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There was no reason in the world that Frank Iero should have been a firefighter. He had been told that so many times, he often felt like he should get it tattooed on his forehead just so people stopped thinking it was revolutionary and telling him like he had never heard it before. He was short, he got it. He was also pretty sure that he looked tough on account of all his tattoos, but people always conveniently ignored that.

What couldn’t be ignored was the amount of attitude that came out of Frank’s mouth as soon as he opened it, which was what usually happened after the whole “Are you sure you’re a firefighter?” bit. His captain at the academy had told him that his attitude would probably get him killed one day, but Frank hadn’t really taken him seriously. He knew that his fierce loyalty to his crew and fellow firefighters would be what did it, not his attitude.

When he had started at the academy, almost every instructor he ran into mentioned how small he was, earning the snickers of everyone in his training class. One of them even went so far as starting a lecture talking about how bumble bees weren’t supposed to fly, and how miracles happened every day in the smallest of ways, and Frank making it past the physical was one such miracle. After that, everyone had called him “Bee,” much to his chagrin, a fact that wasn’t helped at all by the regulation yellow and black uniforms they had to wear whenever they were running drills.

Despite everyone’s low expectations, Frank was actually a wonderful firefighter. He had graduated from the academy pretty well-respected by his peers if not actually well-liked, and that had been enough for him. He had gotten a job out in California in a rural area where they mostly got called to fight wildfires but that shit was beyond dangerous. It wasn’t like there was any safe form of fighting fires, but wildfires were as wild as the name implied and Frank was wild enough on his own. While Frank had stuck with it for a few years, surprising nearly everyone (except for himself, of course) when he’d made it past the year mark and out of probation, he’d been terrified the entire time. When his grandma had died, leaving him her house back in Jersey, he had gladly searched out a new job closer to home.

He had been able to line up a few interviews while he was out in Jersey for the funeral. His ma had maintained that it was disrespectful which absolutely killed Frank, but he couldn’t afford to take more time off of work to try and get a new job. As it was, his captain had been absolutely pissed when he had told him he was leaving. Frank had made an impact with his crew, but he had never felt at home, and the captain had understood that. He had even wrote Frank a glowing recommendation letter, though he had told Frank that it was only because he was heading to the New Jersey suburbs and not some hotshot crew. Frank didn’t care — he was just excited to end up on a crew where the jobs were a few hours long instead of a few weeks.

The interviews had all gone well for the most part. One of the captains had given him a funny look when he had stepped into the building, obviously expecting someone taller, but Frank knew his resume and recommendation letters said enough for him. He didn’t try to impress anyone or showboat, just answered their questions as honestly as he could and hoped that they would see something worth hiring in him. He wanted to impress them but not unduly so, and he hoped that at least one of the departments would have a need for someone with his work ethic. He got the first call before he even left Jersey, and the second one came by the time he was back in California. When all was said and done, Frank had his pick of all three departments, and while one of the ones in North Jersey was paying slightly more, the one closest to his grandmother’s house wasn’t offering that much less.

He was a member of the Paramus Municipal Fire Department, set to start on the first of the next month, which gave him two weeks on his current assignment and two weeks to pack up his things and haul them across the country. The road trip was pretty unexciting, though his mom did require him to call her every night just to let her know that he hadn’t accidentally been kidnapped or crashed somewhere, which he rolled his eyes at but was secretly grateful for. There were some stretches of the continental United States where he would drive for hours and not see a single car and that kind of loneliness was absolutely terrifying. One night he stayed up driving instead of finding a hotel because all of the ones he passed looked like they’d been shooting locations for horror movies, and while he loved those movies, he wasn’t interested in starring in one.

His grandmother’s house, once he arrived, was exactly as he had left it less than a month before. He spent the last week before he had to start work sorting through her things, packing up what he didn’t need into boxes, some to go in the attic for safekeeping and the rest to go to goodwill. Some things he didn’t even pack up, he just left right where they had been when his grandparents had both been alive. Much of the furniture stayed, as did the portrait of his great grandparents hanging above the mantle. All of his grandmother’s cookware stayed in the kitchen because it had served her well for years, though he did update the coffee machine. Frank was a man of few pleasures and one of those was coffee, and he wasn’t about to deny good coffee to himself out of nostalgia.

Frank was aware that the pile of boxes to get rid of should have been bigger than the pile to keep but he was also aware that he probably qualified as a packrat, if not so badly that he was in danger of ending up on an episode of hoarders. He just loved old things, things with stories, and he ended up keeping things he was afraid of missing later. But he cleared out enough that he could fit what he had chosen to bring and his mom, who lived in another town but had come back to help him get settled, managed to put everything in a place. Again, he pretended to be irked that he was a grown man and she was still trying to run his life, but honestly he had missed her meddling while he had lived on the other side of the country.

Still, she only stayed for a day, and when she left, Frank realized just how massive the house was. He walked through the entire thing the night before he was set to start, each of the four bedrooms and three bathrooms and two sitting rooms, the laundry room, the kitchen. It was incredibly large and incredibly empty, and Frank wasn’t exactly sure what to do to make it feel less so. He ended up going to bed with half of the lights on and the front room television playing some all hours news channel.

The next morning, Frank woke up with his alarm, hitting the snooze button before it had barely made a sound. He had slept lightly, still restful if not exactly deep, and at least he had slept at all. There had been nights before where he’d been so excited or anxious about something that he hadn’t been able to sleep a wink, but by now, he had learned to be cautious and not let his anxiety get the best of him. The night before, he had set up all his gear in his room so that he didn’t have think about it or try to figure out where something was packed away still. He had prepared his coffee to brew automatically, and he had even gone to the store and got his favorite jam so he could have toast. It was a lot of preparation that he knew helped him start the day on the right foot, and since this day was the first (he hoped) of many days at the new department, it was especially important.

He wasn’t terribly superstitious, but he couldn’t really be considered a firefighter if he wasn’t a little superstitious, the kind where calls came in threes and no one was supposed to wash the front of the engine. But good impressions weren’t superstitions, and how the day unfolded would largely set the tone for every day that followed. Frank wasn’t exactly hopeful that he would fit in perfectly here — he knew jobs just didn’t happen like that, that sometimes it took a few tries to find where he would belong, but he at least hoped that it wouldn’t be so bad he had to leave for a few more years. Thankfully the toast had helped settle his stomach so that the caffeine didn’t make him completely jittery, and he made it to the station only five minutes early, not twenty minutes like he’d wanted to. There was on time, which was technically late, and there was too early, which was probably just as bad, but five minutes felt like a good balance. He stayed in his car for a minute, finishing his coffee, and then got out and stretched and then went in.

It was still early in the morning, the in between time where the shifts were changing, where the people from the last one were getting off while the people in the new one were coming on. There was generally an overlap so that they could catch up on everything that had gone down since they were last on. The captain had asked Frank to come in early so he could get briefed and get his paperwork done before they started on all of the other things. Though he had completed most of his hiring paperwork at home, he had to get issued a uniform and a locker as well as a bunk, and that took more time than it should have because the guy who was taking him around the building, a lieutenant named Toro (which Frank hadn’t figure out was a nickname or not), kept getting stopped by other crew members.

By the time they made it down to the briefing, the captain had already started on assignments. Frank’s hands were empty as his small overnight kit was tucked underneath the pillow of his bunk and his gear was stored in his locker, so he crossed his arms over his chest while he waited for the inevitable introduction and teasing that was part of settling into a new crew. It finally came after the captain had gone through the proposed schedule for the day.

“Everyone,” the chief started, calling everyone’s attention back to him. They had started their own small conversations about who was doing which chores, but they quieted down almost immediately. Frank figured that meant the guy was pretty worthy of respect, which he had thought even back when the captain had interviewed him. His instincts about people weren’t usually terribly far off, and it seemed that he was right again with this one.

“I’d like to introduce you to our newest firefighter.” He pointed at Frank, who waved and smiled at as many of the crew members as he could before the captain started talking again. “I’ll spare him the need to make a speech. Frank Iero is joining us from a crew in California, but he’s a Jersey boy, born and raised. His previous captain said that the only reason he was letting him come to us was because in all his years in California, Frankie apparently never once shut up about Jersey.”

This earned a laugh from nearly everyone and Frank flushed a little, shrugging. “It’s true. Jersey is my one true love.”

“I can’t believe my girl’s been double-timing me,” said one of the other firefighters, and everyone laughed again, only for the captain to try and take control back.

“Settle down, settle down.” He wasn’t mad — Frank could tell by the way he was shaking his head — but he waited until he had everyone’s attention again. “Iero, you’re with Toro for the rest of the day. Shadow him, he’ll lead you right. Everyone else, get to work. You’ve got a lot of shit to do by the time you leave and less than twenty-four hours to do it all. Dismissed.”

Frank watched everyone disperse and Toro turned to him to shake his hand. “Guess I should introduce myself, since I don’t want you following me around calling by my last name all day. I’m Ray, and this —” he paused, reaching out to grab a blonde guy by the shoulder, “is Mikey Way.”

Frank shook Mikey’s hand and introduced himself, and they had about two minutes of small talk before the alarm rang signaling a call. Frank could hear the captain curse from his office as all of his carefully laid plans were immediately undone, and he shared a grin with Ray and Mikey.

“I think I’m gonna like this place.”


 

“Don’t turn left, don’t turn left.”

“Relax, Way. What are the odds? I’m sure—” Ray broke off as the chauffer wrenched the wheel to the left, turning the engine in that direction. “Fuck.”

When Frank turned and looked at Mikey, his face was even paler than usual. He wanted to ask what was going on but it was pretty clear that he wouldn’t get an answer, so he just turned to Ray, who didn’t look much better. Frank figured he would find out eventually and settled for a shrug, re-adjusting his chin strap so it wasn’t digging into his neck.

As soon as the engine came to a stop, Mikey jumped out the back, followed closely by Ray. When Frank followed a second later, he saw a crowd of people on the ground, staring up at the smoke pouring out of a second floor window. It was a small apartment building, probably holding only two, maybe four apartments, which he knew meant that there probably wouldn’t be many people to pull out. He heard Ray curse again before grabbing at Mikey, who was already starting to take off towards the front door, and asked him something to which Mikey nodded frantically before sitting still. Frank waited for instructions from Ray, his hands already sweating in his gloves.

There was one unaccounted for civilian, an adult who lived on the second floor. Frank was on the recovery team, which was normal, and Mikey ended up on the hose team, which was not. Mikey was one of the best people when it came to victim removal. To not have him leading the exploration for people still in the building was bizarre. As soon as they had their assignments, they all moved, and Frank forgot to worry about it.

The other explorers kicked the doors open for the bottom apartments, and Frank was the first one up the stairs. He found the guy they were looking for at the top of the stairs, having almost made it to clean air and safety. A quick assessment showed lack of any obvious injuries, and Frank hurried to heave him over his shoulder with help from Jones. Frank had to admit that he he appreciated the help — he wanted to pretend that he could do it himself. Maybe he could have if it was a child or a small adult, but the guy was at least half a foot taller than him and probably weighed at least what Frank did. Still, when they got him down the stairs, Jones backed off and let him lead the injury assessment, which Frank was grateful for. He was still technically the new guy but he liked to think he had proven himself and his competence now that he had been with them for three weeks.

The guy didn’t seem to be injured. There were no obvious signs of damage to his clothes, no scorch or burn marks, but he wasn’t breathing very well. Frank got an oxygen mask on him and had a second to realize that the guy had a shock of bright red hair before he came to. His eyes flashed open when Frank was checking the fit of the mask to make sure it was secure, and they looked right at Frank. After a moment of hesitation that came out of nowhere except maybe how bright his eyes were, Frank launched into the line of questioning involved in the assessment.  

“Sir, do you know where you are?”

The guy started coughing in response, trying to sit up and look around, and Frank frowned. His hands went to the guy’s shoulders and he was surprisingly strong as he resisted Frank, his head twisting around and looking at everything.

“Sir, I’m gonna need you to relax. You inhaled a lot of smoke.”

Frank’s warning apparently went unheard because the guy kept searching for something, surprisingly not in the direction of the fire, which was pretty normal. Maybe there had been someone else in the apartment with him that had gotten out or something, but that was all Frank could think of.

Ray had apparently seen him struggling to get the guy to chill because he came over and knelt next to Frank. The addition of more hands to his shoulders had the guy whipping his head around to face Ray and he visibly relaxed and immediately stopped fighting. Frank was incredibly confused and a little offended. He knew that Ray had a commanding and calming presence but come on , he did not naturally exude energy that made freaked out people stop freaking out that quickly.

“Gerard, breathe.” It took a second for Frank to realize that one, Ray had spoken a name and not another language entirely, and two, that it had been the guy’s name.

“You know him?” Frank’s hands were still on the guy’s shoulders and he helped ease him back to the ground, grabbing a blanket to put under his head.

“Yeah, he’s, uh…” Ray trailed off, hand moving up to tip his helmet back, and then they were interrupted by the sudden appearance of Mikey, who made no effort to keep himself from arriving so suddenly that he nearly knocked Ray over.

“I swear to God, if you die, I’m going to go up there and find what’s left of your comic book collection and burn the ashes.” This was met with protests from the guy — Gerard? People with smoke inhalation shouldn’t have had the lung capacity to protest as vehemently as the guy was protesting, but that hadn’t seemed to stop him. Mikey pushed him back down so that both shoulders were on the ground again, momentarily quieting him, and Frank took the opportunity to look at Ray, his eyebrow cocked in question.

“Uh?”

“… Way’s brother.”

“Ohhhhh.”

It shouldn’t have made sense but it did; they looked nothing alike at first glance, but then Frank kept looking back and forth from one to the other and suddenly their bone structures were similar enough that Frank could see the similarities. The difference between the two was probably twenty pounds, but it held in the redhead’s cheeks so that his cheekbones were striking whereas those same cheekbones seemed completely in place on Mikey’s face given how bony the rest of him was. They were both frowning at each other, and even at this angle, Frank could see that their expressions were the same. He didn’t know Mikey enough to know if their actions, the way they moved through the world, were similar too, but he had to hypothesize that they would be.

“So his hair isn’t naturally red then?”

Ray had looked back at the brothers as if he was trying to make sure that they weren’t going to kill each other right there in the front yard, but his head snapped back to Frank at his question. Frank was expecting an admonition of some sort, but instead Ray flashed him a bright grin followed by a swift smack to his arm.

“Get the Way brothers into the ambulance, asshole.”

Frank grinned back, because he knew that Ray meant it affectionately.


 

“So, the landlord still says it’s not his fault?”

“Yeah, that’s what he says.” Mikey shoved his gear into his locker, the way he slammed the door shut revealing more about his actual feelings on the matter than his tone ever would. Frank was trying not eavesdrop on the conversation he was having with Ray, but it was kind of hard not to considering that his locker was right between theirs. “My brother told him about that electrical problem three times, and I even told him once, but he ignored the complaints. Since we never told him in writing, he says we can’t prove shit, even if it goes to court.”

“Dude, fuck that guy.” Frank nodded in agreement to Ray’s statement because fuck that guy, but then he stopped when Ray gave him a funny look and he remembered that he wasn’t a member of the conversation. He ducked his head and tried to use his lack of height to his advantage as he shrugged out of his jacket.

“I know, I know. Anyways, our insurance is about done with paying for the hotel anyways, so we’re going to have to find somewhere to live, and soon.” Frank’s ears perked up at this. He had a massive house that no one was living in, one he could barely sleep in because it was so incredibly empty. It was the perfect solution, if only he could somehow suggest it without indicating that he had been following their conversation the whole time.

“Well you know I’d let you crash with me but we’ve only got the one couch and my brother isn’t really the best roommate anyways,” Ray replied. Frank caught a glance of his face when he moved to hang his jacket in his locker, and he looked genuinely sorry that he couldn’t offer more. Ray was a good guy like that.

“Thanks, but we’ll find something.” Mikey was sitting on the bench now, one leg on either side. For some reason he was always the first to get out of his gear and put it away, something Frank was immensely jealous of. He had tried to figure out how he did it, but Mikey was too stealthy.

“How much stuff were you able to salvage anyways?”

“Not much. Did I tell you that G’s fucking comic book collection made it though?” The sound in Mikey’s voice was pure disbelief and Ray’s answering protest was just as bewildered. Mikey scoffed as Frank joined him on the bench to unlace his boots. “Not a single one burned. My entire vinyl collection melted because my room was next to the kitchen but his comic books are fine.”

“That fucking sucks, but you’ll rebuild it, Mikes.”

“Yeah, I know. I just… fucking became a firefighter , and then my apartment burns down. It’s ironic is all.”

“It’s bad karma, is what it is.”

“Fuck, this is because I blew off that girl from the bar, isn’t it?” Mikey pulled a leg up so he could rest his chin on his knee and Frank kicked his boots off.

“Probably.” Frank could tell by the humor in both of their voices that the heart-to-heart was headed out of serious territory and back into casual conversation. His chance was coming, he could feel it.

“Anyways, it wasn’t my fault her boyfriend was more attractive than she was.”

Frank stopped still and looked at Mikey, forgetting that his eavesdropping was supposed to be subtle. All thoughts of suggesting that the Way brothers stay with him for awhile went out the window as his brain got stuck on the implications of what Mikey had said. Up until now, Frank’s sexuality hadn’t been a topic that was even remotely up for revelation but it almost felt like this was a trap, especially given the way that Mikey was looking at him.

“What’s up, Iero? Got a problem?”

“No, no!” Frank protested immediately. He hesitated for a moment as his brain screamed trap trap trap ; he knew how bad coming out as a firefighter could be if the crew wasn’t accepting. But he didn’t get the vibe that Mikey was lying just to get Frank to come out, and he trusted both Ray and Mikey. No one else was in the locker room except for a few guys down at the other end who obviously weren’t paying attention. Frank stood up and shoved his boots into his locker, hiding his face in there too. He managed to school his voice so it wasn’t shaking. “Completely the opposite.”

“Called it.” This was Ray’s voice, coming from Frank’s right, and he immediately smacked Frank on the back. “Way, you owe me five bucks.”

“Wait, wait. You said you thought he was gay gay, and I don’t think he is.”

Frank was flushing, furiously. This kind of thing never would have happened back in California, especially not in the Bay Area. Frank could feel the trap closing around him. Still, Frank’s self-preservation was constantly at war with his desire to make himself known as he really was. He turned around slowly, his eyes searching out Mikey’s with a frown on his face.

“I’m not gay. ” His voice was hushed and his whisper was angry, maybe even a bit more combative than he had meant it to come out, but Mikey didn’t rise to it.

“Neither am I,” replied Mikey, his voice completely calm, leaning forward to put his elbows on his knees. “Not like, gay gay. I like boys and girls. My brother’s gay gay, though.”

Frank had completely lost track of what the fuck he was supposed to be concerned with. It seemed that he had just come out, been accepted, and been come out to all in the last minute.

“Dude,” Ray said, breaking into Frank’s internal crisis of self and shaking his head. “Can you do that? Can you just out Gerard like that? I don’t think you can do that.”

“Relax, Toro. He’s pretty out. Have you spoken to him? He makes the gay apparent after five seconds.”

Frank had whiplash from all of the directions this conversation had taken. Before it could take another weird turn, he shook his head to clear his thoughts and got back to the one he had meant to share in the first place.

“I have a house.”

Both Mikey and Ray stared at him for a minute before it appeared that they understood why he was sharing this piece of information, the understanding crossing Ray’s face just a second after it crossed Mikey’s, but he was the first to respond.

“Damn, Iero, that’s shady. You don’t have to rub it in that you’ve got a house and they don’t.”

“Shut up, Toro.” Frank shook his head, not even smiling at the attempted joke because he was so thrown off by the earlier conversation. “That’s not what I’m saying. You can stay there. With me.”

“Oh. Oh, you don’t have to—"

“No, it’s okay. It would honestly be a favor.” They both just stared at him and he immediately backtracked. “Not because of the gay thing, or like gay gay thing. Whatever.” Still, silence. Frank felt like he was flailing. “Listen, the house was my grandma’s and it’s like four bedrooms. It’s big enough it would barely be like you were living with me.”

“Really?” Mikey seemed to be a bit taken aback by this offer, and Frank hoped it was because he wasn’t expecting Frank to actually offer to share his house and not because he didn’t seem like the kind of guy to do something like that. He wanted these guys to like him.

“Really.”

“Huh. Okay. That’d be nice.” Mikey was nodding and Frank felt the nervousness drain out of him.

“Okay.”


 

After Frank offered, the time it took for the Ways to move into his house was actually relatively short. Mikey came by after they both got off of their shift at the firehouse and checked out the house. Frank could tell that he was surprised that it actually was as big as Frank had told him it was, but he didn’t think that it was about his trustworthiness so much as about the fact that it was kind of a perfect solution the biggest of Mikey’s current problems. By the time he stepped into the kitchen, Frank knew he was going to agree.

By the end of the next day, Mikey was bringing things over, including his brother. There was a bit of an awkward reintroduction, because they’d already met, kind of, though Mikey’s brother didn’t seem to remember Frank as much as Frank remembered him. It took a few pointed looks from Mikey before Gerard’s mouth formed a soundless ‘oh’ and then repeated Frank’s name with a bit of awe that made Frank squirm and slink back to his room. After that, Frank made himself scarce to avoid further awkward moments. He thought they weren’t going to have much to bring, regardless of how much stuff from the fire was salvageable, but he was surprised that it seemed to take them ages. By the time it seemed like they were done, Frank was starving.

At first, Frank’s routine didn’t change that much. He didn’t see Gerard very much at all, and he and Mikey already practically lived together at the firehouse.

One night, that changed. Frank’s sleep schedule had been completely thrown out of whack by the way he swapped a shift with someone who had asked, and then the entire night had been full of call after call. He wasn’t with his own crew and it felt weird, but he had gotten through it, only to get home and sleep all day. That night he woke up and it was dark outside, so he fixed himself some dinner and coffee. He figured he might as well get something done, and he had a stack of bills that had to be dealt with.

One night, that changed. Frank’s sleep schedule had been completely thrown out of whack by the way he swapped a shift with someone who had asked, and then the entire night had been full of call after call. He wasn’t with his own crew and it felt weird, but he had gotten through it, only to get home and sleep all day. That night he woke up and it was dark outside, so he fixed himself some dinner and coffee. He figured he might as well get something done, and he had a stack of bills that had to be dealt with.

He usually didn’t have to worry about running into Mikey because they were both on the same shift assignment anyways, and up until then, his brother Gerard had been kind of hard to pin down. He was always coming or going, leaving paint covered towels hanging on his door when he left. Frank had peeked in his room once, just to make sure that he wasn’t putting paint all over the walls, and he had been surprised at the sheer amount of stuff that Gerard had amassed since the fire had apparently wiped out most of his stuff.

But now Frank was completely off schedule, and that apparently put him on Gerard’s schedule. He was just sitting down at the table with a massive bowl of spaghetti when he heard Gerard’s door open and footsteps coming down the hallway. Frank watched Gerard step through the door and stop suddenly as his eyes lit on Frank.

“Oh. Hello.”

Frank, who knew he shouldn’t feel weird being in his own house, definitely felt a little bit like he was caught.

“Um, hi? Hi.”

“I wasn’t expecting you to be here.”

“Yeah, yeah. I switched a shift with someone. One of the guys on B shift had a kid with a doctor’s appointment or something.”

“Oh.” Gerard’s posture seemed to soften as Frank’s explanation of why things were not the norm made enough sense to stop freaking him out. Frank wondered if he was always like that or if it was just the stress from being in a new living arrangement.

“There’s spaghetti on the stove. If you’re hungry.”

This seemed to go almost unheard because Gerard had zeroed in on the coffee and was already reaching for a cup. Frank tried not to pay attention to the way he made it, to what he was doing. It was his house, Frank had offered as much, and he definitely wouldn’t want to be watched in his own kitchen if their roles were reversed. Instead, he just looked at the envelopes stacked on the table and sifted through them while he twirled his fork in his bowl. He did so well at ignoring Gerard that he didn’t notice he had filled a cup with coffee and a bowl with spaghetti until he set them both at the table, sitting down in the seat next to Frank. When Frank looked over, his bowl was completely covered in parmesan cheese. Frank didn’t even know he had — they had — parmesan cheese. Gerard looked at Frank and smiled this bright smile that Frank completely wasn’t expecting. He had so many teeth and they were all aimed at Frank and it wasn’t until he put them away that he could resume eating.

For a few minutes, they ate in silence, Gerard with his spaghetti and cheese and Frank just with his bowl of pasta. It wasn’t that Frank didn’t want to talk to Gerard, it was just that Gerard seemed so much bigger when he wasn’t passed out from smoke-inhalation. Not size bigger, just like… life bigger. He occupied a lot more space in Frank’s mind than he expected, and Frank didn’t know if it was because he didn’t actually know him and wanted to or if he was just that kind of person. He just hadn’t expected it from the way that he’d been able to pretty much ignore his existence until now.

It almost seemed like Gerard was reading his mind because he cleared his throat and spoke.

“Thank you for the spaghetti and the coffee. And the life-saving. I appreciate all of it.”

Frank had to laugh, the smile crossing his face before he meant it to.

“You’re welcome for the first two but the third was just my job.”

“Yeah, well, still. It meant a lot to me that you didn’t just leave me there to suffocate.”

“I would do it again in a heartbeat. Gladly.”

Gerard smiled down at his pasta, his cheeks just slightly pink. Frank went back to eating while Gerard picked up his mug.

“Coffee doesn’t really go with spaghetti, right? Like… traditionally.”

“I— I don’t think so?” Frank wasn’t sure why he was asking. It wasn’t like Frank was an expert on either food items.

“I just thought… you’re Italian. Like really Italian.”

Frank laughed at this. “I am.”

“This used to be your grandma’s house?”

“Yeah, my grandpa built it for her, and she lived here until she died.”

Gerard’s eyes got wide at that, and Frank tipped his head to the side as he took another mouthful of spaghetti. Frank could almost hear the question before it was asked, and he started to shake his head imperceptibly. Don’t do it, don’t ask it, don’t…

Gerard leaned forward, glancing around the room as if the ghost of Frank’s grandmother was actually in the room and could potentially hear him. “Did she die here?” Frank almost choked on his spaghetti, he was trying so hard not to laugh. He managed to chew and swallow everything in his mouth before he joined his grandma on the other side.

“No, she died at the hospital.”

Gerard almost looked disappointed at this, and Frank tilted his head to the side in question.

“Did you want her to have died here?”

Gerard shrugged without much guilt, and then seemed to realize all at once that he was maybe being impolite.

“No, no, of course not. I’m sorry, I just… I love the concept of ghosts and shit.” Frank raised an eyebrow and Gerard grimaced. “I’m sure your grandmother would have made a very lovely ghost.”

Frank laughed — he couldn’t help it.

“It’s okay. I like ghosts, too.” He held out his wrist for Gerard to see the tattoo that read i wish i were a ghost and was surprised when fingers touched his skin.

Whatever he was expecting from Gerard’s touch, it wasn’t the way his skin seemed to light up. Frank felt chills and he didn’t know why. Maybe it was the way that Gerard’s touch was soft, like he was being careful. Frank was so used to simply crashing through the world that he couldn’t remember the last time someone had touched him like that, like he might break if they used too much pressure.

When he could look away from the way Gerard was running his fingertips over the inside of Frank’s wrist (which took approximately a year and a half, holy fuck), he looked up to see his face. Gerard was staring at the ink so intently that Frank thought he might have fallen asleep with his eyes open. He wasn’t even blinking. His bright hair was in his eyes, hanging in strands over his dark eyebrows, his mouth hanging slightly open as his fingers traced the cursive font.

Eventually he seemed to snap out of whatever reverie he was in, letting go of Frank’s wrist and catching his thin bottom lip between his teeth. He blinked up at Frank and then looked back down at his pasta.

Frank was having a hard time remembering why exactly it wasn’t polite to stare at people, but Gerard hadn’t noticed, or if he had, he wasn’t letting on. He managed to shake his eyes free of their lock on Gerard’s face and stuffed a forkful of his own pasta into his mouth. After chewing sufficiently, or close enough, he swallowed a few massive strings of spaghetti and pointed at Gerard with his fork.

“D’you have any?”

Gerard shook his head.

“I love the concept of tattoos, but I hate needles.” He punctuated this with a shudder and Frank nodded, understanding, at least a little.

“That must suck. I’m so glad I’m not afraid of needles.”

“Terrified. I’m terrified. Like, can we please stop talking about them because I’m going to throw up all of this spaghetti I just bummed off of you.”

Frank laughed at that. “It’s not bumming if I offered it. There was too much anyways. Force of habit.”

“Yeah, Mikey always makes too much food, too. Says it’s part of cooking for the whole fire house.”

“Exactly.”

Gerard flashed that smile again and Frank felt his stomach drop. He was so fucking screwed.


 

He had tried to ignore it, but the problem was that now that Frank had noticed Gerard, it was impossible not to notice him. He sang in the shower and tried to bake things that ended up exploding in the oven but he was so bummed about it that Frank couldn’t even be upset, not even when he was on his knees scrubbing off dough cooked onto the walls of the oven. He would come into the living room when Frank was playing guitar, just curling up on the couch with his sketchbook and humming along to whatever Frank was picking through.

It was safe to say that Frank had a humongous crush on Gerard, and he hadn’t even meant to.

It had been ages since Frank had felt that way, since he’d looked at someone the way that he looked at Gerard. He knew that Mikey saw. He had seen Mikey watching him watching Gerard and turning away whenever Frank noticed. Frank tried to stop, but he wasn’t successful. He thought about Gerard every time he left his bedroom, wondering if he would run into him in the hallway, and he thought about him when he was on his way home from the firehouse. He thought about Gerard when he was falling asleep, and even though he tried not to, he thought about Gerard when he was in the shower, jerking one out. It was his stupid fucking smile, his dumb laugh, and Frank had completely fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker.

Frank stopped in the doorway on the way to the kitchen and tipped his head to the side.

“What are you doing?

Gerard looked up at Frank, or maybe it was looked down. Frank wasn’t really sure how relative directions worked when someone was hanging upside down off of the couch, which was exactly what Gerard was doing. He blinked up at Frank, his eyes wide and a little unfocused. Whatever he was doing involved a sketchbook and a pen that Frank was surprised worked at that angle.

“Hmm?” Gerard was looking right at Frank but he still didn’t look like he was seeing him. Frank just blinked back at him until he focused and spun, dropping his sketchbook and pen all in one go. The motion was so uncoordinated that Frank was afraid he was going to fall and break his neck somehow. Right when he was about to move, Gerard seemed to figure out which way was up and righted himself.

“Oh. Hello.” His smile was wide and bright in a way that it hadn’t been a moment before, and Frank felt his chest lurch. He managed to breathe and reply without stuttering like an idiot.

“Hi.” Frank raised an eyebrow at him because the question still wasn’t answered. “You were upside down.”

“Yeah. I was stuck.”

“Stuck?” He didn’t understand how Gerard had been stuck — he had just gotten up just fine. “You could have called for help. I’ve been home the whole time.”

“No, not like, stuck stuck. Not physically. I was stuck like, artistically. Creatively.”

“Ohhhh.” Frank nodded, understanding what he meant even though he wasn’t an artist of any kind. Sometimes he fucked with his guitar when he had a day off and wasn’t too exhausted to exist, but that wasn’t being an artist. Maybe Gerard had the right idea though. “Did it help?”

“Um, I think so.” Gerard looked down and Frank followed his gaze to his sketchbook. There was something there, a face maybe? He couldn’t quite make it out before Gerard was reaching to pick it up and holding it close to his chest, his tiny teeth chewing at his lip. Was he nervous? Why was he nervous? Frank frowned. Maybe he was making him nervous. Maybe he should walk away and leave him to his upside down art antics, but he was curious.

“Can I see?”

Gerard seemed to hesitate again, but eventually flipped the sketchbook around for Frank to see. Frank stepped closer to take it from him and his heart simultaneously lept and sank. It was Frank. It was Frank, looking peaceful, Frank looking happy. It was Frank smiling in a way that Frank didn’t think he smiled at anyone, and yet, Gerard had seen it. Gerard had noticed it enough that he could sketch it from memory when Frank wasn’t even in the room.

His shock must have shown on his face. He couldn’t mess this up. Having a thing for his roommate was strictly off-limits, in the general rules of living. Having a thing for his roommate was especially low when that roommate was only living with him because he’d lost his apartment to a fire. Frank knew that he would never live it down if he somehow managed to mess it up, that he would have to transfer somewhere closer just so he wouldn’t have to work with Mikey anymore.

The safest thing to do was to back off, to pretend like he wasn’t interested. He shoved the sketchbook back at Gerard and nodded.

“Really good.”

Gerard opened his mouth, looking like he wanted to say something else, but Frank didn’t even give him the chance before he turned on his heel and left the room.

Later that week, Mikey cornered him in the locker room. Frank didn’t know how Mikey made him feel cornered at his own locker, but he was just super talented that way. It was terrifying, and a little awe-inspiring.

“Dude, what did you do to my brother?”

“What? I didn’t do anything.” Frank’s face felt hot, and Mikey raised an eyebrow in that way that meant he didn’t believe a single thing Frank was saying.

“Uh, then why won’t he stop fucking talking about you?”

Frank shrugged, ignoring Ray’s taunts about seducing Mikey’s brother and Mikey’s responding gags, hurrying to get the rest of his gear off and shoved into his locker before escaping to the bunks. By the time Mikey and Ray got there, Frank was successfully pretending to be asleep.

Still, his thoughts kept going over and over what Mikey had said. Gerard talked about him, apparently all the time. Even though he knew he shouldn’t feel happy about it, he fell asleep with a smile on his face.


 

The heat from the fire was stifling and Frank had to fight against his instincts, against the urge to run away from it. His job was to save people from situations like this, and his instincts were wrong. He couldn't back down when this was what he was trained to do.

He could hear Mikey to his right, working on breaking down a door in search of the missing victim. The sound of the wood splitting beneath his axe was helping to keep Frank grounded as he swept the hallway, the fire at his left doing its fucking best to unnerve him. Frank coughed and continued down the hall, passing behind Mikey as he broke through the door.

Frank walked to the end of the hallway just to be sure and saw no signs of anyone. He heard Mikey’s muffled voice and knew from drills upon drills that he was letting anyone who might be in the room to reveal themselves, to stay calm so Mikey could get them out to safety. Frank was already turning and heading back in Mikey’s direction when he heard a cry, followed by a yelp and the sound of a scuffle. The person that exited from the room Mikey was in was not Mikey — it was a man around the same height but probably fifty pounds heavier, and he was lacking all of the protective fire gear that Mikey wore.

The man didn’t even look at Frank before he ran down the hallway from in the direction of the front door, screaming. Frank made it to the door to the room in two steps, looking around for Mikey but seeing no sign of him. The smoke was making it hard to see anything but Frank tried anyways.

“Way! Where the hell…” He could feel the fire at his back, taking over the hallway. It was a dangerous move to enter the room because the fire could quickly take out his exit point, but he couldn’t just leave Mikey there, not if something had happened. Frank had to assume that something did because Mikey wasn’t responding, not even when Frank yelled for him again.

“Mikey!” He had taken two steps into the room when he heard a moan from down low. Frank crouched and then crawled on his hands and knees towards the noise, away from the door. He touched a foot and shook it, recognizing the boot as their standard issue.

“Way, come on, get up.”

There was a bit of a groan, a bit of stirring. Frank had no idea why Mikey was on the ground.

“What happened?” Mikey groaned again and muttered something about his head. Frank shouldn’t have been able to hear him through his mask, but it had come loose at some point. By the way he was touching his head and the sluggish way he was moving, Frank thought he might have gotten knocked into the wall. Maybe the terrified civilian had woken up to a firefighter in his room and had freaked out, knocking Mikey aside as he had escaped. Weirder things had happened. “Come on, let’s get you out of here.”

Frank crawled forward and fixed Mikey’s mask before getting to his knees. He started to pull Mikey up even though he was almost half a foot taller than him and he wasn’t helping at all, but he managed. Mikey’s arm was slung over his shoulders so he could pull him along.

“Come on, Mikes, you have to walk. I can’t carry you out.”

Mikey coughed and Frank had a sudden flashback to when he had done this with Gerard, when he had pulled Mikey’s brother from their burning apartment. Frank felt an almost overwhelming sense of deja vu as he turned towards the door, towards the fire. It felt like it had grown hotter in the seconds that had passed since he had been in the hallway. Frank dragged Mikey along with only minimal effort from him, but he was trying and that was helpful enough.

“It’s hot,” Mikey mumbled, sounding an awful lot like his brother. Frank would have laughed if he wasn’t so terrified. Gerard was going to kill him if he didn’t get Mikey out of this house right now.

Frank made it into the hallway and had started to head down the hallway to the front door. The smoke was even thicker than it had been before and Frank didn’t even know if he was heading in the right direction. He figured he would know sooner or later if he reached the dead end of the hallway, but it would waste precious seconds, energy, and oxygen, and he didn’t think they had much of the three to spare. It seemed like the hallway was getting brighter, like they were getting closer to the outside, but it also seemed like the fire was getting hotter as it burned through the house.

His hand was clutching Mikey’s just a few inches from his face, but it was barely visible. That thick smoke was making it impossible to see anything, and Frank was thankful for his oxygen. Still, he started yelling for help, thinking that other people from their crew could come and pull them out if he could just get their attention. Their air alarms weren’t going off — they hadn’t been in there that long, even though it felt like ages. Still, the fire was too hot, was burning too fast, and Mikey was weak. Frank could feel it at their backs, chasing them down, and he had to move faster. He knew he had to.

He kept yelling, kept hustling. Mikey had maybe passed out again and Frank had to pull him harder to get him to move at all. Just when it seemed that there was no exit, Frank felt the cool air from outside and felt hands on his arms. There was tugging and then Frank was outside, shaking his head as Mikey was yanked away from him.

“Mikey! The guy! Did they—” He was asking whoever was holding him, though he didn’t know who that was until they spoke.

“They’re out.” It was Ray, his hair pulled back under his helmet. “You got them both out, Frankie. Don’t worry.”

Ray was pushing him towards an ambulance despite Frank’s protests, and the paramedics just reached for him and pulled him to sit on one of the cots. Frank felt weak and dizzy, too dizzy to answer questions. The last thing he remembered was watching a paramedic pulling off his mask and then there was blackness.


 

When Frank had woken up, he had been in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask strapped to his face. Ray had shown up a few minutes later and told him that Mikey was fine, just in case Frank hadn’t remembered him saying that before.

Between the emergency room intake and how his mom had swooped down to pick him up without even letting him go home first, Frank was over it. His mom had held him hostage for three whole days, feeding him and making him rest and try her hardest to convince him that he shouldn’t go back to firefighting because it was dangerous. She kept coming up with more and more reasons why he should find a different and less dangerous job. When Frank had tried to impress upon her the importance of doing his job, how it saved people, how that population now included one of his best friends, but it was a slow-moving argument.

Eventually he had given up, settling for letting her take him to his check-up and making her promise to let him go home after. A lot of good that had done; the doctor had extended his medical leave for another three days. It wasn’t Frank’s fault that he had really shitty lungs, but apparently breathing poisonous smoke would do that to someone. He had made his mom stick to her promise and drop him off at the station after so that he could pick up his car. He felt justifiably irritated, so he’d listened to Misfits on full blast the entire drive home and screamed along to the songs, his irritation renewed every time he ran out of breath and ended up coughing.

Mikey had been leaving for work when Frank got home and despite his bad mood, Frank was glad to see him. He was definitely irritated that Mikey had been cleared, but he was glad that Mikey was safe, that he looked healthy. The two exchanged short hugs and then Mikey had looked at him funny for a second, and Frank was concerned until the look faded and Frank moved to head into the house.

The first thing he had done was shower — it wasn’t the same showering at his mom’s house as it was in his own house, even with the ancient shower head that only half-worked. He really had to replace that. Maybe he could work on the house while he was on leave. That wasn’t the point, he knew he was supposed to be resting, but he didn’t think he could keep resting with all the resting he had done at his mom’s house. Still, the drive home and the shower had wiped him out, and he felt a little sluggish as he went down the stairs. He ended up sitting on the couch with a blanket across his lap. As he flipped through the television, he caught sight of some kid playing catch with his dog, and Frank really wished that he had a dog. Maybe he would get one over the next few days, except the whole reason he didn’t already have one would be the same as soon as he got off of leave, so he probably shouldn’t.

He was in the middle of this thought when he heard a voice coming from the doorway to the kitchen.

“You’re home.”

Frank tore his gaze away and saw Gerard standing there, his hands clenched at his sides. He looked uncertain and a little bit scared and a little bit relieved and Frank couldn’t understand why. That was nothing new though; he never understood Gerard. Frank nodded slowly and Gerard crossed to the couch, sitting down without a bit of hesitation.

At first, they just sat there, staring at each other. Frank tried not to be remotely aware of Gerard’s proximity to him, but he was. Gerard was sitting so close and Frank couldn’t breath, but it had nothing to do with inhaling smoke. Gerard was staring at him with this intent gaze, his face looking like

“I’ve been trying to think of what to say to you, and I… I don't know how to thank you.”

“You don’t?”

“No, I don’t. Not at all. You just... you keep ending up saving us. You saved me, you saved Mi…” Gerard seemed to choke on his emotion when he tried to say his brother’s name, and Frank didn’t blame him. Their bond was incredible. Frank was almost positive that if something were to happen to one of them, the other would just lose all will to live. Gerard wasn’t letting it stop him, though. He shook his head and kept going.

“I think you’ve got a thing for saving Ways.”

“What? You mean like, a special talent or something?”

Gerard laughed, the sound making Frank feel more than he had in days. “Yeah, something like that.”

“You think I’ve got a special talent for saving you two?” Frank raised an eyebrow and looked at him. He was so close, sitting just a few inches away from Frank, and he was still smiling as he nodded. “Maybe you and your brother have a talent for needing to be saved.”

Gerard laughed again, the sound softer than it had been before, and then his eyes fell to Frank’s mouth. Frank thought he might have been smiling back at Gerard before that, but now he wasn’t. Now he was leaning forward to grab at Gerard’s collar and closing whatever space was left between them.

When Frank’s lips met Gerard’s, it was hotter than any fire he had ever had to fight. It was like every single pleasure center in his brain lit up all at once; if he’d been in an MRI, he would have lit up like a Christmas tree. Frank was the one who had started it, the one who had grabbed for him, but Gerard leaned into it, took it over. His mouth was hot against Frank’s, warm and possessive, telling Frank almost more than he had ever said with words.

Frank had known the chemistry between the two of them was undeniable, but he had no idea that the resulting explosion of it would be so intense it was. Frank was hard in his sweats and all they were doing was kissing — Gerard wasn’t even touching him. Gerard must have a been a mind reader of some kind because he immediately remedied this, his hand moving to Frank’s side as he leaned forward more, pushing Frank back and shifting over him.

There was no hesitation there — Gerard was kissing him like Gerard did everything else. Frank supposed that was what drew him to Gerard the most, his whole-hearted way of living. He knew that Gerard was shy, that he could be withdrawn. After all, it had taken weeks of the Ways living in his house before he had even really met Gerard. Part of that was because Frank hadn’t really been trying, but the rest of it was Gerard. Except, when he got excited about something, when he forgot to hold himself back, he had this sense of living that couldn’t be ignored. He threw his entire energy into it, into talking about it and into doing it. Right then, with Gerard pressing his hips down and exploring Frank’s mouth, Frank was finding it impossible to forget the part about doing it.

Frank’s hair was still damp, he could feel the wet curls pressed into the back of his neck where his head was leaning against the arm of the couch. Gerard’s hand had slipped underneath his shirt, and his fingers were almost as hot as his mouth, searing a path up Frank’s side to his ribs and then back down to his hips. When Gerard pulled at them, pulling Frank into him, he couldn’t help keep himself from gasping into Gerard’s mouth, but Gerard just smiled. How he smiled and kept kissing Frank at the same time, Frank didn’t understand. All he could do was let himself open up to it, giving himself up to Gerard. He wanted to feel everything Gerard would give him.

Gerard’s grip on his hip tightened and then let go, and Frank felt like he had lost something. His hands had found their way onto Gerard’s back, clenching in his shirt, and they were the first part of him that registered that Gerard was moving away, moving down. Frank didn’t know what was happening with his traitor mouth that seemed to need to be connected to Gerard’s, but Gerard was halfway down his torso before he let him break the kiss.

“What are you—” Frank’s question was interrupted by the feeling of Gerard’s hand slinking up the inside of his thigh.

“Shhh. Want to thank you. Just let me.” From underneath a lank of hair, Gerard smirked at him. It was this crooked thing that showed almost all of his teeth, his lips looking dark against the pale shine of them. Frank’s pulse sped up just at the sight of it, so it was already racing when Gerard hooked his fingers into the waistband of Frank’s sweats and started to pull them down.

As much as Frank didn’t want Gerard to stop, because he really, really didn’t, he couldn’t help but hesitate. “This isn’t just a… gratitude thing right?”

Gerard laughed and Frank swore that he would absolutely die if it was something like that, if he was letting his optimistic romanticism cloud what was obviously just a casual thing for Gerard. He would have to sell his house (probably to the Ways), he would have to find a new job, he would have to find a different job, maybe in a different field entirely. Maybe his mom would get her wish and he would have to give up firefighting, all because his stupid crush on his stupid and gorgeous and wonderful roommate couldn’t be contained.

His thoughts came to a sudden stop. Gerard’s hand had wrapped around his dick and stroked, just once, just to get his attention. His eyes were wide and wet and staring up at Frank as he did it again, this time with Frank watching him.

“No, this is not just a gratitude thing. This is most definitely an ‘I heart you’ thing. The ‘thank you’ part is just an excuse so you stop being noble and avoiding me.”

Before Frank could respond, Gerard dipped his head and opened his mouth, taking the tip of Frank’s dick between his lips. Frank lost his grip on whatever joyous thing his heart was doing because all of his blood was being redirected to his dick. Gerard’s tongue was slow and warm and perfect, and he was doing this ridiculous swirling thing that had Frank gasping and reaching down to tug at his hair, his fingers ending up tangled in the crimson locks.

“Wasn’t… avoiding.”

Gerard made a humming sound that could have been either disagreement or assent, Frank was too undone by feeling of tiny vibration surrounding his dick to be able to tell which. He had already started to bob his head, his hands gripping either of Frank’s hips again, holding him down on the couch.

Frank could feel the pleasure coiling up inside of him, pulling taut and twisting until he couldn’t hold it back anymore. He was coming before he wanted to, with barely enough time to give Gerard a warning. The tugs to his hair went largely ignored. If anything, Gerard just swallowed him deeper, and then Frank’s orgasm crashed over him, dragging him under.

Frank didn’t lose consciousness, thank fuck. He was sure that if he did, his mom would be able to sense it an hour away and would drive back to demand he go check himself back into the hospital. His hands were still tangled in Gerard’s hair, and that was the first place he looked when he could open his eyes. His inked fingers were pale in the midst of all that hair, broken apart by dark streaks of ink from his tattoos.

He couldn’t look away, but when he did, Gerard was smiling back up at him, that wild grin making Frank pull him up by his hair for a kiss. For awhile he let himself get lost in it, but he pulled away when he couldn’t breathe anymore, his traitor lungs ruining everything once again.

“Listen, I can’t keep saving you guys. It was different when I didn’t know you but now…” He trailed off and bit his lip, running his tongue over the skin that was still wet from where Gerard had just been licking it.

“Now you actually like us,” Gerard filled in.

Frank made eye contact with him and nodded.

“Like, a lot. Really a lot.”

Gerard just grinned that stupid fucking grin and shook his head.

“I guess there are other things that I can thank you for.”

This time, when Gerard kissed him, Frank kissed him back, just as fervently.


 

SIX MONTHS LATER

“Iero! Sit the fuck down.”

“Yeah, Iero. We’re starving and the captain says no one can eat unless we’re all eating.”

“Sorry, sorry. Coming.”

Frank gave the gravy one more whisk to make sure there weren’t lumps in it. The last thing he needed was to have hyped up his grandmother’s gravy so much and then to dishonor the recipe by putting out lumpy gravy. Christmas had only ever been a big deal in his family when his grandparents were involved. Those times it had felt like home, and Frank wanted to connect that with this.

He went to the table and squeezed into the space that Ray and Mikey had left for him, ending up with an elbow to his ribs on Mikey’s side.

“Ow,” he muttered, but Mikey was already shoving him into Ray and reaching to take the bowl of gravy from him.

“Shut up and hand over the gravy so I can choke down Toro’s dry as fuck turkey.”

“Screw you, Way. My turkey is perfect.”

“Alright, alright,” the captain sighed from where he sat at the head of the table. Frank moved the bowl of gravy out of Mikey’s reach and set it in an empty spot between the other dishes, which was easier said than done given the sheer amount of food spread across the table. “Settle down, now, we’re all hungry enough that we’re gonna eat the bird even if it’s as dry as the Sahara, though I’m fairly certain Toro won’t let us down this year.”

This was met with laughter from the entire table and Ray’s face fell. There was obviously some history there that Frank was too new to know about. Still, he was curious, and he looked at Ray in question. Ray looked around the table apologetically.

“I’ve been practicing .”

His tone prompted even more laughter, even from Frank, who was mostly laughing at how genuine Ray seemed about it. Frank was positive that if he went to Ray’s apartment, he would find his fridge and freezer stuffed with enough turkey to last him until the next Christmas. When everyone quieted down again, Mikey turned towards the captain.

“Captain, will you do the honors and say grace so we can eat already?”

“Certainly.” The captain almost smiled and Frank couldn’t help but grin brightly at him, not a bit of holding back with it. He watched as his captain folded his hands and bent his head. Though Frank didn’t consider himself religious, he felt the severity of what it meant for his crew to have something to believe in, someone to give grace to. He laced his own fingers together in his lap and looked down at them as the captain began to speak.

“I’d like to give thanks to whoever is in charge of making sure that we make it back to the house after every job. Thanks for bringing this group of incredible people together. I can confidently say that you’ve given me the best crew west of the Atlantic. Thank you for the food that we have here to eat, and thank you for getting us all through another year. Amen.”

There was a chorus of echoing amens and people immediately started reaching for the food, scooping things onto their plates. Frank did the same, piling his plate high with vegetables and various salads, anything and everything that didn’t have meat in it. He knew he would pay for it later, but he was starving and it all looked so good. He had just shoved his first forkful of sweet potatoes into his mouth when the alarm sounded overhead, prompting nearly everyone around the table to groan.

“Enough. This isn’t just Christmas for you guys, that sound means someone else’s Christmas is going worse than yours. Let’s move it, people.”

That was the end of the complaining, and Frank swallowed what was left of his potatoes as he went to his locker to suit up. The captain was right, and Frank was well aware of how fortunate he was. Far be it for him to grumble about having to go try and save someone who was less fortunate on this holiday. He pulled his boots out and shoved his feet into them one at a time, lifting his chin at Mikey when he caught his eye.

“Feeling thankful, Iero?” As he asked the question, Frank’s eyes caught on the picture of his brother taped to the inside of his helmet.

“Absolutely.” Mikey flashed him a grin, one of those open honest ones that reminded Frank so much of the ones Gerard gave out so often. They somehow meant just as much coming from Mikey because they were so rare.

“That’s what I like to hear.”