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A Hero or a Grinder

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Even through the booze, and the pills that Frank thought were E but definitely weren’t, it’s fucking freezing in the van. But they’re almost out of gas and they’re totally out of cash and they can’t afford to run the engine while they’re stopped. Otter’s the only one not all the way wasted, and he said if he didn’t get some sleep they were going to crash, and, boom, they’re parked next to a gate overgrown with weeds and sporting a crumbling For Sale sign. Frank would fucking love to get some sleep too, but he’s jittery as fuck and the passenger seat has so much equipment wedged up behind it that it can’t recline, and sleep is so not going to happen.

Not helping at all, Ray’s snoring like a fucking bear, probably because he’s folded into a space that Frank’s not even sure he could fit in, and he’s using a box as a pillow. Otter’s snoozing in the driver’s seat, his jacket pulled up to his chin. Mikey and Gerard are squeezed into one side of the back bench, sharing seat space with Ray’s guitar and Mikey’s bass and like three more boxes. The van is stuffed to the gills because Otter offered to haul some other band’s merch for a cut. Whatever the cut is, it’s not fucking worth it.

Frank’s pretty sure that somewhere back there with the Ways he spotted a spare hoodie earlier. Maybe one of them is awake, can pass it up to him, and at least he can not freeze his damn arms off while they sit here. Reaching up with icy fingers, he tilts the rear-view until he can see their corner, try to catch an eye.

Instead, he catches an eyefull.

They’re awake, both of them, but they aren’t paying any attention to Frank and his mirror. Gerard’s in Mikey’s lap, his knees wedged up against the window, his face pressed to Mikey’s neck while Mikey holds him close, one arm around him, the other hand twisted in Gerard’s greasy hair. Gerard could, Frank supposes, be whispering something, but from this angle it looks like he’s giving his brother a fucking hickey. Which, they’re close, no question, but Frank did not know that was on the list of Way brothers’ activities.

He tries to think when the last time he saw Mikey with a hickey was, but his mind is racing a hundred fucking miles an hour, and it’s hard to get a grip on any one thing. He takes a deep breath, scrubs his hands on his thighs. They hadn’t left for tour yet, he’s pretty sure. Yeah. Definitely Jersey. Mikey went off with some chick when they were at a fucking bookstore, and he came back with a hickey and a dopey smile, so Frank made him pay for the coffee in retribution for abandoning his best friend to get some action at one in the afternoon. They’ve been on the road almost two weeks, so if Mikey’s got a mark on his neck when they stop for real, Gerard did it.

Another glance in the mirror, and yep, they’re still there in the dark, limbs just flickering shapes in the lights from passing cars, still holding on to each other like if they let go something bad’s gonna happen. Frank feels like a fucking creeper watching them. They’re his friends, and they’re good guys. Some of the best he’s known, ever, and it’s stressful as hell on the road sometimes. If they need a little comfort, Frank’s not gonna judge.

With fingers he can hardly feel, he moves the mirror so he can’t see them anymore, then tucks his hands in his pits and his chin to his chest and hopes fucking Otter wakes up from his nap before they all die of hypothermia.


They get to Ray’s brother’s friend’s cousin’s house at like four in the morning and find the key under the mat and stumble inside, Ray practically carrying Frank, who’s come down off whatever the fuck those pills were and can barely keep his eyes open. The two of them end up in a bed in a room that smells like a perfume store exploded. The other guys disappeared somewhere down the hall. Frank’s gonna ask where the bathroom is, but even Ray’s sneezing can’t keep Frank awake long enough to do it.

By the time they get up to pancakes and coffee and homemade cinnamon rolls the next day, Frank’s forgotten that he was supposed to look at Mikey’s neck.


They’re playing in a barn that some broke farmer decided would bring in more money if he filled it with drinking kids instead of cows. He was obviously onto something because the place is packed. They’re third in the crazy long lineup—after two local bands, before three others with bigger names than My Chemical Romance—and they’re waiting to go on, stuck in what Frank’s pretty sure used to be a horse stall, with a view of the crowd none of them wants to have to see before they’re on stage. Otter’s endlessly twirling his sticks, Ray’s bent double over his guitar, tuning it, though Frank’s not sure even with his ear pressed right up to it he can hear over the sounds coming from the stage. Mikey and Gerard magicked up a bottle of vodka out of somewhere and are passing it back and forth, back and forth.

There’s furniture, but not a lot, and Gerard and Mikey have settled themselves on an old bench that looks like it used to hold a bucket or something. Mikey’s got one leg thrown over one of his brother’s, and they’re holding hands, fingers intertwined, Gerard’s thumb restlessly toying with Mikey’s knuckles. Frank peers at Mikey’s neck, but there doesn’t seem to be anything there where Gerard’s face was the other night. Maybe it’s faded. Maybe he was just whispering.

“Gimme some of that,” Frank says, holding out his hand and making grabby fingers in case they can’t hear him. They both look at him, identical bemused expressions on their faces, and Mikey hands the bottle over. It tastes like fucking shit, but Frank follows up the first swallow with a second, the second with a third before handing it back. “You okay?” he asks, nodding at the tangle of fingers clenched on Mikey’s knee. “Gonna make it out there?”

Mikey points at his ear, gives Frank a little shrug, and Gerard takes another hit of the booze.

A kid in a John Deere t-shirt and a greasy baseball hat pokes his head in the door and holds up two fingers. The Ways untangle themselves, and Mikey heads over to get his bass. Gerard gives Frank a small smile, lifts the bottle like he’s drinking to Frank’s health, and finishes it off.


They fucking kill it, playing for the rafters, Gerard belting out their songs like the barn’s fucking Madison Square Garden, and they pile off stage when they’re done with the crowd screaming for more.


They’re heading south now and it’s getting warmer, warm enough to sit around a fire behind the house where they’re partying after the show. Someone’s passing around joints, and Frank’s got a six of Rolling Rock under his chair, and yeah, maybe he hasn’t had a shower in almost a week, but touring life is pretty sweet.

The girl he’s talking to gets up and gives him the stick she was using to poke the fire, and it’s nice. Quiet. The hum of people is broken by the occasional thump of bass coming from the stereo up in the house, but no one’s close enough to be up in Frank’s space. No one’s bitching about him sending sparks flying up into the sky with his stick, gorgeous glitter edge to the buzz Frank could float away on if he wanted.

He’s got his head tipped back, eyes closed, draining the last of his third beer, when a body slumps against his leg. He knows without looking it’s Gerard. The shape of him maybe, or the smell, something. “Hey,” Frank says. “Having fun?”

“So much fucking weed,” Gerard mumbles, and nuzzles Frank’s knee like his nose itches.

“Yeah,” Frank agrees.

“You have beer,” Gerard says, his head under Frank’s thigh now, his shoulder wedged behind Frank’s knee. “Beer.”

“You can have one,” Frank says. It’s nice to share. “Get me one, too.”

More clinking than should be required follows Frank’s request, and then Gerard almost upends Frank and the chair both trying to sit up with his head still under there, but eventually they get situated, beers in hand, Gerard leaning on Frank’s chair between his legs, head tipped against Frank’s right thigh. “You’re warm,” Gerard says, rubbing his cheek on Frank’s jeans.

“Yeah, well, fire.” Frank’s lost his poking stick at some point during the beer getting, but that’s okay. Gee’d probably end up jabbing himself in the eye with it or something.

They sip in silence for a while, take another joint as it comes around, then pass it along after Gerard uses it to light a cigarette. Frank watches the ribbon of smoke curl up from between his knees, whiter and more distinct than the smoke coming from the fire pit. Gerard finishes his beer and wraps an arm around the leg he’s resting his face on. Frank feels a little bit like a teddy bear. Or Mikey.

Frank’s about to say something about how Gerard’s cuddly tonight, when Gerard says, “Do I look like a cocksucker?” It’s not a conversational starter Frank’s prepared for. Though he should have fucking learned by now that there’s no preparing for conversations with Gerard.

“No?” Frank isn’t sure what about a cocksucker’s looks might differentiate him from any other guy, nor what answer Gerard’s looking for, but that seems like the safest bet.

“Not that I wouldn’t suck cock,” Gerard says next. “Not that I haven’t. But I’m pretty sure you can’t just tell that about a person by looking.”

“Um,” Frank says. Because, um. “Yeah, I don’t know.”

“I think he was just trying to insult me.” Gerard takes a last drag from his cigarette and stubs it out in the grass. “But that’s a stupid insult. Blow jobs are awesome.”

Blow jobs are definitely awesome. And it’s been like eight months since Frank’s had one, and Gerard’s head is like three inches from his dick and how the fuck did they get here. “That they are,” he says, and his voice sounds weird. “Got any more smokes?”

Gerard pulls out his pack and hands it up. “I gotta piss,” he says. He practically knocks Frank over again struggling to his feet, but finally he’s up, and not swaying too badly. “See you later.”

“See you,” Frank tries to answer. But half of it gets lost when Gerard mashes his lips to Frank’s mouth.

“Um,” Frank says again, but Gerard’s already weaving his way back to the house.


In Austin they have a gig for the door that they were supposed to split with another band, but last minute the other guys don’t show, so they get the whole take and decide to splurge on a hotel room. They flip for who’s gonna be three to a bed, and Frank’s supposed to share with Ray in the relative comfort of two to a queen, but while he’s in the shower it gets decided that since he’s smallest and Mikey’s skinniest the two of them should bunk with Gerard. Frank bitches for a minute because that’s what you do when decisions like that get made without you, but he honestly does not give a shit. He’s gonna have a pillow and a piece of actual mattress and some god damn covers, and they don’t have to be on the road till ten tomorrow.

“C’mon, Frankie,” Gerard says once Frank’s finished calling them all assholes. “We don’t bite.”

Frank’s pretty sure it’s not his imagination that Mikey huffs a tiny incredulous snort at that, though when he looks at him, Mikey looks as bored as ever. “Bite this,” Frank says, patting his own ass.

“Nothing there to bite,” Otter says, flopping down on the bed next to Ray, who’s leafing through the local attractions brochure he found on the desk. Frank flips him off and Otter sticks his tongue out.

“Fine, fine, I’ll share with these two,” Frank says, “But you’re fucking showering if I’m sharing a bed with you.” He points at Gerard and then Mikey, in case either of them thought he only meant one of them. “Motel means endless hot water. No excuses.”

“But Ray’s gonna order pizza,” Gerard says.

“Then I guess you better hurry.”


By the time the food gets there, both Gerard and Mikey are clean, and Otter calls dibs on first shower after they’ve eaten. Frank inhales his pasta marinara and then starfishes on the bed while Gerard and Mikey are still stuffing their faces. It feels amazing to stretch out.

While Otter’s showering, Ray and Mikey get in an argument about light saber colors. At least Frank thinks it’s an argument. They’re definitely really passionate about it. When Gerard chimes in and Frank can’t tell if he’s agreeing with Mikey or Ray or talking about something else entirely, he realizes he’s mostly asleep. With a lot of effort, he turns on his side so no one will have to move him when they come to bed.


The trees are alive like in The Wizard of Oz, and one of them reaches out and grabs Frank’s dog, yanking it out of reach while another one wraps around Frank’s legs and his chest. He screams, lashes out, tries to get to the puppy and save it, but the branches just get tighter. And start talking. Saying, “Shh, Frankie, shh. It’s okay. Shh.” And it’s not a tree. It’s Mikey.

“Fuck.” Frank blinks his eyes open, but someone pulled the blackout curtains and there’s nothing to see.

Mikey’s pressed all along his back, bony knees jabbing Frank in the legs, one arm wrapped tight around Frank’s chest, pinned there by Gerard, who seems determined to burrow his way into Frank’s rib cage. “Evil trees,” Frank mutters, trying to get his own arms free enough to push Gerard away so he can fucking breathe. Mikey helps, and between them they get Gerard shoved over far enough that they can get some air without anyone falling out of bed.

“He’s kinda clingy in his sleep,” Mikey murmurs in Frank’s ear, seemingly not noticing that he’s the one who still has a hand on Frank’s stomach. “It’s nice in the winter, though.”

Soft, so he doesn’t wake the others, Frank asks, “Was he giving you a hickey in the van that night in Colorado?” Because it’s the middle of the fucking night and he was dreaming about being strangled by trees and apparently his mouth has a mind of its own.

Mikey stiffens, goes stock still, and shit. Shit. He was. Frank caught Gerard and Mikey—found out their secret—and fucking went and asked about it.

He waits for Mikey to pull away, tell Frank to fuck off, start begging him not to tell anyone, but he just says, “No,” chin still on Frank’s shoulder, lips brushing his hair. “Hickeys are— No. It wasn’t that.”

Which is Mikey saying his brother was molesting his neck, just maybe in a non-marking way, and now is probably when Frank is supposed to freak out. But Mikey’s holding onto him, and Gerard’s snuffling softly an inch from his nose, and for as big as this feels, it doesn’t feel bigger than the band, than the carefully written list of reasons to drop out he gave his mom that was supposed to sound logical but sounded like love and fate and destiny and was all tied up in these guys in this room and the music they make.

“I don’t care if he was,” Frank says, even more quietly than before. He’s not quite sure he means it, but he’s damn sure he wants to.

“Yeah?” Mikey breathes, gives Frank a little squeeze.

“Yeah,” Frank says, patting Mikey’s hand.

“It wasn’t though,” Mikey says. “We don’t— Nothing that leaves marks.”

The way he says it, Frank can’t help wondering if they learned that lesson the hard way. If something happened. The possibility kicks in Frank’s gut. If anyone hurt them for loving each other, they’d better hope Frank doesn’t find out about it. Because Frank will fuck that asshole up.


After Austin, Mikey and Gerard don’t hold hands as much, or sit with their legs all tangled up, and Frank catches Mikey watching him the few times they are sitting together. Frank isn’t sure what facial expression properly conveys I don’t care if you guys make out or whatever, and even if I did care, I’m not going to tell anyone, so he probably looks like a fucking tool when he looks back.

Somewhere in Virginia they’re crashing at a house that seems to have more people living in it than there are bedrooms, even before they added five extra dudes, but there are three sofas in the living room and two more on the back porch, so it could be worse. Mikey’s disappeared into one of the bedrooms with one of the girls who lives here, two of the other girls have cornered Ray and are cooing at him while he plays guitar for them, and Otter’s playing video games with two guys and another girl. Frank finds Gerard smoking and doing shots by himself on the porch.

“Hey,” Frank says, hovering near the empty space next to Gerard on the couch. “Can I?”

“W’ever,” Gerard mumbles around his cigarette. It’s not the most enthusiastic invitation Frank’s ever had, but he takes it.

They just sit for a while, Frank peeling the label on his beer bottle like he’s back in high school, Gerard puffing on his cigarette without ever touching it, letting the ash fall on his jeans and the sleeve of his jacket. The night smells aggressively enough like spring to compete with the smoke, the open bottle of tequila Gerard’s holding, and even the funk of the ratty couch, but not enough to overpower them. There’s gotta be a way for Frank to commandeer one of the sofas inside for the night. Maybe one of Ray’s girls, or hell, even both of them, will take Ray back to her room, eliminating the competition.

Gerard flicking his butt over the porch rail into the yard pulls Frank out of his sofa-nabbing machinations. Because Gerard has feelings about littering. Strong ones. About how it’s bad and people shouldn’t do it. If he’s throwing trash around, he’s even more wasted than he looks.

He doesn’t offer a cigarette to Frank when he gets his pack out, but when he almost drops his bottle while he’s trying to light up, he doesn’t protest Frank taking it. There’s maybe half an inch left in the bottom. Frank doesn’t know how full it was to start with, but completely seems like an option. “’S’okay?” he asks, lifting the bottle toward his lips.

Gerard’s eyes are wet when he turns them on Frank. “Hey,” Frank says. “Are you alright?” Drunk like this, Gerard might be crying over a firefly, or the moon, or a song lyric, but shit’s been a little weird lately, and Mikey did go off with a girl, and jesus what if Gerard is out here heartbroken over his fucking brother? Frank isn’t sure he’s ready to deal with that.

Gee just tips his head back, closes his eyes.

“Is it, is it Mikey?” Ready or not, Gerard’s his… Gerard, and Frank’s gonna do whatever it takes to look out for him.

“We stopped,” Gerard says, voice wrecked worse than Frank’s ever heard it. “We stopped, so you can’t tell anyone. Please, Frankie. Please don’t tell anyone.”

And fuck. Fuck. Gerard’s not crying over Mikey, he’s crying over him. Or like. What he’s afraid Frank’s gonna do. “I wouldn’t. Fuck! Gerard, I wouldn’t. Not ever.”

But Gerard’s not even listening, is rocking his head on the back of the sofa, muttering, “It didn’t hurt anyone. We never hurt anyone. We just sometimes. Sometimes…”

He sounds so broken, and Frank can’t let him sound so broken. Dropping the bottle on the porch floor, he gathers Gerard in his arms and pulls him so his face is in Frank’s neck. “Gerard,” Frank says, squeezing his nape, trying to get through. “I know. He’s happy, you’re happy, we’re all happy. No one’s hurt here.”

Gerard sniffs, nuzzles Frank a bit, takes several deep breaths. “I’m a little hurt,” he murmurs after a while.

“Yeah,” Frank says, stroking Gerard’s hair. “I can see that.”

While Gerard clings and Frank pets, Gerard’s cigarette burns down between his fingers. When it’s almost gone, Frank pries it away, takes the last puff. Because he also has feelings about littering, he stubs it out on his shoe and drops it in the vicinity of the bottle so he can take it inside later. “Did you stop because of me?” he asks softly, still petting Gee’s hair, hoping that he’s not going to make the dude cry again.

“He said you knew,” Gerard says. “What if you went to the cops? What if you left us? We need you, Frank. Don’t sound the same without you.”

Frank can’t tell if Gerard is just being overdramatic, or if he and Mikey get up to a lot more than holding hands and making out and Gee thinks Mikey told Frank more than he did. Not that it’s any of his business. And not that it’s anything to tell. “What am I gonna tell the cops? And what am I gonna leave for? You guys are fucking family to me, and I’d make out with either of you any time you wanted, so fuck that. Nothing wrong with kissing family.” Frank’s pretty sure the authorities would say it’s not the same thing, but for all Frank knows, to Gerard and Mikey it is. He’s not gonna fucking judge. “Hell. I’d even blow you. I’m not fucking leaving because you love your brother and he loves you back.”

The noise Gerard makes is something between a laugh and a sob, and he ends up coughing wetly down Frank’s shirt.

“Gross,” Frank says, pushing Gerard off so he can wipe at his chest. “Thanks for that.”

Gerard wipes his face on his sleeve, succeeding mostly in smearing everything around, and gives Frank his best super-serious-even-though-I’m-drunk look. “I’d blow you too, Frankie. If you want.” He looks around like he’s checking to see if they’re alone. “Did you want me to?”

Frank laughs hard enough that it’s probably rude as hell, but come on. Not that he refuses blow jobs as a general rule, but not when the guy offering’s just cried and snotted all over him and is so wasted he can hardly sit upright.

“I would, Frank. ‘M not lying.” Gerard tries to pat Frank’s arm and misses.

“I know you’re not, Gee.” Frank takes the hand that Gerard is now staring at like it betrayed him and gives it a squeeze. “But it’s been a long night. How ‘bout a raincheck?”

“Yeah,” Gerard says. “Blow jobs are nice when it’s raining. When you’re all cozy inside and it’s loud on the roof.”

When they were in Santa Fe, Gerard and Mikey went out to the van to get something and were a long time coming back. Now that Frank thinks about it, there was a huge storm that night. Wiping at his chest again, Frank waits for the gut-twist of disgust at the idea Gerard sucks his brother’s dick, but it doesn’t come. Frank pretty much just hopes Gerard swallows, because there’re enough bodily fluids all over Frank’s stuff as it is.


Their next gig is totally crap and kind of amazing. The venue has room for a hundred people probably, but there are only about twenty there, and they’re shitty as hell at the start because the band that goes on first sound like they’re drowning, and when someone shouts at them to fix the sound, they start hurling abuse at the crowd. Gerard is fucking lit up though, and somehow pulls them into the palm of his hand by the end of the first song. He’s bouncing off Mikey, off Frank, stalking circles around Ray, and they can’t stop grinning at each other.

Everyone else takes advantage of the free beer after, but it’s Frank’s turn to drive, and last thing they need to finish off this tour is a DUI. On the list of skills that get impaired with too much free beer, Frank rates packing the equipment back in the van pretty high. Ray isn’t too bad, and Mikey errs on the side of standing there with an armload of shit and staring, but Otter and Gerard are fucking useless. He’ll let them carry shit, but Frank doesn’t want anyone throwing an amp on top of his guitar, so he puts himself in charge of loading.

There are just a few things left, and he’s sent the others to get settled in the van so he can have some peace and quiet while he tries to figure out how they’ve done this so many fucking times and it’s still a giant puzzle to get everything to fit. He’s got a box of merch in one arm, propped against an amp while he tries to move a bag with the other hand while preventing an avalanche, when a body pushes up behind him and wet lips land his neck.

“Thank you,” a voice whispers in his ear. He can’t turn to look who it is without dropping everything, but he’s pretty sure it’s Mikey.

“You’re welcome?” Loading the van isn’t usually something that prompts neck kisses, and Frank’s not sure why this time is different.

And woah, really different, because loading the van has definitely never prompted warm hands on his belly stroking along the elastic of his briefs where they’re sticking up over the top of his jeans.

“Don’t know what you said to him,” and yeah, that’s definitely Mikey, “but he’s happy again. He’s, y’know, back.”

Frank’s pretty sure Mikey’s feeling him up while he talks about the fact that his brother’s making out with him again. Possibly giving him blow jobs. Frank’s dick is more interested in that than maybe it should be.

“He was amazing tonight,” Frank says softly, trying not to lean into Mikey’s touch, give himself away.

Mikey kisses him again, the top of his shoulder this time, and lets go of Frank’s belly so he can give him a hand shifting gear. Between them they get the box balanced and everything in so they can close the doors.

“We were all amazing,” Mikey says, hugging Frank again once he’s turned around.

“Yeah,” Frank agrees, hugging back, wondering what Mikey’s doing, but mostly wondering how he got so lucky to be doing this thing he loves with his best friends.


When they get home, Frank showers until the water turns cold, naps through his mom leaving for work, jerks off without worrying about how loud he is, and then showers again. They’re on the road again in just over a week, and Frank intends to spend the entire time off showering, sleeping in an actual fucking bed, and beating it. But then Mikey texts him to come over. He and Gerard are both at their mom’s too; since they’re home for such short times right now it’s stupid to pay rent.

‘Movie marathon?’ Frank texts back.

‘Something like that,’ Mikey replies. Then, ‘you coming?’

It’s stupid to read anything into that, but Frank’s brain runs off without him. Gerard kissing him—fucking offering to blow him—and Mikey getting all handsy and neck kissing, it gets a guy’s attention. Don’t fuck your band is up there with don’t shit where you eat, tops it, even—nothing bad happened when Frank ate a Pop-Tart on the john that time—but don’t fuck your brother tops them all, and that seems to be working out okay for the Ways, so maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Not that that’s what Mikey meant. And when the hell did Frank go from coming to terms with the fact that his best friends are doing it with each other to wishing that they’d let him join in? The shower must have gone to his head.

They’re probably just gonna shoot the shit, drink some beers, maybe smoke some weed. And Frank’s cool with making an exception to the shower/sleep/beat it routine for that.

When he gets to the Ways’, he rings the bell, and before the last chime has faded, he gets a text. ‘Door’s open. We’re downstairs,’ followed by, ‘and lazy.’ Mikey is just about the only person Frank knows who texts, thank god, or he’d be over his text plan every month the way the dude can’t complete a thought before he hits send. Frank lets himself in, locking the door behind himself out of habit.

The house is cool and dark and a little eerie, like maybe Mr. and Mrs. Way haven’t been home all day and Mikey and Gerard haven’t come up. There’s a hint of pot smoke at the top of the stairs. Frank calls out, “Lazy and baked,” and gets two manic giggles in response.

“Bring cokes!” Gerard shouts when Frank’s two steps down. Not beers then. Vodka, or maybe rum.

“Do I look like your fucking servant?” Frank shouts back, but he backtracks to the kitchen and grabs the last two cans in the fridge. There’s a Santa mug in the drainer by the sink and he takes that too, because he feels like once you’re twenty-one you shouldn’t have to pour your booze into a pop can anymore. Santa mugs are way more sophisticated, obviously.

Pushing the door open with his foot, Frank says, “Hey,” and then stops short. It’s not the first time he’s come over and Mikey and Gerard have been on the bed. But it is the first time they’ve been wearing only boxers and t-shirts, at least when they knew he was coming. Gerard also isn’t usually lying between Mikey’s legs, head on his shoulder, Mikey’s hand down the collar of his shirt. “Hey,” Frank says again, doing a little juggle move with the cokes and the mug.

“Sorry.” Gerard struggles to sit up, and Mikey’s hand drops to his waist. “Mikey said you really are cool with, you know, not just pretending, but we don’t want to make you uncomfortable. We can—“

“No.” It’s weird. Of course it’s weird, but it’s also not, and Frank’s never had a brother so what the fuck does he know? Except that he’d totally sit stark naked between Mikey’s thighs, or Gerard’s, so he can’t really blame them for cuddling in their underwear. “No. I am. I do. I mean you’re not.” Way to sound convincing, Iero. “I mean, usually there’s more pants when I’m here, but it’s cool.”

“Told you we should put our pants back on,” Gerard says to Mikey like Frank can’t hear him. Which makes Frank think about what they were doing that pants got in the way, because it’s really not that hot down here, and back on indicates that they didn’t just wake up and never get dressed, and oh god he’s staring at Gerard’s crotch.

Aaaand Mikey’s staring at Frank’s crotch. “Naw, Gee, I definitely think Frank’s cool.”

“Did you smoke everything before I got here, or is there some for me?” Frank asks. Because unless cool means hot and bothered, he’s not actually feeling that cool right now.

Mikey gestures at the bedside table and Frank spies an ashtray perched precariously on the edge with an almost whole joint in it. “Awesome,” he says with only a little more feeling than weed should merit. While Frank’s picking his way across the room—they’ve been home one day; how have they made this much mess already?—Mikey pulls Gerard back against his chest and puts his hand back down his shirt. Both brothers watch as he puts the cokes and the mug on the bed and reaches for the joint. Gerard looks nervous. Mikey looks, well, mostly like Mikey.

“You can sit,” Gerard says when Frank pulls his lighter out of his pocket and just stands there like a tool smoking up. The way they’re sitting, there’s actually more room on the bed than usual. Frank sits, being careful not to kick the cokes onto the floor.

After a couple of tokes, Frank feels less like a random asshole who walked in on something and more like the guy whose best friends and bandmates invited him over here. “We’re fucking touring,” Frank says between hits. “And people fucking love us.”

The smile Gerard gives him is breathtaking. “God those kids in fucking Denver, man, remember? I thought they were gonna burst a blood vessel or something.”

“That one girl who said she’d suck your cock,” Mikey adds, nudging Gerard’s temple with his chin.

Frank chokes on his lungful of smoke. “Did you do it?” he manages, after gasping weakly for a moment.

“Fuck no! I’m not gonna—“ Gerard sits forward, consternated stare turned on Frank. “I don’t like that kind of culture where dudes think they can just get up on stage and girls will do whatever to get closer to them.”

“It is possible,” Mikey says, “that a girl could just see you and want to suck your dick.”

Brow wrinkling even more, Gerard twists around to look at him. “That’s not— But how would I know which it was?”

“You’re right,” Mikey says, all mock serious. “You should definitely stick to getting blow jobs from the dudes in your band.” Mikey pokes Frank in the ankle with his toes, says, “Right, Frankie?”

Frank chokes again. He should probably put the joint down before he does some kind of permanent damage to his lungs. “Um. Is that what—“ Frank’s never, with a dude, just a few sloppy hand jobs, but he, if Gerard wanted him to he—

“Though he likes giving head almost as much as getting it,” Mikey says, making Gerard blush. Probably making Frank blush too, but there’s no mirror handy, thank god, and Frank has lost all perception of temperature.

Gerard plucks the joint from between Frank’s fingers and takes a deep drag, then hands it to Mikey. “We’re not trying to embarrass you, Frank,” he says. “Just, we’re glad— It’s kind of a relief to have you know, and we kind of thought, well, Mikey thought, and I didn’t not think— We thought you might, only if you want, we aren’t, you know, obviously, exclusive, just, and we’ve never—“

“Do you want to have a threesome with us?” Mikey interrupts. That gets him pinched lips and narrowed eyes from Gerard, like Gerard actually thought he was going to get to the point at all, ever.

Not that Frank hadn’t picked up what he was putting down. They weren’t being exactly subtle. “I’ve never sucked a dick before,” Frank says. Which is not— “I mean yes. But I’ve never sucked dick so I might not be very good.”

Gerard flat-out beams, and Mikey does the Mikey version. “That’s okay,” Mikey says. “Gee can blow you and then you can watch me blow him, and if you want to blow me I won’t say no. If you don’t, no foul.”

Frank just sort of stares with his mouth half open, and Gerard says,“Can I kiss you now?”

Frank manages to nod.

Gerard rolls over Mikey’s thigh and pulls Frank down the bed at the same time in this stupidly clumsy graceful way that gets Frank underneath him and Mikey looking down on them with one hand on Gee’s back, one in Frank’s hair. For a second, Frank wonders if this is what making a porno feels like, but then Gerard’s kissing him and Frank’s just thinking about that.

Mikey and Gerard both had clearly been at the Dutch courage before Frank arrived, but this is nothing like one of Gerard’s drunk-sloppy lip mashes or the pecks he sometimes gives Frank when they have a good night. He’s all soft nibbles, catching Frank’s lips between his own, licking at the corners of Frank’s mouth with a barely there, teasing tongue. Frank tries to kiss back, but his head’s floating from the weed, and Gerard’s hand pressed to his face and Mikey’s fingers tangled in his hair are pinning him down, and he’s caught between sensations, lips open to whatever Gerard decides to do next.

“Stop teasing him,” Mikey says so low Frank isn’t sure he hears right, but Gerard responds, lets his hand slide back to lift Frank into a kiss that’s hungry and demanding and hot.

Oh fuck, Frank thinks, and he must try to say it out loud, because he’s moaning into Gerard’s mouth and clutching at his shirt, and twisting to try to get Gerard closer. But at least he knows what to do with this— push with his tongue, bite a little when Gee’s lip catches on his teeth. Frank makes a broken sound when Gerard bites back; it’s loud against the sound of the three of them breathing.

“He’s good at that, isn’t he?” Mikey says, and Frank thinks he must mean Gerard, and yes, he definitely is, but Gerard makes a sound like he thinks Mikey meant Frank. Only Frank’s never made out with Mikey.

Then Gerard starts sucking on Frank’s tongue and Mikey pulls Frank’s hair, and for just a second Frank’s under a bush next to the Fed-Ex parking lot, hands down the pants of some scene kid, shoving his tongue in his mouth. And shitshitshit, that random kid was Mikey. It was years ago, one of those things that barely registered as more than a what the fuck did I even do last night, and why do I have leaves in my hair? moment, but if Mikey remembers it better, that might explain the looks he was giving Frank the night Frank thought they met, might explain why he thought Frank would be up for this. Not that drunken makeouts under bushes exactly equals threesomes with brothers, but it’s a data point.

“Shit,” Frank says, totally distracted, and Gerard pulls back a little to see what’s wrong. Frank still can’t believe that dude in the bushes was Mikey, but it totally was. “Shit. Mikey.” It’s awkward, but Frank gets a hand in Mikey’s hair and tugs him down, gives him what he sure as hell hopes is a better kiss than that first time.

“Oh fuck that’s, yeah,” Gerard says, breathless, and then he’s tugging at the neck of Frank’s hoodie like he thinks he can maybe get it off by pulling it down.

“Mmmf,” Frank says, batting at his hands. Mikey’s less interested in Frank’s words than Gerard, and doesn’t stop sucking his tongue—and that’s definitely weird, how much they kiss the same but also don’t—so Frank has to reach for the waist of his shirts and hope Gerard gets the message.

He’s either not paying attention or is easily distracted, because he gives up on Frank’s hoodie and goes for his pants instead, undoing them and pulling them down all while Frank is still trying to take his top off from the bottom up like you’re supposed to.

Still kissing him, Mikey shifts until he’s lying next to Frank instead of hunching over him, pushing Gerard out of the way as he goes. Gee takes the opportunity to get rid of Frank’s pants completely, and, from the sound of it, push the cokes onto the floor. “He’s gonna suck you now,” Mikey says, fingers tracing over Frank’s cheek and down his jaw, and Gerard says, “Can I, Frank? I want to,” and Frank wants to say something clever, but what comes out is, “Fuck, gnnhyeah.”

Mikey and Frank both watch as Gerard reaches for Frank’s cock, and smiling up at them, licks from his fingers to the tip. It’s showy, and too flirty to be really dirty, and Gerard looks far too pleased with himself, but it’s still way, way hotter than Frank can cope with watching. Then Gerard wraps his lips around the head, and Frank definitely can’t watch that. Not when Mikey’s right there and Frank could kiss him, make this maybe last longer than the two minutes he made it the first time he got his dick wet.

The threesome fantasy Frank’s had since back in the days when he was discussing jerk-off scenarios with Jimmy Martucchi behind the equipment shed in the Our Lady of Sorrows cemetery, involves one girl sitting on his face and another riding his dick. But this right here is definitely gonna compete. Gerard is really fucking good with his mouth, and seems to have some kind of sixth sense for when Frank is getting close, because he keeps changing it up, making it last. Mikey’s weight is keeping him from grabbing Gee with both hands and fucking his face, but god, he wants to. Not that lying here and taking it isn’t fucking spectacular.

Frank makes all kinds of noise into Mikey’s mouth when Gerard starts jerking him fast and slick, tongue and sucking heat all over the head of his dick, fingers rubbing up behind his nuts, and that’s it. Frank’s done, legs twitching, back arching against the weight of two people pinning him, and jesus that’s gotta be his brain leaking out of his dick.

When Frank opens his eyes, the first thing he sees is Gerard’s smiling face resting on his hip and Mikey’s hand reaching down to wipe jizz off the corner of his mouth. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, this isn’t actually a porn movie, so Mikey doesn’t lick his finger afterwards; he wipes it on Frank’s sweatshirt, which he still has not managed to take off.

“Ugh,” Frank says, though it’s hardly the first time this hoodie’s had jizz on it. Maybe not even the first time since the last time he washed it, because it’s one he grabbed off the closet floor, figuring it had to be cleaner than any of his tour shit. Mikey lets out a little pot giggle, and Gerard smears whatever mess is left on his chin onto Frank’s thigh.

“Told you he was good with his mouth,” Mikey murmurs, and pets Gee’s hair.

“You did,” Frank agrees weakly. “C’n I take off my shirt now?”

Mikey helps, and between them they get the rest of Frank’s clothes off without him having to move in any significant way, which is good, since Frank isn’t exactly sure where all his limbs are.

“I—“ Frank starts, and he’s gonna say something about how that was great and they should get naked too, but Mikey’s dragging Gerard up the length of Frank’s body, Gerard helping just enough to make it happen but not enough that Frank isn’t very aware of how hard his dick is rubbing all the way up Frank’s leg. For two dudes who’ve never had a threesome, they certainly seem to know what they’re doing.

It definitely takes some wriggling to get Frank out from under Gerard, and Frank takes an elbow to the face and one of Mikey’s bony-ass knees to his hip, but it’s totally worth it when Gee ends up splayed out next to him, shirt rucked up over his ribs, palming his own dick as his brother tugs his boxers off. Frank’s never considered himself any more visual than the next guy, but watching is pretty fucking awesome.

And listening. Gerard, no surprise, is a talker when he hasn’t got his mouth full. Swearing, groaning, praising as Mikey gets his dick wet, licks him, jerks him, holds Frank’s gaze as he goes down and down and down holy fuck. Gee grabs Frank then, nearly fucking ripping his hair out trying to get Frank’s tongue in his mouth. Which means Frank can’t see, can only tell how good it is by the way Gerard’s twitching under him.

Turns out though that Gerard’s just as happy sucking on Frank’s jaw or chewing on his earlobe, so Frank does get to watch Mikey’s technique after all. He’s able to get a hell of a lot more of Gerard’s dick in his mouth than Frank thinks he’d ever manage, but he’s doing a lot with his hands too, which Frank can’t see as clearly. It’s intimidating, but it makes him want. Makes him want Mikey to suck his dick, makes him want to try it. Frank’s had plenty of compliments on his tongue and his fingers from the girls he’s hooked up with, and yeah, some blows are better than others, but Frank’s never had a bad one, so it can’t be that hard to make it okay.

“Fuck,” Frank blurts when Gerard hitches his hips hard, shoving deeper, and that should so make Mikey choke, but he just pauses for a second, works his throat, blinks, and goes down all the way. It’s usually Gerard people accuse of being a showoff, but Mikey has his moments.

He’s not inhuman, though, and after a few seconds he pulls off and just works Gerard with his hand, gulping air and shifting kinks out of his jaw.

“Fucking christ, Mikes,” Gerard pants. “Fucking— still can’t, how do you even—“

Mikey’s face goes all soft and pleased, a look Frank’s only ever seen him give Gerard, and for a second it’s too fucking intimate and Frank isn’t sure he should be here, but Mikey says, “For fuck’s sake, Frankie, kiss him and shut him up, will you?” and Gerard giggles, his ridiculous stoned little laugh, and pulls him in, and Frank does as he’s told even though it means he misses seeing what Mikey does to make Gee come.

He doesn’t miss Mikey kneeling up enough to get his hand in his shorts, though. “I’ll— lemme,” Frank says, because see one/do one has always worked for him learning tricky chords, why not with blow jobs, but Mikey gasps and comes before Frank can even finish his thought.

“He likes to pretend I’m the one who loves sucking dick,” Gerard says, “but I almost never get to return the favor if he goes first.”

Mikey holds up a middle finger and crawls up to spoon against Gerard’s other side, wiping his come on Gerard’s t-shirt as he cuddles in. Frank’s starting to wonder if getting jizz on people’s clothes is a thing with him.

“Sorry, Frank,” Mikey says. “But you can, next time, if you still want.”

“Or me,” Gerard adds. “Any time.”

Frank snorts. “Really? Any time? Thought you weren’t about people throwing themselves at your dick.”

Gerard digs his fingers in to the sensitive spot just under Frank’s ribs, making him jump and maybe squeak a little. “You’re not people, though.”

“Yeah, Frank,” Mikey says, his super-serious, I’m-about-to-be-fucking-hilarious face on. “You’re family.”

It’s a pretty terrible joke, and Frank shouldn’t encourage him, but he can’t help laughing. Gerard joins in, and Mikey fucking preens.


The rest of Frank’s days off get eaten up with sleeping and laundry and visiting relatives, and when Frank calls Ray to see if he thinks they should go for a beer, Ray says he’s chilling with his folks and he’ll seem him soon. Frank decides not to call the other guys, figuring they’ll be busy too. And then before he even gets another chance to call and see if anyone wants to hang, they’re back in Otter’s driveway packing up the van and Gerard and Mikey are treating Frank just like always. Which is awesome, and the best case scenario, really, even if it doesn’t involve blow jobs.

But then they stop at a mini-mart outside of Columbus, and when Gerard rests his chin on Frank’s shoulder to see what’s in the beer case—something he’s done plenty—he also slips his fingers down the front of Frank’s jeans and brushes them through Frank’s pubes—something he definitely hasn’t done before. Especially not in front of a brightly lit beer cooler. Frank doesn’t exactly flinch, but it does take him by surprise.

“Been thinking about your mouth,” Gerard whispers. “What it would look like wrapped around Mikey’s dick.”

“Oh,” Frank says, way more breathless than he wants. Gerard drags his fingers up Frank’s belly, leaves them resting on his waist. “Are you high?” Frank asks.

Gerard nuzzles his neck and Frank interprets that as something between a stupid question, and a hell, yes. It was a stupid question. It’s Ray’s turn to drive and they’ve got a show in a couple of hours. Of course Gee’s high. “He’s got a really nice dick,” Gerard says. Then he kisses behind Frank’s ear, pats his hip, and wanders off.


They get to the venue and soundcheck is shit, until someone calls someone and someone else gets there to fix the board, and it’s better, except Gerard has been pounding beers while they waited and Ray has his worried face on and Otter’s glaring at Mikey who’s pacing back and forth, so mostly everything’s worse. But then it’s time to go on, and Gerard pulls it together and Ray gets into the groove, and Frank can’t feel Gerard’s fingers in his pubes anymore, and doesn’t think about what it might feel like to have Mikey’s dick in his mouth, and they play.

It’s not their best show, but it’s not actually their worst, and Frank’s grateful for the beer or three after, but he’s not drinking to forget. Ray pulls him aside, and for a horrifying moment Frank think’s he gonna ask about Gerard and Mikey, ask what’s going on there or if Frank’s been banging them, but he just wants to talk about Frank’s guitar part in Vampires, wants to know what he did tonight because it sounded extra cool. Frank doesn’t have a fucking clue what he says, but Ray seems happy with his answer.

Otter’s mom has an old friend from high school who’s a Montessori teacher in Ohio now, and they end up sleeping on nap mats in the school behind her house. It’s creepy as fuck and the toilets are like eight inches off the floor and there’s no shower, but they’re horizontal and not folded up on themselves, so it could definitely be worse. Gerard passes out, Otter pulls his mats all the way into the corner, and Ray gets out his little flashlight to read the magazine he bought at the Stop-n-Shop, so Frank takes his cigarettes and goes outside. After a minute, Mikey follows him.

“Are things weird?” he asks once he’s waved off Frank’s offer of a smoke.

“Gerard put his hand down my pants in the middle of the mini-mart,” Frank says. “But on a scale of one to ten that’s about a three I figure.”

“And the other day? The, at our house?” Mikey’s shredding a leaf he pulled off the big ornamental flower in the pot next to them. Frank’s a little surprised he didn’t take him up on the cigarette. “Where’s that?”

Frank considers the weirdness scale. Fuck if he knows. “A two? Maybe an eight. You were that kid in the FedEx lot after the band with the bagpipes, weren’t you?”

Mikey huffs a laugh. “Fuck. I forgot about the bagpipes. Who the hell told them that was okay?” He tosses his leaf to the side. “I didn’t think you remembered.”

“Yeah. Well, I didn’t until that night. Gerard kisses like you, you know.”

“Makes sense. He taught me to kiss. Or I taught him. Still not actually sure if I was his first.”

Frank wants to ask how long they’ve been doing this, but it’s not like asking a guy how long he’s been with his girlfriend. There’s no way to make “how long have you been boning your brother?” not sound rude, Frank’s pretty sure. “Never thought I’d see that kid again, and here I was touring the fucking country with him.”

“First time we saw Pencey, Gerard didn’t believe me that I’d hooked up with you. Then when I convinced him, he wanted to know what you kissed like.”

“Huh,” Frank says, because he’s not sure what Mikey’s point is.

“He’s not gonna— If it’s not a thing it’s no biggie, but don’t pretend it is if it isn’t.”

Frank takes the last two drags of his cigarette and stubs it out on the edge of the planter Mikey was pulling leaves from. “Are you trying to say Gee, like, has a crush on me?”

“Naw,” Mikey says. “I’m. I’ll hook up just to hook up, you know? You feel good, they feel good. Plenty of people are cool with that.”

“Fed-Ex parking lot stuff.”

“Yeah. But Gee worries. He doesn’t need a ring or anything, but he likes to know the people he hooks up with, wants it to make a connection, even if it’s not like true love or anything.”

That’s been more Frank’s style the last few years, if he gets what Mikey’s saying. “So what— Is this you telling me to back off? Or, like, make him fucking cookies?”


“You really are like my family. Both of you, this band. I’m not gonna fuck that up. I had a good time. And I’d fucking do it again, but I don’t know what you guys want from me. You’re like—“ Frank waves his hands, clasps them in front of his face, drops them in his lap with a shrug. “I’m not gonna come between you or whatever.”

With a dismissive snort, Mikey shoves him sideways a little. “Fucker. I’m not worried about that. I’m just saying if you liked hooking up and want to do it again, tell him. Gerard likes to talk shit out.”

Frank snorts back, because this is not exactly news to anyone who’s spent more than ten minutes with the dude. And it’s messing him up a little that it’s Mikey who’s out here doing the talking. Except he’s doing it for Gerard, and he’d walk across hot coals for his brother.

“Or you could—“ Mikey reaches out for Frank’s shoulder again but this time he turns him enough so he can lean in and kiss him.

Mikey telegraphed the kiss, so it’s not the press of his lips that takes Frank by surprise; it’s how the first brush of Mikey’s tongue sends a kick of lust through Frank’s gut, makes him lurch forward, grabbing at Mikey’s shoulders with a soft noise caught in his throat. Mikey meets him with mouth open, an arm around Frank’s ribs hauling him half into Mikey’s lap. They’re sitting on a low brick wall that definitely wasn’t made for this, but Frank goes with it anyway, hooking his knees over Mikey’s thigh, twining arms around his neck, not caring that Mikey’s glasses are digging into his cheek.

Apparently Mikey does care, though, because he pushes Frank away, breathing, “Fuck” as he fumbles the glasses off his face and into his hoodie pocket. As soon as they’re clear, Frank dives back in, tugging Mikey’s hair until he has the best angle to get at his mouth. His dick is already getting hard, pinched in his jeans, and he wants to grab it, but he can’t seem to make himself let go of Mikey’s head.

They kiss until Frank’s chest hurts because he’s too distracted to coordinate breathing with a half-stuffed nose and his mouth trying to devour Mikey’s face. When he jerks back, panting, Mikey’s staring at him with clearly unfocused eyes.

“Okay,” Frank says. “That’s, wow. Okay.”

“Yeah. I didn’t— You. Fuck, my dick hurts.”

“And my ass. Fucking bricks.” Frank’s about to ask if this actually is okay, if there’s some kind of rule about all of them being there if they’re gonna do this, but Mikey tips them onto the grass so Frank’s underneath him, and goes back to what they were doing.

Frank figures it must be cool—it’s not like he would ever tell Gerard and Mikey what they can do when he’s not around, and Mikey knows Gerard best. If he thought Gee would be upset, he wouldn’t be doing this. Besides, Mikey’s working Frank’s fly open, rubbing his dick through his briefs, and Frank doesn’t have it in him to make him stop. Not for a hypothetical.

This time Mikey wipes Frank’s jizz on the grass instead of his clothes, and Frank’s grateful, because who the fuck knows when they’re gonna see a washer again. The teacher hadn’t said anything about them using hers, and besides, they’re hitting the road early.

There’s a second where Frank thinks about maybe blowing Mikey right here, but there are big windows at the back of the house, and any of the guys could wander out at any time, so he sticks to shoving a hand in Mikey’s jeans, which is a little less obvious from a distance. He wasn’t paying close enough attention when Mikey jerked himself after sucking Gee off, and isn’t sure how he likes it, but it turns out Mikey’s pretty easy, and by the time Frank’s even got a rhythm going, Mikey’s coming in his pants.

“Good talk,” Mikey says after, fishing his glasses out of his pocket and blinking down at Frank with a smile.

“So I should tackle Gee onto the nearest flat surface and jerk him off, is what you’re saying?”

“Exactly,” Mikey says and rolls off him.

Frank can feel himself grinning like a fucking idiot, but whatever. Mikey gives good hand jobs, and Frank’s almost definitely going to get more sex out of this, so he’s allowed to be pleased with himself.

“But maybe tonight let him sleep.”

Frank will totally do that. He needs to get some sleep himself.


The crowd is into it tonight, and Frank’s on fire, throwing himself around the stage, but Gerard’s fucking incandescent, taking everything the audience is giving them and amping it up a hundred times before giving it right back. Frank finds himself whirling towards him and bouncing away, but always ending up back in his orbit.

During warm-up, Frank was thinking about what Mikey said, thinking how maybe after the show he could corner Gee, kiss him for real, let him know Frank’s thinking about him like that, but once Gerard starts singing, Frank can’t wait. He wants what Gerard’s got, needs to taste it. He makes it to Sorrows, but then he can’t wait anymore.

It’s not until Gerard catches him in the jaw with the mic stand mid-swing that Frank thinks maybe he should have held on for one of Ray’s solos, but fuck it, it’s not like Gerard’s fucking enunciating tonight anyway. Then Gerard bites his lip and kicks him in the shin, and Frank lets the fuck go of his face. The plan (in as much as there was a plan) was to surprise him, not assault him.

But as soon as Frank pushes away Gerard grabs for him, one hand in his hair the other on his guitar strap, and he hauls him in, smear of wet lips and wetter tongue, and it’s slimy and gross and not at all hot, except for the way Mikey’s looking at them like he thinks it is. And then Frank catches Ray’s look like what the fuck is happening, has my band gone insane? and Gerard grabs the mic again and screams something Frank’s pretty sure is “Suck that motherfuckers!” into it, and yeah. Yeah. The crowd is going wild, and Frank can’t tell if it’s cheers or jeers, and he doesn’t give a single fuck.


“The fuck was that?” Otter demands as soon as they’re off stage, shoving through the little door into the back hall that serves as storage and office and staging area for the club.

“Kiss,” Frank says, and he kinda wants to punch him, and he kinda wants to laugh. If Frank wants to kiss Gerard it’s no one’s business but his and Gee’s and pro’ly Mikey’s. And Otter should be used by now to Gerard doing crazy shit during shows.

He’s distracted from Otter’s glare by a sound like bubbles popping in a pot of chili coming from Ray’s throat. Frank can’t figure out if it’s amusement or irritation, but then Ray says, “I looked up and Gerard was acting out the facehugger thing from Alien.” Bemused maybe.

“Since when do we do kissing?” Otter asks, ignoring Ray.

Frank looks for Gerard, but he hasn’t made it through the door yet, so there’s no one to tell Frank not to tell Otter to shut the fuck up.

But then, “Frank fucking wishes he were as cool as Ripley,” Mikey says, and Gerard crowds up behind him, giggling, and Frank’s shoulders ease and his fists unclench.

“Since I kissed your mom,” he says, nudging Otter with an elbow.

Otter starts, “Don’t fucking—“

But Ray doesn’t have time for your mama jokes when people are being wrong about the Alien movies, and gets all earnest protesting that Ripley isn’t the one who had a facehugger actually attached to her, and Otter says Mikey was just trying to be funny, emphasis on trying, and the subject of kissing is dropped.

With a squeeze of Gerard’s fingers, Mikey takes off after the others to defend his horror-movie cred, leaving Gerard and Frank to follow behind.

“Hey,” Frank says, and Gerard answers, “Hey,” and gives him a smile, wide and happy and open.