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So Low Beneath The Foam

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"It was just...fucking dumb, you know?"

Jeph has never actually asked the question. A part of Frank feels obliged to bring it up, considering. He spends a lot of time qualifying it in his own mind. Mostly it's when he's lost somewhere between the haze of the chorus to Skylines and Turnstiles and the haze of waking up next to a passed out Gerard. He doubts Gerard has ever thought about it. He doubts Gerard has ever been sober long enough to.

Jeph is lying next to him, his warmth flush and tingling down Frank's right side. The taller man has one arm resting under his head and with the other he absently passes Frank a messily rolled up cigarette without bothering to turn his head to look. Frank takes it because fuck it, he's on tour, but mostly because his heart is thrashing hard against his ribs without explanation.

He hasn't smoked this stuff for a while, and the offer almost makes him feel about seventeen, but after the first deep inhale he remembers exactly why he’d been avoiding it.

"You know I only-" He takes a drag. "I only--Jesus Christ--fuck-"

He coughs as though he's swallowed barbed wire, and notices from the corner of his eye that Jeph is smirking only slightly as Frank shoves the cigarette back into his grasp. Frank thinks everything Jeph does is impossibly nonchalant and impossibly cool, and that includes showing Frank the proper way to smoke a joint.

"I only joined the band a couple of days before we finished the record." He goes on once he's recovered.

He knows Jeph knows this, sure he's said it before at least twice. He doesn't know why he's stalling.

"We'd been touring a little, staying in hotels, on the road a lot. It was good." Frank's mouth feels dry and he isn't sure if it's because of the smoke or because Jeph is so close that he can feel his breath on the side of his neck.

Maybe it's because he's never told this story to a single person in his life.

He's never spoken about Gerard to anyone in any capacity.

"I don't know, man. It's like...fuck." He trails off, taking a breath. "It's like when you're on stage you're a different person, you know?"

He's sure Jeph does.

"Gerard is fucking wasted all the time but when he's on stage he changes. He can set the world to rights, you know? He can make anyone feel anything." Frank tries not to picture Gerard's face as he speaks. He blinks, holding his eyes closed for a little too long. "That includes me, I guess."

Jeph flicks what's left of the cigarette over Frank and onto the grass, tattooed hand wafting in Frank's face. He knows Jeph is listening to every word, but his continued silence is making Frank's fingers twitch.

"One night we played a show somewhere, can't remember where," Boston. "and it went so perfect, you know? We all really got into it." Frank hadn't taken his eyes off Gerard for almost two and a half songs. "The chemistry was there, we all fucking killed it." Gerard's eyes had bored into his like he was singing at him.

"So, after I'm back in the hotel. The others had gone out in the city or whatever, so I'm on the bed with my headphones on. Got my music on loud, just trying to relax."

Frank's still staring up at the sky but he can feel Jeph's eyes piercing into the side of his face. In the distance he can hear the crew dismantling equipment and people laughing into the dark.

He wonders vaguely if Gerard is with Bert right now.

"I close my eyes, start winding down, probably humming to the music-" Singing. He was singing under his breath. He still does this. Jeph has even probably interrupted him on more than one occasion doing that exact thing. "-and I unzip my jeans, cause nobody is around and I feel like it."

Frank feels like if he stops now it's because what happened next is a big deal, when he's trying very hard to convince Jeph that it isn't.

He takes a little breath regardless, wetting his lips. Suddenly Jeph's body feels closer to his than it was earlier.

"So I'm about to start, you know," he gestures, "and I open my eyes, for whatever reason, and fucking..." He pauses a second. The grass under his neck feels itchy and damp and he wishes it would tangle him up in knots and drag him into the soil without struggle.

"....Gerard is standing right there. Like, he's next to the bed looking right down at me."

Jeph lets out a quick breath that Frank thinks is almost a snigger, probably because that is so fucking Gerard and then Frank feels a little better.

"So I panic, go to pull my headset off and fucking beg him not embarrass me, but he just..." Frank pauses but he isn't sure why. He finally lets his head loll to the right and he meets Jeph's eyes through the darkness.

"What?" Jeph asks, voice quiet and soft and so fucking perfect that Frank wants to choke.

"He grabs my wrist." Frank's almost whispering now, Jeph's gaze lowering his voice into submission. "Doesn't even say anything, just gets on his knees and..."

Frank swallows. He can't even begin to concentrate on what he's meant to be describing when Jeph looks at him like he needs him for the world to turn.

"Just...starts, doing what I was gonna do."

"And you let him?"

"...yeah. I just, yeah. Fuck, wouldn't you?" Frank breathes a laugh then, the sensation releasing the tension in his shoulders.

Jeph laughs too, a lot louder and more wicked than Frank was expecting. He watches him, his own smile growing with every passing second until they're both facing up to the sky again, chests burning in the thick air.

"It was fucking stupid. Fuck, I don't know." Frank's heart is still hammering, though. "Sometimes after shows we'd fool around, just to let off steam, I guess. Gee was always wasted, like, he probably can't remember half of it."

"But you weren't?"

It's not a question. Not really. It's a fact, and Frank hasn't realised until Jeph says it out loud.

"...no." He breathes.

Frank tries not to get the song he was listening to that first time stuck in his head too often. He tries not to think of what Gerard is up to right at this second.

There's a long pause. Frank tries to think of something to say but can't, so he just lies there and tries to concentrate on his breathing.

It's Jeph who finally breaks.

"Do you love him?"

Frank turns to look but Jeph is still staring at the sky, ripping a handful of grass out of the soil with one hand, breathing even and calm as though he hadn't just asked for the world. A part of Frank wants to be angry that he dared ask, because it's none of his business, and maybe Frank doesn't like to think about whether he does or not, but the feeling melts away when Jeph looks like he genuinely wants to know.

Frank breathes out slow, eyes focused on the soft lines of the older man's profile.

"Jepha..."

"I don't care if you do." He says. "I mean, I do, because you do. Fuck, I just care about you, Frank."

He doesn't sound panicked or uncertain, he sounds raw and real and so fucking matter of fact that Frank wants to lean over and do something about it.

He doesn't know what to say, and it's almost as if Jeph can sense it when he sits bolt upright and grabs Frank's right hand. "Come on." He says, pulling them both up onto their feet.

Frank's back feels slightly damp from the grass and his head is buzzing from the smoke and probably recovering from the loud speakers on stage earlier but all he can really feel is Jeph's hand in his.

"Where?" He asks through a sideways smile, voice quiet and testing.

"Radio's on the sober bus."

Frank knows Jeph doesn't really have to say anything else, because of course he's going to follow him now, but he still hesitates when Jeph pulls at his hand.

"What about Branden?" Frank asks.

"He won't mind." Jeph pulls at him again. "Come on, Frank."

Frank still isn't sure. A part of him worries that they'll barge in and Gerard will be there, and Frank really doesn't want that after what they've just talked about. Another part of him knows the sober bus is the last place Gerard would ever be, but still.

He worries at his lower lip, eyes glancing out over the lot in the distance.

"Frank..." Jeph breathes, pulling Frank's focus back to him, "I wanna spend the night with you."

Frank finds it hard to breathe then. Jeph's eyes look focused and soft and fucking perfect and for a second Frank wonders why he ever hesitated. He eventually nods, chest still tight and heart still thrashing against it like the sound will block out any more doubt.

"You can't smoke on the bus, though." Jeph says when they've started walking idly towards the lot.

"I know. I don't want any more of that shit anyway." Frank grimaces, feet dragging slightly as he walks.

"No, I mean, you can't smoke anything on the bus. Fucking stinks."

"What?! Since when?" Frank protests, wondering how he'd cope on his own bus without the first well needed drag after waking up in the mid-morning.

"Sick of my shit stinking of stale smoke. It's outside for you."

"We'll fucking see." Frank smirks, fingers gripping Jeph's a little tighter as a warning. He is supposed to be quitting, when he thinks about it, but tour isn't the best place to break an addiction he supposes. He looks at the side of Jeph's face as they walk, focusing his gaze on every small detail and thinks he's probably right about that.

Chapter Text

The door to the bus hisses once Jeph has punched in the entry code, but it's not until they start making their way up the steps that Frank feels his chest tighten again.

Frank hears Radio's paws tapping excitedly on the linoleum to greet them and she lets out a quiet, happy little whine when they get half way up the staircase.

Jeph strokes her head with his free hand, one foot on the top step, trying to get past her to get onto the bus. He's talking to her with a high voice that makes Frank laugh a little and he goes onto tiptoes on the step, craning his neck to catch a glimpse of her little face.

"You miss me?" Jeph asks her, face right down at her level. "Huh? Yeah you did."

Frank laughs again as Jeph finally pulls him up to the top step. Radio's tail wags against his shins wildly, and Jeph is still fussing over her when they hear Branden calling from the back of the bus.

Frank pulls his hand out of Jeph's grip immediately.

"Radio? Radio! Shit." He appears from behind the curtain leading to the bunks, one hand rubbing at his eye as they adjust to the light. He stops when he sees the pair of them, squinting a little, but mostly looking relieved. "Shit, it's just you. Thought she'd got out, you know how Bert leaves the door open."

Jeph sniggers. "Bert doesn't even know the code to this bus, man."

Then they both laugh and Frank feels like he wants to run down the stairs and out onto the lot as quickly as possible. Branden looks to him, hand in his hair as he speaks through a yawn.

"Hey man, how's it going?"

Frank tries a smile but it doesn't fit, so he nods, shoving the hand that Jeph was holding into the pocket of his jeans. He can feel Jeph glance at him and back to Branden and there's a long silence that's only really filled by Radio's needy grunts at Jeph's feet.

"Is it cool if we crash here tonight?" Jeph asks.

Frank's face feels hot and there's a knot in his stomach that he can't explain. He leans down and absently strokes at Radio's ear so he doesn't have to see the look on Branden's face.

He knows Jeph spends about half his time on this bus anyway, so the fact he's even asking is making the whole thing feel weird. He's sure Branden doesn't think anything of it. He's sure Branden wouldn't care if he did. Frank still feels like bolting when he finally replies, though.

"....yeah." Frank can feel Branden looking right at him as he speaks. "Yeah, no, sure man. Just watch Radio, will you? I'm going back to sleep."

He disappears back behind the curtain and Frank doesn't realise he's still staring down at the floor until Jeph pulls him out of it.

"Hey." He says, so quiet it's almost a whisper. Frank looks up but keeps his hand in Radio's fur, still bent over to stroke her. Jeph smiles a little. "Relax, okay?"

Frank isn't sure why he can't, but he smiles and lets out a deep breath anyway.

They make camp in the lounge; Frank lay on one sofa and Jeph on the other. Jeph's arm is dangling over the edge, tickling Radio's back as she snores on the floor between them. From this angle Frank can see the tattoo creeping from beneath Jeph's t-shirt up over his throat and to his jawline. He wonders how much that must have killed to get done, but imagines Jeph would just shrug and act like it was nothing if he asked.

They start talking about everything that comes to mind, until Frank feels like his heart isn't trying to escape his chest as much anymore. He thinks about earlier, lying on the damp grass with only the darkness around them. He thinks about the way Jeph looks when he smiles.

Again, he thinks about what Gerard might be doing right now.

For once, he doesn't care.

"What's Mikey like for a roommate?" Jeph asks after a while, sounding genuinely curious.

Frank answers without hesitation. "The fucking worst."

Jeph barks a laugh, a little too loud when they know Branden is probably deep asleep by now. Frank figures it didn't wake Radio, so they can't be laughing too loud.

"You know he tried to get bread out of the toaster with a fucking fork, right?" Frank laughs. "Fucking idiot."

Jeph sounds like he's struggling to breathe and when Frank looks over at him his free hand is flat over his face, eyes closed tight in amusement.

"You know, like four people have told me that story." He says. "It's like the defining Mikey Way story. It's like-" He rolls over onto his side to face Frank, taking in a breath as he struggles to control his laughing. "-it's like 'you know the bassist from My Chemical Romance?' 'oh the fork in the toaster guy? Yeah, what about him?'"'

Frank is laughing so hard he doesn't make a sound, just feels the tight burn in his stomach as he tries to breathe.

It's probably almost three in the morning by now. Frank can feel the fatigue tugging at his brain and when they've both calmed down he lets out a yawn that he can't suppress.

Jeph looks over at him, knuckling the sleep out of his own eye. "You tired?"

Frank glances across to the opposite sofa. "What?" He breathes, black hair falling into his eyes before he brushes it away. "No. No, I'm fine."

"You wanna go to sleep? S'okay if you do." Jeph sounds like he's fighting off the urge himself. "I might turn in."

Frank blinks a few times, running a hand over his face. Jeph sits up, careful not to disturb Radio by his feet.

"You coming?" He asks.

Frank hesitates. He sits up as well, albeit slowly. He pulls the sleeves of his hoodie down over his palms. "I-erm. I should probably get back. They'll be wondering-"

"Frank." Jeph cuts him off, voice low and so quiet Frank barely hears it. When he looks up Jeph is staring right at him, his eyes glistening brown and green and awesome. His words from earlier ring in Frank's ears like a mantra or a battle cry or a vow or, or anything that makes Frank feel as alive as he does right now.

"I wanna spend the night with you."

There's a beat where neither of them say a thing and it hangs in the air like a secret.

Jeph stands and yanks at Frank's wrist, lifting him onto his feet.

They're standing very close now, chests almost touching and from this height Frank is staring right at the base of Jeph's throat. Jeph still has hold of his wrist, and with it he pulls Frank a little closer, placing Frank's palm flat across his breastbone.

Frank can feel Jeph breathing heavy, his heart's steady thud against his chest, his hot fingers tight around his wrist. He focuses on his own hand splayed out over Jeph's chest, fingertips just brushing his collarbone.

They both just breathe for a second, saying nothing, knowing nothing.

Frank lifts his head slightly to shift his gaze to Jeph's mouth, focusing on his lips, on his piercings, on anything that will make the thrilling jolt of electric he feels inside him spark into life. Frank finally looks up to meet Jeph's eyes and finds them glaring right back.

Jeph wets his lips. He grips Frank's wrist just a little tighter.

"Fuck." He whispers. "Fuck, Frank. I really wanna kiss you."

"So why don't you?" Frank whispers back, gaze never leaving Jeph's for a second.

"I just..." He's looking right into his eyes, breathing fast and shallow. "I don't wanna forget the way you look right now."

Frank gets a pang of pain through his chest like nothing he's ever felt, and he guesses that's the final straw. It's too late now to convince himself he isn't completely falling for this tall, gorgeous, fucking stupid idiot. He lets out a quiet laugh, shaking his head and grabbing a fistful of Jeph's shirt using the hand pressed up against him.

"Shut the fuck up." He laughs, and pulls Jeph's mouth down to his by the collar of his t-shirt.

Frank feels the cool metal of Jeph's piercings against his lower lip and Jeph's palm heavy and hot resting on the side of his neck. He tastes like sweet smoke and Frank lets himself take a moment to savour it whilst he can still form a coherent thought in his brain.

He's almost on tiptoes, hand still gripping Jeph's shirt and eyes closed with Jeph's fingers digging almost too hard into his wrist. The taller man smells of whatever washing powder he's found to do his laundry with, and earthy and fresh like the grass they lay on just hours earlier. Frank feels Jeph's mouth push into his lip ring and the hand on his neck pulling him in closer still and Frank feels so grounded and so high all at once.

Jeph pulls back but rests his forehead against Frank's, eyes heavy lidded and down focused on his. He's panting a little; Frank can feel his chest heaving against his own despite the blood thrashing in his ears.

"Do you want to-" Jeph's lips brush against his as he whispers. "I mean, ah-" He closes his eyes for a second, presumably to attempt to string a sentence together. "-my bunk," is all he manages.

Frank's brain stops working altogether then. He's down to the very base senses of touch and taste and maybe he can hear his own heart smashing against his breastbone so hard he thinks it's about to break loose. He can't see a thing. He can't see past the haze that descended as soon as Jeph stuttered out that last fragment of a sentence.

"I don't mean--not like that." Jeph goes on, whispers escaping erratic and uneven. "I just mean, to sleep with you." A pause. Panic. "Not, not sleep with you. Fuck, I mean, I just-"

"Jepha." Frank stops him, looking up through his eyelashes to meet his eyes once again. "I know what you mean. We're tired. Let’s go to sleep."

Jeph lets out a deep sigh, closing his eyes again for a moment. From this angle he looks so unlike the Jeph Frank has come to know.

"I don't wanna fuck this up." He confesses. He lifts his head, separating them and the hand he had at Frank's neck falls to his side. "I really--shit, I don't want to rush it, Frank."

Frank wants to tell him that his insecurities aren't there when he's with him, or that his weaknesses don't fucking control him anymore, or that when Jeph kisses him he feels like he's soaring above anything and everything that isn't the two of them right at that moment. He wants him to know that he's the only one he's told about what's drowning in the dark recesses of his brain, but he doesn't.

He doesn't say anything because he doesn't want to fuck it up either. Not this moment, or this night, or whatever will come after.

So he just says his name again; like a plea, like a promise, like a pact between just the two of them.

"Jepha..."

He guesses that's enough, because then Jeph is leading him by the wrist to the back of the bus. They go past Branden's bunk and Frank can hear him snoring softly from behind his blind. Further up there's two lone bunks behind another curtain and Jeph finally lets go of Frank's arm so he can bend down to unlace his shoes.

Frank does the same, leaving them and his hoodie on the floor in front of the bottom bunk.

Jeph pulls the blind open across the top bunk and climbs in, straightening out the sheet and moving a few things around on the little shelf above his head. Frank smiles kind of absently as he does so, biting at his bottom lip as he waits for his invitation.

Frank's head is just about level with the bunk, and for a second he wonders how he's ever going to be able to scramble in there.

Jeph looks satisfied with his work after another couple of seconds and turns to the shorter man, lying on the far side of the bunk. He's smiling from just one side of his mouth and after a little while he leans over and tucks a stray strand of Frank's black fringe behind his ear. It makes Frank feel a little embarrassed, because, well fuck he doesn't know why, but he doesn't say anything.

"I know there isn't much room," Jeph eventually whispers, "but you're only sm-"

"I'm only small, yeah, I know. Fuck you." Frank cuts him off, twisting his face in feigned annoyance.

They're trying to be quiet, but the effort goes out the window when Frank makes his first couple of attempts at hopping up and into the bunk. Jeph laughs, followed by an even louder, "shush, shit, what are you even-shhh, he's sleeping back there."

Frank has one foot on the bottom bunk and one knee resting on the edge of the top bunk, but he's laughing so hard he can't get a good enough grip to do anything about it. He buries his face in the sheets, letting most of the sound disappear into the soft bedding but then he feels Jeph yank at his arm and he manages to tumble in without much effort.

Jeph was right because there really isn't much room and when he leans across Frank to close the blind it's almost completely dark too, but Frank concentrates on the sound of Jeph's quiet laughter and it doesn't feel too cramped. They lie on their sides facing each other, faces close enough that Frank can feel Jeph's hair tickling his forehead and his shallow breaths on his cheek.

"This was a really dumb idea." Frank whispers into the darkness, but he's smiling anyway. He starts fiddling with the collar of Jeph's t-shirt with one hand, and he lets his eyes close without really realising.

"Mmm." Jeph replies, sounding a little tired. He shifts slightly, finally settling into a position and sticking to it. Frank is sure his back must be pushed right up against the wall but if it's bothering him he doesn't say.

Jeph leans in and kisses him soft and light. Frank feels the older man's lips press against his almost feather-like and he realises he's still smiling. He grips Jeph's shirt tighter, just for something to do with his hands, but his head is buzzing and lungs struggling to grasp air.

They both relax into it finally, together in the dark, until Frank breaks the kiss to breathe.

"I mean a really, really," Frank's voice is dying mid-sentence, fatigue pulling at him from every angle. He places a quick kiss to Jeph's lips, "really dumb idea."

"Yep." Jeph whispers back, kissing him again, "Uh huh. Dumbest idea ever."

"No, really." Frank's lips don't even leave Jeph's as he continues. "Fucking-" Just once more, just to tide him over, "fucking idiot."

He can feel Jeph smile under his lips, but he's falling fast and not putting up much of a fight. "Mmm hmm." Jeph goes on. "Fucking idiot."

Right before he drifts off, with the soft sound of Jeph's whispers in the air, Frank feels fingertips in his hair and on his temple and over and along his jawline and he falls into sleep with greater ease than he thinks he ever has.

Chapter Text

Frank vaguely remembers dreaming about a dark hotel room on the East Coast in winter, shallow panting and his fingers pulling at the collar of a black leather jacket for mercy, but it's out of his mind by the time morning comes.

Before he's even opened his eyes he can tell it's light outside. There's that familiar pink glow behind his eyelids that's inducing a headache. His mouth is dry, his muscles are aching and he desperately needs a cigarette.

All of that is in the two and a half seconds before he remembers where he is.

Then he feels everything he should have as soon as he woke.

Jeph's steady breathing on the back of his neck. The hot, heavy forearm resting on his ribcage. Something solid nestled in his hair that he imagines must be Jeph's face, because when he eventually does open his eyes he realises he's taking up a good three quarters of the pillow.

Frank's right arm is dangling out over the edge of the bunk as though he'd punched through the blind in his sleep. A tiny crack of sunlight is peeking through the gap and dancing right on Frank's face and he blinks several times, trying to suppress a moan of protest.

He thinks Jeph must still be sleeping, because his breaths are steady and even from behind him.

Frank pulls his arm in and runs his hand over his face, rubbing away the sleep as best he can. He has no idea what time it is, but he can hear people outside the bus chatting as they walk by. There's no sound from inside, not even Radio's paws clacking on the linoleum or the TV humming in the distance, or even Jeph's heavy breathing on the back of his neck.

There's nothing.

"Hey." He hears from behind. Jeph is whispering, probably because it is so quiet.

Frank rolls onto his back, hand in his hair and eyes still only half focused in the daylight. He turns his head so his cheek is resting on the pillow to try to get a better view of the older man.

Jeph looks like he hasn't spent the night crushed up between a stiff wall and an out-like-a-light Frank, and it's just another thing for Frank to add to his mental list of times Jeph has looked relentlessly cool.

Bastard.

"Hey." Frank whispers back.

Jeph leans up and rests on his elbow, head barely centimetres from the ceiling but he looks down at Frank like he doesn't care. Frank stares at the tattoos on the back of Jeph's hand as he rubs his eyes. When he's done Frank stares at his smile in replacement.

"You okay?" Jeph goes on, still whispering.

"Yeah." He nods. "You?"

Jeph places his palm flat on Frank's chest and looks down at it. He nods in reply.

It's strangely intimate, this. Frank feels like his breathing is shallow and he wets his lips when Jeph starts to slide his hand lower. Frank stops looking at Jeph's face then and snaps his gaze to the hand running slowly slowly down his front.

Surely Jeph can feel Frank's heart smashing against his ribcage.

Jeph looks like he's concentrating; gaze unwavering as the hand stops just before reaching Frank's stomach. His t-shirt is riding up a little, probably because of the way he's slept, and there's a strip of skin above his belt exposing two swallows in black ink.

Frank is frozen. He can't move and he can't breathe. Hell, he can't even think about anything other than the heavy pressure of Jeph's hand burning through his t-shirt.

"You, er-" Jeph whispers, eyes still burning down at his hand. "You want a smoke?"

"God, yes!" Franks laughs, letting out the deep breath that he's been holding since Jeph first woke.

Jeph lets out a breathy laugh, as though tearing himself away from what he was just doing. He moves his hand away and uses it to brush the hair out of his eyes.

Frank makes a point of not mentioning what he was warned last night about having to smoke outside, and it pays off when Jeph grabs a cigarette from the pack on the shelf above his head. He places it between his lips as he feels around for the lighter without looking, signalling to Frank to pull open the blind a little further with a nod.

Jeph's first drag is long and Frank watches in admiration at Jeph's throat as he throws his head back to inhale. He hands the cigarette to Frank with two fingers but keeps his eyes closed. Frank grabs it eagerly and is taking a drag and exhaling before Jeph has even had a chance to open his eyes. Fuck, that's good.

"I don't bend the rules for everyone, you know." Jeph says, reaching behind him again, presumably for an ashtray. That alone totally contradicts what he's saying but Frank doesn't think to mention it.

Instead, he sniggers. "Fucking knew you'd cave."

"Like I said," Jeph looks down at Frank, eyes blown and dark and Frank feels the breath catch in his throat once again, "Not for everyone. Anyway, I don't wanna get Radio all excited going outside."

"Yeah," Frank replies sarcastically, "Radio, sure." He smiles and passes the cigarette back to Jeph.

For a little while they don't say anything, just smoke silently and smile when they catch each other's eye until the cigarette is down to a stub and Jeph tosses it into the ashtray on the shelf.

Now his head is clearer, Frank starts to wonder what time it is, what's going on in his bus across the lot, where they're shipping off to after tonight's show, whether or not he can swing breakfast out of Jeph, when Jeph eventually breaks the silence.

He clears his throat, but his voice is still quiet when he speaks. "Last night, I, er-" he doesn't make eye contact, just picks at a loose thread on his jeans, "I'm sorry for asking, I mean, about Gerard."

Frank blinks. He searches Jeph's face but he doesn't know what for. That hot feeling in his stomach is back.

"I shouldn't have asked you like that. It's, it's none of my business. I'm sorry." He takes a breath. "And erm, I'm sorry for bringing it up again now."

Frank twists one side of his mouth into a smile at that last comment, but he can tell by Jeph's face that he's still thinking about it and he still won't look at him and Frank wants to lean over and make him forget he ever brought it up, but he doesn't.

He knows he's doesn't mean asking about Gerard in general. Lots of people make comments about him and Gerard. Frank thinks its funny most of the time. Most of the time it is funny.

Jeph doesn't mean that. He means the other thing he asked.

"You don't have to say anything, just, I'm sorry. That's it."

Frank can't think of a single thing to say anyway, so instead he grabs Jeph's hand and holds it still, forcing their eyes to meet finally. He pulls a smile and Jeph eventually smiles back, albeit reluctantly.

"Stop saying sorry." Frank says, "Geez, do you have to be so fucking thoughtful all the time?"

Jeph laughs, only a little. Frank can still see the guilt on his face, though. He touches his cheek, just for a second, just until he sees his expression soften. "Jepha, relax, okay?"

Frank leans over and kisses him, fingers still gripping Jeph's and he hears a low little satisfied noise escape his throat as he does so. Frank keeps his face close when they pull apart, whispering right into his lips. "You already got me into bed, you don't have to try so hard."

Jeph pushes him away by the shoulder and laughs, hair falling into his eyes from the force. "You fucking wish."

Frank rolls back over onto his back but keeps Jeph's hand in his, idly lacing his fingers through the older man's. From outside he hears talking and engines running and from somewhere a little further he hears music playing.

He wonders again about the time. Surely it can't be sound check already.

"Anyway, don't you have a bed of your own to get to?" Jeph asks, almost as if he knows. His eyes are on their intertwined hands. It makes Frank's chest tighten. "They'll be out looking for you soon." Jeph goes on.

"They only come looking if there's a fucking mess for me to clean up." Frank laughs, knowing that's actually pretty accurate. "They probably didn't even realise I was gone."

"Then come back tonight." Jeph says; voice low and testing, and when Frank snaps his gaze up to take a look at his face he finds him staring right back. His eyes are glowing like they were last night under the stars, and Frank's breath catches in his throat at the memory. "I mean, if nobody is gonna miss you anyway..."

Frank swallows. "But we're rolling out tonight."

"Yeah?" Jeph says, as if it isn't the biggest fucking deal in the world. Frank could throttle him for always being so damn mellow all the time. "Bert goes on your bus all the time."

He's right. He does. Bert is on his bus all the time, on and off the road. Nobody cares. Nobody even thinks about it.

"Yeah, but..." The words die on Frank's tongue when he realises he doesn't really have any valid reasons to fight it.

Then he thinks about Gerard.

"I don't know." He hesitates, pulling his hand away from Jeph's to run through his hair.

The black mess on top is way too long now, and his roots are showing under the bleached platinum at the sides. He thinks he'll get it sorted before Europe, in that tiny three day period between one tour and the next where he has to live some form of normality. On tour with Green Day. As soon as Taste of Chaos is over they're flying to the UK.

Frank stops thinking about it then. All he wants to think of is Jeph's breath on his neck and the way his whole body is aching from sharing this bunk.

"Think about it." Jeph says, as though Frank could ever think of anything else when Jeph looks at him like that.

"Okay." Frank breathes. Their eyes are fixed for what feels like a hellishly long time. Hellish because it makes Frank's skin feel hot and wet and feverish and his lungs burn with shallow breathing.

"I erm-" Frank swallows again, "I'd better go."

"Yeah. You'd better go." Jeph's gaze doesn't falter. He sits up slightly and leans across to rest both arms on either side of Frank's shoulders, towering over him with his hair falling around his face. The strip of light from the open blind is dancing over his right cheek and in the air around him Frank can see dust particles floating with the last remnants of cigarette smoke. He looks down at Frank like he's studying every inch of his face. Frank wants to do something, but he's suspended in the daze. This man is fucking magnificent.

"See you tonight?" He asks. His voice is low and quiet and almost insinuating and all of a sudden all Frank can focus on is Jeph's tongue as he wets his lips.

Frank holds his resolve, although he has no fucking idea how. "Maybe."

"Right." He replies, long and drawn out and leaning down closer to Frank with every letter. "Maybe."

Frank can't even bring himself to blink. "I mean, probably."

Closer. Frank can feel his breath on his mouth and his throat and God he wants Jeph to do something, fucking anything, but he also knows that's just his trousers thinking and not his brain.

His brain isn't providing any input whatsoever at this moment.

Jeph lowers his mouth right over the base of Frank's throat and Frank closes his eyes, utterly powerless.

Jeph murmurs against the sensitive skin. "Mmm, probably. Right."

Frank twists a little under him. He breathes like he can't get air.

"I mean, yeah. Yeah. Probably. Yeah. Yes." He stutters, breath hitching when he feels Jeph's tongue hot and wet against the dip in his neck.

He wishes more than anything that he doesn't let out a desperate little whimper, but by the time it registers, he's too far gone to care.

"Okay. Tonight it is." Jeph whispers, lips brushing against his skin as he does.

Frank nods, almost frantically. "Uh hmm. Tonight. Yeah."

"Stay a bit longer?" Jeph is testing now, mouth pulled into a smile and Frank can feel it against his throat.

Frank has one hand in a fist in the sheets at his side and the other faintly tracing Jeph's t-shirt with light fingertips. He hasn't the motor functions to yank at it and force Jeph down on top of him. He scarcely has the brain power to speak.

He hates how he barely waits a second to reply.

"F-fuck, okay."

That makes Jeph laugh, hot air shrouding Frank's face and knocking some slight sense back into his fogged up brain. Jeph leans up slightly and presses a quick kiss to Frank's lips, still smiling. "You're so fucking easy."

Frank opens his eyes, finally, taking a much needed breath. He playfully shoves Jeph in the chest with the flat of his hand.

"And you're such a fucking tease." He snaps, eyebrows furrowed in mock frustration.

Jeph is smiling as though he agrees. "You don't know the half of it."

"Okay, I'm going." Frank protests, pulling the blind all the way open so light floods the entirety of the bunk. Jeph laughs at his reply and rolls onto his stomach when Frank has hopped down.

He peels his hoodie from off the floor and slides it on, putting his hood up so it's only half resting on the top of his head. He can feel Jeph watching him as he puts his shoes on.

"What?" Frank asks once he's dressed, voice quiet and a little more serious.

Jeph looks at him like he can't bear to ever look at anything else, and again Frank's neck feels hot and his skin is prickling against his hoodie.

"Nothing." Jeph mumbles, gaze focused and his mouth curved into a small but very noticeable smile. "I'll see you tonight."

Frank steps forward and places both hands on the edge of the bunk, almost on his tiptoes to peer his head in closer.

"What?"

Jeph laughs, shoving him back and away from the bed. "Nothing!"

Frank stares, still unsure. He shoots him another questioning look and Jeph laughs louder at the sight.

"Go!" He shouts, exaggerating. He pulls at the pillow from under him and launches it at Frank. It hits him square in the shoulder but Frank reacts as if he hadn't even felt it. He steps forward again, one foot in the bottom bunk and he lifts himself up enough to steal a kiss before being pushed away roughly once again.

"I'm serious." Jeph breathes, but he's still smiling. "It's nothing. Fuck off now."

Frank turns his back, one hand raised as a kind of half-assed wave goodbye. "Okay, okay. Fuck you too."

He makes his way down the bus and out into the daylight where the sun stings his retinas and the air tingles like burning and God, he hasn't felt this alive for so long.

Chapter Text

The real panic doesn't set in until he gets back to his bus and realises he's been out all night without saying a word to anyone. It sinks in further as he fiddles with the door code and smashes the buttons in the wrong order for the first couple of attempts.

He thinks eventually someone inside will hear the familiar low bleep of a rejected combination and come to the door (Gerard struggles with door codes after a certain amount of a certain substance) but nobody does.

It gives him an extra moment to calm the fuck down but when he eventually hears the familiar hiss of the door releasing he stumbles up onto the first step as though he's drunk.

He still has his hood up and when he slams the door behind him and takes a couple of more steps up the force makes it slide off his hair.

"Walk of shame?"

Frank looks up and sees Bob at the top of the steps, smirking like he's about to capsize from hoarding it over Frank to this extent. He's using that low, smug voice he does when he's tormenting Frank, which is often, and Frank can't help but smile.

He pushes past him when he reaches the final step, not bothering to even look at him, hand raised with just one finger in view of the taller man until he hears him laugh quietly. Frank takes his hoodie off and throws it down onto the table amongst an array of other miscellaneous garbage and stacked magazines.

He can feel Bob's eyes on his back, priming, so he turns to face him, shrugging his shoulders in query. He tries to act nonchalant when really he feels like he could be sick.

Bob smiles. "So?"

"So what?" Frank sees Bob's face change and he sighs, playing up to the questioning as best he can. "I was just hanging out with Jeph. Lost track of time."

His heart is pummeling his breastbone, though.

Bob's face falls, seemingly disinterested. "Oh, shit. Boring. Mikey not with you?"

Frank pulls a face, only now realising how quiet the bus is. Bob's face looks tired. He's still in his pyjama pants. The clock on the back wall reads 10:39.

The fuck?

"He's not here?" Frank asks.

Bob shakes his head, hand on the back of his neck. "Thought he was with you."

Everyone always does. He usually is, in fact.

"No, he..." Frank trails off. He takes a deep breath, unease creeping up his spine like a slow fever. "What's going on?"

"Gerard got really fucked up last night."

Bob's voice lowers about five fucking decibels and Frank barely hears it well enough to get a pang of pain in his chest when he deciphers what he's just said. "Stumbled in about four. Think he's on the comedown now but, fuck. I mean, I know he's always like, you know, but fuck, he was really--"

Frank's hearing totally cuts off and he stares at the wall directly behind Bob as he continues mumbling. He feels hot nausea come over him in waves, eyes unfocused and pupils blown.

Where the hell was Mikey whilst this was going on?

Where the hell was Frank?

He swallows, fingers digging into his palm. "Where is he?" He manages to ask, but his throat is burning and his stomach feels like one hot knot that's tightening with every passing second.

Bob nods in the direction of the lounge and Frank turns to go before Bob even has a chance to speak.

"Fuck," he mumbles, mostly to himself as he pushes his way past the curtain and to the back of the bus.

He frantically tries to think of where he saw Gerard last, what state he was in, who he was with. Last night feels like a drawn out blur; sweating on his knees during I'm Not Okay, head back, mouth open, the cord from Gerard's microphone draped over his shoulder. Drinking after their set, Gerard's palm firm and voice thick in his ear as he dragged his hand over Frank's chest in passing from behind. "You fucking pansy."

Frank laughing, chest tight, teasing. "You weren't so bad yourself."

Bumping into Jeph on the way out, venue thumping with another band's song, Frank's hair still damp. Eyes covered in two long black lines drawn on carefully hours earlier, a little smudged from playing. Jeph towering over Frank, smile genuine and tattooed throat all consuming as he smoked.

The smell of grass beneath them, shivering in the dusk. Jeph's smile against his lips.

He should have been here. He should have fucking been here.

He halts in the doorway. "Fuck."

Gerard is lay on the sofa, right arm and most of his head hanging over the edge of the cushions. Frank isn't sure if he's sleeping or passed out. He guesses it's all the same, really.

His hair is slick with sweat and covering most of his face, but Frank can see it moving with the light pressure of his breathing. Frank feels a little better then.

His lungs work. He's alive. He's okay.

Fucking asshole.

Gerard is still in his stage clothes. His blazer is only covering one arm, tie loose around his neck and the oversized stained white shirt he's wearing clings to his skin. It isn't the worst state Frank has seen him in.

There's a small trash can in front of the sofa with a plastic bag rolled up inside. Frank takes a step forward and realises it's empty. He doesn't know if that's good or bad.

Ray is sleeping on the opposite sofa. He's sat upright with his knees to his chest, one side of his face resting on his arm. Frank sighs and stands between the two men for a second. The hot guilt in his stomach is still there.

"Hey," he says, quietly, nudging Ray's arm as gentle as he can. "Hey, come on. Your shift is over. I'm tagging in, dude."

Ray lets out a little groan and all but peels his face off his arm to look up at Frank with blurry eyes. His hair is literally everywhere, up at all possible angles. Frank places a palm on Ray's forehead and tilts his head back. Ray squints in the light.

"Shit, did you sleep at all?" Frank asks, examining the dark skin under Ray's eyes.

He groans again, shaking his head until Frank's hand falls. His voice sounds like gravel underfoot. "Where the hell were you two?"

"Mikey isn't with me. Fuck knows where he is." Frank looks over at Gerard again, just checking. "Seriously, go to bed. I've got this."

Ray rubs at his eye, turning to check on Gerard himself. Frank can tell he's had a long night.

"He's not with you?" He asks, clearly still adjusting to the daylight. His hand disappears in his hair for a minute and he looks up at Frank from the sofa, worry so prevalent in his eyes.

"Why does everyone think we're joined at the fucking hip?" Frank laughs, but it's shaky. "I live with the guy at home, he doesn't wanna spend every minute with me on tour as well."

Ray looks over at Gerard again. He isn't listening.

Frank takes a deep breath and steps out of his shoes, kicking them across to the far wall. "Toro," he goes on, voice a little softer. "He's asleep. I'll watch him."

"Okay, okay." Ray relents, finally. He stands and stretches his arms a little. He does look tired, but Frank figures sleep is kind of a commodity on tour as it is, and fuck, he hardly slept either crushed up against Jeph all night.

Frank ignores the sharp pain in his chest.

"So," Ray starts through a yawn. Why is there always a fucking 'so'? "You weren't with Mikey. Where did you end up, you dirty stop out?"

Frank snaps his head to look at him, trying to hide a smile but failing, obviously. "What is it with you and Bob and the twenty questions? It's not even fucking noon yet!" Frank lifts his arms in mock exasperation. "I was with Branden and Jeph."

Ray goes to reply but pauses. Then his eyebrow curves in curiosity. "On the sober bus?"

Frank smiles, keeping up his aura of feign irritation. "Yes, on the sober bus. You want the fucking zip code as well? Go to bed!"

Ray does as he's told. Eventually.

It suddenly feels so silent and when he turns to look at Gerard sleeping he lets out a shaking breath. He wishes he could be angry at him for doing this again, and again, and probably for the hundredth time, but all Frank can concentrate on is how small he looks lying there.

Fuck.

He stands over him, breath shallow, and with a single finger moves the hair from his eyes and out of his face. His forehead feels cool and damp. There's remnants of stage makeup around his eyes. Three of the fingernails on his right hand are covered with chipped to all hell black nail polish and fuck, Frank wants to lean down and strangle him or straddle him or both.

He throws a blanket over him, guessing that's something Ray didn't think to do. Frank supposes Ray had the worst of it though, and then he feels hot dread creeping up his spine from the memory.

Frank doesn't know what Gerard was like when he got back here, or how, or who with and he knows Gerard can be a fucking nightmare at the best of times, never mind under the influence of whatever shit he takes. Frank tries not to think about it.

He decides to have a smoke, because maybe that will numb his senses for a while, and maybe it will make the buzzing in his head stop, but then he's inhaling and it makes him think of Jeph's exposed throat and the way his hair smelt at three in the morning.

He kicks the trash can to one side and plants himself down in front of the sofa, cigarette balancing between his lips. From down on the floor he can hear Gerard's steady breathing and it makes the hammering in his chest settle only slightly.

The first time he ever did this he was so scared Gerard was going to roll over and choke he stayed awake all night. He soon learnt that once he's been put in a position he's staying like that until morning, or at least until the need for nicotine or caffeine stirs him. That's usually around noon.

So Frank knows he has another hour or so.

He feels his head lolling behind him with fatigue to rest on the cushion by Gerard's stomach. He pulls at the blanket to cover his shoulders and lets his eyes close, concentrating on how reassuring Gerard's breathing sounds, submitting to sleep.

He feels like at one point he sees Mikey in the doorway, but not enough to be sure.

He's in and out of sleep for what feels like a long time until he feels fingers in his hair and with his eyes closed he's convinced he's crushed up in a cramped, dark bunk with Jeph breathing steadily behind him.

That's until he feels something tugging at the pocket of his jeans and then an elbow in his jaw.

"Ow! Motherfucker." He grumbles the insult, grimacing as he opens his eyes and runs a hand over his cheek.

Gerard has Frank's packet of cigarettes in his hand.

"Be careful, asshole." Frank snaps, going to snatch the packet but Gerard already has one in his mouth and is snapping the dud lighter into life over and over.

"Sorry." Gerard replies, voice muffled slightly. His eyes are concentrated until the damn thing finally lights and he throws the lighter down onto the carpet, flopping back onto the cushions.

"God, you sound like shit." Frank says, bringing his knees to his chest. He stretches his neck, rolling his head from one side to the other.

Gerard huffs mid-inhale. "Feel like shit."

"Good." Frank rests his head back onto the sofa again. His eyes are stinging from fatigue and he's pretty sure the bottom half of his body is completely numb from sleeping on the floor.

Gerard buries his fingers in Frank's hair, moving the black fringe from his forehead. Frank closes his eyes. "What happened to you last night?" Gerard asks, voice quiet and soft.

Frank raises his hand and Gerard passes the cigarette without comment.

"Me? What happened to you? Fucking idiot." He tries to sound mad. He thinks of the tiredness in Gerard's eyes. He takes a drag and feels the fight fade out of him.

"Don't know." Gerard says, fingers gentle and nice in Frank's hair. "Think I was with...fuck, I don't know."

When Frank looks behind him to pass the smoke back, Gerard has his eyes closed so he pushes it between his fingers as encouragement.

"Same as usual, then." Frank laughs a little, but he closes his eyes too. He vaguely hears Gerard make a non-committal noise from somewhere deep in his throat.

They don't say anything for a while then. They pass the cigarette between them until it's down to ashes in the trash can and Frank focuses on Gerard's hand on his head. The bus is quiet, and Frank guesses everyone is at least trying to sleep.

"You smell like weed." Gerard says, a little out of the blue. He sounds like he's on the edge of falling asleep himself, and it makes Frank realise that his own eyes are closed too. Gerard is stroking soft, languid circles in his hair.

"Huh?" Frank murmurs, "Oh, yeah. Someone gave me a joint."

"Thought it made you sick." He replies. Frank doesn't remember ever telling Gerard that, but of course he knows. It's probably something he said in passing one night about three years ago.

"It did," Frank breathes. "I almost coughed up a lung."

"Ha." Gerard says, in lieu of actually laughing. "Dumbass."

Frank snorts a little, hand resting on his stomach. He wonders where Gerard was all night. He wonders what he was doing and who with. It's not his place to ask, or question, or even lecture because it never has been. He guesses that's why Gerard doesn't mind lying with him the morning after. It's easy.

"Heard you were on the sober bus last night."

Frank is sure he stops breathing. He opens his eyes but doesn't move. "Oh?" He asks, mouth dry. He swallows. "You got a spy?"

Gerard's fingers twist in Frank's hair. His head is leant right back against the arm of the couch, almost dangling over the edge. Frank wonders if he's still high.

"Intel." He replies, long and drawn out and with so much fucking knowing that Frank wants to fall through the floor. "Someone saw you."

Frank knows nobody saw him. For a minute he wonders if Gerard is fucking with him, but he can't find a good enough list of reasons as to why he would. He wants to ask, straight up, but then doesn't know why he should.

He wants to say something, anything that will stop the theory in its tracks but he can't find a single word in his vocabulary that wouldn't completely incriminate him. He thinks about changing the subject.

Then Gerard speaks again, and his voice is so vainglorious Frank wants to reach up and throttle the fucking life out of him.

"Halloween."

Frank frowns, because what the fuck is that supposed to mean, and why does he have to be so goddamn cryptic all the time, but then he looks down at his right hand resting on his stomach and the realisation hits him like a fucking truck.

He got his fingers tattooed just over a week ago. The lettering is still healing, raised and reddish against his skin.

When he woke up this morning his right arm was dangling out over the side of Jeph's bunk.

Fuck.

His ears feel hot with embarrassment. He stares at his fingers. HALLO. He feels like lying, just to make the whole thing go away but then he remembers it would be useless.

Sometimes he forgets that Gerard knows him. He has seen him at the very edge and very end of every conceivable emotion.

He's seen the concentrated euphoria he feels onstage, sweating and panting and living every bar of music. He's seen his pupils dilate at the first drag of a cigarette at six in the morning. He's heard the cracked whimpers catch in his throat when Gerard gets on his knees.

It's too late to pretend Gerard can't read his face like a book.

But then Gerard starts laughing, and he pushes Frank's head playfully with the hand that was in his hair. Frank turns himself sideways to sit facing him, breathing slowing and for whatever reason, the sight of him makes Frank want to laugh too.

"You fucking idiot." Frank sighs, rubbing the side of his face and adjusting his messed up hair. He's laughing, though.

Gerard stretches both arms over the armrest so his fingers are almost touching the carpet. He's still laughing, and Frank thinks he looks kind of manic.

"Fuck!" Gerard all but yells, dragging out the word until it turns into a groan. "I feel like shit!"

"Good!" Someone yells from the other side of the bus, voice muffled and sarcastic and then Frank realises it's obviously Mikey. "Shut the fuck up cause so do I!"

Gerard bolts upright and pulls a grimace at Frank, hair all over his eyes and stuck to the sides of his face.

He probably desperately needs a shower and about fifteen litres of water to rehydrate. He probably wants coffee and a dark room. When they're on the move to the next city tonight Frank thinks Gerard will get some decent rest, or at least try. Maybe he'll actually get a chance to flush out whatever is in his system. Maybe Frank will be able to distract him long enough for him to have a chance, just lie down and talk shit until they fall asleep.

Then Frank remembers he kind of has somewhere to be tonight.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

On Frank's 21st birthday, they played a show in some tiny dive venue, faces smothered in white and black like skeletons, sweating to their very cores, panting and breathing the music. Frank had flung his mic stand into the drum set, screaming and shredding and living.

He'd played with his back against Gerard's chest, mouth slack and eyes closed as Gerard's hand ventured lower and lower until he peeled himself away.

They drank until late and Frank felt his head buzzing although he hadn't spent a single penny. The five of them stumbled out into the snow afterwards, dispersing in different directions until Frank could only see Gerard amongst the blizzard.

They leant against the side of the trailer in the dark, just the two of them, laughing loud and fingers numb with cold. Gerard was wearing his black leather jacket.

The scorpion on Frank's neck was still fresh and stinging but he didn't protest when Gerard's sweaty palm rest against it, pulling his mouth on top of his.

Frank fiddled with the keys in Gerard's jacket pocket and unlocked the van without interrupting the kiss. He could see Gerard's hot breath in the air but that's the last thing he saw for a while because as soon as he lay on the backseat Gerard's hand was at his zipper and he closed his eyes.

Gerard tasted like smoke and liquor. He towered above Frank, breathing against his neck fast and shallow. Gerard whispered "happy Halloween," in Frank's ear right as he came all over Gerard's hand.

For those few minutes, Frank fleetingly thought he was in love.

When the fog cleared and he came back down to earth he realised he still was.

Chapter Text

Jeph makes Frank smoke outside the bus with his hood up and weight shifting from one foot to the other. The temperature has dropped about ten fucking degrees since yesterday and Frank is really feeling it, even though an hour earlier he was writhing around the stage drenched in sweat.

It's quiet out aside from the distant sound of equipment being packed up and Jeph exhaling smoke until it rises high into the dark. Frank stares at the side of his face like he can't look away. The older man's hair is still damp from his post-show shower and fuck, he's not even wearing a jacket. Frank dismisses the thought that he's standing out here smoking just for Frank's benefit. He knows Jeph can comfortably live on one or two cigarettes a day and he's only really freezing his ass off because Frank needs his fix before the bus roars into life.

Frank showered and changed and left his own bus before the others had even made their way back after the set. Now he regrets not taking his time choosing something to wear because the huge rips in the knees of his jeans are letting the dry cold creep in and penetrate his bones. Jeph probably thinks that's funny.

He thinks about resting against the doorway to the kitchen on the bus this afternoon, hand on the back of his neck, mouth dry and unable to form words.

Mikey was sat in the booth, face flat against the cluttered table, fingers gripping onto a mug of lukewarm coffee for dear fucking life.

Frank had coughed, trying to get his attention. This didn't work, obviously.

He swallowed. Mikey didn't move. "Erm, Mikes?"

"Huh?" At least that's what it sounded like. Mikey let out a low grunt that disappeared into the solid wood under him. Where the fuck was he last night?

"I'm, er," He managed to take a breath. He suddenly realised this was fucking stupid. "I'm not gonna be on the bus tonight."

There was nothing for a beat, then Mikey raised his arm in acknowledgment without looking up. Frank smiled.

"Okay, so...yeah." Frank paused. "I mean, if anyone asks...."

"Mmm." Mikey groaned, and with his raised arm wafted Frank out of the room. Frank figured that was enough. Mikey never asks for detail. That's what Frank wanted.

Jeph is looking down at Frank's legs with a smirk as he shakes with the cold. Frank pretends he doesn't notice and keeps smoking. He feels Jeph's shoe nudge his, and it's so fucking dumb but it makes him smile. Frank thinks the older man is such a fucking dork sometimes but he tries to pretend he doesn't think it's the sweetest thing on this entire earth.

From across the lot Frank sees Quinn fall out of the stage door, sweaty and stumbling. Blonde hair stuck to his face, he notices them immediately and waves his arm high above his head, letting out a high pitched whistle.

Frank suddenly feels self-conscious, because it's late, it's really late, and they're almost about to roll out and Jeph must have disappeared pretty quick after his set and now he's stood here without a fucking coat next to the bus just the two of them.

He doesn't know why he gets this sickly hot feeling in his stomach when he's with Jeph, but it gets worse when people see them together and it's like he wants to keep it secret or it'll get ruined.

He knows he overthinks a lot and the thought of fucking this up fills him with prickling dread because when Jeph looks at him it's like nothing else matters.

Jeph gestures back to Quinn, an unspoken 'see you in the next city' thing that Frank imagines is exchanged whenever they travel in separate busses. Maybe it's more of a 'please God try to keep Bert out of trouble' exchange, but all involved parties know that effort is mostly futile.

Jeph looks back to Frank and smiles, as if out of politeness and it makes Frank's palms sweat. He wishes he could explain himself, but really he can't focus on anything other than how good Jeph looks at this exact moment.

Frank is leaning against the bunks when the bus starts moving, one hand pulling off his shoe, and he stumbles forward as the wheels roll.

"Fuck," he whispers into the dark, but it's more embarrassed than annoyed.

Jeph steadies him by the shoulder and when Frank looks up he's smiling. For some reason Frank feels sick, and he thinks it's because neither of them have said a word since Jeph lead him back here by the cuff of his hoodie.

They'd sat in the lounge and talked for a little while, Frank fiddling with the thread on the hole in his jeans whilst Jeph and Branden laughed about something he can't remember because he was concentrating on breathing normally.

He thought about Gerard's fingers in his hair this morning and the shot of fear he'd felt when he'd first seen his passed out form stomach down on the couch.

He'd felt a sharp pang of something familiar in his chest, but dismissed it when Branden called it a night and he saw the look in Jeph's eyes as he turned to face him.

Now Jeph is looking down at him and Frank can just make out his face in the dark but the sight is enough to make him lost for words.

"Careful." Jeph says, one hand on Frank's collarbone and with the other he moves a couple of stray strands of fringe from his forehead, pushing the hood down off his hair.

Frank can't think of a single thing to say, so he smiles just a little. He can't stop thinking about how unlike him this is, how he's on the bus with Jeph and the bus is moving off somewhere else, and nobody really knows where he is, but at the same time it feels so fucking good to do something as scary as this.

And Frank is scared. Fuck, Jeph's fingertips on his skin make him feel like his heart is clawing out of his chest.

Frank steps back to rest on the bunks, and he feels Jeph lean against him, the movement of the bus rocking them both gently. He threads a finger through one of Jeph's belt loops, eyes downcast, breathing shallow.

"I watched you play tonight." Jeph whispers.

Frank looks up, face flushing hot and red immediately. "No you didn't."

"I did!" Jeph smiles, but he's still whispering.

Frank frowns, but then he feels Jeph's fingers on his lower back and he forgets his entire argument.

He suddenly remembers Jeph telling him this once before. Frank just gets a flicker of being leant against the wall in some hot, dark, loud bar in a nameless European city, head buzzing and eyes heavy with drunken fatigue.

He can't remember where the others were. He can barely remember that night at all, he just recalls Jeph's breath hot on his neck as he mumbled right into the shell of his ear over the music.

"I watched you play tonight."

Frank thought it was kind of a dumb thing to say, because he watched Jeph play every night on that tour from the side of the stage. They all did. They watched The Used's set in every city on every night.

He knew that they did the same sometimes.

Jeph didn't mean that, though.

Frank didn't say anything, just took another drink and tried not to think about Jeph's proximity to his mouth. From over his shoulder Frank thought he saw Gerard stumbling out of the bathroom across the bar.

"You were..." Jeph started, lips against Frank's ear. "Fuck, man, you really go for it, huh?"

Frank nodded in agreement, a smile just threatening his lips. He wanted to pay attention. He did. Jeph was funny, and nice, and talented and perfect, and right there but Frank's focus was still on the bathroom door Gerard has just exited non so subtly.

The room was spinning around him, Jeph's upper body the only thing keeping him grounded and anchored to the wall.

"Just one question, though. Cause, I mean, I really need to know." Jeph tried to pull focus, but Frank's eyes were boring over his shoulder. The bathroom door. Breathing shallow, he swallowed.

Come on. Come on. He knew he had been in there with Gerard. He just needed to see it for himself.

Then he felt Jeph's hand on his arm, mouth leaning closer against his ear. Frank finally tore his eyes away and looked down at the older man's hand. Then, up to his face. He noticed for the first time how close they were stood, how good Jeph smelt, how his hand was radiating heat and the way his jaw looked when he spoke.

"And, you know, you don't have to answer if you don't want to."

Then Frank was hanging on to his every word, breathing him in, fingers picking at the label on his beer bottle. If his brain and focus weren't stumbling through alcoholic delirium maybe he'd have had the sense realise Jeph was flirting with him.

Frank was hyper aware of Jeph's lips against his skin when he finally asked, "Is there something going on between you and Gerard?"

The music pulsing the walls suddenly felt like a drill through his skull. Frank froze, jaw clenched and mouth dry. Even through the drunken haze he knew there wasn't a thing he could say.

Then Jeph laughed. He fucking laughed.

"...because one minute you were playing, then you went and kicked him in the fucking stomach! He must have done something to really piss you off."

Frank felt relief wash over him like a fucking tsunami.

Then he had sense enough to exhale, to relax, to savour the way Jeph's eyes light up at the sight of him pressed against the brick. He laughed too, low and loud and completely over the top because, damn, that was the funniest thing he'd heard in a long time.

And Jeph had said it. And Jeph had made him remember it. And fuck, that was two years ago.

And Frank was so caught up in it that he didn't notice when Bert left the bathroom door.

Frank doesn't have time enough to think about it now, because Jeph's hand is hot on the small of his back and he's pulling him closer. He thinks about Jeph watching him play from the side of the stage. He feels a little tug in the deep down part of his chest as he takes a breath but it only lasts a second.

"Well I never saw you." He replies, voice still just a murmur.

Frank knows for a fact he doesn't see shit when he's on stage. He barely has his eyes open. He wonders if Jeph is just teasing.

"Well you were on the floor for most of it." Jeph laughs. "You wouldn't have seen much."

Ha. Of course Jeph knows that.

Still, he feels the heat prickling up his spine at the thought.

Jeph always does this. He can always manage to make Frank feel like he's gasping for air, drowning, lungs inhaling hot water in the struggle. He makes him want to stop and start all at once.

"Why did you do that?" Frank whispers, and now his eyes are focused on the fine detailed ink at Jeph's jawline and the way the skin from his ear to his collarbone looks like a good place to leave a mark.

The bus jerks and Frank places a hand on Jeph's chest as anchor. He feels warm and steady and he smells clean and smoky and so good that Frank is struggling to breathe.

"I wanted to." He says, so quiet, so barely there. He runs gentle fingers across Frank's forehead. The soft sound of the engine and the wheels rolling thankfully muffles any evidence of Frank's heavy breathing.

Jeph's palm finds Frank's neck and rests right against his scorpion and Frank can feel the taller man's fingers at the base of his skull in his hair. He leans his body further into Frank's, mouth close to his, chests together, hot and right and so fucking good.

Frank feels Jeph's lips brush against his as he whispers again, "Your heart is beating," the hand on Frank's back grips at his t-shirt, "So fast."

Frank can't respond. He has his eyes closed, breathing in Jeph's words like they're the only thing keeping him grounded.

Jeph rests his forehead against Frank's.

"Fuck," he breathes, "You're so..." He trails off as his knee is nudging Frank's legs apart and then he's sliding the hoodie off Frank's shoulders and the sound of it hitting the floor makes Frank want to whimper into the dark. The words die on Jeph's lips.

When Jeph finally kisses him it's slow and soft and barely there. Their mouths are pressed together like they aren't stumbling about in the dark on a moving bus.

Frank can feel Jeph's hand on the small of his back and another on the nape of his neck and Jeph's piercings pressing into his lower lip and Jeph's thigh between his legs and Jeph's mouth and Jeph's chest and Jeph and Jeph and Jeph and-

The older man parts his lips and Frank feels his tongue against his and yes and this is too good for Frank to register a single thought other than yes, yes, yes.

Frank pulls Jeph's waist against his by the belt loop. He can feel the heat in his blood rising and rising and there's fingers making a fist in his hair and Jeph is making low, slow, satisfied noises against Frank's tongue.

He thinks about Jeph's tongue hot and wet on the base of his throat early this morning.

He thinks about his tattooed neck as he smoked with his head thrown back.

He thinks about him watching him play from the side lines, secret, unseen.

He thinks about him sliding the hoodie off his shoulders just now.

Fuck, he wants him.

Frank doesn't know if he can wait this out. Jeph tastes too good and he's grinding against Frank's thigh and he's making sounds that make Frank want to drop to his knees without even thinking for a second if it's a good idea. They're kissing fast and hot and hands are grabbing hair and shirt and belt loops and Frank doesn't care at all where he is or when because Jeph breaks away for a second just to breathe his name.

It sounds like a plea in Frank's ears. It sounds desperate, it sounds wanting, it sounds like the only way he wants to hear Jeph say his name ever again.

"...Frank..."

Jeph is panting against Frank's damp skin, mouth on his neck and fist in his hair and Frank is about to unravel because he can feel Jeph hard against his thigh. When he crushes their mouths together again, he takes great pleasure in the way Jeph kisses back as though he's been without air or something just as impossible to live without.

Frank's fingers tease under the front of Jeph's t-shirt, tracing up over his stomach and his chest and his skin is soft and warm and perfect and he feels so good but then Jeph bites at Frank's bottom lip and his knees almost buckle.

Then something changes inside him and it's too late to go back.

His fingertips tease at Jeph's belt buckle. They're still kissing but the older man's breath noticeably hitches as Frank goes to unfasten it with both hands.

He thinks about Jeph whispering right into his ear against the wall two years ago. He thinks about how the fuck he managed to wait two years for this.

Jeph is breathing heavy right against Frank's lips, his eyes closed, not moving, not doing a thing until Frank hears the metal clacking as the buckle is released and suddenly it's louder than the engine below their feet.

Frank kisses him again, just quickly, just out of need because then he's fumbling at the zip on Jeph's jeans, rushing, desperate.

Jeph is panting, ready, but then Frank feels his hand tight and steady around his wrist. "Frank, just- fuck, just slow down." He's still panting. His forehead is feverish and damp against Frank's. "You don't have to."

Fuck, Frank thinks, that really is the dumbest thing Jeph has ever fucking said. Of course he has to. If he doesn't he'll be thinking about it for every second of every moment until the desperate need drives him delirious.

When Frank speaks his voice is low, and wanting, and he almost wishes it doesn't sound as much of a beg as it does.

"I want to."

Jeph lets out a quiet groan, fingers gripping tighter against Frank's wrist. His eyes are still closed, mouth slack, voice weak. "I know but just--just, ah. Just wait a second-"

Frank can't. He kisses Jeph barely on the lips, then moves to breathe right against the taller man's ear. His free hand ghosts the zip on Jeph's jeans. When he whispers his voice is dripping with need.

"But I really want to."

He wants to hear the pleas crack in Jeph's throat, desperate fingers yank at his hair, hips buck with every motion. He wants to feel Jeph shake as he comes and comes and comes until he can think of nothing but Frank's mouth.

Jeph tries again to convince him, "There's no-" But then Frank's tongue is against Jeph's ear and his voice breaks, "Fuck--there's no rush, okay?"

Frank is enjoying this more than he'd ever like to admit to Jeph so instead he just smiles against his ear.

Then he lowers his palm slow and deliberate down over Jeph's zipper and he feels the older man under his hand, hard and hot and so fucking good.

He whispers again, right into Jeph's ear, right as he squeezes his hand ever so slightly and he hears Jeph's breathing quicken. "Please?"

Jeph lets his head fall forward to hit the bunk behind Frank. He's probably struggling to form a sentence because Frank is rubbing his cock through his jeans and Jeph still has hold of his other wrist and they're both breathing so heavy and Frank thinks the sight of him coming undone is enough to get himself off with.

Jeph stutters a whisper when he can finally manage to, "F-fuck it. Okay."

Frank can't even savour the victory because Jeph is scrambling into the bunk, pulling Frank up by the wrist before he has a chance to smirk at the desperate tone of Jeph's voice.

Then Frank is straddling him, blind yanked closed, almost complete darkness and shared, scattered breathing.

Frank leans down and kisses him fast and sloppy and totally mad with feverous need. His own cock is tight in his jeans, and Frank thinks of all the times that exact sensation has made him do fucking stupid things.

He grinds his hips down against Jeph's and hears the older man moan into his mouth and he knows for sure that this can't be one of them.

He feels both of Jeph's hands on his back, and they move lower and lower until they're pushing him down, bucking his own hips up, desperate for friction and heat and anything and fuck, Jeph's hands on his ass is the hottest thing in the fucking universe.

Frank manages to break the kiss, panting, lips swollen and wet and he looks down at Jeph with black fringe stuck to his forehead.

"Fuck," Jeph breathes, chest heaving, "Frank, you-"

"What?" Frank whispers, but his mouth is against Jeph's collarbone and he resists the urge to bite at it through his t-shirt with every ounce of his being.

Jeph tries to carry on, but Frank can tell he's struggling. "You're just, you're so fucking-"

"What?" Frank's hand is down in between them, finally pulling at Jeph's zip a lot slower than he could because he's enjoying the way Jeph's eyes are closing with every passing second.

Jeph's mouth is open and his body freezes when Frank slips his hand inside his boxers and takes him in his hand.

"What?" Frank whispers again, smiling against Jeph's neck now, breathing him in and fingers gripping just right.

Jeph sounds like his brain has completely forgotten it has language abilities as Frank starts to move his hand. "I...I, oh, fuck."

Frank wets his lips, mouth right against the shell of Jeph's ear. "You feel good," he whispers, hand moving slow and teasing and completely revelling in Jeph's unravelling.

"F-fuck you," Jeph stumbles, and there's a little laugh in it as his hands squeeze Frank's ass tighter.

Frank laughs too, quiet and soft but then he's whispering right into the older man's ear again, "Not tonight."

Frank knows that normally Jeph would reply with something perfect enough to knock Frank off his high horse, but he guesses he's preoccupied with the fact that Frank's hand is moving with perfect rhythm.

It's not enough, though. Frank doesn't want to tease anymore. Well, not much.

Jeph lets out a needy little sigh when Frank removes his hand, but then he's sliding down his body and resting back on Jeph's shins and tugging at Jeph's jeans and boxers with both hands. He risks a glance up at his face and gets a quick glimpse of surprise that makes him feel very smug indeed. Frank leans down and presses a kiss to Jeph's hip and he sees the older man fling his head back against the pillow, one arm resting over his eyes like if he looks at Frank it'll push him over the edge.

Frank traces his fingers over the tattoo on Jeph's stomach from under his t-shirt, and the one on his right thigh, but then he gets the urge to run his mouth over it, so he does, hot tongue against the ink slow and exploratory and Jeph bucks his hips because he clearly needs Frank to hurry the fuck up.

Frank is smiling against his skin. He knows he's being a real shit but he can't stop himself. Jeph is so perfect, and so good, and so relentlessly out of his fucking mind because if he thought he was a tease it's because he never gave Frank the chance until now.

Frank licks a stripe up the underside of Jeph's cock, slowly, savouring, and the older man takes a sharp breath. Frank feels a fist in his hair.

"Fuck, fuck, Frank!" He's panting, pleading, arm still covering his face as though he can't look. "I'm serious, I'm n-not gonna last-"

Frank takes one last look up at Jeph, gasping, falling apart. He loves it.

Frank takes him in his mouth and the sentence is cut abruptly short.

Jeph groans out loud like he can't control it, fingers pulling at Frank's hair in surprise.

"Fuck-fu- you fucker!" He's gasping, knees twitching under Frank's weight.

Jeph's hand moves in his hair, fingers spreading out over Frank's head, silent, trusting, needy. Frank definitely doesn't think about Gerard's fingers doing this exact thing this morning. He definitely doesn't think about the last time he did this exact thing.

His fingers dig into Jeph's thighs, pressure burning the image away so he can focus on the way Jeph tastes, the weight of him on his tongue, his tattered breathing as Frank's head moves expertly.

For some reason he wants to make it clear to Jeph that he's no novice at this, he's actually a dab fucking hand, but then he feels Jeph's fingers jerk at the roots of his hair and from then it's so far so obvious.

Frank looks up through his eyelashes as he takes Jeph deeper and the older man is biting his lip, free hand gripping the shelf above his head so tight his knuckles are white.

He looks so dishevelled and so out of control and so fucking hot that Frank can't help but let out a low moan deep in his throat, the vibration of which makes Jeph do the same. Frank's jeans are uncomfortably tight now, the sight of Jeph losing it making him lose it and he can't stop himself from grinding his hips down on Jeph's leg as he works.

His tongue twists around the head and his cheeks hollow and when Frank looks up again Jeph is propped up on one elbow, eyes on Frank and fingers yanking at his hair. His mouth is slack and open, hair in his eyes and chest rising and falling fast with every one of Frank's movements.

Frank knows he's good at this. He knows that for a fact.

But for the first time he wants to be the best, the fucking gold medallist, because it would mean Jeph would look at him exactly like he is now.

"F-fu-, Frank." Jeph stammers, words escaping in tattered whispers, "You're s-so good."

Frank thinks Jeph hasn't seen a damn thing yet, so don't speak too soon, but then Jeph's head lolls back against the wall behind him and he's breathing faster and faster. His hand rests on the back of Frank's head, fingers curling, lightly pushing him down, whispers desperate.

"Ah, ah God. Close."

Frank realises then that he's pretty close himself, cock twitching against the friction of Jeph's leg. Jeph tugs at Frank's hair, a warning, a you don't have to prompt, but Frank ignores it and ducks his head and moves faster and tighter and hotter until Jeph is coming fast and hard in his mouth. Frank vaguely hears him muttering something as his hips buck that's either fuck or Frank but Frank thinks either one of those will do, because he sounds so ridiculously wanton. He sounds out of control, and the fact that Frank's tongue caused it is too much because then Frank is coming too, hips jutting and twitching in his jeans which makes him feel like a fucking teenager again.

He keeps moving as he swallows, but he's struggling, arms shaking holding him up. He's just slowing down gradually until he's sure Jeph has pushed through the comedown.

He sits up, one palm still on Jeph's thigh and he wipes his mouth with the back of his other hand.

He can hear Jeph breathing hard, body slack and warm under him.

"Fuck," the older man is panting, whispering in tatters, most likely to himself as he recovers, "Fuck me, that was..."

Frank reaches down between his own legs and adjusts himself, boxers wet and hot and he manages to hide the embarrassment manifesting through the haze because damn, he did good.

Frank licks his lips, still tasting salt and sweat and Jeph and fuck, that was so good.

When he finally looks up Jeph is staring back at him, mouth open and chest heaving. Propped up on both elbows, his eyes are boring right into Frank's face. He looks like he's seeing something in Frank he hasn't before.

"What?" Frank whispers, breathless.

Jeph swallows, hand moving the hair from his own damp forehead. His eyes never leave Frank's.

"You." He says, completely serious. "You're fucking—you’re fucking dirty!"

"What?" Frank breathes through a laugh, still panting and he leans forward, palm moving up to Jeph's hip.

"You're filthy." Jeph says, smiling, his hand resting on the top of his own head. "I can't even look at you after what you just did."

Frank tries not to sound too pleased with himself as he laughs, properly, and hits Jeph's stomach with his palm. "Me?" He asks, "You just made me come in my pants like I'm in fucking high school!"

Jeph's eyes widen a little, glancing down at Frank's crotch. Frank tries not to choke when he sees that Jeph looks a little sad about the fact. Fuck, he probably wouldn't have lasted anywhere near as long as he did if Jeph had the chance to touch him.

"Are you serious?" He asks, leaning forward and lifting the hem of Frank's t-shirt to expose his stomach. Frank slaps his hand away, laughing quietly.

"Stop it." He jokes. "I'm sorry."

Jeph isn't smiling, though. He runs his palm over the side of Frank's head. "No, no, I didn't mean-" He pauses, and Frank can see the light behind his eyes working as he thinks. "I'm sorry. I thought you were teasing. I meant, I wanted to..."

Frank is sure this isn't fair. It isn't fair how fucking perfect Jeph can be, and he knows he'll never have the words to describe it to him, so instead he turns and takes Jeph's hand from his face and kisses his palm, soft and slow.

Jeph sighs, content, eyes closing slow and languid and God, he's probably exhausted. Frank is so used to never sleeping on tour. He's used to wandering nameless cities in fatigue induced comas, playing so hard at night he can barely breathe. He's used to staying up until long after the sounds of daybreak crackle through the silent air, cigarette lazy between his lips, burning down to ash as his eyes close.

He thinks about Gerard's fingertips tracing the outline of one of the swallows on his stomach as the sun rises.

"The one with the cross looks like you." He'd whispered, brow furrowed in drunken concentration. Two of his fingers tickled the trail of soft hair under Frank's belly button as he moved across to the other bird. "That one's you and this one's me."

Frank had laughed as though he was talking total shit, but when Gerard had eventually closed his eyes and left his fingers where they were as he fell asleep, Frank had swallowed hard and bit down on the inside of his cheek.

He blinks hard, pressing the warmth of Jeph's hand across his cheek until he isn't thinking about it anymore.

They're both so tired now. Frank doesn't mind.

He wants to savour the way Jeph whimpered in surprise as he took him in his mouth whilst the memory is still fresh. He wants to stay awake, eyes sore and burning just so he can see Jeph's chest rhythmically rise and fall.

He doesn't need sleep.

He thinks he'd happily never sleep again if it meant having Jeph this way beneath him.

Chapter Text

Jeph gives him a pair of boxers to change into, which makes Frank feel even more like a fucking teenager. He throws his straight into the garbage, almost toppling over as he gets changed in the bathroom with the bus jerking at all angles. He nearly rips through the hole in the knee of his jeans with his heel as he pulls them on. Then the road straightens out and settles and Frank guesses it's because they're on the highway.

He realises then that he has no idea where they're headed.

Wherever it is, he selfishly hopes the driver goes the long way.

He flounders back to the bunks as carefully as he can manage, but it's still dark, still quiet. He thinks he's vaguely in the right spot but then trips on his own shoes still in the doorway and barely manages not to cry out.

"Motherfucker," he whispers, kicking them away, one hand gripping the bunk to steady himself. "Jepha?"

For a minute he thinks Jeph has probably fallen asleep, because he isn't sure how long he's been. He'd looked at himself in the mirror in the bathroom, smudged and dingy with the light flickering manically and he'd smiled.

He hears the blind being pulled across and Jeph's fingers graze his arm. Frank's eyes still haven't adjusted so the sensation makes him jump a little.

Jeph whispers, and with not a single hint of amusement in his voice, "The fuck you doing?"

"Tripping over my own damn shoes. I can't see shit." Frank manages to stand up straight at least, replying with only feigned annoyance. The truth is he's still in a daze over what just happened, and his brain feels heavy and sluggish the way it only does after coming all over himself.

Jeph can probably tell, because he doesn't bother tormenting him any further, just grabs his elbow and pulls him up without another word.

The bunk is warm and smells like Jeph and Frank thinks he could probably drift off straight away if it wasn't for the fingers grazing his sternum through his t-shirt. They're facing each other, faces close in the dark. He remembers feeling impossibly cramped when they did this yesterday, but now it's like Jeph couldn't be close enough to him if they were flush up against one another, head shoulders knees and toes.

Jeph's nose brushes against his, his mouth open, breath hot and wet against Frank's skin. Frank closes his eyes, lips parting, breath hitching. Jeph's mouth is ghosting his, just not quite there. He feels Jeph's fingertips brush against his collarbone.

Jeph nudges his mouth against Frank's gently, just for a second.

"Stop teasing," Frank whispers, and he guesses it's the way it sounds almost like a whine that makes Jeph laugh.

"Says you," he whispers back, shoulders moving with the laugh. Frank kisses him anyway, swallowing the words until he hears Jeph sigh into his mouth.

Then Frank remembers something that he didn't have the sense or faculty to mention earlier because all the blood he had in his brain was somewhere else entirely.

He pulls back, smiling. "You got your tongue pierced."

Jeph laughs, forehead still pressed against Frank's. "You fucking idiot."

Frank frowns. "What?"

"I've always had my tongue pierced, dipshit."

Frank pauses a second to think about it. He really can't think of a reason he would have realised this fact before tonight. Then he thinks that's fucking dumb because he's sure it's one of the things he's never noticed when he knows he can recall lots of other minute details about the older man.

He decides he's still right, though.

"Fuck off, no you haven't."

Frank can tell Jeph is trying not to laugh. "Shit, you'd think I'd know." He whispers, hand moving up into Frank's hair. His fingers move gentle and slow but Frank doesn't want to stop bickering just yet.

"You're fucking with me, right?" He whispers back, tone firm and testing.

Jeph strokes his hair as though that's easier than telling Frank to shut the fuck up.

"New Year's Eve 1995." Jeph murmurs, eyes closing, fingers twisting in Frank's hair. "Got my tongue pierced four days before my birthday."

"Fuck," Frank breathes. His eyes close too, but there's this awful niggling at the pit of his stomach. "I didn't know."

Frank doesn't know why it's bothering him. Maybe it's because of all the useless information he has in his head, stupid facts about people that mean nothing and are of use to nobody.

Like all the little things you notice about someone when you're with them all day every day, caged up in a van or a bus or a hotel or panting next to one another on stage every night.

Like the way Jeph notices stupid stuff about him.

"It doesn't matter," Jeph laughs, hand resting on Frank's neck solid and warm. His other hand is still grazing Frank's chest, fingers moving in slow redundant circles but the rhythm is making Frank's heart pump hard in his ribcage.

He thinks about the way Jeph's piercing felt against his tongue.

"What else don't I know about you?" Frank is whispering because fatigue is pulling him under and Jeph's breath is shrouding his face warm and steady.

It's quiet despite the rumbling of the wheels beneath them and for the first time Frank hopes to God Branden slept through the last hour or so.

Jeph sounds like he isn't far behind, voice slow and tired, but the hand on Frank's neck moves down to his collarbone and Frank feels like the older man is studying him with all ten fingers.

"I don't know," He whispers back.

"Just tell me one." Frank pleads, biting his bottom lip just a little because he can feel Jeph's fingers tracing absently lower.

"You know everything," Jeph starts, "But you forgot most of it."

Frank wonders if they've ever had this conversation before. Maybe he's mentioned his tongue piercing years ago and the wild whirlwind of the last 48 hours has erased the memory of anything that isn't the way Jeph's throat looks when he's smoking.

Frank remembers that Jeph used to have clean, unmarked skin on his neck and on his hands and on his arms. He remembers that he used to dye his hair at the back and that he'd always be one of the first people to fall asleep when they got drunk in a hotel room after a show.

He remembers touring in Europe for the first time with The Used.

He remembers that Jeph always smelt good and made Frank laugh early in the morning even though he had a headache. He remembers that he never says a bad word about anyone, and that the other three guys in his band are more important to him than anything in the world.

"Remind me." Frank's eyes are closed now, breath slow and hitching as Jeph's fingers slip under the hem of Frank's t-shirt. "Please."

He hears Jeph swallow, lips brushing Frank's lightly as he breathes.

"Please." Frank sighs the word again, Jeph's hand running up his side slow and testing.

"You sound tired." Jeph whispers.

"Please, Jepha." Frank breathes, but he can't really remember what he's supposed to be pleading for because Jeph's fingers are tracing the tattoo on the left side of his chest.

"Okay, okay." Jeph is still whispering, and Frank can feel him smile against his own lips as he does so. "Something you've forgotten about me."

Jeph sounds like he's actually thinking about it. Frank loves how the older man will humour him until the ends of the earth even when Frank is on the absolute verge of falling asleep. Frank doesn't even care if he answers, because he realises then that all he really cares about is what he knows now.

He knows Jeph feels good flush up against him in the dark. He knows he stands outside in the bitter wind just so Frank can smoke. He knows he puts on a stupid high voice when he's talking to Radio and that he drinks about three gallons of tea a day.

He knows how it feels to have Jeph's arm solid and hot resting on his ribcage as he sleeps.

Frank has a lump in his throat that no amount of swallowing will budge.

Then Jeph finally whispers, the words falling right onto Frank's lips like they're a secret.

"You forgot that night in London."

Frank is honestly almost asleep when he registers Jeph's voice. He leans back a little and blinks, brain adjusting to the noise.

"Huh?"

Jeph smiles but Frank can tell it isn't all there. The fingers under Frank's t-shirt stop moving. He sounds a little thrown. "It's dumb. Let me think of another one."

Frank is searching his face through the dark, trying to think, trying to fight sleep, trying to fucking remember. London was two years ago, right? Fuck, why is Jeph looking at him like that?

"No." Frank corrects. He blinks the tiredness out of his eyes because he'll be damned if Jeph thinks they're letting this go now. "What night?"

Jeph's face softens slightly. He swallows, hand flat against Frank's chest. "Frank..."

"Hey!" Frank warns, "Don't say my name like that." Frank is breathing hard, a frown threatening his brow. He pulls his head back further, wanting to get a better view of the man next to him.

Jeph is smiling, eyebrows raised. "Like what?"

It sounds like a genuine question, as though he doesn't even fucking know, and that pisses Frank off even more. He huffs like a fucking child, anyway. "Like that. 'Frank'," he imitates.

Frank can tell Jeph is trying not to laugh, hand slipping out from under Frank's t-shirt. Jeph runs his fingers over his own jawline, rubbing at the stubble there. "That's how I always say your name!" He breathes a laugh, eyes wide. Frank shoves him in the shoulder.

"Fucking liar," Frank snaps but his voice is softening slightly because when Jeph laughs Frank finds it hard to stay focused on being annoyed. "You say it like that..." he starts but finds it takes him a minute to think of the right words. Then he feels the realisation creep up his spine and he wets his lips. "That's your 'shut the fuck up' voice."

Frank realises how frustratingly dumb that sounds as soon as he says it. Still, Jeph doesn't laugh, although he looks like he's trying really fucking hard. With his hand over his mouth, Jeph blinks. He takes a deep breath.

"Are you sleep deprived?"

He sounds so deadpan that Frank wants to reach over and shake him until he sees sense. He almost wants to drop the whole thing, because Jeph's hair is pushed back and he has that teasing glisten in his eyes that makes Frank want to push up against him until he's out of breath and desperate.

But he is sleep deprived.

And now he can't get the panicked look on Jeph's face out of his head. He lies back down, inching forward, not quite defeated but almost. He runs his fingertips over the collar of Jeph's t-shirt.

"What night did I forget?" Frank asks him, eyes on the older man's throat as though he's scared to ask. He knows he's forgotten a lot of nights. That entire tour with Jeph's band feels so far away, back when all Frank needed to feel the blood pumping in his chest was the way Gerard whispered his name.

He isn't sure if Jeph will answer him. He isn't sure he wants him to because fatigue and exhaustion are pulling the fight right out of his bones.

Then Jeph is whispering again, and Frank closes his eyes and feels the older man gently moving the hair from his forehead. "You were drunk." He tells him, as though Frank couldn't already guess. Jeph is breathing slow and deliberate, almost like he thinks that if he's quiet enough, Frank will drift into sleep and they won't have to talk about this. Frank feels a little jolt when Jeph continues, "I think I was, too."

Frank tries to think about London, but nothing materialises. All he can think about is Jeph's tongue piercing and the way he'd whimpered as Frank dragged his tongue over the tattoo on his thigh. He tries again to concentrate, focusing on the older man's quiet breathing as he speaks.

"--but Bert and Quinn had disappeared and Gerard was in a real state and Toro asked me to make sure you got back to your room okay, so, I mean..." He trails off, fingers still carefully grazing Frank's skin. Frank wants to know why he's talking so fast all of a sudden. He wants to know why he can't for the fucking life of him think what night this is he's talking about.

"We got in the elevator." Jeph goes on. "You were talking so much shit. I don't think you even knew where we were going. You were just coming for the ride." Frank bites his lip, concentrating. Nothing is coming. There's nothing.

He thinks about shaving his head before that tour, and the way Bert looked on stage on the first night after puking in front of the bass drum. He remembers falling asleep against Mikey on the plane. He remembers being in London, but honestly a lot of it is a mix match of blurred moments in his head, none of them attached to anything.

"I walked you back to your room." Jeph whispers.

"Wait," Frank says, eyes still closed. "What was I saying?" His fingers curl around Jeph's collar and he pulls it toward him a little.

"Huh?" The older man asks, exhaling so Frank can feel the hot breath on his own mouth.

"In the elevator." Frank clarifies, "What was I saying?"

"Erm, fuck, just loads of shit, you know? We were drunk."

Frank thinks he sounds tired.

"You were talking about some tattoo you wanted, I think." Jeph tells him, voice not completely certain. Frank thinks that is probably true, though. He can feel the movement of the bus and Jeph's fingers on his forehead pulling him into sleep but he carries on.

"So then what?" He asks, stifling a yawn. Jeph rests his palm on the side of his neck. He hears the older man sigh.

"Had to unlock the door for you 'cause you couldn't get the key in the lock." He whispers. His voice is slow and Frank can tell it's because he's being pulled under as well. He smiles, definitely not thinking about his 21st birthday.

"You kept saying thank you." Jeph whispers.

Frank moves closer, lips ghosting Jeph's. "For what?"

"I don't know." The older man whispers, hand still firm and hot on Frank's neck. "For opening the door, I guess."

That's funny, Frank thinks, because it kind of reminds him of the time--

"Oh fuck." Frank freezes, eyes wide. There's this fucking horrible tight feeling deep down in his stomach and out of nowhere he wishes the floor would open and drop him right onto the tarmac below. He groans, rolling onto his back. "Oh fuck."

Jeph is laughing quietly next to him but Frank can hardly hear it. "What?" Jeph breathes, propping himself up on one elbow so he's towering over Frank. Frank places his palm over his eyes, suffering in silence.

He thinks about saying thank you to Jeph for opening the door. He remembers vaguely being in the elevator, babbling something fucking dumb about tattoos or something. Fuck, he just wants to die because out of nowhere he remembers the whole damn thing.

"What?" Jeph asks again, still laughing because he obviously knows Frank made an idiot of himself two years ago in a hotel corridor in London. Jeph places his open palm on Frank's chest but Frank can't look.

He breathes hard, jaw clenched. "Did I? Fuck..." He moves his hand, finally, looking up at Jeph but through the dark he can only make the outline of his features. "I tried to kiss you, didn't I?" He asks, voice small and embarrassed and he wishes more than anything Jeph didn't look like he was finding this quite so fucking funny.

Jeph only laughs a little, shaking his head, moving his hand further down Frank's ribcage. "No. Frank, no." He tells him. Frank feels a little better but the feeling in his stomach doesn't go away.

"Thank fuck." He breathes, closing his eyes.

He hears Jeph sigh quietly, his fingers gripping at Frank's t-shirt. "No. You didn't try. You did kiss me."

Frank jolts like he's been fucking hit and all he can hear over the blood pumping in his ears is Jeph trying to stifle his own laughter.

"Are you fucking with me?" Frank asks, panicked, shoving Jeph roughly in the shoulder. He tries to think, tries to just think, but he can't. He doesn't remember.

"I'm not fucking with you, Frank. You kissed me." Jeph's voice is so matter of fact that Frank almost believes him.

He has a flicker of a memory, just a haze of getting the idea of kissing Jeph in his head as he fumbled with his door key. Jeph's hand was warm on his and his smile looked so genuine when he took the key from Frank's fingers and unlocked the mechanism with a mechanical click. Frank had thanked him at least four times, speech slurred and honest and needy. Jeph had smelt good and had held his forearm to steady him as he stepped over the threshold. Frank just wondered what kissing him would be like, but that's obviously where his senses cut off and he loses track of himself past the point of actually doing anything about it.

"What did you do?" Frank asks him, tone a little louder with just a hint of cynicism. Jeph raises an eyebrow, still fucking smiling.

"Huh?" He asks, cocking his head to one side. From this angle he looks like he's really thinking about it even though Frank knows he's trying not to laugh.

Frank is growing impatient. "When I kissed you. What did you do?"

Frank can tell that isn't the question Jeph expected to be asked.

"What are you talking about?" He wets his lips and looks down at Frank as though there would only ever be one answer. "I kissed you back, obviously."

Frank is sure he can't remember that, but Jeph looks so genuine and so fucking tired down to the bone that he must be telling the truth. Frank feels heat creeping up the back of his skull and he wishes he could close his eyes and forget everything that happened in the last five or so minutes.

He thinks about that night, or as much of it as is possible through blurred drunken recollection. He thinks all in all he has about four or five minutes worth of memory from getting into the elevator and waking up the next morning.

It isn't enough.

"What do you mean 'obviously'?" He asks Jeph, voice a little higher and a little more unhinged than he'd like. Jeph's fingers fan out on his sternum, palm hot and stinging through Frank's t-shirt. Once again he wishes for sleep.

"Well I was kind of drunk too, you know." Jeph says, quiet and soft and Frank almost can't deal with how sincere he sounds. "And I don't know, I guess I just kind of liked you."

Frank doesn't know what to say. He feels like he's drowning, both from the embarrassment and the fact he can't even fucking remember, but mostly because of the look on Jeph's face when he said that last sentence.

He thinks about those few days in London as much as he's capable with his heart thrashing against his ribs, but all he can come up with that might be a little bit relevant is the way Jeph rested his thigh against his as they sat next to each other in Bert and Quinn's hotel room after the first show.

Frank had felt the weight of him, stinging heat prickling hotter and hotter the more alcohol he consumed. It was the way Jeph had leant in to murmur right into Frank's ear every time he spoke over the noise and laughter and the sound of Frank's heart hammering.

It was the way Jeph made him laugh at something he can't remember when all Frank could focus on before that was Gerard's fingers drunkenly tracing the hem of Bert's t-shirt as they leant against the desk by the far wall.

It was the way Frank squinted in the light the next morning in the lobby, head pulsing, desperately flicking his lighter into a spark, and feeling Jeph's hand on the back of his neck, fingers at the base of his skull, smiling.

It was the way Jeph had agreed to take Frank back to his room that night. It was the way he took the keys from Frank's grasp and unlocked the door for him.

It was the way he kissed him back, and the way he didn't care that Frank couldn't remember.

Suddenly Frank can feel every point of contact with the man opposite him, and he pulls gently at his collar, sighing quiet and deep. He closes his eyes. He breathes in like he wants to inhale everything about him.

"I guess I kind of liked you, too." Frank whispers, moving closer, lips grazing Jeph's. He hears Jeph's breath hitch, and he runs a hand up Frank's side, pulling at the material of his shirt and finally resting on his ribcage.

He thinks about the way Jeph's leg felt between his knees, pinned against the bunk, panting.

He thinks about the way he moved the hair from Frank's forehead and traced the line of his jaw until he fell asleep last night.

He thinks about him pressing the button in the elevator two years ago.

Jeph kisses him as though that's a good enough reply to his weary whispers, and Frank supposes it must be because for a brief, transient second he feels like telling Jeph he loves him.

Jeph's tongue against his is enough to dull the sharp panic in his chest, heart stuttering, fingers gripping the older man's collar for dear life.

He doesn't say it, doesn't say anything. He just submits, wholly and completely and feels the gentle rumble of the engine and the unfamiliar pressure of Jeph's piercing against his tongue. He can feel himself falling.

He presses himself closer, chest to chest, sighing into Jeph's mouth quiet and satisfied, soaring and drained and exhausted and absolutely terrified.

Chapter Text

Gerard has been having trouble sleeping again.

Frank sees his knees against his chest as he walks toward the bottom bunk, sketchpad against Gerard's thighs, pen scratching absently. He's wearing his skeleton onesie thing, humming to himself, looking totally fucking stupid from where Frank is standing.

It's kind of early, too early for Gerard anyway. Too early for him to be putting as much concentration into his work as he is.

Frank managed to slink off the sober bus as soon as they ground to a halt, leaving Jeph in warm, fatigue induced fervour, probably still remembering the way Frank's tongue felt on his skin. His fingers weakly grasped at Frank's sleeve and he whispered for him not to go, eyes closed, smiling.

Frank kicks his shoes off by the threshold, one hand steadying himself, fingers twisted in the curtain for balance.

Gerard hasn't noticed him yet. It's quiet.

The blind to Ray's bunk is pulled closed but the rest are open, and Frank wonders where everyone is and why Gerard is here effectively on his own, in his fucking pyjamas, sketching and humming and probably mostly sober.

He wonders if anyone asked Mikey where he was last night.

He wonders if anyone even noticed he was gone.

Frank shakes off his hoodie and lets it fall to the ground, still bone tired, still shaking with something he doesn't want to admit to. He leaves it where it falls, right in front of Gerard's bunk, and only then does he hear the older man stop humming.

"Welcome home." Gerard murmurs from down low, pen still scratching, feet twitching from the edge of the bunk. Frank thinks he must be able to see his feet from his perch, and he sounds kind of tired, too.

"Darwin?" Frank asks without bothering to look, his voice a quiet grunt. He curls his toes in his socks against the scratchy aisle carpet, shaking away the impending pins and needles that come with trying to sleep in a confined space for the second night in a row. He ignores the ache in his chest.

Gerard's pen doesn't stop. The scratchy sound makes Frank's jaw clench. "No. Shelved the Doctor." He answers, and Frank can just about picture the older man's tongue poking out from the corner of his mouth. "Something new."

After a few more seconds of nothing, where Frank curses for what must be the hundredth time the way Gerard can say everything without saying one damn word, he admits defeat. His hair falls into his eyes as he bends down finally, ignoring the way one of his joints cracks in protest at the abrupt movement. He suddenly remembers busting his knee against one of the amps right at the start of the set last night and wonders if that has anything do with it.

Gerard's eyes don't for a second glance away from what he's doing. Frank never expects anything else when he thinks about it, considering the older man can be notoriously fucking rude when he's concentrating on something. It's either that or Gerard is totally gone and is currently coasting on another plane of medical induced existence. Frank decides to push the latter to the very back of his brain whilst he still can.

"Anything interesting?" He asks, balancing as best he can with four fingers gripping the top bunk.

Gerard huffs. "Doesn't have a name yet."

His hair is wild and matted, black strands pushed expertly back behind his ear and out of his eyes, the skull hood just balancing on the back of his head. He looks a better colour that he did yesterday morning, although still as pale and translucent as ever. One of the bone detailed sleeves is pulled down over his wrist, the other pushed half way up his forearm. Frank can see the muscles in his arm twitching as he draws. The black circles under his eyes are still there.

Frank thinks he looks a fucking mess. Frank thinks that definitely has nothing to do with tightness he can feel in his ribcage.

He remembers standing next to him in front of the mirror at the back of the bus last night as he stuck two carefully cut to size strips of masking tape just below his eyes. He'd already shrouded his face in white powder before Frank had even finished getting dressed, and the remnants of the ashen make up lay dusted against his cracked bottom lip. Frank had wanted to know how he had the patience, but he hadn't said a thing until Gerard had applied the second layer of black liquid in a perfect strip from one temple to the other.

Gerard hadn't even flinched at the sound of Frank cursing under his breath, lip ring between his teeth in concentration as he tried for what he swore would be the last time before he just fucking gave up to drag the eyeliner pencil down over his eye in two crossed lines. His hand was shaking. His hand was always fucking shaking.

"Fuck." Frank had jolted backward in frustration, not wholly sure why he was so fucking nervous tonight.

Then Gerard had done that thing, that thing where he says everything without saying one damn word, and routed around the table in front of them until he found a lighter and a half empty pack of smokes in amongst what felt like a drug store's supply of Halloween make up. He'd sparked the thing into glorious life with it balancing on his bottom lip, pulling at the tape above and below his eyes until it peeled off slow and careful and as though doing so didn't hurt one bit.

Frank hadn't protested when Gerard pulled the pencil from his grip, just admitted defeat and closed his eyes when he felt the cigarette pushed between his lips. Gerard pressed a palm to Frank's forehead to hold him steady as he drew. Frank inhaled deep and thankful and tried to focus on the way the pencil felt tickling against his cheek and not how this was probably the most sober interaction the two had had for a while.

He had opened his eyes when he felt the pencil dragging up toward his forehead. Gerard's mouth was open as he worked, and he didn't say a thing when Frank exhaled smoke until it shrouded his pale features. Frank's shaking hand balanced the cigarette between his index and middle finger. He looked at the base of Gerard's throat as he passed the smoke back across to him.

Frank had thought it was kind of fucked up how perfect he looked.

He swallows until his mouth isn't dry anymore.

It doesn't take long before he's elbowing Gerard in the side as he manoeuvres his dog tired form into the already cramped bunk next to him. He ignores the groans of protest that escape the older man's throat as Frank makes himself as comfortable as he can with ten or twenty fine line pens lodged somewhere beneath the mattress and his unwelcome ass.

Gerard crosses his legs, the sketch pad lay flat in his lap right along the tibia on his pyjamas and Frank thinks it's probably more effort than it's worth that he pretends to keep drawing. Frank stretches his legs out so his feet are just grazing the bunk opposite. The lip of the bed frame is digging into his calves. To his left, Gerard rubs impatiently at his eye with the back of his index finger. On the shelf above his head Frank can just make out a grey coffee mug in the dim light, a crinkled half empty bottle of water, one of those crappy pink plastic lighters with a yellow warning sticker peeling off the side, and about four well thumbed through stacked comic books.

He smells good with his shoulder resting against Frank's, that mixture of home and stale smoke and coffee grounds and blood and vomit and Gerard that Frank fucking hates and loves all at the same time.

He waits all of fifteen seconds before scooting forward, bending his knees toward his chest as he rests his head against the older man's shoulder. Through the tear in his jeans he can see something purple-yellow-painful forming just above his kneecap.

"I'm fucking tired." Frank croaks, clearing his throat immediately afterward in the hope it will distract Gerard from how fucking stupid that just sounded.

Gerard lets the sketchpad slip down between his thigh and the bunk wall, his wrist falling down into the darkness with it. Frank hears him swallow before he replies, "You should try sleeping in your own bed for a change."

Frank tries to swallow. He tries to just breathe but he feels his throat burning like he's choking on bleach, spitting chemicals, heaving fire. He thinks about Jeph's breath on the side of his neck.

He keeps his eyes fixed on the way his finger is tracing circles on the bruise under his jeans, and he decides to dig his nail hard into the centre of the darkened skin before he has a chance to question why.

"So should you." He replies as though none of this fucking matters. Maybe it doesn't. He isn't sure.

Still, he can hear the way his voice echoes the small space like a breathy laugh and he somehow feels better because a huge part of him knows Gerard is just fucking with him.

Frank decides it's too goddamn early in the morning to be bothered fucking him back.

"I'm in bed now, aren't I?" Gerard asks, shrugging so Frank's cheekbone slips further down the older man's shoulder. The pyjamas feel rough and uncomfortable against his temple. He doesn't give a shit.

"Doesn't look like you've been doing much sleeping, though." Frank's voice has dropped to a low murmur, his heart slowing, the fire in his throat settling down to embers.

"Yeah, well." Gerard sighs, his head falling back against the back wall with a light thud, "Fucking coffee."

Frank's eyes close as he laughs, three fingers still pulling idly at a loose thread in the denim covering his knee. He feels Gerard exhale long and drawn out beside him, the force of his breath tickling at the fringe against Frank's forehead. He wishes more than anything that Gerard had been asleep when he got back to the bus.

"Your hair's growing out." Gerard states after a while, quiet and factual and almost enough to pull Frank from the brink of his own stupid thoughts. "Can see your roots."

"Mmm." Frank moans in agreement in lieu of actually saying anything. A part of him wonders every damn day why he thought it was a good idea to bleach his hair before going on tour, but he knows for a fact that Gerard has done way worse, and he knows for one hundred percent fact that Gerard is just saying so to pull Frank back from the brink of slumber. Again, it's too fucking early, so he doesn't reply.

He feels Gerard's palm against his exposed knee.

"Frankie?" He whispers it, but Frank can still hear the way his voice cracks part way though.

He pulls harder at the loose thread. "Hmm?"

"Where've you been lately?"

Frank feels his fingers digging hard into his palm. He wants to shove him square in the shoulder and tell him to get fucked, because where the hell does he think he's been for the past twenty-something days other than where he always fucking is: in the bunk above him, on the floor next to the couch, in front of the mirror, holding his hair back, out with his brother looking for him, hauling his ass off the asphalt is where he's been, stage fucking right is where he's been, and where the hell does he get off even asking.

He wants to, but there was something about that crack in the older man's voice that makes him crumble like a fucking house of cards.

Frank thinks about how some things never really change.

"What?" He snaps, trying to sound like he doesn't want to throttle the life out of him for what is definitely not the first time in recent memory. "Nowhere."

Frank opens his eyes just in time to see Gerard shuffle next to him, his white hood slipping down out of his hair. "Don't mean that." He tells him, still just above a whisper, still in that tone that makes Frank's fingers itch. Gerard taps him square in the forehead with one finger, brushing the black hair from his eyes. "I mean in here."

Frank can feel his brow furrow beneath Gerard's finger and he sits up, pulling himself away, tasting metal, tasting grit. He wants to laugh and hear him laugh back until they're resting against each other languid and careless and comfortable but he tells himself that Gerard is probably just bored, and most definitely doesn't actually want to know.

Frank thinks that's a good job, because when he thinks about it he doesn't actually have an answer.

He stares at Gerard for just a couple of seconds. His eyes are bloodshot ebony. His lips are dry and cracking. Frank wonders if he slept at all last night.

"What the fuck are you talking about?" He breathes, jabbing the older man in the ribs with his elbow, hoping like hell that he doesn't push the point any further. Gerard pulls a sideways smile as he recoils from the sharp pressure in his side, and Frank feels something like a hybrid of relief and yearning wash over every part of him.

From the opposite bunk, somewhere higher up and muffled presumably by a myriad of expertly piled pillows, Ray's voice echoes out low and gruff and only a little bit annoyed. "Yeah, what the fuck are you talking about? It's like six AM!"

Frank exhales, finally. The heat from Gerard's palm leaves his knee as Frank watches him rub tiredly at his eye with three fingers.

"Hey, Toro." Gerard calls through a yawn, clearly not giving one damn that the man across the aisle is trying to sleep. "Where did you say we are again?"

Frank closes his eyes. He can feel himself smiling.

"Florida. Now go the fuck to sleep."

That sounds like a good idea. That sounds like the fucking best idea.

Gerard must think so too, because Frank hears him shove the sketch pad on the shelf above him, knocking something over with a less than subtle tumble of bouncing plastic. A few minutes later Frank finds energy enough to actually move, and leave what looks like a reluctantly sleeping Gerard to his own devices, trying to ignore the frown cutting deep into the older man's forehead as he does so.

Frank stretches in the aisle as he pulls his shirt off, feeling the muscles in his shoulder ease up satisfied and thankful. He pulls the blind across to reveal his own bunk, cold and un-slept in, the sheets in a tangled mess large enough to warrant a frustrated huff of fatigue.

Frank shakes his jeans off, leaving them where they fall, trip hazard be damned, and finally takes Gerard's advice.

It isn't until he's actually in his own bed that he remembers with sickly realisation that he's still wearing Jeph's boxers. He rolls over and faces the wall, hand against his sternum, pretending as best he can that it doesn't mean a damn thing.

Chapter Text

As far as Frank can tell, the whole thing had started with a pineapple.

At some point in the early afternoon he'd finally stirred, sticky and uncomfortable and with a knot in his shoulder tight enough to induce a groan of protest as he stretched to reach the shelf above his head. He'd felt around impatiently with his left hand, hearing the clutter scrape along the hardwood until the tip of his index finger grazed a crushed cardboard packet.

He definitely didn't listen out for the familiar sound of Gerard's pen scratching at paper in the bunk below.

Frank sat up as he smoked, leaving his blind pulled closed despite the thick air hanging in the small space and from somewhere towards the front of the bus he swore he could hear Bert's unmistakably shrill, high pitched laughter.

He did start to wonder what exactly that might have meant, but managed to stop himself short and concentrate on the way the red lettering on the back of his wrist was itching instead of what kind of no good Bert was most likely up to. The sound almost even made him smile somehow. If Bert was laughing, that usually meant Gerard was laughing too, along with everyone anywhere remotely close enough to hear whatever profanity he had shrieked to provoke such a reaction.

Frank exhaled slow and deliberate. He pulled hard at the elastic hem at the thigh of Jeph's boxers.

However many hours later, after the fog had cleared from his brain with the help of both coffee and diet soda, and the shock of cold water splashing on his face, and nicotine, nicotine, nicotine, Frank felt he finally had strength enough to brave the world.

The world, as always is on tour, usually consists of the lounge at the front of the bus and the four other guys that inhabit it at one time or another. Sometimes Frank gets a rare moment to himself. Sometimes he shares the space with every single one of them. Sometimes it's people he hardly knows or has just met. Sometimes when it's late, the world is Gerard's drunken form slurring his name as Frank stares from the doorway, mouth dry with one foot in and one foot out, just not sure.

Frank had tried not to think about it as he collapsed down onto the rapidly sagging couch. The torn up thing is on some days used almost exclusively as a dressing table for resting open suitcases on, the kind that are filled with stage clothes that are torn apart in a frenzy half an hour before set time. Today was no different. Frank felt the zipper of Gerard's prized Japanese suitcase on the seat next to him scratch at his forearm.

He had heard Mikey talking on the phone from inside his bunk, quiet and low and probably completely aware that he was being overheard. Frank thought he was probably talking to his Mom. Frank tried not to think about the last time he'd bothered to do the same and ran a hand through his hair, wondering why the hell it was so quiet.

Then he saw the pineapple.

It was resting upright against the mirror, the browning spiky leaves tilted across the glass to just almost cover a black smudge that Frank thought was probably eyeliner. Somehow he'd walked past the stupid fruit at least ten times this week without asking a single person what the hell it was doing there, taking up valuable space and generally getting on Frank's nerves. He figured it was probably the final remnants of some half assed fruit-based gift package from the tour organisers or their record label, or more likely a dumb joke that only Brian would find funny enough to actually follow through on.

Frank had stared at it through tired, stinging eyes. He breathed in deep. He tried to recall the last time any of them had spoken to Brian since the tour started.

It took a lot longer than he had liked to admit to remember.

"Fuck," He had breathed, jolting forward. Louder, "Mikes?"

Frank leaned over to the dressing table, the zipper at the edge of Gerard's suitcase scratching at his skin with a hollow rip. He pushed the papers and empty cans and make up brushes and fucking clutter to one side with both hands as though that would help him find any evidence to contradict his suspicions.

"Huh?" Mikey called from his bunk, only sounding a little annoyed at the interruption. Frank heard him snapping his phone shut anyway, and the familiar drag of him opening his blind.

Frank swallowed, sitting back against the couch, staring at the fucking pineapple. "That Fuse thing isn't today, right?"

Nothing. Mikey sniggered, making him wait.

Frank was pretty sure that today was Tuesday, and he knew Brian had called last week, the week before maybe, asking if it would be okay for the camera crew to hang around for a few hours for something and Frank remembered doing a stupid thing like agreeing when Gerard said it would be fun, and would next Tuesday work, and no, I won't forget.

"Why do you think I'm hiding in here?" Mikey laughed without a single shred of remorse for the way it made Frank feel like he was going to be sick. "Gee is across the lot with Bert right now, I think. Doing some interview or something." He trailed off slightly, sounding disinterested. "Apparently he nearly got arrested this morning."

For a brief, stupid second, Frank wondered what the fuck Gerard had done. He felt something cold and heavy in the bottom of his stomach exactly like he did last summer when he recorded himself for the website explaining the way Gerard had left for a hike four days earlier and if anybody had seen or heard from him they should get in touch.

That didn't matter because Mikey didn't mean that. He meant that Bert had almost gotten arrested, which in the grand scheme of things didn't actually mean shit, because Frank knew that that was a two or three times a week kind of deal to the point where it was almost a feat of absolute genius.

Frank blinked. He bit at his lip piercing. He pushed the pineapple over onto its side. He didn't care anymore.

Some point later in the day he started getting stage ready. He ignored the uncertain throbbing in his chest when he heard the crew at the front of the bus. He buttoned up his shirt behind the curtain and listened to Gerard opening his Japanese suitcase and routing around inside for his blazer and tie. The older man talked to the presenter about his skeleton pyjamas, and how many layers of whatever brand make up he used, and the fine art of taping his face before a show in the way he always talked about things he loved. They were an art form, a delicately thought out process perfected and finessed and real.

It made Frank feel kind of bad about dreading the intrusion. He even showed his face for a while once he felt like it, realising it wasn't all that scary and the guy presenting was actually kind of sweet and sounded genuine when he said that Frank's band was the friendliest on the tour.

Then the cameras left and Frank felt better.

Gerard had slung his arm around Frank's shoulder, still in his long leather coat with the synthetic feeling fur trim at the collar and cuffs, and whispered something in his ear that made Frank shove him in the shoulder playfully instead of telling him to shut the fuck up.

Then a little while after, he heard Bob laughing and arguing with someone at the front door of the bus and Frank had laughed too, because whatever boulder he'd been carrying around all afternoon had crumbled into dust at the feeling of hot breath on his ear. He was gripping a can of Red Bull, grinning, leaning over the handrail to see down the stairs.

Frank had stopped laughing when he realised that the person behind the door sounded exactly like Jeph. Then the person let out a low, breathy laugh that Frank felt sharp and stinging somewhere on the left side of his chest and then they sounded really like Jeph but Frank wasn't sure because he swore he heard Bob cackle something that sounded like "--happened to you? Are you fucking naked?"

Frank stared down at the top of Bob's head. The blonde had his shoulder to the door, holding it closed with his black jumper riding half way up his side from the effort, laughing loud and confused and totally fucking wicked.

After that Frank had very little recollection other than the fact that the person behind the door was indeed Jeph, and he had barged in with purple tinted hair in his face, cheeks flushed and eyes flaring, and completely goddamn naked. Frank couldn't hear a thing over the pair of them laughing, even loud enough for Ray to appear at the curtain leading toward the bunks and lean against the door frame, shaking his head. Jeph was rambling between breathless laughter and elbowing Bob hard in the ribs with both hands down between his legs.

It was something about how Bert had locked him out of their bus and he should have known better than to trust him and shit, I forgot you guys were being filmed, but Frank only heard about three percent of it because for some reason he couldn't take his eyes off the tattoo on Jeph's right thigh. Even from a few steps back Frank could see the red tinting at Jeph's cheeks and smell something sweet and strong on his breath that was most likely a mix of cheap menthols and Jack Daniel's.

He thought about last night. He thought about the way he'd woken flush up against the other man this morning. He thought about the way his tongue had run over that exact tattoo not twelve hours earlier.

He downed the last of his Red Bull. The can crushing in his grip felt sharp and cold and just enough to snap him out of it until they were outside in full make up and costume, all five of his band just before the sun set in front of their bus. He remembered smiling embarrassed and confused and biting his lip as someone he recognised from the camera crew asked them to get in a line, this will make a great picture, with Mikey and Ray to the left of him and Gerard to the right and between was Jeph holding the only thing he thought to grab to cover his shame when he left their bus in a hurried whirlwind.

The fucking pineapple.

But now Frank tells himself he isn't thinking about it. He isn't thinking about it in their dressing room before they go on stage, watching Gerard's head bobbing along to whatever beat is emanating from his headphones in the corridor. He isn't thinking about it when the lights go down and he takes that final breath before he loses himself to the delirium of playing bent over backwards. He isn't thinking about it as he runs a towel over his damp hair and pulls a cleanish t-shirt down over his chest and hears Mikey call across the room to ask if he wants to stick around to watch Killswitch Engage.

Even now, leaning against Mikey, beer in hand backstage in the dark as they watch The Used wrap up the final song and a half before the next band comes on, Frank definitely isn't thinking about it. Jeph is moving with his eyes closed, subtle and thoughtful and totally encompassed in the music that Frank wonders if he knows he's playing in front of thousands of people. He holds his bass like it's a part of him, like nothing else matters and he's right here with his whole heart, just living.

It's been what feels like forever since Frank has watched them play, and he isn't surprised in the slightest when Mikey leans across and shouts over the music to tell him as much.

There's something nostalgic about it, like this could be years ago and Frank's band is just finding their feet, and him and Mikey are watching them in awe and fascination like they used to when they first started out.

Except now it's different because last night Frank tasted Jeph under his tongue for the first time and for the life of him he can't seem to stop fucking thinking about it.

Jeph doesn't see him when he leaves the stage. Frank tears at the label on his empty beer bottle until the whole thing is ripping into tiny squares at his feet. His knuckle is stinging from where he caught it on something sharp during the set but he ignores the burn like it isn't bothering him. Mikey says a few things about something or other; where they're headed to next, what time such a band is meant to be on stage, some random thing he wants to buy in the next country they fly to, and Frank just nods, eyes wide and unfocused until he's picking uselessly at the remnants of glue on the side of his glass bottle.

He feels like doing something really stupid. He feels like it so much that as the lights go back down he leaves the bottle resting on an amp at their side and mumbles that he'll be right back.

Mikey frowns next to him, cocking his head to one side. "Dude, they're coming on now!"

Frank doesn't care. He doesn't care. He touches Mikey's shoulder as he turns away. "Gotta take a leak. Two minutes!"

Frank is walking away before he hears Mikey say a damn thing in return.

He tears through the labyrinth of corridors leading further and further backstage, the distant rumble of the music constant and throbbing through the walls. He can hear people in every doorway, laughing, talking, packing up and winding down and yet none of them are Jeph, none of them even come close. He can feel the heat rising up his spine as he draws closer to where he has nothing more than a hunch of where their dressing room might be, heart thrashing against his rib cage, eyes flaring and almost wild until he feels something yank at his forearm and he stumbles backwards.

Jeph's fingers are hot and sturdy around his wrist. He pulls him into an alcove amongst piled high metal boxes of tech equipment and stray mic stands and fuck, Frank doesn't know because Jeph is sweaty and panting and glorious. He has what looks like a just-lit cigarette balancing on his bottom lip and even in the dim light Frank can see the way his damp hair has been pushed back out of his eyes, his t-shirt sticking slightly to his chest, his brow furrowed and eyes blown.

Jeph squeezes his fingers around Frank's wrist lightly, his palm resting right across I wish I were a ghost, and Frank feels his mouth go dry and the air fade from his lungs.

"Where are you running to?" Jeph asks in a low almost-whisper from one side of his mouth, his free hand tucking a stray strand of hair behind his ear. He's smiling like he already knows the answer, but Frank tells himself it doesn't matter.

"Nowhere." He breathes, just managing to pull a smile, but all he can really think about is how close Jeph's mouth is to his own. "Just forgot something."

Jeph looks down at Frank's hand as he holds his cigarette between finger and thumb. He lifts Frank's wrist, studying the red and rapidly scabbing over cut on one of his knuckles. Frank can almost see the frown in his forehead but doesn't say a word because he's all consumed and totally fucking frozen at Jeph's fingers tight and hot and perfect on his skin.

"I watched you play tonight." He says, inching forward in the small space, feeling the bass drum from on stage thump rhythmically in his chest as the blood rushes in his ears. "I mean, I caught the end."

He feels completely stupid as soon as the words leave his lips, but then Jeph is laughing quiet and raw and real and suddenly Frank doesn't give a damn. The taller man brushes the fringe from Frank's forehead slow and careful even with the cigarette between two fingers. Frank wants to know how the hell he does it, because again he's lost for words, suspended, enthralled. It's not fucking fair.

"See anything you like?" Jeph whispers as he nudges the rapidly dwindling smoke between the fingers of Frank's free hand.

Frank is grateful for the distraction because something about their proximity and the low, slow way Jeph asked the question is making his heart hammer hard against his sternum. He takes a drag, closing his eyes for as long as he's able. "I pretty much saw everything this afternoon." He laughs, "Pineapple and all."

Jeph breathes a drawn out laugh that sounds genuine and defeated and he rests his head against one of the metal containers, biting his lip. "Yeah. Sorry about that."

Frank takes another deep inhale. He raises his eyebrows, grinning. "I'm not."

He feels Jeph shove him in the collarbone lightly, his laugh filling the small space even over the distant music and a part of him wonders why he was so nervous in the first place. Jeph is right here up against his chest, holding his wrist and moving the hair from his eyes and breathing the same air as though he's been craving this as much as Frank.

"What are you doing tonight?" Frank asks, feeling himself steady only slightly as Jeph pulls the last of the cigarette from between Frank's lips.

Jeph shrugs as he takes the final drag, angling his mouth in such a way that the smoke exhales high above their heads and disappears into the darkness. "Heard some guys are going bowling." He teases as he drops the dud butt between their feet and crushes it expertly with his heel. "Might be fun."

"Huh, that does sound fun." Frank nods in feign agreement, the skin around his wrist still tingling and hot in Jeph's grip. A part of him wants to lean over and pull hard at his collar until his mouth crushes desperate against Frank's, needy and yearning and fuck you for thinking you can just, just be in my head every damn second of the day and get away with it.

Jeph leans closer, as if he fucking knows. With his free hand he starts pulling absently at the hem of Frank's t-shirt right against his metal studded pink belt. "I, er..." He trails off, swallowing, eyes down on his hand and voice barely above a whisper. "I kind of promised Bert and Quinn I'd bunk in with them tonight. Branden's not feeling too hot, getting a cold or something."

Frank is studying his face like if he doesn't he'll forget every detailed feature.

"I figured you'd probably seen enough of me today, anyway." He laughs quietly, finally looking up to meet Frank's eyes. "Thought you might wanna sleep in your own bed for a change."

Frank stares at the silver piercings on Jeph's bottom lip, a half smile pulling at one side of his mouth because damn.

"What's so funny?" Jeph asks, balling Frank's t-shirt into a fist, playfully pulling him closer. Frank can smell the smoke on his clothes, the adrenaline on his skin. He wishes again that he could for one second stop trying to remember the taste of him on his tongue.

"Nothing." Frank shakes his head, looking down at his wrist still tight in Jeph's grip. "It's just, you're the second person to say that to me today."

Jeph pulls their waists together with the twisted material of Frank's t-shirt, unexpected and startling to the point that Frank feels the breath catch in his throat. He feels good flush up against him in the cramped darkness, secret and quiet and fuck, Frank just wants him so bad.

"Maybe someone is trying to give you a hint." Jeph whispers, mouth almost grazing Frank's, almost, almost, almost.

Frank breathes hard and shallow, closing his eyes, surrendering. "Maybe someone should mind their own fucking business."

"Mmm." Jeph agrees against Frank's mouth, just teasing, just for a second and it's soft and careful and just not enough. "Point taken."

Frank pulls him back down by the collar, breathing him in, feeling his tongue against his slow and hot and his piercing is there the way that it always was but for some reason Frank savours the sensation like it could be the last time. He feels a hand on the small of his back, gripping with all five fingers, reckless and dizzy and fuck no, not here.

With Jeph's forehead against his he can finally breathe again, stepping backward, inhaling deep and desperate and bereft.

From down the corridor he hears the crowd roar as the song ends.

"See you tomorrow?" Jeph whispers, but Frank isn't sure if it's actually a question.

"Fully dressed, I hope." Frank is joking, pushing his damp black fringe to one side as best he can through panting breaths.

He feels Jeph's shoe nudge his own teasingly. "Don't lie."

Frank straightens out his t-shirt, regaining control, looking back out into the corridor as though checking the coast is clear. "You got me." He concedes through a laugh as he bites his lip, pulling his wrist from Jeph's grip finally. "Behave yourself tonight."

Jeph sniggers, and Frank is already half way down the hallway before he hears the older man call after him, "No promises!"

Frank digs his fingers into his palms until he gets back to Mikey, pressing his open hand between the taller man's shoulder blades and stuttering out a drowned out apology. Mikey studies his face for perhaps a second too long, maybe wondering where the hell he'd been, but not saying a word to voice his wariness.

Frank bites at the inside of his cheek as he looks out onto the stage, the lights flashing sharp at the back of his eyes until he feels like he can breathe again. It feels good.

For a second it almost feels like the thrashing in his chest is in time with the bass drum, but then he remembers he can still taste Jeph on his tongue and one single image pops relentlessly into his brain for what he hopes is the last time.

The fucking pineapple.

Chapter Text

"Don't know how much time we have."

Frank doesn't care, though.

"It's okay." He breathes the words against Jeph's jaw bone, his lips hot and wet and just grazing the bat's wing that runs along the sharp line at the top of the older man's neck.

His hands are already on Jeph's belt, all ten fingers yanking at the distressed faux leather with impatient ardour until the final notch all but rips apart under his grip. Jeph smells like thick smoke and cherry menthol cough drops. The skin at the base of his throat tastes damp and sweet and perfect.

Jeph's whispers hitch part way through as his back connects with the wall at the back of the bus. "Couple of--couple of hours at most."

Frank pulls at Jeph's zipper, feeling the tug of every one of the metal teeth until it's all the way down. He sighs into the darkness, wild and rushed and just so fucking uncaring. "It's okay."

He can hear the way Jeph is almost laughing, one hand gripping the hem of Frank's t-shirt down at the small of his back, the other on his collarbone, fingers fanned out and possessive. "Okay." The older man breathes, voice dropping as Frank's mouth brushes the skin just behind his ear, "Okay. Just--"

Frank's hand stalls at the elastic of the older man's boxers. With two fingers he tugs gently at the material, just testing, wetting his bottom lip. "Jepha?"

Jeph exhales, finally. "Yeah?"

Frank whispers the words right into the shell of Jeph's ear, low and slow and knowing. "It's okay. Just let me."

He slips his hand down, the elastic tight against his wrist and Jeph sighs deep and desperate and relenting. Frank focuses on how good the taller man feels under his fingers, breathing hard, biting his lip, moving his hand with expert rhythm.

He doesn't think about earlier. He doesn't think about what he might have seen or what it might have meant because fuck, it doesn't matter.

Frank closes his eyes. He opens his mouth against Jeph's exposed throat and flicks his wrist just right and he knows Jeph is crumbling beneath him and God yes, and he feels so good in his hand, and this is the only thing scorching his brain, hot and bright and frantic and fuck Gerard, fuck Gerard, fuck him.

Frank had known Jeph was flirting with him as soon as he saw him across the lot hours earlier, smiling from one side of his mouth, cradling a clear plastic cup of something neon blue and gross looking, tattooed arm slung around Quinn's shoulder. Even from where he was stood Frank could see the flared glisten in Jeph's eyes, the way his foot tapped to the tinny music crackling from a speaker somewhere beyond the bonfire, one of the fingers on his free hand tapping ash expertly onto the grass below as his cigarette dwindled. In the orange glow he looked kind of breathtaking.

Frank had breathed hard through the ache in his chest.

Even before he'd made it on stage earlier he'd heard from Mikey who'd heard from someone who'd confirmed for absolute definite that this after party would be one of the best of the tour. Frank had listened in feigned interest as Mikey told him it was someone's birthday, Frank can't for the fucking life of him remember who, and just past the huge parking lot behind the venue they'd organised something. Frank can remember the words bonfire and everyone is coming and fireworks and where've you been lately anyway? He had decided it would be worth showing his face if only to avoid being berated by the younger Way, even though Frank had kind of felt like shit all day because of what was most likely the beginnings of a sore throat and a tightness in his jeans that got worse when he thought about the line of skin between the hem of Jeph's t-shirt and the clasp of his belt.

Jeph had waited a while before making his way over to Frank. Frank had played along at avoiding eye contact seemingly on purpose, his gaze focusing mostly on the beer in his hand and the rapidly forming scab on his knuckle. He'd stood with Ray and Mikey and laughed at some story about something that happened the night before until more and more people he kind of knew started arriving and the music and chattering almost became enough to falter Frank's concentration. He looked through the high dancing flames to find that Jeph wasn't stood where he was moments earlier.

It was just him and Mikey for a little while. A few people had branched off and wandered further into the darkness to play kickball. Frank could just about hear the cheers and commotion over the music and the crackle of the bonfire. He squinted in the dim light but couldn't see Jeph on either team.

Next to him Mikey slurred something hot and unintelligible in his ear. Frank was wondering how Mikey had gotten so drunk so quickly when he felt a palm on his back right between his shoulder blades and Jeph's neon blue gross plastic cup, now just the final dregs, was wafted under his nose.

Frank had grimaced through a smile, pushing the drink away so the contents sloshed against Jeph's detailed fingers.

"Get that shit out of my face." Frank laughed as Jeph's face finally came into view. "Smells like fucking floor cleaner."

"Tastes like it, too." Jeph replied with eyebrows raised, cup to his lips, cheeks flushed red and glowing.

"What is it? Fucking bleach?" Frank felt Mikey lean against his shoulder as he asked, wiping at his mouth with the back of his sleeve. He was wearing Frank's black zip up with the wolf on the chest, underneath a white denim jacket and God knows how many other layers.

"Punch." Jeph wiped his mouth after a long sip, the light from the fire reflected in his silver piercings. Frank had the sudden urge to feel the older man's bottom lip between his teeth.

"Punch?" Frank questioned, taking Mikey's elbow to steady him. "Yeah, cause if you shove that in my face one more time that's what I'll give you."

Frank had felt his heart thrashing wild and persistent against his rib cage at the way Jeph's laugh sounded in his ears. The older man tossed the empty plastic cup down onto the grass, eyes never leaving Frank's, leaning closer with a knowing smile, voice dropping, just right.

He whispered into Frank's ear like there wasn't a single other person around. "What else will you give me?"

Anything, fuck, anything, but Frank's mouth went dry as soon as Jeph uttered the final syllable and fuck, he'd give him anything if it meant his breath hitched in the exact same way it had two nights ago.

He'd wanted to reply, to rattle off something perfect and sharp and inviting enough to make Jeph's heart smash against his chest the way Frank's was right then. He'd imagined the taller man against the wall, panting shallow and hard and desperate, fingers in Frank's hair, voice cracking, absolutely and wholly gone. He opened his mouth to whisper back, wetting his bottom lip, knowing exactly what to say.

Then Mikey threw up on his shoes.

It wasn't until that point that Frank had wondered where the hell Gerard had got to. He was sure he'd been right behind them at least half an hour earlier, but as Frank jolted backwards, stumbling into Jeph in a failed attempt at avoiding the mess, he realised he was nowhere in sight.

It took a while, but as soon as Ray was sitting Mikey in the grass, cleaning him up and scanning the crowded area presumably for his brother, Jeph started laughing.

The mess on Frank's shoes was a gross neon blue.

Frank had gotten back to his bus in record time. He'd shoved Jeph hard in the collarbone, assuring him through gritted teeth that he'd be right back, and keep an eye on Mikes, and stop fucking laughing. He stole a bottle of water from a crate wrapped in squeaky plastic film somewhere just before the parking lot, and poured the entire contents over his sad sneakers in the hopes it would prevent his laces from turning just about blue permanently.

He kicked the things off outside his bus, punching in the door code without really thinking, fingers tapping the buttons through muscle memory alone. At the top of the stairs he peeled off his socks and jeans, just about sober enough to balance on one leg as he did so, wondering why the lights were on but figuring whoever was last out earlier didn't think to check.

On his way to the couch to route through his suitcase, he almost tripped over something black and twisted and right in the middle of the fucking floor. Frank kicked out until his ankle was free, stumbling, cursing under his breath. It was Gerard's fur trimmed jacket.

Something about it made Frank just stop for a minute.

He wanted to get back outside, to feel his face red with embarrassment as Jeph laughed at him and whispered in his ear. He wanted to check Mikey was okay, and maybe sling a few swear words his way and joke about sending him a bill for his almost new and now completely ruined Etnies. He wanted to see the fireworks, and sing along to the shit coming out of the speakers, and cheer for whatever team was losing at kickball. He wanted to feel Jeph's tongue against his, breathless and needy and gross neon blue.

But the lights to the bus were on and Gerard's jacket was on the floor.

Frank got dressed. He threw on whatever was clawing out over the lip of his suitcase and yanked at the laces of a fresh pair of shoes and definitely didn't feel the bile rising in his throat because fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.

He didn't think about the fact that everywhere he looked he could see more and more proof that Gerard was at the back of the bus right now, in his bunk, probably totalled with hair in his eyes and make up smudged on the back of his wrist and not for a fucking second caring that Frank feels blood rushing painfully in his ears every time he thinks about him and Bert together.

Fuck, Frank knew that was Bert's shirt on the couch, and his jacket over the back of the chair, and his brand of cigarettes in a crushed packet on the table in front of the mirror and fuck, Frank knew he was at the back of the bus right then looking at the hair in Gerard's eyes and the make up smudged on the back of his wrist. He knew they were together.

Frank wished more than anything that he didn't care.

He slammed the door shut behind him, breathing hard outside the bus in the dark, lungs burning, smelling the smoke from the bonfire drifting across the lot. He pushed the fringe from his eyes with shaking fingers. It took a few seconds for him to just breathe, but as soon as the dry air seeped into every part of him he remembered that none of this fucking mattered.

He wanted to feel heat, to see fireworks, to taste neon blue.

Half way back to the party he saw Jeph navigating his way through the busses toward him. From a few feet back Frank could see the flush in the older man's cheeks, the smile just pulling at his lips as he called, "Took your time." He didn't stop walking, just drawled out the next sentence as if he fucking knew Frank had to have him. "You get lost?"

Frank felt something hammering hard against his sternum, persistent and yearning and fucking terrifying.

It took all of three strides until their mouths crushed together. Frank's fingers pulled at the twisted material of Jeph's shirt, yanking him closer, eyes closed and waists together and yes. They didn't pull apart as Jeph unlocked the door to the sober bus, stumbling up the stairs, leaving the lights off, hands wandering, desperate.

And now Frank has him against the wall, hand moving in perfect rhythm until Jeph is gasping, wanting, almost.

The first firework goes off as Jeph is stuttering Frank's name in a tattered whisper.

Outside there's a flash of pink that illuminates the small space beside Jeph's bunk, stinging Frank's eyes until he feels it in his chest. Jeph kisses him through the loud bang and crackle, stopping only for a few deep breaths, his shoulders slumping as he rides it out.

They pant with their foreheads together, just breathing close and perfect in the sparkling light. It goes dark again as Frank slips his hand out and wipes it unceremoniously on the front of his t-shirt, consequences be damned.

His brain is still fogged with Jeph's tattered breathing and the way he'd shook as he came. Fuck, he doesn't know if he can wait.

He feels Jeph's palm on his neck, sweaty and gripping and hotter than hot. Out of nowhere there's the pressure of the older man's lip piercing against his tongue, his knee between Frank's thighs and then he's turned around, pressed to the wall as green light and a sharp bang fills the space for just a few seconds.

Jeph's eyes are closed, mouth open, hand unfastening Frank's belt with fumbling difficulty but Frank almost bucks his hips forward with impatient greed all the same.

"Frank..." he breathes, deep and slow and testing. "Frank, I--fuck."

Frank thinks about how much he loves the way he says his name.

Frank pictures him getting on his knees in front of him, fingers piercing the sharp contours of his hips as he pins him against the bunk. He almost lets out an audible sign of impatience but manages to bite his tongue.

"It's okay." Frank whispers back, needy, pleading, so totally fucking desperate that he doesn't care for a second. Fuck, he wants this so bad.

Jeph is still heaving. "I know, it's just--wait, I..."

For some reason the concentrated crease in Jeph's forehead gives Frank the ability to just reign it the fuck in long enough to realise something isn't right. He touches Jeph's wrist as his hand fiddles idly with Frank's belt buckle.

Outside he can hear cheering in the distance and the high pitched whistle and fizzle as the sky fills with bright white.

"What is it?" He asks, still whispering, hand hot and steady against the older man's skin. "Jepha?"

Jeph blinks hard. He runs his tongue over his bottom lip. When he pulls back his forehead is damp and the hair sticking to it is doing so in such a perfect way that Frank doesn't even feel the urge to reach up and brush it away.

The older man breathes slow and deep. When he finally opens his eyes Frank can feel them bore into his with dark brown concern.

"It's just that...shit, I--" He swallows, stalling. "I'm not exactly an expert at this. I don't--I don't know if it's going to be any good."

Frank feels a pang of something tight and hot pulling at his chest but he manages to ignore it long enough to press more of his weight against Jeph's. Frank wonders why he looks like he wants the floor to disintegrate beneath them and the asphalt below to swallow them whole.

"Are you serious?" He asks, still whispering, almost laughing but he hopes to God as soon as he's said it that Jeph doesn't take it the wrong way. "Obviously it's gonna be good. It's you!"

Frank swears he sees Jeph's lips pull a smile, just at one corner and just for a fleeting moment but then it's faded and the crease in his forehead is still there. Frank wishes he could explain that Jeph could do any damn thing and it would be good, better than good, fucking unbelievable because it's Jeph, and everything Jeph does and says it's relentlessly perfect and relentlessly cool.

Instead, he rests his hand flat on Jeph's sternum and hopes he whispers the next sentence with enough sincerity to not sound like he's teasing. "Have you never done it before?"

Frank doesn't think it's too far fetched a question, considering his own stinging recollection of Gerard gently tugging at the roots of Frank's short, too short hair, as he struggled to breathe but relished in every tiny desperate sound that escaped from the older man's parted lips.

He wonders if Gerard even remembers that night.

That isn't the point. The point is that he does, and he was probably drunk and probably thought he was doing a shit job but Gerard's knees still almost buckled when he came and Frank coughed, surprised and spluttering as he wiped his sticky chin with the back of his wrist.

Frank suddenly doesn't remember why he's thinking about this when Jeph is panting ready and hot pressed against his chest in the dark.

The older man grimaces slightly at the question, nose wrinkled just for a second as he gathers himself. "Yeah, like twice when I was about eighteen." He admits, breathing a weak laugh, not bothering to look Frank in the eyes.

Frank doesn't know what he thought Jeph was going to say, but it wasn't that.

"It's just..." Jeph trails off, and Frank is actually kind of grateful because he can't for a second stop thinking about what Jeph just said. "You were just, fuck, Frank. I mean, you know?"

Frank does know, but he almost feels like teasing a little, so he doesn't reply, leaving Jeph to breathe an embarrassed laugh and look down at Frank's hand on his chest.

Frank feels kind of bad, but mostly he feels the tightness in his jeans and the hot pressure of Jeph's heart beating against his palm and fuck, why is Jeph talking like he isn't good enough when Frank knows for a fact that isn't true.

"Fuck, Jepha." Frank breathes a laugh, leaning shamelessly closer, mouth open and pleading and really fucking impatient. "I don't care."

He means it in the nicest way possible, of course.

He actually thinks it's kind of sweet how Jeph just always cares so much. Frank almost lets himself remember again how Gerard tastes under his tongue, fingers in Frank's hair pulling only slightly against the wall, but then he asks himself why the image keeps creeping into his conscious all of a sudden.

A part of Frank knows the way Gerard tastes is a sensory memory that will always be there in the deep down part of his brain and the burning of his damp skin and the metal on his tongue. It's probably on his mind because of the way Gerard's voice cracked yesterday morning on the bottom bunk.

Frank thinks Gerard has probably never cared about a damn thing but himself, and doesn't even remember, and fuck, stop thinking about Gerard, stop thinking about Gerard, stop thinking about Gerard.

Frank is brought back by the flash of blue-green-something outside, and the older man disappearing down in front of him.

Frank can hardly breathe. "Oh, fu--"

Jeph gets on his knees. He looks up and never takes his eyes off Frank as he unfastens the shorter man's belt, slow and deliberate and fuck me, he looks--

Frank thinks he looks unreal. Frank thinks this is the hardest he's ever been in his entire fucking life.

He looks down at him, breathing hard. No. He leans back and rests his head against the wall for a second, just catching his breath, just trying for all hell not to fucking lose it. He can feel him tugging gently at his zipper, slow and careful and absolutely wicked.

When he finds the strength to look down, Jeph is wetting his bottom lip. It's too much.

"Fuck, no." He breathes. "I can't do this."

Jeph frowns. His hands stop moving. "What?"

Frank swallows hard. "You." He sighs. "Down there like that. Fuck, Jepha I'm about to come in my fucking pants again, can we get in bed?"

Jeph doesn't even try to pretend he isn't laughing, but they do get in bed.

It's there, with the blind left open so the pair of them can be periodically flooded in bright light, with Jeph straddling him uncertain but so fucking certain, that Frank learns three things he didn't know, or maybe did know but forgot, about the man above him.

First of all, Jeph is a fucking tease.

Frank tells him so, writhing, twitching, laughing. He feels Jeph's tattooed hand under his damp t-shirt, fingers splaying over his chest, kissing lower and lower until Frank is holding his breath and trying hard not to knee him in the stomach. He feels Jeph's nose somewhere at the hem of his boxers, his purple-black fringe dragging down over Frank's belly button and tickling ruthlessly.

Frank almost can't stand it, because he's been thinking about this for what must be an ungodly amount of hours or however long it was since the pineapple and then there's a crackle and bang outside and Frank looks down to see the top of Jeph's head light up pink, yellow, green, blue and orange and suddenly he can't remember a goddamned thing.

Secondly, Jeph is painfully gentle and slow. He kisses Frank's neck a little, right against his scorpion and Frank bites down on his bottom lip until he tastes metal. He almost wants to tell him to stop, and just do it quick and panting and with little regard for what Frank actually feels because fuck, that's just what he's used to, isn't it?

Fuck. Frank closes his eyes. It doesn't matter.

Jeph pulls at the elastic of Frank's boxers slow and deliberate and fuck, please.

Frank bites his bottom lip. He feels Jeph's tongue on his hip for no good reason other than it makes him writhe like he's lost his voice, seeing black, seeing sparks. He feels the little metal ball drag along his sensitive skin and his breath hitches, wanting more than anything to beg him to hurry it up because Frank honestly feels like he's on the borderline.

Frank bursts out laughing when Jeph starts kissing his hip bone.

He tries to hold his tongue but he can't, and then Jeph sits up, which is the absolute fucking opposite of what Frank wants, and cocks his head to one side.

"Something funny?" He asks, resting his weight on Frank's knees, tucking the hair behind his ear.

Frank flings his head back against the pillow, closing his eyes, trying not to fucking whine. "No, no." He pants, fingers in a fist, desperate, "Just tickles. Fuck, Jepha, I can't. I'm gonna fucking--please."

He doesn't care that Jeph is laughing. He doesn't care that he sounds fucking ridiculous. He needs this bad and he just doesn't care. Jeph must take pity on him because he feels his mouth hot and wet and fucking yes only a few seconds later.

Thirdly, Jeph isn't a fucking quitter.

He has to stop a few times for what Frank can only imagine is because he's kind of out of breath. Frank thinks about himself and how he's always been good at breathing through his nose and how he used to be a singer and that probably helps. He definitely doesn't think about Gerard. Absolutely not.

Jeph rests his forehead on Frank's hip, breathing deep. A part of Frank, one that sees beyond the next two or three seconds, is kind of grateful because he thinks he's probably almost there, but then Jeph starts again unexpectedly and he feels hot-wet-perfect-oh fuck, and Frank is coming without any warning at all which he knows is really kind of out of order but he didn't mean it and fuck he's really sorry.

"F-fuck, sorry. Sorry. Fuck."

The words escape in strained tatters through Frank's panting breaths and glorious white heat, through yes yes fuck, Jepha, until Frank can feel something close to embarrassment encompass every part of him.

Jeph seems okay for a minute. Frank leans up and cranes his neck to look but then Jeph is coughing, spitting everywhere and Frank can feel it on his stomach and on his hip, disgusting and hilarious.

"You fucker!" Jeph gasps, hand to his mouth, but he's laughing. "My nose is burning."

Frank is laughing too, though. He can't fucking help it. "I'm sorry!" He breathes, exhaling, stomach moving with the laugh. He reaches down and moves the hair from Jeph's eyes. "I didn't know that was gonna happen."

Jeph is wiping his mouth with the bottom of his t-shirt, exposing the intricate detail on his stomach, resting back on Frank's legs and breathing hard. "You didn't know it was gonna happen?!" Jeph laughs, outraged and panting. He wipes his chin and rubs his hand down the front of his shirt.

"Well not as quick as that!" Frank tries to explain, but honestly he's finding it hard to string a sentence together. He flops down onto the pillow, muscles aching and tired and so fucking relaxed. "Sorry!" He exhales the word again, smiling from one side of his mouth. "Fuck, it's been a while."

"Likely excuse." Jeph sighs. He pulls the shirt over his head finally, wiping at his face again. Then he looks down at Frank's stomach and takes a deep breath, running the t-shirt over his sensitive skin to clean him up. Frank just lies there and lets him do it without argument, too fucking satisfied to give a shit. Fuck, that's it. He's gone.

"Knew you were fucking dirty." Jeph laughs knowingly, the t-shirt balled into a tangled mess and thrown over the side of the bunk.

Frank smiles. From outside there's one final flash of bright gross neon blue.

"You don't know the half of it."

Chapter Text

The nape of Jeph's neck smells good.

Frank thinks it's maybe even up there with his all time favourite smells, right ahead of damp grass under the back of his head as the sun goes down, and the beaten up velvety lining of his very first guitar case, and the way burnt wood from a bonfire lingers in the air even hours after the rain has dampened the final ember.

It's heaven.

Frank breathes in deep with his nose right at the base of Jeph's skull, buried in his hair soft and dark and infinitely better smelling than thunderstorms on the Jersey coast or dark chocolate or that entire summer Gerard smoked roll up tobacco.

Jeph's back is warm against his chest, the pair of them still barely dressed and barely awake with not a single sound echoing through the thick air to suggest that they're anything other than gloriously alone. Frank can tell it's early in the morning because the light penetrating through the parted curtains from outside is dancing on the opposite wall orangey-pink-Jesus, what time is it, but Frank's mouth is grazing the familiarly inked horseshoe at the top of Jeph's spine, lips parted against LUCK, and at this precise moment he doesn't give a damn.

The window on the other side of the room is open a fraction, just enough for the breeze to seep its way in and tickle the hair lying flat against Frank's forehead. It finally feels like spring. A couple more weeks and he will remember how it feels to sleep in a hotel room. For now, he enjoys the novelty whilst he can.

They're in an actual bed, with space enough to move more than a couple of inches to either side if the idea was ever necessary enough to strike them, but Frank is pressed to the older man's back with his face in his hair and mouth to his skin and breathing him in with more satisfied delight than the way a brand new paperback smells after the spine cracks as it's opened for the very first time.

Jeph had somehow swung it so Quinn had realised absolutely of his own merit what a perfectly dumb idea it would be for the pair of them to share a room on what Frank thinks without having to concentrate too hard was the single night off of the tour. Frank remembers asking the older man last night how the fuck he'd pulled it off without making Quinn raise a knowing eyebrow in the way Frank just knew Gerard would if he were to ever suggest something similar, but when it came down to it the whole thing was actually pretty fucking simple.

Hotel night or no, according to the smug tone of Jeph's voice as he ran a hot palm over the small of Frank's back at a rest stop somewhere between Boston and Portland, Branden stays on the bus.

Frank knows it's something to do with wanting to steer clear of the madness that can often ensue when on tour and beyond. Branden has always been straight edge, which Frank knows and respects and thinks is a fucking achievement beyond all measure because the idea of having to listen to his own thoughts with perfect clarity day in day out scares the shit out of him. Branden obviously doesn't seem to feel the same, and so he stays on the bus.

"But the genius part is," Jeph had breathed the words mid inhale after pulling the just-lit cigarette irritatingly from between Frank's lips without bothering to ask, "Is the people that organise this shit...whoever," He gestured between them with a wafting open hand, "...Don't know and always book him in a room anyway. So it's like..."

Frank blinked as he waited impatiently for volume one of this fucking epic odyssey to finally come to a conclusion.

Jeph leant against the side wall of the gas station, wind tangling his hair as he flicked ash into the dust below. "...I've convinced Quinn to go in with Bert or whatever, I don't give a shit, and you can fucking..." He inhaled long and deep, grinning as though the first man alive to ever pull off a dirty stopover in a mediocre hotel room. Frank rolled his eyes before the older man continued. "...Disappear whenever and come to my room. Sounds good, right? What do you think?"

Frank had stood perfectly still, staring at the man opposite despite the dust in the air. He swallowed, leaning across to finally repatriate his dwindling cigarette.

"Think it's a lot of fucking espionage just to get your dick sucked."

Jeph had smirked at Frank's words, just almost holding back his amusement. He lifted his face toward the sun, closing his eyes for mere seconds as though enjoying the rare moment of warmth on his skin. Frank stared at his Adam's apple and wet his bottom lip. When Jeph finally stood up straight against the wall he was breathing the words through semi-serious laughter.

"You're telling me." He snickered, brushing the unruly hair from his forehead. "I put less effort into my high school diploma."

Frank had shrugged, throwing the butt down into the dirt, smiling. "Well, at least your talents won't go to waste."

Jeph glanced across the empty parking lot at their buses, maybe just to check, before whispering into Frank's ear low and slow and in exactly the way Frank was sure he knew would make Frank weak at the knees.

"Prove it."

That was yesterday. Frank is trying very fucking hard not to think about how many cities and how many nights and how many hours until the end of the tour. Frank has added that to the list of things he is trying very fucking hard not to think about.

Items two and three on said list include the way his heart hammers against his raw and tired rib cage every time Jeph smiles in the genuine way he only can when he's just woken up, and the subconscious way Frank is expert at keeping track of how many drinks Gerard is up to by the time the stage lights go up.

Fuck.

Tonight they will play a show just like every other night. Frank will close his eyes and pant through every bar, building up, Pansy weighing him down and down until he's on his back, the crowd a blur, Ray's riff shredding through the smoke filled arena as Gerard's voice resonates deep in his chest.

I hope you know
that this is gonna go down
on your permanent
record

Afterwards they'll all separate onto different buses, sweating and messy and ears ringing, and Frank will stuff his phone down the side of his bunk and pretend he's not listening out for the familiar melodic thud of it buzzing against the wall in fear that the time until he sees Jeph again will pass torturously slowly. He will try to sleep. He will not call. Some point during the night they will cross the border.

Frank had left the hotel party in the early hours, waiting until Mikey was drunk enough not to notice his departure, sans puking all over something he loves for once, and navigating the corridors whilst repeating Jeph's room number under his breath. For whatever reason, he was fucking terrified.

He had felt the panic fade into nothing as the door closed behind him and Jeph's tongue moved against his before either of them had a chance to form a single syllable, and Frank had sunk to his knees in the very next breath like he was fearless enough to not give a shit.

Jeph sighed like he'd been waiting an age to feel the roots of Frank's hair under his fingers.

But none of that matters right now.

Frank drags his mouth up the back of Jeph's neck, the older man's hair brushing gently at his nose from the movement. He feels Jeph shrink away slightly, breathing a laugh in feigned fatigue induced frustration.

After all, it is very early.

Jeph's voice is a scratchy murmur. "Fucking...tickles."

"Mmm." Frank agrees, because he doesn't know what to say, and he doesn't want to pull his mouth back, and the way Jeph's voice is deep and exhausted is kind of driving him crazy.

Frank doesn't think about the fleeting minutes he has left to bask in blissful ignorance.

Right now, they're somewhere quiet and private and alone which Frank knows he should savour for as long as he possibly can before the anxiety creeps up his spine all over again. Jeph is just about awake. Frank can feel the rhythmic, steady breathing against his chest. His skin is warm and tingling in all the best ways.

Frank breathes in deep and slow and infatuated.

The nape of Jeph's neck smells good.

Frank thinks it's up there with dark ground coffee beans just before noon or pulled tight shrink wrap over the skin of a fresh tattoo or the ripped apart back seat of the old tour van in a blizzard.

He is in love.

It's heaven.

Chapter Text

It was during the final week of Warped Tour the previous summer that Frank had heard him promise it for the first time.

Those words had defeated Gerard, but he'd said them anyway. Frank could tell that much, even with the older man's hands clammy and gripping and his eyes glazed over as the sun set somewhere far in the distance. Gerard was gone.

He didn't go out with a bang either. He went on his hands and knees in a scorching parking lot with sick down his shirt and blood on his knuckles.

"I'll get better."

Frank had wished he could believe him.

That summer had dwindled away like a heat induced fever dream, long and uncomfortable and in a different city every other day, the horizon baking and unsettled from far behind the endless crowd of ever changing faces. Their creatively self-vandalised trailer was pulled through desert road and August storm, and across every state line Frank had closed his eyes and wondered if there was anyone anywhere on earth who had it better than this.

Gerard pulled him back down to said earth three days before reality was due to kick in anyway.

He'd disappeared some time after their set. Frank's memory had some very fucking obstructive blind spots. Exactly when the older man vanished was normally never determined until someone who spoke to someone who thought they saw Gerard going XYZ with Tom, Dick or Harry, oh and that singer from [redacted] to do ??? at around half past ??? could confirm the details.

The tour was ending in three days. He couldn't just go three days.

Frank went looking for him. Besides, it was his turn. It was his turn to go, discounting the rock weighing down his chest that told him something fucking awful must have happened or he was never coming back just like it did when they were recording in California and it took days before--

Whatever. Frank went looking for him.

The sun in his eyes made it hard to see further than the first row of shining metal buses but by some miracle Frank had pushed on, hand to his forehead to shade his view, freshly inked anchor stinging the skin of his right arm. He swallowed hard when he caught sight of him.

Gerard was wearing a black hoodie and green-grey-stained cargo shorts. His hair was damp looking and wild, long enough to stick to his cheek and linger on his bottom lip as he panted breathlessly presumably from the effort of simply staying conscious. He was on his back in the dirt, nestled somewhere between a line of unkempt shrubbery and a dried out bed of now crushed and broken wildflowers.

The night before, they'd played kickball in an unloved gym off the back of the empty venue as the crew set up equipment outside. Everyone was there, even people Frank would have never believed he would get the chance to share a stage with, and they'd laughed and raised hell and drank and smoked and caused chaos until Frank's fingers felt tingly in front of his face and he staggered between bases as everyone cheered.

Him and Mikey and Ray drank whiskey. They got pushed around in an old office chair someone found with one wheel missing. The retched thing tore along the hardwood from one side of the gym to the other and Gerard grinned as he gripped the arm rests. Mikey kicked the ball so far it disappeared behind the bleachers and was declared a home run. Gerard had tripped over his shoelace and fell on second base on his turn. Everyone had laughed. It was funny.

Frank looked down at Gerard in the flower bed. It wasn't funny anymore.

Frank didn't have to say anything. Gerard was conscious. He was breathing. He looked like shit and probably had no idea what he was doing but at least he was alive. Frank bent down and took his hand. One step at a time.

He coughed. He sat up. He breathed.

Something cracked and slurring slipped out of his mouth that sounded like, "Frankie."

Frank squeezed his hand tighter. He was just so goddamned tired.

"What you doing, Gee?"

Gerard struggled to his knees in the dust. He didn't seem to react to the impatient fatigue in Frank's voice. With one hand in Frank's and the other in the dirt he steadied himself upright, balancing on his knees until he had strength enough to stand.

"I just--I wanted to just--" He coughed again, squinting in the blazing sun. Frank pretended he didn't notice the vomit in the dried out grass next to him. "I needed to get fresh air. I think I needed to get--I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Fuck."

Frank wanted to laugh. This whole thing seemed like a big joke because the man in front of him was not Gerard. It had gone too far.

Three days earlier Gerard had slipped into his bunk in the early hours and pushed himself flush up against him and it was Gerard who'd whispered nonsense until Frank was biting his lip to hold back dumb laughter and it was Gerard who'd kissed him slow and savouring and for no other reason than he'd wanted to and it was Gerard who ran his fingertips across the tattoos at the hem of Frank's boxers, silent and fascinated and glorious. That had been Gerard.

The man in front of him was not Gerard.

Frank breathed deep and calculated. He hauled the older man to his feet, steadying him with a hand to his shoulder, dusting off his back and pushing the hair from his eyes. Gerard stumbled the first few steps, resting his weight against Frank, breathing hard. Frank wondered if he even knew where he was.

"I'm sorry." He said again.

"It's okay." Frank told him, even though it wasn't.

They staggered forward a few more feet. Frank balled the collar of Gerard's hoodie into a fist to hold him upright as they traipsed back to the van.

Gerard broke the silence only a few minutes later, sounding real, sounding defeated and shaken and frighteningly sober.

"I'll get better."

Frank had wished he could believe him.

***

In Toronto, Frank is told before he's even had his morning cigarette that tonight's show will end with Under Pressure.

They had recorded a version of the track months ago that would apparently be released after the tour. That's good. The song is for charity. Playing it at shows means more people will buy it which means more money for the cause. That's good.

What isn't good is the fact that Frank can hardly fucking remember how to play the damn song, because it's been weeks and weeks since he last even tried, and since then he's had other things on his mind like keeping up with where in the world he is every night and the way Jeph's bottom lip trembles when he whispers his name.

Another not good thing comes to mind when he arrives at sound check.

Jeph is tuning his bass stage left, hair in his eyes and a half empty plastic cup with a green straw sticking out of the lid resting on the amp next to him. Ice tea. He's wearing a collared shirt with the top two buttons open, the sleeves rolled to his elbows, rough fingertips plucking at each string in turn. At the base of his throat Frank can see his bat's little beady eyes and pointed fangs, it's wings spread out perfectly along Jeph's jawline.

He looks good. Fuck. Not good.

Bert is running late. What that actually means Frank isn't sure, but Gerard does just as well without him during the first run through of the song. Frank stands next to Quinn as he sways absently to the music and closes his eyes as though he's having no trouble at all remembering the order of the chords he's supposed to play. He sings along to the chorus. Frank dares a glance out at the empty arena. He keeps his eyes open as he plays. He knows that behind Pansy he is invincible.

The sound tech adjusts a few dials from their nest in the middle of the standing area and asks for Branden to test the bass drum before they take it from the top. Branden thrashes at the foot pedal in a continuous rhythm, slow then fast, looking up now and then to check his progress.

Frank alters Pansy's strap across his shoulder, rolling his neck in a slow circle, stretching his muscles with satisfying greed. He glances across at Branden. He's still tapping the pedal, filling the vast empty room with thumping thuds louder and louder. Next to him, Ray is chugging a bottle of water, one hand resting on the neck of his guitar, hair pushed expertly out of his eyes.

In between them, Jeph is smiling. Frank doesn't notice at first, because he really was only looking in that direction for something to do, but as soon as he locks eyes with the older man it's game over because something inside Frank's ribcage tightens like it's in a vice.

It's from just one side of his mouth, the smile. He's looking at Frank with his eyes flaring brown and blown from across the stage, fingers running along the frets of his bass absently, kicking a stray cord to one side with the heel of his shoe. Frank can't seem to look away, and it isn't until the tech calls across the empty space to request they go again and Jeph plucks the first few familiar notes does Frank realise he's smiling back. Jeph doesn't look away as he plays. He keeps his eyes on Frank as though the rarity of sharing a stage with him is something he doesn't want to waste.

Frank can feel heat in his cheeks and he surrenders, looking down at his feet as he and Quinn come in at the same time and the feedback from the amp behind them buzzes in his ears. Even with his eyes on the floor he can feel Jeph's stare from the other side of the stage. Frank allows himself to smile just a little, just knowing and secret and stupid.

When he looks up Gerard is staring right at him.

Microphone in hand, turned to face the stage with fucking dark circles under his eyes, he's staring right at Jeph.

Frank tries to pretend he doesn't notice, but then Gerard is singing and Frank is playing his guitar without really thinking consciously about how his fingers are moving along the frets. Something inside him is hot and heavy and panicked. Gerard turns to face him as he starts up the second verse and Frank feels weirdly exposed. He doesn't dare check to see if Jeph's smile is still dominating the space across the stage because all he can think about is the focus in Gerard's hazel eyes, flitting between the pair of them, cogs turning as best they can before Gerard's second or third drink washes away the memory. He knows Gerard is reading him like a fucking book.

Halloween.

Not good.

***

A couple of days later in Detroit, Frank catches the neck of his guitar on the mic stand and sees something silver glint in the light as it flies off into the crowd. He doesn't think twice about it, thinks it's probably a pick or a tuning peg or something else insignificant and figures it doesn't matter until their last song when he's spinning in a sweaty frenzy and accidentally smacks Ray in the forehead with the now jagged piece of exposed metal. It isn't something silver that catches the light when Frank stumbles backwards from the force of the impact though. It's red.

Under the flickering fluorescent light in their dressing room he realises he's cut Ray's forehead pretty bad, and the dark liquid on the taller man's face is real blood, definitely real blood, but after he gets checked over by the venue's medic they realise the injury is mostly superficial. Ray doesn't even flinch as he's having a dressing applied to the scratch, but smiles and yells across the room that this is a little bit worse than throwing up on someone's shoes, right Mikes? and they all laugh, even Frank, who has his head down in embarrassment as he perches on the arm of the couch.

The next night he trips over his own feet on stage and staggers forward to steady himself, kicking out at a speaker on the floor, and breaks two toes on his right foot.

He feels like it's the least he deserves really.

Frank thinks it's the most pain he's ever been in, but doesn't feel like it's worth ruining their set for, and so doesn't mention it until the crew are on stage setting up for Under Pressure. He's leaning against the hallway wall backstage, leg outstretched, rolling his ankle with a frown and pushing the damp hair from his sweating brow.

"What's up?" Ray asks from next to him, carefully tracing the outline of his scabbed forehead with two fingertips.

Frank tilts his head to one side, studying his shoe as though that will be enough to provide an answer. Instead, he settles for, "My foot feels kind of fucked up."

After a moment he hears Ray laughing. When he looks up at the taller man he pretends he doesn't see the rapidly healing cut under his mass of light brown curls.

Ray pushes Frank's head to one side playfully, just teasing whilst he still can. He mumbles the old taunt as he's walking away, shaking his head, laughing. "Our sweet baby!"

When they get back to the bus Frank winces as he yanks his shoe off but isn't surprised when he sees his skin bruised dark purple and navy almost up to his ankle.

He is limping slightly for a day and a half, but figures he'll get over it.

Jeph asks if he needs a boost getting into the top bunk on the sober bus one night, but can't manage to get through the entirety of the suggestion before laughing like an idiot. Frank tells him to shut the fuck up, and Jeph actually takes his advice for once, even if it is only with Frank's mouth crushed against his.

***

It's barely past midnight. Frank comes to the realisation in the midst of that hazy in and out sleep that only comes after two Percocet and a well memorised and well used recipe of hot lemon and honey in a coffee stained mug. He feels like shit. It's not just the broken bones either, although now the swelling has subsided and Frank can leap around on stage like an idiot again, he forgets now and then that they actually are still broken.

He's had a bad chest for a couple of days now, which in itself is nothing new if Frank's track record is anything to go by, but coupled with the lack of sleep and lack of hot showers and lack of any real willing to take care of himself, he's struggling.

They're back up to Canada tomorrow, three shows with lots and lots of miles in between, granting them a much needed grace period of a free night here and there. Frank almost can't wait to sleep into oblivion until his cold goes out fighting.

Tonight's show is mostly a blur. Frank is sure it happened, despite the blank space in his brain where the memory should be. He'd made himself scarce almost immediately afterwards, apologising to the crew carefully packing their instruments away as he pushed past them with clammy hands.

He got changed. He came back to the bus. Nobody stopped him, nobody even tried. He took his medicine. He stripped down to boxers and climbed into bed and didn't even try to fight sleep. He surrendered.

His phone buzzed a few times from the back pocket of his jeans lying carelessly in the hallway. Frank knew it was probably Jeph checking he was okay, but he was already half asleep. Later.

Frank knows it's barely past midnight because the noise erupting outside across the lot tells him the party is only just getting going. He can hear muffled laughter, music in the distance, glass shattering and skateboards ripping across the concrete. It's all background noise. It's not the door slamming or stumbling feet struggling up the stairs. It's not the same as the sound of the table being banged into, knocking things all over the floor. Cursing in a fake whisper. Kicking shoes off against the couch.

Fuck. He wonders what Gerard is doing back so early.

Frank rolls over to face the wall. He pushes the blankets off himself impatiently, his skin damp and scorching, head heavy with fatigue and fever and fuck, what the hell is he doing out there anyway?

Frank closes his eyes. He doesn't want to let the sound get to him, but it's futile. Of course. Gerard is always there.

Under his skin. Coursing in his blood.

Frank scratches at the inked swallow on the hot skin of his left side.

Gerard yanks open the curtain leading into the bunk area. Frank pictures his fingers pulling at the material to steady himself, hair in his eyes, lips wet and swollen and parted. He's so fucking stupid. God, he couldn't make more noise whilst attempting to be quiet if he tried, but Frank's breathing is fast out of nowhere despite the wheeze from his lungs and when he hears his blind being pulled across he feels that thing under his skin again; that heat, pressure, surrender.

"Frank." Gerard's whisper is louder than his normal speaking voice, genuine, stupid, slurred. He is loathsomely perfect. "You awake?"

Frank coughs, throat raw and stinging. It's definitely real. Definitely not for effect. No. He looks back over his shoulder, squinting in the dim light from the lounge bleeding across the walls and into the bunk.

"I am now, asshole."

Gerard blinks. He grips the edge of the bunk with all ten fingers. "Sorry."

He's not, but it doesn't matter.

Frank sighs as he rolls onto his side to face the older man, kicking the blanket further down to his ankles, impossibly hot and hazy and exhausted. He studies Gerard's face as best he can through the medicated delirium, the light behind his head illuminating his messy black locks like a fucked up halo. Frank thinks it would be more believable if any angel he'd ever seen in art or publication had bloodshot eyes and steadily applied but now very much smudged eyeliner.

What a mess.

"What you doing, Gee?" Frank asks. He watches the subtle change in Gerard's eyes as they try to keep focus, blown and brown and searching.

"You're sick." He says.

Frank waits for the rest, but after a few seconds concludes that there isn't one. "I'm always sick." Frank tells him, even though he knows that part is obvious.

Outside, people laugh loud and echoing from across the asphalt. Gerard isn't out there.

Frank feels his lungs wheeze in protest as he takes a deep breath. Gerard is shaking his jacket off, fighting with his sleeve in a drunken stupor and he spins around two, almost three times just chasing the rogue material. He reaches out to grab at Frank's shoulder to give him enough leverage to haul himself up and half way into the bunk with hair in his eyes and bottom lip between his teeth.

Frank winces at the intrusion, trying to push the iron grip off of his skin as he scrambles forward. "The fuck?" He groans, body forced further into the wall behind, coughing slightly in the struggle. "No fucking way. Gerard, you're not--" The top of Gerard's head hits him hard in the chest as he scrambles for something solid to grab on to. "You're not getting in here."

"Relax, would you?" Gerard breathes as he gets most of his top half into position in the cramped space. "Not about to--" A hiccup. He breathes hard. "Not about to fuck you, Frank. Just wanna lie down."

Frank can't stop himself from rolling his eyes before he does it, and then Gerard is flush up against his aching hot skin in a black and white t-shirt he's fairly sure is actually Mikey's, breathing damp and tired against Frank's cheek.

"I bet you say that to all the boys." Frank whispers, because something about the close quarters is pulling the fight right out of him.

Gerard laughs anyway, breathing out bitter sweet air, the dark purple fading the skin just below his eyes hardly visible in the low light. "Yeah, but--" A hiccup. He smiles. "It only ever works on you."

Frank thinks he's pretty sharp for someone three or four whiskeys deep, running on five hours of sleep or less, cramped into a space not meant for him.

"You stink of Johnnie Walker." Frank tells him, even going to the effort of pulling a face, shoving the older man in the shoulder long enough to inhale clean air. His chest is heaving raw and rattling, the hot healing concoction wearing off, and Gerard's body against his feels like fire.

The last time they did this---

Frank closes his eyes. He doesn't wait for Gerard to deny it.

"Who's that?" Gerard asks right against Frank's jawbone, readjusting the way his head is flat on the pillow beneath them. "Didn't he win battle of the bands a few nights ago?"

"You're fucking funny." Frank sighs, feeling Gerard's hair tickle his forehead, feeling the bunk become consumed with everything that is the man opposite. "Can't you lie down in your own bed? What was it you said to me last week?"

Gerard smiles small and drunk. "Don't know."

"That's what I thought." Frank is laughing, though. He feels the muscles around his sternum pull tight as he breathes in, the rattle in his chest escaping as a scratchy cough, weak and exhausted. When he opens he eyes, Gerard's face is close to his, his skin pale and ashen, his eyes slightly dulled from fatigue and adrenaline and whatever it is coursing through his veins right now.

Frank reaches over and grips the older man's wrist with damp, hot fingers. He feels the pulse after a few seconds of silence, steady and thumping beneath his fingertips. He is here.

"Why you naked?" Gerard mumbles after a while, eyes closed, voice low and slurring.

It takes Frank a moment, his brain slow to jumble the words into the right order and pull back from the brink of sleep. He leans back slightly, wondering how many minutes have passed, wondering how the hell he didn't put up more of a fight when Gerard was insisting on climbing up here. He feels the rip in his lungs as he breathes in and remembers pretty damn quickly.

"What?" He asks, wetting his lips, forehead creased as he frowns. "I'm not naked!"

Gerard is frowning too, but he doesn't open his eyes. Frank see the cogs turning as he thinks, fighting slumber, fighting Johnnie Walker's warm embrace. He lifts his arm, pulling it from Frank's grip. When he gestures between them his voice sounds hoarse and struggling. "No, I know. I mean--" He clears his throat. "The fucking..." His frown deepens, eyebrows knitting together in frustration at his own shitty drunken vocabulary. "...the blanket. You've got no blanket."

Frank breathes a laugh. Of all the fucking things.

"I was too hot." He tells him, settling down, inching closer, breathing him in. Beyond the stage smell, beyond the sweat and blood and whiskey, he is here. His collarbone and his bottom lip and the inside of his wrist.

"You're sick." He mumbles again, as though it explained a single thing the last time he said it.

He sits up slightly, just resting on one elbow, and Frank feels his fingers exploratory and frustrated over his thigh and then his calf and then he has the thin sheet in his grasp and is pulling it up to cover the both of them, the sensation prickling Frank's now shivering skin.

Gerard lies back down. He rests the sheet across their shoulders. He breathes slow and satisfied, face close to Frank's with one hand under the material hotter than hot against Frank's rib cage. Frank swears he can feel Gerard's steady pulse again, the beat hammering through his palm and thudding it's way into Frank's sweaty and fevered skin.

"Gerard--" He stutters out his name in an unsure whisper, not knowing why, not caring. His name sounds good. It tastes good on his tongue. He wishes he was asleep.

Gerard's hand grazes lower, slow and languid against Frank's hip, his fingers fanned out, covering every inch. "Shush." He tells him, eyes closed, frowning.

Frank breathes in deep, smelling the stale smoke in Gerard's hair, trying not to cough.

"Okay." He whispers. He doesn't have time to form a smile before Gerard's mouth is on his, and Frank's heart is thrashing heavy against his ribs like it's the first time.

Heat. Pressure. Surrender.

His lips feel cracked and careful, just there for a fleeting moment, just long enough for Frank to forget where the hell he is right now, and what city and what year and fuck, on second thought he doesn't care. He wonders if he will remember this in a few hours time, or whether there will be a blank space where the memory should be.

"Sleep." Gerard whispers against his mouth.

He slips two fingers under the elastic of Frank's boxers presumably to anchor his hand in place until he is pulled under into oblivion hopefully for the next six to eight hours.

Frank doesn't say anything. A part of him thinks this whole thing must be a medicated fever dream, but Gerard's hand is searing hot and Frank really does feel like shit and anyway, Gerard won't remember this tomorrow because never does.

Frank is too tired to think anymore. He is sick. He closes his eyes. He does as he's told.

The next morning he wakes up in a different country. There is no blank space.

Chapter Text

"Huh?"

Frank is staring into space. He knows he is because his brain is stuffed inside his head with cotton wool. It has been for days. Days and days. His hearing is muffled and his eyes are unfocused across the lot at the buzzing electric lights in the distance. He hasn't heard a damn thing.

He blinks. "Sorry, what?"

As far as Frank is concerned, Jeph is a fucking saint, but that's not exactly news. He has the patience of one, anyway. That, and he always pretends he needs a smoke when Frank tells him he's going out back for one. Saint.

Frank is in his stage clothes. His striped tie is hanging loose, tucked messily under the Kevlar against his sternum. The red fingerless glove on his right hand is fraying and he's been wearing the same white shirt for four shows running. Frank has decided it's in his best interest to give the thing a good scrub in the bathroom sink before it's next use. After all, he and everyone else on his bus knows here's only so much can be done from emptying a spray can of deodorant on everything in his suitcase before pulling it on.

Jeph doesn't seem to notice. Jeph seeing him in his stage clothes is pretty rare anyway, save the four or five times they've made eye contact during their band's joint and now highly anticipated final song of each evening's performance. Frank thinks maybe the older man is enjoying it while it lasts.

"Okay, that's it." Jeph throws his cigarette butt down onto the concrete. He turns to face Frank fully, careful to stay under the shelter in fear of getting completely drenched by the monsoon currently being unleashed by the heavens. "Tell me."

Frank doesn't even realise he's frowning until he feels Jeph's elbow in his ribs, jolting him back down to earth faster than any clap of thunder would dare. He almost drops his smoke, which normally would really warrant at least three curse words or more, but then Frank realises he doesn't have a clue what Jeph is talking about but knows it can't be good.

"Tell you what?" He asks, playing along, pretending, scoffing as he tucks the rogue black fringe from his eyes. He wasn't listening.

It's raining so hard he can hardly make out the metal fence surrounding the venue. It's absolutely pitch dark beyond the few feet in front of them, pressed up against the brick by the stage door under the only smoking shelter seemingly sturdy enough to hold under the thrash and bang of not-quite-but-almost-April showers. Frank can hear the voices of fans queueing up on the other side of the fence down by two impossibly high floodlights, huddling together in the rain, probably absolutely drenched but buzzing with excitement.

He swears to himself he'll show his face after the show tonight.

"You've been acting weird for days," Jeph assures him, with as much feigned frustration the patron saint of patience himself can muster. "I can see you fucking zoning out right now!"

Frank feels his head pushed to one side, Jeph's tattooed fingers cold against his temple with persistent force. When he speaks he sounds softer, his voice dropping to plead the words into Frank's ear like he's genuinely worried about the answer. "What's going on with you?"

Somewhere far in the distance, thunder rolls through the clouds, creeping closer and closer until Frank can feel the drumming hard in his rib cage. He balances the cigarette on his bottom lip as he adjusts his hair once again, his gloved hand combing the strands away from his forehead. Above them the sheet metal roof groans under the weight of freezing water.

"Nothing!" Frank protests from just one side of his mouth, routing in his tight trouser pocket for his lighter. He looks away from Jeph's cocked eyebrow with an exaggerated sigh. "What?" He asks, just managing to breathe a laugh as his fingers wrap around the cheap plastic in his pocket. "Nothing!"

Jeph's head stays the way it is tilted to one side, something like sympathy in his eyes that makes Frank's insides swell like a fucking balloon. "I thought your cold cleared up." He says, studying Frank's face with concerned eyes. A part of Frank wants to fucking ravage him. A bigger part wants to throw up.

He doesn't know which would make him feel even a tiny ounce better, so instead he settles for, "It did."

He can feel Jeph's stare on his profile even without looking up to see it. It takes three clicks at his lighter with shaking hand before he finally sees the flame ignite in front of him and the first drag he inhales tastes like Gerard in the same way every fucking thing has since he last felt their mouths crush together in his bunk days and days ago.

Frank almost feels the cotton wool being stuffed between his ears again, handfuls at a time, blocking out sound and light and thought, fight or flight, but then his eyes reengage and Jeph is worrying at his bottom lip, eyes blown and huge and God, just look at him.

Frank's old defence mechanism, tried and true, and Jeph manages to blow the entire thing with a look.

The cigarette between his fingers is burning down to ash. He feels a drip of icy storm water in his hair from above and it's running down his temple before he can bring himself to take a breath.

"Frank, I--" Jeph's voice sounds low and uncertain as he stops himself short, frowning like he can't find the words. He closes his eyes for a second, chest heaving through his rain damp t-shirt. "Have I done something wrong?"

Frank throws his cigarette out into the monsoon. He can hear the water smashing into the concrete, hammering the tin roof, thrashing the parade of buses in the distance. He knows exactly what he wants to say; that Jeph is a fucking fool if he thinks he could ever do a damn thing wrong, that he is hatefully thoughtful and easy to talk to, and looks good when he concentrates as he plays the bridge to Buried Myself Alive, that he can make Frank crumble with just a look, thats he's a fucking dork and drinks too much tea and fuck, it was so goddamned easy to fall for you and that scares the shit out of me.

Frank wants to tell him that despite all that, he is not Gerard.

Still, he hasn't done anything wrong.

Jeph's fingertips graze at his wrist, just ghosting and careful, eyes down. "I don't--" He swallows, pulling slightly at Frank's cuff. "I mean, I don't know what we're doing exactly, me and you, but if I've fucked it up somehow, just--"

Frank can feel his lungs stinging with every breath. He looks at the crease in Jeph's brow, visible even under his dark and disobedient fringe. Frank knows the older man is still talking but all he can hear is the thunder crashing high above them. He wants to feel alive again, fight or flight, tried and true, and Jeph's mouth is right there, spewing false venom about how he isn't good enough.

Frank kisses him so hard they stumble backward into the downpour. He hears Jeph inhale sharp and shocked into his mouth, fingers yanking at Frank's bulletproof vest right the base of his throat as though grabbing on for dear life. The older man's free hand is on the back of Frank's neck, fingers splaying across his red and raised Keep, the rest of his new tattoo disappearing under his collar at the top of his spine.

Frank opens his mouth, letting the heat from Jeph's tongue burn away whatever doubt he has left in the pit of his stomach as he feels the rain hammer down and soak into his hair and clothes and God yes, Frank has no idea what the two of them are doing exactly either but he doesn't want it to stop.

He runs his open palm up the back of Jeph's drenched t-shirt, pulling him closer, sopping wet and breathing hard as their tongues move together. Frank wishes it wasn't so dark out here so he'd have a chance to relish the way Jeph looks with his shirt stuck to his skin in the spray, his fingers struggling to just have Frank closer, his eyes closed and lips swollen.

They don't head for shelter when they pull apart, foreheads together, panting hard for breath over the roar of ever crashing thunder.

Frank can feel the water clinging to his eyelashes, dropping from his hair in a steady stream onto his bottom lip as he pants. Their staggered breaths are hot between them, circling the frozen air in the comedown.

"Sorry I've been fucking..." Frank wets his bottom lip, tasting the heavens. "...the way I've been lately. It's not you."

Frank knows goddamned well how much of a lie that is, but he finds himself saying it anyway.

He doesn't mean it that way. He isn't sure exactly which way he means it, but knows for sure it has something to do with the way Gerard is always laying dormant under his skin like a fucking virus.

Jeph is breathing hard, eyes focused on the pulled tight knot of Frank's striped tie. When he finally speaks it's a breathy pant, slow and contemplating.

"Goddamn you look hot in that vest."

Frank is laughing before he even has a chance to accuse the older man of ruining the moment, rolling his eyes, pulling away from his embrace as best he can with his cheeks flushing red.

Jeph yanks at the stiff material, dragging Frank back to him by the chest until their waists are pinned together from the force as if to say he isn't going anywhere fast.

"No way," Jeph is smiling as he shakes his head, his free hand at the small of Frank's back in the exact place that drives the younger man fucking delirious. "If I'm getting drenched, I'm getting drenched. Anyway, there might not be a shower at the next place. Two birds."

Frank lets his hand pull absently at the front of Jeph's stretched and soaking t-shirt, staring at his own fingers, wondering what the hell he ever did to deserve this.

"Gross." He teases only a little, only because he can. "This is not good for my chest. Fuck, I'm gonna get sick."

Jeph sees right through him. "You're always sick. Fucking attention seeker."

Frank laughs, laying his hand flat against Jeph's chest, breathing deep and even and savouring. He keeps his eyes fixed on the taller man's throat, ignoring the water drumming the ground around them. For a moment, all he can hear is the blood rushing his insides. Coursing. It doesn't matter.

"You can tell me stuff, you know." Jeph says after a while, voice so quiet Frank hardly catches the words. "If you want. I mean, I'm not saying I'll be able to help because I'm kind of an idiot, but it might make you feel better."

Frank only wishes he could. The truth is, he's told Jeph more than he realises, and not just what came spilling out that night in the grass at the beginning of the tour.

He still appreciates the offer.

Frank can feel the smile pulling at his mouth as Jeph reaches across and scrapes the wet hair from his forehead. His fingers feel ice cold.

"Thanks." Frank says.

Jeph rests his palm on the side of Frank's neck, thumb tracing the now bent and warped collar of his white shirt. Something in his eyes makes Frank wonder how long the older man had waited to say that. He guesses it isn't important, because Jeph carries on as though he doesn't care.

"I er--I don't know what this is," he gestures weakly between them, uncertainty shaking his voice, "I just...yeah, I think about you all the fucking time, Frank. I don't know, you just kind of drive me crazy."

He sounds so sincere, so raw and real and with his gaze down on Frank's collar just long enough for him to get the words out, Frank can feel something inside him thundering harder than any storm on record. Jeph lets out what sounds like an embarrassed laugh, closing his eyes for a second as he composes himself.

"God, sorry. That was really lame, huh?" He asks, probably already knowing the answer, combing the wet hair back and away from his face. "Sometimes I don't know when to shut up."

Frank catches a glimpse of the crossed lines on his right palm, the tattoo just visible beneath his fingers. He's replaced the huge silver loops in his earlobes for solid black ones, probably at least two or three days ago now, but Frank has hardly noticed until this moment. The dark purple dye in the shorter sides of his hair is fading out ever so slightly, dulled even more from the rainwater, but Frank doesn't care. Even dripping wet he looks perfect.

"Yeah," Frank breathes the word as soon as he's able, feeling his damp trousers cling to his thighs along with every other piece of clothing on him. "Really fucking lame."

"Thought so." Jeph agrees against his mouth, and Frank feels his lips hot and wet and careful, and something inside him is stirring electric static, replacing the fluff in his skull with every subtle movement of the older man's tongue. He tastes of stale smoke and freezing rain, and when electricity lights up the sky above them in a fleeting crackle, Frank can taste that too.

Jeph's hand is down on his lower back, maybe even daring a little lower if Frank finds resolve enough to let himself think about it, but nevertheless the older man's fingers are gripping frantic, pulling him ever closer by Kevlar.

Frank's blood is searing, breathing him in, chest to chest, soaking. If Gerard is under Frank's skin, then Jeph is branding it. Little by little, Frank can feel it willingly or not.

"Can't ditch out tonight," Jeph pants, lips grazing Frank's as though explaining why the hell this had to stop. "But come to my room after?"

Fuck. It's hotel night. There's a fucking huge thing going on. Or something. They're either in Calgary or Vancouver. Frank has been ill the past few days, kind of under the radar, kind of deliberately avoiding the world. He doesn't know.

He keeps his eyes closed. Jeph's question lingers in the air. Somehow in the midst of everything he'd managed to block this out too.

"Okay." Frank answers, but his voice cracks part way through and he has no idea why. He can feel the freezing water penetrate his bones. "I'll try."

There's a party that night. It's loud, and mad, and dirty. Frank gets wasted. As he's downing his third whiskey he tells himself it isn't because of the thing lurking under his skin and the fact that he's fucking terrified.

***

Their old studio was in a warehouse upstate, just off route nine. Worn down and vandalised, it was home. Frank had a lot of fond memories of the place in the end.

He had spent a lot of time there with his old band and new band and both, practising and recording, but mostly just raising hell. Their recording space was pretty minute despite the fact Frank showed up one afternoon to find one of the walls completely torn to rubble with just a sledgehammer and a pair of plastic safety goggles. Nobody batted an eye. The seal was broken.

It was 2002.

The fall after the first record was released, one of the bands down the hall threw a party that encompassed the entire floor and spilled out into the gravel lined parking lot out front in droves. Everyone Frank had ever played music with in that studio was there, crushed into their sound proofed sweat box with the hand painted door propped open so all who passed could read the white drip paint inscription.

Who will survive and what will be left of them?

Frank sat on Gerard's lap for most of the night. They passed a single cup between them for the duration, back and forth, filled and refilled until Frank felt the alcohol buzzing in his bottom lip in that way that usually meant he'd probably had enough. He was laughing that high pitched uncontrolled breathy laugh, heaving thick, damp air, smoking something he shouldn't. He rested his back against Gerard's chest as he tried to grab purchase on the jumbled words on his tongue, talking over everyone and anyone who attempted to do the same.

They stumbled outside to smoke, or something. Frank had leant against Ray in the narrow corridor's flickering light, head swirling light and hazy before the night air knocked the consciousness right back in to him.

Somewhere along the line, something went wrong.

One of the bands from a few doors down yelled something across the gravel to them that for some reason made Gerard jolt forward with his chest heaving and hair in his eyes. Frank was drunk. His ears were ringing and he didn't know anything other than the fact that something was wrong but then they were all heading toward each other, tearing across the lot three steps at a time and Frank followed because his blood was magnetised and Gerard was an iron beam.

Two of Frank's old band mates took a warning step forward, pushing a straining Gerard defensively behind them by the balled up collar of his t-shirt. Mikey snapped something from next to him, his words a sharp cutting tangle of curses and threats that took Frank by surprise. He couldn't remember why they were fighting but somehow knew that the other party had had a problem with them for as long as they'd shared the warehouse corridor.

Frank felt his fingers itch hot and prickling as they closed into fists at his sides. The buzzing in his head made his legs tingle and his tongue tasted like copper and Jack Daniel's.

Someone took a swing at Gerard.

Frank saw red.

The earth moved beneath his feet as he dived forward, along with every one of them in a knee jerk reactive state, fingers reaching out to grab the scruff of that motherfucker's neck and fucking throttle him. Voices yelled over each other, loud and angry, echoing across the concrete in the dark. His chest heaved fire, inconceivably furious as the air tore into his lungs and he screamed something daring and livid, the words spewing from his mouth not as a warning but a promise.

Ray held him back with a forearm across his collarbone and a fist in the back of his shirt. Frank lost it. He wriggled free because fuck, he's small but strong, and managed to earn nothing but a busted lip in the scuffle for his efforts. He felt Ray's huge hand on the top of his arm, dragging him backward through the dirt with effortless ease as Frank wiped the blood from his mouth on the back of his wrist.

Ahead of him, the brawl ticked over. Frank would have given anything to be a part of it.

He didn't realise he was still straining in Ray's grasp until he heard the older man seethe desperately in Gerard's general direction, "Get him out of here before he hurts someone." He had sighed deep and frustrated, straightening his shirt with his free hand. "Fuck's sake, Frankie!"

Frank had thought the alcohol must have numbed his senses completely because he didn't even feel the dullest sting in his cut lip, but when Gerard took his wrist and yanked him back to the side door and up the poorly lit stairwell to the third floor he felt every millimetre of skin burning into his own. His insides felt like they were on fire, his forehead damp and sweating through adrenaline and cramped smoke filled humidity. He fought Gerard on every step, tugging at his wrist to get free, just so fucking angry.

At the top of the stairs Gerard felt around the crumbling plasterboard for a light switch to no avail, his ever growing mess of black hair ruffled and static, his lips pink and cracking and a faded smear of red right across his jawbone that was probably Frank's blood. Frank panted, his chest billowing in and out, tasting metal. The red mist still clouded his eyes.

Gerard pulled him into the room closest to the stairwell, one of their old haunts for taking a breather when the tiniest detail of a song just wouldn't come to them. The space was nothing but a busted up vending machine on a green worn out carpet, posters and fliers plastered to the walls like peeling paint, and a three seater couch shoved under the bare window.

"What is with you?" Gerard asked, letting go of Frank's wrist as though throwing a cigarette down into the dirt.

He was yanking uselessly at the cord presumably meant to power the fluorescent strip light above, but the initial spark never came. The only illumination was from the window on the far wall, the glass allowing moonlight to drench the tattered couch and carpet up to the space Gerard was standing.

Frank's throat tore as he yelled, arms flailing as they gestured the just climbed stairwell. "He tried to fucking fight you!"

Gerard gave up on the light switch, stepping closer to Frank, radiating heat. His voice was low and even, with not even the subtlest sign that he'd drank as much as he had.

"So, what? Someone tries to fight me so you try to fight the whole fucking world, is that it?"

Frank scoffed at the words, wiping again at his bleeding mouth. "Fuck you!" He coughed, spraying red down the front of his shirt, stumbling slightly on his feet. "Trying to fucking help."

Frank stared at the older man from across the small space with his eyes flaring and fingers digging hard into his palms. Fuck him for not understanding. Frank bit at the inside of his cheek, brows furrowed, fuming. Fuck his logic and his patience and fuck how good he looks right now with his stupid old Misfits t-shirt and his hair just long enough to be in his eyes and God, that mouth, and no, fuck him for always making me lose myself like this.

"Big help, getting the shit beaten out of you." The older man flared, voice almost raised enough to match Frank's. "You didn't have to react like that!"

Fuck, he really didn't get it.

"As if I had a choice!" Frank snapped back, the words echoing in the void shell of the darkened room. "He almost fucking hit you!"

Gerard breathed slow and even. He sounded kind of defeated. "Yeah well, he did hit you. You feel better now?"

"I would if you'd have let me return the favour!" Frank wiped at his mouth with his forearm, feeling the wetness on his lip before any kind of pain. "Didn't need to drag me up here like a fucking maniac, I can handle myself! Fuck!"

He let his fingers sink into the hair just about starting to grow out on the top of his head. He could feel his cheeks flushed red with exasperation, the fire inside him raging on into the night.

Gerard let out a long sigh, his face falling in surrender. He took the hem of Frank's t-shirt in hand, closing the gap between them to mere inches. With steady fingers he lifted the shirt up to dab at Frank's busted lip, wiping the stretched material over his chin with the kind of careful concentration that only comes after the prickling buzz of watered down whiskey and a fist fight.

"You're a mess, Iero." He murmured, lips parted, breathing slow and even as the fingers of his free hand ghosted the metal clasp of Frank's belt with featherlight torment. "You're gonna get yourself into trouble."

Frank wet his bottom lip, frozen still, the anger pooling in his stomach galvanising into something entirely different. He dared take a shallow breath, feeling the heat from Gerard's fingers tickle at the soft hair just below his belly button.

With copper on his tongue, he replied. "Here's hoping."

It took barely two and a half steps backward before Frank felt his calves hit the couch, Gerard's hands either side of his face, his tongue wasting little time in crumbling Frank's resolve to pieces.

Frank was painfully hard in seconds, something to do with the adrenaline of drawing blood and the possessive way Gerard moaned into his mouth as though he'd gone eons without this. Frank went for Gerard's belt with messy fingers, unfastening the bat clasp in the way he had countless times; feverish and shameless, and totally enamoured by the way Gerard was coursing through his veins with relentless persistence. He needed him now. Fuck, he was a mess. He was static, he was hollow, he was nothing without the way Gerard felt straddling him in the dark.

The air left his lungs with a strained gasp as Gerard pushed him down to his back on the moonlight soaked couch. Frank dragged the older man closer by the belt to fall on top of him, hips grinding down to meet Frank's in a frenzied rhythm of sweating movement and open mouthed kisses.

Gerard breathed hot and wet into the crook of Frank's neck, settling between his legs and running an open palm up his thigh slow and scorching through the ripped denim. He sunk his hips downward again, the tight friction causing Frank to bite his tongue as Gerard exhaled, "Fuck, Frankie."

At some senseless point in the not too distant past, Gerard had decided for the both of them that they would stop doing this. Frank had thought it was a fucking stupid idea, but held his tongue in the knowledge that that the older man was wrong and would before long realise the error of his ways.

As Gerard yanked Frank's fake leather belt right out of the loops beneath him, Frank tried to swallow the victory on his tongue.

They'd both had a drink, which meant patience and virtue was out the window, flung aside along with Frank's ability to hold himself back when he saw that fist almost graze Gerard's jaw bone. Frank's cock was straining in his jeans and he tasted electricity when Gerard bit down on his cut and stinging bottom lip, fingers fumbling at his zipper, chest to chest through Frank's bloodied t-shirt. The older man moved with the dexterity of someone who wasn't five or six drinks deep and Frank only wished he could keep up because the urge to feel Gerard under his fingers was all consuming.

Gerard pulled him closer by the hips in an impatient jolt, the back of Frank's head thumping flat onto the seat cushion, his jeans and boxers inching down with the force of Gerard's fingertips. When Gerard sat up to balance on his knees as he tugged at the material, Frank could see his own blood smeared against Gerard's bottom lip.

Frank couldn't help it. He reached up, tracing his thumb across the older man's mouth with slow debauchery, his heart hammering, his throat letting out a low groan as Gerard slid his jeans lower and he felt the cold air shiver his already leaking cock.

He rest both palms hot and steady on Gerard's thighs, just teasing, voice low and slow and filthy. He knew he'd won. "You gonna fuck me?"

Gerard smirked from just one side of his mouth, red and messy and defeated. "Is that what you want?"

Frank felt Gerard's hand on him, his touch hatefully careful, sparking the fire inside him until the plea spilled from his mouth without warning. "Always."

Frank cried out when Gerard leaned down to bite at his collarbone through the blood spattered material, his expert hand moving faster and there was metal on Frank's tongue and electricity coursing his damp, tingling skin. He felt Gerard's free hand cover his mouth, muffling his gasps because even three floors up they both knew they were not alone and time wasn't something they seemed to ever have in abundance.

Gerard's hair tickling his cheekbone was tangled and wild, just the right length for Frank to get purchase enough to make a fist and tug desperately at the strands as he felt the pleasure's slow burn consume his bloodstream. There was no need to waste time. They were long past that.

Frank opened his mouth, feeling his breath wet and fast against Gerard's palm, needing him to quicken his rhythm, begging him to slow down, desperate for something and anything and please, please, please. Frank lifted his chin, taking two of Gerard's fingers into his mouth and closing his eyes before he could catch a glimpse of the flare in the older man's features as he moaned low and unhinged.

"Frankie, you--" He gasped, breaking the sentence, stuttering through the fervour. "Fuck." He was panting, chest heaving up and down until the final word left his lips as a long drawn out sigh of satisfied wanting.

Frank could taste salt on his tongue, roll up tobacco, fizzy knock off cola, Gerard.

Gerard unfastened his jeans with a shaking hand. Frank sucked on his fingers as though jealous of the attention the black denim material was getting over his writhing, needy form. He lifted his hips in impatience, gazing up at Gerard through his eyelashes until the man above him was struggling to yank his jeans and boxers down to rest on his thighs, his fingers curling in Frank's mouth, pressing down on his tongue possessive and dominant.

Frank stared at the thirst in his eyes, dark charcoal hazel, gazing down at Frank as he fell apart in a way that said Gerard could ruin him as easily as flipping a switch.

God, Frank wanted that.

With nothing but moonlight draping one side of his face, his hair static and uncontrolled sticking to his forehead, Gerard looked almost like some alcohol induced hallucination. His slightly curved hips were just visible below the hem of his wrinkled t-shirt, skin pale white and paper thin. Frank let his eyes follow the soft dark hair trailing down the older man's stomach, and he fought the urge to sink his teeth hard into Gerard's fingers as he realised his jeans were bunched around his thighs for no other reason than to unravel him like a loose thread.

Gerard pulled his hand from Frank's mouth with slow but thoughtful ardor, leaving something wet that was either spit or blood or both trailing behind to drag across Frank's bottom lip. The older man dragged Frank's jeans down to his shins fast and efficient, clearly out of patience or perhaps the resolve to tease for much longer. Frank lifted his hips to aid the effort, breathing hard as their cocks brushed together, Gerard's flushed and ready without even being touched.

Then Gerard was lifting Frank's legs, giving his jeans one final tug until they were bunched almost at his ankles, and without want or willingness to delay a second longer, he ducked under Frank's thighs and settled between them, gloriously trapped, relentlessly impatient.

It had to be now. Fuck waiting. Fuck getting undressed. Fuck anything that wasn't this couch in this deep dark void with his thighs hooked on Gerard's hips like he was about to be broken in two.

Nothing else mattered.

Frank spread himself wider, allowing Gerard to pull him closer by the hips, leaning over him whilst breathing hard and wild and ready. His mouth landed on Frank's in a frenzied flurry of wet possessive kisses. Frank had little time to react until he felt Gerard's still slicked fingers push into him with stinging perfection and Gerard swallowed the gasp that fell from his throat before it even made a sound.

Frank's brain was still fogged with the buzz of drinking too much and the stab of adrenaline that hit as he threw his first punch but God, he felt that.

Gerard's fingers worked him open, wasting little time, pushing in deeper than he had needed to maybe just because he relished in the quiet sounds Frank made against his tongue as he did. After all, it had been a while.

He felt the older man's mouth against his jaw bone, his fingers curling until Frank's back arched with needy pleading and he groaned as though the part of his brain able to control the sounds from his throat was completely starving of oxygen.

Gerard whispered against neck, ruining him one minuscule movement at a time. "Shh. We are not alone."

Frank knew he was right. He knew there were people downstairs and outside and fuck, maybe even in the next room, but it didn't matter. Frank was winning. He was drunk and bloody and almost guaranteed to come in the next half an hour. Everything else was just noise.

"Fuck off." Frank was panting, fingers in a fist in Gerard's collar gripping and sweaty and even before the words left his mouth he felt Gerard smile against his neck in amusement.

"I don't care, I don't--" Frank tensed mid sentence as the older man added another finger and everything in front of his eyes became fizzy and sparking like static electricity popping a balloon. "Fuck you. You need to--my jeans. The fucking back pocket of my jeans, Gee. Get the--oh."

Gerard twisted his wrist. Frank writhed. "Such a filthy mouth." The older man whispered it like it was nothing.

Frank's head fell back hard against the couch cushion, the air draining from his body, his cock twitching, desperate for friction, desperate for anything. He could feel Gerard's fingers destroying every last morsel of his self control.

Gerard did as he was told eventually, pulling his hand away to lean back and route around the pocket of Frank's bunched up trousers. Frank sighed long and bereft at the loss, biting his sore lip, giving himself a second to close his eyes and let his brain adjust to the ringing in his ears. Every inch of his skin was crawling damp and sensitive, his lungs burning with every inhale. He could hear Gerard tearing at the condom wrapper but it sounded like white noise.

Gerard didn't bother to ask why Frank had one in the back pocket of his jeans anyway, probably because the answer was obvious, and probably because Frank was likely to snap he stop fucking talking and hurry it up. Either way, the topic never came up.

Frank opened his eyes long enough for them to adjust to the dim moonlight, gazing up through his eyelashes at the way Gerard rolled the latex over himself, tongue resting against the corner of his upper lip, face flushed and gorgeous. Frank always found watching the older man do just about anything to be an almost ethereal experience, even through drunken haze, even through furious screaming or sweaty on stage exhaustion.

Frank was addicted, and there was nothing like it. He was in love, and it hurt like hell.

Gerard spat on his palm. Frank closed his eyes.

He felt him adjust his position between Frank's legs and the cushions dipping under the weight of his knees. Frank bit his tongue as the head of Gerard's cock pushed at his entrance, stretching him slow and stinging. He felt all ten of Gerard's fingertips on his hips as he guided himself in with careful concentration.

The older man exhaled with his bottom lip trembling, his chin dropping to his chest. "Frank," he breathed the whisper, stalling once he was all the way in, "God, you...you feel good."

Frank was currently flying through a completely separate plane of existence brought on by the sensation of Gerard inside him. He felt the sting of the stretch as Gerard filled him up, his eyes watering slightly because this was more than his fingers and so good and so perfect but fuck, more.

Gerard pulled out slowly, almost all the way, pausing to catch his breath whilst he still had the chance. Frank stared through heavy lidded eyes at the rare moment of repose above him as Gerard savoured the feeling of Frank falling apart.

"Frankie," He murmured, running a palm down Frank's thigh, his hot fingers fanned out and captivated. "Are you still with me?"

Fuck, Frank wasn't sure.

He swallowed hard, rolling his hips, wetting his bottom lip. God, yes. He whined like nothing else mattered.

"Please."

Gerard started moving his hips, picking up a rhythm perfectly in time with the way Frank's heart was thrashing against his breast bone. The stinging started to ease up with every thrust, making way for the heat to build in the deep down part of his stomach as the metal taste on his tongue got stronger. He felt like Gerard was on the cusp of hitting that unhinged spot inside Frank with every movement but was deliberately teasing, building Frank up right to the brink until he was writhing and cursing and begging exactly in the way he wished he wasn't.

"Fuck, Gerard." Frank groaned with shallow breaths, his hand resting on his stomach, fighting with every ounce of self control within him not to wrap his fingers around himself. "Harder," He closed his eyes, mouth slack and open, "Please."

Gerard obeyed as though waiting for the instruction, thrusting with his fingers white on Frank's hips, hooking Frank's legs around his waist higher to get a better angle. Frank could feel Gerard going deeper, his muscles stretching to accommodate willingly in the frenzy. He felt so good, so good, that's so good Gerard, almost, fuck, don't stop. Frank didn't realise he was biting down on his busted lip until he tasted the blood grace his tongue all over again, but then Gerard rolled his hips and Frank saw sparks behind his eyes and cried out wanton and shameless.

Gerard hit it again and again, wild and expert and fuck, please. He wrapped his hand around Frank's cock, his fingers slick and perfect after only a couple of strokes as his thrusts grew messy and erratic and Frank felt heat in his stomach, buzzing higher and hotter as he grew close.

The room echoed with panting whispers from both mouths, secret and frantic and Gerard's skilled hand was pumping so fast that Frank hardly had a moment to brace himself before the wave crashed over him.

He saw the white spots in front of his eyes, sparks and static as his muscles tensed as he came. Every inch of him felt fever hot, his skin slick with sweat, throat hoarse. He shuddered as the second wave hit, just aware enough to feel Gerard's nails dig hard into the flesh at his hip as the older man cried out one obscenity after another.

Frank panted through the comedown. He felt the hot sticky mess pooling on his stomach and thigh, and Gerard wiped his soiled hand down the front of his now ruined t-shirt. His messy locks stuck to his sweating forehead. His eyes were black even through the darkness. Frank could see that blissful glint in them that only glazed over after coming hard with Frank underneath him.

Gerard was breathing hard, leaning forward to rest his forehead on Frank's collarbone, the pair of them still entangled, still blissed out in a sweaty mess.

In moments like this, playing this game felt so easy.

Sometimes he maybe even thought it made sense.

The feeling often lasted only a few minutes before Frank felt the anxiety swarm his insides and terror wreak havoc in his brain. He wondered sometimes if he and Gerard fought the same battle.

It was probably best not to know.

***

Frank is standing up on his own. He's pretty sure, anyway. There isn't that pressure of someone gripping his arm or the cold brick of the hotel wall against his shoulder blades. Standing up. Good. He is doing such a good job of standing up right now. It's nothing like earlier when he stumbled across the carpet to the bathroom and bashed his hip against the drinks table.

He's talking to what was his name again? Is this--what is in this cup? I thought I was drinking that orange thing, with the fucking...woah, this tastes like grapefruit. Grapefruit fucking sucks.

"Frank?"

Frank looks up at the sound of his name. He can just about hear it above the noise and chatter and fuck, I love this song. I haven't heard this in forever. It reminds me of...fuck, remember when the van broke down on the George Washington Bridge? It started raining sideways. That was--wait, what am I doing?

"Woah, you okay? Frank?"

It's Jeph. Frank knows that is the exact way Jeph says his name so it must be him. He remembers that he is not meant to be getting too drunk because if he is too drunk the plan won't work and there's no more nights in a hotel for the whole tour for definite this time so this is it.

He needs to act casual.

"Hey." He is slurring. Fuck. He clears his throat. "Hey. Hey."

Jeph is staring at him with a cocked eyebrow and his hair tucked perfectly behind his ear. He smiles. He looks good.

"Hey." He laughs, repeating the welcome back to him. His eyes are brown like, like chestnut brown or something else from nature that looks nice. He always looks nice. Fuck, how does he always look nice? Fucking asshole.

"How's it going?" He asks, leaning over to take a look in the orange liquid in Frank's plastic cup. From close up he smells like dry smoke and rain water.

Frank's bottom lip is numb. He takes a sip of the bad tasting thing. He doesn't even grimace. He is acting casual as fuck.

"It's going cool." He answers, nodding along with the words, staring at the base of Jeph's throat. "It's going...how are you?"

That isn't what he wanted to say. Jeph laughs anyway. He pushes the sleeves of his shirt up to the elbows, his cheeks flushed red and warm, his bottom lip there and waiting.

Frank can't remember whose hotel room this is. He knows that he went on stage earlier in soaking wet clothes. There was a storm. He kissed Jeph like he wasn't afraid of anything. Then Frank thought of the most excellent idea he'd ever thought of and the party started and Frank really only wanted one or two for Dutch courage before Jeph got there but then Mikey, fucking Mikey with those goddamn shots, and now Frank has a bruised hip and the air around Jeph is wavy and fizzing.

"I'm good, Frank." Jeph is laughing. He pulls the cup from Frank's hot unsteady fingers and takes a sip. "I'm glad it's going 'cool'."

Frank is swaying a little. He squints as he stares at the way Quinn is lying flat on the bed across the room, arms spread wide over the entire length of the mattress with blonde hair in his eyes. He's either passed out or fast asleep. Next to him, one of the road crew and the guitarist from Senses Fail? Is that him? are smoking a cigarette and laughing through a loud discussion about some bullshit that doesn't matter. Remember to fucking breathe. You can pretend to be sober. It's all fine.

"I've had some drinks." Frank says out loud which he knows for a fact he didn't mean to. His mouth is not behaving.

Jeph blinks. He sets the cup down on table next to them. The air in the small room feels hot and thick and smoky. Frank's skin is damp with sweat, the black strands of his hair that make up his fringe are messy and wild.

"Yeah," Jeph agrees, leaning in closer so Frank can hear over the noise. "I think you might have."

"I was waiting for you to get here." Frank's voice sounds stupid. He leans his weight against Jeph's shoulder.

The older man raises his voice so it cuts through the thick air. "Why's that?"

Frank doesn't know. He likes being around him. He thinks he probably loves him but that is scary and nothing like the time he and Gerard screamed at each other behind that dive bar in Hoboken, and anyway, that is not what tonight is about.

"I'm drunk." Frank admits. "I fucked up."

"Fucked what up?"

Why does he have to smell so good all the fucking time? How am I am supposed to think when he smells so good? Why does he always have to--and anyway, Gerard started the argument that night and I only said what he was too chicken shit to admit himself.

"Nothing." Frank slurs. He laughs but he doesn't know what's funny. He feels the panic creeping up his spine again. "You fucking...finished my drink."

"Tasted like shit anyway." Jeph assures him, taking Frank's weight without argument. "Fucking grapefruit."

"Yes!" Frank cackles, slamming his palm against Jeph's sternum and throwing his head back like an idiot. "Grapefruit is bullshit!"

Frank's head is swirling and the tips of his fingers feel like the static inside a TV. He wipes his mouth with the back of his wrist, exhaling slow and happy, scanning the room despite the fact his vision past Jeph's face is just a myriad of blurred colours and wavy lines.

"I've never seen you this wasted." Jeph says after a while, the words hot right against the shell of Frank's ear. The older man breathes deep, voice dropping, wetting his bottom lip. "Did something happen with you and Gerard?"

No. Fucking...no. Nothing happened between me and Gerard in my bunk when I was sick a few days ago and fuck you very much for asking.

Didn't fucking mean that.

You're such an asshole. Always fucking--always fucking right.

"No." Frank says. He hiccups. He breathes hard. He craves another grapefruit monstrosity. "Gerard fucking...fuck him, right?"

Gerard and Bert are probably fucking right now. They're probably in the next goddamn room. Fuck him. Fuck his fucking...everything. Yeah.

"What are you--" Jeph starts to ask for an explanation but Frank interrupts him because he is a huge idiot and is not acting casual at all.

"Gerard knows about us."

Fucking word vomit.

"What?!" Jeph yells over the music.

Maybe he didn't hear. Maybe Frank can pretend he said something else. He can be cool and think of something really perfect on the spot.

"Gerard always could." Frank yells back, because he is stupid. He is stupid and his brain is marshmallow and tequila shots and fucking grapefruit juice.

"What are you talking about? Could what, Frank?" Jeph's voice has dropped about five fucking octaves. His brows are knitted together like he's wondering what the hell kind of rubbish Frank is spewing.

Frank rests his head against Jeph's shoulder, exhaling long and shaking, tasting something bitter on the back of his tongue. "He could always read me like a fucking book." He shakes his head against Jeph's shirt, wiping his face on the scratchy material. When he sighs it's tired and buzzing. "Not like a Shakespeare book, either. I'm like a fucking...Where's Waldo. Obvious as fuck."

Frank can feel Jeph's laughter before he hears it, the older man's shoulders heaving with amusement, shaking his head at Frank's jumbled words.

"Yeah, you're always at a fairground or a circus or something, right?" Jeph breathes through a laugh, nodding in agreement.

"Oh, yeah." Frank agrees, standing upright, stumbling only slightly on his feet. "The beach, the fucking pyramids of Egypt. I get around."

Jeph laughs louder, in that way that makes his eyes close and his tongue piercing glisten in the light and fuck, he has no idea how good he looks. He makes me feel sick sometimes. He makes me want to just--

"Come on, I'll take you back to your room." Jeph breathes the words through the remainder of his laugh, wiping his eye with the back of his wrist. "You need water."

Don't fucking need water. Don't need water or sleep or anything. I am cool. I am cool. I am acting cool. He doesn't know I'm drunk. Things are going well.

Jeph takes his hand when they're out in the corridor. Frank feels it like sunburn when you first step into the shower.

He doesn't stumble as he walks. He lets himself smile like he isn't scared shitless.

"Sorry it took so long for me to show up." Jeph says after a few moments. His voice sounds fizzy. He smells like menthol cigarettes. "I hung around with Branden for a while. Had to get some dry clothes. Seems like you found a way to pass the time without me."

Frank swears he is listening. He's really trying to, anyway. He's staring down at the ugly patterned carpet under their feet as he struggles to navigate without weighing down Jeph's anchoring hand. This corridor is longer than I remember. Why do hotels always have the same carpet in the hallway? My shoelace is--my shoelace is untied. If I tripped over it now he would know I'm drunk. Just fucking breathe. Wait, is this the way? Which room is my which room is my room nubmer again?

Jeph yanks at his hand. "'Room nubmer'?" He laughs.

Frank said that out loud. He said it out loud because he is an idiot. He's panicking.

"I have a condom in my pocket." Frank says.

Oh fuck. Fucking marshmallow dumbass.

Jeph raises his eyebrows but doesn't stop walking. "Okay. That's...good to know."

He is laughing. Why is he laughing? That wasn't meant to be funny. It was meant to be something else. Sexy? Fuck. Not funny. Frank was meant to say it and Jeph was meant to take him back to his room and bite at his bottom lip and push him down on the hotel bed. This is the last night. Frank wants his plan to work.

"Wait. Wait, I didn't say that." Frank rubs at his forehead with the heel of his free hand, frowning, staggering the next few steps.

"You kinda did." Jeph tells him, because he is an asshole who is always right and makes Frank stumble even when he hasn't had a drink.

"Whoops."

Whoops. You fucking idiot. Who the fuck says whoops?

"Who are you bunking with tonight?" Jeph asks as though he didn't hear the whoops. He has something plastic in his other hand. Frank's room key.

"Toro." Frank tells him, because he thinks that is the right answer but can't remember much of anything beyond the past ten minutes or so. "Who are you...who is in your room?" What room is Bert in? Bert must be on the same corridor. What if I just--

"Nobody." Jeph smiles from next to him, his fingers gripping tighter, his eyes blown and dark and beautiful. God, I really wanted it to happen tonight.

They get in the elevator. Jeph presses the button.

"I wanna get two guns on my back." Frank blurts out, because why the hell not, nothing fucking matters.

"That sounds cool." Jeph says, their hands almost swaying between them as the doors close with a rackety clunk that Frank tries not to think about. "Under your pumpkin?"

"Nah, at the bottom." Frank clarifies. His head is heavier than it was before. "Let's go now. Somewhere will be open."

"It's two o'clock in the morning, Frank." Jeph laughs, but he doesn't put up much of a fight. "I guess we are in Canada. Somewhere might be open."

"See? It's still early." Frank is laughing too. It feels good.

"I saw Toro passed out in the bathroom back there," Jeph says when they get to Frank's door. "So I think he's out for the night."

He slides the key card and a little buzz rings as a green light flashes. "Welcome home." Jeph holds the door open for him.

Frank falters in the doorway. He leans forward and pulls at Jeph's t-shirt, his fingers grazing the older man's sternum. I will remember this time.

"Do you want to come in?" Frank whispers, wetting his bottom lip, breathing shallow. He reaches up and kisses Jeph slow and featherlight, mouth pressing the cool metal of the older man's piercings just for a second. "I want you to."

I want you to. I want you to--please. I want to fuck. God, I want us to fuck and you make me act like such an idiot. I want this, I want this--

"You're really drunk, Frank." Jeph whispers back.

Don't use your shut the fuck up voice.

"I'm not." Frank shakes his head, pulling harder at the material, groaning with something that is a mixture of frustration and panic and everything has gone wrong. "I'm not, Jepha."

Jeph smiles anyway. He pulls at Frank's hand. "Come on," He leads him inside, letting the door slam shut behind them. The lamp on the side table is glowing low from across the room. Frank's wet clothes are strewn across the chair in the corner and his suitcase is open underneath it with various bits of material pouring out over the sides.

The two single beds are against opposite walls. The room seems a lot smaller than it had in the daylight earlier. Frank's heart is smashing against the inside of his rib cage.

"Take your shoes off." Jeph tells him as he lets go of his hand, combing his fingers through his hair until it rests behind his ear, black and purple and messy.

Frank doesn't question why, but does as he's told by sitting on the edge of his bed and yanking at each shoe in turn with trembling fingers. Jeph disappears for a moment and returns with a glass of water that he places down carefully on the bedside table next to Frank's pillow.

Oh.

He sits down next to him, dipping the mattress slightly, taking his hand.

"I don't think you're Where's Waldo." He says, his thumb tracing the black revenge on the inside of Frank's wrist. "You're really hard to read sometimes. You're like fucking Dr. Seuss."

They both laugh. Frank lets his head drop to Jeph's shoulder. He feels sick.

I fucked up. I am the world's worst. I want to--

"I fucked up." Frank tells him. He closes his eyes. His head is swirling with his feet on the ground. "I want to. I was gonna--" Fuck. Words. Something. I want to sleep. Frank concentrates on the way Jeph's finger is tickling his skin. He swallows. "I want you."

He feels Jeph take a deep breath. He breathes the words low and far away, "Not tonight."

Bert and Gerard are probably fucking right now. Fuck Gerard. He is--I don't care where he is. Fuck Gerard if you want. None of it fucking matters.

When Frank wakes up, Jeph is in Ray's bed across the room with his arm dangling over the edge, eyes closed, hair in his face. Ray is asleep on the floor. Quinn is at the bottom of Frank's bed, his elbow jabbing Frank painfully in the thigh. Frank's eyes adjust to the light and he realises Mikey is down on the ugly hotel carpet in front of them.

He doesn't bother to question how the fuck any of them got here. Outside, the sun blares through the thin curtains like a bullet to his skull. Frank's brain is blurred and stinging all at once.

He rolls onto his back but keeps his gaze on Jeph's sleeping form in the bed opposite.

Fuck. He was wasted last night. For some reason, he remembers every damn thing. For the first time, he doesn't care.

Chapter Text

Frank's hand is shaking as he presses the buzzer. He can hear the ice cubes in the clear plastic cup trembling in the holder as he releases the button, and it's almost enough to make him question again whether or not this is a good idea.

The sun is glaring hot and stinging on the back of his neck from behind even through the chilled breeze across the lot. He feels like shit, but he guesses it's his own doing.

Frank almost drops the drinks when he hears the door to the sober bus hiss as it opens.

This morning he'd asked Mikey what the hell he could do to stop the way his stomach was churning like a washing machine every time he thinks of what happened last night, but not in so many words. Despite groaning at the question as though Frank had asked for his left kidney, the younger Way was surprisingly conscious enough to assist.

After countless years of observation, Frank has come to realise that Mikey is a high-functioning hungover. It's one of the many things Frank is envious of him for, but something new gets added to the list every so often and Frank guesses this isn't the worst one by all means. Even if Frank feels like his brain is trying to push and crack out of his forehead and the thought of anything other than nicotine and black coffee is knocking him sick is all consuming. Maybe one day he'll learn to be high-functioning too.

For now, he presses on.

"What if you did something really dumb..." Frank had started the question with his eyes closed, his head resting over the arm of the couch, breathing shallow and slow. The movement of the bus was making him want to throw up, but he'd found refuge on his back with his legs up against the couch cushions and his head almost upside down. It was working for him, so he didn't question it. "...like, really dumb..."

"Go on..." Mikey laughed from the other end of the couch, nudging Frank in the shin with the heel of his hand as a prompt.

"Fuck you," Frank tried to nudge him back with his knee but couldn't quite get the angle right enough to make contact. "I mean, what if you did something dumb when you were drunk and like...made a dick out of yourself?"

Frank could hear Mikey's breathing slow and even. He heard him take a sip of the coffee in his hand, the bitter smell wafting across the small space.

"Is this a hint?" Mikey eventually asked, exhaling exaggerated and drawn out, "Because I told you I don't know how I ended up on your floor last night. Pretty sure Quinn was the ringleader, though. He wouldn't shut up about--"

"Fuck's sake, Mikes." Frank was laughing hard, hand on his stomach, leaning forward to open his eyes. "Don't mean you. Although, think I've got a bruise on my hip the same size as Allman's fucking elbow. I mean me."

Mikey breathed the remainder of his laugh, pushing his glasses up his nose with the back of his wrist. Frank stretched his legs out with a huff, resting his calves across the taller man's thighs without asking, feeling his insides sting at the memory of whatever dumb words he slurred into the shell of Jeph's ear not ten hours ago.

"You lose your temper?" Mikey asked, his voice dropping, eyes down on his mug. He had his whole hand around it, cradling the warmth with his thumb tracing along the lip of the porcelain. It had been a while since he'd seen Frank get into a scrap.

Frank had sucked the air through his teeth. He stared at the ceiling. "What? No. No, not that."

"--because I know how you get--"

"No, it wasn't that. Fuck, no fights. I just...I mean, I said some dumb shit."

Frank thought it might have been easier if he had just thrown a few punches, but there comes a point past the third tequila where the part of your brain that controls what spews out of your mouth goes on fucking sabbatical. He swallowed hard.

"Okay." Mikey breathed, slumping further down into the couch cushions, readjusting the weight of Frank's legs on his. "I just thought...yeah, anyway. Gee had a bloody nose, that's all. I thought maybe you two had--fuck, it doesn't matter. Go ahead."

Frank clutched the material of his t-shirt into a fist against his stomach.

If they had, it wouldn't be the first time.

Still, it didn't matter. Frank pushed the thousand and one follow up questions he had about said bloody nose to the back of his brain along with the fact that he hadn't seen Gerard for the entirety of the previous night and that he'd asked a stupid amount of people during his drunken delirium before Jeph got there whether or not they had.

"Nothing, I just--" Frank took a deep breath. He tried to count the number of tiles on the ceiling in an attempt to distract his brain from thinking any more about it. "How do you apologise after making an ass of yourself?"

Mikey wrinkled his nose in thought, running his fingers through his hair and leaving them there as an afterthought. He didn't look like someone who'd slept on the floor all night.

"This person you're apologising to, are they pissed?" He asked.

Frank could feel the bitter sting in the pit of his stomach. He wanted to puke grapefruit.

"No," he answered, his voice small and questioning. He thought about leaning against Jeph's shoulder on the edge of the bed. Then he was laughing, "That makes it worse though, right?"

"Don't know what you're apologising for, then." Mikey sniggered, submitting, closing his eyes. He exhaled slow and tired. "Sounds like you're the only one who feels bad. Just buy them a drink and be done with it."

Frank winced at the thought. The only thing that sounded worse than more alcohol was the idea of being around Jeph with more alcohol. He'd made a fool of himself enough already.

"Hey," Mikey murmured, falling under into fatigue, hitting Frank's shin with the palm of his hand. "Don't fucking torture yourself."

High-functioning indeed.

Frank decided to at least try to do as he was told.

Jeph freezes with his fingers on the handle as the door to the bus swings open. He's leaning out, one foot on the second step up, hair a mess and eyes squinting in the light. He's got a toothbrush lodged in the right side of his mouth, his cheek protruding where he's biting down on the bristles to stop the thing toppling out onto the concrete below. Frank can't tell if he's been back to bed or not, because his eyes look a little red and tired but the sight of him still makes Frank's insides buzz with anxiety.

"Hey," Jeph says.

At least, that's what it sounds like. With his free hand he pulls the toothbrush from his mouth. He's frowning like he didn't expect to see Frank mobile and conscious at any point in the next six hours or so.

Frank grips the cardboard cup holder with two hands.

"Hey." He swallows. He can hear Radio whining with excitement at the top of the stairs. "I...brought tea."

Jeph blinks. His eyes are studying what feels like every damn line on Frank's face as though he doesn't know what to say. His frown evens out after a moment, the crease in his brow disappearing until Frank can just about see the smile pulling at his lips.

"Is this a bad time?" Frank asks, because seconds later Jeph still hasn't said a thing. He tries to glance up the stairs behind the older man but can only just see Radio's tail wagging wildly back and forth.

It takes a second for Jeph's face to register the question. "What?" He breathes, smiling, running a hand through his messed up hair. "No. No, you wanna come in?"

Frank exhales in a way he hopes doesn't give away the size of the tidal wave of self doubt he's trying to repress in the pit of his stomach, but Jeph looks good in the spring sunshine even with a smear of toothpaste on his bottom lip, so Frank climbs the stairs to the bus like they're his Everest.

"I didn't know what kind you like," Frank calls once he's perched on the edge of the sofa with Radio fidgeting between his legs, "I had to ask the guy--"

"What's that?" Jeph pokes his head out from behind the bathroom door a few feet down the bus, running a towel over his jaw, his sleeves pushed way up his forearms. Frank guesses he probably caught him somewhere in between brushing his teeth and shaving, or maybe both kind of at the same time, but now he looks as well put together as always and absolutely not as though he was holding Frank up for half the night.

Frank scratches at the spot just next to Radio's tail with one hand, feeling her back paws tap approvingly up and down on the carpet. She pants as she rubs her head on Frank's thigh, pushing his leg with impatient excitement. Frank tries to focus on her rather than the way Jeph looks padding across the tiles to the kitchenette in tight ripped jeans and hair in his eyes.

Frank clears his throat. "I had to ask the guy." He says again, feeling something like heat prickling in the base of his stomach. "I mean shit, I know what you drink is tea and it's green but that's all I had to go on. Had no idea there was like fifteen kinds."

Jeph is laughing when he slips the plastic cup from the holder and stabs the lid with a green straw. "I bet the guy loved you, huh?"

"He was surprisingly accommodating. I didn't know shit. The line was backing up behind me." Frank laughs back as he pats Radio's side with the palm of his hand and she settles in front of him. "I guess when you go through life drinking black coffee..."

Jeph leans the small of his back against the counter, crossing his ankles. He's wearing odd socks. Frank smiles. The older man takes a small sip of the iced drink and frowns as he studies the cup but eventually nods a few times as though it'll do.

"Speaking of black coffee," He gestures over at the other two cups resting in the holder next to him, "What's the spare one for? In case you picked the wrong tea?"

Frank exhales a breathy laugh and rubs at the back of his neck with his free hand. His head is still kind of throbbing from hungover dehydration but he decides to pay no attention. "Actually, it's for Branden. Is he around?"

Frank wishes he was doing a much better job of convincing Jeph he is acting casual as he glances toward the back of the bus at the bunks, but guesses the whole effort is futile because he feels red hot and his cheeks are probably flushing a similar shade. He'd bought a third drink in case Branden was here, guessing it was only polite seen as this is pretty much his home and Frank is always crashing here despite how much he hopes Branden doesn't notice. Still, it seemed only right to get him one.

Jeph is smiling and kind of daft looking propped up by the kitchen counter. He's holding the cup with his hand over the lid, the straw between two fingers. Frank would love to know where the hell Jeph gets off looking at him like that, but finds his mouth is suddenly too dry to form a single syllable anyway.

"That's sweet." Jeph tells him: absolute fact, no argument.

Frank argues anyway, even with his eyes on the floor and his fingers buried in Radio's fur. "Fuck you, no it's not."

Jeph takes a long slurp, staring knowingly at Frank in understated victory. "Well, sweet or not, he's not here. Something about a new video game. Can't remember."

He's on the other bus. Frank can remember Quinn breathing hot air right into his ear last night as he blathered about some game and how he should come over and play with them and Frank had actually agreed without argument because it sounded pretty sweet but by then he'd had a few tequilas and a hit of something he hoped was just weed and would have said yes to anything.

They're alone. Somehow, that makes Frank feel worse.

Frank unzips his hoodie and slips it off just for something to do. When he lays it over the arm of the couch, Radio sniffs at the sleeve with her ears twitched forward in concentration. He knows he needs to say something, if only to lift the colossal boulder from his chest, but he doesn't know what and doesn't know why it matters so much.

He knows he was stupid last night. He knows dumb things heaved from his mouth almost without filter even before Jeph got there. He knows Jeph probably doesn't even think it's a big deal or doesn't care because that's just how he is and yet Frank still feels his lungs swelling when Jeph sits on the couch next to him.

"You okay?" He asks, his voice dropping, rubbing at his nose with the back of his wrist.

Frank lets his eyes run over the inked skin on the older man's fingers, intricate and detailed enough to hold his gaze until he's breathing deep and tired.

"Yeah." He breathes, finally looking away. From next to him he can smell the mint on Jeph's breath. "Yeah, why?"

The older man reaches over and grazes the back of Frank's wrist with two fingertips. It's featherlight and tingling hot all at the same time.

"Just didn't expect to see you up so early." He says, but his voice is low and careful and Frank can almost hear the words Jeph doesn't say hanging in the air.

They're both looking down at Frank's hand. Radio lies down between them with a long whine, nuzzling her face into the faded denim at Frank's shin. Frank can feel his heart thudding soft and persistent in his ears.

"I'm sorry about last night." He says, the words tumbling from his throat without want or warning. He's glad when he feels the first fizz of relief buzzing in his stomach, because now he's said it they can stop pretending he came over here for anything else.

He can see Jeph frowning without even having to look up, but when the older man speaks he doesn't sound mad or disappointed or anything like the way Frank feels about himself.

"What?" He breathes the question. He grips Frank's wrist with hot fingers. "What for?"

Frank breaks, Mikey's advice be damned.

"I was a dick." He tells him: absolute fact, no argument.

"You weren't a dick, Frank." Jeph laughs, shaking his head a little. "You were just drunk. It's cool."

God, Frank can't stand this.

Jeph is making it really hard for Frank to hate himself and he isn't used to that sensation. He's used to a fight.

Fighting with Gerard had always been so fucking easy, because if Frank was a stick of dynamite then Gerard was a kid who always knew exactly how to light the fuse.

This is not Gerard. Fuck. Frank has a headache.

"I said some stupid stuff." Frank tries again, willing Jeph to remember as if it's obvious what he's trying to apologise for.

Jeph sits back against the cushions, his hand still gripping hot on Frank's wrist. Frank can hear his steady breathing from next to him, deep and even and totally fucking fine. Frank isn't really sure what it is about the older man that makes him lose himself in such a completely all consuming way, but guesses it has something to do with way he looks at him right after he's said something exceptionally fucking stupid.

"Whatever you said last night, it's forgotten, okay?" His voice is low and genuine and his thumb is tracing the inked skin on the inside of Frank's wrist and when Frank looks up he feels the air tear from his lungs at the mere sight of him.

"Okay," Frank breathes when he can manage, even pulling a smile as he moves the hair from his forehead. "Thanks."

"And I promise I won't ever bring it up." Jeph goes on as he leans forward to pick up his drink from where it's resting down the side of the couch. "I mean, I won't bring it up after right now because some of the stuff you said was really funny."

He's laughing in that way Frank only sees when he's being mercilessly teased and as much as he'd like to fight it, he laughs too.

Frank nudges him hard in the forearm. "Shut up. It's fucking Mikey's fault. He brought tequila."

"Is that why you forgot your 'room nubmer'?" Jeph asks through a breathless wheeze, mid sip, shoulders heaving with the laugh.

Frank can feel the heat stinging his face, but decides if this is the worst of the ridicule he's going to get then he got away pretty lightly.

"Yeah, yeah. Okay. I'm a dumbass." Frank is smiling as he says the words, though.

He inhales deep and satisfied, the rock on his chest reduced to gravel and dust, crumbling away the dread filling his insides. He still feels shit, but figures it's nothing that can't be attributed to lack of sleep and a particularly brutal hangover.

All in all, he feels pretty fucking high functioning.

He hears Jeph slurp at the last remnants of his tea, sucking mostly air through the straw, swirling the cup so the rapidly melting ice cubes twirl around the plastic in a whirlwind. He looks so unbelievably daft next to him, purple-black hair pushed back, clean shaven and infinitely well put together, as always, that Frank almost has the urge to kiss him like he did last night in a drunken haze in the doorway.

Jeph is studying the cup when he speaks again, one eyebrow raised in questioning. "Is this apology tea?"

Fuck. He's been rumbled.

"No." Frank lies. He leans down in front of the couch and scratches carefully at the space between Radio's ears. "It's more like bribery tea. Buying your silence."

"Huh." Jeph nods thoughtfully, setting the empty drink down. "I guess you're safe for now."

Frank's racing thoughts settle for a while. He feels like he can breathe without the effort shredding his lungs and guesses that's good enough for now. Jeph talks to him about how Quinn, Mikey and Ray had crashed on the floor last night and how funny it was that Frank didn't even wake up when they invaded half way through the night. Jeph tells him that Mikey couldn't stop laughing seemingly for no reason and he had to stop the younger Way from getting in the shower fully clothed and from misusing a cheap plastic hotel pen on Frank's passed out form. Frank assures him he'll get retribution some time soon but still laughs at the story anyway.

Between their feet Radio is snoring quietly. Jeph has a hand on Frank's thigh, fiddling with a fraying strand of denim escaping from the tear in his jeans. Frank tries to pretend he doesn't notice, but he can feel the heat emanating from the older man's palm like static electricity.

"You look good today." Jeph murmurs after a while.

Frank wets his bottom lip. He most certainly does not look good today, but doesn't have the will in him right now to fight it.

He is hungover. He has a headache that two aspirin and two black coffees hardly touched. He has been wearing the same cycle of three t-shirts and two pairs of jeans for as long as he can remember and he hasn't washed his hair for about four days. This morning he'd looked at himself in the mirror and made the executive decision that as soon as the tour is over he'll shave the blonde off the sides of his head because he looks like shit and bleaching his hair was a dumb idea anyway.

Still, when Jeph runs his hand higher up Frank's leg, he doesn't have the heart to tell him how fucking wrong he is. Instead, he bites at his bottom lip, trying to breathe, trying to think of a single damn thing to say.

He looks up at the older man's face, breath catching in his throat, insides shaking and panicked and wanting. Something good could have happened between them last night if Frank had behaved himself. Even so, they're here now and a part of Frank is grateful for the second chance because Jeph's eyes are sparkling brown and perfect and he really does look good today and maybe this isn't the way Frank imagined but he's sure Jeph's tongue will taste just as good under his anyway.

It does, as it turns out.

Jeph tastes like green tea and toothpaste. His hand is fanned out against the top of Frank's thigh, slowly inching inward as they kiss fast and heated. Frank can feel the blood rushing in his ears, his heart thudding in the same way the storm crashed down on them last night before everything became hazy and stupid. He pulls at Jeph's collar with his fist, yanking him closer as their mouths move together with impatient fever. Frank wants to straddle him. He wants to watch him unravel like a loose fucking thread.

He just wants him, here and now and everything.

Radio lets out a sharp bark from in front of them and Frank jolts at the noise as though his bones had jumped his body.

The pair of them freeze, breathing hard, mouths just grazing in the panic.

From down the stairs and behind the door Frank hears someone punching in the bus code incorrectly. The bleeps are drowned out by Radio's low pitched growl as she stands at the top step, a line of fur from her head to her tail standing up on end in inquisitive defence.

Jeph closes his eyes as he exhales long and frustrated, pulling his hand from Frank's leg to run over his tired face.

"Fuck," he breathes, "It's Bert."

Frank recalls Jeph telling him that even after numerous attempts at trying to instil the combination to this bus into Bert's consciousness, the effort remains mostly futile.

Jeph stands, ripping his warmth from Frank's tingling skin with a reluctant sigh, straightening the material of his shirt and wiping at his mouth with the back of his wrist. He takes Radio's collar, presumably to stop her from bounding down the steps and hurting herself and it isn't until the door finally opens that Frank realises why.

Bert calls her name high pitched and delighted and she starts barking like crazy as soon as she sees him coming up the stairs. Frank shifts uncomfortably in his seat, kind of bereft at the loss of Jeph's mouth against his because everything happened so fast and now there's a hole in his chest where something just was.

Bert is on his knees at the top of the stairs, both hands rubbing at Radio's ears as she whines happy and excited with her face bumping into his chin every few seconds. When Frank looks up, Jeph is sporting a kind of half smile at the exchange but looks like he's almost too annoyed to admit he's finding it even a little bit sweet.

"The fuck happened to you last night?" Jeph asks him after a moment, his arms folded as he leans back against the counter just like before.

Frank notes the stern tone of his voice if only to remember to bring it up later when Bert inevitably loses interests and leaves them alone again.

Bert looks like he's lost interest already, because he's mumbling shrill nonsense directly into Radio's face for the ten or so seconds after Jeph asks the question. His long dark hair is just below his shoulders, almost covering whatever obscenity is printed on the chest of the yellow t-shirt Frank has seen him wear several times over the tour. Like always, he radiates energy even after what sounds like a pretty heavy night but Frank guesses that's pretty much by the by.

"I was around." Bert says, eyes still focused on Radio, his nose scrunched up as he scratches at the top of her head. "Not my fault if you didn't see me. Hi, Frankie."

The whole sentence sounds like one long slur that Frank doesn't decipher until the mention of his name, after which he finds himself laughing at the way Bert is kissing the side of Radio's face and he raises a hand to return the greeting.

"From what I hear nobody saw you." Jeph goes on, running his tongue over his bottom lip as he glances back at Frank for just a second. Frank looks down at his wrists resting in his lap.

"You know me. Here there and fucking everywhere." Bert answers, finally standing, one hand lingering in Radio's fur. "Don't know what happened to Quinn, though. He never came back to the room."

Jeph sniggers at that. Frank does the same, but he doesn't bother to look at the older man in fear he'll burst out laughing.

Bert places a cigarette from his back pocket on his bottom lip, patting down the front of his shorts probably trying to find a lighter. It takes Jeph a few seconds to react, but then he's rolling his eyes and reaching across the small space toward him right as he lights up, grabbing at the white stick with long played out frustration.

"Fuck, no!" Bert protests from one side of his mouth as he whips his head to one side to avoid Jeph's fingers. "This is my only one, Jepha."

Frank watches the struggle through breathy laughter which gets worse once Radio starts barking at the pair of them as though trying to join in.

"You don't smoke on this bus." Jeph tells him as he finally gets possession and pulls the cigarette from Bert's mouth like it's nothing.

He slides open the window above the sink and throws the thing out without mercy. Frank feels his fingers twitch. That is brutal.

"What are you doing here?" Jeph asks once he's slammed the window shut again, just teasing, tucking his hair behind his ear.

"Came to see my girl." Bert answers. He still looks kind of hurt at the loss of his nicotine fix but he smiles as he pats the side of Radio's belly with the flat of his hand. "And Branden sent me to pick up some game thing or something."

Jeph blinks about three times. He looks Bert up and down as though trying to decide how true his statement is, but eventually relents when Bert doesn't bother to say anything else.

"I know what he means, it's in the lounge somewhere. Hold on." Jeph says it as though he's been defeated. Still, he smiles over at Frank before disappearing behind the curtain towards the back of the bus.

Bert doesn't say anything. Frank can feel his insides tingling and his brain throbbing against the inside of his skull. He glances over at the curtain. They are alone.

"I've got smokes if you want one." Frank says, his voice low and just above a whisper to the man opposite.

Bert looks up immediately, smiling wide eyed and stupid. He cocks his head to one side, checking again that Jeph is out of earshot. "No shit? Fucking lifesaver."

Bert lights up whilst perching on the arm of the couch, his shoes on the cushion next to Frank, angling the smoke out of the window he's opened just next to them. Frank looks up at him as he's taking a drag. He has dark circles under both eyes but doesn't, and hasn't ever in Frank's memory, ever showed any signs of being tired.

Frank has always thought Bert was one of the most intriguing people he'd ever been introduced to. Even at the beginning, back when they were just starting out, Frank would find himself wondering how someone could be so fucking talented and so down to earth all at the same time. Frank remembers seeing him scream and puke on stage for the first time and being completely captivated. He was incredible. He guesses most of the eccentric antics he gets up to are his way of showing he cares about something, and Frank has always known that Bert doesn't care about anything more than music and the people he shares it with.

Frank hasn't thought about it for a while, but likes to believe that is still true.

Bert is looking out of the window when he wafts the cigarette in Frank's face, offering it to him with a shaking hand. Frank takes it without really thinking of anything other than his pounding head and inhales deep and long and fuck, that's good.

"You and Jepha been thick as thieves this tour, huh?" Bert asks after a little while. Frank passes the cigarette back and pretends he doesn't feel sick to his stomach.

"Yeah, I guess." He struggles with the reply, clearing his throat, something hot stinging the inside of his chest. He finds himself breathing a laugh but isn't sure what's meant to be funny. "I mean, I like hanging out on this bus. It's good to get away from the madness sometimes."

Bert laughs, balancing the white stick on his bottom lip. His eyes glisten blue and bloodshot. "Yeah, I get that."

Frank thinks that most of the time Bert makes up a pretty good chunk of the madness so probably can't relate.

A few seconds pass. Frank is breathing shallow and slow, not wholly sure why his heart is beating so fast. He watches the way Bert taps his fingers against his knee to a rhythm only he can hear. He has a faded broken heart on his little finger.

Frank looks at his knuckles. The first two are grazed and scabbed over.

Wait--

"You know, it's weird." Bert interrupts whatever thought is firing sparks in Frank's brain. He's still looking out of the window, tapping the cigarette until the ash crumbles down onto the concrete. "Last tour we did the whole of North America. You know, Canada, everywhere. It was a couple months." He takes a deep inhale, his voice dropping low and unfamiliar. "I bet I can count the number of times Jepha slept on this bus on one hand."

It takes Frank a few seconds. He guesses the delay is mainly caused by the bile rising in his stomach and the way he's clenching his jaw harder than a goddamn vice.

Frank is livid. He feels sick.

Bert doesn't know anything. He doesn't know half of what he thinks he knows. Gerard doesn't know shit either. The pair of them don't know a goddamned thing.

Frank isn't sure what to say other than fuck you, fuck you, fuck you and I know one or two things about you too, you know and anyway, fuck you.

Instead, he closes his fingers into a fist and settles for, "Oh?"

Out of nowhere he feels something like scalding hot blind panic pool in the pit of his stomach. It was probably Bert who saw his hand dangling over the edge of Jeph's bunk that first night.

He doesn't know why it matters. He doesn't know why he's so fucking angry.

Bert makes a sound in the affirmative, offering the cigarette one more time. Frank shakes his head.

"Now he's always over here, huh?" Bert looks down at Frank from his perch, pulling a sly smile, his eyes running over every line on Frank's face. "Wonder why that is."

Frank had always thought that if things were different, him and Bert could have had a real friendship. In reality, Frank knows it's something that is totally unattainable because right from the off everything between them has always been weighed down by a Gerard shaped rock.

Frank knows it. He knows Bert knows it, too.

Gerard already hit rock bottom but he's still falling.

"The fuck? Where did you get that?" Jeph is at the curtain with a face like thunder, not giving a shit that he's interrupted a conversation that Frank never wanted to have in the first place but will be damned if Bert thinks he's won.

The older man is already bounding over and Bert starts inhaling the last of the cigarette in desperation, leaning backward on the arm of the couch to avoid Jeph's grabby hands.

He exhales smoke right into Jeph's face as the stub is thrown outside through the open window, laughing like a maniac, hands in Jeph's hair wild and messy.

"Fucking asshole." Jeph breathes, pushing him hard in the collarbone with the heel of his hand. Even so, he snaps the next order through a breathy laugh. "Found Branden's controller, now get the fuck out."

Bert stumbles as he stands, almost tripping backwards before he grips Jeph's shoulder to steady himself. "Love you too."

"Not likely. Go." Jeph laughs, making sure Bert is standing on his own before walking back over to the counter, pushing the sleeves further up his forearms.

He looks kind of frazzled, but Frank doesn't take any notice. He's still digging his fingers into the palm of his hand.

Bert is teasing as he pats at his thighs with both hands, making Radio bounce toward him in excitement. "We're down to single figures now, Jepha. Gonna miss this when it's over."

Shit, Frank thinks, he's right.

Single figures.

Bert takes Radio with him when he goes. Jeph lets out a kind of embarrassed laugh to break the silence immediately afterwards, murmuring something about how Bert is an asshole as he rubs at the back of his neck with his palm.

He makes tea. They go to the back of the bus and sit in the lounge. Frank watches the steam rise from Jeph's cup on the coffee table with glazed eyes. He feels drained on the inside. His mouth tastes like copper and his stomach is filled with lead. He knows he shouldn't care, but he can't help it.

He feels Jeph's hand on his knee. It isn't until then that he realises Jeph has been talking this whole time but it just sounded like buzzing in Frank's ears.

"What's on your mind?" Jeph asks in a low murmur, his hand solid and hot, his mouth pulled into a small smile a few inches from Frank's ear.

He smells good. His breath is shrouding the side of Frank's neck. Frank wishes he could say, but doesn't know the words.

Then he remembers being soaking wet yesterday, and the way Jeph had said that telling him things might make him feel better. On the list of things currently on his mind, save the dumb reoccurring shit that plagues his self esteem on a regular basis, he decides to opt for the most pressing.

"Single figures." He says.

Jeph is still smiling. Frank can see it even as he looks down at the back of the older man's hand on his knee, his eyes following the lines over his wrist and down to his fingers. He doesn't seem worried at all.

"What?" Jeph breathes, leaning forward slightly to catch Frank's gaze.

Frank wets his bottom lip. He feels impossibly stupid. "The tour is almost over."

He doesn't know why the thought has only just occurred to him. He thinks it's probably something to do with the fact that time doesn't generally exist on the road anyway, and Jeph's bunk on the back of this bus is like the eye of the storm where everything is calm as chaos runs wild around them.

"I know." Jeph is almost whispering. He runs his hand higher, as though they'd never been interrupted before and Frank can feel himself starting to believe it. "You don't need to think about it now."

Frank swallows hard. He feels the pressure building up behind his rib cage as his heart thrashes against it and Jeph leans closer. It feels good to be told what to think for once.

Jeph's eyes are studying his like he can't look at anything else. With his free hand he moves the hair from Frank's forehead, pushing the messy black strands to one side and the warmth of his fingers feels like tingling sparks under Frank's skin. He rests his hand heavy on the side of Frank's neck, wetting his lips, breathing shallow.

"What should I think about?" Frank asks, and he isn't sure why but his voice has dropped to a low murmur, his eyes on Jeph's mouth, his blood rushing hot in his veins.

Fuck it. None of it matters. He's at the eye of the storm and everything else is just noise. There's a tornado outside but it's nowhere near as important as the storm raging inside him right at this moment.

Jeph kisses him like he feels it too. It's slow and savouring and careful and when he parts his lips and Frank feels his tongue against Jeph's it tastes like a flash of lightning all the way down his spine. Frank can feel the hand on the inside of his thigh, fanned out and possessive, hot and perfect and there.

Frank doesn't care about the angry fire roaring inside him. It doesn't matter. Right now, it doesn't matter.

Jeph is letting out satisfied, quiet little noises, the sound bouncing around the small room and racking Frank's brain with every movement of his tongue. Frank lays a hand on Jeph's waist, his fingers just slipping under the material of his t-shirt until he feels the older man's skin hot against his own.

He feels so good. He tastes so good. Everything that falls from his throat sounds so good.

Frank is falling under. His head is dipping below the water. He lets himself drown like he never wants to see the sun again.

Jeph pushes him to lie on the couch, never breaking the kiss, towering over him with a palm against his sternum and the other steadying himself upright. He nudges Frank's thighs apart with his knee, the pressure building already and Frank lets out a low groan as he feels the friction against his jeans.

He runs his palm up Jeph's back under his shirt, dragging his nails, his heart thrashing wild and frantic against his chest. He can feel Jeph's hand somewhere down between them, wandering lower as his fingertips graze Frank's protruding hip. He swears he can feel Jeph pulling at elastic, but there's something hot and feral pulsing under his skin that he's sure is lying to his brain and he isn't sure what's real or not until the older man breaks the kiss to pant like he's struggling to breathe.

His lips are still grazing Frank's as he heaves, forehead sweating and hair in his eyes. He's looking down at Frank with his pupils blown, his mouth wet and red and gorgeous.

Frank wishes he could tell him how good he looks, but his brain is twisted up and his lungs are filled with salt water.

Jeph wets his bottom lip, catching his breath, his fingers ghosting the hem of Frank's boxers.

Frank can feel himself hard and straining against his zipper. He's grateful for the breather because every point of contact feels like too much already and he wants this to be right.

When it comes down to it, Frank guesses he'll be happy if he can last more than two fucking minutes without coming all over himself or Jeph this time. He'd like to think that's not a big ask but in reality he knows Jeph has some stupid power over him that means he has little to no control over the way his brain sends signals to his body.

"Frank," Jeph breathes, gazing down at him. "You look--fuck. You look good today."

He smiles, closing his eyes tight for a second as though laughing at his own stupid comment, and Frank feels the weight lift from his chest as he laughs too because fuck, it's just Jeph. He doesn't need to think about anything he doesn't want to and this is just Jeph, raw and real and a total dork like always.

Frank leans up whilst he still has the strength with the older man pinning him to the cushions, their noses nudging together for a second as he presses a kiss to his mouth like he's being pulled toward him by gravity. He feels Jeph's hand in the hair at the back of his head, crushing him closer, their mouths moving together fast and frenzied in the whirlwind.

Jeph drags his knee up to grind between Frank's legs as he leans down to make short work of Frank's belt and zipper. Frank starts seeing sparks behind his eyes. He can't.

With surprising dexterity he manages to do the same, using all ten fingers to unfasten the buttons at Jeph's fly without the need to stop kissing, although the act gets messier by the second until Jeph moves his mouth hot and wet to the space just below Frank's earlobe.

Frank can feel the heat emanating from the denim before he has a chance to do a single thing, but then Jeph's hand is solid and perfect inside Frank's boxers and his fingers wrap around him without a second's hesitation. Frank lets out a breathy sigh, closing his eyes, giving himself a moment. The older man's hand is moving torturously slow, just testing, his mouth open against the sensitive skin by Frank's jawbone.

Frank lets his fingers cling to Jeph's jeans whilst he catches his breath, feeling the heat rise in his stomach, tasting metal and mercury and oceans.

Jeph's mouth on his skin is a tingling flame, wet and searching and perfect.

Frank slips his hand down to palm Jeph through his boxers, because he is a tease and living up to his name comes with the territory and anyway, Jeph feels as good as always and Frank wants to remember because they're down to single figures and the tour is almost over and--

He doesn't need to think about that now.

"Fuck, Frank." Jeph stammers against his neck, his forehead dropping to rest on Frank's shoulder as though struggling to keep himself upright.

Frank pulls at the elastic. He takes Jeph in his hand.

"Fuck, Frank!"

Jeph twists his wrist and effectively wipes the smirk from Frank's mouth.

Somehow, they move together in a way that means the pair of them are barely able to breathe but still have function enough to unravel each other as though experts at the task. Frank can feel the white heat on the back of his tongue as his breathing gets deeper, Jeph's fingers moving fast and messy and so good that he can hardly form a coherent thought other than, "Don't stop."

Jeph rests his forehead against Frank's, panting shallow breaths, pumping his hand with determined perfection.

"Why would I stop?" He whispers against Frank's swollen lips, almost smiling, bucking his hips to meet Frank's messy thrusts.

Frank doesn't understand the question. His brain is Jeph and nothing else.

"Don't." He tells him again, losing himself, sinking, "Not ever. I'm almost there, I'm--"

Jeph groans into Frank's mouth, wild and wanton, grinding his hips down into Frank's hand like he's struggling to catch his breath. Frank remembers then that they are alone, they are alone and fuck everything outside this bus because the storm could be tearing the universe to shreds and Frank wouldn't bat an eye.

The white heat gets brighter. Jeph's cock is flushed and leaking in Frank's hand. He can feel the crash building, salt on his tongue, his chest in a vice, his fingers losing control of any recognisable rhythm.

"Yes," He breathes, "Yes, I--" His muscles tense up, skin damp and feverous, the wave encompassing every part of him. He pants the words as Jeph speeds up, skilful and slick and sublime, "Jepha, I--"

"I know." Jeph whispers above him, pumping hard, his own hips jutting as though nearing the climax.

Frank isn't sure what he means. He doesn't know if he was going to say it out loud anyway but somehow Jeph does and that is almost enough.

He bites down hard on his bottom lip as he comes, hips bucking, eyes closed tight and hand around Jeph stilling as the heat burns out bright. He feels himself sink into the couch below, his body drained. Jeph is still breathing hard as he pulls his fingers from Frank's boxers, taking the front of Frank's t-shirt into a fist so it stretches the material taught and sticky.

Frank opens his eyes. Jeph's mouth is slack and open, hair sticking to his damp forehead with careless precision. He looks unreal. He looks like a fever dream.

Frank swallows his own satisfied exhaustion and picks up his speed, running his thumb over the head of Jeph's cock until he lets out a long sigh, his voice stuttering into tattered whispers.

"You feel so good, Frank. You feel--fuck, please."

Frank doesn't know what he's pleading for, but knows for certain he's willing to give it to him because he is unravelling in exactly the way Frank wanted and that just isn't fair. He reaches up, takes Jeph's bottom lip in his mouth, swallowing the moan that follows as his fingers grip tighter and faster and Jeph is pulling at Frank's shirt like it's his only anchor.

"Oh fuck," He gasps, hips bucking, movements wild, "Oh fuck, oh--"

His body tenses as Frank feels the release hot and messy over his hand as it slows. He hears Jeph breathing deep and drawn out, riding through it, his head dropping to rest on Frank's damp collarbone.

Frank wants the floor to swallow them whole. He wants the outside world to continue in a black hole where time doesn't exist and he doesn't have to think about the impending final show somewhere in the deep dry desert.

It's not long, he thinks, it's not long until it's over.

Frank closes his eyes. He's too tired to fight. He lets the tide take him. Down, down into the darkness.

He doesn't need to think about it now.