the only blowup doll bobblehead on the internet (impertinence) wrote,

Heaven's Not About Your Reputation, 1/3

Title: Heaven's Not About Your Reputation
Author: impertinence
Rating: Rish
Word Count: 29,000
Pairing: Frank/Gerard
Summary: Desolation Row AU. The Tipper Laws have consumed the nation; more and more freedoms are being restricted every day. After getting thrown in jail for causing a riot with their illegal punk show, My Chem decides to do the logical thing: cause even more trouble.
Notes: Title from a Sonic Youth song. So many people audienced, encouraged, edited, read, and advised on this fic that I know I can't name them all. But thanks to shoemaster for demanding more and letting me brainstorm online and IRL, because without her this fic probably would not have been finished. And huge, massive, over-the-top thanks to bexless for the amazing beta. She kicked this thing into shape. ♥



"Punk music," Ray said firmly for the billionth time, "is not illegal."

Gerard blew the smoke from his definitely illegal cigarette in Ray's face. "Awesome punk music is."

"Music that doesn't promote the mental and physical well-being of youth –"

"Bullshit. Awesome punk can promote mental and physical well-being. I mean, look at me." Gerard gestured to his torn jeans, studded belt, and filthy leather jacket. "I haven't had a drink in months."

"And yet, you still look like you got dressed drunk." Ray made a worried face. "Look, I know you really want to do this, but don't you think -"

"It'll be awesome," Gerard said. It was possible he was using the word too much, but if Ray didn't really believe it, then the whole thing would be pointless. And they were definitely going to get into trouble; Gerard knew it already. Ray probably did too, but he still had to convince himself that everything would go fine. "Don't worry about it, man."

Ray still looked worried, but he nodded acquiescence anyway. Satisfied, Gerard kicked back and started planning that night's stage moves.

||

It went down like this:

It was illegal for anyone under the age of forty to do anything even remotely self-destructive, and a music scene where people got kicked in the face all the time was definitely out of the question. But Gerard had been illegally drinking and snorting himself into a stupor for years, so when he went on one last, near-deadly bender and came out of it resolving never to do anything like that again, punk seemed pretty tame in comparison.

When he'd voiced his idea to Mikey, Mikey had just shrugged and said, "Okay," like it wasn't highly illegal, like the Tipper Board of Unhealthy Anti-Social Behavior couldn't have them thrown in a reeducation clinic for life – or killed, since Tipper violators were rarely see again. But then, Mikey would probably agree to serial killing if Gerard really wanted to do it. Recruiting Ray was simple, because the only thing stronger than Ray's fear of getting caught doing something illegal was Ray's need to protect his friends. Bob joined them after Otter got himself jailed for hiring dozens – literally dozens – of prostitutes.

Once they had Bob, Gerard thought they were done. They had a complete band. But somehow, Frank managed to worm his way in.

He hadn't been around for a long time. The band played tiny, secret shows. Their audiences were largely made up of people Mikey, who partied and slept with tons of people, and Bob, who didn't do either but seemed to know half of Jersey nonetheless, knew. So Gerard was surprised one night when he got up in front of the crowd and, same as always, fixed his gaze on the back wall –

Only to find himself staring at a tiny kid with a mohawk standing on a chair. He was shading his eyes with his hands, but Gerard felt his look all the same: he was watching Gerard with an intentness that made Gerard feel pinned to the spot.

They played the show because that was why they were there, but afterwards, Gerard broke the biggest rule the band had to keep them from getting arrested by leaving the other guys and going to find the tiny kid.

He couldn't have explained why he felt like he needed to, not even if Mikey was the one asking. Plenty of people looked at them funny; plenty of people stood on chairs or started brawls at their shows. He didn't even really know what the kid's face looked like.

But some part of him was urging him on, making him leave the tiny basement club and look both ways on the street above, searching for a short guy with a mohawk walking away.

"I'm over here," a voice said dryly.

Gerard whirled around. The guy – not kid, because he was short but definitely not too young – was leaning against the filthy brick wall of the abandoned apartment complex that housed the club. He was smoking, of course, with one leg bent, foot braced flat against the wall. His hips jutted out and his lip ring caught the light from the tip of the cigarette when he inhaled. "Um," Gerard said. "Hi."

"Hi?" The guy sounded amused. "Very suave, man. How are you even in this scene?"

Gerard shrugged. I spent way too long drunk and slept with a lot of people and Mikey saved my ass and all I could think about doing was starting a band so maybe other people would go to our shows instead of downing a bottle of vodka a night sounded too long and kind of wimpy besides. "You just said 'suave'. How are you even in this scene?"

The guy smirked. "Touché. My name's Frank Iero."

And oh, hey, that feeling was like a block of ice settling in his stomach. "The Frank Iero? The one who got arrested and thrown into maximum for – "

"Sneaking Pencey into Carnegie Hall and then burning the motherfucker down? Yep."

"So you're out."

"In more ways than one." Frank laughed at that, high-pitched and almost demented sounding. "My grandpa pulled a few strings. I was supposed to serve thirty years."

"Your grandpa?"

"Mafia, dude. Hardcore shit."

Mikey always said Gerard was gullible. Gerard crossed his arms and said, "Bullshit."

Frank threw his head back and hooted. "Man, Mikey wasn't lying about you. Ask him, if you don't believe me. Hell, ask anyone." He threw the butt of his cigarette on the ground. "And then you can call me and apologize for saying I'm a liar."

Gerard didn't have time to say anything in response, because Frank ran past him, across the street and to the bus stop where a bus was just now rolling in.

||

"Frank Iero was at our concert?" Mikey said the next day, voice pitched low but still obviously disbelieving.

They were standing in the Tipper Wing of the Barnes and Noble, shelving books with titles like Positive Energy: How to Ignore Curse Words and Banish Harmful Thinking and Under Forty, Under Watch: How the New Laws Will Save Our Youth. Gerard glanced around for their manager before saying, "He was standing on a chair in the back. I talked to him afterwards."

"So that's why you ditched us. What'd he say? Did he like the band?"

Oops, Gerard thought. He could feel himself blushing. "I don't know. I didn't ask."

Mikey huffed out an annoyed breath. "You're so lame."

"Fuck off," Gerard said automatically, shoving another book into its spot on the shelf. It didn't go all the way back in; Gerard pulled it out and tried again, but it stuck about three inches out from the others still. "What the hell," Gerard said, pulling the book out and sticking his hand in the crack it created.

There was a book lying crooked behind all the others. Its corner had been keeping Gerard's book from going in. He pulled it out and passed it to Mikey, shoving the other book in. It hit the back of the shelf. "Finally," Gerard said. "Have I mentioned I hate our job?"

Mikey was silent. "Dude, what the hell," Gerard said, glancing at him – and then said again, "Mikey. What the hell," because the book he was staring down at was by Irvine Welsh and Gerard knew from his Googling that that book was deeply, deeply illegal.

"Don't look at me, you're the one who found it," Mikey said, turning the book over in his hands and reading the back. "'Three tales of chemical romance'. Huh."

"Mikey! Put it down," Gerard hissed, covering it with his hands. "Do you seriously want us to get arrested?"

Mikey rolled his eyes. "Like you don't play in an illegal band, Gerard, geez." His eyes strayed to the shelf of positive-thinking books. "Chemical Romance would be an awesome name for a band. Like...maybe not just that, it's kind of vague. But like. The Chemical Romance. Or My Chemical Romance."

"Shit," Gerard said, because that was good. "Shit. That's really good."

"I know." Mikey sounded smug. "So I've named our band, and," he ripped off the barcode on the back of the book, "I'm taking this home."

"You are seriously going to rot in jail someday," Gerard said sincerely.

Mikey snorted. "Whatever. At least I know to ask people like Frank Iero what they think of my band. Douche."

"Fuck you," Gerard said, and they got back to work.

||

The next time Gerard talked to Frank it was almost three months later and Mikey had somehow managed to become friends with the guy. Gerard envied Mikey that ability, the way he could just slide in and make people love him. Gerard always had to work for it, and even when he was at his best he still wasn't half as good as Mikey.

My Chemical Romance had been gaining in popularity, and Frank went to every single concert like they were his new religion, or something. Apparently he was a janitor for one of the biggest crisis counseling places in Jersey – but he never talked about his job. After their shows it was just "Hey, Mikey, that song needs more guitar," or "Hey, Bob, gimme a piggyback!". For awhile Gerard thought he had a crush on Mikey or something, but he'd seen Frank pick out people and go home with them. Even though he was kind of funny-looking – short, weird hair, tons of completely illegal tattoos that he must have covered up religiously at work – people gravitated towards him even before they knew who he was. He was way, way too cool for Gerard and his band.

Except for how he didn't seem to realize it. "You guys should get merch," he said, carrying an amp that looked like it should have been too heavy for him to even lift.

"I don't think we want to be that notorious," Gerard said. "None of us want to go to jail."

"Jail's not so bad," Frank said.

"Liar."

"Yeah, whatever." Frank leaned against the side of the van. He was always doing that, leaning so that he looked even shorter than he really was and cocking his hips like he wanted someone to grab them. Out here in the back alley, with the sick orange-yellow city sky making him look even sallower than usual, it mostly made Gerard feel like someone had shoved cotton in his chest.

Fucking weird, basically.

"...should really get a second guitarist," Frank was saying. "Dude. Gerard. Pay attention." He snapped his fingers in Gerard's face.

Gerard blinked at him. "What?"

"Your band needs another guitarist," Frank said, slowly and carefully like he was talking to a five-year-old. "You should find one."

"Did you talk to Ray about this or something? Because Ray's our music guy."

Frank shrugged, expression obviously, carefully blank. "I might've mentioned it."

"Right," Gerard said after a moment, becoming increasingly aware that he was blushing and just sort of generally looked like an idiot. "Well. Thanks for the heads up."

Frank threw his cigarette on the ground and put it out under his heel. "No problem," he said, and went back into the venue.

||

"So," Ray said the next morning, over their twice-monthly IHOP binge, "we need another guitarist."

Gerard didn't choke on his coffee, but it was a near thing. "Oh," he said mildly. "Okay. Cool."

Ray narrowed his eyes. "Who told you?"

"Huh? No one." Gerard shoved a forkful of pancakes into his mouth and smiled at Ray, cheeks bulging, trying to look innocent.

But Ray had obviously known him too long; he wasn't buying it. "Frank talked to you, didn't he?"

"Of course not."

"Liar." Ray sighed. "You know, if I didn't know any better –"

Gerard stared at the table. Ray was good on picking up on all kinds of things, including Gerard's weird, stupid crushes. "Don't say it."

"So it's true?"

"Kind of." Gerard lifted his right shoulder in a not-quite-shrug. "He's Mikey's friend. And I'm...whatever. You know?"

"Not really," Ray said wryly, "but okay." He reached over and patted Gerard, hand curling on the spot where Gerard's neck met his shoulders. "Will you be okay with him in the band?"

Gerard didn't fall out of his chair, but only just. "Um."

"You can say no. We'll find another rhythm guitarist."

But the thing was, Frank had people of his own, kids whose loyalties still ran to Pencey. He'd bring them a bigger audience, make them a better band. And Gerard knew it. Hell, Frank obviously knew it, with the way he'd been hanging around and offering suggestions like it was going out of style. Standing in the way of that, Gerard thought, would be a seriously dick move.

So he shook his head. "It's fine."

"Are you sure?"

"Not really. But whatever, you know? The band needs him. He's practically part of us anyway."

Ray nodded. "I'll tell him, then."

Gerard stabbed his pancakes extra-hard. "Awesome."

||

He knew when Ray asked Frank because he showed up for practice with a guitar and an insanely eager look on his face. Gerard was so earnest people tended to tell him it was kind of creepy, but Frank had him beat that first day. He was freakishly determined to prove himself.

It didn't take Gerard long to realize that Frank really wanted to prove himself to him, Gerard, too. He had all these suggestions for parts he could have in the songs, and the thing was, he was right most of the time; he had a good ear for making their already decent songs sound better - and he wasn't shy about telling Gerard when he thought Gerard's lyrics were shit, either.

And he got them places to play. At first Gerard was a little suspicious; the warehouses and dive bars Frank found were the kind that the police busted pretty regularly, big lively spots that tons of kids congregated in to say fuck-you to the Tipper Laws and get high and start fights. Part of Gerard was convinced that Frank just wanted them to get arrested. That wasn't the case, of course; Frank was just good at people in a way even Mikey wasn't. And so far, the cops hadn't come.

It made Gerard want to ask him questions – about Pencey, about jail, about Frank's life in general. It made him want to be really, really creepy in the kind of ways that made Mikey get that one particularly weird set to his jaw.

Instead of being weird, he concentrated on their music. It needed to get better. They needed to get better. If they were every going to change anything, save the kids who thought breaking the Tipper Laws meant fucking themselves up for life, then they had to be a fucking force of nature.

One of the reasons Frank ended up staying with the band was when Gerard said that to his face, he just threw himself back into their work with twice the intensity he'd had before.

||

And now they were in jail. Well, fuck.

"It was gonna happen sooner or later," Frank said. He'd picked the metal bench that already held Bob and Ray, sitting on the edge with his ass hanging half off, feet planted wide, staring at the ceiling.

"This was kind of sooner than I'd hoped," Gerard said. "It's your fault, you know. You're the one who's been in the slammer before."

"Fuck you, it is not. And anyway, it's been three years. That's totally later." Frank swung his feet. "Don't worry. This isn't even prison. It's just where they stick the drunk people and shit."

"We'll probably be shipped off to prison sooner or later," Ray said.

"Thanks for that," Mikey said.

"It's just the truth."

"We'll have to stand trial first," Gerard said. He was leaning against Mikey on the wall opposite Frank, Ray, and Bob. "Right?"

Bob shrugged. "Maybe. You've heard the rumors."

People who broke the Tipper Laws in ways as...explosive...as they had that night tended to just disappear. "Great," Gerard said. "Awesome. We failed."

"We didn't fail," Frank said sharply.

"Yet," Mikey said before Gerard got a chance to.

"We'll get out of this," Frank said. "Somehow."

"Don't count your chickens before they're hatched," a new voice said.

They all five looked over to the door of the cell. A young woman stood there, her cop shirt tucked into some seriously ironed pants. Her name tag said "Simmons". "Can't you shake your keys like a normal cop?" Frank said. "Give us some warning you're coming."

"I didn't want to interrupt the pep talk," she said.

"So why are you here?" Mikey sounded sullen, like he did when he and Gerard were kids and Gerard would steal all his Easter candy, or something. Gerard winced.

"Hey, hey, cool the hostility. I just work here," Simmons said. She tapped her keys against the bars. "And I'm back here because you've got a visitor. Brian Schechter. Short, impressively good illegal tattoo concealer, equally illegal lip ring hole?"

"Send him in," Bob said before anyone else could speak up.

"What the fuck," Gerard said.

"Schechter?" Frank said, staring at Bob with new intentness. "The Schechter?"

Bob still looked completely impassive. "Guess so."

"...right," Simmons said. "Okay. It'll just be a second."

Mikey watched her leave with an expression Gerard couldn't decipher. "She seemed pretty hardcore," Gerard said.

"I guess," Mikey said. After a moment he added, "She has tattoo concealer on her arm."

Gerard hadn't noticed. "You'd think they'd check for that shit," he said, newly intrigued.

Whatever Mikey's reply would have been was lost when the short guy Gerard assumed was Schechter came in, followed by Simmons. "Check for what shit?"

"Nothing," Mikey said flatly.

"Hi," Gerard said, standing up and sticking his hand through the bars for Schechter to shake, "I'm Gerard. It's nice to meet you."

Schechter looked at him like he was doing something way more bizarre than just sticking his hand out. Which, okay, was a little weird on its own, but not that weird. "Nice to meet you too," he said finally, shaking Gerard's hand.

Gerard drew it back into the prison cell. "So. Why are you here?"

Schechter's confused expression cleared. "I got word through the grapevine that you got yourselves arrested."

"That's kind of harsh," Frank said. "It was an accident."

"It was a stupid accident," Schechter said. His voice sounded incredibly wry, like he was used to having this conversation. "And don't try to argue, Frank. I know who you are."

"You're going to get us out of here, Brian," Bob said quietly.

Gerard raised his eyebrows. "So. You guys know each other?"

Brian leveled a gaze on him that Gerard suspected he was supposed to find terrifying. "Yes."

"Um. Awesome." Okay, so it was a little terrifying. "How're you going to get us out of here?"

"I know a few people," Brian said.

"Are you gonna bust us out?" Frank's feet twitched. "Like, should we be awake at two in the morning or something?"

"Are you serious? You don't want to be fucking fugitives. Look, I'm going to get you out legally, and you're going to swear up and down that you've learned your lesson and don't want to play Tipper-violating music again. Even if it's a lie."

Frank's expression had moved straight into sulky. He was practically addicted to rebellion, Gerard thought fondly. "We got it," he said.

"Good." Brian sighed. "And Bryar. Don't let it happen again."

Gerard half wanted to protest that, hey, this was his band – but Bob didn't look smug or anything when he nodded, just as serious as he always looked. "Got it."

So he let it slide. "We'll be seeing you," he said, nodding at Brian.

"Undoubtedly," Brian said, and left.

"He's intense," Mikey said.

"He's fuckin' awesome," Bob said.

"Hey, chill, Bryar." Frank smirked. "No one was insulting your boyfriend."

"Children, children," Ray said when Bob moved to smack Frank.

Gerard sighed and leaned back. Even knowing they were getting out, his stomach still churned a little. He felt weirdly ashamed that he couldn't be the person who actually did the jailbreaking; he'd never really understood why Mikey and Ray rallied behind him when he'd gotten sober, and now that they were on the edge of doing something really huge, their support felt even weirder.

Not that he was going to argue with it, or anything. "We need to focus," he said. "Once we get out of here we'll have to try twice as hard. But we have to lay low, too. No more riots."

Frank snorted. "Come on, man."

But Gerard had known Frank long enough now to be familiar with the way he went looking for trouble. All of them lived on the edge of the Tipper laws, but Frank was the one who would heckle cops in the slums, throw rocks at them and bust bottles over their heads. He was good: he always got away. But it was still the kind of rebellion Gerard couldn't let the band as a whole embrace. "At least for a little while, we have to toe the line more. Come on, Frank, do you really want to get locked away for five years?"

Frank shrugged, expression still rebellious – but if he wasn't running his mouth, then Gerard knew he'd won. "Good," he said. "Now. We can work on new songs at Ray's place, and then I think we should play the docks again. It's a good spot, since if people get too rowdy they fall in the water. We can street team too, real carefully – bars the police won't go in, squatters' apartments, that kind of thing. We need to let people know we're still out there. The rumor that we got arrested will spread, and bands don't usually come back from that shit."

"Maybe you should wait to outline your game plan till after you're out," Alicia said.

Gerard jumped and felt his face flush. Damn it, why did he fail always? "Sorry," he said automatically.

"Whatever." Alicia unlocked the door. "Go to the third door on your left. Don't try to run off or we'll catch you and throw you in solitary." She turned and walked off.

Gerard made the mistake of glancing over at Mikey as the others filed out. He may as well have had hearts in his eyes. "You're disgusting," he said flatly.

"Whatever," Mikey said. "I bet she's been to our shows."

Gerard made a big show of snorting and leaving the cell, swishing his hips to communicate maximum indignation. He was so immersed in his dramatic exit (which, really, no one but Mikey would see) that he almost ran into Frank. "Shit, sorry."

"Um." Frank's eyes were wider than normal. "Yeah, okay. Sure."

If Gerard didn't know any better, he'd think Frank was stoned or something. "Third door on the left, right?" he said, giving Frank a little nudge.

"Uh," Frank said, and half-stumbled to the door in question.

Gerard wanted to ask him what was up, but a hulking cop at the table made him shut his mouth. The guy questioned them like his life depended on it, and Gerard gave all the canned answers Brian had told him to: no, they didn't know who owned the cinema they'd played at; yes, they understood that they were being acquitted of a felony; no, they had never been convicted of any misdemeanors (and here Gerard held his breath, but somehow, no one realized it was Frank Iero lying through his teeth). It was fucking nerve-wracking, and Gerard would've sworn the guy kept them around way longer than they really needed to be. He finally let them go with a suspicious glare and a warning to "never pull that shit again".

Gerard didn't let himself register that they'd been let go until they were out of the police station and halfway down the block. "Jesus fucking Christ," he said, slumping against the brick wall of the flower shop next to them.

"Deep breaths," Ray said, following his own advice and huffing loudly.

"Fuckin' asshole. He just wanted to see us sweat," Frank said. "Where's Schechter?"

"Brian'll show up when he wants to," Bob said. "Don't hold your breath."

"How do you know him, anyway?" Ray said.

"Mutual friends," Bob said, and left it at that.

Gerard knew better than to try to pressure Bob into giving up details he hadn't already offered. "I'm just glad they didn't take my jacket,” he said, pulling it closer around him. “They could've.”

“That thing is going to disintegrate anyway,” Ray said disapprovingly.

“But it's mine.” Gerard stroked it. “I love it.”

“You're demented.”

Gerard opened his mouth to deliver an acceptably snappy retort when Frank's phone rang. He made a face and flipped it open. Gerard watched his expression twitch minutely as he talked. “What's up, man? We – what? Dude, that's total fuckin' bullshit. They can't do that. Can they? ...fuck. Jesus. Okay, yeah, thanks for telling me. Later.”

“What happened?”

“You know the dive apartment you and Mikey share? And the hole in the wall I squat in? And Ray and Bob's illegal loft?” Gerard nodded. “Raided,” Frank said flatly. “Everything destroyed, the places torched.”

Gerard had long since gotten used to the kind of shock that makes you feel like your stomach's been dragged through your toes , but this was worse: it felt like his entire brain was being squeezed, making it impossible to do anything but wheeze and gasp for air.

“Yeah,” Frank said. “Jesus Christ, fuck everything.”

“Where are we gonna go?” Mikey asked.

“Do you think if I knew that I'd be freaking the fuck out?” Frank snapped.

Mikey flinched a little. “Hey,” Gerard said, hoping he'd implied don't make me punch you.

But Frank had already started looking contrite. “Sorry.”

“Now that Dr. Phil's guide for healthy friendships has been played out, can we focus on where we're going to sleep tonight?” Ray said.

“I actually might have an idea,” Mikey said, and pulled out his phone. “Hey, Mom? Is Grandma's old van still in the backyard?”

“Oh, fuck no,” Gerard said.

“It is? Awesome. Yeah, we're gonna need to use it. For band stuff. Oh, it doesn't? That's cool, I think Bob can fix it. It's probably the battery. ...no, we're fine. I know. Seriously, though, we're okay. Okay. I love you too, bye.”

“What's the verdict?” Bob said.

Mikey shrugged. “If we can make it start, we can have it.”

“I don't want to live in a van with my band,” Gerard said.

“Relax. It's not like we have instruments to play with right now anyway,” Ray said bitterly. “We'll hardly take up room.”

That hadn't even occurred to Gerard, and now he kind of wanted to smack himself. Great. “I'm sorry.”

Ray waved a hand.”Whatever. You're not the one who decided to burn our shit.”

“We'll get more,” Frank said. “Fuck it, man, we're not giving up now. We'll burn the fucking Tipper laws to the ground if we have to.”

He had the kind of expression that Gerard was used to associating with, like...Che. “If you say so,” he said.

“You talk big,” Ray said.

Gerard half expected Frank to punch him or something, but instead Frank just started walking. “Fuck this shit,” he said. “I'm going to McDonald's.”

“You guys?” Gerard said, looking at everyone else.

“I'm gonna go to Mom's,” Mikey said.

“Since I'm apparently the mechanic, I'll go too,” Bob said.

Ray looked between Mikey and Gerard. “I think...I think I'll go to your mom's too.”

Which left Gerard to follow Frank and make sure he didn't do anything stupid – or wait for him to get back from his sulking. Damn. “Okay. I'll follow Frank, I guess.”

“Later,” Mikey said.

Frank hadn't even gone a full two blocks. Gerard wasn't the fittest guy in the world; if Congress passed the Atkins Health Reform bill, he'd legally have to start exercising way more than he did. But Frank wasn't trying to outrun him, or anything, so Gerard managed to catch up pretty quickly.

“I didn't say I wanted company,” Frank said.

Gerard could think of a lot of responses to that; most of them were just as assholish as Frank had just been. “It's true,” he said finally. “You didn't. But -"

“And I don't want to talk about my feelings, okay?”

Sometimes Gerard thought that out of all of them, Frank had lost the most. Ray's dad was a mail delivery guy, nice and nondescript; Bob's family was still ensconced in Chicago. But Frank's parents and grandparents had been musicians with chips on their shoulders to rival Frank's own, and they'd been slammed by the Tipper laws when Frank was still a kid. “You're pissed. I just want to make sure you don't do anything stupid.”

Ahead of them, the McDonald's arches loomed. “For fucking serious,” Frank said, “stop it. I'm fine.” He broke into a jog, disappearing into the restaurant when Gerard was still a block and a half away.

Gerard wasn't Yoda. He was really bad at people. He really didn't know what it was about Frank that made him want to fucking psychoanalyze the guy. His old crush, sure, but the urge to suck Frank off had mostly disappeared. They'd been a band for almost three years, and in those three years Frank had had plenty of sex with guys and girls. If he'd been interested in Gerard, then Gerard would've known.

And anyway, he thought, it wasn't like he'd had tons of sex in the past few years, himself. He'd probably be totally horrible at it if Frank decided he did want to fuck him. So really – really, it was for the best that Frank didn't.

Plus, that was ignoring the most important part: his weird old crush had nothing to do with the fact that he was borderline obsessed with making sure Frank was okay.

He shoved the confusion to the back of his mind as he walked into McDonald's. Frank was where Gerard had figured he would be: hunched in the corner, eating his Big Mac with the least amount of relish Gerard had ever seen on one person's face.

“That looks good,” Gerard said, pointing to the bowl.

“A quarter pound of lettuce and fucking radishes and shit is not good,” Frank said. “Fuck off.”

They'd changed it from their old veggie burger a month ago, and papers all over the country had started saying either McDonald's knew the law was changing, or they were secretly pushing for the change. “Okay, fine, it's gross. But seriously, man, you're allowed to be upset.”

“You think I don't fucking know that? Jesus Christ, how condescending can you get?”

Rhetorical question, Gerard reminded himself. “I just didn't want you to be alone.”

“I'm not a kid. I'm fine.”

If Gerard had been more daring, or even more self-confident, he would've called Frank on his bullshit. Instead he said, “Fine, okay. Can I sit down, at least?”

Frank could be a pissy, shitty punk, but he wasn't actually a giant asshole. “Do you seriously think I'd stop you? Christ.”

Gerard stifled a smile and sat in the chair across from Frank. “So. The van.”

“You're going to wash every fucking day. I'm not smelling Way ass in my brand new eight-feet-long house.”

With anyone else, Gerard would've scoffed – but he'd been in Frank's tiny hole of a home. Somehow he'd managed to make it perpetually clean and nice-smelling.”Okay.”

“And Mikey's gonna wash his fucking feet,” Frank said. "And clip his toenails. Outside."

“Okay.”

“And – Jesus, you know, I had one fucking picture of my grandpa and it was in my motherfucking apartment,” Frank said. He was cursing, which was illegal, so he kept his voice down – but it was the kind of intense, quiet yell that sent a chill down Gerard's spine.

“I'm sorry,” he said finally; he couldn't think of anything else to say.

“Don't fucking apologize to me,” Frank said. He threw his fork down, looking Gerard in the eye. His eyes were weirdly bright. “Just promise me you're gonna commit to this shit. Schechter's interested in us now, that means we could be huge. So stop trying to pretend you're not rocking the boat. You – we – were made to rock the boat. That's what we should be doing.”

Gerard flashed back to the riot at the amphitheater, the furious energy and hatred for the police. There were so many frustrated kids in the city, so many people practically burning to break the damn Tipper laws. They could use that. They could... "I thought I was going to change things. Back when I was in school. And then...”

“I'm still kind of in awe of that,” Frank said around a mouthful of lettuce. “The whole addiction thing. I mean, sucked, but I don't know how you found so much illegal shit.”

Alcohol, Ambien, cocaine...in retrospect it really was kind of impressive, in a morbid way. “When I got clean I just wanted to save kids from rebelling like I had.”

“Admirable,” Frank said. “But come on, man. You know these kids are like caged animals. You want 'em to end up like you, just keep pretending we're not doing good when our shows get crazy.”

Frank had been sick just a month ago, and now when he stuck his chin out it looked...weird. His jaw was too sharp, his cheekbones actually defined. Gerard stared for a second, thoughts completely chased out of his head.

Finally he nodded. “Okay. Yeah. You've got a point.”

“You bet your ass I do,” Frank said, and pushed his bowl away from him. “Now, come on.”

“Where are we going?”

“I know a guy who knows a guy who's going to give me another tattoo.”

Gerard's first thought wasn't even a thought at all, just wordless, aimless panic. His next thought was, “Are you insane?”

“Possibly,” Frank said. “Why?”

“We can't just -” Gerard waved a hand. “Tattoos! Illegal as fuck, Frank.” And, okay, Frank had a million, but those had happened when Gerard wasn't around.

“That's the attraction,” Frank said. “Come on.” He stood up and threw his fortified water in the bowl, along with his crumpled napkins and empty fat-free dressing.

A tattoo. A tattoo. Shit. It was way, way too soon after their (brief, but still fucking scary) stint in jail. “Frank...”

“Either you're coming or you're not,” Frank said. He was already farther away, dumping his bowl in the trash and heading for the door. He didn't look back at Gerard.

And damn it, damn it, damn it, Gerard was too selfish to just let him go like that. He could get hurt; the place he visited could give him an infection, or he could be walking into a trap and get beaten up by Tipper-enforcing thugs. Hell, he could get arrested again. None of those were really prospects that Gerard wanted to explore.

But Frank was about to leave the building, and Gerard knew from past experience that once he was gone, Gerard wouldn't be able to follow. Christ, he thought, fine.

He got up and made it to the door in time to hold it open for Frank. “Thanks,” Frank said like he wasn't even the least bit surprised. He probably wasn't, the bastard. “Know what I'm getting for my tattoo?”

“You're going to tell me,” Gerard said.

Frank nodded. “An angel,” he said. “Right on my back.”

“An angel?” Frank wasn't exactly the type to restrict himself to a single theme, tattoo-wise, but most were just symbols, small and relatively easy to cover up. His only big one was also a tattoo of the old cult figure Frankenstein. It was on his leg, too – far enough up that it would never be exposed unless Frank wore booty shorts, or something, but still in a pretty dangerous place.

“Fuck yeah,” Frank said. “What, you think I don't believe in God? He's totally awesome.”

He said it flippantly, but Gerard had long since learned how to tell when he was being sincere. “Cool,” he said.

“Fuckin' right it is.” He'd been leading the way down the street, but he suddenly veered right sharply. The alley he slunk into was barely wide enough for Gerard to walk down, and ended after twenty feet in a wooden fence. “Um,” Gerard said.

Frank jumped up, grabbed the fire escape, scrambled onto it, and jumped, disappearing on the other side of the fence. “Yeah?”

Athletic people sucked. “Never mind,” Gerard said, jumping up and scrambling pathetically until he could jump down on the other side.

There wasn't concrete or anything, just hard-packed dirt, but the impact still sent a jolt of pain up his legs. “This seriously isn't worth it,” Gerard said.

“Whatever you say,” Frank said, and started walking again. The alley widened slowly, the number of alleys departing from it increasing until Gerard got the distinct impression that they were in a rat's maze.

“Where are we?”

“Back of the Five Hundred Development,” Frank said.

It was a housing development, unremarkable except for the fact that its official crime rate was about a hundred times less extreme than the rumors. “Great,” Gerard said, and started mentally preparing himself to get shot by a methhead.

“Just fucking relax,” Frank said. He stopped in front of a brick wall with a white smiley face on it. Gerard squinted at the wall and the ground, but he didn't see any entrances.

“Okay,” Frank said, and dropped to his knees. “It should be...hah.” He grabbed a string of fishing line Gerard hadn't even seen, and pulled a two feet wide block of dirt up, revealing the ladder beneath it.

“What the fuck,” Gerard said flatly.

“Awesome, right? Come on.” Frank wiggled down so that the trapdoor was braced open against his back and started heading down the ladder.

Gerard really didn't want to follow, but if Frank was going do to stupid shit that would probably get him killed, he wasn't going to do it alone. “I hate you so much right now,” he said, sitting down and scooting towards the ladder.

“Yeah, yeah. Just come on.”

Trepidation made his moves slow and jerky. He backed himself into the hole, feeling for the ladder with his feet and moving down so he could clutch its sides. The trapdoor slid over his back and thumped shut when he took another step down.

They were in complete darkness. “Fuck,” Gerard said, his voice higher than usual.

“No,” Frank said. “Tattoo. Come on, it's not that far down.”

Gerard very much did not believe him – but he went down another twenty rungs and his feet hit solid ground. “Seriously, is this really necessary?” he said, reeling away from the ladder like it had burned him.

“Yes,” Frank said, and clapped his hands.

Lights blazed on. They were blue, old-time round ones with colored glass. Gerard felt, for a second, the thrill of excited fear. Anything could happen with these kinds of lightbulbs, he thought; they could explode and blind him and Frank, even.

“Jesus, don't let them give you a boner,” Frank said, and headed down the dingy tunnel the lightbulbs illuminated. The tunnel itself was pretty boring – but it was smoothly made, with concrete holding up the top of the tunnel and dirt on the ground.

“What is this place?” Gerard said.

“Old subway tunnel,” Frank said. “Closed off awhile back, converted by the guys who own the tattoo place.”

It curved sharply after only about twenty feet – and then Gerard could see, a bit ahead of them, a plain wooden door.

“Bingo,” Frank said. The door was unlocked and Frank opened it to reveal a steep set of stairs. He bounded up them; Gerard followed more slowly, trying not to gasp for air too obviously. When he finally reached the top, Frank opened the door.

Lights affixed to the walls – blue, but also red and normal yellow – illuminated five tattoo artists, all of them working on wiry-looking kids and young adults. The tattoo artists were all grizzled and seriously intimidating; one of them, a tall woman with a handkerchief wrapped around her right upper arm and a shaved head, looked especially like she could crush bones without even trying.

“...nice,” Gerard said.

“They're professionals,” Frank said. “They paid an old food designer hundreds for that dirt trapdoor.”

“That's completely crazy.”

“That's survival,” said a young, skinny guy with piercings and tattoos all over. “You Iero?”

Frank nodded. “Here for my angel.”

“Yeah, you damn joker. Okay, over here.”

Gerard followed, feeling supremely awkward: the guy hadn't even glanced at him. But he'd said he'd go with Frank, and anyway, his fear of needles didn't extend to wimping out at seeing someone getting tattooed.

At least, that's what he told himself. As he walked past the buzzing needles, he got a little less certain. But Frank was talking to the tattoo artist now, all crazy animated like only Frank could be, and yeah – no fucking way was Gerard going to wimp out.

“So anyway, yeah, let's do this thing,” Frank said, whipping his shirt off.

He wasn't as pale as Gerard remembered – but he was skinny, scary skinny, the kind of skinny Mikey'd been for a long time thanks to all the coke and stuff. They were probably going to have to have a talk about not playing shows after being so sick actual doctors advocated confinement. Gerard wasn't looking forward to it, since those talks usually ended in Frank trying to punch him.

He focused on the tattoo artist again when Frank said, “Okay, so, I want an angel, right? But kind of gruesome looking. Not evil or any bullshit like that, just ugly and a little messed up. Maybe with piercings or something, I don't know. I just want it to be God's really fucked-up creature. But still an angel. On my back, between my shoulders.”

“Risky place for a tat,” the artist said mildly.

Frank shrugged. “I'm game.”

“Alright.” The guy got out a sheet of paper and started drawing. Frank glanced at Gerard; Gerard almost didn't see it, because the second the guy's pencil had touched paper, he'd zeroed in on it.

He raised his eyebrows at Frank; Frank looked away. He went back to watching the guy draw. He was good, Gerard would give him that; but he wasn't as good as Gerard himself was. The angel's face was distorted, and its arms were mottled like they'd been blistered, but it was old-school tattoo style, which Gerard never would've used for this tattoo. It looked too doughy, too contrived. Thinner lines would be better, with the angel's face being sharper, and its robes swirling into darkness by its feet –

“You could just ask to do it, you know,” Frank said, sounding amused.

The artist stopped. “Wait, your friend can draw? Shit, man, why didn't you have him do it?”

“Didn't figure he'd come,” Frank said.

Gerard couldn't stop himself from rolling his eyes. “I would've done it earlier. Give me that.”

The artist passed the paper over. Gerard flipped it to the other side and started drawing, keeping the lines sharp, the angles acute. He barely looked up when he felt Frank come closer and lay his hand on the table. “Does this look good so far?”

“Yeah,” Frank said. His tone was weird – but Gerard just kept drawing, not looking up. Curled, skeletal wings, a twisted face, heavy black lines winding all over the angel's body...it looked sinister, Gerard thought, but not evil. Like Frank wanted.

He finished it pretty quickly after that. He didn't add much shading because he wanted the lines to stand out, curve down Frank's back and draw attention to his shoulder bones, the indentation of his spine.

It was probably pretty creepy, the way he was thinking – but no one had to know.

"There you go," Gerard said, pushing the drawing towards Frank and the tattoo artist.

"Damn," the artist said, whistling. "Nice job, man. You cool with this?"

Frank nodded. "Go for it. Thanks, Travis."

"I know you won't give us up." The artist – Travis – thumped Frank on the back. "Now lie down."

Frank hopped onto the table, lying on his stomach. "Do you need to grab my arm?" Gerard asked, for lack of a better thing to say.

Frank snorted. "Sure, mom, and can you get me a lollipop while you're at it?"

"Screw you," Gerard said mildly.

Travis drew the tattoo on carefully. Gerard watched kind of weirdly, uncomfortably aware of how intent he was being – but his hand was steady. "Relax, man," he said when he'd finished. "I'm not going to ruin your drawing."

Gerard flushed, because really, Travis knew how to do his job. "Sorry."

"Don't worry about it." He flipped on the tattoo gun. "Ready?"

"Go for it," Frank said.

So Travis did.

Everything was a blur after that. Frank didn't so much as twitch when Travis started, but when he started doing the detail work over Frank's spine, Frank gritted his teeth and inhaled sharply. It was hardly anything, but Gerard zeroed in on his face anyway, drawn and determined. It was...weirdly compelling, Gerard thought, in a way he really didn't understand. He just wanted to keep watching.

So he looked away. Every once in awhile Travis would wipe the blood off Frank's back, anyway, and that reminded Gerard that, yes, he was busy working Frank over with a needle, and then Gerard sort of wanted to puke. It was a tense few hours, with both Frank and Gerard breathing harshly and Travis humming under his breath as he worked.

Finally he said, "Alright, you're good."

Frank, ridiculously, twisted around, like he thought he'd be able to see the tattoo without a mirror. "How's it look?"

"Bloody," Gerard said.

"Asshole." Frank hopped off the table. "Fuck, man, I feel awesome. Mirror still in the back?"

"Yep," Travis said, cleaning the tattoo gun off.

Frank bounded away. Travis shook his head when he'd gone. "He's a fuckin' weirdo," he said.

"Yeah." Gerard couldn't stop himself from smiling. He probably looked like a moron, but whatever; he loved his band. He knew it.

"I've heard of you, you know."

That made him do a double take. "What?"

Travis grinned at him, leaning back in his chair. "You surprised? Everyone's heard of your band. You're starting to really make a buzz. When the riot happened, we figured you were gone for good. The cops've heard of you too."

Gerard shook his head. "Brian got us out."

That got him a narrow-eyed look. "Wait, Schechter? You got him carrying your banner?"

"In a manner of speaking," Gerard said.

Travis whistled. "Shit, man. You know he's been on the run since he was sixteen? If he decides he wants to support you, it means he's going to make you fucking huge."

"We can't get that huge," Gerard said. "We're underground."

That made Travis throw his head back and laugh. "Jesus, you have no idea how big the underground is, do you? The Tipper laws aren't just Prohibition gone punk, man. We're looking to do a lot more than build a couple singeasies."

"Singeasies." Gerard shook his head. "You can't be serious."

"You're an infant," Travis said. "Talk to Schechter about it, he'll tell you. You guys and Chicago. We're going to burn the laws to the ground."

"Are you guys talking revolution? Fuck you if you're from Chicago, I've heard tons about them," Frank said. He grabbed his shirt. "I like it. Bandage me up."

"'I like it'? That's it? Fuck you, man, that thing's a work of art." Travis grabbed some gauze and tape. "You know how to take care of it, right?"

"Duh," Frank said. "Are you done?"

"Cover your ugly stomach," Travis said. "And for the record, I'm from New York."

Frank shrugged his shirt back on. "Yeah, yeah. And you're in Chicago because they give good riot." He smiled, sharp and bright.

Gerard managed to look him in the eye when he said, "So, when we get back, we have to find Brian."

"He'll be in the van, probably," Frank said. "When he decides he likes a band, he really sticks with them."

So Travis had been right. Gerard thought about his pants and Mikey's unwashed feet and felt newly guilty. "Oh."

"Yeah, oh." Frank bumped against him, wrapping an arm around Gerard's waist and handing Travis three new-looking hundred-dollar bills. "Thanks, man."

"Any time," Travis said. "Now get out of here."

Frank mock-saluted him and obeyed, dragging Gerard with him. They went through the tunnel and up out of the fake dirt trapdoor quietly; Gerard wanted to talk, of course, because he always did when he was nervous. But he didn't, because between the tunnel and the ladder Frank's expression had settled into the closed, intent one that meant he was thinking things over.

The van was where they'd parted from Mikey and the others – and Brian was sitting in the driver's seat. "This thing fucking reeks," he told Gerard when Gerard climbed into the passenger seat. "You need to learn to do your laundry."

"Gerard knows how to do his laundry," Bob said. "He just never does it."

"Yeah, yeah." Gerard flapped a hand. "Whatever. Hey, Brian, Frank's tattoo guy was named Travis. He said you had plans for us. True?"

"It's pretty heavy stuff," Brian said. "You'll have to trust me."

"I do," Bob said immediately.

Gerard wasn't so sure. Back when he'd been drunk and high all the time he'd been hardcore paranoid; he wasn't like that anymore, but he was still kind of suspicious by nature.

Of course, he'd hand Bob Mikey's life, which was five times more important than his own. So. "Okay," he said.

Now it was Brian's turn to look surprised. "Just like that?"

"I heard a rumor revolutionaries have to be decisive," Gerard said.

It wasn't really that funny, but in the back, Ray laughed loudly anyway. "Sorry," he said when everyone else looked at him. "Nerves."

"Right," Brian said. "Okay. I'm going to take you to IHOP, and then we're going to talk. Okay?"

Everyone nodded, like kids on a field trip or something. "Good," Brian said, and started the van.

He drove like a New Yorker: Gerard kept his eyes closed after the second run red light. When they finally got there, Brian double-parked and waved a hand. "Out," he said.

They all piled into a booth. IHOP had discontinued syrup two months ago, and now served "infused" pancakes, full of vegetables, with a fiber-fortified dressing that pretty much tasted like ass. Their eggs were still something approaching normal, though, so that was what Gerard ordered, trying to look as polite as possible.

If Frank's snickers were anything to go by, he didn't really succeed. "Dude," Frank said. "You look like a T-Rex who just got told he had to go vegetarian."

"These aren't real pancakes," Gerard said. "Sooner or later they're going to pass a law against, like...brownies."

"Ohio's trying to make cheesecake illegal," Ray said.

"I'm going to kill myself," Gerard informed the ceiling.

"That's why it's important to keep playing," Brian said. "Wait. You." He stabbed a finger at Frank. "When you were in Pencey you were pudgy as fuck. What happened?"

"Would you believe I've lived a hardened life of crime?"

"No."

"I've been sick, then."

Brian got the narrow-eyed look that Gerard was already learning meant trouble. "And you fucked off to get a tattoo? How fucking stupid are you, exactly?"

"I got a lot of A's in high school."

"Don't joke about this. From now on, you feel sick, you fucking lie down and drink chicken noodle soup, you got it?"

If Gerard mother had donned a viking helmet and started packing heat – well, more heat; Gerard was pretty sure she already kept a .45 on her – she might have sounded as fierce as Brian did right then. "Fucking Christ, okay," Frank said, sounding just as scared as Gerard would've been.

"Right," Brian said. "Good. Eggs."

They ate pretty quickly, all of them concentrating on pretending the low-sodium, no-cheese omelets were just as good as the ones they'd grown up with. When they were done, Brian said, "Okay. So, you need instruments, right?"

"Eventually, yeah," Ray said.

"No, not eventually. Now." Brian threw down a bunch of twenties and stood up. "Come on."

"Where did you get that?" Bob said, pointing to the money.

"I called in a few favors," Brian said. "The jail, this, the instruments. That's the deal. I give you that, and you trust me and let me work you to death."

"For the revolution?" Gerard said. He tried to make it joking, but somehow it came out serious.

"Something like that," Brian said.

They were quiet after that, piling into the van without a directive word from Brian. Gerard tried to be concerned about the instruments, but his mind kept getting distracted by the idea, the encroaching reality, of revolution; something new, something important. It was an almost painful kind of suggestion, because it was important, absolutely crucial – and it was impossible to get now, or even anytime soon.

Also, they might be arrested and sent to actual prison. That wasn't too awesome a prospect.

Brian drove for almost a half hour before pulling into a dingy-looking alley. "Get out," he said, "Go to the end of the alley. On your right should be a dumpster. The instruments are in there."

"Hardcore," Frank said. "It's like you're James Bond."

"Just go," Brian said. "There'll be a police sweep in twenty minutes. We want to be on our way in ten."

Everyone but Gerard got out of the van. Gerard waited until he saw everyone in front of the headlights before he said, "We can't do this for forever. Living out of a van stuffed with our instruments."

"I can't call in another favor."

"I know." Gerard gritted his teeth. "But – I might be able to."

Brian's voice was carefully neutral when he said, "Yeah?"

"I knew a guy, awhile back. He's got an ear to the underground pretty much always."

"Why's that?"

"Well." Gerard bit his lip. "Bert's addicted to almost every drug known to man. So...yeah, he knows a lot about everyone."

Brian's laugh was more like a bark. "I know Bert. He won't be sober for the time it takes to give you an address."

"Maybe," Gerard said. "But maybe not. Come on, if you know him, you know he's smarter than he lets on. If we need a place, really need one – and we do – he might know of somewhere."

"And then if the cops dangle heroin in front of him, he'll spill."

"Not for me." Gerard tried to project as much surety into his voice as possible. "It's worth a try. We're going to be on the run from the cops, anyway – but if we're trying to all live in this van, it'll be that much worse."

"You'll have to live in the van when you go on tour."

Tour. Jesus; he wasn't kidding around with this. "Yeah. Well...we'll deal. But permanently, we need a place."

"If you say so." Brian was silent for a moment before he said, "How much do you know about Chicago?"

"Is that a trick question?" Gerard tried to smile – but he faltered at the humorless look on Brian's face. "Um."

"The Jersey scene, the New York scene, that's heating up. But Chicago...they've got groups out there, multiple ones. Multiple scenes. It's going to explode soon."

"So, what, we should head to Chicago?"

Brian's lips twisted. "Hell, no. We've got to get the east coast just as fired up. If we really want to change things, there's gotta be a movement. A huge one. That means you, that means Lupe, that means Wentz, that means fuckin' Springsteen. Everybody. We need a huge wave of people."

For a second all Gerard could do was stare. Finally he managed to say, "You don't have an army hidden somewhere, do you?"

"Not yet," Brian said.

He wasn't serious. Probably. At least, Gerard didn't think so. Either way, that was the end of their conversation, because Bob and Ray opened the side doors at the same time Frank opened the back. "We're going to be crowded ass to elbows," he called, shoving his guitar in the van and climbing over the seats to the front.

"You didn't shut the door, jackass," Bob said, getting out to fix it. He'd managed to store his kit under seats and in the back; it was something approaching magic, in Gerard's eyes.

"So," Frank said, ignoring Bob, "where to? A parking lot somewhere?"

"Actually, we're going to, um." Gerard slumped down in his seat, avoiding everyone's eyes. "We're going to see if Bert knows of a place we can crash."

Total silence. Bob had climbed back in, and Mikey was sitting between him and Frank; Ray was in the very back. When Gerard glanced up, all of them were staring at him.

"Dude," Mikey said finally. His tone said volumes – to Gerard, at least.

"I know," Gerard said. "Believe me, man, I do. But he'd know. You know he would."

"And then he'd sell us out," Bob said flatly.

"Bullshit," Gerard said. "Come on, guys. Bert would do a lot of things, but he wouldn't sell us out." Probably.

Something shifted then. Gerard couldn't have said what it was for the life of him, but it was like the air in the van just changed, like the old days when you'd buy french fries and open the bag and the smell would fill the car instantly. Ray was the first person to vocalize it, nodding and saying, "Okay. If you say so."

Brian raised an eyebrow at Gerard; Gerard fought to urge to squirm. Yeah, okay, his band let him lead them, and apparently did what he said now. That didn't mean a whole lot. It didn't mean he could go from rebellion to full-scale organized revolution.

Except he was getting the feeling he didn't really have a choice if he wanted to be able to live with himself. "Let's just get out of here," he said. "You said ten minutes, remember?"

"Where does Bert live now?" Brian said, starting the van.

"Oh God," Mikey said. "You've been keeping track, haven't you. Gerard."

Gerard was pretty sure his cheeks were on fire. "Fuck off," he said. "Just drive west."

He tried not to make it obvious how thoroughly he had the directions memorized, but it was hard, because he really did know them by heart. He'd never been to see Bert, not since he got clean and Bert spat on him for it, but he needed to know where Bert was. Just in case – not in case of this, not in case he needed to use Bert. But just in case something happened. Gerard had never been that great at letting go.

"Is he still in that band of his?" Ray said a few minutes later.

"Go left at the next light," Gerard said. "And yeah, I think so."

"They're not a part of this," Frank said. "I mean. Are they?"

Brian hit the brakes harder than was strictly necessary. "I tried to make them be. They didn't really want my help."

"Why the fuck not?"

"Because Bert's fucked up, and they can't take the risk," Brian said. "They're chickenshit. Forget them."

But if they agreed to help Gerard, then things would be different, Gerard thought. Not in the fluffy-kitten kind of way where all of a sudden they'd be best friends, but they'd have something to hide from the cops. Something that would end up being pretty fucking huge, if Brian had his way.

And it would connect them to My Chem, probably permanently. Gerard was a little ashamed of himself that he still wanted that. "Okay," he said once Brian had turned. "Two blocks down. I'll hop out and talk to him, you can circle the block."

"Fuck that," Frank said sharply. "Bob can talk to him. Or I can."

Gerard looked in the rearview mirror, unable to hide his surprise. Frank's face looked drawn; Bob just looked pissed. "Guys," he said. "I can't – he won't talk to you like he'll talk to me."

"Yeah," Frank said, "that's what I'm worried about. You and me, Bryar, okay?"

The worst part, Gerard thought, was that Ray and Mikey both looked relieved. Shit. "I – tell him I thought of him."

"That won't be necessary," Bob said calmly, meeting Gerard's eyes.

Gerard slumped down a little further.

"Okay," Brian said, "let up on the soap opera bullshit and be ready to hop out. You've got fifteen minutes. If he won't give us any information, stand on the street corner and wait for me, got it? Don't take longer than that."

"Thanks, Brian," Frank said. Brian slowed down at the spot Gerard had pointed out, and Frank and Bob hopped out.

As soon as they'd closed the doors, Gerard twisted around to glare at Ray and Mikey and said, "Wow. Thanks for the show of support, guys."

Both of them looked nonplussed. "Look," Ray said finally, "if you asked me to walk into a volcano I would, okay? But if Bert was in the volcano -"

Mikey gave a funny little snorting laugh. "Dude. Worst analogy ever."

"If Bert was in the volcano, I wouldn't." Ray scratched his head, making his hair scuttle against the ceiling of the van. "We saw you when you were at rock bottom, man. There are some things...look. We just can't do it. Okay?"

Gerard wanted to throw a temper tantrum. Instead he forced himself to nod. "Yeah, okay. Fine."

They sat in uncomfortable silence, circling the block until they spotted Bob and Frank waiting for them. "Drive," Frank said. "Quinn called the cops on us."

"Son of a bitch," Brian said, and floored it. "They didn't give us a place, then?"

"Quinn told us there's a hole in the wall two miles south," Frank said. "Here's the address." A crumpled paper ball thrown at Brian's head.

"But it's not safe, right?" Gerard said.

"He actually said he wouldn't call the cops, if we got away from them this time," Bob said.

"Real fuckin' trustworthy," Mikey said.

Frank rolled his eyes. "Mikeyway, if you've got a better option, feel free to let it fly."

There was a long pause, and then Mikey said, "Actually, I think I do."

||

"No fucking way," Brian said, staring at the house.

"It's in the burbs," Mikey said. "So, fewer cops. It's huge, and she's the only one who lives in it. It's secure. There's a basement, see the window? So if we need to get out secretly we can. It's perfect."

"Fewer cops," Gerard said. "Except for how she is one. And how'd you get her address, anyway?"

Mikey suddenly looked incredibly shifty.

"Fuck me," Frank said from the back.

"No one offered," Bob said. "Now shut up. Mikey, are you going to knock on her door or what?"

"For the record," Brian said, "I still think this is an incredibly stupid idea."

"Just keep the car on," Mikey said.

"Seriously, we can't sit in her driveway forever," Ray said.

"No," Alicia said into Gerard's open window, "you can't."

Someday they'd all laugh at the way they jumped and yelled at the same time. Today was not that day. "What the hell," Gerard said faintly.

"Are you guys lost or something? Make it snappy; I've got grocery shopping to do and you're blocking my car."

"Do you remember us?" Mikey said from the back.

"Sure. Guys with the super illegal band. Nice replacement instruments, by the way. You know it was the NYPD who torched your shit, right?"

"Why the hell do you even work for them?" Bob snapped.

She shrugged. "It's a salary. Seriously, do you need directions or what?"

"We actually need a place to stay," Mikey said. Gerard twisted around in his seat in just enough time to see him widen his eyes pathetically. "Please?"

"While you play illegal shows to try to drum up support for your big anti-Tipper revolution?"

"Basically," Mikey said. Gerard turned back around; Brian looked like he was ready to burst multiple blood vessels.

"Okay," Alicia said. "But seriously, you're gonna have to find somewhere else to park the van."

||

Part Two
Tags: fic_2009
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