fuck you, I'm a bus! (sevenfists) wrote,

fic: Distance in the Afterlife, 1/2

Frank/Gerard, R. Gerard comes out. Vaguely set during Projekt Runway, but I played fast and loose with canon, so be warned. This is for the endlessly patient purelyironic, for Sweet Charity. Thanks to esorlehcar for doing her best to fix my comma splices, and to mcee for putting up with my drunk ass.
15,700 words.




The Advocate: What led to your decision to come out?

Gerard Way: It was just time, you know? It wasn't like I'd been hiding this for years or anything, I only realized it a few months ago. I've never wanted to be the kind of person who hides things out of fear or embarrassment. I realized this about myself and I decided that I wanted everyone to know.



The issue with his interview hits the newsstands on Tuesday morning, and within half an hour his phone's buzzing with calls from Brian, his mom, their publicist, Pete Wentz, and every member of his band. Half an hour after that, he's dropped his phone in the toilet. It's too big to flush, but he's hoping the water will fry the circuits or whatever it is that water does to electronics. If he's lucky, the hotel won't charge him extra for phone-related plumbing issues.

Mikey starts pounding on his door ten minutes later. "Gee, open up. I know you're in there. Gerard!"

Talking to Mikey is the last thing in the world that Gerard wants to do right now, but the banging's giving him a headache, so he opens the door. Mikey stumbles into the room—he must've been leaning against the door, the idiot—and pulls Gerard into a hug.

"I'm so proud of you," Mikey says.

Gerard rolls his eyes, but he's touched. He pats Mikey's back. "Thanks, Mikes." There's a pause. "Uh, you can let go of me now."

"Sorry, sorry," Mikey says, pulling back. He's still beaming. "You should call Mom. Where's your phone?"

"Uh," Gerard says, and scratches the back of his neck. "I kind of threw it in the toilet."

"Oh," Mikey says. "I guess maybe you'll have to call her later, then."

They've got a show that evening and have to be on the bus in forty-five minutes. Mikey sits on the bed while Gerard brushes his teeth and stares at himself in the mirror. When he did the interview, when he first got the idea for it, he felt brave and rebellious, so confident in the way he was revealing the most private parts of his life to millions of people all over the world. He's not so sure about it now.

"The guys are eating breakfast downstairs," Mikey says.

Gerard bares his teeth at his reflection. "I guess we should go join them," he says.

The guys are sitting at a table in the dinky hotel restaurant downstairs, Worm standing guard with his sunglasses and combat boots. Frank's doing something with a napkin and Bob's head. The table's a mess, strewn with condiments and silverware. Gerard hovers in the doorway, uncertain, until Mikey puts a hand between his shoulder blades and pushes him forward.

Frank spots him first, and his grin goes from mildly entertained to gleeful. "It's the man of the hour!" he hollers, waving at Gerard from across the room. "Gerard Way!"

"Christ," Gerard mutters, but Mikey's still pushing him, and he goes. People are staring at them now, the sort of polite, middle-class people who have never heard of My Chemical Romance and who don't approve of public uproariousness.

Bob grabs Frank's arm and shoves it down. "Quit it," he says sternly.

Gerard pulls out the chair next to Ray and sits down. There's a croissant on his plate, and a cherry danish: his favorites. "Hi," he says. He can feel Frank watching him but he's afraid to look over and see the expression on Frank's face, whatever it might be.

"You should have told us, loser," Ray says, and punches Gerard in the arm.

"Sorry," Gerard says.

"Just, like. It would've been nice to have had some warning," Ray says. "The fans are gonna go nuts, man, I need time to brace myself for that many shrieking teenage girls."

Gerard rubs his forehead. "Yeah, I. Sorry. It was kind of a spontaneous thing, you know?"

"Oh, for Christ's sake, none of us are mad at you," Frank says. "I thought it was a great interview. If we have to put up with some really ugly homemade rainbow banners at shows, well, you know, so be it."

"Here's the butter," Mikey says, passing it across the table.

"Thanks," Gerard says. He looks around the table at his band. Ray's already gone back to scribbling chords on his napkin. Frank's stirring more sugar into his coffee. Bob looks bored. It's just like any other morning on tour, all of them half-awake and in desperate need of caffeine, companionable in their grumpy confusion. All the tension goes out of Gerard's spine, and he slumps in his chair, fumbles in his jacket pocket for his cigarettes.

"You can't smoke in here," Ray says.

"What kind of a shitty hotel is this," Gerard says.

"Can I have the rest of your danish?" Frank asks.

"No more sugar," Bob says.

Their show that night is in San Diego. It's a four-hour drive from where they stopped the night before, and Gerard spends the whole time sitting in the back lounge with his headphones on, watching the telephone wires scroll by outside the window. It's sunny and bleached-looking outside, everything baked beneath the hot California sun.

He falls asleep after a while, and wakes with Frank's hand on his shoulder, Frank rolling his eyes and saying, "Come on, move your lazy ass, we're almost there."

There's a crowd outside the lot where the buses park, like always, but it's larger than what Gerard's used to. There are the usual kids with handmade signs and blown-up photographs, but there are also journalists, looking out of place in the sea of ironed hair and heavy eye makeup. Gerard stares at them through the window as the bus rolls by. Kids wave and shriek; the journalists move in a pack, turning away from the gates to face the bus. Gerard's never been more thankful for tinted windows.

In the bus bathroom later, he stands with his nose pressed to the mirror and writes on his own neck: "NOT AFRAID," in thick black letters, a little wobbly but still legible.

"Looks good," Frank says, his fingers light on Gerard's skin.

"Don't, you'll smear it," Gerard says. He smacks Frank's hand away. His neck's tingling where Frank touched it.

Mikey appears in the doorway, breathing hard and grinning. "Dude, Gee. You've gotta—come on, you've gotta see this."

Gerard follows him. They stand backstage together, watching the tail end of Taking Back Sunday's set, and past the stage lights and all the amps and mic stands, Gerard can see kids holding signs that say, "GERARD, I LOVE YOU" and "THANK YOU."

"Oh," Gerard says.

During their set, he can't—there's this one girl standing right up front, wearing a white t-shirt with a rainbow painted on it, colors all out of order. She cries through the entire show, wracking, full-out sobs, and there's a girl beside her kissing her wet face and stroking her hair, and Gerard feels it go through him like a lightning bolt: the reason he gave that interview and why he would go back and do it again if he could, the reason he would make that same decision every time, in every life he was given to live.

He gets mobbed heading back to the bus, reporters mixed in with the fans, and before Gerard knows what's happening there are flashbulbs going off in his face and dozens of people shouting his name. He squints into the light, hand up to shield his eyes. He wasn't expecting this, and it makes him feel stupid that he didn't think it would happen. "What—"

"No comment," Brian says, suddenly right there, hand closing around Gerard's elbow. "Thanks for coming out, folks."

A woman calls, "Gerard, are you worried about the reaction of middle America?"

"Does the rest of the band endorse your life choices?" someone else asks.

"Um. No comment," Gerard says weakly, and then Worm's there too, and he and Brian shove through the crowd, propelling Gerard along with them. He's helpless. He lets them steer him toward the bus.

The rest of the guys are standing around with the driver, smoking cigarettes and tussling. Frank's telling Bob a story involving lots of grimacing and elaborate hand gestures; Gerard thinks it's probably the one about Frank's cousin's ferret and the kitty litter.

"Everyone get on the bus," Worm says sternly.

Frank snaps off a sharp salute. "Aye aye," he says. "Dude, Gee, what happened to you? I thought Bob told you to come around the other side." He slings an arm around Gerard's waist, tugging him close.

"Guess I missed the boat on that one," Gerard says. Frank's sweat is fucking mingling with his own and he feels hotter and grumpier than he did five minutes ago, too aware of the press of Frank's body against his own. "Gimme a cigarette."

Bob hands one over.

"No smoking on the bus," Ray says.

"Yes, the bus, that place you're supposed to be right now," Worm says.

"Jesus, we're going," Gerard says. He shakes Frank off, slips the cigarette in his pocket and climbs the stairs onto the bus.

Festival security's holding back the reporters, but they're clustered at the fence, taking photographs of the bus and of Mikey, who's still dawdling outside. Gerard slumps by the window and watches the flashbulbs go off. Behind the journalist, some fan is holding a sign with a rainbow painted on it and the word "LOVE."

Bob sits down. "Guitar Hero?"

"No, I wanna play that—where's that game with the bongos," Gerard says.

"I think Ray hid it in the back lounge," Bob says.

Ray snorts. "Yeah, 'cause you were getting too freaking good at it, man. You can't beat me at Guitar Hero and at the bongos game, that's not fair."

"All's fair in love and video games," Bob says.

"Are we playing the bongos game?" Frank says, coming into the lounge with a t-shirt halfway over his head, his arms sticking straight up. He's shiny with sweat and golden from all the sun he's been getting. "Dude, I love the bongos game, let me play too."

Gerard gets up and walks back to the front of the bus, pokes his head out. "Michael Way, if you don't get your ass on here in thirty seconds, I'm calling Mom."

"Okay, calm down," Mikey says. He bounds up the stairs and smacks Gerard on the back of the head. "You need to call her anyway." He pulls his phone out of his pocket and holds it out. "Here."

"Yeah," Gerard says, his hand closing around Mikey's phone. Mikey disappears into the bunks. Gerard hears the television turn on and the bongo game music start up, tinny and distant from the back lounge. He wants a cigarette. He wants a shower and a long nap.

"You coming?" Ray calls.

"No," Gerard says, and goes to hide in the bathroom and call his mom.

"Oh, baby, I'm so proud of you," she says, and starts crying, and that makes Gerard cry, and they just cry together for a while. It's kind of nice. Eventually Gerard wipes his eyes and says, "I gotta go, Mom, I need to eat something and then we—I've gotta get some sleep, I bet we've got a ton of interviews tomorrow."

"Okay," she says. "Listen to me, sweetheart, don't pay attention to anything those people say about you. I love you, and those boys love you, and all of your fans love you. Now go make yourself a sandwich, and tell Michael he needs to stop eating those Hot Pockets all the time."

"I don't think he'll listen to me, Alicia's been trying to get him to stop, too, and he won't listen to her either. But I'll try. Love you, Mom."

"I love you too, honey," Gerard's mom says, and they hang up.

He feels a lot better after that. Mikey's lurking around the bunks, and he jerks guiltily and hits his head on the bottom of Ray's bunk when Gerard comes out of the bathroom. "Ouch," Mikey says.

"Nice work, champ," Gerard says. "Here's your phone back, your wife keeps texting you."

"I told that woman to quit calling me," Mikey says.

"Mom says you need to stop eating Hot Pockets," Gerard says.

"I don't listen to her," Mikey says.

"I told her you'd say that," Gerard says.

Ray and Bob head back to their bus pretty early, and Frank passes out in his bunk, but Gerard and Mikey sit up in the back lounge, watching late-night TV and eating microwave popcorn.

Conan says, "In today's most unsurprising news, Gerard Way, frontman of the band My Chemical Romance, has announced that he's gay." The screen flashes over to a photograph of Gerard wearing eyeliner and a feather boa. The crowd laughs.

Gerard turns off the TV. "Fuck," he says, bending over until his face is pressed against his knees.

"No, Gee, it's not. It's good," Mikey says. "It's a good thing. Nobody's making a big deal, you know? It'll be old news by tomorrow. They're not even being mean about it or anything. Leno didn't even mention it."

"We'll see," Gerard says.

***

Brian schedules roughly nine hundred interviews in the next two weeks.

"I thought we just talked to Rolling Stone on Wednesday," Frank says, squinting at their daily itinerary.

"No, that was Spin," Brian says. "Shut up and let me do my job, Iero. Don't make me come over there and regulate."

"Fascist," Frank mutters.

"I enjoy crushing you under my authoritarian boot-heel," Brian says.

"Who's got a cigarette?" Gerard asks. He hasn't had a chance for a smoke yet this morning, and he's feeling twitchy and over-caffeinated. He needs some nicotine to counterbalance all the coffee he's been drinking.

"Later," Brian says. "You've got a breakfast meeting with the Dallas Morning News, Rolling Stone before lunch, and a radio spot with KDGE this afternoon. Any questions?"

"Yeah, when do we get to start the revolution and overthrow your cruel dictatorship?" Ray asks.

"That's penciled in for next week," Brian says.

Gerard usually doesn't mind Rolling Stone interviews, but the guy they've sent out for this one looks like he fell off the turnip truck two days ago. He's sweating and keeps fumbling with his recorder, and he blushes every time he makes eye contact with Mikey. Gerard wishes he had time to take the kid aside and let him know that Mikey's happily married, to a woman.

"So, um," the kid says. Next to Gerard, Frank starts jogging his knee up and down, the sole of his shoe squeaking against the linoleum. Gerard balls his hand into a fist and smacks Frank's kneecap.

"Ow," Frank says.

"Quit it," Gerard says.

"Um, you're. Uh. Gerard?" the kid says.

"That's me," Gerard says. Ray snorts.

"You recently, um, did an interview that, uh, I guess came out of left field for a lot of people, so, um, are you. How have the fans been, um, been reacting so far?" the kid asks.

"Oh, boy," Bob mutters, which pretty much says it all.

It's the question everyone's asking. Gerard refuses to say a word about his personal life, telling everyone who asks that all the important parts have already been covered in The Advocate's interview. Word's gotten around, through the journalistic grapevine or whatever; for all Gerard knows, those people contact each other using bowls full of the blood of sacrificed virgins. He won't talk about himself, but he's willing to talk about the fans, and so that's what everyone goes for.

"How are the fans handling it?" asks the New York Post.

"What's the reaction from your fans been like?" asks Us Weekly.

"You have a lot of extremely devoted fans," says Time Magazine. "Do you find that your coming out has served to strengthen the fan base?"

"Like, um," says the Rolling Stone kid, fiddling with one of the buttons on his cardigan. Seriously, Gerard can't believe that this is who Rolling Stone sent out. "Do you think that the, uh. That the fans are rallying behind you?"

"I'd like to think so," Gerard says, and "The fans have been really great about the whole thing, I couldn't hope for more support or generosity," and "Hopefully people will realize that the music's what really matters."

The Rolling Stone interview ends, finally, after a miserable, mind-numbing forty-five minutes, and then they've got an hour for lunch before the radio interview. Worm herds them all to the van that's going to take them over to the station.

"I swear to God," Frank says, "the next person who asks us the exact same ten questions that everyone else has asked is getting punched in the larynx."

"That's pretty violent," Ray says.

"Seriously, dude, why can't they ask us about something else? Maybe they could ask about my new tattoo," Frank says.

"Nobody wants to ask about that ugly piece of shit," Bob says.

"Frank's tattoo represents the pinnacle of the Fluxus movement," Mikey says.

Everyone stares at him. "Dude, Mikey," Gerard says.

"That was a joke," Mikey says.

"Yeah, you uncultured freaks," Ray says.

"I want a sandwich," Gerard says. "And a cigarette. Worm, man, I want a cigarette, can we have a smoke break?"

Worm glances at his watch, then looks around the parking lot, like he thinks deranged fans are going to materialize out of nowhere and start gnawing on Gerard's flesh. "Five minutes," he says. "Then we gotta go pick up some sandwiches and get to the station."

"Sweet, we get sandwiches for real?" Ray says. "I want one of those—shit, I want turkey on rye with some mayonnaise. And I want it all to myself, I'm not going to let Mikey steal any of it."

"Hey," Mikey says.

"Cigarettes," Gerard murmurs, taking out his pack of Lights. The first drag's like a pure shot of heaven straight to his lungs.

"Gimme one," Frank says, sidling over.

"Buy your own," Gerard says, but he hands one over. They lean against the side of the van and smoke, elbows brushing, while Ray goes into increasingly elaborate fantasies about his dream sandwich.

"It'll have bacon, too," Ray says. "And that fancy mustard, what's that stuff called?"

"Grey Poupon," Bob says.

"Shit, I just want a peanut butter and jelly," Frank says, and when Gerard looks over, Frank's squinting up into the sunlight and grinning. Gerard wants him to look like that all the time.

"Call Brian and let him know," Gerard says.

"Brian doesn't care about my pain," Frank says. He tips his head onto Gerard's shoulder and closes his eyes. "You care about my pain, though, right?"

"Of course," Gerard says. He turns his head and breathes in the scent of Frank's shampoo. How Frank manages to bathe regularly on a tour like this is a complete fucking mystery, but Gerard isn't going to complain. "Don't light my shirt on fire."

"I would never light you on fire," Frank says.

At the show in Charlotte, some local mothers' group has organized and is protesting near the parking lot, carrying signs that say "GAYS BURN IN HELL" and "DON'T CORRUPT THE CHILDREN" or something equally ridiculous—Gerard tries not to look. There've been assholes protesting at every show since Phoenix, but he's still not used to it, and this crowd is larger than most, more vocal. He can hear them shouting even inside the bus.

"We can fire-bomb them," Frank says.

"No," Gerard says. They've got an hour before they need to be on stage—plenty of time for him to go outside and chain-smoke his way through the rest of a pack. "I'll, um. I'll be back in a bit."

There are dudes from other bands hanging out by the stage, crew guys, security, a dude with a headset who's probably with the festival. Gerard squats by someone's van and pulls out his cigarettes and lighter. The sky's that long, dusky blue of summer evenings, when it takes forever for the light to burn itself out into the atmosphere. Gerard's used to being accused of devil worship and warping young minds, but it's different this time, worse somehow.

Mikey comes out after two cigarettes and squats on the asphalt beside Gerard. "Hi," he says.

"Hey," Gerard says, and exhales a cloud of smoke. It's going to fuck up his voice and he doesn't care at all.

"You okay?" Mikey asks.

Gerard shrugs. "I could use a beer right now. Or like, ten."

"Don't joke about that," Mikey says.

"Sorry," Gerard says. He holds out his pack of cigarettes, offering.

"No thanks," Mikey says. "Gee, are you. This is making you upset."

"No shit," Gerard says.

Mikey sighs and sits his ass on the pavement, crossing his legs Indian-style. "I thought you were okay with this? Like, I dunno, people have said worse things about us. Remember in Oregon, there was that—"

"Yeah, that guy who said our songs had hidden messages about the apocalypse, right? Shit, and then his whole thing about blood donation being a form of vampirism or whatever." Gerard snorts.

"It really isn't any different," Mikey says.

"I don't know. It kind of is, though. That other bullshit was about us, like, the way we were choosing to present ourselves on stage, you know? This is about me being who I am." Gerard crushes out his cigarette and lights another one. He's making good progress.

"Yeah," Mikey says. He pulls out his keys and starts scraping at the gunk on the sole of his left shoe. "I guess."

"It's just. Fuck, Mikes, I kind of thought—I just thought things would be different, you know. After."

"Different how?" Mikey asks, peeling a wad of gum off his shoe.

"Have you noticed how nobody talks about it? It's like nothing's changed. Everyone just acts like I'm the same person I was before." Gerard swipes at his nose with his free hand. Chain-smoking always makes his nose run.

"You are the same person," Mikey says, like it's that easy.

"I don't feel the same," Gerard says.

"Maybe they aren't talking about it because they think you don't want to talk about it," Mikey says. "It's not like you've ever brought it up."

Fucking Mikey always has to be so goddamn logical. "Maybe I want them to bring it up."

"So basically, you just want to whine and not take action," Mikey says.

"Yep," Gerard says. His cigarette's down to a stub. He crushes it out and flicks it away from them, spinning out into the open space between vans.

Mikey says, "Is this about Frank?"

"What? No," Gerard says, and scowls. "It's not fucking—it's not about him."

"Okay," Mikey says mildly. "We should probably head inside soon."

"Fine," Gerard says.

During the show, he struts across the stage and talks a lot about self-confidence and being true to who you are. He's thinking about the angry mothers outside, and about the teenagers in the audience, and about how if he can change one person's life, just one, everything will have been worth it.

He sleeps like shit that night, shifting restlessly and banging his elbows against the wall of his bunk. His blankets are too hot, so he kicks them off and then he's too cold. When he finally drifts off to sleep, he has weird, unsettling dreams about being chased through an empty warehouse by a unicorn with a black hood on its head.

When they stop at a diner for breakfast, Mikey says, "Gerard wants us to talk about his sexuality."

"Oh my God," Gerard says. "Thanks, Mikes, but I really don't."

"It's important," Mikey says. "We need to have an atmosphere of acceptance and communication."

They all stare at him.

"That was a joke," Mikey says.

"It's too early in the morning for this," Ray says. "I want some scrambled eggs, can we have eggs?"

"It's a roadside diner, Toro," Brian says wearily. "They've got eggs."

"Who else wants a cigarette break," Gerard says.

"Me," Bob says.

"Breakfast first," Brian says. "We have to be back on the bus in an hour. You can smoke later."

"Okay guys, but seriously," Mikey says, "I think we've all been acting like nothing's happened, but this was a big step for Gerard, and maybe we should acknowledge that things are different for him, even if they maybe aren't different for the rest of us."

"Yeah, he's like a fucking butterfly emerging from his chrysalis," Frank says. "Pass the butter."

"Ha ha," Gerard says. "Seriously, I need a fucking cigarette." What he really needs is an entire fucking bottle of vodka, but if he says that out loud Mikey will probably start crying, and it's way too early in the morning for that.

"Gerard, we acknowledge that you would rather have intimate relations with dudes than with ladies," Bob says. "We're all very proud of you, and we think it's a great thing, and maybe Ray will give you a hug later, if you need one."

"Hey," Ray says.

"However," Bob continues, "none of us have ever been interested in the details of your sex life, and that hasn't changed, so please go on with that whole keeping it to yourself thing." He turns to Mikey. "If you don't take your fucking hands off my sausage links, I will castrate you."

"Jeez, sorry," Mikey says.

"That was a touching speech," Brian says. "Thank you, Bob."

"Your sarcasm's thick enough to kill a guy," Frank says.

"It's my specialty," Brian says.

"I hate all of you," Gerard says, when his voice finally starts working again. "Can we please never talk about this again?"

"Sounds good to me," Bob says.

Gerard heads for the back lounge as soon as they get on the bus and settles in with his headphones and drawing pad, ready to ignore everyone in favor of a few hours of sweet charcoal bliss. He's still feeling flustered and irritated by Mikey's breakfast intervention. Alicia's always making Mikey read these self-help books about embracing your inner self and communicating your needs to others, and now Mikey thinks that it's his mission to save Gerard from himself. Gerard hopes Alicia gets hit by a bus. Except not really, because she makes awesome cupcakes.

The door opens. Gerard looks up and scowls—he's really getting into the zombie that he's drawing, and he doesn't want any interruptions. "Would you—"

It's Frank, shaking his hair out of his eyes. "Hi," he says.

Gerard blinks and slides his headphones off his ears. "Hey," he says. "What's going on?"

Frank takes that as an invitation and crosses the room to sit next to Gerard on the sofa. "I wanted to talk," he says.

The words strike fear into Gerard's heart. "Um, about what."

"Like, what Mikey was saying at breakfast," Frank says. "I don't want to be all touchy-feely or whatever, but, uh. He was kind of right, I mean, it's a pretty huge deal for you, and I guess we've all kind of been acting like nothing's changed, which is mostly because we don't feel any differently about you, except maybe a little bit prouder, but I think Mikey was right that we need to be more understanding about what you're going through, so if you want to talk about it, I'm here."

"Wow," Gerard says.

Frank grins. "Was that too much?"

"Maybe a little," Gerard says. "But, um. Thanks."

"We don't really have to talk about it, do we?" Frank asks, looking pained.

"No," Gerard says. "I was just, I don't know. I thought—I guess I was being kind of stupid."

"Yeah, we all sat around sighing and shaking our heads over what an idiot you are," Frank says. He squirms closer. "Can I see?"

Gerard tilts his drawing pad so Frank can look at it. "Zombie," he says.

"Sweet," Frank says. "You should make it eat something."

"Like what," Gerard says.

"Ray Toro, this is the last day of your life!" Bob bellows from somewhere in the front of the bus.

"Maybe Bob," Frank says.

They sit there for the rest of the morning, Gerard drawing and Frank curled up warm against his side, making suggestions periodically but mostly just watching and breathing on Gerard's neck. Gerard's aware of every inch of his skin, the shape and size of it, and more so where Frank's touching him. He tries not to think about it but he can't ignore the fact that he is totally, totally fucked.

***

Gerard can admit it: he's in denial. Although maybe admitting his denial means that he isn't actually in denial, but whatever. He's spent what feels like every day of his life for the last six months trying not to watch the way Frank's shirt rides up when he bends over. It's idiotic, and he can't stop.

In Tampa, when Frank sidles close to him on stage, Gerard slides a hand around Frank's neck and down the front of his shirt, stretching the collar, until his palm's resting right over Frank's pounding heart.

He and Ray do a radio interview in Raleigh the next evening, just the two of them, and the DJ says, "Have you noticed a change in your relationships with the rest of your band?"

Gerard cracks open his can of Coke and hopes that Ray doesn't notice that he's blushing. "Not really," Gerard says. "Things are pretty much the same as always."

"We buy him different porn now," Ray says helpfully.

"I don't think you're supposed to say that on live radio, man," Gerard says. And besides, he definitely buys his own porn.

They've got most of the next day off, nothing to do until sound check. Gerard goes to a local AA meeting in the afternoon. He doesn't go at every opportunity anymore, not like he did for the first year and a half, but there are still days when he desperately wants a drink, when it's all he can do not to wander over to somebody else's bus and grab a beer out of the fridge. It won't ever be over. Whenever he starts feeling itchy in his own skin, he looks up the nearest meeting and goes, sitting in circles all across the country with people he'll never see again.

"I'm Gerard, and I'm an alcoholic," he says, when it's his turn. "I've been sober for three years this month."

Three years is a long time, but there are people at the meeting today who've been sober for seventeen, twenty-two years and are still coming to meetings routinely. The thought of sitting on these fucking uncomfortable folding chairs for the rest of his life is kind of depressing, but the drunken, self-destructive alternative is worse.

"Where've you been?" Mikey asks when Gerard gets back to the bus.

"AA," Gerard says. "When's sound check, soon?"

"Hour and a half," Mikey says. He frowns. "You haven't been in a while, is everything okay?"

Gerard rolls his eyes. "Yeah, Mikes, I'm not ever gonna stop going to meetings, quit freaking out."

"Okay," Mikey says. His expression clearly indicates that he's still dubious, but he lets it go after that.

The show's awesome that night—the crowd's really into it, and Gerard responds to their excitement by ramping it up until he's shaking his ass all over the stage and letting Frank grind on him during "Mama." There are girls right up against the barrier holding a handmade rainbow sign, and Gerard blows kisses to them and grins as they scream louder. It's worth it, all of it, just to see the joy on their faces.

He hooks up with one of Placebo's guitar techs that night. He doesn't mean to—he stopped having random sex when he got sober, and by now his post-show routine consists of changing into his sleep pants and watching a movie until he's ready to go to bed. There's nothing in there about messy blowjobs backstage, but that's what Gerard somehow finds himself doing, his back against the wall and his dick halfway down Nathan's throat.

He thinks the guy's name is Nathan, at least. He's pretty sure. Nathan's got shoulder-length hair and a tongue piercing, and he keeps rubbing the metal over and over the head of Gerard's cock, licking around the rim. Gerard's teeth feel like they're coming loose in their sockets. Anyone could find them, a reporter, a wayward fan, and he doesn't fucking care at all.

"Wait," he says, cupping Nathan's jaw, but it's too late, his hips are twitching forward and he's coming, sooner than he wants to.

Nathan pulls back, grinning and licking at the corner of his mouth. "Hey," he says.

Gerard smiles weakly. "Hey," he says. He clears his throat. "I'll, uh, I'll do you—"

"Nah, that's okay," Nathan says, shaking his head. "I'll see you around, yeah?"

"Sure," Gerard says, stuffing himself back into his pants.

He goes to find a bathroom before heading back to the bus—he can't go back like this, he's a mess, he smells like spunk and sweat. He washes his hands under cold water, scrubbing hard. His face in the mirror is flushed and sweaty, and the words written on his neck in permanent marker are smeared beyond all recognition. He can't even remember what Frank wrote there before the show. Something about being brave, maybe. About taking on the world.

The bus is quiet. Frank's curled up in the lounge, watching something on TV with the volume turned low. "Hey," he says, sitting up and rubbing at his face. "What's up?"

"I was just on the phone with my mom," Gerard says. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other. "You want a smoke?"

"Fucking always," Frank says. "Just lemme put some shoes on."

He disappears into the bunks. Gerard turns off the TV and stands in the dark, waiting.

It was a hot day, but it's gotten a bit cooler now, past midnight. He and Frank lean against the bus and smoke in companionable silence. Gerard watches the cherry of Frank's cigarette flare brighter with each inhale.

"I can't wait for this fucking tour to be over," Gerard says.

Frank snorts. "You're the one who's always signing us up for shit, dude."

"Yeah, but." Gerard blows out a cloud of smoke. "I guess. I just didn't time things too well, you know, what with—"

"Yeah, Linkin Park fans aren't the most accepting people in the world," Frank says, and they both laugh.

"I just want to go home for a while," Gerard says. "Take naps on my mom's couch. Beg her to cook for me."

"Oh, fuck, my mom's eggplant parmesan," Frank says. "Shit. I'm so hungry now."

"Yeah," Gerard says. He turns his head and watches Frank, who's looking out across the empty field behind the buses, cigarette dangling from his mouth. Gerard thinks about how easy it would be to reach out and touch the back of Frank's neck. He stuffs his hands into his pockets instead. "I'm gonna go in," he says.

"Okay," Frank says. "Don't wake Mikey up, he's been a pissy bitch all night."

Mikey's snoring softly in his bunk. Gerard strips down and brushes his teeth in the bathroom without turning on the lights. He wants to wake Mikey and tell him everything, what happened with Nathan, the whole thing with Frank, every stray thought he's had for the last three weeks.

"Shit," he says into the quiet. Mikey grunts and turns over—Gerard can hear the sheets rustling. He puts his toothbrush back in its plastic cup.

Alicia joins them in Virginia Beach the next day, flying down from Jersey to spend the rest of the tour with them. Gerard gives Mikey a lot of shit about his domestic bliss, but secretly he's glad. He likes Alicia, self-help books and all. She's good for Mikey.

"Watch out, My Chemical Romance, Alicia is in the house," Alicia announces when she climbs onto the bus. Mikey follows, carrying her enormous duffel bag. For all Gerard knows, Alicia could be hiding bodies in that thing.

"I can't contain my glee," Ray says.

"I heard that, Toro," Alicia says. Frank starts giggling.

"It's going to be a long two weeks," Bob mutters.

"There's my favorite brother-in-law! Can I have a hug?" Alicia asks, holding out her arms. Gerard hugs her dutifully. He always expects her to be larger than she is, but probably it's a good thing that she's small because otherwise she would crush Mikey.

They go out for lunch, just the three of them, Gerard and Mikey and Alicia around a table in the most run-down restaurant they can find, where all the food is either fried or slathered in butter, and there are dirty polka-dotted curtains hung in the windows. It's awesome.

"So tell me," Alicia says, halfway through her crab cakes, "what's it like to be the icon of new gay America?"

Gerard groans. "Oh, God, not you too."

"I'm kidding, doofus," Alicia says. "No, but seriously, are you holding up okay? Are these clowns being nice to you?"

"I'm always nice," Mikey says, stealing fries off Alicia's plate.

"I was mostly talking about Frank," Alicia says.

Gerard rubs his face with both hands. "It's not—I don't know why everyone fucking thinks it's about Frank."

"What's 'it,'" Alicia says. "Who said anything about 'it'?"

"He's in love with Frank and thinks it's a big secret," Mikey says.

"Christ," Gerard says, his ears going hot. He feels like he's going to lose his lunch. "I don't—"

"That's why you came out, isn't it?" Mikey says, full steam ahead. "Because of what happened in Seattle? I know you're trying not to—"

"Nothing happened in Seattle," Gerard says. "That wasn't even—"

"I know, but it was still about him," Mikey says. "You wouldn't have done it if—"

"I don't want to have this conversation," Gerard says sharply.

Mikey shuts up.

"Wow," Alicia says, breaking the silence that follows. "I have no clue what just happened here."

Gerard sighs. "Sorry, Mikes. I'm—sorry."

"It's okay," Mikey says. He leans over and takes a hush puppy off Gerard's plate, which is how Gerard knows he's been forgiven.

"Me and Gerard are going on a walk after lunch," Alicia says. "No arguing and no pussying out. It's time for some girl talk."

"I'm not a girl," Gerard says.

"Girl talk is about feelings," Alicia says. "Bitch, please, you invented navel-gazing."

"You really kind of did," Mikey says, the traitor.

After lunch, Mikey walks back to the bus, and Gerard and Alicia stroll down the boardwalk, trying to look incognito. It actually works—they only get stopped a handful of times. Gerard thinks the teenagers are probably too busy staring at all the half-naked bodies to pay much attention to anything else.

It's fucking ridiculously hot, but the breeze blowing off the water feels nice. Gerard's been to Virginia Beach a few times before and he hates how crowded and over-built it is, but the ocean is the ocean no matter where you are, and he likes watching the waves swell and crash against the shore.

"Do you have a cigarette?" Gerard asks.

"Honey, you are a big fucking rock star, I think you can afford to buy your own cigarettes," Alicia says, but she's a marshmallow on the inside, so she pulls a pack out of her purse and offers it to Gerard.

They're quiet for a while, smoking and watching a bunch of little kids run around, inner tubes flopping around their waists.

"So," Alicia says, "what happened in Seattle."

"Fucking Mikey," Gerard says. "Can we not—do we really have to talk about this?"

"Well, the way I see it, there are two options," Alicia says. "Either you can cough it up and let me work my magic, or you can keep stewing in your own juices and Mikey will keep calling me at 3am worrying about you, and I won't ever get any sleep."

"Oh," Gerard says. Alicia's obnoxiously good at guilt-tripping him. He ashes his cigarette onto the boardwalk and hopes nobody notices.

"So. Spill," Alicia says.

Gerard shrugs and dodges a kid on rollerblades. "There's nothing to tell, it wasn't—nothing really happened."

"Somehow I find that hard to believe," Alicia says. She shoves her sunglasses up higher on the bridge of her nose.

"Fine," Gerard says. "Jesus Christ. Sometimes I think Mikey married you because you're the only person on the planet who's more stubborn than he is."

"Pot, kettle," Alicia says. "I'll spare you the rest."

"Thanks," Gerard says. He stops walking and leans against the guardrail, watching the light glint off the water. "When we were on tour in the spring, there was this guy, uh, one of the guitar techs, and we had a—we kind of had a thing. I hadn't ever been with a guy before, and it was—I don't know. It was something." He shakes his head. "Anyway, Frank walked in on us in Seattle, after the show, and I. Uh, I called The Advocate the next day."

"Huh," Alicia says. "So was Frank all freaked out or something?"

"Not really," Gerard says. "He was, I don't know, I think he was pretty drunk by that point, so. We never talked about it. But after that I kind of, I guess I couldn't lie to myself about it anymore? Like, there was an outside witness. It made it seem real." He crushes his cigarette against the railing and puts it in his pocket until he can find a trash can. He doesn't believe in littering.

"Kid, you're a mess," Alicia says. The wind picks up, whipping her hair around her head. "So now you're all in love with Frank and he doesn't know."

"I guess," Gerard says.

"Do you want to do anything about it?"

"Um, not really," Gerard says. "It would—I think it'd be a bad idea."

"Okay," Alicia says. "Huh."

"Can we be done talking about this now?" Gerard asks. It's making him think about Cy again, the way Cy looked at him when they agreed it was over, the way his hair had fallen into his eyes, his stupid orange tennis shoes. He doesn't want to remember those things.

"Sure," Alicia says. "Let's go walk down the pier, I want to see if anybody caught a shark."

Nobody has. They go back to the bus and Gerard takes a long nap in the back lounge. If he has any dreams he can't remember them.

He kisses Frank on stage during the show that night. He doesn't plan it; Frank comes close during "House of Wolves," and Gerard's mind goes blank, and he leans in and plants one right on Frank's mouth.

The crowd screams, approval or disgust—Gerard can't tell for sure. The crowd on this tour tends to have a lot of dudes who are there to see Linkin Park and aren't into the whole homosexuality thing. Gerard struts across the stage and flips them off for good measure. He's not doing any of this for the assholes who would hate him anyway.

"Dude, what was that," Frank says in the tent, after.

"What was what?" Gerard says. He can't find his lighter and he needs a cigarette like a motherfucker. The tent's hotter than the deepest pit of hell, and it's too small, and Gerard's feeling crabby and he just wants to go back to the bus and pass out. He doesn't know why they even have a fucking tent, most of the time the festival people just send them right back to their bus, but for some reason this place is trying act all swanky.

"The part where you kissed me during the show? You forget about that already? Your mind's going, old man," Frank says. "Toss me that water bottle, Toro."

"I'm not your bitch," Ray says.

"Has anyone seen my lighter?" Gerard asks. "Fuck."

"It's in your other pants," Mikey says.

"Bus call in twenty minutes," Worm says.

"Fuck, where are my pants," Gerard says. He gives up on the table and starts digging through the pile of clothes on the mildewy sofa somebody dragged in. "Motherfucking ass-fuckers. God damn it. Didn't I leave them here? It was just a kiss, Frank, we've fucking done it before, it wasn't a big deal."

"Oh, so you're not in love with me?" Frank asks. "Are you saying it was just for the show? Bob, I hope you're hearing this."

"I'm hearing it," Bob mutters.

Frank attaches himself to Gerard's neck like a fucking leech, rubbing his sweaty armpit all over Gerard's shoulder. "Why don't you love me? Aren't I pretty enough?" He flutters his eyelashes.

"Find my lighter for me and maybe I'll love you then," Gerard says.

"Eighteen minutes!" Worm says.


part two
Tags: bandslash, fic, mcr fic, slash
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