"Mars," someone whispers in Frank's ear, somehow managing to still sound elated. It's Gerard, of course.
"Fucking Mars!" Frank replies, leaning his head back and feeling his mohawk brush against something. Gerard's shoulder, maybe. Or his neck, based on how he giggles. Whatever it is, it gets him to step back far enough that Frank can swivel his chair to face him.
"We did it," Gerard says, beaming.
"Yes, we did." Frank still can't believe it. They've all been working so hard, taking turns sleeping on cots in the hallway outside the control room, running specs and watching the weather and just... well, Frank's fucking exhausted, or he would be if he wasn't so excited. He might've cried a little. Whatever. He wasn't the only one.
"Oh, yeah, and Mikey says you're famous." Gerard takes a swig of coffee from his NASA mug and raises an eyebrow, clearly waiting for Frank to react.
"Mikey says what now?" Frank replies. He reaches for his own coffee, finds it empty, and snags Gerard's mug instead. Gerard even lets him do it, which is when Frank realizes Gerard is not fucking kidding.
Frank reaches for his iPhone.
Frank uses Twitter for the kinds of things your average twentysomething dude uses Twitter for: photos of weird shit he sees around LA. Complaining about traffic. Entertaining himself on the throne. Documenting his ongoing battles with the city's self-checkouts. Oh, and talking about work.
Turns out, dudes with mohawks who work for NASA are something of a... curiosity, excuse the pun. And Frank now has approximately as many followers as - well, okay, a lot less than the actual Curiosity, but still a lot. Since last night.
He's just going to put the phone back down now.
Gerard laughs at him, because Gerard is never, ever helpful.
Pete Wentz, it turns out, is even less helpful than Gerard.
"I'm making t-shirts with your face on them," Pete informs him when Frank finally comes back to work after quickly crashing fully-dressed on top of his bed for a nap.
"You're my boss," Frank says accusingly.
"It's a government salary," Pete replies airily. "I already have an Etsy account set up and everything. Do you prefer your right profile or your left? Also, you have people who want to interview you, so you'd better go see the PR people."
Pete Wentz is not helpful, and also evil.
Frank does the interview, because when it comes right down to it, he's going to take any opportunity he gets to try to get people excited about space.
Plus, Pete was right about the government salaries.
NASA needs you, Gerard DMs him as he sits and waits to start the Skype session. #hotNASAmohawkguy, you're our only hope.
Frank knows better. He really does. But he clicks on the tag anyway.
Twenty thousand followers in a day is weird enough. But #hotNASAmohawkguy - which is him, he has to keep reminding himself - probably got half as many marriage proposals.
Frank can never look at his @replies ever again.
He sleeps on it. Then he goes to the gym because he's been hunched over his laptop or sleeping on a cot in a hallway for days and he's starting to feel like a senior citizen.
He gets hit on twice.
"I need you to be my boyfriend," Frank tells Gerard as they fill their coffee mugs in the break room.
"Come again now?" Gerard sputters. Frank probably should have waited until he was done taste-testing his disgusting mix of Coffee-Mate and Sweet-N-Low.
"I mean. I have all these fucking people asking me if I'm single or not and I can't say I'm single. It'd be like Jaws, only with almost thirty-four thousand sharks and one little me," Frank says.
"And you think telling them you have a boyfriend will help?" Gerard asks incredulously.
"It can't hurt and if it gets strangers to stop proposing marriage, I am all for it," Frank replies.
"I... I mean, okay? I can pretend to be your boyfriend on the internet until everything dies down," Gerard finally says.
"Thank you," Frank breathes and pulls his phone out of his pocket.
To everyone proposing marriage, I'm flattered, but I think my boyfriend @gfett would object.
"Oh my god, Frank," Gerard says about thirty seconds later. "Did you have to at reply me? Fuck, how do I turn off text notifications?"
Frank cackles because he's an asshole. "Welcome to my fucking life."
"No seriously, how do I do this? I can't get five thousand text messages in the next hour," Gerard says.
"Um. I think you have to text something... I forget what," Frank says sheepishly. "I had to do it on my laptop. You might be able to change it in your app too."
"Ugh. You suck. It'll be faster to just call Mikey... on my desk phone because otherwise the call will be interrupted by texts every two seconds." Gerard flips Frank the bird as he's walking toward his desk.
It's not until a few minutes later that Frank realizes he maybe didn't think this whole thing through.
"Dude, why didn't you and Gerard tell us you were dating?" Ray asks. Because he's Ray Fucking Toro, he manages to sound both vaguely hurt and extremely happy for them all at once.
"It's pretty new," Frank manages to say without stuttering. "We didn't want to like, be a distraction or anything. Or like. We just wanted to keep it to ourselves for a little bit, you know? Office romances and all that."
"Well congratulations. I'd say 'It's about time' but you probably already know that," Ray says and claps him on the back.
As news travels around the building, he gets more than one person telling him, "It's about time." And a lot more congratulations and grins and a shitload of teasing.
"You guys are adorable together," Chantal tells him.
"Thanks," Frank says. But it's odd. Gerard is one of his best friends at work. One of his best friends, period, so they do spend a lot of time together. But they're not a couple. They've never acted like a couple, he doesn't think. And yet they're adorable together?
He sees Gerard again about an hour later.
"Um," Gerard says.
"Yeah," Frank replies.
"First off, your fans are kind of ridiculous, but most of them have been really sweet to me. Second, um. Everyone we know now thinks we're dating, too." Gerard looks... not frazzled. Just a little bit wide-eyed.
"Um, yeah. I... didn't think about that part. Sorry?" Frank doesn't know what else to say.
"What's going to happen when they find out we're not? I do not trust a roomful of revenge-minded scientists."
"Um. Well, apparently it was a really convincing lie. So we just... do some stuff that looks like dating for a while and they'll probably all forget about it when something more exciting happens."
"Okay, then. If you're going to be my boyfriend, you get to be my date to the stupid beach party I let Mikey talk me into," Gerard says decisively.
Frank laughs. "What, you mean Pete's? Aren't I invited to that anyway?"
"Yes, well. Now you have to come as my date," Gerard replies with a smirk.
"Okay, jeez. And maybe this week we can go out and take some stupid Twitter photos or something until everyone gets bored and unfollows us. It'll be fine," Frank says reassuringly.
It is fine, for the most part.
Mikey comes over for pizza and shows Frank and Gerard how to set up their Twitter accounts so that they can actually keep track of the people they know. He also tugs Frank out onto the balcony and gives him the "If you hurt my brother, they will never find your body" speech, which is weird because Frank knows Mikey knows they're not really dating. But whatever. It's Mikey Way, and Frank loves him like a brother, even though he does things like eat all of Frank's special veggie pizza.
They leave Gerard alone with the pizza box and a Sharpie, and when they come back he's created an army of ninja pizzas, and tweeted a picture of it with the caption, At @fnsteinmonster's house. Need help. Send ninja turtles.
It gives Mikey's new Twitter filters a workout, but they seem to handle it okay.
When they leave, Frank cleans up and gets a fresh beer and collapses onto the couch. Fake dating is tiring, apparently. Frank's pretty sure the real problem is that he picked someone he'd actually date for real should the opportunity arise - which it never has - and that makes it extra hard to pretend.
"I'm an ordained minister if you two want to get hitched," James says, crunching something into the phone speaker.
"James," Frank says, pulling the phone away from his ear for a second, "we're not dating. I just finished telling you we're not dating."
"But you are dating. You just finished telling me you're going to some giant luau thing Wentz is throwing, and I saw pictures of the two of you at fucking Disneyland on Instagram."
"Well... yeah," Frank says. "But we're not dating."
"You mean you're not fucking." The crunching starts up again.
"No," Frank says after taking a deep breath and counting to ten. "There is no fucking."
"Do you want there to be fucking?"
"I don't think it matters if I want there to be fucking, because we're not dating."
"But you are dating."
Frank sighs and hangs up the phone. He really needs to have a conversation with someone who's not stoned.
The problem, Frank tells himself, tapping ash off the end of his cigarette into a clay pot on his balcony, is that he does want there to be fucking.
The next few days are a whirlwind of studying data from Curiosity and talking about their next project now that the majority of the data interpretation is in the hands of others. Saturday is the party and Gerard comes over to pick Frank up. Frank is always vaguely terrified of riding in the Mini on the LA freeways, but traffic isn't bad and Gerard has Black Flag playing on the stereo.
Gerard is wearing a Hawaiian shirt in what appears to be totally unironic fashion, and Frank almost reconsiders his whole existential quandary right there, because how the hell is he actually attracted to all... that?
But then Gerard shoots him a wide, beaming smile when Frank reaches over to push the skip back button to listen to the song again and Frank remembers. Because he's fucking adorable and they have similar opinions about almost everything. But especially space. One of Frank's favorite things to do is to get Gerard ranting about the importance of space exploration and education and hope.
Also, tiny nerds with customized mohawks and a cardigan addiction do not get to throw stones in the personal appearance department.
They park and as they walk down the path toward the beach, Gerard grabs Frank's hand. His stomach swoops and he can't help but look over at Gerard, who smiles at him. Frank smiles back and wishes he could see Gerard's eyes behind his giant sunglasses.
There are a metric fuckton of people already on the beach. Pete always pulls out all the stops. Frank has a weird disoriented moment where he doesn't recognize anyone, then he sees Ray weaving in their direction, gripping two beers by the neck and waving with his free hand. Gerard hugs him when he reaches them, and Frank liberates one of the beers. "Hey, guys," Ray says. "Thought you were never going to show. We already staked out a fire ring."
He leads them over to a campfire ring about twenty yards away where Chantal, Jimmy, and Jon already have a fire going. Gerard sits down with them and makes a pleased noise.
"No playing, Gee," Frank says firmly.
Frank doesn't have to see Gerard's eyes to know he rolls them at Frank. "I'm a scientist! I know how fire works, Frankie."
"I am a scientist too. And I know how skin grafts work. And needles."
Gerard shudders. "I hate you."
"No you don't," Frank says, taking advantage of Gerard's sitting position to drape himself over Gerard's shoulders and coo directly into his ear. "You love me. I am very loveable."
Gerard reaches up to grip Frank's forearms and turns his face just a little bit so his cheek rubs against Frank's. "You are, and I do." The tone he uses isn't quite as playful as Frank had expected.
"You guys are gross," Jimmy says.
"You have no room to talk, Jimmy," Frank says without looking over at Jimmy. He's kind of fixated on Gerard's hands.
He doesn't really let go of Frank, just tugs him until he settles down beside Gerard, arms dropping to wrap around Gerard's waist instead. Even then, he talks to Jon and Chantal and the rest of them but runs his fingertips idly up and down Frank's forearm.
After a while, Frank doesn't even have to regulate his breathing. It feels natural. He catches Mikey raising an eyebrow at him as they're getting food later. Frank just shrugs.
It starts getting colder as it gets dark, and they build up their little fire. Jimmy and Chantal cuddle. Ray takes his guitar out of its case and starts noodling. Pete comes by, ruffles Frank's hair, and steals Mikey, dodging the handful of sand Frank throws at him. Frank looks at Gerard. "I think I need to walk a little."
"I'll come with you?" Gerard asks.
Frank wants to say no and yes at the same time. Yes wins out and when he gets up, he pulls Gerard up with him. Gerard doesn't let go of his hand, so they just start walking down the beach hand-in-hand. It's so fucking stupid that this is making Frank's stomach swoop. Not the least of which because it's all such a stupid cliche.
"So what if I do like long walks on the beach?" he mumbles. He's not really talking to Gerard, but Gerard answers anyway.
"I do too. At night. It's nice tonight. Look at all the stars."
Frank looks up and god. He sees the stars every day. He has access to the best telescopes; footage and images of deep space are at the tips of his fingers all the time. But nothing ever beats standing outside and looking up. LA's glow to the south can't even spoil it.
"Fuck, that's beautiful," Frank murmurs and squeezes Gerard's hand tight.
"I'm not the most observant person," Gerard says, then stops. "I fixate on certain details and kind of ignore everything else. It's part of what makes me good at what I do, but sometimes it doesn't work out as well. And other times it means I'm missing something totally awesome right in front of my face."
"Is this a metaphor?" Frank asks.
Gerard reaches out and touches Frank's cheek with his fingertips. "What do you think?"
"I... Gee," Frank whispers.
"You shouldn't have had to lie to the internet about having a boyfriend because I should have been your boyfriend already," Gerard says quietly.
Frank swallows and clears his throat. What comes out when he opens his mouth isn't quite what he intends. "Did you practice this speech?"
He sees the flash of Gerard's teeth in the dark as he smiles. "Why, does it show?"
"A little bit," Frank says and tugs on Gerard's hand until he takes a step closer. "You gonna kiss me? Make it official?"
"Forty-five thousand people already think it is," Gerard points out.
"Yeah, but you're the only one who matters," Frank says, stretching up himself. Gerard meets him halfway. Frank immediately wraps his arms around Gerard's waist. Gerard cups his cheeks and they kiss standing in the sand under the stars until the sound of whistles and clapping starts coming down the beach toward them.
"Are they clapping for us?" Frank asks.
Gerard peeks over Frank's shoulder. "Nah. Pete lit the bonfire."
"Good. M'sick of being the center of attention," Frank mutters against Gerard's throat.
"Aww, and I was just getting used to it," Gerard teases.
"I'm stunned that you enjoy being the center of attention. Truly. Stunned," Frank says.
Gerard pinches his side gently. "Well, at least you're not alone? And the mohawk is fucking hot," Gerard replies.
"Tell me more," Frank says.
"Really. Fucking. Hot," Gerard murmurs, winding his fingers through the long part of the 'hawk.
"Think we can leave early without getting too much shit?" Frank asks against Gerard's lips.
"Nope," Gerard replies. "Wanna do it anyway?"
Gerard grins and takes Frank's hand. It takes them at least ten minutes to wind through the crowd on the beach and say their goodbyes. By the time they reach the Mini, Frank's phone has buzzed twice with text notifs.
.@gfett and @fnsteinmonster too cool for the rest of us, Jon's says, with a picture of two blurry figures hurrying out of frame.
Landed on Mars, going home with #hotNASAmohawkguy. How was YOUR week? says the other.
Frank grins, gets out his phone and types, @gfett Best. Week. Ever.
He sneaks his hand into Gerard's and tips his head up so he can see the stars through the car window.