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Distance in the Afterlife

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The Advocate: What led to your decision to come out?

Gerard Way: It was just time, you know? It wasn't like I'd been hiding this for years or anything, I only realized it a few months ago. I've never wanted to be the kind of person who hides things out of fear or embarrassment. I realized this about myself and I decided that I wanted everyone to know.


The issue with his interview hits the newsstands on Tuesday morning, and within half an hour his phone's buzzing with calls from Brian, his mom, their publicist, Pete Wentz, and every member of his band. Half an hour after that, he's dropped his phone in the toilet. It's too big to flush, but he's hoping the water will fry the circuits or whatever it is that water does to electronics. If he's lucky, the hotel won't charge him extra for phone-related plumbing issues.

Mikey starts pounding on his door ten minutes later. "Gee, open up. I know you're in there. Gerard!"

Talking to Mikey is the last thing in the world that Gerard wants to do right now, but the banging's giving him a headache, so he opens the door. Mikey stumbles into the room—he must've been leaning against the door, the idiot—and pulls Gerard into a hug.

"I'm so proud of you," Mikey says.

Gerard rolls his eyes, but he's touched. He pats Mikey's back. "Thanks, Mikes." There's a pause. "Uh, you can let go of me now."

"Sorry, sorry," Mikey says, pulling back. He's still beaming. "You should call Mom. Where's your phone?"

"Uh," Gerard says, and scratches the back of his neck. "I kind of threw it in the toilet."

"Oh," Mikey says. "I guess maybe you'll have to call her later, then."

They've got a show that evening and have to be on the bus in forty-five minutes. Mikey sits on the bed while Gerard brushes his teeth and stares at himself in the mirror. When he did the interview, when he first got the idea for it, he felt brave and rebellious, so confident in the way he was revealing the most private parts of his life to millions of people all over the world. He's not so sure about it now.

"The guys are eating breakfast downstairs," Mikey says.

Gerard bares his teeth at his reflection. "I guess we should go join them," he says.

The guys are sitting at a table in the dinky hotel restaurant downstairs, Worm standing guard with his sunglasses and combat boots. Frank's doing something with a napkin and Bob's head. The table's a mess, strewn with condiments and silverware. Gerard hovers in the doorway, uncertain, until Mikey puts a hand between his shoulder blades and pushes him forward.

Frank spots him first, and his grin goes from mildly entertained to gleeful. "It's the man of the hour!" he hollers, waving at Gerard from across the room. "Gerard Way!"

"Christ," Gerard mutters, but Mikey's still pushing him, and he goes. People are staring at them now, the sort of polite, middle-class people who have never heard of My Chemical Romance and who don't approve of public uproariousness.

Bob grabs Frank's arm and shoves it down. "Quit it," he says sternly.

Gerard pulls out the chair next to Ray and sits down. There's a croissant on his plate, and a cherry danish: his favorites. "Hi," he says. He can feel Frank watching him but he's afraid to look over and see the expression on Frank's face, whatever it might be.

"You should have told us, loser," Ray says, and punches Gerard in the arm.

"Sorry," Gerard says.

"Just, like. It would've been nice to have had some warning," Ray says. "The fans are gonna go nuts, man, I need time to brace myself for that many shrieking teenage girls."

Gerard rubs his forehead. "Yeah, I. Sorry. It was kind of a spontaneous thing, you know?"

"Oh, for Christ's sake, none of us are mad at you," Frank says. "I thought it was a great interview. If we have to put up with some really ugly homemade rainbow banners at shows, well, you know, so be it."

"Here's the butter," Mikey says, passing it across the table.

"Thanks," Gerard says. He looks around the table at his band. Ray's already gone back to scribbling chords on his napkin. Frank's stirring more sugar into his coffee. Bob looks bored. It's just like any other morning on tour, all of them half-awake and in desperate need of caffeine, companionable in their grumpy confusion. All the tension goes out of Gerard's spine, and he slumps in his chair, fumbles in his jacket pocket for his cigarettes.

"You can't smoke in here," Ray says.

"What kind of a shitty hotel is this," Gerard says.

"Can I have the rest of your danish?" Frank asks.

"No more sugar," Bob says.

Their show that night is in San Diego. It's a four-hour drive from where they stopped the night before, and Gerard spends the whole time sitting in the back lounge with his headphones on, watching the telephone wires scroll by outside the window. It's sunny and bleached-looking outside, everything baked beneath the hot California sun.

He falls asleep after a while, and wakes with Frank's hand on his shoulder, Frank rolling his eyes and saying, "Come on, move your lazy ass, we're almost there."

There's a crowd outside the lot where the buses park, like always, but it's larger than what Gerard's used to. There are the usual kids with handmade signs and blown-up photographs, but there are also journalists, looking out of place in the sea of ironed hair and heavy eye makeup. Gerard stares at them through the window as the bus rolls by. Kids wave and shriek; the journalists move in a pack, turning away from the gates to face the bus. Gerard's never been more thankful for tinted windows.

In the bus bathroom later, he stands with his nose pressed to the mirror and writes on his own neck: "NOT AFRAID," in thick black letters, a little wobbly but still legible.

"Looks good," Frank says, his fingers light on Gerard's skin.

"Don't, you'll smear it," Gerard says. He smacks Frank's hand away. His neck's tingling where Frank touched it.

Mikey appears in the doorway, breathing hard and grinning. "Dude, Gee. You've gotta—come on, you've gotta see this."

Gerard follows him. They stand backstage together, watching the tail end of Taking Back Sunday's set, and past the stage lights and all the amps and mic stands, Gerard can see kids holding signs that say, "GERARD, I LOVE YOU" and "THANK YOU."

"Oh," Gerard says.

During their set, he can't—there's this one girl standing right up front, wearing a white t-shirt with a rainbow painted on it, colors all out of order. She cries through the entire show, wracking, full-out sobs, and there's a girl beside her kissing her wet face and stroking her hair, and Gerard feels it go through him like a lightning bolt: the reason he gave that interview and why he would go back and do it again if he could, the reason he would make that same decision every time, in every life he was given to live.

He gets mobbed heading back to the bus, reporters mixed in with the fans, and before Gerard knows what's happening there are flashbulbs going off in his face and dozens of people shouting his name. He squints into the light, hand up to shield his eyes. He wasn't expecting this, and it makes him feel stupid that he didn't think it would happen. "What—"

"No comment," Brian says, suddenly right there, hand closing around Gerard's elbow. "Thanks for coming out, folks."

A woman calls, "Gerard, are you worried about the reaction of middle America?"

"Does the rest of the band endorse your life choices?" someone else asks.

"Um. No comment," Gerard says weakly, and then Worm's there too, and he and Brian shove through the crowd, propelling Gerard along with them. He's helpless. He lets them steer him toward the bus.

The rest of the guys are standing around with the driver, smoking cigarettes and tussling. Frank's telling Bob a story involving lots of grimacing and elaborate hand gestures; Gerard thinks it's probably the one about Frank's cousin's ferret and the kitty litter.

"Everyone get on the bus," Worm says sternly.

Frank snaps off a sharp salute. "Aye aye," he says. "Dude, Gee, what happened to you? I thought Bob told you to come around the other side." He slings an arm around Gerard's waist, tugging him close.

"Guess I missed the boat on that one," Gerard says. Frank's sweat is fucking mingling with his own and he feels hotter and grumpier than he did five minutes ago, too aware of the press of Frank's body against his own. "Gimme a cigarette."

Bob hands one over.

"No smoking on the bus," Ray says.

"Yes, the bus, that place you're supposed to be right now," Worm says.

"Jesus, we're going," Gerard says. He shakes Frank off, slips the cigarette in his pocket and climbs the stairs onto the bus.

Festival security's holding back the reporters, but they're clustered at the fence, taking photographs of the bus and of Mikey, who's still dawdling outside. Gerard slumps by the window and watches the flashbulbs go off. Behind the journalist, some fan is holding a sign with a rainbow painted on it and the word "LOVE."

Bob sits down. "Guitar Hero?"

"No, I wanna play that—where's that game with the bongos," Gerard says.

"I think Ray hid it in the back lounge," Bob says.

Ray snorts. "Yeah, 'cause you were getting too freaking good at it, man. You can't beat me at Guitar Hero and at the bongos game, that's not fair."

"All's fair in love and video games," Bob says.

"Are we playing the bongos game?" Frank says, coming into the lounge with a t-shirt halfway over his head, his arms sticking straight up. He's shiny with sweat and golden from all the sun he's been getting. "Dude, I love the bongos game, let me play too."

Gerard gets up and walks back to the front of the bus, pokes his head out. "Michael Way, if you don't get your ass on here in thirty seconds, I'm calling Mom."

"Okay, calm down," Mikey says. He bounds up the stairs and smacks Gerard on the back of the head. "You need to call her anyway." He pulls his phone out of his pocket and holds it out. "Here."

"Yeah," Gerard says, his hand closing around Mikey's phone. Mikey disappears into the bunks. Gerard hears the television turn on and the bongo game music start up, tinny and distant from the back lounge. He wants a cigarette. He wants a shower and a long nap.

"You coming?" Ray calls.

"No," Gerard says, and goes to hide in the bathroom and call his mom.

"Oh, baby, I'm so proud of you," she says, and starts crying, and that makes Gerard cry, and they just cry together for a while. It's kind of nice. Eventually Gerard wipes his eyes and says, "I gotta go, Mom, I need to eat something and then we—I've gotta get some sleep, I bet we've got a ton of interviews tomorrow."

"Okay," she says. "Listen to me, sweetheart, don't pay attention to anything those people say about you. I love you, and those boys love you, and all of your fans love you. Now go make yourself a sandwich, and tell Michael he needs to stop eating those Hot Pockets all the time."

"I don't think he'll listen to me, Alicia's been trying to get him to stop, too, and he won't listen to her either. But I'll try. Love you, Mom."

"I love you too, honey," Gerard's mom says, and they hang up.

He feels a lot better after that. Mikey's lurking around the bunks, and he jerks guiltily and hits his head on the bottom of Ray's bunk when Gerard comes out of the bathroom. "Ouch," Mikey says.

"Nice work, champ," Gerard says. "Here's your phone back, your wife keeps texting you."

"I told that woman to quit calling me," Mikey says.

"Mom says you need to stop eating Hot Pockets," Gerard says.

"I don't listen to her," Mikey says.

"I told her you'd say that," Gerard says.

Ray and Bob head back to their bus pretty early, and Frank passes out in his bunk, but Gerard and Mikey sit up in the back lounge, watching late-night TV and eating microwave popcorn.

Conan says, "In today's most unsurprising news, Gerard Way, frontman of the band My Chemical Romance, has announced that he's gay." The screen flashes over to a photograph of Gerard wearing eyeliner and a feather boa. The crowd laughs.

Gerard turns off the TV. "Fuck," he says, bending over until his face is pressed against his knees.

"No, Gee, it's not. It's good," Mikey says. "It's a good thing. Nobody's making a big deal, you know? It'll be old news by tomorrow. They're not even being mean about it or anything. Leno didn't even mention it."

"We'll see," Gerard says.

***

Brian schedules roughly nine hundred interviews in the next two weeks.

"I thought we just talked to Rolling Stone on Wednesday," Frank says, squinting at their daily itinerary.

"No, that was Spin," Brian says. "Shut up and let me do my job, Iero. Don't make me come over there and regulate."

"Fascist," Frank mutters.

"I enjoy crushing you under my authoritarian boot-heel," Brian says.

"Who's got a cigarette?" Gerard asks. He hasn't had a chance for a smoke yet this morning, and he's feeling twitchy and over-caffeinated. He needs some nicotine to counterbalance all the coffee he's been drinking.

"Later," Brian says. "You've got a breakfast meeting with the Dallas Morning News, Rolling Stone before lunch, and a radio spot with KDGE this afternoon. Any questions?"

"Yeah, when do we get to start the revolution and overthrow your cruel dictatorship?" Ray asks.

"That's penciled in for next week," Brian says.

Gerard usually doesn't mind Rolling Stone interviews, but the guy they've sent out for this one looks like he fell off the turnip truck two days ago. He's sweating and keeps fumbling with his recorder, and he blushes every time he makes eye contact with Mikey. Gerard wishes he had time to take the kid aside and let him know that Mikey's happily married, to a woman.

"So, um," the kid says. Next to Gerard, Frank starts jogging his knee up and down, the sole of his shoe squeaking against the linoleum. Gerard balls his hand into a fist and smacks Frank's kneecap.

"Ow," Frank says.

"Quit it," Gerard says.

"Um, you're. Uh. Gerard?" the kid says.

"That's me," Gerard says. Ray snorts.

"You recently, um, did an interview that, uh, I guess came out of left field for a lot of people, so, um, are you. How have the fans been, um, been reacting so far?" the kid asks.

"Oh, boy," Bob mutters, which pretty much says it all.

It's the question everyone's asking. Gerard refuses to say a word about his personal life, telling everyone who asks that all the important parts have already been covered in The Advocate's interview. Word's gotten around, through the journalistic grapevine or whatever; for all Gerard knows, those people contact each other using bowls full of the blood of sacrificed virgins. He won't talk about himself, but he's willing to talk about the fans, and so that's what everyone goes for.

"How are the fans handling it?" asks the New York Post.

"What's the reaction from your fans been like?" asks Us Weekly.

"You have a lot of extremely devoted fans," says Time Magazine. "Do you find that your coming out has served to strengthen the fan base?"

"Like, um," says the Rolling Stone kid, fiddling with one of the buttons on his cardigan. Seriously, Gerard can't believe that this is who Rolling Stone sent out. "Do you think that the, uh. That the fans are rallying behind you?"

"I'd like to think so," Gerard says, and "The fans have been really great about the whole thing, I couldn't hope for more support or generosity," and "Hopefully people will realize that the music's what really matters."

The Rolling Stone interview ends, finally, after a miserable, mind-numbing forty-five minutes, and then they've got an hour for lunch before the radio interview. Worm herds them all to the van that's going to take them over to the station.

"I swear to God," Frank says, "the next person who asks us the exact same ten questions that everyone else has asked is getting punched in the larynx."

"That's pretty violent," Ray says.

"Seriously, dude, why can't they ask us about something else? Maybe they could ask about my new tattoo," Frank says.

"Nobody wants to ask about that ugly piece of shit," Bob says.

"Frank's tattoo represents the pinnacle of the Fluxus movement," Mikey says.

Everyone stares at him. "Dude, Mikey," Gerard says.

"That was a joke," Mikey says.

"Yeah, you uncultured freaks," Ray says.

"I want a sandwich," Gerard says. "And a cigarette. Worm, man, I want a cigarette, can we have a smoke break?"

Worm glances at his watch, then looks around the parking lot, like he thinks deranged fans are going to materialize out of nowhere and start gnawing on Gerard's flesh. "Five minutes," he says. "Then we gotta go pick up some sandwiches and get to the station."

"Sweet, we get sandwiches for real?" Ray says. "I want one of those—shit, I want turkey on rye with some mayonnaise. And I want it all to myself, I'm not going to let Mikey steal any of it."

"Hey," Mikey says.

"Cigarettes," Gerard murmurs, taking out his pack of Lights. The first drag's like a pure shot of heaven straight to his lungs.

"Gimme one," Frank says, sidling over.

"Buy your own," Gerard says, but he hands one over. They lean against the side of the van and smoke, elbows brushing, while Ray goes into increasingly elaborate fantasies about his dream sandwich.

"It'll have bacon, too," Ray says. "And that fancy mustard, what's that stuff called?"

"Grey Poupon," Bob says.

"Shit, I just want a peanut butter and jelly," Frank says, and when Gerard looks over, Frank's squinting up into the sunlight and grinning. Gerard wants him to look like that all the time.

"Call Brian and let him know," Gerard says.

"Brian doesn't care about my pain," Frank says. He tips his head onto Gerard's shoulder and closes his eyes. "You care about my pain, though, right?"

"Of course," Gerard says. He turns his head and breathes in the scent of Frank's shampoo. How Frank manages to bathe regularly on a tour like this is a complete fucking mystery, but Gerard isn't going to complain. "Don't light my shirt on fire."

"I would never light you on fire," Frank says.

At the show in Charlotte, some local mothers' group has organized and is protesting near the parking lot, carrying signs that say "GAYS BURN IN HELL" and "DON'T CORRUPT THE CHILDREN" or something equally ridiculous—Gerard tries not to look. There've been assholes protesting at every show since Phoenix, but he's still not used to it, and this crowd is larger than most, more vocal. He can hear them shouting even inside the bus.

"We can fire-bomb them," Frank says.

"No," Gerard says. They've got an hour before they need to be on stage—plenty of time for him to go outside and chain-smoke his way through the rest of a pack. "I'll, um. I'll be back in a bit."

There are dudes from other bands hanging out by the stage, crew guys, security, a dude with a headset who's probably with the festival. Gerard squats by someone's van and pulls out his cigarettes and lighter. The sky's that long, dusky blue of summer evenings, when it takes forever for the light to burn itself out into the atmosphere. Gerard's used to being accused of devil worship and warping young minds, but it's different this time, worse somehow.

Mikey comes out after two cigarettes and squats on the asphalt beside Gerard. "Hi," he says.

"Hey," Gerard says, and exhales a cloud of smoke. It's going to fuck up his voice and he doesn't care at all.

"You okay?" Mikey asks.

Gerard shrugs. "I could use a beer right now. Or like, ten."

"Don't joke about that," Mikey says.

"Sorry," Gerard says. He holds out his pack of cigarettes, offering.

"No thanks," Mikey says. "Gee, are you. This is making you upset."

"No shit," Gerard says.

Mikey sighs and sits his ass on the pavement, crossing his legs Indian-style. "I thought you were okay with this? Like, I dunno, people have said worse things about us. Remember in Oregon, there was that—"

"Yeah, that guy who said our songs had hidden messages about the apocalypse, right? Shit, and then his whole thing about blood donation being a form of vampirism or whatever." Gerard snorts.

"It really isn't any different," Mikey says.

"I don't know. It kind of is, though. That other bullshit was about us, like, the way we were choosing to present ourselves on stage, you know? This is about me being who I am." Gerard crushes out his cigarette and lights another one. He's making good progress.

"Yeah," Mikey says. He pulls out his keys and starts scraping at the gunk on the sole of his left shoe. "I guess."

"It's just. Fuck, Mikes, I kind of thought—I just thought things would be different, you know. After."

"Different how?" Mikey asks, peeling a wad of gum off his shoe.

"Have you noticed how nobody talks about it? It's like nothing's changed. Everyone just acts like I'm the same person I was before." Gerard swipes at his nose with his free hand. Chain-smoking always makes his nose run.

"You are the same person," Mikey says, like it's that easy.

"I don't feel the same," Gerard says.

"Maybe they aren't talking about it because they think you don't want to talk about it," Mikey says. "It's not like you've ever brought it up."

Fucking Mikey always has to be so goddamn logical. "Maybe I want them to bring it up."

"So basically, you just want to whine and not take action," Mikey says.

"Yep," Gerard says. His cigarette's down to a stub. He crushes it out and flicks it away from them, spinning out into the open space between vans.

Mikey says, "Is this about Frank?"

"What? No," Gerard says, and scowls. "It's not fucking—it's not about him."

"Okay," Mikey says mildly. "We should probably head inside soon."

"Fine," Gerard says.

During the show, he struts across the stage and talks a lot about self-confidence and being true to who you are. He's thinking about the angry mothers outside, and about the teenagers in the audience, and about how if he can change one person's life, just one, everything will have been worth it.

He sleeps like shit that night, shifting restlessly and banging his elbows against the wall of his bunk. His blankets are too hot, so he kicks them off and then he's too cold. When he finally drifts off to sleep, he has weird, unsettling dreams about being chased through an empty warehouse by a unicorn with a black hood on its head.

When they stop at a diner for breakfast, Mikey says, "Gerard wants us to talk about his sexuality."

"Oh my God," Gerard says. "Thanks, Mikes, but I really don't."

"It's important," Mikey says. "We need to have an atmosphere of acceptance and communication."

They all stare at him.

"That was a joke," Mikey says.

"It's too early in the morning for this," Ray says. "I want some scrambled eggs, can we have eggs?"

"It's a roadside diner, Toro," Brian says wearily. "They've got eggs."

"Who else wants a cigarette break," Gerard says.

"Me," Bob says.

"Breakfast first," Brian says. "We have to be back on the bus in an hour. You can smoke later."

"Okay guys, but seriously," Mikey says, "I think we've all been acting like nothing's happened, but this was a big step for Gerard, and maybe we should acknowledge that things are different for him, even if they maybe aren't different for the rest of us."

"Yeah, he's like a fucking butterfly emerging from his chrysalis," Frank says. "Pass the butter."

"Ha ha," Gerard says. "Seriously, I need a fucking cigarette." What he really needs is an entire fucking bottle of vodka, but if he says that out loud Mikey will probably start crying, and it's way too early in the morning for that.

"Gerard, we acknowledge that you would rather have intimate relations with dudes than with ladies," Bob says. "We're all very proud of you, and we think it's a great thing, and maybe Ray will give you a hug later, if you need one."

"Hey," Ray says.

"However," Bob continues, "none of us have ever been interested in the details of your sex life, and that hasn't changed, so please go on with that whole keeping it to yourself thing." He turns to Mikey. "If you don't take your fucking hands off my sausage links, I will castrate you."

"Jeez, sorry," Mikey says.

"That was a touching speech," Brian says. "Thank you, Bob."

"Your sarcasm's thick enough to kill a guy," Frank says.

"It's my specialty," Brian says.

"I hate all of you," Gerard says, when his voice finally starts working again. "Can we please never talk about this again?"

"Sounds good to me," Bob says.

Gerard heads for the back lounge as soon as they get on the bus and settles in with his headphones and drawing pad, ready to ignore everyone in favor of a few hours of sweet charcoal bliss. He's still feeling flustered and irritated by Mikey's breakfast intervention. Alicia's always making Mikey read these self-help books about embracing your inner self and communicating your needs to others, and now Mikey thinks that it's his mission to save Gerard from himself. Gerard hopes Alicia gets hit by a bus. Except not really, because she makes awesome cupcakes.

The door opens. Gerard looks up and scowls—he's really getting into the zombie that he's drawing, and he doesn't want any interruptions. "Would you—"

It's Frank, shaking his hair out of his eyes. "Hi," he says.

Gerard blinks and slides his headphones off his ears. "Hey," he says. "What's going on?"

Frank takes that as an invitation and crosses the room to sit next to Gerard on the sofa. "I wanted to talk," he says.

The words strike fear into Gerard's heart. "Um, about what."

"Like, what Mikey was saying at breakfast," Frank says. "I don't want to be all touchy-feely or whatever, but, uh. He was kind of right, I mean, it's a pretty huge deal for you, and I guess we've all kind of been acting like nothing's changed, which is mostly because we don't feel any differently about you, except maybe a little bit prouder, but I think Mikey was right that we need to be more understanding about what you're going through, so if you want to talk about it, I'm here."

"Wow," Gerard says.

Frank grins. "Was that too much?"

"Maybe a little," Gerard says. "But, um. Thanks."

"We don't really have to talk about it, do we?" Frank asks, looking pained.

"No," Gerard says. "I was just, I don't know. I thought—I guess I was being kind of stupid."

"Yeah, we all sat around sighing and shaking our heads over what an idiot you are," Frank says. He squirms closer. "Can I see?"

Gerard tilts his drawing pad so Frank can look at it. "Zombie," he says.

"Sweet," Frank says. "You should make it eat something."

"Like what," Gerard says.

"Ray Toro, this is the last day of your life!" Bob bellows from somewhere in the front of the bus.

"Maybe Bob," Frank says.

They sit there for the rest of the morning, Gerard drawing and Frank curled up warm against his side, making suggestions periodically but mostly just watching and breathing on Gerard's neck. Gerard's aware of every inch of his skin, the shape and size of it, and more so where Frank's touching him. He tries not to think about it but he can't ignore the fact that he is totally, totally fucked.

***

Gerard can admit it: he's in denial. Although maybe admitting his denial means that he isn't actually in denial, but whatever. He's spent what feels like every day of his life for the last six months trying not to watch the way Frank's shirt rides up when he bends over. It's idiotic, and he can't stop.

In Tampa, when Frank sidles close to him on stage, Gerard slides a hand around Frank's neck and down the front of his shirt, stretching the collar, until his palm's resting right over Frank's pounding heart.

He and Ray do a radio interview in Raleigh the next evening, just the two of them, and the DJ says, "Have you noticed a change in your relationships with the rest of your band?"

Gerard cracks open his can of Coke and hopes that Ray doesn't notice that he's blushing. "Not really," Gerard says. "Things are pretty much the same as always."

"We buy him different porn now," Ray says helpfully.

"I don't think you're supposed to say that on live radio, man," Gerard says. And besides, he definitely buys his own porn.

They've got most of the next day off, nothing to do until sound check. Gerard goes to a local AA meeting in the afternoon. He doesn't go at every opportunity anymore, not like he did for the first year and a half, but there are still days when he desperately wants a drink, when it's all he can do not to wander over to somebody else's bus and grab a beer out of the fridge. It won't ever be over. Whenever he starts feeling itchy in his own skin, he looks up the nearest meeting and goes, sitting in circles all across the country with people he'll never see again.

"I'm Gerard, and I'm an alcoholic," he says, when it's his turn. "I've been sober for three years this month."

Three years is a long time, but there are people at the meeting today who've been sober for seventeen, twenty-two years and are still coming to meetings routinely. The thought of sitting on these fucking uncomfortable folding chairs for the rest of his life is kind of depressing, but the drunken, self-destructive alternative is worse.

"Where've you been?" Mikey asks when Gerard gets back to the bus.

"AA," Gerard says. "When's sound check, soon?"

"Hour and a half," Mikey says. He frowns. "You haven't been in a while, is everything okay?"

Gerard rolls his eyes. "Yeah, Mikes, I'm not ever gonna stop going to meetings, quit freaking out."

"Okay," Mikey says. His expression clearly indicates that he's still dubious, but he lets it go after that.

The show's awesome that night—the crowd's really into it, and Gerard responds to their excitement by ramping it up until he's shaking his ass all over the stage and letting Frank grind on him during "Mama." There are girls right up against the barrier holding a handmade rainbow sign, and Gerard blows kisses to them and grins as they scream louder. It's worth it, all of it, just to see the joy on their faces.

He hooks up with one of Placebo's guitar techs that night. He doesn't mean to—he stopped having random sex when he got sober, and by now his post-show routine consists of changing into his sleep pants and watching a movie until he's ready to go to bed. There's nothing in there about messy blowjobs backstage, but that's what Gerard somehow finds himself doing, his back against the wall and his dick halfway down Nathan's throat.

He thinks the guy's name is Nathan, at least. He's pretty sure. Nathan's got shoulder-length hair and a tongue piercing, and he keeps rubbing the metal over and over the head of Gerard's cock, licking around the rim. Gerard's teeth feel like they're coming loose in their sockets. Anyone could find them, a reporter, a wayward fan, and he doesn't fucking care at all.

"Wait," he says, cupping Nathan's jaw, but it's too late, his hips are twitching forward and he's coming, sooner than he wants to.

Nathan pulls back, grinning and licking at the corner of his mouth. "Hey," he says.

Gerard smiles weakly. "Hey," he says. He clears his throat. "I'll, uh, I'll do you—"

"Nah, that's okay," Nathan says, shaking his head. "I'll see you around, yeah?"

"Sure," Gerard says, stuffing himself back into his pants.

He goes to find a bathroom before heading back to the bus—he can't go back like this, he's a mess, he smells like spunk and sweat. He washes his hands under cold water, scrubbing hard. His face in the mirror is flushed and sweaty, and the words written on his neck in permanent marker are smeared beyond all recognition. He can't even remember what Frank wrote there before the show. Something about being brave, maybe. About taking on the world.

The bus is quiet. Frank's curled up in the lounge, watching something on TV with the volume turned low. "Hey," he says, sitting up and rubbing at his face. "What's up?"

"I was just on the phone with my mom," Gerard says. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other. "You want a smoke?"

"Fucking always," Frank says. "Just lemme put some shoes on."

He disappears into the bunks. Gerard turns off the TV and stands in the dark, waiting.

It was a hot day, but it's gotten a bit cooler now, past midnight. He and Frank lean against the bus and smoke in companionable silence. Gerard watches the cherry of Frank's cigarette flare brighter with each inhale.

"I can't wait for this fucking tour to be over," Gerard says.

Frank snorts. "You're the one who's always signing us up for shit, dude."

"Yeah, but." Gerard blows out a cloud of smoke. "I guess. I just didn't time things too well, you know, what with—"

"Yeah, Linkin Park fans aren't the most accepting people in the world," Frank says, and they both laugh.

"I just want to go home for a while," Gerard says. "Take naps on my mom's couch. Beg her to cook for me."

"Oh, fuck, my mom's eggplant parmesan," Frank says. "Shit. I'm so hungry now."

"Yeah," Gerard says. He turns his head and watches Frank, who's looking out across the empty field behind the buses, cigarette dangling from his mouth. Gerard thinks about how easy it would be to reach out and touch the back of Frank's neck. He stuffs his hands into his pockets instead. "I'm gonna go in," he says.

"Okay," Frank says. "Don't wake Mikey up, he's been a pissy bitch all night."

Mikey's snoring softly in his bunk. Gerard strips down and brushes his teeth in the bathroom without turning on the lights. He wants to wake Mikey and tell him everything, what happened with Nathan, the whole thing with Frank, every stray thought he's had for the last three weeks.

"Shit," he says into the quiet. Mikey grunts and turns over—Gerard can hear the sheets rustling. He puts his toothbrush back in its plastic cup.

Alicia joins them in Virginia Beach the next day, flying down from Jersey to spend the rest of the tour with them. Gerard gives Mikey a lot of shit about his domestic bliss, but secretly he's glad. He likes Alicia, self-help books and all. She's good for Mikey.

"Watch out, My Chemical Romance, Alicia is in the house," Alicia announces when she climbs onto the bus. Mikey follows, carrying her enormous duffel bag. For all Gerard knows, Alicia could be hiding bodies in that thing.

"I can't contain my glee," Ray says.

"I heard that, Toro," Alicia says. Frank starts giggling.

"It's going to be a long two weeks," Bob mutters.

"There's my favorite brother-in-law! Can I have a hug?" Alicia asks, holding out her arms. Gerard hugs her dutifully. He always expects her to be larger than she is, but probably it's a good thing that she's small because otherwise she would crush Mikey.

They go out for lunch, just the three of them, Gerard and Mikey and Alicia around a table in the most run-down restaurant they can find, where all the food is either fried or slathered in butter, and there are dirty polka-dotted curtains hung in the windows. It's awesome.

"So tell me," Alicia says, halfway through her crab cakes, "what's it like to be the icon of new gay America?"

Gerard groans. "Oh, God, not you too."

"I'm kidding, doofus," Alicia says. "No, but seriously, are you holding up okay? Are these clowns being nice to you?"

"I'm always nice," Mikey says, stealing fries off Alicia's plate.

"I was mostly talking about Frank," Alicia says.

Gerard rubs his face with both hands. "It's not—I don't know why everyone fucking thinks it's about Frank."

"What's 'it,'" Alicia says. "Who said anything about 'it'?"

"He's in love with Frank and thinks it's a big secret," Mikey says.

"Christ," Gerard says, his ears going hot. He feels like he's going to lose his lunch. "I don't—"

"That's why you came out, isn't it?" Mikey says, full steam ahead. "Because of what happened in Seattle? I know you're trying not to—"

"Nothing happened in Seattle," Gerard says. "That wasn't even—"

"I know, but it was still about him," Mikey says. "You wouldn't have done it if—"

"I don't want to have this conversation," Gerard says sharply.

Mikey shuts up.

"Wow," Alicia says, breaking the silence that follows. "I have no clue what just happened here."

Gerard sighs. "Sorry, Mikes. I'm—sorry."

"It's okay," Mikey says. He leans over and takes a hush puppy off Gerard's plate, which is how Gerard knows he's been forgiven.

"Me and Gerard are going on a walk after lunch," Alicia says. "No arguing and no pussying out. It's time for some girl talk."

"I'm not a girl," Gerard says.

"Girl talk is about feelings," Alicia says. "Bitch, please, you invented navel-gazing."

"You really kind of did," Mikey says, the traitor.

After lunch, Mikey walks back to the bus, and Gerard and Alicia stroll down the boardwalk, trying to look incognito. It actually works—they only get stopped a handful of times. Gerard thinks the teenagers are probably too busy staring at all the half-naked bodies to pay much attention to anything else.

It's fucking ridiculously hot, but the breeze blowing off the water feels nice. Gerard's been to Virginia Beach a few times before and he hates how crowded and over-built it is, but the ocean is the ocean no matter where you are, and he likes watching the waves swell and crash against the shore.

"Do you have a cigarette?" Gerard asks.

"Honey, you are a big fucking rock star, I think you can afford to buy your own cigarettes," Alicia says, but she's a marshmallow on the inside, so she pulls a pack out of her purse and offers it to Gerard.

They're quiet for a while, smoking and watching a bunch of little kids run around, inner tubes flopping around their waists.

"So," Alicia says, "what happened in Seattle."

"Fucking Mikey," Gerard says. "Can we not—do we really have to talk about this?"

"Well, the way I see it, there are two options," Alicia says. "Either you can cough it up and let me work my magic, or you can keep stewing in your own juices and Mikey will keep calling me at 3am worrying about you, and I won't ever get any sleep."

"Oh," Gerard says. Alicia's obnoxiously good at guilt-tripping him. He ashes his cigarette onto the boardwalk and hopes nobody notices.

"So. Spill," Alicia says.

Gerard shrugs and dodges a kid on rollerblades. "There's nothing to tell, it wasn't—nothing really happened."

"Somehow I find that hard to believe," Alicia says. She shoves her sunglasses up higher on the bridge of her nose.

"Fine," Gerard says. "Jesus Christ. Sometimes I think Mikey married you because you're the only person on the planet who's more stubborn than he is."

"Pot, kettle," Alicia says. "I'll spare you the rest."

"Thanks," Gerard says. He stops walking and leans against the guardrail, watching the light glint off the water. "When we were on tour in the spring, there was this guy, uh, one of the guitar techs, and we had a—we kind of had a thing. I hadn't ever been with a guy before, and it was—I don't know. It was something." He shakes his head. "Anyway, Frank walked in on us in Seattle, after the show, and I. Uh, I called The Advocate the next day."

"Huh," Alicia says. "So was Frank all freaked out or something?"

"Not really," Gerard says. "He was, I don't know, I think he was pretty drunk by that point, so. We never talked about it. But after that I kind of, I guess I couldn't lie to myself about it anymore? Like, there was an outside witness. It made it seem real." He crushes his cigarette against the railing and puts it in his pocket until he can find a trash can. He doesn't believe in littering.

"Kid, you're a mess," Alicia says. The wind picks up, whipping her hair around her head. "So now you're all in love with Frank and he doesn't know."

"I guess," Gerard says.

"Do you want to do anything about it?"

"Um, not really," Gerard says. "It would—I think it'd be a bad idea."

"Okay," Alicia says. "Huh."

"Can we be done talking about this now?" Gerard asks. It's making him think about Cy again, the way Cy looked at him when they agreed it was over, the way his hair had fallen into his eyes, his stupid orange tennis shoes. He doesn't want to remember those things.

"Sure," Alicia says. "Let's go walk down the pier, I want to see if anybody caught a shark."

Nobody has. They go back to the bus and Gerard takes a long nap in the back lounge. If he has any dreams he can't remember them.

He kisses Frank on stage during the show that night. He doesn't plan it; Frank comes close during "House of Wolves," and Gerard's mind goes blank, and he leans in and plants one right on Frank's mouth.

The crowd screams, approval or disgust—Gerard can't tell for sure. The crowd on this tour tends to have a lot of dudes who are there to see Linkin Park and aren't into the whole homosexuality thing. Gerard struts across the stage and flips them off for good measure. He's not doing any of this for the assholes who would hate him anyway.

"Dude, what was that," Frank says in the tent, after.

"What was what?" Gerard says. He can't find his lighter and he needs a cigarette like a motherfucker. The tent's hotter than the deepest pit of hell, and it's too small, and Gerard's feeling crabby and he just wants to go back to the bus and pass out. He doesn't know why they even have a fucking tent, most of the time the festival people just send them right back to their bus, but for some reason this place is trying act all swanky.

"The part where you kissed me during the show? You forget about that already? Your mind's going, old man," Frank says. "Toss me that water bottle, Toro."

"I'm not your bitch," Ray says.

"Has anyone seen my lighter?" Gerard asks. "Fuck."

"It's in your other pants," Mikey says.

"Bus call in twenty minutes," Worm says.

"Fuck, where are my pants," Gerard says. He gives up on the table and starts digging through the pile of clothes on the mildewy sofa somebody dragged in. "Motherfucking ass-fuckers. God damn it. Didn't I leave them here? It was just a kiss, Frank, we've fucking done it before, it wasn't a big deal."

"Oh, so you're not in love with me?" Frank asks. "Are you saying it was just for the show? Bob, I hope you're hearing this."

"I'm hearing it," Bob mutters.

Frank attaches himself to Gerard's neck like a fucking leech, rubbing his sweaty armpit all over Gerard's shoulder. "Why don't you love me? Aren't I pretty enough?" He flutters his eyelashes.

"Find my lighter for me and maybe I'll love you then," Gerard says.

"Eighteen minutes!" Worm says.

 

***


Brian shows up on their bus at the ass-crack of dawn and shakes Gerard awake. "We've got a situation."

"Mmph—ugh, Brian, what—can't it wait?" Gerard asks. He's only got one eye open and the world looks pretty blurry.

"No," Brian says. "I brought bagels and coffee. Get up."

Brian's a slave-driver, but he's got a good grasp of what does and does not need Gerard's immediate attention, so Gerard pulls on a sweatshirt and hauls himself out of bed. There's coffee in the kitchenette, hot and steaming and beautiful. He makes a beeline for it.

"So, you kissed Frank on stage last night," Brian says.

"Uh, yeah," Gerard says. "It wasn't a big deal, I've done it before."

"Yeah, but you haven't done it since you announced to the world that you love men in tight pants," Brian says.

Gerard frowns. "What does that—"

"See for yourself," Brian says, and holds up a stack of papers.

"Oh," Gerard says, "oh fuck."

Brian leaves, and the bus starts up a few minutes after that, rolling back onto the highway. Gerard sits at the table with a chocolate chip bagel and reads through the articles. It seems like everybody on the internet has already heard about his kiss with Frank and formed an opinion about it. The popular assumption is that he and Frank are in a secret relationship; even TMZ has jumped on board with a blurb titled, "Emo Queen's Secret Fling?" The fan sites have compiled photo essays of every time he and Frank have ever touched in public, ever. All of the gossip blogs are running the story. It's everywhere.

He's still sitting there when Mikey comes stumbling out of the bunks, tugging at his sleep pants. "Why're you up?" he mumbles.

Gerard holds out the papers.

Mikey squints. "Is that—"

"Just read it, I don't feel like explaining the whole thing," Gerard says.

Mikey pours himself a glass of orange juice and joins Gerard at the table. "Huh," he says after the first page, and then, "Wow," and then a bit later, "You know, you should really keep me updated on your love life."

"I need a fucking cigarette," Gerard says. His only saving grace is the fact that Frank's sleeping on Ray and Bob's bus while Alicia's visiting. He's not sure he'd be able to look Frank in the eye right now, or laugh and pretend it's all okay, or release some press statement about how he's taking a stand for gay rights and he's not actually in love with his rhythm guitarist.

"It'll be okay, Gee," Mikey says.

"Yeah," Gerard says. "Probably. I guess."

They spend most of the morning driving up the Eastern Shore. There isn't much to look at: fields, houses, billboards. Gerard watches South Park re-runs and listens to Mikey and Alicia murmur to each other in the bunks. He doesn't know how he feels. Over-caffeinated, nervous. Anticipatory.

Lunch is at a Denny's in Wilmington. Gerard keeps his sunglasses on and tries not to talk to anybody. It's a strategy that works for maybe thirty seconds, before Frank slides into the booth next to Gerard, wraps an arm around Gerard's neck, and says, "Gee Way, my love! We have been parted for too long!"

Gerard shakes him off. "It's not funny, asshole."

"It really is," Bob says.

"Mikey and I are going to sit over there," Alicia says, pointing to a booth on the other side of the restaurant. "By ourselves."

"Who's going to wear the dress at the wedding?" Ray asks.

"I'm serious, guys, it's not fucking funny," Gerard says, scowling. "You're so—I don't know why everything's always got to be a big joke. People honestly think that Frank and I are, I don't know, dating, we need to—this isn't funny."

"Jeez, okay," Frank says. "So how should we feel about it? The sky's falling? Life as we know it is coming to an end?"

"That's at least a little more realistic," Gerard says.

"You're so fucking melodramatic," Frank says. "Who cares what the media thinks! Since when do you give a shit what people are saying about you! What happened to being bold and unashamed and sticking it to the man?"

Those are Gerard's own words being quoted back to him. He scowls at his BLT. "I just don't think it's a good idea."

"Yeah, well, too bad, I think it's awesome," Frank says. "You're the one who kept talking about how you were going to make such a fuss that nobody would be able to ignore you, and now you've got the chance to do just that, and if you pussy out now, I swear to God—"

"Everybody calm down and quit shouting," Ray says. "You're scaring the locals."

Frank's gotten pretty loud. Gerard glances around the restaurant and sees people staring at them. He flushes and sinks down on the bench.

Brian comes over with his notebook and his cell phone. "What's all the shouting for? I will put your ass in time-out, Frank, don't think I won't."

"Whatever," Frank mutters, crossing his arms. "Just because Gee's acting like a little girl—"

"I am not," Gerard says.

"Hey," Brian says sharply. "I was hoping we could have a rational, adult conversation about this, and make some decisions together, but if you're going to act like this I guess I'll just have to take things into my own hands and—"

"We'll behave," Ray says. "Really."

"You're not the one I'm concerned about," Brian says. He raises his eyebrows at Gerard.

"Fine," Gerard says. "We'll behave."

"Good," Brian says. He sits down next to Frank, squishing Gerard against the far wall of the booth. "So. Band meeting. The label's flipping out a little."

"Oh, Christ," Gerard moans.

"I said a little," Brian says. "They just aren't sure whether this is good publicity or bad publicity. They want you to release a statement."

"Screw them," Frank says. "It's not about publicity."

"You can't be that cavalier," Gerard says. "It's the label."

Bob snorts.

"So what," Frank says. "What are they gonna do, kick us off? We'll just go somewhere else."

"It doesn't work like that!" Gerard says. "We have a relationship with them, we can't—"

"It actually does work like that," Brian says. "Gerard, you have never in your life done things because the label wanted you to. I don't know why you want to start now."

"It's not about the fucking label," Frank says, "he's just scared, he's looking for excuses—"

"Shut up," Gerard says, but they're right: he doesn't give a shit about what the label thinks, or what the media thinks, or the fans, or the talk show hosts. But he cares about what Frank thinks, and that's what's got him nervous like this, his hands shaking beneath the table.

"You can release a statement if you want to," Brian says. "But I'm not going to tell you to do it. It's up to you."

Gerard chews on his lip. "I'm not—unless you guys want me to, I'm not going to say anything about it," he says finally. "It's nobody's business. I'm not going to turn the band into a PR machine for my personal life."

"Or lack thereof," Ray says.

"Hey," Gerard says.

"I think we should keep doing it," Frank says.

Gerard blinks. "What?"

"We need to take it to the next level," Frank says. "I'm going to start making out with you on stage during every show. It'll make people re-examine their preconceived notions of sexuality and masculinity."

There's a pause. "Wow," Bob says.

"Alicia loaned me some of her books," Frank says proudly. "Did I sound smart?"

"Almost," Bob says.

"Okay, seriously though," Frank says, "loud and flamboyant, right? You want to change the world? Here's your chance."

"Yeah, but then he has to kiss you all the time," Ray says.

"A fate worse than death," Gerard says. He wants to tell Frank it's a terrible idea, but he doesn't know how to do it without sounding like a hypocrite. The truth is that the thought of kissing Frank every night makes his palms sweat. He wants it too much.

"Is that okay? Can we do that?" Frank asks Brian.

"You can do whatever you want," Brian says. "I just hope you're ready to deal with the media circus."

"I'm not afraid of them," Frank says.

"Hell, I am," Ray says.

"Well, don't say I didn't warn you," Brian says. "Godspeed."

Frank follows Gerard onto the bus after lunch and stands in the lounge, shifting his weight from foot to foot. Gerard gets a Diet Coke from the fridge and cracks it open, eyeing Frank. "Aren't you supposed to be on the other bus?"

"Oh," Frank says. "Yeah. Um. I just wanted to make sure this is okay with you. I mean, I kind of assumed you'd be okay with it, but if you're really not, we don't have to—"

"No, it's fine," Gerard says. "We can—it's a good idea. Subversive."

Frank beams. "It's going to be great," he says. "You'll see."

"Yeah," Gerard says. "Great."

The only good part of Frank's brilliant plan is that it distracts Gerard from everything else that's going on. He's so busy worrying about when and how Frank will come after him on stage that he doesn't have the energy to worry about the fans or about the reporters circling outside like vultures. He stays on the bus until the last possible moment, doing some deep breathing exercises and trying not to freak out.

Frank waltzes up to him during "Dead!" and wraps his arms around Gerard's neck and kisses him, tongue slicking wet along Gerard's lower lip. Gerard, God help him, kisses back. Frank's warm and sweaty against him and Gerard just—he can't resist.

"That was awesome!" Frank says after the show, bouncing around backstage. "Did you hear everyone screaming? Fuck, they loved it."

"Yeah," Gerard says. "They were pretty loud." He's sure they were, but he didn't hear a thing, just the roar of his own blood in his ears.

Brian sets up an interview with Blender the next day, all five of them crammed in a room with a journalist. At least there's food. Gerard sits next to Mikey for emotional support and doesn't even mind when Mikey keeps stealing bites of his blueberry muffin.

The Blender woman warms them up with some easy question. "How's the tour going?" she asks, and, "I hear Alicia's out with you, are you having fun?" Gerard's just starting to relax when the woman leans forward, recorder clutched in her hand. He knows what's coming next.

"So, Gerard. Are you and Frank actually involved in a relationship?" the interviewer asks.

"Yes!" Frank says.

"No," Gerard says, rolling his eyes. "We aren't. Frank's straight."

"I am not!" Frank says. "I'm bisexual."

There's a stunned silence. The journalist gets a gleam in her eyes like she knows she's stumbled into the biggest story of her career.

"Well then," Bob says.

They mill around outside the buses, afterward. Gerard's shell-shocked. He fumbles his cigarettes out of his back pocket and lights up. His hands are shaking with fine tremors. He can't believe that Frank would—that he didn't tell.

"So," Frank says after a while, and coughs into his fist. "Surprise?"

"You are such a dick," Ray says, smacking Frank upside the head. "Great timing, Iero."

"Sorry," Frank says. He shoves his hands into his pockets. "It was kind of, you know, a spur-of-the-moment thing."

The bus door opens and Alicia comes out, combing her fingers through her wet hair. "What's going on out here? You guys look like somebody died." She links arms with Mikey. He kisses the top of her head.

"Frank likes boys," Ray says.

"Oh," Alicia says. "Huh. Did you guys not know about that?"

Gerard snaps. "I can't believe you told her and not us!" he shouts, waving his cigarette around.

"I just told you!" Frank yells back. "Now you know! Nobody has any secrets!"

"I have secrets," Bob says.

"Quit changing the subject, Bryar," Frank says. "I think we all need to focus on how Gerard's being a HYPOCRITE because it's not like he told us when he decided he was gay, he just let us find out about it from an ARTICLE and I think it's pretty ridiculous that he'd—"

"You didn't find out from an article!" Gerard says. "You saw me with Cy, I know you did, it's not like you were shocked, you knew that I was—"

Frank kicks one of the bus tires. "THAT DOESN'T COUNT," he hollers. "You never said anything, you just acted like nothing had happened and then the next thing we knew you were telling the whole country about your newly discovered sexuality or whatever and you never said anything to me or anyone else, you acted like we didn't deserve to know or we didn't care or that we would freak out, and I don't see why you couldn't have let us know first!"

"Oh, so you're trying to get revenge?" Gerard asks.

"Yes," Frank says.

Gerard can't think of anything to say. He takes a long drag on his cigarette.

"Well," Ray says. "That was certainly, um."

Nobody says anything.

"I'm getting on the bus," Frank says, and does.

"So," Ray says.

It's all over the internet by that afternoon: "Guitarist Confirms Gay Romance," "Iero's Revelation: 'I'm Bi.'" They even get an article in The Onion, which makes Gerard absurdly proud, in a morbid, self-hating sort of way. He obsessively reads through the gossip blogs while Ray texts him "Frank Updates." he came out frm bk lnge, Ray sends, and then a few minutes later, plyng gtr hero now, sucess! bob winning.

Brian corners him before the show. "Was this your idea?"

"No," Gerard says. "I didn't even know about it, man, I'm as shocked as you are."

"'Shocked' maybe isn't the word," Brian says. "'Mildly surprised,' maybe."

"Whatever," Gerard says. "Don't lecture me, go lecture Frank."

"There won't be any lectures," Brian says. "I told you that you can do whatever you want. But Amanda says to give her advance notice if anyone else decides they're gay. She says you're giving her an ulcer."

Amanda's their PR girl. Gerard winces. "Should I send a fruit basket?"

"Red tulips," Brian says. "They're her favorite."

Gerard writes "TULIPS" on his arm as a reminder.

During the show, when Frank reaches for him, Gerard puts a hand on Frank's back and pulls him in.

***

Gerard's being punished for his sins. It's the only explanation.

"Is it true that you guys are dating?" the Tiger Beat reporter asks, practically giggling. Gerard wonders when they started hiring teenagers. Maybe he's just getting old.

"We sure are," Frank says. He's got one elbow propped on the back of the couch, and he keeps scratching his fingers through the hair at the nape of Gerard's neck. It's making Gerard twitchy as a motherfucker.

He takes a drag off his cigarette. "We really aren't," he says. "I don't know why you keep telling people that."

"We're dating inside my heart," Frank says, grinning. "Soon you'll see the light."

That's the end of the week. By Tuesday, Gerard has given up protesting and just smokes in silence while Frank talks about their epic love.

"I hate how they use 'dating' as a euphemism for sex," he rants to Alicia, both of them sleepless in the back lounge. "Like that makes it more palatable or something." Mikey's snoring in his bunk. Gerard hates everyone in the world who doesn't have insomnia.

"It's because it's cute as long as you guys are just holding hands and skipping through fields of daisies," Alicia says. "Once you start getting to the dirty, dirty fucking, then it's not cool anymore. It's only acceptable to the masses if it's family-friendly."

"It sucks," Gerard says.

Alicia shrugs. "You could always come back to heterosexuality."

"No," Gerard says.

"He's not being cruel to you on purpose, you know," Alicia says. "If he knew what—"

"I know," Gerard says.

"Maybe you could say something to him," Alicia says.

Gerard bites at his hangnail. "Maybe," he says.

They're in Clarkston the next day. Gerard goes to an AA meeting at a run-down community center and walks back to the amphitheater afterward. It's three hot miles in the sun. He chain-smokes and looks at the trees, the leaves thick and dark green with summer. His head's quiet, for once. It's nice to walk and look around at the world, normal life, kids on the swings at an elementary school, a woman walking by pushing a stroller.

Gerard's biggest problem in life is probably the way that he gets caught up in his own drama. It's easy to act suave and calm in interviews, and sometimes he almost convinces himself that he really is that way, that he's all grown up now and has things figured out. And it's not entirely an act, but the whole thing with Frank has spiraled so out of control because Gerard's been ignoring rational thought in favor of getting completely consumed by his feelings.

When he thinks about it, it's clear what he should do: confess to Frank, have an awkward talk about it, and then move on with their lives. Frank wouldn't give him a hard time about it. He probably wouldn't even be surprised, if Gerard's honest with himself. It wouldn't even be that mortifying. Gerard knows he won't do it, though. His inner sixteen-year-old is crumblingly, overwhelmingly in love with Frank, and the thought of having to deal with Frank's rejection is enough to make Gerard want to hole up in his bunk with a handle of bottom-shelf vodka and not come out for at least a month.

He doesn't want to go back to the bus, but they've got a show that evening, so it's not like he has a choice. He smokes his last cigarette in the parking lot across the road from the parking lot, steeling himself, and then he crosses the street and resigns himself to his fate.

Frank really ups his game that night. He humps three speakers, climbs up onto Bob's platform, pretends to eat Ray's hair, and then decides that's not enough and licks what feels like every square inch of Gerard's neck. It's fucking distracting, and Gerard can't sing when Frank's rocking his hips against Gerard's ass like that.

"Quit it," he says to Frank between songs.

"What, am I doing something?" Frank asks, all innocence, and actually bats his fucking eyelashes.

Frank doesn't stop, of course—of course he doesn't stop—and Gerard gives up and lets Frank grope him for the rest of the show. He wishes he had a guitar to hide behind.

Backstage, afterward, Gerard's talking to one of the techs when Frank comes up behind him and wraps his arms around Gerard's waist, chin digging into Gerard's shoulder—he's got to be up on his tiptoes, because he's too short to do that otherwise. He's soaked with sweat and he smells awful. "You reek," Gerard says.

"I smell like a daisy," Frank says, rubbing his face against Gerard's neck.

"I'm gonna go," the tech says.

Frank pushes closer and slides his fingers beneath the waistband of Gerard's pants. Gerard isn't wearing any underwear, and Frank's fingers dip lower, and Gerard is going to absolutely lose his mind in roughly fifteen seconds or if Frank moves his fingers so much as another millimeter, whichever comes first. Frank's been enthusiastically making out with him on stage every night, and Gerard's self-control is worn thin, all his speeches to himself about all the things that could go wrong keep being countered by the feeling of Frank's mouth against his own.

"Stop it," Gerard says, grabbing Frank's wrist. "Can you just—"

"You really want me to stop?" Frank asks, and his fingers slide down just a little bit lower.

In five seconds, Gerard's going to do something they'll both regret. Frank doesn't move, and Gerard pushes him away, and time ticks by until Gerard hears himself saying, "Not here."

"Where, then?" Frank asks, sounding amused.

"The bus," Gerard's voice says. He's pretty sure he's going to throw up. He's making the worst decision of his life, right now, and he can't bring himself not to make it. He wants to.

"Hmm," Frank says. He wiggles his fingers. "Which bus?"

"Christ, I don't fucking care," Gerard says. Insanity isn't so bad, really; he's got Frank's hand down his pants, after all, and that's well worth losing his grip on reality. Maybe he'll turn into one of those hobos who stumbles around yelling about Jesus Christ and kingfishers and shit. The tabloids would really have a field day then.

"Okay," Frank says, and rubs his nose against the side of Gerard's neck. "Okay. Let's go."

They walk toward Ray and Bob's bus, not touching, Frank's hands in his pockets and not anywhere that would make Gerard feel crazier than he already does. He wants a fucking cigarette. He doesn't know what he's doing, he knows—this is going to mess him up for good, and he doesn't care, he's going to do it anyway.

The bus is empty. "Do you know where they are?" Gerard asks.

Frank shrugs. "Do you care?"

"Not really," Gerard says.

"Let's go to my bunk," Frank says.

Frank doesn't waste any time. He shoves the detritus off his bed—piles of magazines, empty Coke bottles—and strips off his shirt, climbs on top of Gerard and starts unzipping his pants. Frank's got his serious face on, teeth sunk into his lower lip, and he glances up at Gerard through the damp fall of his hair. His eyes look darker than normal in the dim bunk lighting. Gerard wants to touch him everywhere, every single inch of his skin.

"Hey," Frank says, tapping his thumbnail against the zipper of Gerard's pants. He chews on his lower lip, a habit left over from when he still had his piercing, and tugs Gerard's jeans open.

Gerard can't think. He's dripping with sweat from the show, and the sheets on Frank's bunk smell like sweat and unwashed skin and Frank's shampoo. One of the veins in his forehead is pulsing steadily. Then Frank moves, scooting down the bed and bending over, and then Frank's mouth is sliding over Gerard's cock, and Gerard's hands clutch at Frank's head, and he was wrong before: this is what insanity feels like, the perfect wet curl of Frank's tongue.

"Oh," Gerard hears himself saying, "oh," and he's tugging at Frank's hair, not hard. He doesn't want to hurt Frank.

Frank's sloppy, and Gerard thinks maybe he hasn't done this a whole lot, but it's not like it matters, it's still amazing. Frank keeps humming around Gerard's cock and digging his fingers into Gerard's hips, and he doesn't—it's not like Gerard needs anything more than just the idea of Frank sucking him off to come in his own hand five nights a week, and the reality of it is more than he can handle, it's short-circuiting his fucking brain cells, he's going to stroke out and they'll have to call an ambulance and won't that be a great headline, "Lead Singer Hospitalized After Blowjob."

"Hey," Gerard says, curling his fingers around to brush the skin behind Frank's ears, "hey, Frank, are you—oh God—"

Frank sucks harder, one hand wrapped around the base of Gerard's cock and the other cupping his balls, and it's wet and clumsy and the best thing that's ever—it's not like anything Gerard's ever felt in his life, not his first teenaged fumblings, not all the sex he had when he was wasted out of his mind, or anything that came after that, not Eliza, not Cy—not anybody but Frank, here with him, Frank's hair sticking to his sweaty face.

He feels his orgasm coiling in his belly, hot and ready, and he touches Frank's jaw, says, "Wait, I'm," trying to warn him, but it doesn't work, Frank doesn't move away, and then it's too late for Gerard to worry about it because he's coming so hard his toes curl, digging into Frank's sheets.

Frank coughs and pulls back, making a face and licking at his lips.

"Sorry," Gerard says weakly.

"Dude, no," Frank says, and grins, "that was awesome." He kisses Gerard with his salty-bitter mouth and Gerard slides both hands beneath Frank's shirt and kisses back. Frank starts giggling like a maniac, and Gerard keeps trying to kiss him for a while, but it's not working.

"Okay," Gerard says, giving up. He can't wait any longer to get his hands on Frank's skin. He pushes Frank over onto his back and sticks one hand down Frank's pants, biting down on his own lip at the noise Frank makes. His pants are tight, but not too tight for Gerard to get his fingers wrapped around Frank's cock. The head's already slick, and Gerard smears it around, making it an easier slide. Frank squirms and moans and braces his feet on the bed so he can thrust into Gerard's grip, so beautiful Gerard can't stop staring, and it doesn't take long before Frank's squeezing his eyes shut tight and coming all over Gerard's fingers.

"Oh," Gerard says, like he's surprised. Maybe he is. He can't tell what he's feeling anymore. Everything's a mystery, even his own emotions. Especially Frank's. "You just—"

"You got me all worked up," Frank says, panting and happy. He stretches, palms pressed against the headboard. "Fuck, Gee, that was awesome. We totally have to do this again, okay?"

"Okay," Gerard says. He pulls his hand out of Frank's pants and wipes it on the sheets. His body's buzzing with happy endorphins, but his head still knows the whole thing's a terrible idea. He feels conflicted, wanting to give in to his joy.

"Like, just buddies," Frank says. "It doesn't have to mean anything, like, we can just—you know. It can just be for fun."

"Right," Gerard says. He stopped believing that bullshit when he was seventeen. "Sure."

"Hey," Frank says. He sits up and tugs at Gerard's hair. "You good?"

"Yeah," Gerard says. "I just—I'm gonna go find a shower, man, I'm disgusting."

"Yeah, I'm fucking rank after that show," Frank says.

"Shit," Gerard says, "it's not even the show anymore, now we smell even worse," and Frank dissolves into giggles.

It's fine. People do this all the time—casual sex. Gerard used to do it. He and Frank can fuck sometimes, and it won't mean anything, it'll just...be something they do. For fun. It's fine. Gerard's totally fine with it.

"So, shower," Gerard says, and rolls out of the bunk, and tries to think where he might get a hot shower before they have to get back on the bus and drive to wherever it is they need to be next.

Frank won't meet his eyes over lunch the next day, and Gerard tries to prepare himself for the worst, the worst thing he can imagine, but by the time they stop for mid-afternoon tacos, Frank's back to normal, hanging all over Bob and bickering with Gerard about whose lighter works better.

Gerard can't help noticing the dark bruise at the base of Frank's throat. He doesn't even remember making it. He spends the whole meal jittering in his seat, wondering what the other guys will think, but none of them seem to see it, or if they do, they don't think it's worth talking about. Gerard's grateful for small blessings.

When Frank kisses him during the show that night, it's not just a cruel tease anymore: it feels like a promise.

"You guys seemed pretty into it," Ray says later, when they're all standing around in the parking lot listening to Linkin Park tear things up on stage.

Gerard freezes, feeling the blood rush hot to his face. He edges closer to Mikey and hopes nobody looks at him or says anything. His adrenaline's spiking. If they all know what's going on he's going to—he'll just die.

"It's because Gerard's so foxy," Frank says, grinning. "I can't resist his ladylike charms."

"Too bad he isn't actually a lady," Alicia says. "I'd hit that."

"I think that might be incest," Mikey says. "At least by marriage."

"Aww, baby, you know you're the only one for me," Alicia says.

Ray snorts and shakes his head. "You guys are ridiculous."

The back of Gerard's neck is prickling the way it does when he has a near-death experience. Nobody's paying any attention to him; Bob's doing some sort of elaborate handshake with one of the sound guys, and Frank's already moved on to hassling Worm about getting McDonald's.

"I'm hungry too," Mikey says. "Can we get Chinese?"

"Does anybody have a cigarette?" Gerard asks.

Frank gets on the bus with them after dinner and spends a couple of hours beating Mikey's ass at Halo, but at the last rest stop of the night he goes back to Ray and Bob's bus. Gerard isn't disappointed. It was just a one-time thing, and now he can put it behind him and move on with his life, pretend he never learned the way Frank's mouth tastes like cigarettes and spearmint gum. He goes to bed alone and falls asleep quickly, lulled by swaying motion of the bus as they roll along the highway. He dreams that Frank tells him the secret to life, but when he wakes up he can't remember what it was.

It happens again, though, in Camden two days later, in the morning before they've checked out of the hotel. Gerard's bent over the sink, dyeing his hair. His roots have started showing again and it looks weird. He's been meaning to re-dye it for a while but they've been mostly sleeping on the bus, and the one time he tried dyeing his hair in the bus bathroom, the dye got everywhere and Brian yelled at him and Bob made fun of him for weeks. It's not an experience he wants to relive.

He and Ray are sharing a room, so Gerard doesn't stop what he's doing when he hears the door open and then click shut, but then Frank's standing in the bathroom doorway, arms crossed, smirking at Gerard.

"Oh," Gerard says. "Um. Hi." He waves one gloved hand at Frank.

"What's going on here?" Frank asks. "Trying to stay pretty?"

Gerard ignores that comment. "Did Ray let you in here?"

"Yeah, he told me to make sure you hadn't drowned yourself or something," Frank says. "Inhaled too many toxic fumes. Mikey went out for donuts, I think they're all gorging themselves."

"Oh," Gerard says. He's hungry. "Do you know if he—"

"Yes, he got a jelly-filled for you," Frank says, rolling his eyes. "I don't know how you eat those things."

"They're delicious," Gerard says. He scrubs a little more of the dye mixture into his hair and straightens up. "Can you set your stopwatch?"

"Yeah," Frank says. "Ten minutes?"

"Yeah," Gerard says. "Thanks."

They look at each other.

"So," Frank says. He edges into the bathroom and kicks the door closed behind him. "Ten minutes, huh."

Gerard's feet move without his consent, shuffling him backwards a few steps. "Are you, uh—what are you—"

"Hey," Frank says. He moves in, and Gerard backs up, but Frank keeps walking until Gerard's pressed up against the side of the shower enclosure, his hands raised in front of him like he thinks it'll keep Frank away. Maybe it will. Gerard's not even sure he wants to keep Frank away.

"My hair," Gerard says weakly.

"I won't mess it up," Frank says. He settles his hands on Gerard's hips. "Can I—"

Gerard turns his face away. He doesn't know how he can want something so much without it killing him, one way or another.

"Hey," Frank says, "Gee, come on, look at me." His thumbs brush the skin right above Gerard's waistband, and Gerard shivers. It's more than he can resist. He closes his eyes and lets Frank kiss him, wet and sweet.

They didn't do much kissing the last time, and it's a surprise to Gerard how careful and slow Frank is, the way he kisses like he doesn't have any goal in mind, like all he wants is to stand there in the bathroom and suck on Gerard's tongue. It's a change for Gerard; he's used to sex being a sweaty fumble for the finish line. Not something that people take their time with.

"Frank," he says, pulling back just far enough to get the words out, "Frank, are you—"

Frank groans. "You talk too damn much," he says. "Can't you just—shut up for a while?"

"Fine," Gerard says, stung, but then Frank's kissing him again and he stops caring about anything but Frank's mouth.

His scalp starts burning a little from the dye, and he doesn't care about that either. Frank presses closer and slides one thigh between Gerard's legs, and it's too—Gerard grabs Frank's shirt and hauls him in, grinding down on his leg, and the broken moan Frank lets out is more than Gerard can fucking cope with.

"Frankie," he says, mutters it against Frank's lips. Frank tucks his fingers in the back of Gerard's pants, just brushing the cleft of Gerard's ass, and he's so close, he's—if Frank keeps his thigh there for another thirty seconds, oh God—

Frank's watch goes off.

"Oops," Frank says, "your hair," and he pulls away.

"I'm going to kill you," Gerard says, when he can form words again.

Frank grins, unrepentant. "Get in the shower," he says, "I'll, uh. I'll help you with your hair."

"Okay," Gerard says. He doesn't need any help, but Frank's already taking off his shirt, and there's no way Gerard's going to turn that down: Frank's swallows, the slight pudge of his belly over the waistband of his jeans.

"Get in the shower," Frank says again, and Gerard strips off his clothes and does.

Frank rubs up against him in the shower, slick and endlessly moving, and Gerard cups one of Frank's thighs against his hip and stares up at the ceiling, lets Frank do whatever he wants. It's volcanic, it shakes him to the core, leaves him molten and raw.

After, he slumps in Frank's arms. He's embarrassed now, stripped down in front of Frankie, as naked as he's ever been. He needs out, he needs—he wants to go downstairs and eat breakfast and then hide in his bunk with a sketchpad and Frank on the other bus, not close to him.

"We should, uh. I guess maybe go get some breakfast," he says.

Frank yawns, his jaw cracking. "Yeah, I'm fucking starving," he says, and it's that easy: they disentangle, dry off, put their clothes back on. Gerard rakes his fingers through his hair and peers at his reflection in the mirror. The dye job looks fine—somehow they managed not to fuck it up.

"Are you good with this?" Frank asks.

Gerard doesn't look away from the mirror. "Yeah," he says, lying through his teeth. "Totally."

***

He manages to avoid Frank almost completely for the next two days. They sleep on the buses both nights, which makes it easier. He eats his meals on the bus, surviving on cereal and delivery pizza, and he goes right back to the bus as soon as they get off stage. He and Ray spend a lot of time holed up in the studio, working on chord progressions.

He feels like a jerk. Frank slumps around looking wary and confused, and Gerard wants to explain himself, but he just—he can't. He knew what he was getting himself into, or he thought he did, but really it's worse than he was expecting. He was better off before he learned about the little noises Frank makes when he's getting off, or that Frank's a biter—Christ, Gerard's got bruises all over. He can't look at Frank without thinking about his mouth. It's not a casual thing for him, it won't ever be, and it was stupid of him to think that he could pull it off.

In Holmdel, he spends most of the morning sitting at the kitchenette table, working on comic about a zombie whose heart falls out of its chest. It's sunny outside, but Gerard doesn't want to leave the bus. Frank's lurking out there, with his hips and his smile and his t-shirts that are never quite long enough.

The bus door hisses open and Mikey climbs on, his sunglasses shoved up onto his head. "Gee," he says, blinking.

"Hi," Gerard says. "Did you bring me a muffin?"

"No," Mikey says, "Alicia ate all of them."

"God damn it," Gerard says, "I wanted one of those blueberry ones, with the cream cheese—"

"You could've just gone over to the other bus and gotten one," Mikey says, frowning. "Brian got a whole bunch, there were like, thirty muffins."

"No," Gerard says. "I was, uh. I've been busy, I'm working on this comic."

"Right," Mikey says. He raises his eyebrows. "This is about Frank, isn't it."

"Of course not," Gerard says. Mikey's giving him the lizard eye, but Gerard's pretty much immune by now. He's been putting up with Mikey since the day that kid was born.

Mikey sits down beside him and leans over, looking at the papers Gerard's got spread out over the table. "Is that a zombie?" he asks. He touches a corner of one of the drawings, pulling it towards himself.

"Don't touch it," Gerard says, and smacks Mikey's hand. "You'll get your fucking greasy fingerprints all over it."

"I'm not greasy," Mikey says.

Gerard grunts and works on adding some more foam to the zombie's mouth. The zombie's in the process of dismembering a mean-looking guy to see if the guy's heart will fit in the zombie's chest where its own fell out. He draws some more flecks of blood. Mikey's quiet beside him. Gerard says, "We hooked up."

"When?" Mikey says, and Gerard's grateful that for once Mikey isn't going to play dumb.

"I don't know," Gerard says. "After a show. And then again, um, a few days ago."

"Is that why you've been ignoring him?" Mikey asks. "He thinks you're mad at him."

"I'm not mad," Gerard says. He picks up his blue marker and colors in the guy's eyes. "I'm just. It's weird. We can't—I don't know what to say to him."

"Gerard," Mikey says.

"I know," Gerard says. "Shut up, I know."

"You can't keep doing it," Mikey says.

"I know," Gerard says. "I'll talk to him after the show tonight, okay? I promise."

"Okay," Mikey says. He looks sad, he looks really fucking sad, like Gerard's just told him that a bunch of little kids died in a fire or something, and it just makes Gerard feel worse to know that Mikey thinks the whole situation is worth feeling sad about.

During the show, Frank grins and bounces all over the stage and slings his guitar around, and gets into some sort of half-hearted scuffle with Ray that mostly involves Ray ignoring him. Frank's sweaty and raking his hair out of his eyes and Gerard can't even identify his own emotions any more. He doesn't know what it is he's feeling, but it's something enormous, it swells up inside his chest until he's pretty sure he's going to explode if he can't release the pressure somehow.

"I want you all to listen to this," he says to the audience, after they're finished playing "Disenchanted." "I'm about to give you a fucking pearl of wisdom, are you ready for it?" The audience hollers approvingly, and Gerard sashays toward the edge of the stage, leaning out toward the barricade. "Sometimes," he says, "sometimes you'll be so fucking scared of something that you let the fear stop you from doing it, and then you'll wonder for the rest of your life about what would've happened if you'd just been a little bit braver. Carpe diem, babies."

A girl up against the barrier shrieks, "I love you, Gerard!" He blows her a kiss and turns to see Frank looking at him, one hand curled loosely around the neck of his guitar.

Frank doesn't kiss him during that show. Gerard doesn't think about what it means.

After, he and Ray find some folding lawn chairs and set up camp in the parking lot beside their bus. They've got a cooler full of Coke and a beach ball that Bob stole from some of the techs, and they sit there and argue about whether the song they're working on needs a cello part. There's a breeze blowing, and they played a good show, and everything would be perfect except for how Gerard can see Frank skulking around with a beer tucked in the waistband of his pants.

He thinks about standing up and walking over there, touching Frank's shoulder, saying, "We need to talk." He promised Mikey he would do it, but now that the moment's arrived he's not sure he would know what to say.

"He thinks you're mad at him," Ray says.

Gerard groans. "I'm not."

"Whatever," Ray says, "I'm not trying to get involved in your gay romance drama. I'm just saying. This shit's better than my mom's soap operas."

"At least I don't watch soap operas with my mom," Gerard says.

"Hey, some of them are really good!" Ray says. It's so easy to yank his chain.

Bob appears, and Frank leaps on him, yelling something about a magical mystery tour. Gerard's mouth tastes acidic. He takes another sip of Coke to cover the bite.

Alicia's making throat-cutting gestures at him. Gerard slides on his sunglasses and pretends he doesn't see her. She and Mikey are clearly in cahoots and not to be trusted.

He doesn't sleep well that night, wakes up every forty-five minutes from vivid dreams that he can't shake even after he admits defeat around sunrise and staggers out of his bunk. He goes into the bathroom and splashes cold water on his face. He's pale and red-eyed, greasy-haired. He looks crazy, he looks like a fucking crazy person from the movies, the one who ends up killing everyone by the end.

"You're a coward," he tells his reflection. It sounds old-fashioned—who says stuff like that anymore? Most of the people Gerard knows won't ever have to be courageous. They won't march off to battle or go work down in the mines or whatever. Gerard's been through some shit but he knows he's got an easy life. He should be fucking grateful that the worst thing he has to deal with is the way his stomach tightens up horribly every time he sees Frank.

He's got to do it—it, something, talk to Frank about what's going on. He's going to have to do it eventually, and putting it off isn't going to make it any easier or any less painful.

They're on the road for most of the day. Gerard sits in the lounge with his sketch pad and watches the dry summer land outside. Mikey and Alicia wake up, cook breakfast, squabble over the television. They're all comforting noises to Gerard by now, the sounds of his little brother safe and happy, well-loved.

At noon, they stop at a rest area along I-70. Gerard's desperate for a smoke by then, so he gets off the bus and ambles over to a picnic table beneath a tree. It might be an oak tree. It's fucking enormous, like, it's probably been there for at least a hundred years.

It's a hot day, humid, but it's nice beneath the shade of the tree. Gerard sits on the picnic table and smokes two cigarettes, watching the techs start an impromptu game of Frisbee. Bob hits somebody in the head with the pink saucer and there's a lot of good-natured yelling.

"Nice day," Frank says, absolutely scaring the shit out of Gerard.

"What the—Frankie," he says, a hot kick of adrenaline hammering his heart against his ribs. "Don't sneak up on me like that!"

"Sorry," Frank says. He doesn't look very apologetic. He sits down next to Gerard and takes the cigarette right out of Gerard's hand. "I wasn't trying to sneak up on you, it's not my fault you weren't paying attention."

"Whatever," Gerard says. The adrenaline rush doesn't stop; Frank's too close for Gerard to relax. His skin's prickling. Frank shifts and their shoulders bump together. Gerard leans away, trying to be inconspicuous about it.

"You know what we're doing for lunch?" Frank asks.

"Nope," Gerard says. "You stole my cigarette."

"Yeah, what're you gonna do about it?"

Gerard shrugs. "Nothing."

"That's what I thought," Frank says, and giggles.

They're quiet for a while. Gerard watches Frank's hair blowing around in the breeze, the casual way he dangles the cigarette between his fingers.

"I can't do it anymore," Gerard says. "With. You know. With you."

Frank exhales a cloud of smoke and doesn't answer.

"It's just. The way I feel about you, I don't—I know you don't feel the same way, and I know I never should have, um, so. I can't."

"The way you feel about me," Frank says slowly.

Gerard rubs a hand over the back of his neck. He doesn't want to meet Frank's eyes. "Yeah," he says. He can feel his ears going hot. "I thought you—whatever, you know now, so." He glances over.

Frank's staring at him, narrow-eyed. "You're an idiot," he says.

Gerard doesn't know what's going on. "What?"

"Come talk to me when you pull your head out of your ass," Frank says. He stands up and flicks the cigarette butt out into the grass. Gerard thinks he should say something about littering, but it probably isn't the best time. Frank stalks away across the grass, his shoulders pulled up toward his ears. Then he stops a few yards away, turns around, comes back toward Gerard.

"Hey," Gerard says, worried that he's going to get punched, "don't, Frankie—"

Frank isn't listening. He grabs the front of Gerard's shirt and hauls him in, and Gerard's still shrinking away, but then Frank's mouth is touching his and they're—Frank's kissing him.

"Oh," Gerard says, when Frank finally pulls away and lets him breathe.

Frank rolls his eyes. "Yeah, 'oh,'" he says, and leans in again.

"Woo, go Gerard!" somebody shouts. It sounds like Mikey. Gerard gets one hand underneath Frank's shirt and opens his mouth to Frank's tongue. He feels like he's in a movie, and the strings are swelling and the heroine's finally getting what she wants and he's just—he's happy.

They spend a blissful ten minutes there, making out beneath the tree, but then Worm starts yelling about how he's going to tell the driver to leave them in Ohio if they don't hurry up, so they have to disentangle and walk toward the bus. Frank won't let go of Gerard's hand.

Gerard chews on his lip. "So does this mean you—"

"Yeah," Frank says, and he isn't smiling, but he doesn't need to. "Yeah, Gee. I do."

***

In Bratislava, Frank wears his "I ♥ Gerard" shirt during the show, and Gerard can't stop grinning.

Right before intermission, Frank presses his sweaty face against Gerard's neck, his guitar hanging loose at his side, and it's easy for Gerard to turn his head and catch Frank's mouth with his own, their lips sliding together, salty and familiar. The crowd screams happily, and through his closed eyelids, Gerard can see the flare of a thousand camera flashes going off. He feels Frank smiling against his mouth.

"You good?" Frank asks, pulling back a few inches.

The stage lights are making Gerard sweat, making the permanent marker on his neck smudge and run. He reaches up to smear it off and wipes his black palm on Frank's shirt. "Yeah," Gerard says, and grins. He's not lying this time.