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25 August 2008 @ 12:50 am
up till now [1/3]  
Title: Up Till Now
Author: bellheim
Pairing: Frank/Gerard
Rating: pg-13
Word count: 21000
Summary: Gerard works a shitty job that he used to like, used to think he could be happy doing for the rest of his life, but there's no creation. He talks to the sketches he keeps at home, the ones of the friends he could've had if things were different once upon a time.
"You're lucky," Gerard says, pretending like he's not talking to his own sketches, maybe like photos of his friends instead, if he took pictures or had friends. "You always have each other."
Notes: Written (like everything) for ofkitchensinks , but this one is dedicated to her birthday last month. So, this is twice as long as it would've been had I finished on time. I hope she likes this.

The answering machine clicks on, automated voice listing Gerard’s number and a request for a message. Gerard still thinks that’s retarded, because people obviously know what number they dialled and don’t need the confirmation, but his brother says it’s safer this way.

Gerard’s not so concerned about safety, but it makes his brother feel better, so, it stays. It still makes him wrinkle his nose when he hears the ten digits list off, because he’s not used to hearing nine-seventeen as his area code.

From here, he can see that it’s his mother calling, which is why Gerard pays the extra four ninety-five a month for caller display. It’s not that he doesn’t love his mother, because he does, but sometimes, he doesn’t want to talk to her.

“Gerard, it’s your mother,” she says, and there’s a long pause that Gerard knows is from taking a drag on her ever-present cigarette. “Don’t forget to pick up your prescription from the pharmacy. It’s open twenty-four hours, you can’t tell me you forgot.”

Gerard winces, over on this end, in his shitty little apartment, and he drowns his own cigarette in his leftover coffee. It’s almost a waste, but he ignores it when the machine beeps the end of the call. The cup’s cold anyway, and he would drink the last mouthful out of habit, except for the cigarette butt floating in the liquid.

There are ashes all over his papers, smudged a little on his sketches. It doesn’t matter, because this is the stuff he doesn’t share with the network. This isn’t the stuff he lets his brother see either, this is the stuff he tucks under flowerpots and place mats so that his brother doesn’t need to give him that look, the one that’s equal parts pity and concern.

Gerard can give those looks too, and it’s usually when his brother’s still wearing a tie when they go out to rent a movie. He’s still not used to seeing his brother in a suit all the time and it’s been what, like two, three years? He forgets.

Gerard likes these sketches, though, the band he’s making if things had been different once upon a time, brooding and dark and consistent.

The intercom buzzes once, comes through the cordless phone in the kitchen, and Gerard knocks into his rickety kitchen table and knocks the papers flying.

“Fuck, fuck,” Gerard mutters, rubbing at the sore spot on his leg, picks up the phone and hits the talk button with more force than is really necessary. He tries to pick up the loose papers before they disappear underneath the half-size fridge that he rents along with the apartment.

The drummer nearly gets away from him, but Gerard plants his socked foot on the edge of the paper and keeps him on the linoleum.

Gerard tsks at him, because this is the second time he’s had to redraw a drummer, and he’s not going to let it happen again. He likes version two better than one, anyway, but his brother’s voice is crackling at him through the phone.


“Hi, uh, sorry,” Gerard says, and carefully picks up the drummer and sticks him on the fridge with a magnet advertising the military.

It’s his imagination, of course, but the drummer looks a little put out at being alone. He picks up one of the guitarists, the one whose hair curls underneath his ears the same way his smile curls at the corner of his mouth, putting him next to the drummer, using a magnetic clip to hold it.

His brother sighs heavily, and the past three months of exasperation are pretty evident in his tone. “You were supposed to be down here waiting for me.”

“Sorry,” Gerard says again, this time to the sketches on his fridge, and shuffles the rest of the loose papers together and leaves them by the toaster.

“Listen, are you coming down? I’ve got to be back at work in an hour.”

Gerard imagines he can hear some watch face tapping down in the lobby, even though he’s on like the ninth floor of this place and it’s impossible through the shitty intercom system.

“Yeah, okay, I’ll be right down.” Gerard hits the end button and sets the cordless back in the cradle, turning the lights out and barely remembering to grab his keys before ducking out of the apartment.

His wallet’s still in the pocket of his worn jean jacket, so his brother won’t need to pay for his prescription again. Gerard knows that Mikey — Michael — doesn’t mind, but he doesn’t like to look helpless either.

Michael’s waiting for him impatiently in the lobby, hands in the pockets of his pinstriped pants as he glares at the ceiling. Gerard’s still not used to seeing him like this, kind of like a lawyer from the early nineties. Gerard makes a face at his brother when they look at each other.

“About time,” Michael says, and doesn’t even let Gerard say hi before he’s pushing his way out of the lobby.

“I’m sorry,” Gerard says again, to his brother’s back. “Really, I didn’t even realize what time it was.”

“I bet,” Michael mutters, and then stops short on the sidewalk. It’s crowded and Gerard is forced to step closer to his brother in order to keep his balance.

“What the hell do you want me to say,” Gerard says. “I said I was sorry, right, and you—”

“And how was I supposed to know you weren’t drunk and passed out on the floor?” Mikey—Michael looks tired, raising a hand to his face and rubbing his cheek roughly.

“I haven’t done that in eighteen months,” Gerard says stiffly. “Listen, I said I was sorry. I’ll just go on my own, later, you know, whatever.”

He turns before Mikey can try to stop him, and he’s already inside the lobby of his building before his brother can catch up.

“No, Gerard, come on,” Michael says, and tries to grab his sleeve. “Don’t be like this.”

“I’m not,” Gerard says, even though he is. “You must have things to do. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Gerard,” Michael says, and stands there in the foyer as Gerard unlocks the interior door, avoiding the regular puddle of pee by the mailboxes.

“Gerard!” He keeps calling, even after Gerard’s turned the corner and started the climb to his shitty ninth floor apartment.

Gerard gets three calls on his home phone while he’s at work the next day. It’s Tuesday, which kind of sucks, but he only works four days a week, which doesn’t.

Two of the calls are from his mother and the third is from the pharmacy, reminding him of his prescription still waiting for pickup. He doesn’t hear anything from his brother, which is why he expects Michael to be waiting at his apartment when he gets home from running his errands.

He’s not disappointed, Michael still wearing his suit, but the tie’s been pulled loose and the top two buttons of his dress shirt are undone. He looks uncomfortable, waiting outside Gerard’s building, too dressed up for this side of the city.

When Mikey first started working for the company, back when he was in A&R and actually smiled once in a while, he used to wear his band tees under his jackets. Then he took the job in promotions and marketing so he could afford the move to the city, and Gerard can’t remember the last time he’d seen his brother without a tie.

He’s prepared for the visit, bought an extra cup of coffee for Michael on his way back, even resisting the urge to spit in it. Mikey liked it super sweet, but pretends to drink it black now, something that happened around the same time he started going by Michael.

“Hey,” Michael says, shoulders slumped against the rough brick of the building. “How was work?”

“Fine,” Gerard says, and passes over the second cup. “How about you?”

“I have to fly out to Seattle next week,” Michael says with a shrug. He takes the coffee and there’s only a touch of a frown on his face when he tastes the sugar Gerard had dumped in.

“Seattle, huh,” Gerard says. “Do you want to borrow my umbrella?”

“No, I think I’m good,” Michael says, and follows Gerard into the building when he unlocks the entryway. Someone’s cleaned up the pee from yesterday, but Gerard knows that by the time he walks his brother back down it’ll be back.

“They probably give you umbrellas, huh?” Gerard asks, and lets Michael push the button for the elevator.

“Cases,” Michael says, and smiles a bit.

This is kind of the way they get over things. There’s no sorrys or I shouldn’t haves, but Gerard knows he stopped being pissed by the time he’d reached his apartment yesterday. It’s a long way up when he takes the stairs.

“Lucky,” Gerard says. “I have to steal my pencils.”

“Gerard,” Michael says, hand hovering over the emergency stop button when they get inside. “You don’t—”

“No, god,” Gerard says, rolling his eyes. He’s not nearly as offended as he could be. “I can afford my own pencils, thanks.”

Michael hesitates still, but finally lets his hand fall when the doors open up on the ninth floor. “Okay. You’d let me know if you couldn’t, right?”

“Right,” Gerard says, and heads down the hall to unlock his apartment.

He remembers the drawings he hadn’t cleaned up from yesterday still spread over his kitchen counters, turning to tell Michael to give him a chance to hide them. “Hey, Mike-al, Michael, my apartment’s a mess.”

Michael’s stopped a few steps back, concentrating on his Blackberry and not on what Gerard’s talking about.

“Listen, Gerard,” Michael says, still looking at his Blackberry, punching keys with one hand. “I have to go back to work, something’s come up. I’ll be by tomorrow?”

“Yeah, okay,” Gerard says, and doesn’t really mind it, because they’re good, right, they’re not pissed at each other anymore.

“I promise,” Michael says without looking up, and turns around to head back to the elevator.

Gerard doesn’t know if he means it or not, but at least he isn’t worried about the drawings anymore.

He comes back inside, noticing the papers by his toaster are shuffled and moved. Making a face, Gerard shuts the door carefully behind him, but doesn’t lock it in case he needs out in a hurry.

He hopes he didn’t get broken into again, but figures it’ll be his luck to find someone in his bathtub waiting to rape him or shit like that.

There’s no one there, though, and all of Gerard’s stretched canvases are still waiting for him in the tub, neatly lined up according to size.

Frowning at them, Gerard returns to the kitchen, and really, the only thing in his entire apartment that’s changed is that pile of papers.

He locks the door when he’s satisfied he’s still alone, shrugging at the pile of papers as he passes. Maybe he left a window open or it was from the hum of the refrigerator or something, and goes to open the fridge to grab a travel-sized can of pears to eat.

When he opens the door to look inside he stops, letting go of the handle and the door falls shut. He tugs the magnetic clip over the side of the fridge again, because there’s another sketch on the fridge now, between the guitarist and the drummer.

It’s the second guitarist, the one with hair that Gerard draws a little differently every time; he separates the two on the fridge. They all look normal, the same as when he first drew their faces, maybe as big as his thumb, smiling and posing and wearing identical uniform jackets.

It’s almost like, he doesn’t want to think about it, doesn’t want to know, and that’s enough for Gerard to leave the fridge door closed this time and go into his bedroom and shut the door.

He doesn’t come out until the next morning, and the papers are exactly the same as he’d left. Even after he leaves for work, he doesn’t know if he’s relieved or not.

Gerard sleeps in. He doesn’t normally do that, really, usually remembers to set his alarm or at least roll out of bed in the general direction of his clothes, but he just can’t get moving that morning.

He doesn’t get the chance to visit the local coffee place on his way past, looking longingly into the windows and hoping for enough change in his desk drawer that he can afford the shitty coffee that comes from the machine.

Work is routine, colouring cell after cell, going back to change a line that’s a hair out to make sure everything’s the same. Gerard used to like this, used to think he could be happy doing this for the rest of his life, but there’s no creation. All of the same things are the same colours, and sometimes he goes home with no energy for the things he wants to do.

There’d been a night last week where he’d just stared at a blank sheet of paper until the numbers on the clock flipped over to the next day, a few minutes past midnight, and giving up, he’d gone to bed.

Those days happen more often than not, and Gerard is a little happy to get out of work when the clock ticks around enough hours to send him on his way. He has a headache pressing at the front of his head, which three cups of sixty-five cent coffee from the machine had done nothing to touch.

On the walk home, Gerard finally manages to get in line at the coffee place, ordering an extra large cup that warms his fingers and his heart a little too. It gives him enough energy to call Michael on his way down the street, and even hang out in front of his building to finish the call.

Michael’s working, busy on a presentation for some new deal with Hot Topic or American Eagle or something like that; trying to get kids to buy shit that wouldn’t sell unless some new band from Sweden puts their name on it.

Gerard would feel bad, he really would, except he remembers more pressing issues, like how he’s just noticed the way his sketches seemed to rearrange themselves.

“Mikes,” Gerard says, stopping Michael mid-spiel about the difference between up-and-coming and already gone.

“What?” Michael says, a little grumpy with the interruption.

“What if I told you I thought I was haunted?” Gerard says, rubbing his thumb against the side of the plastic lid. He balances the bottom of the cup against his leg as he leans back against his building, an inch of coffee sloshing around in the bottom.

“I’d tell you there’s no such thing as ghosts,” Michael says, kind of flatly. “Are you taking your pills?”

“Of course I’m taking them,” Gerard says. “What about stalkers? Do you think I have a stalker?”

“Are you sure you’re taking them?” Michael asks instead. “Should I come over? I can come by in like an hour, leave work early.”

Gerard frowns at that, because it’s already past five and Michael should’ve been home already. “Are you getting your home phone forwarded to work?”

“No,” Michael says, but the guilty way he says it means that Gerard’s right.

“Mikey!” Gerard says, a little scolding, and drains the last mouthful of coffee.

“Michael,” Michael corrects, and sighs. “Listen, fine. I can’t make it tonight. I’ll meet you tomorrow, lunch?”

“Yeah, that deli by your work,” Gerard suggests, because they have the best sandwiches that aren’t from Subway, and Michael will complain less if Gerard is the one taking more time from his day.

“All right.” Michael sighs. “Anything else?”

“Possession,” Gerard says. “Or a poltergeist. Maybe my landlord’s going in my apartment when I’m not there.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Gerard,” Michael says, and hangs up before Gerard can agree.

Gerard makes a face at his phone before he hangs up. He shoves the phone into his pocket and pulls out his keys, avoiding the puddle of pee on his way through the lobby.

His headache isn’t completely gone, but it’s moving back from his forehead, pressing less on his eyes. There’s a can of tomato soup in his cupboard that he hasn’t eaten yet, and when he lets himself into the apartment it’s still waiting.

The drawings on the fridge are the same as they were yesterday, with one guitarist — this one plays lead, Gerard thinks, legs braced wide as he concentrates on his solo — dividing the other two.

“You’re lucky,” Gerard says, pretending like he’s not talking to his own sketches, maybe like photos of his friends instead, if he took pictures or had friends. “You always have each other.”

He taps the middle drawing’s head, right about the crazy mess of curls, and sets his can of soup down on the counter, on top of the pile of sketches he’d collected. He has a manual can opener, and it usually sticks when he first presses it to the lid.

The handle’s tough, and Gerard moves it away from the stack of drawings as he turns the wheel laboriously. It tries to jump away from the can a few times, but he keeps it on with a glare and some effort. The can lid finally separates, only one section of lid connecting it to can.

Gerard pulls the can opener free, dropping it back into the drawer and going to straighten and pull the lid away from the can. It being him, though, of course Gerard slides his fingers against the sharp edge of the lid instead. The sudden burn of tomato soup against his fingers is enough of a surprise to jerk the can so it spills over the pile of sketches on the counter.

“Fucking fuck,” Gerard says, examining the thin slices on the inside of his fingers. It burns, still, covered with soup and blood welling up from the cuts. He shakes his hand, remembering too late about the drawings on his fridge.

They’re covered with orange spray that’s already warping the paper, dripping over the pencil marks and ruining his mood.

“Fucking Campbell’s,” Gerard says viciously, and reaches up with his injured hand—not like it matters anymore—and rips the drawings from the fridge and shoving them into his garbage bag.

The pile of sketches, sticky with soup, is the next to go, and Gerard glares at the blank front of his fridge, the full force of his headache returning.

Gerard leaves early the next morning. He grabs a coffee from the local place on his way in, clocks in a full half hour before he’s supposed to, and is at the deli waiting for his brother thirteen minutes early. He orders and waits for Michael, poking at the bread on his toasted sandwich and hoping it isn’t getting soggy.

“Hey,” Michael says, setting his Blackberry down on the table before he sits down. “You’re here early.”

“Yeah,” Gerard says. “One of those days.”

“You know, most people sound like that when they’re late,” Michael says, but doesn’t wait for Gerard to reply. “Are you still going on about being possessed?”

“I’m not,” Gerard says, because the drawings had stayed in the garbage that morning. He’d remembered a few concepts he’d set aside in a drawer in his bedroom, but they turned out to just be of himself and Mikey, creepy little things he was glad to put away again.

“Good,” Michael says. “But if you need to talk about it—”

“You’re still forwarding your home line?” Gerard asks with a smile, because he could really reach Mikey at any time that way.

“No, I meant you could call a therapist, I got a number,” Michael says, and shoves a card over the table to Gerard.

“What?” Gerard says, surprised, taking the card with numb fingers.

Michael notices the band-aids right away, wrapped around each finger on Gerard’s right hand. “What did you do?”

“Cut myself,” Gerard says absently, looking at the name on the card and not thinking about calling. “What do you mean, therapist?”

“Cut yourself? Why?” Michael takes Gerard’s hand and turns it over, stretching his fingers out so that he drops the card.

Gerard winces, because the cuts are still tender and probably infected with tomato spores.

“Did you do on purpose?” Michael asks, still holding onto his hand.

“What? No,” Gerard says, and takes his hand back almost violently. He leaves the card on the table. “I cut myself on a soup can.”

“Gerard,” Michael says, giving him a concerned look. “I’m worried about you.”

“I’m not being possessed, you can stop,” Gerard says. “Okay? No calling anyone, I don’t need a new prescription, I’m fine. You can stop worrying.”

“Gerard,” Michael says. “You called me last night about the likelihood of you being haunted. You’re not fine.”

“Fuck you,” Gerard says, standing up. “I’m not some weirdo freakball, okay? Why are you only listening when you think there’s something wrong with me?”

“Gerard, stop,” Michael says. “People are looking, come on. Just take the fucking card, okay? You can tell him about, fuck, your drawings come to life or whatever.”

“No, thank you,” Gerard says and doesn’t mean it. He figures with his luck, it’d be the comics from the Farside calendar at work that comes to life, all cows and talking chickens. He’s not hungry anymore, and figures he can make it back to work still in time to duck out early.

Michael doesn’t try calling him as he walks back to the network, and Gerard doesn’t expect him to.

After the aborted lunch meeting, Gerard goes back to work. His fingers itch for a pen instead of a water soluble marker. There’s one in his pocket from the deli. It feels kind of greasy, but it doesn’t look dirty when he gets a chance to check it back at his desk.

He still has a napkin from left over from lunch, and he sets it on the angled surface of his drawing desk, right over the glass top of his light table.

“So,” Gerard says, clicking his pen in-out, in-out. The rough ink sketch he starts is on the wrong side of his deli napkin. There’s a touch of sub sauce that makes his fingers smell like Italian dressing, but he’s talking to the tiny guitarist anyway.

He clicks his pen again, the noise barely noticeable over the typing of keyboards on either side. He feels like a purist, on days like today, when everyone’s mousing outlines and fills and he’s shading with a blue ink crosshatch.

Thing is, though, this isn’t for work, so Gerard just has to cover it guiltily with his hand whenever a coworker stops by. It makes him paranoid, but he figures it’s a preservation instinct.

It turns out to be the second guitarist, when Gerard gets close to being done. It’s nearly time for the afternoon smoke break, but Gerard finishes the cocky little smile the guitarist has, guitar slung over one shoulder, before he needs to go.

He takes the napkin along with him, nothing creepy, just folds it into his pocket as he stands a little further away from everyone else while he smokes. They all think it’s because he doesn’t like to share a light, but Gerard just doesn’t like these people.

The guitarist makes it look easy, but Gerard knows that guitars are a little heavier than that, especially if this one is maybe solid-body, not with a bolt-on neck but the other kind, if he could remember what Mikey used to call it. He mouths you're welcome to the sketch, where the guitarist’s fingers are pressing tight to the strings, and imagines the smile is thank you.

Gerard jumps when the door to outside slams open, crashing hard against the brick. All the conversation stops, absolutely no one’s talking, and Gerard has to crumple the napkin and fold it back into his pocket before anyone notices him smiling at a deli napkin.

He pretends not to be thinking of a better way to define the guitarist’s tattoos the entire time the supervisor gives them shit for all breaking at the same time.

He ends up leaving work early, chain smoking the entire way home. He doesn’t stop for coffee, but does swallow a few aspirins dry. It doesn’t help that he lights up right after that again, because his mouth feels pasty by the time he makes it to his building.

The puddle of pee is back, and he skirts it as usual. When he comes into the lobby, he doesn’t butt out his cigarette, choosing instead to take the stairs and smoke all the way up. It takes forever because he stops to take a drag every few steps, and he’s just finishing it off in the hallway before his apartment door, struggling to fit the key in the lock.

Noise makes him finally stub it out on the cheap carpet in the hallway, kicking the butt towards his neighbour’s door and finally shoving his apartment open.

He stops short with the door a few inches in front of him. The lights are all on, and there’s some guy doing the sudoku puzzle from the newspaper at his kitchen table, and some other guy sitting on his couch and playing guitar. Both of them are wearing black jackets with silver buckles, familiar but Gerard can’t place the design.

“Hey, man, it’s about time,” the guitarist says, looking up from his hands on the frets. “We’ve been waiting for hours.”

“Uh, hi?” Gerard offers, still trying to twist the key out of the door. “I’m sorry?”

“Hours and hours,” the guitarist says. “Frank doesn’t do well with boredom.”

“Sorry,” Gerard says again, and slowly pulls his key free from the lock. “Have you been here long?”

“Long enough,” the drummer says, turning to look over his shoulder at Gerard. “Could you shut the door?”

“Sorry,” Gerard says, and does so. He stands kind of awkward in his own foyer, looking from the guitarist to the drummer and back, wondering whether the drummer’s Frank, or whether that’s the other guitarist. He can hear the shower going, so he figures that’s why he can only see the two of them.

“So were you at work?” The guitarist asks, picking out something on the guitar that sounds familiar to Gerard, but he’s not sure that he’s ever heard it before.

“I, uh, yeah,” Gerard says. “Then I had to go and pick up milk.”

“Frank’s not going to be happy, the drummer says, tossing down his pen and pushing his hair away from his face. “You forget he’s vegan?”

“Shit,” Gerard says, because he kind of did. Then again, he didn’t think he’d need to get soymilk for a fucking drawing, so he excuses himself.

“It’s okay, man,” the guitarist says. “You can blame Bob.”

“Oh, fuck off,” the drummer—Bob—says, and whips his pen at the guitarist’s curly hair. He dodges and it hits the wall, leaving a tiny mark in the paint.

“Hey,” Gerard protests, and looks at them both. “Um. So.”

“Aw, man, don’t be like that,” the guitarist says. “It hasn’t been that long since you’ve seen us, right?”

“Right,” Gerard says, and the bathroom door cracks open, saving him from thinking of how to explain that he’s never seen any of them before, not really.

It opens with a cloud of steam and guitarist, and Gerard didn’t expect him—Frank—to be so tiny. He always looked loud and full of life on paper, as odd as it always made Gerard feel to think that.

His hair’s wet and hanging in his face, black jacket hanging open over a worn tee shirt, and he breaks into a grin when he notices Gerard.

“Why didn’t you assholes tell me that Gee was home?” Frank says, and steps forward to wrap his arms around Gerard’s waist.

Gerard lifts his arms and doesn’t know where to put them. Frank’s hair is making a damp spot against the front of his shirt, and the soft noises Frank makes are making him uncomfortable.

Bob rolls his eyes and folds the newspaper, getting up from the table and onto the couch, next to the guitarist.

“We missed you, man,” Frank says, muffled by his chin still digging into Gerard’s chest. “Why did you wait so long?”

“Uh, sorry,” Gerard says, and doesn’t know what the fuck is going on.

“Frank, come on, give the guy a little space,” the guitarist says. “He looks a little confused.”

“I don’t know why you’re here,” Gerard says honestly, and Frank drops his arms and steps back, looking a little hurt.

“We’re your band,” Frank says. “Me, Ray, Bob. You. Mikey. What do you mean, you don’t know why we’re here?”

“But you’re—I’m not—Mikey?” Gerard says, and ignores the way that Frank seems to relax at Gerard’s discomfort.

“Listen,” Frank says, and settles his hand against Gerard’s arm. Gerard doesn’t remember ever deciding that the second guitarist would be so touchy-feely. “We missed you, we’re all here, now we can work on the album.”

“Album?” Gerard squeaks, and kind of wishes that he had taken that card from Michael. He’d really like to try explaining this to someone.

“You know, the follow-up,” Frank says, and nods towards Ray and Bob. “We’re taking some time off, right? And we haven’t been able to do anything since you left.”

“Since I left,” Gerard repeats. “I, uh, I have to go over there, I think.”

“Hold on,” Frank says, and brings his other hand up hold Gerard in place. “We don’t have to do anything yet, okay?”

“I have a job,” Gerard blurts out instead. Ray and Bob turn to look at him, and all three of them look confused.

“A real job,” Gerard continues. Frank doesn’t let go of him. “I colour cartoons and draw lines in for most of the week. I don’t know anything about an album.”

“Oh,” Frank says stiffly, dropping his hands.

“Yeah,” Gerard says, and kind of hates himself for making them all look so disappointed.

“We could always work on it together,” Ray offers quietly, holding onto his guitar like it’s an anchor. “After you come back from work?”

“Fuck,” Gerard mutters, and leaves three complete strangers in his living room, wondering whether any of the prescriptions in his bathroom cupboard deal with overactive imaginations.

He comes back out of his bathroom to find Frank lounging on his bed, flipping through a second-hand paperback Gerard had been meaning to read.

“I get it,” Frank says, somewhere in the middle of the book. Gerard hadn’t been in the bathroom that long. He drops the book and doesn’t mark his place.

“What?” Gerard asks, frowning as he shuts the bathroom door behind him.

“It must’ve been hard, starting over,” Frank says, crossing his legs at the ankle. “You’re here, by yourself, trying to make it without us, with your band.”

“Uh, right,” Gerard says, because it’s technically true, if a little misleading.

“So I forgive you,” Frank says, waving a hand.

“You forgive me?” Gerard repeats, blinking a bit.

“It’s okay, I’m catholic,” Frank says. “But I mean, for getting a real job. I forgive you.”

“Thanks,” Gerard says, because he doesn’t know what else he’s supposed to say.

Frank grins and pats the bed beside him, and Gerard doesn’t feel weird sitting down, even when they both stretch out and Frank starts reading out loud from somewhere near the beginning of the book.

“Fuck, fuck,” Gerard mutters, rolling out of bed and overtop of Frank’s grasping hands. He’s still wearing the same clothes as yesterday, and he doesn’t even bother checking for a sniff test before he’s leaving the bedroom.

Bob’s stretched out on the couch, throw pillow hugged to his chest while Ray’s on the floor, jacket spread over his chest with his cheek pressed to the carpet.

Gerard tries to keep quiet, but Ray’s already awake, stumbling into the kitchen when Gerard drops his keys.

“Hey,” Ray says, rubbing at the red indentations on his cheek and looking a little rough around the edges.

“Hey,” Gerard says, as quietly as he can. “I’m late for work. You’re going to stay out of trouble?”

“Of course,” Ray says, and pats Gerard on the shoulder. He misses by a bit, hand landing a little heavy against Gerard’s chest.

“Thanks,” Gerard says, and ducks Ray’s hand when he goes to do it again. He kicks the bag of garbage in the middle of his kitchen, and ties it off, shoving it underneath the sink to deal with later.

Ray doesn’t mention it, already stumbling off towards the living room and settling back to the floor. Gerard waits until he can hear Ray breathing quietly again, and Bob’s arm is stretched over his face, blocking out the sun.

Gerard nearly trips over the canvases neatly stacked in the hallway when he turns, but gets his coat and leaves for work without further incident.

He wonders what they’ll do all day, by themselves, and only hopes he’ll have an apartment to come back to when he’s done for the day.

Work isn’t busy enough to keep Gerard’s mind off everything else, of what they’re doing here and what he’s going to do with them.

The weird thing—okay, maybe one of the weird things, because they were his drawings, right, there’s really nothing that can top that. The weird thing is that he knows them, knows that they are who they say they are, knows that Bob has freckles on his shoulders and Frank has ugly tattoos because Gerard put them there.

It’s a strange moment that lasts all day.

Michael doesn’t call, and Gerard’s a little glad for that. He doesn’t know what he’d say, whether he’d lie or whether he wouldn’t, and by the time he’s going home and stepping over the puddle of pee he still hasn’t figured it out.

Upstairs, the apartment’s still buzzing with people existing inside, and Gerard can only find Ray right away, sitting on the couch and playing something familiar that Gerard could almost name, if it wasn’t for the fact he couldn’t.

“How was work?” Ray asks, stilling the strings on his guitar and holding his fingers into the shape of a chord.

“Eh,” Gerard says with a shrug. He doesn’t know how else to answer, because Michael never asks and his mom doesn’t care.

“What’d you do today?” Ray asks then, shifting his fingers and picking out a delicate pattern on the higher strings.

“I, uh, made some lines,” Gerard says. “Then I erased them and got in trouble for not following the suggested color palette.”

“Is that even art?” Ray wonders, and the song he’s playing changes to something with thick chords and a lower sound.

Gerard shrugs. He can’t tell the difference anymore.

“You enjoy it, though, right?” Ray looks up at Gerard, tilting his head to the side like the answer he gets really matters.

“I guess,” Gerard says, and finally lets his bag drop to the floor. It doesn’t land on a bunch of crumpled wrappers and other shit, so he looks around the apartment to find it clean. “Uh, did you guys get bored?”

Ray wrinkles his nose and shakes his head. “Frank did. Said it was disgusting. He only threw out the stuff we knew was trash, though.”

“That’s fine,” Gerard says, having a moment of panic when he wonders if Frank found the trashed drawings under the sink. He feels guilty about that, about throwing them away. He realizes with a start he’s almost glad they’re real, because that means he didn’t ruin everything.

“Bob’s having a nap,” Ray explains to Gerard’s back. Gerard peeks under the sink and relaxes, because the bag is still tucked under there.

“Okay,” Gerard says. “And Frank?”

“Is the king of clean,” Frank says, opening the apartment door and letting it slam against the wall behind.

“Shut up, you don’t want to wake Bob,” Ray says, and Frank rolls his eyes.

“Um, okay,” Gerard says, and looks at the clock. He’s hungry, it’s not really late, so he suggests supper before Frank can jump on Ray like he’s threatening to.

“Yeah, okay,” Ray says, and sets his guitar to the side before getting up. “I can handle it, you’ve worked all day.”

“Honey, I’m home,” Frank sing-songs, putting one hand on Gerard’s shoulder and pressing down until Gerard sits on the couch. “Come on, Ray’s not that shitty of a cook.”

“Okay,” Gerard says, because most of his food comes from a can anyway. Frank sits down next to Gerard on the couch, and stretches and settles until he’s taking up two thirds of it.

“Haha, your mom called,” Frank says, and pokes Gerard in the leg with his foot. “Asked about something something, I forget. Ray?”

“About next weekend,” Ray calls from the kitchen. “Wants a call back.”

“Yeah, okay,” Gerard says and shifts on the couch. “Can you put it on the calendar?”

Ray shouts okay and somewhere, Bob grunts, because he’s still fucking sleeping. Gerard thinks it wouldn’t be so bad if Bob wasn’t such a bitch about being woken up, but Frank’s poking him again so Gerard focuses on him instead.

“Also, something like this,” Frank says, and pretends to smoke a cigarette, screwing his face up and putting on an exaggerated nasal accent. “Gerard, you have to call your brother. He wants to talk to you. Call him, your mother wants you to.”

“Dude, my mom is not from Brooklyn,” Gerard says, and makes a face.

“Yeah, no, you’re right, she’s from Jersey,” Frank says, the same as he usually does, but he’s trying to put on Jersey. Thing is, because Gerard’s from Jersey, Frank’s from Jersey, and he can’t tell the difference.

“You’re from Jersey,” Gerard mutters back, and leans away from Frank, into the arm of the couch.

“Your mom’s — wait, we went over this,” Frank says, and tries to pinch Gerard’s side with his toes.

“Stop it,” Gerard says, and raises his voice enough that Ray can hear in the kitchen. “Ray! Frank’s bothering me!”

“Frank, stop bothering Gerard,” Ray says, and even though he’s not really loud, of course that’s when Bob grunts and appears in the doorway of Gerard’s bedroom.

“Oh, oh shit,” Frank says, and jumps up from the couch, feet narrowly avoiding the mugs on the coffee table as he jumps over it and goes through the kitchen to avoid Bob.

Bob doesn’t seem to notice, raising one hand to scratch at his hair and makes a face. Gerard really hopes he didn’t give Bob mono accidentally.

“Uh, hi Bob,” Gerard says. “How was your nap?”

“Fine,” Bob says, frowning. He drops down onto the far side of the couch, letting his eyes fall shut again and shifting uncomfortably.

“Uh, okay,” Gerard says, and thinks about how he knows Bob is shitty after he wakes up, even though he’s just drawn him like a bear a few times.

“All I can eat are fucking vegetables,” Frank complains to the room, ignoring the lack of reaction. Ray’s making noise in the kitchen, pressing buttons on the microwave and dropping pots against things.

“Sorry,” Gerard says. He’s not sure if it’s for not anticipating this last grocery run and buying vegan things for Frank, or for making Frank vegan in the first place.

“It’s cool,” Frank says, and pats Gerard’s knee before dropping onto the couch between him and Bob.

Gerard moves a little closer to the armrest to give Frank more room, but Frank just follows and stays close to Gerard’s side.

“You need more furniture, man,” Frank says, eyeing the other side of the room speculatively. It’s where Gerard used to line up the canvases he was working on, before he stopped feeling like it or having the time. There’s really no reason for it to be empty anymore.

Ray tells them it’s ready a little later, and they all take mismatched plates and cutlery into the living room to eat noodles in tomato sauce and steamed vegetables for Frank.

Frank and Ray talk about something Gerard doesn’t remember, except for drawing it. It’s about guitars and gestures and tours, and then Ray asks him a question he doesn’t hear.

“What?” Gerard says, dropping his fork into his bowl and blinking. “I’m sorry?”

Ray smiles and repeats it, ignoring the dig Frank aims at his ribs. “I was wondering if we still, you know, have music.”

“There’s music,” Gerard says, not sure what Ray’s getting at. Bob and Frank are paying close attention, though, too close for this just to be conversation.

“No, I mean, us,” Ray says, and gestures at all of them with his spoon. “Do we make music? Have we? Are we good?”

“About that,” Gerard says, and he can see them all turn disappointed together. “Not exactly, no.”

“Oh,” Ray says, and takes another bite.

“So what you’re saying is, we don’t actually exist,” Frank says, and bites the floret from a piece of broccoli rather viciously.

“Well, no,” Gerard says, and sets his bowl on the floor. He’s not really hungry anymore.

“That’s going to make it harder,” Frank says thoughtfully, and eats the rest of the broccoli piece with an odd look on his face.

“Well, on the bright side,” Bob says, “we could introduce old material at first and no one will know the difference.”

They all think about that for a second, Gerard feeling a few steps or miles behind the others.

Bob and Ray share a meaningful look, before Ray asks, kind of quiet, where Mikey is.

Gerard can’t answer, and swallows hard as he looks away.

“How about some tv?” Frank asks, breaking the awkward silence, and digs for the remote before anyone can agree. They settle on a Simpsons rerun Gerard’s seen a million times, but they all pretend to be involved in the storyline.

Bob gets up to take the dishes into the kitchen at some point, and Frank leans his arm onto Gerard’s leg after a couple of minutes.

“So, you ever worked on Spiderman?” Frank asks, and repeats the question every so often until Gerard goes to bed.

Part 2

Part 3
bed-stuy: [frank] i believe this is called.ofkitchensinks on August 25th, 2008 06:35 am (UTC)
!!!! *so excited to read it*
montague: pausebellheim on August 28th, 2008 02:29 am (UTC)
<33 i hope you like it.
bethacbethac on August 26th, 2008 01:03 am (UTC)
This is a great story, I love how you write Gerard. And I liked how Mikey changed through the story, and the way the band gets together, Frank, Ray and Bob going from flat drawings to flesh and blood. Very well written.
montague: [mcr] ray&gerardbellheim on August 28th, 2008 03:02 am (UTC)
Thank you! Those are the things I was hoping would carry over well. I'm really glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for letting me know!
turlough: my downward spiral continuesturlough on September 6th, 2008 04:56 pm (UTC)