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Contagious Creativity.

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“I’ve got an idea.”

It’s not the first time Gerard’s ever uttered these exact words -- or the second. In fact, he has to admit he’s uttered them often. Or exclaimed them. Loudly, and often with accompanied whirling hand gestures and a pacing so feverish that all any onlookers can do is stop, stare and attempt to listen.

“I found this website….”

“Is it porn? Because I thought we were done with themes after this album.” Ray looks up from where he’s sprawled on one of the narrow bus couches, frowning as he stares at Gerard. “I was looking forward to not dressing up after we’re done with the Killjoys.”

“We’ll never be done with them, Killjoys don’t die, and it’s not porn. I wouldn’t do a porn theme,” Gerard says, though admittedly, despite the at-length conversations with the rest of the band about how Danger Days needs to be be the last themed album, dressing up is something Gerard does like to do. And while Killjoys do never die, they can evolve into something new. Not that Gerard’s going to mention that right now. “How the fuck could we even do a porn theme?”

“We could wear leather,” Mikey suggests, giving Ray an assessing head-to-toe stare as he sits close. “You’d look awesome in leather pants and a collar.”

“No I wouldn’t.” Looking alarmed, Ray shakes his head, as if somehow he’s believes this porn idea will actually happen -- which it won’t. Because it’s not how they roll, and anyway back in the day Gerard had already contemplated a themed arc that included pushing the boundaries of sexuality with props and outfits, and knows it won’t work.

“Jamia would have my balls if I put Frank in a harness,” Gerard says, waving away the resulting surprised reactions as they’ve nothing to do with his actual idea. “And I’m not talking about porn. I never was. I want to set up a craft exchange.”

A thump, the back of Ray’s head hitting the window as he says hesitantly, “I suppose crafts are better than porn.”

“The porn wasn’t even a consideration,” Gerard points out, taking a moment to dart back to the bunks so he can haul out his laptop from under a small mountain of comic books, sketch pads and clothes. “But this is. Look, I found this website. It’s called Pinterest, it’s kind of new but I think it’s going to get big. It’s got all these photos and ideas people have saved. They’re called pins. And you can learn how to do everything.”

“Like make a fire bomb?” Frank asks, looking rumpled and sleepy as he stumbles into the main lounge area. “You woke me up.”

“Sorry,” and Gerard genuinely is, for all of a few moments before the enthusiasm for his idea reunites once again. “But no, you can’t learn how to make fire bombs. At least, I don’t think so. I haven’t looked.

“You can use hair spray and a lighter,” Mikey states, shrugging when everyone looks his way. “We tried it a few times.”

“Of course you did,” and Gerard doesn’t even ask who the we refers to, because really, fiery hairspray happenings are so obviously Pete. “But I don’t want to make fire bombs, or learn how to make them.”

“But what if you set up a craft exchange and the person you’re exchanging with wants a fire bomb?” Frank asks, not even attempting to hide his amusement as he selects a brown-spotted banana from a bowl and points it toward Gerard. “Then you’d be honour bound to make one.”

“Except the people in the craft exchange won’t be pyromaniacs,” Gerard says, and abruptly stops talking, correcting himself when he thinks over his list of potential exchangers. “Strike that, rule number one, dangerous crafts won’t be part of the exchange.”

“Your craft exchange has rules now?” Peeling the banana, Frank throws the skin towards the trash can, beaming when it lands solidly on the tower of take out boxes and soda bottles. “Your craft exchange sucks. You’re sucking the joy out of craft. You’re a craft joy sucker.”

Gerard brushes off the comment, he’s been called worse, and it’s not like he ever takes Frank’s insults personally. “My craft exchange is going to be awesome.”

And it will be. Gerard’s thought about it extensively and knows there’s not a thing that could go wrong.

~*~*~*~

“So tell me again, this is supposed to do what?” His expression dubious, Mikey peers toward the small plugged-in hot plate, his attention on the battered pan where Gerard’s mixing coconut milk with liquid soap, cursing a little each time his over enthusiastic stirring causes the mixture to slop over the side. “Because right now it looks like slop.”

“It’s going to moisturise and create a luscious shine.” At least, that’s what the pin promised and Gerard has faith in its claim. This is going to be the best shampoo ever and Ray’s going to love it.

His nose wrinkling, Mikey leans in closer. “It smells like the floor of a bar at the end of a night.”

“I know, right.” Gerard loves that detail, and while technically the splash of beer isn’t in the pin recipe, including it just means the resulting product will be bespoke. “Ray loves drinking beer. So he’s going to love this.”

“He will,” Mikey agrees instantly, backing away slightly when the mixture splashes again. “I wonder what he’ll make for you?”

“I told you, it doesn’t work like that.” At least, it shouldn’t. The exchange was supposed to involve a whole host of names thrown into a hat, and then plucked out at random. But somehow, Mikey’s managed to be assigned Pete and vice versa. While Gerard’s unsure how it could practically happen -- the draw happening at random with names pulled from a plastic Drac mask -- he’s also sure it did happen somehow. Not that Gerard’s going to protest, really, it’s probably best that Mikey and Pete keep their efforts between themselves.

“How’s the writing going?” Gerard hisses when the hot sludge he’s stirring splashes up, landing on his wrist. “If you want I can read and check it over.”

“When I’m done. I've just about finished the first chapter.” A last look at Gerard’s mixture and Mikey backs out of the kitchen area, pushing aside a bag filled with tangled balls of yarn so he can sit on one of the couches. “It’s going well, better than Ray’s knitting anyway.”

“He’s getting better,” Gerard says loyally, frantically stirring when the mixture starts to bubble and pop, looking more like molten lava that’s gone off than any actual shampoo. “He only dropped a few stitches last night.”

“He threatened to stab you with one of the needles,” Mikey states, amusement apparent as he slouches and pulls out his phone and starts typing on the tiny keyboard. “What rhymes with stupendous dick? Enormous prick? When it hits the back of my throat it makes me sick?”

Gerard ponders, waving away the smoke that’s starting to seep over the sides of the pan. “How about lick?”

“Excellent.” Mikey grins, wide and sunny as he frantically types. “That’s perfect.”

“Good,” Gerard says and grins too, still sure this exchange is going to be amazing.

~*~*~*~

“This is ridiculous, I mastered the guitar and bass, I can use a keyboard, hell, I can even stitch up the holes in my pants. Why can’t I do this!?” Scowling, Ray thrusts the mess of knotted yarn and knitting needles to one side, the scarf he’s been knitting abandoned for the third time within the last hour. “I can’t do this.”

“Yes you can.” Gerard’s sure of that, Ray can do anything. “It looks fantastic, and it’s at least an inch longer than last week.”

“It’s more holes than scarf.” In demonstration, Ray pokes his fingers through one of the holes, holding up the scarf so it drapes limply over his hand. “It wouldn’t keep anyone warm.”

“It doesn’t have to and it looks great, very shabby chic.”

“Because Spencer’s all about the shabby chic,” Ray says, sighing deeply as he smoothes the scarf so it’s lying over his lap. “At least he should like the colour.”

“He’ll love the colour, he looks good in blue.” Gerard smiles, sidestepping the large bucket full of flyers soaking in water that James is intending to make into some kind of a paper mache sculpture for Victoria. “And he can be all about the shabby chic, it’s all those years hanging with Ryan.”

“I don’t think having Ryan Ross as your childhood best friend means you have to like shabby chic.” Ray sighs again, deeper this time. “I should have tried something else, this is going to be a disaster.”

“You’re putting your heart into it,” Gerard says, and looks intently at the scarf, seeing all the hours of work Ray’s put into it already, along with the dropped stitches and tiny still visible stain, where somehow, he managed to jab himself hard enough with the needles to actually draw blood. “That means it can’t be a disaster.”

“I suppose.” Ray smiles then, visibly casting off his mournful mood while pushing the unfinished scarf off to one side. “How’s your contribution going?”

“Okay,” Gerard says, trying not to think of the bile green concoction that he’s got bottled and hidden deep in one of his bags. “But Frank’s is almost ready to go. He said he’s going to get someone to post it soon.”

“Patrick’s going to love it,” Ray says, and Gerard agrees.

“He will.” In fact, out of everything he’s seen so far, Frank’s vegetarian cookbook has come out the best, much better than Gerard’s foul smelling shampoo. But, perfecting that is something to deal with later. For now, Gerard’s remembering a new pin he’d seen on Pinterest and wanted to try and he says, “You know what will make the bus looks better? Bunting.”

“Bunting. Right.” For a moment Ray hesitates, as if wondering if he should actually ask, then says, “You’re going to make some?”

Gerard beams, already visualising the bus festooned in perfect black-edged and illustrated bunting. It’s going to look amazing, and, ignoring Ray’s slightly pained look, Gerard heads for his bunk and laptop and says, “We all are, and yes. I’ll show you.”

~*~*~*~

“Are you sure Gabe will actually like this?” Jarrod’s sitting on the floor, brow furrowed as he methodically stuffs two stitched together giant woolen socks with wadded up pantyhose. Gerard’s got no idea where he found the socks, or the pantyhose for that matter, but is enjoying watching Jarrod get creative.

“He’ll love it. Gabe likes snakes.” Briefly Mikey looks up from his phone, his fingers still for the first time in almost an hour. “Especially pink ones that look like trouser-snakes.”

“A trouser-snake?” Eyes wide, Jarrod looks at Gerard, as if checking if Mikey’s telling the truth. “You said he likes snakes and the colour pink.”

“He does,” Mikey says, sounding perfectly sure. And the thing is, while Mikey is teasing a little, the fact remains, Gerard knows Gabe will be delighted at being gifted a floppy pink snake that looks more phallic than cobra. “He’ll love it, and probably keep it in his bed with his other plushies.”

“Gabe sleeps with plushies?” Jarrod stops stuffing the snake, pantyhose held and forgotten in his hand as he stares suspiciously at Mikey. “Gabe Saporta?”

For a few moments Mikey doesn’t reply, just types furiously on his phone, and then says, “Sure. A few stuffed snakes, a bear or two, and two versions of the Justin Timberlake marionette. Fucking creepy things. The fingers hurt when you roll onto them.”

“Right.” Obviously deciding Mikey’s pulling his leg, Jarrod stuffs the handful of pantyhose into the snake and gets to his feet. “I need to find buttons for the eyes.”

“I think I saw some under the sink in the bathroom,” Gerard says. Admittedly they won’t match and no doubt will smell a bit funky, but really, considering Jarrod’s creating a giant trouser-snake, mismatched eyes aren’t going to matter. “Or hit up wardrobe later.”

“I will.” The limp body of the snake over his shoulder, Jarrod walks out of sight, and Mikey looks at Gerard with a raised eyebrow.

“I was telling the truth about the marionettes.”

“I know you were,” Gerard says, even now, many years later, he’s unable to forget the series of photographs he was sent with the two Justin marionettes posed with Mikey and Gabe -- in positions that really couldn’t be legal -- or safe.

“I wonder if he’s still got them?”

“Oh, he has.” Mikey grins, showing his teeth. Gerard doesn’t ask how he knows. It’s better that way.

~*~*~*~

“This is amazing.” Slowly, Gerard turns the pages of Frank’s book, taking in each individually hand-written recipe that come along with illustrations and comments from Frank. “Publishing level amazing.”

“Well, it’s not getting published,” Frank says, sounding sure. “This is for Patrick, no one else.”

Gerard stops turning, his hand gently resting on a page. “That’s your grandpa’s meatloaf recipe, you said it was never written down anywhere.”

“And it still isn’t.” Smiling softly, Frank moves closer so he can look at the page which contains both the recipe and a self-drawing of a young Frank sitting at his grandpa’s knee. “It’s mostly all there, but I changed the meat to a vegetarian option, so it’s still his but kinda not.”

“It’ll still taste great.” And it will, Gerard’s got long experience and happy memories of eating meatloaf with Frank and his family, and knows, fake meat or not, it’s a recipe that’s a privilege to share. “Patrick will love it.”

“I hope so,” Frank says, and then, his smile turns devilish as he adds, “It was either that or send him a home-made firebomb.”

“I don’t think you can send those through the mail. “ Carefully, Gerard closes the book and tucks the attached Boozey bookmark under the cover. “And Patrick’s not a firebomb person.”

Frank dismisses those concerns with a wave of his hand. “I’d have taken it personally, and of course he is, it’s just Pete tends to draw the dangerous attention. Patrick’s just as bad when he gets going. Remember that time on tour when he set off fireworks and nearly burnt down a merch tent? That was rad.”

“That was dangerous.” It’s something Gerard can state easily now, but admittedly, when it actually happened, Gerard had been one of the ones watching, and marvelling as the flames licked up the side of the tent and fireworks exploded through holes in the roof. “But yeah, it was rad, too.”

“See!” Frank grins, the book tucked close to his chest as he stands. “Patrick’s totally a danger junkie. He just hides it well.”

“I suppose,” Gerard concedes, but no matter Frank’s justifications, he’s still relieved that an actual firebomb isn’t going to happen. “When are you going to send your book?”

“As soon as I get it wrapped up and addressed,” Frank says, looking around him as if eyeing up any suitable packaging material. “How’s your contribution going?”

“It’s getting there.” It’s all Gerard can say, really. While he’s stuck to the shampoo recipe -- at least, mostly, and surely adding in a few different things here and there won’t really matter? -- it still doesn’t look or smell right. “I’ve been checking Pinterest again, and I’ve seen some things I might try.”

“Not more bunting I hope.” Frank indicates the string of bunting that’s tied from one end of the lounge to the other, the triangles made of everything from cut up socks to raggedy cloth napkins. “It looks good, and I love the individual sketches you’re doing on each one, but that red string you made last night nearly strangled me in my sleep.”

“Sorry, I’ll tell you next time I decorate your bunk.” And Gerard will, but he’s not about to stop making bunting, not when it’s so easy and the triangles so soothing to cut out and decorate.

“No worries.” Frank shrugs off the apology, stepping past the soggy mess of the paper-mache covered balloon that James has got propped next to the sink. “Just tell me next time, I thought a crazy killer was taking a cheese wire to my throat.”

“I doubt a crazy killer would be waiting in your bunk,” Gerard says, trying to imagine the logistics of killing someone in such a small space. “And I don’t think they use a cheese wire, though I guess guitar string would do.”

Frank stops moving and stares directly at Gerard, amusement apparent in his barely hidden smile. “You believe in ghosts, aliens, trolls, creatures and monsters and then question my crazed killer?”

“Only one that hides in your bunk with a cheese wire,” Gerard states, unable to help his own grin when Frank turns and walks away laughing.

~*~*~*~

“I don’t know where I went wrong.” Mournfully, Gerard holds up the bottle of shampoo and untwists the top, blinking against the resulting sharp scent. “I did everything the pin said, and the things I added should have made it better.”

“It smells like death,” Mikey says, recoiling when Gerard starts to hold out the bottle. “But the label looks great, and it could still work.”

Encouraged, Gerard shakes the bottle, a little of the bile green liquid spilling onto his fingers. Or more accurately, oozes onto his fingers, his latest additions having turned the shampoo into something resembling a thick slime. “I did add lots of coconut oil, the pin said milk but I couldn’t find that, and oil makes things shiny.”

“It does,” Mikey agrees, pushing himself up on one hip so he can take his phone out of his pocket. Quickly tapping and scrolling, he holds up the phone, showing a document that’s on page 67 of 469. “I wrote that in my book, but it wasn’t coconut oil we used. Pete doesn’t like that, he says it’s like licking sunscreen.”

“That does taste nasty.” Bottle held carefully in his hand, Gerard quickly reads some of the page, nodding approvingly. “I like how you wrote that, it’s like I was actually there.”

Mikey smiles, enjoying the praise. “You sort of were there, just not exactly. I’m writing fiction but it’s based on that time on tour when we decided to try oil wrestling, and then things got a bit heated and….”

“Bob chewed you out for getting oil all over his bunk after none of us could get in the bus for hours.”

“Pete’s a slippery bastard when he’s covered in oil.” Mikey’s smile widens, his eyes sparkling as he adds, “He didn’t mean to end up in Bob’s bunk, it just happened.”

“Of course it did.” The same as lots of things just seem to happen around Mikey and Pete. Not that Gerard tries to understand why. Some things just defy explanation, and Mikey’s longstanding relationship and friendship with Pete is firmly in that camp. “So your book is based on real life situations? You’ve never really said before.”

“Some.” Mikey pushes his phone back in his pocket, all trace of his smile gone as he says, “But a lot is what we want to happen. You know how it is, life gets in the way, but we’ve talked lots and if the people in the book get a happy ever after. Well…” Mikey trails off, as if searching for the right words. “Well, it’s a future we’d like to share, even if it’s only in fiction form.”

Unable to resist, Gerard moves forward, uncaring of the pile of bunting triangles sliding to the floor and the shampoo seeping over his hand as he squashes next to Mikey on the bench and pulls him into a hug. “He’s going to love it.”

“I hope so,” Mikey says, his forehead resting against Gerard’s. “And even if he doesn’t, I’ve enjoyed writing again. If I ever stop playing bass I could try for a career as an erotic fiction writer.”

“You could.” A last squeeze and Gerard presses a kiss against Mikey’s cheek. “You’re awesome at writing about sex. I’d buy your book.”

“I’ll print you a copy of this one,” Mikey promises. “I’ll even sign it.”

“You’d better.” With that threat, Gerard sits upright, digging the still half stuffed body of Jarrod’s pink cobra from under his back while he does so.

All Mikey says in reply is, “Promise.”

~*~*~*~

“Patrick loves his cookbook.” Frank bursts into the lounge of the bus, beaming as he throws himself down next to Gerard. “He emailed me and said he’s going to try making the tofu surprise as soon as he’s back home.”

“Of course he loves it.” Gerard has always known that there’s no way he wouldn’t. Frank’s book was perfect, from each individually sourced and written recipe to the illustrations and hardcover that Frank designed and drew himself. “I hope he invites me to dinner some time.”

“He should be inviting me, not you,” Frank points out, but there’s no negativity in the comment, just a still-bubbling happiness as Frank ducks to avoid the trailing string of bunting that’s hanging from one side of the bus lounge to the other. “Don’t you these are getting out of hand? It’s starting to look like a giant spider web in here.”

“I suppose,” Gerard allows, looking at the criss-crossed strings of bunting that flutter in the breeze from an open window. The problem is though, while the quantity is getting out of hand, the bunting as a whole represents a group effort that Gerard loves seeing -- from the Boozey triangles drawn by Frank, to James’ furry pink contributions and triangles created and left by visitors and guests. It’s like Gerard’s surrounded by a visible net of crafty love from his family and friends, and he loves that, even if the windows of the bus are starting to be concealed with strings and it’s almost impossible to open the top cupboards. “I could take some down.”

“Don’t,” Frank says, inching past James’ paper-mache sculpture that’s now almost up to waist height. “Hearing and seeing Jarrod be garroted by a string of bunting made with James’ old underpants is a nightly highlight. You can’t take that away.”

“It’s only happened once -- okay, twice,” Gerard says, and makes no attempt to hide his own grin, because really, who knew Jarrod could screech that high, or for that long. “And you’re getting obsessed with garroting, first the cheese wire and now this.”

“Says the person who gets obsessed with themes.” Frank gently tugs on a lock of Gerard’s red hair while staring down at the sculpture. “It’s starting to look like a dog now. At least, sort of. If you squint.”

“It is,” Gerard says, and narrows his eyes, head tilted to one side as he looks at the sculpture, just barely able to make out a dog’s form from the bulges and wads that have been built up from the balloon at the centre. “Vicky should love it.”

“It’s just what she needs, an oversized demonic looking paper-mache sculpture of Gizmo,” Frank says, tilting his own head as he adds, “James has been hanging with you too long, I’m sure it’s got fangs.”

Gerard holds up his hands. “That’s nothing to do with me. I’m innocent of any fang suggestions.”

“This time, maybe.” A last dubious look and Frank sits next to Gerard, leaning heavily against him. “I know Mikey’s printed out and sent his book, and the dick snake is on the way to Gabe, but what about you? Will your gift be finished soon or is Ray’s scarf of doom taking last place?”

“Ray’s scarf is going better now, he only threatened to throw it away twice yesterday, and I’ve finished the label for mine.” That Gerard can say for sure. He’s proud of the label, which has turned out exactly how he envisioned, unlike the actual shampoo, which still smells dubious despite the addition of some extra drops of beer. “But the shampoo…” Gerard trails off, knowing that no matter how perfect he wants it to be, he’ll have to hand over his gift soon. “It’s nearly done.”

“Good.” Frank smiles, his eyes closing, content to remain lying heavily against Gerard. “You should make me one, too. I want a Locks by Gerard original.”

“Maybe,” Gerard allows, but that’s all he’ll commit to. Because, no matter how much he loves Pinterest and looking at all of the pins, he’s starting to realise, maybe shampoo making isn’t his thing.

~*~*~*~

“I’m done,” Ray announces, looking triumphant and he casts off a last stitch and holds out his hands, displaying his scarf. Despite nearly four weeks of knitting it’s more muffler length than an actual long scarf, and at points has clearly visible holes that have been stitched together with red thread. But, it’s also beautifully soft looking and a deep blue colour that Spencer’s bound to love and look good wearing. “He’d better like it, because I’m never knitting again.”

“You were getting better at it,” Gerard says, unable to resist reaching out and running his fingers over the soft yarn. “And he’ll love it, because it looks fantastic.”

“It looks like it’s been mauled by a dog,” Ray says, critically eyeing the scarf. “I should have tried something I knew I could do, like write him a song. A ballad to Spencer, it would have been a smash hit.”

“No you shouldn’t. Well, the song would have been good, but no.” Gerard shakes his head, because no matter what Ray says, this scarf is perfect in the ways that matter. “This is exactly what you should have done, and if he doesn’t like it I’m going to track him down and gut him with a drumstick.”

“A bit extreme, but thanks.” Ray smiles as he carefully examines the scarf and then wraps it around his own neck. “It feels good.”

“It looks good,” and it does, even the stitched holes looking more like a deliberate pattern when seen at a distance. “You could add some fringing?”

“Hell no!” Ray doesn’t hesitate before his answer, hands up as if physically warding off Gerard’s suggestion. “It’s done and is going to be sent as soon as I can package it up.”

“You’re probably right,” Gerard allows, because, the scarf really does look good as it is, and more than that, Ray looks proud of what he achieved. “It doesn’t need anything extra.”

Shifting in his seat slightly, Ray pushes aside his knitting needles, letting them fall to the floor and under the table, where no doubt they’ll remain until the end of the tour. As he does so his elbow catches a pile of Pinterest print outs that spread out into an even more untidy pile, Ray sighing as he tries to stop them falling while ducking his head to avoid the giant dream catcher that’s been hung from the ceiling and emerges between multiple strings of bunting.

“That thing’s more of a head-catcher than a dream-catcher,” Ray says, gently tugging at a lock of his hair that’s got caught in the trailing beads. “Jarrod needs to hang it up in his bunk.”

“I don’t think it would fit.” Gerard looks at the dream-catcher, and while he still admires the craftsmanship and materials used to create it, he has to admit, it does look slightly sinister, especially the woven in fake teeth -- at least, Gerard thinks that they’re fake. “And it would probably give Jarrod nightmares.”

“Probably,” Ray agrees, pushing the dream-catcher so it swings in a circle, displaying both sides and making the teeth swing and sway. “I still can’t believe Patrick made that.”

“I told you, he’s a closet psychopath,” Frank says, making no attempt to hide the fact he’s been listening in as he moves into view, yawning as he scratches his stomach and picks up Gerard’s coffee, taking a big drink. “It’s all that hanging with Pete, and this is cold.”

“Sucks to be you, coffee stealer,” Gerard says, and reaches over the table, pulling a second mug from behind a plastic tub full of coloured pens and googley sticker eyes. “Here, this one is fresh.”

“Thanks.” Frank takes another long drink, sighing happily as he dodges the dream-catcher and sits, legs stretched out and showing the black crocheted slippers that he received the previous day.

“Are they comfortable?” Ray asks, and doesn’t blink when Frank lifts up his legs and drapes them over Ray’s lap in response.

“They’re great.” Frank moves his feet, circling them so the tiny beaded skeletons on top of the slippers shine in the light. “Andy must be a closet crochet master.”

“I think he’s the master of everything,” Gerard says, making a mental note to mention how much he likes slippers next time he runs into Andy. “He probably crocheted those while drumming with one hand and writing to politicians with the other.”

“Andy’s good but I don’t think he’s got four hands.” Busy unwrapping his scarf from around his neck, Ray carefully folds it into a neat square and places it onto his lap. “At least, not that I’ve seen, and he’s topless so often they’d be hard to hide.”

“They could be below waist level,” Frank suggests, brow creased as he thinks, and then suddenly grins. “Or he could have a independently moving dick. That could take care of the writing.”

Gerard shakes his head, because there’s one flaw in Frank’s suggestion. “That still leaves him a hand down. He’d need a two-headed dick, or handed. We’ll have to look for suspicious bulges next time we see him.”

“Which won’t be creepy at all,” Ray says, but then, without missing a beat, adds, “Done.”
And all Gerard can do is grin, too -- the Andy Hurley crotch observation exercise a go.

~*~*~*~

“Don’t you think it’s time to give Ray your gift?” Mikey’s lying prone in his bunk, eyes half closed and blond hair in lank strands arranged over his pillow as he talks to Gerard who’s sitting on the opposite bunk. “It’s been finished for ages.”

“I know, but, it’s not right.” Truthfully, Gerard knows it never will be, but somehow he can’t actually bring himself to hand over the shampoo. There’s no way that he can when it still smells so weird and has a texture that looks more like slime. “It needs to be perfect.”

“If he wanted perfect Ray would buy from the store.” Mikey rolls over, propped up on one elbow so he can look directly at Gerard. “You’re never going to be satisfied with it, and Ray’s going to think he’s not getting anything. Just give it already.”

“What if he hates it?” As fears go it’s illogical, because this is Ray, and even if Gerard handed over a randomly arranged display of sticks and called it art, Ray would announce that he loved it. Which is why Gerard has to gift something good, because this is Ray, and all Gerard wants to do is make him happy.

“Ray’s going to love anything he gets,” Mikey says, echoing Gerard’s thoughts. “Look how much he liked James’ gift from Brendan, and that must have taken all of a few seconds to make. Anyway, it’ll be from you, he’d love it if you gave him a gift of sticks.”

“Are you reading my mind again?” Gerard leans forward so he can see Mikey better, and then leans back, just in case.

“I don’t need to.” Still balanced, Mikey never looks away from Gerard as he says, “I know you want it to mean something, so that means it has to be perfect. But it doesn’t. Look what I got from Pete.”

Instantly Gerard gets a flashback to Mikey unpacking his box from Pete, his delight when he pulled out a selection of items that included clothes, candy and a hat that appeared to have been made out of roadkill. Also, something that surely wasn’t created by Pete, unless you count stenciling a bartskull onto a sex toy -- which Gerard doesn’t, and he’s still worried about toxic poisoning, no matter how often Mikey says that it’s safe.

“Pete’s gifts were great, especially the clothes,” Gerard says, and if he hadn’t seen and heard the evidence to the contrary, he would suspect that FOB actually spent all of their hiatus learning to sew. “I still don’t think that printing is safe, though. If….”

“I know, I know. Toxic. Wears off, I’ve heard it before. Stop changing the subject.” With those words Mikey narrows his eyes and points at Gerard. “Give Ray his gift. Today. Before that shampoo mutates into a new lifeform.”

“Well, that’s reassuring,” Gerard says, but without any conviction, because it’s not like Mikey isn’t making a good point. “But fine, I’ll hand it over. Tonight.”

And Gerard will -- after adding a few more drops of beer.

~*~*~*~

“Are you okay? You look a bit overheated.” Ray sets his guitar off to one side, looking up at Gerard who’s lurking in the doorway. “Do you want to sit? I’ll move some of this stuff. Or get you a drink.”

“I’m fine.” Scratching at his neck and cheek, Gerard can smell the scent of roses on his hand, seemingly ingrained there for ever from Nate’s gift exchange of homemade soap that arrived the previous day. “It’s the soap, I don’t think it agrees with me.”

“You and soap tend to do that,” Ray says, softening the jibe with a grin. “You smell nice, though.”

“Thanks.” Gerard sniffs the back of his hand, and while rose isn’t a scent he’d usually go for, he has to admit Nate’s done a good job, even if the soap does dry his skin and make Gerard break out. “He did a great job carving the soaps into our killjoys emblems. I think Kobra’s smells like chocolate.”

“Your Pinterest exchange went well.” Despite Gerard not moving, Ray starts to push aside the note books and pens he’s got piled on the couch beside him, making some room. “If you’re going to lurk, come sit down already.”

“I’m not lurking,” and Gerard’s not. Not really. He’s just expressing an interest in Ray’s activities while plucking up the courage to hand over his shampoo. Gerard can feel the bottle pushed deep into the pocket of his pants, and, while he knows it’s not true, it’s almost like the bottle is radiating heat -- and a smell that Gerard will never forget.

“Well, don’t lurk sitting down,” Ray says, his attention solely on Gerard. “I see Pete liked his gift from Mikey. At least, I think that’s what that wordy tweet about classic literature bound for the ages meant.”

“He loved it.” For a moment Gerard can forget about his own gift and its failings as he remembers Mikey’s beaming expression when Pete video called the moment he received his book: and kept calling all through the reading. “They’re going to meet up soon, Pete’s flying in later on the tour. He says he wants to discuss the book with Mikey, but you know….”

“I know.” Ray smiles, well aware and yet another observer of Mikey and Pete’s relationship that’s still surviving despite the involvement of other loved ones and time spent apart. “I hope they’re going to book a hotel room. I need my sleep these days.”

“They should do.” Gerard rests his hand against the shampoo bottle, willing himself to just pull it out of his pocket already, even if it’s nowhere near good enough for Ray.

A last long breath and Gerard gathers his courage, pulling out the bottle as he says, “I got you for the exchange. I wanted to make you some homemade shampoo, and I did, but it didn’t go right and it smells terrible and if you don’t want to use it just throw it away. I would. Because it’s not perfect and….”

“Don’t you think that’s up to me to decide?” Ray reaches out, taking the bottle from Gerard, holding it out so he can intently examine the home drawn label. “You drew me.”

“I did.” That’s one thing Gerard likes about the shampoo, the label coming out exactly how he wanted. Even now he still loves the drawing of Ray, head thrown back and hair a wild mass of damp curls around his face, his expression one of joy, lit up from the sheer love of music and being onstage. “I was going to copy a photo, but freestyled it. All those times where I’ve looked to the side and you look like that. Like you’re exactly where you want to be.”

“I was. I am.” Ray’s still looking at the label, but he’s smiling, his mouth curling up at the corners. “I love it. Thank you.”

“You haven’t tried it yet,” Gerard says, but is hushed by Ray who simply pulls him into a full body hug, holding on tight.

“I still love it.” Still holding on, Ray rests his head against Gerard’s, and makes no attempt to let go. “It’s perfect.”

It’s not. Gerard knows that. But at this moment, for the first time, he can start to believe it.

~*~*~*~

“I should take all of this down,” Gerard says, looking around the bus, taking in the lines of bunting, dream-catcher, sketches pinned to the wall and a giant stuffed unicorn that’s propped in a corner. “It looks like an explosion in a craft store.”

“It does,” Ray agrees. He’s claimed a section of the couch, legs crossed at the ankles and looking tired but happy as he leans back, his hair leaving a visibly greasy mark against the window as the lank strands trail against the glass. “But I like it. You should leave it.”

“Yeah, it looks good.” Stretched out next to Ray, Frank has his feet tucked under Ray’s thigh, the top of his jewelled skeletons just visible on his slippers. “Like home.”

“If you lived in a crazy craft store,” James says, perfectly comfortable as he makes a sandwich, the sequined cropped top Brendan made him bunched under his armpits and soaked through with sweat at the back. “Which we do.”

“An awesome crazy craft store.” Mikey turns his phone, showing his ongoing video call as onscreen, Pete gives a thumbs up and says the bus looks amazing.

“It does.” Jarrod eyes widens as he opens a new message on his phone and says faintly, “Fuck, Gabe really does have Justin Timberlake dolls.”

“Told you,” Mikey says, craning his neck, and phone screen, so both he and Pete can see Jarrod’s message.

“I’d stock up on the brain bleach,” Gerard says, his attention moving from Jarrod to the whole of the bus. Which yes, is cluttered and messy, but with things that mean something -- including the newly printed out photo of Spencer that’s stuck to a wall. The one where he’s at an industry event, posing in his sharp suit and beaming wide, a too-short blue scarf that’s already unravelling in places wrapped loosely around his neck. “You could make some for the next Pinterest craft exchange.”

In unison, everyone looks at Gerard, expressions ranging from shock to resigned.

All Gerard does is smile in return.