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Any Place You’ll Allow (Rogues & Queens)

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It’s about three a.m. when the guy comes in, Frank guesses, because he’s just getting the itch for a cigarette but knows he doesn’t have another break coming for a while. The guy is young, although not that young, not a college kid on his first strip joint tour or hazing for a frat, and anyway he doesn’t look like the type.

He looks, more or less, like a regular guy, but he’s not a) balding, b) hugely overweight, or c) wearing anything that looks particularly grimy, which puts him light-years ahead of the last three guys Frank danced for.

He also looks a little lost, which is unofficially Frank’s specialty.

“Nuh-uh,” he says, cutting Pete off by the bar. “Mine.”

Pete changes course without missing a beat, although he’s got a good-natured smirk on his face which means later he’s going to give Frank shit about stealing his customers. Whatever, Frank totally saw this one first.

Up close, the guy’s maybe a little pudgy, his clothes a little wrinkled, but it’s hardly the worst Frank has ever had to deal with. They’ve only had one fit, clean-cut guy walk in here within the last few months, and that one ended up buying in on the club, so Frank isn’t holding his breath.

“Hey,” he says with a smile. “I’m Frank. Can I get you a drink?”

The guy actually recoils at that, and Frank thinks he might be just startled, but then the guy shakes his head, dark stringy hair falling into his face, and no, definite miscalculation.

“Ice water?” Frank presses, at his most charming. “Soda? We offer a full range of Pepsi products as well as several quality juices.”

The guy stares at him. Frank just keeps smiling. Eventually black-haired dude breaks the standoff, looking down and tugging at the hem of his black hoodie. “Um, sure, thanks. Pepsi’s fine.”

“I’ll be right back,” Frank promises, but hooks the guy’s wrist just to be safe, bringing him down further onto the floor. “Why don’t you have a seat here?”

“I’m not actually…” the guy begins, and then stops, looking confused. Frank crosses his fingers that the guy stays put and doesn’t freak out, and then sashays his way hastily over to the bar.

“Pepsi, and make it quick,” he says in a low voice to Ryland across the bar. “I think I’ve got a runner.”

“Pete says I’m supposed to sabotage you for getting him first,” Ryland replies, but he’s already filling a glass, ice tinkling as it floats to the surface. “How do you always end up with the runners?”

“It’s a gift,” Frank tells him honestly, and then makes his way back over to where the new guy is sitting, fidgeting in his chair and keeping his eyes obviously off the stage. Frank doesn’t even have to look to know it’s Butcher; he recognizes the song, even if he wasn’t already keeping track of the sets.

As predicted, new guy starts to stand just as Frank reaches him, looking ready to bolt. Frank stops him with a hand on his shoulder and a smile, pretending not to notice how the guy jumps at his touch. “Pepsi,” he says cheerfully, waiting until the guy’s seated again before passing him the glass. He looks incredibly uncomfortable, and the unease seems to double when Frank swings into his lap and perches lightly on his thighs.

“Hey, relax,” Frank says. “I’m just getting comfy. What’s your name?”

“Gerard,” new guy says. “Look, uh…”

“Frank,” Frank supplies again.

“Frank,” Gerard echoes. “I’m not really…I mean, this is kind of an accident.”

Frank’s heard it all before, in a variety of guises. ‘I’m not gay’ is one of the top-rated, followed closely by ‘I’m not really married,’ ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here,’ and ‘I’m only here for a friend.’ He arranges his face into an appropriate listening expression and does a little reassuring bounce in Gerard’s lap. Gerard does a little bounce of his own, surprised by Frank’s move, and nearly spills Pepsi on both of them.

“Sorry,” Gerard says, licking soda off of his fingers and wiping the rest on his shirt. “Shit, sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Frank assures him. “I’m washable.”

His pants are, anyway, and that’s all he’s wearing right now. He can’t stand having a shirt on after his first set, once he’s warmed up and working the floor, and he likes showing off his tattoos, the illusion of being clothed in ink under the club’s strobe lights.

Gerard’s eyes flick down like he’s only just noticing that Frank’s shirtless, and then they snap back to his face. “I was looking for a comics store,” he blurts suddenly. “I got the address mixed up, and I saw the lights and heard the music, and I thought…”

“You were looking for a comics store at three a.m.?” Frank asks doubtfully, taking the opportunity to scoot forward in Gerard’s lap.

Gerard gestures in a circle with his soda glass. “Yeah, I know, but I’d just finished the last issue and I thought…” He stops, the tips of his ears turning pink where they stick out from his greasy hair, and rubs the back of his neck bashfully. “I know, it’s pretty lame, right?”

“It’s adorable,” Frank tells him, and he actually means it. He’s not sure what’s more endearing; the fact that this guy isn’t bothering to concoct a story to cover his lame-ass reason for coming to a strip club, or the fact that the real story is lamer than anything anyone else could have possibly come up with or admitted to. “But hey, now that you’re here, do you want a dance?”

Gerard’s eyes do a crazed dance of attempting to avoid Frank’s. “I really shouldn’t,” he says, which Frank has heard before, and which definitely isn’t a no.

“Come on, live a little,” Frank taunts, sliding forward again and taking the Pepsi from Gerard’s limp-wristed grip before it ends up on their pants. “I’m worth it.”

“This is gonna cost me, isn’t it?” Gerard says, and it’s not quite mournful, something closer to rueful resignation. Frank can’t stop himself from grinning in return.

“Tell you what,” he says. “I’ll give you this one for free, and then if you want, you can tip me whatever you think I’m worth.” It’s a bargain that’s worked out well for him in the past. New guys paying for dances don’t tip, because they think they’ve already paid for it; new guys grateful for their first dance often give more than Frank would charge. And even if he doesn’t make that much on this one, it’s not a huge loss. There aren’t that many people in the club right now, and the biggest tipper is keeping William extremely busy in the corner. Pete’s still serving drinks, which means no one else is ready to bite. Frank can afford to spare fifteen minutes or so on a newbie.

Gerard opens his mouth, but whatever he was going to say gets lost as Frank covers the last few inches and finds the hard bulge poking up from Gerard’s pants.

Gerard’s face flames, and Frank laughs, rocking forward. “Relax,” he says. “It’s a compliment. Just try to enjoy this, okay?”

Gerard nods, apparently struck speechless, and Frank closes his eyes and tunes into the music, letting the beat get into his body. He finds it in his hips first, grinding hard and dirty along with the bass line, and then the guitar kicks in and his whole torso undulates, head thrown back to drag in air.

He’s got another minute-fifty on this song, maybe, which means he didn’t time it quite right, but he hadn’t wanted to spend the time dawdling in case the guy really did decide to book it. He throws himself into the beat to make up for it, rolling his hips and dragging his hands down his chest, feeling fresh sweat blooming under his palms as he starts to really get into it. Gerard’s hands are white-knuckled when he risks a look, clenched hard on the side of the chair. Frank tugs one loose, puts in on his stomach and shows off the ridges of his abs, rolling the muscles taut under Gerard’s warm fingers.

Gerard jumps a little again when Frank finally gets the alignment right, working his hips over Gerard’s hard cock, and his fingers twitch against Frank’s bare skin. Frank laughs, leans in and asks, “First dance?” with an easy grin.

“Frank,” Gerard says, and then stops talking when the last chorus kicks in and Frank grinds the shit out of him, rocking forward until he’s covered in sweat and Gerard is panting, starting to push up unconsciously into the pressure of Frank’s hips.

Their faces are very close together. Frank usually gets a little more into the oral action, at least when the customer seems to have had a shower recently, licking and biting to enhance the experience. He’s considering it now, considering how close Gerard’s mouth is and the way he’s biting his own lip, how easy it would be for Frank to bite instead, maybe suck, tease with his tongue. Gerard’s eyes fly up to meet his like he’s just become aware of the same thing, and he stops breathing.

A glass breaks somewhere to their left. Frank twists around, seeking the source of the noise automatically, and sees Brendon with both hands up, backpedaling away from a burly guy in a suit who’s too red in the face to be anything but completely fucking trashed. Frank’s not the only one to have noticed; William’s spotted them, but he’s got his hands full, and the guy he’s with doesn’t seem particularly willing to relinquish his entertainment. Pete’s halfway across the floor, watchful, and Ryland’s already throwing his bar towel out of the way.

Gabe’s the one Frank’s really watching, though. Gabe has a hot streak hidden under the casual demeanor, and a fierce protectiveness over every employee in this place. If it was William, Frank thinks, the guy’s skull would already be busted open, but Brendon isn’t too far behind on the list of people Gabe will crack heads for.

Bob’s got the drunk jackass. Frank goes for Gabe.

“Sorry about this,” Frank apologizes, climbing out of Gerard’s lap. “Just gonna take care of something, won’t be a sec.”

If Gerard says anything in return, Frank misses it. He picks up speed as he crosses the floor, and lowers his center of gravity to hit Gabe almost in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him.

“Don’t do it,” Frank says, low and fast under the blare of the music, cutting in ahead of whatever Gabe was about to bite his head off with. “Man, if you start a fight in here, you’ll only make it ten times worse. Let Bob deal with it.”

Gabe relaxes only a fraction, but enough that Frank takes a step back, still keeping an eye on him. “He can’t start shit like that in here,” is all Gabe says, and he’s still itching for a fight, Frank can tell, but almost willing to let this one go.

“He’s getting thrown out on his ass,” Frank promises, because even without looking, he knows Bob has the guy’s arm twisted behind his back none-too-gently and is escorting him personally to the door. He’s seen it enough times to know. “You’ve got to let it go.”

“Easy for you to say,” Gabe says, but he’s almost completely calm again now, only his eyes showing the temper burning underneath the cooling exterior.

“Motherfucker, I start more fights in this place than you’ve ever seen,” Frank replies, taking another step back to take himself out of Gabe’s space. Gabe flashes a smile at him, tight but there, and Frank flashes one back.

He heads for William’s corner next, because that’s where Gabe’s attention has re-focused, and right now all it would take is a hand too high on William’s thigh for Gabe to come over and start breaking fingers.

“Gabe,” Frank says in William’s ear. “Tag-team. Go.” He slides gracefully into William’s place on big tipper’s table, stretching out on his back and smiling. Inwardly, he shakes his head and wonders what the fuck Travis was thinking, keeping them both here at the same time.

Outwardly, he says, “What can I do for you?” and keeps the smile fixed on his face even when big tipper leers and starts putting his fat greasy paws on Frank’s ink.

Whatever, Frank’s had worse.

He gets free half an hour later when the guy finally decides to leave, sees that William’s been detained near the stage giving a dance to someone in one of the public chairs, and only then does he remember Gerard.

“Motherfucker,” he says, smacking a fist against his thigh. He scans the club, but Gerard is nowhere in sight, undoubtedly long gone.

He sighs and heads back to the bar, sliding in between the stools to see if Ryland needs anything.

“Table of three, near the stage,” Ryland says, pouring the last shot on a full tray and nudging it over to Frank’s side of the bar. “They’ve got a tab open, so feel free to linger. Pete was working it earlier, but he’s about to go onstage.”

“Thanks,” Frank says, picking up the tray.

He’s about to turn, dropping the swagger back into his hips, when Ryland adds, “Oh hey, some guy left this for you. I was going to put it in the till, unless you want to carry it. Just remind me later.”

He holds up a bill, hopelessly wrinkled but the numbers still legible, and Frank’s jaw drops. “Holy shit,” he says.

“That’s what I was going to say,” Ryland says, sliding the fifty out of sight into the cash register behind the bar. “What did you do, blow him in the back alley?”

“In your dreams,” Frank says, turning away with a grin. He does a little shimmy of celebration on his way over to the table of three, and if they think it’s for them and tip him a little extra for it, that’s just fucking fine with him.

-

Gabe has ideas for this place. Some of them are a little outrageous, and no way in hell is Frank agreeing to dress like a go-go boy, but some of them are actually really good. The one they’re about to embark upon definitely falls under the heading of ‘good idea.’

“I don’t know about this,” Travis muses, stroking his chin. “Who wants to think about spring break in the middle of February?”

“Everyone,” Frank answers, echoed with feeling by William and Butcher, who are both holding down full-time degree programs on top of this job. “Everyone wants to think about spring break in the middle of February,” Frank promises, tugging the white cotton t-shirt over his head and making a face as it sticks to the sweat he’s already worked up on the stage. “They’ve been thinking about it since January. Gimme the gun.”

William passes it over solemnly, presenting it like it’s a fucking broadsword and not a kids’ toy made of neon-colored plastic. Pete’s already got his in hand, pumping the handle with wicked glee.

“You’re the one explaining this on the tax forms,” is Travis’ parting shot, before he turns to head back out onto the floor. Frank gives his gun a few pumps and an experimental squirt.

“Super-soakers are a valid business expense,” Gabe shoots back, reluctantly handing the last gun over to Butcher, who slings it over his shoulder like a trained commando. Gabe salutes the three of them and says, “Go get ‘em.”

He also slaps William on the ass, Frank notes as he turns to go onstage, but William has good aim and years of practice dealing with roving hands. Frank hears the yelp behind him and grins.

The stage is mostly dark, only spotlights weaving a crooked pattern like drunken searchlights to herald their entrance. Then the lights come up and Pete hoots, “Welcome to spring break, Rogues & Queens style,” and the audience cheers.

Frank picks his spot carefully, sizing up the crowd and finding the corner with the mildest onlookers. He doesn’t want to have to deal with being groped too much while he’s concentrating on kicking Pete and Butcher’s asses.

Not that it’s a competition, Frank reminds himself.

Yeah, right.

Pete’s the first one to get a hit in, probably because Frank and Butcher are having a battle of wills over who’s going to draw first. Frank feels the spray hit his chest and swears without thinking about it, swinging his gun up in Pete’s direction just as Butcher opens fire on him as well.

It only takes a few minutes before they’re all completely soaked. It feels good, especially in the heat of the club, so Frank doesn’t really mind the concentrated bursts of water plastering the shirt to his skin. Butcher’s shirt is drenched to transparency, his tattoos standing out in vivid color beneath the thin white cloth. Pete’s still got a few dry patches here and there, but he’s wet enough for Frank to see the collar of thorns over his chest. Frank’s own ink has long since shown through, revealed under the dual attack by Butcher and Pete.

Pete, unsurprisingly considering his aim, is the first one to run out of water. He gets a weird gleam in his eyes, and Frank has maybe half a second to think oh shit before Pete tackles him, bringing them both crashing down onto the stage.

The noise from the crowd redoubles in an approving roar, and Frank squirms just enough to put on a show, rolling his head from side to side as he struggles. He tries to find a balance between sexy and effective as he flips them over, slamming Pete’s wrists down against the stage and grinding his hips into Pete’s as Frank straddles him. Pete grins up at him like a maniac, and Frank nearly goes sprawling when Butcher takes him by surprise, emptying a shocking amount of cold water from his super-soaker tank onto Frank’s head.

Frank splutters, and Pete takes advantage and rolls them over again, doing some grinding of his own. Neither of them are more than half-hard, but this is a performance anyway, no one needs to know. Frank winces a little when Pete brings his full weight and muscle to bear, and then he laughs his head off when Pete gets the rest of the water from Butcher’s tank.

Pete’s dripping all over Frank, the two of them mock-wrestling in what’s now a huge puddle on the stage, their jeans squeaking as the fabric drags over wet wood. Frank catches sight of Ryland half-frowning behind the bar and acts without thinking, leaning up to lick a long, wet stripe across Pete’s cheek. Pete jerks back, startled, and Frank tips Ryland a wink.

The performance doesn’t last long after that. Frank and Pete go for Butcher together, bringing him down in a mess of flailing limbs, and all three of them crawl over each other suggestively for a while until they get bored and start actually wrestling each other. Butcher quite wisely calls it quits when Pete nearly sinks his teeth into Frank’s arm, and Frank judiciously removes his knee from Pete’s crotch and rolls to his feet to blow a kiss to the crowd, following Butcher offstage. They leave their super-soakers behind for someone to grab during the break.

They’re loud backstage, soaking wet and hyped up and ready to go right back out and do it again. Brendon passes out towels, looking wistful, and Frank makes a note to get him involved next time. He might not have the ink the rest of them do, but Frank doesn’t think anyone would object to seeing him in a wet t-shirt.

“See? What did I tell you?” Gabe crows as they jostle for space in the hallway, toweling off and wringing out their wet clothes. Frank peels the shirt off and grimaces when he takes a step forward to chuck it into the plastic laundry basket; wet denim is no one’s friend. He shimmies out of the jeans a second later, and grabs a fresh set of working clothes before he ducks into one of the dressing rooms to strip out of his wet underwear.

“Go, dry,” Travis says to someone still out in the hall. “If you guys take your breaks later, I’ll give you ten extra minutes and free cigarettes. There’s a whole club full of people out there who can’t wait to get their hands on you three.”

Frank fist-pumps and grabs for his dry jeans. Free cigarettes, fucking yes.

-

Half an hour and three dances later, things finally start to calm down. Frank thinks he might just be able to get on drinks duty if the group near the door actually gets their act together and leaves. His hair has finally stopped dripping onto his bare shoulders, but he’s still sticky with sweat, and only most of it is his. He makes a face at the thought of the last customer, sidling up to the bar.

“Got anything for me?” Frank asks, tapping the bar and leaning in to be heard over the music.

Ryland spares him a look and an eyebrow. “Not for you,” he replies.

Frank pouts, hiking himself onto his toes so he can lean his full weight onto his elbows. “Are you mad ‘cause I licked your boyfriend?” he asks mock-sadly.

Ryland clucks his tongue. “Not my boyfriend,” he says. Frank rolls his eyes, then yelps when Ryland dislodges one of his elbows and dumps him back onto the floor.

“Fucker,” Frank accuses cheerfully, rubbing his elbow. He turns too fast and ends up bumping into a customer, nearly bowling the guy over before he recoils enough to catch his balance. “Shit, sorry…”

He stops when he sees the guy’s face, a dim light bulb of recognition surfacing. “Hey, hi,” he says. Shit, he has no idea what the guy’s name is. He doesn’t think ‘you again’ is the sort of employee service Travis is hoping for.

“Hi,” the guy says. He’s cuter than Frank remembers; maybe it’s the slight gleam suggesting his hair’s been washed in the past twenty-four hours. “Um, I’m Gerard? I was here a few nights ago.”

“I remember,” Frank says, name clicking into place along with the memory. Lapdance, Pepsi, fifty dollar bill. “Hey, do you want a drink? Pepsi?”

“No, thank you,” Gerard answers politely. Frank catches himself smiling without thinking about it. Gerard looks briefly puzzled, but smiles back. “I saw your, uh, water fight. Looked like fun.”

“You’ve been here all this time?” Frank asks, surprised. He usually keeps a better eye on the club’s patrons; even with all the dances he’s been giving, he’d thought he would have noticed Gerard.

“Yeah, I’ve been, um…” Gerard’s face colors, just the slightest bit. Frank is unexpectedly delighted. “Lurking.”

Frank laughs. “Hey, we don’t bite,” he promises. “Not unless you want us to.”

Gerard manages not to flush further at that, straightening up a little and jamming his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. “I just wanted to make sure you got the money,” he explains. “The guy behind the bar said he would give it to you, but…” Gerard sneaks a quick, guilty look in Ryland’s direction. “I just wanted to make sure. Was it enough? I don’t know what you usually charge.”

Frank almost laughs out loud. ”More than enough,” he assures Gerard. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” Gerard seems lost for what to do after that, but then he grins, surprisingly bright. “That was it, I just wanted to check. And, uh, say hi.” His pocket wiggles, catching the outline of his splayed fingers as he waves.

Frank’s caught by the glimmer of an idea, and he follows the impulse before it disappears. “Hey,” he says, catching Gerard’s arm as he starts to turn. “Do you want another dance before you go?”

Gerard looks torn. Frank tightens his grip, decisive. “My treat,” he promises, starting to pull Gerard along with him away from the bar. Gerard resists for a fraction of a second, but Frank thinks it’s more confusion than actual reluctance.

Gerard turns automatically towards the public chairs, but Frank tugs him in the other direction, smiling reassurance at Gerard’s look of confusion. He gives Bob a brief wave to let him know he’s going back with a client, and pushes Gerard gently through the door to the second room, closing it lightly behind them.

“Private dance,” he says, grinning at Gerard’s bafflement. He guides Gerard backwards until his knees hit the back of the chair and he sits with a surprised thump. Frank climbs into his lap and smirks. “Like I said, you waaaay over-tipped me.”

He rolls his hips once, nice and easy, warming up slow. Gerard’s hands flutter in the air before settling lightly on his hips. “Is this…okay?” he asks, eyes fixed on Frank’s.

Frank grinds again, feeling Gerard’s hands stay with him but not too tight, following without gripping. He bites his lip and drops his head back, letting himself go a little more, finding the rhythm. “Yeah,” he says, grabbing onto the back of the chair for support. “Good.”

William and Pete are better at this than he is. Frank doesn’t strip, for one thing; he starts half-naked and when he wants more to come off, he usually ends up kicking his jeans away in a tangle. It’s not especially sexy. He’s got rhythm, though, and he’s good at letting go once he gets started, just letting his body do whatever it wants.

Gerard’s hands creep up his sides, but his touch is still feather-light, ready to disappear at a moment’s notice or a word from Frank. When Frank opens his eyes after pulling up from a low, sweeping backbend, Gerard’s looking up at him with something like awe.

This isn’t the average dance. Gerard is a hell of a lot more attractive, for one thing, and for another there’s still energy fizzling under Frank’s skin from earlier, adrenaline coursing through his veins in the aftermath of the water battle. He feels buzzed, a little reckless, and for once he’s enjoying the rare drag of his bare chest against someone else’s shirt.

Gerard’s hands continue to drift over his skin, almost wondering. Frank bites Gerard’s earlobe before he thinks better of it; not all guys like teeth. Gerard just makes a soft noise, high and nasal, and his hands tighten on Frank’s waist. Frank is, unexpectedly, getting really fucking turned on right now.

He catches Gerard’s lower lip in his teeth, worrying it for a split-second before releasing and spinning around to grind his ass against Gerard’s lap. Gerard’s hands have relocated to his waist, helping to hold him steady as he moves, and Frank’s breath comes faster as he leans back, draping himself over Gerard’s chest. He blows on Gerard’s neck and grins at the squeak that provokes, eyes falling half-shut.

When he turns around again to straddle Gerard properly, he grabs the back of the chair with both hands and makes a snap decision that he’ll probably regret later, but not right now. Right now he feels good and Gerard feels better and Frank’s just going to go with it, all the way to the end.

He’s never given a lapdance hard before, or if he has it’s been too long for him to remember it, and it was never like this. Frank’s cock isn’t getting quite as much friction as he’d prefer, but he slides down half an inch when he leans back too far, and Gerard straightens up to help him balance again, and suddenly the alignment is just right and Frank rocks down hard enough to see stars.

“Jesus Christ,” he mutters, rolling his hips with single-minded determination. Gerard makes a garbled noise of agreement and swallows hard when Frank licks his ear. His breath is coming in pants now, quick and shallow, and he feels Gerard tense beneath him a second before he’s ready, hisses, “Shit, fuck,” and grinds down hard enough to make Gerard cry out in order to get there himself at the same time.

They both sit there for a minute, breathing hard and staring at each other, and then Frank grins, happy and sated. “Nice,” he says, spine pleasantly liquid when he rolls it out. “Wow. Fuck.”

Gerard makes another noise. His face is flushed, bits of hair clinging to his forehead, and his eyes are wide and shocked. Frank takes another few seconds to make sure feeling has returned to his tingling legs before swinging out of Gerard’s lap. He’s still a little wobbly, but he catches himself before he falls and lets out a little surprised giggle.

“You turned my knees into jam,” he says, then adjusts his jeans and makes a face. “Fuck, now I need to change.”

Gerard’s still staring, hands fidgeting oddly at his sides. Frank wiggles his fingers a little towards the chair, a gesture of mixed gratitude and farewell. “That was fantastic,” he says.

“Um,” Gerard says.

“If you still want that Pepsi, tell Ryland it’s on me,” Frank offers, mouth running off in post-orgasmic lassitude. “Or whatever. You don’t drink, though, right? Fuck, I should go, I think I’m up on stage soon.”

He adjusts his jeans again, grimacing, and wonders whether he can possibly be lucky enough to have a second spare set of pants here in the club somewhere. He doesn’t think so, which means he’ll probably have to borrow some from Pete, and they’ll be tiny and too-tight and probably bedazzled or some shit.

Gerard blinks a few times. He has really pretty, long eyelashes. Frank can’t believe he just dry-humped him in one of the private rooms. He stifles another giggle and ducks out the door. “Thanks for that,” he calls back, and takes off in search of clean clothes.

-

Friday night Frank’s spread out on the bar letting a pair of giggly drunk chicks doing shots lick salt off his nipples. It’s nice work if you can get it, so Frank doesn’t give the small group of college-age guys more than a cursory glance when they come in. He has more important things to focus on.

“You’re totally gay, right?” girl number one giggles. “You have to be gay.”

“I’m equal opportunity,” Frank says, grinning and arching his back a little. “Go ahead, lick the other one.”

“Another round?” Ryland asks, ignoring Frank’s prone body with remarkable aplomb as he leans over him to address the girls. “Same thing?”

“My turn,” girl number two says, already sprinkling salt on Frank’s bare torso. It tickles. He squirms a little; Ryland pinches him just above his ass, out of sight of the girls. Frank thinks about cursing him out, but he’s got a good thing going here right now, so he just smiles at the girls and lets them lick him some more.

A minute later they’re heading to the bathroom together, holding hands and still giggling, so Frank hops down off the bar and starts swabbing the worst of the mess off his chest. “This is worse than after gay sex,” Frank tells Ryland, wrinkling his nose. “At least that shit isn’t grainy.”

Ryland’s about to reply when the catcalls break out. A whole chorus of them, obnoxiously loud. Frank twists and sees the group of guys who’d just come in, all hanging out near the back of the club in a clump. He glances at the stage to see if anything unusual prompted it, but William looks just as thrown, his rhythm broken as he fumbles an easy slide. Frank starts to climb over the bar, but Ryland clamps a hand down on his shoulder. “Bob’s got it,” he says, nodding to the blond head moving through the crowd from the door.

Frank’s about to go anyway, just on principle, when Pete brushes past him, heading towards the guys. “Five-oh-fucking-four-Plan,” he calls, a wide grin splitting his face. “What the fuck are you doing in our club?”

Frank relaxes minutely. If Pete knows them, it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily any less likely to be complete asswipes, but at least they probably won’t cause too much trouble. He leans back behind the bar next to Ryland, eyes hooded, while Pete exchanges back-slapping hugs with all of the guys and leads them back to the bar.

“Thought you were on tour,” Pete’s saying when he comes back within hearing range. Frank pushes off the back wall, deceptively lazy, and eyes up the newcomers.

“We were,” one of the guys says, a skinny thing with a big smile. Another one, tousled blond with bee-stung lips, says, “We are.”

“We hope to be again soon,” chimes in a third, sliding onto a barstool. His ‘s’ is a little sibilant, caught behind his teeth. He looks happy and a little sleepy, already scouting out the liquor selection.

“You should have called,” Pete says. “What the fuck?”

“That would have spoiled the surprise,” the first guy says.

“Should I ask if anyone wants a drink?” Ryland asks mildly. “Or, considering that you’re friends of Pete’s, should I ask if I should be opening a tab?”

“Shit, sorry,” Pete says, reaching out apologetically in Ryland’s direction. “This is Nick, Tom, Jon, and Mike, they’re old friends. Guys, this is Ryland, and that’s Frank.”

“A pleasure,” Nick says, holding out his hand for them to shake in turn. “Now, about that drink you mentioned.”

They’ve attracted a small crowd, Gabe and Travis coming out of hiding to check out what’s going on. Butcher seems to know everyone as well, because he stops by on his way to the stage and there’s another round of quick hugs.

“You assholes,” William’s voice chimes in over the constant rounds of introductions. “I can’t believe you.”

Jon lifts his head from where he’d had it propped up in his hands, smiling. “Don’t be like that,” he says, making a shitty but hilarious attempt at placating. “We wanted you to feel special.”

William rolls his eyes, but he hugs Jon anyway, and the other guys in turn, chiding them at length for their interruption. When he gets to the blond – Tom – there’s a slightly awkward fitting of limbs, like they can’t figure out what to do, but then they slide together like interlocking puzzle pieces and Frank gets it. When Tom’s touch lingers as they pull away, his eyes soft on William’s face, it’s easily confirmed. Frank knows the way people touch each other after they’ve been together and broken up. From the look on Gabe’s face when Frank glances over at him, he recognizes it as well.

“We have a show in two weeks,” Jon is saying, ostensibly to Travis now. “Kicking off the next tour. This is kind of our down time, getting to spend a few weeks at home with our families and pets.” The lisp is even more pronounced with the extended statement. Frank bites his lip before he smiles and thinks it’s oddly charming.

“You’re coming, right?” Nick asks. “You’re all coming. You two, though…” He pokes William in the chest and jabs the same finger at Pete. “Your presence is required. We already have tickets on hold.”

“What night is it?” William asks, already looking at Travis for permission. He leans back a little, and Frank sees Tom’s hand brushing William’s thigh before he takes a step away. “We’re only off Sundays, Mondays, and Wednesdays.”

“Not next Wednesday,” Gabe says. His gaze is focused on the space between William and Tom, and his smile is just a little sharp, even for Gabe. “We have a special corporate event.”

Frank groans. “That’s a chicks’ night,” he protests, although he supposes the extra cash won’t hurt anything. He might even be able to splurge on groceries next week.

“That’s why I said special event,” Gabe stresses. He raises his eyebrows and asks with perfectly-feigned casualness, “Did I mention it’s a dress-up fetish party?”

“I’m in,” Pete says promptly. Ryland smiles fondly at him. William glances at Tom and sways into him for a split-second, then back out again.

“Fuck, I think I’m in,” Jon announces, somehow having acquired a full glass of beer and toasting them with it. “Do you have any spare costumes?”

“Don’t joke about things like that,” William warns. “Travis will have you on that stage in less than an hour.”

“The concert’s on a Sunday,” Nick says, refocusing the conversation. “Think you can make it?”

“We’ll be there,” Pete promises. “Wouldn’t miss it.”

“With bells on,” William murmurs. His eyes are focused somewhere in the vicinity of Tom’s shoulder, and Tom’s are watching his face, still with that same soft look. William glances up and meets it, just for a second, before looking away again.

Frank pulls his gaze away and ends up catching sight of Gabe, leaning against the end of the bar. His eyes are hooded and dark, watchful. Frank forces himself to look away.

-

The fetish party is actually turning out to be a lot of fun. They all have costumes, so it’s kind of like Halloween, only with less candy corn. Frank loves Halloween, he has no objection to having two of them in one year.

Frank had wanted to be a monster, but Travis told him sternly that monsters weren’t sexy and sent him back to the dressing room. The thing is, Frank’s had a lot of Halloweens now, all of them important, and he hates the idea of re-doing something he’s already done before. He wants to be original.

Not to mention, everyone else has already taken the easy ones. The girls have fetish nights on a regular basis, so they’re basically taken care of. Lyn’s dressed as a Catholic schoolgirl, hair in pigtails and wearing some serious fuck-off boots. Maja’s gone the angel route, although with that much skin showing, Frank’s not entirely sure she qualifies. White is a good color on her, though. He hasn’t seen Alicia yet, but he’d seen the naughty nurse costume hanging in the dressing room, so that’s not a huge mystery. Victoria’s dressed as a French maid, and half the staff had watched her walk in with their tongues already hanging out of their mouths. Frank had given her two thumbs up.

Pete’s dressed as a police officer, although his costume consists basically of tight pants, a hat, and a vest. Frank had expected William to go as a cowboy, since he already had the outfit, but Butcher has taken that one, wearing jeans, William’s hat, and a red bandana around his neck. William is wearing bell bottoms with a floral-print handkerchief tied around his leg, a loose, flowing shirt, and a bead necklace. He has a daisy tucked behind one ear.

“Free love hippie,” he’d explained when he caught Frank looking. It’s a good look on him, Frank has to admit. Gabe obviously agrees; five minutes before the club had opened for the party, they’d been making out on the floor, William perched on the edge of the bar and tilted into Gabe so that his hair fell forward and hid their faces.

Travis had said philosophically, “Better than on my desk,” and left them to it.

Frank waffles over ‘sexy doctor’ for a few minutes, but he’s not really feeling it. He shimmies into skin-tight leather pants instead, strapping on matching wrist cuffs and borrowing Pete’s makeup kit to color around his eyes. His hair only takes a few seconds to wash, the dye streaking bright colors through the brown, and then he thinks he’s set.

Pete raises his eyebrows when Frank walks out. “Emo Stripper Rainbow Brite?” he asks, twirling his rubber nightstick in one hand.

“Fuck you, I’m a rock star,” Frank informs him, tugging at the cuffs reflexively. He’d wanted to be a zombie rock star, actually, but he’d had a feeling Travis wouldn’t deem that sexy either.

“And a fine-looking rock star you are,” Ryland says somberly from behind the bar, all done up in a proper tuxedo with his hair slicked back and a black bow tie. “Albeit a very short one.”

Frank gives him the finger and checks out what’s going on in the club. There are people coming in more or less steadily, mostly nerdy types who seem too shy to actually approach any of the staff. “Where did they come from, Mars?” he asks, watching a wide-eyed cluster of guests practically crush each other to avoid Butcher as he walks past with a tray of drinks.

“Better,” Pete says, grinning. “They’re artists or some shit. They draw cartoons.”

“Huh,” Frank says. This seems an odd choice for a corporate cartoonist party, but it’s not like he’s complaining. These will probably be the easiest customers he has all week. Although maybe it’s not so odd, on second thought. He can see three separate people from here with sketchpads out.

Ryland drops the last cherry onto an arrangement of what looks like Blue Hawaiians. “Practice,” he says, holding out another cherry to Pete. Pete catches the end of the stem in his teeth and returns it a moment later, spitting the neatly-tied knot out between his lips with a smug smirk. “Well done,” Ryland says, with one of those faintly lopsided smiles he seems to save for Pete. “Go get ‘em.”

Pete slides the tray off the bar and takes off, hips swinging. Two tables full of cartoon nerds slowly turn their heads to watch him pass. Frank snorts and looks for a place to go be useful.

The thing is, they’re not used to having everyone work on the same night, so it’s a bit crowded. Even with a full house, this place only has room for so many people working the floor. Lyn’s onstage, coaxing one of the geeks up to dance with her, and every table Frank sees is occupied. There’s a small group of people clustered around the far corner of the stage as well, and Frank sees why when he gets closer.

“Frank!” Brendon says cheerfully, giving him a little wave. He’s perched on the edge of the stage, bare feet dangling over the side, and there are shimmery wings strapped onto his back. There’s a little wreath of flowers and leaves in his dark hair, and his entire torso is covered in body glitter. Frank’s tempted to blink a few times and maybe rub his eyes, but he’s pretty sure then when he opens them again, Brendon will still be dressed as a fairy.

“Wow,” he says. Brendon just grins at him. The reason for the crowd is easily apparent; there are at least half a dozen people ranged around Brendon, all sketching furiously. Frank shakes his head in admiration and gives Brendon a high-five that only smears a smudge of glitter over his palm.

“Is Ryan here?” Frank asks. Brendon nods and points to one of the tables in the back, where a familiar dark head is bent in conversation with someone Frank doesn’t recognize.

Ryan is Brendon’s boyfriend, and ever since Brendon started actually dancing at the club rather than working the bar and helping Bob with security, he’s shown up faithfully every time Brendon’s scheduled to perform. Since Brendon only dances when they’re short or for special occasions, it’s still not all that often, but Ryan has yet to miss a day.

It’s not some twisted possessive jealousy thing, either, which Frank would totally understand but also be slightly nervous about. Ryan seems to consider it part of his duty as Brendon’s boyfriend to provide moral support and watch him perform. He sits at a table near the front whenever Brendon dances onstage, watches quietly with his hands folded on the table, and applauds at the end, like he’s watching a real show and not a striptease. It’s one of the fucking weirdest things Frank has ever seen, but oddly endearing at the same time. And it makes Brendon happy, so whatever.

“Frank?” someone asks, and Frank twists around in confusion because he doesn’t recognize the voice, or the careful, tentative way it’s saying his name. It doesn’t take him long to place, though, not with the very familiar face standing there smiling hesitantly at him.

“Gerard?” he asks in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

Bob’s not letting in anyone off the street, Frank’s pretty sure, but Gerard just smiles wider and waves hello. “This is, uh, my office,” he explains, gesturing to encompass the room full of people. “I work as a cartoonist.”

“No shit,” Frank says, suddenly feeling much better about this whole night. It will be nice to talk to someone who isn’t staff or making their best effort to swallow their own tongue. “What a weird world, huh?”

Gerard blushes. Frank watches the color bloom over his cheeks and is completely fascinated. “Actually, no, not really,” Gerard admits. “I kind of…um, they asked for suggestions on where to hold the party, and I said this place was good. I knew you did events and things, it was on one of the fliers.”

“Oh,” Frank says, slightly taken aback. He’s not sure what to say to that.

Gerard’s blush deepens. “I wanted to see you again,” he continues, shoulders hunching up around his ears in a way that Frank really shouldn’t find so adorable.

“Oh,” Frank says again, and then grins. “Yeah?”

Gerard peeks up at him and his shoulders relax fractionally. “Yeah,” he admits, and laughs a funny little seal-bark of a laugh. “It’s kind of stupid, right?”

“No, it’s really not,” Frank assures him hastily, rocking forward onto his toes and patting his arm. He’s suddenly acutely aware of Brendon watching them with undisguised curiosity. “Did you, um…?” He’s not sure how to ask if Gerard wants to go have another make-out session in one of the private rooms without it sounding really creepy. “Want anything? A dance?”

He steps forward, into Gerard’s space, but Gerard suddenly looks panicked and takes a step back. “I, um…” he begins, and is interrupted by the arrival of Butcher, who’s somehow procured a lasso.

“What’s new, buckaroos?” Butcher asks. Brendon abruptly goes from open interest in Frank and Gerard’s conversation to looking wistful in the direction of Butcher’s cowboy costume.

“Oh wow,” Gerard says, and Frank tries to evaluate whether that’s relief in his voice or just artistic appreciation. “Your tattoos are amazing. Can I see? Do you mind?” He’s much less hesitant when it comes to art, it seems, because he hardly waits for Butcher to obligingly turn his back before he starts tracing the design with his fingertips.

Butcher cranes his head a little to look back, shuffling forward when Gerard frowns and goes to move them into better light. “Yeah, I’ve been getting that reaction a lot,” he admits. “I started the night with a buckskin vest thing, but so many people have wanted to draw the tats that I decided to just leave it off.”

“This is really great work,” Gerard says sincerely. His hands are still on Butcher’s skin. Frank tries to come up with a legitimate reason to be annoyed by that. “Did you come up with the design?”

“Yeah,” Butcher says again, sounding pleased. “I went to art school, I’m finishing up a master’s degree now. Most of my work is in textiles, but I paint and sculpt and everything too.”

“Really?” Gerard asks. He sounds like Christmas came early. He is paying no attention whatsoever to Frank. “Me too. Art school, I mean. You probably knew that, I mean, a lot of us here did, but I paint, too. Is this tree yours?” He touches the twisting branches on Butcher’s arm and his fingers twitch, like he’s itching for a pen.

“That one, and this one, too,” Butcher affirms. “Oh, you should see the whole thing. Hang on. I don’t do this for just anyone, but…” He winks, and then drops his trousers so that Gerard can see the entirety of the design spiraling down from his back and over his ass.

“Holy shit,” Gerard says, awed, and his fingers reach out again. They don’t touch this time, but they do hover there like he really, really wants to.

Frank shifts back and forth on his feet. He clears his throat. He crosses his arms. Brendon blinks at him a few times. One of the cartoonists moves on from drawing Brendon to sketching Frank’s elbow. Gerard’s eyes are still fixed rapturously on Butcher’s bare ass.

Frank rolls his eyes and stomps off to serve drinks.

-

Half an hour later, things haven’t improved. Frank has done everything he can think of to attract Gerard’s attention, short of getting naked and standing on a table, but they’re in a strip club, so he’s not even sure that would attract more than a few gawking stares and a wolf whistle from Ryland.

He’s currently half on top of someone named Benjamin, doing more licking and nibbling than is strictly kosher for a lapdance. Gerard is still over next to the stage talking to Butcher, so when Benjamin grabs his ass, Frank just scoots them around a little so the appropriate people can get an eyeful of exactly how good a time Frank is currently having.

He gets bored once the song ends and thinks about going out for a smoke, but Benjamin catches his wrist. “Wait,” he says, looking horrified at his own presumption but determined to keep going. “Would you…I mean, could I call…?”

He gives up then and just goes for a kiss, smashing their mouths together with no finesse but quite a lot of drunken courage. Frank jerks back and scowls at him. He’s about to let loose when he feels Bob’s familiar firm hand on the back of his neck, squeezing with intent.

Frank allows Bob to peel him away, still scowling, and march him towards the dressing rooms. “Knock it off,” Bob says, giving Frank a little no-nonsense shake. “You’re going to start a fight, I can tell. I know what that looks like on you.”

“He went way over the line,” Frank protests, kicking at a barstool as they go past but missing thanks to Bob’s tightened grip. “He deserved it.”

“You went there first,” Bob says. “Look at these people, they’re terrified to touch you guys. They’re afraid to even breathe the wrong way in here.”

“Not all of them,” Frank mutters mutinously.

Bob gives him a none-too-gentle shove towards the door. “Have a cigarette,” he orders. “Work it off. Stop being such a fucking drama queen.”

Frank thinks about kicking Bob in the shin, but Bob’s just doing his job looking out for them, and Frank wants a cigarette more than he wants to start a fight. He thinks Bob will probably let him take a swing after this is all over if he still needs it. Bob’s good like that.

He has two cigarettes because the first one doesn’t feel like enough, and then heads backstage. Pete’s onstage but clearly not working very hard. Everyone’s paying attention to the floor show; art geeks probably spend a lot of time watching porn, but how often do they get half-dressed strippers at their very elbows? Frank waits until Pete sees him and then gives him the signal for ‘swap-out.’ Pete must be even more bored than he looks, because he barely waits to finish his turn around the pole before he comes off.

Frank goes on and dances his ass off for the rest of the night. No one else wants to work the stage because there’s no one tipping up there, so he has it to himself for over an hour, just thrashing around to the music and working out his shit. This is a good place to get stuff out, he’s found, losing himself in the beat and the movement, and it’s even better when no one’s paying attention to him and he doesn’t have to keep breaking his rhythm for tips.

He sees Gerard looking up at him at one point, sort of lost and mournful, but he doesn’t come over, so Frank ignores him. He stays until Travis gives him the eyebrows and Gabe cocks his head sideways, and even then it’s only because they’re closing and the party’s finally breaking up. He feels a fuck of a lot better now; there’s an ache in his muscles that means he’ll pay for this when he has to dance tomorrow, but right now he’s enjoying the burn.

Pete meets him at the edge of the stage with a bottle of water and a towel. “Bad night?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Frank sees Gerard give him one last quick, sad glance before he looks away hastily and shuffles out the door. Fuck him anyway. Frank drains the bottle and doesn’t answer.

A couple of guys come in as Bob’s locking up, and they both look vaguely familiar. “Hey,” one of them says, and Frank recognizes the voice faster than he places the face: Jon. “We’re here for Pete and Bill.”

“Give me ten,” Pete calls back. “I need to shower.”

“Better make that fifteen,” Ryland advises dryly, wiping down the bar. “More likely twenty. Drink?”

Frank hops off the stage, making his own way towards the bar and the liquor. He could use a drink tonight, now that he’s off the clock. William meets him there, the flower in his hair still hanging on grimly for dear life but looking a bit worse for wear.

The one who’s not Jon – Tom – chews on his bottom lip and looks amused. “Wow.”

“Fuck you,” William says tiredly. His fingers fumble over the flower stem, trying to pull it free of his tangled hair. “I was being original.”

“No, no, it looks good,” Tom assures him. “You look good.” His hands join William’s, batting him gently away. He presents the wilted flower a second later and smiles.

Frank deliberately does not look to see how Gabe’s taking this, because he doesn’t really fucking care. “Beer,” he tells Ryland, drumming his fingers on the bar. “Cut it from my tips.”

Ryland doesn’t bother asking if it was a bad night, he just pops the cap on Frank’s favorite brand and passes him the bottle. This, Frank thinks, is what makes him such a good bartender. Frank considers Bob for a few minutes, but when Bob finishes humoring him and finally asks, “You want to take it outside?” he considers for a moment and then shakes his head. He feels pretty good, actually. Fuck Gerard and his mixed messages.

“I’m good,” he promises. “Thanks, though.”

Bob just taps his fingers on Frank’s arm until he gets a swig of his beer, and then answers, “Fair enough.”

“Are you changing?” Tom asks William, who’s making short work of a glass of water. He’s gotten sloppy with it; there’s water running down his throat and curled into the webbing of his fingers. Tom’s eyes follow the path of a droplet and stop when William swallows.

“No, I thought I’d go out to the movie like this,” William says, rolling his eyes, but he’s smiling. “I’m gonna catch a shower first.”

“You should show me the dressing rooms,” Tom says, hands stuffed in his pockets. “I haven’t gotten the grand tour yet.”

William only hesitates for a beat. “Okay,” he says, pushing back from the bar. “There’s not a lot to see, though.”

“Don’t get lost or I’ll drink your beer,” Jon warns as they leave.

Frank knocks back the rest of his beer and heads backstage to get his shit.

-

Valentine’s Day comes around and they’re slammed. “Fucking V-Day, man,” Butcher says on his way past with a tray full of drinks, and Frank is inclined to agree.

“Like D-Day, with less clothing,” William adds. He’s mostly dressed still, somehow, although his shirt looks decidedly less crisp than it had at the beginning of the night, damp and limply clinging to his skin. Frank imagines them all grimly stomping around in combat boots fighting off scores of leering soldiers and thinks that might not be too far off.

“Cuffs,” he orders, and Ryland gives him an eyebrow but passes them over from the shelf behind the bar. It’s nearing the end of the night, which is usually when Travis tries to keep him off the stage because guys get drunk and Frank gets pissed off, but tonight is different and they all know it. It’s all hands on deck, every year.

Andrew has a bachelorette party in the corner and is up on the table, letting them grope his ass. Frank can’t even tell who’s enjoying it more, the giggling girls or Andrew grinning down at them over his shoulder and flexing. He thinks it might be a tie.

Brendon’s working, too, and his boyfriend and cheering squad are there, discussing something animatedly over a haphazard pile of scribbled-on napkins. Brendon’s boyfriend has a best friend that comes along with him a lot, one who’s possibly the most unimpressed-looking guy Frank has ever seen inside a strip club. Frank often has to quash the impulse to go over there and straddle his lap just to see what sort of reaction he could provoke, mostly because he could just see Brendon’s stricken face if he tried it, and partly because he’s about 90% sure Pete already has.

Frank bounces the cuffs in one hand and makes his way back to the stage. Butcher’s coming off in another minute-thirty or so, as soon as this song finishes up, so Frank takes the time to limber up and shake his muscles loose. The music is a low rumble in his rib cage, vibrating in his bones, dancing across his skin. When the lights change he heads out, high-fiving Butcher as they pass, then slings his arm in a loose arc and handcuffs himself to the pole.

It’s a difficult position to dance from, because his movements are limited and there’s only so much he can do, but that seems to be part of what makes the crowd eat it up the way they do. He hears the whistling start before he even properly begins, swinging his hips and loosely grinding his way down the pole until he’s crouched on the floor. Getting up is even harder, and his thighs burn with the promise of an ache tomorrow, but it’s a good ache. It’s like the pull of your muscles straining when you fuck someone for a really long time, and he leans into it, forcing his shoulders to stretch almost painfully far when he slithers to his knees.

He stays vaguely aware of the crowd, the way he always does, but a few minutes in he actually takes stock and counts the hands, notes the faces and tallies up possible dances and side-engagements later on. He almost laughs when he sees who’s watching him from further back, eyes pinning him to the stage.

Caught you, he thinks, looking back at Ryan’s friend Spencer, and contorts himself so far that the cuffs bite into the skin of his wrists.

He thinks he sees someone else, then, someone with a pale round face and stringy dark hair falling in his eyes, but when he blinks the sweat away he can’t find him again, so he thinks he’s probably imagining things. He doesn’t like the idea that he’s imagining that, or looking for someone, because he’s not, so he scowls at himself and resolutely throws himself back into the dance, arms straining against the unyielding metal. He closes his eyes for the next few minutes, getting lost in the rhythm, and doesn’t come back to himself until the last chords die out in a grinding squeal of feedback.

Brendon comes to let him out of the cuffs, because that was one of the things he always did back when he was just helping out, but somehow it feels different now, more like a show, because Brendon’s wearing skin-tight jeans and eyeliner, crawling across the stage with the key in his teeth like they’re both under someone else’s command, and he looks more at home in his skin than Frank remembers.

Frank has sweat dripping into his eyes and every muscle in his body has started to burn, but he still grins sharply when Brendon clicks the key into the lock, and Brendon grins back. Frank’s gaze flicks back out into the crowd and now they have Ryan’s attention, too, although it doesn’t look like jealousy. It looks like…well, like Brendon’s going to be pretty sore himself in a couple of hours.

Frank saunters wearily off the stage and snorts when Brendon follows him, on his back and writhing dramatically in Frank’s wake. Frank waits until he makes it out of sight before slinging a towel at him and laughing. Brendon just grins at him harder, shaking the sweat out of his hair like a dog and taking a swig of water before rolling out his shoulders to go back on and take his turn.

It finally starts winding down, just as the adrenaline of the night begins to seep into exhaustion and Frank’s body starts clamoring for a long hot shower and a bed. He body-checks Pete out of the line for the shower, ignoring the protest because Pete did the same thing to him last week, and Pete takes twice as long to finish.

Brendon’s hanging out at the table with Ryan and his friend Spencer when Frank drags himself out of the shower, chattering excitedly and drawing on one of the napkins with the worn-down nub of a pencil. Frank’s surprised to see William and Pete’s friend Jon with them, adding in an occasional comment of his own, but when he turns around to check out the bar he sees Tom there as well, beer in hand.

“What’s up?” Frank asks, hauling himself onto a barstool with only the slightest wince. He’s going to sleep like the dead tonight, and probably through most of the morning. Thank fuck he doesn’t have to be up early.

“McMahon’s been chatting up Victoria,” Ryland informs him, wiping down glasses with professional polish. “They’re out back now, having a smoke break.” He forms the quote marks in the air with his fingers, then spins the glass into the rack above his head.

“Everyone flirts with Victoria,” Frank says dismissively. He leans over the bar and feels the pull in his spine, vertebrae going pop-pop-pop with every additional inch of stretch.

“I think the more crucial point is that she’s letting him,” Ryland says, and Frank does a double-take, eyebrows high with surprise. Fuck, even his eyebrows hurt. It’s definitely time to go home.

“Love is in the air?” he asks, just as William bumps into him from the other side, apologizing as he catches himself. Frank starts to reach out but Tom is already there, steadying him with a hand under William’s elbow.

“Sorry,” William says again, righting himself.

“Full of grace,” Tom compliments, eyes sleepy but very much focused on William. “How the fuck did you end up as a stripper?”

“It was this or The Gap,” William quips in answer, and his smile is a little crooked, familiar.

Someone’s phone goes off and Brendon jumps up, his hands doing a little dance over his pockets. “Sorry, sorry, I’ve got to take this,” he says, and bounces out into the hallway with Ryan frowning slightly after him. Jon reclaims his attention a second later with something light and offhand, and Ryan turns away from the closed door.

“Not a bad take tonight,” Ryland comments, attracting Frank’s attention again as he counts through a stack of bills. He tips his chin towards Frank and adds, “For someone who sticks to soft drinks, your runner continues to be a good tipper.”

“Gerard was here?” Frank asks, surprised into answering before he can think better of it.

Ryland gets a funny look on his face. “Yeah, for an hour at least. He kept skulking around the bar watching you onstage, I figured he was just waiting for an opportunity to pounce. He didn’t come up to you?”

“Son of a bitch,” Frank replies, and kicks the bar for good measure. He’s not sure who he’s angrier with; himself for not noticing, or Gerard for hiding from him.

Strike that; he’s definitely angrier at Gerard.

Pete’s arm drapes around his shoulders, water still beading on his skin from the shower. “He’s just not that into you,” he offers, solemn-faced, and then laughs his annoying donkey-bray laugh.

“Fuck you,” Frank says, resisting the urge to punch Pete in the face. He means well. Besides, Ryland is right there, and about twice his size. It’s not worth starting shit over something that’s probably true. He doesn’t even know why it’s bothering him so much. So they got off together once, big deal. It’s not like it means anything.

“Right, we’re out,” Tom says, pushing back from the bar. The jerk of his head seems to encompass Jon, Pete, and himself in one movement, wheat-blond hair falling over his eyes again as he sets down his empty bottle. “Johnny?”

Jon stands up, saying his goodbyes to Ryan and Spencer, and looks inquisitively over at the bar. “Change your mind, Billvy?”

Frank has no idea who the fuck he’s asking about for a second, but then William shakes his head and says reluctantly, “Class in the afternoon.” When Tom boos, he just says, “Them’s the breaks, sweetheart.” His accent is atrocious, but Jon still laughs.

Tom hugs William goodbye, and Frank’s skin prickles even before he sees Gabe watching from the door that leads backstage. He gets distracted, though, because Brendon comes back in from the other hallway and is actually physically wringing his hands in distress.

Frank is about to leave them all to their own drama, but then William goes backstage and Gabe follows him, and a few seconds later Frank can hear the sharp sound of an argument, the kind where the people involved know they have to keep it down but are still really fucking pissed. “Nothing,” he hears, not muffled enough to disguise the words. “No.”

Frank considers. On the one hand, he really doesn’t want to stick around much longer. On the other hand, his shit is in the dressing rooms, which are on the other side of the argument that has now risen in volume to the point that Frank can hear the hissed, “Fuck you,” from behind the closed door.

“My parents are coming,” Brendon says, breaking in on his contemplation. His voice is high and panicky, tight with tension. “They said next weekend, they have tickets, they want me to show them around, they said they want to see where I live.”

“That’s good, right?” Spencer says, and his tone is surprisingly gentle for someone who spends a great deal of time looking as if ice wouldn’t melt on his tongue. “You’ve been hoping they’d start talking to you again.”

There’s a story there that Frank’s missed part of, Brendon and whatever happened with his parents, but whatever it is, it can’t have been good, because Brendon is squeezing his hands together so tightly the knuckles have turned white.

“They want to visit me at work,” Brendon emphasizes, like he’s announcing the dawn of the apocalypse. “They want to visit me in my gay apartment where I spend time with my gay boyfriend and then they want to come see where I work, Spence.”

“Okay, woah,” Ryan says, speaking up for the first time like a turtle finally startled out of its shell. “You didn’t tell them you work here, though, right?”

Brendon’s laugh is a little high, a little crazed. It almost drowns out the sound of William saying, “nothing to do with this,” from the backstage hallway.

“I told them I work as a server, they think I have a job at a restaurant or something. I couldn’t tell them I work as a bartender serving alcoholic drinks in a strip club full of gay men.” His face has gone white by the end of the last strong emphasis, and Spencer pulls out a chair for him and pushes down on his shoulder until Brendon folds into it.

“So tell them you have this weekend off,” Spencer says. “They can’t stick around forever.”

“What about when I have to go to work?” Brendon counters, hands clenched on the edge of the table. “What about when I have to leave them in my gay apartment that contains actual gay porn and come to work? They’ll follow me, Spencer, they’ll track me down.”

“Travis might give you the weekend off,” Frank muses from the bar. “He’s good, you could plead family emergency.”

Brendon shakes his head. “They’ll want to come see where it is and meet the people I work with. You don’t understand, these are my parents, they want to see everything I do to check for wholesome influences.

Ryan makes a noise that conveys his opinion on Brendon’s parents and their idea of wholesome influences. Spencer gives him a warning look across the table and kicks Ryan in the shin. Ryan kicks back and scowls, but rearranges his features into something more like sulky attentiveness.

Brendon doesn’t notice, because his head is down on the table. “I’m doomed,” he says, muffled into the tabletop. “Doooomed.”

“We’ll come up with something,” Ryan promises awkwardly. Frank silently wishes him luck with that, and wonders if he should call Bob before Brendon hyperventilates.

“Maybe I want a break from you too,” William says, slamming through the doorway, and all of them jump. William slams the front door even harder, hard enough that it rattles in the frame. Frank wonders if it’s safe to head back and grab his shit now, but something crashes backstage and he thinks maybe not. He hopes the chairs survive.

“Dooooomed,” Brendon says again. Frank thinks he might just have to agree with him.

-

The 5O4 Plan show is in a shitty bar that Frank’s been to a hundred times before, for live concerts much like this one. He sees Brendon first, bobbing up and down while he listens to something Jon is saying, a red cup in his hand. Pete and Ryland are hanging out by the bar, and he gives them a wave as he shoulders through the crowd to find his own spot. William is there, too, already working on a glass of something stronger than beer. Gabe isn’t. Frank isn’t really all that surprised.

He starts to go over to them, but then catches sight of a few friends that aren’t, miraculously, from work, and winds up pushing in that direction instead. “Mikey!” he yells over the ambient noise of the crowd, and Mikey looks up and moves his chin in a weird sort of Mikey-acknowledgement. Frank bobs his head in response and fights his way through the crush, slithering sideways at one point to squeeze between people, until he reaches Mikey’s side.

He gives their friend Ray a high-five and looks around in mild bewilderment. “Who the fuck are all these people?” he asks. Ray laughs, high and loud.

Mikey just shrugs. “Hometown band,” he says. “I’ve seen them before, they’re pretty good.”

“Yeah? Awesome.” Frank’s ready for a drink, but the crush at the bar looks pretty heavy right now. Ryland’s reaching over to accept two glasses, Pete half-hidden under his arm while everyone around them pushes forward. Frank wonders if he can get Ryland’s attention from here, but he thinks probably not. He’ll just have to head over when it thins out some.

“It’s too bad they don’t have a bigger venue,” Ray comments. “I mean, small shows are cool and all, but there’s really no room.”

There’s really not. The stacks of amps on either side of the stage have people already pressed against them on every available side, and the show hasn’t even started yet. The stage is about the same size as the one in Rogues & Queens, only with considerably more people packed onto it. Once the expansions Travis has planned for the club go through, though, they’ll have a lot more room than this place does.

“Huh,” he says out loud. Ray looks at him funny, waiting for the rest of the thought to be vocalized. Mikey’s expression doesn’t change, but Frank can tell he’s listening. He keeps his work life and his social life separate, though, so he doesn’t mention the idea slowly forming in his head. “Nothing,” he says out loud, craning his neck to check out the press near the bar. “Hey, I’m gonna get a drink, save me a spot.”

Ray calls something after him, and Frank waves vaguely over his shoulder as he bobs through the crowd. He ends up next to Brendon and Jon somehow, both of them holding down a patch of floor just out of the flow of traffic. Travis is with them, looming over everyone else in the immediate vicinity.

“Yo,” Frank greets them, eyeing the bartender hopefully. “Anyone have an extra beer?”

“Not a chance,” Brendon says, guarding his cup with both hands, and Frank almost cuffs him on the back of the head, because no way is Brendon old enough to legally drink.

“Good turnout,” Travis says, already watching the bar the same way Frank is in spite of the half-full bottle in his hand. “Means longer lines for the liquor.”

“I was just thinking,” Frank tells him. “Since you and Saporta are doing all the corporate parties and shit, we should totally rent the club out for shows on nights like this. Early evenings, or Sundays, something like that. We’ve got the room and the sound system.”

Travis strokes his chin thoughtfully. “That’s not a bad idea,” he admits. “Turn it into something else for a day, make some extra cash. We could pull in some local bands, maybe.”

Brendon laughs, but it sounds a little flat. “Too bad we can’t do that next weekend,” he says. “Turn it into someplace I could take my parents so they’d never have to know.”

There are lines of unhappiness around his mouth that aren’t usually there. Frank’s looking at them when his mouth opens of its own accord and says, “Why couldn’t we?”

“What?” They all look at him then, with matching expressions of confusion. Frank pushes on before the idea gets away from him.

“Why can’t we? Turn it into something else, have them come by. Sunday, we’re all off then. I’m sure people would help out even if it is their day off. We could all pool together, fake them out.” The more he thinks about it, the more excited he gets. They could be like super-spies, undercover. Frank has always wanted to be James Bond. That guy is so fucking cool.

Jon scratches his beard and then his hair, looking uncomfortable. “It would be hard to line someone up that fast,” he points out. “I’d offer, I mean, I’m sure the guys wouldn’t mind, we could play, but is a concert venue really that much more parent-friendly than a strip club?”

“Yes,” Brendon says immediately, but Frank is still thinking.

“What if it wasn’t a concert?” he says, words rushing over each other as he gets more excited. “What if we did something else? Like a, a restaurant, or a blues cabaret, or, or…”

“Who the fuck do we know that can cook?” Travis asks, while Jon says right over top of him, “Coffeehouse.”

“What?” Brendon’s eyes are as wide as tennis balls, ping-ponging between them all.

“Coffeehouse,” Jon says again, sounding a little embarrassed. “You know, like, espresso drinks and live music and shit. It wouldn’t be all that hard. All we’d need is a coffee machine and some pastries or something.”

Frank is practically bouncing on his toes in glee. “Totally, that’s totally it,” he says. Brendon’s mouth has dropped open a little bit, and when Jon finishes he whirls around to face Travis so fast he nearly trips over his own sneakers.

“Could we?” he asks, begging eyes turned on full force. “Could we, please?”

Travis hesitates, but he’s no match for the eyes and they all know it. The eyes are the reason Brendon ended up dancing last month during what was originally supposed to be a girls-only night of Britney Spears songs. “What the fuck,” Travis says, holding his hands up. “If you can get it together, you can have the space. We’re closed Sunday anyway.”

“What are we doing?” William asks, squeezing into the small circle of their discussion. Travis makes room for him automatically, arm draping over William’s shoulders. Tom is only a half-step behind William, tugging Jon’s sleeve.

“Hey, I gotta go,” Jon says apologetically. “I’ll catch you guys later though, yeah? Brendon, it was good talking to you again.”

He and Tom make their way toward the backstage while Frank and Brendon fill William in on the new Fool Brendon’s Parents plan, version one. They start talking about where they could get a decent coffeemaker and who they could get to come in and play, and before Frank knows it the lights are going down and the band is stepping out onstage.

“Motherfuck,” he says in surprise. “Gotta go.” It’s harder to find Mikey and Ray in the semi-dark, but he pushes his way through the crowd until he finds Mikey’s rail-thin frame and Ray’s hair, already bobbing in time with the beat.

“Where did you go?” Ray asks, and Frank just shrugs, yells, “People from work,” over the noise of a feedback squeal.

The band starts playing their first song, and Frank is just getting into the music when Mikey says, “Oh hey, there you are.”

“I said I would come,” someone else says, or at least that’s what Frank thinks he hears, anyway. He doesn’t look around until Mikey taps him on the shoulder, leans down to say, “Hey, there’s someone I want you to meet,” and Frank turns around and sees Gerard.

It’s definitely Gerard. Frank’s not hallucinating him this time, or seeing familiar faces when there isn’t one. Even if he hadn’t been unmistakably there, in the flesh, only a few feet away, he’s wearing a flummoxed expression that’s a dead giveaway and probably a match for Frank’s own.

“Do you two already know each other?” Ray asks, curious, and Gerard starts to answer but Frank rushes over him.

“We met once, another show, no big thing.” He likes that Mikey and Ray know him as a guy they hang out and go to shows with, and not as a guy who works as a stripper. He tries to will Gerard to keep his mouth shut with the power of his mind.

Gerard seems to get the hint, because his mouth snaps closed and he just bobs his head once in response. Mikey looks skeptical, probably because he goes to every show ever, and asks, “Which one?”

“You weren’t there,” Frank says quickly, wiping his sweating palms off on his jeans. “It was, uh, a while ago. How do you two know each other?”

“He’s my brother,” Mikey says, with the expression that passes for bewilderment on Mikey, brows drawn into a tiny pucker of confusion. Frank feels the bottom drop out of his stomach and starts swearing. Fuck fucking fuck. Of all the shitty luck.

Gerard’s looking at him with something embarrassed and plaintive in his eyes. “So, uh, hi,” he says, and Frank takes matters into his own hands before damage control becomes necessary.

“I need a drink,” he yells at the group as a whole. Then he snags Gerard’s sleeve and orders, “Come with me!”

“I, uh,” Gerard replies, but by then Frank’s on the move, dragging Gerard in his wake.

“What the fuck?” he asks when they reach a safe distance, projecting to be heard over the music blasting from the speaker stack. “You’re Mikey’s brother?”

“I didn’t know you knew him,” Gerard answers in what’s nearly a wail, his eyes skittering to where they left Mikey and Ray. “You didn’t say you were that Frank.”

“You didn’t ask!” Frank yells back in what isn’t actually a borderline-hysterical tone. This is awkward now, though, super-awkward, and Mikey has freaky-weird Jedi mind powers that mean if they’re not careful Frank is going to be so, so busted.

“So, uh,” Gerard begins guiltily. “How is everything?” When Frank just stares at him in disbelief, he shuffles his feet a little and tries again. “Sorry I haven’t, um, that I didn’t say goodbye the last time, I was kind of…”

“Whatever,” Frank says, when Gerard visibly stumbles to a confused halt. “It’s cool, I get it. Other friends, better things to do.” He really needs that drink now. He thinks about taking William’s, because he’s not too far off, but William looks miserable and alone right now and Frank thinks he probably needs it.

“No, no,” Gerard insists, his big, spooky eyes open wide and focused on Frank. “It wasn’t that, I just…I felt bad exploiting you.”

“What?” Frank asks, eyebrows knitted in confusion.

Exploitation,” Gerard yells, obviously thinking Frank can’t hear him, and Frank does a flappy-armed dance of embarrassment to get him to shut up. A couple of people glance their way, curious, but look away again after just a second, attention drawn back to the stage. Gerard lowers his voice again and says, “I was using you, for money, and objectifying you. It’s degrading, and I like you a lot more than that, I didn’t want to be someone who…who made you like that.”

“It’s a job,” Frank says, crossing his arms. “I’m not an indentured prostitute, Jesus Christ.”

“You sell sex for money!” Gerard squeaks, and Frank is about to flail at him to lower his voice again when Gerard ducks his head. “You got me off in the back room of a strip club as part of your job,” he emphasizes, and his eyes are still huge and earnest. Frank wants to swear at him and kiss him at the same time.

“That was a freebie,” Frank protests, one second away from stomping his foot for emphasis. “I didn’t charge you for it, that was just us having a good time! If you didn’t want to then you should have fucking said something at the time.”

“I did want to,” Gerard argues, wringing his hands in the stretched material of his hoodie. “But that’s the problem, I wanted to, and I want to again, I was using you…”

“I did it because I fucking wanted to, asshole,” Frank tells him, voice rising in spite of himself. “You think I do that for every fucking customer who comes in looking for a good time?”

“You’re in a bad position and I took advantage of you,” Gerard insists, gesticulating wildly as he speaks.

“I’m a fucking stripper!” Frank yells, just as the song ends and the bar goes suddenly quiet. There’s a weird ringing noise in his ears, and he can’t look away even as he feels his ears heat up and the pressure of curious gazes on the back of his neck.

Everyone is staring at him. Jon leans over and says into the mic, “We know, but, uh…thanks Frank,” and the earth fails to open up and swallow him whole no matter how hard he wishes it.

Gerard is bright red and Frank is furious and humiliated and really fucking conflicted, because Gerard is being solicitous and understanding and all Frank really wants is for him to stick his hand down Frank’s pants. He tries to storm off to recover some ounce of his composure, but Gerard flails after him and gets a hand on his sleeve as the music starts up again, yanking him back with abrupt pressure around his collar.

“I only avoided you because I was afraid of what I would do if we were in that situation again,” he says desperately, looking earnest and pitiful and altogether too attractive for Frank’s state of mind right now. “I value you as a person. I didn’t want to take advantage of you.”

Frank shrugs him off and draws himself up to every last centimeter of his height so he can look Gerard in the eye. “I’m good at my job, and I enjoy it, and if anyone tried to take advantage of me I would take their fucking balls off,” he says. “Which you’d know if you’d fucking asked me.

He takes off before Gerard can stop looking stricken for long enough to say anything else, and shoulders a lot of annoyed people out of his way en route to the door. Travis tries to intercept him, but Frank really isn’t in the mood and he doesn’t want to face Gerard or Mikey when the set ends, so he shoves his way out the door and leaves with the angry crash of the cymbals falling muffled behind him.

-

William comes into work the next day hungover and wearing the same clothes he had on at the show, and Frank has a bad feeling even before Gabe blocks the door to backstage and asks, silk-smooth and sharp at the edges, “Late night?”

“Fuck off,” William says, neat and precise, and goes to sidestep Gabe but finds himself blocked again. Gabe leans in to sniff and William jerks back, and whatever the two of them communicate during their little silent standoff is enough to make Gabe sneer and fold his arms across his chest.

“I knew it,” he says, and Frank thinks fuck, he hooked up with Conrad, half-wishing he’d stayed at the bar last night even if it probably wouldn’t have made any difference. William can be as stubborn as a stone sometimes, and he’d been well on his way to smashed when Frank had left.

“We already broke up, it’s none of your business,” William shoots back. “I can do whatever the fuck I want.”

“And did, obviously,” Gabe replies, and Frank gets a heavy, sick feeling in his gut, because he remembers what it was like with Mike, at the end, and this is that same thing happening all over again.

Travis is nearby, silent but watching, and Frank thinks he’ll step in if it gets ugly, but he can’t take sides, not over this.

“Was he good?” Gabe asks, voice low and crooning, sweet except for the flint beneath the velvet. “Did he touch you just right like he used to?”

William straightens like there’s a ramrod holding him upright and says clearly, “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

Gabe starts to reply, but Frank shoulders in between them, seeing the tense set of William’s back and not wanting to wait around for an actual fight. “Back off,” he says, giving Gabe’s chest a shove, trying to move him out of the doorway so they can both head to separate rooms and cool off. “Come on, not now, we have to open.”

He’s mostly worried William will snap. As hot-tempered as Gabe is, he seems to be simmering now, deceptively calm, but all it would take is one comment to set William off and they’re all fucked. If it comes down to it, and Travis has to choose between a dancer he can replace and his business partner who owns half of the club, it’s not like there’s really all that much of a choice.

Gabe backs down, though, hands up and lazy, hard smile in place, letting Frank push him away until he finally turns and heads back to Travis’ office. Frank breathes a sigh of relief and turns around just in time to catch William heading to his own corner, taking temporary cover in the dressing room.

“Fuck,” he says. Ryland catches his eye from behind the bar and shares a sympathetic grimace.

“They need to straighten out or Gabe’s going to get Bill’s ass fired,” Ryland says as Frank nears him, low and covert.

“Both of them are going to get his ass fired,” Frank corrects, heaving himself up onto one of the barstools and kicking his feet against the legs. “Bill’s not helping.”

Travis comes over before they can say anything more and they fall silent at his approach, but he just shakes his head and jabs a finger at Ryland and Pete, who’s now loitering against the far end of the bar. “You two better stay together fucking forever,” he warns, adjusting the knot of his tie and looking decidedly unhappy.

Pete’s eyes widen innocently. “How can we break up? We’re not even together.”

“Right,” Frank begins, but he doesn’t have time to give Pete any more shit, because Bob’s opening up the doors and Frank has money to make.

Because the universe has it out for him, of course, halfway through the night he turns around and runs into Mikey fucking Way. He’s just had to deal with a handsy asshole, two drunk fat dudes and a dick who didn’t want to pay for anything but the cover charge. He’s really not in the mood. He also never wanted Mikey to see him here, but obviously that hope is down the drain.

“What are you doing here?” he asks, moving sideways to get out of the way of Butcher grabbing a drinks tray. “How did you even find me?”

“Gee told me,” Mikey answers, pushing his glasses back up on his nose. “Look, Frank, he’s really sorry.”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Frank says, even though he really kind of does. He’d rather it was Gerard here groveling, though, and not a proxy. “I’m on the clock right now, okay? I can give you a dance if you want it, but I’m not hanging around to chit-chat.”

Mikey looks faintly horrified by that suggestion. Frank privately feels the same way, but he just juts his chin forward and waits for Mikey to fuck off.

“Come by on Sunday,” Mikey says. “You’re off then, right? We could get dinner.”

Frank shakes his head, with a mixed sense of reluctance and relief. “We’re doing something on Sunday. A coffeehouse thing, for one of the guys who works here. Beat poetry. It’s for his family, it’s important.” And if Gerard thinks he can have someone else make his apologies and get away with it, he can just fuck right off too. Frank isn’t an impoverished underage hooker, he has a good job and makes decent money and he’s not ashamed of it. If Gerard is, that’s his problem.

“Next Sunday?” Mikey tries, and under other circumstances Frank would be laughing at Mikey playing peacemaker. Now he’s just pissy.

“I don’t know,” he says shortly. “I’m working now, I’ll call you later.”

“Okay,” Mikey agrees. He looks around at Pete on the stage, the other guys on the floor serving drinks, Ryland behind the bar. “Cool place.”

“Thanks,” Frank says, a little disgruntled at how easy it is for Mikey to get back in his good graces. “Seriously though, I’ve got to get back. I’ll call.”

“Cool,” Mikey replies, and lifts a hand in farewell as he heads back out the door. Bob looks faintly puzzled to let him out again so soon, and Frank realizes that Mikey just paid ten dollars to come in here and ask Frank to make up with his brother.

Fucking fuck.

He manages to make it through the rest of the night without too much trouble, although Bob does yank him out by his ear once when he nearly takes a guy’s head off for something mostly-harmless that Bob would have taken care of himself in another thirty seconds.

“Walk it off,” Bob says, and Frank does, kicking at the pavement and stomping around until he’s too cold to stay outside any longer.

He feels a bit better after that.

The atmosphere between Gabe and William is chilly to the point that Frank thinks he might get frostbite just from being too close to them. Travis stays in the club proper all night, playing referee when necessary and generally making sure things don’t get too out of hand. When William does ‘Checkmarks’ – and fuck, they should have all known better than to let that happen – Gabe watches him crawling all over a random, thoroughly-delighted businessman in the audience and Travis steps in right when it looks like Gabe’s about to start smashing glasses.

Gabe just smiles, like his knuckles weren’t white on the edge of the bar a moment before, and Brendon bobs unhappily between all of them like he wants to be there just in case there’s a chance he can make things better. Frank doesn’t tell him that he really, really can’t.

William’s idea of a public performance lapdance tends to leave men’s throats dry, so Frank picks up a tray at the bar just as Pete goes onstage to take over. “Four more,” he says, holding his fingers up. “For the table by the door, the baseball caps.”

“Got it,” Ryland answers. Frank taps his fingers along with the drumbeat and watches Pete shimmy up the pole before bending backwards, legs clenched tight to keep him from falling.

“Pete’s dancing to ‘Pretty When You Cry’ again,” he remarks, leaning back against the bar. “Should I be worried?”

“He’s pouting,” Ryland answers, twisting the cap neatly back onto the bottle. “He thinks I’m keeping secrets from him.”

Something in the way he says it gives Frank pause. “Are you?”

Ryland just flashes a grin at him. “If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret,” he points out, and pushes the tray across into Frank’s hands.

He’s just turning to go when Gabe joins him, lounging against the bar in a charcoal-gray suit. “Victoria,” he calls. “ ¿Una bebida?” He’s turned the charm on, all wide, white smile, and follows the request with something that’s probably a come-on in Spanish.

She arches her eyebrows at him, balanced on the point of her high-heel mid-turn, and says out loud, “Seriously?” Gabe keeps smiling, but even Frank knows there’s nothing in it. “There’s no way I’m getting in the middle of this,” she tells him.

Frank picks up his tray and does a covert check to make sure William isn’t within earshot. He isn’t, not with the music as loud as it is, but he’s looking in their direction and from the way he’s holding himself, Frank thinks that Gabe’s jealousy ploy probably hit the mark.

“Bro,” he hears Travis say as he heads towards the table in the back. “You two need to work this shit out, because if it doesn’t blow over I’m going to have to let him go, and I really don’t want to do that.”

Frank pauses just long enough to eavesdrop, half-turning to catch them out of the corner of his eye. “It’s fine,” Gabe says, straightening, but his smile doesn’t touch his eyes. “Fuck that, keep him.”

The last is said at a slightly louder volume, which means Frank isn’t the only one eavesdropping. He glances sideways automatically; across the room, William tucks a strand of loose hair behind his ear and turns away.

-

Frank’s dressed and out the door before he remembers shit, tattoos and runs back inside to change. It takes him a few minutes of ripping apart his dresser drawers before he finds the black turtleneck he hasn’t worn in years now, neatly folded at the bottom of the ‘winter’ stack. It still fits, thankfully; stripping four nights a week is a great way to stay in shape. He rolls the collar up, cloaking the scorpion on his neck, and finger-combs his hair again before taking off. He doesn’t think Mr. and Mrs. Urie, wholesome folk that they are, would appreciate Brendon hanging out with tattooed hoodlums. Brendon is a good kid; Frank’s not going to cause trouble for him if he can avoid it.

He walks into the club to find Ryan and Spencer already hard at work, winding a string of white Christmas lights around the stripper pole. Jon’s there too, hanging out at the bar with Travis and a Senseo coffeemaker he introduces as “Frederika,” with a little cooing note of affection as he pats the shiny metal surface.

Ryland arrives a few minutes later, just as Frank has finished shedding his coat and scarf onto the nearest available chairs. He has a box larger than Frank in his hands, and is wrestling it through the doorway with minimal success. “A little help, Peter,” Ryland requests mildly over his shoulder. Pete ducks underneath the box to grab it from the other side, and the two of them get it over to the counter with only a minor amount of fuss.

“Wow,” Jon says, looking at the coffee-making monstrosity that emerges from the box with lust in his eyes. Frank doesn’t think Frederika would approve.

“I have friends,” Ryland informs them, waggling his eyebrows as he and Pete get the thing settled on the counter. “Friends with well-stocked kitchens.”

Tom is working on the sound system, and after the lights are strung, Spencer heads up to help. “I brought jazz,” he says when Ryan gives him an inquisitive look. “Who doesn’t like jazz?”

Frank is busy rearranging the chairs when Butcher comes in, carrying an actual set of bongos. “Seriously?” Frank asks, from behind the handful of chairs he’s currently relocating.

Butcher just thumps an exclamation-point rhythm on his way to deposit his armful on the stage. “It’s beat poetry,” he points out. “What’s beat poetry without bongos?”

Brendon is supposed to call Ryan when he and his parents are on their way, which won’t be for a while yet. They have church in the morning, and then lunch at a restaurant somewhere near the park. They should still have plenty of time.

William and Andrew show up carrying boxes of books and with another kid named Adam who turns out to be William’s roommate in tow. They have about fifteen volumes of poetry between them, which they start lining up wherever there’s a convenient space. “Relics of a misspent youth,” Andrew drawls, grinning, and William laughs. He’s wearing several scarves, artfully draped and tied in loose floral-patterned knots, and for a second Frank’s chest tightens up, thinking William has something to hide under there the way Frank does, lovebites instead of ink. Then he sees that William’s brought an honest-to-god beret as well, and realizes it’s just William being William.

“Let’s see it,” Tom calls down from the sound booth, and William tilts the beret into place on his head, eyes twinkling. He tosses up a CD and Tom catches it, says “Thanks,” and goes back to work. Frank looks away from the exchange to find Gabe still watching, a thoughtful, veiled expression on his face.

They’ve got the place scrubbed and disguised to within an inch of its life when Ryan’s phone goes off, and he looks up with a grimly determined expression while the rest of them scramble to take their places.

When Brendon walks in ten minutes later, followed by two middle-aged adults that can only be his parents, William is onstage reading from a notebook, beret cocked at an appropriately artistic angle, accompanied by the occasional silvery jingle of the tambourine in his free hand. Jon is serving espresso drinks that smell amazing, and Tom has the lights on in a way that suggests all eyes should be on the stage without plunging the rest of the room into dim gloom.

Frank knows fuck-all about poetry, so he’s in the audience, listening with an attentive expression while William reads something about growing up and growing apart. Pete’s next to him, with his own notebook tapping against his thigh as he waits to take his turn. “What is this?” Frank asks, leaning over and lowering his voice to keep from disturbing the reading. “Robert Frost or something?”

Pete laughs, muffling it behind one curled hand. “Nah, this is his,” he answers, flipping open the notebook in his hand to show Frank the scrawled lines of text covering the page. “We took a poetry class together, he still writes. I do, too.”

Frank’s about to reply when he catches sight of Brendon introducing his parents to Travis and Gabe, who shake their hands politely and undoubtedly offer effusive compliments on what a wonderful coffee-shop employee Brendon is. They seem a little disappointed by the fact that their son spends his time surrounded by caffeine and poets, which makes Frank turn his head to the side to stifle a fake-coughing fit into his fist. If they only knew.

Pete claps him on the back and stands during the polite applause for William’s reading. Frank recovers in time to snap his fingers, still grinning; hey, he’s seen the beach-blanket movies, he knows how this goes. William catches him at it and rolls his eyes, but he’s really laughing on the inside, Frank can tell.

Pete takes the stage along with Butcher, who settles next to him on a long-legged barstool with bongos in hand. Pete’s poetry is harder, darker, with a more driving rhythm; Frank listens to him label himself a lunatic at noon, but solar at night and wonders if Ryland already knows about this side of Pete. From the fondness of his expression as he leans back in one of the chairs near the stage, mug in hand, he does. Frank feels a little twist of something he’d probably call wistful if he weren’t immediately smothering it to snap his fingers for Pete.

After his reading, Pete cajoles Ryland into doing a dramatic reading of Beowulf, which actually has Frank in stitches before it’s half-over. He thinks they should do this more often, get together and have fun. There are more sides to all of them than he ever really gets to see while they’re at work.

The chairs fill up; Ryland has some friends who’ve dropped by, and the rest of Tom and Jon’s band come by with a pack of acquaintances in tow. The patronage is twenty-somethings to the last, with the exception of Brendon’s parents, but Frank doesn’t think they’ll notice. Coffeehouses tend to cater to the young, anyway.

Frank’s just taking a break to get a latte when Ryan climbs onto the stage, hat pulled securely down onto his head and half-strangled in scarves. His hands are white-knuckled on the edges of a battered green notebook, and his voice is soft and raspy when he clears his throat to begin. From the corner of his eye, Frank sees Brendon’s jaw drop.

“He doesn’t let anyone read his stuff,” Brendon whispers, clearly stunned. “Not even Spencer.

Ryan starts reading, though, clear-voiced if a little soft, and everyone quiets down to listen. As he reaches the end of his first poem, he looks up and meets Brendon’s eyes squarely, not stumbling in the slightest over the words. You are…

He almost trips over his own feet on his way off the stage, but Brendon flies over to meet him, squeezing his hands so tight they turn white again. “I love you,” Frank hears him whisper. “Just wait until my parents leave, and I’ll show you exactly how much.” Then he turns around, grin splitting his face wide open, and says, “Mom, Dad, I’d like you to meet someone. This is Ryan.”

Ryan looks about as shell-shocked as Brendon had a minute ago, so Frank turns away to give them some privacy, humming to himself while he waits for the latest ‘customer’ to get their drink order. There are even more people in here now; a few guys that Frank thinks might be friends of Pete’s, Alicia and some of her friends, Maja and her girlfriend. And…

Frank does a double-take, but it’s hard to mistake Mikey Way for anyone else. Ray’s there, too, commenting on the set-up of the lights, and there’s someone else drifting in their wake, looking uncomfortable but not out of place in a black suit jacket and dark jeans.

“What are you doing here?” Frank asks, stunned; déjà vu, and Mikey just blinks at him.

Gerard’s the one to speak up, hands shoved into his pockets and only risking quick looks up at Frank through his lashes. His hair is damp, and smells faintly fruity; he must have showered before he got all dressed up to come over here. Frank’s heart does a weird flippety-flop thing in his chest. “You said it was important,” Gerard says, chin jutting out the tiniest stubborn inch. “So we’re here in support.”

“You came for Brendon?” Frank asks stupidly, still staring. Cleaned-up and blushing, Gerard is even prettier than Frank remembers. He’s so fucked.

“Well, we came for you,” Gerard corrects. He holds up a frayed leather-bound journal and says sheepishly, “I brought poetry?”

Frank thinks, very seriously, about his whole sticking-hands-down-pants plan, which had been sidelined in his fantasies for a while, ever since Gerard started avoiding him like an asshole. Except that he can see Mr. and Mr. Urie being introduced to William over Gerard’s shoulder, and he doesn’t want to scandalize Brendon’s parents and fuck this up.

“You brought poetry?” he echoes instead. His voice is a little squeaky, so he clears his throat.

Gerard doesn’t seem to notice. “Yeah, well,” he says, ducking his head awkwardly and scrubbing a hand through his damp hair. “If it’s important to you, it’s important to me, too.”

Frank’s smile widens, mischief tugging at the corners. “Did you tell Mikey how we met yet?” he asks.

Gerard’s eyes turn round and huge. “No,” he says. “Frank.

“So he was looking for this comics store,” Frank begins loudly, because he might not come off great in this story but Gerard comes off so much worse, and Mikey pretends to look interested for the five seconds it takes Gerard to sputter out something about being here to support Frank and shuffling over to the stage.

Butcher introduces him with a staccato-drum roll on the bongos, and William adds a jangling tambourine-strike for emphasis. Frank stands there watching, bouncing on his toes and grinning like an idiot.

It turns out that Gerard writes really kick-ass beat poetry. The Urie parents seem slightly disturbed by the amount of blood and the relish with which Gerard describes a particularly gruesome death, but Frank doesn’t care. Gerard’s poetry is awesome. And okay, maybe it’s not even so much poetry as it is a long, rambling narrative monologue, but that doesn’t matter either. Gerard keeps peeping out at him from under his hair, and Frank grins back and waves when Gerard takes a gulp of water between stanzas.

“So, how long is this thing going on?” Ray asks, munching on one of the pastries Spencer had brought in for ‘sale’ at the counter. Mikey’s wandered off somewhere, probably finding a seat. The last time he’d seen, Alicia had been giving him an evaluating look and Mikey had been staring like he couldn’t quite believe a real live stripper had descended from the heavens to talk to him. Frank had thought about warning one of them, but opted against it when he couldn’t decide which one.

He shrugs, watching Gerard make his way back to them, stammering through everyone’s congratulations. “Until Brendon gets his parents to leave,” he answers. “Probably not much longer. Hey,” he tells Gerard as soon as he’s within earshot. “You were awesome.”

“Yeah?” Gerard asks, eyes lighting up, and Frank nods enthusiastically, about to say more when someone taps on the microphone.

Frank twists around to see Gabe standing on the stage, no notebook in hand but with Ryland standing solemnly beside him, in possession of William’s tambourine. Gabe strikes a pose, hand on the microphone stand and eyes dark but dancing, and the tambourine shakes in punctuation before he starts to speak.

No te quiero sino porque te quiero,” he begins, and Frank hears the intake of breath beside him. He turns sideways, eyebrows raised in question, but it’s not William, it’s Pete.

“I can’t believe he’s using Neruda,” Pete says, keeping his voice low and shaking his head. “Bastard.” Frank furrows his brow and looks at Gerard, but Gerard looks equally confused, chewing on his lip and watching the stage.

William doesn’t. William looks at Gabe like he knows exactly what this is, like they’ve talked about this before, maybe, or shared it, like it’s left over from a discussion over late-night takeout about Gabe’s time in high school or William’s lit classes. William looks at Gabe like he knows this poem by heart the same way Gabe does.

Frank doesn’t think either of them really had a chance at staying apart.

Gabe finishes the poem, and when William shakes his head slowly, smiling, he says, “Hold up, hold up, I’ve got Lorca, too.”

“Stop, for the love of god,” William pleads, as Gabe strikes another pose and Ryland bangs on the tambourine. “I’ve already forgiven you.”

Gabe jumps off the edge of the stage and reels William in until they’re standing chest-to-chest, swaying together. “You can’t forgive me,” he returns, scowling in mock-outrage. “I’m the one forgiving you.”

“Yeah,” William agrees, mouth curving up. “Come on, you can read me the Lorca where there’s not a microphone involved.”

Frank sees Travis straighten up from where he’s lounging in a chair near the back, but he’s not in time to stop them from disappearing backstage, and Frank’s pretty sure his cardinal rule of ‘no sex on my desk’ is about to be broken yet again.

A few more people read, including Ray, who picks something out of one of the anthologies William and Andrew brought, and Bob, who gets as far as, “This poem is called, ‘I will kill you for making me do this, Frank Iero,’” before he loses the stern façade and recites ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ with admirable poetic tone. Frank hoots his approval and Brendon’s parents clap politely, looking about ready to leave the crazy kids behind for the day.

They leave not too long after that, while Tom and Spencer are on a jazz break, the disco ball above the stage reflecting glittering light across the floor. “It was nice meeting you,” Mrs. Urie tells Ryan as they make their goodbyes. “I’m sure we’ll see you again soon.”

Ryan stammers out a stunned reply and Frank manages to get his hand into the container of biscotti to extract a handful while Ryland is distracted. He passes one to Gerard and smiles innocently when Ryland catches him.

There’s a moment of silence as the door falls shut, and then Adam whoops, fist punching the air, and the tension in the club dissolves into relieved laughter and the usual clamor of several dozen noisy people in the same room.

Frank looks at Gerard, who is nibbling his pilfered biscotti with wet lips, and is torn, to the very marrow of his being. “I should help clean up,” he says reluctantly. “It won’t take long, I promise. But we should hang out, then. If you’re free.”

Gerard just shrugs. “I’ll help,” he says, and Frank almost starts making out with him in the middle of the club.

They get the coffee machines packed up and the dishes cleaned, books back into boxes and the chairs mostly arranged the way they’ll need to be for tomorrow night. At some point Gabe and William re-emerge, with mussed hair and bright eyes and matching telltale flushes. Travis mutters something about his desk, and William laughs, turning his head away. Gabe nudges him back up against the coffee bar and murmurs something in his ear that has William smiling softly and curling his fingers into the soft material of Gabe’s denim jacket.

“Yo, where’s McMahon?” Pete asks, breaking into Frank’s voyeurism. “We’re supposed to take these books over to Bill’s.”

“Smoke break,” Butcher says, miming a cigarette between his lips and exhaling dramatically. “With Vicky T, out the back.”

“Andrew doesn’t smoke,” William says absently. Frank and Ryland exchange meaningful looks over the bar and Travis snorts.

The momentary silence is disturbed by the jingle of keys. “We’re out,” Ryland announces, Pete by his side with one hand on the giant box. “As soon as we get this stuff packed up.”

“Are those keys?” Travis asks, drawling, before Frank can say something similar.

“These are the keys,” Ryland acknowledges with aplomb, “to our car. And our apartment.” He says it without emphasis, playing it off, but Pete’s grinning widely enough by the end to give it away.

Frank unfreezes a second before anyone else does. “You fuckers!” he yells, taking a swipe at Pete that just barely misses. “You moved in together? You bought a fucking car?

“How else do you think we got that fucking coffeemaker in here?” Pete asks, combing his bangs back over his eyes with two fingers before picking up the box in question.

“Your domestic bliss makes me sick,” Frank announces, but he can still feel Gerard’s warmth at his side, and somehow he doesn’t really mean it. “We’re-not-in-a-relationship my ass.”

“We’ve reconsidered,” is Ryland’s blithe reply, and anything else is lost in the chorus of noisy retorts. Pete’s voice rises loudly over the rest, explaining what a piece of shit their new used car is with a smile that hasn’t gone away yet.

“Hey,” Frank says. He looks over at Gerard, who has his lower lip caught between his teeth and clean dark hair straggling in his face, and grins so hard his cheeks hurt. “Want to get out of here?”

-

Gerard’s house is really a rented attic in someone’s two-storey historic home. Frank starts poking around as soon as they get inside, because this is the kind of shit you have to know about someone, like what cereal they keep in the cupboard and which DVDs are stacked on top of the player and how many layers of clothes they have strewn across the floor. Gerard has a decent amount of the latter, which he sort of wanders around picking up for a few minutes, apologizing, before he dumps them into a new corner and abandons the effort. Frank is charmed.

“Oh wow, you paint?” he says, catching sight of a stack of canvases leaning against the wall. None of them are finished, but all of them are bright and vivid, streaked with color. Frank pulls a few out to look closer, and Gerard hovers over him, pointing out what each one is supposed to represent and where he got the ideas.

Frank goes through his CD collection, his comic books, and the collage of photos on his fridge, most of which are of Mikey, before sprawling across the couch with an arm thrown over his head in his best Titanic impression.

“Jack,” he says insistently, grinning. “Jack, I want you to draw me. Like one of your French girls.”

Gerard laughs, and it’s kind of high and nasal, but genuine, like it’s been startled out of him. “You’re not naked,” he answers, and it’s a little shy, but that’s genuine, too. Gerard is fiddling with a pencil in his hands and letting his hair fall in his eyes again, and Frank stretches out on the couch and thinks, yeah, time to change that.

“C’mere,” he says, stripping off his parent-safe turtleneck and shaking his hair out. Gerard edges over with the same combination of shyness and awe he had that first night at the club, but he’s willing enough when Frank kisses him, eager fingers touching Frank’s hair and grazing over his shoulders like he can’t believe there’s this much bare skin right here on offer.

Frank manhandles Gerard down onto the couch and straddles him, pushing and pulling at Gerard’s shirt until it’s out of the way enough for him to duck his head and leave a flushed, sucking bite-mark high on his chest. Gerard moans, and Frank applies himself with more diligence, leaving another mark on the pale skin of Gerard’s throat. This time Gerard bucks his hips in an unmistakable request for attention, so Frank gives the spot one last lick and nip with his teeth, and scoots backwards to get Gerard’s pants open.

“You don’t have to…” Gerard begins, but everyone says that and no one actually means it, so Frank ignores him and gets friendly with Gerard’s dick. It’s pretty, fat and flushed, and it bobs hopefully when Frank gets close enough to stick his nose into the crinkly crush of Gerard’s pubic hair.

Gerard is loud. Frank is deeply appreciative of all the vocal support and guidance, and lets Gerard know that by deep-throating. He likes to know what’s working and what isn’t, although with Gerard it seems like everything works, pretty much. Gerard also has a fucking filthy mouth, which Frank hadn’t expected, but by the third breathless, mumbled variation on, “Your mouth looks so good stretched around my dick, so fucking good, Frank…” he’s actually far enough gone to be humping Gerard’s leg while he sucks, loud and wet and messy.

Gerard comes with a shout, and Frank hadn’t actually been planning on swallowing, but Gerard’s hands tighten like iron bands in his hair, so he rolls with it. Gerard whimpers when he goes sensitive, and Frank almost wants to keep sucking just to hear him make that noise some more, feel him squirm to get away.

“Oh fuck,” Gerard says, dazed. “Frank.” He has one hand on his neck, fingertips pressed against the darkening heart of the bruise Frank had left in his wake. “I, um…oh, wow. How did you know I had a…uh, that I liked the biting thing?”

Frank smirks, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. His mouth feels stretched and a little raw, but good. He really wants to make Gerard feel the same way. “You read, like, fifteen verses about vampires at the poetry thing, dude,” he points out, squirming up just a little so that he can – very subtly – go back to rubbing against Gerard’s leg. “Lucky guess.”

“Oh,” Gerard says, and then his eyes get this weird kind of evangelically-inspired light in them, and he wrestles Frank over onto his back on the couch, where he goes willingly and with a minimum of surprised squawking, once he figures out what Gerard is trying to do.

Gerard hovers over him, hands framing his skin like he had before when studying Butcher’s art, like he’s almost too awed to touch. Frank feels the flush all the way down his neck and chest, and he almost wishes Gerard would hurry it up and stop looking at him, but at the same time…this is nice. He feels special, cherished, and a lot of other stupid words he’s never thought about in connection to sex before.

“You’re so…” Gerard whispers, and Frank almost asks, ‘what?’ but then Gerard finally touches him, with hands and mouth, lips moving slow and purposeful over Frank’s stomach, and Frank’s head hits the armrest with a hard thunk.

“Beautiful,” Gerard finishes, minutes later, when Frank has almost forgotten how that sentence began. He’s taking his time, running his fingers all over Frank, his tongue tracing every whorl and line on Frank’s body, one at a time, like he’s planning on memorizing them all. It’s more than a little intense, especially when Gerard looks up at him and Frank thinks with sex-addled amazement that Gerard really does mean that, that this is his way of showing Frank how much he values him, and fuck, that’s almost too hot to think about. Frank flings an arm over his eyes and breathes, deeply, while Gerard spends approximately twelve hours mapping out the birds on Frank’s belly with his mouth and fingertips.

“Nngh,” Frank manages when it’s gone on long enough that every part of him is tingling, damp from Gerard’s mouth and cool against the air, his hips plaintively hitching up of their own volition, desperate for friction. He can’t believe there’s still light coming through the narrow window over the couch; it feels like Gerard has had him here for hours now, most of the night, just looking at him and touching.

Gerard’s hand closes around the base of the dick and Frank arches up instantly into his grip. “Oh fuck please,” he begs, and everything after that is slightly less than coherent, because once Gerard stops teasing and makes up his mind to go down on someone, there is apparently no messing around.

Frank makes a fucking lot of noise himself, and when it’s finally over, Gerard sucking the last of his come and his brains out, his head feels like white noise and static. “Flllgh,” he says, which Gerard must recognize as the expression of appreciation it is, because he moves back up, smiling this dopey, happy smile, and kisses Frank stupid.

Frank’s phone starts whistling the Super Mario Brothers theme at him with unfortunately typical timing, chirping happily from the depths of his discarded pants. “Fuck,” he says, sprawling over Gerard to reach the floor and patting down his pockets until he finds the offending piece of technology.

“I’m not coming in, Urie,” he says as soon as he flips it open. Gerard is rubbing his ankle, and it’s nice. Also kind of distracting. “It is my day off.

“No no, hey,” Brendon says. “I just wanted to say thank you, for doing the whole thing today, for me. I really appreciate it.”

“Don’t mention it,” Frank says cheerfully, sliding his thumb over to ‘end call.’

“And if you wanted, I think some of us are going out,” Brendon rushes out, obviously sensing Frank’s intent to hang up on him. “I know we are, I mean. My treat. As a thank-you. Ice cream sodas at Bobtail.”

Frank pauses. “Yeah?” He looks back over his shoulder at Gerard, who seems content to wait and touch until Frank’s finished with his call. Frank waggles apologetic eyebrows at him anyway. “I’m kind of with someone right now.”

“Bring them,” Brendon says promptly. “If you want. My parents are finally gone, I want to fucking celebrate. Is it that guy from the club who kept stalking you? He came today, I owe him an ice cream too.”

“He was not stalking me,” Frank argues. Gerard starts sucking on one of his toes and Frank almost drops the phone.

“Bring him anyway,” Brendon insists. “I’ve gotta go, Pete’s trying to call me back.”

“Who’s in?” Frank asks, before Brendon can hang up. He wiggles his toes and Gerard starts licking. Frank wonders when exactly he developed a foot fetish, and thinks it probably has something to do with Gerard’s mouth.

“Almost everybody. I can’t get hold of Bill or Gabe, they keep going to voicemail.”

“Surprise surprise,” Frank mutters to himself. Then again, it’s not like he’s allowed to complain about other people getting laid right now.

“So are you coming?” Brendon asks hopefully.

“I’ll get back to you,” Frank answers, and hits ‘end.’

Gerard beams at him, and Frank’s chest does that swelling, achey thing it seems to be into lately. His dick twitches, too, a reminder that his chest isn’t the one that should be getting the majority of the attention.

“That was Brendon, from the club,” Frank informs him, wiggling his toes again. Gerard catches them in his fingers, but doesn’t continue orally molesting them, listening attentively. “He’s offering us free ice cream, if you’re interested.”

“Who isn’t interested in free ice cream?” Gerard asks rhetorically, looking perplexed.

Frank squirms back into his lap, grinning. “Dude,” he says. “You’d better look out. You’re almost one of the family now.”

Gerard smiles back at him with his neat rows of tiny white teeth. “Yeah?” he says, hands finding Frank’s bare hips. “Awesome.”

Frank leans in and kisses him because he can, and Gerard digs his fingers into Frank’s ass, and they both go tumbling back onto the couch.

“Fuck it,” Frank gasps, and laughs, squirming into a better position. “We can be late.”