March 1, 2005
"I have never," Bert pauses, beer bottle halfway to his mouth as he surveys who's still standing— or at least, vaguely upright in the ravages of the room party. Bert grins wickedly before finishing, "Kissed another dude."
Ray purses his lips. He probably shouldn't drink (he's pretty sure friendly pecks on the cheek don't count), but god, everyone else in the room is. Even Bert, which is stupid because Ray is pretty sure you're not supposed to drink on your own turn. Ray not drinking is practically the same as writing "homophobe" across his forehead, though, so it feels like the lesser of two evils when he starts to raise his bottle of Bud to his mouth. Unfortunately, Frank calls him out.
"Bullshit, Toro!" He cries, pointing a tattooed finger at Ray. "Motherfucking bullshit you've kissed a dude."
"What?" Ray tries to sound offended, like of course I've kissed a guy, what the fuck? offended, but it doesn't come out right and he knows it. He's always been a shitty liar.
"When?" Frank challenges, bouncing to his feet and getting into Ray's face. He stinks of aniseed from the absinthe Bert's been pouring all night, and he's just drunk enough to be an asshole about this.
Ray shrugs. "All the time. You guys are always—"
"Uh-uh." Frank shakes his head, dropping his hands to his waist. "Don't count if we kiss you. Who have you kissed?"
Fuck, he can feel his cheeks getting hot, but maybe it's dark enough that no one will notice. He runs a hand through his hair as he runs through names in his mind, looking for one he can throw out. Maybe James? No, shit, Frank is tight with him. Frank is tight with fucking everyone, the asshole.
Ray's about ready to give up and admit defeat, when Mikey-- who's been pretty quiet up until now, settled into his almost silent drunk persona-- speaks up, with no inflection, "Me."
Ray turns his head to stare at Mikey. He's slouched in the corner of the room, long legs sprawled out on the floor and leaning back on the bed, a bottle of beer in one hand and a glass of one of Bert's interesting absinthe cocktails in the other.
If it's a joke, Mikey's not laughing. He's not even smiling. He meets Ray's eyes, barely twitching an eyebrow at him. It takes Ray a moment to get it—that Mikey's giving him an out.
Mikey doesn't say anything else, or even change his expression. He just holds Ray's gaze until Ray's brain finally clicks into gear, reminding him he has a room full of drunk musicians and techs looking for some kind of entertainment from this stupid game, and they’re probably getting pretty annoyed with him right now.
Ray juggles his beer to his other hand, scratching absently at his shoulder when he says, "Yeah, Mikey. Like he said."
Frank just stares at him, looking like a cross between a kicked puppy and a sulky teenager. "Bullshit."
Ray tilts his head to exchange a look with Mikey. He can feel the smile stretching his mouth before he even meets Mikey's eyes. It only gets wider when he does because while Mikey isn't quite smiling back at him, the amusement is there--in the twitch of his mouth, the curve of his eyebrow.
Ray shakes his head, looking back at Frank. "Not bullshit, Frank."
"No way. When did this happen?"
Ray chuckles, smothering it into the back of his hand. "Like I'm gonna tell you."
There's a few wolf whistles and Bert's insane high-pitched giggle rings out over a general cackle of laughter.
Frank crosses his arms over his chest, sending Ray one more glare before crossing the room to kick at Mikey's feet. "Mikeyway come on, don't leave me hanging, I want details."
Mikey does smile then, a deadly grin that shows Frank his teeth. He tips his head coyly, taking a sip of the hell-flavoured concoction Bert brewed up without even a grimace. "A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell, Frank."
Frank kicks Mikey's shoe again. "You're not a gentlemen. Spill." When Mikey doesn't say anything Frank starts kicking his foot in a light staccato rhythm, "Mikeywaaaaaay."
"Okay, okay, okay, Frankie. Give the lovebirds some space," Bert says. He moves so fast Ray nearly misses it, blurring as he crosses the room and grabs Frank around the shoulders. He turns to point at Ray. "Dude, you can drink now."
Ray grins, wide and sloppy, getting altogether too much satisfaction out of the whole ridiculous situation. He raises his beer in a messy toast to Mikey, which just makes Mikey smile bigger, and takes a long swallow.
It tastes awesome.
It's late enough that Ray can already feel his hangover starting to kick in when he and Mikey stumble out of Zacky's room. Fuck, he never should have drunk that absinthe. Sound check tomorrow (or rather, later today) is gonna be a fucking killer.
Mikey's room is the first one they pass on the way back. Despite the threatening headache, Ray's still pretty happily fuzzy-drunk. He doesn't question it when Mikey sinks his fingers into Ray's t-shirt and pulls him into the room behind him, even though Ray is rooming with Frank tonight.
The room is dark—Mikey's sharing with Gerard, who skipped the party and is probably asleep. Mikey doesn't turn the light on so Ray's struggling to see his face in the dim light leaking in from the streetlamp outside.
"Mikes?" Ray's voice sounds rough, shredded from the alcohol; he hopes it doesn't affect his ability to sing tomorrow. No, later today.
Mikey's swaying a little in front of him, but Ray can't tell if that's because he's moving or because Mikey is. "Hey, so," Mikey starts, anchoring his fingers in Ray's t-shirt again, steadying himself. "You know how I covered for you with the whole kissing a dude thing?"
It takes Ray's beer-soaked brain a moment to catch up to where Mikey is. "Um, yeah?"
"Well," Mikey starts, prying one hand from Ray's shirt to adjust his glasses. His eyes look hazy. "Well, like, if you wanted to be able to say it for real. I mean, if you wanted like, the experience of kissing a dude - no pressure - I could help you out with that."
It definitely takes Ray's brain a moment to process that one. If he were in a court-room drama he'd be asking for a read-back right now, because he didn't just hear that right. Did he? It's too fucking hard to see in the dark room and he can’t figure out what Mikey wants him to say. He opens his mouth and closes it again when he realizes he has no words. No idea where to even start.
He’s too slow and he knows it. In the dim light filtering through the faded curtains, he thinks he sees Mikey shrug, maybe twitch his head to the side, before he lifts a hand to scratch through his hair carelessly. "Fuck this absinthe. I think I've already got a hangover."
Just like that, the subject is dropped. Mikey turns smoothly, heading for the bathroom. When he lets go of Ray's shirt, he pats Ray's chest twice with absent motions before he shuffles away with a light, "'Night, Ray." He slips into the bathroom and closes the door.
Ray is still staring at the door when the bathroom light comes on, lighting up the crack along the bottom. He's trying to figure out what the fuck happened - his brain chasing after the conversation and not quite catching up - when the rustle of sheets tells him Gerard isn't asleep.
"Ray?" Gerard's voice is soft, but too loud in the stillness of the room.
"Gee?" It's all Ray can think to say.
"Um, just in case you were wondering, that was Mikey hitting on you." Gerard's voice is calm and sleepy.
"Oh." Ray says, because he’s too drunk to really process this any further than that.
"Don't get weirded out," Gerard adds, his voice is light, but Ray can hear enough twist in the words to know it's a warning - don't hurt my brother.
"I'm not weirded out," Ray says, trying to mean it.
The thing is, Ray is kind of weirded out.
Frank was still at the party when Ray and Mikey left, so it's no surprise when Ray lets himself into their room to find it empty. It's highly likely Frank won't even make it back to the room tonight; the way he was going he might end up crashing on the floor upstairs in Zacky's room. As much as Ray likes Frank, he has to admit it's a relief to have the place to himself, even if it does make his own thoughts too loud to ignore. Thoughts like how warm Mikey’s hand felt on his chest through the thin material of his t-shirt. How his lips looked, wet with the shine of whatever he was drinking.
Fuck, Ray is way too drunk.
He shuts the door, shaking his fro like he can shake out the unwanted thoughts. He doesn’t bother to switch on a light. just peels off his clothes right there in the bedroom. It's freeing to be naked in an open space for a change, instead of having to take clothes into a bathroom or bunk or whatever semi-private corner he's got. He sighs, scratching his fingers across the back of his neck, revelling in the cool air on his bare skin.
He takes a hot shower and from the moment the spray hits his face he leans into it and reaches down to grab his dick. It's habit now; a hot shower in the privacy of hotel room pretty much equals jerking off, whether he's really in the mood or not. Precious hot water mixed with rare privacy demand he take the opportunity when he can.
Not that Ray's not in the mood. He's still warm-buzzy drunk from the party and loose enough that he feels comfortable making a little noise, light groans getting lost under the pounding of the spray as his dick hardens under his fingers.
Ray lathers his hands with shower gel, rubbing soapy fingers over his dick and down to cup his balls. He's not thinking about anything, just letting himself experience it: the hot water on his skin, his own grip on his cock, wet and slick. Fully hard, he adjusts his grip so he can get a thumb in on the underside of his cock, just under the head, pressing where he wants it.
Fuck, it's good. A throaty noise escapes his mouth and he leans forwards, pressing a palm against the glass of the shower screen to steady himself, because he's weaving on his feet, just a little. He adjusts his grip on his cock, tightening, pulling up and it's so good he has to close his eyes - shut off that sense and just feel it.
The roughness of his callused fingertip just under the head of his cock feels better than usual tonight. The soap and water lend slide to his hand as he jacks himself, movements getting faster. He doesn’t linger, doesn’t draw it out; tonight he just wants to come.
He doesn’t mean to think about Mikey.
He's not thinking about him, at first. It starts with an errant thought, thinking of the girls who've touched his cock before, how soft their hands were, how they'd never get that rough brush of his calluses, that firm grip.
It makes him wonder whose hands wouldn't be all sweet and soft.
Mikey's wouldn’t be. He's got those rough calluses and his fingers are long and strong from years of playing. Fast and nimble.
And just like that Ray’s thinking about Mikey while he's got his hand on his dick. Fuck, he doesn’t want this, but trying not to think about Mikey is still thinking about him. His brain gets stuck in a loop that starts with Mikey's hands, slides up his torso to Mikey's mouth. Fuck, what would it taste like? How would it feel on his cock?
Ray chokes out a noise, the tile cold and hard under his palm as he sways on his feet, jacking himself harder, faster. He looks down at his own hand moving on his wet dick, his mind's eye seeing long slender fingers wrapped around his cock instead of his own wide ones. He wonders what Mikey would sound like, panting in his ear as he jerks him off.
He’s such a fucking bad person, because that’s what he’s thinking of when he comes, hard and shuddering. He bites off a choked noise and his hips shove forward as he spurts on the tiles. Water drips into his mouth as he groans, his blood fizzing with adrenalin, his whole body vibrating with his orgasm.
It takes a long moment for him to come down. Slowly he comes back to himself, the patter of droplets of his skin, the damp steam in his lungs nearly suffocating. He’s overheated, in more ways than one, and the wetness on his skin feels too much like sweat.
His heart pounds in his temples, already feeling like a headache. He eases himself off the wall and rinses his hands. He points the shower head at the tiles to wash away his come, and tries not to think about what just happened.
He tries not to think at all.
The next morning is weird. Ray steps into the hotel foyer, backpack over his shoulder, looking around for his bandmates. He left Frank retching in their bathroom, but the others are already here, Bob and Brian over by the reception desk. Ray's face starts to heat up the second he sees Mikey sitting on an uncomfortable looking sofa with Gerard. He looks down, letting his curls fall in front of his face, hoping Mikey doesn't notice that he’s using his hair as a shield.
Ray aims his steps for Brian, but Gerard calls his name and holds up a takeaway cup of coffee. Ray can't ignore that.
He goes over and takes the coffee from Gerard, thankful for it even if his stomach will likely rebel later. He glances at Mikey in a way that he hopes is subtle, but Mikey's halfway through telling a story about some fight between two of the techs. He barely stops long enough to say hi to Ray before barrelling on.
Ray sits beside him, keeping half a cushion gap between him and Mikey, who's leaning all over Gerard. Mikey does a perfect imitation of Worm telling off Cortez as he props his legs up on Ray's knees. The contact should make Ray feel even more uncomfortable, remind him of how he was thinking about Mikey in a markedly non-bandmate manner last night, but it doesn't. It's just Mikey.
Mikey shoves a handful of his hairspray-logged hair out of his face and adjusts his glasses as the conversation turns to an idea Gerard had for the bridge of a new song. Ray chimes in then, because he has some opinions to share. He leans his elbow on Mikey's knee as he hums out a chord progression to them and Mikey grins at him, adding a few notes himself.
It isn't weird at all.
Mikey doesn't bring up what happened at the party, or what happened after it. Neither does Ray. Frank doesn't either, but that's probably because he spends most of the day vomiting the bottom of his stomach out.
Absinthe is fucking dire.
July 15, 2005
The blacktop is hard under Ray's ass as he leans back against one of the huge bus wheels. He's probably getting his shirt filthy, but it's been two weeks since they've stopped to do laundry so he's long since given up on trying to keep anything clean. He's hidden in shadow except for the tip of one shoe sticking out into a parking lot light.
He realizes it probably looks like he's sulking, if anyone were around to see him. The guys are all on the bus, with half of Fall Out Boy. Ray's out for a quiet cigarette and to count himself out of a particularly heated argument about A New Hope versus Empire Strikes Back that he refuses to get drug into again.
He isn't sulking, though, quite the opposite. The tour is going great, even better than Taste of Chaos. They've got a certified gold record. And, in a little over twelve minutes, Ray is going to be twenty-eight.
He just needs a few minutes alone with it all before he's ready to go back inside, where by now they're probably talking about Ewoks. He needs his strength for that.
He's just crushing out the butt of his smoke on his sole of his shoe, considering lighting a second one, when a metallic crash startles him. It sounds like someone ran into the bus. Curious, he kneels up and peers around the front bumper.
Mikey, drunk and giggling, is pressing Pete Wentz up against the side of the bus. He's kissing him hard and messy. Pete's kissing back, one hand fisted in Mikey's hoodie, muttering things Ray can only half hear against his lips. "So fucking dangerous, Mikeyway."
"Danger's my middle name," Mikey giggles, his voice throaty and warm. He leans in, pulls Pete forward by a handful of his t-shirt and kisses him again. Ray can hear the wet noises their mouths make and the slide of their bodies against the bus panels.
He swallows, reaching out and laying a palm flat against the wheel to steady himself. Fuck, this is the last thing he expected to see. Sure, Pete and Mikey have been hanging out a lot lately, but Ray just put it down to two bassists bonding. He didn't think, can barely even compute, that they could be fucking.
But Mikey's sinking to his knees, ducking his chin so his messy hair slides against Pete's belly. Pete's giant too-white teeth glint in the darkness as he smiles or grimaces and Ray can hear him groan, "Fuck yeah. Love you like this."
"Like this?" Mikey's voice is deep. His hands are busy somewhere in Pete's groin region and Ray can hear the rattle of a buckle, the rasp of a zip.
"Like you best when you’re kneeling." Pete laughs then, loud and abrasive, before choking off abruptly. Because Mikey's sucking his cock, and Ray can fucking see it.
He needs to stop looking, right the fuck now, except his body is frozen to the spot, his eyes locked on the half-lit scene in front of him. The curve of Mikey's back where he's hunching forward to find Pete's dick, the awkward bend of his elbows, the smooth, rhythmic motion of his head as he sucks Pete off.
He needs to get the fuck up and go back inside. This is not his fucking business. He's got no right and he doesn't want to know this shit. He doesn't want to know what Mikey sounds like when he's giving head, or just how good he apparently is at it, given the less-than-quiet noises Pete's making.
And Pete? Fuck, he thought Pete, of anyone, was straight.
Then again, maybe Mikey is just helping him figure that out.
Ray is pretty certain he doesn't want to see Wentz's O-face, so he pushes up to his feet, slipping away as carefully and silently as he can.
They don't notice him, thank god, and he stays in the shadows as he traces his way back to the bus doors.
He does his best not to think about what he just saw and heard, to ignore the heat in his groin and the tightness in his jeans.
The voice in his head telling him that could be him pressed up against the bus, his dick in Mikey's mouth.
His heart’s beating way too loud and he’s breathing way harder than he should when he gets to the bus door. He stops, one hand on the door handle, trying to get a grip on himself before he goes inside.
Stalling, he checks his watch. It's right on midnight.
Happy fucking birthday to him.
29th July, 2007
It's the increase in crowd noise that makes Ray look up from his guitar, pausing long enough in his head-banging to see what's caused the swell of high-pitched screaming and the burst of hundreds of camera-flashes firing.
Gerard and Frank are kissing, right there on stage, mid-set.
Ray's mouth drops open. He looks straight to Mikey, who’s already watching Frank and Gerard. He looks amused. He catches Ray's gaze and shakes his hair at him, sending him a grin.
His expression clearly mirrors Ray's thoughts: those crazy fuckers.
After the show, in the backstage rush that's half sweat and all adrenaline, it's all anyone can talk about.
"You know that shit's gonna be all over YouTube, Gee," Mikey says.
"Good!" Gerard yells, sounding ecstatic. "Maybe it'll show some kids it's okay to do what you feel, fall in love with whoever you want to fall in love with, fuck gender, fuck society trying program us. This is good Mikey, I hope it's all over fucking YouTube."
Ray starts laughing before Gerard's even finished his speech. It's so fucking typical for him to embrace a scandal like this, to throw himself into it face first.
"Fall in love with whoever they want to fall in love with, Gerard?" Frank asks, his lips twisted into a weird smirk.
Gerard looks as confused as Ray feels when Frank corners him, getting right up in Gerard's face.
"Kind of like you did, huh?" Frank asks, except he's not really asking, he's saying it like it's a fact.
"Frank?" Gerard's cheeks are flushed red. It's not just post-gig adrenaline, no way, the fucker is blushing.
"You know, you could've just said something. You didn't need some kind of political statement excuse."
"Frank–" Gerard doesn't get any more words out, because Frank grabs him by the collar of his sweat-damp t-shirt and kisses him hard. Gerard makes a whining noise but kisses back, his fingers flapping up to grasp at Frank's shoulders.
Ray knows he's staring. He feels like he shouldn't be, but fuck, this is kind of a big deal. Well, them kissing onstage isn't, but offstage it is. Offstage it's more than just fucking with some idiot homophobes in the crowd. Offstage means feelings, and the potential to fuck up the band.
Not to mention, how the hell are they going to split hotel rooms now?
It isn't until Mikey groans, "Oh god, enough already," that Ray drags his eyes away from Frank and Gerard - who have graduated to enthusiastic necking now - to see that Mikey's got one hand over his eyes.
"Guys, you're kind of making a scene," Ray tells the back of Frank's head, gentle but firm. Frank being Frank, he doesn't even stop to take a breath. He just flips Ray the bird and keeps on kissing Gerard.
It's at that moment that Bob rounds the corner. He takes one look at what's going on and starts laughing uncontrollably, calling for Brian between ragged breaths. Mikey looks traumatised, so Ray grabs him by the arm and steers him through the thickening crowd of techs and random onlookers. He's pretty certain it's physically impossible for Frank and Gerard to do anything by halves and they'll no doubt hear all the gossip later. For now he keeps an eye out for a quiet spot, finding one out around the back of the catering tent. He perches on a railing and pulls out his cigarettes, lights two and hands one to Mikey.
"You okay?" he asks, studying Mikey's tightly schooled expression.
Mikey leans forward, resting his elbows on the railing Ray's ass is sitting on. He tilts his head up to look at Ray, giving him a weak smile. "Yeah, fine. It's not," He waves his cigarette, a throwaway motion vaguely in the direction of the stage they just came from, "that. I mean, Gee's had a boner for Frank for years, that was totally gonna happen sooner or later."
"It was?" Ray can't keep the surprise out of his voice.
Mikey stares a Ray for a long moment, like he's seeing him for the first time. "Wow, you really didn't know."
"Um, no?" Ray takes a drag of his cigarette to give his hands something to do. This is a weird conversation.
Mikey turns his head, muffling a smile into his shoulder. The way he's wearing his hair these days, all pulled back and sort of bouffant, exposes the curve of his neck in a way that has Ray's mind going to a very non-brotherly place. He flicks his eyes away, looking down at the burning cherry of his cigarette instead.
"So, what is it then, if it's not our lead singer and rhythm guitarist making sweet, sweet love?"
"Ew." Mikey punches Ray lightly in the shoulder. "You suck for bringing that up."
Ray smothers his grin into his fist, trying to hide it by taking another drag of his smoke. He waits until the smile isn't hovering on his lips anymore before finally asking, "So, what then?"
Mikey shrugs, the motion seeming to take up his entire body. "It's just, I don't know, shit like that's a reminder that I don’t have shit like that."
Mikey hunches lower over his hands, swapping the cigarette between his long fingers in distracted motions.
"You could." Ray says, thinking of any number of girls or guys who've made eyes at Mikey - not fans of course, but techs, press, other bands; nearly anyone who comes into contact with Mikey falls under his spell. "I mean, you could have anyone."
It feels like he's saying too much and he hopes the warmth he can feel in his cheeks isn't all that visible to Mikey. Not that Mikey's looking at him, anyway; he seems transfixed by his cigarette as he passes it from one hand to the other. They don't usually talk about stuff like this.
"Not anyone," Mikey tells his hands. He sounds like he's thinking of someone in particular.
Ray frowns. He knows it's none of his business, but he can't help wondering who. Then he remembers that night on Warped, what he saw between the buses, and it occurs to him just how many times he's heard Mikey's sidekick chime with a particular ringtone.
For a few long minutes he really hates Pete fucking Wentz.
The next morning Brian herds them from the bus into one more identical looking radio station for one more fucking interview. Ray's muzzy headed from sleeping late; it's easy to sit back and let Gerard do all the talking. He's going at a million miles per hour today, still running high after the show, even though he and Frank stayed up all night.
Ray doesn't know what they stayed up doing because he slept with headphones in. He doesn't need to hear how they resolve their issues, just that they won’t let them fuck up the band.
It's just Ray, Gerard, and Mikey squeezed into the soundproof booth, coffees at hand. Frank's off getting tattooed on Kat's Von D's reality show, and Bob used his amazing powers over Brian to weasel out of this interview. Ray wishes he could've gotten out of it too. He usually likes interviews, but today is different. There's a knot in his gut and he can't figure out what it is.
That the host is annoying isn't helping. Her hair is big and blonde and she seems to be wearing a lot of makeup for someone whose not on TV. She asks all the usual boring shit, but it's rote. She doesn't wait long before she asks about Frank and Gerard lip-locking on stage (which is, indeed, all over YouTube.) Ray isn't surprised, Brian warned them they'd get these questions, and the over-lipsticked woman whose name Ray can't remember uses it as a reason to pry into Gerard's sexuality.
"So are you gay, straight or a space alien?"
Gerard doesn't even flinch. He leans forward into the mic and kicks off with, "I don't think we should try to squeeze ourselves into categories, you know? We’re human beings, we shouldn't, like, try to label ourselves."
Over in the corner of the room, Brian shifts uncomfortably.
The host's mouth screws to the side before she covers it with a smile, not giving up, "Yeah, but are you into guys, girls, or what?"
"I'm into people." Gerard says, and Ray has to fight back a smile. "I don't believe in breaking stuff down into gender. And I don't think it's right the way we try and force sexuality norms on kids - gay, straight, bisexual - tick this box. You should just love who you want to love, right? When you find the right person, you just know it, and it's not about their equipment, it's about who they are, you know?" He scratches a hand through his tousled hair, messing it up more.
It's obvious to Ray he's talking about Frank. The sentiment is so earnest he almost wishes Frank were here to witness it, but then Ray would likely have to witness the resulting bout of making out and he's fine with skipping that part.
The host's smile gets brighter and more false. It's like she's out for blood, but Ray still doesn't expect her to turn towards him and Mikey and say, "How about you guys? Mikey? Ray?"
Mikey's expression doesn't change but Ray can tell by his startled blink that he didn't anticipate this, either. He coughs, clearing his throat, before he leans closer to the mic with a casual laugh. "I'm gonna go with Gerard's answer, I think he makes a really good point."
There's practically steam coming out of her ears now. "How about you, Ray?"
A glance at Brian shows Ray a tense man. All their dancing around is pressing deep lines into Brian's face. Reprise would no doubt prefer them all to be loudly and vocally straight - onstage kissing or not.
He swallows and leans forward, feeling like he's somehow the last bastion of heterosexuality in his band. "Yeah, I'm straight."
It's not a big deal or even a dishonest answer. Ray's only ever had girlfriends. He had his first crush, first kiss, lost his virginity, all with the fairer sex. He like chicks. He likes tits and asses and soft curves. He glances at Gerard, feeling defensive of his response, and forcibly reminds himself that 'love who you want to love' works for straight dudes, too.
Gerard just bumps shoulders with him and adds, "Not that there's anything wrong with that," with a grin that cracks them both up.
It doesn't occur to him until later on, that Mikey wasn't laughing too.
February 1, 2010
"You know, staring at it isn't going to make it go any faster." Gerard leans in over Ray's shoulder. Ray has to admit he is staring at the export timeline on the ProTools screen, waiting for the bar to fill, pixel by pixel.
"You can't prove that," Ray says. He grins at the screen, waveforms visible behind the slowly filling worm of the export box.
The waveforms don't look markedly different to any of the other songs they've pumped through the export process on the album, but this song is. As Gerard keeps saying, it's the turning point, the first track on the album they're actually going to release. They were up all night tweaking the version that Ray's bouncing to disc, the burner whirring gently on a CD that's going straight into Ray's car stereo. He can't wait to hear it on his speakers while he's burning down the highway. It's music made for speed.
Ray rubs a hand over his gritty eyes. There aren't any windows or clocks in the sound-proofed recording studio, so it's like being in a vacuum. It has to be very early morning by now, if Ray's dry throat and hunger are anything to go by.
He drags his focus away from the screen and tunes back into the one-sided conversation Gerard's having with himself. Or rather, with Ray, if Ray were listening.
"So I reckon if we take Death Before Disco and like, speed it up and I'm thinking like, something spoken over the beginning, maybe Japanese? What do you—"
Gerard breaks off, shaking Ray's chair. No, wait, he's not shaking Ray's chair; the whole fucking room is shaking. Ray manages to get his feet under him, grabbing onto the mixing desk to steady himself as his chair topples over behind him. Equipment starts shaking off shelves and tables, falling down around them, and all Ray can do is wrap an arm around Gerard and grab hold of anything that's not moving, trying to stay upright.
"Fuck. Fuck. Is it an earthquake?" Gerard's voice is pitched high with panic, his hands gripping Ray's arm where it's tight across his chest. Ray's been through an earthquake, but it was barely a tremor, not like this.
Everything's a blur of movement and noise as the ground beneath their feet actually honest to God moves, shaking loose and trashing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment around them. Ray struggles just to keep his feet under him. He nearly pulls it off, but strangely enough it's when the ground stops moving that he loses his balance, landing hard on his knee and elbow on the worn carpet of the studio floor, Gerard landing almost on top of him.
The silence is loud, but for distant car alarms and the ringing in Ray's ears, one more semi-tone lost to him forever. He grabs Gerard's arm, "You okay?"
Gerard nods, looking freaked, but he's not bleeding or hurting as far as Ray can see. Ray's knee feels tender but he feels fine otherwise. He glances around the studio, heart sinking at the trashed mess of equipment. But he pushes that back; he can't think about it, not yet, not the equipment and the tracks or the off-site data backups that only happen once a night so they would've lost anything they've done since midnight last night. He can't think about that, not until-
"We need to find Frank and Mikey," Ray says. Gerard's already nodding, pushing up onto his feet, stepping over the remains of a keyboard to get to the door that swings wide on loose hinges. Ray feels strangely calm, numb as he follows Gerard out into the hall, their footsteps weirdly muffled. Ray doesn't think about whatever damage his ears might have suffered. Later, he tells himself, eyes searching the halls for signs of life.
There's no one around, which isn't surprising given that it looks like the sun's barely up. The hallway looks less wrecked than the studio, but that's mostly just because there's less stuff in it to be wrecked. As it is, most of the framed posters of flagship Warner Music bands and albums have fallen off the walls, scattering shattered glass across the floor. Ray's only wearing Chucks and he has to be careful where he steps, but Gerard's got proper thick-soled boots on so he stomps over all of it. The walls are cracked and parts of the roof are slouched dangerously low.
They both hear the footsteps coming and Gerard speeds up, jumping over debris to get to the end of the hall just as Frank comes tearing around the corner. They catch each other in a desperate hug, Frank panting breathlessly, "Thank fucking Christ." He grabs Ray by the arm and drags him into it and for a moment Ray lets himself breathe, the relief of finding Frank welcome.
But it doesn't do anything for the knot in his gut.
"Where's Mikey?" Ray asks first, even before Gerard.
"I thought he was with you guys." Frank glances down the hall like Mikey's going to step into it any second. Ray can see a deep cut across Frank's forehead.
"Shit, you're hurt." Gerard says. He hovers his hand over Frank's bloodied head, but Frank bats it away. "Mikey only went around the corner to the 7-Eleven, he should've gotten back before me."
Ray's heart shoots up somewhere into his throat and the panic he's been doing a really fucking good job of keeping a lid on so far starts to vibrate up through his body. Because if Mikey's not back here, if he's not looking for them, if he was in the wrong place when the world shook up and now he's not here he could be, he could be-
"Which way would he have been coming from?" Ray's voice doesn't sound like his own when he asks the question and he can see the same tightly reined panic on both his bandmates' faces.
Frank flaps a hand behind him before turning back the way he came. "This way," he says. Ray and Gerard hurry to keep up as Frank dodges broken glass and detritus on the way to the back entrance.
The back door faces east and Ray squints at the sun rising straight into his eyes. Outside is worse than inside. It's not just little stuff that's wrecked out here; it's whole buildings crumbling, small fires burning and other bleary eyed people emerging from buildings, looking around in shock at the destruction. Ray doesn't have time to think about them, not until they figure out where Mikey is.
Like he's wished him into existence he hears Mikey's voice calling out to them, carrying over the chorus of car alarms and sirens.
"Fuck, thank god," Gerard curses, already moving. He runs across the road heedless of any possible traffic and Ray's right the fuck behind him, Frank's footsteps smacking the road after them. Gerard catches Mikey in a hug and Ray wraps arms around both of them, the sick twist in his stomach giving just a little when he can feel Mikey under his hands.
Not to be left out, Frank squeezes into the huddle with them. Mikey bears it, leaning into the warm arms around him for a moment, before he gives himself a shake and looks at them seriously. "You need to see this."
Ray opens his mouth to ask what, but Mikey's already moving. Without the guys to hold onto he realises his hands are shaking. He squeezes them into fists and jogs to catch up to Mikey, who's hurrying up a steep alleyway that runs behind the 7-Eleven. There's a dumpster at the end and Mikey boosts himself up to climb on top of it, offering a hand down for Gerard. Ray gives Frank a leg up, which leaves Ray for last, but he's taller than the others. He has no trouble looking over their heads to see what has Gerard swearing and Frank whispering under his breath.
Ray squints against the sun and looks over Mikey's head, staring open-mouthed at the fucking huge mushroom cloud hanging in the sky over Los Angeles. The horizon is dotted with fires and there's a crater somewhere near where Sepulveda should be.
"It wasn't an earthquake," Mikey says, his voice awed and shaky. "It was an attack."
Much, much later, they come to know this day as the first day of the Helium Wars.
Night is so much darker when there's no electricity. The stars are bright pinpoints in the sky, the only light source Ray's got when he's not looking back toward the burning city.
The ground vibrates under Ray's ass. He can't fool himself it's a good feeling, like the when bass rumbles up through his feet when they're on stage, or throbs under his ass when he's sitting on a monitor. Each time he feels that vibration, it's another blast, more lives and infrastructure shattered.
They still don't even know who's attacking.
He sits on the ground, leaning back against Gerard's Trans Am parked by the side of the highway, trying not to listen to Frank and Gerard arguing about what step to take next. Frank wants to go back and keep looking for Bob, and on some level, Ray agrees with him. It doesn't matter if he's officially in the band anymore or not; he's one of them, they need to take care of their own.
But when he thinks about actually turning the car around and heading back into the chaos, to where they saw the armed men in white suits and facemasks herding civilians at gunpoint, he agrees with Gerard. They should just get out, run, and keep the fire at their backs.
They've got fuck-all supplies: just the clothes they're wearing, whatever Gerard has in his car, and whatever fuel is in the tank. Ray doesn't let himself think about his own car totalled in the studio parking lot, roof caved in, windows shattered. Just like he doesn't think about the CD that never finished burning, the tracks they've barely begun to write, the smashed up instruments they had to walk away from.
His chest aches with the effort of breathing normally. His phone sits in his pocket, heavy and useless.
There's a scrape of shoes against the blacktop as Mikey sits down beside him. Ray keeps his eyes on the stars, but tracks Mikey's movement in his peripheral vision. He's looking at Ray. When Ray doesn't look back, Mikey turns his attention to the sky.
"You know, we see the same stars here as they do in Tokyo. Same longitude," Mikey says.
Ray turns his head then, to see Mikey still looking up. His cheeks are pale in the starlight and there's a smear of dirt across one cheekbone. He's got his knees pulled up in front of him, bony arms wrapped around them. He looks younger than Ray can remember him looking since he got rid of his glasses.
"I'm sorry?" Ray asks, because he's not sure what else to say.
Mikey tears his eyes from the sky, meeting Ray's. "It's true," he says, like Ray doubted him.
“If you say so.” Ray replies. He’s not sure why Mikey’s bringing this up now, but it’s nice to be talking about anything that’s not tied to the ground shuddering under his ass and the smell of smoke in his hair, so he doesn’t ask why.
Mikey scoots closer, until his shoulder is pressed to Ray's. It feels nice, warm through his shirt. Mikey leans his head on Ray's shoulder, his hair scraping Ray's cheek. "Tell me something true, Ray Toro." His voice sounds small, almost childlike.
Ray wraps his arm around Mikey's shoulders and leans his cheek against Mikey's hair. He can detect the chemical scent of Mikey’s hairspray somewhere underneath the stink of smoke that hangs on them all.
He tries to think of some astrological trivia to add, but the ground rumbles under them again. His heart sinks and he can't come up with anything, just tightens his arm around Mikey. "I'm scared." It's weird to admit it aloud like that, after being so careful, so tight-lipped all day.
Mikey's hand covers Ray's where it's gripping his arm. He laces their fingers together and squeezes.
Ray squeezes back.
At least, whatever happens next, they'll all be together. That's something.
Second Summer, 2012
They've been on the road forever. Too long. There's dust caked in the bandanna covering Ray's mouth, so much he can taste it through the fabric, and he's thirsty, so fucking thirsty. There's a mouthful or two of water left in his canteen, but he won't take it, not yet, not until he knows there's more coming.
His bike weaves a little on the road and he blinks, shakes his head inside his helmet, telling himself to wake the fuck up. He hears Mikey's bike cruise up before he sees him. Mikey's head turns in his colourful helmet, checking Ray's awake and alert, not about to tip his bike sideways in exhaustion and dust himself on a lonely stretch out the back of Zone 3.
Ray reaches up to tap his helmet in a salute at Mikey. He can't see Mikey's face through his Good Luck stripes but the incline of his head tells him Mikey's okay.
It's nearly another hour before they get back to the bolthole they're staying in. This one's less shit than the last two. It's a derelict gas station, small but with doors that actually close. They've even managed to seal the broken windows up so you can breathe without getting a mouthful of dust every time the wind picks up. The old attached shop isn't wind-proofed, but it's big enough to fit both the bikes and the Trans Am. Since they've been parking them indoors there have been fewer problems with overheating from dust and sand in the engines, so it's worth the cramped living conditions. Mostly.
The Trans Am is already there when they park their bikes. Frank and Gerard are back from their run early. That means either really good news or really fucking bad news.
Hopefully it’s good news - that they managed to find someone to trade with for food and supplies and it won't be dog food for dinner again.
Ray kicks out the stand on his bike and pulls off his helmet. It's some old diver's helmet Gerard traded for, probably no use at all for protection if Ray's bike ever goes down, but it keeps the sand mostly out of his face when he's riding. He hooks it over the handlebars of his bike and turns in time to see Mikey ducking out of his own helmet, shaking his hair and releasing puffs of dust into the air. He shrugs out of his jacket, sweat patches dark on the yellow shirt he wears underneath and making the fabric cling to his lean body.
Mikey catches Ray watching him. Ray quickly turns, digging through his saddlebags for the precious cargo of silicon chips and batteries. Mikey doesn't wait for Ray, just heads straight into the cramped former convenience store. Ray follows a few steps behind, spotting Frank inside. He's perched up on the old counter top, swinging his legs and eating something that sounds crisp.
Frank throws something at him as soon as Ray's in the door. Ray catches the green blur without a thought and finds himself staring at a fucking honest-to-god apple. He rubs his thumb over the shiny surface and gapes, first at the apple, then at Frank.
Really fucking good news then.
"I'm not imagining this, am I?" Ray asks. He presses the apple to his mouth, not to take a bite, not yet, just feeling the waxy skin cool against his lips. He breathes in, smelling the clean scent of real not-fucked-with food. It's fucking miraculous.
"Fuck no, you're not," Frank says. He grins proudly and catches Gerard's waist as he tries to slide past the counter, dragging him close to lean on his shoulder. Gerard rolls his eyes, but leans back into Frank anyway, patiently listening as Frank explains how he's so fucking awesome. "Hot Rod's lead checked out - there's a grow-op like less than an hour northeast." Frank twirls the apple in his hand. "This shit's fucking hydroponic."
Well, that makes sense. It's not like anything can grow in the ground anymore. Ray's given up on getting depressed over thinking about that.
"So everything's milkshake then?" Mikey asks, plucking the apple out of Ray's hand and pressing it to his nose. Ray can't blame him for wanting to take a whiff, it smells fucking amazing.
"Except for the fucking dust storm Doctor D transmitted about. That's gonna suck," Frank says. He grumbles into Gerard's shoulder, who just hooks his arm behind his head to scratch Frank's neck. As a couple, they can be weirdly tactile sometimes. Well, most of the time.
"Not another one," Mikey groans, and Ray echoes it. They were trapped indoors for nearly a week during the last dust storm. Despite having toured for years, there's something about storms that makes Ray stir crazy. Being stuck inside, unable to get out, to get away. At least touring was on the go.
"When?" Ray asks.
"It'll probably hit us early tomorrow." Gerard tells him.
Ray sighs. At least they've got supplies. Nothing worse than being bored and hungry. And they won't have to deal with any dracs either; no one will be going anywhere until the dust literally settles.
Mikey offers Ray back his apple, but Ray just presses it back into Mikey's hand with a small smile. It'll never taste as good as it smells anyway.
He goes for his tools, because if there's gonna be dust, he's gonna make damn sure as much of it as possible stays outside.
The storm hits before the sun is up and the first rush of grains hitting the windows wakes Ray up. He crawls from a nest of sleeping bags to press his nose to the window, watching the orange-brown haze outside through the milky light of pre-dawn. It's weirdly beautiful, in a desolate way, and Ray drinks in the sight while he can still make out stuff. In a few hours there'll be nothing visible through these windows but an orange haze.
He turns back to the pile of sleeping bags. Frank and Gerard are still out for the count, curled around each other under the overhang of what was once a rack of candy. He's just pushing up off the window when he notices that Mikey's not asleep. He's lying still, but his eyes are open, like he's been watching Ray. His features are softened by sleep and his hair's all fucked up. He looks younger than he has in years.
Ray walks back to kneel on the bedding.
"Nothing to see yet," he whispers to Mikey, not wanting to disturb the other two. "Dust and more dust."
Mikey smiles, small and lopsided. "I can see what I need to," he says, his voice soft and a little blurry.
"You may as well go back to sleep. Plenty of time to be bored later." Ray slides down to lie on his back on the pile of bedding that’s never soft enough. Mikey rolls closer, tucking his head into Ray's side and throwing a skinny arm over Ray's chest. His elbow is poking Ray in a way that's a little uncomfortable, but aside from that it's kind of nice. Ray's known the Ways long enough that his area of personal space has shrunk to nothing. With temperatures plummeting the way they do at night, he often finds himself playing bed warmer for Mikey, as Frank and Gerard have each other. Today is no exception.
Ray falls asleep with Mikey's fingers tucked into the back pocket of his jeans. It's nice.
When he wakes up for the second time the storm's really hit. It's not just the light scratching of sand grains on the window anymore. It's the fully-blown howling wind, shaking doors, sand-scraping-on-glass dust storm. He lies with his eyes closed for a long moment, just listening, not ready to face it yet. When he opens his eyes Mikey's looking at him, like he either sensed Ray was awake or he was just watching him sleep - Ray's not sure which.
It should be weird, but it's strangely comforting.
It doesn't take long before cabin fever kicks in. In fact, it takes a depressingly short period of time. Usually, Ray can last a day or two by just keeping himself distracted - Frankensteining up a computer, putting together cables or whipping up some poppers. The problem is he doesn't have anything to work on. Kind of. He could probably make something up but he just can't keep his mind in it today.
It doesn't help that Frank and Gerard are locked in the back room and making it so fucking obvious how they plan to pass the time. Luckily, the dust storm is loud. Ray is spared from having to actually hear them fuck, but still, talking around it with Mikey is exhausting. Eventually Ray stops bothering.
"They're gonna have to eat at some point, right?" Ray asks with a smirk, throwing a hand toward the door that's been closed since this morning.
"You think so?" Mikey says, barely looking up from the strange freeform origami he's creating from a few pages of an old Shiny mag.
Ray slouches over the counter, fighting the urge to pick up Mikey's weird paper cyber-penguin. All he can hear is the howl of the wind and the scratch of sand at the windows. Then Mikey sighs, leaning back from his paper creations. "I miss it." His voice is soft; Ray can barely hear it over the sounds of the storm.
Mikey looks up at Ray, tilting his head to the side and quirking an eyebrow.
Oh right, sex. Of course that's what he means. Fuck, Ray is dumb.
He struggles to find something reassuring to say, but he winds up getting stuck in a memory of a hotel room from years ago, and the offer Mikey made him. The offer he never took up.
Not for the first time, he wonders if that was the right call. If offer still stands.
Not for the first time he pushes the thought from his mind, grins at Mikey and changes the subject.
With the sandstorm at its zenith there's nothing to see outside at all. There isn't much to see inside either, and Ray's been staring at all of it for hours now.
The room he and Mikey are in feels so much smaller now they've been stuck in it for so long. Ray knows every rack and crate. He's read everything with text on it, from Mikey's precious comics to the warning sticker on the back of the old broken drinks fridge. Ray's ready the claw the walls down. Frank and Gerard still haven't emerged, though some rhythmic thumping earlier proved they were alive and made Mikey frown down at his hands.
After spending a huge chunk of his life touring, Ray knows a lot of time-killing activities and he's tried all of them. Well, almost all of them.
If he doesn't count the ones he can't do due to rationing their power there's really only one he hasn't tried. But of course, jerking off is not an option. As much as he would really, really like it to be, there is nowhere even remotely private in the tiny shop area where he could rub one out. At least on tour they had bunks, with curtains. It was really only ever an illusion of privacy, Ray unfortunately knows what every one of his bandmates sound like when they come, but it was something. Zonerunning is worse than life before in so many ways, including the fact that most of the time there isn't even a curtain, that thin, wispy illusion of privacy anymore.
The last time Ray got off he had to point his bike into the sun and ride out on his own. He wound up somewhere on the edge of Zone 4, leaning hard on the bike, eyes closed against the too-bright sun, sweating in his jacket, undone jeans hanging open. He'd shot his load onto the ground and kicked dirt over it after. It was too fast and uncomfortable to be really satisfying but if it were on offer again Ray would fucking take it.
Of course, it's not on offer. Nothing is. Ray lowers himself onto their pile of sleeping bags and stretches his arms and legs out into a starfish. He's so fucking bored.
Mikey puts down whatever distraction he had going and scuffs the three paces from one end of the room to the other, sitting beside Ray. He's quiet today. On the surface it seems like he's handling the storm better, but there's a tension around his eyes that gives him away.
Mikey lies down next to Ray, leaning his head against Ray's arm with a sigh Ray barely hears over the incessant wind. For long moments the only soundtrack is the wind and the occasional noise from the next room which they both pretend not to hear.
Mikey slides his fingers absently down Ray's arm, sending a shiver up his skin. "Tell me something true, Ray," he says.
Ray tries to find some new trivia, some weird, amazing fact he hasn't used before, but he can't, he’s too focused on the warm pinpoints of Mikey’s fingers on his skin. Besides, he's already told Mikey all of his useless facts. He settles for honesty instead.
"I fucking hate dust."
Mikey laughs, rich and deep and musical. It's more laughter than the comment deserves, but it's good to hear Mikey laugh. Ray joins in, letting the vibrations loosen his chest.
"I fucking hate it too," Mikey says, rolling his body into Ray's and curling up. Ray lies still for a long time, just enjoying the warmth of Mikey's body against his, fighting the urge to pet Mikey’s hair.
Ray must fall asleep eventually, because he wakes up feeling weird and unsettled, like something woke him. It's dark out now; they slept through sundown and the room is bathed in a soft orange glow from one of their gas lamps. Frank and Gerard must have emerged from the store room at some point to light it, but there’s no sign of them now.
Ray blinks up at the ceiling, trying to figure what woke him, straining to hear anything over the noise of the dust storm outside. He can't.
It's not until he stretches, back arching up off the floor and his hard-on pressing up against the fly of his jeans, that he figures it out.
Ray rolls over onto his side, putting his back to Mikey. He glances around half heartedly, but it’s just him and Mikey in the room. From the cadence of Mikey's breathing he's out for the count. Ray could throw one of the sleeping bags over his lap and call it a curtain, call it privacy. Shit, he can't even believe he's even considering it, but fuck. He's so fucking hard. It's been so long.
He rolls back enough that he can look back at Mikey. He's asleep, pretty heavily Ray thinks, between his breathing and the relaxed curve of his mouth. Ray's eyes lock on Mikey's face for a moment, the dark curve of his eyelashes, his impossibly sculpted cheekbones.
Unbidden, memories flits into Ray's mind of sounds leaking from behind Mikey's curtain on quiet nights on the road, breathy, deep moans. Choked off noises that made Ray’s dick clench, a lot like it is right now.
Oh, fuck it. Ray rolls back onto his side, facing away from Mikey. He'll be quick. Quick and silent. Mikey's asleep anyway, so it doesn't count.
He flicks the button on his jeans open, trying to do it soundlessly, but the rasp of cloth as he slips his hand inside still sounds too loud. He takes a careful breath as he threads his fingers under the waistband of his underwear, following the run of crisp hairs that trail down his belly to his dick.
Fuck. Fuck it's been too long. Just the touch of his own hand feels incredible. He's so fucking hard already, his dick hot and damp under his fingers. He wraps them around his cock in a firm grip, letting the pre-come help his hand to slide as he jerks it, just gently at first, trying not to move too much because every movement makes noise and Mikey's right fucking there.
He grabs a corner of one of the old sleeping bags and pulls it over his lap. It's not much cover but it makes him feel a little better. He lets his eyes slide shut and keeps his hand moving, slow and careful and fuck, it's good. He's missed this. He needs it. He bites down on his lip, forming a tight ring with his index finger which rubs up over the sensitive head of his dick just right. His head rolls to the side, face pressing against the messy sheets, mouth open.
It doesn't take long before he's on a knife edge, so fucking close it's hard to keep his breathing quiet. He's jerking off with his right hand, his good hand, but his arm is crushed under his weight and the lack of elbow room affects his strokes. He swallows a frustrated noise and rolls onto his back, and fuck, that's it, now the angle's perfect. He barely gets three more strokes before he's suppressing a groan, breathing hard through his nose, curling up. His body shakes as he comes hard, hot and satisfying.
The buzz runs through his bloodstream, sweat all over his skin. It takes him a moment to wake up to himself. To where he is. What he just did.
He breathes slowly through his mouth and opens his eyes to find Mikey looking right back at him.
It's like a punch in the gut. All the air rushes out of Ray's lungs. His stomach flips over and his heart - which was already beating pretty fast - starts pounding somewhere around his throat.
Mikey doesn't even flinch. He doesn't even pretend not to be looking at Ray. Ray watches, unable to tear his eyes away despite the heat burning in his cheeks, as Mikey sucks his bottom lip into his mouth.
Then Ray notices the way the sheet in front of Mikey's crotch is shifting, the way his arm is moving.
Fuck. Mikey's jerking off, right now, right in front of Ray.
Ray's mouth goes dry and his heartbeat shoots up impossibly fast. Suddenly every inch of his body is burning up; everywhere his clothes touch his sweat-slick skin feels suffocating.
Mikey's mouth drops open, his head lolling to the side, but he doesn't take his eyes off Ray, and he doesn't fucking stop.
Ray should stop looking. He should roll the fuck over and close his eyes and forget what he's seen and let everything go back to the way it was. Except it won't and who the fuck is he kidding anyway, this isn't the first time he's thought about Mikey with his hand on his dick.
But that's not why he keeps looking. His eyes dart over every part of Mikey he can see, from the jut of his chin to the curve of his collarbone, just visible above the gaping neck of his stretched-out t-shirt.
He keeps looking, because he can tell Mikey wants him too.
And he's fucking beautiful.
Especially when his eyes slide close, his mouth falls wide and he lets out a long breath that starts on an "ah", letting Ray see the way his body shakes, the way his cheeks flush with colour as he comes. There's a crease between his eyebrows and his face screws up, so lost in it, not hiding anything. It's so intense, so fucking intimate, Ray could come a second time just from seeing it.
Right at the moment when Ray would close his eyes and bite his lip, and just ride it out, sink down into the afterglow - that is the moment Mikey opens his eyes. He watches Ray watch him and he doesn't look away, bury his head in his arm or close his eyes. He lets Ray see it all happen and yet Ray feels like he's the one being put on the spot.
Mikey's eyes hold onto Ray's for an endless moment, dark and hypnotic in the half light. Ray can't think. He can barely breathe. He knows he should say something, do something, but he doesn't know what.
His hands ache to reach out to Mikey, but he's got come on his fingers and he just... fuck, he just doesn't know.
Mikey bites his lip, and it's not the sexy way he did earlier. It's the nervous way he does right before they’re due on stage, or when they're about to bust down a door that'll probably have dracs on the other side of it, when he's so unsure of himself he can't hide it behind a carefully schooled look.
Ray doesn't want to be the cause of that look, but he still doesn't move.
Mikey moves first, rolling onto his back with a sigh. When Ray continues to stay silent, Mikey shifts onto his side, facing away from Ray, the sleeping bags and sheets sliding against each other way too loudly in the too-quiet room.
"Night, Ray," he says, his voice too soft.
"Night, Mikey." Ray's voice is rough, gravelly and dry. He knows he's copping out but he can't help it. He's got nothing.
He lies there with his own mess all over his belly, a hot burn in his cheeks, and no idea what this means.
No fucking idea.
Long after Mikey's steady breathing tells Ray he's asleep, Ray's brain is still whirling.
His eyes trace over the lines of Mikey's body in the barely-light, the angular jut of his shoulder above the blankets, the fall of his hair across the pillow. There’s a familiar warmth in Ray’s chest, the one that means Mikey to him, the one he usually pushes down. He wonders if he can push it down again, this time. If he can forget the heat he saw in Mikey's eyes tonight. If he can try to force things back to the way they were.
He doesn't want to.
So much for being the last straight guy in the band.
"Did you break Mikey?"
Ray blinks, squinting into the too-bright sunshine, barely awake. His head's all fuzzy and Gerard is a little out of focus where he’s standing over Ray in his nest of messy sheets.
"What?" Ray croaks, fuck his mouth is so dry. He struggles to sit up.
Gerard, who's getting in sharper focus by the second, quirks an eyebrow at Ray. "He was gone when we got up," he says, tossing down a torn corner of an old cardboard box. It's got Back later - M written across it in Mikey's scrawl. Ray stares at it. "What happened?" Gerard asks.
Mikey's gone? Ray looks up and realises that he's squinting because there's sunlight filtering in the windows. For the first time in days he's not listening to the howl of wind and patter of sand against the glass. The storm is over.
"Nothing happened." Ray doesn't even believe himself.
Gerard tilts his head, frowning. "You're such a bad liar."
Ray knows that. But he can't talk to Gerard about this when he hasn't even figured it out himself, not to mention he's still got dried come on his stomach from jerking off with his brother last night. He rubs a hand over his face. "I know. Give me a few, okay?"
He leaves his palm over his eyes until booted footsteps and the shift of shadows in his peripheral vision tell him Gerard's left the room. His muscles creak as he crawls out of bed.
It's one of those times he'd kill for a shower, but he has to settle for a scrub over his skin with a damp rag. It's wholly unsatisfying, but it gives him some time to clear his head.
When he goes back inside the gas station, Gerard's sitting up on the bench arranging Mikey's various origami creations into the shape of a V on the cracked surface. Ray swallows a sigh and walks over, resting his elbows on the bench top next to the cyber penguin.
"So, did you guys have a fight or something?" Gerard asks, his eyes boring holes into Ray's fro. Ray picks up the penguin, unbalancing the V formation.
"It wasn't a fight," Ray says, keeping his eyes carefully downcast, but his skin betrays him, his cheeks burning warm behind his fro.
Gerard reaches forward, pushing Ray's hair aside and cool air hits Ray's cheeks.
"No fucking way." Ray winces at how quickly Gerard's putting it together. "No way. Tell me, right now. You and Mikey?"
Ray nods, keeping his eyes on a crack in the bench top, bending and un-bending the penguin's wings like it's trying to fly.
"So why'd he take off then?" Gerard sounds equal parts thoughtful and suspicious. "What did you do?"
"I didn't do anything."
Gerard tugs the penguin from Ray's hands so he has to stop fiddling with it. "That doesn't add up."
Ray finally looks up at Gerard. "No, Gerard, I didn't do anything. That's the problem."
Gerard's mouth screws to the side, like when he's trying to figure out what goes on under the hood of the Trans Am. Finally he says, very seriously, "I don’t know if you've noticed, but he's kind of hung up on you."
Ray pushes up off the bench, pacing a little for an excuse not to look at Gerard. "I guess I'm kind of hung up on him, too. I just, don't know what I'm supposed to do about it." He stops pacing and looks at Gerard, confused and helpless.
Gerard shrugs and jumps down from the bench. "Try saying what you just said, but to the right brother."
Of course it would be that obvious.
When Mikey gets back from wherever the hell he went, he's quiet and covered in dust. He dumps his helmet, lets Gerard hug him and hides himself away in the store room with one of his battered comics. He doesn't even look at Ray.
Gerard, who is about as subtle as a sledgehammer, glares at Ray and tugs at the collar of Frank's worn t-shirt.
"C'mon babe, we should go get that stuff."
"What stuff?" Frank looks up, a crease between his eyebrows. He's curled up in one of the not-quite-broken deck chairs, legs all twisted up in a way that should be uncomfortable, unless you're Frank.
Gerard turns his glare from Ray to Frank, until Frank sighs and extracts himself from his pretzel-like position in the chair. "Fine. But I still have no idea what you're talking about."
"I'll tell you in the car," Gerard says, wrapping his fingers around Frank's wrist and dragging him to the door. He's got one foot outside when he turns back to look at Ray from the doorway. "We probably won't be back before sundown." The look he gives Ray is pretty clear - he better fucking talk to Mikey by then. He might as well have locked Ray and Mikey in a closet for seven minutes.
Gerard ducks out of the doorway and Ray can hear the rumble of the Trans Am engine turning over. Great, there's no way he can get out of talking to Mikey now. Pity he has no idea what to say.
May as well get it over with, Ray tells himself, because it's not like he's going to have a sudden revelation in the next few hours, and as much as he’d like to pretend he’s not afraid of Gerard’s wrath, he kind of is. A little.
In the storeroom, Mikey's curled up on a mound of clothes and bedding of questionable cleanliness, his spindly legs folded up under him. Ray's eyes get stuck on Mikey's fingers, absently scratching at his knee through a hole in his jeans as he leafs through his battered Spiderman comic for the millionth time. Ray watches him, feeling a little breathless.
He chews his lip, debating with himself. He's never been that good with words - that's Gerard's thing. Fuck, this would be so much easier if Ray had a guitar. Then he could just play Mikey the right combination of songs and maybe he'd get it. Unfortunately, the collection of patched-together instruments they use for Mad Gear shows are in storage with Dr D. All Ray's got are his own vocal chords, which are completely failing him.
He sits down beside Mikey, anyway. Sometimes you just have to dive in. "Mikes?"
"Don't worry about it. I'll get over it." Mikey doesn't look up from the comic. He sounds strangely resigned.
Ray feels like his rib cage is squeezing his lungs. "Mikey, it's not-"
"I really don't want to talk about it." Mikey cuts him off but he doesn't sound angry. He just sounds flat, which is somehow worse. He still isn't looking up.
Ray gives up on words. His heart pounding somewhere up near his throat and echoing in his ears, he fits his hands to Mikey's cheeks. His fingers look thick and dark against Mikey's delicate cheekbones. He puts the tiniest amount of pressure behind his hand until Mikey moves with it, tilting his head to meet Ray's gaze. There's dust streaked on his face and his eyes look a little bloodshot from the sun. Annoyance and then confusion flicker across his features.
He's so fucking pretty.
Ray takes a breath, licks his lips, and leans in.
As a first kiss it's a little awkward because Mikey is so not with the program. He squeaks into Ray's mouth and their noses bump. He starts to pull back but Ray holds him there, his fingers gentle and firm along the line of Mikey's chin.
There's a moment where it's too still and Ray starts to freak out a little, thinking he's totally misjudged this, that he's just made everything worse.
Then Mikey starts to kiss him back. He tilts his head so their lips can meet properly, his mouth softening and opening under Ray's and it's good. Really, really fucking good. There's the lightest scraping of stubble against Ray's chin and then Mikey's tongue slips into his mouth. Ray's body goes liquid and one of his hands moves to the back of Mikey's neck, the other sliding down Mikey's chest to rest on his hip.
It's not like kissing a girl, because Mikey's not a girl. There aren't any soft curves under Ray's hands, no breasts pressing into his chest. Instead, he's got the hard ridge of Mikey's hipbone under his thumb, Mikey's body pressed against him, firm in a way that makes Ray want to get closer, to rub on him, and get some friction. And fuck, Mikey is so, so good at this. He slides his fingers into Ray's hair, tugging at it gently as he nips and sucks on Ray's bottom lip. Ray stifles a moan into Mikey's mouth.
Mikey slides down onto his back, tugging Ray with him, over him, so they're fitted together right down to their tangled legs.
Ray leans up on his elbow, cupping Mikey's cheek and just looking at him for a beat. His eyes are dark and his mouth is wet, obscene and gorgeous. Mikey covers Ray's hand with his own, arching up to take Ray's mouth again, brushing his other hand down Ray's back in one smooth motion.
Fuck, it's been so long since Ray's been touched like this, since he's had another body against his, he didn't even realise how much he's been starving for it.
But it isn't just anyone. It's Mikey. Mikey, who is the grounding wire of their little chosen family. Mikey, whose life has been tied with Ray's for so long he can't separate the strands anymore. Mikey, whose mouth is moving hot and eager over Ray's. They're crushed so close Ray can feel Mikey's heartbeat through his shirt, his hard-on pressing against Ray's leg. Mikey's not even trying to hide it and somehow that just makes it even hotter.
Mikey's rougher than Ray's used to. He pushes things forward faster, sliding his fingers under Ray's shirt and grinding up on him. It's weird; Ray's used to calling the shots, taking things easy and making sure he isn't going too far too fast.
Mikey just shoves his hand down the back of Ray's jeans and grabs his ass, breaking the kiss to whisper hot in Ray's ear, "It's about fucking time."
A short laugh escapes Ray's mouth. "I'm a little slow, sorry," he manages to say, a smile stretching his lips, wide and beaming.
Mikey lies back, his eyes warm on Ray's face as he strokes his thumb over Ray's bottom lip. He's smiling, soft and almost wistful. "You know, I'd pretty much given up on this ever happening."
"Mikey, I'm s-" Mikey's thumb presses firm on Ray's lips, silencing him.
"Don't. Later. We'll talk later," he promises, before he arches up and replaces his thumb with his mouth, silencing Ray effectively.
Any words Ray has are erased with the slide of Mikey's tongue and the stroke of his fingers down Ray's belly, into his jeans. Ray chokes on a moan, breaking the kiss to pant against Mikey's cheek. Fuck, it's going so fast. Mikey thumbs open the button on Ray's jeans and gets his hand inside, not bothering to tease, pushing straight into his underwear.
Fuck, his fingers are just as rough and knowing as Ray hoped and his calluses feel fucking awesome on Ray's cock. Ray slumps down, his forehead pressing against Mikey's as he stutters out uneven breaths onto his lips.
"Fuck, Mikey, I've thought about this." Heat crawls over his chest and face at the admission, but there's no point hiding it now.
Mikey's mouth quirks up on one side and he rolls up against Ray. "Really?"
Ray's "yeah" turns into a moan when Mikey's thumb finds that spot right under Ray's cockhead. It's so good his vision blurs for a moment and he nearly misses Mikey saying, "Me too."
Ray has to kiss him then, trying to ignore the voice in his head that's screaming he could have had this years ago. What the fuck was wrong with him?
He rocks down into Mikey's hand, groping for his jeans and belt to return the favour. It takes longer than it should to get them open blind because he refuses to give up Mikey's mouth, but he gets there. He does break the kiss then, tasting salt on his palm as he licks it, slicking it up so he can jerk Mikey off.
He catches Mikey watching him, eyes shot with need. "Jesus, Ray." His voice is small, awed, desperate.
Ray feels pretty much the same. He leans on his elbow over Mikey, sliding his hand between them to fit his fingers to an unfamiliar cock. He can't take his eyes off Mikey's face as he finds his grip, the way his eyelids flutter, the way he sucks his bottom lip into his mouth and chews on it. Ray strokes him once, gently, and Mikey bucks up under his hand, huffing out a needy moan. His eyes don't shift from Ray's face, like he's just laying it all out there for Ray to see. It should be scary, too intimate, too much too soon, but it's not.
It's just Mikey letting Ray see exactly what he's doing to him. Ray moves his hand, stroking harder, faster, wanting to see more.
Mikey chokes out a moan, grabbing Ray by the back of the neck and kissing him deep, needy. Ray kisses back just as hard, palming the head of Mikey's dick between strokes, switching his grip until Mikey groans into his mouth and he knows he's got the right angle. Mikey's strokes become loose, erratic, as Ray slides his thumb up Mikey's shaft, working his cock rhythmically. Mikey falls into time with him as easily as when they’re playing, their wet noises and breathing sounding better than any song.
Mikey breaks the kiss, tossing his head, his hand coming up in an abortive motion that Ray recognises as the hand signal for 'turn it up'.
So Ray does, speeding his hand. Fuck, Mikey's so turned on he's leaking under Ray's fingers. Ray uses it for slick, jacking Mikey faster, until he's groaning and writhing under Ray, covered in sweat and panting out hot breaths that tickle Ray's overheated skin.
Mikey's so close to breaking. Ray can feel it in the way he's trembling, the erratic push of his hips under Ray's hands. Ray jerks him faster, working his hand until he can feel the pulse and tighten under his fingers, Mikey's moaning against his cheek. He covers Mikey's mouth with his own and swallows the noises he makes as he comes apart, thrusting up into Ray's hand and spilling hot over his fingers.
Ray's head spins; he's so fucking hot that he feels lightheaded as he stares down at his hand covered in come that's not his own. It should probably freak him out a little, but right now it's just hot.
Mikey doesn't wallow in the afterglow for long. His hands starts moving on Ray's dick, pulling a choked noise from Ray’s mouth as he rocks down against him. Mikey's lips curl into a smile, pressed wet against Ray's cheek as he jerks Ray off, swiping his hand through his own come to slick his fingers. The extra slide is so good Ray's own groan surprises him.
"Fuck yes, Ray. Fuck, you should see yourself. So fucking gorgeous." Mikey's voice is a wicked whisper in Ray's ear. Ray can't imagine how awful he must look, skin blotchy with heat rash, his hair a sweaty mess, three days of stubble on his chin, but when he opens his eyes Mikey's gaze is hot on his face and he's looking at Ray like he's the best thing he's ever seen.
Fuck, Ray could take so much more of that.
He kisses Mikey then, because he needs it like air. He tightens his grip on Mikey's hipbones, rocking down into Mikey's hands, groaning into his mouth. Fuck, Mikey's fingers, they're undoing him, picking him out like notes on his bass and Ray's fucking vibrating under his hands.
"Shit. Shit, Mikey I'm gonna-"
"Do it." Mikey's words are both encouragement and command and it's all Ray needs. He shoves down into Mikey's grip once, twice more, then fuck-oh-fuck he's coming, shooting into Mikey's fingers, his body curling down over Mikey's, their teeth clashing together on a messy half-kiss.
He's breathing too hard to kiss Mikey properly. He winds up with his face tucked into Mikey's neck, panting hot breath all over his collarbone while he waits for his heart to slow down. Mikey's hands slip up the back of Ray's shirt, fingers warm on Ray's torso as he presses up against him in a firm hug. Ray lifts Mikey off the floor enough to slide his arms under him, squeezing him back hard and warm.
He should feel overwhelmed. It was all such a frantic rush, it should be too much. But it's not. It's not like this is a first fucking date. It's Mikey, and they already know everything about each other.
He rolls onto his back with a full body sigh, jeans open and come everywhere but he doesn't care. Mikey curls into Ray's side and Ray wraps his arm around him. And they just fit like that. Like all these years Ray's been trying to fit a Mikey shaped piece into the puzzle of his life upside down, and now he's finally turned it 180 degrees.
Ray's heart rate has almost settled down to normal when Mikey breaks the silence. "Tell me something true, Ray Toro."
It's an old game, but a good one.
"I think," Ray says, without missing a beat, one hand scratching absently at Mikey's hair. "I think I'm happy."
Mikey twines his fingers with Ray's, turning his head to meet Ray's eyes. He gives him one of his rare wide smiles, showing all his teeth, lighting him up from the inside.
"Yeah," Mikey agrees, "I think I am too."
Third Summer, 2019
Mikey stalks out of the diner, outwardly calm, but Ray can tell from the stiffness in his back that it's only a facade. He's so fucking stubborn sometimes. Of course Ray can be just as bad, so he can't talk.
Their footsteps kick up dust, dirtying Ray's boots as he follows Mikey outside to his bike. He squints into the bright sunlight that paints a halo around Mikey's blonde hair.
Gerard doesn't follow them outside. He knows he's lost this fight already. Ray has too. Mikey's set on running solo this time and Ray's isn't allowed to think about all the different ways this could blow up in their faces. He doesn't trust Tommy Chow Mein – people who only exist as lines on a screen don't rate in Ray's opinion – but Mikey's being immoveable and Ray doesn't have a better plan.
Ray wets his lips against the dry wind, sucking in air to fuel one more argument for why he should go with Mikey. Mikey hangs his helmet on the handlebars of his bike, turning to face Ray.
"You sure about this?" Ray asks, because fuck, Ray sure isn't.
"Don't start." Mikey warns, shifting on his feet and looking up at Ray with steel in his eyes, "We've had this argument already, remember? You lost."
"I didn't lose, it was forfeit." Ray counters. He lets his mouth twitch up at the side and that puts a crack in Mikey's stony demeanour.
"Technicalities." Mikey mutters carelessly, reaching up to slide a hand into Ray's hair. "C'mere."
The words hit Ray's lips on a breath, because he's already leaning in, one hand cupping Mikey's cheek as their lips meet, warm, smooth and easy. He tells himself this isn't their last kiss, Mikey will come back, he always does. Some part of him is memorising it anyway, just in case - all the little details.
The slick slide of Mikey's tongue in his mouth, the light rasp of stubble as their chins brush, Mikey's moan, too soft to hear over the wind, but Ray can feel it against his lips as Mikey opens up for him. He can't help himself, he pushes until he's got Mikey up against his bike, until Mikey's fingers are digging into his bicep, tight in his hair. Kissing him hard enough to imprint it on both of them, something to hang onto until Mikey gets back.
When their lips part, Ray tilts his head, pressing their foreheads together, sharing breath. He slides his thumb over Mikey's cheekbone, his voice coming out deep and giving too much away, "Come back to me, okay?"
Mikey just smiles up at him, wide and gorgeous. "I always do."
Ray echoes the grin, sending a prayer up to anyone who's listening that Mikey's run will be clear of dracs, gunfire and blood.
Mikey's fingers trace down Ray's arm, catching Ray's hand and giving it a squeeze before he turns away to put on his helmet. Ray takes a step back, watching the familiar ritual as Mikey mounts up, his shiny helmet glinting in the sunlight as he turns to give Ray a final nod, then revs his bike and takes off.
Ray watches the dust trail bloom up behind Mikey's bike as he jets away from the diner, fighting the urge to leap on his own bike and follow him.
"So, you and Mikey, hey?"
Ray glances to his side to find he's been joined by Frank. The Frank who is not Fun Ghoul, but Frank. The stowaway from 2005 who's too young, too clueless and reminds Ray too much of everything they've lost.
This Frank from Before is standing barefoot in the hot stand, staring at Ray without blinking. No doubt he's just figured out that somewhere in his future Ray is going to finally realise that the one thing missing from his life wasn't actually missing at all. He was right beside Ray the whole fucking time.
Ray's mouth twitches up at the side at the irony of it all. He thought he had everything, and lost it all, but it's only now, in this dire reality, that he's actually figured out what he needs to be happy.
"Yeah," he says to Frank, unable to fight the small smile that pulls at his lips, "Me and Mikey."