Frank proposes that he meet Mikey at the train station and bring him to Gerard's place, so they can have their reunion there instead of in a crowded, public place. While he's waiting, Gerard cleans the apartment more thoroughly than he has the entire time he's been living there, smokes half a pack of cigarettes, and drinks so much coffee he doesn't think he'll sleep for the rest of the week. Finally he's left with nothing else to do, sitting at the kitchen table and not even pretending to not watch the clock.
Even with his eyes on the clock, knowing what time to expect them, the knock on the door startles him. He stands up, smoothing the fabric of his dress--he thought about pulling out the men's clothing he keeps around in case he ever needs it, but he would've been dressing that way out of cowardice, and that's not how he wants to go about this--squares his shoulders, and heads for the door.
As he reaches for the doorknob, there's one last sharp stab of doubt, so strong that for a moment he almost wants to run and hide. But giving into that urge isn't even a possibility, because his hand's already turning the knob and the door's already swinging open and there, right in front of him, is a face he hasn't seen in eight years but would know if he hadn't seen it in eight hundred.
For a moment they stare at each other, no one moving or speaking.
"...You got taller than me," Gerard says.
Mikey lets out a strangled half-laugh and steps forward, and Gerard steps back enough to clear the door but no more than that. Mikey keeps coming, barreling straight into Gerard and throwing his arms around him. For a second Gerard just hangs there, gasping as something breaks open inside of him, and then he brings his arms up around Mikey and clings tight.
The door shuts and Gerard looks up--Frank's standing there with Mikey's suitcase in hand, looking like he doesn't know whether to laugh or cry as he watches them. He sets the suitcase down by the door, walks over and puts a hand on Gerard's shoulder, and leans in to kiss his temple.
"I'll be in the kitchen," Frank says softly, and then moves away, leaving them alone.
Gerard turns his attention back to Mikey, rubbing a hand up and down his back. "I'm sorry," he whispers. "I'm so sorry, for everything."
Mikey pulls back a little, eyes red behind his glasses. "There is no way I would ever stop loving you," he says, voice breaking. "No way
. You know that, don't you?"
Gerard nods, finding it hard to speak for a moment. All his doubts and fears seemed strong enough to cripple him a few moments ago, but now Mikey's right here, telling him what he should have known was true all along, and they're vanishing like mist. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, of course I do. I love you, too."
Mikey hugs him tightly again, and they cling for a few more moments until Gerard pulls back, keeping an arm around Mikey's shoulders.
"Come on, let's go sit down. You want coffee or anything?"
Frank already has a pot brewing in the kitchen, because he's great. He's leaning casually against the counter, his jacket thrown across the back of a chair, tie loosened and sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and he gives Gerard and Mikey a hopeful look as they come in.
"Hey. Everything okay?"
Gerard smiles at him. "Everything's fine," he says.
Mikey slips out from under Gerard's arm and goes to stand next to Frank, who bumps his shoulder against Mikey's companionably. "Well, let me get a good look at you," he says to Gerard, who spreads his arms and turns around obligingly. He's wearing a simple cotton day dress, red with little white flowers, and red shoes. "You look good," Mikey says, calmly approving.
"Glad I pass inspection," Gerard replies. He keeps his tone light, but he really, really means it.
They sit around the kitchen table drinking coffee, and it's one of the best afternoons Gerard's spent in a long time. He'd wondered if it would be awkward, talking face to face after so many years of just letters, but this is just what all those conversations they had through letters should have been. He can't take the time to choose his words as carefully, that's true, but every moment they spend together reminds him he shouldn't need to do that with Mikey, and being able to see him smile and hear him laugh is better than any letter.
Even if--maybe especially if--Mikey and Frank are both laughing at him.
"Seriously," Gerard says, mock indignant. "Women's clothes are just better. I don't think you two want to argue with me about this, given that I'm the only one in this room who's worn both kinds."
"Yeah, but I've helped you put on a girdle," Frank counters. "You cannot tell me that's comfortable."
"Or stockings," Mikey adds. "Or heels."
"Oh, well that's
not the point at all," Gerard protests, waving a hand at both of them. "Are those neckties comfortable?"
Mikey laughs again, shaking his head. "I don't get it," he says. "But if it makes you happy, that's all I need to get."
Gerard grins, reaching across the table to cover Mikey's hand with his. "That's because you're the best."
"Hey," Frank protests jokingly. "I thought I was the best."
"He's the best brother, you're the best boyfriend," Gerard amends, then bites his lip and looks over at Mikey. He and Frank hadn't really talked about what to tell Mikey or not tell him, and Gerard doesn't want to hide
Mikey just rolls his eyes. "Well, I would hope you don't let just anybody
help put on your girdle," he says. "Besides, Frank's had a crush on you since we were kids."
"I never told you about that," Frank says, and Mikey just looks at him. "...Okay, fair enough. So, you gonna tag along to Rouge tonight? See your big brother in action?"
Mikey looks over at Gerard, eyebrows raised slightly. "If that's okay...?"
"If you want to, it's fine by me," Gerard says. "There will
be men in dresses flirting with you, and when I say flirting, I mean in unprintable language."
"I'll take my chances," Mikey says airily. "If any of them get fresh, Frank can protect me."
Frank shakes his head. "Wish I could, but Gee's not the only one who's gotta work tonight."
Gerard tries not to look as disappointed as he feels. Or as worried. It's hardly the first time Frank's had to work at night--that's an ideal time for bootleg deliveries, after all. It's just that after the last few weeks, Gerard's not so sure this is a simple delivery, and Frank will probably just stonewall if he asks what it is. "All night?"
"Could end up going pretty late, yeah," Frank says. "Hey, how about we go for breakfast at the Nite Owl tomorrow? I should be scott-free by then."
Gerard nods, with a smile he doesn't really feel. "Okay."
He walks Frank to the door a little later, and they linger in the living room for a few moments. As cool as Mikey is with everything, Gerard figures they don't need to make out right in front of him.
"I wish you were coming back here tonight," Gerard says softly, resting his forehead against Frank's.
"Me too," Frank replies, and then smiles teasingly. "But let's face it, I probably wasn't gonna get laid with Mikey sleeping in the next room, was I?"
"Oh, I see how it is with you, just in it for the sex," Gerard says, mock indignant. More seriously, he adds, "Be careful."
"I'm always careful," Frank says lightly, and leans in for one more kiss. "See you tomorrow, baby."
Except they don't. Gerard and Mikey wait in the diner down the block from Gerard's apartment for almost an hour, order without him when the waitresses start giving them dirty looks, and linger over their empty plates and coffee refills for another half hour after that. Frank never shows.
"He's probably fine," Mikey says. His tone is optimistic, but Gerard can tell it's probably for his benefit. "Right?"
Gerard really wants to agree, but it sticks in his throat. When Frank says he'll be in a certain place at a certain time, he sticks to that unless something keeps him from it.
Mikey eyes Gerard over the tops of his glasses, and damn, that look got even more effective
while they were apart. "Unless you have some reason to think he's not, in which case, how worried should I be?"
Gerard glances around. The Nite Owl's not terribly crowded, but it's still not the kind of place he wants to have this conversation. "Not here," he says.
"Okay," Mikey says easily. "Should we keep waiting?"
Gerard hesitates, then shakes his head. "If he gets here and we're gone, he'll go back to my place. Let's go."
The walk back to the apartment is short and tense, and as soon as they're through the door Mikey turns to face Gerard, not even waiting for Gerard to hang up his things.
"So, what's going on?" Mikey asks.
Gerard takes his time, fussing a little, making sure everything goes in the right place. Coat and hat on the rack, handbag resting on the little bench below it, white gloves tucked inside the bag. It gives him a chance to center himself, lets him establish a little order in an uncertain moment. He smooths out his skirt and touches his hair a little self-consciously, then finally turns back toward Mikey.
"How much do you know about what's Frank's been involved in the past few years?" he asks.
Mikey lifts his skinny shoulders in a shrug. "Well, I know he's a bootlegger. I know he started out pretty small-time at home, I remember when he got arrested and jumped bail, and I know he ended up here under a fake last name." Glancing carefully at Gerard, he adds, "And I know there's been a lot of talk in Boston lately about Congress repealing the Volstead Act. Supposedly it might happen before the end of the year."
Gerard nods, crossing to the sofa to sit down. "Yeah. There's been talk about that here, too. So, when Frank started out back home, it was just him and a couple of friends. Small-time, like you said. But when he came here, he got involved with...other people. People who are pretty bad news."
Mikey raises one eyebrow, his expression turning wary. "Sicilians?"
Gerard nods, lips pressed together tightly.
"Shit," Mikey says.
"You said it." Gerard reaches for the cigarette box he keeps on the coffee table, lighting one up and taking a long drag to soothe his nerves before he goes on. "He would've been happy to keep running his own game, but that's not how it works here--you do business with an established group, like the Sicilians or the Irish, or you're a no-name upstart and you get wiped out by the Sicilians or the Irish. And Frank's been okay doing business with them as far as the bootlegging goes. But now there's this talk about repeal, so they've been...shifting more of their business to other areas, is how Frank put it. Narcotics, gambling, things like that. And Frank's kind of gotten dragged along with it, because as far as they're concerned, he's one of their guys now."
Mikey walks over to sit on the other end of the sofa, turned to face Gerard. "And how does Frank feel about that?"
"Not good," Gerard says grimly. "The bootlegging's been one thing, but he doesn't want to get mixed up in the other stuff they do. He wants out."
Mikey raises his eyebrows slightly. "All I know about those sort of people is rumors and hearsay, but I've got the impression they're not really big on letting people out."
Gerard shakes his head. "No. No, they're not." As much as he wishes he didn't have to, it's a relief to be able to tell someone all this, discuss it with someone besides Frank. Gerard looks down, focusing on the cigarette in his hand as he ashes, and says in a low voice, "One night last week he showed up with blood on his clothes."
"Shit," Mikey says again. "What--?"
"He wouldn't tell me at first," Gerard says. "He was pretty shook up, that's why he came here instead of just going back to his place, but then once he'd calmed down he didn't want to talk about it, and we had a pretty big fight. Then eventually he said some guys took him along to visit someone who owed them money, and Frank had to hold the guy while someone else beat him up. He says that's the worst thing he's done so far, and I believe him. But I just keep thinking, what are they gonna make him do next time? How far is he gonna have to go to stay on these people's good side? And if he gets on their bad side..."
Mikey reaches for his hand, squeezing gently. "What if--could he go to the police?" he suggests. "Maybe give them some information in exchange for protection?"
Gerard shakes his head again. "We've had fights about that, too. He actually got approached by a detective who wants him to turn informant, but Frank doesn't think they'd be able to protect him. He says half the cops in the city are in the mob's pocket anyway, and he'd know better than I would, I guess."
"So what's he going to do?" Mikey asks. "What are you
going to do?"
Gerard sighs and shrugs. "I don't know. I think Frank thinks he can figure a way out of this on his own, if he just has enough time. I'd like to have faith in him, but I'm worried his time is running out. And getting him to tell me anything is like pulling teeth--he's trying to protect me, but I get so worried and I want to help him but I don't know how
His voice breaks, and Mikey scoots closer on the couch, raising his free hand to Gerard's shoulder. "Hey, hey, it's okay. We'll figure something out."
"I don't want--" Gerard starts, but Mikey cuts him off.
"Don't try to tell me not to get involved in this. Frank's my oldest friend aside from you." With a shrug, he adds, "Course, I don't have any helpful ideas right now, but if I come up with any, I'll let you know."
Gerard smiles, leaning over to hug Mikey. "You do that."
A while later, they still haven't seen or heard from Frank. Gerard doesn't bother trying to hide how nervous he's getting, and Mikey doesn't try to distract him with conversation. What he does is get up, rifle through his suitcase, and come back to the sofa with a pack of cards. Gerard can't help but smile at that--they used to spend a lot of time playing card games together as kids, and it's something straightforward and mindless for Gerard to focus on.
When the knock at the door comes, it startles them both. Gerard drops his cards and stands, heartbeat speeding up a little as he crosses to the door and pulls it open. Frank's standing there, looking a little edgy but seemingly unhurt, and Gerard lets out the breath he's holding and grabs Frank by the lapel, pulling him through the door.
Frank wraps his arms around Gerard, pulling him close and rubbing his back with one hand. "I'm sorry," he says.
"What happened?" Gerard asks, the words muffled as he presses his face into Frank's shoulder. "And don't you dare be vague or tell me not to worry, not this time."
Frank hesitates for a moment, then nods. "Someone tipped the cops off about the delivery last night. We got a warning and got out in time, but everyone's on edge, and I couldn't meet up with you until I was sure I didn't have a tail."
Gerard nods, satisfied. "Okay." He draws back, glancing over at where Mikey's still sitting on the couch. "So, I guess I'm about to ask forgiveness instead of permission, because I sort of told Mikey everything. Everything I know, anyway."
Frank smiles crookedly, leaning in for a quick kiss. "Wouldn't ask you to keep anything from him."
"I'm gonna help you guys figure a way out of this, if I can," Mikey says.
Frank pulls away from Gerard, walking over to the couch. "Oh, well, now that Mikey Way's on the case, we can all rest easy." There's an edge to his teasing, but his smile is warm, and he drops down next to Mikey and slings an arm around his shoulders.
Mikey shrugs placidly. "I just figure three heads are better than two. Especially if one of them's yours."
"Hey!" Frank protests, and then looks back at Gerard, still standing by the door. "And what are you doing all the way over there?"
Gerard smiles, walking over and squeezing in on Frank's other side. "I'm really glad you're okay, by the way," he mutters, leaning his head against Frank's shoulder. "In case I didn't make that clear."
Frank slips his other arm around Gerard, turning his head to kiss Gerard's hair. "I got that impression," he murmurs back.
Frank stays on guard for a while after that, being extra careful about his comings and goings (Gerard's a lot more aware now of the way Frank watches himself, the way they sometimes take longer than they need to get places and always seem to end up sitting at tables that give Frank a view of the door), but the next few days are uneventful. Gerard focuses on making Mikey's visit a good one, making up for all the visits they haven't had over the years.
He shows Mikey all around Manhattan, not just the Village, but Broadway and Central Park, the museums and the high-end stores neither of them can afford to do more than window-shop in. Of course, he takes him all around the Village, too, showing Mikey all the little spots that have become his favorites over the years.
Some nights Mikey stays in or wanders around the neighborhood on his own while Gerard's at work, but he also spends a fair amount of time at Rouge. He seems pretty comfortable there, good-naturedly curious about everything, quick to make friends with Gerard's fellow performers. Watching him chat with them, Gerard can really see how much he's grown up. He was a quiet kid, introverted and a little odd (not that Gerard has any room to talk). Now he seems a little more at home in his own skin; still not the most outgoing, but easy to engage in conversation, still odd, but with a dry, quirky sense of humor.
All too soon, Mikey has to get back to school, and they say their goodbyes at the train station.
"I can't help feeling like I'm gonna leave and then we're not gonna see each other for years again," Mikey says. "Promise me that won't happen."
"Not this time," Gerard assures him. "I promise. Come stay again as soon as you want, I'm just a train ride away." God, it feels good to say that.
"Okay." Mikey smiles, and leans in for a tight hug. "I'll talk to you soon."
They cling together for a few more moments, and then Mikey pulls back and hugs Frank, who claps him on the back and says something in his ear. Mikey steps back and picks up his suitcase, and Frank moves closer to Gerard, reaching for his hand.
Mikey gives the two of them one long last look, smiling. "Take care of each other," he tells them. "See you soon."
"Thanks," Gerard says softly to Frank as they watch Mikey walk away.
Frank glances at him sidelong, eyebrows raised. "For what?"
"For not once saying that you told me so, or pointing out that I was, in fact, a total idiot for being afraid to do this and I should have done it years ago?"
Frank shrugs. "Yeah, well, maybe I don't think I've got a lot of room to talk about should haves and being an idiot." He tilts his head to look at Gerard, expressing solemn. "Besides, the only thing I really care about here is if you and Mikey are happy. If you're happy, I'm happy, no 'I told you so's necessary."
Gerard looks at him, smiling wryly. "How exactly is it that you ever manage to pass yourself off as a tough guy?"
"Years of practice," Frank says, and takes a step back, offering Gerard his arm. "Come on, I'll buy you lunch."
The day after he spends the night in a Plaza suite, Gerard takes a room at a Greenwich Village boarding house. It's tiny, drafty, and roach-infested, but it's a place of his own, the first he's ever had. He spends his eighteenth birthday alone there a few weeks later; climbs the fire escape to the roof, toasts himself with a bottle of bathtub gin the landlady sold him cheap, and smokes a cigarette while looking out at the Manhattan skyline.
The first few months are the hardest. He knew doing this wasn't going to be easy, but knowing it and living it are very different things, and sometimes the only thing that keeps him where he is is knowing that he can't go home.
He takes honest work when he can find it, washing dishes, sweeping floors, making deliveries for drugstores. With no connections, no credentials, and a sporadic and incomplete education, his options are limited. Some weeks he does all right. Others, not so much, and even with few expenses besides rent and food (he thinks longingly of books and records and drawing pencils, and of other things, but all that's going to have to wait until he can afford to do more than survive), he has to dip into his meager savings pretty often. Too often.
So when he has to, he goes to the seedier parts of the neighborhood and finds an unoccupied corner, leans against a wall with his hands in his pockets and smiles at the men who walk or drive past. He learns, by getting yelled at and occasionally having things thrown at him, that certain streets and corners are spoken for, claimed as territory by other boys who don't want to share. He also finds that some of the boys are a little more friendly, willing to take a newcomer under their more experienced, if not much older, arms.
The most important rule, they teach him, is to trust your instincts. If a would-be client gives you a bad vibe, don't go off the street with him, no matter how much he's offering. Demand payment up-front, and put it away somewhere they'd have a hard time getting it back. If you have to get away, don't look for a cop, find a crowd to lose yourself in. Gerard takes every lesson to heart, and he manages to avoid anything really bad happening. There are some close calls--a couple of times he gets his face slapped or his hair pulled, or has to knee a guy in the groin and make a run for it. The worst is the time he has to bail out of a moving car, tucking and rolling to minimize the damage. He gets scraped up pretty bad and walks with a limp for a few days afterward, but the driver pulled a knife, so. He doesn't take jobs where he'd have to get in cars anymore after that.
But most of the men he does business with are harmless, and some of them are even nice. For the most part, they aren't bad people, just lonely, ashamed of what they want and convinced this is the only way they can have it. It doesn't take long for Gerard to get over being afraid of them and start feeling sorry for them, and that makes it easy to smile and flirt and pretend he really wants them.
Still, he doesn't exactly plan on doing this forever. He's determined to find something better, he just doesn't know
what yet. But as he spends more time in the city and starts to save up enough money for more than bare necessities, he starts figuring out where to look. He starts to win his way into the city's secret underground, the hidden network of people who are like him, or who aren't but are open-minded enough not to care. A lot of his success depends on honing his ability to read people and situations, to know when someone will answer a blunt question or when he has to approach it indirectly, to convince people he can be trusted and feel his way past the
who wants to knows and
what's it to yous and the occasional
are you a cop? He finds it hilarious that anyone would take him for an undercover cop, but he gets the need for caution--he's heard stories of raids and busts and people getting dragged off to jail, and worse stories about what happens when they get there. If you don't end up in prison, you can end up in the nuthouse, with the doctors who say they can cure you, and some people say that's worse. One of the stories Gerard hears sticks in his mind, about a young woman whose mother found out she was living in the city with her girlfriend; she got stopped on the street and hustled into a car, and her girl hasn't seen or heard from her since.
But in the nighttime worlds of Harlem and the Village, people still take their chances. They know what could happen, and they still risk it in order to be their true selves. And in the nightclubs and speakeasies, where bootleg liquor flows freely and someone's on the lookout for cops at all times, there's a sense of liberation, of defiance. Everyone's a misfit or a rogue, everyone's breaking some set of rules or another, and if they're going to Hell, at least they'll have plenty of company.
In a way, though, Gerard's lonely. The Village is full of people who understand him, but none of them
know him. The only people who know him are hundreds of miles away.
He writes to Mikey, when he gets a little more settled, and once he figures out a way to do it without their parents knowing the letter's from him. There was a school friend of Mikey's whose family moved to New York a few years ago; he and Mikey were dedicated pen-pals for a year, casual pen-pals for a year after that, and then dropped out of touch entirely. Now Gerard dredges up the name from his memory, does his best to disguise his handwriting on the envelope, and hopes his parents will pass the letter on to Mikey without giving it a second glance.
Leaving you is the only thing I regret, he writes.
I just hope you can understand why I had to, and that you can forgive me for it.
A few weeks later, he gets a reply in the post office box he gave Mikey the address for.
When I'm old enough, I'm coming to New York to find you, Mikey promises.
I don't know yet if I'll hug you then punch you, or do it the other way around. I guess we'll find out. Either way, you better take care of yourself until then.
In his next letter, Gerard asks about their parents even though he suspects he won't like the answer. He's right--what Mikey says doesn't surprise him, but that doesn't mean it doesn't affect him.
They miss you, but they miss the you they approved of, Mikey tells him.
When they talk about you, it's like you'd died in an accident.
It hurts, but it strengthens Gerard's resolve that he's doing what he has to.
He also writes to Grant, which is the only thing Grant asked from him.
Even if you don't need anything, I wouldn't mind knowing how you're getting on, he'd said before they parted ways. The letters Gerard writes to him are almost more like diary entries; he can put things there that he wouldn't tell anyone else, stuff he doesn't even tell Mikey about because he doesn't want to worry him, and he sends them off not knowing when they'll reach Grant or what he'll have to say in reply, but immensely grateful there's someone he can write to this way.
He still doesn't know exactly what he's looking for, what he wants to do with himself, until the first time he visits Rouge. He's not expecting anything special when he walks in, just exploring the Village nightlife, the way he does whenever he has a little extra money to do it with. The bright red lettering on the sign and the jazz music spilling out draw him in, and he stands awkwardly at the back of the room, looking up at the singer onstage. She's beautiful, a tall, statuesque redhead in a white and gold gown, flirting and laughing with the patrons at the front of the room between songs.
It takes Gerard a minute or two to realize she's a man.
He goes back to Rouge every night that week, sitting by himself and staring up at the stage with rapt attention. When he goes home afterward, he takes out his own small collection of dresses and stockings and skirts. For weeks he's left them buried at the bottom of his suitcase, afraid to wear them even in the privacy of his rented room. Now he puts them on again for the first time since getting caught, looks at himself in the cracked, dingy mirror and thinks about the performers at Rouge. He doesn't have any ladies' shoes--high heels on creaky wood floors would have just been asking for trouble at home--but he stands on his toes and arches his feet and tries to imagine what the weight and feel of them would be like. And of course he doesn't have any dresses that are anywhere close to what the performers wear, but he imagines that, too (that first night, thinking about the redhead turns into mostly thinking about that white and gold gown, how it would feel clinging to his torso and swishing around his legs, and he ends up jerking off furiously in front of the mirror, biting his lip against a loud moan when he comes, wrung out and panting afterward).
At the end of the week, he goes up to the guy behind the bar and asks if he can talk to the manager about a job.
It turns out the bartender, Steve,
is the manager, or at least one half of the management team. The other half is Ricky, the master of ceremonies. The two of them sit down with Gerard at a table in the back corner, eying him curiously.
"So you want a job?" Steve asks him. "Doing what, exactly?"
Gerard shrugs. "Whatever needs to be done around here. Cleaning, serving drinks, helping the performers get ready--give me a task, I'll do it if I know how and learn it if I don't."
"Well, aren't you eager?" Ricky leans forward, giving him a speculative look. "What are you really after here, kid? I'm assuming it's not your life's ambition to be a jack-of-all-trades in a speakeasy."
Gerard looks at him calmly, then jerks his head toward the stage. "Actually? I want to do that. And I figure you're probably not gonna let me just walk in off the street and get up onstage. But if you let me stick around and try to convince you to give me a shot someday? I'll pretty much do whatever you want in the meantime."
Steve and Ricky exchange a look, and then Ricky turns back to Gerard. "Don't suppose you've got any kind of experience or training that would make us
want to give you a shot, as you put it?"
"Not unless you count school plays and wearing women's clothing alone in my room," Gerard replies steadily. "But I bet I could learn a lot watching the performers here. Which I would only do after whatever work you gave me was done, obviously."
"Obviously," Steve agrees, sounding amused. He looks Gerard over for a moment, then says, "Hang on a minute."
He and Ricky both lean back in their seats and put their heads together, holding a brief whispered conference. Gerard glances down at the table and tries not to fidget, then looks back up as they turn to face him again.
"Okay, kid," Steve says. "Be here tomorrow afternoon by three. If you make it through tomorrow without either one of us telling you to get out and stay out, we'll talk payment. Performance roster's full right now, but if you're still here next time we have an opening--and I stress the 'if'--you can audition. How's that sound?"
Gerard smiles. "That sounds fine."
Steve and Ricky don't tell him to get out the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that. Gerard makes good on his word, doing every job they give him, no matter how tedious or dirty. He mostly gets the dirty jobs at first, but he figures it's a test of his determination and doesn't complain.
("I grew up on a farm," he remarks after the first time they make him clean the toilets. "Manual labor and shit don't scare me much." Steve laughs, and Ricky calls him "farm boy" for a month after that.)
Even when the work's not fun, it's the first steady employment he's found that's not prostitution, and it pays well enough that he can quit the latter and never look back. And the longer he works there, the better the jobs get. The best is when he gets to help backstage, arranging dresses on racks, adjusting wigs, making mad dashes to the nearest drugstore when there's a sudden shortage of pins or extra stockings. What he knows about makeup and women's clothing grows by leaps and bounds, and it makes him feel like he's finally among his own kind in a way that nothing else, not learning tricks from the other boys on the street, not seeing men in the Village be openly affectionate with each other, not even Grant's understanding and advice, has done before.
That fall, there's an outbreak. It starts when Roxie shows up to work coughing and sneezing, but still trying gamely to get ready for her performance until Ricky sends her home. Two days later, there are two more regular performers sniffling, and the others shun them as well as they can in the cramped dressing room. But it's too late, and a few days after that Gerard arrives at work to find Ricky sitting with his head in his hands and a bottle of their stash open on the table in front of him, Steve sitting next to him and patting his back soothingly.
Gerard clears his throat. "Uh, Steve? Is Ricky okay?"
Ricky looks up, a feverish light in his eyes. "
"...Me?" Gerard echoes, trying to figure out if he should be nervous or not.
It's not too hard to find a dress that fits him, a pretty emerald green one with velvet trimming. He knows a ton of songs by heart, even if he hasn't sung in front of a crowd since he was a schoolkid. Ricky has to help him do his makeup, because Gerard's hands are shaking.
"Come on, kid," Ricky says, putting on the finishing touches. "This is what you've been waiting for."
"Yeah, but I always figured I was gonna have a little more time to prepare before it actually happened," Gerard protests. He keeps rubbing his hands compulsively over the silky material of the dress. Even if he goes out there and makes a total fool of himself, he figures, he's going to look good doing it.
"Hey, you weren't prepared for this, I wasn't prepared for Typhoid Roxie. We're both just going to have to cope." Ricky attacks him with a powder brush one more time, then steps back, admiring his handiwork. "There. You're gorgeous. Get out there and make me proud."
Gerard stands, wobbling a little in the borrowed high heels he's wearing, and takes a deep breath. "Okay," he says. "Here goes nothing."
By November, filling in when one of the regulars can't make a performance is a regular part of Gerard's duties. He still spends a lot of his time with a mop or a dishrag in his hand, but he's got something better to work toward, and that's all he needs to do his work cheerfully.
Now that he's a little better off financially, he moves out of his little boarding house room and into a small apartment. He starts being able to buy things that aren't necessities but make the apartment seem like a home--a phonograph, records, books. And finally, he stops outside a store that sells women's clothing, looks longingly at the mannequins in the window, and then steps inside instead of walking by. With no one around to walk in on him and no need to hide things in the very back of his closet, he starts buying a lot more things and wearing them around his apartment more and more often.
The first time he wears women's clothing someplace that's not his apartment or onstage at the club happens when he's been in New York almost a year. He leaves the apartment dressed normally with his rucksack slung over one shoulder, goes to a busy little cafe, drinks a cup of coffee, pays for it, and then slips into the unisex bathroom and locks the door.
His legs are cut in a few places from his first attempt at shaving them last night, but the stockings are dark enough to mask that. The dress is white with black trim, a round collar, drop waist and pleated skirt. He has no idea what to do with his hair, so he just tucks it all under a cloche hat, does his makeup in the mirror, takes a deep breath, and unlocks the door. In the midst of the morning rush, no one seems to notice a girl walking out of the bathroom a boy walked into.
He spends the day like that, sitting in the cafe with a book for a little while longer, going for a walk in the park, doing some shopping without having to pretend he's buying presents for someone else. It's a little terrifying--every time someone looks directly at him, he's sure they're going to know--and completely thrilling.
He thinks about changing back before he goes to Rouge, but he feels the urge to share this with someone some way more immediate than in a letter. Steve's wiping down the bar when he walks in, and he barely glances in Gerard's direction.
"We don't open 'til five, miss," he says, with politeness Gerard's not really accustomed to from Steve.
"Oh, I know," Gerard says, taking off his hat as he walks up to the bar.
Steve looks up, raising an eyebrow. "Well, look at you. I hope you've got a change of clothes in that bag, kid, that's an awful pretty dress to mop floors in."
Gerard drops his rucksack on the bar in front of him as he sits down. "Hey, I didn't leave my apartment dressed like this. Although I've seen my landlord in here often enough that I don't think he'd mind."
"You never know, some people are funny like that," Steve tells him. "It's all fine as long as it's just on a stage, and then you wear a skirt on the street and suddenly you're a weirdo. So if you're gonna make a habit of this, be careful." He stops wiping and looks up curiously. "Are you?"
Gerard shrugs, looking down at his hands. "I don't know. I know it's risky, but...man, it felt good walking around like this today. It always does. Honestly, I feel more like myself in a skirt than I do dressed any other way." He looks up with a wry smile. "I guess that means I
am a weirdo, huh?"
Steve returns the smile. "All the best people I know are weirdos, kid. Now go change, I've got a whole list of jobs with your name on it."
He does make a habit of it, and eventually it gets to be pretty clear that "habit" doesn't cover it. Like he told Steve, he feels like himself in skirts and dresses in a way he never has in a man's shirt and trousers. He'd wear women's clothing all the time if he could, and after months of dressing up periodically and never getting caught, he starts to wonder--why can't he?
He's twenty years old and he's been in the city almost three years when he makes up his mind to just go for it. The only people he's formed any kind of lasting connection to are the ones he knows from Rouge, he uses cash for everything and doesn't have a bank account or driver's license or anything else that leaves a paper trail, and the pay increase that comes with finally stepping up to full-time performer is enough for him to move to a bigger, nicer apartment with a landlord who's never seen him before. Overall, it's surprisingly easy for Gerard Way to disappear and Louise Rush to take his place. At first the name is just his cover, because he can't exactly walk around in a dress and call himself Gerard. But as he settles into it, he starts to feel like Louise almost has a life of her own, a life he can step into and inhabit for a while until he's alone in his apartment and it's safe to be Gerard again. It certainly seems easier to be Louise sometimes. Louise isn't some misfit weirdo who has to pretend to be someone else just to make it through the day--Louise is glamorous and confident and sharp as a tack, and, perhaps most importantly, she
does not give a fuck what anyone else thinks of her.
Years go by, and the life he's made for himself here becomes as familiar and comfortable as a well-worn glove. He goes to work, he comes home, he writes letters to Mikey and Grant, he goes to the movies and goes shopping and takes long walks in Central Park and loses himself for hours in museums. It's a good life. But he doesn't connect with many people outside of work, and it's also sort of a lonely life.
Until one Christmas Eve when a young man in a sharp suit with an oddly familiar face walks into his dressing room, and everything changes again.
As soon as they round the corner, Gerard can tell something's wrong. He feels it in the way Frank goes tense next to him and the way Frank's hand on his arm tightens, and a second later Frank stops walking, tugging Gerard to a halt next to him.
"What is it?" Gerard asks in a low voice.
"That car outside your building," Frank says, his voice tight. "It looks familiar."
Gerard feels his stomach drop. "What? You said no one had ever followed you here--"
"I know what I said," Frank cuts him off. "Goddamn it, I was sure
, Frankie." Gerard clenches his free hand, nails digging into his palm through the fabric of his gloves. "What are we gonna do?"
Frank looks at him, his face sharp and wary under the brim of his hat. "Just stay close and let me do the talking." Gerard's not terribly reassured by that, and it must show in his face, because Frank goes on, "Look, I know this looks bad. I know I fucked up. I'm gonna handle it the best I can. Okay?"
Gerard swallows hard and nods. It's not like he can do much else but follow Frank's lead here. He stays close as they walk up to the building, one hand tucked into the curve of Frank's arm.
There's one guy in the driver's seat of the car, head bent over a newspaper, and another leaning against the side with one foot up on the running board, smoking a cigarette. The second guy looks up as they approach and raps his knuckles against the driver's side door, and the one in the driver's seat looks up, lowers his newspaper and rolls down the window.
"Look who finally showed up, Leo," the guy standing outside the car drawls. "Kept us waiting a while, didn't he?"
"Sure did, Vince," the driver replies, equally casual. "Not very considerate."
"Gentlemen," Frank says, matching the easy tone. "I gotta say, I wasn't expecting to run into you two here."
"Oh, I bet you weren't," Vince says. "You've put a lot of effort into keeping folks from knowing where you slip off to all the time, Frankie. Trouble with that is, it makes folks curious."
Frank shrugs. "Hey, can you blame a guy for trying to keep his business and his private life separate?"
Vince's eyes shift to Gerard, and it makes Gerard's skin crawl. "Well, I guess if my private life filled out a dress that well I'd try to keep a lid on it, too."
"But now that we're here, you could introduce us," Leo says, giving Gerard a once-over as well. Being the focus of his attention isn't pleasant, either, but he doesn't raise Gerard's hackles the way Vince does. If Vince had approached Gerard on a street corner eight years ago, Gerard would have told him to keep walking.
"Boys, this is Louise," Frank says, his pleasant tone just a little bit strained. "Louise, this is Vince and Leo, whose mothers never taught them it wasn't polite to stare, so don't take it personally."
Vince chuckles, which does absolutely nothing to make him seem less sinister. "You seem a little touchy, Frankie. I know we surprised you, but that's no reason to be unfriendly. Is it, Leo?"
"No reason at all," Leo agrees.
"You're right," Frank says smoothly. "So, is there something I can do for you boys?"
Vince shakes his head. "Not tonight. We just thought you oughta know that if you're not at home next time there is
something you can do for us, we'll know where to look."
Frank looks at him calmly, jaw set in a firm line. "Duly noted."
Vince flashes a cold, sharp smile. "Then I guess we're done here." He glances back at Gerard and tips his hat, a gesture that's perfectly polite accompanied by a look that lasts just a little too long for politeness. "Ma'am."
Gerard doesn't let out the breath he's holding until Vince is in the car and the car's driving away.
"Let's get inside," Frank says, and Gerard doesn't argue. His hand shakes a little as he unlocks his apartment door, even though he wasn't trembling out there--delayed reaction, he guesses.
"Are you okay?" Frank asks. Gerard doesn't reply right away, facing away from Frank as he hangs up his coat and strips off his gloves. Frank lays a hand on his shoulder. "Baby--"
Gerard pulls away from him, wrapping his arms around himself defensively. "I've been better."
"I'm sorry," Frank says softly. "Gerard, I'm so sorry. I never wanted--"
"I know," Gerard replies. "I know you wanted to keep me out of it. But now they know where I live
, and they could start hanging around and trying to find out other things, and if they find out too much--"
"Hey," Frank reaches for him again, taking hold of Gerard's shoulders and rubbing his arms gently. "I'm not gonna let anything happen to you."
Gerard jerks away again, turning to face Frank. "How, exactly, are you gonna do that? And who's gonna make sure nothing happens to you
?" He closes his eyes, drawing in a deep breath. "I can't do this, Frank. I love you, but I can't."
When he opens his eyes, Frank's staring at him, looking dumbstruck, and Gerard can't tell if it's because of the 'can't do this' part or because he just said he loved Frank for the first time at what may very well be the worst possible moment. "...What do you mean?" he asks after a moment.
Gerard sighs, reaching for Frank's hands. "I mean...I need to know there's a way out of this. I mean if you have any kind of a plan, I need to know what it is. And if you don't have a plan, if you've just been flying blind while asking me to trust you, then you need to level with me about that, and let me try to help you come up with something, because I'm involved now whether either of us likes it or not."
Frank looks at him for a long moment, then drops Gerard's hands and moves away, going to stand by the window. "I've got a
plan," he says eventually, looking down at the street below. "I've had it for weeks. I haven't said anything because I've been trying to come up with a different one."
Gerard walks toward him, brow furrowed. "Why?"
"Because the one I have involves me getting the fuck out of the city, the state, and probably the entire East Coast, and not coming back." Frank tells him. "That's the one way I know to get away from a situation like this--just disappear. On my own, not going to the cops, there's too much risk there. But If I could get enough money together, I could get far enough away that neither the cops or the mob could find me, and start over."
The way he's talking about it, it's clearly something he's put a lot of thought into. Gerard comes up next to him, hands clenched at his sides, not touching Frank. "The reason you've been holding off and trying to come up with a different plan," he says quietly. "Tell me it isn't me."
Frank looks up at him, the headlights of a passing car sliding across his face. "It's not just
you," he says. He glances back out the window, a ghost of a smile crossing his face. "I mean, you know I love this goddamn city. It hasn't turned its back on me yet, I don't want to turn my back on it." Looking back at Gerard, he gives a little shrug. "But I'd be lying if I said you didn't have something to do with it."
Gerard looks at him, not knowing what to say. "Frankie--"
Frank turns away, pacing a little, running a hand through his hair. "Besides, what happened tonight kind of throws a wrench in that--now that they know where you live, if I disappeared they'd probably come looking for me here. I couldn't put you in that position."
"So we're back to square one?" Gerard asks.
"Looks like. Unless..." he stops pacing and faces Gerard, drawing in a deep breath before he finishes, "Unless you'd want to come with me."
That brings Gerard up short. "Come with you?" he echoes.
"It's the one way I can figure that my leaving wouldn't mean trouble for you," Frank says, and rubs a hand against the back of his neck, looking almost bashful. "And there's the whole thing where I'm kind of crazy about you, so, y'know, it would make me
happy. How about you?"
Gerard swallows hard, glances out the window as he searches for words. "My whole life is here," he says after a few seconds. "My whole life except Mikey, and he's in Boston."
"I know," Frank replies. "That's why I haven't brought it up before." He walks back toward Gerard and tucks a hand under his chin, turning Gerard's face towards his. His expression is open and honest, eyes full of emotion, and for the first time in weeks Gerard feels certain Frank's not trying to hide anything. Including how scared he is. "I don't want to lose you, I don't want to ask you to leave everything you've got here, and I don't want to be responsible for anything bad happening to you. So I've been trying to figure out a solution in the face of all that, but I'm stumped. I don't know what to do."
Gerard raises both hands to cup Frank's face, looking into his eyes, and then leans in, pressing his lips to Frank's. Frank's hands go to his waist and pull him closer, and they kiss until they're both breathless.
Gerard pulls back and rests his cheek against Frank's, his mouth close to Frank's ear. "I love you," he whispers, wanting to say it properly.
Frank slides a hand around the small of Gerard's back, kissing his cheek and the line of his jaw. "I love you, too," he replies.
"And I don't want to lose you, either," Gerard goes on. "And I don't--Frank, I don't know what to do, either, but--" He pulls back enough to look at Frank, hands curving around to stroke Frank's hair and cup the back of his neck. "We'll figure it out together, okay? Somehow."
Frank nods and then pulls Gerard close, holding him tight. "Somehow," he echoes, pressing a kiss to Gerard's hair.
Gerard turns his head, seeking Frank's mouth, and they both give up on words for the time being.
They stumble into the bedroom, kissing frantically and tugging impatiently at each other's clothing. Gerard's down to his chemise and Frank's down to his undershirt and shorts when Gerard runs out of patience and just pushes Frank down on the bed, climbing up after him and straddling his lap. He frames Frank's face with his hands and bends down to kiss him, and Frank runs his hands restlessly over Gerard's body, like he wants to touch him everywhere at once and can't make up his mind.
Gerard's fingers slide downward, trailing over Frank's neck and collarbones, his chest, down to his stomach, and then finally slipping beneath the waistband of his shorts. He kisses Frank's mouth once more, and then follows the path his hands just traced with his mouth, sliding down on the bed. He pushes Frank's undershirt up to kiss his stomach, nipping gently at the skin there, and Frank sucks in a breath, twining his fingers in Gerard's hair.
"For the record," Gerard murmurs, skimming his mouth along the trail of hair leading down from Frank's belly button, "You're a stubborn idiot and you should have talked to me about this sooner."
"You've had your own problems to deal with," Frank protests, skimming a finger along the line of Gerard's cheekbone. "I didn't want to--"
Gerard makes a frustrated noise, raising his head to glare even as he hooks his thumbs in the waistband of Frank's shorts. "'My own problems' include being worried sick about you
Frank looks at him solemnly, propped up on one elbow, and strokes Gerard's cheek with the backs of his fingers. "Right. I'm sorry. And I love you."
"I love you, too," Gerard replies. Even in the midst of everything going on, saying that and hearing it gives him a little thrill of pure happiness every time.
He lowers his head again, nosing along the curve of Frank's hipbone as he pulls Frank's shorts down. Frank's hand slips into his hair again, combing through it gently.
Gerard takes him deep right away, curling a hand around Frank's cock and sliding his mouth down to meet it. Frank makes a rough sound, hips rocking up a little, and Gerard opens his mouth wider, encouraging him with a moan. He doesn't need Frank to hold back or be careful, not now.
Frank takes his cues from Gerard, thrusting up into his mouth and tightening his grip on Gerard's hair. Gerard lets his eyes flutter closed, swallowing around Frank and listening to the sounds he's making, breathless, half-formed curses and endearments. It doesn't take long before he bites back a shout and comes hard. Gerard swallows steadily, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand as he pulls off.
"Jesus," Frank pants, stroking Gerard's hair back and then cupping the back of his neck. "C'mere."
Gerard moves back up on the bed, leaning over and bracing his hands on either side of Frank's head. Frank kisses him deeply, cupping Gerard's face in both hands, and then rolls them over on the bed. He settles half on top of Gerard, one knee sliding up between Gerard's thighs, and Gerard grinds against him, too impatient to even pull back and strip off his panties. Frank's mouth trails down the side of Gerard's neck, his hands roaming all over Gerard's body again. Gerard gasps, running his hands through Frank's hair and cupping the back of his head to keep him pressed close. He's wound up way too tight to make it last, so he doesn't try, rocking against Frank's leg a few more times and then moaning sharply as he comes.
They lie together, pressed close and breathing heavily. After a minute or two, they stir just enough to peel off the rest of their clothing and get under the covers. Frank presses his face into the curve of Gerard's neck and murmurs it one more time before he falls asleep--love you
--and Gerard slings an arm across Frank's waist as he kisses his forehead and whispers it back.
Early the next morning, Gerard leaves Frank asleep in his bed, puts his kimono on, and goes out to the armchair by the window. It's one of his favorite spots to sit and think, and he's got a lot to think about.
It's taken him years to build a good life for himself here. It took all the courage and resolve he had to run away to New York in the first place, driven by desperation and the hope that if there was any place in the world for someone like him to go, this was it.
The idea of leaving everything he has here behind, running away and starting over again a second time, is hardly appealing. But now it seems like he could be in danger of losing everything anyway. The thought of Vince and Leo lurking outside his apartment and Frank's warning that they might go after Gerard if he disappeared makes Gerard shudder. And even if there was no threat to him, if it was just a question of Frank leaving...in just a few months, he's become one of the best, most important parts of Gerard's life.
But one of the other
most important parts of his life is Mikey, and the thought of leaving the East Coast when they just saw each other again after eight years makes Gerard's heart sink.
He stares out the window, lost in thought, until he hears a low noise and turns his head. Frank's standing in the living room doorway in his shorts, rubbing the back of his neck and blinking tiredly. "Hey. You okay?"
"Yeah," Gerard says, smiling. "Just thinking." He reaches out a hand. "Come here."
Frank crosses the room and settles on the floor in front of Gerard's armchair. The position and the pale dawn light on his upturned face make him look young, vulnerable. Sometimes Gerard almost forgets that there are five years between them, and that for all the thing's he's done and the tough front he likes to put up, Frank's little more than a kid.
Gerard reaches out and brushes Frank's hair out of his eyes, smooths it back behind his ear. "So. This whole leaving the East Coast idea...do you have any particular destination in mind?"
"Not really," Frank says. "The further the better, preferably a big city instead of a small town, but other than that I'm not picky."
Gerard doesn't say anything for a few moments, combing his fingers through Frank's hair while Frank looks up at him patiently. "Would someplace in California be far enough?"
Frank's eyebrows go up a bit. "Well...to be honest, if I made a list of places I'd like to live, California wouldn't be at the top. But under the circumstances, the opposite end of the country has a certain allure." He shifts a little closer, laying a hand on Gerard's bare knee. "Gee, is this a lead-in to you saying that if I went to California you'd go with me?"
"Since I came here, I've never really thought about living anywhere else," Gerard tells him. "I mean, I found a place where I can be myself, live the way I want, why would I ever leave?"
Frank leans over and presses a kiss to Gerard's knee. "If I could think of any other way..."
Gerard strokes his hair. "I know. But I've been thinking. New York's been good to me--to us--but it's not the only place we could be happy. I've talked to a lot of people who had good things to say about California, and as you already mentioned, it's across the country. I figured I'd put it on the table."
Frank shrugs. "Like I said, I'm not gonna be picky. If you think you'd be happy in California, I say let's give it a shot." Frank rests his chin on Gerard's leg, looking up at him. "But, uh...do you want to tell Mikey we might be moving to the West Coast, or should I?"
Gerard sighs. "Yeah, there's that. I can't commit to this until I talk to him."
"Right," Frank agrees instantly. "And there's other stuff we'd have to take care of before we could go, we need a little time."
"Will we be okay in the meantime, though?" Gerard asks. "I'd really rather not get another visit from Vince and Leo."
Frank tilts his head, rubbing his cheek against Gerard's skin. "As far as they know, they've got me by the balls. It's in our best interest for them to keep thinking that. If I make nice and do what I'm told, I'm pretty sure they'll stay away from you."
Gerard sighs, curling his hand around the back of Frank's neck. "So they can use me to make you do what they want."
"Just for a little while," Frank assures him. "We'll get through it."
Gerard smiles faintly. "If you say so."Part Three