"It's for the hamster I'm going to buy!" Gerard announced to the entire room, his smile bright enough to be seen from outer space. He clutched the box, eyes shining, fiercely guarding it like it was the most precious treasure on Planet Earth.
Standing to the side and away from the cameras, Ray was free to openly stare at Gerard. A heavy wave of want, familiar yet powerful, settled in his stomach. Truth was, Ray had had crushes on other guys before--fleeting moments when he might've looked at his brother Lou's friends a little bit longer than normal, memorizing their faces for when he was alone in his room late at night. His feelings for Gerard, however, were as stubborn (going on four years and counting) and passionate as the man currently trying to hold on to his present while giving Frank a one-armed hug.
Seeing him so happy after all the ups and downs of the past few years was a present unto itself. He glanced over to Mikey and then back to Frank and Gerard and that damn box with the photo of a bright pink hamster cage (with tunnels!) on the front, hoping that his face betrayed nothing. Soon, the room began to feel crowded: band, crew and filming crew almost on top of each other in the confines of the tour bus. A mild but sudden dizziness forced him to sit down next to Mikey.
"Hey, you OK?" Mikey put his presents to the side and turned toward him, one arm stretched out.
Ray frowned at Mikey, batting his hand away. He didn't have a fever. "Yeah, I just--It's been a while since I ate something," he said.
"Right," Mikey replied, not sounding convinced at all. "Because the Christmas dinner we had only two hours ago wasn't enough."
"Um, no?" Ray blinked a few times, waiting for the feeling of light-headedness to settle down . "I'm a growing boy."
"If you keep growing, Frank is either going to cry or climb all over you like he does to Bob." Mikey frowned. "Maybe you're coming down with something? Frank kept sniffling all last night. I should know, his bunk is right above mine."
"Nah, I'm fine. It's just been an exciting day," Ray said, looking at Frank, Gerard and Bob sitting across from them. Gerard kept pointing at the front of the box, apparently tracing the path of the hamster gym, cage, whatever, with his index finger and talking animatedly to no one in particular. Next to him, Frank kept making ridiculous faces while Bob flashed a side smile every so often. Though close enough to hear snatches of conversation, everyone talking at once left Ray somewhat disoriented. He waited until the wooziness faded to try getting up. "I should--I think I'm going to lay down for a while," he told Mikey, waving at Gerard and the rest of the guys as he made his way to the bunks.
Much as he would've have liked to slide into his bunk immediately, he shuffled to the bathroom, sweatpants and his small bag of toiletries in hand. Going to bed wearing his contact lenses wasn't a good idea. He was on his last pair until they got back to Jersey. A honking laugh (Gerard, he realized) pierced through the quiet when he walked back, vision blurry and ready for bed. Ray stood still, part of him wanting to go back out, before yawing and resuming his trip to his bunk. Closing his eyes, he fell asleep within a matter of seconds.
Ray had never been the kind of person to remember dreams. Not unless they were nightmares--which were rare occurrences to begin with. Still, morning (or, as per life on tour, noon ) found him going over the still vivid dream-image of wiggling his front paws before resuming digging into the hot sand of the Sahara.
Rubbing his eyes, Ray decided that the dream was his mind playing a nasty trick on him. He knew who he was and what he was for as long as he could remember. Dr. Pop himself had given him the all-clear at age 5; right around the time the were gene would start to manifest. He hadn't thought much about how 'normal' he was (other than the flare of jealousy after seeing Lou in his guinea pig form for the first time). The results were solid: Ray was human. No way, no how he could've been wrong , Ray told himself, shaking the rest of his sleep off. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee lured him out into the kitchenette. Thankful for the Way brothers' coffee addiction (which resulted in a push for a top of the line coffee machine when the record company said it was time to go on tour), Ray poured himself a cup, humming a few chords of a song he'd been thinking about since they had left Indiana.
"Missed you last night." Gerard sidled up to him, startling Ray into almost dropping his coffee. "Feeling better? You kinda disappeared on us, dude." He reached around Ray, taking one of the last remaining clean cups in the cabinet above the coffee machine before pouring himself a cup.
Gerard's proximity to his body--he was close enough for Ray to feel his body heat--was a little too much this early in the morning. Ray sucked in a breath, thankful that pre-coffee Gerard wouldn't pick up on Ray's nervousness. He had gone years keeping his cool; why was his body trying to bring everything out into the open now?
"Uh, yeah, yeah," he replied, taking a long sip of coffee to get himself together. This early in the day, Gerard looked ridiculous and adorable: semi-greasy hair teased up by Gerard's tossing and turning (sharing all kinds of small quarters since they began touring back in '02 had taught Ray all about Gerard's lively sleeping patterns), creases from his pillow marking his pale face, his expression open and mellow. Wearing black pajama bottoms with skeleton prints and one of his old Madonna t-shirts, Gerard made Ray's heart curl up into itself with longing.
"Excuse me," he mumbled, coffee in hand, as he went around Gerard for relatively safer areas such as the living room couch. He leaned back and closed his eyes, holding the now half-full cup between his hands. Thinking back to the dream and the events of the previous night, he chuckled. Everything was so obvious: the hamster gym and him mooning after Gerard. Relaxing after such a logical jump, Ray sighed with contentment. It had all been a dream. Nothing more, nothing less.
"What's so funny?"
Ray felt the dip on the couch when Gerard sat down. "Dreams, man. Crazy stuff," he said, finally opening his eyes and turning his head in Gerard's direction. On his way to wakefulness through caffeination, Gerard gave him a small smile and nodded.
"You don't have to tell me," Gerard said after considering Ray words. "Sometimes I have these dreams where, like, we're at a gig but I forget the lyrics or start singing them in another language."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. I once had this shitty dream where you guys told me that, if I wanted to say in the band, I couldn't play the guitar anymore. So you gave me the choice between the xylophone and the harp."
"That's messed up," Gerard said, his face scrunched up as he giggled.
"Laugh all you want, Gee," Ray said, "but it still freaked me out."
Gerard shrugged, chewing on a hangnail. "The brain works out all kind of wacky things through dreams. What mine was trying to tell me by making me dream about the desert, I'll never know. Like I would ever spend any time out in the sun! Pfft, just because--"
Ray sat up at once. "Desert? What about the desert?"
"Nothing, really," Gerard said, drinking the rest of his coffee before answering. "I dreamed I was in this desert, kinda wearing these really worn but badass clothes? I was, um, on a quest? It's all kind of fuzzy."
"Uh huh." Ray's stomach flipped this way and that.
"I think I was looking for an animal? A prairie dog?" Gerard yawned. "I dunno, some desert animal. But I don't know the reason why. And, every time I thought I had found it, it escaped by digging into the sand? It felt like we were playing a game. Fucking weird, man."
"Yup, sounds like it," Ray said, wishing like hell that he had never brought up the subject in the first place.
"Brains," Gerard said, shrugging as he put down his empty cup on the floor. Picking up the TV remote, he leaned over against Ray until his head was on Ray's lap. "Is there anything you want to watch?"
"No, just pick whatever," Ray said, weighing the pros and cons of asking Lou or his mom for help.
"'kay," Gerard said, his voice a little drowsy after he set the remote down. Onscreen, puppies ran on a field and a man with a soothing British voice narrated about what life on a farm was like.
Ray took a deep breath and then another. He looked down, enjoying the image of Gerard snuffling as he dozed off. Taking advantage of the situation, Ray allowed himself to give into his impulse to brush a strand of inky black hair away from Gerard's face. Rather than taking his hand back, he kept running his fingers through Gerard's hair. Whether it was the repetition of his movements, Gerard sound asleep or the quiet surrounding them, Ray felt as carefree and mellow as the puppies running around the farm. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so at peace.
Able to look at his situation anew, Ray yielded to his earlier thought of asking for some advice. He would begin with his mom.
The rest of the band would be up soon, then it would be time for soundcheck, snack/chill-out time followed by performing onstage. It would mean cutting it close, but he'd have to wait until right before warming up to call his mother. Decision made, he grabbed the remote and switched the channel to the USA network.
Finding a place to use his cellphone proved to be unreasonably difficult. Everywhere he turned, there was someone around. This wasn't a conversation meant to be overhead by anyone. Luckily, he found an empty dressing room at the far end of the arena. "Mom?"
"How are you, my baby?"
"Fine. Tour's going well. Everyone's OK. I--I. Um." Ray sat down on the floor and exhaled.
"What's wrong, Raymond ?"
Ray shook his head, anxiety building up inside of him. He twisted his mouth, chewing the inside of his cheek and pushed through his fear. "Um, remember when Dr. Pop told me I was normal?"
"Si," his mother said with an even tone. "Why?"
"I've been feeling kind of 'off'. It's got me thinking. Um, that maybe next time I'm home I can go see our family doctor."
"Ay, Dios Santo ! I knew we should've insisted on a second round of tests when you hit puberty," his mother said, her voice heavy with regret. "But then, you never showed any signs that the results of the first one were wrong. This is what happens when I follow your Tía Angelica 's advice! Anyway, let me give you our doctor's number and then you can--"
"No! I mean, no thanks, Mom." He wouldn't have any time to come up with a plausible excuse about David Bowie showing up to see him. Besides, Gerard would surely pass out from happiness.
"Well, then, I'm going to call him myself," his mother said sternly. "This is a very serious matter, Raymond Toro Ortiz. If things are happening, the sooner we all know why, the better for everyone but especially you."
"Mom! I can't--the guys..." He banged his head against the door. Sometimes he forgot where he got his stubborn streak from. "I'm sure this can wait until I'm back in Jersey."
"And what if something happens before then? Think about it, Raymond. I'm going to try to schedule you an appointment, OK? We'll talk soon."
His mom's talent for laying down the guilt trip was truly epic. Ray dropped his shoulders. "OK, Mom. I have to go. Te quiero."
"I love you too, Raymond. Don't be scared. Everything will turn out just fine."
Ray ended the call and hummed a few bars of "Rock n' Roll Damnation." At this point, he didn't know what he was more afraid of: getting re-tested or having to deal with the results.
That night's concert was great. Ray was a professional and, possible were-drama aside, he could shake off his worried thoughts for an hour and a half. Fingers sliding over the frets, he went off into his little world, where the music was all that mattered.
Mikey and Bob kept to themselves, providing the beat on which the rest of the band built the songs. Frank kept bouncing all over the place, occasionally shooting glances at the side of the stage. Jamia had shown up as an early Christmas surprise for Frank an hour before they went on.
Meanwhile, Gerard camped it up. He turned up his charm, prancing, blowing kisses and giving the kind of speeches that would get their fans into a bigger frenzy. It was, Ray observed as they went into the encore, nearly magical.
Because it was their next-to-last concert until the new year, there was no press and a very quick afterparty (consisting of them chowing down while talking about the concert highlights). Later, Bob and Mikey had settled in front of the TV to play Donkey Konga. Gerard sat in the side chair, a notepad on his lap, and worked on the next part of their ongoing D&D campaign. Frank and Jamia had moved to the bunks after making out all over the bus. Bob had set the volume high enough to drown out whatever sounds were going to come out from over there.
Ray holed up in the studio on the back of the bus a few moments after dinner was over. The people making the documentary had mentioned that they wanted to use some of their live tracks to package with the documentary release. With many performances to choose from, Ray had taken it upon himself to go through what had been recorded in order to pick the absolute best. The fans deserved nothing short of that.
He had finally decided on a really good version of "Venom" when Gerard knocked on the door and popped his head in.
"Hey, Bob, Mikes and I are gonna watch a movie. You in?"
Ray looked away from the computer. "What are the choices?"
"Transporter 2, War of The Worlds or The Devil's Rejects. My vote is for the Rob Zombie movie. Bob says he doesn't care. Mikey said he's not in the mood for alien invasions. So, you coming or not?"
Much as he wanted to go and hang out, Ray wasn't sure it was a good idea. Gerard was a shameless cuddler whenever they sat down to watch movies. He took off his glasses, rolling his neck despite the faint surge of vertigo that showed up whenever Gerard's focus was solely on him. "Um, raincheck? I kinda want to make a few notes before I'm done for today. Might take a while."
"Oh, OK," Gerard said, looking a little deflated.
"Go on, start the movie. I'll catch up with you guys soon."
"All right," Gerard replied and closed the door.
Ray waited a moment before thunking his forehead against the desk. He couldn't keep Gerard (let alone the rest of the band) at arms' length forever. On top of which, he didn't know how much longer he could deal with not having answers to what was happening to him. It was too late (even without the difference in time zones) to call his mom about Dr. Bowie. Resigned to make the best of the situation, he straightened up and resumed his mixing.
He had been listening to the final two takes on "Helena" he thought were perfect for the documentary when a voice scared the shit out of him.
"Well, well, well, Mr. Toro. I hear there have been some interesting developments of late," the familiar British voice said, cooly.
Ray turned around, his eyes widening with shock as he took in David Bowie leaning against his door like it was no big deal. Jumping out of his chair, he opened and closed his mouth for a couple of seconds, willing his body to calm down. "What are you doing here? My mom said--"
Bowie pushed away from the door and walked towards Ray, his mouth curving into a smile, only stopping when he was almost nose-to-nose with him. "Your mother is very concerned," he said, staring at Ray, his dilated pupil contracting a couple of times before settling back to its original state. "And with reason. If what she says is true, then... Well, I think the last time this happened was back in 1950. So exciting!"
"Would you keep it down?" Ray stepped back, hands flailing, as he made shushing noises at Bowie.
"Your mates are sleeping," Bowie said, turning around and placing his doctor's bag on the desk. There were magical sigils drawn all over the brown leather. He unwound his black silk scarf and rolled up the sleeves of his black, expensive-looking jacket, before rummaging through his bag . "I did a few Tumaarial incantations when I got here. Much more effective than potions and with no residual hangover in the morning. Anyway, let's see what's going on, yeah?"
Ray gulped, unable to look away as Bowie placed several jars with all kinds of strange plants and insects next to the computer keyboard. One of the bottles, about the size of a regular beer, had what looked like a fairy floating in a translucent liquid. He shuddered. "OK, what do you need me to do?"
"Close your eyes and stand still. I promise you I'm not going to hurt you." Bowie gave him another one of his smiles. This one was only less creepy that the first one.
Ray obeyed Bowie, swallowing down his uneasiness with this whole situation. Having been declared 'normal', he hadn't been seen by Bowie more than a handful of times through the years. His human (mundane) doctor was a friendly, Paraguayan woman who had studied the were culture. "The hell?" he yelped after he felt a sharp tug on his hair.
"Sorry," Bowie said without an ounce of remorse, a few of Ray's hairs in his right hand. He flicked a dark red handkerchief open with his free hand, placing the hairs on it with excessive care. "I needed to surprise you in order for the sample to be absolutely clean. This is a very delicate test," he said, opening a small jar that had an indigo sort of ooze and pouring it over the hairs. "Tell me, have you been suffering from headaches, sleepwalking, feeling the urge to hoard things, create nests or walk backwards?"
Keeping his eyes on whatever Bowie was doing, Ray hmmed. "Nothing like that. I had a dream and, um, there's this kind of nausea that happens every so often?"
Bowie picked a single hair and squinted at it. "The nausea. Is it like when you're seasick or like when you've been riding rollercoasters all day long?"
"Um, the second one, I think," Ray replied.
"Interesting." Bowie wrapped the hair in the handkerchief and placed it inside a jar. "Let me see your hands. Uh huh," he said, studying them and even sniffing at them. "Right." He let them go. "Sit down, Ray. Please."
"Is it that bad?"
"Not really. Though I have a feeling you know what I'm going to say. Just want you to be comfortable. Anyway, I can see how Iggy could've missed this. In all of my years practicing, this is the first time I've come across anything like it. Off the top of my head, I can only think of five recorded cases in which were-genes activated years after they were supposed to. The trigger has always been something that would shake up a person's life: the death of a loved one, waking up from a comatose state, divorce, that sort of thing. In your case , the spark is love. You've fallen for someone very hard. There's some kind of reciprocation from your potential beloved. That's what woke up your hamster side."
"A hamster? I'm going to become a hamster? Fuck me," Ray said, sliding his hands over his face. He'd worked so fucking hard on not letting his feelings for Gerard mess up his life. And what the hell was he going to do with the band?
Bowie gave Ray an assessing look. "Could've been worse, you know...
"You could've turned out to be a were-slug," Bowie said, smirking.
Ray huffed with frustration. He had known Gerard since before there was a band. "But this doesn't make any sense! I've known--I've known him for years."
"I don't have a concrete answer for that, Ray," Bowie said while packing all of his jars up. "My best guess is that maybe both of you are open to this new development in your life now. Whereas you weren't before for whatever reason. Here," he said, handing over a small bottle with neon green pills in it, "this is essence of hummingbird tears with moonflower petals and vitamin D. It should help with the dizzy spells. Place one pill under your tongue whenever you think you might faint and let it dissolve. My professional opinion is that you get yourself sorted out soon. Make a declaration to your intended, see what happens and go on from there. Whatever it is you choose to do, it has to happen by the end of this week."
That was less than two days away. "Why by then?"
"The full moon will be shining bright come Sunday night," Bowie answered as he wrapped his scarf around his neck. "Chin up, Ray. Half your family are weres so you know what's to come. No matter what, don't fight it. Your inner hamster will win out. All it wants is to find its mate."
What Ray craved was a beer (or 20.) Anything to help him forget that he was going to transform into a hamster that would then seek Gerard for cuddle-times. "How fucked am I?"
"Don't ask me," Bowie said, his voice growing softer. "I'll email you my bill when I get back to England. We'll follow up 13 days after your first transformation..."
By the time Ray looked up, Bowie had faded into the ether like he had never been there at all.
Once again alone in the studio, Ray let his thoughts run wild. Bowie's advice gnawed at him the most. Confessing to Gerard was the worst possible move. To reveal that he became a tiny rodent with poufy fur during the full moon sounded absolutely ridiculous. Never mind that talking about his were-side meant having a discussion about feelings, his feelings, which was a horrible thing in itself.
Telling the rest of the band was a scary idea as well. Ray didn't think they even knew about the existence of weres. He himself had met only a handful and most of them were distant relatives and friends of friends. Knowing his band like he did, he could picture Frank giggling at him, Mikey giving him him an skeptical arched eyebrow and Bob quietly dialing Brian's number to inform him that Ray had finally had a nervous breakdown.
His coming out conversation had been so easy; he couldn't imagine this one going well at all. Of course, the beers had helped keep everyone buzz-y and calm. It didn't hurt that that Ray was the kind of guy whose boyfriends weren't musicians (his one night stand with Patrick aside) or celebrity-wanna be's.
And, that little train of thought took him right up to Gerard. Always a handsy type of person, Gerard had no qualms about hugging Ray, telling him that he was awesome or curling up next to him late at night, drawing quietly while Ray played his video games. That was just Gerard.
Ray had noticed that the easy hook-ups Gerard had had back when he was doing his best impersonation of a rock star cliche had dwindled to non-existent. Probably part of his sobriety thing, he considered. Regardless, Gerard being his were-mate was something that wouldn't happen outside of those cute, romantic comedies Bob liked to watch when he thought everyone else had zonked out.
He crossed his arms and placed his head down, staring at his practice guitar, the opening notes of "Romance" playing in his head. One more concert and then home for three whole weeks. Holiday season meant everyone spent as much time possible with their respectives families. Maybe I can postpone telling Gerard until the next leg of the tour, he contemplated. Somewhat comforted by this, Ray closed his eyes and fell into an fretful sleep.
Morning found him with a stiff neck from snoozing on the desk. It wasn't until he sat up, stretching his arms up, that he noticed the sofa behind him. Coulda, shoulda, woulda, he thought grimly when his back spasmed.
A knock on the door made him growl. "Ray?"
It was Gerard. Of course. Mikey was always the last one to wake up, Bob wasn't the friendliest person in the morning and Jamia's presence kept Frank from barging into the back studio like he would occasionally do. Sighing at his not-so-awesome luck, Ray got up and opened the door, ready to tell Gerard that he was going to 'embrace his inner hermit'. Instead, he was instantly assaulted by the most delicious scent ever.
"Are you OK?"
Ray closed his eyes--which turned out to be a mistake because all he focused on was the yummysexy essence coming off Gerard. Making his hands into fists (because otherwise he was going to hold on to Gerard and never let him go), he exhaled and let his gaze fall somewhere over Gerard's right shoulder. "Had a rough night. Breakfast?"
"I think we're stopping at an IHOP soon," Gerard answered, his tone a little hesitant. "Bad dream?"
Ray shook his head, instantly regretting it when his neck muscles bitched at the stretch. "Too many thoughts," he said, shrugging.
"Hmm, that happens to me when I've got an idea for a painting," Gerard said as he scratched the back of his head, releasing some more of his scent in the air. Ray swallowed a whimper.
"Anyway, me and the guys are going to finish watching Transporter 2. We all fell asleep like losers, like, half an hour into the movie." He scrunched up his face, looking goofy in a way that turned Ray on. A lot.
Ray could only take so much of Gerard's cuteness before he caved in. "Um..."
Maybe it was a 'were-and-full-moon-almost-here' thing, but Ray could've sworn that Gerard's expression was a hopeful one. He tried not to read too much into it. "I'm sorry, man, for being kind of 'grr' just now."
" 's no biggie," Gerard said, smiling at him. "Even you, Mr. Zen, are allowed a grouchy day every so often. Now, are you going to join the rest of your dorky band and watch shit blow up?"
"Sure." He pointed to the door next to the studio. "Bathroom first."
"Cool. We'll wait for you," Gerard said before calling out to everyone else that "Toro's alive."
Ray sighed. Somewhere out there Bowie and Pop were laughing at him.
A few minutes and one cup of coffee later, Ray made his way to the sofa, determined to keep his cool. He ignored the mild wave of panic that ran through him when he saw that the only empty spot was right next to Gerard. Frank and Jamia shared a corner of the sofa, Bob was sitting at their opposite side and Mikey was still snoozing away in his bunk.
He could do this, he could hang with his friends and his supposed were-mate without freaking out...much.
"About fucking time," Frank said, nodding at Bob so that he could start the movie.
"Yeah, yeah. And good fucking morning to you too, Frankie," Ray answered as he took his seat. He tried to pay attention to the plot. However, Gerard's smell (a combination of coffee, ink and an indefinable scent that was purely Gerard) proved to be too much of a distraction. Had he been in his hamster form, Ray would've been running around the sofa in a non-stop loop. His tipping point happened when Gerard placed his head on Ray's shoulder with a happy sigh.
"Fuck it," Ray mumbled, lifting his arm up and then curling it around Gerard's shoulders. His concentration was gone for good (Transporter 2 could've been a movie about robot clones in Pluto.) On the other hand, holding Gerard calmed his inner hamster down. Now all he had to do was ride out the next 24 or so hours and he'd be home, away from everyone but free to transform in peace.
He should've felt happier about that.
"Dude, just admit it: Frank Martin would kick John McClane's ass so hard, Bruce Willis wouldn't be able to sit down for weeks," Bob said later once they stopped at the IHOP.
Frank pointed at Bob with the French fries in his hand. "You, my friend, are delusional. John McClane is old school. If he could take on Hans Gruber, he can definitely come up with a way to take down your imaginary boyfriend."
"Not if Frank Martin was fighting McClane mano a mano ," Bob said before slicing into his waffles.
Ray tucked into his plate of blueberry pancakes with gusto, trading knowing looks with Jamia. Frank and Bob loved to argue the badass qualities of their respective favourite action heroes. It was an argument that had been going on from before the time Bob joined the band. Worm threw in the occasional comment in praise of Jean Claude Van Damme only to get heckled every single time. Occasionally, Brian mumbled something about 'Ah-nold' in Predator and Kindergarden Cop.
All the way at the end of the table, Mikey and Gerard had a low but animated conversation. Ray kept stealing glances in between pancake bites. Whatever the brothers were discussing, it looked serious. At one point, Gerard caught him staring. He nodded at Ray, giving him a smile that made Ray's heart swoop for a second or two.
Ray lifted his cup of coffee at him in reply, enjoying the quiet moment regardless of how fleeting it was.
The rest of the day went by faster than expected. They had two interviews with the local radio followed by the usual tour routine. Next thing anyone knew, the last concert for 2005 was behind them.
Rather than spend their last night together in the bus, Brian had gotten them rooms at a nice hotel in downtown Seattle. The Way brothers shared one room, Frank and Jamia the one across the hall, Brian had booked a small one for himself and Ray shared the last one with Bob. They sat down for a farewell dinner at the hotel restaurant, the post-concert adrenaline finally easing up after the second round of coffee.
"How about we call it a night, babe?" Frank said, winking at Jamia.
"You're the king of subtlety," Jamia replied before getting up and taking a hold of Frank's hand.
"Jamia, don't let that little punk take advantage of you," Bob called out. Frank raised his hand without looking back, flipping the bird in reply.
Within minutes, Brian herded a sleepy Gerard and a texting-while-walking Mikey out to the lobby. Ray and Bob squeezed in the elevator just before the doors closed.
The one thing Ray hadn't thought about was being in a ridiculously confined space with Gerard. Having the elevator stop at every floor made the ride seem longer than it probably was. Ray stood next to Brian (or as far away from Gerard as he possibly could given the space limitations). He glanced over as Brian set up three alarms on his phone.
"Isn't that overkill?"
"Not when two out of these three are for Mikey," Brian answered, as he flipped through his email.
Bob leaned against the panel where the elevator buttons were and rubbed his wrists. Over by the opposite side, Mikey tapped away on his phone while Gerard rested his head on Mikey's shoulder.
Once they got to their floor, it took every inch of willpower not to go after Gerard. Holding on to the straps of his backpack like his life depended on it, Ray kept his head down and followed Bob to their room.
Long accustomed to live on the road, Bob was the kind of person who only needed to put his head on a pillow (or a pile of hoodies) to fall into a deep sleep. Any other time, Ray would've been grateful for that. However, with the moon teasing his were-side, he couldn't focus long enough to watch TV and felt too wired to attempt getting some sleep. His guitar would've come in handy right now. But all the gear was packed up and ready for the airport.
Frustrated, he picked up the menu for the mini-bar, weighing the pros and cons of having a few tiny bottles of alcohol. Yeah, and then when you're good and buzzy, the first thing you might do is sneak into Gerard's bed. Oh, no, Amigo, better to stay away from the booze tonite. He put the menu down and went off in search of his iPod. Metallica would calm him down. Eventually.
Somewhere between the third listen to his entire Metallica, AC/DC and Bon Jovi catalog, Ray slipped into his bed. He spent the next few hours getting lost in the tunes, staring at nothing as the morning light began to creep into the room.
The general mood when everyone met in the lobby was fairly low. It didn't improve when they got to the airport.
Brian was the first one to leave. "Gonna meet with the label first and then I'll be Jersey-bound," he said before giving everyone a quick hug. Bob and Mikey's plane to Chicago was next.
"Can't wait to see my dogs and eat some of my mom's cooking," Bob said as he picked up his backpack.
"You're such a mama's boy, Bob," Frank said, climbing up on him for 'good luck'. Bob wiggled for a few seconds until Frank let go.
"Call me as soon as you land, Mikes," Gerard said as he threw his arms around his brother and pulled him close.
"It's only going to be a few days, Gee," Mikey responded. And, if he hugged his brother back just as tight, no one was going to say boo. "Gonna hang out in Chicago then I'll be home on the 30th."
"Be careful, OK?" Gerard said when they pulled apart.
"You too," Mikey said, stealing a glance in Ray's direction.
Ray smiled, a little confused at being included in the Way bros' good-byes however indirectly. He waited until Gerard moved on (to give Bob a bear hug) to step in front of Mikey and give him a squeeze .
"Don't let Gee drink that much coffee until the halfway mark, OK? You know how he gets," Mikey said.
"Pshh, you don't have to remind me." Gerard (like Frank) hated to fly. Without Mikey by his side to have silent eyebrow conversations with, he was going to drive everyone crazy for sure. A 6-hour, nonstop flight was a delicate matter. Caffeine wasn't the answer.
Frank, Jamia, Ray and Gerard sat in the Starbucks that was the closest to their departure gate and talked about nothing at all while they waited for boarding time.
All four stood at the gate two hours later, staring at the flight screens in disbelief. The words CANCELLED blinked in red, mocking anyone who'd want to leave Seattle.
Gerard covered his mouth and kept shaking his head, looking like he wanted to hide into his hoodie until the coast was clear. Frank was more eloquent. "What the fuck? Are they shitting me? What the fuck do they mean our flight is fucking cancelled?"
Jamia cracked her knuckles. "All right. Gerard, take Frank and find somewhere to sit. I'm going to find out what's up." She turned her face up. "Ray, mind coming along? Maybe your hair will distract the airline people into helping us find a hotel to crash at."
Though not sure of how much support he could offer, Ray nodded and followed Jamia into the angry mob of people hanging around the airlines' desks. It was only 1 PM. There was more than enough time for him to come up with a Plan B because the moon was going to be up in a matter of hours.
Frank was still in full-on ranting mode when Ray and Jamia met up with him and Gee outside of Seattle's Best. "The fuck? Did they actually said 'maybe by tomorrow morning'?"
"Calm down, Frank," Jamia said in an assertive tone. "We're getting comped for the hotel. I think the storm will clear up. We'll be inhaling that not-so-fresh Jersey air by tomorrow night, OK?" She elbowed Ray. "I think the airline person was really impressed by you. Because, all that they were willing to give us was, like, a free breakfast. But then, Diane or whatever her name was, saw you and she was all 'please, let me find you a bed'. Heh, heh."
Ray quirked an eyebrow. "You've got a dirty, dirty mind, Jamia."
"Yeah, well, it's a talent," she replied. "Come on, guys, if we get going now, we might actually be able to get good rooms."
In the end, Jamia and Frank ended up in one room while Ray and Gerard shared another. Frank was quiet by the time they were picking up their keycards. "Raincheck for dinner later?" Jamia offered when they reached their respective rooms.
After being up for 24 hours while inwardly freaking out by the upcoming full moon and then dealing with the flight cancellation, Ray could only mumble an 'OK' and followed Gerard into their room. Almost at once, Gerard took out his cellphone. "Mikey? Yeah, we're grounded."
Ray felt grungy. "Gonna wash up," he told Gerard, taking his PJs out of his bag and heading into the bathroom. He stripped quickly and turned on the water at its hottest setting, wanting to loosen up the kinks in his tired muscles. Though faint, Gerard's smell still made it to him as he started to lather up. His cock began to get hard. Ray gave it a few strokes, breathing in Gerard, the tiredness being too overwhelming to do anything else other than a gentle tease. Afterwards, dry and in comfortable clothes, Ray slid into his bed, lulled into sleep by Gerard's rambling conversation with Mikey.
He'd been dreaming again. This time about gnawing some guitar cables. Though hazy, he remembered hearing Gerard's laughter and occasional coo in the background. He opened his eyes at once, heart thudding like a freight train, only to feel a hand on his chest pushing him back down.
Ray hmmed and blinked. He stretched his arms and legs, enjoying the tension and then release of his muscles, and smiled as he faced Gerard. At some point, Gerard had turned one the desk lamps on; its light bathing everything in a golden glow that fit the moment. "What happened?"
"We both fell asleep? It's, like, almost dinner-time. Frank and Jamia are either sleeping or, you know, busy. I was going to order room service. Thought you'd want to get something too." Gerard scratched his head.
Ray was aware that it was his turn to say something. Instead, he let the silence go on for just a little bit longer as he studied the warm expression in Gerard's stare, the playful downward slant of his mouth and his wild hair. He lifted a hand to Gerard's face, sliding his fingers from the cheek to the neck. His touch must have tickled Gerard--who grinned when Ray's blunt nails scraped against the stubble underneath his jaw. It felt like he was really seeing him for the first time. "I've been so stupid. Didn't know--"
"Shh. I thought I was imagining things." Gerard leaned over and swallowed whatever Ray was going to say in one sweet kiss.
Ray closed his eyes, kissing him back fiercely. He should've felt nervous or, at the very least, clumsy. Those thoughts fell by the wayside when Gerard got on top of him and placed his hands on either side of Ray's face. Ray couldn't help the purr that escaped his throat when Gerard licked his lips and slipped his tongue inside Ray's mouth. He didn't know if they were laying down, standing up or floating on air. The only things that mattered were Gerard, his hands, the reassuring weight of his body on Ray's, his mouth and his smell.
After a few beats, Gerard moved away from Ray's mouth, following a path alongside his jaw and down his neck. Ray twisted his head to the side, panting, giddy with the contrasting feelings of recklessness and completion that fueled the fire in his veins. He opened his eyes, ready to suggest getting naked when his gaze focused on the window and the beginnings of an easy smile faded away.
The curtains were open and, either by miracle or magic, the sky had cleared up. Full and shiny, the moon yanked hard at some place inside Ray. He pushed Gerard away and barely managed to apologize before his world shrunk.
"Ray? Oh my god! Ray!"
Loud was the first thing that popped in Ray's head. He tunneled out from underneath his human clothes and the comforter, following the faint light that filtered through the space between the two pillows. His legs were too short and his body compact (yet fluffy ), but he managed to squeeze through the pillows until he could rest on top of one of them.
Gerard stood at the foot of the bed, one hand up as if he could stop Ray from being a hamster. 'Hold on! I--I have to call Frank!"
Ray wanted to tap his back paws impatiently as he looked at Gerard's shocked expression. One twitch of his whiskers later, he recognized he was being unfair. Gerard didn't know anything at all.
"Frank? Frank! You have to come to my room right now!. No! Don't bring Jamia. Something really fucked up just happened. No, it's not serious. Fuck, I don't know. Just come here, please? I need your help because I think I'm going crazy!"
Gerard should've stunk of fear. Though maybe growing up reading comics and playing tabletop games prepared some part of his mind to keep from total panic. The sour smell was confusion. Underneath it was something that reminded Ray of flowers, violets maybe, that had to be curiosity. Not wanting to spook Gerard, Ray sat down and started to groom himself.
A couple of minutes later, Frank walked in, iron in one hand. "Gee? What-what's wrong?" He moved his head, like he was scanning the place, practically jumping when he found Ray. "Shit! You've got rats in here?"
Ray stood up and puffed up, squeaking his indignation at being called a rat.
"Why didn't you call the front desk?" Frank moved just as slow as Gerard had done a few moments before. "They could've moved you and killed that."
"No!" Gerard stepped in front of Frank, taking hold of the iron and putting it on the floor. "That's not a rat, dude. That's Ray!"
"The fuck?" Frank made a face at Gerard.
"Listen, dude. Just listen. Ray and I were, um, talking. But then, he pushed me away and said "I'm sorry" and then he was that."
"Seriously," Gerard said, pointing at Ray. "That's him. He's a hamster."
"Gee, I'm just as pissed off as you are about having to stay put for one more night. What I don't get is why you or Ray'd think it's cool to pull a prank like this one. Especially one that doesn't make sense and isn't funny."
Gerard stopped chewing on a nail. "I'm not trying to be funny. It's the truth! Our Ray, heavy metal-addict, kickass guitarrist, MMORPG aficionado is here. That's him right there, giving you the squinty eye hamster-style."
Frank sighed. "All right. You guys want me to play along. I'll fucking play along. The sooner you guys wrap up this charade, the sooner I'll go back to Jamia and start plotting my revenge on you two jackasses. Anyway, if that little furball over there is 'Ray', how come he transformed into a hamster? Why now? Why not, three months ago or during our van days?"
"You know, I have no idea," Gerard said, head tilting to the side. He bit his lower lip then twisted his mouth this way and that, finally snapping his fingers when he look toward the window. "The moon! I mean, there are werewolf legends--"
Frank cut in. "So now Ray's a, what's that, a were-hamster?" He grimaced. "I'm going to go, Gee. You guys have really cracked. This is the worst prank I've seen in my life. Next time, don't call me unless your room's on fire. Tell Ray he owes me big for helping you with this 'thing'."
"Um, dude, you just told him yourself."
"Whatever, Gerard. For your and Ray's sakes I hope there aren't any hidden cameras around here. 'night, Gee. See ya, 'Ray'." At this, Frank picked up his iron and left the room, shaking his head at his 'loser friends' and their bizarre sense of humor.
Ray relaxed, sitting back on his haunches, waiting to see what Gerard was going to do. It really sucked not being able to talk.
Gerard took a couple of tentative steps. "Ray?"
Having resumed his grooming (it was so much fun!), Ray smoothed one of his front paws through his furry belly and stood back up.
"That really is you in there, huh?" Gerard sat down on the bed carefully as if he was going to startle Ray or provoke him into some kind of hamster-frenzy. He placed his hand on the comforter, palm up and smiled.
The violet scent grew strong enough for Ray to feel confident about approaching Gerard. If he was honest with himself, he was looking forward to be on Gerard's hands. He sniffed his hand (tobacco, ink, soap, Ray, that Gerard-y scent, Ray) before climbing on it, legs feeling a little awkward. He didn't want to scratch Gerard.
"Um, hold on, OK? I kinda want to take a closer look at you."
Ray's stomach did a quick loop-de-loop when Gerard lifted him, cupping him with both hands, until Ray was almost at Gerard's eye level. He wanted to stand up, but wasn't too sure about the height. Flicking his ears, he allowed Gerard to study him before putting him back on the bed.
"This is so fucking rad, dude. Like, I wish I knew why you never told me before," Gerard said, his smile wide to the point that Ray could see Gerard's teeth.
Ray tried to shrug, but hamster bodies weren't built for that kind of movement. He scampered over to the other side of the bed when Gerard scooted up until his upper body was resting against the headboard.
"Hey," Gerard said, wiggling his fingers at Ray.
Although Ray wasn't a pet in the same sense as a dog or a cat, there was nothing in the world that would've kept him from trotting over to Gerard and climbing onto his arm.
"Hahaha, it tickles!"
Ray held on to the soft and warm material of Gerard's hoodie, paws sinking in, to keep from falling over when Gerard's whole body shook as he laughed. It was weird, but awesome.
"Oh, shit!" Gerard reached out for the room phone. "Kitchen closes in half an hour. I'm gonna order a burger for me and ,um, some kind of salad for you?"
Wiggling his whiskers was the closest Ray could do as far as nodding.
It was nice, not having to worry about anything other than cuddling against Gerard. Every so often, he'd rub the sides of his body against Gerard's waist or armpit, marking him against any other were out there. Their combined scents brought only one word in Ray's mind: Home.
The handful of carrots and snow peas Ray had for dinner left him happily sated, if a little sleepy. He really didn't want to doze off. Who knew what Gerard would say in the morning? But, somewhere in between their late dinner and a marathon of Vincent Price movies, Gerard fell asleep. Ray shimmied into the space between the pillow and Gerard's neck, dozing off just a few minutes before the sun rose up in the horizon.
Ray tried to roll over only to feel arms around his chest. He opened one eye and frowned at the sight of Gerard's arms holding him. Maybe if I move really slowly--
"Where are you going?" Gerard mumbled from behind.
"Um. Nowhere?" Ray wasn't sure how awake Gerard was.
Ray did a slow exhale. Maybe Gerard hadn't noticed Ray's present state of nakedness. He started to slide a leg out.
"Thought you weren't going anywhere," Gerard said, a little more sure this time.
"Um, pants?" If Gerard was going to be cool about this, Ray could too.
"We never finished what we started." And, yeah, Gerard was fully awake.
Ray wasn't a coward. He turned around, finding a bright-eyed Gerard. "I-um."
"How about we pick up where we left off?" Gerard leaned his head and gave Ray a soft kiss.
"That's cool with me," Ray said in between kisses, taking pleasure in following the curve of Gerard's back with his hands.
"You know I have, like, a million questions, right?" Gerard said, nearly breathless as Ray nibbled on Gerard's ear.
"Uh-huh," Ray said, momentarily distracting Gerard from asking anything by thrusting against him, showing him that he always sealed the deal.
(He would hold off on telling Gerard about Bowie until much, much later.)