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On the Midtown Direct

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Gerard Way has a system for his morning commute.

The part that’s a mad rush to get out the door in time to make the 7:59 express train isn't really a system, to be fair--it's a daily test of how many times he can hit the snooze alarm and still manage to get into his beater by 7:54, which is the absolute latest time he can leave his driveway and still make it to the parking lot of the Stop & Shop where he illegally parks every day before running up the stairs to the platform just as the express train to Penn Station pulls in. And even then, some days the light at Main Street fucks him over, and he makes it up the stairs just in time to watch the train slowly chug its way out of the station, its glacial pace taunting him as he braces his hands on his knees and gasps for air.

He tries to console himself on those days with an extra cup of coffee and, if his stomach can handle it, a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich from the best bagel shop known to man, and one or two extra cigarettes. But even with a stomach full of greasy goodness, it's hard not to think about the extra thirty minutes of sleep he could have had and still catch the next train.

Most mornings he makes it just fine though, travel mug of the brew he sets on timer the night before in hand. Usually he doesn't even have to run for it, and if the train's delayed at all, which happens more often than not, he can have half or even a full last smoke before joining the rest of suburbia on their daily trek into the city.

If he's having a standard morning, time-wise, he walks all the way down the platform before stopping to wait for the train. He stands in front of the ad for a show at the Papermill Playhouse that closed four months ago, and when the train finally arrives, he gets on the second-to-last car and climbs the stairs to the upper level of seats.

It's in this moment that the most important decision of the commute is made: which seat to take.

There are five different seating possibilities, ranked in a clear and immutable hierarchy.

The top choice, the one he looks for immediately, is one of the two single seats that's in the second row at the front and back of each car on the second level. In addition to being a single seat, thereby preventing any sort of forced socialization, these two individual seats have a compartment for a small piece of luggage next to them between the seat and the aisle.

These seats make Gerard's heart sing. The adjoining luggage compartment both protects him from the rest of the train and also gives him something to brace against when he curls up in the particular way that allows him to both balance his coffee and hold his sketchbook so that neither necessity is in danger of ruin. Days on which he gets one of these seats are treasures, blessed, lucky. If he manages to get one on a day when he peeled out of his driveway at 7:56 and made the train by mere seconds, the conductor watching and judging him as he struggled to climb the last steps in time, he views it as a sign that he should seize the moment to propose to his managing partner (or perhaps even directly to the client) the slight adjustment to the plans he wants that will take their project from being serviceable to revolutionary, from mere function to art.

The possibility that the almost entirely positive reception his ideas receive on such days is owed more to his talent than to his triumph over the morning seating roulette doesn't really occur to Gerard.

If the second-to-last car doesn't have one of these two precious seats available, Gerard has to make a key decision: does he move on to the next car, to see if one is available there? Or does he stick with this car and look for a second or third choice?

If a second choice seat is available, he almost always just stays and contents himself with a slightly inferior but still excellent seat. The first and last seats on the car are also singles, but they have no barrier to the aisle, and it’s harder to manage the coffee and the sketchpad. However, it’s still a guaranteed solo, and that’s seventy-five percent of the game right there.

If none of the single seats are available, he usually moves to the last car, and if that car already has four people more fortunate than he ensconced in the solo seats, he goes for the third option: a window seat in a currently unoccupied duo in the middle of the car. There’s no chance that he’ll remain without a seatmate all the way into Manhattan--the cars are completely full by the second to last stop--but there’s a good chance no one will sit next to him during the first thirty minutes of the forty-nine minute commute. He can knock out a couple of sketches while he finishes his coffee, and then, once someone slides in next to him, he’s careful to prevent all but the most unavoidable incidental contact, putting the mug at his feet and staring out the window at the marshland, iPod drowning out the sounds of cellphone conversations and rustling newspapers.

The fourth and fifth options are almost never seriously considered, given where he lives on the line and his habit of sitting in the last two cars, which are always the last to fill up. The four-seaters with facing seats are tempting, because most of the time during the main commuting hours the seat across from Gerard and the one next to him would be empty, with only the catercorner seat occupied, but there’s always the risk that a third (or, heaven forbid, fourth) commuter will try to squeeze in, knees bumping against his, and that’s the worst possible outcome. Worse even than the final option, sitting in the aisle seat of a two-seater that’s already got someone in the window seat.

Gerard is thankful he doesn’t have to make that choice often.

The commute home is a totally different animal, the queue leading down the escalators to the tracks packed with cranky businessmen in rumpled suits holding a laptop bag in one hand and an open beer in a paper bag in the other, and businesswomen with huge handbags that seem to contain the entire world, books and magazines and iPads and Kindles and sudoku workbooks. He almost never sees a woman with the post-work beer in her hand, and he wonders why that is sometimes while he’s nodding off on the trip home, the motion lulling his body and brain quiet. After work there’s no strategy, no use trying to finagle one seat over another, and no benefit, either; by the time he’s on the train, his brain and creativity are shot, and it won’t be until he’s back out in the suburbs, sitting at his desk in front of the picture window he’s loved since he was a child, that he’ll be good for anything more complex than reflecting on strangers’ drink choices.

The mornings, though. The mornings matter.

* * *

The first hint Gerard gets that something is different, off, wrong is that there’s someone standing in front of his sign.

It’s the second-to-last Monday in May, the hour early enough and the temperature still sufficiently mild that he doesn’t yet feel like he's going to die from the heat every time he inhales smoke from his cigarette. Smoking is a delightful habit during the in-between months, those fleeting moments of fall and spring when the weather is either crisp and cool and the smoke just fills his lungs, the contrast with the autumn air sharp and delicious, or the earliest days of spring when being outside is a pleasure again, and having an excuse to wander outside every hour (or half an hour) is a blessing. But in the winter, he curses it more often than not, his need to run out into the bitter cold and attempt to avoid either burning another pair of gloves or getting frostbite on his fingers. And in the summer, the hit of nicotine almost isn't worth the sensation of drowning in the heat of the smoke, the air around him thick and humid and oppressive.

So normally on a morning as lovely as this he would simply enjoy the air as he sucks down a final cigarette, hoping the train is delayed just enough to allow him to finish the entire thing, and while he does appreciate that he won’t be jonesing for a hit during the last ten minutes of the ride, the fact that there's someone he's never even seen before leaning up against his sign throws him off more than he likes.

The train is impressively late this morning; he finishes the entire smoke and flicks through all of his work emails on his phone before it finally pulls into the station, and when he looks up he's astonished to see that the platform is easily twice as crowded as it normally is. He stands there, guppy-faced, letting the rest of the crowd get on before he moves up to the train, and the rear conductor notices him.

"Change in the schedule," he says. "They've eliminated the local just before this one, due to a reduced passenger expectation for the summer." Gerard looks around at the mass of people crowding onto the train at all the doors all the way up and down its length, and then back at the conductor, who smiles and shrugs a little. "Blame the governor, not us. Budget cuts."

Gerard rolls his eyes a little and grabs the railing to pull himself up onto the train. Fucking economy.

It isn't until he walks up to the second level that the full impact of the governor's fucking pro-highway, anti-public transportation bullshit policy hits him. Forget snagging one of the single seats; those are all taken by people who look like they got on at the very first stop, twenty miles further out. He's not even sure if any of the duos are still empty.

He makes a decision then, impulsive and slightly hysterical, and sits in the first empty four-seater he sees. He knows he could have tried the back car, but the possibility that he would get there and it would be even worse is enough to keep him here.

Gerard braces his coffee mug between his feet while he gets out his sketchpad and tries to make it obvious that he's not the sort of person that other commuters should want to sit next to, but he’s also not one of those assholes who keeps huge pieces of luggage on a spare seat on a nearly-full train. He wants people to not want to sit next to him without making it look intentional. It's a tough line to dance on.

When someone plops down diagonally from him at the next stop, he can't tell whether it's a result of ineffective body language on his part or if there are already no other seats left. It's possible that some people just don't aggressively strategize their seating choices like he does, but he doubts it. Commuting is serious business.

He glances at the person across from him, even though he normally works hard to not look at people who can see his gaze on a train, but he can't help it--he wants to see if they're likely to be an ally in the war to prevent someone else from attempting to squeeze in. And then he groans inwardly.

His seatmate is short. Short and compact and not intimidating at all in a pair of beat-up jeans and a black jacket over a worn light gray t-shirt. Plus, he's pretty as fuck, with long hair just starting to curl over his ears and eyebrows that are perfectly shaped over his eyes. The guy--kid, really, dude is fucking tiny--is a little out of place in the sea of charcoal gray and beige and blue, but the fact that he looks like a student, and a conscientious one at that, does not help Gerard's cause.

The kid lifts his backpack up onto the seat next to him as Gerard contemplates what brand of crazy he can put on that will deter potential seatmates without disrupting the rest of the car, but when he takes his jacket off Gerard abruptly reassesses his strategy. He's got two full sleeves of tattoos, colors bright and stark against the t-shirt, and Gerard can see the hint of a neck tattoo through his hair now.

Tattoo Boy throws his jacket onto the backpack and rests his arm over it, picking his feet up and bracing them against the seat across from him. His legs are spread a little, his face blank, and the lip and nose rings suddenly look a lot less sweet and a lot more "potentially violent punk." In about sixty seconds flat he's done a complete transformation from "guy you'd want dating your daughter" to "dude you avoid eye contact with while pretending to be cool."

"You're like the Bruce Wayne of commuters," Gerard says without thinking, and he blanches when Tattoo Boy looks at him.

"Hey, I've gotta protect my real estate with something, and it's kind of hard to do that when you're 5'7." His smile widens when Gerard looks at him skeptically. "It's what it says on my license, man."

"How much did you pay them to lie?" Gerard asks.

"Shit, the DMV lies for free, you kidding?" Tattoo Boy says instantly. "I think it's like an act of charity."

Gerard laughs, the high-pitched breathy one he's gotten better at not doing around people who aren't Mikey or Ray. But Tattoo Boy just giggles back at him and slouches down further, knees almost above his head.

“Think we look annoying enough to repel the masses?” Tattoo Boy asks.

Gerard nods. “I think we’re set,” he says, smiling back for a moment before his brain starts screaming STRANGER DANGER, and he looks down at his sketchpad, remembering to reach down and get his coffee off the floor before repositioning himself so that he can drink and draw safely.

He half-expects Tattoo Boy to ask him what he’s working on, interrupt his flow, but he doesn’t. Gerard ignores the part of his brain that’s a little disappointed.

* * *

The following morning Gerard hopes that the platform will be back to its usual level of busy, but no such luck. The girl with the long single braid down her back is standing in front of his sign again, and he has to weave in and out among the crowd to move further down the platform, standing where the last car will stop. The weather is lovely again, sun beating against his shoulders, and he turns east, lifting his face towards the sun and closing his eyes behind his sunglasses.

When the train arrives and he climbs onto the last car, he can see that his old methods are dead, pointless, not even worth considering anymore. The singles are taken here too, and there are people in at least half of the two-seaters, something that never used to be true of the last car at his stop. He sighs to himself and settles into an empty four-seater, hoping that today's seatmate will be as effective as yesterday's at deterring possible interlopers.

He looks up when someone slides in at the next station. It's Tattoo Boy again, who slouches down and spreads out his arms and legs, pursing his lips and staring at the commuters who pass them by. Gerard is beginning to wonder if he really wants to be sitting with Tattoo Boy when he glances over at Gerard and winks before resuming his death stare.

Gerard smiles at this, hunching down a little further in his own seat and encroaching on the seat next to him, and Tattoo Boy notices and gives him a little nod of approval.

They remain undisturbed for the rest of the trip.

* * *

On Wednesday Gerard doesn't even both looking at the other seats, grabbing the first four-seater on the last car and setting up his space. When Tattoo Boy sits down in his seat, they give each other a little nod before solidifying their defenses, Gerard tapping his pencil against his pad and slurping his coffee loudly and Tattoo Boy crossing his arms imposingly over his chest, head bopping in time with the music from his earphones.

Gerard has always prided himself on being able to take a less than ideal situation and figure out how to work it to his advantage.

* * *

Thursday is a bad morning.

Gerard was up way too late the night before. He had spent hours working on a new design that wasn’t coming together at all, hunched over his table and music blaring as he drew, and he missed Mikey’s call as a result. By the time he called him back, Mikey had already left for his trip to London, was already inaccessible in a tiny little tin can over the ocean, and Gerard hadn’t been able to say goodbye. He knew rationally that Mikey would be fine--he flies all the time and Gerard is used to it by now--but Gerard had stayed up until 3 a.m. before he realized that he was trying to wait up until he could call Mikey again and actually get an answer once he’d touched down on the other side of the Atlantic.

At that point he’d made himself go to bed, eyes crusty and tired and his hands not working well on the drafting table anyway, and while the text he finds on his iPhone the following morning (“Are you an idiot or just deaf, I called you three times last night. I’m in London. BE JEALOUS.”) makes him smile, it isn’t enough to make him forget what today is.

It’s been eight years since Elena died.

He knows it’s sort of odd, a single thirty-four year old man living in his grandmother's house by himself, but selling Elena's home hadn't been an option for him. She’s in every corner of the house, every room and hallway and closet, and he likes that, likes knowing that he’s filling it with his memory too, that it’s becoming his home and hers all at once.

Mikey had lived there with him for the first two years after her death while he finished up college and interned in the city, but when he met Alicia they moved in together after about a week, and that had been that. Gerard had sort of figured, before that happened, that when Mikey left he would want to leave the suburbs too, join the city life like most thirty-somethings (or hell, twenty-somethings) do.

But while it was hard getting used to being without Mikey, he didn't want to leave. The commute could be a pain in the ass, and dating in New York was difficult to say the least--if getting people to leave Manhattan for Brooklyn was hard, getting them to come to North Jersey was fucking impossible--but every time he thought about selling it and moving to Brooklyn or Queens or even Manhattan itself, he felt cold and unhappy and wrong. So he didn't.

And love hadn’t really worked out for him the last time he’d tried, anyway.

Instead he keeps the house in good repair, keeps it nice the way she liked it, which means stuffed to the gills with every little thing Gerard sees that speaks to him, his life one big exploding treasure chest of memories. He doesn't know how to not live like that in this house, and it reminds him of her and makes him feel like he’s moving forward all at the same time--every time he brings home something new and makes room for it on the living room mantle, or above the toilet in the downstairs powder room, or in the shelf of the front bay window, he's adding something to his life that she never knew.

This date is always a bad one for him, always reminds him of her last days, and he's irrationally angry at Mikey for not being there, for having a job he loves that's taken him away from Gerard today, when he needs him. And so he doesn't tell Mikey he’s having a bad morning, just texts him back that he needs to go shopping for him at Topman and to say hi to Alicia, and Mikey texts back immediately telling him to get out of bed and go to work, it'll be good for him, he needs the distraction, and Gerard lets his head flop back on the pillow, because if he can't fucking lie to his brother via text when there's an ocean between them, when the fuck can he get away with it, Jesus.

He drags himself out of bed after that though, showers and throws on yesterday's pants with a clean shirt. He doesn't bother with a tie but he does actually look at himself in the mirror before running out the door, making a face at himself and wincing when the circles under his eyes fucking dance at him. Whatever, the world can bite him.

The train's fucking late again, so his later-than-usual start doesn't even matter, which makes him oddly angry. This is the sort of day when he should miss the train, and nothing should work right, and if the world isn't cooperating with his mood, that's just not fair. He grabs the first four-seater he sees and turns towards the window, feet up on the seat and knees resting against the wall of the train, travel mug clenched in his hands and headphones in. He holds his wallet open against the outside of his leg, not looking up when the conductor passes by and sees his monthly pass, and he certainly doesn't bother to acknowledge Tattoo Boy when he sits down.

Today isn't a day for dealing with people.

* * *

Gerard isn't a believer in the whole "Thank God It's Friday" philosophy--he thinks if your Monday through Friday is so fucking bad, you owe it to your-fucking-self to do something about that crap.

He suspends his opinion about that this week, though, because he's definitely glad it's not Thursday anymore, and that's close enough. He made it through yesterday somehow, had worked on a couple of projects for enough of the day that he felt okay about the fact that most of his drawings consisted of dragons and vampires rather than building specs, and when he got home he flopped down onto the couch and watched The Fellowship of the Ring until the tightness in his chest was from “Fly, you fools!” rather than Elena. And then he went to bed.

He wakes up on Friday feeling--not normal, but okay, able to breathe again, and that's good enough. He gets through the morning routine fine, arriving at the station with five minutes to spare, and he makes sure to smile at the conductor when he comes through the car checking tickets today and actually nods at Tattoo Boy when he sits down diagonally from him.

Apparently that's all the opening Tattoo Boy needs, because he smiles back and says, "Better morning today?"

Gerard nods. "Yeah, sorry about that."

Tattoo Boy just shrugs. "I'd still rather sit across from you than that dude who wears a gallon of cologne, even if you're in a pissy mood and want to kill the world."

"I didn't want to kill the world," Gerard protests. "It was just a bad morning."

"Uh-huh."

"And I would hope you'd rather sit with me than that dude, that shit is terrible," Gerard says.

Tattoo Boy laughs. "Yeah, unless you start listening to Sarah McLachlan loud enough for me hear through your earphones, you'll be better than that guy."

"What I don't get is how no one in his life has told him to lay off the Old Spice. It's not like it's subtle," Gerard says.

Tattoo Boy shakes his head. "No no, it's like a douche alarm. Like Axe body spray, no dude who uses that shit is cool, and I like being able to know who to avoid from ten feet away." Gerard laughs. “It's like birds that know not to eat certain bugs or butterflies because of their coloring or whatever. It’s an awesome public service, really."

"Right, except that there's that one butterfly that looks practically the same as a poisonous one but it isn't at all. So like, there could be dudes who smell like that that aren't assholes."

Tattoo Boy shakes his head. "Nah, you've got it backwards--there are douchebags out there giving a false negative, who don't wear that shit, so you don't know they're a d-bag until they've like borrowed five hundred dollars and never pay it back or fucked over one of your female friends and you're left trying to explain how you didn't know he was a douchebag, how could you have, he smelled fine. Or he just smelled terrible in a non-douchebag way," Tattoo Boy finishes.

"Not that that's ever happened to you," Gerard says.

"'Course not, do I look like someone who gets taken advantage of by douchebags?" When Gerard smirks and raises his left eyebrow a little, Tattoo Boy narrows his eyes. "Fine, well if you're gonna be such a douchebag about it, maybe I'll just take my superior seating guarding skills elsewhere."

"When you say it that many times in a row douchebag starts sounding ridiculous," Gerard comments.

"Fuck, it always sounds ridiculous," Tattoo Boy says as he slouches down in his set and pulls out an iPod and a comic book from his backpack. "Kick my ankle or something if we're about to get overtaken, kay?"

"Kay," Gerard agrees, and Tattoo Boy smiles at him as he puts his earbuds in and taps his foot along while he flips open the issue.

And just like that the conversation is over. Gerard's chief objective in his old seat strategy was to avoid creating a pattern of sitting with the same person every day and then being obligated to talk to them or something. It's not that he doesn't like to talk--Mikey and Ray would both laugh at that idea--but as soon as it's expected or demanded in order to be polite, Gerard's insides rebel against him and he wants to lock himself in his old room at home and never deal with anyone ever again.

But apparently Tattoo Boy doesn't have the same problem, since he just ended the conversation really obviously and used both the music and the reading deterrent method to establish that He Is Busy and Not Interested (although given the number of times Gerard’s been asked for directions when he's in the middle of listening to whatever new band Mikey's shoved at him, some people really aren't good at interpreting that signal). And it's fine. Gerard sits there for another moment, considering, and then he pulls out his sketchbook and repositions his coffee and settles in.

When the train pulls into the tunnel leading them under the Hudson to Penn Station, Gerard sits up a little, puts his sketchpad away and generally tries to get himself together to be ready to get off the train in five minutes. Tattoo Boy does the same across from him, flashing Gerard a quick smile.

"I'd say something about next Tuesday, and seeing you then, but since we just got done establishing that we’re not douchebags, I wouldn't want you to get the wrong idea. So. Have a good weekend," Tattoo Boy says, and with that he's out of the seat and down the stairs before Gerard can do much more than lift his hand. By the time Gerard finishes gathering all of his stuff together, people are already standing in the aisle, waiting for the doors to open, and any chance to either respond or puzzle out the first comment is lost.

* * *

Monday morning the alarm startles him awake, jerks him out of a dream about a giant caterpillar that had a very important thing to tell him that he never actually got to hear before the radio wakes him up. He thinks about it in the shower, contemplates what his subconscious could have wanted to tell him through the guise of a bug.

Even with a dream world unfulfilled, he manages to get through his routine easily, habit pulling him through it without any real problems. He's out the door by 7:50, practically unheard of, and he wonders whether he has enough time to grab a bagel before deciding that that would be pushing it. It is a Monday, after all. He doesn't want to overreach.

He gets his old spot in front of his billboard, and he drinks his coffee and smokes his cigarette while he tries to figure out what he's going to work on during the commute. His firm has two major projects that they're trying to push through at the moment, and his ideas for both of them haven't fully coalesced yet.

When he gets onto the train, it takes a moment before things start to stick out at him. The train is half-full, and there are far more kids around than he's used to seeing. He still grabs his four-seater, even though he can see empty two-seaters up further in the car, but it's a strange enough morning that he doesn't want to fuck up his system.

The fact that Tattoo Boy might not be able to find him also crosses his mind.

It's when he reaches into his messenger bag to get his headphones that the morning starts to turn on him. They're not in the side pocket, or the bottom of the main compartment, or the top flap. They're not anywhere. And that's when he realizes that the train is far, far too loud.

Rush hour crowds don't talk. There's the occasional cellphone talker who arranges a pickup or has a three-minute long conversation (they all start with I'm on a train, where are you?), but generally people maintain the illusion that each commuter is taking a solitary journey that happens to be in the presence of hundreds of other people by ignoring everyone else and not making noise. But there are two guys sitting behind him who will not stop talking, about things like the percentage of restaurants that fail in their first year and the liberation of moving and just leaving all your furniture behind, man, just take your clothes with you, free your soul, dude, and while Gerard isn't a confrontational person, by and large, tries to live and let live, it's all he can do to not turn around and tell them to shut the fuck up or, at the very least, come up with more interesting topics.

He waits for Tattoo Boy to get on, waits to have someone to lift his eyebrow at when the douchebag from San Diego complains about how pale he is on the East Coast, even during the summer, fucking unreal, his mother thinks he's sick every time he goes home, but he's three stops past Tattoo Boy's town before he accepts that this morning is a fucking sham, a mirage of goodness, and he's suffering through this bullshit alone.

He gives up on getting any actual work done when Unambitious Doctor starts expounding on his shock that not all of New Jersey is a dump like Newark. At first he thinks that Go-Getter Businessman should hack up UD, but then GGB starts babbling on about "end goals" and how "MBA programs are just a really expensive network" and he think GGB needs to get attacked by Unambitious Doctor. UD could kill him with a scalpel. Or fucking buzzwords. That metaphor will work.

* * *

His morning doesn't improve when he gets into Penn, walks up four blocks and over three avenues, and arrives at his office only to discover the completely dark and deserted reception area, and it occurs to him that it's the last Monday in May and he's a fucking moron.

It's not that people in the office hadn't been talking about Memorial Day weekend, about having barbecues and family events and celebrating the official kickoff of the summer. He just hadn't realized that it was this Monday, that time had kept moving and it was suddenly the end of May. He would have been more likely to have actually remembered it if Mikey had been around, because while Mikey wasn't exactly on top of a lot of things, he tended to have a slightly better awareness of what the rest of the world was doing on a given day.

He shakes it off, gets back into the elevator and travels back down to the ground floor, and by the time he exits the revolving door of the building he's made up his mind and heads north towards the Park. Fifth Avenue is bustling, tourists everywhere, but he'd find them more annoying if he hadn't just been so stupid. It's hard for him to justify feeling superior to out-of-towners when he just came to work on a day when he didn't even need to.

The heat isn't unbearable yet, although he can feel that it's going to be a hot one, air starting to get thick and sticky with humidity. But the sun is streaming through the streets in broad shafts, lighting up the west side of the avenue and causing the buildings to sparkle and shimmer. He crosses to the east side of Fifth Avenue to get a better view, trying not to run into anyone as he looks across the street at the buildings and how they catch the light.

One of the things Gerard loves most about New York is the sheer variety of architectural styles, sometimes all in one block. The city has such an odd history of preservation and innovation, and while some eras have permanently damaged it--he says a silent prayer of mourning for the old Penn Station and curses Robert Moses out of habit--it also feels like nowhere else in the world, a skyline distinctive and special and his.

By the time he gets to Central Park, his hands are itching for his pencils, and as soon as he finds a patch of grass under a tree that's not already completely overrun with insufferably attractive nineteen-year-olds, he sits down and sets up shop, and when he looks up after finishing the rough first sketches of a new design, the sun is arcing towards the west and it's time for some Jamba Juice before retreating back to Jersey to enjoy the rest of his day.

* * *

When Gerard gets to the station on Tuesday morning, things are back to normal, or at least the new normal that last week established. The platform is already packed, the slight breeze cutting through the warmth of the morning sun. Gerard snags the first four-seater on the last car of the train, setting up his coffee and sketchpad before he leans back against the headrest, watching the suburban backyards stream by him through the window.

Tattoo Boy gets on at the next stop, sitting diagonally from him without hesitation, and Gerard's shoulders relax a little as he places his bag on the seat opposite from Gerard and puts his feet up. Tattoo Boy notices him looking and gives him a little "what's up" head tilt.

"You have a good Memorial Day?" Tattoo Boy asks.

Gerard will never know what inspires him to say something other than "Yeah, how was yours?" in response to this most basic of train small talk, let alone actually say what really happened, but there's no stopping once he starts. "Actually, I kind of forgot it was a holiday until I got into the office and the entire place was dark."

Tattoo Boy stares at him for a solid ten seconds before he giggles. "Seriously? Are you allergic to a day off, or just a total loser when it comes to calendar management?"

"More the second," Gerard admits, grinning a little when Tattoo Boy starts laughing again. "Well, it's not like it's like Christmas, or Halloween or something, when it's always on the same date. It's like trying to remember what day Thanksgiving is, it's fucking impossible."

"Fourth Thursday in November," Tattoo Boy says immediately.

Gerard glares at him. "If you tell me when Easter is I will get up and fucking leave you to the mercy of whatever douchebags try to sit here with you."

Tattoo Boy opens his mouth but quickly holds out his hands when Gerard jokingly slams shut his sketchbook and starts to stick it in his messenger bag. "Hey, whoa, no, I have no fucking idea when Easter happens, other than sometime in the spring, seriously. I mean, it's a holiday about a zombie man-god, that’s about all I remember about it from Catholic school, I promise. And I'm sure you had a perfectly good reason to forget about Memorial Day, okay?"

Gerard puts down his bag again. "I actually really don't, honestly, other than the fact that my brother is in London right now and so it's easier for me to lose track of things."

"Does your brother manage your calendar or something?"

"Not really? Like, not as a job or anything," Gerard says. "But I'm more likely to pay attention to stuff that isn't one of my work projects or my house when he's around. Which sounds really lame, now that I say it out loud."

"Nah, I get that. I mean, I pay attention to the stuff I need to and pretty much ignore the rest, which works pretty well except for when what I think I need to pay attention to isn't the same as what the rest of the world thinks."

"Exactly!" Gerard realizes a moment too late that he may have just gotten way too loud for a train and leans closer to Tattoo Boy. "I think about plenty of things, but keeping track of when my next three-day weekend will be isn't one of them."

Tattoo Boy suddenly looks a little sheepish. "Man, now I feel like shit for not saying 'see you next Tuesday' on Friday. Maybe you just needed one more reminder."

Gerard stares at him. "Did you spend that much time worrying about not making a cunt joke at me? Are you twelve?"

"I didn't know how you'd take it! And we'd just spent like fifteen minutes talking about douchebags, and I didn't want you to think that I was one," Tattoo Boy says, waving his hands around.

"Yeah, well next time just risk calling me a cunt and fucking tell me, okay?" This is not a conversation Gerard had anticipated having when he woke up this morning.

"Maybe I will!"

"Okay, fine!" Gerard says, trying not to laugh, and from the look on his face Tattoo Boy’s having the same problem.

Tattoo Boy finally lets a grin slip through before he lifts up his hands and cracks his neck, first in one direction and then in the other. "So what do you do that's so absorbing, anyway?" Tattoo Boy asks.

Gerard sits back a little. "Oh. I'm an architect. I work for one of the firms in New York, mostly on like big commercial projects, but sometimes I get to do some public work, too."

"Sounds pretty cool."

"Yeah, it's like--I was always drawing as a kid, always creating things in my mind, and at first I thought I wanted to like tell stories with that, create characters and a world and whatever. But then I just had this moment when I realized that I could literally build the world, shape it, determine what the skyline looks like. And it fit, for me," Gerard says, trying to not flush. He doesn't avoid talking about his work, not exactly, but he doesn't tend to explore why he does what he does with anyone other than Mikey or Ray.

Tattoo Boy doesn't seem to notice the abrupt halt to his explanation. "That sounds amazing. I kind of get it--like, I don't draw, or anything like that, but I'm in school for something totally different than anything I've ever done before, and it's just crazy. I'm working constantly, but it's worth it."

"What are you studying?" Gerard asks.

"I'm at culinary school for baking and pastry, and this summer I’m interning at this bakery that’s letting me mess around and create vegan recipes that are actually good and not fucking impossible to make," Tattoo Boy says.

"Seriously? So you're a vegan, then?"

"No," Tattoo Boy says.

"No?" Gerard thought he had been following the thread of this conversation fairly well, but he's pretty sure he just lost it.

Tattoo Boy laughs. "Nah, I mean, I'm a vegetarian, have been for years, but I can't keep to vegan and don't really want to. My main thing is that my stomach's all fucked up, sensitive as hell, and I can't eat half the things I want to, so I've been trying to make substitutions for stuff. And vegan is another one of those things--if you want to go there, do that thing, you shouldn't have to live on nothing but crap, you know? And the same thing’s true for eating gluten-free or whatever."

"Wow," Gerard says. "I can honestly say I've never really thought about any of this shit."

"Yeah, most people don't, or they do and then turn it into this big thing where they can never have a Ring Ding again, and I think that's fucking stupid, too. You should just be able to eat, you know?"

"Definitely," Gerard says. He hesitates a moment before sticking his hand out. "Um. I just. I figure since I know how you're planning to save the world through pastries that you should know my name. I'm Gerard."

Tattoo Boy takes his hand. "Frank. Nice to officially meet you."

"You too. But if you ever have a morning when you want to sit somewhere else, that's cool, like, just because I know your name it's not like binding or whatever." Gerard can't seem to get his mouth to close, or his hand to release Frank's.

Frank giggles. "Thanks for the tip. If I see a better seat in the future, I'll be sure to take it without thinking of you once."

"Well, good," Gerard says weakly, finally letting go and turning his head back to his sketchpad. This is why talking isn't one of his strong suits.

* * *

Gerard is still worried when he gets on the train Wednesday morning that he's going to be stuck sitting with Frank for good and that Frank will suddenly reveal himself to be someone who brings insanely smelly breakfasts every morning or has a constant, never-ending cough and post-nasal drip that permeates the entire car or has arguments with his girlfriend or mother or boss on his cellphone at 8:15 in the morning. Gerard'll have no choice but to move to the front of the train and brave the crowd up there, the only saving grace being that every day he can have a new seatmate, and every morning will be a fresh opportunity for things to suck in an all-new and exciting way.

Even worse than Frank suddenly morphing into his worst nightmare is the possibility that Frank feels obligated, that he made a mistake sitting with Gerard for five days last week and then once so far this week, and he's still trying to figure out how to end the train partnership. Breakups of this nature are always difficult.

But either Frank is a much better actor than Gerard could ever dream of being, or he really is content to sit in the same seat every morning, settling in across from Gerard and making one or two comments before getting his music going and pulling out something to read. And Gerard actually starts to find his commute relaxing, his body releasing the low level tension it usually holds for the entire trip when he’s sitting near a stranger.

He doesn't really know what to do with the fact that his body has decided that Frank no longer fits into that category.

* * *

The following Monday Gerard glances up to say hi to Frank as he sits down and stares instead.

"You cut your hair," he says stupidly.

Frank laughs. "Yup, it's too fucking hot in the summer, especially when I spend all day working in a room with giant ovens. So this weekend I broke out the clippers and gave myself the summer coat," he says, running his hand over the crown of his head. Gerard watches the movement, captivated by the tattoos covering the back of his hand, the strength he can see in it. He makes eye contact with Frank and smiles.

"It looks good."

"Thanks, man." Frank smiles back and pulls out the book he started last Thursday and is almost finished with now, Gerard watching him out of the corner of his eye.

Frank had looked young even with the chin-length mop of hair, but now it's impossible for Gerard to ignore the fact that he's sitting across from a kid, a college student, for fuck's sake, and that it's completely and totally inappropriate for a dude in his mid-thirties to look at the tattoo splashed high on Frank's neck and think about licking it, now that he can see it clearly. Or to wonder about the tattoos that must be on Frank's body that he just can't see, covered up by the t-shirt and jeans he wears every day. Or to regret that he never got to bury both of his hands in Frank's long hair, tugging his head back just so as he kissed him.

All of those thoughts would be completely unacceptable, which is why Gerard has never had them. Obviously.

* * *

"So when are you going to ask Train Dude out?" Mikey asks.

"His name is Frank," Gerard replies, parrying weakly.

Mikey looks at him. "Okay, when are you going to ask Frank out, then."

"I'm not. He's way too young for me, I told you. He might not even be legal for all I know."

"He said he has a drivers license, of course he's legal."

"He could be seventeen and still have a drivers license, dude," Gerard says.

Mikey shrugs. "Close enough." When Gerard gapes at him, Mikey rolls his eyes. "He doesn't sound seventeen, okay? Trust me, I was seventeen a lot more recently than you were, I remember it better."

"Mikey, even if he's twenty-two or something, he's still a decade younger than me. Also, he's just a guy on a train, I don't even know if he dates dudes."

"Has he mentioned a girlfriend? Women he thinks are hot?"

"We don't really have those sorts of conversations," Gerard says primly.

Mikey's eyebrows mock him. "Ever wonder why that is?"

"We have respect for women?"

Mikey doesn't miss a beat. "Gerard, I have plenty of respect for women, and I've talked about them with Ray. And Dewees. And you, for fuck's sake. It really never occurred to you that maybe there's another reason the topic has never come up?"

Gerard fidgets on the couch in his living room and looks down at his hands. "I don't want to talk about it, Mikes." He hears Mikey sigh and feels him sit down next to him, bumping shoulders.

"Okay. You want to hear about the place we stayed at in London? It was fucking crazy, man."

Gerard relaxes a little and throws his arm around Mikey, squeezing his shoulder. "Did this one have a chandelier in the bathroom, too?"

“Nah, even better,” Mikey replies, and Gerard settles in to hear all about it.

* * *

The next week and then the one after that follow the same basic pattern: Gerard gets their four-seater and waits for Frank to join him. After they exchange pleasantries, they proceed to lose themselves in whatever distractions they have set up for the morning. Gerard slowly gets used to how much more of Frank's face (and neck, his mind supplies) he can see now that Frank's hair is buzzed, and while he makes it a point to never stare for too long, his eyes are drawn to him, to his eyebrows and tiny ears and the lip ring that he pulls into his mouth when he's thinking hard or focusing on the page.

It's not that Gerard doesn't know that he's being kind of creepy, but there's not much he can do about it at this point. Frank sits across from him every day. It would take more self-control than Gerard possesses to ignore what’s right in front of him.

Frank goes through books quickly, with a focus that Gerard can't really imagine--he gets a fair amount of work done on the train, but he has to let himself follow whatever path his brain or muse or whatever wants to on any given morning, he can't just do what he tells himself to do. To Gerard's eye, Frank settles in without any effort, his imagination steady and content to be in one world until he finishes it and moves on to the next. Gerard can visualize clearly how he would be on the subway, one hand holding the pole or crossbar with the book braced in the other, letting go momentarily to turn the page, eyes focused and intent.

He wonders if Frank reads on the commute back to Jersey too, or if he's too tired to focus at that point. He imagines him staying up too late, finishing one last chapter, and then turning to the next page, and then the next. He gets a sudden image of Frank as a child, huddled under the covers with a flashlight, mouthing the words to himself as he gets through one of his first chapter books.

He's lost in this possible memory when Frank looks up from the book and smiles at him. Gerard startles a little but manages to smile back.

"Have you read this one?" Frank asks, gesturing to his battered copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

Gerard shakes his head. "I don't usually have the focus for books. Is it good?"

Frank is nodding before he finishes the question. "Yeah, it's great. I liked Wonder Boys a lot too, but this is his best stuff."

"I saw the Wonder Boys movie," Gerard says.

"The book was better."

"The book is always better, come on," Gerard says.

Frank grins wider. "Which is why you should read it. After you read this one, though."

Gerard sighs dramatically, put upon. "Fine."

He's not expecting it when Frank pulls out the dog-eared copy of Adventures three days later and tosses it onto the seat next to Gerard. "There you go."

Gerard picks it up. "Don't you want to keep it?"

"Nah, I have too many books already. Besides, this came last night." Frank reaches into his bag and pulls out a Kindle. "I've already downloaded like fifty books for this baby, it's fucking awesome. And like forty of them were free because they're old as shit."

"Wow," Gerard says, looking it over. "But now I won't know what you're reading." He flushes a little as he plays that back in his head, clenching the seat with his right hand.

Frank looks back at him and smiles. "Don't worry, I'll just tell you."

* * *

The train is just about to pull into the tunnel one Friday morning when Frank clears his throat, and when Gerard looks up at him he says, very clearly, "See you next Tuesday, okay?"

The gears in Gerard's head turn a little, and when he finally figures out what the fuck Frank is on about, he can't believe it. He hasn't been paying all that much attention to the calendar, it's true, but he still thinks he deserves a little more credit than this.

"Seriously? You’re so worried about me that you have to call me a cunt?” Gerard laughs. “Listen, the Fourth of July isn't like Memorial Day. I mean. It's on the Fourth of July, okay?" he says, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Yeah, and what's today's date?" Frank asks, pointing at Gerard in triumph when he frowns, thinking. "See, you don't know, you need someone to say ‘have a nice weekend’ or whatever to remind you of shit."

"It's not like I only know it's the weekend because you say that. Also, today’s July 1st, so there," Gerard says, not caring that he sounds like a six-year-old.

"Yeah, but it helped when I called you a cunt, don't lie," Frank says, and the thing is that Gerard thinks he really couldn’t lie to Frank, so he changes the subject.

"No, but I have plans for Monday, that's the key thing--I'm not going to go to work on Monday because there are other things I know I'll be doing. Not so much for Memorial Day."

"What are you doing?" Frank asks.

Gerard shrugs. "Heading over to my brother Mikey's place. We'll probably grill something and hang out with his wife and a couple of our friends. Maybe find some fireworks. Play some videos games. Go out to a bad summer movie. Classic holiday stuff."

"Sounds pretty fun," Frank says, hands tapping out a beat on the cover of his Kindle.

"Yeah, it should be, they're all pretty great," he says as the train pulls out of the tunnel, slowly chugging its way into the station.

"Well. Have a nice three-day weekend, then," Frank says, standing up, and Gerard smiles up at him.

"See, how hard was that? You didn't even have to say the word 'Tuesday'," he says, laughing a little as Frank flips him off and vaults down the stairs.

* * *

"He was looking for an invite," Mikey says.

"No he wasn't."

"Yes, he was," Mikey says.

"Seriously, I would know, he wasn't."

"I've got to side with Mikey here," Ray interrupts, handing Gerard a plate with a well-done hot dog in a bun on it.

"What, seriously?" Gerard asks. "None of you have even met the guy." He can hear Mikey muttering under his breath that it feels like they have given how much he talks about Frank, and he nudges the outside of Mikey's foot with his toe.

"Gerard." Ray's got that earnest look on his face, the one that makes Gerard feel like he's about to expound on some scheme to rescue orphan puppies from certain death, and the worst part is that it'll actually be a good plan so he can't even turn him down. "I know it's scary to ask someone out, try something new, but I never would have gotten to date Christa if I hadn't been willing to take that risk." He wraps an arm around her waist, pulling her close against his chest; she beams up at him. “And now there’s an opportunity for you to do that--”

"Ray." Gerard holds up his hand. "It's not that I don't appreciate that, or that I'm not happy for you--I'm thrilled for you guys, you know that--but this is not that situation. This is not a dude I can just ask out. You just gotta trust me on that. Now are we going to eat and make the 3:05 showing of Transformers or what?"

“All I’m saying is that you gotta be willing to go after something big, even when it’s risky. Like Michael Bay deciding to make a third Transformers movie even after the second one sucked balls. That took guts, man,” Ray says.

“I’m not sure that Michael Bay is the best example for your point, dude,” Mikey says, and Gerard has to agree.

“Hmmmm. Well, in that case you should do it just because I say you should,” Ray says, and that argument’s a lot more compelling.

Gerard still knows better, though.

* * *

The Wednesday after the Fourth of July is the first unbearably hot day of the summer. Gerard wakes up sweating, the air conditioner in his bedroom having given up the ghost last week. He had meant to get a replacement over the weekend, but it hadn't been that hot and he figured he could survive with just a fan. That was a grave miscalculation.

A cool shower and standing in front of the open door to his refrigerator helps temporarily, but the wait for the train is awful, and he forgot to brew a pot of coffee to chill overnight so that he could have iced coffee this morning. Getting on the train uncaffeinated is unthinkable, but each sip makes him feel like he’s overheating from the inside out, and he can't bear to smoke and drink hot coffee at the same time in this weather, which means he's just going to get grumpier.

The one saving grace is that the doubledecker trains have a far better air conditioning system than the old NJ Transit trains did, so he’ll actually be comfortable on the ride itself. But on a day like today it will still take a stop or two before his face doesn’t feel like it's about to melt off, and his shirt won't completely dry until just before they get to Penn Station and it's time for him to walk to his office and get it soaked with sweat again.

Gerard isn't particularly concerned with his appearance at work--if he doesn't have to meet with clients on any given day, he doesn't really think it matters what he wears to sit behind a drafting table, and luckily for him the managing partners are willing to indulge him in that--and that goes about double for a day like today, when everyone looks soggy and limp and the only thing that would make life better would be to stand in front of an air conditioner that’s blasting cold air at him, or maybe float in a pool, or dunk his head into a bucket of ice water.

He pants a little on the train, waiting for his shirt to unstick enough for him to get his materials out of his bag, and he daydreams a little about the only good parts of a day this hot. His favorite is when it’s right around 2 a.m., and the world is quiet and still except for the crickets, and the air is a bit muggy but not quite so oppressive. He and Mikey used to drive around for hours on summer nights like that, windows all the way down and music blaring, and then they'd finally pull into a deserted parking lot that was dark enough to avoid attention and sit on the hood of the car, feet up on the bumpers while they shared a smoke. Or the late-afternoon thunderstorms that happen in August, the darkened skies and thick air that tell the world it's coming, it's happening soon. Watching the rain come down through the bay windows of his grandmother's house was almost as good as standing out under the covered porch, ears full of the sound of rain and nose smelling the saturated earth.

She tended to be less thrilled with his habit of running out into the storm, screen door flapping behind him as he stood in the backyard, arms open, face to the rain. Mikey would put up a fuss, wouldn’t want to join him at first, but once he was soaked he was happy enough to laugh up at the sky with Gerard, rain getting in his eyes and mouth and sinking into his skin.

He breaks free of his memories when Frank sits down across from him, sweaty and pink in the face and yet still so beautiful, eyes bright and mouth quirking into a smile.

"Fucking weather," he says.

"Fucking weather," Gerard echoes back. That just about sums it up.

* * *

The announcement comes as the train pulls out of Frank's station.

"Due to a disabled train on the track ahead of us, this train will make all local stops between here and Newark Broad Street Station. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for using New Jersey Transit."

Gerard looks at Frank, who grins sharply.

"We'll hold them off."

Gerard isn't so sure about that, and if it weren't for this tenuous commuting friendship he'd be scoping out the rest of the train to see if there's an empty two-seater he could snag.

If he were a different sort of person, he could ask Frank if he wanted to join him, cut their losses and at least just sit together without an Axe body spray dude or cellphone woman to contend with, but he's not, and it’s not worth thinking about.

Their defenses stay strong at the next stop, the crowd passing them by in search of less threatening-looking seat companions, and Gerard starts to hope that they can do it, can hold the line together. But at the next stop a tall, lanky gentlemen in a suit pauses by their seat, and in that moment Gerard knows they've lost this battle. It's not an innocuous pause, it's one with intention, and even Frank can't withstand it as he lowers his feet to the floor.

Frank's next move surprises Gerard though--he stands up and swings around until he's sitting next to Gerard, settling his backpack under the seat. Gerard stares at him as Suit Dude sits down, laying his computer bag in the seat next to him (a solid defense technique, Gerard notes absently) and trying to arrange his knees so that they don't knock into Frank's.

And just as Gerard is getting used to feeling Frank's arm against his, Frank brings his knees to the right of Suit Dude's so that his legs are right up next to Gerard's. And while in most respects that's far preferable to the alternative--Gerard has no desire to have Suit Dude's knees next to his, legs tense with the effort of not letting them relax against a stranger's--it makes ignoring Frank's legs and knees and body impossible.

And then he feels Frank relax against him, assuming the body language of someone sitting next to a friend rather than just a stranger allied in the fight against other, less attractive strangers, and his body gives up and reciprocates before Gerard consciously realizes it, letting Frank into his space and encroaching a little himself.

Gerard has never had the easiest relationship with his body, but this sort of unilateral action is fucking treason.

He searches desperately for something to distract him, something he can focus on intently enough to prevent himself from opening his mouth and saying something like, "Excuse me, Frank, but I couldn't help but notice that you have a body. How about that?" His own body has already demonstrated an unnerving willingness to act without his explicit permission this morning, and he needs a new tactic to counteract such newly developed tendencies.

His hands begin moving of their own accord, and he panics before he realizes they're flipping to a new page of his sketchbook. He casts about for an idea before he just starts drawing Suit Dude, his long limbs folded up to fit in his confined space (seriously, what the fuck was he thinking, joining a four-seater?), his receding hairline, the pinch between his eyebrows.

He tries not to startle when Frank leans over and rests his cheek against Gerard's upper arm, watching the sketch develop. He gets even more self-conscious about drawing someone who didn't agree to sit for him or offer up his face for Gerard to turn into lines and slopes and shade, and so he starts changing it, adding long gashes to his face and drool dripping out of his open mouth. Once he’s changed the eyes so that they’re staring lifelessly off into the distance and added all the detail work to his decomposing skin, he draws a thought bubble above him.

“No one told me that being a zombie would be so fucking boring,” Zombie Suit Dude thinks, and Gerard almost feels a little sorry for him.

Frank snorts against his arm and reaches his hand across the pad, tugging on Gerard’s pen until he lets it go. Frank writes something on the bottom left corner and then hands the pen back to Gerard.

Where are we?

Gerard can feel his body attempt to freak out, but he marshals it, sketching out a mini-Frank and mini-him in the bottom right corner, putting perhaps a bit more space between them than is strictly accurate to life, but it’s art, interpretation, and better this variation than the one currently running through his mind. He adds some fangs for himself and makes Frank into a monster, stealing shamelessly from Maurice Sendak’s style, and while they may not be cuddling or have their legs pressed up together, he realizes that he’s drawn them as a pair, curling towards each other, set apart from Zombie Suit Dude. His body has betrayed him again today.

He glances at Frank, who’s already looking at him, a small smile curling at the corners of his mouth. “Is that what you’re drawing every day? Monster Franks?”

“What? No,” Gerard protests, but Frank just winks and stands up suddenly, and Gerard looks around and realizes they’re already in the tunnel, when the fuck did that happen, and by the time he looks back Frank is out in the aisle and heading down the stairs.

Gerard stares down at his drawing, willing his heart to stop beating quite so loudly. He wants to crumple it up, throw it in Zombie Suit Dude’s face, blame him for it all, but he keeps looking at Monster Frank in the corner, and he can’t.

He is so completely fucked.

* * *

The third Tuesday in July starts off feeling perfectly normal.

It's not so brutally hot any more, the heat wave of earlier in the month having finally broken, leaving behind sunshine in the high eighties and humidity that just adds a bit of a kick rather than drowning everyone. Gerard knows that a dry heat is supposed to be better, by and large, but he just thinks it’s false advertising, allowing the heat and exhaustion and dehydration to sneak up on people. There's no mistaking the energy sap of a hot, humid summer day in North Jersey.

He gets on the train like usual, grabs the standard four-seater and takes out his sketchbook. He looks up at the next stop when Frank gets on, and that's when everything gets weird.

Frank looks--awful. His face is pale and drawn, and when he sits down his body folds in on itself, tight and compact and agonized. Gerard feels totally cut off, like Frank is doing everything in his power to send out signals to leave him alone, and as much as Gerard wants to ask, wants to put a hand on his knee or swing over and sit next to him, he can't break through that.

They're just train friends, after all.

So he does the only thing he can do, which is draw. He focuses and concentrates, offering up his deliberate indifference to Frank's state, allowing him to close in on himself and giving him the courtesy of ignoring him completely. Frank doesn't visibly relax, exactly, or seem to grow calmer, but he doesn’t get worse, just continues to pour out a constant stream of you can't help, so don't bother trying. And while Gerard isn't exactly following orders, he figures Frank should prefer this rebellion to Gerard asking him what’s wrong.

He finishes the drawing, adding just a touch of shading to his Frank Monster, features bold and crisp and clear, the Gerard Vampire just off to the side, looking at him. He signs the bottom of the page with a little self-mocking flourish and stows his pencil back in his bag, looking up and watching Frank from the corner of his eye. Frank's shoulders are hunched up practically to his ears, and his face is tucked up against his right shoulder, angling out towards the aisle, and Gerard takes the chance to tuck the picture into the open flap of Frank’s backpack.

If Frank sees him do it, he doesn't say anything about it before getting off the train.

Gerard watches him go and tries to shake it off before walking down the stairs and onto the platform.

* * *

The next morning Frank looks--not normal, not exactly, he doesn't usually look sheepish or sort of embarrassed around Gerard the way he does this morning, but he looks better, at least.

"Hey," he says, sliding in across from Gerard.

"Hey," Gerard answers, looking over Frank's face and down to his hands, which are loosely clasped together. Gerard wants to ask about yesterday, wants to find out what made Frank look like that so that he can fix it, or help, or something, but he just waits.

"Sorry about yesterday," Frank begins.

Gerard shakes his head. "We all have bad days, okay? You don’t need to explain if you don’t want to," he says, somewhat surprised to realize it’s the truth, he really does feel like that.

"Yeah. Basically, parents can suck, that’s all. Even ten years after the divorce is finalized." Frank looks down at where he's twiddling his thumbs before looking up at Gerard again. "Not everyone gets drawings of themselves as a monster with a vampire friend when they're having a bad day, though."

Gerard flushes a little but holds his gaze. "Not every bad day needs a monster drawing. Yours did," he says.

Frank continues to look at Gerard, expression soft. "Yeah." He leans back suddenly, scooting over to his side of the seats to commence the protection of their spots from the oncoming commuters. But then he looks back over at Gerard, smiling before pulling out his Kindle, and Gerard feels warm and content again.

* * *

Gerard gets into Penn three minutes before the express is scheduled to depart one Thursday evening in early August. He glances up at the schedule board and books it for the gate, narrowly evading the tourists who seem determined to stand precisely in the middle of any common traffic path. Attempting to navigate the city sidewalks at full speed during the summer is treacherous enough, but Gerard's almost gotten clotheslined trying to make a train in the past and it's not something he's eager to repeat.

He clatters down the steps, running towards Track 2, and he allows himself to slow down a little when he sees on the track sign that he still has two minutes to make it down one more short flight of stairs. He still descends as quickly as he can, rushing to the open door before allowing himself a moment to breathe and catch his breath.

And then he begins the process of moving back towards the rear of the train.

He's never been able to figure out how people end up squished together in the front of the train. He supposes that most people don't want to walk through five or six or seven cars to potentially find an empty two-seater when they can just sit down in the nearest seat and avoid putting forth any effort after an entire day at the office. But for Gerard, the mere possibility of having a seat to himself to decompress in is worth it, worth brushing past hundreds of people and taking up space and being visible.

This all comes to a crashing halt when he goes to the upper level of the third or fourth car and sees Frank slumped in the window seat of a two-seater.

He looks exhausted, eyes focused out the window into the train yard as they slowly pull out of Penn Station and head for the tunnel. Gerard is surprised to note that he's not employing his usual evasion tactics with his bag and general presence; it looks like that would require too much effort, too much focus on the outside world.

Gerard is caught in the sort of dilemma that he truly hates and always avoids if he possibly can: does he walk past, pretending he doesn't see Frank, or does he sit down next to him and potentially ruin Frank's solitary commute home? Gerard is already struggling to deal with the reality that he would rather sit with Frank on the commute in every morning than even get a solo seat; Frank's presence focuses him on his work, or on mornings when the creative juices aren't close to flowing yet, whether due to a bad night of sleep or coffee that hasn't quite hit his bloodstream, it allows him to not work and not fret about it, just put it aside for an hour until he gets to his office and his desk and his world.

He's not sure how he would handle it if he sat next to Frank and Frank didn't look happy to see him.

Gerard becomes aware of someone standing behind him and realizes that he's blocking the aisle, just like one of those fucking tourists, and it's that indignity that prompts him into action. He will risk just about anything to not be one of those people, on his own train no less, and that includes sliding in next to Frank.

The two-seaters on the new trains easily hold two average sized people without forcing unwanted physical contact, so for two guys who are both on the small size it's an comfortable fit. Frank still hasn't looked away from the window, and Gerard is uncertain of what to do, whether to just wait for him to inevitably look over and notice him, or if he should say hi, or maybe nudge him (although that last idea seems bad and wrong and desperate as soon as he thinks it, which means that his body is suddenly dying to twitch and move and generally make a nuisance of itself).

Gerard is still in the middle of his internal debate when Frank picks his head up from against the glass and looks over. "Oh. Hi, Gerard," he says, and Gerard is relieved to note that he sounds merely tired, rather than soul-weary or crushed or something. Or worse, annoyed that Gerard is in his space.

"Hey Frank. Long day?"

Frank snorts a little and nods, bringing up a hand to rub over his face. Gerard’s eyes are caught by the ink decorating the back of his hand, and he has a momentary flash of what his hands would look like covered in flour as he ices some delicious fucking cupcakes or whatever. He pulls his attention back to Frank when he starts talking again, hand still over his eyes.

"Yeah. A friend's band played at a club last night, and I am fucking wiped today. I was doing all right in the morning, the adrenaline hadn't worn off yet, but by two even fucking espresso wasn't cutting it." He gives Gerard a soft smile. "I'm too fucking old for this shit."

Gerard refrains from commenting that it's not very nice to complain about being too old when talking with someone who's at least a decade older and far more decrepit. "It was a good show, though?"

Frank brightens up at the question, a little bit of energy finding its way back. "Yeah, they fucking killed. They used to open for my old band back in the day, so it's great to see them really hitting their stride now, you know? The new blood on the scene."

Gerard's brain tries to process this. "When the fuck did you have a band, when you were thirteen?"

Frank gives him an odd look. "Uh, no, in my late teens and early twenties. Really almost all of my twenties, since that decade of my life ends in October."

Gerard’s brain continues to attempt to reconcile this with the baby-faced cherub next to him and it continues to utterly fail. "No fucking way are you almost thirty."

Frank laughs, a little more tired than he seemed a minute ago. "Believe it, man. Here, I'll show you my drivers license."

"How am I supposed to believe it anyway, you already told me that shit lies about your height."

"I think the government is a little more sensitive about things like proof of age than it is about aesthetic qualities." Frank hands over his ID, and Gerard looks it over, studies it, stares at the DOB printed clear as day in the corner. October 31, 1981.

"Holy shit."

Frank snorts and takes back his license. "How old did you think I was?"

"Like 19. Maybe 20 or 21 if I was lucky." Gerard's face starts to burn when Frank looks at him after that comment.

"Nope. Been legal for years. It's the haircut, mostly--I know it makes me look like I'm seven, but it's so much fucking easier when I'm working on something to not have to constantly brush back my hair."

"It's not just the haircut, seriously."

Frank glares at him. "Oh, like you're one to talk. You look like jailbait, but you're probably like forty or some shit."

"I'm thirty-four!" Gerard squawks, scowling when Frank giggles.

"Not that you're sensitive about your age or anything."

"I'm not!" Frank looks at him pointedly, and Gerard sighs, running a hand through his hair and dropping it down into his lap. "No, it's--okay. So when I was in my early twenties, I never thought I'd even make it to thirty, okay? My friends were all fucked up, I was dating this dude who messed me up, big time--it wasn’t Bert’s fault, not really, but after we broke up I just blamed him for all my shit for years. And I didn't really know what I wanted to be when I grew up or whatever, so it didn't even occur to me that I could last this long, you know? And like, that mostly changed when I went to grad school and actually got a job I liked and wanted to do and all that, but sometimes I still can't believe I'm not 23, just trying to figure out how not to die."

Frank is quiet, eyes intense on Gerard's face. Gerard can barely tolerate the focus and starts to turn away when Frank holds up a hand. "I get that. My band pretty much fell apart last fall after being together for like eight years--two of the guys wanted out of the music scene altogether, and the one guy who wanted to stick with it is the one who's still fucked up all the time, and I don't know. It was a great run, but starting over just felt too massive. I mean, the way I saw it, I could be that guy that tries to hang onto his glory days or whatever, or I could try to be the next Dave Grohl and make a new band happen and succeed out of thin air, or I could find something new.” He shrugs. “And I’ve always been good at baking, and figuring out how to make something that everyone could eat, and I had some money in the bank, so why not?”

“The first time you told me about your baking thing, I thought you were making fun of me,” Gerard confesses.

Frank blinks. “Why the fuck would I make fun of you about baking?”

“Just, I thought you were being an asshole punk, saying something ridiculous and then being all no really and convincing me until I believed it, and then you would laugh at me.”

“Do you have trauma you need to talk to someone about? Because what the fuck, seriously,” Frank says, shoulders relaxed for the first time this train ride, and Gerard feels like he’s doing something right.

* * *

“So he’s twenty-nine,” Mikey says.

“Twenty-nine! Can you fucking believe it?” Gerard asks.

Mikey looks up from the article he’s reading on his iPad and blinks. “Given that I’ve never even met the dude because you refuse to ask him out, I can believe that, since I have no idea what he fucking looks like. Aside from the fact that he looks like he’s nineteen, that part you were really focused on,” he adds when Gerard tries to interrupt. “Which, by the way, is creepy.”

“I know it’s creepy, okay, nineteen-year-olds are way too fucking young for me,” Gerard says.

“Lucky for you that he’s really twenty-nine, then,” Mikey says.

Gerard knows what Mikey’s saying. He always knows what Mikey’s saying. But Mikey’s still wrong.

“Look, just because he isn’t actually nineteen in reality doesn’t really change anything, because he still has the essence of a nineteen year old. If anything, this is worse.

“I don’t know, you seem pretty drawn to the essence of a nineteen-year-old then. Also, you’re fucking crazy, what the fuck is a nineteen-year-old essence?” Mikey holds up his hand to stop Gerard. “Aside from being the essence of someone you’ve been talking about all summer long.”

Gerard doesn’t say anything in response to that.

“Also, and don’t take this the wrong way,” Mikey says, voice gentle and oh fuck, it’s the voice Mikey invented to talk to him about Bert, apparently he sounds even worse about this than he thought, “but exactly how old do you think your essence is, anyway? If anyone’s robbing the cradle, it’s him.”

“In that case I should just wait for him to make the first move, then,” Gerard says, crossing his arms against his chest and staring down at the floor. He hears Mikey sigh and then feels him nudge up against his shoulder.

“Let me know if you need to borrow a boombox.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, we’re not at the Say Anything stage yet,” Gerard says.

Better Off Dead then?”

Gerard nods. “I’ll get the DVD.”

* * *

It's when Frank doesn't show up the following Thursday that Gerard realizes how completely and utterly beyond fucked he is.

He waits for Frank to climb up the stairs and take his spot, waits to relax and get a warm buzz from something other than coffee, and when a middle-aged woman wearing slightly too much perfume sits down across from him, he almost stops her, almost says, "I'm sorry, someone's sitting there," but then he looks out the window and realizes that they're already one stop past Frank's, and he never got on board.

Gerard isn't crazy; he knows that Frank is probably just sick, or away, or dealing with a last-minute emergency, or woke up late and missed the train like Gerard used to do two or three times a month but hasn't for a while. He knows that. It doesn't stop Frank's absence from messing up his whole routine, from preventing himself from ever really relaxing, from making the day start on a sour note. He feels like he's walking through molasses all day long, and never shakes the feeling that everything is off, like he never really got started to begin with.

It would be easier to dismiss this as being a fluke and nothing worth noting--maybe he didn't sleep as well as he thought, or ate something weird, or the pull of the moon was unusually strong, whatever--if he didn't turn towards Frank the next morning like a flower seeking the sun, his action involuntary and immediate, and instantly satisfying.

Frank doesn't seem to notice that Gerard is all but begging to have his flower pollinated, petals open wide towards him; he just sits down and smiles at Gerard.

"Thank god it's Friday, right?" he asks, shucking off his jacket and throwing it on the seat next to him.

"Yup," Gerard agrees robotically, his body a confusing swirl of emotions as half of him basks in being near Frank again and the other half shrinks from the realization that he depends upon Frank's presence, relies upon it the way he does on Mikey or Ray or did on Bert, once upon a time. And this is a guy he sees for 49 minutes five days a week, in public, sometimes only sharing ten or so words in an encounter, and yet he has as much of an impact on his daily mood and productivity and happiness as his brother or best friend or coffee, for fuck's sake.

There is no good end to this arrangement for him, or if there is, he can't see it.

He shakes himself out of his prolonged moment of self-pity and psychotherapy and tries to smile back at Frank. "Didn't see you on the train yesterday," he says in what he can only pray is a casual tone.

"Yeah, my stomach was not happy with me. No one would have wanted me around food yesterday, trust me," Frank says. "It was really gross." He sounds almost gleeful about this.

"Like, horror movie gross?" Gerard asks.

"That's about the scale of it, but I'll spare you the details unless that's your thing," Frank says, and Gerard laughs in spite of himself.

"Not really, no."

"Yeah, you don't strike me as being that kind of a guy," Frank says speculatively.

Gerard needs to head this off, cannot continue down the road of what kind of a guy he is. "Hey, I like the classic horror movies as much as the next guy. I'm no connoisseur like some people, but me and Mikey used to watch the late night movies whenever we could get away with it."

"Mikey's your little brother, right?" Frank asks, a little wistful.

"Yup. What about you, you got any siblings?" Gerard asks.

Frank shakes his head. "Just me."

Gerard tries to imagine a childhood without his little brother and he can't do it. The idea of being a only child baffles him; more than anything else in the world, he's always known that there's someone else in the world who gets him, who gets their family like he does, who grew up learning the world like he did. He looks at Frank and wants to apologize, wants to offer to share Mikey as a sibling, wants him to have that happiness, too.

Instead he says, "I should probably get some work done," and he pulls out his sketchbook. He can feel Frank's eyes on him as he draws, and he lets himself create.

* * *

Gerard isn't particularly aware of how quiet Frank's been this morning until they pass through Secaucus and Frank clears his throat loudly. He looks up from his sketchbook, his eyes taking a moment to focus and pull back from his work.

He notices Frank's leg bouncing up and down, too rapid to be in time to a song coursing through his brain, and then he catches a glimpse of a piece of paper clutched in his left hand. He's about to ask what's up when Frank beats him to it.

"So today's the last day of my internship." Gerard's heart drops into his stomach, but Frank continues on before he can attempt to pretend to be casual about the news. "And I figured that if there was a risk-free day to ask you out, it would be now, since we won't be train buddies or anything any longer.” He holds out the piece of paper to Gerard, and he takes it, staring down at Frank's name and number written in neat block print.

His brain is buzzing, eyes scanning across the numbers over and over, seeing the way the numbers fit Frank, so clearly, of course this is Frank's number, no other number in the world would be right for him.

By the time he looks back up, Frank is already standing, turning away, and Gerard realizes that perhaps he hasn't given a particularly clear indication of his mutual interest.

"Frank." He stops in the aisle and looks back at Gerard, a smile breaking through a little at what he sees in Gerard's face. "I'll call you."

* * *

Gerard doesn't call him.

He texts him at 12:17 that afternoon.

This follows a harried twenty minute long conversation with Mikey on his cell phone. Gerard sucks down three cigarettes in quick succession, standing precisely fifty feet from the entrance of his building as mandated by the NO SMOKING WITHIN THIS ARBITRARILY SET DISTANCE FROM THE DOOR, YOU FILTHY ADDICTS sign that greets him every time he enters it, a cloud of smoke still clinging to his clothes.

"Gerard. Just call him."

"I know, I know, I will. You're sure I shouldn't just text him, though?"

"Gerard." He can hear the pinch between Mikey's eyebrows from here. "He gave you his number and told you to call him. He took action." The unspoken thought unlike some older brothers I could name is clear as a bell, dancing on the wind, and Gerard winces. "Call him tomorrow and ask him out for next week sometime. He lives in Jersey. This isn't that hard."

"I know, I just--I don't know how to be with him off a train, okay? What if--"

"Gerard." Gerard shuts up. He knows that voice. He listens to that voice, respects it, fears it--that's the voice that says Mikey is two seconds away from taking his character and leaving the gaming table, and the fact that Gerard's the DM is the reason why. "Just. Text him if you must. But do something, for the love of god, or I'll tell Alicia and she'll get Christa involved and--"

"Okay, okay, I'll do it, no need to break out the in-laws.” Gerard takes a deep breath. "Is it okay if I just text him if I promise I'm going to right now?" The silence from the other end of the line worries him until he hears Mikey's quiet snort. "Oh, fuck you, dude."

"I hereby give you permission to text him. If you must."

"I really must," Gerard agrees, shaking out his hand to prepare. "Okay. I gotta get back inside. Thanks, Mikey."

"No prob. Tell me how it goes."

Gerard flicks away his last butt and heads back in, mentally preparing himself.

Once he gets back to his desk, he holds the phone in one hand and the little piece of paper with Frank's handwriting on it in the other. He taps in the digits carefully, checking them over twice before he starts to enter his message.


Hey Frank, this is Gerard.

He stops, unsure of where to go from there. Does he just launch in? Tell a story? Remind him of what he told Gerard this morning? In case you've forgotten, you gave me your number this morning and asked me to give you a call if I want to go out with you on a date, which I do, but instead I'm texting you. Hope that works.

Even in his head Gerard can tell that's a terrible start.

He thinks for a moment, ponders what Mikey would say, what Mikey would tell him to say, and he takes one last deep breath and taps it in.

Are you doing anything for dinner tonight?

He hits send before he can backspace it, before he can even doublecheck it for spelling or some hideously embarrassing autocorrect that would result in him ending up on a website (although he's pretty sure it would be worth it if Frank still says he's free and would love to have dinner and maybe get naked).

While he's still imagining this, his phone buzzes in his hand.

Nothing aside from having it with you.

Gerard stares at the white text bubble, simultaneously thrilled at and envious of how easily Frank seems to be able to just say (well, type) shit like that, but then he realizes he should probably respond.

Great. Period or exclamation point? Worry about punctuation later. Want to meet in Penn Station and eat in Jersey, or do you want to stay in the city? Gerard examines this for a moment. If there's something missing, he's not sure what it is. He hits send and gets up from his desk, stretching backwards and desperately trying to convince himself he's not just waiting for--

The phone buzzes on his desk and he lunges for it. Lets do Jersey tonight. I can make the 6:19, that work for you? We can meet under the main sign.

The one nearer 8th Ave or 7th? Gerard types back. He's not risking any sort of tragic Shakespearean Romeo & Juliet bullshit (although the invention of cell phones makes that less likely. Also the lack of warring families).

8th. Have a good day, Gerard.

And if one two-minute-long text conversation and seven and a half hours of daydreaming while trying to appear busy counts as a good day, he does.

* * *

When he sees Frank walking towards him, he can't help the massive grin that spreads over his face. "Hey," he says once Frank is within a couple of feet.

"Hi," Frank says, smile mirroring Gerard's own.

"How was your last day?" Gerard asks, keeping one eye on the board for the track assignment.

"Good. Sort of weird, honestly--I wish I could just stay there." Track 4 pops up next to the 6:19 train on the board, and without a word about it Gerard and Frank start walking to the track together, Frank's shorter strides somehow matching up to Gerard's longer ones. "But I have a bunch more courses that I need to get through first this fall."

"Do you think you can work with them again in the future?" Gerard asks.

Frank shrugs. "Probably. I should really keep my options open, though--there are still a lot of other things I could end up doing, so."

Gerard nods as they climb onto the train. There's an empty four-seater in the first car they try, so they sit down in their usual spots, smiling at each other and then looking away.

Gerard is already quietly panicking. He doesn't know what else to say, doesn't know how to do this. It feels different already, like he can't just sit across from Frank and draw monsters or whatever. He knows he needs to say something--heading back to Jersey tonight was his idea, this is his fault, Frank is never going to want--

"So this is weird," Frank says brightly, and just like that everything is fine.

Gerard laughs, loud and honking and genuine, and Frank giggles back at him. "Mikey would be so embarrassed for me right now."

"Yeah? What'd he say?"

"Oh god, I don't even know. He couldn't even believe how long it took me to text you today."

"Neither could I, dude," Frank says. "Frankly, I was kind of offended you didn't text me by the time I got out of the subway this morning."

"Well, I needed to maintain a little mystique," Gerard says.

Frank looks at him incredulously. "Don't take this the wrong way, but mystique is not the word I think of when you come to mind."

Gerard tries not to freak out about the implication that he thinks about him. "Oh? What is the word?"

Frank smiles at him slowly. "I'm not entirely sure that it's appropriate to say in public," he says, and at that moment, someone slides in next to Gerard because they've been too busy paying attention to each other to worry about maintaining their defenses, and Gerard wants to kill everyone. Starting with the businessman douchebag sitting next to him with his legs spread too wide and taking up all the space.

He settles for drawing his messy death and glancing up at Frank as often as he can get away with it, which turns out to be never because Frank seems to spend all of his time staring straight at Gerard while listening to god only knows what on his iPod.

Businessman Douchebag gets off two stops before Gerard's, and Frank moves across as soon as he leaves so that he can take a look at Gerard's drawing.

"I like the briefcase shoved into his broken skull, it's a nice touch," Frank says, running his fingers along the lines of the drawing.

"Thanks, I was pretty proud of that part myself," Gerard says. "Hey, so we never really talked about where we're going to eat."

Frank shrugs. "I walked to the train station this morning, so I don't have a car handy."

"So I guess we're getting off at my stop?"

"Guess so." Frank is quiet for a moment before grinning and nudging Gerard's arm. "I'm totally stiffing NJ Transit for the difference in the fare, man."

"You rebel," Gerard deadpans, trying to banter and play along and not quietly die from the feeling of Frank pressed up against his side, body warm and soft and right.

"Hey, you know what they say about guys with tattoos, they're not to be trusted," Frank says.

"Oh really? Should I be worried, then?" Gerard asks, going for lighthearted and pretty sure he misses.

Frank smiles and shakes his head. “Nope.”

* * *

They get off at Gerard's station and he leads Frank over to the Stop & Shop parking lot. Gerard opens Frank's side of his old Corolla first and then comes around to get into his side. "So, you're just vegetarian, right? Nothing else I need to factor in for restaurant choice?"

"Nope. And I'm not that picky, really--I know what works for me and what doesn't, at this point."

"Okay." Gerard puts the car in gear and pulls out of the parking lot, driving approximately four blocks before turning into another parking lot on the other side of Main Street and parking again.

Frank looks around. "Seriously?"

"Hey, it's not like it's a big town. And trust me, you'll like this place."

Frank shrugs. "Lead the way."

They walk through the parking lot, which is situated behind a block of stores lining Main Street. Gerard leads Frank through a little alley and opens a small, nondescript door to the back of a fairly typical Irish pub.

It's not typical to him, though.

Judy sees him first, but Dennis is right behind her. "Gerard! To what do we own the pleasure?"

"Hi Judy," he says, kissing her on the cheek. He lifts a hand towards Dennis. "Hey Dennis."

"How's your brother, Gerard?" he asks.

"Busy, same as always," Gerard answers. He can feel Frank up close behind him. "Oh, uh, guys, this is Frank. Frank, these are the guys."

"Gerard and his brother used to work here when they were in high school," Judy says. "Gerard was one of our most popular waiters with the older crowd."

"Mikey never made it out of the kitchen washing dishes because he'd get too distracted, but as long as he could blast the Misfits he was happy," Gerard says.

"Even if some of the customers weren't," Dennis says.

"He was doing them a public service, educating them and expanding their musical horizons."

"Gerard, I can tell you for a fact that some of them had no interest in having any of their horizons widened," Dennis says.

"Ahhhhh," Gerard says, flapping a hand at him. "It was good for them."

"So do you and your friend need a table, or is this merely a social call?" Judy asks.

"A table would be great," Gerard says, following her through to the side room and taking a seat. He can tell Frank is laughing at him a little, but he doesn't care.

"So this is like your own version of Cheers, is that it?" Frank asks as he sits down.

"Yeah, kinda. Just someplace I can always feel comfortable. Home turf, you know."

"Any particular reason you need a home field advantage at the moment?" Frank asks, picking up his water and taking a long drink.

"Aside from the fact that I've been trying to figure out how to ask you out all summer and then suddenly you did this morning and now we're on a date? Not really," Gerard says, feeling himself relax a little now that he's actually admitted it.

"So I make you nervous, is that what you're saying?" Frank says, wagging his eyebrows and generally looking ridiculous.

Gerard laughs, loud and honking, and Judy calls out, "I can still identify that laugh from across the restaurant, Gee," and he can't even mind.

Gerard gets the same chicken salad sandwich on rye he always gets, with the shoestring fries and pickle. He also gets a Shirley Temple with about seven maraschino cherries in the bottom like he did back in high school when they'd refuse to serve him alcohol with his staff dinner, even though the entire place was empty aside from the waitstaff. He's feeling nostalgic.

The fact that it makes Frank stare at him intently as he proceeds to tie each stem with just his tongue doesn't hurt, either.

They leave after an hour and a half of Jersey stories and Judy coming over to bother them whenever her shift is slow, which is basically the entire night given that a Friday night in August isn’t exactly busy season for them. The entire town shuts down, more or less, most families escaping down the shore or off camping or whatever, except for the pack of high school kids who don't go anywhere and roam around at night.

"Me and Mikey and Ray used to walk around at 1 a.m. for no good reason, just trying to find something to entertain us. At least until I got my car. Then we would drive around trying to find something to do, which was much better."

"Sounds familiar."

"Right? I think it's a Jersey rite of passage, really," Gerard says. He gestures to Judy for the check, and she rolls her eyes and points meaningfully at the back of Frank's head. He's rather proud of how little he reacts, but Frank still smirks at him.

Judy puts down the check, and Gerard gets his credit card in the little plastic tray before Frank can even get his wallet out. "Come on, you came to my town, I can get dinner," Gerard says when Frank frowns.

"Huh, now that you put it that way, damn right you can fucking pay," Frank says.

Like so much of what he says around Frank, he doesn't consciously plan the question before he blurts out, "You wanna go for a ride after this? It's not really late enough to feel the same, but--"

"Yes." Frank doesn't hesitate, just looks back at Gerard clear and honest and right there. Judy comes back with the slip for him to sign, and Gerard can't jot down a thirty percent tip and scribble out his signature fast enough.

* * *

It's a perfect night for a drive, warm enough that leaving all the windows down feels just right, Gerard's left arm dangling out the window with a smoke in his hand, Frank mirroring him to the right. The smell of the air is like poetry, wafting over him, and he pops out his CD to turn the dial to the radio, searching out those moments that feel right.

When “Living on a Prayer” comes on and he turns it up, Frank cracks up. "Seriously?"

"You'd prefer Bruce?" Gerard asks.

Frank takes a moment to respond, letting his cigarette dangle from his lips for a moment before inhaling and then blowing out the smoke. "Nah. Bruce is more 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. Bon Jovi is all about 10 p.m."

Gerard glances over at Frank and smiles before looking away quickly when he catches his eye. Gerard lets himself take whatever turns he wants, head bobbing to the music as Frank taps his leg with his left hand to the beat. “Do you miss your band?”

Frank nods immediately. “Sure. I mean, who wouldn’t?” He takes a drag from his cigarette and Gerard makes himself wait, biting his tongue by smoking too. “But I used to think it would be like losing a limb, or like part of me would be dead inside if I couldn’t play for people, and it’s not. I still have music, even if I’m not playing it professionally anymore.” He shrugs and smokes the last of his cigarette before flicking the butt out the window. “Anyway, I’m pretty happy with where I’ve ended up,” he says, eyes steady on Gerard’s face.

Gerard turns back to the road, suddenly sure of where he’s taking them now. He stops driving aimlessly and starts heading for the main road that’ll take them to the next town over, passing by houses he knows so well that they blend into the distance at this point, each one indistinct and yet essential to the feel of this drive as he makes turns without conscious thought, letting the destination pull him there.

It’s only once he pulls into the parking lot next to the playground and turns off the engine that it occurs to him that he didn’t actually tell Frank where he was taking him, and that this might seem a little creepy, even for him. He turns to try to convince Frank that it’s not what it looks like (whatever that might be), but Frank’s already gotten the door open and is standing next to the car, stretching and bending back.

Gerard gets out, going over in his head how to make "I thought it would be cool to hang out at a playground at night" sound reasonable, and then Frank turns to him, grin gleaming in the streetlight. "Swings or jungle gym?" he asks.

"Jungle gym," Gerard answers immediately.

"Awesome!" Frank slams the door shut and runs over the wood chips to get to the castle-like structure in the middle of the playground. Gerard follows Frank over, climbing up the wooden ladder leading up one side after him and manfully resisting the urge to smack Frank's ass as he got his knees onto the top platform. Frank looks back at him and waits until he's caught up. "Can we get into the tower thing?"

"Oh fuck yeah we can." Gerard walks past Frank and climbs up into the tower, finally crawling over the floor until he gets to the edge and can swing his legs out, his arms folded over the railing. He can hear Frank climbing up behind him and looks over once Frank sits down next to him, Frank’s heels thumping against the wood as he kicks his legs out and lets them fall back.

Gerard pulls his pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket and offers them to Frank before he takes one himself, inhaling deep off the first drag and holding it in before blowing the smoke up above their heads.

“This was where I taught Mikey how to smoke up, back in the day,” he says, kicking his own feet out and letting them bump into Frank’s a little as they swing.

“Good place for it,” Frank says.

Gerard nods. “Yeah, I feel a little bad about how young he was -- he was like fourteen or something the first time, but I figured he was going to anyway, and this way he’d know how’d it hit him and all that. And he was fine,” Gerard says, suddenly needing Frank to know that he’s not like the worst big brother in the world.

“Plus it means that if he ever got totally fucked up or whatever, he could say ‘I learned it by watching you!’, which is totally worth you contributing to the delinquency of a minor,” Frank says.

Gerard laughs. “They just don’t make PSAs like they used to.” Gerard takes another drag and listens to the quiet sounds of a neighborhood at rest.

“This is probably going to shock you, but I was a total pothead when I was nineteen,” Frank comments. Gerard mimes clutching his pearls and Frank nods, ashing and twirling the cigarette in his fingers before continuing. “I also had like the worst blond dreads in the world.”

“You had dreadlocks?” Gerard isn’t sure if this is the best or worst news he’s ever heard.

“Mmmm-hmmm,” Frank says, smoke wafting out of his nose and through his lips. He gestures to right above his shoulders. “They were about this long, and I had them for like eighteen months before my best friend could convince me that they needed to go.”

“Holy shit,” Gerard says. “I totally wouldn’t have wanted your nineteen-year-old essence at all, in that case.” Frank gives him the side eye, so Gerard tries to explain as he puts out his cigarette on the beam next to his head and flicks it onto the ground below. “So I thought that you were nineteen or something crazy, and Mikey said that I was drawn to your essence, and so I was being gross, but I don’t think I was,” he finishes.

“Was what?” Frank asks, stubbing out his cigarette on the tower floor but otherwise totally focused on Gerard.

“Was focused on your nineteen-year-old self, because it wasn’t, uh,” Gerard says, trailing off as Frank leans closer to him, and he closes his eyes and shuts his brain off when Frank’s lips touch his.

It’s light at first, their mouths barely brushing against each other, but while Gerard’s brain may be offline his body definitely isn’t, and he pushes closer to Frank after a moment, his nose up against Frank’s cheek as he deepens the kiss. He touches Frank’s face with his hand, sliding it down to his jaw and then around to the back of his neck, and Frank gasps quietly before holding onto Gerard’s hand on his neck and thrusting his tongue into Gerard’s mouth.

Gerard gets his other arm around Frank’s back, pulling him in as close as he can given their positions, and it’s like he can’t get enough of the taste of Frank’s mouth, the cigarette smoke and spit and just Frank, after so long. They sit together, making out like teenagers, and when Gerard runs his hand up the back of Frank’s head it makes him think about his dreadlocks and what Frank looked like when he was actually a teenager, and he breaks away and giggles.

Frank blinks open his eyes and cocks his head, and Gerard hurries to think of something to say other than “I was imagining how ridiculous you must have looked ten years ago and I just realized that I totally would have made out with you then anyway.” He goes with, “My first kiss was when I was fourteen.”

“Yeah?” Frank asks, hands sweeping up and down Gerard’s back slowly, his fingertips dragging on the hem of Gerard’s shirt, and he shivers and tries to focus.

“Yeah, we got caught by my art teacher in the pottery room after school, and he made us sit there for like ten minutes while he told us that it was all perfectly natural and normal and that there was no need to be embarrassed, and we wanted to die.”

Frank’s hands stop on his back, palms flat against him. “Damn, you got caught with a dude when you were fourteen? I was sixteen before that happened.”

“No, no,” Gerard tries to explain. “It was a girl! But that was bad enough.”

Frank laughs. “My mom caught me and my best friend fooling around on my bed, but we all just decided to pretend that it never happened. Seemed easier that way. She didn’t seem all that surprised that I was kissing a guy though.”

“Mr. Brinkley seemed pretty surprised that I wasn’t,” Gerard says ruefully, and Frank starts to giggle and doesn’t seem to be able to stop, like just talking about smoking up earlier had given him a contact high, so Gerard decides that kissing him again is obviously the solution.

Frank continues to laugh around Gerard's tongue for a minute, but Gerard is patient and waits him out, and finally Frank gives a little sigh and they're off again, upper bodies twisted around so that they can face each other as much as possible with their legs still dangling over the side. Now that the suspense of whether this was actually what Frank was looking for is over, Gerard lets himself relax into it, just enjoying the sensation of Frank up against him, his mouth hot and wet and curious.

He's just trying to think of a way to maneuver them back into the center of the tower so that they can stretch out and really get going when Frank pulls away, breathing heavily.

"Your place?" he asks, kissing across Gerard's cheek and then down below his ear.

Well. That's certainly easier than trying to figure out how to be smooth and seductive on a jungle gym.

He says as much to Frank, who laughs and shakes his head as he pulls himself up off the floor. Gerard gets his foot up on the platform and pushes himself up, trying hard not to think about that time back in '96 when his heel caught doing exactly this and he almost went through the tower beams and fell to the ground. It's probably a good idea not to risk the height any longer than they already have.

Frank's already climbed halfway down, but Gerard follows him more slowly, trying to regain his equilibrium a little before having to drive across town. By the time he's walking across the wood chips, feeling them slide a little under his feet, Frank's at the car, leaning up against the hood and watching him with his arms folded across his chest. Gerard has a moment of déjà vu, feeling like he must have been here before with Frank, his heart feeling exactly like it does right now.

He's pretty fucking sure he hasn't actually been this lucky before, though.

They climb back into the car, Frank’s hand stroking across Gerard's thigh before he's even started the engine, and they drive to Gerard's house mostly in silence, letting the familiar sounds of WPLJ take up the conversational slack. It's only once Gerard's pulled into the driveway that he starts to worry again, both that Frank won't understand his home and break his heart in the process, and that the house isn't good enough for Frank, cramped and messy and weird.

It's hard to think about that as they walk up the path to the front stoop, Frank close on his heels, and by the time Gerard opens the door and flips on the hall lights he's convinced himself to not care too much about either the house or Frank's reaction to it.

Frank steps inside a few feet in front of Gerard, turning his head to look at the odd little miniature paintings on the front hallway walls and the display cases that contain both Gerard and Mikey's Lord of the Rings figurines and his grandmother's collection of porcelain cows and creepy dolls mixed in together. Gerard fidgets behind him as he makes a slow circle, finally facing Gerard again, expression open and wide.

"It looks just like you," Frank says, and Gerard groans as he pushes him up against the wall and kisses the shit out of him.

Frank opens up for him immediately, kissing him back and pulling Gerard's hips against his own, hands grabbing Gerard’s ass as he gets up on his tiptoes to make the angle better. Gerard's hard again almost instantly, his entire body taut and twitching as he grinds down against Frank's boner. He's desperate to get them naked and horizontal, but doing anything about either of those things feels impossible since it would require him to take his hands off Frank's hips.

He pulls his mouth away from Frank's, trailing along his cheek and then latching onto his ear as he slides his hands between Frank’s ass and the wall and tries to get the friction just right, and he starts babbling into Frank's ear. "It's not that I'm nostalgic for high school, I fucking hated it, couldn't wait to leave, but Jesus fucking Christ this night is like the best parts of being a teenager, all in one combo."

"I'm really glad you feel that way," Frank gasps out, "because I'm about to come in my pants, oh god," and Gerard moans and thrusts against Frank's hip three more times and beats him to it, coming with his hands still clenched on Frank’s ass. That’s enough to tip Frank over after him, and Frank whines in his ear and then bites down on his neck as he twitches and pulses against Gerard’s thigh before stilling.

Gerard is really glad they’re braced up against the wall because his legs don’t feel like they’re working all that well. He pants and tries to get his breath back. It would probably be easier if he could stop himself from talking. “God, I could feel you come against my thigh every day, Jesus,” he says, and then luckily before he can pull his tongue out to prevent himself from proposing or some shit Frank laughs against his neck and kisses his skin before pulling away.

“I’d rather not have come in my pants every day, but aside from that, I’m game,” Frank says, and Gerard leans back in to kiss him again, bringing his hands up to his face and making little happy noises. “I uh,” Frank says in between kisses, “just, I wouldn’t mind cleaning up a bit before you show me the upstairs.”

“Oh!” Gerard says. “Yeah, it’s this way, I just-- yeah, follow me,” he says, a little dazed that this isn’t the point when Frank starts talking about getting a ride back to his place since he’s stranded here. But he’s not going to dwell on that when there’s an upstairs to show him.

He pulls away from Frank reluctantly, really feeling the sticky mess inside his briefs for the first time, and grabs Frank’s hand to lead him to the stairs. He points out the bathroom to Frank and then heads into his bedroom, turning on the air conditioner as high as it will go. He strips out of his clothes quickly, wiping off his cock and balls and the inside of his thighs with his briefs before stuffing the pile of dirty clothes into the bottom of his closet, and he takes a moment to look around and figure out how to make things more presentable before quickly giving it up as a lost cause.

He grabs his Star Wars pajamas off the floor and gets them on before crawling under the covers, the air already getting nice and frosty so he can burrow under the blankets and not die of the heat. He loves sleeping with a million blankets in a cold room even in the summer, loves being covered right up to his chin, even though he knows it's really bad for the environment and costs him a huge amount of money in electricity for four months every year.

He hopes that the fact that he takes the train instead of driving every day makes up for it.

When Frank comes in Gerard peeks out from under the covers, suddenly aware of the fact that they hadn’t really discussed whether Frank was staying or just wanted to see the rest of the house, but then Frank starts taking off all his clothes, pushing his boxers down with his jeans all matter-of-fact and tugging his t-shirt up over his head. Gerard is so happy he didn’t bother to turn the light off, and he sits up to get a better view of the ink splashing down Frank’s torso, the birds on his belly. He wants to lick him all over, chase one tattoo to the next with his tongue, and he mentally retracts any comparison of this evening to high school, because he sure as hell never had a naked Frank Iero in his bedroom when he was seventeen. He's pretty sure he would have been way less obnoxious and cynical about life if he had, though.

Frank’s eyes are laughing at him, but he still doesn’t say anything, just pulls back the covers and climbs in next to Gerard, and he thinks fuck it, the covers will have to do and starts to pull off his pajamas, tossing the top into the corner of the room and kicking his pants down his legs and shoving them to the foot of the bed. And Frank is definitely laughing at him at this point, but Gerard doesn’t give a fuck because once he’s naked he slides down under the covers and gets his mouth on Frank’s cock, feeling it jump against his lips.

And suddenly Frank’s not laughing anymore.

Gerard teases him, running his tongue over his balls and licking along the crease of his thigh. He takes a moment to breathe him in before hooking his arms around his legs and pressing down on his hips. He drags his mouth over Frank’s hardening cock and sucks under the head of it before finally taking him in, feeling Frank swell against his cheeks. Frank’s pushing up against his mouth just a little, and Gerard throws off the covers, fuck the cold, because he needs to be able to move his hands all over Frank’s hips and thighs and stomach without being impeded. Frank certainly seems to approve because he’s moaning like crazy, hands holding Gerard’s face and then moving up into his hair, tugging gently.

Gerard’s shivering from the cold of the room by the time Frank comes on his tongue, long and hard and bitter, but he just sucks it down and swallows, loving it. He pulls off and pants against Frank’s leg, resting his head in the dip of his hipbone. He's totally ready to let Frank recover while he gets off on his own (maybe he can come all over Frank's body, all over those birds and his soft belly), but Frank is apparently an Energizer Bunny because he immediately sits up and flips Gerard over onto his back.

Gerard’s just gotten a grasp on his new position when Frank leans down and takes him in all at once, and Gerard has to shut his eyes, can’t take looking at his gorgeous face or beautiful mouth stretched wide around him. Dealing with the sounds he makes each time he pulls off and then goes back down is challenging enough, to say nothing of the way Frank’s lip ring feels as it drags along the side of Gerard’s cock, sliding over his sensitive skin.

Part of Gerard can’t even believe he’s hard, let alone ready to come again given his advanced age of thirty-four, but then again most thirty-four-year-olds didn’t just get to suck off Frank, so he figures that explains it. He forgives himself for the fact that he’s coming down Frank’s throat seconds later for the same reason, his legs tense and toes pointed as he gasps and pets over Frank’s short hair.

Frank pulls off him slowly and then crawls up over Gerard’s body, draping himself over Gerard’s left side. “S’cold in here,” he says, rubbing his nose against Gerard’s neck. Gerard halfheartedly tries to kick up some blankets from the foot of the bed before giving up, kissing Frank’s forehead and then climbing out of bed to shut off the light before getting back in and pulling the covers up over them. Frank immediately snuggles up against him, and Gerard’s body takes a moment to protest the extremely odd environmental conditions of being hot and sweaty and cold and clammy all at the same time, but Gerard just wraps his arm around Frank’s back and falls asleep, ideal temperatures be damned.

* * *

Gerard wakes up to something poking him in the shoulder over and over. He scratches his arm a bit before realizing that he's naked, and that the something seems to be a finger.

He opens his eyes and finds Frank staring back at him, arm held up over his shoulder, and he slowly and deliberately presses his finger back into Gerard's shoulder.

"What?" Gerard says, his brain finally coming back on board and his hands reaching out for Frank, who seems to have moved distressingly far away during the night. He gets one hand on his stomach and the other rests on Frank's hip, petting over the soft skin there.

"You got an extra toothbrush?" Frank doesn't look very hopeful, but his eyes start to get fuzzy when Gerard begins dragging his fingers along his stomach, dipping down to the cut of his hipbones and then moving back up to his left nipple.

"Yup, in the right drawer of the sink," Gerard says, smirking at Frank's incredulous look. "What, I went to the dentist last month, free stuff is awesome."

Frank laughs. "I was about to say, that seems awfully prepared for overnight guests."

"Nah, no one really wants to come all the way out to Jersey."

"Lucky for you I already live here," Frank says.

Gerard nods back at that, afraid of what might come out if he lets himself speak at this point. Frank seems to understand though, because he leans in for a kiss before pulling back the covers and then changing his mind and bringing them back up under his chin. "I don't know how you can stand keeping the room so cold!" he says, burrowing in close to Gerard.

"I sleep better like this," Gerard says. "And usually I get up during the night to pee and turn it off then. Which, speaking of..."

"Yeah, yeah, just give me a minute," Frank says, shivering next to Gerard.

"Wimp."

"Fuck off, I'm tiny and have bad circulation."

"You should stop smoking," Gerard says knowingly. "Actually, get up and I'll go downstairs and make a pot of coffee while you're brushing your teeth."

"Sold." Frank jumps out of bed and runs out of the room, Gerard watching his ass the whole way.

He gets out of bed after him, pulling on the bottoms of his pjs and grabbing a t-shirt off the floor. He heads downstairs, stopping off in the powder room to piss and then making his way to the kitchen to put on the pot. Once it's set to brew, he grabs his cigarettes from his coat pocket and goes out onto the porch, watching the birds in his backyard as he lights his first smoke of the day. He turns around when he hears the door open and smiles at Frank, who's wearing his boxers and Gerard's pajama shirt.

He's never seen R2-D2 look as adorable as he does on Frank's chest.

"I thought you were anti-smoking all of a sudden," Frank says, pulling one out of Gerard's pack and lighting up.

"No no, that was just for you and your poor cold limbs. I'd like to see you try to get me to give them up," Gerard says, walking closer to Frank and nudging his ankle with his bare foot.

Frank blows smoke back into his face and Gerard waves it away, making a face at him. Frank laughs at him. "What, I thought you liked it."

Gerard reaches out and gets his arm around Frank’s waist, pulling him in for a kiss. “I like you,” he says.

“I’m getting that impression,” Frank says, shifting his leg against Gerard’s half-hard cock.

“Also next time you should ask me out after the third week, not the third month. I’m not that observant,” Gerard says, leaning down and kissing Frank again before taking another drag off his cigarette.

"I'll keep that in mind," Frank says, pulling away when the coffee maker beeps. Gerard follows him back inside, getting out two mugs and the sugar and creamer. The first sip is always the best, just like the first drag of the first cigarette of the day, but when Frank kisses him again it's better than the last kiss was, and the next one is even hotter. It's hard to make himself pull away to drink more and finish the last of his smoke, but he's pretty sure that he'll end up burning his fingers or spilling coffee down his shirt if he doesn't focus a little bit on those tasks.

When Frank starts to suck on his neck while he's drinking the last of the coffee, his body waves the white flag and he stubs out his cigarette in the ashtray on the kitchen counter, grabbing Frank's face with both of his hands after putting down the empty mug. Coffee and cigarettes and Frank: a trifecta of awesome, but he's gotten his fill of the first two for the moment and is nowhere near sated when it comes to the third.

He sucks Frank's tongue into his mouth, running his fingers along Frank's short hair and shoving his hips forward when Frank groans in response, body shuddering against Gerard's. The edge of his kitchen counter is hard and sharp against his ass, but with Frank pushing him up against it he can't bring himself to care. When Frank brings his hand down to cup his cock through the thin fabric of his pajama bottoms, he groans and dips his head down against Frank's neck.

"How about we head back upstairs and you can fuck me?" Frank asks, hand firm and confident along Gerard's dick.

Gerard sucks in a breath and kisses Frank's neck before answering. "I was just about to ask if you wanted to fuck me, but okay."

"Really?" Gerard pulls away and nods vigorously, and Frank laughs. "Excellent. But me first, okay? I've been thinking about this," Frank says, as if Gerard would be able to say no to what he wants.

He pushes Frank away from him, trailing a hand over his stomach and feeling his ass as he turns. "If you want to be the lazy one this morning, I guess I can fuck your ass."

Frank glances back at him over his shoulder as he moves through the main room towards the stairs. "We'll see who you're calling lazy, old man."

"Hey!" Gerard protests, not resisting his impulse to smack Frank's ass as he climbs the stairs in front of him. "You've got, what, two months left of your twenties? Glass houses, my friend," he says, following Frank back into his room.

Frank turns and pulls him down onto the bed, kissing Gerard hard and fast, lips and teeth and tongue everywhere. "Let's see if you can keep up," he says, flipping them over and getting his stolen pajama shirt off before shoving his boxers down. "Where's your stuff?"

"Top drawer," Gerard gasps out, pointing at his bureau. Frank gets off him and Gerard takes the opportunity to get naked, giving his cock a couple of nice long strokes while Frank digs around for the lube and condoms. Frank comes back over and straddles Gerard's legs again, tossing the strip of condoms next to them on the bed and clicking open the bottle of lube. "Give me your hand," he says, and Gerard holds it out for him.

Frank kneels up on his knees once he’s coated Gerard’s fingers with the lube, stroking his cock and looking down at Gerard’s face. “Well? You going to get me ready or what?” he asks, and Gerard sits up and kisses him as he gets his hand back behind Frank’s balls, circling his hole before pushing in with one finger.

“Oh,” Frank moans into his mouth, shifting his hips until Gerard’s finger is in up to his second knuckle, and it’s like nothing Gerard’s ever seen before, Frank just using his hand like a sex toy. He’s pretty sure that even when it’s his dick in Frank’s ass, Frank is going to be the one making Gerard take it, and while that’s never really been a thing for Gerard before, it definitely is now, Christ.

They continue kissing as Gerard adds another finger, Frank pressing down in response, greedy and eager. He’s sliding in easy now, Frank relaxed and moving smoothly, and Gerard’s pretty sure Frank’s ready to go. But he doesn’t want to stop, is the thing, doesn’t want Frank to stop making those noises and biting down on his lower lip every time Gerard hits his prostate, grinding against his hand.

Finally, Frank pulls away, gasping for breath, and reaches over for the condoms, tearing one off and getting it on Gerard. He gets Gerard slicked up and then positions himself over Gerard’s cock, and Gerard waits for him to sink down. But while he knows he’s not huge, apparently he’s big enough, because it takes a little while for Frank to work himself down on the first couple of inches. Gerard holds onto his hips, petting over the soft skin as Frank breathes, and then Frank starts to giggle and ruins the moment.

“What?” Gerard asks.

“Nothing,” Frank says, covering his mouth but still laughing. “I just--you’re so big,” he lisps in a terrible impression of a porn star.

“Oh fuck you,” Gerard says.

“I’m trying!”

Gerard laughs, one of the great honking ones, and Frank loses it, arching his head back as he cracks up, and the small change in the angle means that suddenly Frank slides down further and his laughter turns into a moan. Gerard grips his hips and thrusts up a bit, and all at once they have a rhythm, Frank bending back down over Gerard and kissing him, his bendy little torso curved over Gerard.

Just like that this moment is everything in the world to Gerard, the feel of Frank around him and the sweat on their skin the only thing on his mind, one hand on Frank’s face holding him close as they move together. He reaches for Frank’s dick with his other hand, feeling it jump against his palm as he closes around it, hot and heavy against his skin, and he tries to capture every little sound Frank is making in his mouth as he rides him. Gerard braces his feet up on the bed, snapping his hips up as Frank thrusts down over and over, and Frank arches his head back for a moment before tucking his face next to Gerard’s neck, coming all over Gerard’s hand and stomach.

Gerard moves both of his hands down to Frank’s hips and holds on as he snaps up into him, rhythm frantic and fast, and he comes, biting down on Frank’s shoulder. He pants with Frank, licking the sweat off his collarbone and tracing over the ink there with the tip of his tongue. He makes a sound when Frank sits up and lifts himself off of Gerard, but then Frank flops down next to him and tucks himself into Gerard’s side. Gerard sweeps his baby bangs off his forehead and kisses him there before closing his eyes and drifting off.

* * * *

Waking up with Frank next to him twice in one morning is pretty spectacular, in Gerard’s opinion, but reaching down to pull off the condom and attempting to clean himself up is not.

“Might be time for a shower,” Frank says. “And next time try getting that off before you fall asleep, old man. I know I tired you out, but--ow!” He rubs over his ass where Gerard just smacked him and glares, although the smile twitching at the corner of his mouth ruins it a bit. “Oh, I will kick you in the balls if you do that again, just try me.”

Gerard holds up his hands in surrender. “You wouldn’t hurt a poor defenseless senior citizen, would you?”

Frank rolls his eyes and tumbles out of the bed, walking over to the door before he turns back. “Well? Are you coming for that shower or what?”

Gerard nods, pulling himself out the bed and getting his arms around Frank before kissing him. “You sure I can’t smack your ass again?”

Frank smirks at him. “Why don’t you try sometime and find out?”

“Maybe I will.”

“You really should,” Frank says softly, tangling his fingers with Gerard’s.

And Gerard is pretty sure he knows love when he hears it.

A few hours and a very thorough shower later they’re downstairs having a second cup of coffee when Mikey walks into the kitchen and Gerard remembers that he had plans for the day.

“Gerard. Do you ever answer your phone anymore? I thought we were seeing Planet of the Apes today.”

“It’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” Gerard corrects automatically, and then he gestures at Frank. “Frank, this is Mikey.” Frank waves at Mikey, who looks at Gerard for a long moment before his left eyebrow twitches.

Gerard beams and turns to Frank. “Want to join us for the movie?”

 

Epilogue

Gerard Way still has a system for his morning commute.

These days, it starts about twenty minutes earlier than it used to, though, because Frank is simultaneously the most irritable person in the world when he wakes up and is also an octopus impersonator who entangles Gerard in his legs and arms and (Gerard swears) additional appendages that appear overnight for the sole purpose of keeping him in bed and making him late.

He wouldn't have guessed last year that he would enjoy the process of detaching himself from a grumpy cephalapod every morning, but he does. And so the extra twenty minutes is for five minutes of waking up a little, ten minutes of sleepy handjobs or rutting against each other, and five minutes of insults about the other's morning breath and threats of what they'll do to each other if they don't get up this minute to deal with said morning breath and the come dripping down their legs.

Half the time he doesn't even get to have coffee before he gets onto the 7:59 due to what happens in the shower.

But he always gets a kiss before he leaves his house, his home, and that’s enough of a system for him.