Gerard’s nine years old, drawing in his bedroom. He finishes coloring the tail of the dinosaur he’s drawing and looks out the window. He looks just in time to see the front wheel of Mikey’s bike go off the curb and Mikey go flying off the bike. Gerard’s down the stairs and out the door before he has a second thought.
Mikey’s still on the ground when he gets there, holding his knee.
“Owwwww,” Mikey groans.
“Mikey, can you sit? Let me see your knee.”
“No, it hurts,” Mikey whines.
“That’s why you have to let me see, so I can make it better.”
Mikey pulls a face, but gently pulls his hand away. His knee is scraped and bloody. Gerard hisses in sympathy. “Come on, I’ll help you up.”
Gerard gets an arm around Mikey, and together they limp into the house and up the stairs into the bathroom. Gerard sits Mikey on the edge of the tub and rifles through the cabinets for washcloths, band-aids and that stuff you’re always supposed to put under the band-aid.
Mikey cries out when Gerard presses the damp washcloth to his scrape. “Stop that!”
“But you need to clean it so it doesn’t get infected.”
“But it hurts!”
“Mom always says that’s the germs getting killed.”
Mikey’s still visibly angry, but he’s silent and still, letting Gerard clean and bandage his knee. The band-aids are plain boring ones, so Gerard promises to draw a dinosaur on them when they’re done.
Their mom pokes her head in just as Gerard is pressing the last band-aid into Mikey’s skin. “What happened in here? Looks like a MASH in here.”
“A what?” Gerard asks.
“Nevermind. Mikey, what happened to your knee?”
“I fell, but Gee fixed it up for me.” He holds his leg out to show his mother. “See? He even promised to draw something cool on the band-aids.”
“That’s very nice of your brother, Mikes.”
Gerard flushes with pride. He’s such a good older brother.
Gerard’s first year of college, he still takes the train home every Friday morning, missing home and his own bed. He’s in the kitchen, mug of tea steeping on the counter when the door opens. Something’s wrong.
“Mikey?” he asks.
“Fuck.” Mikey’s voice is soft, angry.
“Fucking Jake Forrester is what happened.” Mikey rounds the corner into the kitchen, and Gerard has to clench his fists to keep from punching something. Mikey’s eye is almost swollen shut, bright red and beginning to purple around the edges.
“Goddamnit.” Gerard opens the freezer. There’s no ice packs; they probably got thrown out when Mikey started carrying his lunch in a brown paper sack instead of his cool Transformers lunch box. He pulls out a bag of peas, wraps it in the towel hanging from the oven door handle. “Here, sit down.” Gerard gently presses the peas to Mikey’s eye. Mikey hisses, but doesn’t back away.
Gerard knows enough about this Jake kid that he doesn’t need to ask what happened. What he does want to know is “Did it happen on campus? Did anyone catch you?”
“No and no,” Mikey says, slumping further into the chair.
Gerard sighs. That’s a double-edged sword. If a faculty member at the school saw what happened, it could have saved Mikey getting hit. But it could have just as easily gotten Mikey in trouble as well, suspended or worse.
“Did you at least hit him back?”
“Unfortunately, not as good as he got me.”
The door opens again, and this time it’s their mother. She takes one look at them when she enters the kitchen and tuts. She lifts the makeshift ice pack from his face to look at his eye.
“Michael! Another fight?”
“Yeah,” Mikey agrees. She sighs and turns to the kettle to make her own cup of tea.
“Ma, it’s that Jake kid,” Gerard tells her. Maybe she can do something. Being Mikey’s older brother doesn’t carry the same weight it used to now that he’s away at college.
“Unless the counselors know something about it, there’s nothing I can do, Gee.”
“I’m totally fine, Ma, thanks for asking,” Mikey deadpans.
Their mother turns to look at them again. She looks pointedly between Mikey and Gerard. “I knew you would be, baby.”
Like always, Gerard can tell it’s Mikey just by the distant sound of the bus door opening and closing. And, as always, he can tell something is wrong just from the change in the bus energy. Bob and Frank are still out cold, and Ray is off somewhere, probably being all brilliant and talented, talking music with some techs and other bands over coffee and crappy pastries.
“Mikes?” Gerard calls out.
“Not now, Gee.”
Gerard sighs and hauls himself up off the couch, scattering pencils everywhere. He’ll get them later, right now he has a brother to save.
Mikey’s curled into his bunk, facing the wall. He looks exactly the way he always looks when he comes back from spending a night on FOB’s bus, all messy hair and smelling of smoke. He’s got a hoodie wrapped tightly around himself, fingers curled around his arm.
“Michael,” Gerard says, tone a warning. He knows Mikey hates it when Gerard uses his full name.
Wordlessly, Mikey sits and yanks off the hoodie. Mikey’s bicep, from shoulder to elbow, is covered in black sharpie. Some of the words are smudged, others just plain unreadable due to Pete’s shit handwriting, but it’s pretty obvious what the note says. Mikey’s just been dumped by Pete fucking Wentz.
“Oh, Mikes.” Gerard climbs in behind Mikey, hugging him around his middle. Mikey doesn’t say anything, just lets Gerard hug him. After a few silent minutes, Mikey scrambles over Gerard, barely making it into the bathroom with the door closed before he retches. Gerard sighs and hauls himself out of Mikey’s bunk.
There’s some gatorade left over from Frank’s last bout of the flu. Gerard grabs a bottle, and the aspirin from the cabinet over the sink, before digging in his bag for the jar of cold cream and a washcloth and returning to the bathroom.
“Mikey, I’m coming in now.” The retching has stopped, and when Gerard opens the door, Mikey’s curled on the floor, arms wrapped around his knees. He takes the gatorade and the aspirin when Gerard holds it out to him, but still stays silent.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Mikey sighs. “I don’t even fucking... I don’t even know, Gee. Fucking Pete.”
“Fucking Pete is right.” It’s Gerard’s turn to sigh. “Come on, let’s get this shit off your arm.” Gerard helps Mikey up, gets him into a sitting position on the closed toilet lid. He makes a few passes with the washcloth and the cold cream, and eventually the words are blurred and faded. Not totally gone, but a good hot shower will do the rest. God, Gerard cannot wait until the next hotel night.
“Alright, best I can do for now.” Gerard caps the cold cream. Mikey stands and Gerard pulls him into another hug. “Hey, you gonna be okay?”
“Yeah,” Mikey says, returning the embrace. “Always am.”
A few weeks (nineteen days) after the first bombs fell, Gerard made a conscious decision to stop counting the days. It’s no use; there’s no home to go back to, none of them have any sort of time-keeping devices on them (since all cell service cut out a few hours after the bombing). Still, Gerard had kept counting sunrises, hoping that it would make sense of this whole situation. It hadn’t, and so Gerard decided to stop. It was only making it worse.
After the first sighting of the men in Dracula masks (which are quickly being labeled as Dracs, courtesy of Frank), Ray pushes for the acquisition of weapons. Frank agrees, and so does Mikey. There’s one problem with that: no one knows how to fire a weapon. Arcade games aside, Gerard has never held a gun in his life.
The first thing they find is a pump action shotgun and a couple of handguns. Mikey and Ray go out back of the abandoned diner they’re staying in and line up some tin cans to practice.
Mikey takes the handgun first. The two Ray picked up are identical .40 caliber Smith & Wessons, standard issue Oakland PD pistols. Ray didn’t say much about the guy he picked them up off of, or how much he had to trade for them, and the less Gerard knows, the better.
Mikey’s standing all wrong. Knees locked, feet too close together, shoulders hunched. He takes aim and pulls the trigger. The shot goes way wide, and Gerard can’t help but laugh as the recoil makes the gun jump in Mikey’s hands, smacking him in the forehead. Mikey stumbles back and lands on his ass, dropping the gun into the sand.
“Careful,” Ray says. “God, you’d think you’d never played a FPS in your life.”
“Fuck you, dick.” Mikey flips him off, holding his forehead with the other hand. “That really fucking hurt.”
Gerard pushes off the wall of the diner and squats in front of Mikey. “Let me see,” he says, reaching up and pulling Mikey’s hand away from his forehead. The cut’s not terrible, but there’s a shitton of blood. Always is with face cuts. “Come on inside, I’ll clean you up.”
In the kitchen, Gerard cleans Mikey’s face and hands and bandages the cut. And then takes a second to laugh at him some more.
“Yeah, yeah, laugh all you want. Bet you’d have done the same thing.”
“I know, I totally would. But I have to laugh, otherwise I’d cry. My baby brother, shooting a gun.” They’re rockstars, not vigilantes, or whatever the fuck. It’s still surreal, sometimes.
Mikey stares at him, but doesn’t say anything. Ten years ago, he would have muttered a remark about how he’s not a baby anymore. “Got to, else we’re dead. I’d rather go down shooting.”
“True.” Gerard sighs. “Go back out there, and pay attention to what Ray tells you this time, huh?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Mikey sighs. “Thanks, Gee.”
“Shit.” Ghoul’s voice is almost lost over the roar of the wind. “Shit, shit, fuck, dammit.”
“What?” Poison looks up in the rearview mirror. Kobra’s bike is on its side on the road, the bright red of Kobra’s jacket all he can see of him. Jet veers off to the right on his own bike, out of the mirror’s field of vision. “What the fuck happened?”
“I don’t know!” Ghoul shouts in between blasts of his gun.
“Are there any more dracs?”
“Just this one! Take it off the road, Jet will circle back around for him!”
Poison jerks the wheel to the left, grabbing onto the back of Ghoul’s pants to keep him from flying out the window as he keeps on shooting. The car fishtails, and Poison straightens it out as fast as he can. Ghoul never stops shooting, and it’s not long before he whoops and slides back inside. “We got ‘em!”
“Great, now let’s get back to Kobra.” Poison slows the Trans Am enough that he can turn around and gun it back to the road. Jet’s there with Poison, but they haven’t moved. Poison screeches to a stop and jumps out, engine still running.
“What the fuck happened?”
“He laid the bike down,” Jet says.
“Just a little road rash, Poison,” Kobra says through gritted teeth.
Poison comes around to his side and hisses. “A little, my ass.” Kobra’s jeans are torn open from knee to hip, the exposed skin just about ripped to shreds. He grabs Kobra under his arms and motions for Jet to help him. “Come on, let’s get you into the car, Ghoul can take the bike back.”
Back at the abandoned gas station that’s currently serving as home, Poison sets Kobra on the counter of the bathroom and goes to retrieve the first aid kit. They still have some bottled water left, and he digs that out and brings it back. “Come on, pants off.” Together they get Kobra out of his jeans without too much trouble. There’s no shower, but there’s a drain in the floor that’ll take most of the water and shit.
“This is gonna hurt,” Poison warns, and then pours the first bottle of water over Kobra’s leg. He hisses, swearing, and his muscles bunch in effort of keeping still. The cuts aren’t deep, since the denim took the brunt of it. Poison has no idea how fast Kobra was going when he went down, but thanks god he didn’t break anything. He doubts they could’ve dealt with that on their own.
Kobra yelps and bites his hand as Poison starts in with a towel and the second bottle of water. “You are like a fucking gravel magnet, Mikes.” Poison is doing his best to be gentle, but some of it is really sticking. “Oh, man, remember Taste of Chaos? You fell in the parking lot at that one place.” Those memories seem like light years away, but Gerard still remembers sitting in some dingy bathroom with his brother, picking tiny shards of gravel out of his palms.
“Ha, yeah,” Kobra pants. “I had gravel in my palms for like a week.”
It takes forever, but eventually Kobra’s leg is cleaned and wrapped in gauze. “There, all better.” Poison stands and begins packing up the kit. “You’re going to need new pants, kid.”
“Yeah.” Kobra looks down at the gauze peeking through the hole formerly known as the left leg of his jeans. “Maybe Dr. Death’ll have something.”
“Or Show Pony. He’s more your size.” Poison prods him in the ribs.
“My ass is going nowhere near a pair of tights.”
“Whatever you say, I think you and him would make a great duo.”
“Fuck off.” Kobra punches him in the shoulder, but it’s weak, playful. He limps out of the bathroom and into the pile of sleeping bags that serves as a bed.
“How’s the bike?” he asks Jet.
“Just superficial damage.” Jet shrugs, dropping down next to him on the bags. “Real question is, how’re you?”
“I’ll be fine. Poison made sure of that.”
Jet pushes his hair back out of his eyes and cracks a smile. “Good,”
The last raid they went on got them a bunch of tech on top of the other essentials they went in for. Poison doesn’t know how he did it, but Jet managed to get his hands on some motor oil for the Trans Am, which needed it desperately. Jet’s up north trading what they can’t use, gone for most of the day. But how hard is an oil change? Poison figures he can do it himself.
Everything goes... mostly okay. He manages to miss the catch pan and douse the floor in old motor oil, but at least he doesn’t break anything. He’s tightening the cap on the oil pan when his hand slips on the wrench. He just barely misses his face with the wrench, but the cuts his hand against something sharp and evil. Blood wells up bright and hot almost immediately.
“Motherfucker,” Poison growls, rolling out from under the car.
“What? Oh shit.” Kobra crosses to Poison, holding his hand out for Poison’s. “Come here, let me see.”
“My hand slipped,” Poison explains lamely.
“Why didn’t you just wait for Jet? I told you you were gonna hurt yourself.”
Poison flips him off with his good hand. “I’m not completely inept.” Kobra drags him into the kitchen of the current diner they’re crashing in. Different location, but the first aid kit is always in the same place.
Kobra cleans him up and inspects the cut. It’s not deep, a few bandages will do. Kobra snorts, shaking his head. “What?”
“Nothing,” he says, pressing the adhesive into Poison’s skin. “Just, it’s usually the other way around. You patching me up.”
Poison laughs. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“See, you’re right. You’re not completely inept. You’re the band nurse.” Kobra still refers to them all as “the band.” When Poison had asked him about it, years ago, he had just shrugged and said, “You don’t lose who you are just because of your circumstance.”
Poison punches his shoulder. “Still the frontman, jerk.”
Kobra sticks his tongue out at him, and then laughs. “Yeah, you are.”