ladyfoxxx: (mikeyfuckingway)
ladyfoxxx ([personal profile] ladyfoxxx) wrote2012-07-13 06:13 pm

Fic: We Used To Be Friends (2/5)

Master Post | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5


Previous

***

April 28, 2003

"Fuck, Frank, I don't think I can do this."

"Don't be an idiot, you can totally do it." Frank reaches up and adjusts Mikey's guitar strap. "You already know all the songs, and you've played with the guys and they all fucking love you. Don't be a dipshit."

"It's different playing session. This like, to be in the fucking band permanent."

Frank flicks Mikey in the shoulder. "It's only different in your head Mikes, don't be dumb. Play the fucking song."

Mikey places his fingers on the strings, gripping the pick in his fingers so tight his knuckles are white. He goes to strum the first chord, and then stops, putting his hand down. "I can do it well enough here on my own, but on stage? You know they're way past basement shows now - they're playing clubs, they're playing the fucking Loop-" Mikey stops himself, breath coming short. "I think I'm gonna be sick."

Frank grabs Mikey by the shoulders, looking him dead in the eye. "Don't be such a pussy."

"It's fine for you, asshole, you've played plenty of shows."

"And so have you, fucktard. Just don't look up. Stay in the song and make like you're not on the stage. Just be here, on your own, in your mind, right? Don't let them see your eyes."

"That isn't going to work." Mikey slits his eyes at Frank.

"How the fuck do you know, you haven't even tried it. You've practised the shit out of these songs, Mikes, you'll be awesome. Stop being such prissy little fuck." Frank kicks Mikey's heavy boot with his Chucks. "Stop being such a girl, Mikeyway."

Mikey averts his gaze, but Frank still sees the smile before he turns his head.

"Such a fucking girl. You're so girly you sit down to pee. You're such a chick you're afraid of a little club show. Like a little girl. Like a little pussy." Frank punctuates the words with kicks to Mikey's boots, waggling his eyebrows at Mikey comically.

It totally fucking works. Mikey snorts out a laugh, trying to press his mouth into his shoulder and hide behind his hair. He giggles and Frank head-bumps him, laughing himself and watching the tension slip out of Mikey's shoulders. He waits until Mikey's shoulders stop shaking before he says, "Now play the fucking song."

Mikey plays it, and even without a backing track he hits every note perfectly. Frank nods along, hearing the drums, the lead, the lyrics sound in his head as Mikey plays the rhythm lines. He steps back and sits on the amp, feeling the notes vibrate through his ass and up his chest, head bouncing along in time.

Mikey plays the last notes, nodding out the final drum beats and holding the last chord longer than he needs to.

Frank jumps off the amp, grinning wide, walking up to Mikey and punching him in the shoulder. "See. If you just listen to me you're fine."

"You're such an asshole," Mikey says. But he's smiling when he says it.

Frank just returns the grin. "I know."


***

Mikey calls the next day. Frank's teaching, so he can't answer it, but he sees his phone screen flash an unknown number and makes a note to check his voicemail later. He's a little distracted for the rest of the class, but he puts it down to the lack of sleep from the show.

He's more eager for the bell to sound than his students, and he's got his phone to his ear before the last student makes it out the door. He's half expecting the message to be a wrong number, or his dentist, but when the computer voice finishes telling him the message was left at "one oh three PM" it's Mikey's voice on the line.

"Oh hey Frank, it's Mikey." Frank can hear Gerard talking in the background, something about paisley. "So hey, the Sunshine is doing an Evil Dead marathon tomorrow night if you're up for it. I'll buy the popcorn. This is my number, by the way, so like, call or text or whatever. I'm staying at Gee's."

A small smile tugs at Frank's lips as he ends the call and clicks through the menu to save Mikey's number, overwriting the old long-dead number under his "Mikeyfuckingway" contact. For the first time in a long time the name of that contact makes him smile. His next class are already filing in, so he sends Mikey a text instead of calling.

Evil Dead. It's a date.

He hits send and pockets his phone, turning to face his students. Maybe he can trick them into learning something today.

***

October 4, 1999

"Frank, you're missing it! It's the fucking best part and you're missing it!" Mikey shouts from the living room. Frank can hear the rising tones of music for a massacre and the odd scream leaking into the kitchen.

"Fucking hit pause then, asshole!" he shouts back, wedging a bottle of Coke under his arm and juggling a bag of Cheetos, a cheap bottle of bourbon and two glasses in his hands. How the fuck is it always his turn to get the movie snacks? Mikey's superpower is getting people to get shit for him while he sits on his ass. Frank needs to find a way to absorb this power and put it to good use. Frank hip-checks the fridge door closed and walks into the living room where the movie is still running, Mikey sprawled on the couch watching it. He hasn't even reached for the remote.

Frank puts his load down awkwardly and drops his ass on the couch beside Mikey. "I told you to pause it, asshole."

"What?" Mikey doesn't even look away from the screen. Frank glares at his ear and reaches over him for the remote, making sure he elbows Mikey on the way. He points it at the VCR and hits rewind.

"Hey!" Mikey objects, grabbing for the remote, but Frank's faster, pulling it out of his reach and keeping an eye on the screen. Whatever he missed it looks bloody - was that a decapitation? Fuck yeah. He's just about to hit play when Mikey grabs the remote back and hits fast forward.

Oh, now it's on.

Mikey wrenches the remote back, holding it at arms' length. Frank climbs over Mikey, kneeling on his leg; Mikey winces and Frank grabs the remote back before Mikey can retaliate. Before he has a chance to use it, Mikey grabs him around the waist, somehow managing to flip him clean off the couch. Frank lands on his back on the grody carpet, wind knocked out of him on impact with an audible oof. Mikey - who has clearly been watching too much pro-wrestling - presses his knee into Frank's solar plexus like he's a freshly-conquered country, leans over, and grabs the remote back from Frank's failing grip.

He taps Frank on the head with it. "Don't touch the remote."

He hits play, somewhere so deep into the movie Frank's never gonna be able to follow the plot now. It doesn't matter to Mikey, he's seen the Evil Dead trilogy approximately five billion times. He can pretty much recite the dialogue - screams included. Frank sits up, breathing hard as Mikey settles on the couch, remote wedged under his leg as he pours two bourbon and Cokes. Well. Bourbons with a splash of Coke.

Frank climbs up onto the couch, bouncing his ass on the cushions hard enough to make Mikey slop Coke onto the table. Mikey glares at him, but still hands him one of the drinks, so he's not really pissed. Frank takes it, chugging the whole thing in one long slurp and slamming the empty glass down on the table.

"You do realise I'm just going to have to ask you all the questions about what the fuck happened in the part that I missed."

"I don't have to answer you."

"True, but what if I-" Frank digs a finger into Mikey's side, right into the spot where's he's so ticklish it makes him squeal. And he does squeal, leaping sideways and sloshing his drink over his fingers.

"Dick," Mikey swears, putting his glass down and wiping his sticky-wet fingers on Frank's cheek. Frank goes on the offensive, trying to lick Mikey's hand before he remembers this is Mikey nothing grosses him out, so he bites Mikey's palm, getting another high-pitched squeal before Mikey pulls another fucking ninja wrestling move and Frank winds up with his face pressed into the back of the couch and Mikey sitting on his legs. The couch cushions smell like cigarettes and Way-funk. Frank tries to move, but Mikey's got a firm hold on his neck, the vibrations of his laughter shaking down Frank's back.

Frank makes a totally hilarious one liner that even he can't understand because his mouth is smushed into the upholstery and scissors his legs. The movement is violent enough to unseat Mikey and Frank uses that to his advantage, flipping over and flinging himself onto Mikey in a whirl of elbows and knees. By now they're both laughing uncontrollably. Mikey tries to get a grip on Frank's wrists but he keeps twisting out of the way, his hands leaving Indian burns all over Frank's forearms. Frank shoves Mikey backwards and the coffee table rattles, knocking one of the glasses over. It splashes cold drink all over Frank's thigh and down Mikey's back. Mikey squeals again, his eyes bugging out and he looks so ridiculous that Frank loses his shit, dissolving into giggles and rolling back and forth on the carpet.

"Your fucking face!" Frank snorts, hiccuping between gasping laughs. Mikey glares down at him, his hair so fucked up from the scuffle that parts of it are standing vertical.

Frank recognises Mikey's evil grin a moment too late to avoid getting a face-full of bourbon and coke. Then Mikey can't stop laughing. Frank spends the rest of the night with his neck sticky and his t-shirt damp, but it's still a fucking good night.

Later, much later, when they've run the gamut of all three Evil Dead movies and the TV's on informercials because they can't be bothered channel surfing, Frank's limbs are weighted with lead and there's a happy warm buzz in his skull. He could really go for some weed if only he hadn't smoked up his stash last weekend. Mikey's sprawled bonelessly on the couch beside Frank, their legs in a tangle under the coffee table. His glasses have slipped right to the end of his nose and his hair is equally divided between the sections that are standing upright and the sections that are plastered flat to his skull. The only light comes from the television and it plays over Mikey's face and hair, casting weird patterns over his skin.

"What?" Mikey says, and only then does Frank realise he was staring.

"Oh. Nothing. I'm drunk."

Mikey smiles messily. "Me too." He rubs his eyes with the back of his hand. "We should probably go to bed."

"Yeah," Frank agrees, but he doesn't move, and neither does Mikey.

They watch an ad for an abdominal exerciser and then one for a mop. Frank's just starting to really get into the one about the steamer when Mikey says, "So Gerard hooked up with someone at school."

"Go Gee! College pussy is where it's at." He gropes for his glass to toast with, but it's out of his reach and he's pretty sure it's empty anyway, so he fistpumps in lieu of a toast. Gerard would understand.

Mikey makes a non-committal noise, which forces Frank to look up, because Mikey's non-committal noises generally require some kind of tied-in facial expression to decode what they mean.

"What's the problem, he needs to get laid, right?"

"Yeah, but it wasn't a chick."

"Oh. Okay." Frank considers the idea. Gerard and a dude? Yeah okay, he can see that. On some level it actually makes a lot of sense. "So, is it like serious, or is it just-" Frank waves a hand like a half-assed orchestra conductor, "an experimental thing?"

" I don't know." Frank tries to read Mikey's facial expression, but between the dark and his general state of inebriation, it's not easy.

"Is that, like, a problem for you?" he asks Mikey carefully.

"Fuck no. Not my business who he puts his dick in."

"Um, okay." Frank's not entirely sure he wants to be talking about this. "Not really my business either." Frank takes a breath, his mouth curving downwards in distaste when he remembers the stupid shitheads who used to throw the word 'faggot' at him in school. Gerard didn't have a much better time of it either, though he kind of brought it upon himself by wearing tights in that play freshman year. "He's not going to like - cop shit for that is he?" he asks. Because maybe this is why Mikey's bringing it up. Maybe he's worried about Gerard getting the crap beaten out of him.

" Frank, he goes to art school. In New York." The twist in Mikey's voice says it all.

"Okay, so, it's fine then. Gerard's getting some, which means he's not being a hermit freakazoid weirdo and actually going out and having, y'know, life experiences and shit at college. That's good, right?"

"So, it doesn't bother you then?" Mikey asks, voice softer than usual.

"What doesn't?"

"The gay thing."

Oh. Oh. Right.

"Why the fuck would it bother me? He's your brother. Whatever. Him banging dudes isn't going to change anything."

They watch another ad for a toaster and then one for a non-stick frying pan where the guy doing the demo manages to make eggs stick to the non-stick frying pan. Now that's talent.

"What if it was me?" Mikey asks. It takes a moment for Frank to process the question, because his brain has to fly from the how the fuck do you make eggs stick to teflon, nothing sticks to teflon? zone to the Mikey is talking about serious shit and he looks kind of worried zone and Frank's still pretty drunk. It's not a fast transition.

"What?" Frank rolls the question back in his mind, weighing up the words. "What if what was you?"

Mikey sinks deeper into the couch. "What if I was into guys?"

"Are you?" Frank asks, which is totally not an answer, but he can't help it, it just comes out.

Mikey just shrugs, which from Mikey is as good as a yes. Frank tries to force his brain to work. Does he actually care if Mikey likes dick? Hmm. Well, half the scene guys Mikey hangs out with look like chicks anyway with all the eyeliner and sideways hair and skinny jeans. It isn't really that much of a change.

Frank echoes Mikey's earlier answer, "Like I care where you put your dick." He gives Mikey's foot a soft kick and that makes Mikey smile. Only a little smile, but Frank counts it as a win.

The amazing Teflon-destroying guy gets out two sentences about a waffle iron when Frank asks, "Hey, so does that mean you can hook me up with the chicks you don't want to date?"

Mikey kicks him. It hurts.

"Ow. Dude. I'm being helpful and supportive here. You are so ungrateful." He goes to bitchslap Mikey, but Mikey has clearly been watering down his own drinks tonight, because he moves like a ninja, grabbing Frank's wrist and biting his hand. Frank yelps and pulls his hand away, shaking his fingers.

He glares at Mikey, considering retaliation, but decides he can't be bothered and just kicks him again, aiming for his bony knee and getting more shin than anything. Man, Frank is fucked.

He's lost all interest in the ridiculous informercial guy now. His mind is swimming around the idea of Mikey being into dudes. He tries to imagine what that would look like. He's seen Mikey make out with chicks before - way too often, the guy has serious hook up karma and no sense of privacy. Frank tries to overlay a guy's face on the last chick he saw Mikey make out with. At first it's a little slippery, but once he gets a handle on it, it makes a weirdly large amount of sense.

Huh.

"Hey, so is this like a theoretical thing, or have you like, actually done stuff? With dudes, I mean?"

Mikey turns to look at Frank, one eyebrow raised.

"What?" Frank asks, "You brought it up!"

Mikey drains what's left in his glass. They ran out of Coke so they're doing bourbon and Sprite now and it's just weird tasting. "Sort of."

"Sort of? Sort of how? Oh wait, - with who? Dude, I can't believe you've been sitting on this." He digs his knee into Mikey's side. "Some best friend, you are. God, if I was getting some you'd know all about it."

"Yeah, I know that, believe me."

Frank beams a huge smile at Mikey, swirling the dregs of his drink around the bottom of his glass. "Sharing is caring. Now spill."

Mikey climbs off the couch, teetering a little as he kneels beside the coffee table to pour himself a fresh drink. Frank wields his own empty glass under Mikey's nose insistently until Mikey takes it. "Who was it?"

"No one you know." Mikey doesn't look up from the drink he's pouring.

Frank knees him in the back, making Mikey sway forwards, slopping sprite onto the coffee table. "Tell."

Mikey makes that annoyed throat-noise. "This dude, he was in town with his soccer team."

"Woah, you got it on with a jock?" That doesn't fit with the mental image Frank created earlier. He tries to imagine Mikey making out with some dude in shin-guards and a soccer jersey and he starts laughing. He wriggles lower on the couch until his legs are dangling, laughing until he's gasping for breath.

Mikey picks up the two drinks and sits carefully back down on the couch, holding them near his chest. Frank reaches for one and Mikey pulls it closer. "No way man, you don't get to laugh at me and then still get this. I pour drinks for real friends."

"Real friends don't sit on sex gossip, come on, give me the drink and we can call it even."

Mikey hangs on a little longer, but it's only for show. Frank pries Mikey's fingers off the glass and slugs back a mouthful. Fuck, it really does taste weird. "So did you fuck him?"

"No."

"Did he fuck you?"

"No."

"Blow job?"

"No."

Frank's running out of options here. "What then? Did he give you his letter jacket and ask you to the prom?"

Mikey flips him off.

"You suck at this. How am I supposed to vicariously live your hot gay sex life? Mikeywaaaay," Frank whines, turning Mikey's name into a twenty syllable word.

Mikey raises an eyebrow at him and turns his hand so instead of flipping Frank the bird he's making a... demonstrative hand motion.

So now Frank's mental image of Mikey and the guy in the shin-guards now involves hand jobs and Frank laughs so hard he can't even breathe.

Hours later, they end up on the back stairs, heavy jackets over old their old sweats, smoking in the open air so the smell won't carry into the house. (The Ways' isn't a non-smoking household and Donna used to be pretty relaxed about the boys smoking inside, but when she got an earful from Frank's mom about his fucking immune system, he and Mikey had to start being more sneaky.)

Frank squints up at the sky, watching the curls of smoke rise from the burning cherry of his cigarette, turning orange against the streetlight glare.

They smoke quietly, really only concerned with the nicotine hit so they can get back inside where it's warm. Mikey's the one who breaks the silence.

"So, have you ever...?"

The question hangs in the air between them like the smoke. "Ever what?" Frank asks, turning his cigarette and watching the ash flutter to the ground.

"You know." Mikey inclines his head. "With like, a guy."

"No. Believe me, you'd know if I had."

"Yeah. Only too well." Mikey shakes his head, taking another drag from his cigarette. He still doesn't look completely comfortable talking to Frank about this, but he's getting better now.

Frank sidles up to Mikey, leaning his head on his shoulder. "You know I'm saving my ass cherry for you, Mikeyway."

That makes Mikey laugh, a startled little snort that's totally genuine. Mission accomplished.


***

Frank ends up going to the Gerard's to pick up Mikey, because somehow despite being a rockstar, Mikey still doesn't have a car. He could probably borrow Gerard's, but Frank's okay with driving. He's been in a car with Mikey behind the wheel.

Gerard answers the door, his hair standing pretty much vertical, wearing a shirt that was once black but has now faded to a dull grey and is streaked with paint.

"Oh hey, dude," he says, grinning at Frank and shoving his hair out of his face. The movement streaks red paint across his cheek and Frank's not sure if he should mention it. "Mikey's upstairs." Gerard says, and then leans up the stairwell and shouts, "Mikey! Frank's here!"

The Ways' intercom system hasn't changed in the past ten years then.

"You want some coffee or beer or something?" Gerard asks. Frank hums thoughtfully and peers up the stairs, wondering how long it's gonna take Mikey to come down.

"He's doing his hair," Gerard says, with a meaningful eyebrow. Because that could take hours.

"Make it coffee then."

By the time Mikey does make it downstairs, Frank's on his second cup (in a mug which has a blue paint smear on the rim) and Gerard's deeply involved in explaining the plot of his next graphic novel. It sounds really good and Frank is so swept up in Gerard's hand-gesticulating descriptions that he doesn't notice Mikey's joined them until he steals Gerard's coffee to take a sip. He slides into a chair beside his brother, smiling at Frank over the rim of the mug.

Mikey is looking a lot less rock star and a lot more typical Mikey tonight. He's got a grey knit cap pulled over his hair and there're a few wisps of blond sticking out from under the brim, sitting in front of his ears. He's wearing an old Star Wars t-shirt, the design cracked and peeling, and a pair of faded jeans with a hole in one knee.

Frank loses track of what Gerard's saying about the evil corporation that runs the show in 2019 for a moment. He shakes his head to try to clear it and get a grasp on Gerard's world. Gerard's still talking despite Frank's distraction; Frank's starting to think he could talk underwater. He only stops, mid-sentence, when he reaches for his cup and it's empty. He glances forlornly at the bottom of his mug before glaring at Mikey.

"You drank all my coffee."

"Hey, you said I could help myself to anything while I'm here." He glances across the table at Frank. "Hey, Frank."

"Hey, Mikes."

Gerard sighs a put-out Italian grandmother kind of sigh. "You're so lucky you don't have a little brother," He says to Frank. "They just take all your shit, without remorse, and they don't even apologise."

Frank snickers, but something in his chest squeezes up at the word brothers and his smile feels a little stuck on. Honestly, he'd be happy to put up with the bullshit if it meant he got to have a little of what Mikey and Gerard have.

Mikey rolls his eyes and gets up from the table, refilling Gerard's cup and sliding it back in front of him. "Happy?"

"I don't take it black."

"I know."

Gerard groans and gets up for the creamer. "Fucking useless little brothers."

"Love you too!" Mikey ruffles Gerard's hair as he walks past, then glances at Frank. "We should probably..."

"Yeah." Frank drains the dregs of his coffee and gets up.

Frank drives an old Honda that makes a funny noise when it's idling. It's not much of a step up from the clunker he used to drive in high school and he's a little embarrassed by it. He could afford something nicer if he wanted, but he's got other things he'd rather spend his money on, so he keeps an old juice container full of water and a bottle of oil in the trunk because old Bessie tends to overheat and she churns through oil so fast he has to check the levels about once a week.

He tries not to think about how Mikey could probably afford to buy some kind of ridiculous sports car if he wanted to. Maybe he already has.

Mikey doesn't give him shit about driving a crappy car. Frank almost thinks he would feel more comfortable if he had. He just digs open Frank's glove compartment and finds his CD wallet. (The one luxury Frank allowed himself was a decent sound system and a CD player. There's fuck-all good music on the radio anymore.)

"Madina Lake? Are you shitting me?"

"What, they've got good rhythm and their guitarist is awesome."

Mikey keeps flipping pages. "Frank, this is so sad. Tell me you've got something in here I can actually listen to."

"What? There is plenty of good shit in there, don't be an asshole." Frank glances over and flips a few pages back, pointing at a CD with "for Frank" scrawled across it in Sharpie. "That one."

"What, you mean this isn't like, a copy of someone's porn collection?" Mikey holds up the CD, his index finger through the hole in the middle.

"No, you dick, it's a demo of Toro's new project. It'll melt your face off."

Mikey laughs and puts it on. Halfway through the first track he cranks it really fucking loud and shouts, "Holy shit, this is awesome."

It's like someone hit rewind on Frank's life, tearing down the streets with Mikey in control of the music, blaring metal out the windows into the wind. It's almost a shame when they get to the theatre – and the music dies abruptly, mid wailing guitar - as Frank kills the engine.

"Fuck man, they're good. They played many gigs?"

"Nah, it's still early days."

Mikey gives Frank a doubtful look. "That doesn't sound like early days."

"You know Toro, fucking perfectionist," Frank says, getting out of the car. It's not until he hears Mikey tapping on the window that he remembers his front passenger door catch is still fucking broken, and he jogs around the front of the car to open Mikey's door from the outside. "Sorry dude, I keep forgetting to get that shit fixed."

"Dogs die in hot cars, you know."

"Good thing it's spring, not summer. And you're not a dog."

"True. So, are you still playing too?"

Frank shrugs. It gives him a twinge to talk about it, especially to the person who's living his rock n' roll dream. But it's Mikey, and if anyone deserves it, Mikey does. Besides, Frank's not even sure he'd want it now. He'd miss his kids. If anyone told him ten years ago he'd wind up teaching he would've laughed them out of the room. "Sometimes," he admits, "more for me though. I jam with Ray from time to time too, but that's just for fun."

"We should jam sometime," Mikey says, eyes bright and earnest.

"Yeah," Frank says, suddenly smiling. "That'd be fucking awesome. I'll call Ray too. We can piss off my neighbours. Their fucking cat keeps pissing on my lawn."

When they get inside the theatre it's nearly empty. They sit up the back row anyway, their traditional spot. Once upon a time it was about not getting caught sneaking in, now they've actually paid for their tickets. There's only a handful of other people, so Frank takes advantage, propping his feet up on the seat in front of him and balancing the planet-sized box of popcorn they got on the seat beside him.

They've seen Evil Dead so many times by now that they could both recite it word for word. Mikey does a few times and Frank joins in on the killer lines when he can't resist. No one is sitting near them, but Mikey still leans in to whisper to Frank. It's just commentary along the way, stupid bits of trivia about the movie and memories of dumb shit they did when they were watching it, but it feels good.

"Hey, you remember when we tried to recreate the thing with the blood?"

"Fuck, that was messy. My mom still brings that up sometimes when she wants to talk about how much of little shit I was."

Mikey snorts under his breath. "Was? Like, you're not anymore."

"I think she's pretty happy I didn't go into music. I'm like, a functioning member of society and everything now."

"Yeah, those rock n' roll kids are dipshits. All drug addicts and people who need to be in jail."

"Totally," Frank says, stealing some of Mikey's junior mints.

In the intermission between movies they go outside, loitering in the parking lot and smoking. It's like a million other nights they've had. The only thing missing is warm cans of beer from under the seat in Frank's car or a dimebag of weed to top off the night.

It's well into the early hours by the time the third movie is done and Frank spends the second half of it fighting sleep. In fact, he must actually nod off because he misses the final showdown altogether and wakes up to the houselights already on and Mikey shaking his shoulder gently.

"Dude, you're such an old man." Mikey grins. His hat's slipped back on his head a little, and it's gone sideways, leave his hair all fuzzy where it's been rubbed. Frank blinks at him, still somewhere between asleep and conscious.

"Did I miss the end?"

"Yeah. It's okay though. Good guys won. Killed lots of bad guys. That kind of thing."

"Cool," Frank says, and lets Mikey drag him to his feet and steer him out of the theater. He goes for his keys, but Mikey grabs them out of his hand.

"It's cool man, I'll drive, you're probably too out of it."

Frank wants to argue that Mikey is the worst driver ever, but he's so fucking tired. Whatever, if he dies on the way home at least it won't be his fault. "Fine."

The moment Mikey turns the ignition the radio starts blaring. He turns it down to a low mumble, so Frank doesn't manage to stay awake on the ride home either. He wakes up when the car stops, and blinks through the windshield, recognising his house. "No, dude, we need to go to Gee's."

"It's cool, I can call a cab from here. You should get inside."

"Don't be dumb, man, I can drive ten fucking minutes."

"No. I really don't think you can." Mikey reaches across Frank to shove the passenger door open. It doesn't budge.

Frank says, blearily, "Broken, remember?"

Mikey actually gets out of the car, jogging a little awkwardly around the car to let Frank out, ignoring Frank's weak protests. He shoves Frank towards his front door. "C'mon. Just get inside. You're about to fall over. You're such a senior citizen."

Frank flips him off, but it loses some of its impact because he's yawning at the time. He fumbles through his keys and it's not until he's inside that he realises that Mikey hasn't seen his place. It's nothing special, just a little two-story brick house, with a postage stamp sized backyard and a decent sized garage that's crammed full of too much shit for Frank to park his car in it. The bank owns more of it than he does, but it's still Frank's place - shitty carpet, ugly feature wall and all.

"It's nothing special," he tells Mikey as they go inside, somehow feeling like he needs to warn Mikey, as if Mikey's highflying rockstar lifestyle wouldn't have prepared him for Frank's solidly middle class existence. He flicks the light switch on, illuminating the jumble of mismatched furniture, the random collection of posters scattered on the walls from Black Flag to Kimya Dawson and Metropolis to Batman. His record and CD collections take up a corner of the living room, along with his two guitars. His TV's still an old tube type, but it's widescreen and huge, and he's got two different kinds of games consoles for it. Most of the furniture is covered in throw blankets, because it's all old and the throws are better than sitting on threadbare upholstery, and most of the shitty-ass carpet is covered with a giant rug his mom gave him.

It's nothing fancy, but it suits Frank fine.

"Cool place," Mikey says, coming inside, already shrugging out of his jacket. He wanders over to Frank's CD collection and starts browsing. He smiles when he gets to CD player and finds the case to The Used's last album sitting on top, empty because the CD is in the player. Frank had been listening to it before the show - trying to get familiar with the songs. Mikey picks up the case and waves it at Frank. "What'd you think?"

Frank nods. "It's good. Solid. At least three singles on there, I bet. Not that I know what I'm talking about." Frank's manners kick in, a little late and sounding suspiciously like his mom. "You want a drink? Coffee? Beer? I think I've got some juice?"

Mikey's mouth starts to form the word "coffee" but he cuts himself off. "No, dude, you're supposed to be going to bed. I'm just gonna go."

Frank rolls his eyes. Now that he's not in the car he's feeling more awake anyway. "Don't be an idiot, Way. I'll put the pot on."

When Frank comes out of the kitchen with two mugs of coffee, Mikey's on his couch peering at the top paper on a pile of grading Frank brought home to do over the weekend.

"Oh, you should take a closer look at that one. It's killer."

Mikey raises an eyebrow, accepting the mug and taking a long sip. Frank picks up the paper, and clears his throat - "So Doctor Frankenstein thought he was bringing something good to the world, but the world didn't understand and thought his monster was a monster, so them going after it is like the persecution of the Catholic church."

Mikey carefully swallows his coffee. "Um, what?"

"I think that kid didn't actually read the book. I don't even think he watched the movie. Oh wait, this one's a kicker." Frank rifles through the pile until he finds the paper he covered in red writing. It's not that the kid who wrote it isn't smart; he just apparently didn't feel the need to explain any of his opinions, so it reads like a really strange manifesto. Frank shares a few choice passages with Mikey until they're both giggling.

"So this is what you do now." Mikey taps the pile. He shakes his head. "It's still a headfuck, Frankie."

"Yeah well, having a copy of your album in my CD player that isn't a burn from your computer is kind of a headfuck for me, Mikes." Frank puts his empty mug down, settling into the couch. "What's it like, really?"

Mikey looks down into his empty mug. "It's hard, sometimes. It sounds stupid, but it can get really hard. I like the playing though, the shows. Every night you get up there and there're all these kids and they just keep coming. Sometimes you see the same ones at shows night after night, and you're like - what are you doing back here? It's not like we're gonna do anything different, you've already seen it."

Frank smiles at Mikey, feeling warm. "You got fans, man. True fans."

When Mikey smiles at Frank there's something faraway in his eyes. "Yeah. Yeah we do."

"We used to be those kids.Remember camping out for the Pumpkins? I fucking hated you for that, it was so fucking cold."

"We got barrier though, didn't we? So worth it."

Frank kicks Mikey's knee. "Whatever." The rest of the word is lost on a yawn. Okay, Frank maybe has to admit he is tired this time.

"Oh my god, go to bed, old man." Mikey pushes up off the couch, groping his pockets for his phone. "I'll call a cab."

"You can just crash here if you want." Frank says. "I've got a spare room and everything." Frank's pretty sure he changed the sheets since last time Ray crashed.

Mikey weighs his phone in his hand, then puts it away. "Okay, cool. I don't want to deal with a cab, anyway."

"Awesome," Frank says, scrubbing a hand over his face. Okay, he's really whacked. "Let me give you the two cent tour, then I'm gonna go fall over."

"It's cool, man, I'm sure I can figure it out."

Frank doesn't listen to him, just grabs Mikey's bony wrist and walks up the stairs, dragging Mikey behind him. When they're at the top, he points. "Your room's there, bathroom's there, my room's there. Don't break anything. See you in the morning."

Frank gets to his bedroom doorway when he hears Mikey's, "Hey, Frank?"

"Yeah?" Frank turns to see Mikey standing awkwardly on the landing.

"It's good to see you."

Frank's face stretches into a wide smile. "Yeah. It's good to see you to Mikeyway. Welcome home."

***

May 1, 2003

"This can't be everything I own." Mikey's voice sounds pitifully small and confused.

Frank looks at the pile of clothes on Mikey's bed, and the pile next to it of random electronics and toothbrush and hair gel. It is a pretty small pile.

"What else do you need? All your gear's going to be in the trailer with everyone else's right? So it's like, clothes and toiletries and shit." Frank inclines his chin at the pile. "What's all that?"

"Clothes and toiletries and shit," Mikey says, his eyebrows furrowing deep.

"As long as you've got ID, money and like, phone, if there's anything else you don't have you can pick it up on the road."

"Yeah, with all the money I'm gonna be raking in."

"Shut up Mikeyway, living on the road is cheap, as long you don't mind eating crap and stealing booze from other people's buses."

Mikey laughs and crawls onto the bed, flopping onto his side beside the precarious pile of all his worldly possessions. "Tell me all your wise road advice, oh experienced one."

"Fuck you, dude, this is an actual tour. Pencey's only done pissant shit. This is like, actual venues and you're gonna be playing with fucking Underoath." Frank shakes his head, staring at Mikey, awestruck. "Fuck, man, I'd kill to be you right now."

Mikey sits up, deadly serious. "You could you know. You're better at guitar than me, you could pick up the songs like that-"

"Shut the fuck up, Mikeyway." Frank surprises himself with the strength of his own voice. "Don't talk shit. This is your gig, you've earned it, and you're gonna fucking rock their faces off."

Mikey pulls his knees up to his chest. It makes him look small. "I'm gonna shit myself and puke all over the front row."

"Now that's a gorgeous mental image." Frank leans over the side of the bed, grabbing Mikey's duffel and throwing it at his head. "Pack up your shit so we can go and get drunk. You're leaving tomorrow, and it's bad luck to start a tour not hungover."

They do get drunk that night. Stupid, falling down, randomly telling everyone "I love you" kind of drunk. It's awesome.

It's so late it's early when Frank stumbles outside the bar to piss behind the dumpster because he can’t be bothered waiting for the bathroom. He zips up and turns to head back inside, bumping right into Mikey.

"Mikey!" Frank throws himself at Mikey, catching him in a hug. "Fuck, man, where did you go? I haven't seen you in ages."

"What? Dude, you just told me you were coming outside for a piss and a cigarette."

"I did? Oh yeah, totally did!" Frank still hasn't let go of Mikey. He doesn't want to, either, so he tightens his hold. "Can't believe you're going dude."

"It's only for a few months," Mikey says, but his voice doesn't sound that reassured.

"You're gonna go and get all fucking famous and then you're never gonna come back. What the fuck am I gonna do then?"

"The same thing you already do now dude, I just won't be here."

"That's gonna suck. It's gonna be so fucking boring, Mikey." Frank's lips brush against Mikey's stupid leather jacket as he talks. He wriggles closer to Mikey, until he can touch the tips of his fingers to his elbows where they're wrapped around Mikey. Fuck, he's so skinny. Fuck, he loves this guy. "I love you, Mikes." Frank doesn't mean to say it, but he's at the point in the night where anything he thinks is going to come out of his mouth anyway. It's not like it isn't true.

Mikey ruffles Frank's hair. "I love you, too Frankie." His voice sounds weird. Not drunk weird. Mikey doesn't seem to be that drunk at all yet.

Mikey's arms tighten around Frank. Frank nuzzles his face into Mikey's neck. He could just stay like this for the rest of the night. He can stock up on all the hugs he's not gonna get while Mikey's gone. Put 'em in the hug bank.

Mikey's hold loosens a little and he leans back. Frank blinks his eyes open. His movements are slow, all the corners softened by the booze. He peers at Mikey, trying to read his expression. His eyes are soft, a little sad, but the line of his mouth is determined. "Frank, I just wanted-" He bites his lip.

Frank's brow furrows as he tries to figure out what Mikey could want that he'd not just ask for - or take, in most cases.

"Anything, Mikes." Because even if he was sober, Frank's pretty sure he can't think of anything he'd say no to Mikey over.

Something twitches across Mikey's face, so fast Frank doesn't have time to read it, then he leans down and covers Franks mouth with his own.

Mikey's kissing him. Mikey's kissing him. Frank's hands spasm, gripping Mikey's jacket. He doesn't really kiss back right away, but he doesn't not kiss back either. His mouth softens under Mikey's, opening up a little. He leans up into it, and before he realises, he's gone from being kissed to kissing.

He doesn't think about what it means, just that it's a kiss, and a good kiss. Soft and deep. He loses himself in it, gives himself up to it, when suddenly it's over.

When he pries his eyes open, Mikey's sputtering, "I'm sorry. Fuck, I'm so sorry."

Before Frank can reprogram his tongue from kissing to speaking, Mikey's disappeared back inside.

Frank doesn't see him for the rest of the night. It's not for lack of trying; he circuits the room several times looking for him. Mikey just isn’t there. When Frank finally tracks down Gerard, he shrugs and tells Frank he's probably gone home. Frank lets himself get dragged back into the party and drinks himself stupid. It's easier than thinking about what happened.

He doesn't go after Mikey. That doesn't mean he doesn't want to. He just doesn't go.


***

Frank's body hates him. Apparently, even going to bed well after 2am is not enough to reset his ridiculous internal clock and he wakes up as usual, ten minutes before his weekday alarm. Not that he's set his alarm, no. And not that he wants to be awake either. Hell no. He rolls over and closes his eyes, but it doesn't matter how deep he digs, he can't find an ounce of sleepiness.

He rolls on his back and pulls a pillow over his head. Yeah no, that's not working either.

"Fine," he mutters at the empty room, and gets up.

The house is unsurprisingly quiet - Frank's pretty sure Mikey won't surface before noon. He's probably still living on rock n' roll hours. Frank puts on the coffee machine and zones out watching Food Network.

When Mikey finally shuffles out into the living room, Frank's on his third cup of coffee, his fourth episode of House Hunters, and he's about halfway through the pile of marking he brought home. He's reading a fifteen year old's rather confused take on Oedipus Rex and he's nearly ready to tear his hair out.

"Is there coffee?" Mikey asks.

Frank, thankful for any distraction at this stage, pulls his eyes away from the page. "Good morning to you, too."

"I'll be nice when I've had coffee."

Frank points at the machine. "I saved you a cup."

Mikey shuffles into the kitchen and Frank turns his attention back to the abomination purporting to be a paper. When Mikey gets back into the room, Frank just can't contain it anymore, he has to whine to someone.

"You know, they could actually read the play. Not just make up some shit based on what they found online."

Mikey flops down on the couch beside Frank, clutching his coffee mug in two hands. "Where's the fun in that? I'm pretty sure I got a B on that paper I did on Hamlet and I didn't understand a fucking word of that thing."

"You watched the movie, though."

"The movie rules. There's so much blood in that last sequence and everybody dies."

"You probably would've loved Titus Andronicus then. Lots of blood and chopping off limbs," Frank says. He stares at the words in front of him until they blur together. Fuck this, he can do it later. "Wanna go get some breakfast?"

"Sure. We going to Sweetheart's?"

Frank shoves the paper back on the marking pile, dropping his red pen on top of the pages. "Where else would we go?"

***

Sweetheart's does the best pancakes in Jersey. Mikey figured it out years before Frank did, but let Frank constantly suggest new places to try out anyway. Every time, the pancakes were utterly substandard and Frank wouldn't hear the end of it. Eventually he gave in and admitted that - on this single issue - Mikey was right, and didn't try to argue the point anymore. Plus, they do bottomless coffee.

Frank doesn't even need to look at the menu to order. He gets his usual tall stack with butter and maple syrup and a coffee. Mikey looks at the menu like he always does, dithers about ordering something different like he always does, and winds up getting the same.

They don't talk about old times over breakfast. Frank catches Mikey up on mutual friends he's lost touch with, and they compare notes over people they've both lost touch with, trying to guess where they wound up.

It's easy. Weirdly easy. It's like Mikey hasn't even been gone, things just slide back to the way they've always been. Frank kicking Mikey under the table and telling him he's an idiot. Mikey flipping Frank off and telling him his taste in music sucks. Both of them discussing in ridiculously fine detail the deeper motivations of characters from Lord Of The Rings.

Frank's plate is empty, pushed to the side, and he's nearly finished his second cup of coffee. He leans back in the creaky old booth, snorting out a laugh at the story Mikey's telling about two roadies getting into a scuffle on their last tour. Mikey grins as he tells it, arms waving in front of him, rushing the words like he can't get them out of his mouth fast enough. It's his real smile, the one Mikey won't do for cameras, because he thinks he's got bad teeth.

Something twists in Frank's chest and he realises that he's missed this. He's missed Mikey. It's not news, it's just, he didn't realise how acutely it had been affecting him, until now he has him back.

But it's not permanent. Mikey's never going to be back for good. There's no use dwelling on it.

"So when do you go back?"

"Huh?" Mikey pauses with his coffee cup halfway to his mouth. "Back where?"

"Back on tour."

"Oh right, our next show is in DC on like, Thursday. But we've got some MTV thing on Wednesday morning so Brian wants me at the airport Tuesday night."

"Wow," Frank says, his chest deflating. "That's really soon."

Mikey shrugs. "I know. God, I can't believe there are more people out there who still want to see us."

"You gonna be coming back this way at all?"

Mikey runs his finger around the rim of his cup. "I don't think so. I think it's all in the Midwest for the rest of the tour."

Frank's mouth pulls to the side. He'll just have to try not to get too used to having Mikey around. But either Mikey can still read him like a book, or Frank's just ridiculously transparent, because the next thing Mikey says is, ""You could come along, if you wanted."

"What?"

"Spring break's coming up, right? You could come on tour with me, hang out, see some shows and some bumfuck towns. Eat some shitty food."

Frank goes to shake his head. No way could he do that. "Break's not really a break dude, I'll have all this grading to do, classes to plan, all that shit."

"So?" Mikey shrugs. "You can do that anywhere right? Bring it with you."

"I'd be in the way."

"You're not that big."

"Fuck you," Frank says with a smile.

Mikey leans forward, eyes slipping down to the table top. "I'd like it, if you could. It'd be like, bringing a little bit of normal with me."

"Dude, if you think I'm normal, you really need help."

"You know what I mean. I'm gonna be on tour for the rest of the year. It's not like I've got a lot of options."

"MIkes-"

"Just think about it. You don't have to decide now. Or like, ever. I won't bring it up again."

"I'll think about it." Frank promises.

***

The thing is, Frank does think about it. He considers it. He gets online and checks The Used's tour schedule, compares it with when spring break is, calculates where he'd have to go, how long it would take, how long he could stay away.

In a nine day break, he could probably afford to be away for seven days. He can catch a last minute ski bunny sale, so the flight to Salt Lake City is pretty cheap. The flight times are doable. All of his grading is papers and tests, not dioramas and project boards.

He doesn't even realise that he's planning it until it's pretty much planned. The only thing he hasn't done is book anything - or tell anyone what he's doing.

The last day Mikey's in town, Frank stops by to see him at Gerard's place after school. There's a pile of bags in Gerard's front hallway, by the door. The sight makes Frank's chest clench up.

"Back on the road," Frank says, by way of greeting.

Mikey smiles, his hair smushed down under his knit cap. "Yeah well, Gerard was gonna kick me out if I stayed any longer."

"Lies!" Gerard yells from the kitchen. He appears in the kitchen doorway with a bottle of beer in each hand. "Mi casa, su casa." He walks over and hands a beer to each of them. "That means get the fuck out of my house in Spanish."

"You know, I used to teach Spanish, Gee."

Gerard shushes him. "Don't tell Mikey my secrets. It'll go to his head." He hooks an arm around Mikey's neck, leaning into a hug. "I don't see why you have to go. You know, if all these kids were true fans, they'd come to Jersey to see you play."

"You know, if you really loved me you'd follow me all over the country to watch me play. There are fans out there I haven't even met yet who'd do that for me." Mikey's voice is muffled into Gerard's hair.

"I guess I don't love you enough," Gee says, hugging Mikey tighter.

"Yeah, I guess not," Mikey says, tilting his head to rest his cheek on Gerard's messy hair.

"God, you guys are like a Kleenex commercial." Frank jibes.

"Whatever," Gerard says. He grabs Frank by the back of the neck, pulling him into a group hug. Frank goes willingly, wrapping his arms around the brothers and holding on tight, trying not to spill his beer.

When they pull apart they're all smiling, and Frank takes a pull from his beer.

"So does the rule about it being bad luck to start a tour not hungover still stand?" Mikey asks around a mouthful of beer.

"Technically, you don't have a show until Thursday, so getting drunk tonight doesn't count. Plus, I have classes tomorrow."

"You're such an old man," Mikey says, crawling onto the couch.

"Dude, I'm younger than you." Frank slumps down to sit beside him.

"I'm not talking about age in years. Your mental age is about eighty five."

"Yours is twelve."

"Thanks!" Mikey raises his beer. "I'll drink to that!"

Gerard reappears from the kitchen with a beer of his own. "That isn't worth a toast. Make it something worth drinking to." He slides down onto the sofa on Mikey's other side.

"You call it then." Frank says.

Gerard pauses for a moment of thought, then raises his beer. "To Mikey. Don't fuck off for too long."

"Here, here." Frank clinks his bottle to Gerard's and glares Mikey down until he clinks his with the other two.

"I'll do my best. I don't make the schedule, you know."

"Excuses, excuses," Frank says, swishing the beer around in his bottle.

For a moment there's only the sound of The Misfits coming out of the stereo. Gerard breaks it, "So Frank, you gonna go on tour with Mikey on spring break, or what?"

"Gee," Mikey hisses, glaring at him.

"What? I'm just asking," Gerard says, shrugging at Mikey, before turning questioning eyes on Frank.

"I don't know," Frank says. "I'm thinking about it. It's just-"

"Just what?" Mikey asks, looking way too interested.

Frank shrugs. "It's not my tour. I don't know. I'd be weird."

"Look at it this way - you can see how shitty touring is, and be glad you have a nice comfortable job where you get to sleep in your own bed every night."

"Or I quit my job because the call of the road becomes far too strong."

Mikey laughs. "I guarantee that won't happen. A week on the road with Bert will put you off touring forever."

Frank wavers. Mikey leans in, giving him the puppy eyes Frank's never been able to resist. "Come on. It'll be fun. If you hate it you can come home early, no strings, promise."

Frank was already more than halfway there. It's not that much further to fall. "Fine. Fine, I'll fucking come. But remember - you asked for this."

Mikey grabs Frank around the neck and pulls him into a hug that smushes Frank's face into his shoulder. When he blinks his eyes open, Gerard is beaming at him.

***

In the lead up to Spring Break Frank is as antsy as his students. Perhaps even more.

He lays out his clothes to pack and no matter how he stacks them it always looks like more than he should take. He whittles it down to bare basics and tells himself he can buy anything he's missing. He puts together a folder with all his grading and lesson plans for April and throws in a bunch of spare pens. At the last minute, he adds three extra pairs of clean socks, because that's the one thing he always seems to run out of first.

When his bag is packed and his boarding pass is printed, he stands in the middle of his living room, loaded down with his bags, jacket and scarf on, ready to face the cold of the mountains. He looks around the living room, trying to think if there's anything he's forgotten. His gaze lingers on Pansy in the corner of the room, gleaming white on her guitar stand. But no, this isn't his tour. If he wants to noodle around on a guitar in the next week or so he can just borrow one of Mikey's.

His phone vibrates in his pocket, the alarm he set to tell himself he should be leaving for the airport. He silences it and realizes there's also a text from Mikey.

see u soon.

Frank smiles and heads for the door.

***

Everything after Frank's flight is a blur. There's a guy covered with tattoos waiting for him, holding up his name on a sign.

Frank waves at him, a little weakly. He's wearing old torn up jeans, a faded band t-shirt and a Black Flag hoodie, but he still feels conspicuously ordinary. It only gets worse when they arrive at the venue.

"They're already in at sound check," the driver, who insisted Frank call him "Worm," says. He hands Frank a backstage pass and points him towards the stage entrance. "Show this to that lady over there, she'll tell you where to go."

Frank goes to pick his bags up, but Worm stops him with, "Don't worry about your bags, I'll take them to the hotel with the rest of the guys' personal shit."

"Oh, okay." Frank thanks the guy and heads for the venue. It's about the size of The Starland Ballroom and in a town like this that says something impressive about the popularity of the band. There's also a lot of kids already lined up outside. Like, around the block. Frank can feel their eyes following him as he walks up to the stage door. They whisper, pointing at his backstage pass. He hears some of them speculating that he might be in one of the openers. He keeps his eyes forward, trying not to blush or laugh.

The woman on the door sees him coming, and opens the barrier to let him through. She picks up his pass and studies it. It's a shiny laminate about the side of Frank's hand, with a stylised picture of the band and the details of the tour on it, with a bunch of official-looking holographic stickers. The bottom of the laminate has Frank's name written in sharpie and there's an initial in the box labelled "Access All Areas".

Fifteen year old Frank would have been hella impressed with it.

The woman nods at him and opens the back stage door. The kids waiting behind Frank crane their heads to look inside as the woman points down the hallway, directing Frank to the third door on the right. Frank thanks her and goes inside.

He feels weirdly out of place as he walks down the hall, passing a lot of guys in t-shirts and tattoos. Some are carrying equipment and some aren't, but all of them have a look of determined concentration. When Frank gets near the door the woman directed him to, he can hear the random dissonance of instruments tuning up. He pushes the door open and his breath catches in his throat.

He's side stage, among a mess of techs and roadies, the stage stretched out in front of him. The Used are on the stage, instruments out and all of them standing in place, but not playing. Mikey's tuning up and Bert's saying something into the mic, gesticulating madly in front of him.

Frank looks past the band to the auditorium below, and it's just breathtaking. It's all lit up, so he can see every seat, right to the back row. He tries to imagine what it must look like during a gig, mentally replacing all those chairs in his mind with faces, bodies, bouncing, screaming and clapping. It's mindblowing.

"Can I have some more vocal please, I feel like I'm talking to myself," Bert's saying, holding his mic close to his mouth and pitching his voice low. "Dear Penthouse, last week I woke up at the bottom of a pile of women, they were heavy. Okay, yeah that's better."

Frank doesn't realise he's blocking the doorway until a tech bumps into him from behind with a road case.

"Sorry dude," he says, scooting to the side, trying to find somewhere to stand that doesn't put him in front of someone who's actually working.

That's the moment Mikey looks up and sees him. The smile that spreads across his face is worth every minute Frank spent on the plane. He jogs over to Bert and says something Frank can't hear, hands his guitar off to a tech and then he's loping side stage and sweeping Frank into a hug.

"Dude, you made it!"

Frank smiles into Mikey's shoulder. "I think there were some kids outside who were planning to mug me for my backstage pass, but I got past them alright. Your fans are hardcore."

"Some of them camped out last night. Worm showed me a picture, all these kids out on the pavement wrapped in comforters and sleeping bags."

"Your fans are nuts."

"Fuck yes they are." Mikey eases back, still smiling, so big his eyes are all lit up. "Thanks for coming. I gotta finish sound check, but then I can hang out."

"Cool." Frank nods.

"Mikeyway, please report to stage left. We're all waiting on your ass," Bert intones into the mic, waggling his eyebrows at Mikey across the stage.

Mikey flips him off, but heads back to his spot. Bert keeps his eyes on Frank. "Hi Frank. Welcome to the tour," he says into the microphone, his voice bouncing around the auditorium. "Everyone say hi to Mikey's friend Frank!"

The chorus of Hi Frank that comes back is mostly roadies and venue staff, but when Frank glances down to the auditorium floor he can see there's a small group of fans down there too, giggling and waving at him. He waves back and tries not to blush. Thank god this is only a sound check. He hopes Bert never decides to try to pull this in front of a real crowd.

"Bird and the Worm, guys," Bert says, and their drummer taps out a beat. The band comes to life, crashing through the song.

Frank's been side stage before, but only in tiny little venues. He wonders if he'll be able to be up here at least once in front of a real crowd; it'd kick ass.

As the band pounds through the song, his eyes get stuck on Mikey. Mikey's still got his rockstar stance on, much like he did the night Frank saw him play in Jersey, but it's looser now. He looks more relaxed around the shoulders, more settled. Frank's pretty sure he can put that down to the lack of crowd, and not his own presence, but either way it's good to see.

He stays side stage for the rest of the sound check. The band's fun to watch. Bert's a brat during sound check, but the guys seem used to it - to even expect it. He steps on Mikey's guitar cable at one point, but Mikey just holds still and keeps playing until Bert moves on. He hangs off Quinn and sticks his tongue in Quinn's ear until he bursts out laughing, but Quinn doesn't miss a note. Jepha gives back as good as he gets, going to his knees in front of Bert and trying to bite him, playing perfectly the whole time. Frank can't stop laughing and he's glad the music's loud enough to cover it. They make it look like fun.

As soon as sound check's over, Mikey's at his side again, catching Frank around the shoulders as they walk down the hall with the band to the dressing room. Mikey makes a point of introducing Frank to everyone, even though the only person he hasn't already met is their drummer Dan, though he doubts anyone really remembers him.

The dressing room isn't anything fancy. Frank's not sure what he's expecting, but it isn't all candles and roses and piles of fanmail. It's just a sizeable room, with carpet that needs replacing, some comfortable well-worn couches and a bench lined with makeup lights and mirrors. Everything has a well-used look about it - scratched and faded and comfortable.

There's a table in the corner with a spread of food and a few buckets of ice with drinks in them. Mikey digs through until he finds a diet soda. "You want something?" he asks Frank.

Frank nods and says, "Same."

They settle into the couches with drinks and Frank can't help asking, "So that's it, you just hang around here until showtime?"

"Might go out and sign for a while. I think we've got a radio interview back here, too," Mikey says.

"Yeah," says Jepha, settling on the couch with a beer. "Some local station. That'll probably take most of an hour." He pulls a paperback novel out of his bag and settles in to read.

Bert digs through one of the buckets on the table, grumbling, and shouts, "Why is there no Coke Zero?"

Quinn digs a can of Coke Zero out of the other bucket and shoves it under Bert's t-shirt until he squeals. Bert licks him in retaliation and it quickly devolves into a sloppy wrestling match.

"So this is the exciting touring life then?" Frank says, dragging eyes away from the ungainly pile of legs and arms that is Bert and Quinn.

"Mhm," says Mikey.

"It's kind of boring."

"It usually takes a lot longer for people to notice that," Bert says from somewhere underneath Quinn. He raises his hands and golf claps in Frank's general direction. "Bravo."

***

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