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(X And here's the awesome incredible amazing art that I love with my whole heart that heartofthesunrise made!)

 

 

 

 

Day Zero

Gerard’s face was bleeding and Grant was cackling.

The whole ordeal had felt like it had happened in slow motion, a well practiced scene that wasn’t new to either of them.  

It started as it tended to, with Grant yelling something about Gerard’s family. So Gerard looked over in outrage without thinking, just as he was coming dangerously close to hitting the curb. Which he did.

Gerard didn't really think anything as his face smacked into the handlebars of his bike. For a brief moment he was concerned about not having a helmet. But what good would a helmet have done for his mouth, which was filling with blood. Split lip. Maybe some other minor injury in there. Typical.

If that weren’t enough, he stumbled off the bike, teetering precariously before face planting into Mr. Walker’s lawn. It was a bad call, but it was hilarious to spectators.

His audience was Grant’s stupid rich posse who could afford fancy clothes and had fancy friends that helped them not get picked on and beat up. They’d all been Gerard’s tormentors long as he could remember, but he didn’t actually know any of their names. The bane of anyone living in Gerard’s neighbourhood, all of them. Three older boys and a girl. A girl! Who even hung out with girls?

“You’re a joke,” Grant had said to Gerard as he looked up at him, blinking against the tears and the sun in his eyes. Grant was all blurry, but he looked like a weird sort of angel all lit up by the sun behind his ginormous head. Lucifer, maybe, Gerard thought, with his demon grin.

Then one of the spectators kicked him really hard in the ribs to impress the girl. Gerard yelled, rolling over and hugging his stomach, curling up to prevent further abuse.

Expensive Shoes McBuzzcut seemed to be satisfied, however. The girl wasn’t even impressed, face blank as ever. They all walked away, laughing, and she gave him one final look over her shoulder before bringing up the rear.

A typical stroll in this neighbourhood on any given day ended like this.  

Gerard had walked the walk of shame, all six blocks of it with his bike. Usually he’d be thinking about how cool he looked with blood dripping down his face. Because he did look pretty awesome and gnarly when he caught his reflection in Mr. Walker’s window.

If Mikey had been with him he might have chased him, pretending to be a zombie or something, but this just wasn’t a fun experience on his own. Plus, Mikey had no business seeing Gerard get his butt kicked. It was bad this time. A tooth was chipped. Shirts were ruined. Moms were called.

“At least it wasn’t your front tooth,” Gerard’s little brother’s best friend- who was missing too many teeth himself- was telling him as they sat in the Way’s kitchen. Gerard was pressing an ice pack against his bruised face, trying to ignore the taste of blood in his mouth that wouldn’t go away.  

“It doesn’t matter though, does it Frank?” Mom had her Danger Voice on, he could tell. “Nobody’s allowed over there now, are they? And nobody should be out riding their bikes in the streets alone. It's not safe now, is it?”

And Gerard knew that. Apparently the rich people in town weren’t too friendly. He saw that now, earlier Mr. Walker came out to yell at him instead of trying to aid the broken and bleeding kid on his lawn. Grant and his gang were long gone by then and it was just Gerard, lying in a daze in the perfectly manicured grass,

Secretly though, Gerard was pleased. He’d gotten a good hit in when he and Grant had a standoff in the park, nearly nose to nose as Grant glared at him. Rich kid intimidation tactics could be like that, looking like they’d kiss you if you made the wrong move. It was weird and gay and Gerard didn’t get it at all. Around here you just decked your opponent and called it a day.

Someday Gerard would beat Grant in a proper fight, You know, after mustered up the courage to leave the basement and formed his own squad of awesome, powerful friends. He had the rest of the summer to work on that.  

He could definitely get on it if Grant would stop chasing him to the other side of town. He and Mikey didn't get out much at all, Gerard could do without his precious time being spent running from that goon. He'd spent more time being grounded than anything else. 

It wasn’t always bad being grounded. Mikey would stay in with him sometimes, both of them were well versed in the art of entertaining themselves inside. They came up with stories and scenarios to keep themselves occupied, and that was great, but Gerard wasn’t half as functional on his own. He could watch cartoons if he wanted, or play games or read comics when Mom wasn’t home.

There was a lot to do inside, but none of it was fun while Mikey was outside, or at Frank's house, or wherever Mrs. Frank's Mom Iero liked to take them when Gerard wasn't around. That was the con. Mikey had friends who weren’t Gerard.

“Was it Grant again?” Mikey sat down at the table and Frank joined him immediately, pushing his glass of juice across the table to Gerard. “We should beat him up!”

“That’s a good way to get grounded,” Mom said from the kitchen, and Mikey gave the doorway a suspicious look before turning back to his party.

“Grant’s a bum who smells funny,” he mumbled.

“Like a bum,” Frank agreed. “Did they attack you?”

Gerard nodded gravely, pushing the juice back to Frank. The thought of consuming anything right now made his stomach hurt even more. “Two on either side of me, holding my arms up, dragging me along the pavement after they beat me for information.”

Shit ,” Frank said, which earned him a smack from Mikey.

“No swear words in here!”

“Yeah, kid, you’re gonna get me in trouble,” Gerard grumbled, shifting his gaze suspiciously to the doorway. Mom remained silent. He was probably safe.

Frank offered him a gap toothed grin that was not sincere in the slightest. “Well, since you’re stuck in here being grounded for being inter… interin…”

“Interrogated,” Gerard offered.

“-Interrogated , Mikey’s gonna have to take me to the store.” Frank took a dainty sip of juice. Gerard made a face, which was ill advised because that started the aching up anew. Of course his day out had to be cut short by Grant. Stupid Grant .

“Your Mom said no more sugar. You won’t be allowed to come around here anymore,” Mikey said, ever the overthinker. 

“She doesn’t know we live in the middle of the desert and it’s too hot to function,” Frank said gravely.

“We’ll bring you back something,” Mikey said as he stood up. Frank had to give Gerard a big giant hug before he left, of course, that was what Frank did.

Gerard wouldn’t mind if he hadn’t just had a freak bike accident and gotten his ribcage well acquainted with the unforgiving pavement and Expensive Shoe McBuzzcut’s foot. Gerard wheezed and patted his back, ow , what the hell . Someone so tiny and chubby had no business having a grip that tight.

With that, the two headed off down the street. And with that, Gerard’s two friends were out of order. Now he had nothing to do but begrudgingly follow Mom around like a lost dog. He'd already spent half the week working on the same series of drawings and he didn't feel particularly inspired to write anything, so he just stood around as Mom altered between actually talking to him and berating him for getting in trouble today.

Gerard had officially finished all of his chores and was sitting out on the porch when Frank and Mikey returned with big grins and a bag full of snacks, shoving at each other and slowing down when they passed the house with the giant van out front two doors down. Gerard had been watching, but he still wasn’t sure who was actually moving in. He was more focused on dodging bugs and how unbearably hot it was.

Frank plopped down beside him, shaking a packet of Twinkies into his lap. His face was stained a bright purple from the popsicle jammed in his mouth, and he tried to lick Gerard’s face when it was pointed out.

“Who do you think that is?” Mikey was gnawing away at a red vine, jerking his head towards the house as he leaned back against the banister.

“You seen ‘em yet?” Frank was bouncing beside Gerard, which Gerard would appreciate a lot more if it wasn’t twenty billion degrees and Frank’s surface temperature wasn’t close to boiling. And like, if he wasn’t completely covered in purple popsicle.

“No.” Gerard didn’t care about new neighbours. He cared about not dying in the heat, and his own personal woes. He’d go inside and mope about his aching face, but it was just as hot in there. Might as well loiter around the front in case something interesting happened.

All of them sat in silence, watching two tall teenagers bring in a rather ugly green sofa. Fascinating. Maybe they were the ones moving in.  

“I wonder if kids live in there,” Frank mumbled, gnawing away at his popsicle stick. “Wouldn’t that be cool? If there were other people to play with?”

“There are lots of kids on the street already,” Mikey said, and yeah, he was right, but he was also the only one who actually talked to them.

Frank and Gerard hung out pretty exclusively with Mikey. Or, Gerard did. Frank was attached to Mikey’s side like a burr, therefore, he’d become friends with most of Mikey’s friends. This included all the other weird kids on the street.

“Fingers crossed, eh?” Gerard made the mistake of stretching his legs out. Frank was on him instantly, trying to lick his face and yelling about alien germs or something else having to do with the purple all over his mouth.

While trying to fend off the assault, Gerard could have sworn he spotted someone under the age of twenty over at the neighbour’s house. It could have just as easily been a trick of the light and he really didn’t care.

“I bet they’re devil worshippers,” Frank said, after giving up and repositioning himself so he was half on top of Mikey, who had sprawled himself out on the flaky wood.

“I bet they’re on the run from the cops,” Mikey chimed in, and this was when Gerard usually stepped in with the best theory of them all and they get super into the discussion, but he was hot and tired and in pain. He couldn’t do it today.

“I bet Frank’s gonna be late coming home if we don’t get going immediately,” he said instead. “Then we’ll both be grounded and Mikey will have to hang out with the ghosts that supposedly live in our attic.”

“I saw them! I saw them, I swear!” Frank was up in no time at all, eyes wide and sincere. “Dripping blood from the eyes! Big sharp teeth! Something out of a horror movie!”

“Yeah sure, kiddo.” Gerard ruffled his hair, giving the house two doors down last look. “Let’s get you home before your mom gets mad. You want scary? That’s the definition.”

 

 

Day One (1), B.F 

Gerard loved his mother.

Mom had many excellent qualities. She was reasonable with punishment but very tough and hard core in other situations, she didn’t ask questions when they were acting weird unless it was something concerning. She let them sit and watch shows with her without complaining, didn’t comment on how invested they were with her soaps. Mom was definitely the nicest mom Gerard knew, and really, he loved her.

One thing he did not love was that she fancied herself to be one of those moms who brought new additions to the block food to welcome them and made it her business to make them feel at home in the neighbourhood.

Not that it was a bad practice or anything. That was a very good mom trait, far as Gerard was concerned. But mix that with the fact that she was also the type of mom to bring her boys with her as she did and you had yourself a recipe for disaster.  

And so, Mikey and Gerard were roused early in the morning to get dressed and go meet the new neighbours.

Going anywhere with Mom was an ordeal for Gerard. Mikey had mastered the art of picking out appropriate attire for any situation at a very young age, where Gerard had to cycle through black shirts under Mom’s scrutiny until he came up with something that didn’t have a band logo on it, or like, anything with blood in general.  

Today was even worse. He went through six shirts in a haze of pain and slight confusion- really, how could he be expected to sleep when his face was in such a state? He’d woken up with blood on the pillow from his lip- the taste was getting old really quick. Mom didn’t seem to care about his wellbeing at all. When he asked if he could stay home she just told him that they were going to visit and that was final .

Gerard complained to his reflection as he stood there trying to brush his teeth without hurting anything too bad. This was no way to introduce himself to anybody civil, his current look was something that could only be described as vampire-esque . His mouth was a grisly mess of scabs and streaks of blood, his face was covered in dark bruises. He had a rather impressive mark on his jaw, another decorating his cheekbone directly below his left eye. It was badass, but it was not a look for a first impression.

It would be a good way to establish dominance, though, if needed. Gerard could lie and say that he destroyed Grant on a molecular level to seem tough. That wouldn’t work if the neighbours turned out to be decent people, however. He’d have to consider a few different approaches.

But really, Gerard figured he should be a lot more careful with his ugly mug in general. He didn’t have a lot going for him, and messing it up even more would only serve to make things harder. He was way too awkward to charm people the way Mikey did and he wasn’t really good at anything that he could show off anytime to impress people. Unless he took his sketchbook with him everywhere, but that was a serious pain. Point being: He really needed his face.

“Fucking idiot,” he told his reflection, toothbrush hanging half out of his mouth. A bad idea, because it just made his mouth start bleeding again. Maybe he just shouldn't talk.

On top of everything, Mom had put him in his stupid green Zelda shirt which was totally only for visiting family . Gerard had a hard core reputation to keep up, and green Zelda shirts didn’t represent that very well.

He would have liked to have a little extra time to make himself presentable, maybe brush his hair or something, but Mom swept him out the second he was done. Apparently they were on a schedule .

As the brothers were rushed out the front door, Mom uttered the words Gerard had been dreading since he saw that cursed van outside the house: “They’ve got a boy about your age, so I want you to behave. Make him feel welcome.”

That was definitely code for accept him under your wing and befriend him immediately. For some reason, Mom thought that having one friend outside of his brother was weird. Gerard had loads of friends at school, okay? They were School Friends. He only talked to them at school so they still thought he was cool and hadn’t developed an overwhelming urge to punch him for existing.

Mikey was enough of a not-School Friend. Frank was too, even if he was practically a baby. Gerard liked having him around, Frank was funny and he balanced Mikey out by being the craziest kid either of them knew. Mikey worried a lot about a lot of things and Frank never seemed concerned about anything. Mikey had the social skills Frank lacked, Frank had the energy Mikey sometimes couldn’t find. They were a match made in heaven. But like, in the not gay way.  

Mikey had been annoyed about being dragged around until Mom said that Frank could start sleeping over again if he and Gerard behaved themselves. That privilege had been revoked after the last time Frank had spent the night, concerning an incident with a frozen juice pouch and a microwave that had ended badly. The brothers had spent all this time trying to figure out how to earn it back.

Bingo .

So now Mikey was shooting him warning looks every time he frowned too deeply or opened his mouth to complain. Gerard stopped once they were on the porch, and not a second earlier. He had a bad feeling about this.

It was a surreal experience, being up on this porch without the high pitched yapping of the previous owner’s demon spawn dog. The wait was silent.

Mom gave them a final warning once-over to make sure they were still as presentable as they’d been ten seconds ago.

When the neighbours opened the door, Gerard put his best smile on, but it really didn’t last long.

He locked eyes with the kid who was about his age at once.

The guy was taller than Gerard, which basically meant they could never be friends because tall people had more room inside themselves for evil. They couldn’t be trusted.

And he just looked infuriating. He had short, curly brown hair and thick glasses and pretty eyes- pretty boring , actually. He looked sort of funny, even if his mom let him wear band shirts with blood on them in the house. A nerd, if Gerard ever saw, even if he seemed to have decent music taste. Punchable. Like someone Grant would want to try beating up, if he wasn’t so giant.

The worst part about the tall nerd kid by far was the fact that he literally did not look twice at Gerard. He smiled brightly at Mikey like everyone did, because Mikey was just that kind of kid. But he gave Gerard a once over and decided he just wasn’t interested.

Straight for the insecurities! The kid played dirty. Gerard gritted his teeth before remembering it was a bad idea, then just looked down at his shoes in defiance as his face screamed at him for being a stupid idiot.

Mom was making introductions- he was Gerard, that was Mikey, and they lived two doors down.

The nice lady was Mrs. Toro . She was short and pretty and nice and had an accent that was sort of cool. The new bane of Gerard’s existence was Ray , just about Gerard’s age, ready to start at his school come September. Oh boy.

Much to Gerard’s dismay, Mrs. Ray’s Mom Toro asked, why didn’t they come in? And his own mother agreed, and why didn’t Ray take Gerard and Mikey up to his room?

Gerard was determined to stay in a bad mood. He made a point to not look at Ray, focusing on the sparse decor instead. The stairs were inconveniently creaky, the wallpaper was covered in birds, it just looked like what one would imagine an old person’s house would look like.

Gerard had always been fascinated by the inside of this place, he’d told many a story about the previous owner being a witch, but this was sort of a let down. Maybe you could be a witch and still really like bird wallpaper? He’d look into it later.

“What happened to your face,” Ray asked on the way up. Gerard ignored him.

“He beat a kid up,” Mikey said dutifully, because Mikey was a good brother. Ray didn’t look like he believed that at all, but he didn’t say anything else so Gerard let it drop, letting go of urge to tell Ray exactly how he'd destroyed Grant on a molecular level.

Ray’s room was adequately put-together, at least. He was probably one of those dumb super organized kids who never put things off and handed their homework early. Gerard saw Mikey’s brain kick into gear upon entry, taking in all the stuff Ray had already unpacked. “You have a TV in your room?

“Well, yeah. It’s super old, but.” Ray nudged the table with the clunky TV with his toe, hands in his jean pockets. He was just too damn casual. Gerard was so busy scowling at him that Mikey had to physically shake his arm to get his attention.

“How cool is that?”

Not cool at all.

“Pretty darn cool, in my opinion.” Ray was smiling. He was definitely showing signs of being one of those kids that moms really loved by default. Someone like Mikey, but more annoying and bad.

And he had a big mouth. Gerard wanted to punch him.  

“Do you have any games?” Mikey had this way of just integrating himself into other people’s business. Didn’t matter what it was, how long he’d known them, he was totally natural in any situation. Gerard had no idea how he did it. Ray didn’t think anything of it when Mikey went over and sat himself down on the bed. “We don’t really. Just DSes.”

“I have an Xbox.”

Oh. An Xbox . Gerard rolled his eyes. Ray only looked over at Mikey when he talked. “You wanna play? My brother only really likes racing games. And the ones where you’re just supposed to shoot people but I’m bad at those. Racing games can still be fun.”

A brother? They hadn’t met any brothers. Did he live here too?  

Mikey smiled his Mikey smile. The one that really got everyone where it counted. “Racing games? Sounds cool. I like those.”

Gerard really wasn’t sure what to do with himself. Curiosity was starting to get the better of him and he was running out of details in the room to take in. Boxes, more boxes, a shelf. Boring boring blue bedspread, not a single print on anything.

A guitar. Holy shit.

Ray looked over at him and he bristled. Caught red handed. So, the guitar was really cool. Gerard sort of wanted to ask about it, but he held off. It probably belonged to one of the brothers anyways, Ray didn’t look cool enough to be someone who played the guitar.

“You can sit down, dude,” Ray said as he went to set up the Xbox.

Gerard kept standing.

“Do you need help unpacking things? We had lots of people coming over and helping unpack stuff when we moved,” Mikey said, leaning over and playing with the top of a cardboard box beside the bed that seemed to be full of clothes.

“I just haven’t gotten around to it, you know?” Ray shrugged. “The house is weird.”

“Takes some getting used to,” Mikey said. Gerard wanted to remind him that he was way too small to even remember when they moved, but he wouldn’t. Ray came and sat on the bed with Mikey, handing him a controller. The two of them looked over at Gerard expectantly.

“What,” Gerard snapped. Mikey rolled his eyes. He picked up that habit from Mom.

“Gerard is grumpy,” was the explanation Mikey offered. It did nothing to help with Gerard’s grumpiness.

Ray didn’t respond, but he did smile, and he went back to setting the game up. Mikey chattered about all the things there was to do around here as he was picking a car, and he seemed so happy to have someone else to talk to.

You know, someone who wasn’t Frank or his brother or the twins down the street. Not that they weren’t great, but Gerard could be sullen and Frank could be a little much and Gerard suspected one of the twins was a pyromaniac. It was understandable that Mikey might want to branch out a little.  

Mikey seemed happy enough that Gerard resigned himself to sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed, back up against the frame. It was dusty and it was slightly uncomfortable, but it was suitable.

“You have a brother,” he asked, a peace offering.

“I do,” Ray said, eyes fixed on the screen. “I have lots of brothers. Lou’s the only one around right now though. He’s the coolest ever . One of those people who is always out doing things.”

“We aren’t like that,” Mikey said with a snort. It made Ray laugh. His voice was high and his laugh was funny, the combination made him seem like a pretty okay dude.

But whatever .

Gerard watched Mikey’s fancy red car on the screen. “Our mom will probably invite you guys over for dinner like, every other night,” he said. Mom had a habit of doing that.

“She’s even a mom to other people’s moms,” Mikey grumbled, biting his lip in concentration.

Ray laughed again. He needed to stop that, seriously. Gerard wanted to keep hating him and he was making it hard.

Mikey was better at racing games than Gerard, by far, even if his only experience was Mario Kart . He even beat Ray a couple of times, without looking at the car’s stats or anything. Mikey was one of those people who picked things because of the way they looked, not because they were useful or good.

Ray seemed to be tactical, but he was losing all the same. His glasses were slipping down his nose and he was too concentrated to fix them, squinting at the screen.

“You wanna play?” Mikey didn’t give Gerard any sort of warning, just leaned over the bed frame and dropped his controller into Gerard’s lap. “You like comics, Ray?”

Mom would kill him for being so impolite but Mikey was wandering now, inspecting boxes. Ray didn’t seem to mind, looking over every so often just to make sure he didn’t go snooping in questionable boxes.

“I like comics,” Ray said, waving a hand to let Mikey know that there was nothing to see in that box, pointing out another. Mikey pulled it open and grinned.

“You have a lot of CDs too! We listen to this stuff.” He knelt next to the box, pulling things out. Gerard hardly noticed the game had started, he was caught up in curiosity again. Dammit. Ray was already kicking his butt. “Gee, he likes Batman!”

“Trying to concentrate,” Gerard mumbled. He didn’t catch Ray’s smirk, he was too busy trying to pull ahead, to no avail. Apparently this car was super slow. Mikey had picked a bad one for him, of course.

“I haven’t heard this yet…” Mikey was turning a CD over in his hand. “Do you have a CD player?”

“I’ll find it for next time,” Ray promised. As if there was going to be a next time. Well maybe there would be for Mikey but Gerard had no intention of coming here again unless Mom forced him. Even if Ray had some super cool stuff. And seemed really nice. It was just not going to happen.

“Cool,” Mikey said, and returned his attention to the box.

Gerard lost. Terribly. He was already thinking about strategies to keep that from happening again, he was so in on this now. He couldn’t lose again. It just wasn’t a physical possibility.

“You sort of suck,” Ray said, amused. Gerard tightened his grip on the controller.

“I wanna try again,” he grumbled.

“The results will be the same,” Ray said, and he finally looked at Gerard. He sounded annoyingly smug, he needed someone to knock that stupid dumb smile off of his face.  

Gerard narrowed his eyes. “Go on, then.”

 

 

Day Six (6), B.F

 “It’s just not acceptable,” Mom said. She was standing at the counter chopping vegetables up for some dish she probably planned on giving to Mrs. Ray’s Mom Toro later. They’d been spending a lot of time together. You know, doing Mom things. Drinking coffee and talking about boring things. If they became good friends Gerard was totally doomed. “It’s not acceptable to stay by yourself in the house all day.”

“You were fine with it until the new neighbours moved in,” Gerard snapped, then thought better of his tone when Mom gave him A Look . This was probably doing nothing for him on the grounding front. “I mean uh. You can’t make me be friends with people…”

Mom didn’t seem to care about his apparent aversion to going to Ray’s house, he was still grounded until he left the house, even if the grounding was stupid now. Gerard's bruises were healing, they got his tooth fixed. By locking himself indoors, he’d kept from seeing Grant for a couple days. Yes, he was living a Grant free life in the safety of his own basement. That should be considered a win .

Mom didn’t see it as such, and the house was getting boring. “Mom, I don’t get along with Ray, and Frank’s stuck keeping his aunt entertained. Do you want me outside by myself?”

“You don’t know if you get along with Ray, you haven’t talked to Ray,” Mom said simply, without even looking up from what she was doing. This wasn’t going to be easy. Gerard would have to figure something else out or suck it up.

There were downsides to having only two friends. This was one of them.

Gerard had burned through half a sketchbook and the rest of his notebook and gone through most of the CDs they owned lying on the floor and trying to get through the rest of the plot to the latest venture he and Mikey had come up with when they were up way too late. Something about edgy superheroes, they were still trying to work out the fine details of it.  

As cool as edgy superheroes were, they weren’t nearly as interesting alone, without Mikey to give his input. Gerard was getting bored, and Mom was tired of tripping over him as she tried to go about her business on her day off.

Gerard needed to get out of the house, he knew that, but for now he was having a good time set up at the kitchen table with all his pencils. He was in the zone .

“How about this. You go over there this afternoon or you’ve got an extended sentence.” Not only did Mom have her Danger Voice on, she also had a hand on her hip. That was another warning sign. Two strikes. He’d have to be careful.

“Unfair,” Gerard grumbled at the black and blue gorilla man on the paper, but he knew there was no arguing. Mom would be pacified if he did, he could grin and bear it. “I’ll take Mikey later.”

“Good boy.” And off Mom went, to go dust something or vacuum for the twentieth time. She never seemed to know what to do on her days off, not in the mornings at least. They all sat and watched movies sometimes at night, or played silly board games. Gerard liked that, it was fun.

Going to see Ray was the opposite.

Frank appeared before they headed out, freed early from his family obligations and decked out in the new threads his relatives provided. He was just as excited to see Mikey and Gerard as he was about his new light-up Sketchers.

Gee! ” Frank bounded in without taking his shoes off, launching himself at Gerard with a little too much force. He nearly knocked Gerard out of his chair, jostling the table enough to send half his pencils clattering to the floor. Mikey ran in right after him with a grin plastered on his face.

“It’s been like, a week,” Gerard protested as Frank pressed a big sloppy kiss to his cheek which, gross, he really needed to stop doing that. It still hurt a little. Mikey was cackling.

“I don’t care, it’s been bad. I missed you guys. I could have died! I would have if she pinched my cheeks one more time! I don’t think my aunt has a soul.” Frank settled himself in Gerard’s lap, grabbing the sketchbook and starting to flip through. “Got any new stories? Anything else about that space gorilla?”

“You can’t rush art, you know,” Gerard mumbled. A fancy way of saying he’d been too lazy and unmotivated.

“I’m not an artist, I don’t know.” Frank paused at the picture of the most recent space gorilla. Gerard had drawn him a couple times in different ways, Frank seemed rather taken with the one in the mask. “You need to give him a girlfriend. A girlfriend gorilla.”

“I’ll think about it. Come on. Get off me. We have to go suffer.” Gerard poked Frank in the sides until he was squirming and squealing and dangerously close to smashing his knee into the table.

Frank hopped down and scrambled back over to Mikey, latching onto his arm. “I’ve heard Ray's cool. Does that mean he’s not a devil worshipper?”

“I dunno, there could have been black cloaks and incense in that box he didn’t want Mikey to open,” Gerard said, which made Frank gasp.

“Or underwear,” Mikey mumbled. No sense of romance, that one.  

“We’ll never know; will we Mikes?” Gerard looked around shiftily, earning him a giggle fit from Frank.

Mikey was less amused. “Hush up. Let’s go.”

Frank grabbed Gerard’s hand as Mikey dragged him out, humming something vaguely recognizable. “Really, I missed you guys. I hate being stuck at home.”  

Gerard just sighed and let himself be dragged out into the blistering heat of the great outdoors, somewhere he hadn’t seen since the day after Grant had beat the hell out of him. Wearing a black shirt today was probably a bad idea, Gerard was probably going to burn with the ten seconds of exposure it took to get to Ray’s house.

There was a blue bike with streamers on the handlebars leaning against the garage door that Frank proclaimed his love for when he saw it, and a red scooter lying on its side. None of these could possibly belong to Gerard’s mental image of Ray, which raised some red flags.

The thought of having to meet other people was not an appetizing one. It was one that made Gerard’s chest hurt. He wasn’t in the mood to be meeting new people at all- he was hardly in the mood to deal with Ray, by himself. Mikey bumped his shoulder and gave him a look, and Gerard gave him a half smile as they stepped up on the porch. Whatever, he could put on a face for Mikey this once.

Frank decided he didn’t need to knock. Instead, he pressed his face against the screen of the door and yelled “Raaaaay!

Gerard wanted to melt through the cracks in the splintered wood. He was almost anxious enough to turn around and leave when Ray showed up at the door, grinning. He had the most ridiculous shorts on ever, covered in colourful, tropical fish. They were sort of inspiring.

“Come in, come in,” he said, opening the door. They were herded in, Gerard and Mikey huddled in the hallway awkwardly, awaiting further instruction as Frank walked straight in. It was a lot different in here without being under Mom’s watchful eye. Gerard wasn’t too sure if he liked it or not.

“You’re very tall, hi,” Frank said, turning and shaking Ray’s hand without being prompted. Which was something Frank never did, usually he just went in for the hug. “My name’s Frank. Mikey says you’re cool.”

“Well, I sure hope so.” Ray then bumped fists with Mikey and side eyed Gerard before heading back into the kitchen. The rest of them shuffled after him, assuming that was what they were supposed to do.  

There were two other boys in the kitchen, one seated at the table and one sitting on the counter. Gerard recognized them as the weird kids from down the street that Mikey hung out with sometimes. They were a lot different up close.

The one on the counter with the beauty magazine in his lap didn't even look like a boy. He could be either with his straight, choppy black hair and eyeliner. And his bajillion neon wristbands. Who needed that many wristbands? He seemed to have one for every single band under the sun, Gerard even recognized a few. He was sort of weirding Gerard out like, no kid should be that pretty, especially not a boy. And a boy shouldn’t be wearing makeup anyways. Makeup was a girl thing.

The kid had gone pretty heavy on the eyeliner. It was well done enough to suggest that he did that sort of thing often. How weird.

The boy was casually conversing with his brother in what was probably Spanish as he sat on the counter and flipped through the magazine, making faces at whatever page he was on. The other boy was a lot less flashy. His hair was dark and unruly as Ray’s, and much longer, with a single blue streak in the front. He didn’t look up at all, talking quietly down at the table and not acknowledging anyone. There was something about his face that Gerard couldn't quite place, something off. He couldn't help but stare as he tried to figure out what.

Ray had to clear his throat to get their attention, it wasn’t enough for them to just walk in the room apparently. “Pay attention!”

“Fight me.” Flashy kid was the only one to look up, flicking his hair out of his face. He locked onto Gerard first, a grin spreading over his face as his eyes widened. This was probably the worst thing that had happened all day. Gerard stepped closer to Ray without even thinking about it.

“You’re Mikey’s brother,” Flashy boy said, a fact, and Gerard could only nod as he hopped down from the counter, offering him a hand. “I was wondering if you really existed! I mean I’ve seen you but I don’t think we’ve actually spoken. Which is sorta wild. Like. We live on the same street.”

“He doesn’t get out much,” Frank said, fist bumping flashy kid when it was offered, obviously admiring his fingerless gloves.

“Do too,” Gerard grumbled under his breath. It sounded weak, even to him.  

Flashy boy laughed, patting Gerard’s cheek sympathetically, like a patronizing adult. Which was dumb because Gerard was taller and so obviously older. “Whatever. My name’s Ricky. That’s my brother, Ángel. Which you would know. If you left the house.”

“Don’t tease him too much about it, he gets antsy,” Mikey said, which Gerard couldn’t even argue with. He'd been antsy since he got here.

Ray was pouring drinks for everyone and Frank was ecstatic, because his mother had implemented a no-sugar-before-twelve rule, which Gerard and Mikey’s mom also followed. Mrs. Ray’s Mom Toro hadn’t been corrupted by Mrs. Frank’s Mom Iero yet.

Frank went and sat with the quiet kid, who barely looked up from what he was doing- fooling around with his DS, apparently. He’d lost interest with his brother and the people around him at some point during that conversation. He seemed like sort of a quiet kid anyways, a lot like Gerard when he was younger. It actually made sense that he and Ricky were related even if they really didn't look the same. Behind every rampant extrovert was a slightly less cool sibling with a harder time communicating with the general population.

Gerard didn’t know what to do with himself. Bringing his own DS might have been beneficial here.  He could look like he had something to do instead of just standing there like a stranger as Mikey and Ray discussed this and that, music and comic books and cartoons. They were already talking like old friends. Ray was simply too powerful.

“I haven’t seen you around,” Mrs. Ray’s Mom Toro said, startling Gerard out of his haze of self pity. He hadn’t even noticed when she arrived, he must have been seriously out of it…

Talking to her meant becoming that guy. That guy, who talked to people’s moms while everyone else was having a good time- and apparently they’d decided on the good time that was to be had because everyone was filing out into the backyard.

Everyone except Frank and Ángel, who were talking about whatever game they were playing now. Gerard realized what had been nagging at him when he looked over for Frank's assistance- Ángel's eyes were two different colours, one blue, one light brown. He didn't have a lot of time to process the revelation, he had to turn back to Mrs. Ray's Mom Toro.

“I don’t leave the house much, ma’am,” Gerard said simply once Ray’s bushy head was well out of sight and off the back porch. That made Mrs. Ray’s Mom Toro smile. This was the most awkward thing Gerard had been subjected to in days, he hoped he wasn’t somehow conveying that through like, his aura or something.

He was afraid she would start asking about what school was like, why he didn’t come around more often- maybe she’d even invite him to something. He couldn’t handle that.

Frank and Ángel seemed about done though, and Frank grabbed his arm and dragged him off in that impolite-but-acceptable-because-he’s-a-kid way. Even he could be merciful sometimes. Gerard had been training him to get him out of these situations, but Frank always demanded payment. Something he learned from Mikey, the devil.

Ray’s backyard was sort of a mess, thanks to the previous owner, who cared about how it looked about as much as his demon dog. The grass was dead, but at least there was no threat of stepping in anything anymore. Or, Gerard hoped for Ray’s sake. Being barefoot in the grass didn’t seem like such a good idea otherwise.

There was someone else Gerard didn’t know sitting out on the deck in one of those white plastic chairs. He seemed more Gerard’s speed than the other kids, dressed in jean shorts and a plain shirt with an orange bandanna tied around his head, sunglasses on. He was so much older than anyone else here- maybe he was the babysitter. Maybe Ray just had a habit of letting strange people wander onto his property, the guy did look suspiciously hobolike.

With the way Mikey and Ricky were sitting at his feet chattering away, though, he probably came here with the twins. There was no way Ray had managed to befriend someone who didn’t live on the street in that amount of time. Nobody was that fast.

Mikey waved a hand in Gerard’s direction, grinning, and the two people in his company looked over. What was he saying. Oh god.

“You’re the hermit I’ve been hearing about?” Glasses guy raised an eyebrow at Gerard’s expression. “Awesome. I thought you’d be older for some reason.”

“You can be a hermit at any age,” Gerard said.

That seemed to amuse glasses guy. “Very true, very true.”

“Well this is Steve and he’s not a hermit,” Ricky gestured grandly up to his friend. That made everything click.

“I know you,” Gerard said. Yeah. Steve was the wheelchair kid , everyone knew him. Not just because he had a wheelchair, of course. He was supposedly a very chill guy, most of Gerard’s School Friends knew him and liked him. He was one of those high schoolers who was friends with everyone’s older sibling, who knew everyone in passing. Gerard had always admired the type.  

And Steve was, admittedly, extremely cool and awesome in a way that only a high schooler could be. And also not currently seated in a wheelchair, which raised a lot of questions.

Gerard sat himself down as Ricky and Mikey hopped to their feet, scrambling off the deck after Ray, who had managed to get the hose working. Gerard wasn’t sure if he fancied getting wet or not.

“Are you friends with Ray,” he asked Steve. Doubtful, but still. If so, Ray had amazing reaction time, and he was a force to be reckoned with. A high school friend was a very valuable asset around here, especially if you had parents that feel safer if there's an older kid around. Ray already had an advantage.

Gerard knew all of these people by just existing on this street. None of them had ever gone to the same school as him. He knew traits- for example; Steve was the Wheelchair Kid. He was related, in some way, to Ricky and Ángel. Or maybe their parents were just very good friends, but Ricky was never not by his side if they were out and about. Ricky was weird and accident prone, and his brother had a blue streak in his hair which wasn’t fair in the slightest. That was all Gerard wanted in the world. A streak in his hair.

It was weird seeing them in person. Strange thinking about them as actual people he could interact with instead of background characters in his life, the undetailed drawings at the edges of the panel used to fill up space.

“Ray’s a good kid,” Steve said with a nod. He wasn’t looking at Gerard, he was watching Frank blast Mikey with the hose, laughing like a madman as Ricky shrieked to put it on the mist setting you dummy!

“I don’t know,” Gerard said, hugging his knees. It was a really hot day and Gerard was starting to feel it, and all he wanted to do was go over and join them. Mikey seemed to be having a good time though and it would be sort of mean of him to go over there, at the risk of ruining the mood. Gerard was a known mood-killer, a total killjoy. “I don’t really talk to him.”

“Why?”

Gerard had no answer for that. Telling someone he didn’t like Ray because Ray didn’t seem to want to pay attention to him felt petty. Steve probably wouldn't understand that. Gerard would have to explain a lot of issues to make that one acceptable. A lot of those were things you just didn’t admit out loud to a complete stranger, as chill as Steve seemed.

“Maybe that’s something to consider, kiddo,” Steve sighed, and there was something in his tone that made Gerard mad.

“Do you spend all your time hanging out with kids half your age,” Gerard snapped before realizing that was pretty much literally what he did. He couldn’t really remember the last time he even interacted with someone his own age before Ray. School, probably. Waving bye to all the people who’d managed to tolerate him this year who would go back to being total strangers when school started again. Steve looked over at him, smiling. He probably knew that, somehow, or guessed that Gerard was a total loser with two friends. Was it that obvious?

“I pride myself in being a spiritual advisor to the youth,” Steve said. “And I’ve got other friends; you don’t have to worry about me. You should worry about you.”                         

Valid advice, but not something Gerard wanted to do. He grumbled to himself instead, watching everyone else have fun. And they were having fun. A lot of it. Frank had coerced Ray into giving him a piggyback ride and they were trying to evade Mikey and Ricky, who were yelling at each other and were probably going to start fighting over the hose in a moment.

“Go on.” Steve leaned over and patted Gerard’s hair. What was with the people around here and their patronizing habits? “I know you want to. You’re allowed to have fun too, you know.”

Oh, what the fuck. He'd take that advice, he'd worry about himself for once, and himself wanted to go act like an idiot with his brother and his only other friend. Gerard had only just decided he liked Steve as he rose stiffly and walked to the edge of the deck- only to be blasted in the face with a hose.

Thanks, Mikey.

Gerard decided that he didn’t care about image today- wouldn’t until he got home so he could have a good time. He ran after his brother with a battle cry, nearly tripping in the wet grass. His shoes had no grip, but it was almost more fun slipping and sliding all over the place. Mikey was giggling wildly, ducking in behind Ray, who deftly dodged as Gerard grabbed his brother around the middle and picked him up, roaring.

Frank yelled something about a Space Gorilla then, and they scattered.

Gerard set Mikey down, but grabbed the back of his shirt when he tried to run. “Mikey’s been infected by a virus from the moon,” he announced, and at once, Mikey started growling and hissing and flailing his arms, making a beeline for a squealing Frank when Gerard let go. One look back to see Steve’s smile of approval and Gerard was running for the hose, blasting Ray in the face when he got there first.

And it was nice. It was really nice, even when Ray overpowered him and he got a mouthful of gross hose water and a soaked shirt to answer for it, Gerard couldn’t stop laughing.

“Frank’s got the Moon virus,” Mikey yelled, taking refuge up on the deck as Frank shot away to take Ángel down. Literally. He tagged him too hard and sent the poor boy face first into the grass. Ricky was at his brother’s side in no time, worrying and fussing like Gerard had been known to do.

“He’s the older brother,” Ray said, when he noticed Gerard was distracted. “By about ten minutes, but still. You know how it is.”

“I do,” Gerard said. And then Ray blasted him in the face with water again until he was sputtering and flailing and soaked through and through.

Ray could not be trusted.

To make matters worse, Ricky had bravely agreed to take up the position of Moon Virus carrier for his fallen brother as Ángel sniffled and complained all the way up onto the deck, where he sat with Steve and watched them all attack each other.

Ricky made a pretty good monster, he was animated in an incredibly over the top way and he had eyeliner running in streaks down his face. It was sort of awesome.

While Ray was distracted watching Ángel with that worried look on his face, Gerard took hold of the hose and ran, spraying him as he backed up. By the time he was caught and shoved into the grass, Ray was just as soaked, droplets of water sticking to his glasses. They lay there beside each other in the grass for a moment, giggling madly.

Ray sat up first, and held a hand out to Gerard, who dropped the hose.

“Truce, man,” Ray said, and Gerard grinned.

“Truce.”

 

 

Day Eight (8), B.F

Some things didn’t mesh well together, Gerard knew that. Toothpaste and orange juice, for one. Ricky’s hair and water, he discovered the other day when it poofed out like his brother’s as they all sat on Ray’s back porch in the sun, trading Space Gorilla theories and drying off.

Ray and Gerard didn’t go well together, in general. As much as they'd gotten along yesterday, it just wasn't meant to be. 

Two things that really didn’t go well together was Mikey and stressful situations. Maybe he was more composed, out of the two of them, but when faced with stressful situations Mikey's anxiety really flared up.  

Not that Gerard was any better at dealing with that stuff. They didn’t give you any sort of training when it came to people getting shot down the street.

Yes, down the street, pretty far down. Someone had forgotten to elaborate and Mikey was nearly hysterical for a good half an hour thinking one of his friends might be dead. Mom had to sit him down and say anything she could to calm him down before Gerard ushered him back downstairs, away from the red and blue lights flashing through the windows. They could leave all the stressful stuff upstairs. 

Mom could deal with this while the two of them huddled away in the basement. The basement seemed a lot safer anyways. Gerard stacked books and DVD cases in the remaining space in the window and sat Mikey down on the bed, hands firmly on his shoulders.

Mikey had devolved into hiccupping sobs, hands over his ears. Gerard knew how to deal with this situation at least, it wasn’t foreign like a shooting. They’d gone through it a few times already. Sometimes it happened for no reason, Mikey would get frustrated with something and there would be a meltdown and Gerard would deal with it.

This situation was a little heavier.  

Gerard’s brain was screaming at him that there must be a guy with a gun out there just outside the little window, waiting for him to notice so they could both be next. He paid no attention to those nasty thoughts, he was the big brother. He had to be strong.

“Hey. Wanna hear a story?”

Mikey didn’t give any sort of response, but Gerard figured it might be useful. Even if it was background noise and nothing else, it would help.

He’d have to think up a proper story, though. Space Gorillas was fun, but it was chaotic and violent. They didn’t need that now.

Maybe he could do more with that idea that had been floating around in his head the past couple days? It was something he’d been trying to sort out for a while- something like superheroes. Except they weren’t superheroes, more like vigilantes . Actual freedom fighters, focused on taking the system down instead of just fighting a different villain every so often.

Mikey was still shaking, but not as badly. Gerard stroked his hair and hugged him tight, thinking hard about how to start before he got into it.  

“We’re in the desert,” Gerard said, because he knew he had Mikey’s attention now. This was a well practiced act, especially when Mikey had nightmares and ended up sleeping in Gerard’s bed. He still hadn’t grown out of those yet. “It’s just you and me.”

“Why?” Mikey tucked his face against Gerard’s shoulder, trying to calm down a little.  

“We’re… we’re heroes. Desert heroes. We escaped the city. The police are after us.” Gerard tried to picture it in his head. Identical officers dressed in- what was Grant wearing last time Gerard saw him? What colour? White . All in white with masks down over their faces. Bulletproof vests and big black boots, marching through city streets in packs. Citizens cowering in corners, tucked in doorways, watching as they passed and praying they weren't noticed. “We escaped the city and they didn’t like that. The city’s trying to control everyone but they never got us.”

It took Mikey a moment or two to respond. He cleared his throat a couple times, focused on trying to breathe slower. “Do… Do we have superhero names?”

Something Gerard hadn’t thought about. What sort of a name would a desert vigilante have? Naming heroes was always the hardest part. “We’re not superheroes … We’re just heroes. Like Batman, but not rich. And also without the gear.”

Mikey shifted back a bit. Gerard could feel him unwinding a little already, settling in. “Do we get to have cool costumes at least?”

“The coolest.” It was something he’d actually been thinking about quite a bit lately. An idea that could really be something , Gerard was realizing that now. More than a really good distraction. There was a whole world panning out in his head, and it was a vivid one in screaming colour. Fascinating .   

“I wanna wear red.” Mikey’s favourite colour of the week. He smiled a little, rubbing his eyes sheepishly. “Will we have leather jackets? Ray's brother has a leather jacket. It's cool, I want a leather jacket.”

“You want a red leather jacket?”

“Red jackets are the only good kind of jackets.” Gerard could hear the smile in his brother’s voice, and he felt relieved. Maybe sleep wasn’t an option at this point, but at least he felt a little better and Mikey seemed to be more okay.  

He rolled over on his back, staring up into the dark on the ceiling. “And I’ll be blue, cause we’re opposites.”

“But you’re a good red too!”

True. “I’ll be both!”

Mikey shifted so they were lying side by side. He was calm, for the most part, more focused on the world Gerard had set him in than the peril they were in. Perceived peril, Gerard kept telling himself, though he had a creeping suspicion that the attacker was camping out in the closet. He didn’t share that with Mikey. He kept thinking about different ideas he had for this story to keep distracted, but his thoughts kept drifting elsewhere.

He wondered how Ray was dealing with this. Did this happen a lot where he used to live? Was he used to it? Awake but not all that worried about what was happening? This wasn’t really the sort of thing you should be used to.  

Mikey was shaking Gerard’s arm. “The stars in the desert are pretty nice, right? You can see them ‘cause there’s no lights on. Since there’s no buildings.”

“You can see everything for miles and miles.” Gerard nodded, pulling all the blankets over him despite the heat. There was comfort in being covered up.

“And is it safe to sleep here?”

Gerard looked over at his brother and nodded, smiling. “It’s safe. You’re always safe with me, kid.”

“Thanks,” Mikey mumbled, curling up into Gerard’s side. It still took him a while to fall asleep, so they mumbled among themselves, making up constellations in the desert sky.

 

 

Day Nine (9), B.F

Gerard woke up and Frank was maybe two inches away from his face, all hazel eyes and messy hair and gap-toothed grin. Gerard almost whacked him when he flailed in surprise- not that this didn’t happen at least once a week, he just really wasn’t expecting it this time. “Rise and shine sleepyhead. I wanna go to the park!”

Gerard wanted to know what sort of magic Frank had at his disposal to convince his worrywart mother that it was safe to be anywhere near this street- or to be outside in general. Everyone's parents tended to get extra cautious when these things happened.

Hopefully he hadn’t snuck out- last time Frank did that it was dark and raining and he got sick. It was awful for all parties, Mikey and Gerard weren’t sure if they were ever going to see him again.

In a moment Gerard wished Mrs. Frank's Mom Iero had denied him access to the Way household today, because Frank was yelling and jumping on the bed like a total hooligan. It was too early for that.

Gerard rolled over and buried his face in the pillow and took it, god damn it. It was all fine and good until Frank was sitting on his back, yelling to Mikey and Mom that Gerard really isn’t gonna wake up, you guys!

Gerard groaned, and rolled over again, sending Frank toppling off the bed in a fit of giggles. It was too early for this. He found his resolve and sat up, bleary eyed and disoriented as Frank hummed, perusing the piles of junk on the floor before grabbing up a sketchbook and clambering back up onto the bed.

“What are you doing,” Gerard grumbled, pushing his hand through his hair. It was too tangled to get very far. Brushing it was on the agenda, maybe.  

Frank shrugged, flipping another page. “Mikey said you came up with something and I wanna see it.”

Did Mikey really like it that much? Gerard felt a swell of pride. Sure, his stories were interesting, but they usually didn’t stick that much. So far Space Gorillas had been the only one around for more than a couple days. “I haven’t drawn anything for it yet. Plus, that one’s old.”

Frank probably knew that by now, going through pages and pages of plant people with army uniforms and little guns and tiny vampires pushing lawn mowers. What an odd era that had been. “Well then if I can’t see I wanna go to the park.”

“We can go to the park. You have to give me time to get ready.”

Frank nodded, but he didn’t move. Just sat there staring with the sketchbook open in his lap.  

“Which means you have to get out,” Gerard said after a moment.

“Why?”

“I gotta change! Get out of here.” Gerard shooed him away and Frank hopped off the bed, taking the sketchbook up with him. He could hear both Mikey and Frank yelling and laughing upstairs as he tried to gauge whether or not it was a good idea to be wearing black in this weather. The answer was probably no.

But he did anyways, for the sake of his reputation. So by the time they were actually at the park Gerard felt like he might be dying. The park closest to their house looked more and more like a death trap every year that went by, a jumble of rusty metal with the paint chipping off, a sort-of-intact wooden playground that would give you splinters if you weren’t careful, and the metal slide that had claimed one of Frank’s front teeth before school ended. You couldn’t even touch it, in this weather.

It was too hot to touch any sort of metal today, and the cicadas were ridiculously loud and mocking. Even so, Gerard stood dutifully in the sun by the swings and gave Frank a push every so often.

 “Desert rebels?” Gerard gave Frank another push as he tried to look back while he talked. “What does that even mean?”

“We’re people who ran away from the giant city we were living in,” Mikey said, pushing his toes into the sand. “They were trying to control our lives.”

 “The city is my mom,” Frank said gravely, which made Gerard laugh. Frank didn’t really have an issue with his mom at all, he’d just been picking up Mikey and Gerard’s sentiments about being told what to do. Maybe they really were bad influences.

“Battery City’s no good! So me and Mikey ran away to the desert. And the city wants us back. People saw that we left and now they wanna leave too.”

Frank’s eyes got comically wide. “Are they after me?”

“They’ve always been after you,” Gerard said, grinning when Frank gasped. What a drama queen. “Your family has never lived in the city so you’ve been out in the desert your whole life! The city doesn’t control you- but they want to.”

 They'd discussed that yesterday- desert rebels who had never even been in the city, children of freedom fighters who had started the revolution and established a community that could survive outside the confines of the city. After the war, of course, because there was no way the city would have been okay with people running out there as they pleased.

Frank launched himself off the swing at the highest point in his ascent, scaring the hell out of Gerard. It was a terrifying thing Frank and Mikey liked to do, jumping off the swings. Gerard never liked it at all, and it was especially scary when the small and very breakable children around him did it.

As always though, Frank landed on his feet and made a mad dash around the playground to scramble up the slide. “WHO ARE YOU,” he yelled down at them, leaning over the railing. Mikey hopped off the swing and raced to Gerard’s side as Frank leered down at them. “How do I know you’re not bad guys?”

“We come in peace,” Mikey yelled back, taking Gerard’s hand. Frank had assumed the King of the Castle position, crossing his arms and sticking his chin up proudly. “Really, we only need help!”

“Help with what?”

Mikey looked from Frank to Gerard and back, probably puzzling together what someone in the desert might need to survive. “We don’t have food or water! We’ll take anything you’ll give us.”

“We’ll trade you,” Gerard said, though they didn’t really have anything to trade. Mikey decided last night that they should just trade for things they wanted since city money would be useless.

Trading your way was the only way to survive. Which was an issue, since they hadn’t grabbed any survival gear in their mad dash out of the city. It was hard to focus on food when you were running from people who were shooting at you.

Frank made a show of contemplating this, tapping his foot and stroking his chin. “I waaaaant… Guns.”

Gerard was about to say that they didn’t have weapons when Mikey said “You can’t have our guns!”

So, apparently they had guns. 

“Well then you have to put them down!”

“If we do you can’t take them,” Mikey said slowly, and put his imaginary gun down, holding his hands up. Gerard did the same, even if he felt slightly silly for it. This whole situation was getting pretty silly. It was fun all the same.

Frank was a little too busy basking in this attention for them to really get anywhere-  the absolute attention of both Way brothers was a nigh impossible achievement, he had to drink it in and appreciate it properly. “How do I know you’re not working for the city, huh?”

“Do we look like Draculoids to you? Come on, let’s talk this over!” Okay, there was another thing Mikey had made up. He was really good at these things. Gerard was sort of afraid of Frank getting lost and not wanting to play anymore. A debrief would be needed later, they’d fill Frank in on anything he didn’t know.

But like a total master of Way-story-navigation, Frank soldiered on. “Just ‘cause you don’t look funny doesn’t mean you’re good guys. Who are you?”

“Party Poison,” Gerard said quickly. He’d worked real hard on his. It was a weird way of turning a negative trait into a positive one, since he was someone who brought the mood down and ruined the fun. Someone who was a total killjoy. He killed the party, slowly but surely. Like party poison. Apparently it was good, because Frank grinned, which usually would have thrown the game off, but whatever.

“Party Poison,” Frank echoed.  

“And I’m um. Kid.” Mikey was struggling. He obviously hadn’t thought too much about it.

Gerard helped him out. Of course he’d come up with alternatives in case this happened. “Kobra Kid. With a K.”

Apparently that was suitable. Mikey straightened up and tried to look tougher, puffing his chest out. “Kobra Kid.” 

“I’ve heard of you,” Frank said, waving his arms. “You’re not from these parts.”

“We haven’t been out of the city long. Could you help us? I’m sure we’ve got something you could use.” Gerard edged closer to the playground, hopefully.

“I guess I’ll let you in,” Frank said. “But you keep your guns out of your hands. Try anything and you’re toast!” 

Both of them retrieved their guns and made a show of tucking them into hip holsters, and then Mikey and Gerard ran up the slide.

The actual building would be an abandoned gas station with boarded up windows, cracks of sunlight forcing their way through and lighting up all the dust in the air. Dust was everywhere in the desert, covering everything. Gerard could see it so very clearly in his mind.

Mikey stuck close to his side and Frank hoisted himself up onto the railing - which would actually be a counter next to the ancient cash register- holding tight so he wouldn’t fall off.

“I’m um… Fun Ghoul,” Frank said. Gerard started laughing. Only Frank would name himself after a store. Mikey smacked his arm and gave him a look but Frank was also grinning. “Awesome, right?”

“Good to meet you, Fun Ghoul. Let’s do this.” Mikey was the practical one, of course Kobra Kid would be the same way.

“Well you’re never gonna guess what I have to tell you,” Frank said, twirling a lock of his hair around his finger. He bit his lip and waited long enough that Gerard almost started guessing before Frank started laughing again. “I have absolutely nothing worth trading!”

Mikey’s face fell. “Nothing?”

Frank shook his head. Gerard had never seen someone so happy to be in such a hopeless situation. Maybe that was what being in the desert so long did to you. “Nothing but me, KK. I should come with you. You seem like fun.”

“What happened to not trusting us?” Mikey crossed his arms over his chest. Frank hopped back down off the railing so he could size Mikey up, even though Mikey towered over him.

“I don’t! But it gets boring on your own. It doesn’t make sense staying on my own.” True. “We can find another place to stay if you want though.”

“That might be good.” Mikey looked to Gerard for assurance and Gerard nodded.

“Do you know anywhere?”

Frank grinned. “I just might.”

 

 

Day Eleven (11), B.F

“Do you need three packs of beads,” Gerard asked Mikey as he piled another one onto the unsteady bead tower in Gerard’s arms.

“Yeah,” Mikey said simply, heading off back down the aisle. “Me and Frank are making friendship bracelets.”

Gerard knew better than to comment on that. In just a couple of days, he’d created a monster. Or, two monsters, rather. Frank came racing down the aisle, looking absolutely ridiculous. He refused to take off that stupid Frankenstein Halloween mask, even when they weren’t playing the game.

Sure, it looked cool. It was like an old man face with exaggerated features and purple skin and green hair and a nail through the neck. It just wasn’t appropriate in most situations.

Mikey thought it was totally awesome. Mrs. Frank's Mom Iero had complained at least twice; Gerard’s mother wasn’t sure what to tell her when she called anymore, just that the boys were playing some silly game that warranted wearing a Frankenstein mask. At least Mikey didn’t have anything like that yet, because he’d definitely be in the same boat.

Frank didn’t listen to anyone telling him to take it off. He didn’t listen to anyone in general, Gerard had told him to stop running up and down aisles with the empty shopping cart, but that hadn’t stopped him from nearly smashing into shelves three times anyways. Having to supervise Frank in stores always ended like this.

“Geeee. You won’t guess who’s outside.” When Frank made him guess the answer was either Grant or his seemingly sinister friend who was a girl that Gerard didn’t really know the name of. Or Mom and one of her friends. That was always awkward, running into Mom when they were out places.

When Ray appeared from around the corner, Gerard was surprised. And annoyed. Ray had Ángel beside him, and Ángel seemed just as surprised to see them. He shook his hair into his eyes and clutched the sketchbook in his arms tighter to his chest, like Gerard was some sort of threat. 

What a weirdo. 

But hey, that meant he was a weirdo who liked art. As a weirdo who liked art as well, Gerard was so there. Ángel sort of coughed awkwardly and Gerard realized he was staring. Ray was busy trying to pry Frank off of his leg.

“Nice to see you too, buddy. What are you wearing?”

Frank backed up, bouncing on his feet. “Hey. Call me Fun Ghoul.”

“It’s a phase,” Gerard said quickly, shifting the copious pile of craft supplies in his arms. “Has been for a few days.”

“I see? What are you guys up to,” Ray asked as he finally got Frank off of him.

“We’re on a supply run, we ran out of stuff.” Frank said, pulling his mask up so Ray could see his face. “Where’s Ricky?”

“We’re making costumes.” Mikey appeared from around the shelf covered in wooden picture frames to put a glue stick on the pile. When he smiled at the other two, Ángel actually smiled back, genuinely. Gerard wasn’t sure he was capable of that. Maybe Mikey was magic after all. 

“Cool, cool.” Ray held his arms out to deflect another assault from Frank, holding him by the shoulders until he stopped struggling to get closer. “Ricky’s with Steve today. We just came by for a new sketchbook. The last one had a bad encounter with a can of grape soda.”

Gerard felt for the kid.

“You should hang out with us,” Frank said, backing up more, bouncing up and down. “We’re gonna put stuff together at Gee’s house.”

Gerard had asked Frank many times not to invite people over without, you know, asking his explicit permission. But whatever. Frank couldn’t really bring people back without his mother asking for like, a police check and a complete background scan. So Gerard would let him have his fun for now. These two wouldn’t really hinder their process, even if Ray was the worst.

If Ricky was with them, it might be a little bit different. Ángel was tolerable, quiet people always were, but most people like Ricky were just too chaotic for Gerard to get a read on. He couldn’t be trusted. 

“Is there anything else you want,” Ray asked Ángel, who shook his head vigorously. It made his curls bounce in a pretty spectacular way.

That was that, then. They could leave. One awkward lineup later, they were on their way. Gerard hadn’t realized just how much stuff Mikey and Frank had put into the pile, it was a small miracle they could afford all of it.

The walk home was a mercifully Grant-free experience, though Mom was home and in the kitchen and very happy to see Ray, who she maybe loved as her own son. Really, how did he do it? And they all had to stand in the kitchen as Mom put Ray through a thorough interrogation and honestly why didn’t he come over more?

Gerard was getting sort of nervous, because he knew what came next. Halfway through the juice popsicle making process, after Ray had given Mom an update on every small thing his own mother had been up to in the past day and a half, the worst possible thing happened.

“Gerard, why don’t you have him over on the weekend too?”

Gerard nearly dropped the carton in his hands because, no, Frank was the only one who had ever slept over there, if you didn’t count Mom’s old boyfriend who smelled bad and hadn’t lasted long anyways.

Frank was the only one who was supposed to come to the sleepovers. Frank and only Frank.

Mikey, who was apparently a traitor, agreed with her. “That would be super cool.”

Mom was giving Gerard A Look, the one that said he better not argue, that he’d better be nice. Gerard wasn’t entirely sure why Mom wanted him to be friends with Ray so badly, but she was really shoving for it, and as much as he appreciated her efforts he was pretty sure it was just not going to happen.

They’d be School Friends at most. He’d be civil, maybe Ray could come over, but as Mikey’s friend. Mikey’s friend, not Gerard’s. No. He wanted no part of this.

“Can we bring the twins too?”

Oh hell no. Gerard shot Mikey a look but Mikey was too busy using his dumb stupid angel face on Mom and oh hell he was definitely gonna get his way. Maybe there was a way Gerard could make it seem like a bad idea- the very concept of having six young boys wrecking the basement might change her mind.

And Ángel looked horrified about the idea. Maybe he wouldn’t want to. Maybe Ricky wouldn’t come if Ángel didn’t want to. They were never ever apart for more than a couple of hours it seemed, so fingers crossed that Ricky hated this idea, fingers crossed.

The idea had Mom’s approval. The idea was Mom approved. Gerard was doomed. A bunch of strangers were going to be in their room and the very idea made him feel queasy. Frank was hopping up and down excitedly, the little traitor. Gerard made a mental note to hide all his sketchbooks out of spite. Frank wouldn’t know what hit him.

“Frank, baby, take off that mask,” Mom said, and surprisingly, he did. He was probably working closely with Mikey to make sure this plan went through. He could behave when the circumstance called for it.

Ángel was smiling a bit, which might’ve meant he warming up to the idea, even though he was still pressed into Ray’s side like his life was in immediate danger. Mom stuck the popsicles in the freezer and shooed them all out of the kitchen so she could make dinner without tripping over half a dozen children, so she said.

So they had to go down to Gerard and Mikey’s room.

Descending the stairs felt like it took hours as Gerard tried to go through his mental catalogue and see what he might have left out that could be embarrassing. Maybe there was underwear on the floor. Maybe Frank had left a sketchbook open, god, he didn’t want Frank excitedly explaining the entire plot to their Space Gorilla adventures to these two, not now. It was mildly embarrassing and it was for friends only.

The room was relatively clean, so maybe Mikey had been feeling inspired or maybe Mom had had enough tripping over everything when she came down to find something. Gerard didn’t spot anything too embarrassing, but he didn’t have the chance to check again because Mikey thundered down the stairs, Frank right at his heels.

Shit.

“This is our room,” Mikey said with a grand sweep of his arms. Ray looked awestruck for a moment before he remembered himself.

“It’s my room, actually,” Gerard mumbled.

“But I sleep here too so it’s pretty much our room.” Mikey shrugged. “This is all Gerard’s nerd stuff!”

“I think it’s pretty cool.” Ray had stopped to admire Gerard’s Night of the Living Dead poster. “You have good taste.”

Gerard felt embarrassed about that somehow. His face heated up. “Um. Thank you.”

“Work! Work work work.” Frank took hold of everyone’s attention again, dumping all the art supplies they’d just bought out onto the carpet, grinning.

Gerard got no peace. Ever.

“What are you doing?” Ángel sat cross legged on the floor. The poor kid didn’t know that the carpet could be hazardous to his health. Frank was experienced and dragged a blanket off the bed to sit on. Ángel came to sit with him, which was good, he was too cute to die just yet.

“We’re making costumes for our game.” Mikey sat with them, starting to string a bunch of wooden beads together. Kobra Kid was fond of bracelets, apparently. Mikey had decided that he and Frank should have matching ones. Fun Ghoul and Kobra Kid were best friends, of course, now that they could trust each other. Mikey thought they should have a way of showing it. 

“What game?” Ray was wandering around the bookshelf, scanning the books and comics there, squinting at the spines and trying to figure out the titles without touching. Gerard might’ve bitten his head off if he tried to touch.

“Desert Days.” Why did Frank insist on calling it that? They needed to find another name. And also not talk about it in front of Ray.

“Ah,” was all Ray said. He seemed fixed on one book in particular now, oblivious to the rest of them. “Well if you need any help, I’m really good with that stuff.”

Pft. As if.

 

 

Day Twelve (12), B.F

Gerard knew his room was messy, but he had no idea it was this messy. He wasn’t even sure how he managed to get it this messy but he was sure he should get some sort of award for it.

Cleaning it was not a one-person job, Gerard couldn’t even make it half the way through on his own before he was tired and grumpy and had given up on trying entirely.

You could see most of the floor, was probably enough to appease Mom. He also found the sketchbook he’d been looking for, so he started jotting down a quick idea for Party Poison that he thought of while he had the time.

Party Poison had fire red hair and the top part of his face was covered up by a yellow and blue clown mask. His yellow ray gun was tucked into a holster at his hip.

The ray gun designs were something that Gerard had gone over again and again, and perfected only with Mikey's suggestions. Maybe they couldn’t make them with the materials they had, but they could definitely put their outfits together if they got imaginative.  

Seriously, it was going to be so cool.  

He’d gotten down to Party Poison’s jeans when everyone started showing up. So began show time. Gerard forgot for a golden moment, he was ready to open up the door and see Frank.

So when it was Ray at the door, Gerard wasn’t entirely sure what to say to him. They stood there at an impasse for a good minute, before Ricky peeked out from around Ray’s wall of a body.

“Yeah, hi, hello, you gonna let us in or what?”

And this was so wrong, because now they’d arrived before Frank and Frank wasn’t here and he was supposed to be the only one here and oh god. Gerard was not happy with this. At all. Mikey was the one who welcomed them in, throwing the door open wider and shoving past Gerard. He gave Ray a giant hug, which threw Gerard off, what the heck. When had that happened? Since when were they on hugging terms?

Where was Frank when you needed him?

Ángel and Ricky were ushered in after Ray, who gave Gerard a questioning look upon entry. Whatever. Gerard didn’t dignify that with a response. They all headed right downstairs.

“What are you even supposed to do at sleepovers?” Ángel seemed concerned as ever. He hadn't looked even remotely comfortable since they got in, a frown fixed on his face.

“Braid each other’s hair. Make friendship bracelets. All the stuff you see in movies,” Ricky said, dumping his backpack on the floor. Gerard frowned. That was so totally not what they did, what the hell. They watched scary movies and chased Frank around the house and made up stories for each other. Recently, they’d started thinking of more desert rebel stuff, but Gerard utterly refused to do that while Ray was here. 

Whatever. They’d think of something.

“Usually we just watch scary movies,” Mikey said. Ángel didn’t seem too fond of that idea, his eyes widened and he looked at Ricky, alarmed. “But um. Maybe we could do something else tonight?”

“Why?” Dammit. It was one thing to invite strangers into his space, but now they had to change the schedule too?

“We’ve got a lot of games,” Mikey suggested, giving Gerard a warning look.

“I wanna play a stupid board game,” Ricky said, going to sit on Gerard’s bed like he owned the place. “I love stupid board games.”

“No you don’t, you start throwing pieces around when you lose,” Ángel said.

Ricky side eyed him. “Enough from you, amigo.”

“We can play a stupid board game.” Mikey had to go locate a stupid board game. Gerard just sat on the end of his bed and waited for Frank to get there so he could be more comfortable around these virtual strangers. He had no idea what to say to any of these people. Maybe things would get better when Frank showed up? One could always hope.  

“Have you done anymore work on costumes and stuff?” Ray had Mikey’s bright yellow skate helmet in his hands, turning it over. Mikey had scrawled GOOD LUCK on it in thick black marker. Mom hadn’t been pleased, but Gerard thought it was cute. It stuck with his Kobra Kid design. “You guys are really something, huh? What’s this for anyways-”

SORRY,” Mikey yelled, which made no sense until he held up the box so they could see the words on it. Sorry. “Sorry, look!”

“That game tore our family apart,” Ricky said, so seriously that Gerard was genuinely wondering if it was true. It was always hard to tell with Ricky. Considering the way Ángel’s expression darkened, there could be some truth to it.

“Good,” Gerard said, clapping his hands together and putting on his best cheerful smile. “We weed out the weak with Sorry.”

“I can take you,” Ray said, putting the helmet down and coming over.

Ángel set down a blanket like Frank had shown him last time he was here and they all sat and played the game. But even when Frank showed up it didn’t get any better. Frank spent all his time annoying Mikey, which was the only thing breaking the resounding silence because Gerard just didn’t know what to say and Mikey was obviously waiting for him. Nothing was getting any better.

At some point, Frank got fed up, and made eye contact with Gerard. Very pointed eye contact. They headed on up with the excuse that Frank was thirsty.

“You need to talk,” he said, and sometimes Gerard wished that Frank was as dumb as most of the kids his age. This was one of those times. “Like, say something. They’re not scary.”

Gerard wasn’t sure how to dig himself out of this. It hit him after a moment of contemplation. “We don’t know if they’re Scarecrows,” he said, and Frank’s eyes went wide, yes, he wouldn’t be hounding Gerard about it again anytime soon.

“Shouldn’t we ask them?”

Gerard shook his head, looking very serious. “I don’t think so. They’d probably just tell us they’re not. How would we know if they were telling the truth?”

It was always harder to tell if someone was a Scarecrow. The Draculoids couldn't remove their masks, but the Scarecrows definitely could if the situation called for it. They were trickier that way, they could be anyone. Frank took that into consideration, resignation settling on his face. “You’re right…”

Gerard nodded solemnly, happy that his plan was working. “So we proceed with caution?”

“Roger that.” Frank saluted him and ran downstairs, suspiciously lacking the drink he went up to get. Gerard took a moment to chill the fuck out, coming back with some iced tea and resolve to do whatever he could to keep calm under pressure.

It was still awkward and quiet, but tolerable, since Frank kept shooting him conspiratorial looks as they were packing the game up.

It ended as Ángel had predicted. Ricky tossed one of his men at Ángel and the game had devolved from there into a fight. They probably lost like ten of the pieces, but Mikey was giggling madly and Ángel looked more comfortable being there. It was worth stepping on little plastic bits for the foreseeable future. Maybe Ricky and Ray weren’t high on Gerard’s list, but Ángel was sweet, Gerard could definitely learn to like him. 

“So,” Frank said after all the laughter had died down and they were out of things to throw. “Are you bad guys?”

No, no, no.... This was not what Gerard meant when he was telling Frank to be wary of the possible danger.

“Yes,” was Ricky’s deadpan answer. “I mean, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but always.”

“For the um. Game we’ve been playing the past couple days?” Mikey laughed nervously, looking over at Gerard. He didn’t know how to get out of this one. Gerard was at a loss too. Without a signal, Mikey just kept talking. “We’re… Desert rebels.”

“That’s what all the cool costume stuff is for?” Oh no, Ángel’s face lit up. Abort, abort, oh god.

“Yes,” Frank said.

Fuck.

“Tell me more.” Ángel sat himself back down on Gerard’s bed, his brother taking the spot next to him just so he could scowl at Gerard continuously as Mikey hastily explained everything they’d done so far to them. An abridged version of it, at least. They'd covered a lot of ground so far.

He and Gerard had run away from the city where there was no colour or music, where you weren’t allowed to be who you wanted or do anything they told you not to do. Better Living Industries had everyone under their control, and they brainwashed anyone who didn’t listen to them.

But it was different out in the desert, see, there was nobody to tell you what to do, and the city wasn’t happy about that so they sent their soldiers- masked vampire robots and faceless puppet-like human soldiers- out to try and find the desert rebels and take them down.

“Cops and robbers, then,” Ángel said. He looked totally awestruck, it was sort of adorable.

Mikey just shrugged, sure, that was another word for it. If you wanted it to be oversimplified and bad, that was. 

“Who are the cops?” Even Ricky looked somewhat interested. That was a feat. Gerard almost felt proud of himself for holding Ricky's attention for more than ten seconds.

“Grant is the Exterminator,” Frank said, fuck, how did he figure that out? “Korse the Exterminator. He wants us dead most of all. And his friends are Draculoids. And that girl he’s always with is in charge of the whole operation.”

On second thought, Gerard wasn’t being very subtle about it at all.

“You mean Hana?” Ángel said, smile slipping a little. “She’s not so bad…”

Well maybe not to Ángel, Gerard was sure nobody in the world could be awful to him, but he himself had very fond memories of Hana vandalizing his sketchbook right in front of him as the others picked through the rest of his stuff. 

“She’s on his side, she’s awful,” Frank snapped.

“And you need a cool code name,” Mikey added quickly, before anyone could get too bitter. “Like mine is Kobra Kid. With a K. So the city doesn’t know who you are if they hear you talking through the surveillance drones in the desert.”

“Which is why you have things that cover your face,” Ray put in, and Mikey grinned at him, nodding. He must have pieced that together. Ray was a pretty smart guy.

Gerard hated how he was already thinking about colours that would look good on Ray. Black? Definitely. He was wearing black now. Not that it was particularly outstanding or anything, Ray just looked sort of cool at the moment. Gerard was already putting together a design in his head, dammit.

“Cherry Cola,” Ángel said, unprompted, after a minute of silence. “That’s a good name.”

“Unoriginal,” Ricky told him, immediately after. “Naming yourself after a drink is lame. You’re so much better than that..

“Cherry with an I,” Ángel shot back. Going along with the weird spellings. 

Ricky snorted. “Not much better!”

“You come up with something then, you dummy!”

All it took was a moment of contemplation. Ricky stuck his chin up stubbornly. “Ponyboy. That’s a cool name”

“You didn’t make that up it’s from that movie with the guys in jean jackets.”

“Well it’s good and I’m using it!”

“We all came out here together,” Ray put in quickly, putting an end to the twins’ bickering which had switched languages halfway through. “To the desert.”

The standoff lasted for what felt like forever. They all took refuge in behind the bed -which was actually a part of a wall, ruined houses that had come down during the war were scattered all over this part of the desert- as Ray and the twins tried to talk their way through things.

Gerard could almost see it, the whole scene in his head. It was so good. Ray was… Ray was admittedly excellent at making things up on the spot.

His name was Jet Star, he meant them no harm, yadda yadda whatever. Mikey had to put him through his battery of questions before anyone got anywhere near them. Where was he from? What did he do before he’d run off into the desert? Who were the people he had with him?

Party Poison would trust him right off the bat, Gerard decided. Maybe that made him a bad leader but Ray- Jet Star- had probably talked his way out of the city, he was that charming. That meant nothing out here though, maybe he could talk himself and his allies into the group’s trust but what good would that be when it came down to an actual fight?

Well damn. They should find out. 

It took an hour, or about that, while they were running down the street as a pack with their water guns recovered from the shed raised, shooting at invisible enemies behind them, that Gerard finally relaxed. He was super sweaty, yes, he was breathless and his shirt was sticking to him unpleasantly and maybe he was getting too old for this nonsense, but just seeing how much fun the others were having was worth it.

He and Ray ducked for cover behind an electrical box- a giant sheet of metal from a passenger plane that had crashed here before Better Living had seized the city, duh- grinning at each other. Ray's smile was pretty infectious. Gerard kept getting caught up in it.

“You’re not a bad shot,” Gerard told him, and Ray laughed. Gerard was a bit distracted with how close they were sitting for a moment but he got over it pretty quickly. You had to stop caring about that stuff in the desert.

“Same to you, kid.”

“You take the one on the left, I’ll take the one on the right.”

“You got it.” And Ray sprung back into action. Gerard was struggling to keep up but hey, that was fine. That was part of the fun, challenging each other.

They chased each other around until Mom was calling them back. Mom was not, under any circumstances, allowed to be included in the game, so they cut it off, collapsing in various spots in the living room.

Movies made up the rest of the evening, the younger kids dropping off way too fast, all of them shuffling downstairs to sleep except for Ángel, who passed out in the chair in the living room, curled up in Mikey's Star Wars blanket. If it weren’t for his poof of curly hair you wouldn’t even know he was there.

Ray and Gerard were the only ones still awake, so they could talk about the desert until they dropped off.

“I’ve never actually been,” Ray said, still fixed on the movie Gerard gave up on a little while ago. He looked sort of eerie in the flickering glow, the picture reflecting in his glasses. The sound was down so low that the house seemed to be pretty quiet. Sometimes Ángel would move a little bit, or mumble something in his sleep, but that was the extent of the noise. “Like, to the desert.”

“Hey, me either,” Gerard said quietly. “I just think it’s cool.”

Ray nodded. Gerard felt the movement more than he saw it. Ray was a lot more tolerable than he’d been this morning. He was also sort of a huge gigantic nerd, him and Gerard spent like an hour snickering about DC earlier.

“Hey, you’re not one of those people who gets like super existential after midnight right?” Ray turned his head. Their faces were too close now, Gerard scooted over a bit. What the hell.

“What if I was?”

“If you’re about to get existential on me, dude, I gotta prepare.” He looked so deadly serious. Gerard snorted, biting his hand to keep from laughing.

“The sky is beautiful tonight,” Gerard said under his breath, leaning his head back against the couch. He was tired enough to not care about sounding silly, and he was sure Ray wouldn't make fun of him for it. “Isn’t it, Jet Star.”

Ray wasn’t even looking at him funny, he was just staring back up at the ceiling, like he could also see whatever Gerard did in his head. An inky sky that went on forever, stars scattered overhead. Millions and millions of them, going on for forever. It was pretty. Gerard would probably draw it if he could but scenery was fucking hard and he was still working on it.

“Sure is,” Ray mumbled, taking his glasses off and rubbing his eyes tiredly. “Can’t see the stars properly in the city. Too much light.”

Gerard wasn’t sure why he was playing along, but for once he didn’t feel silly about it. He felt warm and happy and sleepy and fuck, he was gonna hang onto this and try to have good dreams.

“Jet Star.”

“What.”

“You need to go the fuck to sleep,” Gerard said. He decided to stick to the couch tonight. Usually he didn’t have a problem but if he went down he might end up sleeping next to Ray, and they might end up waking up in a really awkward position, which would be less than ideal.

Buenas noches,” Ray said, poking him in between his shoulder blades as he got up, making Gerard squirm. God.

Ray was the worst

 

 

Day Thirteen (13), B.F

Looking for a shirt to sleep with was harder than usual. The room was a total mess from yesterday and it had yet to be cleaned. Mikey and Gerard had spent all day just lying there, recuperating from last night’s festivities with Frank, who refused to go home. He stayed so long that his mom had to come pick him up.

If anything, the room had gotten even messier as the day went on. Frank had wanted to do more crafts- crafts that involved a lot of supplies- and now there was more art stuff scattered around than usual. At least they had costumes that were more put together to show for it.

Gerard had decided that using sweaters for jackets would be the best idea. Or, he and Mikey could use sweaters, Frank didn't want one, and then he'd have to ask the others what they wanted. Sweaters were the closest they could get to colourful leather jackets on their budget, probably. Gerard would definitely have to find patches to sew on.

Mom was helping out with that, working on putting stripes on one of Mikey's ratty old red sweaters after he came to her with the puppy dog eyes full throttle. Gerard would have to find someone else to help him with his, it wouldn’t be that hard. Mikey had almost a full outfit with his helmet and his bandanna.

Frank had refused to leave until they’d figured out what they would need for the rest of his costume. Mikey had finished his friendship bracelet, which had done nothing more than make Frank really excited and even more reluctant to leave. 

But now Frank was gone and Mikey was miraculously already asleep and Gerard was ready to drop himself. He’d given up on sleeping on the couch last night after being reminded of how uncomfortable it was, so he got up after about half an hour of trying to get comfy, carrying Ángel down with him.

The kid weighed next to nothing, but it was still a struggle to get down without waking him up.

And then Gerard had woken up like seven times last night because he’d rolled too close to Ray and it was like, really hot. As in, being too close to Ray was like sleeping beside a space heater. Not a lot of sleep happened, so Gerard wanted to catch up on that, if possible.  

A suspiciously clean looking shirt rested at the foot of his bed, but a sniff test had some worrying results.

It smelled like Ray’s house, like his stupid awful body spray. Gerard stood there for a second, taking that in, and before he really knew what he was doing he was on the phone and calling him up.

It was Ray who picked up, “hello?”, and Gerard didn’t know what to say.

There was silence.

“Mikey?”

Silence.

And then Ray said “dude are you really-” at the same time Gerard said “you left your shirt at my house”.

There was a pause.

“You called to tell me that,” Ray said slowly.

“Yeah?” Looking back, that was a really stupid thing to do. Gerard punched himself internally. The damage was done now, though, he might as well see this through. 

“You’re literally going to see me tomorrow.” Ray sounded amused in a weird way, a way that didn’t make Gerard want to punch him in the face.

“Yeah, but what if I forgot by tomorrow?”

“Good thinking Gee. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Gerard said, and he wasn’t sure what to add, or how to react to that nickname. Only Mikey and Frank used it. And Ricky now, because he did his best to be annoying. Gerard was no good on the phone, to make things worse. He wasn’t really good at much, but the phone was especially awful. Communication just wasn’t his thing. “What are you doing?” was what he settled on.

“Watching Return of the Jedi,” Ray said, and it made Gerard smile, of course Ray has good taste in movies. Mikey wouldn’t like him so much if he didn’t.

“What’s happening now?”

“I paused it?”

“Why?”

“’Cause you called?” And okay, that was sort of really obvious, but it still made Gerard feel all warm and fuzzy. Nobody paused movies for him. Frank called when he was bored, he’d still have the movie running as he did.

“You paused a movie for me? Aww.”

“I thought you were Mikey!”

“Just admit that you like me, Toro!”

There was a brief pause. “You’re okay,” Ray allowed.

“Okay?”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Is ‘okay’ Spanish for ‘I’m in love with you the same way Ricky is’?” 

It’s Spanish for ‘I have standards, unlike Ricky’.” Ray sounded sort of smug.

“Rude. If you’re gonna start talking like that I’m gonna hang up.”

I'll totally hang up before you, don't tempt me." Ray was still giggling.

“I changed my mind, I hate you.” 

“Implying you liked me at all in the first place?” 

“I don’t mind you.”

"So I’m okay?”

“You’re okay.” Gerard said with an affirmative nod that Ray couldn’t even see. Mikey could though, fuck, Mikey. Gerard was over there sprawled out on his bed and kicking his feet like a total girl and there was a chance Mikey could have woken up. Gerard would never hear the end of it if that was the case.

“Nice." 

A silence.

“I’m gonna hang up now,” Gerard said quickly. Just in case Mikey was listening, you know.

“Okay.”

“Okay bye.”

“Later.”

 

 

Day Fourteen (14), B.F

Make new friends, Mom said. Go outside and stop shooting each other in the house, Mom said. Gerard personally didn’t see any problem with shooting people in the house, but what Mom said was law, so now they were going to the pool on Mikey’s request. Gerard didn’t mind the pool, but it was kind of run down and usually there was a lot of kids from school that went there often so he was never sure who he was going to run into.

Running into School Friends in the real world was always a disaster.

As soon as Mikey decided he wanted to go swimming, of course Frank wanted to go. Frank roped the twins into it, Ricky invited Steve, and now it was a huge ordeal that Mom was especially enthusiastic about. Safety in numbers or whatever. It was weird though, Gerard wasn’t exactly sure what business Steve had at the pool since he was like, in a wheelchair most of the time and couldn’t swim, but apparently he had friends he wanted to see out that way. So that was cool. He could do what he wanted.

What he wanted, apparently, was to bring some kid Gerard hadn’t ever seen in his life with him. Which was on a list of things that were definitely not okay. Gerard was still getting used to his new friends, he didn't need a random teenager thrown into the mix.

Thomas was his name and looking like he wanted someone to die was his thing. Maybe that was the way his face fell, but he was seriously scary. He wasn’t very tall by Big Kid standards, didn’t talk much, looked mad all the time. Sure, he was an interesting enough character, but Gerard really wasn’t too sure about him, no matter how many times Ray patted his shoulder reassuringly and said he was harmless. Gerard hadn’t even seen him around enough to have heard rumours. Mikey couldn’t even give him any. Thomas was truly an enigma, and Gerard wasn't overly comfortable with that.

Tommy and Steve were bringing up the back of this small parade of children, with Gerard and Ray up at the front. With Ricky.

Ricky, who was hanging off of Gerard’s arm, who refused to let go. That was just the sort of attention Gerard attracted from kids, apparently. It was fine.

“You wear a shirt in the pool?” Ricky looked disapproving. Gerard sighed angrily because, okay, this was the third time it had been brought up. Ricky had nothing to worry about. He was tiny and skinny and he didn't know how good he had it, him and his stupid Invader Zim tank top that was obviously meant for girls, shut up Ricky.

Ricky needed to learn some manners. Gerard wasn't asking questions about Ángel, who also seemed to have an excellent reason to wear a shirt in the pool, judging by the unsettling blotchy marks all over his arms. Gerard realized this was the first time he'd seen the kid in short sleeves, even though it was like five billion degrees out every day. He probably looked more uncomfortable than usual for that reason.

“Lots of people wear shirts in the pool. Nothing wrong with that,” Ray said with a shrug. Exactly what someone who didn't have to wear their shirt in the pool would say. Ray wasn't fat, wasn't ugly, he seemed to possess some sort of self-confidence. He didn't have anything to worry about.

“We’re not all paper thin like you.” Gerard poked Ricky in the side, making him squeal, but he didn’t let go.

“Embrace your insecurities, Party Poison,” was all he said, a quote that had Steve written all over it. Those two spent entirely too much time together, Steve was starting to rub off on him. Gerard refused to talk to Ricky until they’d arrived, listening in on Frank and Mikey’s Star Wars discussion behind them instead.

The pool wasn’t overly crowded, which was good. Nobody Gerard knew from school was there. Some kids from the rich part of town, sure, but nobody he’d ever seen with Grant. He was probably safe to exist in the same space as them.

There was only one disgruntled mother there, sitting on one of the plastic chairs and watching her lone toddler among the pack of disinterested teens trying to pull the trunks off of each other.

Quality middle school humour.

There was a group of girls who looked up and smiled as soon as they saw them which was… Unnerving, considering Gerard hadn’t seen any of them in his life.

Two of them looked pretty old, so they were probably high schoolers. There was no way he'd know any high schoolers. The girl who looked closer to Gerard’s age was still unfamiliar. Meaning she probably went to the Catholic school. Meaning there was no way in hell they were going to get along. Gerard felt more self conscious now, even though he still had his shirt on. 

Catholic school girl was super pretty, but also very tough looking, despite her pigtails and her floral bathing suit. And she really was not interested in them at all, more concerned with one of the girls in the fray in the pool. Her feet were in the water as she watched the others, unconcerned with everyone else as she sat there and kicked up waves, waiting for the other girl to notice her. 

Ricky tugged on Gerard’s arm, bringing him back to Earth. “Hey. You can swim, right? Ray can’t swim.”

Everyone was looking at Ray, who was turning an impressive shade of red. “I can too!”

“It’s not the end of the world if you can’t swim,” Steve called to him from his place by the gate with the two older girls. Ray wouldn’t hear it and just shucked off his shirt and headed into the pool with Ángel. They got right to it. Frank charged in after, but Gerard wanted no part of this. He sat at the edge and tried not to get splashed. He could do it, but swimming wasn’t really his thing. As much as it wasn’t Ray’s, he assumed, as Ray was just standing there in the shallow end looking annoyed.

Gerard could relate.

Steve and Tommy went missing in about five minutes. Maybe they’d wandered off with the older two girls, since Steve couldn’t actually swim in a pool anyways. Or maybe he could? Gerard wasn’t too sure. Sometimes he was in a wheelchair, sometimes he wasn't. It was all very confusing.

Not only did the Catholic School girl stay, she came over and sat with Gerard. Maybe just to make him nervous. Gerard tried to ignore her at first, watching Frank shove Mikey’s face down in the water instead and wondering idly if he should intervene. He was no lifeguard, but he wasn’t afraid to just… jump in whenever he was needed.

He’d prefer not to. Especially when a girl was hanging over his shoulder, but when he snuck a glance she was more focused on the other group of kids who were almost done their roughhousing, by the looks of it. They were breathless and laughing with grins plastered on their faces.

Must be nice.

“Are you one of Steve’s friends,” she asked Gerard. Or Gerard assumed she was talking to him, she wasn’t actually looking away from the pool.

 “Friend is a strong word,” was his response, which made her smile. She had such a lovely smile. Not that he was paying much attention to that of course.

“Well, I’m friends with him,” she said after a long silence, in which Mikey had teamed up with Ángel. Both of them were trying to drown Frank, Ángel laughing like a maniac as Frank struggled to get away. The effect Mikey had on him was pretty outstanding, Gerard thought. Ángel could be just as animated as his brother sometimes. 

“I’m happy for you,” Gerard said dryly as Frank got shoved under.

“This is where you start showing interest, dumbass. Ask me my name.”

The girl looked at him. He looked at her. And then they were both smiling. 

“What’s your name,” Gerard asked, finally.

“Lindsey. Nice to meet you, I hope.”

“I’m Gerard.”

Lindsey nodded, looking back at the pool, kicking her feet. “You here to make friends with all the pretty kids too?”

“I’m here to entertain my brother, actually.” He pointed Mikey out, just in case she wanted to know. Lindsey waved to him, smiling, and Mikey looked confused but he waved back before Ángel grabbed him to go start some other game.

“Your brother is also friends with Steve’s friends. We should be friends to even it out, you know?”

“Uh huh?” Gerard raised an eyebrow as Lindsey nodded solemnly. Gerard was really racking up the friends now, Mom should be proud.

“Yes. But I guess I’ll give you time to think about it.” She was focused on the other group that was getting out of the pool now, still shoving each other and snickering. Lindsey patted Gerard on the back. “I’ll see you around, buddy.”

“See you,” Gerard said, a little bit bewildered. That was the quickest friendship he’d ever had. Usually it took him weeks to get to that level with someone- Gerard didn’t even really consider half the people he’d come here with to be friends. Lindsey seemed nice though. If Steve liked her she couldn’t be that bad, right?

They didn’t stay at the pool too long after that anyways, calling it quits after Ray almost drowned. They helpfully didn’t mention it again as they were walking home, he seemed pretty shaken up about it.

Gerard patted Ray’s arm. “We’ll work on that this summer, buddy,” he said.

 

 

Day Sixteen (16), B.F

“Ricky tried to kiss me today,” Gerard said. It was weird saying that out loud, in the hall. Saying it out loud made it true, and it was a truly uncomfortable reality. Gerard had thought of nothing else all day; it had been eating at him. He’d tried to find some sort of other excuse that would explain what had happened. Every possible scenario had fallen short. “Like, seriously tried to kiss me.”

“We were playing the game,” Ray said. It was obvious he was trying not to laugh, even through the phone. Whatever. Nobody was trying to kiss him; he didn’t know what it was like. It was seriously unnerving! Gerard had been minding his own business and then all of a sudden Ricky’s face was way too close, and it would totally have happened if Gerard hadn’t scrambled back, throwing excuses around before making a hasty exit.

“Yeah, well. Still.” Gerard frowned, curling the phone wire around his finger. He’d never had to deal with this. Specifically, he’d never had to deal with this coming from a kid who was younger than him. And also a boy. Sure they joked about it, but this was totally different, this was real. What the hell. “We’re all guys in the game anyways. Is he gay or something? Nobody told me anything about him being gay.”

“Would it be a problem if he was gay?” Ray sounded serious all of a sudden. Gerard really wasn’t sure what to make of it.

“What? I don’t know. I’ve never met a gay person.” He just assumed it wasn’t a great thing to be, the way everyone at school talked. Everyone called Gerard gay at school, so it was probably a bad thing, since Gerard was universally viewed as a bad thing. He could be wrong, sometimes the kids at school were tricky like that. But he was pretty sure gay wasn’t something you wanted to be.

“You can’t tell if someone’s gay by looking at them, dude. How do you know you’ve never met a gay person?”

“You can so tell!”

“Whatever, Gerard.”  He could hear the eye roll through the phone. “Why are you so concerned? Have you never kissed anyone before?

“Irrelevant.” Gerard was getting seriously embarrassed. This conversation needed to end. “Are you gay, Ray? Is that how you’re an expert on these things?”

“Hey, shut the hell up! I’m so not. But it’s not a bad thing to be so shut up. And don’t be rude to Ricky.”

“So he is gay?”

“I’m hanging up now,” Ray said.

“I’m taking that as a yes,” Gerard told the empty line, slamming the phone back down into the cradle. He was really not sure how to proceed.

 

 

Day Seventeen (17), B.F

“Do you think Ricky’s gay?” Gerard was sprawled out on his bed speeding through an X-Men comic. He was trying to get his mind off what had happened, but not even Wolverine was helping with that.

“Frank has an aunt who is,” Mikey supplied, instead of actually answering. “She has a girlfriend. His Mom doesn’t like it.”

That was one of those Catholic things, probably. Gerard didn’t really need to know that, but okay, he’d add it to the pile of useless information he had about Frank. “Yeah, but do you think Ricky is?”

Mikey stared at him. “I think it’s not our business. That’s what Mom says.”

Mom had a point, so Gerard put it out of his mind for a while.

 

 

Day Nineteen (19), B.F

Gerard almost didn’t go, considering how everything had been panning out these past couple days. He'd had a lot on his mind, and it wasn't like he’d even been invited specifically.

It was Mikey who wanted to drag him over to the twins’ house. Going over alone would be too awkward, Mikey claimed, even though he and Ángel were totally best friends at this point. As in, he and Ángel had matching bracelets too. Or rather, Kobra Kid and Cherri Cola did. But still.  

Curiosity started winning though. The twins were still a total enigma, and Gerard had heard enough gossip between Mom and other members of the neighbourhood to be curious about what went on over there. People really did have a lot to say about the Godinez family, and most of it wasn't great.

Gerard didn’t listen to any of that stuff, so he went. He almost turned back, once they were up there on the front step, because fuck, maybe he wasn’t ready to learn the truth about the twins. They were quickly becoming an endless source of inspiration for pretty much everything and they were probably psychic. At least, that was what all the signs were pointing to.

He didn't get a long time to ponder it. Ángel was the one who came to the door, not a parent, which was disappointing and relieving all the same. On one hand, their family was a total mystery and nobody knew exactly who it was they lived with. If anyone asked, the question would be deflected, immediately, by one of the twins or Steve or pretty much anyone else they knew. On the other hand, Gerard had had more awkward talks with parents this month alone than ever before, he’d like to avoid them from now on if possible.

They stood there for a good minute.

“Hi,” Ángel said, standing there with one hand on the door looking like he had no idea why they could possibly be here.

“Hi,” Mikey said. And they continued to stand there until Ricky got to the door, opening it wider.

“What are you doing just standing in the door like that? Come on. We’re all friends now. You don’t have to be nervous around your friends.

Gerard wasn’t sure about them being friends, you know. Maybe they were fast approaching that point, but friends was a title you had to work towards. Very good acquaintances, perhaps? They were ushered in nonetheless.

Gerard was instantly disappointed, he expected Ricky’s house to be… not boring. It was painfully average, and more than a little bare. There wasn't anything in the front hall, nothing up on the walls. Weird.

“We’d show you around but Dad’s sleeping, so.” Ricky headed up the stairs instead. Denied another mystery. At least now Gerard could confirm that they had a Dad. “Maybe another day.”

Indeed. Soon as they were up there, Gerard was dragged immediately to Ricky’s room. Mikey followed them but Ángel disappeared down the hall again. Apparently any confidence he gained by being close to Mikey was sapped away when Gerard was too close. 

Ricky’s room was actually worse than Gerard could have ever imagined because sure, he and Mikey had posters up here and there, maybe some of the drawings Gerard was more proud of, but it was nothing like this. You couldn’t really see any of the wall here under the strange drawings and pictures of scary looking bands that Gerard probably couldn’t name and a lot of photographs of anything you could think of. The art was pretty good, probably Ángel's handiwork. There were at least three mirrors in here too, two on the walls, one on the dresser. Who was that sure of themselves, that they could stand looking at their reflection all the time? Ricky was something else.

Any furniture was vandalized by sharpie and… nail polish, it looked like, every flat surface cluttered with CDs and clothes and makeup. It was like entering an alien dimension that Gerard was nowhere near prepared enough to see. He imagined this was what walking into a girl’s room would look like. A girl like Lindsey, most likely.

As usual, Mikey made himself right at home, climbing up on Ricky’s bed to admire a rather large poster of a vaguely familiar band. “Hey, you like them too?”

Ricky looked mildly offended. “Who doesn’t?”

“Frank said their new album was just okay.” Mikey shrugged. Gerard wasn’t sure if he knew the band in question. They were a pretty disjointed looking group of individuals. All of them seemed like they should be in a different band. “And I think their bassist is weird.” 

“You’re allowed to be weird if you’re also a genius.” Ricky was going through his closet, which seemed to be even more of a disaster zone than the rest of his room.

Fallout Something, maybe? Gerard gave up trying to remember after that. He was more concerned about the reality of his situation, and was still uncertain about how he felt being in here. Mikey was in here too, but Gerard was hyperaware of it every time Ricky touched him, no matter how slight it was.

Even if it was just brushing past him on his way to get something from his dresser or closet as he chattered away with Mikey about whatever song they’d found a mutual interest in from this emo band's latest album… It was way too much. Gerard wasn’t sure if there were any sure fire way to tell if someone was gay just looking around their room but he was looking anyways. Nothing but posters. He'd say it was telling that Ricky had so many boy bands everywhere, but so did Gerard, so that didn't mean anything. He couldn't really think of anything else. 

“So, look, this is what I was thinking,” Ricky said, and he just… Took his shirt off right there in the middle of the room. Gerard figured he must’ve missed a vital part in the conversation as he looked away quickly, what the fuck. When he risked another look Ricky was just standing there in a white shirt that barely covered his chest. It had NOISE written in blocky black letters on the front and, okay, it was a really cool shirt, but it had no business being that short. “For like, Show Pony?”

It took Gerard a moment to remember that he’d changed his name. Ponyboy just wasn’t cutting it. Show Pony was pretty clever. And that definitely suited whatever idea Gerard had of him.

“I like it,” Mikey said, and Ricky beamed.

“Yeah? I don’t know what else to wear. I’ll figure it out.” Ricky went back to his closet, presumably trying to find something to go with his shirt.

Something colourful would work for him. Gerard would try to come up with something later. Ricky probably wouldn’t listen to anything he had to say but hey, it was definitely worth a try.

Just like that, though, the conversation had shifted back to fallout whatever and Gerard didn’t fancy that at all. He was also concerned about Ricky taking the rest of his clothes off. Sure, there wasn’t a big chance it would happen, but any chance at all was cause for concern with Ricky.

Besides, listening to Ricky go on and on about things was definitely more Mikey’s style, so Gerard slipped out of the room quick as he could.

It was probably rude to be wandering around someone else’s house alone and the thought made Gerard very anxious, but there was probably no chance of him running into an adult here and dodging Ricky was definitely becoming more of a priority. Maybe he felt sort of bad about it, but Gerard needed a break.

The twins didn’t have too many rooms on the top floor, which was probably better because Gerard didn’t accidentally wander into their Dad’s bedroom. He found the bathroom and Ángel’s room before anything.

Finding Ángel’s room felt like an intrusion, with the way he flinched and nearly tossed his sketchbook across the room when Gerard opened the door. Gerard immediately closed it until he was just peeking through the crack. Upsetting Ángel was absolutely the last thing he ever wanted to do. “Um. Sorry.”

“You can come in if you wanna,” Ángel mumbled, trying to collect himself. And so Gerard did, shuffling in sheepishly. “Was my brother being weird? He gets a little overexcited when people are over.”

“And you don’t?”

“Oh, I don’t like it at all when people are over.” Ángel hunched over sheepishly, frowning at his sketchbook. Gerard could relate. “I guess you can stay in here though.”

How kind. Even this was preferable to having his ear talked off by Ricky so Gerard sat himself down at Ángel’s desk. There wasn’t a lot of space in his room at all, Ricky’s was obviously much bigger, but Ángel’s was definitely nicer.

The walls were a calming shade of blue with dents and chips out of it in places that Gerard wasn't about to ask about. He didn't have fifty mirrors everywhere, just lots and lots of books and a collection of slightly ratty stuffed animals on the end of his bed. Nothing else really stood out. His room was neat, save for the cluttered mess on the desk, scrunched up balls of paper and half melted candles arranged in a weird pattern that could definitely be considered a fire hazard. There were a lot of half finished drawings of what seemed to be the same figure pinned to the walls in places, a tall woman looking creature covered in bandages and wearing a mask. Gerard was fascinated. Ángel was a pretty good artist.

“My Dad taught me to draw, he used to be really good at it,” Ángel said before Gerard could ask. His ability to do that was scary.

“And who’s this?” Gerard pointed up at the drawing of the woman. In most of them she had something in her hand. Gerard took a moment to examine one and found it was a tie. A tie that didn't really fit her look at all.

“The Phoenix Witch,” Ángel told his sketchbook, looking embarrassed. He curled one hand in his hair like he always did when Gerard had seen him flustered “She’s really old. I mean, her design is? But uh, I guess she is too… I saw her in a dream once so I drew her and I liked her.”

“Do you see weird witches in your dreams a lot?” Gerard was trying to lighten Ángel up just a little, he really wanted to know more about this character.

“Oh, yeah. A lot.” Ángel smiled just a little, looking up from his sketchbook.

Fascinating. “What does she do? Is she like a Harry Potter witch?”

“No, she helps ghosts find their way to the afterlife.”

“How does she do that?”

Ángel actually got up then, coming to stand beside Gerard in front of the most detailed drawing, one that was inked and coloured in. Not that she had that much colour, she didn't really seem to need it. The bandages all over her body were a sort of off white and her cloak of feathers was black, making her look like she had crow wings. There was colour in her necklaces and earrings, but that was it. She really didn't seem to need more than that.

“She needs something that belonged to them that can hold on to their spirit,” Ángel said, tapping the green and yellow mask clutched in her hand. "That way she can help them cross over to the afterlife. She's sort of like a guide I guess."

Woah. Gerard couldn’t help himself, that was just such a cool idea. “Is she from the desert?”

Ángel seemed to guess what he was thinking. “She could be.”

“And if you die, she’ll take your mask and-”

“Hey, you wanna see something,” Ángel blurted, and he looked a little embarrassed afterwards, biting his lip, but his excitement was barely contained. Gerard could always count on Ángel to be excited about their silly game. It was really the only time he seemed genuinely confident around Gerard. “It’s nothing really special, but uh.”

“No, I’d love to see.” Gerard came over and sat at the end of the bed. Ángel flopped down next to him, retrieving his sketchbook and tilting it for Gerard to see.

The character on the page was a scruffy looking guy who, Gerard realized after a moment, was probably meant to be an older version of Ángel himself. He had a mask over his face but the hair- the blue streak especially- was a dead giveaway. He was dressed more plainly than most of the designs Gerard had drawn, more like a soldier than anyone else. His jacket was green with the sleeves ripped off and buttons adorning the front here and there. The rest of him was plain, white shirt, jeans, boots and dog tags.

“Is this Cherri Cola?”

Ángel ducked his head sheepishly, slightly embarrassed. “I mean- I know this is really silly, but-”

“No, no, this is really good.” And practical. He didn’t have a ridiculously flashy outfit like Ricky apparently wanted. Plain and simple, but effective. "You’re really talented.”

Ángel smiled then. Like, actually smiled. It took Gerard off guard, made him smile right back “Well, thanks. You don’t have to be nice.”

“You’d know if I was being nice, Cherri Cola. Why don’t you tell me more about the Phoenix Witch?”

 

 

Day Twenty-One (21), B.F

“Pony,” Gerard said, “you’re very close to me right now.”

“Yeah,” Ricky mumbled. Maybe this wasn’t the best hiding spot. Gerard had the image of an abandoned building in his head when he ushered Ricky in, an old warehouse covered in dust. They ran for it and closed the door- ducking behind dusty crates of scrap metal.

That was something that distracted Gerard from the fact that being stuck in close quarters with Ricky- who he’d been avoiding completely since yesterday because Frank had made a joke about Ricky being in love with him over the phone- was probably a bad idea.

Really, Gerard didn’t think that could be true. The love thing, that was. Because what the fuck, he was a guy. Sure, Ricky was literally always hanging off of him, following him around, talking to him excitedly about everything in the world, hugging him. And he'd definitely tried to kiss him that one time but that didn’t mean he liked Gerard.

Probably? 

Now he had Gerard trapped in a closet/abandoned warehouse with him and there was nowhere to go. They were hiding from Dracs in the hall of course, the others had run downstairs to fight them off but Gerard had been dragged up here. Dammit. He should have thought this through better. He could be hiding behind Ray right now, not dealing with this. Fuck.

Ricky was close enough that they were almost touching, close enough that Gerard could smell his hairspray. Seriously overpowering, clouding his ability to figure out what to say to diffuse the situation.

“Pony, seriously, what are you doing,” Gerard grumbled. He wasn’t sure how to proceed, or how to get himself out of this situation. That question was wearing heavy on his mind.

The silence stretched out before them. Ricky looked sort of funny in the low light, sort of older. Pretty, even though his eyeliner certainly looked scarier, especially when he drew his eyebrows together worriedly, looking up. Gerard was getting really anxious, he had to do something-

“Ricky, are you gay?” The question came out before Gerard could think of how to word it so it didn’t sound as offensive or whatever. Was there even a way to say that without sounding offensive? The beats of silence in between were almost physically painful, the light making it hard to read any expressions. 

Ricky, to his credit, didn't get all that offended. He was just standing there staring at Gerard funny “Like, do I like boys?”

Gerard nodded, a little frantically. “Do you like boys.”

“I guess?” No hesitation.

Holy shit. “Do you like me?”

Ricky shrugged.

Not a valid answer, but still very telling. This was a little too much all of a sudden, continuity be damned, the Dracs could wait. Gerard opened the door to the closet without another word, hurrying out into the hall. Part of him wanted to pretend none of this happened and just go back to the game. That was not going to happen.

The others were in the basement, all huddled together behind Mikey’s bed. Mikey noticed him first. “Hey Poison did you-”

“Ricky’s gay,” Gerard said quickly, shutting Mikey up. They all stared at him.

“I am not,” Ricky said from behind him, and Gerard jumped. When had he come down? He didn’t want to be standing next to Ricky right now. “It’s called bi, if you like girls too.”

“Steve told us that,” Ángel confirmed with a nod.

Steve was in on this too? God. Gerard couldn’t trust anyone. Mikey and Frank looked understandably confused, about as confused as Gerard felt, no doubt.

“Gerard don’t make this into a big deal,” Ray said, coming out from their barricade. His expression was unreadable.

“You knew about this?” The traitor.

“If you’re going to make a scene I’m going to leave.” Ray sounded calm and collected. Good old Ray, the voice of reason in stressful situations. Gerard wasn’t quite done with his tantrum, so he crossed his arms over his chest and scowled to the best of his ability.

And Ray did well on his word. He got up, and he left. He said bye to Mikey and Frank and headed upstairs, Ricky and Ángel in tow.

Gerard wasn't entirely sure what to do with himself, he was left with two disappointed kids and the overwhelming feeling that he'd fucked everything up big time.

 

 

Day Twenty-Two (22), B.F

Ray hung up as soon as he figured out it wasn’t Mikey on the phone. Gerard stared at the device and tried to figure out why that made him so annoyed.

 

 

Day Twenty-Five (25), B.F

“We can’t go on without Ray,” Frank informed them when Gerard asked if he wanted to play the game. “Or the others ‘cause last time we played me and Cherri were cornered.”

Gerard figured he should do something. Convincing Frank that continuity wasn’t all that important would get them nowhere. When he called again, Ray’s brother picked up the phone, and Gerard had to hang up immediately.

 

 

Day Twenty-Seven (27), B.F

“Yeah, okay.” Ricky shrugged. “I forgive you or whatever. That’s what I’m supposed to say, right?”

Gerard was confused. He hadn't spent ten minutes standing in front of the door contemplating his decision for this to be the outcome. Mikey had been convincing him all night that it was a good idea and that it wouldn’t end in disaster. Ricky owed him some sort of excellent forgiveness speech at this point. "Is that all you wanna say?"

“I mean yeah, I forgive you. Doesn’t matter to me if you’re a dick, it just means nobody’s ever gonna love you.”

Oh. Gerard laughed weakly as Ricky grinned at him. Same as ever. He never pulled any punches. 

“And for the record? I don’t really like you that way. You're cute, I guess, but you have a bad attitude." Ricky sighed happily and flicked his hair out of his face, grinning at Gerard. "You wanna go light shit on fire by the creek? Ángel’s a baby and won’t do it with me and Steve disapproves."

Gerard had never really done that, so sure. “Maybe you can explain things a little better on the way?”

“What’s there to explain?” Ricky headed back in to grab his backpack, the pink one with the fifty billion pins on it. He yelled something in Spanish as he came out, closing the door behind him. “It’s just like liking girls except you also like boys. It’s the exact same thing.” He rifled through the mailbox and pocketed something before they could go.

Gerard couldn’t argue with that logic, even though he felt like maybe that wasn’t the same thing at all. He’d never really thought about it that way. “Cool.”

“Cool.”

And they walked. Gerard didn’t really know Ricky well at all, didn’t know how to interact with him properly. He wasn't like Ray, all sunny and likable and easy to talk to. He could be like that sometimes, but Ricky was a wild card, and Gerard knew next to nothing about him. All they really had was the game.

“I drew you as Show Pony,” he said slowly, relieved when Ricky perked up immediately. “Or uh. As what I think you’d look like as Show Pony.”

“Dude, you have to show me next time I see you, okay? Ray says you’re really good.”

“Ray said that?” Gerard didn’t know what to say about that, caught off guard by the fact that Ray had anything nice to say about him at all.

“Ray never shuts up about you,” Ricky said solemnly, flicking his hair out of his face again. “I think it’s cute.”

Gerard really didn’t know how to respond to that, so it went quiet. Jeez. Ricky wasn’t the easiest to talk to and now Gerard was trying not to think so hard about when exactly Ray had said that. Was it recent? Was there a chance they could be friends again in that case? He didn't want to ask, that would sound kind of desperate.

He ended up scouring the buttons on Ricky's bag as he tramped along behind him, picking one to start talking about. The blue Totoro pin. Excellent.

“It’s pretty great, yeah. Howl’s Moving Castle was better though. The fire demon was really relatable. Ray and I watched it the other day to make Ángel feel better. He’d never seen it before then, can you believe it?”

“Is that so,” Gerard said faintly. Was Ricky that close with Ray already or was he just bringing him up this much to get Gerard back? It was hard to tell.

“Yeah, but he loved it. He’s learning the theme on the guitar.”

“He’s what?” Gerard hadn’t even known Ray could play the guitar. He’d convinced himself that the one in Ray's room was Lou's, that Ray just messed around with it sometimes.

“Oh yeah, dude, you should see him.” Ricky grinned again, and the conversation shifted again. Apparently Ray was sort of a wizard on the guitar.

That was totally cool. Gerard made a note to tell Frank about that, Frank thought guitars were pretty cool.

Gerard also learned that Ray did, in fact, have many brothers Ricky had never met, brothers who weren’t Lou. Ricky wasn’t sure where they were, if they lived somewhere else or if they were in college, but Ricky assumed it was college. Ray was really good at kickball. He knew a lot of stuff but nothing he thought was useful enough to be able to call himself smart. His hair was very soft. He used to go to Catholic school and he had a lot of “super nerdy models” in his room. Ricky went on and on as they walked, and Gerard just nodded along, happy to listen.

Somewhere in there, Gerard decided that Ricky wasn’t all that bad. His face lit up when he talked about things he was happy about, mostly his brother and Steve and Ray. He talked a lot with his hands too, like Frank did when he was excited, never still. Ricky was probably the most animated person Gerard had met in his life, and it was part of what made him so fascinating.

“You’re not too bad, you know,” Ricky said. Gerard didn’t know why he was saying that, he had zoned out thinking about Ray in a Catholic school uniform like Frank’s.

“Thanks. Uh. You too. Aren’t so bad.” Damn it.

Ricky rolled his eyes at that, but he was still smiling. “I mean it. We haven’t known you long but Ángel’s started getting excited about leaving the house, which is sort of a big deal if you know him. I really appreciate that. If you fixed your attitude I think we could be really good friends.”

That was a weird thing to be hearing, Gerard thought. Nobody had really said that before. Or actively wanted to be his friend, for that matter. Mikey was his brother and Frank was around enough to be considered another brother, so they were bound to him, not by choice. None of the others were.

“You’re a space cadet, huh.” Ricky was tramping along beside him in his rainboots, how was he not sweating? Gerard regretted wearing black. Again. “That’s what Steve calls me when I’m zoning out too much. We’re both space cadets.”

“How are you even friends with him? He’s way too old for you to be hanging out with,” Gerard said, and Ricky just laughed.

“He used to babysit us. He still does, sorta. But he’s my best friend so I don’t care if he’s old.”

Gerard couldn’t imagine being friends with a babysitter. He hardly remembered any of theirs, just that they liked crafts. Crafts and Mikey. Gerard spent the duration of their visits hiding away from them and being grumpy.

Steve was cool though. He could see people wanting to hang out with him.

“You don’t have older friends?” Ricky looked back at him. Gerard shrugged, and Ricky let it go, launching into a story about the time him and Ángel almost gave Tommy a black eye.

It was just a bit cooler down by the creek, and there was nothing scary down there. It was probably for the best, since Gerard technically wasn't allowed to be out right now. He'd told Mom he was going over to Ricky's, not out to the shifty creek. Last time Gerard and Mikey had ventured down this way they got screamed at by a very angry old man, but nobody else seemed to be around now. There was a shopping cart down in that had probably been there for a while, and the water looked a little more toxic than usual, but there were no creepy teenagers smoking and no sharp objects lying around. Gerard counted it as a good day.

Ricky pulled his backpack off, leaving it up near the bushes. He got the little firecrackers out, bringing them down. “Tommy helps me make them, ‘cause Steve doesn’t encourage playing with fire but whatever. It’s fun.”

Gerard had to agree. He should put befriending Tommy down on his list of things to do, even if he was terrifying.

Ricky didn’t say anything further as they sat there, setting them off. There was something incredibly satisfying about burning things, Gerard had to agree with Ricky on that at least. He wished Mikey could be here enjoying this too.

“We can do this another time, you know,” Ricky said as he was putting the last one down, trying to get his father’s lighter to work properly. They probably overused it or something. Ricky didn’t seem concerned, apparently he got replacements from Tommy, who seemed to have absolutely no morals when it came to dealing with twelve year olds. Gerard was sort of afraid of him based off reputation alone. “Frank would like it. Mikey might too? Ángel doesn't like loud noises though. Or fire. I’m not gonna elaborate on either of those things, so don’t ask.”

Right. “I don’t want Frank knowing anything about this. He’s in enough trouble at home as it is.” It was a small wonder he was allowed to be in Gerard and Mikey’s presence anymore. He'd grown increasingly chaotic since the game had started. His mom kept complaining about it to Mom.

“Nobody has to know,” Ricky giggled, lighting the final one and backing up.

He had a point.

Now they officially had nothing to do, but Gerard felt like he could comfortably spend the rest of the day out here, just sitting by the gross water and listening to Ricky tell stories about all the wild stuff he got into. Even if it didn’t smell that great and they’d probably get chased off by someone older and scarier if they stayed too long, the feeling was there, and it was nice.

“Mikey probably misses you, I’ll get you home,” Ricky said. Gerard wanted to protest but he was actually probably right. Who knew what shenanigans Mikey and Frank had gotten into in his absence. Also Mikey had really been hoping he’d make peace with Ricky and win Ray over again for his own selfish reasons. He was probably anxious for Gerard to get back.

Gerard wiped his sweaty palms against his shorts and nodded, watching Ricky scramble back up the bank to retrieve his backpack. He had a bad feeling now, like someone was going to come and yell if they didn’t book it, so he rushed Ricky along, saying the faster they got back, the faster he could make peace with Ray. And it worked, for the most part. It was still nice to be walking with him, Ricky was spinning another long winded story about how annoying Steve was around Tommy when he first met him.

It was hard to imagine someone like Steve being so desperate for the attention of someone like Tommy. It seemed like it should always be the other way around, like he had achieved some level of chill that everyone else was fighting to be around. Someone like Steve going to see someone like Tommy every day was a weird thing to think about, but it had happened, apparently. Steve went into the shop Tommy worked every single day and tried to talk to him, only to get shot down. Sometimes Tommy didn’t even look up from his magazine as he told him to fuck off.

Apparently persistence paid off. There was some weird undertone that Gerard was getting, some context he was lacking, but it was still a very good story.  

And it was going well, Gerard was actually listening, trying to picture Steve hanging off of anyone the way Ricky did. But of course, in this town, nothing ever lasted. Gerard caught the skateboarder in the corner of his vision, which was the first indicator that they were going to be subject to a shitstorm in no time flat.

He grabbed hold of Ricky’s arm and started running just as they started to close in.

“What the hell?” Ricky kept trying to look back, but Gerard wouldn’t let him. He could do this. They could get away from Grant’s pack if they stayed focused.

“Scarecrows, Pony. We gotta run for it.”

And that snapped Ricky right back into it, because there was nothing the kids liked better than getting into the game. Gerard tried to picture himself as an actual desert fugitive running from the oppressive regime with one of his trusted allies behind him. Focused on the feeling of his feet on the hard packed dirt, kicking up sand with every step. Pretending made it easier to pretend he wasn’t about to drop because his cardio capabilities were slightly less than stellar. Party Poison would probably be a good runner, with all the time he spent out in the desert trying to escape patrols.

Ricky had this look of grim determination on his face that spurred Gerard to go on. He was a better runner by far, but it didn't matter, Gerard was going to keep up with him. They could do this. They could do this.

Once they reached the grass at the park they lost the skateboarders for a little bit, until they were being chased on foot with the kids on bikes coming after him with no problems. What the hell. Who rode their bike on grass?

“He brought his boyfriend with him,” one of them sneered, which made Ricky stop dead. Apparently he had a death wish but Gerard couldn't just leave him at Grant's mercy. If they kept running they'd be absolutely fine.

And fuck, he didn't want to go back to the whole sexuality business. They’d just cleared this, the last thing they needed was Grant making things weird again. Gerard should have just told Ricky to go on ahead of him. They just had to make it to their street, then they were home free. Grant assumed there was like an army of other kids waiting there to rush to Gerard’s aid in an emergency, and Gerard would appreciate it if he kept that mindset up so he wasn’t constantly in danger of being beat up.

It was too late. Grant pulled up on his fancy bike in all his ugly demon glory and Gerard stopped right near Ricky so they were back to back. How cool would this be if they were actual rebels facing the police trying to drag them back to their oppressive city? Gerard could so draw this later.

“They haven’t deported you yet, Ricky?” So maybe Gerard wasn’t the only person in the entire universe that Grant hated. The bushy-eyebrowed weasel leaned his arms against the handlebars of his bike, leaning his chin on them and smirking. “Thought for sure they would’ve caught you by now.”

“Ain’t gonna respond to that,” Ricky snapped. He probably wanted to.

“Isn’t there some sort of limit to how long a demon can stay on this plane of existence after it’s summoned? Did you find a new host?” Gerard grabbed Ricky’s arm and tugged him along. They could do it. They could make it home. “Just fuck off, dude, neither of us is interested in doing this today.”

Ricky, however, wasn’t quite done. He turned back to look at Grant as they stumbled along. “Get your soul searching done already so you can stop bullying people because you feel bad about yourself. I promise it’ll be easier once you admit that you’re obsessed with me because you like boys.”

“Say that again you fucking queer,” Grant snapped, but apparently Ricky had hit a nerve because he looked mad. "You're a fucking mess. I guess it runs in the family, right? Do you get that from your Dad?"

But Ricky was long past being fazed by him. He had a giant grin on his face, sure enough of himself that Gerard almost smiled himself. “Bite me, you Aussie fuck,” Ricky said, and he grabbed Gerard's arm again and started running.

Sometime between the homemade juice popsicles on Ricky’s back porch and the third story about an unfortunate babysitter and a bucket full of piss, Gerard decided that he really did like Ricky.

 

 

Day Twenty-Eight (28), B.F

“Is Ray still not talking to you?” Ricky was sitting and painting Mikey’s nails on the floor in Gerard's room, where they'd started hanging out.

Ray still wasn't. When Gerard had called yesterday Lou had picked up, again, and he'd rattled off a long list of family obligations, reasons Ray wasn't home. It had been awful. For real, Gerard and Ricky had made up, In fact, they were way better friends now. There was no reason for Ray to be acting this way.

“If he’s still being snippy you should give him a present. I do that when I hurt Ángel’s feelings. I make him something.”

Ángel looked incredibly offended, tossing the nearest pillow at his brother. Gerard was trying to process that idea properly. “What the hell do I make Ray?”

“I don’t know,” Ricky said. “But you might wanna wait until he’s done fawning over Grace to give it to him.”

 

 

Day Twenty-Nine (29), B.F

A card would seem like a dumb sort of apology, so Gerard tried to think of something he could make that showed off his talent as an artist, as well as how very sorry he was. There really wasn't a whole lot you could do, craft wise, with his abilities and resources.

The idea came to him when the twins were still hanging out, when Mikey was all decked out in his Killjoy gear so he could show them his full outfit.

Killjoys.

Steve had come up with that name. He said it was ironic, and that it was much better than desert rebels, or whatever Frank had been calling them before. Gerard had to agree with that.

Frank and Mikey and Gerard had a lot of stuff, almost full costumes for all of them. Mikey was showing off his sweater/jacket, complete with the black stripe Mom had stitched to the back. He’d picked out a yellow tiger striped shirt to add, and with his helmet he had a full set. Frank had adopted one of Steve's old vests, a ratty green number that was too big on him. He adored it, and refused to trade it in for a jacket.

Gerard was getting to work on getting them all matching bandannas when he had time, then everything would be perfect.

Ray, however, had next to nothing. His outfit at this point was a pair of shades and a black hoodie.

So, Gerard decided to help him out a bit. Not that everyone had to go off his designs of course, no, it was just. Ray would look good in what he drew, okay? It would suit him. That was all. 

So he tried, and before Gerard knew it, he had something.

It wasn’t much of a helmet at all, it was made of a cardboard grocery box and lots of odds and ends left over from their craft store adventures with a single rectangle eye hole cut out in the front.

Most importantly, it was going to look so ridiculous on Ray and Gerard knew he would love it. It was painted grey, with a black visor and a sick lightning bolt on it and red and black buttons and oh man, it was so much better than a dumb card.

It also took hours to like, get the paint all even and not terrible. Even if Ray only loved it ironically, it counted as a win. And it was a totally awesome apology, fuck what Frank said about it.

“What the hell is that,” Mikey asked when he came back down and saw it, as Gerard was sitting there and working up the courage to get up and go give it to Ray. 

“It’s for Ray,” Gerard said, placing the homemade helmet on Mikey’s head. It was way too big, but that was okay because it was a Ray sized helmet and Mikey was only Mikey sized.

“You made part of Ray’s costume? Does that mean you’re in love with him?”

Gerard snatched the helmet back, looking offended. “No! What the hell!”

“You don’t even help me with my costume!” Gerard was more focused on the fact that Mikey just accused him of wanting a boyfriend than anything. He was totally cool with it, okay, he was totally okay if anyone he knew wanted to get a boyfriend but he was so not gay. Especially not for Ray.

“Whatever. I’m gonna go give it to him, you wanna come with me?”

Mikey rolled his eyes, grabbing his backpack. “No way. You have fun with your boyfriend, Mom's taking me to Frank’s.”

Going to Frank’s sounded like a better idea, but Gerard really wanted to start having friends who weren’t Frank and Ricky again, and this was the only way. Admittedly, he missed Ray. He needed Ray to like him again. So he took a deep breath and headed upstairs.

Mom seemed proud of him when he told her of his intentions before stepping out into the tangible heat. God. Gerard knew there’d been a reason to stay in the basement for the past couple days. He was just being smart.

Ray’s door was closed, so Gerard had time to get anxious right after he knocked. What if Ray thought it’s stupid? What if he started yelling? What was Gerard supposed to do if it didn’t work?

He got a bit tongue tied when he was actually face to face with Ray, who looked confused and not angry. So that was a good sign. But it might not last long if Gerard couldn’t summon up something to say.

“Hi,” Ray said.

Gerard thrust the helmet into Ray's arms quick as he could. “It’s a helmet. Use it wisely.”

And then he ran. Ray looked even more confused but fuck it, this was a good way of problem solving and he could tell Mikey all about it when he made it to Frank’s house. It would be fine.

 

 

Day Thirty (30), B.F

“Did you think I was mad at you,” Ray asked as soon as Gerard picked up the phone. Shit. The anxiety was back in full swing, like it had never left. Was he forgiven? Did he make such a fool out of himself yesterday that Ray wanted nothing to do with him now? Was he calling to make fun of Gerard?

“Uh,” was all Gerard could muster at that moment.

“I mean I was. Make no mistake, you were being a huge dick the other day. But Ricky told me you apologized, dude. You’re fine! I’ve been busy helping my aunt. She just moved." Fuck. Lou hadn't been lying to cover Ray. Gerard felt like a total idiot. "We’re cool, buddy. We’re even cooler now, this box is seriously lame. I love it. Grace thinks it’s hilarious.”

“Grace has good taste.” That name again. Gerard was immediately suspicious. “Who’s Grace?”

“My cousin. She’s four, she thinks all the work we’re doing on these silly costumes is hilarious. But seriously, I love this. I was wearing it yesterday for like an hour.”

“I’m glad you love it because I do too.” Gerard felt better knowing Grace was four and related to Ray, for some reason. She sounded cute, Gerard would like to meet her. 

“Well, it’s mine now.” Ray laughed. “Anyways. We’re about to head out, but I’ll see you tomorrow, right? We’re supposed to go to Steve’s.”

“Yeah, totally. See you tomorrow.”

Gerard started dancing in the hallway before Ray had even hung up. Whatever. It wasn’t like anyone was around to see him anyways.

 

 

Day Thirty-One (31), B.F

Grace was awesome. Gerard had met her that morning before they headed out to Steve's. Ray and Gerard. Just the two of them. Mikey wanted to go visit Frank, who was feeling a little under the weather, and apparently the twins were already over there doing god knows what.

He was standing waiting anxiously on Ray's porch when she came out. Grace got to the door before anyone, staring up at him with wide eyes, and Gerard was charmed instantly. She was so sweet, so lovely, she didn’t even look like she could do any wrong. There was just no way. Once Gerard got over the initial rush of seeing Ray again after all this time, all he wanted to do was pick Grace up and never let her go. What an angel.

He didn’t even worry about it when Mrs. Ray’s Mom Toro invited him in for a little bit. They were fifteen minutes late leaving because Gerard wanted to talk to Grace, who was very articulate for someone of her age. He almost forgot that Ray existed for a while there, and had to be dragged out by the arm.

"She's kind of the coolest ever," Gerard said, because he'd never met a kid that age who was so cool. Even Frank had been a total brat when he was that young, and he was undoubtedly Gerard's favourite.

"She really is," Ray agreed. He was walking along the curb, which probably wasn’t too great for someone wearing flip flops, but Ray didn’t seem to mind. “She really wanted to meet you. She thinks your stories are cool.”

“Wow, Ray, you’re talking me up to your family already? Things are going a little fast don’t you think?”

“Shut your face.” Ray sacrificed his balance to give Gerard a shove. “I’m trying to be nice.”

“You’re always nice. That’s your thing.” Gerard shoved Ray back. Ray gave him a suspicious look and went back to walking on the curb, grumbling to himself.

He was probably talking about something interesting but Gerard was stuck on how Grace might fit into their universe. That was just his natural train of thought at this point, sticking people in their fictional universe before anything. Gerard couldn’t really help it, getting too into things too fast had always been a problem of his, but in this case it didn’t seem bad at all.

Maybe he was zoning out more than usual, and maybe it was keeping him up, but that was about it. He'd spent most of the night thinking about how Steve might be apart of it- drew a few things, got inspired to draw Tommy in too since they had a distinct lack of terrifying people currently, and it was good to have everyone represented. Tommy ended up just looking like a sleazy businessman, which Mikey found hilarious when he saw the drawing in the morning. Gerard liked it enough to keep it. Maybe he’d show Steve someday, if he worked up the courage.

“What are you thinking about you weirdo. What could possibly be more important than my dog story.”

“I’m just overwhelmed being in your presence again,” Gerard said, trying his best to look innocent, which actually just earned him a headlock.

“What happened to hating me? You changed your tune pretty quick, huh.” Ray gave him a pretty merciless noogie until Gerard started yelling at him.

“You’re just that great, now if you could let go of me that would be super.”

Ray did, laughing, and continued on with his dog story, which was really so much better without the beginning or context. Gerard had that warm fuzzy feeling again, the one he’d missed terribly the past couple of days. Ray was sort of the best, and Gerard was really happy to be with him again.

Steve’s house was a bit of a hike. Gerard was feeling sort of overheated and tired by the time they arrived. The nervousness started rearing its ugly head again but only because he wasn’t sure what sort of people Steve might have hanging around his house. If all his friends were like Tommy, Gerard had a right to be afraid. There was always that chance that he didn't have anyone else over, though, and Gerard clung to that hope.

Ray just let himself in, led a slightly bewildered Gerard straight to the kitchen. The person he noticed first was Lindsey, from the pool, with her signature pigtails. Tommy stood next to her, leaning back against the counter and talking to Ángel in not English. Great. There was one more person who could understand the twins’ secret language where Gerard couldn’t. It wasn't all that secret if Ray could understand it too, but whatever. 

Ricky and Steve were in there too, Steve sat in a chair at the dining room table while Ricky tied a bright red bandanna around his head. No new people. Gerard practically sighed in relief.

“Look what the cat dragged in,” Lindsey said when she finally noticed them, her eyes widening comically. Gerard ducked his head sheepishly, moving closer to Ray without really thinking about it. Lindsey was even scarier in a closed off setting, a lot more imposing. “Long time no see, eh?”

“Nice to see you again,” Gerard said quietly, the reality of his situation coming crashing down on him. Mikey wasn’t with him. He hardly knew any of these people, including the two of them he could really and truly consider friends.

Fuck.

“This isn’t even half his entourage. I guess they all came to the conclusion that he’s a loser,” Ricky said, but Gerard hardly noticed him. There was just too much going on all of a sudden. Ray and Lindsey were engaged in some sort of super intense stare down and Tommy and Ángel were still mumbling among themselves, looking over every once in a while. Gerard very obviously did not belong here, and he felt that real deep.

He stepped closer to Ray, practically pressed into his side. This was just no good. He stuck out too badly and he wanted to go home.

“He gets kinda shy without his brother like I do, don’t mind him,” Ricky said, patting Steve’s shoulder before coming over to console Gerard. Ricky? Shy about anything? He was definitely just being nice. “They might look scary but they don’t bite, Gee.”

“Speak for yourself, Ponyboy,” Lindsey muttered, a comment Gerard chose to ignore as he steeled himself for proper interaction.

“Uh. Hey.” Gerard half waved around Ray, who put an arm around him. Hopefully his blush wasn’t too obvious.

“Oh, I like him. You need to keep bringing him around here,” Lindsey said. She had the strangest look on her face, one Gerard couldn’t quite place. Like a wolf, maybe. Staring at him like he was a target.  

“He warms up,” Ray assured everyone when Gerard found himself unable to respond. He was starting to feel really silly. This wasn’t the grown up way to act around new people. “Give it time.”

Ray squeezed his shoulder reassuringly and he tried to chill out. And with time, Gerard did manage to calm himself down a bit. Everyone was pretty cool for the most part. Maybe it was Steve’s aura that kept everything from being chaotic. Even though Lindsey and Ray kept giving each other dirty looks, everyone was more or less getting along well.

They all crowded around the table as Ricky started giving them a rundown of some wacky thing that had happened the other day. Gerard was more focused on Tommy and Steve, trying to piece together what was up there. Tommy stood at his side, leaning down to whisper things that made Steve laugh every so often. There was just something about them that Gerard gave up trying to place eventually. 

Ray helped integrate him into the conversation at hand, which Lindsey hijacked abruptly.

“Hey Gerard, I heard about your nerd game,” she said, leaning her chin on her hand. “What’s that all about?”

Fuck. Was Ricky going to tell the entire universe? When he shot a look at Ricky, the other boy looked offended.

“Dude, it’s Ángel opening his mouth and blabbing, not me.”

Who’d have thought. Gerard side eyed Ángel, who just smiled down at the table sheepishly. He was too cute to be mad at, truly.

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Steve said. “Awesome world building, too.”

“Yadda yadda. Oh please, do tell us more.” Lindsey grinned at him and he didn’t shy away that time.

“Fine. How much time do you have?”

 

 

Day Thirty-Two (32), B.F

“Did you just draw a dead cat on my driveway,” Ray asked, seeming quite offended. Gerard grinned and swiped a stripe of pink chalk down Ray's nose instead of giving an answer.

“Point taken,” Ray said solemnly, and they both went quiet for a bit, watching Mikey tackle Frank into the grass, yelling something about his missing helmet, Fun Ghoul! It was a lovely afternoon, everything glowing gold as the sun started to set. Gerard would have to walk Frank home soon, which was tragic because he seemed to be having a great time trying to kill Mikey as Grace giggled.

“Mom’s taking me and Mikey to go visit relatives, we’re gonna be gone for a bit,” Gerard mumbled after a while. Usually he wouldn’t be all that opposed to going, but the summer was just starting to get really fun and he wasn’t ready to get rid of that to go exist among a bunch of stuffy adults, even for just a couple of days. It would probably feel like a decade once he got there.

“Aw. I’m sure you’ll have fun.” Ray was still watching the other two wrestling in the grass. Frank was yelling uncle so it had devolved into a tickle fight. It didn’t seem like either of them could breathe for laughing so hard.

“I like this,” Gerard said, unprompted, when the laughter had died down a bit. He didn’t really want to be sitting on the driveway anymore, he was tired and the concrete was digging into his legs, but he was still happy.

“I like this too.” Ray nodded, smiling slightly. He was caught up in the scene unfolding in front of them. Gerard didn’t know what to say after that, he was just happy to have friends he could be this comfortable with, for the first time in a long time.

 

 

Day Thirty-Three (33), B.F

“Look at this,” Mikey called, running up to Gerard. Maybe he didn’t like telling anyone they went into Hot Topic because that was where Ricky spent pretty much all his money. It was embarrassing to be associated with a lot of different aspects of Ricky. He was getting to be a good friend, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have his flaws.

Maybe Gerard had those flaws too, if he loved being in there so much. Sure he didn't dress like it yet, but maybe he was turning into an emo kid. Ricky’s makeup fascination was already rubbing off on him, it was only a matter of time before the walls were covered in posters of attractive band guys. Maybe Mikey would get sucked into it too.

It had been a very long first day of visiting with relatives, and Gerard was already exhausted of relaying the same information to every adult he comes across. School was going well, yes, he was still drawing. Nothing they’d want to see, though, silly comic stuff. Adults never cared about comic stuff.

Maybe he wasn’t staying out of trouble, but they didn’t need to know that.

Their aunt said maybe they should go shopping, but he and Mikey split off from the adults after being dragged into one too many women’s clothing stores, and they wandered until they ended up here.

The Hot Topic. It was just meant to be.

And maybe this store was really embarrassing, and all the kids in there made him think of Ricky, but they had patches. Gerard was slowly getting more into patches. Half because Lindsey had a really cool jacket with a lot of patches on it that she showed him when he was over at Steve’s the other day. Apparently she could sew too, something they taught you in Catholic school. Gerard was slowly working up the nerve to ask her to teach him. You know. Subtly. Nobody had to know about it.

Though she just outright told him she wanted no part of his silly game, Gerard made Lindsey a character anyways, and had Steve give her the drawing, which she pretended she didn’t like that much but she totally hung it on her wall and told Ricky about it. Gerard felt proud.

He and Mikey had done more work on the bare skeleton of Steve’s character as well, and would probably do more when Gerard got back. Ricky had coerced Steve (and Tommy, by association) into joining. Neither Steve nor Tommy wanted a combat role, so they decided to work things out. Gerard was trying to think up some sort of Killjoy that had no need to fight at all. Like a class, almost. But less nerdy.  

Steve was pretty creative with this stuff, he'd come up with a seriously cool name and helped put some thought into what his character would be like. Tommy said he wanted his name to be Tommy, and that was that. Tommy and Doctor Death Defying. 

While they were away, Mikey and Gerard decided they should work on their outfits more as well. Mikey was pretty much done but Gerard had a ridiculous amount of work to be doing. He needed more patches for his own jacket, which was actually just a blue sweatshirt at the moment but hey, it still looked cool. It would look cooler with patches. So he needed them.

The one Mikey had was cool. It was a playing card with a skull, so it probably wouldn’t match his look. Gerard bought it anyways, because he could probably find a use for it. Somehow. Okay, maybe he imagined it on Ray’s jacket soon as he saw it. And now that Ray was taking this seriously enough to have a jacket it was totally a beneficial purchase.

Gerard was proud of him. And he was very happy with everyone else, they were really going somewhere with this. He wandered with Mikey, thinking about things he had to do when he got home, always thinking about things he had to do. Yesterday they holed themselves up in an abandoned gas station after being chased there by Scarecrows after the swap meet got compromised. That’s where they met Doctor Death Defying the first time.

He wasn’t sure where they could go from there.

“Do you think Mom would let us dye our hair like Ángel?” Mikey had stopped in front of the Manic Panic, inevitably. Gerard stood with him, he’d been too busy to properly continue his crusade to get Mom to allow it. Hopefully Mikey had been picking up the slack.

“I don’t want streaks. Like, go big or go home, right?” He paused at the red hair dye before moving on. Maybe someday, you know?

“I’ll ask Mom again when we get home,” Mikey said.

 

 

Day Thirty-Four (34), B.F

Gerard and Mikey were sitting in the basement at their aunt’s house, huddled together to keep out the chill of the overpowering AC. High School Musical 2 was on, which Gerard would never admit to actually liking. Ever. Despite the fact that he could sing every single song all the way through, Gerard insisted they were watching it because there was literally nothing else to watch.

Yeah, right. Mikey said nothing about it.

The movie was quickly becoming background noise. Gerard couldn’t stop thinking about going back home. He'd been thinking about it all day, and it was all he could focus on. Even though he'd called Ray every night they'd spent here and talked with him forever about anything that came to mind, Gerard still missed him. And he missed everyone else too, of course. Totally. They just didn't come into his mind as often.

He’d been friends with these kids- in the loosest sense of the word- for only a couple of weeks. And yet, Gerard found himself wanting to spend all his time with them.

Maybe it was just the attention getting to his head, the way everyone always went with whatever stupid thing Gerard had come up with when they were hanging out in Ray’s backyard. Ángel, especially, seemed to love his stories. His mismatched eyes would light up and get all wide in a way that was rivaled only by Frank in terms of enthusiasm. 

He was a pretty interesting little guy when he wasn't being timid, spectacular at coming up with ideas all on his own. He and Gerard had spent a lot of time just making up lore and deities, thinking up more of a background for the Phoenix Witch. Stuff nobody else really cared about. Ricky said they were nerds for caring about that stuff at all, but Gerard always found Ángel’s ideas to be fascinating. He was a good kid.

Mikey was looking at him funny when he came back to the present, breaking out of his thoughts that were shifting back to Ray, who’d actually referred to him as Gerard's friend on the phone yesterday, something that made Gerard a lot happier than it ought to. Ray was so cool.

“What are you thinking about,” Mikey asked, stuffing another handful of popcorn in his mouth. He narrowed his eyes suspiciously when Gerard tried to look innocent and go back to the movie.

“Nothing,” Gerard said quickly, realizing that the issue here was that his favourite song was on and he wasn’t even humming along. Usually that meant he was in a bad mood, Mikey was probably picking up on that. 

“Are you upset? Why? Is it ‘cause Ricky called you fat ‘cause he really didn’t mean it, Gee, I swear-”

“No- no. God. No. I don’t care what that weirdo says about me.” He did, actually. Nobody needed to know that. “I’m just. Excited. For when we go back, you know? We can set off firecrackers. Finish up all the stuff we were working on and hang out with everyone.”

“They are pretty cool.” Mikey smiled. “Do you really mean that? You actually wanna hang out with people?”

“…I guess?”

“I’m telling Mom you said that,” Mikey informed him, turning back to the TV. He didn’t stop smiling.

 

 

Day Thirty-Five (35), B.F

Gerard was more than happy to be going home by the end of day three. If one more adult asked him what he was going to do with his life, he might just scream. That seemed to be all that adults cared about, and it was also the very thing Gerard cared the least about. He didn’t even know what to say when they asked.

All Gerard cared about at the moment was their silly game. That was on the forefront of his mind most days. Danger Days, they were calling it now, Ray had come up with it. Maybe it was a little bit lame but it was way better than whatever they’d been using before.

Gerard had made up a lot more on this mini-vacation, since he’d had so much time to think. So much in fact that he couldn’t sleep, not with all these ideas just buzzing around in his head. It didn't help that his aunt's house was unfamiliar, with none of the comforting sounds and smells of their own house. Mikey was already asleep, though it was unheard of for him to be down for the count this early. Gerard wouldn’t dream of waking him up, so he had to sit in the closet with the phone and call Ray, since it was obviously very important.

Gerard had to call twice. On the third try, he almost gave up and started considering other options that wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying. Most of the time he ended up writing things in the blank space in his sketchbook. He felt awkward sitting alone in the closet with his aunt’s shoes and dresses. It smelled all floral in here, it was almost nauseating. And okay, maybe he felt a little silly being as excited about this as he was, but Ray appreciated his talent more than most of the bored adults around him.

Dude, you’re alive!” Ray sounded sleepy when he finally picked up. Gerard wanted to laugh at him. It was sort of cute. Like, in a puppy way, of course. Not a gay way.

“Barely. Adults are super boring.”

I understand. What are you doing up so late? You shouldn’t call me past like, ten. If you woke my mom up we’d both be dead.

“I just have a lot going on, you know?”

Yeah. You wanna talk about it?” Ray really did get it. It made Gerard smile, god, he felt like an idiot. Sitting in a dark closet alone, practically whispering on the phone.

“Tell me what I missed first?”

Ah, well.” There was a lot of noise as Ray shifted the phone to his other ear. He was probably balancing it between his head and his shoulder, doing something else. What a dummy. “Ricky nearly burned his eyebrows off today while we were at Steve's, but I’ll let him tell you about it. And Ángel misses Mikey very much. He hasn’t shut up about it.

Gerard hadn’t realized they were such good friends. That just showed how observant he was. “Do you miss me very much?”

Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. That is exactly what I meant.

“Shut up! Keep going.”

Fine, fine. I went to go see that show with my brother and Steve and it was really cool? I’ll have to take you to one sometime, I think you’d really like it. Ricky didn’t wanna come because the music was too screamy, apparently. I said he's a bad emo kid if he doesn't like screamy music.

Typical Ricky. “I like screamy music.”

 “I know you do.

“So hey, listen, I had some things to talk about? About the desert?”

You called me to talk about the desert?” Ray sounded amused, at least.

“Well I mean, sure, but also I missed you-”

You missed me?

Pause.

“Yeah?” That made Gerard feel weird, like his face was all hot and his stomach was tied up in knots again. “So?”

I miss you too.

“Oh.”

Pause.

Gerard was getting weirded out by whatever feeling this was, he didn’t know what to say. Asking Ray about it was not an option, neither was just hanging up suddenly. He kind of wanted to throw the phone at the wall and yell- but in a good way. This must be some next level friendship thing.

Sorry, was that weird?

“No. No, sorry. I heard someone in the hall.” What a stupid lie. Gerard chewed on his bottom lip, trying to chill the fuck out. His heart was going fast for no reason, which was usually just a sign of anxiety, though he wasn’t anxious in the slightest.

Tell me about the desert, dude. I don’t want you forgetting like you usually do.

It was really easy for Gerard to just lose himself in the conversation after that. He told Ray about the DJs who ran the Zones and kept them all connected- Steve would be a good one, he was sure. They could probably find someone else, but Steve would be the most important one, the most famous one in all the Zones. Everybody liked him.

Sleeping in body bags came up more than once, on the hard ground under the stars. Gerard had done a lot more thinking about the Phoenix Witch, who worked as a sort of mailwoman, picking artifacts of Killjoys people wanted to remember out of a mailbox decorated in graffiti. Ángel had done most of the work on that, but Frank had come up with the mailbox idea while they were walking back to his house one night. Frank was sort of a quiet genius; Gerard was slowly realizing.

And an idea Mikey had helped with, the band fronted by a chaotic madman who preached about a weapon in the sky that was going to come down someday and save them all. In reality, it wasn't much of a band. It was just him and a hallucination he had after consuming too much caffeine. But that counted as a band, right?   

There was silence at the end of the line when Gerard ran out of things to talk about, he felt sort of sleepy and happy, like he could just fall asleep here in the closet and be fine.

How do you come up with that stuff? You’re really good at it,” Ray mumbled. He sounded half asleep himself, Gerard decided to let him go. “I love it. All of it.

“Yeah, I’m just that good.” Gerard leaned his head back against the wall, sighing. He was feeling a lot more relaxed now. “Thanks for listening.”

 “Hey, anytime. I could listen to you ramble for hours.

“It hasn’t been hours!”

Go to sleep you dummy. Enough of the desert tonight.

“Yeah, right.” Gerard grins. “Sleep tight, Jet Star, I hope a snake doesn’t bite you in your sleep.”

Same to you, Party Poison.

And then he was gone, leaving Gerard sitting on the floor in the closet grinning like an idiot, without really knowing why.

 

 

Day Thirty-Six (36), B.F

Historically, the Fourth of July had always been an especially turbulent time in Gerard’s mundane day-to-day life. Every year brought with it the same exact embarrassment, the same exact panic, the same exact stupidity. It was just a giant ordeal he didn’t quite care for.

Everyone on the street would be out and about, Mom would drag them to a barbecue somewhere where he’d be forced to interact with kids he hardly knew, kids who always took to Mikey almost immediately. Kids who expected Gerard to be as cool as his brother. They were often left disappointed, and he was often left out. Most of the time he'd just hang around with Mom or go read and ignore everyone else.

Shitty fireworks were the absolute best part of the entire day. The only good part of the day, sometimes. Gerard really did love shitty fireworks. After much shuffling around and struggling to entertain themselves the kids could watch things burn, and was there anything better than that? Towards the end someone usually sustained a sparkler related injury, there was generally a firecracker related incident that ended in the loss of someone’s eyebrows, but the sight of shitty fireworks bought off some shady guy's table setup by the side of the road always made things infinitely better.

This year would be different. In an astounding turn of events, Gerard could hardly wait for the Fourth of July. It was going to be incredible. He and Mikey talked endlessly about it on the way home, enough that Mom was catching on. She seemed amused, at least, happy that they had such great new friends. Or any friends at all, in Gerard's case.

On top of that, Gerard was pretty excited to meet everyone’s family. Sure he was a little bit overly familiar with Mrs. Ray’s Mom Toro, but he’d only heard legends of Ricky’s dad, who was apparently very… eccentric, was the word Mom used. Mom had a word for everything.

Gerard wasn’t sure what to think about him, since he’d never even glimpsed the man himself. He was mysteriously absent any time they went over to the twins' house and Ricky and Ángel had only brought him up once since that first visit.

When Gerard showed Ángel the drawing he’d done of Show Pony he was amused that Ricky still had a house key around his neck, even in cartoon form. Because Ricky did always have it, Gerard had never seen him without it. It would make sense that Show Pony would have it too.

“Show Pony’s dad doesn’t lock him out of the house though. It should be for a secret safe or something,” Ángel had said, offering no explanation whatsoever. That was sort of a big thing to admit. Gerard hadn't been able to process it properly and when he told Ray about it Ray had just said to leave it alone, so he did. But it was always at the back of his mind when he was over visiting them. 

So really, Gerard wasn’t sure what to think at all.

That aside, it would be totally fun. They were also getting to meet all of Steve’s other, older friends and Tommy’s sister and whatever teenager Steve was bringing along as a stand in for his family, who weren’t too fond of parties, Ray had said at some point. Family was a complicated thing, sure. Gerard could understand that. 

The Ways arrived home late afternoon and were ushered into the house by Mom, who was refusing to let them out until they’d unpacked and settled and gotten changed, which was especially frustrating because everyone was out on Ray’s lawn waiting for them. Gerard wanted to vault out of the car and go hug him, at least, but he resigned himself to chilling out and getting ready first.

It took a lot longer than he thought it would, so long in fact that it was Mikey egging him on to hurry up, but Gerard had gotten into the habit of taking great care in looking cool around the older kids. He had to pick what he was wearing carefully and actually brush his hair, it was important to keep up an image. You know, even if everybody said they’d support him unconditionally who could say for sure, right? They might change their minds if he started being super uncool all of a sudden. Or more uncool than usual, at least.

Mikey started critiquing his outfit once he was tired of waiting at the door. “You should wear something that matches with your Party Poison jacket.”

“It’s like fifty billion degrees out, I don’t need to wear my silly hoodie.” Not in front of the older kids, no way. Sure, Steve and Tommy were in on the game now too, but Gerard wasn’t sure how into it.   

“Fine, but when you’re cold later you don’t get to wear my sweater and I’m gonna laugh at you,” Mikey said, and Gerard just gave him a look.

“Whatever. Go brush your hair.”

The festivities were to be held in the twins’ backyard. Which was great because their grass was the least dead out of everyone's. Gerard and Mikey decided to regroup with everyone at Ray’s house before they went, though, they were still out there on Ray’s porch putting red and blue face paint all over their everything.

The Ways were attacked immediately as soon as Ricky noticed them. Gerard was greeted with a very impressive tackle hug before he could even make it up to the porch. “Here you are!”

“Pony if you get face paint on this shirt I’ll destroy you.” Gerard didn’t really mean it. He was just as happy to be back. “Also it’s been like… Two days?”

“Yeah, well. Whatever.” Ricky let him go and patted his arm, studying his attire. “You don’t look all that patriotic.”

“Patriotic your mom.” Gerard went to go hug Ray, like he’d been waiting to since he got home. Hugging Ray was great in the most not-gay way possible. He was pretty tall so he gave the best hugs ever and he didn't let go too soon. Everything was right with the world once again. Gerard felt all warm and fuzzy. “You can put all the face paint on me you want but you have to make it look good.”

“Ricky’s approach is to just get as much of it on as possible, you might want someone else to do it.” Ray let him go and Gerard smiled at him. It was just so good to be back.

“If I’m letting anyone do anything to my face it’s gonna be Ángel.” He had some artistic ability at least. Gerard trusted him. Ángel was a bit busy hanging off of Mikey at the moment. Gerard took this opportunity to give Grace a high five. She grinned at him.

When all the hugging was over, Ricky sat Gerard down, hands on his shoulders like he was holding him there as Ángel did what he could. He was focused on doing a good job, bless his heart, he ended up just painting a bunch of stars. Gerard didn’t want glitter all over him like Ricky had, because that was totally impossible to get out of clothing- and off your body in general, if Ricky was anything to go by- and he wasn’t sure he wanted anyone getting the wrong idea about him.

Once that was done, they started heading over to Ricky’s house. Ray grabbed Gerard’s arm to slow him a bit, leaning in and lowering his voice. “I know I don’t have to worry really but I need you to be uh. Really polite meeting their dad, if you’re going to talk to him.”

“Well shit, Ray, I’ll keep that in mind.” Honestly what could be so worrying about the man?

“Nothing on you he’s just…” Ray didn’t say what he was, he just sighed and put and arm around Gerard’s shoulder and started walking. Gerard could accept that.

There was a lot going on at once soon as they got into the backyard. It was full of people, most of them Gerard didn’t know, some unfamiliar kids and lots of unfamiliar adults. He picked out Mrs. Frank’s Mom Iero, still holding Frank captive, making him talk to someone who was probably one of Frank’s ten billion relatives. Frank looked over at them quickly, pleading. Gerard gave him an apologetic look. They'd have to save him later if this went on too long.

There was a pack of older teenaged boys who sort of all looked the same hanging around and talking to Mom and Mrs. Ray’s Mom Toro. They didn't seem too rowdy or loud, so they didn't make Gerard very nervous, as teenagers tended to do. Steve and Tommy were convened by the fence, along with a guy and a girl who were probably supposed to represent Steve’s family.

And the twins’ dad was somewhere in a small crowd of people. Gerard only really noticed him because he started laughing loud enough to startle him.

The twins’ enigma of a father was… interesting, to say the least. Someone Mom might call incredibly handsome. An opinion many moms on the street seemed to share, as he was totally surrounded by moms in ten minutes.

Ángel looked more like his father, hair wise especially, though he seemed to act more like Ricky, almost absurdly animated as he talked loud enough for Gerard to catch the topic of conversation from across the yard. Something about a silly game the kids were playing.

Well, Gerard knew about that. But it was always very uncomfortable to hear adults talking about it. He tuned it out before he could hear any opinions.

Ray tugged Gerard along and he only realized he’d been staring when he looked away sharply, mumbling an apology as he was ushered over to the older kids. The blonde boy next to Tommy looked vaguely familiar but Gerard couldn’t place why. Maybe it was his striking resemblance to the group of boys over by Mom. Maybe they were related, he too was tall and skinny and strangely pretty. Gerard wanted to know why he had a sweater on in this weather, no wonder he looked so uncomfortable right now.

The girl beside him had an arm around his waist and seemed a lot more interested in everything that was going on around them. She too looked vaguely familiar in a way Gerard couldn't place. He'd love to know why she was dressed like an adult, like, a news anchor or a business woman or something. Who dressed like that to parties? It suited her just fine though.   

Introductions were made. “You’re Steve’s little friend, aren’t you,” the girl said. Gerard assumed she was talking to him, even though she seemed more focused on whatever the twins’ dad was doing over there. “The one with all the stories. I think that’s pretty cute.”

Was everyone in on it now? Gerard had no idea how to respond to that.

“Look at you, you’re a legend now.” Ray patted Gerard on the shoulder. Gerard didn’t really feel like much of a legend now, he mostly just felt like going to hide, or maybe stand by Mom the rest of the day. He wasn't sure what it was about being near Steve's friends that made him so nervous. Maybe it was the sheer number of cool kids in one area that he couldn't deal with.

At least he had Ray with him. 

“Don’t worry about them, they’ll start behaving in a little bit,” Tommy assured him, when the girl went back to ogling the twins' dad, leaning in to whisper things to the boy beside her. Gerard didn’t know Tommy well enough to be reassured but he probably wasn’t lying. 

“That’s Alice and that’s Naomi.” Tommy pointed at each of them. Apparently Gerard had been mistaken and the guy standing there wasn’t a guy. He could sort of see it now, maybe? She was too pretty to really be a guy. Alice gave Tommy a sort of weird look but didn’t say anything else.

They all stood there awkwardly for a moment.

“Hey, Ricky’s dad is hot,” Alice said to break the tension. Gerard was confused all over again because she didn't sound like a girl. He didn't want to ask because she wasn't paying attention to him anymore, craning her neck to see past Naomi.

“I guess he’s okay?” Naomi looked back too. "Maybe you're attracted to the fact that he's actually sober this time and hasn't started a fight with someone."

“No way. He’s a total hottie, what the hell. He ages like fine wine.”

“If you can get past the fact that the guy's like, forty-something. And also a total weirdo? Like a shuts-himself-in-the-house-for-months-and-doesn't-leave type weirdo? Where’s their mom?” Naomi was a judgmental type. Good to know. She was good at capturing interest though, Gerard was more curious about Ricky and Ángel's family than ever. 

“How about we don’t talk about this today? Or ever?” Tommy had his scariest scowl on. Gerard immediately decided could grill Ray for the details later, in case he knew anything. Asking now would probably get him killed. “Like, seriously. We’re here to have a good time.”

“You’re right. Sorry.” Alice looked down at her drink, sighing. “He really is hot though.”

Naomi didn't seem convinced. She took one last look behind her before turning back to the group, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Do you think their Mom’ll show up?”

Apparently she'd totally forgotten what Tommy had just said. Or maybe she just didn't care.

Apparently Alice had forgotten too. She made a face, nodding solemnly. “Fuck. You remember last year? That was brutal.”

Gerard was sure he was hearing things he shouldn’t be hearing, so he opted to go find out what Steve was doing, because Ricky was with him inevitably. Because if he was going to be hearing about any of this, it should be from one of the twins. He dragged Ray with him, because if Ray got grumpy now he’d stay grumpy and they’d have no fun for the rest of the night. Plus, Ray was his only source of confidence at the moment. He'd have to go find Mikey and change that. 

Everyone else was convened on the porch, minus Frank, of course, because he was still trapped talking to an adult. Poor soul. Gerard felt for him, but there was no way in hell he was about to engage in a conversation with an adult to save him, sorry Frank.

“We’re camping out,” Ángel explained when Ray and Gerard came and sat with them. He was busy putting little braids in Mikey’s hair. “Until we can go.”

“Too many adults we don’t wanna see out there,” Ricky added, because, of course, he was more blunt than his brother and needed to make sure all of them were on the same page. Gerard really wanted to know who those adults were, he felt like there was some big secret that he wasn’t getting.

“Plus it’s not fun watching fireworks with adults around because they don’t let you strap them to your skates and-”

“You’re not strapping fireworks to your skates,” Steve said in his best big kid voice. He'd arrived back just in time to be the voice of reason. Ricky gave him a wounded look, like he’d be severely inconvenienced with this outcome, but he seemed resigned for a little bit.

“We could go run around,” Mikey suggested. “I could save Frank and we could get out of here for a little while?”

And that seemed like a good enough idea. There was a weird vibe around the house right now and Gerard wasn’t really liking it at all. Most of them seemed really down, like coming here had just sucked all the joy out of everything.

The kids got up to go but Gerard didn’t really feel like moving, so he told them to go on ahead and sat there on the step and watched the world go by with Steve. There wasn’t much to see, nothing to do, nothing to hear but the murmur of voices from the backyard and the sound of firecrackers out in the distance. Some other delinquent kids at some other barbecue with the exact same ideas they had.

“Where’s Tommy?” It was more of a why is Tommy loitering in the backyard and not glued to your side like usual? Gerard looked back, and Steve shrugged at his phone, didn’t look up.

“We can’t really be together at stuff like this.”

“Why?”

“My parents don’t like him.” Well. Apparently Steve’s parents were at this. Gerard was just burning with curiosity.

He just nodded, though he didn’t really get that at all. Tommy was probably the most respectable of them all outside of Ray, the one moms would probably trust the most. Despite the fact that he was definitely the scariest looking, he was also the responsible one. Sure, Steve was practically the dad of the group, but even he could have bad judgement. Tommy had never been wrong about anything in his entire life, probably.

Thinking about it though, Gerard didn’t really know anything about Steve’s parents at all. Or Steve in general. The realization was sort of dragging him down.

“They don’t like his parents, is all,” Steve offered when he seemed to notice. “As in his parents are lovely people, so there’s no way they’d ever get along with mine.”

At least he could be honest about it. There was more to that, Gerard could tell, but he didn’t want to press it. They sat in silence for a little bit. Apparently saving Frank was taking longer than it should, and Steve was getting bored enough to start texting, probably Tommy.   

Alice came around the side of the house before the others did, looking more than a little bit annoyed. Neither of them asked about it as she sat down next to Gerard and said nothing. Seemed like a bad idea. They let her be.

It was becoming pretty evident that there was a lot of underlying issues here. Gerard wasn’t sure what he should do to help, or if there was anything that could be done at all.

He could certainly try. “Um. Hey, we’re gonna go to the park in a bit, if you guys wanna come? We’re going to be playing that game but uh…”

“I would love to,” Alice said without a moment’s hesitation. Well. Alright. “Let’s go right now. They’ll catch up.”

She hooked her arm through Gerard’s and started pulling him along. He wasn’t really sure what to make of that, he didn’t know her at all. This level of familiarity was strange. “I’m sorry I just hate everything about most of those people. I don’t know who’s worse, my dad or Steve’s mom. They can both burn, I guess.”

That was… hostile. Gerard didn’t really get it, but he nodded anyways. Everyone had their thing. That was cool. “I uh. Like your hair?”

“It’s awful, you don’t have to be nice.” Alice ran her fingers through the choppy mop of it, frowning. “Did you see it before? It was a lot nicer. Dad made me cut it because it wasn’t respectable enough. What am I supposed to do with this?”

“Put a bow in it? Get a beanie like Ricky has.”

And that got her smiling a little bit. “I’ll die before I replicate any part of Ricky’s style, buddy.”

Gerard snorted. Okay, he didn’t blame her for that one. “Hey, he’s not so bad! Like, today he’s… Okay.”

She gave him a very serious look. “The leggings.”

“Okay, that’s for the game we’re playing. You need a code name and a cool costume.”

“Oh, that thing Steve’s been talking about? I want in. He's like a cool sensei or something, right? Can I be in it? I wanna be like… Arctic Monkey. Wait no- Monkey. Something Monkey.” Not what he would have picked, but alright. “DJ Monkey. Make it happen.”

This was a lot of information at once. Gerard was overwhelmed enough in the moment to not start prattling on about how it wasn’t just some thing that anyone could join at any point. That’s what he usually did. But Alice didn’t seem too bad. She was surprisingly easy to be around. Now that he knew she wasn't about to bite his head off for existing like her scowl suggested he was totally fine with her. “He's a DJ. Doctor Death Defying. DJs run the scene, and he's the most important one.”

“Oh, I know all of that. Ángel told me. I wanna be a DJ. I wanna run your life, Party Poison.” It was unnerving just how into this Ángel was, but he’d made this whole process so much easier. “Steve likes the idea. The kids are like, super into it too. It’s really cute, what you’re doing.”

Well damn. The praise made him feel all warm and fuzzy. Gerard hoped he wasn't blushing or anything, that was totally an uncool thing to do around girls. “Uh. Thanks.”

“No, really. I’m glad the boys have something to do with their time. They’re stuck in that house all the time, it’s a nice change.” Alice smiled at him. She towered over him so it made him feel a little like a child when he had to look up, but that wasn't a bad thing. “We’re all super grateful.”

It was weird to think about but, sure. It took Gerard a moment to take it in properly, that the twins might actually like what they were doing as much as he did. That anybody could like it as much as he did. He and Alice sat there on the swings as he caught her up on the things Ángel and Steve hadn’t already told her. 

The others arrived gradually, shaking off whatever sentiment they’d been fighting off at the house. It was much nicer to see everyone smiling, especially the twins. Ricky was right there at Steve’s heels, laughing really loudly at something he said. Mikey was trailing a little, only because he had Grace with him and he didn't want to rush her. Grace was in a good mood, at least, smiling brightly as ever.

Frank charged over to see Gerard quick as he could, scrambling into his lap with no regards for his own safety. “I’m tired of adults. I’m banning them.”

“Consider it done.” Gerard gave him a hug, holding on until Frank started squirming. He was promptly released and he ran up to join everyone on the playground, where they were huddled around, making plans. Gerard didn’t want to disturb them.

“Mission accomplished, Party Poison.” Ray came to stand beside him. Gerard nodded solemnly.

“What are they doing?”

“Making a plan to get their radio back on line.” Ray shrugged. That was pretty typical. Show Pony was bad with technology. “In case another broadcast comes through.”

Gerard nodded, looking over at Alice and Steve sitting in the grass. They both looked a lot more at ease now that they were out and away from the house. Their heads were bent together and Steve was showing her something on his phone. 

“Hey, don’t worry. Just because we haven’t heard from the others in a while doesn’t mean they’re dead,” Ray said, and Gerard was smart enough to pick up what he was putting down. That this wasn’t his business. “What do you wanna do?”

“I’m totally useless with that techie shit, you know that.” Gerard made a face and Ray rolled his eyes. “I’m serious!”

“I’m serious that you’re a dummy and you need to learn these things so you don’t bite it in the sand somewhere.”

“Fuckin’ fight me, Jet.” Gerard gave him a shove, and started running when Ray went to retaliate. Mikey started cheering for him, though the chase didn’t last long, Ray got him around the waist and they both almost went down. He had the advantage of like, actually being good at running. Fuck him.

“You fucker.” Gerard started wiggling around but Ray just tightened his grip.

“Who put you in charge again?”

Gerard didn’t really respond, just did his best to knock them both over. It didn’t do much when they both went toppling to the grass, because Ray just pinned him down. Fuckin' Ray and his knowledge of things. Gerard couldn’t stop laughing.

“Tell me I’m the best and I’ll let you go,” Ray said. Gerard kept struggling but he didn't budge at all.

“You’re the worst and I hate you.”

Ray just raised an eyebrow and sat there, looking smug until Gerard just resigned himself. Party Poison would lie here as long as he needed to, even if the ground was uncomfortably hot and hard. And even if Jet’s knees were digging into his sides, he wouldn’t move. And even if he was starting to get really embarrassed, he’d just stay here.

Ray leaned down. “Go on and say it.”

“Fuck off, oh my god.”

“Saaaay it.”

The others were laughing now too. Gerard was totally going to kill them later, honestly, what awful allies they were. “I’m gonna fuck you up as soon as you get off.”

“Which I will if you admit that I’m the best.” Ray was still unmoved.  

“You’re okay.” Gerard could allow that, right? That was fine. “Average. A decent mechanic, not a bad shot. Normal.”

Ray finally got up, brushing off his jeans. “Next time you need the car fixed you can do it yourself. And you can think of this when it breaks down in the sand somewhere.”

And then he went to go help the others with the radio, leaving Gerard in the grass. Gerard lay there for a moment, collecting his thoughts and staring up at the sky. Today had started out a little rough, but it was shaping up to be pretty awesome. And he was genuinely surprised the silly game had gotten this far, but he was happy it had. He could see himself lying like this in the middle of a dusty, empty road, not a care in the world for the moment, he wasn’t running or worrying, just lying there. At peace. Peace was really hard to find in the desert; he was determined to hang onto this as long as he could.

After a little bit, Ángel came and laid down beside him. Everyone else had fallen oddly silent, probably making secret plans that they didn’t want Gerard to hear. Honestly they were awful teammates. Why would anyone be plotting things without their fearless leader?

“Poison,” Ángel said quietly, shaking his hair out of his face.

“Cherri.” Gerard looked over at him. It earned him a shy smile as Ángel looked away. 

“You have to be nicer to the mechanic.”

“When the mechanic is nicer to me, I’ll think about it.” He shifted, hands behind his head. “Something up?”

Ángel shrugged. Gerard felt it more than he saw it. They didn’t really have to talk about anything, Cherri Cola was chill. He was cool. Low maintenance. Party Poison liked him a lot. They were the same, on some weird level.

“I’m worried about things,” he said after a long silence. When Gerard looked over again, Ángel certainly looked worried, tugging distractedly at his sleeves.

“Like?”

“Like what if we’re the only people left in the entire universe?”

“Then the human race ends with us, I guess.” Morbid. Gerard tried to find whatever hidden meaning Ángel was trying to convey. Maybe there was none. He was a complex little guy, he could get pretty cryptic, caught up in his own head. Too far down for anyone else to make out.

“I think there must be people across the ocean, right? We should build a boat.” Ángel must've been feeling pretty good because he shifted so his head in Gerard's lap when Gerard sat up to watch the others. Generally he wasn't fond of any contact whatsoever, but maybe he was getting better with that stuff. He seemed to really like hanging off Mikey, at least, maybe Gerard was finally getting somewhere with him too.

“Get the witch to poof us there instead.” Gerard looked down at him, grinning.

Ángel seemed genuinely offended there for a moment. “That’s not how it works! She’s only here to take care of us. Magic doesn’t work like that.”

His passion was admirable. Gerard just smiled, and went back to watching everyone else, playing idly with Ángel's fluffy hair. He seemed to relax a little, even closed his eyes after a while.

Everyone stayed in a good mood when they eventually packed up and started walking home, mumbling among themselves as Alice and Steve took turns making up news reports. Fun Ghoul was banned from derby games until further notice for getting into a fight. Did Cherri approve of the new method of spirit delivery, the upgrade into a postal service? He had no definite answer but he did start giggling. Party Poison was a loser with a bad reputation, sincerely, Show Pony.

Even among the adults again, the warm fuzzy feelings stayed. Gerard stayed with Mikey, and Ángel stuck with them, since he was under the radar enough that he didn’t have to worry about dodging relatives and entertaining adults like Ricky did. After that it was nothing but conspiratorial looks from one another, Alice and Steve reporting danger every so often and starting a fresh round of giggling.

Gerard was really starting to like Alice.

They just had to bide their time until it got dark, and everyone convened outside on the street. The younger kids were all ridiculously excited and buzzing around their parents like flies, but Gerard was tired and also getting sort of cold. He regretted not bringing a sweater after a while, as they were setting everything up he sat on the lawn and hugged himself.

Of course, Ray had to come make fun of him for it. “Were you so stubborn that you wouldn’t bring a jacket out? That’s a new low, Gee.”

He'd gotten this from Alice and Mikey already. “How about you shut the fuck up, Ray.”

“Here.” When Ray started shrugging out of his hoodie, Gerard was mortified. No way.

“Dude that’s like, super gay. Keep that to yourself.”

Ray didn’t heed the warning, didn’t really acknowledge any of that sentence at all. He just draped the sweater over Gerard’s shoulders and sat down beside him and oh god, yes, it was so much warmer. So much nicer. Ray was really warm beside him too, so Gerard just swallowed his pride and stayed where he was, pulling the sweater tighter around himself. Then he leaned over, bumping his head against Ray’s shoulder.

“There’s not really anything spectacular about shitty fireworks, you know,” he mumbled. It wasn’t very romantic, sitting in the scratchy grass in the orange glow of the streetlights in an area that was hardly dark, but it was tolerable. Nice in some other way he couldn't quite put his finger on.

“Well think about it, Party Poison,” Ray said, ever the stupid optimist. “How often do you come across fireworks out here.”

“The rarity of fireworks has nothing to do with the quality.”

“Well, look at the company you’re in. All your friends are here, and they’re happy and healthy, and here you are focused on the shittiness of the fireworks you’re supposed to be enjoying.”

Ray did have a point. He usually did, since he was never wrong about anything ever. Gerard hadn’t really thought about it, but it stuck in his mind as Alice set off the first roman candle, green and red flashing up into the sky as they watched. And it was nice. This was the first Fourth of July Gerard could actually think of where he’d enjoyed himself even remotely.

Everyone around him seemed to have relaxed. Alice was over teasing Naomi about her fear of setting off the fireworks, trying to convince her that her lighter was totally safe, babe, don't worry. Mikey and Frank were chasing the twins around with their sparklers as one of Alice’s brothers sent another flash of red up into the sky.

Gerard had lost sight of Steve and Tommy there for a bit, but when he located them again they were sitting up on the stairs to the twins’ porch, hidden away from the array of adults standing out on the street. Everyone else seemed distracted by the chaos of teenagers and children around colourful explosives, rightfully so.

The two seemed to be having a good time, even if they were away from everyone else and weren’t concerned about fireworks at all. Tommy had a big smile on his face which was honestly pretty startling, and not something Gerard had ever seen before. Steve was saying something Gerard couldn’t hear over the crackling of whatever firework Alice had just convinced Naomi to set off, but whatever was going on over there just kept getting weirder and weirder.

Steve had a hand on Tommy’s leg and they were nearly nose to nose, just grinning at each other and talking about whatever. They didn’t pay attention to anyone else at all, didn’t notice anything. Like they were the only two people in the entire universe. It really was weird; Gerard was sure there was something he was missing about this. He stopped caring about it briefly when Ray elbowed him in the ribs. When he put his arm around Gerard's shoulder Gerard tucked himself against his side and settled back in, looking up every so often just because Ray looked so funny with that goofy grin and the colours flickering over his face. And he was pretty.

That was okay to think, right? Sure. Gerard was an artist. He could appreciate people who were pretty. Ray was pretty. He was awesome and cool and great at everything and thinking about all that overwhelmed Gerard for a minute there. He couldn't help but start grinning himself, like a total idiot, cause like wow. He was so lucky to have Ray.   

“You good, Party Poison?” Ray looked over at him, and Gerard couldn’t stop grinning. He thought about telling Ray he was really pretty for a second but that… Might be better kept to himself. It would sound weird if he admitted it out loud. Ray probably wouldn't get that he totally meant it from an artist's perspective. So Gerard just nodded.

“Everything’s a-okay, Jet Star.” 

He didn’t feel the need to get into the game right now though, reality was satisfying enough for the moment. Gerard leaned against Ray's side and let himself enjoy it for a little while.

 

 

Day Thirty-Seven (37), B.F

“Do you ever think you’re getting too old to be playing these games,” Ray mumbled, looking at himself in the hallway mirror. They’d made a few adjustments to his Jet Star jacket. Which meant they’d spent the day sitting out back with Alice, chatting idly as she sewed the patch Gerard had gotten Ray on the shoulder. Alice knew a lot about everything, but sewing was a hobby of hers, so she was almost as good at it as Mom was.

It was a really nice sweater; too bad Ray couldn’t really wear it outside too long without overheating. Cons of wearing black.

Gerard stood behind him, trying to figure out what else he should put on it. Ray had just kind of given him creative liberty, and he planned to take it, since everyone else was pretty much done at this point. Apparently he'd done a good job so far, Ray hadn't complained once.

“Do you ever think you’re getting too old to not be able to swim,” Gerard shot back, and Ray made a face immediately. This again. Gerard hadn’t stopped bugging him since he almost drowned last time they went to the pool as Lindsey laughed. It was sad. When they were walking home and Gerard had tried to bring it up, Ray just started on a seven-minute rant about how rude Lindsey was which was definitely out of the left field, but hey. People said weird things when they were embarrassed.

“Drop it, buddy.”

“Me and Ricky can teach you,” Gerard said, for the third time. They’d talked about it a lot, but Ray just couldn’t see the light.

“We’re in the desert, there’s no water in the desert, why would I ever need to learn how to swim?”

“Because if we drive far enough we find the ocean,” Gerard said. Ray gave him a weird look in the mirror, something Gerard couldn’t quite puzzle out.

“Sure,” Ray said faintly, looking away. “I guess you’re right.”

 

 

Day Thirty-Eight (38), B.F

They had a lot of spectators, which was obviously making Ray uncomfortable, but that was what he got for putting learning to swim off for so long. It had taken so long to convince him to do this that he deserved it even more, in Gerard’s eyes. If he hadn't been so stubborn this wouldn't even be a big deal.

“You’re lucky you have so many supportive friends, you brat,” Gerard said as he shoved Ray down the steps of the pool, snickering when Ray flailed. Maybe it was cold, but that was a bit of an overreaction-

Ray yanked him in, and that was enough of a shock because holy fuck it really was cold- but Ray also found it necessary to shove his head in the water, holding him there for a moment. Gerard came back up, sputtering and coughing. Now Ray was laughing.

“You fucker,” Gerard growled because, like, this was a nice shirt okay? He wasn’t going to wear it in the fucking pool. He had other shirts for that purpose.

“Take it off!” Ricky was yelling from the edge of the pool, and then he and Ángel were chanting it over and over as Frank laughed. Somewhere in there Lindsey wolf whistled at him. Fuck.

Whatever, Ray was grinning at him like he wasn’t the one in mortal danger if Gerard got mad, he was totally out of his element and had no business making fun of anyone. He couldn’t even swim, taunting someone in the water was asking for trouble, plain and simple. Gerard had half a mind to shove Ray’s head under the water, see how he liked it.

Gerard wasn’t really sure how to teach someone how to swim. He wasn’t fond of swimming, and he’d never really tried. But he was always down to help a friend, and it looked easy enough, so he tried to puzzle it out all the same. “I don’t know man just go like. Flail in the deep end. That’s what Frank does.”

“I do!” Frank yelled from the sidelines, giving Ray an assuring thumbs up that Ray returned, even if he had absolutely no intention of doing that. To be fair, Frank was one of the people in the group who nearly drowned the most. Right behind Gerard, who was constantly getting his head shoved underwater for saying dumb things or being a nuisance in general.

Every time he looked over, Lindsey grinned at him, waving, kicking her feet in the water. It was nice to have her around again, she'd been housebound for a while there for getting into some unspecified trouble. When Gerard asked she just gave him a shifty look and said he was better off not knowing.

“Dude. You are exactly no help,” Ray said, irritated. “Stop checking out your girlfriend if you’re serious about this.”

“Then stop being jealous and give me a minute.” Gerard gave him a halfhearted shove. Maybe he felt a little bad when Ray tensed up but hey, if he wanted to avoid this he should have learned to swim. And also he should lighten up in Lindsey’s presence. “She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Then why are you staring at her like that? Didn’t you come here so I could learn something? You’re an awful teacher.”

This seemed to be a genuine concern. “I'm not staring at her like anything, but okay, sure. Whatever. What should we do first?”

 "You're always staring at me like something," Lindsey called. Maybe that was true. Gerard looked back long enough to stick his tongue out at her.

"Do you wanna shut up, maybe? I don't even get why you're here," Ray snapped which, holy smokes, he needed to chill out. Gerard didn't even know where this was coming from. That wasn't a very Ray way to behave.

Gerard quickly stepped in between the ensuing staredown to remind them why they'd all come out here today.

“When I learned they gave me one of those kickboards,” Frank offered, which diffused some of the tension.

“We don’t have a kickboard,” Ricky told him.

Frank waved a hand at the mess around the sides of the pool. People left flotation devices lying around all the time. A lot of the things looked questionable at best, but the pool noodles they usually used to beat each other up were usually pretty reliable.

They might work. “Okay just grab the fuckin’ pool noodle and don’t let go,” Gerard said, which was probably the best bit of teaching advice he could offer. Ray didn’t seem impressed with it. Whatever. That was as much of a lesson as Gerard could give him. Ray seemed to be in a mood now anyways, over god knew what. He probably wouldn’t listen.

“Stop saying fuck,” Frank reminded him from the sidelines, earning him a smack from Mikey. This peanut gallery deal was getting old, Gerard wished they would just get in the stupid pool instead of criticizing his teaching methods.

Fuck,” Ricky said, so Mikey smacked him too, looking exasperated.

“Why don’t they just like, get in the pool,” Ray said, crossing his arms over his chest. Gerard hadn’t considered just how uncomfortable Ray might be with this entire situation.

Seemed that way now, though. He didn't feel bad, Ray needed to check his attitude.

“Well screw it, I’m going in,” Ricky told them, walking around to the deep end with Frank. Lindsey slipped in from where she was sitting, coming over to stand with Gerard, like maybe she could offer better advice. She couldn’t. Whatever.

“I’d recommend putting someone tall deep as they can go so he can swim to them but he’s the tall one.” The teenagers at their disposal were no help in this. Steve was sitting there looking amused, Tommy was… not all that tall either, honestly, and seemed deeply opposed to getting wet in general. The scowl hadn’t left his face since they got there.

Alice claimed she was too afraid of getting her makeup messed up, which Gerard could understand. Not that he knew anything about makeup, but hers seemed pretty masterful.

“Just forget about it, okay? You guys do your thing, I’m like, totally fine in the shallow end.” Ray wasn’t digging the nonsense going down in the deep end, apparently. Which was the rest of them trying to one up each other as they jumped in.

“Take a pool noodle, Raymond,” Gerard said. “We can do this or die trying.”

“Okay that’s not funny if I could actually die trying, dumbass,” Ray grumbled. His anger was deflating slowly, maybe that was because he was getting more nervous about the swimming thing but Gerard could deal with that.

“Okay, well,” Gerard pushed his own pool noodle against Ray’s chest until he took it. “Take this, and you can decide what to do with it, alright?”

To his credit, Ray didn’t decide to start beating Gerard with the pool noodle until Steve had convinced him to try swimming a lap with it. And he made it, and they all gave him a round of applause even though he was acting like a total baby and shaking when he made it back to the shallow end. He gave Gerard a shove and then started beating him with a pool noodle. Didn’t even give Gerard a chance to get his own, just bombarded him with attacks. Totally unfair.

“Same time tomorrow,” Gerard said when he finally managed to pry the noodle out of Ray’s hands. “Until you’re swimming laps for real, okay?”

“Why is this even such a big deal for you.”

“You need to know how to swim you dummy. It’s like knowing how to ride a bike.”

“Okay but I actually need to know how to ride a bike.”

“You won’t when you learn to drive. Now. Come on. I’m getting out, I’m freezing.” Gerard elbowed Ray in the side and Ray elbowed him right back. They sat and warmed up and watched the others splash around for a while, not really saying much of anything.

Ray bumped his shoulder against Gerard’s, nodding at the water. “When the bombs fell did they fuck up the ocean?”

And it took Gerard a moment to notice that he was actually talking about the game and not making some obscure reference to something. “I don’t know, man. Nobody’s died of radiation poisoning yet.”

“Radiation poisoning is some serious shit.”

“Makes your hair fall out. And you’d look super stupid without hair,” Gerard said, which was probably the truth. Ray flicked him in the ear. Gerard tugged a lock of his hair in retaliation.

Frank sat in between them, shaking his hair out like a dog.

Moment ruined. Gerard pulled him into a headlock, and everything was normal again.

 

 

Day Forty-One (40), B.F

It was probably the first time Gerard had ever felt like a total badass in his life, getting ambushed by Grant and his gang of vampires as soon as they left Frank’s street. It had been sort of a sleepy morning, and a ridiculously early start thanks to Mikey. He'd just been too excited to see the rest of Frank’s Killjoy uniform to sleep in. It was well worth it, at least. Frank had added a super cool yellow shirt, obtained from one of his aunts when she was visiting, and Ricky had given him some of the fingerless gloves he'd always admired. All of it went really well with his silly vest and his mask. He looked like a tiny punk.

All of them spent a good part of the morning chasing each other around Frank’s backyard, which was something his mother couldn’t complain about, seeing as they were actually doing something. Outside, no less.

The problems started up on the way home. They'd almost made it back to the Way's when Gerard noticed the first of Grant’s gang, caught him in the corner of his vision.

And they ran, of course. It had been a while since Grant had tortured any of them, so the experience was a good reminder that they couldn’t let themselves get rusty. The three went as far as they could, taking all the evasive maneuvers they usually did and dashing through the park. It was a nightmare in this heat, but they managed it.

It wasn’t running like a wimp that made Gerard feel like a total badass either, no. It was the fact that Ray was waiting for them at the park. Joining him were Lindsey, in pigtails and star shaped sunglasses, and Grace -who wasn’t very intimidating, but it was hard to imagine anyone beating anyone else up in her presence. Ángel was there too, probably to keep the peace between Ray and Lindsey, who were probably not going to get along past this sudden display of solidarity. 

Lindsey frowned as soon as she spotted Grant’s gang, elbowing Ray in the side maybe a little too hard and then mumbling something to Ángel that made him stand taller. Not that it helped much. He was too small to really look scary, but the effort was noted.  

And Grant was slowing down. Half the pack looked hesitant to go forward now. They’d stopped completely, at the edge of the sand, as Frank and Mikey and Gerard fell in line with the others. Ray was so ridiculously tall, Gerard felt a little better standing next to him. Braver, even. He couldn’t stop smiling now.

“Fuckin’ Dracs,” Ray mumbled, which made Mikey giggle. It seemed that they were at an impasse now, staring each other down, sizing each other up. Grant did not look happy. He kept looking from Ray to Gerard, his frown deepening every time he switched over. Truth be told, it was Lindsey who was probably keeping them in their place. She apparently had somewhat of a reputation, Alice had told Gerard once. Grant must know her in some capacity, he fixed his gaze on her and scowled. 

Gerard wondered briefly if Grant would come over and do that weird thing where he stood nose-to-nose with her as they both said nothing, that thing that looked pretty gay when he did it to Gerard. To the surprise and relief of everyone present, Grant didn't. He and his cronies backed right off. 

It was a miracle, really and truly. Ray was Grant repellent. Or maybe it was Lindsey who was Grant repellent. Either way, Gerard would keep that in mind. With the tension gone everyone chilled out, Ángel giving Lindsey an uncharacteristic high five.

Ray scooped Grace into his arms. “Well that was a great time.”

Grace waved to Gerard. She was looking pretty cool today, wearing Ray’s sunglasses and a tasteful tie-dye bucket hat. Gerard waved back. Grace was totally the best.

“We’re heading on over to Tommy’s house, if you wanna come? They’re having another band practice over there. Like, a proper one,” Ray said, and Gerard would follow him to like, the ends of the Earth if he kept Grant away. Well, he'd do that anyways because Ray was the best ever. He just loved Ray even more now, Ray could never get rid of him. They were totally bound for life.

So they were off to Tommy’s. Ray set Grace down and she trotted along happily.  

“So they’re actually like, a band?” Gerard really didn't know all that much about what it was the older kids did all day.

“I guess.” Lindsey shrugged. “They probably won’t be when Steve and Tommy leave for college.”

“Hey, don’t talk about that,” Ray said quickly, and Gerard wasn’t sure if it was because he wasn’t supposed to know for some reason or because of the way Ángel’s face fell immediately. Well, damn.

He wasn’t quite sure why Ángel would be so affected by this change until he remembered that whatever issue Ricky was going through directly affected his brother. What was Ricky going to do without Steve around anyways? Sure, he liked them well enough but there was no way any of them could take Steve’s place. Steve was right up there with Ángel on Ricky’s people I would probably die for list. He’d said so himself.

Oh dear. Gerard shot him a sympathetic look, which Ángel pretended he didn’t see. That was fine. Gerard acted funny like that when he was upset too.

Not that there were a lot of reasons to be upset in the moment. They'd done it, they'd taken Grant down for once. Gerard wasn’t over it yet. Having Ray around was revolutionary.

He missed a lot of the conversation going on around him because Grace was just… Staring up at him. Smiling. Kids did that, so Gerard wasn’t too weirded out.

“We’ve been telling her all sorts of stories about you,” Lindsey said, and Grace nodded. Gerard wanted to know what she knew. What she’d been told. She grabbed Gerard's hand and didn’t let go, which didn’t make sense until Lindsey pulled him back by the arm so he didn’t trip on the curb as they crossed the street.

“Don’t mind him, baby, he doesn’t know the first thing about safety,” Lindsey mock-whispered, making Grace giggle. “He rides his bike without a helmet!”

Grace gave him a suspicious look, and Gerard felt a little sheepish. Okay. Maybe he should work harder on being a better influence. He did his best to behave the rest of the walk there. He also worked to keep swearing to a minimum, chastising everyone else for it as Mikey usually did.

You could tell Ángel wasn’t happy at all because he didn’t chime in when Gerard started telling Grace all about the Phoenix Witch. That was Gerard’s surefire method to get Ángel into any conversation but no, he just wasn’t having it today. He just stared down at the pavement when he walked, and kept his head down. Maybe the twins really were psychic. Maybe Ricky’s sadness was rubbing off on him.

He cheered up a little when they crossed the street and Gerard grabbed his hand when they did, going on a rant about safety as Grace giggled. He even laughed when Ray did the same to Gerard, even if it wasn't funny. Ray didn’t understand that holding hands like this was a gay thing to do, even if it was a joke. What the heck was he doing?

Gerard shot him a look and Ray grinned. “Safety first, right?”

“Did you miss the part where I’m not like, five,” Gerard snapped, getting that much more embarrassed when Lindsey whistled behind them.

“Shut up and walk,” Ray said, so Gerard didn’t say anything. He continued not to say anything as they crossed the street, even when Ray didn’t let go. Because whatever. Really, whatever, it was fine, if he wanted to be like that Gerard was a-okay with it. He might've felt a bit weird about it but it wasn’t all that bad. He had sort of a weird fluttery feeling in his chest but... whatever.

Gerard was on edge anyways because Tommy lived closer to Grant’s neighbourhood than any of them, and the proximity was concerning. Ray just gave his hand a squeeze and he felt a little better, even if he should have let go like, ten minutes ago. Really now. Frank was looking at them funny.

The garage was wide open and there they were, the group of colourful teens parked in mismatched chairs with instruments and equipment and an apparent lack of interest in actually playing anything. Grace ran right up as soon as they were in sight, abandoning Gerard for Steve, who held his arms out for her. Ángel perked up a little too, seeing how happy Ricky was at the moment, sitting with Alice in the garage as he strapped skates to his feet. It was cute, Gerard thought. He could understand that level of brotherly devotion.

Ray finally let go of Gerard’s hand because Grace was whispering things to Steve that made him look over warily. Now it was embarrassing, now they were weirding people out with how gay they were. Gerard jammed his hands in his pockets and scooted away from Ray, subtly as he could.

Frank started recounting today’s events to Steve, who looked intrigued, while Gerard was getting stared down by Alice and Naomi. Alice looked a lot different when she was actually making an effort to look girly, dressed in a pink tank top and leggings with a full face of makeup. She'd even taken Gerard’s advice with the beanie she was wearing. It really did pull the look together.

“Good to see you guys,” Tommy said, and maybe he was saying some other stuff that Gerard didn’t take in because of the way Naomi was glaring at him. Only then did he realize he was staring, and he remedied that quickly by finding a sudden burning interest in the wall of Tommy’s garage. There was just no winning today.

Naomi was scary. Ray seemed to like her though. He went right over and struck up a really quiet conversation, their heads bent together. Gerard felt weird about that but he wasn’t quite sure why.

Alice was strumming out chords on her guitar- it was a bass, Tommy corrected when Frank commented on it. Mikey was right over there asking ten billion questions in a heartbeat.  

And they stuck around.

It was weird seeing anyone perform, especially people that were more or less friends. The music was not great at all, nobody knew what they were doing, but it was still… awesome. They didn’t even have a drummer today because apparently he only showed up when he wanted to, and he didn't want to often. Nobody even thought they should be standing up, the entire practice was had sitting down.

Their friends were just so cool. They were cool enough that when Steve hung back a little longer than everyone as they were filing out, Gerard pretended not to notice. He saw it out of the corner of his vision though, the giant grin on Tommy’s face when Steve grabbed his arm, said something Gerard didn’t really catch.

Everything sort of clicked into place when Tommy mumbled something in return and ducked in to kiss him quickly.

Oh.

Oh.

Gerard really didn’t know what to do with himself then. His face was burning and he felt uneasy, though he couldn’t really place why. Maybe it was a shock, or maybe it was something he’d known for a while and was telling himself over and over to ignore. He wasn't sure if he was more concerned with them or how thinking about it made him feel. Maybe the possibility that he was maybe...

No way, no how. Gerard trailed after Ray the whole way home and tried to tell himself that none of it really bothered him at all.

 

 

Day Forty-Two (42), B.F

When they headed over to Steve’s again, Gerard made a point of not looking at him or Tommy.

Not that anything was wrong, of course. Why would anything be wrong? Nothing had changed! He just had a bad feeling hanging over him, something he couldn’t quite place. It was nothing to do with them! They just sort of... reminded Gerard of everything on his mind, that was all! That was his problem, he was totally cool with it otherwise. 

Gerard was perched in a chair beside Alice, who was scowling at him. She wasn’t so scary anymore, as much as she liked to pretend she was. Gerard thought she was pretty cool, even if he couldn’t figure out what was up with her voice. Or her… Everything. Now that they were hanging out more, he was noticing these things.

He did know some important facts about Alice, from conversations with Steve and the twins, and even Ray. Naomi was her best friend, for one. Naomi was also going off to college but Alice wasn’t, she was staying behind because she didn’t know what the fuck to do with her fucking life. Alice really loved music, even if she admitted that she was not so great at playing it, despite what everyone told her. She didn’t like her dad, especially not when he'd made her cut her hair the other day. Her brother called her Toby when he was screaming through the phone at her to get home before dad freaked the fuck out! She called her brother Dick, even though his name was Richard.

Gerard didn’t ask about any of that. When it came to the Big Kids, he rarely did. Alice was cool, no matter what.

Alice always had really cool boots and she laughed super loud and her lipstick colour changed every day. Gerard hadn't even known about the existence of blue lipstick, but he'd decided he was definitely a fan.

Alice's lipstick was bright green today, like a mermaid's. Gerard loved it. Lindsey had borrowed it, so they matched, and they both looked great.

“You’re pretty good friends with Ray, huh?” Alice was leaning her chin on her hand, elbow propped up on the arm of her chair. Lindsey mimicked the pose on Gerard’s other side, grinning. He wasn’t sure what they were insinuating, but it made him nervous.

“I’m getting to be good friends with everyone,” Gerard mumbled, sinking lower into his chair. What did they want? Lindsey was always egging him on, so it was probably some form of teasing. Gerard still liked Lindsey though, even though she could be kinda mean. She was like, the coolest girl he knew. The only one who was cool enough to hang out with outside of Alice.

“He’s cute though,” Lindsey said. Which was uncharacteristic, seeing as she and Ray were still locked in some sort of passive aggressive combat Gerard would never truly understand. "Ray's cute, and he's your age."

“Do you like him?” Gerard wasn't sure where this was going. Lindsey hadn’t actually shown any interest in like… any of them, which wasn’t like anything Gerard has seen in a movie ever. The lead girl always ended up with someone in the group. Mostly the hero. Maybe Ray was the hero. Maybe she liked him and that was why she was so mean to him.

“Dude, no.” Lindsey gave his shoulder a shove. “None of you are good enough for me.”

“Oh, thanks.”

“No offense but you’re the worst.”

Gerard rolled his eyes, watching Ray do... whatever it was he was doing over there. Lying down on the road so Ricky could try jumping over him in his roller skates, apparently, fuck. That was anxiety inducing.

"He's done this before with Ángel, you worrywort," Alice said, poking Gerard in the side and making him squirm. "You're like a mother. You're a total mom friend." 

None of that was reassuring in the slightest. Ray and Ángel were very different people, in all senses of the word. Gerard looked away before it happened, but with the applause they were getting it probably went without casualties.

“Do you know how to skate?” Lindsey gave Ricky a thumbs up when he looked over for approval.

“No but Ricky’s been bugging me about it.” Gerard mirrored her. Ray was back on his feet, brushing rocks from the pavement off his person.

“He does that. You should come learn with us? I mean we already know how, but, you could learn. We could teach you.”

Gerard had a bike. That was faster than skating.

“Sure,” Gerard said. He wanted to be able to show off like Ricky anyways. “That can’t be so hard."

 

 

Day Forty-Three (43), B.F

“Gerard, for god’s sake-”

“Stop touching me, dude!”

So this had been an awful idea.

By all means it should be a really good day. Gerard had managed to sleep last night, despite all his excitement. It had started out pretty well too, today was a lovely day and everyone was hyped up and determined to have a good time. No fights had broken out in the car on the way here. It should be perfect.

And it was, until it came down to the actual skating part. Gerard felt ridiculous in all this safety gear. His hair was in his face and he could hardly see, and this helmet was too tight and he looked so silly and every time he nearly fell he had to grab hold of Ray’s arm. They kept getting looks from pretty much everyone in the park, and it was the most embarrassing thing ever.

Alice was laughing at him. Like she had any excuse to make fun of him, she was just sitting on one of the benches in her skates and her knee socks with no intention of going anywhere near them. She was using Grace as an excuse to stay on the bench, Grace had come along just so she could watch everyone else. So now even Grace was laughing at him. 

Ray was still trying to help, bless him, but Gerard was feeling weird about falling back on him so much. This was the sort of stuff that happened in movies but like, it was actually cute when it was a girl and a boy? Not so much when it was two awkward middle school boys. 

“Okay, okay, look. Nobody thinks you’re gay for needing help, okay, gay doesn’t apply when you’re skating.”

“Who told you that, because it’s totally not true,” Ricky said as he zoomed by. Ray gave him an exasperated look but Gerard just sort of wanted to stop sucking so bad so he could suck it up and go with it. He grabbed hold of Ray’s arms and let him tow him- fucking asshole could skate backwards. Where had he even learned to do that?

Whatever. Gerard could focus on not falling on his face when he had someone in front of him helping him not do that. He wobbled precariously after a couple of shaky steps and Ray tightened his grip. Gerard gave him a worried look, but Ray just smiled. He wasn't annoyed yet. That was good.

Okay, maybe this wasn't so bad. Lindsey was cheering Gerard on, skating alongside them for a moment before speeding after Ricky, hurling insults until she caught up with him. Alice and Grace chimed in with positive words once they were done making fun of him.

“See? It’s not so hard,” Ray said. Gerard wanted to deck him. But also not, Ray was the only thing keeping him upright, and he really was trying to be supportive. What a good friend he was. “Just take steps.”

“I can’t do this, dude.”

“Negative talk isn’t gonna get you anywhere.” 

“Negative talk your mom,” Gerard huffed, and Ray laughed, distracting Gerard enough to make him trip. Stupid Ray.

Ray got a hold of Gerard under his arms and it was obvious he was trying not to laugh, but he held him up. Gerard was trying to scramble back to his feet but the stupid wheels were making it super hard.

The company he was in made it a little difficult too, if he was honest. In the days that had passed, Gerard had become painfully aware of every interaction anyone had, just in case someone took him off guard like the Steve and Tommy thing. He just couldn’t stop thinking about it. Not that it was a big deal, but when he saw them sitting at the edge of the rink all close like that it made him feel like he really shouldn’t be seeing it, like it was some private thing he was intruding on. When Naomi gave up skating and laid herself out on the grass with her head in Alice’s lap, he noticed that.

Ángel holding fast to Mikey’s hand as he wobbled along? Maybe not as bad, but still. Ángel really seemed to like Mikey.

“Dude, if you’re gonna learn I’m going to need you to stop spacing out,” Ray said. Gerard hadn’t even noticed that they’d stopped off to the side. He nodded absently, trying to focus on the people around them. It didn't help much. He looked away quickly when a couple holding hands passed by.

Ray looked sympathetic, at least. “Why don’t we go sit down for a second, huh?”

Gerard felt really silly for being so negative. It was still a really good day, he realized. Everyone was having an awesome time- he'd ruined his own mood. And here he was keeping Ray down with him. The two of them sat on the grass, watching everyone else go by. Naomi had convinced Alice to get up, finally, and was spinning circles around her as they both giggled. It was cute, and it made Gerard feel worse. This had been a godawful idea.

“You good?” Ray nudged him with his elbow. Gerard shrugged. He really wished he could put what he was feeling into words. Or like, even understanding it himself might be a step in the right direction. “You don’t have to keep skating.”

“I don’t mind the skating…”

Ray frowned. Oh god, now Gerard was making him upset on top of everything... “So what is it then?”

“I don’t know.” Maybe he did, and he wouldn’t admit it. Gerard sighed and leaned his chin on his knees. Ray just gave him a suspicious look and leaned back on his hands. Gerard wasn’t sure why he was sticking around, Ray should be out having a good time and not entertaining the downer. Somewhere deep down Gerard was really glad to have him around. Ray was sort of the most relaxing person in the universe. Sometimes just sitting and listening to him talk about literally anything could be calming.

Gerard was too agitated to be relaxed at all. He had to clear some things up at least. 

“Hey,” he said after a little bit, and Ray looked over at him. “Are Naomi and Alice dating?”

“Yeah.”

That wasn't even a big deal, for some reason. Gerard didn’t want to go further than that, didn't really want to ask about Steve and Tommy. He’d put that off long as possible. Right now he had to focus on not sounding like a total idiot. “When you like someone do you start feeling sick? Or like your chest is gonna cave in or your heart's gonna stop?”

“Descriptive. Why, do you like Alice?” Ray smiled when Gerard got flustered immediately. Gross. She was so much older. And so not his type! Not that Gerard had really put any thought into what his type could be, but still. It would never work.

“Nevermind!”

“You like Aaaaaalice.” Ray poked him in the side until Gerard grabbed him in a headlock, and they were both laughing. Ray’s supernatural ability to make everything okay just by existing was an endless source of wonder to Gerard, truly. How did he do it?

“She’s not my type!”

“Well what’s your type then?” Ray managed to pry him off, but Gerard wasn't done bugging him yet so he sprawled out on the grass, leaning his head on Ray's stomach. It was sort of weird but oddly comfortable, and Ray didn't seem to mind.

And while he was here, he might as well put some thought into what his type was. “I dunno. You go first.”

“Hell if I know, I’ve never liked anyone before. They’d have to be pretty obviously. Really pretty. And creative maybe? I don’t know. I like being around creative people. I’m sorta boring.”

“If you’re boring then I only want to be around boring people long as I live.” Gerard rolled his eyes, then settled in properly, watching the clouds go by. He felt so much better already, just being around Ray. If he could figure out what his problem was sometime in the foreseeable future, there was no doubt Ray could fix it. He was definitely magic. “Maybe I’d like someone boring. But like, your kind of boring.”

“My kind of boring?” Ray snorted. “Sure. Thanks. Maybe I wanna be with someone who’s your type of creative. As in, they’re bossy as fuck about their ideas and don’t ever shut up.”

“Bossy? I’m n- okay, fine.” Gerard sat up, so Ray did too. His glasses were off centre in an endearing sort of way. Gerard fixed them for him, since Ray never seemed to fancy doing that himself. What a nerd. "Maybe I wanna be with someone with stupid hair who won’t shut up about nerd stuff."

“So you’re gonna date yourself?”

“Shut your face.” Gerard was laughing though. “I really don’t think I care about any of that stuff, really. Shouldn’t you just date someone who makes you happy?”

“That’s the idea, buddy.” Ray leaned over and tucked a little white flower into Gerard’s hair, pushing the stem behind his ear.

“Like, someone who makes you feel better about things?”

“Duh. Well that’s what Steve says, at least. I trust him.” Another flower. Gerard made a face. “But most of all you should date someone who can skate. So get up, we’ll get you into shape so you can get a girl.”

Ray got up and held out his hands, and as much as Gerard didn’t fancy getting up and falling over every three seconds, he trusted Ray to not let that happen, so he let Ray pull him up and lead him back to the rink. If he focused hard enough on Ray the world around him hardly mattered. Everything felt fine.

 

 

Day Forty-Five (45), B.F

The more Gerard got to know her, the cooler Alice became. Alice didn't make fun of him for asking questions about makeup like Ricky did, never really asked him why he was so interested. She let him fool around with her bass sometimes. He couldn't really get the hang of it it was pretty fun. She also said he could come over whenever he wanted to do those things, which Gerard probably would take her up on if he wasn't so anxious.  

He decided to go on Lindsey's invitation, because if Lindsey was there too he wouldn't be acting as awkwardly as he would alone. It was a good day for being inside, and Ray was out doing something or helping his mom. Either of those. Gerard hadn't really been listening when Ray was talking about it. If Ray wasn't around to bug, Gerard was free to do whatever.

Mikey had already left at the crack of dawn to go to Frank’s, apparently to show him the cobra patch Mom sewed onto his sweater. It was baffling to see how excited he still was about it. This was quickly becoming the longest lasting thing Gerard had ever come up with. Even the older kids were pretty enthusiastic, which was wild. He'd just assumed the teenagers would think it was dumb.

Alice had made her own costume for it, even. It was sort of what she wore all the time anyways but hey, it was super cool and Gerard wished he could pull it off. She also changed her name to DJ Hot Chimp and made Naomi join in, even if her role as NewsAGoGo was just to give semi-sarcastic updates about goings on in the Zones. They'd finally found a way to put her gossiping to good use! Alice insisted that she secretly liked it, and Gerard saw that sometimes. You know. When Naomi was actually taking it seriously.

Once Mikey was out for the day, Gerard headed to Alice’s house. 

Lindsey and Alice were up in Alice’s room, so Gerard had to endure an incredibly awkward conversation with Alice’s father, considering there was “nobody in this house named Alice”, but once he mentioned that he was Lindsey’s friend he was led upstairs.

Alice’s room was tiny but the window was huge, plastered with butterfly stickers. The walls were blue where they weren’t covered with posters of boybands Gerard sort of recognized, probably because they were all over most of Ricky’s shirts. Clothes were everywhere. It was still neater than his room, somehow, maybe it was a teenager thing. Or a girl thing. He was tempted to think both.

Alice and Lindsey were sitting on her bed sharing earbuds and looking sort of zoned out. Or maybe they were just focused really hard on the music. Lindsey looked up as soon as he came in, grinning. Alice looked a little uneasy for a moment but she relaxed soon as Gerard joined them on her bed.

“Hey Gee. You missed karaoke,” Lindsey said.

“Plenty of time for that later,” Alice assured them, winding up the discarded ear buds. “Plenty of time after this.”

“We’re making plans, Gee.” Lindsey tugged on his hair when he zoned out staring at one of Alice’s posters, trying to place the band. He was almost certain they were the ones Ricky was still mad about. For breaking up. Who could say for sure, all these bands with guys in eyeliner looked the same. “Sleepover plans.”

Sleepovers. Gerard liked those. Or, at least he did when they were at his house, with his friends. He'd never been to any other type.

Alice waved her hand in front of his face when she thought he'd zoned out again. “You wanna come?”

“Your mom lets you have boys at sleepovers?” Mom would be fine with Lindsey coming over, but Gerard had never thought about asking, mostly because he wouldn't know what to do with a girl over at his house. He’d heard that parents were usually really iffy about boys and girls sleeping over together. Which was dumb. What were they gonna do, have sex? Gerard felt weird even thinking about it.      

“My dad does,” Alice said. Huh.

“I guess?” He’d have to ask Mom. And it would be super weird going to a sleepover without Mikey, which was something he’d never done that before. Maybe he'd have to clear it with Mikey too. “That would be nice.”

“Awesome,” Lindsey said with a grin, vaulting off the bed to turn the music back on.

Gerard spent the next couple hours getting introduced to weird whiny music and getting his nails painted black and not caring what other people might think. It was sort of liberating. And nail polish was cool.

 

 

Day Forty-Six (46), B.F

“I’m going to sleep over at Alice’s house,” Gerard said to Ray at the pool the next day. “And that’s what you missed.”

“Alice’s mom lets her have boys over?” Ray was sort of distracted by Lindsey and her friend, who were in the pool trying to drown each other, giggling as they did. Gerard wasn’t sure where Ray stood with Lindsey currently. He still seemed to have some weird grudge against her, which Lindsey herself didn't even get. They didn't have history, didn't have problems. She hadn't even met him before the summer. Ray wasn't the kind of person who was mean to people for no reason either, so Gerard was stumped. He couldn't figure out what to do, and any time he seemed to spend in Lindsey's presence made things worse. 

But whatever. Lindsey was awesome, there was no reason not to like her. Ray had looked annoyed when Gerard told him she was coming with them. That was Ray’s problem. Maybe he'd just woken up on the wrong side of the bed, even if that wasn't a very Ray thing to do. Everyone had those days. 

“That’s what happens when you’re older, I guess.” Gerard didn’t press the issue.

Ray hummed, kicking his feet through the water. Gerard didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t really sure what he'd done, but Ray was definitely annoyed.

“What’s the face for, Jet Star.”

“It’s because you’re here, Party Poison.” It made him smile a little bit, as it always did, even if he wouldn't look at Gerard. “You drive me up the wall.”

“Sorry, I’ll like, tone down how awesome I am.”

Ray rolled his eyes, and then his hand was on Gerard’s back, between his shoulders. Gerard was confused and definitely feeling weird for it, so wrapped up in the weird feelings that he didn’t realize the danger he was in until Ray gave him a rough shove and he was crashing into the water.

Fuck. It was cold.

“FUCKER,” Gerard yelled, and Lindsey was cackling at his misfortune. He wouldn’t pull Ray in though, he was too nice and he didn’t want him to be grumpy again. Instead, he leaned his arms against the side, resting his head on them and looking up at Ray. “How was yesterday you heathen. Did you have fun?”

“I guess? I’ve gotten used to having all of you around all the time. Grace was my only source of entertainment.”

Gerard snorted. That wasn’t so bad. Grace was his favourite form of entertainment. She was surprisingly smart for someone of her size, and she was super cute and she loved Gerard especially, which he appreciated. Kids were awesome. If him and Mikey had cool cousins like Grace he’d be more than happy.

“Alice’s dad doesn’t call her Alice. Is that weird?” It had been bugging Gerard since yesterday.

Ray made a face, fiddling distractedly with his glasses. “Really? That’s shitty of him.”

“Yeah.” Gerard sighed. What else could he say about it? He kind of wanted Ray to explain it to him, what was going on with Alice. Ray just seemed to know everything about everything, he must know. Maybe it was too personal.

“We should go,” Ray said, and Gerard nodded, looking away.

 

 

Day Forty-Nine (49), B.F

“I can’t fucking believe you!” Gerard risked swearing in the hall just this once. It was necessary for emphasis. “You know, friends tell friends when it’s their birthday. And also that they’re babies.”

I’m not a baby! We’re the same age!

“You were twelve until now! You’re a baby!” Gerard had never been so amused in his life. “Why’d Ricky have to tell me it was my best friend’s birthday?”

Because I didn’t want anyone making a big deal of it! And I didn’t want anyone freaking out about me going away for the weekend.” Pause. “I’m your best friend?

“You’re my only option,” Gerard said, laughing when Ray made a disgusted sound down the line. “Seriously, when are you coming home? I need to shower you in gifts.”

If you got me anything I’ll kill you.

“No, I just drew you. You’re fun to draw.”

You drew me?” Ray sounded dumbfounded. “Why?

“Why not? I've done it a couple of times now. You’re pretty, that makes you fun to draw.” Gerard realized a little late he should have thrown some artsy terms in there so Ray didn’t think he was being gay or something. Heaven forbid. “That’s not weird, is it?”

No? I mean. Wow. Thanks?

“Whatever, dude. Just hurry and get back home so I can beat you up. Everyone else got you expensive shit that you better appreciate when you get back.”

Whatever! Put Mikey on the phone, I wanna say bye.

“Fine, but I’m taking it off him before you disappear.”

Mikey stood there grinning the whole time he was on the phone, answering in monosyllables and side eyeing Gerard every chance he got. Gerard desperately wanted to know what they were talking about. It was nothing he couldn’t ask Mikey about later. Whatever.

Ray seemed sleepy by the time he got the phone back. “My mom’s gonna kill me if she catches me up this late, dude. Not everyone can just ignore all the rules like you.

“When you’re the leader rules don’t apply!”

Yeah, whatever. Go to sleep, fearless leader.

“Bite me, Jet Star.”

Maybe later. I gotta go.

“Well happy birthday, kiddo.”

Call me that again and I’ll kill you in your sleep.

“Blah. Bye. See you soon.”

Goodnight, Party Poison.

 

 

Day Fifty (50), B.F

Gerard really wasn’t sure what people did at girl sleepovers. He wasn’t really sure what girls did at all, because Alice and Lindsey didn’t really seem like any of the girls Gerard had known. They were a lot cooler.

But apparently they weren't all so different.

It was a lot of avoiding Alice’s annoying brothers and gossiping about people Gerard didn’t even know. It was pretty interesting. Alice sat behind him, running a brush through his hair and chatting absently to Lindsey as she did.

“Steve’s kinda freaking out about moving.” Lindsey said, gnawing on a gummy worm. “Hey, you should braid Gerard’s hair. I think he washed it for once.”

“Everyone’s freaking about moving,” Alice said through the bobby pins in her mouth. “And I think that’s an excellent idea.”

Nobody seemed overly bothered by the idea of their friends going away. Or, at least not on Ricky’s level, but then it was hard for anybody to be on Ricky’s level. Like, ever. Gerard didn’t say anything, just continued to let them yank on his hair. He didn't care about them making his hair girly, he could just take it out later. Putting makeup on him was something else.

The moving topic didn't stick around too long. Alice talked about concerts she was going to, about awful boys she knew and how awesome Naomi was, how much she was looking forward to their date on Friday.

Mentions of Naomi, especially coming from Alice, made Gerard a little uncomfortable still. Alice talked about her the same way Lindsey talked about the girl at the pool, like they'd hung the moon. Lindsey said that he talked about Ray that way sometimes but that was seriously stupid and untrue. It was a lot different. Alice had described butterflies, feelings that sounded so familiar to him that made no sense.  

“Do you like anyone,” Lindsey asked Gerard, like she was reading his mind, and he made a face, but Alice probably thought it was from her pulling on his hair. She let up a little bit. “You can tell us, it’s okay.”

It wasn’t, really. Gerard tried to think of the different things that signaled that you liked someone. Butterflies? That obviously wasn’t just a thing you felt for someone you liked, since he felt that way around Ray sometimes. Jeez. The question made him feel funny, like he couldn’t breathe. He needed to deflect it.

“I don’t have time to be chasing after girls,” he said, and Alice and Lindsey exchanged a look in some foreign girl code he could never hope to understand. Whatever. He didn’t say anything else about it, especially not when they started teasing him.

“It’s okay if you’re in love with me, Gee, everyone is,” Lindsey said, kissing him on the cheek. Whatever. They were friends. Gerard was pretty sure he didn’t like her like that. Then again, he’d never really like liked anyone. Ever. He wasn’t sure what that was like.

Maybe he did like like Lindsey?

That haunted him well into the night, when Alice crashed first for some reason, despite being the mature adult of the group. Gerard and Lindsey laughed at what a lightweight she was and stayed up much much later, discussing comics and swapping stories about friends they didn’t share- Frank and Lindsey's friend Jimmy seemed to have a lot in common. Frank was so going to end up like that when he was older.

They watched movies, lighthearted movies, though Lindsey assured him you could certainly watch horror movies at a girl sleepover, she just wasn’t in the mood. For once in his life, neither was Gerard.

Gerard really did love Ghibli movies, so he was sure that Ghibli movies with Lindsey would be even better. She didn’t talk much all the way through movies like Mikey did and she didn’t shush him like Ray did when he himself talking through them himself. She just sat there, and it was just the two of them watching an excellent movie about a weirdo in a moving house and it was nice not to have everyone else around for once, as much as Gerard loved them.

He didn't have to focus on confusing feelings now, either. Any time spent not thinking about confusing feelings was time well spent, as far as Gerard was concerned.

They made it through a good half of the movie before Lindsey finally said something. Gerard was waiting for her to crack, he wasn’t sure what she wasn’t telling him but it seemed sort of important. She’d gotten steadily twitchier, bouncing her leg against his and accidentally kicking him once or twice.

“Can I ask you something weird,” Lindsey said, which could mean a lot of things. Gerard swallowed hard against the anxiety rising in his throat and nodded. Was she mad at him for something? Was it something he’d said that was weird to her? Had he said anything that she might not have liked? Had Mikey told her something embarrassing? Shit.

“Yeah, sure,” was his response. He knew it was bad with the way she nervously looked back at the TV before saying anything, like the talking fire demon snarking on the screen could give her advice on how to approach this.

“Do you like girls?”

The immediate Of course I do! Why would you ask me that? died on Gerard’s tongue because honestly, he hadn’t thought about this much at all.

But, of course he liked girls, that should be a given. All his guy School Friends liked girls. Even the guys he didn’t particularly like liked girls, he was pretty sure Grant and Hana were dating. They spent all their time together, it was inevitable. Right?

Mikey liked- okay, maybe Mikey was a bit too young to be thinking about this, he didn’t even really have friends who were girls. He only hung out with Frank and Ángel. They’d never really talked about it, but Gerard was pretty sure Mikey would like girls if he knew any ‘cause girls were great.

He couldn't say the same about some of his other friends though. Steve especially. Sure he was uncomfortably close to Tommy and he'd caught them kissing more than a few times now, that didn't mean anything. That was what you did in high school, right? It wasn't weird at all, it was just something older kids did. Totally.

“Obviously,” was the answer Gerard gave after all that contemplation, though he hadn’t really drawn a strong conclusion. He was having a lot of conflicting emotions and this was probably the only acceptable answer, probably the answer Lindsey wanted.

“I think I do too? I mean, my cousin said that maybe if I don’t think about boys the way I do about girls maybe I don’t like boys. And I don’t really like boys who I’m not already friends with.” Lindsey shrugged, looking back at him for a reaction.

And Gerard was a bit stunned. Was that even allowed? That sounded like something that just didn’t happen. That would be like him liking boys which- HA. AS IF. What sort of a boy liked another boy? Well, outside of Ricky obviously, but Ricky was super weird and Lindsey was super not so she had no business liking girls.

“Like, is that the way you feel about boys? I don’t know.” She looked lost. Gerard didn’t know how to answer. Of course he didn’t like boys, he just has an overwhelming sense of adoration for his friends sometimes and also Grant for a while but that was in the past and that was certainly not the same as liking them.

“And I was wondering like,” Lindsey had to stop talking just to gather up the courage to get the words out. “Like, you’re my favourite boy in the entire world right now, maybe I like you? I could be wrong about this whole thing. So maybe um…”

He could see where this was going. The issue was that he’d never kissed anyone except his mom and distant relatives when they come for a visit- and Ricky that one time but apparently that had been an accident and Ricky said it didn't count. He didn’t want to be judged- what if she was expecting something straight out of a movie? How embarrassing would that be?

“You gotta kiss me, Gee.” Lindsey was gnawing on her bottom lip nervously. Maybe she’d never kissed anyone either? Maybe this wouldn’t be a bad thing. “Gee?”

“I- yeah. I can do that.” God. He was nervous. She must have sensed that, because she patted his face.

“Don’t worry. I’ll still love you, even if you’re a shit kisser.”

“I mean- whatever. How does your cousin even know these things? Like what it’s like if you’re…”

“Her girlfriend told me the same thing, I just assumed one of them knew what they were talking about,” Lindsey said dully.

That stopped Gerard dead. “You know gay people?”

“Yeah? So do you? Fuck. Are we gonna do this or not?”

So instead of asking which gay people they both knew in a semi-panic, Gerard kissed her like they did in the movies. It was really not what he expected at all, their mouths didn’t fit well and their noses were in the way and- okay, Lindsey moved her head and it was better, but it still wasn’t movie-worthy. It wasn’t swelling background music in the rain quality. It wasn’t right.

And that was really scary.

When she pulled back and shook her head, Gerard knew they’d drawn the same conclusion, but he didn’t really want to say anything about it. He wasn’t sure if he could. Lindsey laughed, brushing hair off his face and tucking it in behind his ear.

“I don’t think that’s for me.”

“That’s fine,” Gerard said, clearing his throat. He could drown himself in what was happening in the movie and not care about this. That was totally fine.

“You okay?” Lindsey was leaning her head against his shoulder, looking concerned. This was the absolute worst.

“Yeah, totally,” he said with a smile. He could at least wait until he got home tomorrow to freak out.

 

 

Day Fifty-One (51), B.F

It kept him up the next night, like something gnawing away at his stomach, cold and ugly and persistent. Who was he supposed to talk to about this? Alice, maybe? Steve? Steve might know but Gerard felt like he trusted Alice a little more. Steve's advice could get really cryptic sometimes, there was no was he could deal with that.

Oh god.

He didn’t sleep well at all.

 

 

Day Fifty-Four (54), B.F

Things were sort of rough.

Gerard realized this halfway through breakfast, literally stopped shoveling cereal in his mouth long enough to take in the fact that he had to be around boys all day today. Ray was supposed to be back today.

The boy situation was something that hadn’t been an issue for the past couple days. He went to see Lindsey yesterday and that helped, she talked about nothing in particular, nothing important.

Most importantly, she didn’t talk about Ray. Because Gerard didn’t want to talk about Ray, and he didn’t want to talk to Ray. Nothing about Ray. He knew he should be excited about seeing Ray, getting to finally give him his birthday present, but he couldn’t bring himself to be excited for that. Not when he was feeling like this. 

So Gerard barred any excitement he felt and didn’t think any further than that. That wasn’t going to do anything. 

He probably couldn’t sidestep around the fact much longer. The fact that there was a fact, that he felt some sort of emotion he couldn’t quite place yet. Or maybe he could place it and he just didn’t want to? Was he fighting it? Was it something you could fight? All the symptoms Alice and Lindsey had described were there, Gerard just didn’t want to face that this was what he was feeling. This was what was happening. 

Mikey shook his shoulder lightly. Poor Mikey, he'd been so concerned these past couple days. “Where did you go?”

Gerard hated worrying Mikey, but he wasn't quite ready to talk about this. He made a noncommittal noise and stuffed more cereal in his face. Like, fuck, he had to pull himself together, had to brace himself. He had to be strong. He could do this.

Despite putting on his best smile and giving himself a Party Poison-worthy inspiration speech in the bathroom mirror, Gerard was still anxious. Once they were on Ray’s porch he was even less sure of himself. He was considering running off, but then he’d have to explain things to Mikey and once he said it out loud it automatically became true, so he was gonna put that off for a while.

Ray opened the door. He was very tall, and wearing one of those annoying tank tops that usually only Ricky bothered with and wow, okay. Gerard felt awful for being such a girl about this whole thing but it made him unreasonably happy to see Ray again before he sabotaged himself by thinking about what that fucking meant. He ducked his head when Ray smiled brightly so he wouldn't do the same, just in case someone could tell what he was thinking.

“Gee’s been weird all morning,” Mikey said, as Ángel poked his head out the door, smiling.

“Long time no see!”

“Are you sick or something,” Ray asked Gerard, who could only shake his head in response.

“Who gets sick in the summer,” Ángel mumbled, which didn't help at all because if there was someone who could tell what you were thinking by looking into your fucking soul, it was him. Gerard glared at him until he looked away.

“Frank does all the time. Frank’s sick now,” Mikey said as they were ushered in. It had been a terrible strain on the Ways. That was one less distraction Gerard had to work with, which was usually a good thing but he really needed distractions right now. Frank was his favourite distraction.

They were supposed to be blasting each other with water right now, but Gerard wasn’t sure he could handle that sort of roughhousing in his current state. So he opted out, and even if people called him a killjoy and begged him to join, he was happy just sitting on Ray’s back porch with Grace and watching everyone else have a good time. Grace wasn't very chatty today, but she sat in his lap and let him do her hair and made him feel better all the same. Grace was absolutely the best.

The picture was still in his pocket, and Gerard felt silly about that but he was also sure it would end terribly if he tried giving it to Ray himself. So after he’d been around an acceptable amount of time, Gerard got up and went home, leaving Ray’s picture on the counter and not caring if Mrs. Ray’s Mom Toro found it first. He had a lot of thinking to do.

That night, Gerard didn’t call Ray like he usually did, and he didn’t pick up when Ray called him. He just laid in his bed and stared at the ceiling, trying to fend off these stupid feelings that were gnawing at him, but he couldn’t. It wasn't something he could ignore. 

It wasn't something he could deal with on his own, either. 

“Mikes?”

“Mm?”

“I think I like Ray,” Gerard mumbled, and there was something about saying it out loud that made it all the more worse, he was right, it was real now that he’d said it, now that it was out in the universe. He covered his face with his hands and took a deep breath to try and chill out or something. It didn't help at all.

“You two are friends now? For official?” Mikey sat up, rubbing his eyes tiredly. 

“No, not like that.” The silence was almost painful. Gerard was maybe ten seconds away from freaking out, or crying or... something. “Mikey.”

“Okay," He yawned, totally unbothered. "That’s cool. I think Ángel likes me but I’m busy not having a boyfriend so I don’t want one.”

Gerard had never been more relieved in his entire life.

 

 

Day Fifty-Five (53), B.F 

“How do you tell someone you like them,” Gerard asked Lindsey the next day, as they were wandering through the park on their way to Alice’s.

“You know what I would do? I would punch them,” Lindsey said, which really wasn’t good advice, but it was definitely something Gerard would like to see happen someday. That was a very Lindsey approach. He couldn’t imagine punching Ray. It would probably end worse for him.

“Thanks,” Gerard mumbled, and Lindsey elbowed him in the side.

“Just be honest you goof. There’s no way she won’t love you.”

There were many ways, but going through them with Lindsey wouldn’t get him anywhere, so Gerard sucked it up and kept walking.

 

 

Day Fifty-Six (56), B.F

“Hey, Gee, did you die?”

“No I didn’t.” Gerard was twirling the phone cord around his finger. Maybe he’d been ignoring Ray for a little bit. Ray and... pretty much everyone else. Even Mikey, who was probably going to want to talk about the Ray thing at some point now that he was in the know. Maybe he’d been spending most of his time with Alice and Lindsey and sometimes Ricky, when he came to visit. They were just a lot easier to deal with than whatever was clogging up his mind right now. “Got stranded on route seven. Ran outta gas.”

“Did you get shot in the head or what? We’ve all been looking for you.”

“Define we?”

“Me and Ángel and your brother. Frank’s still sick.”

“Sucks.” Gerard didn’t know what to say, but maybe he should just… get this over with. “I have to talk to you about something?”

“I hate to be that guy but can it wait til I see you tomorrow? Sorry, my brother’s bugging me for the phone.”

“Ha. Tell him I say hi.”

“Won’t do. See you tomorrow loser.”

Gerard just stood there with the phone to his ear for a good minute, thinking about how really and truly fucked he was.

 

 

Day Fifty-Seven (57), B.F

In a way, it was Mikey that killed Gerard. Mikey, who needed something for his costume that he didn’t already have for some reason. Mikey who wanted to stay home with Ricky and Ángel so they could be there when Frank called as he had been doing every day, Mikey who Gerard owed a favour to, Mikey who asked Gerard to go to the craft store really quick, seriously, it wouldn’t take that long come on.

It was Ray who offered to go with him.

It was Mikey who made meaningful eye contact with him as he lengthened his list of things they needed. There was no way he wasn’t in league with the girls. Gerard couldn’t trust anyone. But now he couldn’t back out. He had to be strong.

It was hard when Ray brought out the big guns five minutes into their silent walk, hands in his pockets. “Soooo. You said you wanted to talk about something?”

“Uh- my… M-my jacket. Alice says she could put more on it but-”

“Your jacket is fine, if you ask me.”

“I feel silly in that mask though, everyone else has super cool stuff and I have a flimsy piece of plastic to protect my face.”

“Yeah, but it suits you.” Ray was grinning at him, and it was like sunshine and Gerard couldn’t take it. His stomach was full of butterflies in no time at all and he could feel himself staring but he couldn’t help it.

Of course this got Ray concerned. “That wasn’t it, was it? You know you can talk to me.”

“I know I can, don’t worry.” Could he tell? Would he be weirded out by this? Should Gerard even say anything? This was a serious issue.

They were crossing through the park when Gerard finally summoned up the courage. Right. Might as well get it out here in the open so he didn’t have to hold onto it. This was way too complicated for him to be dealing with on his own, and even talking to Mikey had made him feel even a little bit better.

On second thought. Gerard stuck his hands in his pockets and kept his weird love confessions to himself. Ray was one of those people who would keep talking if he thought he’d done something wrong- not that he had, but Gerard was giving off those vibes.

“Hey, you wanna come to my house later? My brother’s gonna be out and I don’t wanna be bored.”

Oh god. Gerard shook his head. “That’s a bad idea probably.”

“Why? Are you grounded again? Come on. It’ll be fun.”

This was an increasingly desperate situation. “Fine.”

Ray looked so happy. Gerard had no idea what to do now.

It was obvious that Gerard made the wrong decision when he was actually at Ray’s house. It was a lot different than being at Lindsey’s house, mostly because he was pretty much incapable of being comfortable in here. Ray had asked him what was wrong like, six different times, what was Gerard supposed to say? I think I like you, please don't hate me.

They were sitting on Ray’s bed playing Pokémon with Finding Nemo on in the background- Ray insisted that they should watch it, only to get bored halfway through. He then started pelting Gerard with popcorn until it resulted in a fight.

And now they were playing Pokémon.

“Are you this nervous at Lindsey’s house? You can chill dude, I won’t hurt you,” Ray said, without looking up from his hand.

“Lindsey doesn’t have such a shit deck,” Gerard said. Ray made an indignant sound and smacked him upside the head. “Seriously I’ve never met anyone this bad. Not even Frank, and he has a weird love for really weak Normal types. Not even Grant, god, I played him one time... Talk about a total annihilation.”

Ray grumbled, fiddling with his glasses. “Oh shut up. Some of us have lives.”

“You spend half your life at my house you dummy, what life are you talking about?”

Ray looked up from his cards cryptically for a moment before making a really bad move. Gerard rolled his eyes. He felt a little better for about ten seconds, until Ray decided he needed to ruin everything again. 

“Can I ask you something?” It was Gerard’s turn but Ray was still frowning at his cards in concentration.

Fuck. “Yeah?”

“Do you like Lindsey?”

“Yeah. She’s really nice. You should come with me to see her sometimes.” Gerard totally obliterated Ray’s Raichu. Ha. “Alice is super nice too.”

Ray cleared his throat, refusing to look at Gerard. “No that’s not what I mean.”

It took a moment. Wow. Really? “Oh- no. Gross. Ew. Why does everyone keep asking me that?”

“Ricky says it’s either Lindsey or Alice. You don’t like Alice, do you?”

“Dude.” Gerard was getting uncomfortable again. He focused on the game, hoping Ray would change the subject or just shut up. But he didn’t, of course.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, Gee.”

“I don’t like Alice!” Okay, so he sounded super defensive now. Ray was looking at him funny. Stupid Ray. Dammit. “Boys and girls can be friends! It's not illegal! I don’t like anyone!

Ray laughed like he didn’t believe that, game totally forgotten. Gerard didn’t really believe that either. His heart was being really loud, hopefully it wasn’t that obvious. Shit. What was he supposed to do? Usually when he was this frustrated he'd just start yelling, but yelling at Ray wasn't an option. He'd get that sad puppy look on. Fuck.

“Ray shut up.”

“Ease up, dude.”

They sat there. Silence stretched between them for miles and miles, Ray’s smile was fading a little bit. He probably thought he was being annoying. Gerard wanted to assure him that there was nothing wrong, wanted to get him to keep smiling but that just wasn't a possibility. There was no way he could explain this situation without ruining everything.

“Hey, um…” What should he even say? What were you supposed to say? He couldn’t use Lindsey’s wording because, well, he was a guy. Ray was a guy. This was very complicated.

So he didn’t say anything. He could use alternative methods. Maybe this was a totally illogical, stupid idea, but they did this in movies though so it was okay, Gerard knew what he was doing.

It was all very sudden and there wasn’t much thinking to it. Kissing Ray was very different from kissing Lindsey for many reasons. It didn’t feel so wrong, which was what made it so scary. It wasn't as awkward, Gerard had at least some idea of what you were supposed to do and no idea where to go from there.

Ray didn’t taste like gross lip gloss.

Gerard pulled back so things didn’t get worse. A lot of different things were going through his head, how awesome that had felt, how guilty he was for actually enjoying it. The anxiety was also really starting to kick in now, Ray hadn’t said anything, he just looked… Scared? Upset? That was no good. Gerard was preparing a SIKE! and a bout of hysterical laughter to diffuse the situation, but any good humour he had left disappeared as Ray made a face.

“Sorry,” Gerard said quickly, because this was going bad quickly. “I don’t know. Um. Sorry. Really.”

Ray looked away, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. Gerard got up, Pokémon cards forgotten.

“I’ll um. See you later?”

Ray didn’t respond, so Gerard just left. He was glad he didn’t have Mrs. Ray’s Mom Toro or Lou to run into because he probably would have freaked out. Which he wasn’t going to. There was no need to freak out, everything was going to be okay. He could patch this situation up. They could continue as normal.

“How’d it go,” Mikey said when Gerard got back home, sprawled out on his bed with a book.

Gerard didn’t say anything. He spent the rest of the night drawing space gorillas as Mikey told him stories about stuff Frank got into, which was what he always did when Gerard was feeling like that.

He was the best little brother in the entire world, Gerard thought.

 

 

Day Fifty-Eight (58), B.F

Gerard stopped by Ray’s house with Ricky on their way home from Steve’s. Lou came to the door and said Ray was sick.

Sick enough to not be able to pick up a phone, apparently. Gerard called twice before giving up.

 

 

Day Sixty (60), B.F

The desert was as beautiful as it was dangerous, even more so at night, which was why Party Poison enjoyed not sleeping. He stood alone on the roof of the diner between the I and the burnt out N, goggles down, looking out as far as he could.

Everyone else was snoring away, save for Show Pony, who was supposed to be the only one who was awake right now. Poison just liked having time to himself. Private moments were few and far between, and silence never lasted all that long.

It really didn’t. Poison yelped as he was shoved forward suddenly before his attacker grabbed the collar of his jacket, tugging him back sharply into balance. That was like, really fucking dangerous. His heart was racing as his temper rose.

Fucker!

“You looked a little sleepy,” Jet Star said. Poison would really like to be mad, he really would, but he found himself giggling instead. He was tired. And Jet just had that effect on him.

Whatever.

“I’m gonna shoot you in your sleep,” Poison said. Jet just shrugged and pushed his goggles up off of his face, making his curly hair poof up spectacularly.

“You said that last week. Go through with it, you coward.” Poison just stared at him before huffing and going back to his post between the sign letters. This wouldn’t last long either. Jet laughed and grabbed him around the middle, picking him up despite his protests. “Chill out, Pouty Poison.”

“Call me that again and I’ll shoot you!”

“Empty threats! I call bullshit.” Jet set him down and Poison stumbled a little, unsteady on his feet. He leaned up against the sign, trying to recollect himself. When Jet came towards him again Poison jabbed him in the stomach with his ray gun, hissing.

But of course, Jet Star thought that was hilarious. He didn’t say anything, just froze where he was, stupid obnoxious grin fixed on his face.

“I’m gonna cut all your hair off in your sleep.” Poison brushed past him. Moment ruined. He just wanted some stupid peace and quiet, but nooooo. He wasn’t even allowed to have that.

“Now that I believe.” Jet grabbed the back of Poison’s jacket and pulled him back again. “Come on. I’ll leave you alone. Don’t be dramatic.”  

Poison just sighed. They were at an impasse. He didn’t move. Jet didn’t move. His annoyance leaked out slowly and he butted his head against Jet’s shoulder. “Fucker.”

“I should legally change my name to that.” Jet ran his fingers through Poison’s hair. It felt nice. Usually Poison would complain about getting his hair dirty but he couldn’t remember the last time they saw enough water to bathe in, so it was sort of pointless now.

Jet pulled Poison’s head back slightly by his hair. Poison didn't fight it, just tilted his head back slightly, closing his eyes as Jet started talking. “Why don’t we go sleep? You don’t wanna be tired tomorrow, do you?”

“What’s tomorrow?”

“Another day of trying not to die, as it happens.” Jet let go of him and Poison grinned. “Come on, seriously.”

Poison pulled him down roughly by his bandanna and kissed him first though.

Gerard woke up not long after, more upset than he’d been in a while.

“What the fuck does that even mean,” he asked Alice, who was sitting on her bed and tuning her bass. Like, sure he had dreams about the desert a lot, it wasn't a bad thing. But recently dreams like that were becoming common, and it wasn't fun in the slightest. Gerard wasn’t sure why he told Alice this stuff. She seemed wise, like most kids her age were, but also unbiased, since Ray seemed to want to avoid her lately. Ray was avoiding everyone.

“I think that’s something you need to figure out yourself,” Alice said, giving an experimental strum. “Like, sometimes dreams are just dreams. I’ve had unspeakable dreams involving Tommy but I’m definitely not in love with him.”

Gerard didn’t want to know, but that was reassuring at least.

“Then again, maybe it’s something that’s weighing on your mind. Then I think you should just be honest with yourself. You’re not gonna get any judgement from any of us, you know.”

Gerard nodded. He was actually starting to believe that.

 

 

Day Sixty-Three (63), B.F

Gerard really loved going to Lindsey’s house, and sleeping over there was the best. The one time he'd been before they drew all over Ricky’s face when he was asleep and Gerard actually beat Alice at Mario Kart which was super extra impossible. It had been an excellent time.

Ray wasn’t there, though.

Sure, Ray wasn’t all that fond of her for whatever reason, but Lindsey was nice enough to invite him all the same, since he was Gerard’s friend and she was always willing to make an effort. But Ray hadn’t been around at all. Gerard stopped calling, he figured Mrs. Ray’s Mom Toro and his brother were getting annoyed by him. Ricky hadn’t seen him, Steve didn’t know anything. Or he said he didn’t but Gerard had his doubts. If Lindsey couldn’t get anything out of him either it was obviously a very bad situation.

So he had probably really messed things up with Ray, and that was all he could think about while Lindsey and Ricky were having a good time. Chilling out descended into pillow fights when Gerard wasn’t looking, when Ricky brought up that stupid game you dweebs won’t shut up about. Lindsey has no tolerance for the desert, she personally thought that nuclear winter is so much cooler.

Maybe so. That could be the next thing when their current game inevitably sputtered out.

“Are you still moping?” Lindsey tossed her pillow at Gerard’s head. “Get over it. Go talk to Ray, stop being a coward.”

“We’ve been saying,” Ricky said. He’d lost interest in both of them and was rooting through Lindsey’s drawer full of makeup. Ricky's fascination with the stuff had only gotten worse this summer, he was getting tips from Alice now and everything. Gerard was sort of envious of him, he was pretty enough to pull it off. That must feel pretty good.     

“Ray could be making more of an effort,” Gerard said because, what the fuck, everyone was acting like this was his fault. Well. It was. But if Ray wanted to be friends again he could have said something by now. He would have stopped avoiding Gerard entirely and pick up the fucking phone if he wanted to keep in contact. Gerard didn’t even like thinking about it, it made his chest hurt. Whatever.

Alice shrugged at that. She sat herself down on Lindsey’s bed, dragging a brush through Ricky’s hair. Gerard was probably next. Fuck. “You’re right, but also, man the fuck up.”

“What did you even do?” Lindsey was focused on her iPod, picking out some mood music. Something with a lot of screaming probably. “Like did you fight or what?”

How was Gerard supposed to explain this situation? “No he just. He got mad at me for no reason.”

“Ray doesn’t get mad for no reason,” Ricky said, wincing when Alice hit a tangle. She bopped him on the head when he started wiggling around too much. “He's a lover not a fighter. A chill guy.”

Chill guys didn’t act like that. But whatever. Gerard said nothing, just sat there and sulked for a while as everyone else had a good time. He was trying really hard not to think about it, but it was always there, gnawing away. Worrying. What was he going to do if Ray never talked to him again? What if he moved on to some other guy- god that was weird to think about..

“Hey, Gee, I’ll take your mind off stupid boys. Wanna talk about stupid boys?” Lindsey sat behind him. He was in for a world full of pain.

“Okay?”

“I saw Grant with this guy from my school the other day.” Lindsey was tugging at his hair. This might help, actually. Grant gossip was a surefire way to brighten his mood.

“Yeah?”

“Mhm.” Lindsey nodded gravely. "His name is Adrian. He's a funny guy."

“You mean the tall hot one?” Ricky was standing in front of her mirror, pinching and poking at his face. “Or at least everyone thinks he’s hot. He's okay...”

“I think he’s pretty hot for a Catholic school dude,” Lindsey said. If they were talking about who Gerard thought they were talking about, he would have to agree. Most Catholic school kids tried too hard.

“You think Grant like the tall hot Catholic school dude?”

“He probably does, Grant keeps hanging out in our yard after school,” Lindsey said, tugging Gerard’s hair back again. With all this work he better look like a goddamn princess by the end of this. “Hey, can I put makeup on you?”

Gerard wasn't that out of it. And he wasn't that gay either. Not at Ricky's level. No sir. “What the hell? No.”

“Oh come on, it’s fun. Come on. Seriously.” Lindsey continued to jostle Gerard's shoulder until he agreed. What was so bad about it, really, once he considered it. It wouldn't leave this room. Gerard was pretty much just scared of enjoying it at this point, it wasn't a habit he could indulge in often. Ricky had the style for it, he didn't, and getting your hair braided was one thing but makeup was pretty next level stuff.  

Wearing makeup was a really gay thing too, unless you were a girl. Or Ricky. He didn’t want to give off the wrong vibes.

“She learned from me, Gee,” Alice said, over with Ricky at the mirror, applying more electric blue lipstick. She didn’t need any more. “You’re in good hands.”

“Okay, fine.”

Lindsey clapped excitedly. “We’ll make you look nice.” 

He knew better than to argue with her, so he sat there and took it. After a while, they seemed to be having a sort of good time. Gerard focused a lot harder on the people around him, put Ray out of his mind for a bit. Let himself get consumed by the sheer awfulness of having makeup put on him.

He wasn’t sure how Ricky and Lindsey did this every day. After he’d been poked twice with the eyeliner he swatted Lindsey away from him.

“Hey, that’s on you! You won’t stop moving!” She pushed on his shoulders until he sat still again, annoyed. “Look up and away and stop blinking.”

It was impossible not to blink. She punched his shoulder every time he did. Gerard was going to be bruised to hell by the end of this. “I’m not used to this!”

“It gets easier,” Ricky said, from where he was doing the same thing flawlessly. Gerard wanted to throw something at him, especially when he came over and stood, grinning obnoxiously over Lindsey's shoulder. His eyeliner was absolutely perfect, he was so not allowed to comment.

“It’s not gonna happen again, dummy.” It better not. Gerard had barely survived when she tried putting mascara on him, what the fuck, that was crossing the line for what it was appropriate to be wearing if you were a guy. He was lucky he was bigger than Lindsey or they’d probably be putting him in her clothes now too. 

Not that that would be all that bad. Lindsey had an excellent sense of style. 

“You look beautiful.” Ricky draped his boa over Gerard’s neck, laughing. "Next time you should let me try some advanced stuff on you."

Maybe not that, but fuck, yeah, Ricky was right. Gerard was sort of in awe. He did look good. Even if his eyeliner was smudged, it just made him look like one of the band guys in Ricky's posters, and that was pretty cool. Lindsey really had learned from the best. Maybe he looked more like a girl than usual, but that wasn't a bad thing, right?

Alice squeezed his shoulder, grinning at him in the mirror. “Not so bad, huh?”

“This is a one off thing,” Gerard said, but he didn’t really believe it. As unbelievably gay as this all was, he looked sort of amazing. He couldn’t stop pausing to look at his reflection in things- the boa was a good touch, despite how opposed to it he should be.

And for a while, he didn’t have to think of anything else. There was nothing to be worried about. He didn’t think about Ray at all. He didn’t have to care. Karaoke was a ritual at these things and it was something Ricky was surprisingly good at. Not that it should be all that surprising, but it was funny. He was a bit over the top.    

It was nice to not have to worry about anything but not getting a pillow to the face when Lindsey and Ricky went at it as Gerard and Alice kept on with the gossip. It was nothing but cookies and bad movies until he passed the fuck out on the floor, rolled up like a burrito in Lindsey’s comforter.

He didn’t learn about the hassle of removing makeup until the next morning.

 

Day Sixty-Four (64), B.F

Eyeliner was really hard to get off. Gerard realized this when he was at Steve’s house a full day after the sleepover to help pack for his grand adventure to post secondary education. He still had it all smudged under his eyes.... somehow, he still looked good though. Eyeliner was pretty magical.

“You still look like a raccoon,” Lindsey informed him when she came to the door, like this wasn't entirely her doing. He just narrowed his eyes at her and continued down the hall.

Steve’s room was in a total state of disarray and there were way too many people in such a small space. Tommy and Alice and the twins were already present, picking through way too many things. Gerard had been in Steve’s room before but he had no idea one person could own so much stuff. This was probably what his room was like to other people who weren't Mikey.

No sign of Ray. Whatever. Gerard was still feeling good from hanging out with his friends who weren't ignoring him like children.

“Question, Allie,” Tommy said from where he was knee deep in stuff in the closet, slightly muffled by about twenty thousand different denim jackets and vests. “How many records does one person need? Realistically speaking.”

“Hey, we’re not all neat freaks with no worldly possessions,” Alice said, but really, she was on her third box. “You know, you’ll probably not have enough room for all of these?”

“No, but I’m a sucker, and I do,” Tommy sighed. Steve blew him a kiss from the bed. 

“You’re a sucker,” Ricky agreed, dragging Gerard to come help him… do whatever it is he was doing. Nothing productive, apparently. He was going through a box of pictures, a mix of polaroids and glossy standard prints of pretty much everyone they knew.

How do they have so many? Gerard picked one out carefully, one of Alice and Naomi, a candid where they were both years younger and sitting in the back of Alice’s brother’s truck, laughing about something. Alice’s hair was really short and she didn’t have any makeup on, but she still looked like herself and Naomi was leaning into her. It was… Cute. It made Gerard smile.

“Who took these?” He grabbed another one of Ricky hanging upside down from a tree branch that was scarily high up, giving the camera a gap-toothed grin.

“Tommy did. He takes too many, he’s a big softie when it comes down to it,” Ricky said as he confiscated the photo, mumbling something about his hair being too wild.

“Kid stop dragging my good name through the dirt,” Tommy grumbled. How he could hear anything as far deep in Steve's closet as he was was a miracle. Tommy was part owl, Gerard was sure of it now. Steve tossed a tape ball at him for being grumpy.

“I saw one of you in here too, dude.” Ricky continued rummaging through, but Gerard wasn’t all that interested in seeing himself. He was fascinated by these. He didn’t know a whole lot about his friends, it was interesting to see what they were like before all of this.

Tommy was never in any of the really clear ones. There were a lot of him that were blurs of blue hair and his hand smacking the camera away. He was only really clear in group photos. Gerard found exactly one that was clear and showed his whole body, where he was sitting, oblivious to the camera behind a counter, feet up, magazine in his lap.

Naomi never looked like the camera caught her off guard. She looked stoic and serious unless Alice or Ángel were in the shot. Ángel usually had his face tucked into someone’s side or hidden behind his hands. Alice changed her hair colour a million times, it got longer and longer. Gerard could see when the makeup started, she had twin braids and bright purple hair, and she looked much happier. This was even before Naomi.

There was one of him, and it was weird, like it shouldn’t be mixed up in here with other people’s memories. It was reassuring, even if it was a pretty bad shot of him with Frank on his back, both of them looking behind at the Dracs that shot Ghoul in the leg. It was a fun day. It confirmed their existence in this specific network of people.

“You can keep any of those you want,” Tommy said without looking. He was busy pulling things off the wall now. Posters and pictures. Was that an older kid thing too, covering up any available wall space with stuff? “I have a billion more at home, I don’t need any more. Don’t think Steve does neither.”

Gerard nodded. He wasn’t really buying the tough guy act from Tommy though. He’d feel weird taking a lot of these. He tucked away a blurry shot of Tommy for the laughs later, Mikey would probably think it was funny. There were some of a younger, angrier looking Lindsey in dresses she probably wouldn’t be caught dead in now. One of him and Ricky in a screaming match he didn’t remember, there had been a few.

One of Ray holding him up from under his arms, laughing as Gerard went down gracelessly. Oh man. Gerard frowned at it, looking around to make sure nobody had taken interest in his find, but Ricky was more focused on harassing Tommy with some sort of candid he found that Alice claimed to have took. Apparently it was bad. Gerard stopped sorting through pictures after that, it wasn’t safe.

But now this was weighing on his mind again.

The day wore on slowly as Gerard worried. He didn’t want to get stuck on this again, he wanted to put the stupid picture back in the box and go on with his life, but now it was in his pocket and Lindsey and Ricky were being escorted down the stairs by Alice and Tommy and he just really needed some older kid advice.

Steve seemed to be pretty wise. He wasn’t Alice, but he hadn't managed to bring up the point to her quite yet and if Ricky trusted him, Gerard should be able to as well.

“What’s up, kiddo? You’ve got a look on your face.” Of course, all older kids were also psychic. Why would Steve be an exception? Gerard made a face and shook his head. Subtle. “If you wanna talk you can. I’m a good listener and I’m smarter than I look.”

“It’s… I mean, it must be nice to have friends like you have?”

“You have friends like I have,” Steve said. He was picking books off the shelf, distracted enough that Gerard didn’t feel like he was being a bother by taking up his time. “You know that right? I haven’t seen those kids get this excited about someone for a long while.”

That was reassuring. Ángel made it obvious just how much he loved hanging out with him, but Ricky seemed to be bad at expressing those emotions in particular. It was sort of hard to tell if he actually liked you if you weren’t Steve or his brother.

“But I guess it’s not them you’re worried about.”  

Gerard shrugged. He wasn’t sure how to word this.

“Are you worried about Ray? I haven’t seen him, scout’s honour. I can’t help you with that,” Steve said. Gerard felt a bit silly. Was he actually that transparent?

“I don’t know what to do,” he admitted, after deciding to commit to this conversation. He could do this.

“I think you should be honest with him,” Steve said cheerfully, dropping another book into the pile with a thump. “You can trust me on that one.”

“I like him.”

“And does that bother you?”

Gerard had been expecting a yeah, obviously. Or maybe a we could all tell, buddy. An I know! at the very least. He wasn’t really sure what to say to that response. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Gay was supposed to be a bad thing, right? Grant called him that, alongside all the other uncreative insults he could think of. God was against it, he remembered that much from when they were all pretending to be religious and going to church whenever they could. Maybe he wasn’t so big on the religion thing but Hell didn’t sound all that great, no matter how much Lindsey joked about it. Gerard didn’t want to be bad. This was bad and he didn’t want to be and that hurt a lot.

He’d like to keep from crying in front of an older kid, but it was sort of hard. This was way too much and sure, he’d been called a freak before, but this was the real deal. This wasn’t being a recluse with an art passion, this was being a bad person, something gross and unnatural.

It was too much.

This was a bad, bad sinful thing, something damning. He was sure that he'd be alone forever, that nobody would love him and that everyone would react the same way Ray did if he so much as said anything. Not to say that was always the case, it was okay for other people, other people could deal with these things, but Gerard couldn't. Mom would probably hate him. Maybe Mikey did hate him, maybe he was just playing along to make Gerard feel better. Ray had every right to hate him now too.

“Hey, hey, don’t do that. Come on. Sit down.” Gerard felt stupid, he wanted to march out of here even if he wasn’t sure what he was going to do after that. Go home? Wait for this to pass? Maybe he was lucky, maybe it was a stupid phase, he could grow out of it. Maybe he was like Ricky, he could move past this and just keep loving girls and ignore the other part of himself. 

Before he knew it, he was crying and he couldn’t stop. It felt bad, it felt fine, he felt guilty for being relieved that he'd figured it out. Everything was confusing and really, really scary. Steve shuffled over and made him sit down while Gerard tried to get this under control because, fuck. This was not the time for this. He just wanted to be friends with Ray again, not have a full fledged breakdown.    

“I’m just gonna talk for a bit, if that’s okay. You don’t have to listen. Might do you some good.” Steve shrugged. Gerard didn’t respond. More because he couldn’t get his breathing under control than anything. “But I’ve been where you are and yeah, it really is something.”

Gerard would like to communicate how badly he didn’t want this to be happening. He still couldn’t.

“I can assure you, in all my infinite wisdom, that there is nothing wrong with you.” Steve put an arm around him and Gerard just went with it, leaned up against him because fuck it, he’d listen to what Steve had to say. He had to. The guy really did possess infinite wisdom. “I know it feels like it, and people are gross enough that it seems like a bad thing, but it’s not. Okay?”

He didn’t say anything else until Gerard nodded, though he wasn’t even entirely sure he believed it just yet.

“People will try to make you feel bad for it but fuck them, right? It’s none of their fucking business.”

It really was none of Grant’s fucking business. That was true.

“And nobody can tell you who you are. That’s for you to figure out. Don’t let anyone get in the way of that.”

“Yeah.” Gerard cleared his throat, rubbing his eyes. That was a lot to think about. “Yeah. Thanks.”

“And don’t even worry about Ray until you’ve got all this sorted out. He’s being difficult. He'll come around eventually. I don't know how things will turn out, but I know you're gonna be okay.”

“Alright.” Gerard smiled a little, trying not to sniffle too much. “Can I um. Stay here for a bit?” He didn’t want to go home like this. Mikey would start asking questions and he didn't really want Mikey to worry about this too.

“I’m not about to kick you out, kid,” Steve said, getting back up with minimal difficulty. “If watching me tidy up is what you find amusing, I’m happy to help.”

“God no!” Gerard retrieved the box of pictures from the floor. “I think I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m. This is fine… Just, how do you know so much? If you don't mind me asking...”

“How do you think?” Steve went back to his book sorting as Gerard sat on the bed, looking through pictures in case he found anything helpful. “I learned the same way anyone learned.”

“Did you get that all from Tommy?” It was weird to actually be talking about it. A topic Gerard had avoided for so long, something he could so easily have discussed with either of them. He really should have done this sooner.

“Guess I did. It wasn’t fun, you know. Getting there. I used to be a very different person, and not in a good way.”

“I can’t imagine you being all that awful.” Gerard picked out a picture of Steve and Ricky wearing matching ridiculous sunglasses to give to Ricky later. Might cheer him up a bit if need be.

“Well when you have parents like mine it leaves you with a lot of unlearning to do. I was against pretty much everything he was, but I still liked him for some reason, and that was hard.”

“Is that when you started going into the shop every day to talk to him?” Ricky had told him that story. It had seemed so strange at the time.

“It was, it was. And then when I finally did talk to him I started realizing things. And I probably would have tried to push all that aside and force things back into whatever narrow minded normal I was living before, but I had a lot of friends who made it seem like a perfectly okay thing to be, and they were able to convince me that I was okay. So I try to pass that knowledge on to everyone I can.”

Gerard nodded at a picture of Ángel and Mikey fully decked out in their Killjoy gear and peeking over a table. You couldn't see much of Mikey's face through his hair pushed down by his helmet, and Ángel's face was obscured by the mask Gerard had made him, but it was still cute and Mikey would like it. He’d keep this one.

“My parents still don’t know about it. And that’s been difficult, but his parents love me, so that’s something at least. And now I’m getting out.”

“It’s that easy?” Gerard looked up at him. He had his doubts, but Steve just smiled.

“When you have friends like yours? I don’t think you have anything to worry about at all.”

 

 

Day Sixty-Five (65), B.F

Gerard didn’t sleep very well, since he was busy mulling over his latest existential crisis. Even after all of Steve’s reassurance, it still took a little time to come to terms with everything- which Gerard was totally okay with, it just meant he'd have to give himself time. He wasn't worried so much anymore, wasn't freaking out or anything. It was just, you know. It was sort of a lot right now.

So when Mikey was jostling him awake far too early, it was a problem.

It was even more of an issue because Mikey had his helmet on. It was all Gerard can see when he cracked his eyes open, the big glaring GOOD LUCK in his face, and not much else since the helmet was way too big on Mikey and always slipped down to cover his eyes. “Poison, we need to do something about this. It’s been a problem. Everything’s all quiet over there, isn’t that weird?”

“You’re weird,” Gerard mumbled, rubbing his eyes. He was wide awake in a second though, when he rolled over and saw Frank standing there in his Fun Ghoul mask. That almost gave him a heart attack. “Okay! Okay, I’m up. What do you want.”

“Get suited up. We have work to do.”

Just in case that wasn’t incentive enough, Frank took most of the covers with him, yanking them off the bed. He was lucky Gerard didn’t sleep naked, or that could’ve been a real problem. 

But hey, if the kids wanted to go out and have some fun, he could use the distraction. And it might be nice to go out and do something for once, with all the time he’d been spending lying around.

He had time to collect himself in the bathroom, trying to fix up his outfit. It was the first time he'd actually worn the whole thing at once, and it really didn't look all that bad. Maybe the shirt was a little tight on him and his hair wasn't the right colour, but the sweater was totally awesome.

“You don’t have to come if you don’t wanna,” Mikey said from the doorway when he poked his head back in when Gerard was done changing into his Killjoy gear. He’d be fine in jeans, right? Mikey had his sweater on, it probably wasn’t too warm out. “I mean, if you still feel bad.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Gerard mumbled, going through a pile of papers, searching for his mask. It had been a while. Once he had it down over his face they were free to go. He felt a lot more badass already.

It wasn’t warm out. It was probably going to start raining, as a matter of fact, so they should probably hurry up and do… whatever it was they were supposed to be doing. He just let Mikey and Frank lead the way, they seemed to have a good idea of what they wanted.

The twins were out on their front lawn all decked out in their gear too. Ricky wasn’t in his skates though, he refused to wear them if there was a single cloud in the sky. It was important that they didn’t get rusty, he was always saying, because he wasn’t fuckin’ getting another pair. Gerard could respect that, even if skates seemed really pointless. Ricky made them work.

Ángel grinned and waved when he saw them. He’d added a few buttons to his ensemble, and had tricked out his mask so it looked cooler. It looked totally wicked, pink was totally his colour. Gerard would definitely have to draw it when he got home. “Hey, sorry to wake you up so early but Korse started edging in on our territory and I thought you might want to do something about it?”

Not particularly. Gerard had almost completely forgotten about the threat of Grant, he'd been way too busy sorting himself out. But hey, if the kids wanted to go get themselves into trouble, who was Gerard to stop them? He'd be more than happy to join in. “Well, what are we waiting for?”

The sudden silence was unnerving. Frank mumbled something that was too muffled by his mask to really understand.

Gerard pieced things together when everyone refused to look at him.

Ray joined them in a minute, and he wasn’t really wearing anything of his but his bandanna and his shades which was seriously irritating, after all the effort everyone else had put into getting ready for this ridiculous raid. After all the effort that went into his stupid jacket, his stupid helmet-

Gerard took a deep breath and tried to force calm. It wasn't really working, since his first impulse was to throw himself down at Ray's feet and beg for forgiveness, or ask him what he did wrong and if they're okay and if they can be friends again. He also wants to deck Ray and demand where he's been, why he was being such a fucking dick and avoiding everyone. The conflicting emotions are making things harder.

Mikey seemed a lot happier, but Gerard just straight up refused to look at him, steaming away internally even as he tried to chill out. Sure, he could be professional, especially if they were playing the game. He could be civil. That didn’t mean he had to like it.

“Well, let’s go.” Ricky led the way, even though Gerard was supposed to be the leader. He was still taking time to process this, so it didn’t really matter at the moment. Mikey grabbed his hand as they walked, which helped a little bit. Gerard sighed and steeled himself for the worst. Getting into character made things a lot easier, even if Party Poison probably wouldn’t be holding his brother’s hand marching into battle. Or maybe he would. Nah, he definitely would.

The clouds were getting seriously concerning by the time they got to Grant's- to Drac territory. It had been pretty quiet, everyone else had looks of total unbreakable determination on their faces. They could totally do this, and they would. Gerard didn’t even feel scared. He could imagine it pretty vividly, all of them marching in a row across the barren landscape as a storm broiled in the thick black clouds above them, thunder rumbling ominously as they marched.

Hell yeah.

“Incoming,” Ricky mumbled under his breath, as in they were about to pass by a house with a mass of kids on the porch. Gerard locked eyes with Hana, and there was no going back after that point. Do or die. Grant’s head poked out of the pack of Dracs, and Gerard stopped walking.

They were all laughing. That was fine. Grant looked totally incredulous as he crossed the lawn. “What in god’s name are you wearing?”

“Not important. Why are you showing your ugly face around my area?”

And he was right up in Gerard’s face, in that gay way he liked. Gerard didn’t back down though. Everyone behind him shuffled warily as the others started over. “Is this what fags do in their spare time?”

“You tell us,” Ángel snapped, and even Ray looked amused for a moment. Holy shit. That was probably the only mean thing Gerard had ever heard him say.

“Why can't you just be more honest with yourself? ” Ricky was laughing at Grant’s expression. The stupid kid was absolutely livid now. “It gets a lot easier once you accept yourself, I promise.”

“Oh, and you would know,” Grant snapped. They must’ve hit a nerve, he was usually very composed in these encounters. Gerard was secretly very pleased with this turn of events.

“Man you’re making this way more personal than it needs to be, we just wanna walk on through peacefully,” Ray said, in typical Jet Star fashion. Everyone else wanted to fight, he wanted to stop that from happening. When would he learn? Dracs only really responded to violence. The sky was really churning now, the first couple of raindrops from what would definitely be a spectacular storm splattered against Gerard’s mask and distracted Grant for a moment.

“Get the fuck outta here before I kick your ass,” Grant snapped. The other Dracs were hovering around him uncertainly. Not that Gerard's group was overly intimidating, there were more of them, and Ricky looked like he might kill someone at the moment.

“You wanna try?” Ray was taller than both of them. Gerard backed up just a little, let Ray get up in Grant’s face in that gay way until he backed down a bit, looking uncertain. “You don’t know me. I don’t know you. But I know that I could fuck you up.”

Ray wouldn't do that. This was pure acting, but nobody else had to know that. Grant faltered, then backed down with about as much dignity as he could muster. “Yeah, whatever. Just move along fucktards, I don’t want anything to do with you.”

"You stay the fuck out of our area," Ricky growled, and Grant scowled at him briefly before going back to staring incredulously at Ray. 

That was… Easy. Too easy. But Gerard wasn’t about to let this get away from him, so he put on his best smug smile and started leading everyone onwards, whistling as he went. Ray gave Grant a rough shove and followed after them. No insults were hurled their way. Nobody came running after them. Everyone just let them be, and Gerard had never been more proud. He was arm in arm with Mikey as Ricky belted out some celebratory tune behind them. Ángel was giggling, really, he hadn’t been this happy looking for days at least. Gerard thought maybe that was in part because of Ray. Maybe they could fix things. Maybe they could pull themselves back together.

By the time they reached the park on the end of the street everyone was doling out celebratory high fives and Frank was hanging off of Mikey. It was really raining, everything was overwhelming and Gerard was already soaked through, but he was too happy to complain.

He grabbed Ray up into a hug, just assuming he could do that. But apparently not, because he was shoved back roughly after a moment.

Everything went silent.

“What the fuck.” Gerard pushed his mask up over his face, because damn, he was really angry now. A hug wasn’t a bad thing. It wasn’t over the top, it wasn’t a kiss, it didn’t mean anything.

Ray had his hands out in front of him, just to put space between them. “Look, I’m happy and all but just. Don’t.”

“Don’t what? I didn’t even do anything!”

“You know what you did!”

“I know, and I know you’re overreacting about it!” This was getting bad. The kids backed up a little, confused about just what the hell was going on, and Gerard didn’t really want to explain this complex situation to a bunch of children, especially ones he had to see every day. Things would get even more complicated.

“Just back off, Gerard!” Ray was yelling, he had no reason to be yelling. Ángel flinched and tucked his face against Ricky's shoulder as they backed up some more. Frank was looking between the two of them, trying to piece things together.

“I didn’t even do anything!” This was getting tiring. He was ten seconds away from just walking away, and taking all these children with him. It was a struggle to keep his voice down to keep from further traumatizing poor Ángel. If he did he'd probably have to fight with Ricky too, and he already looked more than a little annoyed. “You need to calm the fuck down, this is getting really boring.”

“Did I not make it clear enough that I don’t like you like that?”

“By barricading yourself in the house away from all your friends because you can’t come talk things out like a fucking adult? Yeah, message received, you can stop being an idiot now.”

Ray didn’t really have a rebuttal for that. He looked really angry, about as angry as Gerard felt, and everything just kept getting worse. “I didn’t ask for you to just-”

“So I’m just not allowed to touch you at all now? Fucking noted, Ray.”

“You kissed me!”

Gerard didn’t even really respond to that, he just turned and started walking away. That was something between the two of them, that was their problem, it had nothing to do with the others, and now Gerard was embarrassed. He was really fucking embarrassed. They shouldn't have found out like that.

When Ray grabbed his arm, Gerard socked him, hard as he could. It had been a while since Gerard had actually really let anyone have it, but it was effective, enough to get Ray to let go. “Sorry, then, for that. I assumed wrong, now I’ve apologized for being such a fucking idiot and you need to stop acting like one.”

When he kept walking, Ray didn’t follow, just stood there in the rain rubbing at his jaw and glaring at the pavement.

Mikey and Frank did, though Ricky filing in silently behind them, his arm around Ángel's shoulder the whole way home. They sat on Gerard’s porch for a long while, just watching the rain and shivering slightly.

“Don’t worry,” Ricky mumbled at one point, hugging his knees. “That’s happened to me too.”

“You just have to move on from there,” Ángel agreed, and that was something Gerard decided to take to heart. He wasn't alone in the world for once, and he was going to focus on that instead of this train wreck.

 

 

Day Sixty-Seven (67), B.F

There was a party.

A party. An honest to god party, that Gerard had been invited to. Well not really invited to, Alice just told him he should go with her. She sounded regretful when she said that it wouldn’t be wild and full of drugs and alcohol. She’d told him many a story from those parties and Gerard had to say he was sort of relieved that he wouldn’t be initiated into the party scene with one of those. He wasn’t ready to face that particular important first step of becoming an adult.

“I think you should go,” Mikey said when he was very obviously mulling it over later. “It should be fun. You could make new friends.”

“I don’t need new friends, I have you guys.” Which was true. The new friends aspect wasn’t what was appealing, it was the never been invited to a teenager party before thing that’s really got him considering it.

“Then go to get out of the house. Mom said it would be good for you.”

Maybe. He was definitely considering it.

 

 

Day Sixty-Nine (69), B.F

Gerard was really starting to miss the way things were before. He missed hanging out with Grace, who was like a silent universal constant and a constant source of entertainment. Steve was pretty busy these days, only Ricky really saw him regularly. Even Lindsey was out of town on some vacation. Gerard didn’t have a lot to do, he and Mikey and Frank had reverted back to what they'd been doing all summer before they met their new friends- except now they had Ángel with them now too.

Somehow, it just wasn't the same. 

The world was starting to go downhill fast, Gerard was pretty sure it was all because he decided to go to this stupid party.

He had never been to a big kid party before, and Alice was prone to wandering so Gerard didn’t feel entirely confident actually going but, whatever, he wasn’t a baby and he could prove it. Besides, he should be trying to get back out there! Back on his feet! He should stop moping about dumb stupid boys.

He and Mikey spent most of the day trying to figure out what he should wear. Gerard was sure he should wear something that wasn’t too nerdy but Alice said being a little bit dorky was okay. Some people found it to be endearing. 

Ricky had opinions, though. Gerard wasn’t sure why Mikey invited him over, because Mikey lost interest pretty quickly and was now playing Mario Kart with Frank and Ángel, ignoring Ricky wrangling Gerard into something presentable.

Did Gerard felt bad about getting dressed by an almost-12 year old? Yes. But he definitely wouldn’t be doing himself any favours if he tried his hand at throwing an outfit together.

“How’s this,” he mumbled, presenting the third black shirt Ricky had thrown at him.

“You look great in everything, darling,” Frank said without looking up from the game. Something he picked up from Steve, something Steve said to Tommy every time they were trying to get out of the house but Tommy hadn’t completed his look yet or whatever. That always tickled Frank for some reason. He said it to Mikey all the time.

“Hey, shut it, you’re not helping.”

“Yeah, just wear that. And some shorts. I think you look fine.” Ricky was messing with his hair distractedly. Gerard wished Alice could do it up nicely for him. If only that was an acceptable thing to show up to a party with. He put eyeliner on but that seemed like too much, even, he had to smudge the hell out of it so it looked more emo and less girly.

Which sucked. Eyeliner was cool and it looked so much better when it wasn't smudged to hell. Makeup in general was like, awesome. It should be more of a guy thing. 

“You look fine. Just relax.” Ricky patted his arm. Gerard really didn’t believe him at all but he decided to just lose himself in Mario Kart for a little while until Alice got there.

They talked about Steve’s impending departure, and Ricky and Ángel’s sleepover at his the other day when their dad locked them out of the house-accidentally, Ángel added hastily when Mikey gave him a concerned look. None of them were convinced. At least they had fun at Steve’s. Frank accidentally brought the conversation screeching to a halt when he mentioned the game, and nobody talked until it was time for Gerard to go. 

Alice was at the door, looking like she was dressed to impress. That definitely meant Naomi was going to be making an appearance. Gerard thought that was sort of cute. Alice was all bright green today, bright green lipstick and eyeshadow, an unholy combination of leggings and skirt and tank top, she truly wasn’t giving a fuck tonight.

That sure did make Gerard feel a little bit better, at least, if she was feeling confident he should be able to calm down and have a good time too.

Awkward words were exchanged between Alice and Mom. They hadn’t really met, or even talked since the Fourth of July. Mom kept it brief, at least, and kissed him bye and told him to have fun, even though Gerard was sort of wishing she would tell him he couldn’t go and keep him home. No such luck.

More awkward words were exchanged between Gerard and Naomi in the car. Alice switched the radio on and cranked it up really high when she got tired of listening to them talk about the weather, and Gerard was eternally grateful. 

He wasn’t truly sure who was actually hosting the party, but it was someone on Grant’s turf. He stopped the Metroid conversation he was having with Alice over the blaring pop tune mid-sentence when he realized that, because this was dangerous. There could be Draculoids here- or rather, Grant sympathizers. Since Draculoids weren’t real and all of that stuff was dumb.

Whatever. After that stunt he'd pulled the other day, Grant's lackeys would be vicious as ever. He had to be vigilant, now that he was out here alone.

The party wasn’t like it was in the movies, but maybe that was because there were a lot of middle schoolers there too. Gerard recognized some of his School Friends, people he couldn’t interact with in this setting, so he stuck to Naomi like a burr since Alice seemed to be taking it on herself to say hi to literally every person she came across in there. They all seemed to know her somehow, how could one person be so social?

Naomi was a lot more reserved, thank god. She didn’t complain about Gerard’s presence, just stood by him like a short, silent protector, following other party-goers around the room with her eyes as Gerard stood there without a single clue what to do with himself. Thank god Naomi was merciful, even if they didn’t really understand each other. It would be awful just standing there on his own. 

It wasn’t terribly interesting. Gerard was too nervous to really talk to anyone he didn’t know, didn’t want to interact with his School Friends at all, mostly because this wasn’t a School setting, so they weren’t friends here. They were strangers who sort of knew each other, but only because they saw each other in the halls. He wanted to go back to Alice, because she’d know what to do, but Alice seemed preoccupied with some other guy, who Naomi was watching like a hawk.

Meaning him and Naomi must’ve had history, since Naomi didn’t really seem like a jealous person, Gerard had never seen her get weird about Alice wandering around and being social. How she managed that, Gerard would love to know. It would be a nice thing to know.

A lot of other stuff was going on too.

Gerard was just starting to get used to the whole party scene when the two absolute worst things of all time happened in rapid succession. 

He was settled in with a cup of Fanta that Naomi fetched him from somewhere, finally starting to relax when Naomi announced she had to pee, and it would be weird if he followed her as she breezed out of the room so Gerard just stood there awkwardly with his drink, trying his best to look like he belonged there even though he very clearly didn’t.

Ray came in. All on his own, no older kid chaperone. Of course Ray was cool enough to get in on this on his own, he was probably friends with the host and most of their friends, as well as most of the people at the party. Fucking Ray. And he wasn’t dressed like a clown, he had nice jeans on and a shirt without a band logo or a bunch of blood on it that just really suited him and oh god.

Gerard froze immediately, looking away pointedly when Ray started for him. Of course if he was alone he’d think he had the right to come and talk to Gerard. The nerve, honestly. Hopefully he could stop blushing before that happened. 

Things got weird from there, with Gerard being reluctant to say anything at all and Ray being too awkward at the moment to try and fill the silence on his own. He really did look good tonight, but Gerard didn’t tell him that. He didn’t need a repeat of whatever the last time they’d seen each other had been. 

When Grant came in with about three of his crew, Gerard found it in himself to be a good conversationalist.

“Hey,” he said quickly, just in case Ray hadn’t seen them yet. The tiny little smile he got in return almost made it worth it.

“Hey,” Ray said. Where to go from there was a mystery. Gerard shifted on his feet, counting the seconds before Naomi would come back.

Grant and his were coming over, fuck, abort mission, he could find Naomi later. Gerard dragged Ray into the kitchen, where there were more older kids. None he knew, but they seemed nice enough to not let two middle schoolers get the holy hell kicked out of them in their presence.

“Why are you here?” Not that Gerard cared.

“The host is friends with one of Tommy’s sisters,” Ray said, like that cleared everything up. Gerard was seriously wondering where Ray found the time to befriend anyone who knew Tommy’s sister. Gerard hadn't even known Tommy had a sister. “She said I should come? I haven’t seen her here. Are you here with Alice?”

“And Naomi. But they both disappeared.”

Maybe Ray meant it, maybe he was just being nice so that Gerard didn’t freak out on him- maybe that was all a lie and he showed up on his own and was really glad to see someone he knew- but he said “stick with me then.”

Gerard was sure he’d never been more relieved in his entire life. Sure he was being dramatic about this whole thing. But Ray was tall and strong andRay, it was impossible not to feel better when he was around. Or at least, in the sense that you wouldn’t get beat up. Yeah.

Gerard was trying really hard to be cool about this whole thing but really, any sort of attention from Ray was making him feel disgusting and mushy and he wanted it to stop but at the same time…

“So uh. How are you?”

“I’m okay. Been busy,” Ray said. Busy befriending Tommy’s sister’s friends, apparently. Gerard didn’t voice that. He just shrugged.

“Me too I guess.”

“Am I missing anything interesting?”

“No.” Gerard leaned back against the wall, examining his shoes. He could just make out Ricky’s signature in bright pink Sharpie on his toe from here.

“Okay.” Ray crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back too. This was more like the movies, Gerard thought. He didn’t want to look up though. “Cool.”

“I think we’re done with the stupid kid stuff for now, too.” He’d pretty much been done since that questionable dream. And, you know. The giant fight. Maybe this was for the better.

“Shame. I’m sure everyone would get a kick out of this.” Ray was smiling ever so slightly, straightening and watching people walk past somewhat suspiciously. “We’re totally undercover right now.”

“Shut up! Oh my god don’t start.” Gerard snorted, but really, he could see that. Two of them sitting in the Lobby, dolled up in white suits and black ties, trying hard to keep any sort of expressions off their faces.

Ray gave him a very serious look. “We’re smack dab in the middle of the City, Party Poison. Don’t do anything that would give us up.”

Gerard managed not to start laughing. Right. He could take this seriously, if Ray really wanted to play this game. He ducked his head, grinning. “You got it, Jet.”

Somehow things were more tolerable now. Be it Ray’s presence, or the fact that suspecting all of the party goers to be part of a sinister government organization was really fucking amusing, Gerard couldn’t say. Maybe it was the conspiratorial looks Alice got whenever Ray’s wandering brought them into the same room. Maybe it was the thumbs up Naomi gave him as he was leaving the living room once Ray had secured himself a drink.

It was almost normal, now. Ray talked about people Gerard had heard of only in passing in the stories the older kids told each other. Gerard told him about what he’d missed, about Ángel learning to skate backwards and Frank nearly breaking his arm falling out of a tree he was climbing to impress Mikey. He was grounded, but instead of staying in his room he kept sneaking out the window, which was dangerous but also hilarious, so Gerard didn’t want to ask him to stop it. 

He pushed the whole incident neither of them was talking about far back in his mind, tucked away in a drawer.

They ended up sitting in the hall, side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Gerard was sure he wouldn’t be here too much longer since Alice lost interest in things pretty quickly and she’d want to get home with Naomi kind of early like she usually did. Gerard didn’t want to leave Ray though.

Ray was being… Ray. Not whoever he’d been the past little while. He was smiling and laughing at stupid jokes Gerard made, he wasn’t flinching away from the contact here, wasn't looking uncomfortable or squirming away. Even if it wasn’t a lot it was something, right? Maybe they could work past it, for real this time. Gerard really hoped they could. He could get over this stupid whatever it was and he could get his best friend back.

Ray leaned in a little bit. “Do you think they’ve caught on yet?”

Gerard grinned and shook his head. “I think we’re pretty convincing.”

“Man. I really do wish the others could be here. But I’m glad you’re here at least.”

Gerard felt funny again. Oh no. “I’m glad you’re here too.” Shit. “I mean uh. You’re my favourite teammate. You can actually keep your trap shut in situations like this.”

“Well thank you.” Ray bumped Gerard’s shoulder with his own and sat back up. “Have you started thinking about school yet? I’m having nightmares already.”

“Uh huh.” Gerard was half listening. He looked away to collect himself but he was sure that he’d spotted Grant down there, coming this way, in this hallway where there were hardly any older kid surveillance. Alice was nowhere in sight. He pressed closer to Ray on instinct, of course, that clued him in to what was happening immediately because he was just as focused on touch as Gerard was at the moment.

There was no way of doing this easily. Grant realized that Gerard had spotted them and started walking faster as Ray dragged him to his feet, ducking into another room without really thinking. Gerard was glad this wasn’t a party like in the movies, because there was nobody in there. They weren’t interrupting anything… important.

Grant threw the door open and three of his men flooded in immediately as panic shot through Gerard’s chest. This was bad. This was seriously bad. Their last encounter with Grant had been awful enough to get them beat up for sure this time around. He sort of cowered behind Ray, which wasn’t helping his case at all. At least Ray could stand his ground.

“Long time no see, huh? I thought you two had broken up.” Grant wasn't fazed this time. Things were different now, he had the upper hand.

“Oh shut up. Don’t you have anything better to do be doing?” Ray stood taller. That might’ve worked the other day, but now Grant had numbers and knew Gerard was no good in a fight, even if Ray was supposedly a force to be reckoned with. “Weren't you wrapped up with that Catholic boy? Where do you find the time?”

Grant’s grin twitched a little. “That’s only funny coming from the mouse kid. Aren’t you a little old to be talking like that?”

“Aren’t you a little old to be playing the bully? Step off, we have to go.”

That wasn’t about to happen. Grant’s men surged forward and got Gerard and Ray separated. And sure, Ray fought, but Gerard just kind of accepted his fate as two much larger, stronger boys shoved him roughly into the closet. Once Ray was in there too, they closed the door, and that was when Gerard knew he was in trouble.

Gerard wasn’t happy in the slightest. Tiny dark spaces didn’t freak him out, per se, but tiny dark spaces with someone he was trying to be friends with after he ruined everything by assuming things wasn’t a fun thing. He was going to fucking throttle Grant when he got out.

Ray was pounding on the door as Gerard tripped over shoes and shirts and god knows what else, he really hoped Tommy’s sister’s friend has better habits than he did because if this closet was anything like Gerard’s at home, they were going to die in here for sure.

“You fucker. I’m gonna wring your neck!” Ray pounded once more on the door. “What do you want?”

Gerard wanted to tell him it was all okay, that they’d escaped the ‘crows before and it wouldn’t be any more difficult this time if they thought it over, because this stupid game was the only link he had left that he knew he could trust when it came to Ray. He sort of destroyed most other outlets.

“I’m seriously going to fuck you up when I get out there do you hear me? You stupid closet case, I’ll fuckin'- fuck- Gerard don’t-” Ray brushed him off when Gerard grabbed his shoulder to try and calm him down- only because he knew Grant, and he knew they weren’t going to get out of there anytime soon unless they were given an ultimatum.

“Thought we’d give you a bit of privacy, you know,” Grant’s weasel voice was saying on the other side of the door. Ray growled at him, but he was reigned in for now. “I’m happy you’ve found each other, but there’s no need to flaunt that sort of thing in public, you know.”

“We’re not- fuck you!” Ray wasn’t making things better. Gerard just sat himself down on the floor helplessly. This was going to get ugly really fast. His stomach was tying itself into knots- this was bad enough that he really did regret coming. Nothing was going to get better from this point on.

“You don’t have to lie to me, Ray, I’m really very accepting,” Grant said. Gerard was really annoyed with him but fuck, he was realizing just how annoyed he still was with Ray as well. He should have gotten things straightened out before they got put into this confined space because this was dangerous. “I’ll let you out if you admit it.”

“Admit what you dumb idiot?” Ray gave another pointed thump on the door before giving up for good and just standing there helplessly. “Dios mío- as soon as I’m out of here you’re really gonna get it.”

“Like I said, Ray, I have nothing against queers, just admit it and we’ll let you out.” Grant was laughing. He wouldn't stop fucking laughing.

“Don’t call me that!”

Gerard’s face was burning. This was really embarrassing, and it was probably even worse with the amount Ray just didn’t want to be in here.

“It’s what you are, and you have to admit it or you’re gonna be stuck in there for a while.”

“You’re fucking awful you know that?” Ray was seriously upset about that. Gerard just couldn’t deal with this anymore, he didn’t care if Grant heard or not.

“Remember when you got mad at me for like three days for getting weird about the gay stuff? Does that mean I get to do the same to you now?”

Ray totally ignored him, and that was when Gerard really started losing his temper. He could hear Grant snickering on the other side of the door and that was even more annoying. Gerard was seriously going to give it to him when he got out, it didn’t matter who else was going to try to defend him. Gerard didn’t care if he got beat up, he was seriously pissed.

“Ray, fucking listen to me. I need an answer on this.

Ray sighed heavily, leaning his forehead against the door. “Gee now is really not the time for this, okay?”

“Fuck you! There’s never a good time, shut up! I’m tired of this! It’s not my fault- okay maybe it is my fault, I probably shouldn’t have kissed you but I mean... I thought that maybe you liked me too! I didn't think it would be that bad?”

“I don’t like you! We’re just friends! I’m not- I’m not like that?” He didn’t sound too sure, but Gerard was pretty fuckin’ sure he didn’t want to be in there anymore with him. He felt sick. He wanted to go home or sit in the car and complain to Alice for another five hours. And then maybe tell Mikey everything, just get this all out of his head.

“All that big talk about how wrong I am for not even understanding something and then you freak out like this and stop talking to me? What am I supposed to think?”

“I thought it would be easier on you since I don’t-”

“I get it Ray! I get it! You don’t like me! Shut up, I get it!” Gerard pushed him out of the way and banged on the door. “Grant, you hear that? Are you getting what’s going on? Ray’s not a queer, but I sure as fuck am, and I kissed him and he freaked the fuck out and stopped talking to me instead of dealing with it in a way that wouldn’t fuck everything up! There you have it!”

When there was silence on the other side, Gerard kicked the door hard enough for it to be dangerous. There was shuffling outside, but still, nobody said anything. “There you have it you fucking troll! I’m sure you’ve heard enough so get me the fuck out of there before I call Alice and tell her to hand your ass to you.”

And for whatever reason, that worked. Maybe Alice was just that scary. Gerard nearly checked the door down, salvaging what was left of his dignity on the way out, walking past Grant’s goons. But whatever, he was feeling cruel now, and awful because this night was turning out to be a nightmare.

He got right up in Grant’s face, and nobody even tried to stop him. “I think you have some shit to work out on your own, Grant. But you’re not unnatural because you like Adrian more than you should. Keep that in mind.”

A bold statement, but it had the desired effect, even if the effect was just a wavering of his awful, cocky smile as Gerard stormed out. Ray didn’t follow. Gerard didn’t care about Ray, Ray could set up residence and live in that stupid closet for all he cared. How fucking fitting.

Alice knew something was wrong before Gerard even said anything, of course, just excused herself to whoever she was talking to before pulling him into a corner so he could explain what happened. Everything was catching up to him and the anxious feeling in his chest that had been accumulating since he left the room was bubbling over. Gerard was shaking, it was hard to breathe, oh god, everything was awful. Alice rubbed his shoulder, looking grim. “Hey, come on. We’re gonna go outside, okay? I’ll be right behind you so just keep walking.”

Easier said than done really, Gerard’s knees felt weak. Everyone in the entire room seemed to be staring at him, like somehow Grant had conveyed all the information he’d just thrown out into the universe, which was actually something he wasn’t ready for people to know. But Grant was going to tell everyone. There was no way he wouldn’t.

Alice sat him down on the curb once they were out, arm around his shoulders. “Is this okay? Just nod.”

Gerard nodded. If she left he might just keel over here on the road. Then he’d be at peace.

“What happened?”

“Fuckin’- Grant and- Ray just-”

“Deep breaths.” She was rubbing his back and Gerard really didn’t know why he felt like dying but it really wasn’t fun. It had never been this bad. He was seriously doomed. It felt like hours, and about ten billion reassurances on Alice’s part before Gerard calmed down enough to just feel like he was going to cry instead of feeling like his heart was just going to give up.

“Do you wanna talk about it?”

“I like Ray,” Gerard mumbled, and Alice sighed and put her arm around him again, pulling him closer.

“And he’s being a dick, right?”

“I told Grant. I got really mad and I was yelling at him in the closet and Grant heard me and now I’m in so much trouble-”

“Hey, hey. Don’t worry. I’ll help you out, okay? I’m gonna go get Naomi and we can take you home, if that’s what you want.”

Gerard wasn’t entirely sure about that. He wasn’t sure how to explain this to Mikey yet, or Mom, because Mom would definitely grill him for information, and he’d have to come clean because what if Grant told everyone and she had to hear it from someone else’s mom?

Gerard had never felt so alone in the universe. Steve hadn’t given him any advice on how to deal with people finding out without you wanting them to, and the threat of being exposed to the universe. How was he supposed to deal with that? He was hardly dealing with the revelation itself at this point.

Fuck.

Alice was back in a little bit, with Naomi in tow. They both sat down with him, in silence for a good little bit, until Gerard had accepted the events that had just transpired.

“I threatened to tell his parents,” Naomi said after a little while. “I said I’d tell them all about the stuff he’s been up to if he said one word.”

Unexpected. Gerard looked over at her, and she smiled at him, which was probably a first. Gerard didn’t know what to make of it. “How do you know…”

“Hana keeps him out of trouble.” Naomi frowned at the ground, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Hana’s my half sister. He’s always hanging around my house. He’s a demon, I’m sorry you have to deal with him.”

“Wow um… Thanks.” That was a relief, at least. It was something. Gerard held onto that. “Really. Thank you.”

“Don’t worry about it, kiddo. You wanna go home?”

Yeah. He wanted to sit with Mom and watch TV and just talk to her about everything. Mom was good with this stuff. Mom would get it. “Please.”

It was mostly quiet in the car. Naomi would lean over and mumble something to Alice every so often, but Gerard didn’t care enough to try and figure out what they were saying.

“Hey, Gee, don’t worry about this. Really.” Alice looked back at him, smiling a little. “You did just fine. Grant’s not gonna say anything. You don’t have to say anything until you’re ready.”

It really didn’t seem that way. “Isn’t that something you tell people up front?”

“What gave you that idea? Did you know Steve was dating Tommy until you figured it out?” Well, no. “Did you know Naomi is a lesbian until this very second?”

Definitely not.

“I don’t throw down the transgender card as soon as someone says hello. ‘Cause it’s nobody’s business but yours, buddy.” So Steve had said. “And if anyone tries to force you to say anything you’re not comfortable disclosing, you have my permission to knock them the fuck out. In fact, just call me and I’ll knock them the fuck out, because Grant comes from a family of weasels and I am not afraid to show him what the fuck is up.”

Somehow that made him feel better. Alice had strange methods of lifting people’s spirits- different from Steve's, but Gerard really and truly appreciated it. He was almost feeling better by the time he got in, and when Mom started asking questions he just told her the truth, all of it, and she just told him not to worry and he was allowed to sit and watch TV with her for a while, head in her lap as she stroked his hair. Maybe this was the little kid approach, but Gerard was relieved, and it was one less thing to worry about.

He couldn’t give Mikey an update about how things went when he finally picked his way downstairs after saying goodnight to Mom. He put on his brave face and sat with Mikey and watched whatever shitty movie he had on right now. Mikey didn’t ask, Gerard didn’t say anything.

Somehow he felt like he was lighter, now that he knew Mom wasn’t going to like, throw him out of the house or something. And now that Ray knew exactly where he stood on this particular matter. Gerard felt like it wasn’t entirely his fault now, like he hadn’t singlehandedly ruined their entire relationship.

That helped, even just a little bit.

 

 

Day Seventy (70), B.F

Ray called the next day, and it was Gerard’s turn to not pick up. He could totally do this. Easy peasy.

 

 

Fallout

Having friends who were persistent was a blessing and a curse. Sometimes they were the only reason Gerard got out of the house at all nowadays, since things had been going not so good.

Ángel had been especially persistent on the Ray front ever since everyone got an actual recap of the party. Even if he hadn't explained why it was they fought, it bugged Gerard when they so much as brought it up because it was something he wanted to put behind him, not something he wanted everyone dragging up at least once a day. Which they were doing. At least they weren't bringing up the kissing thing. 

Mikey hadn’t been pushing it but the rest of them certainly had, though Gerard has his suspicions it was because they wanted to play the game because fuck, being undercover in the city was sick as hell and everyone must want a part in that. Maybe that was why it was so important to Ángel, why he’d found it in himself to be half as persistent as his brother was on a good day. That was how he connected with everyone. He’d gotten sort of awkward since they stopped.

Gerard had been avoiding everyone. He didn’t want anything to do with Ray, or the game anymore. He spent most of his time moping around Lindsey’s house so they could discuss fashion and how awful everything in the world was, or walk over to hang out with Naomi and Alice who always seemed to be around.

But time was running out. Lindsey was spending her days with Steve, and Naomi and Alice were making the best of the time they had left before Naomi went away to college. Gerard was stuck at home with all the annoying boys he’d been avoiding. Seriously, once they got a hold of the details they didn’t let go. They were like rabid dogs.

And Gerard wasn’t sure how they went from discussing his major Fuck You to Grant the other night to setting him back up with Ray, but like, in a friend way, everyone was assuring him. Fuck that. Gerard wanted nothing to do with the guy. He was fresh out of fucks to give.

Ray hadn’t made an effort since that first night, and it would just be very embarrassing getting rejected over and over. Not something any of the kids could really understand. This wasn’t what moving on meant. If Gerard got rejected in a friend way, he wasn’t sure how he was going to come back from that. He probably wouldn’t. Maybe he’d get really angry and bitter all the time like Grant, or he’d just start feeling sick any time anyone so much as mentioned Ray. Maybe he’d faint at the sight of him in the school hallways.

But Ángel was magic somehow. Gerard wasn’t sure how he hadn’t noticed before now.

Ángel got Gerard out of the house, looking moderately put together. Ángel got Gerard two doors down, up onto the porch of Ray’s place. Without any help from his brother, who was practically glued to Steve’s side nowadays. It was all Ángel, and Gerard was impressed enough with his dedication that he decided to give it a try.

And you know, for about twenty seconds it was going great. Lou opened the door. Gerard had never been more relieved to see him in his entire life. Lou got Ray, who took a good five minutes to get to the door. He managed to plaster on a smile when he saw Ángel, but it was clear very early on that this was a bad idea. 

They said nothing to each other on the way to Gerard’s house. Ángel was holding tight to Gerard’s hand, nervously, and Gerard felt bad for him, really, he did. He wanted to try for him, but he already knew that this wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t meant to, and Ray obviously hadn’t changed his tune at all, he had a disinterested look on his face. Gerard was right back to square one, wanting to punch him in the face.

So maybe Gerard was just a little bitter, but he couldn’t deal with that. He couldn’t deal with Ray. “I give up,” he said before anyone else could even say anything. Sitting in the basement was better than this any day of the week.

Ángel looked a little startled, sure. Mikey did too, but he was better at hiding it. He looked more determined to do whatever his brother was doing, less concerned with the outcome of whatever happened here. Frank frowned and ducked in behind Mikey, like he usually did when Gerard was losing his temper. Did Gerard feel bad about this? Maybe. But they could move on from it, and they could do it without Ray.

Of course, Ray was mad about this. Somehow he found some interest. Fancy that. “Am I bothering you that much? I’ll try to tone it down a little.”

“Cute. I was about to ask you the same thing. You know I can just stop acting so fucking gay around you if that’s what you want?”

Mikey covered Frank’s ears, looking alarmed. Ángel backed up a little.

“It’s not that and you know it!”

“If I punch you in the fucking face is that too gay for you? Is that too much contact? How much is too much just let me know right now.”

“You’re being sort of ridiculous-”

“You know, I’ve had it with you, and I’ve had it with your stupid fucking- I’m done. I’m done with this.” Everything was boiling over so hey, might as well burn that final bridge while they were at it. Gerard pointed a finger gun at Ray, going around the circle. “Bang. Korse fucking shot you dead. You're dead! Bleeding all over the fucking pavement. Look at that, Kobra’s fucking dead too. And Ghoul!”

He pressed his finger gun to his own head. Ray looked upset now, like he wanted to say something. But he didn't. Fucking good. “Bang! Look at that! We’re all dead! Grace is still in the City and nobody’s around to save her.”

“Okay Gee this is getting a little-”

“Shut up, Ray. I’m going home. This is over. This whole thing.” Hopefully that was clear enough. Gerard didn’t bother looking back at everyone’s sad puppy faces, he knew Mikey was following him and that was good enough. He didn’t expect Frank and Ángel to be following suit, not after all of this.

“I’m sorry,” he said later, when it was dark and everyone else was home. It had been a long, exhausting day of enduring each other’s company. Frank refused to look at Gerard most of the time he was over, and Ángel stayed right by his side the whole time, trying to keep up a brave face. But Mikey hadn’t said a lot today. Like, he was saying a lot less than usual. 

“It’s okay. Stuff like that happens a lot,” Mikey said, rolling over on his other side. “Good guys die and bad guys win.”

 

 

Day Four (4), A.F

“I’m going to see Frank,” Mikey said, sitting himself down on the edge of Gerard’s bed. This sounded like it was going to end with Mikey asking him to get up and do something, so Gerard didn’t even look up from his DS, something he’d feel bad about later. In the meantime, he’d like to keep feeling sorry for himself.

“We can watch X-Men later, I just think you should try to remember what’s going on tomorrow, okay?”

He gave a slight nod. They didn’t end up watching X-Men, Gerard spent all night drawing gloomy superheroes. Space gorillas were old news.

 

 

Day Five (5), A.F

Gerard realizes what had been nagging at him for a while, what he’d been forgetting about, as soon as they showed up at the twins’ house. Summer was well and truly over. The big kids who weren’t Alice are going away.

You could always tell it was going to be an awful day when Ricky looked like he hadn’t made any effort to look like a weirdo. It took Gerard a moment to pick out who was who like this, since under all the makeup and the hair product, Ángel and Ricky really did look the same. The streak in Ángel’s hair was the only giveaway at a glance. The eyes too, sure, but Ricky's hair was always in his face and today was no exception.

Gerard really didn’t like this at all.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Frank said, patting Ricky’s arm. “Don’t worry about it.”

He looked like he was still worrying about it. Gerard would really like to say something reassuring but he wasn’t really sure what was going to help. His best friend had never moved away before, he didn't know what that felt like. Maybe there was nothing you could say.

Being there was weird. Gerard felt more disconnected than anything, this was nothing but a reminder that he and Frank and Mikey were outsiders in this little society, that he’d only known these people for a couple of months and he wasn’t a part of their family. It didn’t feel that way- or it hadn't, but he felt it now. It felt like this was all over way too soon.

Gerard helped move boxes and took in just how disconnected he was from these people around him. Ricky was putting on a brave face, Gerard knew what that looked like. He never really thought of what would happen to Ricky once most of his friends moved away, or what would happen to any of them, really. A huge chunk of their lives was packing up and driving away.

It wasn't going to be good after this. Sure, the twins still had Frank and Mikey and Gerard, but how could they replace any of the older kids, these people who were practically family?

Alice was standing, laughing with Tommy, who didn’t seem as upset to be leaving all his friends behind. Well, he wasn’t really leaving many behind. Alice and Ángel seemed to be the only two people he really cared about, the rest of them just seemed to annoy him. Steve especially.

Gerard remembered Ray saying something about him being excited to get out of the house with Steve, and Steve sure did have a reason to be excited about getting out of here. Maybe they really were excited to leave.

Imagine that.

Gerard nearly knocked into Steve with the box he was holding watching Alice and Tommy. Awkward. That was enough to spur them back into action, apparently. Lindsey was laughing at him but he wasn’t in the mood to turn around and start hurling insults at her.

He kept quiet.

In the end, Gerard couldn’t really think of something profound to say to Steve, and avoided any eye contact he might be trying to make. He didn’t need advice about the Ray situation, that was all over and done with. He didn’t need any parting words to make him cry. They’d see each other again soon anyways, it wasn’t like he was going away forever!

Gerard and Mikey stood down at the end of the driveway watching everyone say their goodbyes. It was nice, but at the same time there was a big heavy air around the smiles and the laughing.

Alice pulled Tommy into a headlock and yelled about how dead he was when he showed his ugly mug around here again, seriously, he’d be sorry.

It was strange to see people that old acting like children, Gerard just assumed you get really cool and mature as you get older. Alice kissed his cheeks until Tommy was sputtering and flailing and trying to get her off, face covered in bright purple lipstick. Frank gave everyone a hug before running to join the Ways, watching the rest of the parting scene.

Ricky wasn’t dealing with this well at all. He was trying, the poor soul, but he was sniffling and rubbing his eyes angrily. Gerard couldn’t make out what Steve said to him just before leaving, but he looked away when they start hugging. That seemed way too personal for some reason. With that, the elder kids were packed up into the car, Alice hurling insults at the boys and well wishes to her beautiful girlfriend as they drove off.

“I’m gonna miss them,” Frank said, attaching himself to Gerard’s side. Apparently he’d been forgiven.

“We’ll see them soon,” Gerard reassured them as they watched the car disappear around the corner. Frank hugged his arm. Maybe things wouldn’t be too bad.

Ricky grabbed Gerard’s hand on the way home and Gerard didn’t say anything about it, just squeezed his hand and didn’t let go.

 

 

Day Eleven (11), A.F

“Gee, are things going to get any better?” Ángel was hugging his knees and he had his worry face on. Gerard wasn’t really even sure why Ángel had wanted him over, he hadn’t been given a reason when he was called. That was the first clue that things were going horribly, that Ángel had willingly used the phone. His voice was sort of shaky over the line, too, it had spurred Gerard to hurry over. And here they were.

Frank and Mikey were still at the Way’s house, trying to come up with backstories for Gerard’s new superheroes. They hadn't been summoned here, so maybe it wasn't a huge emergency. Ángel had taken all the drawings down off of the walls and his desk was all cleared off. That worried Gerard a little bit, but Ángel wasn't getting all shy and quiet like he did when he was really upset.    

“I don’t think so.” Gerard shook his head. He'd called once this week, Ray hung up as soon as he figured out it wasn’t Mikey. So there was really no point in continuing to try. For real this time. “I mean, if you’re talking about the stuff with Ray, no. I think that ship has sailed.”

“I miss playing with you guys,” Ángel said, picking at his bedspread. “Everyone is so sad now all the time.”

“I’m sorry kiddo. I'm sure things will start looking up for you soon.” Gerard gave him a smile that was almost genuine, ruffling his hair. “Are you okay?”

“I don’t like Steve being so far away.”

“Well there’s not really a lot we can do about that, huh?”

“Ricky and dad got into a really bad fight last night.” Oh. This was the most personal they'd ever gotten, probably. “I couldn't do anything. I didn’t wanna call Steve to bug him. But I didn’t really know what to do.”

“Hey, if you need help you can just call me instead, okay?” Gerard wasn’t really sure what he was supposed to do. He didn’t know what Steve’s duties were as their makeshift guardian. But Mom would always be understanding of a situation like this. “I’m just down the street if you need me, yeah?”

“I don’t know if Ricky would like that, he just likes dealing with things on his own.” Unless Steve was around to help, apparently.

“Yeah, but sometimes you gotta get a second opinion on stuff like this, okay?”

Gerard wasn’t totally sure what to do when Ángel hugged him. It sure as hell kicked his mom instincts into gear. Usually those were reserved for Frank and Mikey, but maybe he was developing a soft spot for Ángel. He figured everyone did at some point. Gerard just hugged him tight, and they sat there until Ángel had calmed down some.

“What happened to me and Pony? After you all got shot?”

Not this again. Gerard couldn’t let him down when he was upset like this. “Well, we had Grace with us when we all got shot. And uh. She went with you. She got out. With you guys.”

That was something he'd been putting a lot of thought into because fuck, maybe Gerard was totally done with this Killjoys thing but that story was just too perfect to go without a proper ending. Lots of them were still alive, enough to carry on the legacy or whatever. They had Grace, still, who was a much bigger part of the grand scheme than anyone really knew. Maybe they could come back to it someday. Maybe if he was bored enough he could figure out an ending.

"Are we keeping her safe then?" Ángel seemed to find this answer acceptable.

"Oh yeah. It's just you guys now, you gotta make sure nobody forgets about us, right?" 

"I wouldn't worry about that." Ángel snuggled up against Gerard's side, sighing. "Nobody could ever forget about you guys, Party Poison."

 

 

Day Seventeen (17), A.F

The twins and Frank and Mikey weren’t giving Gerard any time to reflect and mope about everything that had happened with Ray, and life stepped in whenever they weren’t around.

Gerard had wasted days organizing himself for school without really thinking about it at all. Being busy was good, and there was always something to do. Ricky and Ángel were almost always hanging around now, which was nice. They didn’t really accomplish much in the final days, but it was good to have the gang all together as they made the most of the rest of their summer.

And now the summer was at its end. School didn’t seem like such a bad thing anymore- okay, that was a lie. School had never been anything but a living hell, but it was something to keep occupying Gerard’s time. Sure he was dreading the hell he was going to get in general, and the off chance that Grant couldn’t keep his dumb mouth shut, but it was still something. Maybe he could reconnect with his School Friends? He had the twins now too, as allies. Things would probably be okay.

There’d been a lot of careful planning for the next day. He had nothing else to do. The day stretched on and on, him and Mikey and Frank lounging around the basement. This was how every summer up until this point had gone, just with more Ricky and Ángel. No need for the laziness of the final days to change now. Gerard didn’t want to take part in whatever game they were playing, so he sat out the back and watched the sun fall out of the sky. All the kids would be going home soon anyways; he'd get a head start on enjoying the peace.

It seemed like forever before one of them came to sit with him. Ricky, of course, who wasn’t about to let him off that easily and had to get a few more jibes in before he was sent home. Fucker. He sat next to Gerard and said nothing.

For a little while, it was nice.

“So. Tomorrow.” Ricky was leaning back on his elbows, looking up at the sky. It was pretty, brilliant orange and pink, lighting everything up in gold. As lovely as it would be to sit out here and wait out its entirety, the mosquitos were especially bad today. Gerard couldn’t sit out here much longer.

“Tomorrow,” Gerard agreed. It sounded like a death sentence.

“You know I thought you would have sorted things out at this point,” Ricky said after a moment. He sounded disappointed. Whatever. Gerard was disappointed too, but it wasn't like he hadn't made an effort. This wasn't on him.

“Yeah, well, tough.” He didn’t want to be mean but really, he was tired. He’d given up. Ray didn’t care, why should Gerard?

Ricky shrugged, picking at the chipped paint on the deck distractedly, his hair hiding his face pretty well. “You like him, don’t you? That’s what happened?”

Unexpected. Gerard frowned, looking for an excuse to get up and go, but Ricky was looking right at him now, intently, there was no escaping this.

“I told you that, didn’t I?” Gerard found renewed interest in the sky. “I do. I did, rather.”

“Steve said so.” Ricky smiled a little, looking back up as well. “He’s never wrong about anything, but I wanted to hear it from you.”

“Yeah, well.” Gerard hugged his knees, leaning his chin on them. “Look how that turned out.”

“Did you fight about that? About you liking him?”

“I kissed him and he got mad.”

“Oh.” Was all Ricky said. Gerard wasn't sure what to make of it, but if even Ricky knew it was a bad move he'd probably fucked up worse than he had in his entire life. Shit.

“Yeah. Oh. Look, I don’t want to talk about it.” That said more about how it went than Gerard would have said. Ricky sighed and leaned his head against Gerard’s shoulder. It was different than how he was usually, somehow, even if he was always hanging off of Gerard anyways. He didn't seem so fidgety now, not so focused on literally everything else that was going on around them.

“You’re the second coolest person I know, Party Poison,” Ricky said quietly. “Well, maybe third, depends on if you count my brother or not. And if Ray can’t see that then he’s dumb and he has bad taste.”

Gerard straightened a little without really thinking about it. This was probably the nicest thing Ricky had ever said to him. Like, ever. Ricky was good for back-handed compliments and needle sharp wit, not for actually being nice.

He was a good friend.

“I’m glad I’ve got you around,” Gerard said, which apparently meant tackle me into the deck in Spanish because Gerard was almost knocked onto his back when the tiny kid hugged him.

“I’m glad I have you around,” Ricky said, nuzzling their noses together. That would be weird, but this was Ricky, and hell, Gerard was used to him by now.

“Tomorrow, huh?” Gerard sat up and Ricky sat beside him. The sky was orange and red and blue.

“Tomorrow,” Gerard agreed. Suddenly it didn’t seem like such a big deal.

 

 

Day Eighteen (18), A.F

Gerard had been wrong about things before, but he’d never been more wrong about something in his entire life.

He’d figured school wouldn’t be all that bad now that he had friends. Maybe it would even be tolerable. But he forgot to consider the fact that his friends might be even less popular than him, and that they might not even see each other all that often. The twins were excellent, but they were younger, and nobody else seemed to see how cool they were, like Gerard did.

Things were not going so well.

The first week was just disaster after disaster. Most of Gerard’s School Friends had simultaneously decided he wasn’t worth their time over the summer break. They pretended like they didn’t know him, turned away like they didn’t hear him when he tried to talk to them. He was invisible all over again, probably because Grant had been saying things about him that weren’t true, but. Whatever. Gerard didn’t need them. He had his own friends. Real friends.

They existed, even if he didn’t see them at all during the day. And that was just Ángel and Ricky, who actually went to his school now. Gerard didn’t see Alice or Lindsey at all that first week.

Lindsey was at another school and very, very busy with the ten billion extra curricular activities her mother was forcing upon her, and Alice was still adjusting to life now that she had no school and nobody to waste all her time with. She was working with her dad now, sitting in a stuffy office all the time, telling Gerard about how much she wanted to blow her brains out when she called every once in a while. Gerard was too tired most of the time to go out and try to see them. It was a very sudden and unpleasant transition, especially since Grant had decided all out war was the only way to go about showing Gerard who was boss after the party.

There was no strength in numbers if Gerard never saw the twins, and only Ricky was good in a fight, so it was always two of them versus however many people Grant had at his disposal that day. Ángel was back to being too too quiet, which was concerning for many reasons. Gerard was sure he didn’t actually have any friends who weren’t Ricky now that the older kids had flown the coop.

The three of them became a well oiled machine of dodging Grant’s relentless assault before and after school. It wasn’t fun anymore, now that Grant is just a really awful kid with some kind of grudge and not an evil robot from a corporation that was trying to eliminate them. It was just sad that they had to sneak around like this.

It became a routine. Get through the day, pick up Mikey and Frank from school, walk them home. Figure out something else to do, maybe call Lindsey, get an update about her life and her weird new friends.

Nobody talked to Ray anymore.

 

 

Day Twenty-Nine (29), A.F

“Do you miss your friends?” Gerard asked. Alice was on her bed picking out a line on her bass as he pawed through her makeup, trying to find the stick of eyeliner he left here. Gerard was starting to like makeup way too much, enough that he was definitely considering getting more of his own. Looking pretty was really nice.

“I miss my friends, yeah,” she said. Gerard could tell. He was happy he could tell, because it meant he knew Alice well enough to know when she was acting out of character. Lately more and more pictures had been going up on the walls of her and Naomi. A telltale sign. “Do you miss yours?”

Gerard shrugged, because friends meant Ray, and he didn’t care to answer that right now. Alice sighed and went back to her bass. “Red’s your colour. Go for that.”

She had like five shades of red. The darkest one appealed to him the most, partially because it seemed to be the most dramatic, and Gerard liked dramatic. He felt weird about putting makeup on, even around Alice, but he was getting over that slowly.

“You should talk to Ray again.” Unsurprising, that was all anyone ever says to him anymore.

“Fine,” Gerard told his reflection, once he had the lipstick on, because damn, he looked so much better already. When he felt better, he felt braver. He took himself in for a moment before nodding and starting on the eyeliner. “I will. And it’ll go exactly how I expect it to go.”

Alice just smiled, and he felt good because it was genuine. There hadn’t been a lot of that lately. “Don’t overdo the eyeshadow, honey.”

He made a noise of acknowledgement.

“Look at you go; you haven’t even asked for my help!” Alice was grinning at him in the mirror. Gerard smiled back. “I’ll be pretty for real soon. You know Mom’s letting me dye my hair?”

“Yeah?” Alice raised an eyebrow, going back to her bass. “Red really is your colour. Something to keep in mind.”

 

 

Day Thirty-Two (32), A.F

By the first time the older kids came back home for the holidays, things had thankfully gotten a lot calmer.

Ricky had learned to cope more on his own, had thrown himself into various activities. He’d gotten pretty awesome at skating, even if Gerard still got super nervous when he tried jumping over his brother. He was also quickly becoming one of those annoying theatre kids who everyone at school loved so much, and Gerard was seriously considering joining in, because the theatre kids always seemed to be the weirdest, and the least likely to beat you up.

Ricky also cut his hair and started dressing in more bizarre, colourful ways. A big fuck you to Grant, who was doing absolutely nothing to damage his reputation now.

Ángel was still awfully shy around everyone who wasn't Mikey or Frank or Ricky, and nothing they tried seemed to help with that at all, but Gerard remained optimistic. They’d find something else, some game to get Ángel back out of his shell.

Having the older kids back was actually more of a relief than Gerard ever thought it would be. Lindsey and Alice had talked about it nonstop the other day, in between stories of Alice’s ventures of working with her dad and the newest shit Lindsey’s new friends had gotten into.

The world snapped back into balance the second they showed up on Tommy’s doorstep- or at least somewhat. The twins sprang back to life, Alice reattached herself to Naomi’s side, life was all good again.

The first couple days Gerard and Mikey and Frank spent almost all their time hopping from house to house, taking in all the stories everyone had. The particularly interesting ones were the parties; which Gerard was looking forward to most of all when he went himself because there was nothing more he wanted to see in the world than someone with a lampshade over his head tossing a flat screen TV into a backyard pool. He really did hope that story was real.

Most of the stories Steve’s roommate were spinning half the time seemed way too out there to be real, but he made it work somehow.

The older kids had all known him before school started, apparently, he'd just been away all summer visiting... someone, Gerard had heard friend and girlfriend in equal measure. Which is why he hadn't shown up to band practice at all, all summer. Yes, this was their mysteriously absent drummer- even though he swore he was no good at the drums at all. Everyone liked him a lot more now that he was better acquainted with Steve.

Gerard had only seen him twice, standing in the kitchen in fuzzy slippers and bright pink boxers and eating handfuls of cereal out of the box as he talked. It took Gerard three days to actually learn that his name was Maddox, since everyone had their own variation of it, or cutesy pet name.

He was loud and unpredictable and Frank liked him a lot, mostly because of his wild storytelling ability, but also because he had green hair, which was seriously the coolest thing ever. Gerard had to fight the urge to draw him in Killjoy gear the first time they met, since he fit some weirdly specific character description he and Ray had come up with a little while back. It also made him more excited to dye his own hair, fuck, he was going to look so cool.

Even with Maddox’s sudden addition, everyone was settling in well. Happy to be home. Working hard, barely getting by on minimal sleep and lots of coffee. Steve was spending a lot more time around Tommy’s house now that they were back as well. Gerard assumed it was because of the attitudes coming from his camp more than anything. His parents knew, now. Ricky said they weren't too happy about it, but if that bothered Steve at all he didn't show it.

It was nice to have them back. Gerard was surprised with how much he’d missed all of them, Steve especially. And not just because Steve gave really good advice, either, which he did. And he seemed to want to continue giving. Gerard had managed to avoid most of the attempts he’d made, but it wasn’t long before he got cornered. The situation wasn’t ideal because Maddox was still in the room as it happened, sorting through Steve’s cupboard and rearranging all the cans in a colour spectrum.

“I’m not seeing much of Mr. Toro lately.” Curses. Gerard thought he’d be safe in the kitchen. He wasn’t sure why he’d agreed to help anyways, he was the worst cook of the group, even if they were only making pasta and his only job was to watch the noodles boil. He'd made the mistake of assuming that he could stay in here with the weirdo to get out of talking about Ray.

“Yes, well, he made it very clear what he thinks about this situation,” Gerard told the boiling water as Steve sat himself down, sighing. Frank was telling a story in the other room, Gerard could hear the screaming and the following laughter that came with a Frank Story.

It was quiet. Gerard thought nothing of it and poked at the pasta. “Nothing to say to that, Steve?”

“I mean, if it’s on him there’s nothing you can do.”

Not really what Gerard was wanting to hear, but reassuring all the same. It had taken a while but he’d finally convinced himself that he wasn’t the sole reason this whole thing ended the way it did. He could totally get up and move on from this, right? He'd found a couple cool friends already, now that he knew he could he could definitely find some more.

“Plenty of fish in the sea. Once you get out of the pond you’re good.” Maddox examined the can in his hand, making a face. “Hey, you know this is expired right?” He put it up on the counter, giving Steve a dirty look, like he might be personally responsible for this issue.

“Maddox is also good at life advice,” Steve mumbled, and the other guy bobbed his head.

“I mean you can move on from everything. Unless he’s your soul mate in which case you’re fucked and I’m real sorry.”

“Not helpful, Mads, thank you. Go bug Tommy.”

“You’ll be fine, kiddo.” Maddox patted Gerard’s shoulder a little too roughly and made a speedy exit. He was a pretty cool guy, considering. 

“Is he usually so-”

“Always. It never gets old. He’d make a good Killjoy, if you ask me.”

Gerard tensed up, using pasta as an excuse not to look at Steve. He knew that, it didn't matter anymore, they'd given up on that. “We’re all done with that stuff now. That’s all.”

“Well that’s a damn shame, if you ask me.” 

Nobody did. Gerard felt sort of bad about it now though. Was it selfish of him to just stop everything dead in its tracks just because of Ray? Another round of laughter came from the other room and Gerard sighed. “I mean I’m not stopping everyone from doing their thing. I’m the one who’s dead, I never said anything about you. Or the twins, or anyone else.”

Steve waved his hand. “We’re lost without our leader, though. What did you expect?”

“Whatever.” Gerard didn’t really want to keep having this conversation. Steve let it drop because he was more merciful than Ricky would ever be. They sat in silence with nothing but the quiet murmur of the next room and the bubbling water between them. Gerard was sort of hoping Steve would break it first with some story about some shit he got into or one of Maddox’s stories but he didn’t, and they just sat there for a long while until everything was almost done.

“I’m glad, you know,” Steve said, bracing himself against the table and pushing himself back up to his feet with some difficulty. “That we met you. You’re a good influence on a lot of people. I won’t call you my replacement, since we’re not alike and you’re your own person, but it really is nice to see, you know. That everyone’s doing okay.”

Which was wrong, Gerard could never replace any of the older kids for any reason. He straightened still, standing taller, like someone worthy of this praise. Gerard nodded.

“Thanks for taking care of everyone when I can’t be here,” Steve said, and then he was out and everyone was flooding in to get their food. It was overwhelming, the amount of positivity Gerard was surrounded with, and it was something he was just starting to notice. When they were all gathered in the living room watching Maddox and Alice duke it out in Wii Tennis, Steve winked at Gerard when he noticed him staring, and Gerard smiled back because he didn’t feel nearly as bad anymore.

Everything seemed okay, for the moment. Everything was going to be fine.

The older kids fell asleep a lot quicker than they used to, meaning they weren't awake to walk the younger kids home and Frank, Mikey, and Gerard had an excuse to stay. It was all quiet in the house, save for the TV, which was turned down way low for the people who had fallen asleep in the living room, and Alice and Maddox talking loudly in the kitchen.

Gerard ended up sitting on the floor wrapped up in a blanket with Lindsey as Frank and Mikey slept on the couch behind them.

“I never want them to leave ever again,” Lindsey mumbled sleepily into his shoulder.

Gerard knew the feeling.

 

 

Day Thirty-Five, A.F

“Hey. Gee.”

Mikey was shaking him. It had been a long day of being roped into helping tidy, so Gerard knew it was probably important if he was being woken up. Maybe the house was on fire.

Maybe the houseguests were wandering? The twins weren’t known for getting up though. Not usually. Whenever they stayed over here they kept quiet, you'd hardly know they were there until the morning, when Ricky was wide awake and at his noisiest. 

Now it was just Mikey. Gerard sat up, blinking in the dark.

“I thought I saw something,” Mikey whispered.

This again. Gerard sighed and got out of bed, praying that there was nothing in the carpet that could cause him bodily harm. It wouldn’t be very reassuring if he stepped on a sharpener and started bleeding while Mikey was in this state.

That would be the opposite of helpful.

He did what he usually did at these times. He checked the closet, a quick once over. Checked under the bed and behind the door.

“I’m think you’re fine, buddy,” he said softly, sitting down and putting an arm around his brother’s shoulder.

But he really wasn’t. Mikey was distraught, and still shaking a little. It was probably a dream. Nothing they couldn’t handle together, Gerard wasn’t about to kick Mikey out or anything. He could sleep here if he needed to. Just because it had been a habit he was breaking didn’t mean it was unusual. “Hey, lay down. I’ll fight anything that comes in here. Not that anything will, but you know I’ll fight anything that does, right?”

No response from Mikey. Gerard was trying to think of things that could be distracting enough to lull him back to sleep. The music approach wouldn’t work at this hour. It had to be a story. Mikey was going to ask for a story. Gerard laid back and Mikey curled up against his side, steadying his breathing.

“Did you kill us all because you were mad at Ray,” Mikey said quietly. Really, that was a bad call on Gerard’s part. He’d forgotten in the moment how much everyone else loved this stupid game. As much as he wished everyone would stop talking about it, he couldn’t deny that he did too. It would be nice to continue; to apply all these new ideas he’d come up with.

“Who says I killed everyone, huh?”

“Well it’s obvious!” Mikey looked up at him, suspicious.

“Is it? You know you’ve survived worse, Kobra Kid.” Gerard smiled just a little when Mikey giggled. Okay, this was working. And it had been on his mind for a while, it would be good to get it out. “Remember when Cherri accidentally shot you? How bad that was?”

“It was really bad,” Mikey agreed with a nod. “This was worse. I can see why someone might think I was dead.”

“You’re good at faking your own death, Kid. I’m not. They locked me up, they put you in body bags.” He could see them all, side by side and wrapped up in white plastic on the polished floor of the Director's building.

“And have you found Grace yet?”

Grace. God, Gerard missed Grace. “No, not yet, buddy. I’m just barely remembering who I am anymore. Everything’s all foggy.”

“Hey, we’ll get you out. Promise.” Mikey closed his eyes. “We’ll come back for you as soon as we can, okay? And we’ll get Grace out too.”

“Yeah, I don’t doubt it.” And he really didn’t.

 

 

Day Thirty-Seven (37), A.F

The revival of the game was quick and fast, and everyone hopped in immediately. Steve kept looking at him like he was proud, like Gerard had learned some great truth, but really Gerard was just bored and tired of feeling bad all the time, so he’d let himself enjoy something.

In the time it took to get everything organized, Gerard made more than one plan. A list of plans, starting with his plan to really get into the part of Party Poison. That was a character he could get behind. That was someone he’d like to be, if he wasn’t so painfully average and scared of everything.

Party Poison wasn’t scared of these things, so Gerard wasn’t going to let himself be intimidated. Maybe he couldn’t just become someone that cool and awesome overnight, but he had an idea of what he could do. The first thing on the list was to dye his hair, like he’d been wanting to for years and years. Now, Mom had finally given him the go ahead- probably because she thought it would cheer him up but hey, he would take what he could get.

It took one afternoon to get that done. He spent the whole time thinking about the second part of his plan while Alice and Lindsey helped him dye his hair. It was a lot more complicated than he thought it would be, but once it was done he felt an overwhelming sense of relief.

It was embarrassingly empowering, looking at his own face in the mirror. Same old Gerard, nerdy and chubby faced, but now framed in red. It made everything so much cooler somehow, he was totally excited about this. He had red staining his neck in places, and his fingers from running them through his hair, but fuck if that wasn’t also cool as hell. Messy. Like a real Killjoy would be. And if Gerard pulled his mask on when he was sure everyone else was asleep, nobody had to know. He actually looked the part now. He looked like what Party Poison should look like.

He was ready to go on with the second part of his plan to stop sucking so majorly at everything and failing at life in general.

This plan involved going alone.

There was something very familiar about this whole process, but Gerard felt so much cooler doing it alone, dressed all up in Killjoy attire because fuck it, he liked the outfit. It was a good costume. It was starting to get colder, so much so that he wouldn’t die if he wore his jacket out, so the walk was just quiet reflection. Mental preparation.

Gerard had memorized the path up to Grant’s neighbourhood from summers spent with nothing better to do than get beat up by the rich kids. Often he wasn’t even allowed out on his own, for reasons that often involved sketchy people wandering around the streets. But Mom was at work and Frank and Mikey were searching Frank’s house for his missing Fun Ghoul mask, so he could be there and back again before anyone knew it. Nobody would ever have to know.

He'd spent a lot less time around these streets this summer, because he’d found things to do that weren’t going out and seeking Grant’s approval almost every day. Gerard had even less time to do that now that school was back on, and he’d been avoiding Grant like the plague.

But he needed to make a stand, as leader of the Killjoys, against one of Better Living’s top agents. As a Killjoy who'd been stripped of his identity. As Gerard, who wasn’t going to put up with this shit anymore. He was going to grow up, and stop dwelling, and then he could properly take on Doctor Death Defying’s role, and be worthy of everyone’s time. Or some noble shit like that.

Really, Gerard was just fed up of being kicked around, and red hair made him feel powerful, so he was going to take advantage of that. 

He felt maybe a little bit bad not bringing Mikey with him to witness this historic event, but whatever. Mikey didn’t need to see him get his ass kicked for the last time. That would just be kind of sad. Point was, Gerard wasn’t dealing with this anymore, and that was that.

Grant was alone today. Or, rather, he had Hana with him and nobody else. Hana had never been in a fight though, so there was really nothing between Gerard and Grant.

It was just the two of them far as Gerard could see, when he stopped his bike at the edge of the perfectly manicured grass. It took them both a moment to notice him there at all. The smile fell off Grant’s face almost immediately. He rose stiffly, walking on over, and Hana stayed where she was. She would watch, as she always did. All she ever did was watch.

Gerard cleared his throat. Grant stayed on the grass.

“The fuck are you doing here? Dressed like that too. You have some nerve showing up on your own-”

“I wasn’t feeling good about playing dirty at all, but then I realized that you have no problem with it at all so I shouldn’t care either,” Gerard said quickly, cutting him off. There was power in just doing that, though Gerard’s heart was hammering away in his chest and his knees felt weak. He wouldn’t back down though. No way, not after coming this far.

Grant hesitated, like he knew where this was going. Gerard took care not to look too smug or anything, he wasn't here to humiliate Grant or anything. That wasn't his intention. So he stood there patiently as Grant tried to figure what to do.

Grant looked back at Hana for help but she didn’t move, standing silent and stern as ever with her arms crossed over her chest. Judging them. Grant didn’t have a posse to come and beat Gerard into submission, no way of getting him to stop. He was powerless and he knew it. It was a strange thing to see.

Not that it wasn’t making Gerard feel warm and fuzzy inside because he had Grant right where he wanted him. Just that Steve would be upset with him if he was using stuff like this as blackmail, and the last thing Gerard wanted was Steve disapproving. So he took the high road, as much as he wanted to walk away right then and there and keep Grant frantic.

“Look, I’m going to go right out and say I saw you and Adrian together when I was walking my brother home.” That look of terror, Gerard knew it well. He tried his best not to be sympathetic, but it was hard. “So I think it might be best if you don’t uh…” Wrong, this was wrong. “Look, fuck, I won’t say anything about it if you leave us the fuck alone, okay?”

Grant had finally collected himself to make some sort of stab at a rebuttal, some last ditch effort of being brave. “I’ll fucking shut you up-”

“Look- I’m not evil person, so I wouldn’t say anything anyways. Because I’m a better person than you are! I don’t spend my time tormenting people!” Gerard stood taller, getting right up in Grant’s face. He still felt dignified, even looking up at Grant. This was it, the gay intimidation technique. He felt powerful. “But I’m not a comic book hero, you’re safe as long as I am, got it? I’ll figure something else out to use if you keep pushing me, and I won’t be so merciful next time.”

Grant didn’t say anything. Good. Gerard still felt a little bad, because feeling this way was hard, and he understood that now. He got how that might make someone angry and resentful.

“Look- I get it. There’s- okay, there’s nothing wrong with you. As long as you know that, right? I don't know if anyone's told you or what, but it's fine. To like, you know. Feel the way you do. And I know that sounds dumb coming from me but- okay. I couldn’t actually say anything, even if you said no, right? Because I know it’s scary and even though you’re awful and I hate your guts I wouldn’t do that to you.”

They were at an impasse now. Grant bit his lip and looked at his shoes first, and Gerard had won the day- for real this time. He looked back at Hana, who narrowed her eyes, and he lowered his voice so only Grant would be able to hear. “First off, get yourself some new friends, okay? There’s people out there just like you who will treat you a hell of a lot better than the present company.”

And then Gerard returned to his bike. Because fuck, he felt good. Grant was picking his way back to the house as he rode off.

The sky opened up when he was halfway home, and the rain started up, lashing down. Gerard maybe ruined his shirt with the run off of his hair dye, but the way it made him look like he was dying was cool and also it made his entrance all the more dramatic until Mikey had to go grab him a towel.

Later on, he and Mikey and Frank laid down on the floor and stared up at the ceiling, picking out the constellations they’d made up in the desert sky. And everything was going to be okay.

 

 

Day ?

Just as Gerard was sure he’d finally made peace with everything, just when things had finally balanced themselves out, someone else decided to just stick a wrench in his whole system.

The older kids had been gone for about a week, and things were slowly settling back to normal. Or at least, things were getting about as normal as they could get around here.

They had even managed to achieve an even better version of normal, where Grant backed the fuck off and his entire gang went from outright aggression towards them to painless apathy. Gerard preferred this version of normal. In this one, he was surrounded by friends.  

They’d just gotten back from skating for the day, which was becoming a pretty common Sunday endeavor, and mostly an excuse for Lindsey and Jen from the pool to make fun of him, but whatever. It was fun. He was even getting good enough that Ricky couldn’t laugh at him. Everything was starting to look up.

So when someone showed up at the door, Gerard assumed it was one of the twins who had given Mikey something to put in his bag, only to forget about it. Or maybe Frank, he was known to pop up now and again. Gerard called for Mikey to go get it before realizing he was closer, so he ended up just awkwardly dwelling in the middle of the hall while Mikey opened the door.

Ray was standing there. 

Mikey scrambled out of the hallway so fast that Gerard was surprised he hadn’t left flaming skid marks on the hardwood. Gerard also had the overpowering urge to scream, and he tried his best to quell it but he ended up making a quiet whining noise that was totally embarrassing.

Fuck. That was no way to do it.

Ray was wearing his full Jet Star uniform, probably for the first time in his entire life. All of it, the silly black rainboots and the worn jeans and the weird tie dye shirt. He’d sewn Gerard’s patches on his black hoodie- or his mom did, probably, Gerard was the only one in their group with any sewing skills to speak of and that was only because Lindsey had taught him. The look was topped off by that stupid box helmet, which Ray pushed up out of his face, and he probably couldn’t see because Jet Star was too cool to wear glasses.

Gerard didn’t know what to say. Ray didn’t seem to know either, but he settled on a simple “hey”, like this wasn’t the first voluntary word he’d said to Gerard in a month and a half.

“Hi,” Gerard said, totally neutral.

“How are you,” Ray said, and he cringed two seconds later because, ow, awkward.

“You know.” Gerard had one hand on the door, ready to slam it in Ray’s face if- when this went south.

“I do.” Ray nodded, looking down at his boots.

They stood there in silence. The wind outside was cold and Gerard was in a t shirt and he wasn’t sure if it would be too dramatic to slam the door in Ray’s face without being prompted to do so. The answer was probably. But this was also something he didn't want Mikey eavesdropping on so he stepped outside onto the porch, closing the door behind him.

Ray took a deep breath. “Listen- I have things to say and- I mean. You don’t have to listen? I mean if you did I’d be really happy but-”

“What is it?” No mercy from Gerard. Not after all of this.

To Gerard’s surprise, Ray didn’t fall back at his tone. He stood taller, squaring his shoulders, and the helmet slipped down over his eyes just a little bit but he didn’t bother fixing it. “Look. I’m here to apologize for being a shitty friend.” Gerard had nothing to say, so Ray continued on in a rush, like he might go sprinting down the driveway if he didn’t get all of this out at once. “It’s just that… I didn’t know how to react? I didn’t wanna ruin our friendship and I-”

“You did,” Gerard snapped. It came out harder than he meant it to but Ray rushed on anyhow.

“No! No- I mean. No, I think I did a dumb and ridiculous thing but I don’t think it means we’re never gonna be friends again.” He took another deep breath, losing his confidence just as fast as Gerard was losing his anger. “I mean this all could have been avoided if we listened to anyone and actually talked about it, but I’m bad at it and you’re stubborn and we’re both dumb.”

Gerard really couldn’t argue with that. “Don’t you have new friends? We all just assumed you’d moved on.”

“No, no nothing like that at all, I swear!” Ray was waving his hands in what he hoped was a pacifying way but really he just looked frantic. He managed to knock his helmet back down over his face when he got too flustered but Gerard could still see him blushing.

It was cute. Gerard stepped closer and pushed the box back off of Ray's face for him, you know, just to be helpful, but that only served to make him more flustered.

“I mean if you just wanted to be friends again I’d be totally okay with that? I just miss you a lot and…” Ray was too tongue tied to continue, so Gerard waited. His heart was going a mile a minute as Ray puzzled out what to say. “I mean, what I’m saying is that I like you a lot? Like… Like you like you. I think I have for um. Like, a while and I didn't know that that was what it was and when I figured it out I just... that freaked me out and I started acting like an idiot.”

“I like like you too you dumbass,” Gerard said, though it was more of a sigh of relief than anything. “I guess I was better at showing it.”

Now what.

Ray looked like he was going to apologize again, and that just wouldn’t do. So Gerard knocked his helmet back and kissed him.

Maybe it wasn’t perfect. Gerard didn’t really have experience outside what he’d seen in movies and the other two times he was trying to put out of his mind.

Ray was rather surprised, and Gerard thought he was going to pull back or something equally terrible, but Ray just closed his eyes and let his arms fall to his sides.

It was awkward, no doubt about it, and Gerard had to lean up until he was on his toes, but there were butterflies. A lot of butterflies. Gerard felt like his heart was going to explode.  

But also he still wanted to punch Ray, who was pretty flustered when he pulled back.

“I don’t think um-”

“We’re not gonna do that for a while. I’m still mad at you,” Gerard said firmly. “But I’d be less mad if you came in and played video games with me. Mikey missed you.”

Ray laughed. It was a very reassuring sound; Gerard had missed it. “Yeah? I’m sure he did.”

Gerard grabbed Ray's hand and pulled him inside, where it was warm. Frank and Mikey ducked around the corner, giggling, but Gerard pretended he hadn't seen them. Ray hadn't noticed.

"I like your hair," Ray said. "I forgot to mention that."

"Thanks." Gerard squeezed his hand reassuringly. "I'm a real Party Poison now right?"

"I thought Party Poison was dead?"

"That's where you're wrong." Gerard dragged Ray along, downstairs where he'd probably be attacked by Frank and Mikey on sight. "Killjoys never die, Jet Star."