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[personal profile] wordslinging
Title: Measured Against the Regrets
Bands/Pairings: My Chemical Romance, Frank/Gerard
Rating: R
Word count: 18,735
Warnings: Mentions of drug and alcohol abuse

Summary: AU where the band never happened and Gerard quit his job at Cartoon Network to paint instead. After hitting rock bottom and going to rehab, he's back at home, struggling with a vicious creative block and trying to figure out his next move. When he reconnects with Frank at a Leathermouth show, the attraction is instant. Frank inspires Gerard more than anyone or anything has in a long time, but it's up to Gerard to turn that inspiration into a second chance.

Author notes: Written for the [profile] bandomreversebb challenge, inspired by this amazing mix by [profile] spuzz. The mix was great to work with--it inspired me right away, and I hope the fic does it justice! Many thanks to [personal profile] anoneknewmoose and [personal profile] tuesdaysgone for their awesome and speedy betas.

Mikey’s been saying he thinks Gerard would be into this band for a while now, but they’ve been playing bars and clubs, places Gerard still doesn’t trust himself and Mikey knows better than to invite him. This time they’re at an outdoor festival, which seems like relatively safe territory, so Gerard finally lets Mikey pry him off the couch. He even takes a brief shower and runs a comb through his hair before leaving the house.

They mill around for a little while before Leathermouth starts playing, and it feels a lot like old times, just hanging out the way they used to. Except if it were old times they'd probably be passing a flask back and forth. Now, they're both clutching Coke Zeroes, and whenever Gerard gets a whiff of booze or pot from someone else he reaches into his pocket and touches his chip.

Mikey checks the time on his phone and jerks his head toward the stage and they move up, getting closer while the band members file out and take their places. When the music starts, fast and loud and angry, it grabs Gerard's attention right away . A little raw, but what the band lacks in polish they make up for in sheer energy, especially the singer, a short, dark-haired guy who looks familiar.

"That's Frank," Mikey says, nodding toward him.

Gerard remembers Frank Iero vaguely from the old days--that is, the portion of the old days when he wasn't too drunk or high to remember anyone. The Frank he remembers was improbably pretty despite a variety of stupid hairstyles and always brimming over with energy and attitude.

This Frank doesn't look like he's aged a day, but he has changed some. The piercings Gerard remembers are gone, he’s got more tattoos, and his hair's a uniform dark brown, hanging carelessly around his face and just brushing his shoulders. He still has the energy and attitude, though, screaming into the mic and throwing himself around the stage so fiercely it's a wonder he doesn't break something. And he might be even more ridiculously good-looking now that Gerard's sober and can really appreciate it.

After the set, Mikey twitches Gerard’s sleeve and leads him over to the barrier. Because it’s Mikey and he knows everyone, a few words get them backstage. The band members are standing in a loose huddle, talking excitedly amongst themselves, but when Frank looks up and catches sight of Mikey, he grins and heads their way.

“Hey, glad you made it,” he says, enveloping Mikey in a hug.

When Frank pulls back he glances at Gerard with a curious look, and Mikey says, “This is my brother Gerard, you guys met a couple of times?”

A look Gerard can’t decipher flits over Frank’s face before he grins and says, “Yeah, good to see you again, dude,” and goes in for a hug with Gerard as well.

Gerard’s a little startled; he brings his arms up a little, which could either be going with the hug or warding Frank off, and he’s not totally sure which one he wants to do, so he just sort of stands there and lets himself be hugged. Frank’s surprisingly strong for how small he is, solid and compact, and his t-shirt is soaked through with sweat and he’s really, really warm, and maybe it’s kind of weird for Gerard to be taking note of all this but he doesn’t get hugged a lot these days.

"Good to see you," he mumbles, and steps back as soon as Frank lets go.

"Come on, come meet the guys," Frank says, and leads them back over to the rest of the band.

Given that Gerard's barely seen anyone but Mikey and his parents since he moved back home, his social skills are more than a little rusty. While everyone else talks, he stands there with his hands in the pockets of his hoodie, nodding and laughing when everyone else does. Frankly, he's pretty satisfied with doing that much. Baby steps.

"So, hey, we were gonna go get some food," Rob, the lead guitarist, says eventually. "You guys want to come?"

They end up at a diner, crammed into a big corner booth. It's easier to be the guy who isn't talking much when there are breakfast foods to be consumed. Gerard ends up between Mikey and Frank, with Frank at the outside edge of the booth, which means he has to tap Frank's shoulder to get out of the booth to go smoke.

"Oh, sure," Frank says, sliding out. "Mind if I come with?"

Outside, they shuffle a respectable distance from the door and lean against the side of the building, smoking quietly. It’s casual, but there’s something awkward in the air, and Gerard keeps thinking about they way Frank looked at him when Mikey said his name.

“Okay, I’m not sure if this is going to make things less awkward or more, but if I don’t ask I’m just going to be wondering,” he finally says. “So...what do you know about me?”

Frank looks at him speculatively for a moment, then nods. “Okay. I know you were in rehab. I know Mikey was really, really worried about you when went in, and I know he says you’re doing better now.”

“I am,” Gerard says. “I mean, I’m back in my parents’ basement, I don’t have a job and I hardly ever leave the house except to buy cigarettes and Red Bull, but. Living at home's the best thing for me right now, and I’ve been out of rehab for two months and I’m still clean, so...yeah, I’m doing better.”

Frank rubs the back of his neck with one hand. “If I say ‘good for you’ or ‘congratulations’ or whatever, is it gonna sound, like, condescending?”

Gerard gives a soft laugh and shakes his head. “No, it’s cool.”

“Okay then,” Frank says, and holds up a fist. “Good for you.”

Gerard looks at him for a second, smiles crookedly, and raises his own fist, bumping Frank’s gently. “Thanks.”

They lapse back into silence after that, but it feels easier now, and when they finish their cigarettes they head back into the diner side-by-side and settle back into the booth comfortably.

They don't stay out all that late, but Gerard still feels exhausted when Mikey drops him off back at the house. Apparently even with people he gets along with, hanging out for hours after being a hermit for almost two months is going to wear him out.

He toes off his shoes and sinks down on the edge of his bed, letting out a sigh. After a moment, he glances over into the corner where all his art supplies are piled. They've been sitting there undisturbed since he moved back in, silently judging him. Sometimes he thinks about moving them to the garage, where at least he wouldn't have to see them all the time, but it feels like that would be admitting some sort of defeat.

Gerard stares at the pile--the plastic shelving unit that holds his paints and brushes, the shoe boxes full of pencils and pens, the stacks of sketchbooks, the crates holding unused canvases. He stares at it all, and it all sits there, silent and unmoving, as a pile of art supplies is wont to do.

"Fuck it," he mutters, pushing himself off the bed and stalking over to the corner. He grabs a sketchbook and a pencil, stalks back to the bed and sits down again. He flips open the sketchbook, sets it on his lap, and sits there, pencil hovering over the paper.

He's thinking about Frank, about watching him onstage tonight. But he doesn't want to draw Frank, not really. He wants to draw the way that watching Frank made him feel.

Gerard stays like that for a few minutes, willing himself to just put pencil to paper and do something, anything, and then he drops the pencil and buries his face in his hands. He sort of wants to cry--at least, this seems like the kind of thing he should be crying about, but his eyes are dry, because apparently he can’t even suffer creative death properly.

He finally admits to himself that nothing’s going to happen tonight, anyway, and reaches for the remote. But instead of putting the sketchbook back in the corner, he leaves it lying by the foot of his bed, in easy reach. Just in case.

He sees Frank again about a week later. Gerard's at home, not drawing some more, when he hears footsteps coming down the basement steps. He figures it's Mikey or his mom or dad, because it's not like anyone else ever comes down to the basement, so he doesn't worry about the fact that he's wearing sweatpants and hasn't showered in two days, just calls "Yeah?" when there's a rap on the door.

The door opens and Frank sticks his head through. "Hey! How's it going?"

"Uh," Gerard says, caught off-guard. Part of his brain is going Intruder in the Batcave! and part is going Cute boy! and he should probably say something besides "uh" but he doesn't and now he's not just an unshowered basement dweller, he's an awkward inarticulate one. Great.

Mikey appears in the doorway over Frank's shoulder. "Hey. We're raiding your DVDs."

"Mikey says there's a bunch of good ones you wouldn't let him take when he moved out," Frank says.

"Perks of being the older brother," Gerard replies. Frank's still hovering in the doorway, possibly because Gerard's still sitting with his shoulders hunched and radiating hermit vibes. He tells himself to relax, setting his laptop aside and getting up. "Come on in."

Mikey and Frank head over to Gerard's DVD shelves to pick some things out, and Gerard hovers nearby quietly approving of Frank's taste. Apparently it's mutual, because Frank glances over his shoulder and grins at him.

"Dude, you've got an awesome movie collection."

Gerard smiles at him. "Thanks."

Mikey glances over at them. "So, we're gonna go watch these at my place, maybe get some pizza," he says casually. "You want to come along?"

There is, of course, a part of Gerard that just wants to be left alone with his sweatpants and the Internet. But that's what he did last night, and the night before, and barring any interruption will probably be what he does tomorrow night.

"Give me a minute to put on real pants and I'm in," he says.

Gerard and Frank both end up crashing at Mikey's apartment that night, and they all walk to a place a few blocks over for breakfast early the next morning before Frank has to work. Gerard's in his typical morning state of hating everything, hiding behind a pair of sunglasses borrowed from Mikey as they slide into the booth together. Frank sits down on the other side of the table, looks over at Gerard and Mikey, and giggles.

"What?" Gerard demands, and then instantly regrets his snappish tone. He seriously shouldn't be allowed to interact with people when he's undercaffeinated.

"Nothing, just...you two." Frank gestures at them, and Gerard glances sidelong at Mikey, who's also wearing giant sunglasses, hunched over, and scowling at the world. "Guess we'd better get some coffee over here quick."

"All the coffee," Mikey agrees emphatically.

Frank signals to a waitress, looking over at Gerard with a little smirk. "Care and Feeding of Ways 101," he says, and in spite of the fact that he still hasn't had a sip of coffee, Gerard smiles back.

When they're done eating, Frank asks Gerard, "So, want me to drop you off on my way home?"

"Is it on your way?" Gerard asks.

Frank shrugs. "Not exactly, but it's not too far out."

"If you're sure you don't mind..." Gerard says.

"Nah, it's no trouble," Frank assures him. "My car's kind of shitty, though, fair warning."

Frank's car is old and makes an ominous rattly noise, but it's also really clean, so as far as Gerard's concerned it's less shitty than his own last car.

"So, how are things going with the band?" Gerard asks as they drive.

"Pretty good!" Frank tells him. "Great, actually, we're gonna put out a CD as soon as we're done mixing it."

"Really? Dude, that's awesome!" Gerard says.

"Yeah, we're all pretty psyched about it," Frank says enthusiastically. "The other guys put out some demos before I joined--I got into it when they lost their first singer--but this is gonna be the first full album. And we're hopefully gonna tour early next year--just the East Coast, probably, but if it works out it'll be a pretty big deal for us, so it'll be great to have something to sell at the shows."

Gerard smiles. "That's seriously great, man, congratulations."

"Thanks," Frank says, grinning at him.

Gerard looks out the window, lapsing into silence for a few moments. "Music's pretty much always what you've wanted to do, right?" he asks. "I mean, I know you've been in bands as long as Mikey's known you."

Frank nods. "Pretty much. Well, for a while it was that or doing effects for monster movies, but that's all CGI now and I suck at computer stuff. Why?"

"Just...thinking about stuff," Gerard says. "Mikey and I used to always used to talk about starting a band, but we never got much further than coming up with potential names. We had some great ones, though."

"Dude, I know, if Leathermouth hadn't already had a name when I joined I would've made Mikey give me one."

"And then I got more into drawing and painting and went to art school, and the whole band thing kind of fell by the wayside," Gerard finishes. "I think it's awesome that you actually stuck with it."

"But what you did is really cool, too," Frank tells him. "I mean, you got an actual degree in art."

Gerard snorts. "Yeah, and I've done such an awesome job with it."

Frank doesn't have anything to say to that at first, and Gerard looks out the window again. Great, now he made it awkward.

"Yeah, well, I'm a dropout with no backup plan and I still have a day job at the mall, so it's not like I'm living some glamorous rock star life," Frank says eventually.

He sounds like he's trying to make Gerard feel better, and Gerard appreciates it, but it doesn't help much.

"Where do you work?" he asks, trying for a subject change.

"Guitar World," Frank says. "It's retail hell, but at least it's sort of music-related. And I can make time for the band, so it could be worse, y'know?"

Gerard nods. "I guess I should start looking for something soon. My parents haven't said anything yet, but I don't want to freeload for too long."

"There's a comic book store across from Guitar World that I think has an opening," Frank says, and glances over at Gerard with a smirk. "We could be mall buddies."

"That...probably wouldn't be too bad, actually," Gerard replies, thinking about it. "I've worked in a comic store before, I could do it again."

"Really? I can grab you an application if you want," Frank offers.

Gerard smiles. "Yeah, why not? Thanks."

He thinks about it some more at home, while he does laundry and runs the dishwasher (as long as he's freeloading, he's at least going to do what he can around the house). He can't help but be kind of bummed--living with his parents and thinking about getting a job at the mall is so far from where he wanted to be at this point in his life. It's infinitely better than where he was a few months ago, there's no denying that, but he's still ambivalent about it.

He brings it up to Mikey, the next time they hang out.

"I think it'd be a good move," Mikey says. "And you know you'd be awesome at it."

"Yeah, I know," Gerard says. "It's just..."

"I know it's not where you want to be, or thought you'd be," Mikey says gently. "It's not where I thought you'd be, either."

"But it's where I am," Gerard says.


"And I can't undo any of the stuff that got me here, so I might as well move on with my life and try to make the best of it," Gerard goes on.

"Yep," Mikey says again, nodding.

"So why is that so goddamn hard?" Gerard asks.

Mikey shrugs, looking over at him sympathetically. "Because what you went through really sucks and you still kind of resent the whole world for it, and even though you can't undo it, accepting that it happened and moving on feels like giving in somehow?"

"...Yeah, there's definitely some of that going on," Gerard agrees. "Plus I'm also afraid that if I try I'm just going to fuck it all up again. Because I'm a fuckup."

Mikey thwaps him lightly in the back of the head. "You're not a fuckup. You may be kind of an idiot sometimes, but you're also the most brilliant person I know. And probably one of the strongest."

Gerard smiles wryly, slinging an arm around Mikey's shoulders. "You're not exactly unbiased. But thanks."

"I mean it," Mikey says, throwing his arm around Gerard as well. "If I'd gone through what you did, I'm not sure I would've made it."

"Of course you would have," Gerard tells him at once. "We're Ways, we're too goddamn stubborn not to make it. Life tries to fuck with us, we fight back even harder out of sheer spite."

"Exactly," Mikey says. "Which is why you're gonna go get that comic store job and be fucking awesome at it."

He gets the application from Frank the next time they see each other, fills it out and drops it off, and waits to see if this goes anywhere. The waiting game sucks, but he pretty much just does what he's been doing--bumming around at home, hanging out with Mikey and sometimes Frank, going to meetings when he thinks he needs to.

When Frank invites him to a Halloween party, he's not sure how that's going to go--house parties mean free booze all over the place, and he's still been avoiding situations like that. But it's Frank's birthday, too, and Gerard doesn't want to miss that.

By the time he makes up his mind to go, he doesn't have much time to put together a costume, but he's got a lot of black clothing and makeup and it's easy enough to find a pair of adhesive fangs. No points for originality, but he knows he makes a pretty good vampire.

Mikey picks him up and they head over to Frank's together. It's pretty crowded when they get there, and Mikey instantly gets pulled into a conversation. Gerard can't find Frank at first, but he says hi to a few other people he knows and tries to act like he's not totally out of practice at being sober at parties.

“Hey!” Gerard looks over, relieved at the familiar voice, and Frank is there, grinning at him from behind some pretty impressive zombie makeup. “You made it!”

"Yep." Gerard smiles as Frank pulls him into a quick hug, and spreads his arms when he steps back. “I know it’s not really that great of a costume...”

“Nah, dude, you look great!” Frank tells him earnestly. “Here, you want something to drink?”

He leads Gerard over to the drinks table, and Gerard fills a red plastic cup with ice and soda and steadily avoids looking at the row of liquor bottles a short distance away.

"I'm glad you came out tonight," Frank says, smiling at Gerard as he refills his own drink.

Gerard blushes, glad he's got a ton of white makeup on. "Are you kidding? I wouldn't have missed this."

They move away from the drinks table and find Mikey, standing around with him for a few minutes, until Frank sees someone else come in.

"Okay, I gotta go be hosty some more," he says, touching Gerard's arm lightly as he moves past. "I'll catch up with you guys later."

Gerard watches him go, then glances over to find Mikey watching him.

“He is bi, you know,” Mikey says calmly. “And single.”

“What?” Gerard asks, more as an automatic defensive maneuver than anything. Of course Mikey can tell he’s into Frank.

Mikey just gives him a look like really? Are we gonna do it this way?, and Gerard sighs, dropping his gaze to the cup in his hand.

“It’s not like I have a great track record,” he mutters. “You really want Frank to be my next ex?”

“You have a bad track record because you kept falling for people who kind of sucked,” Mikey informs him matter-of-factly. “Frank doesn’t suck.”

“That’s giving me way too much credit and you know it,” Gerard says, and takes a morose sip of his drink. “I’m a shitty boyfriend, and I have accepted that as my fate and made a sacred vow to stop inflicting my shitty boyfriendness on people.”

Mikey rolls his eyes. “You were a shitty boyfriend. You don’t know what kind you’d be now.” He shrugs. “And if you really don’t want to go for it, fine, I’m not gonna play matchmaker or anything. But it's obvious how much you like him, and I think you’d be good together.”

Gerard makes a neutral sound, briefly scouting the room for where Frank is now and watching for a few seconds when he finds him.

“I guess if you still want to jump a guy’s bones when he’s made up like a corpse it means you’re pretty into him, huh?” he asks after a minute.

Mikey reaches out and pats his shoulder. “Like I said. Think about it.”

When the manager of Galaxy Comics calls a few days later, Gerard gets startled out of an afternoon nap. He gropes for the phone and answers groggily, then flails awake when he realizes who it is.

The manager's a woman, which surprises Gerard a little. They set up an interview, and the next day Gerard makes himself presentable-but-not-overdressed and goes in. Anna, the manager, has a Batman sleeve and a hot-pink streak in her hair. Gerard likes her immediately.

"Your resume's got some impressive stuff on it--it's not every day we get an applicant who interned at DC," she tells him, glancing over his application. "But it looks like that's the end of your relevant work experience, and it was years ago."

Gerard nods. "I was originally hoping to find work in the comics industry as an artist, but I didn't find many opportunities there," he says, "So as you can see, I moved on to other areas. But comics never stopped being important to me--I've always been an avid reader, and I could pretty much talk about them forever, if you let me."

Anna smiles. "Your enthusiasm is obvious. But can I ask what has you looking for a job like this now?"

"Frankly? My art career's hit a couple of pretty big roadblocks," Gerard tells her. "Working with comics again, whatever way I can, would be a huge step up from where I've been lately. Give me a shot, and I'll do the job the best I can."

Anna studies his face for a moment, then nods. "I think you might be a good fit here. Anything else I should know?"

Gerard takes a deep breath, then nods. "I'm not sure what telling you this is gonna do for my chances, but I'd rather be up-front about it. I used to have a drinking problem. Which led to a pill problem. I went to rehab for it, I've been clean and sober for four months and two weeks, and I go to meetings and check in with my sponsor regularly."

Anna looks at him steadily, not visibly shaken at all. "Well. I appreciate your honesty."

"I just...don't feel like that's something I should hide from you," Gerard tells her. "So, did I just lose the job?"

"No," Anna says at once, shaking her head. "You don't have it yet, either--I've got some other people to interview and I need to think about what you've told me--but you haven't lost it."

"All right," Gerard says, smiling in relief. "Thank you."

After they finish up, Gerard walks over from Galaxy Comics to Guitar World. He knows Frank's working today, and he promised he'd stop by if he got an interview.

Frank's ringing someone up at the register. He catches sight of Gerard and grins; Gerard motions toward the food court, Frank nods and taps his watch, and Gerard gives him a thumbs-up and goes over to a nearby bench to wait. Frank finishes with his customer, exchanges a few quick words with a coworker, and then comes out.

"I've got fifteen minutes and I want a pretzel," he says. "How'd it go?"

"I think it actually went okay," Gerard says as he stands and they start walking. "I mean, I was pretty terrified, but I didn't forget how to talk and Anna didn't laugh in my face and tell me to get out."

"Sounds okay to me," Frank agrees. "It'll be great if you get it, Anna's awesome."

They get pretzels and drinks and snag a table to occupy for the rest of Frank's break.

"So, hey, I wanted to tell you," Frank begins as they sit. "Leathermouth finished our album and we're having a release party Friday. I'd really, really like it if you could be there, but I understand if you can't."

"Why--oh, it's at a bar, huh," Gerard says.

Frank nods. "Like I said, no pressure."

Gerard thinks about it for a few moments. He's been in situations where other people were drinking around him a few times now, and it's been a little rough, but he's dealt with it okay. Actually going into a bar is a step he hasn't taken yet, and not something he'd do without a pretty good reason. But...Frank. Frank looking at him all hopeful and concerned and saying he really, really wants Gerard to be there.

"I'll think about it," he says, smiling.

Mikey's been roped into helping with merch, so he's cramming into Leathermouth's van to get to the venue. Gerard could try to figure out his own way there, but he figures he's kind of a ready-made designated driver, so why not offer? The van's a little crowded with the whole band plus him and Mikey plus boxes of CDs and t-shirts, but they make it there with no mishaps, and Gerard and Mikey take up their station at the merch table.

Even for Frank, Gerard's not sure he could do this if Mikey weren't with him. Mikey keeps him distracted with conversation before Leathermouth goes on, goes up to the bar for more soda so Gerard doesn't have to, and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with him in quiet solidarity during the show.

Gerard does best when the band's playing. He chain-smokes and focuses on the stage, on the music, on Frank. The band's fucking on tonight, even better than when Gerard first saw them, giving it their all. Everything else fades away somewhat, and for a while it doesn't matter where he is. It's after the set that things get hairy. With no more music to focus on and a lot of people pushing their way toward the bar or crowding around the merch table, the whole situation suddenly feels a lot more chaotic and harsh.

The band comes out from backstage after a while and heads for the merch table. Frank's in full-on post-show high mode, and his grin as he approaches makes all Gerard's discomfort seem worth it. Frank goes in for one of his enthusiastic, sweaty post-show hugs, and Gerard hugs him back tightly.

"That was a fucking awesome set," Gerard tells him in a low voice.

"I'm really glad you were here to see it," Frank replies, squeezing Gerard tight before he steps back. Yep. Worth it.

He'd like to just stick by Frank's side, but he knows he can't monopolize him--there are fans to be greeted, CDs to be signed, and apparently beers to be drunk, as Rob appears from the bar with an armful of bottles. Yeah, okay, maybe Gerard better step outside for a minute. He taps Mikey's arm to let him know, then makes his way out, drawing in a deep, relieved lungful of air that doesn't smell like booze.

He pulls his phone out of his pocket and calls his sponsor; the conversation's brief, but helpful, and Gerard ends it by promising to go to a meeting tomorrow. He still doesn't feel like going back in yet, so he walks around the parking lot for a little while before crawling into the van to stretch out in the back seat.

There's a lot going on in his head right now, and he's all stirred up by the concert so it feels like the inside of his head's been turned up to eleven. He's happy for Frank, obviously, and oh, god, crushing on him so hard he can't believe Frank can't see it written on his face from ten feet away. But there's something else under all that, something darker that Gerard doesn't like the feeling of.

It's jealousy, he realizes, tinged with bitterness and regret. He's jealous because he just stood in a room watching Frank pour his heart and soul out to a room full of people with no apparent fear or hesitation. Frank's putting himself out there through his chosen art form, and Gerard wants that for himself, so badly, but he fucked up the chance he got to do it and doesn't think he'll ever get another one. He doesn't even know if he could anymore, or if what he'd find when he looked inside himself would be anything anyone wanted to see.

He's startled out of his thoughts when the van door opens, and even more surprised when Frank leans into the doorway.

"Hey," Frank says, climbing into the van. "You okay?"

Gerard musters up the best smile he can, sitting up as Frank heads back toward him. "Yeah, I'm fine."

"For real?" Frank settles into the backseat with Gerard, looking concerned and earnest. "I would just hate to think I pushed you into something I shouldn't have, getting you to come tonight."

Gerard's smile is more sincere this time. "For real. I just needed to get some air, I'm okay now."

Frank smiles, looking relieved. "Okay. Good."

"You didn't have to come all the way out here," Gerard tells him. "If you want to go back in, I'll be fine."

Frank shrugs. "I'm fine staying out here, if you feel like company. Or I can get lost if you don't."

"Really?" Gerard asks. "I mean, sure, you can stay if you want. I just figured you'd want to get back in there with the guys and your fans, y'know?"

Frank smiles crookedly, his face lit for a second by the headlights of a passing car. “Maybe I’d rather be out here with you.”

Gerard snorts. “Yeah, I’m sure. Why enjoy yourself at your own release party when you can hang out in the back of a van with a loser?”

Frank slides a little closer on the seat and pokes Gerard’s calf with the toe of his sneaker. “You're not a loser, shut up. And give me a cigarette.”

Gerard shifts so he can dig his pack out of his jacket pocket. “Well, since you asked so nicely...”

Frank adopts an innocent look, cupping his hands and putting on a really terrible high-pitched British accent. “Please, sir, may I have a cigarette, sir?”

It’s so dumb, but it makes Gerard crack up anyway. He hands a cigarette over, and comfortable silence fills the van for a few minutes as they smoke.

"Honestly, I felt like I could use a break from everything in there," Frank says eventually.“Can I tell you something that might sound weird?”

Gerard nods. “Go ahead.”

Frank looks down, reaching over to flick his cigarette into the tiny ashtray on the armrest. “Sometimes I think about what it would be like if we really made it, y’know, really got big, and it scares the shit out of me.”

“I don’t think that’s weird,” Gerard says, looking over at him.

“It’s just so freaky to think about, like, people I’ve never met caring about what I say or do,” Frank goes on. “But that’s what I want. I've always wanted to get to a point where music could be my only job, and you can't really do that without getting big. And I started writing songs because I had shit to say, and what's the point of that unless I have an audience?”

“It’s still freaky to think about it happening on a big scale, though,” Gerard points out. “You can want it and still be scared of it. I mean, it was always the same with me when I was still painting. I really wanted people to see my paintings--except for how sometimes I wanted to cut them all up so no one would see them. It's scary as hell putting yourself out there like that, even if it's what you want."

Frank looks over at him with a faint smile. "I knew you'd get it."

He says it really soft and sincere, and his tone and his smile and the way he's looking at Gerard make Gerard feel warm all over. He looks down, acutely aware of how close they are in the dark van, and stubs his cigarette out in the ashtray on his side.

He feels Frank shift on the seat, moving closer and murmuring, "Hey."

Gerard turns his head and Frank is right there, just a few inches away. The look in his eyes is really soft and really intense at the same time, and it gives Gerard chills. He feels like he can't meet Frank's eyes or he's going to do or say something really stupid, so he drops his gaze to Frank's mouth, which might actually be worse.

"So, I'm gonna do something that might be kind of dumb," Frank says. "But I'm really hoping it turns out not to be."

"What?" Gerard asks, because it's hard to actually listen to words when he's staring at Frank's mouth.

Only he can't stare at Frank's mouth any longer, because Frank is leaning in and pressing his mouth to Gerard's.

Gerard's brain is still going what?, but he reacts automatically, bringing his hands up to frame Frank's face. The kiss is gentle at first, but when Gerard doesn't pull away Frank deepens it, and Gerard runs one hand up into Frank's hair, the other sliding around to press against his back.

Gerard hasn't kissed anyone since before rehab. It's not like it's the sort of thing you forget how to do, but it's been a while, and it's Frank, and he's thought about this so many times, and--and he's going to think himself into a panic if he doesn't stop, and if he has to stop kissing Frank in order to have a panic attack he is going to be so pissed at himself, so he does his best to just turn his brain off and go with it.

Frank presses in even more, crowding into Gerard's space. Gerard moves his hand from Frank's back to his waist, hooks two fingers into one of his belt loops and tugs, and Frank moves up so that he's straddling Gerard's legs and they're pressed together chest-to-chest. He's so small he fits into Gerard's lap easily, and Gerard slides both arms around him as Frank's fingers twine in his hair.

He has no idea how long they kiss before Frank rears back, sucking in a breath. His eyes are wide and his lips are swollen and Gerard doesn't understand why they're not still kissing.

"Okay," Frank says, still combing his hands restlessly through Gerard's hair. "Okay. Uh. Please don't take this the wrong way, but someone could come out here looking for me any time, so maybe we should stop for now?"

"...Oh." Frank doesn't want anyone else to see them kissing. That's...okay, Gerard can deal with that. "Sure, if that's what you want."

"It's not--" Frank leans forward, cupping Gerard's face in his hands and pressing a tiny kiss to his mouth. "It's not like I want to hide it or anything, just...can we keep it to ourselves for now? Otherwise the guys are gonna tease us, and Mikey's gonna give me brother face, and I just..." He pulls back enough to look in Gerard's eyes, brushing his thumb across Gerard's bottom lip. "I want this to be just ours right now, okay?"

Gerard smiles, the sinking feeling he had a moment ago melting away. He kisses Frank one more time before letting him go. "Okay."

Frank moves back to the other side of the van, adjusting his jeans. Gerard bites his lip and looks away, doing the same. He glances out the window, trying not to feel awkward, and then feels Frank's knuckles brush the back of his hand.

"Hey," Frank says softly. "Just in case there's any doubt whatsoever? I really, really want this to happen again."

Gerard looks over at him, smiling again. Awkward or not, he can't fight the giddy feeling welling up inside him. "Me too."

"Preferably somewhere better than here," Frank adds.

Gerard laughs softly. "Definitely."

Gerard is totally mooning. He's not even pretending to be doing anything else. He's just wandering around the house, thinking about Frank, and the kissing, and the fact that it might happen again soon. It's been a while since he's been here, since he's had the dizzy, floaty feeling of knowing that the person he likes likes him back, and he's just kind of basking in it.

His phone buzzes a little after noon, and he almost drops it, like the total cliche he is, before he recovers and answers. "Hey."

"Hey!" Frank says brightly, and even over the phone he sounds like he's feeling dizzy and floaty, too. "So I was wondering, are you doing anything tonight?"

"No, I'm free," Gerard says. "Want to get together?" He's pretty sure he manages to sound casual and not like a total dork.

"Yeah, I was thinking we could grab something to eat and then just...see what happens?" Frank suggests, and then adds, "I'm totally sweeping you off your feet right now, aren't I? Don't front."

Gerard laughs, trying not to sound nervous. "Consider me swept."

"I knew it," Frank says triumphantly. "Hey, listen, my lunch break's almost over, I gotta go. I'll call you when I get off work and we can work out the details?"

"Okay," Gerard says. He can't seem to stop smiling. It feels a little weird. "Talk to you later."

Gerard spends entirely too much time worrying about how dressed up he should get. He settles on his least ratty t-shirt, a little bit of product in his hair, and a jacket that always makes him feel like a badass no matter what else is going on.

Frank picks him up, idling out in front of the house in his rattly old car, and Gerard feels a nervous flutter of excitement as he heads outside and gets in the car.

"Hey," Frank says, grinning at him from the driver's seat.

"Hey," Gerard replies, and then leans across. Frank meets him halfway, and the kiss starts out light, easy. Then Frank tilts his head and slips his tongue into Gerard's mouth, and Gerard slides closer on the cracked leather seat, taking a moment to be glad Frank's car doesn't have bucket seats.

Frank covers Gerard's knee with one hand, the other threading into his hair. Gerard has both hands on Frank's waist, fingers slipping under the hem of Frank's t-shirt where it rides up in the back. They're basically necking like teenagers right in front of his parents' house, and it's the second time in as many days that Gerard's made out with someone in a car after months of celibacy, and it's kind of hilarious in addition to being ridiculously hot.

Frank pulls back eventually, flushed and grinning. "Okay, so--I know we said we'd get dinner first and then see what happens, and I don't want to rush you into anything, but..."

"Is this a lead-in to suggesting we make out somewhere other than a car?" Gerard interjects. "Because I am totally willing to be rushed into that."

"Then we could just go back to my place," Frank suggests. "Order something later if we want?"

Gerard smiles. This is really happening, and he's still nervous, but nowhere near enough to second-guess it. "Yeah. Yeah, that sounds perfect."

Twenty minutes later, they've made it from the car to Frank's couch, which seems like a definite improvement. Gerard's lying half on top of Frank, his hands in Frank's hair and Frank's arms around his waist as they kiss and kiss. Their jackets and shoes are cast aside, and Frank's hand is under Gerard's shirt, running up and down his spine. The shirt's already getting bunched up around Gerard's waist, and Frank pushes it up even further, curling his fingers in the hem.

"Is this okay?" he asks gently, and Gerard nods, pushing up onto his knees to help Frank pull the t-shirt over his head.

Frank's hands skim over Gerard's skin like he can't decide where to touch, running up and down his arms, tracing his collarbones, sliding around to press against his back. He's staring unapologetically, and Gerard feels himself blushing. For a second Frank looks like he wants to say something, but then he just stretches up to kiss Gerard again, and Gerard bends down to meet him, framing his face in both hands.

Gerard pulls back and tugs at Frank's shirt, and Frank lifts his arms and lets him pull it off. Underneath, he's got even more ink than Gerard already knew about, and Gerard's the one staring now, spending a few moments totally absorbed in tracing the lines of Frank's chestpiece.

He realizes, very suddenly, that his hands are itching for something to draw with. It's so surprising and so utterly welcome that he almost jumps off the sofa to rummage through his bag. But as much as he wants that, he also wants to kiss the shit out of Frank, and he freezes, caught between the two impulses.

Frank's brow furrows and he raises a hand to Gerard's face; Gerard has no idea what his expression looks like right now, but he's willing to bet it's kind of weird. "What's up?"

Gerard hesitates a second longer, then shakes his head. It's tempting to try and chase the drawing urge before it can get away, but it's Frank that's making him feel this way, and Frank's warm and solid under his hands and he's not giving this moment up for anything.

"I'll tell you later," he murmurs, leaning down. He kisses Frank's neck just under the scorpion tattoo, and then makes his way down to the juncture of Frank's neck and shoulder.

Frank whines in the back of his throat when Gerard bites down on his skin, then tackles Gerard onto his back, climbing on top of him.

"I feel like this situation calls for less pants," he says, hands trailing from Gerard's chest to his waist. "You good with that?"

Gerard nods, drawing in a shaky breath. Frank undoes Gerard's fly and Gerard lifts his hips to shove his jeans down. Frank looks up at him with a wicked grin, hooking his thumbs in the waistband of Gerard's briefs.

"Let me know if I start going too fast," he says earnestly, and then tugs Gerard's briefs down.

"Keep going," Gerard breathes.

Frank doesn't need any further urging. He leans in, hands braced on Gerard's hips, and takes the head of Gerard's cock in his mouth. Gerard makes a really ridiculous noise, flailing around uncertainly with his hands for a moment before brushing Frank's cheek with his fingertips.

Frank pulls back just enough to speak. "Put your hands in my hair," he says breathlessly, and leans in again, going down further.

Gerard obeys at once, sinking his hands into Frank's hair and wrapping the dark strands around his fingers. Frank moans around Gerard's cock, which feels fucking amazing. He's good at this, pulling back and teasing Gerard with his tongue, then going down again and swallowing around him. And he seems to be enjoying himself--it's been a while since Gerard's been in this position and some of his memories are a little fuzzy, but he doesn't think he's ever seen someone look that blissed out with a cock in their mouth.

He can tell he's not going to be able to hold out for long--it's been too long and he's too keyed-up and Frank is just too damn good. "Frank--" he gasps, combing his fingers through Frank's hair. "I can't--I'm not gonna last much longer--"

Frank pulls off smoothly and moves up on the couch, kissing Gerard as he replaces his mouth with his hand. Gerard moans at the taste of himself in Frank's mouth and the movement of Frank's hand on his cock. He cups Frank's face in his hands, kissing him frantically, and comes hard, shuddering and gasping into Frank's mouth.

"Holy shit," he says when he gets his breath back.

Frank grins, kissing Gerard briefly before he sits back. He leans over to grab his shirt, wiping his hand on it. "Thanks."

"Pretty sure I should be thanking you," Gerard says, and reaches for him. "Get your pants off and get back up here."

Frank undoes his fly and squirms around until he can kick his jeans off, then settles back on top of Gerard. Gerard wraps both arms around Frank as they kiss and rolls, pressing Frank into the back of the couch.

He slides his thigh up between Frank's and Frank thrusts back against him eagerly, grinding his hips into Gerard's. Gerard tilts his head to mouth at Frank's neck and Frank moans, reaching up to grab onto Gerard's hair. Gerard pulls back just enough to reach his hand down between them, letting the motion of their bodies drive the slide of Frank's cock through his fingers.

"You're amazing," he whispers, his lips against Frank's ear. "You look so incredible right now, I can't even--"

Frank turns his head, pressing frantic kisses to Gerard's jaw. "You--" he gasps. "God, Gerard--"

He breaks off with a moan, coming all over Gerard's fingers. Gerard strokes him through it, kissing him gently.

They lie there kissing lazily for a few minutes, until Frank gets up and comes back with a damp towel to clean them both off properly.

"I had this whole plan where I was gonna take you out on, like, a real date before I tried to get your pants off," he says, smiling as he settles back onto the sofa with Gerard. "So much for that."

"I'm not complaining," Gerard says, sliding his arms around Frank and stretching up to kiss him.

After a while they migrate from the sofa to the bedroom, and Gerard kind of loses track of time while they lie there making out. Eventually, though, they do get hungry, and when the takeout arrives Frank grudgingly puts on pants to go down and get it.

"Normally I'm too much of a neat freak to eat in bed," he says as he comes back with a bag in one hand and a roll of paper towels in the other. "But I have an exception clause for when my bed has a hot guy in it."

Gerard ducks his head, grinning. "I'm way too much of a slob to have rules about food in bed," he says, taking a food container and a pair of chopsticks. "Plus I haven't shared a bed with anyone in kind of a long time."

"Well, neither have I, really," Frank says. "Had kind of a big breakup last year--pretty amicable, all told, but we were together for so long, the thought of trying to start dating again has been kind of...I think the words I want are 'terrifying and depressing'."

Gerard nods, looking down and twirling a noodle around his chopsticks. "I get that. I basically cut myself off from dating for a while--had a couple of bad relationships before I got clean. And a few things that can't even really be called relationships. I ended up feeling like I needed to just be on my own until I got my head on straight." He looks up to see an odd look on Frank's face. "And now I really hope I'm not scaring you off with my carload of baggage."

Frank shakes his head at once. "No! No, It's just...I'm really glad you un-cut yourself off to be with me."

Gerard smiles. "I'm really glad you braved dating again to be with me."

Frank leans over and kisses him, smirking when he pulls back. "And you'd have to try way harder than that to scare me off."

Gerard wakes up sometime during the night, slips out of bed and into the bathroom. He looks around a little on his way there and back, taking in the details of Frank's apartment for the first time that night. It's neat and cozy, kind of like a hobbit hole if you can imagine a punk hobbit from Jersey, and Gerard smiles at the little touches that make it unmistakeably Frank's, like the Klimt print sharing space with movie posters on the wall.

Gerard's still kind of amazed that he's here right now, that all this is happening and that it's been this good. Ever since Frank kissed him, he's been waiting for the other shoe to drop; mostly, he's been waiting for the inevitable moment when he does something to fuck it up and scare Frank away. But after they ate and talked for awhile, and after things got heated again (once the rest of the food was safely away from the bed, at Frank's insistence), and after Gerard asked if he should leave and Frank laughed and pulled him back into bed--after all that, it's starting to seem possible that Gerard might actually not fuck this up. Not tonight, anyway.

He goes back into the bedroom and sits down on the edge of the bed, looking down at Frank. Frank's lying on his stomach, face smushed into a pillow, drooling a little, and Gerard's still struck by how effortlessly beautiful he is. He stays there for a moment, tracing the lines of Frank's face with his eyes, and then gets up again, heading into the living room to rummage through his messenger bag.

It's been so long since he was drawing regularly that he's not sure if he has anything on hand to do it with, and as he digs through his bag he starts to get discouraged--no, wait, there's a beat-up Moleskine and a mechanical pencil.

He takes them back to bed with him, kneeling on the mattress, and shakes Frank's shoulder gently. "Frank," he whispers. "Frank, hey, wake up."

Frank frowns and burrows deeper into his pillow in protest. "Wha...?"

"Can I draw you?" Gerard asks him.

Frank lifts his head and squints one eye open. "Huh?"

"I want to draw you," Gerard goes on hurriedly. "And I'm afraid if I wait to do it later I might not be able to anymore but I feel like that's creepy to do without asking the first time we've been together, so can I?"

Frank peers up at him, bleary but more awake now, studying Gerard's face. "...This is important, huh?"

"Yeah," Gerard says at once. "Yeah, it is."

"Well, why the hell not." Frank flops over onto his back, one arm flung above his head. "Draw me like one of your French girls."

Gerard giggles, a nervous edge to it. "You're such a dork."

"You love it," Frank says smugly, then stifles a yawn. "You need me awake for this?"

"Not for the drawing part, but if it goes okay there might be celebratory sex in it for you." Gerard's got the notebook open and the pencil poised by now, but it's easier to keep bantering than get to work.

"Cool," Frank mumbles, letting his head loll to the side. "Wake me up for that part."

Gerard watches him for a few more seconds, pencil in hand, worrying at his lower lip with his teeth. He can do this. He knows he can do it. He just has to start.

He takes a deep breath and lowers the pencil to the page.

Half an hour later, his hand is cramping like a motherfucker and he's covered page after page with Frank. Closeups of his face, full-length pictures with as much detail as he can manage on the small page, sketches of his tattoos. He finally puts the notebook and pencil aside and lies down next to Frank, putting an arm around his waist and pressing a kiss to his shoulder. Frank stirs, opening his eyes.

"Hey," he whispers, voice rough from sleep. "How's it going?"

"It's going great," Gerard says with a smile, and kisses him.

Frank opens his mouth under Gerard's and brings his arms up around him. He rolls onto his side and Gerard moves with him, keeping his arm around Frank's waist and trailing his free hand along Frank's bare skin.

After a few moments Frank pulls back, reaching to tuck Gerard's hair behind his ear. "So okay, what's with the late-night drawing urges?"

Gerard bites his lip. He hadn't really talked about the not drawing thing with anyone but Mikey. "You ever get writer's block?" he asks.

"Sure," Frank says.

"Ever get it for months on end?" Gerard goes on.

"Shit," Frank says, looking impressed. "You hadn't drawn in that long?"

"Not since I came home," Gerard says. He flops onto his back, looking up at the ceiling. "I packed up all my art supplies with the rest of my stuff to send home before I went into rehab, I unpacked them when I got out, and then I just...didn't do anything with them."

Frank props himself up on one elbow, studying Gerard's face "Why not?"

Gerard hesitates. For a second he forgot Frank still doesn't know everything, and that he still doesn't know how to tell him. "It's tied up with all the stuff I had going on before rehab," he says. "I would avoid thinking about it for a while, and then I would get upset with myself for avoiding it, but that would just make me avoid it more. It turned into this whole vicious cycle thing."

"Those really suck," Frank says. "But now you can?"

Gerard nods. "Yeah, I don't know, I just...I'm unblocked. It sounds dumb to be like 'maybe I just needed to get laid', but maybe that did help me get over it. Plus you're totally gorgeous and I want to draw you, like, a million more times, so that didn't hurt."

Frank smiles. "So am I like your muse now?"

"You're definitely inspiring," Gerard tells him. "And hopefully this won't turn out to be a fluke."

Frank leans down to kiss him. "Maybe I better inspire you some more to be on the safe side."

"I like that idea," Gerard replies, rolling them over on the bed.

They stay in bed pretty late the next morning. When they finally get up, Frank makes eggs and toast, and Gerard insists on helping out by making coffee. His phone rings while they're eating, and Gerard glances at it.

"It's Anna," he says, and looks up at Frank. "You mind...?"

Frank waves a hand at him. "Dude, take it."

Gerard flashes him a grateful smile and lifts the phone to his ear, heading into the living room. "Hello?"

"Hi, Gerard," Anna says. "Am I catching you at a bad time?"

"No, it's fine," Gerard assures her. "Fire away."

"All right. Well, if you're still interested in the job, I'd like to bring you in for a trial period--have you shadow the other employees, see if you'd be a good fit."

"I--yeah," Gerard says, surprised and happy. "Yeah, that would be fantastic."

"Great," Anna says. "How's ten Monday morning?"

"Perfect," Gerard tells her. "I'll see you then."

He hangs up and goes back to the kitchen. Frank looks up at him curiously, eyebrows raised.

"So, uh, I might have a job," Gerard tells him, feeling his smile getting bigger.

Frank pumps his fist in the air, grinning. "Hell, yes!"

Frank drives him home after breakfast, and Gerard spends the short ride in a happy daze, wondering when he stumbled into an improbably awesome version of his life.

"Shit," he says when they pull up outside the house. "I kind of forgot I was going to have to do the walk of shame in front of my parents."

"They're not gonna give you shit, are they?" Frank asks.

"Nah--well, not bad shit. Light teasing and embarrassing questions about safe sex, possibly," Gerard replies. "I'd like to think being almost thirty would spare me that, but let's face it, my mom's probably gonna ask embarrassing questions about safe sex when I'm fifty."

"...Well now I'm going to picture your mom looking all stern at me next time I try to get you in bed, thanks a lot," Frank says, and then glances at him. "Assuming I'm not being presumptuous thinking there'll be a next time."

Gerard smiles and leans over to kiss him. "You're not. I have no idea what my schedule's gonna be like coming up, with the job and everything, but I'd definitely like to see you again soon."

Frank kisses him and draws back, looking pleased. "All right. Let me know when you're free."

Gerard spends the next week learning the ropes at Galaxy Comics. He learns how to work the register and organize the store, he volunteers for coffee runs and helps straighten up at closing time, and he successfully restrains himself from getting in an argument with a customer talking shit about Grant Morrison.

"He was so wrong, though," Gerard mutters after the guy leaves, leaning his elbows on the counter and glaring at the guy's retreating back.

Anna pats the top of his head gently. "I know, honey. I know."

He sees Frank at his job and they text back and forth a little, but between work schedules that don't line up and Frank's obligations with Leathermouth, they don't manage much besides lunch together on Wednesday. Well, lunch and what happens after.

"We've got, like, ten minutes left," Frank points out as they're pitching their trash. "Want to go make out?"

Gerard laughs, but then he actually thinks about it, and he's instantly and completely turned on. From the look on Frank's face, he thinks he's not the only one.

"...Seriously, you want to?" Frank asks.

"Yes," Gerard replies emphatically.

They duck out into an alley they usually use for smoke breaks, which is thankfully otherwise unoccupied right now. They're both giggling so much it's hard to kiss at first, hands roaming over each other's bodies. Finally, Gerard lands a proper kiss, and then it's all heat and closeness and muffled noises.

Frank pulls back eventually, wide-eyed and breathing heavily. "Shit," he whispers. "I really wish I didn't have to go back to work right now."

"Me too," Gerard breathes. "Are you busy Friday night?"

"Yeah, I am," Frank says reluctantly. "But I'm free Saturday."

Gerard nods, smiling. "I can do Saturday."

They get in a few more frantic kisses, then head back inside reluctantly.

By the end of the week, Gerard's had a great refresher course in why people hate working in retail, but at the same time it's good to be working anywhere again, to have structure and responsibility imposed on him and something that gets him out of the house on a regular basis. The fact that he gets to be around comics all day is a bonus.

He's reorganizing the shelves at the end of the week when he notices a kid hovering around the Vertigo trades. She looks like she's in high school, and like she's not totally sure she should be in here.

"Hey, can I help you with anything?" Gerard asks gently.

The girl eyes him uncertainly. "Maybe. I'm not really into comics--or, well, I wasn't--but my friend loaned me those Sandman books, by Neil Gaiman?"

Gerard nods eagerly, smiling. "Yeah. I know a lot of people who got into comics by reading those."

"I had no idea there were comic books like that," the girl says, smiling herself. "So, like--I'd love to read more stuff like that, but I don't really know what there is."

She looks at him hopefully, and Gerard nods again. "I think I can probably help you out."

Twenty minutes later, he sees her on her way with two trades and a list of other things to try if she likes those. The rest of the day kind of sucks--no one thing that's egregiously bad but a lot of little things that add up--but when Gerard heads home at the end of his shift, it's helping that girl he's thinking about most, not any of the annoying stuff.

Saturday night, he and Frank go on what Frank insists on calling their first real date.

"Tell me again why nothing we've done so far counts as a date?" Gerard asks they head out the door (apparently, one of the features of a real date is that Frank parks and comes inside to say hello to Gerard's parents instead of just waiting outside in the car).

Frank counts off on his fingers. "One, we are not accompanied by your brother. Two, we are not accompanied by my band. Three, we will not be eating in the same building where we work. And, four, there will be food, at a restaurant, before there is sex."

"...Wow, you've put some thought into this," Gerard says.

They get in the car, and Frank smiles at him from the driver's seat. "It's possible there were some things I missed about dating. I like doing a good old-fashioned date night once in a while. I mean, I also like getting takeout after I blow you on the couch. Variety's good."

"I'm down, but you're gonna have to take point," Gerard tells him. "My experience is mostly in the 'go to a party, get Taco Bell at two AM, go home together' school of dating."

"No problem. Prepare to be dated," Frank tells him, and starts the car.

Frank, it turns out, is good at dates. At first Gerard's a little worried it might turn out too formal and awkward, but dinner is fun, and infinitely superior to Taco Bell at two AM.

"Do you want to go back to my place?" Frank asks as they finish eating.

The question seems pretty moot to Gerard, but Frank's committed to the date idea, and apparently that includes not assuming anything. "Absolutely."

Frank hangs both their coats up when they get inside, then takes both of Gerard's hands and tugs him back toward the bedroom. "Okay, so, I'm aiming for the right level of date-ness without making it weird, and I'm not totally sure where this falls on the spectrum," he says. "But I sort of made a playlist."

"You made a sex playlist?" Gerard says, simultaneously amused and delighted.

"It's got a lot of jazz on it," Frank informs him. "And some Meat Loaf."

They get into the bedroom and Frank slips off his shoes; Gerard follows suit and puts his hands on Frank's waist, tugging him close. "Hot Summer Night?" he guesses.

Frank slips his hands under the hem of Gerard's t-shirt. "Well, duh, what other Meat Loaf song would you put on a sex playlist?"

Gerard shrugs out of his shirt and gets Frank's off before he answers. "I don't know, Anything For Love?"

Frank shakes his head as he reaches for Gerard's fly. "Common mistake. That's actually way too intense for a sex playlist, you end up all 'oh, shit, we have to fuck harder' and then you end up with embarrassing injuries."

Gerard bursts out laughing. "Okay, you've put a lot more thought into sex playlists than I have."

Frank grins, sliding Gerard's jeans down his hips. "Everyone needs a hobby."

Gerard reaches for Frank's fly and leans in, and they kiss for a few seconds, Frank's hands curled around Gerard's hips. Gerard gets Frank's jeans down and then draws back.

"Well, are you gonna put it on?" he asks. "I'd hate all that effort to go to waste."

Frank laughs. "Okay, you asked for it. Hang on."

He steps out of his jeans and goes over to the dresser, where there's an iPod docked in a speaker. Gerard moves over to sit on the edge of the bed, and Frank joins him there in a second. The first song's not Meat Loaf or jazz, but something low and bass-heavy, the rhythm seeming to match Gerard's heartbeat.

Frank slides one hand into Gerard's hair and kisses him deeply, his other hand sliding up Gerard's leg. Gerard slips both arms around Frank's waist, exploring the inside of Frank's mouth with his tongue. He breaks the kiss with a short moan when Frank cups him through the fabric of his briefs. Frank trails his mouth down the side of Gerard's, licking and then biting gently, and Gerard moans again, louder. He trails one hand up and down Frank's spine, turning his head to mouth at Frank's ear.

After a few more moments Frank pulls back, scooting up on the bed so he can lie down, and Gerard follows. He braces himself on one elbow to lean over Frank and hooks a thumb in the waistband of his briefs.

"I want to blow you," he whispers.

"That is an awesome idea," Frank says meaningfully.

Gerard smiles and kisses him, then moves down, kissing a path down Frank's chest and stomach as he goes. Frank lifts his hips to let Gerard slide his briefs off, and Gerard tosses them aside and settles between Frank's knees. He leans in and nuzzles the skin of Frank's thigh first, which makes Frank twitch, and his cock brushes Gerard's cheek. Gerard glances up at him with a smirk, then wraps one hand around the base of Frank's cock and licks the shaft.

Frank makes a strangled noise. "Tease," he accuses.

"Mm-hm," Gerard agrees smugly. He licks his lips, then takes the head of Frank's cock in his mouth. He slides his mouth down to where his hand is and back up, then down again, setting a fast pace.

Frank moans, reaching down to twine his fingers in Gerard's hair. Gerard keeps going, twisting his hand around the base and working the shaft with his tongue, until Frank is a writhing, incoherent mess. He keeps going until Frank tugs at his hair and gasps out a warning, then pulls off and strokes him fast and rough. Frank squeezes his eyes shut and arches his back as he comes, and the sight of it takes Gerard's breath away.

Gerard keeps his hand on Frank's cock until he goes still, then reaches for the towel that's on the nightstand to wipe his hand with. He moves back up the bed to kiss Frank, and Frank twines his arm around Gerard's neck. In the background, the sex playlist has moved onto The Cure, which is awesome. Gerard braces himself with a hand on either side of Frank's head and kisses him deeply, moving his hips against Frank's slowly.

Frank pulls back, turning his head to put his mouth against Gerard's ear. "Do you want to fuck me?" he murmurs.

Gerard goes still against him. It's unexpectedly hot to be asked that point-blank. He pushes himself up to look at Frank, meeting his dark, eager, eyes.

"It's cool if you don't," Frank goes on. "But I'd really like it."

"I--yes," Gerard says. He leans down and kisses Frank hard, then pushes back up. "Do you have--"

"First drawer," Frank says, and Gerard leans over to the nightstand, fishing out lube and a condom. He sets them down on the bedspread for now and reaches up over Frank's head to grab a pillow, then slides one hand up Frank's leg.

"Lift your hips for me?" he urges, and Frank does, letting Gerard slide the pillow under him. Gerard moves down and settles between Frank's bent knees, smiling up at him as he reaches for the lube.

Gerard puts the condom on first, then slicks up his fingers and reaches back behind Frank's balls, probing gently with one finger. Frank draws in a sharp breath, hands twisting in the bedspread. Gerard guesses it's been a while for him, if he hasn't been with anyone since his breakup last year, so he goes slow, curling his free hand around Frank's knee and leaning in to press a kiss to his thigh. After a moment, he adds another finger, stretching Frank gently.

Frank relaxes gradually, making an encouraging noise. But the time Gerard adds a third finger, Frank's pushing back against him eagerly. Gerard gives a few more strokes with his fingers before he pulls out and moves up closer between Frank's legs. He braces one hand on Frank's thigh and lines his cock up with the other, pushing in slowly.

Frank moans, letting go of the bedspread to grab Gerard's waist instead, fingers digging into his skin. Gerard braces himself on the mattress with one hand, the other sliding around on Frank's thigh to hitch him closer, and starts thrusting gently. Frank arches his back, head thrown back on the pillow, and Gerard stretches forward to kiss the exposed line of his throat. One of Frank's hands flies to Gerard's hair, holding him in place, and Gerard licks and sucks at his skin, trailing down to his collarbone.

"You feel so good," Frank says above him, low and rough.

"You, too," Gerard murmurs. "You--"

He pushes up again, leaning back on his knees so he can take his hand off the mattress. He grabs Frank's hips and pulls him closer, and Frank wraps his legs around Gerard's waist and holds on as Gerard thrusts harder. Gerard can feel his orgasm building; he holds out as long as he can, then thrusts into Frank a few more times and comes hard, moaning. He leans over Frank, breathing heavily as he comes down, and Frank lifts both hands to cup Gerard's face, kissing him slow and gentle.

After a moment, Gerard sits back and pulls out gently, stripping off the condom and tossing it into the wastebasket by the nightstand. He finds the towel again and cleans them both up, then settles onto the bed next to Frank. Frank rolls onto his side, nestling against Gerard's shoulder, and Gerard puts one arm around him, stroking his hair.

"I'm really glad we did this," Frank says quietly.

"This as in the sex we just had or the whole date night thing?" Gerard asks. "Either way, me too."

"Everything," Frank says. "I'm glad I got up the nerve to make a move and you kissed me back. I'm glad we got to know each other and I would be even if nothing else had happened." He tips his head back to look at Gerard, and his smile is heart-melting. "I'm just...really happy right now."

Gerard wants to say so many stupid, romantic things at once that he gets choked up, so he just nods. "Yeah. Yeah, me too."

They never have any kind of official relationship talk, never declare themselves a couple, but things get pretty couple-y between them pretty fast. They see each other most days and call or text on the days they don't, and before long Gerard's keeping a toothbrush and a change of clothes at Frank's apartment (Frank's also welcome at the house, of course, Gerard's parents pretty much love him already, but they usually end up sleeping at Frank's because, well, it's awkward getting laid in your parents' basement).

Gerard's happier than he's been in pretty much any relationship he's ever had. He knows part of it is that for most of the post-high school relationships he's had, he was wasted half the time. Sober sex with Frank blows most of the drunken sex he's had with other people out of the water. But drunk, high, or sober, he's just never been with anyone he honestly liked this much. He and Frank fit together in so many ways, and Gerard doesn't really believe in things like destiny or being made for someone, but sometimes with Frank he's tempted to.

It's getting close to Christmas now, which leads to one of the most relationship-y talks they've had so far.

"I am under strict instructions from my mom to tell you you're invited to Christmas," Frank tells him while they're out for coffee one day. "To which I am going to add that you shouldn't feel obligated to come and my family's kind of intense, but I also think it'd be pretty awesome if you wanted to spend Christmas together."

"Uh." Gerard toys with a coffee stirrer uncertainly. He doesn't have a lot of experience with family-meeting. "Intense how?"

"Oh, nothing bad," Frank assures him. "I love my family. But we're a big group of Italian-Polish Catholic New Jerseyians. It's an experience."

"Well, I am part Italian, I've got some idea what I'm in for," Gerard reminds him with a smile. "My mom hasn't said anything yet but I'm sure you're invited to Way Christmas, too. Maybe we can do half-and-half?"

"That sounds like a plan," Frank says.

"Great," Gerard says. "So...we're spending Christmas together."

Frank grins at him. "Yeah, we are."

They move onto other topics--work, Frank's band stuff, and then Frank asks, "Have you been drawing anything lately?"

Gerard looks up from his cup, caught off-guard by the question, and Frank quickly adds, "Or should I not ask about the drawing thing?"

Gerard shakes his head. "No, it's okay, I just wasn't expecting you to. I have, a little. Nothing special, really, just sketching."

"Well, that's something," Frank says, and then shrugs. "I asked because it seemed pretty important to you that night. I know it's tied up with things you might not want to talk about, but...I don't know, I just want you to know I care what's going on with you."

Gerard gives a faint smile. "It's good to know that, really. And the stuff it's tied up with...it's not that we can't talk about it, I'm just not sure it's the best idea."

Frank looks at him steadily. "Is this the 'worried you're gonna scare me off' thing again? Because I really don't think that's as likely as you seem to think it is."

Gerard takes a sip of coffee, avoiding Frank's eyes. "I don't want to mess this up," he says in a low voice.

They've pulled their chairs around to the same side of the little table they're at, so it's easy for Frank to reach out and cover Gerard's hand with his own. "Neither do I. That's why I want you to be able to talk to me about the hard stuff. If you don't want to, that's one thing, but if you're afraid to, what's that say about where we're going?"

Gerard squeezes his hand and looks up at him, biting his lip uncertainly. "I'm not even sure how to," he says. "I know you know some of it already, but there's stuff I haven't talked about outside of therapy with anyone but Mikey."

Frank shrugs. "Just...tell me. Even the stuff I know from Mikey, I want to hear your version of it. Start from the beginning and tell me whatever you want."

Gerard takes a deep breath. "Okay," he says. "The beginning?"

"The beginning," Frank says with a nod. "Well, like, not the 'I was born, I grew up, blah blah blah' beginning, we can skip that part."

Gerard smiles at him. "Okay. Well...after I graduated from SVA, I got a job at Cartoon Network. At first I thought it was gonna be great, but it turned out that even though it was art-related, I was still kind of a cubicle rat, which sucked. Plus I was pretty fucking depressed and didn't know how to deal with it back then."

"So you quit?" Frank guesses.

"Well, first 9-11 happened," Gerard says. "I was on a ferry going into work, and I watched it happening--it's not like I was all that close to it, but just standing there and watching it was..." He breaks off, shaking his head. "And afterward I felt like I needed to do something, like I needed to make something that mattered or die trying. So I quit my job, and I just threw everything into painting. I painted everything I had inside me that needed to come out, and I've never been prouder of anything I've done than I was of those paintings. I sent my portfolio to every gallery I could think of, and I got a showing for the finished collection. And people liked them. I sold a couple of them right away, and I was pretty much floored that anyone was willing to pay real money for something I painted."

Frank smiles. "That sounds pretty great."

"It was at first," Gerard tells him. "But I kind of got sucked into this whole lifestyle that I thought was what I wanted--I found an apartment and a shared studio space in the city, and I started making all these cool artistic friends and going to their cool artistic parties. And don't get me wrong, parts of that were really great. But I was still pretty fucking depressed, and all the things I thought would make me not be depressed anymore weren't cutting it. That's when my drinking first started getting out of hand. Meanwhile I was still painting, but nothing I did ever seemed to measure up to that first collection. It felt like either I'd had the potential to be great and lost it, or like I'd been deluding myself about my real potential all along."

Frank's smile fades, leaving him with a concerned look. "So what happened?"

Gerard spreads his hands. "It all went downhill. I wasn't making enough to sustain my lifestyle, but I was too stubborn and stupid to go home, so I was digging myself deeper and deeper into debt. I kept drinking and taking pills, and one night at a party someone offered me some coke and I took that, too. I was an asshole to people who cared about me and I'm fucking lucky I didn't lose them all. And from there on it was pretty much just a series of increasingly bad decisions until I hit rock bottom. Thankfully when I did I had friends who looked out for me and called my family. I'd been trying to hide how bad off I was from them, and I was afraid to face them, but of course they were nothing but supportive."

"I remember when that happened," Frank tells him. "I didn't know details at the time, but I knew Mikey was going through some rough shit, and that it involved his family."

Gerard nods. "Putting him and our parents through that is what I regret the most. I think he blames himself for not realizing sooner how bad off I was, but it's not...he couldn't have helped me until I was ready to admit I needed help."

"But you did, right?" Frank asks. "That was when you went to rehab?"

Gerard nods. "Yeah. I went to rehab, I got clean, I came home. And ever since then I've been trying to figure out what to do with my life now." He sits back in his chair, letting out a sigh. "That's pretty much it."

Frank nods. "Okay," he says slowly. "I'm gonna hug the shit out of you now."

He leans over and pulls Gerard close, and Gerard slides his arms around Frank as Frank hugs him tight.

"I'm so sorry you went through all that," Frank murmurs in his ear. "And I'm so proud of you for dealing with it."

Gerard lets out a shaky breath. "Thank you." He hangs onto Frank a few more moments before he pulls back. "Well, that's the whole story."

Frank spreads his hands. "And this is me not being scared off."

"Yet," Gerard says, trying to keep his tone light. "Maybe it just hasn't set in yet."

Frank rolls his eyes. "Yeah, okay, unless there's a part you still haven't told me about where you killed someone and wore their skin, I don't think that's gonna happen."

"I really hope you're right," Gerard tells him. "I'm just a little--okay, I'm a lot nervous."

"Hey, I'm nervous too," Frank tells him gently. "But I'm mostly nervous because I'm really fucking into you, and you still keep acting like you think I'm gonna get spooked and run. I kind of feel like I deserve more credit than that."

"You do," Gerard tells him. "But--look, I don't think it's crazy to be worried that my carload of baggage might give someone second thoughts even if they were really into me. And I want to make this work, I do, but I don't even know how to do that because I've never been in an adult relationship without also being a drunken asshole." He getting more worked up as he talks, and tries to keep his voice from rising too much. "I want to stop being so nervous, Frank, I just...I'm not sure I can."

Frank looks at him for a moment, expression hard to read, then shakes his head. "Okay. I get why you're scared. I do. But...I knew you had baggage before anything started between us, even if I didn't know the details. And you know what? Everyone's got baggage. I've been in therapy since I was a teenager and I'm kind of an asshole sometimes--you haven't seen a lot of Asshole Frank because I've been wooing you, but trust me, he exists."

In spite of himself, Gerard's mouth quirks up in a smile. "You've been wooing me?"

"And I've been kicking ass at it," Frank goes on. "Whatever faults I have, I am an awesome wooer. And I wouldn't have wooed you if I wasn't willing to take on your baggage along with all the rest." He reaches over again, taking both of Gerard's hands this time. "Look, I get that what you went through messed you up a lot. I don't want to downplay that. But everyone's messed up some way or another. So I say let's be messed up together and have lots of awesome conversation and really hot sex while we're at it."

Gerard twines his fingers through Frank's, taking a deep breath. "Okay," he says, smile growing a little. "think I can get behind that idea."

He leans over to kiss Frank, and Frank frees one hand to cup his cheek. The kiss deepens, becoming annoying-levels-of-PDA-for-public pretty fast, and Frank pulls back, breathless.

"You want to get out of here?" he says meaningfully.

Apparently, Gerard laying everything out for Frank and confessing his deep-seated fear of fucking things up gets him really awesome sex. They're curled up in Frank's bed, wrapped around each other and kissing gently in the afterglow.

"Can I ask you something?" Gerard asks.

"Anything," Frank says.

"Earlier, when we were talking, you mentioned being in therapy since you were a teenager?" Gerard starts. "Obviously we don't have to talk about that if you don't want to, but we've talked about my stuff a lot, so if you want to..."

Frank nods. "Well, I started going after my parents' divorce. It was the best thing for them and they've always gotten along better post-divorce, but when I was a kid it was just like, why did this happen, and is it my fault?"

Gerard makes a sympathetic noise, running his hand up and down Frank's arm.

"And once I started talking to a therapist about that, we kept finding new stuff to talk about. I had a lot of anger issues in high school--still do, really, but I've figured out how to handle them a little better. Back then I would mostly fall off things or get in fights."

Gerard smiles. "And this is different from now? I've been to your concerts."

Frank pokes him in a ticklish spot. "It's different now because I'm not falling out of trees and scaring the hell out of my mom, or getting in fights with bullies twice my size. High school was pretty much hell--I mean, I'm sure it wasn't great for you, either, right?"

Gerard nods. "Weirdo kid in the back of the room whose main defense against bullying was to try and look all goth and scary."

"And I was the weirdo kid in the back of the room who was too fucking baby-faced to look very scary and was actually small enough to fit in a locker," Frank says with a wry smile.

Gerard winces. "Ouch."

"I try to look at it as survival training for life," Frank tells him. "And I made it through in one piece with emotional fodder for about a million angry songs, so."

"Well, that's good, you wouldn't get too far with Leathermouth writing songs about puppies and rainbows," Gerard says.

Frank looks offended. "You think I couldn't write a badass hardcore song about puppies and rainbows? I might have to take that as a challenge."

Gerard laughs and kisses him, then his neck, then his shoulder. He pulls back and starts tracing Frank's tattoos idly with one finger, and Frank closes his eyes, basking in the attention.

"You ever get the urge to do something reckless and possibly stupid?" Gerard asks.

"Uh, have we met?" Frank replies without opening his eyes. "Hi, I'm Frank, I intentionally got a tattoo so high on my neck I would never be able to get an office job?"

Gerard laughs. "Point taken."

"Why do you ask?" Frank says, opening his eyes.

Gerard shrugs. "Because I've had an urge to do something reckless and possibly stupid for a while and I don't know what to do with it. Most of the stuff I used to do when I got urges like that is off-limits now, y'know?"

"You could always get a tattoo," Frank suggests with a smirk.

Gerard makes a face. "Yeah, not very likely."

Frank shrugs and yawns, closing his eyes again. He slings his arm around Gerard's waist and buries his face in Gerard's shoulder, voice muffled as he says, "Well then I'm out of ideas, unless you want to write a really angry song or do something crazy with your hair."

He doesn't think Frank meant either of those as a serious suggestion, but a day or two later Gerard finds himself in a store, holding the box of black dye he meant to buy and staring at all the other colors on the shelf instead.

They don't have plans tonight, but Frank's home when he calls, and when he buzzes Gerard in Gerard comes straight into the living room, takes the box out of the plastic bag, and tosses it onto the coffee table.

Frank looks at it, raising his eyebrows slightly. "What's that?"

"Something reckless and possibly stupid," Gerard replies. "You want to help me with it?"

Somewhere between bleaching the black out of his hair and putting the red in, Gerard starts to seriously freak out about this.

"I'm starting to seriously freak out about this," he says as Frank adjusts the shower cap. "And the thing is, I know the reason I'm starting to freak out now is because it's too late to go back, so I should just suck it up and keep going, but I'm still freaking out."

"It's not really too late, y'know," Frank replies, smiling as he finishes his minute adjustments. "I could just go get some more black and we could dye it back."

"But then we would have wasted an evening bleaching my hair for no reason, and that'd be dumb," Gerard points out. He's not going to let himself back out of this now.

Frank settles his hands on Gerard's head, the shower cap crinkling a little under his gloved fingers, and looks at Gerard solemnly. "Well, I guess you better suck it up and go on, then."

When Frank puts the color in, he won't let Gerard see it at all until it's done. He rinses the dye out, massaging Gerard's scalp gently, then tugs at his shoulders, keeping Gerard turned away from the mirror and steering him to sit down. He strips off his gloves and gets out the blow-dryer, running his fingers through Gerard's hair as he dries it.

"You're good at this," Gerard remarks.

"It's fun doing it to someone besides myself," Frank says. He steps back to take in his work, and grins. "Holy shit."

"Is that a good 'holy shit'?" Gerard asks, suddenly worried again. "It doesn't look stupid, does it?"

Frank steps aside, waving a hand toward the mirror. "See for yourself."

Gerard stands up so he can see his reflection, and stares. "...Holy shit."

Frank nods. "Like I said."

Gerard raises a hand to touch it, lifting one strand between his fingers. "I look--"

Frank slips one arm around him and leans in to kiss Gerard's cheek. "You look fucking amazing," he whispers.

As expected, his hair gets a big reaction from everyone--especially since he went and did it right before seeing his whole extended family for the holidays. It takes time to stop being startled by his own reflection, but it makes him grin every time he sees it. It looks like he's become an alternate-universe version of himself, and he likes it. Maybe Alternate Universe Gerard is more of a badass.

Theoretically, Gerard should be really happy right now. He's got a job. His parents haven't asked him to pay rent, so the lion's share of every paycheck he gets goes to chipping away at his mountain of debt. He's still clean and sober and doing better and better with it. And he's got an amazing boyfriend. Things are going better for him than they have in a long, long time. And he is happy.

Except that there's still a hole in his life he doesn't know how to fill. He still gets that little ache of jealous regret when Frank plays a show or talks about the upcoming tour, and he hates feeling that way.

He's been drawing more and more lately, and it's great just to not be paralyzed by the sight of a blank page. But it's just sketches and doodles, nothing that seems to have much meaning or potential.

He does a lot of sketching when he's on the register at work, which means that when he gets busy with something he leaves his sketchbook lying on the counter. The first few times people comment on his sketches he's nervous and embarrassed, like he's been caught doing something secret, but the more it happens, the more at ease he feels.

One afternoon Anna stops to glance at the book on her way past, and then taps the page. "Are these characters from something? I don't recognize them."

Gerard glances over at the drawing she's got her finger on--a line of kids in prep school uniforms, with domino masks covering the tops of their faces.

"Oh, no, those are--I just sort of made them up," he tells her.

Anna looks up at him, raising her eyebrow. "Do they have a story?" she asks. "'Cause they look like they should."

"Not really," Gerard says. "I gave some of them names while I was drawing them, though."

"Well, that's a start," Anna says with a shrug.

She continues on her way, and Gerard looks down at the page. He hadn't really thought about it while drawing, but they kind of do look like they have a story. He hasn't got any idea what it is yet, but maybe they'll let him know.

If there's one thing Gerard's learned in the last few years, it's that when inspiration hits, even if it wasn't the inspiration you were looking for, you grab it and fucking run with it.

He's been making up stories and drawing pictures to go with them for as long as he could hold a pencil or a crayon. For a while, he'd been convinced that was what he was going to do, how he was going to make his mark as an artist. But in college, with his first attempts to break into comics shot down and paintbrushes and canvas beckoning, he'd set the stories aside, writing them off as one more childhood dream he couldn't make into reality.

Now he hasn't held a paintbrush in months, but he's rapidly filling sketchbook pages with character designs and story ideas. Maybe he'll paint again someday--he really fucking hopes he paints again someday--but for now, this feels right. He doesn't know if the stuff he's coming up with is any good, but it feels right.

When it gets to a point where he feels like he needs someone else's feedback on it, he gets Mikey and Frank together in the basement.

"I want to show you guys something, and I want your honest opinion on it," he tells him. "Not your sparing-my-feelings-because-you-care-about-me opinion. Okay?"

"Okay," Frank says, and Mikey nods. They're clustered together in Gerard's room, Frank and Gerard side-by-side on the bed, Mikey in the desk chair pushed up next to it. Gerard takes a deep breath, puts his sketchbook on the bed in front of him, and opens it.

They listen quietly while he explains the concept, and Gerard knows he's rambling and going on tangents a lot as he talks but he knows neither of them cares. They flip through the sketches, asking questions now and then.

"So these are them when they're kids?" Frank asks, one of the drawings. "Which one's which?"

"Well, the girl with purple hair is Allison, and the leader's Luther, and the one who's floating is Klaus--he's the one who's kind of inspired by you, Mikey."

"So he's the coolest one, is what you're saying," Mikey says. "What about these cartoony-looking guys over here?"

"Oh, man, that's Hazel and Cha-Cha. I'm still figuring out what their whole deal is, but what I know so far is pretty crazy."

"Okay, my honest opinion is that I'm gonna make you tell me this whole story anyway, so you might as well just write it all down," Frank tells him.

"Seconded," Mikey says. "Seriously, Gee, you should go with it."

"Do you guys think...if I like, put together an actual pitch for a book and sent it to publishers, do you think anyone would be interested in it?" Gerard asks.

"I think it's worth a shot," Mikey says. "I mean, I know if I was a publisher I'd be all over this, and I'm not just saying that because I'm your brother."

"I definitely think it's worth a shot," Frank says. "It can't hurt to try, right?"

Gerard thumbs the edges of the pages uncertainly. "I guess."

"No guessing," Frank says, and puts a hand on his knee. "I mean, what's the worst that can happen? You get rejected, it sucks balls, you turn to your awesome boyfriend for comfort and then try again when you're ready."

Gerard leans against him, smiling faintly. "You better be ready to deal with how much of a miserable bastard I'm gonna be if that happens."

"Bring it on," Frank says confidently.

"You guys really think I could do this?" Gerard asks.

"I think you could probably do anything," Mikey tells him, sounding completely sincere.

Gerard's still full of misgivings, but he trusts Mikey and Frank more than he trusts his internal voice of self-doubt. He pulls the best of his sketches and story ideas together into an organized proposal and sends it out to every publisher he can think of who might conceivably be willing to give him a shot.

He keeps from freaking out too much about it by staying busy. He's picking up extra shifts at Galaxy Comics whenever he can, which has the added bonus of putting him in everyone's good graces there. He's going to need that, because Leathermouth's tour starts the first week of March, and he's planning to go to as many dates as he can.

When being busy at work can't keep him from freaking out, he can count on Frank for distraction--often the sexy kind of distraction, but also the kind where Frank does something unexpected and sweet, like the day he declares they've had too many food court lunches and brings sandwiches and snacks in a picnic basket instead. They have to eat in Frank's car because there's no park close enough go to in the time they have, but it's still really sweet.

"So, I had an idea for something we could do," Frank says while they eat. "And at first I thought it would be a good surprise, but then it seemed like something I shouldn't spring on you."

Gerard swallows a bite of sandwich and raises his eyebrows. "What is it?"

"There are these, like, painting workshops, where you make your own version of a painting someone else did," Frank goes on, and Gerard has a total deer-in-headlights moment at the word 'painting', but he just takes another bite of his sandwich and hears Frank out. "It's BYOB and some people drink, so that's one reason I thought I shouldn't surprise you. But I know that not having painted in a long time is still a thing for you, and I thought we could try this and just have fun with it."

"That...might be a good idea," Gerard says thoughtfully. "I mean, I'm not painting because I don't know what to paint and then I get the whole 'paralyzed with anxiety by the sight of a blank canvas' thing going on. But if someone just showed me a picture and was like 'here, paint this'? That seems less scary."

"That's what I thought," Frank says excitedly. "And then you could just, like, flex your painting muscles and make fun of me for being a total amateur."

Which is how, a few nights later, Gerard finds himself sitting in front of a blank canvas, about to paint his own version of someone else's picture of a tree.

"It's still kind of scary," he whispers to Frank, eyeing the canvas. "It's, like, mocking me with its blankness."

"So show it who's boss," Frank whispers back, picking up his paintbrush.

Gerard does the same, dipping his brush in a blob of blue paint and looking back at the canvas. "You're not the boss of me," he tells it solemnly.

The canvas sits there, rectangular and blank, and the guy on Gerard's other side gives him a sidelong glance. He ignores it, takes a deep breath, and puts the first stroke of bright blue in the empty white space.

Frank hangs his tree painting up in his living room--for all his talk about being an amateur, he managed to paint it in colors that perfectly complement his Klimt print, the talented bastard. Gerard isn't sure where he wants to put his yet, so for now he just props it up against a bookshelf in his room.

"This is awesome," Mikey says when he sees it. "That was a really great idea Frank had."

"Right?" Gerard replies. "I probably would never have done that on my own, but it felt so good to just sit down and paint." He's sitting at his desk while they talk, so he idly checks his email, and then freezes. "...Mikey."

"What?" Mikey asks, turning away from the bookshelf.

"There's an email from Dark Horse Comics in my inbox."

"Dude, seriously?" Mikey rushes over. "What's it say?"

"I haven't opened it yet," Gerard says. "Mikey. There's an email from Dark Horse Comics in my inbox."

"Well, open it," Mikey urges.

"I don't think I can," Gerard says.

"Then move and let me do it," Mikey says, shoving at his arm.

"No!" Gerard yelps. He may be terrified to do it himself, but no one else gets to open his Dark Horse email, damn it. Mikey tries to grab the mouse, and Gerard elbows him and clicks before he has time to second-guess himself.

They read the email together in total silence. Well, Gerard doesn't so much read as scan it quickly for the words that will either crush him or...he sees the words very pleased to inform you and potential for development and set up a meeting to discuss the details, and that's when he realizes he's clutching Mikey and babbling.

"Mikey. Mikey. Oh my God. Oh my God, Mikey."

Mikey hugs him around the neck, grinning. "Dude, I told you you could do it."

"I need to call Frank," Gerard says. "Wait, I need to email them back and then call Frank. And tell Mom and Dad. And figure out a pitch for the meeting."

"Okay, let's start with emailing them back and go from there," Mikey advises.

He and Frank go out to celebrate, and for a while Gerard just lets himself bask in happiness.

"There's one thing about the meeting, though," he tells Frank eventually. "They want me out there during the first week of March."

Frank's face falls a little. "Oh."

"I asked if we could move it up, but they said no," Gerard goes on remorsefully. "And I didn't want to ask to push it back, I'm so lucky that they're even giving me a shot."

Frank shakes his head, recovering. "No, of course, I wouldn't ask you to do that."

"I know you wouldn't," Gerard says. "I just...wanted to be here when your tour started. I'm really sorry I can't be."

"Hey," Frank reaches for his hand, twining their fingers together. "It's okay, it's a couple of days. Yeah, it's at the start, and I wish you could be there. But you're gonna go to Portland and you're gonna kick ass."

Gerard smiles at him. "And maybe when I get back I can still make some shows before I have to go back to work."

"That would be awesome," Frank says, and leans in. "Because then we won't have to wait until I get back to have lots of victory sex."

"Or consolation sex if they don't like my pitch," Gerard says wryly.

"Victory sex," Frank repeats sternly, and kisses him.

The end of February passes in a blur. Frank's got his hands full making sure everything's ready for tour; Gerard books his flight to Portland and assembles, checks, and double-checks his notes for the meeting.

"I wish I could go out there with you," Frank says as he helps Gerard pack. Gerard's flying out tonight and Frank's hitting the road the next morning, so this is the last time they'll get to spend together until Gerard gets back. "You better be ready for about a million supportive texts, because if that's the only way I can help, I'm going all out with it."

Gerard's sitting on the edge of the bed while Frank stands next to him; he hooks a finger in one of Frank's belt loops and tugs until Frank puts down the shirt he's folding and comes to stand between Gerard's spread knees. Gerard puts his hands on Frank's hips and looks up at him solemnly.

"Frank, you've helped me so much," he says. "You've been inspiring me ever since I got to know you. You've helped me face stuff I might've gone out on avoiding for who knows how long. I don't think I'd even be doing this right now if it weren't for the fact that I know you and Mikey believe in me."

Frank cups Gerard's face in his hands, bending down to press his forehead to Gerard's. "I love you," he says softly. "You know that, right?"

Gerard does know, but hearing it for the first time still means a lot. He smiles. "Yeah. I love you, too."

He tilts his head up to kiss Frank, pulling him down into his lap. Frank goes with it, sliding his arms around Gerard's neck, but after a moment he pulls back.

"And you need to get the hotel to press whatever you wear to the meeting, because it's gonna look like shit from being in your suitcase," he says. "And you might think that's not important because you're going to talk about comics with a bunch of cool Portland comics people, but you should still look professional, so don't forget, okay?"

"Okay," Gerard says, smiling. He falls back on the bed, tugging Frank with him.

"And we need to finish packing," Frank says, but he's not making any move to pull away and get up.

Gerard kisses him deeply, twining one hand in Frank's hair and slipping the other under his shirt, then pulls back briefly. "We've got some time," he murmurs, and then kisses Frank again.

Later, Frank drives him to the airport, and he and Frank hold hands and kiss for as long as they can before Gerard gets in the security line.

"Okay, I really need to go," Gerard says eventually, but still doesn't let Frank go.

"Okay," Frank says, leaning in for another quick kiss. "Good luck. Call me and let me know how it goes."

"You, too," Gerard says. "I'll see you soon. Love you."

"Love you, too," Frank says. They kiss one more time, and then Frank shoves at Gerard's shoulder gently. "Seriously, get out of here."

Gerard steps back, picking up his carry-on. He takes a deep breath, smiles at Frank one more time, and then turns, striding confidently toward the gate.

Date: 2012-03-15 10:49 pm (UTC)
jedusaur: A hockey stick with the paddle wrapped in rainbow-colored tape next to a puck, lying just above the blue line on a rink. (gmo)
From: [personal profile] jedusaur
This was great! Favorite bits:

Intruder in the Batcave!

He learns how to work the register and organize the store, he volunteers for coffee runs and helps straighten up at closing time, and he successfully restrains himself from getting in an argument with a customer talking shit about Grant Morrison.

"Everyone needs a hobby."

He may be terrified to do it himself, but no one else gets to open his Dark Horse email, damn it.

Date: 2012-03-25 09:25 pm (UTC)
jezrana: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jezrana
Thanks so much! I'm glad you liked it.

Date: 2012-03-16 12:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] musicaldiscord.livejournal.com

Seriously though. even though the rehab stint featured pretty heavily, it's not weighed down with angst or anything. It's just totally real. I loved it :-D

Date: 2012-03-25 09:25 pm (UTC)
jezrana: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jezrana
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Date: 2012-03-16 01:13 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] cholera
This was wonderful :)

Date: 2012-03-25 09:26 pm (UTC)
jezrana: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jezrana
Thanks a lot! :D

Date: 2012-03-16 01:36 am (UTC)
paperdoll: (pinupgirl)
From: [personal profile] paperdoll
You write such amazing stories. Full of real life hope without all the 'damsel in distress' scenarios that so many other authors write. The world you created is filled with bits of canon and lots of caring. I hate to keep using the word REAL when I give you feedback but I happen to love that feeling that you pull out of me with your words. The smile, the wrinkled brow, the lip biting, the sigh... all signs of a story well told. Thank you for sharing it.

Date: 2012-03-31 09:17 pm (UTC)
jezrana: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jezrana
Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :D

Date: 2012-03-16 07:13 pm (UTC)
tabula_x_rasa: killjoys make some noise (mcr band)
From: [personal profile] tabula_x_rasa
THIS IS REALLY GREAT. I'm, like, so proud of both of them. &BOYS;

LOL Gerard almost getting in a fight about Grant Morrison (Canon).

This was really funny and sweet and felt real. Awesome job bb!

Date: 2012-03-31 09:24 pm (UTC)
jezrana: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jezrana
Thank you so much! :D

I couldn't put Gerard in a comic book store and not have a Grant reference! Also I like to think of him finally getting to meet Grant in this 'verse, because of course that happens.

Date: 2012-03-16 10:29 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] sinfulprayers
This was really awesome! I really enjoyed reading this!

Date: 2012-03-31 09:24 pm (UTC)
jezrana: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jezrana
Thanks a lot! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Date: 2012-03-17 04:02 am (UTC)
ciel_vert: grimshaw hey mr dj (Default)
From: [personal profile] ciel_vert
I really enjoyed this! It felt very adult and grown-up and REAL. And it was really sad that Gerard wasn't painting, but I love that via Frank he was able to continue healing himself so that he COULD. And I love the romance, and Frank wooing him, and they're just so perfect for each other. Great job bb!

Date: 2012-03-17 11:21 pm (UTC)
fleurdeliser: (MCR - 1KILLJOYS Married)
From: [personal profile] fleurdeliser
Soooooo much love.

I love how they're both adults. Really, really love. Like, despite all these things in their lives which some people would say signify a distinct LACK of adulthood, they are still adults and act like adults.

Their relationship is SO wonderfully done. I love that Gerard's so paranoid about trusting that this good thing really is happening to him and that Frank WOOS him.

Gerard's block over his art and his attempts to overcome that are perfectly done.

UGH. Just. LOVE. &you; &them;

Date: 2012-03-18 07:58 pm (UTC)
turlough: Gerard Way & Frank Iero with arms over each others shoulders, in Australia early February 2012 ((mcr) frank/gerard started my downfall)
From: [personal profile] turlough
This is a lovely story! So full of tenderness and caring and hope. I love their instant connection and the way their relationship builds on that connection and develops it into something strong and lasting. I love that they're both adults, aware of their problems and willing to work on them, and that they're so open and honest with each other.

Date: 2012-03-19 12:38 am (UTC)
lucifuge5: Black Converse Sneakers with Rainbow Laces (Frank and Gee enjoy live music)
From: [personal profile] lucifuge5
I am very much all *_________* about this wonderful, awesome, faboo fic of yours. There were all these little details that made the story feel so very real: from Gerard's struggle to remain sober to Frank's wooing of Gerard, their day-to-day lives before and after they got together, the fact that they were both artists... I also dug the brief mentions of Gerard feeling jealous at seeing Frank doing his thing with Leathermouth. That "what if" aspect really put the story as well as Frank, Gerard and everyone else in perspective.

Thank you for having both of them be honest about what their issues might be. I loved that Frank lets Gerard know that he's an asshole but that he hasn't seen that side of him just yet. Because as lovely of a boyfriend as Frank is, he's also human and there most definitely be aspects of his personality that aren't especially pleasant.

My favourite quote (well, in reality, one of many because I really loved everything from the boys out in the real world, to them being in bed to the quiet moments):

"Yeah, I was thinking we could grab something to eat and then just...see what happens?" Frank suggests, and then adds, "I'm totally sweeping you off your feet right now, aren't I? Don't front."

Gerard laughs, trying not to sound nervous. "Consider me swept."


Again, excellent story. Thank you for writing it. ^_^

Date: 2012-03-19 11:57 am (UTC)
melusina: (mcr frankie loves gee)
From: [personal profile] melusina
Oh, this is lovely! It feels very true to both Frank and Gerard, like a way their lives could have gone, and I love what a great wooer Frank is!

Date: 2012-03-21 05:31 pm (UTC)
ext_942477: (G.)
From: [identity profile] viviansface.livejournal.com
Well, OH. This was fascinating. You're such a great writer, and I admire your writing so much! It took me two-three days to read this, just because I wanted to enjoy every single word of it. And holy shit, I did.

It's amazing how much you can give to your readers - details, feelings, and it all feels so real. I love the way your work with your characters, and honestly, this might be the very first time that Gerard's drinking issue actually sounded real and believable. And I've been in bandom for five years and read shitload of fics - and we all know that Gerard's drinking is something lots of people use in their fics. And it never felt true. Until I read this. So, great work with that!

I enjoyed this very much, and Frank and Gerard were really perfect together. So mature, so beautiful to read. I loved this!

Date: 2012-03-25 11:30 pm (UTC)
elsinore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] elsinore
ahh this was LOVELY. i adore au comics!gerard leathermouth!frank awkward getting together fics, and ahh this one is just perfect.

i have to say, this: "I think you could probably do anything," Mikey tells him is the most perfect single sentence to describe mikeyway ever to exist in life.

Date: 2012-03-27 11:40 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] littlemissvoorhees
This was really good :)

Date: 2012-03-28 07:59 pm (UTC)
greedy_dancer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] greedy_dancer
I liked this a lot. They're both really adult about it, in a way, which isn't something you see really often for some reason, I think. But these are two people who've been through stuff and are messed up still, but also know what they want and discuss it and work for it.

A lovely story! (And very hot. Frank's straight-forwardness in that respect also really worked for me!)

Date: 2013-01-05 03:42 am (UTC)
dapatty: Frank Iero hugging a giant inflated panda. (Frank panda)
From: [personal profile] dapatty
Hi there! I really loved this story. I loved it so much that I podficced it.


Thank you for being amazing. ♥

Date: 2013-01-05 04:00 am (UTC)
jezrana: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jezrana
Thank YOU! That is awesome! :D


wordslinging: (Default)

August 2013


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