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By the time Gerard takes the pill that the guy offers him, he knows for certain that he's not coming back from Japan. One way or another, metaphorically or literally, this is it.

But he'd known that already, hadn't he? When he hadn't bothered packing. When he'd kissed his mom goodbye. When he'd gotten on the airplane filthy drunk and already flying high. Everything since then has just been taking care of the formalities, working out how this is actually going to happen.

"Is it good?" Gerard asks, holding out his hand for the pill, like the answer will make a difference to if he'll take it or not, and the guy shrugs, smiles, something feral dancing in his eyes.

"Life changing," he says. "You'll love it, dude."

It should set off warning bells. Maybe it does. Maybe the warning bells have been ringing so loud for so long that Gerard thinks they're tinnitus now.

In any case, he wouldn’t be able to hear them here, not in this bar in some godforsaken corner of Ikebukoro, with the music that jangles against his nerves and the smoke that stings his eyes. He finishes his drink, and breathes, letting the bar get fuzzy at the edges until he can ignore everything else and focus on the guy in front of him.

He’s nothing out of the ordinary – just the sort of guy who turns up to their shows. Same worn band t-shirt, same unwashed hair. Gerard should know better than to drink with fans – he knows that, even now – but the American twang to the guy’s voice when he asked Gerard for a drink after the show sounded like home, and the flicker in his eyes looked like mischief, and so Gerard, against all sense or experience, said yes.

He buys the guy a drink, gets something that's more vodka than mixer for himself, and is about to use it to wash the pill down when there’s a hand on his shoulder.

He slips the pill into his pocket as he turns, because it doesn’t matter if it’s the cops or his bandmates – he’s really not in the mood for jail time or another fucking lecture tonight – and plasters on an expression that he hopes will pass for civil in the shitty light of the bar.

“Hey.” Gerard relaxes a fraction when he realizes it’s Mikey who’s behind him, but only a fraction. He’d wanted an evening away from the guys – especially from Mikey. Mikey who just wants to understand what Gerard’s going through. Mikey who’s stopped buying him booze. Mikey who shoots him confused, betrayed looks when he thinks Gerard isn’t looking.

“Hey,” Gerard says back, and it’s a fraction too slow, a fraction too late, and Mikey’s expression goes from guarded to expressionless in the time it takes to blink.

“Frank and I thought you might want to go out,” Mikey says. He spares half a glance for the guy Gerard’s with and his lip curls minutely. “He wants to see a real izakaya.”

“Sounds fun,” Gerard says, not even trying to keep the boredom from his tone. “But I’m busy here.”

“Really.” Mikey’s tone is cutting. “I’m sure your friend can spare you, though.”

Anger’s one of the few things that Gerard can feel these days, and in the absence of other emotions, he’s getting good at it. Right now, he wants Mikey to fuck off with his judgments and insinuations so that he can get wasted in peace. The guy doesn’t matter. Gerard can’t remember his face already, sure as hell can’t remember his name, but he’ll be damned if Mikey gets to police what he does.

“I don’t think he can.” Gerard stands up, cursing the uneven floor and his unsteady legs as he staggers slightly and takes the half step he needs so he can put his arm around the guy. “In fact, I think we’re gonna be busy for the rest of the night.”

The guy is very still under his arm and Gerard hopes he’s not fucking homophobic. He doesn’t give a shit whether he gets a fuck out of this, to be honest, but he’d prefer to finish the evening with his face in one piece if he can. With some of the guys he’s been picking up recently, that’s not a foregone conclusion.

Mikey nods, and even though Gerard knows his brother well – better than anyone else – he can’t tell if he’s angry or upset. Maybe if he cared it would be easier, but all Gerard wants right now is another drink and to see what the pill in his pocket does, so he meets Mikey’s eyes and shrugs, tells himself that he’s enjoying playing the asshole brother. Somewhere deep inside, he’s not sure he’s even playing anymore.

“I’ll tell Frank,” Mikey says. “We’ll…”

“Tell me what?”

Of all of them, touring seems to have been kindest to Frank. At the very least he’s managed to keep some of the wide-eyed enjoyment of new places and new people that they’d all felt in the beginning. They’ve been in Japan for nearly a week now, and Frank’s camera is full of pictures of Shinto temples and badly translated English signs and the sort of weird Japanese gadgets that he loves. Somehow Gerard knows this, even if he’s been avoiding everyone as much as he can, even if he’s barely lifted his gaze from the sidewalk the whole time they’ve been here.

Even now, in a dive bar in the ass end of Tokyo, where the air stinks of booze and sweat, and you can cut the tension with a knife, Frank’s still recognizably himself. It makes Gerard’s fists itch.

“That I’m too busy to do your tourist thing.” He’s being mean, deliberately mean, and he feels a vicious little twist of pleasure at the hurt that flashes across Frank’s face. “Sorry.” His drawl is completely insincere and Mikey’s mouth twists.

“Whatever.” Mikey shrugs, feigning nonchalance. “See you on the bus tomorrow, I guess.”

He doesn’t wait for a response, just slips off into the crowd, and Gerard can see how badly Frank wants to follow him. He doesn’t though, not right away. Instead he glares at the guy Gerard’s with and leans in close enough that Gerard can smell the floral scent of his shampoo, can hear him over the crappy music that’s playing.

“You should come with us,” he says slowly and clearly, like he’s got some sort of fucking authority here, and Gerard scowls.

“Why?” He raises an eyebrow at Frank, wanting to hurt him again. “Think you’ve got something I’d want?”

Frank recoils like he’s been slapped. “No,” he says, and Gerard knows that’s a lie. He’s caught Frank looking before, knows what the weight of his gaze could mean. Remembers how hot Frank’s lips can be against his from those rare moments they've collided on stage, sweat-drenched and manic and hungry and on. The times they've both had too much to drink and the party's been dying down and Frank's had those eyes and that mouth and those reluctant sighs, when Gerard's recklessly leaned in and Frank's almost met him halfway. “I just thought you might want to be less of a douche to your fucking brother, dude.” He pokes Gerard in the chest, hard enough that Gerard can actually feel it through his self induced numbness, hard enough that it might bruise. “Just because you’re too fucking high to notice, doesn’t mean you’re not hurting him.”

“It’ll toughen him up,” Gerard says, not trying to keep the bitterness from his tone. “He’s always had it too easy. Everyone always does things for Mikey.” He knocks Frank’s hand away. “’S about time that he found out that life sucks. Now…”

He turns to the guy, who’s been quiet and watchful through this whole fiasco, and kisses him, hoping to God that he’s not violent, not a journalist. The guy kisses back, at least. Sloppy and enthusiastic, tasting of vodka and redbull, and something chemical underneath that. It’s meant to be a fuck you to Frank, but he gets a bit lost in it and when they pull apart, Frank’s eyes are wide, his cheeks pinker than they’d been before.

“You still here?” Gerard asks, doing his best to make them sound mean, and Frank’s face shuts down. “Thought you’d have got the fucking message that you’re not wanted. But then…” He curls his lip. “You always been a bit slow picking up on that, haven’t you, Frankie?”

“Yeah.” Frank glares at him, his lips thin. “I got the fucking message, Gee. My mistake.” He holds his hands up. “Thought you weren’t the fucking dick you’ve been pretending to be.” He takes a step back. “Guess I was wrong.”

He turns on his heel and stalks off through the crowd, and for one terrible second Gerard nearly calls him back. He manages to stop himself though, and the guy next to him huffs out a laugh.

“Jesus,” he says, his tone casually dismissive and his eyes glinting with careless cruel humor. “That was a lot of fucking drama. Want another drink?”

“Yeah.” Gerard scrubs his hand over his face, suddenly very tired. “Another drink, then let’s get high and fuck, yeah?”

“Suits me,” the guy says and holds out his credit card, trying to catch the barman’s eye.

The guy’s blowjobs are as sloppy as his kisses, but he lets Gerard hold his hair and fuck his mouth, so Gerard could care less. He comes on the guy’s face and sags back against the cubicle wall and tries to catch his breath while the guy jerks off at his feet. He tries not to throw up.

They head back to the bar after, tap shot glasses together in an clumsy toast that spills tequila onto the counter, while Gerard tries his best to remember what hotel he’s staying in tonight.

“So.” The guy grins at him, feral and dark, and Gerard almost – almost – wishes he’d asked the guy what his name was. “I know we’re strangers and all, but I’m gonna give you some advice.”

“Yeah?” The momentary regret evaporates like Gerard never even felt it. “What makes you think I’m gonna listen?”

“No idea.” The guy’s smiling like Gerard’s the funniest thing he’s seen this evening. “But you’re going to, aren’t you?”

Gerard feels his lips purse, but he stands still, frozen to the spot and the guy nods like his suspicions are confirmed.

“You think things are bad now,” the guy says. “But you’ve no idea how much worse they can get.” He looks at Gerard and there’s something in his eyes, something that’s wilder and softer than the edged words that are spilling from his lips. “Friends like that are worth holding onto.” He steps into Gerard’s space, leans close enough that he’s speaking directly into Gerard’s ear. “And sometimes?” Gerard feels when his lips curve up into a smile. “Sometimes, people like us have to get to the bottom before we work out what’s important.”

He steps back and straightens the edges of Gerard’s hoodie.

“So, yeah.” He grins. “Good luck with that, dude. I hope I see you around again sometime.”

He walks away then, before Gerard can reply, and Gerard’s on his own again in the middle of a crowded bar, with no real idea where he is or where he should be going.

Home, he thinks – or the hotel at least, and he staggers from the bar and waves wildly until a cab finally stops for him. There’s someone somewhere watching out for him – the room key has the name of the hotel on it and Gerard shows it to the driver, lets the dark streets slip past the windows without really tracking where they are. He sticks his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and slouches down in the seat, thinking of the bottle of vodka that’s in his room and wondering if it will be enough to last him until the morning.

His fingers brush against something, and he frowns, pulling it out.

It’s the pill the guy gave him.

It’s bigger than most of the pills he’s taken recently – its colour and shape unfamiliar – and there aren’t any of the tiny letters inscribed on it that suggests it’s a prescription pill that’s found its way into the wrong hands.

He could throw it out the window, knows he should throw it out the window. He even gets as far as rolling the window down – but he hadn’t dared bring any of his stash through customs and it hasn’t been as easy to find anything… interesting out here as he’d hoped. He puts it back in his pocket and rolls the window back up.

It’s cold when he climbs out of the cab and it goes some way to sobering him up so that he manages to get in past the reception desk without humiliating himself. He doesn’t want to wait for the elevator – the night manager was looking at him oddly and he hadn’t wanted to push his luck – and he’s breathless by the time he reaches his floor.

He’d tell himself some lie, that he’d get himself back in shape when he reaches America, that he’d quit the booze and hit the gym, that he’d turn over a new leaf – but somehow he doesn’t think that’s going to be a problem. Putting one foot in front of the other is hard enough right now that getting to his room is a challenge. The idea of getting back to America is as unthinkable as flying to the moon.

His steps are slow, unsteady, and when he hears Mikey’s voice from one of the rooms he’s passing, he stops altogether.

It would be so easy to knock the door, so easy to reach out to Mikey. Mikey would forgive him – Frank would forgive him – Gerard knows that. He can picture it now, sitting on Mikey’s bed with Mikey’s arms around him, falling asleep with both of them in the room with him… not feeling alone for a few precious hours.

He wants that so much it hurts, wants it more than he wanted the drink or the sex or the drugs earlier, and that’s why he drops his hand and takes a step back away from the door.

Mikey deserves more than this, deserves more than him. The path he’s on right now only has one destination, and in the end Mikey’s going to be happier if he’s not as close to Gerard when it happens. He’ll blame himself less at the very least.

He turns away from the sound of Mikey’s voice, thrusts his hands back into his pockets and starts the slow shamble back to his room. His fingers brush the pill again, and this time he closes them around it.

He manages the last few steps to his room.

It takes three goes to get the keycard into the slot because the door is swimming slightly in front of his eyes, but he manages it at last, and then he’s letting the door swing shut behind him.

There’s time for him to change his mind, or maybe that time was the past three years.

He dry-swallows the pill and lets himself collapse onto the bed, praying that if there has to be a tomorrow, it will be better than this.

Tomorrow starts with too bright light and someone beating on the door.

“Gerard. Gerarrrrd.” It’s Ray, Gerard recognizes his voice, but he tries to ignore him in favor of burrowing his face into his bedding. “Get up, Gerard. Bus leaves in an hour and there’s coffee downstairs.”

An hour is more than enough time, Gerard thinks. He can sleep a bit more and still get coffee if he doesn’t bother with a shower.

He rolls over and closes his eyes and tries to fall back asleep. He feels odd though – hungover, maybe, or the comedown from the pill he took – and he’s too hot and his face is tickling him. He twists himself around so he can scratch, and oh, that’s good. So good. He stretches, gives himself a shake and stands on three of his legs so he can scratch behind his ear again.

It takes him a few seconds to parse what is wrong with that and when he does, he freezes.

Gerard’s never been entirely comfortable in his body, but it’s never felt as alien to him as it does now. His eyes are screwed shut and he can’t bring himself to open them, but he stretches again, the panic rising to a boil inside him when it still feels wrong.

This can’t be real. It just can’t.

He reaches up cautiously, his eyes still closed, to touch his face, but his hands don’t bend and the face under them isn’t his… and he loses it completely.

He’s off the bed in a tangle of limbs and chaos, trying to scream, but even that sounds wrong – like an animal in pain rather than anything human. He can’t stop though, he’s clawing at himself and howling and he’s never felt this scared – this alone – in his whole life.

When he finally manages to stop, there’s someone in the next room banging on the wall. He’s not calm – far from it – but he’s exhausted himself. He crawls under the bed, shivering and whimpering, and tries to breathe slowly. He needs to open his eyes, to see what’s happened, but he’s scared that it will take more courage than he has.

Mikey could do this – Mikey’s always been better than him at dealing with things. And it’s thinking of Mikey that makes him brave enough.

He opens his eyes.

Despite everything, he’s still expecting to see his hands and when he doesn’t, when he sees a pair of furry black paws instead, he nearly starts to freak out again.

Mikey, he thinks. Mikey could cope and he turns his head, looks down his body. There’s more black fur, and Gerard is back on the edge of panic again until he catches movement out of the corner of his eye.

There’s a mirror on the door of the wardrobe, stretching all the way to the floor, and in it Gerard can see himself. Well, he can see a puppy in the mirror, because apparently he’s a puppy now and all of a sudden he could laugh.

He’s a tiny scrap of curly blank and white fur, a pure-breed mutt as his Pops used to say. Hell, he even has an inside-out ear. He’s never seen anything so ridiculously perfect in his life – but the reason he’s happy, the reason he’s laugh if he could, is that this isn’t real. He’s having a bad trip. It’s just the stupid fucking pill he took. He’s not a dog – how could he be a dog? No. He just thinks he’s a dog because he’s a jerk with poor impulse control and a bad drug habit.

The relief is all encompassing.

All he has to do is to keep calm. The others will come and get him soon – bus call must be less than an hour away if Ray was telling the truth, and Mikey will talk him down. Yeah, he was mad last night, and he’ll be madder later when he finds out that Gerard took something from a stranger, but he’ll be there now, and that’s the important thing.

It’s a solution, a way forward, and that’s all Gerard needs. He climbs out from under the bed and hops up onto it, making himself a nest in the blankets, because when Mikey comes in, he doesn’t want to be flashing his junk.

Then he lies down and closes his eyes, trying to work out if he can enjoy the high, since he’s fucking paying for it out the jacksie with side effects. He’s sleepy, though that could be the fallout from the panic earlier, but otherwise he thinks he feels normal. Well, normal for a dog, he thinks and wants to snigger.

He’s dozed off again by the time the others come to get him. They knock on the door – but he can’t answer it, so he makes sure he’s covered by the sheets and he waits. They’ll come in. He knows they will – that’s why they have a spare keycard. This won’t be the first time they’ve had to help him get to the bus after all.

It only takes a few minutes, footsteps in the corridor, the banging of luggage being moved. Mikey’s voice getting louder.

“I’ll get him,” Mikey says outside the door. “He’s my brother. I’ll have seen it before.”

Gerard can barely control his excitement. Mikey’s here. Mikey. There’s an odd thump-thump-thump noise and for a second Gerard’s confused until he realizes it’s his tail wagging and he has to will it still, because God only knows what part of his human anatomy that’s going to equate to.

Mikey’s takes a few goes to get the door open, because there’s some sort of cosmic law that governs keycards and refuses to let them work first time, but when he does he doesn’t waste any time.

“Rise and shine,” he says, obnoxiously loud as he shoulders into the room and flings the curtains open. “Bus leaves in five and you need to be on it or…”

He turns, clearly expecting to see Gerard on the bed, but he freezes, his brows snapping together.

“Frank?” he shouts. “Frank, he’s not here. Frank?”

The words fill Gerard full of horror, his realizations and suppositions falling away into nothing, because if Gerard was right – if he was human and just having a bad trip – then Mikey would be able to see him.

But Mikey can’t. Which means that Gerard is small. Which means he might actually be a puppy, and he’s terrified.

He certainly doesn’t know what the hell this means, but he’s sure he doesn’t want Mikey to see him like this so he hides, small and still, under the covers and when Mikey turns away he sneaks under the bed.

He doesn’t know why he’s hiding. Maybe it’s shame because he made this damn mess in the first place. Maybe it’s determination, because this can’t be real, but if it is then Gerard’s got himself into this – he can get himself out of it. Maybe.

“Fuck’s sake.” Frank’s worn out Chucks stomp into the room. “Where the fuck is he, Mikey?”

“Not here,” Mikey says, and his voice is so dry that in other circumstances Gerard would laugh.

“Yeah.” Gerard can see the mirror from where he’s hiding, sees Frank give the room a cursory glance. “Obviously. You think he’s still at that bar?”

“Could be.” Mikey picks up the book that Gerard left on the bedside table, and Gerard hears him flick through the pages, losing Gerard’s place in the process. “Or he went home with someone.”

“There was that guy,” Frank says, his voice tight and grim.

“He was just a prop.” Mikey puts the book back where he found it. “He was just trying to hurt us.”

Frank shrugs. “You didn’t see them kiss after you left.” His mouth twists in a way Gerard doesn’t understand. “Looked fairly fucking real to me.”

“Hey.” Mikey puts his hand on Frank’s shoulder, his thumb running over the soft spot at the top of his collarbone. “He doesn’t mean it. He’s just a dick when he’s drunk.”

“Yeah.” Frank sounds tired and he leans his face against Mikey’s arm for a second. “Except that’s all the time, now, isn’t it?”

Mikey makes a noise and slides his arm around Frank, but whatever he’s about to say is cut off when Ray walks into the room. He smells like sunshine and Gerard has to concentrate on not wagging his tail again.

“What’s happening?” Ray asks. “Is Gee in the shower?”

“No,” Frank says, but he’s frowning as he says it, and he pulls away from Mikey to push open the door, clearly realizing they haven’t checked in there yet. “No,” he says again, this time with some irritation evident in his voice. “We seem to be down a lead singer.”

“What d’he say?” Otter asks, poking his head into the room.

Ray shrugs. “Gerard’s gone out,” he says. “Or he’s not back yet.”

“Fucking flake.” Otter sounds pissed, and Gerard could understand that, except he can see how stricken Mikey looks at the words. “So we’re all gonna miss bus call then?”

There’s an awkward pause, and Ray glances at the others before he shrugs.

“Looks that way,” he says, and Otter grunts.

“Fine.” He pats his pockets. “If we’re gonna have to hang around here waiting for our Diva to show, then I’m gonna go and get some breakfast.”

The others watch him go, the weight of words they’ve been biting back all tour heavy in the air.

They wait until his footsteps have faded and they’ve heard the sound of the lift doors closing before they look at each other properly, and even changed, Gerard knows what they’re saying.

There’s a whole silent conversation, conveyed in the smallest shifts of face and body, before Ray shrugs.

“I guess I’ll go tell the bus that we won’t be on it then.” He claps Mikey on the shoulder slightly awkwardly. “Cheer up, dude. He’ll turn up.”

He leaves and Mikey sits down on the bed.

“He’s right,” Frank tells him, and he sounds quiet, tired maybe, like this is part of a conversation they’ve had before. “He’s just with that guy. He’ll turn up and not get why you’re annoyed, and you’ll scream at him, and I’ll stop you from punching him.”

“What if he doesn’t though?” Mikey says, small and miserable. “What if he doesn’t turn up? What if he’s…” He breaks off, looking up at Frank with desperate eyes, begging him to tell him that everything will be okay.

He looks so sad, so scared that Gerard can’t stay hidden any more. He gathers up all the courage he has, and crawls out from under the bed, whining.

He barely gets out from under the bed before Frank sees him – but maybe that shouldn’t shock him. Frank’s always had a soft spot for wide-eyed doggy rejects.

“Hey.” Frank is on his knees in front of Gerard before he even registered him move. “Hey, little guy. Where did you come from?”

He reaches out, like he’s scared he’ll spook Gerard with any sudden movement, letting Gerard sniff his hand. He smells… familiar. Like comfort and home. Like belonging.

Gerard licks his hand hesitantly, then cringes away, horrified that this is his instinctive response.

“Good.” Frank’s voice is soft and warm – like he hasn’t sounded to Gerard in months now. “You’re a good boy, aren't you?” He scratches behind Gerard’s ear, hitting every spot that itched and that Gerard couldn’t reach. “You’re the best boy.”

The thing is, every body seems to come with instincts, and Gerard’s been fighting his since Mikey walked into the room. With Frank’s hands on him, and his voice radiating approval, Gerard is helpless. His tail wags so hard it’s making him wobble on his feet, and Frank laughs, delighted, and even Mikey manages to smile.

“See?” Frank turns around to grin at Mikey. “I have the magic touch.”

“With dogs,” Mikey says, but he’s still smiling and that makes Gerard’s tail wag harder.

“You’re just jealous of my game,” Frank says, but he’s scratching Gerard’s head even as he’s poking his tongue out at Mikey.

Gerard’s tail is wagging fit to burst, and he’s happier than he’s been in over a year, and he’s never claimed to be good but… he’s never realized just how terrible he could be either. This is the first time anyone’s actually been happy to see Gerard in months, the first time anyone has touched him with no ulterior motive, and even though he knows he should be trying to communicate with them, the urge to give himself a bit more time is irresistible.

“Dudes.” Ray walks back into the room and shakes his head. “I leave you alone for two seconds and you find a puppy?”

“He was under the bed or something!” Frank sounds hugely defensive. “It’s not like I went out looking for him.”

“You say that,” Ray says, “but every time you’re left alone you end up petting a dog, right?”

“Lies,” Frank says, petting Gerard possessively. “This is the only boy for me, aren’t you, baby?”

It has Ray and Mikey grinning, through Mikey’s fades when he turns to face Ray.

“You spoke to the bus driver?”

“Yeah.” Ray shrugs. “Then I went to the bar you saw Gerard at.”

“Yeah?” Mikey perks up, looks interested, but Ray shakes his head.

“Spoke to the bartender. He was cleaning up. Said he remembered Gee, but he thought he’d left alone.”

“Fuck.” Frank’s fingers tighten in Gerard’s ruff, and he whines a bit, but Frank doesn’t seem to notice. “And you believed him?”

Ray shrugs. “Seemed to know what he was talking about, though…”

“He didn’t see what Gerard did after he left,” Mikey says. “He could’ve met up with the guy from the bar again, or he could’ve met someone new. It doesn’t mean anything.”

“Of course not,” Ray says, but his voice is careful and even Gerard can tell he’s lying.

“So.” Mikey looks between them. “What do we do now?”

He says it like a dare, and Ray tugs a hand through his hair, his expression helpless.

“Call the police,” he says but Frank shakes his head.

“We need to call Brian.” He looks at both of them. “You know I’m right.”

“Fine.” Mikey pulls Gerard out of Mikey’s arms and goes to sit on the bed, absently tugging on Gerard’s ear. “So, do it then.”

“The things I do,” Frank grumbles, but he pulls out his phone and starts scrolling through his contacts.

“It’s because you love us,” Ray says in a sing-song voice, and Frank pulls a face at him, the phone to his ear.

“Brian?” he says after a few seconds. “Dude, so…” He pauses and Gerard can hear the raised voice on the other end of the line. “No. Sorry. I have no idea what time it is there. Brian…” The voice on the other end gets louder and Frank sighs. “Brian? Gee’s missing.”

There’s silence for a second, then an outbreak of noise on the other end of the line and Gerard knows Brian well enough to know he’s swearing a blue streak. He whimpers, suddenly afraid, and burrows his face into Mikey’s armpit.

“Hey.” Mikey starts petting him properly, running his fingers through Gerard’s fur and Gerard shivers, his tail starting to wag again without his conscious choice. “You’re okay. The nasty man is on the other end of the phone. Anyway,” He presses a kiss to the top of Gerard’s head. “He’s mad at my asshole brother, not at you, baby.”

“Yeah,” Frank says, coming to stand closer. “Yeah. Why don’t you talk to him?”

He holds the phone out to Mikey and they have a silent conversation of pulled faces and reluctance before Frank drops the phone so it lands between Mikey’s chest and Gerard’s furry side, and Mikey has to fumble to pick it up as Brian’s voice gets louder and angrier.

“Hi, Brian.” Mikey’s trying to sound calm, and he’s doing a good job – if everything was normal, Gerard would believe him. But he’s in Mikey’s arms and he can feel just how tense Mikey actually is, how there’s a fine tremor to his muscles like Mikey’s about to vibrate apart. He even smells different – bitter and unlike himself, and Gerard hates it. He whines again, wanting Mikey back, wanting his attention. “Shhhhh.” Mikey tugs his ear again with soft fingers. “No, Brian. Not you. Frank’s managed to find a puppy.” He pauses, then laughs. “Yeah, no. Some things never change.”

There’s the hum of Brian’s voice and Mikey frowns, holds Gerard a touch tighter.

“We had a fight,” he tells Brian. “He was being a douche. Drunk, high, trying to get a rise from me and Frank. You know. The usual.” He pauses. “No. He didn’t say he was going anywhere. No. He didn’t seem drunker than normal. He was just… Gerard.” He sounds so tired as he says it, and Gerard realizes that Mikey’s noticed, has taken on board, everything that Gerard’s done. For the first time in months, he feels shame – shame and guilt – and to feel anything other than anger and the bleak crushing depression is such a shock he doesn’t know how to react.

It’s gone in a flash, though. Things have been difficult for a while now, and it’s not his fault that Mikey doesn’t get that, that he doesn’t understand that Gerard’s been doing what he has to to survive this – and that more often than not lately he’s at the very limits of what he can handle.

It makes his head ache to think of this, and he slinks down off Mikey’s knee, looking for Frank, hoping for his warm hands and gentle pettings and uncomplicated feelings.

“Here,” Mikey says. “Let me put you on speakerphone.” There’s the beep of buttons as he does that, then the crackle of the line as he’s successful.

“… and you’d better not cut me off, Mikey, or I swear to god that…”

“Hi, Brian.” Frank sits down cross-legged on the floor and pulls Gerard into his arms. “He didn’t cut you off.”

“Good.” Brian sounds grim, and Gerard can imagine how his mouth is turning down, how he’s already making lists of what needs to be done. “So, how long has he been gone for?”

“Eight hours?” Frank shrugs. “Maybe ten? He was drinking with some guy in a bar when we left him.”

There’s the creak of the door and Otter pokes his head in, waiting for a second until Frank gestures him in.

Brian sighs, loud enough that it’s clear even over the shitty line. “We’ll cancel tonight’s show,” he says. “Tomorrow’s as well, if we have to. Give him a day to turn up in case things have got him down or something.”

“Then what?” Ray asks. “Cuz we’ve not got that many shows left over here.”

“We’ll have to see if he’s turned up,” Brian says. “Hopefully we’re overreacting and he’ll show up in a couple of hours, but if he’s not back by tomorrow, then we’ll have to notify the police.”

“Fucking great,” Otter says, his voice bitter. “So we all lose out on the shows, just because Gee’s a flake?”

“Well,” Brian says, the tension evident in his voice. “If you have some idea how you can perform without a singer then please share it. If not, then I suggest you shut the fuck up and let us try to work out what to do.”

“Seriously?” Otter’s voice is getting louder, his temper clearly fraying. “That’s how you want to…”

“Guys.” Frank holds his hands up, leaving Gerard free to settle in the cradle of his legs, his nose pressed up against the worn denim and its smell of Frank, and stage, and travel. “Now’s not the time. Brian, you need us to do anything else now?”

“Keep me informed,” Brian says, his voice terse. “And try not to worry too much, you hear me, Mikey?”

“Yeah.” Mikey’s trying to smile, but Gerard knows it’s fake.

They’re all subdued as Brian hangs up, but Otter is downright hostile.

“You gonna let him get away with this?” he asks, and even though the comment isn’t addressed to anyone in particular, Gerard knows this barb is aimed at Mikey and he feels his hackles raise.

“What do you expect us to do?” Ray asks, and it’s unusual that he’s the one to take a stand, but maybe he can’t stand the look in Mikey’s eyes either.

Otter’s lip curls. “Like you’re gonna do anything. He’ll turn up and you’ll all fall over yourself welcoming him back, and no one will even tell him what he’s screwing up for the rest of us.” He glares at them all. “He’s lead singer. Maybe he gets another shot at this, if he doesn’t kill himself first, but we won’t. You should all think about that.”

He lets the door slam shut behind him as he leaves and Gerard barks at him, putting as much rage as he can into the stupid high pitched yaps that are all he can he can manage.

“Yeah.” Ray looks down at him, his mouth twisting in a tiny, sad smile. “We all think he’s an asshole too.”

They hang out in Gerard’s room that afternoon, Frank, Ray, and Mikey, though they don’t talk about it, don’t say that they’re staying there so they’ll be home when Gerard gets back.

Instead they play with the puppy, talk about the tour and Japan and music, pretend they’re spending time together because they want to be.

Frank vanishes for an hour in the middle of the afternoon, returning with a slightly shamefaced look and a carrier bag full of puppy food and dog toys.

“Frank…” Mikey has the slightest edge of warning to his tone, but Frank just blinks up at him, innocent, from where he’s putting a small, studded collar around Gerard’s neck.

“What?” he asks, then tries to bite back a smile when Mikey rolls his eyes. “He’s going to need some food, and I thought he might need a walk.”

“You’re not bringing him on the rest of the tour,” Mikey says, doing his best to sound stern. “And you’re not bringing him home with us.”

“Course not,” Frank says, even though they all know he’s lying. “Hadn’t crossed my mind.”

But he’s as good as his word, and brings Gerard on a walk, choosing back streets and quiet parks when Gerard gets scared by the traffic.

“It’s okay,” he says, picking Gerard up at one particularly busy crossing. “Traffic is scary, and you’re only a small puppy.” He kisses the top of Gerard’s head and zips him into the front of his hoodie as he crosses the road. “We’ll be somewhere quieter soon, don’t worry.”

He means what he says, and he brings Gerard to a quiet park before he unzips the hoodie.

“Go on, beast,” he says, giggling as Gerard runs around in a circle, chasing his own tail. “Run free.”

Gerard yips at him and darts off a good twenty feet before he’s stricken with doubt and runs back to Frank, rolling over on his feet and snapping at his laces.

“No.” Frank disentangles him gently. “I’m still gonna be here, little buddy. Go and run now.”

Gerard executes a neat circle because his tail is too tempting not to have one more go, then darts off again, chasing shadows and sunbeams and the brilliant, unobtainable glimpses of squirrels.

In fact, the only awful, humiliating moment is when Gerard realizes that he needs to deal with his bodily functions and there is nowhere to go apart from in front of Frank.

He tries to sneak away, to hide behind a bush, but he’s barely gotten started when Frank finds him.

“Man.” Frank sounds amused, utterly unbothered at what Gerard’s doing. “You’re one tricksy little dude. I thought you’d run away from me then.”

Gerard whines, and Frank sniggers.

“You want privacy?” His voice is fond. “You’re gonna have to get over that if you’re coming home with me. I’m a rockstar, dude. You’re gonna have to come on tour. Gonna have to cope with never getting any privacy again.”

He turns his back, though, giving Gerard the illusion of dignity, and he waits until Gerard runs up to him before he turns around and picks up what Gerard’s left in a plastic baggie.

“The joys of dog ownership,” he says, his voice rueful, but he tousles Gerard’s ears while he says it and maybe it’s the body he’s in, but Gerard focuses on that more than on the words that are said.

They head back to the hotel after that, like Frank had been waiting for it, and Frank remembers. He picks Gerard up as soon as they get to the busier streets, zipping him back inside his hoodie and whispering a steady stream of nonsense words when the traffic gets loud or the crowds get heavier.

He’s tenser than before, though. Gerard can feel it in the coil of his muscles as he walks, and when they finally get back to the hotel room, it’s clear that the tension is shared by the others as well.

Sure, they pretend to be normal, try to act like they’re normal. There’s a blissful half hour when they debate what language Gerard speaks – whether puppies speak any language at all, with Frank arguing passionately and vehemently that Gerard understands every word he says, and laughing uproariously when Gerard ignores every command or suggestion he makes for the next five minutes after that.

There’s a more worrying ten minutes when Frank outs out a tin of dog food for Gerard and Gerard sniffs at it, suspiciously, before taking a first, tentative, nibble. He’s not sure quite what happens after that, except his legs are flat to the floor, his face seems to be coated in gravy, and his tummy is full – and Frank and Ray and even Mikey are laughing at him.

He picks himself up and does his level best to clean his face with his paws, but he makes very little headway until Frank, still hiccoughing with laughter, starts to help with a steady hand on the back of Gerard’s neck and the corner of a hotel towel that he’s carefully dampened under the tap.

But these are oases in a desert of tension.

They’re quiet, listening for noises in the hall, perking up every single time the lift opens and someone staggers out. But each time they’re disappointed. Each time the person walks past the room, or turns the other way, and with each disappointment Mikey’s face falls further, Frank’s lips get tighter.

Even Gerard joins in the stupid ritual, forgetting for a second that he’s already here and of course he’s not going to turn up like magic, like the answer to a prayer, out of the lift.

In the end, when it’s late and dark outside and Gerard’s fallen asleep twice, once on Mikey’s knee, once in Frank’s arms, Ray stands up, frowning.

“Right,” he says, reaching out to put his hand on Mikey’s shoulder. “I’m gonna go and pick us up some food and then we’re going to sleep.”

“Sounds good,” Frank says. “Make sure you check mine’s…”

“Veggie.” Ray nods, exasperated and fond. “It’s like I haven’t known you for years, Frankie.”

Mikey waits until the door clicks closed behind Ray before he turns to Frank.

“What if he’s not back in the morning?” he asks, hunching in on himself. Frank puts Gerard down so he can scootch closer to Mikey, put his arm around his shoulders.

“Then we’ll call the police,” he says, and Mikey nods before burying his head in his hands.

Gerard watches them, trying to process how he feels under the stream of emotions that seem to come with this body. He’s been so numb and angry and low for so long it’s hard making sense of anything else. He’s enjoyed his day with them – feels stronger and better and lighter. It’s like there’s suddenly color where there hasn’t been anything for a while. But Mikey is really worried, and hurt, and for once Gerard doesn’t want him to be. It’s almost startling to remember that not hurting Mikey was a thing he used to work really hard at before everything went grey and useless in his head.

It’s time, he decides. To let them know what’s happened, that he’s safe. That he’s a fucking puppy.

“Where is he?” Mikey asks, pressing his face into Frank’s shoulder. Gerard knows the question isn’t meant for him, but he goes to stand at Mikey’s feet and barks as loud as he can. The sound makes Mikey jump, and Gerard sees the way Frank’s hand squeezes soothingly on Mikey’s neck.

“Yes.” Frank’s smiling at him, completely misinterpreting what he’s trying to say. “You’re very cute, baby, but we’re not talking about you now.”

You are, Gerard wants to say, but Frank just grins and tugs his ears, and moves him to one side so he can talk to Mikey. It doesn’t matter how much Gerard bounces or barks; they ignore him, and for the first time he properly realizes the frustration of the situation he’s stuck in.

For a minute, he can’t think what to do, and then he realizes – he can’t tell them, but he can show them.

It takes a few minutes because he can’t remember what he was wearing yesterday and most of the room down by the side of the bed is strewn with his clothes from where he tried to find something cleanish to wear to the bar. But eventually he does find them – the jeans at least – and there, in the pocket, is his wallet.

He hauls it out, growling as his paws slip on the floor, and drags it across the room. He has to walk backwards, because the wallet is really too big for him to carry, and it takes longer than he wants, but he manages and when he drops it at Frank’s feet and barks, he feels a disproportionate sense of pride.

“…know he’s struggling, but it doesn’t excuse his behaviour,” Mikey is saying in a low voice. “I mean, he could always be an ass, but I’ve never known him be cruel like this before and…”

Gerard barks again and shoves the wallet forward towards Mikey and Frank.

“Hey.” Frank squats down next to him. “What’s wrong, baby? What have you got there?” He stands up in a rush, his face pale, the wallet in his hand. “Shit.”

“What’s up?” Mikey looks up at him, his face creased in confusion and dawning concern. “Frank? You’re scaring me.”

“Oh.” Frank takes a deep breath in through his nose, his lips tight. “It’s Gee’s wallet.”

He holds it out, open to show Gerard’s driving licence. Mikey pulls it out of his hand, starting to rifle through it for himself, like that will change what it is.

“Maybe he didn’t have it with him last night?” Mikey says, but it sounds like a plea, like he’s begging Frank to agree with him.

“Maybe.” Frank’s mouth is a thin determined line. “Can you remember what he was wearing last night?”

“Jeans?” Mikey shrugs. “A tee? His black hoodie with the red cuffs.”

“Right.” Frank walks across the room, scowls down at the pile of Gerard’s stuff. “Let’s see what we can find.”

He sorts through the clothes methodically, folding each piece that he’s finished with and piling them onto the bed neatly. It takes him a while – Gerard had changed while he was in his clothes and they’ve gotten muddled since, tossed around the room by the people who’ve been traipsing in and out and by Gerard when he was hunting for the wallet. But he finds them in the end, the hoodie with the napkin from the bar scrunched up in its pocket, the jeans with his keycard to the room still safely in the back pocket.

He lays them out on the bed, like he’s done dozens of times before when Gerard’s been too hungover to function in the mornings, so that they’re ready and waiting when he gets out of the shower. But this time, Gerard’s not waiting to find them, and no one is going to wear them, so they lay on the bed, outlining the shape of what’s missing.

“He was here last night,” Frank says, his voice carefully neutral. Mikey gets up to stand next to him.

“And now he’s gone? Without his clothes or wallet or keycard?” There’s an edge of hysteria to Mikey’s voice. “Frank…”

“Shhhh.” Frank puts his arm around Mikey and pulls him close. “He’ll be fine. He’ll be okay. We’ll wait for Ray to come back and we’ll call the police, right?”

He sounds reassuring, but as soon as Mikey goes to the bathroom he pulls his phone out and Gerard knows without looking that he’s calling Brian.

It means he’s doing something, that he’s safe for the time being, so Gerard goes to the bathroom door and scratches at it, whining. This isn’t what he meant to happen – they were meant to realize it was him, not think there was something sinister going on. He’d meant to make things better, to stop them from worrying, not make everything worse.

Mikey won’t answer the door, even though Gerard can hear him moving around on the other side, so he retreats to Frank, pushing his nose into Frank’s hand, smelling the scent of his skin, the last soap he used, and under that his sweat, the slightly alien smell of the grime of a day wandering around a strange city. It’s familiar, calming, and he lets Frank’s voice wash over him, not bothering to listen to the words he’s saying to Brian, just hiding for a moment in the one safe haven he has.

When Frank ends the call and tucks the phone back into his pocket, neither of them move for a minute.

“Oh, baby.” Frank sounds tireder than the hour would explain, sadder than Gerard ever thought he’d hear Frank sound. Gerard feels a pang of something hurty and tender that he didn’t think he was capable of feeling anymore. “What are we going to do?”

Gerard whines because he doesn’t have an answer – doesn’t know how he can change back. Even if he did, he’s started to realize the problems are running deeper, are more profound than he knew, and he has no idea at all of how he can make that better. All he knows is that he does want to make it better – and for maybe the first time in his life he thinks he’s able to imagine what ‘better’ could look like.

At last though, he stands up and kisses Gerard on his fuzzy head before picking him up and going to bang on the bathroom door.

“Mikey,” he calls. “Come on, dude. There’s a puppy here that needs some petting.”

There’s the sound of shuffling footsteps and Mikey opens the door, suspiciously red eyed.

“I guess we have to go to the police,” he says, but he’s scratching Gerard’s head as he says it so Gerard can lick at his fingers in a vain attempt to comfort him.

The next few hours are terrifying.

To begin with, Gerard thinks they’re going to leave him behind, but he’s barely started processing that thought and trying to work out what he can do about it before Frank’s zipping him into his hoodie again.

“What?” Frank’s voice is a deep rumble that makes Gerard feel calmer without any input from his own brain. “I’m not leaving him on his own. He’ll get scared.”

“Right.” Mikey sounds skeptical, and Gerard pokes his head out the top of the zip to wuff softly at him, giving Frank’s chin a lick while he’s there. “And it’s not because you want your own tiny, dog shaped security blanket at all.”

Frank scoffs at that, but Gerard can feel how tense he is. There’s nothing he can do to help that and he feels miserable and guilty when he remembers that it’s him who’s caused all this, so he snuggles as close to Frank as he can, hoping Frank finds some comfort in his warmth.

It comforts him as well – all through the walk to the police station and the hour and a half it takes to find someone who can speak enough English for them to make the report.

Not that that makes things better.

Gerard burrows as deeply as he can to try and hide himself from what Mikey’s telling them, trying to avoid hearing the flat monotone of his voice as he describes what Gerard looks like, who he is – how he’s been drinking and high and running from everyone until they’d nearly lost sight of him. Not that he says that in words, but Gerard’s good at reading between the lines, listening to the things that Mikey carefully doesn’t say.

It’s not going to help if Gerard gets upset – he guesses that puppies have no place in police stations, even in Japan. But Mikey’s words fill him full of a mortification he doesn’t know how to express and Frank’s arms around him are gripping him tighter and tighter and for the first time in weeks – months even – Gerard wants to fix this – and for the first time he really, honestly doesn’t have the resources or ability to do so.

“Thank you,” the officer says as Mikey’s words run out and he hands over a picture. “We will log his disappearance and circulate this to other stations in the city.”

“Thanks.” Ray smiles at him when Frank and Mikey are both silent. “We appreciate that.”

The officer makes a noncommittal noise, then clears his throat.

“Many young men do this,” he says, the words awkward in his mouth. “And many reappear soon.” He looks at them, his expression serious. “Many have gone away by choice, because they want something new, or to do the things they want to do away from their family.”

Frank takes a step forward, and Gerard can feel the anger coiling in his body, but the officer catches the movement, holds out his hands, like that could pacify Frank once his anger’s up.

“His disappearance will be logged,” the officer says again. “And we will let you know if we find any news of him, but to me, it does not sound like he has been abducted, and he is an adult who is making his own choice – even if you disagree with it.”

It’s Ray who manages to reply after that, who puts his hands on Mikey and Frank’s shoulders and steers them out of the police station and back to the hotel.

“He doesn't mean it,” he says as he pushes them into Gerard’s room. “He doesn’t know Gee.” He pats Frank on the shoulder, awkward but sincere, and hugs Mikey. “He’ll show up. I know he will.”

Mikey makes a noncommittal noise, holding onto the embrace just a fraction too long, but Frank turns away, pulling Gerard out of his hoodie and dropping him onto the bed.

“Yeah.” Ray finally pulls away from Mikey and raises a hand to Frank. “Get some rest, right? I’ll tell Otter what’s happened.”

“Like he cares,” Mikey says, but his mouth twists and he shrugs. “But yeah. We’ll rest.” Ray nods at that and Mikey waits the few seconds it takes for Ray to turn away before he closes the door.

“C’mere.” Frank holds his arms out and Mikey staggers across the room towards him, and they sink to their knees together on the carpet. “I got you.”

They hold each other, silently, for a few seconds until Gerard can’t stand it any longer – can’t stand the gnawing, twisting feelings in his chest and stomach that he can’t even decipher – and scampers over to them, pawing at their legs and rubbing against Frank’s knees. They ignore him, though, until at last Gerard sits back on his haunches and watches them as they hold each other.

He’s torn – they deserve this comfort, but he wants them, and he doesn’t know what to do. He should watch – he means to watch – but it’s when they both turn to him that he realizes he’s lying on the floor and whining, and he’s covered with such shame that he’s not sure what to do. But then Mikey reaches down and picks him up so he’s cuddled between them both, and it feels so good that he forgets for a moment that he was sad.

It’s warm and it’s comfortable, and Gerard relaxes into it, letting his stupid tail wag as much as it wants to until Frank pulls away.

“You look after the puppy,” he says, and Mikey makes a weird, broken noise, except Frank doesn’t leave. Instead he starts cleaning up the room, almost like he’s on autopilot, picking up and folding Gerard’s clothes with careful hands. Mikey climbs onto the bed and watches, cuddling Gerard, his fingers pressed into his fur.

“You think they’re right?” he asks, his voice small. “You think he’s done this voluntarily?”

“Maybe.” Frank shrugs, tucking the last of Gerard’s few t-shirts into a drawer. “He hasn’t been himself recently. You know that. Maybe he needed some time away to get himself straight.”

“Without his wallet?” Mikey sounds skeptical. “Without his clothes?”

“It’s Gee,” Frank says, like it’s an answer. Maybe it is. “Since when has he had any problem charming people into getting what he wants?”

Mikey makes a horrible, angry noise, but he buries his face in Gerard’s fur and doesn't say anything and Frank’s mouth twists as he finishes picking the last of the clothes off the floor.

They don’t say much after that. Frank closes the last drawer and starts pulling his own clothes off until he’s stood in his shorts in front of Mikey.

“C’mon.” He offers his hand to Mikey, waiting until he’s put Gerard down before he pulls him off the bed. “Strip, Way. We’re gonna get some sleep.”

It makes Mikey smile. “And what’ll Gerard say if he comes home?” he asks.

“It’ll serve him right,” Frank says, sounding angry. Gerard doesn't blame him. “He’s lucky he doesn’t come back and find us fucking in his bed.”

“Yeah.” Mikey’s laughing, but it’s not a wholly happy sound. “Like that would happen.”

“Hey.” Frank climbs under the covers, holds the duvet up for Mikey. “You know I love you.”

“Sure I do.” Mikey kisses Frank’s forehead, settling down onto the pillow and wrapping his arm around Gerard as he puts his hand on Frank’s shoulder. “I love you too, dork, but we’re not gonna fuck, so go to sleep.”

“Don’t know what you’re missing out on,” Frank says, but he’s rubbing his fingers into Gerard’s fur and his eyes are drifting shut.

Mikey doesn’t bother replying, just makes a sleepy sound, and Gerard feels his muscles start to relax as he drifts off. It’s warm between them, and he feels relaxed – loved. He’s trying to ignore the tiny, jealous voice in the back of his mind that’s pointing out how good they are together, Frank and Mikey. How well they work together. How they really don’t need him there – might, in fact, be doing better without him.

If things were normal – if he was him – he wouldn’t be able to, but he’s not and the small, furry body he’s in seems to have a mind of its own sometimes and it seems satisfied – that he’s warm, that he’s safe, that he’s the centre of their attention. It’s probably that which explains why he turns himself in a tired circle and settles down, his nose on his tail, half asleep already when his human self would still have been staring at the ceiling, trying to pick his way through his own muddled thoughts.

In fact, his eyes have already drifted shut before he realizes this is the first day he can remember where he hasn’t had a drink, and even that isn’t enough to wake him up right now.

He’s maybe kinda hoping that he’d turn back overnight. It’s not an unrealistic expectation – this whole thing is like a fairy tale, and who’s he to know how the rules of whatever this is work?

So there’s a moment of anticipation before he opens his eyes, about what he’ll see when he wakes up, what he’ll be.

Still a puppy as it turns out, and maybe he should be more upset about that than he actually is.

He knows how much this is upsetting Frank and Mikey – how dangerous this is for the band – but there’s a tiny mean part of him (the part that looks at Mikey’s reaction as he takes his first drink of the day, that watches to see how Frank hurts when he picks someone up) that doesn’t feel as bad as it should about this. It’s a holiday, after all. A break from the expectations and demands that everyone makes on him, and he’s grateful for that, he really is.

Mikey’s still asleep, and Gerard presses his nose to his neck, smelling his sweat and his skin and the dried salt of his tears. If Mikey could understand how badly Gerard needed this time out from himself – that he was getting it without being high for the first time in his life – he wouldn’t begrudge him the break. Gerard knows that.

He wishes Mikey wasn’t sad, though. It’s a strange realization after so much time not being able to feel anything for anyone. He wishes there was some way to let him in on what happened, or – if that would mean that Mikey didn’t love him in his puppy form – at least let him know that Gerard is somewhere safe. He’ll have to work something out, some way to send a message or an email since talking is out of the question.

For now though he doesn’t have to worry and he tucks himself back into the space between Mikey and Frank indulging himself in the comfort of the smell and warmth, not caring when his tail starts that stupid wagging again.

He’s angled wrong though, and his tail brushes Frank’s face as it moves and Frank makes a tiny, grumpy noise as his eyes blink open.

“Hey.” He reaches out and grabs Gerard’s tail. “You awake already?”

He doesn’t sound angry, just sleepy and fond, so Gerard wriggles around until he can lick his face, sniffing and tasting the salt of sweat and unwashed skin. It makes Frank giggle, though he stifles the noise, obviously trying to let Mikey sleep, until he catches Gerard in his arms and roles over.

“Shhhhhhh,” he whispers, kissing Gerard’s furry forehead. “You’re gonna wake Mikey up.”

Gerard’s tail thumps harder at the name, and the unfamiliar part of his mind screams Mikey, Mikey, Mikey at him, and he doesn’t mean to but he tries to get back to Mikey, the desire coming from something deeper than his conscious mind.

“No.” Frank tightens his arms and scrambles out of bed, his eyes cautious and on Mikey. He pauses at the edge of the bed, his hold so firm that Gerard can’t escape, and he waits until Mikey snuffles in his sleep and digs himself deeper into the covers before he carries Gerard into the bathroom and shuts the door gently behind them with his foot.

“You gotta let Mikey sleep,” he says as he puts Gerard down. “He’s stressed as fuck about Gee. I’m surprised he’s slept as much as he has.”

He turns away, starts to piss in the open toilet and Gerard turns away to sniff at the door to give him the illusion of privacy.

“I’ll take you for a walk.” Frank doesn’t seem bothered about what he’s doing and for a second Gerard bitterly wishes that he was as unbothered. “Just let me get a wash, right?”

He finishes and flushes, washes his hands and face and brushes his teeth while Gerard pads around his ankles, sniffing at everything he can find, trying to reconcile the new world his nose is showing him with the one he’d be seeing if things were normal.

There’s so much he’s never noticed before, even in this grotty bathroom, and it takes him a moment to realize that Frank’s stopped washing, the drops of water dripping from his face and trickling down over his naked chest, and is looking at him, a cautious smile on his face.

For a moment Gerard is filled with a fierce, possessive joy – something he’s never had to find words for because he never felt anything like this when he was human. Mine, it screams. MINE – but then Frank flicks some drops of water at him and Gerard loses track of why this is important as he leaps into the air, trying to catch the water drops.

It degenerates from there – Frank is a shameless cheater who cheats, and how did Gerard never realize this while he had opposable thumbs and could fight back? But he’s tiny – even tinier than Frank – and fierce and if Frank thinks he’s getting out of this without the cuffs of his pyjama pants chewed then he’s wrong.

He’d win too, except Mikey makes a noise beyond the door and Frank uses Gerard’s moment of distraction to grab him and bundle him inside his hoodie as he pulls it on.

“Nope.” He zips the hoodie up despite Gerard’s best efforts, giving him his knuckle to gnaw on, as if that will make up for the indignity of being manhandled like this. “It’s time for Mikeys to rest and puppies to have their walks.”

It’s maybe the only thing Frank could say that would calm him down, so Gerard lets himself snuggle into Frank’s warmth as Frank creeps back into the hotel room, pulls on his shoes, grabs the keycard off the dresser. There’s a few seconds where he hesitates, looking at the sleeping lump on the bed that marks where Mikey is, and then he grabs a scrap of paper off the floor, scrawls a note that Gerard can’t see and puts it on the pillow next to Mikey.

That’s unfamiliar – out of character – and it takes Gerard until they reach the hallway to realize that this is all down to him. That Frank’s leaving a note for Mikey because he’s scared that Mikey will think he’s vanished, just like Gerard did.

The small squirm of discomfort that twists uneasily in Gerard’s chest takes a few seconds to identify. Guilt, maybe, he thinks, or remorse. Whatever it is, it isn’t something he wants to think about, not when he could be running along next to Frank, the scent of new things in his nose and Frank’s fingers in his fur.

He shakes himself, trying to shake the feeling away, and Frank pets him through the fabric of his top.

“Shhh.” His voice is quiet so that Gerard has to strain to hear him. “You’ve gotta stay still till we get out of the hotel.”

It’s only a few steps across the foyer – the place is little more than a dive and Gerard doesn’t think they’d make much of a fuss about a puppy, not when he’s fairly sure that there are rats bigger than he is lurking around – but Gerard stays still until he hears the sound of the door closing behind them and the musty hotel air is replaced by the smells of traffic and street.

“Okay.” Frank pulls him out of his top and puts him down, still holding firmly onto Gerard’s collar. “You think you’re gonna be able to cope with the traffic today?”

He sounds curious rather than judgemental, and it’s still early enough that the traffic is light enough to be bearable so Gerard takes a few cautious steps, the unfamiliar drag of the leash making him stop and look up at Frank.

“See?” Frank’s smiling, wide and supportive, like Gerard remembers from when they first met. “Knew you could do it.”

There’s so much pride in his voice that Gerard doesn’t want to let him down, and when Frank starts to walk, Gerard trots to keep up with him, feeling obscurely proud when he manages it.

It helps that Frank kneels down next to him when they reach the crossing, telling him what a good boy he is while they wait for the lights to change. Gerard never thought that praise had much of an effect of him, and since the band has started to make it big, he’s gotten more and more skeptical when people praise him. They’re trying to sell something, mostly, or to get him to be compliant – an easy mark that they can milk for the money and influence that attaches to their – to his – name.

But this is different. Maybe it’s the body and its stupid instinctive reactions, maybe it’s that it’s been a long while since Gerard’s received praise that he feels like he’s earned, maybe it’s just that Frank’s words have always had the ability to reach him in the way that few other people can, but whatever it is, the praise makes Gerard relax, helps him to deal with the stress of the noise and the traffic.

By the time they reach the park, Gerard has a genuine sense of accomplishment and as soon as Frank unclips his leash, he’s off, darting after the sunbeams and the wind in the grass while Frank laughs loud enough that Gerard can hear him, no matter how far he runs.

He does a loop of the park, circles around behind Frank and launches a stealth attack on the cuffs of his jeans, skipping back before Frank can retaliate. He’d laugh at the outraged noise that Frank makes if only he was still capable of that sort of thing.

But Frank learns – he’s smart – and when Gerard tries again, Frank grabs at him, catching him in his arms.

“Gotcha.” He drops to the grass, holding onto Gerard firmly enough that Gerard can wriggle all he wants, and pulling on his ears. “You’re not going anywhere now, pup.”

Mean! Gerard wants to say, but he can’t, so he barks instead, and maybe Frank understands because he’s laughing at Gerard, letting go of him a little so he can start to wriggle free before catching him again and cuddling him mercilessly.

Gerard’s never realized how patient Frank can be, except right now, with Frank’s skin smelling of warm sun and grass and the lights bringing out the green flecks in his eyes, he can’t escape it. Frank lets him play until he’s exhausted, and then he lets Gerard curl up on his stomach and listen to the slowing drum of his heart while he pets him.

“You’re a good dog,” Frank says. “I’m glad I got to meet you, even if everything else is shitty.”

He sounds sad, and Gerard makes a whiney noise, pressing his nose to the soft swell of Frank’s belly.

“Yeah,” Frank says, like Gerard’s said something intelligible. “You haven’t met Gerard yet, but he’ll come back, and you will then.” Frank scratches his ears, and Gerard’s eyes fall closed despite himself, blissed out. “He’s cool, really. You’ll like him. Well…” He pauses, and Gerard can feel how he’s tensing up underneath him. “I like him anyway. I mean, he can be a bit of a jerk sometimes, but we all can and touring’s tough – and Gee’s on stage every night doing his thing.”

He’s sounding defensive now, and even though he’s still petting Gerard, he’s not looking at him. “Which is probably why he’s fucked off. Guess he figured it was the only way he’d get some time to himself, and he didn’t know how to tell us. I just… I’m worried about him, you know? He’s not been himself and he’s…”

Frank frowns and Gerard knows he’s remembering the drunken pass that Gerard made at him a few nights before this happened, how Frank had recoiled like he’d been burnt and how Gerard had begged – almost on the verge of tears – for Frank to at least sleep beside him so Gerard could sleep at all. How Frank had been gone in the morning, like he’d never agreed to stay.

“Well.” Frank shrugs, and the movement makes Gerard look up. “He’s trying to hurt himself and he doesn’t notice who he’s hurting at the same time.”

He sighs then and tugs on Gerard’s ear. “I just want him to be happy. He should have told Mikey before he went, or I’d have told Mikey for him if he’d asked. He didn’t have to do this alone. He didn’t have to do any of this alone.”

He sounds… Gerard’s not sure. Sad, maybe, or regretful, and Gerard realizes that he wishes he had talked to Frank when he had the chance. He whines, and Frank blinks back to the present, smiling at Gerard as he stands up, taking Gerard with him like he can’t bear to let him go.

“Don’t worry, little dude,” he says. “I’m gonna look after you. Can’t let a cute puppy like you go out on the mean streets on your own, can I?” He grins as he zips Gerard back into his hoodie, and Gerard doesn’t care that he doesn’t get the leash if it means being this close to Frank. “We gotta get you a name, baby.”

He keeps up a stream of meaningless babble as they walk back to the hotel, but Gerard can’t follow it right now. He’s enjoying this break, enjoying the time out, and he’s sad that it needs to come to an end, but he’ll need to tell Mikey and Frank that he’s safe sooner or later, and maybe if he does it sooner, this feeling of guilt will ease off and leave him alone.

Mikey’s sitting up in bed when they get back to the hotel room, his face grim.

“Gonna have to call my mom,” he says, and Frank’s mouth twists.

“Yeah.” He sounds reluctant, but resigned. “You will.” He unzips his hoodie and lets Gerard plop onto the bed in a tumble of limbs and ears that makes something in Mikey’s face relax. “Come for coffee first, though?”

It’s an easy sell – it’s Mikey – and they smuggle Gerard back out of the hotel together and into a Starbucks where Frank leaves Gerard with Mikey at the table while he gets the coffee that Gerard knows Mikey’s craving.

Mikey’s hurt is coming off of him in waves and Gerard burrows his face against his Mikey’s neck as Mikey’s stiff fingers card through his fur.

“You took him for a walk?” Mikey asks when Frank gets back to the table and Frank nods.

“He needs a run,” he says. “It isn’t doing any of us any good staying cooped up in that room.”

Mikey’s nose wrinkles, but he doesn’t argue, which is as good as enthusiastic agreement for him.

“What are we going to do?” he asks, and Gerard knows that he’s not talking about his new role as a dog owner.

“We’ll go out and look for him today,” Frank says, sounding a lot more sure than Gerard thinks he feels. “We’ll find out what we can, and we’ll decide what to do once we’ve done that.”

Mikey shrugs and takes a sip of his coffee.

“The others aren’t going to stay forever,” he says, and Frank nods, suddenly hesitant.

“Maybe none of us will need to,” he tells Mikey, and even though Gerard knows that neither of them believe the lie, they don’t say anything about it.

They finish the rest of their coffee in silence, heading back to the hotel, shoulder to shoulder like they want to support each other and don’t have the words. Frank’s given Gerard to Mikey, and Mikey smells like home and safety. Gerard snuffles into Mikey’s neck, silently asking for forgiveness. He’s been so buried by his own darkness for so long that he hadn’t noticed Mikey’s.

He keeps hold of Gerard as they get back to the hotel room and he picks up the phone, dials a number Gerard knows by heart with shaking fingers, but now Gerard wants to get free. He doesn’t want to hear this, doesn’t want to be in the room when it happens, but Mikey is tense, shaking, and it doesn’t matter how much Gerard wants to leave him – he can’t.

“Hey, mom.” Mikey’s voice is low, tight with the tension of trying to control it, and Frank reaches out, puts his hand on Mikey’s knee. “So…”

Gerard can hear the high tones of his mom’s voice, and he’s suddenly desperate to avoid this. He buries his face into Mikey’s armpit, which means he can’t hear her, but he can still hear the rumble of Mikey’s voice as he gives one word responses to Donna’s questions about Japan and the tour.

It takes him a few minutes for him to get a word in, and Gerard can feel the tension coiling tighter and tighter in his body as he waits.

“Mom,” he says at last when it’s got so bad that Gerard thinks he might go mad like this. “Mom, stop. Gee’s gone missing.”

There’s complete silence for a second, then Mikey kind of folds in on himself.

“I don’t know,” he says, and Gerard can hear the tears in his voice. “Mom, we went to get him from his room and he was just gone.”

He waits then, listens to the homily that Gerard’s sure she’s delivering.

“Yesterday?” he says, and Gerard cringes. “At least we guess it was then. We saw him in the bar the night before, but no one’s seen him since.” He stops to listens again and scratches at the base of Gerard’s tail – the only part of him that’s accessible right now. “Yeah, we went to the police. They seem to think he might have gone off on his own but they said they’d let us know if they found anything.” There’s another burst of noise, but it isn’t as frantic now. “Me and Frank are going out today to look for him.” Gerard feels Mikey shrug, knows how ambivalent he’s feeling right now. “Frank thinks he just needs a break from the tour.”

There’s a moment of silence and then a short burst of speech as Donna asks him something and Mikey shakes his head.

“Could be,” he says, even though it defies his body language. “I dunno.”

He stops and listens to their mom, petting Gerard compulsively.

“Yeah,” he says, then pauses to put his hand over Frank’s and squeeze it. “I’ll tell him when he turns up. I love you too, mom.”

He hangs up and Frank pulls him into a hug, not caring that he’s squishing Gerard between them.

“It’ll be okay,” Frank says. “He’s strong, and even if he’s fucked up now, he’ll work his way through it.”

“Yeah.” Gerard’s pressed close to Mikey’s chest, held there by Frank, and he can feel how badly he’s shaking, but Gerard thinks he’s trying to sound brave for Frank, so the least he can do is to be there for him. “Frank… I’m gonna punch him so hard when he comes back.”

“Nope.” Gerard hears Frank kiss the side of Mikey’s face. “You’re not. Because I’m gonna punch him first and then you’ll feel bad for him and you won’t bother.”

“I wouldn’t bet on it,” Mikey pulls away, laughing shakily. “I’m really mad, Frank.”

“Yeah, cuz you’re worried.” Frank shrugs and holds his fingers out towards Gerard, waiting until he hops down from his station on Mikey to pet him. “Everything gets mixed up, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Mikey shrugs. “Maybe.”

“He’ll turn up,” Frank says. “He’s Gee. He’ll just stretch the drama as long as he can, and then he’ll swan back in like nothing’s wrong.”

“Maybe.” Mikey’s smiling a bit now, shaky and damp though it is. “I just wish he’d hurry up about it.”

“Which is why we’re gonna go looking for him,” Frank says, positive and upbeat and utterly fake. “So, you’re gonna have a shower and do your hair, and I’m gonna go and get some stuff from our room, and then we’ll hit the town and go to some bars, show people his picture, see if anyone’s seen him or that jerk he was with the other night. Okay?”

“Yeah.” Mikey hesitates a second then leans in and hugs Frank again. “Thanks.”

“Hey.” Gerard watches him tighten his hold on Mikey and feels a twist of something uncomfortably close to jealousy in his chest. That’s his brother. His Frank. “You know I love you, dude. Anyway, you’d do the same for me.”

He waits until Mikey’s gone into the shower before he heads to the door, grinning when he sees Gerard’s following at his heels.

“Gonna come with me?” he asks, holding the door open for Gerard when he barks in response.

He doesn’t pick up anything in their room though, not straight away. Instead he pulls out his phone and sits on the bed as he waits for his call to connect.

“Brian?” Gerard looks at him, shocked because he wasn’t expecting this. “Yeah, he’s still awol.” He picks at the hole in the knee of his jeans as Brian talks, nodding occasionally like Brian could see him.

“We’re going out today to look for him,” he says at last, “but even if we find him, even if he does decide to show his face…” He takes a deep breath. “I think we should cancel the rest of the Japan tour.” There’s an outburst of sound from the other end of the line as Brian reacts, but Frank’s determined, Gerard can see that.

“I know what you think,” Frank says when the noise dies down, and Gerard can hear the effort it’s costing him to keep his voice calm. “But you haven’t seen what he’s been like over here. No.” He shakes his head. “Even if I go back and find him in his room right now, he needs to go home, get some help if he’ll accept it. He doesn’t need the rest of this tour, and if he doesn’t, then the rest of us don’t either.”

His face is grim, and despite himself Gerard is shocked. The band means everything to Frank, and yet he’s acting like it doesn’t matter – like throwing away this tour and their future means nothing compared to Gerard’s well-being.

Gerard knew this whole thing was big – knew it really from the moment he worked out that he wasn’t him anymore. What he hadn’t realized is that there’s a chance he’s fucked up the band for good this time, and even when he thought he might die, he’d never really considered that that might happen.

“Maybe you’re right,” Frank says, frowning at Brian across the timezones. “Maybe he already is, and we’ll find him in hospital or the drunk tank and everything will be okay again.” He pauses, nods again. “Yeah, well. Stranger things have happened, I guess.”

Brian says something, and Frank laughs.

“No,” he says. “I’ll look after myself and Mikey and Ray. We’re gonna go out now, cuz I’m going to go crazy if I have to sit here much longer.” He laughs again at something Brian says and rolls his shoulders. “You know me too well, dude. But I’ll feel better if we’re doing something.”

It takes another few minutes for Frank to wrap things up, but Gerard can’t listen any more. He’d thought that this was a break, but now everything’s messed up worse than ever and even if he could stop being a puppy, Gerard thinks about the concern and determination on Frank’s face and doesn’t think he can escape the consequences of his actions this time.

He thinks about this as he pads around the room, sniffing at the scraps of Mikey and Frank that are discarded on the floor, trying to find some sense of comfort from the familiar smells.

He can’t find it though. All he can see is a future of rehab and therapy; concerned faces that are more worried about the money he makes than his health. Well, not all of them, he thinks as he settles down to chew on one of Mikey’s sneakers. Frank and Mikey and Ray would care about the him that’s him – not the lead singer of their band or their potential meal-ticket. He can’t say the same for Otter.

Even so, in the face of that, his future as a dog doesn’t seem so bleak – not that he has any choice about any of this.

He’s making headway chewing through the tongue of the sneaker by the time Frank finds him, and he growls as he tries to pull the shoe away.

“Hey, grumpy boy.” Frank’s still subdued, but he sounds fond. “You’ve gotta stop doing that or Mikey’s gonna kill you dead.” He manages to get it away from Gerard and tosses it onto the bed. “He’ll make dogskin mittens out of you and wear them on stage, and then where would you be?”

On stage Gerard wants to say, but all he can manage is a bark. It’s enough to make Frank smile though, and he puts Gerard down on the bed, suspiciously close to the shoe for someone who wants Gerard to leave said shoe alone.

“Be good,” Frank warns and starts to gather up the clothes that litter the room, frowning at them like they’re personally offended him before he starts cramming them into his and Mikey’s bags. He grins though when Gerard starts hunting one of the laces, and although he ruffles Gerard’s ears when he starts chewing the shoe again, he doesn’t say anything.

It takes him maybe ten minutes to get the room clear and to stack the bags by the door and by the time he comes back to the bed, Gerard’s made significant progress in bringing down his foe.

“Oh dear,” Frank says, but his tone and eyes are full of mischief. “I’m gonna have to dispose of the evidence, aren’t I?”

He pulls the shoe away from Gerard and tucks it under Mikey’s bed before he picks up Gerard and tucks him under his arm so he can grab his and Mikey’s bags.

Mikey’s dressed by the time they get back to Gerard’s room, wearing the same clothes he was wearing yesterday and sitting on the bed and frowning at the mirror as he straightens his hair.

“Bags?” he asks, only the smallest quirk of his eyebrow betraying his interest when he sees Frank, and Frank shrugs, dropping the bags and putting Gerard more gently onto the floor.

“Called Brian,” he says, the smallest touch of defensiveness to his tone. “The rest of the tour is cancelled, so if we’re staying here we need to downsize and pay for it ourselves I guess.”

Mikey’s still for a second, then he squares his shoulders and nods. “Good thinking,” he says. He pokes at his bangs, checking that they’re sitting flat, but his eyes flick back to watch Frank in the mirror as Frank starts to pick Gerard’s things up and put them in the drawers of the dresser.

“What?” Otter’s lip curls and he looks at Frank with disgust. “You’re doing what with the rest of the tour?”

“Cancelling it,” Frank says, his lip curling as well, like he’s a mirror for Otter. “Or are you deaf as well as stupid?”

“Fuck you.” The words are a snarl and Gerard hides behind Mikey’s leg. This was bound to happen, sooner or later, but Gerard wishes that it didn’t have to be now – for Mikey and Ray’s sakes if nothing else.

“What d’you say we should do then?” Frank’s squaring up for a fight, Gerard can tell and he has to force himself not to whimper. “C’mon then, genius. How do we finish the rest of the tour without a singer?”

“You do it,” Otter says. “You’ve got a voice. Or him.” He gestures at Ray. “Just why should the rest of us suffer because Gerard’s being a diva?”

“He’s not a diva.” Mikey’s been quiet until now, but something about Otter is riling him up too and he takes a step forward so he’s standing shoulder to shoulder with Frank. “He’s in trouble. He wouldn’t just do this to us.”

“Yeah, right.” Otter looks at him like he’s something that’s been tracked into the carpet. “Grow up, Michael. He doesn’t give a shit about you or about any of us. He’s run away or he’s dead. Simple.”

His face twists then, like he’s sorry for what’s he’s saying, but Gerard doesn’t have the ability to care about that. Mikey’s frozen in place, and even without being able to see colour, Gerard can tell he’s gone dead white.

“He’s not.” Mikey’s voice is low and tight with tension. “And you’re full of shit, Matt.”

It’s the wrong thing to say, and Gerard can see Otter’s defences slamming back into place, can see him bristling at the fury that’s rising in Frank and Mikey.

“That’s the problem with you Ways,” he says, not bothering to hide his sneer now. “You believe the fucking shit that comes out of your mouths, don’t you?” He shrugs, feigns disinterest. “Fine. Believe it. Won’t help you when his body turns up, will it?”

For a second Mikey freezes in place, and Gerard stops in his tracks, scared of what he’s about to say. But then Mikey slumps, and it’s more terrifying than anything else he could do, and he turns, silent, and stalks from the room.

Frank is preternaturally still, waiting until the door clicks shut behind Mikey before he turns to Otter.

“Feel good?” he asks, and if you didn’t know him you might think his tone was almost conversational. If you didn’t know him, you might be reassured this wouldn’t end in fists mashing lips against teeth. “Feel like a big man now?”

He raises an eyebrow, and Otter looks away, closer to shamed than Gerard’s seen him before.

“Yeah.” Frank curls his lip. “Thought so.”

He turns to follow Mikey and for a second Gerard thinks he’s going to be left behind, but then Otter, clearly wanting to regain his credibility, snorts.

“s’right.” His voice is hostile, mocking, and Gerard can see Frank clench his fists. “Go running back to your little boy—”

He doesn’t get to finish the sentence; Frank swings around and punches him in the mouth, knocking him back onto his ass, and Gerard can see his split lip dripping blood down his chin, his wide, confused eyes.

“Fuck you,” Frank says, his eyes blazing, blood trickling down his knuckles. “Say what you want. Fuck off back home if you want. There’s no way Mikey’s going to go until he’s found out what happened, and I…” He takes a deep breath. “I’m not going either till I’ve found him.”

Otter just blinks at him, but Ray nods and Frank smiles at him, small and grim, and bends down to scoop up Gerard.

Later,” he mouths at Ray, and slips out of the room, back to the room he’s sharing with Mikey.

He’s still angry – furious even – but he’s so gentle cradling Gerard that Gerard isn’t scared at all, even if this new body of his doesn’t seem to like the raised voices and cruel words. Frank seems to pick up on that and he pauses for a second with the door of the room open.

“Don’t worry,” he whispers into Gerard’s fur. “We’ll find him.”

“Will we though?” Mikey says from where he’s sitting on the floor, his legs folded under him, his eyes red, and Frank’s arms automatically tighten around Gerard as Mikey looks up, like he needs comfort too.

Gerard doesn’t think he’s ever heard Mikey sound this hopeless though, and it doesn’t matter how much Frank needs him, Mikey needs him more so he wriggles out of Frank’s arms and scampers across the floor to his brother. Mikey barely acknowledges him though – his eyes are fixed on Frank and Gerard can’t tell if the expression on his face is hope or despair.

“Of course we will.” Frank sounds confident, but Gerard thinks it’s a lie – a wish rather than a reality.

“You can’t know that.” Mikey chews the jagged skin at the corner of his thumb. “What if he’s dead?”

“He’s not.” Frank’s voice is gentle now, and he closes the door gently behind him. “You’d know if he was. Hell, he’d still have been in his room if he was.”

It’s a good point, and Mikey nods, small and miserable.

“What are we going to do?” he asks, like he needs Frank to have all the answers right now.

Frank doesn’t seem to mind though. He walks over to the dresser, starts to pull out the t-shirt and shorts Mikey prefers to sleep in. Like he’s been pulled out clothes for Gerard dozens of times when Gerard’s been too fucked up in the mornings to get his own. Frank has always been good at taking care of the people he loves.

“We’re going to get some sleep,” he says, tossing the clothes to Mikey. “Then tomorrow we’re gonna take a picture of your no-good brother and go visit some bars.”

“Just bars?” Mikey isn’t stupid, even when he wants comfort. Frank’s mouth twists.

“Hospitals as well,” he says, and Mikey nods.

“Tell me he’ll be okay?” he says later when they’re curled up together in bed, Gerard between them.

“Oh, Mikes.” Frank sounds so sad, and in the half-light of the room Gerard can see him put his arm around Mikey. “He’ll be okay.”

“You promise?” It’s like when Mikey used to make him promise about the most ridiculous things when they were kids, and for a second Gerard is dizzy with nostalgia and remorse, because he can’t remember the last time Mikey asked him this, and he misses it more than he has words to say.

“I promise,” Frank says, a better brother to Mikey than Gerard has been for a long time, and he sounds so earnest that Gerard whimpers, ashamed. Frank reaches down the bed to him, petting the sweet spot behind his ears, until Gerard’s body calms down and his tail starts thumping.

It does nothing to lessen the misery Gerard’s feeling, though. He can’t keep doing this to them – he won’t – and if he gets another chance he’s going to make sure that neither of them have to worry about him again. If he gets another chance, he’s going to lay out clothes for Frank when Frank’s too tired to get his own.

It’s weirdly sad the next morning.

Otter’s already in the cab, carefully not looking at Mikey or Frank on the sidewalk, but Ray gives them both a huge, awkward hug, and even pets Gerard’s head, his touch awkwardly gentle.

“I’ll deal with Brian,” he tells them, “and you let me know as soon as you hear from him, yeah?”

“Will do.” Frank’s rocking back on his heels, tightly coiled energy that Gerard couldn’t read when he was human and sure as hell can’t now.

“You’ll be the first person we call,” Mikey says, and Ray takes a step back, his hands raised in mock alarm.

“Dude, no way!” His voice breaks with a laugh. “Your mom would kill me.”

“True.” Frank relaxes a bit, his smile turning genuine. “You’ll be the second person we call, ‘kay?”

“Better,” Ray says and hugs them both again, like he doesn’t really want to go. They all know he has to, though, and Ray seems to droop as he climbs in the cab, turning to wave through the rear window as it drives off.

Frank and Mikey both wave, but Gerard can tell how sad they are, and he slumps to the floor between their feet, whimpering to himself. They ignore him though, standing and watching the cab vanish through the traffic, leaving them alone. Above Gerard’s head, they silently hold hands.

The cab’s long gone by the time they finally move. Frank shakes himself, like he’s shaking off a dream, and turns to Mikey, his mouth smiling even if his eyes don’t match the emotion.

“Right,” he says. “Let’s try the hospital first, yeah?”

They smuggle Gerard into the hospital with them, tucked in his usual place against Frank’s chest, behind the zipped closed hoodie. He knows he needs to stay still, and he does, even though the harsh hospital smell of antiseptic and injury and fear makes him want to squirm.

He knows Mikey will feel the same, but Frank preempts anything Gerard could do. He keeps his hand on Mikey, unobtrusive, comforting from the moment they get out of the metro station outside the hospital to the moment they leave. Gerard can smell Mikey’s tension even over the scent of Frank and the hospital, but his breathing stays steady and he keeps moving, letting Frank guide him through the crowded foyer.

It takes a while to get someone who can speak English, and Gerard can feel Frank’s frustration radiating off him. He bets that the frustration is mostly turned inwards, that Frank expects himself to be fluent enough in Japanese from the past few days that he can make himself understood – God knows, he tries.

That earns him goodwill at least, and the nurse nods curtly at him as she goes to find someone who can help.

“I hate these places,” Mikey says in a low voice when she’s gone. “They’re too bright and busy and…”

“Yeah.” Frank nods. “And it’s worse when you can’t even read the signs.”

He glares at the sign above the desk they’re at, like it’s personally offending him, and Mikey shoves him with his shoulder.

“We’ll be out of here soon,” he says, and Frank nods again, wrapping his arms around Gerard through the fabric of his top and squeezing, like feeling Gerard there, warm and alive, comforts him.

The nurse, when she comes back, doesn’t have good news. Gerard – proper, human Gerard – isn’t in the hospital. She takes one of the photos that Frank’s hands her though, smiling at the shitty photo of Gerard and scanning the phone number and email address that Frank writes on the back.

“I will phone to you,” she says, nodding at them to emphasise the words, “if I see.”

“Thank you,” Frank says, bowing. He turns and puts his hand on Mikey’s lower back to steer him towards the exit.

They’re just outside the door when they hear her calling, hurrying after them and waving.

“Hang on here,” Frank says and steps back inside to talk to her in a low tone.

“What did she want?” Mikey asks, and Frank grins.

“To tell me how awesome I am,” Frank says, and carefully doesn’t mention the address of the morgue that she gave him, the body she says was found. Not like photo she’d said, but Gerard can feel how tense Frank is as they get back on the metro.

They trawl the bars next, because it’s late enough to do that now, but even though they talk to the bar staff in each place and show them the photos, no one has seen Gerard, and Frank and Mikey don’t see the guy Gerard had been in the bar with before he went missing.

“We should have brought fliers,” Mikey says, and Frank nods.

“We’ll find an internet cafe, make some tonight,” he says. “Come back tomorrow and hand them out.” He shrugs. “Might be useful if we get to talk to people on other shifts.”

There’s an internet cafe right by the hotel, and they put together a shitty flier and pay to get fifty copies printed out.

“Burgers?” Mikey says, and Frank nods.

They pick up food in Mos and bring it back to the room so that Gerard can finally climb down from his impromptu hoodie sling and run around a bit. Mikey even shares his burgers with him, tearing off bites and throwing them to Gerard to snatch out of the air and kill on the floor of the room.

They’re not the same as burgers at home, which is probably why Mikey’s so willing to share them, but Gerard’s hungry and he wolfs down his share.

“You just got fries?” Mikey’s holding a fragment of burger just outside of Gerard’s reach, but he’s looking at Frank.

“They put bonito in everything.” Frank shrugs. “I usually say I’m Buddhist cuz that gets around it, but…” He chews a chip reflectively. “’s burgers, isn’t it? ‘Sides…” He smiles at Mikey, rueful. “I’m not really hungry tonight.”

“You want to start handing these out?” Frank asks the next morning, dropping the pile of fliers onto the bed next to Mikey’s head. “I have a thing to do.”

“What?” Mikey sits up, sleepy but still suspicious.

“Nothing!” Frank bends down and grabs Gerard as he scampers past, holding him in a grip that’s just a shade too tight.

Mikey frowns, his forehead furrowing in a way it rarely does.

“Tell me.” He squints at Frank, bordering on anger now. “Are you going to the morgue?”

“No!” Frank’s answer is a little too fast to be wholly believable but he holds Gerard out, looking shamefaced. “If you really need to know, I was gonna get the puppy his shots.”

All the defensiveness falls out of Mikey’s posture, and he pulls the sheet back up over himself.

“You’re not going to bring that dog back with us,” he says, but there’s no force to his tone.

“I know.” Frank’s mouth twists in some complicated movement that Gerard can’t read. “It’s just…” He shrugs, cuddles Gerard closer. “I want to look after him, you know.”

“Yeah.” Mikey smiles at him, rueful, like he knows what Frank is feeling. “I know.”

“So…” Frank scuffs his toe against the ground. “You okay if I go out for a bit?”

“Whatever,” Mikey says, but he’s smiling, and that means Frank is as well as he tucks Gerard back into his familiar place next to his chest and heads out.

It must be the dog body, but Gerard doesn’t pause to consider what the idea of shots mean until they’re actually in the vets.

It’s only there, surrounded by other terrified animals, that Gerard realizes. This means treatment – it means needles.

He hates needles. He always has. It’s perhaps the only thing that’s ever stopped his drug habit from spiralling completely out of control. And now… he has no choice. He has the slightest chance of staying with Frank and Mikey – of them bringing him home – but if he wants that then he’s going to need to have injections first.

The cacophony of sound around them makes his head hurt, and Gerard curls into Frank’s chest; presses his nose into Frank’s armpit trying to block everything out and to give himself the time he needs to think.

“Oh, baby.” Frank buries his face into the fur on top of Gerard’s head, twisting his head from side to side so it almost feels like pettings. “I know you’re scared, but it’s okay. I promise. You’re going to be fine.”

He strokes his fingers gently down the back of Gerard’s head, in a slow, soothing line down his spine, and doesn’t try to talk Gerard around when he gives into his fear and curls up in a small, shivering ball on his lap.

When the vet calls him, Frank doesn’t even ask Gerard to walk. He wraps his arms around Gerard and carries him gently into the treatment room.

He doesn’t care that Gerard’s freaking out – he’s not disgusted or impatient; he doesn’t act like Gerard is a disappointment – doesn’t seem to feel Gerard’s letting him down.

Instead, he crouches down next to the treatment table, his hands cradling Gerard’s face and his eyes meeting Gerard’s eyes, whispering nonsense words of comfort until the shots are done and the vet pats Gerard on the butt.

Gerard can’t believe he’s managed it, but he barely dares react in case they realize they’ve missed something out and give him a whole new set of injections. He lets Frank carry him out of the treatment room; stays huddled close to Frank as he pays and tries to thank the receptionist in Japanese. It’s only when they leave that he dares look up at Frank, wanting to ask if he’s safe, but not able to do so.

Frank understands, though, and Gerard has one second where he wonders if he’s always been this perceptive, or if this is something new – something reserved for the things Frank really cares about.

Then Frank smiles, and Gerard forgets his train of thought in the face of the overwhelming sense of achievement and pleasure that rises up in him, unbidden.

Mine, he thinks, letting the visceral reality of the thought wash through him. MINE, and Frank cuddles him.

“You did so well.” Frank’s voice is a comforting rumble that Gerard feels through the vibrations of Frank’s chest, rather than hears. “I’m so proud of you, baby.” He squeezes Gerard, then tucks him back into his hoodie and zips it up. “Now, how about we go and get you a treat before we go home to your Uncle Mikey?”

Gerard yips, excited now that the fear of the vet is fading into the mists of his memory, but underneath that a part of him – the part he would recognize as his human thoughts – wonders if Frank would have done this for him when he was human. He suspects that Frank would – if only Gerard had ever had the courage to ask him when he was sober.

When they do finally go to the morgue, they don’t bring Gerard with them.

He stays home, alone, in the hotel room, gnawing on the bone that Frank had brought him earlier and trying to ignore the twisting tension and guilt that would preoccupy him if he could only focus on those thoughts and ignore the distractions of the bone and the ball and Frank’s second best shoe…

Gerard pauses in his gnawing, wondering if there’s anything he could tell the time with in this room. It’s not worth it, he decides in the end. He didn’t notice what time they left, after all.

It’s dark by the time Gerard hears the scrabbling noises and giggling at the door that heralds the return of Frank and Mikey and he has plenty of time to scramble down off the bed so he’s bouncing in place just inside the door when they finally manage to get inside.

“Baby!” Frank sounds horrified, repentant, but Mikey just giggles and leans against him.

“You forgot your puppy.” The edges of his words are slurred and he reaches around Frank to poke him in the stomach. “You’re a bad dog owner, Frank Iero. You…”

“Shhh.” Frank pulls himself away and picks Gerard up. “I’m gonna bring him out for a quick walk. You drink some water and go lie down.”

Mikey makes a grumbling noise, but Frank doesn’t stop to hear it. He carries Gerard out of the hotel and puts him down on the sidewalk and lets him attend to the functions that had been calling louder and louder for attention as the room had got darker.

He sags with relief when he’s done, and Frank giggles down at him.

“You finished?” he asks, and starts to walk away from the hotel, waiting a few staggered steps away for Gerard to start following. “I thought you were never gonna be done then. I mean…” He makes a wooshing noise, waves his hand like a wave. “You coulda washed people away if they’d been walking past. You’re a one puppy tidal wave.”

Gerard shakes himself and trots along beside Frank as he walks them around the block. Somewhere deep inside he thinks he should be feeling angry, but he’s just so damn glad to have Frank back that the emotion doesn’t really register as it should.

He knows it’s illogical, knows that Frank and Mikey had just gone out somewhere, but as the time had ticked past he’d become more and more convinced he would never see them again, that he’d been abandoned, and now, with Frank at his side, Frank picking him up to smuggle him back up to their room, he doesn’t care where they were, doesn’t care that they’d left him, because they’re back and all Gerard can focus on is the scent of beer and smoke and Frank’s skin and the word mine, mine, mine that’s echoing around his brain.

The feeling lasts all the way back to the room, right up until Frank manages to fumble to door open and there’s the echoing, unmistakable sound of Mikey throwing up in the bathroom.

“Shit.” Frank drops Gerard onto the bed and stumbles towards the bathroom as fast as he can. “Mikes? Are you okay?”

He sounds worried, and Gerard stops in his tracks, reminded of a dozen nights – a hundred – where Frank had asked him the same question in the same tone.

He jumps off the bed and pads into the bathroom.

Mikey’s kneeling on the floor, his head dangling over the bowl, and Frank’s sitting on the floor next to him, holding Mikey’s hair back with one hand, rubbing circles on his back with the other.

“You’re okay,” he tells Mikey. “It wasn’t him. It’s all okay, dude.”

Mikey shakes his head and retches again, loud and painful, and Gerard takes an involuntary step backwards.

They’re drunk. He’d known that before, but he knows it now. Drunk enough that Frank forgot him; drunk enough that Mikey’s being sick from it.

It’s horrible. It’s like he’s human again and looking in the mirror and seeing Mikey’s face instead of his own, with the marks and bruises of Gerard’s thousand drunken nights all over it.

Mikey retches again, sobs when he’s done, miserable and broken.

Gerard realizes. This is what he’s done. This is his legacy. Mikey vomiting himself inside out on a tile floor, because that’s how Gerard’s taught him to cope with things.

Gerard turns away. He can’t watch this any more. He doesn’t deserve to. He backs into the bedroom and settles in the furthest corner, making himself as small as he can.

This might be the first time he’s ever seen Mikey drunk when he wasn't at least buzzed himself. He’d never noticed the pattern. Never known what he was doing to him.

He’s ruined both their lives now, and all the wishes in the world can’t change that, but, oh. He would if he could, and if he changes back – if he’s given a second chance – Gerard vows he will change. He won’t drink again – won’t take drugs. He’ll get help, find a way of coping that doesn’t damage himself and everyone he loves. Show Mikey that there’s another way to survive.

For now though, all he can do is to watch. He puts his chin on his paws, his tail between his legs, and waits as the gaps between the retches get longer and longer, as Frank stands up and runs water into a glass for Mikey.

They’re both looking shaky when they come into the bedroom, and Mikey has his arm around Frank’s shoulders, using him to stay upright on the short walk to the bed.

Frank tucks Mikey into bed, goes back to the bathroom and emerges with another glass of water that he puts on the bedside table next to Mikey before he gets the bin and puts it within arm’s reach of the bed.

He’s turning the bathroom light off when Mikey lifts his head off the pillow.

“Why would he do this to us, Frankie?” he asks, his voice small, miserable. “Why does he hate me like this? What did I do to him?”

Frank sighs and kicks his sneakers off before he climbs onto the bed. “You didn't do anything,” he says, settling himself so his back’s against the headboard and he can pet Mikey’s hair. “This is addiction. This is what it does to him.”

“Fuck the addiction.” Mikey reaches out, bangs at the bedside table until he turns the light on. “This is him.” He glares at Frank, challenging him to correct him. “We had to go to the morgue today – we had to look at that body. He did that to me.” He shoves Frank lightly in the chest. “To us.”

“He didn’t.” Frank hugs his knees to his chest and stares at Mikey. “He didn’t mean any of this. He’s doing his best. He’s just fucked up.”

Mikey scowls at him, his no-glasses squint making the expression look more intimidating, and Frank wriggles back slightly.

“Why do you always stick up for him?” Mikey asks, and Gerard’s not sure he’s ever heard his brother sound this angry. “He fucks you over way worse than he does me.” He waits, but Frank doesn’t say anything and at last Mikey shakes his head. “He’s never gonna love you, you know. You’ll always be his second choice – just some guy in his band who he’ll only bother fucking if there isn’t a better option.”

It’s the first thing that Mikey’s said that’s actually hurt Frank, and Gerard whimpers as Frank just closes in on himself.

“Maybe you’re right,” he says at last, his voice small and Gerard forgets he should just be watching, that he doesn’t have the right to take part in this, and he whines, trying to get Frank’s attention, because Mikey’s not right. Gerard does notice Frank – he does. He notices the way Frank smiles, the way smoke spills from his lips, the way his ass fills out skinny jeans. He just doesn't know how to not fuck up everything and everyone he touches. The urge to pin Frank against a wall and fuck him and fuck him over and fuck him up consumes Gerard every time he's drunk, but somehow he's found enough self-control to not ruin him. Not yet anyway.

Except this is worse than that, isn’t it? He’s kept it in his pants – with Frank at least, by some miracle or another – and everything has still turned to shit. Mikey and Frank are both crying – both trying not to let each other see that, and none of them have even had a chance to be happy.

He whines again and climbs up onto their bed, licking at their faces one after the other until they are laughing, reluctantly.

“Hey.” Mikey shoves Frank with his shoulder. “Your puppy likes the taste of tears.”

“What can I say?” There’s something broken in Frank’s voice, but he’s smiling – trying to smile for Mikey at least. “He’s a proper emo puppy.”

Mikey looks at him, eyes wide like he’s shocked, and Frank puts on his best innocent face, and Gerard can feel the weight of their friendship hanging between them.

“Fine,” Mikey says, looking away, his lips twisting up into the smallest smile. “Fine. Do what you want with him. Bring him home if you want. I don’t care.”

He lies down again, pulls the sheet up over he shoulder and looks up at Frank, his expression too complicated for Gerard to read.

Frank seems to understand though, and he wriggles down, careful not to knock Gerard off the bed, until he can wrap himself around Mikey, until they’re cuddling close like it’s going to make everything better.

Gerard snuffles around them, but they’re both lost in their own thoughts now and he doesn’t get anywhere. He finally settles between them, treading in a circle that has nothing to do with his mind and everything to do with the demands of his body, and settling down to sleep with his nose tucked to his bottom.

He’s not sure how much later it is when he wakes up, Mikey’s legs shifting under him.

They’re kissing, Gerard realizes with shock. He tries to ignore the ugly twist of jealousy in his chest as he watches the stuttering slide of Mikey’s hand over the tattoos on Frank’s arm, as Frank’s fingers tighten convulsively on Mikey’s waist as he pushes into the kiss. He wonders if they’ve done this before, wonders if this is something they’re used to, something he’s been too fucked up to notice. He wonders when both of them got this beautiful.

He stays as still as he can, watching them. They’ve obviously been kissing a while; they’ve hit a rhythm, and Mikey’s fingers are tangled in Frank’s hair.

He wants to tell himself that this is is something chaste, something they’re doing for comfort, but even though he’s a master of believing his own lies, he can’t quite bring himself to believe that one. Can’t believe the only lie that would excuse the feeling of betrayal and abandonment that’s writhing in his stomach.

The scent of their arousal is heavy, unavoidable, even before Frank slides his hands down Mikey’s back and pulls him closer. Mikey retaliates by biting Frank’s lip, pulling at it between his teeth until Frank bucks and presses himself closer.

Gerard should look away, knows he should look away, but he doesn’t. Can’t. Not until Frank rolls onto Mikey and Mikey moans and Gerard finally slinks from the bed to the floor, scared now that they’ll notice him. He still can’t tear his eyes away from them though, even if this means the end of everything he’s ever secretly hoped for.

They don’t notice him, though. They just keep kissing, pushing against each other, until Gerard starts to believe that they’ll actually do this, that he’ll get to watch them fuck. Until he’s almost disappointed when Mikey pushes Frank off him, and Frank lets him, scrambling back on the bed, his fingers on his lips and his eyes on Mikey.

“No,” Mikey says, pushing himself up and back until he’s curled against the headboard, his hair mussed up and his lips kiss-swollen. “I’m not the brother you want.”

“That’s not true,” Frank says, and his eyes are dark and he’s breathing too heavily for it to be faking, even if Gerard couldn’t smell how turned on he is.

“Maybe.” Mikey looks at him. “Right now. But you gonna tell me you’d turn Gee down for me? Even now?”

Frank blushes, looks away, tugging at his t-shirt so it falls straight, covers the hard curve of his erection.

“Yeah,” Mikey says, and he sounds resigned rather than disappointed. “Thought so.”

“I love you, though,” Frank says, the words small and unsure, and Mikey finally reaches out and puts his hand on Frank’s arm.

“I know. I love you too, but this…” He grins at Frank, rueful. “This is a mistake, and you know it is. We’re just upset and drunk and confused.”

“Fuck.” Frank slumps against Mikey, resting his head on his chest. “When did you get to be so wise, Mikeyway?”

“Dunno.” Mikey wraps his arms around Frank, all the sexual tension of five minutes ago dissipated. “When my big brother turned into a fuck up and I didn’t have any choice?”

That makes Frank laugh, soft and humourless. “You’re my best friend. You know that, right?”

“Yeah. And you’re mine. You don't see anyone else here with us, do you?” Mikey pauses, chews his lip. “There’s no one else I’d want here. Except maybe Ray, but, you know.”

“Good.” Frank presses a kiss to Mikey’s collarbone, but even Gerard can tell it’s a chaste gesture.

“And I didn’t mean it.”

“What?”

“You’re not his second choice – or you wouldn't be if he woke up enough to notice what you felt for him.”

“Nah.” Frank sounds tired now. “You were right. You don't have to cover for him. I just…” He curls into Mikey. “I can’t help how I feel, you know?”

“Yeah.” Mikey kisses the top of his head. “I know. And he’ll know too, when he gets himself sorted out.”

Frank snorts. “You think that will happen?” he asks. “That he’ll sort himself out? You really think that?”

He sounds skeptical, and Gerard can’t really blame him, but it hurts to hear – hurts so bad.

Mikey, though – he doesn’t seem to feel any of the same doubts. His lips thin, and he smiles Frank, his eyes hard.

“Oh, you’d better believe it,” he says, and there’s something in his his tone so firm, so sure, that Gerard does believe. “He’s not going to get a choice about it when he turns up.”

“Really?” Frank pulls back, looks at Mikey. “You’re really going to talk to him about this?”

“Fuck talking to him.” Mikey pulls Frank close again, like he needs the comfort, the support. “He’s going to fucking rehab.” He presses his face into Frank’s hair. “This is my fault too, you know. It would never have got this far if I’d been willing to talk to him earlier.”

“No.” Frank shakes his head, his voice worried. “These were all his choices. You know that.”

“I know. But I let him make them.” Mikey pauses, buries his face in Frank’s hair. “We all let him get away with this. When he comes back, we can’t make the same mistakes again.”

Frank hums, letting Mikey pull him down onto the bed, his breathing evening out, and as they start to fall asleep, Gerard climbs back on the bed.

They’re so beautiful, he thinks, and they make so much sense together. But it doesn’t stop the tiny greedy thing that lives in his heart hoping that they can’t see this for themselves, that Frank will give him another chance when he gets back.

He won’t fuck up this time, he thinks. He won’t. He’ll stop the drugs and get his drinking under control and he’ll do it right this time.

There’s something fierce and protective inside him as he looks at them, and he’s not sure right now if it’s him or the dog, but he lets it curl through him as he falls asleep, lets it shape his dreams and his plans as he sleeps between them.

Gerard wakes up with an idea bright at the forefront of his mind, and he’s not sure how he didn't think of this before.

Yes, he’s a puppy; yes, he can’t talk – but he’s still him. He still has his mind, and even if this body seems to have a will of its own, he has some control over it at the very least.

There’s no reason why he can’t write them a note – some sort of message anyway – and even if it seems mad (and Gerard is the first to admit how mad it sounds) he will be writing to them, and no one can train a dog to do that. Gerard’s fairly sure of that at least.

The main problem is there’s nothing in the hotel room that he can write with or on, but Frank’s been regular as clockwork about bringing him for a walk, so all Gerard has to do to wait.

It doesn’t change the immediate problem – he can’t work out how to change back to human. There must be a quest, or a trade – he’s read enough comic books and stories to know that – but for the life of him he can’t work out what that is.

But if he could get a message to them – to Mikey – then it would buy him time, get them on his side so they could all find out together. At the very least he wouldn’t be left behind – wouldn’t be letting them down.

In the meantime he knows himself. He’s never been strong, it’s how he’s ended up in this situation in the first place, and they’re so beautiful that he wants this last moment of time before they find out to watch them. He doesn’t know how they’ll react, but he suspects it will be badly. This could be the last chance he gets to see them like this – together, apart, whatever – and if he was better he might look away. But he’s not.

He curls up between them again, rests his chin on his paws, and looks up at them. He knows he loved them before, but it feels so different in this body. Now it’s a burning, tearing feel that makes him want to bite the world for hurting them. But really, it isn’t the world, is it? It’s only him, and it’s that tiny, terrifying thought that sits on his chest until the morning light gets too bright and the others wake up.

If the hotel room is a bad venue to write a message, the park isn’t ideal either.

It’s crowded with people and other dogs, and Gerard knows he’s a human and they don’t matter, but somehow he can’t seem to persuade his body of that.

There are so many smells everywhere, and people, and if he was human Gerard would be on the verge of a panic attack.

It’s not like that, not as a dog. But it’s still overwhelming and it takes a few long, desperate minutes of tearing around after sunbeams and shadows before Gerard can tire himself out enough to concentrate on writing a note.

Even after that, it takes a while to find a piece of earth that is dry enough, sandy enough for Gerard to try and scrape his note. Frank watches him with an amused, indulgent expression while Gerard scampers from place to place trying to find a good place to write.

“What are you up to?” he asks, sounding like he’s trying to swallow a laugh as he rounds a bush and finds Gerard frowning a puppy frown down at a piece of sandy earth.

It’s such a Frank tone of voice that Gerard rolls his eyes and Frank makes a shaken, startled noise.

“Dude.” He sounds shocked. “You are a clever little pup, aren’t you?”

You ain’t seen nothing yet, Gerard thinks, starting to pull his paw down the earth in the first, downward stroke of the letter F, but Frank doesn’t let him get any further. He grabs Gerard and bundles him up into a hug.

“Silly puppy.” Frank sounds ridiculously fond, and the part of Gerard that’s used to being Gerard wants to roll his eyes again, but he can’t because there are imperatives that drive this body, and the longer he’s stuck in it, the stronger they get, and they don’t hear silly puppy, they hear good boy, and Gerard’s on his back almost before he realizes he’s moving, whining up at Frank, desperate for pettings.

“Look at you.” Frank crouches down next to him and pets him. Gerard gives into it and flops around helplessly on the dirt, his tail drumming a mad tattoo of noise that comes nowhere close to drowning out the helpless little snuffling noises he’s making. “Who’s the silliest puppy? Is it you? Are you the prettiest boy?”

Yes Gerard wants to say. Yes. But he can’t so he satisfies himself with licking Frank’s hand then running in a mad circle around him, yipping while he does so.

If Gerard took the time to consider it properly he’d be hard pressed to remember the last time he heard Frank laugh like this, but the thought is dark and uncomfortable, and it’s much easier to pretend that he’s hunting Frank and to listen to Frank laughing like he doesn’t have any cares left in the world.

For a brief, glorious moment he thinks this could last forever, and he almost forgets what he wanted to do, but then Frank grabs him and wrestles him to the grass, and Gerard gets bundled up in his shirt and breathes in the combined scent of Frank, and tour, and Mikey, and he remembers what he wanted to do, and why.

But Frank seems to be watching for him to scratch the earth, and every time Gerard tries, Frank distracts him or picks him up and between that and the impulses of his body, Gerard is having to fight to keep focussed.

Maybe it will be easier if he uses a tool to write with, he thinks. Frank would find it more difficult to discount what he’s doing anyway. He scampers away, laughing to himself at the outraged noise Frank makes as he dodges past him, and manages to snag a stick from under a tree.

“Whatcha got there, boy?” Frank asks and reaches for the stick, but Gerard can’t let him do that and he growls as forbiddingly as he can with a mouthful of stick. “Oh.” Frank drops to his knees in front of Gerard, and for a second Gerard sees two things. There’s Frank – his friend, and there’s a big, strange looking dog who’s after Gerard’s stick, and Gerard freezes, unsure how to react.

It’s Frank who decides the matter, he lunges for the stick, rolling as he hits the floor, and it’s on. Gerard wrestles for the stick, instinct triumphing over intellect, and all that matters is ownership rather than why he needs the stick, and Gerard is sure he’s top dog around here, and no weird looking big dog is going to tell him otherwise.

Except Frank is unscrupulous and clever and has opposable thumbs. And he knows just where to scratch behind Gerard’s ear to distract him and he makes the most of this, which has to be illegal under any reasonable system of warfare. It sends Gerard into a pleasure induced trance, better than any high he’s ever had from drugs or drink, and by the time he’s recovered himself, Frank has the stick and is grinning in triumph as he throws it across the park.

It’s a mistake – it means he’s let go of the stick, and Gerard nearly howls in triumph as he takes off after it, faster than any dog has ever run before, leaping so that he snatches it out of the air before it hits the ground.

It’s the single best thing that Gerard’s ever done in his life, and he carries the stick back to Frank, triumphant and overjoyed, laying it at his feet and crouching down so he can see Frank’s face when he realizes that…

He freezes – suddenly horribly aware what he’s done, what this body he’s in is making him do – but before he can react or do something to fix it, Frank’s picked up the stick and waves it through the air, and Gerard can’t help himself. He tracks it with his eyes, and when Frank tosses the stick away again, Gerard chases it, just as enthusiastic, just as athletic, and by the time he brings the stick back, he’s forgotten there’s any reason why he shouldn’t be doing this.

He remembers later on, after he’s tired himself out in the park and slept all the way back to the hotel, curled up in Frank’s hoodie. After he’s eaten his own bodyweight in some disgusting dog food that Frank puts out into a dish that has puppy paws all over the sides. After he’s curled up between Frank and Mikey and let them pet him while he sleeps off his meal.

He remembers then and has to take a few deep breaths against the embarrassment and disgust that wells up in his chest. He’s not a dog – he’s a person in a dog’s body, and the fact that he keeps forgetting that is horrible and humiliating.

He creeps off the bed, trying not to disturb Frank and Mikey who are watching something brightly lit and fast moving on the TV, because his best chance of actually doing this is if he’s left alone.

Frank is as fastidious as always, but there’s a pile of laundry on Mikey’s side of the bed and Gerard thinks that with a bit of time, he can use it to spell out something. It doesn't have to be a full message – all he has to do is write something and they’ll realize he isn’t a normal dog, and they’ll give him some way of communicating that is easier and less gross than trying to pull Mikey’s funky t-shirts and underwear into letters.

He’s got as far as the first two strokes of the letter F and is trying to pull a pair of pants into the cross-line when he’s pulled up off the floor and dropped onto the bed.

“Honest to god,” Frank says, frowning. “I have no idea what’s gotten into him today. I thought I’d tired him out at the park.” He scratches under Gerard’s chin. “What’s wrong with you? Are you teething?”

He starts trying to pull Gerard’s mouth open to check, and in the ensuing chaos, the washing on the floor is disrupted beyond hope of seeing any messages, and in any case, Gerard doesn’t think Mikey would be able to read anything given how hard he’s laughing.

It’s like he’s living a fucking metaphor, he thinks later when Mikey and Frank are asleep. For everything he faced before. For all the frustration and voicelessness he felt. He thought this was better, that he was having more fun, but really, nothing’s any better. Nothing’s ever going to be any better, and now he’s stuck in the body of a puppy because someone up there has a twisted sense of humour and he still can’t find any peace of mind.

He looks at them sleeping, at Mikey’s face and how young it looks without the tight lines of control that characterise him when he’s awake. At Frank and the tiny, sleepy noises he makes as he dreams.

It’s horrible and he wants more than anything to be back with them as him, to be able to talk to them about what’s happened and how he feels and what he wants to do. To be this close – this far – from that is like an exquisitely engineered punishment.

But maybe he deserves that, he thinks. For everything he’s done to them. For everything he was planning to do to them. And as punishments go, it could be worse.

At least he can watch over them like this, even if they’re hurting, even if they don’t know it’s him. He knows they’re safe, and he can make them smile. It’s gonna have to be enough he thinks to himself, as he morosely tromps in a circle then licks his bottom before settling down to sleep.

Logically Gerard knows this can’t last forever. Frank and Mikey aren’t going to live in Japan for the rest of their lives just because it’s the last place they saw the human version of him. But the thought of them leaving scares him and so far Gerard has done everything he can to tamp it down every time it’s popped into his head.

He’s still not human, and he still doesn’t have any idea of what he needs to do to change back and in the dark moments of the night, he’s seriously starting to consider he might be stuck like this for the rest of his life.

In a way, that doesn’t worry him. It’s not something he’d choose, but he’s still safe, he still has Mikey and Frank – and he’s not sure he’s been this long without a drink or getting high since he was a kid.

It’s the powerlessness that really scares him.

The longer he stays in this body, the stronger the pulls of its instincts become. Time is starting to blur now, and he can’t remember how many days this has gone on for any more.

He used to be able to ignore it when someone threw a ball, when he saw a squirrel run past – when Frank or Mikey walked into the room.

He doesn’t have that luxury any more.

Now he chases things – running after them whole hearted and not thinking of anything else – and he can’t stop himself. He tries – time after time – but he fails over and over, and he can’t tell – not properly when he can’t really follow the track of time any more – but he thinks it’s getting worse.

His reaction to Frank is certainly getting worse.

He was always pleased to see Frank – even when things were at their worst – but now… Now he panics when Frank leaves the room, viscerally certain he’ll never see him again, unsure even when it was he last saw him almost as soon as the door closes.

It’s torture while Frank’s away, even when Gerard can find something to entertain himself with, but it’s forgotten – almost worth it, even – when Frank gets back.

That is like nothing Gerard’s ever felt. It’s like all his Christmases, all the drugs he’s ever taken, all in one delicious high. He gets so excited he literally can’t contain himself, losing the use of his legs in his excitement, sprinting in circles like a mad animal and falling over every third leap until Frank laughs and picks him up to tickle his belly.

Even when they’ve been together for a while, when Gerard’s lying on Frank’s knee, he cannot stop his tail from wagging whenever Frank pets him. He tries – he really does – and he’s fairly sure he can remember when he was able to control this, but now…

Frank reaches down and rubs Gerard behind his ears and Gerard actually concentrates on not wagging his tail, and for a few glorious seconds he congratulates himself for being successful…. right up until he hears a percussive banging behind him and he catches the soft smile on Frank’s face and he realizes properly what an idiot he actually is.

Now he looks at Frank and Mikey and doesn’t see his brother or his bandmate. He’s starting to see mine, mine, mine – starting to forget there’s anything else to see.

He tries again to write a message but he gets distracted faster this time, and the idea slips from his mind and he finds it much harder to hold onto.

How much longer can he stay like this and still be him, he wonders later when Frank and Mikey have gone out and he’s on his own. How much can he lose and still hold onto himself?

And there’s no guarantee that they’re going to take him with them when they go. Sure, Frank’s gotten him his shots, and seems to love him – but Frank spent ten minutes in the park earlier petting an ugly-ass chiwawa and ignoring Gerard, until Gerard had been forced to take matters into his own paws and show everyone who was alpha, and what a bad idea it was to mess with his human.

Gerard still has a nick on his ear from the altercation, but the thing that hurt worst was feeling like a bad dog all the way back to the hotel, feeling the disapproval rolling in waves off Frank the whole way.

The point is, that Frank isn’t going to bring every dog he loves home – and even if he tried, Mikey wouldn’t let him – and even if he did want to bring Gerrard home, there would be the problems and the price of transporting an animal into America, and…

Gerard starts to feel dizzy with panic, and he takes his breaking heart and his poor, sore ear and goes to sit in Frank’s shoe, where at least things smell like love and home.

He’s still there when there’s the sound of the keycard in the door and Frank comes in, Mikey trailing behind him, his shoulders slumped, his mouth pinched. They’re both stressed and worried and sad, but for that glorious second Gerard just doesn’t care, because they’re here, and home, and they haven’t left him yet.

“Got you a ball,” Frank says, holding it out, and Gerard is bouncing up towards it, the last thoughts about how thin and sad Mikey is, his fear for the future, all forgotten in his desire for Frank to throw it for him now.

He’s pleasantly tired when they get back to the hotel room, and the shadows have grown much, much longer. Frank is a soft touch, and Gerard’s ruthlessly exploited his best puppy dog eyes to keep playing well after most of the other dogs in the park had been taken home.

Mikey’s had a shower; Gerard can smell the steam and the scent of his shampoo. He’s lying on the bed, his hair still damp, his shoulders a fraction more relaxed than they had been when Frank had taken Gerard out.

“We need to talk,” he says, and Frank sighs.

“I know.” He puts Gerard onto the bed and starts digging around for his food bowl. “Just let me feed him first.”

“Yeah.” Mikey sounds disapproving, but he still pets Gerard when Gerard climbs onto him and pushes his head under Mikey’s hand.

Gerard misses what they say after that – until his bowl is empty at least – because he’s starving and Frank hasn’t fed him for at least a week. It’s only when he’s licked up the last scraps of food, and checked around the bowl for any more that he’s able to spare any attention for dull things like human words.

“We’re not going to find him,” Mikey’s saying, and his face is as grim and tired as his voice.

“We might.” Frank’s trying to sound hopeful, but it falls flat – even to his own ears, judging from the look on his face.

“Really?” Mikey raises an eyebrow. “We’ve been to the hospital every day this week. We’ve been to the morgue. We’ve gone to every bar, every homeless shelter, every clinic, every drug house we can find. No one has seen him.”

“He’s got to be here, though.”

Mikey shrugs. “Does he?”

“Where else can he be?” Frank juts his chin out, like he means to sound bold, but he doesn’t. He sounds confused – lost even, and Gerard climbs onto the bed between them and pushes his head under Frank’s hand.

“He could be dead,” Mikey says, no emotion at all in his voice, and Frank’s hand freezes on Gerard’s head.

“He wasn’t in the morgue,” he says, and Mikey shrugs again.

“So, they haven’t found his body yet.”

“Or he’s still alive.”

“For now.” Mikey stares at him. “He’s got no money, he’s got a habit. How long do you think he’ll last with that combination?”

Frank frowns at him, mulish and starting to get angry. “He’s not dead,” he says, cramming all the certainty he can into the words, and Mikey relaxes the smallest, tiniest amount.

“Fine.” He nods at Frank, but his expression is still hard. “He’s not dead. He’s left the country then, or he’s hiding from us.”

“Or he could be in trouble.”

“And we’re not going to be able to help him.” Mikey’s expression finally softens. “You know we’re not, Frank.”

“So, what?” Frank asks, starting to move his fingers again in Gerard’s fur, though Gerard can still feel the tension thrumming through him. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying it’s time to go home.”

Mikey says it like he’s commenting on the weather, but Gerard can feel the tension in the room, thick as the smells at the park. Frank just looks at Mikey for a few long, silent seconds, like he’s trying to work out what to say.

Mikey takes pity on him.

“We’ve left fliers everywhere,” he says. “And if we go home, Gerard will be able to find us more easily when he wants us.” He puts his hand on Frank’s arm. “We can come back if he does turn up.”

Frank shakes his head, his lips tight. “I don’t want to go.”

“I know you don’t.” Mikey’s voice is gentler now, careful. “But we have to. Wherever he is… he’s doing what he needs to. We need to do the same.”

“But…”

Mikey sighs. “Frank, we’ve talked about this. There was too much of this before – sitting around, waiting to sort his problems out for him. Maybe if we hadn’t made it so easy for him…”

“Yeah. I know.” Frank sighs, starts parroting in a sing song voice. “Enablers prolong the addict's behaviour by dealing with the consequences of their actions for them. Enablers suffer the effects of the addict’s behaviour for them. Enablers make everything worse in the long run.” He looks up at Mikey, his eyes glittering suspiciously. “I just want him to be okay.”

“So do I.” Mikey slides his arm around Frank’s shoulders, pulls him close. “But we can’t do that for him. He has to do that for himself.”

“He doesn’t have to do it on his own though,” Frank says, and Mikey nods.

“Yeah. You know that, I know that. But he has to ask for it.”

Frank cuddles Gerard close and rests his head against Mikey’s shoulder. “Why doesn’t he?”

“I don’t know.” Mikey sounds very tired. “But staying here isn’t going to make him ask us.”

“Yeah.” Franks cuddling Gerard a shade too tight like he only does when he really needs comfort. “Okay then. We’ll go home.”

Mikey nods. “I’ve been checking flights,” he says. “There’s one tomorrow night. I’ll get us tickets.”

“Tomorrow?” Frank sits up straight, turning to look at Mikey, and there’s no mistaking the fear in his tone. “No. No, Mikes. We can’t. It’s too soon… It’s…”

“It’s not going to make any difference,” Mikey says, and Gerard can hear his patience starting to fray now. “He’s not going to magically show up if we get flights on Monday rather than tomorrow.”

“I know.” There’s something so sad, so confused in Frank’s tone, that it makes Gerard want to howl. But he doesn’t – he doesn’t deserve the comfort. Instead he cuddles closer to Frank, trying to make things better just by being there. “But…” Frank looks up at Mikey. “What about the puppy?”

Mikey sighs and deflates.

“You’re going to have to leave him,” he says. It’s what Gerard’s been worried about and he whimpers, but Frank tightens his arms around him.

“No,” he says. “Nope. That’s a deal breaker, Mikey. I’m not leaving him behind.”

“Fine,” Mikey says. “Whatever.” He doesn’t sound surprised, though, and he looks across at Frank from out of the corner of his eyes. “The flight has space for an animal crate.” He pulls a face at Frank. “I know you’ve been checking out the restrictions for importing dogs, so…” He reaches into the cradle of Frank’s arms and tickles Gerard behind his ears. “No reason why this whole thing has to be a shitty waste of time.”

“Thank you.” Gerard tumbles to the floor as Frank flings himself at Mikey. “Thank you, Mikey. You’re the fucking best.”

“I am.” The corner of Mikey’s mouth twists up. “And don’t you forget it, Iero.”

“I won’t.” Frank pulls away and jumps off the bed to grab Gerard. “You hear that, boy? You get to come home with me. You get to meet our friends and our family and grow up to be a big, strong American dog now.”

“Yeah.” Mikey’s mouth twists again, mirthless now. “You could call him Gerard. Maybe it would stop anyone noticing he’s missing.”

“He’ll come back,” Frank says, and Mikey shrugs.

“Got to keep believing,” he says, but Gerard doesn’t think that any of them believe it anymore.

They have to go to an internet cafe to book the tickets, smuggling Gerard in in his traditional hiding place against Frank’s chest.

He’d be almost shocked at how quickly he’s adapted to this part, except he’s started having some sort of pavlovian response now and falls into a dozy haze as soon as Frank zips him in.

It’s boring anyway, just human words and the clicking of keyboards. There’s no balls, nothing to chase, no interesting smells, so he kinda zones out until he hears a sharp intake of breath from Mikey followed by a heartfelt fuck.

“What’s up?” Frank asks, and Gerard pokes his nose out under Frank’s chin, keen to see what’s happening.

What’s happening is Mikey scowling at the screen.

“We can’t do it,” he says, and Frank tenses up.

“What?”

Mikey squints at the screen. “Japan has restrictions on transporting animals,” he says. “We can’t bring him on a flight that’s longer than 12 hours. He has to be offered water every 12 hours.”

“So?” Frank asks. “How long is the flight?”

“13 hours.”

“Shit.” Frank leans over Mikey’s shoulder so he can see the screen better. “What can we do?”

“We could leave the mutt?” Mikey looks at Frank over his shoulder and grins. “Kidding. I know you’re not going to leave him. We need to find a connecting flight.”

“Go on then,” Frank tells him, his hand creeping up under his hoodie to pet Gerard. “Find one.”

Mikey mutters something about slave drivers but he starts tapping away, Frank watching him, tension in every muscle.

It feels like forever until Mikey breathes a sigh of relief and turns to Frank.

“Got it,” he says, grinning triumphantly. “We go via San Francisco.”

“We?” Frank raises an eyebrow, sounds surprised. “You don’t need to do this as well, Mikey.”

“Course not.” Mikey turns back to the screen, but he’s smiling, small and genuine and pleased. “Just like you didn’t need to stay in Japan with me.”

Frank shoves Mikey with his hip and Mikey shoves back with his shoulder. Gerard wants to yip in delight at how they are with each other.

“He’s not a bulldog, is he?” Mikey asks, and Frank peeks into his hoodie to look at Gerard with a thoughtful frown.

“No?” He tips Gerard’s face up with his finger. “I think he’s a purebred mutt. Why?”

“Oh, bulldogs can’t travel. That’s all.”

“That’s all?” Frank shivers, like he’s glimpsed a reality where he has to leave his puppy behind. “No. He’s fine.”

“You think he’s over 8 weeks?” Mikey asks and Frank nods.

“Yeah. He’s at least 12. They ask that too?”

“Yep.”

Frank shakes his head and skritches Gerard behind the ears.

“You are the luckiest puppy right now, baby,” he says, and Gerard gives in to instinct and licks Frank’s chin until he giggles so hard he’s thrown out of the cafe.

Gerard doesn’t think he’s the luckiest puppy when they get to the airport the following afternoon.

“C’mon,” Frank says, his tone soft and cajoling. “You need to eat and drink something, baby. It’s nine hours before we get to San Francisco.”

He’s right, Gerard knows he is, but he can’t. This is the first flight he’ll have ever taken where he won’t be drunk or high and instead of spending it next to Frank and Mikey, he’s going to be checked into the hold in the crate, like baggage.

He can barely breathe as Frank fills in the paperwork and hands him over.

“You’ll be okay,” Frank says, poking his fingers through the bars of the cage. “I know you can do this.” He pushes his face up to the door of the cage. “I love you, baby.”

It’s a pitiful excuse for comfort but Gerard holds on to it while Frank checks him in, tucking an insulated sheet into the cage with him at the very last minute. At least he goes to a quiet room after that – the first class lounge for pets Gerard guesses, but he can’t even be bothered to look around through the door of his cage.

He curls in on himself, a study in misery and waits for it to be over, replaying all the things he’s done wrong over and over in his head while he waits in the room, while the nice airline employee carries him carefully by hand to the plane and he’s tucked into the cargo compartment with air cushioned rolls around him to keep him safe and secure while he travels.

He does his very best to be brave, but he’s terrified when the plane starts to move, and by the time it takes off he’s a shivering, whimpering wreck.

He expects that the flight is going to be hell, and to begin with he’s right. But somehow the body of a dog deals with things differently to a human body, and Gerard only closes his eyes for a second, before he falls asleep.

He wakes up, confused and uncomfortable, and it takes him a few long minutes to work out where he is and what’s happening. When he does, though, the terror he felt earlier doesn’t return. Instead he feels the familiar sadness that comes when Frank and Mikey aren’t around, and all the fear he’d usually fly with seems lost in the deep, deep worry that maybe they’ve forgotten about him.

It’s a ridiculous fear, and the small part of his brain that still thinks like a human keeps shouting at him – trying to get him to notice the plane and the fact he’s trapped in a cage and that he could die at any second. It just doesn’t seem important though – none of it does – not when his humans aren’t with him and could be off, petting other puppies, or playing in parks without him, with no thought of coming back for him.

The thought occupies him through the plane landing, through an airport employee unloading him and carrying him into the airport, right up until his cage is handed to a grinning Frank in the bustling hallways.

“Hey.” Frank is smiling at him and Gerard has honestly never been so relieved to see anyone in his whole damn life. “Hey, baby. You made it.”

He sounds like he’s laughing at Gerard, but Gerard doesn’t care. He throws himself at the bars of the cage door, yipping at the top of his lungs, wanting to get out so Frank can pet him properly.

Frank doesn’t open the cage, though he does stick his fingers through the bars.

“I can’t take you out here, silly,” he says. “There’s far too many people, and you don’t want to get lost, do you?”

And no. Gerard doesn’t want to get lost, but he does want to get out of the cage, so he puts on his best puppy dog eyes, and whimpers at Frank through the bars, like he’s torturing him.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” The words are stern, but his tone is fond and Mikey is laughing at him, not even bothering to try and hide it.

“Dude,” he says to Frank between sniggering. “You need somewhere to take that puppy for a walk, or he’s gonna be unbearable on the way back to Jersey.”

“You’re right,” Frank says. “Do we have time?”

“Sure.” Mikey smirks at him. “I know you. Now…” He pats Frank on the shoulder. “Go find somewhere to walk your puppy. I’m gonna go and get some proper coffee.”

Frank can be a charming little shit when he wants to be, and he not only manages to find somewhere to let Gerard out of the cage for a run, he is even given a bag of puppy treats by a blushing girl in an airline uniform which he mercilessly uses to tease the hell out of Gerard.

And it’s amazing. Gerard forgets completely that he has to get back on a plane, and from the moment he first saw Frank in the baggage hall through to the moment Frank puts him back into the cage, the only things he cares about are Frank and Mikey.

That doesn’t mean he wants to get back in the cage though, and it takes Frank a fair bit of time and effort to accomplish the task – so much so that he has to run to find Mikey in the coffee shop.

“Sorry.” He’s panting a bit and Mikey sniggers at him. “I got…”

“Yeah.” Mikey offers him a cardboard Starbucks cup. “I know how it is.” He peers into the cage, offers his fingers to Gerard to chew. “How’s he doing?”

“Lots of energy,” Frank says, taking a sip of his coffee. “Wasn’t keen on getting back into the cage.”

“I bet.” Mikey bends down so he can talk to Gerard. “Not long now, and this time you get to come in the cabin with us.”

“Seriously?” Frank sounds as pleased as Gerard feels. “How did you swing that, Mikes?”

“Domestic flight,” Mikey says, shrugging. “And I think the stewardess might know the band.”

“Oh, really?” Frank asks, stretching the word out to try and get a reaction from Mikey, but Mikey’s got his best impassive face on and he doesn’t say a word as he clears his cup from the table and goes to throw it in the trash.

It’s only in the cabin, when Frank is muttering sweet nonsense words to Gerard as he stows his cage under his seat that Mikey says anything else.

“She knows Gee’s missing,” he says in a low tone, and Gerard has to strain to hear him over the noise of other people taking their seats. “The fans and the message boards worked it out when we cancelled the shows in Japan.”

“Do they have anything concrete?” Frank asks, and Mikey hums, non-committedly, but his expressions is tight, concerned.

“She didn’t say.” He pauses. “But then she wouldn’t to me, would she? But we handed out a lot of fliers and posters when we were looking for him.”

“Yeah.” There’s another pause, and Gerard would bet that Frank is chewing the skin at the edge of his thumb. “It could work for us, though?”

“How do you mean?” Mikey sounds wary, but not hostile – not yet.

“Get the fans looking for him if he’s missing much longer. They can cover much more ground than we can alone.”

“Maybe,” Mikey says, but Gerard can hear how skeptical he is.

They fall silent after that, and Gerard settles down in his crate, grateful that they’re here, so close he can lose himself in their mingled scents, can focus on that as the plane takes off, as it crosses the country to carry them home.

They catch a cab home from the airport.

“What do you want to do?” Frank asks, and Mikey shrugs. He’s been getting quieter and more shut off the closer they get to home, and now he’s retreated into his most impenetrable and frozen faced silence.

“Hey.” Frank reaches out and touches his hand. “We can just go back to mine, if you want.”

“God.” Mikey rubs his eyes. He looks exhausted. “I wish.” He smiles at Frank, small but sincere. “I have to go home though. I need to see mom.”

“I guess.” Frank pets Gerard, worrying his lower lip between his teeth. “You’ll come over tomorrow, though?”

“Yeah.” Mikey pats Frank’s hand again. “Try to stop me.”

The cab’s only just pulled up outside the house Gerard still thinks of as home when Donna sees it. She’s running down the path before Mikey’s even climbed out, and Gerard can’t help himself. He slips down from Frank’s arms and runs up to his mom, barking excitedly, hoping beyond hope that she will somehow magically know it’s him.

She ignores him. Completely.

She runs up to Mikey, gathers him up into a hug, asking him a dozen questions at once – about the flight, about Gerard, about his health – not stopping for long enough to give Mikey a chance to answer, and Gerard sits and watches them, his chest full of something jagged and ugly that could be shame and could be jealousy, and is probably the bastard offspring of both emotions.

“Hey.” Frank’s voice is soft and careful, but somehow Gerard hears it over his mother’s alternating berating of Mikey for leaving Gerard and comforting him that he’s done everything right. Frank pats the seat next to him, and Gerard slinks back into the cab, curling himself up at Frank’s feet as Frank shuts the door and the cab drives off.

“We’ll see him again tomorrow,” Frank says, and Gerard wuffles a response, not able to do more, his misery and knowledge that he’s fucked up almost overwhelming him.

He’s lucky that Frank brings him back to his.

It’s overwhelming, being here, being home, but still not being himself. And even now, even while he’s not sure he’ll ever work out how to turn back, he’s not sure he wants to. Not if it means going back to being the same person he was before – not if it means making the same mistakes all over again.

So he’s grateful for the space, for the time, to come to terms with everything, and he’s grateful to Frank for giving him that.

It’s quiet in Frank’s apartment. Even Frank seems subdued.

He lets Gerard in and puts out water and food for him, even though Gerard’s not hungry yet. Then he sighs and opens up his bag, starts pulling out his laundry, sorting it into piles. He’s quiet and tired, and as Gerard watches him he realizes that he has no idea if this is normal, if this is what Frank does after every tour.

It’s an oddly fascinating idea, and Gerard abandons his food bowl in favour of trailing Frank like a shadow, watching him put his toiletries away, unpacking his guitars and checking them, methodically and gently.

He barely seems to notice Gerard, and for once that’s fine. It means that for once Gerard gets the chance to see him without his masks. He only looks away when Frank pauses in his unpacking, hesitating in front of his fridge.

There’s a picture of the band there – a stupid publicity shot that Frank’s decided should be pinned up. But Frank stands in front of it, looking at it like he’s never seen it before. He stands there for a few long minutes, and Gerard only looks away when Frank reaches out and gently touches the picture with his fingertips, his face so sad that it would be an intrusion to see any more.

It doesn’t take long for Mikey to show up. He’s waiting for them at the kitchen table when they get back from a run around the park the next morning, coffee in one hand and a dog-eared paperback in the other.

“Hey.” Frank pushes past him, grabs his own mug and fills it from the pot. “You hiding out already?”

“Something like that.” Mikey turns a page, takes another sip from his mug. “Gonna make something of it?”

“Hell, no.” Frank sits down, reaches out to grab Gerard so he can pet him while he drinks. “I love Donna, Mikey. You know I do, but you could not pay me enough to be over there now.”

That makes Mikey laugh, but he doesn’t say anything, and Frank lets the silence stretch, drinking coffee and petting Gerard like there’s no elephant in the room.

They finish the pot of coffee, and Mikey’s about half-way through the book when Frank says anything.

“How is she?” he asks, and Mikey doesn’t bother asking who he means.

“Angry,” he says. “Hurt. She wants him to come home, doesn’t know why he vanished like that.”

“Huh.” Frank’s laugh has no mirth in it. “And the rest of us do?”

“Yeah.” Mikey shrugs. “But the rest of us saw the way he was going.”

“She didn’t know?” Frank sounds shocked, and Gerard is suddenly, horribly ashamed.

“We did our best to keep it from her.” Mikey looks up at Frank. “Brothers together, you know?”

Frank shrugs. “If you say so.” He looks at Mikey, suddenly a lot more earnest. “How are you?”

“Ugh.” Mikey stares into the bottom of his mug like it’ll tell his future. “I’m okay?”

“Really?” Frank sounds skeptical, and Gerard doesn’t blame him. He would be too.

“I guess.” Mikey turns, puts his mug on the sink. “I suppose I was hoping he’d be here. You know. When I got home.”

Frank reaches out, touches his hand. “And he wasn’t?”

“I said it was stupid. I knew he wouldn't be.”

“Doesn’t stop you hoping though.”

“Yeah.” Mikey smiles at him, tight and shaky. “Tell me about it.”

Frank reaches out and touches Mikey’s hand, and they sit there in silence. There’s nothing they can say, Gerard realizes. There’s nothing any of them can say right now.

He gets that he’s caused this, that he doesn’t deserve the comfort, but he can’t help himself. He wriggles off Frank’s lap and climbs up onto the table to butt at their joined hands.

“Pushy,” Mikey says, but he sounds amused and he rubs his fingers through Gerard’s fur. “How’s he settling in?”

“He’s quiet,” Frank says. “I think he’s a bit nervous.”

“Lots of changes,” Mikey says, and Frank hums, but the buzzer goes and cuts off whatever he was going to say.

Frank pushes Gerard across the table, into Mikey’s hands as he stands up.

“Hold onto him,” he says. “He doesn’t always take to new people.”

It’s true, but Gerard had thought he’d gotten away with it, hiding from the few outsiders they’d come in contact with, instead of barking at them, and biting them like he really wanted to.

He’s so shocked at Frank’s insight that he lets Mikey cuddle him without complaint, and it’s only when he takes a deep breath in to bark at the new voice in the hallway that he catches Mikey’s scent, the mingled smell of fear and home, and he sags in Mikey’s arms.

“Hey.” Mikey pulls him closer. “I’m not so bad, am I?”

He sounds almost worried, like the acceptance of a strange puppy matters to him, and Gerard can’t bear that. He tips his face up and licks Mikey’s face, until the tension eases out of Mikey’s muscles and he laughs.

“Seriously? I expected it of Frank, but you, Mikey?” The voice is one Gerard recognizes and he looks around, eyes wide and rolling, to see Ray standing in the doorway, a smile on his lips.

Mikey isn’t fazed, though. He just shrugs and concentrates on scratching Gerard between the ears. “He’s contagious.”

“So’s herpes. Doesn’t mean I want to catch it, though.”

That makes Mikey laugh, but Frank tuts as he grabs a beer from the fridge for Ray.

“I can’t believe you’re maligning my puppy,” he says, putting the bottle down on the table and handing Ray the bottle opener. “He’s too good for you, you know.”

“Sure.” Ray grins, flips open his bottle and takes a sip. “So, how was your journey back?”

“Okay,” Mikey says. “I guess.”

“You can ask,” Frank says and Ray shoots a look at him, gestures, helplessly.

“Did you find him?” he asks, then twists his mouth as he realizes what he’s asked. “Well, not find him, but…”

“No,” Frank says. “No sign of him at all.”

Ray’s lips thin. “Yeah,” he says. “I thought so. You’d have let me know if you’d heard anything.”

“Of course I would.” Frank catches Mikey’s eye, sits down. “We would.”

“What do we do now?” Ray tries to hide his nerves with his beer, but they’re obvious to anyone who knows him.

“Don’t know.” Mikey shrugs, looks at Ray’s beer like he’s scared to ask for one of his own. “How long have we got before we have to make a decision?”

“Depends.” Ray chews at his thumb, a nervous gesture that Gerard’s not seen in years. “The fans already know something’s up. We cancelled those shows in Japan and…”

“Really?” Frank raises an eyebrow. “There were only two shows left.”

“You know what the internet’s like,” Ray says, and yeah. They all do. “There are all sorts of weird theories out there.”

“Has anyone seen him?” Mikey asks, and for the first time there is something almost like hope in his eyes.

“No.” Ray looks at him. “Though we haven’t actually asked them yet.”

“You think we should?” Mikey asks, and Gerard can hear the hope and uncertainty warring in his voice.

“Give it a week,” Frank says. “Give him a week. If he’s not back, we ask then.”

Ray nods. “Okay.” He fixes them with a look, part defiant, part ashamed. “So, um...”

Frank sighs, scrubs his hand over his eyes. “Otter,” he says, and it isn’t a question.

“We couldn’t go on like that. He didn’t know the songs, he fucked up on stage more often than not. We need better.” Ray blinks at them both. “We deserve better.”

“So, you did it without us?” Frank asks, but Ray meets his eyes, unflinching.

“We got to presume that Gerard’s gonna come back,” Ray says. “That the band’s gonna continue. And we needed to deal with it.”

The silence weighs heavily in the air, each of them carefully avoiding eye contact with the others, and Gerard wants to escape from it, from the burden of expectation and decisions, but he dare not move from Mikey’s arms.

“Agreed,” Mikey says at last. “We needed to do it, and there was no point putting it off.”

“Frank?” Ray asks, and Frank sighs like he’s exhausted.

“Yeah,” he says. “You were right to do it. Fuck knows, I couldn’t have done it.”

“It needed to be done,” Ray says again, and Frank and Mikey go to sit either side of him, resting on him, put Gerard in his lap, hurt and hurting, but there for each other – family by choosing if not blood.

They sit there until the room get dark, and Gerard starts wriggling – needing a walk and his dinner. It’s only that that makes Frank blink, focus back on the here and now.

“I need to take him for a walk,” he says. “And I guess…”

“No.” Mikey looks at him, implacable. “We’ll walk him together, and you’ll come home with me and Ray for dinner.”

“I can’t,” Frank says, but Gerard recognizes a token protest when he hears one.

“You can,” Mikey says. “Mom loves cooking for you, you know that. I swear, she loves you both more than she loves either of us.”

Frank snorts, because Donna’s devotion to her boys is as undeniable as Frank’s devotion to his dogs, but he grabs a hoodie and rattles Gerard’s leash until Gerard runs up to join him.

“Fine,” Frank says. “Okay. Let’s do this then.”

Gerard thinks he’s prepared for it. That after everything he’s been through so far, all the realizations he’s had and decisions he made, that this would be bearable.

But there’s something about seeing his mom – seeing her smaller than he ever thought she could be, quieter, older – that hurts worse than anything else he’s gone through.

He tries to bear it, stays as quiet as he can in Frank’s arms, cowering away from Donna’s hand when she reaches out to pet him, while Frank unknowingly makes another set of excuses for him – that he’s shy, not used to people. Whatever.

Gerard isn’t sure of much these days, when so much is confusing and messed up by the perceptions of the body he’s in, but he knows he doesn’t deserve Donna’s love – not like this. Not when he hasn’t made things right yet. So he stays small, hides away, hopes beyond hoping that he’ll get the chance to put things right.

They don’t stay long. Frank is clearly as uncomfortable as he is, and he uses Gerard’s discomfort as his excuse to leave as soon as is polite after they’ve eaten.

“He’ll turn up,” Mikey says as he lets him out. “It’ll get better.” And Frank embraces him, rough and fast and doesn’t say anything in return.

It’s hard to hold onto hope after that, hard to hold onto any idea that things might go back to normal, and Gerard feels lost in the dizzying hugeness of everything.

Frank seems to be as lost as he is, staying up all night, smoking too much, reading the old and familiar books, and strumming out beginnings of songs on his guitar that go nowhere and end up twisted back on themselves.

He starts to look worried about Gerard as well, starts to hand feed him scraps and treats, to spend more time playing with him, walking him.

It’s everything Gerard wants, everything he thinks he should want, but somehow – now he has it – it’s not satisfying.

He does his best, though, for Frank’s sake more than his own. But Frank is smart, and he’s not easily fooled, and Gerard’s body is a traitor now as much as it ever was – even if it’s in new and unusual ways.

It’s that which has him trotting along next to Frank when they go to the park one Thursday morning. It’s a dull day, colder than it has been, but there’s nothing that suggests it’s anything out of the ordinary.

Frank’s gotten to know some of the other dog owners now, and he nods at them without speaking as Gerard trots next to him on his leash and sniffs cautiously at the other dogs.

They have a routine now, a lap of the park while they work out who’s there, and then a glorious romp in the wilderness at the far end of the park if there is no one else around who might do Gerard a mischief.

Gerard’s hopeful about today – the snappy boxer who can mean trouble doesn’t seem to be around, and Frank has Gerard’s tatty tennis ball in his pocket. It puts a spring in his step, and he tugs at the leash, trying to get to the wilderness area quicker than Frank can walk.

It makes Frank laugh, and he tousles Gerard’s ears when he bends down to unclip his leash from his collar.

“Be patient,” he says, while Gerard dances in place. “Naughty puppies don’t get treats.”

It’s an empty threat – Gerard knows that. Frank has yet to withhold a treat, no matter how unruly Gerard gets, but there’s something in him that wants more than anything to be Frank’s good boy, so he sits down, his tongue lolling out of his mouth as he looks up adoringly at Frank.

“Yeah.” Frank’s expression softens. “Good boy.”

It’s what Gerard wanted to hear, and as Frank stands up, Gerard runs a lap around him, yapping his approval. Frank laughs again and reaches into his pocket, pulls out the ball and holds it out, waiting until Gerard crouches down before he throws it.

He’s got a good throw, and Gerard has nothing else in his mind as he races into the scrub and trees except catching the ball. His whole focus – everything he is – is wholly concentrated on it and it’s only when someone reaches out, catches the ball as it bounces, that he realizes that there’s anyone else here with him.

“Gerard,” the dude who’s caught the ball says, and Gerard stops, frozen in place as he tries to place who the hell this is – and how the hell they know who he is.

It’s only when the guy tosses the ball in the air and catches it with a lazy grin that Gerard manages to place him. It’s the guy from the bar in Tokyo – the guy who gave him the pill – and Gerard can’t help himself. His hackles rise and he starts to growl.

It doesn’t have the desired effect. The guy just looks at him, his lips curling into a sardonic smile.

“Not pleased to see me?” he asks, sounding amused. “But I helped you, Gerard.” He inspects the ball. “A little gratitude would hardly be out of place.”

That makes Gerard bark, and the guy tsks softly.

“I’d be careful about that,” he says. “You don’t want your little owner to come over and find me here, do you?” He smirks at Gerard. “Unless you don’t want to change back, of course.”

That makes Gerard shut up, though he crouches down well outside of arm’s reach to wait to see what the guy has to say.

The guy nods. “You’ve learnt something, then,” he says, sounding pleased. “What else have you learnt, I wonder?”

His tone is genuinely curious, and it makes Gerard finally listen to what he’s saying.

What has he learnt? Mostly the effect he’d been having on the people in his life, he guesses; the changes he needs to make if he’s going to stop that. It’s a big thing to have learnt, he knows that, but he also knows how stories work. It’s a lot – true – but it’s not enough.

The guy’s expression softens and he nods. “Yeah,” he says, and he lowers himself down, so he’s sitting cross-legged on the floor opposite Gerard. “I thought so.” He puts his head to the side and looks at Gerard, his gaze clear and penetrating, like he’s actually seeing him properly. “You’re close, though. Just not quite there yet.”

But what do I need to do? Gerard wants to say – but all that comes out is a whine.

The guy shakes his head. “I can’t tell you that.” There’s compassion in his expression now. “But keep trying, Gee. I got faith in you.” He pulls himself to his feet, dusts off his knees. “Wouldn’t have done this for you otherwise. Would have just let you end up where you were headed.”

He sounds like he means it, and for the first time since this whole debacle started Gerard feels something very close to gratitude for the chance he’s been given. The guy seems to realize, and he bends over, touches Gerard’s nose gently with his finger.

“You’ll get there,” he says. “You’ll know.”

He takes a breath, as if he’s going to say more, but there’s a shout behind him, and Frank appears, a scowl firmly in place.

“Hey.” His tone is belligerent, and Gerard knows this Frank – readier to fight than to listen to reason. “What are you doing with my dog, dude?”

“Your dog?” The guy straightens up, shrugs. “I was just saying hello.” He looks down at Gerard, grins. “He’s cute, and a smart boy, isn’t he?”

It’s the right thing to say, and the tension eases out of Frank’s frame. “He is,” he says, looking at Gerard with something warm and possessive in his eyes. “Too smart to go off with strangers.”

“I’m sure he is.” The guy holds out Gerard’s ball. “I don’t think he’d have come near me at all if I hadn’t got in the way of his game of fetch.”

Frank’s expression turns sheepish. “Oh, god,” he says. “Sorry. I didn’t see anyone over here and…”

“Don’t worry about it.” The guy holds the ball out to him. “I’ve had worse things happen, and it gave me a chance to say hello to your dog.”

Frank takes the ball and nods. “Always a good day when you meet a new dog,” he says, and most of the wariness has gone from his tone now.

“Yeah.” The guy grins at him, genuine and warm for the first time that Gerard’s seen. “Take good care of him.”

He turns, and for a second Gerard wants to call him back. He stands up, yips, but the guy doesn’t slow, and Frank bends down, ruffles his ears instead, and Gerard forgets he wanted anything else.

“You made a new friend,” Frank says to him. “But he doesn’t have a ball, does he?”

He holds the tennis ball out, waving it from side to side in front of Gerard’s face, and Gerard forgets anything else.

Throw it! Throw it! he wants to say, and Frank laughs and does.

The euphoria has worn off by the time they get home though.

Instead he feels tired, dispirited and instead of doing a victory lap of the apartment, he goes and curls up underneath Frank’s bed.

He’s done his best since he turned into a dog, he really has. He’s tried to understand what he was doing wrong as a human, he’s seen the effect he’s had on the people around him… How can this not be enough?

And what if the guy is lying? What if there isn’t a way to turn back? If he was just lying to Gerard out of the same twisted humour that had turned him into a dog in the first place?

It’s hopeless – or it certainly feels like that right now and Gerard has no idea what to do. Maybe he should just give in, he thinks. Maybe he should just stop worrying about trying to be human and concentrate instead on being the puppy Frank wants, the puppy that Frank thinks he is…

The thought makes him prick his ears up, because that can’t be right. It doesn’t matter if he’s stuck like this forever, it doesn’t matter if he turns back right this second. He has to live for himself – no matter what form he’s in.

He stands up and trots a hopeful lap of the bedroom. He’s been thinking of this whole transformation as a hiatus, a break from being himself, but it’s not. He’s still him, he’s still himself even if his preferences for things like food and coffee and chasing cars are currently a bit different.

And he was himself all along – back in Japan, back when the band were on tour. That wasn’t a hiatus from himself either, and with the benefit of hindsight, he suspects that things started to go wrong when he thought it was.

He stands in front of the mirror on Frank’s closet door and looks at himself, at the cute black button of his nose, at his flopsy ears and wagging tail and he makes a promise to himself: from now on he’ll take responsibility for looking after what he needs instead of blaming himself for needing it, instead of worrying and hiding from the things he needs.

“What you up to?” Frank asks, and Gerard looks up, sees Frank leaning against the doorframe and watching him with a soft smile on his face. “You worried about the other dog in the mirror?”

No, Gerard barks. No, and Frank laughs at him.

“Sure,” he says. “You’re totally calm, genius.”

He sounds so fond that Gerard’s hit by a wave of something that feels horribly like love, and he can’t tell – doesn’t care – which part of himself that comes from any more.

The problem with the dog’s body is that it’s so wholly in the present that it’s hard to hold onto thoughts and ideas, but Gerard knows that what he’s worked out is important and he reminds himself about it, over and over again through the evening.

What do I need right now? he asks himself whenever he remembers, and as the evening wears on, it becomes an instinctive question.

I need food, he thinks and goes to the bowl of dried kibble that Frank’s left out for him.

I’m restless, he thinks and realizes that means I need exercise and runs around the apartment until Frank laughs and relents and clips the leash to Gerard’s collar and takes him for a walk around the block.

I need to feel loved, he thinks and he looks up at Frank and only hesitates for the smallest fraction of a second before throwing himself onto Frank’s knee and demanding that Frank pets him.

Was it always this simple? he wonders later as Frank dozes in front of the TV, his fingers still resting in the fur on the scruff of Gerard’s neck. Would Frank have always helped him like this if Gerard had asked? If Gerard had realized himself what he needed?

He’s still pondering that when Frank wakes himself up with a start, and pulls himself off the sofa.

“Bedtime for puppies,” he says, but he doesn’t evict Gerard from the sofa. In fact, he pulls down one of the throws to give something for Gerard to sleep in, and he bends down and kisses the top of Gerard’s head before he turns off the lamp.

“You’re a good boy,” he says from the doorway, and Gerard can’t help the feelings of pleasure and pride that surge through him. “I’m glad I met you.”

It means a lot to hear him say that, and Gerard wuffles a sleepy reply as he tramps around in a circle and settles himself in for the night.

To begin with, he doesn’t notice anything different in the morning. He’s a bit cold when he wakes up in the early hours, sure, but he pulls the throw over himself and settles back to sleep and doesn’t really think anything of it.

It’s only when the room gets light that Gerard stirs again, and even then it takes him a few long, sleepy minutes to realize he’s not on his own.

“What the fuck?” Frank says, an edge of hostility to his tone that Gerard isn’t used to hearing any more. “Gerard. What the fuck are you doing here?”

It’s a stupid question, and Gerard is too warm and cosy to bother answering. He rolls over, grumbling to himself, because he was here last night – he’s been here for weeks – and tries to go back to sleep.

It’s only when he’s snuffled his face into the sofa’s cushions that he realizes what’s wrong. It’s not Frank’s voice, it’s not how he feels, it’s not even the name – it’s the fact that for the first time in weeks Gerard doesn’t feel the need to throw himself at Frank’s feet as soon as he hears his voice.

The thought is unsettling enough that Gerard’s eyes snap open, and it’s then that he sees Frank, looking down at him as if he’s something disgusting, something beneath contempt and his stomach clenches in concern because he has no idea what he’s done to make Frank look at him with this unsettling mixture of anger and pain on his face.

“What…” Gerard starts, and Frank’s expression shuts down, his arms wrapping around his stomach.

“Where the fuck have you been?” Frank snaps, and Gerard looks down at himself and finally – finally – realizes what’s changed.

“Shit!” he says. “Shit! Frank! I’m back!”

“I can see that.” Frank’s looking at him like he’s insane. “You’re back, you’re here, you’re on my sofa.” He raises an eyebrow as Gerard swings his legs around. “Apparently you’re naked. Now, tell me where the fuck you’ve been, and what the fuck you think you’re doing here.”

He sounds angry, a million miles from the man who told Gerard he was a good boy a few short hours ago, and Gerard blinks at him, confused and more lost than he thought he could feel.

“Can I…” He clears his throat, wishes he’d planned what he was going to say when he turned back. “Can I have a glass of water first, please?”

It says a lot about Frank that he actually gets Gerard the water. Sure, he glares daggers at him the whole time, sure he calls Mikey and Ray while he’s doing it, but he pushes a glass into Gerard’s hand and goes to get him some clothes without stopping to question how Gerard turned up naked in his apartment in the first place.

“These should fit,” he says as he passes Gerard some sweatpants and a t-shirt. “You’re going to wash them before you give them back.”

“Yeah.” Gerard pulls the t-shirt over his head, catches how Frank is watching him out of the corner of his eye. “Sure. I…” There’s so much he should say here, but Frank’s simmering with rage, and Gerard’s half naked and this is nothing like anything he planned. “Thank you.”

It’s the wrong thing to say, and he knows that even before Frank’s lips thin – but there’s nothing else he can say, and he looks away, pulls up the sweat pants and pretends not to see the anger on Frank’s face.

He can’t ignore it when Mikey arrives though.

There’s one moment when Mikey looks at him and Gerard can read everything on his face – all the pain and fear and hurt and relief, all laid out there for Gerard to see – and he is suddenly desperately ashamed. Then the moment passes and all that’s left is anger, and it shouldn’t be a relief, but Gerard can’t afford to lie to himself any more and it is.

They’re so angry and Gerard’s so glad to see them again – for them to be seeing him – and he does his very best to bite back his smile, to hide it in his coffee mug when he can’t.

“I don’t understand, though,” Mikey says at last. “Where were you? How did you get home?”

For a second Gerard seriously considers telling them the truth, but then he looks at them, at the tension in their bodies and the anger in their eyes, and he can’t. There’s no way they’ll believe him – not right now – and if he tries, they’ll get mad and he’ll just make everything worse.

He might be willing to risk that, but there’s something horribly vulnerable inside him right now, and Gerard wants them – both of them – to understand that he’s serious, that he’s done with the drugs and the booze. They’re never going to believe that, not if they don’t believe where he’s been.

So instead of telling the truth, he shakes his head and bites his lip while their expressions turn guarded and disappointed.

“Gee.” Mikey sounds gutted. “I can’t…”

“Stop.” Frank’s eyes flash. “Stop bothering, Mikes. He’s fucking high.”

“I’m not,” Gerard says, stung for the first time, desperate for them to believe him. “I’ve been sober since Japan.”

“When did you even get back from Japan?” Frank narrows his eyes. “And why should we believe you?” he asks, not bothering to hide the anger in his voice.

Gerard swallows. “You shouldn’t,” he says, because even if he can’t tell them where he was, he can be truthful. “But I hope you’ll let me prove it.”

“I’d believe you a lot more if you’d tell us where you were,” Frank says, and Gerard shakes his head.

“I can’t,” he says, feeling miserable and Frank and Mikey’s expressions harden into something identically angry and Frank points at the door.

“Get out,” he says and Gerard takes a step towards them, his hands open, pleading, but Mikey shakes his head.

“No,” he says. “If you won’t tell us what happened you need to leave.” He glares at Gerard, his expression hurt and angry. “Go see Mom or something, but you can’t stay here.”

He walks back to his mom’s barefoot.

She opens the door and takes one look at him and pulls him into a crushing hug, makes him coffee and breakfast, and doesn’t ask where he was, why he’s here, even if he catches her giving him worried looks when she thinks he isn’t looking.

If he was a better son – if he was a better person he’d say something to her, but right now even the hope of that is beyond him, so he pads behind her, silent and grateful, as she opens up the basement room, tucks him into bed and smooths the hair back off his forehead.

“You’ll always be my baby,” she says, and kisses him. “I’m glad you’re home.”

She doesn’t say anything else, but Gerard’s not sure he needs or deserves any more than that, and he curls into the blankets, seeking comfort as much as warmth, trying to sleep even though he knows that’s a futile quest right now.

The chemical side of withdrawal has passed him by, and he should be grateful for that, but that was only ever one half of it. It’s what people expected of him – still expect from him. It’s the behaviours he’s cultivated to help him cope. It’s years of habit and repetition. Those are far worse than any chemical longing.

It would be so easy right now to reach for a drink. He’s got the best excuses in the whole damn world. He has no idea how badly he’s damaged the band, but cancelling the shows in Japan is bound to have fucked everything over. Mikey and Frank are furious with him, he’s let everyone down, and he doesn’t even have an explanation or story to explain where he’s been.

He lies there for a bit and thinks about all this, then he digs out the bottle from under his bed, goes and finds all the other bottles and pills, and pours the whole damn lot down the sink.

What do I need? he thinks, and he kinda wants to cry with how difficult that question is to ask, much less answer and goes and takes a shower.

The hot water is blissful after weeks of licking himself clean, and by the time he crawls out, he can hear his mom banging around in the kitchen above him.

He can’t hide here forever, he thinks and dries himself, drags on some clean clothes and goes up to see her.

“Makin’ you pancakes,” she tells him, and when he smiles and sits down at the table she puts a mug of coffee down in front of him.

It’s the first coffee he’s had in weeks and even the smell of it is perfect. He closes his eyes, savours the burn and the flavour, feels the caffeine hit in a jittery, perfect rush.

Fuck drugs, he thinks. Fuck drink. He’s never going to let go of this again.

He takes his time over it, enjoying the heat, the taste, actually being able to do this – to use his hands, to drink from a mug again. It’s like he only realizes now, as he’s doing something as mundane as this, that he’s actually got his body back, that he’s human again.

“You needed that,” his mom says when he finally puts the mug down, and he grins at her.

“Like you wouldn’t believe.” He watches as she refills it. “I missed coffee so much while…” He looks up, catches her expression. “While I was away.”

Her mouth purses, but to his relief she doesn't say anything, just turns and pours some batter onto the hot skillet and Gerard wonders how difficult it will be to remember to watch his tongue before he says something that makes everyone think he’s lost his mind.

It’s easy enough to do when he’s thinking about it, but give him outside stimulus, something that enthuses him, and thoughts of guarding his tongue fly out of the window. He catches himself just in time when his mom puts a plate of pancakes down in front of him, and manages to stammer out a thank you, rather than exclaiming over how good it is to have something that isn’t dog food to eat.

And the pancakes are amazing. It feels like it’s been forever since he ate anything other than dog food or slyly stolen bites of burgers that Mikey would share if Gerard gave his best puppy dog eyes. He’s had nothing like this since he left the US, and he closes his eyes as he chews.

When he opens them, Donna is looking at him, thoughtful and grave, and for a moment Gerard thinks she’s going to ask about where he’s been. But she just shrugs and holds her arms out to him, and Gerard swallows and pushes himself away from the table so he can hug her.

“You’re my boy,” she says, holding him like he’s something important, something precious, “and I will always be proud of you.”

It’s what he needs to hear, and he lets himself relax, tells himself that he’s safe here in her arms, like he was when he was a kid.

“You think you can fix this?” she asks at last, and Gerard makes a hopeless noise and buries his face in her shoulder.

“I hope so.” It’s easier to admit his uncertainty like this. “I fucked up so badly, mom.”

“I know, baby.” Her voice is gentle, but she never lies to him – never has done – and it helps that she doesn’t try to lie now. “But what are you gonna do about it?”

“Make things better, I guess. Show them I’ve changed, that I’m sorry.”

“Are you?” There’s an edge to the words and he takes a step back to look at her properly.

She felt so big a second ago while she was hugging him – like she could keep the whole damn world away. But right now she looks smaller, tireder, more vulnerable than he can remember her ever looking before.

“Yeah,” he says, swallowing around a suddenly dry throat. “I’m really sorry, mom.”

“It’s not me you need to say that to,” she says, but her shoulders have relaxed and she smiles at him again.

“Not just you. But I am sorry, mom. I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know.” She grabs him, like she can hold onto him this time, keep him safe. “Just don’t do that again.”

“I won’t.” He laughs, shaky. “God, I hope I won’t anyway.” And she tightens her hold until he thinks his ribs might crack.

It helps – makes things feel a little less impossible, a little less bleak – but he still needs to fix things with Mikey and Frank, and it doesn’t help with that. He’s not sure anything will, and his heart is in his mouth when he leaves the house, determined to fix this even though he’s not sure he can.

He decides to try Mikey first. Mikey’s his brother, and that means that Gerard’s probably hurt him the most, but at least Mikey’s probably going to hear him out. Possibly. Maybe.

His bravery gives out before he gets to the door, though and he starts to drag his feet as he climbs the stairs up to the front door. Frankly, he’s not sure he’s got the courage to actually knock, but the decision is taken out of his hands as Mikey’s door bangs open just as Gerard reaches his floor.

“I don’t fucking care,” Frank says over his shoulder to someone in the apartment, his voice on the very edge of shouting. “He needs to fucking tell me what the fuck he’s done with…”

“Hey.” Gerard swallows, his mouth dry as Frank swings around and does a double take. “Hey. I wanted to see you and…”

“Where’s my fucking dog?” Frank cuts him off, furious, and certainly not interested in hearing anything he has to say. “What did you do to my puppy, Gerard?”

It’s not what Gerard wants to lead off with because it puts him in an impossible situation. He can’t tell the truth because it makes him sound insane, but he can’t not tell the truth, because Frank and Mikey deserve that at the very least.

He takes a breath, fights desperately to stay calm.

“I don’t have him,” he says, and Frank’s eyes flash. “Look, can we go in? Please?”

He looks over Frank’s shoulder at the open door of the apartment just down the hallway and the scowling, elderly gentlemen just visible, and Frank turns, looks, nods.

“Fine.” The word is clipped and unhappy, and Gerard knows that if they had the luxury of just being them, Frank wouldn’t even be giving him this much. “Go in then.”

He stands back and gestures, over-polite and obsequious, a hard edge of mockery evident in every line of his body.

Mikey doesn’t even look up when he comes in.

He’s texting, clicking away on his sidekick like it holds the secrets to life, the universe, everything, and he doesn’t spare Gerard so much as a glance. It hurts worse than Frank’s outright anger, than their mom’s tired desperation. It hurts in a way Gerard suspected he couldn’t hurt any more.

“So?” Frank says, closing the door just a shade too loud. “What do you have to say to us, Gerard? What have you done to my dog?”

“I’m sorry,” Gerard says, because it’s important to start with that. He is sorry, and he needs them to understand that. “But I didn’t do anything to your dog, and I don’t have h…”

“Bullshit.” Frank glares at him. “You’re telling me that you turn up and my dog disappears on the same night and it’s nothing to do with you?” He pauses, waits for a reply that Gerard doesn’t have. “You either let him out when you broke into mine, or you stole him when you left. Which was it?”

Gerard sighs. “I didn’t,” he says, even though he knows there’s no chance of Frank believing him. “I didn’t break in, and I didn’t take him.”

“So, it was a fucking coincidence?”

The curl of Frank’s lip tells Gerard there’s no way he believes that, and honestly Gerard wouldn’t expect him to. It strips away his options. Leaves him with the worst case scenario.

“Look,” he says, hysteria bubbling in his gut. “You’re not going to believe me, but…”

“What?” There’s something ugly, something utterly unfamiliar in Frank’s expression. “Just fucking tell us, Gee.”

“I didn’t take the dog,” Gerard says. “But it is my fault he’s gone.” He takes a deep breath. “I was the dog, Frank, and I… You carried me in your sweater.”

“Get out.” Frank’s tone is completely flat, his face hard, unreadable. “Get the fuck out, and get out now.”

“But…” Gerard begins, and Frank moves towards him, menace in every muscle, and god only knows what would happen, but Mikey surges up off the sofa, his phone dropping forgotten to the floor.

“Leave it,” he tells Frank. “He’s not fucking worth it.”

He doesn’t even look around at the wordless noise of despair Gerard makes, just keeps his hand on Frank’s bicep and his eyes on Frank’s.

They hold still, a tableau of anger and intimacy and loss, until Frank nods, small and tight.

“Okay,” he says in a low voice, and then, finally, Mikey looks at Gerard.

“Get out,” he says, and there’s nothing else that Gerard can do. He turns and leaves, closing the door gently behind him, the snick of the lock sounding like the noise of his heart breaking.

He doesn’t know where to go next, so he goes to see Brian, even though he has no idea what he’ll say until Brian opens his front door.

It becomes clear then.

“I need help,” he says, and Brian fixes him with a look.

“Okay,” Brian says, like it’s as simple as that. “What do you need?”

“Someone to talk to.” Gerard bites his lip, considers how to phrase this. “Someone who won’t think I’m crazy when I tell them what happened to me.”

That gets Brian’s interest.

“What did happen to you?” he asks, and Gerard sighs.

“I spent the last three weeks as a dog,” he says, his expression completely deadpan, and a muscle at the corner of Brian’s eye twitches. “Frank adopted me and brought me back to the US.”

“I’ll find you someone,” Brian says, and he sounds bitchy and exhausted, but he doesn’t sound like he’s judging, nor like he’s angry.

“Thank you.” Gerard’s surprised to find how much he genuinely feels this, and he looks at Brian, at the careful way he’s holding himself, at the lines that tiredness has drawn on his face. “And Brian?” He takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry. It must have been a shitty thing for you to deal with, and you made such a difference to Mikey and Frank while I was gone.” He shrugs, not sure he has the words for this. “I don’t know what they would have done without you.”

That makes Brian look away, embarrassed and uncomfortable, and Gerard hesitates for a long second before taking a step forward and pulling Brian into a hug.

It shocks Brian, leaves him stiff and uncomfortable in Gerard’s arms, but Gerard doesn’t give up on this – can’t – and he holds on until eventually Brian relaxes.

“We were just worried about you,” he says, the words muffled in Gerard’s shoulder. “I was worried about you. I didn’t know how to help.”

“You helped,” Gerard tells him. “You are helping, right now.”

“Good.” Brian squeezes him and pulls back, gruff like it never happened. “I’ll find a therapist for you and text you the number. Now, get out.” He cuffs Gerard’s shoulder, and it’s softer than Gerard thinks he means it to be. “You got a lot of things to fix, Gee, and not everyone is going to be as forgiving as me.”

Brian’s right in some ways – Gerard does have a lot to fix, but most of the people he approaches seem so relieved to see him they take his apologies at face value and don’t bother with more than a cursory question about where he’s been.

“Dude.” Ray gives the best hugs, and Gerard holds on, hugs back, lets himself feel as loved as he did when he was a puppy. “I am so glad to see you.”

Ray’s grins are infectious and Gerard finds himself grinning back without meaning to.

“And me,” he says, and the wonder of it is, he means it.

It’s easy to pick up with Ray – he’s being careful, not mentioning Gerard’s amazing vanishing act, and for the moment Gerard is just incredibly grateful, so grateful he barely even wonders what Mikey and Frank have said to him about Gerard’s reappearance.

It’s so easy, in fact, that Ray’s popped the top off a beer and is holding it out to Gerard before Gerard realizes the problem. His mouth twists and he takes a step back, tempted and not tempted all at once.

“No,” he says in the end. “I’m not drinking anymore.”

“Oh.” Ray puts both beers back in the fridge, no judgement at all in his expression. “Okay. You want a soda instead?

They sit on the porch at the back of Ray’s mom’s house, drinking their sodas. Gerard wonders if it would always have been this easy to do this, to choose not to drink, to be accepted by his friends as he is instead.

“Tell me about Otter,” he says when they’ve gone through all the regular, non-confrontational topics of conversation they can think of. “Was it shitty?”

“Yeah.” Ray shrugs. “He didn’t take it well.”

“It needed to happen, though.” Gerard touches Ray’s knee. “I’m sorry. I should have been there to help with that.”

“Maybe.” Ray’s mouth twists. “But you had your own stuff to deal with, and y’know…” He smiles at Gerard hopeful and almost shy. “You’ve dealt with it, right?”

“I think so.” Gerard bites his lip, worries at the dry skin on it. “I mean… it’s only the start, isn’t it? Saying no to one beer while I’m at yours isn’t going to fix everything.”

“It’s a start though.” Ray puts his arm around Gerard’s shoulder and pulls him into a rough hug. “And I know you, Gee. You can do anything you put your heart to.”

“Let’s hope the others see that,” Gerard says and Ray gives him a knowing look.

“Frank?” he asks and Gerard nods.

“He’s really mad at me,” Gerard says in a rush. “And I don’t know what I can say to make things better, and Mikey agrees with him, and…” He stops. Takes a breath.

“You’ll get there,” Ray says, his voice gentle, careful. “He’s just angry now cuz he was so scared before.” He pauses and twists the ring pull on his soda, looking at Gerard out of the corner of his eye, like he’s judging how much he should say. “He really cares about you.”

“I know.” Gerard’s suddenly fascinated by the condensation on the outside of the soda. “I care about him too.”

“Yeah?” Ray raises an eyebrow. “That’s good, just…” He knocks his knee against Gerard’s. “Be careful.”

Gerard’s still thinking about that as he goes back to his own apartment. He knows his mom wants him to stay with her – for a while longer at least – and he is kinda tempted. The only thing that stops him is that he didn’t go through this whole thing to ignore the lessons he’s learnt. The easy choice, the comfortable choice isn’t always the best one, and he can’t put this off forever. He needs to be alone sooner or later.

He stands and looks at his apartment like he’s never seen it before. It feels very lonely right now, but it feels like it’s his and he kinda wants to mark it as his. Maybe that’s the puppy that’s left in him, and he grins as he imagines scent marking the place.

Not a good idea, he decides, but he can and will make this space his own.

He hasn’t had the chance to unpack all his stuff – either from Japan, or from when he moved in – and maybe he’ll do that later.

For now he drags a blanket out of his bedroom and makes himself a nest on the sofa and just sits there in the gathering darkness while he tries to work out how he’s feeling and what he needs to do next.

He’s not sure how long he’s been there when someone knocks on the door, but he jumps up, torn between the desire to protect his territory and the hope it’s his human and… he pauses halfway to the door. This is the puppy’s memories talking, not his reality, and he takes a second to center himself before he opens the door.

It’s lucky he does, because it’s a furious looking Frank waiting there, and it’s hard enough to deal with the feelings in his chest as it is. His Frank is top of the pile, but there’s fear that he’s been bad and made Frank angry, and a lot of more complex human emotions bubbling underneath. It’s enough to make him dizzy, and he takes another breath and pushes the door wider open.

“Wanna come in?” he asks, and Frank grunts and pushes past him.

Gerard’s not sure what he should say, what he should do. He’s still too torn between the dog and the human in his instincts to risk saying anything, and for a few long seconds Frank ignores him, scanning the apartment like he’s looking for something.

It goes on long enough that Gerard starts to feel awkward, is about to offer Frank a drink or something, when Frank swings around to glare at him.

“Where’s my dog?” he says, not bothering to hide the anger in his voice. “I want him back.”

“I don’t have him,” Gerard says, trying to keep his voice calm, trying not to feel like a bad dog. “You know that, Frank.”

Frank sneers. “What I know is that you turn up in my apartment and my dog goes missing, and this is exactly the sort of dick move you’d make to make sure you’re still center of attention.”

The words hurt, but Gerard nods, small and tight.

“I deserve that,” he says. “And I’m sorry, Frank, I really am. But I don’t have your puppy. Not any more.”

“What do you mean any more?” Frank asks, his voice hard. “You mean you did have him?”

“No.” Gerard takes a deep breath. “I mean I was him.” He pauses, looks at Frank, and the look on Frank’s face makes him want to cry. “I’d give him back if I could Frank, but…”

“How can you say that?” Frank sounds more lost than angry now, bewildered in a way that Gerard’s never heard before. “What?” He looks at Gerard, his expression horribly open and vulnerable. “You didn’t put us through enough in Japan? You want us to believe this bullshit as well?”

“I’m so…” Gerard begins, but Frank takes a step back, his expression shuttering.

“Sorry. Yes. I know. You’ve said. Like that helps.”

Frank takes another step back, glaring at Gerard in a way that makes Gerard wants to cower at his feet. But Gerard isn’t a puppy any more and he can’t. He has to stand there, to cope with Frank’s tightly contained fury like the functioning adult he’s aspiring to be, to try and pretend that Frank’s disbelief and disgust aren’t cutting him to the core.

Frank meets his eyes, steady and sure. He’s not going to back down, and Gerard shakes his head, not sure what he can say if Frank doesn’t believe him.

“You know,” Frank says at last, and Gerard can hear the effort he’s putting in to keeping his voice light, conversational. “We went to every hospital within an hour of Tokyo. We went to all the bars, all the drug houses we could find. We went to the morgue and looked at the unclaimed bodies, and Mikey insisted we look at all of them because he couldn’t bear the idea of you being on your own without him. We spent every waking minute looking for you and worrying about you and then you show up and it’s not enough we did all that… now you steal my fucking dog and expect me to swallow your shitty attempts at a lie?” For a second he looks like he’s going to punch Gerard. “Well, fuck you.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Gerard says, and his voice is shaking but he doesn’t and like that all the fight leaves Frank.

“I don’t want you to say anything,” he says. “I just want you to give me my puppy back.” He looks at Gerard without anger for the first time. “Please, Gee. He’s only little and he’s going to be scared without me. He doesn’t know where he is and he doesn't know anyone apart from me and Mikey and…” Frank’s mouth tightens and Gerard realizes he’s on the verge of tears. “I need him back. Please.”

“I can’t,” Gerard says. “I’m sorry Frank, I…”

He takes a step towards Frank, hoping, desperately, that this time he can get Frank to understand, but he’s too slow, too late – just like always – and Frank bolts from him, slamming out of the apartment before Gerard can process what’s happened.

Gerard doesn’t chase him. He stands, alone, in the middle of his living room, his hands clenched into fists so tight that his nails are biting into the palms of his hands. For the first time since he turned back, he would give everything to be a puppy again, to be able to run after Frank and to know that Frank would be pleased to see him.

But he can’t though. He has to live his life for himself. The lesson took a while to learn, but he’s not going to discard it that quickly.

His body feels slow and lumpen as he walks slowly to the front door and closes it gently, and he rests his head against the wood, tears welling up in his eyes, and this time, for the first time in years, he doesn’t even try to fight them down.

It’s Mikey who shows up next.

“You need to give Frank back his dog,” he says as he opens the fridge and starts rooting around in its depths.

“I don’t have his dog,” Gerard says, rolling his eyes. “I already told you that. Also, hi, Mikes. Yeah, I’m fine. Glad you still have your key to my apartment.”

Mikey emerges, rolling his eyes right back at Gerard, a slice of cold pizza in one hand and a can of soda in the other.

“Whatever,” he says and takes an obnoxiously huge mouthful of the pizza. “So, you’re sticking with your story, then?”

“The truth, you mean?”

Mikey raises an eyebrow. “It actually happened like that?”

He sounds genuinely curious and Gerard swallows.

“Yeah,” he says and Mikey nods.

“Oh.” He takes another bite of pizza, chews. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay.” He quirks his head at Gerard. “I mean, you seem to believe this happened, so… okay.” He picks an olive off the pizza and regards it critically for a second before popping it into his mouth. “How did you turn back then?”

“Learnt the lessons I was meant to, I guess.”

“Duh.” Mikey rolls his eyes again and Gerard tries to stifle his smile because he loves his brother so much right now. “What was the lesson?”

It’s hard to say, but Gerard owes him this.

“I had to realize what I was doing to the people around me,” he says. “To the people I love.” He puts his hand over Mikey’s. “To you.”

“And you did?”

“Yeah. Japan was…” Gerard shakes his head. “Mikes, I am so sorry. You and Frank were hurting so bad… I should never have done that to you.”

“It’s nothing you hadn’t done before,” Mikey says, his voice toneless, and the words cut so deep that Gerard can’t keep from wincing.

“I know,” he says. “I know. And if I could turn the clock back…” He shrugs. “But I can’t. All I can do is to promise to do better from now.”

Mikey nods, his mouth tight. “And you’re gonna do that?”

“Yes.” Gerard blushes, embarrassed by his vehemence. “I’m not drinking anymore, or taking anything. Brian’s lined me up with a therapist, so…” He looks away, shrugs. “I guess it’s one day at a time now.”

There’s a moment of silence, then Mikey turns over his hand to squeeze Gerard’s.

“You’re not alone,” he says, and Gerard lets his eyes close, relief rushing through him.

“Thank you,” he says, and Mikey drags him up off the chair to give him a hug. “I know I don’t deserve it but…”

“Shut up.” Mikey’s arms are tight around him, holding in place, in his body. “You’re my brother, of course you deserve it.”

“Yeah.” Gerard lets himself cling, lets himself feel how he’s really feeling. “Let’s hope Frank feels that way too.”

“He will.” Mikey pulls away, looks at him. “He’s just angry right now, and he wants his dog back.”

“The one thing I can’t do.” Gerard laughs, mirthless. “Perfect.”

“Can’t you?” Mikey asks, raising his eyebrow, and there, safe in his brother’s hands, Gerard sees the beginning of a plan.

Frank is slow to answer his door, but Gerard can be patient now he knows what he’s doing.

His heart twists when Frank finally does open the door – he looks small for the first time since Gerard’s known him, and his eyes are tired and red rimmed.

‘What do you want?” he asks, and Gerard guesses that it’s only exhaustion that’s blunting the hostility in his tone.

“Help me.” Gerard stands there, as open and as vulnerable as he can make himself, trying to breathe through his terror. “Back in Japan, you said you would if I asked. Well… I’m asking.”

For a second, Gerard thinks Frank is going to shut the door in his face, but the he nods, small and grim and stands to one side.

“Come in,” he says. Gerard takes a deep breath and does.

There’s an awkwardness that hangs heavily between them, unfamiliar and unwelcome, and all Gerard’s ideas and plans fly out the window in the face of Frank’s expression and his own rising panic.

“I’m sorry,” he says before Frank can say anything. “I’m so sorry, Frank. And I know I keep saying it and I know you don’t believe me, but…” He looks at Frank, bites his lip, knowing what he wants and fighting not to say it. “Frank.”

“What?” Frank’s tone is a fraction softer and for the first time he doesn’t look quite so mad at Gerard. “You asked for help. What do you need, Gee?”

Maybe it’s the gentle curiosity to the question, maybe it’s that Gerard needs this so badly, but he decides that honesty is his only option here.

“You haven’t forgiven me,” Gerard says. “And that’s fine. I get that. And you don’t believe my story, and that’s fine too. But please…” He looks up at Frank, holds out his hands. “I can’t do this right now. I just need an hour – half an hour – just… Please? Can it be like it was in Japan again?”

“When you think you were turned into my dog?” Frank asks, and the tightness is back to his tone, but then he shakes his head, sighs at himself, and slumps down onto his favourite chair. “Okay. Whatever. Knock yourself out.”

It’s not the best invitation, but Gerard knows Frank – knows that he wouldn’t offer anything he wasn’t willing to do, so he slides to his knees at Frank’s feet. This is enough, to be still here with Frank is all he wants – is all he’s wanted since he turned back if he’s being honest. But after a few long minutes Frank reaches down and touches his hair.

It’s a shock – something Gerard didn’t expect, doesn’t feel he deserves even – and he looks up at Frank, his eyes wide.

Frank looks away, shrugging, but he doesn’t move his hand off Gerard’s head.

“I’m missing my dog,” he says, more defensive than he needs to be, and Gerard nods, rests his head on Frank’s knee and lets Frank pet him.

He doesn’t know how long they spend like this. It’s long enough that he can feel the churning uncertainty and emotion settle in his chest, long enough that Frank relaxes against him and it stops feeling awkward, starts feeling a lot more like the nights in Japan.

But he can’t stay like this forever, and he’s not sure what to say, so even though he waits as long as he can, he eventually turns his head, kisses Frank’s knee and stands up.

Thank you would be such an inadequate thing to say, but there’s nothing else, and Gerard doesn’t think either of them want to rehash their arguments now, so he shrugs, nods at Frank and leaves, shutting the door gently behind him without saying anything.

The drive home is better, and for the first time since he was a puppy, Gerard actually manages to sleep through the night.

He’s woken up earlier than he wants next morning by someone banging on his front door.

He manages to make it to the door and lever it open before he realizes what he looks like – hair like a bird’s nest, ridiculous pyjama pants, ratty t-shirt – but by then the door is open and Frank is staring at him, like he can’t decide if he’s still mad or if he wants to laugh at what he’s seeing.

There’s nothing to be said. Gerard stands to one side, and Frank pushes past him without looking at him, leaving Gerard to shut the door and trail after him.

It’s a hopeful sign that Frank’s here – it’s a better sign that he makes Gerard coffee, pushing the mug towards him with the finest smile on his face and waiting until the mug’s half-gone before he starts talking.

“So,” he says when he’s apparently judged that Gerard looks more human. “Last night…”

“Yeah.” Gerard’s thought about this, about what the truth is, and how closely he should stick to it, and overall, well… It doesn’t matter what actually happened to him, right? What matters is that he gets to move on from here – and making Frank hurt over and over again has no part in that.

“I lied,” he says. “You were right. I went off to get my head straight and get clean and I'm sorry. I should have told you.”

For some reason this doesn’t make Frank smile. If anything his shoulders seem to get tighter, his frown more pronounced.

“Really?” He raises an eyebrow at Gerard. “How did you get home?” He pauses, waits for Gerard to answer, shakes his head. “We had your passport. We had your credit cards.”

Gerard shrugs, fighting to keep his face expressionless. He should have thought about this before he spoke, shouldn’t have given in to the temptation to tell Frank what he wanted to hear.

He’s not surprised when Frank makes a wordless, frustrated noise and scrubs his hand through his hair. He is surprised that Frank actually stays – at the table, in the room, in the apartment.

“Gee.” Frank’s voice is warmer, less angry than it’s been since Gerard got back, and it startles him into looking up, meeting Frank’s eyes. “Just tell me?” He bites his lip, and Gerard can see the tension around his eyes. “You owe me this.”

He sounds tired – beyond anger now, just confused and exhausted, and Gerard doesn’t know what he can say to make things better.

He shakes his head, wishing there was something he could do.

“Frank,” he says, and swallows at the look on Frank’s face. “I don’t know what I can tell you. I mean…” He waves his hand vaguely. “I’ve tried the truth, I tried a lie. What else can I say?” He looks at Frank, decides to take a risk and reaches out to touch his hand. “I just want to fix things. Tell me what to say.”

Frank looks at him, his eyes wide and inscrutable, but he doesn’t move his hand.

“Tell me the truth,” he says, and when Gerard opens his mouth to say he’s already told Frank the truth he turns his hand over and links his fingers with Gerard’s. “Tell me again.”

He looks like he’s listening now, and that is perhaps more terrifying than anything else Gerard could see, but he owes Frank this, so he takes and deep breath and focuses on the feeling of Frank’s hand in his.

“I took a pill,” he says. “In that bar in Japan. From the guy you saw me with. And when I woke up, I was a puppy.” He looks at Frank and sees how skeptical he is – but how he’s still listening. “I was the puppy you looked after and shipped home. And then I changed back.” He shrugs. “And here we are.”

Frank looks at him, silent and thoughtful, until Gerard has to fight not to look away.

“This is very difficult to believe,” Frank says, but he still doesn’t sound angry, and Gerard holds onto that.

“It was more difficult to live,” he says. “I even tried to write you a note, but you just wanted to play fetch with the stick I found.”

Frank’s mouth twists, like he’s remembering, like he’s trying not to smile at the memory, but the moment passes and he looks at Gerard, his face straight.

It flusters Gerard and he tries to think back, to remember things that had happened that might convince Frank.

“I saw you being strong for Mikey the entire time,” he says at last, trying to keep the desperation from his voice. “No matter how much he was convinced that I was dead. You took me to the park in the backstreets by the sushi place and you made sure the bullldog didn't scare me and you said that you were going to call me Gerard to replace what was missing.” He pauses, looks at Frank, at his wide eyes and pale face. “I saw you with Mikey, that night after the morgue.”

“You saw…”

“I saw how much you were both hurting,” Gerard says. “I know how much I wanted to make it better. How much it hurt me that I couldn’t.”

He stops there, and watches Frank, how he swallows even though his mouth seems dry and he seems lost.

“I’m sorry,” Gerard says again and sags back in his chair. “I’m so sorry, Frank.”

Frank is very still for a second, then he nods, the movement tight and controlled.

“So, what now?” he says and Gerard shrugs.

“That’s up to you.”

“What do you mean?” Frank sounds alarmed, and Gerard holds onto his hand just a bit tighter.

“Will you still want me in the band?” he asks and Frank’s eyes widen in alarm.

“Of course!” he says, sounding shocked that Gerard would ever even consider that he wouldn’t. “Don’t be stupid, dude.”

It answers Gerard’s biggest concern, but he remembers everything he learnt as a puppy and he swallows, trying to find his courage.

“What else do you want?” he asks and reaches out to touch Frank’s face.

Frank’s eyes widen, torn between desire and horror, but he pulls his hand away from Gerard’s and pushes his chair back so there’s clear space between them.

“You heard,” he says, and there’s something a lot like horror in his tone. “You heard. In Japan.”

“Yeah.” There’s not much point in lying so Gerard doesn’t even try. “I did. But…”

“So…” Frank looks at him with a suspicion that’s edging on hostility. “What? You’re trying to make up for everything by giving me a pity fuck?”

“No!” Gerard gapes because that was the last thing he’d intended. “Frank… I…”

Frank sighs and shakes his head.

“No,” he says, sounding older, wiser than his years. “Gee, just try and think for a minute. If you’re right – if you were turned into a dog, then you had three weeks where your life was torn apart. I was there for you – you’re grateful. I get that.” He looks at Gerard, brave and steady. “So, you know how I feel. Well…” He shrugs. “I’ve felt like that for a while. I can live with it. I’m not gonna start something with you because you’re confused, or grateful. I deserve more than that.”

“You do.” Gerard’s shaking, but he understands what Frank’s saying now – can see the wisdom in it. “You do. I just…” He takes a deep breath. “You’re not the only one feeling this, Frank. You never were.”

It’s more than he thought he would be able to admit, and he can barely bring himself to look at Frank’s face, scared beyond reason of what he might see there. But it’s what he’s learnt though, that he can’t avoid the difficult things, and when he looks up, Frank is looking at him, eyes wide, like he’s surprised, but more relaxed than he was a minute before.

“I’m not asking for anything from you,” Gerard says. “I’m not expecting anything. I just… wanted you to know.”

Frank nods. “I know. But…”

He looks at Gerard, and Gerard is struck by just how vulnerable Frank is, how hard he fights to hide that fact. Gerard might even believe the facade, but somehow he’s learnt to read Frank better than Frank knows.

“Give it time,” Frank says, and Gerard nods.

“I can do that,” he says, because he can and because Frank deserves that.

That makes Frank pause, mid turn, from where he’s looking at the door, and he looks up at Gerard, hopeful and scared all at once.

It’s something special, something beautiful to see him like that, and Gerard’s breath catches in his throat.

“Thank you,” he says, and Frank blinks at him, confused.

“What?” he asks. “For…”

“For looking after me,” Gerard says. “In Japan. While I was a dog. And…” He shrugs, embarrassed. “And the rest. It took nearly losing everything for me to see what I had, and I’m sorry that it took that, but I’m not sorry I’ve got it, and I am grateful.”

“Yeah, well.” Frank looks away, shuffles his feet. “We care, you know.”

“I do.” Gerard rubs the back of his neck. “And I’m grateful, and I’m gonna do better. I promise.”

“Good.” Frank nods at him, and Gerard hopes he isn’t imagining the glint of pride in his eyes. “You deserve that. Mikey deserves that.”

“We all do,” Gerard says, and they stand, looking at each other for a few long seconds before Frank coughs and turns away.

“I should go,” he says. “You were sleeping, and we need to go over Brian’s later. He thinks he’s found a new drummer for us and some shows to get things back on track.”

“Yeah.” Gerard scuffs his feet, wanting to ask Frank to stay, knowing it’s a bad idea, mostly just grateful he hasn’t fucked things up beyond rescuing with the band. “That’s cool. I’ll see you there?”

Frank nods and turns to go, pausing with his hand on the door handle. “What we did last night,” he says. “That was… good. If you want to do that again, you should ask.”

He looks at Gerard and there’s something so absurdly hopeful on his face that Gerard nods, even though he means to say no, even though he knows he should say no.

It’s different being on tour without the props of booze and drugs.

Gerard knows he’s being almost defensive about the whole thing, doing his penance through answering the clumsily worded questions that journalists ask, turning down drink after drink in venue after venue.

At least he has his band around him. And at least they’ve agreed to write Japan off like the giant fuck up it was.

Back before all this happened, he’d seen the others as a responsibility, as a liability even, not as a support structure.

Now, without the props that had kept him touring before, he finds that whenever he needs support, his band is there for him.

The first night he comes off stage, not sure what to do now that his options are limited, Mikey’s waiting for him on the bus, a pile of comics and two coffees in front of him.

“Hey,” he says, when he looks up and sees Gerard. “Got you a latte.”

He turns back to the issue he’s reading, sips his own coffee, and doesn’t bother saying anything more about it. Gerard, sitting down next to him so their knees are knocking together, feels a rush of gratitude that there really aren’t any words to express and picks up the latest issue of Batman and reaches for his coffee.

Ray uses music to distract him, because of course he does. But he’s so earnest about it, so committed to it, that Gerard doesn’t feel like it’s charity or a chore. In fact it only takes a few times before he starts seeking Ray out himself, and it’s not the easy escape of a pill or a glass, but it’s still escape, and Gerard finds himself turning to that more and more.

Even Bob plays his part, largely silent, but companionable. It doesn’t matter that he’s new to the band (for a given value of new), he’s company when the others are busy and when Gerard would more usually be seeking the company of strangers.

The only one there’s still the faintest hint of awkwardness with is Frank. Things are better than they were, but Gerard finds himself uncharacteristically lost for words with him, not sure how to overcome the lingering awkwardness.

That lasts for nearly two weeks, until the first difficult show they play on this tour.

It’s not an awful show. It’s just difficult in the way that only shows in new venues can be. The lights are badly angled into their eyes, the guitars won't stayed tuned in the humidity of the club, Mikey's amp short circuits… but most importantly the five of them just aren't gelling like they're meant to, and all the songs seem slightly uncoordinated and off.

There are always going to be difficult shows, there always have been and giving up booze isn’t going to change that – Gerard knew as much. But it’s hard though, and when they come off they shrug at each other and all head off in their own directions to do whatever it is they do on nights like this.

It’s only when he’s on his own that Gerard realizes he doesn’t have the coping strategies he used to any more, and he hesitates, properly lost for the first time since he turned back. His instinct is to find Mikey, but Mikey – as he’s painfully aware – deals with moments like these with drink and warm bodies, losing himself in the moment and trusting that the world will be better when he comes back to himself in the morning.

He’s not sure where Ray or Bob are, and he’s torn between going to look for them and just giving up and going back to the bus when the door of the dressing room opens.

It’s Frank, still sweat-slick from stage, his makeup a smeared mess that does nothing to hide his concern for Gerard.

“Hey,” he says, holding his hand out like Gerard’s still a nervous puppy. “Come here?”

It’s a question, not an order, and Gerard swallows, his throat dry as he stands up and walks towards Frank.

He pauses when they’re just slightly more than an arm’s reach apart, and the moment hangs heavily between them. Gerard doesn’t know what to say, and in the end Frank doesn’t give him a chance.

He turns and walks to the edge of the changing room, sitting on one of the crates there so his back’s against the wall, his legs spread.

“Well?” he asks, gesturing vaguely in front of him, and that’s all the invitation Gerard needs, even though they haven’t done this since that first time in Frank’s flat, even though it feels weird and awkward.

He falls to his knees in front of Frank, rests his forehead on Frank’s thigh and can’t hold back his moan of relief as Frank pushes his fingers through his hair and starts to scratch gently at his scalp.

“There you go,” Frank says, his voice as gentle and fond as when Gerard was a puppy. “It’s okay, Gee.”

He keeps scratching, rubbing his fingers all over the bumps and muscles of Gerard’s scalp, pressing his fingers down on the tight cords of Gerard’s neck.

It feels good, so good, that Gerard could cry, but he’s learnt this lesson, he’s not going to overthink this or second guess himself. He lets himself go limp under Frank’s hands, just making tiny, involuntary noises when Frank hits a particularly sore spot.

By the time Frank’s done, Gerard is a limp heap of relaxation at his feet, and if he still had a tail he would be wagging it.

“You okay?” Frank asks, and Gerard nods.

“Yeah,” he says, “I’m good.” And it’s true, but he still doesn’t want to move even though the worst of the tension and stress have passed. “Just…” He presses his mouth to the faded denim on Frank’s thigh, feeling how his breath warms the fabric, remembering how comforting Frank’s scent was when he was a dog. “Can I stay here? Just for a bit?”

“Sure.” Frank puts his hand back on Gerard’s hair, smoothing it back into place. “We got time before the bus.”

They stay like that till Brian calls for them from the corridor, and even then Frank keeps his hand on the small of Gerard’s back all the way to the bus, leading him, keeping him safe. Gerard can let his eyes drift closed as he follows Frank’s cues, safe.

It becomes a pattern, as much a part of Gerard’s life as the music and the therapy and the press.

It’s something he needs for whatever reason, and while Frank is willing to help, Gerard doesn’t think it’s going to be much of a problem.

Mikey’s caught them a couple of times, but he just shakes his head and walks away, leaving them to it, and Gerard doesn’t realize the others have worked it out until they stage an impromptu intervention.

He doesn’t think much of it when Ray suggests they go for coffee; it’s only when they get to the diner and Brian is there already, his expression grim, that Gerard cottons on.

“You do know I’ve quit drinking,” he says as he sits down, but the joke falls flat and he swallows. “And I’m still clean.”

It comes out more hesitant than he planned, and Brian snorts, starts to stir sugar into his coffee.

“We know that,” he says, and there’s enough amusement in his voice that Gerard starts to relax, because this can’t be that bad if Brian can laugh about it.

“So, this is just coffee, then?”

Ray sighs, gestures for the server.

“We wanted to talk to you,” he says when she’s taken their orders and gone to get their coffee. “Because, Gee…” He looks at Brian who shrugs, something complicated in his expression that Gerard can’t read. “Gee, you need to be careful.”

“What?” Gerard squints at him, confused. “Careful about what?” He looks between Ray and Brian, perplexed. “What are you guys on about?”

“We’ve both walked in on you, Gee,” Brian says. “And it won’t work. You can’t play around with Frank, not like that. He acts like he’s unbreakable but…”

“What?” Gerard bites his lip, not sure how he should handle this. Then he looks at them, sees the concern in their eyes, and mentally shakes himself. “Look.” He holds his hands out, palms up. “Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m not sleeping with Frank.” Brian raises an eyebrow in silently eloquent disbelief and Gerard scowls. “If you must know, I asked and he turned me down, and I have feelings too, you know.”

That seems to embarrass them, and they become very interested in their drinks.

“You know best,” Ray says at last. “But…” He looks up at Gerard, earnest and caring and perfectly himself. “Make sure you know what you’re doing. We don’t want you hurting him – or yourself.”

That’s what sticks with him afterwards, what makes him think as he walks back to the venue alone.

Maybe he is being unfair to Frank. Frank who asked for space, for time to think. How can he manage that when he has to be someone Gerard can rely on?

Gerard goes to bed early, avoiding everyone maybe, giving himself time to think for sure. Sleep is elusive though – he lies awake as the miles and hours tick away, listening to the sounds of the others sleeping.

There’s a clarity that comes in the small hours, an ability to see the truths that daylight makes hazy.

Frank’s his friend – a good friend – but Gerard’s putting unfair pressure on him right now. He needs to back off, to give Frank space, and, as the bus starts getting light, he resolves to do just that.

Except avoiding Frank is easier said than done. They’re bandmates – friends – and right now it feels like they’re stuck on this damn bus 24/7. Gerard is going slowly mad, and the only one who seems to notice is Frank.

In the end, something has to give, and when they get off the bus, head to the venue, when Mikey and Ray go to raid the bar, Frank comes and finds him.

“So.” Frank locks the door of the dressing room behind him. “What’s up?”

“Nothing.” Gerard shrugs, feigning unconcern. “Why?”

“Cuz you’ve been avoiding me.” Frank looks at him, cool and assessing. “And I’m not stupid. So spill, Way.”

“It’s nothing.” Gerard pretends to be interested in the comic in his hands even though he’s not even sure what title it is right now, much less what issue it is. “Everything’s fine.”

“Bullshit.” Frank sounds calm, sure, and he advances on Gerard his face purposeful. “Tell me.”

“You asked me to give you space,” Gerard says, his voice small. “I’ve not been doing that, not recently.”

Frank’s lips twist. “So we’re done? We’re not going to…” He shrugs, not sure what to say. “Do that again? After shows?”

“It’s for the best,” Gerard says, feeling noble and self sacrificing and like he’s doing the right thing for once. Frank scowls.

“Maybe I need this too,” Frank says, like the confession is being wrung from him, and his expression turns sharp. “You took my puppy. You owe me.”

It’s a mean thing to say, and Gerard can tell Frank recognizes that but he’s glaring at Gerard and Gerard recognizes fear when he sees it so he goes down on his knees and pushes his head into Frank’s hand.

There’s a moment when the world stands still, then Frank breathes out – a shuddering sigh – and threads his fingers through Gerard’s hair.

“Thank you,” he says, something raw and honest in his voice. “Thank you, Gee.”

Gerard doesn’t try to stop it again, but now Frank is as likely to seek him out as Gerard is to seek Frank out, and so it goes on to the end of tour.

Frank's there when he gets off stage, there in the bunk across the hall when he can't sleep at night, there when the noise gets loud in ways Gerard can't quite tune out yet.

At least, it goes on until they stumble out of the tour bus, grunting goodbye to the others, and it’s only when they get to the door of Gerard’s apartment that Gerard realizes Frank is with him.

“Shut up,” Frank says, even though Gerard hasn’t said anything, and Gerard doesn’t, just opens up the front door and tosses his bag to one side. He doesn’t know what Frank wants and he’s too tired to guess, so he does what he’s been dreaming of for weeks now – he staggers through the apartment, shedding clothes as he goes, until he hits the bed naked and groans with pleasure as he digs himself into the covers.

He’s almost asleep by the time Frank crawls in next to him, even though it can only have been a few minutes, but he manages to lever himself up so that Frank can arrange himself around Gerard and thread his fingers into Gerard’s hair.

“This okay?” Frank asks, and Gerard makes a sleepy, enthusiastic noise that he hopes signifies consent, slinging his arm around Frank’s waist and pushing his face into his shoulder in the hope that will make things clearer.

He’s not sure he moves all night, and only wakes up when the sun is bright enough to come in through the gap in the curtains and dazzle his eyes.

He whimpers a bit, turning his face until the nasty brightness is blocked out by Frank’s chest, and he doesn’t even realize Frank’s awake until he chuckles, low and warm.

“You make the exact same noises as you did when you were a puppy,” Frank says, sounding half asleep, half amused. “I can’t believe I never guessed it was you.”

“You never slept this close to me before,” Gerard says, but the words come out as a muffled mess into the fabric of Frank’s sleep shirt.

“And you drool,” Frank says, like he doesn’t even hear Gerard’s response. “Seriously, give you a bit more fur and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

“Oy!” Gerard looks up, mock affronted. “Are you calling me a dog?”

Frank sniggers and reaches up, digs his fingers into Gerard’s hair so he can scratch the sweet spot behind Gerard’s right ear.

“That…” Gerard tries to stop his eyes rolling back with pleasure; fails. “That is unfair.”

“Oh, yeah?” Frank grins, face alive with mischief. “Want me to stop?”

“No!” Gerard flings himself over Frank to pin him in place, suddenly desperate for more pettings. “More, Frank. Please?”

It comes out as more of a plea than Gerard intended, but Frank just smiles, starts to rub at Gerard’s head and neck.

“Such a good boy,” he says, and Gerard isn’t able to bite back the groan in time.

Frank’s fingers hesitate for a second, then he start to rub at Gerard’s scalp again, slower now, more deliberate.

“Good boy,” he says again, and this time when Gerard groans, he doesn’t pause. “You been so good this tour. I’m so proud of you.”

He sounds proud, and it makes Gerard shiver, press closer to him, wanting more touch, more praise, more Frank.

He’s gotten used to looking after his emotional needs recently, asking for help when he needs it, and it takes him a few minutes to realize that this is different. This time he’s naked, he’s hard, and Frank’s words are affecting him like burning.

“Frank.” He pulls back, tries to get away, but Frank’s fingers are firmly threaded through his hair and there’s only so far he can move. “Frank, I need to…”

“You want to stop?” Frank asks, and there’s something to the set of his face, the jut of his chin that makes Gerard hesitate. “We can stop,” Frank says, but he doesn’t let go, “if you want to.”

Frank takes a breath in and rolls his hips upwards, and Gerard realizes with a gasp that he’s not the only one who’s hard, that maybe Frank has been planning this.

“No,” he says, and looks down, really looks at Frank’s face. “I don’t want to stop.”

“Good.” There’s a second for Gerard to enjoy the smile that lights up Frank’s face, before Frank tugs his head down and kisses him, gentler than Gerard had thought he would be, but thorough, unstoppable.

He kisses Gerard until he’s breathless, until he’s swallowing the little noises Gerard’s making straight from Gerard’s lips. He kisses Gerard until Gerard’s lips feel swollen and sore, oversensitive. Until their hips are grinding minutely against each other and Gerard thinks he might catch fire.

“You okay?” Frank asks when Gerard pulls away. “Gee, tell me this is okay. I…”

“Yes.” Gerard presses a kiss to the corner of Frank’s mouth, gets distracted, bites at his lower lip until Frank moans. “Yeah, Frank. It’s perfect.”

It’s all Frank needs to hear, apparently. He shoves up underneath Gerard, using force and the element of surprise to flip him over.

“Been thinking about this,” he tells Gerard, his voice rough. “Been thinking about it for ages.” He rolls his hips and groans as his cock rubs against Gerard’s through the fabric of his pyjama pants. “And now I’m here…”

“Yeah?” Gerard slides his fingers up under the hem of Frank’s t-shirt, pets at the soft skin of his side. “What do you want?”

“Everything.” Frank’s blinking, almost overwhelmed. “Gee… I don’t even know what to do first.”

“Don’t care.” Gerard bucks up against Frank. “Get me off? We can do everything else later.”

“Oh.” Frank’s eyes flutter shut, like maybe he’s not considered this, but Gerard pulls him down into a kiss when he opens his mouth to say something else.

They kiss until they’re desperate, until Gerard thinks he could come like this, but then Frank kneels up so he can shove his pyjama pants down, letting his cock bounce free, hard and curving up towards his belly.

He looks at Gerard for a second, his eyes dark, then holds out his hand and spits in his palm.

“Classy,” Gerard says, but the word is breathy, and he’s too turned on to care and Frank hunches over him and takes both their cocks in a spit-slick grip. His touch is too tight, a touch too rough, but Gerard is so turned on he doesn’t care – and the thought that this is what Frank likes, that this is how he touches himself, is intoxicating, has Gerard bucking and straining under Frank, close to coming already.

“Fuck.” Frank sounds as close as he feels, and his breath when he leans in to kiss Gerard is fast and rough. “Gee, I…”

“Yeah?” Gerard runs his nails down Frank’s back, just to feel him groan and press himself closer. “You gonna come on me, Frankie?”

He only gets a wordless noise of pleasure from Frank, and the jerk of his cock as he comes, hot and slick between them. It’s filthy and wet and Gerard can’t hold back. He groans as he comes, pulling Frank close enough to kiss, to rub himself against, to luxuriate in their closeness.

Afterwards, as the sweat and come dries in disgusting sticky patches, Frank runs his fingers through Gerard’s hair – not like when he was a puppy and not quite like when they sought comfort in each other backstage. This is new, different, and Gerard shivers with pleasure.

“Still think there’ll be other chances?” Frank asks and Gerard grins.

“It’s us,” Gerard says. “Of course there will be.” There’s a pause and Frank’s shoulders tense like he’s considering saying something. “You’re gonna make a doggy style joke, aren’t you?”

“Trying not to,” Frank says, but his face is pressed into Gerard’s chest and Gerard can feel the curve of his smile.

It’s perfect, and it’s more than Gerard deserves, but he’s never been one to look gift horses in the mouth, so he gets up and makes coffee, and brings it back to bed, to where Frank is waiting for him, dark eyed and naked, and totally ready for what comes next.