Actions

Work Header

The Monster at the End of this Story (Vampires Will Never Hurt You)

Work Text:

Wisconsin in March is a pretty shitty place for a music festival. Frank shoves his hands in his pockets and shuffles awkwardly from foot to foot. It's freezing, and he’s more sensitive to the cold than most people. The dudes in the open air kitchen don't look very happy even either, though they're standing in front of nice, toasty griddles. The steam from the griddles rises up and disappears in the ugly grey sky.

Frank peers over the impromptu sneeze guard. Nothing on the menu is been appropriate for someone with his unique dietary needs. He'd been ready to deal with another night of Pop-Tarts for dinner when one of the cooks had offered to make him something vegetarian. The pasta is pale and mushy, and the vegetables are wilted and sad, but it looks about eighty times better than anything he's eaten since he agreed to come on this miserable tour.

"Here you go, man," the cook says. He pours the pasta into a Styrofoam clam-shell and hands it over. "Bon appetit."

“This looks better than my ma’s,” Frank says. “Thanks, dude. You’re awesome.”

Frank wants to kiss him or something, but mostly he wants to get somewhere so he can shove some of the pasta in his mouth. Gerard tries to insist that coffee is a perfectly acceptable breakfast, but Frank's stomach knows the truth. He’s starving.

He weaves through the crowd hanging around in the artists' area, flashing his pass at security when they step in his way. Big dudes like that always think they can shove Frank around.

They have no idea.

MCR’s ancient van is parked between two huge, gleaming tour buses. If only, Frank thinks. He’d give his right hand for a cozy bunk and a lukewarm shower. The side door of the van is open, and Mikey is sitting in a folding chair in front, gloved hands folded in his lap, beanie pulled down so low it nearly meets the tops of his glasses. At least today the gloves and hat are weather appropriate. Mikey hasn't taken them off all tour, not even that one show where the heat in the venue had been turned up so high Frank had ended up sweating right through his shirt. Mikey’d kept those gloves on and kept that hat on and been as fresh as a flower.

He's a weird guy, Mikey. He's awesome, of course, but seriously weird.

"Yo, Mikey Way," he says, sitting down on the floor of the van, legs folded, food in his lap. "Where's everyone at?"

Mikey shrugs. "They went somewhere," he says, like that explains anything. Of course they must have gone somewhere -- they're not here.

Woah. Frank really needs to get the mental snark in check. Mikey can be a little obtuse at times, but he’s a pretty good guy.

He's probably just over-hungry. He knows he’ll feel better once he's got some grub in his stomach. He pops open the lid of the to-go container and breathes in. His nose is sort of stuffed but he imagines it smells fucking delicious. He rips open the packet of plastic silverware and is about to dig in when Mikey reaches over with one of those crazy long bassist arms and tips the box of delicious pasta out of Frank's lap and onto the ground. A sad few pieces of spaghetti cling limply to the side of the van.

"Motherfucker," Frank says. "Mikey, what the hell?"

"Garlic, Frank," Mikey says.

Frank pales. Well. He's a pretty pale guy naturally, so maybe he just sort of stays the same. The delicious butter-y garlic-y sauce from the pasta is running down the dirty pavement.

"Dude," Frank says. "This fucking sucks."

His lunch is ruined, and Mikey Way just saved his life.

*****

Six months after he split up with Jamia and headed back to Jersey in defeat, Frank hears from his buddy James that My Chemical Romance is looking for a few guys to fill in for their new tour. They need a drummer, because the last dude apparently left under mysterious circumstances, and they want a guitarist to 'round out their sound'.

"For real?" Frank asks, skeptical. The few times he saw MCR before he’d moved down south, they'd been an entertaining mess -- bassist never looking up once, guitarist shredding away, off in his own world, and the singer snarling and flailing and shrieking like he was possessed -- or part wolfman. They didn't seem like the kind of dudes who would care too much about 'rounding out their sound'.

"Yeah," James says. "Gerard's not the same guy he used to be. He's cleaned up, and they've got some new material. They're looking for a good man. You should try out."

"Yeah," Frank says. He's a good guitarist. He played with half the bands in North Jersey back in the day. It's one thing, though, to fill in for a show. It's a totally different thing to deal with tour life as a vampire.

Well, half-vampire, in Frank’s case.

Still, playing music is the only thing he’s ever really wanted to do. All of his other dreams have gone by the wayside, but he still just wants to play his guitar.

“Gimme their number,” he says. “I’ll give them a call.”

*****

"Why the long face, Frankie?"

Gerard and Ray are back from their trip to town. It looks like it must have been a good one. Gerard is grinning, his hair pushed back with sunglasses, a tray of Starbucks cups in one hand and a couple of magazines rolled up under the other arm. His eye are bright.

"I saved his life," Mikey says.

"He looks like you killed his cat," Ray says. "Dude, Mikey, what did you do?"

"I am right here, you know," Frank says, annoyed that they’re talking over his head. "I don't even have a cat, anyway. I'm a dog person."

"Nothing, Ray," Mikey says. "Just ... garlic."

There's a collective nod of understanding.

"That sucks," Gerard says. "But here Frank, I got you a venti soy latte."

He hands over a giant cup of coffee.

"Thanks, Gee," Frank mumbles. It's the thought that counts, but Frank's really pretty much certain that man -- vampire or not -- cannot live on coffee alone.

Gerard sits down next to him, having doled out the other coffees. He puts his hand on Frank's knee. His fingernails are rainbow-hued, red thumb to blue pinky, color scribbled in artists' marker.

"You’d tell us if you weren’t okay, right?" Gerard asks.

"I’m fine," Frank says, glumly. He's not, though. He's actually really pissed. "Dude, I told him no garlic. I told him. It’s not a joke or something."

Gerard looks thoughtful. "Maybe we should go talk to him and explain why it's so important to respect the unique dietary needs of every human being."

Frank rolls his eyes. "I don't think he'd care. Asshole. I could be lying on the ground right now, a smoldering heap of ash, because he had to use garlic."

Mikey looks up. "It wasn't very much," he says. "The smell was really faint. Maybe just a trace left from something someone had cooked before."

Frank knows Mikey's trying to make him feel better, but he doesn't. He's just annoyed. There's too many things he's got to be careful of, too many misconceptions about vampires -- about all cinekin. Tour isn't meant for people like him.

Gerard is frowning at him. "Frank, let's go find you something to eat. We can find a garlic-free kitchen somewhere."

"I bet Anthony will let us borrow his car again," Ray says.

Frank just pushes Gerard's hand off his knee. "No, guys," he says. "It's cool. I'm just going to go walk around for a bit."

He gets up.

"Frankie ..." Gerard says, a pleading note in his voice.

"Seriously, Gee, it's fine," Frank says, stern.

"Let him go," Mikey says, suddenly. He looks at Frank. "Sound check at two, okay?"

"Yeah," Frank says, and he pulls his hood up and walks off between the buses, just needing to be anywhere but with the guys, anywhere he can't see the pity in their eyes.

*****

Cinekin -- homo sapiens cinematica -- aren't exactly some new thing. It's been eighty years since Dr. Frederick Argent introduced his 'revolutionary new motion picture technology' at a handful of theaters in New York City -- and it's been nearly as long since people realized what his claims of 'unparalleled realism -- so real you'll feel like you're living the film!' meant.

Not everyone was susceptible, but for those who were, Dr. Argent's advanced projection technology was so potent it did more than make them feel like they were living the film. It changed them, in ways subtle and blatant. It changed them into simulacra of the very creatures they saw on screen.

For fourteen months the five theaters screened two films a day, and then people started making the connection between their sudden new cravings for the rarest of steak and that Dracula flick they saw in one of Dr. Argent's gleaming new theaters a few months back. Fourteen months, and a whole host of new creatures were born. Vampires, wolfmen, mad scientists, Hydes (Frank's seriously glad he doesn't have to deal with those kind of mood swings) ... the list of cinekin identities keeps growing. Every time they think they've got it fleshed out, someone pops out of the woodwork whose grandparents fell in love while watching The Black Cat.

Headlines had been splashed across the country's top newspapers about 'Argent's Movie Monsters', but the damage had been done, and the Argentu theaters had been boarded up, deserted overnight. The doctor vanished, never to be heard from again. Nobody ‘s ever re-discovered the secret. Nobody knows what caused the cinemorphong. Nobody knows how to reverse it.

It's all kind of bullshit, if you ask Frank. He learned the story in school and from the books his mom got him about ‘growing up vampire’ but honestly he doesn’t really know why it matters. He’s one weirdo in a host, and the world isn’t made for weirdos.

He's not even that bad off -- vampires have a much easier time passing as normal humans than, say, mummies -- and Frank's only half vampire. He can't enthrall anyone, or turn into a bat, or do much at all, honestly. He has pale skin, but he can go out in the sun. His teeth are kind of pointy, sure, but he's pretty much a regular dude.

A regular dude with a very severe allergy to garlic, and a strong aversion to wooden stakes.

He wishes the rest of the world could see it that way.

*****

It clears up a little by sound check. It's not so miserably cold, which is cool, but Frank's got to break out the sunscreen. He's not going to combust into a pile of ashes or anything, not even if he stands on the beach in Wildwood (his aunt and uncle have a summer house there) at high noon on a summer day, but he burns really easily. Some serious SPF protection is a must.

Gerard's still in a really great mood, for whatever reason, and his attitude is infectious. They're all playing great -- even BOB-BOT. He's second hand and still a little glitchy, but MCR didn't have the cash to get him re-programed, so Ray did the work himself. Gerard's vamping and singing the chorus to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Frank had only met him a few times before he left Jersey, and the guy he remembers from those few meetings was a silent, pale (nearly Frank pale!), staring dude who sat in the corner at parties drinking vodka straight. Gerard's still moody, still spends some mornings on the road with his earphones in and his brow knit, drawing his sketchbook and ignoring the world, but most of the time it's hard to make a connection between Gerard then and Gerard now.

 

As MCR shuffles off stage, Pete from Fall Out Boy catches Frank's eye and smiles. They’re sound checking next. Frank doesn't know any of those dudes. He's sure they're great guys, but Pete is open and proud that he's a cinekin -- a Hyde. He's one of the most prominent cinekin advocates in the country. It must be coincidence that he smiles at Frank. Only the band knows that he’s half-vampire.

Frank's not ashamed of what he is. He totally isn't. His father is a good man, vampire or not, and Frank knows most of the stuff that people say about cinekin is just bullshit.

But it's bullshit he's not sure he has the time or energy to deal with, so he just gives Pete a brief tight smile in return and looks away.

*****

Frank fucks up his knuckles playing that night. He scrapes them against the corner of one of the amps as he spins, hand flailing. The blood splatters red and bright and vivid against his white tee shirt. The kids in the crowd love it; at least they start screaming really fucking loud, and he wonders if any of them know. If any of them are vampires too, maybe they'd feel a little bit better knowing the short dude with the scraped knuckles up on stage feels as uneasy and excited at the sight of blood as they do.

Gerard is different on stage. He doesn’t say anything if he notices the blood spilled down Frank’s front. Mikey, though -- Mikey notices, staring at Frank with a questioning look on his face.

Frank shakes his head, waving away Mikey’s concern. He closes his eyes and listens to the fans scream. He remembers being in crowds at shows, being able to forget all the shit that came with being a short, sickly vampire kid for a little while. He’s really glad he’s part of giving other people the same experience. If he can just ignore everything else, being on stage is the fucking greatest thing in the world.

After their set they hang out for a little while. Gerard and Ray talk to fans and sign autographs through the chain link fence, but Frank's sulky and the fans don't know who he is anyway, so he just plants his ass on a folding chair and waits. They've got three weeks left on this tour, and he's thinking that as awesome as it is to be out here with these guys playing music every night he's really looking forward to being done and going back to his safe, quiet, anonymous life in Jersey, where he knows what restaurants are garlic free and where half the people in his mom's neighborhood are cinekin.

He knows he’s been really lucky, growing up with people around that knew what he was and didn’t care. Feeling like a freak sucks, and he’s not that used to it.

"Here you go."

Someone thrusts a wet washcloth in Frank's face. By the black, gloved hand, he knows it's Mikey.

"Thanks," he says, taking the cloth and wiping the dried blood off his knuckles. .

"I figured you'd want to clean up," Mikey says. "Uh, right? Or do you like ..."

"Jesus," Frank says under his breath. "I don't like being covered in dried blood, Mikey. I'm a vampire, dude, not a blood fetishist."

He's tired of people making that particular false equivalency. It’s not the first time he’s happened.

Mikey stares at him, face blank but eyes stern. “There’s no guidebook," he says.

"Huh?" What is Mikey talking about?

"For when a vampire joins your band," he says. "There’s no guidebook. We don’t know how this works, either." He sounds cross. "I'm your friend, Frank. I want to understand. But you never say anything."

Frank closes his eyes. He knows Mikey’s trying. That might be the most he’s ever heard the dude say at one time. But it just sucks. He’s not weird -- not any weirder than any other short dude from Jersey with tattoos and a lip ring and he doesn’t have to explain any of it. Not to anyone.

"Yeah," he says. "Well maybe I don't want to explain. Ever think of that, Mikey?"

*****

The tour rolls through Omaha. They eat lunch in some old timey diner, all four squeezed into a booth. (BOB-BOT stays in the van; they're not sure that he would be welcome, and food doesn't hold much appeal for a animatronic drummer. He’s asked them to plug his charger into the cigarette lighter before they went in.) Frank scowls at the menu. It's all standard diner fare, not much different than what they’d get back in Jersey, but there's no friendly disclaimer at the bottom of the menu that anything can be made meat- or garlic- free.

Frank doesn't think this is that kind of town. Across the street there's a movie theater with a 'Grand Opening' banner still out front. On the marquee the block letters spell out WE SHOW LIVE ACTION.

The parking lot is crowded protesters brandishing home-made signs: Keep our city monster free!!!
Don't Trust the Moving Pictures! The Government Lies!
Movie Monsters Aren't Human

And on and on.

That last one stings. They all sting.

"Fuck them," Frank mutters. "There hasn't been a single fucking incident of cinemorphism in a hundred years. My grandparents were younger than I am now when they saw Dracula."

Gerard, sitting across the table, puts his hand on Frank’s. "There are way more cinekin around New York than there are out here, Frank. They're just scared of what they don’t know. Maybe we should go talk to them. You could introduce yourself."

Frank narrows his eyes. He knows that. He knows all the statistics. "They're scared of me," he says. "Scared I'm going to swoop out of the darkness and suck their blood. Like, what the fuck." He rolls his eyes.

"You're about as scary as a kitten," Mikey says. "And not much bigger."

"Mikey, be nice, man." Ray says, a hint of reproaching in his voice. He’s always keeping Mikey in line. "You're not exactly the Incredible Hulk."

Mikey glances at Ray askance. "Sorry, Frank," he mumbles. "Just sayin' you're not exactly the scariest dude, even if you are a vampire."

"Try telling them that," Frank says. He appreciates their efforts but those fuckers across the street have ruined his appetite. "I'm gonna go wait in the car with BOB-BOT."

"Frankie, no," Gerard says, and he's making these big doe eyes. For a dude in his late twenties he’s sometimes got an uncanny resemblance to one of those anime girls. The resemblance is particularly pronounced because he’s just dyed a thick chunk of his hair vivid turquoise. "Stay and eat with us. We'll get them to make you something good."

It's almost physically painful for Frank to refuse him, but that just makes him angrier. The only thing he's ever wanted to do is play music, and the fact that MCR are awesome dudes is just the icing on the cake. If there weren't so much other bullshit to deal with, Frank would be the happiest guy in the world

As it is, he's sort of miserable. Miserable, and making things harder for them to boot.

"Nah," he says. "You guys enjoy your dinner. I'll see you in a few."

He walks outside and lets himself into the van. BOB-BOT is sitting placidly in the back. He doesn't say anything when Frank gets into the car, doesn't move. Twisting in the bucket seat, wrapping his arms around the headrest, Frank turns to stare at him. On the outside, he looks mostly like a regular dude, if a little boxy, but under the thin layer of polymer skin and nylon hair he's a creature of wires and steel and computer chips.

Animatrons aren't exactly beloved by the general population, either.

"How do you deal with it, BOB?" Frank asks.

"What?" BOB-BOT asks. "How do I deal with what, Frank? Please be more specific."

Animatrons don’t deal well with vagaries. Frank shrugs. "I don't know. All the shit people give you for being what you are."

BOB-BOT doesn't move. His expression doesn't change. His inflection is the exactly same. "I can't help what I am," he says. "It would be a waste of energy to worry about what people think of me. I'm designed to conserve maximum energy for show-time expenditure."

"Super efficient, right," Frank says. That had been one of the selling points. "Still, it's got to suck."

"I take consolation in the fact that I have a skeleton of reinforced titanium and the strength of six average adult male humans." If Frank didn't know better, he'd say BOB-BOT was smirking. "As a vampiric cinekin, you too are stronger than your height and mass would indicate."

It’s been a long time since Frank’s had to kick any ass, but the point’s valid. Frank smirks. "You're a pretty smart dude, BOB-BOT."

"Thank you, Frank," BOB-BOT says.

It's kind of creepy how he doesn't blink, Frank thinks, and then he shakes his head because he's being just as human-centric as those assholes in the parking lot. He sinks back down into the front seat and closes his eyes. He's the definition of a night person, but he's tired enough and upset enough that he'll try to sleep anyway. It beats the other available options.

*****

Someone throws a bottle at Pete Wentz at a Fall Out Boy show in Arizona, and it’s all over the newspapers. Frank sits in the grubby couch in the back room at the venue and stares at the illustrations. Pete, standing proud on the stage, clutching his forehead as the blood streams around his fingers. Pete, hair wild and eyes dark, on top of some anonymous man. The illustrator must never have met a Hyde, because he’s drawn Pete’s features twisted into a sinister scowl and his muscles bulging.

Frank went to school with a couple of Hydes, and you usually couldn’t tell when their bad side came out. Not physically at least. Susan Elliot had made him cry on the playground in second grade, but he tries not to remember that incident.

He throws the paper on the ground, shaking his head.

“Bullshit,” he says under his breath. It makes him want to punch something.

Mikey sits down next to him. “You’re an angry dude, Frank,” he says, with no preamble.

Frank scowls. He’s really not. He’s never thought of himself as more angry than usual, anyway. “Maybe the world is just getting suckier,” he says.

Mikey’s bland expression somehow conveys extreme skepticism. Maybe he’s an animatron too -- it would definitely explain some shit. “I don’t think so,” he says. He takes something out of his pocket. It’s a piece of paper torn from one of Gerard’s sketchbooks. Written on it in neat block letters is the admission I KISS FROGS.

Frank giggles. “Frogs?”

“He’s looking for the one that will turn into his prince,” Mikey says, matter of fact. “Think I can tape it to his back as we go out on stage?”

“Mikey Way, dude, that’s awful,” Frank says. “Awful, but genius.”

Mikey’s smile isn’t the broadest or the brightest Frank’s ever seen, but it makes Frank feel better than he has in a long time.

“I’m not so sure about that,” he says, “but it’s my solemn duty as a younger brother to give Gerard a hard time, right?”

Frank nods. “Totally right, dude. Go for it.”

Later, Frank is covered with sweat and his heart is beating a hundred miles an hour. The stage lights flare blue, then red, and Gerard’s profile is sharp. The red make-up smeared around his eyes is running, blurring. He’s a mess, and he’s beautiful. In the pause in ‘I’m Not Okay’ where Frank’s got his one line, he switches things up.

“Ribbit,” he says into the microphone, and he plants a wet kiss on Gerard’s cheek, ignoring his scrunch-nosed look of confusion.

Mikey looks up as Frank dashes back across the stage, and grins, a real smile this time.

*****

In a parking lot in Wichitaa few days later, Frank calls his mom.

The phone rings a couple of times before she picks up.

"Y'ello?"

"Ma? It's me." He turns against the wind, which has been blowing steadily all day, chasing white wisps of cloud through the sky.

"Frank," she says. "Is that really you? I was beginning to think you'd forgotten about me."

"Never, ma," he says. "We've just been busy."

"You're never too ..."

"... Busy for your mother," he intones. He's heard this before. Whatever. He's not exactly a huge fan of talking on the phone. "I know, ma. Sorry. You know I love you the most."

"I know," she says. "Honey, how are you doing? How is everything?"

Frank used to prickle at her constant concern, her need to keep him safe from all the bumps and scratches of life, but he welcomes it today. "Not good, Ma."

"Are those boys treating you badly?" She sounds suspicious. "I'll call Donna Way right this minute and tell her to ..."

"No, no," Frank says, shaking his head. "No, Ma, the band is fine. It's uh ... it's just different out here."

"Well, Frank," she says. "I told you it would be."

"I know," he says. She had. She'd sat with him at her kitchen table and made him look up vampire-friendly restaurants in every single city the tour would pass through. As the itinerary wound west and the number of search results on google got smaller and smaller, her tone and gotten more and more smug.

"People out there ... They just don't understand." She sighs. "It's horrible, Frank, but you're better off here in Jersey, with your own people."

"Ma," he says. "They're not my people." She's always trying to pull this vampire solidarity shit, setting him up with the daughters of people she meets at the local Cinekin community center. He resists the urge to remind her that she's actually, y'know, entirely human. That never goes over well.

"Well Frank," she says sighing. "I'm just trying to make things easier for you."

He kicks at the wheel of the van. His Chucks are getting pretty torn up. There's a big rip along one side. He's gotta ask Gerard for some duct tape before they play tonight.

"I don't want things to be easier," he says. "I just want them to be right."

She sighs again, deeply, and it's the same sigh he heard when he told her he was moving to North Carolina with Jamia.

"The world's not fair, baby," she says. "And it hurts me to say this, but it's not going to become fair just because you want it to."

He scowls. Gerard's at the back door of the venue, a couple of hundred yards away, cigarette between his lips. He sees Frank looking, and he waves.

"Well fuck that," he says.

"Language, Frank," she says, but there's no heart in it.

"Sorry," he says. "Anyway, I've gotta go. I'll call you soon, okay?"

"You'd better," she says. "I love you."

"I love you too," he says, and he snaps his phone shut.

Talking to his mother is never as comforting as he thinks it will be. Still, he knows he owes it to her to call. She's lived her whole life in the cinekin community because she thought it would be best for him. He appreciates that every fucking day, even if it's left him kind of fucked up.

"You look like you need a smoke," Gerard says, holding out his pack.

Frank takes one and the offered lighter. The first drag of smoke deep into his lungs is a balm. He exhales, and watches the stream of smoke float up.

"Moms," he says.

"Moms," Gerard agrees, for good reason. Mother Way is an awesome lady, but she's sort of intense.

They smoke in silence for a moment, and then Gerard asks, "Are you doing okay, Frank?" He looks tired and a little unwell himself tonight; the skin under his eyes is dark, and his hair is lank and stringy. It's been a week since they've had a hotel night, and who knows how long since Gerard's showered.

"I'm doing okay," Frank says, even though he's not sure. "How about you?"

Gerard shrugs. "I'm fine," he says.

"Really?" Frank asks, a little surprised. He doesn't know the whole deal with Gerard, but he knows he's less than a year sober and that he has two hour phone appointments scheduled every week with his therapist back in Jersey. None of which means he's messed up, exactly, but well ... Frank gets the impression that things weren't good with Gerard, not long ago.

"Not really, I guess," Gerard says. He rubs the butt of his cigarette out on the asphalt and shakes out another. "I mean, I'm kind of fucked up ..." He shakes his head, like he's clearing his thoughts. "But I guess I'm fine with being fucked up."

"Huh," Frank says. "Really?"

Gerard nods. "Really," he says. "When I was younger I thought like, my misery was a special and unique snowflake." His eyes narrow, dark lashes a shadow against his cheeks. "But Frank, the world's a fucked up place, and there are a lot of miserable people."

Frank resists the urge to raise his hand.

"Somehow knowing that other people felt shitty too made me feel better," Gerard says, mumbling around his cigarette. "That's kind of fucked up, huh? I told you."

Frank shrugs. "Not the most fucked up thing I've ever heard."

Gerard smiles. "Yeah," he says. "That's what this is all about, you know. The band. I mean ... after what happened with Otter and Mikey ..." He looks up, but never continues the thought. "We probably should have given it up, then, but I thought, hey, there's some kids out there that feel like shit, and I've got to let them know they're not the only one."

Frank breathes down the wrong pipe, and coughs, spluttering.

"Woah," Gerard says. "Easy there."

Still hoarse, Frank says. "You know, that was the most depressing pep talk I've ever heard."

Gerard's face goes blank.

"It did make me feel better though," Frank continues. "So thanks."

And Gerard grins his weird grin, baring all his weird little teeth, and says, "I knew you'd get it, Frank."

Frank's not sure he does yet, but he's pretty glad Gerard’s giving him the chance to figure it out.

“You’re a good guy,” he says.

Gerard looks up, startled. “Really?” He squints, and wrinkles his nose. “I’m not, but I’m trying.”

*****

After a night at a motel in Denver, Frank feels pretty awesome. He's not an overly fastidious guy, but he's kind of sensitive to smells. It’s the vampire thing. Squeaky clean after a hot shower, fragrant with soap, he's on cloud fucking nine. The good mood lasts all night and even though their miserable 5AM wake-up call. It lasts through shitty coffee from a truck stop that he spills all over himself. It lasts all the way until they're pulled into a rest area on Interstate 70. Frank just wants to brush his teeth and get the fuzzy coffee taste out of his mouth, but he can't find the little bag with his toothbrush and razor and shit anywhere.

"Dude," he says. "Gerard, did you borrow my toothbrush again? That is not cool, man."

Gerard, who is milling around outside the van, shakes his head no. "Mikey bought me a family pack, man. I'm good."

Frank dumps all of his dirty jeans and underwear and T-shirts with torn collars onto the back seat of the van. There's no sign of his stuff, and he realizes with a start that his kit is almost definitely sitting next to the sink in their fucking room, three hundred miles east of here.

"Fucking hell," he mutters.

Gerard lends him one of his spare toothbrushes, and even lets him pick the color, but a pink toothbrush is not much consolation. He's annoyed, and it doesn't help when the Wal-Mart they stop at a half an hour later doesn't have any sunscreen with an SPF stronger than 120.

"What the fuck," he mutters. It's not like he expected a well stocked array of health and beauty products designed specifically for vampires, but SPF 120 is not going to cut it.

"What's wrong?"

Frank startles. Mikey's standing beside him, but Frank did not even hear him come up. Mikey’s creepy like that.

"I was hoping they'd have something stronger," he says. "I guess I can just reapply every twenty minutes or whatever."

Mikey frowns. He picks up a bottle and turns it over. " '... does not guarantee protection for individuals with heightened sensitivity to sunlight.' Wow, that's just wrong."

Frank shrugs. He's used to those disclaimers. "I guess they don't want some vampire suing their asses for faulty advertising. Although seriously, anyone who thinks this stuff is going to keep them from burning is an idiot."

Frank's not an idiot; he usually wears SPF 300, but this is going to have to work until he can get his mom to mail him out a bottle of his regular stuff.

Mikey looks grim. Bottle still in hand he marches up to a blue-vested worker, a girl in her late teens or early twenties who's restocking rows of vitamins.

"Excuse me," Mikey says. "My friend needs stronger sunscreen. Where can we find that?"

She stares at him for a second. "That's the strongest we carry," she says.

Frank's cheeks are burning. He wishes he could sink into the ugly khaki and grey linoleum. He wishes he were a full-blooded vampire so he could turn into a bat and fly the fuck away.

"Mikey," he says, pulling at Mikey's sleeve. "Dude, it's fine. Let's just go."

Mikey doesn't move, and despite being a stick figure, he has some serious density. Frank doesn't think he could budge him if he tried.

"Do you have a suggestion box?" he asks the girl. "I'd like to suggest that you carry products suitable for a wider range of skin types."

She looks at Mikey, a weird expression on her face, and then at Frank.

"Sorry," she says, playing with the bottle of vitamins in her hand, turning it over and over. "No suggestion box. You'll have to go online to log your complaint."

Mikey doesn't look happy.

"Seriously, let's go," Frank says. "It doesn't matter."

"It does matter," Mikey says, but he starts to walk away.

"Wait," the girl says.

They both stop and look back at her.

"Um, there's a place over by the mall that sells specialty products. You know. For um. Things like you."

"He's not a thing," Mikey says, angrily.

"Sorry," the girl says. “Sorry, I just meant …” She flustered and red in the face.

"It's fine." Frank smiles his most charming smile. "It's fine, really. Thank you for your help."

They don't buy anything at Wal-Mart, and their stormy faces must be a warning, because Gerard and Ray look at each other and ask no questions.

Ray starts the van. "So ..." He taps his fingers on the steering wheel.

Frank feels like curling up in the backseat next to BOB-BOT and burying his head in his spare hoodie and ignoring the entire world, but he just takes a deep breath and says, "To the mall, Ray. Apparently there's one store in this fucking town that carries products for things like me."

*****

"Where's your coffin, Nosferatu?"

Frank freezes and turns. There's a group of dudes by bar, college age, wearing tee shirts and baggy shorts and baseball caps. Frank tries not to be judgmental, but if he had to peg one group of people in this bar as fuck-faces, it would be these idiots.

"What did you say, dude?" He smiles, tight and mean. "I thought you were talking to me, but my name's Frank."

"I was talking to you, creep," one of the guys says. He's tall -- a lot taller than Frank, and he's got splotches of red acne across his cheeks. Frank is thinking a lot of uncharitable things but mostly he's thinking that these kids are basically everything he hates in the entire world. "Where's your fucking coffin, monster?"

The bar's crowded. Their set was early, and there's some guy DJing now. People are streaming in, kids from the local college dressed up in partying clothes. Frank doesn't want to cause a scene. If Mikey were here, he'd tell him to ignore these clowns. Mikey's not here though. He's backstage, and right now Frank's thinking that might be a good thing.

"You must have me confused with someone else," Frank says. "I don't sleep in a coffin. Totally claustrophobic. I can barely stand being in this bar with you right now. Way too close for comfort."

"I think it's us that can barely stand you," the guy says. "We don't want fucking monsters in here. I can't believe they let you and your fag freak friends play."

"Oh fuck you," Frank says. "Seriously? I can deal with the anti-cine bullshit, but there's no way I'm going to let you insult my band."

Something inside of him swells when he says that, a warm, happy, glowing feeling totally at odds with the anger that's buzzing through him, so strong it makes his hands shake. His band. They are, he thinks. They really are, and he would do anything for them, including stop this college asshole from saying another bad word about any of them.

"What are you going to do?" The guy sneers, and his friends titter and mug. "Suck my blood? You're a little short, monster. I didn't think they made your kind in travel size."

It's such a stupid thing to say -- like after insulting the very thing that Frank is this dumb fuck has to heap on the insults and make a lame joke about his height. He's heard it before. He's heard all of it before, but he's had a bit to drink and the adrenaline from the show is still in him and he's furious. He might only be half vampire, but he's stronger and faster than a normal person, and he launches himself at the dude.

The force of the impact sends them both flying into the crowd of people on the floor. People gasp and shriek and drinks are spilled. Frank's fist connects with the guy's nose, making a very satisfying sound. He starts to bleed, red oozing down his lip and running along his jaw, and he's scrambling, trying to push Frank off and regain his feet. For all he liked to shoot his mouth off about vampires, he apparently didn't have a clue what it means to actually fight one.

Frank's breathing heavy and he's starting to feel the initial burst of energy flag, replaced by an oh shit realization that he's on the ground on top of this dude with blood everywhere and none of it his. He's about to stop, about to get up and retreat and hope he can get back to the van and they can get out of here before the cops are called, but then the crowd parts again and the guy's friends are grabbing at the back of Frank's shirt, pulling the collar so that he's choked by it. One of them -- a big, beefy one that looks like he could be part Kong -- lifts Frank up by the arm. It hurts so bad for a minute he thinks he's going to dislocate his shoulder, maybe tear his arm right out of his socket, but then the guy throws him and he slams hard into the floor, eyes watering and ears ringing and breath knocked out of his lungs.

He lays there stunned, blinking up at the ceiling. The asshole's friends loom, stepping closer, cracking their knuckles ominously and painting a perfect picture of thuggish movie goons. They’re not, though. They're just college kids with too much free time to spend at the gym and a grudge against anyone that's different. As roughly as he was slammed down, he's hauled to his feet.

"Get the fuck out of here," one of the guys says, his face right in Frank's. Frank recoils from his foul, beer-y breath. "Go back to whatever nightmare you crawled out of. We don't want you here, turning good people into monsters like you."

Frank shakes his head. So stupid, these kids. "It's hereditary," he says, coughing, and it's probably a bad sign that it hurts to talk. "I can't fucking turn anyone into anything."

That must not have been the right thing to say because the guy’s face twists in a grimace and his friends lear and his first connects solidly with Frank's stomach. He gasps again, but he's kept his feet his time and he hits back, flailing, fists thumping solidly against ... something, but he doesn't know what because there are spots in front of his eyes. Then one of the other guys catches his arm, thick hand wrapped around his wrist.

Someone is pushing through the crowd, shoving aside the gawking concert-goers (none of whom tried to interrupt, Frank thinks woozily, fuck them). He's expecting it'll be the stocky, black-shirted security guards he saw from the stage, the guys who kept the kids from swarming over the barrier. He's always a little weird around the security dudes; they never really seem that happy to be protecting the bands they're protecting, but maybe the stern expression is just a prerequisite of the job. But as the crowd parts he sees it's not the security guards at all. It's Mikey, and he looks pissed.

"Oh look," someone says. "Another freak."

Frank isn't sure what happens next, but the dude holding onto his shoulder lets go. Frank realizes belated that was the only thing keeping him upright because he collapses, just folds at the knees and topples over. He watches as one of the biggest, most ape-like dudes gets right in Mikey's face. He's got Mikey beat by eight inches and a hundred pounds easily, but Mikey doesn't back down. Then Frank's sure he's had one too many knocks to the head, because the big dude shoves Mikey, and Mikey doesn't budge an inch. He just smirks and shoves back, and this big dude whose two of Mikey goes flying.

The crowd scatters again, and someone backs into Frank.

"Fuckers, I'm down here," he mumbles, but his voice is weak and his head is spinning and he really doesn't think anyone hears him in the confusion. He's not feeling very well at all; his stomach aches and his head throbs and he really, really is sick of all this bullshit.

"Fine, I'm just gonna stay here then," he tells nobody. "Don't mind the vampire."

He puts his heavy head down on the filthy sticky floor and closes his eyes and that's the last thing he remembers for a while.

*****

"Frankie," someone says.

Frank blinks. He's curled up somewhere, and for a second he's still on the floor of that club. He hunches his back and throws his hands over his face, but one of them brushes soft fabric and he realizes that it's quiet and he can feel sunlight on his face.

He's not in the club any more. He opens his eyes. He's sitting in the front seat of the van. The sky is still mauve and lavender; it's just a little after sunrise. Gerard's in the driver's seat, hands at ten and two on the steering wheel, a white-knuckled grip. He's still wearing the remains of last night's stage makeup like a smudgy mask.

"Dude," Frank says, and wow, most of his body hurts. It hurts more than the time he had bronchitis as a kid and was laid up for a month in the hospital, aching from coughing himself sore.

"Frankie!" Gerard exclaims, and he looks over and simultaneously moves his hands. The van swerves.

"Woah, woah," Ray calls from the back. "Eyes on the road, Gee."

"Right," Gerard says. "Right, sorry." Staring straight ahead, he asks, "Are you okay?"

"I feel like shit," Frank says honestly. "But I haven't been stomped into a pile of goo on the floor of that fucking bar, so that's a plus."

"Oh man," Gerard says.

The situation seems to have rendered him uncharacteristically speechless, so Frank gingerly twists so that he can look back over the seat. At Mikey.

"I don't think I'd quite finished getting my head slammed into the ground at that point, so can I assume that you beating the shit out of that huge dude wasn't a hallucination?"

Mikey blushes. It might be the first time Frank's ever seen him blush. "Uh," he says. "Yeah."

Frank squeezes his eyes shut. His head is still throbbing . "Does anyone want to explain how that's even possible?"

Mikey looks up to Ray, who nods. Then slowly, he pulls off his gloves.

Thick, dark stitches circle his right wrist like a gruesome bracelet.

"Holy shit," Frank says. "Mikey, you're a ..."

Mikey nods. "I'm a Frank."

A Frank -- a Frankenstein's monster -- is the only type of cinekinism that isn't heredity. It’s technically not the direct result of cinemorphing at all; there’s only one way to become a Frank, and it’s far, far from common. At the point of death, you have to put your life into the hands of a doctor (or in Mikey’s case, put your hand in the hands of a doctor.) In exchange for renewed life, phenomenal strength, and heightened senses, you forever owe a debt to the person who makes you what you are. There aren’t many people who’d find that preferable to just going to an emergency room, no matter how grievous the injury.

“Why’d you do it?” Frank doesn’t understand why Mikey would have made that choice. He was normal -- he was a normal fucking human being, not a freak.

"Our old drummer, Otter," Mikey says slowly "He was a wolfman. There was an accident."

"We don't know it was an accident, Mikey," Gerard says darkly, still staring straight ahead.

"We don't know it wasn't, Gerard," Mikey says. “It was just … things were bad. Gerard was sick --”

“I was drunk,” Gerard says. “Fucked up out of my mind drunk.”

“He said some stuff, and Otter got upset. We were all in this grungy little motel room, like rats in a cage, and he lunged towards Gerard and I stepped in the way …”

He shrugs, like there’s nothing else to say.

“Why didn’t you go to the cops?” He can’t believe how fucked up that is. “Jesus, Mikey. You could have died.”

“He didn’t mean to hurt me,” Mikey says. “Not really. I didn’t want to get the cops involved. You know how that works out.”

Frank knows. He knows that crimes involving cinekin end in incarceration twice as often as crimes involving normal humans. He knows it’s fucked up, but still …

“So you just let some random dude sew your hand back on?”

“Not random,” Mikey says, looking down.

He can't believe he never suspected. He can't believe they never told him. "Who's your Doctor?"

Sheepishly, Ray raises his hand. His cheeks are sort of red too. "Just a quarter, though. I always just thought I was good with my hands. My parents didn't tell me until I turned eighteen."

"Ray fixed me." Mikey smiles at Ray, and all the pieces of this puzzle are falling into place. The picture's a whole lot fucking clearer.

"Why didn't you say anything?" Frank doesn't get it. The only reason they had not to tell him is that they didn't trust him. "Did you think I was going to fucking rat you out or something?"

"No," Ray says. "Frank, of course we trusted you." He shifts, awkwardly. "I asked Gerard and Mikey not to tell you. Even cinekin can be weird about Frankensteins, and I didn't want you to feel uncomfortable."

"I told you," he says. His head is aching still and the sun is getting brighter and he feels so fucking awful. He hates living a life where the boundaries of trust are defined by fear. "It was the first thing I told you."

"We should have told you," Mikey says. "We should have. You're our friend. I'm sorry, Frank."

"Yeah," Ray says. "Me too." He looks down. "We want you to stick around, Frank. You're a great guy, and a very talented guitarist, and we think you could make a really great contribution musically ..."

"He's trying to say we want you in the band," Gerard adds. "If you want."

It's going to be fucking hard, Frank thinks. Hard to deal with all the hate, hard to make things work in a world not designed for people like him. It'll be hard to trust them, even though he believes they're sorry.

But he's sick of running away from things that are hard. He thinks about the day he left Jamia. On the long, long bus ride back to New Jersey he felt utterly defeated, like the world had left him T.K.O and he might as well just give up. He'd never have a normal future, never have a future at all except with another vampire.

Fuck that. He's done letting what he is define his choices.

"I think I do," he says slowly. He looks up. Ray and Mikey are watching him. "I do."

"Fuck yeah," Gerard say. "We're totally going to change the world, guys."

He pumps his fist and the van swerves again, and Frank thinks it's a fucking blessing this road is empty.

"Eyes on the road," he and Mikey say in unison.

They look at each other and smile.

*****
One Year Later

Frank never would have dreamed this. He’s standing on stage at Roseland Ballroom with his best friends beside him, and the kids in the crowd are losing their shit. MCR’s second album drops tomorrow, and tonight they celebrate.

“I want all you to listen up,” Gerard says, vamping, tapping his foot. He glances over at Frank, and grins. “We’re going to play a song for my friend Frankie, and if you don’t remember another fucking thing I tell you tonight, I want you to remember this, okay?”

BOB-BOT starts to count them in.

“Vampires will never hurt you,” Gerard says. “Unless you’re a dickhead to them. So be cool, okay?”

The crowd roars in response. Frank closes his eyes, just for a moment, and and, yeah, it was so totally worth it.