Gerard keeps dreaming about robot mice. He wakes up with hand cramps from gripping a phantom controller, visions of shining metal and video displays reeling in his brain.
He tells himself it's nothing. He he has a lot of fucked up dreams - they've been consistent since he quit the BL/ind mood stabilisers and fucked off into the zones - but something about these particular dreams feels tangible. Real.
It's probably nothing. He's lacking sleep, undernourished, and his brain's in overdrive from too many days on the run.
He straps on his thigh holster and shrugs into his jacket. They have work to do.
Mikey said they shouldn't take this job. He has a point - it's not what they usually do. The Killjoys don't do stealth, they're more a blow-it-up-in-your-face demolition team. But the prize of meds. food and fuel is too much to turn down after they've been shafted on trade a couple of times in a row.
On the surface it's simple enough. It takes Ray less than an hour to write the virus and they'll use Peppers to deliver it to the target. (Gerard still thinks it's weird that Frank modeled his first droid on his old dog, but he'd never say that to Frank's face.)
It isn't until they get into the arena full of screaming fans and overtuned dub-step - the clock already counting down - that Gerard realises they should have listened to Mikey.
Because there, towering above the teeming crowd, are two giant robot mice.
"Oh shit," Gerard swears, stumbling over his own feet.
"Poison?" Ray hisses, catching Gerard around the shoulder and dodging them behind an arena support structure, mostly out of sight, "You okay?"
Gerard shakes his head, peering around the metal strut to get a better look and no, he wasn't mistaken. It's the same fucking robot mouse from his dream. "I've seen that droid before," he tells Ray, trying to think of how, or why he would know this fucking robot over any other. He couldn't have just dreamed it up.
"You probably saw it on a broadcast or a billboard, they've been pimping this match for weeks on the tubes," Ray says.
It's a good explanation, but it doesn't quell the roil in Gerard's stomach. It's too late to do anything about it though, they're in it to their necks. Deadmau5 doesn't take IOUs. If they fuck this up they'll have better luck surviving a swarm of dracs in the centre of Batt City than staying another day in the zones. They have to follow through.
Despite all Gerard's internal drama - or perhaps to spite it - the job goes off without a hitch. Gerard signals Frank across the arena, and gets Frank's answering handflash. No one spots Peppers on the studio floor, and the little droid is well out of the way by the time the virus takes effect. Gerard's view of the controller's stage is blocked by crowd, but he can see the bots well enough, towering above everything and everyone. When one of them goes dead still, it's motor processors tied up with lines of Ray's beautiful code - victory for Deadmau5 is guaranteed.
Gerard sends Frank the exit signal so they can get the fuck out of there.
They're nearly to the doors when all hell breaks loose. Gerard turns around in time to see one of the giant mice crash to the ground, sparks and metal flying in every direction, tearing down the arena dome and sending fires flaring up all around the stage. Fuck.
He grabs for Ray and races for the doors, but the panicked crowd of zit-heads and popper-tarts get in the way, separating them. He swears, trying to keep eyes on where Ray is, trying to find an exit, but the press of people is too much. Smoke blocks his view and makes his eyes water, and he's coughing, trapped in the crush as it gets hotter and smokier.
He drops low, shoving a bandanna over his mouth to cut the fumes. He burrows through legs until he finds an opening in the arena wall, tucking his body into it, away from kicking feet and flames, screams of the crowd echoing through the metal at his back.
The bandanna cuts the smoke a little but it isn't enough, nowhere near. He stays conscious for as long as he can, but in the end the fumes win out. They always do.
When he comes to his throat is burning, his head is splitting, and he's surrounded by ash and a whole lot of ghosts. He pries himself slowly out of his nook, his muscles aching, and a burning pain in his leg where the fire must have touched him. Fuck, he got lucky. A whole lot luckier than the bodies littering the ground around him.
He doesn't search the dead for the Killjoys, instead heading for their backup rendezvous point, hoping like fuck they'll all be there. If they aren't, then he'll have to come back and find them.
"Gerard. Gerard, come on." Gerard hears his name before he's even inside the warehouse. Mikey must be freaking out if he's dropped the code name. Gerard hastens his steps, rushing toward the entrance, hearing Ray say, "What the fuck was he even doing on the stage? We were nearly at the exit."
Gerard steps into the doorway in time to hear Mikey say, "Gee if you don't wake up I'll fucking kill you myself."
It makes no sense at all because Gerard's not asleep. Mikey isn't even looking at him. He's knelt on the floor of the warehouse, Frank up tight beside him while Ray paces the floor in front of them.
"Calm down, you fuckers, I'm right here," Gerard announces. The three of them turn toward him wearing identical expressions of shock. Before Gerard can figure out why, he's nearly knocked off his feet by Mikey catapulting into him, his arms grabbing Gerard in a tight hug.
"Fuck, don't you ever do that again. Ever." Mikey gasps out, hanging on tight, and Gerard is so fucking confused now. Frank's arms wrap around him as well, his lips brushing against Gerard's neck and it's real sweet and all, but Gerard is so fucking confused.
Ray sounds equally vexed when he says, "Um guys, if that's Poison, then who the hell is this?"
It's about that time Gerard notices the body on the floor. He's in bad shape, whoever he is. The fire's been at most of his clothes, his skin is covered in soot, his hair matted with blood and ash. Even with all that shit on him, it's impossible to miss that he's wearing Gerard's face.
"No shit," Gerard says, leaning closer and fuck, it's like looking in a really dirty blood-caked mirror. He peers down a the guy's face, at his face. "Is he dead?"
"Not yet," Mikey says, kneeling back down beside the stranger, finding a pulse in his neck with two fingers. Mikey's movements are gentle and watching the way he touches the guy with Gerard's face does weird things to Gerard's stomach.
"We should probably try to keep him not-dead then." Gerard says, painting over his nerves with bravado. "He's a good-looking guy."
It takes three days, and more time and water than they can really spare, before the guy opens up his eyes. It just so happens that Gerard is with him at the time, (not that Gerard has been spending long periods of time staring at him, wondering why his hair is that colour, or what the tattoo on his upper arm means.) He just happens to be there when the guy startles awake, choking and spitting black stuff onto the concrete.
Gerard presses his hand to the guy's back while he coughs it out, and passes him a canteen of water when he's done. It takes a while, but eventually the guy calms and looks up from the dirty concrete. Gerard's prepared for a shocked reaction, perhaps even a suspicious one. He gets neither.
The guy looks up at him, his eyes going soft. He reaches up, tangling a hand in Gerard's bright hair and says, "I knew it would be red."