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Crush my soul (and send me flowers)

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Then

The smart thing to do, when retreating from giant robots with eyes shooting laser beams, is to keep your mouth shut and try to stay alive. Which Bob does. The anger simmering in his chest grows and grows until it feels like it'll split out of him like the change to his wolf form does, but he bites his tongue - almost literally - until he and the guys make it back to the basement.

But the second the door's closed, even as the ground shakes and dirt falls from the ceiling, he's yelling.

"The fuck was that?" he says to Gerard, grabbing his jacket with a snarl. Even though Bob's sandy fur is starting to disappear, his claws are still out. It's hard to help. The change was always fueled by emotions.

Gerard must be pissed, too; around the smudges of ash on his bared skin, his hands and eyes are still glowing a bright blue. "Back off."

Bob's dimly aware of the others in the background. Ray's carrying Frank to the back, probably to get him to Dewees so his arm can get sewn back on. Mikey's darting around the console, and judging by the beeps, he's checking the monitors and turning on their security.

The ground rocks, and the lights flicker, and Bob grabs onto Gerard with another hand. His vision's a little red.

"You said it was routine," Bob growls. His voice is still deep, like it always is with the wolf. "That we could run in and run out."

"I was wrong, okay?"

"I told you." The whiny tone of Bob's voice is enough to make him drop his hands and pull back a little. "Again."

Gerard apparently doesn't like the tone, either. He steps back in Bob's space, jaw set. "And who's the fucking leader?"

"I'm not asking to be the leader!" Bob digs his claws into his palm. "But if you'd actually listen to me instead of treating me like...like..."

"Like what?"

"Like your goddamned whore!"

"Whoa, whoa!" Ray's there, pushing them apart. Bob could easily outmaneuver him - Ray's physical power leaves him slower than the rest, even if he always wins at arm wrestling - but Ray's not pissing him off, so he turns and kicks a chair. It makes him feel a little better.

Until Gerard says in an undertone, "You really think that?" Like he's the wounded party.

"I might," Bob says without turning around, "if you actually had the balls for it."

"Say that to my face, motherfucker." Gerard's breath's warm on Bob's neck.

Bob snorts. "Like you matter enough for that."

Except for the quiet sounds of battle overhead, the basement's silent, and Bob's fury twists into something almost sweet. It's like it knows Bob's finally hit somewhere sensitive, somewhere vulnerable.

Gerard's voice is strangled when he finally talks again. But then, he doesn't need to say much. "Get out."

"Fine." Just what Bob wanted anyway, even if he didn't know until he rolls it around in his head. Leaving. Yes. He turns toward the stairs without looking back.

Mikey streaks in front of him in the blink of an eye. "You can't. The other group's...they're still mopping up."

"Fine by me." Bob pushes past Mikey - not shoving him, just moving around him - and kicks the door to the stairs open.

It closes with a loud echo behind him, and Bob waits, panting, for his breath to catch up and his hands to stop shaking. When he's somewhat calm again, he runs up the forty flights of stairs.

When he gets to the surface, the mopping up, as Mikey called it, is pretty much over. There's a couple of quiet thuds in the distance, where clouds of dust are still obscuring, but the sky where he is clears, and sun shines down warm on Bob's head.

If Bob were a more introspective kind of guy, he would probably be thinking something about how this is the start of a fresh new day, or how he can build something on top of the ashes, or some kind of similar bullshit. But he's not, so he only thinks one thing.

At least I don't need to see that asshole ever again.

One year later

Bob's scowling at the Fiat commercial on his TV when there's a knock at the door.

"Just a minute!" he calls.

He picks up a box of tissues left over from the cold he'd had last month and hurls it at Jennifer Lopez's face. The box hits the wall behind the TV. He'd pick it up and try again, but if he goes to see who's knocking, there'll be another commercial on by the time he gets back. It's better than killing his TV.

Bob pulls himself off the couch and goes to the door, still frowning a little. He opens the door, and...

"No way," Bob blurts.

"Uh," Gerard says, waving the first two fingers of his hand. "Way?"

There are a dozen things Bob should ask. "How did you get my address", for one. "What the fuck are you doing here", for another. They haven't been in contact since Bob left the group for a very good reason.

"Can...can I come in?"

There's another thing Bob should ask: "Why the hell should I let you in?" But nothing comes out of his mouth, so he steps aside. Gerard slumps in.

Gerard takes off his hoodie. His hair's black, like it had been when Bob had first jumped ship from The Used's second string, but it's cropped now, not loose and stringy like it used to be. And it isn't just the hair: Gerard himself seems a little...deflated. Not like he was huge the last time Bob saw him, but there's something missing. His ego, maybe.

Bob watches Gerard drapes his crap on the back of Bob's stool like he belongs there, and he flops on Bob's couch and snorts a laugh. "JLo's shilling cars? What the fuck's the world coming to?"

That's when Bob runs into his bedroom and slams the door shut.

Okay. There has to be a reason for this. Not even Gerard magically falls from the sky just for the hell of it. And there'll be people who know why he's there.

Bob fishes his cell phone out of his pocket, takes a couple very deep breaths, and flips through his address book.

Mikey's number goes to voice mail automatically; no surprise, since he always screened his calls. Dialing Frank's number results in some automated voice telling him the number doesn't exist anymore, and Bob does his best to ignore the knife-twisting feeling in his chest when he hangs up and flips to Ray. Used to be he couldn't get rid of Frank, but now...

"Hello?"

"Hey," Bob says, his voice a little strangled. At least he's talking. "Ray?"

"Yeah. Bob?" Ray doesn't sound ready to hang up, and he doesn't sound pissed. Just a little cautious. Bob can work with cautious.

"I've got Gerard on my couch," Bob says. He clears his throat. "Is everything...I mean..."

"He is? Really?"

"Really."

"Whoa."

Bob slumps onto his bed. "Tell me about it."

"The group's on break right now," Ray says, and his voice is warmer now, friendlier. "Last Mikey heard, Gerard was out in California, playing in the desert."

That sounds like Gerard. "I'm nowhere near the desert."

"Yeah, I figured. What did he say?"

"Nothing. He just...sat on my couch."

"Huh. Maybe he just wanted to see you?"

There's something a little funny in Ray's voice, but whatever. Bob's not going to alienate him. Not when he could - and probably should - be asking Gerard all of this. "Maybe."

Ray sighs. "Do me a favor?"

"What?"

"Just don't...don't be an asshole to him." Bob's just summoning breath to tell Ray what bullshit that is when Ray says, "Not unless he does something first, at least? Maybe give him a chance."

A chance is way more than Gerard deserves. But Bob isn't sprouting fur or claws or growling. He's just tired, mostly. So it doesn't cost him much to say, "Whatever."

"He's not great right now. If he slides back–" Ray cuts off the second he hears Bob's sharp intake of breath. "Not that it's your responsibility, I mean."

Bob might not have been in MCR for all of their tough spots, but he was there when Gerard got sober. He knows exactly what Ray's saying. But he lets go of the fist of comforter he'd grabbed, and he says, "It's not."

"No."

"But I'll keep an eye out."

"Cool." Ray pauses. "You can call me, you know. If you need to."

Bob nods to himself. "Thanks, man."

The line goes dead, and Bob stuffs his cell phone in his pocket.

In the living room, Gerard laughs at something obnoxious. Probably at the shitty reality show Bob left the TV on. He could go out and sit next to him, wait for Gerard to say something. Or he could go out and demand some kind of answer. There's no end of options.

After five minutes of staring at nothing, Bob picks locking his bedroom door and climbing in bed. He has work in the morning, anyway.

~

Bob doesn't usually remember his dreams. He doesn't after he wakes up the next day, either. But there's an impression in his mind, a red haze and the echo of yelling and a feeling of helplessness he hasn't felt in years.

He gets dressed and cracks his bedroom door. Gerard's lying on the couch with the colors from the TV reflected on his face, drool pooling under his open mouth.

Bob sneaks out.

~

Normally, Bob has a very particular work routine.

It technically starts with his morning commute, but that's so mind-numbing that he never remembers it. What he's usually more aware of is riding the elevator - he never changes to wolf form anymore, but his nose is still more than sensitive enough to burn from all the perfumes and deodorants he's crammed in with - and slumping into the florescent hell on the fourteenth floor that is his office.

He gets coffee and sits in his chair and feels his soul leech out his feet with every number he puts in a spreadsheet. (The first couple months, he was so sure he felt something destroying him that he actually checked the basement to make sure some evil scientist hadn't set up an energy collector. Sadly, no luck.) Cortez gets him for a smoke break, and they share a couple cigarettes, leaning against the fountain next to their building. It's one of the highlights of Bob's day, staring up at the sky and listening to the water run.

After they kill as much time as they can get away with, Bob goes back and lets more of his soul ooze out until he gets to eat lunch. Then his boss and his boss's boss waste everyone's time with a meeting, either to update them on some bullshit policy that would've taken five minutes to email, or to "boost their morale", which, ha fucking ha, cancel the meetings and see how much morale goes up.

But today things are different. Bob stares at his feet the entire train ride, and he runs up the flights of stairs to burn off some of the buzzing that won't seem to go away, and he ignores the coffee machine and heads directly to Legal.

Cortez doesn't work in Legal. He supposedly works in the IT department, but he's too busy hitting on anything hot that works in their building. He always starts his day buttering up the people in Legal because they're always the ones with the good donuts, and if Bob was forced to admit it, it seemed like more fun than anything Bob ever did.

"Bryar!" Cortez jumps off a blushing aide's desk and saunters over. "My man, feel like ending your monkhood? Amanda here has a...how did you put it? A 'lovely friend' who's free tonight."

The last time Cortez had tried to hook Bob up with someone, Bob put him in a headlock. It had given him two months' peace. The fact that it ended today made Bob smirk a little.

Cortez didn't miss the smirk, either. He turned to the aid, said, "I'll catch up with you later", and directed Bob toward the nearest empty cubicle.

"So you got lucky?" Cortez says right away, leaning against the empty desk. "The address thing worked out?"

"So that was you." Bob crosses his arms. It figured that Cortez was still in contact with the guys.

Cortez beamed. "Just looking out. When was the last time you went anywhere other than home after work, huh?"

Bob knew; it had been a year. The nice thing about working a soul-killing 9 to 5 was that his nights were his own, and if he wanted to drink beer and yell at trashy TV, well. That was his own choice.

But Bob grabs Cortez's shirt and lets his claws out. "What the fuck did I tell you when I started working here?"

Cortez stares at the fresh holes in his polo and goes pale. "What?"

"Say it."

"That...I wasn't supposed to tell anyone," Cortez says in a rush. "But Bob–"

Bob snarls, and that's it. Cortez goes invisible and smacks Bob's arm. Bob lets go, and that's all the opportunity Cortez needs. His scent fades, and Bob hears thumps as he runs down the aisle.

"Chickenshit," Bob mutters. Whatever. At least Cortez probably won't try to get him laid for another couple weeks.

~

By the time Bob stumbles up to his front door at a quarter to six, he's not really worried about seeing Gerard again. His heart races a little as he gets his keys out, but if occasional nerves stopped him, he never would have put on a stupid costume in the first place.

Judging by the way that Gerard's perched on one of Bob's stools, he isn't worried about Bob, either. He's hunched over the counter, scribbling, and the air in the apartment's sharp with the smell of markers. Bob has to stop to breathe. He's in his apartment, not the basement hideout.

Gerard doesn't look up when Bob finally comes up behind him and glances at his drawing. He was never self-conscious about sharing his work. Never mind that it was tied to his power; Gerard's always been a showy bastard. He's shading a huge T-Rex destroying the city. Bob even recognizes the skyscraper where he works, half-destroyed and covered in flames. Not a bad look.

"Looking into supervilliany?" Bob asks.

Gerard shakes his head. "Couldn't even if I wanted to."

He slips out another picture from his messy stack of papers, and this Bob knows. Gerard draws the blue stars all the time; it's why his code name's Sparks. Bob's seen the stars used as flashlights, or cover when they need to sneak away, or small explosions when they need to blow shit up.

Gerard's frowning, sweat beading on his forehead, and when Bob squints, he can see the barest blue haze around his hand, and a bit of a sparkle on the star itself. But Gerard gives up with a gasp before anything can happen, and it's just paper and smears of color again.

Bob backs off, gritting his teeth. "So that's why you're here?"

"Sort of." Gerard turns on the stool, wiping his forehead. "We took a break. I thought I'd come see you."

"So I could what? Fix you?" Red creeps at the edge of his vision, a little surprising in its intensity. Maybe his codename with MCR had been Wolfman, but when he was with The Used, they'd called him Berserker. It's been a while since Bob's felt that way at all.

Gerard's eyes get big. "No, I meant...we had to take a break, since I couldn't work. That's all."

"Then why me?"

Gerard closes in and grabs Bob's hand. "Because I'm sorry."

Bob raises an eyebrow, but he doesn't say anything.

"You were awesome out there." Gerard drags his thumb over Bob's hand. "I didn't listen to you, and now you don't do it anymore. It sucks."

Muscles in Bob's shoulders that he didn't even know he tensed relax, and Bob blinks. He didn't know that's how Gerard felt. He didn't know he needed to hear it.

Maybe there's something he should say back, something about criticizing too much or being a general asshole, but he can't make himself do it. Instead, he says, "You want a blanket tonight? I bet it got kind of cold out here."

Gerard smiles and nods, and he squeezes Bob's hand once before dropping it again.

~

Bob comes out of the bathroom the next morning, toweling his hair dry, and Gerard's hunched on the couch, drawing in a sketchbook. Bob grabs his breakfast cereal and takes the chair next to him.

Gerard's drawing a pencil sketch. Of himself, dead in a coffin.

Bob takes a bite of his flakes, swallows, and says, "You should come to work with me."

Gerard's hand stills. "Huh?"

"You're moping. Trust me, my office is built for moping." Bob wipes his mouth on his sleeve. "Unless you'd really like to mope in here all day again. I don't recommend it."

"Oh. It'll be okay?"

Bob doesn't actually know if it will, but his boss is never in his space, so whatever. "Sure."

Gerard packs up his drawing stuff while Bob finishes his breakfast, and they head out.

Bob's commute changes even more with Gerard there. Gerard doesn't say a word, just sits on the chair in front of Bob's handhold and draws, but everything around him seems different. The rustling newspapers have more snap, the lights in the tunnel blink in and out of existence more strongly, and the crackle of the conductor on the speakers itches more in Bob's ears. It's weird. Not bad, necessarily, but weird.

It doesn't stop there. Gerard gets his own circle of space in the elevator, and the florescent lights on the fourteenth floor practically stab Bob's eyes. Even the coffee, ineffective sludge though it is, tastes sharp on Bob's tongue. Dumping more fake sugar in only helps a little.

Now that they're in the office, Gerard's looking up from the sketchbook in his arms, peering into cubicles with narrow eyes. He looks at one administrative assistant's knick-knack collection warily, and he says, "Why are you here?"

"Why do you think?" Bob says, steering Gerard into his own cubicle. It's lacking any of the personal touches the others like to have: no family photos, no vacation souvenirs, nothing. Even Cortez's space, which he's never in, has company-appropriate pictures of sultry women everywhere. It's just Bob, his computer, and his desktop wallpaper of a dachshund. Which, he has to admit, he loves a lot. "I need to make rent, dude."

"But here? You didn't make enough to take time off?"

Bob shrugs. "Cortez hooked me up when I moved here. It seemed like a good enough way to kill time."

Gerard opens his mouth, probably to ask about more, but he looks around and closes it again. He's not bad at stealth when he wants to be.

"You wanna grab dinner when you're done?" Gerard asks, waving his pencil at Bob's computer. "My treat."

"I'm not that broke." Or broke at all.

"But dinner?"

Bob nods, and Gerard dives back into his drawings right away. Of course. Bob heaves a sigh and turns to his own crap.

~

The train stops right in front of Bob's favorite place, a little sports bar that occasionally plays things like monster truck rallies on the TV if it isn't crowded and Bob asks. The shelves rattle when the train passes, and their garlic fries are to die for. But it's a place surrounded by booze, and when Bob glances at Gerard staring mournfully at the train's floor, he knows it isn't the kind of place he wants to take Gerard. Not now.

Unfortunately, that really limits his options. He'll sometimes get nachos at a club if Cortez is playing a show, and that's the end of his eating-out experiences. So he goes with his secondary choice.

"Pizza sound good?" Bob asks Gerard, and Gerard brightens a little, smiling a little.

"Sounds great. God. I haven't had pizza in..."

"A week?"

Gerard snorts. "Yeah, okay, so it was the easy food to get when I was saving the world. Whatever. I stopped eating it after..."

After Bob left? He blinks. It's not like he gave up pizza when he moved.

Gerard leans in, voice dropping. "After the powers went on the fritz."

Oh. That makes more sense. Bob nods.

"But pizza sounds great," Gerard says, pulling back. "You got a favorite place?"

"Yeah." But now that Bob thinks about it, it's an order-only spot. Their location barely has enough room for two or three people to form a line, much less actually sit at a table. "You don't mind ordering in, do you?"

Gerard flushes a little, and Bob says in a rush, "We can find–"

"No. Totally fine."

They make it back to Bob's without another word between them. Their aloneness hangs in the air like it didn't hang before, almost like a weight in the air or on Bob's skin. So much for not being weird.

Gerard's back to scribbling when Bob calls in the order, but when he hangs up the phone, he sees Gerard's just drawing his pencil back and forth on a mostly blank page.

"Uh, I ordered what I usually like," Bob says. "I should've asked."

"It's. It's fine." Gerard doesn't look up.

Conversation's probably out, so Bob slumps off the couch and goes to get plates. Not like they need them - Bob usually eats with his hands, and if he feels like being neat, he gets a napkin after - but it's something. And if they're drinking soda, cups are good. He doesn't really want to swig from the bottle when he's sharing with Gerard.

The only clean plates he has are on the top shelf, so he has to reach. And his shirt doesn't fit quite right; that's what he gets for sitting on his ass most of the day. He starts to pull it down absentmindedly...

...and that's when he catches Gerard staring, eyes roaming up and down Bob's torso. And it's not like he's disgusted by what he sees.

Bob shudders. It's a bad idea. And that's the only reason Bob manages to grab his plates and stick them on the bar without pouncing. It'd be so easy, straddling Gerard's legs, kissing him until he's flushed and dark-eyed, rolling his hips up against Bob's–

The doorbell rings, and Bob sighs, relieved.

The pizza is a monster, as usual, and Bob and Gerard have to tear into it with forks and knives. Or they do if they want to be polite; Bob doesn't want to think how many times he's had stuffed crust by hand. But they're sitting next to each other at the counter, and it's a little close to see someone inhale grease.

Gerard does get cheese on his hand, and he slurps it off. It's not like he's trying to be sexy, but he licks up his palm like it's the most delicious thing ever, and when he's done, he looks over at Bob and jumps a little.

Bob clears his throat. He can still salvage this.

"So, uh," he says, rubbing his eyes. "How's Mikey?"

"Good."

"Just good?"

Gerard shifts on his stool. "Worried, I guess. About me."

Bob sighs. Of course he is. He's Mikey. "How about Frank?"

Gerard grins. "He started his own group, if you can believe it."

"Yeah?" Bob can, actually. Frank's powers were never super showy - being able to take damage and reattach limbs without problems wasn't the kind of thing that got the press stalking you - but he's never been the guy who sits at home when things need to get done. "They any good?"

"Good enough to cover for me." Gerard's smile is goofy. But it fades a little when Gerard pokes at the remnant of his pizza. "What do you want to do?"

"Do?"

"With your life."

Bob can't help smirking a little. "You my mom all of a sudden?"

Gerard shakes his head. "Saving the world's all I've ever wanted to do. If I can't..."

"Dogs."

"What?"

Gerard blinks up with watery eyes. Bob mostly said it to keep him from crying, but now that he thinks about it, yeah. Dogs.

"I like pets," Bob says. "Guess it's not much of a stretch. But I give part of my paycheck to the animal shelter."

"Wow," Gerard says. His face has this honest awe that's almost painful to look at, and Bob feels warmth in his stomach, and...

Bad idea. Terrible. The worst.

Which is why Bob balls his fists when he leans over and kisses Gerard. It's his small form of self-protest.

And things pretty much go from there like Bob expects.

Instead of making for the couch, he throws Gerard against the wall. Not too hard, but enough to get the set of his jaw to seem sweeter, to make Gerard's nails dragging across the skin on his arms feel just right. He puts his knee between Gerard's legs and basically pins him while he works the skin on Gerard's neck, biting a little harder than he should, but judging by the frustrated sounds out of Gerard's mouth, he doesn't hate it.

Bob moves them to the bed after that. For some reason, the last edge of whatever anger he'd held onto disappears, and he cradles Gerard as he strips him down, dragging his mouth down with a tenderness Bob didn't even know he had. He's murmuring, and he doesn't listen to what he's saying because if it's something like apologies or pleas for Gerard to stay, he doesn't want to hear. And he doubts Gerard can hear much, either.

He takes Gerard in his mouth to get the noises to stop, moving fast and sloppy over the tip of his cock, working the bottom with his slicked hand. Gerard shivers every time Bob's beard tickles his thighs, and he brushes his hand over Bob's slightly longer hair, and he gives a wordless moan when he's close, and Bob, at least, has the presence of mind to pull back and jerk Gerard through his orgasm. It's not like he has a problem with swallowing, but that's...that's oddly intimate, even more than Bob's comfortable with.

Gerard, even half-asleep, manages to jerk Bob off, and he passes out in Bob's arms after Bob's come and wiped them off with the tissues he keeps on his bedside table. But Bob's wide awake, and if he lets himself just breathe in Gerard's scent until he falls asleep, well. No one's awake to know.

~

The bed's empty when Bob wakes up. But the spot next to him's warm, and there's a note on the bedside table. Back in the day, the words would float over Bob's head until he'd read him, blinking and flashing and generally too cheery, but instead, they're scribbled out in hasty pencil and as flat as anyone's handwriting.

"Corner store. Back in a few."

Something twists in Bob's stomach, even though there's no reason for it. He finds clothes in the pile by his closet that pass the sniff test, and he runs out the door with his keys.

Gerard's at the corner store, just like he said he would be. He's in the back, by the refrigerators. Just staring at the beer.

Bob clenches his hands into fists. But he relaxes them when he sees Gerard brush a hand over his eyes, and he walks up and stands beside him.

Gerard doesn't react at first. But after a second, he says, "I thought."

"Thought what?"

"You and me." Gerard shakes his head a few times. "I didn't want to think it, but there was a part...if things were broken, fixing us was the way to get it back."

Bob nods without saying anything.

"But it's the same. I feel exactly the same." And Gerard eyes the beer again, not hungry or even eager. Just resigned.

Bob slides in front of it, and Gerard's gaze shifts to the middle of his chest.

"I'm sorry," Gerard says.

Bob sighs. "Nothing's fixed. You know that, right?"

Gerard nods, and his shoulders shake a little.

Bob slowly wraps his arms around Gerard, giving him the chance to pull away if he wanted. But Gerard slumps into Bob, and he slips his arms around Bob's waist.

"If it makes you feel better," Bob says into his hair, "I think I stopped being mad at you months ago."

Gerard doesn't answer, but the way he squeezes is probably reply enough.

~

The first thing Bob does when they make it back to the apartment is call into work. It's not like anyone will miss him besides Cortez, and Cortez'll just think he's having sex. Which is less wrong than it could be.

The second thing is to tell Gerard, "Draw some sparks. Enough for a fight."

"What? Why?"

But Bob goes into his bedroom without answering. Mostly because he's trying to psyche himself into getting what he really needs.

He opens his closet and pulls back the board he props up behind his clothes. It gives the closet a false back that's just big enough to hide his old uniform and the police scanner he bought after he'd left MCR. He'd used it a lot at first, mostly to make sure he was in a city where the supers didn't need to work much and he'd be left alone. But then he'd gotten the desk job from Cortez, and he started falling asleep without turning it on, and that was that.

"You can," Bob tells himself. It's only for a day or two anyway. Until Gerard figures his shit out.

He manages to change into the uniform on his own. It's more comfortable than his work clothes, since it was made to conform to both his human form and the wolf form without stretching or shredding. But the scanner...the scanner's a little harder.

Bob hauls it into the living room. Gerard gapes at it, then Bob, then back at the police scanner.

"The fuck?" he asks.

"We're getting you back into fighting shape," Bob says. And he plugs in the scanner and turns it on.

~

It only takes an hour for the cops to make a superhero call. But Bob's out of waiting practice, and Gerard doesn't look inclined to jump his bones any time soon, so after he's stuffed his pockets with his sketches, they both sit and stare.

When the call comes, they stare for a second. And then Gerard slips his mask over his eyes and takes a shuddering breath, and Bob calls in to the police with his old code, and they leave.

"But I can't draw anything," Gerard says as they run for the basement. "We can't get there fast enough."

As soon as they cross the threshold, Bob changes. He's taller like this, and warmer. His voice even comes out gruffer. "We'll make it."

A green glow starts at the end of the room, and Bob grins toothily at Gerard's befuddled expression. "This is Cobra turf," he says, stepping toward the portal. "Ryland's hooked the entire city up with this system. Only registered supers set it off."

"Fuck," Gerard says, and he lets Bob step through first.

They appear, appropriately enough, next to the fountain by Bob's work. He has enough time to register the breeze pushing water onto his fur before his ears twitch, and he automatically rolls as something explodes by his head. The civilians have cleared out, luckily; it looks like someone awakened one of the remnants of the robot army that had stormed the cities just before Bob's departure. It wouldn't be the first time.

"What am I supposed to do?" Gerard yells as he jumps away from another explosion. "I've got nothing!"

Bob rips the head off a smaller robot, and...fuck, it's the mouse-sized robots he hates so goddamned much. He starts stomping the ones on the ground as some crawl into his fur and says in his growling voice, "Whatever you can."

As Bob brushes them out and tears them apart with his claws, blue starts to glow lightly at the edge of his vision. It's not enough to make anything happen, but Gerard's trying.

Of course, it's not stopping the small robots from circling metal tentacles around Bob's throat. "Little help?"

Gerard brushes them out and starts stomping, sending their small octopus legs scattering as he does. His steel-toed boots makes quick work of them.

Bob takes out the last couple of large robots - which don't have any of the smaller robots hidden in their bodies, luckily - and goes to Gerard, who'd picked up a branch from a nearby tree and smacked a robot of his own. He's breathing hard as Bob walks up.

"Let's go back, huh?"

Gerard nods, still panting a little.

They're both a mess when Bob finds the portal hidden in the base of the fountain - it glows more strongly when he's nearby, which is pretty awesome - so it's a relief that there's no one lingering in the stairwell when he and Gerard climb their way back up. And it's a relief when Bob can shift back to human and the last of the metal drops on the floor.

As he brushes them into a dustpan and dumps them into his garbage disposal, Gerard says, "I'm not...I'm still not myself. What if something's wrong?"

Bob looks over before he flips the switch. "It's not."

"How do you know?"

"I don't." Bob looks at his shoes. It feels weird wearing them again. But not bad. "But just because you're different doesn't mean it's bad. Just that things are different."

Gerard stares at him, but he doesn't say a word as Bob flips the switch and screeching fills the apartment.

~

They take turns in the shower, but they both slump in bed together when they're clean. They're too tired for anything other than holding each other, but as Bob lets his eyes fall closed, he doesn't think he'd want to do anything else, even if he had the energy.

He only wakes when something brushes his face, and light glows on the other side of his eyelids. When he opens them, a blue star's hanging in the air in front of his head.

Bob sits up, and the room's full of them. And Gerard's still asleep.

"Hey," Bob says, shaking his shoulder.

Gerard groans and pulls the comforter over his face.

Bob smacks his arm, and Gerard sits up, brushing a bunch of stars around him. His eyes glow with the blue light, and as he sees around him, his hands glow so bright it hurts Bob's eyes.

"How the fuck..." Gerard breathes.

"Beats me," Bob says, and he grins when Gerard laughs.

~

Bob's already awake and on his couch the next day when Gerard gets out of bed. He waves from behind his laptop.

"Hey," Gerard says, a hesitant smile on his face. Bob knows what that smile means.

"Make sure to say hi to Mikey and everybody when you make it back, okay?"

"I will." Gerard steps up and rests on the arm of the couch for a second. "You could come with me. If you wanted."

Bob shakes his head. "Thanks, though."

Gerard squeezes his shoulder.

Bob sees him off on the roof a few minutes later. Gerard drew a special dragon for the occasion: black with red accents, its marker lines shifting as Bob puts a hand and feels its papery texture.

"Call me," Bob says. "When you're not saving the world."

Gerard nods, and he kisses Bob. It's a sweet kiss, small but lingering, and Bob grins into it.

Gerard climbs on the back of the dragon, and it lets out blue flames before he swoops off.

Bob waits until he disappears in the distance, and he goes back to his laptop. He skims the document again - not like "this is my resignation effective immediately" is a tough point to get across - and nods to himself.

He barely waits for his email to say it's sent before closing the laptop again.

One month later

"Bryar, my man!" Cortez is dressed down, ready for his next show. "Gotta say, I've seen you looking better."

Bob gives him the finger and sets down the puppy he's holding. The animal shelter he's been working in since he quit his other job's only a few blocks from Cortez's club, and Bob only has to wash his hands before leaving. It's pretty much the best gig in the world. Pay's not as good as his last two jobs, but considering he's not in danger of dying by robot lasers or losing his soul out of his feet, he'll take it.

But a green flash at his waist stops him before he makes it down to the basement where they're playing, and Cortez scowls. "You can't take a night off?"

"Don't want to," Bob says. "Maybe next time?"

Cortez shoves him, but it's loving.

The Cobras are already out in force when Bob shows up, claws at the ready. Bob's not first string here - he's just there for stragglers, since they've been dealing with a bug alien invasion that's been hopping cities, and it's always good to have backup. Gabe takes most of them, zapping them with red heat that Bob can feel even from a distance.

Either way, it's over fast. Bob gets pats on the back, and then he's through the green portal and back in his apartment.

But he's not alone.

An envelope that was obviously slipped under his front door glows blue as Bob gets close. Bob pulls it open, and a little dragon swoops out, flies around Bob's head. It breathes fire, and the fire forms words:

"Long-distance?"

Bob grins and tucks the envelope away. He dials his phone, and Gerard picks up on the first ring.

"I like long-distance," Bob says, laughing a little.

"I thought you might say that."

Bob flops on his couch, and he falls asleep with Gerard's voice at his ear.