got to talking about this. It's all kind of hazy between Gerard standing on his doorstep and right now, where they're sitting on Frank's bedroom floor, passing the bottle between them and playing a kind of freeform version of Never Have I Ever that basically amounts to Gerard seeing how many times he can make Frank blush. "Jeez, man, c'mon. You don't have to be a dick about it."

"I wasn't!" Gerard protests. "Wow. I'm just kind of surprised, I guess. Like, you could totally be getting laid."

"Uh." Frank doesn't know what to do with that, and the way Gerard's looking at him like he's a piece of meat is making his skin prickle. "I don't... thanks?"

Gerard grins at him. "I mean it," he says earnestly. "You're cute. Like, you really wouldn't have any trouble finding someone who'd fuck you."

This is so far removed from anything anyone's ever said to Frank – from anything Frank even imagined anyone would ever say to him – that he just gapes unattractively at Gerard for a several seconds, at a complete loss for words.

"I," he says eventually. "You. What."

Gerard lets out a snort of delighted laughter. "Shit, dude, I'm sorry, I didn't think telling you you're hot was gonna freak you out so much. I was just, you know, objectively stating a fact. You can forget I said anything if it really bothers you that much."

Frank rolls his eyes, but his heart is jackhammering in his chest and his face feels hot. Forgetting Gerard said anything is a hell of a lot easier said than done. Does that mean Gerard's into dudes? Frank's never met anyone who's so open about it, like it's totally no big deal; if Frank's parents knew they'd forbid him from ever seeing Gerard again. Frank's stomach lurches at the thought. He doesn't want that to happen. "Asshole," he says, but his voice sounds weak and unsteady.

"Yup," Gerard agrees unapologetically. "Here."

He reaches for the half-empty bottle of whiskey and leans in, bringing it to Frank's mouth. He's so close, Frank could count the flecks of dull gold in his eyes. Frank's palms feel damp, and his blood is thumping in his ears. He parts his lips unthinkingly. Gerard tips the bottle up a little, his mouth quirking into a sharp, strange little smile when Frank downs the burning mouthful without hesitation.

Gerard puts the bottle down, but doesn't move away.

Frank's tongue darts out unconsciously to wet his lips. He can feel Gerard's breath on his face, can smell the booze and the smoke, see the faint shadow of stubble under his jaw.

"But you've done some stuff," Gerard says, and Frank starts guiltily. Gerard's voice is low and hot, like he's telling a secret. "Like, you've been kissed, right?"

Frank shakes his head minutely, feeling blood surging back into his cheeks. He can hardly breathe, couldn't move away if he wanted to. He's terrified that Gerard's going to close the gap between them and press his mouth to Frank's, he's terrified that he won't--

"I should go," says Gerard suddenly, pulling away to stand up and stretch out slowly. His shirt rides up a little, exposing a stripe of pale skin and a sparse trail of dark hair. Frank rocks backwards, thrown off-balance by the sudden negative space. The world feels like it's tilted slightly, like something's out of place. He blinks stupidly up at Gerard, who rolls his eyes.

"I've gotta be there when Mikey calls for takeout, or he'll forget to order me anything," he says, making a face like, little brothers, right? His voice is perfectly steady and he's not breathing hard at all, as if he was talking about the fucking weather or something. Frank has never been so confused in his life.

"Uh, sure," he says, when he realizes the silence is dragging awkwardly. "I mean. Yeah."

He mentally kicks himself for being such a socially incompetent dork, but Gerard is looking at him – he doesn't even know, affectionately, and his stomach flips.

"This was fun, though," Gerard says lightly. "We should do it again. Later, Frank."

 

*

 

Things don't go back to normal after Gerard's gone. Frank wanders restlessly around the house, starting and abandoning six books in quick succession and then writing the same sentence three times in a row before giving up on his English assignment too. He ends up going to bed early just to get away from the noise in his head, which doesn't work, of fucking course, and he tosses and turns while his mind spins in dizzy circles. Gerard. Gerard. Gerard. It's the last thing he thinks before he drifts off sometime around midnight.

 

*

 

He jerks awake hard and panting a few hours later, staring unseeingly at the wall and forcing himself to breathe. He's figured out what was gnawing at him.

If Gerard had done it, had leaned across those last few inches and kissed him, Frank wouldn't have tried to stop it.

Frank gropes blindly for the rosary on his bedside table and clings to it like a lifeline, holding it so tightly his knuckles go white and stumbling over the words he knows as well as he knows his own name.

He falls asleep before he's even halfway through the Apostles' Creed, his rosary still tangled around his fingers.

He dreams about rotting things in the dark, contorted and misshapen. He's pushing his way between them, tasting panic. He doesn't know where he is, but he knows he shouldn't be here. The heat reeks of decay and something metallic, pushing oppressively against his skin. He doesn't know what he's running towards – running from? – but it's the only thing that matters. He has to keep running. The darkness is alive and conscious, much more than just the absence of light, and it boils and seethes around him. There's something here, something malevolent and profane and godless. Something wrong. It turns his stomach and he stumbles to a halt, retching. Black bile splatters over his fingers, slick and foul. He's sick, maybe dying, the sickness filling his lungs and infecting his flesh, loosening his teeth and blinding his eyes, spreading like hellfire--

There are tears on his cheeks when he wakes up, and his throat feels as wrecked as it always does after a two-week bout of bronchitis. Only a dream, he thinks, exhaling shakily and grinding his hands into his eyes. Only a fucking dream, nothing to be scared of.

 

*

 

He tries to forget about it. He makes even more of an effort to be helpful and not a pain in the ass than usual to make up for it, but it just won't fucking go away. He's tried explaining it away from every angle he can think of, he's tried imagining it in great detail to gross himself out, he's tried praying until his head hurts and the rosary beads have left faint indentations in his fingers, but nothing seems to help. He isn't panicking (yet), but he doesn't think there's any need to freak his parents out and make them worry by telling them. Not only would it be the most awkward conversation ever (and that's including his dad's horrific talk about "the birds and the bees"), but he's still holding onto the hope that if he ignores it hard enough, it'll go away.

It doesn't go away.

He's just minding his own business, watching a safe, stupid talk show. Talk shows are generally safe because they have absolutely nothing to do with anybody kissing anyone else at all and-- fucking hell, now he's thinking about it again, fuck, fuck, fuck. He tries really, really hard to be interested in what the blonde dude on the screen is talking about, but the words bounce off Frank and roll away like raindrops off an umbrella.

His mom comes in and sits down next to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and pulling him close. He leans in, and she chuckles and presses a kiss to the top of his head.

"Hi, mom," he says, smushing his face into her shoulder. She smells like soap and that perfume she always wears.

"Hi, Frank," she mimics, and he rolls his eyes.

They sit there like that for a while, occasionally trading comments about the talk show. Then she says, "You're not yourself. There anything you want to talk about, baby?"

He darts a quick look up at her face, then looks away again. She's got that little worry line between her eyebrows that she always gets when he's stressing her out. Fuck, he should have known she'd notice. She's probably been freaking out this whole time. Now he really does feel like an asshole.

"Um," he says, in a voice so small it's practically non-existent, looking down at his knees. There's not really any point in lying. She's his mom, she'll get it out of him sooner or later. "I, uh. Might have thought about kissing a boy?"

"Hey. C'mon, look at me."

 

He cringes and looks up, waiting for the other shoe to fall.

"Baby, I know it's confusing," she says gently, pushing his hair back off his forehead. "But I know you'll do the right thing. One day, you're going to meet a girl and get married and have kids, and you won't even remember this. I promise. You're a good boy, I know you won't do anything stupid. We all have thoughts we shouldn't sometimes, but we've got to rise above it and not act on them, okay? It's the devil's way of tempting you."

"Yeah. Yeah, okay." He feels like a weight's been taken off his shoulders. That must have been all he needed, someone who's sure of things to remind him which way is up and which is down.

 

*

 

Frank spends the next few days trying really fucking hard not to think about Gerard, with limited success. His brain just keeps springing it on him when he's minding his own business, fuck you very much, just walking to school or trying to do his homework or clean his room. He keeps catching himself wondering what Gerard would think of this or that, what he'd say if he were there with Frank. It's majorly annoying and generally just a massive un-help. It makes Frank tense and short-tempered, and he feels even worse every time he snaps at someone who doesn't deserve it.

It's a cool, clammy morning, all damp air and washed-out grey sky. Frank already feels sticky and sweaty despite the cold, his shirt clinging to his skin as he trudges up the steepest hill between his house and the school. If there's one thing he hates about Devil's Gap, it's the fucking hills. It's a half-hour walk between his house and school, and that's on a good day if his stupid lungs don't give him any trouble. If he weren't so claustrophobic he'd just get the school bus like all the other kids who don't have cars.

As if on cue, the school bus roars past and drenches his feet and ankles with muddy water left over from last night's rain. He sighs, looking down at the attractive splatter pattern now gracing his school pants. Fucking A. He resigns himself to another bout of pneumonia and another uniform warning, and pushes on up the hill.

 

*

 

He gets through the gates just as the bell is ringing, trying to breathe through the thick, cottony feeling in his lungs. Sister Agnes looks kind of disappointed that she's been deprived of a chance to bawl Frank out for something, which cheers him up a little. He slouches over to join the line behind the rest of his class, and they start to file slowly into the chapel for assembly. Frank cringes inwardly at the trail of wet footprints he leaves behind him on the tiles, and promises himself that he'll apologize next time he prays.

Mikey throws Frank a half-assed salute from his seat as he passes and Frank waves back, earning himself a dirty look from sister Agnes. As soon as they've settled into their seats, someone elbows Frank in the ribs, and Frank looks round to see Pete staring at him, wide-eyed.

"You know Mikey Way?" Pete whispers, awed, like Mikey's a fucking movie star or something. On Pete's other side, the sandy-haired kid (who follows him around and apologizes for him when Pete doesn't realize he's pissing people off) looks pained.

"Uh," says Frank, a little thrown. "Kind of? I mean, I know his brother, but Mikey's cool."

"Dude," Pete says. Frank leans away slightly. Pete doesn't seem like a bad guy or anything, he's just kind of scary-intense. He looks practically fucking reverent.

"You should talk to him," mutters Frank when sister Roberta isn't looking their way. "It's not like he's gonna eat your soul or anything."

"Quiet," hisses sister Agnes, and Frank shuts up and looks at the big-ass painting on the chapel wall instead. It's kind of dark. Frank supposes it's important to remember Christ's suffering and all, but it's still kind of off-putting knowing it's just hanging there watching you.

Father Agostino starts the morning prayers, and Frank bows his head and closes his eyes.

 

*

 

For Frank, the next day goes from bad to worse and then from worse to utter shit. He wakes up feeling all warm and well-rested, then opens his eyes and sees his alarm clock blinking smugly at him, and the nice, sleepy feeling is replaced abruptly by panic. He hops around his room swearing and trying to tie his tie and pull socks on at the same time, then sweeps the top layer of detritus on his desk into his school bag and sprints out of the door.

By the time he gets to school, he's fifteen minutes late, gasping and wheezing and clutching at the stitch in his side.

"Detention," says Sister Agnes with relish. "And tuck that shirt in."

Frank knows better than to talk back. He thinks he should be safe after that, which turns out to be a mistake. Sister Mary Patrick announces the quiz she apparently told them about last week (Frank has absolutely no recollection of this at all), and Frank's pretty sure he fails it spectacularly. Guesswork is a solid tactic for multiple choice questions, but not so good on the finer points of Latin grammar.

By lunchtime, Frank has just about had enough. He doesn't have his homework for any of the classes he's had today – apparently the armful of stuff he crammed into his bag was the wrong armful of stuff, and then just to top it all off he managed to lock his keys in his locker and the sink in the toilets sprayed water all over him so it looks like he's pissed himself. Plus, detention at lunch is horrific. Sister Agnes has him scraping chewed gum off desks and he has to wash his hands for-fucking-ever before they feel clean again.

When his cell phone buzzes halfway through math with a text from Gerard that just says come over, Frank could fucking cry with relief. That's what he needs. Seeing Gerard will make things better. He feels out of step with everything today, like he isn't plugged into the rest of the world or there's a loose connection in there somewhere. Like Gerard is his center of gravity. He fires off a quick text to his mom, telling her he's going to stay late at school to study, and checks the time. Ten minutes to go.

The instant math finishes, he's out of his seat like it's hot and sprinting out of the door. He's out of there, he's fucking free. He's going to Gerard.

 

*

 

He heads straight there, walking so fast he gives himself a stitch and has to climb the last hill almost bent double, clutching his side. Gerard, he reminds himself. Just a little bit further.

By the time he gets there, his face feels hot, his side is killing him and he's pretty sure he's going to have to salt and burn the socks he's wearing.

"Well, well, well," says Gerard by way of a hello when he opens the door, looking Frank up and down. "Bad day at the office, huh?"

"You have no idea," says Frank darkly, shouldering his way past Gerard and into the apartment. His skin feels two sizes too small and he wants to crawl right the fuck out of it. He drops his bag and his blazer on the floor in the hallway, then wrenches his tie off and throws that down as well.

He stalks through to the living room and throws himself down on the couch with an irritated sigh. It's – almost better, just for a few seconds, but then Gerard sits down next to him, too close. Frank can feel the warmth rolling off him and smell his cigarettes and see the faint sheen of sweat on his neck.

And then it's not better at all, it's worse. Even worse than it was at school, and that's just not fair. He crushes the itch of restlessness and tries to breathe. Zen. Yeah. He's the motherfucking ninja of Zen. He has this Zen thing down.

Gerard gives him a long, appraising look. "I'm guessing you're gonna want to watch something with lots of blood and guts."

"Yes fucking please," Frank says fervently. He can't think of anything he wants more right now.

"Okay. You pick a zombie movie, I'll fix you a drink."

Frank slithers off the couch to thumb through Gerard and Mikey's extensive collection of horror movies while Gerard grabs the bottle of rum from the floor by his foot and fumbles a red Solo cup out of the package next to the bottle. Frank picks one with a promisingly gory cover and slots it into the machine, then flops back down on the couch and holds his hand out for the cup. It's lukewarm, not cold like Frank wants, and Gerard's been generous with the booze and sparing with the mixer. It makes Frank's eyes water and his throat burn, and he only manages to drink half of it before the throbbing ache in his skull makes him stop. He puts it down by his feet and tries to concentrate on the movie.

Somehow, though, bad actors getting torn limb from limb by the walking undead just can't quite catch his attention and keep it. He gazes vacantly at the screen, not really processing any of what's playing out on it, drumming an off-beat tattoo against the stained carpet with his heels. It feels like everything's been turned up to too much, the clingy drag of his damp shirt on his skin, the hair tickling the back of his neck, the noise Gerard's nails make when he scratches his neck, the ripple of Gerard's throat when he downs another mouthful of his drink and licks his lips clean. He wonders if this is what adults mean when they talk about the crazy shit being a teenager does to your brain.

"Whoever said high school was the best time of their life was a fuckin' idiot," Frank says darkly, fidgeting in place.

Gerard looks over at him, one eyebrow raised, one corner of his mouth curled into that little smirk that just gets right under Frank's skin every time. "Aw, come on," he says. "You can't be all bitter and jaded yet, you're practically a fuckin' newborn."

And Frank just – snaps.

His mouth is on Gerard's before he even knows what he's doing, hot and messy and artless. Some tiny, distant part of his brain is aware that this is his first kiss, holy shit, and he's probably doing it all wrong, but he couldn't care less right now. He slings one leg over Gerard's thighs and fumbles his way into his lap, greedy and desperate. Gerard's hot all over – hot skin, hot mouth, hot hands grabbing at Frank's hair, his ass. He's bigger than Frank, broader shoulders and stronger arms, and the way he's just holding Frank where he wants him feels fucking awesome. Gerard makes a low, encouraging noise, pulling Frank closer and licking into his mouth. Frank grinds down against him and it's good, it's so fucking good. This is what he's needed all day, it's just taken him until now to figure it out.

"Yeah," Gerard breathes, rolling his hips up against Frank's ass so Frank can feel his hard-on through his jeans. "Fuck yeah, Frank."

Frank gets his hands on either side of Gerard's face and kisses him again. It's deep and dirty, and Gerard tastes like booze and something sweet when his tongue slides against Frank's. His stubble's kind of rough under Frank's hands, and Frank holds on. His thought process has been replaced by a mindless stream of more-more-more-more-more. He's rutting frantically against Gerard, his breath coming fast. It's so good but he wants more, more of Gerard's skin against his, he wants to be even closer--

And then he's shuddering and going still, his mouth slackening as he comes in his pants, and it's as if that breaks the spell. He pushes away and reels backwards with a rough, shocked gasp. He stands there for a long moment, completely paralyzed, and Gerard doesn't say a word. He's hard in his jeans, flushed and panting and looking like porn. His lips are slick and shiny, slightly parted, and his hair's sticking up where Frank was pulling at it.

Frank stumbles out of the door and runs all the way home.

 

*

 

He doesn't stop running until he's slammed his bedroom door shut behind him. He can't breathe, and there are tears streaming down his cheeks. He's still feeling that kiss, still feeling Gerard's mouth on his. He grabs the rosary off his bedside table with a shaking hand, and then collapses on the floor. He's in no state to pray, but the beads feel comfortingly familiar twisted around his fingers.

He closes his eyes and takes a long, shuddering breath. The mess of guilt and shame is rising to fever pitch, shrieking and clawing in his head and thumping sickeningly in his veins. This is tearing him six ways from Sunday, he just doesn't know what to do. He wants to undo his stupid fucking mistake, he wants to forget how fucking good it was. He wants to forget it happened at all, but the sticky mess in his pants reminds him every time he moves. What the fuck was he thinking? This is the kind of thing that doesn't wash out of an immortal soul, Gerard's a dude. Frank isn't gay. Gerard is a fucking guy and they--

Frank can't even think it. He drags another ragged, gulping breath and wishes he could just disappear. He wants to run all the way back and crawl under Gerard's skin, dig himself so deep in that no one will ever be able to pry him free.

He doesn't know how long he spends like that, crying like a baby on his bedroom floor, but eventually the tears stop coming and his breathing starts to even out again. It seems kind of distant already, like a dream he had once or a third-hand story someone told him. Gradually, the panic starts to wear away. It wasn't sex, not really. All Frank did was rub off against Gerard, and he doesn't think it counts if you could easily do pretty much the same thing by yourself. Frank was twitchy and frustrated and Gerard just happened to be there, with his stupid girly face and his ridiculously long eyelashes and his non-haircut. Of fucking course Frank got confused.

He gets up off the floor and heads for the shower, cringing at how unbelievably gross his pants feel. He's pretty sure he's still sinned, and he's definitely doing some hardcore penance for it later, but he doesn't think he's going to hell. He's going to be okay.

 

*

 

That night, he dreams he's wrapped in living shadows, the stench of charnel and rotting things making his head swim. He's down on his knees, choking and coughing up black blood, slick and heavy on his lips and running down his chin. When he thinks he can stand again, he gets to his feet, wipes his mouth on the back of his hand and walks forward into the darkness. He can see the outlines of horrible, bloated things lurching unsteadily around on mismatched legs, and – Gerard. Gerard, walking among them like a general walking a battlefield. Frank stumbles towards him mindlessly, unthinkingly. He needs to get to Gerard, then he'll be safe. It's difficult, though, every time he gets close Gerard dissolves like smoke, like an optical illusion that's never quite as close or as tangible as it seems.

Frank trips and falls to his knees, reaching out into the dark, and Gerard slips away from him again. He gets back up, sticky strands of shadow tangling around his ankles, and starts forward again. He can't see Gerard at all now, there's nothing but the dark and the decaying, shambling things lurking in it. Frank claws his way through it blindly, stumbling when hidden things trip him up.

And then Gerard's there, right there, just a breath away, shockingly pale with liquid shadows pooling in his eye sockets and something dark smeared across his mouth. Frank grabs at him, clutching desperately at his arm, but as soon as he does the darkness starts to run in streaks like ink. Gerard is slipping away into the thick darkness, and Frank digs his fingers in and holds on. Light starts to bleed in through the places where the dark is thinnest, just enough to see by, and Gerard runs through Frank's fingers like syrup. When he crystallizes again he's sprawled out on his back, eyes dark and mouth slack as he touches himself.

Frank keeps his eyes on Gerard's face, stepping back once, twice, his cheeks glowing with hot, bright blood.

You shouldn't do that, Frank tells him. It's wrong. Sinful.

Gerard's mouth curls into a lazy, nasty smile, full of sharp things. You do it, though, don't you?

Frank doesn't have an answer to that. I'm always sorry, he says wretchedly. Always.

Gerard laughs, his hand moving faster, then breaks off with a throaty moan as pretty as sin itself. Frank takes another step backwards, because if he doesn't he'll step forward instead. He can't do that.

I'll pray for you. His voice shakes.

Gerard looks him dead in the eye. Save your prayers, he says, and arches up with a rough gasp, his hand finally slowing. Slowly – so slowly – he lifts it to his mouth, running his tongue over his slick, bone-white fingers. Frank stands rooted to the ground, something thick and sweet in the air slowing him down, and Gerard beckons. Frank takes an unsteady step forward, like a mouse hypnotized by a snake. He can feel the substance of his fingertips spiraling away like thread and he's unraveling, fracturing, melting into Gerard. He wants oblivion, he wants to throw off everything he is and disappear under Gerard's skin so Gerard can never leave him. He lets himself fall and Gerard opens his mouth wide, wide, wide, a black abyss full of broken teeth--

Frank wakes up with the teeth of the dream buried in his throat, his heart pounding like a war drum and another sticky mess in his pants.

He quickly strips the sheets off his bed and carries them downstairs in his arms, making as little noise as possible as he crams them into the washing machine. The shame feels like it's burning a hole right through his chest. He wonders if it's as obvious on his face as it feels, the flush in his cheeks and the damning too-brightness in his eyes. Maybe they'll be able to hear him thinking it. He wrestles with the clean sheets in the dark. Maybe they'll just look at him and hear it, that rising chant of wrong, wrong, wrong, sour and sickening.

 

*

 

Frank spends the next few days stewing in his guilt, dreaming about it eating away at his skin and picking his bones clean. Gerard texts him now and then – nothing untoward, just the occasional how did u sleep? or superman v batman, no gloves, go. Frank doesn't reply to a single one. He wants to, though, every time. Once or twice he's on the verge of writing back before he's even thought about it, his thumbs poised over the keys, and then he remembers himself. He resists. If he can't trust himself not to fuck up and do stupid things, then he doesn't get to talk to Gerard.

He buries himself in his schoolwork, because it's easier than being all alone in his own head with nothing to think about but the way Gerard's hard-on felt pressed up against his ass. He definitely doesn't think about that, or Gerard grabbing at his hair and moaning into his mouth, or whether Gerard got himself off after Frank left. Frank doesn't think about any of that, especially not when he's jerking off. And he definitely, definitely doesn't wake up again desperately hard in his sweatpants and humping the mattress.

Hormones, he tells himself. Hormones are some seriously crazy shit, and this is obviously their fault.

 

*

 

"It's Frank, right?"

"Yeah?" Frank turns around. He's pretty sure the guy standing behind him is called Ray. He's got a nervous, shifty look on his face and some seriously fucking epic hair. Frank really hopes this guy isn't going to try to recruit him to some club or something. He feels guilty every time he wriggles out of Bible study group or chess club again.

"Can I talk to you for a minute?"

Frank is getting a bad feeling about this. He gestures down at himself. "Here you are, talking to me, and here I am, being talked to."

That was probably rude. He blames the lack of sleep.

"Right, sure," Ray says. "You, uh. You know Mikey's brother, right?"

Frank folds his arms across his chest, crushing the sick rush of shame. "Yeah?"

"Okay, don't let me... like, tell you what to do or anything, I just think you should be careful." Ray bites his lip, his eyes all big and concerned, and Frank can feel the scowl settling over his face.

"Why? You know something about him?"

Ray fidgets uncomfortably. "No, I just – I get a really bad vibe from the guy, is all. I mean, none of my business or anything, I just wanted to... yeah."

He's shifting from foot to foot like he's worried Frank is about to punch him and he's getting ready to book it to somewhere far, far away. Ray's probably twice his size, but Frank is too pissed to even appreciate how fucking hilarious it is that he looks so scared.

"You get a bad vibe?" he says disbelievingly. "What, because he doesn't go to church? Is that it? You don't know him, man. Fuck you."

 

*

 

Frank doesn't stick around for a moment longer than he has to when his last class finishes, and he takes out as much of his twitchy, restless irritation as he can on the sidewalks between school and his house. He walks fast, jamming his key into the lock when he gets home and wrenching the door open.

He stops in the hallway, halfway through kicking his shoes off. He can hear raised voices coming from the kitchen. Normally, he'd just sneak upstairs to his room as quietly as possible, plug himself into his headphones and turn the volume up too loud, but this feels... different. When they fight, it doesn't normally sound like this. He hears an honest-to-god shriek, his mom's, high and angry, and the back of his neck prickles. This isn't some dumb fight about his dad spending too much time out with the guys from the garage or his mom giving the world the cold shoulder when she's pissed off. Slowly, slowly, he slides out of his other shoe and pads down the hallway until the muffled back-and-forth between his mom and dad solidifies into actual words.

"So this is how you deal with it?" his mom is saying, low and dangerous. "Instead of, oh, I don't know, talking to me?"

"Oh, stop playing the goddamn victim, Linda, it doesn't suit you," Frank's dad snaps back, and Frank hears his mom's short, shocked inhale, like the words are a punch or a slap.

"Playing the victim?" she says, her voice rising. Frank's stomach twists queasily. He doesn't want to listen to this, but it's like watching a slow-motion car crash and finding it hard to look away. "Playing the victim?" she repeats disbelievingly. "I find out you're screwing Annie Carver, I call you on it and I'm playing the victim?"

Frank has to put his hand out to steady himself against the wall. It feels like the world has lurched off its axis, like the fucking sky is falling in. His mom knows Annie Carver, she's red-headed and sweet and makes awesome cookies and always wears bright colors to church. His mom and dad have always fought, sure, but always about stupid, petty shit. Never anything like this. They've always forgiven each other. They've taught Frank to be patient with people's flaws, taught him right from wrong and now there's this.

Frank wonders how long it's been going on. He feels sick, dizzy and disoriented. He pushes harder against the wall, his heart thudding in his ears, the angry voices in the kitchen fading to a dull, distant buzz.

There's a lump gathering in his throat. He needs to get the fuck out of here.

He runs.

 

*

 

Frank's a mess by the time he gets to Gerard's front door, soaked through from the rain, gasping desperately for air after running every step of the way, his eyes blurry and stinging with tears. He avoids the buzzer again, hammers at the door with a shaking, slippery hand and waits impatiently, fidgeting from foot to foot. After what feels like a fucking age, the door swings open and there's Gerard, one eyebrow raised, one corner of his mouth quirked up.

"Well, look what the--" he starts, but Frank is already pushing through the door and clinging to Gerard like a frightened kid. He's dimly aware that he's crying for real now, great hacking sobs that hurt like they've been yanked right out of his chest, but he doesn't give a shit. Gerard is warm and solid and everything Frank could want right now. When Frank turns his head to get at Gerard's mouth, it's a bruising, messy kiss that tastes like rain, and Frank makes a low, wanting noise.

"Please," he says indistinctly, pulling back to struggle for breath. "Gerard, please, I need – something, I don't care, fucking anything."

"Anything?" Gerard's voice is curled around a lazy smile, and he grinds his hips teasingly gently against Frank's. "Like that?"

Frank groans, frustrated. "More," he grits out, his voice cracking as he tries to pull himself even closer to Gerard. "Fucker, I – you know what I meant."

"If you had something in mind you should have asked," hums Gerard in his ear, sliding one hand slowly down Frank's back and toying with the waistband of Frank's sodden uniform slacks. "Maybe if you'll get it if you ask nicely."

Frank is so far gone that to grit out a desperate, broken fuck me is the easiest thing in the world.

"See?" Gerard is pulling back, the front of his shirt dark with water and clinging to his skin. "Was that so bad? C'mon." He turns and heads for the bedroom, and Frank follows.

Frank doesn't know how it happens, but the next thing he knows, he's falling backwards onto the bed. Gerard's on top of him, all around him, drowning everything else out. Gerard straddles Frank's hips, pinning him down, and goes to work on his tie. He undoes the knot tortuously slowly, with a maddening smirk. Frank squirms impatiently underneath him, but Gerard is bigger and heavier and Frank doesn't get far.

"Come on," he groans, and Gerard's smile widens.

"You want something, huh?" he says, finally pulling Frank's rain-soaked tie free of his collar and dropping it to the floor before starting on the buttons on Frank's shirt. He grinds down against Frank, and Frank gasps.

"Fuck, yes, c'mon..."

"Like this?" Gerard rocks down again, and Frank sees stars. "We could, I guess, but I thought you wanted to get fucked. That what you wanted, Frank?"

Frank makes a wordless noise of desperate agreement, that's what he needs, but Gerard raises an eyebrow expectantly.

"Yes," Frank clarifies, through gritted teeth. "I want – fuck me. Please."

Gerard strips him out of the rest of his clothes quickly and expertly, leaving Frank feeling dazed and shivery-hot all over.

"Like this, c'mon," Gerard says softly, pulling Frank up onto his hands and knees.

"Like this?" Frank looks back over his shoulder at Gerard. If he has to wait another minute, he thinks it might kill him. He settles his knees a little wider apart, feeling exposed and vulnerable. Every inch of his skin is humming.

"Yeah. Fuck yeah, just like that." Gerard's voice is rough, and the mattress dips as he moves to get between Frank's legs. He lets out a long, slow breath. "Shit, I'm your first. No one's ever seen you like this before."

Frank shakes his head. Gerard trails a finger down his spine and he shivers, his breath hitching as Gerard's finger slips down between his cheeks.

"No one's ever touched you like this." Gerard sounds almost reverent. His hands settle just below Frank's hips, his thumbs digging into Frank's ass and spreading him open. Frank's dick is hard and heavy between his legs, and the undisguised hunger in Gerard's voice is making his head spin.

"Please," Frank says again, his own voice ragged already, and Gerard chuckles.

"Be patient," he says. He must have dipped his head down towards his hands, because Frank can suddenly feel Gerard's breath on his skin like a solid thing.

Frank waits, every nerve in his body pulled taut, then lets out a shocked noise because, holy shit, that is Gerard's tongue, licking up behind his balls and teasing at his hole.

"Fuck," he says indistinctly. "Fuck, Gerard, Gerard, fuck, you're..."

"Good? You like that?"

Frank nods, not trusting himself to speak. This is dirty, so fucking wrong, but at the same time so blindingly hot he can't think straight anymore. He would never have even thought about doing this, it wouldn't even have occurred to him as a thing that people do, but the filthy-slick feeling of Gerard's tongue opening him up is slowly driving him insane. He pushes back instinctively against Gerard's mouth when Gerard drags his tongue up and back down again, sloppy and so fucking good.

"Yeah," he breathes. "I – fuck, Gerard."

Gerard pulls back a little and laughs softly, and Frank shivers again as the wetness on his skin cools. "No one's ever made a mess of you like this before, right? No one's ever made you fuckin' moan for it."

He ducks his head again, the tip of his tongue pushing into Frank, twisting and tasting, pushing in deeper and pulling back out to lap at Frank's entrance, and then Frank really does moan. He's never heard himself make that noise before, full-throated and fucking wanton. Gerard makes an answering noise that sings up Frank's spine and makes his skin feel dangerously hot and tight. Gerard's tongue curls inside Frank, slippery and so fucking hot, dipping in and sliding out again, his nose pressed into the cleft of Frank's ass. The way Gerard's tongue feels, fucking him open and tasting him is-- fuck, Frank doesn't even have words. Anything this good has got to be a sin, and it's undoing Frank bit by bit.

"Gerard," he warns, "You gotta – you gotta stop, or I'm gonna--"

"No you're not," says Gerard. His voice is low and deceptively soft, but Frank doesn't even think about answering back. "Not before I've fucked you. You're gonna wait, you're not gonna come before I'm inside you, okay?"

Frank feels dizzy, sex-drugged, but he knows that wasn't a question. "I won't," he says shakily. His mouth is dry, and he's aching to get a hand on his dick.

"Good." Gerard presses a weirdly chaste kiss to the crease where Frank's ass meets his thigh. "So good, Frank. Don't move."

He leans away to rummage for something on the cluttered bedside table, leaving Frank feeling cold and vulnerable, exposed with his legs spread and Gerard's spit slicking his hole.

"Okay," Gerard says a few seconds later, moving back so he's hot and close behind Frank again.

"What," Frank starts, then breaks off with a startled noise of discomfort, because Gerard is pushing a finger into him, all slippery with something cold. It feels uncomfortable, like an intrusion, and he bites down on his lip.

"Ssh," Gerard croons, pressing his finger in deeper and sliding it out again. "You gotta relax, Frank, or it's gonna hurt. You think you can do that for me? It's gonna get so fucking good in a minute, I promise."

Frank nods shakily, and takes a couple of deep breaths. It still feels weird, but it's not so bad now that he's sort of used to it.

"You've seriously never done this when you were jerking off?" Gerard asks disbelievingly, sliding another finger in alongside the first and making Frank hiss.

"I – no. Never." Frank can feel his face heating up.

"Oh, shit. Pure as the fucking driven snow." It's as much Gerard's voice, hot and wanting, as what he's saying that makes Frank's stomach flip.

And then Gerard does something with his fingers that sends sparks flying through Frank's body and rips a shocked gasp from his throat. Gerard's only response is a pleased noise of amusement, then he slides his fingers out again. Frank cringes at the sudden emptiness, but he can hear a rasping noise and then a rustling that he connects a minute later to the drag of a zipper and the shift of denim, then what he realizes must be a condom wrapper.

Gerard curls his hands around Frank's hips again, gripping tightly and holding Frank open with his thumbs.

"Look at you," he murmurs, pausing like he really is just looking at Frank, drinking him in. "Okay. Relax, yeah?"

Frank tries, he really does, but Gerard's dick feels so much bigger than his fingers when he pushes in, and it hurts. Frank feels like he's splitting at the seams, like this can't possibly be right, like he just wasn't built to take this stretch. Gerard feels too big, too much.

"Motherfuck, Frank, you feel so fuckin' good. And I get to be the only one who gets you like this. Shit."

"Can you – ah, fuck, can you slow down?" Frank asks weakly. Gerard is driving in relentlessly, pushing deeper into Frank with every little thrust of his hips, and it hurts. Frank feels pinned down, filled up, stretched to breaking point. "You're, I..."

"Hey, easy," Gerard says, pulling out a little and leaning down to kiss Frank's shoulder. "Easy, Frank, yeah? I know you can take it, just hold on a little bit longer for me. You think you can do that?"

Frank manages a jerky nod. The initial sting of the stretch is already mellowing into a burn that's almost sweet, and it isn't exactly good yet, but he thinks he can see how it could be. Gerard pushes in again, slowly, burying himself deep inside Frank, and Frank can feel every inch of his cock every time he moves. He thrusts in one more time and bottoms out, hot and hard and big, fuck, and Frank feels so fucking full.

"Good boy," Gerard says, and Frank's stomach twists again because – shit. Yeah. "You're being so good for me, Frank, you're fuckin' perfect."

He starts to push in harder, faster, and Frank's mouth drops open on a moan as the fullness tips dizzyingly from too much to so good, and it's fucking incredible.

"Gerard," he says urgently. "Gerard, oh fuck."

"Better?"

"Yeah. Fucking – yes. Harder," he grits out, pushing back against Gerard. This is like nothing else, raw and overwhelming and shockingly intimate, but it isn't enough. Gerard's hands tighten on his hips, and Frank lets out a choked shout when Gerard hammers back in. He's making too much noise, he realizes, and he bites his tongue, but Gerard makes a low, displeased sound.

"Wanna hear you," he says, roughly. "C'mon, Frank, let me make you scream."

Frank stops holding back and gives in to it, panting and letting out short, breathy moans every time Gerard fucks into him, so deep he can barely take it. Gerard is still running his mouth, telling Frank how pretty he is, how good he's being, how amazing he looks just taking it, how tight he is, how good he feels, but Frank can barely hear him. His world feels like it's narrowed down to Gerard's hands on his hips, Gerard's cock filling him up, thick and deep. He can't think. It's perfect.

Then Gerard hits something in Frank that makes him gasp, and he suddenly realizes that he's close, so close.

"Can I--" he starts, but then Gerard hits that spot again and the rest of what he'd been going to say gets lost in an obscene, desperate noise.

"Yeah, yeah," Gerard says, his breathing quick and uneven. "You gonna come for me, Frank?"

That's all it takes. Frank crashes over the edge, his mouth going slack and his eyes falling shut as he comes all over Gerard's sheets. He feels completely drained, spent. Like he's floating.

"So good, Frank," Gerard says again. He sounds wrecked. "Close, oh-- fuck, yeah..."

He slams in one last time with a broken moan, then slumps down on top of Frank, his chest pressed against Frank's back and his breath hot in Frank's ear. They stay like that for a while, just breathing, until Gerard leans back slowly and pulls out. Frank whines at the loss, then closes his eyes as Gerard gets up to throw the condom away. Frank feels used and hollowed-out, but his head's still too full of white noise for him to think. He sits back slowly, carefully, biting his lip. He's sore.

"Hey," says Gerard, sitting down next to him. Frank looks away and stands up tentatively. His legs feel weak and shaky, and bending down to pick up his scattered clothes is an ordeal. Gerard watches him in silence while he struggles numbly back into his wet uniform, leaving his blazer and tie and only doing up two of the buttons on his shirt.

"Frank?" Gerard gets up and hooks two fingers under Frank's chin, tilting his head up. He's too much, Frank can't look at him, and he turns his head away again. He picks up his blazer from the door handle and leaves. Gerard lets him go.

Frank sleepwalks home like a zombie, dragging himself through the rain. He feels completely blank, washed out. When he gets back, he goes upstairs to his room, toes off his shoes, strips out of his clinging, rain-soaked clothes, and crawls into his bed. The guilt is too heavy for him to carry any longer, and he's so tired. He sleeps.

 

*

 

It's dark, the kind of dark that's hot and alive and full of teeth and claws. Frank stumbles forward, panic tearing at his throat, the air thick like blood. Something smells sickly-sweet, rank and corrupt like rot bubbling through flesh. Frank doesn't know where he's going or even what it is that's chasing him, but he knows he needs to run.

Then laughter blossoms in the dark, howling and unhinged and horribly knowing. It's coming from everywhere and nowhere and it's manic and triumphant, making Frank's ears ring. He spins in circles, disoriented, squinting into the thick darkness, but there's nothing. He realizes he's holding something, clutching it so tightly it's cutting into his fingers and leaving sticky smears of blood. It's a rosary, he thinks dimly, as his knuckles brush the familiar angles of the cross, and he keeps running. He starts to see things – a glimpse of a nasty smile, the curve of a cheekbone, the maddeningly familiar arch of an eyebrow--

Frank sees a flash of Gerard's face, laughing, vainglorious, and then he's falling, falling, falling and gasping awake.

He lies there, paralyzed, and tries to get his breath back. Slowly, the nightmare starts to fall away. He isn't running from nameless things in the dark, he's in his bed, cold and sore and alone. He sits up, biting his lip at the pain, then limps across the landing to the bathroom and throws up until his stomach is empty and he's just coughing up bile. He rests his forehead against the toilet seat and screws his eyes shut. His head feels so full of his parents screaming at each other, of Gerard and what Frank let him do, and it's just – too much.

When he's done, he gets up, his knees shaking, and staggers back to bed. His last conscious thought is that if he hadn't met Gerard, he would have gone to church last night.

 

*

 

When he wakes up again, it's light outside and his alarm clock is shrieking in his ear. He groans, and reaches over to hit the snooze button. He gets up slowly, carefully, letting out a thin whine when he takes it too fast and gets a stinging flare of pain for his trouble. His mind is a mess, he feels like he hardly knows up from down anymore. He walks slowly and carefully over to the mirror, tugging the hem of his stretched t-shirt up over his stomach, turning to the side a little so he can see. It's only now that he's starting to see just how much he'd hoped it was all some bizarre, horrible dream, but there's really no way to avoid the finger-shaped smudges of bruising on his hips and the soreness in his ass. What was he thinking? He practically begged Gerard for it. Fuck, he might as well be honest with himself, there was no practically about it.

Struggling into his school uniform is a challenge, but it's good. It gives him something to concentrate on and excuses him from having to think about anything else. He thinks about going to look for something to eat, but the thought makes his stomach twist queasily, and he decides he'd rather just be hungry. Instead, he picks up his ratty messenger bag and walks slowly downstairs and out of the door.

 

*

 

It's the first time praying hasn't made Frank feel like everything's going to be okay.

He goes to church instead of the school chapel, knowing it'll make him late and not caring. He kneels with his head bowed and his eyes closed, cold stone under his knees and arching up over his head.

And he waits.

There's nothing.

Father? He lets out a deep, slow breath. I know I fucked up, I'm sorry. But I could really use some help here.

Somehow, the well-worn, threadbare prayers he's been using since he was a kid don't feel right. They're just words, strung together like rosary beads. They don't mean what he wants them to anymore. He feels self-conscious and stupid, but if he's not being honest he might as well not have come here.

But for the first time, there's just – nothing. It's like talking to a brick wall. Frank doesn't know what to do. He feels like he's been cut loose to drift through deep space, tiny and helpless and so, so alone.

He tries to breathe deeply, struggling to keep himself under control. Through everything else that's happened, God has always been here for him, sure and solid, and now it feels like a missing step in a familiar staircase. Like God has turned his back. It's exactly what he was always been told would happen. It isn't like he's got anyone else to blame for this.

He tries the Lord's Prayer as a desperate last resort, throwing it as hard as he can against the dead silence, but it doesn't break. He feels trapped, buried under the weight of it.

He can't be here anymore. He gets up, unsteady on shaking legs, and leaves.

Walking into school that morning is one of the most fucking terrifying things Frank has ever had to do, and that's including the time his parents were out and he found a spider the size of his own hand in the sink. The initial panic has drained out of him now, leaving a knot of sick tension sitting heavily in the pit of his stomach. He's still sore, too, his body protesting with every step he takes. Now and again, a particularly sharp stab of pain will bring back a shard of memory – good boy, pure as the fucking driven snow – and the shame surges and he has to stop and breathe in case he hurls again.

He's late enough that the hallways are empty, but every time he passes someone he can't help but wonder if it's as obvious as it feels. Maybe they're all reading it on his face, that he's a slut, that he's had another dude's dick in his ass and enjoyed it. When he has to pass Sister Mary Patrick (who's about a hundred and ten years old, half-blind and more than half-deaf), he catches himself holding his breath.

No one calls him on it, but that doesn't make him feel any better. Sore, scared and lonely, he makes his way to his lesson. He wants to disappear. He wants to go back in time and change things. It doesn't help that he keeps catching himself checking for messages from Gerard, and it helps even less that there aren't any.

 

*

 

It takes him one long, painful week to figure out what he needs.

He hardly eats, and the only sleep he gets comes in fitful squalls plagued by more nightmares. He goes to pieces as quietly as he can – the only thing holding him back from a complete breakdown is the certainty that people finding out will make it so much worse. He tries not to think beyond the next five minutes, which works well enough, and if he finds himself forgetting conversations as they happen, well, it's a small price to pay.

His rosary stays on his nightstand, untouched and gathering dust.

It finally hits him one night when he's lying in his bed with his eyes wide open, hiding from the nightmares. He's so tired. Forgive us now for what we've done, he thinks desperately. He doesn't care what he has to do, he'll do it if it'll end this.

And then, suddenly, the answer is there as if it's been there all along.

He doesn't need to be forgiven. He needs to be punished.

 

*

 

"Back for more, huh?" Gerard says, leaning against the doorframe with a shit-eating grin.

Frank ignores him. "I need you to hurt me," he says, his voice cracking. "Fucking – I don't care how. Make me pay."

It's like flipping a switch. Gerard's eyes go hot and dark, and he grabs Frank by the arm and pulls him inside and closes the door behind him. As soon has the latch has clicked shut, he shoves Frank up against the wall, moves in close and yanks hard enough on Frank's hair to make his eyes water. Yes, Frank thinks. This is what he needs.

Gerard moves even closer, his hips pressed against Frank's, and Frank can feel his gaze like a solid, hungry thing against his skin. "You don't know what you're asking for, Frank," he says quietly.

And everything collides in Frank, all the shit and the anger and the confusion and the guilt.

"I'm not a fucking kid!"

He's panting, his eyes stinging with tears. Gerard holds him in place for a long moment, perfectly still, just looking. Frank is hyper-aware of Gerard's hand in his hair, Gerard's grip on his arm.

"No," Gerard says eventually. "You're not. Come on."

He doesn't let go of Frank's arm, just leads him through the dingy hallway and into the living room. He sits down on the couch, leaving Frank to stand facing him. His legs are spread wide, his arms folded, his chin tilted up. Frank feels exposed, naked in all his clothes, and he shivers.

"Pants," says Gerard. "Down."

Frank doesn't even stop to think. Gerard watches him intently, eyes dark, as Frank starts on his belt buckle. He pushes his pants down to his thighs, then looks back up at Gerard.

"Underwear," he says. His voice is rough and hot. "You want me to hurt you, I'm gonna fucking do it right."

Frank can feel the color rising in his cheeks, shame and apprehension blurring under his skin as he fumbles with the waistband of his ratty boxer-briefs. When he's finally got them down, Gerard looks him over slowly, and Frank tries to picture what he's seeing right now. Hair damp and sticking to his forehead, eyes wild, school tie askew, shirt buttoned crookedly, fleshy hips, dick, pale thighs, mud-spattered school slacks and shoes.

He's a mess. He lets Gerard look. His blood is screaming in his ears, his heart hammering.

"Good," Gerard says. "Okay. C'mere."

Frank steps forward awkwardly, and Gerard pulls him down. Frank goes boneless in his hands, and Gerard makes a pleased noise and arranges Frank across his lap. Frank feels strung tight, like every nerve in him is on fire. Gerard runs a finger down the ridge of Frank's spine and over the curve of his ass, and Frank groans.

"Do it," he says. "Fucking – please, Gerard."

The first slap is a shock, sharp and stinging, and Frank stifles a gasp. But it's – good. It hurts, but the hurt is already eating away at the guilt slopping around inside him. Gerard's hand comes down again, and again, and Frank's skin feels hot and raw already. He hisses when Gerard hits him twice in quick succession, one-two. Frank whimpers into the couch, because, yeah, it hurts. It really fucking does, but he's starting to feel light again, not like he's weighed down by his mistakes. A sob of relief slips out, taking him by surprise, but Gerard doesn't stop.

"More," says Frank weakly. "More, I need..."

"More? You want me to hit you for enjoying it?" Gerard slaps him harder to make his point, and Frank whines. "That it, Frank? You want me to hit you for coming with my dick in your ass?"

And Frank gets hard so fast he feels dizzy.

"What else, huh?" Gerard says. "For fucking begging for more when I was eating you out?"

"Oh, fuck," Frank chokes out. He's so fucking far past embarrassment, and rocking down shamelessly against Gerard.

"For wanting it harder? For fucking spreading your legs and wanting my cock?"

"Yes," Frank groans. "Shit, yes, fucking everything, ah--"

"Enough," Gerard says suddenly, and shoves Frank off his lap. Frank's so dazed he doesn't even try to stop it. "On your knees."

Frank scrambles to sit up, his dick bumping against his belly and leaving a smear of precome on his shirt. Gerard shifts his hips forward so he's sitting right on the edge of the couch, and unzips his jeans. He looks hungry. He's not wearing any underwear, and the noise he makes when he gets his cock out and gives himself a couple of quick, rough strokes is fucking obscene. He looks down pointedly at Frank, and Frank knee-walks a little closer.

"Good boy," he says softly, and Frank's dick twitches. Gerard settles his hands on either side of Frank's face, lacing his fingers together at the back of Frank's head, and pulls him in.

Frank has no idea how to do this, let alone how to make it good, but it doesn't matter. Gerard's guiding his head, fucking his mouth and just using him, and Frank can't even think straight anymore. He gags every time Gerard's cock hits the back of his throat, but it's good, it's so good. He deserves this. He kneels there on the floor, his head between Gerard's thighs, Gerard's cock sliding hotly over his tongue, and he takes it. The stretch in his jaw is perfect, just on the edge of too much.

Gerard's thrusts are getting faster and he's cursing and moaning, pushing Frank's head even further down. Frank gags and makes a panicked noise when Gerard doesn't let up, but Gerard just holds him in place and doesn't let him pull off to breathe.

"You can take it," he says, and Frank slowly relaxes into it, opening up for Gerard. Gerard rewards him with a throaty moan and then he's stopping, pulling almost all the way out, and his come is spilling over Frank's tongue, slick and bitter.

"Fucking swallow, c'mon," he says hoarsely, and Frank does. He ends up coughing, his throat sore, spit and jizz smeared around his mouth. He feels filthy, used, fucking debauched.

"Shit. You look fucking amazing like that," Gerard says, his voice all fucked-out. "C'mon, you can get yourself off."

Frank's got his hand on his dick before the words are even out of Gerard's mouth, and he comes apart after three messy, artless strokes. He slumps forward, his head resting against Gerard's knee while he gets his breath back. There's a sticky mess on his hand and his pants and his shirt, and he doesn't give a shit. He feels – free. Purged.

"So," says Gerard, while Frank's still riding his high. Frank looks up. "Those are some pretty major guilt issues you got there."

Frank would deny it, but he's pretty sure Gerard can see right through him. He sits back on his heels. His mouth feels sore and used and his ass is stinging. "Of course I'm fucking guilty," he says quietly. "Look at me, I've--"

"You've what, huh? Been fucked? Sucked cock? Gotten off on being hurt?" Gerard is leaning back, his arms folded, one eyebrow raised in a challenge.

"Yes!" says Frank helplessly. "That's, fucking – mortal sin, all of it."

"Because we're not married, or because I've got a dick?"

Frank nods miserably. "Both."

"Or," says Gerard, giving Frank a look that pins him in place like a bug under glass, "Because you enjoyed it?"

"And..." Frank's voice cracks. It's one thing to know that, it's something else to hear someone lay it out. "And that. I – yeah."

"Okay. So you liked it, you wanted it, blah blah blah. It felt good, right? Why does that mean it has to be a sin?"

Frank closes his eyes. "Corinthians," he says. "Chapter six, verse thirteen. 'Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that commiteth fornication sinneth against his own body.' Verse nine, 'Neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor abusers with themselves with mankind shall inherit the kingdom of God.'"

"Aw, come on," drawls Gerard. "It's a sin because you read it somewhere? Because someone told you it was wrong? You can do better than that."

"I – read it somewhere?" sputters Frank. "It's the Bible, God tells us--"

"Oh, the Bible, shit, that changes everything. Written two thousand years ago by fuck knows how many people and translated through thirteen languages. So you'd trust a microwave user manual that got to you the same way?"

Frank sort of just sits there for a minute, his mouth hanging open. Sure, he noticed that Gerard isn't exactly devout, but this is – this is something else. He's just never heard anyone talk like this before.

"God tells us," he repeats, but Gerard cuts him off again.

"Oh? What does he tell us, Frank? Go on, enlighten me. Tell me when Jesus said it wasn't okay to enjoy taking it up the ass."

Frank closes his mouth. Gerard's got him there, and he knows it. Jesus didn't have a thing to say about it, but that doesn't make it right.

He doesn't remember standing up, but suddenly he's on his feet, yanking his pants back on and looking down at Gerard's shit-eating grin.

"You know what?" he says. His hands are shaking. "I'm just gonna go."

"Frank. Frank, wait." Gerard catches him by the arm. "C'mon, don't run away. You don't need to get mad, I'm just telling you how I see it. As far as we know for sure, we're all going to hell. We might as well deserve it, right?"

Frank frowns. Something fundamental in Gerard's logic is fucked up, but he can't quite see what.

"All I'm saying," Gerard says calmly, with a gentle squeeze of Frank's wrist. "Is that there's no need to get so worked up over a quick fuck, okay? It's got nothing to do with your immortal soul, unless your soul's in your ass. It's fine. It's healthy, you fuckwit."

Frank stops. Gerard is still wrong, obviously, but. But. "Huh," he says, and Gerard flashes him a pleased smile.

"Think about it, yeah? Promise me," he says, tucking himself back in and zipping up his jeans. "I'll take you home."

 

*

 

"Hey," Gerard says, when he's pulled up on Frank's street and Frank's reaching for the car door handle. Frank stops, looking back at him. Gerard pulls him in for a quick, dirty kiss that goes straight to Frank's dick, fucking fuck, then pulls back, grins, waves as Frank stumbles out of the car and drives away.

Feeling vaguely confused and disoriented, Frank makes his way to his front door and fishes his keys out of his pocket. He kind of just wants to make it to his room without having to deal with his parents, he's already got too much shit to think about right now. As long as he can--

Fuck.

His mom and dad are both sitting at the kitchen table, silent and frowning, and Frank tenses. He's bracing himself for whatever's coming, and he knows it can't be good.

"Franklin," says his dad heavily. "We need to talk about your behavior."

Frank's first instinct is to laugh, but then the sheer fucking hypocrisy hits him in the gut and suddenly laughing is the last thing he wants to do.

"What the fuck," he says flatly. "What the fuck."

"You'll watch your mouth when you're in my house," says his dad sharply, and Frank just snaps.

"I'll watch my mouth? Wow, thanks for that, dad. You're the one who can't keep it in his fucking pants! So fucking around is fine as long as you're careful not to curse? Thanks a lot, I'm glad we've got that straightened out."

His dad is pale, his mouth pressed into a thin line, dead still but for his shaking hands. His mom is looking between them, torn, with tears sparkling in her eyelashes, but Frank isn't done yet.

"You're so fucking – holier-than-thou, telling me to watch my mouth when you've been screwing someone else. You motherfucking hypocrite, I can't fucking believe you're giving me the goddamn third degree about this. Is this a new thing, or have you been doing this all my fucking life, huh? Different rules? Telling me I've fucked up when I forget to pray and lying and sneaking off so you can fuck around?"

There's a heavy, pregnant silence, like a bomb's just fallen but it's too soon to be sure of the casualties. Frank stares at him for a long moment, breathing hard like he's been running and feeling sick to his stomach.

"Fuck you," he says quietly, finally, and walks out of the kitchen and up the stairs like there's a millstone around his neck.

As soon as he gets into his room, he slams the door shut behind him and wedges his chair under the handle. He fumbles his cell phone out of his pocket, curls up as small as he can on his bed and calls Gerard. Between his parents pulling the rug out from under his feet like that and Gerard shaking the foundations of everything he believed in, he's shit scared. He can't do this on his own, even if the only person he's got with him is a tinny voice in a cell phone speaker. Praying hasn't helped since the day Gerard fucked him, he's never felt lost like this before. It feels just like being a kid again, all of three foot six and stumbling through a forest of people, looking for his mom. Frank wants to disappear into Gerard where no one will ever find him and he'll never have to be himself again. He's fucking drowning in the guilt and the uncertainty, Gerard is all he needs right now.

He picks up on the second ring. "Frank? You okay?"

"No," Frank says inarticulately, curling his free hand into a fist, his blunt nails digging into his palm and his knuckles going pale. "Just – fucking parents. I needed... yeah. Sorry."

"Don't be." Gerard's voice is sure and steady, like an anchor, and Frank presses the phone to his ear like he's trying to drink in as much of Gerard as he can. "What happened?"

Frank exhales slowly. "They're treating me like I'm the fucking antichrist, like they don't even know me anymore, and they don't even know what we--"

It sticks in his throat. He pushes himself up off the bed, wedges the phone between his ear and his shoulder and opens his closet. He rummages around in the accumulated detritus in the bottom until his fingertips brush the side of Gerard's flask, and he pulls it out before closing the door again. "And, like," he says, turning it over in his hand. It feels reassuringly heavy and solid, even though it's empty. He flops back down on his bed and tucks the flask into the narrow gap between the wall and the mattress. It's mostly just because he doesn't have the willpower to drag his lazy ass back over to the closet, but he kind of likes the idea of having it close by. "They're just as bad as everyone else in this fucking place," he says quietly. "All the lying and the fucking double standards." By the time he's done, his eyes are stinging.

"Frank? Look, you gotta believe me," Gerard says, and Frank knows he will. He's running out of people he can trust. "You're not a sinner, you're not the fucking antichrist. You've got to stop just listening to what you're told and start thinking about it. Start asking questions, stop settling for because that's how it is."

Doubt. Gerard is asking him to Doubt, and the more Frank thinks about it, the more sense it makes. He lies there in silence for a while, curled around his cell phone, just thinking about what Gerard said earlier. Frank doesn't believe it – yet – but he thinks about it. He wonders if it's possible that maybe Gerard was right, that maybe he's the one who's been wrong all these years. He's got nowhere to look for guidance anymore, no way of being sure. He's never been so lost. Gerard has picked the first hole in his convictions and it grows every time he pulls at it, like a run in a pair of tights.

There's a faint, hesitant knock at the door. It can only be his mom. His dad always knocks like the door was talking shit about his mother.

"I've gotta go," Frank says to Gerard. "I – thanks."

"Don't thank me, just fucking do what I tell you and be okay," Gerard retorts, but there's a smile in his voice. "I'll text you tomorrow, yeah?"

Frank manages a slightly choked "Yeah, please," but Gerard's already hung up. "Come in," he says, a little louder, getting up to move the chair. His mom pushes the door open tentatively, like it's only a matter of time before he goes off again. Frank feels a familiar throb of guilt. He doesn't think he could do it all over again even if he wanted to. He feels drained, like the venom's been sucked out of him and left a gaping hole where his insides used to be.

She doesn't say a word, just sits down next to him on the bed, her shoulders slumped and shaking. Her eyes are red and puffy, and she looks so fucking tired. It's – Frank's got no better word than heart-wrenching, it feels like something in his chest is tearing, caught in some internal tug of war. He edges closer to her, and she wraps an arm around him and pulls him in, holding on fiercely. She's crying for real now, tears silvering her cheeks, and that sets Frank off too. Before he even knows what's happening he's sobbing, heaving with it and clinging to her for dear life. He wants to tell her why he's been so weird lately, he knows she's been worried and she doesn't deserve that. Fuck, she doesn't deserve any of this. He wants to tell her what he's been doing and have her tell him it's okay and she'll always love him anyway, no matter what, but he doesn't. She looks so thin and fragile and he just can't, not today.

Instead, he wriggles closer, clinging like that's going to hold them both together, and they stay like that for a while, both crying like babies. It's – it's not good, but it feels better than pretending everything's fine.

Finally, when he's all out of tears and his head is pounding, he mumbles something like, "We'll be okay," and hugs her. It feels like wishing on a star, he thinks dimly. She manages a brave little smile, and kisses the top of his head.

"I hope so, baby," she says, then takes a deep breath and stands. Frank watches her square her shoulders, wipe her eyes, set her jaw, smooth down the creases in her skirt. His mom is totally hardcore, in a church-on-Sundays, shut-up-and-eat-your-greens-Franklin kind of way. It's one of those things he knows because he's seen it time and time again, but it still creeps up on him and takes him by surprise now and then.

"What happened to rejoicing in our suffering, huh?" she says wryly, and touches his cheek before she leaves.

We'll be okay, he thinks. He fucking hopes so.

 

*

 

As soon as Frank falls asleep that night, there's something crouching in the darkness and the smell of decay is thick and over-ripe in the air. The creature has something blackened and dripping clutched in its hands, and it bares its teeth and lowers its head to take a bite. The thing throws its head back and swallows, its throat rippling obscenely.

And then it looks right at Frank, dark stuff smeared across its mouth and trickling down its chin, teeth bared in a bloody grin.

Terror wells up in Frank, sour and choking, and as Gerard reaches for him with stained, glistening fingers, Frank runs. New terrors convulse him with every step he takes, piling up around him like rotting leaves until they close over his head and leave him helpless.

Frank jerks violently back to consciousness, gasping like a drowning man. He drags in a deep, shuddering breath, grinding the heels of his hands into his eyes. These fucking nightmares are getting to him. He had bad dreams as a kid, just like everybody else, but never anything like this. These are too vivid, too real, and there are still afterimages stuttering and flickering behind his eyelashes.

He reaches out, groping blindly for his cell phone on the nightstand. He needs to talk to Gerard, just to hear his voice and convince his own sleep-muddled brain that Gerard is still himself, not the bloodied monster from Frank's bad dreams. The sickly glow of the little screen makes his eyes hurt, the names in his contact list blurred and hard to read. He scrolls past Gerard's name twice before he sees it, his hand shaking and his thumb slipping on the call button. He curls up on his side, pressing the phone to his ear.

"Frank?" Gerard sounds a little surprised, but not sleepy. "What's up?"

Frank feels a brief stab of self-consciousness. Gerard doesn't want to be bothered by Frank's stupid bad dreams. "Uh," he says anyway, his voice rough and unsteady. "Shit. Sorry, I... bad dreams. I needed to talk to someone, I guess."

You, he mentally corrects himself. I needed to talk to you.

"What was the dream about?" Gerard asks.

Frank opens his mouth to tell him, then changes his mind. Telling Gerard he's starred in several of Frank's gory nightmares as a terrifying monster would definitely be creepy. "I don't really wanna think about it," he hedges, instead.

"Okay." Frank hears a rustle of fabric, like Gerard is propping himself up on his elbows. "What do you wanna talk about?"

"Anything. I don't care, just – talk to me? About whatever you want."

"Okay," Gerard says again, and Frank shifts a little under the comforter, curling himself around the phone. Gerard isn't with him, isn't close and warm and solid for Frank to cling to, but this is the next best thing. Gerard's voice wraps around Frank in the dark, and Frank listens. Frank could listen to him talk for days. He wants to know everything there is to know about Gerard, like knowing will stop him ever leaving Frank alone. Frank wants to know what cigarettes he smokes and what his favorite soda is and which brand of whiskey he buys and what kind of Pop-Tarts he likes best. He wants to know what Gerard likes to read and who taught him to drive and what he thinks about when he jacks off.

He falls asleep with Gerard's voice still filling his head. There are no more dreams that night.

 

*

 

Frank goes to the chapel before school the next morning more out of habit than anything else. He's always loved churches (the stillness, the thick, soft silence, the way light spills through colored glass, the way the weight of the stone all around him makes him feel safe and centered), but the school chapel is almost as good. Normally, just setting foot in there makes it better, but today there's-- it's less than nothing, it's almost uneasy.

He goes up to the altar and kneels, and that's when the trouble starts. As soon as he feels the cold, hard stone tiles against his knees, all he can think about is the taste and the weight of Gerard's cock on his tongue, Gerard's hands in his hair, Gerard's filthy moans of encouragement. The worst thing of all is the way it's making him feel hot and wired all over, his brain sending confused signals sparking out through his body. This is sick. He feels dirty and ashamed for even thinking about it here. The chapel hasn't stopped being a sacred place just because his faith happens to be collapsing. He shouldn't be here.

He makes a desperate, last-ditch attempt to pray (really pray, not just go through the motions; anyone can do that), but it's no use. He beats a hasty retreat, thinking as hard as he can about unsexy things like wet socks and blisters and dead birds.

It almost works.

 

*

 

Frank's just sitting and minding his own business in Latin later that day when his cell phone buzzes with an incoming text. He waits until sister Mary Patrick is distracted by William Beckett's failure to list the ablative mood endings for second declension nouns before surreptitiously opening the message under his desk. meet me at the gates, it says. It's from Gerard.

"Class dismissed," sighs Sister Mary Patrick despairingly, and Frank is out of his seat before she's even closed her mouth again.

 

*

 

Gerard is waiting for Frank when he finally slips through the heavy double doors and dashes across the parking lot, blinking in the sunlight. Gerard is leaning against the hood of his car, smoke in hand, leather jacket casually unzipped and mirrored aviators shading his eyes. Frank isn't sure whether he wants to jump him or just be him.

"Hi," says Gerard, dropping his half-smoked cigarette and grinding it under his heel. "Get in the car, we're going somewhere."

Frank climbs obediently into the passenger seat while Gerard takes the driver's side and turns the key in the ignition. He takes his sunglasses off and hands them to Frank. Frank blinks down at them stupidly for a long moment.

Gerard rolls his eyes. "Put them on, loser," he says, and Frank does. Gerard takes a good, long look at him, smirking like there's no tomorrow.

"You're adorable," he tells Frank.

"Um," says Frank. "Thanks?"

"Don't mention it." Gerard steps on the gas and pulls out into the street.

"So where are we going?" asks Frank, when he realizes he has absolutely no idea what Gerard's got planned. His stupid, treacherous stomach is full of stupid fucking butterflies. Really, really big butterflies. Fucking owls, or something.

"What? Oh, nowhere. I was just bored this morning, you know?"

The owls in Frank's stomach flutter unhelpfully. Gerard was bored, so he came and pulled Frank out of school. Frank knows for a fact that Gerard has a Playstation and a ridiculously extensive DVD collection at his apartment, and he still came for Frank. Stupid fucking owls, Frank thinks savagely, willing himself not to blush. Going by the sly smile on Gerard's face, he's pretty sure he's failing.

Frank turns the radio on and fucks with the buttons until he finds a classic rock station, and Gerard nods approvingly.

"Good choice," he says, drumming his fingers on the wheel in time with We're Not Gonna Take It. Frank sort of starts bobbing his head along with the song, but Gerard's aviators nearly slip right off the end of his nose, so he stops.

Gerard drives out to the edge of town, pulling up on top of the hill that overlooks the patchwork of fields that stretches out as far as Frank can see.

"So," says Gerard, looking over at Frank and grinning like the Cheshire cat. "You're already cutting class and listening to the devil's music, you wanna go for the high score and make out with a dude in his car?"

Frank would laugh, but he's kind of distracted by the way he really, really does. The fucking owls are back with a vengeance, and he catches himself licking his lips. Gerard doesn't say anything, just takes his sunglasses off Frank and tosses them carelessly into the back seat, then reaches out and reels Frank in by his school tie.

Gerard kisses lightly at first, gently, pressing his closed lips to Frank's and completely throwing Frank for a loop. It feels weirdly sweet, almost – Frank doesn't know, innocent. He's used to kissing Gerard feeling wrong, like something he shouldn't be doing. The guilt hasn't gone, he's just gotten better at ignoring it and leaving it to deal with at a more convenient time.

Then Gerard makes an impatient noise, pulls on Frank's tie, gets the other hand around the back of his neck and starts kissing him for real. He kisses hard, dirty and greedy, like he wants all of Frank now. Gerard tilts Frank's head to get better access to Frank's mouth, and Frank goes limp under his hands and lets him do it. He can feel Gerard's stubble scraping against his skin, Gerard's hand in his hair, keeping Frank exactly where he wants him.

It's so much better than Frank ever imagined kissing could be. It's awesome.

Gerard pulls back and trails kisses down Frank's neck, and Frank shivers when he feels the scrape of Gerard's teeth.

"Shit, you know what I wanna do?" Gerard says roughly. "Wanna mark you up, give you a hickey that's gonna last for days. Right there on your neck where everyone can see."

Frank tenses, because – yeah. Fuck, yeah. It'd be like some kind of badge of ownership, like Gerard claiming him, and there's something in his brain telling him yes. He really wants that.

On the other hand, he's not wild about the idea of having to explain it to his parents. Or the priest. Or the Mother Superior, fuck, he'd actually die on the spot out of sheer mortification.

Gerard laughs softly against Frank's skin. "Not today," he says. "Maybe some other time, though."

Frank can't think about anything but Gerard, Gerard, Gerard. It feels like being drunk. It feels like being sugar-high. It feels amazing.

"You hard, huh? You hard for me?" Gerard's breath ghosts over the sweet spot under Frank's ear, one of his hands dropping down to palm Frank's dick through his school slacks. Frank groans, somehow managing a jerky nod and trying to push back against Gerard's hand. Gerard chuckles, low and throaty.

"God, look at you. You're so fuckin' needy," he says, and Frank whines. Even if he could string together the words to disagree, the way he's hard and rubbing himself against Gerard's hand like a cat in heat is pretty damning.

"Bet you'd suck me off right here, if I asked," Gerard breathes. Frank's breath hitches, his already scrambled train of thought derailing spectacularly. If Gerard did ask-- fuck, or even just unzipped his jeans, pushed Frank's head down and fucked his mouth, Frank knows he'd take it. Right here in the car, where there's every chance they could get caught. Fuck, there must be something wrong with him, Frank thinks wildly. There is no way he should be getting off so hard on the thought of being seen and judged, his mouth red and used and his pants not hiding anything. Slutty, he thinks, trying the label on for size as he tips his head back to give Gerard better access to his neck. Needy. An easy fuck. He can work with that, just as long as Gerard keeps touching him.

"Can I--" he starts, not really knowing how he's going to finish the question. Something. Anything. But Gerard is drawing back, making Frank's hips buck forward as he tries to chase Gerard's hand.

"Oh, no," he says, and Frank could fucking cry. "C'mon, we've got to get you back to school before the nuns come looking for you."

"I – wait, what?" Frank groans. "You're an asshole." His brain still feels slow and muddled. He catches his reflection in the rearview mirror, and his tie is crooked, his cheeks are bright pink and his hair's pretty dramatically fucked-up. He looks exactly like what he is: someone who's just been kissed senseless.

"Yup. Put your seatbelt on."

 

*

 

Frank spends the entire journey back to the school trying to talk his boner down. At least the hallway that leads to the bathroom is mercifully empty, and thank fuck for that. Frank does his best to walk to the door in a relaxed and totally non-suspicious way, but he sort of loses his cool when he's still halfway there and ends up sprinting instead. He takes a quick look around to check the bathroom's empty too, then locks himself in the stall closest to the door. He feels twitchy and buzzed, and he's still as hard as a fucking rock in his itchy school slacks. He manages to get his belt undone, but then he yanks the zipper too hard and it jams.

"Motherfucker, why?" he groans under his breath, trying frantically to tug it free again. If he doesn't get a hand on his dick in the next thirty seconds, he is actually going to die. Finally, the fucking thing comes unstuck, and he shoves his pants and his underwear down, braces one hand on the graffiti-covered wall and wraps the other one around his dick. He's trying to be quiet, but he's so fucking turned on that he can't quite stop the thin noise of relief slipping out. There could be people walking past, just on the other side of that thin wall, other kids who could make his life a living hell, nuns, so he bites his tongue and starts working his hand over his cock.

He's always felt so bad about jerking off at all that he hasn't exactly spent much time finding out what feels best, how he likes it, but he knows how to get himself off good and fast. He's embarrassingly close to the edge already, and his hand feels awesome after all Gerard's fucking teasing. He stops to spit into his palm, and it makes the slide slicker, sweeter. He can't believe he's doing this, jacking off in a school bathroom where someone could walk in on him at any moment, but he's too far gone to care.

He bites down on his hand to stifle a moan, and lets his mind wander. What'll happen if he's caught, Gerard's mouth, whether the school would call his parents, Gerard fucking him into the mattress, Gerard holding him down, Gerard marking him up and claiming him--

He comes all over his hand, hot and sticky, and collapses against the wall. The wall's pretty gross, but his knees are weak and he feels way too lightheaded to stand up on his own. Fucking hell. Jerking off has never, ever been that intense before.

Eventually, when he can think straight again, he cringes at the mess he's made and grabs a handful of toilet paper to clean himself up. The school buys the cheap, scratchy stuff, of fucking course, and the way it feels on his dick sends confused bolts of sensation shooting up his spine. Down, he thinks at it sternly. Don't you fucking dare. He feels the familiar guilt settle on his shoulders as he zips himself back into his pants and does his belt up, but it doesn't seem quite as heavy as it would have done a few months ago.

He tries not to think about what that might mean.

 

*

 

"Okay," says Sister Alicia, leaning back against her desk. She likes to walk around the classroom while she teaches, her habit billowing out behind her. Frank's still kind of on the fence as to whether it's just disconcerting or actually kind of badass. "What would you say is more important: making sure you're not hurting anyone else, or doing what you're told?" She rakes her gaze over them all, clearly expecting an answer.

"But," says William, abandoning his attempt to finger-comb his hair out of his face. "You meant unless you're going against the Bible, right? That doesn't count."

Sister Alicia raises an eyebrow. "Did I stutter, William?" she says sweetly, and Frank sort of grinds to a halt. He replays it in his head, but no, she definitely said what he thought she did. Most of the class is pretty much comatose, as usual, but Frank is listening. Two rows across from Frank, Mikey is suddenly sitting up straight, a faint suggestion of interest on his face. By Mikey's standards, that's probably tantamount to actual hearts in his eyes.

And then Frank's phone shivers and lights up with a text from Gerard that says, theres a storm on the way. im coming to pick u up from school. Just seeing Gerard's name on the screen is enough to set anticipation curling in Frank's belly, and he relegates Sister Alicia to the bottom of his list of priorities.

When the bell finally rings ten minutes later, Frank goes out to loiter by the school's heavy double doors and search for Gerard's car. It's raining hard, the clouds hurling water down to the ground. Frank peers out, trying to get a better look at the dark shape pulling up outside the gates. The horn blares, and he can feel his biggest, dorkiest grin unfolding on his face. He pulls his thin blazer up over his head and sprints out across the parking lot. Gerard leans over and opens the passenger door for Frank and he falls into the seat, yanking it shut again behind him.

Gerard looks him over. "You look like a drowned rat," he says. "Did you miss me?"

"And you look like a smug, car-driving asshole," Frank returns, tugging his blazer around his shoulders. He swallows his answer to Gerard's question. Yes, I fucking missed you, I've been waiting to see you all day. Gerard hits the gas and pulls out into the road.

 

*

 

He parks again under a dead tree with a murder of bedraggled crows perched in its rotting branches, on the crest of the tallest hill on the edge of town. Frank's pretty sure this way is west, miles and miles of fields and more hills outlined faintly in the distance. The clouds overhead are heavy and bloated-looking, all iron grey and bruised purple. The rain hammers against the windshield, and a flare of lightning leaves Frank blinking glowing afterimages away.

And then Gerard looks over at him and says, "Nice day to take a walk outside, huh?"

Frank cracks up, but Gerard is wild-eyed, wearing that slightly manic smile that Frank has learned to associate with Bad Things.

He looks out at the rain, and back at Gerard. "You're crazy," he says.

"And?"

"Uh, you're gonna get struck by lightning and die?"

"Maybe. You wanna find out?"

He's out of the car and into the rain before Frank can stop him. Frank follows him instinctively with some vague, half-formed idea about dragging Gerard's moronic ass back to the car, but Gerard is already moving out into the long grass, rain soaking his hair and his clothes in seconds.

"For whom we are about to deceive, may the Lord make us truly thankful," Gerard intones, perfectly deadpan.

Frank cracks the fuck up, but with slightly nervous laughter. "You can't say that," he splutters, swatting at Gerard's arm. "It's--"

"It was a joke, god!" Gerard spreads his arms out wide. He tilts his head back, water falling on his face and running down his neck. "If I have pissed off the Almighty," he yells up to the sky, "may I be struck down by lightning. Happy?"

For a crazy split second, Frank thinks it's actually going to happen. But it doesn't, and Gerard just stands there, his clothes clinging to his skin, his eyes wild, grinning like standing in the rain is the best thing ever. Like a blessing, or the Rapture. There's something crackling around him, some kind of power, fizzing and sparking bright in the damp air. Sudden, senseless laughter bubbles up in Frank, and he's stumbling out to join Gerard before he even knows what he's doing.

"You came!" Gerard shouts over a distant rumble of thunder. "Would you honor me with a dance?" He offers Frank his rain-soaked hand, and Frank cracks up all over again.

"The honor would be all mine," he yells back, breathless already, batting his eyelashes at Gerard. Gerard fucking beams, gathering Frank into his arms and dragging him further out into the field for a clumsy, graceless waltz. The grass is slippery under their feet and the earth under the grass is soft and muddy already, and Frank pretty much just surrenders to Gerard's lead.

"You dance like you were born in a barn, my lady," Gerard says, as lightning splits the sky over the hills.

Frank snorts. "And you have all the poise and grace of a rhino, good sir," he hollers back, slipping and falling against Gerard's chest. He's practically fucking giddy, his sides aching with laughter. This is – this is like nothing he's ever had before. This is easy. Gerard laughs, pulling him closer.

"My lady!" he says, mock-shocked. "I must object to your being so forward!" He doesn't loosen his hold on Frank, though, just drops the hand resting on Frank's back down a little lower, and Frank pushes into the touch. He's never wanted Gerard to kiss him this much before. But Gerard just draws back, pressing a kiss to the back of Frank's hand instead and leaving Frank all wired and wanting, fuck.

"Another night, my lady," says Gerard gravely. "I would not risk your reputation by indulging my own selfish impulses."

"Then you, good sir, are a dickbag," Frank retorts. He feels stupidly disappointed. Gerard just laughs like the asshole he is.

"Patience," he says, with a smirk. Frank rolls his eyes and shoves him. Not particularly mature, he doesn't think, but totally deserved. A drop of rain drips off the edge of Gerard's nose, and Frank catches himself staring. He kind of wants to lick it off. Gerard totally caught him looking too, and Frank's stomach does this weird little flutter-skip. He feels like he's almost-something, he just doesn't know what. Almost feels fucking incredible, though, reckless and wind-through-your-hair exhilarating.

Gerard bows with a flourish, his hair swinging forward over his face and rain falling on the pale nape of his neck.

"The hour grows late," he says, offering Frank his arm. "Shall we retire?"

Frank links his arm through Gerard, and Gerard leads him back through the mud to the car. Frank's teeth are chattering already, and Gerard turns the heating up. The small space feels even smaller than usual, Gerard rain-drenched and close enough to touch. Frank can see his eyelashes clumped together, tiny droplets of water clinging to them. A few strands of his hair are already drying into a little flyaway curl over his forehead, and his grin is lopsided and infectious. It's back, that strange, singing power in the air around him. Frank can't look away.

Gerard fishes the key out of his pocket and wipes it on the edge of his seat to dry it off.

"You should know," he says seriously, as he turns the key in the ignition, "I have a dastardly plan to lure you in with coffee."

"No luring needed, you had me at coffee," Frank says fervently, wrapping his arms around himself, and Gerard smiles and hits the gas.

 

*

 

"I'm gonna get pneumonia," Frank calls. "Again. Maybe I'll die."

He heaves himself up off the couch and squelch-drips his way into the kitchen, jumping up onto the counter and kicking his feet like a little kid. He wouldn't dream of doing the same in anyone else's kitchen, but he's pretty sure the Ways' counters have seen a hell of a lot worse than a little rainwater.

"Pneumonia, huh? We can't have that," says Gerard, pouring a generous splash of something honey-colored and boozy-smelling into a chipped mug of steaming coffee. He hands it to Frank and he takes it gratefully, curling his hands around the yellowed porcelain and enjoying the heat. He closes his eyes and inhales deeply. It smells fucking incredible, rich and dark and spiky. Gerard likes his coffee strong enough to fell the Incredible Hulk, and between that and whatever he's spiked Frank's with, it's enough to make Frank cough and splutter. He drinks it anyway; the feeling of warmth spreading out through every inch of him is toe-curlingly delicious. His mom and dad usually don't even let him have coffee, they say it gets him too hyped up. He takes another sip, letting it burn his tongue.

Gerard eyes his own reflection in the microwave window, pursing his lips thoughtfully and tilting his head from side to side. "My fuckin' roots are showing," he says sadly. "I'll have to go and get some more dye. Does this place even have anywhere that sells it?"

"You dye it?" Frank asks, downing another sip of his coffee. Now he's looking, he can kind of see it. He knows some of his mom's friends from church bleach theirs blonde or try to cover up their grey hairs, but Frank doesn't think he's ever met a dude who colors his. "Why?"

Gerard shrugs, still peering at his reflection. "I just like it better like this, I guess. It's like wearing lipstick, you know?" he says. "Like, it's just color, but it makes you feel different."

Frank means to nod thoughtfully and make an intelligent face. Instead, he makes a face like a startled goldfish and says, "You – lipstick?"

"What?" Gerard looks over his shoulder at Frank, one eyebrow raised. "Don't tell me you've never tried it."

Frank shakes his head, and Gerard's face splits into a sharp-edged grin. "C'mon," he says, grabbing Frank by the hand and pulling him down off the counter. Frank stumbles after him into the bathroom, wondering when he's going to wake up from this bizarre fever dream that bears no resemblance to his actual life.

"Up here," says Gerard, patting the counter and bending down to rummage in the cupboard under the sink. Frank climbs up obediently, sitting with his back to the mirror and his feet dangling off the edge. Gerard finally finds what he was looking for and fishes it out with a triumphant cry, and moves back to stand in front of Frank. He pulls the cap off, and offers Frank the tube. It's a bright, lurid red, almost glowing under the single bare light bulb, and for a split second Frank can see a snake coiled around a gleaming apple.

"Go on." Gerard's smiling that smile that makes Frank feel like he's not in on the joke.

"I'll fuck it up, you do it," says Frank. He has a feeling that this was what Gerard had in mind all along.

Gerard nudges Frank's legs apart so he can get between them, then leans in until he's so close that Frank can feel the warmth of his skin. He curls one hand around the back of Frank's neck, his thumb resting on Frank's cheek, holding Frank exactly where he wants him.

"Open," he says, and Frank opens his mouth obediently. Gerard drags the lipstick slowly over Frank's bottom lip, and then the top. He leans back slightly to get a good look at his handiwork, then says, "Okay, you gotta, like, press 'em together. Like this."

He demonstrates, and Frank does his best to copy the ridiculously distracting thing Gerard's doing with his mouth. "Like that?" he says. The lipstick feels fucking weird, waxy and sort of sweet-tasting, and Frank's heart is kicking in his chest.

"Take a look." Gerard nods at the mirror behind Frank, and Frank twists around to see.

His eyes go straight to his reflection's red, open mouth. He knows it's still his face, but he looks – different. Needy and wanting. He feels just as desperate and slutty now as he did on his hands and knees, begging Gerard to fuck him harder. Sinner, he thinks. Whore for color. He stares.

"Pretty," says Gerard softly, looking over Frank's shoulder. "Such a pretty fuckin' girl, Frank, fuck."

Frank spins back to face Gerard without even thinking. He needs Gerard to touch him now, needs his hands or his mouth or whatever Gerard will give him. Gerard gets one hand in Frank's hair and pulls him in until they're pressed flush against each other, Gerard's mouth hot and wet on Frank's. Gerard bites down on Frank's lip, and Frank's hard and rutting mindlessly against Gerard before he even knows what's happening. When Gerard breaks the kiss, his hair is sticking up crazily and there's red smeared all around his mouth.

He looks almost too good to be true, like he's suddenly the only thing there is. Frank would die for him right now, Gerard's name on his bloody lips.

Gerard starts to tug him down off the counter. Frank goes willingly, and then drops to his knees.

"I – can I?" he asks shakily, because he wants. He wants to taste Gerard, wants to leave the color on his skin as if that'll somehow make Frank his. Gerard is already unzipping his jeans and pushing them down, and Frank licks his lips. The light in the bathroom does weird things to Gerard's skin, makes him look even paler than he really is, but his cock is flushed and hard already and Frank cannot fucking wait any longer.

It isn't the first time he's done this, so he's expecting – fuck, anticipating the stretch and the taste. This time, though, Gerard's just letting Frank do what he wants, like this is some kind of reward or something, fuck. Frank's dick twitches in his jeans, and he sinks down and takes Gerard as deep as he can. He has to pull off before long, his eyes watering, but when he looks up, the heat in Gerard's eyes makes his stomach flip. Frank's knees are already sore and cold from the tiles, but he's so far past caring right now, so he dips his head again and mouths at Gerard's cock. He feels almost drunk. There's just something about the heat of Gerard's skin and the salty, musky taste of him that's going to Frank's head.

Gerard is making appreciative noises, his hips bucking forward into Frank's mouth, and it's good, it's so fucking good. Frank's dick is pressing painfully against his zipper.

"Yeah," breathes Gerard, his voice rough. "Shit, Frank, just like that. Fuck, yeah."

Frank whines and sucks harder, working his tongue against the underside of Gerard's cock. He can see the smudges of color he's leaving, stark and shocking against Gerard's skin. God, that was him. He put them there and he's the one making Gerard moan like that. There's no fucking way this should be so hot, and there's absolutely no way Frank should be enjoying being down on his knees this much, no way he should be getting this turned on by sucking cock.

Gerard's thrusts are getting quicker and more erratic, his cock hitting the back of Frank's throat every time, and Frank works not to gag. He's been sloppy, but the spit just makes the slide better as Gerard uses Frank's mouth and tells him how good he feels, how well he's doing.

Frank can feel it when Gerard's close; he goes tense and Frank fucking moans. Gerard's hips snap forward one last time, and then he's coming with a filthy groan. Frank tastes the first pulse of his come, slick and bitter like he remembers, but then Gerard pulls out and Frank barely has time to screw his eyes shut before he feels it streaking his face, hot and sticky and so fucking dirty. When he opens his eyes again, Gerard is looking down at him – fuck, possessively, and Frank's breath hitches.

Gerard reaches down and pulls Frank up by his shirt, and Frank gets such a fierce head rush that he's sure he'd fall right back down if Gerard didn't have an arm around him. Gerard's running his filthy mouth right by Frank's ear, and when he finally manages to get Frank's jeans unzipped and his underwear shoved out of the way, Frank is so, so ready. Gerard licks his palm and starts jacking Frank off with quick, firm strokes, and Frank lasts about twenty seconds before he comes so hard his knees nearly give out. He presses his face into Gerard's neck and tries to get his breath back, but Gerard chuckles and pokes him in the ribs.

"Shit, look at us," he says, and Frank does. Next to each other in the mirror, both tousled and panting and lipstick-smeared, they look like they match. Like they're part of the same set, like this is right, Frank thinks, and he feels something warm settling on his shoulders.

 

*

 

For the first time in living memory, Frank's birthday sneaks up on him. His mom wakes him up with breakfast in bed (facon and eggs and two thick pieces of toast) and fifty dollars for his guitar fund, and his first instinct is to ask who died.

"My baby," she says, looking kind of misty-eyed, and Frank puts two and two together. Oops. He feels almost guilty about forgetting, but he's been so caught up in Gerard he just lost track of the days.

"Thanks, Mom," he says, his voice still sleep-fuzzed, and she beams at him.

"Happy birthday, Frankie." She leans down to gather him into a hug, and he sort of just... clings. "I'll take you into school today, okay? We'll do dinner later. C'mon, up and dressed unless you want to spend your birthday in detention."

He groans and burrows deeper under the coverlet, and she laughs and leaves him to get ready.

 

*

 

happy birthday, frank ;) celebrating?

Frank blinks down at the text, re-reading it to make sure he hasn't misunderstood. The fucking owls are back with a vengeance. Gerard knew, and more to the point he remembered. He ignores the part of his brain currently doing a victory lap, and tries to put a coherent response together.

thanks! umm probably not, just dinner with mom and dad i guess. Or maybe not, he still hasn't heard his mom and dad speaking to each other since his mom found out about Annie Carver. He sends the text anyway, then notices Sister Mary Robert giving him the stink eye and goes back to pretending to be very absorbed in his quadratic equations.

thats a crime, Gerard replies a minute later. be ready at 8. i'm taking you out.

Frank can feel himself grinning like a total dork, but his phone shivers in his hand again before he can write back.

what are you doing in school anyway? you could be here. i could be sucking your dick right now.

And that's the moment when Frank's train of thought derails spectacularly.

holy shit gerard, he sends back. There's a lot more he wants to say – are you trying to kill me?, for a start – but he's concentrating pretty hard on not popping a boner in the middle of math. There's a nun in the room, for fuck's sake. A nun who is actually going to skin Frank alive if she catches him texting in class again, let alone finds out what's in the texts.

When his phone buzzes again, he thinks for a whole second and a half about whether he wants to open the message.

bet youd look fuckin gorgeous all spread out on my bed. bet that pretty fuckin face would look even better when my mouth's on your dick.

Frank is pretty sure he actually makes a really fucking undignified face at that, because – fuck. He has no words, probably because most of the blood flow to his brain seems to have been redirected to his dick.

He settles for replying with !!!!!!!.

but youre in school, so i guess itll have to wait, right? comes the reply, and Frank wants to bang his head against his desk until everything disappears.

i hate you, he types, and punches the send button with a lot more force than necessary.

i am v concerned about your attitude to your education, frank, Gerard replies, and Frank goes back to puzzling over the fucking quadratic equations. He's either going to die of blue balls, or he's going to get caught and die of embarrassment. Either way, it's going to be Gerard's fucking fault.

 

*

 

Somehow, he survives the rest of the day, and the smell of his mom's veggie lasagna hits him in the face as soon as he gets the front door open. He stands there for a minute, just breathing it in. His mom's veggie lasagna is the best, he doesn't even care what anyone else says. She won't even tell him what she puts in the sauce, that's how top-secret her recipe is.

"Frank?" She appears from the kitchen wearing one oven glove, her hair in a messy ponytail and a pencil tucked behind her ear.

"Hi, Mom," he says, kicking his shoes off and letting her hug him like she's trying to stop him going anywhere ever again.

"Hi, sweetheart, I thought I heard you come in. How was school?"

"Uh, fine? You know, the usual sh-- stuff." Frank figures that it's not technically lying as long as she doesn't ask him whether he's spent most of the day having impure thoughts about Gerard's mouth.

"Good. Dinner at seven, okay?" She kisses him on the cheek, then steps back and shakes her head. She looks kind of misty-eyed again. Frank hopes to fuck she isn't going to cry. If there's one thing he is totally not qualified to deal with, it's more crying parents. "Seventeen," she says. "Where did the time go, huh?"

He doesn't really know what to say to that, so he just sort of stands there and shifts awkwardly from foot to foot until she's pulled herself together again.

"Go on, go do your homework," she says, rolling her eyes at him, and he flees.

 

*

 

Frank doesn't get any of his homework done, mostly because every time he tries he keeps hearing Gerard's voice in his head. I could be sucking you off right now. Bet you'd look fucking gorgeous, all spread out on my bed. Seriously, this is the shit wet dreams are made of. How the fuck is he supposed to concentrate on Latin grammar? One day, sister Mary Patrick is going to accept that Frank does not and is never going to give a shit about declensions or the ablative mood or whatever the fuck a gerundive is.

He ends up having to jack off in the shower just to take the edge off. It's too quick and pretty unsatisfying, but he thinks he should at least be able to control himself until dinner's over.

And then when dinner's over, Gerard's going to be there. Frank doesn't know what he's got planned, but he can't fucking wait.

 

*

 

Time creeps by ridiculously slowly, even when Frank finally gives up on his English lit assignment and tries to read instead. He's pretty sure he's read the same page four or five times without actually taking in a word, so when his mom finally calls him down for dinner, it's kind of a relief.

It stops being a relief pretty much as soon as he gets into the kitchen. His mom is standing at the counter, serving the lasagna up onto plates, and his dad's already sitting down at the table. The tension is thick and choking and horrible, and Frank can practically smell the fight they've just finished having. It suddenly hits him how hard he'd been hoping that things were getting better, and his heart kind of sinks.

His mom and dad spend dinner making stiff, carefully polite conversation while Frank sits and eats and tries to smile. No one laughs once. It's fucking awful, it just feels wrong. The sooner he's out of this house, the better.

When the doorbell rings, he's out of his chair immediately and running for the door. Thank fucking god.

"I'll get it!" he calls, hearing his mom and dad getting up to follow him into the hall.

He opens the door, and there's Gerard standing on the doorstep in clean black jeans and a button-down shirt, his hands in his pockets and a big, guileless grin on his face. He even looks like he's washed his hair. Frank is about to ask him who he is and what he's done with the real Gerard, but Gerard is reaching out to shake Frank's dad's hand before Frank can get a word in edgeways.

"Hi, sir," he says cheerfully. "Nice to meet you, I'm a friend of Frank's."

Frank can feel hysterical laughter bubbling in his gut. This is like some kind of crazy surrealist painting or something – his dad and Gerard, what the fuck – and Gerard looking all... clean.

"Oh, from school?" says Frank's mom from somewhere behind him.

"Gerard. Nice to meet you, ma'am," Gerard beams, neatly avoiding the question. Frank's either going to piss himself laughing or break a rib trying not to laugh, it could go either way right now. Ma'am, what the fuck.

And then Gerard says, "I wanted to ask if Frank could come and hang out. Nothing big, just, you know, for his birthday," and then Frank gets it. Gerard is fucking smart.

"I'm not--" Frank's mom starts, but his dad is already just shoving him out of the door. Frank's dad is a total sucker for being called "sir."

"Sure, sure, of course it's okay," he says. "Have fun, kids! See you later, Frank."

As the door closes behind him and Gerard tugs him onto the street, Frank distinctly hears his mom say approvingly, "What a nice, polite boy. That's one whose mother brought him up right."

And then Frank laughs. He laughs until he can hardly breathe, clinging to Gerard for support. "That," he says weakly, as soon as he's capable of speech again, "Was fuckin' hilarious."

"I am a man of many faces," says Gerard archly, and Frank laughs at that too, but it's actually sort of true.

"So, uh, where are we going?" he asks as they round the corner, but Gerard just smirks.

"Patience, Frank," he says. "Good things come to boys who wait."

Frank shivers. He can wait.

Gerard leads Frank up the street to where his car's parked, then opens the door and grabs a plastic bag from the back seat.

"Here," he says, pulling something black out of the bag and tossing it to Frank. Frank catches it by his fingertips, and frowns down at it.

"What do I...?"

"It's a cape." Gerard is grinning. "Put it on and get in. We're going trick-or-treating, motherfucker."

 

*

 

"I cannot fucking believe you've never done this before," Gerard says an hour later as they make their way down the street, carrying the plastic bag (now full of candy) between them. He tsks, and shakes his head. "Fuckin' disgraceful."

Honestly, Frank can't really believe it either. His mom and dad never let him trick-or-treat on the grounds that it was a tasteless pagan holiday, and because Frank never knew what he was missing, it never bothered him much. Now, though, he feels almost cheated. It doesn't feel like the cheap, vulgar thing he's always been told it is. The night is chilly and smoky-smelling, deep blue and speckled with glowing orange jack-o-lanterns. The shadows are doing strange things to Gerard's face, too – he looks almost unearthly, so fucking pretty Frank's finding it difficult to keep walking in a straight line.

"Okay," says Gerard, when he's pulled his unnerving "nice boy" act on another unsuspecting housewife for a handful of Hershey's Kisses. He peers into the bag. It's practically bursting at the seams, and the handles have stretched so much they're cutting into Frank's fingers. "I think that's about as much as we can carry."

Frank doesn't mean to look disappointed, he really doesn't, but it must show on his face anyway. He's so fucking grateful to Gerard for this, but he wasn't quite ready for it to be over so soon.

"Oh, we're not done yet," Gerard practically fucking purrs, and Frank feels all lit up, like someone's hollowed him out and lit a candle inside. "I'm hurt," he says, making big, wounded eyes at Frank. "You should know me better."

Fucking owls. They're back again.

Gerard grins, and starts up the street again. "C'mon, Frank," he says over his shoulder. "We're just getting started."

 

*

 

"You have got to be shitting me," says Frank.

"Nope." Gerard is already swinging himself over the fence. "What, you scared of a few old bones or something?"

"It's a graveyard," Frank points out.

"Shit, you ever think about becoming a detective? You've totally got the skills for it. Anyway, at least the company's good."

"You," says Frank, "Are one sick fuck."

He grabs the cold, rusted iron of the fence and clambers over after Gerard. His conscience twinges at the fact that they're basically trespassing on church property and probably disrespecting the dead to boot, but it's not like they're going to damage anything.

He hopes.

He pushes the guilt aside for later, and follows Gerard into the dark.

"Okay," Gerard announces, after a minute or two of Frank stumbling after him. He leads Frank to a lightless, secluded spot under a skeletal tree, and drops the bag on the ground. It keels over, spilling candy onto the grass. Gerard digs in his pocket and pulls out a lighter and the stub of a candle, lights it, and hands it to Frank.

"Make yourself comfortable," he says dryly, with a slight smirk. "I'll be right back."

"You'll-- Gerard? Wait, where are you..." Frank trails off. Gerard's already vanished into the night, leaving Frank feeling very, very alone.

In a graveyard. On All Hallows' Eve.

Frank swears under his breath and sits himself down on the damp grass to wait, holding the candle tightly. The air smells different here, thick and heavy with something like the scent of damp soil, but – different. Grave dirt, he thinks, and a shiver crawls down his spine. Somehow, though, it's not a bad shiver, just a... thrill. He feels like he shouldn't be here, but not strongly enough to make him want to leave. The candlelight throws strange shadows, flickering gold in the thick darkness. Frank wonders again if he's dreaming, or if he's just fallen down the rabbit hole.

It isn't long before Gerard reappears, looking really fucking pleased with himself. He's carrying something under his arm, and he sits down opposite Frank and holds it up to the candle.

"That isn't..." Frank says disbelievingly.

"But it is."

"You did not steal the fucking communion wine!" Frank is cracking up despite himself.

"But I did." Gerard shrugs easily. "No one's gonna ask any questions, I swear. Father Agostino likes a drink, if anyone even notices they'll assume it was him and if he notices he'll think he just forgot about drinking it. No one's gonna know. Anyway," he adds, flashing Frank a beguiling smile as he goes to work on the cork. "It's your birthday, so you get something special."

The words are innocent enough, but Frank's pretty sure he can hear something else in there that's very much not, and it makes his stomach flip. Gerard finally gets the bottle open and drinks, and Frank watches the candlelight playing on his throat as he swallows.

"Your turn," he says, passing the bottle to Frank and taking the candle in exchange. Frank takes it and drinks, tasting it thick and slightly bitter on his tongue.

"Communion wine," he says again once he's swallowed, shaking his head incredulously. "Fuck, you're just--"

"Amazing, I know," says Gerard complacently, taking the bottle back. He knocks back another mouthful and then holds the bottle up, the candle flickering in his other hand. "Cheers," he says. "Happy birthday, Frank."

His eyes are dark, his skin practically glowing in the light and his hair windswept and Frank – just can't quite look away. Gerard leans in slowly and presses his mouth to Frank's. Frank opens up eagerly, wanting more, but Gerard pulls back just enough to rest his forehead against Frank's.

"Shit, you're not even drunk yet," he murmurs, with this little crooked smile that does things to Frank's stomach.

"Was that a challenge?" asks Frank, feeling brave and stupid and kind of dizzy. Gerard quirks an eyebrow and passes him the wine again. He definitely isn't drunk yet, but the wine is going to his head already. He imagines it crawling through his veins, rich and slow and heady.

Gerard's watching him hungrily, and as soon as Frank's put the bottle down, Gerard wraps the hand not holding the candle around the back of Frank's neck and pulls him in to kiss him again. Gerard tastes like wine. His mouth is hot, and Frank feels goosebumps rising on his arms.

"So?" Gerard asks a minute later.

Frank blinks at him. "Uh?"

"Wine. You think you could get used to it?"

Frank manages a jerky nod. His brain is still too scrambled to form coherent sentences and he feels full of light, like there are corpse-fed fireflies under his skin. Gerard smiles, pleased, and hands Frank the guttering candle.

"Hold that," he says, and reaches into the heap of candy that's escaped from the bag. The light glitters on the wrappers, and the noise sounds like fall leaves. Gerard pulls something out and unwraps it, holding it out to Frank.

"Open wide."

Frank does. It's chocolate, almost unbearably sweet after the wine. He must be making a stupid face, because Gerard laughs, low and warm, and reaches for a second one.

 

*

 

By the time the bottle is empty, the candle has stammered out and their trick-or-treating spoils have all been eaten, Frank is fucking flying. He feels weightless, slow and lazy with the booze but humming and sparking with the sugar high. Everything looks... different. More. He could swear it's magic thickening his blood. He wants to run until his lungs burn, just for the hell of it.

Gerard is kissing him again. At this point, Frank pretty much just doesn't want him to ever stop, so he makes an unhappy noise when Gerard breaks the kiss.

"What--" he starts, but then Gerard is pushing Frank down onto his back in the grass and slinging one leg over his hips. And, oh. Yeah, that's much better. Gerard kisses greedily, his tongue sliding hot and dirty against Frank's and his hips grinding down. The ground feels cold and damp underneath him but he's so warm, pinned by Gerard's weight on top of him, kissing him like Frank's the only thing he wants right now.

It's kind of amazing.

Gerard mouths at the sweet spot under Frank's ear, then leaves a string of messy, open-mouthed kisses down Frank's neck, and Frank fucking keens.

"Okay," says Gerard roughly, and Frank's stomach drops. "Okay, c'mon. We're going home."

 

*

 

Gerard is on him again as soon as the apartment door has closed behind them, shoving Frank up against the wall.

"Fuckin' beautiful," he groans. "Frank. Frankie. Fuck. Wanna suck you."

Frank makes a thin, strangled noise. He's been hard pretty much since Gerard pushed him down onto his back like it was nothing, and the thought of Gerard's hot, wet mouth wrapped around his dick is almost too much.

Gerard drags him into the bedroom, flicking light switches as he goes, and yanks Frank's jeans and his underwear down. Frank falls backwards onto the bed, propping himself up on his elbows as Gerard settles himself between Frank's thighs.

"You know," he says, glancing up to meet Frank's eyes, "You've got a really fucking nice cock. Shit, look at you."

Frank groans, tipping his head back, and Gerard chuckles and braces one hand on Frank's hip. Frank's as hard as a fucking rock and leaking, his cock flushed and jutting up over his belly. Gerard's tongue darts out to wet his lips. He ducks his head, nuzzling at the crease between Frank's thigh and his hip, and, fuck, it's not nearly enough. His hips twitch upwards, but Gerard's still holding him down. He smiles against Frank's skin, pressing a kiss to his hipbone, then moves back up to lick at the head of his cock, tasting him. Frank's breath hitches, because – yeah. Gerard takes his time, dragging his tongue up the length of Frank, and it isn't until Frank's writhing and fucking begging that he finally gets his mouth around the head and starts to suck. His tongue flicks against Frank's slit, and Frank lets out an involuntary moan. Gerard looks up at him with something dark and hot in his eyes, and then goes down, swallowing Frank until his nose is buried in Frank's pubes, Frank's dick nudging at the back of his throat, and Frank is completely transfixed by the sight of Gerard's lips stretched around him.

Gerard sucks greedily, swallowing around Frank and making needy, hungry noises like Frank's cock is the best thing he's ever tasted, and it's ridiculous, but Frank is more than halfway there already. Gerard is going at it like a fucking porn star, like every filthy centerfold Frank's caught a glimpse of before averting his eyes. He's sucking hard and doing things with his tongue that Frank's pretty sure are illegal in several states. Or if they're not, they probably should be, because holy shit. Gerard pulls back, his tongue working at Frank's slit again, and Frank fucking shouts. Gerard looks up at him, unashamed and brazen. Frank kind of always thought the person on the receiving end of a blowjob would be the one in control, but that is so not what's happening here and Frank is beyond okay with that.

Gerard pulls off completely and licks all the way up Frank's cock and back down, mouthing at his balls. Frank makes a shocked, choked noise, and Gerard looks up at him with a raised eyebrow.

"Good," Frank pants. "So good, oh my God, don't fuckin' stop, please."

"Taking the Lord's name in vain now, huh?" Gerard smirks, and goes back down, tracing the throbbing vein on the underside of Frank's dick with his tongue. Frank's fingers clench convulsively in the sheets. He's got too much booze and too much sugar still shooting through him to have much self-control, but this is so good and he's not ready for it to be over yet.

Gerard moans around him, low and filthy, and the vibrations go right through Frank. Gerard's mouth is hot and wet and impossibly tight and he's sucking like he's fucking hungry for it, which is so hot Frank can't even deal with it. Gerard pulls off again, replacing his mouth with his hand and working it over Frank's spit-slick dick.

"Shit," he says, sounding hoarse and breathless. "I always forget how good this is. Fuckin' love it, Frank, you taste so fuckin' good. Wanna do this again sometime, get you all worked up and begging for it."

Frank bites down on his tongue. Gerard's filthy mouth is actually going to be the death of him, he's sure. His hips twitch upwards, fucking into Gerard's hand, but Gerard's still talking, jacking him almost lazily.

"Just wanna hold you down, suck you until you come and keep going, see how fast I can get you hard again. You like that?"

"Fucking – fuck," Frank grits out. He can feel the heat building low in his stomach as he gets close. "Please, just..."

He trails off into a whine as Gerard twists his hand on the upstroke and laughs softly.

"Okay," he says. "Okay, you've earned it, you've been so good. Gonna get you off now."

He sinks down again, not bothering with anything fancy, just sucking with single-minded determination, and Frank's orgasm sneaks up on him and then hits him like a punch in the gut. He arches up, spilling into Gerard's mouth, and Gerard stays right where he is. Finally, when Frank's whimpering and oversensitive, he pulls off, a smear of – fucking hell, of Frank's come on his cheek, and Frank tries to fix the way he looks right now in his memory. Gerard is hotter than any porn could ever be, real and fucked-out and panting. Gerard wipes his cheek and licks his fingers clean, his eyes hot and dark, and sits back on his heels. Frank feels like Gerard's liquefied all his bones and sucked them out through his dick, but he makes a weak attempt at reaching for the zipper of Gerard's jeans.

"Nah, I'm good," Gerard says. His voice is rough, and Frank sucks in a long breath at the thought that he did that, that Gerard sounds like that because Frank's cock was halfway down his throat just now. Fuck, that's hot.

Gerard unzips his jeans, shoving them down and getting his cock out. He's hard and leaking, definitely thicker as well as longer than Frank. "'M gonna jerk off," he says, "And you're gonna watch."

Frank nearly swallows his tongue. Yeah. Fuck yeah. His dick gives a confused little twitch, and if he hadn't just come so hard he'd be on his way back to a boner right now.

Gerard spits into his palm and reaches down, wrapping his fingers around himself and jerking hard and fast. He's not teasing, just fisting his dick so fast his hand is practically a blur. His head is tipped back, exposing the line of his throat and the cut of his jaw, and his mouth is slack but his eyes are fixed on Frank. Strands of hair are sticking to his forehead and there's a deep flush of color in his cheeks, and Frank just stares. Gerard's touching himself like he's got no shame at all, and Frank is hypnotized by the movement of his hand on his cock as his hips stutter forward.

His eyes are still locked with Frank's as he strokes himself once, twice more and comes into his hand with a broken groan. He slumps, spent and practically glowing, and wipes his hand on the sheets.

"You're gross," Frank tells him, still too high on it all to have anything resembling a brain-to-mouth filter. He pokes Gerard with his foot.

Gerard doesn't look too upset. "Yeah," he says, with a big, self-satisfied smirk, "But you love me anyway, don't even front."

Frank's mouth goes dry, just like that, and he's suddenly acutely aware of his own heartbeat.

Gerard laughs, and pinches Frank's thigh. "Just fucking with you, man," he says lightly, and Frank can breathe again.

"Sure," he says. "I knew that."

But Gerard throws him a little sidelong smile anyway, and Frank's gut feels all hot and squirmy. They lie there in silence for a minute or two, just breathing, and then Gerard swats Frank's arm affectionately.

"C'mon, Cinderella," he says. "Pumpkin time. Let's get you home."

 

*

 

Before he lets Frank out of the car, Gerard kisses him one last time and murmurs a low, warm happy birthday in his ear. Frank feels like he's fucking walking on air. He doesn't know what's happening, but he's pretty sure he doesn't ever want it to end.

 

*

 

There are some things you just don't expect to see in a church because the thought of them being there hadn't even crossed your mind, and it just makes no sense for them to be there. A herd of rhino, for instance, or a real live dragon.

That's sort of how Frank feels when Gerard plops down next to him in the pew the next Sunday, dressed in sober black and white Sunday best.

"What are you doing here?" Frank hisses out of the corner of his mouth. Having Gerard in such close proximity to his parents is making him nervous.

Gerard waves a cheerful hello to Frank's mom and dad. "I resent your assumption that I need an ulterior motive to visit the Lord's house," he whispers back to Frank, deadpan.

"I hate you."

"Liar, liar," Gerard sing-songs. Frank ignores him.

 

*

 

Frank is supremely distracted all the way through Mass, and it's only through muscle memory and force of habit that he remembers which parts he has to stand up for. What's getting to him is the fact that Gerard isn't doing anything.

He isn't trying to grope Frank, he isn't muttering darkly about the parts of the sermon he disagrees with, he isn't doing – well, anything. He's just sitting there, listening attentively and going through the motions like he's been doing it all his life. Frank knows he's up to something, and he isn't going to be able to relax until he knows what. Gerard is probably enjoying watching him squirm, the sick fuck.

It isn't until halfway through the Prayer of the Faithful that shit starts going down. Frank glances over at his mom, and notices with a sinking feeling that she's looking past him at Gerard with a worried furrow between her eyebrows. Frank can feel a profound sense of oh shit curdling in his gut as he turns slowly to see what she's seeing.

It isn't what he's expecting.

Gerard looks ashen and sick, his eyes glassy and his head lolling slightly on his shoulders. His breathing is quick and shallow, like he's struggling for air.

"Frank," his mom murmurs in his ear. "Why don't you go take Gerard outside to get some air? He doesn't look so good."

Fucking fuck. Frank doesn't know what Gerard's got planned, but it's probably not good. Somehow, knowing that doesn't stop the flutter of anticipation in his chest. But he helps Gerard out of the pew, suddenly deeply grateful that he made them late by losing his shoe and they're consequently sitting right at the back. Gerard leans heavily on Frank, dragging his feet and generally playing it up like he's after an Academy Award.

Frank hates him, he hates him, he hates him.

As soon as they're safely into the hallway outside, Gerard straightens up, his eyes sliding back into sharp focus and a shit-eating grin unfolding across his face.

"I hate you," Frank says again.

"Sure you do," Gerard agrees easily, herding Frank down the hallway like he knows exactly where he's going. Frank has a bad feeling about this. He curses his stupid treacherous feet for letting themselves be herded so easily.

"What are you even doing?" he says, and Gerard stops, looking him up and down with a slow smile.

"You clean up nice," he says softly. "What's a boy to do?"

Gerard puts a hand on the small of Frank's back and pushes him firmly into the tiny chapel at the end of a narrow offshoot of the hallway, pulling the burgundy-colored curtain closed behind them. The chapel is tucked away, only a kid who spent their childhood Sundays exploring the nooks and crannies of this place would even know it was there.

Frank is about to ask Gerard what the fuck he's doing, but then Gerard shoves him back up against the wall and kisses him, sweet and slow and hot. Frank decides his questions can wait. Gerard's crowding him into the corner, his hands skimming down Frank's sides and settling on his hips.

"So fucking pretty when you pray," breathes Gerard. "Like it's the only thing there is."

Frank inhales sharply, and Gerard nudges his thigh between Frank's. Frank's legs fall open reflexively and Gerard smiles against Frank's mouth, Frank's hands coming up to grab at Gerard's hair. Gerard licks down Frank's neck and nuzzles under the edge of his collar like he's just breathing him in, and Frank's head thunks back against the cool stone.

Gerard pulls back to look at him, his eyes dark and glinting in the colored light spilling through the little stained-glass window. There's a sliver of turquoise curving over his cheekbone, a splash of orange across his eyes, pink dripping down his neck, deep blue and purple streaked along his jaw and golden dust motes swirling in the air around them. Frank's breath catches. Gerard is fucking beautiful, glowing.

"If you're not having impure thoughts right the fuck now," murmurs Gerard, "I'm not doing my job right."

His hands are still on Frank's hips, and Frank can feel Gerard's hard-on against his thigh. Frank's own dick is getting interested in the situation now, filling out and making him want to cling to Gerard, rut against his thigh until he creams the most expensive pants he owns. He lets out a shaky breath.

"Nope," he whispers, dry-mouthed. "Lots of impure thoughts. Impure thoughts all over the place. Impure thoughts as far as the eye can see in here, you don't even know."

Gerard presses his face into Frank's neck to stifle a laugh, and Frank couldn't tell him to stop or push him away if he wanted to. It's just too fucking good, his skin is singing where Gerard's touching him and if he's going to hell for this it'll be worth it.

And then Gerard gets down on his knees and Frank can only look down at him with wide, shocked eyes. A quick makeout session and some harmless groping are one thing, sucking cock on church property is something else entirely. This place doesn't even have a door, for fuck's sake, let alone one with a lock. A thin curtain is all he's going to have between him and someone seeing him with his pants around his knees and his dick in another dude's mouth.

"Gerard," he hisses. "Someone's gonna hear us--"

Gerard looks up at him as he yanks his pants and underwear down. "Then you're gonna have to be quiet, aren't you?"

He doesn't tease, just licks his lips and sucks Frank down. Frank isn't expecting that, and he only just manages to swallow a moan. Which, he thinks distractedly, as Gerard tongues at the underside of his cock, was probably the plan all along. Fuck. Frank really, really hates him. Especially when he does that thing with his tongue that nearly makes Frank lose it on the spot. He bites his tongue, but a thin whine escapes him anyway.

Gerard gets his hand around Frank's dick and starts jacking him in time with the hot slide of his mouth. Frank's so blissed-out already that a faint, wanting noise slips out, and Gerard darts a glance up at him. It's like that was what he was waiting for, and he drops his hand and sinks down nearly all the way, deep-throating like it's absolutely nothing.

Frank can't hold out against that. He sucks in a startled gasp, and then he's coming so hard he sees stars. He feels weak, warmth coursing through him, and he's really fucking glad he's got the wall to hold him up; his knees feel weak.

Gerard wipes his mouth on the back of his hand, looking up at Frank with big, dark eyes.

"You're amazing," Frank mumbles. He stares down at Gerard kneeling there in the light until his eyes sting and he has to blink, the lines and shadows of Gerard's face imprinted behind his eyelids. He wants to remember this.

Gerard gets to his feet again, and Frank's eyes go straight to the conspicuous bulge in the front of his pants. Frank reaches for his belt buckle, but Gerard shakes his head, smirking like a cat with canary feathers in its teeth.

"Oh, no," he whispers. "Uh uh. Down."

Frank doesn't think, he just does. Gerard unbuckles his own belt and slides his pants down, so fucking slowly, and Frank realizes he's leaning forward. God, he's so gone for this guy. Gerard's hard and fucking big, Frank's never going to get over that. He can smell Gerard, musky and salty and heady, and his mouth waters. Fucking fuck, it's like Gerard's bewitched him or something.

Gerard doesn't hold back, grabbing Frank's hair and pushing his cock past Frank's parted lips, fucking his mouth. He knows what he wants from Frank, and he's never afraid of taking it. Frank gags and Gerard doesn't ease off, and before Frank knows it he's half-hard again. This is so, so wrong. They shouldn't be doing this at all, let alone here. He feels dirty, just taking it and letting Gerard use his mouth.

It's pretty fucking hot.

Gerard's being quiet, but he's getting close. His breath is coming in hitchy gasps, and his fingers are clenching convulsively in Frank's hair. Frank relaxes into it, trying to open wider for him, and Gerard rewards him with a barely-stifled groan.

"Fucking hell," Gerard breathes. "Frank, shit. Natural born cocksucker, I swear to god. Fucking love your mouth, love the way you take it. Like a fucking benediction."

Frank's stomach drops. He never thought hearing that would get him so hot under the collar. Or that he'd ever be down on his knees in a fucking church, his pants still twisted around his thighs, sucking dick and enjoying it, come to that.

Gerard gives Frank's hair a sharp, warning tug, and Frank lets his mouth go slack as Gerard comes down his throat, his hips snapping forwards. Frank can feel some of it dripping down his chin, and he looks up at Gerard, feeling – he doesn't know. Something.

Gerard wipes Frank's face and holds out his sticky fingers in front of Frank's mouth. Frank looks up at him and makes a squinched-up, grossed-out face, and Gerard rolls his eyes then licks his own hand clean. Frank's grossed-out face progresses rapidly to a very different face, namely one of oh holy shit, yes, and Gerard smirks triumphantly and pulls him up to his feet.

"C'mon," he murmurs. "Put your dick away, I think you're gonna have to go confess your sins."

 

*

 

It isn't until he's back in the pew, head bowed for the Lord's Prayer, that he realizes what this weird feeling is.

It's the absence of guilt.

 

*

 

When mass is finished, Gerard makes sure Frank's mom and dad are within earshot when he asks Frank if he wants to go out.

"Go out?" Frank asks suspiciously. "Where?"

Gerard shrugs, wearing that same innocent smile he used to get Frank out of the house on his birthday. "I don't know, just... out. We'll go for a walk or something. Wherever you wanna go."

Frank's mom and dad can't seem to get rid of him fast enough. Gerard fucking beams and leads Frank away, and Frank curses Gerard and his stupid parent-charming powers.

"I still don't know what kind of kick you get out of this," Frank says to Gerard as soon as they're around the corner and out of the shadow of the church. "I'm just--"

"Shut up, fucker," Gerard says, making a mock-serious face and slinging an arm around Frank's shoulders. "You know what I do to people who talk shit about my things?"

Frank's glad he's got Gerard holding him up. His heart lurches, and he trips and nearly faceplants spectacularly onto the sidewalk. My things, Gerard said. His. Gerard's. Frank likes the way that sounds a lot more than he feels he should.

"Your things," he says.

"Yup," says Gerard breezily, pulling Frank against his side. It's a cold, luminously bright day, but Gerard feels all warm and solid and Frank fits there like a jigsaw piece.

"I," says Frank a little unsteadily. "Yeah. Yeah, okay."

And, seriously, what the fuck. It feels like his heart is having some kind of solo interpretive dance party.

"Especially the things I want to keep," adds Gerard casually, keeping Frank close. "You know, the ones that are worth something."

Frank has to look up at him then, just to make sure Gerard isn't fucking with him.

"Seriously?" he says. It sounds fucking stupid as soon as it's out of his mouth, but he can't help himself.

"Yes!" Gerard rolls his eyes. "Jesus fucking Christ, Frank, look at you. I'm a lucky, lucky boy." He grins again, the shit-eating grin that Frank kind of loves. "And you're fucking adorable when you blush, too. Always had a bit of a thing about that."

Frank doesn't remember stopping, but he stands there on the sidewalk with Gerard looking at him intently, his hair whipping around his face while Frank tries to figure out if this is for real.

"I think," says Gerard seriously, "I'm gonna have to kiss you now."

And he does. Right there in the middle of the street, with cars rumbling by and passersby staring and tutting. Frank doesn't give a shit who's watching, Gerard's mouth is hot and his hands are on Frank's cheeks as he kisses the fuck out of him. One of Gerard's hands slips down Frank's back while the other one slides into his hair, and Frank opens his mouth under Gerard's. Gerard licks into his mouth and Frank really, really wishes they weren't in the middle of a busy street right now.

"What would you say," Gerard murmurs in his ear, "If I said I wanted to take you home right now, lay you out on your back and fuck you into the middle of next week?"

Frank makes a strangled noise. "I think I'd say yes," he chokes out while Gerard mouths at his neck. Gerard stops, smirking.

"Good," he says. "C'mon, let's get out of here."

 

*

 

When Frank gets home, still feeling dizzy and breathless, his dad is waiting up for him. He's just sitting at the kitchen table with deep shadows under his eyes and this weirdly blank look on his face, and a nasty sinking feeling starts to trickle into Frank's stomach. The last of the jittery buzz is rapidly draining away.

Plausible deniability, he reminds himself. It might not even be about that, and he's fucked if his guilty conscience is going to get him into trouble.

"Night," he half-whispers, as he starts towards the stairs. He's pretty pleased with that. Nicely ambiguous, totally casual. He feels that adding I'm gonna go and be a good, heterosexual Catholic virgin in my room now would have been kind of suspicious. He brutally suppresses a bubble of nervous laughter.

And then his dad looks up at him, and Frank just knows he knows. Frank stops, stands there and waits for the inevitable explosion, closing his eyes and gritting his teeth. He feels sick and scared. He wishes he had Gerard there with him. This is it. He's been fucking stupid, too swept up in Gerard to think about what he was doing and now it's come back to bite him, and the worst part is the realization that he wouldn't change a fucking thing.

The explosion never comes.

Instead, his dad just shakes his head, looking sad and tired and wrung-out. "Go to bed, Frankie," he says softly.

Frank so nearly does. He doesn't want to push his luck but – he's pretty thrown, is all. This doesn't make sense, and he doesn't think before blurting, "Please don't tell mom? Please, she'd--"

His dad smiles this little wan, rueful smile. "Your secret's safe, kiddo," he says. "Not a word."

Frank's so relieved he completely forgets his dad was supposed to be in his bad books. He stumbles across the room, his heart still pounding, and throws his arms around his dad, holding on. He's reeling, doesn't know what to think anymore.

"Thanks, Dad," he mumbles, his voice cracks.

"Don't mention it. Go on, bed."

Frank disentangles himself and makes for the stairs again, stopping at the door of the too-bright kitchen. "What about you?" he says. "You're not, like, tired?" You look it, he thinks. You look like shit, go to bed before you pass out on the table.

His dad huffs a quiet laugh and shakes his head again. "Can't sleep. That old couch's pretty uncomfortable."

Frank cringes. Shit, of course. "...Oh. Uh, night?"

"Night, Frank. Go on, get out of here. Get some sleep, kid."

Frank tries. He really does. He changes out of his jeans, sniffs at his t-shirt and decides there's at least another day in it before he throws it over the back of his chair, turns off the light and then crawls into bed. He wriggles until he's comfortable, and stares at the ceiling. There's too much in his head, all of it happening at once the minute he closes his eyes. Sleep, he tells himself sternly, but he doesn't hold out much hope of it working. He sighs, and rolls over. It's going to be a long night.

 

*

 

Frank is so busy being relieved that his dad isn't going to tell his mom that he doesn't think any more of it. But Devil's Gap is like a teacup: throw a stone in, no matter how small, and there are going to be ripples.

It isn't until later the next day that the backwash hits and threatens to carry him away.

He stops dead in front of his locker, his heart crawling into his throat and his stomach turning queasily. There it is in black Sharpie, bold, angry capitals.

GOD HATES FAGS.

He stands there for a sick, frozen moment. Someone must have seen, of course, how could he have thought they'd get away with it. Right in the middle of the fucking street, stupid, stupid, stupid. Without Gerard by his side he feels uncomfortably defenseless. He needs to be somewhere else right the fuck now.

He runs all the way to the church, through every shortcut and every back alley he knows. He doesn't think there's anyone after him, but fuck it, he's not risking any more than he already has. This isn't some stupid prank, he's seen what happens to Pete Wentz every fucking day, and all they've got on him is that he writes poetry and one time an eyeliner pencil fell out of his bag halfway through English lit. What they'll do to him, Frank doesn't like to think about. Someone knows, which means everyone knows, which means he's a fucking dead man walking. He can't quite believe the sick panic that one word stirs up, can't believe a stupid, mindless slur that used to go right over his head is suddenly hitting him right in the gut. Because, now he thinks about it, he supposes he is. He's kissed a dude, let a dude eat him out and blow him, been fucked and sucked dick and he's loved every minute of it. The realization is more of a huh, so that's how it is than an oh shit, but he'll have time to pick that apart later.

He stops to gasp for breath in a narrow side street, doubled over with his hands on his knees, the stitch in his side shrieking and his lungs tight.

He keeps running.

 

*

 

"Father?"

Frank knows he must look a mess, sweating through his shirt and panting like a dog. Father Agostino looks up from his book, takes Frank in, and raises a thick, bushy eyebrow.

"Where's the fire, Franklin?"

Frank is too distracted even to cringe at his full name. "Outside," he says. "There was – someone wrote on my locker, 'God hates fags', I think they're gonna... fuck, I don't even know." His voice wobbles. "Can I just – stay here for a while? Sanctuary, that's still a thing, right?"

Father Agostino closes his book, giving Frank his undivided attention. "God's house will be a sanctuary as long as you're still willing to let Him save you," he says seriously, and the sheer relief makes Frank's knees go weak. "Frank," says the Father. "Is there anything you want to talk to me about?"

Talking sounds good. It means Frank won't have to think. He sits down heavily in the chair opposite Father Agostino, his damp shirt sticking to the fake leather. "Okay," he says, twisting his hands in his lap. "I've been... doubting. Just, I don't know, thinking about some of things we're not meant to do and wondering if that's what God would really want, I guess."

Father Agostino frowns. "You should have come to me sooner," he says, and he sounds genuinely concerned. "You didn't have to do that alone."

"I know," says Frank wretchedly. Now he's calmed down a bit, he can smell the booze on Father Agostino's breath and see the faint glassiness in his eyes. Well, if he doesn't remember this conversation tomorrow, Frank won't complain.

"The church will always be here for you," says Father Agostino, and Frank is hit with an intensely bittersweet rush of feeling as he remembers how safe and centered he used to feel when he prayed, how light he always felt after confession. He misses it more than he realized.

"There was..." he clears his throat uncomfortably. "Uh. Something else."

Father Agostino raises his eyebrows expectantly. It's pretty impressive, the guy's eyebrows are actually kind of terrifying.

"I think I'm gay." He says it fast enough that the words run together, and it feels – weird. He's never said it loud before.

"I see," says Father Agostino, his tone perfectly neutral and his face giving nothing away. "Franklin, you know I can't--"

"Condone it, I know, I know," says Frank. He was expecting that, he wants to know what else Father Agostino has to say.

"Frank, this doesn't have to be the end of the world for you," he says, reaching across his untidy desk and squeezing Frank's hand reassuringly. "There are still ways for you to live the best life you can, make sure you're still a son God would be proud of. The devil's at your door, only you can decide whether you're going to let him in. As long as you really do repent, you can still be forgiven."

Frank's not an idiot. He knows Father Agostino is talking about celibacy, and isn't that a whole new can of worms. Frank isn't sure if he's sorry about a thing anymore. Even if it wasn't already several orgasms too late for that, the proposition sounds even more unappealing than it did when sex was still a distant, mysterious concept. He thinks about that for a long moment, then Father Agostino breaks the silence.

"Frank, can you think of anyone who could have led you astray like this?"

"No," says Frank immediately, adopting his best poker face. Gerard is like someone else's secret, not Frank's to tell. Frank's going to protect him from a torches-and-pitchforks situation even if it means lying to a priest.

"No one?" presses Father Agostino. "No one who encouraged you to stray from the path of the Lord? Who you think could have been an agent of evil?"

Never, you bastard. The thought drops solidly into Frank's head like a rock through a window, sudden and savage. He remembers Gerard throwing pebbles at his window. Never. Over my fucking dead body.

He shakes his head.

"Alright." Father Agostino looks disappointed, like he'd been hoping for a witch hunt. "Well, you're welcome to stay. I hope you'll find your way back soon." He stands, and puts a hand on Frank's shoulder.

Frank nods, taking a deep, steadying breath. "I hope so, Father," he says. "I hope so."

He just isn't sure he wants to find his way back here.

 

*

 

He hides out at the church until the night is pressed up against the walls and windows, looking for a way in, and he spends the time thinking about what Father Agostino said. He feels like a wishbone, pulled between God and Gerard. He can hardly tell which is which anymore.

He knocks on the door of Father Agostino's little office, and pushes it open. "I'm gonna take off," he says. "But, uh. Thanks, Father."

Father Agostino waves him away magnanimously, knocking a paperweight off his desk and not bothering to pick it up. Frank wonders if he even noticed. "All in a day's work," he says. "I hope to see you again soon, Frank."

Frank decides to quit while he's ahead, and ducks back out of the office.

 

*

 

He's halfway to Gerard's before he realizes where he's going. He doesn't remember making the conscious decision not to go home, but – yeah. He needs to see Gerard. That'll make things make sense again. He adjusts his backpack and starts up the next hill.

He feels like a junkie craving a fix by the time he gets there, twitchy and aching all over. The door is standing slightly ajar, faint yellow light spilling out into the cold like a beacon. Mikey must have gone out and left it unlocked, Frank thinks, pushing it open and stepping inside.

The light in the hallway that Frank could see from outside is the only one that's switched on, and Frank's skin prickles uneasily. He makes his way towards the living room, expecting to see the flickering glow of the TV screen, but there's nothing.

Weird.

His heartbeat kicks up a notch, a cold, uncomfortable feeling crawling up his spine and settling between his shoulders. He feels his way through the dark towards the kitchen. Something smells strange, sweet and cloying and... familiar.

By the time his fingers find the light switch, part of him already knows.

Frank turns on the light.

Gerard spins around to face him, and there are loops of thick, sticky shadow dripping from his fingers, blackness glinting in his eyes, too many sharp teeth in his mouth and something rotten hanging in the air.

He doesn't run or hide or change, just stands and looks at Frank, as still as the dead. The silence blooms, swelling heavily until it's just about unbearable.

"Are you scared?" Gerard asks, finally. It's the same voice, rough and a little nasal, and that's the clincher, the tripswitch.

Frank has a pocketful of reasons to be scared, and he isn't. He shakes his head. "I thought I was going crazy," he says slowly, drinking in the extra shadows clinging to Gerard, the darkness gathered around him and the taint in the air. "All those dreams. I thought I was cracking up."

Gerard's eyes are tar-black and glossy like a beetle's shell, unreadable. "You gonna run away?" he says, and Frank shakes his head again.

Gerard holds his arms out, more dark stuff sloughing off his skin. "C'mere."

Frank goes without thinking or questioning, stumbling forward into Gerard's arms and holding on. They stand there in the harshly-lit kitchen, Frank's face pressed into Gerard's shoulder, Gerard's arms around him.

"You're one fuckin' weird kid," Gerard murmurs. "You flip your shit over a couple of orgasms and this is no big deal for you?"

"Shut up," Frank says into Gerard's shirt. He smells like his cigarettes and that same copper-sugar scent that's so heavy in the air. His head is spinning. All this time, fuck. Of course he fell for all of it, he never had a chance. The sudden lightness nearly knocks him off his feet, throwing him off balance. None of it was his fault.

And then Gerard freezes, and Frank twists around to look over his shoulder, his heart already sinking.

Father Agostino is standing in the doorway with a gun in one hand and a crucifix in the other, swaying slightly in place.

"Frank," he says grimly. "Step away from it."

Slow, deliberately, Frank steps in front of Gerard instead. Father Agostino sighs.

"No one's going to blame you for this, Frank," he says, more gently. "It's clever. It's lied, it's tricked you. You've been under the thing's spell. The sooner you let me send it back where it came from, the sooner you can come back."

He looks earnest and grave, reeking of incense and wine, and for the barest split second, Frank wavers.

And then he thinks about Gerard taking him trick-or-treating, about making out with Gerard in his car, about laughing at that shitty zombie movie and Gerard rubbing his back when he was sick, and it was never any kind of choice.

"Fuck you," he says, loud and clear, his hands balling into fists at his sides. Father Agostino sighs again, like Frank's cut him to the bone. Like he's disappointed.

"Fine," he says. "Fine, I can see you're too far gone to save. Frank, I'm going to get rid of this – this abomination with or without your help."

Frank stands, rooted to the ground with terror, as Father Agostino closes his eyes and crosses himself.

"Deus, in nomine tuo," he starts, and behind Frank, Gerard hisses like he's been burnt. Frank turns back to him, and his gut twists. Gerard looks ashen, grayish, his jaw set. Almost like how he looked that time in the church, but ten times worse.

"Nam superbi insurrexunt contra me, et violenti quasierunt vitam meam," Father Agostino intones and Gerard stumbles backwards, hitting the counter and sliding down to the floor.

"Gerard! Fuck, fuck, fuck!" Frank drops to his knees next to Gerard. "What's happening, what's he doing to you?"

"He's trying to – exorcise me," Gerard grits out. "It's--" he breaks off with a wordless, anguished howl.

Frank is up off the floor in a heartbeat, going for Father Agostino's throat. There's a tiny, panicked part of him screaming that he's attacking a priest and he is actually going to end up in the special hell for real this time, but he ignores it. He's fucking seeing red now. Gerard is making thin, pained noises as Father Agostino stumbles and slurs his way through the Latin, and Frank can't just stand there and watch, he can't.

Father Agostino is still speaking, holding Frank off with the hand holding the crucifix before letting out a grunt of frustration. He shoves the barrel of the gun into Frank's stomach, cold and shockingly real, and Frank falls backwards. He lands on his ass, cracking his head against the edge of the counter while Gerard writhes and tenses next to him. His eyebrows are drawn together, and Frank can see the sweat shining damply on his forehead. Frank kicks out at Father Agostino's ankles and struggles to his feet again, trying to knock the gun out of his hand.

"Motherfucker, stop!" he grits out. The fight is draining out of Gerard now, his whimpers getting fainter and his kicks weakening. He's hurting, and Frank doesn't know what to do. He's never felt so fucking helpless.

"Frank," croaks Gerard, and Frank scrambles down to kneel next to him again.

"What?" he says urgently. "Jesus, Gerard, tell me – tell me what to do, okay?"

Gerard's head lolls to the side, his black eyes boring into Frank's. His skin has gone translucent, Frank can see the pulse throbbing sluggishly in his neck.

"Your soul," he says quietly, his voice cracked. He swallows. "Frank, I'm sorry, I need your soul or I'm gonna be fucked for good."

He reaches out to Frank with a single, shaking hand.

Frank takes it.

His stomach lurches like he's on a rollercoaster, and then – nothing. No hollowness, no sense of loss. There's just a sudden blast of intense heat, like opening an oven door, and the effect on Gerard is immediate. Color floods back into his cheeks, the shadows gathering around him again. He stands, in a single, fluid movement that Frank can't quite follow, then takes a slow, predatory step towards Father Agostino, his teeth bared and his eyes dark and fathomless. Frank watches from the floor, paralyzed.

"Retorque malum in adversarios--" Father Agostino breaks off, stepping back, his heels crunching in the dropped Lucky Charms on the floor. "The Lord will – will punish you," he stammers. "That was an innocent child's soul--"

"He's not a fucking child!" Gerard's voice rings inhumanly, rattling the windows. Something clenches in Frank's chest. "You fucking saw that," spits Gerard. "He gave it to me. Free will, motherfucker."

Gerard takes another step forward and Father Agostino takes another one back, and Frank gets a kind of fierce, nasty kick out of the blind terror written all over Father Agostino's face. Right now, it doesn't matter whether or not he's the priest Frank's known for years. Frank doesn't give a shit. He tried to hurt Gerard, and got far too fucking close to succeeding.

"You would've hurt him." Gerard moves forward again. "You don't get to do that. You don't fucking get to do that, I get to do that."

Father Agostino shakes his head mutely, his eyes wide and scared. He backs up another step, hitting the greasy Formica table.

Gerard looks disgusted, his lip curling. "Don't lie to me, you piece of shit. You would have done whatever you had to do to get to me. What would you have done, huh? Put a bullet through him if he wouldn't get out of your way?"

"He's been corrupted," sputters Father Agostino, and Frank can't believe he's got the fucking nerve to look indignant. "He's not a child of God anymore, there's nothing left worth saving."

The gun lies forgotten on the tiles. He's clinging desperately to his crucifix, holding it so tightly his knuckles are white. He looks fucking terrified, and Frank catches himself thinking, good.

Gerard takes one last step, trapping Father Agostino against the table.

"Maybe," he says, "he doesn't want to be saved. You ever ask him? Maybe you've been wrong all along and he doesn't need saving."

He reaches out, grabbing Father Agostino's face with both hands. There's another surge of blistering heat, a split second of total blackness, and Father Agostino screams. It's a wordless, inhuman noise of pure horror that sounds like it was torn right out of his gut, rattling Frank's bones and making his blood run cold.

And suddenly, it's all over.

Father Agostino slumps to the floor, his mouth slack and his eyes wide and blank.

Frank lets out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "Fuck, is he--"

"Unconscious." There's an ugly snarl on Gerard's face. It's like concentrated disgust distilled into a curled lip and bared teeth. Frank hopes he never has to be on the receiving end of that.

Gerard aims a kick at one of Father Agostino's limp legs. "This'll be worse," he says. "He fucking deserves everything he's gonna get.

Frank swallows. This Gerard is remorseless and full of hate and really fucking scary. This is the first time he's actually been scared of Gerard – it's sinking in now. Gerard is-- Frank can't even think it. He subtly edges back slightly, away from Gerard. He knows, really, that a few inches won't make a blind bit of difference if Gerard turns on him, but some insistent animal instinct is telling him that Gerard is a predator who could crush Frank at any moment if the mood takes him.

"Gerard?" he says quietly. "What did you do to him?"

Gerard looks over his shoulder at Frank, the darkness draining slowly out of his eyes. "I... showed him some things," he says evasively, still breathing hard. "Things humans weren't built to see. He'll wake up again, but he might have lost his mind."

Frank doesn't know what to say to that. "Oh," he says weakly, leaning back against the cupboard door. It's reassuringly solid.

Gerard is looking at him uncertainly. "Frank?" he says gently, like Frank is a spooked horse or something, coming to crouch down by Frank's side. "You okay?"

Frank shakes his head. He wasn't thinking earlier, not looking beyond the next few moments, but now he's stopped it's all catching up with him and threatening to pull him under. He wants to go and hide somewhere far, far away.

"I didn't wanna scare you," says Gerard, biting his lip and keeping a careful distance from Frank. "I lost my temper. But he would have hurt you, Frank, he wouldn't have thought twice if you were stopping him getting to me." His jaw is set, and he looks fucking fierce. "I don't give a shit. I'd do it again."

Frank nods dumbly. He feels numb, blank.

"I just..." Gerard closes his eyes and cards one hand through his hair. "I think about other people touching you, and..." he trails off. Frank nods again, slowly. He can't process that right now, he'll unpick the reasons why it makes his gut twist later.

"So, my – soul, huh?" Frank says, stumbling slightly over the word.

"You won't miss it," says Gerard. "It's still in your body, you've just given up control of it."

He reaches out and lays one hand on Frank's chest, and Frank feels something in him shift, reacting to the touch and waking up under Gerard's hand. A shock and a shiver of violent longing thrills through him, deeper than bone. He sucks in a startled breath, instinctively leaning into the contact. Gerard drops his hand again and the thing in Frank stills.

"Fuck," he says intelligently. He shakes his head, struggling for words. "I meant – okay. Why did you ask? You could have just taken it."

"I couldn't have. Well, I could, but it wouldn't have been worth anything unless you were willing to give it up."

"He tried to kill you," Frank says quietly, looking at Gerard like he's seeing him for the first time.

"Yeah." Gerard's gaze is suddenly so piercingly intense that Frank has to look away. "Yeah. And you stopped him. Why'd you do that, huh?"

"You asked," Frank says. It sounds fucking dumb, but it's the best answer he's got.

Gerard doesn't say a word, just grabs Frank's hand and yanks him to his feet, pulling him in and claiming his mouth in a hungry, possessive kiss. "No one," he says roughly, "No one gets to fucking hurt you. Only me. Okay?"

Frank makes an inarticulate noise, and Gerard leans back in, slipping his tongue between Frank's lips, wrapping his arms around Frank and holding on.

It doesn't feel like being corrupted. It feels like being saved.

"I'm keeping you," Gerard says indistinctly against Frank's mouth, and Frank mumbles something sort of like okay. He's so fucking tired. He knows he's going to have some serious shit to work through tomorrow morning, but right now he just wants to pass the fuck out and not have to think anymore.

Gerard pulls back, breaking the kiss. "Okay," he says. "You want me to take you home?" He glances down at the unconscious form of Father Agostino and the gun lying abandoned on the floor. "I'll take care of those when I get back."

"Yes please," says Frank weakly.

One corner of Gerard's mouth quirks up. "Alright," he says. "C'mon, bedtime for lapsed Catholic boys. Let's go."

He has to half-carry Frank out to the car, and Frank's eyes are closing before he even slumps into the seat. The last thing he sees is Gerard, eyes dark and proud as he watches Frank.

"Sweet dreams," says Frank's demon, and Frank sleeps.

 

*

 

Frank sits in assembly the next morning and tries to look surprised when Sister Agnes announces that Father Agostino has suddenly been taken ill. Frank didn't feel bad last night and he doesn't now. It was self-defense, he reasons. People have been acquitted of worse. Then again, he's biased.

Sister Agnes moves onto a rambling tangent about how God knows all people's thoughts. In the name of science, Frank thinks as loudly as he can about Gerard fucking him in the ass. Unfortunately, he has to cut his experiment short when his dick starts getting interested, but it's still pretty satisfying.

Instead, he tries to remember what he dreamed about last night. The scraps of it he had when he woke up are nearly all gone now, all he's got left is the image of two women sitting together in the shade of an apple tree – one was Eve, dark-haired and smiling, and the other was his mom, young and hopeful and dressed in sunshine yellow. Eve waved to him, he thinks, but that's all he can remember. He doesn't know what he's supposed to make of that, but thinking about it makes him feel weirdly peaceful, sure and centered but not burdened anymore.

Frank autopilots his way through the rest of the morning, his head too full to concentrate. He just feels like there's an obvious answer to all this, something he isn't seeing. Like a missing puzzle piece, but all the crazy shit is still rattling around in his head and making it impossible to think straight. Sister Roberta asks them all to turn in their quizzes before they leave, and Frank drops his blank quiz on her desk. He'll get shit for it later, but he's got more important things to think about. Frank avoids the crowds of people heading for the main gates, all in a rush to get home. He threads his way through the packed hallways like a ghost, heading for the back gates. He starts mentally re-playing everything Gerard said last night in the hope that he'll catch something he missed the last hundred times. The words are getting threadbare already, like rosary beads worn smooth and the cloudy glass that washes up on beaches.

He stops by the notice board out of sheer force of habit, scanning it for anything important. It's on his way, and it's the best way to get advance warning of things like parents' evenings and ensuring other plans. There's only one new one up today, from the school's eco-warrior club. It says "SAVING WATER FOR THE FUTURE IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY TODAY!!!"

And suddenly, there it is. The obvious answer Frank's been clutching at all day.

Maybe he doesn't want to be saved. Maybe you've been wrong all along and he doesn't need saving.

He doesn't need saving.

He doesn't need saving.

It feels like a revelation. Like having the millstone cut from around his neck, the pebbles taken out of his pockets, the cross lifted off his shoulders. He wants to laugh, he's fucking floating. He doesn't need saving, he never did.

He pushes the door open and stumbles out into the light, giddy like his blood has turned to champagne. He sticks his hand into his pocket for his cell phone. He needs to talk to Gerard, he needs to tell him--

And then Tony, Matt and Steve step out of the shadow of the wall, and Frank comes back down to earth with a thud that could break bones. Fuck, fuck, fuck and another dumpster full of fuck. Frank knows these guys. They're the ones who like to mix up altar boy duty with kicking the shit out of Pete Wentz. It must have been one of them who saw Gerard's little PDA and wrote on Frank's locker. What with everything else going on, he'd completely forgotten.

They saunter towards him like three sleek, well-fed cats advancing on a cornered mouse, like they've got all the time in the world, and Frank feels a surge of hopeless, burning frustration. Why do they even give a shit? What difference does it make to them if Frank happens to prefer having Gerard's dick in his ass to lusting pointlessly after sister Alicia?

The righteous indignation wears off pretty quickly when it hits him that if his options are fight or flight, then his chances aren't looking good. If he runs, his stupid lungs will pitch a fit. If he tries to fight back, they'll just delay kicking his face in by laughing at him first. Make that two extra dumpsters full of fuck.

"So," drawls Tony, stopping right in front of Frank. He's blocking out the sun. "You finally caught the gay off Wentz, huh?"

The only answer Frank can think of is and you must have caught the stupid off your mama, so he keeps his mouth shut. He feels physically sick. He wonders what would happen if he hurled all over Tony. Probably nothing worse than what they're already going to do to him.

Tony's face darkens. "You make me fuckin' sick," he says. "Right there in the middle of the street like it's, fucking – like it's okay? They need to round you all up and fuckin' shoot you."

The first punch lands square in Frank's stomach, sinking in and making Frank double over, gasping. Oh god, he really is going to puke.

"You bend over like that for your fag boyfriend, huh?" Tony spits, and his henchmen snigger.

Frank opens his mouth to say so what if I do?, but it comes out as a weak cough. His vision swims, and he's dimly aware of Matt and Steve closing in. Another kick lands on the back of his knee, and his legs give out. He falls gracelessly, landing badly on his wrist, and his eyes sting. The next kick to his ribs is vicious, knocking the breath out of him.

And then a voice is saying, "Well, well, well," and Frank's head jerks up, his heart in his mouth. Gerard. Gerard is standing there, arms folded, one eyebrow raised, and Frank never thought he'd be so glad to hear that steel in Gerard's voice.

"Wait," says Matt slowly, his eyes going narrow. Frank can practically fucking hear the gears grinding in the dude's head. "I know you! You're his fucking boyfriend!"

Gerard smirks like he's the only one who's in on a really hilarious private joke. "Something like that."

Matt starts towards him, arms outstretched, and Frank's heart skips.

Gerard just sighs, snakes a hand out to grab one of Matt's arms, and – twists. Frank can't see quite how it happens, but suddenly Gerard has Matt's arm twisted around behind his back and Matt looks like he's just had an unexpected electric shock. Gerard leans forward so his mouth is right by Matt's ear, and Matt fucking squirms. Frank tries to fix his expression in his memory for future gloating.

Gerard leans in even closer. He must be pressed right up against Matt's back, Frank thinks gleefully. Gerard tsks disapprovingly. "Didn't your mama ever tell you not to play with other people's things, huh?" he murmurs, and tugs sharply on Matt's arm. Matt hisses.

"Guess what?" whispers Gerard.

"Fucking – what?" Matt spits out, and one corner of Gerard's mouth quirks up.

"I don't share."

And Matt staggers away with a shocked, animal yell, his arm hanging stiffly at an awkward angle to his body.

"My fuckin' arm," he says disbelievingly. "You stupid fucking cunt, my dad'll--"

"You've got a dirty mouth for a God-fearing Catholic boy," says Gerard casually. "Let me help you out with that." He sidesteps, catching Matt across the face with his elbow. Matt whimpers faintly, spitting blood into the dust, and Gerard turns to Tony and Steve.

"Aren't you good," he purrs, low and dangerous. "Waiting your turn, huh?"

They're both standing stock still, rooted to the ground.

Gerard closes his eyes, and when he opens them again they're tarry-black and shining. Something just fucking blooms in Frank's chest, something hot and fierce. Darkness starts to gather around Gerard's hands, and he smiles with all his teeth.

"You better run," he says, and they both take off like the devil himself is on their tails. Gerard's grin widens, and he reaches out to pull Frank to his feet. The strands of shadow tangle and flow around his fingers, warm and... safe.

"You okay, or do I need to make some house calls?" Gerard asks, looking Frank over.

"I'm good, I think," Frank says, feeling his sore ribs gingerly. "Just kind of bruised, I think. Uh." He looks up at Gerard, still dark-eyed and hot and close, and his stomach drops. "Hi," he says quietly.

"Hi," Gerard returns, quirking one eyebrow, and then he just gathers Frank up into his arms, easy as breathing, like something out of one of the old Hollywood romances Frank's mom likes. Worst of all, Frank can feel this stupid grin spreading all over his face, and he can't seem to get it back under control. Gerard carries him out towards the gate, stopping to blow poor thunderstruck Matt a kiss.

Frank laughs so hard pain flares across his ribs, and even that doesn't stop him. He presses his face into Gerard's neck, still shaking with laughter. Maybe he kind of did need saving all along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

epilogue

"How'd she take it?"

Frank pulls a face, even though Gerard can't see it over the phone. "Badly," he says. Coming out to his mom was not exactly one of the highlights of his life so far.

Gerard makes a sympathetic noise. "Did she kick you out?"

Frank fucking giggles, knowing he sounds ridiculous and not giving a shit. Sometimes he does stupid shit around Gerard and feels his face start to heat up, but Gerard always looks at him like he thinks Frank's sweet. Like Frank's a puppy who's goofy but cute enough that Gerard doesn't mind letting him tag along.

"Shut up, fucker," he says. "You don't need to sound so hopeful. I know you just want me to move in so you can have your wicked way with me."

Gerard chuckles. "Don't you think it's a little late for that?" He sighs melodramatically. "You can't blame a boy for trying, I guess," he says, and Frank rolls his eyes.

"She didn't kick me out," he says. "I don't know, it was bad, but... not as bad as I was expecting, I guess. And her and dad are going to get counseling-- Gerard?"

"Mm? Shit, sorry, I was trying to write something down. Mikey owes me ten bucks, he thought your mom was gonna flip when she found out. You know, never darken our doorway again and all that jazz."

"Ha, ha. Tell Mikey he's a laugh riot. Where is he, anyway? I haven't seen him in, like, two weeks."

"Italy," says Gerard.

"He – what?"

"With Alicia."

"What?" Frank says again, because, well. What?

"Oh, did I not tell you about that? Turns out she wasn't actually a nun. More like... international art thief in disguise."

Frank kind of circles blankly around that for a long moment before deciding it still makes absolutely no fucking sense.

"Apparently there was this painting in the chapel or something?" Gerard continues. "Worth a fucking fortune, got stolen in the fifteen hundreds. The family who commissioned it hired Alicia to get it back."

"Wait," says Frank. "You're shitting me, right?"

"Nope."

"You're serious?"

"Like a heart attack."

"What the fuck." Frank flops down on his bed and stares up at the ceiling. "That's insane."

Gerard makes a noise like the verbal equivalent of a shrug. "Well, no one ever suspects a nun."

Frank can't argue with that. He always thought Sister Alicia was pretty cool for a nun, but that was about as far as he ever got. Although, to be fair, he's been pretty distracted lately. He spares a thought for Pete – poor guy, it sucks that he seems to have drawn the short straw again. Frank promises himself he'll make more of an effort to talk to the guy. Somehow, he doesn't think Matt and his goons are going to be giving either of them any more trouble. He'll have to come up with some kind of cover story to feed Pete - he isn't sure it would be a good idea to steam right in there with oh hey, your crush has run off to Italy with an art thief disguised as a nun. Which, yeah. That doesn't get any less weird.

"That painting's fucking huge, though," he says. "How did she get it out of there?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Probably not," Frank concedes. Although, hell, at this point, he wouldn't be surprised to hear that she used a team of highly-trained hamsters or something. He's hit his disbelief limit for today. "So she just, what?" he says. "Snuck into the chapel in the dead of night, swiped the painting and left?"

"Something like that," Gerard agrees. "She needed Mikey to play lookout for her. Did you know you can hide a flamethrower, a grappling hook and a smoke grenade under a nun's habit?"

"Wow." Frank takes a minute to absorb that mental image. "I do now. So how did Mikey end up helping her out?"

"This is the best part," says Gerard happily, and Frank pictures his obnoxious, shit-eating grin. "He's never gonna live it down. I think this is the only time a demon's ever been seduced by a nun."

Frank laughs until his stomach hurts. Gerard's right, Mikey's going to get so much shit for this.

"Mikey's thing is sloth," says Gerard when Frank can breathe again. "He can never be assed to go out and, like, corrupt people. He just kind of hangs around and waits for them to come to him."

Somehow, that makes a lot of sense. "Huh," Frank says.

An easy, comfortable silence falls – gently, like snow. Frank tries to remember what the painting in the chapel looked like. Kind of gloomy, he thinks. He never liked it much.

"You know," he says. "It kind of seems fair."

"Hmm?"

"The painting. I mean, sure, it's stealing or whatever, but she was only stealing it back, right? If the church stole it first then they can't complain."

"Yeah," says Gerard softly. "Yeah, something like that. Congratulations, Frank."

He sounds proud, and Frank doesn't feel the slightest bit guilty.

 

 

 

take me back with open arms
I know you can't resist me
my sweetest kiss will tell you this:

god, he didn't miss me.