fic: Becoming Joan
Authors: mrsronweasley and theopteryx
Fandom/Pairing: MCR, Frank/Gerard
Word Count: ~36k
Warnings: MELODRAMA, cross-dressing, characters making bad decisions, homophobia-inspired violence, character death (but not really), complete lack of knowledge of actual federal government programs, not!fic
Summary: The only sound in the dressing room was Frank's breathing and the gentle shhhk as she pulled a lace tighter.
"There we go," she said, stepping back. "Yes?" she asked, when he was still silent.
"Yes," Frank said, still watching himself in the mirror. Yes.
Notes: This came out of chat and grew into a not!fic about boys in skirts & in love. Kind of. With tremendous thanks to our beta brooklinegirl for doing both a super-speedy AND thorough AND scary job on this. Twice. WELU. ♥ (Some of this is written out into actual fic, and some of this is not!fic, and some of it is kind of both).
Artwork for this story can be found here. Could be considered vaguely spoilery for the epilogue.
When Gerard was a sophomore in high school, he had a best friend. Most of the people he knew at school would have scoffed that his best friend was some 8th grader but Gerard loved Frank. Frank was awesome, and had kick-ass taste in music and comic books. He was also the prettiest boy Gerard had ever seen.
They weren't, like, boyfriends or anything, was the thing. They were just - Frank and Gerard. In the wintertime, when it got dark early, they'd hide out in tree houses in playgrounds and hold hands, telling each other about their days (they went to the same school, but two different wings - Frank in the junior high one, Gerard in the other) and the latest trade of Batman, and every now and then, when it got too cold to sit separately, they'd huddle and trade tiny kisses in the dark. Gerard's heart would pound so hard every time, like it was the first, and he'd get mesmerized by the way Frank's eyelashes left feathery shadows on his red cheeks. Frank's hand would grasp and cling to his own through their mittens.
Afterwards, they would walk home, holding hands when the streets were empty, and watch their own shuffling feet while they smiled.
Mikey would give Gerard a pinched, slanted grin when he'd greet him in their room, and Gerard would kick him in the shin and tell him to shut the hell up, and then he'd sketch another page of the comic he and Frank had started writing a few months back. Frank had awesome ideas, and Gerard knew exactly how to put them down on paper. It was going to be epically awesome. It was going to be even better when Frank would become a 9th grader, and he and Gerard would have lunch at the same time. Gerard couldn't wait for Frank to get to his side of the school.
It was in March when Gerard came in one morning and heard the rumor. He could feel his heart stop, almost literally, in his chest, but he refused to believe it - people said the craziest shit, seriously, the school was teeming with horrible gossip about everybody in town. It wasn't true, it couldn't be. He still couldn't pay attention to any of his classes, though.
It wasn't until he walked outside after last period, his hands already sweating from not having seen Frank all day, and saw his mom, pale and tiny, huddled against the side of her Trans Am, that he knew. His legs almost gave out from underneath him and he didn't even care that he had broken down in front of all the students filing out of the front doors. He could barely hear his mom through his sobbing.
Frank and his parents had been killed in a car accident late the night before, and there was not a single thing anybody in Gerard's life could do about it.
Over the following week, he watched as the Iero extended family slowly took possession of all of the belongings left in the house, box by box, and nobody noticed him sneaking upstairs like a shadow of the movers and grabbing the box of Frank's mix tapes. Frank would have wanted him to keep them safe. Gerard would keep them safe for him.
When Frank was in 8th grade, his father was waiting for his mother to get out of work, and accidentally witnessed a mob hit. Frank wasn't there. Frank was at home, listening to a CD Mikey had lent him at school, but Frank was there when his father returned home with cops, and when he agreed to testify, as well. Frank was there when his life was packed up into one suitcase and they were swept up into WitSec's custody - no goodbye, no nothing.
No matter how hard he screamed and kicked and lashed out, it didn't change the reality that they were leaving Jersey for good, under new names and new identities and Frank wasn't even going to be Frank anymore.
Worst of all, the cover story for them leaving was so horrible and STUPID, Frank's heart sank when he heard it. He wanted to text Gerard, to tell him it wasn't true, it wasn't true, dammit, but the marshals took away his phone and they were monitoring his computer like fucking hawks.
There was no way he could tell Gerard the truth, and he was never going to see him again. Frank's life sucked.
And he HATED New Mexico.
After Frank died, Gerard had a pretty hard time of it. He'd always been a sensitive kid and losing his best friend like that really kind of fucked him up. High school was so rough without a best friend and he missed him so much and he sort of ended up isolating himself a lot from the other students, which was okay because they sort of did the same to him (that mopey Way kid, Jesus, always looked like someone was about to kick him, what was his deal).
He had nightmares about the crash for MONTHS, and spent countless hours crying in bed until Mikey would sneak in in the dark and curl up behind him, just holding on, hoping he'd wouldn't feel so alone (Mikey missed Frank too, so much, but he mourned silently, so he could be there for Gerard).
But life went on and Gerard felt weird the first time he was attracted to a girl, and his first kiss with somebody else, even, maybe - how it was so different, and he still missed Frank ALL THE TIME, but it became this background THING as he grew up and older, how he knew that he was stupid for hanging on, and he did let GO, but never fully - just for others. It was something he didn't ever really talk about because he knew he was supposed to be over Frank by now, he KNEW, but it was a huge part of him growing up, you know? It took some serious time for him to get over some of those huge issues that were tied to that. Death tended to show up in his artwork a lot during high school, too, though, which of course branded him as even more weird by some of his other classmates.
But he opened up a little more as time went on, and he had a girl he dated by his senior year, and she was great and they had fun and he lost his virginity in his basement on top of his Star Wars sheets, and then when he went off to art school he dated this guy for a while but mostly they got high and gave each other messy blowjobs and brought each other coffee during finals. He liked his girlfriend and his art school boyfriend and he liked having a warm body or the occasional one-night stand, but it was never anything earth-shattering. Sometimes he wondered if he just lacked that something that other people seemed to have, that capacity to really open up for other people, let them in, and he wondered if that part of him left with Frank. Frank was his First Love and he died, and that's a level of pain that most people didn't have to really experience in a relationship, especially when they were so young and impressionable.
He never even told Mikey about the box of Frank's tapes, he just kept it under his bed, never looked at it, but when he went to college, he took it with him, and then into his first apartment, and so on. Taking the tapes with him, even if he didn't ever open or play them - it was like a reminder that Frank was real, that he was someone who mattered to Gerard, even if he was gone. SOMEONE needed to remember Frank, and Gerard felt bad that sometimes he didn't think of him all the time, and as more time went on it did actually get easier even if he still ached when remembered :( :( :( He didn't even have a picture of Frank, only a memory, since Frank was sick (of course) on yearbook picture day and the last picture of him in the yearbook was a little grey box that says not pictured.
He tended to find more solace in his artwork than anything those days. The death of Helena, too, had a huge impact, so a lot of his artwork WAS focused on death, even when he was mostly past the majority of the grieving periods for the both of them. He got really focused on images of people who died young, too, like Joan of Arc, and she became a huge, keystone piece of his paintings. She became almost like an artist's trademark after a while, and while he always just sort of assumed that he'd paint on his own time and end up in some dead-end awful cubicle, he started getting some notoriety for his work, and some press, and before he knew it he was in some group shows around town, and some solo shows, and people actually bought his stuff. It still wasn't enough for him to quit his shitty day job at the Barnes and Nobles, but it was SOMETHING, and it was POSITIVE, and Gerard felt something inside of him loosen. It was like....the paintings were him dealing with things, REMEMBERING things, and sending them all out into the world felt almost like people were sharing that with him, lessening the burden on himself. It was like nothing else.
IN THE MEANTIME, over in New Mexico, Frank grew up angry! He got a guitar at one point and played a LOT of Black Flag. Like. A LOT. And his parents' marriage didn't survive the huge change ;_______; They still lived in the same town, just not together. (He moved between his parents' places.) It was just HARD, and he couldn't let go of Jersey, he never felt at HOME in NM, you know?
Moving was hard enough anyway - having to move AND move in secret AND have his parents' divorce fucked him UP. He got into trouble at school all of the time and his mom cried a lot and he felt awful but if he didn't lash out he felt like he was going to break, splinter right down the middle. He totally had issues with authority figures, too, and people getting all up in his face about shit. >:(
ALSO HE MISSED SNOW GODDAMN IT CHRISTMAS SUCKED SO HARD. HE MISSED WEATHER.
Trying to figure out his sexuality was kind of a mess. Frank lashed out and was just so angry and unhappy all of the time, being all of that and figuring out he was gay in some shitty little town in New Mexico was rough. He was maybe a little reckless with his body, because he knew he wanted but didn't know what to DO with that, and it didn't go all that great the first time (he tried giving a BJ and it was horribly awkward and uncomfortable and the dude came WAY TOO SOON, FRANK WAS UNPREPARED and choked and then the guy was too spaced out to jerk him off or anything, but the next time was better). But he did shit like trying to give blowjobs until he almost gagged, and maybe made decisions that weren't really the WISEST? It was almost a rebellion against the rules he had to live behind - they couldn't stop him from sucking that guy's dick, from letting the guy he met at the movie theater take him home and fuck him, from going to parties and getting drunk and fucking the running back of the football team, shit like that.
His mom didn't know about it, and maybe he got away with a LOT of shit, and she thought maybe he was feeling better and that counseling helped (he definitely had a counselor, but he couldn't get past his anger, so it didn't really help, he never TALKED, and he was smarter than she was, anyway), but really, he was just busy sneaking out and getting high and fucking a LOT of boys. He fumbled and sex wasn't always fun, it turned out, but it was fun a LOT, was the thing, and he got skills at some point in there, too. >:) THERE'S A PERK TO EVERY PROBLEM, OKAY.
He got his first tattoo at seventeen, from some guy someone at school knew. It was shaky and kind of a mess and it hurt like a bitch, but Frank just stared straight down at his scuffed sneakers and breathed through it. It felt good, so good, to have something that was all his, permanent, they'd-never-take-him-alive kind of permanent. A jack-o-lantern, for his birthday - Jack Antonio, his WitSec identity, was born in May, which was fucking ridiculous - and an anchor and NJ for his home. Search and Destroy for the assholes who made his family run, good and evil birds, split right down the middle, a Lady of Sorrows for his mom and all her crying, heart in her hands. He couldn't stop. His mom freaked, of course, and his dad just frowned, but Frank didn't care. Sometimes, on the really bad days, it seemed like the stitches of ink were the only thing keeping him together.
He was mostly over his anger by the end of his freshman year of college, more even-keeled. He met some cool people, and had a "best friend," for the value of "best" being somebody he could relate to (her name was Lena, and she had basically escaped to college to have all the lesbian sex she could) but. She never even knew his real name.
But still, with all that, and feeling kind of better, after ALL THOSE YEARS, New Mexico didn't feel like home, and the decision to quit the program was really hard, because he loved his parents, but he couldn't do it anymore, he HAD to go back. He’d dropped out of college, ‘cause it hadn’t been for him, but it wasn’t just that. NEW MEXICO wasn’t for him, and he knocked around it until finally, he knew he’d had enough.
He just wanted to go back to Jersey and SEE things, but the people his family were hiding from were still around, even if they're weren't necessarily in the same city. And yeah, he could admit it - he wanted to see Gerard. Gee had been pretty much his only friend (well, him and Mikey, but Gerard had been his BEST friend, and something else entirely) growing up. He was the last person to know him as Frank Iero, really. When he moved to New Mexico he didn't really have any friends, mostly ‘cause he was so angry and because there was always that overhanging fear that they'd have to pick up and move again at any given time. It was hard to get close to people when his whole life was a secret.
He wound up crying all over his mom's shoulder like a KID, trying to make her understand that he NEEDED to get back, and who'd recognize him ANYWAY?
The marshal assigned to their case was a nice enough guy that when Frank's parents went to him with their concerns about Frank, he managed to work out a deal where Frank was still in the program, still Jack Antonio, resident of New Mexico, but under Jersey supervision, and absolutely HAD to check in with his Jersey marshal every other day, by phone or in person, NO EMAILS. >:( This is serious. >:( And he was to be careful and mindful, and if had any suspicions at ALL, he was to dial his marshal's number before doing ANYTHING ELSE.
Frank nodded a lot, something uncoiling in his belly, releasing those butterflies he hadn't felt in far too long. He was going home.
So Frank loaded up his shitty old car with the remains of his stuff and road-tripped it back up north. He felt himself feeling better the closer he got. He couldn't even describe it, it was just - familiar. Home. And when he hit the Turnpike, forget it. He almost ran someone off the lane, his eyes were leaking that much.
He didn't have a plan, either, and no real goal, just the desire to do SOMETHING different than what he was doing before.
He slept out of his car for a few days until he found a job. He had his official papers - Jack Antonio, resident of New Mexico - and managed to get a gig as a dishwasher in the back of some trashy, dingy diner, and he totally fucking loved it. He took a lot of smoke breaks with the other guys in the back and wore a bandanna across his head like Al Pacino in that Frankie and Johnny movie and all of his shirts were stained with dishwater, his hands red and raw from scrubbing. But it was work, and he was working with PEOPLE again, and they were people who really didn't give a fuck who he was or wasn't. It was awesome.
His apartment was a total shithole - basically just a studio, with a beat-up old mattress shoved in the corner. He kept it pretty neat, though, and as clean as he could, and he didn't have money for cable or anything so he had just stacks and stacks and stacks of books lined up against the walls, taking up most of the free space. He spent most of his free time smoking and reading, and it was pretty great, all things considered. He picked up a bunch of hours at work, the pay sucked but he did okay and he was pretty sure he'd eventually be able to swing a gig there as at the front of house and the tips were better. He worked hard, sometimes grabbed a drink with the kitchen staff - they talked a lot about the girls they'd picked up over the weekend, Frank mostly just smiled and took another swig - or just sat on the back step and shared a smoke with them, then headed home and passed out, slept in, and spent the day walking around or curled up somewhere outside reading.
He had his laptop with him, and since he didn't have internet in his apartment, he spent most of his time at the coffee shops in his neighborhood using theirs and drinking coffee and reading wikipedia or downloading movies to watch later at his place. He didn't really have any close friends but he was used to that. He was used to being alone. And...he wasn't exactly happy, but it was something. It was his own something, or at least something close to it.
Which all led up to him stumbling across Gerard's name - he'd thought about looking Gerard up, but wasn't really sure how - he'd googled him, kind of like a creeper, and found his facebook profile, but it was locked, and Frank didn't have a facebook, didn't have an ANYTHING, he wasn't allowed to under the WitSec program, so all he saw was the little picture of Gerard in the sidebar, hair in his face, and Frank's heart kind of clenched. But it didn't really go farther than that.
But he was on one of the local websites one day, looking up shit to do that weekend, to see what shows were going on in town (he liked going to local shows because the cover was cheap and he could throw himself around in the pit until he had the shit beaten out of him, and then go home and pass out on his mattress, blood drying on his knuckles), and on the main page there was a flyer for a big art show downtown that weekend. And Gerard's name was on there, almost at the top. Frank couldn't breathe. Gerard was - he was an artist. Gerard had always wanted to be an artist.
Frank had to go. He had to.
But he needed a disguise.
Frank sat in his car, heater blaring in his face, and flexed his grip around the steering wheel.
"You are a ridiculous person," he said to no one. "This is a ridiculous idea. This is the worst idea of all worst ideas."
He got out of the car and closed the door - he felt like he shut the door too loud, and now everyone was staring at him, because obviously he was drawing attention, of course everyone was staring at him. Or they weren't. He had problems projecting sometimes. He hunched over and shoved his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and hurried across the parking lot before he could change his mind and go home.
The old bells above the door chimed loudly when Frank walked in the door, and he instinctively shirked back from the noise. He wished he'd flipped his hood up before he came in to hide his face, but they'd probably watch him like a hawk, then. No need to be even more suspicious.
The thrift store was decently crowded for a Saturday morning, the crowd about split between older customers gently shuffling through the racks and kids trying to find ironic t-shirts or something for a party. It was a wide, long space with high ceilings and that thick, familiar smell of attic clothes. Frank paused just past the line for the registers. The women's clothes were on the left, and the men's on the right, and he stopped, easing his weight back and forth between the balls of his feet.
He ended up going through the men's section first, half-heartedly flipping through the racks, mostly keeping an eye out for anyone watching. He needed some decent shirts to wear to work, anyway, and some new jeans that weren't duct-taped together at the knees.
When he had a decent stack of clothing he casually made his way around to the back of the store, where the toy section and book shelves full of old shoes blended into the racks of women's clothes. He didn't know where to start. Dresses? Did he want to start at dresses? They were so...different, though, so definably not for him that he felt himself reeling a little. But - it would probably be easier to find a dress. That way, at least, he'd only have to find one piece that worked instead of searching through the racks for a bunch of separates.
The dress rack was pushed against the wall, split between normal dresses and old, yellowed wedding dresses, all in that 80's princess style. They looked like his mom's. He moved past them without looking and onto the other ones, staring at them a little awkwardly. The colors all seemed a little off, drooping, and he quietly started shifting the hangers on the rack to flip through them. He'd looked up some measurements online to see where he'd fit, maybe, in a women's department, but they all seemed weird and the numbers didn't make any sense.
He ended up pulling some dresses off the rack haphazardly, not even really looking, and piling them under the other clothes in his arms. Cardigans, too, he'd need something to cover up in the shitty Jersey weather. Hoodies? He paused at the hoodie rack, but moved past it. They looked too familiar. He needed to not be familiar.
He felt like his hands were shaking and he was glad they were hidden under the fabric where no one could see. His face was warm, too, like he had a fever. There was a bin of old underwear at the end of the rack which, ew, no - but there were bras, and Frank clutched a little tighter at the bundle in his arms. It was only for a night. It didn't matter. But it might.
He hesitated and cast a quick eye around the store before darting a hand out and grabbing a few, stuffing them into the bottom of the pile in his arms. He got out of the section quickly, high-tailing to the other end of the store where the dressing rooms were.
The dressing room attendant didn't even look up, just waved him on through to one of the rooms. The light was dingy, dim, and there was a huge crack in the full-length mirror, but Frank was so relieved to be in there, the closed door between him and anyone else who might be watching, that it was insane. He sat down on the bench against the wall and just took a moment to breathe, calm his hands. The pile of clothing was sprawled on the seat beside him, the dark, neutral tones of the men's jeans and work shirts cutting across the faded, colorful patterns from the dresses he'd pulled.
He tried on the jeans and the shirts first - they fit, of course, even though the pants sagged in the ass, like always. He stripped off the shirt and pants and tossed them to the floor, and stood in front of the mirror in just his briefs. This was never going to work. He was too shapeless, too boxy, too boy. But he grabbed one of the dresses anyway and yanked it roughly over his head, pulling it down and over his hips.
It was a faded yellow dress with big pockets on the side and polka dots all over. It was way too short and pulled too tight across his stomach, with straps that fell awkwardly off his shoulders, but before he yanked it back off he stopped, hands flexing by his sides, and made himself look. The dress was cut awkwardly, obviously meant to be worn with some kind of undershirt underneath it, and the neckline cut all the way down to practically show off his nipples. His chest was red, flushed. He felt completely exposed, even in the locked room.
He yanked it off quickly and tossed it in the corner, and grabbed the next one - a black one, with a higher neck, and more of a fitted bottom - it didn't fit either, but in different ways, made for someone with curves to fill out the fabric, full breasts to fill out the top.
He yanked that one off too, almost manically, and pulled another one on, practically ripping the zipper as he fumbled to zip it up under his armpit. It was a dark blue one with a delicate, old-fashioned pattern, and a wide, square neck, and a white band right under where his boobs would go. The bottom was more flared, and it felt better, being able to actually move.
He stared at himself in the mirror. Maybe. He unzipped the dress enough so that the top pooled around his waist, showing off the birds on his hips, and stared at the stack of bras half-falling off the bench and onto the floor. If he was going to do this, he had to do this. Just for one night.
The second bra was a black, cotton one, with no lace and no frills. The elastic band cut into his sides a little and he shifted, uncomfortable, as he fiddled with the straps to make them tighter. When he was done he dropped his hands and looked. He looked ridiculous, with the fabric of the bra gaping away from his flat chest. He rolled his shoulders a little, held his head to the side, and pulled his shoulders back.
When he zipped the dress back up it was already better. Yes. It looked better, having something there, even if it wasn't real. He reached a hand through the armpit of the dress and cupped a hand underneath the bra, filling it out, imagining how it would look with something there. Almost.
He grabbed a cardigan off the bench and pulled it on, covering his shoulders, and stared at his reflection again. It was him, but in a dress. And a cardigan. He ran his hands over his waist, feeling the thick, worn fabric. He felt light, though, like he wasn't even in the room, really, just watching himself from somewhere else. He'd have to stand differently. He couldn't slouch. The girl who had this dress before loved it, wouldn't have slouched in this dress.
He went up on his toes, picturing heels with the dress. Something black, maybe. He'd have to shave his legs, too, and maybe his arms, and definitely his pits and face. His hair was almost long enough. He shoved it into his face and pulled some of it to the side, making most of it cover his forehead. He'd have to pin it, or cut it. He had scissors at the apartment.
He dropped back to his feet suddenly, letting out a slow breath. Okay.
"Fuck," Frank said, swiping again at his red, smeared mouth. The mirror in his apartment bathroom was tiny and the lighting was shitty and he was all off-balance from the way he had to lean against the sink to see closer, practically up on his toes, dick against the cold of the porcelain through his briefs. He'd messed up again.
"Motherfucker," Frank said, staring down at the tiny tube in anger. His fingers were red from rubbing away his mistakes. He'd nicked the makeup from the corner store on the other side of town but hadn't really looked at it, fear keeping his head down, but now he just felt completely lost. He'd already stabbed himself with the mascara brush more times than he could count. How did anyone do this and not go blind?
It didn't help his nerves that his bathroom was completely in shambles, a surreal interlude in his usual organized calm. There were two bras hanging on the towel rack (the black one, and a simple white one that had fit too well to pass up) and the blue dress was crumpled on the closed toilet seat behind him.
The sink was full of the remains of his hair, both from where he'd awkwardly shaved his legs, pits, and face, and from where he'd hacked at his hair enough to at least pretend that it was supposed to look choppy and in his eyes. Shaving had been sort of traumatic enough that he wasn't thinking about it, wasn't dwelling on it - his legs were cold, and it was almost like they were shaped different, and he hadn't been able to stop touching them with his cold hands, couldn't stop staring at the way the skin prickled and goosebumped even without any hair - and he'd cut himself all around the ankles and knees because of the way his hands were shaking. There were makeup tubes next to his curled-up toothpaste and aftershave and a new box of tissues he'd picked up for the express purpose of giving himself tits.
He couldn't even look in the mirror anymore. He could feel himself freaking out, backing down, and that wasn't an option, not when he was already here. He pulled on the bra, fumbling as he clumsily latched it behind him, and slid into the dress, fidgeting it into place. He stuffed enough tissues in the bra to at least look like there was something there - he didn't mind having little tits, and any bigger and it's be obvious they weren't real - and yanked on the cardigan, fumbling awkwardly with the sleeves.
He turned to go out into the main room, but when he caught his face in the mirror he froze, hand on the light switch. He looked - just - something. Softer, even though he didn't feel softer. His eyes looked bigger and his mouth, still red from rubbing off the lipstick, was a little raw. He paused and held a breath, closing his eyes for just a second. When he opened them again he exhaled and left the bathroom, flipping the light off behind him. He had some simple black canvas slide-ons that would have to pass for women's shoes, because there was no way he'd be able to manage heels tonight. He was unsteady enough.
His keys, phone, and tightly-wound wad of cash fit into one of the deep cardigan pockets but he felt awkward without a purse. Should he have gotten a purse? He tried to stand in the living room without shoving his hands in his pockets, without rolling his feet or standing with his hips out like he normally did. It was weird. It was something.
So Frank went to this art show and he barely even made it there because he was so nervous he was going to get yelled at or noticed or something he kept almost turning back. He kept his head down and parked as close as he could so he didn't have to walk too far. He could tell where the art show was, though, by all of the people spilling out into the street from the venue, the inside all lit up with those white gallery lights.
He totally smoked the whole way there and had to stop on the corner to smoke another one down to the filter before throwing the butt to the ground and making his way on in. The tentative plan was just to see Gerard in the flesh, see that he was alive and well, and then get the hell out of Dodge and go home and wash his face and forget that he was such a crazy person to ever think this was a good idea.
But of course it didn't happen like that - he didn't see Gerard at all (what if he wasn't there, what if this was one of those things where the artists didn't actually show, maybe he'd missed him, maybe it was for nothing) so he started looking around the gallery. He stopped by the bar to get a beer just so he'd have something to do with his hands, so he'd stop fidgeting with his goddamned dress, and then when he started moving around he got TOTALLY caught up in looking at all of the art - everyone else's stuff was really amazing, but then he found Gerard's and it was just - stunning. He didn't even have to look at the name placard to know that they were his.
They were dark but not depressing, powerful and rich, with colors so strong the canvases almost looked like they were vibrating. There were armies of women in old armor swarming like ants, and underwater scenes with someone twisted in the dark, but Frank ended up stopping dead in front of one in particular, a huge, swelling painting of Joan of Arc on her horse, skewed and golden and beautiful. Frank couldn't make himself walk away from her.
Meanwhile, though, across the gallery, Gerard was playing art show host, and nervously flitting around talking to people. He always got SO nervous and SO excited about these sorts of things - he'd always been a sort of intensely private person, right, but doing shows like that was like ripping off a band-aid sometimes, and even if he didn't sell anything he always felt better afterwards.
He was talking to his buddy Charlie over by the bar about Charlie's new punk band he was starting up, and he wanted Gerard to do some merch designs, when he saw this GIRL walk in, and he totally forgot what it was he was going to say. Because - god damn.
She was really small - short, and not even wearing heels like a lot of the short girls Gerard had met before. She had dark hair that swung in her face and that she kept sweeping away from her eyes in a self-conscious kind of way. She didn't look really comfortable, maybe, and kept fidgeting, her hands playing with her dress, or tapping the beer bottle in her grasp. Gerard wasn't sure what it was about her that struck him, but he couldn't stop looking. Colorful tattoos spilled out from under her sleeves.
He kept an eye on her while he was talking to Charlie, just sort of continually glanced her way without being too rude and cutting off the conversation, even when he kept losing sight of her in the throngs of people between them.
She was standing a little awkwardly by the wall of his paintings, quietly peeling the label off her beer, but didn't seem to be standing by anyone else, or really with anyone else. Just there to see the art, maybe. Or meeting someone, maybe. Maybe. But she was - just - she was in this old (vintage?) dress, and slouching a little, and her face was mostly hidden behind her dark hair, but Gerard saw her eyes and they were beautiful.
So Frank was standing there staring at one of the paintings, letting it just sort of sink into his bones, when he heard someone next to him say, "You enjoying the show?" and he turned and it was Gerard. Fuck.
He fumbled his beer and almost dropped it and was sure he looked like an idiot and managed just a "Fuck" while he straightened himself out (he'd had too many beers, he knew he shouldn't have pre-gamed at the apartment, should have eaten at the diner before he got off work) and Gerard just stood there looking patient, like he was just waiting for Frank to talk.
Frank didn't know what to do, he wanted to run, he wanted to FLEE, but Gerard was there, Gerard was right THERE, and he was LOOKING at him, and Frank felt completely and utterly trapped in the moment, and like everything he was thinking and feeling was showing up, bright as day on his face. Like Gerard would be able to tell all of it just by seeing him. But Gerard didn't remark on the fact that Frank was a dude in a dress, didn't seem to even notice, and was still just standing there, waiting for him to answer. Frank wanted to touch him, wanted to pull him so close, put his hands in his hair, fucking see if he smelled the same, and Gerard was there, Gerard was alive, and the realization of that made his gut swell with panic and joy and too many things that he had to fight so hard to keep off his face.
And he was gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous, and that alone was almost enough to stop the words in Frank's throat.
"Uh, yes. Y-Yes." Frank said, stumbling a little, trying to pitch his voice a little higher, desperately wondering if that would make it more obvious.
Gerard just beamed at him, this blinding smile that Frank had somehow forgotten the full force of. He almost whimpered at it now. "How did you hear about the show? Are you a friend of Steven's?"
Frank considered lying for a minute, but realized that he could barely pull it off as it is. "I - I just saw a flyer for it," he said, instead. "It looked, uh. Interesting." He barely managed not to wince at how inane he sounded, but somehow, Gerard's smile got even bigger at his answer.
"So, what do you think so far?"
Frank managed to tear his gaze away from Gerard's face, the beer in his stomach making him feel kind of queasy, and swept his gaze up over the canvas of Gerard's painting. "It's - really awesome," he answered, because it really, really was.
"Thank you!" Gerard answered, looking actually kind of dorky and the sudden memory of fifteen year old Gerard almost undid Frank right there on the spot. He was alive. He was okay, he was better than okay, and he was real. Gerard, his Gerard. He knew he was probably staring but he couldn't stop. Gerard had new lines around his face, had slimmed down, gotten taller. His eyes were the same.
Frank knew he should leave, should run the fuck away, what was he even doing, but he was rooted to the spot, and then Gerard was talking again. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't even ask - what's your name?"
"Uh," Frank said, and BLANKED. OUT. How could he not have even come up with an alias for this, how could he have been so dumb? He searched around wildly and spit out the first thing that came to mind, which was, "Joan. My name is Joan?" He kind of wanted to hit himself over the head with the beer in his hands as soon as he said it.
"Joan? That's funny - like Joan of Arc and, like, Joan Jett, huh?" Gerard beamed and extended his hand. Frank shook it automatically, only noticing then just how boy-like his hands were, Jesus, this was SUCH A BAD IDEA.
He laughed awkwardly, and said, "Yeah, exactly. Coincidence, huh?" And watched Gerard's face for any sign of recognition, or at least realization that Frank wasn't who he was claiming to be, but Gerard was just watching him with a smile on his face, like Frank was the only person in the place. It made him feel even smaller, somehow, like the walls had constricted.
It was hard not to stare at her - there was something about the way she held herself, almost curled a little inwards, that made Gerard want to know more about her. She'd liked his paintings, though, truly meant it when she said she did, and he couldn't help the little swell of pride that came with the approval.
But of course it was at that moment that Mikey came over to pull him away to meet a friend of his from the label, and Gerard had to go - he'd promised Mikey earlier he would, and it was important to Mikey. But seriously, worst timing.
When he turned back from Mikey he could see that Joan was trying to move away, quietly make her way either back to the bar or to the exit. He reached a hand out - not to touch, just to stop her, and she paused, staring at him.
"Will you stick around?" he asked, convinced he was making an idiot out of himself. She just nodded, though, looking a little dazed, and Gerard let Mikey drag him towards the back. When he looked again she was gone, and something in the pit of his stomach flopped.
When Gerard finally finished his rounds of talking and chatting to everyone it was late, way later than he'd thought. He looked around the venue but Joan was gone, nowhere to be seen. He tried not to be too disappointed, but - still. He sighed a little and shoved his hands in his pockets. Mikey'd cleared out earlier to catch some show downtown, and the rest of the staff was good to handle things.
When he stepped into the cool Jersey air he almost stopped up short, because - she'd stayed. Joan was standing against the side of the building, leaning back against the brick and apparently smoking her way through a pack of cigarettes. Gerard's fingers itched for one.
"You're still here," Gerard said, probably a little too loud.
Joan looked up suddenly, fumbling a little with the cigarette in her hands. "Yeah, well. You know. Nothing else to do."
Gerard wanted to be offended, but he could see the little smile at the corner of her mouth (stained red, like she'd had lipstick on before and wiped it off - someone had wiped it off, maybe). She was joking with him. He bit back a grin.
Frank was totally on edge the whole time - he'd stepped outside to smoke one cigarette but had ended up smoking his way through the rest of his pack from nerves. He felt light-headed, starving, and exhausted, bone-weary from the thrum of adrenaline he'd been running on the whole night and too much tobacco in his blood.
He was pulled out of his mulling by a startled, "You're still here," and of course it was Gerard, and Frank tried not to let his hands shake as he lit up another cigarette and took a drag.
Frank mumbled something back to him, something to deflect. He didn't really have anything to say to that. He was surprised he was still there too.
Gerard started trying to draw him into conversation, and even though inwardly Frank knew he should stay quiet, shouldn't keep this up, he couldn't help but answer, even though he made it a point to deflect any questions back to Gerard. How many of these shows had he done? Did he make a living off this? He was there to see that Gerard was okay, whole, and there he was - and he had a life. A life that went on after Frank had left, after he'd died. His own life. Frank craved it.
By the time they came to an actual lull in the conversation Frank was out of cigarettes and Gerard's cheeks were pink from the cold Jersey air. Frank was cold too, freezing, but if Gerard offered his jacket to him like a gentleman or some shit he'd probably die, so he hid it the best he could, just held his cardigan closed across his chest.
A car honked off in the distance, and Gerard glanced back over his shoulder. "Oh shit, it's my ride, look - uhm, could I have your number? Maybe get coffee sometime?" He looked so hopeful.
Frank nodded. What? No, why - but Gerard was grinning and stepping forward, and he gave him a sharpie - a sharpie, the fuck, old school, not a phone or anything - and Frank nervously scrawled his cell number down the warm skin of Gerard's arm. Gerard glanced at it, still grinning wide, and walked backwards down the street, hands shoved in his pockets, until he had to turn to get into the car and disappear down the street.
Frank stayed leaning back against the rough building until the lights from the gallery shut off behind him, the very last of the employees going their own ways into the night. He was out of cigarettes and out of excuses. Fuck. What was he going to do?
Frank spent the next couple of days in almost a state of shock. He'd pulled it off. He was going to do it again. He scrubbed hard at the dishes at the diner, threw himself into his work, smoked too many cigarettes, stayed up too late, and stared at the blue dress that was still hanging from the back of his bathroom door.
Frank couldn't believe he gave Gerard his phone number. Seriously what was wrong with him. But once Gerard had asked, so nicely, so hopefully, he'd never considered doing anything but. It was just - he'd found Gerard again. He knew it was selfish, but he couldn't let him go so quickly. Not yet.
He made up some excuse to push the date back - going out of town, he'd said, when Gerard texted him the first time - but really he just needed a breather. He needed to step back, calm down, and figure out what in the hell he was actually going to do. Because he was. He was going to do this.
He went back to the thrift store and found a better, prettier dress (dark red, this time, with a square neck). He re-dyed his hair a dark, deep black, splattering dye all over his bathroom sink, and re-cut his hair so that the shaggy bits of it fell to hide the cut of his jaw. He spent an entire morning hunched over his laptop watching makeup tutorials on YouTube in-between downing coffees at the Starbucks, and spent every night bent over the metal sinks of the diner scrubbing his hands raw. Work was good, though, work kept him distracted from the looming date. Date. Jesus.
He practiced walking in heels - they were from the thrift store too, but had fit his feet well enough, even if they were totally fucking uncomfortable. He wore them back and forth in his apartment, walking the length of his room and back again, and practiced standing in front of the mirror without fidgeting.
He'd bought new underwear, too - his weren't cutting it, riding up weird when he tried on the dresses. Mostly, though, he just - he knew they were just his regular briefs, the same ones he wore every day, to the diner, to bed. It didn't feel right. Actually buying the new ones, though, had been one of the most traumatic moments of his life, ignoring the first time he had to buy lube and condoms from the corner store back in New Mexico and the checkout guy had stared at him, or that time his mom'd caught him making out with some dude in the back of her car, hands down his pants - he'd gone to one of the big stores on the other side of town and bought just enough things to cover the pack of girl's underwear he'd shoved in the bottom of the cart. He'd considered stealing them, just for a sec, but getting caught stealing girl's underwear would have been way worse than anything, so he just snuck it through the self-checkout line and hoped to god it didn't glitch or call a manager over.
They were just little cotton things, nothing fancy, but it still took him about half an hour of pacing through his apartment before he could work up the balls to rip open the plastic and try them on. As soon as he did he could feel his whole body flush - they felt like nothing, like his dick was about to fall out, and when he looked down the line of dark hair from his belly button to under the waistband looked obscene, especially with the bulge of his dick against the cotton. He was already getting hard.
He ruined the first pair he tried on - he'd ended up on his mattress, jacking himself off, and got too carried away when he came and stretched the waistband all out, besides the fact that they were soaked, but the second pair was good. When he tried on the new dress later he couldn't really see the difference, but Frank knew. He felt it.
And then it was time. He exhaled, smoothed out his dress, and headed out the door. Frank didn't want Gerard seeing his shithole of an apartment, so he'd asked him to meet him at the arcade a few blocks over, and when he came around the corner Gerard was there, leaning across the outside wall and obviously trying not to look like he was looking around for someone. Frank wanted to pause, but his heels on the concrete were too loud, and when Gerard turned and saw him his face lit up. Frank tried to smile, but he'd sort of forgotten how to control his body, which was really what had gotten him there in the first place.
The date turned into one of those dates that just...didn't quite end. They went out for food at some little place Gerard knew, and it wasn't fancy, but it was nice, nicer than Frank's restaurant or where he usually went and bought food those days, and Frank had to try and sit properly and not put his elbows on the table and everything. There was an awkward moment at the end when Frank pulled out his wallet to try and pay for his half, not even thinking, and realized it was his stupid beat-up old wallet he’d had since high school. He glanced at Gerard, but Gerard hadn’t even seemed to notice, just waving it away with a 'my treat' and a smile. After that they went to see a movie - Gerard let Frank pick when they got there, and there was some new monster movie out, and it was awesome (even though Frank barely paid attention, since he'd spent the entire time trying not to sprawl his legs out or sit too weird, and Gerard's arm was so close on the armrest Frank didn't know what to do) and after that they just kind of stood on the curb smoking, talking about the movie, and Gerard was like, oh hey, my friend is actually putting on a show tonight, if you're interested?
And Frank knew he should say no, should call it a night, go home and just - stop, but Gerard was just looking at him, waiting, and Frank nodded and took another drag on his cigarette. They ended up at some shitty little dive bar seeing some band, and the band was pretty terrible but the show was great, loud and sweaty, and after that they ended up wandering the streets until they wound up in a corner diner, talking over coffee, splitting a plate of pancakes, because they were both starving (the restaurant before was nice, but the portions were too small, and Frank was pretty sure Gerard just picked it because he wanted to pick something nice, but this was way more Frank's style).
Gerard asked questions about him - about Joan - that Frank made up answers to or dodged as best he could. He felt awful about dodging questions, but Gerard seemed to catch on soon enough that there were things he just didn't want to talk about. But the other stuff they talked about - movies, and comic books, and bands and things, Frank didn't have to lie, and Gerard's face lit up whenever another one of their interests fell in common.
Once, Gerard casually dropped a line about his college boyfriend, and Frank’s gut just churned. He’d been wondering if what they’d had as kids had been a phase for Gerard, who knew, right, since he’d picked Frank up as Joan. But Gerard hadn’t even made a big deal out of it, like, anything was cool. Frank had to take a moment to compose himself from all of the ~feelings.
The next time he looked up it was five in the morning and he and Gerard were sitting in the parking lot of the diner trading cigarettes and they were still talking and laughing and the night had moved on from the pitch black to the beginning of the lightness of dawn again, and when Gerard finally brought Frank home (by way of a coffee shop, of course), it was almost completely light again.
"You are so wrong," Frank said, laughing despite himself. "It was the worst."
"If by worst you mean the absolute worst, and not in an actual scary way like I believe you might be implying," Gerard said, affronted. "Because seriously. A spider. The ultimate fear was a spider. He should have just left it with Tim Curry in clown make-up, because I'm pretty sure I saw that one in my nightmares for years."
"Some people think spiders are the ultimate fear, okay, and I just don't think you should judge so easily," Frank said. "Besides -"
"Are spiders your ultimate fear?" Gerard asked. He seemed genuinely interested.
Frank shuddered and looked away. "They just have so many eyes." He paused - they'd arrived at the steps to his apartment. He hadn't even noticed. The sun was creeping over the crest of the laundromat across the street. Frank suddenly felt hugely, overwhelmingly nervous, and fumbled a little with the still-warm coffee in his hands.
"Well, look, I, uh - " he managed, taking a step up the first stair, and then freezing again. How did he end this? Shit. "This is my stop, so. I - I had a really good time."
"Me too." Gerard looked at him, eyes bright.
There was a long pause, a weighted pause, and before Frank could turn to slip through the door Gerard moved forward, and Frank knew the kiss was coming before he could even really think, and in a fit of reflex he turned his head to the side so Gerard's lips landed high on his cheek. Frank's hand with the coffee cup was pressed awkwardly between them, and it was all that he could do to mumble a goodbye and duck his head and get through the door before he died of mortification.