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Lovers in Combat

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Frank wakes up to the sound of shrieking metal. Normally that type of thing wouldn't even penetrate his consciousness, but after the disaster at Gerard's last bout, he's a little fucking sensitive. He sits bolt upright on his crappy mattress, panting. Then coughing, because his lungs hate him. He grimaces and shoves the covers off his legs, taking a detour to the partitioned-off shitter in the corner of the bunk room and spitting in the bowl, then pissing. He finds a pair of tattered but still wearable jeans on top of his foot locker and tugs them on, zipping but not bothering to do up the button.

When he walks out into the main warehouse, he sees that fucking Gerard is the source of the noise that woke him. Frank rolls his eyes and scratches his stomach idly just above the undone fly. It's hot enough in here already that he knows it's no use bothering with a shirt, and if Gerard's offended by a little flash of Frank's pubes, he can fuck off.

It's not the first time he's seen them, anyway. Up close and personal, even. So when he leans a hip against Gerard's workbench and Gerard turns bright red like the virgin Frank is really fucking personally aware he isn't, Frank just rolls his eyes again. Gerard's been squirrely lately, like the accident rewired something.

Frank wishes he could stop thinking about it, but he's had nightmares about it for weeks - the mechas collapsing onto the dome, the scream of stressed metal and the fucking sparks everywhere. The dome had mostly held up - thank fuck the UFC hadn't skimped on metal quality. Frank's never seen anything like that, though, and Frank - that is, fr4nk - has more than his fair share of fucking Darwin Awards.

He thinks maybe Gerard is shy about the scars, despite the fact that they aren't that fucking bad. Or maybe g3rard - not his Gerard anyway - is too good to get tweaked and celebrate the old fashioned way like they used to. Whatever. There hasn't been much to celebrate lately. Frank and fucking Number Four are the second string team and he knows it. That's why he wanted to hook up with the Ways and Number Three - the old Number Three, anyway - in the first place.

Number Three is toast. From the looks of it, Gerard's hard at work on its replacement. Where Mikey is, Frank's not sure, and that could be good - as in he's out trading for parts - or bad, as in he fucking fled whatever mood Gerard's in today.

"Ray's making coffee," Gerard mumbles as he pulls his protective glasses back down and picks up a mallet. He raises an eyebrow at Frank and his shirtlessness. Frank sticks his tongue out in response and steps back, crossing to the other old office that they've turned into a kitchenette. That Ray has turned into a kitchenette, that is - the Ways certainly don't cook, and Frank only learned how out of self-preservation.

"Hey Frankie," Ray says when he walks into the room. He immediately pours coffee into one of their mismatched mugs and hands it over. "There's toast too. The bread was going stale."

"You're my favorite," Frank says, going up and rubbing his face against Ray's chest. Ray tolerates the invasion because Ray is a man among men - or so Frank informs him. "You're a man among men."

"Thanks, Frankie," Ray says. "I think. Now please get off me."

"You're even less fun than usual."

"I have a lot to do today, Frank. Eat something."

Frank obediently snags a piece of toast off the plate and takes a bite. "Like making sure Sunglasses McDouche out there doesn't cut a hand off?"

"That's Mikey's job. I have to run numbers again as soon as he gets back." Ray looks sort of nauseated.

"Better you than me," Frank says. He doesn't even want to see the numbers. Gerard hasn't fought a bout for months and Frank's been straggling along somewhere in the middle of the standings. Closer to the downward side of the middle, if he's honest.

"Next week will help," Ray tells him. "We transferred a couple of g3rard's endorsements, and you have a good record against the Vegas mechas." What he doesn't say is "I believe in you!" but his face advertises it anyway. Ray is way too nice to have to put up with Frank. Maybe that's why he's put up with Frank for so long.

His face also says, "If you destroy Number Four I will murder you." Ray's face is very expressive.

"Give me a cup for Gee," Frank says, and Ray reaches for another mug. "What's his fucking deal, anyway?" he asks. Even if Ray knows, he won't tell - he's everyone's favorite, and that's for a reason - but it's worth a try.

"No idea," Ray says. "Same old?"

It's not the same old. Frank shrugs expressively, crams the rest of his toast in his mouth and takes Gerard's mug from Ray's hand. He carries both back out to the work area and leaves one on Gerard's bench, at a safe distance from flying debris. He keeps going, out of the high-ceilinged mecha bay and into the lean-to at the back where they keep their gym equipment.

It's been decades since the UFC ran actual hand-to-hand bouts, but most of the fighters like to keep in shape anyway. It keeps their reflexes sharp. It helps burn off excess energy, too - most of the fighters Frank knows are twitchy motherfuckers just like him, who spend five rounds riding a wave of adrenaline (or Red Bull, or some other stim; management effectively stopped regulating that shit when mechas came into use in the late Teens) and the weeks in between bouts trying to either suppress it or recreate it.

Frank never had a problem with that - he had his own very highly effective solution, which involved one g3rard, his dirty mouth and his very, very talented hands - but since the accident, or even before it if Frank's honest, he hasn't. On the upside, he's never been in such good shape in his life.

He starts with a round of stretches, moves to one of the heavy bags suspended from the ceiling on chains, and then switches to free weights. It's enough to knock him out of himself for a while, and even the disturbingly human shrieks from Gerard's workstation where he's still - fucking still - trying to salvage pieces of Number Three's exoskeleton fade into the background.

Frank's doing a round of cool-down stretches when he hears the low growl of one of the bikes approaching the warehouse. Mikey must be back. He grabs a towel from a bin and scrubs at the sweat on his face and arms, then drapes it around his neck and heads for the mecha bay to see what's going on.

Mikey's back. There's a battered cardboard box full of - motherboards, Frank thinks, squinting - on Gerard's workbench. Mikey himself is perched next to it, frowning at a tablet in his hands.

"What's it say?" Ray shouts from up on the scaffolding around Number Four.

"It says he's interested in sponsoring the team," Mikey replies, and that gets Frank's fucking attention.

"Who?"

"Grant Morrison."

"The biotech guy? The one who retired a few years back after the thing with the biofeedback implant?" Frank goes over and tries to take the tablet from Mikey, but Mikey holds it out of his reach.

"Hands off, Iero. I need to run a trace on this."

"Why?" Frank gives up and goes and sits on Gerard instead, who grunts and sort of shrinks into himself but doesn't shove Frank off. Frank counts that as a pretty major win considering how he's been acting.

"Because the message came in to one of the secure mail accounts. No one who knows about those would give them up, and if someone did, I need to know who it was. Or maybe he hacked it," Mikey says. "Either way."

"The thing with the biofeedback implant wasn't his fault," Gerard mumbles from under Frank. "It was never proven."

"And he's been a fucking recluse ever since," Mikey says, impatient. "So why's he want to sponsor us all of a sudden?"

"You're all acting like a sponsor would be a bad thing," Ray calls down from his perch.

"He's been sighted around town a lot more in the last six months. Maybe he's just a UFC fan. Maybe he flipped a fucking coin. I'm just saying we don't know shit about this guy - except what his PR monkeys tell us," Mikey adds with a glance at his brother, who'd taken a deep breath like he was about to start spouting off some geyser of knowledge on weird hermit millionaires. He probably was. Gerard knows the most random stuff.

"So we find out," Frank says. "I can tail him for a couple days while Ray finishes the tweaks to Four. No problemo." Mikey looks him up and down expressionlessly for a minute. "I can blend," Frank says. "I'll just wear a fucking hoodie. And a helmet. There are bike messengers all over this city."

"He's got a point," Ray says, dropping to his feet on the shop floor next to them. "Just be careful, Frankie. Dude didn't get to be a millionaire by being an idiot."

"I'm stealthy," Frank assures him. "Gee, whaddaya say - want to help me gird my loins for espionage?" Frank pivots on Gerard's lap and wiggles his eyebrows. Partially to hide what he knows will be disappointment. One day maybe things will be back to normal. One day maybe he'll be pleasantly surprised.

"I'm busy, Frankie," Gerard murmurs.

"My loins need you," Frank insists earnestly. "That's harsh, Gee." But he's already giving up. "What's the word on today's checkpoints, Mikeyway?"

"Up into the Hills?" Mikey asks thoughtfully. "If you can hit La Brea before the afternoon shift change, you're golden. I know the guy."

Mikey always knows a guy. Frank would say it's his best talent, if he didn't know Mikey's real best talent was keeping his brother in mechas. And some semblance of normal functioning behavior.

There are days they all need that talent. But that's why they make a good team.

"Try not to miss me too much while I'm gone," Frank tells them, kissing Gerard's cheek loudly and hopping off his lap. He knocks his shoulder against Mikey's and then Ray's as he walks back into the bunk room and opens up his foot locker.

Battered boots, band shirt, hoodie, leather jacket. It's almost like a uniform, at least that's what he likes to think. And with his tattoos covered up, he's more or less anonymous. Just a guy on a bike. He whistles as he strolls out to the shed, plucks a helmet off the shelf, straddles his bike and pops the kickstand.

She's pretty anonymous too - his bike. No custom paint job, just business black. Her bells and whistles are to make her go fast. And she does. Frank likes fast.

Frank hates LA, but he doesn't have much of a choice in the matter, he thinks as he cruises toward the city. The team's based here, the fights mostly happen here or in Vegas, and mecha transport is a bitch without a fancy sponsor like that little asshole Mickey Fuckin' Mau5 has. Not really his name, but for real - no corporate sponsorship, Frank's ass. Frank wasn't born yesterday.

Getting into the city isn't a problem. Frank takes La Brea like Mikey said and gets greenlit before he even pulls up to the checkpoint. He resists the urge to wave at the booth as he rolls through. Whatever magic Mikey's network of people works will make sure his plate number - with not-his-name - shows up on the whitelist before it hits the central traffic computer. Frank grins underneath his visor and heads for the Hills.

Speaking of sponsors... the biotech guy, Grant Morrison, lives in a very swanky house in a very swanky neighborhood with very swanky security systems. Frank keeps his distance as he approaches. He's not sure if it's worth the effort to try to get a look inside; Ray could probably hack the alarm with an uninterrupted few hours, but they don't have that. There's a reason they're fighters and not high-end cat burglars.

Frank pulls a clipboard out of a saddlebag and goes to ring a neighbor's doorbell. He cases the place pretty thoroughly under cover of checking his nonexistent messenger orders. Part of the intel Mikey'd pulled up was the make and model of Morrison's favorite car. Bright yellow, of course. The car's in the driveway, waiting to take its owner who knows where. Frank positions himself near the mouth of Morrison's street and waits.

And waits. Maybe offering to tail a recluse wasn't a brilliant fucking idea. But even Frank knows the name - the guy's been in the tabs pretty frequently. The kind of people who write reviews for the tech blogs like to call him a sellout. Like that's a bad thing for a dude who's in the business of making money. Was, anyway. Frank does wonder what he's doing sniffing around UFC teams. It's a little downmarket for a dude who was running his own multimillion-dollar company by the age of forty, and the kinds of medbots MoCo was turning out make their mechas look like stick figures next to a Da Vinci. Maybe Mikey's right. Maybe he's just a fight fan.

Frank's about ready to give up and go sell a kidney for an overpriced coffee somewhere when he hears the roar of a performance engine. A few seconds later he sees a flash of yellow. Then the car he's been waiting for crawls to a halt at the stop sign at the end of Morrison's street. Frank squints inside and sees Morrison's shaved head behind the wheel. Good - it's really him and not some assistant. Wife. Girlfriend. Boyfriend?

Game on.

*

Turns out, it's not easy to follow a bright yellow sports car - not when the driver drives like Morrison. If Frank were in a car, he'd have lost him several times over by now. As it is, he's watched Morrison visit several office complexes - Frank jots down the addresses to research later - and a bank. And have lunch - alone, but weirdly un-accosted - sitting at a sidewalk table in a fancy sushi joint, mirrored shades hiding his eyes. Then he just drives around for a while before heading back toward his house. Frank swears under his breath. He doesn't want to spend an entire night lurking outside a mansion in the Hills. He will, but he really doesn't want to.

He almost misses it when Morrison turns suddenly, heading into one of Hollywood's many underground parking structures. Frank turns and follows automatically, keeping his distance, watching as Morrison circles lower and lower into mostly-deserted sections. Frank kills his headlight and pulls into a space several aisles away. He's in the process of trying to make his way to the stairs unseen when he hears a familiar yet ominous click behind him.

"It wouldn't be wise," a voice with a strong Scottish burr snarls behind him, "to assume I don't know how to use this. Or that I won't."

Frank turns around to the entirely unwelcome sight of a small but serviceable pistol pointed straight at his head. He raises his hands to chest height, palms out.

"Very good," Morrison tells him. "Now take the helmet off and set it down. If you try anything cute like throwing it at me...." He wiggles the pistol a bit. Frank gets the point. He eases the helmet off and crouches to set it on the ground by his feet. "Christ," Morrison says when Frank straightens back up. "You're a fuckin' baby."

"Hardly," Frank scoffs.

"As you say," Morrison murmurs. "No big deal. Whatever else you are, you are following me, and you're going to tell me why."

"You don't recognize me," Frank marvels. "Of course you don't, why would you? You probably have people for that."

"So you know who I am then. Is it money you want, kid? Because I'm the one who's fuckin' armed here. I'd hate to think you're as stupid as you are pretty."

"Maybe I am. And you already offered me money, sir," Frank drawls derisively. "I'm here because I'm trying to figure out if I want to take it." Morrison narrows his eyes, focusing on Frank's face then giving him a slow up-and-down scan that makes him want, unaccountably, to bite his lip and squirm. "I'm not a hustler," Frank adds. He doesn't know why he cares; he's done what he had to, in the past, and he's also told plenty of people who'd made assumptions to go fuck themselves. But a part of him knows Gerard is probably gonna cut off his balls for the impression he's making on this guy. He might as well try not to make it worse.

Morrison's still looking. "Frank," he says finally. "Mad Gear Mechanicals. I'd have known if you weren't so covered up."

"That was the idea," Frank says. "Or really, the idea was to not get caught. So can we not be pointing a gun at me now? It's not actually making me want to work for you."

Morrison rolls his eyes, but tucks the gun away. "You're not a very good spy, Frank."

"I've never needed to be. I have other skills, you know." Frank crosses his arms across his chest.

"As you say," Morrison says again. Fuck, he makes it sound dirty. No one warned Frank that the weird hermit millionaire had charisma coming out of his pores. Frank flashes for a moment to Morrison meeting Gerard. If Gerard's having one of his spells, it would be a disaster. But if he's on... it could be explosive.

Not that Frank would be jealous. Because that would be stupid. And Frank's not. Jealous. Or stupid. Most of the time.

Then he realizes Morrison is clearly waiting for him to zone back in. Gerard is so going to have his balls.

"Did you want to schedule a business meeting, Frank?" Morrison asks, rather excessively politely.

"I'm not really the business meeting type," Frank replies.

"Then maybe your team manager," Morrison suggests, and Frank holds back a snort. That would require them to have a manager. The best they've got these days is Gerard. Or maybe Ray. No, Morrison would eat Ray for breakfast. It's going to have to be Gerard, and Frank opens his mouth to say so when the squeal of stressed tires and a revving engine make both of them snap their heads around.

A dark sedan is barreling across the garage. They're the only people down here. "That for you?" Frank asks. "'S'not for me."

Morrison is already in motion, throwing himself into the yellow sportscar and thrusting open the passenger door from inside. "Get in!"

Frank's feet take him there without input from his brain, which is still stuck on "Whaaaa -" He barely gets the door shut before Morrison peels out of the parking space and heads for the exit, and then he's too busy fumbling for the seatbelt to pay attention to how Morrison gets them out of the parking garage.

He does, however, get them out of the parking garage. And through a stomach-churning route of side streets, up through what used to be Silverlake and back to the house in the Hills. Frank realizes after a few minutes that he's clutching his motorcycle helmet. Why he'd picked it up, he has no clue.

"You probably won't need that," Morrison says, voice tight but with a thread of amusement, nodding at the helmet Frank's turning around and around in his hands. "My mechanic makes sure my airbags are well-maintained."

"He'd fucking better," Frank says. "If you're in the practice of having fucking high-speed chases on random weekdays."

"Not in the practice, no. But lately it seems I'm a popular target. I'll explain at the house."

"You can - drop me off somewhere, man," Frank says. "I'm sure they're long gone. They're - not following us, are they?" He twists around in his seat, peering out the back window.

"Not that I've seen. I've mapped out several routes that suit evasive action. Are you worried about your bike, Frank?"

Frank turns back around to face forward. "Not really," he says. "Just one more parked vehicle, right? Plates won't come back to me, either."

Morrison tsks at him, but the corner of his mouth that Frank can see is twitching. "If you want me to drop you off I will, but I feel I owe you an explanation. And I didn't mean to put you in any danger. Giving myself some time to set up some countermeasures will go a long way there."

Frank has to fucking admit it to himself - now that he's reasonably sure he's not going to die, he's dying of curiosity. "Just so you know, if this is your idea of a job interview, you are a pretty twisted motherfucker."

"You started it," Morrison reminds him calmly.

"Are we forgetting the 'held at gunpoint' incident here?"

"Not held, more like threatened. Briefly."

"Oh, sorry," Frank says, crossing his arms over his chest. "Go ahead with your semantics."

"I will, thank you. We won't arrive for a few more minutes. Are you staying or going?" Frank sneaks a look at Morrison's face, but he's concentrating on the road.

"I need to make a call," Frank answers, and Morrison hands him a phone without comment. "I have my own," Frank tells him.

"Afraid I'll trace the call? I found all your private contact information already, you know."

"Yeah, and freaked Mikey the fuck out, so thanks for that." He punches in the number he wants, though. Frank's already mostly decided Morrison is trustworthy. If it's a snow job, Frank will take the heat for the bad call. "Ray," he says when the call connects. "Need you guys to come into the city."

"I told you last time that I'm not pissing away any more money on bail," Ray says automatically.

"Fuck you. This ass is made for better things than a holding cell. And I'm not in fucking jail. I'm at Morrison's place." He pulls the phone away from his ear until Ray's done cursing. Ray hits a particular earsplitting timbre when he's upset, and his vocabulary is just as extensive as Gerard's. "Are you done?" he asks after a minute.

"For now," Ray sighs. "What did you fucking do, break in? How are you not in jail?"

"Because I'm not a fucking idiot," Frank replies. Morrison shoots him an amused glance as he parks in his garage and gets out of the car. Frank follows. "And because I was invited in." Frank hears a noise like Ray muffling the phone against his chest, and his voice saying something like "fucker made contact" to someone in the background. A Way. Either one. Maybe both. He can't hear the reply.

Frank trails Morrison through a utility room and into a large and airy, though sterile-looking, kitchen. Morrison perches on a barstool and motions for the phone.

"Hullo. Ray, is it? Yes, Grant Morrison. Your friend is telling the truth, he was invited to come in for a chat." He pauses, then chuckles warmly. "No, I'm afraid he's just fucking crap at tailing someone. If that someone is me." He pauses again, face going solemn. "Of course I won't hurt him. I'd like to have a business discussion with your team. Can you get into the city? I won't ask you if you know where I live...." He laughs again. "Yes, of course, here he is."

Frank takes the proffered phone. "What?"

"Gerard is going to fucking kill you," Ray says tightly.

"Like he could take me. I'd prefer he just fuck me, but we both know that's not going to happen."

Ray groans. "Maybe I'll kill you."

"Not until after the Vegas bout, you won't," Frank smirks. "Just round up the Ways and get your asses to the city. My professional integrity is on the line here," he finishes primly, and hangs up while Ray is still laughing. He looks up. Morrison hands him a beer he's pulled out of the fridge and pops the top on his own.

"That was better than dinner theatre," he comments mildly.

"You ain't seen nothin' yet," Frank drawls. Just wait 'til Gerard gets here.

*

Frank and Morrison both relocate to the living room, on Morrison's invitation. It's just as airy - and nearly as sterile - as the kitchen, all blond wood and modern lines, with weird steel sculptures and a few unexpected splashes of teal in the cushions and art. Frank feels like he's going to grunge it up just by walking in, but Morrison doesn't pay a bit of attention to Frank's dusty boots and grimy jeans, just points out the controls for the entertainment system and sinks into an oversized armchair with a tablet. He's tapping intently within moments, punctuating whatever messages he's sending with the occasional accented curse.

Morrison has enough high-end sound and game tech to make Ray and Mikey cream their jeans, but Frank feels weird about turning on the entertainment system even though he got permission. He wanders over to the other end of the room instead, scanning the contents of a tall bookshelf tucked in the corner. And stares. Books - and real fucking paper books are rare enough these days - like Frank has never seen, books that could keep Frank busy for days or months, because he wants to read every single thing he sees.

"You like to read, Frank?" Morrison murmurs from his end of the room.

"When I have time. Which is never. Time is money."

Morrison laughs. "I've always found that money is money."

"You would," Frank murmurs back. "Anyway. I don't have enough time or money." He selects a volume at random and sinks onto a nearby chaise, and an pretty impressively short amount of time passes before he hears the roar of a performance engine outside the house and a sensor dings.

"Your team has arrived, it appears," Morrison says, standing up to tap on a wall unit.

Frank already knew that; he'd recognize the Trans Am's engine in a fucking traffic jam. He peers out the front window; the car, like Frank's bike, is painted glossy business black - a far cry from the spray-painted shell Gerard had found in a scrapyard a few years ago - but coated in desert dust. The guys are pretty dusty too; they clearly hadn't wasted a second getting here. Even to shower. Typical.

Frank reluctantly puts his book away when Morrison goes to open the door. He's on his feet waiting when the guys come in, Mikey and Ray trailing after Gerard. Gerard comes straight over to Frank and gets right up in his face, growling, "Motherfucker."

"Yeah, tell your mom I say hi, will ya?" Frank snipes back. He's pretty sure he can dodge if Gerard decides to punch him. Gerard is much more coordinated with a controller than with his own fists. Surprisingly, Gerard just turns his back. Frank is pretty sure it's less about him - even though Gerard knows Frank looks at Mama Way like a second mom - than about the bald millionaire following Ray into the living room.

"Gentlemen," Morrison says, "Have a seat. Beers? Water?" He's every inch the solicitous host; fetching drinks for them all before settling back into his armchair, a tumbler clinking with ice in his hand. "So. Mad Gear Mechanicals. Let's get down to business."

"I apologize," Gerard blurts out. "We've learned the hard way not to trust anyone. If Frank -"

"It's nothing," Morrison interrupts smoothly. "On the contrary, Frank made exactly the impression I'd have hoped for. And I have also learned the same lesson, Mr. Way. Hence my extensive... research into your team, for which I - well, no, I don't apologize. Will the younger Mr. Way believe me if I insist my intentions were good?"

"Maybe," Mikey replies. "I mean. Probably. It sort of depends what you're about to say."

"Smart boy," Morrison says, tipping him a little salute with the whiskey tumbler. He swirls the liquid thoughtfully and takes a sip. "I suppose I must start at the beginning. I was born in Scotland in -" He cuts himself off theatrically and laughs at what Frank knows is a roomful of politely blank expressions. "No? I assure you my life story is fascinating stuff."

"I know it, Mr. Morrison," Gerard replies, cheeks going a little pink.

"You do? I'm flattered," Morrison purrs. "Please call me Grant, by the by. Mr. Morrison was my father, and he was a much more imposing figure than I, I assure you. Well, then we can skip a few steps. Perhaps skip straight to the fucking biofeedback implant?"

"We read the news," Frank puts in, earning himself a glare from Gerard.

"The news," Morrison - Grant - muses. "A stellar source of all the truth you could hope to make up. Well, some of it is true, anyway. There was a biofeedback implant. And it was most certainly released too soon, before all of the bugs had been worked out of it. The newspapers won't tell you how I was pressured into that decision, however."

"You resigned," Ray puts in. "Made you look sort of guilty."

"I took responsibility," Grant corrects. "Because it was my name on those chips, after all. My name on the building. I scuttled the company and retired, because I still could do that, at least. I kept working on the chips, though, because I believed in them. And I still do."

Frank looks over at Gerard, who is practically twitching out of his seat next to Frank on the couch, probably biting his tongue to hold back some sort of starry-eyed assurance that he believes in Grant too. "You two need some alone time?" he hisses in Gerard's ear.

"Fuck you," Gerard mumbles.

"That's getting around a bit," Frank comments. "But I'm game if he is." Gerard makes an incoherent noise in response and Frank smirks and tunes back into the conversation. Ray had kept asking questions about the chips, but Mikey is watching Frank and Gerard with narrowed eyes. Frank makes eye contact with Grant, who looks momentarily amused.

"I really don't understand what this has to do with us," Frank admits.

"Of course you don't," Grant replies. "I haven't gotten to the thrilling audiovisual portion of things yet." He smirks and reaches for the controller for the entertainment system, then taps a bit on his tablet. The large wall-mounted screen lights up, at first only displaying static, which Frank soon realizes is a vid-feed from some sort of small surveillance camera. It's showing a familiar setting - the interior of a typical UFC training ring, blocky mecha bodies lit up and waiting for their controllers. The podium is empty at first, but soon an indistinct figure steps up to the controls. It's no one Frank recognizes, and looking around at his teammates, he sees similar expressions on their faces. They're all waiting to see something unusual.

It doesn't take long. The second fighter steps up to his console, but he doesn't sit in the command chair like the first fighter had, just takes an easy stance by the board. He taps on his forearm and a gasp escapes Frank's throat as a blue-white glow coalesces around his arm. He hears gasps from the guys as well and realizes they are all probably drawing the same conclusions.

"No fucking way," Frank says, but the next few seconds of the vid prove him wrong, as the mechas roar to life in the background of the shot. The vid wavers for a few seconds, tilts crazily, and then cuts off.

"That's not possible," Ray adds, looking back at Grant.

"How'd you get this?" Mikey asks.

Gerard says nothing, but Grant looks at him the longest. Then he taps on his tablet a few more times, sets it on the table next to his armchair, and picks up his drink for another sip. He looks at Ray first. "I believe the existence of this vid proves it is, in fact, possible. It is entirely undoctored, I promise you, and should you wish to test it yourself I will allow it."

"As for how I got it," Grant addresses Mikey, "I won't name my source at the moment, but he is someone with all of my fucking trust, and he risked his own fucking skin to get it to me. But none of you are asking my favorite question."

"Why?" Frank supplies.

"A point for Mr. Iero," Grant grins sardonically. "That's my tech, of course. Tech that I personally discontinued. As for how it found its way into a UFC facility - literally into a UFC fighter - that, boys, is the question to which I most urgently fucking desire an answer."

"You said you were still working on the chips, though," Mikey points out.

"And so I am," Grant replies. "In my own private lab, for my own satisfaction. And I am satisfied with my own progress, I assure you. I am rather less than satisfied at the proof, thanks to this vid, that someone else from my former company has been doing the same thing. Not to mention disturbed that they would choose to focus the tech applications on violence. Ah, no offense."

"We know the implications of what we do," Gerard puts in softly, the first time he's actually spoken since the vid ended. Frank feels himself automatically sit up straighter, go on alert. Fuck Gerard for always having that fucking effect on him. "That's not why we do it."

"And that is why I want to sponsor you," Grant replies. Frank looks between the two of them, and he really can't miss how their eye contact is calm, unwavering. Frank knows Gerard's decision has already been made, because he's still on Gerard's fucking wavelength, too, no matter how much Gerard might try to ignore it. They all are, really. "The condition I wanted to explain in person, as you may imagine, was how it won't be under my own name, as that would defeat the purpose of having you investigate for me."

Ray snorts. "Did you miss the part about how some of us are not the best spies in the world?" Frank idly flips him off, even though it's sort of true.

"I don't expect spies," Grant says. "I could hire private investigators if I wanted. And I may need to. What I want are fighters who can get themselves in contention for the championship."

Well, fuck. That part might be a problem.

*

The afternoon passes as they talk, and Grant breaks up their little conference to order food - clearly that is an ordinary occurrence for him, one reason the kitchen looks so sterile. Frank thinks it's a little weird that a millionaire businessman doesn't even have any staff - then he thinks a little harder, remembers the hermit moniker, and decides that maybe delivery is the preferred option for a reason. Gerard and Grant are still talking softly in the living room, Mikey sitting with them and listening mostly, occasionally making an observation of his own. Frank had wandered off as soon as Grant had picked up his phone, still turning the proposal over in his head.

Ray comes in with Mikey's tablet in his hand. He's been looping playback of the surveillance vid on and off for an hour, and pacing for nearly twice that long, and Frank isn't sure what he's trying to do. Grant probably has a lot more powerful software than what they have back at the warehouse, even, but Ray hasn't asked. Yet.

"Toro," Frank says.

"Yeah, Frankie," Ray mutters back.

"What are you doing?"

"Just some visual enhancements and calculations of the lag time. Fuck, I wish this clip was longer."

Frank rolls his eyes. "We'll have plenty of time to spy on the other teams if we get into the championships. And you know that Grant says he expects someone to approach us if we make it to the main event." Frank's not too sure about that part. Isn't the whole fucking point that this is the same tech that Grant's company had to fucking recall? He doesn't want that inside him. Even if it does mean some pretty fucking unbelievable biokinetic control of the mecha, from the looks of the vid clip.

He takes another swig of his beer to hide a self-deprecating smirk. Like it would be him in the main event anyway. Gerard's their guy for that. Which is pretty fucking terrifying, because all four of them know that Gerard is not in any fucking state for the circus that comes along with the championships.

Gerard brings up the sponsorship offer over a plateful of tikka masala, asking them each if they have any concerns. When Gerard asks him, Frank bites his tongue so he won't answer, "More than I can count," even though he sort of wants to.

He lists some of them silently as he chews his tofu: a) Gerard's physical condition.

b) Gerard's mental preparedness.

c) The state of their mechas, even though Grant's money will go a long way in that department.

d) Their notoriety; fucking deadmau5 is a popular fighter, one of the most popular, and there are plenty of people who blame Mad Gear for the accident at the bout even though the inquest had cleared them.

e) The way Gerard is looking at Grant.

f) The way Grant is looking at Gerard.

g) How good his own verbal sparring match with Grant had felt.

h) How little hesitation whatever corporate thief had stolen Grant's tech would probably have to fucking kill them all if they're found out.

Can't forget about that one.

"Nothing springs to mind," he says after he swallows, as blasé as he can manage.

Gerard looks at Grant. "It looks like we accept."

"It does indeed," Grant replies smoothly. "When we finish eating, I'll take you down to the lab and we can sign some agreements."

"Your lab is here?" Ray says excitedly.

"My personal lab, yes. I have other facilities in the city, of course, though most of them are mothballed."

Frank sticks another piece of tofu into his mouth. He might as well keep eating, because this conversation isn't going to be over anytime soon. Gerard eyes him with knowing amusement, or as close as he's seen Gerard get in quite some time. At least when it involves Frank. Frank wishes he wouldn't. It makes Frank forget the way things are between them.

*

Gerard approaches him later when Grant is leading them down to his lab, which appears to be built into the hillside like some kind of fucking Batcave. He stops Frank before he can round a corner to follow the others. "Is this going to be a problem?" he whispers.

"I have all sorts of problems, baby," Frank replies wearily. "Which ones are you interested in?"

"I'm interested in all of them," Gerard says, sounding hurt. "But I meant the championship run. Do we want to tell him you'll do it?"

"In what world would I be the fighting face instead of you, Gerard? Be serious. You're better than me, you're ranked higher than me, and you're more popular than me. Yes, even after the accident," he adds and watches Gerard flinch. "That is going to be a fucking problem, Gee baby, if you want to talk about problems. But no. We're not telling him I'm going to be his fighter. He wants you." Frank goes ahead and lets himself make it sound suggestive.

"What do you want?" Gerard asks, frowning.

"I want you. I always have. I want a fucking vacation somewhere out of the dust bowl. But do I want to elbow you out of the way to go for the championship? No way." Frank pauses. "What do you want? Besides Grant, because that was fucking crystal."

Gerard doesn't bother to deny it, but he does murmur, "Frankie...."

"You gonna sweet-talk me now? Tell me how you're sorry you've been treating me like a leper for months but now I've got to toe the line so you can impress your sugar daddy?"

"Technically I'm your sugar daddy too," Grant interrupts easily, and Frank's head snaps up to locate him, shoulder propped on the wall by the corridor corner, whiskey tumbler still held negligently in his hand. "Once you sign my papers."

Frank laughs. "No shit? And what are you gonna want in return?"

"Nothing you don't freely offer," Grant replies. "Seriously, Frank, it's all in the contracts. Which you could see if you'd follow your friends."

"Oops, I'm being sent to bed without dessert," Frank whispers into Gerard's ear, "Should I tell him what you like first? You know I know. Is he the type to want to take charge?" He looks Grant up and down, taking in the suit and tie. "Stupid question." Frank ambles closer, leans up to stage-whisper to Grant, "You can probably guess just by looking at him, but after you let him flirt with you for a while, he really just wants you to grab his hair and bend him over and fuck him until his arms give out. Good luck and godspeed." He walks off toward the lab doors before Grant can reply.

The contracts are piled neatly on a workbench in the middle of a giant room. This room has the lived-in feeling the rest of the house lacks. It's not cluttered, precisely; in fact, it looks rigorously organized, but it's teeming with things of all descriptions. Frank doesn't know what most of them are. From the worshipful look on Ray's face, it's clear that he does. He's wandering around staring at everything. Mikey is sitting on a stool, flipping carefully through a contract.

"How's it look, Mikeyway?" Frank asks, pulling up a stool next to him and snagging his own copy, although he's not sure how Mikey can make it through the mumbo-jumbo. He's magic or something.

"Why are you all about goading my brother all of a sudden?" Mikey retorts. "I know that's what you were doing out there."

Frank's not entirely sure there's anything a) sudden or b) unexpected about it, so he just sighs."You gonna tell me he doesn't deserve it?" Frank asks wearily.

"Nope," Mikey replies. "Because I am fucking Switzerland. Just like always." He knocks his shoulder gently against Frank's. "Here, read this section about performance-based bonuses and tell me what you think."

Frank ends up reading most of the contract, because Gerard and Grant come into the room just then and while his initial glancing assessment doesn't suggest they were making out in the hallway or anything, he can't quite meet either of their eyes at the moment.

He's not ashamed of himself.

Really, he's not.

Being jealous would be stupid.

Turns out the contract is remarkably clear. There's a first time for everything, apparently, and evidently when Grant Morrison is involved it's best to expect the unexpected. Frank flips the sheaf of papers closed and tosses it back on the table in front of him. "Can't argue with any of that," he tells Mikey, but his eyes find Grant's, and Grant's lips twitch in a manner that suggests he's thinking, Or else you'd try just on principle.

They all sign. Mad Gear Mechanicals is sort of the definition of "nothing to lose" at this point. And winning, well, Frank can admit that would taste pretty fucking sweet. Not that he necessarily wants to bend over for the House of Mouse like Joel. Fuck. He can't blame deadmau5, not really. He doesn't know the dude's story, and Joel has never been particularly fucking keen to sit down for sharing and caring time.

Joel takes competition seriously. Frank can respect that. Gerard was that way once. And Frank is hoping he can be that way again, because this contract isn't fit for fucking toilet paper if he can't.

Grant collects the signed papers with a handshake and a surprisingly sweet smile for all of them. "Thank you, Mad Gear."

"Our pleasure," Gerard replies silkily. Frank bites the inside of his cheek, ignoring both the urge to roll his eyes and the throb of his dick, which has never quite gotten the message that Gerard is off-limits these days. He expected this the moment he set eyes on Grant, after all.

"And now, since I have you here, may I demonstrate the implant?"

They all perk up - nerds, the lot of them. Frank isn't excluding himself, even though he and modern technology are not exactly always the best of friends.

"How can you do that?" Mikey asks. "Without, uh, a test subject?"

"How do you know I don't have test subjects?" Grant asks.

"I think we just assumed, what with the recall and the inquest and the corporate espionage and all," Frank says without thinking.

"You know what they say about people who assume," Grant replies. "You're not far wrong, though. All of the test subjects so far have been part of my, ah, unofficial R&D team. But since they're not here, I suppose I'll just show you Subject Alpha." He unbuttons his cuff and starts rolling up his sleeve and Frank stares along with his teammates.

"That's some Bruce Banner shit right there," Mikey says, and Gerard makes a hum of agreement even though he's still staring raptly.

Grant cracks out a laugh. "Never ask anyone to do something you wouldn't do yourself." He taps a spot on his unremarkable-looking inner arm, and a matrix coalesces, just like they'd seen on the video. They all draw closer, and Ray even reaches out before stopping his hand in midair. "No, go on," Grant urges him, but when Ray tentatively touches it, then waves his hand through it, nothing happens.

"Biometric lock?" he asks.

"Got it in one," Grant says. He lets his own fingers dance across the hologram. The lights in the room flick off and on, the vidscreen on the wall turns on, and then Grant's pocket starts ringing. He reaches in to extract the phone and silences it, then looks at each of them in turn.

"So, you're wearing a whole-house remote," Mikey says.

"I am the whole-house remote," Grant replies. "Essentially. I know that probably seems like a neat party trick -"

"Pretty much," Frank interjects.

"But it's the easiest application to demonstrate," Grant continues. "And you've already seen how the stolen tech has been implemented for mecha fighting. Christ only knows what the government would do with it if they got their hands on it."

"Can't you just file for copyright infringement?" Mikey asks.

"It's not quite that easy when it's the government you're dealing with," Grant says darkly. He taps his arm again and the holographic halo dissipates.

"I'm not going to lie, I'm a little freaked out right now," Frank says.

"Sorry," Grant replies.

"Yeah, I'll get over it. Mikey's wrong anyway. You're fucking Tony Stark, not Bruce Banner."

"An unholy marriage of them both, perhaps," Grant says with some amusement. "Go home, guys. Talk it over, I know you want to. Come up with questions, and we'll meet again in a few days. I'll want to visit your facility and get an idea of where funds should be allocated."

"Everywhere," Mikey says with a laugh. "Give me a call about that. Ray's going to be busy with Number Four for Frank."

"Your next bout?" Grant asks with a raised eyebrow, and Frank nods. "I'll make a note to reserve a box."

Yeah, Frank wasn't freaked out enough before. He's freaked out now.

*

Gerard and Mikey throw themselves into prep mode as soon as they return to the warehouse, and barely seem to stop for rest. Frank has to admit it's better than the sullen metalworking that had been going on before. One or both of them are periodically in touch with the UFC board, and after two days of tag-team calls, it turns out that Gerard is still high enough in the standings to earn a by into the championship. Frank's not sure if that's a sign of string-pulling on Grant's part, but he'd believe it anyway - Gerard is just that good. He's seeded at the bottom of the bracket, but it's their first real stroke of luck.

Frank doesn't have much time to worry about how far luck can take them, because Ray takes up every one of his spare moments with testing. Ray won't be satisfied with Number Four until its response time is down to the range of lag Frank is used to. Or better. Grant's hand is obvious there, too - he'd given them an advance, and parts come in with gratifying speed. "Money talks," Frank mumbles to himself.

Not for the first time, he wishes that they could just withdraw him from the bout, but not only would it tank his own record, it would give his opponent a bump up into championship contention, and Gerard's standing is shaky enough. Frank needs to pull out a win. No pressure or anything.

He's manipulating toggles on his control board at Ray's direction when he hears a familiar engine outside. His feet take him out there in time to see his cycle coast to a stop in front of the warehouse. The rider is in head-to-toe leathers, with a mirrored visor, but Frank knows automatically who it is. Grant had messaged them about returning Frank's bike, but this was not how Frank had expected it to be delivered.

"You ride?" he asks when Grant pulls the helmet off.

"You're surprised?" Grant replies.

"No. Guess I'm really not." Frank catches the keys Grant tosses to him and tucks them in his pocket. "We weren't expecting you 'til later." Frank would definitely be wearing a shirt if he had. "Come on in. Home sweet hangar and all that. Turn it off or tuck it in," he yells when they walk into the mecha bay. "Boss man's here."

"Classy," Gerard says, dropping out of the scaffolding around Number Three. Ray and Mikey emerge from two different directions and shake hands like upstanding fucking citizens. Frank rolls his eyes and Gerard kicks his ankle. Not gently. "Grant," Gerard greets him with a handshake of his own. "Let us give you a tour?"

"I'd love one," Grant replies.

*

Vegas. If Frank was looking forward to this bout at any point, he's forgotten. Pretty much the only tick in the plus column is the rep fr4nk has with the local fighters. They hate him, and he loves it.

Mad Gear Mechanicals roll into town like the cowboys they are, pulling Number Four's flatbed behind their ancient F350. Ray drives with one arm dangling out the window, scowling out the windshield at the tourists, and Frank just hides behind his aviators and smirks at the looks they get. Number Four is even less to look at than Number Three is right now, and that's saying something.

At least this isn't one of the ridiculous theme fights. Gerard had bitched about the fucking mouse heads for weeks. It seems like a long time ago now - Before The Accident is a very precise designation in Frank's personal timeline for multiple reasons - but it really wasn't and it's pretty crystal in Frank's memory.

Gerard and Mikey are propped up against each other in the back seat of the crew cab, out like fucking lights. Mikey's snoring a little. They've been sleeping like little babies since San Bernadino, and Ray and Frank had just looked at each other and shrugged. First time they've slept since Grant's visit, pretty much. Parts for Number Three had started pouring in like Christmas presents, and all four of them have been all-hands-on-deck ever since Number Four got loaded up.

"Never mind them," Ray says encouragingly as they pass a couple flashy mecha transports as they pull into the staging area. "Everything's fancy here, doesn't mean shit."

"I know that," Frank replies. This is Ray's way of helping. Frank lets him do it most of the time, because his own way occasionally results in misdemeanor charges.

Frank leans into the back seat and shakes Gerard and Mikey awake. This isn't a major bout, no matter what the Vegas teams seem to think, and Frank flatly refused to take any interview requests. He's just here to set up and fight. And win, he corrects himself.

He tunes out the bullshit for a while while they deal with setup, falling into a well-worn routine. Other fighters like to bluster and shout at their techs at this point. Intimidation or some shit. It just makes them sound like douchebags. Frank's pointed that out a time or two, which went over just about as well as he expected. He think's there's about a sixty-percent chance of him getting out of Vegas without getting into a fight.

"Grant's in a private box upstairs," Gerard says, tapping on a datapad. "He sent the box number so we could join him while we wait for Frank's bout."

Yeah, that percentage might be going up.

He hangs back while Ray and Gerard head for the stairs, but Mikey stays with him and snags his elbow. "Frankie, come up. Don't pretend you need some sort of cone of silence this long before your fight."

"What happened to you being Switzerland?"

"Me being Switzerland doesn't apply to you being an ass, because that's your fucking default state. And you need to eat something."

"Yes, mom," Frank sighs.

Mikey's right about the food. There's a really nice cold buffet laid out on a table in the back of the box, and most of the food is even vegetarian. The box itself isn't one of the huge ones, but there's certainly a rarified atmosphere up here. Frank feels like the persistent scent of hot metal and axle grease that clings to most of his clothing is going to set off some sort of alarm. Grant has the privacy screen engaged, so they can see the arena, but no one can see them. Frank walks straight to the edge and watches the arena prep. It's research, not avoidance.

Sort of.

Grant and Gerard are sitting side-by-side in one of the rows of plush seating with plates balanced on their laps. Their heads are bent so far towards each other as they talk that they might as well be touching. Frank can't hear a word they're saying. It might be better that way.

Ray brings him a plate of food and a bottle of water, because Ray is apparently his mom too. "It's been a while since you've fought in an indoor arena," Ray says, standing next to him to survey the floor. "You'll have to watch your signal resonances. These local guys know the angles and the dead zones."

"Never been a problem before," Frank mumbles around a mouthful of food. "You and I both know that the southeast corner is a fucking kill box. If I get my timing down, that's where I can take m1chae1 out."

Ray just shakes his head. They're a fucking odd couple in the UFC. Unlike the Ways, who have this freaky hive mind thing going on most of the time, they are working from entirely different ends of the spectrum. But Frank trusts Ray's technical prowess as much as he trusts his own instincts, and that's why they work.

Frank finishes the plate and sets it aside, letting his hands hang down at his sides as he absently taps his fingertips together. He'll be doing it on and off for hours.

"Are you soon needed down below?" Grant asks quietly from his side.

"Probably," Frank answers. "But thanks for the invite. The less time Ray has to spend babysitting me, the happier he is."

Grant laughs. "Well, best of luck, Frank."

"Luck's for suckers," Frank says.

Grant just studies him for a moment with a faint smile. "Thought you might say that."

*

His bout is about three-quarters of the way through the night's billing, and he barely remembers walking out to the podium, but when he finds himself there the roar of the crowd fades. m1chae1 is grinning from his station, cocky as always, but fr4nk just flips up his hood and gives him an unimpressed stare.

The mechas crash together at a fevered pace. That's m1chae1's MO, brute strength, but no stamina. fr4nk has both, if he can keep it together until a later round. Ray was right about the arena. fr4nk gives m1chae1 a couple freebie hits before he figures out the signal delay.

Number Four takes a bad hit to the left shoulder in the sixth round, and Ray swears behind him as circuits sizzle, but fr4nk can already hear him muttering to himself, rerouting the controls to keep things humming on fr4nk's board. He doesn't hesitate, and sends the Eleven reeling while m1chae1 is still gloating.

The bout is his after that. He knows it, and m1chae1 knows it, even if the crowd hasn't caught on yet. Number Eleven takes three more rounds to bite it, but fr4nk doesn't let up. He's good at walking the edge of a blade between dirty moves and what the ref will look the other way for. It's UFC. Pretty much anything goes anyway.

The crowd roars when the ref finally calls the bout, and it's not really cheering, but that only makes fr4nk grin wider. He steps forward, arms raised, and adds a one-finger salute for good measure. Ray groans from behind him, but fr4nk shrugs it off. Someone will take him up on that little challenge. He's looking forward to it.

He slips off by himself as soon as the fight officials are done with him. Ray watches him go, but this part - the mecha inspection - is Ray's baby, and he won't let anyone else take charge of it anyway.

fr4nk turns a corner into the subterranean maze that leads to the transport trucks and starts a countdown.

*

Frank sits in the back seat of the F350, after, holding a bloody rag up to his nose. He sucks meditatively at a split in his lip while he waits for the bleeding to stop. He hasn't bothered to consult any of the truck's mirrors, but he knows his lip will swell. The nose doesn't feel broken, but he's pretty sure he's going to have a black eye. They always go after his face first. Frank thinks it's because they're jealous. He didn't ask to be so fucking pretty. If they think it'll stop him in his tracks, they'll always have another think coming.

He shifts in the seat and winces. His ribs likely aren't cracked but he probably sprained something. He fishes a half-empty bottle of water out of a seat pocket and chugs it, tossing the empty on the floor. Frank closes his eyes.

He opens them again, a while later, when one of the truck doors opens. Once he's determined that it's just Gerard, he closes them again. "You should see the other guy," he says preemptively.

"You could try to be a little less predictable," Gerard hisses, sliding across the back bench and slamming the door behind him.

"And deprive you of the pleasure of lecturing me? What kind of friend would I be?"

Gerard shoves his shoulder hard, and Frank grunts as he hits the corner of the seatback and his twisted muscles protest. A moment later, something cold and wet touches his abused face, and he opens his eyes. Gerard has a wet towel, and he's dabbing at the tacky dried blood. The touch of the towel is gentle, in contrast to Gerard's flinty eyes. "What kind of friend are you?" Gerard asks flatly.

"You tell me," Frank answers, holding Gerard's chin in a firm grip and leaning up to press their lips together. Frank's split lip protests, and Gerard makes a pained noise into his mouth but kisses back. It's a short kiss without an ounce of tenderness, but when Gerard finally tugs free they're still both breathing hard and Frank's jeans are a little bit tighter. "You could try to be a little less contradictory," Frank parrots back at him, and Gerard narrows his eyes.

"Fuck you, Frank."

"You keep saying that and I'm going to assume it's a request. Come and get it, baby." Frank cocks his head, waiting for Gerard's next move.

Gerard closes his eyes and slumps back onto the other side of the bench. "One of these days you're going to get more than you bargained for in one of these fights, Frankie. What are you trying to prove? What are you looking for?"

Frank snags the wet towel out of Gerard's loose grip and starts scrubbing at the blood smeared on his knuckles. "You know what I was looking for."

Gerard doesn't reply, not that Frank was expecting one. They sit in silence on their own separate sides of the seat until Ray and Mikey find their way downstairs.

"Some people believe in victory parties, you know. Pretty sure we know someone with a private box," Mikey says, because apparently he's not Switzerland, he's just sadistic.

"I already had my victory party," Frank replies. "Can't you tell?" He really can't be fussed to care if he's pissed off their sponsor. Not at this particular moment.

"Little bit," Ray says dryly. "You guys ready to hitch up and roll out?"

"Let's go home," Gerard replies with a sigh.

*

It's a relief to be back in LA, but they don't stop to enjoy it. Number Three has to be back in perfect working order before they go down to Anaheim. Not like Ray and Mikey won't be tinkering with it until it hits the ring, but that's sort of a given.

Frank gets the unenviable task of training with Gerard, who's been on medical waiver for months now and it shows. They spend the first couple days with their boards hooked up to a vidscreen. It's sort of funny - this is how they both got into this, after all. 'Play video games for a living, sign me the fuck up!'

"Rock 'em, sock 'em," Frank mutters to himself.

This isn't the part that worries him. Gerard is good - and what's more, Gerard is creative, which is something that can come in short supply in the UFC. It's why he's seeded where he is, why someone like deadmau5 got to where he is. Gerard creams him enough times to put a taunting grin on his face and to make Frank set his teeth and dig in to kick the crap out of him. Mikey comes and watches every once in a while, and nods. Mikeyway's seal of approval is maybe even more important than Frank's own opinion.

This might actually fucking work. If....

"Gee," Frank says early on Day Three, "Finish your coffee and come with me."

Gerard looks at him expressionlessly but drains his mug. Frank takes him to the gym.

"Don't start," Frank tells him. "And take off that fucking poncho, you look like Man-Bat."

"Fuck you," Gerard says, so Frank strips out of his own hoodie and t-shirt and tosses them on a chair.

"There. Grow a pair, Gee."

"We gonna whip 'em out and measure 'em too, Frankie?" Gerard asks, which is the first sign that he's annoyed. Well, good. Frank lives for this shit.

"I will send you a gold-plated fucking invitation, Gerard, if that's what we're doing. Stop fucking arguing."

Gerard pulls off the fucking poncho and the shirt under it, which Frank fucking bought him, ain't that some shit. Frank gives him a big cheesy grin and tosses him a pair of boxing gloves.

"Really?" Gerard asks.

"Really," Frank says. Gerard needs this, even if he doesn't fucking know it. And Mikey and Ray will probably back him up if he needs them to, which Gerard knows, so he just sighs and starts wrapping his hands. Frank takes the opportunity to look him over. Too fucking skinny. The scars are starting to fade, but they still make Frank's stomach twist, and at the same time have to fight to keep from touching them. That's how close they came to losing him, mapped out on his skin.

Gerard thinks they're ugly. Then again, Gerard also thinks they were just wearing off the adrenaline from their bouts by fucking like bunnies, not that Frank's sappy, moony, messy in love with him. So really, what the fuck does Gerard know about anything? "Asshole," he mutters.

Gerard looks up. "You planning on putting those gloves on?" he asks.

"Oh, yeah," Frank replies. Couple punches in the face ought to put them both back on the right track.

For a while he thinks it's worked, because the fight's a blur of reactions, muscle memory and reaction time taking over. Gerard finally calls it when it's still a draw, and that's probably on purpose, but it pisses Frank off a little. He wonders what exactly his subconscious had expected would happen if he won.

Actually, he doesn't wonder, he knows. And fucking Christ, Frank's pretty sure that at one time he could get through a sparring session with Gerard without popping wood. He spends the time it takes him to unlace and unwrap his hands wondering if he'll have this reaction now every time he gets punched, or if it's Gerard-specific.

He's pretty sure it's Gerard-specific.

Which is good, because Frank sort of gets punched a lot.

For some reason that makes him think of Grant in that parking garage, how he'd looked Frank up and down so casually, like he was something that maybe, possibly, could be had, and he shivers. Maybe there's more than one thing that Frank was un-a-fucking-ware he gets off on.

He pulls his shirt and hoodie back on before Gerard notices - hopefully - the bulge in his jeans. He can do without that look aimed at him today. "Going to take a shower," he grunts.

The water is lukewarm like it always is in the warehouse; Frank just sticks his head under the spray and lets it cascade down his chest and back and wraps a hand around his cock. He jerks off quickly and without much more than minimum effort, coming into his hand with a nearly-silent grunt before soaping up and washing off the sweat and dirt. It won't last. It never does, out here in the desert. At least it was an honest sweat.

Honesty is relative, of course, he thinks as he towels himself off and stalks over to his foot locker for clean clothes. They do plenty of dishonest things on a daily basis, merely to keep themselves off the radar. Too many checkpoints and ID readers. Too many computers tracking your car and your phone and probably how many fucking shits you take. That's government-mandated honesty, though; that's different.

No one can say that Mad Gear doesn't make an honest living, though in a way, mecha fighting is dishonest, too. Too much tech overlaid on what's real, what's true. Frank and Gerard sparring, even the Vegas fistfight Gerard had been so disapproving of... that's as real as it gets. Still, the UFC - there are rules, refs, winners, losers. Points, standings, odds. Cold hard math.

It's like Frank had said to Grant - luck's for suckers. Luck is a tool, just like everything else. And when you're Frank Iero, it's usually bad anyway.

Grant, speak of the devil, is a businessman, so he's certainly a man who appreciates a well-crafted lie. Despite his best instincts, though, Frank is almost certain Grant's been honest with them so far. Makes him want to return the favor. And Frank's honesty is not something he's really keen to inflict on anyone.

*

In an ironic twist, the very first thing Frank does when he arrives at the UFC centre the next day is sneak off with Ray to spy on the other teams. All the other techs are doing the same thing, and they all know it. The only real question is if the kid you're talking to is too stupid or too cocky to be devious, or maybe too lazy to be effectively devious. Three guesses which one happens more often, and the first two don't count.

Frank's pretty sure that the others aren't on the payroll of a genius businessman, looking for evidence of stolen tech. Then again, he can't be sure. All the more reason to be smarter than the rest.

There are some fighters, and quite a few techs, who Frank legitimately likes. He's been hanging around the scene long enough to see more than a few decent second string fighters move to tech duties, and even a few who went the other way, and he has managed not to burn every bridge in town. He spots Kat, Joel's tech, sitting on a packing crate drinking a bottle of water and goes to give her a hug.

She smiles and offers him the bottle, but he shakes his head. "Can't say I expected to see you at the Centre, Frankie," she says. "But this little eleventh-hour thing g3rard has going on, it's certainly generating a nice little buzz."

"Guess there's no escaping that," Frank replies and asks politely, "Joel doing okay?" The blogs mention deadmau5 plenty, so it's not like Frank doesn't know, but his momma did teach him a few things that stuck.

"Yeah, he's good. Keeping busy, you know how it is. And Gee?"

"Same." They have been busy, anyway.

Kat smiles conspiratorially. "Thought for a while you were thinking of making a run of it yourself."

"What, me in the championships? Hah. I'm just happy to be here." Spying. Not that he feels right using Kat that way.

"Well, it's good to see you, anyway. Come see one of our matches if you have a chance. Joel's really, ah, dialed in these days. Makes me look good." She winks.

"You always look good," he tells her and kisses her cheek. "See you around, Kat." She waves and heads off toward the mecha bays. He heads up to the box level.

First thing he hears up there is Grant's name, and he ducks behind a support beam before realizing that whoever's talking probably doesn't know him from a hole in the ground. Still, Frank wants to hear this.

"...Don't know who Morrison thinks he's fooling. He can swear to the Times that MoCo's doors are closed until his face turns blue. Everyone knows he kept on staff, because enough of the other staff got hired away by now to do a tally of who's missing." Frank doesn't recognize the man who's speaking, a guy in a ball cap not much older than Frank himself.

"Who's tallying?" asks the other man, older, portly, goatee.

"Who isn't? Clearly he's still rolling in it anyway, if he's here. I saw him in a private box with my own eyes, I'm telling you." They keep walking after that, and Frank rolls his eyes. Rich people have the most fucking boring gossip.

Frank finds Grant's box and lets himself in with the code Grant had provided. It looks deserted - Mikey and Gerard are prepping, of course, and Ray is fuck knows where, doing what Frank was just doing, but after a moment Frank sees that Grant is there, sitting at the end of one of the rows of seating, leaning against the wall. He's got the privacy screen engaged and he's sitting very still. Frank's first step in that direction is panicked, his second embarrassed, his third forced casualness. Grant sees him now, is studying him in that dispassionate way he has that makes Frank want to squirm. To get up in his face. To - well.

"You've been spotted," Frank tells him, redirecting his steps to the wet bar to pour himself a drink, not waiting for an invitation. Grant just raises an eyebrow and waits. Frank lets him wait. "Heard two stiffs out on the concourse gossiping about you, is all. They were really fucking interested in your company and your bank account, gotta tell ya."

"What a surprise," Grant drawls. "I'd be more worried if they weren't."

"Still," Frank presses. "Thought you were trying to keep a low profile."

"Not at all," Grant says with a brittle laugh. "Just my association with you."

"Nice," Frank says, slugging back a little bit more of his vodka than he meant to.

"Was it that bad of an afternoon, kid?" Grant asks, standing up and strolling over to the bar to join him.

"Don't call me that," Frank says.

"Guess that answers that question."

"No," Frank tells him. "It doesn't. My afternoon was fine. I talked to some people, made a few ins. I'm fucking charming, Morrison."

"No doubt," Grant murmurs.

"See, it's that right there." Frank pokes him in the chest with an index finger. "You're not better than me. Neither of you are fucking better than me."

"Frank," Grant starts. "No one said -"

"No one needs to say. It's obvious." Frank takes another sip of his drink; Grant's fingers close around his chin and forcibly lifts.

"There's a word for this behavior of yours, you know," Grant murmurs.

"Yeah, I know, I hear it all the time," Frank laughs. "It's 'asshole.'"

"No, darling, try 'projection.'"

Frank scowls. "Hardly."

Grant leans down and kisses him, kisses him hard and thoroughly. Frank can't decide whether he wants to jerk away or cling, so he does neither, just freezes and whines a little in his throat. Grant pulls back first, leaning against the wall with no visible evidence that he's even affected.

Frank can't pull that off. His mouth is dry from how hard he's breathing. "What the fuck was that for?"

"Isn't it obvious?"

"No," Frank says, frowning.

Grant closes his eyes for a moment. "I would think it was obvious that it was because I wanted to, but if you insist on reading into it, maybe we shouldn't do it again."

"Maybe not. Are you really a dude who gives a fuck about shouldn'ts?"

"Not normally," Grant murmurs.

"You could do a case study," Frank muses mockingly. "On UFC fighters, fucking styles versus fighting styles. Bet Gerard would be in."

"I'm not fucking Gerard," Grant points out evenly, and Frank snorts.

"Pull the other one."

"I'm not. Though I wouldn't say no. Neither would you, darling. In fact, I sense that you have a long history of not saying no."

"Yeah," Frank drawls. "But he's not asking."

"His loss."

Frank snorts. "No shit." The announcer comes over the PA system then, and he strolls over to the front of the box and looks out. He can feel Grant watching him, but he doesn't say anything more. He doesn't need scraps of attention from some businessman in an Italian suit.

Or maybe he does.

Ray slips into the box while the emcee is still going through the pre-fight bullshit down in center ring, and turns empty palms up when they both look at him expectantly. "Too early to tell," he says. "I think I figured out a way to hack the training ring feeds, though. I just need a bit more time with the console in ours. You sure you can't tell me more about your source, Grant? The one who got the other vid?"

"I'll see if I can arrange a meet," Grant says. "Might take a day or two. He's a busy guy. And a bit shy, you understand?"

"If by shy you mean paranoid," Frank replies. Mad Gear understands paranoia. Frank especially. He knows for sure he and Gerard both have records, and that's not something he really wants to fucking relive. There aren't many employers who turn a blind eye to that kind of thing. Not anymore, not with jobs in such short supply.

They all fall silent as the stats for the first pair of fighters go up on the big board. g3rard is fighting third, not the main event but still late in the program. Frank's been watching the odds boards, and g3rard is getting a lot of betting action. Frank's not surprised - before the deadmau5 fight they were both hot commodities. Some people just like to bet on the long shot.

Ray's got about five different programs open on his datapad, tracking power grid levels and response time and hit patterns and everything else he can possibly think of. Frank knows he's got an open feed to Mikey's tablet down in the pens, letting Mikey pull whatever data he thinks will help him run g3rard's board. Ray and Grant are carrying on a murmured conversation, and Frank leaves them to it and goes and pours himself another drink. His nerves are shot.

In the first bout, n8 takes down h4nn4h in five rounds. Frank winces a little at the TKO that ends it, and paces through the cleanup.

The second bout is chr1sti4n and p3t3r at nearly even odds, but there's some shaky handling going on. Frank and Ray catch each other's eye sometime during the second round and make matching horrified faces. The announcer goes off onto some tangent about p3t3r being back with his old tech, but it's clear they're still rusty, and Number Thirty-Three is broadcasting it. It could be g3rard down there. Soon, it will be.

p3t3r manages to take out ch1sti4n in eight rounds, and if anything is going to go down to luck tonight, it's that win. Mad Gear knows p3t3r's team from the old days, so it's sort of hard not to cheer.

g3rard is next.

Frank needs another drink.

The bell rings. Frank couldn't swear to you that g3rard's bout isn't happening in slow motion, sickening flashes of floodlights glinting off metal, of g3rard looking small behind the console, of Mikey's white, set face on the sidelines. It's fucking funny, is what it is, because g3rard's winning, slowly but surely battering his opponent into a corner, taking every inch of the ring he's ceded. Frank's going to have a fucking heart attack anyway. He can see his own hands gripping the rail at the front of the box. His knuckles are white beneath their ink.

The other fighter is named k4r3n, and she's not someone Frank knows well, but the announcers are having a field day with the panicked interplay between her and her tech as g3rard sends Number Three on yet another offensive. Frank can see sparks coming from the underside of her console and his lungs unclench. She's going to lose, and g3rard -

Looking at g3rard steals his breath again. The absolute focus, the control, they're back. Ray's muttering over his datapad on the other side of Grant, and maybe his stats say something different, but Frank's eyes remember.

g3rard wins, sending Number Forty-Three sprawling in a sparking, screeching death roll across the ring, and half the crowd cheers. The other half, the half that clearly didn't like g3rard's odds, does not. Frank frowns. If he could just get down there in time... but he can't. No one had better give g3rard any trouble in the pens, or Frank will find them and rip them apart.

He catches Grant looking at him with a raised eyebrow, and realizes he just growled out loud. "Quite the guard dog, Frank," Grant says.

"You may think you know what it's like, but you don't," Frank frowns.

"I haven't lived in a mansion all my life," Grant replies. "Perhaps I'm also being a bodyguard in the best way I know. Have you considered that?"

"All I've considered is that he made a choice, and I'm fucking respecting it."

Grant snorts. "Sure you are, darling."

If Grant keeps calling him that, Frank will not be responsible for his actions. Whatever they end up being. At this point, it could go either way. "I'm taking a walk," he mutters. This is one victory party he thinks he'd rather miss.

*

Both Ray and Mikey start working with Gerard full-time after his first-round win. Fighters are only allowed one tech on the floor, and obviously it's going to be Mikey, but Mad Gear is used to making everything a group effort. Frank would probably be there too except he's apparently been designated Team Spy.

He even has cool gadgets. Ray modified a photographer's light sensor to detect the biofeedback chip's typical frequencies based on specifications Grant had provided, so Frank gets to wander around with a press pass, taking photos and doing surreptitious readings. If anybody recognizes him it's easy enough to flash the press pass and explain that he's taken a side job doing features. As long as he doesn't do anything too obviously sneaky, he's golden.

Frank actually likes taking pictures, so he's not too terribly bored at first. It's only when his little gadget fails to pick up any biofeedback after days of wandering around the Centre that he starts to wonder if a) it doesn't work, b) he's missing something, or c) this is all a wild goose chase.

He stops in the pens to talk to Kat, who's cataloguing something in deadmau5's supply bins. She smiles at him and puts down her tablet.

"Hey, Frankie. How's it going? Gerard ready for his next bout?"

"Working hard," Frank says diplomatically. "How about Joel? He had a by for the first round, right?"

Kat nods. "He's around here somewhere. We broke for lunch a while ago. He should be back soon." Frank's not sure if that is a hint to be somewhere else before that happens, or not. Then he decides he doesn't care. Screw Joel, anyway.

He sits and chats with Kat for a few more minutes before he hears the bustle that is deadmau5 arriving anywhere. Gerard is always polite to reporters. deadmau5 is obnoxiously rude to them, but they always keep coming back for more, and three of them are trailing him right now like... like those fish that follow sharks, whatever the fuck they're called. Frank can see the look of irritation that crosses Joel's face when he catches sight of Frank, and smiles toothily. "What's up, Joel?"

"Hey, Frank. Looking for pointers?" Joel smirks. "My book's coming out in the off-season."

"Too bad I'll be on a tropical vacation with your mom," Frank shoots back. Surprisingly, Joel bursts out laughing and slings an arm around Frank's shoulders. Guess sometimes it pays to be an asshole.

"We gotta work, Iero. Get out of here," he grins.

"Wouldn't want to stand in the way of greatness," Frank murmurs. In his hoodie pocket, the biofeedback meter has started vibrating against his stomach.

Motherfucker.

Frank says goodbye and books it back to Mad Gear's storage area. For someone like Joel, they're definitely going to need more resources than Frank and his black hoodie and camera can muster. He grabs his bag and his bike keys and hopes Grant's at home.

*

The ride through the hills is actually pretty nice, even though Frank's mind is racing just as fast as his bike's motor. By the time he's turning down Grant's street - and using the driveway this time, pulling his bike inside as it senses the card key Frank carries and opens a garage bay door - he thinks he has his thoughts in order. Then he sees Grant open the door into the house and all thoughts leave his head for a moment.

He's still not sure how he feels about what happened the other night, and Grant isn't in an Italian suit right now, he's barefoot, wearing white pants and a faded red henley that clings to his shoulders and - well, this is a problem. A problem for another time.

"Frank?" Grant questions. "Everything all right?"

Frank tugs his helmet off and sets it on the seat of his bike as Grant closes the garage door behind him. "Not sure yet. Can we talk?"

"Sure. I'm in the office." He leads Frank down the hall past the kitchen, living room and the little powder room into the back portion of the house. Frank hasn't been back here before. Grant's office up here is small - cozy, really - and less sterile and scientific than the big lab downstairs. In fact, there are a few ratty old novels sitting on a side table next to the armchair that Grant waves Frank into. He sits down behind the desk, which boasts a computer system every bit as high-tech as the lab computer, if smaller.

Grant taps at the keyboard for a moment, then looks back up at Frank. "Shoot."

"I was convinced Ray's detector didn't work," Frank says. "But it does."

"You got a reading on a chip?" Grant's gaze locks on him.

"Pretty sure. But - well, let's just say I want a better way to be very fucking sure. Can we bump up this meeting with your friend who's good with hacking surveillance? We're going to need someone really fucking good."

"Who is it?"

"Oh, about the worst possible person I could imagine. deadmau5." Frank smirks humorlessly at the expression on Grant's face. "Yeah, that's about how I feel right now, too."

"Are you sure?"

"Pretty sure. If that damn thing had been any closer to him, he'd have been asking if I was happy to see him." He gets a bit of a chuckle from Grant for that one. "But it makes sense, Grant, going after him. He's a big name but easy pickings after the accident - he needs the money. Same logic that made you go after us, right? And he's guaranteed to go far in the championship."

Grant is frowning. Maybe he doesn't like being told he's similar to the mysterious tech thief. "I'm going to make a call, Frank. Feel free to go get a coffee or something. I'll join you in a moment."

Frank nods and goes back to Grant's big, sterile kitchen. He finds a mug and pokes at the coffeemaker until he figures out how to make it work and sits on a stool to drink the resulting brew. It's a lot nicer than what they have at the warehouse. Shockingly.

The coffee has cooled to drinkable temperature by the time Grant walks into the kitchen. "Thanks for being patient, Frank," Grant says. "We'll be getting a visitor at about half four."

"The surveillance guy?"

"Yes. My friend Chris. Will any of your team be joining us?"

Frank shrugs. "Probably not. They're busy, and Gerard's really not supposed to leave the Centre. Do we need them?"

"Perhaps not," Grant replies. "Chris works out of his own place anyway. I'm surprised he agreed to come over here."

Frank rolls his eyes. "Sounds like a peach."

Grant laughs. "I told him that I think he'll like you."

"Everyone likes me, Morrison. Even you like me, and I've given you plenty of reasons not to." He gives Grant a smartass smile. It's the closest Frank's going to get to acknowledging what had happened the other night.

"You give everyone plenty of reasons not to, Frank. On purpose. I can't conceive for what purpose, precisely, but don't think you're fooling me, darling."

Okay, then. Frank rolls his eyes and goes back to his coffee.

Chris-the-hacker shows up right on schedule and proves himself to be an extremely likeable asshole, which means that Grant and Frank were both right. Frank has to grudgingly admire that.

Chris takes over the computer system in Grant's lab and slaves in myriad little complicated and probably-illegal gadgets that he brought with him. Ray would probably be salivating if he were here. Frank is mostly interested in the fact that they now have a scary level of spy-camera action going on, feeds pumped in from public cameras near Joel's quarters, the public areas at the stadium, and the deadmau5 team's practice area.

At least none of them are actually invading his personal privacy. Although the practice-ring cam is probably pretty close, even if it probably is the most important. Frank bites his tongue and ignores it. It's not going to do him any good to grow any fucking scruples at this stage of the game, and it's not like the bad guys - the other side, Frank corrects himself - are going to hold back. He's pretty sure of that much.

No, he thinks later as he's making himself a sandwich in Grant's too-large kitchen and mechanically eating it. He was right the first time. The other guys, whoever they are, are the bad guys. It's what Gerard is going to say when he hears about this, and as much as Frank hates Gerard's idealism sometimes, he's usually right.

He just not sure whether to include Joel in that group. Or Kat. Whether or not Kat knows about this - and how could she not? - she's not a bad person. Frank can't believe that.

"You look like you're having deep thoughts," Grant comments when he comes back from letting Chris out the back door.

"That would mean I'm capable of deep thoughts," Frank replies.

"Oh, lay the fuck off, lad," Grant says, sounding tired. "Your act doesn't fool me, any more than it does your friends."

"What act is that? We're friends?"

"You know very well what act. The act where you pretend you're stupid, or shallow, or entirely unaffected by all of this. The same act where you pretend you're not in love with your teammate, coincidentally."

"Which teammate would that be?" Frank asks, because it's just... habit, to mouth off.

"Now you're just pushing buttons for the hell of it. As for us being friends, I confess I'm not sure about that one." Grant crosses to the liquor tucked away on the kitchen counter and pours himself a shot, then knocks it back in one. Frank keeps quiet. "I can be your employer, or your friend, or possibly something else entirely. But I think you have to decide which."

"If I say 'something else' are you going to try to kiss me again?" Frank asks bluntly.

"No," Grant replies, equally blunt.

"...No?"

"Why, do you want me to?" Grant asks. So fucking smug.

"Yes," Frank replies after thinking about it for a moment.

"No," Grant repeats. "It's your move, darling. If you want something, take it."

"Are you trying to teach me a lesson?" Frank says conversationally, sliding off the stool and crossing the kitchen. "Is this an after-school special?" He hooks his fingers in the neck of Grant's shirt and tugs.

"I'm just cutting through the bullshit," Grant murmurs, obligingly leaning down a bit. "You seem to have forgotten how."

"No I haven't," Frank replies, stretching up and kissing Grant lightly. "I've been conditioned. Gerard thinks the bullshit is part of the fun."

"Are we talking about Gerard, or fucking?"

"You started it," Frank reminds him, curling a hand around the back of Grant's skull, tugging him down for better access to his mouth. "So I guess we're doing both. Although it wouldn't say very good things about your technique if I was distracted enough to be able to."

"I'll make sure you have something to concentrate on," Grant replies. He finally touches Frank back, hands curving around Frank's waist, teasing at the hem of his shirt. Frank kisses him again, harder this time, growling impatiently when Grant sticks with a more leisurely pace. "Oh no you don't," Grant murmurs against his jaw. "If we're doing this, we're doing a proper job of it."

Frank just pulls their mouths back together, kissing Grant until he can barely breathe, until he can feel Grant get hard and rub his hips against Frank with a gratifying little whine. "Proper enough for you?" Frank whispers, biting at his neck and reaching for the button of his jeans.

"I can see some improvement," Grant murmurs back, getting a handful of hair and tugging.

It's Frank's turn to whine; he's fucking weak for that shit, and Grant can't possibly know that but good fucking guess. He turns his palm, cups Grant's dick through his jeans. Fuck, he's at least as hung as - well, Gerard. "Tell me you have a nice big bed back there," he pants.

"Yes, I do. Very nice, and very big. Interested?"

"Nah, just doing a fucking survey," Frank snarks. "If you're done being proper, maybe we can get your fucking cock in me."

Grant's fingers tighten on his hip. "I think -"

Frank's phone and Grant's phone both ring within seconds of each other. Their eyes meet. Frank swears and reaches for his.

It's Mikey. "Someone made contact," he says tersely. "Gee went to a meet. They made him leave his phone so I can't even start a trace."

Frank can barely hold back an ironic laugh. "Good thing I had a meet too. We've got the whole damn Centre wired now - let me have Grant send you and Ray access to the feeds."

"You're at Grant's?"

Oh, is he ever at Grant's. "Yeah. You need me to come back in?" The tense silence is all the answer he really needs. "Never mind. I'll be there as soon as I can." Frank disconnects the call and looks at Grant. "Who called you?"

"Attempted break-in at one of my mothballed facilities. They didn't make it in, but they got away."

There's no fucking way that isn't connected. "Mikey says Gee got called to a meet. I've got to get back to the Centre. You'll send the codes for the eyes in the sky?"

Grant nods. "Of course. I'll be monitoring them here too."

Frank looks him up and down for a minute. "Rain check?"

"Is that what you want?"

"Why wouldn't I?" Frank takes the opportunity to rub up against him again. Fuck, it still feels good. Too fucking good.

"Seems like you're running off to be Gerard's bodyguard to me."

"Yep. And he'll probably fucking bitch me out for it, too."

"You'll do it anyway." It's not a question.

Frank looks up at him - harsh cheekbones, surprisingly soft lips, fathomless eyes. "Is that a problem?"

"I suppose not. Your loyalty is an admirable quality."

"I have one? My mama will be so proud." Frank kisses him one more time, hard and biting and not particularly nice, then grabs his jacket off the stool and lets himself out into the garage where his motorcycle is waiting.

*

Frank rushes into their suite at the Centre, breathing hard and sweating through the road dust. He'd taken advantage of every shortcut he knew on the way back, but when he skids to a halt in their sitting area, the first thing he sees is Gerard, and he's so fucking relieved that he forgets himself and goes straight over and wraps Gerard up in a tight hug.

Gerard, unexpectedly, lets him. "Frankie," he murmurs, "I'm fine."

"You fucker," Frank mumbles against his neck. "When did you get back? What happened?"

"Like ten minutes ago. I got out of the meeting, some sort of technical difficulties? I have no idea. I played dumb and asked if they were planning on rescheduling."

Technical difficulties. Yeah, Frank can guess what those were. He pulls back so he can see Gerard. "Would you recognize them again if you saw them?"

"I didn't have, like, a bag over my head or anything," Gerard says. He'd maybe forgotten himself too, but the longer Frank holds onto him the more he seems to draw back into himself.

Frank realizes Mikey and Ray are sitting on the other couch. "Okay. Shit. So what, we wait for them to try again?"

"Guess so," Gerard replies. "At least we know I got their attention."

"Your second bout is tomorrow," Mikey reminds him, as if any of them had forgotten. "I can't decide if I want you to win or lose, now."

Frank refrains from rolling his eyes. Fucking Ways, always so high-strung. "Thought the point was to win."

"The point is to help Grant," Gerard reminds them. "But yeah, that means winning."

Frank hasn't heard him sound so confident in a long time.

*

g3rard's second bout is a shitshow practically from the first bell. He's fighting 44ron, a tattooed, bearded bruiser of a guy with a surprisingly delicate touch on the controls, that translates to a surprising amount of damage. g3rard's speed is less effective against that kind of finesse.

It takes fifteen rounds, which is nearly unheard-of. Number Three is sparking and smoking in half a dozen spots, the mecha's left arm twisted and nearly useless, and Frank, who had decided to ride this one out in the pits this time, can barely bring himself to watch. When the announcers start to speculate about a TKO, he rushes back out to the edge of the ring, where a couple of other techs are watching. They nod at him in recognition, and what he thinks is a little bit of pity.

"Come on, Gee," he mutters. "You're better than this."

The point is to help Grant, he thinks. Frank can't do anything else to help, though. He's not allowed out there behind the boards with g3rard, or down in the staging area with Mikey. He can't quite face going up to Grant's box, either, not after leaving him hanging yesterday. Especially when Gerard had waltzed back to their suite without a stupid fucking hair on his stupid fucking head ruffled.

After all, Frank had left himself hanging too. He's not sure he can be around Grant right now without rubbing up against him like a cat in heat.

He's so distracted by that that he stops paying attention to the ring for one critical second - the second that it takes g3rard to sneak a crippling blow in under 44ron's defenses. Luck? They've always joked that the only luck Mad Gear had ever run into was bad luck. But tonight, it's enough.

The crowd roars, and Frank tenses, ready to - fucking spring into the ring and put himself between g3rard and the mob, what the fuck ever. But they're fucking cheering. "Everybody loves an underdog," one of the other techs says to Frank when he sees him gaping.

That is not Frank's fucking experience.

Gerard comes rushing out of the ring, face wreathed in a giant dorky grin and his arm looped over Mikey's shoulders. He sees Frank, and reaches out to cup his face, kissing him once on each cheek, big smacking theatrical kisses. Frank chokes on a breath and freezes, but musters up a smile. "Kickass," he pronounces.

"Time to fucking celebrate," Gerard replies breathily.

He probably doesn't mean it the way Frank wants him to.

*

What Gerard means, apparently, is that they should all go to the sponsors' afterparty. Which they have every right to do, but which is so fucking not their scene. If Gerard has some sort of plan up his sleeve, he's not sharing. He is schmoozing like a fucking champ, though, Mikey trailing after him like a silent shadow.

Sometimes Frank wonders what Mikey would have done if Gerard had quit fighting for good. They'd been hammering away at Number Three for a long time with no real fucking progress. It easily could have gone the other way.

Frank tells himself that should be the furthest thing from his mind right now. He takes his cue from Gerard, moving around the room and chatting with people he knows - or people who pretend to know him. Ray's off somewhere too, deep in conversation with one of his tech friends. He's not the best at chatting up bigwigs, but at least he's keeping busy.

The one person who is surprisingly conspicuous is Grant. You don't actually need to be a sponsor to get into the afterparty, you just need deep pockets or a little bit of name recognition. Grant has both. Frank has seen him a couple times, a lowball glass in his hand, gesturing broadly and smiling a sharp smile at whatever hapless businessman or socialite has decided to approach him. He hasn't taken a second look at anyone from Mad Gear since he walked in.

Then he disappears.

Frank frowns and sets his glass on a tray when he finally notices. He scans the room; Grant had been over by the doors that lead to a large terrace and courtyard the last Frank had seen, and he hasn't passed by to exit by the main doors.

Frank heads outside, trying to suppress the knot of worry in his stomach. Before he leaves the room, he looks around for the guys, and finds Mikey and Ray chatting to one of the PR girls by the buffet.

Gerard is also among the missing.

Maybe it's not a knot of worry after all.

At least not the right kind of worry.

When he finally sees them, tucked away in an unobtrusive corner behind a planter of ornamental trees and shrubs, he - at least he knows they haven't both been kidnapped in some bizarre episode of corporate espionage. They're talking. At least, Grant is talking. Gerard is reaching up, stained fingertips a cage around the jut of Grant's cheekbone, and leaning in to press their lips together.

It's a hell of a lot more tender than any kiss he's ever given Frank.

Frank gasps anyway, knowing he should look away, go away but helpless to stop himself, not knowing if they'll even hear him.

Grant hears him, and pulls back, and even says his name, as evenly as Frank would expect from him. "Frank." Just an acknowledgement, not an apology. Not anything.

"Guess I should have seen this coming a mile away," Frank laughs bitterly. "What am I saying? I did see this coming a mile away, and I still laid down on the fucking train tracks."

"What do you mean, Frankie?" Gerard asks softly.

Frank snorts. "Ask our sugar daddy. I have nothing to say to either of you right now."

He has nothing to say to anyone at this party, and a great deal to say to the bottle of cheap rotgut he's got hidden back in his room.

*

"Wake up, motherfucker," Mikey says. Loud, oh so fucking ear-violating loud, and then a sound like Frank's skin ripping, which may just be the heavy blackout curtains on his window being wrenched to the side but feels like being dipped in a vat of fire.

"I will cut off your dick and feed it to you," Frank croaks and pulls his pillow over his head to block out the evil sunlight. Maybe he'll suffocate, that would be good times.

"Get up, Gerard's missing." Mikey takes the pillow. Frank flips him off and smushes his face against the mattress instead.

"I will piss in your coffee, too. He'll walk-of-shame back here after Morrison lets him out of bed. Fuck off."

"He's not with Grant, fuckhead. He's not anywhere."

Mikey sounds freaked out. Frank leans over the side of the bed and retches into the handily-placed trash can until there's nothing left. At least past-him had one shred of common sense left after drinking what was left of his booze stash.

Past-him should have had common sense about a lot more things.

"Fucking -" Frank wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and rolls out of bed, tugging his boxer-briefs back up his ass and reaching for his jeans. "Get me black coffee and start talking."

Ray already has coffee for him when he shoves his feet into his unlaced boots and stumbles into their sitting room. He also has a bottle of water and painkillers, which is why he's Frank's favorite. Frank chugs the water, which thankfully stays down, before starting on the coffee. Mikey and Ray are already talking.

Grant had left the party - alone - shortly after Frank. Gerard had stayed for at least an hour. He'd talked to a bunch of people, then after a while he was just... not around, and unlike Frank, when Mikey had looked he hadn't found him kissing anyone in the courtyard. And when Mikey had convinced Ray to check the camera feeds, nothing. Not just nothing suspicious, no trace of him at all.

"We knew the boss was gonna come after him sooner or later," Frank says, somewhat woozily.

"What if it's not to recruit him? What if it's just to... bump him off? If they're that good with the camera feeds -"

"Then they probably would have swept for tracers, too. And I wouldn't have liked his chances if they'd found him wearing one," Frank points out.

Ray's nodding tightly, like Frank's saying what he's thinking, which is - not a surprise. Frank's spent too much time around Ray for the common sense not to rub off. "The thing is, Frank - we have to work on Number Three. If we want to have a prayer of winning the championship bout, the mecha has to pass the preliminary equipment check. Today."

Oh.

"Yes," Frank snarls. "I will go out and look for the guy who even the spy cameras can't find, who doesn't want to see me anyway. Sounds like a fun thing for me and my hangover to do today. Fuck you both, and fuck Gerard." He tosses back the rest of his coffee and goes to grab a shirt and his hoodie.

*

Frank and his pet hangover probably walk for miles, all around the Centre, hood up, work gloves on, asking questions just vague enough that no one Frank doesn't trust - who does he trust, anyway? - would necessarily realize he's lost his fighter. He spends most of the day with Chris talking through his earpiece; Chris, who's convinced some of the feeds have been tampered with and who keeps giving him bizarre instructions to go to such-and-such a door and open this electrical panel and flip that switch and not actually telling him anything. It's the world's most boring scavenger hunt.

Then another call beeps in. "Frank," says Grant's familiar voice, accent roughened by... worry? Sleep deprivation? Whatever, he's not Frank's fucking business.

"Morrison," Frank parrots back at him.

"I have Gerard," Grant tells him. "He's at my house."

"Oh, so you did have him tied to your headboard after all. Gosh, and to think I could have put a twenty down on that with the guys."

"Frank, he was with them. He's been implanted. I need you here to help me with the removal."

"So tie him up now," Frank suggests. "It's only kinky the first time. Maybe he'll like it."

"Iero." Now Grant sounds pissed. "He is asking for you. Get your ass over here before I come find you and tie you up."

"Promises, promises," Frank sing-songs. "Be there in thirty," he adds flatly and disconnects the call.

It's more like twenty, because the part of Frank's brain that's not angry or hung over is actually pretty fucking worried, and apparently that's the part that controls the throttle of his bike.

He practically drops his bike on Grant's garage floor, swears and steadies it. He's running by the time he hits the door, which is - locked. He shakes the handle.

"Fuck you, Grant, open -"

The panel jerks open and Frank stumbles in, shoulder hitting Grant's chest. He can feel hands steadying him but he can only look at Gerard, who's sitting at the counter with his arm stretched out across the marble.

"Frankie -" Gerard breathes, attempting a - smile, maybe. Frank can only frown. He crosses the kitchen in about three steps, grabs a handful of Gerard's hair and kisses him hard.

"Asshole," Frank grits, "I am locking you in a fucking room and throwing away the key."

"This is what we wanted," Gerard replies.

"This?" Frank grabs Gerard's wrist so he can look at the small, neat cut in the skin of his inner arm. "You have a fucking evil computer in your arm!"

"I know," Gerard says, going a little white. "Grant said as soon as you got here we could go down to the lab and he'd remove it, so can we…" His voice wobbles.

"To the lab, please. There will be plenty of time for arguing later," Grant says quietly, and starts for the door without another word. Gerard follows him, and Frank trails them both down the stairs. When they're all inside, Grant starts sterilizing implements and Gerard sits on a lab stool, looking even paler. Frank's not going to ask him if it hurts - Gerard's been through worse, and recently.

"This should be fairly quick," Grant says. "Frank, sit across from him and hold his hand. Keep his arm against the table."

Frank nods. "Gerard, look at me and not your arm." He waits until they have eye contact and holds it, then takes Gerard's hand, covering both of theirs with his free hand.

This might be the longest period of time he's looked directly into Gerard's face in months. He sort of wants to watch what Grant is doing, but he doesn't want Gerard to look.

Frank has a sudden flashback to Gerard, the first week after the accident, climbing out of bed and lifting his shirt to look at his stitches. The way he'd squeezed his eyes shut and frozen until Frank had helped him back into bed. He hadn't looked Frank in the eye then. Had shaken off every touch since then.

Gerard's not breaking eye contact this time, so Frank isn't about to.

He's not sure how long it takes for Grant to finish what he's doing. He only sees the expressions flickering across Gerard's face, hears an occasional hiss between his teeth. Grant murmurs to them both, not specifics, just praise and progress. "It's out," he says finally. "Now, Gerard -"

Gerard's eyes squeeze shut for a moment, then turn from Frank to Grant. "Yeah?"

"I'd like to put one of my own units in its place, in case they scan you, just to keep them off our trail until Chris can analyze the unit I just removed. Is that -"

"I trust you," Gerard whispers.

"Frank?" Grant asks.

"It's his fucking arm," Frank blurts, eyes jumping to Grant's face.

"And I didn't ask you to decide for him, but I do trust you to advocate for him."

"I trust you, too," Frank admits after a long moment of silence.

"Very well. Thank you, Gerard." Grant kisses Gerard's temple absently before crossing the room to take something out of a small locked case.

"Close your eyes, Gee," Frank tells him. "It'll be okay." He wants to watch this time.

The second procedure is over practically before he knows it, and then Grant is applying suture tape and asking him in that same low, calm voice to help with the bandage. Frank thinks they're all probably sweating bullets when they're finally done. Grant gathers his tools for washing, and seals the offending chip in a plastic container.

"I'm going to leave this down here and call Chris to come have a look," Grant says. "But the three of us ought to go upstairs for something cool to drink. And to talk," he adds after a moment. Frank's shoulders tense.

"Frankie," Gerard murmurs.

Frank looks up. "Oh, so you'll talk when he asks," he snaps.

"Frank," Grant repeats. "Please."

"I asked for a rain check, not a fucking intervention." But he clomps upstairs anyway, because he knows he has no choice. He walks fast and he doesn't look behind him, and when he gets to the kitchen he grabs a beer for himself. He presses another bottle into Grant's hand and hands Gerard a glass of orange juice. "Blood sugar," he says when Gerard raises an eyebrow. "And sit the fuck down."

"In the living room," Grant adds.

That makes everything just a little too weirdly reminiscent of their first meeting, but Frank rolls with it and goes to take the same seat on the chaise by the bookcase. Gerard sits on the couch, and Grant very deliberately chooses a chair relatively equidistant from them both.

"I wish you hadn't left like that last night," Grant states quietly.

"Why, Grant? Did you need pointers? I already gave you my best material the first night we met you, boss, I don't know what else I can tell you."

"I don't think I need pointers," Grant replies. "But I'd accept them, under certain circumstances."

"And those are?"

"If you were personally supervising my performance," Grant murmurs. "As I said. You shouldn't have left."

Frank snorts. "Is that supposed to be some sort of punishment?"

"No, it's supposed to be a menage a trois," Grant replies, giving the words their full accented twist.

Frank chokes on a breath. "Are you fucking -" He flicks his eyes to Gerard, then can't look away. "Gerard, tell him to fuck off. Tell him how you can't stand me touching you anymore. He's already got you where he wants you, he might listen to you."

Gerard's mouth is hanging open. It should look dumb; he just looks sexy instead. Life is fucking unfair. "I... can't do that, Frank. I can't tell him that."

"Why not? I was already pretty sick of being your dirty little secret, baby, and that was before you cut me off."

Gerard pushes himself to his feet, practically tripping over his own feet. "You weren't - I didn't -"

"Oh, save your breath," Frank tells him, at the same time Grant says,

"Enough, Christ. Frank, stop talking. Gerard, start."

"Words you may never hear again in that order," Frank murmurs despite Grant's glare.

Gerard, amazingly, laughs and turns pink. Then he bites his lower lip and sits down again and says, "Frankie... Grant knows how fucking in love with you I am. How is it you don't?"

Grant's nodding in... acknowledgement?… but Frank is still staring at Gerard. "Either you have the world's most fucked-up way of showing it, or I am going to punch you in the fucking balls for jerking me around," he warns Gerard quietly. Like hell Gerard's in love with him.

"Like you didn't know I was fucked up!" Gerard replies with a little bit of heat.

"Well."

Gerard is definitely glaring at him now, too. Figures. Frank's got such a way with the dudes. No wonder it's always been easier to pick a fight than get laid.

"I know it's all my fault," Gerard finally says, shoulders drooping.

"Hah. Join the club!" Frank snaps. "But you know, maybe you're right. I was a little distracted the last time I was about to get laid by this little thing called you getting kidnapped, but right now.... If you're supposedly so in love with me, from this angle it just looks like a giant cockblock."

"I don't want that!" Gerard replies. "You - you have to believe me. I want -"

"Everything I've been offering you for the past fuckteen months?"

"Yes!" Gerard is panting, cheeks pink. He runs his hand irritably through his hair and the fresh bandage catches Frank's eye. Stark, clean, wrapped by Frank's own hands.

"Can you make me understand why it takes a fucking intervention for you to tell me? That's what I really need to know, Gee."

"I can try, Frankie," Gerard whispers. Funny how Frank still believes in him after all his shit. He's really fucking pissed at himself for it too, but what can he do?

"He can try," Frank repeats, shaking his head in exasperation and looking at Grant challengingly. "What do you actually get out of this? Besides a live action soap opera?"

"Well, I confess I also was hoping to get laid. Professions of altruism just get me funny looks these days."

"Shocking, boss, really shocking." So Grant's game is going to be deflecting. He's good, but Frank's the master. You can't fool the master. The thing is, Grant's never been anything but honest, and Frank made the decision to trust him a while ago. He might as well see if he made the right one. "I'm going to ask for another rain check," Frank adds quietly. "Either we all crash and burn, or we all get something we want. You a betting man?"

"I put my money down on a good team," Grant replies, gaze moving from Frank to include Gerard. "I'd do it again."

"You'd better double down," Gerard says, waving his phone at them. "Mikey just texted. They moved up the weigh-in. Somebody at the Centre is trying to jerk us around."

Finally, something Frank can fucking act on. "Let them try. I have my bike. Borrow a helmet from Grant and I can have us back there while their hands are still down their pants." Frank flashes him a toothy-sharp smile, and Gerard smiles right back.

These fuckers are gonna have no idea what hit them.

*

They make it to the weigh-in - mostly symbolic, like a lot of the UFC rituals, but still mandatory - with minutes to spare. Frank is mostly remembering how Gerard felt pressed up against his back on the motorcycle - that is, just as fucking good as the old days - but he does watch when it's Gerard's turn. There's swagger in Gerard's step that Frank hasn't seen there in a long time, and maybe he's putting on a show, but maybe it's about something else. And it's good to see.

He's never stopped watching Gerard. There's something about him that draws the eye, and even now, with half of Frank's system on high alert and the other thrumming with suppressed desire, Frank's sure he's not the only one who can't look away.

Joel puts on a good show too. The weigh-in is only the first event in a two-day blitz of carefully choreographed media encounters. Kat shadows Joel while Mikey shadows Gerard, and while Gerard likes to talk - understatement - he actually throws his tech a question every once in a while. "Cocky bastard," Frank grumbles whenever Joel's on the mic. Kat's an amazing tech. Then again, it's none of his business.

Ray elects to stay back in their quarters with his datapad and the camera feeds, messaging back and forth with Chris, but Frank goes out to watch the crowds.

Grant calls him during one live Q&A segment, during the commercial break. "Your glare is warping my vid screen," he says with amusement.

"Shit, I didn't mean to be in the wide angle," Frank mumbles.

"Take your call outside," Grant suggests. Frank sighs and obeys, hovering near the studio windows so he can still see the interviewees and most of the audience.

"What is it?"

"Did you ever consider that I just missed you?"

"Do you?"

"I do, actually," Grant replies. "I want to watch you glower at things in person, and for you to drink my beer and move all my books, and I especially want to show you that nice big bed I promised." Frank breathes in through his nose. He actually wants those things too. A lot.

"But?"

"But business before pleasure," He sighs. "Chris and I have spent some time analyzing the chip we recovered, and we're sure that the game plan is to use the implants to send signals to the mechas through the fighters, influencing the bout based on whatever the betting trends are."

"Well, that's shitty," Frank comments.

"Shocking," Grant drawls. "We've been watching the footage of Mr. Zimmerman for long enough now that we'd know something if he was in regular contact with the thieves. Is it possible he's a pawn?"

Frank frowns and considers it. "Maybe. Maybe not."

"We ought to at least consider it," Grant says. "And Frank, there's something else to consider," he adds, voice softening.

"You sure about that?"

"My offer still stands, but so does Gerard's. Have you two -"

"No," Frank says quickly. "Not yet."

There's a pause on the other end of the line, then Grant says quietly, "You should. He needs you."

For once, Frank can't actually argue.

When Frank tucks his phone away and slips back into the recording studio, he catches Gerard's eye and gets a quick smile. He smiles back and hides himself away in a corner of the studio, hood up, arms crossed, thinking. Thinking hard.

Frank knows Gerard needs him. Has always needed him. Things only started falling apart for them when Gerard forgot. Except maybe he hadn't. Maybe he was ignoring it, which really might be worse. If Gerard loves him as much as he claims...why would he have done that to himself?

"That's a fucking shitty punishment, Gerard," he mumbles. "For both of us."

He's sure, suddenly, that punishment is what it was. For what, only Gerard can tell him. The real question is if Frank can forgive him.

It's not one of his particular skills. But Gerard has always and will always be an exception.

After the interview, there's a reception. Frank agrees to go with Gerard, because Mikey looks like he's about to lock himself in a janitor's closet or something to escape the press. Frank wouldn't really blame him. He isn't too fond of most of the press corps himself, but they get lucky and get steered to two of their favorites right off the bat.

Gerard is chatting happily to the second, Jason, about a modern art installation on the Centre grounds when he suddenly elbows Frank in the side. "Go over there and talk to Joel," he murmurs. "He's been alone for like, ten seconds and that never happens; I want to try to talk to him."

"Is that a good idea?" Frank murmurs back.

"As good as it's gonna get. Hurry."

Frank sighs and hurries. He grabs a fresh glass of champagne on the way. It will come in handy either as an painkiller or a weapon; might as well be prepared.

Joel sees him coming and puts on a smile. Frank is pretty sure that's for Kat's benefit. He's not sure where she is, but Joel knows she and Frank are buddies, and for all his attitude, he knows how fucking lucky he is to have her, too. "Frank, what's up? Guess Mad Gear gets a rematch after all. Won't that be exciting for us all?"

"I'm sure it will be thrilling," Frank deadpans.

"Didn't think Gerard would have it in him, I gotta be honest."

Frank can't really argue with that, but it gets his fucking back up that it's from Joel, so he sneers a little. "Guess he does. I think the real question is what you have in you." Thanks for the opening, deadmau5.

Joel snorts. "Is it, now?"

"It is, as a matter of fact," Gerard replies. Thank you, Gerard; Frank feels a gentle touch to the back of his elbow as Gerard joins them. "You look … recovered," Gerard says. Fuck, Frank's missed Gerard having his back, but he's really missed having that snide tone directed at someone other than him.

"Well enough to give you the rematch you're asking for." It's pretty clear Joel expects it to go his way, and why the fuck wouldn't he? He isn't the one who's been hiding in a warehouse in the Valley licking his wounds.

"That why you need the implant?"

Smooth, Gerard. Joel gapes at him for a minute while Gerard just smirks noncommittally. Finally Joel sputters, "How -"

"How do I know? You're not the only one with connections, Joel. And I know you're not stupid. So don't you think maybe something that could be used to help you could just as easily be used to fix the fucking fight? Or don't you care?"

"I think you're paranoid," Joel finally answers. "And I don't really fucking blame you, because I know you went off the fucking deep end, brother. Trust me. I don't need any help kicking your ass."

"Then tell them you want it out."

Frank can see the flash of fear in Joel's eyes and he's sure Gerard can too. "You'd better watch that mouth of yours, asshole, because if you open it.... There are worse things than getting crushed by a steel cage, Gerard. I don't want to find out what they are, and I don't think you do either. This championship is mine." He turns around, sets his unfinished champagne down on a table with an ugly clunk as it hits another discarded glass, and stalks off.

"Smooth," Frank tells him. "Told you he'd blow you off."

"He's scared. Wonder what they have over him."

"Debts? Criminal record? Who knows. With the bad press, the lifetime ban for cheating if he's exposed …do we really need to know a specific reason? You still have to fight him."

"And I'm going to win." Gerard sounds utterly confident. He was always good at that.

"And then?" Frank can't help asking.

"I don't know yet," Gerard replies in a softer tone. "A lot of things have slipped through the cracks lately. Maybe I need to take stock of what hasn't."

Frank bites his lip. "Maybe. You ready to go, Gerard, or are there any other bears here for you to poke?"

"I'm more than ready."

Frank nods tightly and drains his glass of champagne in one gulp. He wishes he could say the same.

*

Mad Gear spends every waking moment the day of the fight tweaking Number Three, and when the UFC minders finally kick Ray and Frank out of the pen, they go straight upstairs to Grant's box and keep working. Ray is still running signal relays from his tablet up until fight time, and Frank slaps on a headset and watches the vid feeds, trading observations and a few insults with Chris back at - well, wherever his mad scientist lair actually is. Grant watches them, occasionally leaning over one of their shoulders to tap at a screen and make comments.

He lays a hand on the back of Frank's neck when he does. Nothing makes Frank feel better than that.

The crowd screams when deadmau5 and g3rard step onto the podium, screams like a wild animal. They've filled the stadium with neon and strobe lights for the title fight - it looks and sounds like a street riot, and when Number Three and Number Five rumble into the ring the screaming only gets louder.

g3rard looks tiny. They both do, but as soon as the announcer - dressed like some fucking 23rd century version of a disco bouncer, bread and fucking circuses indeed - sounds the bell, they burst into motion, and so do the mechas. deadmau5 comes out swinging, and for once, so does g3rard. Frank's never seen him fight with so little hesitation. This is the bout they should have had months ago. That they did have months ago, until it all went wrong.

Like he'd summoned it, a ray of sparks shoots from deadmau5's console and Frank sees him clutch his arm. Grant's hand clamps down on Frank's shoulder, and Ray swears and starts tapping at monitor windows. Number Five freezes and then starts moving again, jerky like a n00b was in the driver's seat. deadmau5 is windmilling his arms and punching controls and shouting into his mic. Frank can only guess what Kat's doing to try to fix the signals.

The mechas fight on. From Ray's muttering, he's getting a feed from Mikey giving them an ear on g3rard. g3rard is on the defensive, letting deadmau5 try to get Number Five back under control.

"It's not gonna work," Chris says in Frank's ear. Frank had let him remote into Frank's tablet and is watching the screen flash as Chris and Ray do incomprehensible things. "I've been watching the bookmaking feeds, too. Once they realized they didn't have g3rard on the leash anymore, they decided to take deadmau5 down in a big way to cover the spread."

"Down there," Grant says from Frank's other side. He's been scanning the stadium with binoculars. Frank gets up and takes over the lenses.

"Chris," Frank murmurs. "There's a ringside box with some nasty-looking dudes with tablets. Near the 110 door. They look sort of constipated, and did I mention nasty?"

"I'll run facial recognition," Chris says. "Hold onto your ass."

"I'll do better than that. Ray, tell Mikey to get g3rard into a time-out. I'm going to see if I can get to Kat."

His stomach is a knot, but he stretches to give Grant a quick, desperate kiss. "For luck, I presume," Grant murmurs.

"Or something." Frank runs for it.

His credentials only get him so far, but stealing a UFC support tech jumpsuit gets him farther. No one needs to know it's a crazy dude named Chris in his headset and not the UFC control room, either. He can actually see Kat at her station when the sirens sound from the ring. g3rard gave him the time-out he asked for.

Frank snags a can of energy drink and trots out to Kat's station. She's red-faced and clearly frazzled and starts to snap before she notices who he is. Her brow creases; he shoots her a warning look and sets the can on her console, leaning in to whisper, "I can help."

"How -"

"Do you know about the chip?" he interrupts. Her silence answers that question well enough. "They're using it to fix the fight. Let my guys get in and install a shield to block the signal, and you have my word this will go back to being a fair fight. Do you want that, Katherine?"

"Fuck you, you know me," Kat snaps.

"And you know me. Trust me." When she nods, he palms her a jump drive that Chris assures him will let them into her system and runs back to the pen without a backward look. "Your turn, crazy man," he mutters to Chris.

Chris barks out a laugh. "Glass houses, Frankie." Frank rolls his eyes, strips out of the jumpsuit, and slinks back upstairs.

Frank can see the moment that Chris gets the signal jammers online for Kat, can see the look of abject gratitude that deadmau5 shoots at her before going back to pummeling Number Three. g3rard pummels right back. They're so evenly matched; this bout just got a lot more interesting.

Frank takes the opportunity to look at the betting feeds. There's the chaos he was expecting. He steals the binoculars from Grant and looks back at the bros in the box. Yep, there too. "Shit," he murmurs.

"My thoughts exactly," Grant replies.

"I don't suppose you know some seriously bribeable Centre security guys?" Frank asks. "I've maybe pissed most of them off at some point or another."

Grant pulls out his phone. "I'll see what I can do." He leans down and kisses the side of Frank's head. "Keep an eye on our boy."

Frank doesn't know how he could do anything else. The fight has escalated, Three and Five trading blows, raining showers of sparks, shedding armor plating to the accompaniment of strobe lights, a shrieking audience, and the solitary dance of the two tiny figures on the podium. He doesn't realize where the pain in his hands is coming from until he looks down and realizes how tightly he's gripping the box railing. This is g3rard at his best, which is also g3rard at his most dangerous.

This is the Gerard Frank fell in love with. But he's loved them all since then, too, he just felt like an idiot for it. And apparently they've all loved him back.

The stadium lights blow at some point during a particularly close round, and Frank freezes as the spectators raise their voices in a combination of hoots and screams until emergency power kicks in. The mechas keep fighting; Frank feels a warm hand at his waist and leans back against Grant's chest. "I got to a driver," he says in Frank's ear. "They'll be taken to a side door and dropped off instead of taken to the green room. We need to be there with a truck or we won't stand a chance of getting off the grounds."

"Ray?"

"Keys," Ray grunts, reaching in his pocket and tossing them over. "Crash it, I kill you. I have to stay here to keep running these programs."

"Be careful," Frank tells him. Ray just laughs. Frank raises an eyebrow at Grant, tossing the keys in the air and catching them. "Wanna drive my car, baby?" he asks.

Grant plucks them out of his hand.

They miss most of the rest of the fight, although they can hear it, overexcited announcers' voices ringing through the empty arena corridors. Frank's credentials get them into the garage where the truck is parked, and then it's Frank's turn to take them on a fucking carnival ride through an empty parking structure. No one's shooting at them, which is a nice change of pace.

Grant stays on the phone the whole time; he's got Chris hacked into the building security, opening gates for them. Frank just drives and does not think about how sketchily legal this all is. He coasts to a stop outside the designated door and punches at the radio until it gives them a fight broadcast. When the final bell rings and the announcer calls out Gerard's name, Frank closes his eyes and tips his head back against the headrest for a moment. He hears Grant's shaky exhalation and gropes for his hand.

Grant squeezes his fingers until the door pops open and four figures run toward the truck. Thank fuck for the crew cab - Gerard squeezes in front with Grant, and Mikey, Joel, and Kat slide into the back. Frank guns it and listens to Chris's barked instructions from the speaker of Grant's phone.

No one talks until Frank gets them off of Centre grounds, and then the cab erupts with questions. Frank shushes them. "I still have to get us to Grant's."

"You're Grant Morrison," Joel says from the back seat, and Grant chuckles.

"Guess we all have some 'splaining to do. Chris?"

"I'll meet you there," Chris says tinnily. "I'm in the car now. I talked to Ray; he told me he took the precaution of having all your personal luggage stored in the truck earlier. He's taking the feeds of the bros with the tablets to the UFC officials for review."

"You got IDs?" Gerard asks.

"Did I ever. I'll tell you at the house."

"Tease," Frank replies. Chris cackles and cuts off the call.

When Frank pulls into the driveway, he half expects alarms to start going off. When he approaches the garage door, Grant murmurs, "Don't freak out, Mr. Zimmerman." He taps his wrist in a little cadence and the garage opens.

Joel and Kat both gasp anyway.

Frank parks and Grant goes over to check the security panel on the wall before leading them straight down to his lab. Chris is already there, and he waves cheerfully when he sees them.

"Implant removal or explanations first, Mr. Zimmerman? Your choice," Grant asks politely.

It's a reasonable question, and it lets Joel think about how much he trusts them. Frank's not really sure about that part. He watches Kat squeeze Joel's hand, and Joel finally nods. "Implant. Get it out."

"Excellent choice," Grant says. "Chris?"

"Already set up the workstation." He gestures to a table. Joel files over and stretches his arm across the surface. Chris and Grant both sterilize their hands and get to work.

It's a simple procedure, and Frank's seen it before, so he turns to face Gerard instead, interrupting his muttering with Mikey to loop his arms loosely around Gerard's waist. "I didn't get to say congratulations yet," Frank murmurs.

"Technically that wasn't saying it," Gerard replies.

Frank laughs. "Congratulations," he whispers. "Even if they - well - whatever happens."

Gerard leans in. "I don't care what happens." Before he has quite enough time for the kiss Frank's expecting, he hears Chris crow happily.

"There," Grant says with satisfaction. "You're clean, Mr. Zimmerman. Chris, you'll take this for testing?"

Frank turns around. Joel is wearing a fresh bandage and Kat is wearing a relieved smile. Chris plinks the chip into a specimen dish and goes to wash his hands. Grant is busy studying the way Gerard is draped over Frank's shoulder. He looks smug, and Frank's gut tightens.

"Time for the explanations," Kat says. Frank catches her eye and he gives her an encouraging smile. Maybe he can hold it against her that she helped Joel cheat, but they still don't know the reasons. He's trying to be better about letting people explain.

He's more concerned about another explanation, to be honest.

Grant talks first, running through a truncated version of the information he'd shared with them the first time they'd met. Frank sees Joel wince at the part about how the tech specs had been stolen, how Grant couldn't guarantee their safety, and then Chris interrupts.

"I think when the police investigate the men running the con, they're going to find a lot of ties to the mob, and more than a few to a certain former head of Marketing at MoCo."

"Mark," Grant says, shaking his head. "Always thinks he knows better than me. After all I did for him...."

"Guess the payday was too good to pass up," Joel says.

"Is that why you did it?" Gerard asks.

Joel shakes his head. "I did it for Kat," he says. "Her brother was in deep with the bookies after what happened with the - with…" He grimaces. "Well, it was my fault."

"Not all of it was your fault," Kat replies, frowning. "He did plenty on his own."

They're silent, locked in a staring contest for a moment until Grant interrupts gently, "So they made you an offer you couldn't refuse?"

Frank throws a roll of bandages at him. "Be serious."

"This is as good as it gets," Grant tells him.

"It doesn't matter," Gerard says to Joel. "You did the right thing in the end."

"I think the real question is if it's going to make me turn up in the desert somewhere," Joel says.

"The authorities are involved now. I think you have a good case for coercion," Chris comments. "We'll back you up. It would help if we could get into your hard drives." He looks at Kat.

She nods. "We'll help you."

"Got someplace Ray can meet us?" Mikey interrupts. He's got his phone clamped to his ear.

"Take them downtown to the MoCo lab, Chris?" Grant asks. "I'll check in tomorrow and see how far you've gotten with the files."

Chris nods. "My car can fit three."

"Perfect," Frank says. "Mikey, Kat, and Joel." He flicks a glance at Gerard, who has suddenly broken out in a grin, and Grant, who just looks serene. Okay, maybe smug.

"That is what I hoped you'd suggest, Frank," Grant murmurs.

"It's your world, boss man. We all just live in it."

After that, it seems to take forever to get them out the door, but finally Frank and Gerard are alone with Grant.

"Was that a smart thing to do?" Gerard asks.

"I think it was really fucking smart," Frank replies.

"They'll be fine, Gerard," Grant replies. "Chris has never met a computer system he can't make do his bidding. My buildings are secure, and if the alarms are compromised, the house computer will tell me."

"And your presence is required here," Frank adds, trying to mimic Grant's accent. And failing.

Grant just laughs. "It is. Now talk to Frank."

Wait. That wasn't the plan. "Grant -"

"You promised to listen to Gerard. Remember?"

"I always listen to Gerard. There's celebratory fucking to be had here, Grant."

"You're always so impatient," Grant murmurs, snagging a belt loop and tugging Frank close, then settling him with his back against Grant's chest. "Listen from here, if you must."

Frank looks up and meets Gerard's eyes. "Is it the scars, Gerard? Because I love you, you fucker. If you think they're ugly, I can assure you they make you more beautiful than words can say. Because you didn't fucking die. I couldn't have - I -" he stammers to a stop.

Grant's hand settles on the side of his neck where it joins his shoulder. Gerard looks from Grant to Frank. "It's not the scars. It's what they mean."

"They mean I almost lost you, you idiot," Frank says.

"They mean - everything I hated about myself. I got so caught up in the fucking circus that I forgot - I used you."

"It was mutual," Frank replies. "We used each other."

"And that was - Frank, that wasn't what I wanted. And I never fucking said anything until it was almost too fucking late."

"Neither did I. I never did. I just bitched about you and kept fuckin' -"

"You kept trying, Frankie."

Frank sighs. "I did it the wrong way. I should have been honest with you."

"I can see why you weren't." Gerard looks up at Grant. "Grant taught me that. Be honest, even if it's easier not to be."

Frank finally reaches out, tugs Gerard close and kisses him until they have to break for breath. Grant never moves, solid as a rock behind him, and finally Frank pulls back and looks up at him. "Grant ought to be honest, too. Like I said before, this is a lot of effort to get laid."

"I retired in the prime of my life because of my fucking principles, Frank," Grant replies after a beat. "I'm still working. I'm working all the time. But I'm doing it in my house, alone. I'm lonely." He pauses again. "You're both far too young for me. No wonder you made me remember what it was like to be -"

"Alive?" Gerard finishes softly.

"To be angry. To be fighting for something. I know I started this, but I couldn't have finished without you."

"That's not true," Frank murmurs. "You're a fighter. You just needed someone to remind you." Apparently they all needed to be reminded of something. No wonder they're here, in this bizarre situation. "What now?" Frank asks.

He feels Grant's fingers trace the shell of his ear. "Rain check?" Grant whispers.

Frank reaches out to take Gerard's hand. "Two for the price of one," he replies, and leads the way down the hall.

He finds Grant's bedroom. It is, in fact, a really fucking big bed. He's still grinning foolishly when they surround him, one on each side, stripping him of his clothing with some pretty impressive efficiency. This doesn't surprise him, on Grant's part. It's a bit of a novelty from Gerard, who's obviously thinking the same thing.

"So many times we did this, in bathrooms, closets, the truck. I never took enough time to look at you," he murmurs, kissing Frank's cheeks, eyelids, ears.

"He's gorgeous," Grant adds, hands soothing up and down Frank's sides. "The first time I saw you -" he whispers in Frank's ear.

"You were holding a gun on me," Frank reminds him. "And you called me a baby."

"All right, after that. When you were sitting in my car, mouthing off at me. God, I wanted you. But I already knew who you were, so I knew you weren't for me."

"I was. I am," Frank says, leaning back against his chest and tipping his head up. Grant kisses his lips as Gerard leans forward to kiss his throat.

"And for me, too," Gerard says against the damp skin.

Frank laughs, straightening up. "I've always been for you, you idiot." He pushes Gerard's fatigue jacket down his arms, and Gerard lets it fall to the floor. Frank reaches for the hem of Gerard's shirt. "Let me see." Gerard lets him pull it off and stands stock still. He's shivering a little, but he doesn't move or flinch, not when Frank keeps going and shoves off his pants and briefs, not when Grant reaches out and traces a curved pink line. He steps out of the tangle of fabric and shoes, and Frank lays a hand flat on his chest for a moment and whispers, "On the bed, Gerard, and turn around."

That gets a noise, a small protesting whine that Frank can feel in Gerard's chest. "Frankie -"

Frank meets his eyes. "I'm going to fuck you, Gerard, and I'm going to look at you the whole time. There is no way I won't love what I see. Got it?"

Gerard nods. His eyes flick to Grant's, and Grant settles a hand on Frank's shoulder and squeezes. "Take your time. I already like what I see."

"And you have to take off that damn suit," Frank tells him, turning around and tugging at his tie. He lost his jacket somewhere between the lab and the house, so there's actually less to untie and unbutton. Grant laughs when their hands tangle.

"Let me, Frank. I'll join you in a moment."

Frank kisses him. "You'd better." Gerard backs up when Frank advances, finally clambering up onto the bed, only turning around at the last minute when he reaches the headboard. Frank bites his lip so he won't make any noise. The scars are worse on his back than on his chest. The instinct to duck and cover had saved him, but left its mark.

Frank reaches out and traces the largest scar, then repeats the action one by one, adding lips to fingers until he's touched and kissed every inch of Gerard's back, tracing the slope of his shoulders, laying his lips against the side of Gerard's neck.

Something cool touches his thigh, and he reaches back. It's a bottle of lube, and a moment later the bed dips as Grant sits on the edge. "Thanks," he murmurs. "Grab the headboard, Gerard." He slicks his fingers and reaches between Gerard's legs, pushing in with two. Gerard likes fast and rough. Frank's pretty fucking fond, too, but he's got time tonight, and space, and he's going to use them.

Gerard moans, letting his head droop. Grant leans against the headboard and cups his cheek, kissing him as Frank fingers him open. Now that he's got Gerard where he wants him, he's going to take some time. He thrusts his fingers slowly, curling them to seek out Gerard's prostate, smiling when he shudders and moans against Grant's lips. Frank reaches out his free hand and touches Grant's hip, rubbing his thumb in circles over his hipbone and letting his fingers trail up and down Grant's flank. He's lean and gorgeous, and Frank wishes there were two of him right about now. He moves his free hand to Gerard's hip and pulls his fingers out. Gerard gasps. "Need you," he moans.

Frank smiles. "I know." He breathes in sharply through his nose as a hand closes around his cock - Grant, who's stolen back the lube and slicked his palm, and who's giving Frank the most perfect slow, firm strokes, grinning wickedly the entire time. Frank leans in to kiss him, then pulls back and lets Grant help him line up. Gerard swears brokenly the entire time as Frank pushes in, gasping Frank's name when he bottoms out, and Frank stills to give him a moment to adjust. Gerard pushes back against him.

"Please," he begs.

Frank pushes against him, covering his fingers where they're wrapped around the bed rail, biting at the side of his neck as he snaps his hips, thrusting deep. He can feel Grant beside them, hands drifting over curves and planes of their skin, skating up Frank's spine to card through his hair. Frank leans over to kiss him, the shift making Gerard and Frank both gasp. "Don't you come yet, Frank," Grant murmurs, "I have plans for you."

"And me?" Gerard moans.

"I have plans for you," Frank breathes, moving one hand down to wrap around Gerard's cock, stroking firmly even as he snaps his hips in slow, hard thrusts, letting Gerard fuck into his fist.

"Yeah," Gerard chokes out. "Fuck, okay. Frankie -" He's leaking all over the place and it is so easy to speed up his hand. Gerard's breath hitches like it always does when he's about to come and he stutters in the middle of repeating Frank's name, coming all over Frank's fist. Frank hauls in a breath and pants, riding out the clenching of Gerard's body around him with his cheek pressed between Gerard's shoulder blades.

"I love you," Frank whispers against his skin, shivering when Grant's hand ghosts up and down his spine again. He lets Grant tug at his hips, groaning when he slips out of Gerard's body and sighing as Grant settles them on their sides, spooning up behind him. Gerard tangles their feet together and stretches to kiss him gently, smothering Frank's wordless exclamation when Grant's hand closes around his cock again.

"You -" Frank gasps when he finally pulls back to breathe. "Grant, you can -"

"This is fine, this is perfect," Grant whispers against the back of his neck. Frank can feel him guiding his cock between Frank's thighs, thrusting gently as he strokes Frank's cock. He's hot, and hard, and just slick enough to ease the way, and he's setting a slow, relentless pace with his hand that drives Frank up and up, leaving him breathless and panting against Gerard's cheek, letting out a strangled yell when Gerard's fingers join Grant's. He comes immediately, with a rush that fills his veins with electricity and his ears with static. Grant thrusts between his thighs, hard and uncontrolled, and by the time Frank can fucking think again, Grant's groaning his name and coating his thighs with come.

They all lay there on the bed for a moment, tangled together, panting and trading sloppy kisses, letting their heart rates slow down, until finally Frank laughs. "We are fucking filthy."

"God, you're so predictable," Gerard mutters into his throat.

Grant chuckles. "The big bed comes with an en suite with a really big shower," he comments mildly.

"Mmm," Frank hums. "You rich-ass dudes know how to treat a guy."

This time, Grant outright laughs. "Does this mean you're changing your stance on sugar daddies?" he teases, and Frank barks out a laugh too.

"Just for you, Morrison. Just for you."

*

They hadn't given themselves too much time that first night to actually enjoy themselves, knowing that Chris and the others were downtown chasing digital rabbits. After they'd gotten cleaned up, they'd all headed to the MoCo offices, and by the time they'd found themselves back in Grant's big, comfortable bed, they were all too tired from a day of research and phone calls and police statements to do much more than crash and sleep.

There has been plenty of time since then. And they've been taking advantage of it.

"Officer Johns called earlier," Grant tells Frank and Gerard when they stumble blearily down to the kitchen in search of coffee. "Arrest warrants were served this morning for everyone involved in the chip tech thefts. Half of them immediately rolled over in hopes of federal protection against the mob bosses financing them."

Frank shakes his head. "Fucking government. After everything they did, they'll just let them go?"

"Reduced sentences, maybe," Grant says. He sounds unconcerned. "Don't worry, I'll make sure the biotech community knows exactly what they did." He catches Frank's wrist as he walks by and pulls him in for a kiss.

"Not worried," Frank tells him, nuzzling his jaw before taking his coffee to the counter. Gerard takes his place, leaning on Grant's shoulder for a moment before going over to pour his own coffee. "You're really reopening your offices?" Frank asks Grant.

Grant nods. "My patent lawyer is running wild trying to field all the interested parties. If the tech is going to be out there, I want it to be properly tested and properly controlled. That means I need to be out there doing those things. That was my mistake before." He hesitates. "You're sure you won't accept my job offers? Ray has. Mikey said no, but I know he has something lined up with friends in the valley."

Frank shakes his head. "Not me. I don't know what I want to do with myself yet, but…" He shrugs.

"I will." Frank has to stare at Gerard for a moment to make sure he heard right. After an avalanche of expert analysis and negotiations, the UFC had finally agreed to award the championship to g3rard. They'd also let deadmau5 off with a suspension and a penalty after Grant's lawyers had delivered proof of extortion.

Gerard had turned right around and retired. Mad Gear Mechanicals was always synonymous with Gerard, and Frank knows that without him fronting the operation, it would never be the same. He's okay with that. He's okay with Gerard going into R&D, too. Gerard is brilliant, Frank's always known that, too. He's just surprised.

Maybe he shouldn't be. This Gerard is a new Gerard - or maybe the one who was there somewhere all along - one who knows his own mind and says what he means. He says Frank and Grant are the ones responsible for that, but Frank's not sure he deserves the credit.

He doesn't need the credit, because he's reaping the rewards.

He's got Gerard, who he's always loved. He's got Grant, telling him he can do anything he puts his mind to. And he's got plenty of time to do it.

He's gonna do what he's best at - fuck shit up, or go down swinging.