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Master Post

Gerard walks as far as he can that first night, until he feels too exhausted to take another step. Finally he stops and looks around, figuring he'd better find somewhere to rest for a while.

According to the signpost he passed a while back, he's a good few miles from the nearest town in either direction. There might be farmhouses off the road a ways, but it's too late to knock on anyone's door, and he doesn't want to talk to anyone right now anyway, doesn't feel up to fielding questions about what he's doing out at this hour, or where he's going and why. Without any better ideas, he heads for the scrubby tree line a few feet from the road, head down and feet dragging. Once he's far enough in that he'll hopefully be out of sight from the road, he settles down with his back against a tree trunk and his baggage on either side of him--a canvas rucksack and a battered suitcase, holding everything he cared about enough to take from home.

Everything he could carry, anyway.

He feels a fresh surge of guilt every time he thinks about Mikey waking up to find the note he left. Before tonight, Gerard would never have believed he could leave home without Mikey. He still doesn't think he could have if he'd seen any other way. He closes his eyes and leans his head back against the tree trunk, words echoing back to him unbidden.


("At least no one else has found out about this yet. Just give me the clothes, I'll get rid of them, and we'll forget this ever happened."

"No."

"...What did you just say?"

"I said no. They're mine, I bought them with my money, and I don't want you to get rid of them."

"Now listen here, if you think I'm going to have a son living under my roof and carrying on like this, you've got another think coming."

"God, I knew you'd be like this if you ever found out. I knew you wouldn't understand. What exactly is so wrong about what I'm doing? They're just clothes, it's not like I'm hurting anyone."

"If you even have to ask that, this is even worse than I thought. For God's sake, I can't even look at you right now.")

Gerard wipes his eyes with the back of one hand, drawing in a deep, shaky breath. As bad as his father's anger had been, his mother's silence had almost been worse. She'd just stood there, arms folded tightly, but the look on her face...

She'd been the one to bring the argument to an end, telling his father to stop shouting before he woke the neighbors. Gerard had waited for Mikey to go back to sleep, calming him down with reassurances that felt like lies, and then crept out to sit at the top of the stairs, listening to his parents talking in the kitchen below.


("--need to figure out what we're going to do about this."

"I know what I'm going to do about it. Tomorrow every scrap of clothing in that closet that we didn't buy is going in the furnace, and if he tries to stop me, he'll get what's coming to him."

"Fine, and then what? He's been doing this under our noses long enough to buy all those things, you think he's just going to stop?"

"Oh, he'll stop. I'll make sure of that."

"What, with your fist? And what if that doesn't work? Look, I'm not saying we don't need to deal with this, but striking out in anger could just make the whole thing worse. You know how stubborn he can be."

"Then what?"

"I think we need to get him some help. Find a doctor or someone who can tell us why he's been doing this and how to stop it. We need to figure out what's wrong with him so we can fix it.")

Gerard had crouched at the top of the steps, willing himself not to make a sound. He'd wanted to rush downstairs and confront them, but nothing he could have said would have made a difference. That was what this was, to them--what he was, now. Something wrong. Something to be fixed.

That was when he felt sure he had to get out. He just hopes Mikey can understand, and forgive him.

A gust of wind rustles the trees around him and he shivers, wrapping his arms around himself. It's early spring, and still too cold to be comfortable outside this late, even in his heavy coat. At least it's been dry lately.

He can't stay here too long--the best thing he can do right now is keep moving--but he has to rest at least a little while. He curls up into a tight little ball, drawing his knees up and resting his head on his folded arms, and closes his eyes.





"You're on in five, Louise."

Gerard looks up, startled out of his thoughts, and then smiles faintly. "Thanks, Cherie."

He turns back to the mirror, pencil in hand, making tiny last-minute adjustments to his eyeliner. There's a little flutter of nerves in his stomach, which makes no sense, because tonight's performance is nothing new, nothing he hasn't done a hundred times before.

Across from him, Cherie takes her spot at the wide mirror, looking over at Gerard with faint concern. "You okay? You've seemed...I don't know, kind of distracted lately."

Gerard shakes his head. "Just...lost in thought, I guess." He looks down at the makeup table in front of him, sets down the pencil, picks up a powder brush. "You ever look back on your life and wonder how the hell you ended up where you did? Not in a bad way, just...when you were younger, you never would have expected things to turn out this way?"

"Every damn day, sweetheart," Cherie tells him, smiling wryly. There's a soft knock on the door, and she jerks her head toward it. "Go knock 'em dead."




The smells of cigarettes and cheap bootleg liquor greet him like old friends as he walks on stage. He gets a scattering of applause and a few whistles, grins and blows a kiss in the direction the latter came from, and curls one hand around the microphone as he steps up to it. He's singing a bunch of old standards tonight, songs he could perform in his sleep, which is good because he's still distracted, scanning the crowd. He doesn't like what he sees--Frank's usual table is empty, and either he's way in the back where Gerard can't see him, or he's not here at all.

Gerard makes himself focus on singing, putting Frank out of his thoughts for now. It could be no big deal--he could just be caught in traffic or stuck on a slow train--and in any case there's nothing Gerard can do while he's up on stage. He's still distracted and he knows he doesn't give his best performance, but he tries not to worry too much.

He's back in the dressing room afterward, fussing pointlessly with his hair, when there's a light rap on the door.

"Hey, ladies. Everyone decent in here?"

Gerard turns a little too quickly for it to look casual, and smiles in relief. Frank looks fine, at least, leaning against the doorway with his hat in one hand and a faintly apologetic look.

"Darling, I make it a point to never be decent," Cherie drawls from across the room, and Frank shoots her a grin as he walks over to Gerard.

"Hey," he says softly, bending to kiss Gerard with one hand on the back of his chair. "Sorry I'm late."

Gerard tilts his face up to be kissed, but then draws back to look at Frank, brow furrowed. "Where were you?"

Frank shrugs. "I got caught up with something. It's fine."

A month ago, Gerard might have been satisfied with just that. "Frank..."

"It's fine," Frank says again, firmly. He smiles again, reaching up to tuck Gerard's hair behind his ear. "Now, how about I take you out to make up for missing the show?"

Gerard returns the smile, reaching up to touch Frank's cheek. "I'm a little tired, actually." He kisses Frank again, then tilts his head to whisper, "So how about you make it up to me back at my place instead?"

Frank kisses the corner of his mouth, then stands up and finds Gerard's wrap, draping it around his shoulders. "I think that can be arranged."




Frank seems to take that bit about making it up to Gerard to heart--they're barely through the door before he's tugging Gerard into his arms and kissing him. Gerard twines his arms around Frank's neck, taking his hat off and tossing it carelessly in the general direction of the coat rack so he can run his hands through Frank's hair. Frank does the same thing with Gerard's wrap, his hand sliding over Gerard's shoulders and then pressing firmly against the center of his back while his mouth trails down Gerard's neck.

He turns them suddenly, backing Gerard up against the door while his hands slide down to Gerard's hips. "God, you're so fucking gorgeous," he says against Gerard's collarbone, and then pulls back and drops smoothly to his knees. Gerard sucks in a huge breath as Frank's hands slide up his legs, the fabric of the dress bunching around his wrists as he pushes it up, and then whimpers, one hand flying back to Frank's hair, as Frank leans right in and mouths at the line of Gerard's cock through his panties.

Two months and change since they got together, and the dresses and stockings and all the rest of it are still just as much of a turn-on for Frank as they were the first time. Gerard figured the novelty would fade after a while, but Frank loves it, loves running his hands over silky fabric and burying his face in Gerard's hair to smell his perfume, loves helping Gerard get dressed in the morning almost as much as he loves undressing him slowly at night. The last time Gerard was having this much mostly-clothed sex, he was still a teenage runaway sucking cock in dim back alleys.

Unsurprisingly, he finds he really, really prefers having his cock sucked in the comfort of his own apartment while wearing a gorgeous evening gown.

Frank braces his forearm across Gerard's hips, pressing him back against the door and holding the dress up at the same time. With his other hand, he undoes Gerard's garters with practiced ease, tugs the panties down, then moves back in and licks a stripe up the length of his cock.

"Jesus, Frankie," Gerard breathes, tightening his grip on Frank's hair as his hips rock forward. Frank spends a few more seconds teasing, then slides his mouth over Gerard's cock, taking him deep. Gerard moans, tipping his head back against the door. Frank doesn't let up for a second, curling his hand around the base of Gerard's cock, tracing the underside of the shaft with his tongue. When Gerard rocks forward again helplessly, Frank makes an encouraging sound, and Gerard slides his fingers through Frank's hair and thrusts into his mouth gently, his other hand splayed against the door to steady himself when his legs feel start to feel weak, thighs trembling.

Frank reaches his hand back behind Gerard's balls, fingers probing gently, and swallows around him, and that's it--Gerard lets out a short, sharp cry, curling forward over Frank, and comes hard. Frank pulls back part of the way, swallowing smoothly, and then sits back on his heels, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

"Jesus," Gerard says again, running his nails over Frank's scalp lightly. "I ought to think of things you need to make up to me more often."

Frank gets to his feet, backs Gerard against the door again with a hand on his waist. "That was just the first round," he says with a smirk. "We should probably try to make it to the bedroom for round two, though."

He leans in, kissing Gerard deeply. Gerard slips his tongue into Frank's mouth, tasting himself there, and puts one hand on his chest, pushing off the door. His panties are still pooled around his ankles, and he steps out of them carefully and leaves them where they are, starting on Frank's clothes as he backs him through the living room and into the narrow hallway. By the time they get to the bedroom, he's got Frank's jacket, tie, and belt off, all of them left strewn across the floor. They both kick off their shoes, and Gerard starts on Frank's shirt, leaning in for a kiss as he undoes the buttons. Frank curls a hand around to the small of Gerard's back and then skims his fingers up to find the zipper on his dress.

Gerard pushes Frank's suspenders off his shoulders with the shirt, gets his fly open and shoves his pants down, and then the back of Frank's knees hit the bed and he goes down with a little huff of breath as he hits the mattress. He moves his hands to Gerard's hips and tugs at the dress until it slides down, and Gerard steps free and stands between Frank's spread knees. He eases the straps of the chemise down his arms, letting it slip down and pool around his waist, and Frank pulls him a little closer, leaning in to kiss Gerard's stomach. Gerard slides his hands through Frank's hair, holding him in place, and lets out a little sigh. As much as Frank loves the clothes, loves seeing him all done up or disheveled and debauched, Gerard knows he loves this part, too, when it all comes off and leaves the secret self Gerard doesn't show to many people.

Gerard lets go of Frank to reach behind himself and unhook his padded bra, takes his jewelry off and leans across to drop it on the nightstand. Frank pushes the chemise the rest of the way down, trailing damp, open-mouthed kisses across Gerard's skin to the curve of his hipbone as he rolls his stockings down. Gerard touches his face, tilts Frank's chin up so he can lean down and kiss him, and when Frank scoots back on the bed and tugs at his hips, Gerard climbs up after him, straddling Frank's lap.

Frank rocks up against him, his hand on the small of Gerard's back. Gerard presses down, rolling his hips, and then Frank's biting back a curse and fumbling for the jar they keep in the nightstand. Gerard gasps at the press of his fingers, moving his hips in the same easy rhythm as Frank stretches him.

"I need you," Gerard whispers, rocking down onto Frank's fingers. "Frankie--"

He breaks off with a little moan as Frank twists his fingers and pulls them out. Frank fumbles for his own cock, lining himself up, and Gerard braces his hands on Frank's shoulders and starts to sink down. He goes slowly at first, then sucks in a breath and drops the rest of the way down in one quick motion.

"Fuck," Frank hisses, gripping Gerard's waist. His hips twitch upward a little, but he holds himself still, waiting for Gerard to move.

Gerard cups Frank's face in his hands, kissing him again and again, rolling his hips in tiny circles. Frank moves one hand around, splaying his fingers against the small of Gerard's back. His other hand trails up Gerard's stomach to his chest. He moves with Gerard, quick, shallow thrusts at first, then deeper, longer. Gerard arches his spine and lets his head fall back, steadied by Frank's hand on his back and his hands on Frank's shoulders.

Frank leans up to kiss Gerard's neck, trails his fingers along Gerard's collarbone and follows them with his mouth. Gerard flexes his thighs, bearing down on Frank's cock, and then Frank lets out a muffled shout and bites Gerard's shoulder and Gerard moans as he feels Frank come deep inside him.

Gerard slides his arms around Frank's neck and leans his forehead against Frank's, letting out a sigh. Frank wraps his arms around Gerard and holds him tight, and they stay like that for a little while, pressed together, Frank still inside Gerard.

"Fuck," Frank murmurs, pulling back to kiss Gerard. "You--"

Gerard reaches up to frame Frank's face with his hands, kissing him softly, lingering. "You," he whispers, and then pulls off gently, slipping off the bed and into the bathroom.

Frank goes into the bathroom as he comes out, and Gerard changes into a nightgown and gets back into bed. Frank joins him there a minute later, sliding his arm around Gerard's waist and kissing under his ear. Gerard rolls toward him, nuzzling his cheek against Frank's shoulder.

He almost doesn't say anything, it's so nice right now, but he knows it's going to keep bugging him if he doesn't ask. "Frank?"

"Mm?" Frank cranes his neck, looking down at Gerard.

"Where were you tonight?" Gerard asks him.

Frank looks away. "I told you, I got caught up with something," he says bluntly.

"What sort of something?" Gerard presses.

Frank pulls away from him and sits up, looking exasperated. "Gerard--"

"Frankie, you know I wouldn't care so much if it weren't obvious you don't want to tell me," Gerard points out.

Frank looks at him for a moment, then sighs and nods. "Yeah, I know."

Gerard reaches for his hand, waiting. Frank twines their fingers together, squeezing gently.

"Some guys had to go pay someone a visit," he says. "I drove."

"What sort of a visit?" Gerard asks warily.

"Didn't ask, don't want to know," Frank says shortly. Gerard looks at him uncertainly, and he shrugs. "Seriously, I stayed in the car." He raises one hand, stroking Gerard's jaw with the backs of his fingers. "You believe me, don't you?"

"Of course I do," Gerard says, leaning into the touch automatically. "I just...you know I worry."

"I know," Frank says, and leans over to kiss him softly. "And I'm sorry about tonight, really. Hey, what time do you have to be at work tomorrow?"

"Not 'til around nine," Gerard tells him. "Why?"

"How about I take you out for dinner?" Frank suggests. "It's been a while since we went out anywhere but Rouge, and I don't feel like that really counts considering you work there."

Gerard smiles. "Sounds nice. But you don't have to keep making it up to me, you know."

"Who says I'm still trying?" Frank counters. "Do I need a reason to take my best girl out for a nice meal?"

Gerard's smile widens, and he reaches up to pull Frank down for another kiss. "Oh, well, when you put it that way..."




When Gerard wakes up the next day, Frank's standing in front of the vanity mostly dressed, knotting his tie with quick, sure fingers. Gerard pushes himself up on one elbow and runs a hand through his hair, trying to smooth it down where it's sticking up in back. He's got a headache and the makeup he didn't bother to wash off last night is all gummed up around his eyes.

"What time is it?" he asks.

"Almost ten," Frank says, turning toward him. "I made coffee, but I've gotta get going--I need to meet with a couple of people, and I need to stop off at my place first."

Frank spends enough time at Gerard's apartment to have his own key and keep a change of clothes there, but he's resisted any suggestion of just moving in, and Gerard can count on one hand the times he's been to Frank's place rather than Frank coming to his. Gerard doesn't make a big deal out of it--they've gotten pretty serious pretty fast, so maybe it's good to keep some kind of buffer. And he has a feeling Frank has reasons for not wanting Gerard at his apartment, reasons that probably have to do with his business, and that's a touchy subject.

Frank walks over to the bed, leaning down for a kiss. "See you tonight?"

Gerard reaches up to touch Frank's cheek, kissing him softly. "You bet. I've got some errands to run, but I should be done by afternoon."

After Frank leaves, Gerard drags himself out of bed, finds his kimono and heads out to the kitchen. Two cups of coffee and a cigarette later, he's feeling vaguely human--human enough, anyway, to start the somewhat lengthy process of girding his loins.

When he was a kid, he never used to like spending a lot of time on grooming. It always seemed like a drag, as much of a chore as doing the dishes or cleaning the barn. When he started dressing up, he got used to spending more time on his appearance because, well, he had to. Over time, it's become a ritual he genuinely enjoys--taking the time and care it requires, transforming himself.

He runs a bath and lets himself soak for a while, then shaves his legs, towels off, puts his kimono back on and sits down at the vanity to do his hair. The finger-wave style he favors takes a while to do, working carefully through his hair with curling fluid and a comb. While he's doing that, he studies his face in the mirror and decides he'd better shave there, too. He's never been a very hairy guy, which makes this a lot easier, but even a little stubble in the wrong place is bad news.

The last step before he puts on his clothes, and his favorite one, is doing his makeup--a light daytime look for now, as opposed to the thick smoky eye and crimson lip he'll change to later. Then he gets dressed one layer at a time: lingerie, stockings, skirt, blouse, low-heeled shoes he can walk around in comfortably, scarf, gloves, coat, hat. By the time he's ready to go out, it's almost noon.

It's a pretty typical day of errands--pick some things up at the cleaner's, drop others off, stop at the drugstore for a few necessities, including a new pair of stockings to replace the ones that got a run in them last week, lunch at a deli counter because he doesn't think there's anything appetizing in the apartment, which probably means he should stop at the grocer's on his way home.

Before the grocer, he goes by the post office. It's been a few days since he checked his box here, and when he opens it up there's two things in there, which is about as full as it ever gets. The first is a postcard that, at a glance, seems to be from some sunny location that's probably a lot nicer than New York in early March. That's got to be from Grant, which means the envelope under it...yep, Gerard turns it over and sees Mikey's familiar handwriting. Gerard's hand shakes just the slightest bit as he picks up both the letter and the postcard, tucking them carefully into his handbag. He'll wait until he's home to read them.

He'd written to Mikey a few weeks after Christmas, when he knew he'd be back at school in Boston. You're never going to believe who showed up, he'd begun, and after writing about his unexpected reunion with Frank (omitting certain details like the fact that they'd gone straight from Gerard's dressing room to his bedroom), Gerard had launched into an awkward half-apology, half-justification for keeping Mikey at bay all these years.

I've spent so long thinking I had to keep my life here as separate as I possibly could from the life I used to have back at home, he'd written. Like they were two live wires that would explode if I let them touch. I'm starting to suspect I've been an idiot to include you and Frank in that.

I could have told you that much, Mikey had written in his reply, and Gerard could imagine the dry tone he would have said that in, but had trouble hearing it in his head with the voice of a grown man and not the boy Mikey had been when he left.

In his next letter, Gerard presented the same argument he'd given Frank--if their parents ever found out he and Mikey were still in contact, it'd be bad enough. If Mikey ever came to see him in New York and they found out, it'd be even worse.

But now, when Gerard gets home, brews a fortifying pot of coffee, and sits down at the table with the letter in front of him, he's not surprised to find that Mikey isn't having it.

You chose being true to yourself over them, don't I get to make the same choice? You left home so you could live the life you want--I'm still figuring out what the life I want is, but I know I want you to be part of it. If Mom and Dad have a problem with that, I'll deal with it.

Gerard doesn't have much of a counterargument there. Or rather, he does, but he knows Mikey would just dismiss it, tell him he's being stupid. Frank will do the same if Gerard shares it with him. They may be right--hell, they probably are--but that doesn't stop his stomach from churning and his hands from shaking a little more as he reads the rest of the letter.

Look, Gee--if you don't want to see me, for whatever reason, I wish you'd just tell me. Whatever it is, I'd rather know. But if it's really my relationship with Mom and Dad you're worried about, you have to let me make that choice for myself. I deserve that much, don't I?

He does. He deserves a lot more than that, starting with a better brother.

If any of this is getting through to you, I've got Easter break coming up at the beginning of April and I've already told Mom and Dad I'd rather stay in Boston for it. I can take the train to New York and back and they'll never have to know anything about it. If you want me to. Otherwise, please just be honest with me about why you don't.

He signs off the way he always does: I miss you.

Gerard sits with the letter in his hand for what seems like a long time, long enough that when he gets up to refill his coffee the pot's gone lukewarm. Gerard sips it anyway, sits back down at the table and picks up the postcard from Grant. It's short and sweet and it brings an unexpected grin to his face--Grant's hoping to be back in New York sometime that spring. He doesn't have dates yet, but he'll send Gerard a telegram when he does, or when he's back in a place he can send a telegram from, whichever comes first. Still smiling, Gerard takes the postcard into the living room and puts it in the box with Grant's other postcards and letters.

Grant would probably tell him he's being an idiot about Mikey, too.




Frank shows up a few hours later. He's in a good mood--Gerard can hear him whistling as he comes down the hall.

"Hey, you," Gerard says as he opens the door, smiling. "Good day?"

"Can't complain." Frank leans in for a kiss, tucking Gerard's hair behind his ear. "You?"

Gerard smiles wryly. "I'll tell you about it over dinner."

Frank raises an eyebrow, but doesn't press. "If you say so."

Frank likes to play the gentleman to an exaggerated degree when they go out, holding doors open and pulling chairs out for Gerard, and tonight is no exception. It makes Gerard feel a little ridiculous sometimes, because it's not like he needs or expects Frank to do that stuff for him. But if Frank wants to do it without being asked, it's nice--really nice--to be on the receiving end.

"So what's going on?" Frank asks once they've gotten a table and ordered. "Something happen today?"

"Yeah." Gerard toys with his silverware for a moment, then sets it down and laces his fingers together on the tabletop. "I got a letter from Mikey. He wants to come see us soon."

Frank reaches over, covering Gerard's hands with one of his own. "And?" he prompts gently.

Gerard lets out a breath, his shoulders sagging a little. "And I'm terrified, okay? I know you don't get it--"

Frank shrugs. "I really don't, baby. I'm trying to, but I just don't...it's Mikey. What are you so afraid of?"

Gerard looks down, pressing his lips together tightly. If there's anyone he should be able to talk this out with, it's Frank. Or maybe Grant, but Grant's on another continent right now.

"What if," he finally begins. "What if I let him come see me and he doesn't like what he sees?" He looks up to see Frank's reaction; Frank's brow is furrowed and he looks sympathetic, but he still doesn't look like he gets it. "This--" Gerard frees one hand to gesture at himself, the clothes, the makeup, "used to be something I'd do once in a while. Like putting on a Halloween costume. Not my life."

"But he knows you do it all the time now," Frank says. "And he's never had a problem with it, has he?"

"He knows from letters," Gerard counters. "Being here, seeing it, that's different. I'm not saying he's been telling me he's okay with it when he really isn't, I'm saying...what if he thinks he's okay with it, and it's only when he gets here that he realizes he's not?"

Frank pauses a moment, seeming to choose his words carefully. "Do you think that'd happen? I mean, do you really think he'd care more about what you're wearing than about being with you again?"

Gerard shrugs helplessly. "Logically, I know it probably wouldn't happen. Logically, I've told myself I'm being an idiot over and over. But..." he trails off, and Frank squeezes his hand gently.

"But what? Gee, I'm trying to understand this so I can help you. Tell me."

Gerard spots the waiter heading in their direction, which buys him a short reprieve. But even though he's hungry, when the waiter walks away he just pokes at his food for a few seconds before he puts his fork down and speaks up.

"It's like this--I lost my parents a long time ago. I don't regret leaving home and I'd do it again, but, well...sometimes it still hurts. I still miss them."

Frank nods, reaching to touch Gerard's hand again. "I get that."

"And Mikey...at first, I was afraid I'd lost him, too. I was afraid he'd hate me for leaving. Then we started writing each other, and he was still part of my life. At a distance, not as completely as he could be, but he's there. I can talk to him, he's not cut off from me the way Mom and Dad are. And if I see him again, yeah, he could be a more complete part of my life again. Or everything could get fouled up--and even knowing that most likely wouldn't happen, I can't help but be afraid it might. And if it did, I'd lose the last family member I have left."

Frank's quiet for a moment, reaching for his water glass and taking a sip. "No, you wouldn't," he says softly as he sets the glass down.

Gerard looks up, almost startled, and then smiles. He really, really wants to kiss Frank right now, but the table's a little too wide for that. He squeezes Frank's hand instead. "No. But still--if I lost Mikey, I don't know if I could deal with that. And keeping him at bay...it's turned into a way to stave that off. As long as our relationship is long-distance, I'm not so afraid of fucking it up." He sighs and looks off to the side, fighting the tears that want to well up in his eyes. "Except I'm a terrible sibling and a terrible person and if I lost him it would serve me right."

"Hey--" Frank gets up from his chair, kneeling next to Gerard's and touching his chin to turn Gerard's face to his. "Cut that out. You're not a terrible anything. But you're also not being fair to Mikey or yourself, and you both deserve better than this. Okay?"

Gerard looks at Frank, at his solemn, earnest face and the tie he wore because he knows Gerard likes it and the way he doesn't seem to care at all that people at other tables are starting to look at them. Gerard's eyes are still watery, but he smiles. "Okay."

"Good." Frank pulls out his pocket handkerchief and gives it to Gerard, leaning up to kiss his cheek. "I'm gonna go sit back down before the waiter thinks I'm proposing or something. Unless you want some free champagne, I happen to know the owner's got a nice stash in back."

Gerard laughs softly, pulling back to dab at his eyes with Frank's handkerchief. "Go on. The nice meal you wanted to take me out for's getting cold."

Frank returns to his chair, picking up his fork. "Just think it over, okay? I'd like to see him, too, y'know. You could save me a ticket to Boston."

"I'll think it over," Gerard promises.




They stick to neutral, pleasant topics for the rest of dinner, and Gerard's feeling pretty good as they leave the restaurant, tucking his hand into Frank's arm when he offers it. It's a mild night, cold but not windy or wet, and he can hear jazz music filtering out of a club somewhere. It's really nice, until he notices the tension in Frank's shoulders as they walk.

"Frankie?" Gerard asks softly.

"Hang on," Frank replies quickly. He moves so that Gerard's partly in front of him, one hand on Gerard's arm and another at the small of his back.

"What is it?" Gerard asks, his heart speeding up a little.

Frank doesn't answer, just steers Gerard around the next corner they come to. It's a wrong turn, out of their way, and when they get around the corner Frank stops, putting himself in front of Gerard and holding still.

A moment later, a man comes around the corner, tall, dressed in plain, unremarkable clothes with a fedora pulled low. He freezes when he sees them standing there.

"So you're following me now?" Frank demands, blunt and challenging. "And, no offense, not really doing a great job of it."

The man squares his shoulders, a calculating look on his face. Reassessing, adjusting. "Okay," he says steadily. "I underestimated you. You're a smart guy, Frank. All the more reason why you should talk to me."

Frank snorts. "You must not think I'm that smart, if you think flattery's gonna get you anywhere."

"Frank, what's--who is this guy?" Gerard interrupts.

The man's eyes shift to him, and he reaches up and takes his hat off, revealing hair that might be curly if it wasn't slicked down within an inch of its life. "My name's Ray Toro, ma'am. I'm a detective. And I'm trying to get your boyfriend to let me help him."

"Hey, don't talk to her," Frank says, inserting himself more firmly between Gerard and Toro. "You don't have anything to say to her, and I don't have anything to say to you. You want to help me, fuck off before someone sees me talking to you."

"I told you, I can offer you protection," Toro says. "I can vouch for every man in my unit--"

"Yeah?" Frank challenges. "How about the other units? The brass? The beat cops? Can you vouch for all of them?"

Toro sighs, shoving his hands in his pockets. "I don't have to keep asking, you know. I've got more than enough cause to take you downtown right now. Even if I didn't, who'd stop me?"

Gerard tenses, putting a hand on Frank's shoulder. It's been a long time since he had to run from a cop, and he's wearing completely the wrong shoes for it.

"You could do that," Frank replies calmly. "It doesn't mean I'll tell you anything--I can clam up real good when I've got a reason to, and there's nothing you can threaten me with that's worse than what'll happen if I talk. But if that's the way you want to do it, go ahead."

"Frank," Gerard hisses, but Toro looks conflicted. He's got an open, honest sort of face, and that's not doing him any favors right now.

The standoff holds for a few more seconds, and then Toro shakes his head, frowning. "Sooner or later, you're gonna realize you need help, Frank. I just hope when you do, it's not too late for me to give it."

"Save it," Frank says bluntly. He turns and puts his arm around Gerard again, steering him away. Gerard looks over his shoulder, but Toro isn't following them.

"What was that?" he asks in a low voice once they've turned another corner.

"What'd it look like?" Frank says dismissively.

Gerard stops short, tugging on Frank's arm. "Don't do that. How long have the cops been trying to get you to talk? How much does that guy know about you? About me?"

Frank turns to face Gerard, his expression serious, and raises a hand to brush Gerard's cheek. "Nobody knows very much about you. Why do you think we never go back to my place?" He starts walking again, steering them toward the nearest subway station. "I make sure I'm not being followed when I go to your place or Rouge, and as far as anyone I do business with knows--and if the cops know more than they do, I'll eat my hat--you're a pretty girl I take to dinner and shack up with once in a while. That's it."

"Okay." A little of the tension leaves Gerard's shoulders--if there's one thing he knows about Frank, it's how well he keeps secrets. "But how much does that cop know about you? How'd he find you?"

"He knows some of the places I do business," Frank tells him as they head down the stairs to the platform. "A week ago I made a drop-off in Brooklyn, and he came up to me at a newsstand a block away afterward. I doubt he's got enough to make a charge stick, but he's right, he could haul me in for questioning if he wanted to play it that way. Luckily for me, he doesn't."

"But he does want you to come in willingly and turn informant," Gerard confirms. That part of the conversation was pretty clear.

"Yeah," Frank says. "But I like not having a hit out on me, so."

Gerard looks over at him, studying his face as they wait for the train. Frank plays things close to the chest when it comes his business, does his best to make it sound like no big deal when he does talk to Gerard about it. Gerard doesn't want to know more than he needs to, but the longer they're together, the more he feels like anything that could lead to Frank getting hurt is something he needs to know about.

Frank smiles crookedly, covering Gerard's fingers where they're still wrapped around his arm. "Hey, don't worry. I'm on top of it. Right now I'm more worried about the pack of queens that'll have my head if I don't get you to work on time."

Gerard returns the smile, not fighting the change of subject. "Leave the queens to me, I can take care of them."




Frank doesn't stay over that night. For all his easy talk about being on top of things and no one knowing about Gerard, he seems spooked. Knowing that the reason Frank's been keeping distance between them is to protect Gerard is somehow touching and scary at the same time.

After Frank leaves, Gerard puts on his robe and scrubs off his makeup. He wants coffee, makes tea with honey instead (his throat's a little hoarse after performing tonight), and settles in an armchair by the living room window to think.

His exchange with Cherie last night keeps echoing back to him. Eight years ago, he could never have imagined the life he has now. He'd left home so he could live on his own terms, be true to himself, but as a desperate teenage runaway, he couldn't have imagined this: his own little space carved out in the city, more women's clothes in his closet than men's, a job that pays him to act out his Hollywood fantasies for a roomful of people who understand. He definitely couldn't have imagined that little Frankie Iero from back home would stumble back into his life as a bootlegger with a heart of gold and a thing for men in lingerie.

It's terrifying sometimes--the risks he takes every time he steps out of his apartment in a dress, the things Frank does and the people he does them with--but it's also exhilarating, and he's happier than he ever expected to be. Except with all those things he couldn't have imagined, he's missing the one thing he never imagined would be absent from his life: his brother. Letters aren't the same, no matter how much he tries to tell himself they are. And yes, the fear that it'll all go wrong somehow is still gnawing at him, but where would he be now if he hadn't been willing to take big risks for happiness before?

Gerard unfolds himself from the armchair, goes over to the little writing desk tucked in the opposite corner. He's got a letter to write.




A few hours later Gerard's on his feet again, walking alongside the road with his hands shoved in his pockets and his head down. Whenever a car comes along he stops to watch it pass, half-hoping they'll stop, half-tempted to hide in the underbrush again in case it's someone looking for him. So far they've all just sped past, not seeming to notice or care about him.

When one finally slows down, it's a big, fancy Packard, nicer than any car Gerard's ever seen outside of the movies. As it comes to a stop, the driver rolls the window down and leans out, looking at Gerard curiously. At a glance, Gerard puts him somewhere in his thirties, bald, with dark eyes and a nice suit.

"Where are you headed?" he asks, in a strange, thick accent Gerard can't place.

"New York City," Gerard says, a bit cautiously. He's wary of the idea of just getting in some stranger's car, but he doesn't exactly want to walk the whole way, either.

"You're in luck," the man tells him with a smile, jerking his head toward the passenger door. "Jump in."

Gerard lifts his suitcase, but he's still reluctant to move toward the car. "How do I know you're not some kind of crazy person or pervert or something?"

The man raises his eyebrows, looking amused rather than insulted. "Well...I could tell you I'm neither of those things, but would I admit to being either? In the former case I doubt I'd be self-aware enough, and in the latter it wouldn't really be in my best interest, would it?"

"I guess not," Gerard concedes, looking at him uncertainly.

"You've never done this before, have you, lad?" the man asks gently, and when Gerard just shrugs, he smiles again. "I'm afraid there's not much concrete assurance I can give you, so I won't bear you any ill will if you'd rather just keep walking. Nice, bracing weather for it."

Gerard snorts, then shrugs and walks around to the passenger side. "I've got a pocket knife in my coat. You try anything funny, I'm gonna do my best to mess you up," he says matter-of-factly as the man leans over to open the door. "I'm not saying I'll
succeed, but I'll try."

"I would expect nothing less," the man replies solemnly. He helps Gerard put his suitcase in the back, waits for him to settle in the passenger seat, then offers a hand. "I'm Grant."

"I'm Gerard." They shake hands, and then Grant turns back toward the wheel and starts the car again.

"Well, Gerard, we've got a long drive ahead, so make yourself comfortable," Grant says.

"Where are you from?" Gerard blurts out, and then feels himself blush. "Sorry, that was rude."

"It's fine," Grant says good-naturedly. "I'm from Scotland."

"Wow," Gerard says, looking over at him with interest. "I've never met anyone from--well, anywhere in Europe. Actually, I don't think I've ever met anyone from farther away than New York."

"You're from around here, then?" Grant asks, nodding at the surrounding countryside.

Gerard nods. He really hopes Grant doesn't keep asking about himself all the way to New York, but telling him this much seems harmless. "Yeah, back the other way a stretch."

He glances sidelong at Grant, who's got his eyes fixed on the road. Gerard's not an idiot--he knows he looks like an easy mark, and he realizes there's a chance that Grant's going to want something in return for his kindness. Maybe money, which Gerard's got some of in his coat pockets and more stashed in his suitcase. Maybe something else, in which case...he's been nice so far and he's nice looking, but Gerard only has a vague idea of what to expect, what he might ask for. It might not be bad. Or it might be very bad, and if it starts looking that way...well, Gerard's just going to have to make good on his threat.

Grant's head turns slightly, and Gerard drops his gaze quickly, not wanting to be caught staring. He can feel Grant's eyes on him for a few lingering moments, long enough to make him shift awkwardly in his seat.

"So," Grant says at length, breaking the silence amiably. "Any particular reason for heading to New York, or just because it's there?"

Gerard shrugs. "'Because it's there' seems like a good enough reason to me."

It's a pretty blatant non-answer, but Grant just smiles. "One of the best reasons I know to travel anyplace."

"What about you?" Gerard asks. As cagey as he is about answering Grant's questions, it doesn't really seem fair to ask too many of his own, but he can't help but be curious.

"I'm on my way home, actually," Grant tells him. "I've been doing some traveling in America, and I'm going to take a steamer back to the UK from New York."

"Neat," Gerard says. It sounds like a pretty big adventure, especially given that going to New York will be the biggest adventure he's ever taken. "Have you just been traveling for fun?"

Grant nods, and glances over again, flashing a broad smile. "As I said, one of the best reasons to travel anyplace is because it's there."




Even with his guard still up, after walking for hours last night Gerard dozes off in the passenger seat of the Packard. When he feels the car roll to a stop he wakes up, sitting up and looking around blearily. They're outside a small gas station, and the surrounding area doesn't look much like New York City.

"We've still got a ways to go," Grant says from the driver's seat. "But I for one could use a cup of coffee, and perhaps a sandwich. How about you?"

"Sure," Gerard says. He hasn't had anything to eat since dinner last night.

They get out of the car, and Grant disappears inside the little store while Gerard stretches and then stands by car awkwardly, looking around. There's a picnic table a few feet away, so he goes over and sits down, shoving his hands in his pockets. When Grant comes back and sets a steaming cup and a paper-wrapped sandwich on the table, Gerard smiles and pulls some change out of his pocket.

"Thanks," he says. "How much...?"

"Don't worry about it," Grant tells him, returning the smile.

Gerard shakes his head, holding his hand out. "No, come on, you're already doing me one huge favor, I don't need any others."

Grant puts his hand over Gerard's, gently closing Gerard's fingers around the coins and pushing them toward his chest. "Perhaps I enjoy doing favors for young men who seem as though they could use them."

Gerard darts a look up at Grant's face, trying to read his expression, but his easy smile and dark eyes don't give anything away. His fingers are warm against Gerard's, and Gerard looks down self-consciously, pulling his hand back. "Thank you," he murmurs.

Grant moves away, back toward the car, and Gerard unwraps his sandwich and eats it in silence, sitting curled in on himself with his shoulders hunched. After a few moments he looks over at Grant, studying his profile as he cleans the windshield. Grant seems to sense he's being watched and glances over, and Gerard looks away quickly, feeling his face heat up.

Wanting things he knows he's not supposed to want is nothing new for Gerard. It goes back way further than the first time he put on a skirt or stole his mom's lipstick. Other guys went to the movies and wished they could be the brave, handsome hero and win the heart of the beautiful heroine, and Gerard knew better than to ever let them know it was the other way around for him. He's just different, and he's used to dealing with it.

But this isn't like anything he's had to deal with before. He's not sitting alone in his room or the safe darkness of a movie theater where no one can tell what he's thinking. This is very real, and it could still turn out dangerous.

"Ready to get moving again?" Grant asks, and Gerard nods wordlessly, crumpling his sandwich wrapper into a tight ball.




The next time Gerard wakes up, it's from Grant shaking his shoulder. Gerard's been listing to one side, his head lolling against the window, and he startles awake, bumping his head against the cold glass.

"Ow," he mutters.

"Sorry," Grant says. "And sorry for waking you, but if this is your first time coming here, you shouldn't miss this."

"Wha--?" Gerard starts, confused, and then straightens up, breath catching, as he sees what's up ahead.

"Oh my god," he whispers, watching the city skyline get closer and closer. "Oh my god, I'm really doing this."

"So you are," Grant says, smiling gently.

When they get into the city, it's overwhelming, all noise and crowds and buildings looming so much taller and closer than what Gerard's used to. He keeps craning his neck and twisting in his seat to try and take in everything.

He has no idea what to do now, he realizes as they drive through the crowded streets. His whole plan involved getting here, without stopping to think it through because he might lose his nerve if he did. And now he's here and he has twenty bucks of saved-up pocket money to his name and no idea where to go or what to do.

"So," Grant says after a few minutes, glancing over at Gerard. "Where should I let you off?"

"Oh, uh--" Gerard shrugs. "Wherever. Doesn't matter."

Grant pauses at a stoplight, looking over again with a raised eyebrow. "Do you have a place to stay, Gerard?" he asks gently.

Gerard slouches in his seat a little, letting his hair fall into his eyes. "You don't need to worry about that."

"Perhaps not," Grant says. "But I'd be a bit reluctant to let a young man who's never been here before wander off into the wilds of New York City alone. And this may be presumptuous, but I've a hotel reservation, and it would be simple enough for someone to bring a cot up to the room for you to sleep on. We could say you're my nephew, perhaps."

Gerard bites his lip and looks over at Grant, considering. "You don't have to--you've done more than enough to help me already," he says, but it comes out sounding weak to his own ears.

"It's no trouble," Grant assures him. "Look, it's not really my business, but it seems like you could use a bit more help--at the very least a warm, safe place to sleep tonight--and it's really no trouble for me to provide you with that much. What do you say?"

Walking into the lobby of the Plaza Hotel is like walking into a dream. It's all white and gold, marble floors and crystal chandeliers, and Gerard knows he's staring but he can't stop. He's never stayed in a hotel at all before, let alone one like this.

Gripping his suitcase and rucksack with sweaty hands, he trails Grant to the front desk, stands there awkwardly while Grant has a low conversation with the clerk there. A few minutes later he's standing awkwardly in an elevator, and a few minutes after that he's standing awkwardly in the sitting area of a gorgeous hotel room while a bellboy sets up a cot and then leaves with a tip from Grant.

As the bellboy leaves, Grant looks over at Gerard, who's still got a death grip on his baggage.

"Make yourself at home," he says, nodding toward where his own bags are stowed in the corner. "There should be a room service menu around somewhere, if you'd like something to eat."

Gerard drops his things in the corner and turns back toward Grant, gathering his nerve. "Look, I don't really know how this works," he begins, "But I'd rather just be up-front about it, so...what do you want?"

Grant raises his eyebrows slightly. "...In what sense?"

Gerard folds his arms over his chest, his shoulders hunched slightly. "I mean what do you want me to do? Come on, you've done all this stuff to help me out, and there's not a whole lot I can do to repay you. I figured I was letting myself in for
something, just tell me what."

Grant looks at him calmly, his expression unreadable. "Suppose I told you I don't want any repayment from you?" he asks. "Would you believe me?"

"Right, so you picked me up on the side of the road, gave me a ride, bought me lunch and offered to let me spend the night in your hotel room, out of the goodness of your heart with no ulterior motive." Gerard looks straight at him, flat and direct, and raises his own eyebrows. "Just because I grew up on a farm doesn't mean I'm
completely naive."

"Of course you aren't," Grant says with a wry smile. He thinks for a moment, then gestures to Gerard. "Come here."

Gerard's mouth goes dry, but he did just ask what Grant wanted him to do. He swallows hard, straightens his shoulders, and walks closer. Grant takes hold of his shoulders...and steers him to sit down in one of the room's plush armchairs, then backs off, leaning against the arm of the sofa with his arms folded across his chest.

"To make sure we understand each other, at the risk of being indelicate--you are talking about sex?" he asks.

Of all the things Gerard might have expected, a direct question like that wasn't one of them. His limited experience mostly involves a variety of creative ways to talk about sex without actually saying you're talking about sex. "Well...yeah," he answers.

"I thought so," Grant says, nodding. "And if you think you've been detecting certain signs of interest on my part, you're right, but it's not quite what you think."

"What is it, then?" Gerard asks warily.

"Well, to start, I can't blame you for your skepticism, but sometimes people are willing to do favors for strangers with no ulterior motive," Grant starts. "For another, I'd say you're about...seventeen? Eighteen?"

"Seventeen," Gerard says.

"And for the record, I think you're a very handsome young man, but I'm not in the habit of taking advantage of people half my age in vulnerable situations," Grant goes on. "And, finally, you're not the only one who thinks they've been detecting certain signs. I could be wrong--you could just be someone who understands that there are people like myself in the world, without being one of them. But I'm not wrong, am I?"

Gerard looks at him defiantly for a moment, afraid to confirm it even with the confirmation Grant just gave him, and then shakes his head.

"Right. So, we've established that we're similar. You're very young, so I don't know if you have any experience to speak of. I do, and not all of it's pleasant to remember. I don't know if you've ever had a conversation like this before, or had a friend that you knew was like you--like us. I have, and if there's one thing I've learned over the years it's that there are precious few people in the world who'll help or support us if we don't help each other."

Gerard watches Grant as he speaks, eyes wide, lips parted slightly in surprise. He definitely wasn't expecting this.

"So suppose you were me," Grant says. "Someone who feels the same as you do, but older, more experienced. And you pick up a young man on the side of the road, who's traveling from the country to a big city and seems reluctant to discuss why, who you start to pick up certain signs from, and who seems like he's very much in need of someone's help and support. How much aid would you offer him, and what would you ask in return for it?"

He leans over and puts a gentle hand on Gerard's shoulder, looking at him with an open, sincere expression.

"I don't want any kind of repayment from you, Gerard," he says. "
Any kind." Smiling, he adds, "But I would like it if you'd let me buy you dinner."

They order room service, another first for Gerard. The food comes on a wheeled cart under round silver lids and everything, and all of it, from the food itself to the plates and silverware, is by far the fanciest meal Gerard's ever had. He feels like he's in a movie.

"I'm afraid I can't offer you more than one night's hospitality," Grant tells him between bites. "The ship I'm taking back home leaves tomorrow."

Gerard smiles. "Hey, I was expecting to get dropped off on the first available street corner, find a hostel somewhere, and probably eat table scraps," he says. "Believe me, I'm just grateful for everything you've done so far, I'm not expecting any more."

"Well, as long as I'm still here, perhaps there's somewhat more I can do," Grant says.

"What do you mean?" Gerard asks.

Grant sets his plate down on the coffee table and sits back on the couch, looking at Gerard thoughtfully. "You don't have to tell me anything you don't want to, but I can't help but wonder what brought you to this. And whatever you are willing to tell me, I promise I'll try my best to understand, and give you whatever advice I can."

Gerard hesitates, lips pressed together tightly. Just the idea of being able to talk to someone about what happened, not keep it bottled up inside, is incredible, but the words stick in his throat.

"I can take a guess at it," Grant says after a moment. "Family trouble?"

Gerard nods, still not daring to actually speak.

"What kind?" Grant presses.

"The kind where my dad caught me wearing stockings and lipstick." It just breaks out of Gerard, and he raises his eyes to meet Grant's defiantly, jaw clenched. It's the first time he's ever said anything about it to anyone who didn't see him dressed up first.

Grant's eyebrows go up, and he nods. "Well," he says matter-of-factly. "That would do it."

That's it--that's his whole reaction. Not shock and disgust like Gerard's parents, not even friendly surprise like Frank. Grant just takes it in stride, something no one but Mikey has ever done, and Gerard feels years of tension suddenly loosen in his shoulders and neck. He could kiss Grant right now, he thinks.

And then he drops his gaze again, biting his lip, because yeah, actually, he could, but Grant already nixed that idea.

He sets his plate down and settles back in his chair, drawing his legs up. "It's partly my own fault for getting careless, I guess," he says. "I used to just do it when I knew they'd be out of the house for a while, but then I started doing it sometimes when they were asleep. Only this time my dad wasn't as asleep as I thought." He sighs, shaking his head. "The thing is, I
knew it was stupid, I knew it was a risk--"

"But you wanted to do it more than you cared about the risk," Grant finishes for him. "I've done more than a few things with that philosophy myself."

Gerard looks at him speculatively. "Have you ever...?"

"Worn women's clothing?" Grant nods, smiling. "A few times, yes. More as an experiment than something I think I'd make a habit of, but I understand the appeal."

"Oh my god," Gerard says, equally surprised and delighted. "I mean, I knew I wasn't the first guy to ever do it, but I've never met anyone else who has."

"Visit the right places in Greenwich Village and you'll meet a lot more, trust me," Grant tells him.

"Oh my god, I am
never leaving this city," Gerard declares.

Grant laughs softly. "It's certainly not the worst place for a boy like you to run away to," he says. "Though there are parts of it I wouldn't wear a dress in. You want to make some friends in the Village, they'll give you the lay of the land."

Gerard nods. "I guess I'll have to."

"So, do you have a plan?" Grant asks. "I'd hate to leave tomorrow thinking I've just left you adrift here."

Gerard shrugs. "The plan was getting here. I guess tomorrow I'll start looking for a job. Hopefully something better than selling myself on street corners."

Grant's expression turns serious. "You shouldn't joke about that."

Gerard ducks his head, tucking his hair behind his ear. "I'm not really joking," he says quietly. "If that's what I have to do to get by here, I'll do it."

"You'd rather do that than go home?" Grant asks softly.

Gerard looks up, meeting his eyes. "They were talking about sending me somewhere to get
fixed," he says flatly. "I'll do anything before I go back there."

Grant looks at him solemnly for a moment, then leans forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. "Then tell me what I can do to help you."

"Besides everything you've done already?" Gerard asks with a wry smile. "Just...this. Tell me stuff. What else you know about the city, or how I can find other people like us...just keep talking."

Grant nods, smiling. "I can do that."


Part Two
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