It wasn't exactly unusual for Michael Shelly to work overtime: most of Gertrude's assignments took a lot of time to complete and they just didn't have it within in them to turn down her requests.
Besides, Michael didn't mind staying longer – they didn't have a place they were particularly looking forward to returning to.
Being at the Institute, losing themself in work, looking out for their co-workers - all of that posed a welcome break from being alone at the tiny apartment they could barely afford in the first place.
Gerard Keay, however, well, he was a whole different deal.
Gerard didn't officially work at the Institute.
Not in the "I had a painfully awkward job interview here, signed a contract and am now getting paid to come here and complete tasks on weekdays" way, at least.
Sometimes he came to the Institute almost daily, sometimes stayed away for weeks at a time.
No one really knew what Gerard was doing when he was away, neither did they know when he was going to return.
But they didn't bother asking him either.
When at the Institute, Gerard kept mostly to himself.
It wasn’t that he was actively avoiding anyone, but the only person he reported to was Gertrude Robinson and apart from that, he didn't actively seek out conversations.
At least as far as the employees of the Institute were concerned.
There was one exception, but they didn’t know about that, too caught up in the mundanities of their own lives to notice.
Gerard never stayed at the Institute longer than he absolutely needed to, always keen to get away from the old building as soon as possible.
Whether that was because of common sense, a general distaste for everything to do with the Archives or a combination of both didn’t really matter.
The fact was, the chances of Gerard working overtime voluntarily were slim to none.
This night, however, voluntary overtime was exactly what he was doing.
He and Michael were standing next to each other, silently reorganising statements, following the orders Gertrude had given Michael.
Michael, way too selfless for their own good as they were, had insisted it would be fine, that they didn't need help.
And yet, Gerard had asked them to allow him to help regardless.
The smile on Gerry’s face when they had reluctantly agreed, Michael thought, was worth the discomfort of accepting help.
Despite the doubled workforce, it took the two of them quite some time to complete the task.
When they were finally done, it was late at night.
Michael sighed heavily, closing their eyes as they leaned against the shelf they were standing on front of.
“I wouldn’t have been able to finish this so quickly without you,” they admitted quietly, “Thank you so much.”
Gerry simply smiled at them in return.
A comfortable silence settled between them, only broken by Michael’s affirmative humming in response to Gerry’s nonverbal inquiry if leaning against them would be alright - an exchange they’d seemingly had hundreds of times before.
"Why do you work here, Michael?" Gerry asks eventually, and he could feel Michael tensing up beside him.
“You don’t need to tell me if you don’t want to, obviously,” he quickly adds “was just curious why someone like you would end up at a place like this .”
Michael visibly relaxes at that, a smile now tugging at their lips.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, you’re always looking out for everyone around you. Guess you seem more like you’d become a teacher or something.”
Their smile briefly falters at that, their expression shifting to something more sombre.
“I did want to become a teacher at one point.”
“Really? What happened?”
“You wouldn’t want to hear it.”
“I mean, I did ask.”
Michael laughs slightly, but there’s no humour to it.
“I suppose you did…Same reason why I started working here.”
A heavy silence fills the room.
“Sorry I asked.”
Michael pauses for a moment, pensively looking at the floor.
“No! No, it’s alright. Just…just promise me you’re not going to laugh?”
“Of course! Why would I even-“
Gerry stops himself, not wanting to dismiss Michael’s fears.
“Back when I was in school, there was someone named Ryan in my class.
We had known each other for years but hadn’t talked much for most of that time.
I can’t really remember when we started talking, but after a while, we became friends.
I didn’t have to spend my breaks alone anymore, then, for a while.
At one point, I heard one of my teachers call him schizophrenic when we left the classroom together.
We weren’t meant to overhear that, I think, and I don’t know if he was?
At the time I didn’t even know what the word meant.
But the point is, he was always so afraid that the world wasn’t real.
I always tried my best to assure him, help him, somehow, but in the end…”
Gerry looks at them with concern, places his hand on their shoulder.
Even though Michael doesn’t say anything about it, Gerry knows they appreciate the gesture.
“We were walking home from school one day, and he noticed a door that he swore hadn’t been there before.
When he looked at me, he seemed…scared? But not just that, he almost seemed entranced, somehow.
Before I fully realised what was going on, he had already walked towards the door and turned the handle.
I don’t…I don’t really remember what happened after that?
All I remember is a flash of light, colourful, more than anything I had ever seen before, and then he was gone. And with him that door.
I never saw him again. I don’t know what happened. I just don’t!
All I know is that he’s gone!”
Michael was talking faster now than they had been in the beginning, and they were rapidly moving their hands as they spoke.
"I tried to tell others about it, but no one believed me.
I mean I- I...of course they didn't! How could they? It was absolutely ridiculous!
No one in their right mind would have believed a child’s rambling about doors disappearing into thin air!
They thought I ha-...thought I was-"
They were choking out their words at this point, tears welling up in their eyes: "They thought I was crazy. Told me I had lost my mind."
“I don’t think you’re crazy,” Gerry tells them emphatically. “I believe you.”
“No one else did, though. Not my parents, not my teachers, none of the other students. No one.
I had to hear them talk about me like that for so long that I almost started to believe them.
I was alone and desperate, and then I came here. Gave my statement.
Miss Robinson told me she was looking for a new assistant after I was done, and I had nowhere else to go, so I applied.
And here I am.
But, but still, no one believes that what I saw was, was true, and I just-...I-, I can't-"
Michael tries to suppress a sob and fails immediately; they can no longer stop the tears from rolling down their face.
When Gerry offers them a hug, they don’t hesitate before stumbling forward, clinging onto him like a lifeline.
“Shhh. I’m here. I’m here, I’ve got you. Everything’s going to be okay, I’ve got you.”
Tears now flowing freely, Michael continues to hold onto him, trembling, while Gerry continues to quietly soothe them.
They stay like this for a long time.
Gerry had known that he would eventually have to tell Michael about the true nature of Institute even before this had happened – Smirke, Leitner, The Entities, everything.
And he would. Eventually.
But not tonight. Tonight he just holds Michael in his arms.
He doesn't even think about letting go - neither when the sobbing stops after a while, nor when the two of them end up settling down on the small bed in the storage room, way too tired to go home.
Gerry may not be able to protect Michael from all evil in the world, may not be able to make their trauma go away - but he can hold them.
And just for a moment, both of them feel completely safe.