It isn't Gerard's first sleepless three AM this week, and it's only just Tuesday.
This time, he's just sitting up by the open window, letting the cold fill his lungs and thinking about the way all the lights sort of make the skyline look as if it's on fire. Sometimes, if his heels are itching, he'll drive his piece-of-shit car too fast through the quiet suburbs and kid himself it's a brightly-painted Trans Am. This isn't one of those times, so he lights another cigarette and exhales smoke into the dark.
He's got another three and a half hours before he has to get ready for work again, less if he wants a seat on the bus. It's only going to be another day. It's not like he's impatient for it to start.
He settles lower in the cheap kitchen chair he's dragged over to the window, splaying his knees a little wider and shifting until he finds an angle where his spine isn't pressed uncomfortably into the chair's rigid back. He was too tired to change when he got home earlier, so he's still in his ill-fitting suit, tie loosened, a new stain on his thin shirt from earlier when he spilled ramen on it. He doesn't think he has another clean one. He doubts he'd bother changing it even if he did.
His cell phone rings in his pocket, and he stubs out his smoke on the windowsill and answers it.
"Hey, Mikes," he says softly, without looking at the caller ID. No one else calls him at three AM. No one else really calls at all anymore. He imagines Mikey in a t-shirt that's too small for him and jeans that aren't long enough, awkwardly graceful and hollow-eyed with lack of sleep, his hair sticking up in the wake of his fingers.
"Gee?" says Mikey. He sounds broken, too tired to sleep, but it's still good to hear his voice. "Didn't think you'd still be up. I can call back and talk to your voicemail if you wanna sleep, I just needed – yeah."
Gerard rubs at his gritty eyes with his free hand. "'M not tired," he says. "It's too late to go to bed anyway. What's up?"
The silence hangs for a moment before Mikey answers. "It was pretty bad today. Today? Yesterday, whatever. I just couldn't make myself get up. I was thinking, like, why? Is anything gonna be better if I get out of bed? What am I even doing any this for anyway? That kind of shit. I know it sounds dumb, but. It's – when it's just in my head it's like it makes so much sense I can't... get past it, you know?"
Gerard knows. "The new meds aren't helping," he says, because they're obviously not.
Mikey lets out a long, slow breath, and Gerard can almost see him sitting on the bathroom tiles with his back against the door, pinching the bridge of his nose. Gerard aches with missing him. "Not yet," Mikey says dully. "They want to put me back on lithium if the carbamazepine ones don't work."
Lithium means endless blood tests, endless trips backwards and forwards to the hospital while they fumble for the right dosage to balance Mikey out. "Like the song," says Gerard, because anything else would sound contrived, and because Mikey knows what he's thinking anyway.
"Like the song," Mikey agrees, and Gerard can hear the half-smile twisting the corner of his mouth. "I don't know, they just haven't found my shazam yet, or whatever."
"You're not saying it loud enough," says Gerard. "You know, Captain Marvel always shouted it? That's why it's not working for you."
"Damn. You got all the brains." Mikey sounds mock-rueful, and Gerard would be willing to bet that he's shaking his head slightly, not-quite-smiling again. Gerard could draw a flick book of that one mannerism from memory.
"What's it like, being back at mom's?" he asks. He tips his head back and looks out at the dark sky. He wishes Mikey weren't so far away. He wishes for a lot of things, but mostly that.
"Weird," says Mikey, after a long moment of thought, but it still sounds like he's smiling just a little. "I keep waking up thinking I'm fifteen again and I'm late for the school bus or I'm gonna get busted for failing calculus or something. Fuckin' head trip, seriously. Who wants to go back to high school?"
Gerard chuckles, then there's a beat of silence before he says, "But it's okay, yeah?"
He imagines his brother's one-shouldered shrug. "It's. I don't like rattling around all on my own in here. It's weird without mom, but it's... it's not the psych ward," Mikey says eventually. "I can deal, you know?"
"Yeah," agrees Gerard quietly. He knows what I can deal means. A few weeks ago, he came home after a day no worse than any other, sat down at his kitchen table, and drank himself senseless. He drank and drank and drank, until he could barely drag himself to the bathroom to throw it all up again. His memory of that night is fuzz-fucked and riddled with gaps, but he knows he called Mikey – maybe he even cried, he doesn't remember – and told him he couldn't do it anymore, not the job that's sucking him dry, not the empty apartment or the days when he just doesn't want to be anymore, not any of it. Mikey listened, soothed him as much as he could, and talked him through getting to bed in one piece. When the sun came up again, Gerard went back to pretending he could deal too. He's used to it. It wasn't the first time, and he doubts it'll be the last.
"What about you?" Mikey asks. "Most people are asleep at three in the morning, bro."
"Don't say bro. You can't pull that shit off."
"Whatever you say, bro."
Mikey's never going to stop being his kid brother. Gerard is grateful for that.
"Just," he says. "You know, didn't feel like sleeping. It's not like it actually makes any difference, so."
"Still?" Mikey sees right through Gerard, like always. "I thought they gave you those sleeping pills."
"They did." Gerard blinks the sting out of his dry, tired eyes and scrubs a hand through his hair. The last of the black dye is long gone, it's muddy brown again. That, more than anything else, makes him feel old. Like if he was meant to change the world, he would have done it by now. "They make me sleep, but. I don't know, they don't stop me dreaming."
Gerard nightmares often. That's how he chooses to think of it, anyway, because even thinking the words I get bad dreams sometimes is enough to make him cringe. He never remembers what about, just wakes up gasping for breath with this crushing weight of grief on his chest. The ghost sadness sometimes takes hours to wear away, and he likes to imagine he's missing people and things he never had. Sometimes, he makes up their stories on the bus to keep himself sane when there are too many people he doesn't know pressing in on him.
"So you're just, what? Not sleeping at all now?"
Mikey won't judge him, never will, so Gerard says, "Not really."
Normally, he won't sleep for two, three days, then he'll crash sometime on the fourth and wake up sore and bleary-eyed and rumpled on his couch or his living room floor. He thinks it's kind of sad that a fucked-up sleep pattern is the closest thing he's got to the artist's life he wanted. He thinks it's sadder still that he'll take what he can get.
They sit in silence until time starts to stretch and Gerard couldn't say whether it's been thirty seconds or half an hour. A siren shrieks somewhere far away, and he watches the red light of an airplane streak across the sky above him. He wonders where it's going.
"Still here," says Gerard, stretching until his spine clicks and his shoulders protest. He feels sleepy, all of a sudden. Maybe he'll actually go to bed after work later.
"You ever wonder what would happen if you just – left?"
It's three AM and Gerard is thinking much too clearly to be having this conversation.
"You know, just, like, upped and left. Didn't tell anyone where you were going, just left your apartment and your job and all your stuff. Took your car and left and let everyone think you'd disappeared for good."
"Never," Gerard lies.
"Yeah," says Mikey. "Me neither."
It's a week or two later – Wednesday, maybe Friday. It's easy to lose track. Gerard doesn't know what time it is, but it's just starting to get light, the sky outside shot through with pale streaks of cloud, blazing orange around the edges. He's too tired to work out what time it is in Jersey right now, and he toys idly with his car keys as he dials Mikey's number.
Mikey wasn't asleep. He sounds about as alert as he ever does, especially with the carbamazepine still making him drowsy.
"It doesn't work like that," Gerard says, because there's no room in his head for small talk tonight. Mikey will understand. Gerard takes a deep drag on his smoke, makes an expansive hand gesture that Mikey can't see. "You can't just go. You'd run out of money, and then you'd have to get another shitty job, and then you're back where you started, just in a different town where you've got no friends."
"I know," says Mikey, calmly, like he thinks it's Gerard that doesn't understand. "I'm just saying. You know, what if."
"No, sure." Gerard tries to shake his head clear. "Hypothetical and all that. I get it."
There's a long pause. Gerard blows out a plume of smoke, ashing into the overflowing coffee cup on the kitchen counter. Tucked underneath it is a flyer for a tooth-whitening clinic that arrived in the mail last week. Fucking California. It doesn't suit him, doesn't fit right like Jersey always did. He wishes he'd never moved out here. It's starting to seem like a high price to pay in exchange for never having to get over the bloody-throated waking nightmares that threaten to close over his head every time he thinks about getting back on that ferry. He sort of hates himself for the way there are people who actually lost people that day and are still dealing better than he is.
He misses Jersey, with its grit and its grime and its Mikey. "People would come looking for you," he says. "They'd think you'd gone missing if you didn't tell them you were going and they'd try to stop you if you did. It's a no-win."
"Would they?" Mikey's tone is perfectly neutral, but it stops Gerard dead. Who would try to find him? No one from the office, that's sure as shit, and it's not like he's got friends here. There's nothing here to leave behind.
And then he remembers himself, and says, "You'd still run out of money."
"Sure," Mikey agrees easily, around a yawn. "Forget it, I was on a fuckload of meds when I said it anyway. Is that fucker at the office still on your ass about the stapler?"
Gerard tries to forget it. He really does.
He fails. The thing about ideas is that once they've put down roots, you can never really get rid of them, and it's as if Mikey's hooked this one into his consciousness for good.
It's not like it obsesses him or anything, but he keeps catching it needling at him when his brain is idling. He doesn't entertain it as a real possibility for a second – it's a fantasy for a bolder, better-drawn parallel self who lives in a world where things are that crucial bit different. But he thinks about it, and it starts to come up from time to time in his late-night conversations with Mikey. Meds-movies-comics-work-sleeplessness-peoplewatching-fuckingofficepolitics-coffee-paychecks-music-superheroes-bills-runningaway.
It's okay, though, because it isn't like he's actually going to do it.
"You'd be all on your own," says Gerard, another night. It's raining hard outside. He'd sit and watch the way it streaks the streetlights against his window, but he hates California in the rain even more than he hates it in the sun, so instead he's curled up on his ratty couch under the only hoodie he still owns, the phone cradled against his ear. There are twenty-eight minutes left before he has to get up and walk into the bedroom he doesn't sleep in and stop his alarm clock shrilling. This is the part of the night that always goes the slowest. He looks again; twenty-seven. It'll feel like twice that long, at least. "I mean, look at you. You've always lived in Jersey," he says. "You've never had to just blow into a town where you didn't know anyone at all. Look how badly I failed at it here. It's hard."
"That's what she said," deadpans Mikey, and Gerard rolls his eyes and tries not to think about how long it's been since he got laid. Relationships are even further out of sight, strange and semi-mythical. He doesn't like to get too stuck on it, but the loneliness gets to him. He thinks it might even be easier if he had pathetic unrequited crush to fixate on, but he doesn't. It's disheartening. Even jerking off is just like eating or sleeping these days – something else that he needs to do every so often before the consequences of avoiding it too long start getting inconvenient. The go-to fantasies he's sure he used to have feel threadbare and stale; it's just something vaguely distasteful to be finished with as soon as possible.
He asks about Mikey's trip to the music store that morning instead.
He thinks about it more, and feels almost guilty every time he catches himself at it. Somewhere, over the course of countless sleepless nights and endless days and crowded bus journeys, it's become a detailed, richly-textured fantasy. He thinks about the shimmer of heat over asphalt and the taste of sand and strange streets and identikit motel rooms and the swirl of a blizzard around a beat-up car. It's a haphazard patchwork of colorful little scraps of other things, old movies and songs, and it feels almost like it's leeching the life out of reality: the brighter and fuller it becomes, the duller the everyday gets, until Gerard realizes he's started seeing in grayscale every time he closes his eyes. It's a heady, oversaturated thing that he uses sparingly at first, just a few minutes of idle imagining here and there, and by the time he realizes he's come to rely on it just to get through the day (coffee-smokes-Mikey-runningaway), it's really already too late.
Of course, he thinks, there's always a chance he might be going crazy. He can live with that.
The text he sends Mikey from his cubicle reads "wgat would u ttake with u," and means "help". He types it out quickly, his hands shaking too hard to make it worth going back to fix his spelling. Mikey will know what he means. Days like this happen from time to time, when he leaves his apartment too late, and he dreads them. Too many people out on the streets, surging and seething like the tide, all pushing and shoving and talking too loudly. It's nothing like it, obviously, but it just brings back a little too much of that morning on the ferry. He puts his cell phone down on his bare desk and drops his head into his hands and takes a few deep, steadying breaths, pulling just hard enough on his hair to make his eyes sting. It's good, helps bring him back to himself. He has some time before he has to start taking calls, so he screws his eyes shut and just concentrates on getting through the next few minutes.
He's halfway through asking the second customer of the morning whether their monitor is switched on when his cell buzzes, and, oh god, he's ready to cry with relief. The thick, sour panic has drained away, leaving him hollow and weak, and Mikey is a lifeline in a sea of fluorescent light and recycled air. He thumbs the message open while he patiently tells the customer to check the power light on their hard drive.
wallet. car. one other thing. nothin else or ur cheating.
"Yes, ma'am, I know, I'm sorry – we've got to ask," he says distractedly into his mouthpiece while he writes back to Mikey.
what about clothes?
cheating, Mikey insists. come on, u cant half-ass this shit. ur doing it wrong if ur just carting ur shit from state to state.
ok, concedes Gerard as he sighs and tells the customer he's putting her through to level two tech support. so what would ur one other thing be? ipod?
The reply bounces back almost immediately. not without a charger or a laptop, dumbass. maybe a book or a comic, idk. u?
Gerard doesn't know what to say to that. Not a comic, he doesn't think. He still reads them, but in the same way he's heard people stalk their exes' facebook pages. He's not really willing to give them up altogether because he's got nothing else to fill the gap they'd leave, but he doesn't trust them like he used to. They promised him that even the losers – especially the losers – get lucky sometimes, and he's never really gotten over the realization that it isn't true. If it was about being a loser, he should have been first in line. He's still waiting. He's not sure what for.
what about my car keys? didnt think of that did you einstein? he replies after his next call as he calculates the number of minutes until his smoke break, but it feels like an excuse.
Gerard thinks a lot about the possible strings of what-ifs that could make things different enough. He imagines losing his job. He imagines his apartment block burning down. He imagines losing everything.
It feels fucking incredible.
"Don't you think it's kind of... I don't know, Peter Pan? Like, I won't grow up and be responsible, that kind of shit."
Mikey snorts. Gerard can hear the Smiths playing softly in the background. "Totally," he says. "But you gotta stop giving a shit, that's how they get to you. I, like, fully support your right to be Peter Pan. Again. You know, I think your old costume's still in here somewhere."
"I hate you."
"No you don't. Green tights, Gee."
Before he hangs up, Mikey tells Gerard he's feeling better. Gerard says he's glad and means it, and swallows the urge to tell Mikey that that makes one of them.
The shower doesn't help like he thought it would. Gerard stands under the hot spray, swaying on his feet. He fumbles to turn the water off and stumbles out, cracking his elbow and his ankle and his hip against the wall as he reaches for a towel. He stands there, dripping, the threadbare towel clutched around him, and he waits. The room won't stay still, though, and he can taste panic at the back of his throat. His phone is on the counter, and it takes him four attempts before he manages to dial the number.
"Mikes?" he says. He sounds like a child, he thinks, frightened and guilty. "I think I did something stupid. Again. 'M a fuckin' idiot, Mikes."
"And in other not-news, the grass is green and Bruce Wayne could kick Clark Kent's ass any day of the week. What--" Mikey's voice sharpens abruptly. "Gee? What happened?"
Gerard takes a deep, steadying breath and puts a hand out to lean against the slick tiles. "Okay. Okay, you gotta promise you're not gonna be mad. I know I said last time was gonna be the last time, but I didn't mean to drink the whole fuckin' thing--" he cuts himself off with a dry, hacking sob that feels like it was torn right out of his gut.
"You're drunk," says Mikey. Gerard makes a miserable noise of agreement, and sits down heavily on the bathroom floor with a thud that Mikey must have been able to hear. The room lurches dizzily, and there's water dripping down his neck from his hair and goosebumps springing up all over his skin. He feels sick and shivery and the water isn't running anymore but he's drowning, drowning. His legs are folded awkwardly underneath him, and the back of his head is throbbing. He must have hit it on the edge of the sink on his way down, he thinks distantly.
"Gee?" presses Mikey, gently. "C'mon, Gee, talk to me. Can you get up?"
"Just try to stand up for me. Take it easy."
"'Kay," mumbles Gerard. He reaches blindly for something to hold on to, and eventually finds the edge of the counter. He tries to pull himself up, but his head is swimming and his fingers feel rubbery and uncooperative, and he collapses again.
"You okay, Gee? What happened?" Mikey's voice sounds tinny and far away through the phone Gerard's still clutching so tightly his knuckles are blanched white. He licks his lips. They're so numb he doesn't feel a thing. He doesn't remember letting go of the towel, but it's tangled around his ankles, leaving him cold and exposed. He feels soft and vulnerable, pale like the underbelly of something never meant to see the light.
"'M alive," he slurs. "Jus'. Standing. Not good. My head hurts, I think I hit it on something."
"Alright. Check you're not bleeding," Mikey instructs, calm and steady, and it hits Gerard with painful clarity that Mikey shouldn't have to do this. He's the kid brother, this is all upside down. He wants to be able to deal with his own dumb mistakes. He wants Mikey here with him, or he wants to be there with Mikey. He wants to trade his life in for clean one he'll be more careful not to fuck up.
He puts a hand up to the back of his head and touches the sore spot. His fingers come away wet, but clean.
"No blood," he says. "'M gonna stand up in a minute, I swear. Just – don't go anywhere?"
"I won't," promises Mikey. "You're okay, you're gonna be fine. You've just gotta wait it out. Hang in, yeah?"
Gerard groans. "One drink," he says wretchedly. "It was gonna be one fuckin' drink, to – to take the edge off a shitty day, you know? Jesus. I'm thirty-three. How do I still not have my shit together? What am I doing?"
"Stop it," says Mikey, low and fierce. "Fucking – no. Stop beating yourself up, you've got the rest of the world to do that for you. Tell me... I don't know, tell me what you'd say if someone asked if you were new in town."
Mikey asked, so Gerard does.
Mikey calls him the morning after. Gerard tells him he's fine, and leaves for work again. He's nearly half an hour late, he looks like a wreck and he spends the first three hours staring blankly at the grey wall of his cubicle. No one seems to notice.
It's a shock when it hits Gerard that it's been nearly a year since Mikey first asked him if he ever thought about leaving.
He looks at himself in the smeared bathroom mirror. It's been so long since he's really looked at his own reflection that the person in the mirror could almost be a stranger. He looks past the bruise-shadowed eyes and the hair in need of a clumsy kitchen-scissors trim, and sees new lines like cobwebs around his eyes and spanning his forehead. He looks, and he thinks about what he's done since this time last year.
He hasn't met anyone new, or been promoted, or started drawing again like he promised himself he would one day. He hasn't quit his job for one he likes or started going out more or fallen in love or learnt to cook real food. He's eaten and slept and worked and run up a sky-high phone bill. He's surprised by how little of it he remembers, months and months elided into one long smudge of sameness. His stomach twists queasily, and he suddenly desperately needs to be wasted or high or somewhere else or not alone or something. His first instinct is to call Mikey, or go in search of something bitter and eighty-proof.
He doesn't do either of those things. The realization that this is it, this is bend-or-break day, is vague and distant and somehow so very obvious. He's completely calm now, his hands and his breathing steady. His car keys are in his pocket, digging insistently into his thigh, and he reaches for his cell phone.
sent at: 2:57AM 10/02/2010
message: did u ever think about running away?