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It’s late. Much later than Gerry generally stays out, but he’s bored. He’s been bored. He’s never not bored. He wants something to happen. Anything to happen, if only to break the monotony.

Wake up. Should you comb your hair? Fuck it. Go to the Institute. Talk to Gertrude. Read some statements. Search for evil fear books. Get injured. Go home to lick your wounds. Fall asleep. Dream about a better life. Or wake up sweating with your mother’s squeezing hands fading from your neck. That’s life.

He’s so fucking sick of it. If he allows himself to think about it too much, he realises that his trauma is such a deeply ingrained part of his routine that it’s become dull. It’s hysterical, . But he doesn’t. He comes here instead. He doesn’t want to know what that says about him.

The bar is warm, even this late in the evening. The lights are low, and the walls are decorated with various mundanities, photos, and trinkets. It’s loud. This isn’t one of the quieter places he tends to frequent. Quiet isn’t what he’s looking for right now, anyway. The pub’s patrons flit back and forth between the bar and their tables, living, shouting, stumbling conveyer belts of alcohol. Others, like Gerry, lean against the bar, watching the scene with tired eyes and stiff hands.

He allows himself to soak in the mixed atmosphere of sorrow-drowning and light-hearted fun. There’s a band playing, down the other end. Their vibe isn’t Gerry’s usual flavour, so he tunes it out in favour of surveying the people around him. He takes a sip of his rum and immediately notices when someone starts to approach him.

It isn’t an uncommon event, but the man is uncommonly attractive.

He’s tall, long blond hair spilling its twisting curls across his shoulders and down his back. His face is round and open, sweet even, bottom lip tugged coyly under his teeth. He’s wearing a cropped shirt, high waisted jeans, and heeled boots. He clutches at the bar as he finally arrives at Gerry’s side, face flushed a pretty pink as he tucks a curl behind his ear and looks at Gerry through his spun silk lashes.

Gerry eyes him with forcefully subdued interest. This could be what he’s been looking for, but he doesn’t want to come off as creepy, even if he wasn’t the one to make the first move. The man smiles and bites his lip, “Hi, handsome.” He giggles, high and burbling, and Gerry can’t help but lean into the sound.

“Hey,” Gerry returns, clearing his throat as his voice scratches, rough and unpleasant. God, he needs to get out and talk to other human beings a lot more often.

The man’s smile widens and his eyes skirt delicately over Gerry’s physique. “I’m Michael. Wha’s your name?”

Gerry feels himself grow warm under the attention, indulging in the sound of his sweet, lilting voice. “Gerry. Uh, nice to meet you.”

Michael giggles again and sways closer. Gerry takes a second look at him. His pale skin is shaded a rosy pink, the alcohol in his veins bringing colour to his cheeks. His grey eyes aren’t quite glassy, but they seem to have trouble focusing on any one thing as they graze over Gerry’s face. Oh. He’s drunk.

Gerry sighs. It’s not like the offer isn’t appreciated. The man is gorgeous, but he’s also completely sloshed. Gerry needs to get him someplace safe where he can pass out without incident. He takes a moment to feel disappointed that this is where the night took him and scraps the several more hours of drinking that he’d had planned.

“Well, Gerry. I think you are very hot, and I wanna sleep with you,” Michael says matter-of-factly, poking a slender finger into Gerry’s shoulder and sliding it down his arm, tracking his movements sloppily.

Gerry smiles, long-suffering, taking the warm hand and planting it on the bar. “Are you here alone?”

Michael purses his lips and taps his chin, eyes rolling up, trying to think his drunk thoughts. “You know, I’m rather sure I came ‘n here wi’ friends, but I can’t find ‘em!”

Gerry scoffs and raises an eyebrow. “You really need to bring friends with you to the bar, Michael. Especially…” Gerry gestures to what Michael’s wearing before trailing off. He did not come out to slut-shame anyone. But if Michael wants to get drunk in this seedy ass part of the city, he at least needs to bring along some friendly company. “Sorry, you’re just… really pretty, is what I meant.”

Michael’s mouth drops open, but he’s still smiling. “Gerry, you flatter me.” He leans down and plants a hand on either side of Gerry’s thighs, bracketing him in on the barstool. He stoops close, not touching, save for a lock of hair slipping free and dancing along Gerry’s shoulder. Gerry can smell his strong perfume and feel his fruity cock-tail scented breath on his face. It’s intoxicating, and he hardly has the wherewithal to stop himself from tilting forward to bring their lips together.

“You want me,” Michael whispers, barely audible above the din of the bar.

Gerry hums, not bothering to deny it. That’s not something he can control. What he can control is conning this blond beanstalk into taking him to his flat so Gerry can make sure he gets home safe.

The man’s eyes light up, and he presses forward to kiss Gerry. Gerry only just stops him with a hand on his chest. “Uh, sorry. Just not a big fan of PDA, you know?”

Michael cocks an eyebrow and shifts, so that his nose skims Gerry’s cheekbone, mouth brushing Gerry’s ear piercings. “Some privacy, then? I can arrange that.” Gerry takes a grounding inhale at the words. Even drunk as he is, slurring his words, it seems Michael knows what he’s doing.

Gerry clears his throat and moves away, turning to pay his tab at the bar. When he turns back to Michael, the blond bites his lip again and reaches for Gerry’s hand. Gerry allows him to take it.

“You sure you didn’t come in with friends?” Gerry asks, pushing down the slurry of shame and exhilaration he feels under Michael’s drunk attention. He can think about that later.

“Mm, if I did, they’ve all forgotten about me by now,” Michael smiles, not taking his eyes from Gerry.

Gerry frowns. “Okay, well, did you bring a coat? It’s cold out.”

Michael looks down at himself like he’d forgotten what he was wearing. “I don’t know!” he giggles.

Gerry sighs, snagging his own from the stool and handing it to Michael. Michael takes it, eyes growing hesitant, smile never leaving. He drops Gerry’s hand for a moment, and shrugs the dark coat on, flipping his hair out from the collar before retaking Gerry’s hand. “Thanks. Sorry, what was your name again?”

He chuckles. “Gerry,” he says as he drags Michael out into the cold.

“Thanks, Gerry,” Michael says, squeezing his hand. Gerry lets his hair fall into his face to hide his blush, and tows Michael down the street, before realising he has no idea where they’re going.

“Where do you live?”

Michael looks at him, eyes drooping in the hazy light of the streetlamps. “Hm?”

“Where’s your apartment?” Gerry tries again.

“Oh! I’ll show ya,” Michael says, taking the lead and tugging Gerry along by the hand as they make their way through central London. The night is bitter and cold, and without his coat, Gerry is sobered significantly by the time Michael ushers him up a few storeys of an apartment building.

Michael closes the door behind them and draws Gerry close by the hand. Gerry doesn’t know what to do. He’s brought Michael somewhere safe; he’s achieved his goal. But Michael doesn’t look like he’s planning on letting go any time soon. Gerry’s really fucked himself over this time. How the fuck is he going to get out of this without hurting his feelings? Michael lifts a hand to ghost it along Gerry’s jaw, warm fingers sparking along Gerry’s frigid skin.

“Michael, you’re drunk,” Gerry blurts, just as the blond begins to lean in.

He frowns, and a hesitant smile tugs at his lips. “Well, I’ve had a couple, but I’m not drunk.”

Gerry raises an eyebrow. “That’s bullshit, and we both know it. You should go to bed, sleep it off.”

“But we…” Michael trails off and straightens up, an expression not unlike betrayal warping his features. “Oh, I see. You don’t want to sleep with me.”

“That’s not…” Gerry sighs. He can’t exactly correct him, that could invite another attempt to kiss him. “Michael, I’m not in the habit of fucking around with drunk strangers who can’t keep themselves upright.”

“I’m not drunk! I can keep myself upright just fine!” Michael exclaims, letting go of Gerry’s hand and planting his fists on his hips, before swaying on the spot and stumbling a little. Gerry catches him by the elbow before he can fall.

“Sure. Just go to bed, will you? We can talk about this another time, okay?”

Michael squints at him, leaning into his touch even as Gerry leads him down a hallway- the only hallway- to what he’s assuming is a bedroom. Michael lets himself fall to the mattress and clumsily kicks off his boots. He flops over and crawls up the bed, shoving his face into the pillows, sighing, tired and content.

“Well, uh,” Gerry starts, suddenly feeling like he’s intruding. “Goodnight, Michael.”

“Gerry,” Michael says, turning and lifting a hand, motioning for Gerry to come closer.

“What is it?” he asks, stepping up to the bed.

“I’m good in bed, I promise,” he mumbles, eyelids slipping shut.

Gerry chuckles, “Get some sleep.” He leaves the room and pauses at the front door just as he’s about to open it. He turns around and heads into the kitchen, searching through the drawers and cupboards for some aspirin and a glass. He fills the glass with water and rips a piece of paper from a notepad on the kitchen counter, scrawling out his phone number and a short note:

Call me if you ever want to make good on that promise.
-Gerry

He places it along with the water and aspirin on the table beside where Michael is already fast asleep. Gerry pulls his long limbs into something resembling the recovery position and drapes a blanket over the snoring mound. Michael looks even sweeter in sleep, features lax, no longer trying so hard to be charming. His face is half-pressed into the pillow, drooling a little. Not wanting to intrude any longer, Gerry leaves.

 

*

 

Gerry opens the door to Gertrude’s office, “Hey, you got a minute?”

“No,” Gertrude says, not turning from her laptop.

“Great, I need your opinion on this Leitner I’ve been tracking,” Gerry says, taking the seat in front of her desk. Gertrude does this all the time; pretending like she’s so busy that she doesn’t have time to talk to him. He knows it’s an act, though, knows she doesn’t mind, knows she’s never too busy for him. She just wants to keep her distance, not allow any creeping connections to grow between her and others. For safety. Gerry understands. Her acting like this is just an indicator of how much she cares.

She sighs and turns away from her work, shuffling a few papers around and adjusting her glasses on her nose. “Gerard, I really am quite busy.”

“Yeah, the ritual will be there when you get back to it, this Leitner is probably killing people as we speak,” Gerry explains, retrieving a folder from an inside pocket of his coat.

She sighs, the closest anyone will probably ever get to seeing her annoyed. “Fine, what is it you’re unsure about?”

“Well,” he starts, flipping open the folder to a statement, “we know that almost everyone who’s come in contact with it has died, that’s a given, but every time any of the statements get to how it actually happens, the descriptions go vague, so what I’m wondering is-.”

There’s a knock at the door, quick and hesitant. Gerry rolls his eyes as Gertrude tells them to come in. God, her assistants always have the worst timing.

The door creaks open, “Uh, sorry to interrupt, Ms. Robinson, but I…”

Gerry turns around at the sound of the voice. If the events of last night hadn’t been the thing distracting him from his research the whole morning, he probably wouldn’t have recognised it, but as it stands, Gerry’s been thinking of little else. The man at the door is infinitely more put-together than last night, wearing a modest grey sweater rolled up to his elbows and plain black slacks. His hair is tucked back into a bun, a few strands curling loose at his temples and ears, and he looks just about as hungover as Gerry would expect.

What are the chances of this? Gerry muses. He stays away from the Institute for a week, and comes back to find the guy who’d tried his best to seduce him just last night working as Gertrude’s assistant? He can’t decide if this is incredible luck or bad karma.

Michael stutters to a stop when Gerry turns around, eyes widening at the sight of the goth. Gerry shoots him a hesitant smile, unsure if the reaction is due to his general aesthetic or because of what transpired at the bar- there’s no telling if Michael actually remembers anything.

“Michael? What is it?” Gertrude says.

“Uh, um… I’m sorry Ms. Robinson, I must have made a mistake, I don’t have anything for you, I’ll get back to work, sorry,” his voice floats into an embarrassed squeak as he talks, before fleeing away from the door.

“Gerard, do you ever consider possibly toning down your… attire? My assistants don’t seem to get any more comfortable around you,” Gertrude asks, a vague smirk plucking at her lips.

Gerry doesn’t turn from looking at where Michael had disappeared. “Uh, yeah…” he says, standing from the chair and heading to the door.

“Gerard? Didn’t you have something to ask me?” Gertrude frowns.

“No, actually, that’s alright, you get back to your rituals,” Gerry waves at her absently before starting down the hall.

Gerry finds Michael at what Gerry can only assume is his desk in the archival common area, shuffling through reports and statements, face beet-red. Gerry approaches cautiously, not wanting to scare him off again. He’s probably embarrassed at what happened, that’s understandable. Gerry’s committed his fair share of drunken atrocities in his time. Right now, he just wants to know that Michael’s alright.

“Feeling better?” Gerry asks, leaning against the desk as casually as he can.

Michael jumps, a few papers in his hands crumpling as he balls them into fists. His eyes are wide as saucers, and Gerry feels a little bad for not making his presence more obvious. “Uh, sorry, Gerry, was it? Um, yes, I’m quite alright, thanks, uh, for helping me out, I’m really sorry about what happened, I’m not usually like that, I swear, I-.”

“Hey, that’s alright,” Gerry says, “Better to help someone out than drink alone at a bar,” he laughs.

Michael’s face flames red again and he looks down, “I’m sorry, I’m… I don’t usually drink alone, actually I’m not even really supposed to drink, I have an intolerance, hah. I just wanted, fuck, I don’t know,” his eyes widen as he lets a curse slip and he stumbles over another apology.

“Oh, I was talking about me, not you. You said you came in with friends?” Gerry says. Michael has an alcohol intolerance? Gerry feels even more relieved that he got Michael home when he did, there’s no telling what might have happened if he got his hands on more alcohol. And where the hell were his friends… if he even brought any? They should have been taking care of him.

Michael bites his lip, devoid of the seductive energy he’d given the action last night, and doesn’t answer. He looks down and away from Gerry, hands skittering around on his desk, fiddling with anything he finds.

“Did you get my note?” Gerry asks.

Michael nods, flicking his gaze up at Gerry and back down again. “I, uh, yes, I did.”

A twist of doubt pinches at his insides. Maybe Michael’s avoidant behaviour isn’t because of embarrassment. Maybe he changed his mind on how he feels about Gerry. Of course he would have! He was even more hammered last night than Gerry had apparently realised. “… The offer still stands,” he says, uncertainty growing with every word.

Michael opens his mouth. Closes it again. He repeats the motion a couple of times before finally saying, eyes fixed to his desk. “I, sorry, no. I mean, it’s very kind of you, but, um… I won’t be, uh, taking you up on that. No, sorry.”

Gerry feels his mouth slip open involuntarily. He’d really conned himself into thinking that leaving that note had been a stellar idea. What an idiot. If he’d have known how properly sloshed Michael was, he could have saved himself the embarrassment. Gerry feels shame burn hot and nauseating through his chest and face. He mumbles a hasty farewell before leaving, marching out of the Institute, and not looking back.

He doesn’t really need to talk to Gertrude anyway.

 

*

 

Gerry sees Michael around the Institute every time he goes from then on. He wouldn’t say he’s trying to avoid Michael, exactly, not all the time anyway, but he isn’t trying to seek him out, either. They both have work to conduct in the same building, it’s no big deal. They’re both adults, what’s a little rejection to a fully functioning, well-adjusted grown man? (Hah, imagine being one of those.)

He knows he’s being stupid. He met the guy one time in a bar when he was drunk, where he propositioned him. It happens to everyone, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just that he met him again when he was sober and was promptly and firmly rejected. That part was the problem.

And another thing. Michael is still super nice and friendly to him. Sure, he can’t look at Gerry without blushing, but every time he’s in Gertrude’s office, he makes sure to offer Gerry a cup of tea or ask if he needs help with something. It’s achingly kind, and Gerry appreciates that, he does. But he wishes he would just fucking cut it out. What is he trying to do? Make up for rejecting Gerry? It’s just rubbing salt in the wound.

“Hey, uh, Gerry?” Michael says when he corners him in the library after half an hour of failed attempts at starting a conversation. Okay, this time Gerry was actively avoiding him. Sometimes the awkwardness between them is just a little too much to stand.

“Oh, hey, Michael,” Gerry says, like he hadn’t been hiding in here on purpose.

“Sorry, I don’t want to bother you, you look very busy, but ah, I just realised you left your coat at my apartment that other night,” he says, holding up Gerry’s coat, neatly folded, and tucks a loose curl behind his ear.

“Oh. Thanks, Michael.” Gerry takes the coat.

“I, uh, washed it for you. Uh, I mean, that is to say, it didn’t need to be washed, I don’t mean to imply- I-I just wanted to do something nice, and um… Oh, it doesn’t matter, really, sorry,” he rambles, face heating up. Gerry hastily reminds himself that this does not mean that Michael likes him, he’s just a nice guy, that’s all. That’s all.

“It’s alright, it’s… nice, that you did that. Thanks,” Gerry says, avoiding his gaze.

“Oh! It’s no problem,” Michael chuckles and wrings his hands. “Well, uh, I’ll leave you be, now. Bye, Gerry.”

Gerry turns back and lifts a hand in a wave, but Michael is already gone.

It also really doesn’t help that once he is no longer drunk, no longer hungover, Michael is still incredibly beautiful. Every sweet, dimpled smile he sends Gerry’s way makes him weak in the knees. His hair is so perfectly white gold and curly that Gerry can’t help but think of running his hands through it, untying the band from it when he has it in a bun.

He knows he’s pining. He knows, you don’t have to tell him. He just won’t admit it. So what he can’t look at him without feeling taken aback by his beauty? So what he’s literally the kindest, most selfless, person that Gerry’s ever met? So what Gerry hasn’t really looked at anyone else since that night in the bar? So what the weeks are turning into months and Gerry still feels the same?

Well, at least it’s a break from the boredom. He does not miss the monotony.

 

*

 

Gerry is in the bar again. He’s just stitched himself back together after a particularly nasty Leitner, and he’s drowning his aches and pains in bottom shelf rum. He’s not looking for anything tonight. He just wants to not hurt, and then pass out on his couch. He hopes that isn’t too much to ask.

He’s finishing his third when the seat beside him is abruptly occupied. He turns and finds something- someone- incredibly unexpected. It’s Michael, wearing a thick sweater and a coat, which he shrugs off as he sits.

“Michael,” he says, wincing as his stitches pull when he pivots. He’s not sure what else he can say.

“Hi,” Michael blushes, tucking a lock of hair behind his ear. There’s a scarf around his neck. It’s chilly, even inside the bar, and he hides his face in it as he orders a cocktail, avoiding Gerry’s eyes. Gerry squints at him.

“What are you doing here?” Gerry asks, watching as an alarmingly pink concoction is slid into the other man’s hands.

Michael glances at him, tucking the scarf under his chin to take a sip of his drink. Gerry wonders if he should advise Michael against drinking. If he really does have an intolerance, it’s probably for the best, right? But maybe it’s not his place to say, after all, it’s not like they know each other that well. “I thought you might be here,” Michael says after a moment.

Shame slices through Gerry once more, cheeks no doubt burning a hot pink. “I don’t like what you’re implying,” he says icily. He watches with a sick satisfaction as Michael’s face crumbles.

“No, no! I didn’t mean that at all! I’m so, so, sorry, I am, really, I don’t know what I was thinking when I said that I just… I saw you come into the Institute earlier, and you looked pretty down. And I know you were planning on going for a Leitner last night, it must have been pretty rough, so… I’m sorry, really…” Michael stutters, wringing his hands, alternating between looking at Gerry imploringly and staring at the bar, lost and forlorn.

“No, I’m sorry. Shouldn’t have snapped,” Gerry says shortly. He knows he shouldn’t be so harsh, especially to someone so genuine and sweet, but the sting of rejection is still fresh. Gerry doesn’t forget that easily, though he wishes he could. “Why did you come if you knew I’d be here? You made your intentions clear.”

Michael doesn’t answer for a moment, taking his hair out of its bun and shaking it out, round face growing more and more uncertain. “Well, I didn’t know you’d be here, I- I just thought you might want a little company?”

Gerry’s blood is feeling heavy and mean, even as he’s transfixed by the gold curls sweeping down across Michael’s shoulders. He doesn’t want to say what he says next. “So you pity me?”

“No!” Michael squeaks, hands up in a frantically placating gesture. “God, I’m so bad at this,” he says, sounding distraught. He turns to the bar and picks up his drink, swallowing what’s left of it before signalling for another.

Gerry frowns. He needs to relax. Michael rejected him, that’s fine. But he’s here now, and lord knows even if that is off the table, he could use a friend. Gerry takes a sip off his own, the cut in his side protesting loudly as he lifts his arm to do it. “Sorry, I’m just being an ass.”

Michael takes a sip of his second drink and shakes his head fervently. “No, I’m just… I’m bad at talking. You have every right to be mad.”

“I’m not mad,” Gerry says, as gently as he can manage. “I’m bad at talking too.”

Michael giggles, and takes another gulp of his drink. Gerry smiles at the sound. He’d heard it before. That other night. But Michael not being drunk this time gives it a nervous edge that is just so Michael.

Gerry watches in amusement as Michael loses himself more and more as the night wears on. Again and again Gerry asks himself if he should maybe stop Michael from drinking so fast, but he’s sure it isn’t his place. Even as Michael’s third drink is halfway finished, he’s almost falling out of his chair. Gerry decides he won’t say anything. He’ll just look after him. Who is he to deny the assistant a bit of fun? After all, he does have probably the most dangerous job in the world.

“I’m just saying-,” Gerry hiccups, six drinks deep, “- If Leitner were dead, the world would be a much better place.”

“Mm maybe it wasn’t his fault!” Michael says, clutching at Gerry’s arm, shuffling his stool closer, “Maybe, maybe… pfft- Jurgen! What a stupid name!”

Gerry throws his arms up, “See! Everything about him is just the fucking worst! What was he thinking, collecting evil books? What a fucking idiot!”

“Gerry, oh my god, you’re so right,” Michael breathes, leaning further against him. Gerry looks past him to see his third already empty.

“Hold on, hold on, I have to pee,” Gerry says, untangling Michael’s arm from his and hopping off his stool. The room doesn’t quite spin around him, but it sure does wobble. Michael whines as Gerry slips away to the bathroom.

When Gerry comes back, there’s another man in his seat. He’s tall, not quite as tall as Michael, and pale, brown hair falling in his eyes like some kind of sexy C-Grade YA vampire love interest. Gerry glares idly at the man as Michael speaks animatedly, hands flying around, gesturing, and tucking his hair out of his face. Gerry can’t tell what he’s talking about, but he looks beautiful, giggling at his own words, frowning as he loses track of his thoughts.

Gerry makes his slow way over, narrowing his eyes at the brunette, who is smiling and nodding along to whatever Michael is saying. Gerry might just be tipsy and allowing his jealous tendencies to bubble over, but this guy looks like a creeper. Michael tilts his head back at one point, speaking to the ceiling as whatever subject he’s on gets him particularly animated. The other man takes the opportunity to drop something into Michael’s drink, and Gerry feels liquid hot rage pour through his system. Who the fuck does this guy think he is?

Gerry marches over, tapping the guy on the shoulder until he turns around with a huffy eyebrow raised. Gerry rears back a fist and lets it fly into his face, watching with satisfaction as the man’s eyes blow wide right before the hit lands. Michael squeals as the man is knocked back against the bar.

“Gerry!” He gasps, eyes wide, “We were having a conversation!”

“Actually, you were getting your drink roofied,” Gerry counters.

“Hey!” Someone else yells. They look over the slumped man, holding his nose against the bar, to see the bartender with a thunderous expression on his face. “I’m calling the police if you don’t get out right this second!”

Gerry takes a hold of Michael’s forearm and heaves him off his seat, snatching up his scarf and hauling them both out of the venue. Michael laughs and runs out with him, clutching his arm as they jog away down the street. Gerry laughs with him, slowing to a stop to catch his breath by a street lamp.

“That guy was really fucking with my drink?” Michael asks incredulously.

“Yeah,” Gerry says, slightly winded. “You need to be more careful; this is what I was talking about last time.”

Michael steps into Gerry’s space and wraps his arms around the lamppost, blocking Gerry in. Michael is warm against him, eyelashes casting long shadows across his flushed cheeks in the orange light. His breath is slowing against Gerry’s face, and he can’t help but bring his hands up to Michael’s hips, leaning into his heat.

Michael tips his head down, nose skating along Gerry’s cheek. Gerry takes a deep breath, and Michael kisses him square on the lips. He leans into it for a long moment, Michael’s warm mouth against him, before pushing Michael away with a firm hand on his chest.

“What the fuck, Michael?” Gerry says, remembering how he’d felt when Michael said he wasn’t interested.

Michael lets himself be pushed away, but stays close, whispering, “I was just nervous before. You were… I was intimidated, I’m fine now.”

“Michael, you’re drunk, now, it’s not the same. We can’t do this. I won’t take advantage of you. You’re not even supposed to drink! Why did I let you?” Gerry says, taking the scarf he’d had wrapped around his arm and looping it around Michael’s neck.

Michael’s face screws up into a pout, and he retracts his arms from around the lamppost, folding them against his chest. Gerry’s insides twist as he sees the faint glitter of tears in Michael’s eyes. He sniffs, “I see. I’m not good enough, I get it.”

“No, Michael,” Gerry says, far too intoxicated to be handling this… or not intoxicated enough. “That’s not it at all, I just don’t want either of us to wake up and regret it. Plus you told me you weren’t interested when you were sober.”

“I was lying,” Michael says loudly, slowly, “Because you’re scary! And what do you mean you’d regret it?”

“I would regret it because…” Gerry struggles to get his brain to work. He doesn’t want Michael to look so upset anymore, but he doesn’t know how to fix it. “Because you would regret it!”

“Would not!” Michael says, as petulant as a child.

“Sober You will disagree!”

“He’s not here right now!”

“Michael!”

“What!”

“I-,” Gerry starts, unsure where he was going by shouting the blond’s name. He shivers, “Can we just go to yours, figure this out later?”

Michael huffs, crossing his arms tighter for a moment before dropping them to his sides. “Fine.” He holds out a hand, not looking at Gerry.

Gerry takes it, and they walk in relative silence to Michael’s flat. Michael’s hand is warm in his, and the longer they walk, the harder it is to keep from drifting closer to him. Finally, they’re back at Michael’s apartment, but he doesn’t stop at the door, tugging Gerry through to the bedroom instead, flipping on all the lights on the way.

“Michael, I told you, we aren’t-.”

“You said we would talk about it later!” Michael grouses, rounding on him, unsteady on his feet.

“I meant later as in when we’re both sober,” Gerry explains.

Michael melts a little, shoulder slumping, lip pouting, and he takes Gerry by the face, leaning their foreheads together. He bats his eyelashes inelegantly. “Please, please, please?”

“No,” Gerry says firmly, unclasping Michael’s hands from his face and pushing him so he sits on the edge of his bed.

Michael latches onto Gerry’s hands, “But can you stay?” He gasps, and his eyes widen, “If you stay then Sober Me will have to confront you in the morning.”

“Michael, I’m not conspiring against you with you. I’m not staying,” Gerry says, acting stern with his hands on his hips.

The blond falls back onto his bed, arm coming up to fling dramatically over his face. “I just want the company, Gerry!” He wobbles up to his knees and takes Gerry by the shoulders. Where did he get all this energy from? “You don’t really want to go all the way home in the cold and dark, do you? There are monsters out there!”

“Fine, Michael, I’ll stay. But I’m sleeping on the couch,” Gerry compromises.

“I don’t have a couch,” Michael says.

“Okay, that’s a lie, I saw one on the way in.”

“What if I choke on my vomit while I sleep?” Michael asks, eyes widening. “Who will be right here to save me?”

He has a point, Gerry thinks, resolve crumbling. It won’t be so bad if he stays, right? “Fine, I’ll stay here. Nothing else.”

Michael smiles triumphantly and slumps back onto the bed as Gerry begins to unlace his boots.

 

*

 

“What is this?” Mary hisses in his face, hauling Gerry forward by his coat collar. She’s sitting in her favourite armchair, skin intact, holding a book in her hand. A Leitner. Gerry knows it’s a Leitner.

“It’s a Leitner. Mum, we’ve been looking for this one for months. I found it. I finally found it, I- I thought you’d be pleased?” He stammers, breathing picking up its pace.

Gerry looks around. He’s in Pinhole Books. The main storefront, stretching longer than he remembers, he can’t see the end of the room. That’s weird; he could’ve sworn Mary’s favourite chair was in her living room. She jerks him back around by his septum piercing, and he yelps in pain. He’d only just got it done. No he hasn’t- he’s had this one for years. What the fuck is going on?

“It’s a fake!” she screeches, the sound scraping in his ears.

“No, no, it’s not, I swear, I-.”

She scoffs, cutting him off. “I should have known you wouldn’t be able to do this. You’re useless, you always have been. Tch, what a waste of offspring, I knew I shouldn’t have kept you. It’s not like I ever loved you, anyway.”

Gerry tries to speak, but his throat has closed up. He can’t see through the tears. He turns away from her as she lets him go, and what he sees is no longer Pinhole Books. He’s in the Institute; Gertrude’s office.

He spins back around, and there she is, swinging a bottle of gasoline across her shelves, pouring generous amounts over boxes and boxes of statements. “Gerard, what are you doing here? I don’t have time for you.”

“Gertrude, wha-,” he starts.

“Gerard,” she says, stern, then matter-of-fact, “No one will ever love you. Not like you need.”

“Gertrude?” he falters as she strikes a match, dropping it at her feet. The room is instantly engulfed in flames, and Gertrude laughs, hysterically uncharacteristic, as he searches for a way out. There’s a clear path to the door, and he scrambles along it, the smoke stinging his eyes and lungs.

He opens the door and stumbles out, finding himself in the archival common area. Michael looks up from his desk, surprised. He’s wearing what he wore when they met, hair tumbling supernaturally shiny over one shoulder. Gerry starts toward him.

“Michael, what’s going on, I-.”

Michael stands from his desk and comes around it, taking Gerry by the shoulders and smashing their mouths together. Michael’s lips are hot, and Gerry can’t help but melt into it, especially as his slim hands wander down to his waist, yanking him closer, up to his chest, shoving him away- what?

Gerry opens his eyes, and Michael is still in front of him, now wearing another plain sweater and slacks, hair pulled into a bun. He’s shoved himself away from Gerry so roughly that he staggers back into his desk, sliding down to sit against it with an expression of horrified disgust. His hand drifts up to his lips, and he looks at Gerry like he’d just slapped him.

Gerry frowns, hands coming up, approaching him uncertainly. “Michael?”

“Don’t touch me!” Michael shrieks, feet kicking against the ground as he struggles to get further away from Gerry.

Gerry shrinks back, eyes filling with tears. The image of Michael on the floor blurs out as more spill down his cheeks. He shuffles away, until something grabs him from behind, a hand on his shoulder, digging in, claw-like.

Gerry gasps awake and lashes an arm out against whatever has his shoulder, feeling the cut in his side straining at his stitches as he wheels around and takes them by the shoulders, crushing them down with a forearm to their throat. He feels movement under him, the hand on his shoulder slackening. He blinks fast, assessing the situation.

It’s Michael beneath him. He wasn’t attacking, he was waking Gerry from a nightmare. His grey eyes are wide in the light of the lamp, cheeks pink, as Gerry draws his forearm away. Michael’s lips are parted, and on closer inspection, his pupils are blown wide.

Gerry rolls off of him, sitting up and hiding his face in his hands. God, of course this would happen now, and here of all places. He should have gone back to his own flat, he should’ve… God, he doesn’t know.

“Gerry?” Michael says gently, placing a delicate hand on his upper arm. “Looked like you were having a nightmare. Are you alright?”

Gerry lifts his head to look at him, hair golden in the meagre lamplight. His grey eyes are soft, concerned, not a trace of betrayal or disgust. “Y-yeah, I’m fine, sorry, I should go.”

Gerry moves to get up, but Michael stops him. “No, it’s alright. Do you need anything? Aspirin? Water? Stay here, I’ll get you some water.”

He sinks back down onto the bed as Michael hurries out of the room and takes a stabilizing breath. It was just a dream. Just a dream. Michael whisks back in and presses a glass of water and two pills into his hands. Gerry isn’t quite hungover just yet, but he takes them gratefully and downs half of the glass.

“Looks like we both have issues,” Michael says.

Gerry turns to him, watching as he sits back down on the bed, eyes clear and nervous, and tucks his hair out of his face. He appears to have sobered significantly, if not completely.

“Sorry, sorry, I don’t mean to imply… I just. Sorry,” he says, playing with a lock of his hair.

“No, it’s okay. You’re right, I do. Have issues, I mean,” Gerry says, placing the water down.

Michael fiddles with his hands for a moment, looking unsure. Gerry simply observes for a moment, wondering what exactly he should do in this situation. Michael seems to make a decision, scooting over the bed and skimming his hand along Gerry’s jaw. He leans forward, achingly slow, glancing between Gerry’s eyes and lips as he moves before pressing a kiss to his mouth.

Gerry sighs into it, kissing back. Michael’s lips are smooth and a little hesitant, lacking the confidence he’d had out on the street. Gerry lets him lead, not wanting to push, not wanting to make that dream a reality. But he’ll give Michael what he wants.

Michael pulls away after a long, blissful moment. “I’ve, uh… I have trouble making a move when I’m not… drunk.”

Michael plucks at his shirt, avoiding his eyes. Gerry looks up at him and says, “Well, that was alright, wasn’t it?”

Michael smiles, and leans down once more, slotting their mouths together. Gerry kisses back leisurely, even as Michael’s lips become insistent, swiping his tongue across Gerry’s piercing. Gerry makes a small noise in his throat, itching to gather Michael closer, not wanting to push too far. Michael inches back again, knocking his forehead against Gerry’s temple.

“You don’t have to hold back. I’m not as fragile as I look,” Michael whispers, bunching his hands in Gerry’s shirt.

Gerry searches his eyes for a moment before nodding. Michael bites back a smile and swings a leg over Gerry’s hips, settling his weight on top of him and pressing another kiss to his lips.

Gerry hums at the feel of him and lets his hands drift up and over his torso, bringing his hands to the back of Michael’s neck as he opens his mouth to his tongue. Gerry slips his hands up into Michael’s hair and tugs, earning a low gasp as Michael’s lips drop open further. Gerry kisses along Michael’s jaw and down his throat, inhaling the sweet smell of him.

He grazes his teeth against Michael’s throat before soothing over the space with his tongue. Michael whimpers and digs his fingers hard into the back of Gerry’s shoulders, rutting his hips down into Gerry’s.

Gerry’s breath catches at the contact, and he unwinds his hands from Michael’s hair, letting them skim down to Michael’s waistband. He leans back a little, looking up at Michael in askance.

“Yes, please touch me,” Michael says, punctuating his words with a little thrust. Gerry does as he’s told.

 

*

 

Gerry wakes up gradually, coming to wrapped in unfamiliar sheets, an unfamiliar window spilling bright mid-morning light across the room. He blinks, head rolling to the side to find Michael already awake beside him. He’s playing with Gerry’s hand, running a tender fingertip around his palm, up and down his fingers, tracing along the lines with a pensive look on his face.

Something twists in Gerry’s chest. What is that look for? Did Gerry hurt him? He didn’t mean to. Maybe Michael regrets it? Maybe he’s upset that he wasted time on Gerry?

“Sorry,” Gerry says, not quite sure why.

Michael looks to him, realising he’s woken. He frowns, looking unsure about what Gerry’s talking about, before his face smoothes out, coming to an unseen conclusion. “Sorry for what?” he says, eyebrows pinching up, “You regret it?”

Gerry’s eyes widen. “No, no, of course not, I mean unless you do-.”

“Was I not good?” Michael asks, looking unsure if he should be angry or hurt or sad. “I knew it! You think I’m not good enough! The first time I let myself be vulnerable sober and this happens, just like I thought.”

“No, Michael, that’s not what I meant! I just thought... I don’t know, you looked upset, I thought I’d done something wrong, or something…” Gerry says frantically, before coming to a screeching halt, “Did you say first time?”

“Why would you think that?” Michael says, frowning through the intense blush climbing his throat.

“I don’t know, I- I always seem to do something wrong,” Gerry says.

Michael’s face softens, “No, I mean… You didn’t do anything wrong. Did I?”

Gerry shakes his head, shuffling a little closer, placing a tentative hand on Michael’s knee. “No.”

Michael shifts, turning into Gerry’s body and wrapping his long arms around his shoulders, hiding his face. “I’m sorry. I have… issues.”

Gerry smiles, inhaling the smell of Michael’s hair and squeezing his arms around Michael’s waist, pulling him close, so warm against him. “I don’t mind. I like you anyway.”

Gerry feels Michael smile against him before he turns his face into Gerry’s throat. He stays there for a long moment, and Gerry can’t bring himself to care about the growing sting in his side from their awkward position. Eventually, Michael leans back and sighs, “I think we should talk. About stuff. I’ll put on some tea.”

Gerry laughs, “Yeah, I think we should.”

Michael drops a small kiss on Gerry’s cheek, then slips out of bed. They’ll figure it out. They are each a little broken, a little maladjusted, a lot messy. But they’ll get there. Wherever they need to be, in time.

 

*