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"Whoa," Mikey says when the car turns, the smooth hum of the road giving way to the rumble of gravel. Then, "Holy shit. Gee, look."

"What?" Gerard cracks an eye open from the back seat where he's been trying to sleep, head pillowed on the stacked and not all that comfortable dress bags. He hadn't even protested when Mikey'd called shotgun; an hour and a half into the trip, it's still too early to be upright.

"Language," their mom says pointlessly, braking to a near-halt. "Where's the invitation? I hope we're not the first to get here..."

"I don't see why we had to come." Gerard grumbles for approximately the five hundredth time, but he struggles upright when Mikey twists around to poke him insistently in the stomach. "Oh my God, Mikey, stop – oh, whoa."

"See?" Mikey winds down his window to stare. They're pulled up in front of what has to be the hotel, but where Gerard had pictured a soulless white box, this place looks like some deranged architect's dream of a hacienda, all elaborate stuccoed archways and verandahs lined with cane furniture. There are even anemic-looking palm trees drooping around the drive, and when he turns to look out the back window, it's got to be at least half a mile of gravel back to the highway.

"Holy fuck," he observes, because holy fuck. Their beat-up station wagon has to look so incredibly out of place here.

"Stop gaping and find the invitation," their mom orders shortly, but she's driving like she's afraid to damage the gravel as she follows the signs to the parking lot, and Gerard catches her surreptitiously checking her makeup in the rear-view while she's maneuvering the car into a space next to a shitty Subaru van that Gerard's fairly sure is Uncle Tony's. "Gerard, honey, for God's sake fix your hair. What's Suzanna gonna think if I let you go around looking like a hobo?"

"Seriously, is she marrying into the Mob?" Gerard demands, shoving a hand through his hair – it is kinda flat where he's been laying on it, he guesses – and shaking it back into place. "Are we gonna have to, like, watch what we say and shit? 'Cause that might – I mean, how do we know who's, you know, dangerous?" He can see it playing out in his mind, himself hovering in a corner while sharp-suited slickers work the room, exchanging complicated handshakes and impenetrably loaded codes. Like every party he's ever been to, basically, except with more expensive clothes and risk of death. He's just got to the point in the fantasy where a bunch of the mobsters pull guns and blood starts spraying across the fancy wallpaper when Mikey smacks him in the side of the head, jolting him out of it.

"Ow, motherfucker," Gerard complains, which of course brings his mom's wrath down on him – she's always going on about him setting a better example for his brother, like that's not a losing proposition from the get-go.

"Gerard, mind your goddamn manners and for Christ's sake shut up about the Mob; I don't want anyone getting the wrong idea. Jeremy's an investment banker and he's a nice guy. This is a wedding and you are going to be polite, got it?" Her hair, freshly dyed and piled atop her head for the occasion, is wobbling warningly. Gerard slumps down in the back seat, rolling his eyes.

"Whatever." It's not like he'd wanted to be dragged along to another fucking wedding, anyway; he's been to enough of the things to know that they're boring as hell, nothing but socially enforced identikit cookie-cutter bullshit.

"Out of the car," Donna orders, and Gerard sighs, slithering out of the backseat into the midday sun. It's too hot – seriously, fuck summer and all its attendant miseries – and he immediately wants a coffee, one of the slushy iced ones he's been spending most of his meager bookstore earnings on since graduation.

Aunt Louise meets them at the hotel entrance, ushering them into the air-conditioning – thank fuck – just as another small procession of cars rolls up the driveway. An employee comes to take their overnight bags and Gerard gives up his mom's and Mikey's stuff but clutches his own (which may or may not contain more pencils and sketchbooks and markers than actual clothes) to his chest, trailing along behind as they're shown up a fancy staircase and through a series of identical galleried hallways. Gerard can already see he's going to get so fucking lost. Maybe he can just stay in the room until it's time to leave. Even if the mini-bar is off-limits, he's got a couple packs of cigarettes stashed in his bag, and Mikey's packing beer if the weight of his fucking backpack is any indication.

"—hope you don't mind," Aunt Louise is saying, "but we're short on space here and since Don couldn't make it I put you in with Linda." She sounds kind of stressed, Gerard thinks absently, but he starts paying attention abruptly when she turns to him and Mikey. "Her son's about your age, so you boys are sharing too. You're in the next room down."

"That'll be fine, hon." Donna takes the keycards, patting Aunt Louise on the shoulder before turning to Gerard with a raised eyebrow, forestalling his protests with, "Unless you two want to room with me?"

A stranger, or his mom. Gerard snaps his mouth shut, hunching his shoulders and grabbing the keycard. Knowing his fucking luck, whatever kid they've been lumped in with'll turn out to be some seven foot steroid-brained asshole, just like being back at fucking school. "Fine," he mutters, slouching down the hall without waiting to see if Mikey's going to follow him. He's not much use as jock-deterrent, but at least they have numbers on their side.

It gets worse, though, because when they get into the room – the keycard slot is at a weird angle in the handle, and Gerard almost manages to snap the thing before he figures it out – it turns out there's only one bed, a queen with an ugly brocade bedspread taking up most of the room, and an uncomfortable-looking narrow cot that's been wheeled in between the TV stand and the window. Also there are little No Smoking signs, like, everywhere.

"Fuck." Gerard flings himself down onto the bed, dropping his bag at his feet, and grabs Mikey before he can try to claim the cot. "Don't even think it, asshole; we're sharing."

"Fuck you," Mikey mumbles, but he folds himself down onto the bed anyway, his pointy limbs tucked in close as he looks curiously around. "Fancy."

"I guess." Gerard flops down onto his side, which twists his knees uncomfortably, so he pulls his feet up onto the bed without bothering to kick off his shoes. The wallpaper matches the ugly brocade pattern of the bedspread, shades of brown and gold that are probably supposed to evoke desert sunsets or some shit. He wants to get out his markers and scrawl graffiti across it, cartoon cacti and cowboys. "'s like a Southern melodrama puked all over it, I keep expecting Scarlett O'Hara to show up with like Zorro or something, you know?"

"Yeah." Mikey fidgets with his earbuds; Gerard can hear the tinny sound – Smashing Pumpkins, he thinks; it sounds kinda like Tonight, Tonight – leaking out of them. "Wanna go find coffee?"

"Hell yeah." It takes a little while for Gerard to force himself to move, though; fancy hotels clearly mean epically comfortable beds, and what with the zombie movie marathon he'd got onto last night and having to get up at the clearly ridiculous hour of eight – okay, nine – this morning, he hadn't exactly slept well. On the other hand, he doesn't really want to stick around to meet whatever asshole distant relative they're going to be rooming with, so he makes himself get up. "C'mon."

---

Unfortunately, their plans are scuppered, or at least temporarily delayed, when their mom pops her head out of her room as soon as their door opens.

"Where do you think you're going?"

"Um." Gerard scratches his head, looking at Mikey for backup and finding him messing with his iPod again. Asshole. "We were gonna see if we could get some coffee. We can bring you some too if –"

"Did you hang your suits up?" Donna wants to know, and Gerard winces, thinking of the crumpled garment bags they'd left on the end of the bed. "Go back and hang them up, neatly. I'm not having the two of you showing me up tomorrow. You can go explore after if you like, but no getting in anyone's way. And I want you down in the lobby looking smart at three sharp for the rehearsal, okay? Do you hear me?"

"Mom," Gerard groans, because seriously, if she's going to be like this all weekend he might actually die of mortification. He's an adult who's going to college in the fall, for fuck's sake.

"Don't you 'Mom' me." Donna glares at him, emerging from her room to poke him in the shoulder. "I can and will tell the bar staff not to serve you, don't think I won't. You better not corrupt Linda's boy, either; he goes to Queen of Peace, so God only knows what he'll make of you two."

Hamburger, probably, Gerard thinks glumly. "Fine, whatever," he grumbles – seriously, this is going to be such a fucking waste of a weekend – and stomps back down the hallway to hang up his and Mikey's stupid suits. After a moment's hesitation, he drags his smaller sketchbook out of his bag, stuffing a couple of pencils and his favorite black and red markers into his pockets. If he can just get some coffee and find someplace out of the way, probably no one'll bother him, and all these hacienda-style galleries and courtyards would look pretty cool overrun with zombies. When Gerard voices this opinion to Mikey on the way down, Mikey nods in agreement, one earbud still in and his eyes on his phone so that Gerard has to pull him out of the way of a railing before he walks into it.

Caffeine, as it turns out, is easy enough to come by; there's a buffet table set up in the bar, and not even all the people milling about with plates and too-cheerful voices can keep Gerard from making a beeline for the coffee pots. It isn't until he's drained his first cup – bitter and overbrewed, the dregs of the pot, but it hits the spot – that he spares enough attention to notice that he's related to approximately half of the people in the room. Mikey's been trapped by a white-haired lady (Grandma Elena's sister-in-law?) and is suffering through having his cheeks pinched, shrugging jerkily in answer to the question Great-Aunt Whoever is asking him. He's in the awkward stage of his latest growth spurt, and his gawky skinniness seems to be prime old lady bait. Gerard hunches his shoulders, refilling his cup from the fresh pot that a waitress chick brings over, and does the only thing there is to do in this kind of situation: he saves himself.

The inner courtyards are cool-looking but too prone to foot traffic, so Gerard heads outside despite the sun overhead, juggling his coffee and sketch pad and a bagel he'd swiped from the buffet. Sweat starts up on his neck instantly, and he skirts the edge of the building, keeping well away from the broad graveled paths signposted to the golf course – seriously, a fucking golf course – and pool. There's a fancy garden behind the hotel, all carefully-striped lawn and manicured hedges and trellises, miles removed from their weed-strewn scrap of yard back home and the bedraggled, grimy parks of Belleville with their dead bodies and broken bottles and lurking needles. It's too clean and sanitized to be quite real, Gerard thinks, but it's quiet and shady and he finds a bench tucked under a little gazebo thing where he can sit and drink his coffee without having to worry about getting all sunburned and gross.

Maybe – maybe – he loses track of time, absorbed in a caricature-style sketch of the hotel that quickly turns into a Rise of the Civil War Zombies comic. Whatever, it's cool, and the empty coffee cup makes a decent enough ashtray once he manages to find his lighter; he's adding red highlights to the blood dripping from Undead Abraham Lincoln's teeth and plotting out the next set of panels in his head when a sudden crunch of gravel startles him out of his zone.

"Oh, hey!" There's a guy staring at him, panting a bit like he's been running. "You've gotta be Gerard, right? Dude, everyone's looking for you." Gerard's stomach twists; the kid is unfamiliar, kind of short, pretty in a punky way with a band logo Gerard doesn't recognize splashed across his shirt. Big eyes under the floppy bangs of a not-quite-fauxhawk crinkle up as he frowns. "Well, like, your brother and your mom, anyway. Your mom is pissed, man."

"Um," Gerard says, before his brain gets up to speed and latches onto the pertinent information. "Oh. Oh, shit, what time is it?" He scrambles to his feet, juggling sketchbook and coffee-cup-cum-ashtray and patting down his pockets in search of his phone. It fails to materialize. "Fuck."

"Nearly three-thirty," Unfamiliar Kid reports, a hint of a grin tugging at his mouth. Expressive; he'd be cool to draw, but Gerard can't even think about that right now. His mom is going to kill him.

"Fuck," he mumbles again, stuffing his markers into his pocket and hurrying – scuttling, really, but he has some dignity, at least inside his head – out of the garden enclosure, heading back to the hotel. Sweat immediately springs up on his skin, prickling all down his back and sides under his hoodie and dampening the back of his neck.

"Hey, wait up!" Unfamiliar Kid lopes after him, catching up to walk beside him like they're friends or something. He sounds annoyingly cheerful, probably because he's not going to his doom, Gerard thinks darkly. Who the hell is he, anyway?

"I'm Frank," the kid says, like it's supposed to mean something to Gerard. Either he's psychic or Gerard's inner and outer voices are getting their wires crossed again. That happens sometimes. "Frank Iero? I'm rooming with you and your brother – Mikey, right?"

"Oh," Gerard says. It's an improvement on the hulking football player he'd been imagining, but he's still not sure he's in favor of the idea. "Are we related?" he asks before he can stop himself, and then he has to wave his hands around, almost dropping his sketchpad. "I mean, I don't remember you, is all. Not, like, anything weird."

"My mom is Suzanna's godmother." Frank turns around to look at him, and Gerard realizes two things: one, that he's stopped in the middle of the fucking lawn, with the sun beating mercilessly down on his head, baking his brain, and two, he's talking to this kid like he knows him. Five weeks out of high school and he already has zero defenses against pretty punk kids. Pretty punk boys who could probably beat the shit out of him despite being shorter and a hell of a lot lighter. Let no one say Gerard doesn't have a fucking type, Christ. He pushes past with an awkward nod of acknowledgment that he hopes signals his complete lack of interest in talking to Frank (bullshit and lies, but what the fuck ever. Gerard's had his head flushed enough times), trudging forward to face his fate.

---

His mom looks up as he skulks up the chapel steps, her eyes narrowing as she looks him up and down, but she doesn't say anything, just glares and points toward the doors. Gerard flinches, because he's gonna get it later, and goes where he's told, slipping into one of the seats Mikey is saving for them at the back. Fuck weddings, seriously.

At least there's air conditioning. He hadn't really noticed it much while he was sketching, but even in the shade it had been hot outside; his shirt is gross and sticky, clinging to his skin, and the back of his neck is prickling with cooling sweat. It's only made worse when Frank sits next to him like he doesn't even notice, slouching down against the plush seat back and bouncing one leg like he's actually incapable of staying still. There's a hole starting in the knee of his jeans, skin and the edge of a bruise showing through; Gerard tries to find somewhere else to look but gets distracted again when Frank shifts like he's getting himself comfortable, pulling something small out of his back pocket and starting to flip it through his fingers. It takes Gerard several furtive looks, while he pretends to be concentrating on the priest and the wedding party walking through the ceremony up front, to realize it's a guitar pick, shiny black plastic dulled by scratches.

He thinks he must have made a noise, because Mikey jabs him in the ribs with a pointy elbow – too late; his mom is glaring from the end of the row and Frank is looking at him curiously. Gerard ducks his head, hunching his shoulders, and tries to get the image of Frank with a guitar – wrapped around a guitar, curving Gibson lines fitting into the hollow of his body and tilted hips, fuck – out of his head by concentrating on what's happening up front, which mostly seems to be a lot of boring discussion about Bible verses and what order the bridal party should walk in. His fingers are twitching, though, and his sketchpad is sitting right there in his lap where he can't quite stop himself from reaching for it.

Mikey sighs – barely audible, but Gerard can tell – when he flips open a fresh page and fumbles a pencil out of his pocket, but Frank sits up a little, his fingers slowing on the pick. Gerard ignores him, blocking in quick firm lines as he squints at the front of the room. If he treats it like a class exercise, a life-drawing assignment, he can mostly put aside the desire to draw what he shouldn't. He gets the basic outlines of the figures down, then starts elaborating, suggesting formal robes and suits with a few angular lines and a froth of white tulle and flowers around Cousin Suzanna. His mom will approve, at least; maybe, Gerard thinks vaguely, most of him off in that place where there's only shape and shadow, she'll even want him to finish it off properly tomorrow to give to the couple or Aunt Louise or someone. Maybe Elena; she'd like it better than photographs, he thinks, even though he's pretty sure she hadn't minded staying home on doctor's orders.

"Dude," someone says right in his ear, and something digs suddenly into his ribs on the other side, startling him out of his trance. Gerard jumps, staring down at the fangs and claws he's been unconsciously doodling onto the groom – aw, fuck – and then up to where the rehearsal seems to have ended. His mom is approaching with Aunt Louise and another lady Gerard doesn't know in tow; Mikey takes his sketchbook away from him just in time, flipping it closed and elbowing Gerard again in the process. Wake up, fuckhead, Gerard interprets, and he shakes his head clear as Donna narrows her eyes at him.

"Go change for dinner – something tidy. You have an hour," she says, in the no-bullshit tone she pulls out so rarely that Gerard flinches defensively. That makes her sigh, and she glances between him and Mikey before tugging Gerard a little to the side, touching his forehead and pushing his sweaty hair back out of his eyes. "It's only a couple of days, baby; at least try and enjoy it?"

Gerard ducks his head, sure he's blushing – why the fuck does she have to pick now to get all motherly? – but when he chances a look up, Frank's being towed out of the room by the other lady, waving over his shoulder like he's not even embarrassed.

"Okay," Gerard mumbles, and he fidgets with the markers in his pocket until Mikey catches his eye, twitching an impatient eyebrow. Gerard starts over toward him, but Donna catches him by the arm, her grip firm and warning.

"Wait a second. Give me your fake ID." She holds out her hand, palm flat and expectant, and Gerard stares at it, contemplating trying to bullshit her, but he's just never been that good at putting on an innocent face. Slumping his shoulders glumly, he digs out his wallet and hands the ID over. It's a fucking good one, too; maybe if he's not too much of an asshole, she'll give it back?

"You wish," Mikey says, when Gerard broaches this thought as they're wandering back down the stupid endless galleries in search of their room.

"Fuck," Gerard mumbles, tucking his sketchpad close to his chest. Fucking family bullshit, Jesus Christ. He can't remember the room number, but it's printed on the keycard: 142. He stares down at it, contemplating the bleakness of his existence until Mikey prods him out of it with bony fingers in his ribs that force him to squirm away, a ridiculous squeaking noise surprised from his mouth. "Mikey!" he protests.

"What," Mikey says imperturbably – it's not like he's gonna have this problem for another few years, Gerard thinks huffily; at sixteen, he's all elbows and knees, too teenager to get served anywhere even if he does somehow know everyone in every club in Belleville. He bumps his shoulder into Gerard's, though, and Gerard bumps back, and then they're back at the room. Gerard pauses with the keycard halfway into the lock, suddenly remembering about Frank – what if he's changing? What if – but Mikey just takes it from him, opening the door and tugging Gerard in after him, fingers gripping the sleeve of his jacket.

"Oh, hey." Frank looks up from where he's sat cross-legged on the cot, rummaging in a backpack. The light from the window falls across his face, catching the ring through his ear and the corners of his eyes as he smiles, and Gerard swallows painfully, trying to dislodge the sudden knot from his throat. Fuck, it's like everything he's ignored and stamped down on for the past four years of staring at the ground and trying to make himself invisible (or at least less conspicuous) is trying to come bubbling out now high school's over. He's always held onto the hope that it'll be okay once he gets to college; easier to think about, art school is supposed to be all about expressing yourself and shit. Fuck.

"Hey." Mikey goes to sit on the bed, pulling his earbuds out and starting to poke desultorily through his bag for a clean shirt. Gerard stays where he is, fidgeting uncertainly with his sketchpad as he tries to decide what to do.

"'m gonna shower," he mumbles eventually, when Frank's glanced curiously up at him for the fourth time in as many minutes, and drags his whole bag with him into the bathroom, ignoring Mikey's speaking eyebrow. It's not like he doesn't fucking wash; he just hadn't had time that morning, what with having to be dragged bodily out of his comfortable bed and cool basement. Fucking Mikey; he'd be the first to complain if Gerard took his stink to bed.

This hotel bathroom is vastly superior to the few others in Gerard's admittedly limited experience; the shower head is detachable, and the complimentary soap, when he sniffs it experimentally, smells like herbs and green things rather than harsh chemicals. He swabs it around briefly and hurries through rinsing, too aware of the lack of a lock on the bathroom door to want to take any longer than he absolutely has to. His hair, when he tugs a handful forward, passes the sniff test even if it is a bit greasy, so he runs his fingers through it in lieu of a comb and even manages to get most of the way dressed in his good – well, clean – jeans and a plain black shirt before Mikey's thumping on the door, demanding access to the mirror.

When Gerard stumbles out of the bathroom, leaving Mikey to squint at himself over the tops of his glasses as he fiddles with his hair, Frank's changed too, into some kind of khakis that are rapidly developing creases as he sits cross-legged, reading. He's chewing on one side of his lower lip, the front ends of his hair falling forward into his face, and Gerard's stomach flips over for a second without his permission before he's distracted by the comic book in Frank's lap.

"Is that the latest X-Men?" Gerard blurts out, dumping his bag onto the bed and kneeing across it so he can peer over at the comic. Frank glances up at him, clearly startled, but grins the next second, holding up the comic so Gerard can see the cover.

"Yep. You read it?"

"No." It's only been out a couple of days, and Gerard's been working extra bookstore shifts to get this weekend free; Mikey's just fucking broke as usual. He's pretty proud of his restraint in not making grabby hands. "Um. Can I...?"

"Sure." Frank hands the issue over right away, and Gerard takes it with the care and respect due to other people's shit, mentally apologizing for ever having thought Frank an asshole. "It's pretty cool," Frank continues blithely. "Hey, you were drawing this afternoon, right? In the garden?"

Gerard makes a vaguely affirmative sound, turning a page. There's a really awesome double-page battle spread, fuck, he's gonna have to buy this one next week.

"Cool." Frank's voice drifts along the edges of Gerard's attention, distracting, but he doesn't drop any spoilers or anything, which is better than Gerard can often manage. He only does it to Mikey, though, who doesn't get too pissed at him. "Are you in, like, college, or...?"

"Huh?" Gerard looks up, blinking as he realizes Frank's watching him, intent and curious. His stomach goes squirmy, and he looks away from Frank's eyes. "Oh. I just graduated – high school, I mean. I just graduated," he says again, stupidly, and tries to recover with, "I'm going to college in the fall – SVA. Art school. In the city." Fuck, he's babbling; he turns a page, refocusing on the comic. Northstar and Jinadu are talking, and Gerard swallows, his eyes sliding over the next few speech boxes as he tries to keep from looking like he's lingering on the panels or turning the page too fast. He can feel Frank's gaze on him like a weight; he wants to look up, but doesn't dare.

"Cool," is all Frank says, but there's something in his voice, wistful maybe. "I've got another two years of this fucking Catholic school bullshit," and Gerard thinks fuck, and he's sixteen? because that makes Frank legal, and that is so not a thought he ought to be having.

"You kinda don't seem like a, you know, like you'd go to Catholic school," he says, before he can think better of it, and he has to look up, he can't not, when Frank laughs. It sounds nice, not like he's laughing at Gerard but maybe with him, or at himself.

"I'm gonna take that as a compliment, man." Frank grins at him, wide and crinkle-eyed and warm, and Gerard feels himself start to blush like he's fucking fifteen again, his stomach twisting itself up into knots. He ducks his head, flipping the page without reading a word. Christ, he's so stupid, the kid's just being friendly for fuck's sake.

Fortunately for Gerard's self-possession, Mikey wanders out of the bathroom before either of them can say anything else, his hair looking exactly the same as always as he peers at Gerard. "X-men?" Gerard shrugs one shoulder a little.

"It's Frank's." He closes the comic without reading the end, thrusting it back toward Frank and scooting off the bed to delve into his bag for new socks. Putting them onto damp feet is so gross.

"You wanna read it?" Frank asks Mikey, holding out the comic; Gerard leaves them to it, running an absent hand through his hair – so what if he has to wipe it on his jeans after – and pulling out his markers to add some color to the werewolf wedding drawing. The concept is kind of growing on him; he changes a couple of lines, adding emphasis to others, to turn the priest into a slayer with a silver cross extended as the guests cower back from the monster breaking out of the groom's suit.

There's a sequence forming in his head, the full moon rising over the window sill, the priest tugging the terrified bride behind him as he lifts a shotgun from the altar – Gerard flips a page, frantically sketching out panels – the werewolf howls to the sky as the wedding guests overturn their chairs and run for the door... no, wait. Fakeout; the guests overturn their chairs so it looks like they're running, and then the angle cuts to the bride, who's growing fangs and fur behind the priest's oblivious back. End with the big double doors and sounds of slaughter. Maybe blood seeping underneath... Gerard finished scribbling down the outline and flips back a couple of pages, contemplating. Undead Abe versus the Werewolf Wedding Party would be really fucking cool to draw...

"Whoa." Frank's voice – impressed voice, some stupid part of Gerard's brain insists on noticing – is really close, and Gerard starts so badly that he almost topples off the edge of the bed. "Shit." Frank grabs his shoulder, holding him upright as Gerard blinks at him, trying to recover the power of speech. "Sorry, dude. Are those zombies?"

"…Yeah." Gerard closes his sketchpad and stuffs it back into his bag, pulling – totally smoothly – away from Frank's grip on his shoulder in the process. Mikey is making eyebrow faces at him, because he's Mikey, but Frank doesn't seem to notice anything off so Gerard ignores him.

"Awesome." Frank even sound like he means it; Gerard shrugs uncomfortably, opening his mouth to say something – he doesn't even know what, the awkwardness is just poking at him, sharp-edged. He's preempted, thankfully, by a loud knock on the door, and then it's all hurrying to get shoes on while his mom waits impatiently, tapping her foot.

---

Dinner turns out to be a complete bust, and a pain in the ass as well, because fucking everybody – and seriously, there are like three hundred people here and half of them are fucking relatives – wants to talk at Gerard about college. He gets tired of fielding bullshit advice after about thirty seconds, but the stupid buffet setup leaves him with no way to avoid all the assholes who wanna stop by his table and tell him how hard he's gonna have to work and isn't art school supposed to be full of weirdos?

"It's like they're not even looking at me," Gerard complains to Mikey after Uncle Tony – Aunt Margie's husband, not Dad's brother – has fucked off back to the buffet for seconds. Mikey, the traitor, snorts; he's mostly getting talked at about grades, but the monosyllabic answers seem to make people back off pretty quick. Gerard's tried that, but for some reason it just makes people look at him out of the corners of their eyes, like they think he's about to pull out an Uzi and open up or something.

"Hey, what's up?" Gerard looks up, startled, as Frank appears out of nowhere, dropping himself down into the empty chair on Mikey's other side. "Everyone keeps asking who the hell I am; it's getting old."

Gerard snorts, unconsciously echoing Mikey, and pokes a little at the gross potato salad on his plate. "Like ten people have asked if I have a girlfriend."

"Sore point?" Frank asks, and Gerard hunches his shoulders, staring down at his plate and hearing Mikey sigh. It isn't sore, not really; he hadn't thought about her once today until everyone insisted on bringing the whole thing back up.

"He got dumped," Mikey tells Frank, because he's an asshole, and Frank makes a noise that's probably supposed to be understanding and shit but just sounds to Gerard like gloating. Probably Frank is dating some cool punk chick who's just as stupidly hot as he is, and they'll get matching tattoos when they graduate high school and have a bunch of sickeningly cute babies together, just like everyone else even if they don't quite fit the cookie cutters.

"Hey." Frank's voice cuts into Gerard's settling gloom, snapping him out of his thoughts. "Wanna get the fuck out of here?"

Huh? Gerard blinks at him, then turns to Mikey, waiting for an explanation.

"There's a pizza place a couple miles up the road." Mikey only rolls his eyes at Gerard a little, at least. "You've got your keys, right?"

"Huh? Yeah." Gerard looks down at the remnants of the gross potato salad, then around at the hordes of relatives. "Fuck it, Mom'll never notice." He can't even see her. "Let's go."

"Awesome." Frank shoves his plate back, bouncing to his feet with a grin. "There's fuckin' cheese in every single vegetarian thing, swear to God. It's like no one's ever heard of vegans."

"You're vegan?" Mikey asks, before Gerard can say something that would have been totally awesome about the cooks probably not believing in vegans. "Cool."

"Not really." Frank makes a weird, wrinkle-nosed considering face that's fucking ridiculously adorable, seriously, Gerard can't even take it. "Lactose intolerant, it's a fuckin' pain. Vegetarian, though, yeah."

"How are you gonna eat pizza, then?" Gerard asks, looking back over his shoulder as he sidles around a crowd of mostly unfamiliar people; it means he sees Frank's expression fall as his mom appears out of nowhere, catching him by the arm.

"Where do you think you're going, young man?" Shit, she's giving Gerard the side-eye too; he tries to straighten his shoulders and look responsible or some shit, but it's blatantly not all that successful.

"We were gonna go out and find something I can eat, Mom." The puppy eyes Frank pulls out are actually ridiculous, huge and imploring, and Gerard has to look away before either of them catches him staring. Mikey clearly hasn't missed it, but then he's fucking Mikey, and he just twitches an eyebrow, dry and faintly mocking. Gerard swallows, remembering the night – months ago, before fucking Christmas – when he'd spent a half-hour drunkenly talking his way around his own terrifying feelings without ever naming them. Neither of them have mentioned it since, Gerard doing his best to pretend it hadn't happened, but sometimes he catches Mikey giving him this look, patient and wry and like he's silently calling Gerard an idiot all at the same time.

"Fine," Frank's mom capitulates, reaching up to ruffle his hair. "You're to be back by nine, though, okay? And I'll talk to Louise about the menus for tomorrow."

"Thanks Mom!" Frank grins, grabbing Gerard by the arm and all but dragging him out of the doors, like he thinks he's gonna back out or something. Gerard stumbles after him, his stupid skin betraying him by going hot all over as Frank's callused fingertips slide roughly against his wrist. He can feel Mikey smirking behind his back, fuck.

---

The station wagon looks even more like a piece of shit now that some asshole has parked a fancy BMW alongside it. Frank doesn't seem to notice, though, earning Mikey's silent ire by calling shotgun while Gerard's still fumbling through his jacket pockets for the keys.

"Where the fuck is this pizza place, anyway?" The driver's seat is way too far forward; Gerard wrestles it back, unearthing half a pack of his mom's Reds in the process. Shit, now that he thinks about it, of course he wants a smoke; he pulls out his own pack, then stalls guiltily. "Uh..." He glances over at Frank, lighter poised in his hand. "Is it okay if I smoke? I can, like, wind the windows down..." Plus, the AC is for shit and after an afternoon in the sun the car is a disgusting stifling oven.

"Fuck the windows, gimme one." Frank makes grabby hands at him, pulling out the same ridiculously huge puppy eyes he'd used on his mom. Mikey snorts from the backseat – he's stretched out across it like it's some old-fashioned chaise thing, his back curled into the embrace of the door as he texts two-handed. Gerard doesn't need his asshole little brother to tell him he's ridiculously easy for that look, though; he's handing over his pack even while he's thinking, sixteen. Sixteen and in Catholic school; Gerard is so screwed.

"Fuckin' go," Mikey mumbles from the backseat, jolting Gerard out of his covert staring at the practiced way Frank sucks in smoke with a half-hearted kick to the back of the driver's seat. Oh, right, Gerard thinks, and lights his own cigarette one-handed as he jams the key into the ignition and starts the car.

"Where am I supposed to be, you know, going?" he asks once he's successfully negotiated their way out of the parking lot without actually causing an incredibly expensive disaster. Thank fuck he's more or less sober right now; the couple Xanax from this morning probably don't count at this point.

"Left out the gate," Mikey says laconically when Frank just shrugs expressively, blowing smoke at Gerard and slouching against the door with his cigarette-holding arm propped in the open window. Gravel crunches and spits beneath the wheels, probably doing a number on the already-shitty paint job; it's a weird kind of relief to pull back out onto the highway and pick enough speed that Gerard has to concentrate on driving rather than the swooping roil of his stomach.

"How far is it?" There's nothing but trees lining the side of the highway, interspersed with little roads and driveways that might lead to mansions or secret experimental facilities or fuck knows what. Gerard still has no idea where the hell they are except for somewhere in North Jersey or maybe New York State, and the name of the town on the boundary sign they pass after a couple minutes isn't remotely familiar. "Mikey?" he prompts, glancing in the rear-view as the seat creaks.

"Up here on the left," Mikey says as a speed-limit sign flies past. Gerard's only barely started to brake when the drive-thru signboards appear around the curve of the road. He zeros in on the familiar flash of green and white immediately.

"Fuck, Mikes, you could've said there was a Starbucks!" Gerard squints at the lazy traffic ahead as he tries to remember how much credit he has on his card. Coffee is way more important than pizza, for serious.

"Side benefit," Mikey mumbles, shuffling himself upright; his knees dig into the back of Gerard's seat as he tries to arrange his limbs.

"Really?" Frank flicks his cigarette butt out of the window, sitting up straight to peer ahead as Gerard slows to let the car in front turn. "Fuck, yeah, I want coffee too. How long've we got?"

"Like..." Gerard glances at the dashboard clock, trying to remember how many minutes it's out by lately. "Half an hour? Maybe. At least," he guesses, turning off the highway and hesitating at the start of the drive-through lane. There's a little mall type thing going on here, with a Best Buy and some garage place as well as Domino's and a Wendy's in the back, and the parking lot is pretty empty for a Saturday night in June. "I'm gonna park," he decides, stepping back on the gas before the semi coming up behind him can start honking.

"I'll get the pizza if you get the coffee?" Frank offers, turning to Gerard once they're parked up. Gerard blinks at him for a second, then starts fumbling for his wallet.

"I want pepperoni," Mikey tells his phone; Frank makes a scrunched-up face, probably over the meat-eating thing. Gerard concentrates on separating the bills from the far more numerous receipts and ATM statements. "And a four-shot with cream." Mikey's knees dig pointedly into Gerard's back.

"Whatever," Gerard mumbles, coming up with a twenty that he holds out hopefully to Frank. "Um, I guess a medium with pepperoni and extra cheese? If that's okay?" Any other time he'd probably get a large, but with Frank looking at him he can't help but be conscious of the waistband of his jeans digging into the flesh of his stomach. He's already eaten some, anyway, back at the hotel. "What do you wanna drink?"

"One of those slushy caramel coffee things, with soy." Frank looks at Gerard's money like he wants to refuse it, so Gerard shoves it into his hand, ducking his head so his hair falls over his face as he heaves himself out of the car.

"Right, gimme a sec." He shuffles off toward the enticing green Starbucks sign, ignoring the mumble of Mikey's voice behind him and Frank's answering laugh. Well, he tries to ignore the laugh, but it reminds him a little too much of high school and other cool kids, the low-grade everyday shittiness of existence. Even that only accounts for half of the squirmy feeling in the pit of his stomach.

The AC hits him the minute he pushes through the door, and he has to stop for a second to bask in it and just breathe in the scent of coffee that's the same in every Starbucks ever built. When he looks up, though, the place is fuller than the empty parking lot had suggested, a bunch of girls in seriously minimal summer clothing clustered on the sofas in back while little knots of guys who really do look like fucking football players shove at each other. At least half of them are staring at him, now; Gerard ducks his head and hunches his shoulders automatically, tugging at the cuffs of his jacket as he goes through the motions of mumbling his order and fumbling his card out of his wallet and fidgeting at the end of the bar while he waits. It's a relief to collect the cups and get the hell out of there (and oh, there's definitely some laughter following him out, fucking douchebags).

Mikey's feet are dangling out of the window, the right one twitching a bit to some inaudible beat. Gerard pokes him in the knee, trying to get his attention, and gets kicked in the stomach for his trouble. Drops of coffee explode from the tray in his hand, spattering up the front of his jacket. "Fuck," Gerard complains, staring down at himself.

"Shit." Mikey pulls his legs back through the window, ignoring Gerard in favor of rooting about in the footwell for his phone. Serves him right, Gerard thinks grumpily. He slouches down into the driver's seat, thrusting one of the coffees toward the backseat and holding it there at arm's length until Mikey deigns to take it from him.

"Thanks, Gee." Mikey leans forward between the seats, nudging Gerard's shoulder in silent non-apology. Appeased, Gerard brushes at his jacket again and sucks on his hazelnut frappe without bothering to take it out of the tray, his eyes fixed on the entrance to the Domino's. Three other people come out before Frank appears, eyes squinted against the sun as he crosses the parking lot. Gerard doesn't even think he's being obvious, but Mikey makes kind of a cough anyway, one eyebrow raised drily when Gerard turns.

"What?" He has to busy himself with taking the coffees out of the tray and settling them in the cup holders; condensation wets his palms and he rubs them compulsively on his thighs. Mikey flops back into the backseat with a huff of breath, managing not to spill his coffee in the process.

"Nothing." His tone says, you're a moron. Gerard ignores it, finding his cigarettes and lighting up to give his hands something to do; he wants to draw the sharp curve of Frank's hair that falls from his temple to kiss the arch of his cheekbone. He wants to stop being so fucking stupid, Jesus Christ.

"Hey." Frank climbs back into the car and shuffles the pizza boxes, twisting to hand the larger one back to Mikey. "One gross pepperoni, extra cheese. I got some garlic bread too, they had a special."

"Cool." Mikey's already into the box, extracting a slice and chomping down, filling the car with pizza smell. Gerard eyes the dashboard clock, but he doesn't actually want to drop Frank in it, much less have his mom find out he'd borrowed the car without permission.

"Save me some, asshole," he grumbles, yanking the car into drive.

---

Frank spends the whole drive back fiddling with the radio, making dissatisfied noises as he flips through station after staticky station of interchangeable pop and R'n'B. Mikey makes unhelpful suggestions from the back seat and Gerard tries to tune them both out, watching the white stripes pass under the hood of the car. Now that the sun's starting to drop toward the horizon, the shadows are long and deep and the woods bordering the road look like the perfect setting for a horror movie. They've probably already seen a lot of mob assassinations, Gerard thinks absently; that would make a good movie premise, actually, a restless ghost out for revenge on its killers. A bunch of kids out in the woods get possessed, and...

"Right here," Mikey says in his ear, startling Gerard into almost sending them off the road; he slams on the brakes, causing the car behind them to honk angrily as it nearly plows into them.

"Fucking – Jesus, Mikey!" Gerard makes the right turn as quickly as he dares, waving an apologetic hand over his shoulder at the pissed-looking chick in the red sedan. His heart is pounding, and Frank is clinging to the passenger door handle, looking kind of wide-eyed.

"Pay attention," is all Mikey says, serenely, as Gerard inches the car back into the parking space they'd left. He has to sit for a minute after turning off the engine, hunched over himself and trying to remember how to breathe normally. Shit, he needs a drink.

"Dude." A hand settles on his shoulder, rubbing firmly. Not Mikey, then. "You okay?" Frank asks, and Gerard has to look up, just to check that he isn't being mocked. Frank's expression is caught somewhere between freaking out and busting out laughing, but he doesn't look mean, so Gerard thinks it's probably adrenaline or something.

"I'm fine," he manages. Mikey, the dick, is already out of the car and slouching across the parking lot with the pizza. Gerard makes a superhuman effort and pulls himself together, arming himself with coffee and keycard – fuck you too, Mikeyway – and clambering out of the car. "C'mon," he mumbles, "let's get back in the fuckin' air already."

None of the hotel staff give them a second look as they troop through the lobby in Mikey's wake, laden with pizza boxes and sweating Starbucks cups, but Gerard feels twitchy anyway. They take the stairs rather than searching for the elevator that might not even exist, and by the time they're halfway down the hallway the silence has twisted him up so much that he can't help but burst out with the first thing that comes to mind, which is "So you play guitar, right?" Fucking smooth there, Jesus Christ.

"Yup." When Gerard glances sideways, surreptitiously through the messy fall of his hair, Frank's looking back at him. "Since, like, forever. My dad and grandad are both drummers, so I guess I like, grew up with music and shit."

"Cool," Gerard breathes, and he's so busy watching Frank out of the corner of his eye that he almost walks right past Mikey who's leaning up against the room door, munching on a pizza slice. Frank and Mikey both have to catch his sleeves to stop him, and Gerard stumbles to a halt, wanting to sink through the fucking floor. His face feels like it's on fire as he fumbles the keycard into the slot. Forget smooth; he's never going to be anything but a lame-ass loser. He might as well just accept it, he thinks miserably, slumping down onto the stupidly comfortable hotel bed and fumbling through his bag so he doesn't have to meet either of their eyes (or worse, watch Frank skinning out of his dress pants and climbing back into his jeans, because that seems to be a thing that's happening). His fingers slip over the round smooth pill bottle and shy away from the faint rattling sound, and Gerard hunches his shoulders, digging out his creaky old iPod instead.

"Here," Mikey shoves the pizza box across the bedspread with his knee, and produces a pair of beers – shitty blue cans of Miller, but like Gerard's gonna complain – from his bag.

"Fuck, Mikes." Gerard snatches one gratefully, fingers curling around the room temperature metal. "Fuckin' awesome," he mumbles into the foam that fizzes out when he cracks the top.

"Whoa, dude." Frank scrambles up onto the foot of the bed, garlic bread held before him like an offering as he eyes Mikey hopefully. They're the same age, Gerard realizes; it makes something unpleasant squirm in his stomach and he tries to quiet it by drinking more not-quite-warm beer. "Can I maybe get one of those?"

Catholic school! Gerard thinks, but he doesn't say anything. Fuck if he has a right to judge; he's been buying for Mikey ever since he's had a decent enough fake to bullshit the counter clerks, and one shitty beer does not a bottle of vodka make. Or something.

"'ve only got these two." Mikey eyes Frank right back, then shrugs, unfolding himself to disappear into the bathroom. He comes back with one of the plastic tumblers from over the sink, handing it to Frank as he pops open the can. "Here, I guess. No use asking Gee to share."

"Hey," Gerard grumbles, but his argument is effectively negated since it comes out beer-muffled.

"Thanks, man." Frank holds the cup still while Mikey pours for him. The way he sips on it, not the tentative tasting of the innocent or the chugging eagerness of the typical high school douchebag, but more like he wants to make it last, makes Gerard feel easier about the whole thing even as his chest tightens. His hands twitch, the can crinkling a little, and he reaches for the pizza box to have something to do, relieved to find half the pie left. It makes him feel kind of guilty for calling Mikey an asshole, even in his own head, and he shifts a little on the bed, nudging Mikey's shoulder with his. Mikey responds by wiping his garlic-buttery fingers on the knee of Gerard's jeans. Fucking asshole, Gerard thinks darkly, nudging him harder in retaliation.

Frank's muffled giggle startles him into looking up. He's smiling so bright and open that it makes Gerard's stomach clench with how seriously fucking pretty he is. He's also holding a slice of his weird-ass no-cheese pizza in mid-air, and the veggies are about to –

"Uh, your –" Gerard starts, reaching out before he remembers that he's holding his beer, so it turns into a vague pointing sort of gesture that's too late, because right as Frank blinks down at his pizza, like he's completely forgotten it's there, the toppings make a break for it. Peppers and spinach – who the fuck puts spinach on pizza, ew – and a sizable glob of tomato sauce splat right onto his jeans, where his bent knee shows through one of the unraveling holes.

"Aw, fuck." Frank waves his pizza slice around like he's looking for somewhere to put it, then shrugs and crams the whole thing into his mouth, chewing messily as he picks the vegetables off his pants and starts wiping at the smear of sauce on his knee. He looks up at them – at Gerard – as he's licking his fingers clean, one by one, and right at that moment it's pretty much the hottest thing Gerard's ever seen. He can't make himself look away – he can't breathe – and he clutches his beer for dear life, desperately trying to think of something that isn't going to result in a telltale blush or, worse, a horrifically humiliating boner. He is so fucked.

The knock at the door makes him jump, and he almost splashes beer across the bed when a voice calls "Frankie?" from the hallway. Frank's comically wide eyes might almost be funny, if Gerard weren't having a freak-out-induced seizure.

"Coming, Mom!" Frank scrambles up, shoving his tumbler of beer at Gerard. "Fucking hide it!" he hisses, trying to smooth down his hair with one hand like that's going to distract his mom from the way Gerard's corrupting a minor. Gerard just stares at him, paralyzed, until Mikey unfolds himself with a sigh and takes the beer from both of them, disappearing into the bathroom and shutting the door firmly. After a second, Gerard hears the water turn on.

"Hey." Frank pulls open the door without sparing a glance for Gerard, so Gerard tries to look busy, fumbling for his sketchbook. He's totally pretending not to listen, though, as Frank's mom sighs over the Starbucks cups and the pizza stain on Frank's jeans, and reminds him to call his dad tomorrow morning, "Bright and early, please; I don't want to have to come drag you out of bed, young man. Saturday or no Saturday."

"Sure, mom." Frank's leaning against the open door, toeing at the hotel carpet. He doesn't seem self-conscious at all; Gerard kind of envies that.

"I'll let you get some sleep, then." Linda's tone of voice suggests that she expects him to be doing anything but, and Gerard tries not to hunch his shoulders too guiltily. "There'll be brunch laid out from nine-thirty, okay? I made sure they'll definitely have some things you can eat."

"Cool. Night, Mom." The door shuts and Gerard ducks his head, pulling his sketchbook into his lap and digging out a pencil to start on a detail sketch of Undead Abe. He's surprised when the bed dips as Frank climbs back onto it, until he remembers the pizza.

"Think he flushed it?" When Gerard looks up, Frank's watching him with wide, opaque eyes, the picture of calm except for the way he's rubbing his palms on his jeans.

"Huh?" It takes him a moment to recall the beer. "Oh. Mikey would never," Gerard assures Frank, which makes him relax a little, but he's still tugging at the fraying edges of the hole in his jeans, like he just has to be doing something with his hands. Gerard feels a tiny, warm thrill of recognition, and concentrates on shading in the sticky cobwebs matting Abraham Lincoln's beard. Getting the difference in texture down is difficult in black and white, and it's hard to show the blood stains properly. Gerard shifts halfway onto his knees to dig the markers out of his pocket, and flinches when Frank lets out a sound somewhere between a whoop and a gasp and grabs for his sketchbook.

"Holy shit, zombie Lincoln?"

"Um." Gerard stares at him uncertainly, trying to settle on a response. "Yes?"

"That's so awesome." Frank is staring down at the drawing, eyes wide and almost awed. "I fucking love zombies, man. Day of the Dead is, like, my second favorite movie after Texas, you know?"

Gerard takes a breath, because he can so totally talk about horror movies for the rest of his life, but he's forestalled by the bathroom door creaking open and Mikey emerging. With the beer, which is always a plus.

"Look!" Frank holds up Gerard's sketchbook, beaming like he'd drawn it himself or something. Mikey, because he's Mikey and Gerard loves him for it, raises an eyebrow at Gerard but doesn't actually laugh as he holds the beers out.

"Cool. You should draw a zombie Mount Rushmore, Gee."

"Fuck." Gerard stares at him for a second, then reclaims his sketchbook with one hand and his beer with the other, draining what's left of it and dumping the empty can onto the nightstand. "You have the fuckin' best ideas, Mikes." Frank's nodding, eyes wide over the rim of his half-a-beer.

"I know." Mikey shrugs one shoulder and holds out his half of the other beer to Gerard. "Here. 'm gonna go down for a bit."

"Huh?" Gerard blinks at that, puzzled, but accepts the can out of habit. Mikey doesn't offer so much as a twitch of eyebrow in explanation, turning without a word to slouch out of the door. It's only then that Gerard really registers that he's wearing a different shirt, and his hair is freshly smoothed down around his face. "What the fuck?" he asks, rhetorically, and jumps when Frank giggles.

"Dude, he was totally checking out that blonde waitress at dinner. Didn't you notice?"

"Oh." Gerard blinks, thinking back, but he really hadn't. Fucking Mikey; there should be, like, a law against getting laid more often than your older brother or something.

"Guess you were busy getting interrogated, huh?" Frank sounds sympathetic, but also like he's eyeing Gerard's – Mikey's – beer. "Uh, you gonna drink that, or...?"

"Oh," Gerard says again, and shrugs, beckoning Frank to hold his mostly-empty cup closer so he can top it up. His mouth goes on without him, "So, like, you have to call your dad tomorrow?"

"Yeah." Frank doesn't seem to mind Gerard being a nosy motormouth, at least. "It's supposed to be his weekend, so."

"Oh." Divorced, then? "My dad just had to work," Gerard says, stupidly. Why is he always such a loser, fuck.

"Yeah." Frank doesn't seem pissed off, but he changes the subject, leaning forward to tap Gerard's sketchpad. "Hey, you should draw me as a zombie."

Gerard's fingers tighten on his pencil. "Really?" He doesn't actually squeak, but it's a near thing. Sure, he'd been planning on drawing Frank, but in a 'secretly, back in the basement where no one will ever know, not even Mikey' way. He hadn't expected an invitation.

"Fuck yeah." Frank scrambles up onto his knees, shoving the pizza boxes out of the way so he can shuffle a few inches closer to Gerard. "A really fucking gross zombie." He sounds so excited about it, and Gerard knows he's not going to be able to say no even before Frank pulls out the puppy eyes. "Please?"

"Um." Gerard swallows, looking down at his sketchbook. "Okay, I guess. You mean, like, blood and guts gross or actual fucking, maggots and rotting shit?" Carefully, he flips to a clean page, examining the point of his pencil.

"Totally maggots." Frank sounds so fucking delighted about his own hypothetical rotting corpse. Gerard's throat constricts, and he has to clear it; Frank doesn't seem to notice. "Gross as you can get and still look like me, seriously."

"Okay." Gerard takes a deep breath and looks up, trying to psych himself into his sketching zone without much success. Frank's leaning back on his hands, watching Gerard with this totally expectant look that in no way distracts Gerard from the nervous fluttering of his own traitor heart. "You can't look until I'm done, though," he says.

"Right, sure." Frank fidgets in place for a moment, staring back at Gerard. "Uh, should I stay still, or...?"

"Do whatever." Gerard's embarrassingly sure that he could draw Frank with his eyes shut. "Just, like, don't distract me I guess?" He looks down at the blank page, chewing on his lip and rolling his pencil in his fingers. Fuck, what's he even doing?

"Right," Frank says again, and bounces up off the bed, going to dig into his bag and coming back after a couple seconds with an older generation iPod, one earbud already stuffed in his ear, and the same X-Men issue from that afternoon. Gerard watches his face, fighting the urge to drop his gaze as he tries to visualize what he wants to draw. Frank would look pretty cool with one eye ripped out; maybe he'll keep most of the damage to one side to contrast with that pretty face, like Mazikeen in Sandman and Lucifer. Not too derivative, though; maybe a throat wound on the clean side, for balance, and slash one side of his mouth out...

He gets so lost in sketching and inking – he's pretty sure he's gonna need colors for this one, to really get the proper tone – that he almost jumps out of his skin when Frank abruptly speaks up.

"You look really cool when you're all, you know, concentrated." Gerard looks up, his heart beating so fast it feels like it's choking him. Frank's just looking at him, like that's a totally ordinary thing to fucking come out with. "This afternoon, too." He's sitting cross-legged, mirroring Gerard, bouncing one knee rhythmically. Gerard swallows.

"What are you listening to?" he manages eventually, forcing himself to look back down at his work.

"Bouncing Souls." Frank shifts, lifting up his other earbud as though he's going to offer it, but he sits back as Gerard shies away, clutching his sketchpad protectively to his chest. "Right, don't look, sorry."

"It's okay." Gerard mentally slaps himself in the face for being pathetic and lays his sketchbook carefully face down so he can lean over and get the rest of his markers out of his bag. Mint-green and gray make a pretty sick zombie flesh-tone, layered. "Aren't they touring in a couple weeks?"

"Yeah, right before school starts back up." Frank's bouncing along again; Gerard chews on his lip. "I'm totally gonna see how many shows I can catch."

"Cool." Markers need concentration; Gerard still hasn't quite mastered blending to his own satisfaction. A gray wash covers most ills, though, and red and black on top of that pick out the congealed blood and shreds of flesh pretty nicely. Gerard considers his work critically before adding in some more shadow to highlight the maggots crawling through the remains of Zombie Frank's neck and the edges of the slash wound on his cheek. Pretty fucking gross. A little more red and black to make the curl of hair plastered down the clean side of his face look matted with blood and fluids, and Gerard decides it's as done as he can probably manage in one sitting.

"Um." He stalls a bit, carefully recapping his markers and making sure they're all lined up in their case, then lifts the sketchbook out of his lap, handing it over to Frank. "Here, I guess."

"It's done?" Frank's eyes go wide as he sees the drawing, and his mouth drops open. Gerard ducks his head, hiding behind his hair, but can't resist surreptitiously watching his reaction. "Holy shit." Frank's gone from bouncing along to the beat to practically vibrating as he stares at his zombie face. "Man, man, this is the coolest thing ever. Can I have it? I can have it, right? I have to show Hambone, fuck." He sounds so fucking delighted that Gerard has to clear his throat before he can speak.

"Um. Sure, I guess. You really like it?" Fuck, he totally sounds like he's fishing for compliments. Frank nods so hard that Gerard gets a brief, ridiculous mental image of his zombie head falling right off.

"I fucking love it." He beams down at the drawing for another couple seconds before looking up at Gerard. "Um, can I...?" He half-lifts the previous page in illustration, and Gerard shrugs awkwardly, the liquid warmth of praise still swirling in his stomach.

"I guess."

"Cool," Frank pronounces, flipping back through the book. "You totally have to finish this Zombie Abe thing, too, okay? I wanna see what happens."

"Mostly, like, blood and gross shit." Gerard twists his hands in his lap, fidgeting. "I think the werewolves are probably gonna win, you know? The Civil War Zombies don't have, like, silver bullets or whatever."

"Yeah, kind of a disadvantage there." Frank flips another page, smiling briefly at a set of sketches of Mikey, and makes appreciative noises over the shitty unfinished fight scene between Batman and Wolverine. "Dude, Batman would totally win."

"Yeah, but," Gerard starts, settling in as he prepares to lay out his whole thesis on who would have what advantages, but then Frank flips the page again and he just kind of... stops. Fuck, he'd forgotten those were in this book.

He must have made some kind of noise, because Frank looks up curiously, and whatever he sees in Gerard's face makes him cock his head. "Your ex?" One finger traces down the edge of the page, past the scribbled lines of her hair.

"Yeah." Gerard looks down at his hands. "It – fuck, we weren't even together all that long, you know?" Shut up, shut up, he thinks furiously, but now that he's started he can't seem to fucking stop. "Just, after she broke up with me I kind of started to realize that she'd been pretty much using me for, well, practice. Which, I guess I could've been okay with that, even, if I'd known it was what she was looking for, you know?"

"Ouch." Frank sounds pretty sympathetic, at least. Gerard nods without looking up and reaches out blindly, finding Mikey's abandoned beer and downing the last couple mouthfuls in one huge gulp.

"I mean, I guess I'm over it, because I'm not like all heartbroken or whatever any more," he mumbles, taking his sketchbook back and flipping forward so he can pull out Frank's zombie portrait. "Just, it makes me feel so fucking stupid, you know?"

"Hey, you're still one up on me, man," Frank says, taking the picture carefully. When Gerard chances a glance up, he's beaming down at it like it's a mint first edition. Gerard's stomach goes squirmy again, and as always his idiot mouth tries to compensate.

"So you don't, like, have a girlfriend?" Immediately the words are out he has a pang of worry that Frank's totally going to think Gerard's hitting on him and punch him in the fucking face, and he has his mouth open to babble hasty assurances when Frank shrugs.

"Nah. Or a boyfriend. Catholic school blows, plus at this rate I'm gonna look, like, twelve for the rest of my natural fuckin' life or something."

"Oh." Gerard does squeak this time, and his eyes feel like fucking saucers as he stares at Frank. It's as though time slows down, a sudden bloom of panic in his belly putting out tendrils of fear that snake around his heart. He feels cold all over, it's hard to get enough air. Oh God, Jesus Christ, does he know? "You're...?"

"Yeah." Frank shrugs again, but his eyes on Gerard have totally narrowed, and his shoulders are high and stiff. "Is that a problem?"

"No!" Gerard flails his hands in front of him, accidentally almost flinging his pencil across the room. Fuck, his stomach is knotted up so hard he thinks he might throw up. He's actually shaking, oh God. "No. It's cool – I mean, whatever. I mean –" He shuts his stupid babbling mouth through sheer fucking effort before he's forced to slap a hand over it, and scrambles off the bed, shoving his sketchpad back into his bag. "It's kind of late, though, so I guess I'm gonna go to bed? And, uh, bathroom..." He can sort of distantly register how much of a moron he must sound, but it's like his brain is stuck in reverse, wheels spinning useless circles. He doesn't dare look at Frank as he beats a stumbling, hasty retreat into the bathroom, slumping over the vanity and squeezing his eyes shut against the sight of his own trembling reflection. Fuck, he can't do this. He can't.

---

When Gerard finally ventures out of the bathroom, panic attack mostly averted by the grace of the Xanax that's just starting to hit his bloodstream, Frank is lying on his side on the cot, his back firmly turned to the room. Gerard hesitates, trying to force his mouth open, but just the thought of trying to explain makes the shaky feeling well right back up. Like anything he says will help anyway, he thinks miserably, eyeing the tense line of Frank's back.

He dumps his bag next to the bed, flinching at the faint rattle of the pills in their prescription bottle. He's gonna have to be so fucking careful with the rest of them; the last thing he needs is to get refused a refill. Gerard darts one last nervous look at Frank's silently accusing back and climbs into bed as quietly as he can, curling up into a ball with the covers pulled to his nose. Fuck, he's such a fucking idiot.

After a long, simmering moment, there's a rustle from behind him. Gerard tries not to flinch as the cot creaks, squeezes his eyes tightly shut as Frank makes his way to the bathroom. Even his footsteps sound pissed off, and he isn't all that subtle about slamming the bathroom door. Fuck. Gerard turns his face into the pillow, pressing down until his neck starts to ache and his lungs protest. Despite the drug in his system he feels cold all over, gooseflesh prickling his skin.

He doesn't know how to fix this, or even if he should. It's not like he can just avoid Frank and it'll all go away; they've got another day and night here. Gerard's stomach lurches sickly at the thought of having to sit through all the wedding bullshit with Frank glaring at him. He can imagine it, angry eyes boring into him, or worse, contempt.

The sound of the bathroom door re-opening makes Gerard curl himself up even tighter, tucking an arm around his knees as he tries to will himself to sleep. It doesn't work, of course; it never fucking does. He's hyper-aware of the weight of the comforter over him, the press of his own body against the sheets, the sound of Frank's heavy feet circling around the end of the bed. The back of his neck prickles, but Frank's steps don't hesitate at all, and Gerard hears him yank back the sheets before the cot creaks softly again.

Frank's breathing, when Gerard surreptitiously holds his own breath to try and hear, is even and slow; Gerard doesn't think he's sleeping. He doesn't stir when there's a quiet, arrhythmic knock at the door, and after a second of fighting with himself, Gerard climbs out of the bed to shuffle over and let Mikey back in.

"Hey." Mikey does a little one-shouldered shrug thing, and Gerard ducks his head in response, retreating back to the bed. He can feel Mikey's eyes on him like a weight of exasperated confusion, but the air's too thick for words; Gerard creeps back under the sheet, cocooning himself into a tense ball. After a while the bed dips as Mikey settles onto the other side, a hint of sound leaking from his earbuds. It's familiar enough from years of sharing a room, and the hotel bed is soft and embracing enough, that the combination of Xanax and exhaustion starts to drag Gerard down toward sleep. He doesn't fight it.

---

It doesn't get better. Gerard flails awake out of a fucked-up, panic-filled dream when Mikey's bony elbow lands in his ribs in the morning. He barely manages to keep from falling right off the bed, and there's a horrible couple of seconds of confusion while his sleep-drunk brain tries to work out where the hell he is.

It all comes back in painful clarity when Frank coughs quietly somewhere behind him, the cot creaking as he stirs. Fuck. Gerard presses his face into the pillow, muffling a miserable noise, and does his best to go back to sleep. Maybe if he works at it he can just sleep right through today and forget the whole thing, humiliating crush and all. He can pretend to be sick; Mikey'll cover for him.

Of course, right as he's on the verge of drifting back to sleep, he's jolted rudely out of it by a sharp – and far too loud – knock on the door. When he lifts his head, squinting sticky-eyed, the angle of the light filtering through the flimsy curtains suggests that it's way too fucking early.

The knock comes again, insistent. "Boys?" Mom. Fuck, Gerard thinks, and he's halfway to pulling the covers right over his head and letting someone else deal with it when Mikey's foot lands in his side, hard, and he tumbles right out of the bed. All the breath jars out of him when he hits the floor. He's so tangled up in the covers that he takes most of them with him, though, and Mikey makes a grumbly sound before yanking them back onto the bed.

"Boys?" Donna knocks again, a little louder this time. "Are you awake?" Gerard mumbles a couple curses under his breath and shuffles around on the floor until he can grab the edge of the bed and haul himself upright. It's a mistake; without the bed in the way he can see Frank, sitting up in bed and yawning like he's even less awake than Gerard feels. Frank catches sight of him and goes tense all over, his sleepy open body language shuttering and his face drawing tight into a narrow-eyed half-glare. Gerard flinches, ducking his head and curling his fingers into the fraying ends of his pajama sleeves as he shuffles to the door.

"Mom?" She's in her flowery dressing gown, no makeup and her hair in those roller things that make her look like a sitcom character. Gerard has a weird moment of wondering if he's even really awake before she tuts and pushes his hair out of his face.

"Did I wake you? Sorry, kiddo. You need to get your asses out of bed sometime soon, though, okay? I'm gonna be doing hair all morning, but there's a brunch buffet downstairs. Promise you'll be ready at two?"

"Okay." The thought of breakfast makes Gerard feel vaguely sick, but he nods obediently anyway. Maybe he can squeeze another couple hours of sleep out of the morning before he has to stuff himself and Mikey into their stupid itchy suits.

"Good." Donna pats him on the shoulder a couple of times, before fingering his hair again, making a Mom face. "And wash your hair, Gee, hear me? No excuses; I'm not having you showing me up."

"Mom," Gerard complains – seriously, like he needs to look even more of an asshole here? "Whatever, jeez." Okay, so when he flattens his hair down he has to wipe his palm against the leg of his pajamas; he's at peace with his own fucking grossness, damn it. That doesn't mean other people – Frank, the back of his mind points out helpfully – have to hear about it.

"I'll see you later, baby. Make sure Mikey eats something, not just coffee, okay?" She pats his cheek – and fuck, if she's like this now what's it gonna be like when he goes off to college? Gerard isn't sure he wants to think about it – and turns to go back to her room. Gerard shoves the door closed and slumps against it for a moment, pressing his forehead against the wood. When he turns around, heading back to the bed with every intention of burrowing under the covers and pretending he's fucking alone, Mikey is sitting up in bed with his arms crossed over the holey t-shirt he slept in.

"I fucking eat," he grumbles. Gerard makes a vaguely acknowledging noise and pokes him in the side until he squirms aside enough that Gerard can slide back under the comforter. The clock on the nightstand says it's quarter to nine; he figures he can manage at least two hours more of sleeping, or pretending to.

"'m goin' back to sleep," he mumbles, trying to untangle the welter of sheets. Mikey nudges him with his shoulder, and when Gerard glances over through the stringy fall of his hair, he's got one eye on Frank who's got his knees drawn up and nose pointedly buried in a book. His knuckles are pale where he's gripping it, and the sheets are wrapped around his stiff shoulders like armor. His entire demeanor screams don't fucking talk to me, and Gerard can't look at him. He picks at the seam of the comforter, trying to psych himself up to... he doesn't even know, but there's a question inherent in Mikey's quirked eyebrow that he has no desire to answer. He rolls over, tucking the covers up until only his head is sticking out, and wonders what it would be like to be someone else, someone cool and self-confident and not a fucking coward.

He can't sleep, even though he really fucking wants to, but he gets embroiled enough in stewing in his own misery, feeling that twitch of residual fear in his stomach every time he thinks about last night, that the sudden blare of an alarm startles him into almost biting his tongue. He shoves himself upright, tangled in the blankets, and watches Frank climb out of bed, shut off his phone, grab his bag, and disappear into the bathroom without looking at him once. The door shuts firmly behind him, and Gerard stares down at his lap, fighting back ridiculous tears.

"What the fuck?" Mikey mumbles, but he's insufficiently caffeinated so he doesn't push it, just lets Gerard tuck his knees up to his chest while they listen to the water running and the shower turning on. When Frank comes back out, hair wet and t-shirt sticking to damp skin, they both watch him dump his bag onto his bed and stamp into his Chucks and disappear out of the door without acknowledging or looking at either of them. Well, Gerard watches surreptitiously, but he doesn't try to tell himself he isn't following the tight line of Frank's back, and he doesn't bother faking when Mikey turns to him, half accusing and half bewildered, once the door's slammed.

"What the fuck, Gee?" He shoves his glasses up, rubbing demonstratively at the bridge of his nose. "What did you do? I thought – fuck."

Gerard shrugs his shoulders up and leaves them there, picking at the hem of his pajama sleeve. "He – I'm an asshole," he mumbles into his chest. "I just... He told me – he said he likes guys." It comes out a near-whisper, and his stupid traitor voice still fucking breaks over it. "Like, not in a, a weird way, just all casual and whatever. Like it wasn't even a big deal. And I – fuck." He has to close his eyes and breathe through his nose for a couple seconds to get through the shiver of anxiety that swells up with the memory. "I kind of freaked out," he admits eventually, leaning into Mikey's side. "'m pretty sure he thinks I'm a douchebag now."

"Fuck," Mikey observes, and Gerard thinks he can actually feel him rolling his eyes, he's so obviously restraining himself from calling Gerard a fucking moron.

"Yeah," he agrees, and Mikey sighs, patting him awkwardly on the shoulder in a weird Mikey-ish half-hug.

"Least he didn't punch you." Gerard snorts at that, burying his face in Mikey's bony shoulder.

"I don't know what to do," he mumbles into Mikey's sweaty t-shirt, and Mikey sighs his special put-upon 'my brother is an idiot' sigh again. Ordinarily Gerard would be annoyed by that, but fuck if he can bring himself to argue right now.

"Fuckin' apologize, moron."

"Yeah, but," Gerard starts, waving his free hand as he tries to summon up all the very cogent and compelling arguments against his ever bothering Frank with his presence again. Mikey prods him in the side to shut him up before he can get started.

"Just tell him you freaked out 'cause you wanna bone him."

Gerard chokes on air, his lungs trying to shrivel up as he yanks himself away from Mikey so fast his head spins. "I..."

"Don't even," Mikey says, and Gerard has to force himself to look up, because oh, he sounds actually pissed now. His face just looks exasperated, though. "No one cares, Gee." You're the only one freaking out, here, his eyebrows say, and Gerard swallows.

"I..." He can't think of anything to say, though, and after a moment he has to drop his forehead down to rest against his blanket-covered knees. "Fuck," he mumbles into the bedcovers, and Mikey snorts, elbowing him – gently – in the ribs.

"Dude, you know everyone was surprised you got a girlfriend, right?"

"I like girls!" Gerard protests, but he can't help the giggles that rise up to overtake him. "Oh my God, Mikey."

"Whatever." Mikey pats him limply on the back, then shuffles over, reaching for his iPod. "We're done with this self-revelation bullshit now, right?" He doesn't wait for an answer, stuffing an earbud into his ear and slumping back against the headboard.

"Yeah." Gerard tries to pull himself together, but the giggles keep breaking through. So maybe he's a little bit hysterical here, okay. "I guess I'll apologize to Frank," he says, testing the idea out. His stomach squirms at the thought, but it's little warmer feeling rather than the pure chill of fear, even though there's plenty of that too. He's not sure he's ready to think about the other thing, but he figures it's enough for now.

Mikey makes an I've stopped listening noise, fumbling at the nightstand without looking until he locates his phone. Gerard leaves him to it, levering himself out of the bed and stumbling toward the bathroom. Maybe he can do this, after all.

---

His plan, while simple in theory, turns out to be flawed in practice, because he hasn't banked on Frank disappearing off the face of the earth. Possibly literally; he's not in the lobby or on the verandah or patio, and Gerard hovers in the corner of the dining room for a good hour, nursing successive mugs of coffee and fending off what feels like most of his extended family, without catching so much as a glimpse of him. Probably he's left, Gerard decides gloomily; he wouldn't blame Frank for not wanting to stick around.

He's just getting really stuck into brooding when loud, obnoxious laughter startles him into flinching; a group of jock-looking guys in preppy polo shirts are swaggering into the dining room, braying at the top of their fucking lungs like they don't give a shit for the fragility of mornings. Gerard eyes them balefully – he has no idea who the hell they are, so they must be something to do with the totally-not-a-mobster groom – but he can feel his stomach knotting tighter with anxiety as they shove each other around by the buffet. No one gives him a second look, but he feels exposed and uncomfortable anyway, in his faded Iron Maiden shirt and still-unwashed hair, and hates himself a little for it.

This early – well, okay, it's almost eleven, but the air is only now starting to heat up, and there's a hint of dampness underfoot that Gerard thinks might be dew. The sky overhead is a deep, pure blue, the horizon hazy, and the sound of a lawnmower in the near distance is accompanied by the scent of cut grass. Despite the sweat starting to bead at his hairline and over his top lip, Gerard dawdles through the gardens with his coffee mug clutched in one hand, unable to bring himself to go back upstairs and find out for sure whether Frank really has left. He doesn't even know which would be worse, fuck.

He's so caught up in himself that he doesn't realize where he's heading until he turns the corner of the hedge and stumbles to a startled stop in front of the gazebo, gravel crunching loudly under his feet.

Frank looks up at the sound, narrowing his eyes when he sees Gerard, and shoves himself up off the bench. Gerard's stomach lurches so hard he's momentarily worried he might actually puke, and he can't, he physically can't force his mouth open, so he just stands there stupidly, staring as Frank hesitates for the barest fraction of a second before drawing himself up tightly and stalking toward the exit. He has to push past Gerard to get there, a sharp shove with the point of his shoulder like that's the most he can stand to touch him, and Gerard doesn't even think, just reaches out to grab at Frank's sleeve, halting him. Fuck, he thinks, because he's so going to get punched, but he stands his ground as Frank whirls, pulling forcefully out of his grip.

"What the fuck do you want?" he demands, low and angry; he looks like he's almost vibrating, wound up tight and about to explode. He looks incredibly fucking hot, which is so the last thing Gerard should be thinking. He tries to unglue his tongue from the roof of his mouth, scrabbling for the right words.

"I want – I – fuck," he mutters, looking down at his feet so he doesn't have to meet Frank's eyes. His hands are totally shaking; he clutches the mug to his chest, hoping Frank won't notice. "I have to – I mean, I want to, to apologize. To you," he ends uncertainly. When he dares to glance up, Frank is just standing there with his arms folded, squinting suspiciously at him. Gerard winces and frees one hand from his coffee mug to shove his gross, greasy hair behind his ear. Fuck, he should have showered before coming out here after all. "I'm sorry," he offers, staring down at the dregs in his mug. "For, like, being a total asshole. Last night. I swear I'm not actually some fucking – I guess I just kind of freaked out, you know?"

"Yeah, I got that part." Frank still sounds kind of stand-offish and wary, but he doesn't seem quite so wound up. Gerard dares another glance and can't read his eyes at all, shit. "Fucking relax, dude, seriously, I'm not gonna punch you. Or hit on you," he adds, practically spitting the words, and Gerard flinches despite himself.

"That's not – shit." He tugs on his hair, snarling his fingers in it, and toes at the gravel. The fucking inevitability of it all is like a black hole of anxiety in his stomach, and he has to shuffle over and sink down onto the bench before his legs betray him. "I'm – I just – it's fucking scary, you know?" he manages eventually, searching Frank's face kind of desperately for understanding. All he sees is confused wariness as Frank drifts a couple steps closer, opening his mouth. "No, not – fuck it. I'm not, like," Gerard waves an explanatory and slightly shaky hand, "scared of you, I'm not that kind of fucking douchebag, okay? I just – for a while, now, I've been..." He trails off, throat abruptly drying up, and gulps down the cold and gritty dregs of his coffee, trying to find the words.

"Fucking explain," Frank orders when he's quiet too long; he shifts another half-step closer, staring down, and Gerard looks up, meeting his eyes and feeling that curl of want and knowing starting to loosen the knot in his throat. Frank isn't some asshole jock, he reminds himself.

"It's – I spent like, four years getting shoved and spit on and called a fag, okay. I'm a fat loser geek and I draw all the time and I played Peter Pan in middle school. Whatever." He waves a hand, dismissive. "And, like, partly I think I just wanted to not think about it because it was fuckin' hard enough, you know? If anyone had actually known – I mean, I didn't even want to admit it to myself for the longest fucking time, but I guess I always thought things would be better in college. Everyone always says art school is all, like, accepting and shit. Experimental. You know?" He twists his hands together around the mug, looking down at his lap because Frank's thoughtful expression says he's starting to get a clue and Gerard can't look at him any longer.

"And, for the longest time I was scared to even admit it to myself, because, it's like, I guess it feels like it makes me a totally different person than I always thought I was gonna be. Like, I always assumed I'd like girls, so it wasn't a surprise when chicks were hot, you know? And, if I have to re-evaluate myself and shit, what's everyone else gonna fucking think? It scared the shit out of me. It does. I'm not brave. Not like you, I guess. But, I gotta own it eventually, you know?"

"Oh." It's almost soundless, and Gerard starts, looking up kind of wildly as Frank sinks down onto the other end of the bench, staring at him. "So you're...?"

Gerard swallows. Closes his eyes. "Bi, I guess." His voice maybe shakes a little, but what's weird is how much lighter he feels, suddenly, like something that's been twisting up inside him for years has just been... cut. Released. His face feels kind of hot and waxy when he opens his eyes, but there's a smile starting somewhere underneath. "I like guys, too."

"Oh." Frank looks – kind of like he's re-evaluating Gerard, yeah, but in a good way. Kind of startled, like he's been hit over the back of the head, hazel eyes wide and expressive. Kind of fucking amazing, actually. Gerard swallows. "Me too," Frank says dumbly, then makes this face like he can't believe he said it. Gerard chokes on an only slightly hysterical giggle, and Frank makes the face at him. "Oh, fuck you."

Gerard hesitates, because all the responses he can think of are a minefield of, seriously, total awkward come-ons, and what if Frank thinks Gerard just wants in his pants? He's saved, though, when his phone buzzes into sudden life in his pocket, startling him so badly he almost topples off the bench. Frank totally snickers at him, too, and Gerard flips him off, dumping the empty coffee mug so he can extract his phone and shut it up. "Shit."

"What?" Frank leans forward interestedly, trying to peer at the screen, and Gerard tilts it toward him, displaying the time even as he scrambles to his feet.

"I gotta get back upstairs, my mom'll really fucking kill me if I'm late again." Plus he has to take that fucking shower and put on his stupid-ass suit without incurring further maternal wrath by creasing it and try not to die of a stress-induced aneurism, fuck.

"Shit, yeah." Frank jumps to his feet, scuffing at the gravel and shoving his hands into his jean pockets as he tilts his head at Gerard. "Does it, like, piss you off that this whole thing," he shrugs a shoulder that's apparently supposed to indicate the hotel, or maybe the wedding? "Is basically all about social expectations, like everyone's supposed to be all straight and coupled up and happy and shit? It's so, two point four fucking children and picket fence, you know?"

"...Fuck." Gerard knows he's staring, but fuck. "Yeah." His heart is beating in his throat. How the hell did he meet someone this awesome, who gets him and forgives him for being an accidental closeted douchebag and just – shit. "I so totally get that." He so totally has a giant, embarrassing crush, he can't even deny it, and the way Frank grins at him, conspiratorial and wicked, puts a warm glow in his stomach all the way back to the hotel.

---

Mikey, because he's a know-it-all asshole, gets a totally smug look on his face when Gerard and Frank come back into the room together. Gerard gives him the I-will-end-you eyebrow, because seriously, and takes refuge in the bathroom, climbing reluctantly into the shower and turning the water up as hot as he can stand it. When he gets out, skin pink and smelling of the complimentary soap and hair dripping incessantly in his eyes, the mirror is so fogged up that all he can see of himself is a watery blur.

He finally edges out of the bathroom, underwear firmly on and towel wrapped protectively around himself, to find Mikey flopped on the bed reading a comic and Frank on the other side of the room setting out his dress clothes with his back pointedly turned. Gerard exhales a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, and goes to take his own stupid suit down from its hanger. It's black, because his mom doesn't actually hate him, but old enough that the slacks are a little loose around his waist and he has to cinch them in with his belt. He wishes he'd thought to bring his black button-down; it would've been so much fucking cooler than the white one that makes him look like he's going to fucking Prom all over again.

"Move, Gee." Mikey emerges from the bathroom with his hair artfully flattened against his skull, shoving past him to dig Gerard's makeup kit out of his bag – entirely without permission.

"Hey," Gerard protests, but he's mostly focused on trying to tie his tie. He's for shit at this, every time he thinks he's got the knot right the ends turn out the wrong fucking length. "Motherfucker," he mumbles, ripping it off to try again. His hair tickles damply at his face as he bites his tongue, tucking his chin down to his chest to watch his hands.

"Here." Frank appears in front of him, taking charge of the frustrating thing and slapping Gerard's hands away when he tries to clutch at it. "You suck at this, huh?"

Gerard's mouth says, "It's fucking impossible," without much input from him because his heart feels like it's jumped up into his throat. Frank is so close, and he looks really fucking good in his black jacket and dress slacks, his own tie – deep blood red, a shocking contrast – hanging neatly down his chest. Gerard can fucking smell him, warm skin and a hint of deodorant and something green and faintly spicy that might be cologne or just the lingering outdoors. Frank doesn't seem to notice that Gerard's about to pop a boner in his stupid dress pants; he's got his tongue poking out the side of his mouth a little (hot, Gerard thinks dazedly) as his fingers make quick work of knotting the tie. Also really fucking hot, Jesus Christ.

"Catholic school, motherfucker," Frank says, and the backs of his fingers brush against the skin of Gerard's throat as he slides the knot up into place. Gerard has to work not to flinch, can't help inhaling sharply, and Frank glances up, meeting his eyes from way too close.

"Oh my God." Mikey's dry voice makes them both start, and Gerard blinks as Frank backs hastily away. There's a faint flush along the tops of his cheekbones. "I'm gonna poke my fuckin' eyes out," Mikey goes on, and something small and hard hits Gerard dead in the back of the head before dropping to the floor. His best eyeliner pencil.

"Fuck off, Mikes," he grumbles, but he takes the hint, going to stand in front of the mirror and ring his eyes in black. Subtly, because he doesn't actually want his mom to yell at him, but it's familiar and reassuring to have it on, like armor or just a fuck-you to the cookie-cutter world. That makes him think of Frank again, though (like he's stopped), and he glances over to find Frank sitting on the edge of the cot and watching him, wide-eyed and intense. Gerard digs his teeth into his lip, running his fingers compulsively through his hair, and manfully ignores Mikey rolling his eyes at him until it's time to go down.

---

Gerard can't concentrate on the ceremony at all, because when they'd gone to take their seats Mikey had shoved him ahead into the row so that he'd had no choice but to sit next to Frank. Mikey is kind of an asshole, Gerard thinks, trying to sit still while his knees bounce nervously and his hands keep twitching. It's no consolation that Frank, when Gerard darts another surreptitious glance over at him, seems just as twitchy, tapping his fingers absently against his knees and the metal frame of his chair.

He's so close that if Gerard dropped his hand off the top of his thigh, the backs of their fingers would touch. Gerard swallows, rubbing his sweaty palms as discreetly as he can manage against his pants, and wishes for the distraction of a sketchpad and pencil. Up front, Cousin Suzanna and her investment banker – Jeremy, what the fuck ever – are listening to the priest give some pretentious sermon about marriage. Gerard has a brief but vivid Princess Bride flashback and has to shove his hand into his mouth, biting down on the edge of his palm to muffle a totally inappropriate giggle.

Mikey's elbow digging pointedly into his ribs isn't even a surprise; Gerard pulls himself together and tries to listen to the service. Cousin Suzanna's dress is a huge white puffball thing with actual feathers on the front part; it looks like she's trying to audition for Swan Lake or some shit, so damn Jersey it's ridiculous. Gerard spends a couple seconds imagining what it might look like ripped all to shit and bloodstained, but the whole thing is too fucking Carrie and he abandons the fantasy in disgust.

This time when he sneaks a sideways glance, Frank is looking back at him. Their eyes meet for a second before Gerard ducks his head, burning face curtained by his hair as he stares down at his lap.

He can't quite keep from daring another glance, though, and this time he catches Frank ducking his head, the tips of his ears flushed pink. Gerard twists his hands together in his lap, a warm and bubbly feeling spreading through his stomach like he's been hitting the champagne already.

The rest of the ceremony is quite possibly the longest, most excruciatingly nervous twenty minutes of Gerard's life to date, even counting the disaster that was Prom. He spends most of the formulaic vows arguing with himself over whether it would be totally creepy and noticeable if he shifted a little closer to Frank, and by the time the bride and groom get to the kiss part he's most of the way to convincing himself he should just go hide back in the room.

He doesn't get a choice in the matter, though, because once they're done with the throwing confetti part and everyone's filing out of the chapel, his mom appears at his elbow, fussing at his hair and tie even as she's dabbing her eyes with a tissue. Gerard looks around kind of desperately, but Frank's disappeared somewhere in the exodus, and so, he realizes grumpily, has Mikey. Fucking hell.

"Wasn't that lovely?" Donna tucks her arm through his, sniffling a little into her tissue. Gerard bites his tongue, certain that someone somewhere must be laughing at him, and pats her gingerly on the shoulder.

"C'mon, Mom." There's still no sign of Frank or Mikey, but the photographer is setting up on the chapel steps, and the wedding party are milling around, Aunt Louise directing like a five-star general. Gerard tries to surreptitiously inch them to one side, away from the knots of groomsmen and bridesmaids and immediate family, but his mom is clearly having none of it, and he has to resign himself to standing around in the hot sun and watching the whole fucking production while sweat beads on the back of his neck and his stupid white dress shirt starts to stick to him.

Mikey, the traitor, doesn't reappear until they're filing back into the hotel for dinner. Gerard scowls at him, but Mikey just shrugs it off all serene, and Gerard is forced to forgive him when he finds his sketchbook and markers sitting discreetly on his assigned chair.

"Best little brother," Gerard mumbles as he slides into the seat, keeping the sketchpad carefully out of sight of their mom or anyone else who might decide that being related gives them the right to be nosy.

"Always." Mikey nudges Gerard awkwardly with his shoulder as he sits down, and Gerard looks up to see Frank hovering at the other side of their table, poking at the place cards with a dissatisfied expression. Oh, Gerard thinks. Frank meets his eyes with a curl of a smile that does awesome things to Gerard's stomach, and shrugs wryly before trailing in his mother's wake to a table all the way on the other side of the room where Gerard can't even look at him without turning around really fucking obviously. Mikey snorts a badly-disguised laugh, and Gerard sighs, staring down at his plate and contemplating stabbing himself with one of the five hundred different different sized forks. His fucking life.

Dinner is a total drag. Well, the food is good – like, fancy good, the kind of fussy shit they'd had at the restaurant for Elena's birthday party a couple years back – but Gerard can't bring himself to eat much. Mostly he wants a beer, and a smoke, and then maybe to go find someplace private to jerk off; his skin feels too hot and tight, and he doesn't dare look around even though he's sure he can feel Frank's eyes on his back.

"You're a fuckin' moron," Mikey mutters in between courses, but he has no room to talk because he's totally making eyes at the blonde waitress, who's smiling back when she thinks no one's looking. She's pretty, Gerard supposes, but he can't even be jealous; he's full of bubbling nerves and has to fight to keep from turning around in his seat every thirty seconds. By the time the interminable speeches are over and the couple are dancing to Bryan Adams (Gerard can feel Mikey rolling his eyes disdainfully) he's had enough. Mercifully, no one seems to notice when he slips away; they're all too busy laughing at Uncle Cal's latest horrific joke.

---

Despite the air-conditioning, it feels almost cooler outside with the evening breeze starting to pick up and chase away some of the humidity. Gerard wanders along the verandah for a bit, smoking half-heartedly; he doesn't know whether he even wants Frank to follow him out, but he starts and looks around every time the french doors slide open. Chatter and 90s nostalgia pop spills out with each successive smoker onto the patio. After his second cigarette, when it's pretty clear that no one is going to come looking for him, Gerard swallows the muddle of relief and disappointment and wanders away from the party, following the graveled path around the hotel rather than heading into the gardens this time.

He changes his mind almost immediately when he turns the corner toward the outdoor pool and almost stumbles right over a groomsman who's got one of the bridesmaids up against the poolhouse wall, her poofy sky-blue skirts shoved up around their waists.

"Fuck!" Gerard claps a hand over his eyes and backpedals hastily, barely avoiding tumbling right into the pool. The chick's moaning so fucking loudly he's not sure they even noticed him, but he stumbles off the path onto the lawn anyway, making a beeline for the hedged-in seclusion of the formal gardens with his face burning. Fucking Prom all over again, seriously.

Thank fuck, the little nook with the gazebo is blessedly unoccupied by either horny exhibitionists or pretty punk boys. Gerard slumps onto the bench, leaning against the wooden pillar that supports the roof and fiddling with his sketchpad and cigarettes. The sky is still bright overhead, pink and orange streaks of sunset starting to creep over the tops of the hedges; there's enough light for sketching, and the shadows feel cool and welcoming, like he could wrap them around him and disappear into the encroaching night. The gentle rasp of his markers moving over the page fades into the buzzing of insects and the stir of leaves in the breeze. The soft crunch of approaching footsteps blends into the night sounds, and it isn't until they stop that Gerard registers them, looking up from another embarrassing sketch to find his subject standing a few paces away, watching him.

"Hey." Frank has his hands stuffed into his pockets, his long bangs flopping forward so Gerard can't really see his eyes. "Can you even, you know, see to draw?"

"It's fine," Gerard says automatically, looking down at his sketchpad and vaguely surprised when he has to squint a bit to make out the subtler shading. His absent-minded Frank doodles that had started out as the line of his eyebrow and the curve of a wicked smirk seem to have turned into the start of something new, Frank wrapped around a guitar with his left hand a blur on the strings and his head thrown back. Fuck, Gerard thinks, and barely manages to keep himself from squeaking and slapping the book closed when Frank shuffles a couple steps closer, peering over at him.

"You're gonna ruin your eyes, dude." Gerard tries to surreptitiously tilt the drawing out of Frank's line of sight, but all Frank does is scuff his shoe against the ground some more, then shrug, turning. "Wait here, okay?"

"Huh?" Gerard says, intelligently, but Frank's already gone, bouncing out of the gazebo and around the corner of the hedge; Gerard can hear his footsteps receding into the night. "The fuck?" he mumbles to no one, slumping a little where he sits. He'd said to wait, but...

Objectively, it's not long at all before Frank appears again in a clatter of gravel and quick breaths, but to Gerard it feels like an eternity of nervous uncertainty. "Um," he says – fucking smooth and articulate there, Jesus – when Frank skids to a halt in front of him, tiny stones bouncing off Gerard's stupid dress shoes. Frank just grins at him, though, a flash of white teeth in the near-darkness, and dumps whatever it is he's holding (glasses? Not that Gerard wouldn't appreciate the thought, but he doesn't really get how beer's gonna help him see to draw or whatever) onto the wooden railing thing that runs around the edge of the gazebo between the support pillars. There's the click of a lighter and a tiny flame blooms, then another, a flickering glow that bathes one side of the gazebo in a fragile circle of light.

"Oh," Gerard says, stupidly. The candlelight casts cool shifting shadows across Frank's face, turning him into something not-quite-real, and when he looks up at Gerard, his face creased in a grin that's half hope and half triumph, Gerard forgets how to breathe for a second. He mentally rolls for courage, trying to scrape up the impetus to tell Frank how awesome he is, and isn't even surprised when he comes up short, words drying in his throat.

"I have the best ideas, huh?" Frank nudges the candle pots – borrowed from the patio tables, Gerard thinks; he vaguely recalls seeing them earlier – a little further apart so Gerard's whole side of the bench is illuminated, and wanders over to claim the other end, sitting half-sideways. "Here," he pulls a couple Cokes out of his pockets and offers one. "I swiped these, too."

"...Thanks," Gerard manages, because awkward or not, he's not actually a complete tool, and dumps his sketchpad onto the narrow expanse of bench between them so he can pop the top, getting sticky fizz all over his fingers. "Fuck," he mumbles, sucking them clean.

Frank makes a weird, soft noise that ends with him clearing his throat, and when Gerard looks up, curious, he's staring down at his own soda, fiddling with the tab. "So..." he starts, glancing up, and Gerard bites the inside of his lip, but all Frank says is, "Can I, like, bum a smoke?"

"Fuck, totally." Now that he thinks about it, Gerard really wants one too; he drags his pack out, busying his hands with lighting two. When he passes Frank's over, their fingers graze, guitar calluses rough against Gerard's knuckle. He swallows, pulling his hand quickly back into his lap before it does something stupid, and wonders how completely fucking obvious he must look right now. His tie feels like it's strangling him, and he tugs it loose, fumbling his top button undone, then reaches for his sketchbook, needing something to do with his hands. "Um, you mind if I...?" He runs out of words, unsure what he's asking, and Frank shrugs easily enough, shifting on the bench as he digs something out of his pocket.

"Sure. Can I see?" When Gerard looks up, he's fiddling with his iPod, the cord looped over his knuckles and the back of his hand like a living tattoo.

"Um," Gerard says, but he's pretty much defenseless against that hopeful expression; he ducks his head, feeling his face heat uncontrollably. "When it's done?"

"Cool." Frank takes a drag from his cigarette, shifting on the bench, and Gerard stares down at his drawing, chewing on his lip. His fingers feel huge and clumsy on the black marker, but when he sets it to the page it's as easy as ever to get lost in the line and shape, the outlines of tattoos growing under his hand. Frank would look so fucking cool with a whole bunch of ink running up his arms; Gerard blocks in stage monitors and a stack of amps to fill out the scene, knowing he's stalling.

After a while, Frank starts humming along with whatever he's listening to, singing so softly that Gerard can barely make out the words. It's only vaguely familiar, the hooks prodding at some slippery memory; when he looks up, Frank is just watching him, patiently. The candlelight turns his eyes an intense, deep gold, and Gerard swallows, his fingers curling protectively around the corners of his sketchpad for a moment before he can bring himself to set it down onto the bench, sliding it toward Frank. He can't look, though; he rubs his suddenly-sweaty palms on his knees, staring down at the ground.

"Holy shit." Frank's voice cracks, and he clears his throat. "Fuck. Gee, this..."

"It's kind of creepy, I guess." Gerard twists his fingers together in his lap, hunching his shoulders. "Like, I know it's not cool to just be all, drawing people without their permission and shit. I should've asked," he mumbles, and Frank makes a weird, disbelieving noise.

"Fuck that, this is awesome. Man, look at this ink; I'm totally gonna make you draw all my tattoos when I can finally get 'em, okay?"

"Okay," Gerard says, because what? Fuck, he'd known it; he has a sudden, vivid mental image of Frank leaning over him, grinning, propped up on intricately tattooed arms. His breath comes short, and when he glances over, Frank is fucking beaming down at the sketchpad like it's the best thing he's ever seen. Gerard is going to throw up; he fumbles for his cigarettes, lighting another with shaking fingers and shoving the pack blindly in Frank's direction.

"Thanks." Frank doesn't take one, though, and when Gerard dares another glance over, he's still smiling down at the picture. "I can keep this, right? Please?"

"S-sure," Gerard stammers, taking a hasty drag on his cigarette and cursing himself for a moron when he chokes on it and has to hack up a lung. Shit, he's never even been any good at this with girls, always had to rely on booze to loosen his nerves and inhibitions. Boys are a whole extra layer of complete fucking uncertainty.

"Whoa, man." Frank abandons Gerard's sketchpad to pat him worriedly between the shoulder blades as he wheezes. His hand is shockingly warm even through the layers of Gerard's shirt and jacket, and he leaves it there for a moment after Gerard finishes coughing and drags in a shaky breath.

"Thanks..." Even cigarettes have betrayed him, Gerard concludes, staring down at the cherry burning its way toward his fingers. Clearly it's a sign that he should just go back to his basement and become a fucking hermit, forget trying to function in society.

"It's cool." Frank has his hands twisted in his lap, one knee bouncing rhythmically along with whatever he's listening to. The soft, repetitive crunch of gravel under his heel is sort of soothing; Gerard breathes along with it, watching his cigarette burn down, and zones out to the point that he jumps when Frank starts singing along again, under his breath like he isn't even aware he's doing it.

"I'm no good, you're no better – Hey," Frank interrupts himself, leaning over and plucking the unsmoked cigarette out of Gerard's hand. Gerard blinks at him sort of dazedly, watching him roll the smoke in his fingers, ash sifting down onto the bench between them, before taking the last drag and flicking the butt into the gravel, squaring his shoulders. "Hey, Gee?" The nickname sounds soft and uncertain in his mouth; Gerard swallows, meeting his eyes.

"Yeah?" he manages. Frank's fiddling uncertainly with the corner of the sketchpad that's still sitting on the bench between them, but there's a tentative, hopeful sort of smile lurking in his eyes. He looks so fucking pretty, Gerard can't even think through the want and anticipation curling in the pit of his stomach.

"Can I kiss you?" Frank's voice is quiet, barely audible over the hum of the night insects and the sudden rush of Gerard's heartbeat in his ears.

"Um." Gerard has to clear his throat, and Frank's eyes flicker really obviously downward when he licks his dry lips. Fuck, fuck. "Yes?"

"Cool," Frank breathes, leaning forward, and Gerard leans in to meet him.

It feels it ought to be life-changing, but at first it's mostly just awkward and off-center, Frank's mouth warm and a little smoky against his. Gerard's heart is beating so fast he feels light-headed, a frantic flutter in his throat, and when he shifts he can feel Frank smiling against his lips for a second before he pulls back. Gerard can't help making a tiny, disappointed noise, and Frank fucking smirks at that, pointedly lifting the sketchbook off the bench between them and setting it aside before sliding right up to Gerard.

"Hey." He grabs Gerard's hand, tugging, and Gerard flails for a second before catching himself on Frank's shoulder. Frank's other hand is in his hair, tilting his head, and Gerard gasps embarrassingly, tipping forward into the kiss. Frank's mouth is soft and wet, both familiar and totally not, and he doesn't waste time teasing or make Gerard do all the work. Gerard opens up eagerly when Frank presses into his mouth, his brain in danger of shorting out as Frank's tongue curls around his. He wriggles on the bench a little, trying to tug Frank closer; their knees are trapped awkwardly between them, bodies twisted, and Gerard is totally most of the way to hard already, fuck.

Frank makes a really awesome noise when Gerard sucks on his tongue, dropping Gerard's hand to clutch at his shoulder and try to crawl into his lap. Gerard feels a little thrill at that, and tries to shift to accommodate him without either of them getting an unfortunate knee in the balls; he's only moderately successful, and when Frank breaks the kiss, panting slightly against his mouth, Gerard is trying to chase after him for more before he even realizes what he's doing.

"Just," Frank mumbles, turning his head; Gerard makes an involuntary unhappy noise, his hand bunching in the smooth fabric of Frank's suit jacket, then gasps when Frank presses a clumsy kiss-bite into the delicate skin under his ear. "Fuck, Gee. Just let me..." And he pushes back, tugging determinedly at Gerard's half-raised knee until Gerard lowers it enough that Frank can swing himself over into his lap, settling astride his thighs with a smug grin. "There." He pushes his nose briefly against Gerard's while Gerard stares at him, feeling slow-witted as well as cross-eyed, then kisses the corner of his mouth, sweet and gentle for just a second before he's pushing back in, hot and wet and eager.

It gets really fucking dirty kind of fast. Gerard catches Frank's bottom lip between his teeth, licks into his mouth and loses a brief battle for dominance when Frank tilts his head, stroking along the roof of his mouth. His fucking toes are curling; he slides his hands up Frank's sides, tugging him closer before he even remembers the whole hard-on situation, but Frank just makes an indecipherable but definitely approving sound into his mouth and rubs up against him. His arms are wound tight around Gerard's back, sticky hot and so close, pressed together from chests to hips, and he's totally fucking hard too. Gerard groans at the pressure, his hips twitching involuntarily.

"Fuck, yeah." Frank pulls away, panting against Gerard's ear, the wash of his breath sending a shiver down Gerard's spine, and he rolls his hips against Gerard's, moaning softly. Gerard shudders, his whole body echoing the eager twitch of his dick, and presses his face into Frank's hair, mouthing at his earlobe and the hard metal of the earring.

"Fuck," Frank mumbles again, lips pressed into the skin of Gerard's throat; he fucking wriggles in Gerard's lap, nosing the scratchy collar of his shirt aside to bite at the angle of his shoulder. Gerard is actually going to die, he thinks faintly, grabbing for Frank's head to hold him right there, fingers sliding through the soft hair at his nape. He's going to die of being too fucking turned on; he can't even cope. Frank obligingly lingers on the spot, sucking hard before flicking the tip of his tongue over the tender skin. Gerard's other hand flexes on Frank's hip, sliding around to grab his ass before he can talk himself out of it; Frank just hums against his skin, making a chain of little biting kisses along the line of Gerard's jaw and back to his mouth.

"Oh, motherfucker," Gerard mumbles against Frank's lips as they breathe together for a second. He tries to keep his hips from rocking up against Frank, because he's seriously about to come in his pants like a total virgin, but Frank just laughs, his tongue swiping at the corner of Gerard's mouth. Then he's shifting breathlessly, pulling back just enough to wriggle a hand down between them, his fingers brushing teasingly across the front of Gerard's pants – Gerard gasps, trying to press up into the contact – before going for the zipper.

"Is this...?" His eyes are huge, pupils blown and gold-rimmed in the dimness as he presses his forehead against Gerard's. Gerard fights the urge to just push mindlessly up against his hand, distracts himself with sliding his own hand around, rucking up the front of Frank's shirt to skate fingertips over his belly and watch him twitch and shiver.

"Y-yeah," he manages, and that seems to be all the hesitation Frank has in him; he yanks Gerard back into a kiss, tongue thrusting into his mouth as he fumbles with zipper and fabric. It's not smooth at all, but he groans in the back of his throat when he finally wraps a hand around Gerard's cock, stroking jerkily. Gerard swallows the sound, thrusting up helplessly, and doesn't even have time to think about reciprocating before his brain whites out and he comes in messy, shuddering spurts over Frank's fingers.

By the time he manages to pull himself together, floundering his way out of orgasm-induced haze, Frank is panting against his cheek, damp sobbing washes of breath as he rocks his hips needily down against their trapped hands. He's the hottest fucking thing Gerard has ever seen, and when he shoves his hand into Frank's pants, forgoing the niceties of buttons and zippers, and fumbles for his first ever handful of someone else's cock, Frank collapses against his chest like he can't hold himself up any longer, his hips shoving up hard. Gerard manages a scant three strokes, his fingers sliding through slippery precome as he tries to feel his way through what he likes in awkward reverse, before Frank arches against him, exhaling a shuddering moan into Gerard's throat. His whole body trembles as he comes, slick wet and pulsing between Gerard's fingers.

"Oh," Gerard manages, when he can finally scrape together enough brain cells for speech. Frank's panting into his shoulder, his dick still twitching in Gerard's hand as he starts to come down; he whines when Gerard moves his hand experimentally, but doesn't pull away. "Wow," Gerard mumbles absently. Strands of Frank's hair catch in the corner of his mouth, and he stares up at the sky, which seems to have turned fully dark while they'd been otherwise occupied. There are way more stars here than he ever sees at home.

"Holy shit," Frank agrees breathily, his lips brushing against Gerard's skin. Gerard shivers, and Frank mouths one more kiss against the side of his throat before pushing back to grin down at him. "Hey." His hair is mussed up, his face flushed and mouth bitten red, and the candlelight sparkles wickedly in his eyes. Gerard wants to kiss him again, desperately (his dick jumps at the thought, like he didn't just come his fucking brains out), but he hesitates, uncertain whether this is just a hookup thing, just about the getting off, or something else.

"Hey." Regretfully, he unwraps his fingers from around Frank's cock; Frank hisses like even that's too much, but it turns into a choked-off giggle as Gerard waves his sticky hand helplessly in mid-air before giving up and wiping the mess off onto his already-gross shirt. There's a streak of drying come on his fucking tie, what the fuck. Gerard fumbles to try and do his pants up, suddenly aware that they're in public, the sounds of the party really not that distant, but it's made harder by Frank's weight still sat across his thighs, his whole body shaking with giggles.

"Oh my God," Gerard huffs, and Frank laughs harder, collapsing forward against Gerard's chest and burying his face in his shoulder. Gerard pokes him indignantly in the side, which makes Frank squirm, and that's definitely interesting; he could be all the way back to hard without much effort if Frank keeps doing that. Frank takes a deep breath, still shaking with laughter, and Gerard rolls his eyes. He's pretty sure Frank isn't laughing at him, at least not in a mean way, but still... "Oh my God, are you high?"

"Yep!" Frank says cheerfully, pulling back so he can look at Gerard, and Gerard just has time to start freaking out over that before Frank fucking smirks at him, slow and dirty, and leans in to whisper against the corner of his mouth. "High on your dick."

"Oh my God," Gerard says again, but he's laughing too, helpless and thrilled and then gasping when Frank takes the opportunity to shove his tongue into his mouth, strong callused fingers catching in Gerard's hair to drag him into the kiss. Fuck yeah, Gerard thinks dazedly, and they're just getting into it, Frank's hands shoving at Gerard's hopelessly creased jacket, when a sudden clatter of gravel nearby startles them into breaking apart.

"Fuck," Frank hisses, clambering hastily off Gerard's lap as heavy footsteps crunch closer, a burst of braying laughter cutting above the distant party sounds. Gerard's heart is beating frantically in his throat; he swallows, fumbling for his sketchpad with shaking hands, but before he can position it as a shield over his crotch and the too-obvious mess on his shirt, Frank's fingers wrap around his wrist, tight and sweaty.

"C'mon, quick!"

"Huh?" Gerard's brain isn't working, caught up in panic, but he gets the hint when Frank tugs him up off the bench and into a stumbling dash around the corner of the hedge and back toward the hotel. Frank doesn't slow until they reach the edge of the formal gardens, and he's breathing just as hard as Gerard is, shaking his head as they start across the lawn.

"Fuck, that was close." He slants a sideways look at Gerard, the tops of his cheekbones pink, and Gerard ducks his head, a ridiculous giggle welling up. When Frank's fingers start to loosen around his wrist, he turns his hand into their grip, curling his own fingers around them and smiling to himself as Frank's thumb strokes tentatively across the back of his hand.

Halfway across the lawn, Gerard's phone buzzes in his pocket, startling him so badly that he drops both Frank's hand and his sketchpad. Frank snickers at him, crouching to pick up the book while Gerard pulls out his phone, blinking down at the text from Mikey.

U cn hav the rm, but evry1 btr be wearin pants wn I gt bck.

Fucking little brothers; Gerard can feel his face heating uncontrollably, and Frank clearly notices because he leans into Gerard's side to peer down at his phone, snorting in amusement.

"Your fuckin' brother, dude."

"Yeah." Gerard can't help but grin, because it's Mikey, and also... "I've got the room key, anyway."

He doesn't look at Frank as he says it, but he can hear the smirk in the way Frank says, "Convenient, huh?" as he nudges his shoulder against Gerard's arm, the back of their hands brushing together.

---

By the time they reach the lobby, they're breathing hard, an unspoken urgency twisting between them. Gerard doesn't dare reach for Frank's hand, too aware of the blank gaze of the bored-looking chick behind the front desk; instead he pulls his jacket closed over his ruined shirt and tie, keeping a careful distance as they hurry up the stairs and down the neverending tangle of hallways. Frank doesn't look at him once, even as he fumbles out a keycard and lets them into the room, and by the time the door closes behind them, Gerard's thrumming with nerves and uncertainty, his scalp aching where he's got his fingers tangled into his hair.

"So." Frank glances briefly at him, lip caught between his teeth, and sets Gerard's sketchpad carefully down on the desk, flicking the lamp on. He's fidgeting with the knot of his tie, tugging it looser and looser, and Gerard opens his mouth without a clue what he's going to say, only that he has to say something before he actually works himself into an anxiety attack.

"Frankie," he starts, twitching uncomfortably, and his mouth goes dry as he sees Frank swallow, turning to him. His eyes are so...

"Fuck, come here," Frank mumbles, reaching out for him, and just like that they're kissing again, a press of lips and teeth and almost painful force before Gerard works out the angle, tilting his head as Frank pushes up onto his toes, lips parting hungrily. He can't stop touching, his hands grasping at Frank's shoulders, his back, skating over the smooth material of his jacket, and Frank gasps into his mouth when Gerard palms his ass, pushing his hips insistently forward. Gerard presses a knee forward, letting Frank rock hard and so hot against his thigh, sucks messily on his tongue as Frank moans and shudders. His dick twitches insistently and he can't help pushing his own hips forward, seeking friction; he's so fucking hard already, even though he just came like ten minutes ago.

"Fuck," Frank pulls back to say, wide eyes locked dark on Gerard's. He leans in again to bite at Gerard's lip, sharp and stinging, then fumbles at Gerard's shoulders, trying to shove his jacket out of the way. "Motherfucker, get this off already."

"Shit." Gerard struggles out of the jacket, letting it crumple carelessly to the floor as Frank fights his way out of his own, finally flinging it triumphantly across the room when he's freed himself. Gerard can't help but laugh, but he chokes on it a second later when Frank surges forward, pinning him against the wall with hands and hips and hot, insistent mouth. Gerard's eyes actually roll up into his head; he yanks Frank's shirt tails out of his pants, shoving his hands up underneath to get to skin, and the noise Frank makes at that vibrates all through him.

"Off," Frank demands, breaking the kiss to bite at the angle of Gerard's jaw as he fumbles at his shirt buttons. Gerard tilts his head back against the wall, panting and feeling the way Frank's shoulder blades flex under his hands, hot skin and muscle and just a little softness, his movements jerky and spasmodic, anything but graceful and even hotter for it. "Come on, motherfucker," he bounces up onto his tiptoes, pressing his thigh between Gerard's legs and startling a groan out of his throat as he rocks back against the pressure, "get with the program; I wanna see you naked!"

Gerard can't even help it; he starts laughing at that, dropping his head forward to bury his face in Frank's shoulder as he giggles uncontrollably. Frank makes a frustrated sound, yanking himself pointedly out of Gerard's arms, but when Gerard looks up he's grinning as he starts on his own shirt buttons, raising one perfect challenging eyebrow.

"Fuck," Gerard mumbles, trying to pull himself together, and Frank's grin stretches wider as he wrestles his shirt off, reaching for his belt. Gerard almost strangles himself with his tie as he scrambles to follow suit, pulling his shirt over his head without bothering to unbutton it any further. He presses a hand over his insistent, aching dick as he fumbles his pants undone, and when he looks up Frank's staring at him hot-eyed, all smooth skin and tented black boxers with his slacks tangled around his feet. Gerard's hands twitch automatically to cover the pudge of his belly and stupid pale chest, and Frank makes a soft sound in his throat, taking a step forward – or trying to. His feet catch in his pants and he stumbles face-first into Gerard's chest, tipping them both backward against the wall. Gerard can't help the snort of laughter that bubbles up as he catches Frank against him, sweat-damp skin sticking together everywhere they touch.

"Smooth," he teases, feeling daring, and Frank plants his hands on Gerard's shoulders, fingers pressing in as he shoves himself away.

"Oh, blow me. Like you're the picture of fucking grace." He sticks his tongue out, but he's smiling, so Gerard smiles back even as his stomach twists with nervous anticipation.

"Um. I could... do that," he manages to say, relieved when his voice only cracks a little. Frank kind of squints up at him, half-grinning and not getting it, and Gerard slides a hand down his back to cop a not-at-all-sneaky feel of his ass, just to distract himself.

"What, be graceful?" Frank snorts, backing up so he can toe off his shoes and kick out of the tangle of his pants. Gerard swallows, eyes on the wet spot on the front of Frank's boxers, and shoves his own stupid dress pants down to keep his hands from shaking.

"No, the other thing. If – I mean. If you... want." He sees the moment Frank gets it, the way he stills so completely, eyes going wide for a couple of seconds before he grabs for Gerard's shoulders, yanking him in close to kiss him open-mouthed and breathy. Gerard flails, off balance and clutching at Frank, and somehow they stumble the couple of steps necessary to topple onto the bed, all the air rushing out of him as Frank lands heavy on top of him.

"Fuck," Frank mumbles into his mouth, hips thrusting spasmodically down against Gerard's. "Fuck yes I want, you fuckin' moron." He draws back, flushed and gasping, shoving both hands into Gerard's hair and pressing their foreheads together. "Do you – are you sure? I've never..."

"Fuck," Gerard echoes, barely more than a breath between them. He feels like he can't get enough air; the hard line of Frank's cock is rubbing against his, maddeningly not enough, and his mouth is watering just at the thought. "Really? Are..." He doesn't even know what he wants to ask, but Frank shrugs against him, wriggling over and pulling Gerard with him so they're lying on their sides. His fingers play over Gerard's back, making him shiver.

"Like, handjobs a couple times? But not..." he trails off, leaning in to kiss Gerard again, licking desperately into his mouth. Gerard kisses him back, feeling – he doesn't even know, but it's coiling through his bones, heavy arousal and want making him groan before he pushes Frank away, shoving himself up to look down at him.

"Okay." He slides a hand down Frank's side, tugging at the tops of his boxers. Fuck yeah, he wants to do this, he thinks dazedly as Frank rolls onto his back, lifting his hips obscenely to wriggle out of his underwear. His cock bumps up against his belly, flushed hard and leaking, and Gerard wraps a hand around it, stroking tentatively a couple of times before wriggling further down the bed to take a thoughtful lick. It tastes sort of like he'd expected, skin and salt and bitter-slick precome and nothing at all like the couple of times he's gone down on a girl, except for how Frank jerks and swears above him, the tip bumping against Gerard's lips as his hips buck up. Gerard opens his mouth, swiping the flat of his tongue experimentally over the head, and grins when Frank whines, one hand sifting shakily through Gerard's hair. Fuck, this is fun.

"Oh my fucking God," Frank says faintly, and when Gerard looks up he's propped up on one elbow, eyes wide and staring. Gerard shifts a bit so his dick isn't screaming at him quite so badly, pressing his hips into the mattress, and darts his tongue out again, licking at the slit for another taste before wetting his lips and sucking the head into his mouth. He's not expecting Frank to groan like he's dying and thrust up, shoving himself into Gerard's mouth, his fingers clenching painfully tight around his handful of hair, but Gerard manages not to choke, pulling off a little so he can breathe. He's fucking drooling everywhere, his cock drilling into the mattress, and Frank's making little gasping noises and choked off moans as Gerard sucks carefully, rubbing under the head with his tongue. He's pretty sure that deep-throating and shit is something he's gonna have to work up to, but fuck if he doesn't want to right now; he pushes his mouth as wide as he can, minding his teeth as he tries to take as much of Frank's dick as he can manage, bobbing his head awkwardly in time with his hand on the shaft.

If Frank tries to warn him, it's lost in the helpless and totally fucking awesome noises he's making, the restless and rhythmic shift of his hips beneath Gerard's pinning forearm. Gerard starts to pull back when Frank arches all the way off the bed, but the feeling of his cock jerking against his tongue is too distracting, and then he's got a mouthful of come and he's too busy trying not to choke. He's pretty sure what he can't swallow (different tasting than his own, but not as gross as he'd worried) ends up in his hair as he rests his head on Frank's belly, panting along with his moans and stroking him through it. He's sort of surprised to realize that he totally wants to do that again, like, as soon as possible.

Frank, when Gerard lifts his head to squint up at him, looks completely fucked out, sprawled back against the duvet and staring open-mouthed at the ceiling. Gerard feels a little thrill, knowing that he did that, but mostly he really needs to get off, his neglected dick trembling on the edge of painful now. Pushing himself up with an effort, he wriggles up the bed, collapsing against Frank's side. "Holy shit," he mumbles vaguely, and Frank turns his head to kiss his come-sticky mouth with no trace of hesitation, slow and breathy like he's on the edge of passing out for real.

"Holy shit," he echoes, his voice raw and hoarse like he'd been the one sucking dick, and he flails a hand in Gerard's direction, tugging him closer. Gerard really tries, but he can't quite help thrusting against Frank's hip, moaning at the friction and fumbling blindly to take himself in hand. He's so fucking close, just...

"Hey." Frank bats his hand away from himself, and Gerard groans as he's pushed over onto his back, dark eyes smirking down at him. "I'm not done yet, motherfucker," Frank whispers against his mouth, his hand wrapping around Gerard's aching cock and stroking, slow and firm and fucking perfect as Gerard whites out.

---

Gerard's drifting on the edge of sleep when a soft knock on the door drags him out of his puddle of post-orgasmic bliss. He starts awake, pulling away from Frank, who grumbles and rolls onto his side, peering up at Gerard blearily.

"What the fuck?"

"Mikey," Gerard realizes, heart hammering in his ribs in time with the quiet, repetitive knocking. "Fuck, pants." He heaves himself off the bed, stumbling wobbly-legged as he tries to pick the detritus of their discarded clothes off the floor and remember where he'd put his fucking pajamas. The clock reads four-thirty and Frank is snickering at him, rolling out of the bed to crank up the AC and open the window. Mikey's knocking is getting impatient now; Gerard drags his pajama pants out of his bag, finally, scrambling into them, and casts a frantic glance back to check that Frank at least has underwear on before he shuffles over to the door, cracking it open.

Mikey looks at him through the gap, blank-faced. There's a bruise blooming high up on his neck, under his ear; Gerard stares, trying to pull his scattered brain cells into some kind of order. "You have sex hair," he says, stupidly, and Mikey's eyebrow lifts, slow and incredulous, almost to his hairline.

Frank erupts into a coughing fit that barely muffles his laughter, and when Gerard turns to glare at him he catches sight of himself in the mirror over the desk and immediately wants to sink through the floor. He looks wrecked, his hair standing up in all directions and stiff with what has to be dried come, his mouth red and raw-looking and eyeliner smeared into the bruises under his eyes. Frank's watching him with this smug, sleepy smile, though, sitting up in the bed – also completely fucking wrecked, the comforter puddled on the floor and the sheets a hopeless tangle, pulled loosely around his waist.

Mikey makes a noise like a dying seagull and stalks into the bathroom. Gerard stares at the closed door for a moment, feeling vaguely indignant since it's not like he hasn't walked in on Mikey sucking face and worse before, but gives up after a second, shuffling back to the bed and letting Frank arrange the sheets around them and kiss him lazily. Mikey'll just have to get over it, he decides, pressing his face into Frank's shoulder and breathing in sleep and sweat and sex. He's too tired to do anything about it right now.

---

Morning comes far too soon, in Gerard's opinion; he flails himself awake enough to shut off the alarm clock – and who the fuck had set that? - and rolls over, fully intending to go right back to sleep. It's a surprise to come face to face with Frank, slitted eyes and grumpy morning face transforming as he recognizes Gerard.

"Hey." He fucking beams, and Gerard can't help smiling back any more than he can help yawning the minute Frank does. He's pretty sure he's got some epic morning breath going on, but Frank doesn't seem to mind too much, flopping over against his chest and kissing the corner of his mouth clumsily as he rubs his hard dick against Gerard's thigh. Gerard's own morning wood goes from semi to rock-solid so fast he feels dizzy with it, and he sucks in a gasp, fumbling to pull Frank closer.

A dry cough from the other side of the room makes them freeze, staring at each other as the cot creaks. Fuck, Gerard thinks; he flops back into the pillow, swallowing a groan. He's not fucking doing this with his brother in the room, whether or not Mikey's sleeping. Frank's nearly-silent giggle stirs the hair over his ear, and he shivers, trying to wriggle subtly away and biting down on his tongue when the movement pulls his pajamas tight over his erection. Fucking little brothers, Christ.

Two minutes of trying to will his dick to go down later – unsurprising enough, it's hard to think unsexy thoughts with a hot guy pressed up against him – Gerard gives up and flops his way out of bed onto unsteady legs, weaving his way toward the bathroom. He needs a fucking shower anyway, and it's not like he isn't going to be replaying last night every time he touches his dick for the next week. For the next year. That gives him pause, though; he leans on the counter, staring at his own blurry eyes in the mirror as he realizes that time is hurtling past, gathering speed like a fucking freight train. T minus a couple of hours until this whole weekend really is nothing but memories and fantasy fodder.

Fuck. Gerard hangs his head, trying to breathe around the sudden lump in his throat. Somehow, he hadn't quite processed until now that the only thing this can be is a hookup, and the knowledge that he wants more is like a punch in the stomach. God, he wants more than that. He wants so fucking much more than that.

He's such a motherfucking idiot.

---

Monday afternoons always drag, but this one is the worst ever. Gerard slumps over the counter, pretending to key in the numbers from the sheet of orders that came in this morning, not even pretending he isn't moping. Even Mikey's given up on him; he's off skulking around the Modern Lit section, surreptitiously texting someone or other.

Yesterday had picked up for a while when Frank had invaded his shower, crowding Gerard up against the tile wall and gasping into his mouth as they'd rubbed against each other. Mikey had been glaring at the ceiling when they'd tumbled giggling back into the bedroom, his earbuds blasting tinny post-punk. It had gone downhill quickly, though, and saying goodbye had been kind of hellish; Gerard had tried to smile, and Frank had bounced nervously on his toes, glancing sidelong at him as he packed up his stuff and lingering by the door even after his mom had knocked. He hadn't asked for Gerard's number or his email address or anything, and after he'd disappeared through the door Gerard had dragged the comforter back onto the messy bed and curled up on top of it, burying his face in his knees while Mikey sighed at him.

"Gerard, are you sure you're not sick?" Ray squeezes past Gerard to dump a couple of returns onto the shelving cart. Gerard keys in another number, tapping desultorily at the keys and hunching his shoulders. He wishes he was fucking sick, that he'd had enough vodka left last night to just shut his brain down for a while, never mind the hangover.

"I'm fine," he mutters, staring at the screen, and Ray gets the hint, trundling off with the cart even though it's barely full. Gerard shakes off the deja vu and prods at the keyboard, remembering the breathless way Frank had laughed in his ear, the hot hard weight of his body. Why does he always get so fucking attached?

When he looks down at the order slip, he's vaguely surprised to see that he's doodled a grinning, cartoon-style Frank right over the top of the numbers he's supposed to be inputting. When had he picked up the pen?

"Hey, Gee!" Ray shouts from the opposite side of the store; Gerard starts, blinking as he belatedly realizes someone's standing on the other side of the counter, waiting for his attention. He straightens up, mouth opening automatically.

"How can I he–" The words dry on his tongue. Frank smirks at him, pushing up onto his toes and propping his elbows on the counter. Gerard's counter. In Gerard's store. What the fuck.

"Hi." His hair is flopping into his eyes and he's got a guitar case slung over his shoulder and there's a bruise Gerard remembers making peeking out of the collar of his shirt. What the fuck.

"Frankie?" Gerard can't even fucking process this, his brain looping like a scratched record, but Frank's smirk turns into a happy, relieved sort of smile at the nickname. Gerard's stomach is doing fucking somersaults; he's not sure he isn't going to throw up. "What are you...?"

"I live down the street, moron." Frank's eyes fix on Gerard's mouth, and Gerard realizes he's chewing on his lip. "Do you have, like, a break or something?"

"Um." Gerard tries to collect his scattered thoughts; it's more difficult than usual with Frank watching him like that, like he's remembering. When he glances at the clock on the monitor, it says four-fifteen. Fuck, close enough. "Now?" he manages, and Frank grins at him, bright and happy.

"Cool. You wanna, I don't know, get a coffee or something?"

"With you?" Gerard says stupidly, and he wants to bang his head on the counter when Frank snickers, soft and fond like he's used to Gerard being an idiot by now. What the fuck.

"Yeah, I hear you're into dudes," Frank says, raising one eyebrow. It feels like a challenge, like bravado, but his eyes are warm and uncertain. "This is me asking you out, by the way. In case there was any, you know, confusion."

"Oh." Gerard's stomach flips again, warmth spreading through him. He looks down at the keyboard, stabbing at the combination to log out, because otherwise he's gonna haul Frank right across the counter. When he looks up, Frank is just watching him, gnawing on his lower lip and tapping his fingers on the counter, and Gerard has to, seriously has to grab his hand, smiling. "Yeah." He clears his throat, waving his free hand. "I mean, this is me saying yes. To everything."

Frank's smile could blind the fucking sun; Gerard beams back helplessly, ignoring the obnoxious puking noises Mikey's making a couple of shelves away, and wonders how the hell his life got this awesome. Fuck yeah, he can do this.