"It doesn't get better."
"How long has it been hurting?"
"I can't remember a time when it didn't."
"Then what are you waiting for?"
"What do you have left?"
"I'm so tired."
"So go to sleep."
"I can't. Every time I try, I just lie there staring at the ceiling, or wake up with nightmares after twenty minutes."
"So don't try."
"Go to sleep."
Serial killers are supposed to torture animals in childhood. It has to do with power and control, according to the online articles Mikey's read about it. They abuse animals because animals can't defend themselves, apparently. Something about that feels a bit off to Mikey, who has given baths to animals and would argue that they are not entirely incapable of fighting back. But he understands the principle. It's about being able to subdue the victim; it's more of a victory if there are claws to suppress.
That's not why Mikey does it.
He never tortured animals when he was young, but if he found any that were dying, he stayed to watch. For hours, if that was what it took.
Mikey barely even knows Pete Wentz when Pete sends him a birthday present. They've had one actual one-on-one conversation, mostly about what a hopeless hipster Mikey is, although Pete was polite enough not to put it in those terms. Mikey talked about his time at Eyeball and how much he likes getting to hear shitty recordings of good songs before the bands make it big, and Pete talked about how he spews word vomit in his spare time but his real calling is honing in on other people's talent. Mikey hasn't thought about it in the weeks since.
He's been twenty-four years old for about an hour when he gets an e-mail with a link to a download of a zip file. The body of the e-mail reads, "some shitty recordings of hopefully not too shitty songs. (except the last one. that ones shitty. sorry.) for your ears only. pete." It doesn't explain how he got Mikey's e-mail address, but considering their respective social circles, that's the least surprising part.
The zip file contains nine mp3s. Mikey only recognizes two of the artist names: a Chicago band Bob has mentioned a few times and Arma Angelus. It's half an hour's worth of music and Mikey's flying to England in the morning, so he loads it all onto his iPod and goes to bed.
He listens to the mix on the plane. The sound quality of all the songs is terrible, as promised, but he can hear potential in a lot of them. The Arma Angelus one is last, and it's no worse than the rest.
He googles some of the lyrics and band names when he has internet access again. None of the songs are commercially available, and most of the bands are unsigned and unknown. He's not sure why Pete chose to share a bunch of unreleased music with a near-stranger based on a few minutes of chatting, but it's a nice gesture, and he e-mails back with his thanks and a few thoughts on the music.
He checks his e-mail the next day to find a disjointed, incoherent message from Pete timestamped 3:18 AM Pacific, and an equally incoherent apology sent ten minutes later.
Mikey responds with his phone number and an offer to talk. He hopes it's as bad as it looks. He doesn't get adults very often.
"I wish you'd tell me who you are."
"It doesn't matter. Talk to me."
"I don't know what to say. I just called because... I guess I needed to know someone is out there. Who cares."
"You don't have anyone?"
"Not really. Not who'll keep listening after I say I cut. It freaks them out, they don't want to know." A pause. "I'm doing it now."
"Tell me how it feels."
"It's good. It makes me think about it, and stop thinking about everything else. I can feel my muscles relaxing, like I'm always tense without realizing it, and this is the only time I can let it go. I know I shouldn't, but--"
"Why shouldn't you?"
"It's dangerous. I could kill myself. Although sometimes that doesn't seem like such a bad idea." Pause. "Aren't you going to try to talk me out of it?"
"I'm not your therapist. Do what feels right to you."
"Wow. That's a new one. I mean, it's not, but when it comes to hurting myself. You must know what it's like to get this depressed."
"Yeah. It's only gotten really bad a few times, though. If I felt like that all the time, I wouldn't have lasted this long."
"Really? You'd go through with it?"
"I don't get why anyone wouldn't. I don't understand how anybody could keep putting themselves through that, when they know it'll never stop."
"It's... kind of scary how much sense you're making."
"It's okay to be scared. Are you bleeding?"
"Yeah. It's funny. Nothing looks pretty to me anymore except my own blood. I like running water over it, the way it mixes in, makes me dizzy if I do it too long..."
"I have to go."
"Oh. Can I call you again?"
"I won't have this phone anymore."
"What? Why? Can you give me your new number?"
"I don't think you'll need it. Will you?"
"No. I guess I won't."
Mikey ends the call and steps out of the alley, tossing the phone into a dumpster on the way. He drops the burned-down butt of the cigarette he hasn't been smoking and grinds it out with the toe of his boot.
This one's name was Samantha. Probably still is, and will be for a few more minutes. He's got her fan letter tucked into the inside flap of his CD case back on the bus, along with a few others in case he gets bored again before the European tour is over. He'll keep Samantha's until he finds a news report about her, then he'll get rid of it. He's got this down to a routine.
It's not really serial killing if he doesn't kill them. He's not sure what it is--serial suicide assistance, maybe, although the technical definition of suicide assistance probably doesn't encompass coercive phone calls. But serial killing definitely requires actual murder, and Mikey isn't a murderer.
The first time was almost an accident. It was back when Gerard was still trying to respond to all their fan mail, starry-eyed and dead set on changing the world one disillusioned teenager at a time. There was a pile of letters lying around waiting for him to answer, and Mikey idly poked through them and found one from a girl who sounded desperate. She didn't ask them to contact her, but her phone number was printed under her signature, and it looked to Mikey like a last-ditch hope.
He's learned, since then, that the ones who quietly hope without asking are the easiest ones. The ones who beg for a phone call are the attention-seekers who don't really want to go through with it. It took him a while to learn how to gentle those into compliance.
That first time was the only time he's told any of them who he is. It made her trust him more, but it also gave her faith that the world would come through for her, and he didn't have any practice disavowing them of ideas like that back then. If she'd had any will to live left, he would have failed. But she wanted to die; she just needed permission.
At the beginning of that phone call, he didn't intend to be its only survivor, but he hung up knowing it would happen again.
After that, he started using prepaid phones and stopped using his name. The fan mail got overwhelming and Gerard got overwhelmed, and no one noticed Mikey quietly flipping through the letters. No one ever notices. He's very good at doing things casually, like he's only doing them because he doesn't have anything better to do.
Mikey is very good at a lot of things. None of them are flashy. He doesn't shred like Ray; he doesn't win fans with glittering smiles like so many of the famous people he knows. He just tucks his lip between his teeth and murmurs a few words that no one really realizes they heard, and five minutes later they think it was their idea. It's impossible to grow up with Gerard without that skill.
He's also good at being expectantly quiet. Silences around Mikey are never awkward because he's not talking. Sometimes they're awkward because other people have run out of things to say, but they always blame themselves for that. That's another thing he learned from Gerard.
Really, it's all Gerard's fault. Most things about Mikey's life are.
Pete only uses Mikey's number once, when he's manic and happy and eager to make everyone he knows just as happy by texting them about how happy he is. But once is all Mikey needs to save the number in his phone, and then it's just a matter of waiting until Pete starts telling the internet how fucked-up he is again.
hey pete, Mikey texts, because the beginning of the conversation is always about getting them to be willing to talk to him, and texting is easier for Pete to handle than talking out loud.
dont want to talk to you, Pete texts back, because Pete is the sort of blatantly transparent attention whore who texts that he doesn't want to talk instead of just not talking. A minute later he adds i like you don't want to fuck it up w the kind of bullshit sqelching around my head right now.
i'll listen, sends Mikey. no judging.
The response comes faster than thumbs should be able to move: you cant make me feel better.
Mikey answers, not trying to make you feel better. just trying to listen, and Pete calls him back.
"I always do this," he says when Mikey picks up. "I find someone to vent at like a punching bag of feelings and they always get sick of my shit and it doesn't really help anyway. I should stop. I should have, like, a solitary confinement cell I go into when I start feeling like this, with a facial recognition thing in the lock that won't let me out until I can smile my real smile. That way I wouldn't be able to bother people and burn down all my bridges when it feels like I'll never need them again."
"I don't think facial recognition technology is that advanced yet," says Mikey.
"I'll pay someone to invent it. That's all science needs, right, enough funding to try out all the wrong ways until they find the one that works? There's gotta be somebody out there who can do it. There's plenty of people who would pay a lot of money to keep me locked up. Maybe I can start a fund, the Shut Pete Wentz The Hell Up Fund. Bet that would get a ton of donations."
He falls silent. He's breathing hard, but not panic-attack hard. That's good. Panic attacks make people irrational. The whole point of what Mikey does is that it's rational. He leads people to logical conclusions that validate their emotional instincts, and once logic and emotion agree, there's no way to avoid acceptance.
"I hate it when other people get whiny like this," says Pete. "I always think they need to just fucking pull it together, take a deep breath and look around at all the people who care about them and all the awesome shit they have going for them. When they can't see that, it makes me want to smack them."
"I don't want to smack you," says Mikey.
"I kind of want you to smack me," says Pete. "Maybe it would help. Maybe people should just quit babying me. Kick my ass and make me act like a grownup."
"Quit badmouthing your feelings and tell me what they are," says Mikey.
Pete laughs, wild and abrupt. "The usual. I'm a failure, I'm a fake, no one likes me, I can't do anything right, I can't sleep, I can't think, I can't keep my promises, the world would be better off without me. Nothing interesting."
Mikey doesn't smile often, rarely for cameras and never for himself, but he can feel his lips stretching wide for Pete.
Mikey is careful. He's always careful, but he needs to take special care with this. Pete knows who he is, and he'll remember what he says. If he pushes it too far before Pete is ready, he'll be fucked.
It's a challenge. Mikey hasn't had one of those in a while.
Pete starts talking to him first, initiating text exchanges and phone calls. Usually that happens near the end, a sign that they're learning to trust him, but he's never done this with anyone he actually knows. It's fascinating, the differences in the process. Pete calls Mikey when he's down, but also when he's up, and everywhere in between. Mikey's good, but he's not a magician, he can't turn every conversation into sadness and woe without getting obvious about it, and that means he accidentally becomes Pete's friend.
It makes things easier, in most ways. It means that trust, which is always the biggest hurdle, happens automatically. Pete shouldn't trust easily by this point in his career, but he does, no matter how many times it fucks him over.
Being Pete's friend would make things harder too, if Mikey were a little bit different. He likes Pete. Fortunately, he's not the kind of person who lets that matter. He enjoys the friendship while Pete lasts, like a brownie he knows he's going to finish. It's not meant to be forever.
In February, Pete calls him from a parking lot. Mikey knows how people sound when they're about to jump. He can hear the desperation catching in Pete's voice, and he knows Pete didn't go out like this without a way to do it. It feels like time.
"What do you have?" he asks quietly.
Pete takes two breaths before he says, "Ativan. I think there's enough." Three more breaths, and then, "Tell me not to."
Mikey's not Pete's therapist, but he's close enough to it that he can't do this part the way he usually does it. "How often?" he asks instead.
"What, how often do I sit staring at a bottle of pills like they're fucking oxygen?"
"How often does it get bad?"
Pete's breath catches again, either a laugh or a sob or somewhere in the middle. "Define bad," he says. "When I'm hyped up and smiling like a maniac, that's just overcompensating. Sometimes I can deal. But it's never good."
Mikey lets him think about that, lets it settle in, and then he says, "There are a lot of different ways to deal. If the other ones aren't working..."
He knows when the pills are about to go down before Pete does.
That's supposed to be the end. Pete's not screwing around with the Ativan--he's an attention whore, but he's not just an attention whore. He's got real issues, and in Mikey's expert opinion, that conversation should have been enough to keep him from wimping out and calling his manager to come save him.
Apparently even experts can fuck up.
The days after Pete's failed suicide attempt are scary as hell. Mikey's sure he's going to tell someone. Pete's not good at discretion--his mouth closes about as often as a 7-11, and he's told Mikey enough "secrets" about other people that it seems impossible that he could keep one like this.
Mikey's plan is to deny everything. Pete's unreliable enough that he could have made it all up, and there's no evidence.
But no one says anything. Pete doesn't contact Mikey again, and Mikey leaves him alone. A few months pass, and he helps a few more kids kick their chairs, and he gradually starts to feel better. He watches Fall Out Boy perform once, but he doesn't tell Pete he's there. It's better not to stir anything up.
Pete is his first failure in a long time. He'd almost forgotten what the disappointment felt like.
He doesn't see Pete again until they tour together on Warped in the summer. Pete jumps him like a long-lost lover, which is a little surprising, but Mikey tilts his mouth at the corners and lets himself be jumped. Pete squeezes a little harder when Mikey hugs back, like he didn't think he would.
Later in the day, Pete's back to texting him about hot dogs, as if the half-year of radio silence never happened. It's a little surreal, but Mikey doesn't mind. It really is good to see Pete again, even if that wasn't his intention.
They don't talk about the phone call. Mikey keeps expecting it, because Pete is the kind of person who might initiate important discussions by hollering over the stall partitions in the bathroom with Dexter Holland taking a shit between them, but Pete is acting like it never happened.
He seems less fucked-up than he was, too. He's still not exactly a calm person, but he's mellowed out some, and his highs seem more natural and less frenzied. If Mikey had met him now instead of last year, he might not have set his sights on him in the first place.
Pete takes to following Mikey around, and he's pleasant enough company that Mikey follows him back. Touring, as usual, is its own little world, where stranger things have always happened. Pete's guys are used to his random attention-crushes, and Mikey's band barely notices, like they never notice anything he does.
Halfway through the tour, Pete finds the fan letters. It probably doesn't even occur to him to ask permission before poking through his friends' belongings--personal property doesn't really exist on tour, anyway, and sharing music is why they're all there. Even if he had asked, Mikey would have let him. Plenty of people have flipped through his CDs without noticing the flap on the inside cover of the case. But if Mikey had been there, he would have stepped in when Pete started pulling at the corners of the paper. As it is, he finds Pete in the My Chem bus lounge with letters spread out around him, absorbed in one of them.
Mikey doesn't freak out. Not reacting is a specialty of his. He raises an eyebrow and lets Pete fill in whatever explanation he likes best. Pete's good at retconning reality to fit his expectations.
Pete looks up and says, "Heavy stuff."
"Yeah," says Mikey. There's no point in chastising him for reading them. He's already found everything he's going to.
Mikey almost smiles. He suppresses the urge and just nods, sitting down next to Pete.
"It's a lot of pressure," says Pete. "Kids ask me for advice, like selling a lot of music makes me any better at life than they are. It's gotta be worse for you guys, with the whole lifesaving thing."
"That's Gerard," says Mikey. "I don't save lives."
"Nobody says you have to," says Pete, like he thinks he understands.
The rest of Warped is good, better than tours usually are toward the end. There's still the exhaustion, the desire to be done and home and sleeping, but it's bearable. It's mostly because of Pete that Mikey isn't miserable, and he can admit to himself that he's glad the little bastard's not dead.
It's never easy to get time alone on tour, but with Pete around, it's impossible. Mikey hasn't gone this long without talking anyone off a ledge in years. He misses connecting with the fans so intimately. Of course he sees fans every day, but screaming crowds and unexpected ambushes aren't the same at all. He's just a story for their friends like this. It makes him feel less important, less necessary.
Pete is worth it, though. People are starting to joke about their bromance, and Pete laughs it off, but Mikey thinks they have a point. It's no typical kind of relationship, for sure. Pete is closer to really knowing Mikey than anyone else alive, and that means more than he would have expected.
Still, when he miraculously finds some time alone on the bus with reasonable certainty of where everyone else is and when they'll be back, and Pete hasn't texted him in a couple hours, he locks the door and snatches the opportunity.
The CD case is still in the lounge where Pete left it. Mikey slips the handful of sheets out and turns them over, checking the dates and location notes he copied from the postmarks onto the backs of the letters. He tries not to call during the day--he wants to catch them at their worst, and he knows from experience that the worst always comes late at night.
Fortunately, there's one from this time zone, where it's currently almost midnight. Late enough that the kid probably won't be out on a weeknight, but too early for any teenager to be asleep. And it was mailed long enough ago that she probably won't make the connection between the letter and the call. Perfect.
He, not she, it turns out when Mikey reads the letter. Most of them are female. He's not sure why that is, whether more teen girls are depressed than boys, or more likely to talk about it, or just more likely to be fans of his band.
He starts with a text: Hey Jake, how you feeling?
Five minutes later, a response comes: definitely been better. sry, i don't know who this is, my phone doesn't recognize you
Mikey adjusts his typing style to match the kid's, ignoring the indirect question. that sucks, what's wrong?
fuckin back like always. and penelope's mad at me again
It's always easier when they assume Mikey is someone they know. It's a reasonable assumption, but sometimes they get stuck on figuring out who he is and won't let him get to the interesting part. It looks like that won't be a problem this time. He bought this phone in Jersey, so it has an area code close to the kid's, which probably helps.
you can call if you need to talk to somebody, Mikey sends, and the phone rings a few minutes later.
He hits the button to answer. "So what did you do to her this time?"
"I don't even know." The kid's voice is high like Ray's. "One minute everything's fine, the next minute she's breaking up with me."
Mikey hisses. "Ouch."
"I mean, it's not like she's never done it before, but I keep freaking out that it might be for real this time. She's fed up with me complaining about my back, she thinks it's psychosomatic. So it's my fault or something."
"Are you sure it's not?"
Jake sighs. "If it is, I can't do anything about it. I've tried all the positive thinking and psychological tricks I can find on the internet. Nothing does shit. It's fucking excruciating. They keep saying they'll figure it out, but I've been reading up on chronic pain stuff, and if they can't come up with a diagnosis I'm basically fucked."
"What do you mean? You'll just be in pain for life?"
"Uh-huh." He sighs again. "If that happens, I'm gonna off myself. It's not worth it to live like that."
Oh, fucking fantastic. This one is going to be easy. Which is good, because he doesn't have much time, and he won't have another moment alone until after the tour is over.
"Yeah?" says Mikey. "How long are you gonna hold out before you pull the trigger?"
He's standing at the end of the lounge nearest the bunks, and the door is open. If he were a little further away, he wouldn't have heard the gasp.
"Fuck, man, I'm sorry, I gotta go," he blurts into the phone and hangs up as he runs the three steps to his bunk, the only one with a closed curtain, and yanks it open.
Pete is lying on Mikey's mattress, eyes open so wide his lashes are trembling.
Mikey didn't actually choose to join My Chemical Romance. Gerard had his epiphany and gathered his crew, and never really considered the possibility that Mikey wouldn't want to be part of his grand project. And Mikey didn't have any major objections, so he went along with it, like he usually goes along with his brother's plans. He didn't resent Gerard for it or anything. That's just how they've always worked.
The band is his life now. Everything he is and does has some connection to it. He doesn't mind that, he loves Gerard and he loves My Chem and he'd do it all over again given the choice, but it wasn't anything he sat down and decided.
After the phone call with that first girl, after Mikey listened to the sounds of her choking and the phone clattering to the floor, he spent a long time staring into space and thinking. He's not much for philosophical pondering; most of the thoughts on his mind were along the lines of "good thing my number's blocked, I should probably change it just in case" and "fuck, what a rush." But he did stumble through enough self-examination to be aware that whatever this was, however many times he did it, Gerard could never know anything.
He's not afraid of the legal ramifications of being found out. The situation is ambiguous enough that the kind of lawyers he could buy would be able to get rid of any problems easily. It doesn't really matter who else knows--Mikey can talk his way out of almost anything. But Gerard can't find out. Even though he would never believe that Mikey was convincing people to commit suicide, even though he might not really know, he would know that there was something to know.
Mikey needs this. He needs something that isn't his brother. He needs something in his life that's done by him, not to him or for him or about him.
Maybe the internet was on to something. Maybe it is a little bit about control.
"Holy shit," says Pete. "I wasn't delusional. You really wanted me dead."
Obviously this is about Pete. Everything is.
"You wanted you dead," says Mikey.
Pete lets out a breath, like he wants to laugh. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, I did." He leans up onto his elbows and starts to sit up slowly, carefully, without making any sudden movements.
"Are you scared of me?" asks Mikey. That's almost funny. "What do you think I'm going to do?"
Pete shakes his head. "I don't fucking know what you'd do." He hasn't blinked once.
Mikey sits down on the bunk by Pete's feet. Pete pulls his legs up and scoots back as far as he can, folding himself up tight.
"I won't hurt you," says Mikey. He couldn't if he wanted to. Pete's not exactly buff, but it doesn't take a whole lot of muscle to overpower Mikey. He doesn't want anything bad to happen to Pete, anyway. His pride took enough of a beating last time.
Pete doesn't look reassured. "Those letters," he says. "That's what... Jesus, you're fucked up. How many kids have died because of you?"
It's a good question. Mikey's not sure of the answer. He does this for the way it makes him feel, not to add tally marks to his wall, but sometimes he wishes he'd kept count just for fun.
Pete's trying to edge his way off the bunk, with all the subtlety of a ninja on fire. Mikey reaches out and rests a hand on his knee, and Pete freezes.
"Are you going to try to tell someone?" says Mikey quietly.
"Are you going to try to stop me?"
Mikey might not be able to stop him physically, but there are advantages to being someone's confidante. He knows how Pete's mind works, and he knows how to make it work for him.
"Who would you tell?" he asks. "The police? You think they could do anything about it? What are you going to say, that you tried to kill yourself and I said maybe you should?"
Pete's face crumples, and Mikey moves closer, shifting his hand from Pete's knee to his shoulder. "Hey," he says softly. "I'm glad you got through it. I'm glad you're here. I want you to be alive and happy. But you weren't happy. You're not happy a lot. I was trying to do the right thing to help you."
Pete covers his face with his hands, fingers splayed so he can still see. "They're kids, Mikey," he whispers.
"You think kids can't feel pain?" Mikey shakes his head. "Do you remember being a teenager? You remember how much it sucked, and being so sure that it would get better once you grew up, once you had a band, once you were famous? You're a rock star, Pete, you've got fucking everything. Is it better?"
He's not enjoying this. Watching Pete break isn't giving him any satisfaction. It has to be done, because he needs to be sure Pete won't talk, but it doesn't feel like any kind of victory when Pete tilts into Mikey, head against his shoulder and arms clinging to his waist, chest shuddering.
Mikey holds him tightly, and tries to figure out what he's feeling. It might be sympathy. He can't be sure.
Pete keeps his mouth shut.
They don't talk about it. Like at the beginning of Warped, Pete is cheerful and friendly and madly, forcefully unaware of anything that might be wrong. Mikey plays along, and they stay friends on the internet. Pete's exactly the same in person, all grins and bad jokes, but he doesn't let Mikey get him alone.
Mikey doesn't try too hard. He focuses on the unspoken dynamics of their interactions and lets Pete guide the surface.
He misses him a little, but he tries to ignore it.
Three years later, the media finally notices one of the suicides, and Pete calls Mikey in tears. "I can't fucking take it," he says. "I can't deal with this. You won't stop and I can't do anything about it and the guilt is killing me."
This is new ground for Mikey. He's never tried to soothe anyone away from the edge before. It would probably be wiser to do what he's always done, tip Pete into a decision he can't unmake, and then the risk will be gone. But Mikey's always gone with his instincts, and right now his instincts are telling him to keep Pete safe.
Pete says, "Tell me to do it. I will. I'll get it right this time, I promise."
Mikey says, "Ssshhhh," and "Deep breaths," and "It's okay, sweet little dude," and "Don't. Please don't."