The door slammed open with a bang and most of the customers, a pretty rough crowd most nights, jumped in surprise. Standing in the archway was a man, lean and dark-haired, pale. If his fanged grin hadn't given him away as a vampire, his glowing eyes certainly would have. Behind him stood three other vamps, impassive, like bodyguards.
They wore leather jackets and boots, and when they walked into the room, they jingled from the chains around wrapped around waist, neck, wrist. Frank stared in shock from behind his end of the bar.
"Hey, batfucker, can't you read?" Larry shouted, pointing to the crudely lettered sign on the wall. "No bloodsuckers or furfaces allowed." To say that Larry was not known for his tolerance of the supernatural was a bit of an understatement.
"Well, that's too bad, motherfucker," the vamp said, and Frank felt a surprising wave of homesickness. He didn't know the vamp, but he'd grown up hearing Jersey accents like his. "Because we're the band and we came to play some motherfucking music!"
Things degenerated into chaos for a while.
Frank tried to stay out of the way, fading back into the shadows, but the silver shackle around his ankle kept him close to the counter. Silver affected all the Rift-touched in the same way, burning them like fire. His ankle was covered with silver-burn scars.
At some point, Larry, the clumsy fucker, tripped over him. "Stupid piece of shit," he muttered, backhanding Frank across the face.
Larry was a big guy; Frank was thrown across the small space and up against the wall, causing some of the bottles of liquor to rattle alarmingly. He felt his lip split, could taste the blood and his heart started pounding faster. It wasn't safe to bleed with vamps around, but there was no place for him to hide, so Frank tried to stay alert and worked really hard at being invisible.
He wiped down the sticky surface of the bar, chain dragging behind him as he moved from one end to the other, collecting empties and taking orders. With a practiced flick of his foot, he flipped the chain out of his way and entertained himself with dark thoughts of what he'd do to Larry once he got free.
His grin was probably a little vampish as he daydreamed, so he twisted his head and rubbed it off against his shoulder. The last thing he needed was to draw attention to himself while Larry was pissed off, because the one thing that Frank had learned since he'd gotten captured six months ago was that Larry was a mean motherfucker. Frank had the scars to prove it.
As he worked the bar, Frank kept an eye on the vampire band as they hauled in their equipment from the side door and set up on the stage. At some point, this place had featured a decent light and sound system, but years of neglect had taken its toll. Jezebel did what she could with it, but it was mostly a lost cause.
The band moved quickly and efficiently, each setting up their own instruments before moving to help the others. The drummer, tall and scruffy, cornered Jezebel and started quizzing her about the setup. Frank couldn't help but watch the remaining vamps as everything came together.
A long time ago, before the Rift had opened, Frank had been in a band, and he’d never quite managed to forget the thrill of playing his guitar up on stage.
The dark-haired vamp, the one that had burst unceremoniously through the door of the bar and drawn every eye to him, fiddled with a mic stand and taped coils of cable out of the way. The leader, Frank guessed. A tall, skinny vamp seemed to be the bass player, his instrument slung awkwardly across his gangly body as he adjusted his rig. The two of them worked together like they'd been doing this a long time.
The guy with the massive amounts of curly hair was handling a beautiful rosewood guitar that made Frank's fingers itch to touch. It woke a hunger in Frank that he'd mostly forgotten about; since the Rift, life had been more about survival than anything else, and music had fallen by the wayside.
He hadn't realized that he'd bitten his lip and was bleeding again until the lead vamp turned suddenly to look directly at Frank. Even from across the room Frank could see the way his nostrils flared, scenting the blood, eyes wide and dark. Frank trembled at the weight of the vamp's focus, feeling uncomfortably like prey. The urge to run was almost overwhelming, but he was trapped; there was nowhere for him to go.
The vamp stalked toward Frank, picking his way between the rickety tables and chairs and half-drunk customers, and Frank found himself taking an involuntary step backwards at the hunger that radiated off the vamp. His foot got tangled in the chain and it rattled loudly in the tense silence that had fallen when the vamp had approached.
The vamp leaned against the counter and arched a dark brow at him. Closing his eyes, he inhaled slowly through his nose. "You smell. . .delicious," he said, voice rough and husky. His eyes flew open, gaze pinning Frank, and he licked at his bottom lip. "What's your name, sugar?"
Frank's tongue darted out, echoing the vamp, and suddenly his mouth was flooded with the bright copper taste of blood. His heart was pounding loud and fast in his ears, and he was sure that the vamp could feel it. "F-frank," he stuttered.
"Frank," the vamp purred with a fanged smile. "Nice to meet you, Frank." He leaned close, gestured to the space behind the counter with his chin and asked quietly, "You got a safe place back there?"
Frank didn't understand. "I—what?" He looked around, but most of the customers had gone back to their drinking; no one was paying any attention to Frank or the vamp. "What?"
The vamp shrugged. "Something might happen," he murmured. "Wouldn't want you to get hurt." He looked Frank over, from head to toe, and Frank couldn't help shivering, his stomach twisting uncomfortably. The way the vamp was looking at him. . .Frank wasn't sure if the vamp wanted to eat him or fuck him. Maybe both.
"I don't understand—"
"Stay out trouble, Frank." The vamp winked and went back up on stage, leaning in to whisper something into the skinny vamp's ear. The vamp eyed Frank suspiciously as he tuned his bass, adjusting the pegs absently.
It was almost an hour before the band finished setting up and ran through an abbreviated soundcheck. The dim lighting flickered once, twice, but judging by the time, it was only the usual shift change at the power station.
Frank guessed that the band was famous, or maybe notorious was a better word, because the 69 Lounge was suddenly packed full of people, strangers that Frank had never seen before. Mostly human, it seemed like, but Frank wasn't going to bet his life on it. Too many of the Rift-touched looked perfectly normal. Frank himself was a great example of that. The only thing that gave him away was the way the silver shackle kept him trapped.
Larry had finally noticed how busy the place had gotten and joined Frank behind the bar, helping sling beers and shots of whiskey. Frank tried to keep to his end of the counter, because Larry was still grumbling about "Fucking batfucker band in my fucking bar."
Frank toyed with the idea of pointing out that the band was bringing in the customers who were spending their hard-earned credits on the watered-down alcohol served at the 69 Lounge, but decided in the end that he'd keep his fucking trap shut.
Maybe, after closing, Larry would stumble home to his double wide trailer next to the bar, leaving Frank to bed down in his nest of ragged blankets behind the counter. Frank had managed to palm a small metal file out of Dave's tool bag when no one had been looking and late at night, when he was alone, he worked on sawing through one of the heavy links of the chain that kept him here. He was probably a quarter of the way through the link, but he figured with a little more work, the chain would be weakened enough that he could use a little bit of leverage to break free.
And, as satisfying as it might be to beat Larry into a bloody pulp with his bare hands, Frank needed to get the hell out of this backwater town and its population of bigoted residents. He'd seen the people in this place do horrific things to the Rift-touched and he just wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else.
Frank looked up in time to see the singer gesture to the crowd, demanding silence as he adjusted the height of his mic one final time. There was a pretty large space between the tables and the front of the stage, and it was packed full of people. "Hey, motherfuckers, thanks for coming out to see us tonight!"
The crowd went wild, screaming and shouting, jumping and dancing around. It was amazing; Frank hadn't actually watched a band in years, and he'd somehow made himself forget how energizing a live show could be.
"I see a few familiar faces out in the crowd tonight, but it looks like this is the first time for a lot of you. So, welcome! My name is Gerard and this is my band!" He threw out his arms like he wanted to embrace the crowd and flung his dark hair back. "We've been on this long road now for years, since before the Rift opened, but once that happened, we had to change our name." He grinned, his fangs peeking out. "We are My Alchemical Romance and we want to Thank You for the Venom!"
The drummer counted them in and the band exploded on stage, the music loud and pounding, guitar heavy and thrumming through Frank's blood. The singer—Gerard—threw himself across the stage, screaming and sweating, stalking back and forth with a dark energy, inciting the crowd into singing along with him, arms raised high in the air as they bounced to the beat.
Frank couldn't look away; he'd never seen anything like it.
The guitarist was fucking amazing, pulling so much out of his instrument. Even as his peak, Frank didn't have anywhere near the raw talent that this vamp had. He helped Gerard with the vocals, singing backup, and Frank was surprised at how good his higher-pitched voice sounded when combined with Gerard's.
The bassist stood his ground and looked bored, like some kind of haughty vampire supermodel, sunglasses perched on his face. He occasionally tossed his brown hair back and when he did, the girls in the crowd screamed Mikey, Mikey, Mikey! The drummer just drummed, pounding the skins hard and sweating with the effort, looking fierce and dangerous.
Frank had never seen a singer so in tune with his audience, scraping himself raw over the music, bleeding over the words, and working the crowd into a frenzy, having them raise their hands and shout the lyrics back at him.
The song ended with a crash of drums and Frank couldn't hear anything over the cheering of the crowd. Gerard leaned against the mic stand and panted, pushing his hair out of his face as he smiled at the crowd. There was something weirdly appealing about the lopsided quirk to his mouth.
The rest of the evening went by in a blur. Frank watched as much of the show as he could, trying to stay out of Larry's way and mostly succeeding, though he did get shoved hard enough get a nasty set of scrapes across his forearm. They bled sluggishly, and somehow Gerard knew because when Frank looked back at the stage, Gerard was staring at him, intent.
"Fuck," he muttered, pressing a rag to the scratches in an effort to staunch the blood. Larry was going to be really pissed if Frank got himself eaten. There was a smear of red on the back of his knuckles and without thinking, he licked his hand clean.
There was a strange zing of tension in the air that made Frank look up. Gerard was watching him, eyes hooded as he strutted and prowled, screaming, "Oh baby, let me in!" as the song crashed into silence. It was clear that Gerard was interested in Frank, though he still wasn't sure if it was for food or sex. Frank blushed, and concentrated on cleaning a spot on the counter top, which was actually a scorch mark.
Gerard spoke into the silence. "I really wanna say thank you for coming out and supporting us tonight. We know that the world out there is a different place since the Rift, dangerous for humans and the Rift-touched, especially when you have people like the owner of this fine establishment barring certain types of people, based on his prejudices."
Frank looked up at that, surprised. Larry shouted "Fuck you, fangface!" loud enough to be heard above the crowd and Gerard grinned back at him and flipped him off.
"Fuck you, too, asshole," Gerard said into the mic. "Anyway, this final song is for all of you, Rift-touched or not. We wrote it for our last album, but it didn't make the cut, but it's still one of my favorites." He shook his hair back out of his face. "It's about living, and dying, and doing something with the time in-between."
The song was softer, slower, almost acoustic, only the guitar and Gerard's heartfelt words. The audience was spellbound, hypnotized as the cracked spotlight shone on Gerard, who leaned against the mic stand and swayed in time to the beat.
It was strangely beautiful and Frank wanted to memorize the way Gerard and his band looked on stage, the way the music made him feel and dream. . .Frank shook himself free of the spell that the music had woven over the room; he couldn't afford to hope anymore.
It was a while before the crowd dissipated. The band had set up a table near the doors where a couple of female vamps sold the typical band merch—tee shirts and hoodies and CDs.
A lot of mechanical things had stopped functioning when the Rift had opened, spilling all kinds of non-Newtonian magics through the tear in reality, but anything that played music was ridiculously easy to magic back into working.
At the heart of it, music was magic, so it made a twisted sort of sense.
"The CDs are spelled to play on any kind of CD player," he overheard one of the merch girls saying. "Working or not."
Frank would have killed for a CD, because while he'd never admit it out loud, the words and the performance touched something inside of him. Something that he'd kept hidden away since he'd landed in this forsaken town and been hit over the head, waking up bound to the fucking bar with a chain around his foot.
He kicked at the chain and ignored the burn as the silver shackle touched his skin. He went back to cleaning, making sure that all the bottles were in their proper spots, while the the band packed up their gear and loaded everything out.
Frank surreptitiously kept an eye on Gerard, trying to hear what he was saying as he signed autographs and talked with some determined fans who'd stuck around long enough to catch his attention. He'd put the amp he'd been hauling down so he could gesture elaborately, talking with his hands, like he'd done on stage.
The fans thanked him and wandered away, and Gerard turned and caught Frank watching. He tilted his head in question, and Frank flushed and concentrated on his chores.
Frank wanted the evening to be over so he could work on freeing himself. Once he broke the chain, he'd still have the silver shackle, but he could deal with that later. The silver didn't hold him here, but the chain did. He figured he'd head north; he'd heard Larry bitching about the next town over that "treated batfuckers and boos and furfaces just like regular people."
He didn't fit into any of those particular categories; he wasn't sure exactly what he was, but he was Rift-touched all the same. Silver burned him just like it hurt vampires and fairies, merfolk and all the others that had been changed by the magics pouring out of the Rift.
"Whaddya want?" Larry snapped, and Frank looked up in surprise to find that Gerard had drifted up to the counter and was looking expectantly at Larry.
Gerard smiled slowly, dangerously, not even trying to hide his fangs. "I want what's owed to us, motherfucker. 500 credits for playing in this dump." He didn't even blink when Larry pulled his sawed-off shotgun from under the counter.
"Silver shot, batfucker. Guaranteed to kill you dead."
"Deader," Gerard said.
"What?" Larry looked confused. And before Larry could draw another breath, two of the vamps appeared out of the shadows, moving fast. One of them pushed the barrel of the rifle up as Larry pulled the trigger.
The blast was deafening and pieces of wood and glass showered down over Frank. A couple of Larry's drunken buddies rushed over to help, and there was a confused tangle of bodies and angry shouts. Someone smashed the end of a bottle on the counter and Frank ducked for cover. He did not want to get caught in the middle of this shit. He hunkered down, arms wrapped protectively around his head as the sounds of breaking glass echoed in his ears.
There was a wet crunch and a choked off scream, the sound of running feet and panicked voices, and then a long silence before a hand touched his shoulder.
"Frank, it's safe, you can get up." Gerard's voice was soft and, Frank suspected, deliberately calm and soothing. Slowly, Frank unfolded himself and got to his feet. He tried to look around, to see what had happened to Larry, but Gerard blocked his view, shaking his head.
"You don't want to see," Gerard said, and he sounded very sure.
Frank took him at his word. "Okay." His voice was rough with leftover fear. He fisted his hands to stop the shaking.
"Frank? Frank." Gerard leaned down a little and looked into Frank's face. "We're taking you outta here, is there anything important to you, anything you need to bring with you?"
"Uh. . ." It was hard to think clearly. Before he'd ended up here, he'd always traveled light; it'd been easier that way. A couple of books in his backpack to keep him entertained, but nothing of his life before the Rift. Nothing he couldn't afford to leave behind. "No, nothing."
"Okay, Frank," Gerard said. Quick as a snake, he bent over and snapped the chain loose from where it was anchored to the floor.
In that brief moment, Frank caught a glimpse over Gerard's shoulder of blood, wet and red, and what was left of Larry. He closed his eyes and thought of all the things he'd seen in the six months that he'd been trapped here. Thought of the beatings he'd suffered, and the fey that Larry and his buddies had hunted in the woods surrounding town, ethereal folk who'd been human, once, before the Rift and found he had no sympathy or sorrow for Larry.
"Oh, hey, sorry about that," Gerard said, when he realized that Frank had seen. "Let's get you out of here," he said, ushering Frank out from behind the bar with a touch on his back. "Hold onto this." Gerard held out the chain and Frank took it, looping it around his hand a couple of times to take up the slack.
Frank was sure that he should be asking questions, shouldn't be trusting Gerard the fucking vampire, but he couldn't really find the energy to care. He was exhausted and numb; it had been a long night. "Okay," he said. "Okay."
The band traveled in a big tour bus, surprisingly modern, with black painted windows. Frank climbed up the steps; there was a wall that partitioned off a section for the driver, with another door that led to the rest of the bus. "To keep the sun out," Gerard said. Frank nodded and followed Gerard through the door. He found himself in a lounge area with several comfortable-looking couches, and a small kitchenette. Frank suspected that the door in back let to a sleeping area.
Bundled up in blankets and tucked into the corner of a couch was an old man, wiry and small, tattoos faded with age. His hair was pure white and stuck up in unruly spikes. He took one look at Frank and asked, "This him?"
Gerard nodded. "Think so."
"Told you," the man said, voice smug.
Sighing, Gerard rolled his eyes and pushed his hair out of his face. "Yeah, I know, Bri." Frank had a feeling that this was an old argument.
"Introduce us." Bri was imperious, like an old patriarch. He reminded Frank of his granddad.
"Frank, this is Bri—Brian, our manager. He keeps us on track and out of trouble. Bri, meet Frank, who's last name I don't know. Asshole owner was keeping Frank chained to the bar like a fucking animal."
Brian held out his hand and Frank took it, jerking a little at the crackle of power that came from the contact. Frank looked at Brian, wide-eyed, because he'd never felt that much power before. Brian was strongly Rift-touched, a magic user of some sort. People who could control that much magical energy were few and far between. Also, very dangerous.
"Pleased to meet you," Frank mumbled, trying for polite. It had been a long day, an even longer night, and he really didn't want to inadvertently insult someone with a lot of magical juju and get himself zapped into nothingness.
Laughing, Brian shook his head. "You picked yourself a winner, Gee. Get him cleaned up and bunked down. We've got a long drive ahead of us."
"Thanks, Bri," Gerard said. He started to usher Frank further back, but hesitated just for a moment. "You need anything?"
"Fuck off," Brian said, without heat.
"Okay." Gerard looked like he wanted to say more, but he shrugged and took Frank through the door in the back, guiding him with a light hand on Frank's shoulder.
The bunk area was spacious and dimly lit with strings of old fashioned Christmas lights. Frank decided he was still a little shocky, because the bus seemed much larger than it had looked from the outside.
Gerard opened another door and nudged Frank into a large bathroom, pushing him to sit down on the toilet lid. There were more Christmas lights snaking along the wall, throwing the room into bluish shadows. Gerard pulled an old-fashioned lantern off a shelf and carefully lit it, adjusting the wick and wincing a little at the warm light. "Let's get you cleaned up a little; you need something to eat?"
The idea of eating turned Frank's stomach and he had to swallow hard against the nausea. "No, I don't think I can, right now."
"S'fine." Gerard crouched down in front of Frank. "May I?" he asked, indicating the scratches on Frank's forearm.
"Uh, sure," Frank said. He had no idea what he was agreeing to, but— His train of thought derailed as Gerard cupped Frank's elbow in one hand and pushed up, extending Frank's arm and—"Oh."
Gerard was licking him, soft, wet strokes of his tongue, cleaning the wounds of blood, healing them. He couldn't look away from Gerard, who was clearly intent on tasting Frank, his eyes fluttering shut, face losing some of its sharpness.
He pulled away, licking at his lips. "Where else?"
Frank's hands were shaking a little as he pushed up his sleeve to show Gerard another gash, this one further up on his arm. He tried not to move as Gerard used his mouth to heal him, but his chest was tight and it was hard to keep his breathing steady and slow.
When Gerard was done, he pressed a kiss to the smooth flesh. "You taste so good," he whispered. "Where else?"
The air was thick, hot and Frank was starting to sweat. He pushed his hair off his forehead to reveal another cut; he was pretty sure something had ricocheted when Larry had tried to shoot Gerard. "Here," he said, and his voice was hoarse.
"Mmm." Gerard gently held Frank's face between his hands as he worked. "More?"
Wordlessly, Frank turned his back to Gerard and worked his shirt up to his shoulders; he knew there was a big cut on his back, under his shoulder blade, because it hurt like a motherfucker, but he wasn't sure how it had happened.
Gerard hissed a little. "Piece of glass still in there," he murmured. "S'gonna hurt."
Frank shrugged. "Just do—ow!"
"Sorry." There was a clink of glass as Gerard set the shard on the edge of the sink. Gerard didn't sound sorry at all. His mouth was delicate and careful, licking and healing, and it wasn't long before he was pulling Frank's shirt back down. "Anything else?"
Frank shook his head and turned back around, making himself look at Gerard's face. In the dim light, Gerard's face was deathly pale, and his eyes were wide and dark. Bloodlust, or maybe plain old-fashioned lust, Frank wasn't sure. He didn't look human.
"I'm not human," Gerard said, like he was reading Frank's mind. Maybe he was. "I haven't been human since the Rift opened. I'm a monster, a nightmare."
"No." Frank was certain about this. "Larry, Larry was a monster. He was totally human and what he did, to other humans, to the Rift-touched, to the helpless and the lost—what he did was monstrous. You?" Frank shrugged. "You're just a vampire."
Gerard touched Frank's lip with a finger. "Indeed." He caught Frank's foot and set it on his thigh, giving him access to the chain and the silver shackle. "Can't forget about this," Gerard said, slipping his fingers under the shackle, grimacing as the silver touched his skin. "Motherfucker," he said as he pulled at the metal, twisting it until it was stretched enough to slip off Frank's foot.
Frank's ankle was raw.
"I can't heal silver," Gerard said, almost apologetically. He held out his hands and Frank could see the lines of fresh burns across his fingers. He stood and indicated the cabinet under the sink. "There's first aid supplies in there, gauze and tape and antibiotic cream; help yourself. There's enough hot water for a shower and I'll get you some clean clothes."
Gerard turned to go, but Frank stopped him. "Gerard—"
Frank waited until Gerard looked over his shoulder at Frank. "Thank you."
Smiling, Gerard shook his head. "You're welcome."
When Frank got out of the shower, feeling more human than he had in months, there was a clean pair of sweats and a tee shirt waiting for him on the sink. He slipped them on and gathered up his old ragged clothes; he wasn't sure they were worth saving at this point, but he tucked them under his arm just in case.
He headed back to the lounge, hair still damp. Frank had finger combed it as best he could, but there was no mirror in the bathroom so he suspected that his hair was sticking up.
Gerard and his band were gathered around the tiny table, coffee mugs and playing cards scattered over the surface. "Go fish," Gerard said, rather smugly, as Frank walked in.
The skinny vamp, the one the girls had screamed Mikey at, glared at Gerard and drew a card.
Frank shifted from foot to foot, feeling out of place.
"Gee," Mikey said, pointing at Frank with his chin.
"Oh, sorry, Frank, I was too busy gloating over these losers. . ."
"Fuck you, Gee. Gimme all of your sevens." This from the guitar player, the one Frank had watched with an uneasy combination of admiration and envy.
Gerard smirked. "Don't have any."
The drummer, who resembled a rock 'n' roll Viking with his lip ring and beard, sniffed the air like a bloodhound. "Lie," he rumbled, causing the guitarist to crow triumphantly as Gerard tossed three sevens across the table.
"Frank, meet the rest of the band. Bobert, who can smell a lie a mile away and is a filthy, rotten traitor. Ray, who is a guitar god and a filthy, rotten cheater. And Mikey, my bratty little brother, who's—"
"Awesome," Mikey interrupted. "Totally awesome."
"Okay, yeah," Gerard grinned, fangs peeking out. "Guys, meet Frank."
There was a long pause while Frank waited for Gerard to add more, to use a word for what Frank was, pet or slave or dinner, but he didn't. "Uh, hi."
"Help yourself to anything in the fridge," Ray said. "There's food and drink; if you have special requirements, let us know."
Frank shook his head, bemused. "I think I just need to lay down, get some sleep—"
"Oh, shit, yeah," Gerard said. "You're probably exhausted." He got to his feet and carefully wrapped his fingers around Frank's bicep, tight enough that Frank was aware of it, but loose enough that he could probably break away, if he wanted to. "C'mon, Frank, let's get you settled."
Frank still felt a little uneasy about the bunk area, because his brain still couldn't seem to reconcile the space inside the bus with how big the bus looked from outside. It gave him a weird sense of vertigo to think about it, so he made himself stop.
Gerard gave him a choice of bunks and he chose one of the lower ones, because the idea of rolling over and falling several feet to the hard floor wasn't his idea of a good time.
Frank crawled in and fidgeted with the pillow until it was the way he liked it. It felt perfect, soft and fluffy, under his head. Gerard hunkered down and watched, eyes dark and unreadable. "Frank—"
"Hmmm?" In spite of the thin mattress, the bunk was comfortable. More comfortable than a nest of blankets on the concrete floor, anyway.
"I know you haven't had time to really take stock of what's going on, and we haven't discussed what your plans for the immediate future are, but—" Gerard examined his thumbnail before chewing on it thoughtfully.
Frank didn't have the energy to do more than blink slowly at Gerard and raise an eyebrow in question.
"You're safe here with us, for as long as you want to stick around," Gerard said. "Don't know where you were planning on going, what you were thinking of doing, but there's room for you here, no strings attached."
"Why?" It didn't make any sense; he was a total stranger to Gerard.
He hadn't really thought about much past getting away from Larry. The next town had a reputation for being more accepting of the Rift-touched, but beyond that, he really hadn't made any plans. Gerard was giving him the opportunity to catch his breath, to look around and maybe think about his future. "Okay," he said, voice sleepy. "Okay." He yawned, tongue curling. "Thank you," he mumbled.
"Sleep, Frankie," Gerard murmured, and Frank drifted off before Gerard finished speaking.
"You're really strong, aren't you?"
Brian looked up from the book he was reading. "Eh?"
Frank waved his hand around to indicate the bus. "It took me awhile, but I finally figured out that the inside is actually bigger than the outside. Pretty powerful magics."
"Hmmm," Brian said noncommittally.
"And I heard that strong magics take a lot out of you, physically."
Brian just ignored him and went back to reading his book.
Later, when the they paused for a break at a truckstop, Frank asked Worm how the bus worked. Worm was the band's driver, head roadie and security team all rolled into one big package. He was friendly and down-to-earth and the first troll that Frank had met in person.
Worm loved to talk.
He showed Frank the engine compartment, where Brian had coaxed an earth elemental to take up residence, replacing the big diesel engine. Worm let Frank feed the elemental some rocks and pet it. He also opened the cargo hold for Frank, showing him where the little fire elemental that provided heat and hot water was kept in a metal box.
The cargo hold was another part of the bus that was bigger on the inside and Frank had to marvel at the magic that made it all possible.
"Brian's really powerful, isn't he?"
Worm nodded. "Yeah. That's why he looks so old; the magics burn fast." He looked off into the distance. "Very strong. He chased off a manticore, once, just with his magics."
"Really?" Frank asked, awed. Because manticores were fucking fierce. Worm patted Frank on the head and bought him some gummi dragons from the store before ushering everyone back onto the bus.
Frank's experience with bands had never extended to touring, so he was surprised at how uneventful it actually was. It was huge stretches of mind-numbing boredom punctuated by an hour of setting up the band, a couple hours of awesome music followed by another hour of loading out. Wash, rinse, repeat.
They played endless games of Go Fish, Gin Rummy, Hearts, and Bridge before they gave up card games for a while, switching over to Dominoes. Which was a bad idea, because when certain people were losing, they tended to throw the damn things. Luckily, the edges of the tiles were rounded, so no one lost an eye, though the bruises were interesting.
Brian usually watched from his spot on the couch, quick to kibitz, his sharp comments failing to disguise the fondness underneath.
They played Yahtzee, Monopoly, Sorry, and a bunch of other board games, but it was difficult for Frank to win, with Bob sensing lies and Ray cheating and Mikey going out of his way to be contrary every chance he got.
Gerard often wouldn't play, sitting near with a sketchpad, the soft scritches of his pencil lost under the laughter and jeers. Frank caught Gerard staring at him a lot, and it should have been creepy and weird. Gerard was a vampire, for fuck's sake, and the look on his face could only be described as hungry.
But it didn't feel creepy or weird. The weight of Gerard's gaze just made Frank feel flushed and a little light-headed, like he couldn't get in enough air.
He didn't know what to do, so he didn't do anything.
There were pictures hung on the walls of the lounge, framed candid photographs. It was all fascinating stuff, glimpses of the band before the Rift, before they'd become vamps, pictures of families and friends, bittersweet reminders of life in other times.
Frank tried not to think of own his family, lost during the chaos after the Rift had opened up in the heart of New York City, spilling out transformative magics and interdimensional beings. It had been like the end of the world.
He touched his finger to a photograph, curious. Gerard, Brian, Mikey, Ray, and a stranger, dark haired and solid, instead of Bob. A stranger, and it didn't escape Frank's notice that Brian looked young in the picture, about the same age as the rest of the band.
"His name was Matt."
Frank almost jumped out of his skin. He pivoted to look at Brian, who he would have sworn had fallen asleep on the couch again, bundled up in blankets. "I thought you were asleep!"
"I was," Brian said, "but you woke me up with your wondering." He picked at one of his blankets, pulling on a loose thread. "Bob came to us much later, already a vamp."
"Sorry, I wasn't trying to be nosy—"
"It's okay, Frank." Brian pinched at the bridge of his nose, like he was trying to hold back a headache. "It isn't a big, dark secret. They just don't talk about it."
"They'd been a band for a while. Gerard and Mikey and Ray and Otter—Matt. They'd grown up in the same area, known each other, and after 9/11, when Gerard decided to do something with his life, decided to start a band, they joined him."
Frank nodded, because Gerard had a kind of earnest charisma that made him a natural leader. He made the impossible seem possible.
Brian sighed. "They put out the first album and went on tour, and it was amazing the way people responded to the music, to the band, to Gerard." Brian pulled his blankets high up, tucking them under his chin. "It's rock 'n' roll, you know? Sex and drugs and booze. We were all so young. . ."
He tried to imagine it, the boys in the picture on stage, sweaty and screaming, and the parties, beer and vodka and weed, and scene kids desperate to do anything for a taste of fame. Frank remembered being young and stupid, drinking and waking up in strange places with no memory of getting there.
"And then the Rift changed everything." Brian closed his eyes. "Gerard was the only one who got Rifted into a vampire."
"But—" Frank subsided at Brian's icy glare.
"Things were really fucked up after the Rift. It was before we'd made peace with the Dragons and they were still turning cities into slag. Governments collapsed, infrastructures fell apart. People being transformed and magic was suddenly real. A fucking mess."
Snorting, Frank shook his head. "That's the understatement of the century." A fucking mess, indeed.
"Yeah," Brian said, softly. "Anyway, Gerard got turned into a vampire and Mikey was manifesting as an amplifier, while Ray and Matt seemed pretty normal. They were worried about their families, so we went East. . ."
Frank couldn't stop himself from wincing, because he'd done the same. Gotten out of New York and headed home to his mom. Her house had been empty, and she'd left him a note saying she was going to Aunt Bella's place in Pennsylvania.
He didn't stick around for long; there'd been a basilisk wandering the neighborhood, turning people into stone, and he really wasn't up to dealing with mythological creatures that could kill him.
It took him days, but he managed to hitch a ride to Aunt Bella's house, outside of Allentown, but his mom wasn't there. They waited for months, but she never came, and one day Aunt Bella broke down and cried. He patted her back and tried to find some way to comfort her, but he was numb and really, what could he say?
He couldn't stay there, stuck in some kind of hellish limbo, waiting. Aunt Bella hugged him tight, and he headed west, hoping that things weren't as fucked up further away from where the Rift had opened.
"Yeah," Brian said, seeing Frank's reaction. "A mess," he repeated. "But things were getting better. They managed to find some family, and Gee was learning how to be a vampire; he'd always been mostly nocturnal, anyway. As long as he kept his blood hunger in check by feeding regularly, it wasn't so bad."
And even at the beginning, it wasn't hard for vamps to find willing donors. Vamps had a way of feeding off people that felt good, better than sex, according to rumors. Which, Frank still had his doubts about.
Brian scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Gee and Mikey are a little. . .strange for brothers. Most siblings aren't that close."
Frank shrugged at the non sequitur, because he was an only child and even having a brother or sister seemed weird to him. "Okay."
"No one knew it, but Mikey was spending all of his time trying to get Gee to turn him.
"I didn't want him to leave me behind," Mikey murmured, dropping onto the couch next to Frank, startling him.
"Fuck," Frank said, clutching at his chest. "You need to tone down the vamp stealth."
"Sorry," Mikey said with a quirk of his lips, clearly not really sorry. "It's dangerous, turning someone. There's always the possibility of death."
Frank felt his eyes cross in confusion. "Aren't vampires already dead?"
"Nah. Still alive. Stronger, faster, more powerful. Harder to kill."
"Turning's a tricky ritual. There's a high risk of failure—"
"But we didn't know that, then," Mikey interrupted.
"No," Brian agreed.
Mikey shrugged. "But it wouldn't have made a difference. Not for me. I go where Gee goes. Don't know about Matt and Ray, if they would have made a different choice—"
"Not Ray. Ray would follow you and Gerard into the Rift itself." Brian sounded very sure about that. "Matt, though. . ."
"Yeah," Mikey sighed.
Frank could fill in the blanks on his own.
Sometimes, when things were quiet, Ray would pull out his battered acoustic guitar and play. It didn't take long for Ray to notice the way Frank watched him, eyes following the nimble movement of Ray's fingers.
"You play?" Ray asked, strumming lightly.
"Long time ago," Frank said. "Before—" He made a gesture, trying to encompass everything that had happened, but it came out more of a useless flappy hand motion.
"Yeah." Ray nodded, like he got it. "I bet it's like riding a bicycle, though. Wanna try?" He held out the guitar and Frank clenched his fists to keep from grabbing it greedily.
Frank took a deep breath and shook out his hands, trying to relax a little before wrapping his fingers around the neck of the guitar and settling it into his lap. It fit, perfectly. "Oh," he breathed, shivering a little. He'd forgotten how it felt. How could he have forgotten?
"Standard tuning," Ray murmured.
Frank stroked his hand over the strings and set his fingers on the fret, playing the first thing that came to mind, the riff from an old favorite, hesitant and halting. But it was close enough, because Ray nodded and grinned in delight, showing fang. "The Kinks, You Really Got Me. See, I knew you were a natural!"
Frank wasn't too sure about that, but he let Ray give him a refresher course. By the time they were done, all the muscles in his hands and arms ached and the tips of his fingers were sore, but he'd never felt happier.
"You're good, Frankie. Really good." Ray pushed his curls back out of his face. "Just out of practice, is all. Listen, you go ahead and keep the guitar. She's sweet and true, perfect for someone relearning how to play. You keep practicing, and when we've got the time, I'll give you some more lessons." He looked at Frank. "If you want."
Of course he wanted. It was simply too good to be true. Frank still didn't understand why this band, this family had taken him in and treated him like he belonged. He was no one to them, a stranger, and they gave him safety and shelter, and worst of all, hope.
It didn't make any sense.
"Thanks, Ray," was all he could say.
Frank started with Thank You For The Venom, because it was the first song of theirs that he'd heard. After a few more lessons with Ray, who was an endlessly patient teacher, he'd pretty much remembered everything he'd forgotten about playing the guitar. Now it was only a matter of practicing until muscle memory took over.
He usually waited until everyone was in their bunks resting before practicing. When the band was around he felt self-conscious and clumsy, so he would sneak out and sit in the lounge, trying to pick out the chords.
There was something strange about the way the song was written. There were these strange gaps, sections that seemed to be missing something and it was driving Frank crazy trying to figure it out. He knew he should ask Ray, but—
Frank gasped and jumped a little. "Fuck, Gerard, you scared me."
Gerard didn't say anything, inhaling deeply and closing his eyes. "You're bleeding."
"What? No—" But he was. He hadn't even noticed that he'd practiced until the tips of his fingers were bruised and bleeding.
Dropping to his knees, Gerard held out a hand. "May I?"
He hesitated for a moment before putting his hand into Gerard's. "Okay."
Carefully, Gerard lifted Frank's hand up to his mouth and sucked on Frank's index finger, his mouth soft and wet. Frank had to bite his lip hard to keep from moaning, because the feel of Gerard's mouth, combined with the hungry look in his eyes was fucking hot. He shivered, and tried to ignore the fact that his dick was very interested in what Gerard was doing with his tongue.
Gerard moved to the next finger, and Frank wasn't sure how he was going to make it through Gerard healing the rest. His dick was so hard and he couldn't look away from Gerard's dark eyes, entranced and hypnotized. He had to wonder if this was a vamp thing, part of their freaky powers, the ability arouse and seduce. . .
When Gerard sucked on the next finger, Frank half-heartedly tried to pull his hand away, but Gerard didn't let go. It was too fucking much for Frank, he wanted Gerard's mouth on other places, fangs scraping delicately against sensitive skin. He wanted. . .everything.
"Frankie," Gerard breathed before taking in Frank's pinky.
Frank shuddered, face turned away as he panted, heart racing. He held himself still, because he felt like he was going to come in his pants if he so much as moved.
With a final lick, Gerard set Frank's hand down before gently grasping the other one, which was clutching at the couch cushion. It wasn't as damaged, and Gerard only kissed Frank's fingertips to ease the soreness.
Gerard leaned forward, so that his mouth touched the edge of Frank's ear. "You taste so good," he sighed. "It makes me crazy, having you so close and knowing how delicious you are." Gerard nosed his way down to Frank's neck, lips pressing against the pulse point. "Want. . ."
Frank swallowed hard, the sound loud. Gerard was close enough that Frank could feel the heat of him, warmer than any human, hyped metabolism radiating like a furnace. Gerard's voice was a little unsteady, and it was the first indication that Frank wasn't the only one feeling strung out by lust. "W-want what?"
Sighing, Gerard pressed another kiss to Frank's neck before getting gracefully back to his feet. "Everything," he said, and was gone.
Frank pressed his hands to his face and concentrated on breathing and not falling apart.
It was a long time before he felt calm enough to go back to practicing on the guitar and later, hours later, when he went to crash in his bunk, clumsy with exhaustion, sleep didn't come easy.
"Ray? You got a minute?" Frank had been trying to catch Ray alone in the 'studio' at the back of the bus for a while.
"Sure, what's up?" Ray set the guitar he was fiddling with back on its stand and shuffled the sheet music on the table into a tidy stack.
Frank shifted his weight from foot to foot, nervous. It was really none of his business, he wasn't even part of the band, but since he'd been working on learning the band's music, he couldn't help but notice—
"The music," he said in a rush. "Your music."
"What about it?" Ray raised an eyebrow.
"I don't—I mean, it's none of my business, but I've listened to you guys play a lot, now, and there's." Frank stopped. "It's not like there's something wrong with the music, it feels like—"
Frank took a deep breath. "Like something's missing," he said in a rush. "There are these weird gaps, spaces that almost seem to be where another guitar track would fit perfectly."
Ray looked curious. "Yeah?"
"Yeah." Frank nodded and laced his fingers together behind his back to kept from fidgeting. This was the hardest part—it felt like the worst kind of presumption. "I wrote some stuff down. . ."
"Show me," Ray said instantly, and Frank couldn't tell if he was mad or not.
He pulled the sheet of paper out of his pocket and unfolded it, smoothing out the creases. "It's really rough, and I'm not entirely sure it's going to work, but—" Frank handed the tab over to Ray before he lost his nerve.
Ray flattened the paper out and looked over what Frank had created. His fingers twitched as he read and Frank was sure that Ray could hear the music playing in his head. He was that kind of musical genius. When he got to the end, Ray tapped his finger a few times before grabbing a pencil and scribbling some changes. He looked up suddenly, like he remembered that Frank was standing there. "This is great, Frankie. It just needs a little tweaking. Sit down, and I'll show you."
Frank pulled up a chair and watched as Ray made small adjustments, mainly moving certain sections up or down an octave, shifting the sound so that it fit better. "You're really good at this," Frank murmured, and Ray glanced at him.
"Partly the Rift. But partly because I've been playing guitar for a long time. Started as a teenager, and once Gee formed the band, I never looked back." He tapped his pencil against the paper. "The reason why it feels like something is missing from the song? Is because there is." Ray pushed his unruly hair back. "From the very beginning, we'd always meant to have two guitarists. We wanted a. . .fullness, a depth that you can't get with a single guitar. And before the Rift, we'd tried out a few guitarists, but none of them fit with the band."
"And then the Rift happened."
Ray nodded. "Yeah, the Rift opened, and then Matt, and we kinda stopped trying, even though Brian said—" Ray stopped and looked uncertain before continuing. "Anyway, that's why it seems like there's a missing track." He traced his fingers over Frank's scribblings. "Found, now."
"What?" Frank had gotten distracted by what Ray wasn't saying about Brian, and it seemed like he was implying— "Wait, what?"
"Have you worked on any of the other songs?"
Frank froze. "Uh, maybe?" He had written a second guitar part for all the songs on the band's first album during stolen moments, scribbling in an empty notebook he'd found on a shelf.
Ray stood up. "Band meeting," he said.
"No, wait, I'm sorry, I didn't mean anything by it—"
"Frank," Ray said, voice tinged with fond exasperation. "It's okay. It's good. C'mon, the guys are gonna want to see this." Ray planted his hand between Frank's shoulder blades and gently pushed him toward the lounge.
Mikey, Gerard and Bob were already sitting at the table in the kitchenette, drinking coffee, like they'd somehow known that Ray was going to call an official band meeting, which made Frank wonder about the whispered rumors of vampiric telepathy. Ray pushed Frank into a chair and Mikey set a mug down in front of him.
Gerard held out his hand and Ray handed over the tab. Frank wanted to bolt, but Ray kept a hand on the back of Frank's chair, like he sensed how close Frank was to running. Spreading out the paper, Gerard frowned as his fingers followed the music, head tilted like he was trying to hear it. Mikey peered over Gerard's shoulder and nodded in time to a beat only he could hear.
"Oh, that," Mikey said, pointing to something on the page. "That's perfect."
Gerard nodded and tapped another section. "Hmmm."
Frank's stomach was twisted up into a knot and he felt like he was going to throw up.
"Told you," Brian called from the couch.
Bob rolled his eyes. Gerard huffed in annoyance. "We know, Bri."
"I heard that eye roll, Bryar," Brian barked.
A nervous giggle escaped Frank.
"You've done more, haven't you?" Gerard asked quietly.
"Yeah," Frank said, swallowing hard. "All the songs from Bullets."
Gerard looked at him, searching his face for something, Frank had no idea what. He glanced back at Brian, who shrugged. "This is good, Frank. Really good. This is the way Venom was always meant to sound." He touched the tab, drawing his fingers across the paper.
"We'll need someone to play it with us live, though," Ray said into the silence, looking expectantly at Frank.
"What? No, I—"
"Frank," Gerard said. "It's your music, your creation. Of course you have to play it with us."
"But—" Frank was totally nonplussed by the idea. Play with them? On stage? Where people could see and hear and judge? "I can't."
"Lie," Bob rumbled. "You can."
Frank shook his head. "I'm not good enough."
"Practice," Mikey countered.
Gerard smiled, with a hint of smugness. "You have any more lame excuses?"
"We'll work with you, Frankie. You'll be great."
Ray's earnestness was almost contagious, but Frank couldn't shake off the feeling of absolute terror. If he failed at this, they'd make him leave and— "No, I can't—" he said, and before he could say anything more, he ran for the safety of the bathroom. He could shut the door, lock it and keep Gerard and his well-meaning band out for a little while.
Frank spent a good ten minutes sitting on the edge of the tub, head between his knees, breathing in shallow sips to keep from either throwing up or passing out.
He'd made a place for himself here, a weird cross between helpful roadie and adopted mascot. Maybe it wasn't where he imagined himself being, but the Rift had fucked that up years ago. And it was a good place, safe. He had food and shelter, the protection of this weird family of vampires, and the tentative beginnings of friendship. He couldn't fuck that up. He just couldn't.
There was a knock on the door and Frank held his breath, hoping that whoever it was would go away, because he didn't think he could deal with anything else right now.
"Frank? Frank, let me in."
It was Mikey. "Go away," Frank said. There was a rattle, a squeak as the door shifted and a loud metallic pop as the door unlocked and Mikey let himself in.
"Door's been broken for years," Mikey commented softly, sitting down next to Frank on the tub edge and bumping shoulders with him. "What's going on?"
Mikey bumped him again, a little harder. "No, seriously, what's up?
"I don't belong here," Frank said, scrubbing at his face with hands.
"Who made you feel unwelcome?" Mikey demanded, almost sounding angry.
Frank was surprised at the sudden burst of emotion, because Mikey was the most laid-back person he'd ever met. It wasn't that Mikey didn't care, or that he didn't have strong opinions, he just tended to be mellow about most things. Still waters and all that. . . "No one. But this isn't my place—"
"Fuck that," Mikey snapped. "Do you wanna be here?"
"Then you belong here. We want you here, we think you belong with us, and you want to be here, so what's the problem?"
"I'm not a vamp." He wasn't. Frank didn't know what the Rift had done to him, but he wasn't a vampire.
Rolling his eyes, Mikey said, "Duh. Who says you have to be? Brian's not a vamp, either. Or Worm. It doesn't matter."
"Uh—" It seemed ridiculous, after that, for Frank to feel like an outsider, to feel unwanted and unwelcome. But until now, when Mikey said it out loud, he hadn't been sure.
That was a scary, knowing kind of 'oh.' Frank looked at Mikey worriedly.
"You've been waiting for us to ask you to stay."
"What? No, that's not—" It was, of course, but Frank would cut off his left nut before admitting to it.
"Liar, and I don't even have Bob's magic." The corner of Mikey's mouth curled up. "Don't move; I'll be right back."
Frank opened his mouth to stop Mikey from doing anything rash but it was too late. Mikey was out the door and down the hall before Frank took another breath. He got to his feet, nervous and suddenly the bathroom was filled with the rest of the guys, including Brian, who had wrapped his blanket around him like a cape.
With seven people, it should have been crowded in the bathroom, but it wasn't. Brian's magic at work.
"Frank, what the fuck, dude?" Gerard asked. "Of course we want you to stay. We were trying to give you the space you needed to make your own decisions. Brian said he'd kill us if we pushed you."
"No, I said I'd turn you into toads if you didn't let him make up his own mind."
"Same thing," Ray muttered. "Ouch." He rubbed the arm that Brian had slapped.
"Can he do that?" Frank asked, eying Brian with new respect.
"Yes," they all said in unison.
"I make a terrible toad," Gerard said.
"Me, too," Bob grumbled. "Green is not my color."
Frank couldn't help the giggle that slipped out, imagining Bob as a Viking vampire toad.
"Seriously, Frank," Gerard said softly. "We've just been waiting for you to decide you wanted to be part of the band and part of our family."
Taking a deep breath, Frank looked at each of them. "I do."
"Then you are."
Something about the way Gerard said it sent a wave of magic shivering through the air. Brian looked thoughtful. "That was a bound promise. Gee, you been reading my magic books again?"
Gerard shook his head and his hair fell into his face. "No way. Not after the last time."
"Brian turned him into a toad," Mikey muttered in Frank's ear.
"Interesting. Very interesting. That was a magic-bound promise, kids. Stronger than most oaths, very dangerous when broken." Brian looked at them. "Don't break it. The consequences don't even bear thinking about."
"Ah, okay," Frank said, confused but game.
"And if you're ever this stupid again, I will definitely turn you into a toad," Brian said before shuffling back to the lounge.
It was Mikey who found the perfect clothes for Frank to wear on stage. Torn jeans, a ripped shirt and a ratty old black leather jacket barely held together with a liberal application of duct tape. There were dangling chains and tears, Mikey sewed on a couple of patches, including a Union Jack, that made Frank grin.
His battered Chucks, the ones he'd had for years, fit with his outfit perfectly. He added some white fingerless gloves and stood back to let Mikey look him over.
"Yeah, s'good," Mikey pronounced, before pushing him into the bathroom. "A little bit of makeup and you're good to go." Mikey rummaged around in the drawer until he found what he was searching for, eyeliner and some eyeshadow. "Stop squirming and look up."
It took less time than Frank expected; Mikey had some mad skills with makeup, a couple of quick swoops and some smudging with his thumb and he was done. "How do I look?"
"Like a punk," Gerard said from the doorway. He stalked in, wearing red and black, looking dangerous, and hungry. He'd done something to his hair that made it stick up and Frank had to swallow back the desire to pull him close. He bounced another length of chain in his hand and held up a padlock. "Like Mikey?"
Mikey wore a chain and lock around his thin neck like a necklace, and it made him look menacing. "Yeah," Frank said, nodding. Mikey squeezed his shoulder and moved past Gerard, bumping him gently before leaving the bathroom. The door swung shut behind him.
Gerard set the chain and lock on the counter and fiddled with the collar of Frank's jacket, flipping it up and examining Frank before smoothing it back down. "Definitely down," he muttered, reaching for the chain. Frank shivered when the chain touched his neck; it was cold. "Sorry," Gerard said softly. He hooked the padlock through the chain and clicked it shut, and let it rest in the hollow of Frank's throat.
The click of the lock sent a shiver down Frank's back, raising goosebumps on his skin. Gerard traced the chain, brushing his fingers over the lock and Frank couldn't breathe. Gerard was too close, making it impossible for Frank to think about anything other than his warmth, the way he smelled, and how badly he wanted Gerard to bite him.
"Right here?" Gerard pressed his fingers to the side of Frank's neck. "Is that where you want me to bite you?" His voice was low and intimate, rubbing like velvet against Frank's senses. He dipped his head down and pressed his lips to the spot. "Yeah?"
Frank's hands scrambled to hold on, finding purchase in Gerard's belt loops. "Please—" His head tipped back, exposing his throat and he tried to pull Gerard closer, needing more.
"Hmmm." Gerard nosed along Frank's jaw. "After the show, Frankie. I'll bite you and finally drink from you and make you feel so fucking good—"
"Please," Frank gasped. He'd wanted Gerard for a long time, pretty much since the night Gerard had stepped into Larry's 69 Lounge, all snarls and attitude. "Please—"
"Soon," Gerard whispered, and backed away carefully.
A needy sound slipped from him and it was like Gerard couldn't resist, coming close again to drop a kiss on Frank's lips, all too brief. "Gerard—" It wasn't enough. He reached out, but Gerard gave him a soft smile and left.
"Fuck," he swore, adjusting himself.
They were playing at a real venue, with a stage and a green room and someone to help them set up and an actual soundcheck.
Frank spent the ten minutes before stage call braced over a toilet, dry heaving. Ray stood next to him, rubbing his back solicitously and murmuring reassurance. "You're going to be fine, Frankie, you know your stuff, you've been practicing so hard. It's going to be fine and you're going to have a great time, just breathe. That's it."
"I can't do this," he moaned. "I can't, I'm not ready, I can't remember the chords I hafta play. . ."
"You can," Ray encouraged. "You will." He handed Frank a bottle of water. "Rinse your mouth out." Frank did as he was told and concentrated on not falling over. Ray wrapped his hand around the back of Frank's neck and squeezed. "Let's go."
The entire show, from the moment Frank stepped out on stage until the last note died away, was a blur. The crowd was loud and sang the words along with Gerard, and Frank had never experienced this kind of on-top-of-the-world feelings. It hadn't been quite like this, the few times his old bands had played on stage, no feedback loop shooting adrenaline straight into his veins.
He bounced around on stage, twirling his guitar around, bumping into Mikey, falling to his knees and just laying down and playing, playing, playing his fucking heart out. The rest of the band seemed to feed off of his energy, Gerard strutting across the stage like an animal, Ray headbanging, Mikey playing his bass with showy movements, and Bob drumming like his life depended on it.
When they piled off stage, they were laughing and sweating and bumping into each other, unsteady and still thrumming with energy.
"Oh my god," Frank said, after gulping down a bottle of water. "I can't believe how amazing that was!"
"Yeah," Mikey nodded. "That's why we do this."
Frank laughed, a little nervously, trying to ignore the way his stomach twisted at the smoldering look Gee sent his way. He played with the chain around his neck, tangling his fingers in it, wondering suddenly, if it was Gerard's way of marking him.
It was another couple of hours before load out was done and they were back on the bus and hitting the road. Brian was already asleep, and the rest of them hung out in the lounge, talking and playing cards, until they unwound enough to sleep, drifting back to the bunks one by one, leaving Frank alone with Gerard.
He was trembling, because it was hard not to be a little afraid. He'd seen what Gerard could do, had seen how dangerous he could be, and if nothing else, that deserved some cautious respect. He knew, in his heart, that Gerard wouldn't hurt him, vamp or not, but it was still difficult.
"Been waiting so long," Gee said softly, pulling Frank to his feet and leading him over to a couch. "Wanted you since the night I saw you in that shitty bar, chained to the counter, eyes huge. So fucking pretty." He laid Frank out on the couch, arranged him to Gerard's satisfaction and climbed on top, settling in between Frank's spread legs. "Been dying to kiss you," he confessed and pressed their lips together.
Frank couldn't help the sound he made, something like a whimper. Gerard's mouth was wet and warm, and he licked at Frank's mouth until Frank opened and let him in, letting Gerard explore while Frank's hands snuck under the back of Gerard's shirt in search of skin. Gerard kept kissing him, slow and sensual, like he had nothing else to do in the world except kiss Frank.
It was maddening. Frank turned his head away to gasp out Gerard's name, fingers digging in a little on Gerard's back.
"Mmm, yeah," Gerard said, licking at Frank's neck. "So glad we found you, was scared we'd never find you, after searching for so long, Frank—"
Gerard's mumbled words percolated through his brain and— "Wait. What?" He pushed against Gerard's shoulders so he could look into his face. "What do you mean? You were looking for me?"
Licking his lips, Gerard nodded. "Been looking for you for a while. Didn't know your name, or where you were, or when we'd find you, just knew, from Brian's visions, that you were out in the world somewhere, waiting." He nipped at Frank's ear. "And when we found you—"
"You decided to keep me long before you met me, didn't you?"
Shrugging sheepishly, Gerard smiled.
It was kinda fucked up that Gerard and the band had searched for him, waited for him. Fate was a word that Frank didn't really believe in. Free will, yes. Destiny, not so much. But even as he thought about it, something settled in his chest, something warm and solid and real. "Okay," he breathed, pulling Gerard close again for more kissing.
It didn't take long for Frank to start rubbing against Gerard's leg, rutting desperately. "Gerard, c'mon, please—" He threw his head back, hoping to tempt Gerard into biting. "I've heard so much about vamp bites, how good it feels. . ."
"Yeah?" Gerard chuckled. He licked Frank's neck one last time before setting his teeth against skin and sinking in.
It was electrifying. Every muscle in Frank's body pulled tight as pleasure washed over him, stealing his breath. He couldn't think, only feel, and all he could feel was heat and a prickling rush of sensation that skirted along the edge of pain without ever crossing over. The feeling grew higher and higher, cresting and crashing through him, making him jerk and twitch, coming without even being touched. Distantly, he heard Gerard swallowing, the tickle of his tongue as he licked and healed the wound, but Frank couldn't do anything but lie there and shiver in reaction.
"Good?" Gerard asked, stroking back Frank's hair and pressing a kiss to his forehead. Gerard's dick was poking into his hip, and Frank flailed a little until he managed to get his hands on Gerard's butt and pull.
"Come for me," Frank managed, still trying to catch his breath, encouraging Gerard to rock against him. It was probably too much friction, but Gerard's mouth fell open a little and he moaned. It was the hottest thing Frank had ever seen. "C'mon, do it, just fucking do it—"
Gerard cried out and arched, shuddering. "Fuck, Frankie, oh, fuck—" he groaned, and Frank pushed his fingers into Gerard's messy tangle of hair and brought their lips together for a sloppy kiss. After a long breathless moment, Gerard let himself relax bonelessly against Frank.
Frank said, "Uh," because it was the only thing he could manage, and Gerard laughed.
"Okay, then." With a grunt, Gerard lifted Frank and carried him back to the bunks, settling Frank in before spooning up behind him.
"Sticky," Frank complained and Gerard just kissed the tip of his ear.
"Sleep," Gerard said, and Frank did.
"You know what I am, don't you?" Frank had managed to catch Brian alone in the lounge, and asked the question that had been bothering him since he'd found out how powerful Brian actually was.
"You're Frank Iero, and you woke me from my nap," Brian said without opening his eyes.
"No, I mean—" Frank broke off, frustrated. Since the Rift had opened, he'd been different; he knew that. He could feel it in his bones. He just had never managed to figured out how he was different. For him, it wasn't like the comics, where you woke up with wings or blue skin or the ability to steal other people's powers.
However the Rift had changed him, it wasn't obvious.
Brian peeled an eye open and looked at him. "Seriously?"
"I thought you already knew," Brian muttered, sitting up a little.
Frank just looked at him in disbelief. "Not all of us can use magic. Some of us are a lot more mundane."
"Whatever." Brian waved his hand around. "Your particular ability is kind of rare; I've only heard of a couple of instances of it. It's not particularly useful, except in the most general sense. Though I suppose that could change, with a little practice—"
"Brian!" Frank interrupted.
Brian sighed. "You unconsciously manipulate quantum probability fields, according to your moods."
Frank started at Brian uncomprehendingly. "Quantum probability fields? What the fuck does that mean?"
"Luck, doofus. You control the luck around you. Good and bad, depending on how you're feeling."
"Nope. So when you're feeling good, good things happen. Small things, subtle things. And when you're feeling down—" Brian trailed off.
Later, when he crawled into his bunk, cuddling up against Gerard's sleepy warmth, he asked, "Did you know I'm lucky?"
Grumbling, Gerard rolled over for a sweet kiss. Frank could feel Gerard's smile against his lips. "Of course you are."