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Heart Wrapped in Clover

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Stream of Knight_Tracer's Open Scene that inspired this reverse big bang:

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You learn things about guys when you live in a van with them for weeks at a time. You learn things you're not supposed to know and you just look the other fucking way and don't mention it. Frank knows that's the only way living in a van with his band could ever fucking work. If they didn't just ignore each other's secrets, there would probably be a lot of fucking blood and possibly bodies and police involvement.

Ray likes to look at himself when he jerks off. It's like, Frank doesn't even care. Maybe he's into himself, maybe he's trying to gauge his reactions or make sure he's not making a weasel come face or whatever. Frank notices that Ray likes to watch his own reflection in the side mirrors or in the windows at night and then he just lets its slip away and never mentions it, never thinks about it again.

Sometimes, Gerard cries. Frank knows some of it, knows Gerard has vivid, fucked up nightmares that break him into pieces. He knows that sometimes Gerard just hurts. He knows Gerard doesn't want to talk about it, so he doesn't talk about it. He never asks, only Mikey ever asks and that's only in a hushed whisper that nobody else is supposed to be able to hear. Frank's not supposed to hear Gerard crying, and he's not supposed to hear Mikey ask what's wrong, and he's not supposed to hear Gerard say, "Everyone was gone, the whole world, and I was alone forever." He's not supposed to hear Gerard say, "She told me I was fucking worthless and it's true." And he's not supposed to hear Mikey's soft words of comfort.

He never mentions it, definitely not when it's something between Gerard and Mikey he's not supposed to overhear, and not even when it's Gerard next to him on the back bench, crying silently when he thinks Frank's asleep. He just shifts, then, just moves so he can hold Gerard's hand or rub his back silently in the dark. He thinks maybe he shouldn't even do that, that it's too much of an acknowledgement, but he'd feel like a complete piece of shit if he didn't offer what little comfort he could.

They all fucking cry sometimes. None of them get enough sleep, and even if they do get eight hours in a row, it's sleep in a fucking van with crappy heat and no air conditioning and no way to stretch out and actually be comfortable. They're running on coffee and adrenaline, sometimes even dexies when they need to drive. They're always drunk or stoned and they're tired and they're stressed out and even though it's fucking fantastic, even though Frank knows every one of them would rather be doing exactly what they are than anything else on earth, it can be tough. They all cry sometimes, and nobody ever makes fun of anybody else for it, and nobody ever talks about it in the light of day.

Otter feels himself up, like, all the time. It's not a sex thing, Frank's pretty sure. It seems more like a comfort thing, which is why it's off limits to make fun of. When he's stressed out or trying to get to sleep, he puts his hand up his shirt and squeezes his belly and rubs his hands over his chest like it's a ritual. Frank just closes his eyes and doesn't give a shit. Whatever gets Otter to sleep, whatever makes him feel comforted, Frank's okay with.

And Mikey, well. Frank's totally okay with it. He just can't let it go the way he should. He doesn't know if anybody else has noticed. He doesn't know if they all fucking know the way they all fucking know everything else--the way they all know each other's jerk off habits and the way they all know each other's pet peeves and the way they all know each other's worst fears. He wants to fucking ask sometimes just to make sure he didn't imagine it. He wants to put his chin on Ray's shoulder and say, "So, like, you've noticed that sometimes Mikey wears women's underwear, right?" But he doesn't. Because it's one of those fucking things that you just don't talk about.

It's not all the time. Frank knows that because he's a fucking creeper who's always watching out of the corner of his eye and because, well, they live in a van. Lots of times, the waistband of Mikey's jeans hangs an inch lower than his totally plain and normal gray or black boxer briefs. So it's definitely not all the time, but Frank's seen it when he's not supposed to. Frank's been half asleep or almost passed out or whatever, and he's seen Mikey changing quick in the van or at a house party or backstage in a green room that's really just a glorified storage closet. He's seen flashes of pale green silk, bits of lace, fucking bows. It's one of the things he's not supposed to know about. It's one of the things he's just supposed to forget.

Frank doesn't forget. Frank thinks about it a lot.

The fact that Frank finds Mikey attractive isn't a revelation. He's been attracted to Mikey since he was in high school, since Mikey auditioned for Pencey. It's not a thing, not some secret pining crush or whatever. Frank just doesn't bullshit himself when it comes to people who turn him on; he just fucking acknowledges that shit because repression is bad for the soul. He's been attracted to his friends before. It's not the end of the world, being attracted to somebody you know you're never going to sleep with. It just means he gets to hang out with Mikey and laugh at his stupid, dorky jokes and play in a band with him and sometimes look over and think, "Fuck, he's pretty." It only aches sometimes. Most times, it's kind of nice. Frank likes looking at attractive people.

Only now, living in a van with him, Frank knows that sometimes Mikey wears normal guy underwear and sometimes he wears lace, and he thinks about that all the fucking time. The first time Frank had seen it, had caught just a flash of silky material stretched over the sharp angle of Mikey's hipbone, he'd had to actually jerk off in a gas station bathroom. To be fair, Frank has jerked off in a lot of gas station bathrooms in his life because that's just one of the things that happens when you tour a lot. But that time, Frank had barely gotten the fucking stall door shut before his hand was in his pants and he was thinking, "Fuck, fuck, Mikey's wearing fucking panties," and he'd come so hard he'd had to brace his left hand against the wall to keep from falling over.

And then Ray had said, "Just to make sure, those were sex grunts and not impending diarrhea grunts, right? Because I don't want to be trapped with you and your toxic gas for the next three hours if you've got fucking dairy indigestion."

And Frank had laughed and shuddered and wiped himself off and said, "Couldn't help it, Toro. You know what thinking about your mom does to me."

And then it had been fine. So maybe he thought about it a lot, so what? So maybe he thought about it all the fucking time. He was used to wanting Mikey. He was used to the way being shoved up against him in the van made him feel thirteen again, breathless and awkward and always fucking horny. He was used to Otter throwing a balled up t-shirt at him and groaning, "For fuck's sake, Frank, not again. You're going to fucking yank it off one of these days."

And then Frank would just say, "I'm a sexual being, okay? I have, fuck, oh fuck. I have needs. Van rules, motherfucker. I've got the back seat to myself and I'm going to jerk off, Jesus fucking Christ, as much as I want to."

Alternately, he'd just start to moan, "Otter," or, "Gerard," or, "Oh, Mrs. Toro, yeah, just like that, fuck, you suck me so much better than Ray does," and make everybody who was still awake laugh. And then he'd finish because the van rules clearly stated that anyone who found themselves alone in the back after dark when other people were supposed to be asleep was totally allowed to jerk off as long as they cleaned up after themselves. He never moaned, "Mikey." He didn't want anyone to hear the truth in his voice.

Being on the road is amazing, but coming home? Fuck, Frank loves coming home. "Hello, bed," he says happily, dumping his bags in the middle of his room. He toes his shoes off and climbs into his bed, just a shitty little twin he'd scavenged from beside a dumpster near campus at the end of the last semester. "I love you so much, bed," he tells it. He turns and stretches his legs out, sighs happily when he can stretch and stretch and his feet don't bump into anyone or anything or hang over the edge.

Mikey sticks his head into Frank's room. "I think our apartment's broken."

Frank props himself up on his elbows. He's pretty sure that their TV had still been in the living room, and he can still see his Dell desktop out of the corner of his eye. "What did they take?" he asks.

"Not broken into," says Mikey. "Just broken. It won't go."

Frank sighs wearily and sits up. Mikey's relationship with the things in their apartment is strange. Whenever there's a problem, he just says that things are broken and Frank actually has to play twenty questions to find out what the specific problem is. It's easier just to get up and let Mikey show him.

"I don't think I broke it," Mikey says, tugging his robe around him tightly. Mikey's robe is ridiculous. It's this huge forest green monster, the terrycloth practically two inches thick, and he wears it all the fucking time. He wears it over his clothes from the middle of fall until the end of spring. "I think it was already broken."

Frank follows Mikey into the hall, where he starts poking at the thermostat.

"Seriously," says Frank. "You can immediately figure out how to use any phone, camera, or video game console ever invented, but you can't work a thermostat?" He flips the cover up and says. "See? It's off. If you want it on, you flip it to either cool or heat. Like, it's fucking labeled, Mikes."

Mikey shrugs and yawns and looks unconcerned. "Make it warm, okay?"

Frank rolls his eyes and sets the temperature at 68, then turns the heat on. It's not going to be warm enough for Mikey, he's sure, but they're not made out of money. He pauses on his way back to his room when he realizes that the whole, "not made of money," thing makes him sound exactly like his mother. Then he takes a shower, because hot water and soap and bubbles and fucking steam surrounding him? Hell, yeah.

He scrubs his entire body from top to toes, washes his hair, jerks off, then washes his body again, mostly concentrating on his balls and his crack because even though he just came, it still feels really good. He fingers himself for a while, then just stands beneath the spray until it starts to run cold. He'd feel bad for using up all the hot water, but he knows for a fact that Mikey won't take a shower for at least another day, the grimy bastard.

Frank goes over to his mom's the next day where he can do his laundry for free and catch up on everything that's been going on since they left for tour. One of his cousins is getting married and one of them is getting divorced and three of them are pregnant though only two of the pregnant ones are married, which is a family scandal.

He picks up their held mail at the post office and signs the stuff he needs to start getting it delivered again, drops by Ray's and helps him vacuum out the van and wipe down anything that looks like it could start growing if they just left it there. Ray wants to start practicing again in a week, and Frank's totally down with that. He loves coming home to his bed, but if he didn't have practice and future shows to look forward to, he'd go stir crazy.

When he finally gets back to the apartment, Mikey's sitting on the couch in his green robe drinking coffee and watching The Andy Griffith Show. Frank sits next to him, steals a sip of his coffee, then lays his head on Mikey's shoulder. The robe smells kind of funky.

"When's the last time you washed this thing?" he asks.

Mikey just shrugs.

Frank leaves his head where it is, and when the next episode starts, they both try to whistle along to the theme song and crack themselves up with how bad they are. Turns out there's an Andy Griffith marathon on, which is always a good time. Frank fucking loves Barney Fife.

After Otis, the town drunk, locks himself up in his usual cell, Mikey says, "That would be nice, you know?"

"Having keys to your own cell?"

"No. Just. Like they don't hate him for it. He's just Otis, you know? Just the guy who's drunk and it's not a huge fucking deal. Why does it have to be a huge fucking deal if a guy's drunk a lot? Why can't people just fucking let him be their friend who's drunk a lot?"

Frank knows what Mikey's really talking about, and he nods. He gives Mikey's hand a squeeze and says, "He's all right, Mikes. He's fine. He's totally my friend who's just drunk a lot."

Mikey squeezes back and says, "Thanks."

Frank thinks, I'll do anything to make you happy. He's really the sappiest motherfucker on the planet underneath it all.

There's a party at the Eyeball house a few days later, and of course they go. Frank jumps up on Gerard's back and hugs him like they've been apart for years, not days. He spends most of the first hour he's there drinking beer and hugging people he hasn't seen in a while, and Otter even lets Frank ride on his shoulders for a little bit.

He's pretty wasted by the time he ends up on the back porch where Mikey's leaning against a railing and smoking and looking not at all cold even though Frank knows he must be. There are two girls talking to him, flirting by the way they're touching their hair and leaning in towards Mikey, and Frank thinks, "Hey, one for him, one for me. Nice."

The girls are both pretty, but in that overly pretty way that's kind of weird. Like, the blonde one's hair is practically white and she's got a really dark tan even in the middle of March. And everything about the brunette is perfect, from the way her hair falls in waves over her shoulders to her expertly applied makeup to her long, manicured fingernails and her designer clothes. Mikey doesn't even have to make it through introductions before Frank realizes that Mikey's not interested, and neither is he. They both like their girls a little bit more messed up.

They're fun to talk to, though. They know enough about music that they're not just posers or anything, and as they get drunker and drunker, their posh accents start to slide back to Jersey, which is fucking awesome. Frank fucking loves loud, drunk Jersey girls, loves how their voices comfort him like maybe somebody from the country would be comforted by the sound of birds or a waterfall.

"I can always tell," says the blonde. Frank's pretty sure her name is Candace, but he's been wrong before. "It's totally easy to tell. Like, guys just broadcast that shit."

Frank says, "Oh, yeah?" Because he's not above fucking with drunk girls, and Jersey girls can dish it out twice as hard right back. "What about me?"

She looks at him for a long moment, taps her finger on her cheek and tips her head to the side as she looks him up and down. "Boxer briefs," she says decisively. "Your pants are too tight for boxers, and you wouldn't be caught dead in briefs."

"The girl's good," Frank says. "Unfortunately, you're also wrong. I would be wearing boxer briefs, but I haven't done laundry in weeks so I'm going commando." He's actually going commando just because he likes to sometimes, but she doesn't need to know that.

Candace wrinkles her nose but she doesn't actually seem turned off by the idea. "And you," she says, turning towards Mikey. "Briefs for sure. But not white. Gray?"

Mikey sips his beer and shrugs.

"Black?" she asks. "Navy. Come on, let me see." She reaches for the waistband of his jeans and Frank sees a flash of discomfort on Mikey's face. It's only there for a second, but it's there and Frank knows why.

"Hey, hey, hey," Frank says, hooking his arm around Mikey's hip and tugging him close. "Hands off the merchandise. I mean, I know motherfucker's sexy as hell and I understand why you want to get into his pants, but I'm the jealous type."

Mikey laughs softly and takes another sip of beer and leans a little heavier against Frank's side.

Candace and Charity are thrilled to discover that they're talking to actual gays. They have so many questions, want to know how long Frank and Mikey have been dating, if they're out to their parents, if hamstering is really a thing or just an urban myth.

Frank's laughing so hard as Candace then has to explain to Mikey what hamstering is. The horrified look on his face is the best thing Frank's ever seen, and then when Mikey says, "But no, wait, that can't be a thing because their little claws! Their little claws and their teeth, Frank. Come on, Frank, nobody's going to actually, they'd die! The hamsters would die, Frank, they'd suffocate and die and nobody'd do that, would they?"

He looks so afraid and so desperate that Frank just has to hug him, has to ruffle his hair and say, "No, nobody's hurting hamsters, Mikey, I promise. It's just a myth."

Frank doesn't doubt that there are people in the world sick enough to get off on hamsters dying in their assholes, but Mikey's sensitive, so he lies.

They're back inside and through three more beers before Frank realizes they're still touching, that he's still got his arm slung around Mikey's waist and that Mikey's arm is warm and heavy over his shoulders. He loves being that close, feeling Mikey's warm skin and the vibrations in his chest when he talks or laughs, but that's not the way they are, not really. "I'm totally cockblocking you," he says, laughing and pulling away. "There's got to be at least five girls here you could take home with, like, a wink, and right now they're looking at you thinking you only do dick."

Mikey looks around the room and says, "Only five? Seriously, Frank, you underestimate me."

Frank ends up in the kitchen playing quarters with Ray and two of his brothers, who are total dirty cheaters.

"You're total dirty cheaters," Frank tells them after he does his third shot.

"We're skilled," says the oldest Toro brother. He's even taller than Ray, ripped like he works out all day long. Frank's pretty sure one of Ray's brothers runs a gym, and this must be the guy. "Don't blame us because we were out partying back when you were still trying to figure out what your dick was for."

Frank says, "That was a trying time in my life, for sure. Thank God your mom's such a cockslut or I might never have figured it out."

And then Frank runs as fast as he can, howling with laughter and locking himself in the bathroom because apparently Ray's brothers aren't as cool with Frank's jokes about their mom as Ray is.

Frank finally makes it home around five o'clock in the morning, and he's starting to sober up and think about coffee and waffles just fucking smothered in maple syrup. He doesn't expect Mikey to be there since he doesn't usually get back from hookups until noon at the earliest. He definitely doesn't expect Mikey to be lying on his back in the middle of their living room, smoking up and listening to The Queen is Dead.

Frank lies down next to him. The Smiths have never been his thing, but they're kind of stark and depressing and perfect for a cold night when it feels like maybe winter's just going to stretch on forever. They pass the joint back and forth before it burns down low enough to sting their fingers, then just let it burn out instead of bothering with a roach clip.

"Didn't hookup?" Frank asks. It's not like it's his business. It's not like he cares.

"Didn't feel like it," Mikey says. From any other guy it would be bullshit, but Frank knows it's true. Mikey only ever comes home alone when he wants to.

"Word to the wise," says Frank. "Never make a joke about fucking Mrs. Toro in front of Ray's brothers. Especially the really ripped one."

Mikey laughs. "Dude, he's on fucking 'roids or shit. His arms are bigger than my head. And you told him you fucked his mom?"

"I may have called her a cockslut."

Mikey laughs again. "You're gonna die young, dude."

"My mom always said my smart mouth would be the end of me."

They listen to the album on repeat for a long time. Frank feels floaty and mellow, not quite sleepy, not quite hungry, though he knows both of those things will come eventually. He just feels really good. Content. Content and turned on.

Frank rolls over and presses his mouth to Mikey's ear. He whispers, "Black lace."

Mikey laughs softly. "What?"

"That's my guess. For what kind of underwear you're wearing. Black lace."

Mikey goes very still.

"Or," Frank whispers. "Or maybe, fuck, the red satin ones with the bows."

Mikey's breath catches in his throat, and his shaky breaths are one of the sexiest things Frank's ever heard.

"My favorite," Frank says. He knows anyone listening to his voice could tell how fucking turned on he is, but he doesn't care; Mikey's the only one listening. "My favorites, though, are those pale purple ones, the mesh ones, practically transparent, with the embroidery and the sequins? I like those a lot."

Mikey's breathing sounds as turned on as Frank's voice.

"Did I get it right?" Frank asks. "Am I even close?" He pushes himself up and straddles Mikey's thighs. Mikey's got his hands over his face, and Frank eases them away. Mikey's eyes are closed, and he turns his head to the side, pulling against Frank's grip on his wrists, but not nearly hard enough to actually pull away. "Look at me," Frank whispers.

Mikey shakes his head, but his hips are starting to roll and he's got his neck exposed, tips his head back and to the side further like he's inviting Frank to kiss him there.

"Mikey," says Frank. "Look at me."

Mikey takes a shuddering breath, but he looks. He opens his eyes and chews on his lower lip and looks up at Frank.

"You're wearing them right now, aren't you?"

"Yes," Mikey whispers, barely making a sound.

"Can I see?"

Mikey nods. He closes his eyes again and whispers, "Yeah."

Frank pushes Mikey's t-shirt up his belly, watches the muscles in Mikey's stomach tense beneath his fingers. He unbuttons Mikey's fly, unzips it, tries to stay calm but he wants so much--anticipation and need filling his chest. He tugs Mikey's jeans down and fuck, oh, fuck. They're soft white cotton with pale blue edging, pale blue satin bows on each hip. They're so sweet, fucking virginal, and the way Mikey's cock is pressing up against them is obscene.

Frank touches Mikey's stomach, runs the tips of his fingers over the fuzz trailing down from Mikey's navel. He touches the top edge of the panties, the thin delicate strip of pale blue satin, almost but not quite a ruffle. He slides his fingers back and forth over it, feeling the difference in texture between the satin and Mikey's skin and his coarse hair.

Mikey's cock is so hard, straining against the cotton, and there's a wet spot spreading out from the head.

He touches his thumbs to Mikey's hips, strokes them over the cotton to the bows, feels Mikey's sharp hipbones. He strokes over and over again, watches as the wet spot spreads, watches Mikey's cock twitch as Frank touches him. He likes it when Frank digs his thumbs into the soft hollows of his hips, Frank can tell. Every time Frank does it, Mikey's cock jerks. Frank can smell him, now, can smell arousal and the pre-come soaking through the cotton.

Frank licks his lips, thinking about it, thinking about tasting Mikey's cock through the fabric. He says, "Getting your panties all messy." He barely recognizes his own voice, it's so ragged.

Mikey makes a soft noise, and when Frank looks up he's got his hands over his face again. Frank slides his hands lower, to the tops of Mikey's thighs, runs his thumbs over the soft hollows there, right where leg meets hip. Mikey's cock jerks, but it's not the reaction Frank was looking for. He wants Mikey to make another sound.

"How long have you been doing this?" Frank asks, sliding his hands up and down Mikey's hips, feeling skin, then soft fabric, then skin, over and over again. "A long time? The whole time I've known you?"

Mikey doesn't say anything, but he nods. He drops his hands to his sides, reaches up with one of them to grip Frank's thigh.

"How old were you the first time?"

Mikey takes a shuddering breath, then whispers, "Thirteen."

Frank nods. He slides his hands over Mikey's hips, across his stomach, trails his fingers lightly down Mikey's sides and watches him squirm. He keeps his touches light because he doesn't want to ruin this, whatever they're doing right now. He doesn't want to spook Mikey or break the mood. He's hard, but it's not urgent. He can feel his cock pressing against the front of his jeans, but he doesn't need to touch. Not yet. He wants to draw it out for as long as he can.

"Why?" he asks. He strokes the tip of his pointer finger over the ridge of Mikey's erection, bites his lip because it's so sexy the way Mikey gasps and arches up towards him, wanting more. He does it again, then one more time, keeping the touch so gentle, barely a touch at all. "Tell me how they make you feel."

Mikey moans softly and he's rolling his hips like he's desperate for Frank's touch. He could touch himself easily, but he doesn't. His eyes are closed and his head's turned to the side and his fingers are digging into the carpet and gripping Frank's thigh so tight it's painful.

Frank reaches up and trails his fingers over Mikey's jaw, "You can tell me. You can tell me anything."

Mikey takes a deep breath and whines, twisting his hips. He's panting.

"Mikey," Frank says. He puts his hands back on Mikey's hips, strokes his thumbs over Mikey's hipbones again. He digs his thumbs in and says, "It's okay. Tell me."

Mikey's mouth is pink and wet, his cheeks flushed and eyes shut tight like he can barely stand it. He says, "Pretty. They make me feel pretty."

"Oh, Jesus," Frank groans. It's the hottest fucking thing he's ever heard. He'd been expecting Mikey to say something about how they made him feel naughty or dirty or kinky. He hadn't been expecting Mikey to say, "pretty," and he hadn't been expecting the sharp, desperate heat that sliced through him when he heard it.

"Fuck, yeah," Frank tells him. "So fucking pretty, Mikes. Jesus Christ. Fucking beautiful like this in your pretty little panties, getting them so wet, messing them up like such a dirty little girl."

Mikey gasps and throws his head back and comes. He moans and shudders his way through it, and Frank just watches, stunned. He hadn't known guys could actually come like that without being touched. He thought it only happened in porn.

He shifts back because, fuck, he wants to taste it. He wants to lap up Mikey's jizz through his fucking panties, wants to taste it and swallow it and--

Frank doesn't even get a chance to lean down because as soon as he pushes up off Mikey's thighs, Mikey's scrambling away from him. Mikey pushes himself back and then he's kneeling up and buttoning his jeans and shaking his head over and over again.

"Hey," Frank whispers, reaching out for him. "Mikes, hey, don't."

Mikey keeps shaking his head. He says, "I can't," and scrambles up to shut himself away in his room.

Frank feels like the biggest fucking creep on the planet, but he still shoves his hand down the front of his pants and comes remembering the feel of Mikey's hips under his hands and the scent of his release.

**********

Frank's expecting it to be a little awkward the next day. He's not expecting the complete silence he gets when he walks into the living room that afternoon and says, "Hey."

Mikey's sitting on the couch watching TV, and he's staring at the screen like it's got him mesmerized.

Frank says, "I'm heading down to the music center later. You still thinking about those EMG pickups?"

Mikey turns the TV up much louder than it needs to be.

Frank sighs and reaches for the remote. As soon as he leans in, though, Mikey jerks back. He drops the remote and shoves past Frank to hurry down the hall to his room, slamming his door behind him.

Frank picks up the remote and turns the volume down and says, "Fuck."

He doesn't get Mikey the pickups since they're nearly two hundred dollars, but he does get him a pack of strings.

He's trying to think how to play it when he gets home. Should he give the strings right to Mikey like a peace offering? Should he call them a peace offering? Should he just put them with the rest of Mikey's gear and wait for him to find them and just not say anything?

He wonders if he should say, "It's not a big deal, man. We were both pretty fucked up that night. Shit happens." Or maybe he could say, "I know you're not into me and that's fine and I'm sorry I pushed things." He doesn't know if he should mention the panties. Maybe that's why Mikey's pissed. Maybe he's pissed at Frank for knowing about it for so long and never saying anything. Maybe he feels like Frank took advantage.

When Frank gets home, Mikey's coming down the apartment steps with his duffle bag slung over one shoulder. He stops when he sees Frank and shifts his weight from one foot to the other.

Frank says, "Um, you heading back out on tour?"

Mikey doesn't look at him. He says, "Laundry. Taking it to my mom's."

"Oh. Is Gee picking you up or--"

"I can take the bus."

Frank says, "Let me give you a ride."

Mikey shakes his head and walks past him. "The bus is fine," he says.

Frank turns and watches him go. He wants to call after him, but he can tell that Mikey doesn't want to hear anything Frank has to say. He says, "Fuck," as Mikey rounds the corner out of sight, then curses again as he climbs the steps into their building.

Mikey doesn't come home that night or the next. Frank doesn't see him at all, doesn't get an answer to any of the texts he sends even though he keeps them all casual and light, no mention of what had happened or what Mikey sometimes wears under his jeans.

Frank goes to rehearsal on Friday with his gut churning. He doesn't know if Mikey's even going to be there. He doesn't know what he'll do if Mikey doesn't show, doesn't ever show for another rehearsal again. He knows that if it comes down to a choice between him and Mikey, well. If it comes to that, Frank knows he's going to have to add yet another band to his list of failures. Gee and Ray and Otter will never choose Frank over Mikey.

Mikey's already there when Frank shows up, though. He's sitting in the corner with his head bowed over his bass, playing silently.

Gerard says, "Frankie!" and gives him a hug.

Frank likes being in a band full of guys who aren't ashamed to hug; it makes him feel almost normal. He hugs Ray, too, gives Otter a high-five since he's already behind his kit. He says, "Hey, Mikey." He doesn't get too close or move to touch him. He doesn't want Mikey to flinch away like he did before, like Frank's a fucking molester or...

Frank says, "Oh," and kneels down next to his guitar case quickly before his legs can give out. He rubs his hand over his mouth and swallows hard against the sour taste filling it. Frank's not that guy. Frank has never been that guy, won't ever be the guy who cares more about his own pleasure than the other person's consent. Like, Frank wants to fucking murder those guys, so that can't be what happened, right?

They rehearse for three hours and Mikey doesn't look at him once. He doesn't move from the far corner and barely looks up when he talks to Gerard in short, quiet sentences that Frank can't hear. He looks up at Ray sometimes, when Ray's got suggestions or notes, and he'll nod but he doesn't say anything back.

By the middle of the second hour, Ray and Gerard are looking at each other with wide eyes and wiggling their eyebrows and tipping their heads towards Mikey or towards Frank, who's off his game. He knows he's off, keeps fumbling lines and forgetting changes and he actually sits down after a while, sits cross legged on the floor and breathes and tries to concentrate on what he's playing. It's got to be completely obvious that he's not right because Ray's not even snapping at him when he fucks up, just calmly suggests they start again.

He stops playing entirely six bars into Monroeville because his hands have started to shake. He presses them to his face and when Ray asks, "You okay, Frankie?" Frank flips off his guitar strap and scrambles for the door, makes it down the hall and outside into the snow just in time to drop to his knees and start retching.

He assumes it's Ray when he feels somebody rubbing his back, but it's Gerard who says, "You all right? Come on, sit up."

Frank sits up, moves away from the pile of vomit on the ground and leans against a snow bank that's already crusted black with the city air just a day after the snowfall.

"You want to tell me what happened with Mikey?" Gerard asks softly. He hands Frank a half-pint bottle of whiskey, warm from his pocket.

Frank takes a sip and swishes it around in his mouth before spitting it out. The next two sips, he swallows. He pretends he didn't hear Gerard's question.

Gerard sighs and lights a cigarette and says, "I already know you're sleeping with him."

Frank freezes, then says, "What? No. That's crazy."

Gerard grins at him, lopsided and friendly. "You're a shitty liar, Frank. Well, maybe not. I didn't even know you were dating until you broke up."

"We didn't break up," Frank says, because they were never even dating.

"You did according to Mikey," Gerard says softly, and there's pity in his voice and written across his face.

"He said that?"

Gerard shakes his head. "He hasn't said anything, but he's moving back home and I know the way he looks when he's heartbroken. Can you guys fix it?"

Frank says, "I don't know." He doesn't tell Gerard the truth because he doesn't know how without mentioning the fact that Mikey wears panties sometimes, without mentioning the fact that Frank maybe took advantage of him.

The door opens behind them and Ray says, "We're calling it a night. Oh, shit, Frankie, did you puke?"

"Be glad I didn't puke on your pedals," Frank says.

Otter steps out into the cold and starts making loud puking noises because he's an asshole that way. Frank rubs his hands over his face and sighs and says, "You're an asshole."

Otter laughs delightedly and belches and heads off towards his truck. Gerard stands and offers Frank his hand, but Frank waves it off. He stays where he is in the snow bank, the snow starting to melt and seep into the fabric of his jeans, probably covering his skin in car exhaust and carbon monoxide and soot.

He lights a cigarette and smokes and watches Ray as he walks past, taking trips from his car to the practice space and back again, carrying guitars and coils of wire and his portable amp. When Mikey walks past, he doesn't look at Frank. He pauses for a moment, but then continues on and heads to Ray's car. Frank watches him pack his bass into the backseat and he wonders what Mikey's wearing beneath his jeans, wonders if he's in boxer briefs or delicate lace. He wonders if thinking about it makes him a giant fucking creep.

Ray says, "You good to sit up in the passenger seat or are you going to need to lie down in the back?"

Frank says, "I'm okay. I don't need a ride."

Ray doesn't look convinced.

"Seriously. I'm just going to go over a few things and then I'll lock up, okay?"

Ray chews on his lower lip, then looks back at his car that's already running. Gerard's in the passenger seat and Mikey's slumped in the back, eyes closed and head against the window. "Do I even want to know what's going on with you guys?"

"It's not a big deal," Frank says, and he doesn't know if Ray believes him or not. "We just had a fight."

Ray says, "Seriously, call me if you want a ride, okay?"

Frank says, "Okay." He gets out of the snow bank eventually and brushes off the back of his jeans like it's going to do any good. He heads back into the practice space and picks up his guitar and goes over the melody to Monroeville, then lets his mind wander and his fingers just take him where they want to go. He plays until he can breathe again, until his stomach is settled and he's centered and calm.

He gets a text message from Gerard when he's packing his guitar away. It says, at Jimbos text me from outside when u get here.

Jimbo's Diner has, like, nothing Frank can eat. He's pretty sure they even put lard in the pancakes. He goes anyway, pulls into the parking lot and texts Gerard that he's there. A moment later, Gerard and Ray come out of the diner and Frank walks towards them.

"I still don't get why I had to come outside with you," Ray's saying, arms wrapped around himself because of the cold. "I don't smoke, so why I do have to...oh, hey, Frank."

"Hey."

"He's in the booth over by the jukebox," Gerard tells Frank. "Fix it, okay?"

Frank says, "Yeah, okay. I'll try." He takes a deep breath and tells himself he's not going to puke again. The only way he's going to know for sure what the fuck happened, why Mikey can't stand to be around him anymore, is to ask.

Frank's dreading it; just the thought of it makes him feel sick. There's a heavy weight of uncertainty in the pit of his stomach, though, and it won't go away if he just ignores things. He feels sick and guilty and pretty fucking terrified as he sits down next to Mikey in the diner, but he has to do the right thing.

Mikey looks at him, then sighs heavily and looks away, jaw clenched. "My brother's an asshole."

"You don't have to talk to me," Frank says. "But will you listen?"

Mikey shrugs.

"I need to know, Mikes. We were both pretty fucked up that night. I mean, I wasn't. Not really. Not by then. But I don't know how fucked up you were, and if I took advantage..." His left leg is jiggling and he puts his hand on it to make it stop. "Like, it's obvious that you kind of hate what happened between us. I don't know if you just didn't tell me to stop because, fuck, I don't know. I don't know why you didn't tell me to stop if you hated it so much. I just, if it was because you couldn't, because you were too fucked up and couldn't think straight or didn't know what was going on and I took advantage of that..."

He can feel Mikey looking at him; his gaze is burning. Frank looks down at his hands and tries to keep his knee from jiggling.

"You didn't date rape me, Frank," Mikey says slowly. "What the fuck?"

"Well, I didn't know," Frank says weakly, relief washing over him. "The way it went from fun sexy times to, like, terror every time I got near you."

"Not terror," says Mikey. "Just..." He shrugs.

Frank thinks, Shame. That's somehow worse. He says, "I didn't mean to make you--"

"You didn't make me," Mikey snaps.

"I didn't mean to make you feel--"

"Can we just not fucking do this?" Mikey curls in around his coffee cup and tugs his beanie a little further down his forehead. "Go tell Ray and my traitor of a brother that we worked shit out and they can come back inside now."

"Did we work things out?"

Mikey shrugs. "Enough."

Frank says, "I never meant to make you feel ashamed. I'm sorry."

Mikey's only response is to curl his shoulders in a little further.

Frank heads outside where Gerard's smoking and Ray's looking cold and unhappy.

"Finally," Ray says when Frank appears.

"I haven't even finished my smoke," says Gerard. "He was in there, like, two minutes."

"Yeah, and it's fucking cold," Ray snaps, heading back inside.

It is cold, but Frank's been an East Coast smoker for a long time, and he's used to freezing in order to get his fix. He lights his cigarette, then stuffs his left hand in his jacket pocket to warm it up. He'll switch hands after a little bit so neither one goes totally numb.

"Mikey called you a traitor," Frank says after he exhales.

Gerard nods. "That's fair. Did you fix it?"

"I don't know."

**********

Frank didn't fix it, apparently, because when he gets home from visiting his mom, Mikey's in the living room, packing. He's got all the kitchen cupboards open, dishes and pans spread out over the counters. He's got a laundry basket full of clean clothes by the front door and he's got both his basses and most of his gear spread out on the kitchen table.

Frank says, "You got the strings I bought you?"

Mikey doesn't look at him, but he nods and says, "Yeah. Thanks."

Frank goes to his room and crashes onto his bed, puts on headphones and listens to Bad Brains loud enough to give himself hearing loss. Well, more hearing loss. The idea of wearing ear protection at his own fucking shows had seemed ridiculous to him as a teenager, so he's already lost a lot. But that makes him think about Mikey, because whenever they play an especially loud show he ends up saying things like, "Hey, speak up, Mumbles McWhisperFuck." And then Mikey will laugh and say, "McWhisperFuck," but he won't ever actually talk loud enough for Frank and his ringing ears to hear him.

Frank turns his stereo off and lies on the bed for a long time with his headphones still on. His ceiling is really boring and he can hear Mikey moving around the apartment and fuck it.

He walks out into the living room. Mikey's packing his things from the kitchen into boxes. He glances up at Frank, then looks back down.

"Is it me?" Frank asks softly. "Are you just not interested in me? Because that sucks, but I can handle it. Like, fine, I'm totally into you, but that's not even. I can deal with rejection and I'll get over it."

Mikey says, "I don't want to talk about it."

"Or is it that I saw, that I knew what you were wearing and I saw and--"

"I'm not. Fucking. Talking about it." Mikey shoves the top box to the floor and heads towards his room, where he slams the door.

Frank sighs and picks the box up. It only had a couple of dishtowels and a t-shirt in it, so nothing's broken or too out of place.

He tries to watch TV but he can't concentrate so he's not at all sure of plotlines or even what show he's watching. He just looks at the flickering images on the screen and listens to the noise coming from the speakers and tries to not think.

Mikey comes out of his room nearly an hour later and he doesn't look at Frank. Big surprise. He lays his bass down in the empty spot in front of the table and digs around in the pile on the table for new strings and his peg winder.

Frank looks at the TV and tries to pretend like it's not the most awkward situation he's ever been in.

"I was fifteen," Mikey says, apropos of nothing.

Frank looks over at him. He's got his peg winder in his hands, but his bass is still in its gig bag. He twists the peg winder and doesn't look up at Frank as he says, "I was fifteen and, look, it's creepy, but you know how my mom dresses, right? Like. A lot of her stuff is really hot. And I was in this leopard print dress of hers. Everything else was mine, the stockings and the underwear and, uh, heels."

Frank blinks at him. He's such a fucking creep for getting turned on thinking about Mikey at fifteen, but fuck. Stockings?

"And my dad found me dressed like that. And it was. Not good." He rubs his hand over his jaw. "He made me throw it away. All of it. The underwear and the makeup and the shoes, even her dress because he said I'd contaminated it. And he never hit us, not me or Gerard, not once. Until then. I told my mom I'd gotten jumped on my way home from school because if I told her that the bruises were from him, I'd have to tell her why, and I just." He shakes his head and looks up at Frank. "I never told anybody before."

Frank feels like crying. He doesn't know why Mikey isn't crying. He says, "Jesus, Mikes."

Mikey shrugs.

"That fucking bastard." Next time Frank sees Mikey's dad, he's going to punch him right in the throat.

"No," Mikey says softly. "He's not. He just wanted to teach me a lesson, wanted me to understand that it wasn't okay."

"Fuck that," says Frank.

"There are a lot of people in this world who'd kick my ass for being the way I am," Mikey says. "Most of them won't stop after a couple punches the way my dad did."

"Fuck that. People want to kick my ass all the goddamn time. They look at me and think I must be some fucking cocksucking delinquent on drugs. Does the fact that they're right make it okay for them to beat the living shit out of me?"

"I didn't mean--"

"And being the way you are? What does that even mean? Like, I don't even know. I don't even know this huge secret part of you and you're pretty much the best friend I've ever had and I'm kind of in love with you, if you hadn't noticed."

Mikey rolls his eyes. "Having a panty kink isn't love."

"I don't have a fucking panty kink. I have a Mikey kink, okay? The panty kink is confined to you being the one wearing the fucking panties. If you wore golf shoes I'd have a fucking golf shoe kink."

"Those cleats would make it hard to walk across tile floors," Mikey says thoughtfully.

Frank sighs, because if Mikey's making offhand comments like that, they're probably going to be fine. He says, "Things don't have to be weird. Like, if you still want to move out because I've got a hard on for you then, yeah, okay. But if you're moving out because you think I'm going to try to sneak peeks at you in the shower or, like, slip into your bed, I wouldn't ever do that. I can handle feeling this way and I won't act on it again. And I'm not going to judge you for...whatever. For what you wear or how you feel. You don't have to tell me about it, but you can."

Mikey says, "Thanks." He unzips his gig bag and takes his bass out, wipes it down and restrings it as Frank watches TV. Once his bass is packed back up, he sits on the couch next to Frank. He doesn't sit as close as he would have before, but he doesn't sit as far away as he could, either.

"What are we watching?" Mikey asks.

"I don't know. There's a monkey and that girl from American Beauty."

"Oh, yeah," says Mikey. "And Ghost World." His posture changes just a little bit, but it's a shift from normal Mikey to something more confident. "And give me six of these beef jerkies. I'm hungry enough to chew the crotch out of a rag doll."

Frank laughs at the quote. He says, "Fucking Doug. He needs his own movie. Two hours of nunchucks and malt liquor in a convenience store parking lot."

Mikey grins and says, "I'd watch the shit out of that." And Frank thinks they really will be okay.

**********

They're okay because they never mention it again. They pile back into the van for another two months of touring and after three days everything smells like unwashed bodies and weed and junk food and Frank feels like they never left the road at all. He leaves the stage every night bruised and exhilarated, drinks whatever people buy for him, smokes whatever's offered. It's the same, familiar routine of living out of a van with the same unspoken rules. Nobody mentions the way Otter feels himself up when he's trying to go to sleep, nobody mentions how Ray looks at his own reflection when he's getting off. Nobody mentions the pills Gerard washes down with beer. Nobody mentions any of their secrets because if they did, living in a van wouldn't be an adventure, it would be a bloodbath.

Frank wonders what his secret is that everybody else ignores. He jerks off a lot, but that's not really a secret. Sometimes he picks his earwax and wipes it on his shoe or Gerard's pants, but considering the gross motherfuckers he lives with, that isn't too bad. He's sure there's something that he thinks is totally normal and secret that they've all noticed but just don't mention.

And Mikey? Frank's not trying to be a complete creep. He knows Mikey's not interested and he really is trying to get over it. He flirts with people they meet at shows and even hooks up with a few, though hookups have never been his style. Sometimes he wants to hold up a big sign that says, "See? This is me getting on with my life."

He doesn't look at Mikey as much as he used to. He doesn't watch him from behind half-closed lids in the van or out of the corner of his eye in the greenroom. He wants to look all the fucking time. He wants to watch Mikey when he's half asleep and laughing at one of Frank's stupid jokes. He wants to watch Mikey get drunk after a show and throw his arms up in the air and dance to stupid techno music. He wants to watch all the time to see what Mikey's wearing, to see if he can catch a glimpse of satin or silk or lace.

He never does. He only ever sees cotton boxer briefs. He thinks maybe it's because he's not watching as much, but no. He's pretty sure all Mikey's got with him is underwear made for guys. He's pretty sure Mikey doesn't have a scrap of flimsy lingerie hidden anywhere in his bag.

They're somewhere in Oklahoma and Frank's a little afraid of the West. There are terrifying fucking things out where nobody lives; there are redneck cowboys and alien abductions and the ghosts of millions of murdered Native Americans. He thinks it's probably a bad idea to drop acid with so much fucking nature around, but this girl is letting them crash at her parents' ranch and it's not fancy, but there's a working shower with tons of hot water and there are enough sleeping bags that none of them have to share and the girl lets them do their laundry in her basement so it feels rude not to open his mouth and stick his tongue out when she asks.

Frank ends up far enough away from the ranch house that he's in total darkness, but he's not afraid. He can feel the pulse of the earth beneath his feet, how the entire world is alive and connected. He tips his head back and there are so many stars, thousands more than he could ever see growing up, and they're all humming to the same frequency, singing to him, and he ends up on his knees, weeping, because it's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen.

Mikey's next to him, holding his hand. Mikey's not crying, but when they lie down right on the dirt, Mikey whispers, "So many stars," and Frank knows he understands.

They lie on their backs with their heads touching and Mikey starts to giggle. Frank giggles, too, because everything's hilarious and beautiful. They giggle until coyotes start howling in the distance and they go completely silent because holy shit, coyotes are a real fucking thing, not just something that exists on TV.

Frank whispers, "Coyotes are fucking real, dude."

Mikey starts to giggle again and they laugh until it hurts, howl along with the coyotes and lie on the warm, live earth, and watch the stars.

Frank rubs his belly after a while because it hurts. The good kind of hurt, though, the hurt that comes from so much laughter. He says, "Mikey, Mikes, just, okay. Okay, you don't like. You don't wear them anymore, do you?"

Mikey says, "No."

"Is it my fault? Is it what I did that made you stop? Because I'm sorry I fucked things up and I'm so glad you're my friend again."

Mikey says, "I always knew I had to stop. I just lied to myself about it for a long time."

Frank thinks that's the saddest thing he's ever heard in his entire life, and the weeping stars above him agree.

He wakes a little bit after dawn on the edge of a dirt road. His feet are in the grass and his shoulder's wedged in some sort of rut. He sits up slowly and rubs his head and says, "Fuck me."

Mikey's sitting up, too, leaning against a fence post and smoking a cigarette.

Frank says, "That's an actual fucking fence post."

Mikey tips his chin up and says, "That's an actual fucking cow."

Frank turns and holy fuck, it really is an actual fucking cow on the other side of the fence behind him. The cow's chewing something and looking at him with large, black eyes. The cow seems unimpressed.

Frank sits down next to Mikey and they share the cigarette and watch the cow watch them. "What do you think she's thinking about?" Frank asks nervously. Because he doesn't eat meat, but the cow doesn't know that. The cow might not know that there are people in the world who aren't cow murderers.

"Hay," says Mikey. "Or, um, straw. Whatever it is that cows eat."

"Grass," says Frank. "And seeds, maybe?"

Mikey shrugs and stubs the cigarette out, then helps Frank to his feet. They wander for a long time along the dirt road before they hit a dead end and have to turn around. The sun's fully up by the time they make it back to the ranch house.

When they walk in the front door, Mikey says, "I need so much coffee right now."

Frank calls, "Hey, motherfuckers, we saw an actual fucking cow." And then he stops dead because right there in the living room is a very naked Ray next to a very naked Gerard who's next to the very naked girl whose parents own the ranch house where they're staying.

Frank covers his mouth with one hand and says, "Oh, my God."

Mikey says, "My eyes, Jesus Christ, I'm going to pour the coffee into them and blind myself."

Frank giggles and follows Mikey to the kitchen, then fishes his phone out of his pocket because it's the fancy kind with a camera in it. He takes a picture of Ray and Gerard butt naked in some random girl's living room, then giggles again and goes back to the kitchen where Mikey's trying to figure out how to work the coffee maker.

They fix coffee and toast and help themselves to the jar of homemade strawberry jam in the fridge. They're on their second pot of coffee and Frank's feeling mostly human when Gerard wanders in, eyes huge, wearing nothing but a lace tablecloth wrapped around his waist. He says, "Um...good morning."

Frank laughs and Mikey groans and puts his head on the table and Gerard asks if either one of them knows where his clothes are.

Ray comes in a moment later wearing nothing at all. He's just got his hands cupped over his dick and balls and he's got his shoulders hunched like maybe that will make him less naked, and Frank laughs so hard he slides off the chair onto the floor, where he at least finds Ray's jeans balled up beneath the kitchen table.

"I can't believe I missed it," says Otter as they turn the van onto a paved highway that promises to take them to the interstate. He'd passed out about an hour into his trip and just slept on the bed in the guest room the entire night. "When you say they were naked, how naked are we talking?"

"Naked as the day they were born," Frank says, grinning and chomping happily on a bag of Oreos that are mostly not stale. "Just snuggled up against each other, dicks swinging free--"

Mikey says, "Oh, my God, shut up."

Ray says, "We didn't touch swords! Stop making it sound like we touched swords! She touched our swords, but other than that we kept our swords to ourselves."

"We kind of touched swords, dude," Gerard says softly from where he's curled up in the center seat. "Accidentally, but still."

Ray says, "They didn't need to know that."

Otter makes a fist and raises it in victory. "Yes! I am the last to retain his full heterosexuality! I'm the only man left in this van!"

Frank's driving, so he can't just start throwing punches. He totally puts the van in park before he flings himself in Otter's direction and wrestles him out the passenger door and bites and kicks and twists Otter's arm behind his back until he finally gets Otter to say, "You're still a man no matter how many dicks you've had in your mouth! Fuck, Iero, you're going to break my arm!"

Frank drives the rest of the way to Kansas City with a smug smile on his face, Otter pouting and making injured noises from the back.

They're in Omaha and Frank's just wandering around the mall. He's not looking for anything in particular, though he won't say no to a giant pretzel with mustard. He's just walking around and enjoying the hour and a half he has to himself. He loves his band, he really does, but sometimes an hour and a half alone is all he's got to keep himself sane.

He walks past the store and glances at the window display because it's flashy and eye catching. It's one of those semi-respectable lingerie stores that's kind of scandalous in the suburbs. Nothing actually dirty, but enough of a suggestion of people having sex on purpose that it's risqué. Frank passes the store and finds the kiosk selling giant pretzels because almost every mall has a kiosk that sells giant pretzels. He gets one with salt and spicy mustard to dip it into and eats it while strolling along and watching people who don't live out of vans or make their living playing guitar, the poor bastards.

He's done with his pretzel and strolling back when he glances at the window display again. It's not just lingerie, they've also got shoes and clothing, and the dress in the window makes Frank stop in his tracks.

Since he's never really been shy, he just walks into the store and tells the saleswoman that he wants to get the dress in the window for a girl, only he's not sure exactly what size she is. "She's got a 28 inch waist if that helps," he offers, since he knows what size jeans Mikey wears.

She asks questions about how tall and curvy Mikey is, "Pretty tall, pretty flat, tiny hips," and decides that Mikey probably wears a six. Then she tells Frank they're having a sale on underwear, five pairs for twenty dollars, which, well, hell yeah. Then she suggests matching bras.

Frank shrugs. "She doesn't ever really wear bras," he says. He doesn't know whether or not that's true, but the idea of trying to figure out Mikey's bra size is kind of daunting. The saleswoman suggests camisoles instead, then, or maybe some lingerie and, okay, Frank knows she's suggesting all that shit because she just wants him to spend money, but still. She's good at her job and Frank actually wants to buy most of the stuff she suggests. He hopes she works on commission, because she deserves it.

Frank walks out of the store with a dress, five pairs of panties, three camisoles, and a sheer white cotton babydoll with embroidery and eyelets that reminds him of the panties that Mikey was wearing the night he let Frank see him. He also gets a soft cotton sleep shirt just because he hopes Mikey will like the way it feels against his skin.

He makes it back to the van first, thank Christ, and hides his purchase deep in the furthest corner of his duffle bag. When Gerard and Mikey come back, they've obviously hit the Hot Topic if the new Hello Kitty beanie on Gerard's head is anything to go by.

Frank says, "I like your hat."

Gerard smiles at him and says, "It's fucking awesome, right?" and then starts telling them about how much he'd loved Little Twin Stars in kindergarten.

Frank looks at Mikey and flushes. It's one thing to buy lingerie for one of your best friends; the idea of giving it to him, the idea that he might actually wear it? That's something else completely.

Mikey says, "I got you a present," and fastens a button onto the front of Frank's hoodie.

Frank tips it up and reads it upside down. It's black, and in white block letters it says, I think my vagina is haunted. He laughs and says, "Thanks."

"I saw it and thought of you."

Frank rolls his eyes and grins and says, "Weirdo."

Mikey smiles back.

They play two shows in Omaha, then drive to Des Moines for another. They play Iowa City, then Cedar Falls, then drive through hours and hours of nothing until they make Rochester, Minnesota. The only thing that Frank likes about driving through the Midwest is that there are a lot of cows, so he's always got a chance to say things like, "Man, that reminds me of the first time I actually saw a cow up close. And then after I got back to the house, I got to see Ray and Gerard passed out naked with an eighteen year-old farm girl and their hands on each others' cocks."

And then Ray will cry, "We didn't touch swords, asshole!"

And Gerard will say, "She was not eighteen, oh my God, she was twenty-five. What kind of pervert do you think I am?"

They're almost to Eau Claire when Mother Nature decides it will be hilarious to create a blizzard at the end of spring and their van goes off the road in the blinding snow and ice and they end up in a shitty motel just outside of Menomonie.

"Menomonie," Frank says. "It's not even a real word. Say it, man, it just bounces around in the front of your mouth."

Mikey says, "Menomonie," and grins, then says it over and over again.

"Going to fucking murder you both," Ray growls over his shoulder from his position at the front desk. He's pissy because the motel doesn't have any double rooms left, only singles, and they won't allow more than two adults to stay in a single room at a time, which means they're going to have to pay for three rooms, plus whatever it's going to cost to get the van towed out of the ditch they'd ended up in, plus they're probably going to miss their show the next night in Eau Claire.

Frank sits next to Gerard on the crappy little couch in the motel's lobby and rests his chin on Gerard's shoulder and looks at Mikey and whispers, "Menomonie."

Mikey smiles and looks down quickly and Gerard laughs and Ray announces that he's taking the third room to himself and everybody else can go fuck themselves.

Frank ends up sharing a room with Mikey, which isn't how it usually goes. Usually if they actually get a hotel room, he shares a bed with Ray or Otter and Mikey and Gerard share the other. More often than that, Ray and Otter share one bed, Mikey and Gerard share the second, and Frank gets the rollaway cot because he's the smallest. He usually puts up a token objection just so the other guys won't catch on that he actually really likes getting the cot because then he never has to share the covers.

Frank looks at the one bed they're going to share and it's fine. It's not like he can't control himself. It's not like he's going to reach out and touch Mikey in his sleep. He just maybe needs to jerk off in the shower before he gets into bed. Maybe a couple of times.

He's about to say something about needing a shower, because he's actually kind of freezing and his jeans are damp from the knee down because they'd had to climb through snowdrifts. He turns to say something about needing a shower and Mikey kisses him. Mikey cradles Frank's head in his hands and backs him up against the wall and kisses him over and over again.

Mikey pulls back just far enough to stroke his thumb over Frank's lower lip. "This okay?" he asks breathlessly.

Frank nods and says, "Yeah, yes, God." And then he flicks his tongue out to lick at the tip of Mikey's thumb, which makes him want even more. He drops to his knees and starts unbuckling Mikey's belt, yanks his fly open and gets Mikey's cock out and wraps his lips around it as fast as he can. He doesn't want Mikey to change his mind and he's been remembering the scent of Mikey's arousal for months, remembering how close he was to tasting it.

It tastes amazing, slightly bitter, the skin of Mikey's cock so smooth against his tongue. Mikey smells sweaty and a little sour and it's fucking perfect. Frank loves it when his senses are overwhelmed like this, when all he can think about is the cock he's sucking.

He pulls away and licks at the tip, strokes Mikey a few times against his face and says, "You can fuck my mouth if you want. I like it."

Mikey whispers, "Oh," but doesn't say anything else. He grips Frank by the hair, though, and guides his cock back into Frank's mouth. He's gentle on the first few strokes, testing to see how far he can go, how much Frank can take. He never gets rough. He's not holding back, he's taking what he wants, but what he wants it to fuck into Frank's mouth with even, unhurried strokes.

It's good. The taste is good and Mikey's fingers in his hair are good. The feeling of his mouth being used is amazing like it almost always is. Every single time he goes to his knees it's like he's fourteen years old again, fooling around with Jimmy Pisacano in his parents' basement, surprised and delighted and a little afraid of just how much having a cock in his mouth turns him on. He always gets a dirty thrill that shoots through him, different from the nearly overwhelming physical arousal that sucking a guy off causes. It's a little twist of shame at being used, at liking it, and somehow that just makes Frank want it more.

So it's good, but it's not amazing. He wants Mikey to lose to control. He wants Mikey to make broken, desperate noises and cling to Frank so hard he leaves bruises. He wants to be able to hear Mikey's shuddering breaths over the roaring in his ears.

Frank pulls back and Mikey lets go immediately. Frank thinks, One of these days, I'm going to have to teach him how to really fuck my face. He kisses Mikey's sharp hipbone and tugs his pants down to his knees and says, "What do you like?"

He looks up, and Mikey's looking back at him. He flicks his tongue out over his lower lip, then whispers, "Everything."

Frank nods and rubs his face against Mikey's skin and breathes in the scent of him. "Yeah, but what do you like best?"

Mikey takes a step back, and Frank starts to panic. They're not going to do this again. He's not going to let Mikey freak out on him again. But Mikey's not freaking out. Mikey tugs his sweatshirt off, then strips out of the t-shirt beneath it. He shoves his jeans down to his ankles and steps out of his shoes and socks at the same time, leaving everything in a tangle on the floor.

Frank eyes the angles of Mikey's body for a while, admires the jut of his cock between his legs, his long torso and the way his belly hollows out beneath his ribs. Then Frank grins up at him. "You going to leave the glasses and hat on?"

Mikey smiles shyly and reaches up to touch the stocking cap on his head. He says, "Oh, right," and pulls it off, dropping it to the floor next to his clothes. He takes his glasses off and says, "Um, will you turn the lights off?"

Frank's disappointed at that because he wants to see Mikey, just fucking loves to look at him. He's not disappointed enough to refuse, though. He stands and strips out of his shirt and hoodie as he turns, starts unbuckling his belt and reaches for the light switch next to the door. There's a soft click from behind him as he turns the lights off, and he smiles when he sees that Mikey's turned on the bedside lamp. It gives off a soft, amber glow that Frank would bitch about any other time, but this time he doesn't give a shit about having light bright enough to read by.

Mikey pulls the covers off the bed and climbs onto it, looks over his shoulder at Frank and says, "Come here."

Frank can't get his pants off fast enough. They're still wet from the knee down and his cock is so hard it hurts being confined behind his zipper. He usually likes putting on a show when he gets naked, but he's too turned on to bother. He probably looks like an idiot struggling out of them, but whatever. Mikey'd been about to have sex with a stocking cap on, so he can't judge.

"How do you...?" Frank asks as he watches Mikey stack the pillows and then lay back on them. "What do you want me to...?"

"Come here," Mikey says again. "On top of me."

"Yeah," Frank whispers, because yeah. He hurries onto the bed and settles in with one leg hooked over Mikey's, propped up on one elbow so he can touch Mikey's face with his other hand.

"On top of me," Mikey says, squirming. "Want to feel your weight holding me down."

Frank couldn't stop himself from kissing Mikey hard and needy right then even if he wanted to. He shifts so he's settled in between Mikey's legs, so their cocks are rubbing together, and he holds himself up on his elbows just so they don't have to stop kissing. He lets the rest of his weight pin Mikey to the bed, and Mikey moans into his mouth.

"Fuck," Frank whispers after they part for air. He presses his mouth to Mikey's throat and kisses him there. They're rubbing up against each other like teenagers and Frank thinks it should feel stupid, but it's amazing. Mikey's hands are touching him all over, sweeping down his back and over his ass and thighs, back up to grip his shoulders or stroke Frank's hair.

"I like it this way to start," Mikey pants against his ear. "You feel so good on top of me."

Frank says, "Yeah. Oh, God."

"Talk to me. I want you to talk to me."

Frank doesn't know what to say. He doesn't think, I've been in love with you for so long I can't remember what it was like not to love you, will really do much to heighten the mood.

"You asked what I liked," Mikey says. "I like to hear you talk. I like your voice."

"There's nothing special about my voice."

"It's yours. Whisper something to me."

Frank takes a deep breath and grinds their cocks together and when Mikey moans, he whispers, "I fucking love the sounds you make when you're turned on."

Mikey hums softly and strokes Frank's back, tilts his hips so they're rubbing together at a better angle.

"I look at you," Frank whispers. "I look at you and I want you so much. All the fucking time. Do you even know how gorgeous you are?"

"Frankie."

"You can pull my hair. Not hard, just tug on it, oh, yeah, like that."

"I'm not going to last," Mikey says. "Sorry, fuck, I've just been thinking about it for so long, so fucking worked up and you feel so good."

"Want you to come," Frank gasps. "Want to hear it, want to see you, smell it, fucking taste it."

Mikey's fingers dig painfully hard into his hips but it just makes Frank moan and grind his hips down harder. He can't believe how good it feels, the sweat between their bodies making everything slick, the way the hollow of Mikey's hip feels like it was made for Frank to rub his cock against.

"Keep talking." Mikey's voice is ragged. "Tell me what you're thinking right now."

Frank's so fucking turned on and so close to coming that he doesn't even think to censor himself. He says, "Fuck, Mikey, thinking about how your body feels made for mine. Thinking about how I want, fuck, everything, want to make you come, want to make my pretty fucking boy come, fuck, want you to be mine, so fucking beautiful." He shudders and stills before his hips start to jerk on their own and he's coming hard, pressing his face into Mikey's neck to stifle his moans.

Mikey's still rutting up against him, gasping, whispering, "Oh, fuck, so fucking close."

Frank rolls off him enough to get his hand around Mikey's cock. He uses his own come to make the slide of his hand wet and slick and he jerks Mikey off hard and fast. "Come for me," he whispers, shaking a little bit from his orgasm but not willing to stop. "What do you need, baby?"

"Tell me," Mikey gasps. "Say it again. Tell me, please."

"So fucking pretty," Frank says. "You're my pretty little girl, right? Mine and nobody else's?"

Mikey's nearly keening when he says, "Yeah. Yours. Your little girl."

Frank kisses him, doesn't expect Mikey to kiss him back that close to coming, but he kisses Mikey's mouth and his jaw and the shell of his ear. He whispers, "Come on, baby girl, let me see you come. So fucking beautiful when you come, prettiest fucking thing I've ever seen."

Mikey arches up and wails, hand flailing and coming to rest in Frank's hair, pulling it too hard as he shudders and his hips actually buck up off the bed.

When Mikey collapses back down, panting, Frank trails his fingers through the splashes of jizz on Mikey's stomach, then lifts them to his mouth to taste.

Mikey moans softly as he watches Frank suck his fingers clean. He's staring at Frank's mouth. Frank does it again because, yeah, it's dirty, but it's the kind of dirty that's so fucking good, and Frank likes it when people look at his mouth.

Mikey tips his chin up in invitation, and Frank kisses him, groaning into Mikey's mouth as he licks at Frank's teeth, as he tastes himself on Frank's tongue. They kiss hard at first, as desperate as the sex, and Frank could kiss him like that for hours. He doesn't get the chance to, though, because Mikey pushes him away. He pushes Frank away and turns onto his side and he's starting to sit up when Frank presses himself against Mikey's back and says, "Don't. Don't walk away from me again."

Mikey's breath is coming quick and he's shaking.

"I won't. I won't say those things anymore if they upset you."

Mikey takes a shuddering breath and whispers, "I liked it."

Frank pulls Mikey closer against him and nuzzles against the back of his neck and he wants to say so many sappy things, wants to tell Mikey that he really is the prettiest thing Frank's ever seen, wants to say that he really does want Mikey to be his. He doesn't say any of that.

"So, uh," Frank says softly. "When I said you could fuck my face, I said it because I like it. There's just, fuck. There's something about being on my knees, having some guy holding my head and just using me, just making me take it, just getting himself off. I don't like other stuff like that. Like, I'd fucking hate it if some guy pinned me down and fucked me like that even though I totally like getting fucked. Just, uh, for the record."

Mikey doesn't say anything, but he does squeeze Frank's hand.

"I think maybe it's because the first time I ever had a dick in my mouth, I was fourteen and kind of ashamed of how much I wanted it. And then I was, like, actually sucking a dick--"

"You can't skip ahead like that," Mikey whispers. "Start the story where it really wants you to start it."

Frank grins against the back of Mikey's neck and says. "Okay. Me at fourteen and I don't fit in anywhere, not even in my own fucking skin, you know? I hang out sometimes with this guy, Jimmy Pisacano."

"Jimmy the Fish," Mikey says in a thick Jersey-Italian accent.

"He said it meant shark, but yeah. We're hanging out in his basement because his parents didn't give a fuck if he smoked down there or played music loud or whatever. He got this porn from his cousin, like, a fucking VHS tape, right? I don't even, it wasn't memorable or anything. Just that we're watching this girl go down on a guy and I'm so fucking turned on and I've been thinking a lot about how I'm pretty sure I want to suck dick. So I don't even say anything, I just get down on my knees and start sucking him off. It turned me on so fucking hard, even more than I expected it to. And it was fucking awesome because he was moaning and tugging on my hair and saying my name and how good it felt. And I was really fucking scared of how much I liked it. Even in the moment, even sucking his cock and loving it and getting off so fucking hard I couldn't see straight, I was scared. It wasn't something I was supposed to like. It wasn't something that was supposed to feel natural."

"It felt natural?" Mikey asks softly.

"Yeah. Like, totally right."

"I couldn't stop laughing the first time I went down on a guy. We were both on E, though."

"It scared me because I knew it wasn't supposed to feel natural, so that meant that there really was something wrong with me. But I did it anyway because I wanted it so much, even though it took a while for me to realize that it didn't mean I was fucked up. It took a while for me to just accept how much I fucking love it, love it so much that a cock down my throat is guaranteed to get me off hard every time."

Mikey says, "Oh, my God. The moral to your story is about as fucking subtle as an anvil falling on my head."

"Fine, I'm not a poet. But, yeah. That's the moral. You're not fucked up just because you like things that other people say you shouldn't."

Mikey sighs. "Can we not?" he asks after a long time. "Can we just sleep?"

Frank closes his eyes and breathes in the scent of Mikey's skin and says, "Yeah."

He's the most comfortable he's been in months. He's toasty fucking warm from his toes up to his shoulders. He can feel the muscles in his back relaxing and even his right hip, which always aches when he sleeps in the van, starts to unknot. He's almost completely asleep when Mikey says, "I like my body."

Frank says, "Mmm." He likes Mikey's body, too.

"I don't want to get, like, surgery or anything. Don't want to lop anything off."

Frank blinks his eyes open. He's awake. He says, "Okay."

"But on the inside, I kind of am a girl as much as I'm a guy. Or maybe I'm neither. I don't know. I just. Sometimes I just want to look..." He sighs and doesn't say anything else, turns so he can press his forehead to Frank's shoulder.

Frank says, "You want to look pretty."

Mikey nods and makes a soft sound in the back of his throat.

"I got you something," Frank whispers. "It's, um. I don't know if you'll like it or if it's even anything you want, but if you do want it, you should have it." He gets out of bed and opens his duffle, digs to the bottom to pull out the brown plastic Hy-Vee bags he'd hidden the clothes in the day after he'd bought them. He hands the bags to Mikey and says, "It's not. They're not for my benefit, okay? I mean, I like it. Obviously. But I'm not expecting anything from you."

Mikey sits up and looks at him curiously, then takes the bags when Frank offers them to him. He undoes the knots Frank had tied the handles into and opens the bags silently. He lets out a long breath and says, "Frank."

"You said you stopped wearing them but, like. The way you said it, it sounded like you stopped because you thought you should be ashamed of it, not because you wanted to. And I thought that was really fucking shitty, because if that's what you want to wear then you should, you know? You deserve pretty things."

Mikey sighs. Frank can't tell if he's angry or offended or upset. He's not jumping for joy, Frank knows that much.

Frank pulls on sweats and a t-shirt because it's cold in the room and he's not sure Mikey wants him back in the bed any time soon. "Did I fuck up?"

Mikey shakes his head and says, "No." He reaches his hand out, but pulls it back before he touches any of the things in the bag.

Frank grabs his wallet and clears his throat as he shoves his feet into his shoes. "I'm gonna go find some food," he says. "I'll bring you something back."

Mikey nods and says, "Okay," and he still doesn't look at Frank.

There's nothing open in town so the motel employees have set up their continental breakfast for everyone trapped in the blizzard. Frank eats a cinnamon roll and an overripe banana while sipping weak, bitter coffee and watching the headlines on CNN scroll across the bottom of the screen. He's surprised to see that it's only seven o'clock at night. It feels so much later.

Once he's given Mikey about twenty minutes alone, he piles up plates with stale pastries and lukewarm hash browns and as much fruit as he can balance on the top. He stops at the vending machine for sodas and manages not to drop anything on the way back to the room.

"Breakfast of champions," he announces when he gets back into the room.

Mikey's curled up on the bed wearing jeans and an oversized sweatshirt that Frank thinks might have originally belonged to Otter. The bags and their contents are nowhere to be seen. Mikey says, "I'm starving," and grabs a sugary cheese Danish off the plate, stuffing half of it into his mouth and chewing as he surveys his other choices.

They finish everything off and wash it down with ice cold Dr. Pepper and Frank wrinkles his nose and says, "I really hope the weird coating on the inside of my mouth right now isn't because everything was made with lard."

Mikey laughs and leans forward, licks at Frank's mouth until he parts his lips, licks inside and strokes his thumb over Frank's cheekbone, his fingers strong against the side of Frank's face. He pulls back a little bit and says, "Nah, that's all the partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil in the pastries."

Frank says, "What does partially hydrogenated even mean?"

Mikey says, "What the fuck's cottonseed oil?"

Frank laughs, then hums happily when Mikey kisses him again. They end up tangled together on the sheets, making out slow and lazy. Frank thinks that his brain is so pleased with all the orgasms he's been giving it that it's pumping extra endorphins and serotonin into his bloodstream as a reward. He's totally buzzing and relaxed and doesn't want to move or stop making out with Mikey ever.

They fall asleep making out, and Frank wakes up with a hand wrapped tight around his wrist. It's gripping hard enough to grind his bones together, and he tries to tug it away before prying the fingers off his wrist with his free hand. He flops onto his stomach and pulls his sore wrist in beneath him, and only then does he wake up enough to realize that it wasn't a dream, it was Mikey.

He lifts his head and he can't see shit. The room's pitch black, not even the glow of the alarm clock illuminating it. "Mikey?"

Mikey takes a deep breath and reaches for Frank's hand. He grips it just as hard, but it hurts less than when he'd had a hold of Frank's wrist.

Frank sits up and reaches out to feel for him. Mikey's sitting up against the headboard, covers pulled tight around his shoulders. "Power go out?" he asks softly.

"Don't know," Mikey whispers. "Frankie, what's that sound?"

Frank listens to the eerie howl of the wind, high pitched and relentless. "It's the wind."

"Are you sure?"

Frank sighs and shifts until he's got Mikey in his arms. He always forgets how easy it is for both Gerard and Mikey to tip away from reality, how when they're worn down or half awake or trapped in the dark in a strange motel room they start to actually believe in things like ghosts and demons, in curses and myths.

"We're in the middle of a blizzard, Mikes," Frank whispers. He kisses Mikey's cheekbone and strokes his hair.

"It doesn't sound like any blizzard I've ever been in before."

"Yeah, well, it's our first Midwestern blizzard. Think of all that open prairie and farmland and shit the wind has to blow across. Think of how fast it must get going without any buildings in the way to slow it down."

Mikey relaxes against him after a moment and says, "Yeah. Yeah, okay."

"Go back to sleep, baby," Frank murmurs.

Mikey nods and goes silent, his breathing slow and steady. Frank thinks he's asleep, but then he whispers, "I'm sorry I can't be what you want."

"Mikey. You are what I want."

"I know you want me to. You want me to wear those things and let you see me, but I can't. I can't show anybody, not even you."

Frank says, "You don't have to, but I'm just going to keep reminding you that it's nothing to be ashamed of. There's not a single thing in this world that should ever make you feel ashamed."

Mikey huffs softly and says, "Gross. You sound like Gerard."

Frank smiles a little bit and kisses him and says, "Sorry. I'll try not to channel your brother when we're in bed."

Mikey sighs softly, and Frank smiles again when he realizes that Mikey's asleep.

**********

Frank startles awake at the loud pounding on the motel room door. He groans and covers his head with his pillow.

"Van's drivable and roads are clear," Ray says sharply. "Wake up, assholes, we're taking off in ten and don't think I won't leave you here."

Frank says, "No, you won’t."

Ray just pounds on the door again and says, "Seriously, up and in the van in ten minutes."

Frank sits up and rubs his face. Next to him, Mikey's sitting up and squinting at the bedside table, feeling around for his glasses. Once he gets them on, he looks at Frank and laughs. "Oh, God, you look totally fucked out."

Frank tries to grin at him, but it's interrupted by a yawn. "You, too," he says, then yawns again. Mikey's hair is wild and his mouth is swollen and he's got marks on his skin from Frank's mouth and hands. Frank wishes he had time to look at himself in the mirror, to look at his own bruises and hickeys, to know exactly where they are so he can press on them through his clothes and remember.

There's no time, though. They have time to piss, time to gargle some mouthwash and comb down the worst of their sex hair, and then they're out the door and into the lobby, grabbing as much continental breakfast as they can on their way out to the van.

It's Mikey's turn to drive but, well, no. Mikey doesn't have license, and the only real practice driving he's had has been on straight, flat, deserted roads in the middle of nowhere. Normally they'd have him drive until they reached the outskirts of the next city, but Frank and Ray look at the snowy roads then at each other and Frank climbs into the driver's seat and Ray climbs into the passenger seat because he's great with navigation.

They make it to Eau Claire in time for their show and by the end of it, Frank feels like he's the dirtiest he's ever been in his entire life. He's got show sweat on top of road grime on top of sex stink and bodily fluids on top of more road grime and more show sweat. When they pass a TA Travel Center at three o'clock in the morning, Frank leans forward and says, "So, what with having to shell out for three motel rooms and getting the van towed, I don't suppose we have nine dollars in our budget so I can take a shower."

Ray says, "Oh, shit yeah. We can spare eighteen bucks to feel human again."

Otter says, "Twenty-seven bucks." Then he turns around to look at Gerard and Mikey, who are both fast asleep. "Do you think we should wake them up?"

Ray says, "They won't shower, anyway."

Frank sighs softly, because he knows it's true. When they stop the van, though, Mikey sits up and mumbles, "Me, too. Gee, hey, wake up. We're taking showers."

Gerard doesn't even stir, and Mikey pats his head clumsily and yawns and stumbles out of the van towards his first ever truck stop shower.

Frank appreciates Mikey's shower a lot the next night on the way to Chicago when Otter's driving and Gerard's slumped in the passenger seat and Ray's snoring from the middle seat, feet dangling over the edge. Frank and Mikey aren't sleeping, but they're not moving or talking or even opening their eyes. Their fingers are tangled together and Mikey keeps stroking his thumb over the back of Frank's hand. Frank's floating in a haze of exhaustion and arousal, and he doesn't expect it when Mikey leans in and whispers, "All I've been able to think about for two days is fucking your mouth."

Frank's breath hitches.

"I know we can't but I just--"

Frank says, "Can you stay quiet if I suck you off?"

Mikey pauses and licks his lips, then nods once. Frank spares one last glance towards the front of the van before sliding down in his seat and kneeling between Mikey's legs. He puts one of Mikey's hands on his head, shoves Mikey's fingers through his hair, and Mikey holds on tight and doesn't make a sound.

Chicago's a party like always. Fort Wayne makes them crack up because all five of them can't help but do really terrible John Wayne impressions the whole time. They get invited to a house party in Columbus and Frank and Mikey are both drunk when they sneak through the house looking for privacy and end up making out and jerking each other off in a closet that's way too tiny for anything else.

They clean up and Mikey wants to dance. He says, "Come on," and tugs on Frank's arm.

Frank holds up his pack of cigarettes and says, "I'll come watch you later, though. Go have fun."

There are only two other people in the backyard and they're having a fight in hushed, angry tones, so Frank sits on the other side of the yard and lights up. He's halfway through his cigarette when Gerard sits down next to him. He lights a cigarette and exhales before saying, "Hey." He seems a lot more sober than Frank's used to him being at a house party.

Frank says, "Hey. Having a good time?"

Gerard shrugs. He gestures with the hand holding his cigarette like he's about to say something, then lets it drop.

Frank says, "Gee?"

"I'm glad you guys made up is all. And I wish he'd talk to me about it but I can't make him and it's not fair to ask you." He shrugs again.

"I'm in love with him if it makes you feel any better."

Gerard smiles and waves his hand, saying, "Oh, I already knew that. I've known that forever."

Frank says, "Huh."

"It's obvious, Frankie, just from the way you look at him. You're always looking at him."

Frank didn't know anyone else had noticed.

"But Mikey's. He's not. Look, I don't know why you guys were fighting and it's not my fucking place to, like, say things. To tell you things about him that are, like. I mean, it would be shitty, right? Because you're getting to know him and, like, you're the most important person in his life, but I'll always know him better. Because I was there, you know? I saw his whole life happening, but it would be really unfair of me to talk to you about things that maybe you don't know, yet."

Frank says, "Holy shit. Gee. He thinks you don't know."

Gerard frowns. "About...?"

"The clothes. He thinks you don't know."

Gerard sputters and gestures and doesn't say anything.

"He's terrified of you finding out. Of anyone finding out."

Gerard says, "I went to school in fucking drag to show him I was okay with it!"

The arguing couple on the other side of the yard turns to look at them.

Gerard flips them the bird, then says, "I tried before. I asked him about stuff and tried to make okay for him to talk to me, but he just. He told me these really obvious lies like some girl from school had just accidentally left a whole bunch of clothes in our room, so I didn't push it. He thought I believed him?"

Frank shrugs. "I don't know. He doesn't talk about it much." Thanks to your fucking asshole of a father, he thinks, but that story's not his to tell.

Gerard says, "Jesus fucking. Mikeyway!" And then he's up and rushing back into the party, cigarette still in hand.

Frank runs a hand through his hair and says, "Shit." He thinks about following Gerard inside, but there's really nothing he can do but hope for the best.

**********

Frank finds Otter passed out in the hallway on the way to the bathroom. He finds Ray in the kitchen, talking about organic gardening with a really tall, really skinny woman with pale blonde dreadlocks.

Ray breaks away from the conversation to say, "Think we should start rounding everybody up?"

Frank says, "Otter's ass up on the floor just down the hall."

Ray laughs softly, "Figures. Gee and Mikeyway back from the playground yet?"

"Playground?" Frank asks.

Ray shrugs. "Gerard just grabbed my arm a couple hours ago and said he and Mikey were going to go to this playground somebody's told them about."

"I'll go find them," Frank says. He heads towards the front door, stopping to ask the most sober woman he sees which way the playground is. She points and looks at him like he's stupid for not knowing which way the playground is in some random neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio. He'd point out the fact that his fucking accent should let her know he's not from fucking Ohio, but he lets it go and heads out into the pre-dawn light.

The playground's only a few blocks down, next to an abandoned elementary school with broken and boarded up windows. He sees Gerard and Mikey right away, sitting on a tilted merry-go-round that has lost all its paint and is beginning to rust. Frank stops a few feet away from them and waits.

Mikey smiles when he sees him and Frank lets out the breath he's been holding.

"Time to go?" Mikey asks. His eyes are red from crying, but he's not crying anymore and the way he smiles at Frank is sweet and warm.

Frank nods. "It might take all of us to get Otter back into the van, though."

When they get up from the merry-go-round, it creaks and spins behind them. Gerard slings one arm around Mikey's shoulders and plants a hard kiss against his cheekbone. Mikey laughs and wipes his cheek, but he doesn't shrug Gerard's arm away. He reaches out to hold Frank's hand and the three of them walk along like that all the way back to the house.

**********

Columbus becomes Pittsburgh which becomes Baltimore. That turns into Harrisburg, then Philadelphia, then Atlantic City, then Trenton, and finally home. Frank carefully stows away his guitars, then drops his bags in the middle of the living room and collapses onto his bed even though the room's stuffy and he should really open the windows or turn on the air.

He can see Mikey out of the corner of his eye, leaning against his doorframe and watching him.

Frank says, "I fucking love my bed."

Mikey toes off his shoes and says, "We can both fit if we spoon."

They nap until Frank feels like he can move again, and he gets up to shower. Mikey joins him after a few minutes, strokes Frank's cock and then drops to his knees to suck Frank off right there under the spray. Frank leans against the tile wall and moans and remembers why he fucking loves shower sex.

They sleep curled together in Frank's shitty little twin bed, and Frank remembers why he loves middle of the night sex and morning sex and afternoon sex after sleeping the entire morning away.

He kisses Mikey goodbye for what doesn't feel like nearly long enough before he leaves to go visit his mom, to prove to her that he's been eating fine on tour and he's not sick and he still needs her, even if sometimes he just needs to use her washing machine. He shows up late with a hickey on his neck and she raises her eyebrows at it and he has to fidget awkwardly before saying, "So, um, Mikey and I are kind of together now."

He does his laundry and they have dinner and his aunts and uncles come over and it's dark before he finally escapes. He stops at the grocery store on the way home to pick up basic foodstuffs and condoms. Lots of condoms and two different kinds of lube and when he's passing the hair care aisle, he sees a set of black hair bows and he doesn't even know if Mikey likes hair bows, but if he does, Frank thinks they'll look really good with the dress.

The apartment's completely dark when Frank gets home; the only light is the glow from the numbers on the stereo. The light switch next to the door actually turns on the light in the hallway because, well, Frank's not sure. Whoever wired their building apparently had a gift for electrical work but no common sense. It's enough light for him to see by, though, enough for him to make it across to the light switch next to the table without tripping over anything.

He hefts the grocery bags up and kicks the front door shut behind him and is heading for the light switch when he stops, because Mikey's right the fuck there, sitting in the shadows at the table, which means that before Frank turned on the hall light, he'd been sitting there in the dark.

He says, "I got you Trix. I know you like the rabbit."

Mikey smiles weakly but doesn't look up at him. He's curled up in his ugly green robe even though it's not cold.

"Why were you sitting in the dark?" Frank asks softly.

"I wasn't at first," Mikey tells him. "But then, well, I didn't really notice it happening, but it did."

"The sun tends to go down at night," Frank says softly. He sets the grocery bags down on the kitchen floor and just leaves them there. Curling his fingers through Mikey's hair is much more important than making sure the produce gets put in the fridge right away.

Frank says, "Hey, it's all right. What's going on?"

Mikey shakes his head, but he doesn't pull away when Frank touches him. He lets Frank hold him, and when Frank sinks to his knees on the floor, he smiles slightly and says, "Do you ever think about anything besides blowjobs?"

"Not usually," Frank says, kissing the inside of Mikey's knee. "Will you tell me what's going on?"

Mikey licks his lips, then says, "What are we, Frank?"

Frank frowns. He doesn't know what Mikey means by that, doesn't know if he wants to know the meaning of life or just wants Frank to succinctly describe the sound of their band.

"Are we dating? Are you my boyfriend?"

Frank says, "Yeah. If you want me."

Mikey nods, and Frank's been running his palm up and down Mikey's calf for over a minute before he notices that it's smooth, that Mikey's shaved. He shudders and presses another kiss to Mikey's knee , feeling the softness against his mouth, breathing in the delicate scent of body lotion. He wants so strongly, so suddenly, that it takes his breath away.

"Do you want," Mikey starts. "I mean. Do you want me to dress up for you?"

Frank says, "Yes," before he can stop himself. Then he says, "No. Not for me. If you do it for you, I'm going to think it's really hot, but I don't want you to do it just because I like it."

Mikey says, "I want to. Someday. But you should know that it's not about sex for me. Not just about sex. I feel sexy like that, but it's not a fetish."

Frank says, "I know."

Mikey strokes his hair and says, "Okay. Come to bed."

"Groceries," Frank tells him. "Just the stuff that'll melt or go bad. I'll be really quick." And he is. He doesn't even take things out of the bags, just stuffs the coconut ice cream and the Trix into the freezer together, tosses fruits and vegetables and cans of soup into the fridge and then practically races to his room. His bed is empty, and he turns and heads down the hall, calling out, "Mikey?"

"My room, idiot," Mikey says, and when Frank walks in he realizes that oh, yeah, Mikey's bed is a double.

Then he sees the leopard print dress he'd bought for Mikey hanging on the back of his closet door and stops in his tracks.

"It fits really well," Mikey says softly. "I love it."

Frank says, "I, I got you bows. For your hair. I thought they'd match or, um, go, or, um, I don't actually know the right word. I think maybe I put them in the freezer."

Mikey says, "Frank. Come to bed. Don't you want to see how well the things you picked out for me fit?"

Frank closes the door behind him and all he can think of to say is, "Fuck, baby." It's not the right thing to say. It's not even close to what Mikey deserves, but Frank can't think of anything else because Mikey's laid out on his bed, his long, smooth legs exposed, toenails painted dark red, the soft cotton sleep shirt Frank had picked out for him draped and clinging over his body.

"It's not the sexiest thing you got me, I know, but--"

"Yeah," Frank whispers. "It is. Jesus, you're beautiful."

Mikey blushes, but his smile is soft and pleased and Frank can't wait to see just how far down his blush goes. He starts at Mikey's feet, kisses his toes and the top of his foot, kisses the inside of his ankle and trails his tongue up the smooth skin all the way to Mikey's knee. He stops where the hem of the sleep shirt falls just over the middle of Mikey's thigh. "Can I?" he asks, pushing it up just a little bit.

"Yeah."

He slides the hem up and kisses Mikey's soft, smooth thighs. He says, "I never even imagined your legs like this. God. They're amazing."

"I cut them all to shit the first time," Mikey says with a breathy laugh. "I had no idea what I was doing. I've still got a scar on my ankle from it."

Frank slides back down and takes Mikey's foot in his hands, turns it to the side looking for the scar.

"Other leg," Mikey whispers. "On the outside. Over the bone."

Frank sees it, faint and pale, right over Mikey's anklebone. He leans down to kiss it. "How old were you?"

"Fourteen."

Frank moves back up, hooks Mikey's legs on either side of his hips and strokes his thighs. Mikey sighs and shifts, hips rolling. The hem of the sleep shirt slides up and Frank catches a glimpse of pale blue cotton. He can't stop touching Mikey's skin.

Mikey tugs at Frank's shirt, says, "Come on, let me see you."

Frank leans back and grins. He pulls his shirt off slowly, making it last, revealing his tattoos inch by inch.

Mikey laughs and says, "Show off."

Frank shrugs because he's not going to deny it. He does the same with his jeans, toys with each button on his fly before undoing it, then just inching them down his hips. He's watching Mikey's face and Mikey's watching his hands, chewing on his lower lip, holding his breath and waiting. When he pushes his jeans down far enough to free his cock, Mikey licks his lips and takes a couple quick, shaky breaths.

Frank strokes himself and asks, "This all you wanted to see or do you want me to keep going?"

Mikey blinks at him and says, "What?" His eyes are glazed and he's rubbing himself slowly.

Frank says, "I'll really show off for you one day, but not tonight." Once his jeans are off and kicked to the floor, he climbs over Mikey and settles himself between Mikey's legs, kisses him and whispers, "Hey, pretty boy." He can actually see the blush rising on Mikey's face. He brushes Mikey's hair out of his eyes. "Do you like that or pretty girl better?"

Mikey's eyes close and he rocks up against Frank and whispers, "Both. I like that you call me both."

Frank kisses him again and Mikey grips his hair hard and they make out until Mikey gasps, "Wanna fuck you."

Frank says, "Yeah, yes," and pushes himself up, wondering where the hell he'd put the condoms. "I think maybe I put the condoms in the fridge," he admits.

Mikey laughs and tips his head to the side and there are condoms and a bottle of lube right there on the nightstand. Frank thinks he's going to show Mikey his exhibitionist streak, ride Mikey's cock and touch himself and really put on a show. Mikey has other plans, though, and Frank just rolls with it because he is never going to complain about Mikey shoving him onto his back and pressing his knees to his shoulders and fucking him so hard that Frank has to brace his hands on the wall to keep his head from slamming into it.

He won't complain until afterwards, at least. "Ow," he says. He reaches up to rub the top of his head, but his limbs are shaky and weak so he just lets his arm fall back onto the mattress.

Mikey strokes his hip with the backs of his fingers and says, "Sorry." He gives Frank's hip a little push, then another one, and Frank somehow finds the coordination to roll over onto his stomach. "Want me to kiss it better?" Mikey asks. His breath is hot against the small of Frank's back.

"Was actually referring to my head, not my ass." Frank shivers when Mikey trails his tongue up his spine. "But you can kiss me anywhere you want."

"Your head?" Mikey asks, kissing the back of Frank's neck.

"Kinda slammed into the wall a couple of times. Note to self: invest in a padded headboard."

Mikey laughs softly and flops down next to him. He grins goofily at Frank and drapes his arm over Frank's back. "Sorry, baby," he murmurs as he slides his fingers through Frank's hair. Then his smile fades and he says, "Shit. You said you didn't like that, being fucked like that and I just--"

"When did I say that?"

"At the motel. You said you didn't like being pinned down. You should have just said--"

"I don't like getting fucked like the guy's just using my ass to get himself off," Frank clarifies. "You fucking me face to face and kissing me and telling me you love me? Not really the same thing."

Mikey's soft smile reappears. He's still flushed and sweaty, but Frank thinks he can see the hit of a blush. "Sleepy?" Mikey asks softly.

Frank nods and lets his eyes close.

"Don't know how I feel about you falling asleep without first telling me a story with an obvious moral."

Frank groans and pushes himself up, snags the covers because even though he's overheated, he knows they'll get cold in just a little while. He shoves Mikey onto his back and curls up with his head on Mikey's bare chest because he likes the way Mikey's collarbone feels under his cheek.

Frank says, "Once upon a time, there was a fucking hotass whose dick I wanted in my mouth--"

"And your ass," says Mikey.

"Hey, who's telling this story, you or me?" Frank pinches Mikey's nipple, then grins as Mikey shivers and lets out a soft moan; he stores that information away for later use. "I wanted his dick in my mouth or my ass or pretty much anywhere he was willing to put it."

Mikey laughs and wiggles his finger into Frank's ear.

Frank slaps Mikey's hand away and says, "Anyway, fuck, there was this fucking annoying hotass whose dick I wanted and then I got it and it was awesome. The end."

Mikey says, "Awww, I think you're awesome, too."

"Who said I was talking about you? I was talking about Richie Falco in the eleventh grade."

Mikey flips them and pins Frank's shoulders to the mattress and says, "Liar. Say you like me best. Say it."

Frank grins up at him and doesn't fight back at all. He says, "Yeah, I do. I kind of love you, dumbass." And, Christ, Mikey's shy, pleased smile is never going to stop making Frank's insides melt. He thinks that the way he's in love with Mikey is different than he's ever loved anybody before. He's so fucking gone for Mikey, more than he ever knew he could be for anyone. He looks up at Mikey and thinks things like forever, thinks about getting a house with a yard and adopting dogs who will all have stupid names because of course Frank's going to let Mikey name them.

Frank says, "If you got a dog tomorrow, what would you name her?"

"A girl dog?" Mikey asks, settling down and curling up against Frank. He presses a kiss to Frank's neck and hums softly as he thinks. "Buttons, probably."

Frank smiles and strokes Mikey's hair. He can live with that.