"Look at their eyes. See how big they are? It's because they're looking at God."
Mikey leaned in closer to the picture. He didn't really know anything about art, and if he was honest, he didn't really care. He wouldn't say that to Gerard, and sometimes it was pretty cool to hear where a painting came from, or whatever. But a lot of the time Gerard would get really excited about something that Mikey basically thought was boring and bad.
This painting wasn't shitty, exactly, it was just weird. It was Mary holding Jesus, but he wasn't a baby, he was a strange, spindly toddler with a creepy grown-up face, and all the angels looked really annoyed.
"I know they look funny to us now," Gerard went on, his voice fond. He wasn't touching the painting, but his outstretched hand traced the shape of the angels' odd, pointed chins and flat, circular halos. "But it's like when we found those pictures of Dad with flares and a perm, remember that? It was fashionable at the time."
"The flares didn't age well either," Mikey reminded him. "And nobody's making me look at those in a museum."
On Gerard's other side, Frank was reading the little description plaque on the wall. "What's agape?" he wanted to know.
"It means love," Gerard said. "In the Bible it's used to describe how God loves us, how we're supposed to love each other. Actually, John uses it to describe God Himself."
"Greek. They had a bunch of different words for love." Gerard counted off on his fingers as he listed them. "Eros for sexual or romantic love, philia for friendship. Agape is more of a general term, but in the Bible it means a love that's unconditional, all-encompassing. Selfless. It's what made God send His only Son to save us, what led Christ to die for our sins."
Frank leaned around Gerard slightly to catch Mikey's eye. Mikey cut his eyes at him and Frank looked away, grinning.
"You can laugh," Gerard said loftily. "It won't stop Him loving you."
The next painting was one of Jesus all bloodied up, hanging out looking sad. Frank wandered off to the other side of the room; he didn't like Crucifixion art, unsurprisingly. Mikey wasn't crazy about it either, so he followed him after a minute.
"Yo," said Frank. He was looking at one of those paintings of Mary with the little swords sticking in her heart. "I'm thinking about getting something like this inked, man. What do you think?"
"Cool." Mikey looked down at Frank's hands, clasped loosely in front of him. He was bundled up in layers, his sleeves coming all the way down to his fingers. "You have kind of a weird thing for Mary, dude."
"She makes me feel peaceful," Frank said.
Mikey couldn't really see what was peaceful about a crying woman with swords in her heart, but okay.
"This particular portrayal of Mary is called Our Lady of Sorrows," Gerard announced from behind them. Gerard would do that, commentate on stuff whether you asked him to or not, like those automatic holographic tour guides futuristic museums always had in the movies. "Each of the swords represents one of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. The Prophecy of Simeon, the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt-"
"The Loss of the Child Jesus for Three Days, the Meeting of Mary and Jesus along the Way of the Cross, the Crucifixion, the Descent from the Cross, and the Burial of Jesus," Frank rattled off. Gerard gaped at him and Frank made a face. "Oh, you're the only one who's allowed to know anything? I read books, fuck you."
Gerard looked from Frank to Mikey and back again, confusion all over his face. "I guess I didn't think – sorry, Frank."
Frank waved him off and turned back to the painting. Mikey waited until Gerard had gone away to look at a sculpture in the middle of the room, then said, "You read that off the plaque on the wall, didn't you."
Frank snickered. "Busted."
Mikey rolled his eyes. "You're an asshole."
"Your brother's a know-it-all," Frank replied, but when they drifted over to join Gerard, he said, "Explain this one to me?"
Gerard sighed lavishly for a moment, then grudgingly offered, "It's a Pieta."
"I thought that was in St. Peter's," Mikey thought out loud.
"That's Michelangelo's Pieta, yeah. It's the most famous. He made it a lot bigger than they usually were. And his Mary is really young, and kind of peaceful looking? Usually she would be shown as older. And a lot more sad."
Frank touched the little statue in front of them, fingers lingering on Mary's face. "Have you seen it?"
Gerard smiled softly, his eyes going a little unfocused as he remembered. "Yeah, I always try to see it when I'm over there. It's beautiful. There's a reason why people refer to it as The Pieta, you know? But any work of art which shows her cradling Christ's body is a Pieta. Well, technically…" he trailed off, looking sheepish. "I'm doing it again, aren't I?"
"No," Frank pressed. "I want to know, come on. Tell me."
Gerard hesitated, then went on, "Technically it's only a Pieta if they're alone. If anyone else is shown standing around watching, then it's a Lamentation."
"Pieta," Mikey said out loud, just to feel the word in his mouth. "What does it mean, like, pity?"
"Yes, good," Gerard said, like Mikey was a kid in Sunday School. "That's the literal translation in Italian, but it comes from the Latin pietas, which is a word the Romans used for duty and devotion. So I guess in this context we're meant to pity Christ, sure, and Mary for what she's lost, but it's also a study on devotion, on what people will give up to save the things they love."
"Oh, good," Bob said suddenly from behind Mikey, making them all jump. "I was hoping we'd be in time for Sister Wendy's Grand Tour."
Gerard beamed at him. "Sister Wendy rocks."
Mikey looked around Bob to Ray and Brian. "What'd they say at the bank?"
"In layman's terms?" Brian spread his hands, paused for drama or whatever, and said, "We're broke."
"Oh," Gerard said, face falling. "Oh."
"I know how you feel about asking people to pay for us to help them," Brian said quickly, before Gerard could get started on a rant. "I do, and I get it, but the bottom line is we either need to make some money or we need to go home."
"Do we even have enough money to go home?" Bob asked him quietly.
Brian shrugged. "We do if we don't eat until we get there."
"Shit," said Ray. Mikey thought that summed it up.
Gerard was chewing his thumbnail, eyes darting around anxiously. "We can't go home. Well, I can't. I have to get to Chicago."
"Well, you're getting paid for this," Brian reminded him. "So that's your call."
"We can't go home either," Frank said. "We don't have jobs anymore. Or apartments."
"I agree," Brian said calmly. "But I can't magic money up from nowhere."
Gerard looked speculatively at Ray, who shook his head. "I'm an herbalist," he said. "Not a magician."
"Maybe we can pick up some work on the road," Bob suggested. "Construction or something, there must be places that hire by the day."
"But then we can't travel during the day," Brian argued. "Also, I trust exactly none of you with construction equipment."
Gerard turned to Mikey. "What do you think?"
Mikey thought about it. "Do you think we're doing the right thing? This evil-fighting thing, do you think this is what we're supposed to be doing?"
"Yes," Gerard said immediately. "I know it is."
"Then we should probably do whatever we have to do to keep on doing it, right?" Mikey glanced at the other guys, who were all nodding. "We can't fight evil if we're starving to death."
"Or fighting each other over the last cigarette," Frank piped up, and then Gerard really did look stricken, as if it hadn't occurred to him that they might run out of smokes.
"I need a minute," Gerard said, and wandered off to sit on one of the padded benches that stretched in a line down the middle of the room, bisecting the gallery. He laced his hands together, hunched over with his elbows propped on his knees. He bowed his head.
If you didn't know him, Mikey thought, you'd probably just think he was just tired.
"Mikey," Ray said, touching Mikey's arm to get his attention. "What do you think he's going to say?"
"I don't know," Mikey said honestly, "But I think we should be ready to ignore it."
Ray laughed, covering his mouth with the back of his hand. Frank laughed too, but it quickly dissolved into coughing, which turned into him leaning against Bob so he wouldn't fall down, which turned into Brian giving Mikey a Look.
"I know," said Mikey. Frank was waving his hands and trying to say he was fine, but his face was bright red and he mostly just wheezed a lot before giving up and letting Bob rub his back until he got his breath back. "You're totally not fine," Mikey told him.
"You need to sleep somewhere that's not the van for a couple nights," Ray agreed. "And eat something with a vitamin in it."
Frank scowled. "What am I, a swooning maiden, here?"
"If the bonnet fits," said Bob.
Across the room, Gerard sat up and rubbed his hands over his face, staring around him like he wasn't really sure where he was. Mikey waved to remind him, and Gerard stood up and came back to them. He looked really unhappy.
"Any luck?" Ray asked him.
"I just don't know," Gerard said, putting his hands in his pockets. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do."
"The Church should be paying us anyway," Frank muttered. "We should just hang out after Mass and lift some cash from the collection plates."
Gerard said, "Frankie!" in a horrified voice, and Frank rolled his eyes and said, "Oh, it's all right for you to get paid for fighting evil in God's name, but not us?"
Gerard said, "It's not the same," and then everyone was giving their opinions and raising their voices, and people were starting to look, it was sort of embarrassing. Gerard said, "I just wish there was a sign that this was the right thing to do," and then they were interrupted by someone clearing their throat.
"Excuse me," said the tall, dark-haired guy who was standing nearby, wearing a nice suit and a nervous expression. "Did you say that you fight evil?"
Gerard shot Mikey a panicked glance, but Mikey couldn't think of a lie. He looked to Brian, instead, who was already moving past Gerard and holding his hand out.
"Brian Schechter," he said, in his best business voice. It was like his regular voice, but a little deeper and more reassuring, and it made him seem taller, for some reason.
"Craig Aaronson," the dude replied, shaking Brian's hand and smiling. He had some serious fucking teeth. "I'm sorry, I couldn't help overhearing. If you can help me, I can certainly make it worth your while."
Gerard opened his mouth, but Mikey touched his hand and shook his head. "You wanted a sign," he reminded him.
"Let Brian do his thing," Ray agreed. Frank had started coughing again.
Gerard didn't look very happy about it, but he shut up for once, waiting with his arms folded and his eyebrows knitted together, while Craig told Brian about how he thought his air conditioning system was haunted.
"Are you jerking off?" Ray called when the sound of Frank moaning came filtering out from underneath the bathroom door and the noise of the shower running. "You better not be jerking off, Frank, we all have to shower in there."
"I don't need to jerk off," Frank called back. "I think I'm going to spontaneously orgasm just from the sensation of soap and hot water."
Ray turned indignantly to Mikey, like he could do something about it. Mikey waved his hand. "He loves to shower, dude, what can I say?"
"Ugh." Ray went back to sorting the laundry.
Mikey stretched all his limbs out as far as he could, trying to get his hands and feet to touch the corners of the bed. Craig had offered to put them up in a hotel, but Gerard was still being weird about the money thing and bargained Brian down to the motel room. Mikey didn't care. It was a nice motel; clean and comfortable, and they all slept together every night in the van so sharing wasn't a problem. It was just so cool to be lying on an actual bed.
"We are going to need a million bucks in quarters," Ray grumbled, poking a pair of boxers into the 'Really really dirty' pile with his toe. "It'd probably be cheaper to buy new clothes."
Mikey reached up and bashed the pillow a little, settling it into the right shape under his head. "You know, I don't actually know where Gerard buys his clothes? Like, his clerics? I mean, where do you get a priest collar from?"
Ray looked up, a pair of Bob's socks held gingerly between one thumb and forefinger. "Huh. You think the Vatican provides them?"
"I don't know," Mikey shrugged. "I guess? It's not like he can just roll into Wal-Mart."
"Which is a shame, because his collars seriously haven't been white for like six months." Ray finished with the dirty clothes and came over to sit on the bed. His weight made the mattress dip and Mikey rolled towards him; Ray put a steadying hand on his hip. "You know, since we had to harvest that fungus?"
Mikey shuddered. "That shit was so gross."
"Agreed. And we'll have to do it again, soon, I'm running out," Ray said dolefully.
"You think this one's gonna be easy?" Mikey shifted onto his back again, and Ray's hand rested on his belly. "Haunted air conditioning, not exactly the stuff of epic heroics."
Ray laughed, and patted Mikey's stomach twice. "Guess we'll find out when they get back."
Brian had taken Gerard and Bob to Craig's place to do recon, after making Craig pay them half the fee in cash, upfront. Gerard had made a pained face the whole time. Mikey was actually impressed anybody could hold an expression for that long.
On cue, there was a knock on the door.
"Speak of the devil," said Ray, and got up to let the guys in.
"Hey!" Brian walked into the room, holding a giant grocery bag in his arms. "We brought food!"
"We brought cigarettes," Bob added, following him in.
"We brought coffee," Gerard said gleefully, bringing the cardboard tray straight over to the bed. "Mikey, Mikey, check it out."
Mikey sat up and took the cup Gerard gave him carefully, prizing the top off for maximum inhalation impact. It smelled sweet and hot and fresh and when Mikey took a sip, the flavor spread over his tongue and down his throat and it was seriously the best thing in the world.
"Mmm," he said.
"I know," Gerard cooed over his own cup. "It's so good."
"Okay," Frank yelled from the bathroom. "Now I'm jerking off!"
Gerard's eyes flew wide, and he looked uncertainly at Mikey, and then at Ray. "Uh."
Bob looked totally unperturbed, he just banged on the bathroom door and said, "You better rinse that shit away, motherfucker."
When Mikey came out after taking his own shower, Bob was sitting backwards in a chair, his arms folded over the back of it, head bowed. Frank was standing behind him wearing gloves and fiddling with Bob's tattoo gun. He waved it at Mikey when he saw him.
"Check it out," he said, grinning. "Bob's virgin skin is about to be well and truly debauched."
"I'm going to regret this," Bob grumbled. "I can already tell."
Ray was hunched over the table, adding ingredients to a shallow dish in tiny measurements. Gerard was standing next to him holding a vial of Holy Water. "Mikey, you ready?"
Mikey went to Frank and got the ink tube, then carried it over to Ray.
"Okay," Ray said, giving the mixture in the dish a final swirl. He held it out to Gerard, who added some Holy Water, murmuring as he did so. Ray looked up at Mikey. "Just like last time, okay?"
"Okay," said Mikey, holding out the tube.
Ray poured the mixture into the ink tube, while Gerard made the sign of the cross over it.
"Cingi aversabilis malus," he said. "Munimen abusque veneficium. Amen."
"Amen," Mikey and Ray said together. The mixture in the ink tube felt warm against Mikey's palms, for a second, and Mikey flinched a little in case it was going to come bubbling out of the top like the first time they tried it, but then it settled down.
Gerard smiled. "Nice work, guys. I think we really have this down."
"Maybe that's what we can do for a living," Brian said. He was counting money on the bed. "Magical tattoos."
Bob had done everyone else's tattoo himself. Ray's was on the inside of his arm, Mikey's on the inside of his wrist, Frank's on his hand, between his thumb and forefinger, and Brian's was on the back of his shoulder. It was a pretty simple design, an upside-down triangle overlaid with what Mikey thought looked like the Mitsubishi logo, but Ray and Gerard didn't like it if you pointed that out. It did, though, three black diamond-shapes joined together at the center. The top one had a cross in the middle, and the whole thing was surrounded by a circle.
Gerard had found the symbol during one of their assignments, but it was Frank's idea to get it tattooed. Originally, Bob said he wouldn't get one himself, but then he almost died because he got too close to one of Ray's exploding spells, and Brian made him promise he'd get inked as soon as possible. Bob had pointed out that a protection spell probably couldn't do much in the face of getting blown up, but Brian had made this one face he did that was exactly midway between worried and pissed off, and eventually Bob had agreed.
"Don't fuck this up," he was grumbling at Frank now, while Frank snapped the ink tube into the gun. "I mean it, Iero, I'm trusting you here."
"I'm not going to fuck up!" Frank said, making a hurt face. "Why would you automatically assume I'm going to fuck up?"
"He's not going to fuck up," Mikey said.
"You better not fuck up," Ray said anxiously, coming over to hover next to Bob's chair. "The spell's pretty delicate, Frankie, and it's powerful, if you get the symbol wrong, it could be a disaster."
"I'm not going to get the symbol wrong! I have done this before, you know."
"Not by yourself," said Gerard.
"I'm not by myself now," Frank pointed out. "I got the world's bitchiest canvas to keep me company, and fucking Raybledore hanging over my shoulder."
"Stop distracting him, Ray," said Brian from the bed. "Do Mikey's hair or something."
"Oh, do my hair," Mikey agreed, grabbing Ray's hand and pulling him over to the dressing table. "It's been, like, forever."
"What if we have to fight later, it'll be ruined," Ray said, but he ran his hands speculatively through Mikey's wet hair anyway, frowning at him in the mirror.
Mikey sighed. He loved having his hair done. When he was rich and famous he was going to pay someone to do his hair every day. Well, probably he would just get Ray to do it, still. "You can do it again after."
"Oh, thank you, what an opportunity," Ray said. Mikey grinned at him in the mirror and Ray laughed. "Fine, fine. Let's see what we can do."
Across the room, the buzz of the tattoo needle started up. Frank frowned when he was concentrating, and he did this thing where he stuck the tip of his tongue out the corner of his mouth. Once Mikey bet him that he couldn't paint his nails neatly without doing the tongue thing. Frank made a total mess, and Mikey made five bucks. It was awesome.
Frank set his free hand against the back of Bob's head, and lifted the needle. "Okay," he said, and he only sounded a little nervous. "Here we go."
"You got it, Frank," Bob said, bowing his head. "Just take it slow."
It was interesting, Mikey thought, watching Frank work. He was completely still except for his hands moving, and even the one holding the gun was almost motionless, moving in tiny, even strokes.
"These things are so crappy," Ray grumbled, shaking out the cord of the motel blow-dryer. "I could dry your hair faster by blowing on it myself."
He still fired it up, though, and Mikey closed his eyes, letting Ray tilt his head this way and that as he worked. It was awesome that Ray had found his calling as an herbal magic guy or whatever, but Mikey missed having his hair done every morning. Back when they worked in the shop it was like no matter how hung over he was, how worried he was about Frank's latest health crisis, or how much he missed his brother, he always felt better after twenty minutes in Ray's chair.
It was the same now, he could feel all the tension draining out of him, it was even better than the shower. Ray never made you feel like you'd wronged him terribly in a former life and now he was going to use his comb to take your ears as punishment, and Mikey never got flat-iron burns the way he did when he straightened his own hair. It was the most relaxing thing in the world.
"All right," Frank said a while later, wiping Bob's skin over one last time. "Moment of truth."
They all trooped into the bathroom after Bob, and Brian held up a hand mirror so Bob could check himself out in the reflection. It felt like everyone was holding their breath while Bob looked, frowning and turning the mirror from side to side. Frank was practically vibrating next to Mikey, chewing his lip.
"Hmm," said Bob eventually. "Nice job."
Frank went, "Fuck yeah!" and high-fived Bob before grabbing Mikey and tackling him all the way across the room and onto the bed. "In your face!" he crowed, even though Mikey never said he was going to mess it up.
"Your aftercare sucks," Bob said, coming out of the bathroom. "You didn't even wrap it up."
Frank waved him off, stretching out on the bed. "That's Toro's thing."
Ray went and got the tub of ointment he'd made out of his bag, and motioned for Bob to come over. "There's enough left for you. I'll have to make some more for when you get yours, Gerard."
"Never gonna happen," Gerard said, skirting quickly past the chair with the needles on it.
Brian made a face. "You can't be more afraid of needles than you are of dying."
"That argument doesn't hold water," Gerard settled on the bed with Frank and Mikey. He handed Mikey a book, and set another one on Frank's belly, making him go 'oof' and curl up. "If you stick a needle in me, I will die."
"What about if you need a shot, like, from a doctor?" Frank grabbed the book and pulled himself to sit up. "What happens then?"
Mikey laughed. "Oh my God, it's hilarious. He has to lie down and the doctor has to do special breathing with him."
"Shut up," Gerard said, smiling.
"In through the nose, out through the mouth," Mikey said in a high-pitched voice. "The nurses have to hold his hand."
Frank laughed, opening his cigarettes. He stuck one in his mouth. "Do you get a sucker after, too?"
"Sometimes," Gerard said, opening another book. He gave Frank a sly look from under his hair. "It depends on the nurse."
Frank choked on the first inhale, flailing his hands around until Mikey rescued his cigarette and Frank could curl up properly, coughing deeply between ragged intakes of air.
Gerard went bright red, and ducked his head, hastily going back to the book on his knees. "Sorry."
"Look, if we're all finished trying to kill each other, maybe we should get to work." Brian knelt down by the bed and unrolled a giant piece of paper on top of the covers. "These are the blueprints for Craig's place."
"Who actually has blueprints?" Ray marveled. Mikey watched him securing the wrappings over the back of Bob's neck. "Is that a normal thing for someone to have lying around?"
"I think he keeps them in the safe with all his diamonds," Bob said, waiting for Ray to finish and then pulling the chair up to sit by the bed. "You should see his place, guys, it's like something off MTV. You think he's a millionaire?"
Brian shook his head. "Billionaire, dude. He was in Forbes."
Gerard made a worried noise. "Just because he's rich doesn't mean we should be taking his money to help him."
"You've gotta get over this," Brian said. "It's not an official assignment, the guy's life isn't in danger, here. Think of it as freelancing. Now, what do we know about this situation?"
"Craig described unexplained noises, sudden drops in temperature, guests feeling extremely uneasy in certain areas of the house. I definitely felt a presence when we were there, strongest in the guest quarters." Gerard frowned at the blueprints. "I don't know where that is on here."
"Right here," Bob tapped his finger against the paper. "The rest of the house was warm, but there was ice formed around this one vent. Craig thought it was a faulty system at first, but he's had a whole platoon of engineers out, and nobody can help him."
"So this guy really does have a haunted air conditioning system?" Frank shook his head. "Man, you think you've seen it all."
Gerard took his rosary beads out of his pocket and wound them around his hand, catching one between his thumb and forefinger. "I don't think it's technically the air conditioning. The house was built on-"
"If you say an ancient Incan burial ground, I am out of here," Mikey interrupted.
"-top of the site of the original house," Gerard went on, rolling his eyes. "So the basic footprint is the same, but the internal structure is different. The soul, or whatever it is, probably doesn't know it's in the air conditioning. It probably thinks it's in a bedroom or something."
"The soul," Ray repeated. "So, it's trapped here? Why?"
"We don't know," Brian said. "Maybe nobody said the Last Rites over them."
"We don't call it that anymore," Gerard corrected him. "It's the Anointing of the Sick now."
Frank looked up. "Wait...if nobody says the Last Rites over you, you don't get into Heaven? What if you don't die anywhere that there's a priest?"
"It's the Anointing of the Sick," Gerard repeated. The beads rattled as he moved onto the next one. "And if a devout person dies without confessing their sins and having their soul purified before death, they go to Purgatory and they can be purified there."
Brian frowned. "I thought it was Limbo."
"No, that's unbaptized infants," Gerard said absently, and then jumped when Frank made an angry noise. "What's the matter?"
Frank was staring at him, his hands resting in fists on his knees. When he spoke, his voice was low and tight. "Unbaptized babies don't go to Heaven?"
"What?" Gerard said, startled. "No – Frank, of course they do. It's an incredibly old theological hypothesis based on the concept of original sin, it's not official doctrine."
"Who the fuck would theorize about dead babies going to Hell?" Frank snapped.
"Well, Saint Augustine taught that the only salvation from original sin was baptism, so unbaptized infants would go to Hell, and Limbo was one of the counter-theories," Gerard started, but then Frank made another noise and Gerard held his hands out, palms up, hurrying to add, "Look, it was a long time ago and it's not true anyway. Frank - Frank, listen to me, the Catechism quotes Christ as saying 'Let the children come to me, do not hinder them', and states that we can trust God with the souls of children who die unbaptized."
Frank seemed like he didn't believe Gerard, which was totally weird, because Gerard never lied. His jaw worked a bit and his eyebrow twitched the way it always did when he was picking a fight. "So they go to Heaven?"
"Of course they do, of course," Gerard said, resting his fingertips against Frank's knees. "The Pope has a whole commission dedicated to making the doctrine more compassionate, and even if he didn't, it's not like Catholic dogma is the last word on the fates of our immortal souls. God's the only one who could decide something like that, and I don't believe a God who is loving and merciful would send babies to Hell."
Frank looked at Mikey. Mikey nudged his knee. "You don't even believe in Heaven, dude."
"Not a Heaven babies can't get into, I don't," Frank said hotly. Gerard looked totally heartbroken, though, and Frank softened minutely when he looked back at him. "All right, fine. You say they go to Heaven, I'll believe you."
Gerard smiled. "Good."
Mikey saw Ray and Brian exchanging relieved glances out the corner of his eye. Frank's anti-Church outbursts had been getting more and more regular lately; anything he could pick on, he did. It was sort of annoying. Mikey didn't know why Frank kept being surprised that the Church had batshit crazy policies sometimes. It wasn't like it was a secret.
"So according to the Church, a Catholic who dies without the Anointing thing goes to Purgatory, right?" Bob waited for Gerard to nod, then went on, "So why wouldn't this ghost or whatever go there?"
Gerard shrugged. "Maybe they felt their earthly life wasn't over without the Sacrament, I don't know."
"What if they weren't even Catholic?" Mikey said.
"We need to find that out," Brian nodded. "There's a public records office not too far from here. Father, you'll go and check that out?"
Gerard nodded. "Ray, you wanna come with me? I thought you might need to pick up some ingredients."
"Yeah, definitely." Ray went over to his bag and started poking through it. "Lemme just make a list."
"Me and Bob'll go back to the house and try to figure out how we can get to…whatever it is." Brian stood up, rolling the blueprints back up again. "I think we want to avoid knocking Craig's walls down if it's at all possible."
"What should we do?" Frank said.
"You rest," Gerard said firmly.
Frank said, "Ugh," and flopped back down against the pillows, scowling.
"Mikey, you make sure he does," Brian added. Mikey gave him the thumbs up.
Ray stood up, holding a piece of paper in his hand. "Okay, ready when you are."
"Let's go." Gerard unwrapped his rosary and started to put it back in his pocket, but then Frank stuck his hand out and Gerard handed it over to him, instead. "We'll be back soon, guys. Don't do any experiments with Ray's herbs."
"That was one time," Mikey said.
Ray tugged on Mikey's hair as he passed. "See you later."
"We'll be here," Frank said glumly, watching them all troop out of the room. "Doing nothing."
Mikey wriggled up to lie next to him on the bed. "Gee's right, Frank. You should probably sleep or something."
"I don't want to," Frank said stubbornly. "God, this sucks. I hate being sick."
"I know. You might not get really sick this time if you can rest, though." Mikey watched Frank's fingers moving on Gerard's rosary beads. "You could probably buy your own, you know."
Frank shrugged. "I like this one."
Mikey turned the TV on, low, just the local news, nothing interesting. There was an item about the fire service, another one about a dog getting rescued from a drain. Mikey turned to Frank at that one, but Frank was already gone, eyes closed and mouth open, the rosary beads still clasped loosely in his fist. He already looked better for having eaten and showered and shaved, but he still had deep purple shadows under his eyes. Mikey put the TV on mute for a second, and listened to Frank's breathing. It was deep and steady, no rattle in his chest.
Mikey turned the sound back on, keeping it down to a hum. There was an item about a show, hundreds of kids lined up outside a venue in the rain, all wearing big smiles and disposable ponchos and, as far as Mikey could tell, identical haircuts. Mikey didn't hear the name of the band, but he recognized Pete Wentz when they showed a picture of him, smiling in a suit at some event.
When they ran a few seconds of concert footage, Mikey felt like he'd been punched in the gut. He grabbed for the remote, only to realize you couldn't rewind regular TV, cursed, and pushed himself up to scramble off the bed and get closer to the screen. There was nothing out of the ordinary happening, the band were just playing, lights flashing, like a normal show, but Mikey had the weirdest feeling washing through him, an urgent pulse under his skin, like he had to say something or do something, like something really bad was going to happen and Mikey was the only one who knew about it.
The item finished and the newscaster's wide, lipsticky smile filled the screen again. Mikey sat on the floor, back against the bed, and felt the bad feeling disappear, fading rapidly with every second. By the time the closing credits came up, it was like it had never happened.
"Weird," said Mikey. He pulled himself back onto the bed, and thought about waking Frank up to tell him about it. Frank really needed to sleep, though, if they were going to be fighting later.
Mikey settled next to him instead. He thought about calling his Mom, and then he thought about repacking all his shit, and then he fell asleep before he could do any of it. He didn't dream of anything, and the next thing he knew was someone shaking his shoulder, and waking up to find Gerard's eyes blinking right in Mikey's face.
"Rise and shine, sleeping beauties," Bob was saying, jostling Frank awake with his knee. "Time to go to work."
"I think her name is Lucy Thomas," Gerard said when they were all settled around the bed. "She's the only person on record to have died on the premises. She died at home from influenza."
"She was a Catholic," Ray put in. "And she did have a Catholic burial, but when she was dying, although a priest was called, the Last Rites - "
"The Anointing of the Sick," Gerard sighed.
" – were never given," Ray finished.
Bob frowned. "Why not?"
"Her husband, James, wasn't a Catholic," Gerard said. "Apparently he wouldn't allow the priest to see her."
Frank made a disgusted noise. "What a douchebag."
"Well, people behave strangely when they're faced with loss," Gerard said.
Gerard and Ray had brought back a copy of a picture of Lucy Thomas; Mikey picked it up and looked at it. She was smiling, and her hat had flowers in it. Her husband looked tall and stern, and he was wearing a really stupid jacket. His facial hair was pretty amazing, though, big muttonchop sideburns joined up with a handlebar over his top lip.
"The douchebag has an awesome mustache," Mikey said. Frank leaned over to see.
Brian was frowning at the record of her death. "So, all you have to do is perform the La – uh, Anointing of the Sick, on Lucy, and she can go free?"
Ray nodded. "Assuming we're right about who it is, I guess?"
"It's a little more complicated than that," Gerard said. "There's a lot of different parts to the sacrament, it's not all chanting and candles. I'd need to anoint her with holy oils, I should hear her Confession first, and there's also the Viaticum to consider."
Bob frowned. "What's that?"
"It means 'provisions for the journey'," Gerard explained. "It's the last Communion a Catholic takes in their life, it's – it's to make sure they die with Christ instead of dying alone."
"What the fuck kind of husband was this guy that he said no to that?" Frank was all tense next to Mikey, his fingers twisted hard around the rosary beads.
Gerard looked up at him. "It's most likely he didn't understand it. It's hard to explain things to non-believers sometimes."
"You do it just fine," Frank said shortly.
"Well, your wife isn't dying," Gerard said gently. "And if he didn't attend church, the priest would have been a total stranger to him. He probably wanted to spend his last few moments with his wife alone."
"Yeah, well, now she's spent the last few decades trapped between planes of existence," Bob said. "I'm with Frank on this one."
Brian cleared his throat. "Putting aside their marital problems for a moment, can I ask a question? How are you going to give Communion to someone who's already dead?"
"Oh, God." Mikey looked at Gerard. "She's not, like – I mean, she doesn't have a body, right? She's not gonna be all decomposed or anything?"
"She's a lost soul, Mikey," Gerard said in a duh voice. "Not a zombie."
"Be easier to get rid of if she was a zombie," Mikey said under his breath. Frank laughed and bumped Mikey's elbow.
"As far as Brian and I could tell, she's in spirit-form," Bob said. "Craig hasn't seen any ghosts, and there weren't any fingerprints on those pictures that keep getting moved around."
"And therein lies the problem, because I can't anoint someone who isn't there," Gerard said. "Ray?"
Ray pushed his hair back from his face. "Okay, we really have two options. There's something we haven't tried before, which is an incantation to give a spirit corporeal form. It's really complicated, and pretty dangerous because we don't know how she'd react, how aware she would be of what's going on."
Ray hesitated, then said, "Well…I really think we should give this incantation a shot. It's something we should know how to do anyway."
"But this is supposed to be a quick and easy job, Ray," Brian said. "You said there's another option? Is it more straightforward?"
"It's complicated in its own way," Ray hedged, then sighed when Brian glared at him. "Giving the soul access to a physical conduit. But Gerard and I both think that-"
"I'll do it," said Frank.
"Frank, no," Ray shook his head. "It's too soon since the last time."
"We've never done this before!"
"This particular thing, no. But it's still mystical energy going through your body, Frank, and you're not fully recovered from-"
"I'm fine," Frank interrupted. "I can do it."
Gerard leaned forward. "Frank, I really think that we should-"
"What, waste time trying something complicated that we've never done before?" Frank clicked his tongue irritably. "Look, you've got your holy mojo going, Ray's all sorcerer guy; this is what I can do. I'm the Amazing Mystical Abuse Withstanding Boy."
"Maybe one of us should try instead," Mikey suggested.
Frank shook his head. "Like that time in Wisconsin when I got knocked out and Bob had to step up and almost bled to death?"
"I bled a tiny bit," Bob corrected him. "And only from the ears."
"Whatever," said Frank. "The point is that when it comes to channeling, you're all fucking hothouse flowers except for me. I can take it. It's fine."
"That isn't the only issue," Gerard said. "If this works the way we think it will, the moment when Lucy's soul leaves your body might be confusing for you."
Frank frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Well, there's not meant to be more than one soul in anyone's body at the same time," Gerard explained. "It's going to be a pretty tight fit, and when Lucy's soul is released from the mortal plane of existence…"
"Mine might try to catch a ride," Frank finished for him. He sat back on his heels and wrapped his arms around himself. "But you can stop that from happening, right?"
"We can try," said Ray, nodding anxiously. "But Gerard says that your body might get confused, might try to take its cues from Lucy."
"And Lucy's going to think that she's dying," Bob said quietly, looking up. "You're saying Frank has to override her."
"He has to keep himself alive," Gerard agreed. "It can take huge force of will."
Frank laughed shortly. "Who has more force of will than me, man?" Mikey opened his mouth – he didn't know what he was going to say, but it didn't matter because Frank cut him off. "I'm through talking about this, guys. Let's move on."
Gerard looked at Mikey, but Mikey just shrugged. There was no point trying to argue with Frank when he was like this.
"Our second problem is that the area we think Lucy's inhabiting is behind a wall." Bob pointed to show them, and they all leaned in to look. "The only way to access it is to knock it down, which we can't do because it's load-bearing, or Craig says there's a servant's stairway leading down from the attic. It was blocked off when the house was remodeled, but I took a look and I think it should be easy to pull down."
It was interesting, Mikey thought, how quickly they were able to get ready to help Craig. When they worked on the Cardinal's assignments it always took hours and hours of research and wrong turns while they tried to figure out the Cardinal's obscure instructions and hints.
This was much more straightforward. Request for services, information, payment. Mikey liked Craig already, even if he did look kind of like a Halloween mask.
He was helping Ray pack up his kit when Frank came over.
"Can I have the rest of that ink?" he pointed, and Mikey handed over what was left of the mixture from Bob's tattoo, along with a small, slim-handled brush. "Thanks," Frank said. "C'mon, Gee, you're up."
Gerard went to stand next to him, and Frank dipped the brush into the ink. He used his other hand to push Gerard's hair behind his ear, and tucked his fingers behind Gerard's collar, holding it down and out of the way. "Try to hold still," he murmured, and raised the brush to Gerard's throat.
Gerard's eyes slid closed, and Mikey looked back down at what he was doing. Ray got really upset if all the things in his bag weren't exactly where he thought they were. Mikey tried to concentrate on that.
"Okay," Frank said quietly, after a few minutes. "One sec."
He pushed up onto his toes a little, bracing his hand on Gerard's shoulder, and blew lightly over the symbol to dry it. Mikey could see the wet shine of the ink fade to matte.
"Thanks, Frankie," Gerard smiled when Frank was finished. He reached up to adjust his collar so it sat right underneath the symbol, and turned away from Frank to look at Mikey. "We ready?"
"As we'll ever be," Brian said, making shooing motions at them with his hands. "Today, people, today."
"You are way too excited about this," Ray told him as they trooped out of the motel. "Did you really miss capitalism so desperately?"
Brian grinned and raised his arms over his head. "Like you wouldn't believe."
"It's nice to see you've completely embraced the Lord's teachings about the virtue of poverty," Gerard said dryly, climbing into the van.
"There's nothing virtuous about running out of money for food," Brian told him as he settled into the front seat next to Bob. "How about I take care of our bank account, and you take care of our souls. Deal?"
Gerard shook his head. "Deal."
Bob started the engine, coaxing it into life by rubbing the steering wheel and crooning to it, which Mikey thought was creepy, but Bob swore was the only thing keeping the van running. "Everybody in?"
"All present and accounted for," Mikey confirmed, buckling himself in next to Frank. "Let's go kick some undead butt."
"You guys are really awesome for doing this," Craig said, after he'd shown them up to the attic. "Seriously, awesome."
"It's our pleasure," Gerard said, then wrinkled his nose. "I mean, not pleasure, we're not pleased this happened to you. But like, you're welcome. I mean, we want to help you."
"That wall I mentioned is over here, Gee," Bob said, herding Gerard away from Craig.
"Craig, I wonder if you have any of these items available?" Brian moved in, showing Craig the list Gerard had give him. "Can you show me to your kitchen?"
Craig nodded, leading Brian back to the attic stairs. "Yeah, of course. Anything you need. This is awesome of you, really."
Mikey rolled his eyes at Frank when they'd gone. "That guy is way too excited."
"Right?" Frank grinned. "This is awesome, Mikey! Don't you think it's awesome? You guys are awesome!"
"He's enthusiastic!" Gerard said, looking over. "I think it's cool. It makes me feel less guilty about taking his money."
Bob was kneeling next to what looked like a plastered-over door on the other side of the attic. He had his ear pressed to it and he was doing that knocking thing Mikey had seen his Dad do before. "This is definitely hollow."
"If we knock it down, isn't the ghost going to come whooshing out?" Frank wanted to know.
"I don't feel anything from up here," Gerard said, shrugging. He looked up at Mikey. "Do you feel anything?"
Mikey didn't see why he would know, but he put his head on the side and tried to listen, or something. He didn't feel anything except dryness in his throat from the dust, though. "No," he said after a minute. "I guess not."
Bob picked up his axe – they'd liberated it from the house of this crazy woman in Maine who was into fun with succubi, and it was seriously Bob's favorite thing in the entire world – and tugged a mask up over his mouth and nose. "Stand back."
They all retreated to the far side of the attic and watched Bob lift the axe up over his shoulder.
Mikey was always worried, when Bob got to knocking shit down like this, that something would, in fact, come whooshing out, but so far it hadn't and this time was no exception. It wasn't like it was on TV, with shrieking and rattling chains and screamy faces whizzing past you at a hundred miles per hour. It was just Bob, smashing the shit out of the plaster, and working up a serious cloud of dust, and it was the rest of them creeping forward to peer into the yawning hole he'd created, showing a tiny, curved staircase leading down to an empty, dark doorway, and it was a creeping feeling of unease crawling slowly up Mikey's spine and sliding its cold, spindly fingers around his ears.
"Gross," said Mikey quietly.
"Yeah," Frank agreed. He looked at Ray. "We ready?"
"Maybe I should go down first after all," Bob hedged, moving some rubble out of the way with his foot. "Just to check."
"Just to check what? It's not like we don't know what's down there," Frank said.
"We only think we know," Gerard said. He was on his knees on the dirty floor, opening his bag and setting things out around him; candles, little vials of oil and water. He looked up at Mikey. "Okay, after Ray comes out, I need you to go down and set this stuff out on whatever surface you can find, okay? Light the candles, and use one of them to come back up the stairs and lead me down to Frank. The rest of you can follow me."
"Does that include me?" Craig said, appearing suddenly at the top of the other stairs with Brian. He was holding a tray with a bunch of stuff on it – Mikey could make out a glass of water and a half a slice of bread on a plate. "Or should I leave? I don't want to be in the way."
Brian nodded. "I think you can stay. It's your house. Right, Father?"
Gerard nodded distractedly. "Yeah, it's probably best if you do. It can get pretty weird, though, so be prepared."
"Okay," Craig nodded enthusiastically and brought the tray over to Gerard. "Here, I got the things you asked for."
"Thanks." Gerard took it and started setting his things on there too. "Okay. Ray, Frank, whenever you're ready."
Mikey moved to the top of the staircase and watched Ray lead Frank down. Ray's flashlight cast a shaky light over the walls, and Mikey could see Frank's fingers curled in the back of Ray's T-shirt.
"Mikey," Brian said quietly, drawing Mikey away a little. "Is Frank okay to do this?"
Mikey shrugged. "He said he was, didn't he?"
"Right," Brian said. "But did he mean it?"
"He slept at the motel," Mikey told him. "I think he's okay."
Brian looked troubled, chewing on the inside of his lip and frowning, but he nodded. "All right. But I want you to stay close to him, okay? Just to make sure."
Mikey didn't know what the hell he was supposed to do if Frank exploded into flames or whatever, but he nodded anyway.
"Okay!" Ray's voice came floating up the stairs.
Gerard handed the tray to Mikey; it was heavy, and Mikey had to take each step carefully on the way down so he wouldn't spill the low dish of water in the center of the tray. The space under the stairs was pretty small, but fairly clean. It was freezing cold, which was strange because the attic had been pretty warm. Mikey felt a trail of goosebumps spiral up the back of his neck; he shivered, and the surface of the water did the same.
It was a small space, but there was room for Mikey to skirt around Ray and set the tray down near Frank's head. Frank was lying on one of their blankets from the van; it smelled strongly of cigarettes and coffee and a million different herbs, but it made Mikey feel better to know that Frank was lying on it; that he wasn't stretched out on the cold ground.
Frank's eyes were closed, and his feet were bare, and he was surrounded by tiny piles of what looked like the cheap pot pourri Mikey's Mom used to put around the house in an attempt to cover up the smell of stale smoke. Ray was kneeling outside the circle they made, and after Mikey set the tray down, he pulled a box of matches out of his pocket, and scraped one along the side so it lit with a scratch and a pop.
"I love this part," he murmured. He set the match to one of the piles, and for a moment it flared brightly, casting a warm glow over Ray's calm face.
The little pot pourri piles weren't touching, but after a moment the next one lit up by itself, followed by the next, and the next. When all of them were a light, the flames seemed to stretch out sideways, reaching out to each other, lifting and joining until they weren't flames anymore but a thin beam of light, a perfect golden circle hovering a few inches above the floor. It was fucking cool.
"Remember not to break the circle," Ray said to Frank. "Gerard can pass through it to get to you, but not the rest of us, okay?"
Frank nodded. "Keep your arms and legs inside the magic at all times, check," he said. He took a few deep breaths.
Ray looked up at Mikey. "Okay," he said.
Mikey lit one of the candles and climbed the stairs again, one of his hands cupped carefully around the flame to protect it from the weird shifts in air pressure he could feel. Gerard was standing at the top of the stairs, wearing his purple scarf thing around his neck. A stole, he called it. It was flat and silky and had a gold cross stitched into either end.
Gerard never wore his full robes. He did have them, and Mikey had seen him in them a bunch of times when he was working in an actual church, but maybe thirteen layers of billowing skirts weren't exactly the most practical thing to wear on the road.
"Guys, follow Mikey," he said. "Kneel down in the space, but leave room for me to get to Frank."
Mikey led them back down, and moved to kneel by Frank's head. Frank was wiggling his bare feet from side to side and flexing his fingers; Mikey concentrated on that.
"How long does it usually take?" Craig whispered. "Channeling?"
"It depends," Brian murmured back. "We can't always tell from outside, but once Frank says it's started, we try to keep it as brief as possible."
Craig nodded. "Why's that? Is it dangerous?"
"It's not good for the body to have so much energy running through it," Bob told him. "Frank's pretty tough, though."
The staircase creaked, and Gerard came into view. He'd taken his stole off again; Mikey could see it peeking out of his pocket.
"God's peace be in this home," he said when he reached the bottom of the stairs.
The guys murmured back, "And in all who live here."
Gerard moved over to the tray, and placed a little vial on it. He took his stole out of his pocket again, re-settled it around his neck, and then stepped over the circle of light Ray had made.
It flared briefly and Ray shot Brian a nervous look, but nothing happened. Gerard knelt down by Frank. He was holding his rosary in one hand; he caught the crucifix on the end between two fingers and offered it to Frank, sliding his free hand under Frank's head.
Frank lifted up enough to press his lips to the crucifix in a kiss, then blinked his eyes open when Gerard settled him back on the floor.
"That wasn't me," he said. "She's here."
Gerard nodded and took another vial – Holy Water – from the tray. The circle's glow flared every time his hands passed in and out of it, but Gerard didn't seem to notice. His face was smooth and calm, still in a way it had never been when they were kids. Mikey still wasn't used to it.
Gerard gave Frank a small smile, then, passing his hand briefly over Frank's hair. "We'll do the CliffsNotes version, okay? If you start to feel like something's wrong, or you can't take it, I want you to tell us right away."
"Okay," said Frank.
"Mikey's going to stay next to you the whole time." Gerard stood up and started pacing slowly up and down the length of the small space, tipping Holy Water onto his fingers and sprinkling it as he walked.
"Purify me with hyssop, Lord, and I shall be clean of sin. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Have mercy on me, God, in your great kindness. Glory be to the Father, the Son, and to the Holy Spirit."
"As it was in the beginning," Mikey replied, along with the other guys. "Is now, and shall ever be. Amen."
"Purify me with hyssop, Lord," Gerard repeated, changing his path now to move across the width of the room instead. "And I shall be clean of sin. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."
He came back to Frank, putting the vial of Holy Water back in his pocket.
"Lucy?" he said gently, taking Frank's hand. "Lucy, would you like me to hear your confession?"
"She's scared," Frank said roughly, his eyes closed. "She doesn't know where she is."
"It's all right, Lucy," Gerard said, in the smooth, even voice he only ever used when he was working. The first time Mikey had heard it he'd been totally weirded out. "I'm here to help you. I just need you to follow the sound of my voice, can you do that?"
Frank gasped and convulsed again on the blanket, and Mikey saw Ray move to stop Bob when he reached for him. "Don't break the circle, Frank," he said. "Try to keep still."
"Trying," Frank gasped, writhing in place. "Fuck, this is so weird."
Gerard untangled his hand from Frank's and used it to stroke his hair off his sweaty face. Frank had gone so pale that the scars on his forehead were standing out, visible even in the gloomy candlelight. "We're not going to hurt you," he said. "We're here to help."
Frank convulsed again, his head knocking against the ground so loudly Mikey winced in sympathy. "Fuck," he strangled out, and then when he spoke again, even though it was still his voice, he sounded completely different. "Who are you? What are you doing in my house?"
"My name is Father Way," Gerard said, taking Frank's hand again. "I've been called to hear your confession. You've been sick, Lucy, do you remember?"
Although Frank had never actually channeled a ghost before, anytime he had to let something go through him like this, the first part was always the worst to watch. Frank's willingness to help wasn't enough; he'd told Mikey that no matter how hard he tried to relax and just let it happen, the minute he felt anything inside his mind that wasn't supposed to be there, he started trying to force it back out. It always resulted in Frank thrashing around and saying, "I fucking know, asshole," through gritted teeth when Brian inevitably told him, "You have to relax."
Mikey didn't bother anymore. It sucked to see Frank in pain, but there was nothing Mikey could do about it; he just waited for Frank to fight it out with himself until eventually he stopped moving and went still, breathing fast and wearing a frown, but otherwise okay.
After that it was mostly all right. Mikey didn't like it when Frank said things that obviously didn't come from him, or when he didn't recognize them. He wasn't really clear on the mechanics of it all – he didn't know if Frank was still in there, or if he had to temporarily vacate the premises, or if he was just hidden away in like, his soul's storage closet, or what. Frank usually said he couldn't remember much of it, afterwards, although once or twice he'd told Mikey some stuff when the others weren't around.
Mikey would never say this to Gerard, but the actual ritual parts of the proceedings were dull as shit. Mikey didn't understand Latin, and the parts in English were totally boring. It wasn't like when they had to do chanting for Ray's spells or whatever, because then at least there was stuff to look at, smoke and lights and stuff. Listening to Frank relay sins that weren't even sins – apparently Lucy felt really bad about having spoken harshly to the cook one time, whatever - and then say like nineteen Hail Marys with Gerard wasn't exactly a thrill ride. Mikey refused to feel guilty for letting his mind wander off.
He only really started to pay attention again when he heard Gerard finishing up, heard the, "In your all merciful and loving forgiveness," that signaled the end of the rite.
"Through Christ our Lord," Gerard finished, and Mikey leaned forward, ready to remind Frank of who he was and what was happening when he came back to himself.
"Amen," he murmured along with everyone else, and the light around Frank flared brightly for a second before fading into nothingness, leaving traces of soot on the floor.
Gerard put his rosary down and sat back on his heels. He touched Frank's cheek. "Frank? You alone in there?"
Frank didn't open his eyes. He didn't say anything or move at all, in fact, which was weird because usually he came crashing back into his body like a freight train, flailing around everywhere and spitting curses into the air.
This time he was totally still. He was breathing; Mikey could see his chest moving up and down, but his face looked like he was sleeping, like totally serene.
"Frank?" Gerard said again, frowning. He put his hands on Frank's shoulders and shook him a little. "Frank, come on, wake up now."
Frank still didn't move. Mikey had a horrible feeling in his stomach, cold and sick like he'd swallowed a pint of ice water. He put his hands on Frank's clammy face and neck; pulled his head to rest in Mikey's lap. He felt under Frank's jaw – he had a pulse, steady as always, which made the tension in Mikey's chest unwind some. "Frankie, man, come on, it's over. Frank. Dude, this isn't funny, cut it out."
"What's going on?" Craig wanted to know. "Is something wrong?"
Gerard met Mikey's eyes for a second, looking as clueless as Mikey felt. Mikey really hated that. "I'm not sure. Ray, you have any brimstone with you?"
Ray was already there, uncapping the little jar and holding it under Frank's nose like with smelling salts in old movies. It was strong enough to make Mikey cough and turn his face away, but Frank didn't even flinch.
"Guys?" It was Brian, hovering behind Mikey. "He okay?"
"Frank!" Mikey called, slapping the side of his face lightly, trying to keep breathing himself. "What do we do, Gee?"
"Try this." Bob moved in and grabbed the glass of water off the tray; he splashed it over Frank's face in one quick movement and Frank flinched, suddenly, then blinked his eyes open and started coughing.
"What the fuck," he croaked, wiping at his eyes, and Mikey had to restrain himself from punching him in the stupid face for scaring them all like that.
"Asshole," he said instead, hugging Frank a little closer on his lap. He pushed Frank's hair back down to cover his forehead. "What the hell."
Frank spluttered a little more, then started trying to sit up. Mikey pushed and Bob pulled, and between them they got Frank mostly upright, the color already flooding back into his cheeks.
"You're a dick," Bob informed him. "You just wanted to scare us for the fun?"
"You need to reconsider that definition of fun, dude," Frank said, propping his elbows on his knees. He dropped his head and took a few deep breaths. The back of his T-shirt was soaked in sweat. "Fuck. Okay, that wasn't my favorite thing I've ever done, just for the record."
"I told you," Ray said, shaking his head as he recapped the brimstone. "I said you weren't ready, and you were all, no no, I can take it, I'm the Ubermensch."
Frank laughed into his knees. "I don't even know what that is, Toro."
Mikey tried to catch Gerard's eyes, but he wasn't looking; he was carefully rewinding his rosary and putting it away.
From the corner, Craig burst out, "That was awesome! The way you channeled her? And all the prayers? That was amazing! You can actually feel that she's gone!"
Bob got to his feet and held out a hand for Frank, pulling him into a standing position. "I was worried. You didn't even try to punch anybody in the face this time."
"Yeah, I'm a pro," Frank groaned, knotting his hands and stretching his arms out over his head. He nodded at Gerard and Ray. "Mostly I just lay there, dude, it's these guys you should be thanking."
"But I am!" Craig came forward and started shaking all their hands, grinning his creepy grin all over his face. "I'm thanking all of you! Seriously, awesome, amazing. Thank you so much!"
"You're welcome," Gerard smiled, tugging his stole from around his neck and folding it with small, nervous movements of his hands. "It's our pleasure, really."
"Speak for yourself," Frank remarked.
"I've never seen anything like that before!" Craig was enthusing to Ray. "How did you find out you could do this stuff? Did you train? Are you in a coven?"
"Uh," Ray said brilliantly, and then Brian stepped in, inserting himself between Ray and Craig and leading Craig off towards the stairs.
"I'm so happy we could help you out," he said smoothly, stepping back to let Craig go first. "I hope you'll remember us if you should ever run into a problem of a similar nature in future?"
Mikey watched them climb the stairs, then raised an eyebrow at Frank. "If Brian had a superpower…"
Frank laughed, rolling his neck on his shoulders. "Right?"
"I thought that went really smoothly, today," Bob said, drumming his fingers against the wheel while they were waiting for a light to change. "I mean, apart from Frank's little dramatic turn at the end. Much less exploding and blood than usual."
Gerard hummed in agreement, looking out of the window. "It was fairly routine, I thought."
"Do you think we're getting better, or do you think it was just easy?" Ray put in.
"I think money is a great motivator," Brian said blissfully from the front seat.
Gerard made an unhappy noise. "Our motivation is supposed to be helping people."
Brian twisted around to face him. "What was our agreement, Father?"
"You bank, me souls," Gerard recited dutifully. "It's just that-"
"You're thinking about it wrong," Mikey interrupted, before Gerard could bore everyone to death. "We were really helping Lucy, not Craig, and it's not like she could pay us."
"Yeah, it's like Craig made a charitable donation on her behalf," Frank agreed.
Gerard chewed on his lip, considering. "I guess."
Mikey waited for the other guys to get involved in a conversation about how much they could afford to spend on food and how much they had to keep for supplies, and then slid as close as he could to Frank. "What happened?" he said quietly. "At the end?"
"Nothing," Frank hedged, but Mikey just kept looking at him until he sighed and rolled his eyes. "It was – I don't know, Mikey. It was just quiet, or something. Peaceful."
Peaceful, again. Until he got stigmata, Frank had never wanted to be peaceful in his life, Mikey was pretty sure. "Peaceful, huh."
"Peaceful," Frank repeated steadily. Mikey looked at him some more, and Frank got an irritated look on his face and said, "I'm still here, Mikey, stop freaking out."
"I'm not," Mikey said, but he let it go. It was hot and dark outside; cars whizzed past, and Mikey could hear a siren screaming. He pressed his foot against Frank's. Frank pressed back.
Mikey woke up in the middle of the night. Slowly, not all of a sudden, so he didn't have that sick feeling from jolting out of sleep; he just drifted gently back into consciousness, which was the best way. Except he had to pee, which was annoying.
He was unbelievably comfortable, even with Frank's knees jammed into the backs of his thighs, and for a long moment he just lay there, enjoying the warmth and the real bed and Gerard's still, silent, sleeping face on the pillow next to him.
Eventually, though, his bladder won out over his desire to lie still and not move, so he started wriggling downwards, because sleeping in the middle of six dudes on one bed meant that getting out the normal way was completely off the cards.
He thought he caught Gerard in the stomach with an elbow, and he heard Bob turning over, grumbling in his sleep, and then he slipped down over the foot of the bed and sat on the carpet for a minute, rubbing his eyes and convincing his legs to carry him.
The light switch was not where Mikey remembered it being, so he made do in the dark as best he could, then padded back into the bedroom. Frank and Gerard had both rolled into Mikey's spot. Gerard's hand was cupped around the back of Frank's head, and Frank had his arm slung over Gerard's waist, face tucked into the hollow of his neck.
Well, thought Mikey. Shit.
He hovered uncertainly at the foot of the bed, trying to decide what to do. He could try to wedge himself back in between them, but he didn't want to have to explain it if they woke up.
"Mikey?" Ray lifted his head slightly, peering sleepily through the gloom. "'Smatter?"
"Frank's in my spot," Mikey told him.
"Oh," Ray said, yawning. He shoved backwards, making Gerard squirm away from him and even closer to Frank, and held his hand out. "C'mere, there's room."
Mikey went and let Ray pull him down on the edge of the bed. It felt like he might fall off if he rolled over or breathed in too deeply, but Ray put his arms around him and hooked one of his feet through Mikey's ankles, and that felt better, like a full-body seatbelt.
"Goodnight, Mikey," he said quietly, giving him a little squeeze.
"Goodnight," Mikey said. He closed his eyes.
The next day, they were speeding down the highway when the van started making some really unpleasant noises.
"For the love of God," Bob complained. He poked at the dials on the dashboard, then sighed and announced, "There's a truck stop up ahead. We'll have to pull in."
"But we're making such good time," Brian argued. "Can't we push it a few more miles?"
Bob shrugged. "We can try, but I'm not scraping your charred remains off the highway when this thing explodes, okay?"
Brian sighed. "Fine, fine."
Mikey was secretly pleased. They'd been in the van for hours and his legs hurt from being folded up, plus he liked truck stops. There were always interesting people to watch, and arcade games.
"Arcade games," Frank said in his ear, and Mikey grinned at him.
As soon as they'd parked and used the bathroom and badgered Brian into letting them go to the Smoothie Hut, Mikey made a beeline for the games. He missed videogames so much, it wasn't even funny. It was just so therapeutic to mindlessly kill pixilated stuff, plus it was normal. Mikey had never thought of himself as someone who was particularly wedded to the idea of normality, but it turned out to be something you could have cravings for, when your life was one long deleted scene from The Exorcist.
He was this close to making the next level when a voice at his shoulder said,
"You should use your turbo power center."
Mikey was startled, and he tended to stop moving when he was startled, so his guy walked into a wall and proceeded to get eaten by the dragon.
"Awesome," said Mikey. The dragon flapped its wings and blew a celebratory gust of fire into the air, setting off giant flames which spelled out 'GAME OVER'.
Mikey sighed, grabbed his smoothie off the top of the machine and turned around.
Pete Wentz was standing there, drinking a smoothie of his own through a straw. He was wearing a hoodie drawn up over his head, and he had on giant sunglasses pulled down to the end of his nose. He was peering over the top of them at Mikey. He was really short.
"Sorry," said Pete Wentz.
"You're Pete Wentz," Mikey said, even though Pete Wentz probably knew that.
Pete Wentz nodded solemnly. "I am."
They regarded each other over the tops of their smoothies for a while.
"You can tell me who you are," Pete Wentz said eventually. "That might get us on more of an even footing."
"Mikey Way," Mikey said.
"It's nice to meet you, Mikey Way," Pete said, smiling a smile so big it took up half of his face, and most of the room they were standing in.
Mikey gave Pete a smile in return. He knew it wasn't as impressive, but Pete looked pleased anyway. "I bet you say that to all the strangers you meet at rest stops."
Pete laughed and shook his head. He fished in his pocket and dug out some coins. "Wanna play again?"
Mikey looked around. He could see Bob and Brian having a serious conversation which involved a map. Ray was trying to win something on the grabby machine, and Frank was sitting on the floor next to him, scribbling in his journal. Gerard had pulled the lid off his smoothie and was staring into the cup like it contained the answers to life, the universe, and everything. As Mikey watched, he stirred with his straw, raised his eyebrows, then frowned.
Pete's hand waved around under Mikey's nose. "C'mon, there's a two-player option," he said. "I feel bad that I made you die. Best of three?"
Pete was pretty fun to play video games with. He wasn't very good, but he made up for it by yelling hilarious things when he died.
"You should have used your turbo power center," Mikey told him smugly near the end of the second game, and then drop-kicked Pete's guy before slicing him in half with his sword.
"Fuck!" Pete laughed, throwing his hands up. "I bow to your superior skills in fighting evil, my friend."
Mikey waved his hand. "You shouldn't feel bad. I'm like a professional."
Before Pete could say anything, Frank was tugging at Mikey's sleeve. "Hey," he said, looking curiously at Pete. "We gotta make a move, man."
"Okay," Mikey said. He turned back to Pete. "I have to go, I guess."
Pete's smile dimmed a little bit, but he nodded. "Yeah, of course."
"Okay." Mikey had this weird urge to ask Pete if he was okay, suddenly. Or to tell him about what he'd felt when he saw the band on TV, but what was he supposed to say? 'Had any paranormal religious experiences lately?' Pete would just think he was a crazed fan, or something. "So, it was nice kicking your ass," Mikey said in the end.
"The pleasure was all mine," Pete laughed, stepping back. Then, as Mikey turned to go, he moved forward again, jerkily, and he looked surprised, like he hadn't known he was going to do it. "Um."
Mikey exchanged glances with Frank. "Pete?"
Pete took a breath, hesitated, then shook his head. "Nothing, man. Forget it."
"Okay." Mikey waited another moment, then stuck out his hand for Pete to shake. At the last minute he thought he should maybe do something cool like bumping fists, instead, and ended up just making a limp claw in the air.
Frank snorted, but Pete didn't seem to mind – he just wrapped his whole hand around Mikey's and shook it, twice.
"I-" Mikey started to say, and then he rocked backwards into Frank, a wave of bad feeling rushing over him, just as unexpected as it had been when he saw Pete's band on TV, but ten times as strong. It was coupled with that urgent rush of do something do something, and Mikey thought he saw an answering panic in Pete's eyes before Mikey ripped his hand out of Pete's grip and staggered back onto his feet again, steadying himself on Frank's arm.
"Mikey?" Frank searched Mikey's eyes with his own, his eyebrows drawn together with concern. "What is it?"
"I don't know." Mikey looked at Pete, who was giving him a really weird look. Mikey tried to think of something to say that would make him look like less of a freak, and came up with nothing.
Just then, a giant dude came up behind Pete and put a hand on his shoulder. "Pete," he said gently. "What did we agree you would not do at rest stops anymore?"
"Wander off and talk to strangers," Pete said in the manner of someone who'd repeated that sentence a lot. "But Charlie, I wasn't-"
"It's time to get back to the bus," Charlie interrupted. He flashed Mikey and Frank a glance. "Sorry, guys, but time waits for no man, not even this dude here."
"No problem," Frank said, giving Charlie a little salute.
"Yeah," said Pete slowly. "I guess I have to go. It was really nice meeting you, Mikey Way."
"You too," said Mikey weakly. Charlie steered Pete away, urging him forward even when Pete tripped over his own feet because he was craning his neck to look back at them. "Awesome," said Mikey to Frank. "Now he thinks I'm a weirdo."
Frank put his arm around Mikey's shoulders and turned him around, walking them towards the exit. "Mikey, you are a weirdo. Now tell me what the fuck just happened back there. I know a life-changing handshake when I see one, man. I've been there."
Mikey relayed the whole thing to Frank on the way back to the van, and then again to the guys, who were standing around watching Bob frown at the engine.
"You had a vision in the motel room and you didn't think to tell any of us about it?" Gerard shook his head and lit a cigarette. "Mikey, I swear."
"It wasn't a vision," Mikey said, rolling his eyes. "It was just a bad feeling."
"But you had the bad feeling again when Pete shook your hand?" Brian was sitting in the driver's seat of the van, leaning out of the open window. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Frank having a good feeling when the Father shook his hand turn out to be a pretty big fucking deal?"
"Okay," Bob said, from under the hood. Brian sat back in the van and turned the ignition. Nothing happened. "Shit," said Bob.
"Look, it doesn't matter now anyway," Mikey said. "He's gone back to his tour or whatever, and we have to get to Chicago."
"Try it now," said Bob. Brian did. Nothing happened again. "Motherfucker," said Bob.
"But isn't that where they're from?" Ray said, jerking his chin towards the line of buses they could see winding around the other side of the parking lot. "Fall Out Boy, I mean?"
Frank pointed at Ray. "The man's right."
Gerard looked impressed. "How do you even know that?"
Ray looked confused. "I don't know. The same way I know Britney Spears is from Louisiana, I guess."
"We used to watch MTV before you came along," Frank said. "Back when we lived in the world."
Gerard rolled his eyes. Frank blew smoke in his face and grinned.
"Now, Brian," Bob said. Brian turned the key. Nothing happened. "Motherfucking cocksucking fuck," Bob said, standing up and stomping a few paces away. He laced his hands behind his head and breathed out, slowly, a habit he'd picked up from Gerard. He looked at Ray. "I don't suppose you have any vehicular spells up your sleeve?"
"Not exactly," Ray shook his head. "You want me to try?"
Bob held his hands up in surrender. "Be my guest."
Frank turned to Gerard. "What exactly has the Cardinal told you about whatever's going down in Chicago?"
"Not much." Gerard pulled his unicorn notebook – actually, it was Mikey's unicorn notebook, but he knew by now he was never getting it back – out of his pocket and flipped through. "Surge of dark energy, disruption in the balance, some kind of drain on positive energy."
"Wow," said Frank. "Narrowing it down is not the Cardinal's strong point."
Gerard looked at Mikey. "You think this Pete guy's involved?"
Mikey thought about the way Pete had seemed to want to tell him something, about the unease Mikey had felt when they touched. "Maybe," he said. "I didn't get the bad guy vibe from him, though."
"Okay," Ray called to Brian. "Try it now."
Brian turned the key, and the engine exploded. Well, Mikey thought it was the engine. Whatever it was, it was really fucking loud and it sent black shit and bits of van flying everywhere, and it had enough force behind it to knock Ray off his feet and send him skidding across the parking lot until he came to rest on a patch of scrubby grass verge.
"Toro!" Bob ran over and crouched down; Mikey followed him. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Ray slurred. He didn't look fine; his face was black and his hair was all sticking straight out from his head like in a movie after the crazy scientist blows up his lab. "Brian."
"He's okay!" Gerard called, helping Brian out of the van. Brian wobbled a little; Frank caught his shoulders to steady him.
Ray groaned and let Mikey pull him into a sitting position. "I did not know that was going to happen."
"I don't think any of us did." Brian was patting his pockets. He stopped when Frank handed over his own cigarette. "Was all that shit that just came flying out important?"
"Not as important as you guys," Gerard said anxiously. "Are you sure you're not hurt?"
Ray waved him off and stood up, a little shakily. "I'm fine. I'm not sure as much can be said for the van, though."
Bob moved back to the van cautiously, and peered into the smoking mess under the hood. "It really can't."
They all stood around staring at the van for a while, like it would magically fix itself if they waited long enough and didn't make any sudden movements. Eventually, Gerard – because Gerard was always the first person to break a silence - said,
"Do you think it's still going to get us to Chicago?"
Brian stared at him for a second, then carefully said, "No, Father. No, it's not."
"We can get on a bus," Frank suggested. "Or a train."
"With all our shit?" Bob made a face. "What about Gerard's books and everything?"
"I need my books," Gerard said immediately.
"Guys," said Brian. "Never mind our gear, we can't afford six last-minute tickets to Chicago. Not unless we run across another haunted billionaire on our way to the bus station."
Ray was rummaging in the back of the van, and he reappeared with a much cleaner face and a seriously grubby baby wipe clutched in his hand. "What if we hitchhike?" he said, scrubbing at his neck. "People have to stop for a priest, right?"
"All those people with empty minivans who trawl the highways looking for stranded clergymen and their friends, yeah." Gerard ground his cigarette out with the heel of his boot, then looked up at the sky, squinting. "You don't make it easy, you know that?"
"Besides," Frank put in, "That's how horror movies start. The hitchhiker always ends up dead. Or really traumatized."
Mikey blinked away the image of them getting chased by mutant hillbillies. "Gee, what if you get on a bus and we'll just catch up with you when we can?"
"Fuck that," Frank said, frowning. "The whole reason we took that job from Craig was so we could stay together."
Gerard rubbed his hands over his face, sighing. "You're right, Frank, but we may not have a choice, here. I have to get to Chicago."
"We're going to Chicago."
Mikey turned around, and there was Pete Wentz, again. This time he was with the little dude in the trucker hat Mikey recognized from their videos.
"Hi," said Mikey.
"Hi!" Pete flashed him another huge smile. "We heard your van blow up! I made Patrick come with me in case you were dead."
Patrick smiled in an exasperated sort of way. "We're glad you're not," he added.
"This is Mikey," Pete said to Patrick, moving forward and grabbing Mikey's hand so he could stuff it into Patrick's and shake them both.
Mikey braced himself in case he had another wave of bad feeling, but it didn't happen this time. "Hi," he said to Patrick.
Patrick said, "Hi," and looked curiously at the other guys.
"Oh," said Mikey, "Right. Um, this is my brother Gerard."
"I like your outfit," Pete told him immediately.
Gerard looked down at himself. "Uh. Thanks."
"Is it for your show?" Pete went on, letting go of Patrick and Mikey and putting his hands in his pockets. "Can I give you some advice? You really shouldn't wear your stage clothes all the time, man, like, keep some separation of self, you know what I mean?"
Gerard gave Mikey a look of total panic, but Pete had already moved on to Brian. "Manager, right? Yeah, I knew it. You got that exasperated look."
Bob stepped in with, "Did you really hear the explosion from way over there?"
"We saw it, too, there was like, a mushroom cloud," Patrick said, holding his arms in the air to demonstrate. "I don't know anything about cars, but you must have done something really impressive to it."
Bob cut his eyes at Ray, who looked away guiltily. "I was just trying to help."
Pete had moved over to the van and was inspecting it fondly. "Man, I remember our days in a van. You know what, when you move up to a bus, you sort of miss the van? In the way where you never want to have to ride in one again. You guys don't even have a trailer, so you must be all folded up in there with your instruments…" he trailed off, looking in through the open doors. "Except you don't have any instruments. You just have a lot of books and…weapons and stuff." Pete drew back and raised his eyebrows at Mikey. "This is either the weirdest merch ever or you guys aren't in a band."
Patrick went and peeped over Pete's shoulder. He looked interestedly at Mikey. "Why do you have weapons and stuff?"
"I'm a collector," said Bob hurriedly.
"Me too," said Patrick. "But not of axes."
Pete had opened one of Ray's kit bags and was peering inside. "What's in the jars?" he wanted to know. He picked one up and went to open it, stepping back startled when Ray rushed over and snatched it out of his hands.
"Sorry," Ray said, setting the jar carefully back in the bag Pete had opened. "It's just, um, I make organic hair products? And some of the herbs are really sensitive to oxygen. This one isn't ready yet."
"Sure," Pete said easily, nodding.
Mikey sent Gerard a glance that meant Ray Toro: quick thinker, and Gerard sent one back that meant this Pete guy has no manners, seriously. Mikey replied, he's a rock star, give him a break.
"Cut it out," Frank said grumpily, waving his hand in front of Mikey's face. "Use your words."
"You don't mind when it's me and you," Mikey started, but then he was distracted by Pete's laugh, which was seriously loud and made him sound kind of like a cartoon character. It was awesome.
"I know," Pete was saying to Ray, "That's what I keep saying. But the kid loves his hats, what can I say?"
Patrick was rolling his eyes extravagantly next to him. "I think between you, Joe and Andy, we're doing okay in the hair stakes."
"So why do you need to get to Chicago anyway?" Pete said curiously. "I'm trying to think of a reason for a bunch of dudes to dress up like priests and travel around in a van that's not 'they're in a band', but I gotta be honest with you, I got nothing."
"Only Gee dresses like a priest," Frank said. "Because he is one."
Pete turned big eyes on Gerard. "Oh shit, for real?"
Gerard nodded. "For real."
"What about the rest of you?" Patrick wanted to know.
"I'm a body piercer," Frank volunteered, then pointed at Bob. "And Bob does tattoos."
Patrick looked expectantly at Brian. Brian said, "I'm still their manager."
"Huh," said Pete. He looked at Mikey. "What about you, Mikey Way?"
Mikey didn't know what to say. He didn't want to bust out 'receptionist' because it wasn't true now, and it had just barely been true when they worked in the shop. Also it sounded really lame.
He was saved from answering by Frank, anyway, who piped up, "Client liaison."
Pete and Patrick were still looking expectant, so Mikey said, "So we're a group of…traveling…personal grooming experts. I guess."
Patrick looked at Gerard. "And their priest."
"We're very spiritual," Ray mumbled.
"So do you guys want a ride?" Pete asked, just as Charlie came puffing up behind him, looking kind of crazed around the eyes. "Charlie, can we give these guys a ride?"
Charlie sighed. "Pete," he said in a pained voice.
"This isn't like last time," Pete said insistently. "Look, this guy's a priest. They're not going to roofie Patrick. Right?" he prompted them.
"Hadn't planned on it," said Bob.
Patrick said, "Pete, maybe this isn't-" but then Pete caught his elbow and leaned in, whispering urgently in Patrick's ear. Mikey couldn't hear what he was saying, but Patrick frowned, cast a quick, considering glance over Mikey, then touched Pete's arm and turned to Charlie. "We can shuffle the crew around, right? We've got spare bunks."
"I'll have to clear it with Dan," Charlie hedged, looking anxiously back towards the buses.
"That's a yes, Charlie," Pete grinned. "You know it and I know it."
"Like you'd ever hire anyone who could say no to you," Patrick said dryly.
"I hired you," Pete said, dancing out of reach when Patrick swung at his shoulder. "Come on, guys, you up for it?"
Gerard looked at Mikey. Mikey thought, he's our guy at him really hard, and relaxed when Gerard turned and passed it on to Brian.
"How long until you reach Chicago?" Brian asked Charlie.
"Less than a week," Charlie said.
Bob nodded to Brian. "We wouldn't be much faster driving ourselves."
Gerard fiddled anxiously with his sunglasses. "This is so kind of you. Are you sure it's no trouble?"
"Are you kidding?" Pete reached into the van and lugged out one of Ray's bags that was about as big as him. He staggered a little under the weight as he slung the strap over his shoulder. "You'd be doing us a favor, man, we can totally use you."
"We can like, work our passage," Frank said to Gerard. "I can pierce stuff. Not nipples."
Pete nodded enthusiastically. "C'mon, there's always somebody who needs a tattoo or a stupid haircut. It'll be awesome. Right, Patrick?"
Patrick said, "Yes," firmly, looking at Charlie rather than Pete.
Charlie threw his hands up. "Fine. But if Dan throws a shit fit, I'm telling him this was your fault."
They pushed the van across the parking lot to be near the buses – well, everyone else pushed. Mikey steered and Pete climbed in to the passenger seat.
"I'll be navigator," he said, curling his legs up underneath him. He pointed at the buses. "It's that way."
They loaded their heavy stuff into the baggage compartment on the bus, while Charlie climbed aboard and did whatever he needed to do to make a straggling line of sleepy-looking dudes clutching duffel bags and blankets trail down the steps and towards one of the other buses.
"Danny, make sure you go on Patrick and Andy's bus," Pete called, and a little guy with a bright red backpack lifted a hand in acknowledgment. "I don't want to deal with another one of your allergic reactions to Hemmy. That shit was like a horror movie."
"Who's Hemmy?" Mikey asked him.
"My dog. He's awesome."
Frank's head snapped up like he'd been shocked. "You have a dog? Here? On tour?"
"Yeah," Pete beamed. "You a dog person?"
"A dogless one, yeah," Frank said wistfully, and then they were interrupted by a dark-haired dude walking over, calling,
"Yo, Pete, word on the street is you've got us bunking down with a preacher man. Weird kids aren't doing it for you anymore?"
Pete said, "Hi, Cortez," and then turned to Gerard and said, "This is Matt Cortez. He's a guitar tech who will stop saying things that make me sound like the Child Catcher if he wants to keep his job."
Cortez didn't even look guilty, just grinned and waved.
"I gotta get back to my bus," Pete said. "Cortez, you wanna show these guys around?"
"Will do," said Cortez.
The inside of the bus looked exactly like the ones Mikey had seen on MTV Diary or whatever, which was weird and awesome. The driver was a big guy in a hat called Dave who grunted at them when Cortez pointed him out, and then they had to read a list of Bus Rules that was pinned to the fridge, before Cortez would show them anything else.
"And these are the bunks," he said in a low voice, leading them up the gangway. "They're small, but it should still be pretty fucking sweet after your van, right?"
Frank was staring into one of the bunks, his fingers tracing over the edge of the curtain. He turned to Cortez and said in an awed voice, "Do we get one each?"
Cortez smiled at Frank – it was a really specific kind of smile, Mikey thought, but Frank was too busy goggling at the bunk to notice. "Unless you get lucky."
"Thank the Lord," Bob said reverently.
"Amen to that," Brian agreed.
It was sad to leave the van behind. Gerard called someone he knew at Goodwill to come and collect it, so it wasn't like it was going to be left there to get stripped apart by kids or scavengers who would have no idea how much it had meant to them; everything it had seen. But still. Ray took a million pictures and Bob practically hugged it, and Mikey watched it get smaller and smaller through the window on the bus, until they turned out onto the highway and he couldn't see it anymore.
It was so weird to be able to stretch out his limbs and like, get up and move around. Cortez and Charlie crashed out in their bunks almost as soon as the bus pulled off, so once Mikey had stashed his shit he went into the big lounge area at the front with the rest of the guys.
Frank curled up in the corner of one of the couches with his books; he was plowing through one of Gerard's dry-as-shit tomes of religious lore, and alternating chapters with his millionth reread of Harry Potter.
Mikey slid into the other couch with Gerard, who looked up and said, "Oh hey, did you have any more visions you decided not to tell me about?"
Mikey rolled his eyes. "Don't be a bitch, Gee. I told you, I didn't think it was a big deal. We're here now, aren't we?"
"We are," Gerard agreed. He dropped his voice and murmured, "Pete seems to really like you. Maybe you can encourage him to confide in you, you know? Tell you if anything strange has been going on for him."
"I feel weird about it," Mikey said, because Pete had been super nice to them and Mikey felt like a tool for secretly thinking he was mixed up in some kind of dark magic or whatever.
"I know," Gerard said sympathetically. "I don't want you to lie to him. It's hard, like, I know we need to be discrete about stuff, but sometimes I feel like this line of work really calls for dishonesty."
"We can't just roll up to people and ask if they've sacrificed any virgins recently," Brian remarked from across the aisle, where he was sitting at the table with Ray and Bob.
"I know," Gerard said again. "Just sometimes it's hard to match it up with what I think is right."
Mikey slouched down in his seat and spread his legs way out across the available space, just because he could.
Frank got up then, knee-walking across the couch towards them. "All right, here's what I don't get."
Gerard folded his hands in his lap. "What don't you get, Frankie?"
Frank held up the book he was reading. "Everyone says Mary was a virgin until she died, right? But Mary and Joseph were Jewish."
Gerard nodded. "So was Jesus."
"Little known fact," Bob remarked.
Frank ignored him. "I just read in this book that for a marriage not to be consummated physically, back in those days? Was considered a sin under Jewish law. How does that even add up?"
Gerard nodded, chewing his lip, then settled back in his seat in the way that meant everybody should sit tight and get comfy. "Okay, first of all? Jesus was an only child officially, but there's a lot of evidence that he had siblings."
Frank frowned. "Evidence like what?"
"Like the fact that the Bible refers several times to his brothers and sisters," Gerard said, waving his hand. "Also at no point does it say that Mary remained a virgin after Christ's birth."
"Does it say she didn't?"
"Funnily enough, Frank, no, the Bible does not document the first time Mary and Joseph got down." Gerard folded his sunglasses up and hooked them over the top pocket on his shirt. "But it's just stupid . Why wouldn't they consummate their marriage? Whatever."
Frank thought about that. "But what about the Immaculate Conception?"
"Ugh," Gerard said, rolling his eyes. "That's not what Immaculate Conception means. That actually refers to Mary's own conception, the idea that she was born free from Original Sin."
Frank frowned, folding his arms over the back of the seat. He rested his chin on his hands. "Go on."
"Okay – for a long time, the belief was that after Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, all humans were born with Original Sin. That's not an active sin, it's like…the capability to sin. Also, no humans could go to Heaven until after Jesus died."
"From the beginning of creation until the Crucifixion?" Frank made a horrified face. "Where did they go?"
"Well, the bad guys went to Hell. And the good guys went to Paradise, which isn't the same as Heaven. It's not bad, but you're denied the divine presence. After Jesus died, He went to Paradise and collected all the souls there, and took them up to Heaven," Gerard explained. "If He hadn't lived and died as a human being, no human would be able to join God in the afterlife. That's why we say He died for our sins."
"How does Mary fit into all this?" Brian wanted to know.
"Well, the belief is that God created Mary free from Original Sin and filled with divine grace, so that she would be worthy to carry the Christ Child inside her. She's a hugely important figure for women especially, I mean, after all the Eve bullshit it's a pretty big deal for God to choose a woman to bear His child. He's God, He can do anything, right? He could just clap his hands," Gerard did so, loudly, "And make Jesus appear on Earth, but he didn't. There were no men involved in the creation of Jesus Christ. Just God and Mary. He was born of her flesh, not Joseph's. In many ways she's as big a part of our redemption as Jesus."
"So she was born without the capability to sin at all?" Bob had put his own book down and was leaning into the aisle, listening. "That's kind of an unfair advantage."
"Well, she was still created with free will," Gerard told him. "She actually hears a prophecy after Jesus is born that tells of the terrible sadness she'll have to endure, the swords that will pierce her heart."
"Like in those pictures you like," Ray said to Frank.
Gerard nodded at him. "Exactly. But she chooses to follow God's plan rather than trying to take her child and run away from it or whatever. The interesting part is the Immaculate Conception, this idea of Mary being free from sin? That was only defined as dogma in the nineteenth century. It was adopted by the Church because it was believed by so many people."
Frank blinked. "What?"
"It's called the sensus fidelium. Basically, a loophole exists where the Magisterium – that's like, the teaching body of the Church – can recommend that the Holy See take a belief that's widely held and make it into official doctrine. That's what happened with Mary."
"It's not in the Bible at all?" Frank said, gaping a little bit.
Gerard made a face. "Well, there's evidence to support it. Gabriel greets her by saying, 'Hail, full of grace'. Then Mary herself says to her cousin, 'for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because He that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is His name.' It's not a stab-in-the-dark belief, but it's not explicit either. The Holy See agreed to adopt it as doctrine because it was supported by the Scripture, but mostly because it was so widely upheld."
Frank shook his head, disbelief written all over his face. "So what, Catholicism is a choose your own adventure religion now?"
"Not exactly," Gerard said, smiling. "But it means that the belief system has some fluidity to it, which it should. Faith is fragile, it's transient, it needs to be nurtured and constantly reaffirmed. It can't be left to stagnate while the world moves on around it, and it should be there to reflect the beliefs of the people, not stifle them."
Frank gazed at him, not saying anything.
Gerard shifted and glanced uncertainly at Mikey before looking back at Frank. "What?"
"I just," Frank said, then cleared his throat. He played with a loose thread on his sleeve for a few seconds, then went on, "I really like listening to you talk, man."
"Well." Gerard went pink and looked down at his lap. He twisted his hands together, and coughed twice. "That works out, because I really like talking."
Frank laughed and shook his head. "Shit, you do."
Mikey concentrated really hard on tracing the pattern on the couch with his finger, and not on Frank making moon eyes at Gerard. The whole thing was ridiculous, and it annoyed Mikey that he didn't know what to do about it. Frank was pretending it wasn't happening at all. It was so weird, because usually Frank talked to Mikey about everything, even when Mikey would really rather he didn't, and now it was like there was this giant NO ENTRY sign over a whole area of conversation.
"Guys," he said, and Frank actually startled when he looked up, like he'd forgotten anyone else was there. For fuck's sake. "Should we be like, researching or something?"
"I'm not sure there's much else we can do right now," Gerard shrugged. "Not until we can get close to Pete again."
"He's not the bad guy," Mikey insisted, sitting up a little to catch Gerard's eye. "Gee, he isn't."
Ray said, "Mikey, you just met the guy, how can you possibly know?"
Mikey didn't know how to answer, because it was weird, like it was weird that he'd felt something when he saw them perform on the TV, like it had been when Pete touched him. You couldn't explain a belief, it was just there. He wondered if this was how Gerard felt when Mikey gave him all that shit after he first started going to church.
"I just know," he said lamely in the end, and when everyone started exchanging glances he backed it up with, "But it's not just me, okay. Pete totally acted weird too – Frank, you were there, you saw it."
Frank made a face and kind of shrugged. "He did seem a little edgy. Plus there was that whole whispering deal with Patrick."
"That's true," Brian agreed.
"He wouldn't have offered us a ride if he was a religious evil guy," Mikey pointed out. He looked at Gerard. "I mean, wouldn't he have tried to get as far away from you as possible?"
Bob nodded. "Mikey has a point. If he was using the tour to harvest souls or something, I don't think he'd be offering us a front row seat."
"And he seems really nice," Frank put in.
"When you got your cursed tattoo, was Luke wearing a shirt that said 'I'm Evil, Ask me How'?" Ray snapped, making Frank blink at him in surprise. "I'm just saying, there are a lot of serial killers who always seemed like a nice young man."
"Take it easy, Toro," Bob said, but Ray cut him off and turned to Gerard.
"Listen, you said thrall, right? Well, what if Mikey's under Pete's thrall right now?" he said heatedly. "And we're all 'oh, Pete's not evil' and we let Mikey go off with him and the next thing you know, he's eating bugs and developing a hunchback while Pete snacks on the blood of virgins in the other room."
Gerard had folded his arms, and he chewed on his lower lip, frowning like he was really thinking about that. "I see your point," he said slowly. "But I don't think Pete's Dracula."
"If he is," said Frank, "Then he's certainly developed an impressive resistance to sunlight. At noon."
Ray sighed and slumped down in his seat. "Fine. But don't say I didn't warn you."
Bob patted his head, and looked past him to Gerard. "Pete's reaction does seem weird, though. We need to find out what's going on."
"Agreed. Okay, so Frank, Ray, Bob: back when you worked in the shop, you said people always talked to you, right? While you were doing your thing?"
Frank nodded. "Couldn't shut 'em up."
"All right, well, we can use that to our advantage. Someone must know something, living in quarters as close as these. Anything weird, anything they couldn't explain, anything out of the ordinary. Get them to open up as much as you can without alerting their suspicions."
Brian stepped up next to Gerard, arms folded. "Father, you and I should go through the books."
Mikey said, "What about me?"
"You be yourself," Gerard said, coming to sit by him. He touched Mikey's knee. "People talk to you, they always have. And don't worry, okay? If you say Pete's clean, then he's clean. I believe you."
"Thanks," Mikey said. He covered Gerard's hand with his own and squeezed it a little bit.
"Uh," said a voice that didn't belong to any of them. "Did I sleepwalk onto the wrong bus again?"
There was a guy standing in the entrance to the bunks, wearing pajama pants and a serious case of bedhead. He looked really young, Mikey thought, but that might just have been because he was rubbing his eyes with his hands balled up into fists.
"Brian Schechter," Brian said, moving forward to shake the guy's hand. "Sorry about the surprise – our van broke down and Pete was nice enough to offer us a ride."
"Mark." Mark shook Brian's hand, then yawned hugely, scratching his bare chest. "Not the weirdest thing he's done this week. Hey, um," Mark glanced behind him and pointed vaguely back into the bunks. "Do you know where my brother is? Danny?"
"I think he's on Patrick and…Andy's bus?" Mikey said, and Mark nodded, yawning again.
"Okay," he mumbled, and he was halfway to the kitchen when he stopped, staring at Gerard. Or more specifically, at Gerard's collar. "Man," he said in a much sharper voice, "Please tell me you're on your way to a fucking costume party."
Gerard shook his head, smiling a little. "Afraid not."
"Jesus Christ," Mark pushed past him and started banging about in the kitchenette. "I am not calling you Father."
"You – uh, well, my name's Gerard," Gerard said faintly, then stepped back when Mark came slamming back out again.
"Fucking Pete Wentz," he muttered, and then he was gone, back into the bunks.
"Um," said Ray, raising his hand. "We were looking for somebody who acted weird?"
When they reached the venue, Mark stomped off the bus and disappeared immediately, presumably to find his brother, or complain to Pete about the unscheduled religious presence on his vehicle.
It was really weird, watching all these people streaming out of the buses, some of them carrying equipment or talking into radios, and the others just kind of milling about aimlessly, stretching their legs. A bunch of identical big dudes in yellow security T-shirts were lining the entrance to the parking lot, and Mikey could see a few kids already straggling around on the other side, holding cameras and handmade signs.
Gerard was looking around him like he'd just landed on Mars. "Where should we go?" he said, curling his fingers into Mikey's sleeve. "Who should we start with?"
Mikey didn't know either, and they all stood around like lost scouts for a minute, before Pete came bounding over, this time with a guy who had sleepy eyes and hair to rival Toro's.
"I brought your first customer," he told Ray gleefully. "Guys, this is Joe, our resident guitar hero. Joe, this is Mikey, Ray, Bob, Brian, and uh…" he trailed off, looking curiously at Gerard. "I guess…Father? Is that what we should call you? I gotta tell you, man, it's really bizarre to call a dude Father when he looks like he still gets carded."
"Gerard's fine. Whatever you're comfortable with, really."
Pete nodded and then added, "And the little one is Frank," grinning when Frank gave him a dirty look.
"The little one?" Mikey looked Pete up and down. "This coming from someone who probably needs a booster seat at the movies."
Pete laughed, delighted. "I told you he was funny," he said to Joe.
Charlie took them inside the venue and got them set up with passes, and Mikey knew it was lame to be excited about a piece of laminated plastic, but he couldn't help it. Bob was pretending to be all cool and over it, but Mikey saw him examining his own pass closely when he thought nobody was looking.
Ray wasn't pretending to be cool at all. "Mikey, how awesome is this?" he said, waving his pass so it clicked softly against Mikey's. "I feel like I'm in Wayne's World."
"But in the cool room," Mikey said, just to make sure. "The one with everybody's girlfriends."
"Obviously," Ray snorted. "Not the crappy room with the weird dudes who rode the bus."
"I hate to piss on your parade, guys," Brian put in, "But I'm pretty sure we are the weird dudes who took the bus."
"Um, excuse me, guys?"
Mikey turned around and there was the kid with the red backpack. He was wearing bright orange sneakers that clashed with it, and a pretty cool design shaved into the side of his head.
"Hi," said the kid – Danny, Mikey thought. Danny. "Um, there's a room you can use to set up? I'm supposed to show you."
They followed him through about fifteen miles of hallway, and finally the kid led them into a room with a mirror and a sink and some chairs.
"Thank you," Gerard said to Danny, holding out his hand.
"No problem," said Danny, shaking Gerard's hand quickly and then shoving his own hands into his pockets. He rocked from foot to foot, darting curious glances at Gerard's collar. "Um, so, I guess Pete said he's gonna bring Joe around? I should probably get out of your way."
Gerard gave Mikey a quick nod, and moved to block Danny from leaving. "Hey, I don't suppose you could show me around a little, could you? I'm just gonna be in the way here, and you seem to know your way around this rabbit warren pretty well."
Danny didn't seem too sure, chewing on his lip and his eyes moving around everywhere, but Gerard was making that face that inspired mothers to randomly hand him their babies to hold in Wal-Mart while they reached for something on a high shelf, and the kid was no match for that. Mikey didn't know anyone who was.
"I guess," he said doubtfully, and Gerard gave him a huge smile.
"Awesome, thank you."
Danny chewed on his lip some more, then mumbled, "You're like, welcome."
Gerard promised he'd hook back up with them before the show, and moved to follow Danny out of the room. Before they could leave, though, Mark appeared in the doorway. He looked from Gerard to Danny and back again, his face darkening with each glance.
"Danny, what the fuck?" he said. "I didn't know where you were."
"Pete told me to show these guys to their room," Danny gestured to where Frank and Bob were setting up in the corner.
Mark glared at them all and curled a hand around Danny's upper arm. "Yeah, well, now you can get back to work."
Danny shook him off and took a step back. "I said I'd show the Father around."
"He's not your fucking Father," Mark snapped, and Frank looked up, his mouth set in a grim line.
Gerard stepped forward hurriedly, and spoke in his most soothing voice. "Mark, look, I'm not trying to cause any trouble, here. I got no sense of direction and Danny was kind enough to offer to help me out, that's all."
Mark laughed, and it wasn't a nice sound at all. "I'll bet."
Frank was practically vibrating by this point, and Bob and Brian had matching pissed-off expressions on their faces. Mikey exchanged glances with Ray, but before anybody could say anything, Cortez stuck his head in the room.
"Mark, what the hell, I thought you were gonna help me – oh hey," he said when his eyes landed on Frank. "You guys comfy in here? Nothing but the finest salon facilities, am I right?"
"Just like home," said Frank.
Cortez did that smile again, the one from on the bus, slow and sort of crooked. It was a total pick-up smile. "Well, maybe I'll swing by later and see if you guys can make me even prettier," he said in this stupid smooth voice, and then ruined it by laughing at himself so Mikey couldn't even dislike him. "Shit. All right, Marky Mark, let's get to work. Danny, you at a loose end, here?"
"Danny was just about to give me a tour of the venue," Gerard said, resting his hand on Danny's shoulder.
Mark was like, purple in the face by now, but Danny didn't – or, as Mikey's own experiences as a younger brother suggested, pretended not to – notice and nodded hard.
"Danny," Mark began, but Cortez was already dragging him out of the room.
"Come on, dude, where's he gonna be safer than with the preacher, right?"
Mark went reluctantly, but not without giving Gerard a final suspicious, angry glare.
"All right," Gerard looked back at the rest of them, eyebrows raised. "Danny, shall we?"
"Okay," said Danny, and he led Gerard out of the room.
"Wow," said Ray when they'd gone. "That Mark dude is seriously unpleasant."
"The brother seems okay, though," Bob said thoughtfully, leaning back against the low counter. "How old do you think they are?"
"Not old enough," Brian said, folding his arms. "The kid can't be more than sixteen."
"Maybe he looks younger than he is," Frank said. "I didn't look my age until-"
"You still don't," Brian interrupted him. "You look like you should be in homeroom."
Frank gave him the finger and his sunniest smile. "Hey, man, there's only one high-school dropout in this room."
"Right," said Brian. "Which is why I know an underage kid working a rock tour when I see one."
"Who's an underage kid?" Pete said, coming through the door with Joe in tow. He frowned suddenly and pointed at Frank. "I'm not looking to be prosecuted for transporting minors across state lines, dude."
Frank went, "Ugh," and turned his back on Pete, who looked confused.
"What?" he said to Bob, but Bob was laughing too hard to answer. "Whatever, you guys all suck, with your inside jokes. Are you going to wrangle my boy's locks or what?"
"I don't want to cut it," Joe protested, but he let Pete manhandle him into a chair. "Pete, come on. I'm like Samson, you're gonna strip me of my strength."
"I feel you, man," Ray said, waving his scissors around so they caught the light. "You can keep the length, but I can thin it out a little underneath. Otherwise all the shape's going to drop out."
Ray sprayed Joe's head with water and started snipping away, and Pete came to squish himself into the chair Mikey was lounging in. He kept pushing his foot against the floor and making the chair spin around, so Mikey only saw the other guys' faces whiz past in little glimpses. It was weird; like being inside a zoetrope.
"Are you gonna watch the show?" Pete wanted to know, prodding Mikey's side. "You're gonna watch the show, right?"
All of a sudden, Mikey felt like he'd been dropped into a glass of cold water. He could feel his skin cringing up in goosebumps behind his ears and down his spine; Pete's voice was far away, suddenly, and Mikey slammed his own feet down on the floor to stop the movement of the chair, breathing hard through his nose and willing himself not to throw up.
"Mikey?" Frank was there more or less instantly, his hands shockingly warm on the cold, clammy skin of Mikey's forehead. "Mikey, you okay?"
Mikey had to swallow a few times to work up enough moisture to stutter out, "Yeah – yeah. I'm fine. Just…motion sickness, I guess."
"Wow," said Joe, peering out from under the hair Ray had combed over his face. "That is a delicate stomach you got there, dude."
Frank pulled him out of the chair and away from Pete, and settled him onto the low, shabby couch on the other side of the room. "I'll get you some water, okay?"
"Gatorade," said Mikey. Frank squeezed his hand.
He left the room, and Mikey closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to see everyone giving him weird looks. He opened them again when his phone buzzed in his pocket.
It was a text message from Frank that said 'Another vision? What was it? Should I find Gerard? What color do you want?'
Mikey texted back 'not a vsn, tell u l8r, blue' and put his phone away again.
Ray had gone back to snipping at Joe's hair, but he kept shooting Mikey worried little glances. Mikey was saved from any further scrutiny by Bob, who got up all of a sudden and crossed the room to Pete.
"What," said Pete, and then he went, "Ow, hey, what the fuck," because Bob was grabbing his arm and hauling him out of his chair and across the room. "I pay people to do that, man, I don't need any freelancers."
"What the fuck is this?" Bob demanded, pushing Pete down into the chair in the corner. He grabbed a little stool and sat down next to Pete, pushing the sleeve of his T-shirt further up his arm. "Dude, how many of these are unfinished?"
Pete groaned. "Oh, God, you're one of those weird militant tattoo artists, aren't you?"
"The militantest," said Mikey. "Bob never lets us start anything new if we've got a work in progress."
Pete grinned. "Oh, well, see, my secret is to have an artist in every port."
"Yeah," said Ray, twisting a lock of Joe's hair up into a clip. "Pretty much we only go to Bob."
"I feel that," said Joe. "It sucks if you go to some new guy and they mess things up."
"It really does," said Mikey.
Mikey watched the show from the side of the stage, with Frank and Ray. Brian and Gerard had gone back to the bus to make the most of the time to research, and Bob was mingling, because Bob was weirdly stealthy that way. Mikey couldn't figure it out, because Bob wasn't exactly little, and Mikey had gotten his bearings on more than one drunken night out by looking around for Bob's really, really blond hair, but there it was.
Apart from creepy Mark shooting them suspicious glances every so often, the show was really awesome, Mikey thought. He hadn't seen a band with the frontman-but-not-the-singer arrangement live before, so it was interesting. Mikey's favorite part was at the end, when Pete leaned out into the audience like the Chosen One or something, and all the kids went crazy, screaming and climbing on each other trying to touch his hand. It was only after Pete came off stage that Mikey remembered he'd had all those bad feelings about the show, like something terrible was going to happen. All for nothing, as it turned out.
Mikey would have chalked it up to paranoia, if it wasn't for the way Pete looked when he passed Mikey on his way backstage. During the show he'd been electric, Mikey couldn't take his eyes off him, but the minute he stepped into the wings he seemed to deflate dramatically. One of the techs was supporting him, and Pete was mumbling something that Mikey couldn't hear, his skin pale and soaked in sweat.
"That guy doesn't look so good," Ray said into Mikey's ear. Mikey nodded his agreement.
"I'll go see if he'll talk to me," he said. "I'll meet you back on the bus."
Backstage, Mikey flashed his pass and slipped into the dressing room. It wasn't like on TV, with bunches of flowers from adoring fans and champagne on ice. Mostly it looked like a bunch of dudes had gotten dressed in there in a hurry, but there was a mirror with the bulbs all the way around. The kind Mikey's Mom had always wanted.
The lights were out, though, and Mikey startled when Pete spoke.
"Hey, Mikeyway," his voice was tired and soft, and coming from a dim corner of the room.
Mikey squinted, and thought he could make out a vaguely Pete-shaped shadow in the gloom. "Pete?" he called softly, picking his way across the floor, trying to avoid stepping on anything or falling over. "Why are you sitting in the dark?"
Pete didn't say anything, just made another soft noise. Mikey's hand found the switch on a table lamp, and yellow light spilled out across the room.
Pete was balled up in the corner, his back against the wall. His knees were hunched up to his chin, and he winced in the light, pulling his hands up to cover his face. The sleeves of his hoodie were tugged all the way down to his fingertips.
"Pete?" Mikey said again. He crouched down next to Pete and reached out, sliding his fingers between the soft cotton of Pete's hoodie, and the side of his face.
His skin was cold and clammy to the touch – his tightly closed eyes were circled by deep, bruised shadows that looked like they hurt. He inhaled sharply when Mikey touched him, turning his face towards Mikey's fingers. He nuzzled briefly at the heel of Mikey's hand, and slowly opened his eyes.
"I never used to get this tired," he rasped. There were dry, tight lines around the corners of his mouth. "After the shows. I used to feel like I could take over the world."
Mikey pushed Pete's hood down gently; Pete's hair was plastered to his skull underneath. He was drenched in sweat, but had lost all of the flush and glow that he'd seemed so full of on stage.
"How do you feel now?" Mikey asked, resting his palm against the curve of Pete's neck. Pete's uneven pulse jumped rapidly under his skin.
"Exhausted," Pete said, then shook his head. "No – that's not the word. It's more like…did you ever play with iron filings? You know, with a magnet?"
"Sure," said Mikey. "My brother used them in one of his final projects at art school, I think."
"It's like that." Pete closed his eyes again and leaned his head back against the wall. "Like they've all been pulled out of me, through my skin. I feel like I should be full of holes."
Mikey folded himself down to sit next to Pete, mirroring his pose. He took Pete's hand and held it. "Does it hurt?"
Pete was quiet for a minute, his breathing slow and deliberate. "Not exactly. It's more like the way you feel after something hurts." Pete's eyes blinked open and he searched Mikey's face. "Only I don't remember the pain."
The room was warm and quiet, and Pete's hand was cold. Outside, Mikey could hear the crew hustling back and forth, the excited voices of one or two fans, the crackle of security's walkie talkies.
"When I saw you," Pete said, so quietly Mikey could barely hear him. "I thought that you could help me."
Mikey put his other hand over Pete's, and chafed it gently, trying to warm it up.
"Stupid, right?" Pete said, looking dully down at their hands. "I don't even know you at all."
There was a sudden rush of sound and air, and Mikey looked up to see Patrick closing the door behind him.
"Pete?" he said, and stopped when he saw Mikey, a look on his face that Mikey didn't quite understand. "Oh."
"It's okay," Mikey told him, standing up. He brushed his jeans off. "I should go find my brother."
Patrick hesitated, then nodded sharply and moved quickly towards Pete. He crouched down and Pete rolled instantly towards him, his hands seeking blindly until they were wrapped around Patrick's shoulders.
"It's okay," Patrick soothed, shooting Mikey a defensive, wary look over Pete's shoulder. "It's okay."
Mikey slipped out to the sound of Pete's murmurs, and Patrick's hushed replies.
"Hey," Gerard greeted Mikey when he got back on the bus. "Listen, I don't think we have that long until Cortez and those guys show up again. What did you get from Pete?"
"I don't know yet," Mikey said, sitting down next to him. He pulled his knees up to his chest. "Nothing concrete. He seemed really ill, though, like totally drained. He said it's been happening a lot after the shows."
"I don't know if this is relevant," said Bob. "But I saw two girls getting carted away by paramedics. They were unconscious."
"You think they got knocked out in the pit?" Frank asked.
Bob shook his head. "That's the weird thing. It didn't happen until after the show had finished. They didn't get pulled over the barrier; they filed out with everyone else and collapsed in the lobby area."
Gerard shook his head. "Shit."
"They did not look good," Bob added. He rubbed his hands together and frowned worriedly. "But I mean…it's a rock show. It happens. One time I almost died."
"Big surprise," said Brian dryly.
"What did you and Gerard find out?" Ray wanted to know.
Gerard grimaced. "There's some conflicting information, but my first instinct is that someone's draining Pete's life force."
Frank leaned forward. "What for?"
"Necromancy," Gerard said, sitting back. He rubbed the heel of his hand over his face. "Man, there's not enough shit going down on this Earth, people gotta get the dead involved too."
Ray made a face. "Like, bringing people back?"
"The Father says there's a bunch of definitions," Brian put in. "Could be a literal raising of a dead person, could be an attempt to bring a spirit back and have it possess a body."
"Or," Gerard said, "It could be a demon. Someone could be trying to raise a demon from Hell."
"Why would someone do that?" said Mikey. "I mean – isn't that a really stupid thing to do?"
Gerard shrugged, spreading his hands. "You would think. But from what I understand, it's not uncommon for some lunatic to get the impression that their own personal demon will help them take over the world."
Ray cleared his throat. "I'm not exactly an authority on demons, given that I know exactly nothing about them, but…they don't seem like they'd be all that likely to take orders from humans."
"Really, really not," Gerard agreed. "But it might not be that anyway. It could be a person they're trying to raise, or it could not be necromancy at all."
"But you think it is," Frank pressed.
Gerard considered for a minute, head tilted to the side. He looked over at Brian, then said, "Yeah. I think it is."
"So what does that have to do with Pete?" Mikey asked. "Someone's draining his energy?"
Brian nodded. "Not very much is known about symptoms, because draining energy from living people is an unusual method."
"Which is kind of what makes me think it's the demon thing," Gerard added. "Because they'd need a huge amount of power for that, and human souls are like batteries."
"But why Pete?" said Bob.
Gerard shook his head. "I don't know. Mikey, he didn't tell you anything else? Are you sure?"
Mikey thought about what had happened in the dressing room, and offered, "He said that it felt like he should be full of holes, like something was being pulled out through his skin. And he said-" Mikey broke off, not wanting to sound stupid.
"What?" Gerard urged. "Mikey, it's okay."
"He said that when he met me, he felt like I could help him," Mikey said finally. "I don't know what that means."
"Maybe it's like with me and Gerard," Frank suggested. "Did you touch him?"
Mikey nodded. "Yeah, but I don't think it was like that. He said it didn't hurt, exactly. But when I touched him - when I touched him, he felt really cold."
Gerard looked at him thoughtfully, chewing his lower lip. "One person's life force wouldn't enough to bring something powerful back from the dead. You have to understand that necromancy is totally against the laws of God, it undermines His power. Things aren't supposed to come back once he's sent them to Hell, or Heaven for that matter. It's totally against nature. It would take a huge amount of power, way more than just Pete."
Brian nodded. "Okay, what about Danny and Mark? Do we know what their deal is yet?"
Gerard shook his head. "Danny was super cagey, I think he's too scared of the older brother to open up. He did let slip that they're orphans, though. I don't know how long they've been on their own. And," he hesitated for a minute, exchanging glances with Mikey, then went on, "It's not uncommon for people to dislike priests. We don't know what he's been through. It doesn't necessarily make him a bad guy, you know?"
"You are way too nice, dude," Frank observed, and then Cortez came clattering back onto the bus so they all had to shut up for a while.
It turned out that the bus had not only its own coffee maker, but internet access too, which basically made it Mikey's ideal environment. Later in the evening Gerard was checking his email, and Mikey was half-listening to him read out a message from their Dad, and half-watching Cortez show Frank something on his guitar.
"Oh," Gerard said happily, making Mikey turn his full attention to him. "I got an email from Nicole."
"Yeah?" Mikey pulled himself up so he could see Gerard properly. "How's she doing?"
"Good," Gerard said absently. "She made the Dean's List..." he trailed off, lost in concentration.
"Who's Nicole?" Bob wanted to know.
"One of Gee's kids from when he was a youth minister," Mikey told him, and Bob nodded.
That wasn't exactly the whole story. It was true, but the full version had a lot more secret abortions and community scandal and Gerard getting screamed at for not telling Nicole's parents that she'd been abused by her uncle, even though he couldn't, because she'd told him in confession and that was like the most sacred thing ever.
He hadn't even told Mikey, he'd just worried Mikey sick by calling him all the time and saying, "I can't talk about it," then doing frightened breathing down the phone.
Mikey privately thought that the whole sanctity of confession thing was bullshit. Crime was crime, and if you knew something bad was happening you should be able to go to the police. The worst part was that when Nicole told Gerard she was pregnant, he was technically supposed to tell her that God wanted her to keep the baby.
Except he didn't. And he went with her to the clinic, and everybody found out, and...Mikey was pretty sure it was the second worst week of Gerard's life, beaten only by the death of their grandmother for sheer unadulterated suck. The thing that made Mikey the maddest was the way all the awesome things Gerard had done for like, high school attendance, and getting kids to come to Mass instead of robbing the convenience store or whatever were just brushed aside, like they didn't matter because he told kids they ought to use condoms and didn't think that the Church's official position on abortion was a good enough reason to tell fifteen year-old girls to keep their incest rape babies.
The upside of the story was that after it all came out, Nicole's parents moved her away and her uncle went to jail and now she was in college and doing great. But Mikey wasn't going to bust that out to Bob, certainly not in front of strangers. He hadn't even told Frank, and he kind of hoped he never had to, because he was pretty sure that Frank finding out Gerard was stripped of his youth ministry over his involvement with Nicole would trigger a Frank Hates the Church bitchfit to end all other bitchfits.
Gerard had never, ever been happy after it happened, though. He hated being shunted around from desk job to desk job, and he hated investigating stupid fake miracles. He'd been this close to leaving the priesthood altogether. Except that then he met Frank.
Sometimes Mikey almost wished they hadn't met; that Gerard had left and become a normal person again. But he didn't know how that would work out, whether Gerard would go and work in a shelter or something like he'd planned, or if he'd sink back into the mess he'd been in before he'd found God.
Ray nudged Mikey's arm. "Deep thoughts?"
Mikey stretched and smiled at him, mentally shaking off the angst. "Nah, dude. Shallow as ever, you know me. Hey, you ought to cut Gee's hair. He's starting to look homeless again."
"Oh no," Ray laughed. "I'm not wasting any more time on that mess until he promises to stop shoving his hands through it sixteen thousand times a day."
"Never gonna happen," Mikey informed him with a sigh.
After the next show, Gerard came with Mikey to see Pete for himself.
"How long has this been going on?" he asked. "This post-show exhaustion."
"About a month," Pete winced when Gerard set his fingers against his jaw and tilted his face up into the light. "Why, is that a thing? A God thing?"
Gerard shook his head, frowning distractedly. "Not that I know of."
Mikey really thought that it would be better if they just told Pete who they really were. This way Gerard couldn't take pictures or a statement or any of the stuff he needed for his reports – although, probably tiredness wasn't something that photographed well. And Pete really did just look tired – it wasn't a normal tired, sure, he kind of looked like those soldiers in that episode of the X-Files where they had their sleep glands removed or whatever it was, but still. He wasn't speaking in tongues or spontaneously bursting into flame. It was definitely one of their less dramatic cases, so far.
Gerard let Pete put his head down. "And you're feeling okay otherwise?"
Pete nodded, wincing when he swallowed. Mikey saw a bottle of water on the side and passed it over. "Thanks," said Pete, popping it open. He drank about half of it in three big swallows, then wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.
Mikey suddenly had a thought. "The other guys in your band aren't suffering like this, are they?" Pete shook his head. "And what about your openers?"
Pete frowned. "They're fine as far as I know. I think it's just me. Hey," he said, leaning into Mikey's side a little bit. "Can I ask you something that might sound stupid?"
Pete hesitated, then said, "Could I be possessed by a demon?"
Mikey blinked and looked at Gerard, who just took his rosary out of his pocket and pressed the crucifix to Pete's forehead.
Pete looked confused. Gerard smiled, took the rosary back, and said, "Nope."
Pete let out a huge breath, like he'd actually been worried about it. "I know it sounds dumb," he said apologetically. "I just watch too many movies, that's all."
"It's not as dumb as you might think," Mikey told him, wishing that wasn't the case.
The door to the dressing room opened and Patrick came in. "Hey," he said, coming over to Pete. "Everything okay?"
"Gerard says I'm not possessed by a demon," Pete reported, sitting up.
Patrick stared at Gerard. "What? Did you tell him that was a possibility?"
"No," said Gerard, confused. "He just asked."
"Right," Patrick said heatedly. "And I suppose you can cure, him, right? Is that it? And what do you want in return?"
"Hey," Mikey stood up and moved towards Patrick, who was standing a little too close to Gerard for Mikey's liking. "Take it easy, man, he's just trying to help."
"It was my idea, Patrick," Pete insisted.
Patrick glared at Gerard some more, but eventually got a hold of himself and said, "Can you please leave? I need to speak to Pete."
"Patrick," Gerard tried, but the giant security guard was already looking impatient by the door, so Mikey grabbed his sleeve and pulled him away, throwing a last glance at Pete over his shoulder as they left.
"We're not going to find out anything real unless we can get them to open up," Gerard sighed, rubbing his forehead when they were having a meeting the next day. "But I don't see that happening. They don't trust us."
"They don't have any reason to," Frank said. "They don't know who we are."
Gerard sighed. "Frankie, we've been over this. We agreed."
"No, you decided. I still think it's best to tell them-"
"What, Frank, that we watched you almost bleed to death from stigmata so we know our shit?"
"If we have to! Do you think I would have told you shit if I didn't know you were a priest?"
Mikey rolled his eyes, willing Gerard to back down so they could get on with what they were doing.
Of course, he didn't. "You didn't tell me shit anyway; as I recall you tried to throw me out of your apartment and then neglected to give me any information that might help you."
"Fuck you, I did not, you're such a-"
"Guys!" Brian cut in sharply. "There isn't time for Frank and Gerard's Great Debates right now, okay? We're going to be in Chicago in two days."
Gerard raised his hands in apology. Frank looked mad, but he went quiet, staring grumpily out of the window.
Brian went on, "We have to have this figured out by then because I don't think Bob's folks will be thrilled to put us all up indefinitely."
"Are you kidding?" said Bob. "It's my mom, dude, that's like her dream come true."
"Well, even so," Brian said, smiling slightly. "Father, are you coming to watch the show tonight? You haven't yet."
Gerard shook his head. "I actually thought I'd hang out in the lobby or whatever, see if any more kids get sick."
"Right," Mikey spoke up. "Because you're such a master of blending. You're wearing a collar."
Gerard rolled his eyes. "It comes off."
"Are we going out tonight?" Frank said suddenly. Everyone looked at him and he shifted in his seat. "What? Everyone's going out after the show to celebrate…I don't know, staying in one place for five minutes. I thought there might be a few loose tongues worth listening to after a drink or five."
Ray eyed him suspiciously. "You just want to go out and get wasted."
Frank scowled. "What if I do? It's been forever. And besides, we're invited. Cortez asked me if we were going."
"Cortez asked if you were going," Bob leered at him.
Frank flipped him off. "I'm just saying, there's no better way to gain someone's trust than getting them completely bombed."
"It certainly worked on that kid from the coffee shop," Bob said mildly, and then ducked, laughing, when Frank tried to punch him in the head.
"Oh my God, I'd forgotten that," Ray snickered. "That wasn't even a seduction, okay, that was a military campaign. The kid never stood a chance!"
"Shut up!" said Frank. "Shut the fuck up, Toro."
"But Frank, I'm straight!" Ray squeaked.
"Sure you are, baby," Bob boomed in an exaggerated pantomime of Frank's voice. "Another beer?"
Mikey couldn't help laughing, even though he knew it would make Frank mad. Frank's efforts to convince the kid from the coffee shop that a trip down the Kinsey Scale would be a healthy life experiment were legendary; it had gone on for months, seriously months of Frank going to the coffee shop every damn day and hanging over the counter and wearing all his cutest clothes and convincing the kid to go to shows with him and getting him wasted enough that he didn't mind Frank getting handsy. It had worked in the end.
"Can you even remember his name?" Mikey asked Frank, grinning.
Frank eyed him, then surrendered and said, "It was Kevin, you complete assholes," and Mikey practically slid off his chair, he was giggling so much. "I hate you guys, you know that? You want we should drag up your sexual history?"
That shut them up pretty quickly, but Brian was still grinning when he said, "I think Frank's right. It'd be good for us to blow off steam a little."
Bob pumped his fist, and Brian gave him a look. "A little."
"Buzzkill," Bob muttered.
The show that night was the best one yet, Mikey thought. The prospect of a night out had everyone buzzing, and even creepy Mark seemed to have loosened up a little bit, standing with his arm around his little brother. Mikey went over to them and said, "Are you coming out with us tonight?"
Danny made a face and shook his head. "I'm underage. To drink," he added when Mark gave him a look. "I mean, I'm eighteen. Just not twenty-one."
My ass, Mikey thought, but he just nodded and turned to Mark. "What about you?"
"Yes," Mark said defensively. "What, you want some ID?"
"I meant are you coming out," Mikey said mildly, and Mark flushed and bit his lip.
"I don't think so," he said fake-casually. "I think we're gonna stay in the hotel."
"And order room service," Danny added. Mark kind of laughed and Danny insisted, "You said!"
Mark said, "Don't freak out, you'll get your stupid room service." He looked kind of defensively at Mikey and said, "He's never had it. He thinks it's a big deal for people to bring food to your hotel room."
"Hey, man," said Mikey, who had never had room service either but had always imagined that it would be cool, "I'm with him."
Danny beamed at him, and Mark's face cleared. Danny said, "Mark promised because this is the last hotel night of the tour."
"That's true," Mikey agreed. On stage, Pete was playing with his head pressed against Patrick's shoulder. "I bet you guys are looking forward to the break, huh? How long's the tour been going for, like three months, right?"
"We've only been on it for a month," Danny said, bouncing on his feet in time with the music.
"What were you doing before?" Mikey asked, but apparently that was the wrong thing to say because Mark's face closed up all of a sudden and he scowled. "We have to go," he said, and used the arm around Danny's shoulders to turn him away. Mikey saw that he was wearing the red backpack again.
"Bye," Danny said over his shoulder. As they moved away, Mikey heard him add, "Can you wear the backpack for a while, Mark? It's really heavy."
After the show, Gerard came hurrying backstage and drew Mikey to one side. "Four kids just collapsed outside," he said anxiously. "I'm going to go to the hospital and make sure they're okay."
Mikey frowned. "You're not coming out with us?"
"What?" Frank appeared at Mikey's elbow. "Why not?"
Gerard told him about the kids. "The doctors might talk to me, or even if they don't, I mean, someone should be there until their parents arrive."
Frank didn't look convinced. "But you're not wearing your collar. They'll just think you're some dude."
"I know, I'm going to go back to the hotel and get it."
Even though he really didn't want to, Mikey forced himself to ask, "Do you want me to blow this off and come with you?"
"No," Gerard said immediately, because he was a good brother and Mikey loved him very much. "Go ahead, you guys have fun. I'll see you back at the hotel later."
"Okay." Mikey went to move off, but Frank was still standing there, chewing his lip. "Frank?"
"Maybe I should go with him," Frank said, shrugging awkwardly. "I mean, something could happen, right? Maybe," he turned to Gerard, "Maybe you shouldn't go alone."
"Well, perhaps it would be best to-" Gerard started, but Mikey cut him off, getting between them and taking Frank firmly by the arm.
"No. Frank's coming with me. If anything bad happens, you can call me, I've got my cell."
Frank tried to shake him off, scowling. "What the fuck, Mikey."
"You know what Brian said about blowing off steam? He meant you." Mikey started dragging Frank off towards the other guys. "Keep in touch!" he called backwards at Gerard, and saw him wave and head for the exits.
Mikey was standing on the balcony at the club when Cortez came over with two drinks in his hands and a grin on his face.
"Mikey," he held out one of the glasses. "You look like a man who needs another drink."
Mikey's own glass was almost full still, but he wasn't stupid. He knew what you did when someone offered you a free drink. You took it, and you said, "Thanks, man," and you waited for them to tell you what they wanted.
He didn't have to wait long. Cortez stood next to him for a while, then leaned in and said, "Your boy Frankie. Is he…?"
Mikey looked at Cortez out of the corner of his eye. "Is he what?"
Cortez laughed and jerked his chin towards the dance floor, where Frank was dancing with one of the merch girls. He looked at Mikey again and waggled his eyebrows in a way that could have meant 'single' or 'into dudes' or 'likely to sleep with me'. Mikey knew the answer to at least two of those questions was the same, so he only made Cortez wait a little while longer, sipping his drink carefully before nodding his head yes.
"Awesome," Cortez said, beaming. He clapped Mikey on the shoulder and disappeared down the stairs. Mikey saw him reappear on the floor a few seconds later, sidling up behind Frank.
Mikey watched him turn Frank around with a hand on his elbow, saw Frank push up on his toes to hear what he said. The merch girl had already been swept up to dance with someone else, and after a minute, Frank followed Cortez off the dance floor, out of Mikey's line of sight.
"You not a dancer, Mikeyway?"
Mikey turned and found Pete grinning up at him. "Sometimes. This music isn't exactly my jam, though."
Pete made a face. "Man, me neither. But come on, it's not all bad. You got my techs buying you drinks. We're in VIP."
"I was a club promoter before I met Brian," Mikey told him with regret. "Free drinks and the VIP section aren't new to me, dude."
Pete laughed, shaking his head. "You know what I love about you, man, you're so hard to impress. You're so over everything."
Mikey thought about that. He wasn't hard to impress, he didn't think. He was impressed by a lot of stuff. Just most of that stuff couldn't be found in a nightclub. "I guess."
"So where's your brother?" Pete hopped up to sit on the railing next to him. "He didn't want to party with us? Or - oh," Pete made a guilty face. "Is he not allowed?"
"I think he was going to," Mikey said truthfully, "But he had some research to do."
Pete raised his eyebrows. "Research?"
Shit. Mikey took a deep swig of his drink to give himself some time to think of an answer. "For like, his, you know, he...translates old documents."
"Uh huh," said Pete skeptically.
"From Latin," Mikey added. "Or Greek. Ancient Greek. Into English."
Pete seemed to buy that. It wasn't exactly a lie, anyway. Gerard had to translate things all the time when they were working, because apparently there hadn't been any advances in the mystical evil field since Roman times.
Mikey watched Pete over the rim of his glass. He hadn't been able to see Pete after the show; Charlie had whisked him out of sight the minute he came backstage, but he looked absolutely fine now. There was no grayness to his skin, no deep circles under his eyes. "You look better," Mikey told him.
Pete took a deep breath and let it out slowly, looking around the club for a while. Eventually he said, "You know, I looked it up on the internet. Typed in all my symptoms and waited for 'you're dying' to come up on the screen in giant black font. Nothing good causes episodes of extreme exhaustion, did you know that? Nothing good."
Mikey made what he hoped was a sympathetic face, and waited.
"At first I thought it was just me," Pete added. "This isn't - I get tired a lot. I've been...I've been tired a lot. In my life. But not like this."
Pete looked down at his knees. Mikey leaned in and said in his ear, "What you said, about thinking I could help you. It wasn't stupid. I felt - I felt like you needed my help."
Pete met Mikey's gaze, his eyes huge and hopeful. "Do you know what's wrong with me? Can you make it go away?"
"I don't know what's wrong with you," Mikey admitted, grabbing Pete's elbows when he tried to turn away. "Yet. But we'll figure it out."
"We," Pete said doubtfully. "You and me?"
Mikey nodded. "You, me and the other guys. We've seen stuff like this before. Gerard's kind of an expert."
"An expert on what?" a voice said sharply behind them, and Mikey turned to see Patrick standing there. He did not look pleased. "You think a priest can help him? He doesn't need a priest, okay, he needs a doctor."
"Patrick," said Pete, sliding down onto his feet. "Take it easy, don't-"
"How many times, Pete?" Patrick talked over the top of him. "I swear to God, sometimes it's like you're on a mission to be taken in by every crackpot on the planet. First those weird kids and now this?"
"Danny and Mark?" Mikey said quickly, but both Pete and Patrick ignored him.
"I've been to the doctor," Pete said tightly. "It didn't help. I'm still - I'm so tired, Patrick."
"You're tired because you don't sleep!" Patrick snapped. "You don't sleep and you won't take your god damned medication, and then you act surprised when your body starts to break down? And you," Patrick turned on Mikey. "I don't know who you are or what your game is, but I am not going to let you take advantage of Pete. It's not going to happen."
"I'm not trying to take advantage of him," Mikey said, frowning. He understood that Patrick felt protective, but Mikey hadn't even done anything. "I want to help."
Patrick snorted. "Yeah, well, I want you to leave him alone."
Pete started to say something else, but Patrick grabbed his hand and got in close.
"Whatever you think is happening to you," he said, quietly but loud enough that Mikey could make it out. "It is not a punishment from God. You are not possessed. You are not a bad person. Do you understand me?"
Pete turned his face into Patrick's shoulder, so Mikey couldn't hear what he said in reply. Patrick murmured something in response, and then tugged Pete away, casting one last suspicious glance over his shoulder at Mikey as they left.
"Well," Mikey said to nobody. "That went really awesomely, Mikey. Well played."
He found Ray and Bob drinking themselves into a stupor at the bar. Evidently Brian had embraced the 'can't beat 'em, join 'em' ethos because he was all blurry-looking too. "I thought we were only blowing off a little steam," Mikey observed, sliding onto the stool next to Ray.
"Oh, loosen up," Brian replied, and then Mikey had to stare at him for like five minutes, just to freeze the moment in his mind.
He couldn't get near Pete for the rest of the night, but he did see him and the other guys from the band leaving early, before anyone else from the tour. Mikey was pretty wasted himself by that point, and by the time he stumbled back to the room he was sharing with Gerard and Frank, he wasn't even sure of his own name, never mind the details of his conversation with Pete.
"I'll tell you in the morning," he groaned into the pillow when Gerard started badgering him. "Did Frank come back already? We couldn't find him when we left."
"No," Gerard said anxiously. He was wearing pajama pants and holding a T-shirt balled up in one hand; light reflected off the cross he wore around his neck. "Do you think he's okay?"
Mikey flapped a hand at him. "I'm sure he's fine. He's probably crashing with Cortez."
Gerard went quiet as he pulled the T-shirt on, and Mikey thought that maybe he shouldn't have said that, but it wasn't like he could take it back, and besides he had to go to sleep right that exact second or he was going to die.
He was just drifting gratefully into oblivion when the phone in their room rang. Mikey groaned and pulled his pillow over his head, willing it to stop.
Gerard picked it up. "Hello? Yeah – what? What happened? What did – Patrick, calm down, I can't understand you."
Mikey pulled his head out from under the pillow and stared at Gerard, who looked even paler than usual.
"Okay," he said. "We'll be right there. What room are you in? Okay. Okay. Don't worry, okay? I'll – yeah, we'll come right now."
He put the phone down and looked grimly over at Mikey. "It's Pete."
Mikey had never felt less equipped to deal with a mystical emergency than he did right now, but he hauled himself off the bed anyway. "What's wrong, another attack of exhaustion?"
"No." Gerard yanked Mikey's hoodie on over his pajamas and grabbed his notebook, Bible and rosary from the nightstand. "There's shitty coffee in the bathroom. Sober up," he said, heading for the door. "The other guys too. Meet me in room 709."
"What's going on?" Mikey asked. "Gerard? Gerard!" he called, but Gerard was already out of the door.
Mikey stood where he was for a minute, holding his head in his hands and trying to stop it from swimming. Something bad was happening, he could feel it, the rolling in his stomach wasn't from the booze. He moved as quickly as he could, brewing coffee while he splashed water over his face. He ran out into the hall and banged on next door until Ray opened the door and Mikey could tell him what had happened, then went back and grabbed his coffee.
"Room 709," he called through the door to the other guys, and set off for the elevator.
Whatever he was expecting to see when a frantic-looking Joe opened the door to Mikey, it wasn't this. For a minute Mikey thought he was having a flashback, that he'd fallen asleep and was dreaming, that it was Frank lying there on the floor, shaking all over and covered in blood.
But it wasn't Frank, it was Pete. Mikey stood still, staring – it couldn't be happening again, it couldn't, it couldn't, but jolted out of it when Gerard said, "Mikey, get your ass over here, come on."
There was nothing like the memory of your best friend almost dying to sober you up, and Mikey felt surprisingly lucid as he knelt on the floor. Pete's eyes were open but unfocused, his head cradled on Patrick's knees, and there was red everywhere, slick on Pete's skin, smeared on Patrick's hands, soaking into the carpet beneath them. Mikey's hands slid through the blood as he searched Pete for wounds; his eyes going immediately to his wrists, his feet, but he couldn't find anything. "I can't even find a break in the skin," he told Gerard, who nodded, his own hands on either side of Pete's head.
"Has this happened before?" he asked Patrick, who was just staring down at Pete's face, completely stricken. "Patrick," he repeated, and Patrick looked up, startled. "Has this happened before?"
Patrick didn't seem to know what to say; his eyes skipped guiltily from Joe to Andy before he finally admitted, "Yes."
"What?" Andy was pacing from one side of the room to the other, his hands fisted in his hair. He stopped and stared at Patrick. "Why didn't you tell us?"
"He made me promise not to, okay, you can yell at me later," Patrick said, sounding much aggrieved. He turned back to Gerard. "I'm sorry I was rude to you, okay? I didn't know who else to call. You have to help him. Is he going to die?"
"No," Gerard said firmly, then looked up when there was another knock at the door. It was Bob, Brian and Ray. "Ray, I need you."
"It's okay," Mikey said to Pete, even though he wasn't sure Pete could hear him. He held Pete's sticky hand in his own. "They can fix it."
"Patrick," Pete moaned suddenly, writhing a little in place. "Hurts."
"I know," Patrick said gently, his hands smoothing over and over Pete's hair. "I'm here, okay?"
Brian was kind of hovering in the doorway, looking stricken. "Jesus, not again."
"No," Gerard said. "He doesn't have any wounds, it's something else."
"Where's it all coming from?" said Joe. "If there aren't any wounds?"
"It's sweat," said Andy quietly. "He's sweating blood."
"What?" Patrick gaped at him. "How do you know? Can – is that even a thing, can people even do that?"
Andy nodded. "It happened to someone I knew," he said awkwardly. "They had leukemia. But it wasn't as bad as this."
Joe sat heavily down on the bed. "Jesus Christ."
Bob cleared his throat. "Should we get Frank? He's with Cortez, right?"
"No," Joe said sharply. Patrick looked at him in surprise. Joe waved his hands and said, "Cortez might follow him. I just don't think anyone outside of the band needs to know."
"He's right," said Gerard. "Besides, I think we can handle it. Ray, you brought your kit?"
"Of course." Ray knelt down next to Gerard, wobbling a little. "What are you thinking, a block?"
Gerard nodded. "Brian, can you run back to our rooms and get me the Compendium Tutela Preces?" Brian nodded and ran off. Gerard looked up. "Okay, guys, this is going to sound a little crazy, but just hear me out, okay? I think Pete's being drained of his life force by a necromancer."
"Oh," said Andy. "Only a little crazy?"
"I know how you feel," said Bob, making an obvious effort not to slur. "Believe me, I do. But this is not even the weirdest thing we've ever seen."
"We're not sure yet exactly how it's being done." Gerard gestured to Brian when he came skidding back into the room, and grabbed the book off him. "But we're going to try to put some protection over him until we can figure it out."
Ray must have been expecting something like this to happen, because he already had a mixture prepared in a vial. He tapped it out onto the shallow metal dish as Gerard flipped through the book. "Ready when you are, boss."
"What are you going to do?" Patrick said shrilly. "Put a fucking spell on him? How is that going to help?"
"Let's find out," said Gerard. He held the rosary in the air and made a cross over Pete's body. "Sancta Michael Archangele," he began. "Defende nos in proelio; contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium."
Pete moaned again, his body going tense and still.
"Oh, God," said Patrick. "Pete, Pete."
"This is fucking crazy," said Andy. "You guys all know this is fucking crazy, right?"
Gerard ignored him and kept talking; Ray touched a match to the mixture in the dish and set it next to Pete's shoulder. The smoke curled up in tendrils, then Gerard moved his hand through it, the one holding the rosary, and the tendrils started weaving together, knitting themselves into a thin layer that stretched all the way down from Pete's forehead to his feet.
"What the fuck," said Joe. "Is that going to hurt him?"
"You have to stay calm," Mikey told him, although if someone had told him to stay calm when it was Frank who was in danger, he probably would have punched them in the face.
It was strange to see Pete like this; it was like Frank with all the blood, but it wasn't as violent, plus he wasn't Mikey's in the same way Frank had been. Also, this time Mikey had a year's worth of watching Gerard and Ray kick ass to fall back on. These guys didn't have any such thing, so while Gerard carried on praying, Mikey said, "It's going to be okay."
Patrick shook his head. He wasn't wearing his hat, and Mikey was struck by how young he actually was. "How do you know?"
"Because it always is," said Mikey, which was kind of lame, maybe, but it was the truth. "You just have to let them do their thing."
"Divina virtute in infernum detrude," Gerard murmured, making the sign of the cross again. "Amen."
"Amen," Mikey replied, and then Ray shook something out of a new vial and the smoke glowed brightly for a second before starting to disperse.
Gerard put his rosary away and leaned over Pete, waving the smoke away from his face. "Pete? Can you hear me? Can you tell me if it still hurts?"
Pete was silent for a second, it felt like the whole room was holding his breath. Finally he croaked, "Patrick? Why does it smell like bong water in here?"
Patrick laughed a little hysterically, curling over to touch his forehead to Pete's. "You started doing that bleeding thing again, you total asshole. I had to get these crazy people to come and help."
"Oh." Pete lifted his arm and patted clumsily at Patrick's head. "Sorry about that."
Joe cleared his throat. "You guys aren't really in the personal grooming business, are you?"
Mikey winced. "Not exactly, no."
While Patrick helped Pete up and into the shower, Gerard got his notebook out and moved to sit on one of the beds. "I need to ask you guys some questions," he said to Andy and Joe. He looked at Mikey. "You can go to bed."
"No, we should stay," Brian protested, but Gerard shook his head.
"I think it's best if you get some sleep," he said in a tone of voice that very clearly meant, 'I actually think it's best if we don't let on you're all totally drunk, you morons.' "I can get everything we need. We'll reconvene tomorrow."
Mikey wasn't even arguing at all. He kind of wanted to see Pete again after he'd washed the blood off, just to reassure himself that he was okay, but even more than that he wanted to go to sleep. When he got back to the room, Frank still wasn't there. Mikey went into the bathroom and washed his hands, watching the rust-colored water swirl around the ugly beige sink before it went down the drain. He dried his hands and went back into the bedroom, where he toed his sneakers off and lay down on the bed. He fell asleep still fully clothed, and dreamed of nothing at all.
In the morning, he felt like he was going to die again. Apparently middle-of-the-night evil-fighting interludes didn't rack up enough brownie points to get you out of a hangover. He let Gerard drag him out of bed and they decamped to the room next door, where Brian, Ray and Bob were all lying around waiting to die too.
"You better not even start with any holier-than-thou crap," Mikey warned Gerard as he lowered himself gingerly onto Ray's bed. Ray groaned and put an arm around his waist to keep him still. "Nobody's even seen a hangover until they've met one of yours."
Gerard made an innocent face. "I wasn't going to!"
"I thought you didn't drink," Bob said curiously.
"I do sometimes," Gerard shrugged. "Not like - I mean, I used to. Kind of a lot. But they didn't exactly encourage crazy partying in the seminary."
"Which one did you go to?"
"Oh, I know where that is," Ray nodded. "Did you like it?"
"I didn't," Mikey grumbled, curling back into Ray a little bit. "It was way closer to our house than SVA but he still had to live in the dorms. It was so lame."
"It was policy," Gerard rolled his eyes. "It's to help you prepare for clerical life. And you were the one who used to bitch me out for never leaving the house, okay. At least it got me out of the basement."
Mikey lifted his aching head long enough to prod the pillow into shape, then settled back down with a sigh. He didn't like thinking about Gerard in the basement. "Whatever. Hey, I never got a chance to ask what happened at the hospital."
"The doctors wouldn't tell me anything," Gerard said, "But I overheard a couple of nurses talking, and it seems like the kids were just dehydrated and overheated. I mean, that's normal, right? Plus if they stood in line for a long time and they have low blood pressure, that can cause dizziness and fainting spells. There wasn't anything to tie them to Pete. I think it's just coincidence."
There was a knock on the door. Everyone turned pleading eyes on Gerard, who sighed and got up to answer it. "Oh," he said. "Hey."
"Hey." Frank moved past him into the room, and started laughing as soon as he laid eyes on Mikey. "Man, you guys smell like you lost a fight with a brewery."
"Fuck off," Bob groaned. "And stop shouting."
"I'm not shouting!" Frank protested. He kicked Bob's bed on the way past and laughed when it made Bob groan again.
"You're in a good mood," Ray observed warily.
Frank grinned and sat on the edge of the bed. He bounced and Mikey and Ray both moaned and slapped at him. "Yeah, it was a good night. Plus now I don't have a hangover and all you guys do, and that always makes me happy."
"You're going to hell," Brian grumbled from the other bed. "And you wouldn't be so happy if you knew what we had to deal with last night."
"What happened?" Frank said. "Is everyone okay?"
Mikey pinched his thigh. "No, jackass, Pete almost bled to death."
Frank's mouth fell open. "What? Oh, shit, it's not stigmata, is it? Did he get any tattoos lately?"
"Where were you?" Gerard said suddenly. He was still standing by the open door. "You're just getting back now?"
Frank raised his eyebrows. "I crashed in another room. Is that a problem?"
"I don't know," Gerard folded his arms. "Did you do anything that might compromise our investigation?"
"What?" Frank stood up, staring at Gerard. "Are you kidding?"
Don't, don't thought Mikey, but Gerard said, "Does it seem like I'm kidding?"
"You are way out of line," Frank said in a warning tone.
"And you're no use to us if you've been awake all night," Gerard snapped. "You should get some sleep."
Frank waved his hand at the guys. "But we're meeting. I want to know what happened with Pete."
"Then you should have been there!" Gerard said angrily. "Just leave, Frank, we didn't need you last night and we don't need you now."
The room was completely silent. Mikey wished he wasn't lying down, that he could get in between where Frank and Gerard were staring at each other, Gerard's face locked down tight, Frank's completely incredulous.
Finally Frank stalked over to Gerard. He got up in his face and hissed, "I didn't take any fucking vows," before slamming out of the room.
Nobody moved for a second, then Bob heaved himself up off the bed and went after him, throwing Gerard a glance on the way out that made Gerard look down, like he was ashamed. "I'm going to fill him in on last night."
Ray and Brian followed a second later. "We'll be right next door," Ray said quietly. He touched Mikey's knee as he left, and shut the door behind him.
Gerard stayed where he was for a minute, then went and sat on the other bed. He pulled his knees up to his chest and sighed.
Mikey watched him from the other bed. It was like when they were kids, living at home. "What's the matter, Gee," he said heavily, knowing the answer already. "You jealous?"
"Yes," Gerard said in a small voice. He looked up and caught Mikey's eyes, then immediately looked away, out of the window. "I know. I know."
Mikey stared at him. "Gee."
"I know," Gerard said again, wrapping his arms around his knees. He rocked back and forth a little bit, agitated. "I'm trying not to be. I have no right."
"You really don't."
Gerard was silent for a while.
Mikey said, "Have you prayed about it?"
Gerard laughed hopelessly. "Every day. I don't understand why He would put Frank in front of me. Why would He put him right in front of me when I can't-" he broke off, biting viciously at his lower lip. "He made me, He knows me. He must have known how I would feel."
It was always bizarre for Mikey to hear Gerard talk about God like he was real. It wasn't that Mikey didn't believe, exactly. He wasn't entirely sure and he was fine with it – it was the way Gerard was sure, his unshakable conviction that God existed, and that he cared, and that Gerard's personal relationship with him mattered. God was as tangible to Gerard as any flesh and blood person, and it weirded Mikey out that Gerard was so close to someone Mikey could never meet.
Especially when Gerard got all upset with himself for not understanding God's mysterious ways or whatever. That mostly made Mikey want to call God up and tell him to fucking explain himself because he was making Mikey's brother crazy and that shit wasn't cool.
"If it's a test," Gerard said, "Then I am seriously flunking. I can't stop-" he broke off again, muttering to himself under his breath and shaking his head. "I didn't know that I was still so weak."
"I don't think Frank would be thrilled to hear you categorize being into him as weakness."
Gerard made a little noise, a laugh or a sigh. "Does he know?"
"No," Mikey said. "But you keep acting like a jealous girlfriend, that might change."
Gerard got his rosary out and wrapped it around his fingers. "I didn't mean to. It just got away from me."
"Yeah, well, now everyone thinks you're a douchebag."
"Maybe I should just tell him," Gerard said suddenly. "Maybe I should just tell him how I feel."
"No," Mikey said immediately, forcing himself to sit up and swing his legs over the side of the bed. "Gerard, no. Absolutely not. No."
Gerard made a frustrated sound. "Why not? Things between us can't get any worse, I mean, maybe if he knew, then we could, you know, work something out."
Mikey covered his eyes. "Please don't say what I think you're going to say. Even you aren't this completely fucking moronic."
"You don't have to be sleeping together to be close!" Gerard insisted, because apparently he was exactly that moronic. Mikey groaned and resisted the urge to plug his fingers into his ears. "Lots of people have relationships without sex, I mean...look at-"
"If you say Buffy and Angel," Mikey said in the most serious voice he could muster, "Then I swear to God, I will strangle you myself."
"But it's true!"
"Yeah," Mikey agreed. "Right up until they do sleep together, and then he loses his soul and starts eating her friends."
"I'm not a vampire," Gerard said pissily. "And that's only temporary."
Mikey took his hands off his eyes and sat up, staring Gerard square in the face. "You're right. They fix it, after she sends him to Hell. Gerard, you're a fucking priest! What the fuck did you think was going to happen?"
Gerard's face was a picture of misery, eyes wide and mouth turned down at the corners. "You're pissed at me," he said, in a voice tinged with disbelief.
"I just – this whole thing is so…ugh," Mikey pushed his fingers under his glasses and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "Look. I love you. But that's my best friend. He's not a teenaged virgin, he's a grown man."
Gerard was quiet for a long time after that, the rosary beads rattling as he moved them around his wrist. "What if they fall in love? What if Frank falls in love with that guy?"
Mikey took a couple deep breaths, and tried to be gentle when he said, "Well, that would be good. That would be the best thing, for Frank."
"I don't want what's best for Frank," Gerard confessed in a tiny, anguished voice, and then immediately covered his mouth with his hands like he couldn't believe he'd admitted that out loud.
Mikey couldn't believe he'd admitted it out loud. If Gerard was anyone else, Mikey would absolutely be doing the 'I need to be away from you for a while' thing right now, but as it was, he was fucking stuck with him. He let his face do whatever it wanted, though, and whatever Gerard saw there, he really didn't like.
"Don't look at me like that," he begged. "I'm trying, Mikey. I'm talking to you about it, aren't I?"
Mikey shook his head and lay back down, staring at the ceiling. "What if it's not a test? What if you and Frank are – what if God had another reason for making it so you'd meet?"
"Then I have to assume that means He doesn't want me for a priest," Gerard said heavily. He sounded so tired. There was still blood on his face from last night. "And that means I have no fucking idea what we're doing here, because the last time I checked, the whole priest deal was fairly integral to our little operation."
Mikey didn't know what to say to that. It was true, but on the other hand Mikey had a hard time believing that God – the God Gerard believed in, anyway – would want anybody to be lonely and hurting like that, just so he could make a point.
"All I know is that you can't tell Frank," Mikey said eventually. "He's – you don't know him like I do, Gee. If he thinks there's a chance, then he won't let it go."
Gerard sighed. "I guess you're right."
"I am," said Mikey firmly. He sounded a lot surer than he felt.
They were back on the bus when Frank appeared next to Mikey's bunk, shirtless. He held up the tub of ointment that Ray made for him and waggled it at Mikey. "You mind?"
Mikey shook his head and rolled out of the bunk, grabbing the tub as he stood up. Frank turned around wordlessly, presenting his bare back to Mikey.
Mikey didn't know exactly what Ray put in the cream, but whatever it was, it worked. Frank's scars hadn't faded completely, and Ray said that they probably never would. They'd stopped improving about six months ago, but Frank still slapped the stuff on regularly. He'd told Mikey he was afraid they'd come back if he stopped, raised and livid like they were before.
"How do they look?" Frank wanted to know, his head bowed as Mikey smoothed the lotion over his shoulders.
"Not too bad," Mikey said. The pale, silvery lines lay criss-crossed in every direction, etched into the skin forever. Frank's tattoos were still in their ruined state, and Mikey knew that underneath Frank's jeans the scars continued, some reaching all the way down to the backs of his knees. "The same."
"Yeah," said Frank. He waited for Mikey to finish up, then turned around. "Thanks."
"No problem." Mikey handed him the tub back, and Frank screwed the lid on, then stood there staring down at it for a minute, chewing his lip. "What is it?"
Frank's eyes darted around everywhere while he hesitated, and then he took a deep breath and blurted out, "Would you have sex with me?"
Mikey stared at him. "Uh."
"I don't mean – God, Mikey," Frank rolled his eyes. "I mean the scars. Like, if you didn't know me, would they - would they put you off?"
Mikey had never thought about that before. He knew Frank didn't like to go shirtless in public anymore, and he knew it was for the same reason that he wore long sleeves all the time, the same reason he'd asked Ray to cut his hair so it fell in his face. But he didn't exactly spend a lot of time thinking about sex and Frank. Not since they first met, anyway, before they'd decided to be best friends.
Frank was still looking at him anxiously, and Mikey realized he hadn't said any of that out loud.
"It's hard to say for sure," he said honestly. "Because I do know you, so when I look at you, I just see, like…you."
Frank deflated a little bit. "Oh."
"But I don't think it would," Mikey added.
"Well, but don't take my word for it. I had a huge crush on Bride of Frankenstein when I was a kid."
Frank rolled his eyes again. "Thanks, man, I feel all warm and fuzzy with the reassurance."
"They're really not that bad," Mikey promised him. "And you're just about cute enough to pull it off."
"Fuck you," said Frank, but he'd relaxed enough to smile a little bit.
Mikey watched him digging around in his bunk for a shirt. "Did Cortez say something about them?"
"What?" Frank pulled the shirt over his head, then reached up to pat his hair down over his forehead. "No. And keep it down, dude, his bunk is like, right there."
"Okay," said Mikey. "But I think the incredibly loud snoring is a good sign he's not listening. You must have seriously worn that dude out."
Frank rolled his eyes and grabbed his cell. "Whatever. I'm going to call my Mom."
"Gee's in the back lounge," Mikey told him.
"Okay," said Frank, and headed for the front of the bus.
"Frankie," Mikey called after him, but Frank just called back, "Don't bug me about it, dude," and closed the sliding door behind him.
Mikey rolled back into his bunk and closed the curtain. As soon as they'd gotten back on the bus everyone had crashed out, except Gerard, who was muttering to himself over his books, and Frank, who apparently didn't need to sleep when he'd gotten laid the night before. Mikey's eyes were heavy; he let the movement of the bus lull him into a doze, waking sometime later when he felt someone brush past him.
"Hey," he heard Gerard say in the back lounge. "How's your Mom?"
"She's ok," someone replied. Frank. "You find anything?"
"Not yet - listen, Frankie, I'm really sorry about this morning. I was totally out of line."
There was a silence. Mikey leaned out of his bunk. He could just make out Frank standing in the doorway, arms folded. "Yeah," Frank said, his voice tense. "You really were."
"I was just worried," Gerard said quietly. "You didn't come back all night and I was worried, and I let it come out like I was mad."
Frank sighed heavily. "You know, you could have let me know shit was going down. Why the fuck didn't any of you call my cell?"
There were some shifting noises, and then Frank moved, and Mikey could see Gerard drawing him down to sit at the little table with him. "I'm sorry," he repeated. "I was totally wrong. Can you forgive me?"
"Gerard, come on." Frank leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes. "Of course."
Gerard smiled, relieved. "Good."
Neither of them said anything for a while. Frank put his hand over Gerard's, and Mikey saw him pull the rosary out of Gerard's fingers. He wrapped it around his own fist. "Why's it called the Rosary?"
"There's a bunch of different explanations, but legend is that the prayer itself was given to Saint Dominic when Mary appeared to him in the thirteenth century."
Frank hummed, rubbing his thumb over the beads. "As late as that?"
"Well, the prayer as we know it, yeah. See, way back monks and clergymen used to recite the hundred and fifty psalms of King David, and the people who lived nearby wanted to be part of it, right? Only they couldn't read, or understand what was being said, so they started saying one hundred fifty Our Fathers instead. Eventually it started to evolve, and when a version emerged that was fifty Hail Marys instead of a hundred fifty, it was called a rosarium - a bouquet of roses. Over time the term came to mean the prayer and the beads, although the whole counting prayers bit goes back to like the beginning of time, and isn't exactly a Christian preserve." Gerard watched Frank for a minute. "You know, this whole Marian devotion thing you got going is very, very Catholic, I hate to tell you."
"Shut up," Frank told him, smiling a bit. "I don't know, it's like...I don't think you're lying or anything, but I still don't know if I buy the whole God deal. But it's like...I believe in her. In what she represents, I guess. Does that make sense?"
"Very Catholic," Gerard said again, laughing when Frank rolled his eyes. He was looking at Frank's face, and after a minute he reached up and slid his fingers over the scars on Frank's forehead, under his hair. Frank stayed so still, his eyes fixed on Gerard's. Mikey held his breath. Gerard said, very quietly, "Frankie, I need to-"
The bus swerved crazily all of a sudden and Mikey came rolling out of his bunk, landing heavily and painfully on the floor. That was bad enough, but then something round and heavy fell out of one of the bunks above him, and landed on Mikey's stomach.
"Fuck," he complained. Frank and Gerard came scrambling out of the lounge, and Frank grabbed the thing while Gerard helped him sit up. "What the fuck is that thing, it felt like a bowling ball."
"I don't know," Frank said, examining it briefly before shoving it into Mikey's empty bunk. "Shit, Mikey are you okay? What happened?"
"The bus swerved and I fell out of my bunk, genius, what do you think?" Mikey said grumpily. He flattened his hands over his stomach, which hurt. He didn't think he was bleeding internally or anything, though.
Bob stuck his head out of his own bunk. "What's going on?"
"Mikey fell out of his bunk," Frank told him.
"Okay." Bob looked at Mikey, then back at Frank. "Let me rephrase: what's going on that's so loud?"
"Guys," said Gerard.
"Is someone hurt?" Ray wanted to know from behind his curtain. "Do I need to wake up?"
"Guys," said Gerard again.
"Someone's going to be hurt if they don't keep it the fuck down," Bob bitched.
"Guys," Gerard snapped, making them all shut up and look at him. He'd retrieved the bowling ball thing from Mikey's bunk and was turning it over in his hands, looking at it with an expression that never, in Mikey's experience, meant anything good. "Which bunk did this come out of?"
There was a silence while they all looked at each other expectantly, and then Gerard got really agitated and insisted, "Someone tell me which bunk it came out of!" and Mikey startled and pointed to the middle bunk on the left.
"It's Mark's," Gerard said, yanking the curtain back. The bunk was empty except for Danny's red backpack. "Shit, shit Where are they, does anyone know?"
"I think they're on another bus," Ray said slowly, frowning. "Gee, what is that thing?"
Gerard met Mikey's eyes and made a face that meant, we can't talk about this here before disappearing into the back lounge again.
"What the fuck," said Frank.
Mikey heaved himself off the floor and motioned to the other guys to shut up, digging for his cell. He typed 'dont talk abt this in frnt of muggles' and held it up so they could all read it. Frank grabbed the phone and typed something in reply, handing it back to Mikey when he was done.
"I don't know," Mikey told him. "But let's wake Brian up. I think things just got worse."
When they were sequestered in the back lounge, with a towel stuffed under the sliding door so nobody could fling it open, Gerard set the ball on the table and pointed to the design on the top. "See this?"
They all leaned over to check. The ball itself was dark in color, almost black with threads of murky green running through it. There was a design marked into it - not carved, exactly, more like it was held under the surface of the ball. It looked kind of like a coat of arms or something. "What are we looking at?" Mikey asked Gerard.
Gerard pushed an open book into the middle of the table, and pointed to a picture. It was the same design as the one on the ball. "It's a transformation seal used in necromancy. It drains the victim and uses their life-force to power up the thing they're trying to raise. Sort of like a blood transfusion, but with the energy that's generated by a human soul." Gerard turned the ball over and pointed out another design on that side. "I don't know what this one means, yet."
Brian looked up at Gerard. "Let me get this straight. Two little kids are using this thing to drain Pete Wentz's life force so they can bring somebody back from the dead?" Gerard nodded tightly and Brian looked at Frank. "Man, remember when we thought your stigmata thing was weird? I miss those days."
"I don't," Frank said with great feeling. Mikey really agreed.
"Look, I don't want this to be true any more than you do, Brian," Gerard sighed. "But think about it. Their parents are dead, they're all alone. It wouldn't be the first time someone tried to bring back somebody they loved."
"So what do we do?" Mikey asked him. "Can't we just break it?"
"Uh," said Ray, raising his hand. "Can I vote against that? We don't know what it'll do, plus I really doubt Mark would have left the key to his evil plan in his bunk. What if it's a trap?"
Mikey had a horrible thought. "Shouldn't we warn Pete about this? I mean, Mark could be doing anything to him right now. We don't even know where he is."
"You have Pete's number?" Brian asked. Mikey nodded. "Call him. Don't freak him out, just find out if Mark's on his bus. We'll get the books we need out of the baggage compartment when we hit a rest stop."
"There's something else," Mikey said, something Mark had said coming back to him all of a sudden. "Pete's attacks have been happening for about a month, right?" Gerard nodded, so Mikey went on, "That's how long Mark and Danny have been with the tour."
Gerard sat back, looking heartbroken. "Shit. I really didn't want it to be them. They're so young."
Bob raised an eyebrow. "There's no age limit on being fucking crazy, Gee."
"No," Gerard said miserably. "I guess not."
"Hey," said Mikey, jogging up to Pete when they all piled out of the buses at the rest stop. "I need to talk to you."
They found a picnic bench a reasonable distance away from everyone, and Mikey filled Pete in on what they'd found in Mark's bunk, leaving out the part about their dead parents. "So we really need you to put them back on our bus for the rest of the journey," he finished. "So we can find out what's going on."
Pete shook his head, bewilderment written all over his face. "They're just kids, Mikey. Danny isn't even twenty-one."
"I know." Mikey felt bad – it must be horrible to feel like someone who was supposed to be part of your own crew could do something like this, but even more than that he felt bad for the kids. "But that's why Gee wants to talk to them on the bus, you know, where they can't run away. I don't think Cortez and Charlie should be there to hear it, though."
"But what if they try to hurt you?" Pete said doubtfully. "Maybe Charlie should stay. He's a total hardass."
Mikey laughed. Pete looked offended, but it was just cute that he was worried about them when he was the one writhing in agony the night before. "I think Joe was right when he said we should try to keep this to the four of you. Besides, come on, dude, we can handle two kids."
"Pfft," Pete poked Mikey in the thigh. "Look at you, a stiff breeze would carry you away."
"Lucky for me most crazy evil masterminds don't rely on wind turbines."
Pete laughed, shaking his head. "Man, I can't believe this is even happening. Is it really happening? I mean, necromancy? It's like something out of a movie." Pete set his chin in his hand looked around at the other tables, people sitting, eating, smoking, talking on the phone. Then he looked up at Mikey suddenly, his eyes super-wide. "Wait a minute – does that mean it's all real? God, Jesus, the Devil, all that stuff?"
Mikey shrugged, and picked at a hole in the knee of his jeans. "We don't know for sure. Well, Gerard does. Thinks he does. I don't know." Mikey stopped talking, because it was all coming out wrong. He sorted through his thoughts before trying again. "There's definitely something, I guess, I mean…people keep being able to do this crazy shit. But I don't know about the rest of it."
"Wow," said Pete. He smiled suddenly. "Man, this is gonna piss Patrick off. He's an atheist."
"So's Frank," Mikey said, and then realized he didn't actually know if that was true anymore. "Do you? Believe in God, I mean?"
Pete nodded. "Yeah, totally. I just never thought that meant I ought to believe in the other side too, I guess." He was quiet for a while, picking at the cuffs of his hoodie where they were tugged right up to his fingertips. "Do you know why this is happening to me?"
"No," Mikey said honestly. "But if we can talk to the kids, then maybe we can find out."
Pete still didn't look convinced. "I don't know. Shouldn't we call the police?"
"And tell them what?" Mikey waited for Pete to do something other than look baffled, and when he didn't, added, "Yeah, that's where we always run out of ideas too. Look – the people that do this kind of thing? After we stop them, we have to hand them over to the Vatican."
"What do they do?"
"I don't know." Mikey pulled his knees up and rested his chin on one. "Gerard can't tell us. But I know that whatever it is, he doesn't want it to happen to Danny and Mark. We need to find out what's going on before it gets any worse."
Pete wanted to ask his boys before he'd agree to it, but when the buses started rolling again, Danny and Mark were herded unwillingly up the steps after Gerard.
"We should restrain them," Brian said quietly, putting a hand on Gerard's arm when he made a face. "I know, Father, but they could be dangerous."
"Fine," Gerard sighed. "But I don't know what we can use. I don't exactly carry handcuffs with me."
Frank held up a finger, then went to rummage in Cortez's empty bunk. He came back bearing two pairs of handcuffs. Both were padded. One was leopard print. Mikey liked those the best.
"Oh my God," said Ray, his eyes like saucers in his head. "There is no way you can possibly think this is appropriate."
"Ugh," Frank said disgustedly. "We didn't use them, you perverts, he just thinks they're funny. They're from the fans."
Bob took the non-leopard pair gingerly and turned them over in his hands. "They'll have to do, I guess."
Gerard was blushing so hard Mikey actually felt sorry for him. He cleared his throat like nine times and still sounded strangled when he said, "Just make sure they're comfortable."
Brian watched while Bob and Brian urged the kids to sit down and tried to find a way to restrain them that wouldn't hurt or be too much…well, too much like they were handcuffing kids. Mark had a face like thunder, but Danny just looked terrified.
"You know you could totally go to jail for this," Mark spat, making it as difficult as possible for Bob to close his cuffs. "You're like, holding us against our will or whatever. You can't do this. You're not cops."
"No," Brian agreed, snapping Danny's cuffs closed. "The cops have to read you your rights."
Gerard had disappeared into the back lounge; he came back carrying Danny's red backpack, which he placed on the table in front of him. "I believe this is yours?"
"Oh, shit," Mark said, comprehension dawning on his face. He whipped around to his brother. "What the fuck did you do? You idiot, what the hell were you thinking?"
Danny flinched away a little, hunching in on himself. He shook his head miserably, not meeting his brother's eyes.
Gerard sat down and reached into the bag, pulling out the ball. He set it on top of the empty backpack. "Do you guys know what this is?"
"No," Mark said immediately, lifting his chin. "I've never seen it before in my life."
"Really," said Gerard. "Okay. So can you tell me what it was doing in your brother's backpack?"
Mark threw Danny a murderous look. "I really can't."
Gerard looked at him thoughtfully for a minute, then leaned forward, folding his arms on the table. "Why don't you like priests, Mark?"
Mark snorted. "How long do you have?"
Gerard smirked. "As long as it takes, kid. We're in a big metal tube going seventy on the highway. Nobody's going anywhere."
Seeing them go back and forth over the table like this, Mikey felt like he was back home in Jersey, watching Gerard try to wrangle his youth ministry kids. When he first started they gave him so much shit; one of them even stole his car. Gerard was like a freaking bulldozer when he wanted to be, though, plus he pretty much wrote the book on being a moody adolescent.
"So you can talk to me, or you can talk to the cops," he was saying now. "Your choice."
"The cops can't do shit, man," Mark said in a bored voice. "Do you think I'm stupid or something? What, are they going to put me in jail because you say you found a ball in my brother's bag?"
Gerard folded his arms over his chest. "Jail?" he said. "No. Back in the care system I suspect you ran away from? Absolutely."
Mark gaped, but recovered fairly quickly and scowled, "I'm twenty-one."
"He's not, he's seventeen," Danny blurted out, wincing when Mark glared at him. "I'm sorry, Mark, but he obviously knows."
"What about you?" Mikey asked Danny.
Danny shot a nervous glance at Mark. "I'm fifteen."
"Jesus Christ," said Brian. "Father, they're just babies."
"Fuck you, man," snapped Mark. "I can take care of myself, and my brother."
"Is that what you're trying to do?" Gerard said gently. "Are you trying to bring back your parents?"
Mark stared at him, all the color draining quickly out of his face. "How could you – how do you know about our parents?"
"I told him," Danny confessed in a tiny voice.
Mark stared at him, a bunch of emotions battling each other across his face.
"Mark," Gerard went on in the same soothing voice. "I swear I'm not trying to play you. People's lives are at risk and I just need to know what's going on."
Danny turned his wide, rabbity eyes on Mark. "Lives? Mark, what is he talking about?"
"He's just trying to scare you," Mark insisted, but he didn't sound entirely sure. "He's full of crap just like the rest of them. You think your collar makes you hot shit, motherfucker?"
"Kid," said Mikey, because enough was enough. "Watch your mouth."
"Fuck you," Mark scowled.
"Hey!" Gerard said sharply. "You might not have any reason to trust me, Mark, but you don't have any reason not to either and right now, I'd say I'm your best bet of getting out of whatever mess you've gotten yourself into. I don't think you're a bad kid, and you obviously care about your brother, so unless you want me to call the police right now and report your ass, I suggest you drop the attitude and start answering some questions. Now for the last time," he said hotly, indicating the ball again. "Do you know what this is?"
Mark flushed but held Gerard's gaze for a few seconds, before glancing quickly at his brother and admitting, "No."
Gerard let out a huge, relieved breath and nodded. "Good. That's what I wanted to hear."
"And they just took the money, no questions asked?"
Mikey nodded. "Yep. All they had to do was make sure this thing was near you while you were on stage. They never even asked what it was."
"Man," said Joe, "I knew those kids were weird."
They'd relayed the whole story to Pete and his guys: how Mark and Danny didn't have any family other than their parents, that they'd wound up getting sent to separate group homes, and in a moment of desperation, Mark had accepted an offer made to him by 'some shady dude' to carry the soul-sucking ball, or whatever it was, onto Pete's tour. The shady dude had paid the kids half up front, with a promise for the other half when he met them in Chicago.
"What I don't understand," Patrick said for the millionth time. "Is how they got on the tour in the first place. You seriously can't remember, Pete?"
"No," Pete shook his head. "I just remember begging Dan to let them come along."
Andy scratched his beard. "Like mind control?"
"It was probably just a temporary thing," Ray said. "It's actually pretty simple once you know how."
Mikey cut his eyes at him. "I'm going to remember you said that."
Ray waved him off, smirking. "The point is, the kids had no idea what they were getting into. Once they realized you were getting sick, the little one got scared, and left the thing where he thought Gerard would find it."
"But it's okay now, right?" Patrick said. "I mean, it's over?"
"We don't know," said Frank. "We need to keep the kids and that weird ball thing away from you, Pete, and we'll see how you are after the show tonight."
Mikey didn't know whether it was better or worse that Mark was doing this for money, that it wasn't because he was trying to bring his parents back from the dead. Being an orphan was pretty much the worst thing Mikey could imagine in the world; it had been bad enough when his Grandma died, although he knew that it had been worse for Gerard.
It had happened right after Gerard graduated from SVA, the ink barely dry on his diploma. At first Mikey was kind of mad at the way Gerard wallowed inside his own misery; locking himself in the basement, only staying awake long enough to drink himself back to sleep again. It seemed so selfish, when Grandpa had lost his wife, Mom had lost her mother; everybody was hurting but Gerard just went to pieces, totally lost inside his rage and grief.
Mikey remembered going down to Gerard's room with the intention of dragging him upstairs, and saying furiously, "I loved her too."
Gerard didn't turn to face Mikey, stayed facing the wall. He said blankly, "Not like I did," and as much as Mikey wanted to argue with him, the thing is, he was right. Mikey loved his Grandma and he would miss her for the rest of his life, but she had been Gerard's hero. And that was different, because Mikey's hero was Gerard.
Mikey was pretty sure that if Gerard had found a way to bring her back, he would have taken it in a second. When he thought about it, actually he was glad that wasn't what Danny and Mark were trying to do, because when Mikey imagined trying to tell them that it wasn't going to happen, his stomach hurt.
He, Frank and Bob stayed on Pete's bus for the rest of the journey, leaving the kids alone with Gerard and Brian. Mikey still didn't know what Gerard was going to do with the kids, and it wasn't even like Mikey could help him decide because the stupid Vatican wouldn't let Gerard tell him anything.
"I mean, they had no malicious intent," he said anxiously to Mikey once they reached the venue and the kids were safe in a room with security posted outside. "They weren't trying to hurt Pete. They had no idea. They were just desperate and someone took advantage of them."
Mikey agreed, but he also thought that handing back to the care system wouldn't help, when they'd been desperate enough to do anything to get away from it. "Isn't there, like, can't the Church look after them?"
Gerard gave a hollow laugh. "Yeah, I'm sure Mark would be just thrilled with that. One of the homes they were in before they were separated was run by the Church."
Oh. "And…it wasn't nice?"
"No," Gerard said shortly. "It wasn't."
He obviously didn't want to talk about it, which meant Mikey didn't want to hear about it, really, because anything that Gerard didn't want to talk about had to be pretty fucking bad. He just rubbed Gerard's shoulders and made a sympathetic noise.
"There's just no way that it's over," Gerard said, rubbing his eyes. "My guess is that this shady guy, whoever he is, is draining more people in Chicago itself. But I can't figure why he needs Pete."
"Well, but he won't have him anymore, right?" Mikey pointed out reasonably. "I mean, won't that ruin his plans?"
Gerard shook his head, his mouth set in a grim line. "I don't know, Mikey. Seems like they always find a way."
Whatever Gerard's misgivings were, the show that night went off without a hitch, and afterwards Pete was totally fine, no ill effects at all. He practically danced off the stage and immediately wrapped Mikey up in a tight, sweaty hug, dancing him around a bit so Mikey had to cling to his shoulders in case they ended up on their asses on the floor.
"Magic," he said, beaming, and pressed a wet, smacking kiss to Mikey's cheek. "You're totally magic, Mikey Way."
Patrick and the other guys were smiling so hard Mikey was a little worried they might hurt themselves. "This is what he's like," he heard Andy say to Bob. "This is what he's really like, when he's okay."
Everyone was in a good mood after that. The band because Pete wasn't fading away in front of their eyes anymore, the crew because the tour was a breath away from being over, and Bob because he kept remembering things that his Mom cooked that he couldn't get anywhere else and couldn't wait to have.
"I mean, I don't want you to think I only love her for her food," he said seriously. The crew were still loading the buses back up, and Mikey was keeping Bob company while he had a smoke. "But good God, the woman can cook."
Mikey nodded, lifting his hand to shade his eyes from the sun. "I believe you, man."
"Plus you really can't get good pizza outside of Chicago," Bob mused.
"Hey," Frank scowled, leaning on the wall next to Mikey and lighting a cigarette of his own. "Jersey pizza is the best, man."
"You know I'm not even going to dignify that by debating it with you," Bob said lightly. "Don't even try."
"Hey guys, good news," Brian said, snapping his phone shut as he came out to join them. "I just spoke to Craig, and it turns out he sits on the board of a charity that helps troubled teenagers. He thinks he can find somewhere safe for Danny and Mark to stay."
"Seriously?" Brian nodded and Mikey thumped his shoulder. "That's so awesome, man, Gee's gonna be stoked."
Brian grinned. "It means they won't have to go back to a group home, won't have to be separated. I think Mark's still going to need someone keeping an eye on him, but-" he was cut off by his phone ringing again; he looked down at the display, raised his eyebrows, and answered it. "Ray? Why are – what?" Brian frowned. "Why? But – okay, then. We'll be right there."
"What is it?" Mikey said as soon as he hung up.
"I don't know," Brian said worriedly. "He's upstairs with Gerard and the kids. He said we need to get back up there."
"Every time when we're having a smoke, Jesus," Frank bitched, pinching off the cherry and sliding the cigarette back into his pack.
The venue was super-quiet inside; everyone must be outside already, Mikey guessed, but one of the security guards was still standing outside the door. He nodded at Mikey in recognition and opened the door to let everybody in.
Once the door was closed behind them, Mikey noticed that Gerard was standing weirdly; totally still in the corner of the room with his hands hanging by his sides. Ray was standing next to him, and the kids were nowhere to be seen.
"Hey," Mikey started, "Where are-"
There was a sudden scuffle behind him, and a really ominous clicking sound, and when Mikey turned around he saw that Mark was holding a gun.
A gun. "Mark, what the fuck?"
"Get back," Mark ordered, waving the gun at them in a hand that shook. Mikey didn't know what to do – try to get it off him, stand in front of his friends so they wouldn't get hurt, yell at him to put the thing down. It was so weird, Mark was just a kid and now he had a gun, and Mikey's overwhelming instinct was just to do whatever the fuck he said, but he seemed to be rooted to the floor.
"Get back," Mark repeated, and Mikey snapped out of it and did as he was told, shuffling backwards until he felt Gerard at his back. The other guys did the same; Frank moved incredibly slowly but eventually they were all huddled in the corner of the room. Mark's hand was still shaking; he wrapped his other hand around it too but the gun still shook as he warned them, "Don't move. Don't you fucking move, all right?"
Mikey's lungs were seizing up; he groped behind him for Gerard's hand, to hold onto it and reassure himself that he was there.
"Danny, grab your bag," Mark ordered, reaching out with his foot to kick at Danny's shin when he didn't immediately comply. "I said grab your fucking bag!"
Danny moved miserably to the other corner of the room, where he zipped up his backpack with the ball inside before heaving it onto his shoulders. He glanced briefly over to them and whispered, "I'm sorry," before moving back to stand behind Mark again.
Mikey could feel the tension crawling off the other guys in waves; Frank was almost shaking with it, and Mikey wanted to meet his eyes and make sure he was okay, but he couldn't seem to pull his eyes away from Mark, away from the gun. Even for a second. The safety was still off; Mikey wished he didn't know that, that he hadn't seen it a thousand times in the movies, that it wasn't possible for a kid to know how to work a gun.
"We should just yell for the security guard," Ray whispered, breaking the silence.
"You try it and I'll fucking kill you," Mark said, and even though his voice was wobbling as badly as his hands, Mikey believed him. "We're going to leave now, and you're not going to try and stop us, okay? If you try to follow us, I'll shoot you. I mean it."
"Fuck this," Frank said suddenly, and before any of them could react, he was already across the room, he was moving towards Mark, towards the gun.
Mikey wasn't even aware that he was moving; everything seemed like it was in slow-motion at the same time as it was speeding up. He was next to Frank, suddenly, and trying to get him away from danger, and everyone was yelling and pulling at each other and all Mikey could think was the gun's going to go off, it's going to go off, and then suddenly Mark had his back pressed to the wall and Frank was right there in front of him, the barrel of the gun resting against his forehead, and everyone stopped moving at once.
"What the fuck, Frank," Brian hissed, but Frank didn't even blink, just kept staring at Mark. Mikey was going to throw up, he was sure. He kept his eyes on the gun as if it would go off if he looked away for even a second.
Mark's hands were still shaking, Danny was crying now, tears running down his face as he pulled weakly at Mark's shoulder. "Don't," he pleaded. "Mark, they'll send you to jail."
"You're not leaving this room," Frank said softly. He wasn't even sweating or anything, he looked totally calm, and Mikey found that almost as scary as the gun. "Shoot me if you want, kid. Kill me, I don't care."
Mark's eyes flickered up and down, and he said, "Okay."
"Frank," Mikey said desperately, and then Mark turned the gun on him.
"I bet you care if I kill him, though, don't you?" he said to Frank, who had already backed off, hands held up in front of him. "Right? You want me to shoot him, or are you gonna back the fuck off?"
Frank stumbled backwards even further, his eyes moving frantically between Mikey and the gun. "Backing off. See? Don't – look, just put the gun down."
Mikey raised his hands in front of him, because that's what people did in the movies when they had guns pointed at him. He could feel his heart slamming inside his chest, could feel how scared he was and how it must be showing on his face. He kept swallowing down the acid in his throat and just didn't look away, kept his eyes on the gun.
"Where did you even get it?" Gerard said, taking a step forward and then stopping, hands held out, when Mark jerked the gun briefly in his direction. "Mark, why are you doing this? I just want to help you. Nobody's going to split you and Danny up, I promised you that."
"You said it could bring our parents back," Mark said, moving slowly towards the door, backwards, keeping Danny behind him and the gun trained on Mikey all the time. "This ball thing, you said it could do that, right? I mean, you asked if that's what we were doing with it. So that's what it's for? That's what it can do?"
Gerard's face drained of color, and he closed his eyes and swallowed briefly before saying, "Mark, I didn't mean that-"
"You said!" Mark insisted. "You don't understand, I didn't know it could do that. And now I do, and – and I have to try, okay? I'm sorry, I don't want to hurt you," his voice had started to break, and he was on the verge of tears when he added, "But we need them back. You don't know how much things suck, okay? You don't know how bad it is."
"I should never have – Mark, it won't bring your parents back, it doesn't work that way. You have to listen to me," Gerard begged, his hands outstretched. He had started moving again, and this time Mark seemed to be letting him, although he still kept the gun pointing at Mikey. "People don't just come back from the dead. What you're talking about is incredibly dangerous, and it's wrong, Mark, it's so wrong."
"I don't care!" Mark said, starting to cry for real. "I don't care if it's wrong, I don't care what God thinks. He shouldn't have taken them away."
"I know it's hard," Gerard soothed him, getting close enough to start edging his body into the line of fire. "I know you're angry, and it isn't fair, and we don't understand why bad things have to happen to the people we love. But you can't bring them back. Even if you're successful, they won't be your parents. They won't – people don't come back the way they were, Mark. They come back wrong."
By now Gerard was standing right in front of Mark, and when he reached up and put his hand over Mark's, on top of the gun, Mikey's heart stopped. But Mark let him push his hand down, tears streaming down his face. Danny had his arms wrapped tightly around Mark's waist, his face pressed into his shoulder, and Mikey could hear the soft, anguished noises he was making.
"You're going to make it worse, and I won't be able to help you," Gerard said gently. "Give me the gun."
For about a second, it seemed as though Mark was going to do it, but just as Gerard was curling his fingers around the gun he snatched it back and pointed it at Mikey again. "I'm sorry," he repeated, fumbling behind him to open the door. "But they said that they could help."
He shoved Danny through the open door, kept the gun trained on Mikey as he backed out of it himself, and then they were gone.
"Mikey," said Gerard, whirling around and running to pull Mikey into a hug. Mikey clung to him and felt how Gerard's heart was beating just as fast as his own, how Gerard's skin smelled sharply and sourly of fear. "Oh, fuck, Mikey, I was so scared."
"Me too," Mikey mumbled against Gerard's shoulder. He felt Gerard's hand on the back of his neck.
"The guard's gone, too," Bob said grimly. "He must be the one who gave them the gun. He was probably watching the whole time to make sure they did as they were told."
"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Brian already had his phone out. "What do we do, call the cops?
"No," Gerard said immediately, releasing his grip on Mikey a little bit. "That's not what Mark needs."
"What?" Ray said furiously. "Gerard, he just pointed a gun at us, at Mikey. Who cares what he needs, he could hurt someone!"
"Call Pete," Gerard said to Brian, ignoring Ray. "Tell him to get on his bus, lock the doors, and only have people he trusts on board with him. Just the band, if possible, and that Charlie guy, he's been with them for a long time, right?"
"Got it." Brian pressed his phone to his ear and set off for the stairs, beckoning for Bob to follow him.
Gerard turned back to Mikey. "You're sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine," Mikey nodded, easing himself out of Gerard's grasp and going to put his hands on Ray's arm, instead. "I'm fine, Toro, take it easy. He didn't hurt me at all."
"He could've, though," Ray insisted. "All my sympathy for that kid just went right out the window."
"For real," Frank agreed, and then jumped when Gerard rounded on him and shoved him across the room.
"What the fuck were you thinking?" he yelled. "Getting in his face like that when he had a gun? Are you out of your mind? You think that tattoo makes you bulletproof? Was that supposed to be brave?"
"No," Frank said, startled, but Gerard wasn't done.
"It wasn't brave, it was stupid! What the fuck is wrong with you, Frank, you don't care if you live or die anymore? Is that it?"
"I was just trying to-"
"I don't care! I don't wanna hear it," Gerard seethed, his hands curling and uncurling restlessly by his sides. "You have a death wish, that's your problem. But you keep it the fuck away from Mikey, do you hear me? If you ever put him in danger by being a stupid crazy asshole again, then I swear, Frank, I'll-"
"What?" Frank burst out, giving Gerard a shove of his own. "You'll what, Gerard, lecture me to death? Stop including me in your prayers? Take it out of the paycheck I don't get? Fuck you."
Frank turned on his heel and slammed out of the room, leaving Mikey and Ray to stare at Gerard, who was still glowering at the space Frank had been standing in a moment before.
"Don't," he said, when Mikey reached out for him. "Let's just get back to the bus."
Mikey spent the whole of the rest of the night saying, "I'm fine," over and over and over again. Gerard kept making anxious faces, and Ray didn't even seem to believe that Mikey hadn't been shot: he kept putting his hands on Mikey's shoulders or his face or the front of his chest and frowning like he thought maybe Mikey was hiding a bullet hole somewhere.
"What's weird about it," Mikey said to Frank when they'd barricaded themselves into the back lounge, "Is that I'm still the same. I mean, it seems like having a gun pointed at you should be a life-changing thing, you know? Like I should have had a revelation."
"So your life didn't flash in front of your eyes?" Frank said curiously.
Mikey cut his eyes at him. "You tell me."
Frank waved his hand. "He was never gonna shoot me, dude."
"You thought he was gonna shoot me," Mikey pointed out reasonably.
Frank scowled and said, "That's different."
It totally wasn't, but Mikey didn't want to get into it. He didn't want to ask Frank if he would have done the same thing if he thought Mark would shoot him. Instead he said, "Pretty much I just felt like I was gonna hurl. Brave, right?"
"Hey, man," said Frank. "You didn't cry or shit yourself. Count it as a win."
"I wonder if I would have gone to Heaven," Mikey mused aloud. "I mean, I didn't confess or anything. You know, like Lucy?"
"I should fucking think so," Frank said grumpily. "We don't even do anything except eat, sleep, and work our asses off. If we die and there's a Heaven and we don't get in because we didn't say the right fucking prayers, then I am kicking somebody's ass."
Mikey actually thought that God, the one that Gerard talked about, wouldn't care if you didn't happen to have a priest to hand when you died in a car crash or whatever. But he kind of liked the image of Frank getting in the angels' faces outside the gates of Heaven, yelling and demanding to see a manager. He imagined it like the DMV, which was always a fun place to go with someone who had as short a temper as Frank. Only the Heaven DMV was in the clouds, and everyone wore white and floated around peacefully.
Mikey relayed this image to Frank, who lit a cigarette and said, "Sounds dull as shit, my man."
Mikey told him, "Then you'd better stick around here."
They arrived in Chicago the next morning; one day in advance of the final show of the tour.
"Day off!" Cortez crowed the next morning, coming into the lounge with no shirt on and his jeans so low on his hips Mikey thought they must have been staying up purely through force of will. He was pretty hot. Frank usually had good taste. "You guys have plans?"
"We're going to Mass," Gerard said stiffly, gathering some books together and stuffing them into his bag. "And then to see Bob's parents."
"Rock and roll," Cortez smirked, and Mikey immediately decided that Frank had terrible taste and was no longer allowed to choose his own hook-ups. Then his phone rang; he looked at the display. It was Pete. Mikey answered, "Hey, everything okay?"
"Well, nobody tried to shoot me last night, so I'd say I'm doing better than you."
Mikey rolled his eyes. "I'm fine. God."
"Can you guys come to my bus? I wanted to ask you something."
Mikey told Brian, who rounded up Bob, Ray and Frank from wherever they'd gotten too, and they all trooped over to Pete's bus together.
"Hey," said Pete when they got inside. Patrick, Joe and Andy were sitting there with him, but the bus was empty otherwise. "So, this thing isn't over, right? I mean, it doesn't feel over. There's kids with guns and shady security guys and shit."
"It's not over," Brian agreed.
Pete nodded, then looked at Joe, who said, "So what happens now? I mean, are you guys, like, do you have someplace to stay?"
Bob raised his hand halfway and said, "My folks are putting us up."
Andy raised his eyebrows. "All six of you? What are you gonna tell them?"
"I don't know," Bob said uncomfortably. "I didn't work it out yet."
"Okay," Pete nodded, then got up and came over to Mikey. He touched Mikey's arm and said quietly, "Because the thing is, I'm not totally crazy about you not being around. I like knowing that you're here, in case something happens."
"We're not leaving you," Mikey said, trying to sound reassuring. "We'll be here in the city. You can call us any time."
Pete shook his head. "I have a house. I mean, I won't be there, I don't think? Because it's kind of big and empty, and I don't really live there, I just thought that I should buy one or something -"
"He's staying with me," Patrick interrupted him, smiling a little when Pete rolled his eyes. "What? Dude, if you hadn't asked I was going to force you anyway."
Pete rolled his eyes again and went on, "The point is, you could stay there. And then I would know where you are. And it's close to Patrick's. And you'd be in my house. Does that even make any sense?"
Mikey nodded. "Sure."
"Okay," Pete smiled, wide and relieved. "And you're coming to the show tomorrow night?"
"Actually, we wanted to talk to you about that," Gerard said, perching on the seat next to Patrick. "The thing is, that we don't really know what's coming next. Obviously there's something bigger than the kids at work here, and considering the attacks you were having after the shows before, maybe it would be best if you-"
"No," Pete said firmly, shaking his head. "We're not canceling the show."
"I know it sucks," Brian put in, "But we just want to keep you out of danger."
Joe scrunched his mouth up. "Pete, if it's the shows that are making you sick, then-"
"It wasn't the shows! It was that ball thing. Right?" Pete turned to Mikey, as if he was some kind of expert and should know what the fuck to say.
"That was definitely part of it," Mikey hedged. "But like Gee says, we don't know for sure."
"I'm not canceling a show for 'not sure'," Pete argued. "It's a sold out show. We can't cancel on ten thousand kids, they'll be so bummed. And what would we even tell anyone? We have to cancel in case someone tries to suck out my soul?"
Patrick cleared his throat. "Pete, if something happened to you because we didn't cancel-"
"Nothing's going to happen!" Pete insisted. "You'll be there, and Mikey and these guys, and we have security!"
"Like the security who gave Mark a gun?" Ray said quietly. "That kind of security?"
Pete stared at him a little wildly, then kind of deflated and went to sit down by Patrick. "We can increase our own security, then," he said, looking at Patrick as if it was up to him. "We'll say a venue guy went crazy, or something, get the label to find some more guys, frisk everybody twice, metal detectors, whatever." Pete touched Patrick's arm. "It's our homecoming show, Patrick. Please."
Patrick held Pete's eyes for a long moment, frowning deeply. Mikey felt like everyone was holding their breath until he said, "We're not going to cancel."
"Fine," said Brian, in that voice that meant he really wanted to kill you for your own good. "But you better have security so good your own mother can't get backstage, okay?"
There was a van to take them to Pete's place, and after they'd dumped their stuff (and marveled at the fact that it was a house, that it had stairs and bedrooms and more than one bathroom and that it was theirs, sort of, that they didn't have to sleep on the floor or tiptoe around anyone else) they headed out to Mass.
Mikey was actually half expecting Frank to pass on it, but he came along and sat there with his arms folded, looking pissed off and refusing to close his eyes or bow his head for prayers, just like he always did. Mikey wasn't big on prayers either, but it was nice to sit quietly and just be alone with his thoughts for a few minutes. He didn't have to listen to what the priest was saying; he let himself think about Pete, about the case, about how scared Danny and Mark must have been and where they were, if they were okay.
The only time he really paid attention was when they took Communion. At first Mikey had just gone along with it to make Gerard happy, but now he kind of liked it; plus it seemed like he deserved to receive the Host considering he was busting his ass on the Host's behalf every day. Confession was another story, though. Gerard went whenever they passed a church, it felt like, but Mikey didn't believe that telling a priest you were sorry when you weren't would really win you any points, and he also didn't see how saying prayers to God could make up for being an asshole to someone here on Earth. Unless maybe God was going to cut the person you sinned against a little slack in their day-to-day life, or something.
After church they went over to Bob's parents' house.
"Who are we again?" Gerard wanted to know, sliding his collar off and unbuttoning the top two buttons of his shirt. "What are we all doing here?"
"We're Bob's friends and colleagues and we're on a road trip," Brian recited, flattening his hair down with one hand. "At no point is anyone to mention anything about fighting evil or being unemployed, all right?"
"They'd probably be okay with the fighting evil part," Bob said, and then a blonde woman opened the door and went, "Robert!" and hugged Bob so hard he practically came off the floor.
It was kind of weird to watch Bob with his parents. Bob was one of those people that Mikey thought of as just being Bob, like he'd sprung fully-formed from a rock, or something. It was strange – in a nice way - to watch him hug his Mom over and over, and make faces when his Dad told him he ought to cut his hair. It made Mikey miss his own parents so bad his stomach hurt, though.
"Jesus Christ, I miss my Mom," Frank muttered in Mikey's ear. Mikey bumped his elbow.
"So how long are you boys staying in town?" Mrs. Bryar asked, while she helped Mikey to his umpteenth serving of lunch.
"We're not exactly sure," Bob said after exchanging a glance with Brian. "I mean, we're helping a friend out with some stuff, and I'm not sure how long it'll take."
Mr. Bryar looked interested. "What kind of stuff? Music stuff?"
Bob hastily shoved a potato in his mouth and made a non-committal face.
"We always hoped he'd go back to that," Mr. Bryar told Ray. "He went to school for it, you know."
"No kidding," Ray said seriously. Bob rolled his eyes.
"He's so talented," Mrs. Bryar chimed in, wiping her hands on a dishtowel before sitting back down next to Bob. "But then he decided he wanted to draw pictures on people for a living instead."
Frank speared a green bean with his fork. "With all due respect, Ma'am, he's talented at that too."
"I can see you think so," Mrs. Bryar looked pointedly at Frank's hands. "Are they all my son's work?"
"All but one," Bob said.
"We really ought to make the trip to see your shop one of these days," Mr. Bryar said, pouring himself another glass of juice. He tilted it at Gerard and said, "What about you, son, do you work there too?"
Gerard looked completely panicked, and Mikey almost choked trying to swallow his mouthful of food so he could garble, "He's my big brother," and pray that Mr. Bryar left it at that.
Luckily, Brian was there to distract both of Bob's parents with his managerial experience and entrepreneurial spirit. It was pretty clear that they both thought he was the best thing Bob had ever brought back to the house, and Mikey was content to stuff himself with as much of Mrs. Bryar's cooking as he could possibly fit in his body, and listen to Brian wax lyrical about investments and real estate and all the other crap he loved that made Mikey suicidal with boredom. More than anyone Mikey knew, he thought that Brian deserved to get rich someday, if only because he seemed like he would actually know what to do with more than fifty bucks.
"Well," said Bob when they were on their way back to Pete's house. "Apart from the part where we had to lie about everything, I thought that went pretty well."
"I'm sorry," Gerard said immediately.
Bob gave him a weird look. "Hey, it was my decision to do this. I'd tell them if I didn't think they'd worry all the time."
Gerard made a face. "I just feel bad that you're away from them."
"But I'd be away from them anyway," Bob said patiently. "I haven't lived in Chicago for years."
"Dude," Mikey interrupted, because otherwise this was going to go on forever. "He wants to feel guilty. Just let him."
"I don't want to," Gerard grumbled. He pulled his collar out of his pocket and slid it back on. "You could have stayed, you know. You don't have to come back to Pete's."
Bob looked at Gerard for a minute, then said, "Did you want to stay?"
"No," Gerard said guiltily. He looked away.
"Hey," said Ray, "Don't feel bad, man. I would have moved in if they'd let me."
"Me, too," Brian said.
Pete and his guys came over later, to talk to Brian about security arrangements and pack some stuff for Pete to take to Patrick's house. Mikey was sitting in the den with Gerard and Frank when Andy came in, got a chair, turned it backwards, sat with his arms folded along the top of the backrest and fixed Gerard with a stare.
"Uh," said Gerard.
"I wanna ask you stuff," Andy said. "But Pete says not to because you've been nice to him. Will it piss you off?"
"I don't know until you ask me," Gerard said reasonably. He closed the book he was reading and folded his hands in his lap. "Shoot."
"Okay." Andy moved around, making himself comfortable – as comfortable as you could be sitting backwards on a wooden chair, Mikey thought – and opened with, "Do you believe in God? I mean, really?"
Mikey could respect that; someone who didn't dance around and just got straight to the point. But he was impressed when Gerard managed to limit himself to bugging his eyes out and giving a slightly strangled, "Really."
Andy nodded. "What about people who believe in God but they're not Catholics, or Christians even. Is it a different God? How does that work?"
"I believe that there's only one God. But I think there's lots of different paths to Him. Catholicism is the one that I'm on, but I don't think God really cares," Gerard said, stretching his linked hands out in front of him. "Probably he doesn't care if you believe in Him at all, as long as you're a good person."
Frank snorted on the other side of the room. Gerard ignored him.
"So Darwin isn't burning in Hell right now?" Andy asked.
Gerard made an incredulous face and laughed. "Why would he be? The Church accepts evolution. It's taught in Catholic schools."
"Yeah, but like, in the intelligent design way, right?"
Gerard took a deep breath, and Mikey settled himself more comfortably on the couch because evidently they were going to be here for a while. "No way, man, the Church came out really strongly against intelligent design, especially in schools. The Pope got all bent out of shape about it, it was actually pretty cool." Gerard paused and looked into the distance for a minute, evidently contemplating the Pope's coolness. Mikey saw Andy and Frank exchange a little smile. Mikey nudged Gerard, who kind of shook himself and went on, "The official position of the Church is theistic evolution, which basically states that science and faith can be reconciled when it comes to creation. You don't have to believe one or the other because they're not in opposition."
Andy made a face. "I think Adam and Eve might have something to say about that."
Gerard jerked his chin at Andy and waited for him to lean forward before whispering conspiratorially, "Adam and Eve is just a story. Don't tell." Andy bugged his own eyes out now, making Gerard laugh and say, "In all seriousness, man, evolution explains our physical presence on Earth, right? The big bang, the gradual appearance of life, the whole bit. But it doesn't explain why we have souls, why there's a spiritual aspect to our existence. Why we're different from other animals, why we even have the capacity to wonder if there is a God. That's where Catholics turn to their faith."
"All right," Andy said, "I can dig that," and then he went quiet and gave Gerard a look that clearly said you are not going to like this next part.
Gerard groaned. "What?"
Andy kind of shrugged, picked at his nails for a second, then said, "I gotta ask, man."
Gerard sighed, tilting his head back. With his eyes closed, he guessed, "Why can't women be priests?"
"Seriously," Andy burst out, waving his hands. "It's so stupid!"
"I agree," Gerard sighed, just like he did every time Bob got on his case about it. It was weird: when they were kids, 'patient' was not a word that Mikey would ever, ever have used to describe Gerard. It was actually kind of comforting on the rare occasion when Gerard lost his temper nowadays, like he was still a real person. Although mostly it only ever happened when he was talking to Frank.
"What?" Andy was saying now, apparently less impressed by Gerard's diplomacy than Mikey. "You're not gonna try and defend it?"
Gerard spread his hands in a helpless gesture. "I could tell you how the Church defends it. The Catechism states that because Jesus only chose men to be His apostles, the Church can't overturn that decision."
"But what about that thing you told me about?" Frank piped up, frowning. "The sensus fidelium, the thing where the Church can change its mind according to what the people believe?"
Gerard made a face. "It doesn't apply to explicit decisions made by God. Man-made laws can be bent, but a decree from God is absolute" Frank scowled and Gerard hurried to add, "Look, I could go on and on about this, all right, I could quote Corinthians at you until you go insane, but honestly, when it comes down to it, I got nothing. I know all the reasoning behind it, but it's all bullshit if you ask me."
Andy either didn't notice the tension or didn't care, because he said, "I read that the number of newly-ordained priests is like, dwindling every year. Wouldn't they be able to boost their numbers if they just let women in?"
"You would think," Gerard sighed, reaching into his pocket. He frowned, patted it, and looked over at Frank, who waved the rosary at him. Mikey noticed that Gerard didn't ask for it back, just nodded and turned back to Andy.
"I mean," Andy said, clearly getting his teeth into the topic, "This article was saying that it's so desperate that if you're a minister for a different denomination, like a Methodist or something, and you're married, you're still allowed to become a priest if you convert."
Frank went completely still, and Mikey felt Gerard wince, actually physically felt it before Gerard admitted, "That's true."
"And they get to keep their wives?" Frank demanded, sitting bolt upright and staring at Gerard. "Stay married? That's not fair."
Gerard paused for a long time before reluctantly agreeing, "No. It isn't."
There was a horrible, tense silence, which Andy looked confused by and Mikey hurried to break by asking, "Why doesn't everyone just be a Methodist minister, get married, and then convert?"
Apparently that was the wrong thing to say because Gerard scowled and said, "It's a calling, Mikey, not a five-year plan."
Whatever, Mikey was only asking. He figured Gerard was getting shit from enough sides as it was, though, so he kept quiet.
"What if they're married to a dude?" Andy wanted to know. "Would they be allowed to be a priest?"
"Why?" Andy asked innocently, even though he blatantly already knew.
Gerard obviously felt the same, because he gave Andy kind of a hard look before saying resignedly, "Because individuals with deep-seated homosexual tendencies can't be ordained."
Andy whistled, low. "You know that any other employer would be getting sued through every orifice, right?"
Gerard laughed a little, rubbing the heels of his hands against his eyes. "I know."
"Do you think it's a sin?"
Gerard grimaced. "The Church states that-"
"I didn't ask the Church," Andy interrupted. "I asked you. Do you have a problem with dudes being into dudes?"
Mikey was starting to wish he was in any other room of the house. He could see Frank winding himself up on the other side of the room, and he could feel how stiffly Gerard was holding himself when he said, quietly, "Really, really not."
Andy kind of blinked, and then Mikey could tell when he got it because he said, "Oh shit. Really? Aren't they pissed about it?"
"They don't exactly know," Gerard said tiredly, and Mikey had to work so hard not to look at Frank, not to start yelling at Andy to leave Gerard alone.
"But they must have asked," Andy pressed. He didn't sound mean, only fascinated, but Mikey still had to wedge his hands between his legs in case he accidentally slapped one over Andy's mouth to shut him up. "I mean, don't they like, screen, or whatever?"
"Yeah," Gerard said dully. "They do."
Frank's voice was clipped and hard when he said, "So you lied about it. I mean, you didn't just omit to mention it. You lied."
Gerard looked helplessly at Mikey for a moment, but Mikey didn't know what to do, how to diffuse the situation. He just shrugged and pressed his foot against Gerard's. Eventually Gerard said, eyes on his knees, "I took a vow of chastity. I don't see why it matters who you might theoretically have sex with if you've vowed not to have sex with anyone at all. And besides, the passages in the Bible that deal with sexuality are so easy to interpret in any way you-"
"What does it say?" Frank interrupted. "The Catechism, not the Bible. What are the words? Come on, tell me," he insisted, his face and shoulders tense. "It's not like I can't find out."
Gerard was quiet for a long time. Frank kept staring grimly at him, Andy just looked confused, and Mikey's stomach felt like a bag of snakes; he knew what the Catechism said, and he knew Gerard didn't believe it. He knew it was going to make Frank go nuclear and he also knew that Gerard was just dumb enough not to at least lie until there was nobody else around.
"Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin," Gerard recited quietly, in a way that made it clear he wouldn't ever be able to forget it if he tried, "It is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder."
There was a thick silence, then Andy said, "With all due respect, man? How does that not piss you the fuck off?"
"It does," Gerard said exasperatedly, throwing his hands up. "But just because it's written, that doesn't mean that it's true – Frankie, come on," he said as Frank stood up abruptly and stalked out of the room. "Shit."
"Um," Andy said sheepishly. "I didn't mean to start shit."
"It's not your fault," Mikey promised him, then felt guilty when he added, "Frank's just pissed off all the time."
Gerard was looking miserably in the direction Frank had gone; Mikey nudged him again, and Gerard dragged his eyes back to Andy. "We took the liberty of the looking you guys up on the internet," he said slowly, clearly willing himself to get back into the conversation, not to get up and run after Frank. "You're an anarchist, is that right?"
Andy nodded and held his hand up, making a sign Mikey didn't understand. "Anarcho-savagist, yeah."
Gerard nodded, sucking his lower lip into his mouth. After a minute he added, "And you're in a chart-topping pop group."
Andy kind of clicked his tongue, made a face that was half pissed-off and half impressed, then admitted, "Sometimes my lifestyle doesn't match my beliefs." Gerard spread his hands and smiled a little, and Andy laughed, holding his hands up to concede. "All right, you got me. You're cool, you know? I like you."
"Thanks," Gerard smiled back, un-tensing a little against Mikey's side. "I like you too."
Andy grinned and tested his luck by saying, "So are you pro-life?"
"Are you anti-life?" Gerard shot back.
Andy tilted his head. "Kind of," he said impishly, but Gerard only laughed. Andy said, "Look, I didn't mean to get in your face, honestly. I'm just interested."
"It's all right," Gerard said easily. "It's kind of like your tattoos. If you're not willing to get shit for it for the rest of your life then you probably shouldn't sit down in the chair, right?"
When the guys left later that evening, Mikey went to the door to see them out.
"I'm sorry about before," Andy said, pausing on the doorstep. "That was kind of heavy, huh?"
"What did you do?" Pete wanted to know. "Mikey, what did he do?"
"Nothing," Mikey said, ignoring Pete when he made a pouty face. "I'll see you tomorrow. You'll call us if anything happens in the night, yeah?"
"Promise," Pete nodded, and gave Mikey a tight hug before following the others to the car.
Mikey went upstairs and stuck his head into the room Ray was sharing with Frank. "Hey, Toro."
"Hey!" Ray smiled, patting the bed he was sitting on. "Come on in."
Mikey went and sprawled out on the bed, rolling from side to side a little just because he could. "God," he moaned. "A real mattress. I could sleep for a week."
Ray laughed a little and patted Mikey's leg. "You can take a nap, at least. I think Brian's already crashed out so we're off the hook for the rest of the night."
"Mmm," Mikey curled up around the pillow, taking his glasses off and blinking when Ray transformed into a blur. "What about you?"
Ray stood up. "I actually have something I want to try and do a little work on. You want me to wake you in a little while?"
"Nmm," Mikey told him, already falling asleep.
When he woke up, he was kind of cold and his clothes were twisted uncomfortably around his body. Mikey hated sleeping in his clothes, and he made a face as he stood up, rearranging everything and groping for his glasses on the nightstand.
The empty room came into focus, and Mikey yawned as he stumbled out of the door and down the hallway to the bathroom. He smiled as he passed Bob and Brian's room, both of them snoring like freaking freight trains. He didn't know where anyone else was, though, so after he pissed and splashed some water on his face (and his hair, which looked insane. Maybe he could get Ray to do something with it) he went downstairs, heading for the kitchen.
He saw Gerard going in there as he turned the corner, and he was about to jog after him and catch up when he heard Gerard say, "We need to talk."
Shit. Mikey's heart sank. The last thing he wanted was to get involved in another round of the Frank and Gerard show, so he hid in the shadows and peeked around the door.
Frank was standing at the sink, fiddling with something Mikey couldn't see. Gerard leaned back against the opposite counter, arms folded. He watched Frank for a minute, then said, "Turn around, Frank. You know I'm here."
Frank stopped whatever he was doing and stood still for a moment, head bowed. Then he turned around to face Gerard, folding his own arms. He nodded once. "All right."
Gerard looked momentarily relieved, but the silence in the room was thick and soon he was making an anxious face. "Are you okay?"
"Frank, can't you tell me how to make this-"
"I'm leaving," Frank cut in, still looking at the floor. "After we're sure this is over, this thing with Pete. Once he's okay, I'm out."
Gerard blinked. "What?"
"Did I stutter?"
"Where will you go?"
Frank shrugged. "Home."
"And do what?"
"I don't know. See my mom." Frank cleared his throat, looking up at Gerard finally. "Finish school maybe. Don't look at me like that, man, you said it yourself. You don't need me."
Gerard's eyebrows shot up. "I didn't mean that. You know I didn't, I apologized."
Frank nodded, allowing that. "Thing is, you were right. I wasn't meant for this. I know you said all that stuff about everything happening for a reason, but I pretty much think that's bullshit, so - "
"But you can't just quit!" Gerard said urgently, and then stepped back, startled, when Frank slammed his hand down on the counter.
"I can do whatever the fuck I want! I say what happens in my life, not you, not the Church, and not your fucking God either!" Frank scrubbed his hands over his face, then sighed, loudly. "I'm so sick of this. I'm sick of trying to live by these rules that I don't believe in – I am not a perfect person, Gee, not by anybody's standards, but I'm not a fucking hypocrite. I'm not."
"Are you saying that I am?"
"Jesus Christ," Frank gave an exasperated laugh. "For someone who's dedicated their life to the service of God you are amazingly self-centered, do you know that? I actually wasn't talking about you, hard as you may find that to believe, but if you want the honest truth? Yes. I think you're a hypocrite. I don't even know how you remember whose side you're on, dude."
"I'm not on anybody's side," Gerard said, frustrated. "Why does everything have to be black and white with you? Why is it so wrong for me to hold personal opinions that maybe don't exactly match up with my religious beliefs-"
"Because they're not your beliefs," Frank insisted. "They're things that you feel like you have to defend because you wear the uniform!"
Gerard gaped at him. "The uniform? Okay – just tell me right now so I know what to expect, all right, is there actually an end to how disrespectful you can be?"
"Disrespect? You wanna talk about disrespect? A moral evil, are you fucking kidding me? And you fucking pander to it, it makes me sick."
Gerard threw his hands up. "What the fuck is your problem, Frank why are you attacking me?"
"Because you lied!" Frank said furiously. "You lied about your sexuality so they'd let you be a priest, and you try to spin it with all this bullshit about how it doesn't really matter, and it's based on out-of-date opinions, and God doesn't hate fags blah blah blah but at the end of the day, you made a conscious decision to hide it - and not because you were ashamed. Not because you believe them when they tell you that it's wrong. You deliberately hid it because you wanted in. It was more important to you to be accepted into their creepy-ass institution than to stand up for what was in your heart - "
"How can you say that to me? I told you what happened with Nicole," What? thought Mikey. When? "You know I lost my ministry because I did what I thought was right-"
"You lost your ministry because of the fucking backwards policies of your stupid Church!"
"The Church saved my life!" Gerard yelled, his hands balled into fists. "And it saved yours too, Frank, whether you like it or not!"
"You are not this fucking deluded," Frank yelled back. "The Church hates us, you idiot, and you know it! You know you would've never been ordained in the first place if you hadn't hidden the fact that you're queer!"
Gerard didn't say anything; he was flushed and he looked scared, but he didn't back down either, just kept staring steadily at Frank.
"You got a justification for everything," Frank went on softly. "Queers aren't going to Hell, jerking off isn't a sin, abortion isn't the worst thing a woman can do in the eyes of God. But here's the thing – when it comes right down to it, your bosses don't agree. And as long as you keep taking their money and doing their dirty work-"
"Dirty work?" Gerard said incredulously. "We – we've saved lives, Frank."
"And ruined our own in the process. I can't even remember what it was like to be a real person anymore. Maybe you signed up for that. I didn't."
Gerard watched him sadly. "Do the others feel this way?"
"Not that I know of," Frank shrugged. "Maybe it's different for them. Maybe they still see you as a priest."
Gerard hesitated, then said, "And you don't?"
Frank looked up at him. "No," he said quietly. "I see you exactly as you are."
Mikey didn't know which one of them moved first, but the next thing he knew Gerard had Frank pinned against the counter – at first Mikey thought they were fighting, and he thought how strange that was, when Gerard was so gentle – but of course they weren't, they were kissing, Frank making desperate noises against Gerard's mouth, his fingers tangled tightly in his hair. Mikey closed his eyes and pulled back behind the wall again, pressing his hands over his eyes and trying to calm himself down, trying not to give into the urge to run into the kitchen and rip the two of them apart. It seemed to go on forever, things clattering to the floor and Frank's sneakers making this weird squeaking sound, and then Frank's voice saying,
"Come upstairs with me."
There was a long pause, and then Gerard said. "I can't."
"Why?" There was a shifting noise, and when Mikey dared to peek back around the corner, Gerard was holding Frank out at arm's length. "Why not?"
"You know why," Gerard said quietly. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have let that happen."
Frank's eyebrows creased; his expression was gentle, and he touched Gerard's face. Gerard frowned deeply, and Frank looked anxious as he tried to move in again. "Don't – just come upstairs with me," he said urgently. "You want to."
Gerard hesitated, then took a step back, shaking his head. "I can't."
"Why?" said Frank again, his hands still stretched out. "Because it's against the rules? Or because you have a justification for everything except me?"
"Frank," Gerard said. He stopped then, as if his throat had closed up, and swallowed several times. He sighed deeply, eyes closed, and then went on, "I thought – what about you and Cortez?"
"I didn't sleep with him," Frank said urgently. "I couldn't. He wasn't-"
"You should have," Gerard said. "Don't – you shouldn't wait for me. I can't give you what you want."
Frank was searching Gerard's face with his eyes. "But you kissed me."
"You kissed me first."
"That was a year ago!" Frank snapped. "I was fucked up!"
"And I told you then that it couldn't happen!" Gerard said hotly. "I told you my work is my priority, and that's never going to change now matter how hard you push me, so just stop! You have to stop!"
"Stop throwing the word priority at me like it means anything!" Frank demanded. "You break the rules all the time! We're not even supposed to work with you, but you wanted Mikey to come with you-"
"You wanted him to come with you because you missed him," Frank talked over the top of him. "You couldn't give him up. Are you telling me that your work is genuinely the most important thing in your life? That you'd give us up? That you could give up someone you loved in the name of doing God's work? There's no way, I know you. You could never do that. So why can't you-"
"What?" Gerard burst out. "Abandon my calling so we can fuck? Is that what you want?"
Frank looked like he'd been slapped, and Mikey felt guilt deep twist deep in his belly like a knife. They stood there staring at each other for a minute, and then Frank reached into his pocket; he brought out Gerard's rosary, and laid it down on the counter. Gerard's eyes followed it the whole time.
Frank came towards the door, and Mikey had to get out of there fast so he wouldn't be seen. He stumbled down the hall into the downstairs bathroom and fumbled the door closed after him, sitting down on the closed toilet seat and dropping his head into his hands.
His whole brain was swimming inside his skull. He couldn't believe that Frank would say he was going to leave them, that he would say that to Gerard when Mikey had no idea. That they'd been talking, that Gerard had told him things that only Mikey knew and had never thought to mention it, that Gerard had kissed Frank, that Frank had kissed Gerard, a year ago when he'd promised Mikey that he wouldn't. That Gerard hadn't told him, that Frank had lied to Mikey about Cortez. That there was all this stuff that Mikey didn't know, and how was he supposed to keep them from hurting when they wouldn't even tell him what was going on?
When the shock settled down a little and Mikey could start to work out what was underneath it, he mostly felt pissed off. With Frank, with Gerard, with both of them, with God, with himself for not being able to do anything about any of it. He sat there leaning against the wall and breathing for a while, only standing up and unlocking the door when he was sure he wasn't going to stab anyone in the throat.
He didn't want to see either Frank or Gerard, so he crept back down the hall and into the den, peering cautiously around the corner until he could see that it was just Ray, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the low table.
Mikey sidled over and sat down on the opposite side. Ray was mixing some stuff together and funneling it into a vial.
"Hey," he said quietly. "You okay?"
Mikey didn't really trust himself to speak, so he just nodded. Ray reached over the table and resettled Mikey's glasses on his nose.
"Wonky," he explained, and gave Mikey a small smile before going back to what he was doing.
Mikey just sat in silence for a while, content to watch Ray's hands moving on the table. As Mikey watched, he took some tweezers and used them to pinch out a tiny amount of the mixture in the vial. He tapped it into the metal dish, then struck a match and set the mixture alight.
A blue flame popped up and then hovered a few inches above the dish, stretching until it was a wobbly sort of square shape, hanging vertically in the air.
"Pretty cool, huh?" murmured Ray. Mikey kept his eyes on the flame and nodded. "In theory, if we use enough of this it can make a wall of flame."
Mikey took his glasses off and polished them on his shirt. "In case we want to burn the motherfucker down?"
Ray kind of laughed. "I was thinking more if we need to stop anyone from moving, or something. But sure, I guess it could be used for the burning of motherfuckers, if you want."
"Good," Mikey said sullenly. He put his glasses back on.
Ray was giving him a curious look. "Any motherfuckers in particular?"
Mikey shook his head. "Just in general," he lied. He watched Ray a little while longer, then asked him, "Do you ever want to go home?"
Ray put down what he was doing and folded his hands, watching Mikey carefully like he was really thinking about it. "Sometimes. I mean, I miss my family, but…well, I have you guys. And it's important, what we do."
"It's weird," Mikey said, thinking about what it had been like before, about Ray working in the shop, doing Mikey's hair every morning. "I mean, all that time you could do this and you didn't even know."
"I know," Ray smiled goofily. "It's crazy, isn't it? It's like a calling, or something. I didn't really think those were real."
Mikey felt a pang of envy in his chest so strong it was almost painful, and he had to stretch a little to work it out. He was thrilled for Ray, obviously he was, and it was so cool what he could do, but he was so jealous. Not of the magic or whatever, just of Ray knowing that's what he was meant for.
"I was mad at Gerard when he discovered his calling," he confessed to Ray. Ray raised his eyebrows, but waited for Mikey to continue. "I was mad because I don't have one."
Ray frowned, tilting his head. "What do you mean?"
Mikey sighed, and tried to think how best to explain. "I guess I just always thought we'd do something together. We were going to be in a band," Mikey looked furtively at Ray to see if he was laughing at that, but he just looked concerned. "Or write a comic book. And then he decided to do, like, the one job I couldn't do with him, and I thought that maybe I'd get called to the priesthood too, you know?"
Ray nodded, but he looked confused.
Mikey probably wasn't saying it right. He tried again. "It's like in the shop. You and Frank and Bob and Brian, you all have something that you do. And – and I just book appointments. And sweep up hair." Mikey fell silent for a minute. He pushed at some of Ray's herbs with one finger.
"Mikey," Ray said incredulously. "Are you out of your mind?"
Mikey blinked. "What?"
Ray shoved a bunch of stuff out of the way and reached over the table to hold Mikey's hand. "We wouldn't have had a single customer in the shop if you hadn't done whatever it was you did to keep them coming in," he said firmly. Mikey rolled his eyes, because that was so stupid, all Mikey did was tell people about the shop and then give them a time to come in. He didn't make them decide their shop was better, or anything. He didn't try, anyway. Ray looked mad and insisted, "It's true. And you were the one who said we needed to focus on Pete, right? You knew from the start that he was in trouble. And who was there with Frank when all that shit with Luke started going down? Who was the one who told Gerard about it?"
Mikey looked down at where Ray's fingers were tangled with his own. Ray had nice hands, he thought. He'd always thought. He said, "But I don't do anything. Once it starts, I just – I don't do anything. I'm-" he paused, because he hadn't admitted this to anyone out loud, then muttered, "I'm the zeppo."
Ray squeezed his hand. "The zeppo stops the school from being blown up while everyone else is busy crying and fighting a giant hell-squid," he said, a smile warming his voice. "And you get to have sex with Faith."
Mikey laughed despite himself. His glasses had slipped down his nose; he pushed them up with his free hand. "But then I lose an eye."
Ray squeezed his hand again, then got up and came around the table, folding himself down to sit by Mikey. "Is there anything else?" he said, rubbing Mikey's knee a little bit. "You seem…I don't know, like the weight of the world wouldn't be an exaggeration."
Mikey wanted to tell him, he did, but it wouldn't fix anything, and besides, it was kind of nice being away from it, from the crying and the hell-squids. Metaphorical hell-squids. Gerard would love that, he thought, and then immediately realized that Gerard wouldn't because it was a hell-squid of his own making, and he must have looked miserable because Ray leaned forwards and folded him up into a hug.
Mikey sighed and closed his eyes and just let himself be hugged. Ray felt nice to hold; he was warm and solid and he breathed slowly. He rubbed his hands over Mikey's back and said, "It'll be okay."
Mikey rubbed his face against Ray's shoulder. "But you don't even know what's wrong."
"Hey," Ray said, squeezing him. "Trust me, okay. I can do magic."
Mikey laughed again, and pulled back to call Ray a doofus or something, except Ray moved at the exact same moment, and their faces were touching, and then Ray kissed Mikey on the mouth.
"Oh," said Mikey, as Ray flushed crimson and pulled away, ducking his head. "Oh. Seriously?"
Ray twisted his mouth around, not looking at Mikey. "Like you didn't know," he said in an embarrassed little voice.
"I didn't," Mikey said. It was the truth. It hadn't even occurred to him to think about it until that exact second, and it was kind of a huge thing to think about.
"I know I'm like, as far away from your usual type as you can get," Ray started.
"Yeah," Mikey agreed, and then when Ray looked hurt, he stumbled to explain, "That's – I mean, you're not just some kid from around. You're Ray."
Ray eyed him a little warily. "I am."
Mikey wasn't an impulsive person by nature; not like Gerard, who had changed his mind about his destiny or whatever so often when they were growing up that Mikey had never believed he was actually going to be a priest until he was getting ordained. Mikey liked to think of himself as being more considered.
He leaned forward and kissed Ray again; properly this time, because this was an important decision and Mikey wanted to have all the information. Ray made a little noise and lifted his hands up; he cupped the side of Mikey's face with one and slid the other into his hair and all of Mikey's toes curled at once and he thought, oh. Oh.
"Oh," he said against Ray's mouth, and then, "I really love it when you do my hair, you know?"
Ray kind of laughed and said, "I know," and kept kissing him, slow and warm and like he really meant it, sucking on Mikey's lower lip and pushing his tongue into his mouth. It had actually been a while since Mikey had kissed anyone sober and he was surprised how much he enjoyed it, how different it was when there was no music and the lights were on and Mikey knew so much more about the person he was kissing than just their name.
"This isn't great timing," Ray said apologetically when the kiss broke. He stroked the side of Mikey's face.
Mikey didn't really understand. They were in a house instead of the van, there were actual beds and couches. It seemed like pretty fucking perfect timing to Mikey. "It's not?"
"I just," Ray said, and then ducked his head. He was very quiet when he said, "I just don't want it to be a hook-up."
"Hey," Mikey said, stung. "You're my friend."
"I know," Ray said. "But dude, you're mostly a hook-up kind of guy."
Mikey thought about that. It was true, but he didn't see what that had to do with Ray. Besides, Mikey had the weirdest feeling that they should, like if Gerard couldn't have the person he wanted then Mikey was honor-bound to make sure that Ray could, or something. He knew from experience that was the kind of thing that made people think his relationship with Gerard was unhealthy, though, so he kept quiet.
"After we figure out what's going down here in Chicago," Ray said. He kissed Mikey again, quickly. "I just want you to be sure. Okay?"
"Okay," Mikey agreed reluctantly. "Okay."
Gerard was already in bed when Mikey crept up to their room. He was curled up to face the window, no sound in the room except for the clicking of Gerard's rosary beads. Mikey watched him for a minute, feeling guilty that he'd kissed Ray, that it was making him feel so good when Gerard was so unhappy. Then he felt mad that he couldn't tell Gerard about it, but he wanted to hold onto the good feeling so he pushed it out of his mind, undressing quickly. He climbed into the bed and curled up close behind Gerard, like when they were kids. He put his arm around Gerard's waist and fumbled for his hands, folding his fingers over Gerard's when he found them. He pressed his cheek against the back of Gerard's neck and said softly, "You did the right thing."
Gerard clung tightly to Mikey's hand. "Yeah," he said thickly. "It doesn't feel like it."
Now Mikey was so close, he could feel that Gerard's breathing was quick and uneven for all that it was quiet. He held on and tried to soothe Gerard into sleep, but he was still awake when Mikey dozed off. Still clinging to Mikey's hand.
The next day blew. Mikey was so mad at Frank for saying that he was going to quit on them, for not coming to Mikey first, that he couldn't even begin to feel sorry about what had happened with him and Gerard last night. Plus he wasn't even supposed to have heard any of it in the first place, and he felt so guilty it was like a thing coating of dirt all over his skin. Frank kept looking at him like Mikey was the one breaking his heart, which made Mikey mad at Gerard, except then he'd look at Gerard's face and the deep, sleepless hollows under his eyes and then he'd feel guilt wash through him again, so strong it drowned everything out, until he'd remember what Frank said about going home, and then he was mad all over again.
The only time he felt better was when he caught Ray's eyes. It was so weird how things could just change overnight, Mikey thought. Here was this guy who'd gone from being Ray to being Ray, and every time he caught Ray looking at him he had to look away really fast so he wouldn't smile and give himself away. Of course then he'd look back at Frank or Gerard and be plunged back into a whirlpool of gross confusion again. Mikey really didn't deal well with multiple emotions. It made him so uneasy that he wouldn't be surprised if his skin just peeled itself off his body and went crawling off across the floor to get away from the atmosphere in the house. And on top of everything, every time there was a noise outside they all jumped, thinking it might be whoever had been pulling Mark's strings.
"I'm so worried about them," Gerard said in the afternoon, when Mikey was making coffee in the kitchen and trying not to think about Gerard and Frank yelling at each other in there the night before. "The kids, I mean. Who knows what's happening to them?"
Mikey added sugar to the mugs and stirred. "I guess there's not much we can do until necromancer guy makes a move, huh?"
"I wish he'd just get it over with," Bob said grumpily. He was sitting at the kitchen table cleaning his axe and trying not to get in the way of Ray's herbs. "This waiting is such bullshit."
"I'm with you," Ray agreed, measuring something out into a dish. "But the longer he waits, the longer we have to prepare."
Bob made a face. "It's not preparation if we don't know what the hell we're preparing for. It's just sitting on our asses."
Brian came in, folding his phone up. He said, "All right, they're sending cars for us in an hour. Does anyone know where Frank is?"
"I think he's napping," Mikey said quickly, but then Frank appeared behind Brian in the doorway. "Or he's awake."
Brian gave Frank one of those looks that made it obvious he was worried, but didn't want to give anybody an excuse to start yelling at anyone else. "Frankie, you're coming to the show, right?"
Frank nodded and moved wordlessly into the kitchen, cutting a wide berth past Gerard on his way to the coffee.
"I think I'm going to skip it," Gerard said suddenly, looking determinedly down at his mug. "I have a lot of reading to do anyway."
Brian frowned. "Are you sure? What if something goes down?"
Gerard waved his hand. "You can call me. Look, like Bob says, we don't know what we're up against at all, and someone needs to keep hitting the books. I actually think Pete is probably safe for now. We don't want to be caught out."
"Well, okay," Brian said doubtfully. He didn't look at all convinced, but you couldn't argue with Gerard when he'd made up his mind about something, no matter how stupid that something was.
The show that night was way bigger than any of the others had been. "This place is huge," Ray said in Mikey's ear as they peered out from the side of the stage. His hand rested on the small of Mikey's back, and Mikey pushed into it a little. "Ten thousand kids is a fucking lot, dude."
"Seriously," Mikey agreed. He couldn't help but wonder what it would feel like, to go out on stage in front of that many people, to be in that kind of band. The openers had already been on and played, and the place was still filling up, kids filing in from all the exits. It seemed like every single one of the seats in the balcony was taken, and the crowd on the floor was enormous. And this was just one city – Mikey knew that what he and the guys did was important, but he'd spent his whole life before that dreaming about being in a band, and he couldn't help but still think that it would be totally fucking cool.
When the lights went down, the kids went crazy, screaming and waving their cellphones and glowsticks around, and they only got wilder when the show started for real. The band were obviously super-happy to be playing back in their home town, so much so that Mikey felt an ache in his chest when he thought about Jersey.
The show went on and there was no sign of Mark, or Danny, or anybody with any designs on Pete's soul, and by the time Pete announced that they were about to play their last song of the evening, Mikey was almost relaxed. Frank was standing a few feet away, watching Cortez fiddle with buttons and leads. He hadn't smiled all day, and when he looked up and met Mikey's eyes, he looked so completely miserable that Mikey thought oh, fuck this and was about to go over and give him a motherfucking hug, when something caught his eye on the other side of the stage.
It was Gerard, yelling something in Bob's ear and gesturing frantically at the stage. Brian was there too, and when he looked over at Mikey he looked so freaked out that the bottom of Mikey's stomach dropped sharply, making him reel and flail his hand out for support.
"Mikey?" It was Frank, curling his fingers into Mikey's sleeve. "Mikey, what's going on?"
Mikey pointed, and Frank followed his eyes, cursing when he saw Gerard. Mikey thumped Ray on the arm to get his attention too, by which time Brian was waving his arms and mouthing something that Mikey couldn't make out.
"Text it to me," he yelled pointlessly, and then tried to mime it. On stage, Pete was handing his bass off to Cortez and climbing onto Charlie's back, leaning out into the audience with his arms outstretched. On the other side of the stage, Gerard did something Mikey didn't understand: he pointed at his own eyes, then out into the crowd.
When Mikey turned to look at the audience, he had to blink twice to make sure that he was really seeing what he was seeing. The kids' faces were totally distorted; Mikey could only make out the first few rows in the crush, but their mouths were dragging sharply down at the corners like some kind of grotesque mask, and as they grasped at Pete's hands and arms with their worshipful, greedy fingers, they gazed at him with giant, horribly stretched eyes.
"What the fuck?" Frank breathed in Mikey's ear.
"Their eyes are big," Mikey said, feeling like he was going to throw up. He tore his eyes away from the kids and looked across the stage to see Gerard, Bob and Brian disappearing backstage. "Their eyes are so big because they're looking at God."
Ray shook his head. "Mikey, what are you talking about?"
"It's not Pete," Mikey realized aloud. "It's not Pete they want to drain. It's the fans."
On stage, Pete started to scream.
The noise that the fans had been making, regular screaming rock-concert sounds, had started to give way to a low, atonal groaning that hurt Mikey's ears. Their faces were gray and slackening, a sharp contrast to Pete, who was contorting in agony, who was thrashing in Charlie's grip, who was starting to shine, a red gleam covering his skin. He was yanked up suddenly, as if he was being held by an invisible wire, until his body was suspended a few feet above the stage. Mikey couldn't understand why nobody was helping him, but when he looked around for Patrick, for Pete's friends, he saw that they were collapsed on the floor, trying and failing to drag themselves up and towards Pete.
"He's the conduit," Gerard said breathlessly, skidding up to them with Bob and Brian in hot pursuit. "That's why he's been so tired; he's the focus, they're draining it through him, not from him."
Bob shook his head. "What are you saying, everyone who loves Pete is going to die?"
"Not just them," Gerard was already shaking his stole out and settling it around his neck; he shoved a book into Mikey's arms. "What the fans feel, that's not love. It's devotion. They don't know him so it's not tempered by anything, it's not considered. It's pure. How many fans did Pete say this venue holds?"
"Ten thousand," Brian said faintly. "Ten thousand kids."
"Gerard," Frank said suddenly, "Look."
The kids in the audience had started to fall to the ground, limp and lifeless. There was a light growing around Pete, stronger with every second that passed, and in the glow it sent out through the arena Mikey could see people in hoods standing everywhere, there must have been a hundred of them, all wearing hoods over their faces and each one holding a ball in the air – smaller than the one Mark and Danny had been using, but unmistakably the same.
"Who the fuck are they?" Mikey said, knowing he sounded panicked and shrill and completely powerless to do anything about it. He'd never seen anything like this before; they'd always been up against one person, maybe two, but nothing like this. There were so many of them. "How did they get in? There was supposed to be security!"
"We should have told the security guards to search people for those things," Brian said hoarsely. "Shit, shit."
"I called the Suits," Gerard said, leafing through the book he was clutching. "But I don't know when they'll get here. We don't have time to wait for them."
Mikey peered out at the audience again; most of the kids were totally collapsed by now, and the light around Pete was streaming out into the auditorium, moving towards the hooded figures, glowing brighter there until it looked like they were holding stars in their raised, cupped hands.
"Don't let them see you," Brian pulled Mikey back behind a stack of amps. "I'd say the element of surprise is pretty much the only thing we got going for us right now."
Gerard made a frustrated noise, flipping pages faster. "It's a cult. It's gotta be. That second symbol must have something to do with it but I can't find it anywhere."
"Why isn't it affecting us?" Ray said. "I mean, we don't know Pete all that well, but-"
"Tattoos," Bob said. "Gotta be."
"But Gerard doesn't have one," Brian shook his head. "Not even painted on."
"Maybe it's because you're a priest?" Mikey grabbed Gerard's elbow. "Gerard, do you think they have Danny and Mark? What do we do?"
"Pete's body is going to burn out," Gerard said, "Like a filament in a bulb. You saw the state he was in when it was just one or two fans a night; this is going to kill him. This book says that we can reverse the transfer by replacing Pete with a different conduit that isn't connected with the source of the energy, but I don't understand what that means."
"I do," said Frank suddenly. "It means that when a bulb starts to burn out, you replace it."
Mikey stared at him. "Please don't be suggesting what I think you are."
"I can do it," Frank said calmly, meeting Mikey's eyes. "I can take his place."
"No," said Mikey, letting go of Gerard so he could grab Frank instead. "Frank, you could die."
Frank nodded. "I know."
"What do you mean you know?" Mikey demanded, feeling his ears start to ring with the groaning in the air and the fury he felt when he looked at Frank's placid face. "What are you, a martyr now?"
Ray shook his head. "Mikey's right, Frank, this is crazy."
"Is it? Look," Frank turned to Gerard, "You're the one who said we were supposed to meet, right? That what happened with Luke was supposed to happen? That I had some kind of a purpose?"
Gerard stopped flicking through his book and reluctantly met Frank's eyes.
"This is it," Frank said firmly. He turned back to Mikey. "It's okay. I'm not scared. If anyone can survive this, it's me."
"Guys," Brian said urgently, "Whatever we're going to do, we need to do it fast."
Above the stage, Pete had stopped writhing and was hanging limply in the air. The groaning from the crowd was rising rapidly in volume and pitch, the light around Pete's body so bright it was almost blinding.
"This isn't a discussion we have time for," Frank said, sounding totally calm and a lot like not even God could change his mind. "Let's do it."
"I don't have my kit with me," Ray said frantically. "Gerard, I won't be able to help."
Gerard dug in his pocket and handed Ray the vial that Mikey had seen the night before, the one with the blue flame stuff inside it. "You have a lighter on you?"
Ray nodded, grasping around in his pocket. "You're a genius, you know that?"
"No," said Gerard. "I just work with one. Okay, guys, in a second Ray's going to light that and with any luck it'll make a wall for us to work behind, but just for a minute, okay, we don't have much time. I'm going to get Pete out of the line of fire, then I'll have to say a few words over Frank before he takes Pete's place."
"What should we do?" asked Bob.
Gerard smiled grimly. "Be ready for when the wall goes down. And come with me to catch Pete when he falls."
"Okay," Ray said, taking a deep breath. "On three, guys. One, two, three."
He set the end of the vial against his lighter, then flung it out into the crowd, where it hovered for a second before bursting into a wall of blue flame on the edge of the stage, blocking the rest of the arena from view.
"Let's go," said Frank, setting off towards Pete without waiting for Gerard or looking at Mikey at all, like it was nothing, like Mikey's insides weren't twisting themselves up into an acid mess of fear.
"You're not seriously – Frank!" Mikey yelled, but Frank didn't even look back. Mikey turned to Gerard and grabbed his arm, shaking to make sure he was really listening. "You bring him back to me. You have to make sure he comes back, okay?"
Gerard looked at him for a second, then moved in and wrapped Mikey up in a hug. "I promise," he said softly, right against Mikey's ear. He let Mikey go, then turned back suddenly and added, in an odd voice, "Don't give up."
Mikey watched him follow Frank and Bob over to Pete, where he made the sign of the cross in the air and said a few words in a low voice that Mikey couldn't make out. He held his hand in the air, the rosary dangling down, and read from the book in his hands.
"Subsisto rapio suus vita vis."
The light around Pete dimmed, and Pete's body fell suddenly out of the air. Bob caught him awkwardly and carried him back to the side of the stage, where he lay him down gently on the ground. "He's still alive," he confirmed, nodding at Mikey.
Gerard looked seriously at Frank. "You ready?"
Frank nodded, he just nodded, he didn't even look nervous, Mikey could not believe this was actually happening. "I'm ready."
"Licentia unus quod consilio dum vos procul is," Gerard read, making the sign of the cross over Frank's head. He placed his palm against the top of Frank's head and read, "Servo eis tutus.."
Gerard closed the book, then hesitated for a second before hanging his rosary around Frank's neck. He glanced back at Mikey with an unreadable expression, then laid his palm on Frank's chest. He said, "You were right."
"About what?" Frank frowned.
"I can't do it," Gerard said, and then he punched Frank in the face.
It happened so fast there was no time for Mikey to get to him, to stop him, to even really understand what was happening. Frank stumbled when Gerard hit him and fell, skidding backwards across the stage, landing in a crumpled heap by the amps. Mikey had time to see Bob running towards him, to hear Brian shouting, "Father, no," but it was too late, Gerard had already thrown himself into the light.
He was still for a long moment, suspended as Pete had been, and then the horrible roaring sound started up again and Gerard's body started twisting violently, thrashing as the energy coursed through him. Mikey could see Frank trying to get back on the stage, Bob holding him back, and he didn't even realize he was moving himself until he felt Ray's arms around him, holding him still.
"It's too late," Ray shouted over the roaring. "It's too late, Mikey, you'll get yourself killed."
The light around Gerard grew brighter and brighter, and the noise grew louder and louder, until it reached a crescendo and the light exploded, filling the room and Mikey had to close his eyes so they wouldn't be burned out of his skull.
When he opened them again, the noise had stopped. The light had faded. Gerard was lying on the ground.
"Gee!" Mikey ran to him; he could hear the others behind him but he got there first, falling to his knees and gathering Gerard up into his arms, pushing his hair off his face. "Are you okay? Gerard. Gerard!"
Gerard didn't respond. His face was slack and he was limp in Mikey's arms.
"He's unconscious," Mikey told Brian, who'd just skidded to his knees next to him. "Gerard!" he called, shaking Gerard slightly. "Gerard, come on, it's okay, it's over. It's – Gerard?"
Gerard still didn't say anything He still didn't wake up. His eyes were open.
"His eyes are open," Mikey told Brian, who was doing something Mikey didn't understand, pressing his fingers into the side of Gerard's neck.
Brian shook his head, frowning. He kept his fingers pressed under Gerard's ear for a long time. Then he took one of Gerard's wrists in his hands, and then the other. He looked up at Mikey. He said in a strange voice, "I don't think he's unconscious."
Mikey looked down at Gerard. "But he's not moving. He can't hear me."
"Mikey," said Brian. He was holding Gerard's hand. "Mikey, he's dead."
It wasn't true. Obviously it wasn't true. Mikey told Brian that, he told him again and again, screamed at him to stop touching Gerard if he was going to say that, to get away from him, to leave them alone. He held Gerard tighter to him and touched his face; he called his name, again and again.
Gerard didn't say anything. His eyes were open.
A long time later, someone touched Mikey's shoulder. It was one of the suits. Howard. He was wearing sunglasses. His lips moved.
"What?" Mikey said.
"I'm sorry for your loss," Howard said, kneeling down on the floor. "I understand that this is a difficult time for you, but we need to get Father Way's body back to the Vatican."
"Excuse me?" Brian appeared over Howard's shoulder, looking furious. "What the hell for?"
"Examination," said Howard, not looking at Brian.
Brian reached down and grabbed Howard's shoulder, yanking him around to face him. Howard didn't even stumble, just rose smoothly to his feet and stepped back out of Brian's reach.
"I understand that you're upset," he said, "But I would strongly advise that you avoid putting your hands on me again."
"You're out of your mind if you think we're letting you take him," Brian snapped, squaring up to Howard. "Examination? What the hell is that?"
"I'm not at liberty to discuss it," said Howard.
They started yelling at each other. Well, Brian yelled. Howard just kept responding in the same cool, even voice. It went on for what felt like a long time.
Someone started trying to pull Gerard away from Mikey. Mikey clung and fought them, but they were too strong. He didn't really understand why the other guys weren't helping; when he looked for them, they were scattered around, not looking at each other. Looking at Mikey. Looking at Mikey holding Gerard.
The Suits put Gerard on a wheeled stretcher. They put him in a long black bag.
They zipped it up over his face.
Howard was standing over Mikey. Mikey asked him, "What am I supposed to tell my Mom?"
"I really am sorry," Howard said. He hesitated, then added, "I liked him."
It was only when they got back to Pete's place that Mikey realized he didn't know what had happened after Gerard – after Gerard. He assumed that the Suits must have arrived in time to restrain the freaks in the hoods, that Pete was okay, that the kids hadn't lost their souls and died.
But it was the strangest thing: he just didn't care. He kept replaying that moment over and over in his mind; the moment when Gerard had hugged Mikey close and then told him, "Don't give up." That Mikey had begged him to make sure Frank came back alive. That Gerard had promised him he would.
The day seemed to go on for a long time. Then he thought maybe night fell; it seemed darker. He wasn't sure. He replayed the moment again. Again. Again. Searching for the clue Gerard must have given him, for the goodbye that he never, ever would have left without saying.
He replayed the moment again. Again. Again.
He was in the kitchen. It was light outside. He was holding a glass in his hand and standing in front of the sink. He turned on the faucet. He watched the water swirl around the base of the glass, watched the level rise. He turned the faucet off. He lifted the glass to his lips and drank the water. He placed the glass back on the counter and looked at it. He went back into the living room.
He said, "We can bring him back."
"No," said Ray, immediately, so fast Mikey knew he must have been thinking about it too. "No, Mikey, we can't."
"We can," said Mikey. "Ray, you know how."
"You're not thinking clearly," said Brian. "Necromancy is incredibly dangerous, you know that, look at everything that's happened."
"But they're bad guys," said Mikey. "They're – it won't be like that, Ray, not if it's us."
"We don't know what it'll be like," Ray said. "Mikey, Gerard was totally against it, you know that."
"But we can't just leave him," Mikey said. "We can't just – Ray, there has to be a way, he can't just be dead."
Ray shook his head and twisted his hands together. "Even if there was a way, I don't think – I don't think he'd be the same. He could come back wrong."
"He wouldn't," Mikey insisted. "He wouldn't."
"It's against every rule there is, Mikey," Ray said gently. "For a reason. It's not – it's not supposed to happen."
"And this was supposed to happen? Gerard was supposed to die?" Ray looked away, and Mikey pressed on, "Everybody knows that if someone dies from mystical causes, you're allowed to bring them back, it's like a loophole or something."
"I don't think it works like that in real life," Brian said. "Mikey, I'm so sorry, but I'm with Ray. It's out of the question."
Mikey stared at him. Brian met his eyes, his jaw working. Mikey said, "Fine. I'll do it myself."
"No," said Ray. "Mikey, we can't."
"You won't. You won't help me. You won't help Gerard." Mikey went over to the pile of books in the corner of the room and started looking through them. "It's just a spell, right? What do I need, like a personal possession or something, don't I? A token?"
Ray just shook his head again and looked down. He wouldn't help Mikey at all, everything he's said in the den had been a lie. He couldn't have feelings for Mikey, not if he wasn't going to help. Mikey looked around at the other guys, they were just sitting there, how could they just be sitting there?
"You want to bring him back too, right?" he said to Frank, who was sitting hunched up in the corner of the room. He looked up sharply when Mikey spoke to him. "I know you do. Back me up, come on."
Frank looked at Brian, then briefly back at Mikey. His skin was grey and pinched around his mouth and eyes. He didn't say anything.
"Frank," Mikey pressed, and Frank drew even further into himself. He mumbled something inaudible to his knees, and then everyone jumped when Bob slammed his fist down on the table.
"What the fuck is your deal, Frank?" he snapped. "Mikey's losing his mind and that's the best you can do?"
"Bob," said Brian, but Bob waved him off and stood up, walking over to where Frank was sitting.
"Get up," he said, and when Frank didn't move he said, "Get up," grabbed the top of Frank's arm and yanked him to his feet, shoving him back against the wall. "What the fuck is wrong with you?"
Frank mumbled something and then stumbled when Bob grabbed his other shoulder and shook him, hard.
"Mikey's supposed to be your best friend, and you're just sitting around fucking wallowing in your guilt or something, but you need to suck it up and get a fucking grip, okay, Mikey needs you!"
Ray went over and pulled Bob away from Frank. "Take it easy, Bob, come on, we're all upset."
"That's what I'm saying!" Bob turned back to Frank, who was just staring at him, his face still all pinched up. "You think this is worse for you than the rest of us? You think we're not all-" he broke off, suddenly, and paced over to the other side of the room, where he stood for a few moments, breathing heavily and shaking his head.
Frank darted another look at Mikey, but dropped his gaze as soon as Mikey met his eyes. His fingers moved rapidly on the rosary, his hands held close to his chest.
"If this is you throwing a tantrum because Gerard got in the way of your fucked-up death wish thing," Bob said, turning around, "Then I swear to God, Iero-"
"Go to hell," said Frank quietly. His voice sounded raw and unused at the same time. "You don't know the first fucking thing about how I feel."
"It's the same as how we feel, you selfish motherfucker, don't you understand that?" Bob yelled, moving forward and getting in Frank's face. "We all loved him!"
"Not like Frank did," Mikey said. Bob went silent and turned to look at Mikey, amazed. "You know Frank, guys. Little thing like the priesthood was never going to stand in his way."
Bob stared at him for a minute longer, then turned back to Frank. He stepped back suddenly, putting space between them, his hands coming up in front of his chest, palms out.
"Oh," said Brian. "Oh, Frank."
Frank shook his head violently and practically ran out of the room. Mikey heard his footsteps thumping on the stairs, and as soon as he heard the door to the bedroom close he got up and followed, racing up the stairs and to the door, slamming it open, satisfied when it made Frank jump where he was sitting on the end of the bed.
Mikey went and stood in front of him. "Give me the rosary."
"No," said Frank, getting up and moving backwards, away from Mikey.
Mikey followed. "Give it to me!"
"No!" Frank turned his back when Mikey reached for the rosary, and hunched over, holding the rosary close against his chest. "No, Mikey, stop it, you'll break it!"
"It's not yours!" Mikey struggled to turn Frank around and reach his hands, but Frank wouldn't budge and in the end Mikey just shoved him away, viciously glad when it made Frank stumble and catch his shoulder against the door. "I can use it for the spell, now give it to me!"
"It's not what he'd want," Frank insisted, breathing hard.
"You don't know that! What if he's trapped somewhere? What if he's-" Mikey's throat closed up before he could get the rest of his words out, and he had to swallow hard, take a few deep breaths, swallow again, trying to make his voice work right. He closed his eyes to concentrate. He felt like his throat was full of bile. He swallowed again.
When he opened his eyes, Frank had wrapped his arms around himself and was rocking from foot to foot, watching Mikey miserably.
Mikey said, "This is your fault."
"What?" said Frank. He shook his head, hugging himself tighter. "What?"
"He was going to leave," Mikey said. His hands kept opening and closing into fists. "He was going to leave the priesthood. He would have been safe."
"Stop it," said Frank.
"He'd still be alive if he'd never met you. If you hadn't gotten that stupid fucking tattoo that started all of this."
"No," said Frank. "No."
"He was going to leave," Mikey said again, moving towards Frank. Frank backed up, but the wall was behind him, there was nowhere for him to go. "He would have been safe, and you don't even care, you were going to leave, you were going to bail on us and now he's dead because of you."
Frank stumbled when he hit the wall, flinched when Mikey moved closer to him.
"He'd still be alive," said Mikey.
"Stop it, please, Mikey," Frank begged. He tried reach out; his hands were shaking.
Mikey smacked them away. "You pushed him into this! You said he wouldn't give us up, that he wouldn't sacrifice any of us, you said that, I heard you!"
"But I didn't know what was going to happen, I didn't, Mikey, I swear!"
"It should be you!" Mikey yelled finally, hearing his own voice break. "You were going to leave us anyway, you didn't even care! You should be dead! Not him! I wish it was you, I wish you were dead!"
Frank yelled back, "So do I!" and then folded in on himself all of a sudden, so rapidly he looked like someone had just crumpled him up in the palm of their hand. His shoulders touched his knees, his arms trapped tightly in between, the rosary hidden somewhere in the center of it all. His hands covered his face and the only sound in the room was his trapped, heavy breath, the ragged, awful noises he let out between each inhale.
"I wish it was me," he said, and then moaned, a horrible, impotent sound like something wounded. "I wish it was me."
Mikey stared down at him. The back of Frank's neck was exposed; pale, tender skin. There was a lamp on the corner table with a heavy base. Mikey could pick it up and bring it down on the back of Frank's head. He could knock him out and take the rosary away. He could kill him.
His fingers twitched by his side.
At his feet, Frank was still huddled in a ball. Mikey watched him for a while. Eventually Frank looked up. His face was wet, his nose was running. His eyes were swollen, ugly red. "We didn't make up after we fought," he said, his voice thick and clotted with tears. "We didn't – oh, God, Mikey, the things I said."
Mikey and Gerard never fought when they were growing up. They had little spats over little things, the way little children do, but nothing major. The only real grown-up fight they ever had was the night before Gerard entered the seminary. They didn't make up before he left, but Mikey saw him two days later. When he tried to say, "I'm sorry," Gerard just waved his hand and hugged him, as if it didn't matter, as if Mikey hadn't spent the previous two days consumed with regret.
"It was one fight, dude," he'd said, tugging on Mikey's hair. "You've been putting up with me your whole life, I know you love me."
Frank covered his face again. Mikey thought that Frank hadn't known Gerard very long. That it hadn't been just one fight. That he didn't have a whole lifetime to fall back on.
He found that he was on his knees, although he didn't remember moving.
Frank made a choking noise; he rocked back and forth. He sat up all in a rush and fumbled the rosary, pushing it forwards, into Mikey's hands. He said, "Take it, do what you want with it. Bring him back, just keep it, whatever. I shouldn't have it. You're right."
His hands were wet. His fingers slipped on the beads; Mikey pushed the rosary gently back into his palms. "It's not mine," he said, something small but important coming loose inside him as he said the words. "He gave it to you."
Frank shook his head, but his fingers curled around the beads; he brought it close to his chest again. His shoulders were shaking. Mikey could barely understand him when he said, "I'm sorry, Mikey, I'm so sorry, I'm so fucking sorry."
Mikey covered the back of Frank's neck with his hand.
"I'm sorry," said Frank again, and then there weren't any more words for a while, just Frank's hands clinging tightly to Mikey's elbows, the bridge of his nose pressed against Mikey's shoulder, the fabric of Mikey's shirt growing warm and wet.
"I don't wish you were dead," Mikey whispered. Frank sobbed and clung tighter.
They stayed there on the floor for a while. Then at some point Frank uncurled a little, got unsteadily to his feet. He tugged Mikey to the bed and they lay down together, facing each other, curled on their sides.
The rosary was twisted around Frank's fingers. He held on to Mikey's hands.
After Frank fell asleep, Mikey slipped out of the room and back down the stairs. The TV was on, but Ray switched it off as soon as Mikey came in.
"He's asleep," Mikey said.
"We didn't know," Bob said, still looking at the TV even though it was off. "About him and Gerard."
"It wasn't like that," Mikey said. "Nothing happened."
"But we were with them all the time." Brian shook his head slowly. "How did we not know?"
Mikey just shrugged. He'd honestly thought everyone knew about Frank; it had been so obvious, it had been shining out of him since the day he and Gerard met. He thought they just weren't talking about it because there was nothing they could do. "Gerard said they trained him. In the seminary…I don't know, how to not let it show, I guess."
"But Frank," Brian started, only to be interrupted by Ray.
"If I had feelings for someone," he said carefully, not looking at anyone. "Someone I knew I could never have…I'd feel stupid. I wouldn't want anyone to know."
Bob stood up suddenly. "I yelled at him," he said, wiping his hands nervously against his jeans. "I said all those things."
Brian touched his arm. "You didn't know," he said, but Bob's expression didn't change.
"He could probably use someone there when he wakes up," Mikey suggested.
Bob nodded jerkily and headed for the stairs. Brian said, "Wait, I'll go with you," and followed him.
There was a low shelf running the length of one of the living room walls, lined from end to end with weird little knick-knacks, figurines made out of twisted pieces of scrap metal, each playing a different musical instrument. The one in the very centre, a violinist wearing a broken top hat, had been turned to face the wall.
Mikey went over and turned it around the right way, then stayed there for a while, turning the figures this way and that, watching his hands. After a while, he felt Ray come up behind him. He turned around. Ray's face looked tender, and he was red around the eyes.
Mikey said, "I don't feel like it's real. Do you feel like it's real?"
Ray pressed his palms together. He looked down at his hands. "I don't want it to be."
"I don't feel like it's real," Mikey said again. "I don't feel much of anything, actually."
"Mikey," said Ray.
"Is it cold in here?" Mikey asked him. He put his hand on Ray's arm. It felt warm. "You're warm."
"Mikey," Ray said again, and pulled Mikey into an embrace. He wrapped his arms around Mikey's back and hugged him, squeezing. He kissed Mikey's cheek. Mikey turned his head, and Ray kissed his mouth.
"What you asked me for," he said urgently, holding Mikey tight. "You know that I would if I could."
"I know," said Mikey. He kissed Ray again, just to feel it. They both kept their eyes open. "I shouldn't have asked."
"I would do it," Ray said. He kissed Mikey once more. This time Mikey noticed that Ray closed his eyes. When the kiss broke, Ray whispered, "I would do it for you."
Afterwards, Mikey did not remember much of it. There were moments, like photographs or something; Ray's hands cupped around his face, the third step creaking as they climbed the stairs, the sound the bedroom door made when Mikey closed it. Ray's heart beating so hard Mikey could feel it against his own chest, the way they fumbled for each other underneath the covers. How quiet it was when they'd finished.
Ray's hair on the pillow. He was looking at the ceiling, not at Mikey. They lay apart, not touching.
Mikey said, "I'm going to take a shower."
Ray said, "Yeah."
Mikey went to the bathroom. He closed the door behind him. He stepped in the shower and turned it on. He stood under the spray and watched the water swirling around his feet.
When he went back into the bedroom, Ray was gone. Mikey crawled back into the bed without bothering to dry off properly, and curled up under the covers where it was still warm. He put out his hand and touched the pillow on Ray's side of the bed.
After a while, Ray came back in. He was holding a cup, which he set down on the nightstand by Mikey.
Mikey sat up against the headboard and took the cup. It was warm in his hands. He blew away the steam and sipped slowly, watching Ray. Ray had sat down on the bed, but he wasn't looking at Mikey. He was dressed.
The tea was hot and good and tasted like clear honey. "Did you make this?" Mikey asked. He took another sip. "Is it magic?"
Ray smiled a little, and shook his head. "I did make it. But it's just tea."
Mikey sipped again. He could feel it warming him, all through his chest and belly. He said, "Why would you think you can't have me?"
Ray looked at him, finally. "Can I?"
Mikey didn't know what to say. He couldn't imagine it; being someone's. He couldn't imagine anything. He sipped and sipped at the tea until it was all gone. He put the empty cup back on the nightstand.
Ray picked it up. "Try to get some sleep," he said, and closed the door on his way out.
Pete came to see them the next day. "Hi," he said.
The sun was shining. Mikey squinted against it and leaned against the door frame.
Pete moved his hands around awkwardly. "I guess…can I come in?"
Mikey wanted to say no. The guys were inside, and Mikey didn't want anyone to see them, see how their faces looked. It was private, but this was Pete's own house, so he just shrugged.
"I don't actually want to come in," Pete admitted. He put his hands in his pockets, then took them out, then stuffed them back in again. "I don't know, I just felt like I should offer."
Mikey didn't know what to say. He folded his arms and shrugged again.
Pete's face crumpled a little, and he looked down at the ground before saying in a rush, "I'm so sorry, Mikey, I mean, he saved my life, and I'm so grateful, but I would never want this, you know? You know that, right? If I could take it back-"
"Don't," Mikey cut him off. "Don't say that. He'd hate that."
"But I'm just in a band," Pete said desperately.
"All the fans," Mikey remembered suddenly. "Are they all right?"
"Yeah," Pete said, smiling and then not, like he thought Mikey would be offended, like it wasn't allowed. "Yeah, they're all fine. He saved them. You saved them."
Mikey didn't know what to say. He would give every one of their lives to have Gerard back. He knew it was terrible. He knew Gerard would think it was terrible. It was still how he felt.
"They made us sign things," said Pete. "Those creeps in the suits."
Mikey nodded slowly. "They do that."
"And they did something." Pete made an illustrative gesture with his hands. "They made it so people wouldn't remember. I don't know."
Mikey didn't know that was something they could do. He shrugged.
Pete watched him miserably for a while. "You know you can stay here as long as you want, right? And anything you need, plane tickets, whatever, please let me take care of that for you. Funeral expenses-"
"They took his body away."
Pete blinked. "Who did?"
"The Church." Mikey took his glasses off. "The creeps in the suits." There was a smudge on one of the lenses. He grabbed the hem of his shirt and used it to polish the mark off. "I guess you were still passed out for that part."
When he put them back on, Pete was just looking at him, his hands hanging loose by his sides. "I just wish I could do something."
Mikey nodded slowly. "I know."
Pete watched him sadly for another moment, then nodded and turned to go. He walked a few paces, then turned back. "I wish," he said. "I wish I had met you at a different time, Mikey Way."
"Me too," said Mikey, and went back inside.
"Craig called earlier," Brian said when Mikey had settled back onto the couch. "He, um. Well, he said that there's a job for us. I mean, if we want it."
Frank stirred next to Mikey. "What kind of job?"
Brian hesitated, looking at Mikey, then said, "I mean, if we wanted to…to keep doing this kind of stuff. If – if we wanted to carry on."
"Without him?" said Frank in a voice so small Mikey could barely hear him.
Brian heard, though, because he flushed and looked down at his feet. "I'm sorry, I – I shouldn't have said anything. I just thought, I don't know," he wrung his hands, then folded his arms, shoulders hunched. "I shouldn't have said anything. Forget it."
"No," said Mikey. "No, it's okay. It's probably what he'd want. But I can't think about it yet."
"No, of course not," Brian said, and hovered in the doorway until Bob went to get him. "I'm sorry," he repeated, letting Bob draw him down onto the smaller couch.
"It's okay," Mikey said again.
Brian shook his head and wrapped his arms tighter around himself.
"I have to call my Mom," Mikey said. He looked at Ray. "I have to call her, right?"
Ray looked at him for a second, then went over and got the phone. He brought it back to the couch. "She needs to know."
"Yeah." Mikey took the phone and looked at it. It was a regular boring handset, beige and kind of rectangular. It seemed pretty small. Maybe he should tell her face to face. "Maybe I should tell her face to face."
Frank held Mikey's free hand in both of his. He rubbed his palm over Mikey's knuckles and leaned into his side. His hands were cold. Or maybe Mikey's were. Mikey couldn't tell.
He didn't know how long he sat there staring at the handset, but after a while Bob came over and took it out of his hand. He pulled his cell out of his pocket, pressed a few buttons, then punched a number into the handset and passed it back to Mikey. "It's ringing."
Mikey raised it to his ear, and as he did he had the weirdest feeling, like his heart and his stomach and all his insides came rushing up too, until he felt like when he opened his mouth to speak everything inside him would come bursting out, spilling into his lap and onto the floor and leaving him inside-out, empty skin abandoning all the things it was meant to keep safe inside. He couldn't hear the ringing, there was nothing until his mother's voice came on the line to say she wasn't there right now but Mikey should leave a message after the beep.
Mikey dropped the handset without hanging up, dimly aware of it bouncing off his knee and clattering to the floor. His head swam violently and he felt Ray steady him on one side, Frank holding tight on the other.
"I can't leave her a message," Mikey said, closing his eyes so he wouldn't have to see the room spinning. "I can't leave her a fucking message to say he's – to say he's-"
He couldn't speak anymore; he covered his face with his hand, and then Frank was turning him, gathering him close, wrapping his arms around him tight. Mikey hid his face in Frank's neck, felt Frank's hand on the back of his head. "My brother's dead," Mikey tried to say, but it wouldn't come out.
"I know," said Frank, rocking him back and forth, slowly. "I know," he kept saying, "I know, I know."
Mikey wanted to tell him that he didn't know, that he didn't know how bad things were, that nobody could possibly understand how bad things were. That Mikey didn't know what the fuck he was supposed to do, how he was supposed to just use the phone and walk and take a nap when there was this giant ragged hole in everything. That he didn't understand why the Earth hadn't stopped turning, why the whole world wasn't in mourning, why Mikey was still alive, how he could possibly still be alive, how he could feel this big of a hurt and not be dead from it, not just die.
But he couldn't speak, couldn't breathe, couldn't make himself let go of Frank, so he just clung and let Frank rock him and stroke his hair and tell him, "I know."
He could feel Ray on his other side, feel his arms around Mikey, reaching over to Frank. At some point, the couch dipped and Mikey thought Bob and Brian were there too. He turned his head on Frank's shoulder. Frank kissed the side of his face. His cheek was wet, like he was crying. Or maybe that was Mikey, too.
When he opened his eyes, it was dark. Frank's arms were still around him.
"Mikey?" said Brian. "Mikey, I'm going to turn on the lamp, okay?"
There was a click, and light spilled out from the corner of the room. Mikey winced, squinting as he sat up. His face felt hot and everything inside his head was throbbing; he raised his hands to his face and touched it with his fingertips. His nose was blocked and his eyes felt swollen, his skin sore.
"You slept awhile," Frank told him. He looked how Mikey felt. He reached up and pushed Mikey's hair behind his ear. "Do you want anything? Coffee? Something to eat?"
"I don't know." Mikey closed his eyes and tried to think. He couldn't tell if he was thirsty, or hungry, or anything. "Maybe just water?"
"I'll get it," Bob said. He was sitting between Frank and Brian, and he touched their knees as he got up. Then Mikey's face as he passed, and Ray's shoulder.
Brian moved into the space he left, settling close to Frank. "Mikey, if you want, we can get on a plane tomorrow. Tonight, even. You don't have to do it over the phone. Would that be better?"
"I don't know," Mikey said. "I can't tell what's better or worse anymore."
Frank pressed his cheek to Mikey's shoulder. Ray held one of Mikey's hands in his lap.
The phone rang, making them all jump. The hand set was still on the floor where Mikey had dropped it; he leaned down and picked it up. He looked at it as it rang in his hand.
"Nobody knows we're here," Ray said. "Mikey, do you think-"
"She hates it when people hang up without leaving a message," Mikey said. The phone rang again, insistent and shrill. "She probably did star sixty-nine."
The phone rang again. Then twice more. At some point Bob came back because he said, "One of us can answer it, if you want."
"No," said Mikey, and hit the button. He felt Ray's hand close tight around his wrist, and he held the phone to his ear and said, "Hello?"
"Mr. Way?" said a voice Mikey didn't recognize. A man. "Michael Way?"
Mikey blinked. He cleared his throat. "Uh, yeah, that's me."
"The younger brother of Father Gerard Way?"
"Who is this?" Mikey said sharply. Frank leaned in, concern on his face. "How did you get this number?"
"My name is Cardinal Pierce," said the man. "I believe we've been working together for quite some time now."
"Mikey?" said Frank, touching his arm. "Everything okay?"
"It's the Cardinal," Mikey told him. He turned back to the phone. "What do you want?"
"Firstly, to offer my sincere condolences. Your brother spoke of you often, and always with the greatest affection."
Mikey grit his teeth. His hand tightened on the phone; he could hear the plastic creaking. "I don't want your condolences."
The Cardinal paused. "Then perhaps we can-"
"I want my brother back!" Mikey shouted into the phone.
"It's all right," said Ray softly, rubbing Mikey's back. "Take it easy."
"I want his body," Mikey went on, ignoring him. "I want my mother to be able to bury her son."
"That's actually the purpose of my call," the Cardinal said. "There have been some unforeseen events of which I thought you should be aware."
"What," said Mikey. The room swam again, his ears were ringing. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Travel arrangements have been made for you and your associates," the Cardinal said. "Your flight leaves from O'Hare in three hours. You'll be met at this end by one of my representatives. And Mr. Way, I hope I don't have to impress upon you that this matter is absolutely not to be discussed with anyone outside of your immediate group. We'll speak further when you arrive."
"Wait," Mikey said, but the line had gone dead. He lowered the handset and stared at it for a moment.
"Mikey?" said Frank. "What the fuck is going on?"
Hope bloomed, small but definite in Mikey's chest. Mikey's instinct was to squash it ruthlessly, but it wouldn't be contained, spreading out through his limbs like a heartbeat, like a pulse. Alive, thought Mikey. He's still alive.
Out loud, all he said was, "We have a plane to catch."