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Sixteen Tons (How Frank Made it Happen)

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Frank isn't late. He isn't. Sure, he's supposed to be at his desk ten minutes before the working day starts, and sure, it's already nine a.m. and he's still ten floors away from said desk and still wearing his Etnies, but he's in the building, and in Frank's eyes, that makes him not late.

He toes off his sneakers in the elevator, wobbling on one foot as he shoves his feet into his stupid formal work shoes that pinch, and he isn't looking where he's going when the elevator dings and the doors slide open and Frank walks straight into a face full of balloons.

"Happy birthday!" Brendon appears from somewhere inside the balloon bouquet and throws his arms around Frank's neck. "The big three-oh, God! How does it feel to be old?"

Frank grins and gives Brendon a shove. "Thanks, asshole."

Brendon pulls the balloons aside, shoves a stupid stuffed bunny into Frank's hands and throws his arms out to the whole floor. "Hey, everyone! He's here! All together, now!"

He leads everyone in a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday, and Frank sees a cake on his desk, and it's embarrassing and Frank knows his face is turning red, but he smiles anyway because fuck, it's always nice to have cake and balloons, right?

Plus, you don't turn thirty every day, so Frank lets Brendon hug him again and even gives him a little squeeze for remembering. Anything that makes another day as someone's lackey a little less dehumanizing has got to be a good thing.

Not that Frank thinks being an assistant is something to be ashamed of. That's not it at all - his mom worked as a secretary for years and she did a damn good job of it, too. It's just - Frank went to college. Sort of. He has a degree in Business and Music Production, which okay; he did at night school and spread over the last five years, but still. And he's thirty now. Thirty. He should be doing something more than filing and photocopying and fetching coffee. Especially when he knows more about music than most of the smug suits he shares elevator space with will ever know in a million years.

And that's what this is really about, you know? Frank thought that when he got a job working for an actual, bonafide record label, a major, even, that he'd be on his way, able to make a difference, get some of the local bands heard in the way he wishes he'd been heard, back when he still played, back when he still had the dream.

But it turns out that working for Wentz Industries is the same as working anywhere else, when you're an assistant in Legal and Compliance and the only person lower than you on the company ladder is the fucking post boy.

It's beige, it's boring, and it's so far beneath what Frank knows he could do that he wants to scream.

***

Later, when Frank is deeply engrossed in the latest mind-numbingly dull database task he's been assigned, Brendon comes and perches on the edge of his desk. "So, are you too full of cake for lunch?"

Frank doesn't look up from his screen. "No lunch today. I got speech class."

"Speech class?" Brendon pulls a face. "What do you need speech class for? You talk fine."

"Yeah, my night school professor didn't think so. Said I sound like Mickey Blue Eyes."

Brendon gives a little disbelieving laugh. "You're from Jersey." Frank doesn't say anything and Brendon sighs. "Fine. I'll swing by your desk at five and we can ride home together, all right?"

Frank almost says yeah, then Outlook pops up a little reminder and he groans. "I can't, man. I got an Emerging Markets seminar after work."

"But it's your birthday," Brendon whines, thunking his foot against Frank's chair. "Can't the market emerge without you just this once?"

Frank stops working, sits back in his chair, and looks up at Brendon. "What time is it, man?"

"It's almost one."

"No." Frank rolls his eyes, because Brendon thinks he's being subtle, God. "What time is my surprise party?"

Brendon's eyes bug out. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Brendon."

"Frank."

They stare each other down for a minute, then Brendon's face creases and he huffs, "Fine, loser. I'm supposed to take you out for drinks and have you ready by seven."

Frank grins. "All right. I'll leave early and be at your place by seven-fifteen."

Brendon doesn't smile back, he just says, "Ugh," and stalks off across the secretarial pool, back to his own desk, his own boss, his own shitty fucking job, same as always, same as Frank.

Only difference is, Brendon's not old enough to be unhappy about it, yet.

That afternoon, Frank is surfing Buzznet and MySpace for information about this punk band he saw at The Pit the other night - the database project, ear-marked as a full day of work, is long-since finished - when his boss pops his head out of his door.

"A word, Frank?"

Frank locks his computer screen and heads into Mr. Pellisier's office. Pellisier is sitting behind his desk, fingers steepled under his chin and Frank knows, he knows what's coming.

"Take a seat, Frank," Pellisier says, and Frank lowers himself heavily into a chair. "I have some bad news."

It's written all over Pellisier's fucking face. "I didn't make the Fast-Track program, did I?"

Pellisier sighs and rubs his hands over his face. "You're up against Harvard grads, Frank. You've got, what, night school and some secretarial experience?"

Frank feels his fingers tighten on the arms of the chair. "I worked my ass off in night school. I barely went out for five years, which is more than you can say for some rich kid whose daddy paid for his MBA."

"I did all I could, Frank," Pellisier says tiredly, and Frank actually believes him. His boss is mostly a good guy, if a little worn around the edges. He probably hates his job as much as Frank hates his own. "But look, it's not all bad news. I got a lead on another role for you."

"Yeah?" Frank feels kind of cautious. The last time Pellisier had a lead on a role for Frank, he ended up running for his virtue from a creep in a raincoat and not much else. "Within in the company?"

Pellisier nods and pushes a piece of paper over the desk, towards Frank. "Gabe Saporta in Artist Development. He's looking for a new assistant, wants someone hungry."

Frank takes the sheet, looks down at the details. Artist Development. Fucking yes. "Is this for real?"

"Well, hungry is the name of the game down there, right?" Pellisier looks pleased, and Frank wonders how often he gets to do something nice for people, working in fucking Legal and Compliance. "Gabe says he's looking for hungry: I think to myself, 'Frank'. Wants to meet you for a drink."

Frank feels uncertainty creep in around his eyes. "This isn't a set-up, is it? Not like that thing with the raincoat guy?"

Pellisier throws his hands up. "What am I, a pimp? Look, it's up to you, kid."

Frank looks down at the paper again. This could be it, he tells himself. This could be his foot in the fucking door, at last. "Gabe in Artist Development."

"Gabe Saporta," Pellisier smiles. "Extension 256."

***

Frank calls and speaks to Gabe's assistant and arranges to meet Gabe at a nearby hotel the next night. He jitters his way through the rest of the afternoon, reading everything Google can find about Artist Development and Gabe Saporta, and finds he can't concentrate at his seminar, so he makes his excuses and leaves.

As he walks up the stairs to Brendon and Ryan's tiny apartment, he finds he's actually looking forward to the party he's not supposed to know about. It looks like he might actually have something to celebrate.

"Frank Iero, Artist Development," he says to himself quietly, and grins before opening Brendon's front door.

"Surprise!" Brendon crows, and everyone's crowding around Frank and hugging him and there's loud music and someone presses a beer into Frank's hand and amidst all the chaos, Frank almost doesn't notice someone's missing.

Almost.

Jepha shows up two hours late, swaying a little bit but smiling and happy to see Frank, and fuck it, Frank's happy to see him too.

"Frankie," Jeph murmurs, wrapping his arms around Frank and walking him backwards into Ryan and Brendon's room. "God, you look good."

"You too," Frank says, and he lets Jepha kiss him and it's nice, it's more than nice, and if they weren't in someone else's bedroom right now, Frank would probably be insisting that one or both of them start removing clothing.

"Oh, wait. I got you something," Jepha says, and he presses a gift into Frank's hands. He's gone kind of heavy on the tape. "Happy Birthday."

Frank smiles and goes to rip the paper, but Jepha covers his hand and says, "You might want to open it when we're alone, you know what I'm saying?" in this deep, gravely voice that Frank finds sexy and exasperating at the same time.

"Fine," he says, rolling his eyes. "But you know, one of these days I could really go for a sweater, or like, a videogame. You know, a gift I can actually show people when they ask what you got me for my birthday?"

Jeph makes a face like, 'where's the fun in that?' and Frankie decides he's had enough of other people for one day, so he drags Jepha into a cab and back to the apartment they share and it's not until afterwards, when Jeph is heavily asleep and Frank is staring at the ceiling, that he realizes it never even occurred to him to tell Jeph about his meeting with Gabe.

***

The next evening, Frank is waiting for Gabe Saporta at the bar of the hotel. It's a nice joint, way nicer than anywhere Frank has ever stayed, and he feels more than a little out of place among all the well-cut suits and braying women in beehives and pearls.

"This seat taken?" A tall, good-looking guy in a reassuringly normal t-shirt and jeans combo slides onto the barstool next to Frank. He holds out his hand. "Gabe Saporta, Artist Development."

Frank shakes his hand, trying to remember everything his dad has tried to teach him about handshakes. Something about fish in cups, he can't fucking remember. "Frank Iero. Thank you so much for meeting with me."

"Hey, it's no problem, Frankie-man." Gabe grins kind of blurrily, and Frank's heart sinks a little as he realizes that Gabe is drunk, or stoned, or both. "Hey, shall we take this up to the room?"

"The…room?" Gabe is already loping off towards the elevator, and Frank slides off his barstool (why do they have to be so fucking high?) and hurries after him. "Is that where you usually take meetings?"

"Well, this is a big week, Frank, little Frank." Gabe steps into the elevator and stands way too close to Frank for comfort. "Super week, man, we're celebrating. And the company keeps a suite here; you must know that, right?"

Frank had heard about the incentives available for the guys in the more glamorous departments of the company, but stuck in the beige hell of Legal, he hasn't really had a chance to investigate.

He tells this to Gabe, who roars with laughter and kind of drags Frank out of the elevator and down the hallway, his long arm looped around Frank's neck. "I like you, Frank Iero. You make me laugh. Very important quality, man, let me tell you."

Gabe fiddles clumsily with his keycard for a minute, and then pushes Frank into the room. "Take a seat, doll, I'll be right back."

Doll? Frank makes a face and tries to tell himself this is probably normal for Artist Development, that they have to be charming guys, party guys, guys who can sell ice to the Eskimos and crappy hip-hop acts to MTV2. He takes a seat on the stupid giant golden couch in the middle of the room, and it's not long before Gabe comes back, bearing two glasses of whiskey and a tell-tale white smudge under his nose.

"So," says Frank nervously, when Gabe has handed him a drink and settled himself on the couch, practically draped over Frank's lap. "What qualities are you looking for in an assistant?"

Gabe fiddles around behind the couch, and then he's got the remote in his hand. "I'll tell you what, Frank Iero. There's this tape we have in Art Dev, sort of an introduction type thing that we send out. Why don't we watch that, and if you have any questions afterwards, well," Gabe's eyes flicker to Frank's mouth in a deeply disturbing way, "I'll do my best to satisfy you."

Frank thinks, 'this guy cannot be for real' and then suddenly things are so much worse, because the giant TV screen lights up and shows some guy getting his dick sucked by a kid who can't be older than seventeen, and the unmistakable soundtrack of every shitty gay porn movie ever booms out from the speakers.

"Oh, look at that," Gabe laughs in Frank's ear, and his hand starts to snake across Frank's lap. "The wrong tape. Or is it?"

"Fuck you!" Frank shoves Gabe off and stands up, shaking, furious. "What the fuck is wrong with you, man?"

Gabe grins and lolls on the sofa. "My mistake, man. Pellisier said you were hungry."

"For a job!" Frank feels like he might be shrieking a little bit, but he doesn't care. "Not for your dick!"

Gabe pouts a little, sits forward and cups his hand around the back of Frank's knee. "Oh, Frank. Calm down, you want this job, right? You don't know what you're saying."

Frank kicks him off and slams his glass down on the coffee table. "I'm saying you're a fucking pervert and I don't want any job this bad. Sorry I wasted your time."

Gabe just sort of shrugs, and Frankie slams out of the room and into the stairwell, breaking into a run until he's out on the street. He feels like he wants to shower in acid, God, how the fuck could Pellisier have done this to him again?

He sets off for home - Jepha doesn't answer his cell when Frank calls, so he punches in Brendon's number instead and rants the whole sordid story out as soon as Brendon answers.

"Brendon, man." Frank pulls out his smokes when he's finished, lights one as he walks. "Tell me something good, I swear to God."

There's a pause, and then Brendon says in a weird, shy voice, "Ryan asked me to marry him."

Frank stops in the middle of the street, and gapes at nothing. "Seriously?"

"Seriously." Brendon is doing his stupid big smile, Frank can tell. "What do you think?"

"I think," Frank says, starting to walk again, "That you could not have said anything to make me happier at this exact moment in time. Congratulations, man. I mean it."

"Thanks. Hey, Frank, I gotta go, we'll talk for real tomorrow at work, all right?"

Frank sighs heavily at the thought of facing Pellisier, of going to back to a building Saporta works in, of how the hell his fucking life has ended up like this. "Yeah."

"And Frank - you're not going to do anything stupid, right? I mean, to Pellisier?"

"That, I can't promise," says Frank, and he hangs up before Brendon can say another word.

***

The first thing Frank does when he gets into work is give Brendon a huge bunch of flowers and an even huger hug.

The second thing Frank does when he gets into work is send an email to 'Wentz Industries: All Users' that says, MATT PELLISIER IS A SLEAZOID PIMP WITH A TINY LITTLE DICK.

The third thing Frank does when he gets into work is sit in Ray-in-HR's office for the third time since he joined the company, watching Ray-in-HR's crazy hair bob a little bit with every word he says.

"Frank," Ray-in-HR says meaningfully. "Frank, Frank, Frank."

"I know," says Frank, head in his hands.

Ray-in-HR says, "You don't get ahead in this world by calling your boss a pimp."

Frank laughs a little bit. "Well, he is."

"I really agree," says Ray-in-HR, and Frank decides that's a cool thing to say, so he mentally renames him just, 'Ray'. "But I've been looking at your file, here - this is the third time I've had to transfer you."

"But it wasn't my fault," Frank says, and Ray smiles a little bit. "I know, I know. You've heard it before. But Ray, lookit. I'm thirty years old. It took me five years of night school but I got my degree and I got it with honors. I know I can do something real, man, but there's this glass fucking ceiling, you know?" Frank is sitting forward, practically climbing onto Ray's desk in the effort to convince him. "I know music. I know this business. Ask my bosses, ask any of them. Even Pellisier, Christ. You ask them if I don't know more than anyone else on my level, fuck, the two levels above me, even. Ask them."

"You ask them," Ray says, and he leans back in his chair, fixing Frank with a placid stare. "Look, no-one's singing your praises, Frank. I personally don't doubt what you're saying, but you need to learn to play the game at least a little bit, all right? This is the last time I can help you. Three strikes and you're out, buddy. You know the rules."

Frank sinks back into his chair, because Ray doesn't even need convincing, and it's true, he does try to help Frank out. "What have you got for me?"

"New guy - not to the company, but to this building. Transferring in from Chicago. Name's McCracken, starts Monday, so you can go home and cool off for a few days, all right?"

Frank doesn't want to ask, because he knows he's not going to like the answer. "What's the department?"

Ray gets this look on his face, like he doesn't even want to say it out loud. "I'm sorry, man. It's - I know you want something creative, but this is the best I can do."

Frank looks down at the details Ray passes him. "Sales and Acquisitions," he reads dully. "Wow. A guy could break something with this kind of excitement."

Ray laughs a bit. "Well, I actually hear that this McCracken is a pretty exciting guy." Ray leans forward suddenly, folding his hands on the desk. "Frank, try to stick this one out. You do a year without any more fuckups, maybe I can swing you something a little more interesting, all right?"

Frank nods, swallowing around the heavy lump of disappointment in his throat. "I'll try, man. I'll try."

"Good man," says Ray.

***

Frank spends the next few days mostly drunk, and by the weekend he feels sorry enough for himself that it seems like a good idea to hang out at Ryan and Brendon's place, listening to Brendon ask Ryan's opinion about endless wedding options, and to Ryan replying, "I don't care. I don't care. I don't care."

"Do you have these problems with Jepha?" Brendon says, flouncing into the living room and throwing himself down on the couch next to Frank.

Frank snorts. "Right, like we're going to get married. I don't even know where he is."

"You haven't told him about your job?"

"He's not answering his phone." Frank doesn't look at Brendon. He doesn't want to see Brendon feeling sorry for him. "Whatever, it's cool. We'll hook up soon enough, I'm sure."

Then Ryan comes in and says, "Look, we're not having Guitar Hero at the reception," and Brendon says, "But you said you didn't care," and they're off again, and Frank makes his excuses and leaves and spends the rest of the weekend eating cereal and watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force in his underwear and stubbornly not wondering where Jepha is.

Monday morning he shows up on time, for once, despite Brendon clinging to him in the lobby because they're not going to be working on the same floor anymore.

Frank wanders out of the elevator and some chick in a suit gets in his face. "Can I help you?"

"Oh, uh. Frank Iero for Robert McCracken's office?"

The chick points to the last desk in the pool. "At the end of the aisle."

"Thanks," Frank lies, and he walks down, dumps his stuff on the desk and someone behind him says, "Nice bunny."

Frank turns around and there's a guy there, with a really nice suit but then this long raggy hair and a couple of days' worth of beard growth. "Uh, thanks. I don't usually - it was my birthday."

The guy smiles and sticks his hand out. "Bert McCracken. You must be Frank."

"Oh!" Frank grabs his hand and shakes it. "Nice to meet you, Mr. McCracken."

"Call me Bert, please." Bert smiles. "So how old were you?"

"Thirty," says Frank, biting his tongue so he won't launch into his speech about why he's still an assistant at such an advanced age.

"No kidding. I was twenty-eight this year." Bert puts his hands in his pockets. "We're practically twins."

"Yeah," says Frank, and Bert says for Frank to come into the office once he's settled in, and Frank sits down and stares at his desk, wondering what further humiliation he's expected to endure before the day is out.

Working as an assistant is one thing, but working as an assistant for someone younger than him? For fuck's sake, Frank thinks. He might as well get a job at Burger King and move into his mom's basement right now.

***

At first Frank doesn't get to do anything that he wasn't already doing in Legal. He files, he photocopies, he faxes, he answers the phone. He holds long, involved conversations with Brendon over instant messenger about the engagement party Brendon's planning and how annoying Ryan's being over the whole thing, and the closest he gets to making a contribution is when he's taking notes in a meeting about the introductory drinks party Bert wants to throw, and he suggests that Bert use a different caterer than the one Spencer, a junior assistant, comes up with.

"I just think it's a little different," Frank says, avoiding Spencer's crazy, evil eyes. Wow. "You know, you want to make a splash to announce your arrival, right?"

Bert looks at the magazine article Frank hands him, tapping his thumb against his lower lip. "Okay, set it up," he says, and Spencer's whole face turns bright red.

Frank is at least entertained, he can't lie. And when he turns to leave, Bert tells him, "Keep it up, Frank," and Frank thinks, a year. I can do this for a year.

He almost changes his mind when, at the party itself, it turns out that Frank is expected to cart round a tray of canapés like a fucking geisha.

"I'd help you, Frank," Bert says regretfully when Frank accompanies him to the bathroom and watches him snort like, a sack of coke. "But we can't have the quarterback passing out the Gatorade."

After the party, Frank goes home and Jepha is sitting on the couch like he's been there all along. Frank hauls him into the bedroom and fucks him so hard he leaves marks. Jepha doesn't mind, though, and he curls around Frankie afterwards, stroking his hair and tracing the tattoos Frankie hides under his clothes.

Frankie forgets to be mad that Jepha's been MIA, and he lets himself be soothed to sleep.

***

So it's a couple of weeks later, and Frank is reading the society section of the Post because Brendon wants to know what Frank thinks about the seventy-five thousand ideas he's got from the wedding and engagement blurbs, and there's a picture of a certain Marie Wentz at some charity thing or another, and Frank has an idea of his own.

And he thinks it might be a stupid idea, but he also thinks, well, maybe it isn't, and Bert said for Frank to come to him if he had an idea, right? So that's why Frank is standing nervously in front of Bert's desk, clutching a binder of notes to his chest, explaining why he thinks Wentz Industries should buy a radio network.

"Everyone knows we're looking to move into broadcasting," he says, and Bert holds his hand up.

"Mr. Wentz is looking for television stations."

"I know," says Frank, sitting down without being asked. "But so is everyone else. And radio's not as glamorous, I know, but MTV don't even play music videos anymore, right?"

Bert just waits, no discernible expression on his face.

"More and more kids - adults, too - are listening to the radio. It's cheaper, there's more networks for sale, a larger portion of the world's population have access to radio than cable TV and also, I think it would be a great platform for us to launch new artists who otherwise couldn't get played." Frank takes a breath and presses on, "I know that's something Mr. Wentz is passionate about. It's why I wanted to work here."

Bert taps his pen against his thigh. "Interesting. And you say you've been, what. Following this?"

"Yeah," says Frank.

"No chance you overheard it, somewhere?"

"What?" Frank frowns. "No way."

Bert raises his eyebrows.

Frank takes a breath, fights to keep his voice steady and his blood cool. "It's my idea."

Bert nods, apparently satisfied. "Good. Good. Did you discuss it with anyone else?"

"Nope." Frank's heart is beating fit to burst his chest. "Do - do you think that there's something there?"

Bert sort of grimaces. "Well, I can look it over for you. Why don't you leave me your notes?"

Frank nods eagerly and hands over the binder. As Bert takes it Frank says, "Um, I've been trying to get into the Fast-Track Program, and this would be a big push. I mean if anything - if anything happens, you'll remember I came up with this, right?"

Bert closes his hand over Frank's and gives him a big smile. "Absolutely, Frank. Two-way street, right?"

"Thank you," says Frank, and he's never meant the words more in his life.

***

That evening, Frank tries to tell Jepha about his meeting with Bert, but Jepha isn't really listening and just says something disparaging about city boys, and Frank doesn't try to tell him much of anything, after that.

"If you were really unhappy with Jeph, you'd move out," Brendon says at lunch when Frank's complaining about it. Since he got engaged he acts like there can't possibly be problems in anyone's relationships, ever, because Love Is the Answer, according to the 'inspirational' emails he sends to all the assistants in the building, every damn day.

"I don't have anywhere to go," Frank reminds him. "I can't afford rent on anywhere decent by myself, you know that."

Brendon waves his hands, dismissing Frank's financial woes. "You two will work it out. You always do. You love Jepha, right?"

Frank is saved from answering because his beeper goes off - it's Bert. "I gotta go," he tells Brendon, and kisses him on the cheek. "I'll call you later."

Back in the office, Bert is finalizing the details of the weekend business trip he's leaving for the next day.

'Business trip my ass,' Frank thinks sullenly, clicking through the website of the hotel Bert wants to stay at. The concierge has got him on hold.

Bert sticks his head out of the office. "How's it going?"

"They're saying all they can give you is a ground-floor single in the new wing," Frank says, wincing a little.

Bert looks kind of serene, though. "Did you tell them it was for me?"

"Well, uh." Frank gives the phone up to Bert, who perches on the edge of Frank's desk. "I said McCracken."

"Helmut?" Bert says into the phone, and then he rattles something off in German or Polish or whatever.

Frank's kind of impressed. He can't even speak Italian. Well. Except for cursing, of course.

Bert hands the phone back with a satisfied smile. "Here," he leans over Frank, grabs the mouse and clicks around until a picture of a huge room, like seriously the size of Frank's mom's whole house, pops up on the screen. "Isn't it perfect?"

"Yeah," Frank, says, taking in the giant fireplace and embarrassing canopy bed. "If you need somewhere to house Detroit."

Bert laughs and stands up. "It's for this guy I've been seeing. I think this could be it."

"Could be what?"

"It!" Bert is examining himself in the mirror hanging outside his office. "We're finally in the same city, the time is definitely right. And I've indicated that I might be receptive."

"Receptive?" Frank shakes his head so the nightmare image of Bert assuming the position doesn't have time to settle.

"To an offer of exclusivity," Bert says, smiling.

"Oh." Jesus Christ, is there something in the water? "You think he's going to pop the question."

"I don't think, Frank. I know." Bert raises his eyebrows. "You don't get anywhere in this world by waiting for what you want to drop into your lap, Frank. You make it happen."

"Right," Frank turns back to his computer screen. "I'll bear that in mind."

"Oh by the way," Bert stops on his way back to his office. "I ran your radio idea past some of my guys. It seems Wentz is dead set on television, though."

"Oh." Frank doesn't look up. He doesn't know what might be on his face. "Okay."

"Hey, hey." Frank feels Bert's hands on his shoulders. "It wasn't totally out of left field, all right? Some of the guys really liked the idea, you know? This just isn't the right time."

Frank closes his eyes and lets himself feel the disappointment; lets it settle over him, heavy and familiar. "Thanks."

"You keep it up, Frank." Bert squeezes his shoulders and lets go. "Who makes it happen?"

"I do."

"That's right."

Bert goes back into his office, and Frank tells his computer screen, "I make it happen. What goes around comes around. People get what they deserve."

If he just keeps on saying it, maybe it'll turn out to be true.

***

Frank is at work, hungover from Brendon's Cheer Up Frankie Through the Magic of Liver Damage campaign, and a little at a loss for stuff to do without Bert asking for coffee or a Danish or a small Cambodian child every fifteen minutes.

The phone rings. "Bert McCracken's office?"

"Frank! It's me."

"Bert!" Frank sits up straight in his chair and minimizes his game of Solitaire, as if Bert can see him through the phone. "How's your trip going?"

"Terrible. I broke my leg."

"What? How?"

"I don't know! I was just walking on my balcony, relaxing after my flight, you know?" Frank does know. He knows exactly what Bert's idea of relaxation entails, and most of it's flown straight in from Colombia. "Anyway, there must have been a really strong gust of wind or the railings on my balcony are seriously faulty or something, because I woke up in fucking traction."

Frank makes bug eyes at the phone.

"They're going to keep me here for a while - I need you to do some things for me."

Frank grabs his pad and pen and starts making notes. "Housekeeper comes on Friday, yeah…fresh flowers every Tuesday, okay, got it."

Bert rattles off an endless list of instructions, including 'RSVP to the invites on my desk', 'sort my mail', 'change the entrance code to my apartment every day' and 'please clean up my bathroom with your tongue'.

Okay, maybe Frank adds the last one himself.

"I know I'm asking a lot, Frank."

"No, no, it's fine," Frank lies. "Hey, are you okay, though?"

"I'm bored," Bert says petulantly. "And the nurses keep trying to look up my gown."

Frank grins. "Your guy isn't keeping you company?"

"What guy?"

"The guy you're seeing, you know. Proposal guy."

"He's not here. He couldn't leave work, apparently, at the last minute."

Frank curses himself for asking, because now he's trapped listening to Bert's All Men are Assholes (Except You and Me) speech, and it is way, way, way after lunch by the time he finally gets off the phone.

***

Frank is supposed to go to speech class that night, but instead he heads over to Bert's place.

"It's huge," he says into his cell, staring wide-eyed at the super-mega-king-size bed in Bert's bedroom. "Brendon, I've never seen anything like it."

"Does he have a walk-in closet?"

Frank opens a likely-looking door and almost falls to his knees in appreciation. "Uh…yeah."

The closet is bigger than Frank's whole apartment, he thinks. The walls are lined with all kinds of clothes and in the center, oh, in the center, is this sort of butcher's block thing, and it is entirely filled with shoes.

"Brendon," Frank croaks, stretching his hand out towards a pair of vintage Adidas that probably cost more than Frank's life is worth. "Brendon, I really love shoes, man."

Brendon makes a phone-sex noise. "How many pairs does he have?"

"I don't know. Maybe a hundred?" Frank pulls his hand back and shoves it in his pocket so he won't be tempted to touch. "Fuck, Brendon, how much does he get paid?"

"Bert McCracken's wages go straight up his nose," Brendon says knowingly. Frank can hear Ryan in the background, saying something bitchy about dinner going straight up Brendon's nose if he doesn't get off the damn phone. "Maybe his dad's like, super-mega-rich or something. Look, I gotta go. Call me later?"

"Okay," Frank says, and hangs up. He walks around the bed - which seriously, is like a swimming pool or something - and through into Bert's study, where there's a desk with a computer, Dictaphone and a bunch of notes.

Frank picks up the Dictaphone and presses play.

"Uh, regarding those vile little knickknacks from that old hag, um, 'Dearest Auntie, thank you so much for the beautiful salt and pepper shakers. Not only are they the perfect housewarming gift, but it was so dear of you to think of me so far away..."

Frank grins and settles in Bert's chair. "God, you're an asshole."

He listens to another message from Bert, declining an invitation to someone's kids' baptism, and another one of him asking someone he went to college with for money, 'on behalf of the Alumni Giving Fund.'

Frank stands up and starts pacing around the room, trying to match the clipped and proper cadence of Bert's voice. "I'm writing to you to ask," he tries, then clears his throat and pitches his voice slightly higher, slightly smoother. "I'm writing to you to ask."

He sounds totally fucking different. This is way better than speech class.

"Dear Branden," he repeats after Bert, "The real estate market here remains as devoid of inspiration as ever."

Frank looks around the fucking palace of an apartment and shakes his head. "I'm pretty fucking inspired," he says aloud in his regular voice, and then he's shocked to hear Bert saying his name.

"Do not go through Frank," Bert-in-the-Dictaphone says. "To Gerard Way, re: Wentz Industries Radio Network acquisition. Dear Gerard, there's a lightbulb over my head. I know money and you know media, and that adds up to us impressing the big man together. Hard copy of this on the computer. Repeat: do not go through Frank."

Frank practically runs to the computer and switches it on, hands trembling. He's so angry his ears are ringing, and it only gets worse when he reads a draft e-mail to this Gerard Way, and it is Frank's own outline, word for fucking word.

In the top drawer of Bert's desk is Frank's binder, with all his notes, all his plans, all his own hard fucking work, everything. Bert has underlined and highlighted a bunch of stuff, and Frank feels sick at the thought of him thumbing through it, stealing it for his own and lying to Frank's face about it.

Frank sits back in Bert's chair and stares at the computer screen for a long time.

"It's a two-way street," he says finally, sitting forward and grabbing the mouse. "And I make it happen."

***

When Frank gets home, he finds Jepha with his mouth full of Quinn-his-ex-boyfriend's cock.

Jepha pulls off and stares. "No class?" he says, and his mouth is wet.

Frank says, "Apparently not," and walks out.

He doesn't stop, not even when he can hear Jepha yelling from the open window that he's sorry, that he didn't mean it, that Frank can punch him if it'll make him feel better.

"Come back and hit me, Frank!" Jeph's voice is raw and Frank closes his eyes against it as he walks. "Come back and fucking hit me!"

It could be worse. At least Frank has somewhere to stay.

***

It's amazing what a borrowed suit and a good night's sleep in a king-size bed can do for a guy's self-esteem. So much so that when Frank picks up the phone and dials the number for Gerard Way's office, and makes an appointment to see him the next day at ten a.m., he doesn't even feel like an impostor. Much.

"I work with Bert McCracken," he tells Way's assistant, which isn't technically a lie. "I've sent an outline of my proposal over to Mr. Way," he adds, which isn't a lie, either.

The assistant sets the meeting up, and mentions that Way is going to be attending some mixer party that evening. Frank vaguely recalls Bert saying he was going to go before his 'business trip' was arranged, so he calls and tells the guy in charge of the guest list that Frank Iero will be attending in Bert McCracken's place.

"Which I am," he tells Brendon that night, both of them standing in Bert's closet, fondling shoes like perverts, "So that wasn't a lie either."

"Congratulations, Frank. You've mastered the art of self-delusion."

Frank rolls his eyes and holds up a shirt. "This one?"

Brendon eyes it critically. "It's kind of plain."

"It's sophisticated," Frank says, but he puts it back. Brendon knows way more than Frank about clothes. Brendon knows more than anyone about clothes, except maybe Ryan.

"What is this thing you're going to, anyway?"

"Closing party for a recent merger. This Gerard guy had something to do with it, I guess." Frank opens a drawer that's entirely full of custom-made belts, and has to bite his tongue so he doesn't moan out loud. "I figure I'll meet him there, you know? Introduce myself. Mix business with pleasure."

"Uh huh." Brendon has wandered off into the bathroom. "What did you do, snatch Bert's invite?"

"It's not like he can use it. And I need to start interacting with people as something other than an assistant, you know?"

"Oh, God. Anything but an assistant." The toilet flushes and Brendon comes out, holding his hands up in mock horror. "You know, they're actually going to start making us wear little bells, so regular people know to get out of the way when we're coming."

Frank rolls his eyes and starts stripping his clothes off. "You know I don't mean it like that."

"Uh huh," Brendon reaches past Frank and pulls a charcoal suit off the rail. "Here. Wear this."

Frank eyes it critically. "With a button-down?"

"With your t-shirt." Brendon clicks his tongue when Frank makes a face. "Just trust me, will you?"

"Fine." Frank starts pulling the suit on and Brendon digs around, passing him shoes, a belt, a wallet. "What's wrong with my own wallet?"

"It's made of duct tape," Brendon says, and okay, maybe he has a point.

Frank eyes himself in the mirror. He looks good, he looks damn good even if he does say so himself, but seeing himself dressed up in Bert's suit, Bert's shoes, Bert's money, Bert's life, makes the room start to swim. "Oh, God. Brendon. I don't feel so good."

Brendon steadies him down, sits him on the little couch and then rushes back into the bathroom. "Wait there."

Frank calls after him, "I'm so nervous!"

Brendon comes back bearing a ridiculously huge bottle of Valium. "Problem solved!"

"I'm not going to take a Valium, Brendon."

Brendon wrestles with the cap and shakes a pill out into his open hand. "It's real mild, Frank, I promise. It's just something to mellow you out, all right? You won't even notice it."

Frank holds the pill between his thumb and index finger. "Then why do I even need it?"

"Because, my friend," Brendon kneels down and puts his hands on Frank's shoulders. "Nothing is going to give you away faster than a raging case of the Frankie-twitches."

Frank takes the pill.

***

He's pretty nervous when he arrives, so he stands by the bar and orders a drink and people-watches, scoping the room.

It's full of the usual types - everyone in suits, and nobody looking like they've ever listened to music in their lives. There is one guy who looks like he might be okay - cute, dark hair falling over his forehead, black shirt with no tie - but he's busy getting harassed by three bespectacled suits.

"Go for the jugular!" Suit No. 1 is saying, gripping the guy's arm. "Look, I've been telling you this for three weeks! We've got 'em by the throat!"

"Listen," says Suit No. 2. "Let's grab 'em by the balls!"

"Leave our hearts at home!" Suit No. 3 chimes in.

"Cut 'em off at the knees!"

"They'll be eating out of our hands!"

"What do you say?" No. 1 looks up at Harassed Guy expectantly.

Harassed Guy opens and closes his mouth, and then says, "Is anybody thirsty?"

"We need this one, tiger! You need this one!" Suit No. 2 is getting kind of mad, and Harassed Guy pulls a hilarious face as he starts edging away from them and towards the bar.

"Yeah. Yeah. Yeah," Frank hears him say, and then he folds into the stool next to Frankie's and waves wearily at the bartender. "Hit me."

Frank laughs a bit into his own drink and Harassed Guy looks over, smiling sideways. "I've been looking for you."

Frank blinks. "I'm - do you know me?"

"No, no." Harassed Guy - who actually doesn't look so harassed, now Frankie can see him up close - accepts his drink from the bartender. "But I promised myself, when I saw you walk in, that I would get to know you. You're the first person I've seen at one of these damn things that dresses like a person, not like a person thinks a robot would dress if it were pretending to be a person."

"Thanks," Frank says. "I guess."

The guy smiles a bit, looking Frank up and down. "So what are you doing here?"

"Actually, I'm looking for someone myself." Frank might as well make the most of this guy's attention. "Gerard Way."

The guy nods. "Why are you looking for him?"

"Well, because I have a meeting with him tomorrow and I thought it might be nice to say hello and get a head start."

"Well," the guy pulls out a pack of Marlboro Lights and offers one to Frank. "He just left."

Frank's hand is already out to take the cigarette, but he pulls it back at the last minute. "Oh. Well. I better get going myself then."

"No, no." The guy waves the bartender over again. "Stay and have a drink with me, come on. You're the only other human being here. You can't abandon me like this.

Frank thinks about it. The guy has an open, honest face, and he doesn't look like he's going to turn into a creepy lech at any given moment. "Well, okay. But I'm buying."

The guy's mouth twitches. "It's an open bar."

"If it weren't, I would be buying," Frank says, and he gets a stupid happy from making the guy laugh, and has to remind himself sternly that he's not here to hook up, God.

The guy doesn't drink, and he won't tell Frankie his name, either, ("No business cards, no 'you must know so-and-so'. No fucking resumes, all right? Can we just be human beings for an hour or two?") but he's sweet and funny and cute as hell, and Frankie is on his third drink before the valium Brendon forced down his throat starts to make its presence known.

"Are you okay?" The guy looks kinds of concerned when Frankie sways on his stool for the second time. "You look kind of hot."

"I'm very hot. I have a head for business and a body for sin." Frank hears himself slur, oh God.

The guy laughs and says, "I actually meant temperature-wise," but Frank doesn't have time to come up with a witty comeback because he suddenly sees Pellisier, of all fucking people, walk past with his ugly wife.

"Shit," Frankie hisses, grabbing his jacket. "I have to go."

The guy stands up. "I'll come with you."

"No, just," Pellisier's looking over, and Frank says, "Oh, just meet me outside," and stumbles for the exit.

There's a cab outside, and Frank pulls the door open, and he thinks, 'Oh, I really don't feel good,' and everything goes black.

***

Frankie's stomach hurts, like something heavy is pressing into it, and his head is getting jerked up and down, and it's a while before he realizes he's being carried up some really unfamiliar stairs, over someone's shoulder in a fireman's lift, and someone's talking, talking endlessly.

Frankie only hears snippets of it. "Fucking elevator. The fucking thing never fucking works, and you are a lot fucking heavier than you look, my friend, do you know that?"

Frankie hears a groaning noise, feels strong hands on the backs of his thighs. "Might be kind of a shithole. The cleaning lady keeps changing days on me."

Frankie is set down gently, propped up against a wall or a door. "I'm just warning you 'cause if it's the day before, it could be pretty bad. I don't notice it so much myself, but some of the people I've had over have, you know, pointed it out."

Frankie hears a door opening. "Oh, hey. It's not so bad."

Stuff blurs out again, Frankie is vaguely aware of being put down on something horizontal and soft and blessedly stationery. "Would you…would you like, uh, a nightcap? I guess not. I don't have any booze anyway. I guess it's too late for coffee, right? Herbal tea? No - I don't have any of that either. But it always sounded good when people offered it to me when I was in your state."

Frankie feels fingers on his forehead. The last thing he hears before he passes out for good is, "You're a pretty motherfucker, that's for sure."

***

Frank wakes up in his underwear in a totally surreal apartment. The bed is in the middle of the living room, there are drawings and shit everywhere and he steps on a full tube of paint, a half-full tube of hair gel, and a totally empty tube of lubricant while he's gathering up his clothes.

He never wants to talk about it.

***

Nine o' clock sharp, and Frank is dressed in Bert's best suit, standing outside Gerard Way's office, muttering under his breath, "Don't fuck up. Don't fuck up. Don't fuck up."

The assistant takes his coat, and Frank clutches his binder to his chest, and seriously like ten thousand years pass and then finally the assistant gets buzzed and she opens the door to the office.

"Gentlemen," she says, ushering Frank through the door. "Frank Iero."

Frank looks up and there, standing at the head of the table, is the guy from last night.

Yes. Well. Of course.

The guy steps forward, shakes Frank's hand like nothing ever happened. "Mr. Iero, I'm Gerard Way. How are you? Please, sit down."

Frank sits down.

"Coffee?" says Gerard.

Well. If Gerard's not going to freak out, then neither is Frank. "Uh. Sure. I mean, thank you."

Frank looks around at the other guys at the table. They all look smooth, all in nice suits, and they all have briefcases.

Frank fingers his stupid binder nervously. "I lost my briefcase."

The guys around the table do not smile.

Gerard comes back with Frank's coffee, and Frank does not think about how awesome it is that he got it himself and didn't have his assistant do it. Gerard sits down and looks at Frank with those smiley eyes that got Frank into a mess last night, and he grins a little bit. "So."

"So." Frank takes a deep breath, and begins.

***

An hour later, he's back in Bert's office, banging his head against the wall. "God, shoot me."

Brendon clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "Would you cut that out? It could have been worse! It's not like they threw you out on your ass."

"If they had, I couldn't possibly feel any worse." Frank turns and leans against the closed door, sliding down it to sit on the floor. "Oh God, and last night. Brendon, last night!"

"Yeah, should have checked the milligrams on that valium," Brendon says airily. "Live and learn."

Frank laughs, head on his drawn-up knees. "He's never going to take me seriously."

"Well, you know, maybe he'll feel sorry for you, and make it up to you by doing your deal or whatever it is." Brendon pulls Frank up to a standing position. "It probably isn't as bad as you think."

Frank sighs. "I know. And I'm not looking for sympathy, you know?" Frank opens the door to let Brendon out. "I had a shot, right?"

"Right," says Brendon, smiling, and then his eyebrows shoot up and he points over Frank's shoulder with his chin. "God, who ordered the work of art?"

Frank turns around, not expecting much because Brendon's idea of a hot guy is usually vastly different from Frank's own, and his heart plummets. "That's him!"

"Who?"

"Gerard Way!" Frank hisses, yanking Brendon back into the office and slamming the door. "Brendon, you have to do me a favor, okay? Pretend to be my assistant."

"Hey, no, I am not involving myself in your web of lies."

"Brendon!" Frank grabs his hands and makes his eyes go as big as possible. "Please. Please."

Brendon wavers for a minute, but Frank knows from experience that he can never say no to anyone, not really, and he makes a frustrated little noise, shaking Frank's hands off him. "Fine, ugh."

"You're the best, Brendon."

"I am," Brendon says haughtily, and he sweeps out of the door just in time to meet Gerard.

"May I help you?" Frank hears him say, as Frank runs in a frantic circle around the office, looking for anything that might give him away.

"Gerard Way to see Frank Iero."

"Let's give him a shout, shall we?" Brendon is flirting, Frank thinks furiously. "Oh Mr. Iero! Are you decent? There's a Mr. Way here to see you!"

Frank strides to the door and opens it. "Thank you, Brendon."

Gerard smiles. It's like someone turned the fucking sun on, for Christ's sake. "Hi, Frank."

"Hold all calls, Mr. Iero?" Brendon trills, as Frank ushers Gerard into the office.

"Yes, Brendon," Frank grits, trying to convey the depth of his rage with only his eyebrows. "Thank you."

Brendon ignores him, posing in the doorway like a rentboy or something. "Can I get you anything, Mr. Way? Coffee, tea? Me?"

"That will be all, Brendon," Frank says a little too loudly, and shuts the door in his face. He turns back to Gerard, who's grinning like his face might split.

"He's a character," Gerard says, settling himself in chair.

"Oh, yeah. A riot." Frank paces around the desk and sits in Bert's chair. He thinks about ignoring the giant, passing-out-and-waking-up-in-his-underwear shaped elephant sitting on the desk between them, but it turns out he can't. "So you're Gerard Way."

"I am."

"Why didn't you say anything last night?"

"Because I knew what would happen," Gerard says, shifting a bit so he's leaning forward. "All Sales and Acquisitions, no swooning into my arms."

"Look," Frank says hotly, because Gerard seems like he's just fine with everything and it's annoying as hell. "What happened?"

"The earth moved," says Gerard, making his eyes go all misty. "The angels wept. The polaroids are uh," he pats his jacket pockets, "In my other coat."

Frank stares.

Gerard stares back for a minute, and then laughs suddenly, startlingly loud and hyena-like, the sound too big for Frank's office.

Bert's office. Bert's.

"Nothing happened," Gerard is saying, smiling. "Nothing happened."

Frank doesn't know whether or not to believe him. "I woke up in just my underwear."

Gerard tips his head to the side. "And your tattoos."

Frank starts laughing, more out of disbelief than any kind of humor. "And how do you think I got that way?"

Gerard looks at him for another minute, smiling this tiny smile, and then he rolls his eyes and relaxes. "I took off your shoes. I took off your clothes. I put you on the bed, and I kept my eyes closed the whole time."

"And that was it?" Frank doesn't even know what he wants to hear, and Gerard shrugs dramatically, flinging his hands into the air.

"I might have peeked. I don't remember. Look, I don't have all day to hang out here and discuss your sex life." Gerard pushes a box across the table. It's gift-wrapped. "Here."

Frank opens it. It's a briefcase. He looks up.

"I thought you could use it if we're gonna put this deal together."

Frank holds his breath, because he can't believe that this is it, just like that. "You liked it?"

"It has definite possibilities." Gerard taps his fingers on the table as he speaks. "I want to go first to Stump Radio Systems. They're a solid, family-owned, mid-sized network. They had offers before and rejected them. But the father's about to retire, and the son's having trouble with the board of directors. A lot of squabbling--a good time to go in."

Frank nods. He isn't about let on that he really has no idea what Gerard's talking about. "Okay."

"There's just one thing I don't get, though." Gerard gives Frank a curious smile. "Why didn't you just put it together with your people here? Why'd you come to me?"

'Because my evil boss mentioned your name when I was listening to his private dictation and I don't know anyone else because I'm a big fat fake,' will probably not go down too well, so Frank shrugs. "I wanted the best."

Gerard smiles and stands up. Frank walks him to the door, and Gerard stops and puts his hand on Frank's, where it rests on the handle. "Are you free for dinner tonight?"

"No," says Frank, against his will.

Gerard doesn't look offended. "Okay. How about tomorrow?"

"I don't think we should get involved that way," Frank says, crossing his fingers behind his back.

"Oh really? What about last night?"

Frank closes his eyes and resists the urge to start beating his head against the wall again. "I'm not that guy, okay? Last night was special."

"It wasn't that special," Gerard says dryly. "I had to carry your ass up three flights of stairs."

"I meant special unusual, Jesus." Frank looks down to where Gerard is still covering his hand. "Look - we're in business, now. My life is complicated enough as it is."

"I don't want to complicate anything," Gerard says, and somehow he's moved closer and his other hand is resting lightly on Frank's hip. "I just thought dinner, maybe a movie, you know."

Frank takes a deep breath. "We both know what we're talking about, come on."

"God, I hope so."

"Maybe I just don't like you," Frank says, even as he is turning Gerard's hand over, tracing the lines in his palm.

"Me?" says Gerard, closing his fingers around Frank's. "Nah."

***

That night is Ryan and Brendon's engagement party, and Frank is really fucking late. There are already three flat, angry voicemails from Ryan, threatening death if Frank doesn't show up, and Frank barely gets through the door at the bar before Brendon's on him.

"I didn't think you were going to make it!"

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Frank hugs Brendon; waves at Ryan over his shoulder. "I got held up at work."

"You're going to be out of work, if you don't stop all this craziness." Brendon points over to the bar. "Jepha's going to drown himself in booze. Do something about that, would you? I can't be having deaths on my big night."

Frank unwinds his scarf and dumps his jacket on the pile near the door, but he holds onto the briefcase Gerard gave him. He takes a deep breath before going over to Jepha, who at least has the decency to look like shit.

"You look different," Jepha says when he sees Frank.

"Yeah, well." Frank orders himself a beer, and one of whatever Jepha's having. "I'm not the trusting idiot I was a few days ago, right?"

Jepha waves his hand at Frank. "No, I mean all this. The clothes, the briefcase. What, you had to go to traffic court again or something?"

Frank rolls his eyes. "No, I just got off work."

"Since when do you carry a fucking briefcase, man?"

Since when do you give a shit, is what Frank really wants to say. "I sort of got a promotion."

"Hey man, that's great." Jeph shoves his shoulder against Frank's and raises his glass. "To Ryan and Brendon and you and me and your big fucking promotion, then."

"Yeah," Frank echoes, and as he gulps down his beer he tries not to think about the fact that Jeph just said 'you and me' and the 'you' in there was Frank.

Later, after Ryan and Brendon have opened their presents and Brendon's made Frank dance with him at least three times, Jeph gets up to give a toast.

"From me and Frank and everybody here," he slurs, wobbling slightly on the chair he's using as an impromptu stage. "May your life together be long and happy, may you always have two sets of hair straighteners, and may the road always rise up to meet you."

Someone yells, "When are we gonna toast you and Frank, huh Jeph?" and Frankie cringes and tries to blend in with the wall.

"We, uh." Jeph grins and wobbles some more. "We haven't really discussed it."

"You don't discuss it, man, you just ask!"

"Yeah, ask him!"

People take up the call and before Frank knows what's happening, Jeph is down on one knee and he's got hold of Frankie's hand, and it is the worst thing that has ever happened when Jeph says, "Frank? You want to make an honest man out of me or what?"

Frank looks around at their friends, and at Brendon's horrified face, and at Jeph, who Frank really thought he could fall in love with, once upon a time, and he can't say no. He can't say yes, either, of course, so he says, "Maybe," because that's the only thing left.

Jeph's eyes flicker and his smile hardens. "That's your answer?"

Frank shrugs and tries to keep his voice light. "You want another answer, ask another guy."

***

Outside it's freezing.

"You fucking humiliated us in there!" Jeph is yelling, stomping around.

"You set us up, Jeph!" Frank covers his eyes and wishes for this to be a bad fucking dream. "What did you expect me to do? Lie in front of all those people?"

"I didn't know you'd have to lie! I thought maybe you would want me to ask!"

Frank starts laughing, he can't help it. "Jeph, two nights ago, I found you in bed with Quinn!"

Jeph stares at Frank, pulling at his own hair. He drops his hands suddenly and comes towards Frank, gathering him in. "All right, okay. Here we are, just the two of us. Will you marry me, or what?"

Frank shoves him away. "Do we have to decide this right now?"

"I want to get things solidified." Jepha spreads his hands wide. "Things in my life! You're not the only one with plans, you know! I need to know, right now, are you in or out? Come on!"

Jepha stares at him, breathing heavily. Frank looks at his face, the line of his shoulders in the moonlight, and he thinks of Gerard and his gift-wrapped briefcase and his slow, sexy smile, and he thinks about the way Jepha looked, in bed with Quinn, and he finds he has nothing to say to Jepha, nothing at all.

"We're history," Jepha says as he walks away, and Frank thinks, 'no kidding.'

He stays outside for a while, then wipes his face and goes back inside, because Brendon and Ryan are in love, right, and that's something worth celebrating.

***

Frank's at work, wondering how many pairs of his shoes Jepha has managed to destroy in the last forty-eight hours, when the phone rings. "Bert McCracken's office."

"Oh," it's Gerard. "I'm sorry, I think I have the wrong extension. I want Frank Iero."

Frank panics for maybe thirty seconds, then says in a stupid high voice, "I'll transfer you!"

He presses hold, wracking his brains for how Brendon's voice sounds, because he has suddenly and inexplicably forgotten. Brendon shows up at that exact moment, though, spilling through the door, arms full of Frank's belongings.

"I couldn't find the pink belt, Frank, but-" Frank holds the phone up and says, '"Assistant," and takes Gerard off hold before Brendon can pussy out. Brendon glares, but he leans over, arms still full, and says, "Frank Iero's office," into the receiver. "Who's calling? One moment please."

Frank presses hold again. "Thanks."

"I hate you." Brendon dumps Frank's stuff on the floor and sits in the chair on the other side of the desk.

Frank takes the line off hold. "Gerard. How did it go with Stump?"

"As well as it can go with a guy whose business is his family." Frank hears the click-pop of Gerard's lighter, hears him inhaling deeply. "I think we can work something out, but we're gonna have to get Wentz to sweet-talk the son something crazy. I've had my guys work out some numbers - can we meet and go over them?"

Frank twists the phone cord in his fingers. He wants to meet Gerard, and not just because of the deal, but he kind of feels like a loser for practically fucking melting every time Gerard smiles at him. "I don't know."

"Just lunch," Gerard is smiling, Frank can hear it in his voice. "Just a business lunch, all right? Broad daylight, lots of people around, absolutely zero potential for romance. We can get hotdogs from a stand if you want."

"I don't eat meat."

Gerard laughs his stupid high-pitched laugh. "All right, a lentil stand then, shit. I don't care."

"Well." Frank ignores Brendon, who hears like a fucking bat and is waving his hands and mouthing, 'NO NO NO' every time Gerard speaks. "Okay. I'll meet you outside the building at one."

"Awesome." Gerard hangs up.

Frank puts the phone down, and grins at Brendon's scowling face. "How hard do you think it would be to crash a wedding?"

"I. What?"

"Wentz's cousin is getting married tomorrow."

Brendon blinks rapidly. "How do you even know that?"

"I read it in the society section. I think it's perfect - I can corner him by the cake or something, get his input on the Stump Radio thing."

"Are you out of your mind?"

"I'm just getting started!" Frank stands up and starts pacing - he can't sit still, not when he's so excited, not when he knows this is going to work. "Brendon, it's perfect, don't you see? He'll be happy, he'll be relaxed, he won't want to make a scene…"

"Jepha's really broken up," Brendon says suddenly, in a tight little voice. "He's gonna throw out the rest of your stuff."

Frank doesn't stop moving. "I can get new stuff."

"He kept me there talking until five a.m." Brendon has dark circles under his eyes, now Frank looks at him, and his hair is definitely not up to its usual standards. "He cried."

Okay, Frank can take a hint. He knows when he's being an asshole. "I'm sorry, man." Brendon looks away and Frank crosses quickly over to him, sliding his arms around Brendon's skinny, tense shoulders. "Hey. Hey. I'm sorry. Thank you for doing this for me."

"I'm just worried about you," Brendon says, muffled in Frank's collar, and Frank rests his cheek on the top of Brendon's head.

"I know," he says. "I know."

Brendon clings to him for a minute, then he pulls away and says, "Frank…you're not really going to try and crash this wedding, are you?"

Frank should have known this was coming. "How hard can it be? Nobody knows everyone at a wedding, right?"

"Frank," says Brendon, standing up and putting his hands on Frank's forearm.

"And all I need is five minutes with Wentz," Frank continues, because he wants Brendon to get it, wants to know Brendon understands. "That's all I need."

"Frank," Brendon says again, his face serious. "Frank, this has got to stop."

Frank rolls his eyes. "Brendon, what?"

"First of all, look me in the eye and tell me you're not thinking that Mister Googly-eyes-briefcase-let's-have-lunch is gonna take you away from all of this."

"We're doing a business deal together, that's all." Frank hates lying to Brendon. He hates it.

"Well, good," Brendon says, folding his arms. "'Cause you know you're gonna get your heart stomped on, right? Just like you're stomping on Jeph's?"

"Hey, it wasn't me banging Quinn Allman in our bed, okay?" Frank pushes Brendon away, trying not to raise his voice too much. "How come you're all on his side, anyway?"

"I'm not on his side, Frank," Brendon says tiredly, rubbing his eyes. "I'm as mad with him as you are, but you're not even giving him the slightest chance to make it better, and that's not like you."

"It's exactly like me," Frank manages through gritted teeth. "It's not like the fucking loser I used to be. I got smart."

Brendon stares at him, then holds his hands up. "Fine. Look.. All I'm saying is, if you're so smart, why don't you act smart and save your ass while you still can? Because when Bert and the other suits find out what you're doing - and they will find out, Frank," he says quickly when Frank opens his mouth to protest, "I don't think you'll have a job. Any job. And you already lost your boyfriend and the roof over your head, you know what I'm saying?"

"I'm gonna come clean as soon as I get myself set up. I swear." Brendon doesn't look convinced. Frank reaches out to him. "Brendon. Come on. I know what I'm doing."

"Yeah, so do I." Brendon jerks away before Frank can touch him. "Screwing up your life."

"No, I'm trying to make it better! I'm not gonna spend the rest of my life working my ass off and getting nowhere just because I - shit." The phone rings, interrupting, and Frank snatches it up. "Frank Iero's office."

The person on the other end chuckles. "It's your office, now?"

Shit. Shit. "Bert! No! Of course it's still your office. I just got tongue-tied…you know."

Brendon shakes his head and turns to walk away. Frank covers the mouthpiece quickly. "Come on, Brendon. Don't go. Please."

Brendon pauses at the door, his mouth twisted up into an angry little smile. "Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear," he says, and laughs a little, not looking at Frank. "It doesn't make me Madonna. Never will."

"Are you there?" Bert sounds slightly less amused, and Frank hurriedly turns his attention back to the phone.

"I'm here."

***

Bert tells Frank he's coming home in a week. A week, shit, and Frank is so distracted trying to run over and over everything in his head, how to finish this up before he gets caught out, how to make it work, that he barely talks the whole way through lunch.

Gerard takes Frank to a little Greek deli, hidden away in a side-street, and they're standing outside eating giant stuffed pitas when Gerard says, "You're not trying to pull this deal out from under me, are you?"

"What?" Frank navigates his way around a particularly lively piece of tomato. "No, of course not."

"Because you're being kind of cagey. Is there something you're not telling me?"

Frank does not say, 'you have no idea'. He says, "I'm just nervous - look, I have this idea, and maybe it's crazy, but I think if you come in on it with me it might work."

"Okay." Gerard takes a sip from the smoothie he's holding in his other hand, and Frank has a really hard time not watching his lips working around the straw. "Hit me."

"I think we should meet with Wentz tomorrow."

"So soon?" Gerard raises his eyebrows. "I love a man with enthusiasm, Frank, but I think tomorrow probably won't work."

"Why?"

"Because Pete's cousin is getting married tomorrow." Gerard finishes his pita and wipes his fingers on a napkin.

Frankie is so busy not thinking anything inappropriate about Gerard's fingers that he almost misses the slip. "Pete?"

Gerard looks away. "Wentz."

"Gerard." Frank wipes his own hands and moves a little closer, trying to catch Gerard's eyes. "Gerard, are you invited to the wedding?"

"Maybe." Gerard takes one look at Frankie's face and says, "No. No way."

"Come on, you didn't get a plus one?"

"I'm not taking you with me."

"Why the hell not?"

"Because!" Gerard waves his hands around. Frankie steps back because he really doesn't want to get smoothie on Bert's probably-really-expensive suit. "Pete's been really good to me, and I don't think this is the way to repay him. And I also don't think a covert business ambush is an ideal second date, do you?"

Frankie doesn't care if he does look like a twelve-year-old girl - he totally smiles like an idiot. "Second? I thought this was a business meeting."

"I bought you food," Gerard says defensively. "And there was definitely an indecent proposal."

Frankie wraps his mouth around his own straw and looks up at Gerard from under his eyelashes.

Gerard is totally staring. Heh. Frankie pulls the straw out and says, "I just feel like if you're there, I can make it work."

Gerard's eyes get all soft. "Dammit, Frank."

Frankie moves closer to Gerard, close enough so he can see the slight color rising over Gerard's cheekbones. "Please?"

Gerard doesn't answer.

He doesn't need to.

***

Gerard picks Frank up for the wedding (outside Ryan and Brendon's place, much to Brendon's consternation) in a company car, and he's totally working a gray suit with a shiny stripe down the side that should not look good at all, but somehow does.

"Get in," he says, and Frank smoothes down his own suit (black, kind of tight, the least alarming non-business one he could find in Bert's closet) before he slides into the car.

The ride to the reception passes in a weird blur. Frank's so nervous, and he's always had a thing about nice cars and it doesn't help that Gerard keeps staring at him from the other end of the seat, his long fingers moving restlessly together like he needs to keep them active so he doesn't reach over and touch.

Frank can really relate.

When they arrive, Gerard steers Frank past the doormen with a palm on Frankie's back, and despite Frank's fears that he's going to set off an alarm or something, they pass without incident into seriously the ugliest wedding reception Frank has ever seen.

"It's," he says, staring around him. "It's gold."

"Yeah, well." Gerard takes a champagne and what Frankie assumes is water from a nearby waiter. He passes the champagne to Frank. "It's Wentz."

As if on cue, Pete Wentz suddenly appears. He's wearing a purple suit and his teeth are insanely white when he grins really big at Gerard.

"Gee!" he laughs, and wraps Gerard up in a hug. "You made it!"

'Huh,' Frankie thinks. 'Gee.'

"How's Mikey?" Pete asks, and Gerard is smiling and nodding and Frank starts to feel weird about the whole ambush plan, because this isn't like watching a mogul talking to a suit at all. It's like watching two really good friends have a normal conversation about someone - Gerard's younger brother, Frank gathers - they both know and like. Like regular people. Human beings.

He's just taken a tiny step backwards when Gerard's hand presses between his shoulder blades and Gerard says, "Pete, I want you to meet Frank Iero. He works in Sales and Acquisitions."

"Wow, Gerard, dial down the romance, will you? You're gonna make me blush." Pete turns his mega-watt smile on Frank and holds his hand out. "Nice to meet you, Frank. I'm Pete."

"Uh," says Frank, and shakes Pete's hand awkwardly. "I know."

Pete laughs, and Frank is struck by how young he is. Everyone knows about Pete Wentz and his meteoric rise to the top, of course, but it's a little weird to see him in the flesh. "You like the décor?"

Frank thinks, what the hell, one more lie, right? "Uh, yeah! It's like a paradise. With…gold palm trees."

"I know, right? Ugliest fucking thing I've ever seen in my life, isn't it great?" Pete is accosted suddenly by an older woman in a really weird purple dress. "Aunt Muriel! You look ravishing as always."

Aunt Muriel shrieks with laughter and slaps Pete on the back so hard he stumbles forward into Frank. "Pete, oh, you always were a charmer!"

Pete coughs and gets himself upright. "That's me."

"Bu who are your friends?" Aunt Muriel coos, looking Gerard up and down with a serious glint in her eye. "I insist on being introduced!"

Gerard gives Frank a really strange look, takes a deep breath and then, unbelievably, holds his arm out to Aunt Muriel. "Maybe I can introduce myself to you with a dance?"

Aunt Muriel doesn't need to be asked twice - she shrieks with laughter again and drags Gerard out onto the dancefloor. Frank sees her step on Gerard's foot twice and Gerard mouths, "Now, motherfucker," over her shoulder before he disappears completely from view.

"That Gerard," Pete says, shaking his head. He turns to Frank and kind of nudges his arm. "Hey, how are you guys doing in S&A, anyway? It's been kind of quiet at your end, recently."

Frank takes a deep breath. "Well, if I had my way, we'd all be making a lot more noise."

Pete raises an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Yeah, uh." Frank's seriously going to hurl. "I've actually been trying to set you up with a radio network, but my bosses, they think you're too stuck on the idea of television and you won't even listen."

"That doesn't sound like me," Pete says mildly.

Frank gulps the rest of his champagne down. "Well. That's what I said. I said the man who put a platinum-selling band together using a social networking site did not get to be where he is by shutting himself off from new ideas."

Pete looks at Frank for a minute, and Frank braces himself, waiting for Pete to see through him, see that he's a fake, see that he doesn't belong here and he's way out of his depth and oh, God, he wishes Brendon were here.

"You're the one who sent the email about Pellisier, aren't you?"

Fuck. Fuck. "I. Um."

Pete just grins, though. "You know what, Frank? I really have to circulate."

"Oh." Frank has no idea what is going on. "No, uh - of course."

"But I want to hear more about this," Pete says, smiling. "Say Monday? Twelve noon? That work for you?"

"Yes sir," Frank breathes, and Pete nods and smiles and shakes his hand again when Gerard shows up a few minutes later, limping and muttering to Frank that they need to get out of there now, Frank is still smiling so hard it feels like his face is going to break.

***

In the car, Gerard toes off his shoes. He swings his feet up into Frank's lap and Frank's hands drop automatically, rubbing and pressing. "God," Gerard groans, "I swear she was stamping on me on purpose."

Frank doesn't trust his voice, what with the way Gerard is rolling his head back and…flexing every time Frank rubs his thumb into the arch of Gerard's foot.

"I can't believe you talked me into this." Gerard cracks an eye open. "You're like one of those cowboy cops, aren't you? The one who always works alone because all his partners end up dead or crazy or eaten by gorillas, or something."

Frank rolls his eyes. "It worked, didn't it?"

Gerard hums, wiggling his toes into Frank's palm. "I actually had fun."

"Yeah?" Frank releases Gerard's feet and smoothes his hands up Gerard's calf, cupping the curve of Gerard's knee. "Really?"

"Really." Gerard is moving, then, folding forward and pulling Frankie closer. "And I thought you were amazing."

Frankie can't quite look away, not with Gerard's eyes so close and his mouth, open and quirky, inches from Frank's. "Amazing, huh."

"Amazing," Gerard repeats, and his hands, those hands, are gripping Frankie's thighs. "God, you look so fucking good."

"How far to your place?" Frankie says, not bothering to keep the pathetic desperation out of his voice.

"Too far," Gerard says, and kisses him.

***

Gerard's mysterious cleaning lady has apparently been since the last time Frank was at his place, because the floor is refreshingly devoid of lube.

Frank really hopes Gerard has some more hidden away somewhere, and the thought makes him start laughing like a moron, and Gerard looks up from locking his front door. "What?"

Frank shakes his head, and holds his hand out for Gerard. "Come here."

Gerard comes willingly, dropping his jacket and stripping off his shirt so he's bare-chested when he reaches Frank.

Frank revels in his skin, sliding his palms over Gerard's shoulders as Gerard walks him backwards towards the bed, his mouth on Frankie's throat. "You're fucking gorgeous, you know that?"

Gerard bites at Frankie's earlobe, pulling back enough to yank Frankie's shirt off. "Oh," he says, his eyes wide. "I'd forgotten."

Gerard pushes Frank down to sit on the bed and drops to his knees. "These are amazing," he says, fingers tracing way-too-lightly over the twin birds on Frankie's hips. "You have no idea."

Frankie squirms, the touch of Gerard's fingers both addictive and maddening. "Gerard. Come on, man."

Gerard pushes Frankie to lie down flat and puts his mouth to Frankie's skin, tongue tracing hot over Frank's stomach, one hand coming up to cup Frankie's dick through his pants. Frankie moans and pushes up, fisting his hands in Gerard's sheets to keep from grabbing at Gerard's hair. "Oh, God."

Gerard squeezes Frank's cock and laughs, low and dirty, when Frankie goes, 'ah!' and arches up. "You don't want to take it slow?"

"Later, later, Jesus," Frankie gasps, hips jerking with every press of Gerard's clever fingers, and Gerard takes pity on him, unzipping Frank's pants and pushing his underwear down.

"I've been wanting to do this," Gerard says softly and then his mouth is on Frank's cock, thank God, and those fingers are pressing up behind Frank's balls and Frank moans, pushing up into Gerard's mouth as everything fades out into pleasure and white noise.

Gerard's hands never stop moving, rubbing over Frank's thighs and stomach and under his ass to lift his hips closer to Gerard's mouth, and by the time Frankie realizes he's coming, it's too late to give Gerard any more of a warning than, "Gee, I'm - I'm," but Gerard doesn't seem to mind, if the way he moans around Frankie's cock and swallows convulsively is any indication.

Frankie sprawls, shell-shocked and boneless, and he lets Gerard pull the rest of his clothes off before wriggling further back onto the bed.

Gerard crawls over him, his pants open at the waist but still clinging to his hips. "Okay?"

"Oh yeah," Frankie grins, and Gerard kisses him, tongue begging entrance to his mouth and teeth sinking, surprised and sharp, into Frankie's lower lip when Frankie reaches into his pants and wraps his hand around Gerard's cock.

"God, I want you to fuck me," he whispers, and Gerard makes the most incredible noise, halfway between a whimper and a moan, and he reaches down and grabs Frankie's wrist.

"Stop, or no-one's going to be fucking anyone. I'm serious."

Frank makes a half-hearted noise of complaint, but he moves his hands up to Gerard's hair instead, kissing him deeply. There's a tell-tale crinkle of foil, and Frankie gasps into his mouth when he feels Gerard's fingers pressing against him, slick and cool.

"Under the pillow," Gerard says when Frankie raises an eyebrow at him. "I like to be prepared."

"Oh my God, I'm in bed with a boyscout - ah!" Gerard presses one finger in, then another too quickly and it fucking burns but it's so good, it's so good to have any part of Gerard inside him and Gerard pressing his forehead to Frankie's shoulder and Gerard groaning, "Oh, God, Frankie, you're so," and it doesn't take all that long before Frankie is moving and trying to get his legs over Gerard's shoulders and saying, "Now, Gee, come on, now."

Gerard reaches down, lines himself up with one hand and pets at Frankie's thigh with the other. He presses in slow, too slow, and his mouth drops open and his forehead creases and it is the sexiest thing Frankie has ever seen in his whole life, hands down.

Gerard is still half-wearing his pants - Frankie can feel his belt buckle when Gerard gets all the way in and rests there, panting, waiting for Frankie to breathe, waiting for the arch of Frankie's back to relax, waiting for Frankie.

Frankie loves this, the first few moments when it's new and the burn hasn't quite eased off. He feels all-powerful with Gerard's hands opening and closing compulsively on Frankie's thighs, Gerard's teeth sunk into his own bottom lip with the obvious effort it takes to stay still, and the way Gerard moans, relieved and grateful, when Frankie cranes his neck up to bite at Gerard's jaw and says, "Now."

Gerard thrusts a little mindlessly at first, but it isn't long before he finds his rhythm, folding back onto his knees and pulling Frankie's hips into his lap. He fucks Frankie steady and fast and deep, and Frankie reaches behind him, braces his hands against the wall and pushes up a little, the angle sharp and so fucking sweet.

It's like he's coming again, or maybe he never stopped, with Gerard's cock moving inside him and the aftershocks still making him shudder, and he pushes himself down, harder, more, faster, loving every choked-off groan and every dirty word and every helpless repetition of Frankie's own name until Gerard comes with a strangled sort of half-yell and shudders gradually to a halt.

Frankie lets himself down, wipes the sweat off his face and settles back onto the bed before blinking up at Gerard.

Gerard has his head tipped back, his throat and chest flushed and damp and his mouth open. He slides his hands over Frankie's thighs, turns his head to press kisses to each of Frankie's knees, still hooked over his shoulders. "Holy hell."

Frankie laughs, then hisses when Gerard pulls out and gently lowers Frankie's legs to the bed. Fuck. He's really going to feel this in the morning.

Gerard says, "I'll be back," and pads off to the bathroom. He comes back fast, though, and settles onto the bed next to Frankie, rubbing his hand over Frankie's stomach. "Hey, so - apparently I really like tattoos."

Frankie laughs, and Gerard reaches out and pushes Frankie's hair off his forehead.

"You are too good to be true."

Well, fuck. Guilt sloshes into Frank's stomach like a pint of ice water, and he rolls away onto his side. Gerard follows, wrapping himself around Frank from behind. "Hey. Hey, you okay?"

"I'm great," Frank says, because what harm can one more lie do, right?

Gerard seems to accept it, and after a few minutes his body goes slack and his breathing regular, and Frank stares at the wall and promises himself that he'll come clean.

Just as soon as he's had his meeting with Wentz.

***

Monday morning comes, and Frank and Gerard are going over a few last-minute details in the elevator.

"The, uh, this station's projected revenue should read up 8 percent, not 6." Gerard flips a page and points at something else. "And where it says, the FCC ruling on Stump's new transmitter is pending, that's outdated. FCC approved it Friday. Doubles the signal reach, ups the station's value by 30 percent."

Frank nods, following Gerard's finger on the page. "Anything else?"

"I think that's it." Gerard gives Frank a slightly wobbly smile, and it occurs to Frank for the first time that maybe Gerard is nervous about this deal too. Like maybe he doesn't want to make a fool out of himself in front of his boss, his colleagues, his friends, and Frank is not just playing with his own career, here.

The thought makes Frank feel even sicker, but he still squeezes Gerard's hand gratefully when it slips briefly into his own, just as the elevator comes to a halt.

"Rock and roll," Gerard says, and they step out together.

An assistant shows them to the meeting room, and inside are two guys - one with long hair and glasses who introduces himself as Hurley, and another guy with short dark hair, who shakes Frank's hand and says simply, "Joe."

Frank takes a seat next to Gerard and looks at the closed door. "Are we waiting for Mr. Wentz?"

"Pete doesn't sit in at this level," Gerard says quickly.

Frank nods, feeling like an idiot. "Of course he doesn't."

There's a silence that seems to go on for hours and hours and hours, and then Hurley clears his throat and says quietly, "Shall we begin?"

Frank wonders if he should stand up, but Gerard doesn't, so he just spreads his papers out a little and takes a deep breath. "Here's the way we see it. Wentz Industries has a strong focus on moving into broadcasting at this time. And also, I know Mr. Wentz is keen to maintain the good relationship the company has always had with younger and newer acts."

Gerard jumps in. "By acquiring the Stump Radio Network we can nail two birds with one stone, and the proposal-"

"Do you have any other proposals besides Stump?" Hurley says, interrupting.

Frank looks uncertainly at Gerard. "No. Why?"

"Stump is a terrific opportunity," Gerard says evenly.

"I'm sure it is." Hurley speaks quietly, but with authority. "But a Chicago group just put a bear hug on Stump this morning, and the company's in play."

"Just this morning?" Frank tries to emulate Hurley, tries to keep his voice calm and sure.

"Who was it?" Gerard asks.

"The Jensen brothers," Joe leans forward slightly. "Look, we're not aiming at radio anyway, and the last thing we need is to get into a bidding war."

Frank spreads his hands out on the table. "I'm sorry - Stump thinks of his network as his family. He cares who he's selling to." Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Gerard nodding.

"He holds the majority of the stock," Gerard adds. "Look, if the Jensens are uninvited, and I'm sure they are, and Stump and Pete can agree on a deal, then there won't be a war."

Hurley just looks at Gerard, saying nothing.

"If we can get Stump up here," Frank says recklessly, because he's sure Gerard can do it, he's sure of it. "If we can get him here, would Mr. Wentz take the meeting?"

Joe kind of grimaces. "That's a lot of ifs, you know?"

"Twenty-four hours," Frank says, trying not to plead.

Hurley looks at Gerard and says, "I'm sorry-" but just as Frank is about to start pleading for real, the phone rings.

Joe answers it. "Trohman. Yeah. Okay. I'll tell them."

He puts the phone down and looks at Frank. "He'll take the meeting."

Frank doesn't want to misunderstand anything, not for a second. "That was Mr. Wentz?"

"It was," says Hurley, and it might be Frank's imagination, but he looks like he might be smiling a little bit.

Frank starts to smile back. "How did he know?"

Joe leans back in his chair. "He knows everything."

***

Back at Gerard's place, after some seriously celebratory sex, Frank lies in Gerard's messy bed and watches Gerard try to pay the delivery guy at the door without losing the towel he's got wrapped precariously around his hips.

"Thanks! Okay! Keep the change!" he says hurriedly and shuts the door just as the towel drops and leaves him completely naked.

Frank laughs and Gerard grins sheepishly, hurrying back to the bed with his arms full of Chinese food. "Whatever."

"Well, if you will have a bed in the middle of your living room." Frank snags the cold noodles and a set of chopsticks as Gerard slips in under the covers, and they eat in silence, sharing silly grins and bumping elbows.

"Hey," Frankie watches Gerard wrestle a spring roll into submission. "Why don't you drink?"

Gerard swallows and kind of looks at Frankie hard for a second. "I'm an alcoholic."

"No shit?"

"No shit." Gerard chews carefully. "That okay?"

"Hey, come on. Of course." Frankie pushes his knee against Gerard's a little bit. "I can't picture you hanging out on a park bench, drinking out of a brown paper bag, though."

Gerard laughs quietly. "Well, I came pretty close."

Frankie just waits. There's more, he can tell.

"I wasn't long out of college," Gerard says finally, putting his carton down. "I was severely depressed, and I felt like I was going nowhere, and it all just got out of control." Gerard speaks quickly and quietly, and Frank can tell this is a story he's told before. "I've been clean and sober for just over five years."

"Five years?" Frank bumps Gerard's knee again, more firmly this time. "That's awesome!"

Gerard grins and bumps back. "Yeah."

"You in AA?"

"Sometimes." Gerard lies back on the pillows and rests his hand on Frankie's leg. "It depends how I feel."

Frankie nods, but he doesn't say anything lame like 'I know' because he really doesn't.

"Anyway, after I got better, I was kind of lost. I had no money, no place, and no idea what to do next. It wasn't a great time."

"Is that what you meant?" Frank leans over the side of the bed and puts the rest of the cartons on the floor. "When you said Pete Wentz was good to you?"

Gerard nods. "He was dating my brother at the time-"

"Mikey," Frank says quickly, to prove he was paying attention, and Gerard smiles and squeezes his knee.

"Yeah. He gave me a job, a good job. It's not what I thought I'd end up doing, but I couldn't paint, you know, for a long time. I couldn't draw or anything."

Frank looks around at the sketches and paintings and half-finished sculptures and everything suddenly makes sense. "No - no way. These are yours?"

Gerard nods and he actually blushes a little bit. It is all Frankie can do not to jump all of his bones right then and there. "Yeah."

"I thought you were just, like, a collector!" Frankie looks around again. He knows his mouth is hanging open. He probably looks like even more of an idiot than usual. "Gee, they're amazing!"

"Thanks." Gerard looks intensely at the sheets. "Um."

"And you couldn't do it?" Frank curls up closer to Gerard, rubs his cheek on Gerard's shoulder. "That must have been terrible."

Gerard is quiet for a minute. Finally he says, "It really was."

Frank holds his hand and waits for him to go on.

"So I started working for Pete, and it turned out I was actually good at it. It was nice to be good at something, it was nice to get promoted or whatever. And I love music, you know? And Pete's a really good guy, and even after he and Mikey broke up we've always been friends, and I didn't want to let him down, you know, after he was so good to me."

Frank frowns and tips his head up so he can see Gerard's face. "How would you let him down?"

Gerard bites his lip a little bit. "When I started painting again."

"I don't understand."

"At first it was just for me, you know, but Mikey, he's like, my head fucking cheerleader or something." Gerard smiles so fondly it makes Frank's chest ache a little bit. "So I started sending some pieces out, just a few at a time, and the reception's been - really good, actually."

Frank scrambles up and looks Gerard in the eye. "Good enough to give up your job?"

"Well, I've been saving, too, you know, but," Gerard smiles this tiny, disbelieving smile, and says so quietly that Frank can hardly hear it, "Yeah. This deal, the Stump thing - this is my last one."

Frank sits back on his heels. "That's." Frank doesn't even know what it is. "Fuck."

"There's a gallery downtown that's going to do an exhibition," Gerard says shyly, his eyes darting up to Frank's and away again. "Maybe you could come."

"Are you shitting me? Of course!" Frank leans forward and kisses Gerard hard, because he's happy, because Gerard's happy, and because he can.

Gerard's hand curves around the back of Frankie's neck and he sighs, but before the kiss deepens into something Frankie won't be able to pull away from, he sits back.

It's now. It has to be now, after Gerard's given Frank so much. "Gerard. I have to tell you something."

Gerard's expression flickers a little, and he says, "Frankie-" and the phone rings, of-fucking-course, and cuts him off.

Gerard rolls over to answer it and Frank picks impatiently at the sheets. "Hello? Oh - hi. Uh huh." Gerard kind of turns away from Frank and Frank knows that move. He'd know the 'my other boyfriend's on the line' shoulder-hunch anywhere. "Well, call me when you get in. Okay. Can't wait. Bye."

Frank composes his face, but obviously not carefully enough because when Gerard rolls over and takes one look, he lunges forward and grabs both of Frank's hands. "Frank. Okay. There's this guy. But it's over."

"Uh huh," Frank says neutrally. At least he doesn't have to feel so bad about telling Gerard the truth now, he guesses.

"Well, technically it's not over." Gerard bites his lip. "We - there was supposed to be this business trip, and I was going to tell him then, and then at the last minute I couldn't go, and I didn't want to do it over the phone, you know?"

"I know," Frank says, and wishes Gerard would shut up so Frank could ease his fucking conscience already.

"And then he broke his fucking leg or some shit, and I just - it would be kicking him when he's down, right?" Gerard's eyes are searching Frank's face. "Frank, don't hate me."

Frank rolls his eyes. "I don't hate you, for God's sake."

Oh.

Wait.

"Um," Frank's voice comes out weirdly high. "How did he break his leg?"

Gerard makes a face. "Fell off his balcony. He was probably coked all up to hell. Look, I wouldn't even have mentioned it except he works in your department. And I didn't want things to be awkward for you."

Frank feels like he's in a Hitchcock film, where the camera zooms up close but the background speeds away into the distance and the string section goes crazy. "Bert? Is it Bert McCracken?"

"Yeah," Gerard says miserably. He folds down onto his elbows and drops his forehead onto Frank's knee. "Oh, God. I'm a terrible person."

"No," Frank says, and his own voice sounds a million miles away. "No, you're not."

Gerard sits up. "Ugh. I'm sorry. Hey, what did you want to tell me?"

Frank wants to tell him so badly. He really does. He even opens his mouth to start, but he knows, he knows that Gerard won't want anything to do with him once he finds out. Not now.

And Frank, as it turns out, is one selfish son of a bitch. So he's a fucking coward, and tells one more lie, says, "Nothing," and pulls Gerard back down to the mattress so Frank can make the most of the time he has left.

***

Frank spends the next few days in a frantic whirl. He cleans Bert's apartment top to bottom, going through each room again and again and again, erasing any trace of his stay.

He carts his shit over to Brendon and Ryan's place, and during the days he focuses all his efforts on making it look like he's actually been doing his job while Bert's been away, and not Bert's job.

Gerard calls a few times and emails twice and apparently even stops by while Frank is out to lunch. Frank calls back eventually but gets Gerard's assistant, who informs him that Stump has been convinced to come into the big bad city to meet with Wentz.

Frank closes the door to Bert's office, shuts all the blinds, climbs onto the desk and leaps off again, shouting, "YES!" at the top of his voice. Then he gets paranoid about security cameras, but when a quick call to Brendon confirms that there aren't any, he immediately bursts into a spontaneous and deeply lame dance routine involving a lot of air-punches and high kicks.

"Damn, you are one flexible son of a bitch."

Frank turns and stares at Gerard, who's standing in the doorway with his arms folded.

He gives Frank a big, obnoxious smile. "Of course, I knew that already."

"You're lame," Frank informs him, trying to will his face not to go bright red. "I just spoke to your assistant."

"I guessed." Gerard closes the door behind him and tucks his hands into his pockets. "I wanted to tell you myself, but you're a hard man to pin down, Frank Iero."

Frank loses the battle with his face and grins stupidly for the six seconds it takes Gerard to realize what he just said, at which point they both start laughing like idiots and before Frank knows what's happening he's across the office with Gerard's arms around his waist.

"Thank you," Frank says between kisses, and he's not even sure whether he means the deal, or the sex, or the kissing, or all of it, but he does mean it, and he means the 'I'm sorry' and the 'I wish' too, although he doesn't say them out loud.

Gerard just smiles and kind of ducks his head. "You're welcome."

Frank sneaks another kiss in and then releases Gerard determinedly. "Okay seriously, we need to prep for the meeting, and I can't do it while I'm picturing you naked."

Gerard grumbles, but he goes and sits down. "Okay, but now I know that you're picturing me naked, so I'm going to be picturing you naked, and there's just a whole vicious cycle of naked picturing, you know?" Gerard sighs heavily. "I don't see how I'm expected to work under these conditions."

"You'll get through it," Frank says, sliding into Bert's chair. "When's the meeting?"

"Friday."

Dread goes through Frank like a knife. "This Friday?"

Gerard frowns. "Is that okay?"

No, it's not okay, Frank wants to say. My boss comes home on Friday! You know, the one I'm sort of pretending to be, who is - oh yeah - also kind of your boyfriend? That you cheated on with me? Remember that?

'My life is a teen drama series on Fox,' Frank thinks miserably, but he forces himself to smile and says, "No, yeah, of course. I just - there's a thing I have to do. In the morning. No big deal."

"The meeting isn't set until two, so don't worry about it." Gerard looks at Frank intently. "Frank - you seem kind of tense."

"I'm fine," Frank says. One more lie, one more.

Gerard leans forward, props his forearms on the desk. "I know how important this deal is to you, and I hope I haven't - I hope you don't feel that I'm trying to undermine you in some way."

"I don't." Frank swallows heavily and looks away from Gerard's honest face. "You've done nothing but try to help me."

"Hey." Gerard reaches over the desk and takes Frank's hand. "Whatever there is between us has nothing to do with this deal. I'm not looking for payback."

"That's not why-" Frank shakes his head and stares down at their joined hands. "I really. I really-"

Gerard squeezes Frank's hand and Frank looks up and Gerard is wearing a little crooked grin. "I really, too."

'I can tell him,' Frank thinks, his heart banging so violently that he can feel it in his fingertips, pressed against Gerard's palm. 'I can tell him right now and it'll be okay.'

He hesitates, though, and the moment, fleeting and palpable, passes and leaves Frank behind: dry-mouthed and tongue-tied and still no closer to the truth.

***

Friday comes around faster than Frank thought possible. He's spent hours prepping with Gerard, more hours going over and over and over the proposal by himself, and even more hours making Brendon and Ryan sit through his presentation.

He's so frazzled that he keeps leaving stuff everywhere - his wallet, his cell, the binder with all his notes in for the meeting. By the time Bert calls wanting to be picked up from the airport, Frank counts himself lucky if he manages to make it from A to B with all his limbs.

Bert's kind of stoned in the car on the way back to his place - he's on morphine, which Frank really doubts was prescribed by anyone who is actually a doctor.

"Oh, God, it's good to be home," Bert groans as Frank helps him into the easy chair in his office. "Thank you so much, Frank. You've been a trooper."

"That's me," Frank says. 'You stole my idea, I hope you die,' he thinks.

As if Bert can hear Frank's thoughts - for a horrified moment Frank actually thinks that might be the case - he points over to the desk. "When you were dealing with my memos, you didn't happen to hear one to Gerard Way, did you? Concerning your Wentz radio acquisition idea?"

Frank makes the most non-committal noise he can muster.

"Because it occurs to me that if you had, it may have come off as if I were trying to pass your idea off as my own." Bert examines his nails and speaks kind of airily. "I thought I'd give your idea one last go-around, and Gerard's the best there is."

Frank carefully tucks an afghan over Bert's cast. He thinks he might throw up. "I appreciate that, Bert."

Bert waves his hand. "Don't mention it. It's just that Gerard got burned, once. He looked over a plan for an acquisition once before as a favor and he was accused of stealing - so he's very sticky about ethics, you know?"

Frank doesn't think Gerard comes across as being particularly ethical when it comes to fucking men who aren't his broken-legged sort-of boyfriend, but he also doesn't think that's what Bert means.

Bert continues, "So you see, he couldn't have looked at it if I'd said it was from a colleague, and I couldn't very well say it was an assistant's notion, now could I? That would be laughable."

"Laughable," Frank repeats. It takes everything he has not to break Bert's other leg.

"The point is, Frank, I'm still trying to get you heard." Bert smiles sort of condescendingly and then pats Frank's hand. "But what am I saying? If you'd seen it you would have just asked me about it, right?"

Frank feels a tiny, venomous tendril of doubt start to snake into the corner of his mind. "I'd like to think I would."

"Of course you would!" Bert digs a couple of pills out of his pocket and swills them down with some water. "We trust each other, Frank. That's what makes this work."

Frank excuses himself to the bathroom and stands over the sink, gripping the wet porcelain in both hands and staring at himself in the mirror.

"You can't be this much of an asshole," he whispers to himself. He can barely hear his own voice over the sickly ringing in his ears. "You can't have got it this wrong."

His reflection stares back, sweaty and guilty and greenish-pale, and doesn't say a word.

***

Frank gets out of there as soon as he can, which is not very fucking soon at all because Bert needs coffee and his phone and his pills and for his chair to be turned very slightly to the left, and because Frank feels so guilty it's like a cannonball in his stomach, he does everything Bert asks.

Damage control, he thinks wildly, but then Bert asks Frank to call Gerard and let him know Bert's arrived, which, no, and Frank makes up a lie about a doctor's appointment and practically runs for the door. He feels like he's forgetting something, but there isn't time to worry about what it might be.

He arrives on the second-to-top floor just in time, and makes a beeline for Gerard, who's standing sort of twitchily in the corner.

"What's the matter, you didn't want to look too keen?" Gerard asks out of the corner of his mouth.

"I'm sorry," Frank whispers back. There are a bunch of suits standing around looking kind of tense, and through the glass door to the left Frank can see Wentz and a guy he assumes is Stump Junior sitting with their heads together around one corner of the giant table. "They started the meeting?"

Gerard nods. "Thirty minutes early. Wouldn't let anyone in there with them, either." Frank must make a face or something, because Gerard continues, "Don't worry, it's still your deal. Pete knows what he's doing."

So they all stand around for what feels like hours waiting to see what color smoke comes out of the chimney, and Frank's treacherous brain takes up a chant about how bad a person he is for disbelieving Bert, and how much Gerard is never going to want to see him again, and most of all, most of fucking all, how he's so close, he's so close to getting something that he wants that it would almost be worth all the other stuff going wrong, just to see this one thing go right.

Almost. Not quite, though, because Frank's conscience has chosen the absolute worst moment to kick in. He just needs to know.

"Gerard?"

"Yeah?"

"If I had a colleague with a proposal and I asked you to look at it, would you be cool with that?"

Gerard purses his lips, kind of. "Sure. Why?"

"You're sure?" Frank looks right into Gerard's eyes, looking for anything, any flash of doubt or some little tell of untruth. "Even if I brought it to you but it wasn't mine, you'd have no ethics problem? You wouldn't be worried about accusations of stealing?"

"I look at stuff all the time." Gerard frowns a little anxiously. "As long as you were upfront about who it belonged to, I don't see why anyone would be worried about stealing."

Relief washes over Frank like a wave, with a ripple of doom following it because he's opening his mouth and oh, God, now is so not the time to start telling the truth.

"Gerard," he says against his will, ignoring the part of his brain that's making Brendon's 'NO NO NO' face, "Gerard, there's something you really need to know."

Just then the door swings open and Pete Wentz steps out, opening his arms expansively and smiling that wide, happy grin. "Gentlemen, we have an accord."

Frank turns to see Stump standing next to Pete, smiling very slightly and…not rolling his eyes exactly, but wearing this kind of 'Oh Pete' expression that seems kind of familiar for someone who's only known the guy for an hour - but then Frank thinks back to the wedding, and the way Pete acted like he and Frank knew each other from way back. All part of Pete's charm, probably.

"There was a story on the news last night," Pete is saying, and Frank feels Gerard kind of settle into himself, like he knows they're going to be there for a while, "I have to thank Patrick here for reminding me - about a truck that was too high for the clearance of a tunnel."

"The police, the fire department, all sorts of officials spent hours trying to find some way to unwedge the truck," Stump - Patrick Stump, apparently - says in a quiet but clear voice. "But nothing worked. The experts were out of ideas."

Pete jumps in like he's been sharing Patrick's stories for years. It's pretty fucking unsettling. "Then a ten-year-old girl in a passing car suggested that they let some air out of the tires, in order to bring the truck closer to the ground."

Frank is pretty sure this is all going fan-fucking-tastically well, but he has a horrible feeling he's the ten-year-old girl in this story. When Pete turns the grin on him, all four hundred megawatts of it, he knows he's right.

"Mr. Iero and Mr. Way here suggested I let some air out of my strategy to move into broadcasting, and Mr. Stump has agreed to let us make Stump Radio Systems a part of our family here at Wentz Industries."

"While maintaining total creative control, of course," Stump says, and Pete turns the smile back to him.

"Of course," Pete says. "Now I'm going to take Mr. Stump here to lunch, and leave you guys to hash out all the boring stuff. This is a great day for music, people!"

Frank is just wondering what to do, whether to start clapping or rush up and shake Patrick Stump's hand or just jump on Gerard, who is practically vibrating with excitement next to him, and ravish him right there in front of everyone, when the door at the other end of the office flies open and there's Bert, on crutches, wild-eyed and red-faced, and under his arm is Frank's fucking binder with all his fucking notes in that he must have fucking left at Bert's fucking place.

"Oh, fuck, no," Frank says weakly, but it's lost under the general commotion and Pete's irritated voice.

"McCracken? What the hell is going on?"

"You're being tricked! That's what's going on!" Bert hobbles into the room and jerks his chin in Frank's direction. "That man is an impostor!"

Frank feels the whole world narrow down to his thumping heart and the tight, airless squeeze of his throat. He turns to Gerard while Bert is being lowered into a chair and breathes, "I'm sorry," knowing even as he says it that it won't make any fucking difference.

Gerard looks totally confused. "Frank? Don't you work with Bert?"

"He doesn't work with me, Gerard, he works for me." Bert slams the binder down on the table in front of him. "He's my assistant!"

Gerard laughs sharply. "Bert, he's not your assistant."

Bert raises his eyebrows. "Ask him."

Frank can't turn his head, he can't stop staring at the binder on the table, he can't look at Gerard's face and he hears Gerard say, "You're not his assistant," like he's trying to convince himself.

Frank just bites his lip.

"Oh, God." Gerard doesn't even sound mad, just really fucking disappointed. "You are his assistant."

There's a generalized gasp of whatever in the room, and Bert looks smug. "While I was laid up with broken bones, Frank went through my personal effects and found my memo to Gerard, outlining a Wentz radio acquisition . He's been passing it off as his own ever since!"

"That's not true!" Frank says at the same time that Gerard says,

"Is that how you knew who I was?"

Frank turns to look at him then, and wishes he hadn't because it's like a slap in the face. "I wanted to tell you."

Gerard doesn't say anything. His mouth is set in a hard line.

Frank turns to Wentz and spreads his hands. "Mr. Wentz, I swear. I know how this looks, and I can't deny that I'm just an assistant, but this idea, this is my idea."

"Good God, Frank." Bert rolls his eyes. "Don't you know when to stop?"

"You're lying!" Frank turns to Gerard again, desperate. "He's lying."

But Gerard is not the same as he was ten minutes ago. Not for Frank, not anymore. The ringing in Frank's ears kicks up to a sickly pitch and his vision swims a little. The whole room is a circle of shocked and sneering faces - except Wentz, who is looking at Frank with a strange expression on his face.

"I didn't have you pegged as the type," he says softly.

"Well, you just can't tell what lengths someone will go to for their own ends," Bert says decisively. "Now, the up-side is that I have found out in time to control the damage. We have containment and we have a deal on the table. If someone would be so kind as to pass me a prospectus, we can allow Mr. Wentz and Mr. Stump to lunch in peace, and get this ball rolling."

Frank watches as the suits sit down, one by one. Wentz and Stump just stand there - Stump is probably changing his mind about striking a deal with any company dumb enough to get duped by an assistant, Frank thinks dully - and then last of all, Gerard takes his place at the head of the table.

"I'm still running this meeting, Bert," he says firmly.

Frank looks right at Bert then, and there is nothing but contempt and satisfaction in his eyes. Frank looks at the floor as he walks out, every step like a fucking mile as Gerard tells everyone to turn to page twenty-two, and the meeting gets started.

By virtue of the miracle that is the Wentz Assistants Grapevine, Brendon is already waiting outside Bert's office when Frank gets there, along with what feels like every other assistant in the building.

"Oh, Frank." Brendon runs up to him and folds him up in his lanky arms. He pets Frank's hair and makes a nonsense shushing sound and he doesn't say 'I told you so.'

Frank blinks furiously and pulls back. "So I guess I'm pretty fired."

Brendon smiles uncertainly. "Well, look on the bright side. You won't have to be anyone's assistant anymore, right?"

"What will you do?" Spencer asks from behind Brendon, and when Frank looks at him sharply, he doesn't look crazy and evil at all. Just kind of sad.

Frank shrugs and starts packing the shit from his little desk into the box Brendon hands him. "Start over, I guess? Find a job, somewhere to live?"

"Wise up and stop being a crazy son of a bitch?" Brendon sort of smiles, picking up the bunny he gave Frank for his birthday. He hands it to Frank.

Frank sets it carefully in a corner of the box. "Yeah," he says, and he thinks quickly and painfully of Gerard. "Definitely that."

"You know you can stay with us as long as you need," Brendon says, and Frank hugs him again, wondering what an asshole like him ever did to deserve such a good fucking friend.

"Thanks, man." Frank picks up his box and looks around at all the people he thought he was better than. "So long, guys."

There's a soft chorus of goodbyes, and Frank walks to the end of the office and gets in the elevator alone.

He only gets three steps into the lobby before someone knocks into him and the box goes flying, all Frank's crap spilling out everywhere on the marble floor. "Fuck!"

"Sorry," says the guy, not sounding it, and he stalks off towards the exit. Frank shakes his head and gets down on his knees, stuffing his things haphazardly back into the box. He reaches for the stupid bunny and puts his hand on someone's foot.

Frank looks up. It's Gerard.

"I've been looking for you," he says, and Frank scrambles to his feet, not wanting to be on the floor while Gerard towers over him like a really obvious moral metaphor.

"I've told you everything," Frank says, feeling totally hopeless and really fucking stupid. "What do you want?"

"I want to know if this was part of the scheme." Gerard gestures sort of randomly. "You and me."

Frank says, "No!" but Gerard doesn't look convinced. "Look, if I'd told you I was just some assistant, you never would've taken the meeting. You would've patted me on the head, fed me drinks and tried to get me into bed, end of story."

"I did do two of those things," Gerard points out. "And I didn't know you were an assistant then."

"You know what I mean!" Frank is aware that people are starting to watch them. The grapevine must be going insane. "And I didn't know I was going to be totally crazy about you, okay? You were the one who was all oh, dinner, lunch, briefcase! I never stood a chance!"

Gerard's mouth twitches, but before he can say anything, Bert's voice rings out from behind them.

"More stolen files, Frank?"

"Fuck you," Frank says sullenly, turning to face him. "This is my stuff."

"Well, that depends on who you ask, now doesn't it?" Bert smiles slyly, flanked by Wentz and Stump, who look amused and confused, respectively.

Frank doesn't care that his former boss is there. He doesn't care that he will never get a job in this city ever again after this. He gets in Bert's face, thinking vaguely that he might just be losing his shit. "Don't speak to me like we don't know what happened, asshole."

Bert makes a hurt face. "Frank, calm down. It's just business. Can't we bury the hatchet?"

"We can bury the hatchet in your ASS," Frank yells, and he hears Gerard make a noise that might be a semi-swallowed laugh, feels a hand on his shoulder. Frank turns to him. "I can't believe you dated this creep!"

Patrick Stump looks over at Wentz. "This is a hell of a show you're running, Pete."

Pete rocks on his heels. "I haven't had this much fun at work in years."

Bert turns back to face them, instantly calm and smooth in a way that Frank will never be. "Pete, Mr. Stump. I'm so sorry you had to see this. Shall we return upstairs? Gerard?"

"Not without Frank."

Everyone turns to look at Gerard. He looks back, unblinking.

Bert moves over to him. "Gerard, whatever it is that went on between you and Iero, I forgive you. Now please come with us."

Gerard just looks at Bert like he's crazy and walks around him, going to Wentz and Stump. "You want this deal done right, Pete?"

Pete nods. "Of course."

"Then Frank's your man. He's this team's leader, not me and sure as hell not Bert. He put this whole deal together."

Frank's head swims a little. He wonders if he's on Candid Camera or something.

Wentz is giving Gerard this kind of appraising look. "It's not like you to let your dick make your business decisions, Gee."

"And I'm not about to start now."

Pete moves his mouth around thoughtfully. "What makes you so sure this is Frank's deal, anyway? How do you know Bert isn't telling the truth?"

"Because he said so." Gerard turns around and looks right at Frank. "And I believe him."

'Oh, God,' Frank thinks. 'I am going to fall so very fucking hard in love with you.'

Bert sweeps past and starts trying to herd Wentz and Stump into the elevator. "That's very sweet, Gerard, but I think we've had enough stupidity for one day."

Pete's still looking at Frank when he gets in the elevator, and Frank realizes that he's waiting for Frank to say something, waiting for Frank to change his mind for him.

"Ask him how he came up with the idea," Frank blurts suddenly, and Bert's head snaps up. "Ask him."

The doors start to close, and Wentz steps out quickly as they do. Bert squawks, "Pete!" but it's too late, and the doors slide smoothly shut.

"You got the time it takes to get to my office, Frank," Pete says, stepping into the other elevator.

Frank follows him in quickly, Gerard hot on his heels, and drops the box of his crap on the floor, digging around until he finds what he needs.

"Forbes," he says, thrusting the paper into Pete's hands. "Just your basic article on how you're looking to expand into broadcasting, right?"

Pete makes a face. "That's a really bad picture of me."

Frank ignores the noise of agreement that Gerard makes, and brandishes the second paper at Pete. "See this? This is the society section of the Post, which I was reading on the same day because Brendon, my friend who's getting married, he wants my opinion about like centerpieces or whatever, like I know the first thing about organza and tulle, right?"

"Frank," Gerard says mildly. "Focus."

Frank shakes his head, turning to the right page. "Right, sorry. So here, look, there's a picture of your cousin who got married, right? See, that's a nice picture of her, at a charity benefit."

"Oh, sure." Pete frowns. "She gets a good picture."

"But see the guy she's pictured with - that's Bob Bryar, the guy who does the music schemes for underprivileged kids, right?"

"I know him," Gerard says. Of course he does. Gerard knows everyone ever born. "He's a good guy."

"Well, he went head-to-head in the media recently with what's his name, that asshole who does the phone-ins and all the gross jokes about poor people, right? And Bryar wiped the floor with him, live on the radio, it was awesome. So I start thinking to myself, Wentz, radio. Wentz, radio. Only Bert tells me he ran it by you and you weren't interested."

Pete stops scowling at the picture and meets Frank's eyes. "And then?"

"Well, that's when Bert broke his leg, so I was at his place running errands, and I found this email to Gerard, trying to pass my idea off as Bert's, so I got in contact with Gerard myself, and - and…and here we are," Frank finishes lamely, as the elevator comes to a halt and the doors slide open.

Standing there are Bert, who looks really fucking pissed, and Stump, who just looks like he's grateful not to be alone with Bert anymore.

"Done with your fairytale?" Bert drawls, and Frank tenses up immediately.

"Yeah, he's done." Pete steps out of the elevator and smiles at Bert. "Shall we hear yours?"

Bert looks at him. "You're not serious."

"I just want to know how you came up with the idea, Bert." Pete slides his hands into his pockets. "You know, generally."

"Well, uh," Bert stares wildly from Frank to Gerard and back to Pete again. "Well, I'd have to check my files."

"What was the impulse?" Pete pushes. "What led you to put two and two together, originally?"

Bert sort of laughs and waves his hand about. "Oh, well. You know. I would have to say, um. Gerard, help me out here?"

Gerard doesn't say a thing, and Pete holds his hands up.

"I think you're past the point of help, Bert."

Bert's entire face is bright red. "Pete, if you're insinuating-"

"I'm not insinuating, I'm saying it straight out." Pete just talks right over the top of Bert. "You're a bullshitter, Bert. I got no room for people like you. You're fired."

Bert splutters a bit, but Pete just turns his back on him, cutting him out of the conversation. "Shall we?"

The thing they shall do seems to be just follow Pete as he walks randomly around his office - which is the whole of the top floor and a pretty fucking big deal, Frank thinks.

"Why didn't you tell everyone about this in the boardroom?" Stump says suddenly.

"Nobody was going to listen to me in there, sir." Frank glances at Stump's face, but it doesn't change expression. "I'm just an assistant."

"I wouldn't say you've behaved like an assistant, Frank." Pete stops suddenly and they all kind of shudder to a halt. "I'd say you behaved like someone with a real fire in their blood, you know?"

"Well." Frank doesn't know if that's a good or bad thing. "Um."

"I can use a guy like you." Pete swings the door to his personal office open and ushers Stump inside. "I'm having to reshuffle anyway, because this asshole's leaving to chase rainbows or whatever," Pete grins at Gerard, "and I had to get rid of some sleaze in Artist Development who was using my business as his own personal escort service."

Frank does not need to be told who that might be. He holds his breath, hoping, hoping.

"It'd be entry level," Pete says. "Nothing glamorous, nothing flashy. I'm thinking maybe A&R? Let you deal with all the little upstart punks who want to rule the world. Show them how it's done."

Frank gropes around for something to lean on because he's pretty sure he's going to pass the fuck out. He finds Gerard's hand. "You - really?"

Pete just smiles and closes the door.

Frank does not remember a single thing about the walk back to the elevator, except that his feet don't touch the fucking floor.

As they walk out of the lobby and into the crisp, winter sun, Frank turns to Gerard. "So I guess this means we can't see each other anymore."

"What?" Gerard stops, frowning. "Why the fuck not?"

Frank sets his box of stuff down on a bench and gives Gerard his best serious, regretful face. "I'm climbing the career ladder, now, Gerard. I can't be indulging in office romances."

Gerard's mouth twists. "Oh, is that so?"

"Yeah," Frank nods, biting the inside of his cheek so he won't smile. "It's really unfortunate."

"Well, I got news for you, Mr. Bigshot." Gerard reaches up and loosens his tie with one hard yank. He pulls it over his head and drops it in a trashcan, popping the top two buttons on his shirt with his other hand. He grins at Frankie. "I don't work here anymore."

Then he cups his hands round Frankie's face and kisses him, right there in the middle of the street.

***

Two weeks later, Frank is standing in front of the mirror in Gerard's living room, looking himself up and down critically. Brendon picked the outfit out, so he's probably okay, but it looks very…not businesslike.

"Do you think I look like I work in A&R?" he calls, and Gerard pads out from the bathroom, with his toothbrush stuck in his mouth and a smear of blue paint on his chin.

"You look good to me," he says around the toothbrush before pulling it out and propping it up in a jelly jar of gray water.

He's so gross. "You're so gross."

"Hey, you're the one who moved in with me, all right?" Gerard slides his arms around Frank and kisses the back of his neck. "I don't see why I should have to change my grody, bachelor ways."

"I'm just staying here until I get my own place," Frank corrects, and rolls his eyes when Gerard just grins against his hair. "I don't live here!"

Gerard releases him, still grinning. "Whatever you say, Frank."

"You're an asshole." Frank pushes past him and heads into the kitchen. "You want coffee?"

"Always." Gerard slides in to the high stool on the other side of the counter. "Are you nervous?"

"This is my fifth espresso," Frank says, and Gerard nods sympathetically. "You working today?"

Gerard launches into a ramble about some meeting he has with some dude from someplace to discuss some project that has to do with some light refraction method or something, and Frank doesn't really feel all that bad about tuning him out while he makes a sandwich to take with him to the office.

It's not that he doesn't care about Gerard's work. He really, really does, but Gerard talks a lot, Frank has learned since moving - temporarily - in with him. And it doesn't seem to matter to him whether anyone's actually listening. Frank likes the sound of Gerard's voice, though, so it all works out.

He gets to work sort of early, because he's still not sure exactly where he's going or exactly what he's going to be doing. He stands in the elevator and offers up a little prayer of thanks that he's not going to Sales or Legal, and another one to ask that his new boss be slightly less of an asshole than the last two. Please.

His new floor is totally different. Everything's sort of shiny and there's no sign of anything beige, and looking around, Frank is really fucking glad that he didn't wear a suit. He reminds himself to call Brendon and thank him - again - and heads over to the receptionist, who has some seriously pink hair. "Hi, um, Frank Iero? I'm not sure where I'm supposed to go."

The girl - Tracey, he repeats to himself as he walks down towards his office, determined not to be that asshole who can't remember anybody's name - points him towards an office at the end of the hall.

Frank sets his stuff down on the little desk outside and knocks on the door, pushing it open when there's no reply.

There's a guy sitting behind the desk with his back to Frank. He's leaning way back in the chair, looking out of the huge window. "It's not like I'm even going to be here, you know, but for the sake of whoever takes over I hope this guy's better than that asshole. Just someone semi-human would be-"

"Excuse me?" Frank tries, and the guy spins round and slams the phone down like he thinks it's just been made illegal.

"Oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't hear you come in." The guy scrambles to his feet and sticks his hand out for Frank to shake. "I'm Jon Walker."

Frank shakes his hand. "Nice to meet you. Frank Iero."

Jon twitches a little bit. "I was just using the phone."

"Yeah, well." Frank cannot believe he's landed another drugged-up boss. Fucking karma. "That'll happen."

Thy kind of stare at each other for a minute before Jon rubs his hands together and says, "How about some coffee?"

It's not glamorous, but Pete said it wouldn't be, and at least it's something Frank knows how to do. "Sure, just tell me where."

"Oh, no!" Jon moves quickly to the door. "I'll get it. Oh, uh, how do you like it?"

"Just sugar," Frank tells him and watches him race awkwardly out of the room.

Frank goes out to his desk and starts unpacking his stuff, wondering how long he ought to wait before he calls Brendon for an in-depth analysis of how weird his new boss it. He's just sitting down to log on to the computer when Jon comes back and hands Frank his coffee.

"Thank you," Frank says, and sets it down on the side of his desk. Jon doesn't move, just stands there and looks at him. "Um, I was just going to get my desk set up, Mr. Walker, unless there's something else-"

"That's your desk," Jon says, eyebrows creased, and points into his office. "In there."

"I don't think so."

"Well, I do." Jon's expression changes, confusion giving way to something a little more amused. "Traditionally, the assistants sit out here."

Frank stares at him. He can't have heard him right. "And you're?"

"I'm your assistant," Jon says, grinning.

Frank stands up shakily and looks right into Jon's eyes. "Jon - let me get this straight. Am I your boss?"

"For the next week, anyway." Jon picks up Frank's things and carries them into the office. Frank follows him in a daze. "I actually just got promoted, but I'll stick around to train your new assistant up first."

Frank stares at the window, just - trying to take in the fact that he has a window. He turns on Jon suddenly. "That's why you were so weird about using the phone!"

Jon laughs nervously. He has a really nice face. Frank is sort of sorry he's not going to be sticking around. "It won't happen again."

"Oh, come on. I don't care." Frank walks around to the back of his desk, not quite daring to sit down, just yet. "Hey, and congratulations on your promotion, man. That's great."

"Thank you." Jon pulls out a notepad and says briskly, "So, your first thing is interviewing for a new assistant, obviously. Then you've got a lunch with Mr. Wentz upstairs in his office, and a meeting with Ritter in Artist Development at three. It's all right there on your computer. Okay?"

"Okay," says Frank faintly, and then he has to sit down because otherwise his knees are going to give out.

"The first applicant's supposed to be here at ten. I'll send him in." Jon closes the notebook and smiles at Frank. "Is there anything else?"

Frank shakes his head no and Jon says something about leaving him to get acclimated and scoots out, shutting the door behind him.

Frank just sits there for a minute, looking around at his desk and his bookcase and his window and his door. He has a door.

He has an assistant, holy hell. He thinks about calling Gerard, but when he picks up the phone his fingers dial a totally different number.

"Hey, man," he says when the line's picked up. "You want a job?"

***

Fifteen minutes later, Brendon's sitting in the chair opposite, giving Frank all the reasons why he doesn't want to be his assistant. He's done 'working with friends' and 'what happened to you thinking being an assistant is a shitty job' and he's just about to launch into 'what if we fight about shoes and you take it out on my Christmas bonus' when Frank holds his hands up and shuts him off.

"When can you start?" he asks, and Brendon sighs dramatically, sitting back heavily in his chair. "Brendon, come on. Don't leave me by myself up here. You want to stay in Legal the rest of your life?"

Brendon looks at him then, totally seriously. "Frank, I don't know what you expect me to do."

"I expect you never to call me Mr. Iero, no matter who's around," Frank says. "I expect you to get me coffee if, and only if you're getting some for yourself. I expect you to help me out when I need it, but never to fucking pander to my whims, and I expect you to be promoted within a year."

Brendon looks up sharply at that last, his hands knotted nervously in his lap.

"I'll let you call Ryan as often as you need to," Frank wheedles. "I'll wear whatever you want to your wedding."

"Gerard too?"

What the hell, Frank thinks. Gerard will cope. "Gerard too."

Brendon takes a deep breath, and even though Frank already knows he's won, he makes him work just a little bit harder for it. "Can we have lunchtime meetings about my color scheme?"

"Whenever we're not doing any actual work," Frank promises, and Brendon gives him that smile, the one Frank likes to think of as his own, the one that's equal parts 'I fucking love you, man' and 'God, you're a pushy little asshole, you know that?'

Frank grins back. "Welcome aboard."

The rest of Frank's day will go like this:

Ray-in-HR will stick his head through the door and Frank will thank him from the bottom of his heart for placing him with Bert McCracken. They will arrange to have lunch next week.

There will be an incident with a fax machine while Jon is at lunch. Brendon will make it go away, and Frank will pat himself on the back for making a really good fucking decision in hiring him.

Frank will take his meetings, and he will not make a total fool out of himself despite a couple of near misses. He will go out for drinks with Brendon after work to celebrate, and he will let himself in to his boyfriend's apartment and Gerard will be standing there in turquoise pajama bottoms and an old Madonna t-shirt, frowning at a lump of clay, and he will look up when Frank starts laughing at how much of a cliché he is, and he will smile his own Frank-smile, and Frank will think how lucky he is, to have two smiles in the whole world that are all for him, alone. They will spend most of the evening in Gerard's crazy middle-of-the-living room bed, talking and making plans to see Gerard's brother at the weekend and Frank won't be able to stop saying, "I can't believe I'm actually excited to go to work tomorrow."

Gerard will say, "Me, too," and Frank will think, 'I always want you to look this happy.'

Frank will fall asleep with a smile on his face, Gerard's arm around his waist, and the rest of his life to look forward to.