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Mikey remembers Gerard’s voice first, before anything else. He remembers being warm, and that things were bright, and he could hear Gerard’s voice, shrill and high and demanding something.

That’s his earliest memory, Gerard calling out into the world.

**

He flies to Japan alone, walking through airports on both sides of the Pacific with his head down, hat pulled low to his eyes, headphones in. He listens to the bass track for “Don’t Try” on repeat, moving his fingers in time. The crowd won’t notice if he fucks it up or not, but he wants to get it perfect. He wants to make Gerard proud.

I’m proud of you no matter what, Gerard has said a thousand times, but Mikey knows how things really work, how every fuckup carries disappointment like a ghost behind it, and people come to expect that from you more than anything else. He’s had enough fuckups to last a lifetime, and getting one song right won’t balance any of them out at all, but he’s fixated on it now.

He will get this right. This one thing. And it will count for something.

**

Once Gerard touched his face, stared into his eyes, and told him he couldn’t even see him anymore, he’d turned into shreds of paper wrapped around wire. Papier-mâché. Not even skin and bones.

He remembers that for a long time, at the oddest moments, in the quietest places.

**

He sends the cab to three wrong hotels before they find Gerard’s. It’s nerves more than carelessness or stupidity; he knows he’s getting stupider, losing thoughts by the day, but this isn’t that.

Kristin tells him he’s not any kind of stupid, he’s just learning to file things differently now, and even though that is total bullshit he loves her a lot for saying it. He loves her a lot for everything. How she fits in his arms and he fits in hers, how she kisses his forehead when he’s sad, how she laughs over the dinner table and loves lip balm or body scrub like it’s a divine revelation.

He wishes she was here. But she can’t be here for this; it has to be just him and Gerard, like it was at the very beginning, before anything else. Before there was anything but each other.

**

Gerard always expected so much more from him than he thought he could give, and most of the time could coax him into giving it anyway. It was Gerard’s superpower; Charisma-Man, or maybe the Hypnotist, able to look at you with those eyes that saw through to your soul and then draw out whatever he wanted to be there. Like in Temple of Doom, reaching in and pulling out your heart.

**

Gerard wraps him up in his arms as soon as Mikey steps off the elevator. He smells like sweat and the setting spray he uses on his whole head for a show, locking down hair and makeup alike. “You’re here,” he says, steering Mikey down the hall to his room without taking his arms from around him. “You made it.”

“The cab drivers of Japan know what’s up, when you tell them the right place.” Mikey lets himself lean into Gerard for a moment before he pulls himself back upright. “How are you?”

“Good. Good. I’m tired? But it’s not too bad.” Gerard swipes his key and hurries Mikey into the room. “Pretty nice, right? And magic toilets. I love the magic toilets.”

“I know you do.” There’s only one bed, big and soft and piled high with blankets. Just the sight makes Mikey ache. “Do I have enough time to crash for a while?”

Gerard’s arm tightens around him. “Plenty of time. Of course. Climb in there and build yourself a nest.”

**

Once, in Texas, Gerard’s eyes had been so wide and bloodshot Mikey thought he could see all the way through time. They had kissed, just gently, just the way they reminded each other that they were still in all of this together and nothing had pushed them apart.

Gerard had told him that the world spun like twirling a key ring around your fingers, and just like that, it could fly away. It made sense at the time. It was terrifying.

**

When he wakes up, Gerard is lying beside him, one arm flung over his own eyes and the other over Mikey’s waist. Mikey clears his throat, wanting his brother to know he’s awake without the risk of dislodging his touch.

“Feel better?” Gerard asks, lifting his arm just enough to peer at Mikey from under it. “We’ve still got a little time.”

“I’m scared.”

“It’s gonna be great. You’re gonna be great.”

“And if I’m not?”

“You will be.” Gerard slides his hand up to rest on Mikey’s chest, just above his heart. “You’re here, and you’re gonna be great, and the kids are gonna be so excited. You can do this.”

“I’m not doing it for the kids.”

Gerard’s hand thumps lightly against Mikey’s chest, tap tap tap, like he’s petting Mikey’s heart through flesh and bone.

Mikey turns his head and stares at Gerard until his brother meets his eyes. “I’m not doing this for the kids.”

“You’re doing it for yourself.” Gerard nods. “I know.”

Mikey sighs and looks up at the ceiling, then closes his eyes again. Yes. He’s doing it for himself.

But he’s doing it because Gerard asked him to.

**

Once he was so sick, so fucking sick, he was on his hands and knees puking in the dressing-room toilet and the puke was full of colors that shouldn’t have been there, weird bile and clumps of stuff that wasn’t food. Maybe parts of his internal organs. Maybe parts of his heart.

Gerard was talking to him through the door, constant and reassuring, and it was when Mikey realized he didn’t really recognize Gerard’s voice anymore that he started to think maybe he had a problem.

**

He stands at stage right and watches Gerard perform. Gerard sings with his whole body, his whole soul. His hands dance through the air light as fireflies. His body forms angles to the mic, to the stage, building stark linear art out of the mechanics of performing.

The fans scream and sob, reaching for the lights, reaching for the stage. They reach for Gerard, but he’s everywhere in the room at once, in the lights, in the air. Mikey understands how they feel, what they’re reaching for. He’s been doing it his whole life. His brother, sound and glow, just beyond his fingertips.

Gerard looks over at him every few minutes, eyebrows lifting in the same silent question. Mikey nods in return, every time. He’s still there. He’s still willing. He can, probably, almost definitely, maybe, do this.

The main set ends and Gerard comes offstage to stand next to him. His tech hands him a towel and he dabs at his face, smudging his makeup. From up close, the foundation is chalky-pale over his flushed skin. Mikey watches a bead of sweat successfully cut a clear path down Gerard’s neck, where the makeup is thinner. The skin it bares is perfect, breathless pink. Mikey has seen it before.

“Ready?” Gerard says softly, accepting a bottle of water that appears from nowhere. He drinks, winces, wipes his mouth on the back of his hand. “You ready?”

Mikey nods. Probably, almost definitely, maybe. Ready is pretty irrelevant; he’s going to do this. For himself, and because Gerard asked him to.

“Okay.” Gerard smiles at him and hands the bottle back into the dark. “God, listen to them. So fucking loud.”

“They love you,” Mikey says simply, and Gerard’s smile widens before he pulls him into a hug. He knows what Mikey means. He always has.

**

Mikey tried to explain it to the other guys once. Once.

It’s not that we don’t give a damn about all of you, he said. It’s not that we don’t give a damn about the band. Of course we do. The band is everything. You guys are everything.

It’s just that we were there before everything else.

**

It goes well. It really does. It’s just one song, but he plays it well, and his heart races but doesn’t feel like it’s going to burst, and his fingers do what they’re supposed to do, and his bloodstream is clean and his brain is clear and he doesn’t die.

That’s all he was hoping for, really. His best-case scenario.

They hug again, holding on to each other like they’re the last solid things in a world melting into color and light. The crowd noise breaks around them, glass and waves and other things that fall harmlessly to pieces when they meet a resistant body.

Mikey breathes and tastes Gerard in the back of his throat, blinks and catches him in his eyelashes, takes him in through the skin of his fingers and lets him go again through the pulse in the flat of his wrists.

Gerard is talking, but Mikey lets the words break around him with the rest of the noise. It’s like it was at the beginning, Gerard’s sound orienting him in the world even when he doesn’t know what it means.

Mikey has always been what anchors Gerard outside of himself. Gerard has always been what lets Mikey find his way home.