Mikey wasn't awake when Gerard left that morning, but he was there when Gerard came home in the evening. He saw him before he changed, saw Gerard in the dress he had bought from the thrift store, his hair styled softly around his face, his combat boots and knee socks making his legs seem girly somehow. The entire outfit was topped with a leather jacket, camouflaging Gerard's lack of a bustline, but he still looked distinctly like a girl.
It was an experiment, Gerard had told him. Just an idea he had, the latest in a long line of them during his final year of art school. This time he wanted to see what it was like out there as a girl.
Gerard was always looking for something new to try.
There was more to it than that though, Mikey was pretty sure. He watched from his bed while Gerard scrubbed off the long-lasting lipstick he'd borrowed from his girlfriend, his hip cocked to the right as he leaned closer to the mirror. His brother tried to blend in while standing out, slipping through a crowd as the least anonymous person alive. It was a line Mikey could never seem to walk, always either invisible to all or conspicuous to everyone he'd rather hide from. But Gerard was different, somehow.
Gerard didn't bother to wipe off the eyeliner, leaving it on after he'd changed into jeans and a t-shirt and shrugged back into his jacket, the dress discarded in a crumpled heap on the floor. On his way back out again, this time as himself once more.
Mikey stared at the dress.
* * *
He hadn't expected it to; the baby fat still clinging to Gerard's body even now somehow made the shape of his body curve and morph into a girl's figure with the slightest encouragement, the cut and line of the dress doing more than it seemed like it should to emphasize the delicate nature of Gerard's face. Mikey had no curves to help the illusion, the fabric falling loosely all around his frame.
He couldn't look away from the mirror.
When Mikey took a step closer, the skirt pulled against the bare skin of his thighs, the sensation unfamiliar and strange and hypnotic. He took a step back to feel it again, moving in an awkward box in his room, socked feet barely lifting off the floor. His hands ran up and down his sides, palms flaring out over his hips like he could somehow create a curve there with his touch.
It wasn't anything special, just a fifteen dollar dress Gerard had gotten while Mikey found more old t-shirts, the cotton of the skirt and bodice cheap and thin. But it felt like more.
He left the dress crumpled on the floor where Gerard had dropped it.
* * *
"What're you looking for?" Gerard asked, already holding a dark brown leather jacket that was so old the leather was cracked and almost broken through at places.
Mikey shrugged. "I thought maybe I'd see how girls' jeans fit me." He flipped through the racks, looking at sizes and realizing that he had no idea how girls' sizing worked or what he should try. Finally he found a pair of dark wash with a pretty low rise and took them off the hanger, holding the jeans up against his hips. "What do you think?"
"Try them on," Gerard said, nodding.
When he got to the dressing room he waited to feel weird about it, to have the same reaction he did when he was in his bedroom alone, mesmerized by his reflection. But he just shucked off his loose pair with the ripped out knee and tugged the new (to him) jeans on, pushing his boxers down into the legs before zipping up.
They made him look different, the boot cut cuffs still falling over his Vans like his other jeans did, but his ass and thighs and hips suddenly felt pronounced and more like his own. He shoved his hands into the front pockets, frowning at how shallow they were. No wonder girls brought a bag everywhere; a stick of gum would barely fit in there.
He could see the line of his boxers pressed against his thighs through the fabric. There were a couple of pairs of briefs in the back of his top drawer that would work better.
He pulled them back off and went out to find Gerard, who was in the home wares section looking at a tea kettle for some reason.
"I'm ready," Mikey said.
* * *
He wondered what it would be like to wear the dress out in public, but it would be too much. Gerard might pass, but even if Mikey kept letting his hair grow so that it would fall into his face like Gerard's did, no one would mistake him for being anything other than he was: a boy in girl's clothes.
The jeans might not have been enough, but they were safe, at least. He bought another pair a few months later, and after no one commented on them either (except for some kids at a show, and he was pretty sure their comments were positive), he went back and kept walking deeper into the store, to where the tank tops were.
It wasn't like he would wear them without anything else, not even with just a jean jacket covering his arms. But he was thin enough that in the winter he always layered anyway, a t-shirt under a long sleeved shirt under a hoodie or a jacket. He fingered a pale pink one with spaghetti straps, the fabric soft and almost slick through his fingers, and pulled it off the hanger before he could change his mind.
* * *
Gerard could wear it for the world. Mikey would keep it close.
* * *
The first time he actually came to a practice, his hands shook as he got the bass over his shoulder. His hands moved restlessly over the frets and strings, shifting from chord to chord as he thought through the bassline in his head, mouthing the changes to himself and tapping his foot against the carpet. He kept his head down, the sound of Ray's hands flying joyfully over his guitar filling his ears.
Mikey glanced over at him when Ray stopped playing, his own hands going still on his bass. Ray gave him a small smile, warm and open. Mikey smiled back and shrugged before running through the bassline once more, his fingers moving more easily now.
By the time Otter counted them in for the first time, he felt almost steady. Hearing Gerard's voice join them helped quiet his stomach even more, drowning out the rest of the noise in his brain.
He would get this. He would.
When Ray clapped him on the shoulder at the end of the practice and said, "Sounding good, Mikey," he started to actually believe it.
* * *
The tables were all covered in panties, bright colors and patterns fanned out over the circular table tops, a display of femininity impossible to ignore. His eyes were first drawn to the cotton pairs to the right, the high cut panties and boy shorts and bikinis and thongs all vying for his attention. But he walked all the way around the back of the store, finally stopping in front of the Second Skin Satin table, the panties laid out from lightest to darkest, the shimmering pale pastels all the way up to the rich jewel tones of red and blue and purple, and finally black.
He reached out to touch, something he had promised himself he wouldn't do: a skinny dude in glasses and with bangs covering his face, standing in a Victoria's Secret store fingering underwear. Like a pervert. But the material slid against his skin, and he instantly wanted it, wanted to wear that second skin, to hold it up between him and the world.
Just the idea made him feel better, the way he did every time he nailed his part at practice, his eyes immediately searching out Ray's, who always seemed to notice. He could play bass in a band, and he could wear girls' panties, and he could be okay.
It was five for $25, proclaimed the signs. He picked them out quickly, a pink and a red and an emerald green and a purple and a black, and brought them up to the counter where he spent three hours' worth of wages on his new armor.
* * *
Wearing them on days when they had gigs wasn't intentional, not exactly, but after it happened the first couple of times it became a thing, a way for his body and mind to be ready. He still felt a little nervous wearing them when he knew that people would be looking at him, but what with Gerard's antics and Ray's playing and Frank's reckless self-destruction on stage, no one seemed to notice a sliver of satin peeking out above his jeans during a set. And when the first girl he hooked up with after a show didn't react at all other than grinning and shoving her hand under his panties to get to his dick, he stopped worrying about that too.
Being in a band gave him a lot of room to work with on the weirdness scale, it seemed.
* * *
He was pretty sure Ray had seen him once in the bathroom at a VFW hall before a gig, Mikey not quite done buttoning up his jeans over his red pair after taking a piss. When Mikey turned around Ray was there, his cheeks a little pink, but he didn't say anything as Mikey tugged his shirt down and walked past him.
That night he kept waiting for Ray to mention it, to ask or comment or do something. But Ray was exactly the same as always, grinning at Mikey on stage, handing him a cold beer after they had broken down their gear, and willing to let Mikey use his thigh as a pillow in the van afterwards.
* * *
Mikey didn't stop him though, just kissed him back, gripping his hair tight with both hands and grinding up against his hips. His heart was thumping in his ribcage, a chorus of come on come on come on beating through his brain. When Ray finally slid one hand down between his jeans and his panties, palm of his hand gliding over the smooth satin, Mikey shivered and groaned.
Ray pulled back from the kiss, eyes roving over Mikey's face, hand still gripping Mikey's ass. Mikey couldn't read the look on Ray's face, but he held onto Ray's biceps and just waited for the questions.
Ray's hand stroked across his ass, and Mikey thrust forward in response and looked back up at him, startled. "So. What's this about?" Ray asked softly.
Mikey shrugged, not sure he could have answered that even under normal circumstances. There was no chance of it at all with Ray's hands on his ass and his arms curling him close.
"But like," Ray continued, and Mikey realized why his expression seemed familiar. It was the look Ray always had when he knew there was some way to make a song work that he just couldn't see yet, but if he played through the chords one more time he'd find the key. "Do you want to be a girl or something?"
That Mikey could answer. He shook his head and then finally gave into the urge to kiss Ray again. Ray's hands slid back up to his waist and held him tight as they kissed. Finally, Mikey broke away. "I'm just me," he said into Ray's neck.
He felt Ray smile against his cheek. "Works for me."