The day the world ended Gerard was having a picnic with his family. When he closes his eyes he can still remember how it felt to sit on the grass with one arm wrapped around his wife while they watched Mikey push Bandit on the swings.
“Higher, Uncle Mikey,” she crowed and Mikey pushed a little harder, but not much because she was already swinging so high the chains were going slack on the upper curve of the swing.
Sometimes Gerard prefers to go there, back to that day in the park, and forget about the present.
“Look alive,” Mikey mumbles.
Gerard opens his eyes and sees their boss making his way down the hall, peering over his worker’s shoulders as he passes them. Gerard scrambles for some paperwork, trying to make it look like he was doing something.
“Mr. Way,” their boss says, coming up to his desk. “What are you doing?”
“I, uh.” Gerard flips through more papers and finally locates one that he remembers reading. “There’s a discrepancy in this one. Or, rather, it’s unreadable.”
The boss snatches the paper out of his hand and glances over the horrible handwriting. The form is a request for food stamps. People only fill out these applications when they are desperate because if they do get approved then their name gets put on a permanent record. Gerard doesn’t know exactly what that means, but he does know being permanently known as a food stamp recipient isn’t a good thing.
Gerard feels bad for pointing out the application, but his boss wants him to show something and Gerard had been trying to translate the messy handwriting for a while.
“Very well.” His boss hands the paper back. “Discard it.”
Gerard hesitates. If he discards it the applicant won’t get their food stamps and they won’t know why. They’ll also have to wait another month before re-applying.
“Mr. Way?” His boss is still looming over him. Gerard shoves the paper into the discard slot, listening as it’s shredded. His boss nods and stalks off. Probably to terrorize some other unfortunate office grunt.
“Smooth,” Mikey mutters under his breath.
Gerard turns Mikey’s way just long enough to snap, “A little more warning next time,” before anyone notices. Mikey just sighs and returns to his work.
“Y’know you have to actually do work once in a while,” Mikey says.
“Sorry.” The overused apology feels heavy on Gerard’s tongue.
Mikey nods. He flips his lunchbox in the air and barely catches it as it falls back down.
“If you break that we’re not buying a new one.”
Mikey flips the box again. He misses and it clatters to the ground. The closure pops and the remains of his lunch scatter across the sidewalk. He scrambles to pick up the wrappers and food bits. The last thing they need is a littering fine. Once the contents are all returned Mikey stuffs it firmly under his arm. Mikey’s knees have been bothering him lately so Gerard gives him a hand up.
“It’s not broken,” Mikey says in response to Gerard’s raised eyebrow.
“It better not be.”
They reenter the flow of government workers heading home. Most everyone walks. The City is relatively small and distances are reasonable. Those who can afford it take public transport. Almost no one has personal vehicles, in a city this size they aren’t needed and the cost of gasoline makes even the wealthiest residence shy away from owning personal cars. The result is that the roads are usually populated by buses, construction vehicles, and emergency service vehicles.
Gerard and Mikey could take public transport, but the cost for both of them is six dollars a day. That money is better spent elsewhere, like buying groceries.
Gerard says. “I’ve got work at the studio tonight. You’ve--”
“Got Bandit? Of course.”
“Awesome. I prepared some soup and sandwiches for dinner. You just need to heat up the soup.”
Mikey rolls his eyes. “You’ll never let me cook again, will you?”
“You almost burnt the apartment down.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t.”
It’s Gerard’s turn to roll his eyes. “Just heat up the soup. And don’t burn it. And pick up Bandit from school.”
Mikey scoffs. “As if I’d forget that.”
They say their goodbyes and Gerard heads to his second job.
The studio is the city’s graphic design department. The demand for art in the City is miniscule and the only organization that actually employs artists on a regular basis is the City itself. Gerard spends most of his evenings designing signs and informational posters that will get plastered around town.
Gerard isn’t actually cut out for the job. He’s an artist, not a graphic designer. However, the studio does have one graphic designer, a young woman named Emma. Their collaborative efforts churn out most of the City’s designs. The graphic design department is actually so small that it’s just them.
Gerard likes it. It gives him a chance to create without a boss constantly looming over his shoulder. If it means he has to spend most evenings away from his family, well, at least it pays.
Gerard gets home later than usual and by the time he does Bandit is already tucked into bed. Gerard settles at the table with his reheated dinner. Mikey joins him.
He hands Gerard a piece of paper covered in smears of colorful paint.
“Bandit’s latest art project. She got an ‘A,’ she’s very proud.”
“Awesome.” Gerard looks over the artwork. It looks like the grocery store they frequent, if it had been attacked by neon paint. “Very cool.”
“Tell her, not me,” Mikey jokes. “But not tonight. She’s got a math test tomorrow that she’s really worried about.”
“Did you help her study?”
Mikey nods. “Math is hard, dude. I don’t remember math being that hard when I was her age.”
Gerard shrugs. “Things are different now.”
Their apartment is small and only has two bedrooms, so Gerard and Mikey share a room. It’s not what they’d prefer, but it’s all they can afford. At least they’ve never had to apply for food stamps.
“We should go,” Mikey says, standing by the window. He does this most every night. They live in a rather seedy part of the city known as Mechanic’s Corner. Nothing about the location is appealing except for the unobstructed view of the desert beyond the City walls.
Gerard collapses heavily on his bed. He’s already exhausted by his long day of work, he’s too tired to have this argument with Mikey, again.
“There’s too much radiation. Nobody can live out there for long.”
“Says who?” Mikey’s voice still has that far-away thoughtful quality to it. This hasn’t become an argument, yet.
“Says scientists, with degrees.”
“Who are employed by the government,” Mikey counters.
“Christ, Mikey, don’t start.”
Mikey turns away from the window. “I have a point and you know it.”
“No. No you don’t.” Gerard tugs at his hair is frustration. “For the thousandth time. This isn’t Battery City. The government is not BLI. Life is not a comic book.”
“Lots of people would disagree with you,” Mikey snaps. “Some of the groups out there even call themselves Killjoys.”
Gerard throws his hands out in frustration. “I don’t give a flying fuck if they start marching and call themselves The Black Parade, we are not-- Wait, how do you know what they’re called?”
Mikey looks away. “Never mind.”
“Look, the point is that there are people out there who aren’t just rolling over for a dictatorial government. There are people who are fighting back.”
“Against what?” Gerard asks.
“Against this!” Mikey fires back. “Against a government that’s got us in a chokehold. Against a dull, grey world where people are existing, not living. You call this bullshit a life?”
Gerard’s anger flares. “This ‘bullshit’ means a life for Bandit. A safe one where she can achieve something and not just run around a desert wasteland. Where she’ll live to be older than I ever will. That is what I care about above all else, you selfish piece of shit.”
“What happened to you?” Mikey asks.
“I grew the fuck up,” Gerard says. “You should too.”
Mikey looks tired all of a sudden. A beat down, worn out tired. He looks a lot like Gerard feels.
“Forget it. Get some sleep.”
“Mikey.” Gerard puts his hand on Mikey’s shoulder, but Mikey brushes it off.
“Just… go to bed, Gee. You need sleep.”
Gerard does need sleep, but he’s not going to end the night with an argument. He grabs Mikey’s shoulder to keep him still and places a kiss on his forehead. He half expects Mikey to smack him for it, but he doesn’t.
“I love you.”
It isn’t until they’re both in bed and Gerard is almost asleep then Mikey finally responds.
“I love you, too.”
It’s late. Bandit is in bed, they have tomorrow off for City Founder’s Day and Mikey is “out.”
That’s all he said. “I’m going out.”
Gerard doesn’t care, really he doesn’t. Mikey’s an adult, he’s allowed to do his own things and he doesn’t actually have to tell Gerard shit. It would just be nice if he did every once in a while.
It’s fine, Gerard does appreciate these times of solitude.
He takes a swig from the bottle of whisky. He’s leaning pretty heavily against the counter already, his years of sobriety effectively destroying his alcohol tolerance. It doesn't matter. He’s not looking to spend all night out partying like he did when he was younger. He just needs a little liquid warmth, just enough to take the edge off.
This wasn’t how his life was supposed to go. He was a successful musician in an internationally famous band and an accomplished comic book creator. He was married to the love of his life and she gave him the most beautiful daughter. Everything was perfect, until it wasn’t.
Now he’s living his own personal nightmare. A dead-end job, two in fact. Working so many hours he barely has time for his family. It’s exactly what he feared would happen to him when he was twenty. Now that it’s happened, having something to drink makes the whole things just a little easier to swallow.
“What are you doing?”
Mikey’s home. He’s standing in the doorway staring at Gerard in… horror? Disgust?
Gerard tucks the bottle to his side. “Nothin’.”
Mikey closes the door and enters the kitchen. His shoulders are tense under the leather jacket Gerard’s never seen before. They don’t own anything leather, they can’t afford it.
Gerard starts. “Where’d you get-”
“You’re an alcoholic, Gee. You can’t be drinking.”
Mikey holds out his hand. “Give it to me”
Gerard grips the bottle neck tighter.
“Give it to me, Gerard.”
Mikey grabs him, he tries to wriggle away, but Mikey’s taller and stronger. He pins Gerard against the counter and wrenches the bottle out of his hand.
“Give it back. I don’t drink much. I’m not drunk. I just. It takes the edge off.”
“Can you hear yourself, Gee?” Mikey still has Gerard pinned, he’s holding the bottle as far away as his arm will go. Damnit, why does he have to have such long arms? “You’re pathetic.”
“I am pathetic,” Gerard agrees. “I’m pathetic and depressed and life is shit and and and. Mikey, please.”
Mikey takes a drink from the bottle.
“You can’t do that,” Gerard gasps. “You’re an alcoholic.”
“Pot. Kettle.” Mikey mumbles and stalks off to their room. Gerard trails after him. They both collapse onto Mikey’s bed.
Mikey takes another swig and passes the bottle over. Gerard takes a few swallows and passes it back. They go back and forth like this until Gerard is certain they’re both pretty well hammered.
“Gee, why are we doing this?” Mikey asks.
“Because we’re both pathetic?” Mikey’s shoulder looks like a good pillow. Gerard rests his head on it. Mikey’s arm wraps lightly around him and Mikey leans his head on Gerard’s.
“That’s not what I meant.”
They sit in silence. Gerard realizes Mikey’s waiting for an answer. “What’re we talkin’ about?”
“Why are we here, Gee? I mean, why here and not there?” Mikey waves his hand vaguely. Gerard knows what he means. Why stay in the City, why not leave for the desert? There’s a reason, there is. Gerard knows there is, but right now he can’t remember it. Right now, running away seems like a good idea.
“I dunno,” Gerard admits. “Maybe we should.”
Hangovers are evil.
Gerard’s head throbs like someone took a hammer and chisel to it and his tongue feels furry like he licked a cat. The bright morning light streaming in through a thin opening in the blinds torments him and makes it almost impossible to open his eyes.
He tries to get up, but Mikey’s lying partly on top of him, still passed out and snoring. Gerard wriggles away, giving Mikey a couple of petty elbows to the side. Mikey doesn’t wake up. Eventually Gerard extracts himself.
Bandit is in the living room watching cartoons and eating cereal. Completely oblivious to the events of last night. Gerard takes a cold shower and finally feels more human. He collapses on the couch and watches the inane adventures of the comical characters on TV.
A few episodes later Mikey stumbles in. He goes to the kitchen and Gerard can hear him digging through the recycle bin, shoving the empty whisky bottle down to the bottom. Gerard watches Bandit, but she remains oblivious of the noise.
Mikey enters the living room and makes eye contact with Gerard. Without speaking Gerard knows what he means.
Gerard nods. “Go take a shower.”