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Gerard caught a sidelong glance at the kitchen clock and frowned. "You should be in bed."

Mikey twisted his mouth in amusement. "I think I'm probably old enough to decide on my own bedtime. You?"

Gerard said, "But you have work tomorrow."

"Yep," Mikey agreed. Then, "Are you tired?"

Gerard was exhausted, but this was the first time he'd been able to talk to Mikey for more than thirty minutes in a year. He saw Mikey's dilemma. Mikey said, "Yeah, okay. The bed's a twin, but if I lie on my side, we can both fit."

Gerard asked, "You'll sleep okay?"

"Probably better than I have in a year," Mikey said through a yawn. Gerard stood, and tugged him to his feet.


Linda kept cereal in her kitchen, cereal and milk. If Gerard never saw another powdered egg or mass produced piece of toast in his life it would be just fine, but cereal was a gift, a thing of holiness and wonder. Linda said, "There're some strawberries in the fridge, if you wanna add in, sweetie," and Gerard couldn't help himself, he kissed her cheek.

She laughed. "Good thing I didn't tell you about the pears. I might have been ravished against my very own kitchen table."

"Oh no, Bob was very clear about sleeping with the ladies," Gerard told her reassuringly.

"Really?" Mikey asked. "Bob was clear about something?"

"I speak Bobien," Gerard told him proudly. Mikey spit corn flakes across the table.


He went into work with Mikey. While the theory of being left completely to himself once more was interesting, and something Gerard had every intention to trying out again, he wasn't sure he was ready just yet. The idea made him feel jittery. Also, as embarrassing as this was, now that he had Mikey in his sights again, the thought of letting him leave caused Gerard's insides to go cold.

Mikey let them into a building that really should have been ugly given the obviously cheap construction. Instead it was sunny and colorful, and if it wasn't pretty then it was at least cheerful, the kind of place a person wanted to go on a rainy day, or any day at all, really. Mikey said, "C'mon, you should say hi to Brian."

Gerard followed, doing his best not to run into things while looking at the different drawings, murals and mosaics posted around. They were all clearly done by the people who used the center, mostly kids. Some of them were pretty talented.

They ran into a skinny guy with big eyes and even bigger hands who was scowling at the basketball court while standing in its door. Mikey stopped. "Hey, Ry."

"Why do we never have enough space?" Ryan asked, clearly rhetorically.

"Because Jon and Brian haven't made us enough money to expand yet," Mikey explained patiently.

Ryan made a noise and turned. "Oh, you have a friend."

"Ryan, this is my brother--"

"Gerard," Ryan finished. "Wow, hi."

Gerard--who wasn't really used to being greeting like a mythical creature--grinned. "Hi. You're the program planner, right?"

"At least until the day the frustration kills me," Ryan said.

"New problems with the July fourth thing?" Mikey asked.

Ryan threw his hands up in an illustrative fashion. Mikey patted his arm. "You always make it work."

"Flattery will get you nowhere."

"Mm," Mikey said. "I know better."

Ryan smacked Mikey's shoulder. He told Gerard. "It's nice to meet you. Your brother's kind of a dick, but I'm certain it's not genetic."

Gerard was kind of fascinated that Ryan could say everything in one key. "Oh, no, it is."

Ryan smirked and wandered off to try and rustle up fireworks, or whatever it was a program planner did when attempting to fix the problems with July fourth. Mikey said, "C'mon," and kept traveling in the direction they'd been going before meeting up with Ryan. Not too long after he came to an office with an open door. Gerard said, "Hi, Brian."

Brian looked up and smiled. "Hi. Jesus. Nice to see you again."

"This time without the phones and the glass."

"Even better," Brian agreed.

Mikey said, "Gee's gonna hang here today, Bri. He's looking for a job."

"Yeah, sure," Brian said. "The couch in the lounge has seen more attractive days, but it's comfy, I swear. And if I think of anything I've heard about, I'll mention it."

"Thanks," Gerard said softly.

Brian shook his head. "We're glad Mikey has you back."


Mikey was outside, scrubbing down the center's sign when a guy with funky shoes, floppy hair and hips that were made for hands to rest on slid onto the couch next to Gerard. "You are the artist brother."

Gerard considered his choices. There were three left, really, and he didn't think this was the minister. Gerard said, "You're Jon?"

"Close. Spencer, hi." Spencer stuck out his hand. "Jon hasn't gotten to you, then?"

"Um...gotten to me?"

"It's good, sometimes, having Ryan Ross on your side."

Gerard nodded. He could believe that, even if he had no fucking clue what Spencer was talking about. Spencer said, "Okay, here's the deal. Art classes are always a bitch to find teachers for. Most people aren't as good as they think they are, or they suck as teachers, or a million things. I don't have any idea about your level of instruction skill, but your art is fucking amazing, so I was wondering if you'd be willing to teach a class for me. It can be anything you want. Drawing, painting, fucking balloon animals, I don't care. Just one class, that's all I ask. I can't pay you, but it totally looks good on a resume to volunteer time at a community center and you can use the center's supplies to work on any personal stuff you might want to do."

Gerard blinked and wondered when exactly Spencer had found time to take a breath. He wasn't even breathing hard.

"Oh," Spencer said, and smiled a little shyly, "please."

Gerard laughed. "What age are the students?"

"I was hoping you'd be willing to do a fourteen to eighteen set."

Gerard must have looked a little panicked because Spencer said, "Or we could start with the eighteen and up set. See how you do, go from there."

"Maybe that," Gerard told him.

"Wait...really? I didn't even have to pull out the part where I paint a picturesque scene of the way you would be helping to rebuild our community?"

Gerard said, "Spencer, when my brother had pneumonia and nowhere to go, you and Ryan put him on your futon and kept him there until we found him someplace safe. You could have put me with the 5 year olds. You could have asked me for three classes off the top. You were gonna get your way."

Spencer said, "No, hey, that was-- What the hell were we gonna do? Leave him in that building? Gerard, we went to go get his stuff, it was freezing in there. You don't owe me for that."

"Yeah, well," Gerard looked down at the wanted ads. They looked back up at him. "You have yourself an art teacher, all the same."


Around the time Gerard was starting to get hungry, a short guy with dark eyes and a startled look on his face showed up in the doorway. He said, "Ryan told me I would find Big Brother in here, but I wasn't expecting anything so corporeal."

"You sure he didn't say Mikey's big brother?" Gerard asked.

The guy scowled. "My boyfriend is such an asshole."

Remembering what Mikey had told him, Gerard asked, "Does G-d really approve of that sort of language?"

"G-d and I have a deal. She can have wars and natural disasters and plague if I can have swear words and sodomy. It works out well for us."

Gerard laughed. "Hi, Brendon."

Brendon grinned. "Nice to finally meet you, Gee Way.


Another short guy--this place seemed to have a lot of them--with one of the sweetest faces Gerard had ever seen in his life herded Mikey into the lounge soon after that. He said, "Oh, hi, Brendon."

"Hi, Jon, this is Gerard. Gerard, Jon."

Jon came over with his hand out. "It's really nice to finally meet you."

"I know the feeling," Gerard told him.

"We're having a welcome to the center pizza party," Jon informed him.

"Seriously, Jon, lemme--"

"Shut up, Mikey," Jon said, grinning.

Mikey pouted. "He won't let me pitch in for the pizza."

"Of course he won't," Brian said, walking into the room and sitting next to Brendon. "You're half the guest of honor."

Ryan laughed as he walked in, sitting down on Brendon's lap. Brendon angled his face up for a kiss, which Ryan gave to him. Brendon informed him, "You're an asshole."

"Mm," Ryan said. "When's the pizza getting here? Did you get olive, Jon? Or were you boring, like always?"

"I got one half of one with olives for you, Ryan," Jon said patiently.

"I suppose that will do." Ryan settled himself against Brendon, who was smaller. Somehow, they made it work.

Spencer wandered in and asked, "Pizza here, yet?"

"Couple more minutes," Jon said.

"I'm starving," Spencer told him. "I'm wasting away, Jon Walker. Why couldn't you have planned this better?"

"Maybe I plan to usurp your title and position," Jon said mildly.

"You want it?" Spencer asked.

"Contract, Spencer Smith," Brian said. "You have a contract."

"That says I'm allowed to terminate this relationship at any time."

"Only because state law says that has to be in there," Brian grumbled. Spencer and Jon both laughed.

Jon turned an interested eye on Gerard. "So. You draw."

Jon, if Gerard remembered correctly, was the PR guy. He asked, "Fliers?"

Jon said, "You are so my new favorite person."

Mikey said, "Oh sure."

Jon turned to him. "Didn't you hear Brian? You're one-half the guest of honor."

Gerard grinned. It was as good a description of them as anything else he'd heard.

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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile