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And I Will Be Your Goal

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The bell above the door to Frank’s workshop jingles. He’s got his magnifying glasses on to place a small, delicate piece of wire exactly where it needs to go with equally small and delicate tools. Frank doesn’t look up from his work.

“I’ll be just a minute,” he calls out.

“Not to worry, I can wait,” a masculine voice replies.

Frank puts his full attention back on the device in front of him. He gets the wire threaded where it’s supposed to be after more than one false start. He finally shoves the magnifiers up his forehead and looks up. The man is inspecting a shelf near the door bearing one of his father’s old custom phonographs.

The man is bald and well-dressed. Very well-dressed, truth be told. The government stooges who come in to pick up the orders always appear in ugly, stiff suits. Nothing like what this man is wearing.

“How can I help you?” Frank asks after taking in as much as he can of the man. When he turns, Frank notices that he’s much younger looking from the front than he was from the back.

“Mr. Iero,” the man greets him, and Frank quirks an eyebrow in acknowledgement. “I’m sure you are very busy with government contracts, but I was wondering if, given the right price of course, you might be interested in taking on a private commission,” the man says, hands clasped behind his back.

Frank raises an eyebrow. He hasn’t done any work other than government work in so long, he’s a little baffled as to why the man is approaching him now. So he asks.

“Because what I need has to do with recording sound and listening and your father, and your grandfather before him, made the very best of that sort of thing, or so I am told. I would assume they passed it onto you.” The man gestures at the phonograph on the shelf.

“They did,” Frank confirms. “What sorts of things do you need?”

“Small devices that can be planted unobtrusively and used to listen in on and record conversations of interest to me.” The man pauses and looks Frank straight in the eye. “Obviously I would need this matter to be treated with utmost care and security and would compensate to reflect that.”

“If you need secrecy so much, it was rather stupid to come in here and just start talking about it,” Frank points out.

The man waves a hand dismissively. “I had my man inspect the premises before I came in. You are the only person here and there are few people about in the neighborhood at this late hour.”

Frank glances at the clock his great-grandfather made that he keeps hanging on his workshop wall, and is somewhat surprised to see how late it is. “And if I refuse?”

“I will go on my way and find someone else. Though I doubt the workmanship will be as high quality as I would find here.”

“Flattery will only get you so far,” Frank says with a glare.

“I only flatter with complete sincerity,” the man says and steps forward, offering his hand. “My name is Grant Morrison. Will we be doing business together?”

***

Six months later

“Oh, come off it,” says a voice dripping with public-school ennui, “Everyone knows he was sighted on the South Coast just last month. It was in the papers.”

“The Côte d’Argent,” another voice replies, bungling the pronunciation. “Lord Gaiman’s not stupid. Nicest place in New Brittany, or so I’ve heard. Warmer than here.”

Gerard is still wincing internally at the pronunciation. He’d been nearly bilingual as a child, thanks to his Grand-mère; Elena would have rapped these dunces’ knuckles for sure. He peeks over the top of his newspaper; the two men are sitting catty-corner to him in the half-empty train car, two rows forward. He’d noticed them when boarding - upper-class or at least wealthy enough to afford the club car fare, probably recently paid off their commissions in the army if their flashy pseudo-military suits are any indication. So, younger than him, probably by nearly ten years. He sighs - as he gets older he’s starting to understand how Grant must have felt about him when they met.

Well, it’s not precisely the same as what Grant felt about him. Not in the least. Public-School and his sidekick over there are reasonably attractive, well-fed and -groomed, and Gerard feels not a thing for them but contempt. Whatever newspapers they were reading... he glances down at his own. It is a similar specimen, full of puerile sensationalism, maudlin appeals to the emotions of the populace... and not a word of truth in it. Certainly not about the whereabouts of the former Prime Minister.

Gerard would know. He writes articles for the other type of newspaper. He’s also one of a very small number of people who know the precise whereabouts of Lord Gaiman. They’d breakfasted together two days ago. As far as the rest of the world knows, his trip was a simple review of his companion’s business interests in Port Merchant, his brief seaward jaunt to the rocky beaches of Jerias an excuse to paint.

He did paint; the watercolors are rolled up in a leather carrying tube tucked under his seat. Grant will want to see them. The letter rolled up with them is couched in a carefully casual code. If Gerard were searched - which is unlikely; the vast fortune that Grant’s patronage carries is typically much more important than anything that might be ascertained about his political views - it wouldn’t merit a second look.

Gerard focuses back in on the others’ conversation for a moment. They’re now discussing some ridiculous gala Prime Minister Millar held the week before. Gerard had missed it, of course, though he’s sure Grant had been invited. Whether or not he’d attended is another question. He still makes the social rounds when Gerard goes to visit Gabriel and Fabio, but usually sticks to the smaller dinner parties. Their...political activities are best conducted in pairs. Gerard and Grant, at least, benefit from having each other in earshot. Gerard benefits more, he knows - Grant’s never been a hothead, and his quickness to step in with a biting quip tends to keep Gerard’s dramatics at a manageable level.

When they’re apart... well, they’ve been in each other’s pockets for nine years. Neither of them is at all happy when they’re apart.

An airship in the middle distance catches Gerard’s eye. It’s following the river that cuts across the lowlands and moving fast; soon, he knows, it will veer west, unhampered by the geographic restrictions of the railway lines. He shudders a bit, glad he’s on the ground. The train will put him back in Grant’s arms by the end of the day, and that’s good enough for him; he drifts off for a little while, dozing against the window of the train car.

The screech of a track transfer wakes him; one of the two men from earlier makes a surprised noise as well. Gerard focuses out the window. They’re passing a town that has grown up like a scab around one of the government’s strip mining concerns. It has its own siding, which means it is, or at least was, a productive mine. There’s also a metal sign swinging in the wind over a warehouse near the tracks, designating the building a Ration Center.

Public-School must see it too; he starts whistling a indecent tune from the burlesque circuit Gerard knows is called “Sugar and Silk Stockings”. Gerard grits his teeth and forces himself not to get up and punch the boy - because that’s what he is, really - in the face. They don’t know what it’s like, either of them. They may have served their time in the war machine, but it’s the people out there in that town, their land eaten by mines and manufacturing concerns, sending their own sons out to fight and working from dawn to dusk in the factories that line these boys’ fathers’ pockets - it’s those people the rations are serving. It’s those people who didn’t need rations before this war.

These boys in their jackets bright with buttons and thick with braid...they probably don’t even know why they’re fighting, and they clearly don’t care. The war machine lined their fathers’ pockets, and it will line theirs too, so why should they?

Gerard served his conscription, too, but men like these are his enemy now. Words are his weapons, and the only rations he’s suffering under are time and the limits of his own creativity. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he pulls a leather-bound journal from his pocket and starts writing.

***

Frank pushes his eyeglasses back up his nose as he frowns down at the small device he’s nestling into a bed of wool. He’s concealing this latest model in a cigar box; over the past six months he’s revised his father’s original design for “listening springs” into smaller and smaller bodies. The latest is approximately the size of, well, a cigar box, and incorporates diamond-tipped spring-loaded styluses capable of recording hours of conversation onto a waxed surface the size of a playing card. Frank’s quite pleased with it, and more to the point, he’s pretty sure Sir Grant is pleased with it.

Sir Grant - that is, Baronet Morrison - isn’t an easy man to please, but for some reason he seems to have a soft spot for Frank. He’d introduced himself the night they met with no title whatsoever; it wasn’t until weeks later that Frank had figured out who the mysterious well-dressed man who’d unexpectedly descended upon his shop was. Except for the younger sister, who married into an Earldom, the Morrison family are commoners, if quite fabulously wealthy ones. Sir Grant himself is - supposedly - what the gossips like to refer to as “the idle rich,” which makes it all the more fascinating that he’d sought out Frank for such a commission. But by the time Frank had realized all of this, he’d received more than a few beautifully-scripted and incredibly specific missives regarding their clandestine project.

When Frank had replied - succinctly - that perhaps it wasn’t wise to discuss said clandestine project in writing, Sir Grant had written a short note back: The carrier of these notes may be a disreputable creature, but he is my creature. And I trust that you are of sufficient intellect to destroy them after reading. My business keeps me away for a few more weeks; I look forward to visiting your workshop again upon my return. Frank’s sense of adventure, stifled for so long after his brief and ignoble stint in the military, had been quite thoroughly roused.

The arrangement has continued unvaried for several months: regular though gradually more infrequent letters, the occasional visit to pick up new devices. The extremely regular payments of a rather large sum of money into Frank’s private account at a bank in the City. Sir Grant has never said a word about what he’s doing with the devices, and Frank knows he’s not supposed to ask. Nor does he want to. He’d provided a special phonograph device to “read” the cards and endeavored to make that be the last time he gave it any thought whatsoever.

Despite his propensity for questionable couriers, Sir Grant always arrives to pick up the devices personally. Frank expects him shortly. It’s late. Sir Grant doesn’t like to advertise his presence in the area and Frank is careful not to let his work for the Baronet interfere with his government contracts, so he’s often in the shop well into the night several days a week anyway. The Baronet often comes alone, driving himself over in his personal steam carriage, which he parks several blocks away in front of a local tea house. Frank finds this somewhat odd, but he supposes if security is what Sir Grant wants, this is one way to get it. Clearly the devices are quite important.

When he finally arrives, the door doesn’t jingle as Frank removed the bell at the end of the regular workday. Sir Grant slips in quietly, doffs his hat, and says, “Good evening, Mr. Iero.”

“Good evening,” Frank answers, picking up the box containing the new device and handing it over to Sir Grant.

Sir Grant opens the box and peers inside. “This is a work of art, Mr. Iero.”

Frank holds back a smile and attempts not to flush. “Thank you. I believe you’ll find the increased clarity from the diamond tips well worth the expense.”

“I’ve no doubt you’re correct. I’d love to stay and hear more about it,” Sir Grant replies, and it’s true. He often asks Frank to explain the devices in great detail. Frank isn’t sure how much he actually understands, but he seems interested nonetheless. “But this time your usual included instructions will have to do. My companion is due to return from a lengthy stay at Port Merchant any moment and I would like to be home this evening.”

Frank tries not to act overly curious. This is the first time Sir Grant has made any mention of his personal life. “Do you need me to start on something new?” he asks nonchalantly.

“Always. I don’t have specifics yet, but as always, the smaller the better. Perhaps something that would fit into a lady’s sitting room this time?”

Frank nods. “I’ll contact you when it’s finished.”

Sir Grant holds out his hand and Frank shakes it. “Thank you, Mr. Iero. I’ll be in touch.”

Frank nods and then he’s out the door. Frank spends a few minutes closing up the shop. He’s already thinking of the sorts of things he could hide a listening device in that would blend well in a lady’s sitting room. He douses the lights and starts towards the tea house, intending to pick up a bite to eat. He’s walking tonight. Frank tends to walk everywhere, which most people would tell him is hopelessly old-fashioned of him, as everyone uses steam carriages now, but he enjoys walking and it’s a nice night for it. Also, it’s only a few blocks.

His knee brace clicks faintly as he walks; his damaged leg is the other reason people tell him he’s foolish to walk so much. However, it’s an old injury and the pain comes and goes. The brace is little more than habit most days, and it is, after all, his own design. He puts just as much stock into it as he does into whatever rattletrap of a steam carriage the busybodies seem to think he’d be able to afford.

Frank thinks for a moment of the bank account in the City, accumulating nearly untouched for months. He’d dearly love to get his hands on a steam carriage; perhaps with his own modifications he wouldn’t be so leery of driving one. He’s so distracted by the thoughts of pistons and gears that he barely notices when he exits the shipyard district and nears the slightly more populated areas housing the workers’ taverns and food shops.

Eventually he does notice; the thing that sinks in is how the streets are eerily silent, even for how late it is. He finds out why when he turns the corner and nearly stumbles over a body lying in the street. Despite catching himself, his foot still makes contact and Frank breathes a sigh of relief when there’s a moan. He stoops down, puts a hand on the shoulder and gently turns the person over. He gasps when Sir Grant’s bloodied face is revealed to him.

“Shit,” he whispers, eyes searching the Baronet’s form for further injury. “Sir Grant? Can you hear me?” Sir Grant moans again, but his eyes blink open. “Hello. Are you with me?” Sir Grant nods. “What hurts?”

“Leg. Head,” Sir Grant moans.

“Do you think you can get up? I can help you home. Or fetch someone?” Frank doesn’t really like either option. With one, he’s running the risk of hurting Sir Grant worse, and with the other, he’s leaving him injured in the street. Frank looks around, but there’s no sign of a carriage. “Your carriage?”

Sir Grant shakes his head and moves to sit up; clearly he’s chosen option number one. Frank helps him as best he can, but he’s not even on his feet yet when he hisses in a pained breath. Frank stops him with a hand on his shoulder. “Careful,” he whispers, hands going to the injured leg and hovering. “May I?”

Sir Grant nods, and Frank inspects the limb as gently as he can. The Baronet’s trousers are ripped at the knee, the skin showing through bloody and already bruised. “Filthy brutes... kneecapped me....” he groans.

“Is it broken, or -” Frank stops. How would Sir Grant know that? He thinks for only a moment before he realizes what he must do. “You’re lucky,” he whispers, babbling to fill the time as he rolls up his own trouser leg and unbuckles the brace, “that I designed these straps to adjust, as this is otherwise custom fitted to me. But it’ll serve.” He fastens the brace around Sir Grant’s leg and clicks a few gears to tighten the joints.

He helps Sir Grant to his feet; the man is leaning heavily on him and Frank holds him up as much as he can. Sir Grant is several inches taller than Frank, so it’s not working terribly well, but this is their only option. They walk for what feels like miles and miles, but in reality isn’t all that far. Once they’ve reached a more residential part of town, Frank is able to hail a cab. Sir Grant gives whispered directions, which Frank repeats dutifully to the driver, and soon Frank is raising a fist and banging on the front door to a stately townhouse. A maid opens the door and she shrieks a little, bringing an older maid and the butler running. Frank pushes past them and goes into the nearest room and helps Sir Grant lie down on the first sofa he finds.

“I’ll call for the doctor,” the butler says and disappears.

“Gerard,” Sir Grant says weakly.

“What?” Frank asks.

“I need Gerard,” he repeats. Frank looks to the maid who is already disappearing out of the room. A minute later a whirlwind in a white shirt who Frank assumes is Gerard bursts in.

“Grant!” he gasps, falling to his knees by the sofa. “Grant, what happened? You said it was safe. That you’d be here when I got home.”

Sir Grant reaches out a hand and runs it through Gerard’s hair somewhat shakily. “Some thugs decided to give me a warning. They didn't appear to be looking for anything specific. I knew they were going to corner me, so I managed to hide the device.” He glances up at Frank. “But they took everything else. Luckily, I didn’t go with much. Honestly, they didn't even have the training of a government thug, just a garden-variety street tough.”

“Then why - who -“

“A good question. This changes things. We’ll have to call a meeting. Immediately.”

“Grant, you’re hurt. We can at least wait until the doctor patches you up, maybe even until morning,” Gerard practically pleads.

“Send for them, Gerard. Please.”

Gerard kisses Sir Grant’s palm and reluctantly gets up. He startles when he sees Frank.

“This is Mr. Iero. He discovered me and brought me here,” Sir Grant explains.

Gerard narrows his eyes.

“He... I was on my way to supper when I found him, I -” Frank says helplessly.

“Gerard,” Sir Grant says and Gerard looks back at him. “I trust him.”

They share a long look and when Gerard turns back, he looks significantly less suspicious. “You’re the inventor,” he says. “You’re Frank Iero.” He sounds like he’s having some sort of realization.

“You have the advantage of me,” Frank replies evenly.

“I - Gerard Way,” he answers, holding out a hand. Frank takes it and shakes, but Gerard - Way - is already turning away. “He’s the inventor,” he says to the Baronet. “You could have stopped me from looking like an ass, Grant.”

“Why ever would I do that?” Sir Grant teases, though his voice is still strained. He reaches out, and Way goes to kneel by the sofa again.

“You’re lucky I missed you, or I’d go right back to Port Merchant,” Way says warmly, and Frank flushes a little and turns away. This, then, is the companion Sir Grant mentioned; not that Frank had any doubt on the matter, but he feels very much as if he’s intruding all of sudden. “What in the world is this contraption?” Way adds, and Frank turns back around.

“It’s mine,” he says. “I’d hoped it would support the injured leg, but I should take it back now.” He takes a step closer to the sofa, but Way is already working on the straps and removing the brass and leather brace as gently as possible. He hands it back to Frank, who glances around the room before settling on a chair some distance away, adjusting the brass fittings and rolling up his trouser leg to buckle it back onto his own leg, which has begun to protest the unusual exertion of half-carrying a grown man across town.

“You made this?” Way asks from much closer than Frank was expecting, startling him. He’s watching Frank buckle the straps with apparent absorption.

“I did.”

“Have you always worn it?”

Frank used to hate the questions. Wearing the brace under his trousers usually supplants most of them, but he sees Sir Grant also looking curious and decides this is a special case. “I was injured during my compulsory service,” he replies. “The army doctors gave me something similar, but inferior; I replaced it as soon as I could with my own design. The adjustable tension -“ He decides they couldn’t possibly care and stops himself, but can’t help adding, “I offered the patent to the government a few years back, but they weren’t interested. Just wanted more triggers. Always triggers.”

“Your government contract,” Sir Grant murmurs from the couch.

“It’s no secret,” Frank replies. “I’m sure you knew all about it already anyway.”

“Of course I did, I -” he stops talking and grimaces. Way rushes back to his side.

“The doctor will be here soon, chaton,” he whispers, though not low enough to keep Frank from overhearing.

“I’ll take your leave now,” Frank starts, but Sir Grant stops him.

“The device. I -”

“Grant!” Way says, frowning. “You hid it. It will keep until we can get one of the -”

“Tell me where it is,” Frank interrupts. “I’ll retrieve it for you. I’m sure the thugs are long gone.”

“It was me they were after, but don’t underestimate them,” Sir Grant replies. “They’re -”

“Too dangerous,” Way cuts in with a speaking look at Sir Grant. “Surely Mr. Iero ought not to get involved.”

“I made it,” Frank growls. “That makes me involved.” Never mind the danger, mercenary brutes attacking a gentleman mere blocks from Frank’s own shop; he’s suddenly furious at how he’s being dismissed.

Way and the Baronet share another speaking glance, and clearly Sir Grant wins because he immediately describes the hiding place to Frank. He’s no sooner gotten the words out than a knock on the door admits the butler with the doctor; Frank takes his leave immediately and Way himself ushers Frank to the door, though it clearly pains him to leave the Baronet’s side.

“I will return with the device or send word of my failure to retrieve it,” Frank tells him.

Way favors him with an unreadable look. “Understood.”

*

It is, in fact, ridiculously easy to retrieve the cigar box from its hiding spot behind the apothecary shop’s fence. Where Frank stands, he is only about three blocks from his own shop, which nestles at the very edge of the industrial area ringing the Airship Yards, and perhaps two from the tea shop where Sir Grant habitually leaves his steam carriage. He’s more than a little impressed that the Baronet was able to identify and evade his pursuers long enough to stash the item.

Frank is vigilant on the journey and its return, feeling forgotten vestiges of the training from his short-lived army career returning. Or, more likely, vestiges of the skills of evasion left over from his misspent youth. When he raps quietly two times on the kitchen door of Grant’s mansion, Way is the one to admit him. He asks if Frank was followed, and Frank is able to reply in the negative.

“The device, Mr. Way,” Frank says, proffering the box.

“Thank you, Mr. Iero. The Baronet will be most relieved.”

“I am glad,” Frank replies softly. Way gives him a sharp look, and Frank continues, “I’d be distressed to know that my work had placed Sir Grant under duress.”

Way smirks. “He’s quite adept at that on his own.”

Frank flinches. He’s less than comfortable, and he’s sure that any request to be made aware of the Baronet’s recovery will not be met well, so he merely says, “I will leave, then, and wish the Baronet a speedy -”

“Not so fast,” Way says. “Our... colleagues will soon arrive. He wants you to stay.” Way’s tone couldn’t make it any clearer what opinion he has of this prospect, and Frank bristles, but Way continues, “I had the maids make coffee and set out a cold supper before they retired.”

Coffee sounds like absolute paradise, and when Frank says so, Way unbends enough to offer him a small smile and lead him through the service wing and into a small dining room. “You’ll have to serve yourself,” he says.

“I’ve managed that feat for most of my twenty-eight years,” Frank comments dryly, and Way has the grace to flush a little.

“Well, I - must go check on Grant. I’ll come fetch you when he’s ready.” Frank nods and Way leaves the room. Frank has enough time to help himself to an assortment of cheese and fruit and bread and drink two cups of quite frankly amazing coffee before Way returns.

“He wants to talk to you.” Way’s tone would be a bit more objectionable if his adoration for Sir Grant wasn’t clear, right down to the very manner in which he says “He,” like the capital letter is implicit. Something in Frank’s gut twists a bit, but he follows. Sir Grant has been moved to a different room since Frank left and is now reclining on a daybed in the - absolutely bloody astonishing - library. He lets Frank look around wide-eyed for a moment before greeting him.

Sir Grant is pale and a bit tight around the eyes, clearly exhausted, but his gaze is piercing as ever, and he says quietly, “Come here, please, Mr. Iero. We must talk for a moment.”

Frank crosses the room and without thinking sinks onto his knees by the daybed. “Yes, sir?”

“We are meeting in this room shortly - Gerard, myself and our compatriots. I trust your intelligence implicitly, Mr. Iero, and I must impress on you that the things that we discuss and that we do are both highly illegal and highly dangerous, and I’ve kept you out of them as much as I possibly could for months, but I fear that tonight’s events mean our adversaries are closer to discovering you than I ever wished them to be. And if that happens, you are either with us or you are against us. If you are with us, we will do everything in our power to protect you. If you are not....”

“I understand,” Frank replies. “I believe I’d like to hear more.”

“Frank - I may call you that, Mr. Iero?” Frank nods. “Well, Frank, I honestly would have expected nothing less from you.”

Frank smiles, pleased that Sir Grant would think so.

“Please, have a seat,” Sir Grant gestures to one of the chairs that have been pulled up around the daybed. “The others should be arriving shortly.”

“Mikey should be here already. I don’t know what’s keeping him. All he had to do was come down the bloody stairs,” Way grouses.

Sir Grant chuckles. “I’m sure your brother is where you would be if I wasn’t distracting you, dearest: where the pot of coffee is. No doubt he’ll show his face when Lady Thompson arrives with Miss Simmons.”

The name Mikey makes something in Frank’s brain perk up, but he can’t quite place the association, so he waits quietly, taking more of the library around him in. The shelves closest to him have a wide variety of titles. Some Frank has heard of, many he has not. He’s certain he could get lost in here and not come out for years if given the opportunity. He’s startled out of his perusal by the door opening and a young man ushering in a petite, redheaded older woman with a younger woman a few steps behind.

“Lady Thompson, you’ll forgive me for not greeting you properly, but I’m afraid I have a broken leg.” Sir Grant gestures at his leg.

“Grant, have we not discussed that avoiding this sort of trouble is a main objective of our little group?” Lady Thompson asks. She’s clearly joking, but there’s a strong hint of concern about her.

“I’m afraid they surprised me, Jill. Luckily, they didn’t surprise me enough that I wasn’t able to hide the latest device made by Mr. Iero.” Sir Grant gestures at Frank and Lady Thompson looks at him and smiles warmly.

“Ah! I hadn’t noticed the new face. Charmed. Your work is masterful, Mr. Iero. Very cunning,” she tells him with a smile.

Frank smiles back. “Thank you.”

Lady Thompson turns to Way. “He’s going to be a horrible invalid, you know.”

A look of utter dread crosses Way’s face. “Oh god. I hadn’t even thought that far ahead yet.”

“I am sitting here, you realize?” Sir Grant asks somewhat petulantly. Frank knows it’s partly in jest, but it’s still an odd thing for Frank to see. But Sir Grant is clearly among loved ones, and his relaxed behavior reflects that.

Way eases himself down on the daybed beside Sir Grant and kisses his cheek. “You can’t deny it, mon chaton.

Sir Grant leans against Way’s shoulder. “I’m sure I’ll be terrible,” he says quietly. “May I pre-emptively beg for your patience, dearest?”

Frank once again feels like he’s intruding on a very private moment and turns to look at the young brunette Frank is assuming is Miss Simmons, and at the young man.

“Mikey Way,” he murmurs, and it all falls into place. He recalls that Mikey was a grade ahead of him in grammar school. Remembers him living just down the street and even playing with him a few times.

Mikey walks over and holds out his hand. “It’s been a long time,” he says.

Frank nods. “It has. I’d never have recognized you on the street.”

“Neither would I have,” Mikey replies. “Though I remembered your family business well enough to send Grant your way for his little listening project.”

“So I am here at your instigation, Mr. Way.” Frank pauses when Mikey grimaces.

“There are two of us, and I’m sure that would get desperately confusing. Please call me Mikey. Everyone else does. Though I suppose you are no longer going by Frankie.” His tone is dry and flat, but there’s a disarming sparkle in his eye.

“Frank will do,” Frank replies with a smile.

The brunette nudges Mikey’s arm with her fingertips, and he shakes himself a bit. “Frank Iero, Miss Alicia Simmons.”

“Lady Thompson’s aide,” Miss Simmons adds.

“A pleasure,” Frank tells her. He’s beginning to be exceedingly confused about what exactly this motley group of people is up to. His confusion only increases when another soft rap on the door admits two rather large men in working-class garments.

“Ray Toro, James Dewees,” Mikey tells Frank, pointing to each in turn. “This is Frank Iero,” he tells them. “And that is the lot of us,” he adds.

“Except for Becky,” Miss Simmons comments.

“And the twins,” Way adds from across the room. He’s watching Frank and Mikey converse with a small furrow in his brow. Frank catches his eye again and looks away, discomfited.

“I don’t remember your brother, Mikey Way,” Frank murmurs. “Does he always glare so?”

Mikey doesn’t say anything for a moment, then murmurs back, “Interesting.”

“Interesting?”

“Gerard. He’s - well, it’s ultimately unimportant,” Mikey adds. “What we are doing here requires a great deal of trust and respect, but neither of those require that he like you, or you him.”

“How comforting. And I’d be more inclined to believe you if I knew what you were doing here,” Frank gripes.

Miss Simmons overhears this; possibly she’s also overheard the rest of the conversation, but she gives no outward sign. She does take the opportunity to call across the room, “Sir Grant, I do believe you’ll drive this boy crazy if you don’t explain our activities.”

Immediately the conversation in the room quiets, and everyone looks at either Frank or Sir Grant. Sir Grant himself looks at Frank as well, and says, “It’s quite simple, Frank, we’re trying to bring down the government.”

Frank laughs in disbelief. “Oh, is that all?” He catches a thunderous look on Way’s face, but amusement on Sir Grant’s. But Frank can’t stop the laughter. It’s entirely ridiculous.

“Yes, indeed,” Sir Grant says. “Well. Bringing down the government isn’t quite what it is. There are good people in the government. But the ones who have and continue to maintain power are doing so at great cost to the people. To say nothing of the needless war costing thousands of lives and tying up all our production in the war effort. We helped get the former Prime Minister safely out of the country and we continue to support him here, but our actions are our own.”

Frank stops laughing. “Okay, these are understandable goals. I support them, all told. But how do a handful of people expect to do all that against the government?”

“Slowly, bit by bit,” Lady Thompson answers. The group takes a few minutes to explain what they do. Little of it is legal, of course, but considering the government’s breaches of trust, Frank feels no hesitation condoning it. Lady Thompson and Miss Simmons use their status and access to eavesdrop and also play thieves and device planters by turns. Toro and Dewees seem to be the ones who infiltrate factories, and do more active projects like sabotaging rail cars full of weaponry. Sir Grant’s sister is married to someone of high rank and Sir Grant has enough standing in society himself that he hears and sees much and can, at the least, play the political game. Mikey Way appears to be the sort who is friendly with everyone and uses that greatly to his advantage. And Gerard Way, in addition to working with both Mikey and Sir Grant in social situations, helps Sir Grant write the literature for their movement.

“Anything I’d know?” Frank asks, somewhat jokingly. He certainly hasn’t seen any anti-government tracts recently.

“Actually,” Sir Grant says, “I saw one of his books on your desk in the shop a few months ago.” When Sir Grant says the name, Frank has to keep his jaw from dropping.

“Oh,” he says quietly. “I love that book.”

Way favors him with a genuine smile for the first time all evening. Frank smiles back.

“Frank, that is by no means a sufficient overview, but now we must get to the reason for this meeting. Please, feel free to ask any of us any questions you might have,” Sir Grant says. Frank nods and Sir Grant continues. “The violence against me tonight was obviously one of our opponents sending us a message. We need to discuss how we’re going to handle an opponent now willing to use extreme force against us.”

“They’re killing their own countrymen in droves for this war,” Way cries, eyes flashing. “What’s one more person?”

“Gerard,” Lady Thompson says warningly. “Isn’t it a bit precipitous to immediately decide it was the Prime Minister’s own men? He would have probably just had Grant arrested on some trumped-up charge if it were so.” Way frowns, and Sir Grant sets a hand over his.

“Listen to Jill, Gerard. I...may have made the mistake of getting a bit drunk the other night and arguing with Viscount Woodson at a dinner party about his latest conscription bill. If I had to guess, I’d say this was his reprisal.”

“We checked the mansion for surveillance before we came in tonight, like we always do,” Dewees points out. “There was nothing.”

“It’s not like your sympathies are any secret, Grant,” Mikey adds. “Although if anyone is ranting at dinner parties, it’s usually Gerard.” Way glares at his brother, who raises an unimpressed brow. “What? It’s true.”

Frank watches the conversation bounce around the room. When there is a small lull, Toro is the one to break it. He’s so soft-spoken, Frank wonders how often he even gets a word in. But this time, he has a good point. “Sir Grant will be out of commission for a while. If Woodson believes he’s won this round, it’s a good time to move in on him. I can focus on his factories and Dewees on his town activities. He clearly acts as if he has the Minister’s ear, so if Gerard can manage not to challenge him at any parties for a few weeks, we may get some additional intelligence on who his inner circle is. Then we’ll know where we actually must hit.”

“Woodson’s a bastard, but the foreman of his airship-works is a sadistic drunk,” Frank says before he can help himself. The entire room looks at him, and he shrinks in on himself a little, but Toro gestures for him to explain.

“I’m one of his suppliers. The drayers who come to pick up his orders like to gossip while they work.”

“We can use that,” Dewees says. “Shit, Iero, do you ever go out to the taverns around the Yards? You must be sitting on a gold mine of gossip.”

“Frank’s creations are an invaluable tool, and we can’t afford him attracting attention to his workshop,” Sir Grant interjects. “We don’t need to start sending him out to shipyard taverns at all hours.”

“It’s not like I couldn’t do it. I’d fit in,” Frank replies, a little stung.

“I said no such thing,” Sir Grant answers. “But you need to stay in one piece.”

“I’d imagine most of the people here would say the same of you,” Frank says before he can think better of it. There are a half-dozen pairs of eyes staring at him now, and he turns red and stands up to walk away. Mortifyingly, his knee chooses this moment to protest, and he limps his way over to a window.

The conversation goes on behind him, Sir Grant, Lady Thompson, and Toro confirming their plans for further activity against Viscount Woodson. The meeting breaks up into various groups chit-chatting and planning by turns.

“I don’t think anybody would think less of you if you decided to go home right now and continue as you have been,” Mikey says, suddenly right next to him. Frank nearly jumps.

“Your brother would,” Frank says.

“Gerard is high strung. Tonight even more so. He’ll get over it.”

“Since my time in the military, I’ve been doing the safe thing. The most rebellious I get is reading anti-war or anti-government books and then going back to my government contracts, helping them make weapons for a war I don’t believe in. I’d like to help. However I can.” Frank sighs and runs a hand down his face.

“Your devices have been invaluable,” Mikey says. “But I’m sure we can find more for you to do if that’s what you want.”

“I think so. No, I know so.” He glances over at Mikey and Mikey gives him a nod and a slight smile.

“Mikey, I think Lady Jill and Miss Simmons are about to leave,” Way says, walking up to them.

“Right,” Mikey says. “Frank, we’ll speak later, I’m sure.”

Frank nods and Mikey walks over to Miss Simmons, offering her his arm. “Are they...?”

“Yes. Well, they’re as good as.” There’s a pause that stretches to the point of awkwardness and then Way asks, “How’s your leg?”

“All right for now. I’m sure it will be sore and stiff in the morning. But not nearly as sore as Sir Grant’s. It hasn’t seen that much use in a while. Especially without the brace,” Frank says.

“I was thinking,” Way says, “he won’t be needing something straightaway as his leg will be in plaster for several weeks, but perhaps I could commission you to make Grant a brace like that?”

“I could do that. I’ll need to measure his leg, though. Send for me when the plaster comes off,” Frank instructs. Way nods.

“Thank you,” he says and walks back over to Sir Grant’s daybed and sits down again, taking Sir Grant’s hand in his. Way is something of a puzzle, but Frank is suddenly, deeply tired. Far too tired to try to figure it out. After a beat, he follows Way, standing awkwardly by the foot of the daybed. He clears his throat after a few moments.

“Frank. I’m sorry, have you been standing there long?” Sir Grant asks. He’s obviously tired and possibly also feeling the affects of both his pain and the medication given to him for it by the doctor.

“Not at all,” Frank answers. “I was just. That is, I think I’ll go home. I’d like to help you. And the rest of the group. As much as I can.”

Grant smiles at him. “I’m glad. We’ll be in touch. Be safe.”

Frank exits the room, nodding to the remaining guests. The younger maid is waiting outside and escorts him to the door. Frank doesn’t see Mikey anywhere, which he regrets, but he doesn’t particularly want to go looking, either. They’ll see each other again at some point. Frank nearly calls himself a cab, he knows it’s foolish not to. His leg will be less than forgiving the next day as it is, but he wants to use the fresh air and the walk to think about the day which ended completely contrary to what he was expecting. He has no idea what sort of changes are coming to his life, but he supposes he’ll find out.

***

“Goodnight,” Gerard tells James and Ray as they go out the door. “Be safe.” They wave over their shoulders and Gerard shuts the door. The butler is standing nearby giving Gerard a look for not letting him perform his duties, but Gerard can’t bring himself to care. Especially not tonight. He leans against the door and closes his eyes. When he opens them, he sees Mikey leaning against the parlor doorway.

When Gerard stands up, Mikey comes to him immediately and wraps him in an embrace. Gerard clings back. He’d been so excited to come home. Spending time with the twins is always, always enjoyable, but he’d missed Grant and he’d missed his brother. He’d expected to come home, have a nice dinner with Grant and Mikey, and go to bed early. Probably not to sleep early, though.

Instead, he got the fright of his life and chaos and a new person and he’s so damn tired.

“It’ll be fine, Gee,” Mikey tells him. Gerard nods against his shoulder, takes a deep breath and pulls back.

“I need to get Grant upstairs and in bed and sleep. It’s been a long day, Mikey.” Gerard takes a deep breath.

“It will be fine,” Mikey repeats. Gerard takes another deep breath and nods.

“Charles,” Gerard calls out.

“Yes, sir?” the butler replies, walking into the entryway from where he was straightening the parlor.

“Could you help me move Grant to our room? I don’t think I can manage alone.”

“Of course, sir.”

Gerard gives Mikey one last quick hug and then follows Charles into the library. They get Grant upstairs, mostly without issue. Grant’s clearly exhausted and a little bit hazy from the pain medicine, but he helps as best he can. Charles helps Gerard get Grant in the most comfortable position for his leg and then bids them goodnight. When Gerard finally crawls into bed, he crawls in on the opposite side of Grant’s broken leg and lays his head on Grant’s chest.

“When Annie told me you were hurt, I’ve never been so scared in my life,” Gerard whispers.

“My dearest one,” Grant whispers. “It’s nothing. A broken bone.”

“It could have been much more than that,” Gerard insists. “I can’t stop thinking about it.”

“Don’t, Gerard. It doesn’t bear thinking about. We knew we were taking risks when we started this.”

“I can’t lose you,” Gerard whispers, turning over to press kisses along Grant’s neck and jaw. “Never, ever, ever.” Grant lifts a hand and gingerly wraps it over Gerard’s head, holding him in place for a moment.

“I love you,” Grant murmurs, slurring into sleep.

Gerard lets himself curl into Grant’s body and listens to him breathe. He’s nearly asleep himself - he’s been awake for far too many hours to contemplate, and his earlier emotional turmoil is fading into exhaustion. As he closes his eyes his mind presents him with an image of Frank Iero. No, no, no, no, he thinks to himself. He’s been listening to Grant sing the man’s praises for months, and he had no idea that Grant’s pet inventor was so young and - beautiful, with wounded eyes and a stubborn mouth and - right. Young.

He’d been suspicious at first, rushing into the room to find Grant broken and bleeding and a strange man in the room. He’s still uneasy bringing in someone new to their cell, someone who, despite his scrupulous politeness, had addressed Grant with a familiarity that spoke of some sort of connection. Iero is an unknown quantity; at least he is to Gerard.

He realizes, with Grant’s sleeping breath in his ear, that he’s being ridiculous. But it’s been a very long day.

*

The first thing Gerard does when he wakes the next morning is help Grant take another dose of analgesic. Within minutes, Grant’s relaxing significantly, to the point of having trouble keeping his eyes open again.

“You know I don’t mind altered states of consciousness, but I do wish this one wasn’t necessary,” Grant murmurs sleepily.

“I wish too, chaton,” Gerard says, kissing Grant’s forehead. “Hopefully you can get by with something less strong soon. I’ll have Charles bring coffee up. Perhaps that will help.”

Grant hums in agreement and then is out again. Gerard is tempted to just lay his head back down and go back to sleep as well. He gets up and rings for Charles and puts on his dressing gown. There’s a light knock on the door and Gerard opens it, suppressing a yawn.

“Good morning, sir,” Charles says quietly. “How is the Baronet this morning?”

“In some pain, but he seemed otherwise fine in the few moments he was awake. Could I trouble you to bring up a pot of coffee and some toast? And perhaps a pen and one of my notebooks from the study. I don’t want to leave him.” For once, Gerard doesn’t feel entirely awkward asking Charles to bring him something he could easily get for himself. One would think he’d be used to it by now, but he’s not.

“Straightaway, sir. Shall I inform the younger Mr. Way that you will be breakfasting in your quarters?”

“Yes, please,” Gerard answers and Charles turns and walks back down the hall to the stairs. Charles is back with a tray in a few minutes with all the requested items on it. Gerard wants to just take the tray at the door, but Charles clears his throat and Gerard moves aside to allow him to come in and set the tray on the small table in the corner. Gerard thanks him and sits down at the table. He makes himself a cup and drinks it down quickly before making another to savor.

He opens his notebook and starts writing. It comes out half diary entry, half impassioned treatise about the use of violence as a means to suppress the populace. Gerard knows it’s mostly rubbish, that aside from a line or two it won’t be usable, but he needs to get it out. He knows that the attack on Grant was more personal vendetta than anything, but now that it’s happened, he can’t stop thinking about when it will be the government. And he knows it will come to that eventually. The idea of any of them getting hurt again makes Gerard’s stomach knot. So he keeps writing. He needs to get it all out, if nothing else.

When he hears the sheets rustling, he puts down his pen immediately and goes to Grant, sitting on the bed beside him. Grant isn’t quite awake yet and Gerard doesn’t want to wake him unless he’s in terrible pain, which he doesn’t appear to be. Gerard can see the bruise that bloomed on his head in the night. It’s large, ugly, and dark and Gerard almost wishes Grant had hair so he didn’t have to see it. But then Grant wouldn’t be Grant. Gerard realizes he’s breathing a little hard, feeling a little panicky about it all, so he reaches out - he can’t help it - to touch Grant, to remind himself that Grant is mostly okay and that he’ll heal and be fine.

Grant’s eyes blink open and he smiles slightly at Gerard. “I missed you very much while you were away,” Grant whispers. “I had such plans for you for last night. I was going to make love to you until neither of us could move and then do it all over again this morning.”

Gerard blinks rapidly and smiles down at him. “I’m sure I can wait, chaton. Would you like some coffee? It should still be warm. Well, at least a little bit.”

“That sounds heavenly. You’ll have to help me sit up to drink it, though,” Grant reminds him. Gerard gets on his knees and gets his arms under Grant’s and pulls while Grant pushes himself up with his good leg. Gerard fusses with the pillows behind his back until a hand on his wrist stops him. “No amount of pillow fluffing will heal this leg any faster, dearest.”

Gerard sighs. “I know. I just. I want you to be comfortable.”

Grant pulls Gerard against his chest and Gerard tucks his head under Grant’s chin. “Now I am,” he says.

Grant spends most of the next few days sleeping. The medicine makes him groggy enough that he can’t even focus on a book, so Gerard reads to him instead. It’s really rather nice - they’re usually so busy, and Gerard hasn’t turned down all social engagements and stayed in so many nights in a row for years. For Grant, it’s probably been longer. Maybe part of the nice feeling is Gerard ignoring his nerves, but he feels he deserves it, at least for a few days.

Things are less nice and more terrible when Grant starts feeling a little better - not good enough to get out of bed, but good enough to stay awake most of the day. Lady Jill comes for a visit after about two days of this second stage, and when Gerard greets her at the door she just laughs and laughs. “I warned you,” she says merrily. “Now take me to see the monster, I’ve been thinking about him.”

Grant narrows his eyes at her the moment Lady Jill steps into their room. “You’ve already been harassing him, haven’t you? I know that look. It’s not nice to gloat, Jill.”

“Darling, I don’t believe I’m the one who’s been harassing poor Gerard. He looks frazzled. I merely commented that he’d had adequate warning. Now,” she adds, turning to Gerard, “go get some sleep somewhere. I will entertain Grant for a few hours, and he will surely survive unless I decide to brain him with the tea tray.”

Gerard does as Lady Jill asks - commands, really, because he knows her tone well enough to know there is to be no argument. He isn’t sure how long he sleeps, just that it’s Mikey who comes to shake his shoulder and prod him downstairs for supper. When he returns to the bedroom afterwards, Grant is sitting up in bed with a lamp turned up high, writing on a lap desk. He smiles at the sight of Gerard, and Gerard smiles back. His bruises are starting to fade, turning rather fantastic colors as they do so, but in the lamplight they blend in, leaving him looking rather hawkish.

Gerard takes a deep breath. The healthier Grant looks, the harder it is to stay away from him. Right now, Grant might as well be waiting up for Gerard to finish a project before stripping him down and fucking into the wee hours. To distract himself, Gerard asks, “What are you writing?”

“I am catching up on my correspondence,” Grant answers. “I owed Leigh a letter to explain my absence from her sister-in-law’s party the other night, and I wanted to write Frank a note as well.”

So it’s “Frank,” now. “I believe he’s already making progress on your next commission. James stopped by yesterday and indicated that he’d done the same at Iero’s workshop.”

“That was kind of him,” Grant answers reflectively. “Frank has part-time help but he mostly works alone, and I know he lost his family in the influenza outbreak several years back.” He taps his pen idly against a letter, swearing softly as the lap desk shifts and it discharges a blot of ink on the corner of the paper. “Damn this contraption. I want my desk, Gerard,” he says helplessly.

Gerard tugs the lap desk away and crawls onto the mattress. “The doctor comes to examine you tomorrow, Grant. Perhaps he’ll let you move from the bed for a few hours if you’ve improved.” Gerard reaches out and cups Grant’s cheek, running his thumb over Grant’s cheekbone, and shifts as close as he can get without jostling Grant. “I’ve considered sending him away,” he whispers conspiratorially into Grant’s ear, nipping lightly at the lobe. “I have no idea why I’d want to let you move from the bed.”

“Gerard -” Grant says unsteadily, one hand sliding up Gerard’s back to tangle in his hair.

“I’ve also been waiting for you to feel somewhat improved,” Gerard continues, sliding a hand along the front of Grant’s nightshirt, all the way down to the hem, and tugging a bit. “Do you feel improved, Grant?”

“Nearly,” Grant breathes. “Why don’t you check to make sure?”

Gerard hums against his lips, kissing him lightly for a moment before sliding a hand up his bare thigh. “Gladly.”

*

Once Grant is recovered enough to actually spend time in the parlor instead of their bedroom, his spirits improve a bit, and so do Gerard’s. While Gerard writes at the desk in the corner, Grant catches up on the newspapers and continues to work on his never-ending correspondence. He writes several more notes to Iero, to his sister Leigh - who had to be dissuaded from actually coming and tending to him herself, so worried was she - and to the twins in Port Merchant. Mikey, Alicia, and Lady Jill have stepped up their attendance at numerous social events, and they periodically come to discuss the latest gossip and more covert intelligence. Gerard can’t deny that Iero’s waxed plates, inconspicuous and precisely the size to disappear in a reticule or breast pocket, are a boon in this endeavor.

One afternoon, when it is already mostly gone supper time, Grant and Gerard are both reading - though Gerard suspects Grant is covertly napping behind his paper - when they are startled by an immensely loud and long boom in the distance. Grant drops his paper and Gerard sits bolt upright and they look at each other, startled. The noise had the sound of an explosion, and it had come from the direction of the industrial district.

“Run outside,” Grant urges Gerard, “and see if anyone comes by with news. Please, Gerard!”

Gerard makes it to the front door just as Mikey comes clattering down the stairs, and they look mutely at each other before they both rush outside, splitting at the end of the front steps and each walking quickly in a different direction.

More than a few people have emerged from their homes in confusion; in the entire duration of this war, there have been no prolonged attacks on home soil, but this wouldn’t be the first targeted bombing. Toro and Dewees typically stick to smaller-scale sabotage, and Grant is completely strict about civilian injury, but there’s really no telling what effect information provided by their own resistance cell has had on these attacks in the past.

There’s a plume of smoke rising from the direction of the Airship Yards and Gerard can hear the clanging bells of the emergency steam carriages in the distance. He sees someone running down the street and calls out, “Sir!” The young man stops. “Sir, any news?”

“Just that it’s the Yards. My da works there.” He’s really only a boy. Gerard frowns. The Yards are a logical target, Gerard knows. And he can hardly blame New Brittany for bombing there when Millar’s regime hasn’t let up on attacks of their country for more than a few days since he seized power. But the Yards employ a good number of people and Gerard hopes desperately that there aren’t many casualties.

“Be on your way, then. Good luck!” Gerard calls back. Mikey has returned from the other end of the street and heard the news as well.

“I’m going to go see if I can help,” Mikey says.

Gerard swallows and nods. Part of him wants to go too, but he knows he needs to stay in case anybody contacts them with information. Mikey starts walking swiftly in the direction of the smoke. Gerard runs a hand over his face and goes back into the house. He goes straight into the parlor and kneels down next to the sofa Grant is sitting on and rests his head against Grant’s thigh.

“It’s the Yards. No word on casualties yet. Mikey went to see if he could help,” Gerard tells him. Grant runs his fingers through Gerard’s hair. At that moment, Annie brings in trays bearing their dinner. The servants must not have heard the commotion over the noise of the kitchen. Gerard nearly laughs. He can’t possibly eat now.

“Annie, I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t think we’ll be taking dinner at this time after all. Could you send Charles in, please?” Grant says. He doesn’t stop stroking Gerard’s hair.

Charles comes in a moment later and Grant quietly explains what’s happened. “If you or any of the servants have family connected to the Yards, please feel free take your leave and go to them.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Charles intones. “I’ll inform the others.”

“Dearest,” Grant says in a tone that Gerard knows means he’s going to ask a favor. Gerard lifts his head to look up at Grant. “Would it trouble you too much to go check on Frank? His shop is quite close to the Yards.”

Gerard knows the expression on Grant’s face well. It’s the expression he wears when things are hopelessly out of his control, which Gerard knows he despises. When they’d first met, Gerard had been simultaneously attracted to and rebellious against Grant’s calculating, chess-player’s mind. Now, it’s just part of him. Part of them. “Yes, I’ll go, mon chaton.

“Kitten,” Grant repeats. “That’s appropriate at this particular moment, weak as I am.” He looks down at his plaster-bound leg in disgust.

Gerard pushes himself up to kiss Grant. “You are many things, but never weak. I’ll send word if I will be delayed.” He kisses Grant one more time for good measure, pushes himself to his feet, and runs out the door.

Gerard realizes as he hurries along the streets heading toward the Yards that he could do this route blindfolded. Iero grew up, as Mikey had reminded him after their introduction last week, just down the street from the Ways, and while Gerard is several years older and has no memory of Iero, he remembers the location of the Iero family’s shop fairly well. Remembers the entire area adjacent to the Yards fairly well, really. He’s suddenly sick with the realization that it is their old neighbors who could be injured. This, Gerard realizes, is why Mikey hurried down here so precipitously. Mikey spent his four-year conscription working in a military hospital; his skills could very well be needed today.

Rounding the last corner onto the block containing the Iero Machine Shop, Gerard is relieved to see that the area - indeed, the entire area he’s traveled through so far - is untouched. The smoke he’d seen earlier is, in fact, still rising some distance away. Gerard hesitates; he could return to the house now and tell Grant that Iero is perfectly unscathed, with Iero remaining entirely unaware of his presence, and he wants to.

But no. Grant would be disappointed, and Gerard knows, he knows, that he’s being irrational with this avoidance. But his lungs cramp in his chest every time he even hears the name, like the crackle of electricity before a storm, like some sort of impending force he can’t anticipate is just around the corner. Perhaps Iero is just a harbinger and not the force itself, but something is about to change.

He takes a few more steps, then hesitates again. What if Iero isn’t there? What if he’s gone to help at the Yards like Mikey? Gerard would be obliged to track him down. It might take hours. He doesn’t want to leave Grant alone for that long, he -

He looks through the shop window. The lights are on. Iero is sitting at a desk with his head in his hands.

That settles it. Gerard takes the last few steps to the door and pushes it open. A small chime announces him, but Iero is slow to look up. His eyes are dry but glassy. His face is drawn. “Way,” he says tonelessly by way of greeting.

“Iero,” Gerard answers. “You’re here. You’re all right?” Stupid question.

“Looks that way,” Iero answers shortly.

“It doesn’t look that way at all,” Gerard replies bluntly. “Not at all. Did you - did you go down there? Is -”

“No,” Iero cuts him off. “I did not go down there. I - couldn’t.” He turns away, but not until Gerard sees the muscle jump in his cheek.

Gerard crosses the room and circles Iero, leans on the edge of the desk. “Why?” he asks.

Iero looks at him with narrowed eyes, then scrubs a hand over his face. “I was only in for a year,” he says, the tone of his voice changing, going both soft and remote. “I was in the Navy. The real Navy, not the Air Guard - one of the dreadnoughts. Stuck on a ship for weeks, months at a time. ‘Hurry up and wait,’ they used to say. And we waited, and we drilled and we cleaned the fucking ship within an inch of its life, and when it finally came time to disembark - to invade like we were told was so fucking necessary for the preservation of our fucking way of life or some such shit - those fuckers, those landing skiffs, half of them sank like stones. Mine almost did. I hit solid ground praising the Holy Mother I was still alive, and had my leg shot out from under me almost as soon as I took a step.” He’s barely taken a breath, but he takes one now, slow like he’s remembering who he’s talking to. “You’ve seen a field hospital, I assume. Have you ever seen a hospital ship?”

“No,” Gerard replies quietly.

“There’s nowhere to go. Either they drop you off onshore, or they drop you overboard.”

“Iero - Frank,” Gerard says, reaching out and touching his shoulder. “You made it. Do you feel -”

“I used to feel bad about it,” Frank replies. “Bad that I was so useless, bad that I got out when the guys I shipped out with had to stay.... I was basically still useless when I came home. My mama was so sad. Then a friend gave me a book.” He looks up at Gerard. “Your book. I would spend all day casting parts for the bastards running this country, this war, but it helped me remember there used to be something else, and I - I know you don’t like me much, but you did that for me, Way.”

“Gerard,” Gerard says. “Please.”

Frank seems to attempt a smile, but falters halfway through. “I want to be useful to someone. No, that’s not it - I want to be useful to someone I respect.”

Gerard is ashamed for the first time. “Grant sent me here. He was worried about you,” he admits.

“I respect Sir Grant very much,” Frank replies. “Now that I know your group’s agenda, I am glad that I provide something that helps him - that helps all of you. Gerard, I hope you can find it in yourself to trust me eventually.”

“If Grant does, I do,” Gerard admits finally. It’s the unvarnished truth.

“Sir Grant... You should go to him,” Frank responds. “I don’t want to - tell him I’m fine and to stop worrying, please?”

Gerard bites his lip. “I will. Stay safe, Frank.” He hesitates for a moment, then hurries out the shop door, bell clattering shrilly behind him.

*

The walk home feels like it takes hours. Gerard realizes that Frank told him something he possibly hasn’t even told Grant yet. Gerard feels touched that Frank was wiling to say that much, given Gerard’s behavior toward him. He feels like such an ass. He’s not entirely sure why his first reactions to Frank fell on the negative side. It’s part jealousy, he can admit that to himself. Grant has never spoken so highly of anyone else unknown to Gerard before. He also knows how irrational that jealousy is. If there’s anything he’s certain of, it’s that Grant loves him.

Yet no, this persistent feeling of jealousy won’t go away. Even now, after their conversation, something in Gerard’s stomach is still twisting. That’s not fair to Frank, though; Frank deserves his respect at the very least and Gerard is determined to give it to him.

He reaches the house and realizes he left without his hat. He sighs. He’ll never make a proper gentleman. At least he has Grant to remind him of these things when there’s a social engagement to be attended. Though perhaps he will. Grant’s father had been awarded a baronetcy when Grant was a teenager for inventing the first functional steam plow. Until then, the Morrisons had only been scraping by. Gerard supposes that Grant has just had longer to practice.

Gerard looks into the sitting room and sees Grant's not there. He frowns, instantly worried. He takes a moment to take a deep breath and then rings the bell for Charles.

"Mr. Way, I apologize. I meant to meet you at the door. The baronet wished me to tell you he moved to the library," Charles says from the doorway.

Gerard takes another deep breath. “Thank you, Charles.”

He walks down the hall to the library and sees Grant lounging on the daybed, a book in his lap. He notices Gerard instantly.

“What’s the news?” Grant asks.

“Frank is fine,” Gerard says, sitting on the edge of the daybed. “He told me to tell you to stop worrying.”

Grant nods, the relief on his face and in his posture palpable. He seems unfazed by the familiarity of the message. “Did you see any damage?”

“No, the area was untouched. I didn’t hear or see anything on the way back, either, so I suppose we’ll have to wait for Mikey to get back for solid information.” Gerard lets Grant pull him closer, and leans against his side.

“I realized as soon as you left that it was possible Frank could have gone to help. You found him there?” Grant asks.

“I don’t think he could. Because of his leg. He seemed distressed about it. I think—” Gerard stops for a moment to think. “I think perhaps inviting him to join us was the best thing for him.” He wants to talk with Grant about what Frank told him, but he feels like if Frank hasn’t told Grant any of what he said to Gerard yet, it’s not Gerard’s place to be the one to do so.

Grant strokes a hand through his hair. “We can only benefit from his help.”

Gerard nods. “What were you reading?” he asks after a few moments.

Grant chuckles tiredly. “More like attempting to read. I thought being in here where I can’t see the smoke would calm my nerves. It didn’t.”

Gerard rubs his face against Grant’s chest. “Shall we read together until Mikey gets back?”

“That sounds lovely, dearest,” Grant says, kissing Gerard’s temple. Gerard picks up the book from Grant’s lap. It’s a book of poetry, so he just lets the book fall open and starts reading the first poem aloud. They trade off reading until they hear the sounds of Mikey and Ray talking as they walk down the hall. Grant closes the book with a snap and they both sit up straighter. Mikey and Ray enter the library looking tired and dirty. Mikey sits down on the chair closest to the daybed and Ray sits across from him.

“Any casualties?” Grant asks quietly.

“About thirty people injured with varying degrees of seriousness, but no fatalities. Which was damn lucky because the main Air Guard hangar is practically destroyed and there are only a couple of airships left functional,” Mikey says. Gerard feels Grant let out a breath.

“Was it... was it bad?” Gerard asks.

“I’ve seen worse,” Mikey says, lips pressing together. Gerard leans over and squeezes Mikey’s shoulder and Mikey starts talking again. “It was a successful hit. The Air Guard won’t be able to fully recover from it for many months. Possibly longer.”

Ray nods in agreement. “The few ships remaining were small ones in the periphery hangars of the Yard, and some private crafts. They’re hardly big enough to get across the channel, and would require refueling to return.”

Grant sighs. “Much as I hate the fact that we have injuries, strategically this is probably one of the best things that could have happened. A war machine missing a key component does not run very well.”

“The Brittans bought us time,” Gerard muses. “The Minister will have to divide funds between the Air Guard repairs and Woodson’s siege machines.” He looks up at Ray. “When will you and Dewees be ready to implement the blueprint switch?”

“A couple more weeks,” Ray tells him. “We had no trouble hiring on, but the factory hasn’t entered that phase of manufacturing yet.”

“I must contact Lord Gaiman,” Grant says. “Millar’s cronies will certainly try to insinuate his involvement in this strike. He must release his own statement.”

Gerard makes a mental note to visit Becky at North Star Press tomorrow. She’ll want advance notice to clear the docket for a rush on whatever missive Lord Gaiman provides. “I’ll put together a new broadsheet to go with whatever you receive, Grant.”

“Thank you, dearest. I’ll proof it for you when you’re ready. Now, if you could fetch my lap desk? And the two of you, please go get something to eat and get some rest.” Grant looks at all three of them in turn. “We have a great deal of work ahead of us.”

***

Grant is rather proud of the way his team has shown autonomy while he’s recuperating. Jill and Alicia have continued their normal activity unchanged, with Mikey picking up some of the slack from Grant’s absence. After a few weeks, Grant had started encouraging Gerard to go out as well, and while he resisted, he understands the importance of what they were doing. The bombing at the shipyards had thrown the upper classes into a frenzy and it is vital to keep their voices heard.

Toro has managed to entrench himself on the cleaning crew at one of Woodson’s weapons factories and is in place and ready for the right time to effect their latest sabotage. Dewees has taken to dressing foppishly in his idea of a disguise - surprisingly effective - and found a job as a low-level clerk in the filing room of the patent office; he and Frank are working on a way to alter the blueprints for some of the critical components of the government’s war machines.

This last prong of the plan was cooked up at one of the first meetings Frank had attended as a full participant. Frank and Gerard had, interestingly, both spoken up against it, at nearly the same moment and in nearly the same words. The suspicious looks they’d bent upon each other afterwards had been interesting too. Grant had noticed immediately when Gerard had returned from Frank’s shop referring to him by his first name; he has clearly dropped the antagonistic front he’d put up, though Grant has refrained from asking why. He was a little distracted at the time, at any rate.

Their initial arguments against the Woodson plan were identical - they were both worried about leaving soldiers unprotected in the face of battle. It took Grant and Ray both explaining that repeated malfunctions would probably keep the devices from ever passing the testing stage for either to agree. Meanwhile, Grant is finding Dewees - the newest addition to their group before Frank - to be a natural double agent. He’s quick and capable, yet disarmingly friendly where Frank is often prickly. They make an interesting team.

Tonight, they’ve completed most of the business on Grant’s agenda when Frank brings up a tidbit of gossip he’s heard. A particularly salacious bit of gossip, something that wouldn’t seem out of place in the social sphere Alicia and Mikey tend to report on, but something Grant wouldn’t have expected to cross Frank’s ears. Something that makes Frank turn red to even repeat.

“My god,” Grant says before he can stop himself. “Where did you even hear that?”

“At the tea house on Boundary Street,” Frank answers, and Grant’s chest tightens. It’s the tea house where he always left his steam carriage when he visited Frank’s shop, the one where he was ambushed by Woodson’s men.

“What in bloody hell were you doing there?” Grant snaps. “I told you - I told you we didn’t need you in every yard-side tavern in your neighborhood, Frank, it’s too dangerous and you’re not trained.” He regrets the sharpness almost as soon as the words fall out of his mouth, even more so when Frank glares back.

“For your information,” Frank snaps, “I go there regularly for my suppers, because I’m usually too busy to cook. And even if I didn’t, what’s stopping me from visiting any tavern I care to? Am I to be wrapped in cotton wool like one of my damn machines?”

The temperature of the room doesn’t drop, but it might as well. All eyes are frozen on the two of them. Then Dewees shifts to lay a hand on Frank’s shoulder, and Grant closes his eyes for a moment. “My apologies,” he murmurs. “Let’s add it to the list of rumors to verify. Jill, you had something else to discuss?”

She narrows her eyes at him knowingly. He’s only half-listening to her recitation anyway. The real problem is, Grant knows exactly where his protective streak comes from, and he’s well aware of how far it can sometimes extend. Case in point: he'd rescued a kitten from a drainpipe the night he met Gerard - had still been carrying it in a coat pocket, in fact - and Gerard had thought that hilarious. He'd called Grant the chevalier des chatons for months, even after they'd been formally introduced. Even after they'd become intimately involved. It's been transformed into a pet name, now, and his heart clenches with love every time he hears Gerard call him "kitten" in that particular caressing tone, but there's no way to look back on that first meeting without recognizing the irony.

Gerard would probably have admitted to being a stray himself; newly arrived to the City, barely healed from the emotional stresses of his four years serving abroad, exhausted, overstimulated, drinking to excess. Whether Grant actually rescued him is a matter of opinion; Gerard had already begun to be lauded for his early writing. The only reason they'd even met was that the hostess that night liked to style herself a patron of the arts. Grant curls his lip just thinking of it. Lady Destrier was probably dying to "patronize" Gerard, but she'd clearly not read the way the wind was blowing. Her loss was most definitely Grant's gain.

Still, Gerard of eight years ago had definitely needed someone to take him under their wing. Grant has watched him heal, watched him develop both his pen and his social conscience. Has helped him find a press for his first pseudonymous overtly political novel, and watched him write its successors. Has explored every inch of his body and learned its most intimate secrets, loved him to distraction and occasionally despairingly.

Mikey had still been enlisted at the time, but he’d of course come to Gerard as soon as he was discharged, and while the temptation to be his savior was indeed strong, he'd mostly left it to Gerard, and to Mikey's own stubborn will, and somewhat to Alicia. Ray and Dewees had come to them through different channels, but they were all drawn by the urge to act instead of stand idly by and watch.

Frank is different. Grant likes to tell himself it's because he is the one who sought Frank out. He also likes to tell himself that Frank doesn't need him. It's true, on several levels. Frank has his own shop, stable and relatively lucrative employment, the wherewithal to pursue his true avocations on his own time. But inside his hard and dismissive shell, Frank has a yearning heart. Grant can see it. He's helplessly drawn to it, in a way which is permissible on one level, and utterly inappropriate on another.

The last thing Grant needs in his life is another stray.

When the last bit of conversation has been exhausted, people begin leaving in small groups. Gerard comes over to help Grant to his feet just as Frank heads for the door, and Frank gives him an unreadable look over Gerard’s shoulder as he passes. Grant watches his back as he goes; his shoulders are aggressively set, his limp tightly controlled.

“Grant,” Gerard whispers in his ear after an indeterminate amount of time, hands finding Grant’s hips and wrapping around his waist, “chaton, we are quite alone now.”

“Mmm,” Grant returns, snapping back into the present moment. “So we are. And I with this cast still on my blasted leg.”

“One more week,” Gerard tells him. “Then the doctor will surely remove it, and once I’ve had Frank prepare you a brace, I believe you’ll find that... easier.”

A brief picture of Frank flits through Grant’s mind, but he pushes it aside. Grant runs a hand up Gerard’s chest, curving around his neck to sink into the strands of hair at his nape. “You’ve been quite indulgent so far, dearest one, but I mourn my lack of a full recovery with every day that passes us by.”

“I will continue to indulge you, as you say,” Gerard tells him, tilting his head so Grant’s lips can better explore the side of his neck. “I will do anything I must do to take care of you. Has it been so bad?”

“Never,” Grant assures him.

“I find myself suddenly insecure on that point,” Gerard says solemnly, but when he pulls back his eyes are twinkling. “My reputation would be quite ruined. I will call you out, sir. I will have satisfaction.”

Grant smirks. “Will you? From me?”

“Oh, I hope so,” Gerard breathes. He half-tugs, half-supports Grant toward the stairs, and even the meticulously, painfully slow ascent does nothing to dampen Grant’s anticipation. He catches sight of Charles hovering in the front hall, face impassive in that particular butlery manner. Charles is remarkably tolerant of Gerard’s habitual tendency to do everything himself. When they reach their bedroom, Gerard undresses Grant with a minimum of quick, capable movements, strips him to the skin and lays him down on the bed. “Are you quite comfortable?” he asks, solicitous again, eyes still bright with amusement, fingers dancing along the skin of Grant’s thighs until they hit the plaster cast on the broken leg.

Comfortable, surely; Grant can afford the best, and the mattress and linens are posh - more decadent than Grant could have even imagined as the nouveau riche adolescent he once was. Comfort is a fact of his life, has been for thirty-odd years. The fact that Gerard still doesn’t take it for granted is endlessly endearing. Grant is, however, feeling something other than the melting relief of a luxurious bed. He’s craving Gerard, lusting like a green youth. His injuries have limited him to the most basic touching, to the pleasure of Gerard’s hands and mouth - up until now. No paltry pleasure, that, but it is not the contact he wants most, not the sheer surrender that he desires. “Gerard,” he practically growls, voice rougher than even he was expecting, “ride me. I need you.”

Gerard’s eyes go wide, and dark. “Tonight?” he asks.

“Now,” Grant insists. “Right now.” Gerard’s hands go to his shirt buttons, and Grant says, “Go slower.” It’s been torture enough watching Gerard’s normal daily routine, but now that this is just for him, he wants to enjoy it.

“How can I?” Gerard answers. “With what’s on offer?”

“It is always on offer,” Grant tells him, holding out his hands until Gerard comes close, lets Grant work on the fastenings of his trousers. “As long as I have life and breath.” He cups Gerard through the finespun wool, savoring the noise he makes. Gerard pushes at the fabric until it pools around his feet, then sits down on the edge of the bed to deal with his footwear. Grant runs a hand up the delicate curve of his back and Gerard shudders. When he’s entirely bare, he turns and climbs up to straddle Grant’s lap as gently as he can. Grant reaches up to cup his cheek and pulls him down for a kiss.

Gerard moans against his lips as Grant reaches down to stroke Gerard’s cock at the same time. He pushes himself up with his hands, one joining Grant’s on his shaft as he splays the other across Grant’s chest. “I will want it that long,” he breathes. “Grant, my love....”

“You’ll have to get the needful things, dearest. Do it now.” Gerard climbs down, stretches for the bottle of lubricant in the bedside table. While he’s busy, Grant rolls carefully to his side, letting his injured leg stretch out along the mattress. When Gerard returns, he obligingly nestles close, but he’s frowning a little.

“Grant, what are you -”

“I want to prep you myself. Much as I love watching you, tonight I need to touch you.”

“As if I’d say no, chaton,” Gerard murmurs, and Grant pushes him gently until he sprawls out on his back, reaching between his legs with his free hand. Gerard fumbles the bottle open and pours liquid over Grant’s fingers, then collapses back against the sheets. The bottle thunks somewhere and Grant vaguely hopes Gerard managed to close it, then he’s distracted by Gerard’s arch and moan when Grant touches him for the first time.

“I want you always,” he murmurs, starting with one finger and slow, gentle movements. It’s been a while since they’ve been together like this. “Crave you,” he whispers into Gerard’s ear as he slowly thrusts his fingers, adds another. “Love you,” he breathes when he pushes in the third. Gerard has been reduced to noises in the back of his throat, licking desperately into Grant’s mouth whenever their lips slant together. He’s gorgeous, eyes glazed and mouth slack, licking his lips and blinking up at Grant when Grant finally pulls his fingers out. “Your turn,” Grant murmurs.

Gerard scrambles to his knees and helps Grant settle back onto his back, propped against their pillows. Grant’s cock is already hard, curved up against his belly and glistening at the tip, and it’s his turn to submit to Gerard’s touch as Gerard reaches out and wraps a hand around it, stroking gently up and down its length a few times before swinging a leg over Grant’s waist, rising up and positioning the tip and -

“Oh,” Grant groans as Gerard lets himself slide down, taking Grant in one slow smooth motion. It feels amazing. Holding himself still is almost not an option, but Gerard takes a few deep panting breaths and resettles himself to pin Grant in place, one hand steadying himself on the headboard while he rolls his hips. Grant grabs the other hand and kisses the thin skin of its wrist, the tender palm, the slightly calloused fingertips. Gerard groans and throws his head back and Grant slides his other hand up the exposed throat, then wraps it around the back of Gerard’s neck and pulls him down to kiss him open-mouthed. “You feel -”

“Is it good?” Gerard pants.

“Is it good? It’s beautiful. You’re beautiful. I missed this.” Grant is shaking, too close to coming apart already. He lets go of Gerard’s wrist and wraps his hand around Gerard’s cock instead, swirling his palm around the head and spreading the moisture over the shaft to ease his movements, stroking hard and firm.

Gerard cries out, faltering in his own rhythm until he can grab onto the headboard with both hands, hips falling into the same rhythm as Grant’s strokes. “I missed this too, so much, I need you, need you to -” He chokes a bit, head hanging between his shoulders. He’s pressing their foreheads together, his hair falling unbound all around their faces.

“Need you to come,” Grant whispers back. “Come for me now, dear heart.” Gerard cries out as Grant continues to pump his cock, and comes all over Grant’s hand and chest, pressing down hard one more time with his hips so Grant can feel him, smell him, hear him choke out Grant’s name. Grant moans Gerard’s own name and snaps his hips up and comes inside him, and after his body is finished fizzing and sparking and shaking, he loses the thread for a little while, comes back to himself with the sweaty weight of Gerard sprawled across his chest, hair tickling Grant’s face, a hand wrapped delicately around the back of Grant’s head.

“Always,” Gerard murmurs into the skin of Grant’s neck. Grant threads his fingers through Gerard’s hair and holds him there, listening to their two breaths mingling.

*

The morning the doctor is to come to remove the plaster from Grant’s leg, Grant finds himself squirming in anticipation like a child, and Gerard seems nearly as impatient.

“Have I really been so awful?” Grant asks him. He’s largely joking, but clearly Gerard is too preoccupied to pick up on that.

“What? No! You’ve been so miserable, I just want you to get the use of your leg back. Even if it’s limited for a little while,” Gerard explains earnestly, sitting on the edge of the bed.

“I was teasing, dearest,” Grant says and places a hand on Gerard’s.

“Oh,” Gerard says with a sheepish little smile.

Grant reaches out and runs a thumb down his cheek. “I will be very happy to be able to move more freely, I can’t deny it.”

“I asked Frank to come by later,” Gerard says, “to fit you for the brace. Hopefully that will help as well.”

“I’m sure it will. Frank puts great care into all his work.”

“You only have a little while longer to make me wait on you hand and foot. Do you have any special requests?” Gerard winks.

Grant laughs and puts a hand on Gerard’s thigh. “Are you sure that’s quite true?”

Gerard laughs breathlessly. “All right, you only have a little while to make me wait on you hand and foot because of your leg.”

Grant hums and pulls Gerard closer. He’s got a hand on Gerard’s side and one cupping his cheek when a knock sounds on the door. Gerard sighs and pulls back to a more proper distance.

“Come in,” Grant calls.

Charles opens the door. “The doctor, sir.”

“Yes, send him in, please,” Grant says. Gerard moves out of the way, sitting in a chair across the room . The doctor comes in, pleasantries are exchanged, and then begins the arduous task of sawing through the plaster. It’s uncomfortable and takes longer than Grant would like, but soon he’s free of the damn thing. The doctor feels the leg and tests its mobility and strength. Grant’s leg twinges fiercely.

“Don’t overexert yourself, or you’ll do more damage. Be careful and wear a brace to walk for the time being,” the doctor instructs. “I’ll be back in a fortnight to see how you’re getting on.”

The doctor leaves and Gerard immediately comes over to help Grant stand up. It’s definitely shaky and he’s glad of the brace the doctor left, though he’s certain one from Frank will be infinitely better. They make a couple of laps around the room before Grant asks to stop. Regaining the strength in that leg is going to be more of a process than Grant was expecting, but Grant is ready for it. He and Gerard collapse onto the bed together. Grant pulls Gerard against his side and they sit comfortably until there’s another knock on the door and then Charles is showing Frank into the room.

“Good afternoon, Frank,” Grant greets him, and Gerard echoes.

“Good afternoon,” Frank responds with a smile. “This should only take a few moments. I’ll probably be able to have it to you by tomorrow.”

“There’s no rush, Frank. It can wait a few days,” Grant tells him. Frank shakes his head.

“I know how uncomfortable and unwieldy those things can be.” Frank gestures to the doctor’s brace still wrapped around Grant’s leg.

Grant opens his mouth to argue more, but Gerard squeezes his hand and instead Grant gestures to his leg. “Whatever you need to do, my leg and I are at your disposal.”

Frank pulls his reading glasses out of his breast pocket and slides a bag off his shoulder. He takes a measuring tape from it and gets to work. Whereas the doctor’s touches, though not rough, were firm and sure, Frank’s are extremely careful and gentle. He unbuckles the doctor’s brace, lifting Grant’s leg gently to slip the straps free. When it’s gone, he rolls Grant’s trouser leg up to bare the limb as best he can and sinks to his knees beside the mattress. Grant shivers - he can’t help himself. He’s sure Frank doesn’t notice. He’s sure Gerard, pressed up against Grant’s back, does.

Frank’s fingers slip up and down Grant’s calf and thigh, wrapping the tape around various points. He jots figures down in a small notebook. “This will be custom fitted,” he murmurs, half to himself. “But continued wear, no matter how well-fitted it is, will cause some irritation to the skin at first. You’ll want to apply lotion every night. Perhaps twice per day.” Frank’s eyes track over to Gerard. “You may need to assist him.”

Gerard nods next to him and Grant suddenly has a vision of a young Frank struggling to put lotion on his own sore and injured leg alone. It makes his chest ache. “Bend,” Frank says quietly, and Grant looks up. “Your leg, please bend it, just for a moment. If it hurts too much, you can -”

“It’s fine,” Grant tells him, gritting his teeth and bending the leg at the knee as Frank quickly runs the measuring tape down his shin. Gods above, it twinges. He sucks in a breath, and then he feels Frank’s hands on him again, easing the leg back against the mattress, palms gently smoothing across the skin like he’s brushing the pain away. “Frank -” he blurts out before he can stop himself.

“Sorry,” Frank breathes back, hands jerking into his lap. “I’m so sorry.” He picks up his little book and makes a few more notations, then pulls his things together and repacks his bag. He pulls the reading glasses off his face and finally looks back up. “This is all I need. I will try my utmost to have something constructed by tomorrow.”

“You don’t have to, I told you - your contracts -” Grant’s stumbling over his words. Overtaxed, he tells himself.

“Can wait another day. I will work through the night if I must,” Frank replies.

“Frank -” Grant protests more strenuously.

Mon chaton,” Gerard whispers in his ear. “Thank you,” he says to Frank, who smiles a sweet little smile. “You are a most devoted friend.”

“As you say.” Frank smiles once more, his eyes moving from Gerard back to Grant. “Take care.” And he’s gone.

When Charles brings them their morning coffee the next morning, he also brings the new brace and a note from Frank. They drink their coffee slowly, clean up, and get dressed. Gerard helps Grant put the brace on according to the instructions Frank provided. Grant feels oddly disappointed. He’d been hoping to see Frank, he realizes. They’ll see him at the meeting, but Grant wishes he’d been able to give Frank his thanks in person. He supposes he’ll have to write a letter.

With Gerard supporting him, they do a few laps around their bedroom. Grant hardly needs Gerard’s support, the brace works so well, though by the end the pain is starting to pulse in his leg and he’s relieved to sit again.

***

“I’m glad it was the Yards, if it had to be anywhere,” Gerard says halfway through breakfast a few weeks after the attack. “I really hate airships.”

Grant chuckles. “That was quite the non sequitur, dearest. And I know you do. I thought you might kill me when I suggested you take one to see the twins.”

“They’re awful! And I like the journey to Port Merchant.” Gerard waves his toast around to punctuate his point.

“But more efficient!” Grant says.

Gerard rolls his eyes. “Says who? I get a lot of writing done on the train.”

It’s an old argument. They’ve had it a thousand times and Gerard knows what the next line is, but then Grant grimaces, “It could easily be the trains next time. A good hit to the main station at the right time of day could be truly disastrous.”

Gerard sets his coffee cup down on the table hard. “I don’t think most would get away with mere injuries in that case,” he says quietly.

“No,” Grant agrees, “No, they would not.”

“We’ll just have to do our best to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Gerard says resolutely. Grant reaches across the table and takes his hand.

“We will,” Grant says and laces their fingers together.

Gerard opens his mouth to say something when the door to the dining room opens and Mikey shuffles in, taking his seat next to Gerard. The first thing he does is reach for the coffee and pour himself a cup. He drinks it down and then pours himself another one.

“Late night?” Gerard asks. Mikey glares at him. “You know, that tunnel to Lady Jill’s house was intended to be used for important business.”

Gerard tries to keep a straight face, but ruins it entirely when he starts laughing. Mikey kicks him in the shin under the table.

“Ow!” Gerard yelps. Mikey smirks and sips his coffee. When Grant chuckles across from him, Gerard’s straight face breaks again and he smiles.

“There’s a meeting tonight, yeah?” Mikey asks.

“Yes,” Grant answers. “I believe Jill and Miss Simmons have something up their sleeves to be discussed?” Grant raises an eyebrow at Mikey.

“I don’t know anything about it,” Mikey says with a shake of his head. “You know Lady Jill likes her surprises.”

Grant laughs. “Indeed she does. She always has. I suppose we’ll just have to wait for tonight to find out. Do we know how Ray and Dewees did last night?”

“Ray got word to me that things went well, but that was it. I think they accomplished everything they set out to,” Mikey explains.

They finish eating mostly in silence, interrupted by requests for platters to be passed or sections of newspaper to be traded. Grant is the first to get up, knee brace clicking softly as he excuses himself and heads off to his desk. Gerard sips at his lukewarm coffee for a few minutes, then nudges Mikey’s calf gently with his toes. “Sorry,” he says. “I wasn’t implying - that is, I like Alicia very much and I -” He stops talking when Mikey just raises an eyebrow over the top of the newspaper.

“Let’s not burden each other with unnecessary details, shall we? It’s bad enough that I have to share a floor - a wing - with you.” Mikey makes a comically horrified face, and Gerard can’t help laughing.

“I’m not apologizing,” he says. “Perhaps we’ll go to the country house this summer. That place is big enough to suit everyone’s needs.”

“We can’t run operations from the country house,” Mikey points out matter-of-factly.

Gerard hums. “Perhaps the war will be over by summer.”

It’s at least the third autumn he’s said so.

*

The rest of the day passes quietly. Grant spends most of the day buried in some sort of antique atlas - Gerard is sure he has a purpose for it, but quite frankly isn’t sure he would understand the explanation so he doesn’t ask, just retires to his own room and writes. They gather for a quiet supper later that evening. The maids are still clearing the main courses and laying out a spread of light refreshments for the meeting when Charles announces Lady Jill and Alicia and they enter the room. Gerard will be the first to admit that he is still largely baffled - and slightly intimidated - by their butler’s habits and routines, and his insistence on things like announcing two people who have just arrived by means of a secret tunnel under the street is no small part of that.

Toro arrives shortly after the women, making a beeline for the coffee. He’s still in his factory clothes, slightly grimy but scrubbed clean in the hands and face. Charles eyes him as if he wishes to scrub the rest, but refrains. Gerard sees Grant’s lips twitch - he knows - and he indicates to Charles that he can retire, despite James and Frank not having arrived yet.

The meeting time passes...a quarter of an hour past the meeting time passes...and Frank and Dewees haven’t arrived. Steam whistles screech in the distance, somewhere down in the industrial district. Frank and Dewees don’t arrive. Gerard watches Grant’s jaw tighten. Lady Jill twists a fold of her gown between her fingers. Mikey taps his fingers against the mantelpiece in an irregular rhythm.

Gerard hovers near the doorway so he’ll be sure to hear the moment they come inside. Finally, nearly forty-five minutes after they were supposed to arrive, Frank and Dewees stumble into the house.

“Gentleman, what kept you?” Grant asks and gestures for them to sit. Gerard watches as Frank sit heavily in one of the chairs, wincing just the tiniest bit.

“There was a fire,” James explains. “With the darkness setting in and the location, it was harder to see where exactly it was coming from, so I set off in the direction of the sirens to see what I could find out and found Frank here doing the same.”

“It was one of the airship factories,” Frank says. “Perfectly targeted. And the place had already emptied out for the evening, so there were only minor injuries.”

“That was very lucky,” Lady Jill says, “They were scheduled to go back to twenty-four hour production to rebuild the Yard starting next week.”

“Luck had very little to do with it, I’m sure,” Grant says with a sigh. Gerard sees him glance at Frank and rub a hand over his head. “They must have gotten that intelligence from somewhere. Though this time, it was not us. Jill, you and Miss Simmons indicated you had some sort of plan you wanted to share?”

“Yes,” Lady Jill says with a smile. “There is a salon next week at which Alicia and I intend to plant several devices. We were hoping, perhaps, that we could convince Mr. Iero to come along with us. He could get a few devices into areas we won’t have access to, and would be best suited to placing for the best recording in such a noisy environment.”

All eyes turn to Frank, who shifts somewhat uncomfortably. “I’m afraid I don’t have the proper attire for such an event,” Frank says quietly. Lady Jill waves a hand, but Frank goes on. “And perhaps more pressingly, my leg wouldn’t be up to anything so strenuous at the moment.”

Grant frowns deeply. “Frank...” Grant starts, and then stops again with another sigh. Frank stares at his hands.

The moment stretches out long enough that Gerard is tempted to intervene, but his brother gets there first. “You can tell me, Frank,” Mikey says. “I’ll help the ladies with whatever I can.” Gerard sees the traces of a smirk cross Frank’s face - he’s restraining one himself, because his shin still hurts from earlier - and then Frank nods.

“All right.”

“All right!” Lady Jill echoes, brightly. “Yes.” She looks around, and when it’s apparent Grant is going to say nothing more, she adds, “And the news from Woodson’s location?”

Lady Jill runs the rest of the meeting. Grant is - not brooding, exactly, but his mind isn’t entirely on the conversation, Gerard can tell. He goes and takes a seat next to Grant on the settee and laces their fingers together. During a lull in the conversation, he murmurs Grant’s name. “We need you in this conversation.”

“I am listening.” Grant meets his eyes briefly, then looks down again. “Forgive me, I shall try -” Gerard waits, but he doesn’t finish the thought. When they resume their discussion, he’s still quiet, but he seems more there than he had. He calls Ray over when the meeting dissolves and murmurs something into his ear.

Ray disappears and when he reappears a moment later he says, “Frank, there’s a cab waiting outside.” Frank wrinkles his brows at Ray, who just points at Grant. Gerard doesn’t blame him. Grant gets to his feet, tugging Gerard with him, since they’re still holding hands.

Frank takes a few steps closer. “This is not necessary,” he says, firmly though without the aggression Gerard was expecting.

“I believe it is,” Grant replies. “Humor me, Mr. Iero.” Even Grant doesn’t sound upset, just resigned.

Frank bites his lip, then nods. “Very well, sir.” It’s a tiny dart, well-placed, and Gerard can hear Grant let out a breath through his nose as Frank nods his head at them both and walks away.

*

“Get your coat and come with me,” Mikey says a few days later while Gerard’s trying to puzzle together scattered pages from a book with a burst binding - another one of Grant’s antique atlases, this one with significant water damage and a rather musty smell.

“I can’t go out like this,” Gerard answers, dismayed, and Mikey rolls his eyes.

“Yes, you can. We’re just going to see Frank.”

Gerard frowns. He hasn’t actually been to Frank’s shop since the day of the bombing at the Yards and he’s hesitant to go now, for no good reason, he knows.

Mikey sighs at him. “Gerard.”

“Mikey.”

They barely have to talk - one of the benefits of growing up in each other’s pockets. Gerard knows very well that Mikey’s telling him to play nice. Mikey knows that Gerard can’t say no to him, either. Gerard goes and grabs his coat. He decides halfway through putting on his coat that he wants a different coat, so he climbs the stairs to the bedroom. Grant’s sitting in their parlor writing.

“Where are you off to?” he asks, catching Gerard around the waist.

“According to Mikey, we’re going to see Frank. He’s very insistent about it, even though I’d rather avoid the rain.” Gerard strokes his fingers across Grant’s temple.

Grant leans back against Gerard’s torso. “Well, you know even better than I how Mikey gets when he gets an idea in his head. And I do believe this idea is a very good one. It seems like Frank has been alone for a very long time.”

Chaton,” Gerard murmurs and brushes his lips over the top of Grant’s head.

“Yes, I know,” Grant murmurs back. “More strays.”

“It’s no bad thing, mon chaton,” Gerard tells him. “Or I wouldn’t be here, would I?”

Grant chuckles softly. “I suppose not. Off with you. Give Frank my regards. I have letters to finish writing.”

Gerard drops one last kiss on Grant’s head and goes out the door.

When Gerard reaches the foyer, Mikey is peeking out the open door like he’s looking for something, and Gerard figures out what when Grant’s new steam carriage pulls around from the carriage house. “Please tell me we’re not driving,” Gerard begs. “We can walk there.”

“It’s raining, and if I let you walk in it you’ll just complain about it later.”

Gerard rolls his eyes but gets in the passenger side of the carriage, intentionally looking away from the gear shifter when Mikey clambers inside after him. Mikey’s not a bad driver - none of them are. When the government had started to subsidize steam transport, Grant had been one of the first private citizens to buy a steam carriage. He’d told Mikey and Gerard that they both needed to learn to drive. Mikey took to it a bit more enthusiastically. But Gerard supposes he’s grateful for the roof over his head, especially when Frank comes right out into the miserable misty drizzle and starts down the street towards them with an exclaimed, “You brought the new carriage!” He proceeds to look at every exposed part until Mikey shoves him back towards the door. Mikey parked the carriage half a block away from Frank’s shop, so they have to hurry through the rain with their collars tugged up.

Once inside, Frank tugs at them both until they give him their wet coats, insisting on hanging the jackets up in front of a heating element and herding them both up the stairs into the upstairs apartment. He stokes the fire in the main stove and then turns around. He’s genuinely beaming when Mikey greets him, and he favors Gerard with a smile as well.

Been alone for a very long time, Gerard can hear Grant saying it.

“Would you like some coffee?” Frank offers.

“Yes, please,” Gerard says. It comes out a little more fervent than he means to or than is probably proper, but Mikey snorts and Frank smiles at him again as he crosses to the cupboard. Gerard watches Frank make the coffee. He’s meticulous, carefully measuring the beans into a very old-looking Turkish-style grinder and then carefully pouring the grounds into the percolator.

“Grant sends his regards. I left him in the middle of a pile of correspondence, or he’d probably have come with us,” Gerard tells Frank’s back.

“Give him mine,” Frank says and turns toward them. “Did you, ah, need anything from me?”

“Not unless you’re talking about sugar for the coffee,” Mikey jokes lightly. Gerard shakes his head no.

Frank can’t hide the smile that crosses his face when he ducks behind a cupboard door. Gerard is suddenly very glad he came.

Frank starts waiting on them, but Gerard gets up and takes the handle of the percolator from his hands and pours his own, then hands it to Mikey. He doesn’t want to offend Frank’s hospitality, but he even more doesn’t want Frank feeling as if he has to act the servant with them. Luckily, this is how Frank seems to take it, because he sits down and lets them make their coffee.

“Did you want some, Frank?” Mikey asks. “If you’re not careful, Gerard and I will drink it all and you won’t get any. I suppose we should be the ones being careful, but when coffee is involved, we tend to, well, forget all our manners and just guzzle it down like it’s water and we’ve been stranded in the desert.”

Frank laughs. Giggles, really. “I’ll keep that in mind. And yes, I think I would like some. It’s that kind of day where something warm is just required.”

Gerard sips his own coffee and watches as Frank gets up and fixes a mug for himself and lights a cigarette. Gerard fishes in his coat pocket, gets one out of his case, and lights one himself, eyes still on Frank. As he’s watching, it strikes him how quiet the shop is, and he asks, “You’re not running any parts today? The machines, it’s quiet, I -”

“I finished the order I was working on. I was just about to start working on one of my personal commissions when you knocked.”

“Show us!” Mikey says.

“Oh, it’s nothing, just a modified phonograph.” Frank pauses, sips at his coffee. “But I’ll show you the really interesting stuff, if you have the time.” He grins hopefully, clattering down the stairs with Mikey when Mikey agrees that they do, indeed, have plenty of time. Gerard follows a few steps behind, wondering at how Frank and his little brother are so comfortable together. Then again, they are much of an age. If there’s one thing that causes Gerard consistent regret, it’s how the military’s conscription practices robbed him of six or seven years of being a part of his brother’s life.

“This is my latest project for Lady Jill,” Frank says, gesturing at a wooden box on his worktable. “I still have a lot to do, and it’s all very rough, but I wanted to make sure the mechanism worked before I polished everything up and painted and such.”

Frank lifts the lid to the box and a crudely carved little figure spins and a pretty little song starts playing.

“It’s a music box!” Gerard exclaims, delighted. Frank grins at him.

“Yes. Obviously it can’t actually function as one when it’s recording, but I made the recording switch also work to turn off the music box part.” Frank points out a tiny detail on the base of the music box and pushes in and the music stops, but the figure keeps spinning. “It was a little tricky to get everything to work properly, but it does, and she spins, so now I’m going to finish the carving, line it with velvet, and sand and varnish it.”

“That’s amazing work, Frank,” Mikey says. “And Lady Jill will love it.”

“It’s beautiful,” Gerard says quietly.

Frank smiles at him. “Not yet, but it will be.”

“These aren’t all listening devices, are they?” Mikey asks, gesturing at the myriad recognizable and unrecognizable items on the workbench.

“Well, now, maybe I shouldn’t tell you that. Preserve some mystery.”

Mikey replies, “I barely know which end of a hammer to hold. Trust me when I say it’s all a mystery to me.”

Frank giggles again. “Noted. Well, most of these are just personal projects. I’ve been trying to incorporate phonograph type mechanisms into automata for several months. It’s not going so well.” He waves a hand at a stack of small waxed discs. “Unless anyone fancies listening to a half dozen ten-second recordings of my voice.”

Gerard finds himself wanting to say yes. Instead, he looks around the shop. There’s a gorgeous phonograph on a shelf near the door, just above the little desk. It’s clearly meant to catch the eye of anybody there to do business with Frank.

“Did you make that?” Gerard gestures to the phonograph.

“No, that was my father. It was the first working phonograph he crafted. And the smallest of its kind, at the time.” Frank walks over, brace clicking, and lifts it down off the shelf. Gerard and Mikey gather round the desk. Frank pulls a little cabinet with three drawers from the shelf next to where the phonograph was and opens one of the drawers, removing a cylinder. He places it on the phonograph and sets it going.

A clear voice starts speaking, “Ciao, Frankie. You are off on that damn boat and there would be no way for you to listen to this if I were to send—” The sound cuts off abruptly.

“Sorry, I grabbed the wrong one, I’ll just...” Frank stops, swallowing hard, before speaking again, “My father used to make recordings for me. That was one he made while I was in the navy.”

Gerard wants to reach out to him and is grateful when Mikey squeezes his shoulder.

Frank takes a deep breath. “At any rate, I meant to play this one.” Frank places the new cylinder on the phonograph and it starts playing a pretty little melody, quite clear and beautiful. Grant has all the best phonographs money can buy, and this sounds just as good and is probably twenty or more years old.

“Oh, wow,” Mikey breathes.

Frank smiles. “I learned from the best.”

At that moment there’s a loud cracking noise from out in the street. They all jump, but Gerard notices Frank’s hands are shaking when he reaches to put the cylinders and phonograph away.

“Are you quite all right, Frank?” Gerard asks.

“Fine,” Frank insists. “It was just some fool trying to ruin their steam carriage.”

“Are you certain?” Gerard persists. It’s just - Frank’s hands are still shaking.

“I, ah, am a bit unsettled since the Yards and that factory were destroyed, I think. Needless paranoia, since this place is just far enough away from any promising targets. It will pass,” Frank says, as if he’s trying to convince himself.

Gerard opens his mouth again, but catches Mikey giving him a look, so he takes a deep breath and lets it drop.

“That was a lovely song,” Mikey says eventually.

“Ah, thank you. That is, I happen to know the composer of the piece; I’m glad you liked it.”

“Do you have more cylinders?” Mikey asks eagerly. Gerard is interested to hear that answer himself.

“Somewhere, I know,” Frank answers. “I, ah - haven’t had much time for leisure lately.” Gerard bites his lip. “I’ll look,” Frank continues. “Perhaps I shall locate some to bring to the next meeting.”

They finish their coffee, but it is nearly lunch time and Grant will be expecting them - or, as is more likely, Grant will need the interruption of their return to remind him to stop and eat - so they take their leave. Gerard glances back through the shop window as they walk out the door. Frank’s looking down at his desk, already back to work, but he’s wearing a small smile on his face.

*

It’s lunchtime when they hear the next explosion. Weeks have passed without further attack, and Gerard is so surprised by the sudden noise he drops his fork. Grant very carefully sets down his knife. Gerard is on his feet immediately; he goes to the window and looks out and curses. Smoke is billowing from exactly the wrong direction.

“Gerard?” Grant asks from behind him, voice suspiciously even.

“The yards, it’s too... I have to go check,” Gerard says and turns to look at Grant. He’s sure their worried expressions are a precise match.

“Will you go on foot?” Grant asks, and Gerard just nods. “I’ll follow in the steam carriage as soon as I can,” Grant tells him.

Gerard sets out the door at a run. He doesn’t stop when his side starts aching or when his breath starts coming in gasps. He doesn’t stop until he reaches Frank’s shop and then the sight that greets him is so terrifying, he nearly loses his breath altogether. One of the large warehouses across the street is in ruins, and the shop looks terrible, like it absorbed a large portion of the blast. Gerard takes a deep breath and carefully pushes through the rubble that was once the front wall.

“Frank?” he calls. He gets no answer so he starts looking around the shop. It doesn’t look quite as terrible in here, but there are shelves fallen over on the floor, tables collapsed in on themselves, and the collapsed outer wall has strewn piles of rubble across the room, any of which Frank could be under. Gerard hasn’t been this terrified since he got word that Mikey had experienced a minor injury in the war.

“Frank?” he cries out again, more frantic. He starts lifting the debris, checking everywhere he can reach.

“Gerard?” he hears a voice behind him. Gerard whirls around to see Frank standing in the doorway staring. Gerard takes a deep breath. Then another. He watches Frank’s face the whole time, so he sees when his eyes alight on what Gerard now realizes is Frank’s father’s phonograph, smashed on the floor. Frank kneels beside them with a grimace and starts sifting through the pieces. He’s gone an alarming shade of gray.

Gerard rushes over to him, sinks to his knees beside him, and gathers Frank in his arms.

“I don’t understand,” Frank whispers blankly, hands still clutching pieces of the invention. “I don’t... I don’t understand.”

Gerard tightens his arms and Frank gently sets down the pieces and clings back. They stay like that for a few minutes until a noise startles Gerard into looking up; he sees Grant stepping carefully over the rubble and into the room. Grant looks pained, taking in the whole scene with one sweep of his eyes.

Once he has assessed the situation, Grant steps close and reaches out, resting a hand on the top of Frank’s head. “Frank, I’m so sorry.”

Frank pulls away from Gerard and leans into Grant’s hand for a moment before seemingly remembering himself and standing up. Well, trying to. His leg gives out and Gerard catches him around the waist and helps him stand all the way. “Where were you?” Gerard asks. “If you’d have been in here....” Frank shudders a bit and Gerard clutches him closer before he remembers himself.

“I’d gone to send a telegram, I was just around the - I don’t know what to do,” Frank murmurs, looking around. “Everything’s a wreck.”

“Come stay with us,” Grant says. “I insist.”

“For how long? I can’t impose on you—”

“It would be no imposition, Frank. I’d rather know you were safe than have you remain here in danger of the next bombing. And you won’t be able to make this place habitable again for quite a while, I don’t imagine,” Grant says.

“My whole life -” Frank cuts himself off and stares back down at the pieces of broken phonograph. “Thank you for your kindness, sir.”

Grant reaches out and squeezes his shoulder again. “It is nothing. I have the steam carriage and a footman waiting outside. Let’s see what we can salvage, hmm?”

Grant calls in the footman and explains. The first thing Frank hands to him is the little cabinet of phonograph cylinders from the floor. It’s a little less pristine than it was, but everything is still intact. And then he starts gathering his most important tools and materials from the rest of the workshop. Gerard and Grant help as best they can, over Frank’s objections, putting things into crates that don’t already have a place in Frank’s toolbox. Luckily, Frank’s workshop was organized well and most of his tools are fairly easy to find.

Gerard is carrying a box outside when he sees Frank peering up the steep stairs to his apartment. Behind him, Grant must see the same thing because he barks out a sharp “No!” Frank freezes. Grant continues in a milder tone, “The structure may not be sound.” It’s still more of an order than it is a suggestion. Gerard knows the tone.

Frank’s jawline firms. “I don’t have much,” he says quietly. “But what I do have is important to me.”

“One trip,” Grant replies. “More than that is pushing your luck.”

Frank laughs bitterly. Gerard is too busy looking back and forth between them, wondering at the familiarity of the exchange, to notice when he starts for the stairs.

“Wait!” he calls impulsively, and Frank turns and lifts a brow. “I’m coming to help.”

Grant makes a pained noise, and Gerard turns to him and says, “It’ll be quicker, and then we can go home.”

He holds Grant’s eyes until Grant moves, tugging him close and kissing him briefly before whispering, “Be careful, dearest.”

“I can’t let him go alone, chaton,” Gerard whispers back.

Grant sighs and nods. “I know.”

Gerard gives him a little smile and turns to follow Frank. He goes up the stairs close behind. They creak alarmingly a time or two and when they turn after the landing, there is a beam partially blocking the stairwell, but they keep going. Frank’s little apartment looks impossibly worse than the workshop did. Like a giant turned it and shook it like a snow globe before putting it back down.

“What should I do?” Gerard asks quietly, then sneezes. There’s a layer of dust coating every surface.

“Everything I want is in the bedroom. There’s a trunk that has most everything and room to spare for the things I want to add,” Frank says. Gerard follows him. He lets Frank gather his scattered personal items and goes straight for his wardrobe, pulling clothes from their hooks and tossing them on the bed so Frank can put them in the trunk. The whole building groans and Gerard sneezes again and Frank looks up at him.

“Okay, that’s enough. I can come back later if I’ve forgotten anything,” Frank says.

Gerard can only make a wordless noise of frustration.

“This place has been my life, Gerard. I can’t just—”

Gerard grabs one handle of the trunk. “Let’s just get back down and out of here before the building collapses.”

Frank grabs the other side and they make their way back down the stairs. The fallen beam impedes their progress as they maneuver the trunk over it, but they make it down and find Grant and the footman waiting by the steam carriage. Grant’s posture relaxes visibly when he sees them. The footman takes the trunk and straps it onto the back of the steam carriage expertly and then they’re off, driving toward home. It’s then that Gerard’s hands start shaking; Grant wraps his hands around Gerard’s. He looks over at Frank to see him staring out the window, his own hands clenched tightly in his lap. Gerard desperately wants to hold him again. Instead, he leans against Grant.

***

“I won’t be able to fulfill my government contracts any longer,” Frank says as the steam carriage turns down their street, startling Grant out of his careful study of Frank’s hands and the bruise slowly blooming on his jaw. Grant wonders what happened, if it was an accident when he was frantically packing his things or if it happened before. Perhaps the telegraph office was also hit by the initial blast. Frank hasn’t said. It makes Grant sick with delayed worry, makes him want to ask.

“I imagine that would be challenging without your full shop,” Grant says instead. He’s already had this realization, already decided what to do.

Frank laughs bitterly. “Impossible. Not that I particularly wanted to fill them anyway. At least I can make your devices still. I have all the tools, though I may be short on supplies.”

“Whatever you need, we shall provide it,” Grant tells him. Frank looks uncomfortable and Grant wishes he could reach out and erase that expression, the set of Frank’s shoulders.

The carriage pulls up to the house and Gerard immediately hops down. Grant gestures for Frank to precede him and as he’s stepping down, Frank’s injured leg gives out from under him. Gerard catches him around the waist, holding him up.

“Sorry,” Frank murmurs. “The shock must’ve worn off.”

“It’s fine,” Gerard tells him and releases Frank slowly once it appears he’s recovered his balance.

Grant steps down from the carriage, murmuring instructions for the footman to just leave Frank’s belongings in the entryway so as to give Annie and Catherine time to prepare his room.

“Can I interest you in a drink while the staff prepare your room?” Grant offers once they get inside and Grant has passed his instructions to Charles for an empty room in their wing of the house to be readied.

“Yes, please,” Frank says. Grant ushers Frank into the parlor, Gerard splitting off to see if he can locate his brother.

Grant pours them both drinks and they sit in front of the fire. After a couple of large swallows of the Scotch, Frank takes a deep breath. Then another swallow and another deep breath. Clearly he’s gearing up to say something, so Grant stays quiet and lets him speak.

“I don’t want to be a burden. I’ll earn my keep however you want me to,” Frank says quietly.

“I can’t imagine a time when having you in my home would ever be burdensome,” Grant says honestly. “Your government income will cease permanently, of course, unless you intend to rebuild?” He pauses and Frank shrugs eloquently. “Your devices for us are more than enough for room and board. Please don’t trouble yourself.”

Grant watches Frank’s face, watches his lips firm into a line before he forces himself to relax. “If you insist.”

“I do,” Grant says. He watches as Frank pulls out a cigarette and lights it, watches his hand tremble just the slightest bit. At that moment, Mikey and Gerard come into the room. As Mikey exclaims over Frank and how glad he is that Frank is unharmed, Gerard slips his arms around Grant from behind and rests his cheek on the top of Grant’s head.

“Do you think he’ll adjust well?” Gerard whispers.

“I don’t know,” Grant whispers back. “I hope so. But he built his life around that shop. I don’t think it will be easy for him.”

Frank glances away from Mikey and over at them. His face is unreadable. Grant holds back a frown.

“Frank, tell us what you need for your workshop and I’ll see that it’s procured.”

“Sir,” Frank starts, “I couldn’t possibly—”

Grant waves a hand, “Frank, your devices are important. You’ll need a proper place to construct them.”

Grant wants to tell him to please god, stop calling him sir, but he has the feeling now is not the time to bring up that particular subject. Frank is already twitchy enough.

Frank’s lips are pressed into a thin line again. When he finally opens his mouth to speak, Grant is relieved when he starts listing the things he’ll need. It’s a short list: “A room with a stove and a table of any sort will do.”

“I’ll tell Charles and we’ll have something delivered tomorrow,” Grant tells him. Grant doesn’t tell him that he recalls that Frank’s worktables at the shop weren’t any old table, and that Grant is going to do his best to duplicate them.

When Annie tells them Frank’s room is ready, Frank begs off and follows her up, clearly exhausted and overwhelmed.

“I don’t think he’ll be adjusting well,” Gerard says after the door to the parlor has been shut for half a minute.

“I fear you’re correct, dearest,” Grant sighs.

“He’ll be worse about the servants than we were,” Mikey predicts.

Grant chuckles. “Of that I have no doubt. At least they’ll have their experiences with the two of you to draw upon.”

*

It’s the sort of day where the chill outside makes Grant want to sit in front of the fire in the library and read. Perhaps with a cup of tea to keep him company. When he gets to the library, he finds he wasn’t the only one in the house to have this idea.

Grant has barely caught sight of Frank apart from mealtimes since his abrupt installation into one of the spare rooms. He’d never thought to look for Frank in the library, but now that Grant sees him curled up in a chair, so engrossed in the book he’s reading that he doesn’t even notice Grant come into the room, Grant is unsurprised. He’s seen Frank’s eyes every time he’s had occasion to enter the library in the past.

He’d caught Gerard twirling his hair between his fingers as he looked at Frank during breakfast earlier, and he suddenly recognizes the tell-tale for what it was - Frank is a lovely picture sitting there. At one point, years ago, this would have worried him. He’d been convinced that Gerard would one day tire of him and move on. But Gerard never did, staying steadfastly by Grant’s side. They’ve since made promises to each other and Grant has never once doubted that Gerard would keep those promises, or that Grant would keep his promises to Gerard. He doesn’t have any doubts now, either.

Grant lets his gaze wander over Frank, noting how his glasses have slipped down his nose, how his hair is catching the light from the window and glowing almost auburn where it falls over his beautiful face. He wants to tuck that hair back behind Frank’s ear, wants to follow his hand with his mouth, wants to lay Frank down on the rug in front of the fireplace and fuck him until he’s moaning Grant’s name.

He wants.

He’s been so careful to avoid thinking of Frank that way, and now he’s seemingly opened the floodgates, every filthy, repressed fantasy poking at his consciousness. Grant can’t help the chuckle at himself that escapes. He and Gerard are so alike in so many ways. Of course they would share this as well.

Frank’s head snaps up instantly at the sound, the look on his face one of pure defiance. Grant wants to kiss him. When Frank focuses on him, he carefully schools his features into the polite, deferential face he’s been wearing around all of them since he arrived.

“Am I not supposed to be here?” Frank asks quietly.

“You may be wherever you wish. I laugh,” Grant fibs, “because I really should have known that I could find you here. I was thinking of having Charles bring in a tea tray and doing some reading myself. If you don’t mind a companion?”

Frank shakes his head.

“Would you like some coffee as well?” Grant asks.

“Yes, please,” Frank says, nearly as fervently as Gerard or Mikey ever have.

Grant smiles and rings the bell for Charles and chooses a book. After ten minutes, he’s settled himself into the chair opposite Frank with mental thanks for his returning mobility. He leans into the cushions, coffee in one hand, book in the other, and pretends to be engrossed until he’s certain Frank truly is, then goes back to studying him again. He continues until he hears Gerard and Mikey laughing in the hall, clearly returned from their outing to visit a friend. He doesn’t pull his gaze away quickly enough, and when Frank looks up at the commotion he catches Grant looking, with that same hint of challenge. Grant can’t help but want to bring that out in Frank more often. To make him engage them; to be at ease rather than this quiet, contained creature hardly anybody notices is even in the house.

Gerard tumbles in the doorway, giggling and unwinding his scarf from around his neck.

“Charles said I’d find you both in here,” he says with a grin, kissing Grant’s brow. He pulls back and looks at Frank, exclaiming, “You’re reading Kasokov!”

Frank smiles at Gerard. “Yes. It’s just as good as you said it would be. I like Dimitry.”

“I thought you would,” Gerard answers. “He’s real. And not so damn perfect. But he’s good.”

Frank nods. “Exactly.”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” Gerard moves to lean over Frank’s shoulder, “Ooh, you’re almost to my favorite part!”

“Don’t tell me!” Frank exclaims, snapping the book shut on his finger.

Gerard grins down at him and Frank looks up steadily until his face cracks into a smile. Grant would have imagined such close proximity would make Frank shrink away, but he’s practically glowing from the attention.

The two of them so close together are almost more than Grant can bear. Their smiles would certainly outshine the sun coming in the window.

Gerard stands up straight and catches Grant looking with a grin. “It’s almost lunch, right? I think I could eat ten bowls of Annie’s soup.”

“Whatever did you and Mikey do to make you work up such an appetite?” Grant asks, bemused. Gerard plops himself into Grant’s lap, forcing him to set his book down on the small table next to the chair and wrap his arms snugly around Gerard’s waist.

“We walked everywhere, mostly. Did some shopping, ran some errands, the usual. It’s just cold enough out that hot soup and coffee sound like heaven.” With that, Gerard reaches down and grabs Grant's cup of coffee, taking a sip with a cheeky smile. “It’s cold,” he says sadly after a few sips.

“Your own fault for stealing it, and not waiting for lunch,” Grant tells him equitably. “Or for not joining us earlier.” He rolls his eyes and grins sideways at Frank, including him in the conversation, and his smile only increases when Frank bites back one of his own.

Lunch is a cheerful affair. Gerard and Mikey tell about their exploits around town. Frank remains mostly quiet, still keeping to himself and observing them. Grant has seen him get animated, talking with his hands in wide gestures, but he’s still holding himself back. Grant wonders what it will take to make him comfortable with all of them. He supposes there’s not really much he can do about it, except continue as he has been and let Frank warm up to them all.

After lunch, Grant does some work in his office until Charles interrupts him to inform him that Frank’s workbench and stool are in the basement.

“Shall I inform Mr. Iero, sir?”

“No, that’s quite all right, Charles. I’ll do it myself. Thank you.”

Grant goes immediately back to the library and smiles to find Frank back in the same chair, with the same book in his lap. He clears his throat and Frank’s head pops up.

“I hate to disturb your reading, but Charles informs me that the furniture is in your workshop, should you care to go down there and have a look or get it ready,” Grant says.

“Oh! Thank you.” Frank places a bookmark in his book and stands. “I’m afraid I don’t know my way down there. Should I get Charles to show me?”

“I’d be happy to show you down.”

Grant leads Frank down the stairs to the basement and pushes open the door to the room they’ve designated as Frank’s workshop.

“Oh, this is... It’s perfect. Has this room been used as a workshop before?” Frank asks.

“No, it was set up specifically for you,” Grant tells him.

“You didn’t have to go to all this bother. I could have worked most anywhere I had a sturdy table.” Frank looks around the room wonderingly. Not only did Grant have a tall stool and bench of the right height brought in, he also had a wall prepared with pegs so Frank could hang his tools and a large set of shallow drawers for others and big spools for wire.

“Nonsense. You deserve the best. Your tools are already here, but still in their chests. You can arrange them however you please. In fact, do anything to this room that you please. It is yours,” Grant gestures around them.

“Thank you, sir,” Frank says. Grant holds back a grimace at the title.

“You’re welcome.”

“I suppose I’ll arrange everything,” Frank murmurs and bends down to lift up one of his chests of tools onto the workbench.

“How can I be of assistance?” Grant asks.

“Sir, I couldn’t possibly ask you to help,” Frank protests.

“Frank, I grew up on a farm, working the fields. A little physical labor has never hurt me and I’d like to help you if I can,” Grant says.

Frank studies him for a moment, clearly puzzled, and then nods. “I was just going to organize my tools how I like them. Perhaps give them a good cleaning since they’ve gone through a bombing and then been neglected for so many days.” Frank’s mouth twists. “It will go faster with two.”

Frank turns to the chest in front of him and opens it up, and Grant rolls up his sleeves. “Tell me what to do and I shall do it.”

After Frank empties the chest, setting everything out neatly, he starts handing things to Grant and telling him where to put them while putting others away himself. They work like that for a while, and Grant notices that Frank is careful to keep them moving to opposite sections of his work area. He keeps darting looks over his shoulder, though, and finally asks, “You grew up on a farm?”

“Yes. Mostly wheat and potatoes, but we had a vegetable garden and a few cows and sheep. My father invented the steam plow and was awarded the baronetcy when I was sixteen,” Grant explains. “The patent money started coming in immediately and it was very strange, going from working hard to get by to having so much.”

“I can’t imagine it,” Frank says quietly.

“Once or twice, I wondered if it was all worth it, especially when I was being teased for being a country bumpkin in my new school. But in the end, I feel it was. My life has been full of many wonderful things,” Grant says. He thinks of Gerard and the rest of his little band of friends and comrades. Of Frank.

They get Frank’s tools all situated and Frank looks around the room, satisfied. “I’ve missed working,” Frank says. “I like reading very much, but I like having something to do with my hands as well.”

“Then I shall leave you to it,” Grant says, wiping his hands on a rag. “Enjoy, Frank. I’ll have Charles fetch you for supper.”

“Thank you, sir,” Frank says quietly.

Grant nods and slips out the door and climbs the stairs, rolling his sleeves back down as he goes. Charles catches him struggling with a cuff link in the front hall and fixes him with an impassive look. Charles is, as a matter of fact, rather more desensitized to catching Grant or Gerard in various states of disarrayed dress than most butlers would be, and it is on the tip of Grant’s tongue to explain that he was helping Frank in his workshop, but he lets it go.

Telling Frank the story behind the Morrison baronetcy has brought back Grant’s early life to an extent to which he hasn’t contemplated it for years. He has a sudden flash of a memory - his father, blueprints and spec sheets scattered across the kitchen table as he designed yet another of his machines, how Grant could sit and pore over the massively detailed drawings for hours as his father pointed out this and that and talked about physics and crop cycles in his broad Highlands accent.

It’s just as easy to imagine Frank perched on a too-tall stool, his father or grandfather handing him impossibly tiny gears and delicate precision tools. Perhaps this sudden turn of his affections is neither sudden nor inexplicable after all.

Grant sighs in slightly exasperated relief when the cufflink finally twists, but decides that the mood he’s in can be served best by finding Gerard and letting him muss Grant up again.

***

Since setting up shop in the basement of Sir Grant’s townhouse, Frank’s mostly been left alone down there to work. But then one day Mikey comes into his little workroom and asks him a few questions, and Frank feels awkward and uncertain about what he is meant to be doing, but after he finishes explaining, Mikey just sits himself down in a chair and watches as Frank continues to work before wandering back out a while later.

Mikey starts making visits with a certain amount of frequency after that. They are always much the same. Mikey asks questions and makes conversation and then watches for a while before leaving again. One day Miss Simmons - Alicia - comes down with him. She does more than ask questions; she offers to help. Frank is reminded abruptly of Sir Grant - he doesn’t really need the help any more than he did that first day, but she seems eager, so he shows her a few things.

Sir Grant comes down, too. On the one hand, his visits are nothing new to Frank. But they feel different here, in Sir Grant’s house, in the more confined space of the area he’s using to work. Sir Grant will come and lean a hip against Frank’s workbench, reach out to touch the handle of a metal rasp that’s sagged crookedly on its hook, and Frank follows each moment with his eyes every time. He can’t look away and he’s not sure why. All Frank knows is that every time Sir Grant leaves the room, Frank is left feeling breathless.

Gerard, though...Gerard is a surprise. One day there is a knock on the open door and Frank looks up expecting Mikey or Sir Grant and finds Gerard waiting there instead.

“Do you mind if I come in?” Gerard asks quietly.

“Not at all,” Frank says. It’s only a small fib. Frank doesn’t mind per se, but he finds himself more disconcerted by Gerard than he has been by any of the others.

Gerard doesn’t follow the same pattern as the others, though. He goes immediately to the chair and sits down. He curls up in it with far more familiarity than Frank is able to summon in this house so far - small wonder, he’s not the Baronet’s companion - and starts talking about where they both grew up. Frank talks a little too, but mostly he listens. Gerard has been kind to him since the very first bombing, including him in conversations about art and music, recommending books from the vast library, but still, this is unexpected. Gerard’s monologue peters out after a while and he asks Frank a few questions. Not about his work, though; about his parents and his life. As much as the loss of his family still saddens him, it’s strangely refreshing to talk about memories untainted by injury, illness, or war.

After that, Gerard comes more frequently than anybody else. Sometimes they talk and smoke together; other times Gerard brings down a blank book and draws or writes. Frank wants to ask him about it, but he thinks maybe Gerard wouldn’t like that, so he stays quiet. Gerard’s there when Sir Grant comes down one day.

“Hello, dearest. I’d been wondering where you’d gone off to,” Sir Grant says to Gerard.

“Just annoying Frank, chaton,” Gerard replies.

“Frank, is he bothering you?” Sir Grant asks playfully. Frank tries not to blush.

“Not at all, sir,” Frank says. And this time it’s entirely true. “He hasn’t uttered a word in half an hour.”

Gerard smiles sheepishly at him and Frank smiles back. Sir Grant turns to Frank and they have their usual visit wherein Frank tells him about his progress and ideas for new devices. When he turns to leave, Gerard gets up and takes his leave of Frank as well. As they walk out the door, Frank sees Gerard reach forward and take Sir Grant’s hand in his, sees Sir Grant glance back over his shoulder and smile at Gerard. It makes something in Frank’s chest go tight. He looks back down to the device in his hand and pulls his glasses back down. He has work to do.

*

Frank finishes his book with a happy sigh, stands, and sets it quietly back on its shelf. Sir Grant is studying a very large atlas at a table a few feet away. Frank has no idea what Sir Grant is actually doing, but he keeps his movements restrained so as not to disturb. He sees a few books sitting out and picks them up. None of them have bookmarks, so Frank just starts filing them back on the shelves where they belong. He notices a few stray sheets of paper and a self-inking pen lying out and has just grabbed them when a throat clears behind him. He restrains himself from jumping and turns, but it’s merely Charles getting Sir Grant’s attention.

“Sir, I have a missive from Port Merchant for you,” Charles says and holds out the letter.

“Ah, thank you, Charles. Stay a moment while I read. I may need to send him a message back straightaway.”

Frank puts the paper and pen in their proper compartments in the little writing desk in the corner, nods to Charles and Sir Grant, and leaves the room. Halfway up the stairs to his room, Frank remembers he’d meant to grab another book to read in bed and turns back around. He’s nearly to the door when he hears his name from within.

“We hardly notice Mr. Iero is here, sir,” Charles says. “More than once Katie has come into the kitchen grumbling because he’s already done what she went up to do, and carrying on about how the Baronet is going to think she’s lazy, making your guests do her work, and you’ll ‘sack her for sure.’”

Sir Grant chuckles. “I forgot she’s too young to have been here when Gerard and Mikey first came. Reassure her that I will do nothing of the sort. Frank is part of our little family now. It is my hope that he’ll realize that soon and stop tiptoeing about. Until then, I’m afraid Katie will have to let Frank give her a few extra moments of leisure, or else turn her attention elsewhere.”

Sir Grant sounds so fond. Of him. Frank’s heart is pounding and he turns and goes back up the stairs empty-handed. It’s unlikely that he’d be able to concentrate on reading now anyway. Family. Frank isn’t certain what to think. He lost most of his in the influenza outbreak; all of them, in fact, but a distant aunt and a few cousins in Port Merchant. The thought of being part of one now is thrilling. He can’t deny that he’s been thinking of the three of them, Gerard, Mikey, and Sir Grant, as a family. Not his, not exactly, but a unit nonetheless - they’re certainly close enough, loving enough. But something isn’t fitting quite right and Frank isn’t certain what it is.

He undresses and gets in bed. He doesn’t fall asleep for hours, turning Sir Grant’s words over and over in his head instead. The only conclusion he can come to is that Katie shouldn’t have to worry about her job security, and if Frank can help her by leaving things out instead of picking them up, he’ll just have to do that.

*

Breakfast begins as usual. The Ways are silent until they’ve downed some coffee, Sir Grant makes the odd comment on the newspaper he’s perusing but mostly stays quiet himself. After he’s got at least one cup of coffee in him, sometimes Gerard starts talking. Apparently this is one of those mornings.

“The dinner party is coming up, isn’t it?” Gerard pours himself another cup.

“Twenty-third,” Mikey intones and takes another sip of coffee.

“That’s,” Gerard pauses, clearly working out the current date and the amount of time between it and the twenty-third in his head. “That’s just a week and a half away!”

“Hmm, yes. Time has rather flown by, hasn’t it?” Sir Grant says.

“Dinner party?” Frank asks.

“Oh! Of course you wouldn’t know. We’re hosting one. Obviously you must be there,” Gerard says.

Frank looks at his own coffee cup. “I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

“Nonsense,” Sir Grant says, putting the paper down. “You live here. You couldn’t possibly be intruding. If you do not care to join us, that is another matter entirely.”

“Please come, Frank,” Gerard says. Mikey nods beside him.

“I don’t have a proper suit for such an occasion,” Frank says quietly.

“We can easily change that,” Sir Grant says.

“I can take you tomorrow,” Mikey offers.

“That’s settled then,” Gerard says and abruptly changes the subject.

Frank holds in a sigh and finishes his breakfast.

*

Mikey, true to his word, hunts Frank down like a fox in the front hall the next morning. “Shopping,” he declares. Frank can’t even get a word out in reply before Charles materializes behind Mikey with their coats and hats in his arms.

“You’re terrifying,” Frank blurts out, then blushes and looks away. He swears he sees Charles’ lips twitch before he does, though. Once they’re dressed and outside on the street, Frank looks over at Mikey and says, “You don’t have to do this.”

“I want to,” Mikey says. “It won’t be so bad, Frank.” He pauses. “You’d rather Grant take you?”

Frank can feel the heat rising in his cheeks again, and tugs the brim of his hat farther down his forehead. “I - no.” No, that would never do. Just the thought of it makes Frank feel squirmy and itchy and - “It’s just - I don’t like him spending the money on something I’ll surely not need more than a few times. On me. At least with the workshop, there’s something I can produce in return.”

“Quid pro quo?” Mikey says.

Frank frowns. “I lost my livelihood, Mikey. I can’t just let him take me in and feed me and clothe me and treat me like -”

“Like an indigent relative?” Mikey says pointedly, and Frank’s mouth falls open.

“You’re Gerard’s brother, Mikey. And Gerard’s his -” Frank snaps his mouth shut. “It’s different,” he adds. “The upper classes -”

“We grew up down the street from you, Frank. Please, please just stop - we’re here,” he finishes, tugging on Frank’s sleeve until he turns in a black-painted door leading into a small tailor shop. He waves at the small dark-haired man behind the shop desk who then comes bustling right over, beaming a toothy grin and exclaiming how wonderful it is to see Mikey Way.

“You too, Pete, but today we need something for my friend Frank here.” The tailor immediately transfers his attention to Frank while Mikey continues, “Something appropriate for a dinner party, and it’ll go on the Baronet’s account. Nothing flashy, though.”

Pete raises an eyebrow at Mikey and Frank hastily adds, “Really not flashy. I’m -”

“Traditional. Respectable. It’s a shame, really, I have some designs that would -” Pete grins again when Mikey clears his throat. “My apologies, sirs, I’ll get right to work.” He prods Frank over to the podium and starts taking measurements. Frank gets restless long before he’s finished, but he refrains from fidgeting too much. Pete might be small, but he’s holding a number of sharp implements. Mikey keeps up a running conversation with them both throughout the process, though, and it’s surprisingly nice, reminding Frank that there’s at least one person in the house with whom he does truly feel at ease.

“Three days,” Pete pronounces eventually, after he’s placed the last of what are surely thousands of pins. “I’ll have it roughed together for some final adjustments. Is that good, Mikey Way?”

Mikey nods. “Just fine.” Pete releases him from swathes of dark fabric and Frank re-dresses himself, then joins Mikey by the front door. As they walk home, Mikey says meditatively, “You’re going to look very well, Frank. Are you - it’ll mostly be Grant and Gerard’s literary friends, they’re not - I think you’ll enjoy yourself.” He pauses. “I know I will - it’s not often these days that I attend a party where I’m not - on alert.”

“Are you sure you don’t enjoy that?” Frank asks. From what he knows about Mikey Way, he’s pretty sure Mikey quite enjoys being considered a harmless observer.

Mikey makes a face back at him. “Everyone deserves some time for leisure, Iero. Maybe you should try it sometime.”

“If you insist,” Frank drawls. It’s not like anyone in Sir Grant’s household is giving him much of a choice. But Mikey smiles at him, and it’s a real smile, the kind he’s pretty sure Mikey only gives to a few people. He flashes to Gerard’s smile, so similar, and from there to Sir Grant, the look of utter delight Frank’s caught him casting on Gerard when he happens upon them unawares.

He’ll try.

***

Gerard sighs. He’s been trying to write for the last hour, but nothing is coming to him. He taps his pen against the paper fruitlessly a few more times, then finally he gives up. He’ll go downstairs and find Mikey or Grant. Maybe he’ll see if he can convince Grant to come back upstairs with him.

He makes his way down to the sitting room and stops when he hears Grant’s frustrated voice say, “Please, for the love of god, would you stop calling me sir, Frank?”

“I’m sorry,” Frank murmurs quietly. Gerard wishes he could see Frank’s face, but he doesn’t want to intrude.

“Frank, I don’t want... I want nothing more than for you to feel comfortable here. For you to feel at home. This is my home, and I am not running a charity concern, for all that you seem to think otherwise. I invited you to share it, and I meant it, and I believe that means you ought to be able to address me by my given name. Unless that’s not what you want.”

“I -” Frank stutters over the syllable, and Gerard edges closer to peek around the edge of the door as carefully as possible. Frank continues, “It hasn’t been my experience that what I want matters. Not since before the Navy. Not any time since. Not even when you hired me, really.”

“Frank, what -” Gerard can see Grant now. He looks hurt, Frank intense, biting his lip and barreling through the sentence to speak again.

“Grant.” He’s dropped the title, now, voice firm, full of some unnameable emotion. “Is there ever in your adult life a time when you don’t get what you want?” He turns his back, so Gerard knows he doesn’t see the expression that crosses Grant’s face.

“Once or twice,” Grant murmurs. “I usually keep trying. I’m a stubborn man, Frank. Some things are worth the effort.”

Gerard sees Frank’s shoulders go up, and looks back to Grant only to find that Grant has spotted him in the doorway. He looks levelly at Gerard for a moment and then says, “Joining us, dearest?”

“My manuscript is refusing to cooperate. I thought perhaps I’d let it breathe for a moment, though sometimes it’s hard to be patient.” He raises an eyebrow at Grant, who looks back impassively. “At any rate, I came to ask Frank to lend me some phonograph rolls.”

Frank finally turns at the mention of his name. “I’d be glad to,” he says. “Anything in particular?”

“Pick something you like,” Gerard tells him. “I generally find your tastes to be much like my own.” Frank turns pink, just for a moment, before grinning a crooked little grin and crossing the room to the phonograph cabinet. Gerard crosses to where Grant is standing and leans up to kiss him softly. “Come to bed soon,” he whispers. When Frank returns with his hands laden with cylinders, Gerard thanks him, and Frank smiles that tiny, crooked smile again.

“Tomorrow you’ll have to tell me what you think,” he says.

“I will,” Gerard promises. “Good night, Frank.”

Frank wishes him a good night, and Gerard turns back toward the stairs. When he reaches his bedroom, he carefully sets the phonograph rolls on the cabinet and sets the first one playing. He doesn’t even look at his desk, just starts changing into his nightclothes.

He’s suddenly tired, but he doesn’t want to sleep, either. He curls up under the covers and listens to the music and remembers Frank’s face from earlier. He can’t deny even if he tried that after all his early fuss, the truth is that he finds Frank infinitely appealing. That if he hadn’t already made promises to Grant years ago, he would be pursuing Frank at this very moment. Would possibly be kissing Frank this very moment, and he’s pretty sure Frank would let him. The way he blushes sometimes when Gerard says something complimentary to him, the way he bites his lip without realizing.... He does the same thing with Grant as well, though. Perhaps he would let Grant kiss him too.

The thought of them kissing somehow doesn’t make Gerard as jealous as he feels maybe it should. It makes his breath come a little more quickly, makes him bite his lip. He knows Grant is also drawn to Frank because he knows Grant; knows what Grant looks like when he finds someone attractive, because he’s experienced it firsthand.

Gerard is still picturing it, still imaging Grant’s lips on Frank’s, imagining his hands caressing every part of Frank’s body. He finally gives in and pushes aside the cloth covering his cock and wraps a hand around it. That’s when Grant slips in the door to their bedchamber.

“You’re starting without me,” Grant scolds. Gerard only sees fondness and desire in his expression, though.

“Is it starting without you when I was thinking of you?” Gerard asks, running his thumb over the head of his cock.

Grant strips off his clothes, leaving them in a pile on the floor at the foot of the bed. “It is. But you haven’t finished, so I’m perfectly satisfied to catch up. Or -” He pauses, hand wrapped loosely around his cock, “Perhaps I should let you catch me up.”

Gerard licks his lips and gets to his knees, shuffling closer so he can replace Grant’s hand with his own. “Anything you want - sir,” some devil prompts him to add.

Grant growls and Gerard looks up at him from beneath his eyelashes like Gerard knows he can’t resist. Grant pushes a hand into Gerard’s hair, pulling just the slightest bit. He pushes Gerard down and Gerard takes Grant’s cock into his mouth, going all the way down until his lips meet his hand. Grant’s hand stays tangled in Gerard’s hair as Gerard starts sucking and licking.

“Enough,” Grant says after a few minutes, and pulls Gerard off his cock. Gerard rocks back, settling down with his hands on his thighs and his head hanging down.

“What would you like me to do, sir?” Gerard asks.

Grant gently brushes Gerard’s hair out of his face. “With him, it’s galling because I know he doesn’t trust me. With you, though,” Grant tips Gerard’s chin up. “With you, I know it’s because you do.”

Gerard nods. He does. Completely. Grant gently nudges Gerard until he’s lying on on his stomach, one arm wrapped around a pillow. Grant pushes up Gerard’s nightshirt, exposing him, and Gerard shivers with anticipation and the sudden chill.

“I’m going to take you slow, make you wild with need,” Grant whispers in his ear and grabs the jar on the bedside table. Gerard buries his face in the pillow and breathes. Grant’s slick fingers stroke Gerard’s entrance, but he doesn’t go any further than stroking.

“Grant, please,” Gerard begs.

“Dearest one,” Grant breathes, and he braces each hand on one side of Gerard and positions his cock and ever so slowly starts pushing in.

Gerard gasps into the pillow. Grant’s still slowly, slowly pushing inside him. Finally he’s all the way in and Gerard can feel Grant’s balls brushing his ass. Grant lets himself down onto Gerard’s body, his chest to Gerard’s back, pressing him down into the mattress. Gerard can’t even move his hips. He doesn’t mind, especially when Grant starts rocking slowly, smoothly moving his cock in and out of Gerard.

Grant laces his fingers with Gerard’s hand, kisses his neck, and whispers, “Is this what you were thinking of?”

“Yessss,” he hisses. Yes, this is exactly what he wanted. He just didn’t think to ask for it. But Grant knows him, knows his cues. He’s pinned, held down and breathless, the drag of Grant’s cock sparking sensation through his groin. His own cock is pinned between his body and the mattress, Grant’s thrusts creating delicious friction that’s not nearly enough to get him off, just enough to drive him mad. He groans into the pillow, tossing his head back and forth and arching up into Grant’s chest as Grant peppers Gerard’s shoulders with stinging little bites. “Harder,” Gerard begs, “Please, harder.”

Grant braces his knees and starts thrusting harder, wrapping an arm around Gerard’s chest to keep them tightly pressed together, sucking at the base of Gerard’s neck, and he shouts Gerard’s name as he comes, loud enough that Gerard thinks he’ll have been heard, and the thought only makes Gerard moan. Grant doesn’t stop moving, just pulls out with one motion, rolls Gerard over with a push to his shoulder, thrusting two fingers back inside him and taking Gerard’s cock in his mouth as soon as it’s exposed.

Gerard cries out, reaching for Grant’s head, cupping the back of his skull and wrapping his hand around Grant’s forearm where it’s braced against the bed. Grant has a wicked mouth, and he knows Gerard’s body well, and tonight he’s not giving him a chance to breathe, to slow down, not in the slightest. Gerard’s bucking and moaning and coming down his throat before he can even gather his wits about him. No finesse, no rhythm, just heat and spit and suction and - Grant.

“Grant,” Gerard whispers, tugging on his arm. “Fuck, Grant, Grant.” Grant obligingly pushes himself up until they can lie next to each other, and Gerard curls into his body with a grateful little moan.

*

Gerard still feels tolerably strange letting someone else help him dress, but it’s expected, especially when they’re dressing for a dinner party. He’s relieved when Grant waves Robson out of the room and and stands in front of him with a smile on his face and a lovely, ornate little box in hand.

“Grant, what have you done?” Gerard asks delightedly.

“Am I not allowed to buy my lover gifts as the mood strikes me?” Grant asks and opens the box. Inside on a bed of velvet are gold cuff links with a delicate filigree pattern and a tiny stone - opal, Gerard thinks - set in each one.

“Grant, you di—” Gerard cuts himself off. “Thank you,” Gerard says instead and leans up to kiss him. Grant returns the kiss and lifts Gerard’s wrists to help Gerard put the cuff links on. Gerard looks him in the eye and licks his lips.

Grant growls. “We do not have the time.”

“Also, we’d ruin our suits,” Gerard says breathlessly and laughs. He looks at his wrists. The cuff links really do go beautifully with his suit. Which Grant knew would be the case, Gerard is sure. They finish dressing and Gerard stands in front of the mirror studying himself. Grant comes up behind him and rests his hands on Gerard’s shoulders.

“Are you ready, dearest?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Gerard answers; Grant takes his hand and they make their way downstairs to the drawing room. The guests will be arriving at any moment. Mikey opens the door a few moments later and just behind him is Frank. Gerard has to work hard to keep his mouth from falling open. He feels Grant go still beside him. Gerard can't stop watching Frank move across the room. He looks touchable. Grant breathes in beside him, and Gerard just knows by the sound of it that he's thinking the same thing. He knows he could push at this point and Grant would admit it - he knows Grant - but Gerard doesn't say anything, just lets the party go on around them.

Their guests start arriving, and naturally a number of people ask to be introduced to Frank. They’ve invented a background for him - a distant relative of Grant’s who has come to the city because of his interest in music, which is only just stretching the truth, albeit in several integral ways - and he's both disarming and charming, fixing everyone who speaks to him with this smile that...Gerard can’t describe. Gerard can tell he's nervous, but he's pretty sure it's something no one outside of their little family would notice.

In fact, Gerard is surprised by how charming Frank is. He is immaculately dressed, his hair scrupulously clean but falling in soft curls over his collar, and he seems to have pulled all this charisma from some sort of reserve. It's fascinating, and a bit maddening, to watch everyone in the room fall under his spell as soon as they start to speak with him. Gerard isn't afraid to admit, at least to himself, that he wants Frank's attention on him. He feels Grant's hand on his side and amends that - on them, himself and Grant. Then Grant calls Frank over.

“Yes, Grant?” Frank replies, tone as deferential as it ever has been, except he doesn't call Grant “sir” this time. He does smooth out his suit - Gerard can tell Mikey took Frank to his favored tailor, because those slim lines could have come from no one else, and they make Frank look edible - and stands still and attentive. And Grant just talks, not about anything important and certainly not about anything clandestine, but the entire time his fingers are caressing Gerard's waist in a way which is a bit inappropriate for public and which is making Gerard, quite frankly, a bit lightheaded.

Gerard notices Frank glance at Grant's hand on his waist more than once; never a long look, but he’s not making much of an effort to hide them either. Gerard takes a deep breath. He can't look back at Frank with Grant touching him at the same time, he just cannot, so he pulls away to join Charles at his station by the door and ask when dinner will be ready. It's unnecessary; their staff are punctual and exceptionally good at their jobs, but he needs a second to breathe.

The lady who Frank escorts into dinner doesn't look like she needs a second to breathe, and the gentleman who corners Frank after dinner doesn’t look like he wants Frank to get one; Gerard’s not the only one to notice the latter encounter. It makes something tighten in Grant's face, and he's halfway across the room to do god knows what when Mikey - without even any prompting from Gerard - intercepts him.

Gerard breathes out and goes to talk to Jill. If Mikey noticed something amiss, there will be no ignoring the subject. Mikey will surely not address Grant, but Gerard knows he himself will not be so fortunate as to avoid it. He can't stop looking over at Grant and Mikey talking, then back at Frank, who extracts himself from Mr. Ellerson and is immediately accosted by Lord Bartlet - who merely wants to discuss his primary hobby, which is pipe organs, but who is also standing closer than propriety requires. Gerard wants to stamp his foot, and Mikey is carefully moving Grant around so his back is to Frank.

Gerard takes a deep breath and turns back to Jill. This is his home, and these are his guests, and it does no one any kind of service to spend his time lost in useless fantasy. The next time he chances a look at Grant, he's moved on to another group of guests and is smiling easily, but as the evening marches on, Ellerson corners Frank again, and Gerard can see Grant react in precisely the same manner. This time Gerard is close enough, and heads him off.

Grant allows himself to be herded out into the hallway and into his office, which is of course not in use this evening. Gerard keeps his hand steady on Grant’s chest and tells him seriously, "Grant, everyone in this house is quite prepared to accept you as a ‘patron of the arts’ -” Gerard’s tone verges on the sarcastic for a moment, but he is not sorry about it - “but he is not yours. You can't do that."

The expression on Grant’s face is patently guilty. He reaches out and touches Gerard's face and says, “You are mine.”

“Exactly. Our guests know that, Grant. Have you considered the gossip it will cause if you berate Ellerson as I am sure you intended?”

Grant scowls for a moment, but his tone is regretful when he answers,"Gerard, I hope you don't doubt my love for you. I hope I've never done anything to make you doubt it."

Gerard slips his arms around Grant's waist and lean up and kisses him. “Never.”

Grant frames Gerard's face with his hands and says, "Good. Because that is the last thing I would ever want."

Gerard leans into the touch and answers meaningfully, "It's been a long time, chaton; I'm good at knowing what you want."

Grant kisses him again. "I have become quite adept at judging your wants and desires as well, dearest."

It’s true. And it’s inexcusable that they’ve danced around this subject for so long. But they’ve been absent from their guests for too long already, so Gerard merely comments, “If Frank actually does want to take up with Ellerson, he has every right to.”

“No,” Grant says, “I'm not trying to - no, no, no.”

Even saying it makes Gerard feel slightly sick to his stomach. But it's true. "Or Miss Wallace, of course," he adds. “Or anyone.” Grant just shakes his head, emphatically, although they both know that Gerard is right. "Grant," Gerard whispers. "We can't…"

He waves his hands around and Grant grabs them, holds on gently. "Perhaps not. We must return to our guests. We shall have to continue this conversation later, dearest." Gerard hears the "but" in there, knows that Grant is already trying to think of a solution. He sighs. It’s not at all certain there is one. At least, not one that won’t sting.

When Mikey takes Gerard’s elbow a little while later, Gerard doesn’t even jump. He’s been waiting for this.

“What in the devil is going on?” Mikey asks, tone flat but sour.

Gerard just looks at him. “Mikey,” he says helplessly, “I must speak further to Grant. Please.”

Several expressions flit across Mikey’s face; confused, mad and petrified in quick succession. He finally says, "Don't you fucking dare hurt him. Either one of you."

Gerard opens and closes his mouth a few times, but can’t make words come. Mikey’s mouth pinches at the corners for a moment before he nods and starts to walk away. “Mikey!” Gerard calls after him, and he turns back around. “I’m trying my best,” Gerard whispers.

“Don’t just try,” Mikey intones, but his expression softens a bit this time. He goes to join a group by the fire that includes Alicia, and Gerard watches him take her hand and kiss it and sighs. His little brother is still quite the best person he knows.

The rest of the evening is rather interminable. Most of Grant and Gerard’s friends are of the artistic or literary persuasion, but others are simply gentlemen and ladies of the landed class with the same political leanings, and it makes for an interesting combination, but one that requires a lot of concentration. Gerard doesn’t have a great deal of that to spare.

After the last guest has left, there is a short, quiet interlude in the library - Frank, Gerard, Mikey, and Grant and very little conversation - and then finally Gerard finds himself alone with Grant in their bedroom. Grant is across the room at the wardrobe working on the buttons of his waistcoat, and Gerard is carefully unfastening his new cuff links in front of their dressing table, and when Gerard’s fingers slip for the third or fourth time he swears softly. Grant crosses the room and extricates him from his cuffs with a few gentle movements and then hands him the cuff links. “Perhaps you purposefully bought a pair you’d have to help me in and out of,” Gerard teases gently.

“I can think of worse fates,” Grant replies, hands moving to Gerard’s shirtfront. “I merely knew they’d look well on you and you’d like them, dear heart,” he whispers into Gerard’s ear.

“You know my tastes well,” Gerard answers, pulling back to look him in the eye.

"Indeed. I know what you want,” Grant adds, eyes searching Gerard’s face.

Gerard laughs. "And I you. And we both want Frank, don't we?"

There is no way Grant wasn’t expecting the topic to reappear; he does close his eyes for a moment, but Gerard nestles close and moves up against Grant and they're both hard, and they both groan a little.

“With a rather feverish desperation,” Grant admits.

Gerard says, “I’m not at all accustomed to the way desperation looks on you.” He pauses. “I suppose I never played hard-to-get.”

Grant replies helplessly, “The longer he’s here, the better he allows us to know him... but I'll get over it.”

"What if you didn't?” Gerard asks. “What if we… what if we woo him? Together."

“You don’t have to— You want that as well?” Grant starts. Gerard frowns. Grant pauses, takes a breath, and starts again. “You are sure, are you, that such a thing wouldn’t utterly drive him away?”

“I don’t know,” Gerard whispers, nuzzling against Grant’s shoulder. “I know that it was physically painful to not take his hand or tell him how wonderful he was in all the ways I wished to.”

“You should have,” Grant breathes. “To see such a thing—the two of you—” he’s clearly struggling to find words, a rare thing from Grant. “You must.”

We must,” Gerard corrects. “I saw the same thing I was feeling for him every time I looked at you. And you haven’t seen the way he watches you.”

“You haven’t seen him blush at your antics, dearest,” Grant counters. “Suppose he runs?”

“We’ll run after him. And if he truly doesn’t want us,” Gerard swallows, “we will come back home and nurse our poor broken hearts together. Unless Mikey kills us first.”

“And this is a possibility?” Grant asks, looking half-amused, half-concerned.

“Yes. Very much so. He’s become rather protective of Frank, as I discovered tonight.” He remembers Mikey’s pinched mouth and shivers. “I’m willing to take that risk—with you.”

“Always,” Grant whispers and leans down to kiss him. Gerard clings even tighter, kissing back for all he’s worth.

Grant maneuvers Gerard toward the bed as they kiss. When Gerard’s legs hit the bed, Grant stops to get rid of their clothes. It goes faster than it often does. Grant enjoys the process of taking him apart bit by bit too much to rush. But tonight his patience is clearly worn down. Gerard doesn’t blame him. He spent the night watching Frank as well.

“If I were Frank, you’d force yourself to go slower no matter how impatient you were,” Gerard murmurs as Grant lowers him to the bed.

“Perhaps,” Grant answers as he mouths his way across Gerard’s chest. “You wouldn’t, though.”

“I couldn’t,” Gerard gasps as Grant swirls his tongue around his nipple.

“No, you couldn’t. Not without me there at any rate. What would you do, Gerard? If you had Frank laid out beneath you like this?” Grant kisses up Gerard’s neck and sucks at his throat. He pinches Gerard’s thigh lightly when he gets lost in the feeling of Grant’s body and lips against him and forgets to answer.

“I’d touch him everywhere,” Gerard breathes out. “With my hands, my mouth.”

“Mmm.” Gerard feels that more than hears it, a light buzzing against his collarbones. Grant’s skims a hand along Gerard’s side and up to bury it in Gerard’s hair, kissing him briefly before sliding back down, his hands and mouth never staying in one place long.

“Grant,” Gerard says desperately.

“Like this, Gerard? Is this what you’d do?” Grant asks, looking up at Gerard from the vicinity of his hip, mouth tantalizingly close to Gerard’s cock.

“Yessssss,” Gerard hisses.

“What would you do next? You’d suck him, wouldn’t you?” Gerard nods, unable to form words, but Grant doesn’t move to take Gerard’s cock in his mouth like Gerard is expecting.

“Grant, please,” Gerard begs.

“Don’t tell me you wouldn’t tease him like that, Gerard. I know you well.” Grant is a terrible tease as well; he knows what it does to Gerard when he talks like this. He chuckles and wraps his lips around the head of Gerard’s cock, swirling his tongue. Gerard clutches the sheets in his fingers and moans. He bites his lip and focuses on the feel of Grant’s tongue, on how his mouth feels as he moves further down Gerard’s cock and starts sucking. How Grant’s hand feels gripping his thigh, how the other feels wrapped around the base of Gerard’s cock.

Gerard whines wordlessly when Grant pulls off, gasps out, “Please.

“You would stop too,” Grant says. Gerard can feel Grant’s warm breath on his cock. “Because however much you’ll love having your mouth on him, you’ll want to fuck him more. Won’t you?”

“Yes, yes, yes.” Gerard wants that so badly he’s shaking with it. He loves Grant so much he can hardly breathe sometimes and he loves being fucked by him more than he loves most things, but it’s been years and years since he’s given that to anybody else. He craves it.

“You’ll be careful and gentle at first,” Grant says, his fingers circling Gerard’s entrance. They’re already slick. Gerard didn’t realize he’d already taken that step, he’d been so overwhelmed. “Not only for him, but for you. You’ll be nervous, won’t you, Gerard?”

“Yes. It’s been so long. Wouldn’t want to...” He trails off when Grant slides a finger inside.

“You won’t hurt him,” Grant reassures, and slides in another finger.

Chaton, now,” Gerard demands. “Please. I need you now.”

Grant laughs. “You won’t give in to that demand from Frank. You’ll keep preparing him slowly and enter him even more slowly.” Gerard is half afraid that Grant won’t give in to his demand, but Grant slicks himself up and moves forward. “But I appear to have lost my last shred of patience imagining watching you.”

Grant pulls Gerard’s hips into his lap, positions himself and pushes in. It’s almost too much, too fast, and exactly what Gerard is craving. Grant wraps a hand around Gerard’s cock and starts stroking him off as he lifts his hips, thrusting up into Gerard’s body. They both lose their words, reduced to moans, curses, and the sound of skin moving against skin. Gerard comes quickly, spilling himself over Grant’s fingers and his own belly. Grant thrusts through it, throwing his head back and clamping both hands tightly on Gerard’s hips. When he comes he moans long and loud, gorgeous with it. When his shudders subside, he stays inside Gerard for a few moments before pulling out gently. Gerard sucks in a breath at the sensation and Grant strokes his hips soothingly. Grant grabs a cloth and cleans them up before pulling the covers over them and wrapping his arms around Gerard. Gerard rests his head against Grant’s chest and listens to his heart beat, listens to him breathe.

“You’re too good to me,” Gerard mumbles into Grant’s chest.

“Exactly as you deserve.” Grant strokes his fingers gently through Gerard’s hair.

“As we all deserve,” Gerard answers, but Grant’s murmur of assent trails into a sleep-noise, and Gerard soon follows.

***

Frank spends the entire party trying his best to be a good - well, not host, he’d never consider himself to be in such a position. But he does want to be a friendly conversationalist and help entertain the guests... and make Grant proud, like he was a member of the family. Every once in a while he'll catch sight of one of them and lose his breath for a moment before refocusing. It’s a bit torturous.

And how much torture was it when they were both talking to him, when he could watch Grant's fingers smoothing over Gerard's waistcoat, see how pink in the cheeks Gerard was. Frank couldn’t quite resist smoothing his hands down his own clothing - but imagining they were someone else's. No, he won’t think of it.

Once everyone has left but them - at long last - and they're all sitting in the library, Frank is able to sit with a brandy in his hand and sip at it and not make conversation, which is a good thing. He's tired and keyed up at the same time, curled up in a chair in a way which is probably destroying his suit, but Mikey, Gerard, and Grant are in similar postures. He lets his head rest against the upholstery and his eyes slip half-closed. The conversation is slow, a little stilted. Maybe everyone else is as tired as he is. Then he hears his name. "Frank -" Grant says, then stops.

"Mmm?" It's totally informal, forward even, but he's tired.

"Go get some rest."

Rest sounds nice. He nods against the chair, but he can't quite bring himself to get up yet. And then someone is taking his glass of brandy from his hands and helping him up. "Rest, Frank," Grant repeats, releasing his hands.

Gerard comes up beside them and wraps an arm around Grant's waist. "Thank you for joining us this evening," Gerard murmurs.

Frank takes a deep breath and nods. They're touching each other again. It's a relief to look away to Mikey, who's also standing, setting his own glass aside on a sideboard. "I'll walk up with you," Mikey says. On the stairs, Mikey continues, "You were brilliant tonight. And if you want them, I'm certain you could have just gained two separate suitors. Well, I suppose in the case of Miss Wallace, you would be her suitor."

Frank giggles somewhat hysterically. He hadn't been at all interested in either Miss Wallace or Mr. Ellerson. Especially not as suitors. "I fear they'll have to accustom themselves to disappointment," Frank says. As will I, he does not add.

Mikey responds with a thoughtful hum, but nothing more before they reach the landing and Mikey's door. "Goodnight, Frank. See you at breakfast," he says.

Frank continues down to his own room, pauses very briefly at Gerard and Grant's door, and wishes wistfully that he could go curl up in their bed. The one time he saw it, it appeared to be warm and soft and, perhaps more importantly, they would eventually be in to occupy it. He shivers slightly as he lets himself into his own room, despite the fire that's already been lit in his grate. Katie takes stellar care to make sure his room is the precise temperature he prefers - Frank gets cold easily - but cold or no, it's empty. And Frank, for all the nights - years worth of nights - he spent curled on a single bed above his shop, is terribly lonely tonight.

He's glad, though, that he told Christopher he wouldn't need assistance after the party. He doesn't think he could stand the bustle of a servant, or anybody else touching him. He peels off his clothes and carefully hangs them. The suit will probably need cleaning anyway, but still. He slips between the covers and curls up. Yet he can't sleep. His brain won't shut down. He can't help but imagine if he had gone into Gerard and Grant's room. What if he had curled up in their bed? What would they have done?

Kindly but firmly told him to leave, he tells himself sternly. The problem is, he can't quite make himself believe it. It's one reason the idea of Ellerson and Miss Wallace flirting with him was so laughable - it's been such a long time since he's done this. But not so long that he's forgotten what it means to be looked at like that. Like Gerard looks at him, between grandiose proclamations and expansively gestured stories. Like Grant looks at him whenever he thinks Frank's not paying attention. Frank... is paying attention.

Those looks make Frank have to hold in gasps sometimes, make him wish he had something to grab onto to hold himself up when he catches them doing it. He sighs and gives up, lets his hand wander down his chest. Grant, Frank decides. It would be Grant who'd touch him this way, as gently as he handles Frank’s intricate creations. If Frank wanted more, he realizes he'd have to ask for it. He imagines feeling bold enough to ask for Grant's cock, imagines Gerard leaning forward to kiss him, touch his chest, his cock. Gerard would be playful. He plays with his own nipples for a moment, arching against the sheets before giving in to the urge to take himself in hand. He can't hold in the quiet moan that escapes.

Frank runs his thumb over the head of his cock and shudders. He imagines Gerard's lips on his neck, Grant's hand reaching around his body and touching his cock like Frank is now. Yes, that's what he wants, he thinks as he spreads moisture with his palm: to be pressed between them. Wants to watch them kiss like they kiss in dark corners. He speeds up his strokes at the thought of those kisses. Frank has seen so many since he started living here. So many moments that left him feeling alone. He wouldn't feel that way with both of them on either side of him.

He shifts restlessly, still needing more, then stretches to reach behind himself, rubbing gently. He hasn’t been fucked in years, but he remembers the feeling. He’s lucky enough to know that it can be good. He speeds up his strokes with a soft groan and bucks into his hand, imagining Grant thrusting in time with his hand on Frank's cock. Imagines Gerard pressing closer so he just barely has room to tangle his fingers with Grant's. He reaches up to tangle fingers in his own hair, imagines the silky strands are Gerard's, imagines Gerard fucking his tongue into Frank’s mouth as Grant’s fingers bite into his hips, and comes with a helpless shout all over his own hand. Frank collapses against the pillows, breathing hard. He wipes his hand off on the edge of the sheet, feeling guilty that someone else will have to wash it. But he's so tired. And feeling, impossibly, even more alone than when he came upstairs.

*

Frank looks up at the sound of feet clattering down the cellar stairs. Mikey looks up too from the chair in the corner where he’s sipping at a cup of coffee. After another moment, the door to Frank’s workshop swings open and Gerard pops his head in. “There you are,” he says, the rest of him appearing through the door. “Mikey, I picked your coat up from the tailor. Charles had Christopher take it upstairs.”

“Thank you,” Mikey says. “How was Pete?”

“Not up front; I believe I caught them at a busy moment. I had to wait so I had a look around and -” He cuts himself off. “Here, Frank,” Gerard adds, fumbling at the brown paper package under his arm. “This is for you.”

Gerard unwinds a finely woven scarf in a deep shade of green, crumpling the paper and sticking it in a pocket. He steps forward to where Frank is standing, tin snips still in hand, and winds the scarf around Frank’s neck in several loose coils. “There,” he says, sounding satisfied. “I know you must get chilled down here. The color looks well on you; I knew the moment I saw it that it would.”

He really sounds terribly pleased with himself. Frank’s a bit speechless - more than a bit, really, with Gerard a foot away studying him with a smile and twitching the ends of the scarf until he’s satisfied with their arrangement. “You bought me a scarf,” he says, stalling.

“Yes,” Gerard grins.

“I - thank you,” Frank replies. “That’s most unnecessary - but quite thoughtful,” he finishes before Gerard can frown. “It’s very nice,” he adds, because it’s true.

Gerard beams.

“Very nice,” Mikey echoes, but changes the subject a moment later. Gerard doesn’t stay long, and Mikey follows him up the stairs, and Frank scarcely thinks of the gift again until he’s finished welding the framing pieces laid out before him. He pulls off his work gloves when he’s done for the day and reaches to unwind the wool, running the soft fabric through his fingers for a moment before folding it carefully and setting it on top of a tool chest.

It really is very nice.

*

The project consumes enough of his time over the next several days that Frank loses track of the household’s comings and goings except for at mealtimes. But once the device is complete to his satisfaction, he tidies his shop and heads to the parlor to catch up on the morning papers before teatime. The parlor door is ajar, so he can easily hear the knock on the front door and the subsequent murmur of voices. The first and second are nearly inaudible, but the third, while muffled, is clearly Grant saying “Thank you.” Wrapping paper crinkles, then he adds, “Ah. Where is Frank?”

“In the parlor, sir,” the second voice - Charles - answers, and the door opens farther, Charles gesturing Grant through with a white-gloved hand.

“Frank,” Grant says warmly. “Joining us for tea today? We’ve missed your company.”

“I’ve finished your latest device ahead of schedule, so yes, I am here. Catching up on what I’ve missed,” he says, rattling the papers in his hand.

“You’ll find yourself hard-pressed to do so in those rags,” Grant sniffs. “Has Gerard made off with the latest North Star broadsheets again?”

“I can’t say,” Frank murmurs, “I have not seen him today.”

“Well, I’ll fetch them for you,” Grant replies, and raises an eyebrow at Frank before he can even start uttering a protest. “But put those awful things down, I have something I think you’ll enjoy much more.”

“You do?” Frank looks at Grant’s hand, which is bearing a slim folio-sized leather-bound book. Grant hands the volume over. Their fingers brush briefly, and Frank flashes him a nervous smile, then focuses on the title. “This is -”

“I happened to stop by the Royal Society last week and noticed one of the fellows had given a paper on acoustics, so I requested a copy. It was just delivered. I thought you’d be interested.”

“Interested!” Frank breathes. “Of course I - this is - thank you,” he stammers. “It was so good of you to think of me.”

“Always,” Grant replies smoothly, patting a gentle hand against Frank’s cheek, a fleeting touch but one that pushes Frank’s heart into his throat. By the time he’s able to reply, a reply seems unnecessary, as Grant is settling into a wing chair with a stifled sigh of relief, rubbing a hand over his knee. “Sore today,” he murmurs.

“It’s the cold, perhaps,” Frank offers. “Did you take the carriage today when you went out? The heat from the engine would do a world of -” He stops abruptly when he realizes what he’s saying, looking at Grant with wide eyes.

Grant throws back his head and laughs. “If that was an imitation of me, dear boy, I believe the called-for reply is a slightly shamefaced negative, and a clearly ill-fated promise to note your concern.”

Frank feels himself blush. “You’re most likely correct. Perhaps - we could change the subject now?”

Grant chuckles again. “Of course.” He starts telling a story his sister had relayed in her latest letter. Frank sinks back into the couch cushions to listen, fingers idly stroking the fine leather spine of the gifted book. He can’t wait to read it. Just not right now, because listening to Grant is pleasant, too.

*

The Baronet’s townhouse is often filled with music. Usually it’s a phonograph roll. Gerard and Grant, Mikey, and Frank all have small phonographs in their quarters in addition to the larger machine downstairs. There’s a pianoforte in the corner of one of the parlors as well. It’s seldom played, which is why when Frank descends from his bedroom he’s not sure at first where the quiet tinkling of keys is coming from. He follows the sound and finds Gerard on the bench, frowning down at the keys. The melody floats along, hesitant but correct, until Gerard glances up and sees Frank watching and hits a bad chord. He damps the pedals and lets his hands fall into his lap.

“Don’t stop on my account,” Frank tells him.

“I’m doing you a kindness,” Gerard replies with a self-deprecating smile. “That piece is essentially the limit of my skill.”

“A pleasant little song,” Frank says. “Nothing so bad, there.”

“Still. You are here now, perhaps you’d play instead?” Frank nods, and Gerard slides down the piano bench so Frank can take his place. “No, not that,” he says when Frank reaches for the piece Gerard had been playing. “I bought some new sheet music. It reminded me of that composer you like so much, so I felt you had to have it.”

Gerard sets a booklet on the music stand. Frank reaches out and touches the corner of a page. “A concerto in the style of Shepherd,” he reads. “For me, Gerard?”

“For you,” Gerard confirms. “I’ll turn your pages?”

Gerard bought him sheet music. Just because he thought Frank would like it. Just the idea of it makes something flutter dangerously in Frank’s stomach. He places his fingers on the keys. He can feel the fabric of Gerard’s jacket through the linen of his own shirt, their upper arms brushing together as Frank reaches for the first chord. He’ll play through the piece once, just for Gerard, then go. It’ll be fine.

He’s not sure how long he ends up playing, but Charles has to come fetch them for dinner.

*

“Frank,” Grant calls through the open door of Frank’s workshop, “Do you have an hour or two to accompany me on a small outing?” He and Mikey and Gerard have been asking this of him more often lately. He thinks they’ve decided he needs to get out of the house more. Frank’s not sure he really minds. He’d shut himself up in his shop so much before because it was comfortable. He’s becoming gratifyingly comfortable with the three of them, now.

He nearly changes his mind when he finds out as they climb into the steam carriage that Grant is going to visit his sister. At least Frank had changed into something suitable. Grant catches him surveying his attire and says, gently, “Leigh doesn’t stand on ceremony, Frank. And I wanted you to accompany me because she’s found a box of our father’s things and wants me to sort through it, and I’m sure I’d have no idea what I was looking at.”

“You read blueprints quite well, sir,” Frank says.

“Grant,” Grant reminds him, and Frank feels himself color. He’s trying to remember.

It’s impossible to forget he’s addressing a countess when he meets Lady Leigh. She’s sweet as honey, though, and only shoots Grant the tiniest of curious looks. Thoughts of his manners and his clothing fly from his head; Frank can only imagine it’s because Gerard hasn’t come and Grant has brought a new boy with him instead. The countess pulls Grant aside after she asks a footman to fetch the box of papers and murmurs to him for a moment. Frank pretends he can’t hear Gerard’s name and bends to pet a small dog that runs into the room.

A maid wheels in a tea service and Lady Leigh serves them both herself. As Frank sips his tea, she asks him a series of polite questions about himself, which he tries to answer in a mostly candid manner. He gives Grant the occasional searching glance when the topic veers too close to clandestine activities, and Grant jumps in smoothly. When she asks about his family, Grant says, "Leigh, let him -"

Frank waves him off and says, "It's fine. It's... easier to talk about now." An expression crosses Grant’s face that steals Frank’s breath - something undeniably tender - but is gone in a blink of an eye as Lady Leigh leans over to refresh Grant’s tea.

He survives the visit without making any social gaffes, but it’s a near thing. He’d watched Grant take a deep breath and bite his lip as he sifted through the papers they’d come to inspect and had reached out to lay a hand over Grant’s before he could think better of it. But Grant had just smiled and the moment had passed. Grant had disappeared after they returned home, and if Frank had thought that they’d be spending the evening studying Sir Walter Morrison’s blueprints as well, he was mistaken. Grant and Gerard both descend the stairs in formal dress that evening.

Frank is totally at a loss, actually. He flashes them a small smile and excuses himself, heading for the cellar stairs. He’d just come upstairs from his workshop in anticipation of dinner, but his appetite has flown.

“Wait, Frank,” Grant calls, and Frank turns back. Grant reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small item. “I found this earlier this afternoon with my father’s things. I know it’s not much of a gift, but.... He made it for me when I was small - his own poor attempt at metalworking. Always more of a designer than a fabricator.”

Frank takes the object carefully. Now that he can take a closer look at it he can see that it’s a puzzle toy, a cunning little construction of metal and wooden interlocking parts. “It’s quite nice,” Frank replies, turning the toy over, already starting to work out in his head the sequence of moves that will free the silver ring. “I’m not sure how I could accept this. It’s special, Grant, an heirloom.”

Grant reaches out and touches his cheek, as has become his wont. “Leigh gave that box to me to keep or dispose of as I wished. And I am quite sure you will appreciate it more than anyone else would.”

Frank's stomach swoops. He has no idea how to respond. He meets Grant’s eyes, and Grant doesn’t look away but he doesn’t speak either. Frank turns the puzzle toy over in his hands for a moment, then gets up on his tiptoes and kisses Grant on the cheek. He leaves without another word.

Downstairs, Frank stares at the object in his hands and allows himself a moment to be petrified at his own daring. A kiss on the cheek - it had felt right.

Right now, it feels terrifying.

He turns the toy over a few times in his hands, then sets to solving it. For an inventor, it's really not that hard to solve, but the mechanism is rather ingenious, and he stares at it for a few minutes, then sets it down on his workbench and rummages through a bin of scrap supplies.

Frank goes to bed late that night, hours after Gerard and Grant might have conceivably returned, and before he retires he sets a brand new custom made puzzle on Grant's desk.

The next morning, Frank feels bleary-eyed and a little out of sorts. He’s at the breakfast table staring listlessly around the room when Grant and Gerard come in together. Suddenly he remembers the reason that he is more tired than usual and concentrates on stopping himself from biting his lip or making any number of other nervous gestures.

Grant and Gerard sit in their usual spots, Grant across the table and Gerard by Frank’s side. Mikey comes in half a minute later and takes his spot next to Grant. The bleary feeling is mostly gone, replaced by a flutter in his belly. Finally, after a few moments of shifting and adjusting, everyone settles down.

“Frank,” Grant says, and Frank forces himself to look up and meet Grant’s gaze. “I stopped by my office on the way down. Thank you for the gift.”

Frank shrugs and starts, “It—”

“Do not tell me it was nothing,” Grant says. “It’s a work of art.”

“It’s a toy,” Frank says.

“A beautiful one that you clearly put a great deal of effort into,” Grant says. “Thank you.”

Frank feels his face heat a little bit and murmurs, “You’re welcome.”

“I saw the light from the cellar stairs as I was coming upstairs for bed,” Gerard says. “You were down there awfully late.” He grabs the pot of coffee and pours some into Frank’s cup and proceeds to fix Frank’s coffee for him exactly as he usually takes it, before he even starts on his own.

“Thank you,” Frank murmurs. “Once I started, I didn’t want to stop.”

“It really is beautiful,” Gerard tells him. “Drink your coffee.”

Frank takes a sip and smiles at Gerard. Gerard smiles back and stirs some sugar into his coffee. Frank suddenly, desperately wants to do something for Gerard. Somehow, Grant was easy. Frank can’t really think of anything he could give Gerard that would be comparable. He takes a bite of his eggs and thinks. He supposes he doesn’t have to figure anything out right away.

*

Several days later, Frank is tinkering aimlessly in his workshop when Gerard comes down.

“Did you need anything specific, or are you just here to visit?” Frank asks with a smile.

“I was wondering if you wanted to go out and run some errands with me,” Gerard answers hopefully. “Mikey is occupied with Alicia and Grant is working and I don’t want to go alone. If you’re not busy, of course.”

“I was just about to give today a miss as far as work goes, anyway.” Frank shrugs and wipes his hands off on a rag. “Let me get my coat.”

Gerard beams at him. “I’ll get mine. We’ll meet in the foyer?”

Frank nods and follows Gerard upstairs and then goes to his room. He dons his hat and gloves and wraps his new scarf around his neck. It makes him smile every time he sees it, and he can’t help but stroke his hands over it a few times, revel in the softness of it once again.

He goes downstairs and despite being distracted by the scarf he still has to wait for Gerard for a few moments. Finally Gerard comes down and they set off. Frank is fairly certain they go everywhere. Gerard tricks him (well, asks nicely) into carrying parcels. As they progress from place to place, sometimes they add a new parcel to their load and sometimes Gerard just orders things.

Gerard hesitates for a moment outside of a brightly painted door, shifting his packages and holding the door for Frank. The sign above the door says North Star Press, so Frank knows he must be about to meet the elusive Becky Cloonan. She’s both younger and smaller than he was expecting, even smaller than Frank himself and possessed of a bright crop of red hair. Becky smiles wide when she sees Gerard, flips the latch on the door and takes them straight to the little flat above the shop. Frank is reminded abruptly of his own shop. He hasn't been back to the site since Grant and Gerard packed him up and brought him home with them. He misses it in some ways. Misses having all his things, misses the satisfaction of doing certain tasks for himself.

But he doesn't think he’d want to go back to that small, lonely flat even if he could. Not anymore. Not unless he has to.

Becky's flat seems to have more life to it than his ever did. There's art and books and stacks of letters scattered about. Frank recognizes the hand on several as the same from letters Gerard has shown him from the twins. Frank listens to her and Gerard chatter as she makes them coffee and sits across the table.

"Frank, I haven't seen many of your inventions - just one or two if Grant had them on hand when he stopped by - but they always look beautiful. And I hear they've been useful." Becky grins at him.

Frank smiles back. "Thank you. I enjoy making them."

"Do you know much about printing?" Becky asks.

Frank shrugs. "A bit. Not really my area. I'd really like to see your presses, though." Apparently it was exactly the right thing to say, because Becky beams at him.

Gerard laughs. "Coffee first, and then business, and then a tour, or I'll lose you both and last time I was here the printing press tried to eat me."

"Just your scarf, and just a nibble," Becky replies. "But business first, sure. I had a letter from the twins just the other day."

"Anything new?" Gerard asks.

"They said Port Merchant feels primed for something. More and more people are speaking out in support of Prime Minister Gaiman. When the time comes, he thinks they will be more than willing to assist in keeping the prime minister safe when he returns." Becky is practically bouncing in her seat.

"That is excellent news," Gerard says, beaming. "It felt as if they were heading that way the last time I was there."

"Port Merchant isn't the capital, though, you and I both know that," Becky says after a moment, in a different tone.

"It's something though," Gerard insists. "Something needs to give."

"Something will," Frank adds quietly. "People here are just quieter about it. It's still there, under the surface. I know how it is."

"He's right," Becky adds with a thoughtful look at Frank. "You know that I can't print your broadsides fast enough. They can't all be going for kindling, Gerard. I've been thinking of increasing the print run, but the extra expense -"

"We can bear the expense, Becky," Gerard assures her. "Are you sure you can handle the runs alone? That's the real question."

"It might mean a few sleepless nights, but I'm used to that," Becky says with a shrug.

"I could... the presses are just machines, really. I'm good with machines. I could probably help," Frank offers.

"If it wouldn't be any trouble, I'd appreciate that," Becky says.

"No trouble at all. Being here made me miss working in my shop." He takes a sip of coffee and Gerard squeezes his shoulder.

They drink their coffee in silence for a few minutes, then Gerard pulls out a pocket watch and curses. “Oh, no, we’re so much later than I thought and we still must go to the bookshop.”

Becky shows them back downstairs and hands them their coats by the front door. “I’ll give Frank a tour when he returns, I suppose, now that he’s agreed to apprentice to me,” Becky replies with a twinkling grin.

“I’ve already done my seven years,” he shoots back. “I expect journeyman pay.”

“What’s two times nothing?” she teases.

Gerard laughs too and takes Frank’s elbow to lead him to the next shop. His order at the bookshop is predictably large, and Frank groans when he sees the second stack hidden behind the first. Frank knows the books are probably the combined orders of the whole household, but the extravagance strikes him just as much as the bulk. There aren’t many people walking into this bookshop and spending so much money, Frank can tell. “Gerard, have them deliver that box directly to the house. There’s no way either of us will be able to carry it all the way home,” he says.

“You’re right,” Gerard admits and slides more money across the counter to pay for delivery.

As they’re crossing the threshold to leave the bookshop, Frank’s stomach makes an embarrassingly loud grumble.

“Hungry?” Gerard asks, shooting him an amused look.

Frank rolls his eyes. “Yes.”

“C’mon, I’ll take you to my... you’ll see,” Gerard says. Frank is immediately curious. They turn down a side street and then down an alley and Gerard pushes open a heavy, wooden door and disappears inside. Frank follows.

It’s a small, dimly lit pub. There are a few people sitting at various tables and a couple of them wave and call out to Gerard. He waves back, but ushers Frank to a booth in the very back without stopping to chat with anyone. The place feels bizarrely familiar, even though Frank is certain he’s never been here before.

They get settled and finally Gerard solves the mystery. “This is the Breakwater Arms. Well, mostly. There are a few differences, but...” Gerard trails off and gestures around him.

“So this is where...?” Frank asks, looking around him in wonder.

“Yes. I spent a lot of time here. Got to know everyone and I’d sit here for hours and write and talk to people and do research,” Gerard explains.

“From the first moment this place appeared in your book, I wanted to come here,” Frank says. “It sounded so amazing.”

Gerard grins and waves his hand with a flourish. “Ta-da.”

“It was the community,” Frank confesses a while later, over the top of a tankard of beer. Gerard is dipping a slice of bread into his soup and licking the drips off his fingers. It’s terribly distracting. “S’what I liked most about this place. Er. This fictional place. I suppose I could have been said to be a regular at a place or two down by the yards, but I didn’t - that is -”

“Make any connections?” Gerard’s tone is noncommittal, but there are several things that phrase could mean, if he were interested in knowing... Frank has no way to tell if he’s interested in knowing. Or why he would be.

“No,” Frank replies. “I did not.”

“Pity,” Gerard replies, still noncommittal. “I hadn’t yet met Grant when I wrote that book,” he continues, sounding thoughtful. “Mikey was still serving as a medic then, and I spent every moment I wasn’t writing searching the papers for news from the front. Hard to believe it’s been so long. If I think about it, it feels like yesterday.”

“Because you were searching the papers for news from the front yesterday,” Frank replies quietly.

“True.” They sit in silence for a moment, then Gerard brightens. “I’m glad I could share this place with you,” he says.

“I’m glad you did.”

They don’t manage to get out the door of the pub for nearly half an hour after they finish eating, because Gerard stops to have the conversations he’d waved off when they entered, introducing Frank each time, blushing furiously several times when someone insists on telling Frank stories about his exploits. The last person he meets is the pubmistress herself, who crosses her arms over her chest and raises an eyebrow at Gerard until he finishes talking to someone else and goes to embrace her.

“Hello, Liza,” he says. “I saved the best for last.”

Looking somewhat mollified, she deigns to kiss him on the cheek. “What’d you do with your baronet, Gerard? He still owes me his father’s homebrew recipe. And this isn’t your brother, either, so what pretty little thing have you brought me?”

“Gentle now,” Gerard answers, casting an amused look at Frank, who knows he’s blushing. “Frank, this is Madame Liza, the owner -”

“Proprietress,” she corrects.

“Yes, that. Proprietress, benefactress, enchantress,” he says smoothly, and Liza rolls her eyes, but she’s smiling. Frank takes her outstretched hand and kisses the back, nodding his head respectfully.

“A pleasure to meet you,” he says.

“Pretty face and good manners,” she muses. “So, definitely not related to the young master here.”

“Mikey has impeccable manners,” Frank replies, and Liza laughs.

“Frank’s a family friend,” Gerard jumps in. “And I’ll tell Grant you asked after him, Liza, he’s busy today but I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten his promise.”

She sniffs. “Well, I’m sure he forgets plenty, faced with the likes of you every day.” She’s surely going for sour, but there’s enough of a lascivious lilt to her voice that Frank feels his blush threatening to return. “This one’s precious, Gerard, bring him back any time.”

Definitely blushing.

Gerard and Grant go out again that night, and Frank is hanging his coat in his wardrobe in anticipation of changing into his nightclothes when he’s struck by a sudden, perfect realization. He kneels and rummages in the bottom of the wardrobe where Christopher has stored Frank’s traveling satchel - which he hasn’t used in years, not since the winter the influenza swept the city and he’d been sent to his relatives in the country. The winter he’d lost his parents.

He pulls a small wax-paper-wrapped book from the bottom of the satchel. It hasn’t been touched for even longer than the bag, and the paper crinkles stiffly when he unwinds it from the leather-bound volume. He stares for a moment, but doesn’t open it. He doesn’t need to or want to. Crossing to the desk in the corner, he scrawls a few lines on a scrap piece of paper and tucks it between cover and frontispiece, then grabs a candle and slips out his bedroom door.

Gerard and Grant’s bedroom is just down the hall, and he needn’t have taken the candle; a fire is already banked in the grate in preparation for their return. It reminds him to hurry. He casts a look about the room and heads for the small writing desk in the corner. It’s covered with papers already, and he recognizes Gerard’s hand. He tucks the book in between an inkstand and a pile of envelopes and casts one more agonized look around the room before grabbing the candle and hurrying back to his own before he can lose his nerve.

***

Gerard and Grant collapse exhausted into bed after the party. Gerard curls around Grant and takes the opportunity to finally tell him about taking Frank to the Breakwater, how Frank had lit up when Gerard told him where they were.

“I did tell you he loved your book,” Grant says warmly, kissing the top of Gerard’s head.

“I know. And he’s said it to me himself. But it was nice to see, I suppose,” Gerard explains, ending his sentence on a yawn. They drift off to sleep, Gerard thinking of Frank’s happy grin and the blush staining his cheeks.

The following day is absurdly busy, spent following up on intelligence from various sources and running yet more errands, and then there’s a meeting in the evening. Gerard spends much of the day feeling slightly itchy. The time at Liza’s the day before had inspired him to work on his novel, but he didn’t have time. When they finally retire for the night, Gerard loosens his tie and cuffs but doesn’t make any further move to undress. Instead, he sits at his writing desk and pulls out a new sheet of paper and his pen. He dips his pen in the inkwell and notices an unfamiliar book sitting next to it.

“Hm.” He frowns, lets the pen rest in the inkwell, and picks up the book.

“What is it, dearest?” Grant asks from in front of his dressing table.

“I’m not sure,” Gerard answers and opens the front cover. A piece of paper slides down into his lap and Gerard picks it up and reads I love your book. This is why. Thank you for sharing the Breakwater Arms with me. “Oh,” Gerard breathes, suddenly having some idea of what he’s holding. He opens to the first page. Sure enough, the handwritten date at the top of the page and the text following it indicate what this must be. “Oh,” Gerard repeats, sniffling.

Grant rests his hands on Gerard’s shoulders. Gerard looks up at him. He knows his face is giving away each one of the thousand emotions he’s feeling. “Frank... he left it on my desk,” Gerard murmurs, takes a deep breath and holds up the book to Grant. He can’t seem to make the words come out around the lump in his throat.

Grant flips open the book. “It’s... oh. It’s his diary from his time in the navy, isn’t it?”

Gerard nods and leans his head back against Grant’s belly. Grant runs his fingers through Gerard’s hair and hands the book back to him.

“How do I even... what does one say about such a gift, chaton?” Gerard whispers.

“A simple ‘thank you’ will no doubt suffice, but it is certainly a beautiful thing to receive,” Grant murmurs, continuing to stroke Gerard’s hair.

“I hope he...” Gerard trails off, uncertain of what he’s actually trying to say. “I wish I could...” He shrugs helplessly.

“I understand, dearest,” Grant says, dropping a kiss on his head. “Come to bed, it’s been a long day.”

*

The next morning, Frank comes into the dining room and starts pouring his coffee, shooting nervous little looks in Gerard’s direction. Gerard tries to open his mouth to say something, but he can’t find the words. Finally, Gerard takes a deep breath and requests that Frank follow him to the drawing room. The nervous look on Frank’s face has deepened. Gerard wants to erase that look immediately. He pulls Frank’s diary from the pocket of his coat.

“Frank, I’ve been trying to think of a way to say thank you for this since I discovered it on my desk last night,” Gerard tells him. “I still don’t have one.”

Frank looks relieved, but he shrugs and says, “It’s neither happy nor well-written, Gerard.”

“It could be chicken scratches and I’d still feel the same,” Gerard says insistently, clutching the book to his chest. “This is one of the most beautiful gifts anybody has ever give me.” He can feel his eyes welling up a bit and tries to sniff it back.

Frank just stares at him for a moment and finally clears his throat and says, “You’re welcome.” Frank’s lips twitch into a funny little almost-smile and he reaches out to touch Gerard’s wrist. It’s a fleeting touch and it’s gone too soon and Frank turns back toward the dining room. Gerard follows after a beat, slipping the book back into his pocket.

Breakfast is a quiet affair, everyone seeming lost in their own thoughts. Aside from a few requests for sugar or the platter of eggs, nobody does much talking. When they’re done, Gerard goes immediately to the library and curls up in his favorite chair to start reading.

Except he can’t seem to open the front cover. He feels silly hesitating over it, but he also realizes that this, unlike a novel, unlike an account from someone he doesn’t know, will be more real, more meaningful to him. This is Frank’s story. Even with Mikey, Gerard read about his experience letter by letter, over the course of his time served. It will be intense to read Frank’s journal all at once, imagining Frank going through the things he describes.

He finally takes a deep breath and cracks open the book.

***

Gerard spends the entire day locked in the library poring over Frank’s diary, ordering trays for his meals and then - at least the few times Grant went to check on him - picking desultorily at the food as he continues to read. The last time Grant had poked his head through the door, Gerard had been sitting very still, with his eyes closed and a hand clapped over his mouth. Grant had been dying to go in and sink to his knees by the chair, pull the small volume out of his hand, pull Gerard into his arms - but he had resisted.

This means something to the two of them, and he can wait until he’s invited - if he’s invited - to share in it.

Meanwhile, Grant can see the library from his office, and it has not escaped him that Frank is not-so-subtly haunting the library door himself. He’s been making free with the library since he arrived in Grant’s home - one of the few places he hadn’t needed to be coaxed to put to use - so Grant is quite sure it’s due to the occupant and his reading material. His face is a welter of ill-hidden emotion, and Grant hesitates at first to call attention to himself.

The third time he catches Frank pausing in front of the closed double-doors, he pokes his head out of his office and calls him in. “Frank, if you could spare a moment?”

Frank’s head snaps up and he hurries to Grant’s door. “Of course.” He’s pretending he wasn’t loitering in the hall, and Grant allows him the fiction. For now.

“James dropped these off earlier today. I believe you were out at the apothecary at the time, or I’d have let you and he discuss them directly.” He hands over a set of blueprints.

Frank takes the sheets and rifles through them quickly, eyes scanning the drawings. “These are not part of the blueprints Toro and I have been falsifying. This is - did you look at these?”

Grant nods. “I do not have your expertise in the matter, and I have not been able to contact Ray for his opinion. I imagine you’ll want to confer with him?”

Frank is nodding, but his attention is already back on the paper. “This is something... these... look here.” He points at a section of the drawings, and Grant squints obediently. “As far as I can tell, it’s some sort of articulated movable track. It would render the unit entirely independent from pre-existing railroad lines and eliminate much of the threat of rough terrain. This is a different sort of war machine, Grant. We can’t allow this to go any further, not if we want to see a favorable end to this conflict.”

Grant nods. Frank’s about as serious as Grant’s ever heard him sound. “We can send for Ray, and -”

“No,” Frank interrupts. “No time. These aren’t Woodson’s, he doesn’t have anyone on his payroll who’d be capable of this. Do you know the factory these came from? I need to see if they have started production or not, and if they have, how far along they are. We can’t waste any time at all.”

“I do.” Grant waves the note James had attached to the roll of blueprints. “We can go immediately,” Grant assures him. “It’s late enough in the day that there won’t be many people there. I’m sure we can slip in undetected.”

“I’ll get my coat.” He looks down at himself. “Perhaps I’ll just change my clothes. I don’t know what I’ll need to do to get the information I’ll need. Likely, I’ll just have to poke a bit in an office and look at the assembly lines, but who knows.”

Grant follows Frank upstairs and changes himself, meeting Frank again on the landing. “We should walk, if your leg will permit it.”

“I’m sure I can manage. This is more important than a little discomfort.” Frank buttons his coat and starts down the stairs. Grant follows. Part of him wants to insist Frank take it easy and be careful, say they can take the steam carriage and at least get closer to the factory, but he remains quiet. The latter is a poor idea for any number of reasons and the former, well. Grant can tell Frank is not in the frame of mind where such words from Grant would be welcome.

The walk is quiet, the silence broken only by Frank murmuring about their courses of action depending on what they find at the factory. “If they haven’t started production or are just in the beginning stages, we may be able to hold our peace while I confer with Ray. But if not, we’ll need to act swiftly. There is no way we could overthrow the possessors of this machine.”

When they arrive at the factory, it’s all but deserted. Grant wonders if they’re still on alert after the bombings, still clearing out as soon as they can at the end of the day for fear of another attack from New Brittany. Grant wouldn’t blame them. He’s also heard rumors that Millar is about to institute a curfew. If he does...it’s only a matter of time before the capital becomes the powder keg that Port Merchant already is. But for now, it just means less prying eyes. Frank is dressed in his work clothes, and Grant put on a slightly shabby overcoat to try to stand out less.

They pause outside the gates, Grant scanning the walls for the expected night watchman. A weak yellow light from the box near the main gate suggests he hasn’t yet begun his patrols. “The side door the clerks use,” Grant murmurs to Frank, who nods shortly and slinks in that direction, folding himself into a slice of shadow. Grant steps close behind him, both to shield himself and to mask Frank’s next action, which is to slide a roll of small tools from his pocket and go to work on the lock.

He has the door open within seconds, and cocks an eyebrow at Grant’s amused huff. “Papa designed a range of ‘unpickable’ locks,” he murmurs. “He bought dozens of models to research. And I was a sickly child.”

“I am eternally grateful you’re on our side,” Grant tells him as they move through the hall of tiny offices.

Frank chuckles. They split the corridor in two and begin searching with dark lanterns they’d brought with them from Jill’s stash. Frank finds rolls of blueprints in what appears to be an engineer’s office behind the third door. It’s crazily disorganized to the untutored eye, but Frank is able to locate the items they’re looking for within a few minutes of searching, and more besides.

They’re not all war machines, but Grant can tell most are items with a clear military purpose. He slips off to make a quick survey of the factory floor. When he returns from his own search he whispers, “The factory floor is running steam carriage frames right now. I didn’t see any blueprints that looked anything like your machine.”

Frank nods. “There are additional specs in here. They’re still strength-testing metals with an eye to beginning fabrication in a few months.” He starts stacking blueprints on the desk, an array of items. “Fetch me that dustbin,” he tells Grant, and Grant complies. Frank crumples handfuls of blueprint rolls into the bin and disappears for a moment, returning with a couple of bottles from another room. “I wish I knew who designed these,” he says slowly. “They could be in the same situation I was.”

“If it’s a factory engineer.... It does you credit, that you had the thought. But there is no way to know, Frank. ‘The rules of fair play do not apply in -’”

“‘Love and war,’” Frank finishes. “I know.” He stares at Grant for a moment, expression masking whatever he’s thinking. Then he bends to liberally saturate the contents of the bin with the chemicals in his hands. “This will burn fast and hot, but hopefully contained. We’ll want to be well away as quickly as we are able.”

Grant nods, and goes back out into the corridor to peer out a window. “It’s nearly full dark. The watchman is sure to begin his patrols soon.”

“Go,” Frank tells him. “Meet me at the back of the greengrocer’s on the next block.”

“Frank, I am not leaving you here! If you’re caught -”

“If I’m caught I’m one more out-of-work tradesman, Grant, not Baronet Morrison embarking on a life of crime. I shouldn’t have let you accompany me in here to begin with.” His expression is suddenly stony, hiding nerves and god knows what else; he stares hard at Grant for a moment more until Grant nods.

“Very well.” Grant leaves the building by the same side door; he catches sight of the watchman’s lantern rounding the corner of a storage building across the yard. He can’t make himself walk out of the line of sight of the same door he’d exited, lurking in the shadows of a shop across the street with his eyes locked on the factory. A small figure slips through the door a few minutes later and hurries across the street.

Over in the factory yard, there is a faint yell, and a moment later a curl of smoke tickles Grant’s nose. He reaches out to grab Frank as he dashes by. Frank struggles soundlessly for a moment before recognizing Grant. When he does, though, he merely grabs Grant’s arm and tugs him in the direction of a connecting alleyway. As they get a few blocks farther away, Grant finds himself supporting Frank more and more, until it is Grant pulling Frank into the shelter of a carriage house door and gathering him close to prop him against the wall.

“Your leg?” Grant asks quietly, and Frank nods, face strained under a layer of soot. “That was more than a minute or two. I was quite concerned.”

“Chemicals burned faster than I expected - someone must have - mislabeled a solution. Wanted - to make sure that nothing - got out of hand,” Frank pants.

Grant is sure that he must have been that altruistic, once upon a time.

“You still are,” Frank whispers. He must have said that out loud. “But this had to look targeted. The Brittans would have let it all burn. Now they’ll think a rival company is after their profits and turn their suspicions to their peers.”

Grant just stares. He’s right. “I don’t ever give you enough credit, do I?”

“I can’t answer that question, my lord,” Frank murmurs.

And they’re back to this. Grant leans closer - he can’t help himself. “Frank,” he says, a number of questions sticking in his throat.

“I think I can walk now, Grant,” Frank replies. “Let’s go home.”

***

Frank holds in a sigh of relief when he sits down. His leg is going to be sore for several days. He probably should have let Grant help him home. He’s not certain what he was trying to prove, except perhaps that he could do something like that, even if it was just to himself.

Grant asks Annie to bring them tea and sits down opposite him. “That was quite successful.”

Frank nods. It was. “That should set them back significantly. We’ll need to monitor the factory carefully, though. If there was a copy of those blueprints, we shall be in trouble.”

“I’ll tell Ray and James.”

“Tell Ray and James what?” Gerard asks, coming into the room. Annie enters right behind him with the tea tray. They all settle in with their tea and Grant and Frank tell him about their little mission. They catch hell from Gerard for leaving without letting anyone know they were going, but he’s mostly pleased at what they were able to accomplish. Frank is rather pleased himself. It was certainly worth the sore leg and inhaling a little smoke.

After supper, Frank joins Gerard and Grant in the library, sitting in his usual chair for the first time since he gave Gerard his journal. Somehow, actually being in the room while Gerard was reading was just too much for him, despite his tendency to hover at the door for a few moments every time he happened to walk by. Gerard smiles at him warmly before opening the book. He’s nearly through, just a few pages left.

Frank hasn’t looked at that journal for a long time, but he still remembers what’s on those pages. He remembers finally being sent home; the relief of feeling solid ground under him, the weeks of trying to readjust to life and to the sounds of the city, the feeling of guilt that he was sitting in his childhood home rather than fighting with his unit. He nearly leaves the room. He knows Gerard will understand, be sympathetic, but it still makes him shift uncomfortably all these years later.

He stays, though. He tries to concentrate on his own book and is partially successful, though he’s fully aware when Gerard finishes and closes the journal. Frank braces himself for questions, but Gerard just gets up and chooses another book from a shelf across the room. On his way back to his chair, Gerard stops and squeezes Frank’s shoulder, but he doesn’t say anything, doesn’t do anything more, just goes to sit back down. After several moments, Frank releases a breath he didn’t know he was holding and his whole body relaxes. He’ll gladly answer questions, if Gerard has them - some other time. He reads until his eyes start drooping and bids them goodnight.

At breakfast, Gerard surprises everyone by breaking his usual habit of keeping silent until he’s had at least one cup of coffee asking, “Frank, this war machine you and Grant destroyed the specs for... it’s... they’ll be able to recreate those plans soon enough, won’t they?”

Frank can feel the eyes of Grant and Mikey trained on him, but Frank keeps his gaze fixed on Gerard. “Yes,” Frank answers. “If the engineer is worth anything, he’ll remember much of the plans.”

“This is it, then,” Gerard murmurs, looking directly into Frank’s eyes. “We finish this soon, or we give up.”

Frank shakes his head. “I am not in the habit of giving up once I set my mind to something. We finish this soon, or we adapt to a world where the odds are even more against us.”

“Right,” Gerard says. He nods, takes a deep breath, and drinks his coffee. Frank drinks his own coffee and starts on his eggs. He’s warm for an additional giddy moment because of Gerard’s respectful tone, but soon he’s caught up in thinking of how he could make getting the information from his listening devices faster and more efficient.

***

Gerard and Mikey are walking out the door just as the postman is coming up their walk to deliver the post for the day. Gerard takes the letters from him and flips through as they walk around back to the carriage house.

“Oh, there’s a letter from the twins!” Gerard stops and opens the envelope.

“In the carriage, Gerard,” Mikey says, poking him in the arm. “It’s going to rain soon.”

Gerard sighs, shuffles everything in his arms so he can get in and reads aloud as Mikey drives.

Our dear friends,

We miss you very much. Port Merchant is rather dreary lately and your presence would bring great cheer should you choose to visit. We understand that your projects in the city are keeping you very busy.

“We really should go see them soon,” Mikey says, turning off their street and onto the high street.

“We should. Frank hasn’t met them yet, either. That’s very strange to me. Don’t you think it’s strange? It feels like he’s been with us much longer,” Gerard says, looking over at Mikey.

Mikey glances at him, his mouth quirking. “I suppose so. And it’s been a while since any of us but you have seen the twins. Much longer than we usually go without seeing them. Go on.”

Business has been good since our last missive, and promises to pick up even more in the coming weeks.” Gerard pauses. “So things are picking up down there.”

He continues reading, “Though you shouldn’t let that keep you from visiting should you choose to. We’re sure you’ll find the atmosphere of the busy streets to be both interesting and enjoyable. We’ve been receiving many notes from our friends further up the coast.

Gerard snorts. “That’s one way of saying it.”

They’re also quite interested in making a visit as soon as possible. While it would be delightful if all these visits could be coordinated, we fear our coastal friends aren’t quite prepared for an actual trip. We think it could happen sooner than previously expected, though. At least, that is what the winds of Port Merchant seem to be telling us.

“It sounds as if the winds are blowing in our favor, as it were,” Gerard murmurs.

“It does,” Mikey agrees. “I think they’re a little overly optimistic, but if things have picked up that much in Port Merchant, that will spread here fairly soon.”

Again, we look forward to your next visit and, as always, eagerly anticipate your letters. Your friends,
Gabriel and Fabio

“Interesting,” Mikey says.

“Mmm,” Gerard responds, reading through the letter again to himself. “We’ll talk to Grant about scheduling a visit when we get home. Within the week, if possible.” The entire letter had been lightly coded, as if the twins expected someone to be reading the mail. “I think they’re asking for our help with arrangements.”

Mikey nods and stops the carriage in front of North Star. Lately Gerard’s been sending his manuscripts with Frank, but Becky is out today and Frank isn’t here. Gerard pushes the final drafts of the latest broadsheet through the mail slot on the door instead and gets back in the carriage.

“Stop at the bookshop on Squire Street,” Gerard instructs. “I want to check on a title I’ve been trying to find for Frank.”

Mikey cuts him a look, but does as Gerard instructs.

“You’ve been giving him a great many gifts of late,” Mikey says casually as he opens the door to the shop, gesturing for Gerard to precede him inside. “You and Grant.”

“Would you deny that he deserves gifts, Mikey?” Gerard hedges.

He can feel Mikey roll his eyes behind him.

“Of course I wouldn’t,” Mikey says exasperatedly. “But after watching you and Grant at that dinner party... well, what exactly is your intention?”

Gerard walks to the desk and inquires after the book with the clerk. He sighs when he’s informed they don’t have what he’s looking for and wanders down a narrow aisle, glancing at the books around him but not really seeing them, Mikey close on his heels.

“If you must know, we are attempting to woo him,” Gerard says after a few moments. It feels silly when he says that word to anyone other than Grant.

“Gerard,” Mikey starts, but Gerard interrupts him.

“Mikey, believe me when I say that should we hurt him somehow, we’ll make ourselves more miserable than any thing or any person ever could.” Gerard finally turns and looks Mikey in the eye.

Mikey reaches out and squeezes his arm, “I don’t believe I mentioned anything about either of you hurting him, though I am very glad to hear you are taking care. We’ve made him part of our family. If this attempt of yours doesn’t work, it will not just affect the two of you. It will affect me, it will affect him, the servants, it will even affect our business concerns. And how do you think he’d feel left with nowhere else to go in the dead of winter?”

Gerard gapes, horrified. “Mikey, we’d never make him leave.”

“Of course not, but perhaps he’d want to. There is no way for you to know. Be careful.” Mikey stares into his eyes until Gerard has to look away.

He doesn’t have anything he can say to reassure Mikey, so he takes a deep breath and nods, meeting Mikey’s gaze again. “I’m through here. Are you? Let’s go home.”

***

The train station is teeming with people. Many more than Grant was expecting. Most of them appear to be bound for Port Merchant like themselves, which is not in and of itself unusual, but the sheer volume certainly is. Grant wonders at this, wonders if there’s a connection between the atmosphere of the city reported by the twins and the amount of people traveling there. He supposes they’ll find out. When Gerard had brought the letter from the twins home and asked if they could make a trip, Grant had hesitated a bit before agreeing. He knows his movements are being watched, and he’s not entirely sure he agrees the letter was a coded request, but he trusts Gerard. After all, Gerard has been in Port Merchant fairly frequently and it’s been many months since Grant has joined him, even with the pretexts of a social visit or of business interests.

As they make their way through the station to the train, Grant keeps a concerned eye on Frank. He’s so small, it’d be difficult to find him again amongst the throng if they were inadvertently separated. Grant knows Frank wouldn’t appreciate the extra concern and Grant is further certain that Frank would not be helpless were he to get lost in the crowds. But Grant can’t seem to help himself. It’s all he can do to resist putting a guiding hand on Frank’s back or grabbing his elbow.

Grant breathes easier once they’re on the train and settled in their compartment. Gerard curls up against his side and Grant wraps an arm around his shoulders and looks across at Frank. He’s surreptitiously looking around with a certain amount of awe in his face. Grant supposes he’s never been in one of the private compartments before. Grant suddenly flashes back to the first time he was in a similar situation, way back when his father moved them into the city. It had been quite the experience at the time, good mixed in equal measure with bad. Grant hopes the trip to Port Merchant is more enjoyable for Frank than Grant’s own move to the city was in those first days and weeks.

They stay quiet as the train gets underway, picking up speed out of the station. Frank’s face turns outward at the city as they pass by. The further they get from familiar areas, the more intensely curious he looks.

“It’s nothing at all like I remember when I came home from the navy,” Frank murmurs, turning to look at them. “Granted, it always takes me by surprise how many years have gone by since that train ride.”

“It would be less changed, were it not for Millar’s war machine eating up the countryside in order to make more bombs and bullets,” Grant says tiredly.

“I couldn’t see this well on the navy train, either,” Frank says, fingertips touching the glass briefly. “I was packed in with several other sailors on their way home. I didn’t get a window seat.”

“Speaking of your time in the navy,” Gerard says. “Would you mind answering a question or two?”

Frank shakes his head no.

“You seemed to write mostly when things were going... badly. What was it like on a more day-to-day basis?” Gerard asks. Gerard is writing a sailor character into his latest project, a sailor very much like Frank. Grant isn’t entirely certain that Gerard has realized just how much he has based the character on Frank.

“It was... repetitive,” Frank starts. As he talks, Grant muses about the fact that he could learn more about Frank from Gerard’s character in his novel than from what Frank has told Grant himself. It makes Grant feel strange and not altogether comfortable. He holds in a sigh and tightens his arm around Gerard.

*

Gabriel picks them up from the station in a slightly rickety but serviceable steam carriage. It's small, so they and their luggage are crammed tight. Gabriel fills them in on the political climate as they drive across town from the station to the inn. It seems Gerard was correct to insist on a visit. If things back home are getting tense, Port Merchant is winding up like a spring.

"But enough about that. Introduce me to our new friend," Gabriel says.

"Shouldn't we wait for Fabio?" Grant says mildly. He doesn’t know where the hesitation came from, but Gerard clearly doesn't share it.

"Gabriel, my friend, this is Frank Iero," he says happily.

"Whose fame has preceded him - in Gerard's letters at least," Gabriel says, reaching into the back seat to clasp Frank's hand.

Frank squeezes back and grins. "I have heard much about you as well."

"Tall tales, all. Don't listen to a word any of them say. They're all scoundrels."

"Takes one to know one," Gerard says gaily.

Gabriel laughs. "True enough, true enough. And how was your journey? Miserable, I hope."

"I was roused from my bed before the sun," Gerard laments. "It was tragic."

"I was up and serving coffee and tea. You'll get no sympathy from me," Gabriel replies. Grant watches Frank's face. He looks incredibly amused.

"This may continue indefinitely," Mikey confides drily to Frank.

"Oh," Frank says back, "I hope it does." Gerard shoots Frank a smile and continues bickering with Gabriel until they pull up in front of the inn. Frank grins the whole time.

A teenage boy scurries out and starts unloading their luggage. Gabriel instructs him where to take it and they all follow him into the pub on the main floor of the inn.

"Finally arrived, have you?" Fabio says, eyes twinkling merrily from his spot behind the bar.

"Gerard got lost in the train station," Gabriel says, which is an outright lie but typical teasing from the twins.

"Of course he did," Fabio says with a heavy sigh and shakes his head. "He's never been all that bright. But look at this, some fresh blood in the ranks!"

Grant looks at Frank, who still looks about as amused as Grant has ever seen him.

"The other twin, I imagine," Frank says, holding out his hand.

"That's me! And you must be Frank, resident inventor. You'll have to tell me about your work later," Fabio says with genuine interest.

"I don't know if I should share any of my secrets with such a suspicious character as yourself," Frank replies.

"A wise man. Well. I suppose it is my job to get you all fed."

"Sometime this century, Fabio," Mikey says.

"Dangerous thing to say, Mikey Way. What if I made you wait ‘til the end?"

"You wouldn't," Mikey says.

"I wouldn't," Fabio replies with a put-upon sigh. "I'm far too kind and generous."

"Indeed, brother, indeed," Gabriel says and shoos them over to a table. "We'll get young Paul behind the bar and join you shortly."

Grant hangs back, but a hand slips into his. "The company is terrible, but they keep us well fed," Gerard says merrily.

Grant leans in. "Not all the company is terrible." Gerard squeezes his hand tight and his smile softens into the one he uses just for Grant. And sometimes Frank now, when Frank isn't looking.

"Not terrible at all," Gerard says. They sit down at the table and Gerard pulls his chair closer to Grant’s. Grant slips an arm over his shoulders.

"So those are the famous twins," Frank says with a chuckle.

"Yes," Mikey replies. "They are a force."

"They are wonderful," Gerard adds. "Port Merchant is entirely too far away for my liking. I wish we could see them always."

"They are quite entertaining," Frank says and grins slyly. "If nothing else, they keep your ego in check."

Gerard crosses his arms over his chest and huffs. "I see how it is."

Frank reaches over and squeezes Gerard's arm; Grant feels a flash of jealousy, but covers it by caressing Gerard's shoulder. Then Gabriel asks Frank a question and he looks away, distracted. Fabio sets the food in front of them along with pints for all. Frank's eyes light up at the spread. Grant realizes that this fare is far more like what Frank would have been accustomed to before he came to them. He wonders if Frank misses it.

"We have a situation on our hands," Gabriel says seriously once they've all been served. "Customs agents have at least doubled in number in the last months."

"That is... of great concern," Grant says.

"Though perhaps a good sign in the grand scheme of things," Fabio adds. "Things are coming to a head."

"Fabio wants to go talk to a friend at the docks this afternoon," Gabriel says. "And I'd like to take Gerard and Mikey to the university to talk to some supporters."

"If Grant and Frank would like to come with me, we can see what we can find out," Fabio says.

"I am certainly interested," Grant tells him. "Frank?"

"Yes, of course."

"Glad to hear it. Grant, you have less... flamboyant clothing, I trust," Fabio teases.

Grant rolls his eyes. "Of course."

Fabio eyes Frank next. "I don't suppose we can make you any less pretty, so just don't get kidnapped."

Frank snorts, though he's dull red in the cheeks. "I know my way around the docks," he insists.

"Navy?" Gabriel asks.

"Years ago. Had my leg blown up," Frank says. "But I remember the docks well. Unless they've changed much in the years since I've been here."

"Not a bit," Fabio answers. "One of the few places in this city that remains unchanged."

Grant is still stuck on Fabio's flirting, and Frank's blush. He's lovely when he blushes. Grant has thought so since the first time he saw it. But this makes his stomach clench uncomfortably. He's never thought of himself as particularly jealous, but he can't seem to stop it with Frank.

They finish eating, keeping to lighter subjects, then ascend to their rooms to change. Grant gets his shirt off and reaches for his more sedate shirt when arms wrap around him from behind. Gerard rubs his cheek between Grant's shoulder blades.

"Hello, dearest," Grant murmurs.

"My love. Enjoying yourself?"

"I always do when we visit the twins," Grant replies and turns in Gerard's arms. Gerard smiles up at him.

"Good. Now kiss me before we have to go back out." Grant bends down to kiss him. It takes quite some time. "Enough," Gerard gasps finally. "Or I won't be fit to go out in public."

Grant chuckles, gives Gerard's bottom lip one last nip and pulls back and finishes dressing. He pulls a hat on over his head to complete the look.

"Now there’s a figure I wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley," Gerard says approvingly.

"Yes, you would," Grant says silkily.

"Yes, I would," Gerard admits. Gerard himself doesn't look too different from a normal day. He's got on a shirt he wears to write that's ink-stained around the cuffs and an old jacket that's more than a little frayed. Gerard has trouble giving jackets up, no matter how far past their prime.

"You are delicious. Please be careful, love."

"You too." Gerard leans in for one more kiss, so of course they’re the last ones down. Fabio and Gabriel take the piss as they always do. Gerard laughs and Grant smirks like always.

They head out, Frank and Fabio chatting together as they walk. Grant stays half a step behind, just listening. Frank's limp has somehow transformed into a bit of a swagger. Fabio explains how they've got several influential captains on their side, but with the customs agents prowling all over port, they're having difficulties getting any of them to agree to transport Minister Gaiman.

"And it would be close to impossible to time a distraction properly," Frank says. "The trick is to get an agent on our side."

"Bribery, blackmail?" Grant asks doubtfully. He doesn’t want to risk Neil’s safety to money alone.

"Or a secret sympathizer, of course," Fabio says. He sounds doubtful. Grant isn't sure why. From the letters, he expected quite a bit more overt anti-government sentiment in Port Merchant. "Several of us have been frequenting pubs in and around the area, listening to the agents, being friendly with them. None have felt like positive leads to any of us. We have someone in every other government department in the city, but we're having a hard time cracking the customs agents. I fear this is by design," Fabio explains. Grant nods, understanding finally. They’ve found the same with certain factions in the capital, as well.

"Where are we going today?" Frank asks.

"We've finally found a contact who knew a few of them back at school. We're meeting him for an update," Fabio says.

"I see," Frank says. "Trustworthy?"

"We have had contact with him for several years now. Every bit of information he has provided has been completely true, so we're given to believe that he's one we can trust. Proper precautions will still be taken, of course."

"Like taking the Baronet to chat with him?" Frank asks disapprovingly.

"Exactly like that," Grant interrupts. Frank still has a small frown on his face as he looks over his shoulder at Grant. "For one, I have made certain that my face is only known to a few people in this town."

"It's not his face we need," Fabio jokes, "It's that silver tongue of his."

"His silver tongue could get him in trouble somewhere like the docks. Too posh," Frank says.

That stings. Grant lets his accent thicken when he starts talking again, and he’s sure it surprises Frank. "I've not always been a rich bugger, Frankie."

"I. Of course, Grant." He looks so contrite, Grant reaches forward to pat his shoulder. Fabio turns down a street with a view of the port and changes the subject completely to lighter topics. It's hard work to concentrate on keeping his accent rough, but as always the longer Grant does it, the more it comes back to him. He catches Frank's eyes on him once or twice.

The pub they go into is nondescript. The person Grant is assuming is their contact is sitting in a corner where he can see the door, and waves them over like they're all old friends. This is confirmed when Fabio walks over. There's a round of hearty handshakes before they all sit down and pints are placed in front of them.

"Chris! So good to see you again. It's been too long."

"Been an age," the man called Chris agrees. "I think that means you're buying." He has a twinkle to his eye; Grant has a good feeling about him.

"I was just telling Grant and Frank how you fleeced me at cards last week."

"A sad tale it was," Grant adds, reaching across to shake Chris's hand. "Cheers."

"Not sad for you, though," Frank says with a grin. "Well done. Someone has to win over this scoundrel sometimes."

Chris grins back. "Too true."

They settle into conversation about their jobs. Frank doesn't make up any details at all, just describes what Grant is sure was a typical day for him in his shop. Grant has to do a little more fabricating, but he's sure he comes off all right. They talk until they're sure absolutely no one is listening anymore - and Grant is monitoring the ale consumption at the tables nearest theirs - and then Fabio asks quietly, "Have you thought more about my proposal?"

Chris keeps his expression the same as it was when they were having friendly conversation and starts speaking, "Yes. I believe I can help. The chaps I know on the customs detail are generally a good sort, and in the past they've mentioned dissatisfaction with how they're required to conduct themselves at times."

"Why?" Frank asks simply.

"Because they think it's not fair. They're not really politically minded, all told, but they don't like being forced to stop people from doing their business just because a few government knobheads don't like it."

"It's not just business," Grant says. "Your mates realize?"

"They're starting to. I've been telling them about some of the deeper things. About how the government's attitude extends to everything, not just customs. Last time we met, they both told me stories about things they'd seen recently that didn't sit right." Chris leans closer. "Between you and me, mates, customs doesn't take on the brightest stars in the sky. I think I've finally made them understand."

"Understanding isn't the same as trustworthy." Grant makes his tone firm.

"They're good chaps," Chris insists. "Even if they won’t agree to help, they would not sell me out."

"Even if their families were threatened?" Grant asks. Chris doesn't ask if that's likely, which moves him up several notches in Grant's estimation. "What's the timetable for the... shipment?" he asks.

"Two weeks at best, a month at worst," Chris answers. "In theory. If I can't get these blokes to help, we'll need a new plan. Perhaps smuggling him across from Ivernia instead of into Port Merchant."

Bringing Neil to the capital from the North appeals to Grant's sensibilities; a son of the North for life, it seems. But it would add months to their plan; not something Grant is willing to consider at this point.

"Only as a last resort," Grant says. "I'm not willing to bribe them. Bribed men are just as willing to sell out those bribing them for a greater sum. We could, perhaps, guarantee the safety of their families, though. Take them away for a 'holiday' away from any cities."

"Apprenticeships, perhaps," Frank suggests quietly, and Grant shoots him a smile.

Chris nods. "Understood. I've arranged to meet them tomorrow. It can be pints between friends, or I can take my previous discussions further. Just give me the word."

Grant exchanges glances with Fabio. It all very much depends on the news Gabriel and Gerard and Mikey bring back from the university.

"We will send you word tomorrow," Fabio promises. They order another round of pints and the conversation turns. Fabio tells stories of drunken patrons and Frank laughs at them in a way that Grant has rarely seen him laugh, completely free and without censoring himself. Grant has never made Frank laugh like that himself.

They split off from Chris and start walking home. Grant is quiet, listening to Fabio and Frank ribbing each other like the twins do to Gerard. He feels very old all of a sudden.

Gerard, Mikey, and Gabriel aren't back yet when they get to the pub, so Grant goes to their room and changes, taking a moment to sit down. It doesn't help his mood and he doesn't particularly want Gerard to find him like this, so he goes back downstairs to wait. Unfortunately, that means he has nothing to do but sit in the pub with his notebook, pretending to write while Fabio mixes drink concoctions for Frank that make Frank giggle. He's incredibly relieved when the other three pile inside. They're laughing too, but hopefully they'll be enough distraction. When they're close, he says, "Shall we all share what we discovered today?"

"At least let us take our coats off," Gerard teases, leaning in for a kiss. Grant turns his face away at the last moment so Gerard gets his cheek. When he pulls away, he's got a frown line between his eyebrows. They all disappear and return after several minutes, Gerard looks as if he got halfway through changing and forgot what he was doing. He's back in his usual trousers, but still wearing the ink-stained shirt. They all gather round the table where Grant is sitting. Grant looks at Gabriel, Fabio, and Mikey.

"How did you find the students?" Grant asks.

"Quite welcoming," Gerard drawls, with a tilt of his head.

"Welcoming enough to help us put Minister Gaiman back in power?" Grant asks, ignoring Gerard's veiled rebuke.

"Tomorrow, if we asked it of them," Mikey answers.

"Excellent. Chris is confident that he can convince his customs agent friends of the cause. He seems to have good judgment, so I feel confident telling him to proceed."

"Dare I ask about readiness in the capital?" Gabriel asks.

"We're nearly there," Frank says. "We really are. If rumors start circulating of the minister's return to the country, I think we could get there very quickly. The people are tired."

"I think I know a good way to start a few rumors," Gerard says, and he and Frank laugh at each other for a moment.

Grant is struck that this could truly all be over within a matter of weeks. Well, the first stages. Rebuilding the country to no longer be a war machine will take some doing, but they've been working so long, it hardly seems possible. Grant takes the last sip of his ale, and Gabriel pushes him a refill without comment. If nothing else... he longs to see Neil again.

"So this is it," he says quietly. Gerard squeezes his knee gently under the table.

"I'll drink to that," Frank says. He and Fabio clink glasses, then the rest of them start. Conversation quickly shifts back to inconsequential things, their party spreading across the bar, but Grant just sits back and keeps drinking. Grant watches Frank from across the room. He can tell Gerard is watching him and is unsurprised when Gerard sidles up to him and whispers in his ear. "Chaton, is something wrong?"

Grant runs a finger around the rim of his glass. "Nothing whatsoever," he says.

"Grant, I've known you for the better part of a decade. Do you think I don't know when you're..." he trails off. "Fine."

"Fine," Grant echoes. He doesn't get another hand on his thigh or a surreptitious kiss this time. Which he deserves. Because Gerard is right, nine years doesn't make for a lot of mystery behavior. Gerard goes over to where Frank is sitting at the bar, listening rapt as the twins weave a story between them. He gets a beaming smile from Frank that makes Grant's stomach twist.

Grant wants to fix his country. He wants his banished friend back. He wants Gerard to be able to see his best friends more than once every few months. He wants to throw Mikey and Alicia the wedding they deserve, without threat of arrest or worse hanging over their heads. But mostly he wants to walk over there, kiss Frank breathless, and have him beam like that at Grant when he’s done.

When they decided to woo him, Grant had been nearly certain that Frank would be receptive. Now, he's feeling that the opposite is more likely... at least for him. The same doesn't seem to hold for Gerard, which makes it all the more distressing. It took little to no convincing to tell himself that the two of them deserved each other; it was impossible for Grant to convince himself that he'd be able to give either of them up. He knows Gerard wouldn't leave him, but the thought of Gerard wishing for Frank when he could have him is unsettling.

Unsettled is, perhaps, the best word to describe the mood he's in. When a fresh pint appears at his elbow, he starts drinking it. Grant realizes with a bit of a start that he's well on his way to drunk. It's been a long time since he's had the luxury or the inclination. This is, of course, precisely when Frank approaches him with a tiny, hesitant smile. “All right, then?”

Grant sighs and nods to thank Frank for his concern. "I'm just being maudlin."

"Perhaps you should - not be," Frank says, gently enough that Grant can't tell if he's teasing or rebuking him.

Grant holds back what would be a slightly bitter laugh. "Sometimes that is easier said than done."

"I know that well," Frank replies.

"Tell me something," Grant says.

"Such as?" Frank asks.

"Anything," Grant replies. "Just talk to me for a while."

Frank is quiet for a few moments before he starts talking. "There was always music in our house growing up. My father played several instruments and his life’s work was making recordings, making them better and more natural. There was always music. And then everyone was gone; playing music and listening to the phonograph was... difficult. I did it, to continue my father's work. But I lost the pleasure of it. Until you took me in." His eyes twinkle a bit. "Now, that, dear sir, was maudlin."

"But true," Grant replies softly, more affected than he would perhaps prefer to admit.

"But true," Frank agrees. "Which is why I'm absurdly thankful for you." He shoots Grant a wry, yet hesitant look, like he's sure he's said too much.

Grant smiles back. He nearly reaches out and squeezes Frank's shoulder as he is wont to do, but stops himself. Instead he says, "You have been the perfect addition to our little family."

"As you say," Frank says politely.

Grant doesn't want polite from Frank. "I hope you do feel like you're part of our family, Frank."

"Of course he does," Gerard says, leaning nonchalantly on the table between them. "Are you quite finished sulking now that Frank's talking to you, chaton?" Frank looks up at Gerard quizzically, and Grant tries not to grimace. Gerard holds Grant's gaze, challenging him.

"I am rather enjoying speaking with Frank, yes."

"I'm delighted to hear it," Gerard says, though the set of his mouth tells Grant he’s not quite finished being annoyed about it. Grant just raises an eyebrow at Gerard. There's nothing else he could say with Frank right there.

Gerard's mouth twists and he looks at Frank. "Don't let him keep you captive all night."

"I shall send him back to you before too long," Frank says with one of his little smiles. "I'm for bed soon."

"We've all had rather busy days," Grant says as Gerard pats Frank's shoulder and goes back to the twins and Mikey.

"It's all been very exciting - and enjoyable," Frank says to Grant. "Thank you for bringing me."

"You like it here," Grant says. "You were quite in your element today."

"I like to be useful," Frank says. "And the twins quite remind me of... some old friends."

"Spending time with them always brings us quite a bit of joy," Grant says, then adds, "Tomorrow we have a few more errands to run. If feeling useful is what you want."

Frank hesitates just half a moment too long. "Yes, that is precisely what I want."

"Frank..." Grant drains the remaining beer from his mug. "What do you want?"

"Many things," he replies. "None but success in our cause are particularly vital to my continued existence."

"I see," Grant says. "Well, rest assured very little is closer to my own heart than that."

"I know," Frank says. He sounds completely confident and sure as he looks at Grant. Frank tilts his head and studies Grant for a moment. "What did Gerard mean just now? When he first came over here?"

Grant’s surprised Frank actually asked; it's only the alcohol that lets him answer such a direct question. "It hasn't escaped my notice that you're friendlier with the rest of our party than -" He stops. He can't actually finish the sentence.

Frank stares. "Than?"

"You're rather good friends with Mikey and Gerard, you get along famously with the twins despite just meeting them. Yet..." he trails off again. "And yet, you don't share yourself with me like you do the others." Grant's just sober enough to know this is a bad idea, but just drunk enough to not care.

Frank replies, "I just did! I'm probably the least interesting person you know."

"That is not true, Frank. Not true at all. I value every single thought or opinion you offer and treasure every personal detail about yourself that you choose to share." And it comes out almost ridiculously earnest, and he's somehow covered Frank’s hand with his on the tabletop, and he's suddenly terribly embarrassed and pulls away.

Frank moves closer on the bench they’re sitting on and his own hand touches Grant's. "I'm sorry. I didn't... I'm Frank Iero from a bad part of town, and I work by myself in a machine shop. The only things I know are the things I've taught myself. You're Baronet Morrison. I let... I've behaved badly." And he's holding Grant's wrist tight. And Grant can feel the callouses on his fingers and he's looking Grant straight in the eyes.

"Frank," Grant murmurs, turning his hand over to squeeze Frank's. He wants to do more than that, very much so. "Never think yourself unworthy of anyone in the world. Never mind me."

Frank stares at their hands for a moment and then looks up at Grant, a small smile on his face. "Thank you," he says and tightens his fingers around Grant's before gently pulling away. "I did intend to go up to bed, but I'm glad we... I'm glad we talked."

"As am I," Grant replies. "Sleep well, Frank."

Frank smiles again and leaves. Grant watches him until he disappears up the stairs. He finishes the last of his ale and looks around the room. Things have quieted down. The twins are cleaning up for the night and Gerard is nowhere to be seen. Grant gets up and sways unsteadily for a moment before making his way toward the stairs. He waves at the twins. "Goodnight, friends. Many thanks for the excellent food and ale."

Gabriel laughs. "Somehow I'm not certain you'll be thanking us in the morning. Goodnight, Grant."

He attempts to be quiet opening the door to their room in case Gerard is asleep, but he needn't have worried. Gerard is standing, scribbling something on a sheet of paper at the desk, still dressed.

"Dearest," Grant murmurs and wraps his arms around Gerard's waist, kissing his neck. "I am ever so sorry for my earlier behavior."

Gerard turns in his arms and says, "Chaton, you are impossible."

"As well as jealous, proud, and unworthy of your tolerance. I am very lucky that you love me anyway," Grant tells him.

"Of course I do," Gerard whispers in his ear, snaking his arms around Grant's neck. "How did... that is, I am assuming you and Frank sorted things out as well."

"No... not exactly," Grant says, kissing the base of Gerard's throat, nipping at his chin. "He thinks so, perhaps. But it's not..."

"Not everything you want?" Gerard asks breathlessly and turns his head to give Grant better access.

"We want," Grant murmurs and sucks just below Gerard's ear. He waits until Gerard makes a breathy moan before pulling back again. "I wanted to... so much, I wanted to be able to bring him up here with me to try to show him exactly how highly we regard him." At least he’d known Gerard would be here waiting for him, or close behind. That had made it a little easier to bear.

"I think you've had a few too many pints to do anything more than try," Gerard says. It's not entirely true. Grant has Gerard trembling under his hands already. "Soon, chaton. I don't think he's ready yet," Gerard murmurs in his ear before kissing his way up Grant's jaw to his lips.

"How can you be so sweet to me, dearest one?"

"Because I love you. Had it been me in your position, I'm sure I'd have been just as surly. That doesn't mean I'm not going to make you make it up to me."

"Command me, dearest." Grant's feeling pleasantly stirred now. Frank's earnest eyes and warm grip had gone a long way to reassure him, and Gerard's mouth now is tempting as always.

"Hmm," Gerard murmurs teasingly, running his hands over Grant's shoulders. "Suck me."

Grant smiles into Gerard's neck. "With pleasure." He takes his time about it, undressing Gerard slowly until he's completely bare, guiding him back onto the mattress to lean against the pillows. Pulling off his own clothing almost as an afterthought. "So beautiful," Grant murmurs against Gerard's stomach, trailing kisses up his chest. "I don't tell you often enough."

Gerard laughs. "You tell me all the time."

Gerard is nestled in the pillows, looking languid and at ease, and Grant kisses his way down his stomach. "Not often enough," he repeats. He kisses down Gerard's thigh, over to the other leg, and back up to his hip. "More beautiful every day," he murmurs. "Do you remember the first time I did this?"

"Like it was yesterday," Gerard says. He reaches for Grant's hand where it rests on his stomach and laces their fingers together. "You made me feel completely overwhelmed. You still do."

"You were quite impertinent to me that night as well, if I recall," Grant teases, flicking his tongue at the base of Gerard's cock. "Yet the only thing I could think about was my lips on your skin."

"I was so surprised when you approached me. I was sure my impertinence had ruined any chance I had," Gerard says and squeezes Grant's fingers.

"And now you're quite aware of how smitten I am. Does it feel the same?"

Gerard breathes out hard and Grant raises his head to look at his face. "Some days, it feels just like the first time, and I'm excited and nervous and and you're you: fascinating and surprising all over again. But most days... it's so much better, knowing you love me."

Grant doesn't say anything to that, just kisses Gerard's stomach and squeezes his hand before taking Gerard's cock in his mouth. Gerard arches up and releases a loud moan that he chokes off halfway through with his fist. Grant just moves to accommodate him and keeps sucking. He's mindful of their surroundings, but vaguely disappointed Gerard feels obliged to hush his moans. Gerard's wanton noises are some of his favorite sounds in a world of delightful noises. He strokes down Gerard's stomach with the hand not tangled with Gerard's and takes his balls in hand. He rolls them gently in his palm and pulls off Gerard's cock to suck on them for a moment, kissing at Gerard's inner thighs when he squirms. He dips his fingers back to stroke at the smooth skin behind them and licks back up Gerard's shaft with a broad stroke.

"Grant," Gerard gasps out quietly. "Please."

"Please?"

"More. Your mouth. Please."

He takes Gerard back in until his mouth is full, slick with saliva. Gerard's cock tastes tangy and feels like hot silk. Grant will never get enough. He keeps massaging Gerard's balls, listening for his gasps. Gerard squeezes his fingers tight when Grant runs his tongue over the slit of Gerard’s cock, letting out a shuddery moan. Grant's fingers go back again, massaging his entrance.

“I want to taste you everywhere,” he murmurs. “I think I shall.” He moves down, pushes Gerard’s thighs up to lick over Gerard’s entrance, teasing around the edge, lightly pressing in with just the tip of his tongue. Gerard’s fingers find his temples, nape, ears and jaw, running over his skin, cupping the back of his head. “Yes, I know you love that, you wanton creature,” Grant says into the skin of Gerard’s thigh, wrapping a hand around Gerard’s shaft and stroking hard as he continues his exploration. He continues to lick, stroke and press, tiny relentless thrusts of his tongue as he strokes hard with his hand. Gerard’s hips are moving back and forth like he can’t decide which way to press, and Grant keeps his other hand tight on Gerard’s thigh, whispering dirty things into his skin as Gerard throws an arm over his face and swears softly.

Gerard comes with a choked-back moan and a hot rush over Grant’s fingers, and Grant slides back up the sheets, kissing his way back to Gerard’s lips. “Beautiful, love, so beautiful.” He wipes his hand on a corner of the sheet and cups Gerard’s cheek.

Gerard worms a hand in between them, reaching down and making a disappointed little noise to find Grant’s cock no more than half-hard. “Next time I shall have Fabio refuse to serve me so much ale,” Grant says ruefully around a yawn. “It’s fine, dear one.”

“Tomorrow you are mine,” Gerard says, also stifling a yawn.

“Tomorrow and tomorrow,” Grant agrees, tugging the covers over them both and wrapping Gerard tightly in his arms.

Gerard laughs quietly in his ear. “I hope you don’t feel too miserable in the morning.”

"I have you, I could never be miserable," Grant says.

"I'll remind you you said that when your head is pounding and you're nauseous."

"I'm sure I shall deserve it,” Grant answers, and that’s the last thing he remembers saying.

*

Grant does rather feel the effects of his overindulgence in the morning, and reflects woozily that he’s quite fortunate to be staying under the roof of a barkeep. Fabio studies him for a moment, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, and mixes something in a mug that is undoubtedly dubious in ingredients but surprisingly inoffensive in taste. And effective.

This day is an improvement over the day before. Everyone is smiling, including Frank, including Grant, and especially including Gerard, who looks like a cat who’s been let in the creamery. Fabio and Mikey run messages all morning, coordinating plans with Chris and with the head of their student supporters at the university. They plan the extraction for the next new moon, which is in three weeks’ time. Grant writes letters and talks quietly with Gabriel about logistics and does not let himself marvel that he may well be seeing Neil’s face in three weeks. It’s been so many years. Gerard has seen him once or twice, because Gerard’s movements don’t attract nearly the kind of scrutiny that Grant’s do, but they were well aware each time of the danger of the prospect. Even this trip to Port Merchant was perhaps ill-advised, given the state of alert in the city, but necessary. Grant won’t trust this part of the operation to anyone else.

They’re booked on a return train at midday the next day. Grant doesn't drink as much that night, but Frank does. Frank is smiling and happy and talking about every subject under the sun, and Grant is completely and utterly captivated. He finds himself at a table with a pint in front of him, not really drinking it, resting his elbow on the table and just listening to Frank talk. Gerard comes over on his way to have a smoke and probably a bit of a tête-à-tête with Gabriel; he kisses Grant’s cheek, and Frank stops talking and smiles a little half smile and says, "You're so lucky," as Gerard walks away.

Grant bites back an automatic "I know," to listen to what Frank has to say.

"Not... that is, Gerard is wonderful, but that's..." Frank colors.

Grant quirks an eyebrow as if to say "Go on."

"I know it's my own doing. I find courting trying at the best of times, but... a companion would be nice."

"Nice?" Grant repeats delicately.

"I... I tried, with girls," Frank says, soft and tired. "My mama would have loved a grandchild. But she's gone now, and after I got hurt, I couldn't inflict what was left on anyone anyway." He takes another drink of his ale. "I never really had any choice, or chance, for anything else - not after my enlistment."

Grant is once again struck by the need to kiss Frank. He takes a tiny sip of his own ale to collect his thoughts. "Frank," he says after he's swallowed. "You would be a worthy companion to anyone. If a person can't look beyond a limp, they are unworthy of you."

"It's not just that. But things are better now than they used to be," Frank says, tracing a crack on the tabletop with a fingernail. "I have...people to talk to, at least. I just. Sometimes I wonder."

"I know hearing this from me is hollow and useless, but I've found that things happen when and how they're meant to. Someday, you won't need to wonder," Grant says quietly. He hopes that day is sooner, rather than later.

Frank meets his eyes for a moment, and Frank's eyes are veiled. Grant hopes his own aren't too revealing. Frank drains the rest of his glass and Grant gestures to the boy manning at the bar to bring another. "It's been a very long time since... I didn't know how much I was missing any sort of contact until you took me in. And you all are very free with....” He lifts a hand, makes a motion as if to touch Grant. “It was startling." Grant makes a low noise. He can't keep it back.

"Frank -" He reaches out automatically, and Frank stills but sits quietly under the hand that curves around his shoulder, thumb stroking gently at the skin of his neck.

"I didn't mean you had to - I shouldn't have said that," Frank mumbles.

"Frank, I know you weren't asking for it. But there is no shame in the asking if you need or want the touch of someone who cares for you," Grant murmurs. He wishes he could tip Frank's chin up, make him look Grant in the eye.

Frank breathes out through his nose then drains the rest of his pint in a long swallow. "I need a bit of a walk," he mumbles, wobbling for a moment on his weak leg as he stands.

"Would you like company?" Grant asks hesitantly. He's neither sure what mood Frank is in, nor particularly keen on the idea of Frank going out into the night as inebriated as he is, but he also doesn't want to force his company on Frank.

“I don’t need any, no.”

Grant refrains from pointing out that wants and needs are not the same thing, and smiles and gives Frank a little salute as he goes. He’ll go upstairs and write for a while, and wait for Gerard. He did make certain promises about tonight, after all.

*

The next day it's Frank who comes downstairs looking a little worse for wear; Grant is sitting at the bar reading a newspaper. Mikey has not yet made an appearance, and Grant left Gerard wrapping in blankets and grumbling into a pillow. He may make an appearance soon. Grant gives Frank a smile and has Fabio bring toast and tea for him. Frank sits down and they share the paper across the table while Grant continues working on text for the pamphlet Gabriel's university contacts are printing. It's a pleasant morning, almost like home.

When Gerard and Mikey appear and Gabriel gets up to go get another pot of coffee started for them, Frank stands to refill his own teapot but hesitates and slips into the seat at Grant’s side. "I hope I wasn't, ah, irritating last night," he says quietly.

"Far from it," Grant says.

"Good," Frank replies with a smile. Grant doesn't even attempt to stop himself from reaching out and squeezing Frank's arm.

When Gerard comes back, coffee in hand, he merely smiles at Frank. "You're in my spot," he says teasingly. "We'll make you help write the pamphlets if you're going to stay there."

"No one wants that," Frank laughs.

"You're a very moving writer," Gerard protests.

"I'm... mediocre at best. And in no way technically proficient," Frank says, looking baffled at Gerard's praise.

"Technical proficiency is not the first requirement for good writing," Grant says.

"If you say so," Frank demurs, standing up and laying a hand on Gerard's shoulder for a moment before returning to his seat. Grant keeps watching him.

"Gerard speaks highly of your journal," Grant says.

"My journal,” Frank repeats. “You know.... You may read it, if you like. It's... You heard Gerard and me speaking of it on the train. It's not an uplifting book. I've already made a gift of it to Gerard though. Would you mind terribly sharing with him?"

"I am always willing to share with Gerard,” Grant says quietly but emphatically, and catches Gerard's eye as he says it. Gerard smiles the sort of smile at him that takes Grant's breath away still, after all these years they've had together. Frank blushes, which is always enjoyable, but goes back to his paper without comment.

Grant turns back to a very amused-looking Fabio and asks how long it will take his printer to prepare the broadsheets. "Longer than Becky," Fabio says.

"No one is as good as she is, it's true. I'd be willing to pay more for more speed," Grant says. "Do tell them that when you go."

"I'll do what I must to get the papers ready for Friday," Gabriel says. That leaves them two weeks before Neil's proposed arrival. Grant's just not sure the current level of awareness is quite enough; he and his team will have to redouble their efforts to find additional information on government activities before then. He hopes they can avoid outright violence. But revolutions are rarely peaceful and he knows Millar will have a massive, massive overreaction in store. It's been many years since he could actually claim to know Mark, but he's more than certain that Mark hasn't changed in any noticeable way.

"When this broadsheet hits the streets, we need to be prepared for military reprisal," Grant says. All the joviality leaves the room. The smiles that graced the faces around him are replaced by looks of grim determination.

"We'll be as ready as we can be," Mikey says.

Fabio nods. "It was never going to end easy."

"Well, bollocks," Grant says. "I didn't mean to cast a shadow over the morning."

Gabriel claps him on his shoulder. "Sometimes a little reality is necessary. We'll have some biscuits and carry on."

Grant laughs. "And some milk to go with them, Gabriel?"

"Milk, hell. This is a tavern! Fabio will start cooking luncheon though - seafood for your going-away meal. And our best ale."

Frank lets loose a giggle. "Biscuits and ale don't sound terribly appetizing together, Gabriel. Maybe just the biscuits."

Grant looks down at Frank and they catch each other’s eyes. Frank grins at him.

"Tea," Grant tells him.

"Tea," Frank nods. "And the chocolate biscuits, Gabriel?" he asks.

Gabriel turns a mock scowl on him. "Known you three days and you're already demanding things like these louts."

"Asking. Charmingly." Frank gives him a winning smile. Gabriel claps him on the shoulder.

"Fine. Asking charmingly. You only get to use that once. Are you sure this is the moment?"

"Your chocolate biscuits are worth it, I think," Frank says.

"And flattery too!" Gabriel exclaims.

"He's good," Fabio chimes in. "Grant doesn't know what a prize he has."

"I know perfectly well, thank you," Grant says, eyes on Frank. "And he's coming home with us. I shan't allow you to keep him." Frank's wearing a smug little smile, listening to the exchange, and it's a beautiful thing. But he takes his plate of biscuits back to Mikey.

Gerard, joining them in the doorway, catches Grant's hand as he returns to his seat and whispers in his ear, "That was quite possessive of you, mon chaton."

"That was restrained," Grant whispers back.

"I know," Gerard says meaningfully. "I'm glad to see it, love, after the past few days." Grant smiles and leans down to kiss Gerard quick and light. He wants to do so much more. From the look Gerard gives him, Grant knows he understands. He always does.

Grant looks up to see Gabriel watching fondly. "We always miss you," he says. "And will again, when you've left this evening."

"And we shall miss the two of you. Hopefully after this is all over, we'll be able to see each other more often. And, of course, you must come to the country house for a visit in the summer," Grant says. He hopes beyond hope that it will all be possible.

"This summer," Gerard repeats, voice full of suppressed hope just like Grant's.

"Wild bears couldn't keep us away," Fabio says, wiping his hands on a towel.

"Well, perhaps bears might. And wild dogs don't sound pleasant at all. Wild squirrels couldn't keep us away," Gabriel corrects. Really, he's just as ridiculous as Gerard.

"Very well, sir, I shall attempt to have my estate cleared of dangerous wildlife for your visit."

"Go sit down so I can cook," Fabio orders.

Grant laughs. "Far be it from me to stand in the way of your seafood preparations. I've been looking forward to this meal." He goes back toward the table, pulling Gerard with him, and sits across from Frank. After a moment’s thought, he steals a biscuit off the plate before he pours himself a cup of tea. It does feel just like home. How could it not, with most of the family here?

***

The train journey home is uneventful, but still tiring, and Frank is happy to be home. His little basement workshop is here and the book he was halfway through is sitting where he left it on the table in the library.

He sits in his usual chair, flips the book open to where he left off and starts reading. After a while, Mikey comes in and gestures at the phonograph with an eyebrow raised. When Frank nods, Mikey sets some music playing and takes his own seat, a newspaper in hand. It's not long before Grant appears, sits at his writing desk, picks up the self-inking pen Frank fixed for him recently, and starts writing.

The only person they're missing is Gerard, and Frank has to grin when he opens the door looking mussed with coffee cup in hand. He shuffles over to Grant and kisses the top of his head. Grant leans back into Gerard briefly and Gerard kisses him again before coming round and peering over Frank's shoulder. Frank can't help but smile.

"Oh, it's the same thing you were reading before," Gerard says.

"Yes. I didn't get to finish before we left for Port Merchant," Frank replies, looking up into Gerard's face.

"Well, I shan't be a bother, then. You need to finish so you can read the latest from Snyder," Gerard says, rounding Frank's chair and sitting in his usual spot. Frank watches as he nudges Mikey's foot with his until Mikey looks up from his newspaper and gives him a slight smile. Then Gerard settles back into the chair and takes a sip of his coffee.

Frank turns back to his book, but doesn't keep reading right away. Visiting Port Merchant had been quite the experience and Frank very much enjoyed meeting the infamous twins, but he really is glad to be back here with these people he is learning to call family.

If nothing else, his late-night talks with Grant settled that last point for him. Other things may remain unsettled, but that does not. This morning, he's not letting himself worry about those other things. It's too pleasant for that.

The following few days pass in a similar manner, the household gradually getting back to their usual lives in the city. Frank works more on several devices and tinkers with his personal projects, Gerard and Grant continue their writing and socializing, and Mikey does all the innumerable things that Mikey does.

One day, Mikey comes into the parlor with a wiggling coat.

“Mikey, what in god’s name do you have in your coat?” Gerard asks, sitting up straight. Frank can’t help his curiosity and leans forward as well.

Mikey opens his coat to reveal the wrinkliest, squirmiest puppy Frank has ever seen. Mikey puts it on the floor and it toddles directly to Frank. He really can’t be blamed for picking it up and cuddling it close.

“They were in a box on the street,” Mikey explains. “I couldn’t leave them there. I found homes for all but this one and, with Lady Jill’s permission, am going to give it to Alicia.”

Frank can’t help but be slightly disappointed that the puppy won’t be with them permanently, but at least she’ll be close. She squirms in his arms and he puts her on the floor and then follows her down, sitting cross-legged on the floor. Gerard slides out of his chair and sits down next to Frank. Mikey removes his coat and gloves and sits across from them. They all sit on the floor playing a funny game of tag with her for ages.

When Grant comes in the room, he laughs at them all, standing behind Frank and Gerard, resting his hands on their heads.

“Who, pray tell, is this?” Grant asks, carding his fingers through Frank’s hair. Frank only just restrains himself from pushing his head into Grant’s hand like the puppy did just a few moments before when Frank was scratching her head.

“A gift for Alicia,” Mikey answers as the puppy tires of the games and crawls up into Frank’s lap, flopping down. Frank laughs and pets her. Tries not to think too hard about how Gerard’s knee is touching his, how Grant’s hand is still in his hair. He wiggles his fingers in front of the puppy and she bats at them with her paw. When she toddles back out of his lap and starts sniffing around the room, letting out a little whine, Frank immediately hops up.

“Do you need to go outside, baby?” he murmurs to her. “Let’s go outside.”

“Frank, you needn’t take her,” Mikey says. “She’s clearly my responsibility, as I brought her into the house.”

“I don’t mind,” Frank says quickly. “I could use some fresh air.”

Mostly, he could use a few minutes to himself without the distracting closeness of Grant or Gerard. Frank carries the puppy out to the small, fenced garden behind the house. Frank sets her down and watches her run around sniffing things and doing her business. It will be very pretty, Frank thinks, when spring comes and things start blooming and growing again back here. When the puppy is back running around his feet and yipping up at him, Frank leans over and picks her up. He stops to get a towel from Annie and dries her off before going back up to the parlor.

Grant and Gerard are curled up together on the settee, but Mikey is still on the floor for some reason. Frank sits across from him and deposits the puppy between them.

“Thank you, Frank,” Mikey says with a smile.

Frank grins back. “No problem. I like dogs. We’re keeping her a secret until you speak with Lady Jill, yes? She can hide with me when Alicia is in the house.”

“Are you are sure you won’t mind?” Mikey asks.

“Quite sure. It’s been many years since I had a dog. It will be fun to play at it for a little while.” Frank grabs her up and pulls her close to his chest, squeezing. She squeaks and squirms and Frank laughs, putting her back down on the floor. He plays with her for several minutes before noticing the time. He pets the puppy’s head and says, “You nearly distracted me from getting to my appointment on time.”

“Going to Becky’s?” Gerard asks. Frank nods. “Do you want company? We could go with you.”

"You all have things to be doing. I'll go alone."

"Get a cab or send for Charles if your leg starts hurting," Grant instructs from his seat.

Frank resists rolling his eyes, because he knows Grant is protective. But he can handle an afternoon with Becky.

"I will," Frank promises.

It doesn't take him terribly long to reach Becky's shop on foot. It's a nice day and he enjoys the sunshine.

“Good morning,” Becky calls cheerfully when he pushes open the door.

“Good morning!” Frank replies, grinning. Becky’s chipper demeanor is infectious.

“And how’s the baronet’s household this morning?” she asks.

“Well,” Frank replies. “Mikey brought home a puppy as a gift for Miss Simmons and we were all quite distracted by her.”

“Lucky Alicia,” Becky says. “Someday I’ll have time for a pet myself.”

"I realized when we returned from Port Merchant," Frank asks, ducking around a press, “that of all the stories that were shared, I never heard how you met Gerard.”

"Through the twins, of course. Gerard interviewed Gabriel for one of his books, I believe, and they got to be friends; and I know the twins from when I was serving my apprenticeship in Port Merchant," Becky explains. "I came back here to run the family press, and Gabriel sent Gerard to me when he needed something printed."

"I guess I assumed it was something like that. And now you're caught up in the whirlwind?" Frank gestures around himself with his hands. She smiles.

"Yes. I was already somewhat involved anyway, to be honest. But it's interesting being closer to the main leaders of the movement." She gestures for him to stand with her in front of the press and starts explaining today’s setup. Frank's starting to be able to keep up with her; when she steps aside to let him do it himself, he doesn't feel too overwhelmed.

They work in relative silence for a while, Frank concentrating on the machine in front of him, Becky ready with an answer if he has a question while she runs the other press.

“I admire how you manage all this by yourself,” Frank says over the din of the presses. “These machines need more tending than my fabricators ever did.”

“Sometimes I hire a student to come in and assist, but mostly I just run one press at a time. Usually it’s enough.” She shrugs and they both go back to work.

Frank watches the press he’s working on spit out hundreds of copies of Gerard’s words. It’s strange and wonderful to know that the people of the city will read the words that Gerard wrote for them because of work Frank is doing right now. Frank loses track of time, gets lost in the work until Becky shuts off her machine.

“Lunch,” she declares.

Frank follows her lead and they walk to a nearby pub. Several people call out greetings to Becky and she answers back cheerfully. Frank’s part of town was never quite this friendly. Or perhaps the problem was with Frank. Perhaps both. They seat themselves at a booth toward the back of the room and Becky orders bowls of stew and coffee for them.

“Were you a printmaker’s apprentice in Port Merchant, too?” Frank asks.

Becky nods. “There are a few shops running Brittan machinery down there - innovative stuff. North Star’s been around for generations - been the same for generations, really. It was just my turn when my dad passed on.”

“I know the feeling,” Frank confesses. “Did you ever wish things were different? That you could do what you wanted instead of what you inherited?”

“A few times. Especially when I first came back from Port Merchant and everything was hard and overwhelming.” She takes a bite of stew, clearly thinking. “But some of my earliest memories are of that shop, and it was always where I was going to end up sooner or later. It just happened to be a bit sooner than I would have preferred. You?”

Frank thinks for a moment. “Sometimes.”

They spend the rest of their lunch talking about growing up around machines in shops. About their mothers worrying about them getting their fingers getting caught somewhere, about sitting on their fathers’ laps and letting their hands be guided.

They finish their lunch and go back to work. Frank gets lost in it all yet again until once again Becky is shutting down her machine.

“It’s around dinner time. I have the feeling I’d be seeing visitors before too long if I kept you.” Becky laughs.

Frank rolls his eyes. “You’re probably right. I’ll come back tomorrow?”

“That would be perfect,” Becky says. Frank nods, says goodbye and walks home. His leg is the tiniest bit sore, but he knows his limits and knows he can get home without it getting worse, so he keeps going. Almost as soon as he opens the door to the house, Gerard pounces.

“I missed you today,” Gerard says, his hands clasped behind his back. “Did you have a good time with Becky?”

“I... yes, I had a good time. I like her very much, as you predicted I would,” Frank says. “And I missed you too,” he adds quietly.

Frank smiles back when Gerard grins at him. He’d rather a kiss, but he won’t get one. He’s just going to have to stop thinking about it.

A throat clears at the end of the hall and Frank looks up to see Grant leaning against the wall looking amused and fond. “I do believe that it is dinner time.”

“Right. Dinner,” Frank says. Grant gestures toward the dining room and as they’re walking past him, Grant reaches out, tugging Gerard close and stealing a kiss.

“How was the press?” Grant asks as they continue in and seat themselves at the table.

“I enjoyed it,” Frank says, suppressing his small frown. “Seeing Gerard’s words, helping them come to be on the page like that was... it was rewarding.”

“I’m glad.” Grant tells him. Frank glances to the side to see Gerard looking rather touched.

After dinner, Mikey and Frank play with the puppy until she flops over, exhausted. Frank knows he shouldn’t get overly attached to her. She won’t be with them for long and then she’ll be Alicia’s and Frank won’t see her quite as often. He can’t help it, though. Frank wonders if he could coax her to sleep in his room tonight. He feels the most alone at night.

Especially nights like this one, when Grant and Gerard can’t seem to keep their hands to themselves. Matters between them had seemed oddly strained for a day or two in Port Merchant, then mended as abruptly as they had soured. Frank doesn’t want to spend a great deal of time contemplating Gerard’s implication that it had related to him, so he doesn’t let himself.

This self-control becomes more difficult at moments such as this, when he witnesses so many kisses between them. So many touches. Some innocent and sweet, some decidedly less so. The worst part, though, is when they touch him. A hand on his arm here, fingers in his hair for the briefest of moments there while they’re petting the puppy.

It’s just... Frank can’t help but watch them, and he can’t help but relish their touches when they come. It’s nice to have Alicia’s puppy as something to hold onto, somewhere to direct his attention that’s not them.

But tonight, the puppy goes in with Mikey, and Frank goes to bed feeling even more lonely than usual. He can’t sleep at all, so he reads. He continues reading until he finishes his book and then he tries to sleep again. He finally gives up and pulls his dressing gown around himself and tiptoes down to the library.

He stops before he goes in the door, though, hovering in the shadows where the light streaming into the hall from the door doesn’t reach him. Grant and Gerard are in there, sharing one big armchair, and Gerard is straddling Grant’s lap. Gerard’s shirt is shoved down his shoulders and Frank can’t help but stare at Gerard’s bared skin. His head is thrown back and Frank can see the line of his jaw, see a little bit of Grant’s face below. His eyes are fixed on Gerard, intent and gorgeous.

Frank knows he should turn around and go back upstairs. This is not for him to see.

“Grant,” Gerard moans and Frank stays rooted to the spot. Gerard is moving, rubbing himself against Grant, his head thrown back wantonly. Grant lifts a hand and traces his fingers down Gerard’s throat. Gerard moans again.

Grant reaches for Gerard’s sides and slips his hands under the loose fabric. Frank watches as Gerard’s hips move, watches as Grant pulls him even closer and slides his hands farther, down the back of Gerard’s trousers. Gerard murmurs Grant’s name, wraps one arm tight around Grant’s neck and brings the other to his lap. Frank can see by the movement of his arm that he’s stroking himself off. He’s breathing hard, gasping and moaning, his forehead pressed to Grant’s neck. Frank wishes he could see Gerard’s face, but it’s almost as satisfying to see his back arch, to hear him moan one last time, to hear Grant moan in response.

“Gerard,” Grant murmurs quietly, hands slipping out of Gerard’s trousers and pressing against his shoulder blades so he leans in to kiss Grant. They kiss for several moments, sounding positively sinful, before Gerard pulls back and slips off Grant’s lap, kneeling before him. Grant runs a hand through Gerard’s hair and Gerard looks up at him in a way that can only be described as adoring before tugging the buttons of Grant’s trousers open and pulling his cock out.

Frank nearly gasps at the sight. Instead he swallows the noise and draws back from the door. He watches as Gerard smirks up at Grant and uses his tongue to tease, swiping lightly at the head of Grant’s cock, barely tonguing the slit before pulling back and kissing Grant’s thighs. Gerard doesn’t tease for long, probably because Grant growls his name and tugs at his hair. Gerard laughs and takes Grant’s cock in his mouth, cheeks hollowing out as he sucks. Grant moans, working his fingers into Gerard’s hair and holding on.

Frank shifts on his feet, almost unconsciously palming himself through his nightclothes. He has to hold in a moan of his own. Frank can’t move, can’t look away. He watches as Gerard pulls back, tongue working Grant’s cock expertly, then going back to sucking, Grant’s fingers flexing in Gerard’s hair the entire time. Finally Gerard does something that makes Grant lose control and he starts thrusting up into Gerard’s mouth. Gerard makes an encouraging noise and Grant thrusts a few more times and then he moans. His face is gorgeous with his release. Even more gorgeous when he opens his eyes and looks down at Gerard again, Gerard with his head resting on Grant’s thigh as he returns the look.

Grant puts his hands under Gerard’s arms and pulls him back into his lap. They start kissing again, murmuring things to each other just quietly enough that Frank can’t hear them. Finally, he turns and flees back up the stairs as quietly as he possibly can.

The second Frank has the door to his room closed behind him, he leans back against the door and reaches for his cock. It doesn’t take more than two firm strokes before he’s coming, muffling the moans that escape him in the crook of his arm.

***

Grant hears the particular syncopated gait on the stair that signals Frank’s ascent and crosses to the bedroom door. Gerard is busy fussing with the ends of his cravat and he gives Grant a curious look in the mirror. Grant smiles and opens the door, poking his head into the hall.

“Frank, a moment of your time?” He steps back to let Frank file into the sitting area. Frank pauses and rocks up onto his toes before stilling and looking at Grant, with just a darting glance at Gerard. “I won’t keep you,” Grant assures him, “but I wanted to catch you before you dressed for the soiree so I could give you these.” He hands Frank the small velvet box he’d retrieved from his dressing table.

Frank goes quite still and takes the box without comment, clicking back the lid to reveal a set of cuff links. Gerard meanders across the room to get a closer look. Grant hadn’t told him about this particular purchase. “I was at the jewelers to have my watch chain replaced,” Grant continues. “Those caught my eye. Perhaps it was the color. In any case....”

The faces of the cuff links are silver, rather delicately scrolled and set with a deep green agate the precise color of the scarf Gerard had bought him. The scarf that seems to always be on Frank’s person. He is, in fact, wearing it right now, and his hand goes to the loops of wool for a moment.

“I could have fixed your watch chain for you,” Frank blurts.

“I know, Frank,” Grant replies. “That’s not -” Not really the point, but Frank seems to be getting there.

Frank bites his lip for a moment. “Thank you,” he says quietly. “I’m touched that you thought of me.”

“Quite,” Gerard murmurs under his breath, just loud enough for Grant to hear.

“You’re welcome. You could wear them tonight, if you wish,” Grant replies.

Frank nods, snapping back into the present. “Of course I will. I must - it’s getting on and I must dress,” he finishes. He rocks forward on his toes again, as if he’s considering a kiss on the cheek like he’d bestowed upon Grant for the puzzle toy, then rocks back and lays a hand on Grant’s arm instead. “But thank you again. They’re beautiful.” He smiles at them both and walks out, box in hand.

Gerard twines himself around Grant from behind, wrapping his arms around Grant’s waist and whispering in his ear, “We’ve reached the point of painfully obvious, mon chaton.”

“And still nothing.”

“What did you expect, love?”

Grant did not, in fact, expect anything. He wants a great deal, though. He wants the silk of Frank’s hair between his fingers, wants the press of his body as he stretches to bestow that next phantom kiss. Wants the break of his breath into Grant’s mouth. Wants Gerard hanging over the back of Frank’s chair, wants Frank yanking him down by the cravat to taste him. He wants it all this very minute.

“You’re not going to get everything you want right this minute. Have a bit of faith,” Gerard murmurs, proving yet again that he knows Grant inside and out.

Grant tugs at his arm until he has Gerard in front of him and can lean down and nose along the line of Gerard’s neck. “My cravat,” Gerard protests. Weakly. Grant knows Gerard doesn’t give a shit about his cravat. Well, he probably does. But it’s fixable.

“It’s fixable,” Grant murmurs back.

“Love bites won’t be,” Gerard gasps as Grant grazes his teeth along the artery. “You know what this party will be like.”

“Just adding a bit of fuel to the fire, my dearest one.”

*

Social events have been Grant’s primary occupation for his entire adult life. It’s still strange to him, even in his middle age, that he’s ended up in this position. It’s one that he’s bent to his own purposes over the years, as the political climate changed and he took up the banner of Minister Gaiman’s cause. One thing he’s learned through experience - sometimes hard experience, he thinks, rubbing his knee - is that the people in power expect the artists among them to perform, but as soon as their talking crosses a certain line, they’ll be punished.

He never wants any of his people to be punished for what they believe. So they keep things under wraps. Jill has the shield of her title, a reputation as a flawless hostess and as a watercolorist of some note. Gerard has written several volumes of poetry under his own name, just the sort of gothic, romantic verse that makes him a household name and a person of considerable social interest, especially given his dark good looks and flirtatious manner. Grant himself has produced several scholarly treatises on mythology and ancient history that he’s sure none of the usual hostesses have ever read. And Mikey is ostensibly Grant’s secretary. That one amuses Gerard the most, probably because the image of Mikey ever being organized enough to be anyone’s secretary is ludicrous. He does know everyone - and remember everyone - which is a great social boon.

They all appear mostly harmless, if they can keep their more inflammatory rhetoric under wraps when required. They’re all quite good at what they do, and what they do is infiltrate these gatherings, where the titled people wine and dine and dance and ignore the war situation, where the government figures talk in murmurs over cigars and brandy and pretend butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. And they entertain, and start leading conversations, and listen. Listen in more ways than one, if it’s an occasion that calls for one of Frank’s devices.

Frank himself usually manages to dodge any and every attempt to coax him out of the house for a soiree. That he’s acquiesced this time, Grant thinks, is meaningful somehow. His selfish hope is that it means Frank is in accord with Gerard and Grant...wooing him, as Gerard calls it. Grant’s carried that hope ever since Port Merchant, and he’s losing his patience. Frank ascends to the cab of the steam carriage in his exquisite formal suit. His hair is carefully combed and his cravat impeccably if simply tied. Grant can see the cuff links glinting at his wrists.

He’ll be a boon to their party regardless, but it is Grant’s most fervent desire to be allowed to dishevel him. It’s not possible, of course, but he muses on the topic for most of the carriage ride, idly listening to Gerard and Mikey’s chatter and watching Frank watch the streets. It doesn’t strike him until they’re sweeping into the ballroom that this is possibly be the first time that Frank will have seen all of them out at a soiree like this one. They won't act quite like themselves, and no one warned Frank.

***

The soiree is packed, the room large and overly-lit and buzzing with a hundred different conversations. Frank would have been a bit overwhelmed just because of that, but he plucks a flute of champagne off a passing tray and stations himself within eye- and earshot of Grant and Gerard, and after a little while, he notices that everything is very... odd.

Lady Jill is holding court on a settee across the room, spine militantly straight and every gesture prim and proper. Alicia hovers at her elbow, looking like she’s doing her best to blend into the wallpaper instead of being a vibrant conversationalist as is her usual wont.

Frank can’t see Mikey anywhere, which isn’t unexpected, because Frank knows Mikey went to plant a device in the mansion’s solarium. The master of the house is having a luncheon tomorrow, and servants’ gossip suggests it will be an indoor picnic. Frank takes a moment to snort to himself. Who can ever explain nobby behavior?

His eyes go to Grant and Gerard last, but linger there the longest. The longer he watches, the closer his brows draw together, and he has to concentrate to smooth the frown off his face and replace it with a more neutral expression. Grant, he can hear, is holding forth on some sort of esoteric tidbit of local mythology. The partygoers gathered around him are all nodding thoughtfully, but Frank can tell they’re mostly completely lost and just playing along. That’s not the cause of the frown.

Gerard’s the cause of the frown. He’s not saying much, which is in and of itself unusual, but he’s veritably fawning over Grant, giggling and acting dim. It makes sense, Frank supposes, to playact a little, but surely enough people here know them, enough to notice....

Frank is uncertain how he should act. He makes small talk for a while with an older lady standing nearby, but she seems to be scrutinizing him for some unknown quality. When she waves at a young girl after the orchestra wraps up a waltz a few minutes later, he understands. A mother or a chaperone, then, inspecting him for marriageability. He represses another snort. He could have answered that question for her in an instant.

He ends up watching Gerard again - Gerard, who has separated himself from the group around Grant and sidled into another group. He’s flirting, Frank realizes, feeling a strange floating sensation in the vicinity of his stomach. Gerard is fixing a tall and handsome gentleman with his full attention, his smile as slow and bright as the one Frank sees over the tea tray or across the parlor, and Frank is suddenly thrown into a whirlwind of uncertainty.

Uncertainty bleeds into anger when Gerard curves a palm over the gentleman’s forearm and laughs. Frank scans the room and, seeing a set of glass doors, heads in that direction, pleased to discover that they lead out into the gardens and not merely onto a small terrace as some of the less imposing town mansions have. He needs a few moments, no more - just to breathe and compose himself. There are quite a few people outside, too, wandering around despite the cold, and Frank hunches his shoulders and edges as far away as he can get from the louder groups.

Gerard appears in front of him after a few minutes and Frank startles badly when Gerard touches his hand. “What are you doing?” Frank snaps. “Take your hand off of me.”

Gerard draws back, his face immobile with apparent surprise, but he doesn’t let go. "Frank," Gerard whispers. "What do you mean? I thought you’d realize...”

Frank shakes his hand off. "You're clearly talented at false impressions," he grumbles. "Stop touching me. Wouldn't want the nobs to get the wrong idea."

"The point is for them to get the wrong idea," Gerard murmurs, but finally pulls his hand away. “Fine,” he says, after a moment in which Frank stares steadily at his shoes, feeling Gerard’s gaze heavy on his face. “As you wish.”

Frank waits for him to leave, but he doesn’t move, so Frank leaves first, going inside in search of a drink. When Gerard comes back inside, he’s smiling, but it’s a brittle smile and Frank can’t look in that direction for too long. When he risks another glance, he sees that Grant has called Gerard back to his side and drawn him into an intimate conversation - one that actually appears to be genuine. Frank broods even more.

The orchestra starts up again after a short interlude, and Alicia sidles over to Frank and whispers acidly, "I don’t know what you said to upset Gerard, but you clearly need something constructive to do.” She nods in the direction of a middle-aged woman in a too-tight satin gown, perched unsteadily on a dainty sofa. “Lady Grantham over there likes to drink, and likes to talk, and her husband's said to be opening a new mining concern. And you're just the sort of morsel she likes most. Go have a conversation."

Frank polishes off his drink and asks, "What does she drink?"

"Port," Alicia answers tersely.

Frank nods and retrieves two glasses of port and walks toward the woman Alicia had indicated, pasting on his own smile.

"I see you're in need of a refill, Lady Grantham," he says smoothly.

"Aren't you a darling?" she exclaims, ogling him in an unmistakable if slightly tipsy fashion. "I don't even recognize you, dear boy. To whom do I owe the pleasure?"

"A friend sent me. Your glass was unacceptably low," Frank says vaguely, trying for a confidential tone. "I believe this is where I assure you the pleasure is mine." He eyes her steadily as he says it.

She pats his cheek, body moving close enough that Frank is made even more uncomfortable. He smiles sweetly instead of running away as he wants to.

"You are a dear, aren't you?" she answers, sipping her port with her other hand without removing the first from his cheek.

"I do try. Lovely ladies such as yourself shouldn't be left with an empty drink," Frank says.

"How nice to be appreciated. My own husband has thrown me over in favor of a mine. A mine!" She drinks more, and Frank takes a breath before he leaps on the conversational thread.

"A mine?" Frank asks. "Surely one must hope it's filled with diamonds to make up for such an offense."

"Simple metal ores," Lady Grantham answers, and sighs dramatically, "though he swears ‘tis a coup. Even diamonds couldn't tempt me to live in the Lowlands. Even a hip bath full of them."

"And here you are, tragically alone," Frank murmurs, looking up from under his lashes.

"Yes, most tragic," she leers. "At least you are here. And more attentive to me than he's been in months."

"I'm very sorry he's left you feeling neglected. Though such an absence for piles of metal - perhaps they are as valuable as diamonds in some way?" Frank is certain she's too drunk to notice how obvious he's being, but part of him still holds his breath.

He continues to fish for information and she answers all his questions with total, drunken honesty. Is espionage really this easy? Surely Alicia could have done this herself. Then he catches the lascivious sweep of Lady Grantham’s eyes up and down his body and Frank holds back a shudder - and understands. He understands too well now why he’d hurt Gerard with his behavior, internally crying for a familiar hand on his even as he realizes he doesn’t deserve one.

Frank bites the inside of his cheek and keeps Lady Grantham’s glass full until she’s surreptitiously snoozing, slumped against the back of the settee. Then Frank makes his escape.

He realizes within a dozen steps that Alicia might as well have hung a placard around his neck, because the next person who hails him is Miss Wallace, looking flushed and pleased to see him. Frank bites the inside of his cheek again. Miss Wallace is a friend of Grant’s, so he must be polite. All he wants is to go home. Or outside to smoke a cigarette.

Grant rescues him this time, gracefully. He had no idea Grant was even paying attention to his whereabouts, but he draws Frank away and outside and even lights a cigarette for him. His fingers brush the same cheek Lady Grantham was touching, and Frank shivers because it's too entirely different. He smokes in silence for a while and tries not to feel too conscious of Grant's eyes on him. "Lord Grantham's mine seems to be for the war effort. He probably cheated some poor fool out of it, as apparently getting it was quite the accomplishment," he explains quietly.

"Not a one of us expects you to...involve yourself in our activities in that way, Frank," Grant says hesitantly.

"Alicia clearly does," Frank replies.

“Alicia… is lovely and well-meaning, but you don't need to if you do not desire to. The invitation was extended to our household, which you are part of, and we wanted you here with us. Nothing more," Grant replies.

Frank can't very well admit to Grant that Alicia was scolding him for upsetting Gerard. Frank doesn't quite want to admit to himself that he upset Gerard. Because he doesn't quite know why he said something. It's clear that Grant knows exactly what is going on with all of them at all times. How could he have been stupid enough to suspect Gerard of being... unfaithful? So he just sighs and finishes off his cigarette. "You're probably missed. We should get back inside."

"If you would like to stay out here longer, don't come in on my account. I know Lady Grantham can be… trying," Grant says, a hint of humor in his voice.

"That's one word for it. I admit, I'm not exactly enamored of Miss Wallace, either."

"There's no need to further the acquaintance on my account," Grant says, something unreadable in his expression. "Catherine would understand if you bowed out, for... whatever reason."

"There would have to be something to bow out of first. I can manage to be friendly in social situations, should it be required," Frank says and lights another cigarette.

"Of course you can, Frank," Grant says quietly. "You're not giving yourself enough credit."

Frank shrugs. "I'm just not cut out for more than that, I don't think."

"Perhaps not. Let's go inside." Frank takes another couple of drags from his cigarette then puts it out against a stone planter before tossing it in the bin beside the door. Grant follows him, catching his arm at the door and tucking Frank's hand in the crook of his elbow, his hand covering Frank's. Frank is surprised at how much being this close to Grant is calming him. Ten minutes ago, it would have been different. Gerard is practically hovering near the entrance waiting for them.

"You were out there for a long time," he murmurs quietly.

"Frank wanted a cigarette—"

"Two," Frank interrupts.

Grant smiles down at him. "Two. And he told me what he learned while in Lady Grantham's clutches."

"Not much," Frank says dryly.

"But enough. Lord Grantham is an important figure and any details of his activities are useful," Grant assures him. "But we'll have to discuss it more fully when we get home."

"Can that be soon?" Gerard asks, and now Frank can clearly see the tiredness and strain around his eyes and mouth.

"Not long, dearest," Grant tells him. Frank steps away from Grant with a nod and moves to where he sees Mikey loitering by himself across the room. When he glances back toward them, he sees that Gerard has stepped close, Grant's arm snaking around his waist. He holds in a sigh and turns to Mikey.

"Were you waiting for us too?" he asks quietly.

"You seemed," Mikey pauses, searching for the right word, "distressed."

"I was, a bit. I needed a break, at any rate. This isn't—that is, I'm not accustomed to parties and people in these situations and seeing all of you acting so differently was jarring," Frank admits.

Mikey claps him on the shoulder. "It can be trying, I know."

The rest of the party passes rapidly. Frank has another drink and makes small talk with some people who are actually quite nice. Finally it's time to go, and the four of them pile into the steam carriage. Frank can't stop yawning, and across from him Gerard has clearly given up and lays his head on Grant's shoulder and shuts his eyes. Frank is at once jealous that he can do so and unable to stop looking at the lovely picture they make. When they get home, Frank murmurs quiet ‘good night’s to everyone and goes up to his room. He falls into bed, hardly even managing to get his suit off. The last thing he recalls is Grant's hand on his as they walked.

*

"Heard they threw you to the lions last night, you delectable little creature you," Dewees teases Frank the next day as they wait in the library for Grant and the Ways and the rest of the group.

"More like the Gorgons," Frank mutters.

"Lady Grantham isn't so terrible though, Professor," Dewees says. "Welcome to espionage. Second thoughts?"

"No," Frank says after a moment. "None."

James slaps his back. "Glad to hear it, friend." He takes a sip of his tea. "How long do you think this one will last, eh?"

"Why," Frank asks, amused. "Do you have a... particular friend you'd rather spend your time with than us?"

Dewees laughs. “I have many particular friends. In this case, Ray and I figured on going to the pub after for a few beers and some laughs.” It’s their usual practice after meetings. They often invite him. He usually declines. “You should join us. Get out of this house for once,” Dewees finishes.

Frank opens his mouth to beg off, but ends up coming out with, “I’d love to.”

Dewees grins at him. “Excellent.”

The meeting is a short one. Everyone gives the status of their various projects, discusses the few items on the agenda that are up for discussion and the meeting breaks up.

“Toro,” Dewees says as he stands, “I’ve promised this man we’ll buy him a drink.”

Ray looks surprised, but smiles. “Are you joining us tonight, Frank?”

“It appears that way,” Frank answers. “Let me get my coat and I’ll meet you by the door.” Frank gets his coat and wraps his green scarf securely around his neck before going back downstairs. Dewees and Ray lead him down the street, toward the less affluent areas, in the direction of the remains of Frank’s shop. Frank feels for a moment as if he’s catching a glimpse of another life where he met these two under normal circumstances and they’re all heading home, Frank to his little apartment over the shop, after a night on the town.

He shakes himself and they soon turn down a side street and push open the door to a pub. The place seems relatively lively, given the level of noise that greets Frank’s ears upon entering the room. Ray orders them a round, and they sit in a secluded booth and start drinking their ale.

“Was short and sweet tonight,” Dewees comments.

“Gerard was still exhausted from the party,” Ray says with a wry grin. Frank is mostly amused. It’s true. Gerard’s relative lack of things to say tonight certainly contributed to the short meeting. A small part of Frank is bristling on Gerard’s behalf, despite the fact that he’s sure Ray said it fondly. Frank takes a large gulp of his beer.

“So you’re getting hired on at a new place?” Frank asks them.

“Well, Toro is. Woodson is floundering, and this new factory bears watching but not infiltrating, not yet. I’m staying on at the patent office for a while. It’s easier to juggle us being different places now that we have you to help us with the specs and such,” James explains.

“Glad I can help,” Frank says with a smile. He really is. Helping this group of people is one of the most rewarding things he’s done in his adult life. “Anything I can do,” he says. “I’d hire on places, but my leg would hinder me working in a factory environment.”

“What you do suits everyone fine,” Ray assures him, clapping him on the back.

Frank nods and smiles, but a thought suddenly occurs to him. “You know, I just realized that the information I procured last night could also be related to the outing Grant and I went on recently.”

“The mine!” Dewees whispers excitedly.

“I’d be willing to bet. Could we confirm that? And if so,” Frank lowers his voice even more, “would it be possible to sabotage the mine?”

“I don’t know,” Ray says. “We’ve never done anything on that scale before, but if that’s the mine meant to produce the metal for those machines... well, it would be very useful. Perhaps Sir Grant could work out an intelligence exchange. Mines are confusing if you don’t have experience with them.”

“We’ll look into it,” Frank says. “I’ll inform the others and see what they think.” They finish their beers and Dewees gets them another round. Conversation turns to other things after that. Ray gets some teasing from Dewees about a girl named Christa, and Ray gets flustered and his voice goes even higher. Frank thinks it’s rather charming. Ray fires back at Dewees about how Ray never sees him with the same girl twice. Dewees just laughs. Frank smiles. He really does enjoy these people.

*

Spending an evening drinking with Toro and Dewees had been surprisingly refreshing for Frank’s equilibrium, but he’d elected to spend the next evening in, and whatever he’d gained is slipping away as he pretends to read and listens to Grant and Gerard murmur to one another. “May we tell him now?” Frank hears Gerard ask Grant quietly from across the room. Frank looks toward them to see Grant smile indulgently at Gerard.

“That would spoil the surprise,” Grant tells Gerard in a tone that makes Frank think he’s said it several times before.

Gerard rolls his eyes. “It’s close enough. I don’t want to wait any longer.”

“Nor do I,” Grant murmurs, looking up to meet Frank’s gaze.

Gerard beams and turns around to look directly at Frank. “Frank, we got you a present. It should be coming in the next few days.”

While Frank had been suspecting something like that, he still feels a nervous thrill run through him. “You’ve already given me so many things, I can hardly imagine...”

“A puppy,” Gerard blurts out, jumping to his feet.

Grant joins him, taking a step forward and adding, “I sent a message to one of my cousins in the country. One of their dogs had a litter recently and they’re sending one shortly,” Grant explains.

“Why?” Frank asks, staring.

“You love Penny,” Gerard says, referring to the puppy who’s now with her rightful owner.

“And you’ve been so melancholy since she went to live with Miss Simmons,” Grant adds.

“I haven’t... you needn’t...” Frank stops and takes a deep breath. “That is an absurd gift, it’s too much, it’s all too much and it’s not proper, I can’t -” Frank glances at Gerard. His eyes are big, his body suddenly still. Frank can’t quite bring himself to look at Grant. “I don’t understand -”

“Stop,” Grant orders. “I would buy you the world, wrap it in paper, and put a pretty bow on it if you wanted. Let us give you this small thing that will give you so much joy.”

“—I don’t understand why you would tease me like this,” Frank finishes quietly. Matters have gotten out of hand. Someone needs to be blunt. He’s incredibly sorry it has to be him.

“What in our behavior would suggest a tease, Frank?” Grant asks.

“You have each other. You’re together. I'm not a… a toy." Frank looks into Grant’s face but drops his gaze after a moment, looking at the floor. He lets his shoulders slump too; he suddenly feels so defeated. More so than he felt even when he had to leave his shop. If this is a mistake, he'll lose the closest thing to a family that he has and he won't have anywhere to go. There is nowhere he’d even want to go, if not here. He waits, but Grant doesn't answer, so when Frank can make himself look up he pushes himself to his feet and looks to Gerard. "I am worth more than that," he says.

"Frank," Gerard whispers and steps closer, within arm’s reach even. "Frank, you… you're worth everything."

Grant still hasn't moved; he is still standing where he was when Frank looked away, but he speaks now to add, "You are still convinced we don't need you, that we could just discard you. That's wrong. We do need you, so we can treasure you."

Frank sucks in a breath and his hands start shaking. Nobody has ever spoken to him this way before. "What?"

"Treasure," Gerard repeats. "Un trésor mignon. Something precious to admire. To keep safe." He touches Frank's chest.

Frank's breathing speeds up and he looks at Grant. He knows his face is shamefully pleading, but he can't help it. Grant moves close and murmurs, "To be loved and touched often because one can't help it when something so beautiful is in reach."

"Is that what this is? Not just an amusement, then?" Frank repeats in a whisper.

"Frank, when we invited you here, that was not done lightly. Not one of us even considered that it was a temporary solution for a homeless friend. We invited you into our family. Do you think we'd take inviting you into our bed so lightly?" Grant asks, and Frank holds back a gasp.

"As for amusement," Gerard purrs, sliding a hand around the back of Frank’s neck, "We do hope it won't be boring for you," he leans in and whispers directly into Frank’s ear. Frank whimpers brokenly.

"The question is," Grant murmurs in his other ear, "Do you want us?"

"Yes," Frank chokes out. "Yes, I -" He's cut off by Gerard's mouth, by a kiss that's equal measures soothing and enticing. The first he’s received in such a long time - years. It feels unreal to have someone’s mouth on his, to have Gerard’s mouth on his, and even more so when he feels Grant's arm wrap around his waist, feels him nuzzle Frank's temple, drop kisses on his ear, his neck, his hair.

When Gerard releases him - after a string of kisses that seems unending - Grant is right there to take his place. Frank's knees give out on him then and Grant holds him up, holds him close. "Perhaps we should move upstairs," Grant whispers against his lips.

“Yes,” Frank says, and Gerard echoes it. Frank's not sure how he’ll get upstairs on legs like jelly. Grant solves that problem by refusing to let him go.

On the landing, Grant presses Frank against the wall and kisses him until Gerard steps in to take his place.

"I suppose you are...good at sharing after all," Frank gasps.

"We are," Grant says. "I have a feeling you'll become quite adept at it as well in rather short order."

"I hope so," Frank says and pushes off the wall, nudging Gerard back. "Bed?"

"I've waited such a long time to see you in that room," Gerard tells him.

"I've been there before," Frank points out.

"Not naked," Gerard fires back and kisses him again. This time it’s hard and fast and then Gerard is tugging him down the hall. Gerard pulls Frank through the door to the bedroom and they stumble across the floor, already kissing again. Grant catches up quickly after bolting the door, steering them away from a pair of armchairs and towards the bed.

Frank lands on the bed, grabs onto the bottom of Grant's jacket and pulls him between his legs, his heart pounding wildly. He's allowed to do this.

Grant smiles down at him. "You're going to ruin one of my best suits and I can't bring myself to care."

"I'll mend any tears I make," Frank promises and tugs harder until Grant bends down to kiss him.

"If I might suggest undressing?" Gerard chimes in. Frank feels his weight settle onto the edge of the mattress.

Frank tugs at his tie and unbuttons his shirt as quickly as his fingers will allow him. When he gets the shirt off, he stands and makes quick work of his trousers. He's about to get back on the bed when hands on his shoulders stop him and turn him around.

"Let me look at you," Grant says.

"I... Yes, of course. If you return the favor," Frank says, running fingers along Grant's lapel.

"With pleasure," Grant says, his hands sliding down Frank's shoulders, his fingers seeking out the anchor tattooed onto his inner arm. "You've been hiding treasure under your sleeves."

"Most people think they make me a criminal," Frank says with a sigh. Grant's eyes seek out the words inked into his other arm.

"Loyalty, honesty, respect," he reads aloud. "Those are worthy qualities, not crimes."

Frank smiles. "I hope so. That's the sort of person I strive to be, the sort of person I want to be around."

"You are that sort of person," Gerard whispers, snaking his arms around Frank's waist.

"Says the seditionist." Frank lays his hand on Gerard's cheek with a crooked grin. "Undress," he whispers. Gerard pulls back and Frank misses his arms, but he rather likes turning and having Grant's arms take their place as they watch Gerard start removing his clothing.

"He was so young when I first met him, barely more than a boy, already a combat veteran. Already published. Already a terrible flirt." Gerard looks up at that, shirt dangling from his hand. He pouts and Grant laughs in Frank's ear. "He doesn't look a day older."

"You love him madly, I know."

"But never unwisely. You can trust us," Grant whispers. He can't seem to stop touching Frank's skin, tracing the tattoos on Frank's arms and the slope of his shoulders.

"I know I can. I trust you both." Frank reaches over and covers Grant's fingers where they're touching the words on Frank's arm. "These are also the qualities of those I choose to spend my time with, after all."

"To those we claim as our own," Grant answers, tracing the words one more time. "Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?" he asks.

"I..." Frank doesn't know how to respond, turns the question over in his head. "I know how you make me feel if nothing else."

"It's a start," Gerard says, joining them. He's completely nude, all pale skin and shadowy dips and curves. Frank just stares, feeling his own body respond. Gerard steps forward and Frank reaches out, hands wrapping around his hips and pulling close. Their cocks brush together and Frank can't stop the shudder and the moan, doesn't want to.

"It's been so long," he gasps.

"Don't," Gerard begs. "I'll never last."

"No one has to. Help me undress him," Frank says, fingers finding Grant's buttons. He turns fully, pulling Gerard around too. Gerard takes over unbuttoning Grant's shirt and nudges Frank's hands down to his pants. Frank bites his lip and unbuttons them slowly and carefully.

"You both," Grant starts to say. Frank looks up at him. "Perfect. You're both perfect."

Frank looks down at himself, at the patchwork of scars on his skin, and for the first time in a long time does not care.

He cares a lot more about how Grant is getting hard under his fingers.

Frank pulls Grant's trousers down his legs, kisses his thighs and just above his knees as he goes. Fingers card through his hair and he looks up; Gerard has Grant's shirt off and is leaning against his side, his hand in Frank's hair.

"I like that," Frank tells him.

"What else do you like?" Gerard asks, voice cracking a little as Grant leans in and kisses the side of his neck.

"I like the look of you both. And the taste," Frank tells him. He helps Grant step out of his trousers and stands again, pressing against their bodies. "I like the way you feel," he whispers, kissing Gerard's shoulder, then Grant's chest.

"Tell us what you want." Grant's voice rumbles against Frank's lips.

Frank is suddenly overwhelmed. More overwhelmed. He wants so many things and he never thought he could want them. He looks at Grant and Gerard, feels their bodies press against him for a few moments and then wraps a hand around Grant's cock. "Want this."

Grant hisses in a breath. "Yes. Of course. Perhaps...not right away, or I won't..."

Frank laughs, stretches to kiss him quick and hard, and grabs Gerard by the wrist. "You first then."

"Me first what?" Gerard asks eagerly.

Frank leans close, whispers in his ear "Can I suck you?"

"Oh, Frankie. Yes," Gerard replies. Frank gets on the bed on his knees and pulls Gerard with him.

"Lie down," Frank says, prodding Gerard until he's propped against the pillows. Frank settles on his knees between Gerard's spread legs and just lets himself look. Gerard isn't free of scars either. He's got a few on his arms and chest and stomach. Frank leans down and kisses one at the bottom of his sternum. Gerard jerks and whines at the kiss, and Frank spreads his hands over Gerard's stomach. "I haven't done this for years," he says.

"Then you should do it, so the next time you can say, 'I haven't done this in hours,'" Gerard says.

Frank laughs against Gerard's hip and kisses his way down to Gerard's cock. He takes a hand off of Gerard's stomach and wraps it around the base, then licks over the head. They both moan. Frank swirls his tongue carefully around Gerard's shaft before taking the entire head between his lips. Gerard's hand lands in his hair and holds tight.

Frank moans again and then starts sucking. Gerard pulls in a harsh breath, so Frank keeps it up. After a moment, the bed shifts and a hand strokes across the small of his back. Frank wants to turn, to acknowledge Grant. Instead, he keeps sucking and arches his back against Grant's hand. Lips land on his shoulder. "Look up, Frank. Look at his face."

Frank lifts his eyes as he's told. Gerard looks gorgeous and wanton, his mouth hanging open. But most of all, his eyes, the way he's looking at Frank... he has to pull his mouth off Gerard's cock.

"Gerard," he whispers. "I... Gee." He wraps his lips back around the head of Gerard's cock and starts sucking again. Gerard shifts restlessly under him, writhing against the sheets, hands tightening in Frank's hair.

Mon trésor,” Gerard pleads. It sounds like music to Frank’s ears.

Grant doesn't move away, just shifts to wrap one hand over Frank's while the fingers of the other tease over Frank's opening. Frank can hardly breathe. He doesn't care. Just pulls off to gasp in air before going back down to suck Gerard. He starts shifting his hips, trying to get more of Grant's fingers.

"So eager," Grant murmurs.

Frank moans and keeps sucking. Gerard comes with just a few more strokes. It takes Frank a bit by surprise, despite the increasingly desperate tenor of Gerard’s moans. Frank swallows as much as he can down and licks up everything else from Gerard's skin. Gerard's hands clench in Frank's hair.

"God, Frankie." Frank crawls up the bed to kiss him.

"Love the way you taste," he says, breaking off with a gasp as Grant's fingers find him again, slick with oil this time. Gerard curls a hand around his his neck and Frank just breathes into his sweat-damp throat as Grant presses a finger inside him.

"Grant," he whispers. He wants more already, wants to beg.

"Look at me," Grant tells him, and Frank twists around only to be met by a kiss. "I want to be inside you," Grant whispers. "I think this way will be best, after so long, but -"

"Gerard will kiss me," Frank says confidently.

"I will," Gerard confirms below them.

"Good," Grant says and kisses Frank again. His mouth is hot and demanding. He slides a second finger into Frank as they kiss.

"Oh," Frank chokes out. He feels full already, yet it's still not enough. "Please, more," he begs, thrusting back against Grant's fingers. He leans up to kiss Grant again, then lets himself fall down to his elbows. Gerard cups his cheek and kisses him as Grant adds a third finger. "His hands -" Frank starts.

"I know," Gerard whispers.

Grant thrusts his fingers in and out and leans down to kiss his shoulder. "Would you like more than my fingers, mignon?"

"Yes," Frank whispers urgently. Grant pulls his fingers out and shifts behind him immediately, settling his hands on Frank's hips. Frank drops his forehead to Gerard's chest. Grant moves his hips close, lets the head of his cock rub over Frank's entrance before pushing slowly inside. "Grant, Grant, Grant," Frank chants into Gerard's skin.

Grant squeezes his hips. "I've wanted - so much - you feel so good."

"So good," Frank echoes. Gerard's fingers card through his hair, then he lifts Frank's chin and kisses him. The shift in angle makes Frank gasp. Gerard lays a hand against his chest.

"I'm going to start moving," Grant murmurs.

"Yes," Frank says and Grant starts thrusting slowly and carefully. The slight burn of it feels so good, so needed, Frank can do no more than draw in heaving breaths against Gerard's neck. Grant moves his hands, stroking the skin of Frank's back and sides, keeping his thrusts even until Frank starts pressing back into them, muttering for more. Grant intersperses slow strokes, nearly pulling out with the quicker cant of his hips. It makes Frank moan every time.

Then Grant gets the angle just right and Frank's vision whites out and his teeth sink into Gerard's skin. Gerard gasps and bucks, his thighs brushing against Frank's, spent cock brushing against Frank's erection. Then Frank gasps, too. He hasn't felt this desperate to come and desperate to last longer in such a long time; he forgot what it feels like. Grant's thrusts feel so good and Frank is startlingly aware of every point where Grant and Gerard are touching him.

"You look so beautiful," Gerard tells him, and Frank leans in and sucks at his jaw. Grant drapes himself over Frank's back. His hair has gotten a little long and Grant pushes it off his neck and starts kissing the skin there. Frank feels surrounded, completely consumed.

"What do you need to come?" Grant asks in his ear. His hips haven't stopped moving gently.

"Want your hand. Or Gerard's hand. Both," Frank says.

"I notice you didn't say that's what you need," Grant pants.

“Don't need anything if you keep -" Frank cuts off with a moan when Grant gives him a nice hard thrust, hitting just the right spot. "Yes, like that. That's all I need."

"I want you to have both." Grant keeps thrusting at the same angle, and Frank braces against it, moaning on each exhale. Gerard wraps one arm around Frank's neck and the other hand around his cock. He's so close. So, so close.

Gerard's hand on his cock and Grant's thrusts make him shake. And then Grant reaches around and tangles his fingers with Gerard's around Frank's cock and Frank comes hard against Gerard's hip and belly, moaning into his cheek. Gerard wraps his arms tightly around Frank, kissing his cheeks and throat while Frank gasps and swears, Grant thrusting hard and erratic now.

"Grant," he moans. Grant's thrusts are sending sparks up and down his spine, it's too much, but Frank doesn't want it to stop.

"Frank," Grant gasps. "So good." And then he's coming, lips pressing against the nape of Frank's neck. He pulls out almost immediately, shifting and nudging Frank until they're in each other's arms. Grant kisses him over and over while Gerard wraps around them both. Frank has trouble catching his breath. Every touch, every kiss is a heady thing. He realizes with sudden clarity that he has never felt so loved in all his life.

"Nothing can replace this," Frank whispers. "Nothing has ever come close to this."

Grant pushes the hair out of his face and cups his cheek. "Nothing will ever have to, mignon."

*

Frank wakes up the next morning with Grant and Gerard wrapped around him and is instantly thrown into confusion before he remembers where he is and how he got there. He feels himself blush as he eases himself out of bed. He has no idea what to do, so he determines to do what he always does when he can’t sleep or think or sit still - go build something in his workshop. But his stirring evidently wakes Grant, and Grant climbs out of bed naked as the day he was born and puts a hand on Frank’s to stop him from picking up the rest of his clothes. "Where are you going?" he asks, voice sleepy and confused.

"I..." Frank answers dumbly.

Grant tugs the clothes out of his hands and pulls him close, twisting his fingers through Frank’s hair. "Where were you going?" he repeats.

“My shop,” Frank admits. “Working is easier than - that is, I was -”

“Running off to hide in the basement?” Grant asks gently.

"Should have known better than to expect you'd let me," Frank laughs. He still feels shaky, like he just nearly dropped something fragile but caught it just in time. Being in Grant's arms is helping.

"We're not letting you go now, mignon," Grant whispers into his hair. “This isn’t over just because the sun has risen. You can work later. For the right reasons.”

"Don't let go," Frank sighs, wrapping his arms around Grant's neck.

Grant picks him up and drops him back into his vacated spot on the mattress, where a sleepy Gerard wraps around him and then rolls on top of him. "Why were you out of bed?" he whispers, leaning down to place soft kisses all over Frank's face. "Thought you knew the plan for today."

Grant gives him a knowing look over Gerard's shoulder. Frank licks his lips. "Grant, ah, cleared things up."

"Good, because I have quite a list of things I'd like to do with you," Gerard murmurs.

"We do have a meeting tonight, you know," Frank reminds him. "We can't stay here all day."

"Mmm, that's plenty of time to start on the list. Start, mind. I don't ever intend to run out of things on it."

"What kinds of things?" Frank asks breathlessly.

"Number one: have Grant hold you right where you are so I can use my mouth on you." Frank and Grant moan in unison, and Gerard laughs. "You're both so transparent."

"Perhaps," Grant allows, leaning up against the pillows and tugging Frank between his spread legs. He doesn't resist Grant closing his hands around Frank’s wrists and drawing them behind his back. Doesn't resist Grant dropping his mouth to bite at Frank’s shoulder.

Gerard smiles predatorily and pushes Frank's legs apart carefully, dropping a kiss on his bad knee and kissing up his thigh. He nuzzles the crease of Frank's hip, kisses his belly, and slowly, slowly draws his tongue up Frank's cock to the tip. Frank arches, head falling back and face pressing into Grant’s neck. "Ohhh," he breathes. "Please, please."

"How long has it been, Frankie?" Grant murmurs.

"Long. Just," Frank gasps. "Just once since..." He can't talk about that now. Not when he's experiencing this.

Grant trails his lips up Frank's neck and sucks on his earlobe. "Gerard will make it so good for you."

Gerard closes his lips lightly around the crown of Frank’s cock, sucks gently, pulls back to flick his tongue under the head then goes down all the way. His mouth feels like sin. Grant's hands tighten on his wrists and Frank's back arches. "Please," he begs again.

"What do you need, Frank?" Grant asks.

"Your arms around me. Please."

He needn’t have begged, in the end. He feels entirely possessed by them, two mouths and four hands leaving their marks, bringing him to completion before the two of them fall into each other. Frank can only watch in awe - they’re every bit as beautiful as they were in the library, but they know he’s here, now. He can touch them.

Frank is struck anew by a wave of self-consciousness when they’re finally dressing for lunch and he discovers how many marks are visible above his collar. There's a meeting after dinner as well, and there’s really no hiding what he’s been up to. And probably no hiding with whom. Grant comes up behind him while he's tying his cravat in the mirror and kisses his temple. Frank watches his hand in the mirror. Grant presses his fingers lightly to the center of the largest bruise and says firmly, "You're ours now. I like being able to see that it's something real."

He finds himself entirely unwilling to argue with that.

*

When Frank seats himself at his usual spot at the table, he’s surprised when Grant and Gerard sit on either side of him. Usually Grant is across the table. Frank knows it’s for his benefit and feels somewhat ridiculous about it, but he cannot deny how very welcome it is to be able to feel them both next to him like this. Especially not when he looks at them and sees their faces, sees the smiles they’re both sporting, the positively smug looks they get when they glance at Frank. When Mikey comes into the room, he eyes them all before sitting by himself on the other side of the table.

Grant waits until they’ve all gotten some food and coffee into themselves before asking Gerard, “What is on your schedule for this afternoon?”

“Before the meeting?” Gerard hums. “Nothing terribly involved. I have some edits to drop off with Becky.”

“I hadn’t realized the first edition had sold so well. You will take care going out?”

Gerard nods. “Of course.” He leans over and jogs Frank’s elbow with his. “You must come with me this time.”

“Whatever you want,” Frank says quietly. Gerard cuts a look at him that makes Frank blush and Grant finds his hand on the edge of the table and taps his fingers gently against the palm until Frank curls their fingers together for a moment.

“Whatever you want,” Grant leans over and murmurs into his ear. Frank blushes even more, if such a thing is possible, and picks his fork back up.

Grant excuses himself to his office after he finishes eating, but Mikey trails Frank and Gerard when they follow a few moments later and snags Frank’s elbow as they file through the door. Frank and Gerard exchange a look and Frank allows Mikey to pull him a short distance down the hall. Mikey is silent for a moment, clearly formulating what he wants to say, and finally he asks, "Grant and Gerard are accustomed to getting exactly what they want. Is this what you want?"

"I can’t answer - well, yes, but it's more than I ever thought to expect," Frank admits after a moment. "But they make me feel... cherished," he says in a whisper, turning red. "And I cannot deny that what I feel for them is beyond... beyond anything I've felt in a very long time. So, yes. It's what I want. Perhaps one day I'll even cease to be startled by it."

Mikey puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes. "Good."

"You are a good friend, Mikey Way," Frank says with a smile.

"Brother," Mikey corrects and wanders off down the hall. Frank gapes after him for a moment, then feels his face stretch into a grin. Gerard comes up to him then, hands clasped behind his back, an expectant look on his face. Frank takes Gerard’s face in his hands and fairly climbs him with kisses. Gerard is momentarily still, then wraps his arms around Frank and kisses back with all he's got.

When they finally pull apart, gasping for air, Grant is standing nearby, leaning against a doorjamb and staring at them hungrily. "I told you we should’ve had lunch brought up," he says mildly.

Frank giggles, but shakes his head. "No, it was good to talk to Mikey. How long do we have until the meeting?"

Grant laughs. "Eager?" he says, stepping close enough to tuck Frank’s wayward hair behind his ear.

"After spending so long without the touch of a single soul, I can't imagine a time when I wouldn't be eager," Frank says honestly.

"Frank," Grant whispers, cupping Frank’s face in both hands. "Don't say such things unless you're prepared for the consequences."

"Whatever the consequences might be, I will gladly take them," Frank whispers back, bringing his own hands up to hold Grant's to his face.

"I had work I had planned to do this afternoon, my darling. I fear my concentration is now elsewhere," Grant tells him, tracing Frank’s lower lip with his thumb.

"As is mine," Gerard adds. He's leaning on the wall by the stairs, watching expectantly.

"I'm sorry. I don't mean to be so desperate," Frank says quietly.

"But you wear it so well," Grant murmurs. "Ask, Frank. You'll get whatever you desire, I am sure."

"I want everything. So many things, I can't even begin to choose. You choose for me."

Grant hauls in a sharp breath and Gerard laughs. "Well, that's done it for sure," he tells Frank.

"Upstairs, both of you," Grant growls.

Gerard reaches out and takes Frank's hand with a grin and pulls him out of Grant's arms and up the stairs. Frank laughs breathlessly. Gerard has him pinned to the bed before Grant even gets the door closed, and they wrestle for a moment, Frank grinning evilly when he flips Gerard. Then Grant comes up behind him and pulls him in for a kiss with a handful of his hair. Frank shudders, and Grant brings his other hand to grip Frank's side. "Do you like that? Like being handled? Do you like the the sting of your hair being pulled, my darling?"

"Yes," Frank answers breathlessly. "All of it. Yes." Grant tightens his grip in Frank's hair and Frank moans.

"Beautiful," Grant whispers against his lips. Gerard leans up against his other side, bites down on his neck. Frank gasps.

"I think he likes that too," Gerard tells Grant.

"I like everything. Don't stop."

"Stop what?" Grant asks, running his fingers across Frank's torso.

"Touching me," Frank whimpers.

"Do you think we could? After what you said downstairs?"

Frank just moans. Their hands are everywhere, mouths only leaving him when they kiss each other. Somehow they manage to strip each other out of their clothing anyway. Frank tries to watch, but keeping his eyes open is more difficult than he anticipated. They tend to him as well when his eager hands prove to be more hindrance than help. Grant places kisses and little bites all along Frank's collarbones and then up his neck, and murmurs in his ear, "I think it's time for Gerard to take you. You'll be his first in many years."

Gerard goes still; his hands stop moving and he breathes hard against Frank's shoulder. Grant reaches out and runs a hand down Gerard's shoulder, brushes Gerard's hair from his face. Gerard looks up and Frank catches a look of such feeling passing between the two of them. "Since before I met you, chaton."

Grant leans over Frank and kisses Gerard. "I believe I want to watch this," Grant murmurs when he pulls back. He looks down at Frank. "I want to watch him make you come apart. And you him."

Grant gives Gerard and then Frank a final kiss each and moves to lean against a pile of pillows. Frank watches him, watches his muscles flex and pull as he adjusts his position. He can’t stop watching; Grant is gracefully muscled and far stronger than he appears in his fine suits. Frank shudders pleasantly, and then Gerard's hand is on his cheek, pulling his face back.

"God, Frankie," Gerard says and leans down to kiss him, explores Frank's mouth with his tongue. Frank clutches the sheets with one hand and Gerard's waist with the other. He feels Grant pry the linens from his fingers and takes Frank's hand in his own. Frank clutches that instead, squeezes hard when Gerard goes over the marks Grant left on his collarbone with his tongue.

Gerard moves his lips back to Frank's, whispers against them, "I wanted to take my time. Wanted to go slow and explore every inch of you. But it's too much. You're too much. This time will have to be faster. Next time will be slow. I shall worship you with every touch."

"You are," Frank manages to say without whimpering. He does squeeze Grant's hand, though. "You… it feels amazing. Every touch."

Gerard leans up and runs a hand from Frank's shoulder to his hip. With the other hand, he reaches out for the jar on the bedside table before settling back on his knees between Frank's legs. "Spread wider for me, mignon," Gerard murmurs. Frank widens his legs. He wonders what he looks like, on display for them.

Grant answers the question by leaning in and telling Frank exactly that. "You look like sin. But like every good thing in the world." And then Gerard's fingers are stroking between his legs, between his cheeks, and one presses inside. Frank gasps, clutches Grant's hand tighter.

"More," he demands before he can stop himself.

Grant laughs in his ear. "More you shall get, isn't that right, Gerard?"

"Yes," Gerard confirms and slides a second finger in.

Frank moans again and Gerard starts moving his fingers, crooking them in just the right spot, and leaning down to kiss his stomach. It feels perfect.

"Please," Frank begs. "Oh, please."

Frank forces himself to keep his eyes open, to watch Gerard as he slicks himself up, watch as he positions himself, watch as he slowly presses inside Frank. Once Gerard is all the way in, he holds himself there, hands on either side of Frank's torso, staring down at him.

"Frank," Gerard moans. "Amazing. You feel so amazing. I can't… oh, fuck." Gerard lowers himself on top of Frank, wraps him in his arms, buries his head in Frank's neck, and starts thrusting. He continues like that for a minute before leaning up a little bit again, getting his hand between them, wrapping it around Frank's cock, and speeding up the thrusts.

"Gerard," Frank gasps. "So good."

Gerard thrusts hard into Frank one last time and comes. The sensation makes Frank suck in a deep breath and clutch Grant's hand again. Gerard rides out his orgasm and then pulls out, going back on his knees. Frank lets out a needy little whine, but he’s past embarrassment, especially when Gerard speeds up his hand on Frank's cock, sliding three fingers inside Frank and picking up where he left off. Frank thinks he'd melt into a puddle if not for Grant's hand holding his, keeping him grounded.

"Come on, Frankie," Gerard croons. "Let go."

"Do as he says, Frank," Grant tells him. "Come for him."

Frank's hips snap up and his back arches, coming all over his own belly and Gerard's hand.

When he can breathe again, he twists a hand through Gerard's hair and pulls him in for a sloppy, endless kiss. Grant still has Frank's other hand in his grip. When Frank finally pulls away from Gerard, Grant squeezes his fingers once before letting go of Frank and sliding his hand around the back of Gerard’s neck, pulling him in. "Chaton," Gerard whispers before their lips meet.

When Grant releases him, Gerard pulls his fingers out. He goes slow, but Frank sucks in a startled breath anyway. Gerard kisses him until he relaxes again, then Frank turns and presses his lips to Grant's. He runs a hand down Grant's chest and keeps kissing and kissing and kissing. When he finally pulls himself away and sits up, Grant whispers, "Where do you think you're going?"

Frank just smiles and straddles Grant’s thighs. Grant gives him a questioning little smile, rests a hand around Frank's thigh and looks expectantly up at him. Frank slides his fingers down Grant’s chest and over his stomach, tracing all the marks and scars he can reach until Grant trembles under his touch.

While Frank is still busy exploring Grant’s skin, Gerard curls close and starts whispering in Grant's ear. Frank can just make out the words, hear him say how gorgeous Grant is and playfully tease him, "You didn't tell me how good Frank feels. I bet you can hardly wait to be inside him again."

Frank takes hold of Grant's cock then, making him moan.

"Everything about him feels good," Grant responds, looking up at Frank.

"I'm good with my hands," Frank tells him with a little grin.

"I know," Grant says. "I've been watching them since the first time we met."

"All those times you watched me explain my devices?" Frank says, giving Grant's shaft a few gentle strokes, a twist of his fist around the head.

"Every time," Grant replies breathlessly. "I always listened, though."

Frank bends down and kisses the center of his chest. "I know."

He sits back up and speeds up his strokes a little, watching Grant's face, watching Gerard's. All this time, all this waiting and wanting, and Gerard is precisely as passionate as Frank had imagined. But Grant... Frank had only ever imagined being taken. Never Grant still and waiting and panting under his hands. He's equally enamored of both, now.

"So much better than any machine. So much more beautiful," Frank whispers and twists his fist around the head of Grant's cock again, runs his thumb over the slit. Grant bites back a noise.

"Unacceptable, chaton," Gerard tells him. "Let us hear." Frank watches him suck a love bite into the side of Grant's neck and slows down his strokes until Grant groans again.

"Faster," he says. Frank speeds up the motion of his hand and Grant turns his face, captures Gerard's lips with his. Frank unashamedly stares as he keeps his hand’s pace on Grant's cock. He still loves the fact that he can watch them now, doesn't have to politely look away. He's been trailing the fingers of his other hand up and down Grant's thigh. Now he drops them to grasp Grant's balls and squeezes lightly.

"Frank!" Grant moans. "Please."

A request is all Frank needs. He flicks his thumb over the head of Grant’s cock in response, tugging and massaging Grant’s balls with the other hand. Grant's hips start moving a bit, and Frank clamps his thighs more firmly but loosens his grip to let Grant thrust up into his fist. Gerard reaches out and starts tracing loops and lines over Grant's chest, rolling Grant’s nipples between his fingers. Grant gasps and moans and thrusts up harder into Frank's hand.

"I want to see your face this time," Frank tells him. "Please, show me."

Grant opens his eyes and looks up at him immediately. "You may have - whatever you like."

Frank breathes in and keeps stroking Grant as Gerard kisses across Grant's chest, up his neck and down to the shell of his ear. "Come for us," Gerard whispers.

Grant keeps his eyes on Frank's, thrusts up one more time, and groans Frank’s name as he comes.

"Right here," Frank answers, stroking him through it, then lifting his hand and licking a drop off the side of his thumb.

"Christ, Frank," Grant whispers, panting and spent. "Get down here." He tugs at Frank's thigh. Frank crawls in between Grant and Gerard - his new favorite spot in the house, maybe the world. Grant pulls him close, one hand cupping his shoulder, the other cupping his cheek. "The two of you may be the death of me, but I shall go happy and loved."

Frank frowns. "That's not - no. I will not lose you now."

"A joke, mignon," Grant whispers, kissing him.

"No joking about such things when... anything could happen," Frank whispers back. "I can't..."

"I'm sorry," Grant says. "Trust me when I say I now have every possible inducement to stay safe and sound. And I need the two of you to stay safe as well. I know it would be impractical and foolish to make absolute promises to each other, but I can promise to do my utmost to come out of the next few weeks or months alive. Promise me the same?" Grant's voice is ragged and Frank tightens his arms around him.

"I'd like to spend the summer in the country," Gerard says, like he always does. "With the two of you."

"I want that too," Frank whispers, nuzzling Gerard. "And I want to spend next winter back here, reading in the library and tinkering with wires in the basement and right here in this bed between the two of you."

*

When a crate arrives at the house bearing his name, Frank is surprised for a moment. And then a little whimper comes from inside and he remembers with a rush what precipitated the last few days of wonder and distraction. He races down to his workroom and grabs a hammer and comes back upstairs to pry open the crate.

The commotion draws the rest of the household, Gerard leaning into Grant and both of them smiling down at Frank, Mikey hovering at the doorway with a slight smile on his face as well. Frank gets the lid off to find a chubby bundle of bulldog puppy blinking up at him.

"Oh, look at you," he coos, lifting the puppy out of the crate. He holds it up for a moment, and just looks at it. "Aren't you the cutest little fellow?" He pulls the puppy close to his chest and beams up at Grant and Gerard.

"What will you call him?" Gerard asks, bending down to stroke the puppy’s ears.

"Buckley," Frank says. He's not sure where it came from, but he likes it. "You're now Buckley," he tells the little bundle already dropping off to sleep in his arms. Charles whisks the crate away and they all go into the parlor where everyone takes a turn holding the puppy before going back to the things they were doing before, leaving Frank and the puppy alone. When the puppy wakes again after a short nap, Frank buckles the collar Grant and Gerard gave him around Buckley’s neck and attaches the matching lead.

He pops his head into the library to let Mikey know he's going out, and he and Buckley walk out onto their street. For the first few blocks, everything seems unchanged, but the closer he gets to the center of town the more evident it is that changes are underway in the city. When Buckley pauses to lift his leg on a bin on the edge of a pretty little park, Frank looks down and notices a trodden-on, torn copy of the broadsheet he and Becky recently finished. It's strange and somewhat gratifying.

Farther down the street he passes a coffee house. There's a group of students talking amongst themselves outside, voices carrying across the road. Words like "Millar" and "Gaiman" and curses about "war machines" and "poverty" are repeated more than once. Frank nearly stops and stares. Just a few weeks ago, those sorts of conversations were kept hushed, only for private rooms where one was sure not to be overheard.

The puppy pulls at the lead, wanting to smell something, and Frank is brought back to his purpose. He walks where Buckley's nose leads them and they come to a busy cross street. A steam carriage passes to reveal a small phalanx of soldiers marching down the road, guns resting on their shoulders with bayonets affixed to the barrels.

Frank's heart leaps in his chest. His first instinct is to run the other direction. They've had military patrols like this in the past, but usually when there's been an attack from New Brittany. Instead of running, he turns down the street and walks sedately in the opposite direction. He's virtually unknown and walking a dog; he wouldn't be stopped. He turns down the next street, picks up Buckley, skirts around the other side of the park he passed earlier, and cuts back over to the street he was on.

It was excessive, he knows, but he feels better. He puts Buckley back down and walks the rest of the way home.

He finds Grant in the library and Grant pulls him close for a kiss. He's done it every time he encounters Frank after some time apart, but Frank is especially grateful of it now.

"Good walk, mignon?" Grant asks.

"Good until I nearly ran into a military patrol," Frank replies. "Which was more alarming than an actual concern for me at the moment, I'm certain. But still."

"That is their point, I'm afraid," Grant says, running a hand gently up and down his arm. "They want to alarm and pacify the populace."

"I think they're already too late for that," Frank replies, remembering the other things he saw. "Our most recent broadsheet is everywhere. I heard some students at one of the coffee houses discussing it quite vociferously. Buckley and I were all the way across the street."

"Interesting," Grant replies. "And good for us. I'm sure the others have similar stories. You'll have to share at the meeting tonight."

Frank nods. The last few days of quiet were probably the last ones they'll have for who knows how long.

*

James is the first to arrive, looking as jovial as usual. He gets tea and bread from the sideboard and sits himself down.

"Well, has it arrived?" he asks Frank.

"Has what arrived?" Frank questions.

"Gerard said he and Grant had a... surprise for you. He couldn't shut his trap about it the last time I saw him," James replies, looking at Frank expectantly.

Frank looks over at Gerard, eyebrow raised.

"He means Buckley," Gerard explains. "I was pretty excited about him."

"Of course you were," Frank says fondly. He nearly reaches out to touch Gerard, but stops himself. "I can go get him if you'd like to meet him," Frank says to James.

"Of course! Nothing better than a puppy," James says cheerfully. Frank has to agree.

"The whole meeting is going to be taken up with everyone cooing over your dog," Grant says as Frank turns to go get Buckley. His tone bears no reprimand and Frank grins up at him.

"You brought it on yourself, getting me a present everyone would want to admire," he says.

"Well, go get him," Grant says, shooing him out the door. "Perhaps we can get all the cooing over and done with quickly."

Frank just laughs. When he gets back into the room, Buckley snoozing in his arms, Grant is the first one to come over and give him a few scratches and gentle pets.

Grant also gives Frank a kiss to the temple, which nearly takes his breath. So, not hiding. Frank can't deny how good that feels.

And then everyone else is upon him. The room started filling up while he was gone and Buckley gets passed from person to person. Frank can't help but love how all these adults here for a very serious purpose are rendered momentarily childlike by an adorable dog.

Eventually, Buckley is handed back to Frank by a reluctant Lady Jill. He takes a seat next to Gerard and the meeting begins. For the first few minutes, both Frank and Gerard keep getting distracted by the snuffly snores Buckley makes. And then conversation turns serious and Frank listens and participates as needed.

"I watched the movements of the various patrols," Ray says. Frank isn’t the only one who’s seen them over the course of the past days. "They come at regular intervals. They look frightening enough, but they're not meant to be a serious threat, otherwise the patrols would be more random. Each of them walk fixed circuits and the movements can be timed down to the minute."

"It is good they aren't taking us seriously yet," Lady Jill says. "If we continue to tread carefully, we can take them unawares."

"Neil - Minister Gaiman - is set to arrive on shore in Port Merchant at some point within the next week or so, as long as we can get him safe passage through customs and here to the capital," Grant says. "We'll need to mobilize quickly and efficiently when that happens. Be watchful and listen carefully. Any intelligence we gather that can be used to, shall we say, smooth his path here would be most helpful."

"It's been a while since I've been able to listen to any recordings from the devices we have planted," Frank pipes up. "If there's a way they can be brought to me, I can make that my project for the next several days."

Grant nods. "Thank you, Frank. Any intelligence, any leads, no matter how small they might seem, can be brought to the group at any time. It's time to end this, friends. To get our country back from those who stole it."

*

Frank is in his workroom with Buckley trying to repair a broken plate so he can determine if there's anything useful on it when Mikey sets another card on the table in front of him.

"Was out at a party last night and managed to pick that up," he says.

"Priority?" Frank asks, picking up the card to inspect it for any damage.

"Medium, I'd say. There were some high-profile officials there, but I never saw them leave the room at the same time," Mikey replies.

Frank nods. "Thanks," he says as he places the plate in the player. He can listen as he repairs the other one. He sets it playing and picks up his soldering iron.

"Alicia's here, I'm going back up," Mikey says and disappears. Frank waves without looking up.

Normal party noises start emitting from the speaker. He hears distant music, the usual inane conversation that happens at parties, and the clink of glasses. Then there's a light thunk and the background noises fade as if a door had closed. A throat clears, but the voices are still hushed. Frank turns up the volume and leans closer.

"...and the Iberians have agreed to assassinate Gaiman? In exchange for?" Frank scrabbles to stop the recording. This is... he needs to get Grant and Gerard.

He takes the stairs two at a time, the twinge in his leg making him regret not wearing his brace. He bursts into the library, breathing heavily, and everyone immediately looks up at him.

"Frank?" Gerard asks.

"I think... I think we've got it. Come listen."

They're all up in an instant, following him downstairs. Buckley blinks sleepily at them from his bed on the table. Frank sets the recording back a bit and plays it again.

"And the Iberians have agreed to assassinate Gaiman? In exchange for?"

A second person laughs. "Weaponry, of course. The Iberians are fond of their grudges, after all. And we have the best weapons in the world."

"And when will this happen?"

"As soon as they find him. They’re waiting on our word to send spies to Jerias. They're meant to make it look like an accident or natural death, of course. No one needs for him to become a martyr."

"God, no. That would be tiresome to say the least."

They keep listening as the conversation on the plate turns to other topics.

"That's Chancellor Daniel, isn't it? The pompous one," Alicia asks.

"Yes. And a voice known to the people, since he often reads the weekly government broadcasts," Grant answers.

Frank stops the playback. He'll keep listening later, but for now...

"This is it, right? This is the thing that could...?"

"Yes," Grant says. He's actually pale with tension.

"The press," Gerard says urgently, clearly already several steps ahead.

"We need to write something up immediately. Though I don't know how many people will be willing to publish it in the newspapers," Grant says. “Libel, you know.”

“You mean treason,” Gerard corrects him.

"Becky and I can print it if you write it. Get the accusations spreading. Then maybe the newspapers will pick it up," Frank says.

"The university," Gerard says. "Distribute there, hire them to paper the city."

"Do we have anyone who could broadcast this over the government wireless station?" Frank wonders.

Grant shakes his head. “No, the station’s always been too closely guarded. Also I’m sure their technology is no match for yours.”

"Or... I could... there needs to be a way for people to hear this. I've nearly perfected my portable phonograph. It's not to where I want it, but... it would work, perhaps, for smaller groups."

"Is there any way to copy and enhance that?" Mikey asks, nodding at the card.

"I don’t usually bother, but yes. It would take twenty minutes, at worst," Frank replies.

"Do it while Gerard and I write," Grant says.

"I will," Frank says. "I only have a couple of prototypes of the smallest portable phonograph, but if we play them in public squares, perhaps enough people will hear to spread the word, so when the broadsheet comes out, people will really believe it."

"And when you've started a riot?" Alicia asks.

Grant sighs heavily. "I don't know what else we could do. People need to know about this; we are not strong enough by ourselves to topple the government from within, even with this information as a tool. Do you have any suggestions, Miss Simmons? That's an honest question, I'm not trying to be condescending."

She makes a face. "No, I don't. I just feel we need to prepare ourselves for it as a certainty now, rather than a possibility."

They all nod gravely.

Suddenly Grant's hands cup Frank’s cheeks and he's being kissed fiercely. "You are a marvel," Grant tells him. "Without you... I can't even fathom."

Frank smiles. "Without me, you'd be fine. Most of the work was done long before I joined you."

"But this final piece," Gerard says, pulling Frank out of Grant's grip and kissing him. "This was the thing we've been needing to mobilize the people. We wouldn't have it without you."

"So go write, so we can do just that," Frank says, shooing them both toward the stairs.

It takes Frank half an hour to make two new plates of the audio clip, copying the sequence to make it play multiple times. There is one plate for each of his portable phonograph prototypes, and it will have to be enough. He sets the original aside in a safe place and nestles his prototypes in carrying cases. Frank is upstairs in under an hour, and Grant and Gerard are still writing. Usually, they bicker over word choice and sentence structure but this time they are quick and efficient. Nothing is discussed at length, just written down. He sits with Mikey and Alicia and listens.

"Done?" Gerard asks after another quarter of an hour.

"I believe so," Grant replies and looks to Frank. "We sent a message to Becky telling her you'd be along with something very important and urgent."

Frank nods. "This is it? I don't need anything else?"

"It's ready. Send word when you're done and we'll send the others to pick up the prints," Gerard says.

"I will," Frank gets up and reaches for the paper still under Grant's hand on the desk. Grant moves his hand and gives it to Frank.

"Work swift and be safe, mignon," Grant says.

"I will," Frank repeats. Promises. As he's walking to Becky's, he belatedly realizes he really should have put on his brace before leaving.

Everything but the job at hand flees his mind once he reaches the press. They have much to do and very little time in which to do it. Becky is already laying type when he walks in and gives him a tight smile. They work through the rest of the day. At some point, food appears - he thinks perhaps Ray brought it - and he eats it standing at the press. They finish just as the sky outside lightens - it's approaching dawn. Frank sends word as he promised and then sits down in a soft chair in Becky's apartment. He’s asleep almost immediately and doesn't wake again until her alarm clock chimes loudly from her bedroom.

***

Gerard is drinking coffee amongst the presses with Becky when Frank comes down from Becky's little flat upstairs, rubbing his face and looking entirely exhausted. Gerard pops up from his chair and immediately wraps his arms around Frank.

"I apologize," Frank mutters into Gerard's shirt. "I just wanted to sit down for a moment. I didn't mean to fall asleep."

"You only slept for an hour," Gerard tells him. "And you deserved it. Have some coffee and then we can go. I brought your portable phonograph and the plate. Grant wants us to go to the market and play it there."

Gerard pulls away and Becky hands Frank a mug. "What are the others doing? What is Grant doing?" Frank asks after the first sip.

"We got broadsheets to the students and they've been told to paper the city with them. Mikey, Alicia, and James took the first train to Port Merchant with all the rest. They'll spread the word there. They took the second portable phonograph with them," Gerard explains. "Ray said they played it in the station and handed out broadsheets before they left."

"What's Ray doing?" Frank asks.

"He's gone to the factories to talk to everyone there. He may meet us at the market if he finishes, but I think he'll be at it for a while," Gerard says.

"And Grant?"

"Grant and Lady Jill are going 'round to all our contacts in parliament, the military, and society and spreading the word with them." Gerard can't help but grimace. In some ways, it's the most risky of all the tasks everyone is carrying out today. Any one of those people could snap their fingers and have Grant arrested. Though of course, arresting a titled lord is risky in and of itself.

Apparently Frank reads his mind because he reaches over and takes Gerard's hand. "They'll be fine. They're very good at what they do."

Gerard squeezes Frank's hand and nods.

Frank drains the last of his coffee and takes a deep breath. "Right then."

"Good luck, you two," Becky says. "Be safe. I'm going to have a short kip and then keep printing these things. I imagine we'll need more over the coming days."

“Keep the door locked and your eyes open,” Frank says.

"Thank you, Becky," Gerard adds. "Your help is always invaluable."

She grins and makes shooing motions at them. "Go out there and make that true."

Gerard lifts the crate full of broadsheets. Frank puts on his coat and picks up the case holding the portable phonograph and they head toward the market. It's still early and the walkways are filled with vendors and shoppers. Frank grabs a stray sturdy crate and sets it next to a pillar in the center of the market. He unloads the phonograph, handing it to Gerard before climbing onto the crate. Gerard hands it back once he’s settled and Frank sets it playing.

At first, people just ignore and walk around them. One person absently drops a few coins in the phonograph carrying case. Gerard would laugh at being mistaken for buskers if this wasn't such a serious matter.

Gerard hands the broadsheets to anyone who will take them, and Frank resets the phonograph every time the recording stops, but it takes a while before anyone stops to actually listen to the words of Chancellor Daniel and his companion.

"Is that some sort of trick?" a woman selling vegetables nearby asks. "Isn't that Chancellor Daniel?"

"No, it's not a trick," Gerard says and hands her a broadsheet. "We wish it was."

"It's a recorded conversation," Frank says. "And that paper has a transcription."

A few students Gerard recognizes arrive and he hands them stacks of papers. They start going up and down the market, giving them to everyone and telling them to go listen to Frank's recording if they don't believe the paper. Once the people start actually reading the broadsheet and listening to the recording, the change that comes over the market is swift and startling.

"I think it's high time we went down to parliament and demanded some answers," someone shouts and half the market shouts back in agreement. The voices are angry and a group of people leaves the market, clearly intent on going up to parliament. Some continue talking, about how the country has gone to the dogs, about betrayal, about sending their sons to fight in a war that only lines the pockets of those in charge. A war it appears the enemy doesn’t want. A war that could be over.

Frank taps his shoulder and Gerard looks up at him. “I think we can leave here. Should we move to the square, do you think?" Frank asks.

Gerard thinks. "Too much military presence that close to the parliament buildings. Perhaps near the public gardens?"

"There's going to be too much military presence everywhere shortly," Frank says with a sigh as he carefully gets off the crate and places the phonograph into its case.

Gerard nods grimly. "All the better to make sure as many people hear it as possible before then."

"We're going to need to move fast," Frank says and looks down at his leg with a frown.

"We'll be fine," Gerard says. "I'll help you if you need it."

They go to the gardens and play the recording there and hand out broadsheets. As the morning grows older, the class shift in the public gardens is obvious and their own position grows increasingly precarious. They move on more quickly, going anywhere people gather. The atmosphere in the city is almost terrifyingly tense. Tension only grows when the newsboys come out to the street corners and start shouting about a special edition paper featuring an expose on the plot to assassinate former Prime Minister Gaiman.

"My god," Gerard whispers. "Grant or someone must have talked to the right person at the paper."

Frank nods. "We should go home now. Quickly.”

They're across town now, in a remote neighborhood. Going home means they need to walk near Parliament Square. They hear the trouble long before they get there.

Frank grabs Gerard’s arm, but Gerard’s already ducking behind the corner of a building. “Was that -”

“Fireworks,” Gerard says immediately. “The troops wouldn’t fire on protesters. They wouldn’t.” He tries to sound sure, but Frank still looks dubious. “Let’s take this alley over a block or two, it’s where the patent offices are. No one will be protesting there.”

They cross behind a few buildings and promptly get stuck behind a barricade. They exchange a look. “I smell smoke,” Frank mutters.

“We need to find a way around it,” Gerard says tensely.

They take a dozen different alleys. Frank looks lost by the fifth turn, and Gerard isn’t much better, but eventually they stumble past a hedge and out onto a familiar - and blessedly quiet - boulevard. “Just a few more blocks,” Gerard urges Frank. They are nearly running, both of them pale and still with tension under the soot that has somehow coated their skin. It’s getting dark. They’ve been dodging protesters and troops alike for hours. A regrettable portion of the city center is on fire. Frank is clutching the phonograph case against his chest and Gerard has an arm wrapped tightly around Frank's waist, holding him up when his leg wobbles on him.

When they reach their own street Gerard steers them down the back alley to the kitchen door. Frank no more than bolts the door behind them before Grant bursts in from the house. He's white as a sheet.

"Grant," Gerard huffs, breath coming hard. Frank leans hard against his side and Gerard backs them over to a bench by the wall. Grant silently takes the phonograph from Frank and helps him sit, then steps back and paces back and forth in front of them.

"I have never been so.... Don't you dare do that to me again."

"There were barricades, we got delayed.... Grant, please," Gerard begs.

"I was terrified," Grant whispers.

"My leg didn't exactly help our speed," Frank says with a frown.

"There were explosions," Grant says, staring away from them at the kitchen table.

"Smoke bombs. To frighten people," Gerard replies. "What happened to 'We all know the risks we're taking, but it must be done'?" Gerard asks, getting up and laying a hand on Grant's shoulder.

"It's one thing to know, and quite another to be faced with the risks so suddenly," Grant says, finally turning to look at Gerard. He looks like he's still reeling, still terrified. Frank struggles to get up and come over to them.

"Grant," he whispers.

Grant meets his eyes, then drags Frank into his arms. "I've just begun with you both, I cannot lose you now."

"You know I feel the same," Frank murmurs back, glancing over to Gerard. Gerard reaches out and runs the back of his fingers down Frank's cheek. It's a little rough since he's not shaved in a couple of days. "I feel like my life has only just begun to make sense again. I'll not lose that now."

"It had to be done," Gerard says. "Grant... I was worried about you as well. But I really think we're going to win. We just need to hold on."

Grant nods. "Staying together at all times would be impractical, but I wish we could."

"We have tonight," Frank says, kissing Grant's cheek.

"That we do," Grant says with slight smile. Gerard steps into his space and kisses him too.

"Let's go upstairs, chaton," Gerard says. "You can see for yourself that we are completely unharmed."

*

The next day, they get word from Mikey detailing the news from Port Merchant. He says the people of the city are marching in the street. That the mayor and much of the city government are under increasing pressure to resign and that people are stepping in to serve where they can. He closes by informing them that their "package" will be arriving the next day and that the three of them are just going to stay and pick it up from customs and bring it to the house personally.

"It's been so long, I can hardly believe it," Grant says. Gerard nods and slips his hand into Grant's.

It's all very surreal. They want to go down to Parliament Square together and join in the protests for a while, but they still have some behind-the-scenes work and meetings, so they stay put. Frank chafes most about staying in, but Gerard can tell his leg is particularly painful after their day yesterday and he can barely move from his chair in the library, never mind actually walk to the square.

Grant has someone from the paper in to see and hear all the evidence they've gathered against the current regime in the last several months and that gives Frank something to do, playing back the plates.

Gerard knows he won't rest properly until Mikey is back in the house, so he tries to make himself useful where he can. He takes the reports their compatriots give when they drop by and helps Grant talk with several of the nobility who start showing up at their door, wondering what to do and how to support Neil.

It's when Ray visits to tell him that the army has all but stopped working against the protesters, that many have laid down their weapons and joined in, that Gerard realizes that they really are going to win.

An hour later, Grant enters the room. "I've just received a telegram. Our generals intend to arrest Millar and several of his closest advisors tonight."

Gerard swallows hard and looks at Grant, then Frank. "Neil should be here in a couple of hours. He could speak as early as tomorrow."

The time until Neil arrives is interminable. But finally he's there in their library with James and Mikey and Alicia. Gerard hugs Mikey tight, glad he's back, then stands back to watch as Grant pulls Neil to him and hugs him for a long while.

"It's been too long, friend," he hears Grant say before he pulls back.

Ray arrives not long after, looking rumpled and tired, but with an edge of triumph to him. And then Alicia disappears for a few moments and returns through the tunnel with Lady Jill who flings herself into Neil's arms.

"My dear Jill. I take it you missed me," Neil murmurs into her hair, holding her close. Gerard has to take Frank's hand just then.

Gradually, the room starts filling up with all their friends and allies. Gerard is delighted to see Cameron Stewart, one of Neil's close associates. They met and became friendly when Gerard was last on Jerias and Cameron is his same, dry self.

When Grant introduces Neil to Frank, he's rather effusive about the help Frank has given them, how Neil would not even be with them in this moment had Frank not been so competent. Neil reaches out and shakes his hand solemnly, thanking him. Frank blushes bright and tries to turn the praise to others, but no one allows it, which makes Gerard smile smugly.

It's amazing how many of them have been working so closely, so tirelessly for this moment. They're all filling the library, eating the cold buffet the servants put out and talking excitedly but in hushed voices, as if raising them might break the spell and the promise of tomorrow won't happen.

The whole place does explode into cheers when they receive confirmation that Millar has been arrested. After that, people gradually start drifting away to their own homes. When Neil starts nodding off in his chair, they shoo the remaining few out and it's just their small group for a little while longer. Gradually, they all make their way to bed.

Gerard says goodnight to Mikey and hugs him again in the hall for several minutes before going to their room. He makes a stop in the parlor, grabs Buckley from the spot he’s claimed on a chair and carries him upstairs. Frank and Grant are already sleepily undressing each other and when Frank sees Buckley, he plucks him from Gerard's arms and holds him close, kissing his head before tucking him into his dog bed. And then Gerard and Grant tug him into theirs.

"Tomorrow's the day," Grant murmurs.

"When everything begins again," Gerard adds.

"Not us," Frank says into Gerard's throat. Gerard squeezes his arm around Frank's waist and Grant kisses Gerard's forehead. No, not them.

***

Morning comes a mere three hours later and there is much to do. Parliament calls an emergency session and fights for hours. They all spend a lot of time running around and talking to people. Frank plays the recording of Chancellor Daniel for more than one MP and by the time he's done, he's certain everything about that recording is etched permanently into his memory. Grant stays close; they know quite a few of the MPs, and other titled acquaintances, Gerard is sure, are more than a little offended at the idea of recording devices being placed in their homes. But it’s not a concern for today. The matter of the vote is.

Finally, parliament manages a vote to appoint Neil interim Prime Minister in the early evening. Not half an hour later, Neil goes out on the steps of the Parliament building to give a speech with all of them gathered round and half the city filling the square.

“Friends,” Neil begins, “it's been many years since I had the opportunity to speak with you like this.

“Late last night Prime Minister Millar and several of his closest advisors were arrested on charges of military conspiracy, illegal weapons sales, and aiding and abetting enemies of the state.

“I have been elected interim Prime Minister and will do my best to restore this country to its rightful state. My first order of business is to declare the war with New Brittany over as of this moment; we will bring your sons home from the front as soon as carriers can be arranged.

“What many of you did not know - before the papers spread the word some days ago - is that I had already been working from my temporary home base on Jerias to treat for peace with New Brittany. They are as tired of these battles as we, my friends, and wish to heal the wounds between our two countries to keep that peace, and guard both our borders from foreign threat and piracy alike.

“I wish to extend my most sincere gratitude to all who worked tirelessly to bring about today’s peace, and to those who’ve given their time, their health, their families, and their lives in service to our country. We are strong, and we will rebuild, and we will thrive. And I am privileged to serve you. Thank you.”

The entire square erupts into applause and doesn't stop for ten minutes.

Neil spends the next hour talking to people, greeting as many of the people in the square who want to speak with them as he can. It's amazing to see. Finally, they all go back in and this time, the voices are loud, not hushed. Everyone is talking at once, talking excitedly. Making plans, talking about rebuilding the country. It's all a little bit overwhelming.

"Morrison, any ambitions to be an MP?" Neil calls out a little while later.

"God, no," Grant replies with a laugh.

Neil walks up to them, his face growing more serious. "How about a personal advisor? I'll be needing a cabinet."

"Fuck, ask Jill!" Grant replies, still laughing.

"I already have. Do think about it, Grant. I could use your help," Neil says.

Grant looks at Frank, then Gerard, then starts speaking. "I'm not saying yes, but if I did, it would have to be a short term. And I would need at least several weeks in the summer to take my family to the country. I have books to write, Neil. Being a cabinet member would severely limit my writing time."

Neil laughs, "It would also limit the time you'd have to satisfy two lovers." Frank feels his face heat, but Grant just laughs. After that, Grant's pulled in one direction by Jill and Neil and Gerard in another by Mr. Stewart and Frank ends up having an extended conversation with James about possible business opportunities that might arise now that everything is changing. Finally, Frank is certain he won't be able to keep his eyes open much longer and he sidles up to Grant, slipping his hand into Grant's.

"Can we go home?" he whispers

"Of course, mignon," Grant whispers back.

"Neil," Grant says. "You know you have my support. I will speak with my family and give it serious consideration. For now, I think it's time for us to go home. The last few days are catching up, I fear."

Neil claps him on the shoulder and says, "Thank you for everything you've done, friend. You've done more than enough and should you retire from the political game now, not one person here would hold it against you."

They gather Mikey and Gerard from where they're talking to some people nearby and leave. They walk through the streets, which are still teeming with activity and people despite the late hour. There's an energy and excitement to everything that the city hasn't seen in Frank's memory. Frank can tell Gerard is merely biding his time until they get indoors and he can take hold of one or the other of them. Grant is looking lighter, freer than he has since Frank met him. Mikey lets out a tuneless whistle as they turn down their street. Frank knows he'll likely sneak through the tunnel to visit Alicia later. She and Lady Jill left the party not long before they did. He wonders when they'll make an official announcement. Soon, he'd bet.

Frank wonders what the future will be like. He can hardly remember the time before Millar and the war. He'd been just a boy when everything had changed.

Mikey disappears as soon as they reach the house - no one is surprised - but Frank is paying more attention to the arm wrapping around his waist, anyway. He turns into the embrace, pulls his hands from his pockets and looks up at Grant, then to Gerard who has pressed himself against Grant's other side. Frank takes a step and tugs Gerard until they've formed a tight little triangle.

"We've done it, chaton," Gerard whispers.

"We have," Grant replies. "Not without significant help from our dear Frank."

"I love you both," Frank tells them, "and I'm so happy, but I'm so tired." He punctuates it with a yawn.

Grant tips his head up anyway. "You love us?"

"So much I'm sometimes afraid I might burst from it," Frank tells him and leans up for a kiss. Grant obliges him with a pleased sound.

"Frankie," Gerard says, sounding happy and desperate. Frank turns his head and Gerard's mouth is on him instantly. Gerard's kiss is more urgent than Grant's and Frank wants with every inch to be able to respond, but his head is spinning from more than their lips. They're interrupted a few moments later by a clearing throat.

"Do pardon me, sirs," Charles says. "But might I enquire as to the status of the country?" Gerard and Frank draw apart - slowly, because Charles has seen it all before anyway - and Grant actually laughs out loud.

"A most excellent butler," he says. "Charles, I do believe the country is quite all right."

"Glad to hear it, sir," Charles says with a slight smile. "You've all worked very hard to make it so. The house will be very busy in the coming weeks. I will make certain there is plenty of food, coffee, and tea is available."

"Enough for tomorrow morning is all I'm concerned about at the moment, Charles. Good night." Grant is the next to yawn. He links his fingers with Frank's and takes Gerard's elbow and tugs them both toward the staircase. They undress quietly, exhaustion finally catching up with all of them.

"I need to move my things in here," Frank says without thinking. He adds after a beat, "If you'd like me to, that is."

"Yes," Grant says calmly while Gerard beams, "we'd like you to."

"All right. As soon as things settle down," Frank replies.

"You could ask one of the servants," Gerard reminds him gently. Frank colors a bit. He will never, ever remember.

"I'll do that," Frank says. Grant pats his cheek.

"Bed, mignon." Gerard pulls back the covers and nudges Frank between them. Grant follows him, pulling Frank into his arms and Gerard gets in on the other side.

"There is much work still to do," Grant says, his voice vibrating under Frank's ear. "But for right now, it is quite nice to rest, and not go to sleep with the fate of the country gnawing at the back of my mind."

"Talking's not sleeping," Frank mumbles.

"I'm sleeping," Grant murmurs back. "Peacefully. Without worry. For the first time in nearly twenty years. And I'm doing it with my loves. I think that's worth a moment of commentary."

*

Several Months Later

Frank blinks awake. It's early morning, judging by the light. He's on his side facing Gerard, who looks frankly ridiculous with his face mashed into the pillow.

And then a rooster crows in the farmyard.

Gerard mutters into his pillow, "I'm going to wring its neck."

"Since you're awake." He runs his hand up Gerard's back and into his hair. "I'll make up for the rooster," Frank promises.

"You've been saying that since we arrived in the country," Grant says with a chuckle from where he's sitting at the writing desk next to the bed.

"Have any of them been empty promises?" Frank asks with a raised eyebrow. "Also you are more unnatural than the rooster, why are you awake?"

"I think making good on that promise may be one of your greatest skills," Grant says. Gerard mmms in agreement and turns onto his side, and Frank brushes Gerard's nipples with his fingers. "As for why I'm awake, I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep."

"Again?"

"Again. No need to worry, mignon," Grant assures him.

Frank sighs. "I'll stop needlessly worrying about you when you do the same for me."

"We're not very skilled at peacetime activities, are we?" Gerard muses sleepily. "Neil would laugh."

"I'm afraid Neil already is laughing. But that is why we are here on holiday and not in the city. Besides," Grant gets up, sheds his dressing gown to reveal his gorgeous, naked body, and gets in bed next to them, "Being awake together at this time means we can use this time for good."

"Please elaborate," Frank says, skimming his fingers over Grant's side. Gerard just hums again.

Grant slips his own hands under the waistband of Frank's pajamas. "I was thinking perhaps I'd touch you until I make you moan and then do the same to Gerard."

"Carry on, then," Frank teases.

"I will, thank you," Grant replies and pushes Frank's pajama trousers down his thighs. Gerard reaches out and lays a hand on Frank's chest, rubbing just how Frank likes it. He still looks as if he's half asleep.

"Time to wake up," Frank tells him, nosing up under his jaw, sucking in a little breath as Grant's fingers tease over his cock.

Gerard smiles sweetly and nuzzles close, but doesn't make much of an effort to move. Frank laughs. "Do I need to do all the work here?"

"But you're so good at it," Gerard murmurs. Frank laughs.

"It's a good thing I love you," he murmurs, running his hand down Gerard's back and over his arse, letting his fingers tease. "Do you want my cock or my mouth?"

"Mmm, your cock, I believe." Gerard rolls back over, arching leisurely against the sheets.

Grant wraps his hand around Frank's cock and strokes him. Frank turns to look at him. "And what do you want?"

"To watch you both," Grant replies.

"I know you," Frank says. "Watching always turns into touching."

Grant smiles. "You never complain."

Frank leans over and kisses him. "And I never will."

Grant turns to the bedside table and grabs the oil there. He passes it to Frank, then reaches over Frank's body to squeeze Gerard's thigh. Gerard smiles and links their fingers. Frank moves to kneel between Gerard's legs and Grant moves into the space Frank vacated. Frank starts by sliding his hands over Gerard's stomach and thighs, stroking his cock a little bit before slicking his fingers and squeezing Gerard's balls lightly, moving back and pressing the skin just behind them. Then he teases Gerard's hole with his fingers, but doesn't push them inside. Gerard doesn't want much preparation in his more urgent moods, Frank has found, but lazy as Gerard is this morning, Frank's determined to drive him a little wild first.

Frank watches Grant tease Gerard's neck and chest with his mouth. He only rarely kisses Gerard's lips, which Frank knows is driving Gerard just as wild as Frank's fingers never quite going where Gerard wants them.

Finally, Grant pulls back and looks up at Frank. "Give him a little more, mignon."

Frank lifts an eyebrow at Grant, but lubricates two fingers and pushes them in together. Gerard moans and arches up off the bed. Frank slowly, slowly pulls his fingers out until just the tips are teasing Gerard's entrance before pushing them in again just as slowly. He continues like that until Gerard is panting and quivering.

"Kiss him now," Frank tells Grant.

Grant leans over and brushes his lips across Gerard's and pulls back. Gerard whines and Grant smiles wickedly down at him before leaning back down.

"I'm meant to be watching," Grant reminds him.

"You're meant to be kissing me," Gerard pouts. "Frank said so."

"I did kiss you," Grant points out.

"Not properly. Please, Grant."

Frank crooks his fingers and rubs them slowly over the spot inside that makes Gerard moan loudest.

"I never can resist you," Grant murmurs and kisses Gerard properly, thoroughly.

"Neither can I," Frank says, pulling his fingers out and taking his cock in hand. Frank pushes one of Gerard's knees up against his chest and positions himself with his other hand. Grant swallows Gerard's noises as Frank pushes slowly inside. He feels so good, tight and hot around Frank's cock. Gerard clenches around him once he's all the way in and Frank moans. This time Grant does pull back, eyes raking up and down Frank's body. He licks his lips.

"He feels so good," Frank says.

"I know," Grant replies. “As good as you look, I imagine.”

Gerard wraps his legs around Frank's waist and tugs until Frank leans over, covers Gerard's body with his. “Your turn to kiss me," Gerard says.

"Anytime you wish it," Frank tells him, leaning in to start with his cheek. Gerard huffs and turns his face, seeking out Frank's lips.

"You make me do the work, and then don't appreciate how I do it," Frank teases, but he kisses Gerard how he wants it anyway. Gerard wraps his arms around Frank's neck and Frank gets lost in the kiss. In the feel of Gerard's mouth, his tongue, the way his noises vibrate against Frank's lips. And suddenly all the breath leaves his lungs in a whoosh as Gerard flips them over so Frank is on his back, staring up at Gerard. Frank's been thrusting steadily this whole time, but Gerard settling on top of him drives him deep, deeper inside. He gasps.

Grant laughs. "Looks like someone woke up the rest of the way."

Frank grabs onto Gerard's hips. "Gerard," he gasps out.

Gerard rolls his hips and leans over, hands on Frank's shoulders. "I'm doing the work now."

"Oh, well then," Frank says, stretching up to kiss him. He feels a hand land in his hair, Grant curling close. Gerard sits up and rolls his hips again. He runs a hand over his chest and down to wrap around his cock.

"Gorgeous," Grant says. Frank can only nod in agreement. Gerard leans back down and braces himself over Frank and starts working his hips, lifting up until just the tip of Frank's cock is still in him, and then taking him in again. His hips are working without pause, rolling to take Frank deep, and Frank shifts under him. He just knows from the way Gerard's mouth goes slack that he's hit that sensitive spot again, but Gerard is moving fast and soon Frank is digging his fingers into Gerard's hips and coming hard enough to take his breath away.

"God, Gerard," Frank says.

Before he can even begin to think or catch his breath, Gerard lifts up and pulls off, moving sideways, taking Grant's cock in his hand, positioning himself over it, and sinking down.

"Bloody hell," Grant swears, clutching Gerard's waist. Gerard is riding him just as hard as he did Frank, and when Frank collects himself enough to reach over and wrap a hand around Gerard’s cock he's just breaths away from coming. Frank strokes him through it as Gerard spills onto Grant's stomach. It's Grant's turn to roll him, tipping Gerard onto his side and fucking into him hard as Frank presses against Gerard from behind.

"God, Gerard," he murmurs into Gerard's neck. "You're..." he trails off, lips pressing against the nape of Gerard's neck, and feels the movement as Grant thrusts, pushing Gerard into him. Gerard gasps as Frank mouths his neck from behind, biting down a little; Grant swallows the noises he makes.

"Grant, your turn," Frank says and reaches down between Gerard's legs to let his fingers slide around Grant's cock where it's entering Gerard's body. Gerard bucks between them, cursing and clinging to Grant's shoulder, the handful of Frank's hair he'd managed to grab. Grant presses their foreheads together and comes with a groan. They pant quietly for several long moments before Grant speaks.

"Bloody hell, Gerard," he repeats.

"Frankie accused me of being lazy," Gerard says, nuzzling back against him. "Had to prove him wrong."

"Message received," Frank murmurs happily. Grant pulls out and Gerard gives a little gasp. Frank holds him tight for a moment then rolls out of bed and wets a rag at the water basin to clean them up. By the time he's done, Grant has fallen back to sleep with Gerard stroking a soothing hand over his chest.

"Let's let him sleep a little longer," Frank whispers, grabbing his book and Gerard's sketchbook and a self-inking pen before getting back in bed. Frank actually falls asleep too, book steepled over his chest, and doesn't wake until mid morning.

He realizes he didn't wake naturally when Gerard pokes lightly at his shoulder in a rhythm that indicates he’s been at it for some time. "Are you finally awake? Who's the lazy one now?"

Frank rolls his eyes and sits up. Gerard's sketchbook has a completed drawing on the page. Grant has his own notebook in his lap, but he's just looking at them fondly.

"It's breakfast time," Gerard says, snapping his sketchbook shut.

"By which you mean coffee time," Frank replies.

"By which he means time to stare out the front windows until Gabriel and Fabio arrive from the train station in the village," Grant corrects.

"Oh! Is that today? I had no idea," Frank says.

"Oh, hush," Gerard replies. "Don't try to pretend you're not just as excited as I am."

"Oh, I am. Perhaps with Gabriel to distract you, I'll finish the automaton I've been working on for three weeks." Frank grins cheekily at Gerard.

Gerard tips his head back and laughs. "Even if I am distracted, do you think Grant won't keep you occupied?"

"Grant is supposed to be writing," Frank replies.

"Grant is never more than a few minutes behind us," Gerard points out.

"You are both irresistible and I can make up the writing time," Grant says. Frank rolls his eyes again and gets out of bed. Mostly to hide the smile he can't hold back.

They both follow and they all dress; Gerard, despite his prodding, is the last to be ready. Mikey and Alicia are both already in the dining room. Buckley is curled at Alicia’s feet and Frank is sure she’s been slipping him bites of toast and bacon. Grant steals a newspaper from in front of Mikey with a grin and retreats to his end of the table. Frank continues on to the sideboard after taking Alicia's cup to refill with tea.

"The post came while you three were lazing about," Alicia says and trades Frank the plate of toast for her tea. "I believe all of you have letters. Lady Jill instructed me to send her love."

"I wish she could have accompanied the twins," Gerard says wistfully.

"Neil needs her more than we do at the moment," Grant says from behind his paper.

"I'm fairly certain Neil needs her more than we do at all times," Frank says dryly. Frank opens the letter addressed to him sitting next to his plate. It's from Ray, detailing his latest efforts in courting Miss Christa and his job as one of Neil's assistants. "Ray seems quite content in his new position. Has anyone heard from Dewees?"

"The last I heard, he was looking to buy a pub," Mikey replies. "Apparently his time in Port Merchant inspired him." Frank smiles. He can very well see James running a pub. Grant puts down the paper and picks up his own letter.

"Speaking of Neil," he says, sliding his knife under the envelope flap. "This appears to be from him." They all go quiet. Personal considerations aside, while Neil had promised Grant his summer retreat, none of them had ever truly expected Grant's interim assistance in the weeks and months after Millar's removal to be the end of things. Grant reads through the letter. "He says the factory conversion is going well and that the last of the damage from the protests and those last bombings from New Brittany have been repaired."

"Is that all?" Gerard asks.

"He also says that the New Brittany is calling to try Millar in international court for his crimes," Grant says gravely and then smiles, "and then moves onto describing the apparent comedy of errors that is the office of the Prime Minister using a rather artful segue involving trials." Grant smiles over at Frank, "You'll be stunned to know he mentions Jill very fondly and wonders what he'd do without her."

Frank smiles back, but what Grant's not saying is if Neil has any particular requests of Grant.

"And will he require your services when we return to the city?" Frank asks directly.

"All he says is that he'd like to meet with me, mignon. Nothing specific is mentioned." It's not that Frank doesn't want Grant doing government work, it's just that he is sure Grant would rather be writing. But it's not something that has to be decided today. Today has far more appetizing prospects in store. Including, if he knows Grant and Gerard, a reprise of this morning.

"When, precisely, does the twins' train get in?" Frank asks.

"Twelve thirty-five," Gerard answers immediately.

Frank smiles.

It will be a full house once they arrive. Frank is rather looking forward to it. He looks around at all the faces at the table, each one dear to him. At this time last year, he was making triggers for a corrupt government by himself in his shop and taking meals alone in pubs.

At this time last year, he was completely solitary. And now, he seems to have acquired a family. Sometimes, it seems, accidents are better than design, and sometimes one wild leap is all it takes.