Frank stands side stage at the show and it's even more mindblowing than he expected. The noise of the crowd reaches right to the back of the stage, loud in his ears.
The band is on fire tonight, their performance turned up so much higher than at sound check. They sound tight, fast and loud. Frank leans against a road case and watches, letting the sound of the guitars and the screams of the kids wash over him, feeling the chords throb in his chest, like Mikey's reached inside and is strumming his spine.
It's not the same as being out there, but it's close enough that Frank can get the idea of what is must be like. He can see why Mikey's addicted to it. He would be, too. It'd be worth the travel to be out there every night, to feel this, to see all those faces chanting the words back at them, expressions on their faces as manic as Bert's, every emotion echoed back at them.
Yeah, Frank can understand it.
Frank can still feel the performance high throbbing through the whole band when they leave the stage. Bert runs around hugging everyone, even Frank, and he's so sweaty his hair's wet and it sticks to Frank's face, but he doesn't care. If what he's feeling is a tiny slice of what they're on, he gets it.
They hang around the venue after the show for a while, some of the guys going for showers, some just changing into clean clothes. When it's time to leave for the hotel, they wind up back at the same side door Frank came in, and there's even more kids waiting this time than before the show. There's a titter of eager chatter as the door opens, and a couple of venue security go out first.
"You ready for this?" Mikey asks Frank, and while his expression is blank, his eyes are bright and nervous.
"Probably not," Frank admits.
"Too bad!" Bert laughs and pushes them out the door. The moment the kids catch sight of Mikey, they start calling his name. He smiles at them shyly and walks towards the reaching hands, taking tickets and posters and CDs, scrawling his name on them and handing them back. The shouting gets louder when Bert comes out, then Quinn and Jepha - they're the original members so the hardcore fans would love them best, Frank supposes. The guys are endlessly patient with the slightly crazed fans, chatting to them as they sign, answering questions, wishing people happy birthday.
Frank hovers back, feeling ridiculously out of place, but he's not sure where they're going next so he doesn't want to wander off. He hovers behind Mikey, who glances back at him occasionally with an apologetic look, but Frank just shrugs. Whatever, I'm in no rush he tries to say with his eyes, and Mikey just smiles and asks the girl he's signing for how to spell her name.
The group of kids doesn't seem to get any smaller and the number of reaching hands doesn't seem to lessen. The cold starts to seep through Frank's clothes and he shifts from foot to foot.
It's Worm who calls it, signalling to the guys that they're done and stepping up to tell the crowd loudly, thanks for coming but the guys have to get back to the hotel, they have another show, they appreciate you all coming out.
The ride back to the hotel is quiet. Frank stares out the window watching the lights of the city slide past and wonders what it'd be like to do this every night. He's not sure he would want to.
At the hotel he's rooming with Mikey. It makes sense, and he takes the swipe card when it's handed to him. Of course, the first thing Frank notices when they get in the room is that there's only one bed. One huge king size bed, in the middle of the room.
"Um," he says.
"Do you care?" Mikey asks. "It happens a lot. We can call down and wait to get changed or we can just deal."
"Fuck it, let's deal. It won't be the first time," Frank says. Then he remembers Mikey's one of the band members who didn't shower after the show. "You have to shower though."
Mikey gives a put-upon sigh. "Fine," he says, but he doesn't sound that disappointed.
Once they've both showered they sprawl out on the giant bed watching Law and Order re-runs and Frank quizzes Mikey on all the questions he's come up with that day.
"So are you in hotels every night?"
"Fuck no, man, you timed it well. We're on the bus for the next week, but we've got another one when we get to Cleveland. You managed to get two hotel nights in while you're here dude, I'm impressed."
"The buses are pretty fancy, though."
"You'll see tomorrow. They're pretty slick, but after a while it doesn't matter how well designed something is, it just gets too small when you've got this many people staying in it for weeks and weeks."
"The guys are okay, though right?"
"Oh yeah, totally." Mikey nods. "It's a little weird sometimes, when they start talking about shit that happened years ago, before I was around. Like, half the time they forget I wasn't always in the band and just start being all 'oh hey, remember when' and I'm like, dude I wasn't there."
Frank laughs. "As far as work related bullshit goes, that's not too bad."
"No," Mikey agrees. "I'm pretty lucky."
They watch Benson and Stabler solve another heinous crime in relative silence, then Frank realises the adrenaline's finally worn off and he's ready to crash. He crawls under the sheets, rolling onto his side. "I'm gonna bail. Keep watching if you want. I've seen these so many times now they're practically a lullabye."
"Okay, Frankie," Mikey says.
Frank hears Mikey resettle on the pillows. He reaches behind himself to blindly pat at Mikey's leg. "Night Mikes."
Frank's starting to drift off when he feels Mikey's hand gently card through his hair. "Thanks for coming."
When Frank wakes up, his right leg is tangled around Mikey's and he's got an arm thrown over Mikey's chest. It takes him a moment to remember where he is, why he's looking at an unfamiliar ceiling, why there's a warm body beside his. His eyes fall on Mikey's sleeping face, his features soft and relaxed. There's a long piece of hair across his eyes and before Frank can stop himself, he's reached across to gently move it aside.
For no reason at all he finds himself thinking of that one time Mikey kissed him, years ago. They'd never talked about it afterwards. Mikey had gone on tour and it hadn't come up in phone calls or text messages and Frank had started to wonder if it had even happened. He was pretty fucking drunk that night, after all.
He finds himself staring at Mikey's mouth. He blinks and drags his gaze upwards, tracing the line of Mikey's cheekbone, the curve of his eyebrows, the soft curl of his eyelashes. His hand is still hovering over Mikey's face and he has to pull it back, to actually tell himself to pull it back instead of reaching down and touching Mikey's cheek, rubbing his thumb along Mikey's cheekbone like he wants to.
Because fuck, he wants to.
He can admit that to himself, right now, in a hotel room miles from home, with Mikey asleep beside him. He can admit that in his own head, and no one else has to know.
He pulls his hand back, tucking it against his chest.
It's not like there's any point doing anything about it.
The next few days blur together. It's strange how quickly Frank falls into the rhythm of touring. The late nights somehow manage to reset his body clock and he's as surprised as anyone when he starts waking up later and later.
Frank goes to every show. In Minneapolis, he goes down onto the floor and gets the audience view, peering over the waving arms and bouncing heads to see the stage, the crowd loud in his ears. It's a great way to experience the show, but he still prefers to be side stage.
He still gets the itch when he watches them play, still feels the pull of the stage that used to keep him driving through the night in a van with the rest of Pencey, playing basement shows to kids who could care less about the music, throwing himself out there over and over, letting the music consume him.
Eventually he gives in and asks Mikey to borrow a guitar. Mikey all but shoves one in his hands and they end up in the back lounge of the bus, swapping licks with each other. Mikey makes him play old Pencey songs and Frank giggles his way through Heartbreak in Stereo. He's still laughing as he plays out the last chords.
"I was a shitty lyricist," he says, his fingers still tapping out the beat of the song on the front of the guitar. She's not Pansy, but she's a lovely instrument.
"Hey, at least you can sing."
"Barely." Frank snickers, and strums a few chords. "How about this one?"
It takes Mikey all of five seconds to recognise it as Metallica. He joins in, playing the rhythm while Frank plays lead. Frank throws himself into it, headbanging along, doing his best metal voice and basically acting like a tool. Soon they're both laughing too hard to keep playing, and Frank collapses against the back of the couch, fingers still pulling random dissonant noises from his guitar as he laughs until he's nearly choking.
When he finally manages to get his eyes open long enough to focus, Mikey's grinning back at him, eyes bright and his breath short. Frank thinks I did that, I made him smile like that and just like that he knows he's gone. He's in so much fucking trouble.
This is not the time to start falling for Mikeyway. The time to do that was ten years ago, before he got his face splashed all over Kerrang and NME, before he got a job that keeps him on the road more than half the year. Before he could cut off communication with a simple change of phone number and leave Frank out in the cold, just another helpless fan trying to reach out to the guy in the spotlight.
Bert breaks the moment by bursting into the bus lounge and flopping down onto the couch beside Frank. "So you really can play," he says with a grin.
Frank's mouth opens, but before he can form any words, Mikey beats him to it. "He's better than me. Taught me everything I know."
"That is such bullshit," Frank says, throwing his pick at Mikey.
"You know I tried out to play bass in Pencey and they turned me down?" Mikey asks Bert.
"You're never going to let me live that down, are you?"
"I was pretty shit, at the time," Mikey explains.
"I guess it's a good thing you got better," Bert says, rolling his head to the side to ask Frank, "You know any good songs?"
"Oooh burn," Frank retorts, but he starts strumming through the rhythm lines to Pretty Handsome Awkward.
"Way to be a suck up," Bert cracks up, but he ends up singing along anyway. Mikey joins in and they while away a chunk of the long drive playing songs until Frank's fingers are sore.
Mikey catches him sucking on one. "Pussy." He grabs Frank's hands, studying his calluses. "You're not playing enough. Getting all soft."
Frank tears his hands away, but not before his heart trips over at having Mikey so close.
He's in so much fucking trouble.
Luckily, Mikey's phone starts trilling and he leaves Frank alone, groping across the carpet for it. His eyes light up when he sees the caller ID and he answers, "Gee!"
Frank can hear the soft tinny cadence of Gerard talking to Mikey, fast and excited.
"That's awesome dude, wait - Hey Frank, Gerard might be up for an Eisner. Fuck, man, when do you find out?"
There's more excited talking, then Mikey lifts his chin away from the handset, telling Frank "Oh, and Gee says hi."
"Hi Gee!" Frank yells in the general direction of the phone.
Bert snorts, "Don't I get a hello?"
Mikey rolls his eyes, telling Gerard, "Bert says hello." Frank doesn't hear exactly what Gerard says back, but he thinks he hears the word 'asshole' somewhere in there.
Mikey rolls his eyes again, nodding to Bert, "Gee says hi."
He totally didn't say that, but Frank's not going to point it out. Mikey is kind of a shitty liar though.
"Love you too, Gee!" Bert shouts at the phone.
Mikey glares at him. "Fuck you both, I'm going to my bunk," Mikey declares, and does just that. It leaves Frank alone with Bert and nothing but a guitar that's not even his for protection.
"I don't bite, you know," Bert says, wriggling around on the couch until he's lying on his back, resting his feet up on the armrest. "Don't look so freaked out."
"I'm not freaked out." Frank shrugs. He's a little stiff, maybe, but it's not like he and Bert hang out one on one much. Or even at all. He settles the guitar in his lap, trying to think of something to say. "Thanks for letting me tag along, I know it can't be easy having another person around, especially when I don't need to be here."
"Dude, it's no trouble, believe me. Mikey's been doing so much better since you got here. Stay as long as you like."
"Better? He wasn't doing well?" The words spill out of Frank's mouth before he can stop them.
Bert's expression flickers and it becomes very obvious to Frank that Bert is not supposed to be talking about this. Bert shakes his head.
"It's nothing serious, right?" Frank presses, because fuck privacy - if it's something important he wants to know.
"Who am I to call what's serious? Whatever. Look, everyone's got their own road tolerance - mine's pretty high, I could live on tour permanently, but not everyone can rock as hard as me. Jepha runs out of steam around three months, but if we get his girl to come out with us for a while, we can stretch that to six. Mikey just... he just hit his threshold. But that's cool because now we know his antidote."
Bert pokes him in the arm. "You, asshole. Now play me Pretty again, prove it wasn't a fluke."
Frank fits his fingers to the strings and plays the song again, glad of the distraction. Bert's words rattle in his head anyway, and he can't help wondering what it means to be Mikey's antidote, trying not to wish too hard for it to mean one thing in particular.
Frank knows he's fucked it up big time when Ray answers his phone with just, "Time zones, asshole."
But he still answered, so Frank knows he's fine. "I'm sorry, alright, this is important."
"Important enough that you need me to be awake, or can I just go back to sleep and pretend to listen?"
"I think I've got a hard-on for Mikey."
Ray groans. "You've always had a hard-on for Mikey."
"No, I haven't! He's my best friend."
"You're always a little bit in love with your best friend." Frank can hear the movement of sheets and Ray grumbles, "I need coffee to deal with this. Call me back in five." He hangs up without saying goodbye, which isn't really that rude on most people's scales, but on the Ray-scale it's off the charts.
This is worth pissing Ray off over, though. Frank needs answers, and he needs them now, because he's flying back to Jersey in two days and he has no idea what to do - or if he even should do something.
He paces the dressing room nervously, glancing at his watch. The boom of drums reassures him that the guys are still on stage, so he's fine, he can have this conversation. Fuck, it really is difficult to get privacy on tour.
After four and a half minutes he decides that's close enough, and he dials Ray's number. Ray picks up after three rings.
"You have coffee now?" Frank asks carefully.
"Yes, but you're still an asshole."
"Come on, Toro, this is important." He can hear Ray rubbing his eyes, sighing tiredly. Wow, Frank really is an asshole.
"Turn it into a question, Frank."
"What do I do?"
"Um, you make a move? You do remember how to do that right? You used to be pretty smooth back in the day."
This is the problem with staying friends with your exes. They can call you out on your bullshit and they know all your moves because they've seen you use them.
"And wreck the friendship."
"Yeah because it's not like you're good at staying friends with your exes or anything," Ray mutters, and Frank hears a voice in the background.
"Shit, sorry, Spencer's not over tonight is he?" Frank really is an asshole.
"No, you dick, you're lucky he's got a gig tonight. It's the TV." Spencer and Ray have been dating for a while. (Frank likes to give Ray shit about the age gap), so he's familiar with Spencer's bitchface which can melt steel when he's pissed. Frank's glad he's not there to get woken up by Frank's call.
Ray sighs down the phone. "Break it down for me. Pros and cons."
"To what, making a move?"
"Yes." Ray's voice has got that tone usually reserved for when Frank's drunk the last beer. He should tread carefully.
"Um, okay - cons. If he's not interested, it could fuck up our friendship. It could fuck up my friendship with Gerard. It would be really embarrassing. If he is interested, it's an impossible relationship, he's on tour all the time, I'll never see him, and my students will never take me seriously if they find out I'm dating a rockstar."
"That's a lot of cons," Ray says, all compassion. "Pros?"
Frank sighs, leaning back on the wall. He shrugs even though Ray can't see him. He can really only think of one. "It's Mikey."
Maybe he only needs one.
Frank's standing side stage, watching the band sound check in Milwaukee when Mikey points at Frank and demands, "Frank, do this one."
It's some kind of conspiracy, because Jepha and Bert wrestle him onto the stage and manhandle him over to Mikey, who shrugs out of his guitar strap and hands it over.
"What are you doing?" Frank asks, taking the guitar, but not putting the strap over his shoulder.
"I'm taking a break. Play this one for me, Frankie." He smiles and ruffles Frank's hair, then slings the shoulder strap over Frank's head and gives him a shove forward so he's facing the empty auditorium.
The empty, fucking huge auditorium. At least it's empty, Frank tells himself as he fits his fingers to the frets, already knowing which song it is, that Mikey wouldn't put him on the spot for one he didn't know. When he manages to tear his eyes away from the echoing chasm of seats, Mikey grins at him and Bert sends him a questioning look. "You ready?
He doesn't wait for an answer before nodding at Dan, who counts them in and then they're playing.
Frank's playing. On a stage bigger than any he's ever been on, hearing his notes bounce through the auditorium, coming back at him through the monitors. He wants to savour it, to remember it, because this is a cherished dream, one he didn't imagine he'd get to fulfil. All he can manage, though, is to throw himself into it, let the music carry him, feel it vibrate up his arms and out into the venue.
It's fucking awesome.
After sound check, Mikey shoves a setlist in his hand for the night's show. Written in Sharpie next to Pretty Handsome Awkward is simply, "WITH FRANK."
Frank stares at it a moment before it really sinks in. They want him to do this again - in front of an audience. In front of that fucking amphitheatre full of kids. He swallows, staring at his name on the page until the letters start to blur together.
He hands the page back to Mikey. "I can't."
Mikey just shoves it right back into Frank's hand, crumpling the sheet a little. "You totally can. Don't be a pussy. You just did."
"That was for fun. This isn't-" Frank cuts himself off, searching for any words to say, anything that isn't just that he's a coward who'd shit himself in front of a crowd that big. "Those kids aren't coming to see me, man. They're coming to see you. I'm no one. No one's wants to see me up there."
Mikey shakes his head. "I do. You moron." He fits his long fingers over Frank's, pressing them into a grip around the setlist. "Do it for me. Just this once, okay? And you can totally blame me when everyone has to bug you to stop fucking telling the story already."
"For me, Frank? Please?" And he turns the fucking puppy eyes on Frank - Frank really has no defence against that.
He opens his mouth to say no, but what comes out is, "Okay."
Mikey catches him around the neck and pulls him into a bony hug. Frank really isn't good at saying no to him.
By showtime Frank's pretty much sick with nerves. He has no idea why he's doing this and he can't even complain to anyone because all the guys he's with do this every damn night. He tries to remember how he used to do it back in Pencey. He's pretty sure he just used to get really fucking drunk. Which... well it is an option, but not a very smart one. He'd kind of like to pull this off tonight. He'll never live it down if he doesn't.
Mikey catches him pacing in the dressing room. "You're gonna wear a track in the carpet."
"I don't know how you do this every night, dude."
Mikey shrugs. "You get used to it." He blinks, his eyes getting faraway. "No, that's a lie. You don't ever really get used to it." He scratches a hand through his hair, his brow furrowing. "It never really stops being like... scary and terrifying and fucking... amazing."
Frank's stomach does a weird flip and it makes him feel sick. "Wow, Mikey that is so totally not helping me."
"Okay, how about this?" Mikey steps in front of Frank, pressing his fingers under Frank's chin until he looks up, "Don't let them see your eyes. You know the song, so just stay in the song, okay? Just play and make like the audience isn't even there. Got it?"
Frank snorts out a laugh so sudden it even surprises himself. "Who the hell told you that?"
"I don't know, some shithead," Mikey says with a wide grin. He catches Frank around the waist and pulls him into a hug. Frank wraps his arms around Mikey and holds on a little tighter, a little longer than he probably should.
He can do this. He can totally do this.
Somehow the crowd that night is so much louder. The auditorium is so much more packed than any other night. Or at least, that's how it looks to Frank. He watches the set from side stage again, but this time instead of the noise vibrating through him like electricity, sparking him to life, it just makes him want to throw up.
It must show all over his face. Mikey catches his eye several times during the set and gives him an encouraging smile or nod. It doesn't help much, but it does help.
Frank's name isn't on the setlist until the encore, so he gets to wait the whole set before having to step out onto the stage. He's torn between wanting to get it over with early, while being childishly happy to put it off for as long as possible.
At the end of the main set Bert calls out a goodnight to the audience and the band comes off stage, leaving the audience going absolutely fucking nuts out there. Mikey jogs over to where Frank is totally not pacing and grabs him by the shoulder. "You ready?" He's all sweaty and high from playing, his eyes alight with excitement.
Frank's brain says "no" but his mouth says "yes."
Too soon, the stage manager is giving the band the all clear. Mikey squeezes Frank's arm before he takes the stage again. Bert shoots Frank a smile and says, "Piece of cake, dude," like Frank isn't about to crawl right out of his skin.
The crowd goes mental when they see the band is back. Bert snatches the mic from its stand. "Don't pretend you didn't know we were coming back," he says with a smirk.
Mikey's guitar tech hands Frank one of Mikey's guitars, and Frank settles it over his shoulders. He's working totally on autopilot, his heart stuttering in his chest as he adjusts the strap. His movements are jerky, his fingers thick and clumsy. He's pretty sure his hands aren't going to work at all.
"Now we all know Mikeyway is getting older, past his prime, you know?" Bert banters to the audience, "So before he collapses, he's gonna go have a little nap, and luckily his good friend Frank Iero is here to give us a hand. Frank?"
Bert turns his eyes to Frank and it's all Frank can do to work his legs, his grip on the neck of the guitar death-tight as he walks out on to the stage.
He can feel the weight of all the eyes in the audience on him with every step he takes, until he makes it to stage left where Mikey's waiting for him. He gives Frank an awkward one-armed hug around their guitars and the crowd roars its appreciation. Frank tries not to think about how they're basically yelling for him as he gives Mikey a smile that's only half faked. He flexes his fingers, ghosting out the first chords of Pretty Handsome Awkward as Mikey melts away, stepping backwards until he's in the wings, out of sight of the crowd.
Dan bashes his sticks together, counting them in, and then it's do or die. Frank's fingers find the strings, and for the first verse it's all muscle memory and Frank's mind is rush of sound and noise. He reaches for focus, shutting down everything in his brain that isn't the music, letting it wash over him, pull him through it.
In defiance of all evidence to the contrary, by the second chorus Frank is actually enjoying himself. He bounces on his heels, bangs his head, throws himself around to the beat. The noise of the crowd becomes just one more thing pushing him on, making his fingers move, his body spasm. The guitar under his fingers is familiar while everything else is new. He lets the music sweep him up, hearing the notes he's playing echo back at him through the monitors, hearing the screams of the crowd.
The song ends before he's ready for it to, and he finally looks up, nerves himself to look out into the audience, seeing nothing but arms and faces, a surging mass of people as far as the light reaches. His heart trips and he knows he's wearing the most ridiculous expression of awe on his face but he just doesn't care. He glances to his right and finds Mikey smiling at him, his eyes soft, pride written all over him.
Frank didn't think his heart could beat any faster, but it does. Mikey walks toward him and Frank barely manages to get the guitar off his shoulders and handed off to a tech before Mikey sweeps him into a hug. A burst of camera flashes go off as Mikey spins him around, laughing in his ear, and Frank hugs him back so tight he imagines he can feel Mikey's heart beating through his shirt.
Mikey pulls back first, turning Frank to face the audience as he links their fingers and raises Frank's arm above his head. They cheer louder - and Frank knows this time that it's for him. He lets it roll over him, beaming out at the audience for a moment, before squeezing Mikey's fingers and turning to leave the stage.
He watches the rest of the encore from side stage, adrenaline still thrumming through him. He can't take his eyes off Mikey.
When the band comes off stage he gets hugs from each of them in turn. Mikey's the last and he clings like a limpet. Without the roar of the crowd dulling everything down, Frank can hear him speak this time. "You were great, Frankie. A real rockstar."
Frank laughs and squeezes closer, until his cheeks pressed against Mikey's neck, until the short crisp hairs at the nape of Mikey's neck are rubbing at the palm of his hand. "Thanks for making me do that, Mikes. That was amazing. Such a fucking rush."
He pulls back a little, needing to see Mikey's face. They're both high from the gig, panting and smiling fit to burst. The rush of adrenaline is still coursing through Frank's veins - he's invincible, he could do anything right now.
The one thing he wants to do is kiss Mikey.
It wouldn't take much. He'd just need to tighten his fingers on the back of Mikey's neck and pull his mouth down to Frank's. Their faces are so close already that Mikey's breath is bouncing off Frank's lips. He flexes his fingers on Mikey's neck, eyes searching Mikey's face looking for any kind of sign that he still wants this. That he ever wanted it in the first place.
Mikey's looking back at him, his breathing still quick, his eyes all intense like he knows something up. Like he knows what Frank's thinking. He doesn't move though, and neither does Frank. The moment drags for what feels like an eternity, but could be only a few seconds for all Frank knows.
"I was just-" Frank starts, trying to force out the words, "There was, I just want-"
"Want what?" Mikey's voice is deeper than normal, and he's just fucking gorgeous like this.
"You." The word is barely out of Frank's mouth before the panic sets in, the total fear. He's stumbling out more words before he can stop himself. "You said I could stay longer if I wanted. I mean, I could go another day or two, I think and still be ready for work."
It takes Mikey a moment to respond, like Frank's speaking Japanese. Frank doesn't even know where that came from, but he can't take it back now. Mikey's already easing back, and Frank misses the warmth of his body, his touch, immediately.
"Of course," Mikey says, with a smile that doesn't really touch his eyes. "As long as you want. It's good to have you around, if you're not too bored with it all by now."
"Oh yeah," Frank grins, waving an arm out at the arena floor that's still slowly emptying out, "This is all a huge bore." He shakes his head and catches Mikey around the waist as they head for the dressing room. He sticks close to Mikey all the way back, feeling the warmth of his skin through his t-shirt, and tells himself this is enough.
He doesn't need any more than this.
Contrary to what Frank might have believed, The Used don't party after every show. In fact, they don't party after most shows - tonight is an exception. When Mikey and Frank get back to the dressing room, the rider is already laid out, ready to be drunk away. Bert's already nursing a beer and he raises it in greeting when Mikey and Frank walk in the door.
Jepha shoves beers at them and Mikey clinks the neck of his bottle to Frank's, still smiling, though Frank is having more trouble reading it than he usually does.
They proceed to get really drunk, really really fast.
It's probably not the smartest thing Frank's ever done, but whatever, he doesn't have anywhere to be the next day, just some papers to grade and another show to be at. He gets down in it, stops counting his drinks and lets it roll. He's still got a buzz in his bloodstream from being onstage and he rides it.
Mikey joins him, but he can tell Mikey's not as drunk as he is. He can actually walk in a straight line on the way to the bus, while Frank's own trajectory is rather crooked. Mikey drags him inside and rolls him into a bunk. Frank protests weakly, smacking Mikey's arms.
"C'mon it's not bedtime, I'm totally awake."
"Course you are," Mikey says, but Frank can tell he's lying because Mikey's totally laughing at him right now, even as he's untangling the knots on Frank's shoes and removing them from his feet. He drops them on the floor and works Frank's belt open. An alarm starts screaming in Frank's head because oh god he wants this, but he's probably too drunk to do a good job and then Mikey will think he's bad at sex. And when did he get around to making a move on Mikey, anyway? Wow he must be drunk.
The thing is, even though Mikey strips off Frank's jeans, all he does is drop them onto the floor on top of his shoes and pull the blanket up to Frank's neck. He leans in and ruffles Frank's hair. "Sleep now, you fucking rockstar."
"Takes one to know one," Frank mumbles. And fuck Mikey for being right, because now that he's warm and horizontal he is falling asleep. Still, there's something niggling, something he needs to ask, and it has to be now. He grabs at Mikey's hand and tugs, not letting him lean out of the bunk. "Mikey-"
"You remember back before the Warped tour? How you kissed me?"
Mikey freezes. Frank blinks up at him, trying to read him. Fuck he's too drunk for this, but he just, he needs to know. "Why did you do that?"
He feels rather than sees Mikey's shrug. "Because I wanted to."
Frank hums. Now he can't remember why he asked, and he's all warm and sleepy. He keeps his grip on Mikey's wrist though, turning to nuzzle his face into Mikey's hand, pressing a kiss to his palm. "Night Mikey."
Mikey doesn't move his hand straight away. In fact, Frank's pretty sure he doesn't move his hand away until after Frank's dead to the world.
Hangovers are no fun. Suffering a hangover on a moving bus is even less fun. Frank wakes up with a splitting headache and so thirsty his throat feels like sandpaper. He pries gluey eyes open to stare at the roof of his bunk. No, wait. This isn't his bunk. He glances around and spots Mikey's iPod tucked into the shelf beside the bed, and picture of Gerard and Mikey taped to the wall next to it.
Mikey must've put Frank in his bunk. Right, of course, Frank's bunk is on the top, and he was probably too drunk to get up there, even with Mikey's help.
He rolls onto his back. Oh god, that hurts. Everything hurts. He blinks blearily at the bottom of the bunk above him, where Mikey is probably sleeping. He finds himself staring at his own face from ten years ago. Mikey's got a bunch of old photos taped to the ceiling, and this one looks like it was taken just after they'd graduated, Frank with his ugly pot dreads and Mikey with his birds nest hairdo and heavy-frame glasses.
Mikey's got his arm around Frank's neck, and Frank's got an arm wrapped around Mikey's waist - his hand is visible, tucked into Mikey's front pocket. Frank's pulling a face, all teeth and squinched-up eyes, and Mikey's just staring the camera down like he always does, he always refuses to smile.
Frank's heart trips, and his eyes rove over the motley collection of photos. There's a few of Mikey with various members of the band; a lot of those look like they were taken when Mikey wasn't aware of it. There's a lot of Mikey with Gerard - one with Gerard grinning wide and Mikey looking strangely solemn as Gerard holds up a first-run print of The Umbrella Academy comic. Another looks like a print-out of the one Frank's seen in a frame back at the Way's household - Mikey and Gerard as round-faced babies. Almost as numerous as the photos of Mikey and Gerard are the photos with Frank in them. In fact, there's a few that are just of Frank.
He reaches up a hand, tracing a finger over the tape holding one to the bunk. This one, he can remember Mikey taking. He's caught Frank mid-giggle, one finger pointing down the lens, the rest of his fingers wrapped around the neck of a beer. He's red in the face and his hair's messed up. It was at a party at Otter's not long before Mikey was due to go on tour that first time. Mikey had taken a bunch of shots of Frank that night, saying it was an important to "memorax" this night.
Frank trails his fingers over the collage, following the line of sticky tape to another photo. This photo, Frank remembers taking. It's of the two of them, Frank's arm tight around Mikey's shoulders as he holds the camera aloft. The picture is weirdly framed because he was shooting blind, so he's cut off Mikey's ear, but they're both smiling.
There's one photo Frank's never seen before. Judging by Frank's hair, it's an older one. It's a shot of Frank sitting on the back steps of the Way's porch, a cigarette held loosely between two fingers with a curl of smoke rising from the end. His legs are in an easy sprawl and he's staring off somewhere outside of the frame, looking thoughtful, maybe even a little sad. The bottom edges of the photo are worn and frayed and the colours in the picture look faded. Given the number of cigarettes Frank's smoked on the Way's porch, it could have been taken anytime in college. It's weird that he can't remember it being taken.
He hears soft voices outside the bunk, and recognises one of them as Mikey. He pulls the curtain on the bunk open, wincing as the sound of the Velcro ripping is not at all kind to his sore head. "Mikey?"
Mikey's leaning on Jepha's bunk, and Frank can see Jepha peering at him over the pages of an issue of Rock Sound. Mikey turns around, tilting his head to the side and giving Frank a sly smile. "How's your head?"
"Can you get me a new one?" Frank squints out into the hallway. It's too bright and the sunshine's making his head hurt.
"Sure. I'll look for one at the next gas station. I'll make sure it's really ugly so I'll recognise you."
Frank flips him off, more out of habit than anything. He's too distracted to think about more than one thing at a time, and he's stuck on that photo. "Can I show you something in here?"
Jepha snorts and lowers his magazine. "Frank, what's happening to you is perfectly normal. It's called a boner and every little boy will have his first one one day."
Frank redirects his middle finger at Jepha, who just blows him a kiss. This band is fucking weird.
Mikey sighs and swats Jepha on the leg, before shifting over to lean into Frank's bunk. "What?"
Frank shuffles to the side, making space for Mikey to squeeze in next to him. When Mikey's safely inside, Frank reaches up to tap the faded photo of him with the cigarette. "Where's that from?"
There's not a lot of light in the bunk, but Frank could swear he sees Mikey's cheeks colouring. "Oh, um. I don't know, maybe 2003?"
Frank hums, looking at the photo thoughtfully. It's a good shot. "I don't remember it being taken."
"You weren't really paying attention," Mikey says, confirming Frank's suspicion that he was the one who took it. "The lighting was just really nice and..." Mikey shrugs, like that's enough. It kind of is.
"It's a good picture," Frank says, letting his eyes trail over the pictures stuck to the bunk. "I didn't realise you had all these up here."
"I guess I just miss you guys sometimes. All the time," Mikey says. He rolls onto his side, and even though Frank's not looking at him, he can feel the weight of Mikey watching him. "I missed you," Mikey says, and it sounds like a confession.
When Frank turns his head to find Mikey's face, his expression is serious. Frank doesn't even have to ask to know that this is Mikey's way of apologising for the years he vanished, when Frank didn't even have a working phone number for him. Frank's stomach clenches up, and it's nothing to do with his hangover.
He reaches down and pulls Mikey's hand up from where it rests on the sheets between them. He laces their fingers together and brings Mikey's hand to his mouth, brushing a dry kiss across his knuckles. "I missed you too, Mikes. It's been fucking shitty, to be honest, not being able to talk to you."
"I'm sorry," Mikey says, squeezing his fingers around Frank's.
"What happened?" Frank's voice comes out as a whisper.
Mikey brushes his thumb over the back of Frank's hand. "I fucked up," he says. Frank knows there's more, so he waits for it. They haven't talked - really talked about why Mikey fell out of touch yet. "I just, I don't know. I let it get to me. I let myself think this was everything there was, that my new life and my old life weren't the same. I let it all slip away and... I don't know, I guess by the time I realised just how much I missed it, how much I missed you - I didn't know what to say anymore. And then it went too long and I didn't know how to get back in touch, how to start it up again and I-"
Mikey stops talking so suddenly it's like he's cut himself off. Some tiny part of Frank is already trying to put together the rest of the aborted sentence, stupidly hoping it's something like what Frank's been feeling lately. Something like these scary new heart-speeding feelings he's got for Mikey that he doesn't know what to do with.
"You what?" Frank prompts, but it's too late, Mikey's already self-censored.
He shakes his head. "Stupid shit. Stupid shit that doesn't matter and I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry." Frank says, pulling Mikey's hand closer to his chest, pressing their elbows together. "We're okay now, right?"
When Frank's gaze finds Mikey's eyes this time, they're dead serious. "I won't do that again," he promises. Frank's nearly asks for a pinky swear, but he doesn't need one. He knows Mikey means it.
"You and me, right, Mikes?" Frank says, the words familiar in his mouth as he leans his head against Mikey's.
"Yeah," Mikey answers, his response just as familiar. "Fuck everybody else."
Frank spends most of his last full day as a special guest on The Used's tour grading papers. He's definitely neglected the folder full of schoolwork he brought with him in favour of... well, just about anything else, and he really needs to reduce the pile a lot more before he gets back to Jersey, or he'll be spending the last night of his so-called vacation with no time to do anything else.
He's ensconced in the corner of the front lounge, a pile of papers in his lap and his red pen in hand an hour before his fellow travellers are even due to be awake. It's good, it's quiet enough he can concentrate and try to make sense of his students' sometimes impossible attempts at logic with no distractions.
No distractions, that is, until Bert drags himself out of his bunk. He's not usually the first one up, but he did go to bed pretty early the night before, so it's not all that surprising when Frank's attempt at translating a word that could be "preternatural" or "performance" is interrupted by the sound of Bert rifling through the cupboards in the kitchenette. Bert emerges moments later with a box of Pop Tarts under his arm. He flops down on the couch beside Frank and hands him a pack without Frank even needing to ask.
"Highlights?" Bert requests, hopefully.
Frank smiles and flips back a few pages, reading aloud "William Shakespeare lived in London but born in England, and was married to Elizabethan Era."
"Seriously?" Bert giggles, crawling closer to peer over Frank's shoulder. "Oh man, I don't know how you do it."
"They're young." Frank shrugs. "We all were once." After saying the words he suddenly feels about a thousand years old.
"Fuck once, man. I'm still young. And I know what an "era" is. Are kids getting stupider?"
"No, I think just more careless." Wow, this is a really grown up conversation they're having.
"Mind if I channel surf?" Bert asks, waving the remote.
Frank's got the TV on, but it's really only for background noise, so he nods. "Be my guest."
They get through half an episode of the Jersey Shore before Bert interrupts the relative silence.
"Yeah?" Frank answers absently, trailing his pen down the margin of the page he's trying to decipher.
"What's the deal with you and Mikey?"
Frank nearly drops his pen. He tightens his grip on it before it slips through his fingers. He deliberately doesn't look up from the page. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, what's the deal? Are you guys fucking, or what?"
Frank's mouth presses into a line and he pulls in a breath before answering. "No, we're not."
"Not yet," Bert adds.
Frank finally looks up from the paper he's now totally not concentrating on anymore. "What do you mean?"
Bert twirls the remote in his hand. "It's inevitable, isn't it? You guys are so, like, inseparable."
"He's my best friend. He always has been." Frank shifts a little to look at Bert while he's talking. "Like you and Quinn."
"Quinn and I aren't fucking."
"Ever." Bert laughs. "What, you think I haven't tried? He doesn't like dick. It's a crying shame. We're destined to be platonic lifemates when we could have had the cutest ass babies."
"That must suck."
"It does a little." Bert surfs past a travel show and a news report to land on a different reality show. "But you know, I think it would suck more if he was actually into dick and I was just too much of a pussy to do anything about it."
"Speaking entirely hypothetically, of course," Bert says with a wicked grin, before abruptly changing the subject. "I don't understand how the blonde is still even in the running for this man, she's a total bitch and that other chick that looks like a suicide girl shits all over her looks-wise."
Frank makes a throwaway comment he forgets immediately after, pretending to be completely absorbed in the paper he's grading, though it's really just a blur of letters.
He can't stop thinking about Mikey.
Bert's little heart-to-heart does zero for Frank's concentration. If he grades these papers any slower he'll be going backwards. He ends up taking the rest of his stack into the venue and, as much as he hates to, he skips sound check. He's that behind. He hides in the dressing room with his red pen, trying to catch up.
He can hear the dull, muted tones of the sound check reverberating through the dressing room walls. He shifts around on the couch, trying to tune it out and concentrate on Anthony Corbitt's take on "The Outsiders", but after he's read the same sentence five times without really processing it, he has to admit he needs a break. He sets the paper aside and climbs off the couch, stretching his arms and rolling the cricks out of his neck.
He leaves the dressing room, following the call of the music down the venue hallways. He figured out pretty early on in the tour that it's easier to just follow the sound than to try to decipher a map. No point memorising a floorplan for a venue when it changes every night. When he gets to the stage doors, he lingers. If he goes in and watches sound check, he'll definitely stay for the whole thing, and that's a long break that he hasn't really earned. He changes his mind, pats his pockets to make sure he's got his cigarettes, and searches for a venue exit so he can grab a smoke outside before he tries to get back into it.
It isn't until the exit door slides closed behind him with a solid sound that he realises he doesn't have his pass on him. He grabs for the handle, but knows before he even tries to turn it that it will be locked from the inside. It is. Fuck. He pats his pocket for his phone even though he knows it's sitting on the dressing room couch, next to his pass. He's an idiot.
Okay, he just needs to find someone from security he knows to let him back in. He can do this. It shouldn't take too long. He hops down the steps and turns a corner - and is faced with the line. Which is huge. It's about 4pm and there's already a line of kids going right down the block. He's near the end of it, so the venue doors must be near the front.
He's at least ten years older than most of the kids in the line, maybe more like fifteen, really, most of them dressed in black. A lot of them look around the age of his students, and he's so fucking glad they're in some random state on the other side of the country so there's no chance he'll run into any of his own kids. He scans down the line - the closer to the venue doors they get, the more evidence that the kids in the line have been there a long time. Food wrappers and trash are scattered around and near the front the overnight campers are wrapped in dirty comforters.
Calling himself seven shades of fucktard, he starts to walk, already starting to get cold in just his hoodie and t-shirt. He doesn't get two steps before a couple of girls near the back of the line corner him. One's wearing a lot of eyeliner and a vintage Used t-shirt. The other one has an impressive mohawk.
"Did you just come from inside?" Mohawk asks, pointing at the venue door like Frank needs to be reminded of how severely he fucked that up.
"I just need to find someone from security-" Frank starts to explain, when Eyeliner interrupts.
"Hang on, are you-" She turns to Mohawk, whispering, "The guy from Milwaukee," before turning back to Frank, "Are you Mikey's friend? Frank somebody? Did you play Pretty Handsome Awkward in Milwaukee?"
Frank's voicebox seizes up for a moment. He coughs to get it working again and says, "You were at the Milwaukee show?"
Eyeliner shakes her head, "It was on YouTube. Oh my god, it was you." She tugs on the sleeve of Mohawk's t-shirt, "Em, he played with them. He's with the band."
Mohawk's - or rather, Em's - eyes widen. She turns to Frank, dead serious and asks, "Can you get us inside?"
It takes everything Frank's got to not burst out laughing at that. "I don't even know if I can get myself back inside. Have you seen anyone from security?"
"Where's your pass?" Eyeliner asks.
"Inside." Frank admits.
"Oh my god, you're kidding."
"Sadly, no. Way to fail, right?"
"Okay," Em says, pressing the tips of her fingers together, "You need to find someone from band security, not venue security, because the venue guys are useless. We should try out back by the buses."
Frank waves toward the line. "I was just going to try the main doors."
Em's eyebrows shoot up, and she exchanges a glance with Eyeliner, who just shakes her head. "Amateur mistake."
"C'mon," Em grabs Frank's hoodie by the sleeve, dragging him toward the back entrance to the venue, "Jen and me will show you how to do this."
"Aren't you gonna like, lose your place in line?" Frank protests. To be honest, he's not sure if having these girls with him is actually going to help him or hinder him.
"This is more important," Em says, not letting go of Frank's sleeve.
"Our friends will save a spot for us. We're cool." Jen's boots make a smacking noise on the pavement as she runs - they're heavy and buckled like the ones Mikey wears onstage. They take him to the back entrance by the loading dock. It's sealed off with a heavy metal barrier, keeping the hardcore fans out of the venue lot where the buses and trucks are parked.
There's a small group of kids loitering at this entrance, sitting and standing around, some peering through the barrier. This spot has a view of the buses and the stage access door the roadies used to get their equipment inside. That's the exit Frank should've used for his ill-fated cigarette. He's such a fucking moron.
"Is anyone around?" Jen asks the group, stepping up to peer through the bars.
"They're sound checking," a boy with blue streaks answers. "No one will be coming out right now."
"Hey!" Em starts calling through the bars, "We need someone from security! Hey! Hey you in the vest!"
Frank wants to crawl into a hole and hide, but somehow, it works. The guy who comes over is huge, but young, wearing a high-visibility vest with the name of the venue on it. "Look guys, you might as well go line up out front, nothing's happening back here."
Em pushes Frank forwards toward the gate. "This guy's with the band, he needs to get back inside."
The guy looks Frank up and down and then turns back to Em. "Nice story kid, but I've got work to do here."
"I got locked out without my pass. It's on the couch in the dressing room, I swear." Frank offers, feeling like the biggest loser and way too aware of the hardcore fans around him that are no doubt listening to every word he's saying. "Can you get like, Brian or Worm out here? They'll vouch for me. My name's Frank Iero."
"Frank what?" the guy asks, squinting down at Frank.
"Eye-ear-oh." Frank draws the words out slowly.
"Fine, I'll ask, but no promises." He takes off, which is probably a blessing because Frank's starting to get annoyed with being treated like some kind of groupie.
Of course, Frank is currently surrounded by groupies that are doing a poor job of hiding how they're sneaking glances at him and how they absolutely heard everything that just happened.
Frank does his best to ignore it, thanking Em and groping in his pocket for his cigarettes. He wanders away from the cluster of waiting fans and lights up, more for the distraction than any real need now. He thinks about the pile of papers he left in the dressing room and sighs. If he actually manages to get back inside he's going to have lost so much time. He might as well have gone to sound check after all. He can't believe he's stuck out here on the whim of some random security guy. What an idiot.
"So are you really with the band?" Blue streaks kid asks, and Frank knew it was inevitable that someone was gonna start talking to him about this.
"Not really. Well, sort of." He explains, "I'm a friend of Mikey's, just, you know, keeping him company for a while on tour."
"He played with them in Milwaukee," Jen butts in before Frank can stop her. "He took Mikey's spot for Pretty Handsome Awkward."
Frank schools his features so he doesn't glare at her.
"No shit," the nosy kid says. "What are they like?" A few more kids wander over and Frank can tell the ones who aren't moving are listening to him. It's a little ridiculous.
"The band? They're cool. They've been putting up with having me hanging around." He takes another drag of his cigarette to give him a reason to stop talking. He's acutely aware that anything he says right now will likely be repeated and circulated among Used fans everywhere. He needs to watch his mouth. This must be what it's like for Mikey when he does interviews.
"How do you know Mikey?" asks a girl with a pink hair and a lip-piercing, who's appeared behind blue-streaks kid.
"We went to school together," Frank says, willing the security guy to hurry the fuck up already. More of the kids are starting to inch closer and it's not like Frank can go anywhere. He takes a breath and pretends it's a class. Well, maybe a class on a field trip. "We've known each other a long time."
"So was he really dating Pete Wentz?" a blonde girl asks.
Frank nearly chokes on his cigarette. "What?"
A girl in a Misfits t-shirt beside her smacks the blonde's arm, hissing, "Tayla!"
Tayla shrugs. "I'm just asking."
Frank takes a drag of his cigarette to give himself time to form an answer. "Even if I knew the answer to that question, I wouldn't tell you."
"So he wasn't then," Tayla states with finality. Her friend in the Misfits t-shirt smacks her and hisses at her again, but Tayla just shrugs and says, "Well, if he doesn't know the answer then is must not have happened, right?" She turns back to Frank. "I mean, you're his best friend. You'd know."
"I didn't say that either." Frank keeps his voice carefully level. He goes to take another drag from his cigarette only to find he's smoked it down to the filter. Fuck. He shoves the butt in his back pocket. He doesn't think about whether Mikey may or may not have dated Pete Wentz. He gets another cigarette.
"So you aren't his best friend, then?" This Tayla chick just doesn't know when to shut up.
"I don't speak for Mikey, okay?" Frank's lighter takes three tries to light and he doesn't swear or make a face about it. He doesn't tell off the girl for being nosy either, but apparently all that does is encourage her to keep talking.
"Well, is he your best friend then?"
Frank fingers freeze on his lighter. The question should be just one more thing to dismiss and ignore, something to keep his trap shut about, and yet for some reason, he answers. "Yeah, he is."
It makes no sense at all, but somehow that's the thing that finally shuts Tayla up. Frank's lighter starts to cooperate and he wanders away from the group of kids to try to smoke his cigarette in peace. They leave him be, stuck alone with his own thoughts, uselessly trying to analyse what Mikey is to him, what he is to Mikey.
He's getting on a plane back to Jersey tomorrow. He'll be lucky to get the odd phone call or text message. He should cut his losses. He can't expect the kind of friendship from Mikey they used to have, not now, not with Mikey being away all the time, not with him being famous. And he'd be a true idiot to hope for anything more than friendship.
He crushes out the butt of his cigarette into the sidewalk, thinking about Mikey inside the venue, of the walls and security that separate them.
He calls himself a fucking idiot again, but this time it isn't for forgetting his stupid pass.