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Well, I Changed For Good

Chapter Text

April-May

Of all the ways Gerard had thought he was going to die, he'd never considered wolves as a possibility.

...okay, that wasn't entirely true. He and Mikey had made a chart of all the cool gory deaths they could think of, ranging from disembowelment by zombies to incineration by killer robots to exsanguination by vampires. Werewolves were on there. No self-respecting horror junkie could exclude them, and if there was something Gerard never doubted, it was his horror cred.

But the werewolves that made the list were the kind that shut down London, had police cornering them in an alley, and died riddled with bullets. They weren't wolves. It seemed more likely to run into a Lon Cheney Jr. in Belleville than a real wolf. It was definitely more likely to meet the business end of a wise guy's gun than wolf teeth.

And yet there he was, bleeding in a muddy lot with cold rain drizzling down, surrounded by growling wolves.

He'd had enough energy to raise a shaky hand and press it against the hole in his gut, and that was about it. He couldn't run. He couldn't call for help. All he could do was think about how Mikey should raise werewolves above poltergeists on the deadly scale. Because seriously, what the fuck.

Wolves weren't supposed to be mean, were they? Not to humans. Not unless they were desperate. But Gerard had tripped in that fucking lot (he was only drunk, there was no reason he should have lost his balance on anything less than a Jack/pills combo), and when the wolves come out of the shadows, one of them had gone for the spot on his stomach where his t-shirt had torn on a rock. He'd felt every millimeter of the teeth tearing into his skin, of the blood coming out. It wasn't a big wound, but it didn't have to be. That and the way he'd knocked his head (and, okay, maybe the alcohol) had him out for the count.

But it hadn't gone any further. He was still alive.

For now.

A shadow fell across his eyes, and his swimming vision focused enough to see a wolf smaller than the rest. It too was growling, but not at Gerard: its tail was in Gerard's face, along with its rigid and tense legs.

The rest of the wolves were backing off. Had backed off. As Gerard tried to clear his stinging eyes, they were leaving the lot like frat boys losing an easy target: ignoring the smaller wolf like it was beneath their notice.

Gerard didn't register blinking, but he must have closed his eyes at some point because the wolf was guarding him one second, and the next, it was sniffing his face.

"Fuck," Gerard muttered, twitching as far away as he could. He barely rolled; he didn't have the strength to move. But god, the fucking wolf's nose was cold.

It moved down to lick at his stomach. Maybe the wolf had scared the others off so he could eat Gerard in peace.

Whatever. As long as he didn't have to be awake for it.

-

But Gerard did wake up again.

It was darker when he did, dusk instead of early morning sunshine. It meant it was harder to see his stomach than before, or see the dark spots where his blood had stained the dirt.

Or the black wolf watching him from a couple feet away.

"You didn't eat me," Gerard said, moving his hand. It was covered in blood, like the torn shreds of his shirt, but he could move. He could sit up without feeling like he was going to die.

The wolf didn't say anything back (of course, since when did wolves talk?). It just watched Gerard struggle to sit up, its hazel eyes glowing in the dying light. Who knew wolves had hazel eyes, anyway? Add that to the list of things Gerard didn't know about wolves, like the fact that there were any in fucking Jersey.

By the time Gerard was on his feet, the sun had set, and the lights in the neighborhood had switched on. He could see cars; before, there were mounds of dirt blocking them from view. He winced and shielded his face from the headlights with a hand.

The wolf had gotten up from its sitting position and walked closer. Fuck.

"Are you gonna eat me now?" Gerard asked, like it could answer. "Sadistic fucking wolves. You couldn't do it before?"

The wolf huffed, misted breath disappearing in the breeze. Right. It was cold. Gerard hadn't felt it before that moment; the booze had kept the worst out before, and then he'd been too almost-dead to feel it after. He clutched his jacket closer. If only the fucking zipper wasn't broken.

"I'd better..." He waved a hand in the general direction of home. "You know."

The wolf watched.

"You're a quiet motherfucker. Shouldn't you be howling?"

Another car passed, and the wolf's eyes flashed in the light. It was looking straight at Gerard's face, like it could see something Gerard couldn't.

Gerard shivered and started walking.

He wasn't one-hundred percent. He stumbled more than once, and while he didn't lose his footing again, he did cling to trees and fences on the way while he waited for his head to stop spinning. Nothing more embarrassing than his usual walks of shame...except that the wolf was right behind, watching every step, staring when Gerard paused, staring until he started walking again.

At one point, when he was still probably at least a half-mile from home, he sat on the ground and blew his breath onto his hands. Taking a long walk to a bar he'd never seen before had been a good idea last night...for some reason. Either way, he'd had his gloves then (some fucking black hole had eaten them since), and he hadn't been recovering from injury or blood loss or whatever.

The wolf came closer, ignoring the way Gerard stiffened up. It blocked Gerard from the wind, and it was close enough to touch. Gerard almost did. That was probably some soft fucking fur.

He tucked his hands under his armpits and kept walking instead.

It started raining, cold and stinging, two houses down from home. Gerard stopped in place. He wanted to run, to get to his basement and get under his covers and never come out, to make hot chocolate and listen to his mom's stories about work and to pretend this day had never happened.

But he was tired. And he wouldn't...he couldn't...

The wolf nudged the back of his legs. Gerard nearly fell over, but he took a step forward. The wolf nudged him again when he didn't keep moving.

"Fine, okay," Gerard said. Whined, really, but it had been a shitty fucking day.

He managed the rest of the way without headbutts from a wolf, but when he opened the door to his basement, he froze in the doorway. He turned just enough to see the wolf on the sidewalk, watching Gerard as his fur flattened in the rain.

"Thanks."

Gerard closed the door behind him without another word.

-

Gerard woke up naked and warm the next day, sunlight streaming in a beam through the one clear window in his room. He pulled off his sheets, and...

And his stomach was completely fine. Not a scratch.

The pile of clothes from the day before were balled up on the floor. It would be simple enough to unfold them, see if they were stained with blood, if they were torn, if the whole thing was a dream or not.

But simple as that was, it was a fuckload easier to throw them in the trash and grab the bottle of lukewarm vodka he had stashed beside his bed.

One more day, and that was it. Sober time.

-

Gerard would have liked to be surprised when one more day turned into two more, into three, four. He wasn't.

He didn't actually know his last non-sober day because he spent it passed out in his mom's car in the parking lot of a Pathmark. When he finally woke up, it was the second time in about a month that he felt like he was going to die. But being eaten by wolves was probably kinder than his brains boiling to mush in his skull. Spring was touchy like that: frostbite one minute, and the next, no car was safe.

Gerard managed to open the door before he puked his guts out. He woke up in an ambulance because some employee had seen him pass out in the parking space, next to his vomit.

It wasn't the smell of puke in his black hair after he woke up that changed his mind. That was common enough. And it wasn't the scary lecture about the state of his liver or the way Mom and Mikey looked hollow-eyed and pale next to his hospital bed that marked the end. Gerard had never been that selfless a guy. It was a feeling instead, the click when a door closed and locked, and that was fucking it. Move on, and don't look back.

And so he did.

Chapter Text

August

Frank didn't know what was sadder: that he'd had to fit his entire life inside a piece of shit shaped like a Geo Metro, or that it really hadn't been all that hard.

He'd stopped in Ohio because he'd smelled smoke; it turned out he'd taken a curved ramp wrong, and the frame of the car had rubbed into the tire. He'd stopped in Nebraska because the gear shift decided to stop moving, and after Frank had a very panicked lunch and the car received no intervention whatsoever, it had decided to start working again. Denver had been a stop because Frank been holding his breath every time the car made a noise, and the elevation was too high and the car too rickety for Frank to actually live.

But Utah and Nevada had been deceptively quiet. He should have known when he'd gotten to stop in Las Vegas and eat a decent dinner that things were too good to be true.

He had almost reached Los Angeles on the 101 when the car stopped responding to the gas pedal. As it slowed and Frank hit things, everything stopped: lights, moving the steering wheel. Even the fucking horn was dead silent.

"'Just visit California before you leave the country,'" Frank muttered as the car stopped on the shoulder. "'It'll be really easy.' Sure."

Popping the hood didn't do anything to help. Everything looked fine. Nothing smelled. It was just...dead.

By the time Dewees showed up behind a tow truck, Frank was throwing suitcases over the side of the road and kicking anything that sat still long enough. It didn't help, but for just a second, he felt a hell of a lot better.

-

October

Gerard's car hovered on Lankershim while he waited for traffic to ease. The car's interior smelled like the coffee in the cup holder; actually leaving his bedroom-slash-office was, he figured, worth a chai latte at least. Ray got one too, since he was Ray.

A gap. He turned the car into the alley next to Reggie's Car Audio and parked, whistling under his breath as he got out. The sun was warm on Gerard's shoulders, but not dramatically so. If his cloak wasn't made of thicker fabric than usual (Gerard never skimped on his costumes when he could get away with it), he never would have noticed it was shining.

When Gerard strolled into the shop, it was stuffy in the metallic way industrial areas got. It was also empty except for Ray. There wasn't even a car in the bay, which meant the wires Ray was fiddling with had nothing to do with work. His hair was boosted by haphazard scrunchies to keep it out of his face, and the curly spikes bounced when Ray looked up at the jangling door.

"It's noon already?" Ray asked, wiping sweat off his forehead as Gerard propped open the door to get the breeze inside. "Why are you wearing a cape?"

"Because it's Halloween, asshole. And yes, it's twelve, why else would I be here?"

Ray smiled (that was his natural state of being, a beam of fucking sunshine) and bent over to blow lightly on the wires. He wiped the counter next to the register with his hand and tucked the wires in a drawer.

"Dewees said it wasn't really a Halloween party," he said. "It's just a party on Halloween. 'Porn and pizza.'" He made air quotation marks with his fingers.

Gerard rolled his eyes and leaned on the counter while Ray ducked into the back room. "Dude, when Dewees and I watch porn, you know we're marathoning Lord of the Rings, right?"

Ray's head popped out. "Really?"

"Why do you think the party's starting now?"

Ray ducked away again, and as he rattled out of sight, Gerard twirled the end of his cloak in his finger. He even had a Leaf of Lorien pendant holding it together because he was just that motherfucking great. Too bad he'd left Sting in the car; he could have poked Ray a couple times.

The man in question came out with his backpack and ruffled Gerard's hair. "That doesn't explain the 'do."

"It's spray-on," Gerard said, giggling when Ray looked at his newly-red palm. "Shit was on sale a couple days ago, and I figured, why not."

Ray sighed pathetically and wiped his hand on his already-dirty jeans. "Now I really need pizza."

-

"You..." Frank took a break to shove the rest of his slice of pizza into his mouth. California pizza had nothing on the stuff from the East Coast, but fuck, Dewees's place knew how to put cheese on fucking vegetables. "You fucker."

Dewees had a beer bottle perched on his gut. He didn't seem round enough to support a shot glass, much less anything bigger, but Dewees was making it a thing, waving his hands around like he was walking a tightrope. Frank dutifully applauded when prompted.

"Thanks," Dewees said. "Now what's the problem?"

"It's my fucking birthday."

"No shit."

Frank opened his mouth to say more, and Dewees shoved a slice of pizza in. Without tipping over his beer bottle. Okay, maybe that was a little impressive.

"If you don't like the pizza, I have nachos," Dewees said mildly. Frank chewed angrily in his direction.

The doorbell rang, and Frank froze. Literally. But it was fucking Los Angeles, it couldn't get drafty. And even if it could, Frank was in three layers of sweaters in a well-heated house. The goosebumps on his arm were just hangover sensitivity.

"'S open!" Dewees yelled before licking his fingers clean of nacho cheese.

The door slid open, carrying a breeze with it that was...well, it wasn't cold, it never could be this far south, but there was definitely the reminder of cold in the air. It was the kind of chill that always came in the fall, the point that had told Frank for years that it was time to give up on his shit for a few months and run around on all fours.

But it was October, so it was probably just LA's pretensions at being autumn for five seconds. Fucking poser city.

"Hey!" a voice said from behind Frank. Feet were stomping on the floor louder than they should have, but that didn't mean anything. Just dudes making noise. "You already ate half a pizza?"

"That was my bribe to keep Frankie from running off." Dewees was staring at his beer bottle like it would give him the secrets of the universe. "Ray, Frank. Where did Gerard go?"

"Bathroom." A guy with a friendly grin and really intense hair plopped down on the other end of the sofa from Frank, waving a light-up toy sword around. "Hey. I install stereos for Dewees."

Dewees nodded sagely. "I wouldn't have half my business if this guy wasn't around."

The dude - Ray - scrubbed his fingers through his curls. He looked kind of shy, but pleased. Frank gave him a nod as a hello.

"Nice to meet you," Ray said. "Dewees has been talking for weeks about how spectacularly your car died."

"It wasn't spectacular." Frank resisted the urge to scowl. Barely. "It wasn't anything."

Dewees was usually a genius with cars, but even he hadn't been able to exorcise whatever demons or gremlins had fucked with that shit. He'd told Frank it was probably because he'd lost his brains doing stereos for so long and passed it to a friend who knew more about insides, but that hadn't done any good either.

"So where are you from?" Ray asked as he dug into the pepperoni.

"Jersey."

Ray looked practically like he could lift off with the smile that spread on his face. "Get out! Me too. And Gerard...Gerard! Frank's from back home."

"For real?"

Frank froze, arm outstretched to grab another slice of pizza. It couldn't be.

The guy who rounded the couch didn't look like the guy from Frank's memory. But then, it had been...fuck, nearly a decade? Frank looked older. This guy didn't, not much. He looked a little leaner, a little more washed, and his hair was definitely not that fire-engine red before.

But his eyes met Frank's, and—

"I'm going to take a piss," Frank blurted, getting to his feet.

Everyone was probably staring at him, but he couldn't turn away from the guy's focus. Gerard. Ray had called him Gerard. How had Frank never known his name?

Gerard's nostrils flared, and Frank watched as his chest rose and fell. It was all Frank could do to keep from smelling him back.

"I'll call CNN," Dewees said lazily.

That was enough to break Frank free. He jumped over the couch, making Ray splutter, and ran for the bathroom.

Dewees had a little thermometer hanging in the bathroom window. Frank had been giving him shit about it for weeks; how the fuck could you judge what the temperature was outside from the bathroom? But Dewees had just smiled and pointed out all the thermometers he'd hung: on the fence outside, in the kitchen, in the music room, in the bedrooms.

"No taking chances," Dewees had said. "Not even here."

Frank shook and hugged himself and read 74 on the little display. He wasn't cold. He wasn't.

By the time Dewees knocked on the door, the shaking had worn off. Frank just didn't really want to move. "We're already to Rivendell, dude. You got prostate problems?"

"Fuck you," Frank called back. He ran the sink, just because.

Dewees cracked the door. Frank jerked his head, and Dewees let himself in and closed the door behind him.

"You okay?" Dewees asked quietly.

"Sure."

"Because I know you don't see people much, but—"

"I'm fine."

Dewees knew Frank. It's why he let Frank sit on top of the toilet on the far side of the room, and he stayed leaning against the door. "You wanna talk?"

"No."

"You want me to kick them out?"

"No." Frank growled the word. He dropped his head in his hands. "How do you know those guys? They're not...are they?"

Dewees frowned a little. His face relaxed as he caught up. "I drop hints like anvils. They haven't said a word about wolves since I moved out here."

Which didn't mean shit. Frank scrubbed his palms over his face and sat up again.

"I'll go back out," he said. "Just give me a second."

Dewees studied Frank before nodding and leaving without another word. Well, to Frank. Frank could hear him saying something about making a puppet Aragorn to carry on his shoulder, which, yeah. Dewees.

Frank took a few deep breaths. Breathing was easier than before. Besides, Gerard wouldn't know Frank at all. What was the worst that could happen?

-

Dewees's friend was weird.

Not Dewees's kind of weird; Gerard was used to that. (He'd worn a bear suit for the guy before. He didn't do that for anyone.) Just. Frank was talking, and he wasn't staring at Gerard...but considering the way his eyes slid every time Gerard looked his way, he obviously wanted to.

Gerard moved from across the room to the space on the couch next to Frank when Dewees switched discs after the Council of Elrond. Frank got very, very still.

"Have I met you?" Gerard asked.

Frank made a quiet noise in his throat. Whatever that meant.

"Or maybe my brother? He did promotion for Eyeball back in the day."

Frank smiled hesitantly. "I look like I'm in the music scene?"

"Dudes who work desk jobs don't usually have those." Gerard nodded at the tattoos on Frank's neck. "And you recognized Eyeball."

"I had bands. A band. But not for a while."

Gerard nodded slowly. Frank's hands were balling up, showing his knuckle tattoos, and he was scowling, but it didn't seem like it was at Gerard. Or if it was, Gerard didn't really care.

"Yeah," he said quietly. "My band fell apart, too."

Frank's eyes flickered back toward him. They were a really nice hazel; Gerard liked the shade a lot, actually. Too pretty to be the color of zombie flesh, but he could probably use it in some kind of drawing.

The movie started again, and Gerard settled back against the couch cushions as much as he dared with his hair. Not even Frank's never-ending stare could keep him from chilling out.

-

November

Gerard wore headphones most of the time he worked, and he usually played music in them. They weren't shitty earbuds, either; they covered his ears entirely and did a pretty good job blocking out the hip hop thudding from the other apartments. They also kept Gerard's noise away from Ray if the dude was trying to sleep while Gerard pulled fourteen-hour days. (Not that Ray always noticed, since he liked to use metal playlists as his own kind of white noise.) But at this time of day, when Ray was at work and most people hadn't really geared up their rap video fantasies, Gerard used the headphones and music to focus.

If it wasn't for periodic headbanging breaks (he used to have full-body routines to go with his favorite songs until he'd knocked coffee onto his Macbook and ruined the damn thing), he never would have noticed his phone buzzing on the table. He pushed his headphones off his head and picked up.

"Hello?" he asked.

Silence.

Gerard paused iTunes just in case the person was being really quiet or something, but no. There wasn't even breathing. He sighed and moved his thumb to hang up. Maybe if he actually read his caller ID before he answered...

A voice he didn't recognize said, "Gerard?"

"Um." Gerard put the phone back to his ear. "Yeah?"

"This is Frank. Iero. We met at Dewees's a couple weeks ago?"

Gerard sat up. "Hey, wow. I totally forgot I gave you my number."

"Why did you?"

"Why did I what?"

"Give me your fucking number, jackass."

Gerard barely held back a wistful sigh. God, Frank's voice sounded like Jersey. "I thought we could hang out."

"So it was a pity thing." Frank exhaled loudly.

"Dude, our roommates work together." Gerard flicked at a sticky note on his monitor. It had been left on Gerard's coffee mug a couple weeks ago and read GO OUTSIDE :D in Ray's handwriting. Gerard couldn't bring himself to crumple it indignantly; the smiley face was really cute. He had left a I WENT OUTSIDE note on the outside of the front door for Ray to find when he had gotten home, though. "I can't be the only one getting pitying stares."

"About what?"

"Please, I saw how pasty you looked. With a last name like Iero, that can't be a natural state."

Frank exhaled again, and it was only when Gerard did sigh wistfully that it clicked: Frank was smoking. His breaths didn't mean anything in the greater scheme of the conversation. Probably.

"I'm not into talking about Jersey." Frank sniffled quietly. "We can hang out, fine, but fuck nostalgia, you know what I'm saying?"

Cool. That didn't limit his options at all. Gerard rubbed his free hand over his eyes. "You like coffee?"

"'Like' is too soft a word."

"There's a Starbucks not too far from here." Gerard winced. It wasn't like Starbucks was everywhere or anything. "You want directions?"

Something scraped in the background. Maybe Frank was crushing his cigarette under his foot. "Dunkin' Donuts is too much to ask for, isn't it?"

"Oh, god. I can't remember the last time I had that."

"Fucking West Coast and their bullshit Seattle sugar water." It was Frank's turn to sigh. "I haven't tried this city's shitty excuse for public transit yet, either. How pissed off is this going to make me?"

"Dunno, but I can pick you up. It's not like you're far."

Frank was quiet for a minute. Had Gerard crossed some kind of line? He bit the inside of his lip.

But Frank said, "I'll be ready in thirty", and he hung up.

-

The nice thing about not taking the bus was that Frank could sit in the foyer of Dewees's house and wait for Gerard to pull up. Frank was wearing two pairs of jeans and...well, a lot on top, most of which he'd salvaged from Dewees's garage when he'd first shown up. Frank hadn't had anything else to do while he'd waited to see if his car would be resurrected, so Dewees had a tidy garage and very clean clothes. The old clothes didn't smell the least bit musty, either, even if Frank looked like a round boyband kid from the late '90s.

A tinny horn honked, and Frank parted the curtain. The blue sedan out front looked like it was a couple years old, and it was kind of boring, but it was light years ahead of Frank's deceased clunker. If only because it was still running.

Frank sighed and bolted out the door, barely checking to make sure it was locked behind him. Gerard opened the passenger-side door as Frank ran up with arms tucked under his pits.

The inside of the car was warm like Gerard had the heater running. It was probably just the black interior, but forget shivering: Frank broke out into a sweat the second he closed the door. It didn't stop him from tucking his hands up into his sleeves, though.

He peeked up at Gerard to see if he was getting any weird looks, but Gerard was too busy tapping his hands on the steering wheel and mouthing along with the lyrics of what sounded like '90s rock to even open his eyes, much less gape at Frank.

"Your hair," Frank said, almost before he thought it. It was mostly golden yellow with brown at the roots.

Gerard touched it with a hand. "Yeah?"

"It wasn't that color."

"Yeah, it washed out. Did you like the red?"

Frank shrugged and buckled in.

Gerard took the quiet for what it was and drove from Dewees's relatively empty street to a busier road. Right away, Frank felt like his skin was coming off. Everything in California looked wrong: the light in the sky, the palm trees randomly popping up in otherwise normal lawns, the shitty clothes people wore. Different wouldn't be as bad in Mexico. At least it wasn't the same country Frank was born in.

He reached out a hand to touch the window. The glass was cool against his bare finger, probably the coldest he could touch without shivering.

"I don't know what I think about the new Evil Dead that's coming out."

Frank jerked his finger away from the window like his mom yelled at him. He blinked in Gerard's direction. "Huh?"

Gerard smiled apologetically. "It's coming out around my birthday, but no Bruce Campbell? I don't know."

He peeked at Frank a couple times between watching the road, and just like that, Frank got it. This was Gerard's way of talking without bringing up Jersey.

"It could be rad," Frank said eventually. "The gore factor will be pretty high. Nothing like projectile vomiting in public on your birthday, right?"

Gerard grinned.

-

The Starbucks Gerard parked behind shared a building with a pizza place and a sandwich place - he had a hard time remembering if it was a Pizza Hut and Subway or something else - so the outside smelled like the weirdest mix of coffee and cheese and meat. Today's mixture seemed to be mocha, sausage, and parmesan. It could have been worse.

Frank cringed as he got out of the car. "Fuck, this place stinks."

"It won't be as bad once we get inside," Gerard said, nodding toward the door. "Unless you want to sit out front."

Frank scowled at the cars passing by. Or he could have been scowling at the pastel colors striping the crosswalks; the Starbucks was in kind of an artsy area. Either way, Frank stuffed his hands in his pockets and let Gerard take the lead for the front door.

The inside was relatively full. All the outlets and tables were claimed by people with tiny computers...except Gerard wasn't there to write like he usually was. He also wasn't there alone; even with Frank just out of his line of vision, Gerard could feel him like he was in the back of his head.

He nodded toward a couple chairs in the corner. "I'll order?"

Frank slumped away without acknowledging he'd heard Gerard. The way he hunched wasn't the way Gerard hunched, like he wanted to disappear into an invisible shell. No, Frank was crouched, but the way his arms were out made him look a hell of a lot bigger. Someone bumped into him, and even though the dude looked twice Frank's height, Frank didn't even get to scowl before the guy rushed away. Sure, it wasn't like Starbucks the kind of place where Gerard saw someone in hipster frames get into the face of someone who had visible tattoos, but still...

"You in line?"

Gerard shook himself and smiled at the woman who asked as he stepped forward. "Yeah, sorry."

It was only when Gerard got to the counter that he detected the flaw in the plan: he had no idea what Frank wanted. The line snaked around too much for Gerard to even see him, much less talk, so he asked for both a chai latte and an iced caramel macchiato. It was his usual I-don't-know-what-I'm-in-the-mood-for order.

When Gerard finally finished waiting for the drinks, Frank was slumped in one of the big chairs. He didn't have a phone or anything to read like everyone else, and he was staring in the direction of the window with his upper lip curled and his arms crossed. His gray hoodie was oversized and floppy, which was kind of adorable, but he turned his eyes on Gerard, and...

Jesus. No wonder Hipster Frames had run for it.

But Frank's face relaxed, and he looked almost friendly as Gerard sat across from him.

"I didn't know what you wanted." Gerard put the drinks on the table between them. "Hot chai or cold caramel?"

"If I'd wanted something, I would have fucking bought it myself."

Gerard smiled wider. It wasn't friendly. "If you don't take one, I'll drink them both. You really don't want that."

Frank raised an eyebrow, but he grabbed the chai. For a tough guy, his eyes sure fluttered shut fast when he wrapped his hands around it. It couldn't be because Frank was cold; when Gerard took a long pull from his straw, the chill felt nice going down.

"You going to get that?" Frank asked.

"Get what?"

Gerard's leg buzzed, and he yelped in surprise. "Fuck, I didn't even notice."

He pulled out the phone. He almost picked up...but no, he should check who was calling for a change. So he looked.

And he stared.

It would have been best (or easiest) to hit ignore, to tuck the phone away and tell Frank it was probably a spammer and he could check his messages later. But Gerard stared at the letters spelling out Mikey's name, and he couldn't do it. He couldn't answer, either, but acknowledging...that felt like something.

When it stopped ringing, Frank asked, "Who was it?"

Gerard finally managed to slip his phone back in his pocket. He swallowed a couple mouthfuls of his drink, and then he asked, "So you like gore?"

Frank stared at Gerard like he was trying to figure out how that fit into who called.

"My birthday's on Halloween," he said finally, scratching at the stubble on his chin. "I'd be fucked if I didn't."

"Shit. Was I supposed to know it was your birthday at the party?"

"No."

Gerard slumped in his chair. "Thank fucking god. I haven't talked to Dewees since, and that's an ass kicking I don't need."

Frank tilted his head. He still looked a little confused. But then he grinned. "No way would he hurt a hair on your head. Ray wouldn't let him."

Gerard nodded solemnly. That was a good point. There were perks to having an awesome best friend.

But Frank grinned wider. "You know. With the buttfucking and all."

"What?"

Frank laughed. Or giggled would be more accurate, probably. It was the kind of sound that had probably earned Frank pummelings back in the day, if only because it was the kind of noise that came out when someone was being an asshole for the fun of it. He didn't giggle for very long, but the shit-eating smirk stayed on his face. "You're too easy, dude."

Gerard took a sip of his coffee. He sniffed and threw his head like he had longer hair, patting his hair. "Not that easy."

Frank's eyes flashed. His face went back to slightly pissed off after that, but again, not at Gerard. It seemed like that was just Frank's default mode.

Gerard could work with that.

-

Ask him. Ask him ask him ASK HIM.

Frank tapped his fingers on the arm of the chair while Gerard talked animatedly about writing the latest installment of his comic. It was getting dark outside, and Frank should have gone home hours ago, but there was no good way to bring up the subject. "Are you a werewolf? Why not?" Ha. Fuck that.

"What do your tattoos say?"

"Huh?"

Gerard nodded at Frank's still-tapping hand.

"Oh. Yeah." Frank did the obligatory palms-down hands spread to show off the fingers that spelled out Halloween. And then he did the fingers-laced version to show off the bookworm tattoo.

"Holy shit." Gerard was leaning forward avidly, but he also looked a little green. "Didn't that hurt?"

"Not any worse than the rest of them." He'd found out, after he got his first post-wolfy ink, that the needles weren't nearly as bad as the healing. It was nice to not have scabs or puffiness after the first day, but a slower metabolism spread out the pain a little. "Your skin's pretty empty."

Gerard leaned back and shuddered. "And it'll stay that way."

A lull, and there. That was Frank's moment. He took a shuddering breath, opened his mouth...

...but Gerard was already fiddling with his pockets and grabbing his empty cup. He didn't look at Frank before he said, "You want to get dinner or something? I could probably destroy a pizza right now."

Frank glanced out the window. The people walking by had sweaters on, and the wind was ruffling through their hair. He shivered and pulled his own layers closer.

"I should get home," he said tightly.

"Oh." Gerard's shoulders drooped. They perked up a little when Gerard glanced at Frank, though. "Sorry, are you cold? Here."

Gerard stood and took off his hoodie. For a guy that sat a desk most of the day, he was hardly round, and his jeans were way tighter than they probably had to be. Frank could almost tell if Gerard was circumcised or not...which was how Gerard slung the sweater around Frank's shoulders before Frank could even think to tell him off.

"What?" Gerard brushed at his jeans. "Fuck, did I spill again? Ray always tells me—"

Great. Way to be caught looking. "No! Just...aren't you cold?"

Gerard frowned. "I'm good. Are you? I can go get the heat started."

Frank shook his head, flipped the sweater around so the zipper was facing the back, and balled his hands up under the sleeves. He was definitely warmer.

But even with everything, he couldn't stop the chill than ran down his spine when he stepped out into the street and saw Gerard's barely-covered arms swinging in front of him.

-

"Do you see Frank much?"

Ray was running scales on his old guitar. It wasn't plugged into an amp, so it was really quiet, but it was definitely fast and accurate. Gerard sighed. Fucking skill.

"Do you count twice a lot?" Ray asked.

"Twice total, or twice since the party?"

Ray laughed. He stopped to stretch his hands, rubbing the muscles carefully. "Dude, why don't you just call him?"

Gerard was playing with a hole in the knee of his jeans. "I don't have his number."

"I saw him once since the party. Twice total." Ray rolled his head on his shoulders. "Remember last week when I went to Dewees's to swap out the speakers in his keyboard?"

Gerard had been doing script revisions and phone interviews last week. Publicity blew. "No?"

"He was watching a movie in a sleeping bag. On the couch."

"So? He gets cold."

Ray shrugged and started playing again. "Dewees does, too. Before I met Frank, he was the only guy I ever saw wearing jackets around here during the day."

That probably meant Ray wasn't looking. Maybe it was because Gerard half-lived in coffee shops, but the more money a person had, the more layers they wore that didn't match the weather.

"So how did Frank seem?" Gerard asked, bouncing his hands on his knees.

Ray stopped playing abruptly and put the guitar down. He grabbed Gerard's phone where it was sitting on the coffee table, scrolled with his thumb, and held it out for Gerard to take.

"There," he said. "Dewees's house number. It was in your contacts the whole time."

Gerard took the phone. That had been the number Frank had called from initially, come to think of it. "You're really fucking smart, you know that?"

Ray beamed. "That's what they say."

Gerard went into his bedroom-slash-office. Well, if a futon made it into a bedroom. When he'd been going to school at SVA, he'd seen more than one studio space with an obviously-used futon that wasn't supposed to be a full-time living space. Gerard's shelves of comics and Magic cards and action figures didn't really distinguish the room one way or the other.

He plopped down on the futon, which was currently in its couch form, and dialed Dewees's number.

No one picked up, which was fine. Answering machines were okay. After five rings, the phone clicked over, and a robot informed Gerard that Dewees wasn't in the house. Gerard giggled through the beep.

"Hi, uh. Fuck, I haven't heard that message before." He cleared his throat. "But I'm calling for Frank. You there? I was hoping I could say hi. But you're not there right now, so—"

"Gerard." Frank sounded hoarse.

"Hey! I was hoping you were home."

"I'm not anywhere else these days."

Gerard laughed. "Yeah, me neither."

"So if you're calling about Thursday—"

"Thursday?"

Frank laughed. "Thanksgiving? You forgot?"

Thanksgiving. Of course. Mikey always called to ask Gerard to visit for the major holidays. Gerard would have known that if he'd hadn't wussed out of checking his fucking voice mail. Or if he'd checked any of the group emails from Dark Horse, probably. Or if he'd actually listened to Ray making his travel plans. At least the suitcases Ray had pulled out of the closet a couple days ago finally made sense.

Gerard ran a hand through his hair. "Maybe."

"So why were you calling?"

"Probably to make some half-assed excuse to get my sweater and marathon a show on Netflix or something. Does Dewees have Netflix?"

A pause, then, "I couldn't fucking tell you. And Dewees already left."

"Left?"

"He goes tropical on the holidays. Somewhere warm."

Warm. No wonder Frank sounded jealous. "Let's pretend I asked you if you wanted to poke around Dewees's house to see if he had Netflix on Thursday. What would you say?"

"You don't have plans?"

"Nope!" Gerard bounced his leg. "Ray's going home for the weekend."

"You knew that, but you didn't know it was Thanksgiving?"

"Fuck off."

Frank laughed. "Do you even know how to cook?"

"I microwave like a motherfucker."

"And I'm betting you've got a shithole kitchen."

"It's not that bad."

"I'll put you to work over here," Frank said. "Only bring vegan shit, okay?"

Gerard saluted, which Frank couldn't see, but it made the "Yes, sir" sound more military.

-

Frank managed to get Gerard to wash and mash potatoes before Gerard aired his opinions about Thanksgiving. But only just.

"It's supposed to be the spirit of cooperation," he was saying, squashing the masher into the bowl of potatoes hard. "But it ignores the entire history we have with Native Americans."

Frank bounced onto the counter. He'd done the rest of his cooking the night before; he'd just wanted to make sure Gerard wouldn't sit on his ass, and it was hard to screw up potatoes. "So you forgot about it in protest."

"Yes! Exactly." Gerard pushed at his nose with the back of his hand.

Frank snorted and trailed a finger on the counter's tiles. "You getting sick? Because I really don't want my potatoes contaminated."

"My complex fucking reeked today." Gerard scrunched up his face as he shook out the potato masher. "I must be allergic to cranberry sauce or something."

Frank paused, his finger hovering between two tiles between two tiles.

It didn't mean anything. Just because Frank had wanted to die from sinus overload whenever he left the house didn't mean Gerard had the same problem...or, obviously, the temperature problem. The kitchen was warm thanks to Gerard's specialty dish cooking on the stove - apparently, he could make vegetarian curry - but Frank was still bundled and wearing shoes. Gerard was barefoot and in a t-shirt.

Still. "You like wolves?"

"Wolves?" Gerard tilted his head as he went to the stove to check on the ingredients.

"Uh..." Way to use that opportunity, Iero. "I was thinking of getting a wolf on my leg. They're kind of badass, right?"

Gerard shrugged. He didn't look particularly bothered by the question. "I was always more into vampires."

"I said..." Frank's mouth went dry. "Wolf. The canines? Not like Kate Beckinsale."

"She was a vampire. Her boyfriend was the werewolf. Well, werewolf-vampire hybrid." Gerard blew bangs out of his face and dipped a spoon into his bowl. "I think we're good. What's in that bowl next to you?"

Well, at least Dewees was right about the anvil hints. Frank sighed and lifted the lid.

"Oh, fuck. Pesto?"

"My family's recipe. Or the best I could do without a decent market nearby. Fucking grocery stores."

Gerard reached out a finger to dip into the bowl, but Frank smacked it away. "Not until I warm the noodles."

"I'm not pulling out my laptop until I get the goods."

"Dewees left his laptop. I don't have to share at all."

Gerard sneered a little and grabbed a couple bowls. "Well, I don't mind sharing. So there."

Frank watched Gerard's nose flare as Gerard dished out the curry. And as Gerard's head turned toward the chocolate pudding Frank hadn't told him about yet, tucked away in a bowl with a lid.

Yeah. Total coincidence.

-

It was Gerard's opinion that the person who lived in the house should make the first Netflix choice. They were using Dewees's login and laptop; if shit happened (like the laptop randomly exploded or something - it could totally happen), Frank would take the fall. That meant Frank should get to pick.

When Frank looked up at Gerard from the floor where he was hovering by the laptop, he'd said innocently, "I'm going to pick a TV show. And I'm going to want to watch all of it. Fair warning."

"Works for me."

So Frank had picked the '60s Star Trek. Gerard was definitely more of a Star Wars guy (not that they were really comparable, just because they both had "Star" in the title didn't mean shit), but the rubber suits and bright colors were totally awesome. The world had cell phones and iPads because of Star Trek. Maybe the series didn't have Luke Skywalker, but who couldn't love that?

He didn't appreciate much of it, though. Gerard was full of warm food and sinking into the couch cushions, so they made it through only one episode before the long blinks started. By the time the second one finished, he couldn't keep his eyes open, but he didn't fall asleep; he could still hear the beeps from the bridge of the Enterprise, and Frank's occasional sniffle or cough.

One blink lasted longer than the others, and wolves ran in Gerard's head in time with the dramatic TV score. The wolves were outlines against the black, almost like his brain was animating a weird segment of Fantasia. No interior color, but there was texture that appeared from an unseen light source occasionally, like they all just had black fur.

They looked like the same wolf, too.

A blanket landed on Gerard's feet, and he jerked, rattling the spoon in the bowl that was tucked between his bent legs and his ass. He moved the bowl onto the coffee table and looked up at Frank, who had a blanket of his own in one of his gloved hands.

"Wha' time," Gerard muttered, stretching a little.

"Late," Frank said. "You should probably get going."

Gerard yawned large enough to hurt his jaw a little. "But you're alone."

"I don't need a babysitter, asshole."

"When's Dewees back?"

"Couple days."

Gerard snatched the blanket from Frank's hand, pulled up the one from his feet, and curled up into a smaller ball. "Night."

"Who said you could stay?"

Gerard pointedly shut his eyes and breathed loudly. It was mostly an act, but the last thing he knew was the sound of the chair next to the loveseat creaking as Frank settled into it. Well, and the smell of lingering food and the cigarette-musky scent that wasn't the couch. Gerard smelled things in his sleep sometimes. Pain in the ass sometimes.

This time, it was pretty nice.

-

Frank, of course, didn't make it all the way through original Trek in one night. He didn't try. He did make more of an effort than Gerard, who didn't even make it to the first episode with Mudd. He twitched and hummed even after Frank gave him a blanket, and maybe it was because Frank had seen every episode of Star Trek a million times, but around hour five or so, he stopped looking the laptop screen and watched Gerard instead.

He could have done it all night. But when he passed ten minutes or so, he closed the laptop with a huff, gave Gerard his blanket, and went to the guest bedroom. Staring was bad enough. But if he fell asleep, he'd still be smelling Gerard and listening to his heart thump. Frank needed some boundaries.

But he paused by the dresser where he kept the space heater.

Dewees didn't sleep with an extra heater, and even Frank didn't need it for the warmth; the thermometer in the guest room read 78, probably because Frank had left the door closed all day, and Dewees had given him most of the blankets in the house. But the heater made all kinds of fucking noise, and it kept Frank from hearing Dewees snore through the night. They shared a wall, though. No way Frank would need the coverage from the living room.

He stripped off a layer of sweaters and climbed under the blankets with a sigh. Perfect.

Or it would have been, if Frank's own heartbeat wasn't thrumming in his ears after he clicked the light off. It didn't feel like it was running as fast as it sounded. He even put his fingers to his wrist to check, and...

He wasn't just hearing his heart. Even with a fucking door in the way.

It should have pissed him off. It had, years ago, when he'd been adopted by a shitty excuse for a pack, and all the wolves had slept in an abandoned house together. He'd learned how to sleep even when it felt like his ears were buzzing with all the hearts and breathing and creaking noises. It had helped later on when he'd ditched those assholes and ended up sleeping in industrial areas, near airports...anywhere normal people wouldn't try to sleep, basically.

But it didn't piss him off.

"Huh," Frank muttered, and he dropped off.

-

Sunlight stabbed Gerard directly in the eyes.

He lifted a hand and let it drop over his face. Fuck. Why were his fucking curtains open? And he must have left the window open, since he could smell someone smoking right outside his room. It didn't smell as bad as it should have, though, and when he took a breath, he couldn't smell anything but smoke and musk, and...

"Why don't you buy me dinner first?"

Gerard's eyes flew open. He was staring directly at skin. Probably because his nose was up against Frank's throat.

"Fuck, dude," he groaned as Frank wriggled off of him and onto the arm of the loveseat Gerard wasn't propped against. Because they were in Dewees's living room. Right. "Can't I sleep without getting squished?"

Frank looked extremely pleased with himself. "House rules, dude. You invite yourself over, I get to use you as a pillow."

Gerard kicked a foot out of the blankets he was using and in Frank's direction. Frank leaned out of the way and raised an are-you-fucking-kidding eyebrow.

"Don't you have a bed?" Gerard asked.

"Sure. But some of us have been up for hours." Frank poked at Gerard's exposed foot with a gloved hand. "I saved you for a nap."

Gerard kicked near Frank again. Frank hopped off the arm.

"I was actually going to ask if you wanted leftovers," Frank said with a sigh. "But now I think I'll eat them all myself."

It was Gerard's turn to sniff dramatically. "I can get my own fucking food, thanks. And..."

When Gerard didn't follow it up immediately, Frank waved a hand. "And?"

And Gerard should probably go home. He had scripts due in the next couple weeks, the holidays meant no one would be working after December 15th, and Gerard needed time to trash and develop ideas. Or smoke a few cartons of cigarettes. Whichever. He didn't need to tell Frank the specific workings of his creative process.

"I should..." He started to gesture toward the door, and the weirdest thing happened: Frank's face closed up. Because he'd been grinning before. He hadn't grinned much since Gerard had started hanging out with him. Or at all.

"Make sure my car's locked up. But I'm picking what we watch today, so don't get in my way."

Frank's smile returned. He shook his head a couple times and started for the kitchen. "I get veto power."

"I didn't veto Star Trek."

"Yeah, because Star Trek fucking rocks."

Gerard grabbed his keys. He didn't really have to go out to the car, but he had more smokes out there, so he might as well.

-

The next round was DVDs from Frank's collection, and Frank sat on Gerard's legs the entire time they watched. It was mostly for practical reasons - Gerard was nice and warm, even if he did wriggle - but he got to tickle Gerard when he had wrong opinions about zombies and pat him on the head whenever he went off on the symbolism of the slow, inevitable approach of death. Well, it started out as head pats, at least. It kind of turned into head scratches.

"You don't have to" was all Gerard said, and he didn't look away from the TV as he spoke, so obviously he wasn't too offended. Frank started playing with the curly bits of Gerard's hair with a hum, and Gerard didn't try to stop him.

As the day progressed, and Gerard shifted to the pile of blankets on the floor, it changed more from pinning to cuddling. That was all Gerard: he'd wriggled free, dragged down Frank by the arm, and then tucked his arms around Frank's waist. And then he tucked his hands underneath Frank's top sweater, but not in a grabby kind of way. Just like he was keeping his hands warm. Frank had another two layers underneath, so he could barely feel the touch at all, much less if Gerard was actually chilly.

Of course, because Frank was Frank, he said, "You didn't even buy me dinner first."

Gerard had blushed adorably and started to draw his hands back, but Frank just smiled and said, "Don't you fucking dare", and that was that.

They had made it through their second watch of the classic Dawn of the Dead before Frank started to get stiff. As he stretched, he said, "You're not sleeping out here tonight."

Gerard blinked at him. "Right. I..."

"The guest bed's king sized. I take up, like, two percent of it."

"Oh."

"Let go so I can piss."

Gerard did. He stared at Frank all the way out of the room, which was nice, if only because Frank wasn't the one staring for a change.

Frank was still warm while he did his business even though the thermometer read 66. He still rushed into the guest bedroom, and Gerard was already waiting, flipping on his phone while propped against the pillows.

"You mind the space heater?" Frank asked, tapping it.

"As long as you don't mind me kicking in the middle of the night."

The smile Gerard flashed Frank was brief, but Frank's throat went tight for a second. He swallowed and smiled back to try to cover.

"So I'm heading out in, like, April." Frank clicked the heater on and went for the bed.

"Oh yeah?" Gerard sounded vaguely interested, but he didn't look up from his phone. He did move when Frank tugged pointedly at the covers where Gerard was lying. "Where to?"

"Mexico. Not Baja, but somewhere in the main part. I haven't decided where yet."

"You got a job or something? When are you coming back?"

That fucking lump in his throat. "Maybe in a few years."

Gerard hmmed. He tossed his phone on the side table and climbed in with Frank, turning off the lamp.

"Glad I got to meet you first," he said quietly. They were nowhere close to each other in the bed - Frank wasn't kidding about it being huge - but the words felt like they were right on his skin.

At least he didn't have to smile back in the darkness.

"You too, dude. Night."

He turned over, but he didn't miss Gerard's whispered "night" back.

-

Gerard was staring at Frank before he even realized he was awake.

Well, he could have been dreaming, but he didn't tend to dream details like dust motes in the air, or sunlight peeking through curtains. More importantly, he probably wouldn't give Frank dark circles under his eyes and too-pale skin in a dream.

Gerard scooted closer, tucked his hands against his chest to keep from bumping Frank. Frank moved his head a little and murmured, probably in response to the mattress moving, but he didn't wake up.

Time must have passed because, the next thing Gerard knew, Frank was closer. His eyes were still closed, but he was breathing deep through his nose, humming a little with each exhale.

Gerard smiled.

Frank didn't seem younger than Gerard awake. He had no idea how old Frank was, really, but the snarling and the sweaters reminded Gerard more of a crotchety grandpa than someone his age. Asleep, though? No question that he was younger than Gerard. Maybe younger than Mikey, too.

He tucked one of Frank's long pieces of hair out of his face carefully. Frank twisted away, face shoved into the pillow, and started breathing louder. One might even say he was snoring.

Gerard laughed under his breath and climbed out of bed.

The house was chillier than the bedroom, and bouncing into the kitchen didn't make Gerard any warmer, or happier; Frank's coffee supplies were nonexistent. (Judging by the dirty filters crowding the counter, he'd drunk it all even before Gerard had showed up.) Coffee run time. Gerard sighed, but it was probably for the best. If it wasn't for coffee, he'd never go outside.

But after Gerard got Starbucks, he just...didn't stop. He got a couple Batman DVDs at the store while he got Frank more coffee beans (it didn't look like Dewees had any of the Bale movies, which was really a fucking shame), and it seemed logical after that to go back to his place, pick up the food that he figured wouldn't get in Frank's way, and grab his Macbook and handwritten notes.

He lugged it all back to Dewees's. Not that it was lugging until the end, when he walked in the hushed house and tried not to let the bags rustle too much. He also did his best to leave the door closed so he wouldn't let too many drafts in.

By the time Frank responded to the siren song of coffee (siren smell? Were there any monsters who lured their victims by smell?), Gerard had Batman Begins going and was typing away on his laptop.

Which is why he nearly jumped out of his skin when Frank appeared right over his screen, hazel eyes wide and bugged out.

"Jesus!" Gerard jerked and dumped the pile of papers from his free knee to the floor. "Fuck. You couldn't make more noise?"

Frank was too busy laughing on the coffee table to help Gerard pick up the papers. Gerard shoved him a little, and Frank kicked back, one of his slippers coming off, baring his socked feet. They got into a little slap fight when Gerard patted Frank lightly with the abandoned slipper, but Frank couldn't hit for crap, not when every part of him was so cushioned.

"You don't get any of the coffee I made," Gerard said primly when he finally settled back down. "For the record."

"Uh, seriously?" Frank picked up the two empty Starbucks cups. Gerard flushed a little. He'd meant to share. But Frank had been asleep so long. "And it's not even your coffee maker, asshole."

"Is it yours?"

Frank snorted like it was a stupid question, and then he went for the kitchen, Starbucks cups in hand. Gerard smiled a little to himself when he heard the cups clatter into the kitchen trash.

"You fucking cleaned in here?" Frank called over the splash of what Gerard assumed was coffee.

"You just cleaned. How is it any different?"

"Because!" Frank reappeared, coffee mug in his half-gloved hands. He curled up in an armchair. "Oh, fuck yeah, I love the Tumbler."

Gerard beamed at him before turning back to his laptop.

-

They were stretched out on each other and watching the '60s Batman by the time night fell, but even though Gerard was looking between his Macbook and the screen in equal parts, Frank only stared at Gerard. Or, more accurately, Gerard's mouth and the Kit Kat that stuck out of it. Frank saw every moment: Gerard licking the chocolate off his lips, Gerard biting into the wafer and chewing, the sticks growing shorter and being replaced with regularity.

No wonder Gerard always smelled like smoke. Dude had a real motherfucking oral fixation.

"I always wanted to be Burt Ward."

It was only because Frank was watching Gerard that words registered at all. A reply was beyond him, and Gerard's eyes flickered Frank's way when he didn't get a response. Frank jerked his head to look toward the TV far too late. "Oh yeah?"

Gerard's head tilted a little, but after a beat, he waved his hands a little. "I always wanted to wear the costume when I was a kid. What do you think that says about me?"

"Uh." Frank played with his sleeve. "Does it have to mean anything? It's fucking colorful, more colorful than Batman. You were a rugrat. Not rocket surgery. Brain science. Whatever the fuck."

It was Gerard's turn not to answer, and when Frank mustered up the courage to look over in his direction again, he was getting a full dose of Gerard eyes. They were some powerful fucking eyes, too: wide, pretty, kind of awed. Frank couldn't look like that when he stared. He had this habit of looking pissed at the world, but Gerard kind of looked like the Doctor from Doctor Who. Amazed by things he saw every fucking day.

Frank turned toward him and bit his lip. It was on the tip of his tongue to ask Gerard was his fucking deal was. He wanted to ask about wolves, but he wanted to ask about everything else, too. Why Gerard was at Dewees's and not somewhere else. Why Gerard was doing comics and not music. Why Gerard got squirrelly when his phone rang. And yeah, why the fuck Frank had found him bleeding and had never seen him as a wolf even after weeks of stalking him afterward.

But Frank couldn't put it all into words. He made a couple of frustrated noises, and Gerard's eyes got wider. Maybe because Frank grabbed the front of Gerard's faded band t-shirt when he made the noises. Maybe because they were both leaning toward each other.

"Fuck it," Frank muttered, and he kissed Gerard.

Gerard kissed back. Frank shouldn't have been surprised - he'd done everything but pick Gerard up and throw him out the door, and the dude was still focused on cuddling - but he made a startled sound when Gerard wrapped his close hand around Frank's back, met Frank's strength with his own. He did pull back after a second, but only to put the Macbook on the coffee table, and Frank could only stare, dazed, as Gerard went back for more.

It shouldn't have been so...passionate? Sweaty? No, sweaty made sense, considering the layers and blankets and everything. But Frank snarled his fingers in Gerard's hair, and Gerard twisted his fingers in Frank's sweater, and it was too intense to last more than a couple seconds, longer than a hastily-grabbed breath.

They stared at each other for a second, panting. Gerard already looked wrecked: messy hair, flushed cheeks, swollen lips, pupils blown to hell. He took a few long breaths through his nose, and Frank did too, shivering when he got Gerard's full scent. It wasn't different, exactly. Just more.

And then Gerard giggled nervously, pushing a hand through his hair. "This wasn't how I expected my night to go."

Frank nodded slowly in agreement. He got up and went into the guest bedroom without another word, and he couldn't say why, initially. Maybe space. Maybe to get Gerard to follow. Maybe because he would explode if he couldn't jerk off. All of the above.

Gerard did follow. But he hovered by the door when Frank turned on the heater and stripped his sweater off. "I thought..."

He took a studdering breath when Frank stripped down to a t-shirt. Frank snuck a look at himself in the mirror in the corner. He was sweating, and the shirt was white and clinging, and Frank...well, he was a slob, but the werewolf metabolism didn't really let him keep cushioning. Maybe he would have been warmer if it did. He was already getting cold.

Before he could ask Gerard to move, Gerard was already walking in and shutting the door behind him. The edge of cold disappeared.

"I can go," Gerard said, but he wasn't looking at Frank's face. Which made Frank look at Gerard's jeans, and the way the crotch bulged.

Yeah, this was totally happening.

"Sit down, asshole," Frank said, patting the bed. "You're making me nervous."

Gerard laughed, quick and dorky, but he got on the bed and let Frank straddle him. Frank moaned when Gerard grabbed his hair roughly. Fuck, it had been a long time.

They made out a little longer the second time, but Frank pulled back long before he wanted to and stared at the carpet. Back when he did this more, it was like playing music. There was flow. Take off the clothes, touch the skin, tease, get off. He could force it here, but whether or not he should...

Gerard leaned his forehead against Frank's and spoke quietly. "We don't have to."

Frank shook his head, but he didn't move in, and Gerard didn't try to advance things.

"I'm leaving," Frank said quietly, which wasn't what he'd meant to say at all.

"Now?"

"No. I told you."

Gerard nodded slowly and licked his lips. "I only care about right now. You know?"

God, the way Gerard said it, like he really meant each word. He believed everything he ever said, sure, but when he said something like that...Frank squeezed his eyes shut.

He couldn't say he was going to stay. Because he couldn't. He couldn't even say he'd be around in the near future.

What he could say was "okay". It sounded good. And maybe, at that moment, it was even true.

He went in for another kiss. Gerard kissed him back.

-

The truth was, Gerard hadn't thought about sleeping with Frank at all. Gerard got intense about things sometimes, and he wasn't really casual about anything, friendships included. Just. Anything other than friends hadn't even entered his head, not until Frank had looked at Gerard like he'd wanted to eat him alive.

In the few seconds he got to think about it, in the space between making out on the couch and making out in bed, he expected Frank to be a wrestler, and that was fine; Gerard was his own level of rough. But after they got going again, even though Frank occasionally grabbed roughly at Gerard's shoulders, making out with him was almost...sweet. Too bad Frank would hate him if he said it out loud.

It was when Gerard nibbled at his neck that things started to get more intense. Frank would grab Gerard's head to hold him in place when he liked something, and teeth seemed to be a definite yes. He moved down Frank's pec and bit close to his nipples, and Frank shoved his hips against Gerard's. He was in boxers, and Gerard was in boxer briefs, so the line of Frank's dick made Gerard shiver.

Gerard only had the chance to bite one more time before Frank pushed Gerard's hand down into his boxers. Gerard had no problem wrapping his hand around his dick and spreading the moisture around. But.

"You sure this is all you want?" Gerard asked, making the universal blowjob gesture with his mouth and his free hand.

But Frank just shook his head, and the way he threw his arm over his face when Gerard started to stroke was pretty worth it. It was a lot easier to watch from up top, even if Gerard couldn't see Frank's cock; Frank pulled his boxers up when Gerard tried to push them down. It was oddly hot feeling his way around, getting the weight and sensation of his dick without the sight. Gerard's nerves sparked head-to-toe when Frank's cock twitched.

"Come on, Frankie," he muttered, nibbling on his ear. "Wanna see your face."

Frank's face was downright peaceful when he thrusted up into Gerard's hand and jerked a few times as he came. Gerard couldn't resist pulling him into a hug before the aftershocks were over, but Frank hugged him back, so apparently that was okay.

After a minute, Frank's hand snuck down between them to where Gerard was hard in his jeans. Gerard made a little choked noise and rolled his hips. It wasn't anything but basic pressure, but god. God.

"I'm going to blow you," Frank said matter-of-factly, and he tugged at Gerard's boxer briefs.

"But..." Frank traced his fingers over Gerard's erection, and Gerard lost his train of thought for a second. "But you wouldn't let me."

Frank laughed. "Nope."

"Why not?"

"I get cold." He pulled Gerard's cock out and pushed the underwear out of the way completely. "Nice. I had no idea you were hiding this."

Gerard ducked his head. "I wasn't hiding anything."

Frank leaned in and licked up Gerard's dick in one long stroke, and Gerard looked at him again, eyes brightened by his smirk. Fuck, Frank was into this. He was into this a lot.

And as Frank wrapped his warm, wet mouth around Gerard's dick, he had to admit, he was really into it, too.

It wasn't the way Frank's lips, pink and so wide around Gerard, were sliding, or Frank's quiet hum. It wasn't even the sheer talent behind the whole thing: Frank wasn't stroking with his hands because he was still wearing those fingerless gloves, so he worked himself until Gerard's dick was all the way in his mouth. No, it was the way Frank kept eye contact with Gerard through most of it, only breaking away if the slide wasn't right or he wanted to adjust a little. And he stared again the second he could.

That made Gerard feel like an even bigger asshole because he came without realizing it, so even though he was down Frank's throat, Frank had to just take it. Frank didn't seem to care, but shit. What a fucked-up thing to do to someone.

"Sorry, sorry," Gerard said the second he managed to unclench, and while Frank was popping off with a slick noise.

Frank waved it off. "Talking time later."

Gerard cleaned them up (it was the least he could do, really) and slipped back under the comforter as fast as he could. Unlike last night, Gerard pulled Frank close until they were entwined with each other. He wasn't tired, but Frank apparently was: Frank fell asleep in Gerard's arms in seconds.

"Must be nice," he said to himself, but he was smiling as he said it.

-

Frank woke up the next morning half lying on top of Gerard. He fit under Frank's arm and the leg he had slung over really well.

Gerard muttered when Frank tried to slip away and held him. Frank sighed.

"I need to get up," he whispered.

He wasn't expecting Gerard to be awake enough to understand, but Gerard let out a long "fine" that sounded more like a groan, and he let go. Frank slipped out, threw on some layers, and made for the bathroom.

The bite was in the air again. Frank felt it more in California than he'd ever felt it across the country, and it wasn't the temperature, really. The bathroom thermometer read 70. But Frank was still cold, and he felt like he'd never get warm.

He stared at the wall for a while and listened to Gerard's heart beat from the other room. Nothing gave him conclusions that he didn't already have, so he finished pissing and went to make coffee.

Fucked was fucked. Didn't change with the circumstances.

-

Sundays were meant to be lazy, even Sundays that were going to end with Dewees coming home and Gerard going back to his apartment. Frank apparently had a good enough time the night before that he'd waited to bring Gerard coffee in bed and to trade handjobs before mentioning that Dewees's flight got in around ten.

"So you don't need me to babysit anymore, huh?" Gerard said, snuggling Frank. They were both champion snugglers.

Frank snorted. "I'm watching the house. You're the guy I snuck over while the kids were asleep."

"Right." Gerard cleared his throat. "You know, if you need to get out, I work at home. You can always visit."

"Wow, I had no idea."

Gerard rolled his eyes. "I'm serious."

"Yeah." Frank shifted in Gerard's arms. "I appreciate it."

Which was an obvious no. Gerard had to be fair: Frank had never at any time said he'd wanted anything more. It didn't stop his stomach from sinking, though.

Gerard kissed the top of his head and tried to ignore it. "Just. Call me if you need anything, okay? I'm around."

Frank nodded, eyes closed, and pulled closer to Gerard. Gerard leaned toward him and tried not to sigh too loudly.

-

December

Frank did not mope. He wasn't a moper. He just didn't have anything to distract himself, and Gerard left the Batman DVDs at Dewees's house, so sitting in a ball while watching Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow was a completely legitimate life choice.

Well, okay. Gerard had called more than once. Frank could theoretically not delete the messages the first chance he got and call Gerard back. That would be something to do.

The first message had probably come the second Gerard made it through the door after he'd left Dewees's house. Dewees hadn't even landed yet; Frank was still cleaning up the place, taking occasional breaks to wipe his nose, when he heard the answering machine go off.

"Hey, I survived the post-holiday traffic. Which was like the pre-holiday traffic. And the everyday traffic. I guess I don't live far enough away for it make a difference. Anyway, while I was sitting in traffic, I realized I left my Tupperware at your place. My fucking head, right? You can either have Dewees do a secret spy handoff to Ray at work on Tuesday, or I can come. You know. Whenever." A nerdy laugh. "That isn't what I mean, but, um, not that you should feel like you have to. I'm up for anything you are, but...I'm shutting up now."

Frank had deleted that one because he wasn't sure he wanted to talk to Dewees about Gerard. Well, more than the post-Thanksgiving catchup, which turned out to be Frank mentioning he had dinner with Gerard and Dewees waxing poetic about the beach and the warm ocean and his sunburn and just how many little umbrellas he'd stacked in his room.

To be fair, the umbrellas were impressive. Dewees had showed him a picture. The display on his nightstand had looked like a pink Death Star.

The second call had come the Wednesday after Gerard left, which was more restrained than Frank had suspected him to be. Maybe because Frank had wanted to call Gerard every hour since he'd left. But Dewees had been around, and Frank had been busy tooling around in the music room and randomly messing things up and cleaning them up again. That took up a lot of time.

"Hi, Frank. Ray brought home your Tupperware and is now lording it over me because he said you didn't have anything to do with it getting back to me. He wrote my name on the stupid thing months ago and said I would never lose it that way, like I care about fucking Tupperware, and I guess Dewees saw it and figured I'd want it back. It's this thing...yes, yes, Ray, you're the king of returned property, I bow to you. So I was going to come over tomorrow and see if you were around to pick it up, but never mind. I have more movies? I could use a day off. Let me know what you think."

Frank didn't let Gerard know what he thought. He was too busy watching The Dark Knight and memorizing all of the Joker's lines. He even watched the whole thing in Spanish - that would probably do him more good in Mexico than saying "Why so serious?" in English because it seemed like a good enough idea at the time.

He was in the middle of this project and guzzling water to ease his scratchy throat when Gerard called a third time, a week after he'd gone home.

"This is for Frank. I don't even know if you're getting these. Maybe have Dewees text me even if you don't want to talk? I just want to know if he would hear if Ray needed to call in. Not that you would know if you're not getting these. Ray and I are going to see a movie tonight, not sure which one, but you and Dewees should totally come. I really like dumping M&Ms in popcorn, and that's worth it even if the movie sucks. We don't even have to sit together. No pressure."

Frank deleted that one with a wince because he knew he was going to hear about it from Dewees later. And sure enough, Dewees went straight into the kitchen the Monday night after work with vegan cookie supplies. He didn't bother talking to Frank about anything, just smiled at Frank when he sat at the kitchen table and presented the finished cookies with a flourish a couple hours later.

Maybe it was because Frank was used to this kind of interrogation, but he managed to hold out through two cookies before blurting out that he was kind of in love with Gerard.

Dewees sat down with a cookie while Frank gave him a slightly censored version of their weekend. Dewees nodded in the right parts and dusted the cookie crumbs off his stomach when Frank finally wound down with, "Is that what you heard from Ray?"

"All Ray asked was if the machine was working, and if I thought you were going to call Gerard back."

"Shit," Frank said.

Dewees nodded. "I guessed the rest."

Frank hit his head on the table a couple times. "Why couldn't he be just some other guy?"

"Because you wouldn't be into him?"

"No, I mean." Frank made a frustrated noise. "Remember that guy I told you about? The one who got bitten and disappeared?"

A beat, then, "No way."

"Yeah, he didn't disappear. He just moved out here."

"No fucking way."

Frank nodded miserably before dropping his head on his arms.

"But Gerard isn't a werewolf. Is he?"

"Far as I can tell, he doesn't know a goddamned thing." Frank didn't bother looking up before pointing at Dewees. "And you're not going to say anything."

"You don't think he deserves to know?"

"He got away." Frank looked up and winced. He could endure Dewees's sad face, but that didn't make it easy. "This is not his fucking problem, okay? I'm dealing with it."

"What if he isn't completely in the clear?"

Frank raised an eyebrow. "After ten years?"

Dewees leaned back in his chair to mull it over. He wasn't the super questioning type unless Frank was in that kind of mood. It was probably why they'd been friends for so long.

"Okay," Dewees said finally. "It's your call. But if he ever asks about me...hell, if Ray does? I'm not going to lie."

Frank nodded and took another cookie. It was really the best he could hope for.

-

"All he said was that no one really called the landline, but he thought it was working."

Gerard groaned into his pillow. Being facedown on his futon wasn't really the mature way to have a conversation, but it was a lot easier.

The futon creaked, and Gerard felt something pat his back. Probably Ray's hand. "Sorry, dude. It sucks."

Gerard groaned again.

"You could go over there and talk to him, you know."

"No." Gerard raised his face out of the stale air so Ray could hear him better. "I don't think he ever leaves. I don't want to trap him."

"Sure you do." Ray nudged Gerard so he would know that he was kidding. Gerard groaned yet again.

"You want my vast wisdom on the subject?"

Gerard nodded miserably. Even if things had been quiet over the last few months, Ray was definitely a long-term guy. He knew better than Dear Abby about love.

"From the little I know, it sounds like Frank has a lot of shit to work through." Ray smiled. "Let me invite Dewees to stuff. It'll be less clingy."

Gerard sighed and hugged Ray around the waist. Ray patted his head.

-

A couple weeks after Thanksgiving, Frank woke up in his bed alone. It wasn't any different than usual, sure, but it had its perks. He didn't have to worry about someone else pinning his arm down, he could turn the lights on and off whenever he wanted, and no one besides Dewees would hog the coffee.

It might have been a little nicer if Frank could be awake for more than a minute before running to the bathroom and puking his guts out. There was barely anything in his stomach. It didn't stop the nausea.

At least it was something to keep him amused.

After the adrenaline burned off and his fifth round of dry heaving eased, Frank was less distracted and more desperate to get to a phone. Unfortunately, lack of fuel meant he had to crawl into the hall to grab the handset and crawl back into the bathroom. Frank was so tired, he had to lean against the bathtub while he dialed Dewees. Of course, Dewees didn't pick up, but that was no shock; he never heard his phone at work.

That left only one option.

"Fuck." Frank bonked his head on the lip of the tub a couple times, but he didn't have enough energy to do it more. He could barely manage to dial.

Luckily, Gerard picked up on the second ring. Less luckily, Frank started puking again right after he said hello.

"...llo? Who is this?"

Frank swallowed a handful of water from the sink - fuck, the taste of vomit never got any better - so he could croak out, "Caller ID, motherfucker."

"Frank? Shit."

That was a pretty good summary of things. He heaved once more before getting out, "Sports drinks."

"On it," Gerard said immediately. "You won't die while I get them?"

"I'm alive." He shuddered as another wave of nausea went through him. "For now."

"Ten minutes."

The line went dead, and Frank laid down on the tile floor. It was the only way to cool down his burning cheeks that didn't involve moving.

-

It only occurred to Gerard on the car ride from the store to Dewees's house that this should feel weird. Or maybe he should feel reluctant? He didn't usually jump to help someone who blew him off this much. But then, people who blew off Gerard didn't call him to puke in his ear, either. (Anymore. When he wasn't sober, it happened a not-zero amount of times.)

The door was locked when he got there. He pressed the doorbell, but nothing. No shock, really.

Gerard put his shopping bags on the ground and called Ray. "Hey, I'm at Dewees's. I guess Frank's barfing his guts out, so he can't make it to the door. Is there some way..."

Ray was already yelling for Dewees, so there was no need to keep going. Gerard rang the doorbell again and tapped his foot a couple times while he heard Ray and Dewees talking. Maybe Frank would get to him first.

"Hey, Dewees says the back door opens if you turn it all the way to the left, all the way to the right, and let it go."

"Seriously?"

"I'm just relaying the news."

That seemed profoundly unsafe. But so was a secret key. "All right, hang on. I'm going to try it."

It was really easy to get into the backyard, too; even if the gate had been locked, which it wasn't, the picket fence between Dewees's house and his north neighbor's yard was really short. Gerard accidentally stepped over it once when avoiding a blown-over lawn umbrella. What the hell.

At least the door thing was a little trickier than Gerard had anticipated. The doorknob was round and very slippery, so he had to put his phone on his shoulder and use both hands to get it to work. It seemed like it would almost be easier to knock the glass out of the double doors' panels, but Gerard managed to pop the door before anything shattered, on purpose or otherwise. (His elbow slipped a couple times. He'd be bruised, but Dewees's door was intact.)

"Okay, I'm in," he told Ray, taking the phone back. "Thank Dewees for me, okay?"

"Sure."

Gerard raised his voice once his phone was tucked away. "Frank? You here?"

No one answered, and Gerard winced as he closed the doors behind him. The place definitely smelled like puke. Maybe Frank had yarked somewhere on the carpet.

"Dude, I don't want to bug you if you fell asleep, but..."

He rounded the corner. The bathroom door was open, and Frank was lying still in the middle of the floor.

"Frank?" Gerard said, his voice too-loud in his ears.

Frank didn't move. It didn't even look like he was breathing.

Things seemed too fast and too slow at the same time. Gerard was over at Frank's side in the blink of an eye, but he moved to his knees like he was pushing through water instead of air. He was saying Frank's name over and over like someone had pressed fast forward, but the shaking hand he extended to shake Frank was going at a snail's pace. His breath went too fast and then stopped completely as he jiggled Frank's shoulder.

Two heartbeats passed. And then Frank shook on his own, coughing seconds later. He winced. "Fucking loud."

"Jesus," Gerard muttered. He shifted his hand to Frank's cheek. His skin was just as hot as his flushed cheeks signaled.

"'S fine." Frank's eyelids fluttered open as he lifted a hand. "Get sick like this every year."

Jesus fuck. Gerard pulled out his phone again. "Okay, dude, just..."

Frank grabbed Gerard's wrist. Gerard jerked. It didn't seem like he could be that strong and that sick at the same time, but if Frank had squeezed at all, Gerard would be purple later.

"No," Frank said firmly. It was only when he coughed that the grip loosened. "Fucking...just get me to bed."

Gerard helped him up to sit on top of the toilet lid. "Let me get the Gatorade from the front. You won't fall?"

"I fell asleep on the floor, I'm not an invalid." Frank clung to the counter next to the toilet. "Water down the Gatorade, or I'll puke again."

Gerard nodded once and ran off.

Frank did look a little better when Gerard got back to the bathroom with a glass of watered-down Gatorade. A little less glassy-eyed, anyway. Frank eyed the orange liquid a little suspiciously, but he put the cup to his lips and chugged the whole thing down.

Gerard winced. "You should sip that."

"Don't need to." Frank poured more Gatorade in his glass, watered it down with water from the sink, and got that down, too. He did look a little less flushed when he was done. "Food would be too fucking much, but this is fine."

"You get this...bug a lot?"

Frank nodded. "Or something like it. Sometimes, the cold comes first."

"Huh?"

But Frank was walking back awkwardly out of the room already. He waved Gerard away when he tried to take some of Frank's weight, even though Frank was hugging the wall.

"Just need to sleep it off," Frank said, wiping his forehead with a bare hand. "And drink. And stock up on tissues."

Gerard could only follow and set the bottles of Gatorade on the nightstand. "I didn't even think about tissues, shit."

"It's fine. I'll get Dewees to get some on the way home." Frank smiled, and it was tired. "Thanks."

Gerard stared as Frank flopped back down and started snoring within minutes. No, seconds. It was nearly instantaneous. It was like babies on YouTube passing out in the middle of eating.

He stepped out in the hall and pulled out his cell phone again.

"Hello?" Ray asked.

"Pass me off to Dewees, will you?"

"Sure."

There was the rattle of machinery and Dewees excusing himself from a customer or something. Gerard rocked in place a little.

"Yo," Dewees finally said.

"Frank's okay. Or he said he is. He's asleep."

"Good to hear."

Dewees was obviously waiting for more, and it was on the tip of Gerard's tongue. What the fuck is wrong with Frank? Point blank. No waiting around, no wondering if Frank was running away from the mafia or dying of some kind of non-contagious superflu. Dewees had to know what Frank's deal was.

But that wasn't really fair, was it? Not when Frank was too ill to speak up for himself.

"He said he needs tissues," Gerard said finally. "Would it bother you if I got them?"

"Why would it bother me? Fucker needs someone to fetch and carry, and I've got my own shit to do." Dewees laughed. "No, don't worry about it. I was figuring I'd have to take a couple days off for Frank. It's about that time of year."

Gerard pushed his hair out of his face. That was a definite out. He could go home, leave Frank to get better, and let this wrenching feeling in his stomach disappear. It wasn't his problem.

He didn't have to worry about letting someone else down.

Which is why he didn't understand why he said, "I don't feel right about leaving. You can tell me to fuck off when you get here, but I thought he was dead."

A beat, then, "Really?"

"Yeah." Gerard glanced at the bathroom. There was a pile of vomit where Frank's mouth had been. He hadn't even noticed before. "He only woke up when I shook him. He didn't hear me at all."

"Shit." Dewees pulled away from the phone, and Gerard couldn't make out what he was saying. But when he got back, he said, "Stick around until I get there. We'll figure it out."

"I'll call you if he gets worse."

Dewees sighed. "If this is anything like normal, you probably won't have to."

He hung up.

-

Frank's fever didn't break for days. That was normal. Ever since he'd been bitten, the flu shit had appeared every winter he'd managed to stay human like clockwork, and every year, his temperature didn't dip below 100 until the last of it was out of his system. Since he was drinking fluids and getting up to piss and not vomiting everywhere, he could deal. Better to have a raw nose and piles of tissues than more puke.

He did a couple bathroom-drink-sleep-wake cycles on the first day and, somehow, he didn't notice Gerard sleeping in the armchair stolen from the living room until the third round. Frank stopped so hard he nearly fell backward.

What the fuck.

If Frank had been feeling any better, he would have grabbed Gerard by the shirt and thrown him out the door, and then he would have stuck his foot so far up Dewees's ass that it would have come out of his mouth. Luckily for everyone not Frank, he was weak enough that he could barely make it back in bed. He had to settle for glaring at the door or Gerard whenever he took a break to catch his breath.

Gerard didn't wake up when Frank made quiet grunting noises getting under the sheets, which, great job playing watchdog or whatever. But in the minute between lying down and falling asleep, Gerard was there, blanket pulled up to his chin, papers scattered around, laptop on the floor. Heart thrumming in time with Frank's.

Frank conked out before he could enjoy it more.

When he woke up, Gerard wasn't there. The pile of his crap was still scattered around, only partially invisible in the early morning light. Quiet hums were filtering in over the space heater, and it wasn't just Gerard's heart, so Frank blew his nose a few times and got up just as the bathroom door clicked closed. Good thing he didn't need the toilet.

Dewees was waiting with a plate of toast when Frank slouched out to the kitchen. He knew the timing of Frank's sicknesses just as well as Frank did.

"Ready for this?" he asked.

Frank didn't answer. He figured the way he grabbed the pieces of bread and shoved them in his mouth would tell Dewees everything he needed to know. Dewees, for his part, leaned against the counter and sipped at his coffee.

Dewees spoke again when Frank had half the plate's worth of toast in his stomach. "You think you'll be happy in Mexico?"

Frank snorted, and he coughed when he got crumbs up his nose. Fuck. Dewees clapped him on his back as Frank cleared everything out.

"God," Frank said hoarsely when his throat was empty again. "Couldn't you wait until I'm not on death's door?"

"How sick are you? Is there time for me to wait until you're feeling better?"

Dewees sounded way more serious than usual. It was weird on him. "I was kidding, dude. So it was a little worse this time. I lived, didn't I?"

"What happens when you leave and there's no one to take care of you?"

Frank swallowed another bite and glared up at Dewees, but Dewees had his arms crossed.

"Why didn't you make Gerard leave?" Frank said. "Huh?"

"Why did you call him in the first place?"

"Because you didn't pick up your fucking phone!"

Dewees finished the last of the coffee in his mug and sat across from Frank. He waited until Frank had finished another piece of toast before saying, "Gerard stayed when I ran out to the store. And then he stayed because I wasn't sure something wouldn't happen in your sleep."

"Something? You mean, like..." An image of blood flashed in Frank's mind. He shook his head like that would clear it. "And you let him stay?"

"Like you would stop breathing." Dewees shook his head and looked pointedly in the direction of the bathroom. Like Frank didn't feel like enough of a shit - Dewees remembered the whole secret thing better than Frank did. "I know I promised you I wouldn't take you to the hospital. But even when I got home, even knowing you'd already done the worst of it..."

Frank sighed. He got up - pretty easily, which was good - and slung his arms around Dewees's shoulders. Dewees hugged him back.

"You're still an jerk-off," he muttered into Dewees's shoulder.

"You too."

Frank pulled back and pat Dewees's shoulder. "I'm running out of time. I told you what that means."

Dewees stared off into the corner, and he nodded. Frank couldn't blame him for being freaked. Dewees had never been in a pack like Frank had, so this was his first exposure to an old-timer. If Dewees had changed a couple more winters - if he did change a couple more winters - he would be in Frank's shoes.

"Where the fuck is Gerard," Frank said, wiping his nose on his sleeve. "I should send that asshole home. He doesn't need to see the Great Snot Monster for the next couple days."

"He said he was going back to sleep."

"In that fucking chair?"

Dewees blinked. "He wouldn't take the couch."

Frank grabbed the plate and shuffled back into the bedroom. Sure enough, Gerard was curled into a ball on the chair, snoring.

"Fucker," Frank whispered. He pulled the parts of the blanket that had fallen onto the floor back up and tucked them around Gerard.

If his hand brushed away hair from Gerard's forehead, well. That was between Frank and Gerard's hair.

-

Gerard didn't expect to really spend much time with Frank while he was sick, and that was the way it played out: Frank was too busy dealing with a constantly running nose and streaming eyes to even watch movies, much less notice Gerard.

"You won't need my help, will you?" he'd asked Dewees after he'd packed his car up.

But Dewees had just shaken his head and said, "I'll have Frank call you when he's feeling better. It won't be long."

And then he'd given Gerard one of his great hugs, so really, the whole thing turned out well.

Of course, Dewees didn't actually keep his promise about Frank calling him back. That was because Ray came home from work within a week and said, "Dewees is doing a Christmas party at his place on Saturday. You in?"

Gerard nodded from his pile of printed script pages before pausing. "But I thought you were flying back east."

"Not 'til Monday." Gerard winced sympathetically (flying on Christmas Eve was going to suck), and Ray sighed. "It was the day Mom bought tickets for."

"Nice of Dewees to party when you can go," Gerard said.

Ray scoffed. "He's going to Cabo the day after."

"Fuck. Nice life if you can get it."

"Right?" But Ray smiled. "The store does all right. I'd probably go somewhere nice if I didn't see my family."

"I guess this means I should buy presents, huh?" Gerard already had Ray and Dewees covered, but it was too late to order Frank something online, and he hadn't wanted to get his hopes up, so...

"The malls," Ray said ruefully.

Gerard groaned. "Or any store."

Ray patted Gerard's arm. "Let's go now. Maybe it won't be as nightmarish if we get it over with."

Gerard doubted it, but he grabbed his coat. Ray's enthusiasm got him through a lot of awful shit. Hopefully, this wouldn't be different.

-

Dewees didn't exactly deck the halls - he hadn't even put up mistletoe, and Frank wasn't sure he was disappointed or not - but there were skeletons with elf hats, so Frank wore his fraying pair of skeleton gloves without fingers and slung fake holly around his neck. It worked.

Ray and Gerard showed up with their arms full of presents. Gerard froze just after Dewees closed the door behind him when he saw Frank glaring.

"What," Frank said, voice cool, "is all that?"

Gerard blushed and smiled sheepishly. "Fuck you, too."

They dumped the presents under Dewees's fake tree and took a Christmas pretzel from Dewees's tray.

Frank had already eaten three pretzels in preparation, so Dewees got them started on the rest right away: egg nog while watching the Star Wars Christmas special and the old animated Lord of the Rings. Frank hit the nog hard and fast. He couldn't tell if he was trying to keep up with Dewees and Ray - they got pink-cheeked and loud before Frank finished his third glass - or if he was trying to make sitting next to Gerard a little less awkward. Maybe both.

He was talking carefully by the time he noticed that Gerard's nog didn't have the boozy smell to it that Frank's did. Ray and Dewees had already fucked off to the music room and were playing what sounded like a metal version of Jingle Bells. Of course it sounded awesome.

"You...don't drink," Frank said slowly. He leaned to smell Gerard's drink more closely, but he couldn't make himself stop once he got to a good sniffing level. Luckily, Gerard grabbed him and propped him back on the couch with a laugh.

"Going home for Christmas, Frankie?" Gerard asked.

"Nope." Gerard didn't look surprised. "You?"

"Nope."

"Why not?" Frank's eyes narrowed. "You broke?"

"No."

"Got outstanding warrants?"

"Not unless I forgot something before I got sober." Gerard was smiling, but it had turned forced.

"It was that bad?"

Gerard studied Frank, and Frank let his eyes fall closed. Mostly so he would keep his hands to himself. He'd meant to actually talk to Gerard tonight, but...fuck, he looked really fucking good.

"I hallucinated a lot of shit," Gerard said finally. "I can't always tell if I'm remembering something, or if I was just really high at the time."

Frank opened his eyes. "Fuck. I shouldn't have...with the nog."

"Dude, Dewees knew to get me this." Gerard raised his red cup. "I don't mind people drinking. I just can't do it."

"But it has t'suck." Frank slid into Gerard's arm, eyes closing again. Maybe he wasn't entirely over being sick, if the...stuff was hitting him this hard. He usually had to drink a whole bottle of something to get hammered.

Gerard brushed hair out of Frank's face. Frank smiled in what was probably Gerard's direction, but he was too sleepy to open his eyes.

"Not as much as getting wasted did," Gerard said quietly. "There was this one time, I was so out of my head, I thought wolves followed me home. In fucking Jersey."

"Mmm?"

"Yeah. But there was no sign of them the next day. And I was fine."

"Mmm."

Gerard kept talking. Frank stopped focusing on the words and just laid against him, feeling good. And warm. Very warm.

The next thing Frank knew, he was in bed, and light was peeking in through cracks in the curtains. He didn't feel hungover, but fuck. So much for Dewees's Christmas party.

He padded out of the room to make his way to the bathroom, and he wasn't too surprised to find the house empty. A small mountain of presents sat on the coffee table, and it had a note on top that read, "Driving Dewees to the airport! Talk to you @ New Year's?"

He opened the presents. They'd bought him something like seven Christmas sweaters in varying, garish colors, and a couple pairs of nice leather gloves, probably as an apology for the sweaters.

Frank snorted, but he slid on a pair of the gloves right away.

-

Ray usually stayed across the country through the new year - Dewees was apparently in Mexico until about that long anyway - but he appeared on December 30th looking tired and dirty and wildly happy. Gerard figured it had to do with his supposedly-secret girlfriend. (Gerard had seen the love lyrics scrawled around the apartment. Ray wasn't a subtle guy.) But Gerard had been popping over to Dewees's every couple days to drop off random food for Frank, so he wasn't lonely. They ate, and Gerard left, and it was nice.

Gerard figured Ray's disappearance early on the thirty-first had to do, again, with the girlfriend that Gerard hadn't met. Gerard had barely looked up from his drawing desk that day; thinking of how warm the Santa Anas got had given him the image of deserts and cars in his head, and he'd been drawing laser guns all day. But when he was experimenting with light detail on a red barrel around eight that night, he'd heard Ray's voice mixing with another in the living room, and...

Fuck. He knew that voice.

Sure enough, when Gerard went into the living room, a shivering Frank stood next to a huge pile of cold-weather gear and Ray as he fiddled with the thermostat. Frank apparently liked what he saw on Gerard's face because he grinned at him, eyes closed and mouth wide.

"Oh! Surprise!" Ray stepped away from the heater as it started making noise and gestured toward Frank. "I've got a party to go to, and I thought you might want company."

"Or I did." Frank scowled at Ray.

Ray laughed. "Okay, yeah, Frank was the one who brought it up."

"You guys have been talking?" Gerard said, head tilted. "Since when?"

Frank moved over specifically to poke Gerard in the side. "You're not the only one I talk to, fucknuts."

Gerard swatted Frank away, but he didn't miss the flush to Ray's cheeks.

"I'm not so shitty at relationships that I can't give you advice about your girlfriend," Gerard said sweetly. Ray just about turned purple.

Frank glanced over at Ray, and apparently, he was feeling generous. He turned back to Gerard and asked, "Where can a dude empty his bladder around here?"

"Yeah, give him the tour," Ray said. His voice only squeaked a little. "I should. You know."

There wasn't really much of a tour to give in an apartment like theirs: the bathroom was between the two bedrooms, and the living room was pretty much the same room as the kitchen and the dining room. Frank even ducked in the bathroom without prompting while Ray slipped out the door. Gerard raked his hands through his hair...and fuck, they were covered in marker smears. Of course.

Which is why he was washing his hands when other hands slipped around his waist and started giving his crotch a careful inspection.

"I hope you didn't have plans tonight." Frank's voice was throaty, practically a growl.

Gerard really, really didn't.

Frank in a good mood was a fucking force to be reckoned with. He stayed fully dressed, of course, even though he stripped Gerard down to his underwear before they'd so much as left the kitchen, and pinned Gerard to the couch as they made out. The underwear got lost...somewhere. And Gerard was naked and exposed while Frank was fully covered. Frank moaned as Gerard slipped his hands under Frank's sweaters, and Gerard turned a surprised sound into a hum when Frank took a glove off and wrapped a hand around Gerard. His skin was so cold.

And somehow, that was the reason that Gerard managed to pull back and gasp, "Fuck me."

Frank's eyes darkened. "Yeah?"

"Not here." Gerard waved toward his room, even though it wasn't a room meant for fucking. Or any kind of non-PG behavior. But it was shitty to hook up on a shared couch, and Ray had gone out of his way to make sure Gerard was getting laid. Least he could do, really.

He ended up ass up on his futon (folded out so there'd be enough room) with Frank behind him, fully clothed, sticking lubed fingers inside of him. God, those fingers. Frank was definitely a guitarist. He was certainly playing Gerard like an instrument; he couldn't remember being so hard and wanting in his entire fucking life.

Gerard was beyond words by the time Frank put on a condom and slid inside him, which was probably a good thing, because jesus, everything was too much. The slight scrape of Frank's sweater on Gerard's bare back. The stretch and drag of Frank's cock inside Gerard. The way Frank's fingers dug into Gerard's hips. Gerard's own fingers grabbing the edge of the futon for dear life. All of it.

Frank came first, holding Gerard open, slipping his fingers around Gerard's hole until Gerard was almost crying. If Gerard hadn't been so overloaded, he might have come the second Frank slid out and wrapped a hand around Gerard's dick, but he got a few minutes with Frank working him off, changing speeds whenever Gerard got too close, playing with the head of Gerard's cock. It was all slippery and messy and too much, and Gerard nearly shook Frank off of him when he finally came.

They clung to each other for a while after that, Frank's head on Gerard's shoulder, Gerard listening to their breathing. He might have dozed off if his phone hadn't buzzed violently on the desk.

Frank was closer. He grabbed it and frowned at the screen. "Who's Mikey?"

Gerard took the phone. It was New Year's Eve, and he hadn't talked to Mikey on Thanksgiving or Christmas this year. He usually managed one of the three. But his throat closed up, and the phone stopped buzzing before he could make it loosen again.

A couple seconds later, it buzzed again. Voice mail.

Frank was watching Gerard, face as blank as Gerard had ever seen it. Frank wasn't a guy who felt things quietly. Neither was Gerard, really, but he didn't know what he was feeling.

"Who's Mikey?" Frank asked again, quiet.

Gerard breathed once, twice. He dropped the phone next to him and finally managed, "My brother."

Frank nodded slowly a couple times.

"I...I don't visit him. Haven't visited him. Not since I left." Gerard turned away from Frank and stared at the white wall. It was easier.

"Why not?"

Because I failed him.

"He's better off," Gerard whispered. Maybe too quiet for Frank to hear. He spoke louder when he said, "I usually talk to him once a year."

"Usually?"

Gerard forced himself to laugh and roll back toward Frank. "We were kind of busy."

Frank didn't laugh. He also didn't look pissed, or wary, or even pitying. (Not that Gerard really knew what the last emotion would look like on Frank.) He just looked...knowing. His eyes were kind, if that was possible, and watchful. Gerard couldn't help but watch back.

They might have stared at each other all night if the phone hadn't buzzed again.

"You think I should pick up?" Gerard said quietly.

"I think..." Frank frowned, but his eyes were distant, like he was thinking. The phone finished buzzing again before Frank spoke again. "Text him, at least."

"What would I even say?"

Frank smiled and picked up the phone. He moved his fingers slowly, poking at the letters carefully, before handing the phone back to Gerard.

The screen read, Happy New Year. Miss you.

Gerard exhaled. He made himself press send before he could think about it.

-

They went another couple times before midnight, at which point Gerard sat Frank in one of the chairs in front of the window and pulled up the blinds. He couldn't see anything but trees and the blue apartment building across. The thumping from the other apartments, which had probably been happening since long before Frank had arrived, did get a little louder; there was a party in the lower apartment directly facing Gerard's.

"It's not like we'll see fireworks here," Frank said, tucking his hands under his arms.

But Gerard's eyes were bright. "Wait for it."

Gerard's phone flipped to midnight on the windowsill in front of them, and people ran out from the apartment having the party and started yelling along with their music. Frank winced; he liked noise like any guy who had been in the hardcore scene, but it had been a while, and the bass from their hip-hop was rattling his ribs in his chest. The people in the apartment above ran out and screamed various fucked-up things about their moms, and cars from the street started honking.

Frank laughed. "Romantic fucker."

"There were fistfights last year," Gerard said happily. "I was up until four talking to the cops."

They cuddled and drank coffee until, sure enough, the police showed up outside and the room flashed red and blue. Even with the palm trees over the buildings swaying in the half-light, it felt kind of like home.

Chapter Text

January

The house phone rang early, but Frank was already awake. Dewees tended not to need much sleep - he liked to nap between jobs at work, which left his evenings more open for his next music project - so the only way to use his laptop was when he wasn't around. He'd been going in early the last few days, and it was easy for Frank to wake up when he heard Dewees get up.

Not that he'd heard Dewees today; he stayed late at the office sometimes. That's what body clocks were for, probably.

Frank should have been checking Craigslist for cars. That had been the whole computer-borrowing rationale. But he'd stumbled into apartment hunting somehow, and...fuck, if Dewees could make a life out here, right? Frank had left the house on New Year's Eve and survived. It wasn't like that one fall he'd gotten stuck in a wreck of a house in upstate New York when they had an early snowstorm in fucking September, and that had been it for the year. Was it 2007? Had that been five years ago?

He'd dodged more winter changes than he'd probably deserved. Maybe he could pass the whole thing altogether.

But the phone rang. It never rang at eight in the morning. It only rang later, when Gerard was up.

"Jesus," a voice breathed when Frank put the handset to his ear. "Frank, tell me that's you."

"Ray?" Frank frowned. "You okay?"

"I'm bleeding, but that doesn't matter." Ray's laugh was high-pitched and a little desperate. "Can you call Animal Control? I can't find the number. My phone doesn't have a data plan, and the computer's in the office with the wolf."

Frank nearly dropped the phone. He could hear a loud whining on the other end before he got it in place on his ear again.

It wasn't coming from Ray.

Fuck.

"Where's Dewees?"

"You know, I have no idea?" Ray laughed again. "He asked me to come in early so we could finish up a custom job, and..."

Ray didn't finish, but he didn't need to. Frank's hand was shaking. He couldn't make it stop.

"I...I'm calling Gerard," he said, "and he's going to take you to the ER. Okay?"

"What? What about the wolf?"

Yeah, okay. That wouldn't work. Even if Ray didn't figure it about Dewees, the bite...

"Frank? Hello?"

"Don't go near the wolf again. I'm coming over." Frank paused. "Bundle up."

He pressed the button to hang up.

The thermometer outside read...41, fuck. It was nearly 80 in Frank's room thanks to the heater. A bad whiff of the cold, and...

The laptop was still open on the bed next to Frank. He'd been looking at places in Anaheim even though there was no fucking way he could afford it and it was practically a world away from North Hollywood. And tourists fucking sucked. Whatever, he liked Disneyland. He liked the thought of hopping over when he got bored.

Frank took a couple breaths, and he closed the laptop lid.

The faster he got a ride, the faster he could layer up.

-

Two horns signaled Gerard's presence, and Frank ran out and across the lawn as best he could. He was carrying blankets instead of wearing them, but he had a ski mask on, and with the two layers of gloves and multiple layers of jeans and sweaters and coats, he probably looked twice as puffy as usual. He definitely felt twice as puffy. But he didn't feel the chill anywhere except the small exposed parts of his face, and that's what counted.

Still, he didn't relax until he was in the passenger's seat of the car and beads of sweat broke out on his forehead. Gerard had turned up the heat, and judging by the gloves on his own hands, it wasn't just because of Frank.

"You wanted to use this?" Gerard held out his phone.

Frank took it and nodded. Right, Gerard had an iPhone. Without real buttons. Frank groaned a little, but he peeled off his gloves with his teeth as Gerard pulled away from the curb.

Gerard looked over at him as he scrolled to Ray's number. "You okay, dude?"

"S-sure."

"But your teeth..."

Yeah, so his teeth were chattering and his hands were shaking and all that fucking bullshit. He dialed Ray and got a glove back on, and it was better. Even if Gerard shot Frank worried looks.

Ray picked up on the second ring. "Frank?"

"Is there a heater on?"

"In where? The office?"

"The main shop."

"You really think we need it?" There was a rustling noise, like someone shifting around in a coat. "It's a little chilly, but my jacket's good."

"It's fucking cold, shithead, I..." Gerard's eyes were the size of dinner plates. Frank took a breath. "Turn on the heater."

"We only have a space heater inside the office." What sounded like a door rattled. "I can't...shit!"

"You okay?"

"Yeah, yeah," Ray said, breathy. "The wolf just...I can't get a great look at the heater, but I don't think it's on. Think the wolf will get cold?"

"He'll be fine." For the moment, anyway.

Gerard mouthed what's wrong at Frank. Frank's jaw set, even though, okay, Gerard had waited this long to ask. Frank would have flat-out refused to drive without an explanation. Or coffee. It was probably the only time Gerard's cup holder was empty, even if it was still stained a light brown.

Frank shook his head once and turned away from Gerard.

"Where's the bite?" he asked Ray quietly.

"My arm." Ray hissed a little. "Stings, but my jacket took most of it."

"Bloody?"

Ray didn't answer right away. Frank held his breath until he spoke again.

"I've got a clean rag. I'd wash it out, but the bathroom's connected to the office."

The car turned. "We're almost there. Hang on."

"What's going on?" Gerard asked as Frank turned off the phone and set it in the empty cup holder.

"Nothing."

Gerard sighed as he pulled into the turn lane before the parking area. He gave Frank's jiggling leg a pointed look, but there was a gap in traffic before he could say anything else.

"Wait here," Frank said as Gerard parked in front of the front door. "It'll take a minute, but...don't come inside, okay?"

"Why not?"

"I'll tell you later." Frank popped the door and braced himself for the chill. It wasn't too bad; warmth was radiating off the wall of the business next to the audio shop. He scooped up the blankets.

"Frank—"

But he was already out the door, and Ray was letting him in the shop. Frank dropped the blankets on the table Ray was leaning against and flipped the lock.

"Why did you do that? Isn't Gerard out there?"

Frank ignored him and grabbed his face carefully to hold it in place. Ray didn't look too pale. He'd definitely picked a good fucking day to wear a scarf, gloves, and a coat that went to his knees. He was also holding a white rag to his lower left arm, and Frank could only see a couple small red stains on it. He could be worse off.

On the other hand, Frank could feel the cold inside the shop under his own layers. He shivered and pulled away from Ray.

"I'm going in," he said. "Once I—"

"What?"

"Once I wave through the window, bring the blankets to the door." Frank eyed the rag again, and then he slung a blanket around his shoulder. "As many as you can, anyway. Don't get closer unless I tell you."

Ray laughed nervously. Never mind that Frank could see the terror in Ray's eyes; he would have smelled it wafting off him even if he'd been looking the other way.

"You okay?" Frank asked quietly.

Ray nodded. Frank patted Ray's good arm.

"You get cold, feel free to wrap up," he said. And then he walked behind the counter.

The door to the office rattled every few seconds until Frank stopped right in front of the door. Frank could hear snuffling; probably, if he dropped to his knees and had a bare hand, he'd be able to feel the wolf's breath through the crack at the bottom of the door.

He waited. Dewees was usually as gentle as a fucking feather when he was a wolf. But if he'd bitten Ray...no. He'd been confused, that was all.

"Hey, asswipe," Frank said in a low voice. "You mind backing away from the door?"

A beat, and the wolf whined quietly in reply. Frank sighed, muscles going slightly less tense.

Frank opened the door as slowly as he could, and Dewees backed away and paced in the back of the office, near the bathroom door. He whined again when Frank closed behind him and gasped.

Shit. It had been near icicle level in the main bay, but the office was like a goddamned freezer, to the point where the insides of Frank's teeth ached with the cold. He looked at the rumpled sheets to the heater at the foot of the bed.

If it was broken...

"Let's see what I can do," he muttered as Dewees came up and sniffed Frank's hand. Frank patted Dewees's head a couple times, and then he pressed buttons.

The heater didn't turn on. The heater wasn't turning on.

Dewees leaned on Frank's leg and looked up at him.

"Yeah, yeah," Frank said, but he sat on the bed and pulled the blanket around him. "Pushy fucker."

Dewees panted against his knee, breath misting the air. Frank breathed a little slower than him, and when his heart wasn't threatening to beat its way out of his chest, he picked up the heater. He rattled it, jiggled to hear if everything was working...

...and the plug swung and hit his leg, hit the metal leg of the bed frame with a quiet ting.

"I'm giving you a...fuck, a very big piece of mind after you're back." Frank winced as he tried to plug in the heater into the outlet. The table the heater was on was really close to the wall, and Frank didn't fit easily in the gap with his layers. His arm was squeezing pretty tight.

But the plug slid in, and when it whirred to life, Frank pumped his fist in the air. The air was already warming up as Frank pulled the blanket from the bed, but no point in wasting time.

Of course, when he tried to get it around Dewees, Dewees danced backward, tossing his head.

Frank was so not in the fucking mood. He grabbed Dewees by the scruff of the neck - weird how werewolves got those when they were never puppies - and looked him dead in the eyes. "Don't."

Dewees huffed, but he settled. He also moved back to rest against Frank's leg again, which worked out; Frank got to hold the blanket closed, and they both got to share each other's heat.

"Isn't this better?" Frank asked.

Dewees snorted.

"I know you won't remember any of this, so I'll save most of the I-told-you-so when you come back, but this isn't a fucking game. Okay?"

Dewees licked Frank's face. Shithead.

"Are you alive in there?" a voice called. Fuck, Frank had forgotten about Ray. Frank took a deep breath, but Ray's scent wasn't coming in too well. Maybe it was because there were still some scraps of the jacket on the floor, but Ray only smelled like blood.

It was probably why Dewees turned to put Frank behind him and growled. It was kind of sweet, except for how Dewees was absolutely going to hate himself when he went human again.

"I'm fine," Frank said, looping his arm around Dewees's throat to hold him back. "Give me a second, and...no, don't!"

But Ray had already opened the door, and Frank flinched. He only opened his eyes again when the door clicked closed, and Ray wasn't looking at Frank; he was frowning down at Frank's leg. Maybe because there wasn't a wolf against Frank's leg anymore, but a very human, very naked Dewees. Well, except for the blanket.

And Frank had an arm around him.

"What the fuck," Ray said. "Where...the wolf...what?"

"Yeah," Dewees agreed, shrugging Frank off. He shivered and pulled the blanket closed around him. "Fuck me, Frankie, you got anything warmer? I shred my clothes."

Frank took off a jacket and handed it over. The heater was really fucking good; he was less cold at this point than he had been with the extra jacket when he'd walked in. Dewees, well...he was shivering like Frank. Dewees had never really shivered before.

Dewees winced at Frank's look. "I know, okay? No more projects in January, I promise."

"I'm not your fucking problem."

Dewees took a shuddering breath, and it didn't sound like it was from the cold. Frank could relate. "Fuck, I was wearing my favorite shirt."

Frank looked around on the floor. The black shirt was under the desk and more intact than the jeans, but it was stretched and torn and not wearable unless Dewees was going for a very specific look.

"Maybe clubbing?" Frank said, holding it up between his first two fingers.

Dewees snatched it back. "I'll go get changed."

"Because we haven't seen what you have to offer?"

Dewees flipped him off. "Because my other clothes are in the bathroom, asshole."

He ducked into the other room, leaving the door open, and Ray turned to Frank.

"He was..."

"Yeah," Frank said.

"And he..." Ray looked at his arm and back to Frank with a just-added-two-and-two look. "Does this mean..."

"Probably."

"But not definitely?"

Dewees came back inside. He had the stretched shirt over an undershirt. It kind of worked...except not really, but he was Dewees, so it did.

"Ask Gerard," Dewees said.

"Don't say a fucking word to Gerard." Frank scowled at Dewees before turning to Ray. "Either of you."

As if on cue, a banging noise came from the shop. They all jumped.

"Shit." Frank tried to rub his hand on his forehead, except he had gloves and the ski mask on, so it ended up being fabric against fabric. "I'll get him to take me home. You okay to drive?"

Dewees nodded.

"Take Ray home. You two can chat."

"I have a car," Ray said, edging in front of the door to block Frank's way. "And what about the hospital? Shouldn't I get stitched up?"

Gerard pounded on the door again.

Frank tugged lightly on the rag Ray was still pressing against his skin. Ray let it go, but his sleeve was still mostly covering his arm. Frank pushed it up just enough for Ray to see his skin.

Nothing. If there hadn't been dried blood, no one would be able to tell there had been a wound at all.

Frank felt sick to his stomach, and judging by how suddenly pale Ray went, Frank wasn't the only one.

-

While Gerard drove Frank back to Dewees's, Frank didn't say a peep.

It wasn't the first time the guys had kept Gerard out of the loop. New Year's Eve had been a nice surprise, after all. But Frank wasn't saying anything, nothing about why he'd woken Gerard up to get him to drive, and nothing about the rest of his life: what he'd been up to the past couple weeks while Gerard had jumped back into work, what Dewees had been doing...hell, or what Gerard had been up to beyond the vague "work" answer he'd given when Frank had called to hang out a couple days ago. And the silence was twice as creepy with that ski mask on; Gerard felt more like a getaway driver than a boyfriend.

Except, when Frank ran inside the house without so much as a second glance back, Gerard realized they still hadn't had an actual boyfriend talk. The only time Frank had said anything was the first time, and he said he was leaving.

All Gerard had said back is that he wanted what he could get, and then he'd blown Frank off. Just like he'd been blowing Mikey off.

Seeing Ray come home a couple hours later did nothing to help: Ray switched jackets and went to throw the old one in the Dumpster. (Why Ray had several jackets when he only went back east a couple times a year was beyond Gerard. But Ray was a cautious dude.) Ray disappeared into his room without talking to Gerard after he got back - and after a shaky, nervous smile - and he didn't come out the rest of the day. When Gerard knocked on his door to ask if he wanted coffee or McDonalds (partially as a bribe, partially because Gerard needed something for his nerves), all he'd heard was Ray saying "no thank you" quietly, and then what was probably strumming.

Gerard drank a lot of Starbucks that night, and then he went back into writing his scripts.

Days passed where Gerard spoke face-to-face with no one, and he only emailed and talked on the phone with Portland when he had to. He wasn't actively trying to avoid anyone: Ray didn't hang around when Gerard was likely to, and the usual calls and invites from Frank and Dewees disappeared entirely. It made working easier, so Gerard...worked. If they wanted him, they could come find him.

Except, at the end of the week, Gerard heard voices in the living room. (He hadn't been wearing his headphones; it was nice to hear people outside the apartment if he couldn't hear them inside.) His sense of curiosity arm-wrestled with his pride or avoidance or whatever, and curiosity won.

Ray was standing over his suitcase in the middle of the living room, shoving shoes inside. Gerard had never seen him in so many layers in his life. Even Dewees, who was hovering by the door, was wearing way more than a SoCal cold snap should account for. (They were, of course, more fun layers than Ray's; it kind of looked like the top sweater was one of the garish ones Gerard had gotten Frank for Christmas.)

Dewees nodded at Gerard. "How you doing, Gee?"

Gerard shrugged. "Having a party?"

"Just..." Ray gave Gerard that weird, nervous smile again as he tugged on the zipper. "We have work to do, and we're going to be kind of holed up while we do it."

"Oh."

"I won't stop paying rent! I just won't be here."

Gerard nodded slowly, like any of it made sense. He turned to Dewees. "What's really wrong?"

Dewees raised an eyebrow.

"It has something to do with Frank, doesn't it?" Gerard crossed his arms. "I've...been meaning to ask him."

Ray shot Dewees an uncomfortable look. Dewees just looked sad.

"His cold thing. And the moving. Is he..." Gerard took a deep breath. "It's bad, isn't it?"

Dewees shook his head, but not like he was disagreeing. He looked at Gerard, then very pointedly toward Ray. Or Ray's jacket.

Gerard frowned. "Is it contagious? Did you guys catch it?"

"Something like that," Dewees said. When Ray looked startled at him, Dewees said, "I'm not talking about Frank. I'm talking about me."

"But I don't want to talk about it." Ray held out his hands apologetically at Gerard. "I haven't worked it out yet, you know?"

Dewees nodded. "Gerard, if you want to talk to me alone..."

When Ray's mouth twisted, it was Gerard's turn to hold up his hands and take a couple steps back. He wasn't going to make it worse for Ray.

Or Frank.

"You would tell me if I could help," Gerard said to Dewees. "Even if Frank wouldn't. Right?"

He missed Dewees's reaction because Ray closed the space between them and hugged Gerard. Gerard's face brushed Ray's, and Ray's skin was warm, maybe feverish. Frank really was contagious.

When he pulled back, Dewees had him fixed with a careful look.

"What?" Gerard asked.

"Would you help?" Dewees wasn't even blinking. "Really?"

Yes. It should have been an easy word to say. But as much as Gerard shouted it in his head, and as much as Dewees's words weren't meant to be cutting (he mostly sounded kind), Gerard's breath came up short, and he knew he would be lying if he said he would help. He could barely help himself.

When he dropped his head and let his eyes sting, Gerard was pulled into another hug. He clung to Dewees hard for a second, and Dewees let him. But what was more important was what Dewees whispered in his ear.

"You ask, and I'll tell you whatever I can," he said. "Promise."

And with that, Dewees pulled back, held the door open for Ray, and saluted Gerard like he was leaving a stage instead of a shitty apartment. Gerard watched them leave through the living room window, his forehead plastered against the glass. It was chilly against his skin.

-

Having Ray on Dewees's couch made Frank feel even better about freezing Gerard out, so to speak. Ray was jittery, Ray was confused, and Ray was every single thing that Frank remembered being when he'd first been bitten, wrapped in a kinder package. Somehow, that was worse, Ray constantly saying sorry about everything, even the stuff that didn't have to do with the bite, and that made Dewees look and act sorry. At least Frank knew how to deal with pissed off. This victim shit was beyond him.

Problem was, he wasn't the only one freezing Gerard out. And judging by how shaky and unwashed Gerard looked when he showed up on Dewees's doorstep a couple days after Ray moved in, it wasn't doing him any favors.

"He wants to talk to you," Dewees said to Frank through the crack of the door into the guest room. "Ray's already hiding in the music room, and I'll go in and distract him if you want to talk. Or I can tell him to fuck off."

"Don't."

"So you want to talk to him?"

That was another part with the freezing out: Gerard wasn't the only one feeling the chill. Frank winced at his own horrible pun - it was like he was the Schwarzenegger in that really terrible Batman movie - and nodded.

Dewees disappeared immediately because he was an awesome dude of his word even when he was moping around. Frank shook his clenching hands out, grabbed a tie-dye robe of Dewees's that he'd been using around the house, and left the guest room.

Gerard was...fuck, he looked even more like a wreck the closer Frank got. He was only wearing a t-shirt - something too thin for the chill outside - and both his shirt and his jeans were more stained than usual. His eyes were red-rimmed like he wasn't sleeping, which made sense considering even the grimy parts of his scent were pretty much dominated by coffee. His lips were chapped and a little bloody, and the cuticles of his fingers weren't much better.

But he beamed when he saw Frank. Frank winced again.

"Dude," Frank said. "Ray must take better care of you than I thought."

Gerard shrugged sheepishly and stuck a finger in a hole near the bottom hem of his shirt. "How are you?"

Frank shrugged back.

"How are Ray and Dewees?" Gerard asked.

Frank gestured toward the music room. "You could ask them."

"No, I...I came to talk to you."

Frank crossed his arms. "Yeah?"

"It's been a while since we talked, right?"

"Sure."

"I'm going to ask you something personal." Gerard wasn't meeting Frank's eyes; he was looking at the hole he was working open. "So I figured I'd tell you something kind of personal first. Okay?"

"You don't—"

"I do. Even if you don't give me anything back."

Frank bit his lip, but he nodded again.

"I told you about my band...our band. It was me, Ray, Mikey, a drummer, and a shitty rhythm guitarist who backed out when we started talking to label reps. But even though they said they'd hook us up with a new guy, I wasn't ready to sign. It didn't feel right, you know? I kept saying it was the band who wasn't there..." Gerard moved his gaze up, but he was still looking near Frank's shoulder. "My grandmother got sick before I caved."

"Sucks." It was an understatement, but Frank couldn't think of anything else to say.

Gerard ran a hand through his hair. "I lost it when she died. Completely. I fucked up the band, fucked over everyone in it...there was no reason to be sober after that. Everyone took a turn taking me to the hospital, sometimes to get stitches, sometimes to get my stomach pumped. But at the end, I got so trashed, I nearly died in a supermarket parking lot."

Frank bit his lip even harder.

"I left right after that. I haven't been back, and my family...well, you saw what it was like with Mikey."

He trailed off, and Frank put a hand on his shoulder. Gerard laid his own hand over it and squeezed once before letting go.

"Ray asked me to move in with him after I had my comics thing going for a while. He said it would help him make rent, but he makes more than I do, and...he had no reason to forgive me. But he's happy, I think? Or he was. He could give that to himself."

Frank smiled in spite of himself. "So why music to comics?"

Gerard picked up his head. "I never told you?"

"Nope."

"It was my major at SVA."

"Shit." Frank whistled.

Gerard smiled a little. It looked kind of spooky on his too-pale face. "I never told you about college, either?"

"We had other things going on."

"Yeah." Gerard smiled wide for a second before his face went serious again. "We still do, huh."

Frank sighed. "Gerard..."

"Dewees said he would tell me everything about him if I asked." Gerard squared his shoulders. "But the way he said it...it felt like cheating. So I'm asking you."

"That didn't sound like asking."

Gerard didn't smile. "What's going on with you, Frankie? All of you?"

It wasn't the first time Frank had thought about the moment Gerard would ask. Honestly, Frank had expected anything sooner: a wary glance, avoidance, a blurted question. But the more he'd gotten to know Gerard, the more he'd hoped...until Ray.

So Frank had thought about it again the last couple days, and he'd come up with two different answers: the whole truth that Dewees would probably give if Frank didn't, or a "I'm keeping you out of this, and you'd better fucking appreciate it" answer that put Gerard off just long enough for Frank to leave before it came up again.

Gerard was still playing with his shirt. He still looked like a complete fucking wreck, but there was...something in his face. Some sparkle that Frank hadn't seen before. Maybe it was that part of Gerard that had let Frank write that message to his brother. Maybe it was that part that had started a label-attractive band in the first place.

Maybe it was the part that tried to slowly kill himself as a long punishment.

He stood up a little taller, and Gerard mirrored him.

"You said it yourself." Frank's voice was even, smooth. "You fuck things up."

"What?"

"You think I can't pick up on that shit?" Frank's stomach was churning, but not as much as it should have been. He'd always been a sadistic bastard. "I'm not sticking around for more."

Gerard looked blank. "I want to help."

Frank snorted quietly and shook his head. "Go home, Gee."

Gerard blinked. He was still standing straight like he actually never did, when Frank thought about it. He was usually a sloucher. Somehow, that made Frank grit his teeth.

"No one wants you here," he said. "Go. Home."

Gerard was looking in Frank's direction, near his face, but his eyes were hazy, unfocused. The snarl on Frank's lips faded, and he clenched his fists by his side to keep from hugging Gerard or something.

"Okay." Gerard nodded, and he slumped. "Just let me...the door."

Frank shrugged like it didn't matter until he realized Gerard was actually waiting for him to go back in the guest room. Gerard hadn't lost his ability to be considerate just because Frank was a shithead.

He could take it back.

"Frankie?"

Frank set his jaw and left the room.

The front door didn't scrape open until the guest room door was closed again.

-

Gerard leaned heavily on the apartment's front door when he closed it. There was a chill in the air, but it was nothing next to the East Coast at winter. Well, the north part. Where he was from. Where he hadn't been in ten years.

He walked to the fridge. That in itself wasn't anything special; when he was writing, he did the thing where he stared at the insides even if he wasn't hungry, just so he could have some time to think. And that's all it felt like this time, too. Thinking. Or staring at something that wasn't the wall.

There wasn't much to look at on the shelves. A couple old Tupperwares that smelled as suspicious as they looked. The styrofoam from Gerard's Chinese a couple nights before.

A partially-drunk six-pack of Ray's beer.

The wind outside was whistling around the corner of the apartment building. Between that and the cold snap, it wasn't warm enough to drink beer from the fridge. Ray was always careful not to keep anything hard around, so there was nothing at a warmer temperature.

Whatever. Three or four beers would warm him up after the initial chill anyway.

He pulled out the paper holder, and the bottles jangled inside. No beer cans for Ray. Ray had a special bottle opener he kept in the silverware drawer, and Gerard laid it on the counter next to the beer. He'd been a beer can guy...and a bottle guy, and a shot glass guy, and a bathroom cup guy. He knew what it felt like when a metal top dug into his palm, how to crush aluminum on his forehead, how to dig broken glass out of the bottom of his feet when he wasn't entirely sober. Life skills he hadn't used in years.

Gerard put the opener in his pocket, grabbed the holder, and stepped out onto the landing of the stairs in his bare feet. He was wearing a t-shirt, too. He'd puked off balconies before, pretended he was going to jump off and nearly fallen off in the process, clung to railings because he was convinced the laws of gravity had lost their meaning. He'd drunk in the snow, the rain, and the beating sun. Maybe hail, if the bruises he'd woken up with after a blackout one time were any way to tell.

"You fuck things up," Frank had said. And other words that meant the same thing. Gerard couldn't remember exactly.

He smiled to himself.

And then he walked down to the Dumpster behind their building and threw the beer away.

Maybe pouring it down the sink would have been a better gesture; it definitely would have been out of reach. But he would have smelled the beer that way, and here, it wasn't like Gerard could get it back without going through putrid shit. Hell, it would be easier to walk to a liquor store and get something big, something that would knock him on his ass for a week with his tolerance gone. Maybe he'd been sober for years, but he'd driven past the storefronts. He knew where they all were.

Gerard slid to the ground and leaned against the Dumpster. He didn't want anything else. He wanted the beer. And he wanted it enough that climbing through glass and cat feces didn't sound disgusting enough to stop him.

He pulled out his phone and flipped through his contacts. There weren't many: the various people from Dark Horse, a handful of acquaintances he'd made while making appearances, his mom, Ray, Dewees. Frank didn't even get a number of his own because he didn't have a phone.

And then, at the end, Mikey. Under "Way" because it put him out of sight whenever Gerard wanted to call anyone else.

Gerard typed a text message. It was pure stream of consciousness; if he sent it, and Mikey wasn't worried about Gerard's state of inebriation, he would love it. But it wasn't the kind of thing he should send after years of practically nothing, so when he finished, he deleted the text, put his phone back in his pocket, and went back to his apartment.

It was fucking cold outside.

-

Ray had Frank by the collar of his sweater. Being a newly turned werewolf wasn't like the movies: his eyes didn't flash with any weird color, he didn't growl in a way humans couldn't, he wasn't strong enough to hold Frank over his head, and he didn't have anger-control problems.

That didn't change the fact that Ray was pissed. He just had a good reason for it.

"You don't say that shit to him!" Ray shook Frank a little. Frank let him. "You know what kinds of things he tried before?"

"He told me some of them."

"And you said it anyway?"

"You wanted your fucking space." Frank smirked. "Congratulations. You got it."

Ray could take the first swing. Or two. Frank wasn't feeling much like defending himself, and he could take it. He'd changed back and forth enough that a broken nose would probably heal in a couple seconds, and a couple cracked bones sounded just about right. Ray had big hands, muscular arms. He could do some damage.

But Ray was Ray, so he made a disgusted noise and let go of Frank. He even pulled out his phone and went into the music room, probably because the back door was rattling in the wind.

"Have to say, I'm with Ray on this one."

Frank threw up his hands without looking at Dewees, who had been quiet in the corner. Frank wasn't fooled. Dewees would have stepped in if something had really happened.

"Don't worry," Frank said, shaking his shoulders out. "I'll go car hunting in the morning. You won't have to put up with me much longer."

Dewees walked into Frank's line of vision. "I don't want you to leave."

"Sure you don't."

"No, I don't. Because I know if you leave, that's it." Dewees looked toward the bedroom. "You know how much you're scaring Ray?"

"Like that's my problem?"

"Right, I forgot. You're close to the end, so no one else matters." Dewees crossed his arms. "There are phones in Mexico. Internet connections."

Frank got up in Dewees's space. "We both know I'm not making it to Mexico. One bad day on the way, and I'll be some wolf in the desert. Forever."

Dewees didn't look away from Frank's stare.

"Maybe I'll starve. Maybe some small-dick hunter will put my head on a wall. Maybe I'll get lucky and tough it out five or six more years. But it'll be over before I'm forty, and I won't remember any of you."

Dewees shifted on his feet.

"And that'll happen here, too. Probably further down the line, but the bad days will whittle you down, and all it'll take is one breeze." Frank took a breath. "You know how long it takes to get out of civilization around here. How many guns are in the way."

"So stay." Dewees stepped back. "Gerard is the only guy I've ever met who was bitten and stayed human. He has the answer."

"You hope he does." He bit back any reference to Ray. Frank could be nice when he wanted to.

"What have you got to lose?"

Everything. But Frank didn't say it when Ray walked back into the room with a slightly fainter scowl on his face and the subject went back to Gerard's state of mind. Dewees knew it just as well as he did.

-

Gerard walked on the sidewalk ahead of Frank. He smelled warm, like booze and dry air and everything that Frank never had as a wolf. The trees around him were gray, but he was red and gold and color.

Frank fell back as the wind blew, and the darkness closed in. He never felt cold after the change, but the harder he tried to run, the more the wind bit. His fur frosted, turned hard and unyielding. His eyes started to freeze shut, and no matter how Frank tried, he couldn't open them again.

Except his actual eyes opened when his bedroom door rattled, and when the walls of Dewees's house came into focus, Frank's breath misted the air. His space heater was on - he could see its little orange light glowing in the darkness - but it made no difference: it was fucking cold.

He pulled the blankets over his head and yelled, "Ray! Dewees! The fuck?"

The only answer was a whistling gust that rattled his bedroom door.

Frank never slept without a basic layer, so he had long sleeves, long pants, socks, and gloves on. He threw the ski mask over his head, grabbed the robe from beside the chair, and, after a second's thought, wrapped the guest bed's quilt around his shoulders. Maybe it could be enough.

It wasn't enough to stop his teeth from chattering, but it was enough to get him into the living room. The back door was swinging in the wind, and a couple panes were cracked, but it didn't look like anyone had broken in. No, judging from the stuck handle, the damn thing had just jarred wrong, probably with a gust in just the right place.

And judging by the claw marks in the wood by the door, and the scraps of clothes on the floor in front of the couch, the door wasn't the only thing that had given way.

"Shit," Frank hissed.

He ran to the door. He could see well enough to know that the patio table and umbrella had blown onto the pool cover, and it didn't look like any wolf or human was out there. Frank called a couple times anyway. No cries answered, no howls, nothing.

And he couldn't close the door. His hands were cold and clumsy, so even if there was a way to put it back, he couldn't will his fingers to work well enough to grab the handle. Leaning against the door didn't work; it needed the latch to hold.

"Dewees!" Frank's voice was fading. At least it still worked. When it cut out entirely, it meant he was changing.

He was shaking enough that it was hard to walk close enough to Dewees's door to hear him snoring inside. Motherfucker could sleep through the bomb dropping if he was tired enough, and they'd only gone to bed an hour or two before. So when Frank said Dewees's name hoarsely again, it was completely covered by the whistling wind.

Frank fell on his ass and kicked at the door. His foot barely thumped against it.

He had seconds. The best bet would be to huddle back in the guest room if he could drag himself there in time, stick a blanket by the crack like Dewees did, bang on the wall until he heard Dewees answer. Second best would be if he could get the phone and call Gerard, but...

But Gerard would have to find Ray.

Frank wrapped his arms around himself. Despite what Dewees thought, there was no way to know if Gerard was actually immune, or if there was something else going on. Maybe a bite from Ray would tip the balance. Some wolves lost all memory from the first time they changed; just because Frank could remember Gerard when he was human didn't mean shit.

No, if this was it, Frank had to be the one to try. Maybe he could give Ray enough time to change back, at least.

He smirked as he pulled off his gloves with his teeth and went for his mask. No reason to let good clothes go to waste.

-

Gerard had been back from the Dumpster and staring at the window in the living room for five minutes before Ray called. He didn't hear most of what Ray said because Gerard was too busy trying to keep it together, but Ray sounded worried at the beginning and a little more relieved toward the end.

"I'll come by tomorrow," Ray had said when Gerard was a little more with it.

"But your, uh, thing?"

"It's fine. Promise."

Ray had sounded so sure about it that Gerard hadn't felt too terrible when he hung up.

He felt a little more terrible when he took a shower and had lots of time to think about Frank. He couldn't focus on working after that, which made him feel terrible about letting people down even though he didn't have to do anything but look over someone else's scripts, and he was mostly doing that as a courtesy anyway. Streaming on Netflix didn't help. Eating didn't help. Trying to sleep early didn't help between the coffee and the fucking loud wind. Corner apartments sucked balls.

That was why he was sketching random doodles at his desk when the wind got louder. It was almost like it was in two pieces, a whistling point and a howling counterpoint.

Funny. If Gerard didn't know better, it would kind of sound like...

The wind stopped rattling the screen in his window. The howl didn't disappear, and when Gerard pulled up the blinds, there was a black dog outside, a dark outline against the blue security lighting. Except it moved, and Gerard could see its fur move, particularly the thicker part at its neck, with the resurging wind.

It was a wolf. And Gerard had seen it before.

The thrill of recognition seemed to send Gerard away for a second. Not into a memory or anything like that, just...pushed out of his body. He knew logically, that he was still sitting in his chair, that his skin was streaked with marker and a little space heater was humming by the door. It wasn't like he was looking down at himself like he was on an operating table. He'd just lost some crucial tether, something made of spit and tape that had blown away.

He watched the wolf throw back its head, and the howl that emerged sent Gerard slamming back into himself.

Gerard dropped the marker in his hand. He was looking at his hands; no matter how many recreational chemicals he'd played with in his life, he was too familiar with the hints of the unreal to believe he'd gotten high and forgotten. Pinching his arm was a cliché, but it proved as well as anything that he wasn't asleep. Barring some kind of brain injury or misfire, this was actually happening.

Just like it had happened before.

It was probably a shitty idea to run outside without his coat and shoes again, but even so, he wasn't drifting like he'd done to and from Dewees's place, and to and from the Dumpster. Gerard was there. He could even stop himself, and he paused to catch his breath a couple times: once when he peeked through the living room window and saw the wolf just as real through that glass, and a second time when he stopped halfway down the stairs outside when the wolf's head turned to look at him, catching the light in the weird way canine eyes did.

"Don't eat me," Gerard said, and he walked carefully to the sidewalk and onto the lawn. The cold concrete and blades of grass pricked his bare feet.

The wolf didn't look threatening, not in the way dogs looked threatening. It had stopped howling when it had spotted Gerard, like it had been waiting for him, and it wasn't growling or raising its hackles when he came close. It didn't even wait for him to stop walking. It trotted forward to meet him halfway and carefully grabbed his t-shirt by the hem, tugging just enough to get the point across without tearing the fabric.

"What the...fucking hold on." Gerard's heart was humming at top speed, but he wasn't trying to wrench away from the wolf, and he definitely wasn't reaching to get his shirt free. He might be out at three in the morning when it was close to freezing outside without the right coverings, but he could see the teeth well enough to know how fast this could turn bad. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

The wolf huffed and dropped the shirt. It sat on its haunches and looked Gerard in the eye, which...okay, like this wasn't weird enough already.

"Is Timmy down the well?" Gerard's voice was shaking too much for it to really be a joke.

The wolf huffed again, and that's when Gerard noticed. It was partially because wolves couldn't roll their eyes (could they?), but it was mostly because he was finally at the right angle in the light to see the wolf's eyes. Or, more importantly, that weird hazel color from his memory.

But that exact hazel hadn't been weird in Frank's eyes, had they?

"You..." Gerard grabbed his hair. "Motherfucking piece of..."

The wolf - Frank - rolled his eyes again, and he got up just enough to bump Gerard's pocket with his nose before settling back down.

"You didn't fucking tell me! I fucking asked!" Gerard had told him about the wolves, and Frank...had been too drunk to react. Right. "Okay. There isn't a full moon tonight, is there? Do I have to wait for you to change back, or..."

Gerard yelped as his phone buzzed in his pocket. Frank definitely rolled his eyes at that.

"That would...okay." He pulled it out and put it to his ear. "Dewees. You know your roommate's a wolf, right?"

"He's with you?" Dewees sounded scared. "What about Ray?"

Gerard turned in a circle. No sign of curls anywhere. "I don't think so. He's not at your place?"

"You have to find him. He'll be scared, confused...if he even remembers anything..."

"Whoa, hold on. What's up?"

Dewees took a sharp breath. "Wait. You said Frank's..."

"Yeah. But you're not surprised."

"No."

Gerard waved a hand when Dewees didn't follow that up with anything. "You have to give me something here, James."

"Yeah. Sorry." Dewees coughed, and...were his teeth chattering? "Where are you?"

"Outside..." Gerard took a second of his own to shiver. A coat was sounding like a really good idea all of a sudden. "Sorry, outside my place. I'm lucky no one else is out here right now."

"Get Frank inside. Maybe...maybe if he warms up..."

Huh. So that was the trigger. Made sense, Gerard had seen Frank enough over the last couple months that moon phases probably wouldn't fit.

"So that's why he's going to Mexico," he said out loud.

"I'll explain all that later. I'd go looking for Ray, but I can't. I barely got the fucking door closed, much less warmed the place up in time."

Gerard pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at it. Which, okay, that wouldn't magically give him answers, but it was worth a shot. "You too?"

"And Ray, but just recently."

The day Frank had woken Gerard up. Holy fuck.

"What's so funny?" Dewees asked harshly.

"It just..." He rubbed at his eyes and tried to choke back the nervous laughter. "It all fits. Everything."

"I'll tell you everything, but you'll go, right?"

"Right, totally." Gerard patted his pocket. He had his apartment keys, and his car keys were on the same ring. "You have any idea where Ray went?"

"None. Sorry."

Maybe he could put werewolf missing posters up. He could draw them based on Frank, who was tilting his head like he was confused. Gerard patted him on the head and said, "On my way. I'll call you."

"Thanks."

Gerard tucked his phone away again and hugged his arms to his chest to keep them warm. He was never leaving without long sleeves again.

"Okay," he told Frank, like he wasn't addressing a wolf. "We need to go..."

But Frank had already turned away and was heading for the precise part of the road where Gerard's car was parked.

"...to the car."

Gerard sighed. It was probably better to keep an eye on Frank anyway.

-

That was how Gerard ended up driving around North Hollywood with a wolf hanging out his back windows.

They had driven toward Dewees's house slowly at first; Gerard didn't have great night vision, and orange street lights weren't very useful. But then Frank started yipping, pawing at the small crack in the window that Gerard had let down, and that had been it. Wolf GPS. At least Gerard didn't need to worry about leaving his iPhone charger at home.

It felt more like a joy ride than a search, even with the way the cold air rushed in on Gerard's neck through the back windows. (At least he'd found a sweater under his seat. It kept him from turning completely blue.) Frank would sniff out the side, howl when he needed Gerard to turn or change something, and Gerard would do it. It was lucky there weren't as many people on the streets as normal, and being off the freeway definitely helped, but buses still had shift workers, and they stared at Frank's tongue hanging out the side even as they clutched their warm-weather gear more tightly.

Gerard had an imaginative head. He could never have made this shit up.

Unfortunately, even Frank's enthusiasm started to wane when dawn approached, golden and slightly hazy in the smog. He'd stopped running around in the back seat as much and laid down, resting his chin on the window frame. But then, they'd made it out to an area with more fields, and the only reason they were there was because of the power structures that stretched north as far as the eye could see. More, because they went most of the way up the state, as far as Gerard knew.

It was when Gerard slowed by a stoplight that Frank suddenly rushed up, shoving his head through the window like he could get out of the car that way.

"Whoa, hold it!" Gerard tried to reach an arm to push him back in, but the light changed, so he rushed through the intersection and parked as safely on the side of the road as he could. Frank, at that point, had pushed his head back inside and was trying to shove through the gap between the front seats. "Fucking...wait, okay?"

Gerard rushed out and got the back door closest to the field open. Frank took off at a run. Gerard barely had a chance to follow, and he was slow-going; sedentary living and cigarettes didn't do him any favors.

Luckily, he caught up with Frank before long, mostly because Frank had stopped under a power structure. He was nosing at something underneath, and when Gerard caught up, he could see another wolf lying on its side. It was bigger than Frank (like all the other wolves Gerard had seen that one night years ago), and its fur was lighter, if not by much. It was more brown than black.

The wolf growled and opened its eyes when Gerard came up. It had very familiar brown eyes.

Well. At least they'd found Ray.

Ray growled again when Gerard muttered a "fuck" under his breath, but he twisted his head in Frank's direction. It was probably because Frank was licking at something twisted around Ray's ankle, something metallic and digging into the flesh. There was a bloody flash, and Gerard closed his eyes and pressed a hand to his stomach.

"Will you guys not bite me if I try to help?" he asked.

They turned to look at him, but there was no sign either one had understood.

"Okay. Fine."

Gerard pulled out his keys slowly and held them out for them to see. Frank didn't so much as sniff them, but Ray lifted his head, clearly smelling the air. That made Gerard take a deep breath in, and...huh. He could smell Ray. He smelled a little like musty and a little like clean, just like his shit in the apartment, and an extra layer. Something kind of like dog.

Frank smelled like Frank, too. And he smelled like crisp, like winter smelled.

"At least I won't lose you guys again," he said to himself, and he pulled out his swiss army knife. Neither wolf flinched, not even when Gerard pulled a blade and closed in on Ray.

It went faster than Gerard would have guessed. He was good with his hands, and Ray was patient in almost the same way he was when he had two legs. Pain made a difference (no shit), so he did whimper sometimes, but Gerard always froze, and Ray always stopped without so much as baring his teeth within a couple seconds. The only time it got dicey when was when Gerard started to unwrap the wire from his leg entirely, and Ray growled loudly enough that Frank started growling, too. Only back at Ray.

"It's fine!" Gerard said, waving his hands when they started showing fang. "Look, almost done! Promise!"

He slipped the wire off. Ray's leg...fuck, it was already starting to heal. Gerard swallowed and looked away. Not watching helped the bile in his throat disappear, and he couldn't hear anything, but he could still...kind of smell it? The metallic tang from Ray's scent wasn't entirely the wire Gerard had tossed out of the way. Not by the way the smell was shrinking as Gerard waited.

The wind ruffled Gerard's hair as he turned back and saw two wolves on their feet. Staring at him.

"Fuck," he said, shoving his hands in his pocket and looking back at the road. "I drive a compact."

-

The good news was, between the fur and the heater in the car, Gerard wasn't cold. The bad news was he probably would never get all of the fur (and leftover blood and mud and grass) out of his seats.

"You're both vacuuming the shit out of this when you're human again," Gerard said as he poked his head out of his window to check his blind spot. They didn't take up as much room as he feared, but it was still impossible to see everywhere perfectly.

Of course, he was checking his rearview mirror when Ray turned human again, and...well, it was lucky he'd toured with the guy before, basically. It didn't stop Ray from turning purple and covering his dick with his hands.

"Welcome back?" Gerard said, peeking around. There were cars, but no one seemed to care what they were doing.

Ray squeezed his eyes shut, like if he couldn't see, the whole thing would go away. Gerard just shrugged off his sweater and handed it back.

"Thanks," Ray said gratefully.

Gerard nodded. "How are you, Frank?"

Frank was still a wolf and had curled up as best he could on his side of the backseat. Just because he was smaller than Ray and every other werewolf Gerard had seen didn't mean he'd fit any better in a small car.

When Gerard tilted the mirror over to his side, Frank sighed.

"Yeah." The car passed by a familiar sign, and Gerard gave his own wistful sigh.

"No Starbucks," Ray said, voice high. "Not until I have clothes."

"I'm not wearing shoes?"

"No."

Gerard sighed again, but he kept driving to Dewees's.

-

"Here."

Dewees heaped blankets into Gerard's arms the second he walked in the front door, and just like that, Gerard understood the morning Frank went into the shop completely. Frank moved around his feet to keep from getting blankets on his head.

(Frank refused to stay in the car. Ray refused to leave.)

Gerard hefted them up. "You don't have clothes?"

"Once he gets in here. It isn't worth it until then."

"So you don't mind a naked guy running on your lawn?"

"It's not the weirdest thing the neighbors have seen." Dewees paused when Frank sat down next to him. "He didn't change back?"

Gerard shook his head. Dewees didn't look surprised, but he did look very sad.

"Be...oof, be right back," Gerard said, if only to distract him for a minute. And to distract himself from the worry stabbing through him.

Luckily, Ray was a perfect distraction. They spent a few minutes in Gerard's still-running car (they needed the heating) figuring out the best way to wrap him up. He ended up having single blankets tied around his legs, another blanket wrapped around like a skirt, two different blankets around his torso, and another around his head.

"And somehow," Gerard said when they'd finished, "this was supposed to be easier than clothes."

Ray laughed. "After you."

Judging by the low cursing behind him, Ray was not having an easy time. Gerard decided to spare his dignity and hurry into the house. Of course, it didn't really work out because he still saw Ray nearly fall on his ass the last third of the lawn; someone had to close the door behind him, and Dewees had disappeared.

He had put on coffee at some point, though. Just the smell made Gerard feel better.

Once Ray was in, Gerard hustled him into Frank's...the guest room. The space heater was running, and Ray only shivered a little as he dropped the blanket from his head.

"Awesome, Dewees already brought my suitcase in here." Ray reached for it gratefully. "Wonder why."

Because Frank wouldn't need the room. Gerard didn't know the specifics, but he didn't have to.

What he said to Ray was, "I'll go see what Dewees is doing. Howl if you need me?"

"Ha ha."

Dewees wasn't in the kitchen, but it was Gerard's first stop anyway. (He felt a little heartless pouring himself a cup of coffee, but only a little. If what Ray had said was true, the other guys had slept some. Gerard had not.) When he walked out of the kitchen, he saw a puffy, layered Dewees slipping inside through the patio doors. The glass panels had cracked at some point, and Dewees also had to take a minute to jiggle the handle until it would stay.

"Where's Frank?" Gerard asked when he was done.

Dewees unwound a scarf from his face and jerked his head toward the patio.

"Why?"

"You want breakfast? Ray needs some." Dewees smiled. "I demolished about fifty pancakes the other day myself."

"Uh."

Gerard's stomach growled loudly enough for both of them to hear.

"Guess you have your answer," he said.

-

Dewees wasn't kidding about pancakes. He'd cooked a huge stack of them, and the kitchen was pleasantly warm as a result. Gerard was working on a couple slowly, but when Ray walked in, Dewees handed Ray a stack nearly as tall as his head. Ray didn't even blink. He did sniffle a little when he sat down, though.

"You got any tissues?" he asked Dewees, crinkling his nose.

"Sorry, Frank burned through them all." Dewees sat down with his own plate, which was somewhere between Gerard's and Ray's. "Plenty of toilet paper, though. And napkins."

Ray took a napkin from the holder and delicately wiped his nose. That done, he dug in. He groaned almost immediately.

"Yeah," Gerard said around a mouthful. "They're really good."

Normally, Dewees would beam at them both. He nodded at them both instead and tapped his plate with his fork.

"What year did we meet?" he asked Gerard.

"2003," Gerard said instantly. It was a hard year to forget, and not just because he got sober. He'd been bouncing around the country to figure out where he wanted to land, and Midtown had been touring in Florida around the time Gerard had been checking out cities in the area. He'd run into Gabe completely by accident, and he'd gotten dragged to the show against his will. First and last time he'd worn a bear suit for Reggie's stage show.

"Jesus, was it ten years already?"

Gerard nodded. Dewees shook his head.

"That's the year I met Frank," he said. "Think it was the winter after you, though. He told me about you."

"He did? What did he say?"

Dewees waved a hand. "I'll get to it. I can't remember which band I was touring...Reggie, probably? But I ended up in some hole in New England in the dead of winter, and I got jumped by a bunch of wolves while I was loading up gear after a show."

"And Frank saved you?"

"Not then. Crew for one of the other bands found me; they chased the wolves off and took me to the hospital. Everything had healed before I could so much as cross through the door, so I snuck back to my motel and slept it off." Dewees grinned. "Frank was holed up in the room next to mine. He cornered me outside my door and started to ask if I'd buy him food, but then he smelled me and told me everything."

"And you ran the other way, right?"

"I thought about it until he dropped your name." Dewees smiled slightly. "He'd heard of me through his band connections, and he told me he ran into hungry wolves who nearly tore you apart for food. Happens more than you think, by the way."

It was Ray's turn to break in. "Seriously? Why?"

Dewees looked at his pancakes and put down his fork. "You know this part, Ray, but wolves turn a certain amount of winters. No one knows how many they get going in, but when it comes down to the end, it's hard to miss. You turn earlier in the year and come back later and later until you stop coming back at all. You know when Frank called me this year after he first came back?"

Gerard shook his head.

"August." When Gerard continued to stare blankly, Dewees said, "The year I met him, he said his summer had started in late March or early April."

Which explained why Ray and Dewees had both popped in and out, but Frank was outside with a fur coat. Fuck.

"And it's not like permanent wolves stay human in their heads, either." Dewees's voice cracked a little, but he kept going after a minute. "So you get a bunch of wolves in urban areas - unless they move to wolf areas, like some people do - that don't remember how to navigate them, they don't have the skills and structure that real wolves do, and they have to stay away from animal control and hunters and everyone who wants to catch or kill them. Or that's what Frank told me."

"So you don't have much firsthand experience with this?" Gerard asked.

"I haven't even spent one full winter as a wolf, dude. I sold off all my gear and moved out here first chance I got. Frank told me touring would be really fucking hard, and I figured it was better to manage than fight."

Ray waved his fork. "So wait, why don't more people move out here? Seems like the thing to do."

"For some people. But you get more temperature sensitive in warmer areas. Too much AC at the wrong time, and bam, furry." Dewees sighed.

"So there's no way to stop it?" Gerard asked. "No cure?"

"It isn't like there's a big network where people can swap stories. I'm pretty much the entire real werewolf presence online."

Gerard's shoulders dropped. His chest hurt.

"But I do know someone who stopped it."

"What?" Ray's eyes grew planet-sized. "You didn't tell me that."

Dewees's gaze fell heavy on Gerard. "Because Frank specifically wanted me to keep Gerard out of it."

"What does that have to do with..." Gerard trailed off. He'd been nearly eaten by werewolves. His stomach had been shredded. And not only had he walked home (with Frank, jesus fuck, that didn't get less weird), but he'd been going out improperly layered ever since. If anything, he got hot too easily.

"So what happened?" Ray asked him. His eyes were nearly as intense as Dewees's. "You take a potion or something?"

Gerard shrugged. "I couldn't tell you."

"What'd you do right after?" Dewees folded his hands together, and Gerard felt like there should be a spotlight shining in his face all of a sudden. "Anything different than usual?"

"I got trashed?" No one around the table looked pleased. "What do you want me to say? The weather warmed up right after that, and I was fine the next winter. Maybe I'm just immune."

Ray frowned at Dewees. "I'm not shooting up his blood, before you say anything."

They continued talking, but Gerard frowned. It had warmed up right after that...and he remembered because he'd nearly died in a car. It had been completely by accident, sure, but he'd shut himself in a box that trapped heat at dangerous levels. If cold was the way to trip it, then heat...

Ray sneezed into his arm, and Gerard jumped up from his chair.

"Uh, sorry?" Ray said, voice stuffed. "I didn't get it on your food."

Gerard slid his hand against Ray's forehead. Hot to the touch.

Ray flinched away. "Do you really want to do that? A cold's the last thing you need right now."

But Gerard wiped his hand on Dewees's cheek, and it was Dewees's turn to flinch away. "The fuck, Way? I haven't gotten sick this winter!"

"Then you should." Gerard grinned so hard it hurt. "Frank always gets sick, right?"

"So do I," Dewees said. "Frank's immune system is shittier, but—"

"But he's been a wolf longer, hasn't he? It's his body's way of fighting back!" Gerard pointed at both of them. "I'm going to Google ways to make fevers higher."

They were both staring at him in horror when he ran out of the room, but it didn't matter. Gerard was going to save them.

And then he was going to save Frank.

-

"how to make a fever worse" was a useful Google search. Gerard went with the experts on the subject, WebMD, and ran to the store to get supplies.

The main benefit to the plan was getting to sit outside with Frank while he fed him ground beef. Ray was busy getting drunk (without any water as a chaser - the more dehydrated, the better), and Dewees was smoking like a chimney. Useful plans, but not anything Gerard wanted to be around before he had to. Even if it was still pretty chilly outside.

Dewees had caught Gerard by the arm before they'd gone to their separate areas, of course. "He might not even remember you."

"I'll feed him," Gerard had said, holding up the beef. It sucked that wolves couldn't really be vegan, but considering what Dewees had told him about Frank's past living experiences, it wasn't anything Frank hadn't done before. "Real wolves—"

"Werewolves are real wolves."

"—aren't automatically dangerous. I'll be fine."

Which is why Frank ended up sleeping next to Gerard after a couple hours, stomach full, and Gerard had his laptop perched on his knees. "how to make a wolf sick" wasn't turning up what he had hoped. There was more Teen Wolf fanfic than anything about real wolves.

"Teen Wolf werewolves aren't real," Gerard muttered to himself.

He tried a bunch of different variations before Frank whined, waking up slightly.

"Hey." Gerard reached out, but Frank ignored his hand, looking around like he was searching for something. "What is it?"

Something crashed in Dewees's living room. Gerard jumped to his feet, and Frank's head twitched up.

Ray was on the ground, and Dewees was over him. Ray's back was stiff, but his arms and legs were twitching. His head was hidden behind the coffee table, but Gerard decided running for the fence gate and the front door was better than trying to see if Ray had hit his head.

(They agreed that he shouldn't use the back door. Too much complication there.)

"What do I do?" Dewees asked hoarsely when Gerard ran inside. "I don't have any medical training."

"I..." Gerard swallowed as Ray puked a little, but he went forward and did his best to make sure Ray's mouth was clear. He'd been around drunk people enough to know that much. "I've never seen a seizure before."

"Did you have one?"

Gerard shook his head. "I don't think so."

"How long were you in the car?"

"I don't know, I don't..." Gerard swallowed. The air was too hot. "We should take him to the hospital."

"But what if they find something in his blood?"

The room started to swirl around him. "They didn't find anything in mine."

"You never changed!"

Just when the edges of Gerard's vision started to blur, Ray sagged and shivered. He coughed a couple times, and both Gerard and Dewees bent to help him up to the couch.

"Water," Ray croaked.

Dewees exchanged a look with Gerard. "You think that was enough?" Dewees asked.

Gerard had no fucking clue. A really high fever hadn't helped Frank at all. "Get him some water."

Dewees ran off for a cup, and Gerard put a hand to Ray's sweaty forehead. He didn't feel quite as hot as he had in the kitchen.

"Never doing that again," Ray managed to get out with a little smile. Dewees had to help him with the glass of water when he got back.

-

Gerard woke up with a start when his phone chimed on the coffee table. Three in the morning.

Everyone groaned around him, Dewees from a side chair, Ray from the other end of the living room couch. Gerard was about two seconds behind. If Frank were inside, he would probably whine, too.

"Can't we do this after I sleep?" Ray asked with a groan.

But he got up just like everyone else, and he only wrapped one blanket around himself.

Gerard paused by the back door. "You can go back to bed, Dewees."

Dewees was pulling on cold weather gear. He wasn't going outside, for sure, but he shook his head and sniffled. "A little shivering might fuck with my immune system, right? And no sleep."

Gerard thanked God (who was a blond Jedi today - she had been a black cat earlier in the week) for letting him mostly forget about what had happened to him in the Pathmark parking lot, and he opened the back doors.

The first thing that happened was that Frank whined and opened his eyes from his pillow in the corner. He had a blanket on him; Gerard couldn't let him sleep out in the cold without something extra. Frank's head rose as Gerard went over, and he scratched behind his ears.

"You're gonna kill me when you get back," Gerard said in an undertone. "Petting you like a dog."

"Gerard?"

Gerard whirled. Right. Ray. Who was standing in a t-shirt and boxers with the blanket at his feet. His eyes were squeezed shut.

"Is it cold enough?" Ray asked.

"Turn on the porch light!" Gerard called to Dewees, and then he went to the thermometer hanging on the outer wall of the kitchen. Dewees had said most anything below 40 was too cold.

The display read 36 solidly, and Gerard laughed.

"What?" Ray asked. "What is it?"

"It worked!"

Ray opened his eyes and walked over awkwardly. The concrete had to be cold. "No way."

"I could throw you in the pool. That would be cold enough."

Ray laughed and tackled Gerard in a hug.

-

According to the in-ear thermometer Gerard bought after Ray was in the clear, Dewees's fever was over 100 by the time the sun set the next day.

Getting there had been harder than it had been for Ray, who had gone home most of the day to clean up and put his suitcase back. Gerard didn't blame him for taking a little time; he'd had a scary few days.

"You could go, too," Dewees had said, croaking even harder than he had before. He had really leaned on smoking and dehydration to drive his temperature higher. "This could take days."

"But who would feed Frank?"

"I'm not completely useless."

But Dewees had let Gerard feed Frank for a couple more meals anyway. It was still really chilly outside, and they had no idea how it worked if someone changed. Gerard had no idea if it would work on Frank at all (even though he'd had Dewees lick Frank's bowl before each time he put more meat inside - it was gross, but he washed the bowl after Frank ate, too). Not that Gerard had known if the cold-flu thing would work on Dewees and Ray in the first place. They'd just had to try.

Luckily, Dewees didn't have a seizure when his fever peaked around eight that night. He started yelling about the blue yetis in the corner and barfed anything he tried to get down, but he stayed on the couch, and Ray was around to clean up puke.

"Least I can do!" Ray said cheerfully as he held a trash can up for Dewees. He had a spring in his step because he had actually slept that day. Jerk. "You should get Frank his evening meal and go lay down. I can run the test with Dewees alone."

Gerard was more than happy to get away from the vomit smell.

Frank was asleep on the patio again, which was for the best; he'd paced a lot of the day, watching Gerard carefully whenever he came out to talk to him. Gerard didn't know how to calm him down, but then, Gerard probably would have been all over the place if he had actually turned into a wolf. Whether because it would have been terrifying as fucking hell or because he would have loved it was hard to call, but then, it was always going to be an academic question.

When Gerard dumped another container of meat into Frank's bowl, Frank's ears twitched. Gerard scratched them.

"Hey, dude. Looks like we're close to figuring this out. Could you get sick so I don't have to try to steal a disease for you?" Maybe Gerard pictured breaking into some lab like he was in a supernatural Ocean's 11, but that didn't mean he was Brad Pitt.

When he started to lift his fingers away, Frank jerked up, nostrils flaring. Gerard pulled his hand back quickly, just in time for Frank to growl loudly at him. For his hackles to go up.

Gerard got up and moved away. Frank didn't follow; he was too busy backing up against his own portion of wall and continuing to growl. He was looking around like he wanted to get out, and shit, why hadn't Gerard gotten some kind of collar? Even if Frank had hated the idea (and he totally would have, if Gerard had ever brought it up), it was better than this, better than watching Frank try to edge away. To leave.

"Ray!" Gerard yelled.

Frank stopped. He shook his head a couple times and looked up at Gerard. He was panting.

He was sick. Not forgetting everything.

Gerard didn't feel better, though. Not when Frank was staring at him, eyes wide and confused. Not when Frank was so obviously scared.

-

Dewees passed the test around midnight, but they brought Frank in the house hours before that point. He'd stopped pacing and was snapping at anyone who came near him not long after Gerard woke him up, so Ray and Gerard just lifted the pillow inside. (Not easily - a smaller werewolf was still a heavy werewolf - but Gerard and Ray had managed to carry Dewees into the bathroom at his worst. A wolf was small potatoes next to that.)

But unlike the way the others had gotten sick, which had mostly involved encouragement and staying out of the way at the peak, Frank got dangerous fast. At one in the morning, he lost all control of his bladder and bowels. By three, he had started bleeding out of the eyes. By three-thirty, his breathing was labored.

Dewees pulled Gerard aside around that point. Literally pulled: Gerard dug his feet in before he realized what Dewees was doing, and even then, he only let him take him into the kitchen.

"You should go home," Dewees said immediately.

Gerard shook his head. It wasn't a "no" gesture; it was more like he was trying to shake the words out of his ears. "Are you fucking kidding?"

"He's dying, Gerard."

"You think I can't see that?"

"You really want to watch it happen?"

Gerard took a breath. Another. Another. Anything to keep the urge to run away.

"You and Ray should go to our place," he said finally. "You two need sleep."

Dewees's eyebrows went to the edge of his beanie. "You think I'm going to leave?"

"You weren't much better than Frank a couple hours ago. He'd be pissed if you hurt yourself more than you had to over him."

Dewees looked destroyed. Gerard forced himself not to look away as Dewees put his head in his hands. Gerard had been in that place more than once. The least he could do was acknowledge it in someone else.

"He saved my life before," Dewees whispered. "I wanted...him staying here was so small next to that."

Gerard nodded. If he had been more awake, maybe he would have thought about all the things Frank had done for him, or all the ways Gerard had failed. But he could only think about Frank's breathing slowing in the living room and how much he needed to be there.

He wasn't going to leave. He didn't want to leave.

"Yeah," Gerard said, wonder in his voice. "I get it."

-

Ray and Dewees left at five in the morning right after Gerard used the bathroom. Judging by Ray's watery eyes and the way Dewees was blowing his nose, they had said some kind of goodbyes. The lights were off, and it would be dark outside for a little while longer, but Gerard didn't care. He could see well enough.

Frank had been crying out whenever people touched him, so Gerard laid across from him, not resting so much as a finger on his fur. Frank was still aware enough to watch him. Whether or not he knew what he was seeing was another matter, but even as messed up as his body was, his eyes looked the same as ever, and they tracked Gerard's face.

"I haven't told you this yet," Gerard said quietly, hugging a blanket, "but I have some money set aside, and I'm going to use it to buy a plane ticket. I haven't called Ma yet, but she always sends a message through Ray when he visits. I guess the basement still has my old bed. I don't know if I can really stay down there again, but...I'll visit. Visit the house."

Frank closed his eyes. His stomach was still rising and falling, but very slowly.

Gerard got closer quickly. "And I'll see Mikey again. Not just on the phone, but I'll call him before I go. Maybe he'll pick me up from the airport."

When Gerard touched Frank's head lightly, Frank nudged into the touch just a little.

"I won't tell Ma everything about you," Gerard said. "But Mikey should hear how you saved my life. How much...how much I care about you."

Frank wasn't moving.

Gerard wiped tears from his cheeks and kissed Frank's nose. "Thank you," he said in an undertone. "I'm sorry."

-

The smell of cigarette smoke woke Frank up.

For a minute, with the afternoon sun streaming in and Frank wearing his inked skin again, it didn't seem like Frank was on Earth. Catholic hangovers never really left. He touched his Our Lady tattoo carefully with fingers he never thought he'd see or use again.

Then his hip started to hurt, and that broke the moment. Might as well look around.

Frank was naked on a pillow on Dewees's floor, his dick looking oddly obscene hanging out of the tuft of hair between his legs. He was offended for a second - his dick was never obscene. But then the rank smell coming off the pillow wafted his way, and he focused on forcing his aching muscles up enough so he could sit on the couch. God, even his ass hurt, and he hadn't even done anything with it.

That was the shitty part: Frank remembered almost everything. It would have been way more fair to forget everything. That's how magic was supposed to work, wasn't it? But Frank remembered his veins burning with fever, the worried tones of Gerard's voice, the pain as blood wrung out of places he'd never bled before. The sensations as things shut down.

Burn the wolf out from the inside. Talk about your shitty fucking solutions.

The front door opened, and Ray and Dewees slumped inside. They looked like death: exhausted, pale, barely able to move. Frank jumped to his feet.

"The fuck?" he asked. "What's wrong?"

They froze. Ray's freeze was full-on cartoon character, with an arm stopped in the air and a leg raised. Dewees was gaping at Frank like he was impossible, but at least that was a familiar look, even if Frank had never seen the extreme version before.

"What's wrong?" Ray asked hoarsely. "Gerard...he said..."

Gerard. Frank took a deep breath, and...he couldn't smell him. He couldn't even smell Ray and Dewees, not like he used to. Frank could smell cigarettes and coffee and a couple things from the stained pillow - dog bed? He couldn't tell - but not Gerard.

"Gerard!" he yelled, turning toward the kitchen. "Are you—"

Frank stopped. He couldn't go into the kitchen because Gerard was in the doorway, sagging against the frame like he needed it to stand. Oddly enough, he didn't look as shitty as the last time Frank had been human. He looked tired, but washed, fed.

Whole.

That was all Frank needed to close the space between them and hug him hard. Gerard lurched like he was losing his balance, and he grabbed Frank's shoulders, digging his fingers into his skin. Frank was too busy burying his face into the junction between Gerard's neck and shoulder to care.

"Why do I have this feeling that all of this is your fault?" Frank asked, pulling back after Gerard was solidly on his feet again.

"Because it is!" Ray piped up helpfully from behind them.

Gerard's face was positively bursting with happiness. Frank had never seen him like this before. But then, Gerard had never seen Frank completely naked, either.

"I wanted to help," Gerard said with just a smidge too much innocence.

It seemed like the time for a super romantic gesture like a kiss, so Frank went for it. It was better than saying "thank you" and "you were right" and "fuck, I'm going to be paying for this the rest of my life, aren't I" and all the other things passing through Frank's head. At least, Gerard seemed to think so.

...fuck. He was going to pay for this the rest of his life. And he could live to eighty. Or older.

Frank got hugged from behind by someone fairly taller. Dewees. And Ray came from the other side; Frank could see his curls out of the corner of his eye. Two more people to give him shit.

Somehow, as Frank sat warm between them all, he couldn't bring himself to care.

-

March

Jersey was laughing at SoCal's version of cold. Like, a lot.

"Is it even going to get to freezing today?" Frank asked, glancing at Gerard's iPhone pointedly as he turned the steering wheel. He'd wanted to drive the rental car because it had been months since he'd driven. Nice choice, Iero.

He could see Gerard at the edge of his vision even with his eyes on the road: Gerard had dyed his hair just as bright a red as it had been on Halloween before they'd left, but it was permanent this time.

"Maybe around midnight?" Gerard said, poking at the screen. "If we're lucky?"

Frank grinned. Excellent.

He parked the car where Gerard told him and looked up at the Way house. It was surprisingly not scary from the outside. He'd video chatted with Mikey a couple times, and between that and his time with Gerard, Frank had expected all things Way would look more dubious on the outside than the reality.

"You ready for this?" Gerard asked Frank.

It was a big step, one Frank hadn't taken in years. He and Gerard had made the whole boyfriend thing official before Frank had been human again a full day - complete with Gerard making sure Frank was okay with monogamy and saying they could take it slow if he needed, and all that - and here Frank was, getting ready to meet the family. Maybe the future in-laws.

Frank grabbed Gerard's hand. "I was convinced for years that I would be dead by now. Or the closest thing to it."

Gerard nodded solemnly.

"So, uh, don't be surprised if I fuck things up. Okay?" Gerard squeezed his hand. "And I need you to tell me if I do."

A devilish smile spread on Gerard's face. "I turned werewolves into humans. I can do anything."

Frank watched as Gerard climbed out of the car, walked to the front door, and rang the doorbell. A lean man with bleached blond hair appeared, and Frank's throat maybe closed up a little when he watched them talk without sound. He wasn't sure who initiated the hug, but they were both clinging in the exact same way. When they pulled back a few moments later, they were both wiping at their faces.

They turned toward the car, and Gerard waved Frank over.

Frank waved back and turned off the car. He paused, and then he pocketed the keys before climbing out.

He wouldn't be going anywhere for a while.