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Twist to Fit the Mold

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Gerard found Mikey in the front lounge. America's Next Top Model was playing on mute and Mikey was mostly ignoring it, squinting instead at his phone.

Gerard fidgeted a little obviously until Mikey finally grunted, "Dude, what the fuck?"

"Um," Gerard said, picking at a loose thread on the cuff of his hoodie. "So, Bob kind of. I'm going to Chicago to meet his family."

"Cool," Mikey said, not looking up.

"It is not cool," Gerard hissed. "It's fucking terrifying!"

"You've met his family before, dude," Mikey said, thumbs flying on his sidekick keypad. "What's your issue?"

Gerard clutched his sketchpad to his chest like a security blanket and frowned down at the floor. He shouldn't have to explain this shit to his own brother. Where was the fucking family loyalty?

"They came to see the show," he said, aggrieved. "They weren't there to meet me, and I only talked to them for like five seconds so it doesn't count."

Mikey shrugged, still not looking up from the tiny screen.

"This," Gerard said, waving the sketchpad to emphasize his point, "is Going to Meet the Parents, and that is automatically different, okay?"

Judging by the grunt Mikey gave in response, he really didn't give a shit one way or the other. Gerard refused to be put off. "What about when you met Alicia's parents?"

Mikey paused, and then very slowly raised his head. "It was fine," he said, flatly.

"You burned their house down," Gerard said. A pink flush burned across Mikey's cheekbones.

"I did not," he gritted out. "It was one dishtowel. And the wall was barely even singed!"

"But there was a fire."

"They said they were planning to redo the kitchen anyway," Mikey said, hunching his shoulders defensively. "And it wasn't even my fault. I was just helping out with the cooking and then there was a fire, but I didn't start it."

For a dude who didn't like to get sweaty off stage, Mikey could move pretty quickly when he was inspired. He was down the hall and in his bunk before Gerard could bring the conversation back around to the Bryars. Gerard turned up the volume on the TV and sulked while Miss Tyra explained the difference between pretty ugly and ugly ugly to the latest crop of wannabe models.

***

Two hours of nervous energy and one rest stop later, Gerard broke down and went to Frankie.

"So, I mean, I thought...but if you don't want to talk about it, that's totally cool," he said, sucking on his cigarette like it was his last.

"No, it's cool," Frank said thoughtfully, lighting up. Gerard watched the cigarette flare as he inhaled deeply. It lit Frank's face in interesting ways, highlighting the hollows below his cheekbones but only glinting slightly from his eyes, which looked like empty sockets. The effect was creepy and awesome and made Gerard yearn for a pencil and paper. Smoke curled out in tendrils when Frank started talking again. "I'm sure they won't care that you took their only son away for years at a time and then sent him back all broken."

Gerard absolutely could not stop the outraged squawk he made at this.

"He was on tour already!" Gerard's voice swooped upwards with outrage.

"That's what I'm saying," Frank said soothingly. "Plus I'm sure they are totally happy that some older rock dude is boning their kid."

Gerard sputtered, "I'm only thirty!"

"Which isn't that old, I know!" Frank sucked in another lungful of smoke. "And I bet Bob would've stopped dating girls and become a big homo even if you weren't giving him come-hither eyes all the time."

"I didn't...he was already...he came on to me!" Gerard flicked his cigarette to the ground and tapped another one out of the pack. His shoulders were tight and up around his ears. Frank patted his arm, using the move to snag another cigarette for himself.

"Right!" he said, cheerfully. "I'm sure his parents don't think that you, like, seduced him with your fame or whatever. It's not like you lured him in with the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll lifestyle."

Gerard made a weird, squeaky vowel noise and choked on smoke.

"But if you're worried," Frank said, like he didn't notice Gerard asphyxiating right beside him, "you should bring a gift. Flowers or some shit. Moms love that stuff."

"I'm not worried," Gerard gasped, and Frank said, "Yeah, okay," like he was humoring him.

They stood there and smoked the rest of their cigarettes in silence. Back on the bus Frank clapped Gerard's shoulder and said, "Sweet dreams!"

Gerard stared at the wall of his bunk and resolutely did not think about telling Bob's parents that Bob boned him first.

***

He probably should have checked the time before dialing, but Gerard didn't think about that until Brian's sleep-blurred voice mumbled a greeting from three time zones away. By that point the damage was already done, so Gerard went ahead and blurted it out.

"Is it stupid to bring flowers to Bob's mom?" He nibbled on his fingernails, trying not to chain smoke his last pack. The bus wasn't due to stop again for a couple of hours and he didn't thinke he could handle going without.

"What?" Brian's voice sharpened a little. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"

Gerard glanced at his wrist where he hasn't worn a watch in months. "Um. I guess it's probably early?" he said. Brian muttered something under his breath, but Gerard talked over him.

"So, like, I was thinking that roses are probably the wrong message. But maybe, I don't know, pansies? Unless that's too gay. Maybe daisies?" He bit too much nail off his ring finger and a droplet of blood oozed up from the raw patch that was left behind. He wrapped the finger in the ragged hem of his t-shirt while waiting for Brian to answer. He was just about to say something, check and see if Brian was still awake, when the answer finally came.

"Gerard, it is ass o'clock in the morning. I swear to god, if you aren't thinking of killing yourself or others I don't ever want to hear from you at this time of the night, okay?" Before Gerard had a chance to feel insulted, Brian followed that up with, "You're not, right? Everything okay?" and when Gerard hummed an affirmative sound, Brian went right back to bitching. "Flowers, Jesus fuckin' Christ. Go to bed." And then he hung up.

"So, wait, is that a yes to the daisies?" Gerard asked the dial tone.

***

Gerard waited until a decent time of the morning to approach Worm. He was conveniently located at the crafts services table, next to a box of coffee from Starbucks. Gerard gave serious thought to cutting off the top, dumping in some sugar and drinking the entire thing himself. He'd gotten shit for sleep and he was paying for it. His whole body felt heavy, like it was dragging, and his eyes were gritty.

A quick glance at the roadies and tech dudes ringing the table was all it took to make him decide against the 'all your coffee is belong to me' plan. Gerard loved caffeine, but he valued his life more. Instead he got in line and prepared two cups for himself. After the first hot, bitter taste cleared his brain slightly, Gerard squinted up at Worm.

"So, uh, can I ask you something?" His voice grated with disuse, and he coughed to clear his throat.

Worm shrugged, which from him was like saying 'yes, absolutely, lay it on me.' He was the only guy Gerard knew who was more laconic than Bob.

"Um, in private?" Gerard's voice hadn't cracked like that since he was twelve years old.

Worm raised his eyebrows in a silent but eloquent comment and gestured toward the parking lot behind the buses. There were a handful of cars but no one was moving around yet. It was before noon, which made it the middle of the night for most musicians. Gerard scuffed his feet through the powdery dirt of the parking area and clutched both coffee cups close. He wished he'd thought to light a cigarette before his hands were occupied.

Worm finally stopped when they were just far enough away from everyone that they wouldn't be over heard. He crossed his arms over his chest and glanced around before raising his eyebrows again.

Gerard had no idea how to get started. He took a sip, buying himself some time. Worm waited him out, leaning back against a truck and scanning the parking lot for fans or other dangers.

"It's about Bob," Gerard finally offered. "He wants me to meet his parents."

Worm stood up straight. "Whoa," he said, raising his hands in front of him, "this is really not in my job description." There was something disquieting about a man that big looking that scared, Gerard thought.

Which, okay, the guy had a point, but, "I just wanted some advice," Gerard muttered. He really, really wished he could reach for his cigarettes, motherfuck.

"You want advice, call LoveLine," Worm said. "I can lend you my phone."

Gerard might have taken him up on it, too, if he weren't so afraid that Dr. Drew might recognize his voice and call him out on the air. "Whatever," he said. "It's not that big a deal."

"It's a big fucking deal," Worm said, "It's just not my deal." He patted Gerard on the shoulder once they were back at the My Chem bus. It really was kind of comforting, even if Gerard was no closer to having an answer.

***

An hour before soundcheck, Gerard was desperate enough to make a last-ditch choice for relationship advice.

"Can I talk to you for a second?" Gerard poked at a suspicious stain on his jeans and glanced up through the screen of his eyelashes.

Ray gave Gerard a dubious look. It was an effective one, complete with squinty eyes and a little quirk to the lips that clearly said, 'I don't trust you.' He made no attempt to take off his headphones when he said, "Is it about music? Because I have time to talk about music. If it is about Bob, Bob's shoulders, Bob's lip-ring, your guilt about Bob's wrists, or your personal drama about meeting Bob's parents, then I am hard at work on this song and probably should not be interrupted in case I lose the flow."

Gerard closed his mouth with a tiny, audible snap. "Fucker," he said. Ray snorted and turned back to his laptop.

Gerard managed, just barely, to not stomp his foot when he turned to leave. If he was pouting, well, nobody saw him and they couldn't prove a thing.

***

When Bob called that night he said, "Four days until you're here." He sounded so quietly pleased that Gerard felt like the worst boyfriend in the history of ever.

"Yeah," he said, "I can't wait." He even meant it, mostly. It had been too long since the last time he and Bob were in the same place at the same time. It was possible, though, that a little bit of his trepidation bled into his voice.

"Hey, whoa," Bob said, and fuck, Gerard was so busted. "Are you freaking out?"

Gerard reflexively squeezed his Starbuck's cup and the paper crumpled slightly, hot coffee slopping over his fingers. He yelped and flailed around for someplace to put it down.

When he finally answered, "no," he sounded defensive even to his own ears. Bob waited silently and Gerard gave up after ten seconds tops. He'd never last through a real interrogation, fuck. "Maybe a little," he admitted grudgingly. Bob was quiet for a minute. Fuck, he never should have said anything. He was such a shitty boyfriend.

When Bob finally did speak, he didn't seem mad at all. "What's going on in your head, dude?" he said, and it sounded like an honest question.

Gerard bit his lip and finally muttered, "I don't know." He'd be embarrassed about acting like a kid if he weren't losing sleep over this fucking trip. Bob pulled the silent waiting thing again and Gerard huffed his annoyance. Bob knew him too fucking well sometimes.

"It's just, what if they hate me?" He didn't even care that he sounded like a twelve year old girl. He didn't.

"What if what? Are you serious?" Bob's voice went high with surprise and Gerard felt his cheeks flush hot.

"Sort of," and the sullen tone was unmistakable this time. "I guess."

"They won't," Bob said firmly.

Gerard shifted so he was looking out the bus window. The move put his back to the room. He lowered his voice. Mikey and Frank could still eavesdrop from the kitchenette if they wanted to, but they'd pretend they couldn't hear. It was the closest thing to privacy on a tour bus and Gerard would take what he could get.

"I know they didn't hate me before," Gerard said, "But that was before I broke you!"

Bob laughed, short and startled. "What the fuck?" he said.

"Your wrists are all fucked up now," Gerard said, "And I turned you gay with my rock star lifestyle."

"Rock star lifestyle?" It sounded like Bob was choking at the other end of the line.

"Are you okay?" Gerard asked, worried.

"Yeah, uh. Look, I'll call you right back," Bob said, his voice strangled. He hung up without waiting for Gerard's goodbye.

Mikey's phone started ringing in the kitchen.

"Oh, hey, Bob," Mikey said. Gerard turned around quickly. "Yeah, he's right here, why?" Mikey's eyes cut toward Frank, and his eyebrows pulled down sharply. "Really," he said, voice flat and menancing.

Frankie started edging towards the back lounge. "Talk to you later," Mikey said into the phone. He closed it with a snap and started after Frank, slow and deliberate. Frank started giggling and turned to flee. Mikey banged his knee rounding the doorway into the bunks and he stumbled, cursing. Gerard heard the lounge door click shut before Mikey pulled himself upright again, and then Frank started yelling, "Sanctuary! Sanctuary! Save me, Ray!" Mikey rattled the door, and Frank's laughter kicked up another notch.

Gerard's phone rang again and he answered on autopilot, straining to make out whatever Mikey was saying to Frank through the door.

"You know better than to listen to him, dude," Bob said. He didn't sound like he was choking now. He sounded like he was laughing. "You make it too fucking easy for that little douchebag. He's just yanking your chain."

Gerard hummed vaguely, not really answering. Frank was an asshole, it was true. It was just that everything he'd said was so disturbingly plausible, and they were all things that Gerard secretly worried about in the middle of the night when he couldn't sleep. Which Frank probably knew already, the fucker. It was the downside of having no secrets from your best friends.

"Look, just. Just come meet them," Bob said. "We can stay at a hotel if you want, we don't have to stay with them. We can go to dinner and then leave, it'll be fine."

He sounded so calm, so rational that Gerard felt another pang of shame. "No, it's cool," he said. "I'm just being stupid. It'll be fine. Besides," he added, "I really miss you."

"Yeah?" Bob said, his voice warm and raspy and sly. "How much do you miss me?" Gerard ducked his head and grinned against the back of the couch. It was an olive branch - and an obvious segue into phone sex.

A quick glance down the hallway showed the coast was clear. "What are you wearing?" Gerard asked. It was just familiar enough that he didn't feel like a total tool when he said it and Bob's pleased laugh cleared up any of his lingering embarrassment.

It was going to be fine. And if he kept repeating that to himself, he might even start to believe it.

***

Gerard rang the doorbell with the hand holding his cigarette. He had a bouquet of black-eyed susans and baby's breath or some shit clutched in a death grip in the other. He heard chimes echo inside and brought the cigarette back up to his lips. He stamped his feet against the chill, looking around the quiet street. He was fine. Totally fine. So fine that there was no chance he was going to pass out on the front stoop if someone didn't let him in soon. That's how not freaked out he was.

Plus he'd worked out a whole greeting to give to Bob's mom when she opened the door. He was going to hand her the bouquet and thank her for inviting him over. He'd tell her how much Bob meant to him - to all of them - and then, well. He hoped she knew what to do after that, because he sure as fuck didn't. He'd give her the fucking flowers and then he'd wing it.

His breath shook on the exhale and it wasn't from cold. He was about to take another puff when the door swung open. Gerard jumped and squeaked, his brain a sudden blank. He couldn't remember a word of his speech. It was like all he could hear was a fucking dial tone. "ThanksforhavingmeoverMrsBryar!" he said in a rush, holding out the wrong hand.

Fortunately it was Bob, not his mom, who answered the door. Bob lifted one eyebrow and took the half-smoked cigarette that Gerard was offering. His wrists were in black braces. "Thanks," he said wryly, and put the cigarette to his own lips. "You need help with that?" His gesture took in the battered duffel bag at Gerard's feet and the bouquet Gerard was mangling in his other fist.

"Oh, uh," Gerard blushed hotly. "I meant... I got these, uh. I thought, you know, for your mom." He held out the flower hand this time.

Bob started grinning.

"Fuck you," Gerard muttered, his traitorous mouth already tilting up at one corner.

"Later, for sure," Bob said, taking one last puff before dropping the butt and stubbing it out with his boot. He stepped aside to let Gerard into the house, but as soon as the door swung shut, he crowded into Gerard's space. "Hey," he said, still grinning when he bent to kiss Gerard hello.

Gerard dropped his bag again with a dull thud and wrapped both arms around Bob. He'd fucking missed this. Bob's beard was longer than it had been on tour, slightly scratchy, and his hair was past his shoulders. Bob licked his way into Gerard's mouth and Gerard leaned his weight against the door, tangling their legs together and pulling Bob's hips closer. Bob gasped and slid one hand up to the nape of Gerard's neck, angling his head to deepen the kiss. Gerard shivered and arched closer, skin abruptly tight with need. He clutched at Bob's shirt, catching a strong scent of greenery as he accidentally crushed the flower stems in his hand.

He was maybe three seconds away from dropping his pants and begging Bob to fuck him right here, right now, when someone cleared their throat right beside him. Gerard pulled back fast and whacked his head against the door.

"Motherfuck!" he yelped, eyes watering. Through the film of tears he could see Bob's mom standing a few feet away and smiling.

"You can call me Judy," she said, and shit this was so much worse than Gerard had ever imagined.

***

Gerard shifted awkwardly, skulking in the kitchen doorway while Judy filled a vase with water and trimmed the flower stems with a sharp knife. He heard a floorboard creak somewhere overhead where Bob was putting Gerard's duffelbag in the guest room. He cleared his throat, glanced at Bob's mom, and then back at the floor. He put his hands in his pockets and then pulled them back out to cross his arms. He shifted his weight to the other hip and cleared his throat again.

"Would you like anything to drink?" Judy asked, arranging the flowers in the vase and then placing them prominently on the island in the middle of the kitchen. "There's water, seltzer, orange juice, cranberry. I could make some tea, or coffee?"

At the moment, he would have killed for a handle of vodka and maybe a line or two. Or a swift blow to the back of the head. One or the other.

"Coffee would be good," Gerard said. "Thanks." He hesitated a moment, and then said, "Do you need any help?" His mom - hell, all the Italian moms in North Jersey - would kill him if he didn't offer, but really he was just desperate to have something to do with his hands. He put them in his pockets again, fingers tapping a nervous rhythm against his thigh.

Judy shook her head and smiled. "No need," she said. "You make yourself comfortable." Gerard suspected that his answering smile was exactly as stiff as it felt. She pulled a glass canister of coffee beans out of the cabinet beside him, scooping some into the coffee grinder on the counter. He studied her while she worked.

She was smaller than Bob, slight but not fragile. He could see the resemblance - they both had the same strawberry-blonde hair and blue eyes, and there was something about the tilt of her nose that was very much like Bob. The shape of her face was different, though. Maybe he got that from his dad's side of the family.

Bob came up behind him as the coffee grinder whirred to a stop. "Mmm, coffee," he said, wrapping one arm around Gerard's waist and pressing a kiss to his neck. "You found his kryptonite."

Gerard froze for just a second. It was stupid. She knew they were dating, of course she knew, that's why he was here. That didn't mean she wanted to see her son grope his boyfriend in broad daylight. His older rock-dude boyfriend who took him away from home for years at a time, and broke him, and maybe turned him gay, which she would realize at any minute and then she would kill Gerard in his sleep, oh god. Gerard felt his heart stutter in his chest. He was torn between hoping for a massive heart attack and hoping for a massive stroke.

"I remember how we used to drink pots of it when we were on the road," she said, offering Gerard a steaming mug. "It was a safe bet."

Bob didn't let go, so Gerard had to stretch to reach the mug. The coffee was dark and bitter, and it burned his throat on the way down. In short, it was perfect. "Um. On the road?" he asked, mostly to be polite and make it seem like he was paying attention.

"Mom was the rhythm guitarist in a queercore band," Bob said, as if that explained everything. Gerard glanced quickly at Judy, expecting for her to correct this statement.

"We started a monthly Homocore night in Chicago," she said proudly, and Gerard choked on a sip of coffee. "And once we'd been here awhile it seemed like a good place to raise a family, so we all decided to settle down. Make a go of it."

Gerard coughed, trying to clear his throat. "You all? You and Bob and his dad?" he asked.

"Oh, no," she laughed. "Me and Norm and our boyfriend. And eventually Bob, of course."

"Of course," Gerard said, his voice approximately two octaves higher than normal.

"Hey, more coffee?" Bob smiled against his shoulder, and Gerard said, "Yes, please!" He slugged the second cup like it was a shot.

***

Norm was a huge bear of a man, broad shoulders and barrel chest, and a belly just starting to go soft. When they were introduced, Norm hugged Gerard tight enough that his feet lifted off the ground, then gave him two little air-kisses, one by each cheek.

"It's nice to meet you at last," he said, beaming. "We've been hearing about the Gerard Way since 2003. It's way past time he brought you home."

When Gerard looked over, Bob avoided his eyes. "Thank you for having me," Gerard said faintly, feeling overwhelmed.

Norm, it turned out, was an absolute fount of information. He kept up a constant stream of conversation, while he carried bags of groceries in from the car and started unpacking them.

"Bob got all of his musical talent from Judy," he said proudly. "I'm just a groupie."

"You're not a groupie, dad," Bob said, halfway inside the fridge as he unloaded bags. It was a slow process with the braces on both hands. He couldn't get a good grip on anything. Gerard watched as he fumbled to lift the carton of eggs without crushing it.

Norm gestured with what looked like a can of tomatoes. "No? I have no musical talent at all," he said. "Couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. I go to shows just to enjoy the music. I'm a groupie."

Bob started rearranging the top shelf to make room for a gallon of milk. He muttered, "I do not think this word means what you think it means." Gerard caught his eye and grinned. Bob smiled back, rolling his eyes. Norm ignored them both.

"I was sixteen the first time I saw Judy play." Norm carefully folded the paper bags and put them into a blue recycling bin beside the kitchen island. "I'd never been to a show like that. There was this amazing energy in the crowd, just this really great vibe," he told Gerard. It sounded like a story he'd repeated often. Gerard nodded. He knew exactly what that was like.

Norm gathered some vegetables into a pile beside the sink and turned on the tap. "And Judy is an amazing performer. She was on fire that night. She's older than me, you know, a real cougar." He growled to punctuate his point and Bob looked like he'd sucked on a lemon. "And there I am, just this punk kid, and all I wanted was to talk to her for a minute." He laughed. "I was so star-struck, the second she shook my hand I planted one right on her. Still can't believe I had the balls." He turned a potato over in his hands, and then with a quick flick of a paring knife he removed three spots and set it aside. He picked up the next and repeated the process.

"We ended up doing it right there backstage," he said. Bob's lemon-eating look deepened. "I don't think she even knew my name until we were done. What do you call that if not a groupie?"

"Something I never, ever want to think about again?" Bob very deliberately hit his forehead against the produce drawer. "Jesus, Dad." He sent a desperate glance in Gerard's direction.

Gerard flailed for a topic of conversation, but the best he could come up with was, "So then you started dating?" Bob shook his head sharply, a quick no, no! gesture from where he was crouched in front of the open fridge. It was too late. Norm was already explaining about the triad, with far greater detail than Bob (or Gerard) could take.

"But then you guys broke up with Gary, and so that's all ancient history," Bob interrupted. Norm didn't take the hint.

"We didn't really break up with Gary," he said, laying out a cutting board and pulling a larger knife out of the block. He tested the knife blade against the pad of his thumb. "It's more that things ended naturally when Jeanne got pregnant. He needed to be there for her and James, and we didn't want to get in the way of that." He shrugged, a what-can-you-do gesture, and started chopping vegetables. He did it like a chef, thwack-thwack-thwack and suddenly everything was neatly diced and ready to go.

"We're all still close, you know, they live just up the street." Norm set the carrots aside and got to work on an onion. "Now that the kids are older, we've been talking about going on a romantic vacation, just the four of us." He scooped the diced onion into a small glass bowl, set it aside, and started rinsing the knife. "James is in college now, can you believe it?" This last was directed at Bob.

Bob grabbed this conversational gambit with the air of a man given a last-minute pardon. "Oh, yeah? How's he doing?"

Judy walked into the room and listened for a moment. Then she leaned over to Gerard and murmured, "Do you really want to listen to stories about people you've never met?" Gerard wasn't sure how to answer - admitting that he wasn't interested seemed really rude. Fortunately she didn't give him a chance to confirm or deny before she gestured for him to follow her out of the room.

"I've got something to show you," she said. Gerard trailed after her, feeling suspiciously like a doomed man himself.

***

"...and he did all the A/V work at school," Judy said, proudly, smoothing out the yearbook page and running a fond finger over the picture.

Across the room from them, Bob moaned, "Nobody wants to see that, Mom!" and buried his face in his hands.

"Gerard wants to see it," she said, blithely ignoring his concern.

"Oh, I don't -" Gerard shook his head, trying to beg off for Bob's sake.

Judy rode right over his protest. "Of course you do." She tapped the page again, drawing Gerard's attention to a grainy black-and-white photograph of what was unmistakably Bob at a somewhat awkward stage of adolescence. He was a little bit pudgy, dressed in a plaid flannel shirt hanging open over a white t-shirt. His hair was parted in the middle and tucked behind his ears. In the picture he was glaring murderously at the camera, a look so familiar it was freaky.

She flipped another page and scanned down before jabbing her finger at another picture. "And here he is with the stage crew for Cabaret." Photo-Bob was at the front of a group of kids, dressed in another flannel-and-t-shirt combo, with his arm draped around a slender brunette. She was laughing and Bob was glancing at her sideways, smiling.

Gerard couldn't stop himself from asking, "Who's that?"

"Who's who?" Bob looked up, face still flushed dark. He craned his neck to try to see the page without actually getting up and moving closer.

Judy waved her hand in a 'nevermind' gesture. "Oh, that was Bob's first girlfriend. Heather something." Bob mumbled something that sounded like 'Oh my god' and covered his face again.

Judy sighed. "He kept bringing home these Gold Coast girls, with their sweater sets and pearls. We were so worried about him."

Gerard had no fucking clue what to say to that. He finally settled on a comfortably vague, "Oh, uh, yeah?" That seemed to be good enough.

Judy nodded firmly and said, "Indeed." She raised her voice and fixed Bob with a significant look. "We didn't raise him to be ordinary. For a while there he seemed to want to waste his life on being some paper-pusher for the Man."

Bob raised his head and said, "Mom," again, this time with a hint of pleading in it. She raised her hands in front of her and turned back to Gerard.

Her voice had a softer, conspiratorial tone when she spoke again. "You've been so good for my son," she said, laying a hand on Gerard's arm and smiling brightly.

Gerard could safely say that for every time he'd imagined meeting Bob's mom, he'd never once imagined her saying that. He blinked. It felt exactly like slow-motion looked. "I have?" he said, surprise making his voice waver slightly.

"You gave him the chance to be extraordinary," Judy said. She squeezed his arm and shook it a little, and then laid the yearbook on Gerard's lap. "I'm going to see if Norm needs help in the kitchen," she said. "Can I get you anything?" Gerard shook his head, not trusting his ability to make actual sentences at the moment. "Well, you just give me a holler if you think of something." She smiled again as she left the room.

He turned to look at Bob.

Bob was looking back at him. In the awkward silence, Gerard could hear the clock clicking like a metronome on the fireplace mantle.

"So, you know you were extraordinary way before I met you, right?" he said.

"Fuck yeah," Bob said, voice slightly hoarse, "but you're still the best thing that's ever happened to me."

Gerard felt like a fist squeezed the air out of his lungs. His eyes prickled, fucking allergies or some shit. "You too," he said, and he had to touch Bob right then or he might explode. He shoved himself up off the couch. Bob met him halfway across the room and kissed him until his knees were as wobbly as his voice, and then held him up and kept kissing him until Norm called them in for dinner.

***

Bob's framed diplomas were displayed prominently in the dining room. On both documents his name was printed, 'W.P. "Bob" Bryar.' Gerard squinted at them as he sat down at the table.

"W.P.?" He frowned. "What does that stand for?"

Bob flushed a bright red, and glanced up at the diplomas. "Oh, uh. I...changed my name legally as soon as I could," he said, by way of explanation. Gerard waited, but Bob didn't say any more.

"What was it before?" he asked.

Norm was the one who answered. "Well, you know that Judy and I were -"

"Crazy?" Bob muttered.

"- not invested in the mainstream," he finished. "And we wanted our son's name to reflect our values, so we -"

"- went completely insane?" Bob said, under his breath.

"- named him Water-falling-over-rocks Peace-for-all."

"Water falling...?" Gerard fought to keep the stunned disbelief off his face. It was obviously a joke, it had to be. Except Bob's eyes always crinkled a the corners when he was trying not to laugh and they weren't crinkling now. He looked resigned.

"I started calling myself 'Bob' when I was eight," Bob said. "James couldn't say 'water.' He kept calling me 'Uncle Wa-Wa.'"

Gerard snorted; he couldn't help it. He caught Bob's eye, and when Bob giggled, just a little bit, Gerard lost control completely. He blamed his nerves. The nerves and every bizarre thing that had happened since he'd arrived at Bob's doorstep. Plus, meeting the family for the first time was apparently exactly like church services and funerals in that you weren't supposed to laugh so of course everything seemed fucking hilarious.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" he gasped out between giggles. "I just..." and waved his hand around vaguely. Bob had his head pillowed on his arms, shoulders jiggling as he laughed. Every time they started to wind down, Gerard said, "Uncle Wa-Wa" in a choked voice and they started up again.

When the giggles finally trailed off in a weak heh heh heh , Gerard's face was tear-streaked and his stomach hurt like a motherfucker. "Oh, god," he said, wiping his face. "I am so sorry," he said. He probably would have sounded more sincere if he had managed to stop grinning. Across from him, Bob dried his eyes on his napkin, still smiling. Gerard dared a glance at Norm and Judy.

Norm was red-faced and snickering. "Oh, god, no," he waved off Gerard's apology, grinning sheepishly. "I have no idea what we were thinking, saddling a kid with a name like that."

"Oh, admit it, we were probably high," Judy said, using her sleeve to dab at her eyes.

Bob said, "The name I picked suits me better anyway." Gerard looked at him. He was sitting there, solid and red-faced from laughing. His eyes were steady on Gerard's, and happy.

Gerard stretched across the table to touch his hand. "Yeah," he said. "It's perfect."

***

Gerard forgot how much traveling wore him out. Living on the bus was one thing, when you were kind of home and kind of not the whole time. It didn't require the same amount of energy as getting on a plane and spending a whole day trying to get someplace else. He tried to hide his exhaustion, but after the third jaw-cracking yawn in as many minutes, Norm said, "Looks like it's about that time," and they all stood up.

There was a moment of confusion, and then Norm and Judy led the way upstairs even though Bob could have shown Gerard around himself.

"Bathroom's through this door here," Norm said. "And that nightlight is always on in the hall so you don't run into the wall and break your nose."

"That was one time," Bob muttered in Gerard's ear. "And I was seven."

"There are towels in here," Judy gestured at a cabinet in the bathroom. "And if you forgot anything, toothpaste or whatever, check in there," she pointed at a drawer under the sink. "We keep extras for guests."

Gerard nodded his thanks and scrubbed at his eyes.

Judy opened the door to the guest room and waved them inside. "Condoms are in that bowl on the nightstand," she said, as if it were something innocuous like mouthwash. Gerard froze and then slowly looked over. Indeed, there was a crystal candy dish brimming with colorful foil packets.

"Um," he said, sending a panicked look at Bob. He missed Bob, a lot, but parents were kind of the anti-sex as far as Gerard was concerned. He wondered if it was too late to find a hotel room after all.

Norm clapped a hand to Gerard's shoulder in a friendly gesture that nearly sent him flying and said, "There's plenty of lube in the drawer," he said. "That's something you don't want to be stingy with, am I right?" Or, Gerard thought desperately, if escape were out of the question, maybe he could just hold very, very still and hope Bob's parents forgot he was there.

"I've got a nice assortment of sizes there, but," Judy leaned toward him and lowered her voice, "if he's anything like his father, you'll want the Trojan extra-large."

"Oh my god, Mom," Bob started herding his parents toward the door. "Never say anything like that again!"

Before he managed to swing the door shut behind them, Judy popped her head around the jam to say, "We're just excited to see you. Bob hasn't brought anyone home in a long time."

"I wonder why that is," Bob growled.

She patted his cheek in a way that said she knew he was more bark than bite. "You boys enjoy yourselves, now." And she winked.

Bob closed the door with a scandalized, "Good night." When he turned back around he looked exactly as traumatized as Gerard was feeling.

"Dude," Gerard said, going for solidarity, "My mom used to ask all of my friends if we were going to hang out in my room and fool around."

"My mom just offered you a Trojan," Bob said, horrified.

"Well, my mom used to say that if we weren't making out we should leave the door open." Gerard rolled his eyes at the memory. "So she'd know if we accidentally set the house on fire."

"When I was in high school," Bob said, "my mom taught sex ed for my school district."

Gerard started to shrug that off, but Bob interrupted him. "She made my girlfriend demonstrate how to put a condom on a banana. In front of everyone. Three years in a row."

"Whoa," Gerard said, a note of admiration in his voice. "You fucking win."

Bob nodded. "Senior year, Heather moved away. Wonder why."

Gerard laughed, imagining Bob red-faced and mortified, slouching in the back row of his classroom. "That year," Bob went on, and he smiled in a way that Gerard could feel, a little tug in the pit of his stomach like Bob could just reel him in with it. "Mom had Derek demonstrate." And somehow Gerard knew, he just knew, that Derek had known exactly what to do.

"So, I don't want to stir up horrible memories or anything," Gerard said, tilting his hip slightly and starting to smile, "but I think you should show me what you learned."

Bob smirked, his eyes twinking when he said, "Oh, man, I don't know. That might not be good for my mental health."

"Oh yeah?" Gerard gave in to the pull of that smile and stepped right into Bob's space, not stopping until he rested against Bob's chest.

"Then again," Bob said, resting his hands on Gerard's hips, "I'm willing to risk it."

Gerard had to go up on tip-toe - just a little bit - to kiss Bob. He had to wrap his arms around Bob's shoulders to support himself, but it was all right. Bob's shoulder's were broad enough for that. Gerard pressed closer, tilted his head and licked at Bob's tongue, tasting Bob's after-dinner coffee and cigarette. The wet sound of them kissing seemed loud in the silence of the guest room. Gerard shivered each time his tongue slid against Bob's, arching into him. He enjoyed the slow building of heat between them, and the way this was both familiar and thrilling.

Then he heard a door squeak somewhere in the house.

He pulled back a little. "Your parents are going to wake up," Gerard said, voice low and rough.

"They're gonna assume we're doing this no matter what." Bob said, kissing the corner of Gerard's mouth, then the soft spot right under his jaw. Gerard tilted his head back, baring his neck and Bob bit gently at the skin there.

"Fuck," Gerard breathed. Bob soothed the bite with his tongue. Gerard threaded his fingers through Bob's hair and tugged him back up into another kiss. When they finally broke apart again, they were both breathing heavily.

"Seriously, I do not want to come in my pants in your parents' guest room." Gerard rocked against Bob's thigh, which he realized might possibly have weakened his argument slightly. Bob helpfully gripped Gerard's hip and pulled him even closer. Gerard slid one hand up under Bob's shirt, dragging his nails up Bob's back and breathing in his gasp.

"So we'll get you out of them," Bob said, voice husky and low enough to barely be more than a rumble in his chest. He pushed Gerard back, but he followed so closely that Gerard could still feel Bob's chest heaving with every breath. He took another step, nudging Gerard toward the bed. Gerard tightened his grip on Bob's t-shirt and let himself be guided by the press of Bob's chest against his, the brush of Bob's thigh. It reminded him oddly of junior high dance classes in the school gym, with the obvious exceptions that Bob definitely did not have cooties and he was pretty sure he was going to get spectacularly lucky afterwards.

They stumbled over Gerard's duffel bag. Bob had shoved Gerard's t-shirt halfway off before they even finished righting themselves. The shirt got stuck part way off, and Gerard struggled to free his head. Another step and he half sat, half fell onto the bed when the edge of the mattress caught him behind the knees. He finally ripped the shirt free and flung it to the side, then reached out to pull Bob down with him.

Bob kneed his way onto the bed and sat back on his heels, struggling to undo the button on his own jeans. The braces made it awkward and he fumbled it several times. He blew out a frustrated breath and muttered, "motherfucking piece of-"

"Let me." Gerard sat up and batted Bob's hands away. He popped the button open tugged the zipper down. He eased the jeans and boxers down as far as he could and leaned closer. The angle was all wrong for a blowjob. He couldn't reach to get his mouth around Bob's dick, could just barely lick at the head, but he lapped at the fluid welling up at the slit. It was bitter and hot, and exactly what he wanted.

Bob tilted his head back and groaned, resting one hand on Gerard's head and bracing the other on the bed for balance. His movements were limited by his position and the jeans still around his hips, but he rocked up as much as he could manage. It was just enough for Gerard to wrap his lips around the head of Bob's dick and swirl his tongue around the underside before Bob rocked back and Gerard couldn't reach again.

He sat up and shoved himself back on the bed until he reached the headboard. "Come here," he said. Bob stood up long enough to step out of his jeans and boxers, and then knee-walked up the mattress. He straddled Gerard's legs and started to settle down, but Gerard gripped his hips and held him in place.

"Wait, no," he said, scooting down until he was level with Bob's dick. "I really want to blow you."

"Yeah?" Bob's voice was rough, breathless. He shivered and rocked forward, a thrust so tiny that Gerard wouldn't have noticed if he weren't holding on to Bob's hips.

He licked his lips and nodded. It wasn't usually Gerard's favorite thing to do, but right now his mouth watered in anticipation.

"Like this?" Bob put both of his hands against the wall above the headboard. His body blocked most of the light from the lamp. Sitting in shadow, boxed in by Bob's arms and legs, felt intimate. It was like no one and nothing else existed.

Gerard nodded, and Bob tilted his hips until his dick brushed against Gerard's cheek, leaving slick smears on his skin. Gerard turned his head to take him in, slid his hands up the backs of Bob's thighs to tug him closer. It was awkward for a second with both of them trying to take control, and then Gerard let go.

Bob set an easy rhythm, the long muscles of his legs contracting with each thrust. Gerard lost himself in the slow drag of Bob's dick across his lips. It was like everything went quiet inside his head. The only thing left was the salt and musk smell, and Bob filling his mouth. One thrust nudged against the back of Gerard's throat, and for the space of a heartbeat he couldn't breathe. Heat flared in his chest and he moaned.

Bob gasped, and the rhythm of his hips stuttered, slowed. He shoved deep and stayed there, nudging into Gerard's throat and cutting off his air. Gerard pressed his tongue up against the shaft and counted heartbeats until Bob started moving again. Each thump-thump was a comforting anchor, something to hold onto as the moment dragged on. At eleven beats he dug his fingers into Bob's thighs. Around twenty he had to force himself to keep still, to not pull back. At twenty-two Bob finally dropped a hand to touch Gerard's cheek, his hair, the nape of his neck. He pulled out, waited until Gerard had taken a deep breath, and thrust back in.

Gerard struggled to take it, to breathe as best he could. He tightened his fingers, urging Bob to move faster, faster, until finally Bob shuddered and the hot, dark flavor of his release filled Gerard's mouth.

He still didn't pull back, sucking until Bob sighed and touched his cheek again, the fabric of his wrist brace scratchy on his skin. Then Gerard let Bob slip out of his mouth. His chin was wet with saliva, and he swiped an arm across his mouth to get the worst of it off.

Bob eased back and sat on his heels, then leaned in for a kiss. His tongue brushed across Gerard's slightly sore bottom lip, then dipped inside to chase the taste of himself. When Bob licked at his tongue, Gerard became abruptly aware of his own arousal. His skin felt tight and his dick was hard and leaking against his belly. He fisted himself tightly, setting a quick pace that would get him off soon.

It was a little drier than he usually liked, the friction just this side of painful, so he thumbed across the head and gathered the pearls of fluid there, spreading them down the shaft. He arched into the kiss, into his hand. He was close, he could feel it, he just needed something, just a little more --

Bob caught Gerard's lip between his teeth and tugged gently, and that was it, that was enough. He groaned into Bob's mouth as the first hot streak dotted the skin under his belly button. Gerard kept his hand moving, stroking himself until it he couldn't stand it and he had to let go. He wiped his hand on the sheet and flopped down onto the mattress, too wrung out to care about the mess or anything, even when Bob curled his lip.

"Just get down here, you clean freak," Gerard said. He rolled closer and hooked a leg around Bob's hip as soon as Bob settled himself beside him.

Bob reached over and snagged a condom out of the bowl. Gerard watched as Bob unrolled the condom, squished it around in his fist, then dropped it into the trashcan beside the bed.

"Dude," he said, eyes narrow, "what the fuck?"

"Trust me," Bob said, grimly. "She'll check."

Gerard opened his mouth, decided he didn't really want to know, and closed it again. He pressed a kiss to Bob's shoulder instead, and let his eyes drift shut. It was warm and cozy, Bob's parents didn't hate him, and he knew he was finally going to catch up on a week's worth of missed sleep.

He was more than halfway there when Bob murmured, "They're not so bad, right?"

Gerard smothered his laugh against Bob's skin. "Are you kidding?" he said, "Your family couldn't be weirder if they were the Addams."

"Says the dude who uses a dead bat as a paper weight," Bob gave him a half-assed shove, then hauled him closer. He cleared his throat. "Um, but seriously, stick close to us tomorrow and you should be fine."

Gerard froze. "Tomorrow?" he said, cautiously.

"Family reunion," Bob said. "You're, uh, you're gonna love my grandma. I think. Probably."

"Okay, sure," Gerard said, faintly. "The grandmother of the guy who just fucked my mouth. I'm sure we'll get along great."

"Oh, yeah," Bob said. "Grandma's a big fan of like, gay porn and shit. Actually you have a lot in common." and then, apparently satisfied with that idea, Bob settled himself more comfortably against Gerard, let out a deep sigh, and drifted off. Gerard lay awake, staring at the wall.

***

"How bad could it be?" Frank said, after he stopped laughing. "They're probably not, like, the free love Corleones, right? ...right?"

THE END