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The Light from Our Bodies Precedes Us (NASAverse)

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The second basement of Building Six at the Kennedy Space Center is not, Frank reminds himself, straightening his shoulders and stepping out of the elevator, one of the more intimidating offices in the NASA compound. It is, in fact, just one workshop out of many, where fabricators test out designs that come from the engineers upstairs--where Frank works. The problem with the workshop in Frank's building, however, is that Mikey Way works there. And Mikey Way is a category unto himself.

When Frank turns the corner into the busy, noisy shop, Mikey's back is to him, bent over a drafting table. Frank pauses a few feet away, but Mikey doesn't make any sort of acknowledging sign at all. Frank clenches his fingers around his binder of papers, waffling between clearing his throat and interrupting or just waiting until Mikey is done with whatever he's doing. The thing is, he's not quite sure that Mikey wouldn't just ignore him on purpose.

After several moments, Mikey's head comes up and he props the heels of his hands on the table in front of him. "Dr. Iero," he announces, and Frank can just hear the slight smirk in his voice, though his expression is probably as unreadable as ever.

Frank shuffles his feet and coughs, rattling his papers importantly. He has a reason to be here, so Mikey Way shouldn't make him feel--well, faintly ridiculous, but he always does. "Yes, right--" he begins.

Mikey turns around, eyes magnified creepily behind his large safety goggles, and interrupts Frank's attempt to gain the upper hand, here. "Dr. Iero, rocket scientist to the stars!" he announces again, eyebrows twitching upward, and it would sound very grand if it weren't delivered in complete deadpan.

Frank winces.

"What can I help you with, sir?" Mikey asks, shoving a hand into his left trouser pocket, amused smile playing at the corner of his mouth.

Frank's forehead tenses in irritation and he tries to force it smooth. "I have the blueprints for the new rocket. I think we're ready to get started with the test models, but Dr. Toro suggested I bring these down and have you go over them before we give the final all-clear."

Mikey reaches out a hand and quirks an eyebrow at Frank, who hands them over. He almost doesn't let go of them, doesn't really want to, and wow, that would've been ridiculous.

Mikey spreads them out over his table, burying the drafts he was looking at before, and studies the papers while Frank stands and watches, unsure what to do. He puts his arms behind his back and then down his sides and then he crosses them over his chest, but feels that's a little too confrontational, so he puts them behind his back again. Mikey just keeps staring at the blueprints, ignoring him completely. At one point, he scribbles something down on a notepad and Frank tries to read it, but it's too far away and Frank holds in a sigh and waits. He hates this part, the feeling of being useless and expendable.

After a few more minutes, Mikey looks up and says, "Could I keep these for the rest of the day? I'd like to make sure I don't miss anything."

"Sure," Frank nods shortly, somewhat relieved that he won't have to stand around awkwardly for twenty minutes or anything. "Just--call upstairs when you're through?"

Mikey makes a hmmm noise, attention already back on the lower right quadrant of the draft. He scribbles something on his pad again, checkmarks the thing he wrote before, and glances briefly up at Frank. "Toro told you to bring them down?"

"Well--yes--not that I disagreed, of course--" Frank fumbles. He always feels like he's one misstep away from alienating most of the engineers upstairs with his awkwardness, but Mikey never seems to mind it, at least, since he just snorts and makes a go on gesture. "We both thought the gimbal should be double-checked. I spent all last night re-calculating and I think the friction should be minimal, but--"

"Don't sweat it," Mikey interrupts Frank's rambling explanation. "I trust your judgment on the numbers, Iero. Lemme just take a look at the rest and we'll call it good to go."

Frank lets out the deep breath he was holding in and blushes because it must make him seem nervous and immature, which is the last thing he needs, particularly around Mikey, who'll just give him that knowing look that gets under Frank's skin so much. Frank doesn't want to be known, not by his co-workers, not by a mysteriously-motivated quantity like Mikey Way.

Mikey doesn't seem to notice, though, his eyes focused on the blueprints. He looks up again and says, "I'll probably be looking at these for another couple of hours. There's coffee if you want. Over there," he gestures towards a table in the corner of the room.

"You keep a substance you consume in the same room as several dangerous chemicals?" Frank pushes his glasses up his nose and raises his eyebrows.

Startlingly, Mikey cracks a funny sort of grin, like that reminded him of something, and says, "I might have to move it when my brother starts next week, actually. He'd drink anything in the proximity of coffee without looking first."

Frank shifts, confused. "Your brother does--" he waves his hand around at the general array of blowtorches and drills, "too?"

Mikey grins a little wider. "No, he'll be upstairs. In your wing, but on the Robotics end. But he'll be down here all the time stealing my coffee. If he could, he'd forget conventional relationships and marry his coffee maker. If he wasn't such a confirmed bachelor." Mikey has that look on his face again, and Frank glances down at his loafers uncomfortably.

He clears his throat, then says, "Well, it'll be... interesting to meet him. I'll come back for those in a few hours."

Mikey gives him a little salute with his drafting pencil, still watching him with that expression. Frank can't really tell if it's mocking or not, but he ducks his head in acknowledgment, nevertheless, before making a break for the elevator.

 

NASA, Gerard has decided after his first full week in Robotics, is not unlike high school. There are the superstar astronauts and the over-achiever engineers and the under-appreciated administrative personnel and of course, the geeks in the basement. Gerard figures he fits somewhere in the middle of the caste system, as an engineer who is perhaps not over-achieving, but at least passionate and engaged in his project. It's just that the coffee down in the break room has been calling his name for the past fifteen minutes and his protractor is starting to make no sense, no matter which way he angles it. Gerard sighs, rising from his squeaky chair with the cracked vinyl backing, and stretches, spine popping satisfactorily.

NASA even looks a bit like high school, with the industrial government grays and cardboard-y carpeting in the halls. Gerard makes his way across his wing to the break room that separates Robotics from Propulsion. As he nears it, he catches sight of a young man with a pocket protector, thick glasses, and Brylcreemed hair stepping out of an office just down the way. Mikey has mentioned something about a tiny, baby-faced engineer up on the fourth floor who hates his guts, and as soon as Gerard spies this guy, he knows it's him. Never mind that the door's frosted glass is stenciled "DR. FRANK IERO," there is just something about the way he presents himself that's fully as hilarious and charming as Mikey said.

"Hey," calls Gerard, jogging up the hallway to meet him. "I'm Gerard, I just started in Robotics." He smiles pleasantly and watches as Frank adjusts his glasses uncomfortably, like he's unsure why Gerard is introducing himself.

"Nice to meet you," Frank comes out with, eventually, sounding a bit stiff. "Dr. Iero. Propulsion." He pumps Gerard's hand once, grip a little too tight, and smiles briefly.

Gerard can't help grinning at him. Mikey was right; he's gotta be around twenty-one, but he acts like he's forty-five. He probably means it to seem professional, Gerard thinks, but really it's more adorable and amusing; he himself is only twenty-five, but that's a pretty normal age for young engineers just arriving at NASA. This kid, fidgeting in his starched blue shirt and wool trousers, has to be some kind of genius, which is intriguing.

"So Frank," he says, and Frank's brow furrows, like he's not sure if Gerard using his first name is meant to be an insult, and oh wow, this guy is going to make life so much more entertaining at work. "Frank," Gerard continues with a little smile, "walk with me. I was just gonna go steal some of Bob's Tang from the Military Lounge."

Frank's eyebrows shoot up and he glances around like someone's going to swoop down and fire Gerard for even talking about something like that. "Uh," he says, edging away and pressing the break room door open, "I don't think Captain Bryar would appreciate that, Ge-- Doctor--" he stops, realizing he doesn't know Gerard's last name, and sighs. "Anyway, I have to--I have work to do, so. Nice to meet you." He nods shortly and disappears into the room.

Gerard stands there in the hallway, caffeine fix temporarily forgotten, and ponders Frank Iero, hands in his pockets and a funny smile on his face. Mikey had said Iero was twitchy and awkwardly amusing, but he hadn't mentioned how appealing his hazel eyes are or the cowlicks that seem to escape his brutal combing regimen. Mikey wouldn't notice those things, anyway, Gerard admits to himself, turning away and taking the stairs down to the second basement to share his newest fascination.

"I knew you'd like him," Mikey says with a sly smile. He's wielding an unlit blowtorch, protective goggles perched up on his forehead as he examines the prototype he's working on. Gerard thinks it might be a new casing alloy they're testing for heat-resistance, but it could be anything, really. Mikey gets a kick out of playing with blowtorches, in general. It used to scare the pants off their father when he'd pull his '53 Buick into the garage after work to find Mikey melting his GI Joes with a manic grin. Strangely enough, it never much bothered their mother.

"Anyway, thanks for putting in a good word with Wentz," Gerard says, shrugging off Mikey's glance. "It's not exactly chock-full of creative types around here, but I can see how dedicated everyone is to the project." He watches as Mikey takes a low-grade flame to the metal plate, standing well back. "Some more than others," he adds, smirking at Mikey's intent expression.

 

Frank, Gerard quickly learns, is one of the more dedicated engineers at NASA, particularly for a guy his age in an entry level position. He doesn't seem to ever take breaks--just wanders into the kitchen, eyes buried in various diagrams, fumbles for the coffee blindly while reading specs under his breath, and wanders back to his office, sometimes slopping dribs of coffee as he goes--which makes it very difficult for Gerard to get to know him. And Gerard really does want to know him, even beyond the amusement factor that he's positive Frank Iero will bring to his life.

The problem is that Frank is just as difficult to hold a conversation with as he is to pin down. Gerard finally manages to corner Frank in the break room on Monday morning while he waits for the first pot of the day to finish percolating. Frank's got that Monday morning look, too--his hair is still wet, combed carefully off his face, and his glasses magnify the purple half-circles under his eyes.

"Wild weekend?" Gerard inquires with a grin.

Frank turns suddenly, startled, like he didn't realize Gerard was there. "What?" he asks.

"Wild weekend?" Gerard repeats. "You look kind of wrecked."

Frank's gaze skitters away, holds firm on Gerard's right shoulder as he says shortly, "No. Nothing really. Just--extra work."

Gerard blinks but makes another attempt. "I've been there. What were you working on?"

Frank half-turns away to check on the coffee maker, murmuring, "Just... stuff. Re-calculations."

Gerard frowns. He knows that excuse--it's the one he gives his boss when he needs some extra time because he fucked up. "Oh," is all he says. "Well, I should've called you up, then, got you out of the house!"

Frank straightens and gives him an almost worried glance. "Why?"

Gerard laughs. "Slave labor, mostly. I moved all my stuff into Mikey's place on Saturday and he refuses to carry anything heavier than a sofa cushion, I swear. But it would've been nice to see some people outside work, regardless. That and sometimes taking a break from looking at all those numbers is just what you need to help them make sense. At least, that helps me." Gerard smiles.

Frank blinks several times, seems to be processing something, and then replies, "I, uh, wouldn't want to leave my dog alone too much. He's alone so much during the week..."

Gerard's eyes light up with excitement. "You have a dog?"

Frank gets on his tip-toes and reaches up to retrieve a NASA-issue mug out of the cupboard, then pours himself some coffee. "Sure, yeah," he says vaguely, grabbing one sugar cube with the silver emblem-stenciled tongs and plopping it in.

"Cream?" Gerard asks, wheeling around to gesture at the fridge in the corner. He wants to be helpful for some reason; Frank sort of seems like he needs someone to watch out for him. He's so young and yet obviously wary. It's strange.

"No," Frank says, and then adds, "thank you," after a beat.

"I want a dog," Gerard picks up brightly, undeterred, "but Mikey has a cat that he's taking care of for his girlfriend while she finishes college and he insists that the only way we can get one is if we properly introduce it to Bunny and make sure they get along. But nobody is going to let us bring a dog home for a trial period! He won't budge though." Gerard shakes his head sadly.

Frank casts him a funny look out the corner of his eye as he bends to blow at his coffee. "Huh," he says. "He's got a cat named Bunny?" A tiny smile curves at the corner of his mouth and Gerard latches onto it excitedly.

"Well, Alicia does, but same difference at this point, yeah."

Frank huffs a breath of laughter across his coffee, and Gerard nearly falls over. He has to bite his lip to keep from grinning too big and maybe scaring Frank away. "You should see her over the holidays when Alicia's around. They dress her in tiny cat-sized sweaters that Alicia knits when she's in class."

Frank swallows a sip, grimacing as he chokes a little. "Wow, uh, that's--love, I guess?" he offers.

Gerard smiles wistfully. "Yes, yes it is."

Frank fidgets a little, taking a swig from his mug and glancing around the room. "I should..." he gestures vaguely at the door. "Dr. Wentz will be looking for my report in a few hours."

Gerard smiles. "I bet Wentz loves being people's superior. I bet he grins benevolently at you every time you turn something in to him."

"Uh, yeah, he seems to enjoy it," Frank says and starts edging towards the door just as it opens to reveal Mikey.

Mikey gets that weird little smirk on his face as he takes in the two of them. "Hi Dr. Iero, Gerard," he drawls, emphasizing Gerard's name, and they conduct a conversation involving eyebrows and the odd facial twitch.

Frank slips out the door in the middle of it.

 

"So," says Mikey, slumping down across from Frank at the cafeteria table, "d'you think there's Martians?"

Frank looks up incredulously, spluttering on his Coca-Cola. He eyes Mikey's mild expression and disorderly hair and snorts, sure that he's joking, and then goes back to sawing at his breaded chicken cutlet.

"You don't, huh?" Mikey nods wisely, picking up his spoon and swirling it around in the heap of mashed potatoes on his plate.

Frank rolls his eyes a little. Sometimes he wonders whether the Way brothers are all there, honestly. In the past several weeks, they seem to have decided that bothering Frank is their new pet project, constantly following him into the break room and seeking him out during his lunch to discuss really non-essential, irrelevant, sometimes ridiculous things. "I'm not discussing this with you," he replies firmly.

"Hey!" yells Mikey, ignoring Frank and waving furiously. "Gee, over here!"

Frank scowls and his knife squeaks against his plate.

"Hey!" he hears Gerard greet them breathlessly, tumbling into the seat next to Mikey. "I got the best NASA joke for you guys, okay?"

Frank can feel Gerard looking at him, trying to attract his attention, but he doesn't glance up. "Okay, okay," Gerard continues after a second, dramatically, "what's the difference between a rocket and a rocket scientist?"

Mikey hiccups a weird little giggle and prompts, "What?"

Gerard grins, Frank can see, looking briefly up at his face. He spreads his hands, pleased at Frank's attention, and snickers, "A rocket can get it up!"

Mikey dissolves into giggle spasms and Frank blushes embarrassingly, shaking his head. Gerard beams and adds slyly, "Although I think maybe it should be more like, 'A rocket scientist pays other people to get him up.'"

Frank bites down on his cheek and coughs, adjusts his glasses nervously. "I don't think that's--"

"Frank was telling me about the Martians," Mikey interrupts with a smirk and a quick glance at Gerard.

Frank sighs. "I was not," he refutes. "I was telling Mikey that scientifically speaking, it's highly improbable that there are horror movie monsters on Mars."

Gerard observes him for a moment, smiling his odd secret smile that makes Frank want to go hide in his office with the blinds drawn. "But it would be pretty cool if there were, right?"

Frank sets down his knife and looks meaningfully at him. "It would be pretty cool," he manages steadily, "if I could massacre this cutlet in peace and worry about how to get us to Mars in the first place."

Gerard shrugs, unaffected, and rattles on about how Wentz seriously has the best dirty jokes of anyone in their building, period. Frank sighs internally, wondering why on earth the Ways have taken to him so strongly when he's clearly a wet blanket and all.

 

Frank honestly hates weekends. It's too much time to sit around his small, dingy apartment and get distracted from the work he brings home to occupy the time. There are some bright spots--taking Nikola out for a run in the park or on the beach, although Frank's childhood asthma was such that he inevitably ends up bent over, wheezing, while Nikola frolics and yips at him. He even sort of enjoys having the time to look at the cookbooks he checks out from the library and try his hand at red velvet cake and other things he remembers his mother baking when he was a kid.

The real problem with weekends is the forced isolation. No matter how much Frank wishes he didn't, he craves someone to talk to, or even just listen to, like the banal chatter at work that makes him feel like he's part of something. This, along with... other things, is what drives his main fear of weekends: the fact that he will probably end up lonely enough to go out.

The only gay bar within fifty miles, Alfonzo's, is burrowed away on a dead-end street in the bad section of downtown, where cops regularly come knocking for payoffs and occasionally conduct a desultory raid of the back room. Frank's never been unlucky enough to be there on one of those nights, but then he doesn't go that often in the first place for fear of undercover cops. Also because he prefers to take care of business in his bathroom at home, where he can imagine whomever he wants rather than risking everything to find some miserable married guy to blow quickly in the gritty, sticky bathroom at the bar.

Frank gets intensely twitchy every time he goes to Alfonzo's, which, he thinks, probably makes him look like he's got a nasty drug habit. He prefers to sit at the corner of the bar, facing the door, so he can watch who comes in to make sure he doesn't know them. The only problem with this vantage point is that he can't see the back entrance or the restrooms, but it's a minor worry he's usually willing to ignore. Tonight, though, when Frank glances to his left at the man who's just sidled up to the bar, he wishes like hell that he hadn't.

"Frank!" Gerard gives a friendly little salute, face lighting up in surprised pleasure. "Imagine running into a sweet thing like you in a rough place like this."

Frank gapes, so utterly stunned that it takes a moment for his heart to start pounding in panic. Somehow Gerard must've managed to sneak in when he'd looked away for a second, Frank thinks, or--his brain whispers--maybe he was in the bathroom with some guy the whole time. He shakes that thought away because it makes him uncomfortable for some reason, even more than he already is under Gerard's interested gaze. Frank sips his gin and tonic--the only cocktail he knows to order, because it was what his father made every night after work--and taps his fingertips on the dark wood bar, hunching down a little, hoping desperately that Gerard will just disappear.

Gerard sits right down next to him, though, and orders a White Russian, smiles at the middle-aged bartender, and tells Frank, "Tastes just like coffee with cream, my kind of drink."

Frank nods jerkily, still paralyzed, stomach churning as he forces down another sip. Gerard is actually waiting for Frank to say something, for once, expression intent and friendly, but Frank just sits there swishing his drink around in the glass and bolting some down every once in a while.

Finally, Gerard shifts and says, "So, I haven't seen you around as much this week. Busy with a project?"

Frank can't help the nervous, incredulous laugh that escapes him. Gerard came up to him at the local gay bar to ask about work? He knocks back the last of his drink and raises an unsteady finger for another one. "Sure," he says, "I'm very busy with work. I'm always busy with work." He grits his teeth as his gut protests; it's not used to liquor on an empty stomach. "What are you doing here?" he asks and then immediately wishes he hadn't. Still, it's the question that's been cycling through his mind frantically for the past several minutes.

Gerard lets out a surprised little laugh. "Well, Dr. Iero, I can think of quite a few reasons to be here!" He leers hilariously. "But mostly, I wanted a drink and maybe to meet a new friend or two, since I'm new here. And my brother made me."

Frank winces and glances around to make sure no one's listening to their conversation. "Don't call me that here," he whispers urgently.

Gerard's eyes widen and he pulls back, looking around, himself. "No one cares who you are, here, Frank, come on. That's the reason we all come!"

Frank shrugs. That's probably true, but it doesn't stop him from losing sleep over it sometimes--the fear that some cop will follow his car home, see his mailbox, find him in his government job and then--"Never mind," he says. After a moment, his brows pull together and he looks over at Gerard, who's twirling back and forth on his stool, watching the dance floor. "Your brother made you come?" Frank asks incredulously.

Gerard grins crookedly. "According to Mikey, if left to my own devices I would spend all my time in my room drawing and forget that people exist. He's probably right. So he somehow came up with the address of this place and shoved me out the door."

"Huh. That's--weird," Frank comes out with. "I mean, he knows? He's--he encourages it?" The idea is so foreign to him, that someone, that family could accept such a thing, even support it. Frank's parents are high on his list of Those Who Can Never Find Out.

Gerard shrugs. "Yeah. I guess it probably is weird. But I can't really remember a time that he didn't know. I've always known, so Mikey has, too. I'm pretty lucky to have him as my brother. Do you have any family in the area?"

"I'm--" Frank starts, and then stops himself. Why was he about to tell Gerard his personal business? "I'm not from around here," he finishes, setting down his drink. Things've gotten too friendly for his comfort already; bars are for meeting guys in the bathroom, knocking back a few, and then going home, and it's past time, since he's obviously not going to meet anyone besides Gerard tonight. "Nice to see you," he murmurs, tossing a tip on the bar and grabbing his jacket. "I assume you won't be mentioning this at work."

Gerard's watching him with considerable surprise written all over his face. "Well, no," he ventures. "Are you really leaving? I was hoping... we were just..."

Frank smiles tightly, jams his hands into his pockets. "Seriously," he repeats, paranoia rushing back, a tight ball in the pit of his stomach, "don't mention this."

"I... no, of course not," Gerard's eyebrows are drawn together in confusion and he bites his lip. "I feel like I should be apologizing, but I'm not sure what I did. Um... have a good night, then, I guess." He turns to the bartender and asks for another drink.

Frank stands there for a short moment, feeling almost guilty about the tinge of hurt he heard in Gerard's voice. The thing is, though, he tells himself as he follows Gerard's lead and turns away, that he's never been good at "social," and Gerard's got to know that by now. Mikey certainly does.

The thought squeezes briefly at his insides as he makes his way out to the car--Gerard is definitely going to tell his brother that Frank was here tonight. He unlocks the door and slams it behind him, hangs onto the wheel tightly while his breath comes fast and panicked. That makes two people who know.

 

The next day at work, though, Mikey teases him the same as always and doesn't even look at him differently. Frank's not sure if Gerard isn't planning on telling him or just didn't have the opportunity yet. Gerard actually makes his presence known much less than normal, not stopping by to bother Frank during his coffee breaks, which is mostly understandable. At lunch in the cafeteria, though, he still finds Gerard smiling at him from across the table over Bryar's and Toro's bickering.

Frank doesn't smile back. It worries him that he sort of wants to, so he makes a point not to do it. He can't imagine what makes Gerard think Frank would want to associate with him at work, now that... now that he knows exactly what Gerard's many eccentricities add up to. It's asking for trouble. Gerard is clearly one of those people who makes you trust him, like him, confide in him--Frank can tell. He's not going to get caught up in that, though. He's going to work on streamlining the final draft of his propulsion systems model because the deadline for that project is the end of next week and he's got the coolant pump to re-route, still.

He's chewing his sandwich and frowning over this problem when Captain Bryar's hand comes down on his shoulder. "Don't you think, Iero?" he asks.

"Uh, sure," Frank agrees, because that's usually safe with Bryar.

"Really?" Mikey cackles from across the table. "You don't seem like the type, Frank!"

Frank stiffens, automatically casting his eyes over to Gerard, who looks just as skeptical. Frank relaxes slightly. "The type to what?"

Bryar hits him on the back of the head. "I knew you weren't listening, Iero, Christ. The luau next weekend? Hawaiian-themed?" he prompts.

Frank shrugs blankly.

"Well, it's too late to back out now. You already agreed!" Toro grins. "If the rest of us have to suffer through it, you do, too."

"Oh, it'll be fun!" Gerard smiles at Toro. "Get a few Mai Tais in you and even making nice with Dr. Pelissier will seem like a good time."

Toro wrinkles up his nose. "No, I'm pretty sure there's not enough alcohol in the world to make talking to that guy a good time."

"Anyway," Bryar continues, "it's at seven on Saturday at Wentz's place. It's going to be huge--the words 'small' and 'party' have never belonged in the same sentence, with that guy."

Frank grimaces. "Sounds lovely. Hawaiian-themed? Does this require a... costume of some sort?"

"Wentz's parties always require a costume of some sort," Mikey answers dryly. "But I think with this one you can probably get away with just a Hawaiian shirt."

Frank nods glumly, imagining the sea of drunken, pale engineers in garish colors, already. It sounds fairly hellish, but it's still probably better than staying home and watching Andy Griffith with Nikola, he supposes.

 

Gerard stands just outside of Frank's office for several minutes, debating whether he should try to talk to the guy--reassure him a little, maybe. After he left the bar last weekend, he'd walked the twelve blocks to his and Mikey's place, kicking loose gravel on the sidewalk and feeling sorry for himself because he really sort of likes Frank and, well, Frank doesn't seem to like him. By Sunday, though, he'd decided to just give it another go, but try to be a little gentler with his approach this time.

Transferring the mug of coffee he brought to his left hand, he knocks on the doorjamb and pokes his head in, smiling hopefully, and calls, "Hey, Frank! How goes your toiling?"

Frank jerks and stares at him, blanching a bit and then glancing away like Gerard might retreat back into the hallway if he doesn't pay too much attention. "What are you doing here?" he mumbles.

Gerard's face falls. "I... sorry to startle you. I just wanted to see how you were doing." He takes a few steps into the room and gingerly sets the coffee on Frank's desk before backing out. Frank doesn't even look over at him, steadfastly searching through his filing cabinet. Gerard's pretty sure he's not actually looking for anything in particular, though.

Thumping down the back stairs to the second basement, Gerard's relieved to find Mikey alone, muttering over his work. He glances up at Gerard's heavy footsteps, chewing his pencil and tapping his fingers against a set of blueprints. "Hey," he greets, frowning. "Second visit this morning, is everything okay?"

Gerard grabs a mug of coffee, sits down, and frowns silently. Mikey watches him for several seconds, then goes back to studying his diagrams. Gerard props his chin in his hand and slowly sips his coffee, feeling disappointed and kind of chagrined. He probably should've guessed that Frank wouldn't be any more comfortable with Gerard now than he ever has been, but--he'd sort of hoped.

After a bit, he heaves a sigh and takes a big gulp of coffee. It's still too hot and it burns all the way down. "Fuck!" he gasps after swallowing. "Why am I such an idiot? That's a rhetorical question."

Mikey cackles silently at him for a brief moment, then settles down a bit. "If it's rhetorical, then I can't help you," he shrugs, concerned smile pulling at his mouth.

Gerard spares him a dry look. "I can't really... it's complicated," he sighs again. "For once in my life, I would like things to be simple, you know? Just once. I know, I know I've chosen a life that doesn't really make that possible. Doesn't mean I can't wish things were different once in a while." He glares down into his coffee as if it were purposefully too hot.

Mikey snorts. "Chosen. Yeah."

Gerard blows on the surface of his coffee, looks up at Mikey and smiles wryly before taking a careful sip. "Well, either way," he dismisses with a wave of his hand. "It's hardly relevant when everything I touch just turns to--" he stops, sighs. He's being a melodramatic fuck and he knows this, but it's what he does. Mikey knows it even better than he does, in fact, so it's not like he minds.

Mikey sets down his chewed-up pencil and leans against the table, gangly limbs folding with an awkward grace. He glances down the length of the empty workshop, then says quietly, "Look, it's not like I haven't noticed this going on, Gerard. Hell, it's not even like I didn't suspect it before you ever got here, so don't act like this is somehow your fault, okay? There are some people who just... can't deal with things. Not everyone is as..." he harrumphs a small cough, averting his eyes, "as brave as you are. As accepting. So just--keep that in mind."

Gerard's lips quirk up a bit. "Some would call me incredibly foolish." His shoulders roll upward. "I probably am. But you're right. I know you are." He sighs again and then grins. "So, we should go to the pound this weekend and see if there are any dogs you think Bunny will find acceptable."

Mikey sighs long-sufferingly. "Alicia would skin me alive, c'mon. You need to get your small needy creature fix elsewhere."

Gerard shoots him a sharp look, but Mikey just widens his eyes innocently. "Anyway, it's not like there's room in the apartment for a dog, now that you've got the study packed full of your Captain Americas."

"Captain America is important! And if we got a small dog it would be okay. It's not like I want a German Shepherd. C'mon, Mikey. I'd get a hamster, but Bunny would eat it! Actually, she'd probably eat a dog, too, but it's less likely."

Mikey snickers. "Tell you what--you convince Alicia that Bunny needs a little sibling to, y'know, adjust her or something, and stop making me the bad guy, here. Then we'll talk."

Gerard bites his lip to keep from pouting. Alicia is sweet as pie and perfect for Mikey, but she still intimidates the hell out of him when she gets protective.

"So--um--how about we just drive up to Tallahassee for a weekend and take her to the pound and get whichever puppy she likes best? I think a puppy would do a better job of convincing her than I could." Gerard grins. "And you could see her and actually leave campus because you'll have a chaperone."

Mikey perks right up at that, and Gerard smirks. "Voila! Multiple problems solved," he sing-songs.

Mikey flushes almost imperceptibly and rolls his eyes. "Sure, okay." He manages to sound reluctant somehow, which is just hilarious.

Gerard smiles sunnily, almost managing to forget his rotten mood, thinking about the adorable, cuddly little dog he's going to get. Soon.

 

Frank stares at the coffee mug Gerard left on his desk unhappily and pushes his hair back off his forehead. The coffee smells really good. After a few minutes, he picks it up, fully intending to bring it straight back to the lounge and leave it for someone who might actually drink it, because Frank just can't. Somehow, though, he ends up in the elevator, leaning tiredly against the cool metal wall and punching a button at random, clutching the mug in a fist that's trembling just a bit. He doesn't know where he's going; he just wants to get away from this floor, away from Gerard and all the work in his office and how overwhelmed he feels by everything lately.

The elevator shudders to a stop, opens, and Bryar gets in, smiling in surprise. "So, Dr. Iero! Rocket scientists don't usually come up this way."

Frank opens and closes his mouth a bit like a fish. Captain Bryar is unfailingly kind with his teasing, but he still makes Frank somewhat nervous, simply because--well, he's an astronaut. At the best of times, Frank is properly in awe of the military wing of NASA, and he's feeling pretty fragile right now. "Oh," he manages to eke out, "well, I was just--taking a walk. You know, brainstorming." That sounds okay, he thinks, fairly believable.

"You look like you need a break from brainstorming. Come to my office, I got a new delivery of freeze-dried foods I'm supposed to taste test. Wanna help?"

Frank gapes some more. Is this what astronauts do all day? he wonders dumbly for a brief moment before sense prevails. "Sure," he agrees quickly, because who is he to turn down Bryar, and--well, it sounds kind of fun. And distracting.

"You'll regret it. They try to get us to eat the weirdest shit, man. And let me tell you, freeze-dried tuna is vile." Bryar chuckles. The elevator opens and he puts his arm in front of the door and gestures for Frank to go through.

Frank chokes a little, then chuckles obligingly. "Sounds it. I heard the orange drink is a hit, at least?"
Bryar laughs and nods. "Mostly because it washes away the taste of the food."

Frank pulls a face.

Bryar laughs. "Yeah, it's pretty gruesome. But they're trying to make it a little more edible for us. And frankly, when you're up there, you don't really care much about what you're eating."

Frank hangs back in the doorway when they reach Bryar's corner office with a view of the parking lot. It's not precisely glamorous, but it's a far cry from Frank's cramped quarters with one noisy air vent.

Bryar gestures for him to come in and sit while rummaging around in a drawer. "Of course, a good meal up there would be better than any meal ever eaten down here."

"I bet," Frank agrees, gingerly seating himself in one of the brown leather-upholstered office chairs. "Anything's your mother's cooking when you're a hundred miles up, huh?"

Bryar nods seriously. "Even the tuna's palatable up there." He hands over an opened vacuum pack, encouraging grin on his face, and Frank reaches in tentatively, pulling out a cube of... some kind of gelatin-coated foodstuff, he imagines.

"I don't even recognize this," he hedges dubiously. He's not about to back down, though, so he takes a bite. It tastes... like food-flavored styrofoam, to be honest, weirdly grainy and dry.

Bryar laughs at his expression and says, "They're working on better reconstitution, too, or so I'm solemnly promised after every test flight."

"I should hope so. That's... nothing meant to be put in the human mouth is supposed to have that texture." Frank stares at the other half of what he bit into. "Is this supposed to be... spaghetti and meat sauce?"

Bryar grins, pleased. "You've got some sharp taste buds, my friend. Took me halfway through re-entry the first time I went up to figure out what the hell I'd eaten for dinner the night before. Trohman, the asshole, thought it'd be hilarious to haze the rookie by stealing the label."

Frank takes a quick sip of his coffee to mask the unpleasant lingering taste in his mouth and laughs appreciatively. "Well, you'll probably get some much better food this weekend, at least. Toro mentioned Wentz is, uh--going the whole hog." He snorts a little at his terrible pun. "As it were," he adds apologetically, flushing how nerdy that was.

Bryar just tips his head back and laughs. "Wentz never does anything by half, that's for sure. Knew him back in Chicago and he was always this side of insane. Having a wife and baby has done nothing to mellow him. If anything, it's made him even crazier."

Frank shrugs awkwardly; he can't really say much about his immediate superior. "Well, he's definitely, you know, different." Wentz is different, but in a way that people either appreciate or get taken from behind by, and it's obviously worked to his advantage. Frank wishes he could say the same for his own... quirks.

"Different is certainly a good word for him. He's made it work for him, though. Honestly, I'm surprised he didn't go into politics. He's good at convincing people of things. That's why he's in the position he is--he talked a lot of people into supporting the program," Bryar explains. "Lucky for us, he's good at more than just talking. We've had a few people here who could talk real nice, but couldn't actually do anything useful."

Frank makes an agreeing noise; he's heard scuttlebutt about the funding scramble for the program in the early days. "Well," he says, "I guess we owe him one, then." He smiles and pokes at the food-cube a little. "I should probably get back and finish up that report for him as a thank-you-for-my-job gesture."

Bryar grins. "You ever wanna taste test more of this stuff, just come on up. Things can get a little boring around here between missions. You scientists do all the real work."

"Well, far be it from me to turn down your home cooking, Bryar." Frank smiles, eyeing the remains of the crumbling cube. "Thanks for--thanks."

"No problem," he replies, sweeping the food, bag and all, into the nearest trash can. "See you Saturday at Wentz's, then?"

"Uh--yeah, I think so. I don't see any reason why not. You and Toro are going?"

Bryar nods. "And I better see you, Iero," he threatens pleasantly. "If anyone ever needed some fresh air and pit barbecue, it's you."

Frank laughs self-consciously, nods, and slips out the door. As he steps into the elevator across the hall, he realizes he left his coffee--Gerard's coffee--in Bryar's office. He sighs, worry settling back down over him as the elevator descends to the fourth floor. For the first time in a long time, he can't wait for the weekend to arrive.

 

Frank tries really hard not to show up too early at Wentz's, but he thinks he might've overshot a little bit. His mother always told him it was polite to be prompt for social engagements, but in his experience that's not always the case. By the time he pulls his battered car up the last sand dune of Wentz's winding driveway, he can hear loud shouts and the Beach Boys blasting and see what he thinks are called tiki torches dotted along the darkening beach.

He sighs, climbs out of the car, and starts to follow the path lit by the torches. The music and voices get louder and Frank's palms start to sweat. The first person he sees is Bryar, who calls out, "Iero, get over here and tell Toro that he's wrong! He won't listen to reason!"

Frank feels a smile stretching across his face and he walks over to the two of them. "Hey," he greets, sticking his hands in his pockets and rocking back and forth on his heels a bit. "Toro, you're wrong," he adds obligingly, glancing at Bryar, who gives him a thumbs up and then an approving whack on the shoulder.

"My boy," he announces, grinning and sucking back a bottle of Double Diamond. "Glad you came--wasn't sure you would!"

Frank shrugs, glancing longingly at Bryar's beer because he could really use some himself. Small talk is okay, except that a lot of the time it ends up involving locker room stories and... well, the sorts of things that Frank is just not equipped to deal with. "Sure I came," he replies, like it was a simple decision, like he didn't stand in his bedroom for half an hour staring at his three patterned polos, wondering which would look least ridiculous and out-of-place. Like he didn't nearly pull a U-turn twice on the way over--once, when it occurred to him that Gerard would be here.

"Drinks're that-a-way," Bryar directs with one hand, and Frank starts and has to remind himself that everyone drinks at parties and no one is reading his mind.

He wanders over in that general direction to find a giant aluminum tub full of ice and various brands of beer. Frank grabs one at random and makes his way back over to Toro and Bryar. They've clearly moved on from whatever Toro was wrong about and on to talking about bands they've seen play at the clubs around the city. Frank doesn't really have much to contribute to the conversation; he can't remember the last time he went out with the intention of hearing a band play. Apparently, though, they're both amateur musicians who sometimes jam together.

"Frank, you play anything?" Bob asks, taking a sip of his beer and lighting a cigarette.

"Ah, I played guitar back in high school and undergrad. I haven't touched it in a while, though." Frank lights his own cigarette and tries to remember the last time he even looked at his guitar. Even just the case. Probably when he moved.

Toro's face lights up, though, and he insists, "You should join us, sometime! We just sit around in Bob's den and play whatever songs come to mind. Sometimes we make stuff up, but it's not formal or anything."

Frank takes a long pull of his beer and nods noncommitally. That actually sounds kind of fun, not that he'll ever go, probably. "Sounds cool," he says. "I think the last time I played anything it was Buddy Holly or something, though, so, y'know. Three-chord rock'n'roller."

Toro laughs and says, "That's all you need, though! Seriously, I'll let you know next time we get together, all right?"

Bryar nods. "Food included, even. No freeze-dried shit."

Frank giggles loudly and nearly slaps his hand over his mouth, utterly mortified. Everyone in school teased him for that and he tries really hard not to laugh around people anymore. He glances down at his empty bottle and guesses he's maybe further along on his way to tipsy than he'd imagined.

Toro and Bryar just grin and laugh with him, though. He runs a hand through his hair and drains the rest of his beer, ashes his cigarette into the bottle, and takes a long drag. "As long as freeze-dried spaghetti isn't on the menu, it might be fun. And as long as Wentz doesn't have me working crazy hours."

"Aw, let me take care of Wentz," Bryar boasts, eyes twinkling. "Hey, another round?"

Toro nods, snickering at Bryar's claims of influence. "I'll grab some." He wanders off toward the tub and Frank's eyes follow him briefly, noting the table of food with a gigantic roast pig in the middle, and he's about to make some comment to Bryar about it when he sees Gerard and Mikey out the corner of his eye.

"Shit," he murmurs, and turns back to Bryar, who has clearly not sensed Frank's discomfort because he's raising his arm and calling, "Ways! Get over here. Tell Iero he's wrong!"

"Is this how you make all your friends?" Frank cracks nervously, edging away a little so at least he won't be surrounded when they get over here.

"Yup," Bryar says, but doesn't elaborate and then the Ways are upon them.

"Frank, you're wrong," Mikey states. "Doesn't that get old, Bryar?"

Bryar grins in a self-satisfied way, grabbing a bottle from Toro as he returns. "Nope. Not as long as you all play right into my hands."

"Hey guys," Toro greets Mikey and Gerard. "Shit, sorry, I only got three." He hands Frank a beer and shrugs apologetically.

"Don't worry about it," laughs Gerard. "We're good and buzzed already, I think. Wentz spiked the punch that Ashlee made earlier with coconut rum and they had a screaming fight over it while we all got toasted. I think they went back inside after that." He raises his eyebrows meaningfully and smirks. Frank tries to look away but it's sort of... captivating.

Gerard's eyes land on his and Frank has a brief moment of panic, but Gerard just looks over at Toro and asks if Krista is here somewhere. Frank takes a deep breath and a long drink of his beer and looks over at the beach for a moment. When he returns to the conversation, Mikey is giving him a calculating look.

Frank tries not to flinch, but it's difficult, and he finally drags his eyes away when he can't take it anymore. He really hates how Mikey just looks like he knows... things... all the time. It's almost as bad as Gerard, except for how Gerard makes Frank's stomach cramp up, on top of everything else. That is definitely worse. He slugs back more beer and tunes out of the conversation, staring at the sand and thinking about how there was a time when he would've killed for this kind of thing--parties, friends, relative normalcy--but right now it just reminds him of how he can never really be like everyone else here, no matter what.

"Right, Frank?" Toro's voice cuts into his thoughts.

"What? Sorry. I was--lost." Frank can feel his cheeks getting hot.

Toro laughs. "I could tell. I was saying you play guitar and we'd bribed you into joining us."

"Oh, I--" Frank's all flustered because, well, he didn't really mean he'd go and he doesn't want Gerard--or anyone--to think that he plays well. "I guess, yeah. Kind of."

Mikey snorts and Frank glances up to meet his amused gaze.

"That's great, Frank," Gerard replies, almost gently, and Frank's eyes edge over to him of their own accord before shooting back down to his beer. Beer, right. He drinks some more.

"They let Gerard play with them once and I think it's actually impossible to be worse at it than he is, so chances are, compared to him, you're a guitar genius," Mikey comments, smirking at his brother.

"Hey!" Gerard punches Mikey's arm lightly, and then grimaces. "It's true. I'm terrible. I play every fifth chord because I can't make the transitions fast enough."

Frank giggles and manages not to blush too horribly this time, at least. "At least we're not amateur rocket scientists, I guess. Much more deadly." His stomach swims a little, suddenly, and he puts his hand to it, breathes out. "Huh, I think--I'm gonna get some air."

Bryar pats him on the back and Toro nods. "Sure, man. You need any help?"

"No," Frank replies, just as Gerard volunteers, "Here, I'll come with. Could use a little walk."

Frank can barely keep himself from protesting vehemently, but he holds in a sigh and makes his way towards the nearest exit to the beach.

It's a beautiful night, really. The stars are just starting to come out and the sand is still warm from the day's sun. His stomach churns again and he takes a couple of deep breaths.

"Hey," Gerard says softly, reaching out and skimming his fingers over Frank's elbow as if to hold him steady. Instead, Frank shivers and thinks how he should be worried about whether anyone can still see them, down beyond the tufts of beach grass, but he's past caring very much at the moment.

"Hey," Gerard says again, in a different tone, "let's go wading!" He seems really excited about it, face lit and eyes out on the licking waves, scruffy hair blowing across his cheeks.

"Okay," Frank finds himself saying. He doesn't know why. He's just abruptly really tired of caring about keeping up appearances, and at least with Gerard, at least when he's rather drunk, it seems useless to try.

Gerard plops down on the sand and unties his shoes and strips off his socks, rolling up the cuffs of his pants. He looks up at Frank and smiles, asking, "You gonna stand there or are you gonna come wading with me?"

Frank carefully lowers himself to the sand and follows Gerard's lead, removing his socks and shoes and rolling up his pantlegs. "I don't think I've done this since I was fourteen and we went to Atlantic City on vacation."

Gerard grins in surprise, leaning over and tucking Frank's socks into his canvas sneakers so they don't get all sandy. "Yeah?" he asks. "Are you from Jersey, or just--Mikey and I are from Jersey."

Frank can't help but smile back. "Yeah, I'm from Jersey. Born and raised in Belleville."

"No shit?" Gerard laughs happily, rising to his feet and grabbing Frank's hands, pulling him up along with. "Small fuckin' world." He leads them out into the shallows, keeping a hand at the small of Frank's back. "Don't go too far, okay, I don't want you to drown."

Frank huffs and splashes at Gerard's shins. "I'm fine," he insists.

"You looked like you were gonna pass out. Last I checked, close to passing out did not equal fine. Also, hey!" Gerard splashes back at Frank.

Frank giggles, nearly doubling over. For some reason Gerard splashing water like a little kid just does him in. He gasps a little, hands on his knees, and then coughs, repeating, "'m fine. Just not real used to drinking, I guess." He sighs. "Such a nerd." He's got salt spray spattered on his left glasses lens somehow and he squints, trying to rub it against his shirt, but it just smears. "A nerd who can no longer see anything through his left eye," he sighs and gives up. "So you and Mikey are from Jersey? North? South?"

Gerard smirks and pulls Frank back out of the water. "Here," he says, hooking two fingers over the arm of Frank's glasses and tugging lightly. "My shirt's softer, I bet it'll work."

Frank stands, feet buried in the warm sand, and waits blindly while Gerard fiddles with his lens.

"From North Jersey," Gerard finally replies. "From--" he sounds almost embarrassed, "from Belleville, too, actually. I promise I'm not a stalker."

"That's... weird. You go to Belleville High?"

"Yep. Or, Hellville High as we liked to call it." Gerard slips Frank's glasses back onto his face and over his ears.

Frank blinks through the growing dark at him. He spends a moment distracted by the feel of Gerard's fingers on his ears, but eventually has the presence of mind to say, "I guess that explains why I never met you or Mikey, then. I was stuck at Queen of Peace, which was plenty hellish. Still odd, though. Belleville's not that big."

"No," Gerard admits, wandering a little further up the beach. Frank joins him after a moment, and they stare up at the sky together, which, Frank reflects with a burst of drunken logic, is incredibly big.

After a minute, he feels dizzy, so he fumbles his way down and lies back on the sand. He stares at the sky and imagines himself up there, flying above the atmosphere, and makes quiet, wistful rocket ship noises. Being an astronaut would be pretty cool, he thinks.

Gerard settles onto the sand next to him with a soft thump. They lie on the beach staring up at the stars for a while before Frank realizes that he's making the rocket ship noises out loud, not just in his daydreams. He presses his lips into a firm line and breathes out through his nose. His ears feel hot.

Gerard doesn't say anything about it though, just starts talking quietly about the sky above them, pointing to the things he likes. For the first time, Frank listens and finds Gerard's voice soothing, rather than sparking every paranoid idea he's ever had. It's nice, lying on the sand, staring up at the stars, listening to Gerard talk. He seems to know all the mythology about the constellations, basically every solar body the ancient Greeks and Romans could see, and the stories he tells about what's above them are interesting. Frank's never heard them before, not really, but Gerard seems to think they explain something about what's up there.

The thing is, Frank reflects, he never had the patience to sit still very much as a kid, except when he was behind his telescope, so to him, the stars were always fascinating because they were gigantic balls of pulsating energy. But he can see why Gerard is into the whole constellation thing, he guesses, even though the stories obviously aren't true.

Franks wrinkles his nose and concentrates on the stars Gerard is pointing to, then hmms and says, "I mean, I see that, I guess. But you do know that the whole idea is scientifically dubious, right? People on earth are the only beings in the solar system who see the stars in that particular illusory pattern and--and thus--y'know--interpret them in that way," he pauses as Gerard stifles a sound, then adds, "But metaphorically, it's quite moving."

Gerard's snickers grow into a full-fledged, incredulous laugh as he turns to look over at Frank.

Frank sits up and glares down at him, suddenly really aware that his hair is all cowlicky in the back and he has sand stuck to the seat of his pants. He feels ridiculous and exposed; he's trying to make an effort and Gerard is laughing at him.

Gerard abruptly stops laughing and sighs, pulling Frank back down. "I'm not laughing at you. I'm sorry. You make me all nervous sometimes."

Frank snorts, because Gerard is the one who's always making him nervous with his hovering presence and his coffee when Frank is clearly busy. "Okay," he drawls.

Gerard just sighs again and they're both quiet for a few moments before he explains, "I guess what I've been trying to say is that to me, space isn't about science or even metaphors, really. It's about the places it takes my imagination. Science and space exploration are just... my way of opening up new pathways for the imagination."

Frank relaxes a bit, shoulders falling back into the sand, brushing Gerard's. "Yeah," he agrees after several minutes of contemplation. "Okay. I mean, I used to build rockets out of Campbell's cans and stuff, and that wasn't really science so much as exploration, I guess. So I sort of get what you mean. I always wanted to go faster and farther and get somewhere." He glances over at Gerard cautiously, like maybe he'll start teasing him about being a little boy playing with the big kids.

Gerard turns his head and looks Frank in the eyes and smiles. Almost beams, really. "Yes, exactly. Every day we do something amazing, it feels like the first time I saw Sputnik up in the sky, as if the sky is not the limit and if we can just... keep reaching and learning and imagining, we can reach beyond the moon."

Frank can't help the way his throat tightens for a moment, not really. Gerard's smile is just radiant and Frank grins, suddenly so pleased with himself and with the world and everything they're working toward. His glasses are slipping down his nose, blurring everything in the dim light of the night sky, and he thumbs them up carelessly and then reaches over to pat awkwardly at Gerard's hand where it rests on his chest.

Gerard flips his hand over and gives Franks fingers a squeeze before raising his arms and gesturing at the sky. "I just get frustrated when we lose sight of that for other stuff."

"Huh," Frank agrees thoughtfully. "Yeah. There's a lot more out there than down here, anyway."

"Sometimes I think it'd be nice to just leave all this behind. The politics and the wars and the hiding, and just everything, and go find an unoccupied corner of space to live in. I know it's ridiculous and not even possible, but sometimes I think it'd be nice," Gerard murmurs dreamily.

Frank giggles unexpectedly and then bites down on his lip to muffle it. "Yeah, maybe," he allows teasingly. "If we keep up at this pace, maybe there'll really be a Mars colony someday."

Gerard laughs. "Maybe someday there will." He lapses into silence and grins over at Frank.

Frank smiles back at him, full of overwhelming contentedness. He and Gerard just lie there, smiling back and forth at each other goofily, huffing laughter every now and then, and Gerard's eyes are so alive and warm and Frank can't remember anyone ever looking at him like this. Like he's special, worth the look.

He raises his hand tentatively, sand sieving through his fingers, and reaches out to brush them over Gerard's cheek, just lightly. It's warmer than he expected, bathed in the moon's blue light, and he startles a little, lets out a small noise. He feels light-headed and relaxed and better than he has in months, possibly years, and for once in his life, he follows his first instinct and leans over and places his lips on Gerard's.

Gerard's steady breath stutters against Frank's lips, neither of them moving, and Frank's eyes slowly blink open--when did he close them?--and Gerard's lashes are laid against his cheeks, his brow tense as if he's in pain. Frank is suddenly aware of how clumsy his thick glasses are, poking uncomfortably, and he draws away, sitting up, sober awareness pouring over him. "Oh God," he whispers. "I--"

Gerard's eyes snap open, dark and unreadable, and he shakes himself, pushing up after Frank. "It's okay--it's--" he reaches for Frank's knee, grasping it firmly and nudging his nose against Frank's cheek. "If you want... it's okay."

Frank turns slightly, squeezes his eyes shut and presses his lips to Gerard's again, more firmly because, he thinks wildly, he'll probably never have another chance. He's never kissed anyone before, never been kissed. It's not something that's done in bathrooms at bars. Gerard moves slightly, somehow fits his lips less awkwardly against Frank's and it's--

There are footsteps coming over the sand dune, padding footsteps. Frank jerks back and practically launches himself up onto his feet. This really can't be happening to him.

When Mikey descends though the beach grasses, a wave of relief wars with the horror that's rolling in his stomach. He can't even bring himself to look at Gerard as he scrambles away, following the path Mikey just came down.

He jogs to his car and falls in, turning the key and pulling out fast down the driveway. Halfway back to his apartment, he has to pull over to the side of the road and vomit in a bush on somebody's front lawn. When he gets back in his car, he rests his head on the steering wheel for a moment, breathing deeply and trying to ignore the taste in his mouth. It's only then that he realizes he left his shoes and socks on the beach.

 

Gerard stares after Frank for several moments as he disappears over the dune, shocked into silence, then bites his lip sharply and turns away from Mikey's still figure, toward the water. He pulls his knees up to his chest, hugging his arms around them, jaw clenched.

Mikey toes off his shoes and crouches down in the sand, joining him silently. "I fucked up, huh?" he says tonelessly after a moment. "Sorry. I just got worried after awhile."

Gerard takes a deep, shaky breath and admits, "It's not your fault. This probably would've happened anyway. Even if you hadn't come." He leans against his brother and they sit staring at the waves for a few minutes before Mikey gets up, pulling Gerard with him.

"C'mon. Let's go tell Bob and Ray and Wentz goodbye and go home."

Gerard nods in agreement and rubs his hands over his face. He runs the heel of his hand under his eye and then glances back over at the place where his and Frank's shoes are sitting, a few yards away. Sighing, he trudges over and scoops them up, Frank's socks still tucked neatly inside his sneakers where Gerard left them an hour ago. "Right, well," he says uselessly. "I guess he'll want these back."

Mikey makes a comforting noise, but doesn't touch Gerard, hangs back a little.

"Yeah, let's head out," Gerard says, nodding a few times, fingers tracing over the stitching.

They turn and slowly make their way back up through the scrubby beach grass, up into Wentz's backyard. Gerard pastes a smile on his face and when Bob and Ray ask where Frank is, he smoothly answers that Frank had started feeling really sick, so he'd gone home. Mikey makes up a story about how they have to get up early the next morning so their landlord can change a lock, and then they finally, finally say their goodbyes and get in the car.

Gerard puts Frank's shoes on the floor and slumps down in the seat, closing his eyes. All he wants to do is crawl into bed, but he doubts he'll be able to sleep. His throat feels tight and he keeps replaying it in his mind--the moment when Frank wanted him--because he's got a heavy feeling that it was the only time, that Frank's guard was down and he'll never let Gerard see him like that again. He slides his head downward against the car window as Mikey speeds around the curves of the shore, back into town, and nudges the worn sneakers on the floor sadly. He guesses he'll see what's what on Monday when he goes to return them.

When they get home, Gerard goes straight to his room and tries to fall sleep, but he just keeps tossing and turning, so eventually he sits up in bed, grabs his sketchbook off the bedside table, and draws until he passes out, just as the sky is turning gray.

He wakes up with his cheek pressed to his open sketchbook. There's probably graphite all over his face, but he doesn't really care. He stumbles to the kitchen and sets the coffee percolating, sinking into a chair at the table and resting his head on his elbow. He closes his eyes and listens to the coffee bubble and hiss and takes deep breaths.

It's the thought that he was just getting to know Frank, the real Frank, that makes him so sad. Frank's got this shell that hides everything he cares about and why and how he came to be that way, and charming as it is, Gerard needs to get back underneath it, to see that light and passion across Frank's face again. It was beautiful. He can't think of a better word. Now that he knows it's there, he feels sick at the thought of never seeing it again. He really hadn't meant to let himself care this deeply, but it was impossible not to last night and he can't imagine ever forgetting it.

Mikey comes into the kitchen just as the coffee is finishing up. He seems to have a sixth sense that tells him when coffee is ready to be consumed. It's kind of freaky how many times he's walked into the house after being out for hours, just as there's a pot of coffee percolating on the stove.

He pats Gerard on the shoulder, then makes his way over to the cupboard, pulling two mugs out and pouring coffee into each. He sets one in front of Gerard and sits across from him. They drink their coffee in silence for a few minutes until Gerard says, "I think I'm gonna go to the park. Fresh air might be nice."

"You have pencil all over your face," Mikey informs him. "You might want to wash it before you go out. Otherwise you'll get accused of being a bum and taken down to the police station and I'll have to bail you out. Again."

Gerard's lips crook into a half smile. "I'll wash my face before I go. Promise."

Once he's managed a scrub at the offending graphite and a slapdash shave, it's nearing noon, and he calls to Mikey that he'll bring back sandwiches from the deli they like on his way home. Mikey makes appreciative noises from the couch, where he's sprawled on the phone with Alicia, who, he informs Gerard, says hi and feel better. Gerard smiles slightly and grabs his wallet from the table by the front door.

It's quiet on the street, just before all the church services let out, and Gerard is glad for the time alone. Sometimes it's hard to think inside and he needs a good long walk to sort out what's going on in his head. The park five blocks over is a pretty good place for this, with the tree-lined boulevard that winds through it and back around the other side.

When Gerard reaches the park, he walks along the boulevard, taking in the trees. He feels a vague itching in his fingers, wanting to draw what he's seeing, but he didn't bring his sketchbook with him and he probably wouldn't be able to concentrate on it, anyway. Eventually, he finds a bench hidden in a little corner just off the boulevard, near a duck pond, and sits down with a sigh.

For once, the humidity isn't stifling and there's a nice breeze blowing. There's the barest hint of fall in the air and Gerard takes a deep breath and just sits quietly for a few minutes. He can hear children shrieking and laughing in the distance and there's a dog barking. Actually, the barking is getting closer and it makes him smile. Maybe he can convince Mikey that he needs a dog with a sad, sad tale of woe and heartbreak. It'd even be true.

Gerard watches for the dog, even though he's far enough off the boulevard that he probably won't see it go by. After a moment, though, around the corner bounds a bundle of excited spaniel who darts right up to Gerard and begs for attention, scuffling at his shins. Gerard reaches out, smiling and leaning over to ruffle the dog's ears and stroke down its back. He gets a lick up the cheek for his trouble and he can't help the laugh that escapes him.

"Hey, there," he enthuses, scruffing up around the dog's neck roughly and coming up with a shower of fur.

"Nikola!" a voice calls around the corner, followed by a sharp whistle, and the dog's ears perk up, tags jangling as it trots in a circle, torn between obeying its owner and the promise of a good scritching about the collar. Gerard leans forward, elbows on his knees, and offers his palm forward for licking. Nikola sniffs it briefly, then, intrigued by whatever remains of coffee and shaving cream there may be, snuffles and licks industriously. Gerard watches with a fond smile, chin in his other hand, until the sound of footsteps stops dead to the left of the bench.

"Sorry," he says, smiling amusedly and glancing up, "I--"

Frank is standing there frozen, a funny, almost pained look on his face, leash wound around one wrist. "Nikola," he calls again after a silent moment, then more sharply, "Nikola!"

Gerard gives Nikola one last pat, then says, "Go on. You've got a walk to finish."

Nikola gives a happy little yip and trots up to Frank, who promptly clips the leash back on. He starts to walk away, stops for a split second, back tense, and then grips the leash tightly and keeps going.

Gerard looks over at the pond. He hunches forward, elbows on his knees, forehead in his hands.

 

"Look," says Frank, when Gerard steps into his office on Monday morning, "can you just--not be everywhere?"

Gerard glances out into the hallway and then, with a bit of reluctance, closes the door softly behind them. He doesn't want to be overheard, but at the same time, crowding into Frank's small office is... stressful. "I brought your shoes," he shrugs apologetically, laying them on the desk. "And your socks," he adds, when the silence stretches.

Frank is behind his desk, half-standing awkwardly, like he doesn't know if he wants to go up or down. "Thanks," he finally says shortly, eyes darting over the sneakers like he almost doesn't recognize them. "Did you need anything else?"

Gerard huffs out a frustrated breath. "I guess I just... wanted to know what happened, there. With you, on Saturday."

Frank stares at him blankly, barely visible tenseness around his eyes. "Nothing happened on Saturday," he replies firmly.

"Frank," Gerard says quietly, moving closer to the desk, fingers tapping on the toes of the shoes.

Frank sags. "I need you to--to just forget about it, okay?" he begs, then purses his lips in a tight line and straightens up. "This is not something I'm willing to do. I'm not going to, so just don't try. If that's why you were hanging around all this time, then--then you can stop. I'm not interested."

"Frank, I liked you as a person long before I liked you as anything more than that," Gerard murmurs. "I--you're a friend, Frank."

Frank looks down at his desk very steadily for long minutes, then he nods and says, "Okay, that's--that's good, then. That's fine. Because I'm not going to--to risk my job--risk everything I ever wanted to do, just for, you know. Something that's really just friendship with, um, benefits."

Gerard stares. "It's not like that, either," he tries to explain, scruffing a hand through his hair exasperatedly. "It's--I care about you, Frank. I don't know what you feel for me--if it's anything--and I get that it's a risk, I do. It is for me, too, but I'm here, and... and I'm sorry. I--you said you wanted me to stop."

Letting go of the edge of Frank's desk, he turns abruptly around, opens the door, and walks quickly back to his own office. He closes the door firmly and leans against it, head thumping against the wood.

"So I take it things didn't go well?"

Gerard jumps. "Shit, Mikey, what the hell?"

Mikey sighs long-sufferingly and folds his arms across his chest, legs curled under him in Gerard's desk chair.

Gerard sinks into his guest chair across from Mikey and shakes his head, slouching down so it rests on the back of the chair. "No, I think it's safe to say it didn't go well at all."

Mikey taps one of Gerard's drafting pencils against his blotter in random Morse code patterns they used to use when they were kids stuck in Sunday school. "Listen," he offers after a little while, "maybe I could say something to him."

Gerard grimaces in horror. "Don't you dare," he warns. "He'd never speak to me again if you did something that fucking stupid, you idiot."

Mikey holds up his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. Jesus," he says. "I like him, though. He's a good guy."

Gerard rolls his head to the right and gives Mikey an amused look. "You do a good job of showing your fondness, really."

"Hey," Mikey defends, "I'm not the one who's all... tied up about him! I'm just saying, I think you guys would be, y'know..." he shrugs a little awkwardly, "good."

"Yeah," Gerard agrees, staring up at the acoustic ceiling tile. "Me, too. Fuck."

"So, how about you bring your stupid notebook downstairs and we drink coffee and pretend like we're kids again doing our studying together," Mikey offers with a slight smile.

"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. I don't think... I should make myself scarce for the rest of the day. Maybe it'll do us both some good." Gerard heaves a heavy sigh and sits up, rolling his head back and forth a couple of times for the crick in his neck.

Mikey shrugs, mouth quirking down at the corners like it does when he's concerned and doesn't want to show it. "Whatever you think," is all he says, though.

Gerard pushes on the arms of the chair and stands up. He grabs his notes and gestures for Mikey get up. "C'mon, then. Let's go get some work done."

 

By 2:00 AM on Wednesday morning, Frank has spent the past four hours tossing and turning. Down by the foot of his bed, Nikola whines as Frank's feet shift yet again, and he props himself up against his pillows, reaching down to pet distractedly at Nikola's head. He sits there, lost in thought, while Nikola whuffles and rearranges himself at Frank's knee, snuffling comfortingly in his ear when Frank gives in and leans forward for a cuddle. There's little else to do as his clock radio clicks inexorably on and on.

By 2:30, he decides to just go to the office, where he might actually be able to accomplish something. The guard, Jeremy--whom everyone calls Worm, for reasons Frank has yet to discover--recently switched from the day shift and Frank feels a little cheered at seeing a familiar face. They chat for a few minutes amiably in the entryway and Worm mentions that Frank's not the only engineer in tonight.

Frank's brow furrows. He's relatively certain that he's the only one with any kind of pressing project, and the deadline for that is still weeks away. "Oh? Who?"

"New guy. Weird. Crazy hair." Worm gestures illustratively.

"Dr. Way?" Frank asks.

"Him, yeah! Asked me to call him Gerard. Nice fellow. Weird, but nice."

Frank nods absently and says goodnight, wandering off toward the bank of elevators.

Up on the fourth floor, he finds himself drifting toward the Robotics wing. The closer Frank gets, the stealthier he tries to be, until he's completely silent, peering through the doorway to Gerard's office. He realizes after a moment, though, that he probably could've been as loud as he wanted, because Gerard is completely engrossed in what he's doing, bent over his desk.

Frank's never seen Gerard like this before, never dropped by to catch him at work. He's got books and note cards and paper scattered all around him, his slide rule in front of him, and he's taking notes and muttering to himself. "No, that won't work... dammit... where did I put the--" Every once in a while he gets up and paces to the wall to scribble something on his chalkboard or erase another thing and add more to another part. It's fascinating.

Frank watches him for a while and then creeps away just as quietly as he came and goes straight back home. He crawls in between his cold sheets and falls right to sleep. Two hours later, his alarm goes off and he stumbles into work, feeling like hell, and makes a bee-line to the lounge for coffee.

He finds Gerard there, stirring an ungodly amount of sugar and cream into his mug. Franks stares for a moment, then blurts, "You're killing it."

"What?" Gerard looks up, then down again, hiding his expression for a moment. "The coffee? No, I'm just giving it a little extra oomph. I didn't sleep last night, I need all the oomph I can get," he counters, glancing up finally, remarkably bright-eyed for not having slept.

"D'you want a cup?" Gerard offers, gesturing with the carafe, and some coffee spills on the table. "Damn!" he exclaims, pulling a hanky from his pocket to wipe at the mess, carafe still in hand, spilling a little more with every swipe.

Maybe it's the early hour and the fact that he's more asleep than awake, but Frank can't help the small giggle that escapes him as he takes the carafe from Gerard's hand and sets it back on the burner. He pats around his pockets for his own hanky and then joins in the rescue effort.

Gerard grins at him and Frank finds himself beginning to smile back when a throat clears behind them. Frank jumps about a mile and whirls around to find Wentz staring in amusement.

"Nice to see you two getting along," he comments with a smirk, reaching for the carafe and hefting it in a salute to Gerard.

Frank takes several steps away instinctively, needing to get some distance between him and Gerard. "We weren't--" he starts defensively, then realizes how that'll sound. "We get along fine," he amends, casting a nervous glance at Gerard, who's watching him with a thoughtful expression.

"Dr. Iero is very professional," Gerard nods in agreement. "It's not his fault I'm an irresponsible wretch." He turns to Wentz with a self-deprecating smile. "Careful with that coffee; I make it strong enough to fuel those rockets out there."

Wentz snorts a laugh and Frank grabs the carafe, fills his mug quickly, and makes his escape while Gerard's distracted by Wentz's complaints about his secretary Greta and her strict policy of making him get his own coffee.

He walks down the hallway, listening to Gerard's voice as he informs Wentz that Greta is clearly a smart girl and that he's glad she realizes she doesn't have to get coffee for anybody but herself, let alone a bunch of rocket scientists who should be able to do it themselves.

 

It's Thursday, late in the afternoon, when Frank ducks into the men's room to avoid Mikey coming down the hall. He's probably coming to bug Gerard or bring him coffee or something, and Frank just... doesn't want to have to talk to him, even in passing. Mikey saw what happened on the beach and Frank's trying not to think about that and sort of succeeding. During the day. While he's buried in calculations and specs. He can't talk to Mikey, is the bottom line, and as soon as he spies that lanky lope coming around the corner, he shoulders through the bathroom door and paces the white tiles for thirty seconds or so, waiting for the footsteps to pass. Instead, the door swings open and Mikey ambles in, glances at Frank briefly, and then ducks down, craning his neck to check under the stall doors before rising and leaning against the sinks.

"Hey," he says, nodding.

"Um--hi, Mikey." Frank stares at the door over Mikey's shoulder, wishing he could magically transport himself to the other side.

"So, here's the thing, you should know that Gerard will probably kill me when he finds out I did this. I kind of promised him I wouldn't. But some promises need to be broken." Mikey's voice carries more conviction than Frank's ever heard from him. "So you can't be mad at him for this, okay? This is all me."

Frank glances away and nods, eyes wide in the mirror above the sinks. "Sure, okay," he promises worriedly. "What is it?"

Mikey pins him with a look, crossing his arms. "Frank. Don't even try that. Gerard lets you play dumb because he's just that gone about you, but I'm not." He takes a breath, then adds, less stridently, "I do think you're a good guy, though, and that's why I'm still talking to you at all, considering how fucking miserable you're making my brother. He doesn't need that shit. He deserves better than that."

Frank forces himself to look Mikey in the eye. If they're going to have this conversation, he may as well do it right. He takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders. "I don't know what you want me to do. I--the government pays our salaries. I've worked too hard to get here to lose this."

"And, what, you think Gerard hasn't? Or you just think he doesn't care," Mikey asserts, raising his eyebrows.

"No, I--" Frank thinks of yesterday, when he saw Gerard working through the night on his project. Thinks even more of their conversation on the beach, how passionate and visionary Gerard is, really. "I know that. I do. It's--he's different, though. He's not scared of losing it--it wouldn't be the end for him, if he did. This job--this is all I have. I can't lose it." Frank falls silent, picking awkwardly at the fraying cuff of his shirt. He can't believe he just admitted that.

Mikey stares at him, tilting his head, and says, surprisingly gently, "It's the only thing you have because it's the only thing you've worked for, taken risks for. Frank... everything is like that. Relationships are like that. You just have to try."

"I--if it were that simple, that'd be great, but do you have any idea how terrified I've been since--hell, since that night at Alfonzo's?" Frank drops his eyes and fidgets with his cuffs. "Even though I knew the only person he'd tell was you, I still had a moment of panic every goddamn time Wentz asked to speak with me. What if that was it--the end?" Frank looks back up at Mikey, who seems completely confused.

"Alfonzo's? What are you talking about? You saw each other at Alfonzo's?" Mikey asks.

Frank blinks, momentarily set back. "Uh, yeah? That night you sent him there? Did--he didn't tell you that?"

Mikey's nose wrinkles and he shakes his head. "Why would he?"

"I--I don't know. I just figured... since you knew about him... and me..." Frank trails off, a bit lost.

Mikey laughs, then glances back at the door, which remains closed, the hallway silent. "I knew about you a long time ago, kid," he says. "Growing up with Gerard fine-tunes the senses."

Frank glances swiftly down, away. He really doesn't want to think about that, about people knowing just from looking at him. "He really didn't tell you? I mean, I asked him not to tell anyone, but I just figured he'd tell you," he asks, still incredulous.

"No, he didn't even hint. He knows how to be discreet, Frank. He may not like the fact that he has to be and he'll never hide anything in a place he feels safe, but he also knows exactly what happens when you get caught." Mikey's tone implies knowledge that's more than just second-hand.

"Did--did he get caught?" Frank's afraid of the answer.

"No. But a couple of his friends did. He knows what's at stake, Frank," Mikey insists.

Frank nods, biting the inside of his cheek to try to stem the fear in his throat at just the thought.

Mikey exhales and taps his fingers on the counter for a bit. "So, listen," he picks up again, "you should at least give him the courtesy of talking to him. It's really shitty to just keep shutting him out, when you say you want to be his friend."

Frank shrugs, but really he's known that all along, part of the guilt eating at him.

"I'm gonna tell him to be at Alfonzo's tomorrow night at nine, and if you stand him up, I'm gonna--fucking sabotage your next draft or something, I don't know," Mikey says fiercely. "So be there."

Frank glares at Mikey. "You don't have to threaten me. I'll be there. I--you're right. I've been--I haven't been fair to him."

Mikey nods, placated. "He's my brother, Frank. I've stood by and watched him get his heart broken and see his friends get their chance at happiness--hell, see me get my chance, and I can't just stand back and watch that anymore. He deserves something good, too. And so do you."

Frank glances away awkwardly. It's--Gerard deserves someone, he does, but he's not so sure about the other thing. "Yeah, okay," he agrees quietly anyway.

Mikey pushes off the counter and turns toward the door, repeats, "Nine o'clock," and then shoulders his way out.

Frank runs a hand over his hair and down his face. He leans over, turns on a faucet and cups his hands under the stream, and gulps down a couple swallows of water. He turns off the water and puts his hands on the sink, leans on them, staring at himself in the mirror for a moment, then straightens and walks back to his office, shutting and locking the door behind him. He needs to think.

 

Frank's fingers seem to have become one with his steering wheel. He knows he's doing the right thing, but he's never felt more nervous about anything in his life. He glances across the street at the bar, the windows painted over in chipped black and the non-descript entrance. It's not a place he feels happy going to, no matter what brings him, but tonight is especially bad. He thinks briefly about what his mother would think if she saw him here, idling outside a place like this on a trash-strewn street, and lets go of the steering wheel, fumbling for his pack of cigarettes. He flicks his Zippo unsteadily, and then there's a short moment of silence in his mind while the nicotine soothes him out a little. It doesn't bear thinking about, he decides, because it's not her business and she'll never find out.

After a few more deep drags, he turns off the engine, cutting the radio off mid-verse, and reaches for the door latch. He climbs out of the car and shuts the door, leaning against it while he finishes off his cigarette. Then he takes a deep breath, makes his way across the street, and enters the bar.

Frank orders his gin and tonic and then turns, looking around for Gerard, and spots him at a small round table in the far corner of the room. He's got a drink in his hands, and he's staring into space, and even in the dim light of the bar Frank can see that Gerard looks exhausted. Frank feels a wave of guilt pass over him. He takes one last deep breath, a sip of his drink, and then walks over, pulls out the chair across from Gerard, and sits down.

Gerard looks up, smiles wanly, and says, "Mikey got you over here, huh? What'd he do, threaten to stomp your slide rule?"

Frank flinches, eyes skittering away from the self-deprecating expression on Gerard's face. "No! No, he--I came because... because look," Frank's head clears a little, along with his tone, "I owe you an apology."

Gerard's nose scrunches and he thumbs some moisture off his glass idly. "No you don't," he says. "I get that this isn't what you're looking for, and that's fine." He huffs a laugh, eyes painfully honest when they meet Frank's. "It is what I'm looking for... hoping for... and I won't lie and say I don't wish you were, too, but... I respect your choices, Frank." He gestures around the bar expansively, at the patrons chatting and dancing and sneaking out of the bathroom. "We all have to make hard choices, given circumstances."

Frank's throat feels stuck shut, like there's a lump blocking his airway, and he clears it several times before taking a sip of his drink. "That's what I need to talk to you about," he finally manages. His heart must be going triple time, judging by how shaky he feels. "It's not that I don't want that, Gerard. That's not--I just never thought it was an option. You know? And I don't know how to... I've never... how this feels..." he trails off helplessly.

Gerard's eyes look, if anything, even sadder. He takes a drink and licks his lips thoughtfully, nodding. "Yeah, I get that. I do." He reaches over and tentatively squeezes Frank's hand, sending a spark of relief through him, then pulls away and continues, "So I guess the question is, is your choice still the same, then."

Frank's hand itches to touch Gerard's again, but it's all the way on the other side of the table and he doesn't know what his answer is and can't just do that to Gerard. He sort of wants to cry, and that is so humiliating. Instead, he takes another drink and a moment to compose himself. Finally he admits, "I'm--I'm willing to consider it. I want to consider it. It's--a big choice and I want to be fair to you. You deserve someone who's fair to you."

Gerard looks at him, eyes troubled and earnest, and says, "Don't do this for me. I want to try this, but you need to do it for you, if it's what you want to have. If it's worth the risk. Because we might make it or we might get caught."

Frank's stomach swoops and his breath catches because that is his exact fear, and it's so frightening to think of losing everything to just have this one thing.

Gerard watches him for a moment, and then gets up from his chair and kisses Frank gently on the cheek. "Let me know," he concludes softly, and then turns and walks out of the bar.

Frank blinks, stunned by how intensely he feels the loss of Gerard's presence, warm and comforting, near him. It aches a little, echoes of shock pulsing in his chest. He breathes out and then in and then out, in, out.

He sits there for nearly an hour, nursing his drink and thinking about everything he's worked for since he was a geeky, space-obsessed teenager, wondering how he's seriously considering jeopardizing all that. He is, though; Gerard is under his skin and he feels more inspired with him than he has since he was a little kid, staring up at the sky through the telescope in his bedroom window.

He looks around at the couples dancing--how happy they look just to have this small space together, no matter how tenuous and fragile and temporary it is. He thinks about how he wanted to be an astronaut when he was a kid, just like he read about in Amazing Stories, before he realized he'd have to settle for engineer instead, and how he wanted that feeling--of just being in space, out there, no matter how fleeting and impossible it seemed at the time.

And then, just like that, he sets down his drink and gets up and walks toward the front door, searching his pockets for coins so he can call Gerard from the phone booth outside. Except Gerard is right there, just out front, smoking a cigarette, leaning against the brick and waiting patiently. When Frank stops in front of him, his expression is tense, like he wasn't sure Frank would come at all, no matter how long he waited there.

Gerard takes a drag and tips his head back to look up at the stars, exhaling a steady stream of smoke.

Frank glances up and down the street, but it's pretty quiet. He follows Gerard's gaze up for a moment, digs his hands into his pockets to keep from grabbing Gerard's arm and says quietly, "C'mon, let's get this show on the road, then, all right?" He shrugs his shoulders in the direction of his car, unsure how to verbalize what he wants.

Gerard's brows draw together in confusion. "What? Show? I..." he trails off, shaking his head. "Frank. I can't..."

Frank's stomach drops; he's messing this up again. "You--I thought you wanted..." he trails off, jingling his keys nervously. Then he breathes out forcefully and looks up again. He wants this. "It's--I'm willing--I want--" he stutters a little, moves in closer so he can whisper it against Gerard's ear. "I want you. This. Come home with me?" His heart is beating so fast; he's never risked anything so huge in his life. This feels like everything, up in the air, no idea what'll happen next. "Please?"

Gerard's hand reaches out and touches Frank's shoulder fleetingly, expression clearing. "Yes. Yes, definitely." He beams at Frank and throws his cigarette to the ground, grinding it underneath his toe to put it out.

To anyone watching, Frank knows, it probably looks like one more clandestine hook-up outside the bar, two men desperate for some small measure of affection and relief. But he knows, as Gerard follows close behind him to the car, that he's not going to let go, not like the times before. He slides into the driver's seat, leans over to pop the passenger side lock, and watches as Gerard slips in.

Gerard glances over at him and smiles, reaches a hand to clasp reassuringly at Frank's knee. Frank breathes, nods, starts up the engine and the radio comes on, warbling late night Sinatra. Gerard hums along and watches Frank, fidgeting occasionally, smiling.

Frank concentrates so hard on just driving--not over-thinking this--that he nearly misses his turn and the wheels protest as he whips the car to the right, pulling up in front of his apartment building. He finally looks over at Gerard, sitting there and smiling at him, face gentle and open, and he wants so badly to just lean in and kiss him again, like the night on the beach. His eyes must give him away because Gerard breathes out sharply and turns away, fumbling open the door and watching from the sidewalk as Frank makes his way around the car, reaching for his keys.

"Your neighbors?" Gerard asks lowly as they mount the front steps.

Frank glances up, but the front windows of the apartment block are all dark. "Should be okay," he murmurs, fitting his key into the lock and letting them into the entryway. "Just--keep it down."

"I think I can manage that," Gerard whispers. He follows Frank up the stairs to the third floor and stands by as Frank tries to get the door to his apartment open.

"Damn thing always sticks," he mutters, exasperated.

Gerard has his hands clasped behind his back, like he's trying hard to maintain that public distance. He's still smiling, though, and when the door finally opens and they get inside, he walks Frank back against the wall of the entryway. "Frankie," he says quietly and reaches out a hand to cup his cheek.

Frank shivers against the touch, pushing with his foot to make sure the door is closed and blindly fumbling with the lock. He reaches for Gerard's waist, settling his trembling fingers against the warm fabric of his oxford shirt and leaning forward, forehead against Gerard's shoulder.

"Bedroom's just down the hall," he manages, walking them backward, face still hidden, breathing in the smoky sandalwood scent. Gerard's arms close around his back, keeping him near, cheek pressed up against Frank's hair. Frank thinks, wildly, as he leads Gerard through the doorway, that he's never brought a man back here before--never dared and never really wanted to--and it's so overwhelming, the sense of rightness and exhilaration when he finally raises his head and meets Gerard's eyes, here.

He leans up, presses his dry lips tentatively to Gerard's, shaking from the gentleness and quietness of the moment. It's not a good kiss--breathy and brief, nearly chaste, lips brushing and parting as Frank's breath stutters--but it sends shocks and tingles through him, nonetheless. They're here.

"Do you--" begins Gerard, warm against Frank's lips, "I don't know what you want."

Frank tightens his grip on Gerard's shirt, opening his eyes. He's not exactly sure, either, here in his dim bedroom, streetlight blocking out the night sky. "What do you want?" he asks.

Gerard sighs. "You," he admits, "I want you. I want you to be happy. I like that."

Frank shivers again, uncontrollably. He's never felt something like this for anyone before and it never ceases to shock him when Gerard says things like that. "Okay," he manages. He slides his palms up Gerard's sides, across his warm chest, over his beating heart, and fingers the top button of his shirt for a moment before pressing his mouth up to Gerard's, catching his lower lip and inadvertently opening up their kiss.

Gerard's palm comes up to cradle the back of Frank's neck and his tongue plays tentatively over the seam of Frank's teeth, teasing at them until Frank understands, manages to unlock his tense jaw and relax into it. It's so intimate, Gerard's tongue in his mouth, their faces tilted into each other, much more so than anything Frank's ever done on any bathroom floor. It makes it hard to breathe, even, and he has to pull away for a brief moment, chest heaving, before he can try again, can remember to breathe through his nose, and that part is hilariously similar, actually. Frank giggles, considering it, and Gerard makes a brief noise in his throat, kissing at Frank's upper lip.

"You okay?" he asks, smoothing Frank's hair back off his face gently.

Frank nods, smiling a little, and remembers his fingers again, still poised at Gerard's throat. "Can we...?" he asks, fiddling with the button, and Gerard presses a kiss to the side of his nose.

"Yes," he answers, and leans his cheek against Frank's, stills as Frank's fingers work their way down his buttons, and then lets go of him for a moment to pull the tail out and toss his shirt over the chair near the door. His undershirt is worn and thin, holey in places near the hems, and Frank stares for a moment before reaching out a few fingers to brush over the white cotton, the pale skin that shows through here and there, the peak of Gerard's left nipple. It's wonderful. He really wants to press himself against all that solid warmth, so he pulls away, fumbling with his own buttons while Gerard's husky laughter whispers through the room.

Gerard helps him, pulling his shirt untucked and starting from the bottom, light touches against Frank's stomach as he works. Their hands meet in the middle briefly, fingers sliding together before Frank drops his shirt at the foot of his bed behind him.

Gerard blinks, sliding his thumb back and forth over the slope of Frank's neck until Frank's skin is buzzing and he almost forgets to feel self-conscious about how scrawny he is. He hitches his shoulders up a little, crossing his arms over his chest and watching cautiously as Gerard steps forward again, fingers trailing down Frank's back and then up, underneath, against his hot skin. Their gazes meet and Frank wishes his glasses didn't make him feel so clumsy, up close like this. Gerard is asking something with his eyes and his hands, swirling small circles over Frank's shoulder blades. Frank slowly relaxes into the soothing touch, lowers his shoulders and raises his arms, allowing Gerard to sweep the undershirt over his head. His hair falls into his eyes, and Frank reaches compulsively to straighten his cowlicks, but Gerard just slides one hand through it, tousling it a bit, murmuring, "It's nice. Don't worry."

Frank nods, rubs a little nervously over his chest, fingertips catching against the chain that hides there, the St Christopher medal his mother gave him when he left for Rutgers at sixteen. Gerard watches the movement, follows it with his fingers, but doesn't touch the medal, just strokes his knuckles over the slopes of Frank's skin.

Frank leans forward, old floorboards creaking underneath his sockfeet, and starts to draw Gerard's undershirt up, inch by inch, watching as each new bit of skin appears. When he gets it up underneath Gerard's armpits, he ducks his head close and traces a kiss in the middle of his chest, palm flat against the thrum of his heartbeat. Gerard raises his arms and pulls the shirt off before stroking one hand lightly up and down Frank's spine and opening his mouth against Frank's, softly pushing in and groaning, fingers fisting against Frank's waistband.

After long moments, Frank breaks away panting, grabs Gerard's shoulders and turns, pressing him down on the foot of the narrow bed before kneeling, fingers scrabbling at Gerard's belt buckle while he licks his flushed lips. Gerard's hips hitch a little, stomach tensing, and then he reaches down, thumb pressing against the arm of Frank's glasses, and asks, "Would you--I want you with me, up here. Is that all right?"

Frank looks up at Gerard's pink cheeks and hopeful eyes, breathing heavily. He can feel underneath his fingers that it's not that Gerard doesn't want him, just, maybe wants him a different way. "Sure," he manages to say, pushing up off the floor and pressing one knee into the bedspread, wondering what he's supposed to do, then. Gerard reaches up, scooting backward, and pulls him into his lap, and Frank's knees settle right up against Gerard's hips. He feels a little strange about it; it seems sort of girly, not something he should be comfortable with, but he tries, because Gerard is smiling at him and urging him closer, tight against his skin and that feels...

Frank slides his arms around Gerard's back, restless with the prickly friction as they move against each other, breathe in each other's ears, overheated. He quickly reaches between them, tugging at their zippers, and Gerard gasps, brings a hand around to help, just pushing haphazardly at the fabric of their trousers until it's enough.

"God," Frank moans, and blushes, and Gerard chokes a laugh.

"Yeah," he agrees, palm tight against the small of Frank's back, other hand braced behind them, leading them backward and down. "Come with me."

Frank nods, shifting away for a painful moment before rearranging his knees, lowering himself after, down on top. He hisses quietly, almost biting into Gerard's shoulder at the sensation, and from the sound Gerard makes, he doesn't seem to mind Frank's teeth there.

Gerard props up one knee, making a space for Frank to get some traction, and Frank pushes up a little, hovering over Gerard, who raises his hand, tracing over Frank's eyebrows wonderingly. "You're here," he says, eyes smiling, tiny dimples in his cheeks that Frank's never seen before.

"I guess," Frank says, and feels dumb. What a thing to say, jeez. He's so single-minded, though, gazing down at Gerard, whose hips are still moving in a tight kind of shimmy that Frank can't really duplicate with his hitches and jerks. He closes his eyes briefly, biting his lip, arms already aching from holding himself up for two minutes. He can hear the clink of the chain against his medal, but he can't feel it, caught and heated between their chests, and he's just as glad. His mother is not something he wants to consider at this moment, not when Gerard's hands are sliding down his back, under his belt, clutching at his ass, making his own breath turn to wet gasps and stuttering moans, "God, I--you--"

When he opens his eyes again, glasses slipping damply down his nose, he can see Gerard, his mouth slack, flushed all the way up his neck and high on his cheeks. "Mmm-hmm," Gerard agrees, tilting his head back, pressing up against Frank so tightly that Frank can feel the sweat being wrung out of him.

The burn in his arms is kind of unbearable but Frank just clenches his fingernails into his palms as this intense jolt moves through him. "Fuck," he strangles out, and Gerard's eyes shoot open, staring at him for a beat and then grinding up against him desperately, like he won't be left behind.

Frank collapses down over him, gasping for breath, arms limp. Gerard stifles a groan against Frank's neck, body tensing, and Frank pets a hand through his pillow-snarled hair, twitching just a little as he feels the pulses against his belly. "Sorry, 'm sorry," he mumbles, glasses sticking to his cheekbone, partly misted over.

"Mmm," Gerard shakes his head, hand heavy on Frank's lower back. "'S good, 's fine."

They lie there panting, touching each other lightly, and Frank drifts for a bit, turning his head on Gerard's shoulder and staring distantly out the window screen, dark and light spots in his eyes. He's not sure if it's in his head or if it's the lights outside, but he doesn't think it matters much, heaving a sigh.

When he comes back to himself, Gerard is out cold, snoring lightly in Frank's hair, and the sweat on Frank's back is cooling, chilling him in the occasional breeze. He's not sure what to think--what do you think about in these situations, he wonders sleepily. Maybe about Gerard, how he feels comfortable and familiar, but also kind of sticky and strange. Maybe about the fuel injection model he needs to work on Sunday night, after he takes Nikola for a run and calls his mother. Maybe about the lights he can see out his window now, the streetlight flickering unreliably, showing him the stars just beyond.